Sunday, 20 March 2016

Entertainment stuff from the week 14-20/3/16

Hi swabbers,

'How to spot research spin—the case of the not-so-simple abstract'

Last week, Phys Org was splattered with sexist and racist press releases, funded by pseudo-justice warriors. This week, pretty much none.

In their place, there were releases about an AI beating a man at a board game, with narratives spanning:

- The robots are coming to dominate us all, by winning at Go, pretty much every time

- Humans have a part to play, in keeping AIs 'honest', so that we can win at Go 'better, together'

- AIs can't even be trusted to beat humans at Go, every time, so how can we trust them to save us from ourselves?

[much wailing ensues, from all parties]

All i can do, is to find myself smirking from the sidelines :-D

Intelligence is intelligence, whether it's exhibited by stiff silicon-based machines, or soft protein-based machines.

My only worry, is that humans will unleash Generalised Intelligences that are less intelligent than humans. As far as i can see, the boundlessness of stupidity, is where most of the world's evil comes from.


The tenth edition of Earth Hour started on the 19th of March, in Australia, and continues as i write this. In Earth Hour, public landmarks, and members of the public, ceremonialy switch off their lights in unison, to "show they care about the future of our planet".

In other news:

Is 'vaginal swabbing/seeding' a good idea or not? Well, like many ideas that are loosely termed as 'medical' the backing for 'vaginal swabbing' is largely specious. The proposed mechanism for medical benefit, from leaving a gauze in end-of-pregnany women's vaginas, and then swabbing the vaginal fluid over the newborn baby, is that illnesses such as asthma, allergies, and obesity, are connected to the body's microbiome - the population of bacteria that lives on and in us, all our lives. By introducing 'natural' vaginal bacteria, so the logic goes, by pasting it all over the baby's face, the 'natural order' will be restored, and the child will be left better off. Well, this mechanism has been shown to work in people with auto-immune and chronic digestive conditions, where faecal transplants have helped some of them immensely; but it isn't necessarily true that it works just as well with babies. Especially as the bacterial transmission is only surface-to-surface (external). Plus, good bacteria go with bad bacteria. In a faecal transplant, healthy microbiomes are deliberately chosen, from healthy donors. In the method tested by the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City, the babies were always given bacterial transplants from their mothers. Ultimately, there might be a benefit; but all rational decisions involve cost-benefit analyses. Imperial College London, St Mary's Hospital and Charing Cross Hospital in the UK, and St Vincent's Hospital in Australia, have written a letter, published in the BMJ, warning about the costs of the procedure. You see, if the mother has an infection, that she doesn't know about (we're giving her the moral benefit of the doubt here, of course) and her bacteria are transplanted to the baby, then the baby can contract any of a wide variety of infections. It's the case with myriad diseases, that healthy adults, with well-developed immune systems, are far more redoubtable to infection, than a fresh-from-the-womb infant. A disease that can be easily shrugged off by an adult, can permanently scar a child. Not necessarily outwardly, of course - internal organs can be scarred too. Measles, for example, can cause deafness, by damaging the inner ear of child victims. Whether 'vaginal swabbing' is a good idea, depends on the relative costs and benefits of doing so. No-one can quantify them, however, until quality research has been done. In the meantime, i think budding parents should err on the side of caution, and reject the procedure, because asthma, allergies, and obesity, are nowhere near as serious as pathogenic mutilation, and are relatively easy to compensate for.

So, has a (partly) peanut industry funded study found that forcing kids to eat peanuts, makes them less likely to develop a peanut allergy? Well, the study was an RCT, so it took a sample of 550 children who were aged less than a year old, and deemed to be allergy-risked through having eczema and/or egg allergies, and randomly distributed them into two groups: those told not to eat peanuts until they were five, and those given at least 6g of peanut paste to eat, weekly, until they were five. In the year after they turned five, they were all instructed to avoid eating peanuts, entirely, to see whether the effect faded. Evidence of extant allergy to peanuts was determined by an objective test, involving peanut-paste exposure. Well, obviously, this study has methodological restrictions: for starters, they knew which group they were in, which is known to affect results. Secondly, the whole thing would have been reported through questionnaires, issed to their guardians, who are never omniscient, and rarely possessing of perfect memories, so could have been misreporting their kids' diets. Thirdly, there were originally 640 children in the study, meaning 90 dropped out. Why was this? An uneven departure from the study groups (test and control) could easily fabricate a factitious but illusory disparity. The publication from a year ago admits that many children had to be 'transferred' groups, for their sake. This rather flouts the utility of randomisation! If kids given peanut paste for 4 years were dropping out because exposure to peanuts was making them worse (because they had a peanut allergy) then the kids who would remain in that group, would be misleadingly healthy, creating an illusion of efficacy for the industry-convenient therapeutic-exposure hypothesis. It should be borne-in-mind that anaphylaxis can be fatal, so stuffing peanuts into your kids could turn out to be the worst well-meaning thing you could do for your little bairn! If the hormesis technique is ever used, make sure it's done in clinically secure setting. What this study certainly does not validate, is the idea that spooning peanut butter into your childrens' mouths is not going to ensure they never get a peanut allergy.

What the above reporting has not been, however, is utterly abominable journalism. For a change, LOL. What follows now, however... :-P

According to the Daily Fail and the Torygraph, brushing your teeth can ward off dementia. Even though the study that they cited, looked exclusively at people who already had Alzheimer's Disease, and had gum disease. The researchers found no clear correlation between progression of gum disease and dementia symptoms. Oh, by the way, one of the researchers was in the employ of Colgate Palmolive and GlaxoSmithKline.

Eating white bread, bagels and rice "increase[s] the risk of lung cancer by 49%" according to the Daily Fail. The cited study was a case-control (snapshot) study, so couldn't observe changes due to diet, and didn't show dose response, between carbohydrates and lung cancer. What it did show, was that the study participants, who had all recently been diagnosed with lung cancer, were quite likely to eat bread and/or potatoes a lot. Like everyone who doesn't have lung cancer. The same as with the peanut allergy study, patients were expected to reliably report their diets, post-hoc. This study does not prove that "carbs are the new cigarettes".

"Talc 'is linked to ovarian cancer'" claims the Fail Online, on the basis of a similar study, that looked only at women who had ovarian cancer, and was unable to prove causation, because of its design. This story is actually old, but the Fail decided to publish it because a Court of Law recently decided that it could rule on Science, by dictat, and awarded a woman $72 million in reparations, funded by a fine of Johnson and Johnson, who sold her the talc that she blames for her ovarian cancer. Unsurprisingly, J&J repudiates the claim. This is one of those studies that really should have been done better, possibly by pooling resources and funding. The study was insufficient even to demonstrate whether talc use or ovarian cancer came first! So it would be just as valid to conclude from this study, that ovarian cancer drives women to use talcum powder! The IARC (International Agency for Research on Cancer) classifies genital application of talc as a 'possible carcinogen' which means there's no evidence that it is a carcinogen, but that there's insufficient evidence to say that it isn't a carcinogen, either. The word 'possible' should not be ignored. It means 'no-one really knows'.

The Mail, somehow, have been left out of this next story. The Dependent and Diana were the most grievous offenders, in this case, by claiming that the cited study provided "proof" that chocolate makes people smarter. The Torygraph and Mirror went for a more hesitant "can" make you smarter, while the Grauniad's chosen narrative was umming and erring. This was another snapshot study, that the researchers admitted could not establish a causation between chocolate and increase in intelligence. But hey, this is just the kind of non-study that can appease the evil Humanities paymasters who demand fame and glory via the researchers that they keep shackled to their desks, Monday to Friday, dawn till dusk, in the University's basement. Unfortunately, we live in a world where genuine scientists (beyond my cruel caricature) have motives to puff PR into the aether thrust upon them, to which they acquiesce, just to make their lives easier. Rubbish like this tarnishes the image of scientific inquiry, in the eyes of the public.

And now, here's a bolt from the blue -- The Old Times appears on this blog, for the first time since January, and the second time since they excused Jenni Russell's dangerous 'starvation > chemotherapy' quackery with the word 'opinion'. And what have they gone for? Well, they've gone with a study that's profoundly undermined, by most of the researchers being employed by pharmaceutical companies, who sell competitor drugs to the one being defamed by the study itself. That's right, it's an off-patent drug being slagged off for profit. And for the second time this year, it's paracetamol. Despite many people using paracetamol to treat the pain of osteoarthritis, day to day, without the threat of horrendous side-affects, such as those of the proposed alternatives - NSAIDs - which cause stomach ulcers and heart failure, the researchers conclude "On the basis of the available data, we see no role for single-agent paracetamol for the treatment of patients with osteoarthritis irrespective of dose." {emphasis added} I'm not surprised. Your employers (Novartis, Merck, etc) would love people to abandon the cheap and safe paracetamol for the much-more-expensive NSAID varieties, wouldn't they. Osteoarthritis' pain symptoms range from mild to severe, so i wouldn't join the Old Times, Fail, Express, and Sun, in roundly condemning paracetamol entirely. If individual patients need stronger analgesics, then that should be their choice... unswayed by industry propaganda passed off as 'research'.

According to an assay by researchers from the Universities of Basel, Brandeis, and Cardiff, spiders are not just carnivores, eating insects, fish, frogs, and even bats. Spiders from ten families have also been observed eating from plant types such as trees, shrubs, weeds, grasses, ferns, and orchids. Nectar, plant sap, honeydew, leaf tissue, pollen and seeds are all on their menu. Herbivorous spiders are distributed globally, but are most common in warmer areas, where they have evolved to exploit the local abundance of nectar, supplied by local flowers.

Aesthetic insecurity industry (Fashion) company Lord & Taylor has been charged with customer deception, by the USA's Federal Trade Commission, for paying 50 popular Instagram users to pretend to like their products, and paying Fashion magazine Nylon, to pretend to write an objective article about their products. These deceptions are known as 'advertorials' in newspaper/magazine literature, as they are adverts disguised as editorials. Unfortunately, this practice is not rare in newspapers, especially online, and nor is it rare in 'social' media, for example the aesthetic insecurity ('beauty') vlogs of certain YouTube channels. The thing is, recipients of the money (and more usually free products) often don't realise they're doing anything wrong.

How beautiful is racism? Well, for lots of humans, it's very beautiful indeed. Especially when they're being racist about dogs. Crufts - the Münchausen-by-proxy-embracing aesthetic insecurity competition run by the UK Kennel Club - has taken flack again for awarding 'best in breed' to an Alsatian with a horrendously mis-shapen back. You can see an embedded picture, in the article. Dog 'breeds' are essentially no different to the 'races' that humans hallucinate into each other; except that the inbreeding of dogs has been so extreme that they are now barely identifiable as the same species. But they are! The only factor inhibiting reproduction between wolfhounds and toydogs, is scale - the mechanics of sexual intercourse. The UK Kennel Club has funded a 'study', used to claim that the 'intensity of inbreeding' is high but "sustainably" so. This is wrong. As long as people think that the term 'pedigree' is a label of pride, and not of terrible, sadistic, racist shame, then the problems of congenital illnesses in dogs will perpetuate. You might think they look pretty, but there's more to it than that - prettyness doesn't excuse the suffering they live through.

An international collaboration of researchers, brought together in the Andes of Podocarpus National Park, to develop an inventory for the taxonomical family of looper moths, has identified almost 2,000 distinct looper moth species. They found 1,857 species (80% more than predicted) in their sample of 30,000 specimens, and estimate that there might be more than 2,350 species in total. This is surprisingly high, not just in comparison to other moth families in Europe and Borneo, but also in consideration of the altitude at which they live - 1,000 to 3,000 meters above sea level - where animals are usually lower in population density and diversity.

A French company called Plume Labs has released 10 pigeons into London, with sensors strapped to their backs, to monitor the city's air pollution. Plume Labs had formerly equipped 100 human Londoners with detectors, and given them patches to study. One of the prongs of Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn's devilsome pitchfork, has been the unmitigated failure of Cameron's government, to respond to air pollution in the UK's capital city. Cameron has come under pressure from various organisations, including the European Commission, for the harm that the Tories are allowing to happen, because they think 'small government' by lax regulation is better. According to Labour's extrapolations, 500,000 people are expected to die from pollution, even if Britain manages to attain its obligations to reduce concentrations... 15 years after the timetable originally agreed with the European Commission. If you were the most powerful person in a country, with statutory responsibility for 64 million citizens, and knowingly oversaw the deaths of 500,000 people, in what sense would that not be genocide? Second-degree genocide? If pollies were held responsible for the consequences of their policies, i expect the airbrushed narcissists and 'born to rule' mobs would soon look elsewhere for fame and glory!

------------------------------------------------------ contemporary stuff

'Hemocytometer | What is this thing?!'

'Nuke it from orbit! about 17 minutes....'

Addendum to Thunder: feminist sexism in the renewables industry. See the shit for yourself

'Rejects (feat. danisnotonfire)'

' Orientis Partibus (Here's A Donkey You May Trust)' (my upload)

'"65 Million (Mitch McConnell STFU)" by Roy Zimmerman'

'Hubble unveils monster stars'

'Image: Picturing the sun's magnetic field'

'VLA shows earliest stages of planet formation'

'Mysterious 'Tully monster' is a vertebrate, research finds'

'feminism is about equality' - ShoeOnHead

'average is beautiful' - ShoeOnHead

'Sarkeesian planned to spend $40 000 asking for money!'

'4 CHEESE PIZZA RECIPE - Greg's Kitchen'
He looks like Greg, but he can't be. I'd know that genuine Greek accent anywhere :-P

------------------------------------------------------ of the weeks

Word Of The Week: factitious -- artificially created, manufactured or contrived, including medical conditions (as in Münchausen syndrome) where the symptoms are fabricated (not hypochondriacal); not to be mistaken for 'fictitious' which means created, manufactured or contrived in the imagination, purely as a matter of fiction and so never intended to be believed

------------------------------------------------------ non-contemporary stuff

A nada!

Até a próxima vez :-D

Monday, 14 March 2016

Entertainment stuff from the week 7-13/3/16

Hi polymorphs,

So, it's all over. The filming of Red Dwarf series XII has finished, roughly 28 years (plus a month) since Red Dwarf was first broadcast, on TV.

'DwarfCast 68 – Red Dwarf XII – Episode 6 – Set Report'

This autumn, we'll get to see the first of series XI, on the small screen. It's quite possible that we won't see a series XIII, so let's make the most of it, when it comes.

There are only so many places Craig Charles can secrete a pen, so many times Chris Barrie can do impressions of Kenneth Williams, number of set-ups for Danny John-Jules to say "fish", and number of styles in which Robert Llewellyn can dry-hump the warm-up guy, before it all starts to get a bit samey...

Oh, what the smeg, no there isn't. Here's to series XIV :-D

Speaking of 'smeg', here's a Herringian production that's approximately ten series behind...

'Richard Herring As It Occurs To Me - Kickstarter Video'

Ah, it all comes surging back. I guess i shouldn't have eaten that mint cumpkin ;-)

"Investment in science is as important for the long-term prosperity and security of the UK as investment in infrastructure projects, farming or manufacturing; and the free movement of scientists is as important for science as free trade is for market economics"

So says a letter of 150 signatories, who are all fellows of the Royal Society, one of Britain's leading scientific institutions.

'Stephen Hawking says Britain leaving EU would damage science'

The importance of research is perpetually, and heinously, underestimated by pollies. To them (Humanities graduates all) Science is a folly - a frivolity - a facetious and expendable pastime.

But it's not. Science contains knowledge - knowledge upon-which all of your decisions should be made.

Through Science, we know that drug prohibition is destructive; we know that immigration benefits the UK by £20 billion per decade; we know that absence of air pollution regulation costs thousands of lives per year; we know that rejection of the EU's alcohol price regulation has caused a tripling in liver disease, and thousands more deaths per year, as well as the closure of many pubs in local communities.

Through Science, we know much, much more than this. Unfortunately, many pollies aren't going to care, that well-informed people know they're wrong, because they don't think that that's important.

What they do think is important, is when lots of people (in their electorate) disagree with them. Especially if that disagreement is a vote-breaker.

The importance of this letter, from Stephen Hawking et al, is not to change MPs' minds, but to change the minds of people who might vote 'anti-social' this summer.

Risible pseudo-research pseudoscience of the week: a publication in the dodgily-named 'Psychology of Women Quarterly'

I've noticed an odd abundance of sexist and racist press releases on Phys Org, this week. I wonder whether there's a systematic bias behind that. But this particular pile of bovine excretion caught my mind most firmly:

'How have gender stereotypes changed in the last 30 years?'

Leaving the absurdly sexist nature of the journal aside, my first point is on the subject of the 'researchers'' study - 'gender stereotypes'.

Translating that into English - 'sex stereotypes' - we realise that they weren't actually studying people's expectations of the sexes, to compare and contrast with the real properties of those sexes. Oh no!

Instead, they just asked a small bunch of young adults what they prejudicially perceived in men and women, to compare with the prejudices of another small bunch of young adults, 30 years ago.

And their conclusions involved these notions:

- Men and women still correctly think that average men and average women are different, in degrees of competitiveness and 'kindness'

- Men and women still correctly think that average men and average women do different amounts of housework

- Men and women still correctly think that average men and average women do different jobs

- Men and women still correctly think that men and women are different, in degrees of 'delicateness' and 'butchness' (having a deep voice)

- Men and women have the same perceptions of men and women, in 2014, relating to 'psychological traits' and 'physical characteristics for males'. In other words, they think men and women make different choices, and men are tall and furry (?)

- Men and women of 2014 think that other men and women are more equally engaged in 'financial obligations', '[making] major decisions', and '[handling] financial matters' than the men and women of 1983 thought that other men and women were equal in being engaged in those same things. Are you following these sentences? :-P

- Men and women still correctly perceive that men are more likely to enjoy bodging around in cars, than women are; but are more likely to correctly think that men engage less in 'womany' things like housework and childcare

- Men are more likely to believe 'stereotypes' about men, and women are more likely to believe 'stereotypes' about women

Given all of the other points, i'm chinny-reckoning what that last one could mean. The 'researchers' don't seem to understand what the word 'stereotype' means!

'Stereotype' is not a synonym for 'prejudice'. And even if it were, the word still wouldn't apply to any of the points surveyed... in less than 200 people.

Men and women are genuinely different, in all of the above ways - they're not apparitions of sexist stereotypes. People don't believe that men do more tinkering in their toy cars, through bloody-minded confirmation bias - they genuinely do do more vehicle-tickling :-D

Cue quote: "unconscious bias may distort the way in which people perceive and thus remember gender atypical behavior"

Unconscious bias does distort the way in which people perceive each other. But your research didn't quantify the amount of difference that people perceived, and it didn't compare it to real life, to distinguish true beliefs from false ones.

Male humans genuinely have deeper voices than female ones. By about an octave, and with substantial variance across the two populations.

And at the end of the press release, all we have is some vacuous remarks about how it's important to have "increased awareness of gender stereotypes" while simultaneously bringing about "the elimination of gendered criteria on job descriptions". Your 'research' wasn't related to anything about job applications!

What was the point of this 'research'? It wasn't practice-related at all. 80s prejudice v. 10s prejudice; which will win? Computer says "neither".

If anything, the only valuable evidence that this study has brought to the world, is that studies run by all-women teams can shart research funding up the wall, just as effectively as a Straight White Male, bearing an obsession with magic dogs.

Psychology of Women Quarterly, indeed... tsk tsk.

"Psychology of Women Quarterly (PWQ) is a feminist, scientific, peer-reviewed journal..."

I smell an oxymoron, in there! But that explains the whole miserable pile :-D

The trouble is, that the above study comes under 'social science' which is in turn, often subjugated to the Humanities departments of Universities. This means that, instead of being treated like a Science i.e. evidence-based, it's treated like a Humanity i.e. narrative-based.

I've always considered it odd, that a subject with the word 'science' in the title could be treated like a Humanity. But unfortunately, like with Philosophy, there's a lot of bullshit that gets spuriously titled 'social science', with the result of making the entire field seem vacuous, at the expense of the genuine sociologists, who actually do scientific investigations in society.

For example, the meta-analyses featured in this article:

'When good intentions aren't supported by social science evidence'

"Taking into account all of the available research on corporate boards and diversity of task groups, the net effects [of artificially enhancing 'gender' and 'race' diversity] are very close to a null, or zero, average. Also, economists' studies that carefully evaluate causal relations have typically failed to find that women cause superior corporate performance. The most valid conclusion at this point is that, on average, diversity neither helps nor harms these important outcomes."

I wouldn't expect genetics to make any difference to people's performance, in a company. Why, would you? You think sex makes a difference? You think arbitrary pseudo-ancestral categories (race) makes a difference? You must be sexist or racist, or summat.

I find it utterly unsurprising that irrelevant factors are irrelevant. As i've said before, about pseudoscientifically sexist get-into-universities marketing campaigns:

"Science doesn't need women. Science doesn't need men. Science needs scientists - enthusiasts for the application of the scientific method. Whether they're man or woman or amphibian. Or reptile." - me, here

If your movement is predicated on sloppy, superstitious pseudo-social-science, then it's not going to be a force for good, in the world. You're inevitably going to make wild claims, of threat, and worse, of egregious solution, akin to Sarkeesian herself.

"Social scientists... should not silently tolerate distortions of available scientific knowledge to fit advocacy goals".

Hear, hear.

'Anita Sarkeesians dirty little secret!'

The founder of that closing petition, by the way, is better known as 'The Amazing Atheist' - someone much loathed by the feminist movement.

'Extraordinary People: Daring To Actually Help Women'


235 years ago, on the 13th of March 1781, astronomer Frederick William Herschel discovered the planet Uranus

The 14th of March is Pi Day... as long as you write the time and date the wrong way around :-P

And the 15th of March is the probable 45th anniversary of the release of the first internet virus, called 'Creeper'

In other news:

What's the point of polymorphism? A polymorph is not just a fictional shape-shifter, engineered to do so by humans, in the Red Dwarf universe. A polymorphic species is one that has evolved to have markedly different appearances, such as with white and black peppered moths. Biologists publishing in Scientific Reports, have found the answer: it makes predation more difficult. While hunting for one form, it's just more difficult to find the other.

Also published in Scientific Reports, is the identification of a new (old) reptile, that lived in the south of Brazil (near to my home! LOL) about 252 million years ago, after the P-T extinction. Having lived at this time, it was a member of the evolutionary group, that diversified into dinosaurs, pterosaurs, crocodiles and birds. It was an intermediate between the archosauromorphs, and the archosauroforms, that are most famous for diversifying into the dinosaur megafauna of terrestrial Earth during the Mesozoic Era.
{Tapejarids originated in, and are named after, the region 'Tapejara' which is the southernmost municipality of Brazil}

What would it be like, to eat a dinosaur drumstick? Unlike in a chicken's leg, where the fibula is reduced to a spine, dinosaurs' fibulas were hollow bones that extended all the way down to the ankle. It's long been known that embryonic birds initially develop with this long, tubular fibula, but that it atrophies, relative to the tibia, as the bird grows. Researchers at the University of Chile have found that inhibition of maturation genes can cause the fibula to grow fully, down to the ankle, as in ancestral non-avian dinosaurs. The research also found that the culcaneum - a bone in the ankle - that connects to the fibula, produced growth hormones, influencing the fibula's development. It also found that the attachment of the fibula to the culcaneum limited growth of the tibia, meaning the birds ended up with shorter legs. Fossil records apparently show concordance with this path of development, as non-avian birds evolved toward avian morphology.

It's the third amber story of the year. First, it was an insect, then it was a plant, now it's a chameleon. It's 78 million years older than the previous oldest known amber-encased chameleon specimen, at 100 million years old. It, amongst 11 other reptilian specimens, provides more beautiful evidence, filling out the evolutionary tree.

A newly-nomenclatured species of spider, has been named after a co-founder of the local World Science Festival - physicist Brian Greene. Dolomedes briangreenei is a species of water spider, that uses vibrations on the surfaces of ponds and lakes to hunt for prey, moving around in the water below; so it was considered particularly apposite, to give it a physicist's name, in the wake of the discovery of gravitational waves.

It might look fearsome, but this species of piranha-lookalike is actually a seed eater. For years, its ancestry was unclear, and so it was not definitively classified in the taxonomical tree of life. But now, it's been deemed clear that this 'pacu' as it's known colloquially, aong with other similar-looking fish, belongs to its own species. Myloplus zorroi has been named after Mauricio Camargo-Zorro, a researcher at the Instituto Federal de Educacao, Ciencia e Tecnologia, officially; but unofficially, in reference to the fictional character who is famous for hiding their identity.

Last week, there were three different goings-on related to Facebook. Two of which, involved German courts. This one also does, with a specific reference to 'Like' buttons on other websites to You'll likely have seen them, usually in 'sharing' boxes at the bottoms of articles, but what you don't know, is what concerns the German courts. If you click on them, information about your is recorded and shared, without your consent. A 'fashion' site, run by the Peek & Cloppenburg brand, has been warned that it could be fined €250,000 for every breach of an order not to use people's personal data without consent.

The US Supreme Court has upheld a ruling from 2013, that Apple was part of a price-fixing conspiracy for electronic books, clearing the way for a $450 million settlement to be paid. It was in July 2013 that US District Judge Denise Cote ruled that Apple was liable for conspiring with five book publishers to fix e-book prices.

ESA's eLISA Pathfinder has completed its tests, and is now testing its free-falling 2 kg gold–platinum cubes for whether they're really only moving under gravity. If it's clear that the solar wind, nor anything else, is perturbing the motions of the blocks, then the system will have been demonstrated reliable for development into the species' biggest ever experiment. eLISA is planned to be launched in the 2030s, and will form a 5 million kilometre plus wide laboratory, to test for the presence of gravitational waves.

------------------------------------------------------ contemporary stuff

'The Whirlpool Galaxy (Messier 51) - Deep Sky Videos'

'Elemental Extractions #1: Hydrogen'

'Lab Tour!'

'LIGO Feel That Space (The Weeknd parody) | A Capella Science'

'The Trouble with Transporters'

'Dawn's first year at Ceres—a mountain emerges'

'Image: Spooky lightning from orbit'

'Image: Tenerife from Proba-V'

'Image: Cyprus from Sentinel 2A'
For more:

'Cities at Night'

'Lunar Shadow Transit'
For more:

'Bad PR - TLoNs Podcast #120'


'World's First 360° Sports Highlights - Formula E (Buenos Aires ePrix)'

------------------------------------------------------ of the weeks

Word Of The Week: ecru -- the light fawn colour of unbleached linen

Bad Parenting Story Of The Week: 'Father unhappy after teacher told children that the Easter Bunny isn’t real'

Ambiguously Dramatic Statement Of The Week: "Crews reported a large swarm of aggressive bees from two hives in the attic of the house. One of them weighed 70 pounds" That's one big bee :-D

Probabilities Of The Week: chance of winning the Swiss Lotto - 1 in 5,294,943; chance of a muon decaying into one electron and one photon of light - 1 in 2,400,000,000,000 (2.4 trillion)

Quote Of The Week: "There is no harmony between religion and science. When science was a child, religion sought to strangle it in the cradle. Now that science has attained its youth, and superstition is in its dotage, the trembling, palsied wreck says to the athlete: “Let us be friends” It reminds me of the bargain the cock wished to make with the horse: “Let us agree not to step on each other’s feet”" - Robert Green Ingersoll

------------------------------------------------------ non-contemporary stuff

'ATP TENNIS - Top 10 Most Insane Points of 2014 Full HD'

'Roger Federer - Top 100 Best Shots Ever'

Sunday, 6 March 2016

Entertainment stuff from the week 29/2 - 6/3/16

Hi Darwinists,

Creationist Pseudoscience shitstorm of the week:

'Paper on PLOS ONE creates a firestorm by referencing "the Creator"'

A Paper, published in journal PLOS ONE, has called into question the quality of vetting procedures by the journal's editors.

The Paper's abstract includes the words " the proper design by the Creator..." which is, of course, superstitious mumbo-jumbo, that has no place in a scientific journal.

The god-botherers, Bob Yirka apparently as an example, have decided not to applaud the journal for its retraction of the article, but instead to condemn it for daring to imply that Religionist superstition maybe isn't valid!

No, Bob, they're right to retract it - the only way to make fundamental changes to a paper, is to take the old one down, and replace it with a new, corrected file. Peer reviewers agreed that it was not just the abstract that was at fault.

Even if, as you say, the wording were "nothing more than a language problem—the authors and editors of the paper are all native Chinese speakers" retraction would still be the right thing to do.

A fuller excerpt of the extract goes like this:

"...the biomechanical characteristic of tendinous connective architecture between muscles and articulations is the proper design by the Creator to perform a multitude of daily tasks in a comfortable way."

Does that seem, to you, to be the phraseology of an author with a tenuous grasp on the English language? It certainly doesn't, to me.

Pseudoscientists are wiley bullshitters, so it's important to be on guard against it. You can see my case study of Homeopathy for that - 19 articles claimed to support magic water superstition; none of them really do!

PLOS ONE, having retracted the article, have done well at guarding academia against it, by the way - they've adequately defended their reputation as a quality journal.

'The Darwin Day Lecture 2016, with Jerry Coyne | Evolution and atheism: best friends forever?'

In other news:

A Berlin regional court ruled in February, that Facebook had failed to comply with an order to amend its terms of service, to respect users' intellectual property rights, and fined the company
100,000. In a statement through a public relations firm, Facebook has said the terms of service have been updated, and that it would pay the fine. Germany's market competition watchdog has also had a go at Facebook, declaring that it has opened an investigation into Facebook USA, Facebook Ireland and Facebook Germany, for abuse of market position, through its user terms. As if to really rub it in, Facebook looks like it will be paying more tax, in years to come, with the promise that it will shift its official presence from Eire to the UK. Facebook paid just £4,327 in corporation tax, in 2014 - a figure that Nerd³ said he paid more than, on his own! In an ideal world, the tax would be paid according to the location of the transactions it relates to - not to the tax-avoiding whim of the execs.

The EU's introduction of air pollution regulations, and support for introduction of new technologies, spares 80,000 lives from premature mortality, every year, according to an air pollution study published in the journal Environmental Research Letters. The EU's policies have led to a 35% reduction of fine particles in the atmosphere, over the period 1970-2010, which has been the mechanism behind improved public health across Europe. Of course, due to the shared nature of the Earth's atmosphere, this human advance has helped people of non-EU countries too; despite the efforts of EU-phobes in countries like the UK, where air pollution warnings are issued every year, in London, due to slack government.

The EU's history with internet security has been good, too. This report regards the progress on an international agreement between the EU and the USA, to protect rights to private data. You might remember that the EU had the assertiveness to fix 'net neutrality' long before the USA's government had made up its mind. President Barack Obama has promised to contribute a limit on the use of bulk-collected intelligence, and a US Ombudsman to deal with complaints by European citizens, and fines for firms that do not comply - up to €20 million or 4% of international turnover. This legislation has not been passed, however, as it currently contains too many large loopholes. Watch this space.

And in contrast, the national pollies provide us with pits of unending despair. Despite the huge unpopularity, pseudoscientific nature, and farcical requirements of the Tory government's 'Snoopers Charter' (Investigatory Powers Bill) the current government seems intent on making their totalitarian paranoia-inspired legislation a reality. Home Terrorist Theresa May has lied that they are "not seeking sweeping new powers" while insisting that web-based companies keep 'records' to help snoops with their investigations. These records don't, and won't exist, as demanded. What the hell do they think they're going to be working with? Anything they can get their hands on, by the sounds of it; hence the accusation of paranoia. The motive for the legislation is supposedly to protect people... by undermining encryption, and centralising vast catalogues of personal information, so that anyone can steal it. All they have done is to demonstrate that they are the real threat.

Fossilisation is a rare occurence. It takes a highly congenial environment, at the death of the organism, and an uninterrupted process of preservation, for paleontologists to be able to dig anything up, millions of years in the future. For this reason, hard skeletons are most likely to be preserved - they are the most robust parts of bodies, left behind. Fortunately, there have been quadrillions of animals, living and dying over the last half a billion years, around the planet, so although the proportion of specimens fossilised is low, there are still lots of fossils to be found. Soft tissue preservation in fossils is even rarer than hard tissue preservation, but this find sets a new record - a 500 million year old body, bearing extensive evidence of a central nervous system! The animal, called Chengjiangocaris kunmingensis, was an early ancestor of modern arthropods - the diverse group that includes insects, spiders and crustaceans. The exoskeletal nature of these animals probably helps, in the preservation of their soft insides. Brains have been found before, but not with connected ganglia - the arthropod equivalent of the spinal cord. Like with modern arthropods, C. kunmingensis' ganglia are situated between every pair of legs. Close analysis has showed that the ganglia were made of dozens of nervous fibres, measuring ~0.005 mm in length.

From a 500-million-year-old sea dweller, to one of the earliest land-dwellers - a 440 million-year-old fungus. Tortotubus, the fungus in question, is the oldest fossil of any land organism ever found, and would likely have contributed, the way modern fungi do, to changing the exo-marine environment into something more congenial to plants and animals, by producing the planet's first soils. Only mosses and lichens could have lived on land, without something to produce the fertile soils that provide minerals to plants, and then to the animals that eat them, permitting them to grow into much more complex lifeforms. Fungi are still hugely important, today, for fixing nitrogen, into a form that can be used by plants. Only legumes can do this without fungi. Tortotubus shows evidence of a root system, that would have been key to keeping soils in place, allowing them to collect, and to develop the relatively resource-rich environment that humans love to plunder, half a billion years later.

Supplement pseudoscience is not limited to humans, it seems. Humans who keep horses for dressage and eventing, frequently give them supplements, through the belief that they will improve their health - specifically, 'joints and mobility', 'lameness' and 'energy/behaviour' problems. This sounds very similar to the motives with which humans give supplements to themselves - aches and pains, and lethargy. Neither of which are treatable with supplements; at least as far as we can know, by evidence. The primary contribution of supplements, in healthy animals, is to slowly poison them, by giving their livers extra work to do. Horses don't live as long as humans, though, so maybe they're at less of a risk from accumulated supplementation poisoning, over their lifetimes.

Big Pharma just got fined $646 million for corrupting medicine! Well, actually it was Big Photography. Olympus is most well known for making cameras, but it also makes specialised equipment for hospitals. The US Justice Department has revealed that Olympus (the USA branch) has handed out free trips to Japan, to doctors who got their hospitals to buy Olympus equipment; given a financial grant to another hospital in exchange for a sale; and blocked a grant to another hospital, until it agreed to buy Olympus equipment.
The US Justice Department said the kickback practices between 2006 and 2011 helped the company obtain more than $600 million in sales and $230 million in profits. Unfortunately, this kind of corruption of medicine is very much the norm, with Pharma companies devoting more money to manipulating medical decisions (marketing), than to the actual development of medicines. It's not soylent green, but it's a travesty to me.

NASA research, using tree ring measurements and geographical analysis of drought extremity distribution, has found that the recent drought in the Mediterranean and Levant, that began in 1998, and has contributed to the motive for large numbers of people to leave the area for northern Europe, is likely to have been the worst drought in the area for 900 years. Droughts show up in tree ring data, with severely reduced growth, so by using the tree ring data that go back a millennium, climatologists can calibrate their computational models, to enhance predictive power of how the climate is going to change, in the future. That is what this research was originally all about. Droughts are expected to worsen, as the current era of human-caused climatic change progresses.

From the world of categorisation errors, comes the revelation that some viruses have immune systems that are comparable to bacteria's. Is it alive; is it not? The categorisation discussion continues. The mimiviruses of this study are physically huge - bigger even, than some bacterial cells - so although they don't function in a way that many would call them 'alive' they do have plenty of room inside them, for proteinous machinery. The immune systems of viruses and bacteria, of course, are barely comparable to the adaptive immune systems of large eukaryotes, like us, who have leukocytes and T-cells and things, specifically adapted for hunting down rogue cells and destroying them. The mimiviruses in question have been found to contain enzymes, that digest foreign DNA; in this case, the DNA of a virophage called 'Zamilon'. Zamilon is a virus, that invades other viruses, to reproduce. So yes, viruses can catch diseases and get sick. Bacteria have a similar system - CRISPR (most famous for genetic engineering) in order to protect themselves from bacteriophages - viruses that digest bacteria, in order to reproduce. The research group has dubbed the new type of immune system in mimiviruses, MIMIVIRE.

Homosex in male beetles, it seems, reduces incidence of physical aggression. Research into male broad-horned flour beetles (Gnatocerus cornutus) has found that, when pairs of males engage in "SSB" (same sex behaviour) they are both less aggressive than pairs that don't do SSB at all, and pairs that don't decide on 'top' and 'bottom' roles. Also observed, was that the 'top' achieved more with the females, than did the submissive sexual partner. Many species, humans included, have ways of figuring out power hierarchies, that prevent physical conflict. Showing off a bright patch of feathers, or standing the tallest, for example, is less likely to waste the resources that went into achieving sexual maturity in the first place. Evolutionarily, a dominance display increases species resourcefulness, and thereby success. In humans, of course, it's usually more about convivial hanky-panky than demonstrations of dominance. Not that the homophobes will accept that, of course.

------------------------------------------------------ contemporary stuff

'Ghostbusters (GIRL POWER version) EPIC FAIL!'
When your claim to diversity, is that your film production employs zero men, you shouldn't expect good reviews!

'CRAZY SJW lecturer threatens student... BACKFIRES SPECTACULARLY!'

'If God Became an SJW'

'Australian Lightning DOUBLE DEBUNK'

'James Hansen on Ice Sheets - 2016'

'Zebra vs Horses (Americapox Part 2)'

'There is only One True Parabola'

'SFN #155: Hubble Sees New Distant Galaxy; LIGO & Gamma Rays; Get Ready for ESA'S EXOMARS!'

'NASA's Juno Mission to Jupiter: Investigating a Colossus'

'ScienceCasts: Close Encounters with Jupiter'

'New ghostly deep-sea octopus filmed at record depth'

'Japanese pygmy squid shoot ink to hunt for prey'

'New Zealand Pigeon'

'Mindstorms Solar Tracker'

'Burning Ping Pong Balls - Periodic Table of Videos'

'Dissolve Gold with Poison'

'MAVEN observes Mars moon Phobos in the mid- and far-ultraviolet'

'Image: Aeolis Mensae on Mars shows evidence of past tectonic activity'

'Image: Tethys and Janus captured against Saturn's rings'

'The frozen canyons of Pluto's north pole'

'Image: Hubble's blue bubble'

'The Bible in the Fire'

'Cassetteboy vs The Apprentice - Donald Trump Edition'

'"I Think About Donald Trump" by Roy Zimmerman'

'"MY SEX DREAMS" Tales Of Mere Existence'

'10 Amazing Paper Stunts'

'Inside TfL's Lost Property Office'

------------------------------------------------------ of the weeks

Word Of The Week: prate -- to talk foolishly or at tedious length about something (verb)

Fact Of The Week: The vultures in Disney's film of 'The Jungle Book' were originally intended to be voiced by The Beatles. That is why they are depicted with mop-top haircuts and scouse accents. Due to scheduling conflicts, however, the parts had to be played by professional voice actors instead.

------------------------------------------------------ non-contemporary stuff

'Crabby Swordfight'

'Dave Allen - The Horror Story'

'Richard Herring's Leicester Square Theatre Podcast - with Ross Noble #31'