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Comment: Re:Remember the good old days? (Score 1) 342

by jc42 (#48910387) Attached to: Americans Support Mandatory Labeling of Food That Contains DNA

Remember when news organizations didn't so blatantly try to push agendas?

I can't remember that far back. It must've been well before the sinking of the USS Maine.

It must have been before recorded history. We have documented examples of such behavior for as long as we have documents.

Comment: Re:No it is a combo of 2 factors (Score 1) 342

by jc42 (#48910371) Attached to: Americans Support Mandatory Labeling of Food That Contains DNA

Precisely. The study asked a question that results in an expected answer 80% of the time. So why would such a study be conducted in the first place?

Well, duh, they did it to verify that the people did give the "expected" answer most of the time. There are lots of scientific studies showing that something the "everyone knows" isn't actually true, so such beliefs are often worth actually testing. In this case, a number for what fraction of the people haven't a clue about DNA is interesting and potentially useful. It does put a lot of other such surveys in an "interesting" light.

Comment: Re:I still think Pluto is a planet (Score 1) 170

by jc42 (#48842381) Attached to: Analysis Suggests Solar System Contains Massive Trans-Neptunian Objects

The most likely result will be that astronomers will eventually reject the term "planet" entirely. Sorta like how, a few centuries back, they rejected the older term "astrology", due to all its baggage and mis-use by pseudo-scientists and charlatans.

You realize that you are implying that the astronomers who voted in the current astronomical definition of planet are all either psuedo-scientists or charlatans?

That raises some very serious thought-provoking questions. IMHO, using only common sense and no optical assistance mechanisms, it looks to me like they are probably pseudo-scientists, and not charlatans.

Well, they apparently spent some time in meetings of an international organization discussing the definition of "planet", when they could have been doing actual scientific work. ;-)

Of course, sometimes terminology is important scientifically, and it's worthwhile spending time to get it right. But they were mocked by other actual astronomers pointing out that any term that includes both Mercury and Jupiter but not some objects with intermediate properties must be an absolutely worthless term for any scientific purposes. So, at least during the time they spent in such discussions of the definition of "planet", they weren't functioning as scientists. But they were pretending that the terminology involved had scientific value, so it probably did qualify for the term "pseudo-science", in at least one of its common meanings.

Comment: Re:I still think Pluto is a planet (Score 2) 170

by jc42 (#48840213) Attached to: Analysis Suggests Solar System Contains Massive Trans-Neptunian Objects

It has not cleared it's orbit of debris and Eris is in the same boat yet LARGER than Pluto.... how is Pluto a planet then?

Neither has Earth; there's a rather large, bright rock visible in our sky about half the time. ;-)

Seriously, though, it's probably just a matter of time before a rock bigger than Earth is discovered out in the Kuiper belt and/or the Oort Cloud, and chances are pretty slim that its orbit will be "cleared" of rubble. This will either put an end to the current (somewhat bogus) definition of "planet", or it will cause the debate over what's a planet and what's not to bumble on indefinitely.

The most likely result will be that astronomers will eventually reject the term "planet" entirely. Sorta like how, a few centuries back, they rejected the older term "astrology", due to all its baggage and mis-use by pseudo-scientists and charlatans.

In any case, the big rocks in the sky don't really care how we classify them. They just go about their orbiting, occasionally bashing into each other (and occasionally us) at widely-spaced intervals.

Comment: Re:call me skeptical (Score 2) 360

by jc42 (#48835589) Attached to: NASA, NOAA: 2014 Was the Warmest Year In the Modern Record

Is it monthly averages that they average for the year? Is it daily data that is averaged for the whole year?

Are you really not aware that those are the same number?

If so, well it's good that you seem to realize that you truly do not belong in this discussion.

Actually, it's quite common for local weather data to play fast-and-loose with the concept of "average" in ways that produce such anomalous results.

Thus, it's common to record the "average" temperature for a day by averaging the high and low temperature. It should be fairly obvious how this can produce days that are mostly below (or above) average, like when a front moves through and produces a peak high or low that's very different from most of the day. Similarly, I've seen the "average" monthly highs and lows calculated by taking four numbers (the min/max of the daily highs/lows) and doing similarly misleading averaging.

Actually, meteorologists typically record such things on an hourly basis, and do averaging across all of them. You still run into questions like whether the results are means or medians. But it's not unusual for the politically inclined to ignore such data (which is often only available by grovelling through the databases), using an "average" of only a small set of highs and lows.

Yes, these should average out over the long run. But we've seen so much "cherry picking" in this subject area that one should be skeptical of all the data until you've verified that the writers aren't trying to pull a fast one to support their religious/political/economic theories.

Comment: Re:Interesting to note... (Score 1) 360

by jc42 (#48835231) Attached to: NASA, NOAA: 2014 Was the Warmest Year In the Modern Record

Last winter was the coldest one on record around here, in over 100 years of record keeping... Pipes were freezing everywhere

Well, which was it... "around here", or "everywhere"? You do know there is a difference, right?

You must speak a rather restrictive dialect of English. In my native dialect (US West Coast), the phrase "everywhere around here" is quite normal, and you can figure out its meaning by inserting "that's" in the right place. The first quote above used the two halves of the phrase in a common way, and speakers of such dialects will automatically carry the "around here" over to the second sentence.

So what dialect do you speak, for which this isn't true. Online linguists studying English dialects are curious ...

Comment: Re:Have you ever noticed that ... (Score 3, Interesting) 155

by jc42 (#48779009) Attached to: Google Sees Biggest Search Traffic Drop Since 2009 As Yahoo Gains Ground

... ever since the first search engine (altavista) appeared the search paradigm has essentially remained unchanged? ... and it's getting stale ...

Can't the search engine companies, and I don't care if it's Bing, Google or Yahoo, come up with something new? Something that is disruptively simple and yet extra-ordinarily innovative?

Nah; they can't do that. The reason is simple: They're now big, established companies, and big, established companies never, ever innovate. To them, "innovation" means making a few superficial tweaks to the product's appearance, while loudly proclaiming "New! Improved!". Any true change is a threat to the product that provides their current income.

If you want something that actually works differently, you have to go with the experimental, upstart companies. Most of them will eventually fail, of course, or if they start to succeed, they'll be bought out by one of the big guys, who will quietly shut them down. Or maybe they'll be sued out of existence by all the big guys via their list of vague patents. But a few will become "the next Google" or whatever was the successful upstart 1was called 0 years ago in their field. Then they'll no longer innovate in any meaningful sense.

Comment: Re:Parameter mismatch (Score 1) 83

by jc42 (#48777887) Attached to: Analysis of Spacecraft Data Reveals Most Earth-like Planet To Date

Except, it being a moon informs about the potential properties and behavior of the object. A moon has properties that decreases the likelihood of life forming on it.

That's also hard to take seriously. Extrapolating a sample of one to a universe with billions of galaxies, each with billions of stars, is just silly. Not that I'm saying you shouldn't do it, of course. I'd be tempted to answer by arguing that an Earth-size "moon" around a gas giant may be more likely to have life, but of course that would be extrapolating from a sample of zero. (Unless we discover life on one of Jupiter's moons, or on Titan. ;-)

Without a lot more evidence than we have, conjectures about the possibility of life in/on various astronomical objects are just conjectures. This is fun, and a lot of scientific work is based on such conjecture, but there's not a chance that we can accurately calculate the probabilities with what we know now.

Comment: Re:Parameter mismatch (Score 1) 83

by jc42 (#48758473) Attached to: Analysis of Spacecraft Data Reveals Most Earth-like Planet To Date

..., Titan is a moon.

Yeah, yeah; but any classification system that puts Mercury and Jupiter into a single class, while putting Earth and Titan into different classes, is just too silly to take seriously. Lots of astronomers take this sort of attitude, and either avoid using such terms at all, or have a bit of fun trolling the people who take them seriously. Some have also pointed out that it makes a lot more sense, scientifically, to consider the Earth's orbit to contain two planets that exchange positions on a monthly cycle. This might also be considered a sort of trolling, though it does have its serious side, as these two bodies do significantly influence each other through mechanisms like their mutual tides.

In any case, none of these heavenly bodies care at all what we call them, and nothing we say can influence their properties or behavior.

Comment: Re:Parameter mismatch (Score 2) 83

by jc42 (#48757125) Attached to: Analysis of Spacecraft Data Reveals Most Earth-like Planet To Date

On the other hand, there are two planets in our solar system with less mass than Earth, but denser atmospheres: Venus and Titan. Venus is only slightly smaller and less massive than our planet, but has a much denser atmosphere. Titan is a lot smaller as well as less dense, but has an atmosphere roughly 50% denser than ours -- and full of organic molecules.

Our kind of life couldn't exist on either one of them, of course, mostly for temperature reasons. But we don't have many samples of the conditions in which life can exist and evolve, so it's sorta presumptuous to claim that we "know" anything about what's possible.

Comment: What's conceivable? (Score 1, Interesting) 83

by jc42 (#48756769) Attached to: Analysis of Spacecraft Data Reveals Most Earth-like Planet To Date

Most are inhospitable — too big, too hot, or too cold for any conceivable life form.

Whoever wrote this has obviously never read any science fiction. ;-) The term "conceivable" covers a very wide range of planets (and various environments not based on planets) in which intelligent creatures might evolve.

Some years back, I read Robert Forward's Camelot at 30K novel, about a human expedition to an inhabited Pluto-like planet out in the Oort Cloud; the title references the mean temperature of that world. Part of the story was a quite imaginative method that the world's inhabitants used to colonize other large rocks fbig enough to have useful gravity and far enough from any star that their sort of life was possible. That turns out to be most of the galaxy, of course.

Going back even further, to 1957, we find Sir Fred Hoyle's novel about a dense cloud of gas (similar to what's called a Bok Globule) approaches our Solar System, and instead of passing through, settles into a small, dark ring around the sun. As the catastrophic effects on Earth settle down, scientists discover that the cloud itself is an intelligent creature that just stopped by for a meal of photons and assorted small molecules emitted by the sun. It is, of course, surprised to find itself being contacted by intelligent creatures living in such an unlike spot as a planet, since you'd expect true intelligence to evolve only in the rich clouds of interstellar space.

I'm sure that many readers of this forum can list many other literary works that depict life in environments not the least bit like ours. Anyone who can only conceive of life on a planet similar to ours is seriously lacking in imagination. But there are thousands of writers who aren't so mentally crippled, and millions of readers to read their work. ;-)

Comment: Re:Animals love to drink (Score 1) 63

by jc42 (#48718747) Attached to: Study: Birds Slur Their Songs When Drunk, Just Like Humans

Your story would be believable, except for the fact that strawberries do not grow on trees.

Strangely enough, the fruits of the strawberry tree aren't strawberries at all.

And this is yet another good example of why the scientific naming system was developed. English and most other "natural" languages tend to have a lot of illogical, confusing terminology like this. The strawberry tree is called that for the dumb reason that it bears fruit that superficially resemble the common strawberry. This satisfies people who only look at outer appearance, but tends to lead to incorrect reasoning when things that aren't closely related have similar names.

Similarly, we have a "highbush cranberry" bush in our back yard. It's a species of Viburnum that bears fruit the same size, shape and color as true cranberries. Both are about equally tart, and require some sugar to be made edible. But they're not close relatives, either, so the name can confuse people who don't understand the many problems with "plain English" names. They don't substitute directly in recipes, since the Viburnum "cranberry" contains one large seed, plus a lot of water. It works best if you squeeze the juice out and use it as a substitute for lemons or limes, with a flavor that's rather different from any citrus fruit.

Comment: Re:Hadrly a new story (Score 1) 349

by jc42 (#48713945) Attached to: United and Orbitz Sue 22-Year-Old Programmer For Compiling Public Info
One of my favorite cases of such prohibitions was in a physics text for a physics course that I once took in college. One of the end-of-chapter exercises was of the form "Using the equations in this chapter, and tables X and Y at the end of the book, calculate the critical masses of the following isotopes ...". This has a reference to a footnote, which informed the reader that telling the answers to this question to an non-citizen was a felony under US federal law, punishable by N years in a federal prison. I've forgotten which textbook this was, unfortunately, or I'd include that info. I wonder if it's still in print?

Comment: Hadrly a new story (Score 3, Insightful) 349

by jc42 (#48695413) Attached to: United and Orbitz Sue 22-Year-Old Programmer For Compiling Public Info

There's a fair amount of precedent for this sort of idiocy. One of the funniest example, which got a bit of news coverage at the time, was back in the 1970s. The US Defense Department funded a study by a couple of academics, and paid them several hundred thousand dollars to study what could be learned from public sources about US military deployment. After the study's report was submitted, it took only about 2 days for it to be classified as a US government "secret".

The press and the professional comedians had a good time mocking the US government for that one. But various people also pointed out that it wasn't the first time such idiocy had been enforced by law, in the US or in other countries. A long list of similar punishment for making publicly-available information public also appeared back then.

Maybe we can start a thread of other similar recent attempts to suppress public information. Do you know a good one in whatever country you live in?

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