eldavojohn writes: Professor Gerald "Jerry" Crabtree of Stanford's Crabtree Laboratory published a paper (PDF warning) that has appeared in twoparts in "Trends in Genetics." The paper opens with a very controversial suggestion, 'I would be willing to wager that if an average citizen from Athens of 1000 BC were to appear suddenly among us, he or she would be among the brightest and most intellectually alive of our colleagues and companions' and from there speculates we're on the decline of human intelligence and we have been for at least a couple millennia. His argument seems to suggest that agriculture and, following from that, cities have allowed us to break free of such environmental forces on competitive genetic mutations — a la Mike Judge's theory. However, the conclusion of the paper urges humans to keep calm and carry on as any attempt to fix this genetic trend would almost certainly be futile and disturbing.
eldavojohn writes: On September 14th a PDF report titled "Taxes and the Economy: An Economic Analysis of the Top Tax Rates Since 1945" penned by the Library of Congress' nonpartisan Congressional Research Service was released to little fanfare. However the following conclusion of the report has since roiled the GOP enough to have the report removed from the Library of Congress: 'The results of the analysis suggest that changes over the past 65 years in the top marginal tax rate and the top capital gains tax rate do not appear correlated with economic growth. The reduction in the top tax rates appears to be uncorrelated with saving, investment, and productivity growth. The top tax rates appear to have little or no relation to the size of the economic pie. However, the top tax rate reductions appear to be associated with the increasing concentration of income at the top of the income distribution. As measured by IRS data, the share of income accruing to the top 0.1% of U.S. families increased from 4.2% in 1945 to 12.3% by 2007 before falling to 9.2% due to the 2007-2009 recession. At the same time, the average tax rate paid by the top 0.1% fell from over 50% in 1945 to about 25% in 2009. Tax policy could have a relation to how the economic pie is sliced—lower top tax rates may be associated with greater income disparities.' From the New York Times article: 'The pressure applied to the research service comes amid a broader Republican effort to raise questions about research and statistics that were once trusted as nonpartisan and apolitical.' It appears to no longer be found on the Library of Congress' website.
eldavojohn writes: The global warming debate has left much to be desired in the realms of logic and rationale. One particular researcher, Michael E. Mann, has been repeatedly attacked for his now infamous (and peer reviewed/independently verified) hockey stick graph. It has come to the point that he is now suing for defamation over being compared to convicted serial child molester Jerry Sandusky. Articles hosted by defendants and written by defendant Rand Simberg and defendant Mark Steyn utilize questionable logic for implicating Michael E. Mann alongside Jerry Sandusky with the original piece concluding, 'Michael Mann, like Joe Paterno, was a rock star in the context of Penn State University, bringing in millions in research funding. The same university president who resigned in the wake of the Sandusky scandal was also the president when Mann was being (whitewashed) investigated. We saw what the university administration was willing to do to cover up heinous crimes, and even let them continue, rather than expose them. Should we suppose, in light of what we now know, they would do any less to hide academic and scientific misconduct, with so much at stake?' Additionally, sentences were stylized to blend the two people together, 'He has molested and tortured data in the service of politicized science that could have dire economic consequences for the nation and planet' and one of the defendants admits to removing "a sentence or two" of questionable wording. Still, as a public figure, Michael E. Mann has an uphill battle to prove defamation in court.
eldavojohn writes: Seven billion light years away seven billion years ago, a gamma-ray burst occurred. The observation of four Fermi-detected gamma-ray bursts (GRBs) has led physicists to speculate that space-time is indeed smooth (a prepublication PDF can be found here). Three such photons were observed to arrive very close together and the observers believe that these are from the same burst which means that there was nothing diffracting their paths from the gamma-ray burst to Earth. This observation doesn't prove that space-time is infinitesimally smooth like Einstein predicted but does give a nod that it is for a range of parameters. Before we can totally discount the theory that space-time is comprised of Planck-scale pixels, we must now establish that the proposed pixels don't disrupt the photons in ways independent of their wavelengths. For example, this observation did not disprove the possibility that the pixels exert a subtler "quadratic" influence over the photons nor could it determine the presence of birefringence — an effect that depends on the polarization of the light particles.
eldavojohn writes: Scientists have long been criticized of their inability to communicate complex ideas adequately to the rest of society. Similar to his questions on PBS' Scientific American Frontiers, actor Alan Alda wrote to the Journal of Science with a proposition called The Flame Challenge. Contestants would have to explain a flame to an eleven year old kid and the entries would be judged by thousands of children across the country. The winner of The Flame Challenge is quantum physics grad student Ben Ames whose animated video covers concepts like pyrolysis, chemiluminescence, oxidation and incandescence boiled into a humorous video complete with song. Now they are asking children age 10-12 to suggest the next question for the Flame Challenge. Kids out there, what would you like scientists to explain?
eldavojohn writes: The New York Review of Books has an article penned by Steven Weinberg lamenting the future of physics, cosmology and this era of "big science" in which we find ourselves. A quote from Goldhaber sums up the problem nicely, 'The first to disintegrate a nucleus was Rutherford, and there is a picture of him holding the apparatus in his lap. I then always remember the later picture when one of the famous cyclotrons was built at Berkeley, and all of the people were sitting in the lap of the cyclotron.' The article is lengthy with a history of big physics projects (most painfully perhaps the SSC) but Weinberg's message ultimately comes across as pessimism laced with fatalism — easily understandable given his experiences with government funding. Unfortunately he notes, 'Big science has the special problem that it can’t easily be scaled down. It does no good to build an accelerator tunnel that only goes halfway around the circle.' Apparently this article mirrors his talk given in January at the American Astronomical Society. If not our government, will anyone fund these immense projects or will physics slowly grind to a halt due to fiscal constraints?
eldavojohn writes: The editors of Infection and Immunity are sending a warning signal about modern science. Two editorials (1 and 2) published in the journal have given other biomedical researchers pause to ask if modern science is dysfunctional. Readers familiar with the state of academia may not be surprised but the claims have been presented today to the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) that level the following allegations: "Incentives have evolved over the decades to encourage some behaviors that are detrimental to good science" and "The surest ticket to getting a grant or job is getting published in a high profile journal, this is an unhealthy belief that can lead a scientist to engage in sensationalism and sometimes even dishonest behavior to salvage their career." The data to back up such slanderous claims? "In the past decade the number of retraction notices for scientific journals has increased more than 10-fold while the number of journals articles published has only increased by 44%." At least a few of such retractions have been covered here.
eldavojohn writes: As odd as it sounds, candle flames contain all four known forms of carbon. Zixue Su, Yang Zhang and University of St Andrews chemistry Professor Wuzong Zhou have recently published a paper utilizing a new technique that leveraged anodic aluminium oxide films as collectors to actually observe diamond, graphitic, fullerenic and amorphous particles from a live candle flame. The result of a challenge from a colleague that claimed no one knows what a flame is actually made of, Dr. Zhou and his team deduced that around 1.5 million diamond nanoparticles are created every second in a candle flame. Some more light has been shed on how the flame transforms hydro-carbon molecules into carbon dioxide that could pave the way to a new nucleation mechanism for diamond growth and fullerene formation in a combustion synthesizing process.
eldavojohn writes: If math gives you a raging brainer, prepare yourself for MoMath opening next year to 'expose the breadth and the beauty of mathematics' in New York City. After raising $22 million from donors, Glen Whitney wants to challenge the average American's perception of mathematics. Whitney has proven himself with Math Midway — a sort of traveling carnival exhibit — and prior to that worked on algorithms at Renaissance Technologies. Now he realizes that his true calling is to open a dedicated museum and return mathematics to its former glory.
eldavojohn writes: In his latest blog post, Dev Gualtieri recalls a time when US industrial research and publishing papers was part of his professional life. Aside from the plug for the book Science Mart and its get-off-my-lawn-edness, Gualtieri cites his own personal anecdote on the decline of US industrial research. Companies like Bell used to employ the minds of people like Shannon and Turing while producing groundbreaking papers and researching new technologies. The blog notes that its easier for today's company to justify investing large amounts of cash in legal fees and lawyers than white papers and researchers. The accusation is that today's "Marketplace for Ideas" actually is just making us stupider (by outsourcing research) as opposed to many claims that it is inherently efficient. The commercialization of scientific research as a commodity starting in the 1980s has left our country inept and lazy on the global market as companies simply buy out the small guys who come up with original ideas or litigate them into oblivion instead of doing their own research and development. Gualtieri's sentiments echo Andrew Odlyzko in 1995 who conducted research in the once prestigious Bell and AT&T Labs. Is industrial research all but dead in the United States? Has anyone here been recently published in a journal after doing research in their company's environment?
eldavojohn writes: Some new soon-to-be-published research on gyrochronology has yielded a possible method for more accurately determining a star's age. While determining the age of stars in clusters has been done using the patterns of its color and brightness, singular stars are much more difficult. By comparing established age information from clusters and analyzing the spin of stars, the researchers have established a defined relationship between color (mass), spin and age giving them the beginning to a guide of "stellar clocks." This was accomplished after four painstaking years of collecting data from 71 single dwarf members of the open cluster NGC6811 and establishing a model using data from Kepler.