The Case for Working With Your Hands

Matthew B. Crawford in the New York Times:

ScreenHunter_10 May. 30 12.03 The trades suffer from low prestige, and I believe this is based on a simple mistake. Because the work is dirty, many people assume it is also stupid. This is not my experience. I have a small business as a motorcycle mechanic in Richmond, Va., which I started in 2002. I work on Japanese and European motorcycles, mostly older bikes with some “vintage” cachet that makes people willing to spend money on them. I have found the satisfactions of the work to be very much bound up with the intellectual challenges it presents. And yet my decision to go into this line of work is a choice that seems to perplex many people.

After finishing a Ph.D. in political philosophy at the University of Chicago in 2000, I managed to stay on with a one-year postdoctoral fellowship at the university’s Committee on Social Thought. The academic job market was utterly bleak. In a state of professional panic, I retreated to a makeshift workshop I set up in the basement of a Hyde Park apartment building, where I spent the winter tearing down an old Honda motorcycle and rebuilding it. The physicality of it, and the clear specificity of what the project required of me, was a balm. Stumped by a starter motor that seemed to check out in every way but wouldn’t work, I started asking around at Honda dealerships. Nobody had an answer; finally one service manager told me to call Fred Cousins of Triple O Service. “If anyone can help you, Fred can.”

I called Fred, and he invited me to come to his independent motorcycle-repair shop, tucked discreetly into an unmarked warehouse on Goose Island. He told me to put the motor on a certain bench that was free of clutter.

More here. [Thanks to Ruchira Paul.]

Can a machine change your mind?

Jane O'Grady in OpenDemocracy:

Scrnshotsdesktop-1243243050png_large Can a machine read your mind?’ – the title of a recent (February 2009) article in the Times — is meant to be sensational but is similar to hundreds of other articles appearing with increasing frequency, and merely repeating a story that has been familiar for the last 50 years. ‘It’s just a matter of time’ is the assumption behind such articles – just a matter of time before the gap between physical brain-stuff and consciousness is bridged. The Times article plays up the social interest angle of its story by describing experiments in which people’s brain activity is taken as proof of their guilt or innocence of crimes, or in which a computer ‘could tell with 78 per cent accuracy’ which of a number of drawings shown to volunteers was the one they were concentrating on …

There are in fact even more extreme examples than those in the Times article of how neuro-science and social science increasingly overlap. Alan Sanfey, of the Neural Decision Science Laboratory at the University of Arizona, for example, describes a neuro-economic analysis of an Ultimatum Game in which one person is given the power over another to make an offer to split £100. If the other rejects the offer, no one gets anything. So far so familiar — to other behavioural economics experiments that study the norms of fairness. One neuro-twist to the story, though, is that experimenters can make subjects more or less willing to accept unfair offers by subjecting their brains to Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS), non-invasive and painless stimulation of the brain.

More here.

The Latest AfPak War

Carlo Cristofori in CounterPunch:

Hamid Karzai The June, 2002, National Assembly (Loya Jirga) held in Afghanistan to select the head of state was rigged by the Bush administration, forcing the former king, who had majority support among the delegates, to withdraw from consideration*. This shows that the “Bush freedom agenda” was basically a sham–a political gimmick, a phony; and that Karzai is a U.S. puppet. Once he was installed, the subsequent elections, held without established political parties, were little more than a rubber stamp.

However, many Americans think that the U.S. brought freedom to Afghanistan, and cling to the notion of Afghanistan as “the good war.” The original U.S. sin behind the lack of legitimacy of the Karzai regime, although factually incontrovertible, has remained almost unnoticed.

The result is that blame for the situation tends to be placed on other factors, such as corruption and poor governance. Both are essentially a function of government weakness. But a puppet regime is weak virtually by definition.

The decision to sideline the king aggravated the disenfranchisement and oppression of the Pashtun tribes (the majority political element in Afghanistan) occasioned by U.S. support for the Northern Alliance and other warlords. Northern Afghanistan, for example, has been brutally ethnic-cleansed of Pashtuns since 2001–another fact that has remained almost completely unreported.

More here.

The Crisis and How to Deal with It

20090611-symposium Bill Bradley, Niall Ferguson, Paul Krugman, Nouriel Roubini, George Soros, and Robin Wells discuss over at the NYRB:

[Krugman] One way to think about the global crisis is a vast excess of desired savings over willing investment. We have a global savings glut. Another way to say it is we have a global shortage of demand. Those are equivalent ways of saying the same thing. So we have this global savings glut, which is why there is, in fact, no upward pressure on interest rates. There are more savings than we know what to do with. If we ask the question “Where will the savings come from to finance the large US government deficits?,” the answer is “From ourselves.” The Chinese are not contributing at all.

Those extra savings are, in effect, the savings that America has wanted to make anyway, but that US business is not willing to invest under current conditions. That is the way Keynesian policy works in the short run. It takes excess desired savings and translates them into some kind of spending. If the private sector won't do it, the government will. There is actually no contradiction between the Federal Reserve's actions and the actions of the US government with a fiscal stimulus. It's very much necessary to do both. By buying a lot of private securities, the Federal Reserve is essentially going out there and playing the role that the private banking system is no longer playing properly; by engaging in investment, the federal government is playing the role that businesses are not now willing to play. All that debt-financed spending on infrastructure by the Obama administration is basically filling the hole left by the collapse in business investment in the United States. There is not an excess demand for savings that is going to drive up interest rates. The only thing that might drive up interest rates—and this is a real concern—is that people may grow dubious about the financial solvency of governments.

Also see Delong on the talk.

More WTF is Wrong with the Human Rights Council: UN Praises the Sri Lankan Massacre of Civilians

In the Times:

Sri Lanka claimed a propaganda victory last night after the United Nations Human Rights Council passed a resolution praising its defeat of the Tamil Tigers and condemning the rebels for using civilians as human shields.

China, India, Egypt and Cuba were among the 29 developing countries that backed a Sri Lankan-proposed resolution describing the conflict as a “domestic matter that doesn’t warrant outside interference”. The resolution also supported Colombo’s insistence on allowing aid group access to 270,000 civilians detained in camps only “as may be appropriate”.

The Sri Lanka Ambassador in Geneva said that European nations had failed with their “punitive and mean-spirited agenda” against his country. “This was a lesson that a handful of countries which depict themselves as the international community do not really constitute the majority,” Dayan Jayatilleka said. “The vast mass of humanity are in support of Sri Lanka.”

Western diplomats and human rights officials were shocked by the outcome at the end of an acrimonious two-day special session to examine the humanitarian and human rights situation in Sri Lanka after the blitzkrieg of the final military offensive that wiped out the Tiger force.

The vote is extremely disappointing and is a low point for the Human Rights Council. It abandons hundreds of thousands of people in Sri Lanka to cynical political considerations,” Amnesty International said.

Sri Lanka, unable to stop the Human Rights Council taking up its case, rushed its own motion to the floor in time to beat a more censorious resolution tabled by Switzerland.

A Human Language Gene Changes the Sound of Mouse Squeaks

Nicholas Wade in The New York Times:

Mouse People have a deep desire to communicate with animals, as is evident from the way they converse with their dogs, enjoy myths about talking animals or devote lifetimes to teaching chimpanzees how to speak. A delicate, if tiny, step has now been taken toward the real thing: the creation of a mouse with a human gene for language.

The gene, FOXP2, was identified in 1998 as the cause of a subtle speech defect in a large London family, half of whose members have difficulties with articulation and grammar. All those affected inherited a disrupted version of the gene from one parent. FOXP2 quickly attracted the attention of evolutionary biologists because other animals also possess the gene, and the human version differs significantly in its DNA sequence from those of mice and chimpanzees, just as might be expected for a gene sculpted by natural selection to play an important role in language.

Researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, have now genetically engineered a strain of mice whose FOXP2 gene has been swapped out for the human version. Svante Paabo, in whose laboratory the mouse was engineered, promised several years ago that when the project was completed, “We will speak to the mouse.” He did not promise that the mouse would say anything in reply, doubtless because a great many genes must have undergone evolutionary change to endow people with the faculty of language, and the new mouse was gaining only one of them. So it is perhaps surprising that possession of the human version of FOXP2 does in fact change the sounds that mice use to communicate with other mice, as well as other aspects of brain function.

More here.

Your Body Is a Wonderland … of Bacteria

From Science:

Bacteria Where can you find your skin's most diverse community of bacteria? Not in a sweaty armpit or linty belly button. According to a new survey of the bacterial ecosystem that covers us, the diversity hot spot of the body's exterior is the forearm. And the surprises don't end there.

Microbes that live in and on our bodies outnumber our own cells 10 to one, but researchers have only recently begun to catalog the residents on our skin. Traditionally, scientists identified human skin bacteria by swabbing volunteers and culturing the samples, but those results skewed toward microbes that grow well in the lab. Thanks to ever-evolving gene-sequencing technology, scientists can now use microbial RNA to identify organisms. With these techniques, researchers have found an unexpectedly wide variety of bacteria on human skin (Science, 23 May 2008, p. 1001). But no one had ever systematically compared bacterial colonies from different areas on the human body.

More here.

Can control theory save the economy from going down the tubes?

Brian Hayes in American Scientist:

ScreenHunter_08 May. 29 12.38 In 1949, faculty and students at the London School of Economics gathered to observe a demonstration. At the front of the room was a seven-foot-tall contraption assembled out of plastic pipes, tanks, valves and other plumbing hardware. The device, later dubbed the MONIAC, was a hydraulic analog computer for modeling the flow of money through a national economy. When the machine was powered up, colored water gurgled through the transparent tubes and sloshed into reservoirs. Various streams represented consumption, investment, taxes, savings, imports and exports. Crank-wheels and adjustable cams allowed the water levels and flows to be regulated—the hydraulic equivalent of setting interest rates or tax policies. This was real trickle-down economics!

The MONIAC attracted much attention, and it lives on in folklore. Later generations of students called it the “pink lemonade national income machine.” Punch magazine tried to satirize the device, but their cartoon was really no more outlandish than the construction drawings for the machine itself. There are tales of leaks; according to one source, the machine couldn’t cope with inflation, which caused red fluid to squirt out through a hole in one of the cylinders. And then there’s the story about the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Governor of the Bank of England; when they were given a turn at the controls, the results showed “why the U.K. economy was in the state it was.”

This is all good fun, but the MONIAC was not just a toy or a joke. It embodied a style of thinking about economic problems that may still be worth revisiting, especially at a time when real economies are leaking liquid assets at an alarming rate.

More here.

The Role of the Conspiracy Theory in Shaping Modern History

Andrew Roberts in Literary Review:

ScreenHunter_07 May. 29 12.31 David Aaronovitch is one of those few Britons who can be referred to as an intellectual without it being pejorative. He is also a master of the art of ridicule, as this reviewer once discovered to his cost at a public debate. This superbly researched, wittily written and eminently sane book explodes conspiracy theories by the dozen, and highlights the psychological disorders from which their promoters often suffer. Best of all, however, it points out how dangerous conspiracy theories can be to society.

Of course, it's perfectly true that sometimes in history there have indeed been genuine conspiracies. The Catiline conspiracy in Ancient Rome, the Gunpowder Plot, the Cato Street Conspiracy to blow up the British Cabinet in 1820, the Bolshevik conspiracy to overthrow the Kerensky government in Russia in October 1917, and the Iran-Contra conspiracy in Reagan's White House in 1985-6 are all cases in point. Generally, however, it is the cock-up explanation rather than the conspiracy that provides the best guide to what really happened. To believe that dark forces control our lives, and have done so for centuries, is a sure sign of weak-mindedness, akin to a belief in UFOs or that one's destiny is affected by the zodiac.

More here.

Another nuclear anniversary

Pervez Hoodbhoy in Dawn:

Pervez_Hoodbhoy Some had imagined that nuclear weapons would make Pakistan an object of awe and respect internationally. They had hoped that Pakistan would acquire the mantle of leadership of the Islamic world. Indeed, in the aftermath of the 1998 tests, Pakistan’s stock had shot up in some Muslim countries before it crashed. But today, with a large swathe of its territory lost to insurgents, one has to defend Pakistan against allegations of being a failed state. In terms of governance, economy, education or any reasonable quality of life indicators, Pakistan is not a successful state that is envied by anyone.

Contrary to claims made in 1998, the bomb did not transform Pakistan into a technologically and scientifically advanced country. Again, the facts are stark. Apart from relatively minor exports of computer software and light armaments, science and technology remain irrelevant in the process of production. Pakistan’s current exports are principally textiles, cotton, leather, footballs, fish and fruit. This is just as it was before Pakistan embarked on its quest for the bomb. The value-added component of Pakistani manufacturing somewhat exceeds that of Bangladesh and Sudan, but is far below that of India, Turkey and Indonesia. Nor is the quality of science taught in our educational institutions even remotely satisfactory. But then, given that making a bomb these days requires only narrow technical skills rather than scientific ones, this is scarcely surprising.

What became of the claim that the pride in the bomb would miraculously weld together the disparate peoples who constitute Pakistan?

More here.

“I Am Looking for Wife 1,000”

Jonah Weiner in Slate:

090522_MB_zimbooTN He has 999 wives. He hails from an unnamed region of central Africa (“a thin layer of impenetrable rainforest,” he tells interviewers) known only as d'bush. His name is Prince Zimboo Abakunamabooba, and if he sounds fishy to you, he should. Outlandish back stories are common in hip-hop—a genre perched on the fault line between tell-it-like-it-is verité and winking artifice—but Zimboo's mythology is patently unbelievable, 100 percent wink. Is he a loon? A comedian? A walking 419 scam, claiming African royalty as part of some elaborate performance-art hoax?

It's worth caring about Zimboo's knotty identity play not just for the novelty of his persona but because of his deliriously funny music. Zimboo has been performing since at least 2007, and his renown has grown of late, thanks to his association with Diplo, the DJ and producer best known for his work with MIA. Diplo is preparing a reggae project called Major Lazer, and Zimboo, based in Jamaica, has been announced as one of the album's featured guests. This week, Zimboo released a daffy video in which he freestyles over Major Lazer's first single, “Hold the Line.” The video showcases Zimboo's idiosyncratic charm—he wears a permanent grin and inexplicably holds a small plastic alligator as he raps—and it captures several of his central, if contradictory, leitmotifs: the virtues of clean living, the pleasures of polygamy, the piteousness of those who masturbate.

More here.

A high-stakes race to discover other Earth-like worlds

Lee Billings in Seed Magazine:

ScreenHunter_06 May. 28 22.09 I’d come to meet Debra Fischer, a professor at San Francisco State University. As a co-discoverer of more than 150 planets, nearly half the known total outside our solar system, she is a prominent figure in astronomy. Her work on this lonely mountaintop could propel her past that, though, into realms of myth and legend. Fischer is using a modest, neglected telescope at CTIO to search for Earth-like planets in Alpha Centauri, the nearest star system to our own. If they exist, she should find them in three to five years.

The implications would be timeless, echoing ancient questions of life’s purpose, outlining futures distant yet possible. Against the certainty of another Earth circling one of the closest stars in the sky, the entirety of recorded history would abruptly seem the briefest prelude to an eternal denouement, a fire kindled to be passed on without end. Alpha Centauri could become a beacon illuminating and bringing significance to the accumulated toils of generations. Driven by the spectral hope of another living world unexplored, our own could profoundly change. Or Fischer’s project could simply fail. Many astronomers assume it will.

We were scheduled for lunch in CTIO’s cafeteria, but “lunch” meant “breakfast” there, as most of the mountain’s tenants slept in after spending their nights at telescopes. Over their meals, they discussed their hopes for the next generation of world-class observatories, and the globe-gripping economic turmoil that cast all such plans into question. Giant cathedrals of glass and steel could soon sprout on the nearby peaks to wring deeper secrets from starlight, but only if the powers that be find the money and the drive to build them.

More here.

The Nominees for the 2009 3QD Prize in Science Are:

Alphabetical list of blog names followed by the blog post title:

(Please report any problems with links in the comments section below.)

For prize details, click here.

And after looking around, click here to vote.

  1. 2020 Science: Blogging the demise of science journalism
  2. 2020 Science: Cultural Smokescreen
  3. 3 Quarks Daily: A Scientist Goes To An Ashram For A Personal Retreat
  4. 3 Quarks Daily: Giambattista Della Porta of Naples: How to Turn a Woman Green
  5. 3 Quarks Daily: Shrooming In Late Capitalism: The Way Of The Truffle
  6. A Blog Around The Clock: Circadian Rhythm of Aggression in Crayfish
  7. A Blog Around The Clock: Co-Researching spaces for Freelance Scientists?
  8. A Blog Around The Clock: Defining the Journalism vs. Blogging Debate, with a Science Reporting angle
  9. A Blog Around The Clock: The Shock Value of Science Blogs
  10. A Blog Around The Clock: Why social insects do not suffer from ill effects of rotating and night shift work?
  11. A Blog Around The Clock: Yes, Archaea also have circadian clocks!
  12. Adventures in Ethics and Science: How does salt melt snails?
  13. Adventures in Ethics and Science: SVP Ethics Education Commitee statement: lessons learned from ‘Aetogate’
  14. Adventures in Ethics and Science: The Hellinga Retractions (part 1): when replication fails, what should happen next?
  15. Adventures in Ethics and Science: The Hellinga Retractions (part 2): when replication fails, what should happen next?
  16. AK’s Rambling Thoughts: Wiring the Cell for Power
  17. Ambivalent Engineer: Insulating the pool
  18. Astroblog: Galileos’ DNA, and different forms of Blindness
  19. Back Reaction: The Variational Principle
  20. Bad Astronomy: A tiny wobble reveals a massive planet
  21. Bad Astronomy: …but how do we recover from Jenny McCarthy?
  22. Bad Astronomy: Science IS Imagination
  23. Bad Astronomy: Ten Things You Don’t Know About Hubble
  24. Bioephemera: Art vs. Science, Part Two: You want raw data? You can’t handle raw data!
  25. Bioephemera: For the last time: that “Twitter is Evil” paper is not about Twitter!
  26. Bioephemera: Jared Diamond hides behind the “it wasn’t science” defense
  27. Bioephemera: Science journalism: don’t forget the editors
  28. Cardiobrief: Comment: If prasugrel is delayed, who is to blame?
  29. Cardiobrief: JAMA editors take strong stance against conflict of interest and free speech
  30. Central & Science: Hey Burt’s Bees, Who’re You Callin’ Ugly?
  31. Central & Science: When Chemistry Was Swell
  32. Chemjobber: Critiquing the LA Times Sangji article, etc.
  33. Cocktail Party Physics: A Nation Of Winers
  34. Cocktail Party Physics: A Spark In The Dark
  35. Cocktail Party Physics: Crosstown Traffic
  36. Cocktail Party Physics: For Whom The Bells Toll
  37. Cocktail Party Physics: Science, politics, and getting it wrong
  38. Cocktail Party Physics: Stradivari’s Secret
  39. Cocktail Party Physics: The Universe Makes A Lotta Gas
  40. Cocktail Party Physics: They Like To Move It, Move It
  41. Cognitive Daily: Guys on dates want to know: Is it really impossible to ignore an attractive face?
  42. Cognitive Daily: One more way video games might be good for you
  43. Computing Intelligence: Animal Intelligence Continued
  44. Cosmic Variance: Have a Thermodynamically Consistent Christmas
  45. Cosmic Variance: What Will the LHC Find?
  46. Cosmic Variance: Rules for Time Travelers
  47. Daylight Atheism: The Age of Wonder
  48. Daylight Atheism: Bands of Iron
  49. Dot Physics: Physics of Fantastic Contraption I
  50. Erik’s Blog: Distance to the Horizon
  51. E’s Flat, Ah’s Flat Too: Indus: What did Rao Really Do?
  52. Expression Patterns: A Squishy Topic
  53. Expression Patterns: Last Saturday
  54. Florida Citizens for Science: Florida’s Greatest Menace: Introduction
  55. Florida Citizens for Science: Florida’s Greatest Menace V: Brainwashing Students
  56. Florida Citizens for Science: Florida’s Greatest Menace VI: Misconceptions, misinterpretations and misinformation
  57. Gene Expression: Genetic variation in space & time – Iceland
  58. Gene Expression: How Ashkenazi Jewish are you?
  59. Gene Expression: Inbreeding & the downfall of the Spanish Hapsburgs
  60. Gene Expression: The ancient origins of African pygmies
  61. Genetic Future: Is a personal genome sequence worth $350,000?
  62. Green Gabro: How Gay Marriage Causes Earthquakes
  63. Hot Topic: Monckton & the case of the missing Curry
  64. I Was Lost But Now I Live Here: Corpus callosum: 1st edition of open science round-up
  65. In the Dark: A Unified Quantum Theory of the Sexual Interaction
  66. In The Pipeline: Genes to Diseases: Hard Work, You Say?
  67. In The Pipeline: Floppiness is not Your Friend: Who Knew
  68. In The Pipeline: Ten Years After: The Genomics Frenzy
  69. In The Pipeline: Things I Won’t Work With: Triazadienyl Fluoride
  70. In The Pipeline: Your Paper Is A Sack Of Raving Nonsense. Thank You.
  71. It’s Only a Theory: Obviously plenty of philosophers use history as a source in philosophy of science
  72. It’s Only a Theory: The cult of contingency and the Future of the history and philosophy of science
  73. Laelaps: Getting to know “Ida”
  74. Laelaps: Repost: The Tragedy of Saartje Baartman
  75. Laelaps: Poor, poor Ida, Or: “Overselling an Adapid”
  76. Laelaps: The “Million-Dollar Pig’s-Tooth Mystery”
  77. Mauka to Makai: Baby-Making
  78. Mauka to Makai: Do Whales Have Ears?
  79. Mauka to Makai: SHARK! (ahem, shark?)
  80. Mauka to Makai: The Ocean’s Big pHat Problem
  81. Minerva’s Howl: Pinker on Violence, then and now…
  82. My Genes and Me: Journey to My Genes
  83. Nano-hybrids: The excitement of a scientist from balls and sticks
  84. Nano-hybrids: Difficult nanotechnology decisions
  85. Neurophilosophy: Voluntary amputation and extra phantom limbs
  86. Neurotopia: Depression Post 4: The Serotonin Theory (and why it’s probably wrong)
  87. Neurotopia: The Serotonin System and All that Goes With it
  88. Neurotopia: The Value of Stupidity: are we doing it right?
  89. NeuroWhoa!: Believer Brains Different from Non-Believer Brains?
  90. Observations of a Nerd: A Marine Biologist’s Story
  91. Observations of a Nerd: Having Some Fun With Evolution
  92. Observations of a Nerd: The End of the Age of Man?
  93. Observations of a Nerd: Why I am not a Darwinist, but we should celebrate Darwin Day
  94. Open Parachute: Human Morality I: Religious confusion
  95. Open Parachute: Human Morality II: Objective morality
  96. Open Parachute: Human Morality III: Moral intuition
  97. Open Parachute: Human Morality IV: Role of religion
  98. Open Parachute: Human Morality V: The secular conscience
  99. Professor Astronomy: The Copernican Principle
  100. Quantum Bayesian Networks: PageRank – How Google used Statistics to Change the World
  101. Respectful Insolence: One more time: Vaccine refusal endangers children
  102. Science After Sunclipse: Reverse the Baryon Flux Polarity!
  103. Science After Sunclipse: The Necessity of Mathematics
  104. Science of Running: Smell This!
  105. Science-based Medicine: 2009: Shaping up to be a really bad year for antivaccinationists
  106. Science Based Medicine: Welcome back, my friends, to the show that never ends, part II
  107. Science Made Cool: Failure is in the Eye of the Beholder
  108. Science Made Cool: Natural History at the Time of Darwin’s Birth
  109. Science, Why Not: Language is Culture and Culture is Language
  110. Science, Why Not: Niche partitioning in orb-weaver spiders of Louisiana
  111. Science, Why Not: Review of Mark B. Tappan’s “Language, Culture, and Moral Development: A Vygotskian Perspective”
  112. Science, Why Not: The development of the agricultural systems used by the Attini tribe over the past 50 million years
  113. Simostronomy: Gomez’s Hamburger-Want Fries With That?
  114. Simostronomy: Hubble Sees Toast
  115. Simostronomy: Polaris
  116. Simostronomy: The Remarkable Bobbie Vaile
  117. Simostronomy: The Simonsen T-M Diagram
  118. Skulls in the Stars: Levitation and diamagnetism, or: LEAVE EARNSHAW ALONE!!!
  119. Skulls in the Stars: Michael Faraday, grand unified theorist? (1851)
  120. Skulls in the Stars: Mr. Faraday goes wild — with atomic speculation! (1844)
  121. Skulls in the Stars: Optics in the Haunted Mansion!
  122. Skull in the Stars: The gallery of failed atomic models, 1903-1913
  123. Southern Fried Science: A curious case of convergent evolution?
  124. Southern Fried Science: The ecological disaster that is dolphin safe tuna
  125. Southern Fried Science: The Serpent and the Platypus
  126. Starts With a Bang: The Camera that Changed the Universe: Part 1
  127. Starts With a Bang: The Camera that Changed the Universe: Part 5
  128. Starts With a Bang: The LHC, Black Holes and You
  129. Stinky Journalism: Jared Diamond’s Factual Collapse
  130. Tetrapod Zoology: Passerine birds fight dirty, a la Velociraptor
  131. Tetrapod Zoology: The small, recently extinct, island-dwelling crocodilians of the south Pacific
  132. The Artful Amoeba: Moss That Swings Both (All?) Ways
  133. The Chem Blog: Chemistry: Exploding shit at the nano scale
  134. The Chem Blog: More Christmas from the lab ideas
  135. The Chem Blog: This month in JACs history
  136. The Intersection: Singled Out
  137. The Loom: Dawn of the Picasso Fish
  138. The Loom: Science Held Hostage
  139. The Mousetrap: Major conscious and unconscious processes in the brain: part 4: the easy problem of A-consciousness
  140. The Neurocritic: Intersex (for lack of a better word)…
  141. The Neurocritic: Mirror Neurons Control Hard-ons?
  142. The Neurocritic: The Neurology of Twitter
  143. The Neurocritic: Voodoo Correlations in Social Neuroscience
  144. The Primate Diaries: Male Chauvinist Chimps or the Meat Market of Public Opinion?
  145. The Primate Diaries: Rivalry Among the Reefs
  146. The Primate Diaries: Superorganisms and Group Selection
  147. The Science Babe: The Physics of High Heels
  148. The Spacewriter’s Ramblings:Mass Holes
  149. The Tree of Life: Elsevier, fake medical journals, and yet another reason for #openaccess
  150. Tomkow: Blackburn, Truth and other Hot Topics
  151. Tom Paine’s Ghost: Dr. Temple Grandin
  152. Tom Paine’s Ghost: Nikola Tesla
  153. Tom Paine’s Ghost: The Darwin/Lincoln Coincidence
  154. Totally Synthetic: Eudesmane Terpense
  155. Uncertain Principles: Everything Is Relative in the Magic Closet
  156. Uncertain Principles: We Are Science
  157. Underverse: Everything That Is The Case
  158. Underverse: Refuting “It,” Thus
  159. Unitary Flow: Smooth Quantum Mechanics
  160. Unitary Flow: Smooth Quantum Mechanics: 4.The Video
  161. Unitary Flow: The Counterintuitive Time: 1. Time and Determinism
  162. Unitary Flow: The Illusion of Center
  163. Unitary Flow: The Spinning Dancer’s Mystery
  164. Way: Implementing Fantasy Science Funding
  165. Way: The journal scope in focus — putting scholarly communication in context
  166. Weird Things: Plugging into Black Holes
  167. What’s New: Sailing into the wind, or faster than the wind
  168. What’s New: The Black-Scholes equation
  169. WhirledView: Prairie
  170. World of Psychology: Top Ten Online Psychology Experiments
  171. World of Weird Things: What Makes a Planet Habitable?

To vote, click here.



The world of banking, it’s becoming clear, operates according to different norms from those of the rest of the business world. Take the offsite corporate weekend. Normal behavior on these occasions consists of punishing the minibar and nursing consequent hangovers, hitting on long-fancied colleagues, and putting embarrassing items, ideally pornographic videos, on one another’s hotel bills. For form’s sake, a few new ideas are cooked up, and then gradually allowed to die a natural death when everyone is back at work and liver-function levels have stabilized. In June, 1994, when a team from J. P. Morgan went on an off-site weekend to Boca Raton, they conformed to normative behavior in certain respects. Binge drinking occurred; a senior colleague’s nose was broken; somebody charged a trashed Jet Ski and many cheeseburgers to somebody else’s account. Where the J. P. Morgan team broke with tradition was in coming up with a real idea—an idea that changed the entire nature of modern banking, with consequences that are currently rocking the planet.

more from John Lanchester at The New Yorker here.



Soothed by the waters lapping against the swaying gondolas, ravished by the mist-shrouded views of towers and domes, the visitor to Venice is soon ready to accept her nickname, La Serenissima. But the truth is that there is no place on earth whose fate and achievements owe more to fierce hostilities, to bitter competition, to ruthless struggles for survival and supremacy. Venice is the ultimate Darwinian city. Sharp elbows were second nature to its Renaissance patricians, and throughout the society animosities and feuds were endemic. Even a distinguished man of letters and a cardinal, Pietro Bembo, lost the use of a finger in a street fight over a lawsuit. Lower down the social scale, two factions regularly scheduled violent encounters on the city’s bridges. The dark vision of James Fenimore Cooper’s Bravo is no travesty of a quarrelsome, intrigue-ridden republic. And the competitive instinct served Venice well as she swept rivals aside to establish her wealth, dominance of the Aegean, rule of northern Italy, and presence throughout the eastern Mediterranean.

more from Theodore Rabb at the TLS here.

Romeo and Juliet as simple harmonic oscillators

Steven Strogatz in the New York Times:

ScreenHunter_05 May. 28 14.45 “In the spring,” wrote Tennyson, “a young man’s fancy lightly turns to thoughts of love.” And so in keeping with the spirit of the season, this week’s column looks at love affairs — mathematically. The analysis is offered tongue in cheek, but it does touch on a serious point: that the laws of nature are written as differential equations. It also helps explain why, in the words of another poet, “the course of true love never did run smooth.”

To illustrate the approach, suppose Romeo is in love with Juliet, but in our version of the story, Juliet is a fickle lover. The more Romeo loves her, the more she wants to run away and hide. But when he takes the hint and backs off, she begins to find him strangely attractive. He, on the other hand, tends to echo her: he warms up when she loves him and cools down when she hates him.

What happens to our star-crossed lovers? How does their love ebb and flow over time? That’s where the math comes in. By writing equations that summarize how Romeo and Juliet respond to each other’s affections and then solving those equations with calculus, we can predict the course of their affair. The resulting forecast for this couple is, tragically, a never-ending cycle of love and hate. At least they manage to achieve simultaneous love a quarter of the time.

More here.

Explosions in the Lab

What can be learned from the death of a young biochemist at UCLA?

Beryl Lieff Benderly in Slate:

ScreenHunter_04 May. 28 13.26 A few days after Christmas of 2008, a young technician in a biochemistry laboratory at the University of California-Los Angeles began to transfer a tablespoon of t-butyl lithium from one container to another. T-butyl lithium is pyrophoric, meaning it ignites on contact with air, but Sheri Sangji wasn't wearing a protective lab coat—instead, she had on a flammable synthetic sweatshirt. Somehow the stuff spilled onto her clothing, and she was engulfed in flames. Sangji died from her burns 18 days later, and UCLA officials bemoaned the “tragic accident” that killed her.

According to a recently completed government investigation, the fire could have been foreseen. On May 4, the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health cited the university for multiple “serious”—i.e., potentially life-threatening—violations, including its inability to show that Sangji had been trained to handle the dangerous substance and the lack of proper protective attire. UCLA's own safety officials had already faulted the lab on the latter issue back in October, but the problem went uncorrected. All told, Cal/OSHA imposed $31,875 in fines, which the university did not contest.

More here.