Category Archives: science

Explain It To Me Like I’m A 7-Year-Old

This made me smile if for no other reason than I just had this discussion over the weekend about the near extinction of The Video Store.

 

Things are moving fast. I could still remember the Betamax-VHS wars. For a while I only owned a Betamax and it got increasingly more difficult to find Betamax format videos until I was forced to purchase a VHS box. Then they moved on to DVD format video and VHS machines went the way of the Great Woolly mammoth.

One of my biggest sorrows in not being around 100 years from now is that I won’t be here to witness the advances in science and technology. Not happy about that.

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Why Do We Sleep?

cristina

I’ve often wished that sleep wasn’t necessary. I’m quite aware of the importance of sleep in promoting sound mental and physical health, but from the time I was a child, it always felt as if there so much more I could be doing with my time aside from sleeping. I’d force myself (and still do, foolishly) to stay up late reading or watching a film or doing anything but going to bed no matter how tired I felt. Well, it might be time to change all that.

Scientists in the US claim to have a new explanation for why we sleep: in the hours spent slumbering, a rubbish disposal service swings into action that cleans up waste in the brain.

Through a series of experiments on mice, the researchers showed that during sleep, cerebral spinal fluid is pumped around the brain, and flushes out waste products like a biological dishwasher.

The process helps to remove the molecular detritus that brain cells churn out as part of their natural activity, along with toxic proteins that can lead to dementia when they build up in the brain, the researchers say.

Maiken Nedergaard, who led the study at the University of Rochester, said the discovery might explain why sleep is crucial for all living organisms. “I think we have discovered why we sleep,” Nedergaard said. “We sleep to clean our brains.”

Nedergaard believes the clean-up process is more active during sleep because it takes too much energy to pump fluid around the brain when awake. “You can think of it like having a house party. You can either entertain the guests or clean up the house, but you can’t really do both at the same time,” she said in a statement.

Some scientists are skeptical of the study until further testing is done on humans but there might be enough here to get me to start sleeping a little more than the five or so hours a night I’ve become accustomed to. Fighting off the onset of dementia in my later years seems like a hell of a good reason to up my amount of sleep.

Note regarding the pic above and any resemblance between the little one shown sleeping with hippos on watch and our Monday Face of the Day, leena.  It’s a photo of my daughter, cristina, who at the time was about 25 years away from one day becoming the mom of a beautiful baby daughter she was to name leena.

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Supreme Court Justice Officiates at Same-Sex Marriage

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I thought this was pretty cool.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg will become the first Supreme Court member to conduct a same-sex marriage ceremony Saturday when she officiates at the Washington wedding of Kennedy Center President Michael M. Kaiser.

“I think it will be one more statement that people who love each other and want to live together should be able to enjoy the blessings and the strife in the marriage relationship,” Ginsburg said.

Could you imagine an Antonin Scalia, Samuel Alito or Clarence Thomas ever making that kind of statement? Not in this lifetime. In fact, here is what Scalia recently said on the court’s two latest rulings in favor of same-sex marriage.

“…it’s not up to the courts to invent new minorities that get special protections.”

Only a homophobic, close-minded, mean-spirited asshole (aka Antonin Scalia in all his glory) would refer to the LGBT community as a “new” minority. I think we can safely say that gays and lesbians have been with us since those first days when our ancestors climbed down from trees – another issue, btw, which Scalia takes issue with. Here’s a snippet of his dissent from Edwards vs. Aguillard, a ruling which prevented Louisiana schools from teaching phony “creation science” in the classroom.

The body of scientific evidence supporting creation science is as strong as that supporting evolution. In fact, it may be stronger…. The evidence for evolution is far less compelling than we have been led to believe. Evolution is not a scientific “fact,” since it cannot actually be observed in a laboratory. Rather, evolution is merely a scientific theory or “guess.”… It is a very bad guess at that. The scientific problems with evolution are so serious that it could accurately be termed a “myth.”

Anyone with the slightest knowledge of science should be able to recognize Scalia’s dissent as little more than a pile of lies and ignorance. It is stupid. Evolution could be termed a myth? Really? A Supreme Court justice actually wrote those words? Amazing…and pathetic. Hey, Scalia is 77 so we can expect Hillary to replace him with a competent judge at some point in her first term. If not then, her second term for sure.

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Rand Paul’s Goldfish Story

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Conservatives prove Asimov right every time they delve into their twisted understanding of science. The latest example is Rand Paul’s rant on Fox where he tried to make the case that the military and government are wasting $5.2 million for what he called “goldfish studies”.

“In the military they have $5.2 million they spent on goldfish — studying goldfish to see how democratic they were and if we could learn about democracy from goldfish,” Paul said on Fox. “I would give the president the authority to go ahead and cut all $5 million in goldfish studies.”

If Paul is right and the military is spending millions to “learn about democracy from goldfish“, then he has every right to bitch to his heart’s content. In fact everyone should be complaining of such a waste of public funds.

But Paul is not right. His take on the $5.2 million goldfish study comes from a faulty report issued by Republican Sen. Tom Coburn last November. The report dealt with how the Pentagon could save billions by cutting out specific non-defense programs. One of the suggested cuts by Coburn was the “fish” study.

“Fish could show the nation how to overcome political polarization and promote democracy, according to Pentagon-funded research,” Coburn’s team wrote. “The Pentagon claims the research provides ‘a better understanding of how individuals with low stake impact achieve a democratic consensus’ and this ‘effort supports Military Information Support Operations (MISO) mission area.’” In learning as much, though, the Defense Department blew through a $5.2 million grant from DARPA.

The tiniest bit of research by Paul and Coburn would have shown them that the project has nothing to do with how goldfish handle democracy. In fact it has nothing to do with goldfish. The four year project uses a different species of fish and studies robots and how they can help in dealing with deep oil spills and radioactive leaks. As Princeton science professor Iain Couzin explains:

“Our work aims to understand the principles of collective control in animal groups and what this can inform us about collective robotics. It has nothing at all to do with human politics.”

[The research has] “direct applications to human security and collective control of robots.”

Has Coburn issued a correction to his November report? No.

Has Paul issued a statement on Fox correcting his statement? No.

Will either man do so? No.

Why not? Because no one on the right ever admits to “mistakes” they make in presenting “facts”. They just don’t because everyone knows that true conservatism is never having to say “I’m wrong.”

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Just A Monkey, Folks…Just A Monkey

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Catering to Christian fundamentalists still remains one of the GOP’s specialties. Marco Rubio, one of the Republican frontrunners for the 2016 presidential campaign, was asked how old the earth is.

I’m not a scientist, man. I can tell you what recorded history says, I can tell you what the Bible says, but I think that’s a dispute amongst theologians and I think it has nothing to do with the gross domestic product or economic growth of the United States. I think the age of the universe has zero to do with how our economy is going to grow. I’m not a scientist. I don’t think I’m qualified to answer a question like that. At the end of the day, I think there are multiple theories out there on how the universe was created and I think this is a country where people should have the opportunity to teach them all. I think parents should be able to teach their kids what their faith says, what science says. Whether the Earth was created in 7 days, or 7 actual eras, I’m not sure we’ll ever be able to answer that. It’s one of the great mysteries.

No, it’s not a mystery, great or otherwise in the same way that it’s not much of a mystery as to how the pyramids of Giza were built. There might be some quibbling over the exact means used to construct the pyramids but no serious scholar is suggesting that ‘aliens built it‘ be taught in history classes because a few quacks claim it is so.

Knowing the age of the earth might have no direct connection to spurring economic growth but it does say a lot on how a future leader processes information and data which is beyond their field of expertise. Simply claiming that one is not a scientist and therefore all theories (aka creationism) should be taught in science class does not bode well for one aspiring to be president of any country, let alone the United States of America. Whatever role religion must play in a modern society, it should not be one that places it anywhere near science.

Here’s my simple advice for anyone who requires that religion be an essential component of their lives: Let religion deal with the why part of life and leave the how end of it to science. It works so much better that way.

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