Posts tagged science

6 Notes

What Coke Contains

What Coke Contains by Kevin Ashton:

The number of individuals who know how to make a can of Coke is zero. The number of individual nations that could produce a can of Coke is zero.

Well worth a few minutes of your time.

4 Notes

The Extraordinary Science of Addictive Junk Food

Utterly fascinating post, full of intriguing (and scary) insights.

9 Notes

Rolling Stone on global warming

Today, I saw this on BBC news

The Chancellor has demanded that the Energy Secretary Ed Davey abandon the UK’s pathway towards climate targets.

In a leaked letter, George Osborne says renewables are too expensive and suggests expanding plans for gas-fired generation. The government’s adviser, the Climate Change Committee, says this will cause the UK to miss its 2030 climate goals. The CCC warns that with volatile gas prices, consumers could end up paying more for electricity, not less. The demands are laid out in a letter seen by BBC News.

Last week, I read this chilling piece on global warming from Rolling Stone.

Here’s the gist, but please read it all.

The target cap for warming the earth defined in various treaties is two degrees celcius, and even that will cause significant harm:

"The target that has been talked about in international negotiations for two degrees of warming is actually a prescription for long-term disaster." At the Copenhagen summit, a spokesman for small island nations warned that many would not survive a two-degree rise: "Some countries will flat-out disappear." When delegates from developing nations were warned that two degrees would represent a "suicide pact" for drought-stricken Africa, many of them started chanting, "One degree, one Africa."

So far, we’ve raised temperatures by 0.8 deg C. Scientists estimate that the long-term effects of carbon we’ve already released will drive that as much as another 0.8 deg C.

To safely cap at 2 deg C overall, we can only risk releasing another 565 gigatons of carbon.

How good are these numbers? No one is insisting that they’re exact, but few dispute that they’re generally right. The 565-gigaton figure was derived from one of the most sophisticated computer-simulation models that have been built by climate scientists around the world over the past few decades. And the number is being further confirmed by the latest climate-simulation models currently being finalized in advance of the next report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. “Looking at them as they come in, they hardly differ at all,” says Tom Wigley, an Australian climatologist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research. “There’s maybe 40 models in the data set now, compared with 20 before. But so far the numbers are pretty much the same. We’re just fine-tuning things. I don’t think much has changed over the last decade.” William Collins, a senior climate scientist at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, agrees. “I think the results of this round of simulations will be quite similar,” he says. “We’re not getting any free lunch from additional understanding of the climate system.”

Note that there is no meaningful scientific debate about this, same as there was no meaningful scientific debate about the harmfulness of tobacco a few decades ago. Just FUD spread by the companies with deep pockets and vested interests. Why do they fight so hard? These companies have 2,795 gigatons worth of carbon emissions in their stockpiled resources:

If you burned everything in the inventories of Russia’s Lukoil and America’s ExxonMobil, for instance, which lead the list of oil and gas companies, each would release more than 40 gigatons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

Which is exactly why this new number, 2,795 gigatons, is such a big deal. Think of two degrees Celsius as the legal drinking limit – equivalent to the 0.08 blood-alcohol level below which you might get away with driving home. The 565 gigatons is how many drinks you could have and still stay below that limit – the six beers, say, you might consume in an evening. And the 2,795 gigatons? That’s the three 12-packs the fossil-fuel industry has on the table, already opened and ready to pour.

But we can’t just stop burning it:

We have five times as much oil and coal and gas on the books as climate scientists think is safe to burn. We’d have to keep 80 percent of those reserves locked away underground to avoid that fate. Before we knew those numbers, our fate had been likely. Now, barring some massive intervention, it seems certain.

Yes, this coal and gas and oil is still technically in the soil. But it’s already economically aboveground – it’s figured into share prices, companies are borrowing money against it, nations are basing their budgets on the presumed returns from their patrimony. It explains why the big fossil-fuel companies have fought so hard to prevent the regulation of carbon dioxide – those reserves are their primary asset, the holding that gives their companies their value. It’s why they’ve worked so hard these past years to figure out how to unlock the oil in Canada’s tar sands, or how to drill miles beneath the sea, or how to frack the Appalachians.

If you told Exxon or Lukoil that, in order to avoid wrecking the climate, they couldn’t pump out their reserves, the value of their companies would plummet. John Fullerton, a former managing director at JP Morgan who now runs the Capital Institute, calculates that at today’s market value, those 2,795 gigatons of carbon emissions are worth about $27 trillion. Which is to say, if you paid attention to the scientists and kept 80 percent of it underground, you’d be writing off $20 trillion in assets. The numbers aren’t exact, of course, but that carbon bubble makes the housing bubble look small by comparison. It won’t necessarily burst – we might well burn all that carbon, in which case investors will do fine. But if we do, the planet will crater. You can have a healthy fossil-fuel balance sheet, or a relatively healthy planet – but now that we know the numbers, it looks like you can’t have both. Do the math: 2,795 is five times 565. That’s how the story ends.

Meanwhile, things get worse.

Meanwhile the tide of numbers continues. The week after the Rio conference limped to its conclusion, Arctic sea ice hit the lowest level ever recorded for that date. Last month, on a single weekend, Tropical Storm Debby dumped more than 20 inches of rain on Florida – the earliest the season’s fourth-named cyclone has ever arrived. At the same time, the largest fire in New Mexico history burned on, and the most destructive fire in Colorado’s annals claimed 346 homes in Colorado Springs – breaking a record set the week before in Fort Collins. This month, scientists issued a new study concluding that global warming has dramatically increased the likelihood of severe heat and drought – days after a heat wave across the Plains and Midwest broke records that had stood since the Dust Bowl, threatening this year’s harvest. You want a big number? In the course of this month, a quadrillion kernels of corn need to pollinate across the grain belt, something they can’t do if temperatures remain off the charts. Just like us, our crops are adapted to the Holocene, the 11,000-year period of climatic stability we’re now leaving… in the dust.

If you have kids, it is now likely-to-certain that, barring a sci-fi technological innovation on the scale of inventing stable cold fusion, they will be growing up on a planet where droughts are common, food is in short supply, and low-lying countries and cities have simply vanished below rising sea levels. How bad can it get? Australia is the canary in the coal mine. Heat waves, droughts, floods, bush fires, and hurricanes.

"Sadly, it’s probably too late to save much of it," says Joe Romm, a leading climate advocate who served as assistant energy secretary in the Clinton administration.

This is not to say that the entire continent will sink beneath the waves anytime soon. What is likely to vanish – or be transformed beyond recognition – are many of the things we think of when we think of Australia: the barrier reef, the koalas, the sense of the country as a land of almost limitless natural resources. Instead, Australia is likely to become hotter, drier and poorer, fractured by increasing tensions over access to water, food and energy as its major cities are engulfed by the rising seas.

I’m glad I don’t have kids, because I’m far from convinced that humans are going to do anything about this.

12 Notes

Source unknown (came to me via email.)

Source unknown (came to me via email.)

41 Notes

Hydrogen: boss as fuck.

Hydrogen: boss as fuck.

14 Notes

Via the greatest abstract for a journal article ever at 22 words.com.

14 Notes

To every journalist who’s written about the iPad outselling the Mac or Android outselling iPhone or various other things

Either:

  1. learn how to interpret raw statistics in the context of longer term trends like pent up iPad demand or Verizon’s two-for-one Android sale (stop being dumb) or
  2. stop wilfully misrepresenting statistics (stop being evil) or
  3. fuck right off.

Any questions?

15 Notes

Babies are not epidemiology qualifications.

18 Notes

On the MMR vaccine

A post on my old blog about Andrew Wakefield, the UK doctor who published the (discredited) first research linking the MMR vaccine to autism. He later lost his medical licence and fled the UK to Texas. I still think he should have faced criminal charges. Children died of measles in the UK for the first time in decades as a direct result of his falsified research.

6 Notes

The volcanic ash cloud is a classic case study [in risk management]. Were the government to allow flights to go ahead when the risks were equal to those of road travel, it is almost certain that, over the course of the year, hundreds of people would die in resulting air accidents, since around 2,500 die on the roads each year. This is politically unimaginable, not for good, rational reasons, but because people are much more risk averse when it comes to plane travel than they are to driving their own cars.
From a superb essay from Julian Baggini for the BBC on the tricky nature of government’s risk assesments.

19 Notes

Perfect Stillness

rawnsley:

The earth is spinning on its axis, and around the sun, and around the center of the galaxy, but Alex Ignatiev calculated that at two particular places on the earth, twice a year, and for a fraction of a second, all these accelerations cancel out.

I propose an expedition to these locations to find out what it feels like to stand completely still.

6 Notes

We had this exact discussion in work the other day, but I didn’t try and dig any numbers up. What I find odd is that, logically, this diagram required a dual-classed volcanologist/graphic designer to make, but Jason was nowhere to be seen! (via informationisbeautiful)

We had this exact discussion in work the other day, but I didn’t try and dig any numbers up. What I find odd is that, logically, this diagram required a dual-classed volcanologist/graphic designer to make, but Jason was nowhere to be seen! (via informationisbeautiful)

25 Notes

indefensible: (context: my comment there was in response to this)

I’m not so sure. I don’t believe ‘science’ is against obesity. Science should have no say in the matter.

Perhaps we’re talking at cross purposes? The consequences of obesity are pretty well established; it leads to heart disease, strokes, diabetes, and a raft of other bad things. I think that part of the debate science definitely has a role to play in.
That said, one of my favourite pieces of scientific trivia: if you correlate some measure of obesity, say BMI, against life expectancy you see a small improvement when you are slightly overweight. This is because most well-to-do people are slightly overweight, and most well-to-do people live a bit longer due to a host of social factors like education levels and private healthcare. Of course, correlation does not imply causation.

Obesity is a matter of social policy if it is a matter at all. 

Ah, and now the wider question; if doctors tell us people are getting fatter, and science tells us that means people are going to die earlier (and cost more to look after), what should the government do about it?
Again, here in the UK, no-one has really tried much yet. No-one really knows what to try, I think, and I’m not sure that problem is confined to the UK. Mostly it seems to revolve around informing people of the serious health risks to being overweight, some social programs to build sports facilities, and hoping people will make smarter choices.
Whether or not you think government should do more, I don’t think it really can. You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him burn off 500kcal cantering around before eating a dinner of low-fat hay.

Of course, you and I both live in cradle-to-grave social welfare states. As societies, we long ago invited the government to make many of our personal choices for us. When we asked to government to be responsible for our healthcare, we tacitly accepted that it would force us to make certain ‘choices’ for our own good.

Hmmm. I’m trying to think of instance were the UK healthcare forces people to improve their health, but I can’t come up with any. In the case of obesity, in extreme cases they can prescribe weight loss medication; for smokers they provide quite a lot of support if they want to quit, like cheap or free nicotine supplements, support classes and whatnot. But at no point I can think of does the NHS force a lifestyle change on a patient.

Thus we tax (in my country) pre-prepared foods, but not fresh vegetables. The hope is that it will make us choose healthier options. Sadly, it just makes the food choices of the time-poor (and cash-poor) blue collar worker more expensive.

Well I certainly agree that’s stupid. If we’re going to start in on the ill-thought-out attempts by government to influence our decisions though subtle levers like taxes, we’re both going to be at it a looong time!
In the UK, I don’t think there’s any such move. In fact the only anti-obesity measures I can think of was legislation to force all prepackaged food manufacturers to print full nutrition information on their products, which I don’t think is a bad thing.

indefensible: (context: my comment there was in response to this)

I’m not so sure. I don’t believe ‘science’ is against obesity. Science should have no say in the matter.

Perhaps we’re talking at cross purposes? The consequences of obesity are pretty well established; it leads to heart disease, strokes, diabetes, and a raft of other bad things. I think that part of the debate science definitely has a role to play in.

That said, one of my favourite pieces of scientific trivia: if you correlate some measure of obesity, say BMI, against life expectancy you see a small improvement when you are slightly overweight. This is because most well-to-do people are slightly overweight, and most well-to-do people live a bit longer due to a host of social factors like education levels and private healthcare. Of course, correlation does not imply causation.

Obesity is a matter of social policy if it is a matter at all. 

Ah, and now the wider question; if doctors tell us people are getting fatter, and science tells us that means people are going to die earlier (and cost more to look after), what should the government do about it?

Again, here in the UK, no-one has really tried much yet. No-one really knows what to try, I think, and I’m not sure that problem is confined to the UK. Mostly it seems to revolve around informing people of the serious health risks to being overweight, some social programs to build sports facilities, and hoping people will make smarter choices.

Whether or not you think government should do more, I don’t think it really can. You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him burn off 500kcal cantering around before eating a dinner of low-fat hay.

Of course, you and I both live in cradle-to-grave social welfare states. As societies, we long ago invited the government to make many of our personal choices for us. When we asked to government to be responsible for our healthcare, we tacitly accepted that it would force us to make certain ‘choices’ for our own good.

Hmmm. I’m trying to think of instance were the UK healthcare forces people to improve their health, but I can’t come up with any. In the case of obesity, in extreme cases they can prescribe weight loss medication; for smokers they provide quite a lot of support if they want to quit, like cheap or free nicotine supplements, support classes and whatnot. But at no point I can think of does the NHS force a lifestyle change on a patient.

Thus we tax (in my country) pre-prepared foods, but not fresh vegetables. The hope is that it will make us choose healthier options. Sadly, it just makes the food choices of the time-poor (and cash-poor) blue collar worker more expensive.

Well I certainly agree that’s stupid. If we’re going to start in on the ill-thought-out attempts by government to influence our decisions though subtle levers like taxes, we’re both going to be at it a looong time!

In the UK, I don’t think there’s any such move. In fact the only anti-obesity measures I can think of was legislation to force all prepackaged food manufacturers to print full nutrition information on their products, which I don’t think is a bad thing.

91 Notes

everythinginthesky:

(via daveshumka, cameronr)

I cannot find a source for this quotation, which I’ve used a lot over the years:
It’s really quite simple. Magnets are things that exhibit the property of magnetism. Magnetism is the set of properties exhibited by magnets. Any questions?
I was well into a physics degree before I could give you any better an answer than that.

everythinginthesky:

(via daveshumka, cameronr)

I cannot find a source for this quotation, which I’ve used a lot over the years:

It’s really quite simple. Magnets are things that exhibit the property of magnetism. Magnetism is the set of properties exhibited by magnets. Any questions?

I was well into a physics degree before I could give you any better an answer than that.

106 Notes

In Memory of Laika.
Now I’m reading the Wikipedia page on Laika and fighting back tears.
Laika, a stray, … underwent training with two other dogs, and was eventually chosen as the occupant of the Soviet spacecraft Sputnik 2 that was launched into outer space on November 3, 1957. Sputnik 2 was not designed to be retrievable, and Laika had always been intended to die
Laika died within hours after launch from overheating, possibly due to a failure of the central R-7 sustainer to separate from the payload. The true cause and time of her death was not made public until 2002; instead, it was widely reported that she died when her oxygen ran out, or (as the Soviets initially insisted) she was euthanised prior to oxygen depletion. 
A small monument in her honor was built near the military research facility in Moscow which prepared Laika’s flight to space. It features a dog standing on top of a rocket.
Before the launch, one of the scientists took Laika home to play with his children. In a book chronicling the story of Soviet space medicine, Dr. Vladimir Yazdovsky wrote, “I wanted to do something nice for her: She had so little time left to live.”
Over five months later, after 2,570 orbits, Sputnik 2 disintegrated—along with Laika’s remains—during re-entry on April 14, 1958.
In 1988 Oleg Gazenko, the scientist who chose Laika, said:
Work with animals is a source of suffering to all of us. We treat them like babies who cannot speak. The more time passes, the more I’m sorry about it. We shouldn’t have done it… We did not learn enough from this mission to justify the death of the dog.
(via morrowplanet, maryhadathingforastronauts, invaderxan, spacethebeyond, spacerocks, espop, probably others. Original image by warman333. You can buy this as a print from DeviantArt.)

In Memory of Laika.

Now I’m reading the Wikipedia page on Laika and fighting back tears.

Laika, a stray, … underwent training with two other dogs, and was eventually chosen as the occupant of the Soviet spacecraft Sputnik 2 that was launched into outer space on November 3, 1957. Sputnik 2 was not designed to be retrievable, and Laika had always been intended to die
Laika died within hours after launch from overheating, possibly due to a failure of the central R-7 sustainer to separate from the payload. The true cause and time of her death was not made public until 2002; instead, it was widely reported that she died when her oxygen ran out, or (as the Soviets initially insisted) she was euthanised prior to oxygen depletion. 
A small monument in her honor was built near the military research facility in Moscow which prepared Laika’s flight to space. It features a dog standing on top of a rocket.
Before the launch, one of the scientists took Laika home to play with his children. In a book chronicling the story of Soviet space medicine, Dr. Vladimir Yazdovsky wrote, “I wanted to do something nice for her: She had so little time left to live.”
Over five months later, after 2,570 orbits, Sputnik 2 disintegrated—along with Laika’s remains—during re-entry on April 14, 1958.

In 1988 Oleg Gazenko, the scientist who chose Laika, said:

Work with animals is a source of suffering to all of us. We treat them like babies who cannot speak. The more time passes, the more I’m sorry about it. We shouldn’t have done it… We did not learn enough from this mission to justify the death of the dog.

(via morrowplanet, maryhadathingforastronauts, invaderxan, spacethebeyond, spacerocks, espop, probably others. Original image by warman333. You can buy this as a print from DeviantArt.)

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