There is currently sadness across Britain, as the public are told that their naming choices are not serious enough for science. But working scientists do far worse themselves. Projects to explore the depths of the universe and the essence of the universe revel in titles like ‘WiggleZ’ and ‘GiggleZ’. The vast public support for ‘Boaty McBoatface’ shows that scientists and normal people share some priorities, and gives hope that one day the two species may be able to communicate, or even coexist.
For Lovelace day 2015: Professor Tomoko Ohta, the proposer of the 'nearly neutral' model of genetic drift. This important modification to earlier theories describes the effect of random changes in the genome on the evolutionary direction of a species. Her work has implications for the speed of evolution in small populations (such as those being created scarily rapidly by ecological damage, for example) and to estimate how long it takes species to diverge from each other. This year, she received the Crafoord prize, one of the world’s biggest scientific prizes, from the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences this year for her life’s work.
How did I end up working in nanotechnology and smart materials? This is a surprisingly difficult question, and for some reason involved three years as a writer. However, I’ve done some research (by which I mean I called my mum) and I have deduced the following:
It’s a Saturday and I’m heading to a conference. I’m late, because it’s a Saturday. But I’m going to sit in a lecture theatre in my free time because it’s London Cryptofestival.
Billed as ‘coming together [...] to reclaim our right to communicate and experiment on the internet’, this independent, DIY event is aimed at both the usual security conscious techheads and non-experts just interested in the possibilities of, and threats to, privacy online. Given numerous recent revelations about the NSA and GCHQ’s work, as well as an increasing amount of our lives being documented online, I was up for that. I might even get to meet some people I could share my new PGP key with.1
Boy, Susan Greenfield's argument is weak. (Check it out here, but it's basically just more of her 'modern tech scares me and it should scare you, why do I think so? Because I'm me.')
She says that doing too much of something is detrimental, which is almost a tautology, and then just reiterates this comment and her non-evidence based worries, interleaved with citing someone else's version of this comment and his non-evidence based worries. Conspicuously lacking are any facts, observable evidence, or indications of trends — and particularly disturbing is that despite this, she is continuing to garner attention for her theories.
Economics may be a dismal science, but it’s still a science, and so I consider it within my remit. Disclaimer: Everything I know about economics in general and recessions in particular I taught myself from library textbooks and online resources and going to talks. However I did teach myself about it and so that makes me more educated on the subject than Some I Could Mention.
A bit of good news for those of us who live in the UK and like our politics to both consider the environment and be based on science: the Green party has pulled a U-turn at their current conference and decided that research on stem cells, adult or embryonic, is OK by them if done ethically and transparently. Are they getting over their knee-jerk fear of science? I do hope so.
Leaked correspondence and data from one of the world's leading climate research institutes casts doubts about the validity of their data. Some of their big names in man-made climate change, and on the IPCC, are involved. Climate skeptics are having a field day. Environmentalists are attacked by sneaking worries. No valid explanation given.
Pretty much everyone agrees that animal testing should be less cruel and, if possible, avoided. But this simple proposition opens a whole can of worms (...and daphnia, and drosophilia, and other quickly-reproducing invertebrates...). How do we minimise animals' suffering when we have no idea when they are suffering? Humans aren't great at taking animals on their own terms; witness all those dog owners who think their canine friend hatches vindictive plots to punish them for going out without them. For years it was thought that reptiles were crap at learning, but once they were offered rewards that actually appealed to them (heat lamps rather than food rewards) they suddenly improved. Some animal researchers don't even believe that animals *are* conscious. And then there's the issue of interspecies comparisons — is it better to test on 1,000 zebrafish, or one cat?
We have almost — almost — banished ridiculous measuring systems based on the length of the king's foot or the Babylonians' favourite number, or whatever, in favour of a nice, consistent metric. A few backwaters remain cough US cough but most of the world uses SI (International System) units for science and buying milk.
For example, this gives us the liquid volume unit the litre. A thousandth of a litre of water, which I hear the kids are calling a 'millilitre', weighs a gram and has a volume of one cubic centimetre. This leads painlessly to the useful result that a litre of water weighs a kilogram, and has a volume equivalent to a 10cm sided cube — or a thousandth of a metre cubed. So a metre cubed of water weighs one thousand kilograms, which we call a ton.