Posts Tagged ‘science’

We Stopped Dreaming

Tuesday, March 20th, 2012

I could listen to Neil DeGrasse Tyson speak indefinitely. This video is a mashup of several different speaking engagements he has done.


When people talk about American Exceptionalism, the space program is probably one of the most exceptional American things that we have. Not just going to the moon, but reaching the outer limits of the solar system. This photograph still amazes me:

The dot in the brown band of light (a bit more than halfway down) is Earth. This was taken by Voyager 1 in 1990, 3.7 billion miles away.

Carl Sagan’s reflection on this (from Pale Blue Dot) is one of my favorite pieces of writing:

We succeeded in taking that picture [from deep space], and, if you look at it, you see a dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever lived, lived out their lives. The aggregate of all our joys and sufferings, thousands of confident religions, ideologies and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilizations, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every hopeful child, every mother and father, every inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every superstar, every supreme leader, every saint and sinner in the history of our species, lived there on a mote of dust, suspended in a sunbeam.

The earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that in glory and in triumph they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of the dot on scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner of the dot. How frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds. Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity – in all this vastness – there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves. It is up to us. It’s been said that astronomy is a humbling, and I might add, a character-building experience. To my mind, there is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly and compassionately with one another and to preserve and cherish that pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known.

Sir David Attenborough – What a Wonderful World

Sunday, December 18th, 2011

Beautiful nature footage + David Attenborough’s narration. It’s tough to top.


The Battle of Towton

Tuesday, June 7th, 2011

From an interesting yet grisly article in The Economist about The Battle of Towton:

The soldier now known as Towton 25 had survived battle before. A healed skull fracture points to previous engagements. He was old enough—somewhere between 36 and 45 when he died—to have gained plenty of experience of fighting. But on March 29th 1461, his luck ran out.

Towton 25 suffered eight wounds to his head that day. The precise order can be worked out from the direction of fractures on his skull: when bone breaks, the cracks veer towards existing areas of weakness. The first five blows were delivered by a bladed weapon to the left-hand side of his head, presumably by a right-handed opponent standing in front of him. None is likely to have been lethal.

It’s amazing how much detail they can recover from these centuries-old skeletons.

The Frontier Is Everywhere

Tuesday, January 11th, 2011


I haven’t seen Carl Sagan’s Pale Blue Dot, but I have watched and read a lot of his other work and enjoyed it immensely. If you’re a fan of Sagan’s work, you’ll enjoy this video.

Sometimes I wonder if space exploration is all that important given all the problems back on Earth, but the more I think about it the more convinced I am that it may be the most important thing.

(thanks to Marc for the pointer via NdGT)

A volcano from space

Wednesday, July 8th, 2009


Demonstration crowds as herds

Sunday, June 21st, 2009

Watching videos like this of conflict between demonstration crowds in Iran and police makes me think about the way herds of animals behave in nature. That sentence didn’t quite come out as well as I’d like: just to be clear, I’m not saying that either the demonstrators or police are animals or sub-human, just that the group behavior seems analogous. The police focus on people on the edges, often the weaker members of the herd. Meanwhile, the strength of the crowd is its size: the odds of any one individual being hurt or killed are low, but the odds that someone will be hurt or killed are quite high. Even the movement of the crowds (see the video link above) really looked like footage of a herd being harassed by a predator.

Here’s video of the herd winning:

Battle w/ Police – Tehran, Iran – June 20th 2009
by mightier-than

Open Minded

Wednesday, May 6th, 2009

“A liberal is a man too broadminded to take his own side in a quarrel.” –Robert Frost

A video about open-mindedness that I’ve been meaning to share for a while:


Medical Corruption

Sunday, May 3rd, 2009

From Boing Boing:

Pharmaceutical giant Merck paid science publishing juggernaut Elsevier to publish a fake peer-reviewed scientific journal, Australasian Journal of Bone and Joint Medicine

There are far too many bad incentives in the pharmaceutical industry, and it seems like money is driving it in a lot of wrong directions. I sure hope that this is an FTC violation, at the very least, as it’s blatant corruption.

Are these guys much better than the homeopathy peddlers? I really hope so, but sometimes they make me wonder.

Swine Flu Quackery

Saturday, May 2nd, 2009

From the Huffington Post, What Most Doctors Won’t Tell You About Preparing for the Swine Flu:

The next immune booster is part of the facial reflexology – the point between the upper lip and the nose needs to be pressed firmly for 5 – 10 seconds; do the same for the hollow point slightly above the chin, and the two points at the base of the inside of the eye-brows.

The next significant immune shot is massaging the ears, starting from the inner base up and then from the upper point down, then pulling the soft part of the ear in all directions to increase blood supply.

They never mention why most doctors won’t tell you these things.

via 1gm


Monday, April 20th, 2009

Relevant part is around 1:15:


“The idea that carbon dioxide is a carcinogen that is harmful to our environment is almost comical. Every time we exhale, we exhale carbon dioxide. Every cow in the world, you know when they do what they do you’ve got more carbon dioxide.”

First of all, cows emit methane, not carbon dioxide. Methane is orders of magnitudes more potent than carbon dioxide, but neither of them are carcinogens. To be clear: nobody claimed that CO2 is a carcinogen, which makes you wonder/know how well John Boehner has studied this subject. In fact, cow emissions cause a greater greenhouse effect than cars. This seems surprising at first, until you think about the numbers: there are about 1.5 billion cows in the world and around 650 million cars. With methane being so much more potent, it isn’t hard to comprehend how this could be possible.

It’s a mistake to consider the effects of cows as a naturally-occurring event. In 1950, there were less than half as many cows as there are today: this is a number that tracks roughly with human population growth. Much like many emissions come from coal-burning energy factories, some come from our food factories: cattle.

The fact that a substance is naturally occurring does not mean that generating a greatly increased amount of it will have no effect on the world. You’d think that this was obvious, but apparently it isn’t.

I’m a big fan of skepticism, and I think that it’s especially appropriate in a field such as climatology, but there’s a difference between skepticism and denial. In the former, you question, prod, and refine the theories, in the latter, you just look for things to refute the theories. Boehner is not a skeptic, he’s a denier.