# blueollie

## 23 February 2011

Workout notes
I slept in. I am still a bit tired. But I worked out over lunch: 4 mile run on the treadmill; first mile very slow (11 minutes), then 10:30, then I alternated some 9:30-10:00 running with brief (100-200 meter) walking breaks and did enough to finish in 42:20. Then I walked 2 more miles (plus, mostly outer lane) and passed old people by the truckload (Bradley U, but the dried up old farts were there on lunch hour). Then I did 4 x 25 sit ups, stretches, etc.

Shoulder note
Last night I had some pain…not quite the old “wake me up” variety but the type that I noticed when I woke up to use the bathroom. I am wondering: headstand? down-dog? going down too far with the incline presses? slacking with the rotator cuff exercises? Not stretching enough?

Posts
Believe it or not, I side with the Mayor here. Sure, these police officers need to be kicked off of the force and face charges. But, I can see a way in which airing this video too soon might well make it harder to prosecute the offenders. Now if you are someone who has had court experience and know that my conclusion is false, feel free to tell me.

The Deputy Attorney General of Indiana seemed to think that it might be appropriate to fire on the Wisconsin protesters with live ammunition. He was fired. My guess is that some southern state will hire him. :)

Speaking of Wisconsin, leave it to the Republican media to lie distort the truth:

Beck And Co-Host Insinuate Wisconsin Teachers Have Done A Bad Job Because Of Purportedly Poor Student Reading Performance. From the February 23 edition of Beck’s radio show:

BECK: By the way, let’s ask the teachers this. There’s research out that shows that two-thirds of all eighth-graders — two-thirds of all eighth-graders cannot read.

PAT GRAY (co-host): Proficiently. Two-thirds.

[…]

BECK: Only 32 percent of Wisconsin public school eighth-graders earned proficient rating while another 2 percent earned advanced. Another 66 percent of Wisconsin eighth-graders earned ratings below proficient, 44 who earned a rating of basic and 22 who rated below basic. Well, you guys are sure doing your job, aren’t you now?

GRAY: Give ’em a raise. [Premiere Radio Networks, The Glenn Beck Program, 2/23/11]

Limbaugh: “If You Or I Failed At Our Jobs As Badly As” Wisconsin Teachers, “Not Only Would We Be Fired, We Wouldn’t Be Talking About Lifetime Pensions And Health Care Benefits.” From the February 22 edition of Limbaugh’s radio show:

LIMBAUGH: Now, if you or I failed at our jobs as badly as teachers in the public school system clearly have failed, not only would we be fired, we wouldn’t be talking about lifetime pensions and health care benefits paid for by somebody else. We might be put in jail for fraud for taking money under false pretenses.

“What are you talking about, Mr. Limbaugh?” This. Two-thirds of the eighth-graders in Wisconsin public schools cannot read proficiently. According to the U.S. Department of Education. Not according to me, not according to Sarah Palin, but according to the Obama administration. Two-thirds of the eighth-graders in Wisconsin public screw-els cannot read proficiently, despite the fact that Wisconsin spends more per pupil in its public schools than any other state in the Midwest.

In the National Assessment of Educational Progress Tests administered by the Department of Education in 2009 — that’s the last year available — only 32 percent of Wisconsin public school eighth-graders earned a proficient rating, while another 2 percent earned an advanced rating. The other 66 percent of Wisconsin public school eighth-graders earned ratings below proficient, including 44 percent who earned a rating of basic and 22 percent who earned a rating of below basic.

They’re not even being taught to read. [Premiere Radio Networks, The Rush Limbaugh Show, 2/22/11]

FACT: Wisconsin Eighth-Graders’ Reading Scores Are Above National Average

Wisconsin Public School Eighth-Graders’ 2009 Reading Scores Are Above National Averages. According to the 2009 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP):

* 78 percent of Wisconsin public school eighth-graders scored “at or above Basic in NAEP reading,” compared to 74 percent nationwide. [Page 64]

* 34 percent of Wisconsin public school eighth-graders scored “at or above Proficient in NAEP reading,” compared to 30 percent nationwide. [Page 65]

* 22 percent of Wisconsin public school eighth-graders scored “below Basic,” compared to 26 percent nationwide. [Page 66]

* Wisconsin public school eighth-graders’ average score was 266, compared to 262 nationwide. [Page 34] [The Nation’s Report Card, National Center for Education Statistics, March 2010]

Now, of course, our national level is not outstanding, but our national level is being dragged down…by states in which teachers don’t have collective bargaining rights:

In a blog post on Sunday, Angus Johnston, an American history professor at the City University of New York, describes the Dems’ pro-union tweets as flawed by outdated statistics and improper statistical analysis. Then he asks what would “good” data could tell us about the question of whether teachers unions provide any benefit to students.

After taking a harder look at the kind of data the Dems were touting as well as other student performance data, Johnston confirmed in a blog post Monday that Wisconsin does, indeed, rank near the top of the country on SAT/ACT scores. By contrast, Virginia is near the middle of the national rankings pack and the rest of the no-union states are near the bottom. The same relative rankings are true on another standard of student success: high school graduation.

Furthermore, Johnston had different takes on the data Grothman believes is evidence of the floundering Wisconsin public schools.

In fact, after looking at the very same data Grothman was citing, plus the SAT/ACT scores and student graduation rates, here’s what Johnston concluded:

“Yes, Wisconsin has great schools, with great outcomes. Yes, states without teachers’ unions lag behind. Yes, that lag persists even when you control for demographic variables…And yes, Virginia, (and Texas, Georgia, and North and South Carolina) unions do work.” Do read all of Johnston’s posts for an interesting take on the whole subject.

Note: I encourage people to read the whole linked article; the decline in reading scores in Wisconsin is discussed…as is the increase in non-native English speaking students.

How are people in Wisconsin responding? There is some bad poll data and some good data. I can recommend Nate Silver’s post on the topic. Upshot: there is some ambivalence; people don’t want union people to be overpaid but they do want them to retain the right to bargain; and it appears that the governor is in worse position.

Political/Social We’ve won another small victory: the Obama Justice Department will no longer enforce the Defense of Marriage Act as it was deemed unconstitutional. So, before too long, gays will be able to make themselves as miserable as the rest of us! :)

Really, I am to the left of the President on gay marriage (note: both Senator Kerry and President Bush supported civil unions, which is the official Obama position). Ironically, Mr. Cheney appears to be pro-gay marriage; it feels odd to agree with him on something.

Humor

see more funny videos

Religion This was from a year or so ago, but it is quick and to the point:

But people fear atheism. I’ll put it this way: when I hear “atheist”, I think of Richard Dawkins, Neal deGrasse Tyson, Jerry Coyne, someone in a science or mathematics department, etc.
Others associate atheism with stuff like this:

(to which I say “meh”…stupid but whatever floats your boat)

Science
Anytime science comes up with a scary conclusion, people will resist believing it. Take climate change skeptics (please! :) ).

Near the forum’s conclusion, Massachusetts Institute of Technology climate scientist Kerry Emanuel asked a panel of journalists why the media continues to cover anthropogenic climate change as a controversy or debate, when in fact it is a consensus among such organizations as the American Geophysical Union, American Institute of Physics, American Chemical Society, American Meteorological Association and the National Research Council, along with the national academies of more than two dozen countries.

“You haven’t persuaded the public,” replied Elizabeth Shogren of National Public Radio. Emanuel immediately countered, smiling and pointing at Shogren, “No, you haven’t.” Scattered applause followed in the audience of mostly scientists, with one heckler saying, “That’s right. Kerry said it.”

So why? Part of it that the average moron person knows nothing about science but thinks that they know more than they think that they do (“common sense”). Part of it is that they are used to being lied to by marketers, politicians, officials, etc. So why shouldn’t this be more of the same? And, the science reporting is absolutely awful; many times I get the impression that the journalist has little or no understanding of what they are writing about. Hence they tend to do thins like give the “crackpot view” in an effort to be “fair and balanced”.

Speaking of climate change: some not-so-hard things could be done right now with existing technologies:

Placing strict limits on a handful of common air pollutants could pay big dividends for efforts to limit climate change, improve public health and increase agricultural productivity, according to a new U.N. report.

Curbing emissions of black carbon, a component of soot, along with methane and tropospheric ozone, could cut projected climate warming by 0.5 degree Celsius, or about 0.9 degrees Fahrenheit, by 2070.

Such cuts could be made with existing technology, the report says, and would “have immediate and multiple benefits for human well-being.”

Possible strategies for reducing black carbon, methane and ozone include capturing methane produced by landfills and fossil fuel extraction, introducing cleaner-burning cookstoves, installing particulate filters on diesel engines and banning the practice of burning fields of agricultural waste.

The research shows that cutting black carbon and methane emissions would slow the rate of warming up until about 2040, while starting soon to cut emissions of carbon dioxide would only have an appreciable effect after 2040.

Science fun

What does our Secretary of Energy do in his spare time? He thinks about things like this:

Good to know that our Secretary of Energy, Steve Chu, is still able to unwind from a long day of bureaucracy by thinking about atom interferometry and the Principle of Equivalence.

Equivalence Principle and Gravitational Redshift

Michael A. Hohensee, Steven Chu, Achim Peters, Holger Mueller

We investigate leading order deviations from general relativity that violate the Einstein equivalence principle (EEP) in the gravitational standard model extension (SME). We show that redshift experiments based on matter waves and clock comparisons are equivalent to one another. Consideration of torsion balance tests, along with matter wave, microwave, optical, and M\”ossbauer clock tests yields comprehensive limits on spin-independent EEP-violating SME terms at the \$10^{-6}\$ level.

The Principle of Equivalence says that, if you’re in free fall, there’s no way of detecting the gravitational field around you in a local region of spacetime. (You’ve seen Inception, right?) Unlike electromagnetism, with gravity there’s no local “force” that can be detected by comparing what happens to particles of different charges. In other words, all particles feel the same “charge” as far as gravity is concerned; they all fall in the same way.

But..another Nobel Laureate thinks that his “clock mechanism” (from the oscillations of wave packets) isn’t really a suitable “clock”. Hence the debate….a HIGHLY INFORMED debate.

February 24, 2011

## 23 August 2010

Science/Technology
Believe it or not, a computer virus has actually caused a plane crash.

Astronomy: an amateur has caught a meteor strike on Jupiter:

Exercise Science Yes, there is such thing as muscle memory; here is a bit about its mechanism. Upshot: it is easier to “get strong again” than it is to get strong the first time. Yes, that includes the case where someone took steroids the first time.

Particle Physics/Mathematics This blurb shows the role that Lie groups play in particle physics. There are some who think that the monster Lie group $E_{8}$ is making a comeback; others say that the implications of such a role have been ruled out by experiment. I don’t have the standing to give an informed opinion, but my guess is that there might be some cool mathematical spin-off research.

Science Smackdown: Lawrence M. Krauss smacks down the woos who misuse quantum mechanics (e. g., to postulate divine intervention, make points about meditation, etc.). A sample:

No area of physics stimulates more nonsense in the public arena than quantum mechanics—and with good reason. No one intuitively understands quantum mechanics because all of our experience involves a world of classical phenomena where, for example, a baseball thrown from pitcher to catcher seems to take just one path, the one described by Newton’s laws of motion. Yet at a microscopic level, the universe behaves quite differently. Electrons traveling from one place to another do not take any single path but instead, as Feynman first demonstrated, take every possible path at the same time.

Moreover, although the underlying laws of quantum mechanics are completely deterministic—I need to repeat this, they are completely deterministic—the results of measurements can only be described probabilistically. This inherent uncertainty, enshrined most in the famous Heisenberg uncertainty principle, implies that various combinations of physical quantities can never be measured with absolute accuracy at the same time. Associated with that fact, but in no way equivalent to it, is the dilemma that when we measure a quantum system, we often change it in the process, so that the observer may not always be separated from that which is observed.

When science becomes this strange, it inevitably generates possibilities for confusion, and with confusion comes the opportunity for profit. I hereby wish to bestow my Worst Abusers of Quantum Mechanics for Fun and Profit (but Mostly Profit) award on the following:

Deepak Chopra: I have read numerous pieces by him on why quantum mechanics provides rationales for everything from the existence of God to the possibility of changing the past. Nothing I have ever read, however, suggests he has enough understanding of quantum mechanics to pass an undergraduate course I might teach on the subject.

I love it when a smart person tells off people who pretend to know more than they actually do! :)

Politics-Economics No, there isn’t enough money for teachers but there is enough to extend the Bush tax-cuts to the wealthiest among us; or at least so say the Republicans and blue-dog Democrats.

More smackdown: Here is a list of overrated people. Guess who makes the list? Hint: who does EVERY “serious” current Republican politician compare themselves to? Which former president performed heroic deeds in his imagination? :)

And speaking of current Republican politicians who worship St. Raygun, how was she created anyway? One conjecture: she was the result of a bad miscalculation by the McCain campaign: they really believed there were armies of disaffected Hillary Clinton voters ready to vote for the Republicans, if only they had a reason. (PUMAs)

August 23, 2010

## 11 August 2010 posts

Science and Mathematics

Here is an announcement of a paper which claims that P is NOT equal to NP. What does that mean? First, “P” means “polynomial time”; things that can’t be solved in polynomial time take longer than those that can. Now as far as “P” and “NP”, very roughly speaking it means this: “P” means that a task (say, finding the prime factors of an integer) can be completed in polynomial time. “NP” means that an answer can be checked in polynomial time.
So this result, if true, says that being able to check an answer in polynomial time does not mean one can FIND it in polynomial time. (I am being simplistic here).

Astronomy: here is a cool show-off photo. I’ll reproduce the NASA photo; surf to the article for the explanation.

Abiogenesis How did life begin? Could there be life elsewhere in the universe? Here is yet another article on some clues:

Researchers have found millions of “super” bacteria thriving inside the oxygen-starved Lake Diamante, in the center of a giant volcanic crater located over 15,400 feet above sea level.

The bacteria’s habitat is similar to primitive earth, before living and breathing organisms began wrapping a protective atmosphere of oxygen around the planet.

The conditions — which include high arsenic and alkaline levels — could also shed light on life beyond Earth.

“This is of great scientific interest as a window to look to our past and also for a science called astrobiology, the study of life on other planets,” said Maria Eugenia Farias, part of the team that discovered the life-forms in Lake Diamante earlier this year.

If bacteria can survive here, the theory goes, it could also survive somewhere like Mars.

So-called “extremophiles” have been found in other parts of the world — and they can have significant commercial value. Bacteria that break down lipids are used in detergents for example.

But Farias said these bacteria, called “polyextremophiles” are exceptional because they flourish in the harshest of circumstances.

“What we have here is a series of extreme conditions all in one place. And this is what makes this place unique in the world,” said Farias, a microbiologist at the National Scientific and Technical Research Council in Tucuman province.

The lake sports levels of arsenic 20,000 times higher than the level regarded as safe for drinking water and its temperature is often below freezing. But because the water is so salty — five times saltier than sea water — ice never forms.

The bacteria’s DNA mutates to survive the ultra-violet radiation and low oxygen levels found at such high altitudes, which could make it of interest to the pharmaceuticals industry, Farias said. It could also have future commercial applications in products such as sunscreens, she added.

Fractals: they appear in many surprising places…including in superconductors.

Medicine This is bizarre:

People getting cosmetic surgery in India have brought back to Britain a new gene that allows any bacteria to become a superbug, and scientists are warning this type of drug resistance could soon appear worldwide.

Though already widespread in India, the new superbug gene is being increasingly spotted in Britain and elsewhere. Experts warn the booming medical tourism industries in India and Pakistan could fuel a surge in antibiotic resistance, as patients import dangerous bugs to their home countries.

The superbug gene, which can be swapped between different bacteria to make them resistant to most drugs, has so far been identified in 37 people who returned to the U.K. after undergoing surgery in India or Pakistan. […]

Almost as soon as the first antibiotic penicillin was introduced in the 1940s, bacteria began to develop resistance to its effects, prompting researchers to develop many new generations of antibiotics.

But their overuse and misuse have helped fuel the rise of drug-resistant “superbug” infections like methicillin-resistant Staphyloccus aureus (MRSA).
[…]

In other words, this gene helps current bacteria become resistant to antibiotics. The evolutionary arms race continues unabated.

Politics
Interestingly enough, the right wing/conservatives seem to delight in attacking science. I can sort of understand this one; the Republicans need the religious right and there are many more of them than they are of scientifically minded folks. But there have to be millions of people who like science and favor conservative economic and foreign policy views.

But we have been yucking it up over the right wing attacking….relativity theory? (yes, conclusions from relativity theory has to be accounted for in things like satellite assisted communications and GPS calculations).

This is lampooned in a cartoon and by Rachel Maddow:

The Gibbs flap

White House spokesman Robert Gibbs stirred up some intra-party controversy this week when he expressed frustration at the “professional left” in an interview with The Hill newspaper.

From The Hill:

During an interview with The Hill in his West Wing office, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs blasted liberal naysayers, whom he said would never regard anything the president did as good enough.
“I hear these people saying he’s like George Bush. Those people ought to be drug tested,” Gibbs said. “I mean, it’s crazy.”

The press secretary dismissed the “professional left” in terms very similar to those used by their opponents on the ideological right, saying, “They will be satisfied when we have Canadian healthcare and we’ve eliminated the Pentagon. That’s not reality.”

Of those who complain that Obama caved to centrists on issues such as healthcare reform, Gibbs said: “They wouldn’t be satisfied if Dennis Kucinich was president.”

The White House, constantly under fire from expected enemies on the right, has been frustrated by nightly attacks on cable news shows catering to the left, where Obama and top lieutenants like Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel have been excoriated for abandoning the public option in healthcare reform; for not moving faster to close the prison at Guantánamo Bay; and for failing, so far, to end the ban on gays serving openly in the military.

Reaction has been swift.
Here is Rep. Alan Grayson (who I like…and yes, I am now on his donor list, though most of my money will go to Illinois Senate and Governor races):

Here is another “we knew it all along” type of reaction. Paul Krugman (a frequent liberal critic who I often agree with) wonders if it is the Obama aides that are the most upset; he wonders if they are angry that the President will now listen to a wider variety of opinion:

But I think people are missing an important point: what’s good for Obama is not necessarily good for his aides.

Think about it: Complaints that the administration should have pursued a bigger stimulus, or fought harder for the public option, or taken a different position on Afghanistan aren’t going to matter in the midterms. But they might hurt White House aides who argued against a bigger stimulus (to the point of not even passing the option on to the president), or argued against a harder push on health reform (perhaps even calling for retreat after Scott Brown), or have argued that continuation of Bush foreign policy is a political winner. The point is that the president might actually take those criticisms to heart, and rethink who he listens to.

Greenwald summarizes Gibbs’ rant:

(1) The Professional Left are totally irrelevant losers who speak for absolutely nobody, and certainly nobody in Real America who matters; but (2) they’re ruining everything for the White House!!! And: if you criticize the President, it’s only because you’re such a rabid extremist that you harbor a secret desire to eliminate the Pentagon — that’s how anti-American you are! You’re such a Far Left extremist that Dennis Kucinich isn’t far enough Left for you, you subversive, drug-using hippies! You’re so far to the Left that you want to turn the U.S. into Canada. As David Frum put it today: “More proof of my longtime thesis, Repub pols fear the GOP base; Dem pols hate the Dem base.”

Of course the Republicans got to 41 Senators from fearing their base and may well blow a huge opportunity to make massive gains in 2010; we’ll need to see how it goes.

And I should point out that…yes, even President Franklin Roosevelt, who is now considered to be the model for liberalism…drew fire…from his liberal base!

Assorted Political Stuff
Sarah Palin: too much for some conservatives:

Will Bunch talking about his excellent book on President Reagan

No, this is not an attack on President Reagan; in fact, Bunch argues that Reagan was smarter than many of his critics realized (and yes, I was one of about the 100 people in the US who didn’t like President Reagan). But Bunch does argue that President Reagan’s record (e. g., actual policy positions) has been misrepresented by today’s conservatives; in fact, he was more of a pragmatist than today’s conservatives will admit.

Mosque near ground zero: I agree with Christopher Hitchens (who, like me, is an atheist who doesn’t see much good in Islam). I think that a mosque should be treated the same way as a church, temple or whatever.

August 12, 2010

## 31 July 2010 posts

Workout notes afternoon hike at Wildlife Prairie Park with Olivia. She had to slow down for me…AGAIN. It took 1:03 to get from the trail start to the reptile house. So this was my usual “slow hike” pace.

We saw a lizard, a very slow (probably sick) field mouse and a black rat snake:

This isn’t our photo.

Economics: This is one reason I don’t believe in the “free market will fix it every time” gospel:

[…]As Professor Sum studied the data coming in from the recession, he realized that the carnage that occurred in the workplace was out of proportion to the economic hit that corporations were taking. While no one questions the severity of the downturn — the worst of the entire post-World War II period — the economic data show that workers to a great extent were shamefully exploited.

The recession officially started in December 2007. From the fourth quarter of 2007 to the fourth quarter of 2009, real aggregate output in the U.S., as measured by the gross domestic product, fell by about 2.5 percent. But employers cut their payrolls by 6 percent.

In many cases, bosses told panicked workers who were still on the job that they had to take pay cuts or cuts in hours, or both. And raises were out of the question. The staggering job losses and stagnant wages are central reasons why any real recovery has been so difficult.

“They threw out far more workers and hours than they lost output,” said Professor Sum. “Here’s what happened: At the end of the fourth quarter in 2008, you see corporate profits begin to really take off, and they grow by the time you get to the first quarter of 2010 by \$572 billion. And over that same time period, wage and salary payments go down by \$122 billion.”

That kind of disconnect, said Mr. Sum, had never been seen before in all the decades since World War II.

In short, the corporations are making out like bandits. Now they’re sitting on mountains of cash and they still are not interested in hiring to any significant degree, or strengthening workers’ paychecks. […]

Not that the “free market conservatives” that make so much noise really know that much:

Hoo boy. I missed this; but Yglesias points out that in Ezra Klein’s interview with Paul Ryan, Ryan says that the way to increase lending is to raise interest rates:

We need to do things to free up credit. We need regulatory forbearance there. Right now, the policymakers and regulators are doing opposite things. So you’re right that there’s a lot of capital parked out there, and we need to coax it out into the markets. I think literally that if we raised the federal funds rate by a point, it would help push money into the economy, as right now, the safest play is to stay with the federal money and federal paper.

I don’t even know where to start with this. What does Ryan think the fed funds rate is? (It’s the rate at which banks lend each other money overnight, usually to help meet reserve requirements.) He obviously doesn’t know the the Fed funds rate basically equals the return on federal paper, so that raising that rate would make banks more, not less, likely to stay with that federal paper. I’m sure someone will try to come up with a reason why Ryan is being smart here, but the truth is that he’s stone-cold ignorant.

Obama’s plans and the Bush Tax Cuts
The Wall Street Journal has a handy graph comparing the Bush tax cut rates with the Obama plan.

Political ads: Huffington Post has collected a few of them here (general election, general political, primary election) from both Republicans and Democrats.

Science and Cosmology here is an “open manifold for the space-time continuum” conjecture. That is, no big bang, no big crunch.

universe model

July 31, 2010

## Posts for 11 July 2010

Yes, part of it was that I was very tired and snippy (didn’t sleep well last night) and the pain killer (which I haven’t had in about 12 hours) has an unfortunate side effect. For those who aren’t bothered by TMI, think “clay”. I found this product to be useful.

But, on the good side, I can put more weight on the leg and can bend the knee even more; tomorrow the big bandages come off. :)

What I have to remember is that my last operation was in 1984 (25 years old at the time) and I had far less done and I had spent overnight in the hospital. But the difference between Saturday and Friday was huge and I’ve made another great “leap” (metaphorical, not physical!) so I see myself climbing onto the exercise bike by the end of the week and maybe even the water for some easy stroke drills.

I hope to get caught up on research this week as I am not as loopy as I was before. People tell me that hydrocodone is addictive; I don’t see it. I can’t wait to get off of it!

So, to my posts of the day:

Mathematics: tough mathematics is its own reward. This is an interesting post on the Poincare Conjecture and the person who solved it (who turned down the Fields Medal!) (via Jordan Ellenberg in Slate):

[…]he entities we study in science fall into two categories: those which can be classified in a way a human can understand, and those which are unclassifiably wild. Numbers are in the first class—you would agree that although you cannot list all the whole numbers, you have a good sense of what numbers are out there. Platonic solids are another good example. There are just five: the tetrahedron, the cube, the octahedron, the dodecahedron, and the icosahedron. End of story—you know them all. These mathematical objects behave something like the chemical elements, which are neatly classified by Mendeleev’s periodic table. Many properties of an element are determined by its place in the table. For instance, we knew a lot about how metals like germanium and gallium would behave before they were actually discovered in nature!

In the second class are things like networks (in mathematical lingo, graphs) and beetles. There doesn’t appear to be any nice, orderly structure on the set of all beetles, and we’ve got no way to predict what kinds of novel species will turn up. All we can do is observe some features that most beetles seem to share, most of the time. But there’s no periodic table of beetles, and there probably couldn’t be.

Mathematicians are much happier when a mathematical subject turns out to be of the first, more structured, type. We are much sadder when a subject turns out to be a variegated mass of beetles. (But have a look at Fields Medalist Timothy Gowers’ beautiful essay “The Two Cultures of Mathematics” for a spirited defense of mathematical enterprises of the second sort.)

So, where do three-dimensional shapes, the subject of the Poincaré conjecture, fit in? To simplify, let’s think about two-dimensional shapes first. These fall firmly in the “periodic table” category. The only such shapes are the surfaces of “doughnuts” with multiple holes. The number of holes is called the genus of the surface and plays the role that the atomic number does for chemical elements. (Here is a picture of the surfaces of genus 0, 1, 2, and 3.) Geometer William Thurston (another Fields winner) made the daring conjecture that three-dimensional shapes, too, can be classified in a more complicated but equally structured way. Perelman has proved this conjecture, which has Poincaré as a straightforward corollary. That means, in turn, that we can think about proving general statements about three-dimensional geometry in a way that we can’t hope to about beetles or graphs.

Perelman’s work isn’t important because of its applications. It won’t help anyone build a bridge, aim a rocket, crack a code, or privatize Social Security. Mathematicians, no dummies, like to point out that, in some unspecified future, Perelman’s theorem might pitch in to help with these problems in ways that aren’t obvious now. But its real significance is like that of the fact that a times b is equal to b times a; it’s a basic structural statement about how the world is organized. If you prefer order to chaos, that’s something worth caring about.]

Now for those who are interested the Poincare Conjecture says the following: a 3 dimensional object that has the “algebraic information” of a sphere is a sphere (in terms of homotopy groups). This is false at the level of homology: one can do surgery on a knot in $s^3$; that is, scoop out a solid torus neighborhood of a smooth knot, do that again in another copy of $s^3$ on an inequivalent knot, and then identify the torus boundaries where the meridian of one “missing solid torus” is identified with the longitude of the second and visa versa. Then the meridians bound a Seifert surface in the “other” $S^3$. That forms what is known as a “homology” sphere; right homology, wrong fundamental groups.

Medicine Recently I had talked about the case where an Olympic caliber athlete had her sex challenged. This article deals with those who naturally have sexual ambiguities and how the fetus can be treated to prevent this. Of course, there is some fear in the gay community that this is some sort of program to keep gay people from being born.

It’s happening to crops in the United States, too. In 2004, Donald Davis, PhD, a former researcher with the Biochemical Institute at the University of Texas, Austin, led a team that analyzed 43 fruits and vegetables from 1950 to 1999 and reported reductions in vitamins, minerals, and protein. Using USDA data, he found that broccoli, for example, had 130 mg of calcium in 1950. Today, that number is only 48 mg. What’s going on? Davis believes it’s due to the farming industry’s desire to grow bigger vegetables faster. The very things that speed growth — selective breeding and synthetic fertilizers — decrease produce’s ability to synthesize nutrients or absorb them from the soil.

A different story is playing out with organic produce. “By avoiding synthetic fertilizers, organic farmers put more stress on plants, and when plants experience stress, they protect themselves by producing phytochemicals,” explains Alyson Mitchell, PhD, a professor of nutrition science at the University of California, Davis. Her 10-year study in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry showed that organic tomatoes can have as much as 30 percent more phytochemicals than conventional ones.

But even if organic is not in your budget, you can buck the trend. We polled the experts and found nine simple ways to put the nutrient punch back in your produce. […]

Surf to the link to see these 9 ways.

More science
An advance in quantum computing: we can now trap the light from a single ion (electrically charged atom).

Evolution and biology
Jerry Coyne on the “evolving by getting an entirely new genome” paper:

A new paper by John Jaenike and his colleagues in Science, however, shows a form of biological evolution by natural selection that isn’t based on changes in genes. It’s based on changes in the presence of symbiotic bacteria that protect a species from parasites.

The species in which the nongenetic evolution has occurred is the mushroom-feeding fruit fly Drosophila neotestacea in North America:
[…]
Some flies also carry another organism: the bacterial symbiont Spiroplasma, which is found in many insects. In D. neotestacea, however, the presence of Spiroplasma protects the fly from the sterilizing effects of nematodes. While flies with worms and no Spiroplasma are virtually sterile, the presence of the bacteria confers almost normal fertility on worm-ridden flies. It’s not yet clear how this works, but worms in flies with Spiroplasma are much smaller than those without the bacteria. Presumably the bacteria does something to the worms (or to the flies) that makes the worms grow much more slowly.

So this is a good setup for natural selection. First, there is variation in a trait—some flies have Spiroplasma, others do not. That trait is heritable, for Spiroplasma are transmitted directly from mother to offspring in the egg (there’s no “horizontal” adult-to-adult transmission). And there’s an environmental factor—the parasitic, sterilizing worms—that cause differential reprodution of flies depending on whether or not they carry Spiroplasma. Those flies who carry Spiroplasma can still produce offspring, and hence pass on the Spiroplasma to the next generation; those flies who don’t carry the bacteria don’t get protection from nematodes, and leave no (or very few) offspring. In the presence of worms, then, there’s a huge selective advantage in flies to carrying bacteria.
[…]

There is much more there.

He also talks about the evolution of single celled organisms to multi-celled organisms paper:

So how did multicellularity come about? How much genetic change was needed to get those single cells on their own to form colonies, with some of them specializing in reproduction and the others in locomotion, nutrition, and the like? Did it take a wholesale restructuring of the genome?

That was the question that Simon Prochnik and his colleagues asked—and partially answered—in a new paper in Science. They had a clever approach: look at two species that were fairly similar, but one of which was multicellular, showing some differentiation among cells, and the other was not. Here are the species they used. The “simple” one was the unicellular alga Chlamydomonas reinhardtii, which has flagella, threadlike organelles that can be whipped about to move the cell though the water. This species has been used extensively in studies of movement and organelle differentiation. Its genome was sequenced in 2007. […]

Does the initial evolution of multicellularity require many new types of genes, or will a few simple changes suffice?

The answer seems to be the latter. Comparing the V. carteri genome with the already-published C. reinhardtii genome, Prochnik et al. showed this:[…]

Surf to the link to find out. :)

Social/Political
Facts have often little to do with what one believes in politics:

It’s one of the great assumptions underlying modern democracy that an informed citizenry is preferable to an uninformed one. “Whenever the people are well-informed, they can be trusted with their own government,” Thomas Jefferson wrote in 1789. This notion, carried down through the years, underlies everything from humble political pamphlets to presidential debates to the very notion of a free press. Mankind may be crooked timber, as Kant put it, uniquely susceptible to ignorance and misinformation, but it’s an article of faith that knowledge is the best remedy. If people are furnished with the facts, they will be clearer thinkers and better citizens. If they are ignorant, facts will enlighten them. If they are mistaken, facts will set them straight.

In the end, truth will out. Won’t it?

Maybe not. Recently, a few political scientists have begun to discover a human tendency deeply discouraging to anyone with faith in the power of information. It’s this: Facts don’t necessarily have the power to change our minds. In fact, quite the opposite. In a series of studies in 2005 and 2006, researchers at the University of Michigan found that when misinformed people, particularly political partisans, were exposed to corrected facts in news stories, they rarely changed their minds. In fact, they often became even more strongly set in their beliefs. Facts, they found, were not curing misinformation. Like an underpowered antibiotic, facts could actually make misinformation even stronger.

What is going on/ Well, some of it is that people don’t believe inconvenient facts, sometimes because these aren’t facts:

This effect is only heightened by the information glut, which offers — alongside an unprecedented amount of good information — endless rumors, misinformation, and questionable variations on the truth. In other words, it’s never been easier for people to be wrong, and at the same time feel more certain that they’re right.

Oh, and we’ve seen this too:

People ignorant of the facts could simply choose not to vote. But instead, it appears that misinformed people often have some of the strongest political opinions. A striking recent example was a study done in the year 2000, led by James Kuklinski of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He led an influential experiment in which more than 1,000 Illinois residents were asked questions about welfare — the percentage of the federal budget spent on welfare, the number of people enrolled in the program, the percentage of enrollees who are black, and the average payout. More than half indicated that they were confident that their answers were correct — but in fact only 3 percent of the people got more than half of the questions right. Perhaps more disturbingly, the ones who were the most confident they were right were by and large the ones who knew the least about the topic. (Most of these participants expressed views that suggested a strong antiwelfare bias.)

Studies by other researchers have observed similar phenomena when addressing education, health care reform, immigration, affirmative action, gun control, and other issues that tend to attract strong partisan opinion. Kuklinski calls this sort of response the “I know I’m right” syndrome, and considers it a “potentially formidable problem” in a democratic system. “It implies not only that most people will resist correcting their factual beliefs,” he wrote, “but also that the very people who most need to correct them will be least likely to do so.”

The article talks about our brains being wired to seek consistency. In fact, consistency and tradition is part of the moral framework for conservatives.

But liberals are prone to this too:

New research, published in the journal Political Behavior last month, suggests that once those facts — or “facts” — are internalized, they are very difficult to budge. In 2005, amid the strident calls for better media fact-checking in the wake of the Iraq war, Michigan’s Nyhan and a colleague devised an experiment in which participants were given mock news stories, each of which contained a provably false, though nonetheless widespread, claim made by a political figure: that there were WMDs found in Iraq (there weren’t), that the Bush tax cuts increased government revenues (revenues actually fell), and that the Bush administration imposed a total ban on stem cell research (only certain federal funding was restricted). Nyhan inserted a clear, direct correction after each piece of misinformation, and then measured the study participants to see if the correction took.

For the most part, it didn’t. The participants who self-identified as conservative believed the misinformation on WMD and taxes even more strongly after being given the correction. With those two issues, the more strongly the participant cared about the topic — a factor known as salience — the stronger the backfire. The effect was slightly different on self-identified liberals: When they read corrected stories about stem cells, the corrections didn’t backfire, but the readers did still ignore the inconvenient fact that the Bush administration’s restrictions weren’t total.

Note: this (sticking with “false facts”) isn’t only a problem with the politically ignorant:

And if you harbor the notion — popular on both sides of the aisle — that the solution is more education and a higher level of political sophistication in voters overall, well, that’s a start, but not the solution. A 2006 study by Charles Taber and Milton Lodge at Stony Brook University showed that politically sophisticated thinkers were even less open to new information than less sophisticated types. These people may be factually right about 90 percent of things, but their confidence makes it nearly impossible to correct the 10 percent on which they’re totally wrong. Taber and Lodge found this alarming, because engaged, sophisticated thinkers are “the very folks on whom democratic theory relies most heavily.”

This article goes on to suggest that the media do their jobs and hammer those who lie in public.

July 11, 2010

## Scifri Videos: Rumble In The Jungle

Science, technology, environment and health news and discussion from the makers of the NPR public radio program Science Friday with host Ira Flatow.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

more about "Scifri Videos: Rumble In The Jungle", posted with vodpod

Jerry Coyne has more here: he thinks that this will be some sort of mating call (a ‘froggy flirt”) and goes on to talk about scientific papers and how to “sell” your work to the journal.

May 30, 2010