Tag Archives: Science

It's holey water

Australian Popular Science
Australian Popular Science

Smallest rotary motor in biology, the ATP synthase

Reshared post from +Ole Olson

Smallest rotary motor in biology, the ATP synthase

More info on your warehouse of information: +Wikipedia

#science #Biology #Microbiology  

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Science with a capital S is better than you.

So, yesterday I shared this post on Google+:

This boulder on the moon was set a-rollin’ by whatever process. The interesting thing to me is that you can see some craters overlapping the track it created as it rolled.

From this, scientists estimate this track was created 50-100 million years ago.

Notice the impact craters overlapping the track created by the rolling boulder.

This got me to thinking about how they determined the age.  While I haven’t talked to the scientists who came up with this age figure, I imagine it went something like this:

  1. Have a model for frequency of asteroid impacts over time per unit of area of Moon surface.
  2. Determine area of tracks.
  3. Count impact craters overlapping tracks.
  4. Using impact frequency model determine how much time would have to pass before you would see the number of overlapping impact craters.

The interesting thing here is that, going by a layperson’s definition of “wrong”, the number you come up with in this scenario could be completely wrong.  I think a lot of reporting on science, and even the statements scientists make to the public, are “wrong” in the same manner.

You see, the 50-100 million year figure doesn’t make a lot of sense in isolation.  It should have probabilities assigned to it.  The real answer isn’t “50-100 million years”, it’s a, for example, (rough and dirty) graph like this:

Impact Probabilities

You see, it’s possible that the asteroid impacts all happened yesterday.  It’s unlikely, but it’s possible.

So anyway, this is usually acknowledged when actually doing Science-with-a-capital-S, it’s just that this is often lost when communicating with the public.  The thing I find interesting about this, is that, this view of things having probabilities attached to them is the way the word actually works and yet the general attitude people have doesn’t acknowledge this.

GTFO Naked Girl. I'm doing science!

Most people operate as if things either happened or not.  Of being real or not real.  Even things that you would say you’re 100% sure of…like the color of the sky…have a probability assigned to them.  You may be 100% sure, but that 100% is a measure of your over-confidence, not of reality.  For example, there’s a non-zero chance you may be living in a dream or hallucination.

What about your values, your religion, your politics?  Are your values self-consistent?  Is there a God?  Do your political leanings actually lead to the type of world you want?  There’s probabilities assigned to all of ’em, and that probability is a lot lower than the previous example about the color of the sky.

The Sun!

Click each image to enlargenate it.


Taken by Alan Friedman in the wavelength of hydrogen alpha light.


Taken by NASA’s STEREO satellites.  False color image taken in the 1 million degree C range.


Another STEREO image.  False color in the 60,000-80,000 C range.


STEREO image.  False color in 2.5 million degree range.


STEREO image in 3D!  Need red/cyan 3d glasses to see the 3d effect.

Fleeing leopard

Forest Hill resident and apparently amateur shutterbug Brenda Rusnak captured the magnificent and unusual scene on the Serengeti: a leopard bounding atop a tree, with the lightness of a character from Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, as it escapes from the roaring lion a branch below that has laid claim to the leopard’s quarry – a freshly killed gazelle.

Text from this article.

Click image to get a much larger size.

Understanding Physics

This image is a reproduction of an original pa...

Image via Wikipedia


I’m a big fan of all sorts of books.

I read lots of science fiction.  It’s my go-to genre when I’m bored and want to read something.  You would assume my favorite book would fall within the genre, I know I made that assumption.

Today I realized that wasn’t the case.  Understanding Physics by Isaac Asimov holds this distinction.  I read this first probably in junior high and it just blew me away.   I was always an underachiever in school.  A lot of that had to do with the fact that, while I knew I was smart, I didn’t feel like I was smart enough to understand complicated things.  This book changed all of that.

Asimov’s writing style is just fantastic when it comes to explaining topics.  In this book he does a great job of not only explaining how things work, but how we figured them out and how scientists depend on the work of their predecessors.

I would put this book somewhere between pop science books without a bit of math and a full-on textbook.  However, even though it has math in it, it is completely attainable to someone who normally only reads the pop science books.

I rarely re-read books, but I find myself reading this one every couple of years.  You will too.

Placebos, dude

You’re not in control.

And by “you’re”, I mean your conscious mind.  Robin Hanson points to the latest Nature:

Our conscious minds control less than we think.  From the latest Nature:

A person’s responses can often be explained by non-linguistic behaviours of other people and simple instincts for social display and response, without any recourse to conscious cognition. This `second channel’ of human communication acts in parallel with that based on rational thinking and verbal communication, and it is much more important in human affairs than most people like to think. …

Every day I see more evidence that points towards a simple conclusion: It requires rigorous self-examination to determine our own motives and the correct, rational response to any given problem. This rigorous self-examination is beyond what the vast majority of people are either capable of or are willing to do.

UFO rants are fun.

Three people enjoy the summer sky over the Del...
Image via Wikipedia

Since I enjoy rants against those holding beliefs with no basis in reality, I enjoyed this little post on Skeptic Blog.

I had to laugh when I read fellow Skeptologist Brian Dunning’s article about the UFO True Believerâ„¢ Stan Friedman hating him. What an elite club! Friedman is no fan of me, either. A few years ago I wrote an article for Sky and Telescope magazine about UFOs, basically making the same claim I made here last week: if all these UFO sightings we hear about were real, the majority of them would be seen by amateur astronomers.

Friedman took exception to that (shocker, I know). In his internet newsletter (subscription required), he said: “Plait among other gems says about Amateur [sic] astronomers [sic] ‘Logically, they should be reporting most of the UFOs’. This is logic?”

Um, yeah, Mr. Friedman, it is. Maybe you should acquaint yourself with it. Note that this is all he said, just dismissing my point without actually saying anything about it. I know, it’s hard to believe that someone with such stature in the UFO community would make a claim with no evidence, and dismiss a claim that does have evidence!

Be sure to click on over and read it all.

HFCS and your health

New data: High-fructose corn syrup no worse than sugar – USATODAY.com

Now, the tide of research, if not public opinion, has shifted. This week, five papers published in

Mexican Coke.  Made with real cane sugar inste...
Image by slworking2 via Flickr

a supplement to Clinical Nutrition find no special link between consumption of high-fructose corn syrup and obesity. One paper was written by Barry Popkin, a co-author on the original 2004 paper.

I’m sure this won’t convince many on the anti-HFCS bandwagon, but some of us prefer to live in the world of evidence. The evidence points to no ill-effects. Sorry, Charley.

Of course, we all consume too much sweetener. Period.