Environment

When I was addressing this lunacy about how God exists because minds and mathematics are supernatural, I was also thinking about a related set of questions: biologically, how are numbers represented in the brain? How did this ability evolve? I knew there was some interesting work by Ramachandran on the representation of digits and numerical processing, coupled to his work on synesthesia (which is also about how we map abstract ideas on a biological substrate), but I was wondering how I can have a concept of something as abstract as a number -- as I sit in my office, I can count the vertical…
“You cannot hope to build a better world without improving the individuals. To that end, each of us must work for his own improvement and, at the same time, share a general responsibility for all humanity, our particular duty being to aid those to whom we think we can be most useful.” -Marie Curie There's nothing like looking into the deepest mysteries the Universe has to offer, and trying to come up with the explanation and understanding we can based on all the available data. That's what we're all about here at Starts With A Bang! It's less than two weeks until my talk at the May 24th event…
“It all had a beginning in the original cosmic explosion, whatever that was, and it'll all have an end when all the stars run down.” -Isaac Asimov, The Last Question Each week brings new challenges, new questions, new topics and new things to think about here at Starts With A Bang! For those of you looking for something awesome to do later this month, come to Seattle, Washington's May 24th event: Astronomy On Tap, at Peddler Brewing Company, where I'll be speaking! Beyond that, I just received my first look at the layout of the inside of my upcoming book, Treknology, and it's going to be…
A major Canadian logger appears to be using a pair of law suits to end the existence of Greenpeace and to stop or curtail pro-environmental activities by other organizations operating in North America, or perhaps, generally. This activity is being carried out by Resolute Forest Products. This is a rapidly developing story. Aside from the usual sources of information, I had a long conversation with a representative of Greenpeace. I also refer you to this blog post. Resolute Forest Products is one of North America’s largest converters of forest into pulp, ultimately to be used to make paper.…
Lennox Yearwood Jr was on his way to speak at the March for Science in DC, when something bad happened. He tells us: ...at the March For Science in Washington DC on Earth Day, I was assaulted, roughed up, and detained by police in the shadow of the Smithsonian Museum of African American History and Culture. It was not part of an action or planned civil disobedience. It was sadly a much more regular event - an interaction between police and a person of color gone very wrong. He continues: I was walking in the rain and carrying an umbrella down Constitution Ave. from the National Archives…
The New York Times has a history of supporting a certain degree of climate change science denial, while at the same time supporting some very good journalism in this area. Just now, the Times jumped over one big giant shark by adding Bret Stephens to its opinion page staff. Stephens comes to the Times from the Wall Street Journal, a Murdoch anti-science rag you are all familiar with. In 2011, he wrote, Consider the case of global warming, another system of doomsaying prophecy and faith in things unseen. As with religion, it is presided over by a caste of spectacularly unattractive people…
A well known anti-science "think" tank has sent around, to teachers, a mailing including an antiscience book, a movie, and nice letter and, oddly, a pamphlet exposing the fact that the mailing is entirely politically motivated. Most science teachers will ignore this. A few science teachers are science deniers, and they already had the material in the mailings. So, I think this was a huge waste of money and effort. But it happened and you should know about it, and you should warn anyone you know that is a teacher. The real concern, in my opinion, is not this falling into the hands of science…
A few items that I think you should see: Trump’s executive order puts the world on the road to climate catastrophe On Tuesday, President Donald Trump issued a sweeping executive order that effectively guts national efforts to address climate change. If he isn’t stopped, the endpoint of this approach is the ruination of our livable climate and the needless suffering of billions of people for decades to come. The order starts the process of undoing President Obama’s Clean Power Plan standards for power plants. It also spurs fossil fuel consumption and blocks federal efforts to even prepare for…
Some of you might have been wondering just WTF has been going on here on the old blog, given the relative paucity of posts over the last week and the "reruns" from the distant past that I've been posting. I address this question because I realize that not everyone reads the comments and it's quite possible some of you might have missed it, but here in Michigan we had an enormous windstorm last Wednesday that knocked out power to 800,000+ people. Unfortunately, Orac was one of them. True, we did get the power back over the weekend, but then, in a cruel twist of fate, we lot power again on…
“When you are joyous, look deep into your heart and you shall find it is only that which has given you sorrow that is giving you joy. When you are sorrowful look again in your heart, and you shall see that in truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight.” -Khalil Gibran Another incredible week has gone by here at Starts With A Bang! If you didn't get a chance to catch me in Jacksonville, don't fear; I'll be at MidSouthCon in Memphis, Tennessee in just a little over a week. Catch me there! Our Patreon campaign is really taking off, and with the new rewards commitments I have,…
The American Council on Science and Health recently got some exposure on twitter, then a little too much exposure, after publishing this highly problematic (and hysterically bad) op-ed/infographic on twitter and on their site. This opinion piece, presented as if there is some method or objective analysis, purports to show which are the best and worst science news sites. But this immediately started to fall apart on the most cursory inspection. First of all, notice the x-axis, it's clearly some kind of subjective assessment, and it immediately fails to be credible as the New York Times is…
In 2015, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency released a report finding 457 fracking-related spills in eight states between 2006 and 2012. Last month, a new study tallied more than 6,600 fracking spills in just four states between 2005 and 2014. But, as usual, the numbers only tell part of the story. Not every spill counted in that new number represents a spill of potentially harmful materials or even a spill that made contact with the environment. In fact, the study’s goal wasn’t to tally an absolute number of fracking spills. Instead, researchers set out to collect available spill data…
By Copyleft [CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons As I was looking through the scientific literature the other day, I came across an article published in 1973, "The Evolutionary Advantages of Being Stupid." With a title like that, how could I not read it? In this article Dr. Eugene D. Robin discussed how larger and more complex brains are associated with greater intelligence, which by evolutionary standards was thought to be related to "superiority." He described how this line of thinking places man at the peak of evolution resulting in our tendency toward an anthropocentric view of the…
]As hard as it is to believe, I've been dealing with the antivaccine movement since at least the early 2000s. Back then, I didn't have a blog, either this one or my not-so-super-secret other blog, and most of my online activities were restricted to Usenet. For those of you who don't remember Usenet, which has largely become the province of trolls and spam these days, it is a massive set of online discussion boards on literally thousands of topics. Indeed, I first encountered antivaccine advocates on Usenet and started to learn the sorts of pseudoscientific arguments they make, so that when I…
President Trump's pick to head the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was confirmed today by a Senate vote of 52-46. The former attorney general of Oklahoma has been hostile to new EPA safeguards for air and water, most notably by suing the EPA 14 times over his career. The Senate's approval of Pruitt has environmental and public health advocates wondering what the future will be for environmental protection. Maine Senator Susan Collins was the only Republican senator to oppose Pruitt's nomination: "His actions leave me with considerable doubts about whether his vision for the EPA is…
Is the March for Science (and all it's satellite marches) too political or not political enough? The text on their website gives a sense of where the organizers are coming from: SCIENCE, NOT SILENCE The March for Science is a celebration of our passion for science and a call to support and safeguard the scientific community. Recent policy changes have caused heightened worry among scientists, and the incredible and immediate outpouring of support has made clear that these concerns are also shared by hundreds of thousands of people around the world. The mischaracterization of science as a…
Great disasters are great stories, great moments in time, great tests of technology, humanity, society, government, and luck. Fifty years ago it was probably true to say that our understanding of great disasters was thin, not well developed because of the relative infrequency of the events, and not very useful, not knowledge that we could use to reduce the risks from such events. This is no longer true. The last several decades has seen climate science add more climatic data because of decades of careful instrumental data collection happening, but also, earlier decades have been added to…
Congressional Republicans, voting party line, will end an important provision protecting streams and rivers from coal waste, and a requirement that oil companies report payments to Foreign Governments. The former is blatant hippie punching anti environmental evil. The latter is a fully expected out come if you elect a Russian puppet president, and appoint a Secretary of state whose main job will be to exploit Russian oil fields. So, if that happened, and this happened, then everything is falling nicely into place for the oligarchs, both American and otherwise. The House has already voted…
“I hope that in this year to come, you make mistakes. Because if you are making mistakes, then you are making new things, trying new things, learning, living, pushing yourself, changing yourself, changing your world. You're doing things you've never done before, and more importantly, you're doing something.” -Neil Gaiman Here we are, at the end of a momentous week here at Starts With A Bang! The world is changing; the president of the world's most powerful nation has changed; but the quest to learn ever more about the Universe still continues unabated. There's so much coming down the pipeline…
"There are now dozens of hockey sticks and the all come to the same basic conclusion. The recent warming does appear to be unprecedented as far bas as we can go. But even if we didn't have that evidence, we would still know that humans are warming the planet, changing the climate and that represents a threat if we don't do something about it." -Michael Mann The latest climate science results are out, and 2016 was the hottest year on record. Again. Breaking the previous record... from 2015. Which broke the previous record of 2014. In fact, of the 17 hottest years on record, 16 of them have…