Technology

Adam Frank has an op-ed at the New York Times that tells a very familiar story: science is on the decline, and we're living in an "Age of Denial". IN 1982, polls showed that 44 percent of Americans believed God had created human beings in their present form. Thirty years later, the fraction of the population who are creationists is 46 percent. In 1989, when “climate change” had just entered the public lexicon, 63 percent of Americans understood it was a problem. Almost 25 years later, that proportion is actually a bit lower, at 58 percent. The timeline of these polls defines my career in…
Via a retweeted link from Thony C. on Twitter, I ran across a blog post declaring science a "bourgeois pastime." The argument, attributed to a book by Dierdre McCloskey is that rather than being at the root of economic progress, scientific advances are a by-product of economic advances. As society got more wealthy, it was able to direct more resources to science, which made great advances possible. And, you know, if you're looking to make a bold and contrarian argument, you can certainly do that. Unfortunately, the bit quoted from McCloskey as an illustration of the power of the argument is:…
"But certainly the laser proved to be what I realized it was going to be. At that moment in my life I was too ignorant in business law to be able to do it right, and if I did it over again probably the same damn thing would happen." -Gordon Gould, inventor of the laser You're used to the iconic image of an observatory's dome surrounded by a dark sky. From within, a telescope peers up at the heavens. And with a huge amount of light-gathering power that dwarfs a fully dilated human eye, we can use this tremendous tool to peek into the dark depths of the Universe. Image credit: Fort Lewis…
I'm always a little ambivalent about writing up papers that have also been written up in Physics: on the one hand, they make a free PDF of the paper available, which allows me to reproduce figures from the paper in my post, since I'm not breaking a paywall to do it. Which makes it much more attractive to write these up. On the other hand, though, they do a pretty good job writing accessible descriptions, so there's not that much for me to add. In the case of this paper, I'll write it up anyway (albeit somewhat more briefly than usual, because they already did a nice job), just because the…
by Kim Krisberg When most of us pass by a new high-rise or drive down a new road, we rarely think: Did the builders and planners consider my health? However, a new report from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency offers evidence that certain types of land use and transportation decisions can indeed limit the human health and environmental impacts of development. Released in mid-June, the publication is a revised and updated version of an EPA report initially published in 2001. Agency officials said the report was particularly timely as the nation's built environments are quickly changing…
ENGINEERING.COM, with its mission to inform, inspire and entertain the world's engineers -- and future engineers -- is returning as a key sponsor of the USA Science & Engineering Festival and Expo in 2014. Widely known for having its fingers directly on the pulse of the fascinating, ever-evolving realm of engineering innovation, ENGINEERING.COM will help expand the scope and reach of Festival excitement, education and inspiration by serving once again as the event's official videographer, which will include capturing the bevy of high-profile activity taking place during Expo finale…
This post was co-authored by Ali Arab, Ph.D., an assistant professor of statistics at Georgetown University. We are living in a global society driven by innovation, creativity and entrepreneurship. Success depends upon free access to information and unfettered research by scholars. Yet targeted academic boycotts are increasingly common, throwing more and more roadblocks on the way to progress. Earlier in May 2013, the decision by the world-renowned British cosmologist Stephen Hawking to withdraw from a major academic conference in Israel reignited discussions among scholars on whether or…
A little while back, I posted about the pro-theorist bias in popular physics, and Ashutosh Jogalekar offers a long and detailed response, which of course was posted on a day when I spent six hours driving to Quebec City for a conference. Sigh. Happily, ZapperZ and Tom at Swans On Tea offer more or less the response I would've if I'd had time and Internet connectivity. Tom in particular gives a very thorough exploration of some of the reasons why experiment gets downplayed in popular physics. I particularly liked this bit: I’m going to put forth a possibility: maybe we have a harder job, in…
The Colorado River, recently named America’s most endangered river, supports millions of people in the American Southwest and northwest Mexico and helps irrigate millions of acres of land. It is shared by seven states in the U.S. and Mexico, through a complex series of legal agreements and treaties. Yet every drop of water on the river is accounted for, used, reused, and transpired away, and today, no water reaches the Colorado River delta in an average year. Quite simply, demands on the river exceed the river’s average supply, and this problem is projected to get worse as populations…
What are Origami Nanosat Telescopes? How about Kinetic Inductance Detectors? More importantly, what should we do with them? NASA's Astrophysics is doing a Roadmap exercise, with the stated intent to look at science goals, technology and capabilities up to 30 years out! White papers were solicited a few weeks ago, and about 100 were received and are archived online, about 3/4 on science and 1/4 on technology. There was originally supposed to be a workshop for presentation of selected white papers, but in the world of sequestration that was not feasible, so instead there was a two day online…
Now there's a quote for you! Provocative in it's shortsightedness and fairly ignorant of how the interplay between scientific discovery and commercialization/technology transfer works. Commercial products are engineered and developed out of basic scientific discoveries. So who said that? Sadly, it was the John McDougall, President of the National Research Council of Canada talking about the restructuring and refocusing of the NRC. Here's some more from the Sun News article: The government of Canada believes there is a place for curiosity-driven, fundamental scientific research, but the…
Clingfish (Gobiesox maeandricus).Image credit: Thomas Kleinteich Live Science posted a story recently on the sticking power of clingfish. Northern clingfish, like the one shown in the image above, live in turbulent waters off the Pacific Coast of North America. In order to cling to surfaces, the animals have what are called adhesion discs on their bellies that they use to hold on tightly to various surfaces. Biologist Adam Summers at the University of Washington has been studying how these fish cling to surfaces. His research team put a variety of sandpaper textures into a tank of water…
“Talent hits the target no one else can hit; genius hits the target no one else can see.” -Arthur Schopenhauer You've probably heard the story, by now, of Kiera Wilmot, the 16-year-old girl who performed a mildly dangerous chemistry experiment on school grounds, mixing together household cleaner and aluminum inside a sealed container. You can get the full story (excellently covered) via DNLee, but to give you the 15-second version, she was arrested, expelled, and is presently being charged with a felony that carries up to 5 years in prison. The school board is not backing down, the attorney…
In the United States, the federal government has long had a prominent role in funding science research. Be it the $30 billion a year or so that funds the National Institutes of Health or the $5 or $6 billion a year allotted to the National Science Foundation, the government funds a lot of basic and applied research, and this is in general a good thing. The number of discoveries and advances that have come out of this funding have well repaid the investment and much more. There is, however, a downside to this funding that's a pretty obvious consequence any time the government funds anything,…
The Bottleneck Years by H.E. Taylor Chapter 36 Table of Contents Chapter 38 Chapter 37 UNGETF Reacts, March 24, 2056 The public reaction after the Group 2 disaster was muted in North America. Not so in the USSA. A huge crowd rioted in Brasilia and burnt down the DCS building. The police just stood around and watched; firemen did not attend. The technical staff and a couple of executives were killed. UNGETF was forced to suspend Group 2 operations in the USSA. At the next regular meeting, we were informed that Group 6, the cloud makers, had been given the go ahead. It was going to take some…
I suppose that while I'm on another roll writing about the antivaccine movement I should just embrace it. I was going to start this post out again with one of my periodic laments about how blogging about the antivaccine movement has taken over and crowded out other topics that I like to write about. I realize it's become one of my go-to cliche beginnings, to the point where I sometimes feel lazy when I use it. It is, however, an honest sentiment, and I hide nothing with respect to my opinion of the antivaccine movement and how it endangers public health through the promotion of pseudoscience…
By Elizabeth Grossman An anecdote related in Dan Fagin’s compelling new book, Toms River: A Story of Science and Salvation, that tells the heartbreaking and infuriating history of how chemical industry pollution devastated that New Jersey community, points to one of the biggest flaws in our regulatory system’s approach to protecting people from toxics. In 1986, during a public meeting of the Ocean County Board of Health – Ocean County is home to Toms River, where the Ciba chemical company began manufacturing dye chemicals in the 1950s – an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) official…
By Elizabeth Grossman While commercially manufactured polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) were banned by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in 1979 due to concern about their extreme environmental persistence and toxicity – including potential to cause cancer – current EPA regulations allow the presence of limited amounts of PCBs that occur as manufacturing by-products. These by-product PCBs are not created or added to products intentionally but occur as a result of certain manufacturing processes, among them the synthesis of certain pigments that go into dyes, inks and paints. As I…
There are many fallacies that undergird alternative medicine, which evolved into "complementary and alternative medicine" (CAM), and for which the preferred term among its advocates is now "integrative medicine," meant to imply the "best of both worlds." If I had to pick one fallacy that rules above all among proponents of CAM/IM, it would have to be either the naturalistic fallacy (i.e., that if it's natural—whatever that means—it must be better) or the fallacy of antiquity (i.e., that if it's really old, it must be better). Of course, the two fallacies are not unrelated. In the minds of CAM…
Here is the second in what will be a series of posts on how little things like changes in technology we take for granted, or simple behaviors, can have a big impact on water use. The first looked at turning off the water when you brush your teeth: a seemingly trivial thing. It turned out not to be so trivial. (I will, on occasion, also blog about the “not so little” things like fundamental changes in our agricultural systems, dietary choices, and industrial processes.) The Pacific Institute has done extensive and groundbreaking research over the past 25 years on a wide range of water, climate…