Tag Archives: science

Mostly depressing stuff about global warming, plus other science links

“At its worst, net zero by 2050 is a device for shunting responsibility across both time and space. Those in power today seek to pass their liabilities to those in power tomorrow. Every industry seeks to pass the buck to another industry. ” — a Guardian columnist on how our current goals for fighting global warming fall short.

As the world heats up, air conditioning becomes more vital, but it also makes the problems worse. What are the alternatives?

Air-travel contributes to global warming too. Here are the big problems they need to solve.

Global warming and other factors have put the Komodo dragon on the endangered list. There are dangers for vanilla and avocado crops, too.

The world’s largest carbon-capture machine has gone live.

Floating wind turbines could be a great clean energy source, but there are obstacles to overcome first.

“Black cemeteries are now at a disproportionate risk of being lost, some before they have even been officially found.”

The U.S. Army is looking to a cyborg future and worried movies will bias us against cyborgs.

To tighten its grip on the people, the Russian government is deploying its own internet.

Millionaire Julia Davies is helping acres of British farmland go back to nature.

How a rare New Zealand parrot may have removed harmful mutations from its gene pool.

Environmental activism around the world leads to activists being murdered.

“You do pi because everyone else has been doing pi.” — an article on whether there’s any point to calculating pi out to the trillions of digits.

Dogs are amazing — even as covid detectors. I’m sure Plushie could handle it.

What we’re still learning about the asteroid that ended the dinosaur age.

The technical and ethical challenges to resurrecting the woolly mammoth.

The California condor population has gone from 22 to more than 500.

#SFWApro. Comics cover by Mike Sekowsky, all rights to images remain with current holders.

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Links about UFOs, nature and science

A physicist argues we shouldn’t try to contact alien life — who knows what the reaction will be (see, for example, Battleship)? And if some astrophysicist or amateur scientist makes contact, what’s to stop them presenting themselves as speaking for the human race?

A journalist argues that we should accept UFOs are real, physical things (as opposed to “real but just a trick of the light”), though not necessarily spaceships.

Here’s a lost of America’s more prominent UFO sightings. And some naval aviators say they see them every day. A fair number of officials in DC are believers, or at least interested enough to push for investigations. But a recent documentary claims the evidence for UFOs is just a government psy-op. A federal report comes to no definite conclusions about UFOs, but does suggest they are physical  objects. But both skeptics and believers agree that talking about it openly is a good thing.

Some scientists say the art of creating crop circles is worthy of serious study, but the UFO association makes that hard.

Are conflicts over “trash fish” surrogates for conflicts over Native American rights?

Speaking of right, here’s how race, oyster fishing and pollution intersect.

Argentinian developers turned wetlands into an upscale gated community. The capybara are fighting back.

The power of seaweed to fight global warming.

Dubai promised to plan one million trees. The reality is less impressive.

Is it sustainable farming if nobody can afford the food?

San Francisco International Airport is saving a snake from extinction.

Beavers have returned to Scotland.

I’ve written before about the problems of relying on algorithms to make judgment calls (also see here). The AP says ShotSpotter software, designed to identify and locate gunshots, is another example: not always accurate, the company won’t let anyone analyze its programs and the techs are willing to rewrite reports if police say the gunshot happened somewhere else.

Well, that’s just the best new (he said sarcastically). The first responders of 9/11 may be slipping into dementia at a much accelerated rate due to the chemicals they were exposed to. But until there’s hard confirmation via research, the responders’ health fund won’t cover it.

#SFWApro. Cover by Gene Colan (t) and Curt Swan (b). All rights to images remain with current holders.

 

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Links about science and tech, plus some paperback covers

When coming up with new ideas or solutions we think of adding features and increasing complexity — not enough about simplifying.

The wheelie suitcase is such a great idea, but gender stereotypes — men don’t need no stinking wheels and women will always have a man handy to do the lifting — meant it took decades to become a thing.

I’ve never seen Yellowstone’s Old Faithful geyser, but it’s still startling to realize global warming could destroy it this century.

Last month I reviewed Weapons of Math Destruction, about how relying on AIs doesn’t make us rise above human failings. Here’s one example, how reliance on AI to parcel out funding for the sick took away needed care. This article, however, argues that broader fears of AI taking over are wildly incorrect.

In a related topic, companies and government officials say electronic visit-verification apps prevent fraud and waste in government funded homecare programs. Instead they just make it harder to get paid.

Microbes could produce 10 times the food as plants, at little environmental cost.

Anti-vxxers are continuing to spread anti-science.

Social science: why are competitors on The Price is Right game show worse than the last century’s players?

“There’s a bias in our culture towards assuming that the written word is by definition enduring. We quote remarks made centuries ago often because someone wrote them down – and kept the copies safe. But in digital form, the written word is little more than a projection of light onto a screen.” — the BBC on the problem of lost digital information.

Hospital are making increasing use of medical chatbots. The article looks at what they can and can’t do.

Anthony Bourdain wasn’t alive to participate in a new documentary about him. Bourdain’s wife isn’t happy the director’s solutin was to deepfake his voice.

As the sixth great extinction continues, a UN plan proposes to cut the extinction rate by a factor of 10.

#SFWApro. Covers top to bottom by Charles Binger, Robert Abbett, Ed Veligursky and Earle Bergey. All rights to images remain with current holder.

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Einstein’s brain (and some science links)

“I am, somehow, less interested in the weight and convolutions of Einstein’s brain than in the near certainty that people of equal talent have lived and died in cotton fields and sweatshops.” — Stephen Jay Gould. I don’t have anything to add to that quote, but I thought it was a good start to another post of science-related links and SF covers

Vox suggests robots taking our jobs are less of a problem than robots and AI making work worse.Plans to help the bison by building the world’s longest wildlife bridge.

The fossil fuels industry allegedly saw the problems of global warming and rising waters years ago — and lied about it.Dogs protecting penguins. I know it’s not exactly science, but it’s so cute.Jungle cities of ancient cultures were more successful than we think.

#SFWApro. Covers by Murphy Anderson, Gil Kane, Kane again and Roy Krenkel

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Science and tech links

Some of these are old, but they’re still interesting (I hope)

The Washington Post discovers Apple’s new AirTags make it easy to find things. Slipped into a car seat or a purse, they can also make it easy to stalk you.

What bacteria might be thawing out in the Arctic and how dangerous are they?

The U.S. Army is looking to a cyborg future and worried movies will bias us against cyborgs.

To tighten its grip on the people, the Russian government is deploying its own internet.

In the 1940s, city architecture decided cities should be built as if the default resident was a six-foot tall man. Female designers of the 1980s, pointed out that was bullshit.

The UK recognizes animals as sentient beings.

Remember the days of the 19th century when Baptist priests built experimental airships inspired by the Bible?

Naughty, naughty Facebook — a new lawsuit attacks the social media over censorship of anti-vaxxers.

Electric books, classes by radio and other tech that would supposedly transform education. And then there’s the dream of 50 or 60 years ago that by now Americans would be working 30 hours a week, or less.

The challenges of beating ransomware.

“Trump’s blog shows none of the technical sophistication his team would need to build a new social media site. The blog does not save one’s progress or previously read messages, and asks viewers every time they open the page whether they want alerts to their email and phone, regardless of whether they’ve already signed up.” — a look at Trump’s efforts to stay important online.

#SFWApro. Cover by Rafael De Latorre, all rights to images remain with current holders.

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Let’s do sciencing! Science and tech links

We’ve lost so much polar ice to global warming, it’s shifting Earth’s axis of rotation.

Are unidentified drones in the midwest just a new UFO myth? It seems not.

The NYPD introduced a Robodog to fight crime. The public objected.“Do not think that thoughtful design is just for the elderly, or the sick, or the disabled. In the field of design, this is called “inclusive design” for a reason: It helps everyone. Curb cuts were meant to help people who had trouble walking, but it helps anyone wheeling things: carts, baby carriages, suitcases. Closed captions are used in noisy bars.” — from an article on why good design for the elderly can benefit everyone.

The Netherlands may have reversed the decline in its bee population.

Speaking of bees, here’s how honey can stay edible for centuries.

Florida has banned social media companies from censoring journalism or deplatforming candidates, but Disney + gets an exemption.

Three years ago, a piece of the Vesta asteroid crashed into Botswana.

There’s a global shortage of semiconductor chips — and even dog-washing is suffering from it.

Arkansas is pushing creationism back into schools.

Azimuth Security has hacked iPhones for the government. Apple does not approve.

Why does QAnon enthrall people? A game designer’s analysis says it’s beautifully designed to lead you away from reality and into a maze of mystery.

#SFWApro. Covers by Sheldon Moldoff, Murphy Anderson and Jack Kirby

 

 

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Science and SF comics covers again

Along with preserving artifacts and sights of the past some scientists want to preserve smells.

Can we make a mummy speak?

A century ago, a British barrister bought Stonehenge at auction for £6,600.

The government spent tens of millions to get a treatment for chemical weapon attacks. The maker won’t guarantee it works.

Why we have too many ventilators. Not incompetence, just changes in medical procedure.

If you think social media and disinformation are bad now, deepfakes will make things worse. Forensic science can exposes fakes, but let’s face it, most of us (myself included) aren’t likely to probe that deeply.

Some ESP research may not have proved psi exists, but it shows a boatload of problems with psychological research. Not that psychology is unique in this.

Annie Jump Cannon developed the modern system for classifying stars. Like so many women in science, she didn’t get the credit she deserved.

I’ve read speculation that AI could eventually replace writers. Here’s an example.

Experiments question the fundamentals of quantum theory.

#SFWApro. Covers top to bottom by Murphy Anderson, Gil Kane, Nick Cardy, Kane, Kane and Kane

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If she didn’t want to be naked on the Internet, why was she photographed with her clothes on?

If you thought deepfakes were bad, here’s something worse: Washington Post reports that users of a new onlne service “can anonymously submit a photo of a clothed woman and receive an altered version with the clothing removed. The AI technology, trained on large databases of actual nude photographs, can generate fakes with seemingly lifelike accuracy, matching skin tone and swapping in breasts and genitalia where clothes once were. The women’s faces remain clearly visible, and no labels are appended to the images to mark them as fake. Some of the original images show girls younger than 18.”

Before you ask no, the AI can’t do the same with men. It’s only set up to declothe women and will give male images female body parts. The article says that’s partly because AI research is male dominated so they don’t have any women working on projects like this who can say “What the hell are you thinking?” But I also think misogyny plays a part: “The bot’s administrator, speaking in Russian, told The Post in a private chat on Monday that they didn’t take responsibility for how requesters used the software, which they argued was freely available, anyway. ‘If a person wants to poison another, he’ll do this without us, and he’ll be the one responsible for his actions,’ the administrator wrote.” A)This is not poison or a gun or a car, something that’s freely available; B)what they are doing with this service is exactly what it’s designed to do — strip women naked.

The administrator also resorted to that old Undead Sexist Cliche, why was she wearing those clothes? “A girl who puts a photo in a swimsuit on the Internet for everyone to see — for what purpose does (she do) this?” Hmm, possibly because she was at the beach and she wanted to share the event with her friends? And even if she posted because she likes how sexy she looks, so what? This does not translate into “since she likes to look sexy, therefore it’s acceptable to faked naked photos of her,” any more than it’s an excuse for rape.

To their credit some AI researchers have called out this kind of shit. One developer took down an app they’d made with similar capabilities because the potential for abuse was too high. Other people, however, adopt the kind of laissez-faire attitude of the administrator — hey, this is cool tech, who cares what happens with it in the real world?

My opinion of such people is not high.

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How come liberals don’t get as upset about automobile or smoking deaths as the Trump Virus, huh?

The title stems from an argument I see on FB a lot: cigarettes and cars (and other things) kill way more people than the Trump Virus so fussing about the virus is just a way to smear Glorious Supreme Leader Trump. Celebrity pseudo-intellectual Dr. Phil made the same comparison on a recent TV appearance. As Philip Bump points out at the link, this ignores that government and NGOs have worked for years to reduce car deaths, tobacco deaths, etc. We require seat belts and airbags in cars; we radically restrict where people can smoke. Both have cut the death tolls immensely.

As Bump points out in another article, this argument also ignores a)we don’t know the total death toll from the pandemic yet; b)the difference between a pandemic and an auto accident is the ability to transmit the disease to other people. It’s as if cars with failing brakes could weaken the brakes on other vehicles around them — and if they could, it’s a safe bet that we’d see a whole bunch of new restrictions.

In other COVID-19 science and society-related links:

No, the Trump Virus isn’t a Chinese bioweapon, but a lot of people still believe conspiracy theories about COVID-19. Among other reasons, blaming the pandemic on a conspiracy helps make sense of it.

Because of social distancing, we haven’t had as many deaths as Trump Virus models projected. So conservatives now argue using models is bad. Camestros Felapton has more.

Kentucky and Rhode Island have performed the same number of tests, but their situations are different.

If we follow what seems the obvious approach — channel our limited pandemic resources where they’ll do the most good — we’ll wind up favoring whites over blacks.

LEGO is mass-manufacturing visors for healthcare workers. Some of whom are taking legal action over their lack of protection.

How satire tackled the 19th century Russian flu.

The Notre Dame Cathedral reconstruction has stopped dead during the pandemic. Will the cathedral deteriorate further before work resumes?

Stay-in-place orders are not at all unprecedented in times of plague.

Will blooming California wildflowers lure people to congregate in parks?

What if your appliance breaks down while you’re still in quarantine?

Out of yeast? You can make your own.

The drug Trump touted as a potential cure for the Trump Virus? No benefit, more deaths. And the vaccine expert in charge of COVID-19 vaccine research has been fired for pushing back against using the drug.

 

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Black comedy and the Trump Virus

A number of political bloggers have described our current situation — idiot authoritarian putting his useless son-in-law in charge of a medical crisis — is a banana-republic kind of thing. Me, I’ve come to see it as a kind of black comedy about the British aristocracy at its worst. Only very black, and not very funny.

In this view of things, Trump is a duke from some hideously inbred line of aristocrats. He’s stupid and feckless, but with his distinguished pedigree and his vicious willingness to lash out at anyone who questions him, lots of people are perfectly willing to treat him as if he were worthy of respect. Jared is the equivalent of an airheaded fop, the kind of nitwit who populates so many P.G. Wodehouse stories. Except Wodehouse’s protagonists are invariably decent; in a pandemic they might have no idea what to do, but if it were pointed out, they’d do the right thing. Kushner not so much. Whoever’s behind seizing state Trump Virus supplies, for instance, they’re not doing the right thing.

And this article about Trump’s endorsement of hydroxychloroquine as a treatment has Trump, Giulani and an economic adviser admitting they don’t know nothin’ ’bout medicine, but they did stay in a Holiday Inn last night — well about that level of rationality.

And we have the Republicans horrified, like countless earlier generations of aristocrats, that doing anything to help the peasantry will give them ideas they have rights. That they can get better treatment! They might realize Medicare for all is affordable! BBut I’m sure right wingers will be happier with new proposals such as “pitching a payroll-tax cut, a capital-gains tax cut, creating 50-year Treasury bonds to lock in low interest rates, and a waiver that would clear businesses of liability from employees who contract the coronavirus on the job.” Yes, the poor and small business owners suffering from the Trump Virus will certainly be able to survive on their 50-year-treasury bonds!

But looking at the effects on the ground, it’s not funny. It’s true all governments struggle with the unexpected, but Trump’s White House has been exceptionally bad. “It took 70 days from that initial notification for Trump to treat the coronavirus not as a distant threat or harmless flu strain well under control, but as a lethal force that had outflanked America’s defenses and was poised to kill tens of thousands of citizens. That more-than-two-month stretch now stands as critical time that was squandered.” Doctors are going above and beyond — why isn’t Trump? Okay, the question’s rhetorical, it’s because he cares far more about avoiding any blame than actually solving the crisis. See, easy?

And does Trump’s support for using a malarial drug to treat the Trump Virus have anything to do with the manufacturer paying for access to him? (or, as noted in that hydroxychloroquine article, that he and a lot of people in his orbit have investments that would benefit). I’ve heard similar points made about our government scooping up N95 masks — privatized contractors will get to distribute them and profit thereby. More on the science here.

In other Trump Virus news:

Sean Hannity now insists he took the virus seriously from day one. He lies. And lies some more.

With Diamond, the only remaining comics distributor, shutting down for now, comics companies are searching for solutions.

Andrew Lloyd Webber is streaming his musical on YouTube for free.

More on the Internet Archive undermining copyright during the crisis. And the incredibly intrusive proctoring/data gathering checking on college students taking tests online.

 

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