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Wind Power and Society February 28, 2009

Posted by sdavis20 in Science & society.
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Hey everybody,

I’m sure you all remember most of the factual information from my presentation so rather than recap those I would like to take this opportunity to really get into the reasons behind the differences in European and American attitudes towards wind power, but first I’d like to begin with the best wind power ad ever.

I posted this ad mostly because its just awesome and funny but also because it somewhat alludes to a difference in international opinion regarding wind power in the US and Europe. In Europe wind power may not be viewed as as being more useful necessarily but rather as more of a necessity given the issue of global warming. For example, in clear and direct contrast to the United States the populations of nations like Denmark hold it as their national responsibility to do everything in their power to create and use only clean energy. There are several different reasons for this but one I would argue is the direct impact from global warming which is felt more by Europeans than Americans. For instance if this picture from the Netherlands was a very real possibility of what your town would look like in the near future given rising water levels you would be more likely to feel like you had a personal stake in the well being of the environment.

Town under water

Town under water

That sense of urgency, coupled with a very distinct difference in social and political philosophies between America and Europe are the root causes for the extreme gap in clean energy production. Europe as a whole I would classify as having a largely collectivist philosophy, with nearly every country having some policies which we Americans would classify as socialst I feel that this is a fair claim to make. The collectivist philosophy that is very prevalent in European society, with the majority of European nations employing some amount of socialist ideals and principles in their national policies and decision making stands in stark contrast to the US. The US, which was founded entirely on individualistic principles, as can be seen when looking at the documents from our nations founding like the bill of rights, set up a society whose focus is the promotion of individual rights as well as protecting the individual from society as a whole. This focus on individual rights has created a social and political culture that has a very narrow focus on just the individual and national world with little to no regard for anything that happens outside its tiny sphere that has no direct influence on its world. Unfortunately the issue of global warming has remained outside the American national sphere as there have been very few direct imapacts from global warming on daily American life that can be understood by the average citizen. This fact has hindered any sense of urgency that American scientists have tried to give the issue.

In conclusion it is my opinion that America will never be at the forefront of scientific issues like global warming as long as the national focus of the government and its people are on economics and social issues within its own national sphere and not on global issues instead.

Informational Links:

Study on Danish wind power

Case study on rising Dutch sea levels

Environmental Policies of the European Union

Wiki on individualism

Wiki on collectivism

Emergence: Mystical Science? February 26, 2009

Posted by C. Steves in Nuts and Bolts.
How do the complex interactions of an ant colony arise? Perhaps it's an example of weak emergence...

How do the complex interactions of an ant colony arise? Perhaps it's an example of weak emergence...

To ancient humans, the sight and sound of lightning and thunder must have been a baffling site to see. For thousands of years, I’m sure that humans would cower and shake like dogs while waiting out a thunderstorm. But the ancient Greeks were not satisfied with not understanding this meteorological phenomenon, and decided to attribute it to the expression of anger and discontentment of the god Zeus. They created a theory that attempted to explain a system they did not understand, an un-testable, un-falsifiable theory that could only hope to provide an explanation for these mind-boggling occurrences. This may very well be an early example of emergent theory.


Cryptozoology: Adventures in fantasy land with bigfoot, or legitimate science? February 26, 2009

Posted by Eban in Philosophy of biology.
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Cryptozoology is the search for and study of vertebrates that have either been deemed extinct or have never even been taxonomically identified by science in the first place. If you think you’ve never heard of such a strange practice, then think again. We all know of at least a few cryptids. For example, we’ve got:



The Loch Ness Monster:


And El Chupacabra (literally “goat sucker”):


These are just a few examples of cryptids that are incessantly searched for by “cryptzoologists.”  Now that we’re all on the same page as to exactly what cryptozoology is…how could something that has stolen hours of our lives in the form of hour long specials called “Monster Hunters” or “In Search of Bigfoot” (or something with the same effect) possibly have anyone calling it a science?  (It would be extremely easy to talk about this all day, but I’m going to try to keep it really short and to the point.)

Another side of cryptozoology that isn’t explored in these mind numbing television shows is the fact that people actually do make “cryptozoological discoveries.” No, I’m not talking about finding isolated populations of bigfoot; I highly doubt that a discovery like that could be kept under wraps for long anyway. If you recall the definition I gave in the very first sentence of this post, part of cryptozoology is the search and study of animals that once existed but are now believed to be extinct. We talked about examples like the mega mouth shark and the ivory billed wood pecker during my presentation. However, Dr. Brister was kind enough to send me a link to another, more recent, discovery. It has to do with a quail in the Philippines that was photographed and then promptly sold as a food item in a local market…Here is the link:

Extinct Quails Just Taste Better

Basically, what everything is boiling down to is that there are two sides to cryptozoology. There is the fantasy land side (at least until someone actually finds one of the mythical cryptids) where people are, and have been for quite some time, searching for mythical beasts; and then you have the side that actually contributes to mainstream science in rediscovering species thought to be wiped from the face of the earth. With this, there are some questions you have to ask yourself:
-Should cryptozoology be accepted by mainstream science?

-Should it even be considered its own field? (considering 90% of discoveries happen on accident or the organism was already known about by locals)

-This brings up the issue with the reluctance of mainstream science to listen to local knowledge.  What would cause scientists to be skeptic of local knowledge?

-Is the amount of skepticism towards cryptozoology a healthy amount or is it just too much?

-And finally, are you a believer or a skeptic?

Some research may help you answer some of these questions, and I found that a good place to start is Wikipedia.  Personally, as much as I would like to believe in the idea of all of these mythical creatures, they are just that, myths.  I will always keep a healthy level of skepticism until I actually see one.  But, again, this is just my opinion and only you can sift through all the information available out there and decide for yourself.  Good luck out there and godspeed fellow monster hunters; and please keep an open mind!

Superstring Theory February 26, 2009

Posted by tap0340 in Philosophy of physics.
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Hi everyone,

I’m glad you all tried to stay focused during my talk, even though it was a little heavy and out there! In the following paragraphs, I will briefly discuss the history behind String Theory, and some of the people who have dedicated their lives to finding a unified theory of everything. Further more, I will try to explain this new, and radical idea of strings and the extra dimensions. There were good questions and comments during my presentation that I would also like to address.

In the early twentieth century, Albert Einstein developed his Special Theory of Relativity, combating some of Isaac Newton’s theories on motion. Using this new concept of motion, he decided to tackle an even greater problem that he saw. He wanted to find the cause of gravity. Even Newton himself said how crazy it seems that a body of mass (the sun), which is millions of miles away, can reach across empty space and exert influence (gravity) on a smaller body of mass, like earth. Einstein took the challenge. He found that when mass is present, it causes space and time to warp and curve around it. It’s along these curves that smaller masses, like the planets in our solar system, move in an orbital fashion. His theory was proven in 1919 by astronomical observation. He became a celebrity over night, and there ensued a paradigm shift.

Around the same time, a German mathemetician and physicist, named Theodor Kaluza, attempted to describe the other known force at the time, electromagnetism. He tried to describe it in a similar way that Einstein had, using warps and curves. There were no more dimensions for him to warp or curve, so he conceptualized there being one more dimension of space. When he did this, the formula he came up with produced Maxwell’s equation for electromagnetism, and Einstein’s equations to descibe gravity. He thought he had finally unified the two forces.

more to come…

Conventionality and the Geometrization of Gravity February 26, 2009

Posted by mgh2577 in Philosophy of physics.
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Albert Einstein (March 1879 to April 1955)

Einstein first discovered the actual geometrization of gravity, first by recognizing that gravity is indistinguishable from a uniformly accelerating inertial frame. From this finding Einstein recognized that light would appear to bend if viewed from a uniformly accelerating frame. Finally, with a little more math that I have involved, Einstein predicted that since the uniformly accelerating frame was equatable to gravity, that gravity would therefore bend light, which was corroborated by taking the apparent positions of stars about the sun during a solar eclipse to make the stars visible over the glare.

Once this experiment corroborated Einsteins theory, many other similar experiments were created, such as the Pound-Rebka experiment in 1959 at Harvard University. Though the first experiment was one that all people could grasp, the Pound-Rebka experiment proved more complicated. This experiment was to test the hypothesis that time slows down in a higher gravitational field. To set up the experiment scientists at Harvard University set up an experiment to calculate the redshift of gamma ray by having a loudspeaker with iron 57 at the top floor of their building and a receiving portion at the bottom which is depicted in the diagram belowpound-rebka experiment


The result of this experiment corroborated Einstein’s theory further with an accuracy of 10% which was later increased to 1%.

The implications of space-time on space exploration in micro-gravity is a subject which I proposed a question on in my presentation. After the presentation I looked to find any documentation on this but found none, interestingly however I did find that bone-loss in space is a problem causing bones to degenerate at 1-1.5% per month in space which was likened to “age-related changes  similar to osteoporosis, though when brought back to earth the bones were able to regenerate with continued exercise and rehabilitation.

To respond to the question of if the reality of space-time matters to non-physicists, I would have to say no. Just as there is no reason for every person to know how their computer works, there is no reason they should know the ins and outs of the warping of space-time, especially when the difference in time on earth from its lowest point to its highest point is in the order of a few nano-seconds over the average lifetime of a human.






Mad Science ! February 25, 2009

Posted by Chris in Medicine, Science & society.

First off let me just give a brief over view of what I’d like to accomplish via this blog.
I’m going to talk about animal testing though out the majority of this installment.
Then I will follow up with a second post about human testing (as per my comment in class about the pregnant mothers being subjected to radiation/uranium tasting on their unborn children)

My goal is not to gross you out, though in honesty – I hope I do.
My goal is for you to walk away from this blog, your computer..
and some time, maybe 5 min.. maybe 5 days from now think back to what I say.
Think back to the videos and pictures I’ll post and really ask yourself – at what cost..

If you don’t feel a connection to animals – I understand, well I don’t really understand, but I know some people don’t like animals. The next installment will deal with human testing – primarily Japan,Russia, Germany and USA.
Maybe you will connect better with seeing 1/2 dissected mothers, while their unborn children lay next to them.

.. anyways enough of that..
on to Mad science !

In my class presentation I showed you experimentation video from the 50′s, 60′s and even as recent as the mid 70′s. The cold war acted as a catalyst for mad science to take place. We were looking for anything to beat the Russians at/with and vice-verse.  It only stands to reason that median would be on the list. This begs the question, how does one show their medical superiority? The answer is easy, perform the most outrageous experiments on humans and animals. The more extreme the experiment the more press it gets and thus the only saying goes, no press is bad press.
Ok you might be thinking that’s all good and dandy, but why did this continue into the 70′s ?
It’s because the idea that the most extreme experiments win you the publicity still holds true today. The difference is today many “scientists” try to conceal their experimentation as best as possible, allowing only enough proof to show in order to secure grants. This happens for many reasons: fear of someone else coming along and doing the same experiments, fear of protest from the general public… the list really does go on.

Is animal testing morally right?
Yes No
Human life has greater intrinsic value than animal life Animals have as much right to life as human beings
Legislation protects all lab animals from cruelty or mistreatment Strict controls have not prevented researchers from abusing animals – although such instances are rare
Millions of animals are killed for food every year – if anything, medical research is a more worthy death Deaths through research are absolutely unnecessary and are morally no different from murder
Few animals feel any pain as they are killed before they have the chance to suffer When locked up they suffer tremendous stress. Can we know they don’t feel pain?
1: http://www.animalport.com/animal-testing/animal-testing-facts-figures.html

Compelling arguments on both sides. I am really torn between 2 mindsets. The first is if this is what it takes to continue the ‘evolution’ of our species then so be it! The second state of mind is, basically how I connect with the animals. It’s strange that I have less of a connection to people who willingly go into human testing than those animals who are forced into it.

You might be thinking – well, yes we test animals, but we have ethics boards to prevent cruelty and unusual/unneeded experiments.  You would be right, “institutional review board (IRB), also known as an independent ethics committee (IEC) or ethical review board (ERB)” are there to protect animals! Except they don’t apply to government or industry work. For government or industry work the only requirement they need to meet when testing or running experiments is that they not break the law.

Here are some videos that I hope resonate with you, in what way I don’t know.
Maybe you will be sickened by them, maybe you’ll just brush them off as a part of life.
I just hope they effect you in some way. -
Please watch at least the first video, it will only take a few min of your time.

In this day and age, do we really need animal testing?
Is this science or is this cruelty to animals?
If its both science and cruel -
should we accept the results, and by accepting the results are we paving the way for more mad science to take place ?

Climate Change – skepticism and scientific consensus February 24, 2009

Posted by avk8704 in Climate science, Science & society.

I will recap what I discussed in my presentation with a bit more information. I picked this topic with a strong interest in how our society views climate change as a major environmental threat, though I am also interested in whether we are doing enough to address the issue.

The Wikipedia definition of climate change:

Climate change is the long-term significant change in the expected patterns of average weather of a specific region (or, more relevantly to contemporary socio-political concerns, of the Earth as a whole) over an appropriately significant period of time.

Consensus means “an agreement in opinion or testimony or belief.” The climate skeptics hold that the consensus on whether climate change is mostly caused by humans’ activities is lacking in the scientific community. But scientific organizations themselves have repeatedly rejected this claim and agreed that our current climate is undergoing change that can potentially harm humans.


I found an interesting article written by Naomi Oreskes, Beyond the Ivory Tower: The Scientific Consensus on Climate Change, where she detailed the evidence of agreed-upon scientific consensus on climate change. She pointed out that “such statements suggest that there might be substantive disagreement in the scientific community about the reality of anthropogenic climate change” is most likely to be false. Oreskes also detailed that IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change), whose role is to study and analyze the state of climate change “as a basis for informed policy action,” reported clearly that there is scientific consensus on climate change. There followed announcements agreeing with this statement from the National Academy of Science, the American Meteorological Society, the American Geophysical Union, and the American Association for the Advancement of Science. These professional organizations all share the same belief that global warming causes the rises in global temperatures and elevation of ocean level. To add to the list of agreement, 928 different abstracts published in the last 15 years had shown various agreements with the notion of global warming, presenting various evidences proving their claims.

Another article you might find interesting is Joseph Romm’s The cold truth about climate change. He made an interesting argument that while the threats of climate change is real, he wouldn’t go as far doubting there is scientific consensus. Instead, he doubts that the IPCC has communicated how bad the prospects really are. He detailed plentiful evidence supporting climate change: increases in greenhouse gases over the last 50 years or more, intensive studies of climate models that claimed idea of humans’ activities being the primary cause, rise in sea level in last 15 years, the increase in temperature since 1990 by 0.33 degree Celsius, and recent sea-ice retreat from Arctic being larger than expected.


Although despite the flood of claims and evidences that there are solid agreements between scientists regarding to climate change, many people still refused to believe it is so. In Holman W. Jenkins Jr.’s article, The Science of Gore’s Nobel: What if Everyone Believes in Global Warmism Only Because Everyone Believes in Global Warmism, he argued that the scientists are humans and are prone to make mistake such as not waiting for proof while funding and studying to seeks evidences for their hypotheses. Also, he disregarded the consensus as a groupthink.

Interestingly enough, the late Michael Crichton brought up his extremely lengthy argument in his blog, The Case for Skepticism on Global Warming, explaining that while agreeing that environmental awareness is especially important, he believed that the approach to studies on global warming and consensus isn’t the correct scientific method for addressing such issues. He also mirrored Holman W. Jenkins’ argument that scientists “are basing our decisions on speculation, not evidence” and that the “proponents are pressing their views with more PR than scientific data.” Crichton also brought up an interesting history that eerily mirrored the current situation: in 1970’s, the scientists made lot of statements and claims that there will be serious threats of global cooling. Even UC Davis’s Kenneth Watt claimed “If present trends continue, the world will be about four degrees colder in 1990, but eleven degrees colder by the year 2000. This is about twice what it would take to put us in an ice age.” While that never happened, it is interesting to note that the “global cooling” situation was possibly behaved similarly to “global warming” as of today. Although, the “global cooling” crisis only lasted for 5 years after barely any evidence backing it, but same could be said for the current crisis if global warming found to be fictional or not very serious as a global threat.

Also, it important to point out that while there’s lot of focuses and concerns about humans’ activities being the cause of global warming, many felt that scientists aren’t focusing enough on other subjects of interests that are possible contributing factors of global warming. The subjects may included plate tectonics that is possible cause of rises in greenhouse gases, solar variation of the sun that cause the rise in sunlight and is possible contributing factor to increases in temperatures, volcanism being another of possible factor which can cause global cooling with its plume blocking out sunlight, and even orbital variation of Earth in which even slight change in orbital path or axis tilt could cause major changes in climate. 


In conclusion, there’s still serious discussion regarding to the existence and threats of climate change. Also, there are still questions about if agreed scientific consensus on climate change does exist and if disagreeing with accepted scientific consensus is a good method to debate and highlight concerns about other possible factors for climate change. Not to mention that there is concerns about if the current scientific approach to studies, discussion, and consensus on climate changes is the right step for addressing those issues of climate change.

Many Worlds Interpretation February 23, 2009

Posted by jfd5010 in Philosophy of physics.
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The Many Worlds Interpretation (MWI) is a metatheory that seeks to solve the problems caused by a probabilistic quantum mechanics and a deterministic Newtonian and relativistic framework. The problem that MWI attempts to fix is the issue of waveform collapse. This event occurs when a probability function dictating an event spontaneously “collapses” into a single deterministic result. MWI solves this problem by removing the collapse by creating a “world” for each possibility. The result is that the universe (or in this case multiverse) is a superposition of all possible worlds. These worlds contain the sum of everything observable and present at the time of the split (essentially what we would describe as our universe). Worlds are by nature non-communicating and increasingly divergent. This means that there is no possibility of travel between worlds and even if the “determining event” was infinitely small the initial difference would slowly increase over time in each world, causing the worlds to further differentiate.

The largest philosophical issues caused by this metatheory are related to choice, free will, and personal identity. If we view decision-making and by extension, thought in general, as a physical process, then the minute changes in thought are in fact at some level quantum events. These events are governed by probability functions that will eventually result in a single deterministic event. Based on this analysis the other possible outcomes must have occurred and are proceeding in alternate worlds. So what is choice? Even more concerning is the concept of individuality. Are the people identical to you in alternate universes you?

MWI is a fairly popular metatheory and is compatible with all linear quantum mechanics. The implications of this theory are primarily mathematical but issues of self and choice have been hotbeds of debate.


Wikipedia, “Many-worlds interpretation

Lev Vaidman, “Many-Worlds Interpretation of Quantum Mechanics,” Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy


Branching "Worlds"

Qualia and Consciousness February 23, 2009

Posted by njl4807 in Philosophy of mind.
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During my presentation in class, I talked about how Dennett argues that qualia is a concept that is not useful and that there is no reason to discuss.  I think that it is very important to make a distinction in order to take qualia from the concept that Dennett would argue is completely useless to turn it into a concept that can be useful for an understanding of neurological processes.


When do Humans Develop Consciousness?, Part 3: Self-Awareness February 22, 2009

Posted by ews8704 in Philosophy of biology, Philosophy of mind.

baby chicks Self -Awareness

My 3rd grade teacher, Mrs. Wilkens, had us hatch baby chicks in the classroom as part of our biology curriculum. This has to have been one of my favorite memories of Mullan Road Elementary School: for weeks we 8-year olds waited restlessly as the eggs sat huddled inside the classroom incubator, and every week Mrs. Wilkens would explain how the baby chickens inside were growing.

I remember they all started hatching at once, right before P.E class.  Unfortunately, one of the chicks “didn’t make it,” as Mrs. Wilkens said (later one of the boys in my class told me it was born with its intestines hanging out, although I don’t know whether that’s true.) Despite our loss, we were delighted to have a handful of our very own cheerful chicks for  pets.

They were busy, these chicks, and they seemed to make decisions as a collective. They would interrupt our lessons by a sudden chorus of chirps, only to all plop down asleep a couple minutes later, their plump little bodies all snuggled up together.

Unfortunately chicks, despite their cuteness,  can have a vicious streak  (much like 8-year-olds, for that matter) . All of the chicks were born with black feathers, except for one, who was instead a perfect butter yellow color, like the Easter biddies on Hallmark cards. Sadly, the other chicks taunted this yellow one relentlessly. Mrs. Wilkens, worried that his siblings would peck the yellow one to death,  eventually moved him to his own separate terrarium.

The yellow chick, unfortunately, became quite lonely all by himself, and soon our long division lessons were interrupted by the deep, somber chirps of a chick forgotten.  Mrs. Wilken’s tried giving him a friend, a tiny stuffed panda bear, but it was just not the same.

Unable to bear his yelping any longer, Mrs. Wilken’s finally tried giving the chick a little mirror. It worked. He loved it. He would peck at it and brush against it and have whole conversations with just  his reflection. We kept the chicks for a couple of weeks more, until we had to return them to the farm, and I don’t think that little yellow chick ever did catch on.



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