Fun with mathematics

A new analysis of some of the world’s most popular bottled water brands says more than 90% contain tiny pieces of plastic.

Analysis of 259 bottles from 19 locations in nine countries across 11 different brands found an average of 325 plastic particles for every litre of water being sold.

The paper is here.

Looks rather like contamination from the packaging process – it’s higher than in tap water for example.

My own reaction was we’ve an average of 23 pieces per litre of water (median, I think) and pieces are divided into more than 100 nm and less than (so, perhaps 50 nm on average for the smaller group). nm is a millionth of a metre.

Me, I’m going to go with this being equal to nothing in the vernacular. But I’ll admit that I get lost in 10-6, volume and length measurements and so on. Anyone like to tell us all what this actually is as contamination in ppm, or ppb?

It would be fun if this plastics concentration was less than, say, the allowable levels of As in drinking water…..

Really entirely missing the point of social life

The more I use Facebook, the more miserable I become (and vice versa). I’m not the only one: heavy users in particular are unhappier, lonelier, meaner, and so on.

Why is that? And why, then, do people keep using it?

This comes down to the most subtle and interesting conflict at the heart of Facebook: user versus user. Let me explain, via a little story.

Facebook is really just the digital version of a facebook, a printed book with everyone’s headshot and a brief bio – where they came from, went to school and what their hobbies are – given to students at prestigious colleges and universities.

I went to such a school, and at the beginning of every year, we’d grab the facebook and devour it. Who was that pretty face? Man, look at that dork! Doesn’t that person look like a nobody, a monster, a sycophant? Everyone spent hours with their friends going over it. Why, exactly?

We were too young to know it then, but what we really doing was performing social comparisons. After doing this, we placed everyone on a pecking order based on prejudicial judgments made according to the few superficial attributes that were in the facebook – a face, a smile, a name. But those verdicts made it difficult for us to get to know our peers as people. So. Allow me to ask again: what were we really doing?

Social comparisons are me-versus-you interactions, not me-with-you or me-and-you interactions.

And every kaffeeklatch, bridal shower and drinking party is the same thing. That’s just what human society is, a constant and consistent game of one upmanship. Don’t people know this?

Well, yes, OK

Coughing, sneezing and clutching the stomach might be obvious signs of sickness, but humans can also spot if someone is healthy simply from a glance at their face, new research suggests.

Scientists have found that signs of a person being acutely unwell – such as pale lips, a downward turn of the mouth and droopy eyelids – are visible just hours after an infection begins.

We are, after all, descended from those who avoided – or survived – such infections until they’d had time to breed…..

Well, yes, obviously

Data from the first two waves of the Fragile Family and Child Wellbeing study indicate that infants who look like their father at birth are healthier one year later. The reason is such father–child resemblance induces a father to spend more time engaged in positive parenting. An extra day (per month) of time-investment by a typical visiting father enhances child health by just over 10% of a standard deviation. This estimate is not biased by the effect of child health on father-involvement or omitted maternal ability, thereby eliminating endogeneity biases that plague existing studies. The result has implications regarding the role of a father’s time in enhancing child health, especially in fragile families.

Homo sapiens sapiens is one of those species where paternal investment in offspring is important.

Thus why the kafeeklatch of women surrounding the new mother continually bray “How much his father” he looks. Whatever the reality or the evidence.

It might also be a hint as to why serial motherhood isn’t all that good a solution. Despite the potential advantages of having children with a greater genetic mix.

Well, yes, yes, they are

Indian woman, 24, who was shunned and bullied because she has white skin, ginger hair, emerald eyes and FRECKLES now wants a DNA test to see if her ancestors are to blame

Blame isn’t quite what I would say, responsible perhaps?

You know, that being how genes work?

But why are they squeaking about a helium release?

Bottoms NOT up! World’s LONGEST aircraft Airlander 10 – dubbed The Flying Bum – crashes in a field sparking fears of helium gas and fuel leaks

Helium’s entirely inert. Plus, very light indeed, meaning that nanoseconds after a leak it’s dispersed hundreds of metres up into the atmosphere. A helium leak or release, as long as you’re not in an enclosed room, is perhaps the least worrying thing ever.

This is a fun idea

Let’s harvest lightning for energy!

Of course, harnessing the power of an H-bomb is easier said than done, and scientists have been scratching their heads for decades over the conundrum of capturing and storing the five billion joules of energy that a bolt can transmit to Earth in a matter of microseconds. Chen admits that “it is really farfetched, but if we can develop it, that would just be pretty cool”.

It would indeed be pretty cool but I’ve a feeling there’s something of a basic problem there. Like, lightning strikes are a major reason for the grid blowing up?

Well, we can actually explain this

Humanity would fare just as well without its elders as it does with them, according to scientists.
The claims come as part of a study which found no obvious evolutionary need to live beyond the age of 50 in humans.
The discovery disputes the ‘grandmother hypothesis’, which suggests humans live long beyond their reproductive age because they care for grandchildren.
The theory also suggests that older members of our communities pass down important cultural knowledge that helps us survive.

They’re studying communities which have much longer lifespans than those which applied over our evolutionary history.

In their study, the researchers analysed detailed family records of people born in Utah from 1860-1899.

That’s well past the first bit of the demographic transition. For example, someone born at the end of that period would have been into the antibiotic age by the time they were 50. Actually, 1950 is probably just about when medical care could do something more than just be a palliative for the first time (yeah, OK, extreme argument but I’m an extremist, me).

Rather, to test the idea we need to look at lifespans over a more representative period of our development. Also, at ages of menarche, primagravida and so on. Married off and probably pregnant by 16 or 17 sounds about right. Maybe a little later in places and times. Granny at 35 or 40, looking at people past 50 doesn’t really illuminate this, does it?

Yes, I know the English had later marriage historically and so on but that’s not over evolutionary periods and it’s also something noted because it was notable.

Yes, I also know about lifespans being shorter back then because of the skew of child deaths but again over evolutionary periods we’re also talking about much shorter at age 16 or 20 as well.

My own theory, with zero evidence of course, is that in order to survive life in earlier times one had to be pretty robust. As life became easier with better nutrition, shelter, clothing, then finally medicine, that robustness leads to these longer lifespans. Around and about and given the environment in which we found ourselves, we were good enough to get to menopause/soon after it and not much more just given the plethora of things which would and could kill us. Some beat the odds and lived to great ages. Very few though, what has changed now is the odds.

Well, yes and no about evolution here

Prehistoric humans avoided inbreeding as they knew of its dangers at least 34,000 years ago, a study has found.
They developed surprisingly sophisticated social and mating networks, and deliberately sought partners beyond their family, research suggests.
The findings could explain why modern humans proved more successful than other species, such as Neanderthals, that did not avoid inbreeding.

We’ve always got this problem here.

OK, we can agree that they’ve found outbreeding. We can also agree that out rather than in breeding increases reproductive success over the long term. Super. But this doesn’t mean that they knew. It just means we’re descended from those who did this. That is, outbreeding increases reproductive success over the long term.

We’ve also got other intriguing little bits of evidence. Children raised together seem not to – on average of course – go on to have children or even really to date (the communal dormitories of the kibbutz are one piece of evidence for this). Genetic siblings not raised together don’t seem to have the same internal barrier. The occasional stories (occasional because the basic set up itself is rare) we hear of siblings pairing up into a family producing more children tend to be of those not raised together.

Our end result being that we tend to pair up with people who are genetically close to us but not that close. Part of that may well be just geography – until very recently most of those around you would have been second, third, fourth cousins. But the against sibling mating seems to be something innate – although it comes from being reared as if in the same household, nurture rather than actually genetic.

This doesn’t require anyone to know. Sure, maybe they did but the proof of the outbreeding isn’t proof of the knowledge, we can derive it just from other things we know about human behaviour.

Douglas Adams got here first

The television remote could become a thing of the past according to scientists who have developed a new technology that allows the device to be controlled through gestures instead.

The point being that you then had to stay very still to keep watching the same program (actually, listening, it was a radio).

This isn’t how it works

Parents who give up on difficult household tasks may be doing far greater harm than simply storing up more work for later, according to a new study.

Whether it’s flinging away a hard-to-open tin of baked beans in despair, or failing to hoover all the way up the stairs, newly minted mothers and fathers should beware: their baby is taking note.

A new investigation by US researchers has found that adults who give up when confronted with difficult tasks tend to pass this trait onto their offspring.

It really isn’t all nurture.

Well, yes, obviously

The blank slate view, which is the idea that who we are is entirely or predominantly the product of culture and socialization, is very common in left-leaning media. And left-leaning media also happens to provide most of today’s science journalism. It’s kind of ironic, because the convergent evidence coming out of evolutionary psychology, biology, behavioural genetics and neuroscience that falsifies this blank slate view is simply incontrovertible at this point, but most of the media, and even the popular science media keep clinging to it. At times it’s just embarrassing.

Evolution doesn’t really work if we’re blank slates.

Err, yes, this is how humanity works

When they agreed to take part in a unique DNA project, residents of a close-knit Cotswolds village thought they might, at best, discover a far flung relative in an exotic location.

In fact, more than half of participants, who included the pub landlord, a local artist and a farmer, learned they were instead related to each other.

Really, this isn’t all that odd at all:

The closest found was that of Graham Harris and Gloria Warren, 74, who turned out to be third cousins, sharing a great great grandparent as their closest ancestor.

Camilla Bowditch, 68, and Andrew Packe, 66, were revealed to be fourth cousins and had no idea of their genetic link, despite living just minutes away from each other.

Can’t remember what the number is but by the time we’re 16th cousins all of Europe is related, no?

People rarely moved all that far, people couldn’t travel all that far and yet they shagged – thus some measure of shagging the more distant cousins along the way.

We couldn’t actually have a common ancestor and also have diverged in obvious appearance quite so much if this were not true.

Still, lucky they didn’t try this in Norfolk, eh?

How wrong can you be?

Darwin’s second big idea was that Nature is always ruthless: that the strong push out the weak, that compassion and compromise are for cissies whom Nature throws to the wall. Darwin borrowed the phrase “survival of the fittest” from the now forgotten and much discredited philosopher Herbert Spencer. He invented a consolation myth for the selfish class to which he belonged, to persuade them that their neglect of the poor, and the colossal gulf between them and the poor, was the way Nature intended things. He thought his class would outbreed the “savages” (ie the brown peoples of the globe) and the feckless, drunken Irish. Stubbornly, the unfittest survived. Brown, Jewish and Irish people had more babies than the Darwin class. The Darwinians then had to devise the hateful pseudo-science of eugenics, which was a scheme to prevent the poor from breeding.

Having more brats is, in Darwinian terms, being the fittest – having more brats that have brats is in fact the definition of it.

AN Wilson is definitely barking up the wrong tree here.

Err, no

Consider, for instance, the eye. We are familiar with its form from biology textbooks. A lens, a retina, a squishy liquid-filled package. From the octopus to the okapi, it doesn’t differ much. Yet that’s actually very strange because while the octopus, okapi and human share a common ancestor, that ancestor could not see. The eye developed independently, and in precisely the same way.

They didn’t develop in the same way.

Convergent evolution is a thing of course. There are simply some solutions to problems that work and some that don’t. Those that don’t aren’t here. The marsupial wolf and the more normal one we know about have very similar skull and teeth settings. Because being that sort of apex predator requires that sort of jaw and teeth. The torpedo shape of a shark and a dolphin are similar – but note that the back flippers are entirely different, vertical in one, horizontal in the other.

Reality imposes (say, the nature of light, or fluid dynamics) certain spaces in which a solution can be engineered. There are different paths to getting to that solution, that’s convergent evolution.

But the larger claim here, that this means that intelligence will arise no matter what, well, jury’s still out on that one.

The moral is that although evolution’s material changes, its outcomes do not, and to some scientists this has become close to a general rule.


Sounds about the right sort of timing

Stories of black mega-swans in New Zealand have long existed in legends from Moriori people.
Up until now, no direct evidence of these mysterious creatures has ever been found.
Some researchers suggested the legends may refer to the Australian black swan, which can fly over the Tasman Sea.
Now, a new study says it has proven, for the first time, that the elusive black mega-swan of New Zealand existed, and was its own, unique species.
Researchers say the semi-flightless black swan died out in New Zealand after humans first arrived from Polynesia in the 13th Century.

Century or two after the Maori turn up. Given that they ate at least some Moriori populations into extinction why not the birds?

It’s also a nice reminder of that Edenic, Rousseauesque, view of hunter gatherer society. They weren’t living in harmony with nature, they were eating it. They, in fact, ate their way through the megafauna pretty much everywhere they turned up.

That Space X achievement

So, they’ve managed to launch, land and relaunch.

Pretty impressive really.

So, how much does this actually save? The rocket itself is really just an aluminium tube. Not notably expensive.

The engines however, hmm.

But how much is it that they manage to save off a launch cost by being able to reuse?

For I simply have no clue at all. I haven’t a scoobie about the breakdown of costs. Is it 99% for the fuel and the rocket doesn’t matter? Or 70% on he engines so this is a big deal?

Just a thought about race and sub-species

Prompted by that gracile and robust thing in apes in the comments this arvo.

We have two really rather things out there, race in human beings and sub-species in animals. In animals it is right on to insist that we must preserve the sub-species. In humans it is right on to deny that there is even something called race. Yet unless I’ve really missed some important part of science they strike me as being very much the same thing.

So, with animals, tigers and lions can breed but the result, the liger or tigon is rarely – but not never – fertile. So, OK, different species.

The domestic house cat is cross fertile with the European lynx – at least with the Iberian version. This must be so because they ask people with tabbies to not have them near the rare lynx areas. And the Scottish wildcat is closer again. And then we get to what are quite obviously the same species but also different sub-species. Fully and totally cross-fertile but of different colourings perhaps, size, location. And we very definitely find that we’re supposed to be preserving each and every one of these sub-species. It would be an outrage if the Florida panther disappeared despite it being only a swamp dwelling version of the standard panther found all over the Americas.

But when we consider race we get a flat out denial that the concept even exists in humans. And yet a Pygmy and an Eskimo differ by more (while still being cross fertile–not sure anyone has ever tested that pairing but there’s nothing we know which says they aren’t) than many of what we’re told are different sub-species of animal.

Now, it’s not uncommon that different people hold different views on something or other. Nor even different people holding different views on different subjects. But this rough equivalence between race in humans and sub-species in animals looks pretty robust to me. And yet it’s largely the same people who insist that we must preserve the one and then deny that the concept of the other even exists at all.

So, given that you all know more than I do, is there some great gaping hole in my scientific understanding here? Or is it just that people themselves are inconsistent in their beliefs?