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I have absolutely no idea

So, calculators at the ready, and please round to the nearest whole number. “A sphere has a diameter of 2,160 meters. How many meters long is unit X if the surface of the sphere, measured in square units X, is equal to the volume of the sphere measured in cube units X?”


Snigger with Dawkins

Richard Dawkins: By the Book

The author… doesn’t care for “Pride and Prejudice”: “I can’t get excited about who is going to marry whom, and how rich they are.”

Genes that predispose you to such a mind state should have been wiped from the pool 500 million years ago…

How deep is that gene pool

In the years that followed, scores of the couple’s friends died of AIDS but he never got ill, despite being as sexually active as them all and not taking any special precautions.

When he realized he was different, he volunteered to work with doctors to find out why.

‘I couldn’t infect the CD4 cells,’ Dr Bill Paxton, who the worked at the Aaron Diamond AIDS Research Center in New York, said. ‘I’d never seen that before.’

Years later, researchers isolated the reason. H.I.V. gets into the white blood cells by fitting into two receptors but Mr Crohn’s second receptor was flawed due to a genetic defect.

The anomaly, found in less that 1 per cent of the population, saved Mr Crohn’s life.

Of course, being childless, this particular instance of this particular set of genes isn’t going to perpetrate down the generations. Bit it’s an interesting example of quite how deep that gene pool is. Quite how difficult it would be for any one disease to kill us all.

The other example I can think of is the way that the Black Death significantly changed the genetic make up of Europe. And of course this is very much Matt Ridley territory, all Red Queen and so on.

And, at the extreme, it explains the existence of sex: which brings us rather full circle giving that we’re talking about HIV.

The Mail tries genetics

Scottish scientists established the link after discovering that Eliza\’s descendants carried a rare strand of DNA – known as mitochondrial DNA – which can only be passed on by a mother.

No, really, just no.


Genetic tests on bacteria, plants and animals increasingly reveal that different species crossbreed more than originally thought, meaning that instead of genes simply being passed down individual branches of the tree of life, they are also transferred between species on different evolutionary paths. The result is a messier and more tangled \”web of life\”.

There\’s a good reason why at one time the definition of \”species\” was a group that was capable of breeding into fertile offspring.

We\’ve rather changed that definition in recent years/decades: which leads to this particular conclusion.

Donkey/horse crosses are mules or hinnys. Which are almost always infertile. But not quite always. So whether donkeys and horses are actually different species under that old definition is, umm, debateable.

Lions and tigers produce ligers and tigons. Always (I think?) infertile: thus they are different species.

Wolves and dogs produce fertile puppies: they\’re the same species.

This new finding is really a result of the way we\’ve changed our definition of species.

I wonder what could cause this?

From a genetic standpoint, however, there is growing evidence that boys aren\’t more susceptible to autism, but rather girls are more protected from it. Yale researchers added to this thinking with new findings presented last week in which they looked at the DNA of several thousand children with autism.

They found that girls actually had substantially more high-risk genetic mutations associated with autism than boys, on average twice as many. Yet, because girls develop autistic features less often, something about being female is protective against the condition, said Stephan Sanders, a postdoctoral fellow at Yale University who presented the work.

Err, being X,X perhaps?

Given that X,o is (kinda) viable while Y,o most definitely ain\’t could this be part of the reason d\’ye think? Two X?

Excellent career advice from a Nobel Laureate

What advice would you give a teenager who wants a career in science? Select a subject that interests you and make an effort to become an expert in that field. I promise you, if you make the effort, and you become an expert, you will have a wonderful career.

It doesn\’t apply just to science. The same is true in any walk of life.

Become, say, The City\’s expert in the field of charitable trust law and you\’ve a nice 30 years ahead of you of changing the names on the standard document. At £500 an hour (I know someone who really did this).

Or spend two decades as the expert on the scandium market.

Being an expert allows you to extract rents: or if you prefer, your knowledge is a definite value add.

It will get competed away over time. And obviously, the extraction of rents isn\’t quite what we preach as being good for the whole economy. But it is darn good for your own income.

And of course if you\’re adding sufficient value that people will happily pay your rent then there\’s no harm in it at all: that comes when you manipulate the system (legally, politically) to protect yourself against that nascent competition.

But as career advice: believe me, being paid to be the expert is a whole lot better than having to earn by the sweat of your brow.

You lot know more about this than me

Is this a sensible idea?

The main cost to LED\’s is that they all have to have a transformer. LED\’s run at low voltages, like 5v, so house current has to be stepped down at every bulb. LED\’s in theory should run cool and be cheap, but they are expensive and run hot because of the transformers.

Which leads me to wonder whether we may start wiring houses for 12v in parallel to 110v. When I grew up, nearly everything I plugged into the wall — lights, motors, appliances — ran on 110V. Now, most everything (other than appliances) that I plug in the wall actually needs 5-12v (computers, cell phones, all my audio equipment except big amps). I don\’t know enough about power lines to know if this is feasible. I am pretty sure the resistance losses for 12V DC would be too high, so it would have to be 12V AC, but a diode bridge and some capacitors is a hell of a lot smaller and cheaper than a full blown transformer. I know my landscape lighting has long runs of 12V, that seems to work OK. It is also a hell of a lot safer to work with.

Obviously, would be a long term change. But if LEDs take off, we\’re all using 5 volt bulbs or whatever, would it be sensible to rewire rather than keep buying the transformer in each and every bulb?

The proper Christian attitude towards science

In the comments of an El Reg piece about one of the crazier Biblical literalists who has actually managed to end up on the Science committee of the House of Reresentatives, we get this:

I\’m honestly staggered people like him end up in positions of power and influence… Hell I\’m a religious man, a Christian, and I think this guy is a wackjob that shouldn\’t be allowed near a slide-rude, let alone influencing critical science oversight…

The quest to understand the universe and how it works is a quest understand God… To disregard evidence out of knee-jerk moronic fundamentalism is to spit on God\’s work.

Indeed, or as I\’ve heard the Benedictine attitude being described. God is truth. More knowledge leads us closer to truth. Thus learning, learning about anything, brings us closer to God.

Does this actually make sense?

Worldwide, the digital warehouses use about 30 billion watts of electricity, roughly equivalent to the output of 30 nuclear power plants, according to estimates industry experts compiled for The Times. Data centers in the United States account for one-quarter to one-third of that load, the estimates show.


A few companies say they are using extensively re-engineered software and cooling systems to decrease wasted power. Among them are Facebook and Google, which also have redesigned their hardware. Still, according to recent disclosures, Google’s data centers consume nearly 300 million watts and Facebook’s about 60 million watts.

Now I get very confused by sciencey things. But a Watt is a rate isn\’t it?

So a watt isn\’t what you use, it\’s the rate at which you use it? What you use is some number of watt-hours isn\’t it?

Help me out here, I\’m confused. Have the NYT got their units wrong or not?

OK, thanks for the explanations. It does make sense now. They say that the US uses 1/3 or so of this 30 billion, then later they say that total usage in US is something like 76 billion Kwh over a year.

Which, working back, indicates that they\’re on average, working at about 70% of that 30 GW. Which seems to make some sort of sense to me at at least.

Dear Lord this woman is dim

Via Don Boudreaux we find this:

The strong instinctual drive to have children is a vestige of the need to procreate in order to preserve the human species.


The drive to procreate is a function of the urge to perpetuate ones\’ own genes. It has, quite literally, fuck all to do with the species.

Ecopsychology recognizes the interconnection among all beings and the concept of the ecological self—an expanded sense of self that includes the entire web of life. In this view, self-preservation is synonymous with preservation of all beings and ecosystems.

So that\’s an attempt at a science that we can safely ignore then.

It does puzzle me, I have to admit.It\’s the religious fundamentalists who tend to deny evolution and they do tend to be conservatives as well. It\’s, in the American political universe, the \”liberals\”… the lefties….who are all onboard with evolution. But it\’s also those very same liberals and lefties that then go on to resolutely ignore the implications of evolution. As here: it ain\’t a societal thing, it\’s not a collective thing, it\’s not a species thing or drive. It\’s an individual thing.

Perhaps we could annoy them by repeatedly pointing out that, among those from the last couple of millennia, Ghengis Khan has been the most successful human being in evolutionary terms? The person who has come closest to winning the game?

Interesting on island evolution


Pygmy mammoths and all that.

The important point to take away though is that island evolution is very different indeed from not island evolution. Which rather makes EO Wilson\’s estimations of extinction rates, derived as they are from island evolution, something of a nonsense, eh?

Why would anyone at all think this is not true?

Humans are still evolving, scientists find

Just bizarre.

Sure, perhaps the natural selection isn\’t running away from lions any more and the sexual selection might be taking place at the point of deciding who to be monogamous with but the idea that neither are still happening seems most odd.

Once only has to look at the lack of chins among Guards officers to note that something has indeed been going on.

On the difference between theory and practice

I try to claim that I was friends with the genius Richard Feynman. He came to our show a few times and was very complimentary, and I had dinner with him a couple times, and we chatted on the phone several times. I\’d call him to get quick tutoring on physics so I could pretend to read his books.

No matter how much I want to brag, it\’s overstating it to call him a friend. I would never have called him to help me move a couch. I did, however, call him once to ask how we could score some liquid nitrogen for a Letterman spot we wanted to do. He was the only physicist I knew at the time. He explained patiently that he didn\’t know. He was a theoretical physicist and I needed a hands-on guy, but he\’d try to find one for me.

About a half-hour later a physics teacher from a community college in Brooklyn called me and said, \”I don\’t know what kind of practical joke this is, but a Nobel Prize-winning scientist just called me here at the community college, gave me this number, and told me to call Penn of Penn & Teller to help with a Letterman appearance.\”

Nonsense about Sutoshi Kanazawa

Psychology Today tries to explain what was wrong with Kanazawa\’s piece pointing out that black/African women are perceived as being less physically attractive than those of other genetic backgrounds.

It\’s a very politically correct and very bad fail:

The point is that there are also group differences, not in attractiveness (as Kanazawa claims), but in cultural messages about what is and is not attractive. Standards of beauty, like most other beliefs, are socialized and change not only from place to place but also over time.  In both the United States and England, (where Kanazawa lives and works), standards of beauty are essentially \”White\” standards, because whites comprise the majority of the population and have disproportional control over both media and fashion. And while it is not just White respondents who are socialized this way (internalized racism has been well documented), it is certainly the case that White Americans and Europeans (who are less likely to have received more positive messages about Black beauty) would show the strongest anti-Black bias.

As long as this is understood and framed accordingly, there is no problem with the data Kanazawa reports.  What they show is that because Black faces and bodies don\’t fit mainstream White standards of physical attractiveness, both respondents and interviewers show an anti-Black bias.

This does not explain the observed facts. That people consider (or those questioned consider) black/African females to be less attractive and black/African males to be more attractive.

\”Peeps don\’t like blacks\” or \”Whitey Power!\” or even \” people are acculturated to white standards of attractiveness and thus think darkies are ugly\” don\’t manage to explain that fact. And as we are at least attempting to talk about science a theory that doesn\’t explain all the facts is wrong. Plain, flat out, wrong.

However \”correct\” it might be.

Why are Black women less physically attractive than other women?

Opened something of a hornets\’ nest here, has our intrepid researcher.

Satoshi Kanazawa\’s racist nonsense should not be tolerated

The psychologist\’s latest article asks \’why black women are less attractive\’. What will Psychology Today and the LSE do about it?

Well, go have a look at what he actually said (using Google cache).

As I commented at The G:

A few bits.

The Add Health database, from which he takes his raw data, covers tens of thousands in each wave. His data is fine.

His use of language is indeed a bit odd. Then again, English is not his first language (in fact, when I was being taught by a different Japanese Professor at the LSE English was his fourth, which made lectures difficult).

Peer review? You\’re kidding! This was a blog post!

Scientific freedom does include the right to research things you\’d rather people didn\’t research.

Finally, in less clunky language, what he\’s saying is \”In this database of tens of thousands of Americans, we have the interviewers stating, as what they see as an objective fact, that black/African descent women are less attractive than women of other racial backgrounds. Black/African men are seen as more attractive than the norm, women less so.

I wonder why?

We do know that black/Africans have more testosterone in their hormonal make up. We also know that testosterone masculinises facial features. We could hypothesise therefore that black/African men are considered more attractive than normal because they have more masculinised features. This is pretty much the definition of being more attractive. Women of the same genetic background also have that more testosterone, more masculinised features and are therefore considered less attractive.\”

Fine to disagree with him but to do so you need to come up with an alternative explanation of the findings from those Add Health questions that have been asked over the years.

BTW, yes, he did control for both intelligence and BMI, so it\’s not either of those reasons.

You may or may not like what he\’s saying but it\’s not obvious that he\’s transgressed against anything other than what you consider good taste.

Note the very large difference between what The G says he said, he asks \”why are black women less attractive\”? and what he actually asks \”this data says that black women are considered less attractive. Why?\”

That second is an entirely valid scientific question. After all, the proper study of man is mankind. So if we\’ve this objective fact about how people perceive the looks of those from different racial (uggh, horrible word, genetic then) backgrounds, yes, wouldn\’t it be interesting to know the answer? His may or may not be the correct one but it seems a reasonable one.

Update: worth recalling that this is all US data. So \”black/African\” really means \”of West African descent\”.

My, how Catholic the European Union is

Potential cures for dozens of debilitating conditions are under threat from a European ruling that claims that making money from embryonic stem cell research is immoral, leading scientists have warned.

As one raised as a Papist I can see the logic being deployed. Good cannot come from an evil act. This was used a decade or more back to insist that British Catholics should not use the newer Rubella vaccine, for it had been created from the cells of an aborted foetus. That abortion itself was an evil act and thus good cannot come from the vaccine created out of it.

The monk who drafted this (entirely unsurprising, given Catholic moral teachings) opinion was in fact one of the history teachers at my old school.

Anyway, we can see at least elements of this in this ruling:

EU judges are considering a test case that could make it unlawful to patent applications using embryonic stem cells, or anything derived from them, on moral grounds.

Perhaps not \”you may not do this\” but at least \”you may not profit from this\” which amounts, in the end, to very much the same thing. For without profit no one will do it.

Despite the dreadfulness of the subject matter (\”is it OK to kill someone in order to save others?\”) there is a certain amusement in it all.

For those who insist that there are no moral concerns about embryonic stem cell research, hey, a blastocyst isn\’t a person so it doesn\’t matter, are exactly those who tend to argue that there are moral concerns over the use of money in the creation of blastocysts. No money should change hands for eggs or sperm for example. The Mary Warnocks of this world (purely as an example, I don\’t actually know what her views are on these two subjects, just a symbol for those who would do the moral philosohpy behind the law for us).