Here’s another dent in the “wine expert” status game, from Money:
A new study in the Journal of Marketing Research confirms what prior research (and, in some cases, gut feeling) has told us for years: Most people can’t really taste the difference between cheap and expensive wine.
These new findings, by INSEAD marketing professor Hilke Plassmann and University of Bonn neuroscience professor Bernd Weber, go a step further than previous studies in explaining why people get more enjoyment from a wine they’re told is expensive and less pleasure from one they’re told is cheap—even if they are actually drinking the same wine.
“Expectations truly influence neurobiological responses,” write the authors.
But how much we’re swayed by that influence ranges from person to person. One key factor, the researchers found, is the structure of your brain. Everyone is somewhat suggestible to the placebo effect from being told wine is cheap or expensive, but some brains are more suggestible than others.
As critical as I am of “wine experts,” I do think certain wines are obviously cheap. The low-end stuff usually tastes like kids’ grape juice with some ethanol added to it: simple, cloying, flat, and, well, cheap. That’s at the really far end of the scale, however. In my experience, any wine $10 a bottle and over is not likely to have that grape-juice swill flavor.
Nevertheless, as this article notes and as everyone knew already, the power of suggestion is considerable. I’m sure that, given the right circumstances and the right words, we all could be fooled into thinking that Welch’s with rubbing alcohol mixed into it was an expensive Syrah.
America pretty much lost interest in the space race when we won it. Neil Armstrong set foot on the moon in 1969. Then our attitude pretty much became “been there, done that.”
After that our interest in space was, at best, episodic. Everybody paid attention to the Challenger disaster in 1986. The Apollo 13 movie in 1995 may have pulled a bigger audience than the original moon mission in 1970.
Now, all of sudden, we all want to be lost in space again.
In part, that may be because others are making a big deal about making manned space flights, including China, India, and Japan. Maybe we are jealous?
Certainly space is back in our imagination. Why else would Disney be interested in cranking out new Star Wars movies other than to cash in on our new lust to go to (and, I guess, lust in) space?
Maybe a little (age-appropriate) discussion of sex and violence isn’t bad. After all, as soon as humans started thinking seriously about going into the great beyond, Hollywood started making films of fighting and wooing there–like Cat-Women of the Moon.
We should be capitalizing on a renewed interest in space to inspire a new generation to study, learn, invent, create and dream.
Whatever it takes to get America thinking big and bold again works for me.
An excursion to the New World cost a proverbial handful of jewels, but a trip to the Strange New World of space could cost as much as the GNP of a small nation. That’s more than most people or investors are willing to risk – and Kickstarters can only go so far. Space is an industry for the already rich.
Oh, but the potential for enormous profits! You’ll hear articles and magazines talk about how one platinum-rich asteroid or moon mine can bring in riches galore, but they can be misleading.
To 3He or Not to 3He: Helium-3 and Nuclear Power
Helium-3 is a light, non-radioactive isotope of helium with two protons and one neutron. It’s potentially valuable for nuclear fusion, because you can combine it with Deuterium to create nuclear fusion. Nuclear fusion, as opposed to nuclear fission, would be a clean and efficient form of energy – if we can make it work. (More on that later.) While deuterium is abundant enough in Earth’s oceans, helium-3 (or 3He) is nearly non-existent, and we don’t have an especially viable substitute. However, 3He is prevalent on the moon. Visionaries claim that the moon could provide clean energy and further mankind’s technological progress.
Unfortunately, with every great vision comes hard reality. The promises of 3He mining are challenged by the economic realities of extracting it and finding a market.
First, the abundance and effectiveness of helium-3 mining is questionable. As a standard, let’s use the Artemis project estimate that 25 tonnes of 3He (25,000 kilograms) could theoretically power the US for a single year. A recent paper by Ian A. Crawford of the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences at the University of London looked over the studies done on the concentration of 3He on the moon, and found it’s concentration in the lunar regolith to be between 4 and 20 parts per billion, depending on where you mine. That means you need to mine 1000 kilograms of regolith to get a single gram of helium-3. Then, in order to harvest the 3He along with other solar-impacted isotopes, you need to heat the regolith to 600 degrees Celsius. This calls for a huge initial investment in infrastructure.
An additional challenge is the attitude about what form Earth energy industries should take. Politically and popularly, renewable energies are the favored direction. Nuclear energy, even the potentially clean and efficient nuclear fusion, is not renewable. Crawford himself describes helium-3 as a “fossil fuel” despite the fact that the sun continually generates it naturally. The astronomer-turned-planetary-scientist told Space News that the investment required and infrastructure needed is enormous and might better be used to develop “genuinely renewable energy sources on Earth.” This attitude could make it hard for space entrepreneurs to find investors, particularly if there’s no established market yet.
Nuclear fusion generators have been the holy grail of nuclear science since the 1960s. The idea of nuclear energy is that when certain atoms break apart (fission) or band together (fusion), they release great amounts of energy. If the energy can be harnessed, you have an effective source of energy. We can bust apart atoms easily, but fusing them takes more pressure and heat than we can effectively sustain without a huge investment of space, money and time – and we still don’t get a payoff worth the investment. As Steve Crowly, director of the Culham Centre for Fusion Energy told Popular Mechanics in 2013: “For $25 billion, I could build you a working reactor. It would be big, and maybe not very reliable, but 25 years ago, we didn’t know we’d be able to make fusion work. Now, the only question is whether we’ll be able to make it affordable.”
Lockheed Martin said in October 2014 that is has had a breakthrough that will allow it to do just that – but physicists are skeptical in the absence of hard evidence, which the company has not yet provided. Lock-Mart is using deuterium and tritium for its fusion, but it may provide a market for 3He, if it can prove its technology and if other companies can recreate it.
Flooding the Market with Rock: Will Asteroid Mining Bring a Boom or a Bust?
A more secure market comes with asteroid mining. Many asteroids contain useful and sometimes rare minerals that are already in use and demand here on earth, such as gold and platinum. Companies like Deep Space Industries and Planetary Resources are looking at the most effective and cost effective way to mine asteroids. NASA has estimated the cost of a capture and return mission at $2.6 billion dollars. According to Asterank, a database of over 600,000 asteroids, the most cost effective asteroids bring a profit of $1.4 billion to $1.25 trillion. These are the kind of numbers that give enterpreneurs hope.
However, they assume a stable market for the metal in question. Historically, if you flood the market with a commodity, the price goes down. An article in the Economist notes that even a doubling of a supply of a mineral such as platinum might lower the price so much that the company no longer profits. And when one 150-mile asteroid can contain as much platinum as is mined on Earth in a year, it’s possible that the market might crash under the influx.
That’s not to say we shouldn’t do it, anyway, but companies need to carefully consider their economic models. They may not see the short-term massive profits that many people consider a lure.
So Why Do It?
We are no more doomed to being stuck on the Earth than the Old World was to remain on the shores of Europe and Asia. In some ways, we have an advantage: we know what’s out there, and we know the challenges. Space holds great benefits for humankind once we master its challenges and tap its resources.
“I believe that space travel will one day become as common as airline travel is today. I’m convinced, however, that the true future of space travel does not lie with government agencies — NASA is still obsessed with the idea that the primary purpose of the space program is science — but real progress will come from private companies competing to provide the ultimate adventure ride, and NASA will receive the trickle-down benefits.” – Buzz Aldrin
As we can access space resources, we will see benefits. A supply of helium-3 will make fusion research much easier. Even if the market falls out on platinum or other rare elements, their newfound commonality will open the way for other uses, just as it did for aluminum. But even more, if we ever want to have a sustainable, growing manned presence outside our atmosphere, we need to have established access to these resources. Right now, the biggest expense for anything having to do with space is getting the materials off the Earth. If we can establish industry outside our gravity well, our space exploration can truly take off.
Even now, visionary men and women are forging ahead to make the dream of conquering space a reality. They are pushing the boundaries of law as well as those of science. They will build new economic models along with technological ones. Unlike in Columbus’ day, however, it will take more than the sponsorship of a queen to make their mission a go. We need to offer our support, from letting our political leaders know space is a priority to joining in the economic challenges to accepting the risks involved in this dangerous adventure – and in instilling that sense of adventure in our children. Only then will we leave the home port of Earth and sail the starry skies.
And with any luck, there will be Dragons – at least, if Elon Musk has his way.
I’m about to link to Gawker, so please, perpetually aggrieved Internet dwellers, do feel free to leave some indignant “Why are you linking to Gawker??!!1!?”comments below.
To those of you still reading: An analytical chemist—that’s the writer’s self-description—has written a piece criticizing Vani Hari, apparently a popular food blogger, for her trendy, pseudoscientific nonsense. It’s a solid, sensible piece and an introduction to the many scientific, logical, and rhetorical holes in the “organic”-obsessed, pop-nutritionist sect. One target is the overuse of words like “toxic”:
The word “toxic” has a meaning, and that is “having the effect of a poison.” Anything can be poisonous depending on the dose. Enough water can even be poisonous in the right quantity (and can cause a condition called hyponatremia).
Hari uses this tricky technique again and again. If I told you that a chemical that’s used as a disinfectant, used in industrial laboratory for hydrolysis reactions, and can create a nasty chemical burn is also a common ingredient in salad dressing, would you panic? Be suspicious that the industries were poisoning your children? Think it might cause cancer? Sign a petition to have it removed?
What if I told you I was talking about vinegar, otherwise known as acetic acid?
I have endless contempt for “alternative medicine,” which is certainly alternative but most certainly not medicine. The alternative crowd loves the vague word “toxins.” If you are sick, you are full of “toxins”; you must therefore “detox.” Everything from pancreatic cancer to bipolar disorder is due to “toxins.”
One way to know you’re talking to a quack is that, no matter the problem, he always has one diagnosis and thus one treatment.
Every now and then, if you can forget about the catastrophic damage that radical feminism has inflicted upon women across the world, it’s nice to just take a step back and laugh uproariously at the whole imbecilic thing. No, seriously: it really is just one hilarious absurdity after another.
That is, if you ignore the fact that feminists have fought spiritedly against the development of anti-rape technology, encouraged women to degrade themselves physically and emotionally at every possible opportunity, and relentlessly houndedany woman who dares to disagree with radical dogma. Let’s put all that aside for a minute and enjoy the incessant torrent of hostility and illogic that is radical feminism’s latest contribution to world discourse.
I’m talking about the recent “study” conducted at Northeastern University by Judith Hall and Jin Goh, which claims to prove that men who exhibit chivalrous behavior are probably “benevolent sexists.” “Benevolent sexism is like a wolf in sheep’s clothing that perpetuates support for gender inequality among women,” explains Hall. In other words, if a man holds the door for you or picks up the tab on your first date, watch out!! You can be certain he’s secretly plotting all the while to perpetuate the patriarchy and enslave you in domestic bliss. He might even tell you he thinks you look nice in that dress! The nerve!
Here’s how the study worked (and oh, man, this really is rich). Men were given a survey designed to detect signs of “hostile sexism” and “benevolent sexism.” As a public service for the general edification of our readership, I’ll print some warning signs of hostile sexism here. Hostile sexists “love topless calendars.” They “leave the housework to their wives.” And horror of horrors, they even “ban women from sports clubs”! That’s right, these slack-jawed toads actually enjoy looking at women’s breasts! They have the gall to conduct their home lives in a manner of their choosing agreed upon between them and their spouses! And they hate women so much, they don’t even want to be forced to beat them at basketball or wrestle them to the ground! Perhaps worst of all, these reprehensibly hostile sexists “say most women interpret innocent remarks as sexism.” Where on earth did they get that idea?!
But even more insidious are the “benevolent sexists.” These brainwashed sociopaths probably don’t even know they’re sexists — that’s how steeped in sin they are. Benevolent sexists are those who “hold doors open for women,” “call women ‘love’ or ‘dear,’” and “offer women their jacket if they look cold.” That’s right, there are actually some neanderthals out there who are so mired in patriarchal slime that they not only exhibit a healthy sexual response towards women, but even treat women respectfully and address them with terms of endearment. Truly, there is no justice in this world.
So, the intellectual giants at Northeastern kicked off their genius undertaking by classifying the entire gamut of normal male behavior and sexuality as sexism. Hall and Goh based their definitions on a paper that literally lists “heterosexuality” as one cause of sexism. The study then showed that “benevolent sexists” were guilty of such abhorrent behavior as smiling often, waiting patiently, and behaving warmly. Naturally, the conclusion drawn was that men who smile at women, extend patience towards them, and treat them kindly are probably also sexist.
Let’s just review, for our own entertainment, what the study actually proved. First, it defined kindly behavior towards women as sexist. It then used this definition to prove that men who admitted to behaving kindly towards women were sexist. QED, the study affirmed, kind men are more likely to be sexist.
Here, in other words, is the logic of this study, conducted at a major research institution in the United States of America which receives hundreds of millions of dollars in tuition from promising high school graduates each year:
Nice men are sexist, and therefore nice men are sexist.
Do you hear that? It’s the sound of my manic and giddy laughter as I choke back the tears I’m trying not to cry for the lost dignity of American academia.
Let us be clear for just one moment. Academic authority comes with a responsibility to tell the truth. Engineering a study that characterizes the male sexual response as filthy and violent from the word go is therefore a drastically irresponsible thing to do. It encourages boys and men to react to their own psyches with self-loathing and shame. The reassuringly erudite tone in which this study publishes its laughable “findings” only makes them more deceitful and damaging.
Let’s also not forget that this is a fallen world in which women are quite genuinely vulnerable to unconscionable oppression and unspeakable violence. Around the world, women are raped, mutilated, and treated like property. Western chivalry is one of the few cultural systems ever, in history, to make principles of respect and gentility towards women an expected commonplace of male behavior. Things like holding open doors and picking up the bill are the product of a centuries-long effort to condemn and prevent the mistreatment of women wholesale. Trying to dismantle that system in the process of fighting an imaginary wage gap is as insane as it will eventually be disastrous.
But hey, if we discount those facts for a second, the whole thing is really, really funny. I mean, it takes a special kind of idiocy to try to obliterate the civilization that allowed you to conduct your asinine studies in the first place. If you see Dr. Hall around, go ahead and thank her from me for adding a little bit of comic relief to this farcical horror show known as progressivism. But whatever you do, don’t hold the door open for her. You sexist pig.
The UK Daily Mail has concluded that even nice guys are evil, publishing research conducted by a series of Boston academics who have discovered a new misogyny dubbed “benevolent sexism”:
If you’re the sort of gentleman who holds the door open for a lady – or the sort of woman who expects him to – then be warned.
Such acts of chivalry may actually be ‘benevolent sexism’ in disguise, according to researchers.
Experts say this type of sexism is harder to spot than the ‘hostile sexism’ we are more familiar with – because it often masquerades as gallantry. It is typified by paternal and protective behaviour, from encouraging smiles to holding doors open.
US researchers argue that while women may enjoy being showered with attention, benevolent sexism is ‘insidious’ and men who are guilty of it see women as incompetent beings who require their ‘cherished protection’.
Professor Judith Hall, of Northeastern University in Boston, said: ‘Benevolent sexism is like a wolf in sheep’s clothing that perpetuates support for gender inequality among women.
‘These supposed gestures of good faith may entice women to accept the status quo in society because sexism literally looks welcoming, appealing and harmless.’
Other telltale signs of benevolent sexism include frequent smiling as well as the ability to engage in warm, friendly chit-chat.
Science is a good thing. It’s given us things like vaccines, cars and incubators.
I live in Southern California and was born a premie, with Apgar tests so low that the doctors advised my parents to institutionalize me. That means all of these innovations are near and dear to my heart. I have a more than healthy respect for science.
The thing is, though, science isn’t enough to keep a society going, at least not one we’d want to live in. What’s gotten humanity to this point is religion, specifically, the Judeo-Christian religion and its moral precepts that allow the freedom of Western civilization.
Three aspects of Judeo-Christian philosophy have helped define the free world: equality under the law, a firm grasp that we cannot build heaven on earth, and an objective for morality.
The dual, complementing nature of Judaism and Christianity, cannot be understated, especially as the Bible discusses equality. Many might think that the followers of Christ departed from their Jewish brethren but Christ himself reminds us in Matthew 5:17 that he “ha[d] not come to abolish [the Torah laws] but to fulfill them.” Thus he carried forward the truths given to Moses.
The first of these truths was the Jewish revelation of a single deity who created all of mankind and laid down laws establishing our fundamental equality.
When Gandhi engaged in some pseudo-deep drivel about an eye for an eye leaving everyone blind, he ignored the fact that this law was actually a command that punishment be proportional to the crime. Gandhi also suggested that Jews accept Nazi abuse, so it’s little wonder that he got other things wrong too.
Indeed, for all of the secularist focus on the wrath of the Old Testament God, the Torah serves more as a reminder to His children of their fundamental equality. After all, Leviticus 19:15 warns that “[y]e shall do no unrighteousness in judgment: thou shalt not respect the person of the poor, nor honour the person of the mighty: but in righteousness shalt thou judge thy neighbour.”
So the rich don’t get any special favors and, in a blow to the Occupy folks, neither do the poor.
Holy crap, that’s equality. And God laid it down.
Christ walked the earth and fulfilled that law of equality. That law led William Wilberforce to inspire the greatest power of his age – Imperial Britain – to war against slavery. That same law led the descendants of slaves, with the Rev. Martin Luther King, to claim their seat at the table.
The Judeo-Christian ethic teaches us the importance of respecting the individual and his liberties.
Judeo Christianity also teaches us to accept the world we live in.
Stalin’s Soviet Union. Mao’s China. Pol Pot’s killing fields.
These were all the secular attempts at utopia. Again, the blood of millions soaked the earth in these failed experiments.
Along with equality, the Judeo-Christian philosophy teaches us a simple truth: As fallen humans, we cannot build a utopia in this world. Perfection is beyond us and attempting to rush it along is a fatal conceit.
This holds true even in the personal life.
There is nothing more human than wanting to create the perfect life for you and your family. Alicia Florrick in The Good Wife is a perfect example of this. She strives to be the perfect mother, wife and lawyer. And on the surface, she looks successful, rich. She is the captain of her own ship.
Alicia is also an avowed atheist who finds her success to be of little comfort when her one-time lover, Will, is killed in a courtroom shooting. Thus mother must turn to daughter, whom the show portrays fairly respectfully as coming to faith, in order to try to find comfort.
Alicia was smart but she was not wise and hers was a utopia of tears.
One thing that assists in avoiding the siren song of utopianism is maintaining a constant moral lodestone, as laid out in the Ten Commandments and the Sermon on the Mount.
PJ Lifestyle contributor Walter Hudson wrote how “Atheists Can Be Moral Too.” However, in arguing that the natural world provides guideposts for human behavior, he disproves his own argument. After all, the natural world is the strong preying upon the weak. This is the morality of the dictatorship.
Indeed, Nazism and Communism saw themselves as the pinnacle of social evolution. Their inferiors, whether Jews or kulaks, were subhuman and thus fair game.
This is the morality of a world without a true north. The compass spins out of control and we follow a path to chaos. The great irony is that by no matter what glorious end those without transcendent morality attempt to serve, they can never find it.
Who was to tell these technologically advanced barbarians they were wrong, if there was no definition of wrong that transcended society? After all, Hitler won an election. The Communists inspired fellow travelers throughout the world.
It is telling that the troika of Ronald Regan, Margaret Thatcher and Pope John Paul II who defeated Communism in the 1980s came from strong traditions of faith.
Indeed, they showed that the three gifts of Judeo-Christian philosophy served as legs for a stool we call wisdom.
That wisdom is the reason religion serves a more fundamental role for society than science.
The Nazis and Soviets were capable of immense scientific accomplishments. They then put those accomplishments towards slaughter of unspeakable scale.
The Tuskegee experiments surely developed scientific data, but only through a monstrous experimentation on unknowing innocents.
Science, without the moral foundations of religion to constrain it, could mean the end of society as we know it or even the extinction of our specials
It was science that told my parents I should be put in an institution.
It was wisdom that kept me from such a fate. Although since I turned out to be a divorce lawyer, some people might think the doctor was right.
Please jointhediscussiononTwitter. The essay above is the tenth in volume 2 of the cultural discussions between the writers of PJ Lifestyle and Liberty Islandexploring the history of counter-cultures, the future of conservatism and the role of new, emerging counter-cultures in restoring American exceptionalism. Want to contribute? Check out the articles below, reach out, and lets brainstorm: @DaveSwindle
Science! It’s given us lasers and spaceships and explained the many great mysteries of life, like what is the sun, where does lightning come from, and what’s the deal with platypuses? Every day, the men in the lab coats tease out more secrets from this universe, and technology solves more of our problems (remember back in the day, when if you were lost in the woods, you couldn’t pull out your phone and quickly look up the filmography of the guy who played Balki in Perfect Strangers?).
So as we go into a future with robots and a greater knowledge of quantum physics, what exactly do we need thousands-of-years-old texts on morality for?
That’s my question: What is the future of religion?
As part of my novel, Superego, I take a look at religion hundreds of years in the future, when mankind has spread throughout the universe and interacted with numerous other sentient lifeforms. And this is all viewed through the lens of the protagonist, Rico, who is a coldly rational, conscienceless psychopath (though probably still not as irritating an atheist as Richard Dawkins). From his perspective, Rico finds faith to be a rather odd thing, as people can — and often do — just decide to believe in any nonsense they, for some reason, find appealing.
But as society advances in technology and knowledge, will we still hold on at all to what many consider superstitions of old? Frankly, I can’t remember ever seeing the Jetsons attend church. Plus, to many people science is increasingly replacing the need for religion. We can now understand the world through rational thought… and even people not that good at rational thought love science — there are things like the “I f-ing love science!” Facebook group basically turning science into a fetish of dumb people.
Science certainly seems more exciting than some ancient texts that don’t even mention T. rexes or black holes.
So maybe our future will be one where we only look to science for answers (“Oh, Men of the White Coat, tell us what to believe, and it shall be believed!”). We will be beings of pure logical thought with no need for the vagaries of religion.
The only problem is that people don’t work that way. Even as a child, I saw how the idea of a purely logical being like Spock (R.I.P.) was in fact illogical, because while logic is a great tool for solving problems, it never tells you what problems to solve.
From a purely detached standpoint, neither working hard at a career to be successful nor curling up in a hole to die is a more logical thing to do than the other until you add some values to the equation (for instance, how much you treasure money versus good old hole-sleeping). And values do not come from logic but from the irrational parts of our minds. And it’s that irrational drive that causes people to create and build things, and something purely logical like a computer is rather useless until one of us irrational idiots starts mashing its keyboard to either write some code or comment on a YouTube video.
We want to live forever. We seek immortality through a variety of means, living vicariously through our children, leaving a legacy in our community, and embracing the claims of religion.
But what if we could actually live indefinitely here on Earth? What if we could elect to live for centuries or even millennia? Would we want to?
Zoltan Istvan thinks so. Reason TV’s Zach Weissmueller interviews the author of The Transhumanist Wager in the video above. They come to an interesting aside when Weissmueller inquires about cultural resistance to the idea of technological immortality. Aren’t some people actually revolted by the idea? Istvan answers:
America and many places around the world are quite religious, especially America…a poll said 83% are still declaring themselves Christian. That makes it hard to want to take death out of the equation, because a natural part of the Christian ideology is to die and to eventually reach an afterlife with God…
While Istvan may anticipate the reaction of some, the Christian faith doesn’t necessarily preclude an embrace of transhumanist technology. It depends on the particular nature of the tech. There’s nothing in mainstream Christian doctrine which would forbid something like artificial organs, for instance. And if replacing organs could extend life by decades or more, why not?
… it’s not as though wanting to live indefinitely is something that’s going to intrude and conflict with one’s religion. It’s just something that’s kind of the evolving nature of the species. And if you can get people to think like that, and not see it in conflict with their own ideologies, then I think they’re going to be more on board with saying, “Yeah, it’s good to live 150, 200 years.” And again, I’m not saying let’s live forever. I don’t think any transhumanists are saying that. I think what we want is the choice to be able to live indefinitely. That might be 10,000 years. That might only be 170 years.
The line might be drawn at technology which changes one’s nature to something non-human. When we look at something like uploading one’s consciousness to a computer, the question must be asked: would you still be “you?” Or would you be essentially committing suicide?
The notion of living indefinitely, unto itself, should actually appeal to the Christian. After all, everlasting life is the promise of Christian salvation, and lifespans greatly surpassing those common today are recorded throughout scripture. Adam lived to 930. Noah made it to 950. Enoch was “taken” before his time at the tender young age of 365. For the believer who takes scripture literally, the notion of living for centuries has precedence.
The Ick Factor on the story behind Jeffrey Epstein’s donations to science goes up to 11:
“His interest is in interesting people and interesting ideas,” Lawrence Krauss, an Arizona State University physicist, told Reuters. Krauss directs a program on the origins of life — a program that Epstein has supported. Krauss said he would feel cowardly if he turned away from Epstein, given that he doesn’t know anything about the accusations.
Another professor who has received funds from Epstein and defended him was Robert Trivers, a Rutgers University biologist who received about $40,000 from Epstein to study the link between knee symmetry and sprinting ability. Trivers questioned how bad the charges are, noting that girls mature earlier than used to be the case. “By the time they’re 14 or 15, they’re like grown women were 60 years ago, so I don’t see these acts as so heinous,” he told Reuters.
I hope Trivers doesn’t serve at Rutgers in any sort of teaching position. If he does, I’m sure the parents of his female students would want to be informed of his feelings about sex with girls as young as 14 and 15.
Thursday, February 5th, 2015 - by Theodore Dalrymple
In the past, medical journals, pharmaceutical companies and researchers themselves have been criticized for publishing selectively only their positive results, that is to say, the results that they wanted to find. This is important because accentuation of the positive can easily mislead the medical profession into believing that a certain drug or treatment is much more effective than it really is.
On reading the New England Journal of Medicine and other medical journals, I sometimes wonder whether the pendulum has swung too far in the other direction, in accentuating the negative. To read of so many bright ideas that did not work could act as a discouragement to others and even lead to that permanent temptation of ageing doctors, therapeutic nihilism. But the truth is the truth, and we must follow it wherever it leads.
A recent edition of the NEJM, for example, reported on three trials, two with negative results and one with mildly positive ones. The trials involved the early treatment of stroke, the prophylaxis of HIV injection, and the treatment of angina refractory to normal treatment (a growing problem). Only the latter was successful, but it involved 104 patients as against 6729 patients in the two unsuccessful ones.
The successful trial involved the insertion of a device that increased pressure in the coronary sinus, the vein that drains the blood from the heart itself. For reasons not understood, this seems to redistribute the blood flow in the heart muscle, thus relieving angina. In the trial, the new device relieved and reduced angina symptoms, and improved the quality of life in the patients who received it compared with those who underwent a placebo-operation. The trial was too small, however, to determine whether the device improved survival, though even if it did not a reduction of symptoms and an improvement in the quality of life is worthwhile.
The trial of chemoprophylaxis of HIV was, by contrast, a total failure. The trial recruited 5029 young women in Africa who were given an anti-HIV drug in tablet or cream form, and others who were given placebos. The rate at which they became infected with HIV was compared, and no difference was found.
In large part this was because the patients did not take or use the pills or cream, though they claimed to have done so. A drug that few take is not of much use however effective it might be in theory, especially in prophylaxis rather than treatment. And this points to another problem of pharmaceutical research: in drug trials that require patients’ compliance with a regime, that compliance may be high during the trial itself (thanks to the researchers’ vigilance and enthusiasm) but low in “natural” conditions, when the patients are left to their own devices.
The trial of magnesium sulphate in the early treatment of stroke was also a failure. It had been suggested by experiments on animals that this chemical protects brain cells from degeneration after ischaemic stroke. It stood to reason, then, that it might improve the outcome in humans in ischaemic stroke, at least if given as soon as suspected.
Alas, it was no to be. The trial, involving 1700 patients, showed that the early administration of magnesium sulphate did not improve outcome in the slightest. At 90 days there was no difference between those who received it and those who had received placebo.
Is an idea bad just because it does not work? Could it be that those who discover something useful are just luckier than their colleagues? Perhaps there ought to be a Nobel Prize for failure, that is to say for the brightest idea that failed.
Saturday, December 13th, 2014 - by Theodore Dalrymple
If brevity is the soul of wit, verbosity is often the veil of ignorance. There was an instance of this in a recent article in the New England Journal of Medicine, with the title “Conduct Disorder and Callous-Unemotional Traits in Youth.”At considerable length and with much polysyllabic vocabulary, it told us much that we already knew (some of it true by definition). It mistook the illusion of progress for progress itself.
The paper starts with a definition:
The term “conduct disorder” refers to a pattern of repetitive rule-breaking behavior, aggression and disregard for others.
It sounds to me like a recipe for success in the modern art world, where “transgressive” is a term of the highest praise. But, says the paper, such problems have received increased attention recently, for two reasons: first, young people with conduct disorder sometimes “perpetrate violent events,” and second, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders has modified its criteria for diagnosis. This latter seems to me an odd reason for increased attention. (Whose attention, by the way, the authors do not specify. The attention is like the pain in the room as described by Mrs Gradgrind. She thought there was a pain somewhere in the room, but couldn’t positively say that she had got it.)
Wednesday, December 3rd, 2014 - by Arlene Becker Zarmi
While driving on a desert road in Borrego Springs, California, if you see a massive undulating serpent whose tail is waving in and out of the sand on one side of the road you’re driving on, with the rest of him, including his fearsome almost two-story head, sticking out of the sand on the other side, you are not having a desert hallucination. The three hundred and fifty foot serpent and other fanciful and realistic metal sculptures, including scorpions, spiders, dinosaurs, wild horses rearing their heads, and an array of human like figures doing human-like activities, dot the landscape near the town of Borrego Springs, and the historic La Casa del Zorro Resort. In fact the artist, Ricardo Breceda, who sculpted these surreal creations, has his studio at one end of the resort’s 42 acre property.
Author and journalist Judy Bachrach started volunteering in a hospice in the late 1980s, and her real motive was to try to overcome her fear of death. About two decades later, when her mother came down with Alzheimer’s, Bachrach decided to look into the subject of near-death experiences.
So she delved into the literature, and journeyed around the United States and the world to interview near-death experiencers (NDErs or, as she calls them, “death travelers”) and leading researchers in the field. The result is her book Glimpsing Heaven. Her conclusion from her inquiries: “there are simply, as some of the doctors and scientists I’ve interviewed point out, too many experiencers and too many experiences to discount.”
How many? Dutch cardiologist and NDE researcher Pim van Lommel says that in the last 50 years over 25 million people worldwide have reported NDEs. A 1982 Gallup poll found eight million Americans reporting them. As Bachrach comments: “Not every self-proclaimed death traveler could be an arrant liar or deeply unbalanced or both.” If you want to hear accounts by “travelers” who are evidently balanced, mature, and intelligent, you can easily find them on YouTube.
But were these people really “dead”? Aren’t these experiences just hallucinations caused by oxygen deprivation? Having looked into the NDE subject myself for a few years, I believe one can only hold that view if one is ill-informed or determined.
I have another science story for you, but I promise this one is much more enjoyable than the one about the peanut butter. Travel with me now past Mars, past the asteroid belt, and straight into the heart of Jupiter’s mysterious Great Red Spot:
Scientists in Pasadena, Calif., came to the conclusion after re-creating the effects at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. They were able to get a Spot-like red effect by directing ultraviolet light at ammonia and acetylene, gases that are both found on the planet.
Their new theory: “Most of the Great Red Spot is actually pretty bland in color, beneath the upper cloud layer of reddish material,” says a researcher.
“Under the reddish ‘sunburn’ the clouds are probably whitish or grayish.” So why is it confined to just one spot? “The Great Red Spot … reaches much higher altitudes than clouds elsewhere on Jupiter,” the expert notes.
The Spot is actually a storm with winds of up to hundreds of miles per hour, the Daily Mail reports. Wind in the area brings ammonia particles closer to the sun, and a vortex keeps them there, the researchers say.
We don’t know how many centuries — millennia? — old that storm is, but it has been fading in recent years. While an exact cause has yet to be determined, it probably has to do with evil carbon emissions here on Earth.
On an unrelated note, the asteroid belt needs a better name. I like “Solar Rhinestones.”
When I was a kid and first fell in love with dinosaurs, they were lumbering, cold-blooded beasts who died of stupidity. So much of the past keeps changing:
Carrying around an exoskeleton of bony armor is hard work. But armored ankylosaurs figured out a way to shoulder the load and stay cool. These Cretaceous dinosaurs had “Krazy Straw” nasal passages that helped them air-condition their brains, according to a new study.
“These heads are just covered with bone they just look like rocks with eyes. And yet, when you look inside, they have these noses that go all over the place,” said Jason Bourke, a doctoral student at Ohio University who presented his findings on ankylosaurus noses Nov. 8 at the annual meeting of the Society for Vertebrate Paleontology in Berlin.
It gets better:
The airway discovery is interesting, Bourke said, because most modern mammals and birds have their own method for warming air headed to the lungs and for cooling exhaled air: They have respiratory turbinates, or blood-rich structures in the nasal cavity that warm and humidify the air coming in.
“This is the first time we’ve been able to show that an animal that doesn’t have these turbinates found another way around heating the air up or cooling it down, just by making the airway superlong and then curling it around,” Bourke said.
Duck-billed dinosaurs, or hadrosaurs, have similarly loopy noses, he said, which have been linked with helping the dinos create resonant bellows. It’s very likely that, in both hadrosaurs and ankylosaurs, the structures served a dual purpose: warming and cooling air, and amplifying sounds, Bourke said.
I’d like to see one of these skulls 3-D printed into the world’s biggest, loudest conch shell.
But don’t quit your job and empty your bank account just yet. Such a black hole could take trillions of years to topple the universe, and scientists don’t yet have a particle accelerator large enough to create the conditions necessary for such a doomsday.
“A particle accelerator that reaches 100bn GeV [the required giga-electron-volts] would be larger than Earth, and is unlikely to be funded in the present economic climate,” Hawking added, according to the report.
I admire Hawking as much for his dry sense of humor — and in the face of such personal adversity — as I do for how far he’s advanced (and explained) physics. Something tells me I’m far from alone in that.
There are a lot of things in space, but terrestrial sea plankton was not one of them –at least, so we thought. Yet traces of the microorganisms were found on the windows of the International Space Station, as reported by Russia’s Itar-Tass news agency.
Experiments had previously shown that microorganisms such as bacteria are capable of surviving in space, and, further, propagating endospores — but sea plankton is certainly a new discovery, Vladimir Solovyev, chief of the Russian ISS orbital mission, told the news agency.
“The results of this experiment are absolutely unique,” he said. “We have found traces of sea plankton and microscopic particles on the illuminator [window] surface. This should be studied further.”
In October 2004, excavation of fragmentary skeletal remains from the island of Flores in Indonesia yielded what was called “the most important find in human evolution for 100 years.” Its discoverers dubbed the find Homo floresiensis, a name suggesting a previously unknown species of human.
In the first place, they write, the original figures for cranial volume and stature are underestimates, “markedly lower than any later attempts to confirm them.” Eckhardt, Henneberg and other researchers have consistently found a cranial volume of about 430 milliliters (26.2 cubic inches).
“The difference is significant, and the revised figure falls in the range predicted for a modern human with Down syndrome from the same geographic region,” Eckhardt said.
The original estimate of 3.5 feet for the creature’s height was based on extrapolation combining the short thighbone with a formula derived from an African pygmy population. But humans with Down syndrome also have diagnostically short thighbones, Eckhardt said.
I liked the idea of Hobbits sharing an Indonesian island with King Kong, but apparently he isn’t real either.
A paper published in the July 30 issue of Nature by Ian Garrick-Bethell – an assistant professor of Earth and planetary sciences at University of California Santa Cruz – examines the shape of the Moon as it would be had not millions of meteorite collisions knocked chunks off it, and ponders how it got that way.
“If you imagine spinning a water balloon, it will start to flatten at the poles and bulge at the equator,” Garrick-Bethell said. “On top of that you have tides due to the gravitational pull of the Earth, and that creates sort of a lemon shape with the long axis of the lemon pointing at the Earth.”
The Moon formed about four billion years ago and was initially much closer to Earth, and spinning rather more than it does today. As the Moon cooled and hardened, the effects of tidal forces exerted by Earth froze the surface into a slightly elongated shape with a bulge pointing towards Earth and a corresponding bump on the other side.
I think she’s just as rotational and spherical as she was at two billion.
A fascinating NASA presentation suggests that in July 2012 Earth was one week away from being struck by a massive solar storm that would have had devastating effects.
NASA’s own Science News describes this event as being “perilous.” Indeed, as perilous as “an asteroid big enough to knock modern civilization back to the 18th century.”
There are plenty of people here on Earth who are already machinating to send us back to the 18th century. Clearly, there’s something alluring about olden times.
In this case, however, it’s the coronal mass ejection that’s captivating minds. This solar storm “tore through Earth orbit in 2012,” says Science News. “Fortunately Earth wasn’t there.”
I just got back from three days in the woods, with no gadgets, no electricity, no nothin’. It’s fun to get away from all the glowing screens we spend so much of our modern lives staring into, but it’s also a lot of work. I had myself, my two boys, and my young niece to take care of, which meant that by the time I’d finished cleaning up from breakfast, it was nearly time to start on lunch. The afternoons were wet, the nights were cold. At the end of the day I was too tired to even bother with the Kindle I’d brought along. Last night before bed I liberated one of Melissa’s prescription-strength Ibuprofens, just to make sure my woodland collection of aches and pains wouldn’t keep me up. There were extra batteries for a couple of LED lanterns and various flashlights — but if those wore out, then what? Well, civilization was about 45 minutes away by way of an occasionally questionable gravel road.
And if something turned off the lights in town, too?
“Getting away from it all” presumes having something to get away from — and something to get back to, too.