Different River

”You can never step in the same river twice.” –Heraclitus

November 29, 2007

Birth of a Buckyball

Filed under: — Different River @ 7:06 pm

A “buckyball” is a large, hollow molecule of 60 carbon atoms arranges in soccer-ball-like shape. Or more precisely, a geodesic-dome shape, which is why it’s named “buckminsterfullerene” — after Buckminster Fuller, inventor of the geodesic dome. Or, more affectionately, a “buckyball.”

This new molecule was discovered (invented?) by the late Richard Smalley in 1985.

And now, his theory of how these molecules can be formed at the nano-level has been confirmed. Here’s a fascinating article — fascinating for those of us who like chemistry, anyway. ;-)

June 15, 2007

The 10 Worst Science Jobs

Filed under: — Different River @ 5:50 pm

If you thought liberal-arts jobs were bad, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet!

Check this out, from Popular Science magazine:

The Worst Jobs in Science 2007

Number 10: Whale-Feces Researcher

Number 9: Forensic Entomologist

“One day a local detective called me who knew I’d majored in
entomology in college and said, “Hey, Neal, we got a body at the
morgue with insects on it. You wanna give it a shot?” The corpse
turned out to be a guy I used to have breakfast with, and there were
maggots in his teeth. Then I found some in his eyes, and I thought,
“This is what I want to do. This is just way too cool.”

Number 7: Gravity Research Subject

Number 5: Coursework Carcass Preparer
They kill, pickle, and bottle the critters that school

Remember that first whiff of formaldehyde when the teacher brought out
the frogs in ninth-grade biology? Now imagine inhaling those fumes
eight hours a day, five days a week.

And I cannot even imagine, with all the endanagered species problems,
why this job exists:

Number 3: Elephant Vasectomist

September 29, 2006

Finding God in the Genome

Filed under: — Different River @ 9:00 am

The book I mentioned here should be available by now.

June 20, 2006

Backyard Global Warming

Filed under: — Different River @ 3:49 pm

James Taranto points to this gem from ABC News, which sounds like the sort of thing you’d see in the satirical newspaper, The Onion:

Witnessing the impact of global warming in your life?

ABC News wants to hear from you. We’re currently producing a report on the increasing changes in our physical environment, and are looking for interesting examples of people coping with the differences in their daily lives. Has your life been directly affected by global warming?

We want to hear and see your stories. Have you noticed changes in your own backyard or hometown? The differences can be large or small — altered blooming schedules, unusual animals that have arrived in your community, higher water levels encroaching on your property.

Well, I’ve noticed that in my community, there has been significant warming over the past six months. And yesterday, there was a massive rainstorm which caused a much higher-than normal water level in my backyard.

I guess by ABC’s standards, that’s proof of global warming!

June 15, 2006

How Hated Are You?

Filed under: — Different River @ 2:32 am

Clayton Cramer, and one of his readers, together have what makes a fascinating analysis of the FBI Hate Crimes data.

The report says, for example:

Law enforcement agencies reported 4,863 offenses within single-bias incidents that were motivated by the offender’s racial bias. Among those offenses, 67.5 percent resulted from an anti-black bias, and 20.5 percent were due to an anti-white bias.

Clayton analyzes:

At first glance, the high number of crimes that “resulted from an anti-black bias” suggests that racism against blacks is a bigger problem than racism against whites. But spend a little time thinking about these numbers. In 2004, blacks were 12.8% of the population; whites were 80.4% of the population. Unless some of these hate crimes against blacks were being done by blacks (which seems rather unlikely), this means that the hate criminals came from the 87.2% of the population that are non-black, and these hate criminals committed the 67.5% of the racially based bias crimes that were designated as anti-black.

Similarly, the white haters must have come from the 19.6% of the population that are non-white Americans, and these criminals committed the 20.5% of the anti-white racial bias crimes.

Non-whites are thus more likely to commit anti-white crimes than non-blacks are to likely to commit anti-black crimes. This suggests that anti-white hate crimes are disproportionately present. Not quite what you were expecting, is it?

Let’s define a ratio of “potential sources of hate crimes” to “percentages of hate crimes” and you get what I call the “How Hated Are You?” Ratio. Divide 67.5% by 87.2%, and you discover that blacks are the victims of racial bias crimes only 77.4% of the amount that you would expect if racial hate crimes was evenly distributed. On the other hand, 20.5% divided by 19.6% gives 105%–whites are slightly more likely to be victims of a racially based hate crime than you would expect for their numbers.

In short, the HHAY percentage, if it is below 100, indicates that you are victims of a hate crime less than you might expect, relative to the percentage of the population that isn’t a member of your group. If your group’s HHAY percentage is above 100, then your group is receiving more hate crimes than you would expect.

Clayton reports that a(n unnamed) reader looked at the problem from the other direction — the percentage of each group that becomes a victim of hate crime, rather than the percentage that commits a hate crime:

It seems to me your “How hated are you” statistic does a poor job of measuring the actual problems caused by hate crimes for different groups. For example, using the figures you give, 67.5% of 4863, or 2164 crimes were motivated by anti black prejudice and only 20.5%, or 997 were motivated by anti-white prejudice. But 12.8% of the population (let’s call the US population 250 million, though that’s a bit out of date) is black, or 32 million people, while 80.4 %, or 200 million, is white. So a black person has a probability of 2164/32000000=0.000068 of being a hate crime victim in a given year — 17 times the odds of 0.000004 that a white person does. It seems to me reasonable to say that hate crimes are 17 times as significant a problem for black people as for white people.

What your HHAY statistic measures is the probability that a randomly chosen person of a different race will have committed a hate crime against someone of your nationality. It seems to me that, if I were given a chance to choose my race, this would matter much less to me than the odds that I would be a hate crime victim. (Or, for that matter, a crime victim of any sort.)

It is strange that black people are both more likely to commit and to be the victims of hate crimes than white people are, but I guess that’s just a nice example of how statistics don’t always do what you’d expect.

Actually, I’m not sure that we shouldn’t expect precisely that results. Blacks make up about one-eight o the U.S. population, which means there are about 7 non-Blacks for every Black. That means that even if a much lower percentage of non-Blacks commit hate crimes, there can still be a lot of anti-Black hate crimes simply because there is a much larger pool of non-Blacks. In fact, non-Blacks will commit more hate crimes (in absolute numbers, not percentages) as long as their rate is greater than one-seventh of the Black hate crime rate. Furthermore, since there are far fewer Blacks “available” to become targets of each hate crime, then for any given number of hate crimes, the probability of any one individual Black becoming a victim is much higher.

To take an extreme example, imagine for a moment that Blacks and non-Blacks each committed, as a group, precisely the same number (not percentage) of hate crimes. In that case, each Black individual would be both seven time more likely to be victim of hate crime — and seven times more likely to commit one. Even if the rates are closer together, as long as the percentages of non-Blacks commiting hate crimes is lower than that of Blacks, we will see something like this outcome.

So the figures that Clayton and his reader found are in fact precisely how you should expect the statistics to come out.

June 14, 2006

Finding God in the Genome

Filed under: — Different River @ 9:00 am

Lots of people say that religion and science are in conflict. Many say that science proves that religion is wrong, or that God does not exist. Many also say that religious beliefs are an impediment to scientific understanding.

I’ve never understood any of those claims. I found studying chemistry and physics in high school and college to be a window into the profound wisdom that went into creating the universe. And I fail to see how anyone encountering Euler’s formula fails to see something beyond human construction

And now, one of the world’s top biologists — Francis Collins, one of the mappers of the human genome — has put this all together in a new book. The Sunday Times [of London] reports:

The scientist who led the team that cracked the human genome is to publish a book explaining why he now believes in the existence of God and is convinced that miracles are real.

Francis Collins, the director of the US National Human Genome Research Institute, claims there is a rational basis for a creator and that scientific discoveries bring man “closer to God”.

His book, The Language of God, to be published in September, will reopen the age-old debate about the relationship between science and faith. “One of the great tragedies of our time is this impression that has been created that science and religion have to be at war,” said Collins, 56.

“I don’t see that as necessary at all and I think it is deeply disappointing that the shrill voices that occupy the extremes of this spectrum have dominated the stage for the past 20 years.”

For Collins, unravelling the human genome did not create a conflict in his mind. Instead, it allowed him to “glimpse at the workings of God.”

“When you make a breakthrough it is a moment of scientific exhilaration because you have been on this search and seem to have found it,” he said. “But it is also a moment where I at least feel closeness to the creator in the sense of having now perceived something that no human knew before but God knew all along.”

“When you have for the first time in front of you this 3.1 billion-letter instruction book that conveys all kinds of information and all kinds of mystery about humankind, you can’t survey that going through page after page without a sense of awe. I can’t help but look at those pages and have a vague sense that this is giving me a glimpse of God’s mind.”

Collins joins a line of scientists whose research deepened their belief in God. Isaac Newton, whose discovery of the laws of gravity reshaped our understanding of the universe, said: “This most beautiful system could only proceed from the dominion of an intelligent and powerful being.”

Although Einstein revolutionised our thinking about time, gravity and the conversion of matter to energy, he believed the universe had a creator. “I want to know His thoughts; the rest are details,” he said. However Galileo was famously questioned by the inquisition and put on trial in 1633 for the “heresy” of claiming that the earth moved around the sun. [Though Galileo didn't actually question the existence of God, nor the fact that he created the universe. --DR]

Collins even takes on evolution, making an argument I’ve been making for over two decades::

“I see God’s hand at work through the mechanism of evolution. If God chose to create human beings in his image and decided that the mechanism of evolution was an elegant way to accomplish that goal, who are we to say that is not the way,” he says.

And it’s not like Collins is trying to justify what he was taught in childhood:

Collins was an atheist until the age of 27, when as a young doctor he was impressed by the strength that faith gave to some of his most critical patients.

“They had terrible diseases from which they were probably not going to escape, and yet instead of railing at God they seemed to lean on their faith as a source of great comfort and reassurance,” he said. “That was interesting, puzzling and unsettling.”

He decided to visit a Methodist minister and was given a copy of C S Lewis’s Mere Christianity, which argues that God is a rational possibility. The book transformed his life. “It was an argument I was not prepared to hear,” he said. “I was very happy with the idea that God didn’t exist, and had no interest in me. And yet at the same time, I could not turn away.”

His epiphany came when he went hiking through the Cascade Mountains in Washington state. He said: “It was a beautiful afternoon and suddenly the remarkable beauty of creation around me was so overwhelming, I felt, ‘I cannot resist this another moment’.”

I’ve been hiking in mountains — and I can totally believe that.

(Hat tip: Clayton Cramer.)

April 11, 2006

Is Global Warming Real?

Filed under: — Different River @ 6:00 am

A bunch of recent news stories and editorials lately are saying that “global warming is real” and a recent survey shows that 71% of Americans believe it.

Apparently, they aren’t listening to the climate scientists, who do not believe it.

The latest salvo from the scientists is an open letter signed by sixty climate scientists from around the world, addressed to the new Canadian Prime Minister asking him to revisit Canada’s climate-change plicy in general and the Kyoto protocol in particular. The letter says in part:

Observational evidence does not support today’s computer climate models, so there is little reason to trust model predictions of the future. Yet this is precisely what the United Nations did in creating and promoting Kyoto and still does in the alarmist forecasts on which Canada’s climate policies are based. Even if the climate models were realistic, the environmental impact of Canada delaying implementation of Kyoto or other greenhouse-gas reduction schemes, pending completion of consultations, would be insignificant. Directing your government to convene balanced, open hearings as soon as possible would be a most prudent and responsible course of action.

While the confident pronouncements of scientifically unqualified environmental groups may provide for sensational headlines, they are no basis for mature policy formulation. The study of global climate change is, as you have said, an “emerging science,” one that is perhaps the most complex ever tackled. It may be many years yet before we properly understand the Earth’s climate system. Nevertheless, significant advances have been made since the protocol was created, many of which are taking us away from a concern about increasing greenhouse gases. If, back in the mid-1990s, we knew what we know today about climate, Kyoto would almost certainly not exist, because we would have concluded it was not necessary.

“Climate change is real” is a meaningless phrase used repeatedly by activists to convince the public that a climate catastrophe is looming and humanity is the cause. Neither of these fears is justified. Global climate changes all the time due to natural causes and the human impact still remains impossible to distinguish from this natural “noise.” The new Canadian government’s commitment to reducing air, land and water pollution is commendable, but allocating funds to “stopping climate change” would be irrational. We need to continue intensive research into the real causes of climate change and help our most vulnerable citizens adapt to whatever nature throws at us next.

We believe the Canadian public and government decision-makers need and deserve to hear the whole story concerning this very complex issue. It was only 30 years ago that many of today’s global-warming alarmists were telling us that the world was in the midst of a global-cooling catastrophe. But the science continued to evolve, and still does, even though so many choose to ignore it when it does not fit with predetermined political agendas.

Take a look at the full letter, and the list of signatories. It’s a quite impressive list.

April 7, 2006

Clean Air Causes Global Warming?

Filed under: — Different River @ 1:09 pm

Well, you can’t win for losing, if this study reported by the BBC has any truth to it:

Research presented at a major European science meeting adds to other evidence that cleaner air is letting more solar energy through to the Earth’s surface.

The decline in Soviet industry and clean air laws in western countries apparently reduced concentrations of aerosols, tiny particles, in the atmosphere.

These aerosols may block solar radiation directly, or help clouds to form which in turn constitute a barrier; or both effects may occur.

So there you have it: If we increase pollution, we cause global warming — and if we decrease pollution we also cause global warming. And as I’ve pointed out before, higher temperatures are evidence of global warming, and lower temperatures are also evidence of global warming. This is how we know that global warming is not really a scientific theory — a scientific theory has to be subject to evidence. That is, it need to make “falsifiable predictions” — predictions that, if contradicted, would be regarded as evidence against the theory. If any possible outcome can be viewed as consistent with the theory, then it’s not really a theory since it doesn’t explain anything.

The BBC article also had the following interesting tidbit:

Between the 1950s and 1980s, the amount of solar energy penetrating through the atmosphere to the Earth’s surface appeared to be declining, by about 2% per decade.

This trend received some publicity under the term “global dimming.”

It was also called “the New Ice Age.” I’m just old enough to remember reading in the mid-1970s in elementary school — in the Weekly Reader distributed in over 90% of American elementary schools — that the burning of fossil fuels was causing pollution that would eventually block out enough of the sun’s rays to cause a “New Ice Age.”

In retrospect, this must have come about from the research of Dr. Murray Mitchell, and reported in the famous article Peter Gwynne wrote in Newsweek in 1975 – i “The Cooling World” (excerpted here):

The central fact is that after three quarters of a century of extraordinarily mild conditions, the earth’s climate seems to be cooling down. Meteorologists disagree about the cause and extent of the cooling trend, as well as over its specific impact on local weather conditions. But they are almost unanimous in the view that the trend will reduce agricultural productivity for the rest of the century. If the climatic change is as profound as some of the pessimists fear, the resulting famines could be catastrophic. “A major climatic change would force economic and social adjustments on a worldwide scale,” warns a recent report by the National Academy of Sciences, “because the global patterns of food production and population that have evolved are implicitly dependent on the climate of the present century.”

A survey completed last year by Dr. Murray Mitchell of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reveals a drop of half a degree in average ground temperatures in the Northern Hemisphere between 1945 and 1968. According to George Kukla of Columbia University, satellite photos indicated a sudden, large increase in Northern Hemisphere snow cover in the winter of 1971-72. And a study released last month by two NOAA scientists notes that the amount of sunshine reaching the ground in the continental U.S. diminished by 1.3% between 1964 and 1972.

The BBC article on the more recent research quotes the lead author as follows:

The reversal of “global dimming” has been proposed in some circles as an alternative explanation for climatic change, removing the need to invoke human emissions of greenhouse gases.

Dr[. Martin] Wild dismissed this picture. [We can't have anything contradicting the theory of human-caused global warming, now, can we? --DR] His analysis suggests that “global dimming” and the man-made greenhouse effect may have cancelled each other out until the early 1980s, but now “global brightening” is adding to the impact of human greenhouse emissions.

So if I understand this correctly: we used to have high levels of pollution, which caused both a decrease in sunlight penetrating the atmosphere (“global dimming”), and an increase in heat retained in the atmosphere (“global warming”). These two effects cancelled each other out. Now, however, we have lower levels of pollution, so there is more global warming than global dimming.

This doesn’t make any sense, unless the theory is that low levels of pollution cause only warming, but high levels cause both warming and dimming. I’m not sure what sort of theory would predict that, but if that’s the theory, then emission-reduction programs like the Kyoto treaty will increase global warming — and I kind of doubt that’s what Dr. Wild meant. It would also mean that before the industrial revolution, when fossil fuel emmissions were (presumably) lower, that the temperature should have been higher. I think the opposite is actually true — the “Little Ice Age” ended around 1850 — and it’s certainly the opposite of that the global warming crowd claims.

I’m going to give Dr. Wild the benefit of the doubt here and assume the BBC mangled the quote or took it out of context. That happens all the time to scientists. Unfortunately, there wasn’t enough information in the article to allow me to find Dr. Wild’s paper yet, so I can’t see what it really says.

March 9, 2006

Water on a Moon of Saturn?

Filed under: — Different River @ 12:09 pm

Matt Drudge is reporting that NASA is about to announce that the Cassini spacecraft has found evidence of (probably) liquid water on a moon of Saturn:

NASA’s Cassini spacecraft may have found evidence of liquid water reservoirs that erupt in Yellowstone-like geysers on Saturn’s moon Enceladus. The rare occurrence of liquid water so near the surface raises many new questions about the mysterious moon.

“We realize that this is a radical conclusion – that we may have evidence for liquid water within a body so small and so cold,” said Carolyn Porco, Cassini imaging team leader at the Space Science Institute, Boulder, Colo. “However, if we are right, we have significantly broadened the diversity of solar system environments where we might possibly have conditions suitable for living organisms.”

High-resolution Cassini images show icy jets and towering plumes ejecting huge quantities of particles at high speed. Scientists examined several models to explain the process. They ruled out the idea the particles are produced or blown off the moon’s surface by vapor created when warm water ice converts to a gas. Instead, scientists have found evidence for a much more exciting possibility. The jets might be erupting from near-surface pockets of liquid water above 0 degrees Celsius (32 degrees Fahrenheit), like cold versions of the Old Faithful geyser in Yellowstone.

“We previously knew of at most three places where active volcanism exists: Jupiter’s moon Io, Earth, and possibly Neptune’s moon Triton. Cassini changed all that, making Enceladus the latest member of this very exclusive club, and one of the most exciting places in the solar system,” said John Spencer, Cassini scientist, Southwest Research Institute, Boulder.

“Other moons in the solar system have liquid-water oceans covered by kilometers of icy crust,” said Andrew Ingersoll, imaging team member and atmospheric scientist at the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, Calif. “What’s different here is that pockets of liquid water may be no more than tens of meters below the surface.”

Drudge says this is set for release at about 2:00 pm eastern time — about two hours from now.

March 7, 2006

Global Warming Causes Record Snowfall, Right?

Filed under: — Different River @ 6:57 pm

As is his wont, Clayton Cramer has put together another post that mocks global warming with a roundup of record cold weather around the world. This time, it even includes snowstorms in Algeria, a country more noted for the Sahara Desert than any other geographic feature. This is in addition to record cold temperatures across the United States.

As soon as I read this, my first thought is that it would take about 37 seconds to find somebody somewhere who is arguing that record snowfall is proof of global warming, rather than evidence against it. And sure enough, on the first page of my first Google search, I found this little gem — a comment on LuboÅ¡ Motl’s blog (which you may recognize from my blogroll), on a January 26 post noting record snowfall in Boston:

Snow as previously moisture in the air. More snow means there was more moisture in the air. More moisture in the air means more evaporation. More evaporation means that the winds were stronger or the water & air were warmer. More warm, moisture laden air is making its way upto Boston where it collides with Arctic cold air and precipitates snow. It might be a sign of global warming.

Now it is true that snow requires previous evaporation, and more heat means more evaporation — but it will not actually fall as snow unless it is actually cold somewhere. The evaporation could just as easily come back as rain, and if global temperatures were rising, we would expect that the mix of precipitation would involve more rain and less snow. Or even just more vapor staying in the atmosphere, without an increase in overall precipitation. After all, if the heat causes evaporation, it can also cause the water to stay evaporated.

LuboÅ¡ — a physics professor at Harvardresponds appropriately:

“It might be a sign of global warming.”

Well, it’s because for deep religious people, everything is a sign of God, Hell, or Global Warming, whatever their religion is.

Science and rational thinking work very differently, however. One must formulate sharp statements, and if they’re falsified, the theory is dead.Well, it’s because for deep religious people, everything is a sign of God, Hell, or Global Warming, whatever their religion is.

Science and rational thinking work very differently, however. One must formulate sharp statements, and if they’re falsified, the theory is dead.

And this is why global warming is such a great theory politically and such a lousy theory scientifically: regardless of what happens — heat waves, cold spells, more snow, less snow, whatever — it is always spun as something that “might be a sign of global warming.”

After all, it was just over two years ago that record cold temperatures in Europe were being heralded as the latest evidence for global warming. The “theory” was that warming the oceans would foul up the Atlantic gulf stream (which keeps Europe warm), thus driving European temperatures down.

Without the Gulf Stream, temperatures in the UK and north-west Europe would be five degrees centigrade or so cooler, with bitter winters at least as fierce as those of the so-called Little Ice Age in the 17th to 19th centuries.

So wrote Bill McGuire in The Guardian, in an article which was headlined — apparently without intended irony — “Will global warming trigger a new ice age?”

So, if you are a global warming believer, then if temperatures go up it’s because of global warming — and if temperatures go down, it’s also because of global warming. There is no conceivable, let alone actual, evidence that might indicate there is not global warming. No matter what happens, it’s because of global warming.

Global warming is thus inherently unfalsifiable — which means it is not a scientific theory. The most basic requirement for a scientific theory is that it must be in principal falsifiable — that is, it must make some prediction which, if found to be untrue, would be regarded even by the promoter(s) of the theory as evidence that the theory is wrong. The Theory of Gravity is like this. It predicts that things will fall down, unless supported by something — your hand, a table, or in the case of hot-air balloons, denser air. If you drop a bowling ball and it doesn’t fall down, that would be proof that the Theory of Gravity is wrong. Even Isaac Newton would have accepted that proof. But with global warming, there is nothing you can imagine — let along that has actually occured — that would be regarded as a disproof of the global warming theory.

ADDENDUM (3/8/06): Clayton Cramer concluded his post with the statement:

I suspect that the “Global Warming” fantasy will continue until polar bears start to eat environmentalists at global warming conferences in Miami.

I want to go on record as disagreeing — slightly. I think the global warming fantasy will go on until it they switch to warning us against global cooling. Which is what they were warning us against before they started warning us about global warming. As Peter Gwynne wrote in Newsweek in 1975 — in an article entitled “The Cooling World”:

The central fact is that after three quarters of a century of extraordinarily mild conditions, the earth’s climate seems to be cooling down. Meteorologists disagree about the cause and extent of the cooling trend, as well as over its specific impact on local weather conditions. But they are almost unanimous in the view that the trend will reduce agricultural productivity for the rest of the century. If the climatic change is as profound as some of the pessimists fear, the resulting famines could be catastrophic. “A major climatic change would force economic and social adjustments on a worldwide scale,” warns a recent report by the National Academy of Sciences, “because the global patterns of food production and population that have evolved are implicitly dependent on the climate of the present century.”

A survey completed last year by Dr. Murray Mitchell of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reveals a drop of half a degree in average ground temperatures in the Northern Hemisphere between 1945 and 1968. According to George Kukla of Columbia University, satellite photos indicated a sudden, large increase in Northern Hemisphere snow cover in the winter of 1971-72. And a study released last month by two NOAA scientists notes that the amount of sunshine reaching the ground in the continental U.S. diminished by 1.3% between 1964 and 1972.

Well, we see how that prediction worked out.

March 5, 2006

Standard Atomic Weights Revised

Filed under: — Different River @ 4:37 am

I’m a little late on this, but I’ll bet most readers will not have heard this news yet. This comes to us from the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC), which announced in its “News and Notices” in late 2005 that:

Standard Atomic Weights Revised

The Commission on Isotopic Abundances and Atomic Weights (II.1) met for two days, on 10-11 August 2005, during the 43rd IUPAC General Assembly in Beijing. Following its meeting, the Commission released the changes to the standard atomic weights, Ar(E), of 16 chemical elements. The following changes are based on new determinations of isotopic abundances and reviews of previous isotopic abundances and atomic masses:

From To
Aluminium 26.981 538 (2) 26.981 5386 (8)
Bismuth 208.980 38 (2) 208.980 40 (1)
Caesium 132.905 45 (2) 132.905 4519 (2)
Cobalt 58.933 200 (9) 58.933 195 (5)
Gold 196.966 55 (2) 196.966 569 (4)
Lanthanum 138.9055 (2) 138.905 47 (7)
Manganese 54.938 049 (9) 54.938 045 (5)
144.24 (3)
144.242 (3)
Phosphorus 30.973 761 (2) 30.973 762 (2)
195.078 (2)
195.084 (9)
150.36 (3)
150.36 (2)
Scandium 44.955 910 (8) 44.955 912 (6)
Sodium 22.989 770 (2) 22.989 769 28 (2)
180.9479 (1)
180.947 88 (2)
Terbium 158.925 34 (2) 158.925 35 (2)
Thorium 232.0381 (1) 232.038 06 (2)

The values are presented in a concise notation whereby the standard uncertainty is given in parenthesis next to the least significant digits to which it applies; for example, Ar(Al) = 26.981 538 (2) is the concise form of the expression Ar(Al) = 26.981 538 ± 0.000 002

These changes in the atomic weights will be published in a new Table of Standard Atomic Weights 2005, which will be submitted for publication in Pure and Applied Chemistry by the end of 2005. The commission also continued its review of publications of variations in the natural isotopic abundances. For more details about the Commission meeting in Beijing, see Chem. Int.Nov/Dec 2005 issue, Division Roundups on p. 7, or contact Michael E. Wieser <mwieser@ucalgary.ca>, secretary of the Commission.

If you need a new Periodic Table of the Elements, you can download the official IUPAC table here.

And, keep checking back here at Different River for other important updates!

March 2, 2006

Reverse Polish Notation

Filed under: — Different River @ 4:54 pm

If you are a math geek, you will find this to be hilarious. I did!

February 20, 2006

Reporter Pulls a “Bushism”

Filed under: — Different River @ 6:59 pm

Remember a few years ago how reporters were making fun of President Bush for the way he pronounced the word “nuclear”? Well, at least he didn’t say a word that meant something completely different, like this reporter covering President Bush’s visit to a battery factory:

During his visit to Johnson Controls’ new hybrid battery laboratory, Bush checked out two Ford Escapes – one with a nickel-metal-hybrid battery, the kind that powers most hybrid-electric vehicles, and one with a lithium-ion battery, which Johnson Controls believes are the wave of the future.

Umm….. folks, there’s no such thing as a “nickel-metal-hybrid” battery. I’m pretty sure he meant “nickel metal-hydride,” which is the kind of battery used in today’s hybrid cars.

Unlike “nuclear” and “nuculear” which are different pronunciations of the same word even though one is arguably incorrect, “hybrid” and “hydride” are completely different words.

“Hybrid” means “something having two kinds of components that produce the same or similar results.” A “Hydride” is a type of ligand with a metal-hydrogen bond. A “hybrid” has as much to do with a “hydride” as a camel has to do with a toenail.

Of course, don’t expect the so-called “Bushism” ridicule to stop, and don’t expect anybody to start making fun of this reporter for his malapropism. Stupid mistakes only count if they’re made by a Republican.

February 8, 2006

Is Fat OK?

Filed under: — Different River @ 4:03 pm

Could it really be that fat doesn’t increase the risk of cancer — or even of heart disease? The answer seems to be Yes — according to a large-scale study reported in three articles in the current Journal of the American Medical Assocation. The Women’s Health Initiative Dietary Modification Trial studied 48,835 (!) post-menopausal women — that’s a huge number of people for a medical study — with 40% on a low-fat diet and 60% eating whatever they wanted — and found no significant effect of the low-fat diet on heart disease (!), breast cancer, or colorectal cancer. JAMA has the full text of the breast cancer article free on its web site; for the others you need a subscription for the full text, but the abstracts of the colorectal cancer and cardiovascular disease are free.

  1. For cardiovascular disease, there is basically no effect whatsoever from the low-fat diet. LDL cholesterol drops a tiny bit (3 mg/dL) — but there is no effect on heart attacks, strokes, or mortality. And of course, the usual goal of reducing LDL cholesterol is to reduce the change of heart attacks, strokes, and mortality, and this doesn’t accomplish that.
  2. For breast cancer, there are small reductions in the incidence of cancer (too small to be statistically significant by the usual criterion), but there basically no reduction in mortality. There was, however, a significant reduction in two specific types of tumors, which indicates that fat consumption may have some role in breast cancer even if it doesn’t really affect mortality. Then again, they were measuring so many things it’s likely that something would come out “significant” just by change — kind of like how if you get 100 people to flip 5 coins, there’s a 96% somebody is going to get 5 heads in a row.
  3. For colorectal cancer, there is basically no effect whatsoever from the low-fat diet. In the low-fat diet group, some kinds of colorectal cancers occurred at higher rates, and some at lower rates. In fact, the overall rate of death due to colorectal cancer was higher in the low-fat diet group — though not high enough to be statistically significant.

The only real caveat is that this study was only of postmenopausal women between the ages of 50 and 79, it might not be the same for men, or for younger women. But it was a study of 48,835 of them, so it’s quite likely the results are valid for at least that group. (Of course, the rates of breast cancer for men are vanishingly small compared to those for women!)

Note also that while this implies it is OK to eat fat — it does not imply that it is OK to be fat. What it basically means is that if you eat the same number of calories but switch some of the calories from fat to other things (protein, carbohydrates) you don’t get any reductions in cardiovascular disease, breast cancer, or colorectal cancer. However, it doesn’t mean you wouldn’t benefit from reducing fat and not replacing it with something else; that is, reducing your total caloric intake. To put it another way, the study shows that the composition of your calories doesn’t matter, but the total number of calories still might.

For an interesting article on the impact of the study, and for a more non-technical explanation of the results, see this article by Gina Kolata in the New York Times.

I normally don’t find science articles in the general media to be very good, or even true, but Gina Kolata has always seemed to me to be one of the few science reporters who actually knows some science. (Her book on the 1918 flu pandemic is excellent, and is a great read for someone who wants to understand what’s going on with the avian flu that might or might not break out.)

Having read both her article, and the JAMA articles, for once I think the newspaper got a science story basically right.

The lead authors of two of the three articles were originally trained in mathematics and statistics, not medicine. Remember when you were sitting in some math class wondering what that stuff was good for? Well, now you know! ;-)

February 2, 2006

Creative Cooking

Filed under: — Different River @ 5:07 am

You have to see this to believe it. Actually, I saw it and I’m still not sure I believe it.

(For what it’s worth: They refer to cellphones 2 watts of transmitter power. They are in the UK. I believe US handset phones have 0.6 watts of transmitter power, and the old “bag phones” have 3 watts.)

(Hat tip: Judi.)

January 11, 2006

Whole Foods Buys Wind Energy to Increase Pollution

Filed under: — Different River @ 3:31 pm

I can’t believe this guy said this with a straight face:

Whole Foods Commits to Wind Energy

By Steve Quinn, AP Business Writer
Tue Jan 10, 6:56 PM ET

Natural-food grocer Whole Foods Market Inc. said Tuesday it will rely on wind energy for all of its electricity needs, making it the largest corporate user of renewable energy in the United States.

The Austin-based company said it is purchasing 458,000 megawatt-hours of wind energy credits a year — enough to power 44,000 homes annually — from Renewable Choice Energy of Boulder, Colo.

The decision follows the publicly traded company’s mission of environmental stewardship without losing sight of the bottom line, Whole Foods regional president Michael Besancon said.

“It’s a sales driver rather than a cost,” he said. “All of those things we do related to our core values: help drive sales, help convince a customer to drive past three or four other supermarkets on the way to Whole Foods.”

Right: so Whole Foods is buying wind energy so they look to the public like good environmentalists, to convince environmentally-conscious customers to drive more.

If this doesn’t convince you that environmentalism is a religion, what else is it? Environmentalism has rituals — like “use of wind energy” and “recycling” and “shopping at Whole Foods” that believers engage in because they believe in them — even if those activities demonstrably increase pollution, such as driving farther to get to Whole Foods, sending two garbage trucks down every street instead of one (the second to pick up “recyclables”) and so on. It also has beliefs that are not subject to scientific or logical scruitiny, like the idea that recycling is “good for the environment,” and the idea that both warmer temperatures and colder temperatures are evidence of global warming. (Which means, of course that no matter what happens, there never be evidence against global warming.)

Of course, a cynic might say that Whole Foods is just one big corporate scam artist taking advantage of consumers’ beliefs. Kind of like the Church of Scientology and the “Televangelists.”

This is especially the case when you realize that it’s all just a publicity stunt — no “wind energy” will actually end up in Whole Foods stores or offices:

Because power does not flow from wind farms directly to a home or business through a utility grid, Whole Foods is purchasing energy credits — like a voucher — that assure wind energy eventually gets placed on the grid.

So they are not actually “rely[ing] on wind energy” for anything, let alone “all of its electricity needs.” Even if the wind farms go dark, Whole Foods’ lights will stay on. That’s not “relying.”

But still, the gullible reporter writes:

The company began rolling out wind energy for all 173 stores in the United States and Canada last month. Prior to that, 20 percent of its electricity had been from renewable sources.

So, “power does not flow from wind farms directly” to their 173 stores, but they will, nevertheless be “rolling out wind energy for all 173 stores.” But if power does not flow from wind farms to the stores, what can that possibly mean?

Personally, I think it means that a publicity campaign touting their alleged use of wind energy will be rolling out at their 173 stores.

Besancon declined to discuss the cost of the purchase but said it was in line with the company’s current utility budget.

He won’t tell you how much his other adversiting programs cost, either.

January 5, 2006

Global Warming Has Shifted Ocean Currents

Filed under: — Different River @ 3:22 am

55 Million years ago, anyway….

An extraordinary burst of global warming that occurred around 55 million years ago dramatically reversed Earth’s pattern of ocean currents, a finding that strengthens modern-day concern about climate change, a study says.

The big event, the Palaeocene/Eocene Thermal Maximum (PETM), saw the planet’s surface temperature rise by between five and eight degrees C (nine and 16.2 F) in a very short time, unleashing climate shifts that endured tens of thousands of years.

Between 5 and 8 degrees Celsius! Egads! Even nowadays, the most pessimistic estimates nowadays say we’ve only had 0.6 of a degree in the last century.

Gosh, what kind of SUVs must they have been driving 55 million years ago? Is this what wiped out the dinosaurs? Or was it too many fire-breathing dragons?

December 29, 2005

2005 is a Leap Year?

Filed under: — Different River @ 7:44 pm

Well, sort of. The last minute of 2005 will be 61 seconds long, as a leap second is added to the year. To keep all the time zones in sync, that will be the “last minute of 2005, coordinated universal time” (which is the new name for Greenwich mean time) — which will be right before 7pm on the U.S. erast coast (for example).

Remember to reset your watches! Or, as Samantha Burns puts it, “That’s just great. Now my whole year is going to be thrown off schedule.”

Why does this have to happen? Because the earth doesn’t rotate at exactly hte same speed every day. A few years ago I heard a scientist quoted as saying, “We have to synchronize our super-accurate atomic clocks with our llousy earth clock.”

December 26, 2005

Is this Religious Neutrality?

Filed under: — Different River @ 11:02 pm

Richard John Neuhaus’ column “While We’re At It” in the back pages of the journal First Things is basically a “printed blog” that pre-dated the online blogs. In the January 2006 issue (not online yet), he writes:

Student from Christian high schools are having a hard time getting accepted at the University of California, Riverside. The university deems some of the high school courses to be biased in favor of Christianity. The curricular review extends to religion classes. “Religion and ethics courses are acceptable,” says the university, “as long as they do not include among its [sic] primary goals the personal religious growth of the student.” If only we were makeing this up.

In 1968, Supreme Court Justice Abe Fortas wrote: “The First Amendment mandates governmental neutrality between religion and religion, and between religion and non-religion.”

The University of California, Riverside is a public — that is, government — university. And this does not look like “neutrality … between religion and non-religion” to me. Where is the ACLU when you need them?

More detail on the controversy — and the lawsuit — here and here. The issue is not limited to Riverside, but to all 10 branches of the University of California. From this article by Mark Earley:

Calvary[ Chapel Christian School]’s science classes are also not up to snuff, according to UC. A textbook by Prentice Hall, Conceptual Physics, is considered acceptable—which is why Calvary is using it. But the textbook they used to use, titled Physics for Christian Schools, contains exactly the same information. The difference? There’s a Bible verse and theological preface for every chapter. And according to UC chemistry professor Barbara Sawrey, the verses alone disqualify the textbook.

Talk about condemning yourself out of your own mouth! These comments make it clear that shutting down the Christian viewpoint is indeed what UC is up to.

December 22, 2005

Synthetic Life?

Filed under: — Different River @ 3:52 am

Matt Drudge links to this story in the Globe and Mail:

Work on the world’s first human-made species is well under way at a research complex in Rockville, Md., and scientists in Canada have been quietly conducting experiments to help bring such a creature to life.

Robert Holt, head of sequencing for the Genome Science Centre at the University of British Columbia, is leading efforts at his Vancouver lab to play a key role in the production of the first synthetic life form — a microbe made from scratch.

I can’t help but be reminded of this joke:

One day a group of scientists got together and decided that man had come a long way and no longer needed God. So they picked one scientist to go and tell Him that they were done with Him.

The scientist walked up to God and said, “God, we’ve decided that we no longer need you. We’re to the point that we can clone people and do many miraculous things, so why don’t you just go on and get lost.”

God listened very patiently and kindly to the man and after the scientist was done talking, God said, “Very well, how about this, let’s say we have a man making contest.” To which the scientist replied, “OK, great!”

But God added, “Now, we’re going to do this just like I did back in the old days with Adam.”

The scientist said, “Sure, no problem” and bent down and grabbed himself a handful of dirt.

God just looked at him and said, “No, no, no. You go get your own dirt!”

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