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Topic: Science & TechnologyThe new items published under this topic are as follows.
Friday, September 13, 2013
Science & Technology
US National Security Agency notes: Silencing university professors? & Has NSA impersonated Google and possibly other major internet sites in order to intercept, store, and read supposedly secure online communications?
America's system of research universities is the best in the world. No one argues with that. It's one of biggest advantages this nation has. If it becomes captive to government and handmaiden to the surveillance state, that would be an economic and cultural crime of monstrous proportions. - Jay RosenPosted at: Friday, September 13, 2013 - 06:51 PM -- Posted by: Jim Scott -- Permalink: (#)
Google has been redoubling its efforts to thwart NSA snooping, though its not clear whether those efforts include new ways to thwart MITM [man-in-the-middle] attacks. The company responded to detailed questions from Mother Jones with a short statement: "As for recent reports that the US government has found ways to circumvent our security systems, we have no evidence of any such thing ever occurring," said spokesman Jay Nancarrow. "We provide our user data to governments only in accordance with the law." - Josh Harkinson reporting
The NSA’s next move: Silencing university professors?
Jay Rosen theguardian.com UK September 10, 2013
On September 9, Johns Hopkins University asked one of its professors to take down a blog post on the NSA. Photo: AP. Visit this page for its embedded links.
This actually happened yesterday:
A professor in the computer science department at Johns Hopkins, a leading American university, had written a post on his blog, hosted on the university's servers, focused on his area of expertise, which is cryptography. The post was highly critical of the government, specifically the National Security Agency, whose reckless behavior in attacking online security astonished him.
Professor Matthew Green wrote on 5 September:
I was totally unprepared for today's bombshell revelations describing the NSA's efforts to defeat encryption. Not only does the worst possible hypothetical I discussed appear to be true, but it's true on a scale I couldn't even imagine.
The post was widely circulated online because it is about the sense of betrayal within a community of technical people who had often collaborated with the government. (I linked to it myself.)
On Monday, he gets a note from the acting dean of the engineering school asking him to take the post down and stop using the NSA logo as clip art in his posts. The email also informs him that if he resists he will need a lawyer. The professor runs two versions of the same site: one hosted on the university's servers, one on Google's blogger.com service. He tells the dean that he will take down the site mirrored on the university's system but not the one on blogger.com. He also removes the NSA logo from the post. Then, he takes to Twitter. ...
The professor says he was told that someone at the Applied Physics Laboratory, a research institute with longstanding ties to the Department of Defense and the National Security Agency, determined that his blog post was hosting or linking to classified material, and sounded the alarm, which led to the takedown request from the dean. He says he thought Johns Hopkins University, his employer, had come down "on the wrong side of common sense and academic freedom", particularly since the only classified material he had linked to was from news reports in the Guardian, the New York Times and ProPublica.org – information available to the public.
Word gets around, and by late afternoon, the press starts asking questions. Now, Johns Hopkins is worried about how it looks in the media. The university bureaucracy scrambles the jets and comes up with a statement:
The university received information this morning that Matthew Green's blog contained a link or links to classified material and also used the NSA logo. For that reason, we asked professor Green to remove the Johns Hopkins-hosted mirror site for his blog. Upon further review, we note that the NSA logo has been removed and that he appears to link to material that has been published in the news media. Interim Dean Andrew Douglas has informed professor Green that the mirror site may be restored.
So the university backs down, leaving many unanswered questions. Possibly, they will be addressed today. (Update: Johns Hopkins dean apologizes.) Here are some on my list: ...
In commenting critically on a subject he is expert in, and taking an independent stance that asks hard questions and puts the responsibility where it belongs, Matthew Green is doing exactly what a university faculty member is supposed to be doing. By putting his thoughts in a blog post that anyone can read and link to, he is contributing to a vital public debate, which is exactly what universities need to be doing more often. Instead of trying to get Matthew Green's blog off their servers, the deans should be trying to get more faculty into blogging and into the public arena. Who at Johns Hopkins is speaking up for these priorities? And why isn't the Johns Hopkins faculty roaring about this issue? (I teach at New York University, and I'm furious.) ...
Below: "Man in the middle" attacks would let the spy agency gather data without breaking encryption.
Report: NSA mimics Google to monitor "target" web users
Josh Harkinson Mother Jones USA September 12, 2013
Visit this page for its embedded links.
Buried in a Brazilian television report on Sunday was the disclosure that the NSA has impersonated Google and possibly other major internet sites in order to intercept, store, and read supposedly secure online communications. The spy agency accomplishes this using what's known as a "man-in-the-middle (MITM) attack," a fairly well-known exploit used by elite hackers. This revelation adds to the growing list of ways that the NSA is believed to snoop on ostensibly private online conversations.
In what appears to be a slide taken from an NSA presentation that also contains some GCHQ slides, the agency describes "how the attack was done" on "target" Google users. According to the document, NSA employees log into an internet router—most likely one used by an internet service provider or a backbone network. (It's not clear whether this was done with the permission or knowledge of the router's owner.) Once logged in, the NSA redirects the "target traffic" to an "MITM," a site that acts as a stealthy intermediary, harvesting communications before forwarding them to their intended destination.
The brilliance of an MITM attack is that it defeats encryption without actually needing to crack any code. If you visit an impostor version of your bank's website, for example, the NSA could harvest your login and password, use that information to establish a secure connection with your real bank, and feed you the resulting account information—all without you knowing.
Browsers are supposed to automatically foil MITM attacks, John Hopkins University cryptography expert Matthew Green told me. They rely on data from of certificate authorities, which verify the legitimacy of websites and issue them certificates, or digital stamps of approval. Browsers automatically ask for these certificates and alert you if they don't exist—you may have encountered such pop-up warnings.
But here's where that system breaks down: Not all certificate authorities are completely trustworthy. "If you are big enough and spend enough money," Green says, "you can actually get them to give you your own signing key"—the signature that they use to certify websites. With that, the NSA could create a fake certificate for any site on the internet, which is probably what it did when it impersonated Google, Green says. "This is actually relatively easy to do," he adds, "because there are so many certificate authorities"—between 100 and 200. ...
Thursday, June 20, 2013
Science & Technology
Will McDonald's serve genetically modified fries? & New study links GMO food to leukemia
THE J. R. SIMPLOT COMPANYPosted at: Thursday, June 20, 2013 - 03:25 PM -- Posted by: Jim Scott -- Permalink: (#)
The J. R. Simplot Company is one of the largest privately held food and agribusiness companies in the nation, though at heart we’re as small as a single farmer. We pioneer innovations in plant nutrition and food processing, research new ways to feed animals and sustain ecosystems, and strive to feed a growing global population. At Simplot, we’re in the business of Bringing Earth’s Resources to Life.
The J. R. Simplot Company says:
Innate™ makes it possible to enhance a potato plant’s desirable traits without introducing foreign genes into the plant. Innate™ potatoes are less susceptible to black spot from bruising caused by impact and pressure during harvest and storage than conventional potatoes and have lower levels of asparagine and sugars. These potatoes pose no environmental risk, create no harm to other species, and grow just like conventional potatoes in extensive field tests.
For more information on Innate™, please visit our website.
Q&A with Haven Baker on Simplot’s Innate™ potatoes
Karl Haro von Mogel Biology Frortified, Inc. USA May 8, 2013
Visit this page for its embedded links.
There’s a new genetically engineered potato in town that doesn’t brown when cut or fried, nor does it make acrylamide. J. R. Simplot Company petitioned the USDA to deregulate their Innate™ potatoes, and the public comment period has just been opened up on that petition. We sent Simplot some questions about their new potatoes and the technology used to make them, and their Vice President of Plant Sciences, Haven Baker, was happy to respond. Here is that interview, and if you have more questions about it feel free to ask more, as we have asked Haven to stick around for the discussion. ...
2. It seems that “Innate” is more than just the traits, but is a technology for introducing many traits into potatoes. Can you tell us how this works? Is it intragenic/cisgenic? Why did you choose the name “Innate”?
We thought “Innate” technology was an appropriate term because of the inherent nature of the potato DNA transferring to the potato plant. Simplot’s Innate™ technologies allow researchers to isolate genetic elements from any plant genome, rearrange them, or link them together in desired permutations, and introduce them back into the genome. Inserting an extra copy of a gene into the potato activates a self-defense mechanism known as RNA interference, which silences the genes related to expression of black spot bruise, asparagine, and reducing sugars in tubers.
The inserted genes come from cultivated potatoes or wild potatoes (a group of related plant species that are sexually-compatible with potatoes). We incorporate no foreign genes, no antibiotic resistance markers, and no vector backbone sequences, into the plant genome. ...
Will McDonald's serve genetically modified fries?
Monica Eng Chicago Tribune USA June 18, 2013
Visit this page for its embedded link.
Ahead of a federal approval decision on genetically engineered potatoes, a national consumer group today launched a campaign that urges McDonald's to refuse to serve genetically engineered fries.
National consumer and environmental group Food & Water Watch is asking the fast food giant to "publicly refuse to source the 'Innate'-brand genetically engineered (GE) potato now up for regulatory approval by U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). The GE potato developer, J.R. Simplot, currently provides McDonald’s with most of the potatoes it uses in its french fries."
This afternoon McDonald's USA told the Tribune in a statement that, "Food biotechnology is allowed and permitted in the U.S. by local and federal government regulatory bodies, including the FDA and USDA." But "Currently, our potato supply does not include genetically engineered potatoes.
"McDonald’s USA reviews, on a case-by-case basis, the status of regulatory approvals, customer acceptance, prospective consumer benefits, cost and potential safety and environmental impacts of specific food items as they become available to the market." ...
While McDonald's response did not say whether it planned to use the potatoes, it stressed that "Our goal is quality food above all else."
Related: Some may say this is comparing 'apples and oranges' but bioengineering ("the application of the life sciences, mathematics and engineering principles to define and solve problems in biology, medicine, healthcare, and other fields") has many guises. Genetic engineering is a sub category of bioengineering. Genetic engineering, recombinant DNA technology, genetic modification/manipulation (GM) and gene splicing are terms that are applied to the direct manipulation of an organism's genes. Genetic engineering is not to be confused with traditional breeding where the organism's genes are manipulated indirectly. Genetic engineering uses the techniques of molecular cloning and transformation. The report discussed below was written by researchers from the Department of Genetics and Morphology and the Institute of Biological Sciences at the University of Brasilia. Brazil. "[O]ur study demonstrated that Bt spore-crystals genetically modified to express individually Cry1Aa, Cry1Ab, Cry1Ac or Cry2A induced hematotoxicity, particularly to the erythroid lineage," wrote the authors. "This finding corroborates literature that demonstrated that alkali-solubilized Bt spore-crystals caused in vitro hemolysis in cell lines of rat, mouse, sheep, horse, and human erythrocytes and suggested that the plasma membrane of susceptible cells (erythrocytes, in this case) may be the primary target for these toxins."
New study links GMO food to leukemia
Sayer Ji GreenMedInfo blog USA May 12, 2013
Visit this page for its embedded and appended links.
A groundbreaking new study published in the current issue of the Journal of Hematology & Thromboembolic Diseases reveals the potential "leukemogenic" properties of the Bt toxin biopesticides engineered into the vast majority of GMO food crops already within the US food supply.
Last September, the causal link between cancer and genetically modified food was confirmed in a French study, the first independent long-term animal feeding study not commissioned by the biotech corporations themselves. The disturbing details can be found here: New Study Finds GM Corn and Roundup Causes Cancer In Rats
Now, a new study published in the Journal of Hematology & Thromboembolic Diseases indicates that the biopesticides engineered into GM crops known as Bacillus Thuringensis (Bt) or Cry-toxins, may also contribute to blood abnormalities from anemia to hematological malignancies (blood cancers) such as leukemia.[i] ...
The authors noted their results "demonstrate leukemogenic activity for other spore-crystals not yet reported in the literature."
[R]esults showed that the Bt spore-crystals genetically modified to express individually Cry1Aa, Cry1Ab, Cry1Ac or Cry2A can cause some hematological risks to vertebrates,increasing their toxic effects with long-term exposure. Taking into account the increased risk of human and animal exposures to significant levels of these toxins, especially through diet, our results suggest that further studies are required to clarify the mechanism involved in the hematotoxicity found in mice, and to establish the toxicological risks to non-target organisms, especially mammals, before concluding that these microbiological control agents are safe for mammals.
Did you get that? Their conclusion is that it is premature to consider GM toxins to be safe in mammals. Billions have already been exposed to Bt toxins, in combination with glyphosate-based herbicide formulations such as Roundup, and yet, most biotech research scientists and industry regulators still claim they are unequivocally safe. This has much to do with the well-known relationship that biotech corporations like Monsanto have with so-called 'check book' science firms who are basically paid to obfuscate adverse health outcomes of their products, such as the GMO-Cancer link. ...
Consider also that the question of combined toxicity of Cry toxins and glyphosate-based residues within plants have not been sufficiently explored, and that glyphosate exposure has already been linked to non-Hodgkins lymphoma and hairy cell leukemia in the biomedical literature.[ii]
The reality is that we no longer have time to wait around for additional research to accumulate on the adverse health effects of GMOs, especially considering the biotech industry has far more capital to infuse into their own faux research on the topic.
Some, in fact, argue that we should not be waiting around for the corrupt legislative process to compel manufacturers to label GMOs, rather, we should be fighting to ban them altogether, advocating for the precautionary principle before it is too late to undo the damage to our biosphere. ...
GMOs linked to blood cell disorders, leukemia: New study
Ethan A. Huff Natual News USA June 19, 2013
Widespread industry claims that the altered traits of genetically-modified organisms (GMOs) do not persist in food and are thus harmless to humans have once again been proven to be false. A new study published in the open-access, peer-reviewed Journal of Hematology & Thromboembolic Diseases has revealed that GMOs indeed damage and toxify human blood cells, and can consequently lead to the development of deadly blood diseases like anemia and leukemia. ...
Even at the lowest dose tested, Cry toxins were observed to induce damage to bone marrow cells and cause anemia, the latter of which is marked by a lack of red blood cells and hemoglobin in the system. And this was in vertebrate mammals, a species that Monsanto and the rest of the biotechnology cabal has long claimed is not affected by Bt toxin and its resultant toxic byproducts. In the end, damage caused by Cry toxin exposure was found to result in severe hematological malignancies such as leukemia, a deadly type of blood cancer.
"[O]ur study demonstrated that Bt spore-crystals genetically modified to express individually Cry1Aa, Cry1Ab, Cry1Ac or Cry2A induced hematotoxicity, particularly to the erythroid lineage," wrote the authors. "This finding corroborates literature that demonstrated that alkali-solubilized Bt spore-crystals caused in vitro hemolysis in cell lines of rat, mouse, sheep, horse, and human erythrocytes and suggested that the plasma membrane of susceptible cells (erythrocytes, in this case) may be the primary target for these toxins."
Beyond their inherent toxicity to humans, Cry toxins were also found to activate this toxicity much more easily than previously believed. Rather than have to be exposed to an alkaline pH in the digestive tract of a susceptible species in order to become active, Cry toxins were found to elicit their adverse effects after merely being exposed to distilled water. Cry toxins were also found to bioaccumulate in the body over time, causing progressively more damage in the long term.
"Taking into account the increased risk of human and animal exposures to significant levels of these toxins, especially through diet, our results suggest that further studies are required to clarify the mechanism involved in the hematotoxicity found in mice, and to establish the toxicological risks to non-target organisms, especially mammals, before concluding that these microbiological control agents are safe for mammals," added the authors.
In other words, there is no sound scientific basis for the use of such toxins in food products consumed by humans, as they are clearly unsafe. Put another way, if independent studies such as this one had been required to be conducted prior to the approval of GM crops with Bt traits, such crops never would have been approved in the first place, as it would have been abundantly evident from the start that they are not safe for human consumption.
Science & Technology
How does the organic industry regulate processing aids?
"Questions and Anwers about Processing Aids Used in Modern Food Production"Posted at: Thursday, June 20, 2013 - 02:35 PM -- Posted by: Jim Scott -- Permalink: (#)
Food Insight USA July 6, 2010
... Processing aids are substances that are approved by both the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). They are used in the production of a variety of foods – meat, poultry, produce, etc., ...
Below: Organic agriculture in the United States (US) has been federally regulated since October 2002. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) accredits certifying agents. Organic food is labelled in the US using a USDA seal. Organic food can fall into the categories: “100 percent organic”, “organic” (meaning more than 95 percent organic), or “made with organic ingredients” (at least 70 percent organic). Only 100 percent organic and organic foods with 95 percent organic ingredients can carry the US Organic seal.
How does the organic industry regulate processing aids?
Cookson Beecher Food Safety News USA June 17, 2013
Visit this page for its embedded links.
The crunch of a good organic apple. The taste of a sun-warmed organic tomato. The welcome chunk of an organic potato in a potato salad. The distinctive flavor of an organic hamburger.
Without a doubt, fresh organic foods are a popular mainstay in grocery stores and at farmers markets across the nation. But what about processed organic foods such as applesauce or juice, tomato sauce, frozen meals, potato chips and sausages? Not to mention organic ice creams and desserts? Or jelly beans and cookies and even vodka? How are they processed and what “processing aids” are used to make them? Which ones are allowed and which ones are prohibited?
As a consumer, this is an important issue because the growth of processed organic foods has been explosive. It’s definitely not just fresh produce or meat anymore.
Not surprisingly, a great deal of thought has gone into this. According to an Organic Trade Association backgrounder, the National Organic Standards Board in 1995 completed a “massive review” of materials used by organic producers. The board’s recommendations served as the foundation for what is referred to as the “National List.”
In 2003, shortly after the USDA’s National Organic Program was officially implemented in 2002, the National List was updated and continues to be updated.
The importance of the list was highlighted back in 2001 in comments made by Keith Jones, then program manager of the USDA’s National Organic Program, during a videoconference sponsored by the Institute of Food Technologists.
“We know that there are a lot of common processing aids that are used across the country that are not on the National List,” he said. “And if it’s not on the National List, come Oct. 21, 2002, you cannot use that particular ingredient or processing aid and label a product as organic.”
Although the emphasis was, and continues to be, on organics, food safety does come into the picture. For example, some of the processing aids are cleaning agents used to wash packaging equipment. As investigations of food poisoning outbreaks have often revealed, potentially deadly pathogens can harbor in processing equipment.
For an item to be included on the list (there are actually six parts to the list, the last several of which deal with processing aids), it must be approved by the National Organic Standards Board and the USDA. ...
Advocates for organics say that the importance given to processing aids is yet another example of the emphasis organics puts on how food is produced — from the seed to how the food is processed. It’s what consumers expect, they say. ...
Below: For more than a decade, the Food Safety Network (FSN) has been Canada’s most comprehensive and trusted centre of information and research on food safety issues. As an independent, non-profit organization, the FSN provides a unique and reliable service using current food safety knowledge to help consumers and health professionals make informed decisions. The FSN team of experienced, professional researchers based at the University of Guelph is dedicated to inform people about food safety issues and reducing food-related illnesses in Canada. The Food Safety Network is funded by a mix of public, private and foundation sources.
Organic food production
Food Science Network Canada n.d. © 2013
Organic farming is a method of food production. The use of synthetic pesticides and fertilizers, genetically engineered plants, and artificial growth regulators and feed additives are not permitted on organically certified farms. The principal goal of organic production, according to the National Standard of Canada, is to develop productive enterprises that are sustainable and harmonious with the environment.
In Canada, the organic agricultural industry was self-regulated in all provinces except British Columbia and Quebec. The need for federal government regulation was identified to meet standards for international trade and to protect consumers against deceptive and misleading labelling practices. After a two year consultation process, the Organic Products Regulations under the Canada Agricultural Products Act were published in the Canada Gazette in December, 2006. Organic products must continue to meet the requirements set out in the Consumer Packaging and Labelling Act, the Food and Drugs Act, and all other applicable legislation. The Organic Products Regulations will become mandatory in December, 2008.
The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) will manage and enforce the regulations. In order for products to be certified organic, production methods must comply with the Canadian standard for organic production, titled Organic Production Systems — General Principles and Management Standards. Feeds, processing aids, and all other substances must follow the Permitted Substances List. The Canada Organic logo will be permitted on certified organic foods and on multi-ingredient food products containing at least 95 percent organic ingredients. Food products containing less than 95 percent organic ingredients can make labelling claims about the organic ingredients. ...
Sunday, June 9, 2013
Science & Technology
Physics's 'scaly anteaters': Theoretical physicists, enamored of mathematical elegance, impose patterns on muddled reality. Is this a science or a genre of storytelling?
Theoretical physicists, enamored of mathematical elegance, impose patterns on muddled reality. Is this a science or a genre of storytelling? Author Margaret Wertheim is an Australian-born science writer and director of the Institute For Figuring in Los Angeles. Her latest book is Physics on the Fringe (2011).Posted at: Sunday, June 09, 2013 - 04:11 PM -- Posted by: Jim Scott -- Permalink: (#)
Photo: A pangolin. A pangolin is a mammal of the order Pholidota. The one extant family, Manidae, has one genus, Manis, which comprises eight species. A number of extinct species are known. A pangolin has large keratin scales covering its skin, the only known mammal with this adaptation.
Margaret Wertheim Aeon UK June 3, 2013
Theoretical physics is beset by a paradox that remains as mysterious today as it was a century ago: at the subatomic level things are simultaneously particles and waves. Like the duck-rabbit illusion first described in 1899 by the Polish-born American psychologist Joseph Jastrow, subatomic reality appears to us as two different categories of being.
But there is another paradox in play. Physics itself is riven by the competing frameworks of quantum theory and general relativity, whose differing descriptions of our world eerily mirror the wave-particle tension. When it comes to the very big and the extremely small, physical reality appears to be not one thing, but two. Where quantum theory describes the subatomic realm as a domain of individual quanta, all jitterbug and jumps, general relativity depicts happenings on the cosmological scale as a stately waltz of smooth flowing space-time. General relativity is like Strauss — deep, dignified and graceful. Quantum theory, like jazz, is disconnected, syncopated, and dazzlingly modern.
Physicists are deeply aware of the schizophrenic nature of their science and long to find a synthesis, or unification. Such is the goal of a so-called ‘theory of everything’. However, to non-physicists, these competing lines of thought, and the paradoxes they entrain, can seem not just bewildering but absurd. In my experience as a science writer, no other scientific discipline elicits such contradictory responses.
This schism was brought home to me starkly some months ago when, in the course of a fortnight, I happened to participate in two public discussion panels, one with a cosmologist at Caltech, Pasadena, the other with a leading literary studies scholar from the University of Southern Carolina. On the panel with the cosmologist, a researcher whose work I admire, the discussion turned to time, about which he had written a recent, and splendid, book. Like philosophers, physicists have struggled with the concept of time for centuries, but now, he told us, they had locked it down mathematically and were on the verge of a final state of understanding. In my Caltech friend’s view, physics is a progression towards an ever more accurate and encompassing Truth. My literary theory panellist was having none of this. A Lewis Carroll scholar, he had joined me for a discussion about mathematics in relation to literature, art and science. For him, maths was a delightful form of play, a ludic formalism to be admired and enjoyed; but any claims physicists might make about truth in their work were, in his view, ‘nonsense’. This mathematically based science, he said, was just ‘another kind of storytelling’.
On the one hand, then, physics is taken to be a march toward an ultimate understanding of reality; on the other, it is seen as no different in status to the understandings handed down to us by myth, religion and, no less, literary studies. Because I spend my time about equally in the realms of the sciences and arts, I encounter a lot of this dualism. Depending on whom I am with, I find myself engaging in two entirely different kinds of conversation. Can we all be talking about the same subject? ...
Related: On human consciousness: Concerning the seen and unseen in contemporoary physics or 'Inspiration is needed in geometry, just as much as in poetry'
Salt Spring News British Columbia Canada June 2, 2013
Seven links. We introduced them thus:
Inspiration is needed in geometry, just as much as in poetry. - Russian author Aleksander Sergeevich Pushkin (1799-1837). Puskin is considered by many to be the greatest Russian poet and the founder of modern Russian literature. Puskin was fatally wounded in a duel with the man he accused of seducing his wife. Puskin died two days later. He was 37. But enough of metaphor, on to the subject here, dueling scientists armed with equations.
Sunday, June 2, 2013
Science & Technology
On human consciousness: Concerning the seen and unseen in contemporoary physics or 'Inspiration is needed in geometry, just as much as in poetry'
Inspiration is needed in geometry, just as much as in poetry. - Russian author Aleksander Sergeevich Pushkin (1799-1837). Puskin is considered by many to be the greatest Russian poet and the founder of modern Russian literature. Puskin was fatally wounded in a duel with the man he accused of seducing his wife. Puskin died two days later. He was 37. But enough of metaphor, on to the subject here, dueling scientists armed with equations.Posted at: Sunday, June 02, 2013 - 02:59 PM -- Posted by: Jim Scott -- Permalink: (#)
Below: Far from having replaced metaphysics, science is in a mess and needs help. Einstein saw it coming. As physics spins out into ever-more abstract realms, the field drifts toward incoherence. Raymond Tallis’s cure? More philosophy.
Philosophy isn't dead yet
Raymond Tallis Guardian UK May 27, 2013
‘The attempt to fit consciousness into the material world, usually by identifying it with activity in the brain, has failed dismally.' Photo: Victor de Schwanberg/Alamy. Visit this page for its embedded links.
In 2010 Stephen Hawking, in The Grand Design, announced that philosophy was "dead" because it had "not kept up with modern developments in science, particularly physics". He was not referring to ethics, political theory or aesthetics. He meant metaphysics, the branch of philosophy that aspires to the most general understanding of nature – of space and time, the fundamental stuff of the world. If philosophers really wanted to make progress, they should abandon their armchairs and their subtle arguments, wise up to maths and listen to the physicists.
This view has significant support among philosophers in the English-speaking world. Bristol philosopher James Ladyman, who argues that metaphysics should be naturalised, and who describes the accusation of "scientism" as "badge of honour", is by no means an isolated case.
But there could not be a worse time for philosophers to surrender the baton of metaphysical inquiry to physicists. Fundamental physics is in a metaphysical mess and needs help. The attempt to reconcile its two big theories, general relativity and quantum mechanics, has stalled for nearly 40 years. Endeavours to unite them, such as string theory, are mathematically ingenious but incomprehensible even to many who work with them. This is well known. A better-kept secret is that at the heart of quantum mechanics is a disturbing paradox – the so-called measurement problem, arising ultimately out of the Uncertainty Principle – which apparently demonstrates that the very measurements that have established and confirmed quantum theory should be impossible. Oxford philosopher of physics David Wallace has argued that this threatens to make quantum mechanics incoherent which can be remedied only by vastly multiplying worlds.
Beyond these domestic problems there is the failure of physics to accommodate conscious beings. The attempt to fit consciousness into the material world, usually by identifying it with activity in the brain, has failed dismally, if only because there is no way of accounting for the fact that certain nerve impulses are supposed to be conscious (of themselves or of the world) while the overwhelming majority (physically essentially the same) are not. In short, physics does not allow for the strange fact that matter reveals itself to material objects (such as physicists). ...
Below: Ninety-six percent of the universe is dark energy and dark matter. We know almost nothing about them. Now Lisa Randall says she has found a clue. The famed cosmologist unveils her latest theories on the invisible universe, extra dimensions and human consciousness.
Lisa Randall’s guide to the galaxy
Ron Rosenbaum Smithsonian Magazine USA June 2013
Lisa Randall is the first female theoretical physicist tenured at Harvard. Photo: Andreas Pein/LAIF/ Redux
Lisa Randall is telling me she may have a clue to the next great mystery in cosmology.
We are having lunch in a restaurant at the Charles Hotel, not far from Harvard where she teaches theoretical physics, with specialties in particle physics, string theory, mathematics, astrophysics and cosmology. Randall, a slender woman, now 50, reminds one of a younger Joan Didion— light-years of consciousness behind her eyes.
She is a star professor of the stars, a cosmological celebrity, and only in part because she is the first female theoretical physicist tenured at Harvard . It was really her conjecture in the late ’90s about string theory’s “extra dimensions” that gained her prominence in the field. She garnered more attention for her explication of the Higgs boson quest, and for her subsequent writings attempting to explain to the rest of us what she does and how exciting it is to do it, most recently Knocking on Heaven’s Door.
And now she thinks she and her Harvard physics colleagues have found something new. What she is excited about is “dark matter,” which—along with “dark energy”—makes up the vast majority of the known universe. The current estimate is that 70 percent of the universe is dark energy and 26 percent dark matter. Which adds up to 96 percent. Meaning that what we see and know adds up to a measly 4 percent.
Four percent! The invisible 96 percent apparently keeps the universe in gravitational equilibrium, preventing it from collapsing on itself or dissipating into virtual nothingness. But we know almost nothing else about it. The problem has been that the dark stuff doesn’t seem to interact with the 4 percent we know in such a way that gives us a clue to its nature.
But Randall believes she may have found a clue. ...
Although Randall’s work takes her thoughts into outer space, it is a question about another dimension, inner space, that she gives the most elaborate answer to during our lunch. The subject comes up near the end, as she is spearing forkfuls of my blueberry cobbler. I ask her about human consciousness—the dark matter within us—namely whether she has thought about the mind/brain question: Is the mind the product of the brain, all our thoughts neurochemically determined (as the “materialists” say), or is the mind not a slave of the physical brain, somehow capable of free will (as the “dualists” believe)? Or can we never answer that question? The philosopher Colin McGinn calls himself a “Mysterian” as an homage to the ’60s one-hit wonder band (“96 Tears”) Question Mark & The Mysterians because he thinks our consciousness may never be capable of comprehending the mystery of its own nature.
Randall seems to take McGinn’s argument as a challenge: “First, I think it’s always a mistake to say ‘never,’ because we probably can understand a lot more about it even if we don’t ultimately understand it. Second, we haven’t been trying to answer this question for a very long time. We understand a lot of things now that we didn’t understand before. And it’s terrifically hard, because we don’t even know what we mean by consciousness.” ...
Tyger, tyger, burning bright
The first stanza (and also the final stanza) of William Blake's poem, "The Tyger". The poem was published as part of his collection Songs of Experience in 1794. "The Tyger" is about having your reason overwhelmed at once by the beauty and the horror of the natural world. Of the poem, Ed Friedlander wrote:
... Although Blake was hostile (as I am, and as most real scientists are) to attempts to reduce all phenomena to chemistry and physics, Blake greatly appreciated the explosion of scientific knowledge during his era. But there is something about seeing a Tyger that you can't learn from a zoology class. The sense of awe and fear defy reason. And Blake's contemporary "rationalists" who had hoped for a tame, gentle world guided by kindness and understanding must face the reality of the Tyger. ...
Eric Weinstein has formulated a mathematical theory that purports to explain why the universe works the way it does. Does he have 'the answer'? Most physicists working on unification are trying to create a quantum version of general relativity, informed by the list of particles in the standard model of physics. Weinstein believes we should instead start with the basic geometric tools of general relativity and work at extending the equations in mathematically natural ways, without worrying whether they fit with the observable universe. Once you have such equations in hand, you can try to match them up with reality. A symmetry, if you will, of data and theory. Marcus du Sautoy thinks "Eric Weinstein may have found the answer to physics' biggest problems". He says:
... It has been a privilege to be one of the first to see the ideas that Weinstein is proposing. This is such a major project spanning huge stretches of mathematics and physics that it will take some time to realise the full implications of the ideas. And just as Einstein's general theory of relativity took some years to stabilise there are likely to be modifications to the theory before it is complete. But for me what is so appealing about Weinstein's ideas is the naturalness of the story, the way things aren't arbitrarily inserted to make the theory fit the data but instead emerge as a necessary part of the mathematics.
Weinstein begins the paper in which he explains his proposal with a quote from Einstein: "What really interests me is whether God had any choice in the creation of the world." Weinstein's theory answers this in spades. Very little in the universe is arbitrary. The mathematics explains why it should work the way it does. If this isn't a description of how our universe works then frankly I'd prefer to move to the universe where it does!
How to test Weinstein's provocative theory of everything
Jacob Aron New Scientist USA May 31, 2013
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Physicists have a problem, and they will be the first to admit it. The two mathematical frameworks that govern modern physics, quantum mechanics and general relativity, just don't play nicely together despite decades of attempts at unification. Eric Weinstein, a consultant at a New York City hedge fund with a background in mathematics and physics, says the solution is to find beauty before seeking truth.
Weinstein hit the headlines last week after mathematician Marcus du Sautoy at the University of Oxford invited him to give a lecture detailing his new theory of the universe, dubbed Geometric Unity. Du Sautoy also provided an overview of Weinstein's theory on the website of The Guardian newspaper to "promote, perhaps, a new way of doing science".
For a number of reasons, few physicists attended Weinstein's initial lecture, and with no published equations to review, the highly public airing of his theory has generated heated controversy. Today, Weinstein attempted to rectify the situation by repeating his lecture at Oxford. This time a number of physicists were in the lecture hall. Most remain doubtful. ...
In some sense, though, it is a happy resolution to the media storm. Weinstein has found some physicists who are perhaps willing to listen and guide him, and his theory will face the scrutiny that should be applied to any good scientific idea. Geometric Unity could turn out to be a theory of everything – or just a nice bit of mathematics.
Footnote: What can you really know?
Review essay by Freeman Dyson The New York Review of Books USA November 8, 2012
Jim Holt’s Why Does the World Exist?: An Existential Detective Story is a portrait gallery of leading modern philosophers. He visited each of them in turn, warning them in advance that he was coming to discuss with them a single question: “Why is there something rather than nothing?” He reports their reactions to this question, and embellishes their words with descriptions of their habits and personalities. Their answers give us vivid glimpses of the speakers but do not solve the riddle of existence. ...
The philosophers that Holt interviewed wander over a wide landscape. The main theme of their discussions is a disagreement between two groups that I call materialists and Platonists. Materialists imagine a world built out of atoms. Platonists imagine a world built out of ideas. ...
In earlier centuries, scientists and historians and philosophers would have known one another. Newton and Locke were friends and colleagues in the English parliament of 1689, helping to establish constitutional government in England after the bloodless revolution of 1688. The bloody passions of the English Civil War were finally quieted by establishing a constitutional monarchy with limited powers. Constitutional monarchy was a system of government invented by philosophers. But in the twentieth century, science and history and philosophy had become separate cultures. We were three groups of specialists, living in separate communities and rarely speaking to each other.
When and why did philosophy lose its bite? How did it become a toothless relic of past glories? These are the ugly questions that Jim Holt’s book compels us to ask. Philosophers became insignificant when philosophy became a separate academic discipline, distinct from science and history and literature and religion. The great philosophers of the past covered all these disciplines. Until the nineteenth century, science was called natural philosophy and officially recognized as a branch of philosophy. The word “scientist” was invented by William Whewell, a nineteenth-century Cambridge philosopher who became master of Trinity College and put his name on the building where Wittgenstein and I were living in 1946. Whewell introduced the word in the year 1833. He was waging a deliberate campaign to establish science as a professional discipline distinct from philosophy.
Whewell’s campaign succeeded. As a result, science grew to a dominant position in public life, and philosophy shrank. ...
Audio: Why is there something instead of nothing? The question has been described as being so simple only a child would ask it - and so profound only a philosopher would take it on. Mary speaks to Jim Holt about his book, Why Does the World Exist?: An Existential Detective Story.
Jim Holt's existential detective story
"Tapestry" CBC Radio One Canada May 31, 2013
Click on the pop-up link and scroll forward to 31:22 to listen to Mary Hynes' interview with Jim Holt (approximately 22 minutes).
Sunday, April 7, 2013
Science & Technology
"What Plants Talk About": Who knew plants are so busy, responsive, and complex
Discoveries reveal that plants may be more intelligent and more like us than we ever imagined. Jim comment: I watched this program on Seattle's PBS station. Fascinating! Unfortnately the online streaming video seems to be restricted to viewers in the USA and its territories. The rest of us can, however, buy the film.Posted at: Sunday, April 07, 2013 - 07:51 PM -- Posted by: Jim Scott -- Permalink: (#)
"Nature" eavesdrops on what plants talk about
Pressroom WNET New York Public Media USA April 3, 2013
When we think about plants, we don’t often associate a term like “behavior” with them, but experimental plant ecologist JC Cahill is trying to correct that perception. The University of Alberta professor maintains that plants do behave and lead anything but solitary and sedentary lives. He builds the case that plants eavesdrop on each other, talk to their enemies, call in insect allies to fight those enemies, recognize their relatives, and nurture their young.
We may never look at flowers, seedlings or trees in the same way again when "Nature" shatters the myth of a passive plant world and uncovers their real secret realm in What Plants Talk About airing Wednesday, April 3, 2013 at 8 p.m. on PBS (check local listings). After the broadcast, the program will stream at pbs.org/nature.
Plants have been counted and classified, yet we still know very little about them. Incredibly diverse, they are among the world’s oldest and most successful organisms. We have depended on them for life’s necessities from food, clothing, and shelter to life-saving medicine, but who knew that plants are so busy, responsive, and complex. “They’re actively engaging with the environment in which they live,” Cahill insists. “They actively communicate. They actively respond to the nutrients, and the predators, and the herbivores that are around them. It’s a really dynamic system.”
To prove his point, Cahill demonstrates not only his own work in What Plants Talk About, but joins several of his scientific colleagues to document how their experiments and findings support the new discoveries in plant behavior.
Take the case of the wild tobacco plant in the Utah desert which has to invent a different response to being attacked depending on which part of the plant is under siege. Ian Baldwin, of the Max Planck Institute for Chemical Ecology, discovered that as soon as an herbivore attacks, the wild tobacco plant deploys a toxin, nicotine, that poisons some bugs, but not others. So when an unaffected hornworm caterpillar starts to chew on its leaves, the plant’s got another move up its stalk: releasing an SOS-chemical message alerting the caterpillar’s enemies that it needs help. When these signals are emitted, other plants can eavesdrop on the wild tobacco plant’s chemical calls for assistance and ramp up their own defenses. These are just a few of the many tactics this one plant employs for survival.
Cahill documents the behavior of plant roots through the use of time-lapse photography, and high-tech cameras. He demonstrates that the growth rate of a root suddenly increases as it homes in on a nutrient patch, but once it finds food, it abruptly slows down and eats its fill. It’s a behavior more animal-like than we might imagine.
What Plants Talk About also highlights the work of Suzanne Simard, professor of Forest Ecology at the University of British Columbia, which is changing the way we think about how majestic Douglas fir trees relate to each other and to other organisms in the temperate rain forests. Simard has found that the forest operates as a resource-sharing community. Douglas fir trees provide carbon-based food, for example, to young fir seedlings and to fungi through massive underground fungal networks, and the fungi, in turn, supply the trees with nutrients. They are not competing for food and light, but rather providing for one another.
So plants may not have eyes, ears or a brain, but they find food, nurture their young, communicate with their friends and foes, recognize their kin and even wage war. How they do it is still a mystery, but it would seem that plants are smarter than we ever thought.
Friday, March 1, 2013
Science & Technology
Voices from the wilderness: Challenging 'conventional' thinking on processed foods and drug-based medicine
Swapping your processed food diet for one that focuses on fresh whole foods may seem like a radical idea, but it's a necessity if you value your health. And when you put the history of food into perspective, it's actually the processed foods that are "radical" and "new." People have thrived on vegetables, meats, eggs, fruits and other whole foods for centuries, while processed foods were only recently invented. If you want to eat healthy, I suggest you follow the 1950s (and before) model and spend quality time in the kitchen preparing high-quality meals for yourself and your family. If you rely on processed inexpensive foods, you exchange convenience for long-term health problems and mounting medical bills. - Dr. Joseph Mercola. Mercola is a 1976 graduate of the University of Illinois and a 1982 graduate of the Chicago College of Osteopathic Medicine. According to Mercola's website, he is a former Chairman of Family Medicine at St. Alexius Medical Center. St. Alexius Medical Center is a community hospital located in the Hoffman Estates, Illinois, northwest of Chicago. St. Alexius Medical Center employs more than 950 physicians, representing 60 medical and surgical specialties and more than 1800 employees assisting the medical/dental staff to deliver patient care. The Alexians, Alexian Brothers or Cellites are a Catholic religious institute or congregation specifically devoted to caring for the sick which has its origin in Europe at the time of the Black Death. They follow the Augustinian rule.Posted at: Friday, March 01, 2013 - 04:18 PM -- Posted by: Jim Scott -- Permalink: (#)
American foods chockfull of ingredients banned in other countries
Dr. Joseph Mercola Mercola.com, Take Control of Your Health USA February 27, 2013
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More than 3,000 food additives -- preservatives, flavorings, colors and other ingredients -- are added to foods in the United States.
While each of these substances are legal to use in the US, whether or not they are safe for long-term consumption -- by themselves or in combination -- is a different story altogether. Many have been deemed too harmful to use in other countries.
When you consider that about 90 percent of the money Americans spend on food goes toward processed foods loaded with these additives, it’s no wonder most people are carrying a hefty toxic load that can wreak havoc on their health.
A list of ingredients that are banned across the globe but still allowed for use in America recently made the news. The list is featured in the new book, Rich Food, Poor Food, authored by nutritionist Mira Calton and her husband Jayson.
The banned ingredients include various food dyes, the fat substitute Olestra, brominated vegetable oil, potassium bromate (aka brominanted flour), Azodicarbonamide, BHA, BHT, rBGH, rBST, and arsenic.
Seeing that the overall health of Americans is so much lower than other industrialized countries, you can’t help but wonder whether toxic ingredients such as these might play a role in our unhealthy conditions.
Meanwhile, Russia has announced that it plans to extend a ban on U.S. beef, pork and turkey imports coming into effect this month, due to the feed additive ractopamine in the meats. Ractopamine is a growth stimulant banned in several countries, including Russia.
When foods are processed, not only are valuable nutrients lost and fibers removed, but the textures and natural variation and flavors are also lost. After processing, what's left behind is a bland, uninteresting "pseudo-food" that most people wouldn’t want to eat.
So at this point, food manufacturers must add back in the nutrients, flavor, color and texture to processed foods in order to make them palatable, and this is why they become loaded with food additives.
Most commonly, additives are included to slow spoilage, prevent fats and oils from going rancid, prevent fruits from turning brown, fortify or enrich the food with synthetic vitamins and minerals to replace the natural ones that were lost during processing, and improve taste, texture and appearance. ...
Related: Factoid: In the USA, accidental deaths known to be caused by allopathic physicians per year are 120,000. Accidental deaths per physician are 0.171, according to the US Department of Health and Human Services. This means that a Doctor of Medicine (MD) has a 17% chance of accidentally killing someone with conventional medicine this year. Below: Offered for consideration. (We find they have the focus and the shrillness of true believers but they make some edifying, good points.)
100 years of US medical fascism
Dale Steinreich Prison Planet USA April 19, 2010
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One hundred years ago today, on April 16, 1910, Henry Pritchett, president of the Carnegie Foundation, put the finishing touches on the Flexner Report. No other document would have such a profound effect on American medicine, starting it on its path to destruction up to and beyond the recently passed (and laughably titled) Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010 (PPACA), a.k.a., “Obamacare.” Flexner can only be accurately understood in the context of what led up to it. ...
The AMA formed its Council on Medical Education in 1904 as a tool to artificially restrict education. However, the AMA’s conflict of interest was too obvious. This is where Abraham Flexner and the Carnegie Foundation entered the picture. Flexner’s older brother Simon was the director of the Rockefeller Institute for Medical Research and he recommended his brother Abraham for the Carnegie job. Abraham’s acceptance of the role was the perfect special-interest symbiosis. Carnegie’s desire was to advance secularism through higher education, thus it saw the AMA’s agenda as favorable toward that end. Rockefeller’s benefactors were allied with allopathic drug companies and hated for-profit schools that couldn’t be controlled by the big-business, state-influenced foundations. Last of all, the AMA got an objective-appearing front in Carnegie.
Not only was Abraham Flexner not even an allopathic physician; he was not a widely known authority on education, never mind medical education, as he had never even seen the inside of a medical school before joining Carnegie. His report was already effectively written, since it was essentially the AMA’s unpublished 1906 report on US medical schools. Furthermore, Flexner was accompanied on his inspection by the AMA’s N.P. Colwell to insure the inspection would arrive at the preordained conclusions. Flexner then spent time at the AMA’s Chicago headquarters preparing what portion of the final product was his actual work. ...
Approaching one million allopathic QUACKS in America
S. D. Wells Natural News USA February 25, 2013
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First question: How many hundreds of thousands of doctors in America prescribe useless, toxic pharmaceuticals that keep you coming back to them for more, with different versions of the same sickness? This is health basics 101: How many MDs, surgeons and oncologists use barbaric methods to treat "acid" blood (cancer) with "acid medicine?"
Let's check: In 2010, there were approximately 850,000 physicians with an active license to practice medicine in the United States. 93 percent of those physicians held an M.D. (doctor of medicine) degree and seven percent held a D.O. (doctor of osteopathic medicine). That means if you visit a doctor in America, you basically have a seven percent chance of getting a doctor who treats the "whole person" instead of symptoms. Do you walk around your yard chopping off the tops of weeds and hoping they never grow back?
The toxic overload causing mass disease in the U.S. comes from "science-based" FOOD (biotech) and "science-based" MEDICINE (Big Pharma), but the clones, drones and zombies don't even think twice about it. This is the reality that millions of people live with (or die with) daily in America, where there is ever abundant "scary" medicine for all the "scared" people. "Big Pharma" is simply cashing in on FEAR and calling it science-based in order to fool the masses.
"Alternative medicine has existed for thousands of years with rarely any side effects, but the industry which ironically calls itself "conventional" medicine is the number three killer in the United States."
Western medicine is toxic, but the quack doctors call all the real doctors quacks. This is the age old BIG LIE, where you go to the doctor, who spent "eight years in medical school" learning NOTHING about nutrition, natural remedies, ancient cures, or prevention from disease. This is science based medical college which teaches nothing of organic food and herbs that prevent and cure disease; simple food that comes directly from Mother Nature, without chemical laboratory modifications made to it.
Science & Technology
Natural gas drilling boom sweeping the world remains an uncontrolled health experiment on an enormous scale
Environmental concerns surrounding drilling for gas are intense due to expansion of shale gas drilling operations. Controversy surrounding the impact of drilling on air and water quality has pitted industry and lease-holders against individuals and groups concerned with environmental protection and public health. Because animals often are exposed continually to air, soil, and groundwater and have more frequent reproductive cycles, animals can be used as sentinels to monitor impacts to human health. This study involved interviews with animal owners who live near gas drilling operations. The findings illustrate which aspects of the drilling process may lead to health problems and suggest modifications that would lessen but not eliminate impacts. Complete evidence regarding health impacts of gas drilling cannot be obtained due to incomplete testing and disclosure of chemicals, and nondisclosure agreements. Without rigorous scientific studies, the gas drilling boom sweeping the world will remain an uncontrolled health experiment on an enormous scale. - Michelle Bamberger and Robert E. Oswald. Abstract: "Impacts of Gas Drilling on Human and Animal Health". Published by Physicians, Scientists, & Engineers for Healthy EnergyPosted at: Friday, March 01, 2013 - 04:14 PM -- Posted by: Jim Scott -- Permalink: (#)
Below: Fracking, the controversial gas-drilling practice, is tainting water. Your food might be next.
IACP Journalism Awards finalist: "What Will Fracking Do to Your Food Supply?"
Barry Estabrook Gilt Taste USA May 18, 2011
Last night, the International Association of Culinary Professionals announced the winners of this year’s Bert Greene Awards for Food Journalism. Gilt Taste is incredibly proud to have had eight nominations in six categories, and four winners. This week we’re celebrating by re-featuring some of those pieces.
Today, a finalist for the Culinary Writing that Makes a Difference category, Barry Estabrook's "What Will Fracking Do to Your Food Supply?"
Also check out our other finalist in this category, Alison Fairbrother and Randy Fertel's "The Most Important Fish in the Sea". –Ed.
There's a stunning moment in the Academy Award-nominated documentary Gasland, where a man touches a match to his running faucet—to have it explode in a ball of fire. This is what hydraulic fracturing, a process of drilling for natural gas known as "fracking," is doing to many drinking water supplies across the country. But the other side of fracking—what it might do to the food eaten by people living hundreds of miles from the nearest gas well—has received little attention.
Unlike many in agriculture, cattle farmer Ken Jaffe has had a good decade. But lately he's been nervous, worried fracking will destroy his business. Jaffe's been good to his soil, and the land has been good to him. By rotating his herd of cattle to different pastures on his Catskills farm every day, he has restored the once-eroded land and built a successful business with his grass-fed and -finished beef. His Slope Farms sells meat to food coops, specialty meat markets, and high-end restaurants in New York City, about 160 miles to the southeast. "If you feed your micro-herd—the bacteria and fungi in the soil—then your big herd will do well, too," he said when I visited him recently on a cool, sunny afternoon.
But a seam of black rock lies nearly a mile beneath the topsoil he has so scrupulously nurtured, and the deposit contains enormous quantities of natural gas. Profit-hungry energy companies—and the politicians that their campaign donations support—are determined to exploit that resource, even though it could destroy the livelihoods of thousands of small farmers like Jaffe who have sprung up in New York City's vibrant, alternative food shed.
Energy companies liberate the gas, which is trapped in tiny bubble-like pockets in the rock, by forcefully injecting chemicals diluted with millions of gallons of water into the rock. This fracking ruptures the earth, creating fissures through which the gas passes—along with a witch's brew of carcinogens, acutely poisonous heavy metals, and radioactive elements.
"For sustainable agriculture, fracking is a disaster," says Jaffe. The gas rush started in the South and West, but has spread to the East and now affects 34 states. Under much of West Virginia, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and New York lies a 400-million-year-old geographic formation called the Marcellus Shale. Although estimates vary, the shale may hold 50 trillion cubic feet of recoverable natural gas, enough to meet New York State's needs for 50 years. To see what fracking can do to food production, Jaffe has only to look at what has happened to some of his colleagues in nearby Pennsylvania, where the first fracked well came into production in 2005, and where there are now there are now more than 1,500.
Last year, the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture quarantined 28 cattle belonging to Don and Carol Johnson, who farm about 175 miles southwest of Jaffe. The animals had come into wastewater that leaked from a nearby well that showed concentrations of chlorine, barium, magnesium, potassium, and radioactive strontium. In Louisiana, 16 cows that drank fluid from a fracked well began bellowing, foaming and bleeding at the mouth, then dropped dead. Homeowners near fracked sites complain about a host of frightening consequences, from poisoned wells to sickened pets to debilitating illnesses. ...
Fracking our food supply: Energy policy and food independence may be at odds with each other
Salt Spring News British Columbia Canada November 30, 2012
Frack no! Organic Consumers oppose pro-fracking scientist as head of U.S. Department of Energy
Press release Organic Consumers Association USA February 27, 2013
The OCA announced its opposition today to the reported nomination by President Barack Obama of Dr. Ernest Moniz to serve as the next head of the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE). Moniz has publicly supported “Hydraulic Fracturing” – or fracking - a highly polluting form of oil and gas extraction that involves injecting massive amounts of water, sand and toxic chemicals into the ground to fracture rock in order to extract oil and gas. Moniz is the director of MIT's Energy Institute, which boasts such Big Oil financial backers as BP, Chevron and Saudi Aramco.
There are more than 600,000 fracking wells and waste injection sites littering the United States, polluting the air and water in rural areas where organic and family farmers are trying to produce healthy food.
“Blasting billions of gallons of toxic chemicals into the same ground that gives us the food we eat and the water we drink not only fails to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, it destroys farmland, contaminates groundwater, endangers the health of people and animals alike, and threatens the future security of our food supply,” said Ronnie Cummins, National Director of the OCA.
“Expanding fossil fuel consumption via hydraulic fracking is a recipe for disaster,” concluded Cummins. Fracking won’t serve as a bridge to a cleaner tomorrow. It will more likely sound the death knell for sustainable farming and the necessary transition to a clean energy economy.”
Moniz believes that the "bridge" to low-carbon sources of energy can only be achieved by drastically expanding America’s fracking infrastructure – even calling the controversial and toxic energy extraction method “paradigm shifting.” If early reports of the Moniz appointment are accurate then the signal from the White House couldn’t be clearer: Americans should prepare for a massive proliferation of fracking wells in California, primarily to extract the Monterey Shale deposit which is spread over six central and southern California counties, as well as the construction of the Keystone XL Pipeline.
There is already ample evidence to suggest that the U.S. food system has been contaminated by chemicals used in fracking. These polluted crops and infected farm animals raised for food serve as potential avenues for exposing humans to these same hazardous chemicals, including arsenic, benzene, ethylene glycol (antifreeze), formaldehyde, lead, toluene, Uranium-238 and Radium-226. ...
Related: Here's another consequence of fracking for concerned citizens to consider—conventional agriculture's dependence on synthetic nitrogen fertilizer.
The surprising connection between food and fracking
Tom Philpott Mother Jones USA January 30, 2013
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In a recent Nation piece, the wonderful Elizabeth Royte teased out the direct links between hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, and the food supply. In short, extracting natural gas from rock formations by bombarding them with chemical-spiked fluid leaves behind fouled water—and that fouled water can make it into the crops and animals we eat.
But there's another, emerging food/fracking connection that few are aware of. US agriculture is highly reliant on synthetic nitrogen fertilizer, and nitrogen fertilizer is synthesized in a process fueled by natural gas. As more and more of the US natural gas supply comes from fracking, more and more of the nitrogen fertilizer farmers use will come from fracked natural gas. If Big Ag becomes hooked on cheap fracked gas to meet its fertilizer needs, then the fossil fuel industry will have gained a powerful ally in its effort to steamroll regulation and fight back opposition to fracking projects.
The potential for the growth of fracked nitrogen (known as "N") fertilizer is immense. During the 2000s, when conventional US natural gas sources were drying up and prices were spiking, the US fertilizer industry largely went offshore, moving operations to places like Trinidad and Tobago, where conventional natural gas was still relatively plentiful. ...
Meanwhile, the fracking boom has made US natural gas suddenly abundant—and driven prices into the ground. A Btu of US natural gas now now costs 75 percent less than it did in 2008, the New York Times recently reported. Meanwhile, nitrogen fertilizer prices remain stubbornly high, propped up by strong demand driven by high crop prices. Those conditions—low input prices plus elevated prices for the final product—mean a potential profit bonanza for companies that use cheap US natural gas to make pricy N fertilizer for the booming US market.
Not surprisingly, as Kay McDonald of the excellent blog Big Picture Agriculture shows, the industry is starting to move back to the United States to take advantage of the fracking boom. McDonald points to a $1.4 billion project announced in September by the Egyptian company Orascom Construction Industries to build a large new nitrogen fertilizer plant in Iowa close to a natural gas pipeline. According to the Wall Street Journal, "cheap U.S. natural-gas supplies and the nation's role as the world's most important food exporter" drew the Egyptian giant into the US market.
That same month, US-owned agribusiness cooperative CHS announced it was investing $1.2 billion to build a nitrogen plant in North Dakota. An Associated Press article gave a taste of the potential profits in such an operation: "Natural gas prices are now at about $2.50 per thousand cubic feet. At those prices, it takes about $82 worth of natural gas to make a ton of anhydrous ammonia, which is selling for about $800 per ton."
And then there's US fertilizer giant CF Industries, which in November announced a $3.8 billion expansion of existing nitrogen fertilizer plants in Louisiana and Iowa, a move designed to "take advantage of low natural gas costs and high grain prices," MarketWatch reported.
Now, it should be noted that it isn't just the promise of windfall profits that are driving these investments. Energy prices are highly volatile, and the industry is wary of the risk involved with plunking down billions in hopes of future gain. Enter the taxpayer: These projects are being underwritten by public money at the national, state, and local levels. ...
Rather than prop up nitrogen use by subsidizing new megaprojects, public policy could be seeking encouraging farming practices that demand less nitrogen. One obvious strategy is diversification. The most prolific US crop, corn, is also the most nitrogen-intensive among major field crops. In a 2012 paper, researchers from Iowa State University's Leopold Center showed that by extending the typical Midwestern corn-soy crop rotation by adding a "small grain" (e.g., oats or wheat) plus nitrogen-fixing cover crops, farmers can reduce their nitrogen needs by upwards of 80 percent. Investing in policies that encourage such changes would likely, in the long run, be much smarter than subsidizing the fertilizer industry's move toward relying on fracked gas. ...
As they fight the expansion of fracking and push for tighter regulations on it, concerned citizens can count on an opponent nearly as powerful and monied as Big Oil: Big Ag. Already, the American Farm Bureau Federation, which essentially acts as a lobbyist for Big Ag firms, supports the controversial energy source: "Farm Bureau supports additional access for exploration and production of oil and natural gas, including the use of hydraulic fracturing," the group declared in an October 2012 policy statement (PDF). But the Farm Bureau and its agribiz allies haven't played much of a role in the fight over regulating fracking, yet. As the fertilizer industry becomes reliant on cheap US natural gas, that will likely change.
Friday, February 22, 2013
Science & Technology
Lead is the hidden villain behind violent crime, lower IQs, and even the ADHD epidemic. And fixing the problem is a lot cheaper than doing nothing
How lead caused America's violent crime epidemicPosted at: Friday, February 22, 2013 - 08:04 PM -- Posted by: Jim Scott -- Permalink: (#)
Alex Knapp Forbes USA January 3, 2013
Starting in the 1960s, America saw a huge increase in levels of violent crime that peaked in the early 1990s, then steadily declined, and continues to decline today. All kinds of theories have been promulgated to explain this peak and decline in crime, and plenty of politicians in the 1990s took credit for it. But in what I personally consider to be a tour de force of journalism, Kevin Drum of Mother Jones has summarized all of the available research. All of it points to one simple idea: violent crime rose as a result of lead poisoning because of leaded gasoline. It declined because of lead abatement policies.
There are three basic reasons why this theory should be believed. First, as Drum points out, the numbers correlate almost perfectly. “If you add a lag time of 23 years,” he writes. “Lead emissions from automobiles explain 90 percent of the variation in violent crime in America. Toddlers who ingested high levels of lead in the ’40s and ’50s really were more likely to become violent criminals in the ’60s, ’70s, and ’80s.”
Second, this correlation holds true with no exceptions. Every country studied has shown this same strong correlation between leaded gasoline and violent crime rates. Within the United States, you can see the data at the state level. Where lead concentrations declined quickly, crime declined quickly. Where it declined slowly, crime declined slowly. The data even holds true at the neighborhood level – high lead concentrations correlate so well that you can overlay maps of crime rates over maps of lead concentrations and get an almost perfect fit.
Third, and probably most important, the data goes beyond just these models. As Drum himself points out, “if econometric studies were all there were to the story of lead, you’d be justified in remaining skeptical no matter how good the statistics look.” But the chemistry and neuroscience of lead gives us good reason to believe the connection. Decades of research has shown that lead poisoning causes significant and probably irreversible damage to the brain. Not only does lead degrade cognitive abilities and lower intelligence, it also degrades a person’s ability to make decisions by damaging areas of the brain responsible for “emotional regulation, impulse control, attention, verbal reasoning, and mental flexibility.”
Below: Alex Knapp says "... this article is a masterpiece. Read it. Talk about it. It’s an important piece of journalism."
America's real criminal element: Lead
Kevin Drum Mother Jones USA January/February 2013 Issue
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When Rudy Giuliani ran for mayor of New York City in 1993, he campaigned on a platform of bringing down crime and making the city safe again. It was a comfortable position for a former federal prosecutor with a tough-guy image, but it was more than mere posturing. Since 1960, rape rates had nearly quadrupled, murder had quintupled, and robbery had grown fourteenfold. New Yorkers felt like they lived in a city under siege.
Throughout the campaign, Giuliani embraced a theory of crime fighting called "broken windows," popularized a decade earlier by James Q. Wilson and George L. Kelling in an influential article in The Atlantic. "If a window in a building is broken and is left unrepaired," they observed, "all the rest of the windows will soon be broken." So too, tolerance of small crimes would create a vicious cycle ending with entire neighborhoods turning into war zones. But if you cracked down on small crimes, bigger crimes would drop as well.
Giuliani won the election, and he made good on his crime-fighting promises by selecting Boston police chief Bill Bratton as the NYPD's new commissioner. Bratton had made his reputation as head of the New York City Transit Police, where he aggressively applied broken-windows policing to turnstile jumpers and vagrants in subway stations. With Giuliani's eager support, he began applying the same lessons to the entire city, going after panhandlers, drunks, drug pushers, and the city's hated squeegee men. And more: He decentralized police operations and gave precinct commanders more control, keeping them accountable with a pioneering system called CompStat that tracked crime hot spots in real time. ...
So we're back to square one. More prisons might help control crime, more cops might help, and better policing might help. But the evidence is thin for any of these as the main cause. What are we missing?
Experts often suggest that crime resembles an epidemic. But what kind? Karl Smith, a professor of public economics and government at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, has a good rule of thumb for categorizing epidemics: If it spreads along lines of communication, he says, the cause is information. Think Bieber Fever. If it travels along major transportation routes, the cause is microbial. Think influenza. If it spreads out like a fan, the cause is an insect. Think malaria. But if it's everywhere, all at once—as both the rise of crime in the '60s and '70s and the fall of crime in the '90s seemed to be—the cause is a molecule.
A molecule? That sounds crazy. What molecule could be responsible for a steep and sudden decline in violent crime?
Well, here's one possibility: Pb(CH2CH3)4.
So this is the choice before us: We can either attack crime at its root by getting rid of the remaining lead in our environment, or we can continue our current policy of waiting 20 years and then locking up all the lead-poisoned kids who have turned into criminals. There's always an excuse not to spend more money on a policy as tedious-sounding as lead abatement—budgets are tight, and research on a problem as complex as crime will never be definitive—but the association between lead and crime has, in recent years, become pretty overwhelming. If you gave me the choice, right now, of spending $20 billion less on prisons and cops and spending $20 billion more on getting rid of lead, I'd take the deal in a heartbeat. Not only would solving our lead problem do more than any prison to reduce our crime problem, it would produce smarter, better-adjusted kids in the bargain. There's nothing partisan about this, nothing that should appeal more to one group than another. It's just common sense. Cleaning up the rest of the lead that remains in our environment could turn out to be the cheapest, most effective crime prevention tool we have. And we could start doing it tomorrow.
Related audio: For twenty years, people have been arguing over what produced a global drop in violent crime through the 1990s and early 2000s. Some thought poverty-reduction and education. Others said better policing or more jails. But now one writer says the key factor was the rise and fall of leaded gasoline. We find out why more and more researchers think the switch to unleaded gasoline was the best thing we ever did to fight violent crime.
Violent crime and leaded gasoline: An elemental link?
"The Current" CBC Radio One Canada February 15, 2013
Visit this page for its embedded links. You can listen to this segment of the program (27:28) from a pop-up link on this page.
Violent crime and leaded gasoline: Reporter Kevin Drum
That was the former mayor of New York, Rudy Giuliani, boasting about the dramatic decline in crime in the city during his tenure. The numbers back him up. After skyrocketing in the early 90's, crime rates did drop in New York City and by 2010, violent crime in the Big Apple was down about seventy-five percent. But it's not as if violent criminals went somewhere else. Cities across the U.S., Canada, even Europe all experienced similar drops in violence. New research questions if the "broken window" theory had that much to do with it. Perhaps the real cause of violent crime is more... elemental.
With more on this we were joined by Kevin Drum. He is a staff writer for Mother Jones magazine and he joins us from Irvine, California.
Violent crime and leaded gasoline: International Lead Association
We contacted the International Lead Association for its perspective on this story. No one was available to comment, but it did direct us to this statement on their website.
"Crime is of concern to all of us, so the idea that lead in gasoline may provide both a simple explanation and a solution to this problem is a compelling one. Currently however, none of the authoritative reviews into this subject have conclusively linked lead exposure to criminal behaviour, so further research is still needed."
Violent crime and leaded gasoline: Dianne Saxe
Now, whether lead is a criminal element, it's still one you want to avoid. Despite efforts to protect Canadians from exposure, leaded gasoline is not just an historical footnote. To tell us more, we were joined by Dianne Saxe, one of Canada's top environmental lawyers. She was in Toronto.
Violent crime and leaded gasoline: Government Statement
We invited Health Canada to respond to the concerns about lead. In a statement it said the government has developed many regulations and guidelines to reduce lead in cosmetics, drinking water, food, natural health and drug products, tobacco, industrial releases, and other sources such as soil and air. Also, Health Canada recently assessed the current scientific information on lead, and health effects of lead are occurring at lower levels than previously thought. It is now working on updating guidelines for soil quality and drinking water quality for lead, and revising blood lead guidance for health providers and public health officials.
Environment Canada also sent us a statement saying that recent reporting shows leaded fuel use in competition vehicles represents only three-thousandths of a percent of total gasoline use in Canada.
Sunday, December 9, 2012
Science & Technology
Anne Kelly Knowles, the winner of Smithsonian American Ingenuity Awards, uses GIS technology to change our view of history
Rise of the carto-geeks. Digitally enhanced mapping alters our understanding of the past. “History resides in the landscape”.Posted at: Sunday, December 09, 2012 - 03:01 PM -- Posted by: Jim Scott -- Permalink: (#)
Looking at the Battle of Gettysburg through Robert E. Lee’s eyes
Tony Horwitz Smithsonian Magazine USA December 2012
Anne Kelly Knowles uses geography and technology to trace history. Photo: Ethan Hill
Anne Kelly Knowles loves places where history happened. She traces this passion to family trips she took as a girl in the 1960s, when her father would pile his wife and four children into a rented RV for odysseys from their home in Kalamazoo, Michigan, to iconic sites from America’s past.
“We’d study the road atlas and plot trips around places like the Little Bighorn and Mount Rushmore,” Knowles recalls. “Historical landmarks were our pins in the map.” Between scheduled stops, she and her father would leap out of the RV to take pictures of historical markers. “I was the only one of the kids who was really jazzed about history. It was my strongest connection with my dad.”
Decades later, Knowles’ childhood journeys have translated into a pathbreaking career in historical geography. Using innovative cartographic tools, she has cast fresh light on hoary historical debates—What was Robert E. Lee thinking at Gettysburg?—and navigated new and difficult terrain, such as mapping the mass shootings of Jews in Eastern Europe by Nazi death squads during World War II.
Knowles’ research, and her strong advocacy of new geographic approaches, have also helped revitalize a discipline that declined in the late 20th century as many leading universities closed their geography departments. “She’s a pioneer,” says Edward Muller, a historical geographer at the University of Pittsburgh. “There’s an ingenuity in the way she uses spatial imagination to see things and ask questions that others haven’t.” Adds Peter Bol, a historian at Harvard and director of its Center for Geographic Analysis: “Anne thinks not just about new technology but how mapping can be applied across disciplines, to all aspects of human society.” ...
Knowles, 55, is a professor at Middlebury College, which is close to the Platonic ideal of a New England campus. Its rolling lawns and handsome buildings, mostly hewn from Vermont marble, perch on a rise with sweeping views of the Green Mountains and Adirondacks. Knowles fits her liberal arts surrounds, despite belonging to a specialty she calls “fairly macho and geeky.” A trim woman with short hair and cornflower-blue eyes, she wears a white tunic, loose linen trousers and clogs, and seems very at home amid the Yankee/organic quaintness of Middlebury.
But the biggest surprise, for me, was Knowles’ book-lined office in the geography department. Where I’d imagined her crunching data before a vast bank of blinking screens, I instead found her tapping at a humble Dell laptop.
“The technology is just a tool, and what really matters is how you use it,” she says. “Historical geography means putting place at the center of history. No supercomputers are required.” When I asked about her math and computing skills, she replied: “I add, subtract, multiply, divide.”
Her principal tool is geographic information systems, or GIS, a name for computer programs that incorporate such data as satellite imagery, paper maps and statistics. Knowles makes GIS sound simple: “It’s a computer software that allows you to map and analyze any information that has a location attached.” But watching her navigate GIS and other applications, it quickly becomes obvious that this isn’t your father’s geography. ...
Sunday, October 7, 2012
Science & Technology
Encounters with the god particle
Long ago, the search for rules that govern the physical universe was religious in nature. It may yet be so again. Paul Fishbane is a professor emeritus of physics at the University of Virginia.Posted at: Sunday, October 07, 2012 - 02:47 PM -- Posted by: Jim Scott -- Permalink: (#)
Encounters with the god particle
Paul Fishbane Tablet Magazine USA September 27, 2012
Event recorded with the CMS detector in 2012, showing characteristics expected from the decay of the SM Higgs boson to a pair of Z bosons. (© 2012 CERN, for the benefit of the CMS Collaboration). Visit this page for its embedded links.
This is the season when many minds are tuned in to the concept of “God” and origins and fundamentals. I am reminded of a papal visit in the spring of 1982, when Pope John Paul II came to CERN, the European center where I was engaged in physics research on basic physical law. He spoke to the staff about “prodigious things,” world peace, and how he hoped the science discovered at CERN should be subject to the constraints of conscience, quoting Genesis 1:31 (“And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good”). In reply, the CERN director spoke of a fecund dialogue between science and religion. I am sure most of my colleagues—a good portion of them Jewish, many European agnostics, many Catholics—kept these two categories in separate mental compartments. But undoubtedly the need for good public relations on CERN’s part and the need for an open mind on scientific research on the church’s part played some role in this curious interaction between organized religion and big science.
Up to the middle of the last millennium, of course, with the exception of some considerable accomplishment by the ancient Greeks, the search for rules that govern that physical universe was largely religious in nature. But around the time of Galileo things took a fruitful turn. The search for physical law became more of a game of proposition, prediction, and test by experiment. We accepted a modus of working on what was accessible to our instruments or detectors. We went after laws at large scales—Newton’s gravitation, say, or the laws of friction. We studied and systemized electricity and magnetism. We learned about atoms and with the additional knowledge of electrical forces got access to the laws of chemistry. By the end of the 19th century we were breaking down atoms, learning over a 50-year span about the construction of the nucleus and sub-nuclear structure.
Physics experiments today are often done by colliding constituents of matter with one another at ever-higher energies and studying the debris. The highest-energy facilities—today, as then, at CERN—are huge and expensive, but they work at the frontier of the research that led us this summer to the much-noted announcement of the discovery at CERN of the so-called “god particle,” a particle associated with how all other particles get their masses. (In fact, the phrase “god particle” does not convey much information, but it is a fine way to attract attention, and it helped to sell a 1993 book when it was coined.) The “god particle” is only one piece of an elaborate structure known as the standard model. ...
Will experiments at a single machine, without a second machine to check the results, be acceptable? This is not going to get any easier. Peter Higgs had to wait 50 years to learn that his proposal was at least partly proven right. He retired in 1996 and is now in his early eighties. Results from modern machines come slowly, and many theorists have wandered off into regions where unverifiable speculation is king. For the worker bees who stick to experimentation, thousand-person collaborations are now the rule. Will the most creative individuals be willing to spend all their time in such collaborations on a single life-spanning experiment? I wouldn’t bet on it.
Perhaps the popes still have something to teach us.
Tuesday, September 11, 2012
Science & Technology
Depleted ocean resources and disappearing fauna: Can human society come to support the moral and ethical position that all species have an inherent right to exist?
Below: Just as overfishing impoverishes the life of the sea, the forgetting impoverishes our own lives.Posted at: Tuesday, September 11, 2012 - 10:54 AM -- Posted by: Jim Scott -- Permalink: (#)
The great riches of our seas have been depleted and forgotten
George Monbiot Monbiot.com/AlterNet UK/USA September 7, 2012
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Researching the history of ecosystems, it is not long before you make an arresting discovery. Great abundance of the kind that exists in the tropics - or existed until recently - was once almost universal.
With a very few exceptions, every major ecosystem had a megafauna; every major ecosystem witnessed vast migrations of mammals, birds or fish; every major ecosystem possessed an abundance of animal life orders of magnitude greater than current abundance in the temperate nations. In some cases the ecosystems these life forms created were a world apart from those we now know.
Take, for example, the North Sea. Olsen's Piscatorial Atlas of the North Sea, English Channel, and St. George's Channels, published in 1883, marks an area of the North Sea the size of Wales as oyster reef. (I am indebted to Prof Callum Roberts, whose magnificent book The Unnatural History of the Sea reproduces this map). This area is far from any coast: it would have been among the least exploited regions.
By then, trawling in the North Sea had been taking place for at least 500 years (the first written record in England dates from 1376). Given that there is no obvious difference in habitat between the region marked on the map and many other parts of the North Sea, the most likely explanation for the distribution mapped in 1883 is that the oyster beds had been fished out and broken up throughout the more accessible areas.
As the first Europeans to arrive in Chesapeake Bay (on the Atlantic coast of the United States) discovered, oysters can form reefs in shallow seas at these latitudes wherever the sediments are stable enough to permit them to settle. They cement themselves to the seabed and to each other. Much - perhaps most - of the North Sea basin is likely to have been lined with a continuous bed of oysters.
If this is the case, then three things follow. ...
Related: The 100 species at risk of extinction - because man has no use for them
Sam Masters The Independent UK September 11, 2012
The spoon-billed sandpiper, three-toed sloth and a long-beaked echidna named after Sir David Attenborough are among the 100 most endangered species in the world, according to a new study.
The list of at-risk species has been published as conservationists warn that rare mammals, plants and fungi are being sacrificed as their habitats are appropriated for human use.
More than 8,000 scientists from the International Union for Conservation of Nature's Species Survival Commission (IUCN SSC) helped compile the list of species closest to extinction, which was published by the Zoological Society of London (ZSL).
Conservationists fear the species in 48 countries, including Britain, may die out because they don't offer obvious benefits to humans. ...
Professor Jonathan Baillie, the ZSL's director of conservation, said: "The donor community and conservation movement are leaning increasingly towards a 'what can nature do for us' approach, where species and wild habitats are valued and prioritised according to the services they provide for people.
"This has made it increasingly difficult for conservationists to protect the most threatened species on the plant. While the utilitarian value of nature is important, conservation goes beyond this. Do these species have a right to survive or do we have a right to drive them to extinction?"
The ZSL's Ellen Butcher, who co-wrote the report, said: "All the species listed are unique and irreplaceable. If we take immediate action we can give them a fighting chance for survival. But this requires society to support the moral and ethical position that all species have an inherent right to exist." ...
Below: As the list of the world's 100 most critically endangered species was published, one academic challenged the idea that all should be preserved.
Bring back dodo and dinosaur if you think all species have equal right to exist, scientist says
Rosa Silverman Daily Telegraph UK September 11, 2012
The idea that all species have an equal right to exist makes as much sense as believing we should bring back dinosaurs and dodos, a scientist has suggested.
A report on the 100 most critically endangered species in the world has been published by the Zoological Society of London (ZSL), with its authors arguing they should all be saved.
But Dr Sarah Chan, deputy director of the Institute for Science, Ethics and Innovation at Manchester University, challenged the belief that all species should be preserved.
She said: “When we say that all species have an equal right to exist, do we mean just all of the species that currently exist? What about the species that have already gone extinct?
“I don’t see any good reason to limit ourselves only to this precise moment in time in terms of the species that we should be concerned about.
“But that being the case, if we think that all species have an equal right to exist, we have an equal obligation to resurrect extinct species, to bring back the dinosaurs and the dodos.” ...
Wednesday, August 22, 2012
Science & Technology
Another glimpse into our current zietgeist: "Life as Surplus"
A book of topical timeliness and conceptual and political importance. Cooper reads two terms-biopolitics and neoliberalism-in exciting, exceptional ways, and provides an astute account of contemporary American political culture. - Kaushik Sunder Rajan
Biotechnology and Capitalism in the Neoliberal Era by Melinda Cooper. Published by University of Washington Press, 2008. ISBN 9780295987910. Melinda Cooper is a research fellow with the Centre for Biomedicine and Society, Kings College London.
Life as Surplus
University of Washigton Press USA n.d.
Focusing on the period between the 1970s and the present, Life as Surplus is a pointed and important study of the relationship between politics, economics, science, and cultural values in the United States today. Melinda Cooper demonstrates that the history of biotechnology cannot be understood without taking into account the simultaneous rise of neoliberalism as a political force and an economic policy. From the development of recombinant DNA technology in the 1970s to the second Bush administration's policies on stem cell research, Cooper connects the utopian polemic of free-market capitalism with growing internal contradictions of the commercialized life sciences.
The biotech revolution relocated economic production at the genetic, microbial, and cellular level. Taking as her point of departure the assumption that life has been drawn into the circuits of value creation, Cooper underscores the relations between scientific, economic, political, and social practices. In penetrating analyses of Reagan-era science policy, the militarization of the life sciences, HIV politics, pharmaceutical imperialism, tissue engineering, stem cell science, and the pro-life movement, the author examines the speculative impulses that have animated the growth of the bioeconomy.
At the very core of the new post-industrial economy is the transformation of biological life into surplus value. Life as Surplus offers a clear assessment of both the transformative, therapeutic dimensions of the contemporary life sciences and the violence, obligation, and debt servitude crystallizing around the emerging bioeconomy.
Sunday, August 19, 2012
Science & Technology
The pallet: The single most important object in the global economy
Let us praise the pallet. Whether pooled or one-way, block or stringer, wood or plastic, pallets pretty much move the global economy. Tom Vanderbilt is author of Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do, now available in paperback. He is contributing editor to Artforum, Print, and I.D.; contributing writer to Design Observer; and has written for many periodical publications around the globe.Posted at: Sunday, August 19, 2012 - 12:00 PM -- Posted by: Jim Scott -- Permalink: (#)
The single most important object in the global economy
Tom Vanderbilt Slate Magazine USA August 14, 2012
Illustration by Robert Neubecker. Visit this page for its embedded links.
Earlier this spring, the Washington Conservation Corps faced a sudden influx of beach debris on the state’s southwestern shore. Time and tide were beginning to deposit the aftereffects of Japan’s March 11, 2011, tsunami. One of the myriad objects retrieved was a plastic pallet, scuffed and swimming-pool green, bearing the words: “19-4 (salt) (return required), and, below that, “Japan salt service.”
A year earlier, Dubai’s police made the region’s largest narcotics bust when they intercepted a container, carried on a Liberian registered-ship, that had originated from Pakistan and transited through what Ethan Zuckerman has called the “ley lines of globalization,” that constellation of dusty, never-touristed entrepôts like Oman’s Salalah Port or Nigeria’s Tin Can Island Port. Acting on an informant’s tip, police searched the container’s cargo—heavy bags of iron filings—to no avail. Only after removing every bag did police decide to check the pallets on which the bags had rested. Inside each was a hollowed-out section holding 500 to 700 grams of heroin.
Two random stories plucked from the annals of shipping. What unites these disparate tales of things lost (and hidden) on the seas is that they each draw attention to something that usually goes unnoticed: The pallet, that humble construction of wood joists and planks (or, less typically, plastic or metal ones) upon which most every object in the world, at some time or another, is carried. “Pallets move the world,” says Mark White, an emeritus professor at Virginia Tech and director of the William H. Sardo Jr. Pallet & Container Research Laboratory and the Center for Packaging and Unit Load Design. And, as the above stories illustrate, the world moves pallets, often in mysterious ways.
Pallets, of course, are merely one cog in the global machine for moving things. But while shipping containers, for instance, have had their due, in Marc Levinson’s surprisingly illustrative book The Box (“the container made shipping cheap, and by doing so changed the shape of the world economy”), pallets rest outside of our imagination, regarded as scrap wood sitting outside grocery stores or holding massive jars of olives at Costco. As one German article, translated via Google, put it: “How exciting can such a pile of boards be?”
And yet pallets are arguably as integral to globalization as containers. For an invisible object, they are everywhere: There are said to be billions circulating through global supply chain (2 billion in the United States alone). Some 80 percent of all U.S. commerce is carried on pallets. So widespread is their use that they account for, according to one estimate, more than 46 percent of total U.S. hardwood lumber production. ... There is a whole science of “pallet cube optimization,” a kind of Tetris for packaging; and an associated engineering, filled with analyses of “pallet overhang” (stacking cartons so they hang over the edge of the pallet, resulting in losses of carton strength) and efforts to reduce “pallet gaps” (too much spacing between deckboards). The “pallet loading problem,”—or the question of how to fit the most boxes onto a single pallet—is a common operations research thought exercise. ...
Friday, July 6, 2012
Science & Technology
New report on the dangers of genetically modified foods
Richard Schiffman is the author of two books and a former journalist whose work has appeared in, amongst other outlets, the New York Times and the Guardian and on a variety of National Public Radio shows including "Morning Edition" and "All Things Considered".Posted at: Friday, July 06, 2012 - 07:24 PM -- Posted by: Jim Scott -- Permalink: (#)
New report on the dangers of genetically modified foods
Richard Schiffman Common Dreams USA July 5, 2012
Soy bean field. Image: earthopensource.org. Visit this page for its embedded links.
“Aren’t critics of genetically engineered food anti-science? Isn’t the debate over GMOs (genetically modified organisms) a spat between emotional but ignorant activists on one hand and rational GM-supporting scientists on the other?”
These questions are posed by Earth Open Source, a not-for-profit organization dedicated to assuring the sustainability, security, and safety of the global food system. They answer their own questions in a new study “GMO Myths and Truths.” The myth, they say, is that GM foods have been proven safe. The truth is that there are hidden dangers which corporate-funded research has not yet adequately investigated.
What makes this report unusual is that it was authored not by the usual food activists and environmentalists, but by two well known genetic engineers with help from an investigative reporter. The team conducted an exhaustive survey of hundreds of peer-reviewed scientific studies and concluded not only that GM food crops pose significant, if largely under-evaluated, health risks, but that they have so far failed to deliver on their promise to increase crop yields and lower herbicide and pesticide use.
The authors argue, moreover, that there are already safer environmentally friendly ways to grow more food for the planet’s exploding population. By focusing on the false panacea of genetic modification as a way to feed the world’s hungry, vital research dollars have been siphoned away from more promising lower-tech approaches to increasing the efficiency of the global food system.
The report’s authors include Dr Michael Antoniou of King's College London School of Medicine in the UK, who helped to develop genetic engineering for medical applications, and John Fagan, a biomedical researcher and expert in food system sustainability and GMO testing, who returned $614,000 in grant money to the National Institutes of Health in 1994 because of his concerns about the safety and ethics of genetic modification.
The paper, produced together with Claire Robinson, research director of Earth Open Source, comes out at a critical moment as California voters are considering a referendum which will appear on their ballot in November calling for the labeling of genetically modified foods in the state. Such labeling is already mandatory in Europe, China, India and many other nations.
Seventy percent of the foods that Americans purchase in the supermarket contain ingredients (mostly corn, soy and canola oil) that are genetically modified. The food industry, and often the media, assure us that there is a scientific consensus that GM foods are equivalent nutritionally to foods that have not been modified and not a danger to those who consume them. But it is just not true that all scientists agree. Given the uncertainties in the field and the lack of long-term health studies, some groups like the American Academy of Environmental Medicine and the Union of Concerned Scientists have called for labeling of GM foods.
If Californians agrees, it could have a big impact on the rest of us. ...
Monday, June 18, 2012
Science & Technology
Zealots of the atom: The nuclear cult
Below: Karl Grossman is professor of journalism at the State University of New York/College of New York. He is the author of the book, The Wrong Stuff: The Space’s Program’s Nuclear Threat to Our Planet. Grossman is an associate of the media watch group Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR).Posted at: Monday, June 18, 2012 - 01:34 PM -- Posted by: Jim Scott -- Permalink: (#)
The nuclear cult
Karl Grossman CounterPunch USA June 18, 2012
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Nuclear scientists and engineers embrace nuclear power like a religion. The term “nuclear priesthood” was coined by Dr. Alvin Weinberg, long director of Oak Ridge National Laboratory, and the laboratory’s website proudly notes this. It’s not unusual for scientists at Oak Ridge and other U.S. national nuclear laboratories to refer to themselves as “nukies.” The Oak Ridge website describes Weinberg as a “prophet” of “nuclear energy.”
This religious, cultish element is integral to a report done for the U.S. Department of Energy in 1984 by Battelle Memorial Institute about how the location of nuclear waste sites can be communicated over the ages. An “atomic priesthood,” it recommends, could impart the locations in a “legend-and-ritual…retold year-by-year.” Titled “Communications Measures to Bridge Ten Millennia,” the taxpayer-funded report says: “Membership in this ‘priesthood’ would be self-selective over time.”
Currently, Allison Macfarlane, nominated to be the new head of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, says she is an “agnostic” on nuclear power—as if support or opposition to atomic energy falls on a religious spectrum. Meanwhile, Gregory Jaczko, the outgoing NRC chairman, with a Ph.D. in physics, was politically crucified because he repeatedly raised safety concerns, thus not revering nuclear power enough.
Years ago, while I was working on a book about toxic chemicals, the publisher asked that I find someone who worked for a chemical company and get his or her rationale. I found someone who had been at American Cyanamid, the pesticide manufacturer, who said he worked there to better support his growing family financially.
But when it comes to nuclear power, it’s more than that—it’s a religious adherence. Why? Does it have to do with nuclear scientists and engineers being in such close proximity to power, literally? Is it about the process through which they are trained—in the U.S., many in the nuclear navy and/or in the insular culture of the
government’s national nuclear laboratories? These laboratories, originally under the Atomic Energy Commission and now the Department of Energy and managed by corporations, universities and scientific entities including Battelle Memorial Institute, grew out of the World War II Manhattan Project crash program to build atomic bombs. After the war, the laboratories expanded to pursue the development of all things nuclear. And is it about nuclear physics programs at universities serving as echo chambers?
Whatever the causes, the outcome is nuclear worship.
And this is despite the Chernobyl or Fukushima Daiichi catastrophes. It’s despite the radioactive messes exposed at the Rocky Flats nuclear weapons production facility and at Los Alamos and other national nuclear laboratories most of which have been declared high-pollution Superfund sites where cancer on-site and in adjoining areas is widespread. It’s despite the continuing threat of nuclear war and the horrific loss of life it would bring and nuclear proliferation spreading the potential for atomic weapons globally. Still, they press on with religious fervor.
“Most of them are not educated about radiation biology or genetics, so they are fundamentally ignorant,” says Dr. Helen Caldicott, a founder of Physicians for Social Responsibility whose books include Nuclear Madness. “They are ‘brought up’ in an environment where they are conditioned to support the concept of all things nuclear.” Further, “nuclear power evokes enormous forces of the universe, and as Henry Kissinger said, ‘Power is the ultimate aphrodisiac.” And “they practice denial because I think many of them in their heart really know that what they are doing is evil but they will defend it assiduously, unless they themselves or their child is diagnosed with cancer. Then many of them recant.”
Linking the “nuclear priesthood” to the Manhattan Project is Michael Mariotte, executive director of Nuclear Information and Resource Service. “The scientists involved weren’t really sure what they were unleashing, and had to have a certain amount of faith that it would work and it would not destroy the world in the process. After they saw the destructive power of the bomb, they were both proud and horrified at what they had done, and believed they had to use this technology for ‘good.’ Thus nuclear power was born,” says Mariotte. “The problem is when you have this messianic vision that you are creating good out of evil, it is very difficult to turn around and realize that the ‘good’ you have created is, in fact, also evil.” ...
A parallel situation exists in Russia, the other nuclear superpower. Dr. Alexey Yablokov, a biologist, member of the Russian Academy of Sciences and environmental advisor to Presidents Yeltsin and Gorbachev, says the nuclear scientists there refer to themselves “atomschiky” or “nuclearists” and “think and act as a separate, isolated caste.” From the beginning of nuclear technology in the Soviet Union, they “were enthusiastic about the great, the fantastic discoveries of splitting the atom and developing enormous power. This ‘secret knowledge’ was magnified by state secrecy and a deep belief—in the Soviet Union as in the United States—of atomic energy ‘saving the globe’…There is a remarkable similarity in the argumentation of these groups here and in the United States. Step-by-step, they turned to an atomic religion, closed societies, a ‘state inside a state.’” ...
Tuesday, June 12, 2012
Science & Technology
Peeking behind the carefully-drawn curtain: Not legally food, are GMOs a tool for population control?
For decades, the human population has increased (despite the casualties of war) while the infrastructure needed to support them has been allowed to stagnate, even to deteriorate. So now the cost of bringing the infrastructure back up to adequate levels to support the human population has become enormous, especially with the global food supply hammered by GMO crop failures, the Gulf of Mexico oil disaster, and the radioactive contamination of the entire Pacific from Fukushima/STUXNET. From the point of view of a money-junkie, it's cheaper to start killing/sterilizing humans than to pay to rebuild a decent infrastructure to keep them alive. Feed stock too costly? Time to cull the herd. If the livestock isn't useful, better to get rid of the useless eaters and save the cash. - Michael Rivero, June 11, 2012, What Really HappenedPosted at: Tuesday, June 12, 2012 - 01:29 PM -- Posted by: Jim Scott -- Permalink: (#)
Doctors warn: Avoid genetically modified food
Jeffrey M. Smith Institute for Responsible Technology USA May 2009
On May 19th, the American Academy of Environmental Medicine (AAEM) called on "Physicians to educate their patients, the medical community, and the public to avoid GM (genetically modified) foods when possible and provide educational materials concerning GM foods and health risks." They called for a moratorium on GM foods, long-term independent studies, and labeling. AAEM's position paper stated, "Several animal studies indicate serious health risks associated with GM food," including infertility, immune problems, accelerated aging, insulin regulation, and changes in major organs and the gastrointestinal system. They conclude, "There is more than a casual association between GM foods and adverse health effects. There is causation," as defined by recognized scientific criteria. "The strength of association and consistency between GM foods and disease is confirmed in several animal studies."
More and more doctors are already prescribing GM-free diets. Dr. Amy Dean, a Michigan internal medicine specialist, and board member of AAEM says, "I strongly recommend patients eat strictly non-genetically modified foods." Ohio allergist Dr. John Boyles says "I used to test for soy allergies all the time, but now that soy is genetically engineered, it is so dangerous that I tell people never to eat it."
Dr. Jennifer Armstrong, President of AAEM, says, "Physicians are probably seeing the effects in their patients, but need to know how to ask the right questions." World renowned biologist Pushpa M. Bhargava goes one step further. After reviewing more than 600 scientific journals, he concludes that genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are a major contributor to the sharply deteriorating health of Americans.
Pregnant women and babies at great risk
Among the population, biologist David Schubert of the Salk Institute warns that "children are the most likely to be adversely effected by toxins and other dietary problems" related to GM foods. He says without adequate studies, the children become "the experimental animals."
The experience of actual GM-fed experimental animals is scary. ...
Children of the Corn: GMOs don't qualify as food
C. Stone Salem-News.com USA May 28, 2011
If GMOs are highly associated with infertility and spontaneous abortions in animals, is a similar rate of infertitlity (20%) occurring in people and are there increases in spontaneous abortion? Visit this page for its appended and embedded links.
(LONDON) - There has been a concerted national effort by citizens to have the US government label GMOs. Opposing it are government intent not only to keep them unlabeled in the US but efforts at the international level by the US government to remove all labeling of GMOs through Codex. The problem is that Codex applies to food, and GMOs don't qualify.
William Engdahl wrote in March of 2010 about a USDA funded project to create a GM corn that sterilizes people.
One long-standing project of the US Government has been to perfect a genetically-modified variety of corn, the diet staple in Mexico and many other Latin American countries. The corn has been field tested in tests financed by the US Department of Agriculture along with a small California bio-tech company named Epicyte. Announcing his success at a 2001 press conference, the president of Epicyte, Mitch Hein, pointing to his GMO corn plants, announced, “We have a hothouse filled with corn plants that make anti-sperm antibodies.” 14
Hein explained that they had taken antibodies from women with a rare condition known as immune infertility, isolated the genes that regulated the manufacture of those infertility antibodies, and, using genetic engineering techniques, had inserted the genes into ordinary corn seeds used to produce corn plants. In this manner, in reality they produced a concealed contraceptive embedded in corn meant for human consumption. “Essentially, the antibodies are attracted to surface receptors on the sperm,” said Hein. “They latch on and make each sperm so heavy it cannot move forward. It just shakes about as if it was doing the lambada.”15 Hein claimed it was a possible solution to world “over-population.” The moral and ethical issues of feeding it to humans in Third World poor countries without their knowing it countries he left out of his remarks.
The questions raised by "[s]permicides hidden in GMO corn provided to starving Third World populations through the generosity of the Gates’ foundation, Rockefeller Foundation and Kofi Annan’s AGRA" are many and profound. ...
Toxin from genetically modified crops detected in Canadians’ blood
Jacob Sloan Disinformation USA June 9, 2011
Until now, scientists and multinational corporations promoting GM crops have maintained that Bt toxin poses no danger to human health as the protein breaks down in the human gut. But the presence of this toxin in human blood shows that this does not happen.
Eating GM corn, soy, and potatoes is perfectly safe, provided you don’t mind having a powerful toxin swirling in your bloodstream. Oh, and your unborn baby’s bloodstream as well. So says a debbie-downer peer-reviewed Canadian study, India Today reports:
Fresh doubts have arisen about the safety of genetically modified crops, with a new study reporting presence of Bt toxin, used widely in GM crops, in human blood for the first time.
The India Today article concludes:
Given the potential toxicity of these environmental pollutants and the fragility of the foetus, more studies are needed, particularly those using the placental transfer approach, they added Experts have warned of serious implications for India. Cottonseed oil is made from seeds of genetically modified cotton and thus Bt toxin may have already entered the food chain in India.
"Indian regulators should be immediately called for detailed toxicological studies to know the extent of contamination of the human blood with Bt toxins coming from cottonseed oil, and also ascertain its long term health impacts," said Devinder Sharma, an anti-GM activist.
Noted: New Zealand has called for ban on fertility-damaging soy-based baby formula. Roundup Ready soy is being cultivated on a massive scale across the globe, having devastating effects in many countries; one of the hardest hit is Argentina due to its dependence on soy as a source of revenue. In Argentina, widespread reports exist of immediate illness from massive glyphosate spraying operations, but physicians and regulatory authorities continue turning a deaf ear. One Argentinian scientist confirmed what other scientists had already found—that glyphosate can potentially cause birth defects, sterility, and neurotoxicity—but they attempted to silence him by threats and public ridicule. See: "The Toxin So Dangerous It's Causing Catastrophic Birth Defects", May 13, 2012
GMO created foods are biological weapons
Luis R. Miranda The Real Agenda USA June 1, 2012
Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) used to create food and crop seeds are true biological weapons to create infertility worldwide. There are several companies working in the field of biotechnology and nanotechnology, which exist for the sole purpose of studying, experimenting and creating genetically modified organisms that cause infertility in animals, plants and humans. The most famous of all the companies that produces GMO seed is Monsanto, whose executives have publicly said that they want Monsanto to become the only producer of seeds in the world and that no food should be grown that does not come from seeds manufactured by their company.
Monsanto is joined by other giants of biotechnology and chemistry such as Cargill, DuPont and ConAgra. But the creation and application of transgenic organisms is not limited to these multinational corporations. There are smaller contractors who do the same work, perhaps with more impressive results due to the expertise of its work. This is the case of Epicyte, a company in California, whose president has shown his satisfaction to be in possession of massive quantities of agricultural products infested with GMO ingredients, that after being consumed would cause the sterilization of those who ingest and absorb his company’s GMO ingredients.
A May 28 report states that the Codex international organization, founded by the United Nations, which regulates all foods, minerals and herbs in the world, does not believe that GMO products are food, and this places foods with these ingredients in a different place than food produced naturally, and as such, can be used for various practices, including birth control and the creation of infertility in a nation or people.
In one of his publications, the Salem News indicates that there are efforts at the local, regional, national and international levels to identify and label GMOs in products for human consumption, but governments and corporations refuse to accept such a request. After the implementation of Codex Alimentarius in 2009 the will of the big companies came true, for within the regulations set by Codex, it is clearly stated that GMOs are not considered food and therefore can not be identified on the labels.
The existence of genetically modified corn was analyzed in tests conducted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the company Epicyte. In announcing his success in a 2001 press conference, the president of Epicyte, Mitch Hein, said his company’s transgenic corn plants, “create anti-sperm antibodies.”
Hein said the creation of transgenic organisms and their use in food could be used as a tool to solve the overpopulation problem.
In 1996, after the creation and use of genetically modified organisms in corn and other grains sent to South America, Mexico and Africa, analysis revealed that, almost immediately after the introduction of Bt corn in the United States, the birth rate had fallen in an accelerated way; only three years after the introduction of GMOs into the food supply. ...
Sunday, June 10, 2012
Science & Technology
Psi refers to a wide range of fascinating and controversial phenomena that include ESP ('mind reading'), psychokinesis ('mind over matter'), psychic healing and precognitive dreams. Sigh! But wait: Is ESP verifiable?
The mentalist. ESP is real, says Cornell's Daryl Bem. And if he’s wrong? “Science is self-correcting. Reality always bites back.”Posted at: Sunday, June 10, 2012 - 02:41 PM -- Posted by: Jim Scott -- Permalink: (#)
Paranormal circumstances: One influential scientist's quixotic mission to prove ESP exists
Yudhijit Bhattacharjee Discover Magazine USA Webposted May 14, 2012
Psychologist Daryl Bem's lifelong interest in the tricks of professional mind readers has recently morphed into a scientific investigation of ESP. Photo: Shannon Taggart. Visit this page for its embedded links.
On a winter afternoon last March, Daryl Bem stepped out of the psychology department building at Cornell University, dressed in a red parka and a woolen hat to fend off the icy wind. As he walked along the pavement, navigating mounds of snow and taking care not to step onto the slushy street, the well-bundled social psychologist looked like a man who might prefer staying safe within the boundaries, a man who might shun risk—proving once again the danger of mistaking surface for substance. The 73-year-old Bem has defied the norm throughout his intellectual life, burning every dogma he’s encountered in the pyre of his logic. Now, in the twilight of his career, he has committed what may be his most daring act of sacrilege: claiming the existence of precognition, the ability to sense future events. Maybe this time, his colleagues say, Daryl Bem has gone too far.
Bem made his mark as a psychologist four decades ago by proposing the then radical idea that people adjust their emotions after observing their own behavior–that we sometimes develop our attitudes about our actions only after the fact. The proposition challenged the prevailing wisdom of the 1960s that things worked the other way around, that attitude was the engine from which behavior emerged. Though counterintuitive, Bem’s theory has held up to scientific scrutiny in dozens of studies and is now enshrined in psychology textbooks.
Over the years, Bem cemented his reputation as a rebel by floating other controversial theories on topics such as personality and sexual orientation. ... Even in the context of a career of irreverence, there was little to suggest that Bem would end up defending the possibility of extrasensory perception, or ESP, which most mainstream scientists consider unworthy of serious inquiry. Through most of his career, he was as dubious about telepathy (mind reading) or precognition (seeing the future) as any of his colleagues.
Then data changed his mind. ...
Noted: Luminato: Mentalist Banachek predicts Star front page 10 days in advance
Wendy Gillis Toronto Star Ontario Canada June 9, 2012
Mentalist Banachek poses for a photo with his revealed written prediction sheet. The renowned U.K. mentalist wrote down a few predictions of what he believed would appear as headlines on the front page of the Saturday Star on June 9 and sealed them in a glass box on display in the front window of Kiehl's, a cosmetics store at 407 Queen St. W. Photo: Tara Walton/Toronto Star
The surprise retirement of I’ll Have Another was there. The out-of-the-blue bid for the 2024 Olympics was there. The story on gang violence? There. He even had the feature article on Australian Aboriginals.
In a feat of unbelievable (no, really) news forecasting, U.K. mentalist Banachek seems to have accurately predicted the front page of Saturday’s Star 10 days in advance.
The professional magician, who’s worked as a consultant for Penn & Teller, David Blaine and Criss Angel, says he scribbled a mock-up of the June 9 front page on May 30. ...
Thursday, June 7, 2012
Science & Technology
Is humanity pushing Earth past a tipping point?
Below: This article requires payment to read in full. The preview allows full access to author credentials and affiliations and to other relevant information about the paper's preparation.Posted at: Thursday, June 07, 2012 - 02:56 PM -- Posted by: Jim Scott -- Permalink: (#)
"Approaching a state shift in Earth’s biosphere". Article preview
Nature USA Volume 486, pages 52–58 Published online June 6, 2012 and in print June 7, 2012
Localized ecological systems are known to shift abruptly and irreversibly from one state to another when they are forced across critical thresholds. Here we review evidence that the global ecosystem as a whole can react in the same way and is approaching a planetary-scale critical transition as a result of human influence. The plausibility of a planetary-scale ‘tipping point’ highlights the need to improve biological forecasting by detecting early warning signs of critical transitions on global as well as local scales, and by detecting feedbacks that promote such transitions. It is also necessary to address root causes of how humans are forcing biological changes.
Item: Is humanity pushing Earth past a tipping point?
Brandon Keim Wired Science USA June 6, 2012
'There have been big, planetary shifts before. We can see it coming. That's the difference.' Visit this page for its embeddd links.
Could human activity push Earth’s biological systems to a planet-wide tipping point, causing changes as radical as the Ice Age’s end — but with less pleasant results, and with billions of people along for a bumpy ride?
It’s by no means a settled scientific proposition, but many researchers say it’s worth considering — and not just as an apocalyptic warning or far-fetched speculation, but as a legitimate question raised by emerging science.
“There are some biological realities we can’t ignore,” said paleoecologist Anthony Barnosky of the University of California, Berkeley. “What I’d like to avoid is getting caught by surprise.”
In “Approaching a state shift in Earth’s biosphere,” published June 6 in Nature, Barnosky and 21 co-authors cite 100 papers in summarizing what’s known about environmental tipping points.
While the concept was popularized by Malcolm Gladwell’s accounts of sudden, widespread changes in society, the underlying mathematics — which won physicist Kenneth Wilson a Nobel Prize in 1982 — have far-reaching implications.
In the last few decades, scientists have found tipping behaviors in various natural environments, from locale-scale ponds and coral reefs to regional systems like the Sahara desert, which until 5,500 years ago was a fertile grassland, and perhaps even the Amazon basin.
Common to these examples is a type of transformation not described in traditional ideas of nature as existing in a static balance, with change occurring gradually. Instead, the systems seem to be dynamic, ebbing and flowing within a range of biological parameters.
Stress those parameters — with fast-rising temperatures, say, or a burst of nutrients — and systems are capable of sudden, feedback loop-fueled reconfiguration.
According to some researchers, that’s what happened when life’s diversity exploded in an eyeblink 540 million years ago, or much more recently when a glacier-chilled Earth became in a couple thousand years the temperate garden that cradled human civilization.
But while the Cambrian explosion and Holocene warming were sparked by natural, planet-wide changes to ocean chemistry and solar intensity, say Barnosky and colleagues, there’s a new force to consider: 7 billion people who exert a combined influence usually associated with planetary processes.
Human activity now dominates 43 percent of Earth’s land surface and affects twice that area. One-third of all available fresh water is diverted to human use. A full 20 percent of Earth’s net terrestrial primary production, the sheer volume of life produced on land every year, is harvested for human purposes. Extinction rates compare to those recorded during the demise of dinosaurs and average temperatures will likely be higher in 2070 than at any point in human evolution.
Scientists informally call our current geological age the “Anthropocene,” and to Barnosky’s group this means we’re strong enough to tip the planet, radically changing regional climates and ecologies. ...
Sunday, June 3, 2012
Science & Technology
Scientific explorations: From whence comes the Golden Rule?
Origins of the Golden Rule. Long the stuff of theology and politics, two new books maintain morality is best understood as a feature of biology, not heart and soul. Michael Shermer, the publisher of Skeptic magazine and a monthly columnist for Scientific American, reviews the books.Posted at: Sunday, June 03, 2012 - 02:19 PM -- Posted by: Jim Scott -- Permalink: (#)
Kin and kindness
Michael Shermer Wall Street Journal USA Webposted May 25, 2012
It is the oldest and most universally recognized moral principle, codified more than 2,000 years ago by the Jewish sage Hillel the Elder: "Whatsoever thou wouldst that men should not do to thee, do not do that to them. This is the whole Law. The rest is only explanation." The explanation of morality was the subject of intense theological and philosophical disputation well before Hillel, of course, and has been ever since. Lately scientists have begun weighing in with naturalistic views of the matter, and now their cause has been joined by Paul J. Zak with The Moral Molecule and Christopher Boehm with Moral Origins.
Mr. Zak, an economist and pioneer in the new science of neuroeconomics, has built his reputation on research that has identified the hormone oxytocin as a biological proxy for trust. As he documents, countries whose citizens trust one another gain economically, enjoying a higher gross domestic product, on average, than countries where lower levels of trust exist. Mr. Zak explains that trust is built through mutually beneficial exchanges that result in higher levels of oxytocin.
How does he know this? By studying blood samples taken from participants in economic-exchange games administered by researchers as well as from people in real-world encounters. The Moral Molecule is an engaging popular account of Mr. Zak's decade of intense research into how oxytocin evolved for one purpose—pair bonding and attachment in social mammals—but had the bonus effect of cementing a sense of trust among strangers.
The problem to be solved here is why strangers would be nice to one another. Evolutionary "selfish gene" theory accounts for why we would be nice to our kin—they share our genes, so being altruistic and moral has an evolutionary payoff in our genes being indirectly propagated into future generations. ...
In Moral Origins the evolutionary anthropologist Christopher Boehm tackles the "free-rider" problem in explaining the origins of morality. Kin selection and reciprocal altruism go only so far in explaining why we would have evolved the propensity to be nice to our fellow group members, because bullies and Machiavellian manipulators could easily take advantage of the naively trusting. Before long, free riders operating on the goodwill of other group members would gain a reproductive advantage and swamp the gene pool with psychopaths lacking any pretense of real morality.
But that didn't happen, and Mr. Boehm explains why: We have evolved the social tools of shaming and shunning free riders who violate social norms; humans have also developed a desire to punish those who attempt to gain an unfair upper hand against naive group members or against those who might be exploited by alpha-male bullies. This punitive outlook explains why we not only practice but often even enjoy "moralistic punishment" against those who have cheated or bullied us. There is a deep emotional satisfaction in seeing the bad guy get his comeuppance. ...