Category Archives: Weird science

Two excited Japanese women and a robot snake!

Hibin wa roboto des! (‘Naaza’ means snake in Japanese, so I have no idea what that actually means, but the presenters sound very excited about it.)

My gods, these things will kill us all:


There is no confirmation yet, but it is thought that Nintendo is already designing their next interaction system based on fighting a hoard of robotic snakes while being cheered on by excitable Japanese television women with microphones. Shigeru Miyamoto might have said ‘Yes, it is a super new professional play method! It is a new gaming opportunity!’

As Kent Brockman would say, I for one welcome our snake-robot overlords!

2mins 50 secs is quite fun, where the two female presenters are clearly amazed by the robot snake as it swims around behind them.

In other technology news, $ony have said that the PS3 will be released worldwide at nearly the same time in November this year, 2006. This means that the Xbox 360 will have had a one year head-start in the market, so it will be very interesting to see $ony’s sales figures. There were earlier reports that the PS3 would be released around spring-summer time, but there appear to have been delays. $ony states that this is due to optimising the release date, but there has been some speculation that this is due to $ony trying to reduce component costs. The system is believed to be going on sale for an initially high price, even compared to the full 360 pack, which in the UK retailed for around £400. I’m looking forward to the system, but over £400 would definitely be enough to make me pause for a while.

Some good news about the system though: it will be 100% backwards compatible with existing PS1 and PS2 titles. While this isn’t an essential for a new system it is a very nice add-on, and certainly helps during those early months when the new titles are thin on the ground. Interestingly, they are also saying that there will be a 60GB hard-drive fitted as standard in the machine, which suggests that they won’t be going down the two-tiered road that Micro$oft used when releasing the 360 (the standard system lacked a hard-drive and various other useful bits).

Philip K Dick is missing!

An android, called Phil, based on the author Philip K. Dick has gone walkabout and no-one’s quite sure where. Dick wrote the novels that inspired films such as Total Recall, Minority Report, and, most ironically, Blade Runner. The latter being a story about artificial humans attempting to escape their predestined roles.

Along with an eerie likeness to the author, the robot features award-winning artificial intelligence that mimics the writer’s mannerisms and lifelike skin material to affect realistic expressions.

Top-of-the-line voice software loaded with data from Dick’s vast body of writing allows the robot to carry on natural-sounding conversations, although it does come off as a bit doddering at times.

As William Gibson (from whose blog I got the link from) wrote: ‘Can’t. Make. It. Up.’

Full article here.

Pulse racing television

This amused me: The Entertrainer. No, that’s not a mistype, it’s a device that can control your television to let you know how well you’re exercising. It monitors your heartrate and if you aren’t working hard enough it turns down the volume, conversely, if you’re working too hard it turns the volume up too loud. If you’re being really lazy it will turn the TV off!

It’s quite a bizarre idea. The heartrate is one of the most important factors in training and long routines can get pretty dull, so this gives you feedback on your performance as well as some entertainment while you’re exercising.

Solar powered lampposts

There used to be a joke when I was a kid about a solar powered torch being invented by silly people (in England this is usually attributed to the Irish, but I’m sure the Irish probably use the English or some other country). The point was that it wouldn’t work when the lights were off, ba-dum tish. Well, some smart people up in Scotland have decided that they can do it after all.

Using technology developed for distaster areas, solar panels are being attached to lampposts so that they can generate their own power and any extra left over is going to be fed into the national electricity grid. It’s really about time we started doing things like this because power doesn’t grow on trees. Unless you burn the leaves… But you get the idea.

The thing that amuses me is that, in typical engineer fashion, they’ve got all excited and added wireless internet connection boxes onto the lampposts that would be driven by solar-power too. Hurrah! Next you need to be able to charge up your electric toothbrush from them too and you’ll be away! After that I predict it’ll be small rakes that pop out from the sides of the lampposts and clear up any dead leaves in case someone slips on them. Then ‘lamppost modding’ will become popular in areas where people have too much spare time: people will begin to change the standard bulb lampposts outside their homes into blue neon poles that pulse in time with the music on their owner’s iPod shuffle.

The future is bright, the future is powered by the sun, pulsing, and coloured blue.


2005-and-a-bit & Spam maths

This year we’re getting a leap second added on to the final day to account for a something to do with the earth’s rotation. I’m not quite sure what precisely, but boffin-type people seem to know what they’re talking about so I’ll leave them to it. Apparently the important clocks of the world will tick over to 23:59:60 before moving on to 00:00:00.

On related ‘end of the year’ stuff, AOL say that spam email these days is usually scams about money, such as fake mortgage offers, and drugs for sex or painkillers. I’m not sure if this means that porn has become old fashioned, or perhaps it’s just the evolution of the internet that more money can be scammed in other ways. Apparently 8 out of 10 emails going through their system are junk, which seems about right when compared to the amount that I get that are usually offering me junk bonds, some drug called Cialis (whatever that may be), and fake Rolex watches (with ‘98% Perfectly Accurate Markings’!)… And that’s with junk filters turned on at my server. Ho hum.

AOL say that they are blocking 1.5 billion spam messages every day, so with the extra second that’s been added to 2005 there will be another 17,361 spam emails blocked. Now that’s what I call a happy new year.

Judge rules that Intelligent Design is not science

It’s nice to know that some logic exists. If you’re paying any attention to science news on the web then you will have seen the small tidal wave of writers all expressing what can be summarised as ‘yay!’ over the past hour.

The Dover Federal Court judge, hearing the case arguing that Intelligent Design should not be taught as a viable alternative to the theory of evolution, has been scathing in his response:

this case came to us as the result of the activism of an ill-informed faction on a school board, aided by a national public interest law firm eager to find a constitutional test case on ID, who in combination drove the Board to adopt an imprudent and ultimately unconstitutional policy. The breathtaking inanity of the Board’s decision is evident when considered against the factual backdrop which has now been fully revealed through this trial. The students, parents, and teachers of the Dover Area School District deserved better than to be dragged into this legal maelstrom, with its resulting utter waste of monetary and personal resources.

The judge also gives a sound and logical reason why ID should not be taught as science:

After a searching review of the record and applicable case law, we find that while ID arguments may be true, a proposition on which the court takes no position, ID is not science. We find that ID fails on three different levels, any one of which is sufficient to preclude a determination that ID is science. They are: (1) ID violates the centuries-old ground rules of science by invoking and permitting supernatural causation; (2) the argument of irreducible complexity, central to ID, employs the same flawed and illogical contrived dualism that doomed creation science in the 1980’s; and (3) ID’s negative attacks on evolution have been refuted by the scientific community.

This is the logic that the vast majority of the science community have applied to ID and it’s pleasing to see it confirmed by a court decision. I would have been astonished to see any other result, but that I even had any doubt at all suggests that my faith in the objective abilities of the US governmental system is very low at the moment. I’m very happy to see that a Republican judge has made a ruling that conflicts with the stated opinion of his Republican president.

In an additional point of amusement, the school board that first put ID into the school-room was voted out recently to be replaced with anti-ID members, showing that the people of the state were also behind the judge’s decision even before it was made.

Excerpts from the ruling here. NYT coverage here. The Register coverage here. Campaign for the adoption of the Flying Spaghetti Monster theory of creation here.

Unicorns with sensitive teeth…

You’ve probably heard of the narwal. It’s a whale with a huge tusk coming from its forehead, and the tusks were sold in the middle ages around the world as unicorn horns.

Males weigh up to 1.5 tons, grow about 15 feet long and are conspicuous by their tusks, which can grow from six to nine feet in length. A few females have tusks and, in rare cases, narwhals can wield two of the long teeth. Though often ramrod strait, the tusks always grow in tight spirals that, from the animal’s point of view, turn counterclockwise.

The horn has presented a problem for scientists for a long time now, because they really didn’t know what they are for. They occur in the males and sometimes in females, they aren’t used for fighting according to Inuit witnesses, and there seems to be few good practical applications for them, but in a paper being presented today it has been discovered that the horn has masses of nerve endings going along it, exposed to the environment directly through tiny tubules. This is really puzzling, because the horn is just an oddly placed and shaped tooth, and we get tooth ache when our teeth decay, exposing the nerve endings to the cold. For some reason, narwals living in freezing waters have evolved exposed nerve endings but no-one’s quite sure why. Possibly it’s to help them measure the weather, or to detect changes in the water that suggest when it will freeze over (like other whales, they need to surface to breath, so getting trapped under the ice is a major hazard for them).

Of course, there’s another, more amusing, option:

Dr. Nweeia noted that the discovery does not eliminate some early theories of the whale’s behavior. Tusks acting as sophisticated sensors, he said, may still play a role in mating rituals or determining male hierarchies.

He added that the nerve endings, in addition to other readings, undoubtedly produce tactile sensations when the tusk is rubbed or touched, and that these might be interpreted as pleasurable.

This tactile sense might explain why narwhals engage in what is known as “tusking,” where two males gently rub tusks together, Dr. Nweeia said.

Gay whales! Hurrah! No wonder some of the females grow them as well, although maybe they then become lesbians? Perhaps the whole narwal community is involved is massive bisexual teeth-rubbing orgies! You didn’t see that in March of the Penguins did you?

On a slightly more serious note, there’s some interesting stuff about the history of unicorns on the second page of the article, including this snippet:

Churches put small pieces of “unicorn horn” in holy water, giving ailing commoners hope of miracle cures.

I’ve always liked narwals, primarily because of the unicorn-hoax association I think, but they’re a strange looking creature and such things always capture the imagination (like the duck-billed platypus). It’s an interesting article that gets more interesting as it goes on, you can read here.

Shock news: rocks are old!

The NYT reports that a stone wall, dating somewhere between the late 1600s and 1760s, has been found during excavations to create a new subway line. It’s thought to be a remaining part of the Colonial defence structures from that time, probably used to protect the settlement from sea-based attacks using cannons and known as the Battery (some records show that the walls were manned by Duracell bunnies, and rumours suggesting that those records are written in my hand are all lies).

This obviously poses a problem, because a 45 foot wall of archaeological interest right in the path of your very expensive subway is always going to slow things down. I can’t say for sure, but in the UK we would measure, photograph, and record it as much as possible, then put a hole through it where it needs to be; if we didn’t know about the wall for centuries then the data will be preserved and overall there will be a gain. This is the most sensible option and has been suggested, with a twist, by the people on the project: ‘One idea the authority floated was to remove a three-foot-long section of the wall to be preserved elsewhere, and then go ahead with the excavation.’

Now, I don’t know about you, but I’m getting massive flashbacks to a Sheryl Crow lyric: ‘They pull up all the trees and put them in a tree museum’. Sometimes historical items only really make sense in context. How about moving Stonehenge to central London to make it more convenient for tourists to visit? It’s nice to know that the wall is there, but it loses all meaning when you move it somewhere else. Warrie Price, president of the Battery Conservancy, summarises the strangeness of this attitude:

“If these stones are able to be reused,” she said, “it would be wonderful to be able to actually touch this history.”

Yes, shock news indeed; stones have been around for a long time. How many generations would it take before the surface of the stones would be worn down by tourist hands, leaving nothing of the original workings? So instead, it would likely be in a cabinet, and then you have created a strange relic: ‘Come See The Original Stones!’ The French philosopher Jean Baudrillard wrote about the idea of simulation, suggesting that natural authenticity is being replaced by icons that represent authenticity. These icons simulate the properties of the original object or experience but repackage it out of context so that it loses its meaning. A wall only has meaning when it is in the place that it was built, because that is the defining feature of it, so by removing it from that location you get a distancing from the original purpose; it becomes a symbol of an old wall.

Perhaps I’m misjudging Warrie Price, maybe she means that it would be good if the stones could be put in as part of a new building, which is a different activity. Reusing them as a part of a wall, not as part of an exhibit as is suggested by the article, adds to their meaning rather than subtracting from it. They become a part of the continuous history of being, repurposed into an ongoing historical narrative. Yes, their value as a building material is equal to others, but the meaning of the stones is added to by their reuse rather than subtracted from by being placed out of context. In other words, a wall that is no longer a wall is just a pile of stones, and we already know that rocks are old.*

*unless everything was created 4000 years ago by a supernatural/alien being, of course.

Musical sandwiches

This is just taking ‘Christmas Cheer’ way too far. Tescos, a UK supemarket chain, have made a sandwich with a chip in the packaging that ‘plays a medley of classic Christmas tunes including Jingle Bells, Santa Claus is Coming to Town and We Wish You a Merry Christmas’.

This is one of those noise chips that have been around for years that creates a horrible tinny bit of music when you open cards. They sound awful, and so the idea of putting these things into sandwich boxes is utterly baffling. Why do it? Do people really want to hear slightly flat renditions of Christmas tunes while eating their lunch?

Although I hate the things singly, they can be quite fun en masse. Get a huge load of them together and try to get them all playing at the same time and you create a strange whining harmony. Damn… I guess I’ve found a reason to buy lots of Christmas tune sandwiches…

Go drugs, go!

‘Give me a D! Give me an R! Give me a U!’ Err…

Possibly one of the most amusing things I’ve read in the New York Times for quite a while:

On Sundays she works the sidelines for the Washington Redskins. But weekdays find her urging gynaecologists to prescribe a treatment for vaginal yeast infection.

Apparently cheerleaders are being recruited to be drugs sales representatives. No, that’s not ‘reprezentin’ da streets posse’ or something like that, the cheerleaders are going around to (predominantly male) doctors to encourage them to stock particular brands of pharmaceuticals. I presume that they aren’t asked to do this in their previous uniform, but from the sound of things the doctors may get to see it as a side benefit if they place a large enough order.

You’ve got to admire the optimism of this person though:

Dr. Carli, who notes that even male drug representatives are athletic and handsome, predicts that the drug industry, whose image has suffered from safety problems and aggressive marketing tactics, will soon come to realize that “the days of this sexual marketing are really quite limited.”

Yes, I think that marketing things with sex is definitely getting old, it’ll never last. In ten years everything will be sold by ugly people in dirty rags, that’s the future of marketing! … Or perhaps not.

“The cheerleaders now are the top people in universities; these are really capable and high-profile people,” said Gregory C. Webb, who is also a principal in a company that runs cheerleading camps and employs former cheerleaders.

So there’s no conflict of interests there. Call me crazy if you like, but I fail to see why a cheerleader would logically be in ‘the top people in universities’. I see no reason why physical health, a strong relationship with attractive individuals, and standardised beauty would not mean that you are intelligent enough to be among the top people, and these things do suggest that in our aesthetic world they will probably do well, but they are also people who have to train very hard and so generally will have less time to dedicate to their studies, making them less likely to be academically successful. There is also the possibility that they have survived on performed charm, so they may be academically weaker than other students. These things apparently don’t matter for a person whose job is to convince doctors of the benefits of drug choices. Are you feeling worried yet?

Speaking of conflict of interests:

“Obviously, people hired for the work have to be extroverts, a good conversationalist, a pleasant person to talk to; but that has nothing to do with looks, it’s the personality,” said Lamberto Andreotti, the president of worldwide pharmaceuticals for Bristol-Myers Squibb.

Ah, so the people defending this are all coincidentally involved in drug sales? Spooky. It sounds like doctors are getting some very wrong messages too:

One informal survey, conducted by a urologist in Pittsburgh, Dr. James J. McCague, found that 12 of 13 medical saleswomen said they had been sexually harassed by physicians.

And in a final twist of feminism, here’s Novartis:

But there have been accusations that a pharmaceutical company encouraged using sex to make drug sales. In a federal lawsuit against Novartis, one saleswoman said she had been encouraged to exploit a personal relationship with a doctor to increase sales in her Montgomery, Ala., territory. In court papers responding to the lawsuit, Novartis denied the accusation. The company has also said it is committed to hiring and promoting women.

Shouldn’t that be ‘the company has also said it is committed to hiring and promoting sexy women’?

This is all a logical extension of capitalism in a health system. You make a product, then to sell the product you package it in an appealing way. When you are selling drugs the boxes are never going to be sexy (and will often be the complete opposite) so instead you get human packaging. I’m more than a little troubled by the way that these people, attractive men are in this profession too, are being turned into an extension of a commercial product. It’s not quite prostitution but these companies are pimping out people because of their bodies and looks, it’s just that the sexual acts are not strictly encouraged as dessert. How long before lap-dancers are being recruited too?

I’m sure that there are many women like Ms. Napier, the former Kentucky cheerleader:

she was so concerned about the cute-but-dumb stereotype when she got her job that she worked diligently to learn about her product, Prevacid.

I also don’t doubt that there are many others that survive simply on their looks. There was legislation proposed to make sure that drugs salespeople had a degree in the sciences, but this was rejected. I can see why, how many scientists study so that they can go into sales? Despite this logical reason, it has allowed an unsavoury practise to continue.

Sucker Bet – more on Intelligent Design

I’ve had the pleasure of being friends with the Oregon-based author T. G. Browning for a few years now. He has proposed a very sensible idea to help move on the Intelligent Design/Evolution debate. Over to T. G.:

Okay folks, listen up. This is a plea, not a rant. The entire debate
about the Kansas School Board decision has shifted away from the real
core of the debate. I’m asking everyone who reads this to send it on
to at least three other people with a note suggesting that the
recipients do the same.

Intelligent Design (ID) adherents keep saying they simply want to
teach the debate. It’s time to do just that. But how?
The answer is so simple that no one has actually suggested it until
now; at least, not in the terms Americans are most familiar and
comfortable with.


I propose the following: A cash fund, administered by an impartial
panel that represents both sides, with the money to be awarded to
anyone who can put together a scientific experiment that has a
reproducible result.

The debate is whether or not ID can function as a scientific theory or
not. The fund would be presented to the first person or organization
that could propose an experiment that passes scientific peer review
guidelines and proves – or disproves – any prediction of the ID
theory. If ID truly is a scientific theory, then it must make
predictions that can be tested. Let’s accept that at face value and
let the chips fall where they may.

If this sounds familiar, it is. A similar proposal has been in place
for a number of years for any paranormal claim. The magician, James
Randi, has offered a cash award for years, to anyone who could
demonstrate under controlled, double blind conditions, any occurrence
of telepathy, clairvoyance, precognition or telekinesis. No winners
have come forward to claim the money.

I’ll be upfront here. This is a sucker bet, because ID is not science
in any way, shape or form. It makes no predictions that I’m aware of
and no ID adherent has ever proposed any experiment, ever. Why?
Because there are no predictions to test.

I’m not rich, unfortunately, and can’t put up a huge cash prize, but I
will go so far as to put up $250 as seed money. I’m forwarding this
proposal to the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims
of the Paranormal (CSICOP) with a request for others to start putting
money together. Perhaps someone rich who has demonstrated a concern
for science education in this country will also put up money. [Bill
and Melinda Gates come to mind. Over the past decade, the two of them
have shown a great deal of sense and civic concern.] My goal would be
a cash award of $1,000,000. That’s enough money to make the idea
attractive to even the most cynical of ID adherents.

God knows I could be wrong. Perhaps some very smart, incisive person
can think of an experiment that would actually test Intelligent Design
as a scientific theory. I’d be the first to applaud such a test. I
don’t look for any such test in the near future, however, and will
make a non-psychic prediction for you all. None will be put forth.

I strongly doubt that Michael Behe, William Dembski and Jonathan Wells
(three big name ID proponents), will back such a proposal because the
truth of the matter is that Behe and his fellow ID advocates know full
well that no such test is possible.


Because ID is not science.

It’s a simple as that.

Micro$oft discover the secret of levitation!

Woah! have revealed that the XBox 360 controller is capable of levitation! Fantastic! I was probably going to be waiting for the $ony Playstation 3 to come out next year, but with the floating controller technology I think Micro$oft just might have converted me. Click here to witness the spookiness (before they remove it).

Don’t forget though, this marvellous aspect of the technology is only available in dear old Blighty, the colonial lot across the pond get a boring gravitationally-conformist controller. Click to witness the drab US version. Hurrah for Britain! And for bored copy writers!

(Found by Mwongozi.)

Foil hats amplify alien signals!


People at MIT hve spent time proving that foil hats actually amplify radio frequencies rather than deflect them, as is the commonly held belief. No doubt the rumours about their protective capabilities was started by the government. Yep.

Using a $250,000 network analyser, we find that although on average all helmets attenuate invasive radio frequencies in either directions (either emanating from an outside source, or emanating from the cranium of the subject), certain frequencies are in fact greatly amplified. These amplified frequencies coincide with radio bands reserved for government use according to the Federal Communication Commission (FCC). Statistical evidence suggests the use of helmets may in fact enhance the government’s invasive abilities. We theorize that the government may in fact have started the helmet craze for this reason.

Isn’t it reassuring to know that the people at MIT are making good use of their time? 😀

See the tests here.

As easy as aleph-beth-gimel

Perhaps not a very exciting thing for many people, but I was quite interested in this:

In the 10th century B.C., in the hill country south of Jerusalem, a scribe carved his A B C’s on a limestone boulder – actually, his aleph-beth-gimel’s, for the string of letters appears to be an early rendering of the emergent Hebrew alphabet.

Archaeologists digging in July at the site, Tel Zayit, found the inscribed stone in the wall of an ancient building. After an analysis of the layers of ruins, the discoverers concluded that this was the earliest known specimen of the Hebrew alphabet and an important benchmark in the history of writing, they said this week.

Isn’t that fantastic? An alphabet from 3000 years ago… We all deal with writing every day of our lives, and so I find the discovery of this quite exciting. It reminds me of our place in the continuum of existence on this planet, the way that there is a continuity of ideas that appeal and are passed on (‘memes’ to use Richard Dawkins’ idea UK link US link) down through the generations, surviving because they are just so damn good.

It also makes me wonder what will be left of our time. Plastic bottles? Everything is biodegradable eventually, and the strongest materials aren’t commonly used any more because they’re so hard to work with. The vast quantity of data on the internet is most likely going to disappear in a magnetic blip, never to be seen again. Given some of the stuff online, perhaps that’s not such a bad thing, but the internet has been a true cultural revolution in indsutrialised countries of the world. For the first time in the history of mankind, people have got the power in their hands to publish information for the whole world to see and hear. The importance of this has been lost in the realisation that many people don’t have a lot to say, but maybe that idle chatter really is the significant thing after all.

Perhaps the greatest revelation about the internet for scholars should not be ‘it’s full of rubbish and Klingon’ but that people often don’t care about academic debate and just enjoy discussing the trivia of their lives with friends. That’s not so bad, is it? Is there any reason why every person on the planet should have something important to say? What does it tell us that when given the greatest public stage in the history of humanity we end up discussing our choice of clothing in a shop that day?

Silly Christians, sensible Christians, and a (probably) silly scientist

This is a post about a few things. Firstly, the trial of Intelligent Design (ID) that’s just rounding up in the US, and secondly about some other Christians saying very reasonable and sensible things (because it’s about time some sensible Christians got in the news), coming third a scientist saying some rather odd and possibly quite silly things, and then to finish off we’ve got the Catholic Church saying some very sensible stuff.

The story so far, in case you’ve not been following it is this: in Dover, Pennsylvania, 11 parents have objected to the teaching of ID in classrooms using textbooks purchased with money raised by a local church, saying that it’s simply a thin veil for Creationism. I do wonder why it’s always assumed that it’s Christian Creationist theory. Personally I’d be really amused if all the children decided that ancient Egyptian mythology is the most likely source of the universe, when viewed from an ID perspective, and all began worshipping Isis… But I digress.

The trial has been rounding up, with the defence lawyer (in favour of Creatio… I mean, ID being taught in classes) arguing that ID represents ‘the next great paradigm shift in science’. Would that be a new paradigm that rejects scientific method, the basis of all known science, and replaces it with faith? Ah yes, that would certainly be a big change. Hm. On a linguistic note, be wary of people who use the word ‘paradigm’ when talking about the present, they are usually predicting the future with a notorious lack of accuracy.

Source here.

So, enough with the silly Christians, and on to some sensible ones.

Working on the basis of Genesis 2:15, ‘The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it’, the National Association of Evangelicals is working on a campaign to make the US government restrict carbon emissions due to their strong links with global warming. This is an interesting one, because Christians in the US are heavily affiliated with the Republican conservative agenda that promotes industry to the massive detriment of the environment (as well as other topics that Evangelical Christians are usually more firm on, such as (getting rid of) abortion and (getting rid of) gay rights).

Working on the theory that God has instructed man to pursue environmental protection, the Evangelicals promoting this idea need to convince the rest of the congregation that you don’t have to be an Earth Mother worshipping hippy or a Liberal to think that trying to stop destroying the planet is a good idea. I would have thought that this would be quite an easy task, but then I am a liberal optimist!

More on that one here.

Finally, a scientist who just might have found a way to produce ten times more energy than normal hydrogen energy production systems, if it weren’t for the slight problem that his discovery goes against all current theories of Quantum Mechanics (QM).

This is a bit technical, but an interesting idea nonetheless. A hydrogen atom is made up of one proton and one electron. The electron orbits the proton at what is called the ‘ground state’. This is essentially the most energy efficient orbit possible for the electron: any other orbit would require more energy. The scientist claims that using a process applied to water he has managed to make a hydrogen atom with the electron orbiting even closer to the proton. Okay…

The theory runs that this closer orbit is even more energy efficient than the previous ‘ground state’ and so when the electron moves into this position it releases the extra energy it was using to maintain the more energetic orbit. That’s a great idea, but it does have a major problem in covering why the electrons don’t automatically settle into the most energy efficient positions to begin with.

Here’s the bit I like: despite the simple truth that what this guy says goes against all previous peer-reviewed studies of QM, scientists are still willing to accept the possibility that the guy could be right. Literally, they don’t take science to be scripture! They do say that this particular experiment hasn’t gone through the peer-review system yet and so remains without approval of the wider scientific community, but they also don’t say that it must be wrong because it would upset so many other theories, although on the same logic they remain sceptical about it. I rather like that about scientists. Also, wouldn’t it be great if this guy was proved correct? We’d have probably the greatest scientific invention of our lifetime! ‘Shame it’s probably nonsense!

Source here.

Let’s just finish off with something very sensible from that article on the Pennsylvania trial:

Meanwhile on Thursday, the Vatican issued a statement warning against ignoring scientific reason, saying that religion risks turning into fundamentalism. Cardinal Paul Poupard, who heads the Pontifical Council for Culture said:

“The permanent lesson that the Galileo case represents pushes us to keep alive the dialogue between the various disciplines, and in particular between theology and the natural sciences, if we want to prevent similar episodes from repeating themselves in the future.”

So, scientists being very silly, and Evangelicals the Catholic Church being very sensible… Are you sure this is the Matazone blog you’re reading?

1.5 million great grandchildren*

*plus a few more ‘greats’.

Through studying genetics in China they’ve found that one chap from the beginning of the Qing dynasty, 500 years ago, is the direct ancestor of 1.5 million people today. Blimey!

He is thought to have been from the Qing dynasty ruling class, so had many wives and concubines, whose offspring stood a good chance of survival due to the status of their father, and so on through the ages.

With ruling-class families that size it’s no wonder that religion is banned by the communist state, can you imagine the number of presents you’d have to give out at times religious celebrations? The list of your relatives would take all year just to write out, nothing would ever get done, the whole country would fall into disrepair, and the west would have to spend more money on their clothes. On the bright side, card manufacturers would do extremely well out of it.

A slightly more serious version of events can be found here.

The importance of applying consistent rules in a thesis: A Brit Professor defends Intelligent Design

The irony of this is that his basic premise has a flaw.

Last night I went to a discussion up at my university about the final presentation of PhD theses. I was told about the worst-case scenario of a thesis. This happened to a young mathematician. Imagine spending at least three years, often several more, working on a hypothesis, writing it up, and analysing its meaning. In maths everything is laid on a solid foundation of calculation and then you work upwards from there. At the end of your studies you present your thesis, its read by a committee (aside: I like the word ‘committee’, it has three double-letters in it :)) and then the committee gives you an interview, called a viva, about your study. This usually takes about an hour, although some places don’t restrict this and the viva can go on for up to six hours!

This mathematician had chosen his review committee, and things were looking good; however, the chairman fell ill and unfortunately had to be replaced at a late stage. The new chairman walked into the viva, pointed out a flaw in the maths on page five and the whole thesis was decreditted and it failed.


So, do you remember I mentioned a little while ago about there being a trial in America where a group of parents had taken a school to court because the school wanted to teach Intelligent Design theory as a legitimate rival to the theory of evolution? A British sociologist professor has testified in defence of ID claiming:

that because scientists have inferred the existence of a designer from observations of biological phenomena, it should count as scientific.


As much as this is a lovely idea, using the same logic as ‘it’s art because it was made by an artist’, it’s just not an accurate statement. This is the same as the mathematician’s mistake on page five: if their basic assumptions are not good science then anything built of them still is a victim to the initial difficulties in logic. Assuming that complexity can only be explained by supernatural phenomena/aliens is not a scientific proposition because it is fundamentally unverifiable. The argument ‘X did it, therefore it is a product with X’s attributes’ is acceptable for art where the product does not have to maintain conformity with rigidly logical rules and deductions, but that’s just not the same for scientists. A scientist could claim that the internal organs of a duck in flight transform into helium, but that wouldn’t make it good science; the proposition that some scientists like the idea of ID and therefore ID is scientific is a classic page five mistake.

A one-molecule car!

Crikey, a car made up of only one molecule, I can think of no beginning of the practical applications for that…

There’s a nice article explaining clearly how they did it:

Ultimately the team decided to synthesize the axle and chassis via palladium-catalyzed coupling reactions.

I’m sure I would have chosen to do the same thing.

I love nanotech. There’s some great work being done to replicate solar panels that are energy-efficient to produce, and I can see why that kind of thing is useful, but I’m really lost as to the point of this exercise. I guess maybe it’s one of those things that people do as a proof of concept, so that when they do work out something to make with a practical application then they’ll have more of an idea of how to go about doing it, but for the moment this seems exceptionally pointless.

More, including a diagram which tells you very little, here.

I’ll leave the last, inconclusive, words to the writers of the article, who clearly also have no idea what a one-molecule car is for:

The development bodes opening new vistas.