Monday, November 24, 2008

Monday Science Links

This week's science:
  • Cuttle, the poetic Digital Cuttlefish, treats us to a poem along with the story of the 'throat in a jar': The same methodology used to produce
    The remarkable "heart in a jar"
    Has created a trachea, almost from scratch,
    And it looks like it’s working, so far!

  • Julianne at Cosmic Variance shows us some of Life's old pictures: Google is now serving up more than a hundred years of photographs from Life Magazine. The pictures of the early days of astronomy are just spectacular. The archives contain images of many astronomers who were critical figures in the development of the field, but who have yet to have telescopes named after them. A large fraction of them also seemed to smoke pipes.

  • Jennifer at Cocktail Party Physics on the energy in broken bonds: One wouldn't expect the 17th century English philosopher Francis Bacon to have much of a sweet tooth; he always struck me as a rather curmudgeonly sort, thoughts firmly fixed on Higher Matters, eschewing the paltry comforts of the flesh. But Jen-Luc Piquant suspects he might have had a secret fondness for hard candies, based on a passing remark Bacon made in his treatise, Novum Organum (published in 1620): "It is almost certain that all sugar, whether refined or raw, provided only it be somewhat hard, sparkles when broken or scraped with a knife in the dark." Now, one could argue that Bacon was merely being an observant scientist following his natural curiosity, but stop and think for a moment under what conditions he might have discovered such an effect -- alone in a darkened room with a bag of hard candy and a knife to break up the pieces into smaller bits that were easier to consume. Sounds like a secret sweet tooth to me! This also establishes Bacon as the earliest to record the phenomenon, known as triboluminescence, a.k.a., "the Wint-O-Green Life Saver Effect."

  • crshalizi at Three-Toed Sloth believes that the Times has been suckered: I blame Alan Sokal. The trick of showing up various publications by fooling them into publishing documents which seem impressively technical, but which are obviously nonsense to anyone minimally skilled in the field — well, I thought it was hilarious the first time, but inevitably there are imitators, and they never match the spirit of the first effort. The latest epigone is one Peter D. Salins, a professor of political science at SUNY Stony Brook and former provost of the SUNY system, and his victim is the editorial page of the New York Times. He purports to offer evidence that the SAT score has some power to predict academic outcomes in college — specifically, whether students will graduate or not — over and above its relationship to high school grades... I submit that Salins has Sokaled the Times, since there is no way someone with enough grasp of social-scientific methods to hold his position could make such huge howlers unintentionally.

  • Henrik at henrikkarll wonders who buries the dead and how: The majority of persons found buried in Viking Age graveyards are often not equipped with any grave goods at all, or sometimes just a small knife, a whetstone or a few pearls. Most of the time we are indeed just talking about ‘dead bodies dressed up for funeral’, meaning that the knives and pearls are actually just a part of the dead person’s clothes. Some of the more impressive graves are furnished with lots of stuff, notably weapons, riding equipment, furniture, boardgames and jewellery. Some of them contain animals like horses, dogs and hunting birds, some even ships and servants; some the bones of sheep and cow (i.e. food) and some of them are covered with barrows. It is the interpretation of these conspicuous ‘aristocratic’ graves which will have my attention in the following.

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