Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

The science of sexual attraction

Monday, September 22nd, 2014

If a naked female stands in front of a man, where do his eyes gaze first and why? What judgment can you make about a man based on his hands?  Why can a seemingly beautiful person be such a physical turn off? Why do women flip their hair when sexually attracted? What facial clue on a man is correlated with him being less faithful? The answers to these questions and more are probably not what you think.

Choices from whom you date, marry and mate to how much money, friends and happiness you acquire often swivel on life-altering decisions made within fractions of a second.  And so much of this process occurs in the deepest, darkest and most primitive corridors of the subconscious mind.  As much as we want to believe we are so advanced, it is for less than one percent of our evolution that we have been civilized— our brains have been evolving over 3.5 million years. And this process doesn’t care about the social, political or conventional wisdoms of the day. Evolution only concerns itself with promotion of a more adapted species.  Regardless of whether you believe in God or intelligent design, there is a reason that sugar is sweet, a growling beast is feared and that we all covet beauty.

Beauty, perhaps the rawest of all energies fueling evolution, is relevant and consistent throughout nature. It is a universal form of communication that boasts, “I am healthy well and have good genes.”  Regardless if it is a blooming flower, a peacock’s tail or a woman’s bright blue eyes, beauty’s main purpose boils down to ideal partners finding each other and procreating, ensuing a more genetically fit offspring.

According to research in the Journal of Neuropsychologia, this primitive form of messaging imparts its influence on the subconscious mind. When volunteers were asked to judge the ages of beautiful women, their pleasure centers in their brains were stimulated, but when asked to judge their beauty, their pleasure centers were under-stimulated. In other words if you have to consciously think or judge whether or not someone is beautiful— you don’t receive as much pleasure as when you subconsciously evaluate beauty.

Although we may fight and reject these instincts as shallow, we can’t help it. Unfortunately most of us are unaware of the subconscious clues we— as well as others— are constantly emitting. Better to recognize, understand and manage them then to dismiss and damn them.  Studies featured in journals such as Psychological Science, Proceedings of Biology Science and Archives of Sexual Behaviors have confirmed that certain fertility boosting physical characteristics in women— such as facial symmetry, youthfulness, ideal waist-to-hip ratio, long hair and odor— are key primal elements to creating a positive first impression.

In men, signs of virility such as a large chest, jutting jaw and powerful profile are attention grabbing. In fact, in two studies featured in Behavior Brian Science and AM J of Sociology Journals, evaluating West Point cadets followed over a 50-year period revealed that the rank achieved in the military can be correlated to facial features of dominance.  

Similarly the financial success of the top and bottom 25 companies in the Fortune 1000 can be correlated to the dominant masculinizing facial features of the CEO. Like it or not, both sexes have a visceral reaction to these fertile traits.  

But beauty is not by itself what attracts us. There is something much more vibrant, meaningful and effective that brings people together whether it is for romantic, social or professional needs. Beauty and attraction are very distinct entities. While beauty is raw, primitive attraction is dynamic and advanced.   And beauty is just one parcel of what makes a person attractive. From hair to smell to posture, expression, voice and more – attractiveness is a composite that goes way beyond the surface.  By fully understanding the vast and complex array of influences which are packed into those 100 milliseconds we have to make a first impression, we are able to master its outcome. The sexiest person in the room is not necessarily the one who is objectively the most symmetrical or physically perfect. It is the person who projects self-confidence and happiness. Yes, cosmetics, hairstyles and medical treatments can physically modify the face and body to achieve an idealized form.

But it is through an ability to improve self-esteem that an individual can alter appearances and actions to create a better first impression. And self-esteem is enhanced differently for each. As the well-known notion —confirmed in a study out of the University of Oregon— goes, the beautiful are granted certain societal advantages. For every point on a scale of 1-11 that a female is ranked more beautiful, she make 50 cents more money, but for every point she ranks herself higher on that same scale she makes 86 cents. Therefore this study supports that a woman is likely to make 70 percent more money if she thinks she is beautiful, rather than if she is objectively considered beautiful by other’s standards. It is those who think they are beautiful that actually gain the most benefits.

Learning the subliminal code to what is beautiful and why is the first step to rapidly feeling and truly being beautiful.

Dr. Steven Dayan is an internationally recognized board-certified facial plastic surgeon, frequent lecturer, physician educator, and active researcher in emerging cosmetic medicine technologies and techniques. He has published more than eighty articles in medical journals and authored four books. As a clinical assistant professor at the University of Illinois he has trained thousands of physicians worldwide. But it is in his role as an adjunct professor at DePaul University where he passionately teaches a popular course on the “Science of beauty and its impact on culture and business” that this book is based.  A portion of the proceeds from the book go to the Enhance Educational Foundation, a non-for profit providing educational opportunities for disadvantaged Chicago youths

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Science’s Sexual Assault Problem

Saturday, September 20th, 2014

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DNA study reveals third group of ancient ancestors of modern Europeans

Thursday, September 18th, 2014

Strands of DNA taken from ancient corpses have revealed an unexpected addition to the ancestral roots of modern Europeans.

The first Homo sapiens arrived in Europe about 45,000 years ago, and these hunter-gatherers were replaced by early farmers who brought agriculture to the continent more than 7,000 years ago from Anatolia and the Levant in the near east.

The arrival of the first farmers set the stage for Europeans to be the descendants of the agriculturalists and indigenous hunter-gatherers, but genetic studies found that a piece of the puzzle was missing: some European DNA came from elsewhere.

To clear up the mystery, researchers in Germany and the US sequenced the full genetic code of nine ancient humans. Among them were a 7,000-year-old farmer from Germany and 7,000- to 8,000-year-old hunter-gatherers from Luxembourg and Sweden. The scientists then compared these genomes with DNA taken from more than 2,000 modern-day people from all over the world and with other ancient genomes.

They found that nearly all modern Europeans had a mixture of western European hunter-gatherer and early European farmer DNA, but with a good measure of ancient north Eurasian ancestry thrown in.

The north Eurasian DNA was identified from the 24,000-year-old remains of a young boy buried at Mal’ta near Lake Baikal in eastern Siberia.

“It became very clear that all Europeans have hunter-gatherer as well as early farmer DNA to varying degrees, but it was also very clear that something was missing here in the makeup of modern Europeans,” said Johannes Krause, at the University of Tübingen’s Institute for Archaeological Sciences.

The findings suggest that the arrival of modern humans into Europe more than 40,000 years ago was followed by an influx of farmers some 8,000 years ago, with a third wave of migrants coming from north Eurasia perhaps 5,000 years ago. Others from the same population of north Eurasians took off towards the Americas and gave rise to Native Americans.

Modern Europeans are various mixes of the three populations. Sardinians are more than 80% early European farmer, with less than 1% of their genetic makeup coming from the ancient north Eurasians. In the Baltic states such as Estonia, some modern people are 50% hunter-gatherer and around a third early European farmer.

The modern English inherited around 50% of their genes from early European farmers, 36% from western European hunter-gatherers, and 14% from the ancient north Eurasians. According to the study, published in Nature, modern Scots can trace 40% of their DNA to the early European farmers and 43% to hunter-gatherers, though David Reich, a senior author on the study at Harvard University, said the differences were not significant.

In the absence of writings from ancient times, researchers are left with only archaeology, palaeontology and genetics to understand our distant pasts. “The genetics can tell us a bit about who these people were, how they interacted, where they came from, what their subsistence strategy was, and whether they had adaptations to their environment and diet,” said Krause.

“The neolithic revolution spread agriculture across the continent in a couple of thousand years. Suddenly you have settlements that cover square kilometres, large cemeteries, large population increases. Suddenly the whole of central Europe becomes deforested because people are clearing it to make fields and produce crops. Everything changes and we don’t have any historical information about that. We can look at the archaeology, but we can also look at the genes. They tell us how all those people are related, and you can’t tell that from staring at a skeleton.”

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Leo vs. science: vanishing evidence for climate change

Tuesday, September 16th, 2014

In the runup to the Sept. 23 UN Climate Summit in New York, Leonardo DiCaprio is releasing a series of films about the “climate crisis.”

The first is “Carbon,” which tells us the world is threatened by a “carbon monster.” Coal, oil, natural gas and other carbon-based forms of energy are causing dangerous climate change and must be turned off as soon as possible, DiCaprio says.

But he has identified the wrong monster. It is the climate scare itself that is the real threat to civilization.

DiCaprio is an actor, not a scientist; it’s no real surprise that his film is sensationalistic and error-riddled. Other climate-change fantasists, who do have a scientific background, have far less excuse.

Science is never settled, but the current state of “climate change” science is quite clear: There is essentially zero evidence that carbon dioxide from human activities is causing catastrophic climate change.

Yes, the “executive summary” of reports from the UN’s International Panel on Climate Change continues to sound the alarm — but the summary is written by the politicians. The scientific bulk of the report, while still tinged with improper advocacy, has all but thrown in the towel.

And the Nongovernmental International Panel on Climate Change lists thousands of scientific papers that either debunk or cast serious doubt on the supposed “consensus” model.

Oregon-based physicist Gordon Fulks sums it up well: “CO2 is said to be responsible for global warming that is not occurring, for accelerated sea-level rise that is not occurring, for net glacial and sea ice melt that is not occurring . . . and for increasing extreme weather that is not occurring.”


  •  According to NASA satellites and all ground-based temperature measurements, global warming ceased in the late 1990s. This when CO2 levels have risen almost 10 percent since 1997. The post-1997 CO2 emissions represent an astonishing 30 percent of all human-related emissions since the Industrial Revolution began. That we’ve seen no warming contradicts all CO2-based climate models upon which global-warming concerns are founded.
  • Rates of sea-level rise remain small and are even slowing, over recent decades averaging about 1 millimeter per year as measured by tide gauges and 2 to 3 mm/year as inferred from “adjusted” satellite data. Again, this is far less than what the alarmists suggested.
  •  Satellites also show that a greater area of Antarctic sea ice exists now than any time since space-based measurements began in 1979. In other words, the ice caps aren’t melting.
  •  A 2012 IPCC report concluded that there has been no significant increase in either the frequency or intensity of extreme weather events in the modern era. The NIPCC 2013 report concluded the same. Yes, Hurricane Sandy was devastating — but it’s not part of any new trend.

The climate scare, Fulks sighs, has “become a sort of societal pathogen that virulently spreads misinformation in tiny packages like a virus.” He’s right — and DiCaprio’s film is just another vector for spreading the virus.

The costs of feeding the climate-change “monster” are staggering. According to the Congressional Research Service, from 2001 to 2014 the US government spent $131 billion on projects meant to combat human-caused climate change, plus $176 billion for breaks for anti-CO2 energy initiatives.

Federal anti-climate-change spending is now running at $11 billion a year, plus tax breaks of $20 billion a year. That adds up to more than double the $14.4 billion worth of wheat produced in the United States in 2013.

Dr. Bjørn Lomborg, director of the Copenhagen Consensus Center, calculates that the European Union’s goal of a 20 percent reduction in CO2 emissions below 1990 levels by 2020, currently the most severe target in the world, will cost almost $100 billion a year by 2020, or more than $7 trillion over the course of this century.

Lomborg, a supporter of the UN’s climate science, notes that this would buy imperceptible improvement: “After spending all that money, we would not even be able to tell the difference.”

Al Gore was right in one respect: Climate change is a moral issue — but that’s because there is nothing quite so immoral as well-fed, well-housed Westerners assuaging their consciences by wasting huge amounts of money on futile anti-global-warming policies, using money that could instead go to improve living standards in developing countries.

That is where the moral outrage should lie. Perhaps DiCaprio would like to make a film about it?

Tom Harris is executive director of the Ottawa-based International Climate Science Coalition. Bob Carter is former professor and head of the School of Earth Sciences at James Cook University in Australia.

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Children handle science at Titusville space museum

Sunday, September 14th, 2014

Rows of toggle switches and illuminated buttons mesmerized six-grader John Bootier as he got his hands on retired Atlas 2 launch consoles.

He was among more than a dozen children who took part in a STEM Saturday workshop at the U.S. Space Walk of Fame Museum in Titusville.

“He’s very hands on with everything he does,” said Cindy Bootier, John’s mother. “Having the action and seeing how it incorporates in everyday life is very important to how he learns.”

The first STEM Saturday at the space museum in Titusville focused on science, and students learned what it would be like to live and work on the International Space Station.

STEM is an education initiative that emphasizes science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Future STEM Saturday sessions will focus on NASA spinoffs and robotics, launch pad engineering and design and rocket trajectories.

Orange County public school teacher Danielle Miller, who aligned the material to Florida education standards, hopes the workshops surrounded by pieces of space history will reinforce the concepts children learn during the week in the classroom.

“They should be seeing things here that they are seeing in school,” Miller said. “Trying it themselves makes it more real to them, and makes them see that science is important because it will help you understand all things going on around you.”

The space museum moved earlier this year into a larger facility on U.S. 1 in downtown Titusville partly to have room to offer educational programs.

“We always wanted to have outreach in the community,” said Karan Conklin, U.S. Space Walk of Fame chief of staff. “Science is primarily our function here, teaching the history and the STEM program fits in perfectly.”

The children, 8 to 13 years old, explored the museum and played with relics from the space race that resulted in man landing on the moon.

“This is the actual equipment that has been used over the years out at the space center, which is all science, math and technology,” Conklin said. “We are STEM.”

Contact Gunnerson at, 321-360-1016 and Twitter @scottgunnerson

If you go

What: STEM Saturdays

Where: U.S. Space Walk of Fame Museum, 308 Pine St., Titusville

Next workshops: 12:30 to 4:30 p.m. on Nov. 8, technology; Dec. 6, engineering; Jan. 24 math.

Cost: $25 a session for children between 8 and 13 years old

Registration: Call 321-264-0434 one week prior to workshops. Each session is limited to 20 students.

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Science And Spirituality: Could It Be?

Friday, September 12th, 2014


A woman communes with nature.

It was the Roman poet Lucretius, writing around 50 B.C., who famously proclaimed reason as a tool to achieve individual freedom, as a means of breaking free from superstitions that enslave the human mind:

“This dread and darkness of the mind cannot be dispelled by the sunbeams, the shining shafts of the day, but only by an understanding of the outward form and inner workings of nature.”

Even 400 years before Lucretius, his biggest influence, Democritus, celebrated a rational approach to understanding the world as the only path to happiness, to live in a state of “cheerfulness,” to finding grace. For this reason, Democritus was known as the “Laughing Philosopher,” as a Rembrandt self-portrait (in the likeness of Democritus) reminds us.

This is the smile we attribute to saints and the enlightened. Are we fundamentally wrong in placing science and spirituality in a warring field? Can reason lead us to transcendence?

To most people, this is an impossible, even absurd, proposition: Reason is the opposite of grace or spiritual transcendence, given that it operates under strict adherence to rigid rules and to an unshakable skepticism. How can analytical thinking become so malleable as to allow for this emotional and, even more radically, spiritual impact?

To make sense of this, we must, first and foremost, eliminate the connection between spirituality and spirit, in particular, of spirit as a supernatural manifestation. The starting point of my argument is that only matter exists. There is only the natural. In its awesome complexity, from electrons to proteins to butterflies to stars, natural forms express the wealth of interactions between the basic material constituents and the forces that bind and repel them. There is no question that we have learned a lot about these forces and these constituents — and this is what Lucretius had in mind when he wrote that “only by an understanding of the outward form and inner workings of nature” would we dispel “this dread and darkness of the mind.” This is the central goal of the physical sciences, the identification of the “outward form and inner workings of nature.” We abide to it full-heartedly.

However, we must also concede that we know precious little, that we are surrounded by questions of such forbidding complexity that our knowledge will always be limited even if ever growing, as I explored in The Island of Knowledge. The very way in which we acquire new knowledge of the world opens the way to more questions.

But forbidding complexity does not need to mean divine, or supernatural. Unknowns are invitations, challenges to our creativity. Obstacles are triggers, not stoppers. We go after them using the tools of science and reason with a fervor that, as Einstein remarked, has all the dressings of spiritual devotion.

So, we must rid spirituality from its supernatural prison, make it secular. Spirituality is a connection with something bigger than we are, seducing our imagination, creating an urge to know, to embrace the mystery that surrounds us and the mystery that we are.

This natural spirituality is not a form of mysticism. Mysticism presupposes that knowledge that is inaccessible to the intellect can be apprehended by contemplation or by a union with the divine. Science, at least to me, starts with a spiritual — even contemplative — connection with nature. But then it uses the intellect as the bridge between this connection and the pursuit of knowledge. As it brings together this very human spiritual attraction to the unknown (merely calling it “curiosity” sounds very impoverishing to me) and our reasoning powers, science is a unique expression of our wonderment with reality, of our awe with nature’s grandeur.

There is also all the practical stuff that we do with it. But that comes after.

Marcelo Gleiser’s latest book is The Island of Knowledge: The Limits of Science and the Search for Meaning. You can keep up with Marcelo on Facebook and Twitter: @mgleiser

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US Science Suffering From Booms And Busts In Funding

Wednesday, September 10th, 2014


Leif Parsons for NPR

Ten years ago, Robert Waterland got an associate professorship at Baylor College of Medicine and set off to study one of the nation’s most pressing health problems: obesity. In particular, he’s been trying to figure out the biology behind why children born to obese women are more likely to develop the condition themselves.

Waterland got sustaining funding from the National Institutes of Health and used it to get the project going.

But after years of success in this line of research, he’s suddenly in limbo. His NIH grant ran out in 2012 and he hasn’t been able to get it renewed.

“We’re in survival mode right now,” he says.

His research can’t move forward without funding. And he has plenty of company. Nationwide, about 16 percent of scientists with sustaining (known as “R01″) grants in 2012 lost them the following year, according to an NPR analysis. That left about 3,500 scientists nationwide scrambling to find money to keep their labs alive — including 35 at the Baylor College of Medicine.

The root cause is plain, and it’s not just about a current shortage in funding: The NIH budget shot steadily upward from 1998 to 2003. That spawned great jubilation in biomedicine and a gold-rush mentality. But it didn’t last. Since 2004, the NIH budget has decreased by more than 20 percent. (That’s not counting the hefty two-year bump the budget got from stimulus funds via the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.)

Grants are the lifeblood of university research. Scientists rely on that steady stream of cash to hire staff, buy equipment and run the experiments. Their results help propel innovation, medical advances and local economies. Academic research is a major reason the United States remains a leader in medicine and biotechnology; but the future is uncertain.

“If I don’t get another NIH grant, say, within the next year, then I will have to let some people go in my lab. And that’s a fact,” Waterland says. “And there could be a point at which I’m not able to keep a lab.”

He notes that the hallway in his laboratory’s building is starting to feel like a ghost town as funding for his colleagues dries up. He misses the energy of that lost camaraderie.

“The only people who can survive in this environment are people who are absolutely passionate about what they’re doing and have the self-confidence and competitiveness to just go back again and again and just persistently apply for funding,” Waterland says.


Dan Burke, a biochemist at University of Virginia, will likely have to close his lab. Research institutions overspent on infrastructure in boom times, he says.

Richard Harris /NPR

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Richard Harris /NPR

Dan Burke, a biochemist at University of Virginia, will likely have to close his lab. Research institutions overspent on infrastructure in boom times, he says.

Dan Burke, a biochemist at University of Virginia, will likely have to close his lab. Research institutions overspent on infrastructure in boom times, he says.

Richard Harris /NPR

He has applied for eight grants and has been rejected time and again. He’s still hoping that his grant for the obesity research will get renewed — next year.

Baylor College of Medicine is suffering more than most. Its NIH funding dropped from a peak of $252 million in 2002 to $184 million in 2013. But many other schools are in the same fix. The University of Virginia, for example, regarded as one of the top public universities in the nation, watched its NIH funding shrink from a peak of $159 million in 2005 to $110 million in 2013.

Take Dan Burke, a professor of biochemistry and molecular genetics, who is one of about 30 scientists at University of Virginia who lost their sustaining grants between 2012 and 2013. Until that point, he’d had continuous funding since 1987 to conduct studies about the basic mechanics of DNA. He has had to fire his lab staff and is planning to close his lab.

It seemed like great fortune when the NIH budget soared more than a decade ago.

“Unfortunately, a lot of research institutions and medical schools were hogs to the trough,” Burke says. “They hired a lot of people and built a lot of buildings with the expectation that that would continue. And when that flattened off, and started losing money to inflation, the institutions were essentially bloated.”

Search NIH Grant Data By Institution

Use NPR’s interactive search box to create year-by-year charts of NIH grant funding given to individual biomedical institutions and laboratories.

His institution sought to cash in on those boom times. University of Virginia doubled the amount of biomedical laboratory space on campus between 2007 and 2013 — from 233,000 square feet to 416,000 square feet. Funding for some of that expansion was supposed to come from the grants that its scientists garnered.

The university touted plans to add 700 new scientists and support staff to fill these labs. Instead, last year it eliminated more than 300 jobs — many held by highly skilled workers — as funding for biomedical research sank. New labs built to handle dangerous germs and small animals are now lightly used.

“The U.Va. swings in overbuilding or unused space for specialized facilities really have been extremely moderate, compared to the scaling that occurred either at larger institutions or at some of the large private medical centers,” Tom Skalak, vice president for research at the university, told NPR.

To help close the budget gap, the university has raised tuition. (The commonwealth of Virginia now provides only 10 percent of its flagship university’s funding.) Skalak defends using tuition to help pay for new laboratories, saying undergraduates can enhance their education by working in a lab.

The University of Virginia’s building boom was twice the national average. Nationwide, National Science Foundation data show that universities have expanded laboratory space by 50 percent in the past decade, expecting a funding boom that turned out to be a bust.

In absolute terms, there is still a lot of money for biomedical research — the NIH budget is about $30 billion a year. But with the doubling and subsequent decline in funding, supply and demand are completely out of whack.

“It’s an unstable system,” says Paula Stephan, a labor economist at Georgia State University. “It really depended on funding growing and growing and growing. And so we need to find some way for it to reach equilibrium.”

Many scientists hold out hope for a simple solution: more money. But the current U.S. Congress has no appetite to spend more — even on health research that has broad, bipartisan public support.

So a group of leading scientists is trying to figure out how to repair the hobbled biomedical enterprise without a cash infusion.

“We have to remember that this is a fragile system, says Dr. Harold Varmus, who was head of the NIH when the funding doubled; he now runs the National Cancer Institute. ” ‘Do no harm,’ the doctor’s mantra, is very applicable here,” he says.

Varmus is helping to organize a major summit meeting on this funding crisis, to be held later this year.

“We have a system that has worked well in the past, that has made the U.S. the leader in biomedical research worldwide,” Varmus says. “And while I don’t think we’ve lost that yet, we do see a rising tide in lots of places.”

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“Science is not Neutral!” Autumn 1970, when British science occupied itself

Monday, September 8th, 2014

It’s Autumn 1970, the leaves are turning, kids are back at school, it’s British Science Festival season, and the British Society for Social Responsibility in Science (BBSRS, Bisrus to its friends) is itching for a fight.

BSSRS had been founded about 18 months previously, a largely establishment affair, with a Nobel Prize winning chair (Maurice Wilkins), an inaugural conference held at the Royal Society and a letter of support signed by such luminaries as JD Bernal, Lawrence Bragg, Francis Crick, Richard Doll, Julian Huxley, Hans Krebs, Lionel Penrose, Max Perutz and Bertrand Russell. However, the core of BSSRS was a group of quite radical activists. They weren’t just the old-school science Left like Bernal or Huxley, but a product of 1968, and more sceptical of both science and the state.

Earlier that year, during the General Election, BSSRS had provoked a small spat with John Maddox – editor of Nature – over whether or not it was ok to talk about science being neutral on public policy. But they wanted to dare to do something a bit more disruptive. Inspired by scientist-activists in the US invading a AAAS meeting in Chicago earlier that year – you can read the FBI file on this - they decided to occupy the equivalent event of the British Science Association (then known as the BA) under a banner “Science is not Neutral.”

They started by just asking questions. But the panel chairman and speakers stifled any attempts of debate, dismissing political discussion as irrelevant. The BA seemed to be built on an inflexible culture and internal structure, too reliant on industrial sponsorship to positively challenge debate on the social implications of science. Frustrated, they occupied a mid-conference teach-in. It was designed to be the anti-thesis of how they saw a BA session, with no set-piece speeches, and no restrictions on what could or could not be asked.

Possibly most mischievous, they also got an advance press-copy of Lord Todd’s Presidential address and distributed it to the audience, with added annotations. Or “rude comments” as one activist recently described it. Lord Todd had been one of the original signatures to the founding of BSSRS, so this was an explicit turn in policy as much as anything else. It’s one of the better embargo break stories in the history of science, and arguably a reaction to the BA media machine as much as anything else. As Steven and Hilary Rose wrote in 1973, looking back: “Street theatre and interventions at lectures brought some relief from the boredom of the BA meeting which, while of little significance to scientists, continued to command an inordinate amount of space in newspaper coverage. The journalists, with an almost audible sigh of relief, joined the BSSRS criticisms to some of their own.”

Then, as the audience streamed out of Todd’s speech, they were met by a radical street theatre group, acting the effects of the chemical and biological warfare. Partly the product of an arts/ science collective that had been meeting in Maurice Wilkins’ lab since the inception of BSSRS, this dramatic activity apparently embarrassed and angered many of the people attending the festival. Still, apparently several senior scientists later took BSSRS members aside to assure them of their support. Even several years later, when the BA festival was held at Aston University in Birmingham, BAAS reported people coming up to them with fond memories and support for the Durham intervention. A few days after the festival, the BSSRS activists even received a mention in the Bishop of Durham’s sermon – went as far as to say the cries of the actors would prove as significant for both science and theology as the Huxley-Wilberforce confrontation at the Oxford BA meeting in 1860. That was probably taking it a bit far, but was a statement of the impact it had on people attending event at least. It was also compared to the Aldermaston Marches by an opinion piece in New Scientist, an article the then New Scientist editor, Bernard Dixon, was later keen to point out was not official magazine policy (but he did also agree with a lot of it).

As BBSRS member Jonathan Rosenhead later wrote, explaining their actions, many in the scientific community see the BA is “a mere fusty shell of its historic self, going mindlessly through the traditional motions in an age when its popularising function has been taken over by universal education, press and television” but, these activists hoped, the BA could be seen “rather as a slumbering giant, well intentioned but forgetful of the world changing around it, scarcely dreaming of what it might do if it awoke. For the BA has appreciable (non-financial) assets. It still has the nostalgic affection of many members of the scientific establishment, and those imbued with a sense of the history of science. And it has the ear of the media. Revitalised, it could be a formidable ally.”

They went in hope. But they can’t have found what they were looking for. As in 1976, David Dickson offered a rather unfavorable review of a BA meeting in Lancaster in the BSSRS magazine, now titled Science for People. He argued the BA “has long ceased to play any effective role in the development of science, either in a scientific or in a political sense. But its propagandist function, given the extent to which the traditionally lavish media coverage of its annual meeting helps to reproduce popular ideas of the scientists and his social function, does require to be taken seriously.” He went on to argue that the scientific community was playing into a wrong headed RD policy which maybe offered them more money, but only if they pushed their activities to help the so-called free market (which really wasn’t so free, and focused scientific energies to some very choice industries). The BA meeting, as Dickson put it “not only demonstrated yet again current tendencies both in research and higher education towards an increasingly close relationship with the corporate interests” but publicly legitimised such work as a good, apparently “neutral” way to run science.

He concluded with a point that might easily made of much science policy discourse today, arguing the approach taken by the BA “ignores the extend to which the current crisis has an important political component, that is it a crisis of capitalism’s making whose apparent economic nature is being used to legitimise massive cuts in public spending,ad the maintenance of high levels of unemployment at the expense of increasing the profitability of private industry”

David Dickson went on to become a highly respected science journalist and founder of SciDevNet. He sadly died last year and will be remembered with a special event at the British Science Festival today in Birmingham. I think he’d still be hopeful that the BA could be a place to ask difficult questions, rather than close them off. A good tribute to him would be to ask some. Street theatrical die-ins are optional.

Baa. Illustration of the BA science festival, Science for People magazine, 1976.
Photograph: n/a/Alice Bell

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The Science Behind Baking Your Ideal Chocolate Chip Cookie

Saturday, September 6th, 2014


Turns out cookie customization is easier than it seems.

Turns out cookie customization is easier than it seems.

Tessa Arias/Handle the Heat

You like soft and chewy. He likes thin and crispy. If only there were a way to bake chocolate chip cookies to please everyone.

There is! And, no, it’s not Martha Stewart’s way. It’s science.

We’ve taken our cues from a few spots: a bioengineering grad student named Kendra Nyberg, who co-taught a class at the University of California, Los Angeles called Science and Food, and chef and cookbook author Tessa Arias, who writes about cookie science on her site, Handle the Heat.

There’s also an illuminating TEDEd animation on cookie science. And if you really want to go nuts (or no nuts, your call), Serious Eats offers 21 painstakingly tested steps for the “Perfect Cookie,” including kneading times and chocolate prep techniques.

“Even though I can describe what I like,” says Nyberg, “I didn’t know the role of each ingredient in the texture and shape of cookies.” So she looked into it — as only a scientist can.

Here, relying on the experts’ help and the classic Nestle Toll House Chocolate Chip Cookie recipe, OZY presents no-fail tips for baking your perfect cookie. (You’re welcome.)

Ooey-gooey: Add 2 cups more flour.

A nice tan: Set the oven higher than 350 degrees Fahrenheit (maybe 360). Caramelization, which gives cookies their nice brown tops, occurs above 356 degrees, says the TEDEd video.

Crispy with a soft center: Use 1/4 teaspoon baking powder and 1/4 teaspoon baking soda.

Chewy: Substitute bread flour for all-purpose flour.

Just like store-bought: Trade the butter for shortening. Arias notes that this ups the texture but reduces some flavor; her suggestion is to use half butter and half shortening.

Thick (and less crispy): Freeze the batter for 30 to 60 minutes before baking. This solidifies the butter, which will spread less while baking.

Cakey: Use more baking soda because, according to Nyberg, it “releases carbon dioxide when heated, which makes cookies puff up.”

Butterscotch flavored: Use 3/4 cup packed light brown sugar (instead of the same amount of combined granulated sugar and light brown sugar).

Uniformity: If looks count, add one ounce corn syrup and one ounce granulated sugar.

More flavor: Chilling the dough for at least 24 hours before baking deepens all the flavors, Arias found.

You can follow Anne Miller @annemillermedia.

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Video Shows the Dramatic Moment a Science Experiment Went Awry

Thursday, September 4th, 2014

Video shows the dramatic moments after a science project went awry at the Discovery Museum in Reno, Nev. Wednesday, an incident that police say injured at least 13 people, including eight children.

Reno Fire Chief Michael Hernandez said at a Wednesday briefing that a demonstration that simulates a smoke tornado malfunctioned, causing a “flash” that “entered” eight children, burning some of them.

Hernandez described the injuries as minor to moderate. Museum patrons were quickly evacuated, he said. The injured were transported to the hospital.

Reno Police officer Tim Broadway said the injured included seven children and two adults who were transported to a hospital. Four people were treated and released at the scene.

Jackie Rider was filming with her cellphone when the accident occurred. Rider’s video shows an instructor reaching for a bottle, adding liquid to the chemical mixture.

“You know what I didn’t add, the alcohol?” the woman says, opening the bottle. “You guys were just … I was so excited. So excited. OK, ready?”

As she pours the liquid, a fireball forms, and the children are seen running away, screaming.

Rider’s daughters, ages 4 and 6, were treated with second-degree burns, while her nephew suffered first-degree burns, ABC affiliate KOLO-TV reports. Her niece was hospitalized with third-degree burns on her face.

“She was on fire, completely on fire – her hair, her back, her face,” Rider said of her niece. “My best friend actually tackled her and was putting her face out with her hands.”

In addition to the injuries, the building sustained smoke damage, Hernandez said.

“The Discovery would like to thank our staff for their quick response during today’s incident at the museum,” a statement released by the museum reads. “Their actions allowed first responders to attend to museum visitors in a timely manner. We would like to express our gratitude to all first responders that were on the scene within minutes of the incident. Our thoughts continue to be with all those affected today. As this incident is still under investigation, we have no further updates at this time, but will release more information as it becomes available.”

The museum was closed following the incident.

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