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Scientific method not only for science

Saturday, October 25th, 2014

Pinkston Middle School students headed for the school’s gym Thursday, but not for PE class or sports. Instead of balls, there were science projects running up and down the court as students turned out to see the science fair.

Approximately 265 students took part in this year’s science fair. Their experiments were in one of four categories: Life Science, Physical Science, Earth/Environmental Science and Technology/Engineering. Classes took turns visiting the fair throughout the day.

“The kids seem more excited this year,” said Elise Biggs, seventh-grade science teacher. “They just seem really interested this year.”

This is the third year for the science fair, according to Biggs. She said the students get their information around the second week of school. Biggs said the students spend approximately two months on their projects. Those who opt not to do a project can do an alternative project, such as oral presentations.

The projects are set up to coincide with parent-teacher conferences so the parents can come in and browse the projects for themselves. After the conferences end, the projects are taken down and the gym is cleared.

“I think it kind of piques their interest how many things apply to science,” Biggs said of the science fair. She said when students return to class after the fair, they’re still talking about the projects.

Projects can take a wide variety of forms. They range from hooking up potatoes with wires, building a hovercraft, or, in the case with one student, shooting guns.

“I tested if an air soft bullet was faster than a BB bullet,” John-Carl Laidler, 12, a seventh-grader.

Laidler said air soft bullets can be powered by electricity, battery or CO2 cartridges. He said there were several variables and that the guns could have different kinds of ammo.

“I learned more about averaging,” Laidler said. “I fired 20 shots with the air soft bullets and only three with the BB. Each time I timed it, and I could tell from sound and the timer I used, (I learned) about the time it took to hit the target I was using. I wrote them all down and averaged them up — that helped me a lot.”

One student observed the growth of inorganic material.

“It’s crystal growth in different lighting environments such as UV, normal lighting and darkness,” said seventh-grader Olivia Posey, 12. “I think it’s the temperature that affects the growth instead of the light. We find UV works the best, and that’s because it has either the highest temperature or the lowest temperature.”

Posey said she got the crystals from a kit.

Another student used household items anyone could find in the kitchen for her experiment.

“I did ‘How does the amount of baking soda change a chocolate chip cookie?’ ” said Abby Dietsche, 12. “I learned that the more baking soda (you use), the more it’s going to make the cookie crumbly and darker.”

Dietsche said she learned that the experiment is going to help her remember the scientific method — which is the goal of the fair.

“They’re learning the scientific method and how it can be applied to different situations in their world,” said science teacher Roger Fisher.

Fisher said like scientists in the outside world, they’re identifying variables, forming hypotheses and designing experiments to test their hypotheses. He said after the tests, they analyze the data and reach conclusions.

“Some found out they were wrong and that’s OK,” Fisher said. “That’s what scientists do.”

Fisher said the students will be able to apply the problem-solving skills they learn with their experiments to things that come later in life.

Biggs said these experiments just don’t help kids gain a better understanding of science, it also helps them with math and literacy.

“One of the most important things is that it causes them to think,” Biggs said. “Going through the scientific method — they can take those steps and apply them to almost everything they do. Whether it’s their school work with organization or when they see something and ask ‘why?’ This can help them figure out ‘why.’ “

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Watch: Moment Queen sends her first tweet to launch Science Museum

Saturday, October 25th, 2014

The Duchess, who is patron of Action on Addiction, attended its Autumn Gala
Evening dinner and reception in London, where she was joined by comedian and
impressionist Rory Bremner

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Coils and cables: Science Museum opens information age gallery

Saturday, October 25th, 2014

The sticker on the old box-like computer is torn at the corners from failed attempts at removal, but the stern warning penned on the label is still clear: “This machine is a server. Do not power down!!”

Anyone who ignored the plea would have achieved something unthinkable today: to unplug the computer would have shut down the web. Or at least its nascent form, designed by Tim Berners-Lee in 1989 on this black NeXT workstation.

The well worn computer is one of more than 800 objects brought together by the Science Museum for the UK’s first permanent gallery dedicated to the history of information and communications technology. Information Age: six networks that changed our world spans 200 years of transformation, from electric telegraphy, broadcasting and telephony to satellite communications, the web and mobile voice and data networks.

To be opened by the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh on Friday afternoon, the gallery is the first project to emerge from an ambitious masterplan to transform the museum. Next in line is the new mathematics gallery, designed by Zaha Hadid, and due to open in 2016. The museum’s medical history gallery, due in 2018, aims to be the largest of its kind in the world.

Operators on the Enfield telephone switchboard.
Photograph: Science Museum

The Information Age takes over the single largest gallery in the Science Museum, a space previously devoted to the history of shipping, the other great revolution that brought people together and made the world a smaller place. The one remaining exhibit from the older gallery is a coil from the transatlantic cable, laid in the mid-19th century, that allowed telegraphic messages to be sent between the UK and the US for the first time.

“The laying of the first transatlantic cable completely changed the game for the whole world,” said Tilly Blyth, lead curator of the gallery. “The moment you can send messages in minutes rather than weeks, you can trade in minutes; stocks and shares information can go back and forth more quickly. Previously, messages were sent by ship and took four weeks to get there.”

Electrical signals flowed down the transatlantic cable but they arrived at their destination weak from resistance. Here they met with the ingenious mirror galvanometer, perfected and patented by Lord Kelvin in 1858. It turned the signals into deflections of a mirror, which in turn moved a beam of light that shone on a scale, the way a watch face can reflect sunlight on a summer’s day.

An elliptical raised walkway surrounds the gallery, a space designed with a small town in mind, where in place of a central town hall lies the Rugby tuning coil, an extraordinary 6m-tall structure of wood and copper and once the largest transmitter in the world. “Having the coil at the heart of the gallery confounds people’s expectations of communications technology,” said Jason Holley, a director at Universal Design Studio, whose staff spent three years on the project.

The inventing process is rarely straightforward. For Alexander Graham Bell, the great Scottish innovator, the accidental discovery that his harmonic telegraph could transmit sounds, and not just a single note, put him on course for conflict with his financial backer, Gardiner Hubbard. The US financier wanted Bell to make a machine that could carry multiple morse messages at once. But Bell saw the promise of the telephone and, against Hubbard’s wishes, changed tack.

Alexander Graham Bell’s liquid transmitter, into which he spoke the immortal words ‘Mr Watson … Come here … I want to see you”. His colleague, listening at the receiving end in a nearby room, heard the words clearly.
Photograph: Science Museum

The tension did little for Bells’ hopes of marrying Hubbard’s daughter Mabel, a profoundly deaf girl he was teaching. “It put him under enormous pressure. He could only marry Mabel if he could provide her with an income, and he thought that would come from the telephone,” said John Liffen, curator of communications. In 1876 Bell was granted a patent for his invention and the two married the following year.

Martha Lane Fox, co-founder of and chair of Go On UK, a coalition of organisations that help people get online, said she hoped visitors would be inspired by the audacity and ingenuity of the inventors. “What I take from it is the scale of ambition, and if anyone can walk away from here inspired to bring a bit of that ambition back, then that’s fantastic,” she said. “What’s very important is how many women have been involved in the journey.”

The stories of key technologies in each network are told through large, semi-enclosed interactive booths. Audio dramas from the playwright Bonnie Greer reveal the emotions surrounding the use of the telephone at different times in history. With help from comedian Josie Long, a giant Tim Berners-Lee explains from an intelligent booth what happens when you click on a hyperlink.

The advent of the web alone has brought a staggering pace of change. Set against the electromechanical devices of the 19th century, the glorious muddle of valves and coils that is the BBC’s 2LO transmitter, and displays of the ZX81 and Vic20 from the 1980s, the rate of advance is breathtaking.

“We are always told we are living in this incredible period of change. For me, it’s just the latest in a series of transformations. They’ve been happening for 200 years,” said Blyth.

• Information Age: six networks that changed our world opens to the public on 25 October

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Star Trek’s sci-fi technologies: how close are they to becoming science fact?

Thursday, October 23rd, 2014

Australian researchers have this week created a small-scale ‘tractor beam’ that can move tiny particles over a distance of 20cm in the lab.

It’s not quite on the scale of the Star Trek Enterprise’s tractor beam, which could be used to tow other spacecraft to safety, but it’s a step in the right direction.

Captain Kirk and his crew got their hands on so many cool toys, many of which have inspired whole areas of scientific research.

We don’t quite have phasers yet, but Dr Martin Cooper – who invented mobile phones – has always said that Star Trek’s communicators inspired him.

Mirror Tech takes a look at how close we are to turning sci-fi tech into science fact.



Star Trek transporter

A team from Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands showed for the first time in May 2014 that it was possible to teleport information encoded into sub-atomic particles between two points three metres apart with 100% reliability.

Teleportation exploits the weird way ‘entangled’ particles acquire a merged identity – one instantly influencing the other no matter how far apart they are.

Albert Einstein dismissed entanglement, calling it “spooky action at a distance”, but scientists have repeatedly demonstrated that it is a real phenomenon.

Professor Ronald Hanson says nothing in the laws of physics fundamentally forbids the teleportation of large objects, including humans.

“What we are teleporting is the state of a particle,” he said. “If you believe we are nothing more than a collection of atoms strung together in a particular way, then in principle it should be possible to teleport ourselves from one place to another.

“In practice it’s extremely unlikely, but to say it can never work is very dangerous… If it ever does happen it will be far in the future.”


For those with a fear of needles, the hypospray was the dream invention.

It used air pressure to force drugs through the skin without a jab. 

Dr Leonard “Bones” McCoy was seen using one aboard the Enterprise on a weekly basis in the original series – and it could become a regular sight in present-day GP surgeries, too.

Scientists at Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the US have developed their own “hypospray” that uses magnets and electrical currents to fire drugs through the skin.

Dr Ian Hunter, who runs the ­bioinstrumentation lab at MIT, says: “We are able to fire the drug out at almost the speed of sound if we need to.”

He says hypospray could even be used to inject drugs through the eye into the retina or into the inner ear.


On the Enterprise, the replicator is used to conjure up food, water, clothes and other everyday items.

Today scientists have achieved ­something similar by creating a 3D plastic printer.

Earlier this week we revealed how a US firm has developed a working plastic gun but there are many positive aspects to report.

Surgeons at Charing Cross Hospital in London have printed a plastic knee joint for a soldier shot in Iraq.

And pioneers in San Francisco have built a working plastic car.

But the best is still to come. Scientists at the University of St Andrews have “printed” stem cells.

Dr Will Shu hopes the technology could be used to create tissue to test drugs or even print organs for ­transplant use, solving the shortage of donors for good.

© 2013 Paramount Pictures


Tractor beams

This was one of the most iconic gadgets from the Star Trek franchise and was even powerful enough to trap and pull giant spaceships.

Scientists are still some way from turning science fiction into reality but they have taken the first steps towards doing so.

For several years optical tweezers – incredibly tiny laser beams capable of moving molecules – have been used by scientists in order to study DNA.

This week we heard of a team at Australian State University that had moved a tiny particle more than 20cm using just lasers.

And in January a research team at the University of St Andrews announced that they had used the first real-life tractor beam and had succeeded in pulling a string of microscopic particles using light.

Lead researcher Dr Tomas Cizmar says the tractor beam could have medical uses, such as separating white blood cells.

However, he says using this technique to trap a spaceship would be “out of the question” as it would result in a “massive” amount of heat.


ANOTHER popular idea from Star Trek: The Next Generation was the holodeck.

The room created 3D holograms which felt real and were used for training or where the crew could relax.

Scientists may not be able to create holograms we can touch but a team at the University of Illinois recently unveiled the first holodeck.

People wearing 3D glasses step into a virtual world mapped out across 72 screens.

With the glasses on, you can fly over the surface of Mars or even stroll around the bridge of the USS Enterprise.

Jason Leigh, director of the ­Electronic Visualisation ­Laboratory in Chicago, says: “A lot of what we create is really inspired by the science fiction that we used to watch when we were kids.”

Scientists believe the holodeck could be used to train surgeons, map crime rates and help engineers improve their designs.

Similar technology could also be used to transform your living room into a virtual reality cinema.


Geordi’s visor

Lt Commander Geordi La Forge was a popular character in Star Trek: The Next Generation and was instantly recognisable from his visor, which helped him to see even though he was blind.

It may sound far-fetched but scientists are already using similar technology.

They have developed a camera fitted to glasses that sends images to a tiny implant behind the eye.

Retired engineer Eric Selby, 70, was one of the first people to trial the technology.

He began to lose his sight as a young man and by his late 40s the hereditary condition had left him blind.

But the bionic eye means he can now see flashes of light, so can sort his socks and spot the kerb while walking.

Eric, from Coventry, says: “After the operation the doctor turned my head and I saw a flash of light. It was a hell of an experience.”

Others in the trial have even been able to identify different shapes and start to read.


The crew of the Enterprise were able to communicate with the aliens they came across thanks to their nifty universal translator.

Amazingly, a similar device is now issued to US troops in Afghanistan, Iraq and south-east Asia. Speak into the Phraselator and it translates your words into the language of your choice.

It can translate to and from a language, allowing two-way conversations.

Military commanders hope it will help to break down the mistrust between locals and troops.

Clayton Millis, managing director of sales at Voxtec International, which makes the device, says: “You can speak freely off the top of your head and say what you need to say for that situation.”

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Science of Strangers: Military Research Could Boost Cops’ People Skills

Thursday, October 23rd, 2014

SPOKANE, Wash. — The assignment seemed simple enough: walk up to a woman in a mall and start a conversation. Yet the thought of it made David Erickson clammy.

A military policeman, Erickson was accustomed to dealing with strangers, but only while in uniform. This time, participating in a Department of Defense research project, he was in his street clothes—no badge, no gun, no trappings of authority. Naked.

The woman sat, back to him, on a bench. Erickson, a 44-year-old Washington National Guardsman, approached her from behind. She flinched. He asked to chat. She told him, with a choice profanity, to get lost.

The cop in him wanted to say, “No, that is not how it goes,” and pull her from her seat. Then he thought better of it, and retreated.

Later, in a classroom on the grounds of Fairchild Air Force Base, where Erickson and 27 other law enforcement and military personnel were learning the science of talking with strangers, his “Frankenstein”-like performance became a benchmark for futility. It illustrated how difficult it was for many of them to deal with the public on equal footing. And over the next five days, they practiced how to overcome it.

They’d been invited to be test subjects of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, the frontier-pushing RD arm of the U.S. military that is trying to unravel the mysteries of how humans communicate with each other in unfamiliar situations. The goal is to develop a new way to train soldiers and Marines for modern warfare, in which they increasingly must use social skills to scout enemy territory, distinguish friends from foes, gather intelligence and resolve conflicts, often with little understanding of the local culture or language.

The $40 million Strategic Social Interaction Modules project, led for most of its run by two self-described “philosopher cops” from the West Coast, has yet to be tried outside four small DARPA pilot sessions, the last of which was held at Fairchild in early October. But authorities are already exploring other potential applications, namely for use in American policing.

The research is arriving at a time when police departments across the country are under growing pressure to improve their relationship with the public, a challenge that has unfolded vividly on the streets of Ferguson, Albuquerque and New York this year. Law enforcement officials who have taken part in the DARPA program—nicknamed “Good Stranger”—say it can help prevent abuse of force and build respect in communities with historic suspicion of police.

War, like crime-fighting, is a social enterprise that turns on individual encounters.

“When you’re looking at how to build public trust in communities, it’s the hundreds of thousands of one-on-one interactions that happen on the street between cops and citizens,” said Sue Rahr, executive director of the Washington State Criminal Justice Training Commission, the state’s police academy. “If those hundreds of thousands of interactions don’t go well, you will never build trust.”

Rahr, the former sheriff of King County, Washington, which includes Seattle, hopes to incorporate DARPA’s methods into her agency’s training regimen. “This isn’t PR, or ‘hug-a-thug,’” she said. “This is scientifically based.”

The Ph.D.-toting cops who developed the project are trying to seize the opportunity. They’ve left the program, and have developed a training curriculum for police based on the DARPA research. They call it T3, for “Tact, Tactics and Trust.”

Jim Seida / NBC News

“We felt the need to do this level of work because we wanted to understand and avoid military-civilian/police-citizen encounters like those we saw in Ferguson,” former project manager Brian Lande explained in an email, referring to the aggressive crackdown on protests that followed an August police shooting outside St. Louis. “Officers who can diagnose (or size up) situations well, take time to take the other’s perspective, reason about the causes of other’s behavior, take time to build rapport, de-escalate conflict, gain voluntary compliance, etc. are able to perform their jobs more safely and are able to keep citizens safe.”

Lande, who has a doctorate in sociology, took on the project in 2011 on request from DARPA, which wanted to understand why many encounters with citizens in Iraq and Afghanistan eroded relationships and resulted in violence. Lande saw many similarities with modern police work, like protecting immigrant neighborhoods infiltrated by gangs. He hired a like-minded partner, Jonathan Wender, a University of Washington criminologist and retired police sergeant.

Their guiding philosophy was that war, like crime-fighting, was a social enterprise that turned on individual encounters. Those interactions were malleable, and could be shaped, given the right tools. They set out to identify those tools, and understand how the best cops and soldiers— the “Good Strangers”—used them to negotiate with the public.

“The students I observe, it’s very hard for them to walk up to a stranger and have a conversation with them.”

They began with a deep-dive into social and behavioral science, enlisting experts in verbal and non-verbal communication, marriage dynamics, child development, hostage negotiations, emotional intelligence. They asked members of the military and law enforcement to help them identify the most important elements of a successful street encounter.

“There are all kinds of people who do this well. But if you ask them what makes for a good stranger, they say, ‘I don’t know, I’m just good at talking to people,’” Wender said. “So we tried to take a more measured and systematic look at this question. What are the skills of interaction that lets someone walk into someone’s world, gear into that and get things done?”

Among the contributors was cognitive psychologist Gary Klein, renowned for his work on high-stakes decision-making. He interviewed 41 police officers and military personnel who embodied the Good Stranger ideal. “We found a common theme was the good strangers in each encounter tried to build trust,” Klein said. “One police officer used the metaphor of ‘moving the needle.’ He said he wanted people at the end of an encounter to have more trust in him and his agency than they had at the beginning.”

The research stressed the importance of trying to understand the target’s perspective of an encounter—a process that started before that interaction even began. All sorts of cues offered insight into that person: their clothes and accessories, the way they held their hands, the distance they kept, how they fit in with their surroundings. There were also ways to appear less threatening, such as “mirroring” the target’s body language.

Anthony Anderman, a former corrections officer who teaches at the Washington State Criminal Justice Training Commission, led development of the curriculum, a mix of classroom discussion, video game-like simulations and field work. To test it, he invited members of the military and law enforcement to five-day pilot courses.

“We assume they’re socially adept to the level of being able to engage, adapt and earn trust,” Anderman said. “But based on our observations, that’s not the case. The students I observe, it’s very hard for them to walk up to a stranger and have a conversation with them.”

That was clear in Spokane, where 28 students arrived at Fairchild in early October. On the first day, they were sent out into the public with little guidance. Many, including Erickson, botched their assignments by exploding into people’s personal spaces as if cornering a suspect. Then they hit the classroom, where they learned about the Strategic Social Interaction Modules research. The lab-rat feeling dissolved, and they came to see themselves as sharers of a secret cache of knowledge, able to size up people and adjust conversations by following a seven-step “core competency” checklist: pre-plan, observe and assess, contact, engage, self-control, adapt, disengage.

The students’ coaches placed a particular emphasis on that last step—to end a conversation on a positive note. “That is the step we fail at,” said Brian Sommer, 39, a sergeant in Normandy Park, a small town south of Seattle. He’d enrolled in an earlier class and was so good that he was invited to Fairchild as a coach. “You want to leave a situation so the next officer who meets this person isn’t going to have to make up for what you did.”

The class spent the fourth day in downtown Spokane, practicing on unsuspecting people (they did not identify themselves as police or soldiers). The coaches began with a softball—find out someone’s favorite holiday—and progressed to a short list of unrelated discussion topics that had to end with the target agreeing to talk again sometime. Encounters were recorded on a tablet for instant analysis.

Erickson, who days earlier had delivered his woeful “Frankenstein” performance, felt another bout of anxiety coming on. But, ticking through the checklist, he surprised himself by initiating several relaxed conversations outside the city convention center, including one that involved a mother, a daughter and a protective husband. “You’re killing it, man,” a coach told him afterward.

“Everything from the last three-and-a-half days is falling into place almost perfectly for me,” Erickson said. “It’s pretty cool. Now I’m like, ‘I got this. I can do this.’”

Jim Seida / NBC News

Mike Suniga, a 33-year-old patrolman from Airway Heights, a nearby suburb, approached three transient-looking men gathered under a gazebo in Riverfront Park. With his coach watching a hundred yards away, Suniga drew one of them into a conversation. It turned out the man was a college graduate who was hanging out before the start of his night shift. They chatted amiably for several minutes, shook hands, and said they’d see each other around.

Minutes later, Suniga sat on a bench, examining the video. An experienced officer, he was refining his techniques. But he saw the most potential in training new recruits. “If you have a positive interaction with law enforcement, the perception right now is that one is a fluke. But on the second, third, fourth time, that starts a trend. Eventually the people we are constantly dealing with will start seeing that change. That’s the only way things are going to change, if those encounters with law enforcement are tweaked.”

At day’s end, a group of students gathered at a picnic table on the edge of the park, sharing tales of the newly acquired skills they’d used to ease people into conversations. One of the coaches, Yousef Badou, a former Marine, told them the techniques would not only make them better cops and soldiers, but also “a better person in general.”

“Go out and don’t let this information die with you.” Badou said. “Teach it to your airmen, your colleagues, the people around you, your wife, your kids. It applies.”

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Ebola fear shows denial of science spreads quickly

Thursday, October 23rd, 2014

Science is knowledge based on facts derived from observation and experimentation.

At least that’s what the so-called “scientists” and “dictionaries” and “people throughout history” want you to believe. I, however, have it on good authority from sources I won’t name that the actual definition of science is: opinion-based information, not particularly important.

I have sent that definition out on Twitter — making it official — and I now expect any reputable news source that uses the word “science” to provide proper editorial balance by including the following sentence: “Some believe science is just opinion-based information that’s not particularly important.”

If that sounds farfetched, take a moment to consider how science denial is no longer just the preoccupation of kooks but the reflexive parlance of ostensibly intelligent people. Whether it involves Ebola, climate change or childhood vaccines, opinions have somehow become counterbalancing facts to scientific conclusions, giving the perception that the mutterings of the uninformed are worth hearing.

They are, in most cases, not.

lRelated Ebola fear puts family in voluntary quarantine in Rock Island
Breaking NewsEbola fear puts family in voluntary quarantine in Rock IslandSee all related

Let’s take America’s current Ebola “crisis” — which is not a crisis — and the disease’s “outbreak” — which is not an outbreak — in Texas. The overwhelming word from the medical and scientific community is that Americans are in no grave danger, the disease is difficult to transmit and enacting a travel ban on flights from the West African countries that have had Ebola outbreaks would be counterproductive.

The response from the public at large and from many political leaders has been, and I’m paraphrasing: Scientists? What do they know? EVERYBODY PANIC!

Earlier this month, 26 members of Congress, including three Democrats, sent a letter to President Barack Obama asking that he “impose a travel ban and restrict travel visas issued to citizens of the West African countries experiencing this epidemic.”

Other cries for a travel ban have come from Texas’ Sen. Ted Cruz and noted infectious disease epidemiologist Donald Trump, who tweeted: “Looks like Obama will not stop the very potentially dangerous flights to and from West Africa. What the hell is wrong with this guy?”

Americans want someone to blame for Ebola

Americans want someone to blame for Ebola Fred Hiatt With a new week, and the possibility of additional Ebola patients, Americans or at least American politicians have an urgent need: someone to blame. With a new week, and the possibility of additional Ebola patients, Americans or at least American politicians have an urgent need: someone to blame. ( Fred Hiatt ) –>

Now I’m no fan of “very potentially dangerous flights,” but according to a slew of domestic and international medical experts, from the heads of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases to the health director of the International Rescue Committee, a travel ban is a bad idea. It makes it harder to deal with the outbreak at its source and more difficult to track the movement of people who may be infected.

That leads me to ask: What the hell is wrong with the people who won’t listen to scientific experts but will listen to an extremely loud politician or real estate magnate?

Cruz was interviewed recently by CNN’s Candy Crowley.

Crowley: “And if you were president, and NIH (National Institutes of Health) or the CDC were saying, hey, you know, this will only make it worse, a travel ban, a flight ban, will only make it worse, what we have in place is better, you would overrule the doctors and the experts?”

Cruz: “But, Candy —- hey, Candy, the doctors and the experts that are saying this are working for the administration and repeating the administration talking points. And their arguments don’t make sense.”

Hey, Ted, they may not make sense emotionally, but they do make sense factually.

Our discussion shouldn’t be about how scientists think something is a bad idea but Congress thinks it’s a good idea. Scientists are a group of people working hard to reach logical conclusions they can agree on, while Congress is a group of people hardly working while spouting illogical opinions they can disagree on.

A recent Associated Press story said: “Politicians across the country have weighed in on President Barack Obama’s response to the arrival of Ebola in the United States, with some calling for travel bans to West African countries that are being ravaged by the disease.”

True balance would require the AP to follow that sentence with: “Those politicians are predominantly knuckleheads who would tell you to treat a skin rash by sticking a potato in your ear and praying real hard.”

But we don’t get that kind of balance. Instead, when we read about childhood vaccines, we get an obligatory reference to the fact that some fear vaccines cause autism. That’s a thoroughly debunked belief, but who cares about science when celebrities are telling you to fear vaccines?

We should care. The CDC has confirmed a record number of measles cases this year. Giving credence to unsubstantiated vaccine fear is bringing back a disease that was eliminated in 2000.

Same with climate change. There’s overwhelming scientific consensus that humans are contributing mightily to global warming, but those who don’t want to believe it simply brush scientific studies off as the ramblings of quinoa-addled hippies.

It shouldn’t be that easy. I can blog about how I dropped a fork and it flew up to the ceiling, but that doesn’t draw the law of gravity into question.

Well, maybe it does. I read something recently on Twitter about how science is just opinion-based information that’s not particularly important.

Which reminds me, I need to look up the best way to get a potato out of my ear. Prayer doesn’t seem to be working.

Copyright © 2014, Chicago Tribune

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‘Science must have a place at the policy table,’ world leaders urge at special …

Tuesday, October 21st, 2014


20 October 2014 – Science, technology and innovation are central in forging development policy and solving some of the world’s most pressing problems including in education, health care and peace and security, eminent scientists and world leaders said, marking today at United Nations Headquarters the 60th anniversary of the establishment of the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN).

Organized by the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) and CERN, the event “60 Years of Science for Peace” held in New York, highlighted the role that science has played in peaceful collaboration, innovation and development, as well as decades of cooperation between the two organizations.

CERN was established after the Second World War to give Europe a laboratory for basic research on particle physics that would promote peace. Since 1954, several achievements have been made at CERN, some of which have been rewarded with the Nobel Prize in Physics.

The CERN laboratory sits astride the Franco-Swiss border near Geneva, where its physicists and engineers are probing the fundamental structure of the universe. Over the years, the organization has grown into a model for global scientific and technological collaboration, demonstrating how science can unite nations by bringing scientists together for the benefit of all.

In his opening remarks to today’s 60th anniversary event, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon recalled how science at times has been used for harmful purposes and discoveries about the atom were used to create nuclear weapons.

Participants at the 60th anniversary of the establishment of the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN). UN Photo/Evan Schneider

“The arms race absorbed scientific talent and financial resources that could have been used to address the pressing problems facing humanity,” he said.

Fortunately, science is far more often a powerful force for progress and human well-being, especially in developing countries. Now science must be used to accelerate achievement of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and the future sustainable development goals.

“Whether we are trying to address climate change, stop the Ebola virus, deal with cybersecurity threats, or curb nuclear proliferation, we need scientists with a clear vision and a commitment to work together to find solutions,” Mr. Ban said.

He also made a plea for greater efforts to attract more women and girls to science and technology-related fields. “Unleashing women’s innovation potential must be a priority,” he added.

Indeed, ECOSOC’s President Martin Sajdik said, science has the potential to significantly impact all three dimensions of sustainable development– economic, social and environmental.

“I urge all Governments to channel their collective creativity to address these gaps in the final push to achieve the MDGs and in fashioning a new sustainable development agenda,” said Mr. Sajdik, who chaired the event.

Promoting science for development requires the investment of significant resources including for essential infrastructure, education and capacity-building, financing research, including basic research and scaling up innovations.

The ECOSOC President underscored that the “science-policy-society” interface must be strengthened in order to ensure that scientific and engineering education, scientific research, technological development and policy making combine to adequately respond to the needs of society.

“The success of scientific strategies and policies will require an ongoing dialogue between scientists, policymakers and society,” he said.

Also delivering opening remarks, the President of the General Assembly Sam Kutesa stressed that greater investment in basic scientific research, to “unleash the vast untapped” human potential particularly in developing countries.

“There are still big gaps in basic research and innovations on a number of issues critical to human welfare and sustainable development,” Mr. Kutesa said.

In the health sector, he said, the Ebola outbreak has reminded us of all the hard work that lies ahead. Efforts to combat HIV/AIDS, malaria, tuberculosis, as well as other communicable diseases and non-communicable disease, also remain a big challenge for science and technology.

“We must continue to invest in scientific and technological innovation to fight poverty and to move towards a sustainable development pathway. We must invest in technologies to ensure food security,” he added.

CERN Director-General Rolf Heuer said that for society to rise to its various challenges, science must take a place at the policy table. Additionally, people must be educated and science literate, he said, adding that “we cannot have sustainable development goals if we do not have educated people to perform them.”

At a later segment, keynote speakers included: Mr. Kofi Annan, Chairman and Founder of the Kofi Annan Foundation and Nobel Peace Prize winner; Professor Carlo Rubbia, Nobel Physics Prize Laureate, and former CERN Director-General; Professor Hitoshi Murayama, Director of the Kavli Institute for the Physics and Mathematics of the Universe, University of Tokyo, and professor at the University of California, Berkeley; and H. E. Ms Naledi Pandor, Minister for Science and Technology, Republic of South Africa.

Mr. Annan said ours is a messy world: we face enormous challenges. In a world of plenty – 1 out of 9 people go to sleep hungry and more than 6 million children die each year from diseasing that we have figured out how to cure long ago.

Unsustainable production and consumption patterns continue to put a strain on our resources. Meanwhile, rising temperatures, changing rainfall patterns and extreme weather events are a clear danger to our societies.

Every person using the World Wide Web can attest to the scientific innovation of CERN. Hence it is crucial to continue facilitating the decimation of knowledge around the world. In collaboration with UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural organization (UNESCO), researchers in developing countries are able to access digital libraries. By harnessing the unique strengthen of governments, research institutions, and charitable foundations, children living even in the poorest countries have access to vaccines.

The Ebola “heartbreak” is a tragic reminder that not even the “marvels of science and technology” can prevent such a crisis with its devastating effects on the world’s poorest populations.

He said the international community today needs leaders that can focus on bridging the technological gap and strengthen dialogue between the world of science and the world of politics.

The wealth of the scientific community must guide policy, said Mr. Annan, welcoming the recent General Assembly decision to grant Observer Status to a scientific institution like CERN.

“Science must be put at the service of society, and rooted in the culture of peace and development,” Mr. Annan added.

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Science, religion, history intersect with upcoming event

Tuesday, October 21st, 2014

An event happening this week on the University of Louisiana at Lafayette campus will explore what many people believe is the actual burial cloth of Jesus during a presentation in which science, religion and history intersect.

The Shroud of Turin is one of the most analyzed artifacts that remains a mystery and is something that National Geographic has called “one of the most perplexing enigmas of modern times.”

The Rev. Bryce Sibley of Our Lady of Wisdom Church and Catholic Student Center is bringing the Shroud Encounter to the university and local community to increase people’s faith through the lens of science and history.

“Catholics are not fundamentalists, and Christians should not be fundamentalists,” Sibley said. “We believe that we have been given human intellect for a reason, and overall, we have encouraged scientific research into these things.”

Thursday’s fast-paced event will be presented like a crime scene investigation that includes a museum-quality, life-size replica of the Shroud of Turin, according to event presenter and international shroud expert Russ Breault.

“This is CSI Jerusalem: the case of the missing body,” Breault said. “We’re just going to peel back the layers in the way of a CSI investigation, peeling back the layers of science and history to see what we find.”

The Shroud Encounter is a production of the Turin Education Project Inc. Both Sibley and Breault said they have been fascinated by the Shroud of Turin for decades.

“What makes it fascinating to me is that we have this relic that can be studied from so many different perspectives,” Sibley said. “With so many advances in science, we can explore all kinds of things that point to the fact that this is Christ’s burial shroud.”

The 14-foot-long linen cloth has been in Turin, Italy, for more than 400 years and bears the faint front and back image of a 5-foot, 10-inch bearded, crucified man with apparent wounds and bloodstains that match the crucifixion account recorded in the Bible.

In 1981, a team of 24 scientists concluded it was not the work of an artist because they found no visible trace of paint, pigment, dye or other artistic substances on the cloth. Blood found on the cloth is AB positive with human DNA.

Skeptics have been unable to show how a medieval artist could have formed the image, and if the cloth indeed wrapped a corpse, there are no stains of body decomposition.

“It’s either the most incredible hoax ever perpetuated, or it’s the most important artifact on the face of the planet,” Breault said. “And I think that’s a mystery worth exploring.”

In 1988, the shroud was largely dismissed when three carbon dating labs indicated a medieval origin, but chemical research published in a peer-reviewed scientific journal in 2005 showed that the single sample cut from the outside corner edge may have been part of a section that was repaired sometime during the Middle Ages and was not part of the original shroud material.

Many scientists now believe the carbon dating result is inconclusive and should no longer be considered valid. New chemical and mechanical tests published in 2013 by Italian scientists with Padua University indicate a date range of first century with a 250-year margin of error.

Sibley says the presentation will demonstrate to the public the importance of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, a central belief of the Catholic Church; show people that intellectual and scientific studies are important to Ragin’ Cajun Catholics; and welcome the public and alumni of UL to see what’s going on at Wisdom.

“I encourage people to come with an open mind to learn about it and understand the historical research that’s been done over the past several years,” Sibley said. “This is open to people of all faiths, not just Catholics or Christians. It’s free, and it should be fun.”

Want to go?

When: 6:30 p.m. Thursday

Where: The Catholic Student Center at Our Lady of Wisdom Church on the University of Louisiana at Lafayette campus

What: Shroud Encounter, a presentation that will cover all aspects of the history, science, art and theories of how the images on the Shroud of Turin, thought to be the original burial cloth of Jesus, may have been formed.

Cost: Free

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The junk ‘science’ behind the marijuana legalization movement

Tuesday, October 21st, 2014

Puffs Smoke Shop in Ashland, Ore., is seeking a license as a medical marijuana dispensary. (Jeff Barnard/Associated Press)

Already, 23 states allow marijuana to be prescribed for medicinal use, making it easy for proponents for broader legalization, such as the Marijuana Policy Project, to brand the drug as “harmless.” Some go further, calling it “safe” and even “healthy.” The result is that voters in Oregon and Alaska — in addition to D.C. — may soon join Colorado and Washington as the first states to fully legalize recreational pot for adults.

The problem is that marijuana is not, in fact, “harmless.” (Update: After publication, the Marijuana Policy Project altered the language on its site to call pot “a much less harmful substance” than alcohol. Here is a screenshot of the original.) Proponents are spinning the science — casting pot as a threat only if used improperly, much like a car — for the sake of advancing their political agenda. It’s fine for people to believe the government has no business conducting a “war on drugs,” but it’s something else entirely to trivialize or simply deny marijuana’s harmful effects. These dangers are real, according to a recently released comprehensive review of 20 years of scientific literature from Wayne Hall, who advises the World Health Organization on addiction and runs the University of Queensland’s Center for Youth Substance Abuse Research. And the dangers need to be dealt with.

The role of government in regulating drugs can’t be separated from what those drugs do to people. On that question, pot-libertarians have taken too many liberties — about both its medical and its recreational effects.

Proponents claim marijuana can slow or stop damage caused by glaucoma (by lowering eye pressure), but as Henry D. Jampel, professor of ophthalmology at Johns Hopkins, points out, marijuana could actually worsen the vision loss caused by glaucoma. “Although marijuana does lower the eye pressure, it also lowers blood pressure,” he notes. “Lower blood pressure could result in reduced blood supply to the optic nerve, which in turn might harm the optic nerve.”

Beyond the medical applications, legalization proponents argue that marijuana should be available for recreational use because it’s “harmless” and not addictive. But the active ingredient in marijuana, THC, is a powerful psychoactive ingredient that can cause hallucinations or delusions and interfere with the way the brain makes and stores memories. Hall’s study found that marijuana use doubles the risk of developing psychotic disorders, including schizophrenia. He also found that one in 10 adults who regularly smoke the drug become dependent on it, and those who use it are more likely to go on to use harder drugs.

His study also emphasizes the danger that marijuana use poses to teens — one in six teenagers who regularly smoke pot will become dependent. Other research backs up these warnings: A recent review of more than 120 studies found that teen marijuana use is associated with subsequent addiction to other drugs and psychosis, such as schizophrenia. And a recent study from researchers at the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee linked regular marijuana use by teens to drops in IQ points and to memory problems.

While the states that have legalized marijuana completely have done so only for residents 21 and older, peer-reviewed research has linked heavy marijuana use with long-term memory problems and other health effects in adults. Marijuana also poses dangers to pregnant women, with studies linking the drug to lower birth weight, impaired brain development and behavior problems in adolescents.

And while proponents of legalization point out that it’s impossible to overdose on cannabis, that doesn’t mean there aren’t any instances of marijuana-related deaths. A handful of deaths in Denver were tied to edible marijuana use this year, not to mention the increased risk of fatal car accidents due to drivers impaired by marijuana. Hall’s study analyzed epidemiological studies and laboratory evidence from a number of researchers and concluded that driving after smoking pot approximately doubles the risk of a car crash.

Because marijuana has been illegal for decades, intensive studies are lacking and there are still many questions surrounding the safety of marijuana. Hall’s report is a meta-analysis of available research on marijuana, but much of the work on marijuana’s effects has focused on heavy, long-term users or vulnerable populations, including teenagers and pregnant women. We need more research on the effect of marijuana on casual users.

As more states move to legalize marijuana, polls indicate that Americans are growing much more accepting of marijuana use. But the growing acceptance and availability of pot, along with the misleading advertisements spread by legalization proponents, are spreading the dangerous myth that marijuana is risk-free. There are compelling reasons to change our policy toward marijuana — notably, cutting down on incarceration rates for possession. But simply ignoring the science on the negative effects of chronic (no pun intended) marijuana use does a disservice to the dialogue around marijuana.

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Join the big science party

Sunday, October 19th, 2014

Regan McMahon, a former Chronicle editor who is now senior editor, books, at Common Sense Media, hails from Pasadena. She grew up in the shadow of the California Institute of Technology and Jet Propulsion Laboratory, but she was always intimidated by science.

“My dad was an aerospace engineer who took me to see recovered space capsules, but still I dreaded the science fair every year,” she says. “And when my kids worked on their science fair projects, I was little help.

“Too bad there wasn’t a fantastic event like the Bay Area Science Festival to show me science is fun.”

McMahon is the author of the this week’s cover story about the fourth annual Bay Area Science Festival, a 10-day event at various sites.

“One of the coolest parts of the festival,” says McMahon, “is having UC Berkeley scientists visit East Bay farmers’ markets to show kids the science of what they eat and do things like extract DNA from a strawberry and explain how worms produce compost. That kind of hands-on learning really sticks with you.”

McMahon’s story begins on Page 16.

Next week: One family’s fantastic Halloween costumes.

— Leba Hertz, arts and entertainment editor

Regan McMahon, a former Chronicle editor who is now senior editor, books, at Common Sense Media, grew up in Pasadena in the shadow of the California Institute of Technology (Cal Tech) and Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), but was always intimidated by science.

“My dad was an aerospace engineer who took me to see recovered space capsules, but still I dreaded the science fair every year,” she says. “And when my kids worked on their science fair projects, I was little help. Too bad there wasn’t a fantastic event like the Bay Area Science Festival to show me science is fun.”

McMahon is the author of the this week’s cover story about the fourth annual Bay Area Science Festival, a 10-day event at various sites.

“One of the coolest parts of the festival,” says McMahon, “is having UC Berkeley scientists visit East Bay farmers’ markets to show kids the science of what they eat and do things like extract DNA from a strawberry and explain how worms produce compost. That kind of hands-on learning really sticks with you.”

McMahon’s story begings on Page 16.

Next week: One family’s fantastic Halloween costumes.

— Leba Hertz, arts and entertainment editor

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