Weekly Roundup

Looking for some easy money? Creationist Joseph Mastropaolo is offering $10,000 to anyone who can disprove the literal story in Genesis. Mastopaolo is a Young Earth Creationist and is proposing a legal-like court trial to decide the issue. Challengers will have to put up $10,000 of their own, winner takes all. This should be a great case study for those interested in the “public understanding of science”.

According to this article, scientists have found that the speed of light in a vacuum is not constant, because the vacuum isn’t really empty—at the quantum level particles are continually popping in and out of existence. Finding that the speed of light varies slightly in a vacuum isn’t particularly interesting; we’ve known that the vacuum isn’t really empty for a while now. What is more interesting is the scientists’ argument that the speed of light depends on the electric charges of those particles, and the average speed of light depends on the total number of particles in the universe.

The disparity between men and women in scientific and technical careers has been a continuing source of concern for many. A recent study suggests that the disparity might not be due to systemic discrimination, but because females who are good a both math and language (as measured by the SAT) are more likely that similarly talented men to choose humanistic rather than technical careers. Faye Flam takes a look at how the media has covered this potentially polarizing story.

In a reminder that the effects of global warming can be hard to predict and often counter-intuitive, scientists have observed that the melting of glacial ice in Antartica is causing the Antarctic sea ice to expand. And in another study, scientists seem to have solved the case of the missing heat, much to the consternation of those dastardly global warming deniers.


Intellectual Property Rights and Innovation: Evidence from the Human Genome

I came across a press release today alerting me to a fascinating article by economist Heidi L. Williams, “Intellectual Property Rights and Innovation: Evidence from the Human Genome”. The paper is forthcoming in the February 2013 issue of the Journal of Political Economy, which won’t be available online until April, but Williams has an earlier version published through the National Bureau of Economic Research.

Williams used the sequencing of the human genome by Craig Ventner’s Celera to test whether intellectual property rights can stifle further research based on that intellectual property. She did this by comparing the use of sequences patented and licensed by Celera between 2001 and 2003 with those sequenced by the public Human Genome Project, which placed all of its sequenced genes in the public domain. Her analysis estimated a 20-30 percent reduction in the rate of research and product development due to Celera’s patents.…

Weekly Roundup

Chris Hadfield became the first Canadian commander of the International Space Station, and spoke with Stephen Harper in a live chat. Earlier this month, Harper faced some mockery on issues of science policy after requesting questions for Hadfield on Twitter.

NASA’s Curiosity rover has discovered indications of past water, following last week’s evidence of a potentially “habitable environment.”

National Geographic, along with Revive & Restore, hosted a TEDx event on the topic of DeExtinction. The conference included reports of progress towards reviving the gastric-brooding frog. Critics worry that deextinction could undermine conservation efforts or introduce environmental problems.

This weekend, homes and businesses around the world are expected to celebrate Earth Hour. Vancouver was awarded this year’s Global Earth Hour Capital by the WWF for its innovative climate and sustainability initiatives. Earth Hour is not without critics, however; some argue that it is futile, anti-technology, and even energy-wasting, while others promote consuming more energy in protest.…

Snowquester – A perfect storm for HPS/STS

If you were following the weather recently, you know about the Snowquester. What happened was that there was very little snow in Washington DC, and lots of snow in Boston and the Northeast. While this shouldn’t sound surprising, it really blindsided weather forecasters. Forecasters predicted lots of heavy wet snow for DC, which caused government services, municipal services, and schools to shut down before the flakes even began to fall. When the storm came, only a few inches appeared. The forecast was a bust and quite costly to the city. In the Northeast, Boston kept schools open based on a prediction of 6-10 inches of snow, but then received almost 30 inches of the white stuff. Another bust for forecasters. What exactly happened?

The finger pointing began almost immediately and almost everyone and everything that could be blamed was. The result, however, was a perfect storm for those of us that study HPS and STS.…

Weekly Roundup

New York City Mayor Bloomberg’s plan to eliminate large-sized sugary drinks begins tomorrow, opening a 3-month grace period for business owners. Reaction to the ban has been mixed, and a lawsuit by the soft-drink industry and related business groups is pending. UPDATE: As of Monday afternoon, the soda ban has been blocked by New York Supreme Court Judge Milton Tingling, who cited the regulations’ “arbitrary and capricious consequences.”  (CNBC).

The “God” particle overhyped? You don’t say! Physicists at the Moriond conference report that the Higgs boson completes the standard model but falls short of the “exotic” promises of “New Physics,” including super symmetry (The Globe and Mail).

Also “oversold”? The claim that a healthy lifestyle protects us from heart disease. In a new Lancet study, CT scans show evidence of atherosclerosis in one third of examined mummies across numerous ancient cultures, including some from hunter-gatherer societies. This suggests to some researchers that clogged arteries are not merely a symptom of modern, sedentary lifestyle.

Harry Collins, Expertise, and Elective Modernism

I have attended a talk at Tel Aviv University by sociologist Harry Collins, one of the leading scholars in Science and Technology Studies today. In the talk, Collins presented the current state of his and Robert Evans‘ theory of expertise and his new notion of elective modernism. I want to share with you some thoughts about them, particularly about why, despite their promise and appeal, they only partly work.…

Weekly Roundup

Male brain,” “female brain,” “Don’t blame me, blame my brain“… Folk neuroscience is prevalent, but misguided (The Guardian).

Also misguided? These popular anti-heliocentrist videos (1 and 2) suggesting a sun-led “vortex” trailing planets around the galaxy, according to Slate’s Phil “Bad Astronomy” Plait.

A case of HIV has been cured in a Mississippi infant. The WSJ breaks down the story with some useful Q-and-A’s.…

Science and Ethics: The Basics

Philosopher Massimo Pigliucci has recently been engaged in a debate with Michael Shermer over moral naturalism. This is familiar territory for The Bubble Chamber; one of our earliest debatables examined Sam Harris’s argument for moral naturalism. Reading the back-and-forth between Pigliucci and Shermer it struck me that they dove quickly into particularities, and because of this it was easy to lose sight of the big picture. The main aim of this post is not to advance one ethical position over another, but to clearly set out and explain the positions—to understand the motivations and weaknesses of moral naturalism, supernaturalism, nihilism, and relativism.…