Weekly Roundup – Supersized Preholiday Edition

Google honoured pioneering computer scientist Grace Hopper in an animated doodle. In addition to creating COBOL, Hopper was the first to describe a (literal) “computer bug,” which you can spot at the end of the animation.

Overweight? Blame your cul-de-sac: Here’s an excerpt from Charles Montgomery’s new book Happy City: Transforming Our Lives Through Urban Design.

Chimpanzees have been denied legal personhood in three lawsuits filed in New York courts by the Nonhuman Rights Project. Wired gives us some context with a history of animals’ status.

A NASA satellite has pegged a ridge in the East Antarctic Plateau as the coldest place on Earth, where it falls below -92°C.

Neuroscientist Dr. James Fallon discovered that his own brain pattern matches those of his psychopathic subjects.

The new Nobel prize winner in physiology or medicine, biologist Randy Schekman, announced that his lab will boycott the “tyranny” of “luxury” journals Nature, Cell, and Science. Fortunately, there are open-access alternatives, including eLIFE, which coincidentally is edited by Schekman.

A widely-publicized study purporting to confirm many stereotyped differences in the structure of male and female brains, has been criticized by neuroscientists, been described as “neurosexism,” and prompted a more nuanced look at the real evidence for gender differences.…

Anthropogenic Warming Is Part of the ‘Hard Core’ of Climate Science

The party line of climate change skeptics these days is that global warming has paused, or even reversed, in the last 15 years. According to the Nongovernmental Panel on Climate Change, “Global temperatures stopped rising 15 years ago despite rising levels of carbon dioxide, the invisible gas the IPCC claims is responsible for causing global warming.” Typical denialist refusal to accept the facts, right? Perhaps not! A recent paper in Geophysical Research Letters explains, “Although the Mount Pinatubo eruption in 1991 caused a short-term reduction in TOA radiation, increasing greenhouse gases should have led to increasing warming. However, sea surface temperature (SST) increases stalled in the 2000s and this is also reflected in upper ocean heat content (OHC) for the top 700 m in several analyses.”1 Despite this apparent anomaly, however, climate scientists have not been jumping ship from their consensus position that anthropogenic global warming is occurring.

Diagram of apparent 'missing heat'. Courtesy Science, via https://www2.ucar.edu/atmosnews/news/2013/missing-heat-may-affect-future-climate-change
Diagram of apparent ‘missing heat’. Courtesy Science, via https://www2.ucar.edu/atmosnews/news/2013/missing-heat-may-affect-future-climate-change

Skeptics see this lack of response as evidence of liberal bias or even conspiracy, but I think there is a much more compelling explanation: anthropogenic warming is part of the hard core of climate science. That is, the AGW claim is not subject to revision, and so when anomalies occur—when observations fail to meet predictions—other components of climate science must be revised to preserve it.

  1. Magdalena A. Balmaseda, Keven E. Trenberth, and Erland Kälén, “Distinctive climate signals in reanalysis of global ocean heat content,” Geophysical Research Letters, Vol. 40 (2013), 1754.

Weekly Roundup

GoldieBlox, the celebrated toy series designed to introduce girls to engineering and to combat “pinkification,” have removed their parody song of the Beastie Boys’ hit “Girls” from their viral video of an anti-princess Rube Goldberg machine after the band complained following GoldieBlox’s preemptive fair-use lawsuit. Meanwhile, engineers have claimed that the toys are boring and poorly made, and the toy line has been criticized for enforcing gender stereotypes in the stories accompanying the construction sets. Slate suggests the best gender-neutral alternatives but admits GoldieBlox isn’t so bad.

23andme, the provider of a saliva-based DNA test kit for individuals, has been ordered by the FDA in an open letter to cease all sales after the latter ruled the corporation had begun marketing the kit as a medical device.

Biologists have discovered a new organ in the throats of koalas responsible for their deep mating calls.

Nature reports that the journal Food and Chemical Toxicology have retracted their most downloaded paper, a controversial 2012 study linking Monsanto’s GM maize and their Roundup herbicide to increased tumors in rats.

Waking earlier is linked to both high school and career success, but since night owls and early risers have differently-structured brains, the solution may be more complicated than simply setting an earlier alarm.…