1. tastefullyoffensive:

    Non-Essential Organ Support Group [theawkwardyeti]

    Reminder: Non-essential is not non-useful.

    The gall-bladder helps store bile, assisting in the digestion of certain kinds of food. If you were to have it removed, you would likely find many foods too stressful to your digestive system to be enjoyable. 

    Tonsils have a role in immune function, helping protect you from certain kinds of infection.

    The appendix has been shown to have immune function as well, developing lymphoid tissue and aiding in the production of certain kinds of white blood cells. 

    Wisdom teeth are probably useless, though, except in discussions about vestigial structures and evolutionary theory.

     

  2. jtotheizzoe:

    zenpencils:

    Richard Feynman ‘The beauty of a flower’

    What a fine man.

    (Source: zenpencils.com)

     


  3. "

    Peter Higgs, the British physicist who gave his name to the Higgs boson, believes no university would employ him in today’s academic system because he would not be considered “productive” enough.

    The emeritus professor at Edinburgh University, who says he has never sent an email, browsed the internet or even made a mobile phone call, published fewer than 10 papers after his groundbreaking work, which identified the mechanism by which subatomic material acquires mass, was published in 1964.

    He doubts a similar breakthrough could be achieved in today’s academic culture, because of the expectations on academics to collaborate and keep churning out papers. He said: “It’s difficult to imagine how I would ever have enough peace and quiet in the present sort of climate to do what I did in 1964.”

    "
    — 
    From a short but decent article over at the Guardian. I recommend  taking the 55 seconds required to read it.

    Favorite sentence:
    He has never been tempted to buy a television, but was persuaded to watch The Big Bang Theory last year, and said he wasn’t impressed.”

    You and me both, Peter Higgs.
     


  4. "Of special note is that the manatee’s cerebral cortex is relatively smooth and unconvoluted, suggesting that this cortex is less complexly interconnected within and between cortical areas, as well as with extracortical regions of the brain. The implied relative simplicity of cortical circuits perhaps reflects the relative simplicity of the manatee’s sensory-motor life-history traits."
    — 

    [x]

    Have you ever really looked at pictures of a manatee brain and compared it to another animals? It’s really rather unique-looking. 

    By the way, here’s a bunch of animal brains, manatee included.

     


  5. The idea of electrifying automobiles to get around their environmental shortcomings isn’t new. Twenty years ago, I myself built a hybrid electric car that could be plugged in or run on natural gas. It wasn’t very fast, and I’m pretty sure it wasn’t safe. But I was convinced that cars like mine would help reduce both pollution and fossil-fuel dependence.

    I was wrong.

    I’ve come to this conclusion after many years of studying environmental issues more deeply and taking note of some important questions we need to ask ourselves as concerned citizens. Mine is an unpopular stance, to be sure. The suggestive power of electric cars is a persuasive force—so persuasive that answering the seemingly simple question “Are electric cars indeed green?” quickly gets complicated. […]

    To get a sense of how biases creep in, first follow the money. Most academic programs carrying out electric-car research receive funding from the auto industry. For instance, the Plug-in Hybrid and Electric Vehicle Research Center at the University of California, Davis, which describes itself as the “hub of collaboration and research on plug-in hybrid and electric vehicles for the State of California,” acknowledges on its website partnerships with BMW, Chrysler-Fiat, and Nissan, all of which are selling or developing electric and hybrid models. Stanford’s Global Climate & Energy Project, which publishes research on electric vehicles, has received more than $113 million from four firms: ExxonMobil, General Electric, Schlumberger, and Toyota. Georgetown University, MIT, the universities of Colorado, Delaware, and Michigan, and numerous other schools also accept corporate sponsorship for their electric-vehicle research.

    I’m not suggesting that corporate sponsorship automatically leads people to massage their research data. But it can shape findings in more subtle ways. For one, it influences which studies get done and therefore which ones eventually receive media attention. After all, companies direct money to researchers who are asking the kinds of questions that stand to benefit their industry. An academic who is studying, say, car-free communities is less likely to receive corporate funding than a colleague who is engineering vehicle-charging stations. […]

    So how do you gauge the environmental effects of electric cars when the experts writing about them all seem to be unquestioned car enthusiasts? It’s tough. Another impediment to evaluating electric cars is that it’s difficult to compare the various vehicle-fueling options. It’s relatively easy to calculate the amount of energy required to charge a vehicle’s battery. It isn’t so straightforward, however, to compare a battery that’s been charged by electricity from a natural-gas-fired power plant with one that’s been charged using nuclear power. Natural gas requires burning, it produces CO2, and it often demands environmentally problematic methods to release it from the ground. Nuclear power yields hard-to-store wastes as well as proliferation and fallout risks. There’s no clear-cut way to compare those impacts. Focusing only on greenhouse gases, however important, misses much of the picture. […]

    One study attempted to paint a complete picture. Published by the National Academies in 2010 and overseen by two dozen of the United States’ leading scientists, it is perhaps the most comprehensive account of electric-car effects to date. Its findings are sobering.

    It’s worth noting that this investigation was commissioned by the U.S. Congress and therefore funded entirely with public, not corporate, money. As with many earlier studies, it found that operating an electric car was less damaging than refueling a gasoline-powered one. It isn’t that simple, however, according to Maureen Cropper, the report committee’s vice chair and a professor of economics at the University of Maryland. “Whether we are talking about a conventional gasoline-powered automobile, an electric vehicle, or a hybrid, most of the damages are actually coming from stages other than just the driving of the vehicle,” she points out.

    Part of the impact arises from manufacturing. Because battery packs are heavy (the battery accounts for more than a third of the weight of the Tesla Roadster, for example), manufacturers work to lighten the rest of the vehicle. As a result, electric car components contain many lightweight materials that are energy intensive to produce and process—carbon composites and aluminum in particular. Electric motors and batteries add to the energy of electric-car manufacture.

    In addition, the magnets in the motors of some electric vehicles contain rare earth metals. Curiously, these metals are not as rare as their name might suggest. They are, however, sprinkled thinly across the globe, making their extraction uneconomical in most places. In a study released last year, a group of MIT researchers calculated that global mining of two rare earth metals, neodymium and dysprosium, would need to increase 700 percent and 2600 percent, respectively, over the next 25 years to keep pace with various green-tech plans. Complicating matters is the fact that China, the world’s leading producer of rare earths, has been attempting to restrict its exports of late. […]

    The materials used in batteries are no less burdensome to the environment, the MIT study noted. Compounds such as lithium, copper, and nickel must be coaxed from the earth and processed in ways that demand energy and can release toxic wastes. And in regions with poor regulations, mineral extraction can extend risks beyond just the workers directly involved. Surrounding populations may be exposed to toxic substances through air and groundwater contamination. […]

    The National Academies’ assessment didn’t ignore those difficult-to-measure realities. It drew together the effects of vehicle construction, fuel extraction, refining, emissions, and other factors. In a gut punch to electric-car advocates, it concluded that the vehicles’ lifetime health and environmental damages (excluding long-term climatic effects) are actually greater than those of gasoline-powered cars. Indeed, the study found that an electric car is likely worse than a car fueled exclusively by gasoline derived from Canadian tar sands! […]

    The National Academies’ study stood out for its comprehensiveness, but it’s not the only one to make such grim assessments. A Norwegian study published last October in the Journal of Industrial Ecology compared life-cycle impacts of electric vehicles. The researchers considered acid rain, airborne particulates, water pollution, smog, and toxicity to humans, as well as depletion of fossil fuel and mineral resources. According to coauthor Anders Stromman, “electric vehicles consistently perform worse or on par with modern internal combustion engine vehicles, despite virtually zero direct emissions during operation.”

    Earlier last year, investigators from the University of Tennessee studied five vehicle types in 34 Chinese cities and came to a similar conclusion. These researchers focused on health impacts from emissions and particulate matter such as airborne acids, organic chemicals, metals, and dust particles. For a conventional vehicle, these are worst in urban areas, whereas the emissions associated with electric vehicles are concentrated in the less populated regions surrounding China’s mostly coal-fired power stations. Even when this difference of exposure was taken into account, however, the total negative health consequences of electric vehicles in China exceeded those of conventional vehicles.

    North American power station emissions also largely occur outside of urban areas, as do the damaging consequences of nuclear- and fossil-fuel extraction. And that leads to some critical questions. Do electric cars simply move pollution from upper-middle-class communities in Beverly Hills and Virginia Beach to poor communities in the backwaters of West Virginia and the nation’s industrial exurbs? Are electric cars a sleight of hand that allows peace of mind for those who are already comfortable at the expense of intensifying asthma, heart problems, and radiation risks among the poor and politically disconnected? […]

    All of the aforementioned studies compare electric vehicles with petroleum-powered ones. In doing so, their findings draw attention away from the broad array of transportation options available—such as walking, bicycling, and using mass transit.

    There’s no doubt that gasoline- and diesel-fueled cars are expensive and dirty. Road accidents kill tens of thousands of people annually in the United States alone and injure countless more. Using these kinds of vehicles as a standard against which to judge another technology sets a remarkably low bar. Even if electric cars someday clear that bar, how will they stack up against other alternatives? […]

    If legislators truly wish to reduce fossil-fuel dependence, they could prioritize the transition to pedestrian- and bike-friendly neighborhoods. That won’t be easy everywhere—even less so where the focus is on electric cars. Studies from the National Academies point to better land-use planning to reduce suburban sprawl and, most important, fuel taxes to reduce petroleum dependence. Following that prescription would solve many problems that a proliferation of electric cars could not begin to address—including automotive injuries, deaths, and the frustrations of being stuck in traffic.

    Upon closer consideration, moving from petroleum-fueled vehicles to electric cars begins to look more and more like shifting from one brand of cigarettes to another. We wouldn’t expect doctors to endorse such a thing. Should environmentally minded people really revere electric cars? Perhaps we should look beyond the shiny gadgets now being offered and revisit some less sexy but potent options—smog reduction, bike lanes, energy taxes, and land-use changes to start. Let’s not be seduced by high-tech illusions.

     

  6. thatscienceguy:

    A White Blood Cell chasing and consuming a Bacterial Organism through a process called Phagocytosis.

    (via skeptic-tank)

     

  7. jtotheizzoe:

    Deconstructing the Cheetah

    I dare say this might be one of the most beautiful videos I’ve ever seen. Wow.

    National Geographic teamed up with the Cincinnati Zoo and a Hollywood action movie crew in order to capture a sprinting cheetah at 1200 frames per second. The result is nothing short of magical.

    Here is an animal that can run at nearly 70 mph, the fastest creature on land. It has evolved for two purposes: Speed and killing. Even at top speed, this video shows that its eyes remain locked on the target like laser beams, its head barely moves at all! So what is it that makes the cheetah the fastest animal on land?

    A study published earlier this year by Harvard scientists discovered that an animal’s speed increases with body size, but only to a certain point. A gazelle is faster than a mouse, but also faster than an elephant. By studying a certain species of lizard that can vary quite greatly in size, these researchers realized that speed and the length of the gait increase with size until the weight of the animal forces the limbs to adjust their motion to support mass in order to not fall over. You can read about that study here.

    The cheetah seems to have achieved nature’s optimal balance of size, running ability and weight. For land animals, at least, we could be looking at evolution’s pinnacle of beautiful speed. And it’s phenomenal to watch.

     
     

  8. jtotheizzoe:

    mikerugnetta:

    slavin:

    What happens when you pour 1200F molten aluminum into an anthill? (by seidbords32)

    I have to say my immediate response was to feel bad for the ants even though I have killed every one I ever found in my home.

    It just seemed especially unfair to wipe out an entire colony all at once. but then I remembered E.O. Wilson’s remark that “If ants had nuclear weapons, they would probably end the world in a week” and thought ok, fuck it, pour some molten aluminum in there and let’s see what’s going on. What’s going on is quite amazing. You can skip forward quite a bit if you’re so inclined: it’s worth it.

    After you finish being amazed by their subterranean skill, check out this video about leafcutter ants, the invention of farming and coevolution

    Maybe I should do a video about ants.

     
     


  9. I woke up this morning, had a cup of English Breakfast tea, and thought to myself, “This seems like a good point in my career to alienate all of my readers.” So I sat down and wrote a blog post about abortion.

    If you are even a mildly thoughtful person, it’s a good chance you’re sick of the debate over abortion. People screaming past each other, lawmakers scoring useless points, both sides totally entrenched. But here’s the thing - at its heartthe debate isn’t religious or political, it’s scientific. And totally awesome. To demonstrate this, let me fall back on a hackneyed narrative device called the hypothetical conversation. It’s between Robyn the Righty and Lizzy the Lefty.

    ———

    Robyn: Let me start by say I hate you, your friends, and all you stand for with my entire body and soul.

    Lizzy: Yeah, go fuck yourself.

    R: Okay, with that out of the way, I don’t see how you can reasonably support abortion. Life starts at conception.

    L: I thought we agreed no slogans.

    R: Oh right. But here’s the thing. We agree murder is wrong, right? And murder is killing a human. And genetically speaking, as soon as you have an entire set of 46 human chromosomes you are officially part of the species. So abortion is murder.

    L: That’s pretty egghead for someone more familiar with Southern Baptists than Southern blot.

    R: But I’m not wrong, right?

    L: Okay, I concede that we are definitely biologically human just after conception. But what’s so special about human DNA? It’s 99 percent the same as chimpanzees.

    R: You’re into killing chimps now, too?

    L: No. Wait, what? No, the point is that DNA isn’t what separates us from the animals. It’s cognition, self-awareness, language. And while many creatures have versions of these things, none of them do it as well as us. But here’s the thing, none of these functions come into being until after the child is born.

    R: I knew it! You’re a baby killer! Gotcha.

    L: No, you moron. With the exception of Hitler’s parents and Richard Hilton, no one supports post-birth abortion. I’m saying that, mentally, babies are nothing like us. So instead, we chose an arbitrary point early in the pregnancy, loooong before even the simplest of cognitive functions come online that make us human. End of the first trimester – use it or lose it.

    R: Gross. You said no slogans.

    L: Look, no one likes abortion. I am not pro-abortion. I just understand that women are going to get them no matter what the law says. And since that’s true, they should be clean and performed by professionals.

    R: Yeah, but this is a moral debate, not a policy one. Regardless of politics, you have to admit that abortion is legalized murder. It’s a scientific fact.

    L: I mean, I guess. But it’s a societal choice between a fully-formed cognitive mother and a child who has human DNA but is the cognitive equivalent of a lab rat. And that’s being generous – cognitively speaking.

    R: I can’t believe you just compared a lab rat to an unborn child.

    L: And I can’t believe you use genetics for this debate but not for the evolution one.

    R: Stay on track, Miss Godless Heathen. I still don’t buy that there is some moment in our childhood that we become human because something in our brain comes online. Like, “I recognized myself in a mirror, I am now a human?” You have to admit that DNA offers a clearer line for when we become human. Cognition, self-awareness, empathy, these are very fuzzy ideas.

    L: Hence the buffer zone. First trimester is well clear of any cognitive skills even remotely human.

    R: And so this fetus is just a potential person?  Like a placeholder? The idea of a potential person doesn’t bother you?

    L: Not as much as potential back alley abortions.

    R: So if there is a cognitive line that fetuses cross to become human then there is a cognitive line that brain-injured people cross to lose their humanity.

    L: If I have an accident that leaves me with the mental abilities of a first-trimester fetus, pull the plug on me.

    R: You do have the mental abilities of a first-trimester fetus, jackass. If I’m the one in the hospital bed, I’d prefer my family not give up on me.

    L: Because you still have human DNA. You’re brain-dead but your chromosomes are intact, thus you are still human.

    R: Something like that.

    ———

    Amazing, right? Both are internally logical arguments totally backed by science. Notice that at no point in this debate did religion have to come into it. Yes, Robyn is probably motivated by a deep ethical duty related to her faith. But the Bible’s not really clear on the whole issue and doesn’t really mention abortion, DNA,  the celom, or sperm cells (though there is some discussion of seeds). So in the end it has to be a fundamentally scientific (and ethical) debate.

    Lizzy has simply chosen a different definition of humanness – one related to cognition. If a tiny fetus had full cognition this would be a totally different conversation. Similarly, most people who oppose abortion are fine with eating pig, which has a far more advanced cognition but doesn’t share human DNA. And the same political split arose in 2005 over Terri Schiavo, the woman with highly diminished cognition because of an accident whose family fought over whether to let her go.

    I’m not advocating any particular side, here. The more I think about this debate, the less interest I have in my own opinion as to what’s right. And the more I just find it fascinating. Beyond all the screaming politics and childish behavior lies a very fundamental question. Am I, at my core, a collection of thoughts or a collection of genes?

    This short article conveys my own thoughts on the issue, so I thought I’d share.

     

  10. amongthewhisperingtrees:

    Everything runs off the same energy system. Really powerful image set.

    (via gods-lonely-man)

     


  11. Easy Riding
    Put a person on a bicycle and they become the most efficient creature on Earth. No other living thing can expend so little energy for so much self-powered travel. And that’s just when riding along level ground. When a person rides downhill, the free energy from gravity reduces the demand on the human body even more. 

    If a cyclist and a pedestrian expend the same amount of energy, the efficiency of the bicycle means the cyclist will be traveling three times as fast. At an average walking pace, the walker uses more than six times the amount of metabolic energy above the resting level compared to the cyclist. 

    Running is four times as energy-greedy, and neither they nor other self-propelled athletes, even the world’s fastest, can keep up with a top cyclist. Usain Bolt ran at 23.35 mph in the 2009 Berlin World Championships, but for less than 10 seconds. Speed skater Jeremy Wotherspoon set a world record of 32.87 mph over a 547-yard course. But no athlete could run or skate the 35.03 miles that Chris Boardman rode in one hour at the Manchester (U.K.) velodrome in 1996. 

    Safety in Numbers
    The more people cycle, the safer the roads seem to become. That’s not just true for cyclists—it’s true for all road users, even drivers confounded by the influx of bikes. 

    In Portland, Ore., all deaths from traffic accidents declined from 46 to 28 per year between 1997 and 2007, while the number of cycling trips quadrupled to total 6 percent of all journeys by 2007. Similarly, cycle use in the Netherlands increased by 45 percent from 1977 to 1997, while cyclists’ deaths fell by almost 40 percent. In Berlin, between 1990 and 2007, the share of bicycle trips doubled to 10 percent while serious injuries to cyclists fell by 38 percent. 

    The phenomenon of safety in numbers is not so hard to understand. A growth in the number of cyclists makes them more visible, and drivers change their behavior accordingly. Cities are more likely to provide safer road designs and facilities for cyclists when there are more of them about. And when some drivers switch to cycling, it means there are fewer cars on the road, which reduces the chances of anyone colliding with a high-speed chunk of metal.

    Astonishingly, a bicycle can stay upright without a rider as long as it’s moving at about 8 mph or faster. You just need a few ingredients. 

    Balancing Act
    First, a bicycle needs a freely steerable front wheel. Second, the more relaxed the angle of the fork, the more stable the bike. Third, the distribution of the handlebar and fork mass has an additional effect on how the steering reacts to a change in verticality (wobble). For example, a bike with a handlebar basket full of bricks will be less stable than one whose low-rider front panniers carry the same heavy load. 

    Put these three properties together in the right proportion and the result will be self-stabilizing dynamics. One explanation for this weird phenomenon is that when the moving bike begins to lean to one side, gravitational torque rotates the front wheel away from straight ahead and the bicycle starts to describe a circle. In reaction, the road surface applies a centripetal force that restores the wheel to pointing straight forward. The centripetal force also exerts a torque on the entire bicycle, which pushes it out of the leaning stance.

    One of my favorite pieces of trivia for a while now has been the bit about humans on bicycles being the most efficient self-propelled creatures on the planet, more so that any fish, bird, protozoa, etc.
     

  12. A series of charts about perspective on time have been floating around the web today. These are my favorite. 


    You can find the full set here.

     


  13. "When you have zero evidence, every assumption is basically equal. You prefer to see causes rather than effects, signals in the noise, patterns in the randomness. You prefer easy-to-understand stories, and thus turn everything in life into a narrative so that complicated problems become easy. Scientists work to remove the narrative, to boil it away, leaving behind only the raw facts. Those data sit there naked and exposed so they can be reflected upon and rearranged by each new visitor. Scientists will speculate, and they will argue, but the data they extract from observation will not budge. They may not even make sense for a hundred years or more, but thanks to the scientific method, the stories, full of biases and fallacies, will crash against the facts and recede into history."
     


  14. "Now evolutionary science, in its opposition to creationism, is staking out a similar position in the culture wars. In the absence of Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins is emerging as the anti-pope of a New Atheism, whose orthodoxy inspires the brutal treatment of heretics, even as it lures adherents into a simplistic, unreflective, fanciful faith in its own methods."
     

  15. The next time some conspiracy theorist, “progressive thinking” day care mom tells you that vaccines are overrated, just think about this and laugh. And this data is 7 years old. 

    Don’t tell her she’s wrong, though.

    There is that upcoming problem with overpopulation, after all, am I right?