Beauty pageants and science

The Miss USA contest and science are two phases you tend not to see together. Some Miss USA contestants have claimed science cred, but when the finalists to the 2011 Miss USA contest were asked “Should evolution be taught in school?” the results were both encouraging and depressing
Yay Science
On the plus side the eventual winner Ms Alyssa Campanella came out and said that it should be taught and later claimed
“I was taught evolution in high school. I do believe in it. I’m a huge science geek….I like to believe in the big bang theory and, you know, the evolution of human beings throughout time”.
 But she was only one of two who came out unequivocally in favor of teaching evolution in school.
The many other responses where either political weasel words about choice, or openly against such teaching.
Perhaps if the question was rephrased to teaching mathematics in school.

If you want to see the actual responses click here but I think the video above sums it up.

>Its not always about the Zombieapocalypse


Back off man, I’m a Zombiehunter

Though as a card carrying member of zombie squad (motto We make dead things deader) admittedly 97% of my free time is spent with rehearsals, drills, checkinga and re-evaluating my go-bag and every day carry, checking literature, consulting health records, watching for Patient Zero, recharging torches seemingly endlessly recharging torchs, restocking food and medical supplies, watching training films and reading manuals like DEADLINE by Mira Grant.

Occasionally I feel the need to widen my horizons, albeit only slightly. Such as this week when this arrived in the mail.

Don’t think me being in a hardcopy will save you

Its Dr Daniel H Wilsons’s ROBOPOCALYPSE. I’ve lauded his work ever since first his lament to the 21st Century  ‘Where’s my Jetpack? A guide to the amazing science fiction that never arrived. He has go one to write a series of how to texts on

How to survive a robot uprising

How to build a robot army:Tips on defending Earth against Alien invaders, Ninjas and Zombies.

The book even before it became available was Steven Spielberg was committed to direct the movie.

In case you were wondering why I bought it in hard copy and not e-text. Manly because I haven’t chosen my e-reader yet though when this becomes available I will be sorely tempted. The reason is if it on an electronic device that will make it far to easy for Archos to locate me.

Here is the winning fan made trailer for the book.

>An early start to a Thursday morning


“Way to ruin my night vision Dad”

At 4:20AM on Thursday Morning, I and the_weapon like the rest of the world bundled ourselves up in our warmest gear and left our toasty beds and sat in the back yard to watch the longest total lunar eclipse I have seen in my lifetime.

It was wonderful, from 4:20 when we saw the edge of the shadow begin to cross from the top right corner and fall across the moon’s face. It fell with the slow majesty you’d expect from an event orchestrated across a million kilometers of void.

Damn it was cold, but we were held spellbound, for as the darkness fell more stars came out and we each tried to name the star as it appeared. And I maintain that IRK is not a star we can see, no matter how dark it gets.

By 5:30 the moon was biblical – I mean literally like in the King James ” …and the moon into blood”.

No moon for you

And when I say the rest of the world I do of course exclude North America. As you see from the chart the Moon largely gave a big ‘FRAK YOU’ to the United States on this one. That’s okay, you were probably all busy anyway.

The cold and early rise was worth it because during the totality (the bit when the moon passes deepest into the shadow on this pass) the moon was in the Earth’s umbra for the longest time.

Which means at the height (depth, maximium) lets go with the ‘totality’ if you hadn’t been watching where the moon was the whole time then you couldn’t see it, as no sunlight was falling on it, not even the filtered red light that gives the moon its eerie red colour during the eclipse. For why the moon turns red during an eclipse I turn to the explainantion given by the_weapon, my 11 year old son.

“only the sunlight that goes through the earths air is hitting the moon, the air’s pulled out all the blue light so only the red light is left”

That’s not too shabby and explanation of what happens. He has seen sunlight split into colours by a prism and knows that the sky is blue because that’s the part of the white sunlight that is most scattered by the particles in the air, and he figured this out

White – Blue = red.

For my US friends here is the eclipse someone filmed, my video wouldn’t have recorded for the whole hour and 20 minutes. They have sped it up for those you are busy.

But US you will get your chance with the second total eclipse of the year will be in December 2011.

and I leave you with this science article about an insect called the lesser water boatman, Micronecta scholti. Which on a kilo for kilo basis makes the loudest noise in nature at 105 dbs by

“… rubbing its ribbed penis against ridges on its belly, playing its genitals like a miniature fiddler”

which shows to me why reality will always be more remarkable than what we can imagine.

>Hug me I’m Vaccinated


“Look its Patient Zero, TAKE’ HER DOWN!”

Are you noticing lots of people coughing, spluttering, complaining of sniffles and worse SNEEZING? Everyday on the train into the city a half a dozen people in my carriage release a mighty, droplet-riddled – ACHOO, and I think

 ‘is this it? is this Patient Zero of the next great pandemic?’ 

What is the correct etiquette in this situation? pass them a hanky, douse them in disinfectant, yell at them “way to to doom the planet sneezy.”

This week saw 4197 cases of Whooping Cough (Pertussis) since the start of the year in Victoria. This is twice the numbers for the same period in 2010. The Chief Health Officer of Victoria provided these figures

In 2008 there were 1673 cases
2009 there were 3736
2010 a total of 6736

anyone else spotting a trend here?

My reason_for_living, a mild mannered academic at a major metropolitan university, (that’s a fib she’s never been mild mannered) was notified of a case of diphtheria in the university. That’s right


The New South Wales health department describes this disease as

As a contagious and potentially life threatening bacterial  infection, a common cause of death in children up   until the 1940s but has now almost  disappeared in Australia due to immunization     

I expect Tetanus to start rearing its ugly jaw locking head any day. 

If only there was some effective regime we as a society could adopt to prevent these terrible disease from ravaging across our civilization? There is its called VACCINATION.  Perhaps a schedule like the one listed here given to all children. Its called the National Immunization Program Schedule. So why isn’t it working? I tell you why its because ….

Immunization is a victim of its own success, we don’t see children suffering from these diseases anymore so we have become complacent. Which allows the efforts of the deliberately miss-titled Australian Vaccination network to spread lies and fears of the risk of immunization. This organisation headed by the appalling Meryl Dorey whose rants against immunization are so bizarre, on one occasion likening a vaccination of a child to rape, leads me to suspect she may suffer from some form of twisted Piquerism. Then there is the work of ex Doctor Andrew Wakefield whose fraudulent study proposing a link between the UK MMR vaccine and Autism lead to a boom in cases of measles. Plus the Tree-change, we live in a fairy tale mind state in rural New South Wales and don’t believe in Western Medicine type. 

When I took the_weapon in to get this years flu shot I discovered the booster for tetanus I got after my motorbike accident only covered me for Tetanus and Diphtheria. So I paid the $40 for the booster and received the most painless vaccination ever. At the moment the health department is offering the booster free to new parents in an effort to get this outbreak under control and reduce the risk to new borns.

I’d like to think in some office in the Health Department there is a big transparent plasma screen like the one you see in all the high tech movies, with a outline of the state, highlighting the reported infections. Down one side a series of numbers recording the tally and plotting against previously calculated intervention points which automatically trip increasing levels of free immunizations.

At this level the standard childhood immunizations,  at this level parents of newborns, now people working with children, the vulnerable and finally in a desperate attempt to stop the spread free to everyone. 

Of course its not like that, and I worry that our health services are desperately under funded and people don’t realize the risk or appreciate how long it took us to reign in these terrible scourges and how this brief respite in the history of civilization could end and we could return to tiny babies gasping for breath due to whooping cough.  

We shouldn’t have to go backwards, we shouldn’t have to learn this stuff all over again.

>Valentines day

>A lot has been written and sung about love, but as a skeptic this song appeals on such a day.

So I trust it would go without saying
That I would feel really very sad
If tomorrow you were to fall off something high
Or catch something bad
But I’m just saying
I don’t think you’re special
I-I mean, I think your special
But you fall within a bell curve

Happy Valentines day

>Homeopathy – There’s Nothing In It.

>That’s the slogan of the annual 10:23 challenge which began in January 2010 to convince a chain of pharmacies in the U.K  to stop selling homeopathic products and thereby lending legitimacy to this unproven woo. On the 30th of January 2010 at 10:23 AM 400 people swallowed an entire bottle of homeopathic pills, to highlight the fact these ‘remedies’ have no active ingredients. As chemist I like that they chose 10:23 in reference to the concept of Avagado’s number 6.022×1023.

In the TV show The Big Bang Theory Dr Shedlon Lee Cooper drawing on the experiments of Bertram Forer in 1948 called Astrology “nothing but pseudoscientific hokum”. I would like to draw upon the work J Maddox, J Randi and W. W Stewart who proved conclusively through meticulously designed experiments that Homeopathy is nothing but pseudoscientific hokum.

Homeopathy according to the Australian Homeopathic Association (they have courses and degrees and everything) is based on “the Law of likes” for example coffee can wake you up so if you are suffering from insomnia a diluted quantity of coffee can help you sleep. No seriously they even sell a product called ‘coffee cruda’, sorry prescribe a treatment to alleviate this problem. It gets sillier from there. Homeopathy also believes in the ‘Law of Infinitesimals  the more dilute the remedy the more potent. No I am not making this up.  Of course not just any dilution, special dilutions called ‘centesimals’.

As described on the 10:23 website 
Taking a single drop of caffeine and diluting in ninety-nine drops of water creates what is known to homeopaths as one ‘centesimal’. One drop of this centesimal added to another ninety-nine drops of water produces a two-centesimal, written as 2C. This 2C caffeine potion is 99.99% water and just 0.01% caffeine. At 3C the dilution is 0.0001% caffeine, at 4C it’s 0.000001% caffeine, and so on. Homeopathic remedies are commonly sold at 6C (0.000 000 000 1%) and even 30C (0.000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 1%) dilutions, which homeopaths will often drip onto little balls of sugar to sell.
When these numbers are written out, it’s easy to see how absurd they are. At 12C you pass what is known as the Avogadro Limit, the point at which there is likely nothing of your original substance left.
By the time you reach 30C, you have more chance of winning the lottery five weeks running than you have of finding a single caffeine molecule in your homeopathic sleeping draft. It’s just ordinary water, dripped onto ordinary sugar.
Finally they throw in the Law of Succussion which means shaking the solutions so the water can retain the memory of the molecule that is no longer there. Honestly according to homeopaths shaking stuff makes it hold the pattern better?
Darryl Cunningham has put together a magnificent cartoon of the whole homeopathy mess over on his blog Darryl Cunningham Investigates. Below is the front page. He also did one for the MMR vaccine and autism.homeopathy 1
Some of the ways folk are highlighting the foolishness of homeopathy – folk in the UK have bought homeopathic medicines and plan to overdose, which is difficult when all you are effectively consuming is sugar water, others have taken a drop of nitroglycerin and diluted homeopathically which should by their system making a much more potent explosive, but according to the system called science just makes it wetter.   
I also like to think humor is an effective weapon against such woolly thinking, for those who are big fans of the late great Dr Carl Sagan like me and the_weapon this piece by the folk at Ninjerksu made me smile for a while.
Astrology… Your future looks…………. Gloomy 
Read the whole thing here.
Some will ask why the fuss, if people want to spend their money on what is effectively expensive water where’s the harm. Simon Singh provides a cogent argument here. Also the website What’s the harm, provides examples of some of the 400 people harmed because of homeopathy, including Ms J Alderslade who when told by a homeopath to give up here asthma medication, died of an asthma attack and Isabella Denley a 13month old who died because her parents refused to treat her epilepsy with medication and instead relied on ‘alternatives like homeopathy.’  
realize that western medicine can cause side effects, some of which in the cases of diseases like cancer can be horrific and painful. However they have been shown to provide the best chance for long term survival and I would choose western or science/evidence based medicine over any amount woo or quack voodoo.
So remember when it comes to alternatives like homeopathy.

and when pubmed is full those undead theorems shall walk the earth

My internet alert for Zombies turned up this over on P Z Myers website.The journal Diabities Care Vol 17, Issue 2, 152-154 has an article in the December 2010 issue by M.M. Tai called

A mathematical model for the determination of total area under glucose tolerance and other metabolic curves’.

Which is all well and good however from the abstract:

OBJECTIVE–To develop a mathematical model for the determination of total areas under curves from various metabolic studies. RESEARCH DESIGN AND METHODS–In Tai’s Model, the total area under a curve is computed by dividing the area under the curve between two designated values on the X-axis (abscissas) into small segments (rectangles and triangles) whose areas can be accurately calculated from their respective geometrical formulas.

This sounds a lot like high school calculus to me. If you replace Metabolic curves with just curves then Dr Tai has stated the Trapezoidal rule one of the first techniques taught to calculate the integral (area under the curve). Which as we can see has many uses, not just total glucose tolerance. What is cheeky is the author has called it Tai’s method, not the Leibniz or Newton method. Whats also impressive is that on google scholar the article has been cited 135 times. Which for published articles reproducing known mathematics is a lot. Scientist in some universities live and die professionally by the citations their articles garner. I am hoping this article is being cited as an example as why interdisciplinary studies are important.

It was Murray Gell-Mann who used the ‘eight-fold way’ (hippy) to explain the spectrum of hadrons (fancy word for subatomic particles like protons & neutrons). It was only after mixing with mathematicians, promptly pulled out ‘Introduction to first group theory’ that allowed Gell-Mann to open up symmetry and group theory to become one of the fundamental tools of particle physics. In his defense group theory wasn’t taught in high school in the 1960s.

I don’t mean to be snarky on Dr Tai, actually I do, but its probably because I am feeling a bit snarky about the whole ‘science in society’ thing at the moment. Especially after hearing the conversation of customer in front of me in the Australian geographic shop:

“excuse me why is this clock reading GMT what is that?”

“thats the Greenwich standard time to which we adjust our clocks”

“So thats the time in London is it?

“No, thats the time in Greenwich”

“Why whats so special about Greenwich”

of course I had no alternative but to beat them to death with a copy of Dava Sobel’s Longitude.