Category Archives: Science

Who would win in a fight, a trillion lions or the Sun?

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A trillion lions fired into space could make Mars into an oasis, plus other things you can do with a giant ball of cats. BY IAN STEADMAN PUBLISHED 19 JANUARY, 2015 – 18:21

Sometimes, it’s possible to take a joke too far. A tweet by @janhopis has inspired just such an occasion:

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The answer to this question is: the Sun. But! There are other things we can do with a trillion lions.

First, we need to work out exactly how much lion we’ll have if we have a trillion lions. This paper found that the average adult male Panthera leo living in Kruger National Park in South Africa weighs 187.5kg, and so a trillion lions means we’re talking about a sphere of lions with a total mass of 1.875 x 1014kg. To put it into context, that’s about 20 times more massive than comet 67-P (which the Rosetta probe and Philae lander have been studying since late last year) – but it’s nothing on the mass of the Sun: 1.98892 x 1030kg.

You might think that lions have advantages over the Sun (claws, for example) that level the playing field. It’s not enough. A comet-sized object consisting of lions held together by gravity and floating in towards the Sun to attack it will not destroy it – the Sun will destroy them. The Sun is a trillion times more massive than the spacelionball. It’s sad, but true.

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Why Psychiatry Holds Enormous Power in Society Despite Losing Scientific Credibility

Definition: Psychiatry is a medical field concerned with the diagnosis, treatment and prevention of mental health conditions

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It helps to be funded by Big Pharma By Bruce Levine AlterNet January 6, 2015

“What’s a guy gotta do around here to lose a little credibility?” asked ProPublica reporter Jesse Eisinger in a 2012 piece about top Wall Street executives who created the financial meltdown but remain top executives, continue to sit on corporate and nonprofit boards, serve as regulators, and whose opinions are sought out by prominent op-ed pages and talk shows.

Wall Street is not the only arena where one can be completely wrong and still retain powerful influence. Influential “thought leader” psychiatrists and major psychiatry institutions, by their own recent admissions, have been repeatedly wrong about illness/disorder validity, biochemical causes and drug treatments. In several cases, they have been discovered to be on the take from drug companies, yet continue to be taken seriously by the mainstream media.

While Big Pharma financial backing is one reason psychiatry is able to retain its clout, this is not the only reason. More insidiously, psychiatry retains influence because of the needs of the larger power structure that rules us. And perhaps most troubling, psychiatry retains influence because of us—and our increasing fears that have resulted in our expanding needs for coercion.

But before discussing these three reasons, some documentation of psychiatry’s lost scientific credibility in several critical areas.

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Psychiatry’s Lost Scientific Credibility

DSM Invalidity. In 2013, the American Psychiatric Association’s diagnostic bible, the DSM, was slammed by the pillars of the psychiatry establishment. Thomas Insel, director of the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) and the highest U.S. governmental mental health official, offered a harsh rebuke of theDSM, announcing that the DSM’s diagnostic categories lack validity, and he stated that “NIMH will be re-orienting its research away from DSM categories.” Also in 2013, Allen Frances, the former chair of the DSM-4 taskforce, published his book, Saving Normal: An Insider’s Revolt against Out-of-Control Psychiatric Diagnosis, DSM-5, Big Pharma, and the Medicalization of Ordinary Life.

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New Thoughts on the Christian Right’s approach to Aborton

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This article (below) is pointing out that between 20% and 80% of fertilised human embryos never implant and so never get the chance to grow. Effectively a significant proportion of the ’embryos’ which anti abortion groups claim to be protecting will ‘abort’ spontaneously.

The article is also making a point aimed at anti contraception activists as well – that if reducing the number of fertilised eggs which did not have the chance to develop is your priority then making sure good contraception is available to prevent that fertilisation would be a the most effective strategy.

The question that come to mind from this is “Why are the ‘all life is sacred’ groups not protesting this? ” “Why are they not demanding research and answers to stop this from happening? It would surely be a simpler and more cost effective way of saving millions of potential ‘babies’ than anti abortion protests and the anti abortion laws currently being instituted in the US?” – if that truly were your aim.

It seems to me that ‘saving babies’ is not actually the issue here – what this is about (and always has been) is taking hard won control over reproduction back from Women.  

There are some links to articles about the patriarchy and women’s sexual freedom at the bottom of the article. 

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Why Right-Wing Crackpots Kill the Most Embryos – A woman who values fertilized eggs should use the most highly effective contraceptive available By Valerie Tarico AlterNet January 7, 2015

Most fertilized eggs spontaneously abort during the first weeks of life. Estimates of death before implantation range as high as 80 percent and bottom out around 45. More than thirty percent of those that do implant later die on the vine. This means that unprotected sex produces more dead fertilized eggs than live babies. Reality TV’s Duggar parents are fundamentalist Christian opponents of contraception and abortion who have produced “19 Kids and Counting.” Based on the live births that Michelle Duggar delivered, we might estimate that Michelle and her man-on-a-mission flushed somewhere between 17 and 75 precious little bundles of joy in order to get the herd they have.

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Is Depression Partly Caused by an Allergic Reaction?

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Growing evidence for a new understanding of depression By Caroline Williams The Guardian January 4, 2015

Barely a week goes by without a celebrity “opening up” about their “battle with depression”. This, apparently, is a brave thing to do because, despite all efforts to get rid of the stigma around depression, it is still seen as some kind of mental and emotional weakness.

But what if it was nothing of the sort? What if it was a physical illness that just happens to make people feel pretty lousy? Would that make it less of a big deal to admit to? Could it even put a final nail in the coffin of the idea that depression is all in the mind?

According to a growing number of scientists, this is exactly how we should be thinking about the condition. George Slavich, a clinical psychologist at the University of California in Los Angeles, has spent years studying depression, and has come to the conclusion that it has as much to do with the body as the mind. “I don’t even talk about it as a psychiatric condition any more,” he says. “It does involve psychology, but it also involves equal parts of biology and physical health.”

The basis of this new view is blindingly obvious once it is pointed out: everyone feels miserable when they are ill. That feeling of being too tired, bored and fed up to move off the sofa and get on with life is known among psychologists as sickness behaviour. It happens for a good reason, helping us avoid doing more damage or spreading an infection any further.

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It also looks a lot like depression. So if people with depression show classic sickness behaviour and sick people feel a lot like people with depression – might there be a common cause that accounts for both?

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Europe’s age of inferno – How a volcano swallowed the Western world (and may have triggered the French Revolution)

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Science writer Alexandra Witze talks about one of modern history’s deadliest natural disasters by LINDSAY ABRAMS FRIDAY, JAN 2, 2015 11:58 AM +0000

In June 1783, a volcano erupted in Iceland that sent all of Europe reeling.

Laki, the country’s largest volcano, spewed ash into the atmosphere for eight long months, poisoning everything it touched. The famine that resulted killed off one-fifth of the population of Iceland, along with half of its livestock. But its impact wasn’t contained to the isolated nation: A mysterious fog began to descend upon the U.K. and France, and then onward to Switzerland, Germany and northern and central Italy (some accounts claim it spread as far a North America). The haze was impossible to ignore. It dimmed the stars, made it difficult to breathe, killed grass and trees and crops and people, and brought with it an “intolerable” heat and catastrophic storms. With winter came a reversal, just as extreme: The continent froze and, come spring, flooded in a manner of hours.

It was, by all definitions, an unprecedented disaster. Some even argue that the unrest it created contributed to the start of the French Revolution. And yet, strangely enough, it’s been largely forgotten.

Science writers Alexandra Witze and Jeff Kanipe explore the story of Laki and other world-changing eruptions in their book, “An Island on Fire.” And they make a compelling case for why, spectacle aside, they deserve our close attention. Salon’s conversation with Witze, which has been lightly edited for length and clarity, follows.

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It was fascinating reading your account of the Laki eruption, especially because I had never heard about it before. Do you have any thoughts about why this hasn’t become the stuff of legends, the way, say, Vesuvius has?

Well, we’re certainly hoping to change that a bit, but a think a lot of it has to do with where and when the eruption happened. This was back in the 18th century, in a fairly remote part of the world. When things like Vesuvius go off, I mean, it’s right smack in the middle of Europe, so there are a lot of people around, a lot of people writing about it, and observing it and kind of checking it out. But Iceland at the time was just really rural: It was a whole bunch of farmers and a bunch of fishermen, and they weren’t really connected to the rest of Europe. They were under the Danish crown at the time, so Copenhagen would occasionally pay attention to what they were doing, but it was really just out of sight and out of mind for a lot of people in Europe and elsewhere.

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Porridge could be key to a long and healthy life, says Harvard University

Eating porridge, brown rice or corn each day could protect the heart against disease, Harvard University has found

Porridge could be key to a long and healthy life, says Harvard University

Youngsters who eat oats regularly are 50 per cent less likely to be overweight, one study of 10,000 children found By Sarah Knapton, Science Editor – 5th Jan 2015

A small bowl of porridge each day could be the key to a long and healthy life, after a major study by Harvard University found that whole grains reduce the risk of dying from heart disease.

Although whole grains are widely believed to be beneficial for health it is the first research to look at whether they have a long-term impact on lifespan.

Researchers followed more than 100,000 people for more than 14 years monitoring their diets and health outcomes.

Everyone involved in the study was healthy in 1984 when they enrolled, but when they were followed up in 2010 more than 26,000 had died.

However those who ate the most whole grains, such as porridge, brown rice, corn and quinoa seemed protected from many illnesses and particularly heart disease.

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God may be on the ropes – The New science that has creationists and the Christian right terrified

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A young MIT professor is finishing Darwin’s task — and threatening to undo everything the wacky right holds dear by PAUL ROSENBERG SATURDAY, JAN 3, 2015 02:00 PM +0000

The Christian right’s obsessive hatred of Darwin is a wonder to behold, but it could someday be rivaled by the hatred of someone you’ve probably never even heard of. Darwin earned their hatred because he explained the evolution of life in a way that doesn’t require the hand of God. Darwin didn’t exclude God, of course, though many creationists seem incapable of grasping this point. But he didn’t require God, either, and that was enough to drive some people mad.

Darwin also didn’t have anything to say about how life got started in the first place — which still leaves a mighty big role for God to play, for those who are so inclined. But that could be about to change, and things could get a whole lot worse for creationists because of Jeremy England, a young MIT professor who’s proposed a theory, based in thermodynamics, showing that the emergence of life was not accidental, but necessary. “[U]nder certain conditions, matter inexorably acquires the key physical attribute associated with life,” he was quoted as saying in an article in Quanta magazine early in 2014, that’s since been republished by Scientific American and, more recently, by Business Insider. In essence, he’s saying, life itself evolved out of simpler non-living systems.

The notion of an evolutionary process broader than life itself is not entirely new. Indeed, there’s evidence, recounted by Eric Havelock in “The Liberal Temper in Greek Politics,” that it was held by the pre-Socratic natural philosophers, who also first gave us the concept of the atom, among many other things. But unlike them or other earlier precursors, England has a specific, unifying, testable evolutionary mechanism in mind.

Quanta fleshed things out a bit more like this:

From the standpoint of physics, there is one essential difference between living things and inanimate clumps of carbon atoms: The former tend to be much better at capturing energy from their environment and dissipating that energy as heat. Jeremy England, a 31-year-old assistant professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, has derived a mathematical formula that he believes explains this capacity. The formula, based on established physics, indicates that when a group of atoms is driven by an external source of energy (like the sun or chemical fuel) and surrounded by a heat bath (like the ocean or atmosphere), it will often gradually restructure itself in order to dissipate increasingly more energy. This could mean that under certain conditions, matter inexorably acquires the key physical attribute associated with life.

It doesn’t mean we should expect life everywhere in the universe — lack of a decent atmosphere or being too far from the sun still makes most of our solar system inhospitable for life with or without England’s perspective. But it does mean that “under certain conditions” where life is possible — as it is here on Earth, obviously — it is also quite probable, if not, ultimately, inevitable. Indeed, life on Earth could well have developed multiple times independently of each other, or all at once, or both. The first truly living organism could have had hundreds, perhaps thousands of siblings, all born not from a single physical parent, but from a physical system, literally pregnant with the possibility of producing life. And similar multiple births of life could have happened repeatedly at different points in time.

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