24 entries categorized "Science"

Doesn't Look a Day Over 42,500

This is Wilma.


She is a life-size rendering of a 43,000-year-old Neanderthal woman.  Wilma was commissioned by National Geographic for this story and designed from fossils and DNA information from a particular female specimen.  Because the DNA of the woman they based her on suggested that she was a redhead, scientists named the reconstruction Wilma after Wilma Flintstone.  However, from the neck down, she's built a bit more like Fred (Neanderthals were pretty stocky).  Click here for the photo gallery.  I would post a picture, but big W is somewhat nakey-nakey and I know some of you are at work.

Anyway, I don't think Wilma looks too bad; give this lady a shower and a hairbrush, and you've got someone who would meet the standards of even the pickiest Geico caveman.  Check out those natural highlights!

I didn't read the whole National Geographic article, but let me know if you make it through all 10 pages.  I will be worrying about more important things, like starting a letter-writing campaign to get Wilma on the cast for season three of American Gladiators.

A Sprinkling of Linklings

In keeping with the newly-announced LMNOPolicy of posting links whenever the hell I feel like it, here are a few things worth clicking--although I'm warning you now that they border on educational.

Completing This Week's Eyeball-Poking, Face-Flinching, Hybrid-Driving Series of Posts About Me Being a Wuss

Note: I did not start off this week intending to post exclusively about things that would make me seem lame and/or wussy.  It just kind of worked out that way.  It wasn't even really very hard.

Bodies-The Exhibition opened in the DC area Saturday and will be here until October, which means, I fear, that I'm going to end up getting dragged to it by someone.

Bodies, for those of you who haven't heard of it, is a travelling exhibition of dead human bodies and body parts that have been preserved and set out fordisplay.  This MSNBC article describes it pretty well :

"Divided into displays that focus on the body's different systems — muscular, skeletal, circulatory, reproductive and respiratory — the exhibit features a variety of organs, as well as diseases that affect them.

A smoker's carbon-colored lungs are placed side-by-side with a healthy pair; dark spots of a stroke victim's brain are shown beside a normal one, extreme cases of cancer show up along with healthy specimens.

One part of the exhibit shows an entire circulatory system, minus any other body part, suspended in liquid and illuminated against a dark background, creating a sort of 3D silhouette created by blood vessels.

Another area of the exhibit simulates the view an MRI scan provides cross-sectional views of a body by physically slicing it and separating it in a display case.

Still another portion — complete with a warning to exhibit-goers and a disclaimer that the specimens were obtained through natural deaths — shows fetuses in various stages of development, as well as one in utero and another of conjoined twins."

In other words, EW EW EW has been organized into various displays of OH MY SICK so that we can learn about the OMG VOMIT that is the SERIOUSLY BLARRRRRRGH of GROSS GROSS GROSS.  Or at least that's how I see it.

I'm squeamish enough that I literally cannot picture how any human being would actually want to be a surgeon; in my vision of society the job of a surgeon is the kind of undesirable service like garbage collection or armpit smelling that somebody has to do but nobody should actually want to.  You probably think I am exaggerating, but I don't even really like looking at the muscles poster in my gym for more than a second or two.


Unfortunately it is right by the water fountain and I have to turn my head in the opposite direction in order to look at anything but the poster, so I end up getting fixated on the disgusting neck muscles and the fact that for some reason skin has been drawn over the woman's face, fingers, and feet.  The worst is the feet--it looks like a pair of Peds made out of human skin.

So anyway, the point of this post is that I just know one of my nerdy-ass friends is going to want to go to this exhibition and I'm gonna end up getting browbeaten into coming along and forking over my $30 just to spend an afternoon walking around an exhibit hall shivering, wincing, and throwing up in my mouth repeatedly.  Life is unfair.

Still Not Impressed With T9 Word Prediction Technology

I mean come on, you'd think even the simplest of programs would have realized by now that I'm constantly typing "oh snap" into my cell phone, not "oh soap."  And yet it's always the latter that my phone helpfully suggests to autocomplete for me.  "Oh snap" makes sense!  "Oh soap" does not!  An abacus could have figured that out by now!  Come on, phone, get with it.

To See What Your Great-Great-Great-Great-Great Grandchildren Will Look Like, Tune In to MTV on Mondays at 10

Awkward2 Via Kottke comes this report on a theory suggesting humans will evolve into two sub-species ("a genetic upper class and a dim-witted underclass") in 100,000 years' time.  Additionally, according to evolutionary theorist Oliver Curry, humans will reach a "peak" in the year 3000, after which they will become too dependent on technology and be sent into decline.  They will be taller and more attractive than we are today; however--

Social skills, such as communicating and interacting with others, could be lost, along with emotions such as love, sympathy, trust and respect. People would become less able to care for others, or perform in teams.

So basically, in the next millenium the entire world will function like one big Real World-Road Rules Challenge: a bunch of objectively attractive people who are incapable of rational social behavior and also completely unable to work together.

ThefutureTrue, this is a scary thought, but come on--we have been aware for years that our descendants are screwed. We know we're basically dumping them in a runaway train to Freakshow Disasterville and then jumping off the back while there's still time to enjoy things like emotions, teamwork, and turning the Amazon into timber. 

Anyway, I'm lending my support to Oliver Curry and his theory.  Two sub-species of humans?  Real-World-Road Rules gone mad?  It doesn't take a lot of effort to sell me on that.  But in case my more discriminating readers (Adam) are holding out for even more evidence, here are three theories and one fact I have come up with.

1. The Theory That Everything BBC Says Is Right. I went to journalism school and learned from journalism professors, so I know this.  BBC would not have gotten on this story if it wasn't accurate.

2. The TI-83 Theory of Evolution. This is a theory I made up a while ago to explain why I feel like kids of the future are going to be extremely socially deficient.  Basically, the use of MySpace and other social networking sites will render them incapable of actually making friends in person (most people born after 1988-1990ish already show signs of this affliction).  Those of us born before then learned how to make friends manually, and though we may now use Facebook and MySpace to maintain friends or even make new ones, we are still relatively well-grounded in the basic principles of human friend-making.  It's like how in Math in school we always had to learn how to do things the long way before the teacher showed us how to do it on the TI-83 in 10 seconds so that we knew how things worked conceptually.  Kids today don't get the conceptual knowledge when it comes to making friends, though, because each one has a MySpace page to do the legwork for him.

Wellresearched 3. The Theory That Gattaca Was a Credible Pieces of Scientific Discourse. I base this theory on the fact that when I first rented this movie in 1998 I was obsessed with it. By that time I had completed high school biology, so although I cannot recall the exact specifics of how the movie convinced me that the development of a genetic caste system was indeed plausible, I know that whatever logic was used must have been airtight. 

4. The Fact That You Can't Prove Me Wrong Anyway. That's the best part, really.  I can believe whatever the hell I want about the future and get away with it because you have no way of showing me otherwise.  Sure, you can disagree with me, but you can never actually prove that I am wrong (unless you invent time travel). So why not just agree?  It will make the world a better place.

Agree or disagree, one lesson we can all take away from the BBC article is that "evolutionary theorist" is a pretty sweet gig.  You enjoy all the perks of being a scientist (getting quoted by BBC, telling people at your high school reunion that you were quoted in the BBC, free pens) with no actual chance of being proven wrong in your own lifetime.  By the time 3000 rolls around, the worst thing that can happen to Oliver Curry is that some future human comes across his theory, laughs at how dumb and wrong it is, and posts it on his website or something.  Big deal, future guy.  Oliver Curry made his money already and he's been dead for nine centuries now, so he could care less what you think of him; you, on the other hand, are very much alive and should probably start worrying more about the fact that Earth is due for another asteroid sometime soon.

For more on the future: Read this post from Matt Price's guest blogging stint
For even more on the future: Wait until it happens?

I Guess This Explains American Idol Auditions Once and for All

Reading this article will make you really paranoid (title: "Incompetent People Really Have No Clue, Studies Find; They're Blind to Own Failings, Others' Skills").  The main idea is that, according to some research, "people who do things badly are usually supremely confident of their abilities--more confident, in fact, than people who do things well."  Here's the part that has basically left me haunted:

One reason that the ignorant also tend to be the blissfully self-assured, the researchers believe, is that the skills required for competence often are the same skills necessary to recognize competence.

The incompetent, therefore, suffer doubly, they suggested in a paper appearing in the December issue of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

``Not only do they reach erroneous conclusions and make unfortunate choices, but their incompetence robs them of the ability to realize it,'' wrote Kruger, now an assistant professor at the University of Illinois, and Dunning.

Umm, cool.  So, is there any way for me to determine whether or not I am living my life inside a sealed box of lies borne of my own blissful ignorance?  No?  Awesome. 

Anyway, that's why I made you read the article--so we can all wonder if we are incompetent together.

Depressing Fact: It Actually Took Me About Twice As Long to Find the Picture of the President of Iceland Than It Did to Find Those Disturbingly Similar Images of Bush and the Monkey

"A survey of 32 European countries, the US and Japan has revealed that only Turkey is less willing than the US to accept evolution as fact." (Source )


This graph from newscientist.com shows the full lineup; you might notice that first-place Iceland is kicking our ass.  I'd also created this graphic as LMNOP's contribution to the scientific dialogue:


Unfortunately, America's stance on evolution doesn't really surprise me at all.  Why?  Little known fact: my elementary/middle school taught intelligent design.  I distinctly remember a teacher at my parochial middle school telling the class that there is nothing wrong with believing that humans evolved from apes, as long as you believed that such an evolution was guided by the hand of God as part of his master plan.  I suppose this explanation was supposed to assuage any mental anguish we felt at the prospect of reconciling seemingly disparate scientific views with religious doctrine; however, it only served to confuse me more.  What kind of F-ed up "master" plan involved God making us monkeys and then slowly turning us into humans?  If that's an intelligent design, then I'll eat my own ass.  Far be it for me to criticize the Master Plan, but wouldn't it be more intelligent to just skip the thousands of years of us flinging poo at each other and cut right to our current state of perfection in which we are at least 75% less likely to fling poo at each other?

Creationists always do get the last laugh, though:

"The percentage of people in the country who accept the idea of evolution has declined from 45 in 1985 to 40 in 2005." ( Source)

I mean, if you think about it, that's about the best argument against evolution that I've seen in a while.

LMNOP Science Update: Get Those Pizzas While Your Very Elegant Mother Is Still Serving Them

This article on CNN. com, "Pluto on the Chopping Block," excites me.  We've been hearing for a while about the debate over whether or not Pluto is legitimately a planet, but I wasn't aware that a decision was on the horizon. But:

Nearly 2,500 astronomers from 75 countries gathered in Prague Monday to come up with a universal definition of what qualifies as a planet and possibly decide whether Pluto should keep its planet status . . . . Among the possibilities at the 12-day meeting of the International Astronomical Union in the Czech Republic capital: Subtract Pluto or christen one more planet, and possibly dozens more.

Do you realize what an impact this decision will have on our world?  It's huge!  And, lest you think I'm exaggerating, I've compiled a list of the people and things that stand to reap everything from major devastation to great windfall from this decision.

AFFECTED PARTY: Anyone who has completed school

Pluto1_copy As someone who recently completed college and is already sensitive to things that make me feel old, I can't imagine how much of a fogey I will feel like some day when my kids are learning about the solar system and the planets are completely different.  Can you imagine if there are 53 planets by then (the article says it's possible), and you're coming at your kid with, "When I was your age, there were only nine of them!"  I mean, come on.  How old are you gonna seem when you've been part of the public consciousness longer than certain celestial bodies have?  I'm telling you now: you're gonna feel super old.  At the very least, if they cut Pluto and we're down to eight, they're still gonna think you are old for being alive back when people were dumb enough to think Pluto was a planet.  They'll probably assume you thought the world was flat too.

AFFECTED PARTY: My very elegant mother
Pluto2 As far as mnemonic devices go, "My Very Elegant Mother Just Served Us Nine Pizzas" has been a benchmark, but if Pluto is cut, it's going to take a big hit--'Pizzas' will be gone!  It's still salvageable, I guess (My Very Elegant Mother Just Served Us Nothing? Nuggets? Nachos?), but there's no denying that an era will have ended.

And that's the best-case scenario.  If a bunch of other planets get named, we're gonna need to rethink things completely.  A simple mnemonic may not even suffice anymore; we might be looking at a whole new monster to rival the Periodic Table of Elements!  The universe will no longer be one of those friendly neighborhoods where you know the name of everyone on your street; no, it will be one of those gigantic hyper-planned urban mega-communities where you have to look at the directory to know the name of the person in 408 whose mail you keep getting. But it's even worse, because in this case their name is, like, Planet X4-HG59 Omega.

POTENTIAL IMPACT:  Positive, Major

Pluto3 We all know who the real winner's gonna be on this one: the textbook companies.  In fact, I wouldn't be surprised to find out that Houghton and Mifflin are paying the scientific community a little bit of money under the table to keep this upheaval coming.  After all, schools aren't going to be able to use their science books from the '80s anymore.  Pluto will become the new USSR (as in "that encyclopedia's so old, it's still got the USSR in it!") as the new laughingstock of the textbook and reference book world.  Well I got news for you, book companies: I wasn't done with making fun of the USSR yet.  I'm not too pleased about my time being cut short.


Pluto4 While the Scholastic Press corporate offices are using their windfall to build a new extension with a gym, pool, and cafeteria for their staff, schools everywhere are going to be suffering even more financial setbacks as they must spend even more money on updating textbooks. Even science books bought at the beginning of this year will be rendered obsolete, and that just ain't fair.

Of course, that's not to say that every school will be updating its books.  You can bet that a lot of them will get creative, crossing out certain sections with black hi-liter, or ripping pages out and Scotch-taping in entire new chapters.  That's probably actually their wisest bet, because how can they insure that as soon as they buy new books, even more planets won't be named.  However, that doesn't make it OK.  Kids already have enough things to make fun of at school, and this would just be handing them even more ammo.  Can you imagine all the new spin-offs on age-old complaints this will generate?

  • "I don't see why we're learning about the planets if they might just change again anyway."
  • "This isn't important!  When my mom was in school, they were teaching them lies about outer space, but she still got a job!"
  • My brother only had to learn 9 planets, and I have to learn 30?  It's not FAIIRRRrrrrrrrrRRRRRRRRRrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr!  We shouldn't have to do more work because we were born later."

AFFECTED PARTY: Pluto (the planet)
POTENTIAL IMPACT: Ranges from catastrophic excommunication to a mild case of middle child syndrome.

Pluto5 We know how hard rejection can be, and Pluto's facing a big one.  If it gets canned, it'll be lucky if it can muster up as much respect in the future as Puerto Rico or Guam.  I wouldn't count on it though--the little planet that couldn't seems to be up for an eternity of loneliness and isolation with its lame moon Charon.

And if Pluto does manage to get saved, it's not going to be all gravy.  At the very least, from what I understand, by updating the definition of "planet" to permanently incorporate Pluto, scientists may also have to at least add young upstart planet candidate Xena as well:

Some argue that if Pluto kept its crown, Xena should be the 10th planet by default -- it is, after all, bigger. Purists maintain that there are only eight traditional planets, and insist Pluto and Xena are poseurs.

So we'd be keeping Pluto in the family, sure, but with all the commotion surrounding baby Xena, Pluto's going to feel neglected, and sometimes that can be an even bigger bitch than rejection.

AFFECTED PARTY: Pluto (the dog)

Pluto6 I'd say the big wild card in all this is the Disney character Pluto.  It's likely that he'll just keep his name and nothing exciting will happen, but you know how reactionary and weird Disney can be.  After all, when people are dying on your rides you can't really afford to be associated with anything out-of-date and old.  Maybe they'll change his name, or maybe he will end up getting "accidentally" run over by a parade float, silently sucked underground by one of those fabled trash chutes, and then cheerfully eulogized by a mind washed PR rep with a story about his being on a farm somewhere in Iowa.  I don't know for sure.  We'll have to wait and see.

The Exciting Conclusion of Science Week


How Science Will Work:  The Future of Science 

I’m often asked, “Well sure, Matt, anyone can understand basic scientific principles such as iPods, Futureade_1water, scientists, and dinosaurs, but that’s because those are all happening right now—but what will happen with the future of science?”  I cannot stress what an excellent question this is.  No, seriously, I can’t stress it, because it is NOT an excellent question—it is a smartass question that undermines the authority of hardworking scientists everywhere.

So even though these wannabe scientists are clearly sipping the hate-o-rade (which chemically is 2 parts hydrogen, 1 part oxygen, 1 part smarm), allow me to answer this question. 

First, and I cannot stress this enough, the future of science will NOT consist of the following things: 

a) time machines;

b) killer robots;

c) regular robots; or

d) people living on the moon. 

89920040814195137This is because science hates clichés.  Also, the future of science will not consist of inventing killer clone armies.  This will be unnecessary because we already have the North Koreans.

However, several disciplines will see significant changes in the years to come.  For example:

Zoology:  The future of zoology (which is Latin for “the study of zoos”) will focus primarily on creating hilarious pets, such as a cow the size of a dog or a bear that can fit in the palm of your hand.  Paris HiltonFutureparis will carry around a tiny giraffe everywhere.

Biology:  We will finally realize, as a nation, that there is nothing left to learn by cutting open a frog.  “Enough already with the cutting open of the frogs,” a particularly sarcastic Secretary of Education will likely proclaim.  Likewise, we will stop collecting insects and pinning them in cardboard boxes, thus critically injuring our cardboard box industry and our pin industry.  Shortly after these two practices become obsolete, no one will be able to remember any other reason to study biology, and middle schoolers will just get a second lunch period.

Nuclear Geophysical Quantum Oceanography: If I even began to tell you what this will entail, Einstein would literally shit himself in his grave.  So let’s be safe and just note that this is something to look out for on the scientific horizon. 

Futurespace Outer Space: Upon closer inspection, we will learn that outer space, with all of its vastness, grandeur, and mystery, really isn’t that interesting at all.  It is called “space” for a reason, and that’s because it is just a bunch of empty space.  However, we will discover a whole bunch of new moons, and since we are running out of Greek Gods, we will name them after hockey players.  “If the light is right tonight, Timmy, we might be able to see Callisto, Europa, and Gordie Howe,” is something a scientist will say. 

So basically, science is something that is easy to predict.  All you have to do is look for something that you want to happen, such as hilarious pets or quantum oceans, and some scientist will do it, usually for cheap since scientists are poor.  And with disciplines like physics or chemistry, the only changes that will happen in the future are things that you wouldn’t understand anyway, so from your perspective nothing will change. 

And this concludes our celebration of science week.  I sincerely hope you have a greater understanding of how science relates to your world, because otherwise the National Science Council will have my ass on a scientific platter.  In case you forgot anything, here are some review questions of the central principles we discussed that you need to know if you ever want to be half the scientist I am. 

Review Test:

  1. What is the true   meaning of Jurassic Park?  Explain.
  2. Have you seen the   movie Waterworld?  Why or why not?
  3. Who invented text   messaging?  What about creationism?
  4. Who wrote “Take   it To Da House,” and did it make you want to get up out yo’ seat?
  5. Did I really use   the term “Crustacean Scientist” in one of these articles?    Why or why not?  And if so, come I didn’t think to reference   Dr. Zoidberg from Futurama, who really is a crustacean scientist?