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|Science updates! Comment Translate Page|| |
It's hard to evade politics, even in a weekend science update. for example whena top Republican factotum declares: “Science is a Democrat thing.”
Um. They say it proudly! Yes, science, but also every single fact-based profession. Including medicine, law, teaching, journalism and those "deep state" enemies -- the Intel/FBI/military officer corps -- who know that fact and science and climate change are real.
== Long ago at least they had an excuse for ignorance... ==
As we re-examine our distant past...
We’re finding numerous past eras when the male population in a region was winnowed to a narrow gene pool or else replaced by newcomers. One massive swing happened about 12,000 years ago, about the same time that two technologies might have exacerbated male death rates: agricultural kingdoms and the availability of plentiful beer. (This is actually my own theory, based upon traveller reports from Polynesia and other places that told of kings ordering the instant death of offending louts. It would help explain human resistance to addiction, which though terribly imperfect is greater than in most species.)
Now comes evidence that a mass migration of males transformed the genetic make-up of people in Spain during the Bronze Age. “It remains unclear whether there was a violent invasion or whether a male-centric social structure played an important role.” Interesting article! And yet, in my “contrarian gadfly” role, I must point out that while dominance by top king-chief-patriarchs seems the most likely explanation, there IS another way that a Y chromosome winnowing could have occurred.
Female dominance. There have been a few cases of matriarchy in which women councils exerted strong control over which males were allowed to breed. It is quite conceivable (get it?) for such councils to enforce hypergamy – preference to share those males who meet strict standards, rather than “settle” for average.
A mild version of this practice was seen among the Cherokee and Iroquois, for example. Yes, our sad litany of nasty and oppressive patriarchies was far more common. But it’s wrong simply to assume that Y chromosome winnowing happened because of inter-male strife. It might have been female selection, which is actually the great driver of evolution in many non-human species.
== More evidence from the past ==
And the Denisovan story gets even more complicated and strange: our Denisovan cousins may have mated with modern humans as recently as 15,000 years ago.
A fossil discovery in North Dakota is strongly believed to be a fish that was blasted and killed precisely the very day that the Cretaceous ended with the Chicxulub meteorite impact, 66 million years ago, the most incredible (and precise) paleontological discovery of the century, so far. If this story is even 5% true...wow. Just wow.
Meanwhile a new fossil trove in China - the Qingjiang biota - has yielded thousands of Cambrian period specimens, with dozens of new species, yet to be named.
Gabonionta are the earliest multicellular macroscopic organisms discovered so far, vastly older –by almost 4x ! – than previous evidence for complex life. Known only from their fossilized mucous trails in black shale from Gabon. Likely something like colonial amoebae or slime molds, they seem to have appeared almost right after Earth finally got appreciable oxygen in its atmosphere. Good science reporting.
My old Caltech housemate Joe Kirschvink has done it again, proving (with colleagues) that humans have a small but verified sensitivity to magnetic fields.
== Tech updates ==
Via Peter Diamandis: Researchers at Boston University have mathematically designed a 3D acoustic metamaterial that can block up to 94 percent of noise flowing through it. Most dramatically, however, the 3D-printed structure reflects noise-producing vibrations without impeding the passage of light or airflow itself.
GauGAN, from NVIDIA, may be the “MS Paint for the AI age.” Using a generative adversarial network (GAN) trained on 1 million Flickr images, GauGAN can create photorealistic images from just a few lines drawn by a user. As an example, a user could click on “tree,” draw a line, and GauGAN will create an image of a tree trunk.
And “Google has successfully shrunk its speech algorithm storage demands down to 80MB, rendering its speech recognizer small enough to fit on your smartphone, and work offline.”
A world game-changer would be to wean billions off cattle or other inefficient and eco-damaging meats, either with vegetable substitutes like the (yummy) Beyond Burger or else real-meat by tissue culture. Latest: “Memphis Meats, for example, recently filed a patent describing a method to create real chicken and beef tissue using CRISPR.”
Goodyear unveiled its new concept Aero tire, designed to run on roads and double as a propulsion system for flying vehicles. Yes, the tires become rotors capable of downward thrust and lift. Yipe. Amazing tech.
Optical interferometry has long promised to help us parse distant planets from their hugely brighter nearby stars. Now a group claims to have done it. But then, a few weeks later, we got that image of a real black hole(!) via a method very similar.
== short takes ==
Methane is so good at trapping heat that one ton of the gas causes 32 times as much warming as one ton of CO2. And Methane is spiking. The possible sources are worrisome. The GOP blocked Obama efforts to fund more inspectors to prevent venting from oil fields. But Trump savagely cut them further and progress toward an international treaty have foundered.
Even worse are signs that methane is bubbling forth from permafrost and undersea hydrate ices, threatening the “blurp” cascade that would truly make it all deadly, making Earth an almost literal hell. These people are outright enemies of your children.
Slime molds’ ability to reconfigure their volume while fleeing from spots of light has enabled scientists to use these biological computers to solve complex mathematical conundrums like the Traveling Salesman Problem.
Our opportunity to save ourselves includes ideas like the “Circular Economy.” Watch the video. Then re-read Earth?
An article on Vox discusses the latest silly-wrongheaded attempt by zealots to shout “messages” into the cosmos without ever doing risk analysis or talking it over with the rest of humanity, or allowing their assumptions to be examined. The saddest part is their dislike of science fiction, since SF explores a wide horizon of possibilities, and their religious fanaticism allows for only one.
Wallace’s bee, the size of your thumb and thought extinct, rediscovered!
Evidence that the huge Deccan Traps volcanic eruptions started just before the Yucatan asteroid impact, and hence may have severely weakened the dinosaurs and other species… but then got even worse after the impact, possibly tightening the noose. “The researchers' dates are also consistent with a major shift in the properties of the erupted rock occurring at the same time as the impact. This supports the idea that the impact's seismic effects reached across the entire planet.”
Wired ran a story on Valentine’s Day about OpenAI, the nonprofit institute founded by Elon Musk and Y Combinator founder Sam Altman, which has apparently designed a system that can learn natural language patterns better than any previous attempt so far after feeding it eight million web pages to train it. What is newsworthy to me about this is what they did next: they stopped to consider the implications. “It could be that someone who has malicious intent would be able to generate high-quality fake news,” an OAI vice president told Wired.
We are a glorious, scientific civilization. Pictures of black holes! SpaceX triple landings! New disease cures! Meat substitutes! And if the enemies of all this want to make this partisan, then let's go.
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Most Vouchers Go To Students From Wealthier Districts
This is not a new piece, but it's a reminder that in Arizona, where vouchers have bloomed, they are rarely used by poor students to "escape" terrible schools. Good to keep in mind as vouchers enjoy a new push across the country.
The Plot Against America: Inside the Christian plan to "remodel" the nation.
A deeper dig into the UDSA Today piece about copy-paste bills. And it does get to education and vouchers.
If We Don't Work On Pedagogy, Nothing Else Matters
Not sure I agree with every single word of this essay from Robin Pendoley, but it's at the very least a place to start a discussion.
Betsy DeVos Can't Be Bothered
Mary Sanchez at the Orlando Sentinel has kind of had it with the typical Betsy DeVos Congressional hearing performance.
The Toll College and Career Ready Education Has Taken On Students
Nancy Bailey talks about the damage done by this policy obsession.
LeBron James Opened a School That Was Considered an Experiment
Remember how King James was going to throw his weight and money behind a public school? Erica Green takes a measured, thoughtful look at how that's going. Worth reading not just for the work of the school, but to remember what journalism that is neither puffing up a miracle school nore tearing down an edu-disaster looks like.
DeVos's Staff Blocked Researchers
Jan Resseger looks a little more closely at how the department tried to thwart research about their spending on charter schools.
Beverly Cleary's Birthday
Not strictly an education story, but the woman turned 103 this week. Damn! Here are some nice birthday pieces from Oprah, Southern Living, and Scary Mommy.
Ron Desantis Has Big Hairy Audacious Goals For Florida Education
An excellent overview of just how very much trouble public education is in in Florida.
Betsy DeVos Quietly Making It Easier for Dying For-profits To Stick It To Students
DeVos remains a fan of business; of students bilked by business, not so much. Here's one small, quiet way she's looking out for the former by sticking it to the latter.
Benchmark Assessments Don't Actually Do Any Good
Some thoughts about repeatedly weighing the pig.
Softly Killing Public Education
Add the St. Louis Dispatch to the list of newspaper editorial boards that have figured out that the push for vouchers is a push to kill and replace public education.
Bad Ideas and Educational Scripture
Should we listen to the experts or to teachers (trick question).
Putting The Pieces Together
The Momma Bears connect the voucher push of guys like Governor Lee to the drive to kill public education.
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