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Archive for the ‘Good Science’ Category

8) THE “GATEWAY EFFECT” MAY BE A MIRAGE: Marijuana is often called a “gateway drug” by supporters of prohibition, who point to statistical “associations” indicating that persons who use marijuana are more likely to eventually try hard drugs than those who never use marijuana – implying that marijuana use somehow causes hard drug use.

Interesting follow-up to the earlier post about Czech drug laws. This surprised me: there is some evidence that marijuana can help prevent cancer (not just doesn’t increase your risk, but actually helps prevent it).

read more | digg story

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Alain Connes redefines space, resulting in a beautiful alternative that finally brings theoretical physics back into the realm of falsifiability.

Connes’ noncommutative geometry theory proposes that the mass of the Higgs boson is 160 Gev. Very intersting theory.

read more | digg story

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Dark matter detected. Wee!

My status as an astronomy graduate student compels me to mention this, even though you’ve probably heard about it: dark matter has been directly detected, for the first time. This was done by measuring the gravitational lensing effects in a colliding cluster of galaxies observed using the Chandra X-ray observatory. The point is that the visible matter is subjected to drag during the collision and so lags behind the dark matter, which allows the dark matter to be separately detected. The actual paper is here.

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Ned Wright, an actual cosmologist, has dissected a recent ‘discovery’ that the universe is older and larger than initially thought on this page:

http://www.astro.ucla.edu/~wright/cosmolog.htm

Quoth the cosmologist:

…the claim in the OSU press release that “the universe could be […] 15 percent older” is incorrect. If the Hubble constant is lower, then CMB anisotropy data require that OmegaM, the ratio of the matter density to the critical density, be higher, so the vacuum energy is lower, and the change in the age of the universe is considerably smaller…the Universe would not be 15% older but perhaps 7% older.

The claim that the Universe would be 15% larger is partially incorrect. Even though relatively nearby galaxies would be 15% further away the actual size of the Universe would go from infinite (flat) to finite (closed) but very big, which is a smaller Universe. The distance to distant quasars at redshift z=6 would increase by only 4%, and the distance to the last scattering surface changes less than 0.5% because this is what is fixed by the CMB.

Thank you, Ned.

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Michael Bloomberg addressed the graduating class of Johns Hopkins School of Medicine with a speech in which he criticizes people who dispute scientific results on ideological grounds – evolution, stem cell research, global warming, etc – and urges graduates to remember that their job is to use the sceince they learned to help people. It's nice to see a politician use such blunt language to call out ideologues who try to obfuscate the issues involved to promulgate their agendas. A nice quote:

And it boggles the mind that nearly two centuries after Darwin, and 80 years after John Scopes was put on trial, this country is still debating the validity of evolution. In Kansas, Mississippi, and elsewhere, school districts are now proposing to teach "intelligent design" – which is really just creationism by another name – in science classes alongside evolution. Think about it! This not only devalues science, it cheapens theology. As well as condemning these students to an inferior education, it ultimately hurts their professional opportunities.

Hopkins' motto is Veritas vos liberabit – "the truth shall set you free" – not that "you shall be free to set the truth!"

For reasons I'll update in another blog post, I can't link to anything directly so I'll just provide the url:

http://www.nyc.gov/cgi-bin/misc/pfprinter.cgi?action=print&sitename=OM

This is the printer-friendly version 'cuz the real URL is way too long.

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An American molecular geneticist has concluded after comparing more than 2,000 DNA samples that a person's capacity to believe in God is linked to brain chemicals.

According to the linked atticle, this research comes from the same person who claimed to have found a genetic sequence that makes homosexuality more likely in 1993, so this might be the sort of person who overhypes his results. Nonetheless this is very interesting and in spite of the researcher's own protests to the contrary I believe it might be evidence that religion (or faith) is a purely man-made construct; after all, taken to its logical conclusion, this suggests that any type of faith in a superior being may be due only to a genetic predisposition to believe in such a being, and that means that there is no prior reason to believe in God (any argument used to favour God's existence could probably be refuted by this research). Also, as one digg commenter pointed out, why would God create people genetically predisposed to not believe in him?

read more | digg story

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For those outside the faith, the depth of the church’s dilemma can be explained this way: Imagine if DNA evidence revealed that the Pilgrims didn’t sail from Europe to escape religious persecution but rather were part of a migration from Iceland – and that U.S. history books were wrong.

read more | digg story

Everything I need to know about Mormons I learned on South Park… well, to be fair it’s not like Mormonism makes any less sense than every other bloody religion on the planet. That’s one down, 50000 more religions to disprove now.

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