…you may want to watch this. It’s the Pelican / Pigeon incident as reported by the BBC in video.
On my new blog, Science of the Invisible (nice name, I wonder where it came from I just reported on a story in New Scientist about “biologists” (no-one asked me!) wanting the term “somatic cell nuclear transfer” to be used instead of “therapeutic cloning” to describe the technique that produces cloned embryos from which stem cells can then be isolated. This is to try to distinguish such work from attempts to clone a human being. Fair enough, but isn’t it a bit sneaky just changing the name?
Germane to yesterday’s post, is a lecture online by Michael Shermer of the Skeptic’s society on Why Darwin Matters. You have a couple minutes of adverts and announcements before he gets on stage, but it’s and interesting talk.
The complete works of Charles Darwin are being published online. The project run by Cambridge University has digitised some 50,000 pages of text and 40,000 images of original publications – all of it searchable.
View them here.
I went to see An Inconvenient Truth this week. It’s on a short run outside of London making it briefly a slightly more convenient truth. I was rather impressed. There’s little new in the film, at not to those living in Europe, but what is there is put together and presented very well. The film tackles four basic issues, What is Global Warming? What’s causing it? Why does it matter? What can we do about it?
The explanation of Global Warming is simplfied, it solely about CO2 in Al Gore’s film, which skips over the problems that might be caused by things like Methane clathrates. For the sake of explaining the problem this is a very smart move, because it allows him to then concentrate on one issue for tackling the cause. The common rejoinder from industry is that warming and cooling follows a natural cycle. Gore’s able to show that this is true it does. He’s then able to follow this up by showing the range of natural variation, and how modern carbon dioxide levels are way waaaay in excess of natural variation. Some of the more powerful scenes in the film explore why this matters. In the preview above you can see that a feasible rise of sea level caused by the melting of Greenlandic or a portion of Antarctic ice will cause large scale flooding of densely populated coastal areas.
The weakest part of the film, from a European perspective is the call to action. He says nothing wrong, but it’s all very old news over here. This is very much a section for the North American audience where being green is a matter of envying your neighbour’s gas guzzler. One scene is about proposed improvements in fuel efficiency by the state of California which are being opposed by the motor industry and it’s hard not to laugh. They’re pitiful. California wants to be, in twelve year’s time, where China is today. If this really is a problem for Ford or General Motors then who in their right mind would buy an American car?
This aside, it is a very good introduction to the problem. Like all politicians Gore cannot tell jokes, but he comes close on a couple of occasions. What he does do is get across his message clearly, effectively and powerfully. Visual aids are used well, but so is his presence as a speaker. As an example of science communication its hard to beat.
Unless you’ve been living in a cave for some time (preferably not in North Korea), you can’t have missed the debate raging about intelligent design. Today however, I listened to Professor Steve Jones’ views in the Guardian Unlimited Science Extra podcast. I suggest that everyone should listen to the interview with Steve Jones (mp3) and make up their own mind.
More than a million people, mostly children, die every year from malaria – this translates into one death every 30 seconds. Approximately 3 billion people in 107 countries are at risk. More than 80% of deaths from malaria occur in Africa, 15% in Asia and Eastern Europe, and only a small fraction in the Americas. The vast majority of cases occur in children under the age of five. Pregnant women are also particularly vulnerable. Precise statistics are difficult to collect because many cases occur in rural areas where people do not have access to medical care, so many cases are unreported.
This week’s MicrobiologyBytes podcast reports on the latest developments in the fight against this killer disease.
The University of Leicester has been ranked joint first for teaching quality and overall satisfaction amongst universities teaching full-time students in the new National Student Survey. Leicester also finished top for personal development and academic support. Over 60% of final year students at British universities completed the questionnaire making it the most comprehensive test of student opinion ever carried out. The survey was conducted independently by the UK higher education funding councils in England, Wales & Northern Ireland.
Is Monet’s painting of the Houses of Parliament above an accurate painting of London? The story that it could well be broke in August but I’ve delayed commenting on it because I wanted to sit down with the original paper.
I tend to be sceptical of claims that art can be read scientifically. For instance does this really look much like a woman with a guitar? The Monet paper had the added problem of stating that the time of painting could be dated. Astronomy is usually a terrible way to date things. It really only works if you already know the period of the thing you’re dating, which is why the paper ‘Solar position within Monet’s Houses of Parliament‘ by Jacob Baker and John E. Thornes makes a lot of sense. It’s an example of good interdisciplinary thinking.
The reason it works so well is that Baker and Thornes are able to use historical material to eliminate a lot of speculation. Monet’s life is well studied and many of his letters survive, so they are able to place the period during which Monet was in London. To examine the painting more closely they also needed to calculate where Monet’s vantage point was. This was made easier as they knew the building he was in, Saint Thomas’s Hospital. Using architectural drawings and Monet’s description of the room they had a set of likely candidates. They then tried to match this to the view from the painting.
Above is a view of a Google Earth model we’re using to demonstrate some of the equipment we have in the i-Science labs for the pi-CETL launch evening. Click on Sunrise Alignment and you’ll see the view from Stonehenge to the rising sun in midsummer. Click on Sunset alignment and you’ll see the view in the direction through Stonehenge to the setting midwinter sun. There’s also a moonrise alignment to the most southerly rising of the moon, which can be viewed along the long side of the station stone rectangle. It’s for the students to improve it or otherwise, but you can download a version to play with.