Best Science Blogging

December 24, 2006

I suspect I’ve discovered three laws of blogging.

  1. You will always spot the embarrassing spelling or grammatical error immediately after pressing ‘publish’.
  2. The post which gets most attention will be the one where you accidentally omitted the word ‘not’ in a sentence, thus making you look ridiculous (or in my case more ridiculous than usual).
  3. No matter how good an idea it is Coturnix will have got there first.

In this last case he’s got something special planned to go with the Science Blogging Conference. He’s compiling a list of the best science posts, and would like your help. The best fifty will be published in a book, and be available in the New Year. The post on the suggestions made so far is a great guide to what is around on the net.

There’s not much archaeology in the list yet, but I haven’t suggested any archaeological posts so far. It’s not due to a shortage of suitable posts, but rather that there’s some really good stuff. Assuming they’re willing to be published.

I thought I was being clever about having an idea of compiling either science or history posts as a book some time in the future. I even thought specifically that it would be good if the Science Blogging Conference produced a book, but didn’t email that to him, as I assumed he had enough to do with organising the conference.

Anyhow, if you’ve found something you think should be in a best of science-blogging book then leave him a comment.


Older Scientist

December 22, 2006

There’s a new blogger on the the i-Science blog. Head of Department Derek Raine has logged into the system and added his thoughts on Rights for Robots.

The title doesn’t refer to him, but to NewScientist. I picked up the Christmas Edition today, and it’s a great read. I particularly liked the article on the evolution of beer, looking at the microbiology of yeast. But anyone subscribed to Alan Cann’s MicrobiologyBytes would have heard about this last month. There’s also a video clip to go with it.

Rights for Robots

December 21, 2006


 The BBC news web site quotes a government report that robots may some day need to be given human rights. Sounds crazy at first hearing, but if a robot were to pass the Turing Test for ‘lifelike’ behaviour, how would you fail to grant such rights? Of course, given rights they will have to accept responsibilities, such as the payment of taxes!

Photo by drp

The Star of Bethlehem

December 21, 2006

[Cross-posted to Revise & Dissent]

Giotto Birth of Christ
Did Giotto get the birth of Christ right after all?

When people hear that I study ancient astronomy, a question I tend to get asked every so often is “What was the Star of Bethlehem?” There’s a few exciting explanations, so mine tends to disappoint. I’m pretty much of the same opinion as Martin when it comes to explaining Biblical miracles. There’s no independent evidence that many of these happened as described. There are however lots of strange events recorded in the ancient literature, and many honest misunderstandings. A lot of questioners assume the star must have existed, and therefore it’s simply a matter of explaining what it was. If this were a star of Apollo or Ueuecoyotl then fewer people would be convinced the star existed. Another problem is that just because you can spot a pattern it doesn’t mean it’s meaningful. I can see a duck-shaped cloud out of the window. I can’t believe it’s a divine sign that God is fed up of people eating turkey. Similarly, while there are a lot of astronomical events you could say were a star, they don’t really withstand much scrutiny. However, I am open to the idea that I need to change my mind, because I have read an explanation that might work.
Read the rest of this entry »

Carl Sagan +10

December 20, 2006
Candles in a Demon-Haunted World
Candles in a Demon-Haunted World. Photo by Prakope.

It is perhaps odd that I should contribute to the Sagan Blogathon being held on the 10th anniversary of his passing. I was aware of Carl Sagan, but he was a celebrity over there as far as I was concerned. We have Patrick Moore, so I never read anything of Sagan’s till after he died, or at least so I thought.

I’m working my way through The Dragons of Eden, and my reaction is something like déjà vu. The reason why Sagan is worth remembering ten years on isn’t simply his books or television appearances. It’s also his influence on others. Reading through Dragons of Eden evokes memories of books which have come much later. It’s not plagiarism, but rather that Sagan managed to express the sense of wonder and appreciation of the unknown which Science is built around. It’s not simply about finding the right answers, but finding if you’re asking the right questions.

He is also very quotable. Here’s one straight off the first page of Dragons:

“The world is very old, and human beings are very young. Significant events in our personal lives are measured in years or less; our lifetimes in decades; our family genealogies in centuries; and all of recorded history in millennia. But we have been preceded by an awesome vista of time, extending for prodigious periods into the past, about which we know little – both because there are no written records and because we have real difficulty in grasping the immensity of the intervals involved.”

What came to mind was PZ Myers’ excellent article The proper reverence due those who have gone before.
Read the rest of this entry »

Vegetarians and Banks

December 20, 2006

The latest edition of the Tangled Bank is up at Salto Sobrius. It’s always worth a look. Had I been more on the ball I’d have submitted this story from Snail’s Tales: How come Cows are not smarter?

If you’ve read the BBC article on IQ and Vegetarianism, then you may find Aydin Östan’s take on it interesting. I’d assumed that the correlation was due to intelligent people being more likely to be health-conscious and the vegetarian diet is more healthy. At least compared to mine – I view vegetables as something food eats. So I didn’t pay it any more mind. If I had looked more closely I would have found a lot of the vegetarians ate meat, and what about the IQ of Vegans?

Gratuitous Linking

December 12, 2006

There’s me on Evidence-Based Medicine and microfascism etc. How do you respond in an academic paper to bloggers? It sounds like the sort of thing they could usefully debate at the 2007 North Carolina Science Blogging Conference, as promoted by Coturnix.