Back in July of 2005, Google launched Google Moon, a map of the moon similar to their map of the Earth. Of course it doesn’t have roads and such because there aren’t any, and you can’t see things like the remains of the Apollo moon missions for reasons that I outlined in this post — namely the resolution of the lunar satellites and space telescopes don’t have the resolution to pick up the debris objects (yet).
Well, Google has launched a similar service for Mars, called — drum roll — Google Mars. Right now it defaults to a topographical map of the terrain (which is arguably the most interesting view). The resolution isn’t terribly spectacular, but Google plans to update it with the newest imagery from the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter which entered orbit on March 10 as soon as its available.
[tags]Google, Mars, Google Mars, Google Moon, Google Maps[/tags]
In the last 12 months, we’ve seen a storm of Evolution/Intelligent Design debates. The arguable culmination of these proceedings has been the court case in Dover, PA in which Judge John E. Jones III ruled that intelligent design (ID) was merely creationism re-branded as pseudoscience and should not be taught in the science classroom. Before and during the trial, I’ve read many comments by our Anglo friends across the pond, many of them puzzled by the United States’s apparent backwardness in science education. Now, unfortunately for them, this backward thinking is coming to them.
Intelligent design has become the US’s newest “intellectual” export. It has been included in the syllabus for biology produced by the OCR exam board under the guise of “teaching the controversy“. Of course, there is no controversy except that which was invented by the Discovery Institute several years ago as a part of its Wedge Strategy.
Naturally, critics of the inclusion say that the move elevates ideas like Intelligent Design to the same playing field as the theory of evolution, which is testable and conforms to the most basic principle of scientific theories: falsifiability.
James Williams, science course leader at Sussex University’s school of education, told the Times Educational Supplement: “This opens a legitimate gate for the inclusion of creationism or intelligent design in science classes as if they were legitimate theories on a par with evolution fact and theory.
“I’m happy for religious theories to be considered in religious education, but not in science where consideration could lead to a false verification of their status as being equal to scientific theories.”
Let’s hope this nonsense stops before it really starts for our friends overseas.
[tags]creationism, intelligent design, evolution, teach the controversy, education, science education, wedge strategy[/tags]
Access to the BBC’s extensive news archive is seen as giving the British public a chance to share and keep “the punctuation marks in the stories of our lives”.
School has been kicking my ass lately, so here’s a quote that I really like instead of a real writeup…
“Ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge: it is those who know little, and not those who know much, who so positively assert that this or that problem will never be solved by science.”
Indeed. It’s been my experience that those in the know know they don’t know everything, and are more likely to be open minded about something new.
I’d file this particular bit of news under the “I’ll believe it when I see it” section if I had one: the Russian Energia Space Corporation has unveiled plans to open a mine on the moon. Helium-3, a non-radioactive helium isotope, is found in relative abundance on the moon whereas here on Earth, it’s extremely rare. The isotope is the ideal fuel for a fusion reaction because of its clean decay and relatively harmless byproducts.
Because it is rare on Earth, having a mine on the moon might be economically viable if it weren’t for one problem: a viable energy-producing fusion reaction has yet to be developed. Nonetheless, Energia will press on with their mining plans: they plan to establish a permanent lunar base by 2015 or 2020. The idea is that when a reactor capable of using Helium-3 is developed, Energia will have the infrastructure already in place to supply the Earth with it. Due to the nature of E=mc^2, Nikolai Sevastyanov, head of Energia, predicts that one ton of the isotope will produce as much energy as 14 millions tons of oil. While I think that’s being a little overly optimistic, Helium-3 certainly offers more promise than current fossil fuels.
“Ten tons of helium 3 would be enough to meet the yearly energy needs of Russia,” he added. However, Russia is not the only country interested in the technology. American scientists have expressed interest in helium 3, arguing that one shuttle-load of the isotope would be sufficient to meet US electrical energy needs for a year.
Even viewing the figures bandied about with a great deal of skepticism, Helium-3 is certainly a promising theory, if nothing else. Mining in space is an interesting (and old) idea. I can remember discussing how to make space profitable from a private business’s point of view as far back as elementary school. Naturally, we thought in terms of precious metals: gold, platinum, etc. instead of consumable materials, but I think it’s a safe bet that as raw materials become increasingly scarce, it won’t be the relatively useless “precious” metals that humanity comes to value, but rather the consumable raw materials that a nation controls that determines their stability. Gold in Fort Knox? How about Helium-3 buried in a mountain somewhere instead.
[tags]Helium-3, Kliper, Energia, lunar base[/tags]
I have written extensively on evolution here on polyscience, and yesterday began what seems to be a redux of the Scopes Monkey Trial. The Dover Area School Board in Pennsylvania requires that teachers instruct their students that evolution is “merely” one unproven theory. The teachers are required to state that intelligent design is a possible alternative. Furthermore, the teachers are required to refer students to an intelligent design textbook for more information.
The parents taking the school board to court have asserted that this violates the separation of church and state. And they’re absolutely right. I’ve stated in the past that ID is okay to teach (even in public schools) so long as it’s not taught in the science classroom. ID lacks the most basic tenets of what constitutes “science” — testability and falsifiability.
The first witness on behalf of the parents was Kenneth Miller a professor at Brown University who lectured the courtroom on a variety of topics, but his basic theme was that there was no controversy in science about the validity of evolution; the only controversy over the topic comes from outside science, from the lay public.
Much of the confusion over evolution and intelligent design comes from the definition of “theory” itself. When used in the context of science, it implicitly has a different meaning than it does when applied to almost anything else. Therefore, dismissing evolution as “merely a theory” is an egregious misuse of the implied meaning. Not everything can become a scientific theory — it must first undergo scrutiny, testing, and revision. While the mechanisms and explanations behind evolution have changed since Darwin, his overarching themes of natural selection and “survival of the fittest” have withstood scientific scrutiny for well over 100 years. The school board of a public school system should not be so easily able to toss it aside like so much garbage, regardless of local public opinion.
According to a CBS poll one year ago, 65% of Americans want creationism to be taught along with evolution; 37% would want it to be taught instead of evolution.
Fifty-five per cent believe God created humans as we know them today.
Unfortunately for the public, public opinion is meaningless when it comes to what is correct and what is not. Should we teach probability as common sense dictates, simply because most people believe wrong information? Certainly not. And there is no reason that the origins of life should be taught to the whim of public opinion either. Because the public in this case is ignorant, and therefore, wrong.
Science is about understanding and explaining phenomena, not about what “feels good” and makes people happy. As I’ve said in the past, no matter how far back science pushes the boundaries of human understanding, intelligent design can add one more layer of abstraction, thereby rendering it effectively impossible to prove one way or the other. For this simple reason alone it belongs in a religion or philosophy class, not a science class.
“On the other hand,” Miller said, “intelligent design is not a testable theory in any sense and as such it is not accepted by the scientific community.”
During his cross-examination of Miller, Robert Muise, another attorney for the law center, repeatedly asked whether he questioned the completeness of Darwin’s theory.
“Would you agree that Darwin’s theory is not the absolute truth?” Muise said.
“We don’t regard any scientific theory as the absolute truth,” Miller responded.
Miller is absolutely right, even though it would seem as though he’s avoiding the question to those that would choose to read it that way. Even a “simple” theory like the Theory of Gravity has undergone massive revision in the last 50 years, and it stands to reason that it will be further modified over the course of the next 50 years. Tossing it out as “incomplete” is ridiculous. If there’s anything that science has taught mankind it’s this: just when you think you’ve got almost a complete understanding of something, a new development or discovery will come along and turn your world upside-down. It happened to physics with the discovery of subatomic particles, and it will happen again. No matter how well-established and understood your theory may be, something new could come along and blow it out of the water. What matters is that the overarching themes remain consistent though the underlying explanation for the theme may be altered.
I’ll be following this case with great interest in the coming weeks. (And I will endeavor to avoid ranting.)
The BBC is running a story about how there’s less volunteer help during disease outbreaks. Sometimes I wonder who funds these stories, and why the results are considered newsworthy. I realize the irony here, since I’m writing about it myself, but I’m writing about it because it is a non-story.
Eighty-four per cent of the 6,000 surveyed were willing to report for duty after an environmental disaster.
But just 48% said they would do the same during an outbreak of Sars.
Just over half – 57% – said they would work during a radiological event, and 61% in the event of a smallpox epidemic.
But any disaster involving mass causalities, such as a transport accident, would see 86% willing to work.
I wonder, sometimes, if common sense has any place in science. Common sense, while not always common, nor always sense, does play some role when it comes to things such as this. While common sense would say that the odds of having a coin land tails after flipping nine heads in a row would be more than 50%, this is not the case. Similarly, the idea that a heavy object falls faster seems as though it would be obvious, but objects fall with the same rate of acceleration regardless of weight.
So back to this study.
Kristine Qureshi, who led the research, said: “Although we might assume that healthcare employees have an obligation to respond to these high impact events, our findings indicate that personal obligations, as well as concerns for their own safety play a pivotal role in workers’ willingness to report to work.”
Robyn Gershon, associate professor of sociomedical sciences, at the Mailman School’s National Center for Disaster Preparedness, who also worked on the study, added: “Employers must recognise that their healthcare workers are likely to be as concerned or even more concerned about their safety than the average citizen, because they have a greater understanding of the risks involved.”
My response to that is “You don’t say?!” Honestly, health care workers are not automatons. They are living, breathing people with their own hopes and dreams and families to think of. While the idea of an utterly selfless doctor going off to fight SARS outbreak somewhere is attractive, the cost-benefit analysis of the situation must be evaluated. Does that warm, fuzzy feeling from doing the right thing, and a tax write off offset the risks to himself or his family enough to cause him to help out during an infectious outbreak?
One should not be obligated to put oneself in harm’s way for the benefit of another human being. No job or calling is so high that it can be required. This is true of police officers (who contrary to popular belief are not required to protect you) and doctors and firefighters. While codes of ethics and “typical” public servant behavior might make such behavior seem as though it were somehow mandatory, potentially sacrificing one’s life always comes down to individual choice.