It seems that a long time has passed since we added a page to the Blog Roll. I humbly submit that it's time to change that. Principia Scientific dot org.
PSI serves no political purpose, supports no political party (or parties) and does not engage in political activities. Our advocacy is for the advancement of the traditional scientific method (as per the ideas of Karl Popper) and resolute opposition to 'post-normalism' in science.
I am saddened, and slightly embarrassed, that it's taken my five years to discover it.
In a stunning discovery that overturns decades of textbook teaching, researchers at the University of Virginia School of Medicine have determined that the brain is directly connected to the immune system by vessels previously thought not to exist. That such vessels could have escaped detection when the lymphatic system has been so thoroughly mapped throughout the body is surprising on its own, but the true significance of the discovery lies in the effects it could have on the study and treatment of neurological diseases ranging from autism to Alzheimer's disease to multiple sclerosis.
According to the Free Dictionary there are 196 different meanings for the acronym "PMS." The two most popular, pre-menstrual syndrome and pantone matching system, are not the topic of this post. I refer to a 197th meaning: Politically Motivated Science
State senator Doug Whitsett, in Oregon of all places, named this enemy of the common man in his commencement speech to last year's graduating class of the OSU College of Veterinary Medicine:
Politically motivated science and statistically significant science are much like oil and water. First, they are nearly impossible to mix. Second, oil rises to the top like science that is fabricated to support political motives.
Estimated, assumed, surrogate or fabricated data points predictably produce 'counterfeit-science'.
Too often, we are asked to believe that biological systems are just 'too complex' to support science that is statistically significant. Moreover, we are expected to accept the unsubstantiated and often unverifiable assumptions that are used to calibrate the models.
Scientific reports that are not statistically significant are by definition, insignificant. They are irrelevant, immaterial and inconsequential.
Worse, computer models are too often manipulated to fabricate alleged scientific support to justify a political end.
The modelled reports are then employed to mislead those who believe that science is the 'final word'.
There is no such thing as 'the final word in science'.
Moreover, there is no such thing as 'scientific consensus' or 'settled science'. The scientific method requires that we continue to question, continue to probe, and continue to debate the validity of every scientific assumption.
Which basically means, for a constant amount of gas in a constant volume of space, the pressure is proportional to the temperature. A football that is inflated to 13 (or 12.5) psi at 70 degrees Fahrenheit will have a lower internal pressure at [game time temperature: 20 F].
Pg (psi) P (psi) P (Pa) V (m^3) n R T (K)
12.5 27 186158.52 0.004237 0.322844229 8.31 294
9.928571429 24.42857143 168429.1371 0.004237 0.322844229 8.31 266
So the cold ball might be as low as 10 psi, with no tampering.*
But who knows, maybe they checked their balls outside in the cold. (If they did, they're better men than me.)
The previous post dealing with the "compatibility" of capitalism and Catholicism prompted dagny in a comment, and me in my thoughts, to consider the morality of capitalism.
Those thoughts included a recent review corner entry where it was suggested that a flourishing humanity progressing toward ever more prosperity and justice can be achieved by convincing people it is, a) a good thing and, b) achievable through free trade, i.e. capitalism. (More specifically, through the unfettered use of "fossil" fuel energy sources.) And that, c) presenting a moral basis for the primacy of humanity is "a new vulnerability to defend, not reinforcement."
I believed I had found an author who gave a moral basis for humanity to dominate nature in this Michael Shermer book whose "exploration of science and morality ... demonstrates how the scientific way of thinking has made people, and society as a whole, more moral" and did so without resting his case upon a foundation of Objectivism. It appeared that his justification was rooted in widely accepted principles of science and morality, and not a new vulnerability. The book is 439 pages and I've not read it but this reviewer was left wanting.
The reader is constantly reminded that it is Shermer who is driving this bus, authoring this heavy tome. When he fails to wrangle with hard issues, there is nothing the reader can do about it beyond reading on and hoping for something better in a later chapter. But that something better never came for me. I was not satisfied with the author’s overbroad reach, his irrelevant details, his glossing over the toughest issues, his very human but unfortunate tendency not to see the fallacies in his own reasoning and the failure of his own assertion of the facts. The book seemed not so much scientific and rational to me as opinionated. Perhaps the author has been too successful for too long and has become complacent. But I did not see in him a consistent ability to question his own thinking and hone his argument in order to achieve a truly persuasive work.
This illustrates my point that people long for a moral basis to justify their beliefs, and ultimately their actions. (No great leap of insight there, for this is the chief factor in the historic success of man's many theistic traditions.) Failure to justify the moral basis for human flourishing will, eventually and always, crumble in the face of some unchallenged moral basis to the contrary.
After traveling four billion miles since its launch ten years ago, a man-made spacecraft landed on the surface of a speeding comet today. Just, wow.
Rosetta, which was launched in 2004, had to slingshot three times around Earth and once around Mars before it could work up enough speed to chase down the comet, which it reached in August. Rosetta and the comet have been traveling in tandem ever since.
The mission will also give researchers the opportunity to test the theory that comets brought organic matter and water to Earth billions of years ago, said Klim Churyumov, one of the two astronomers who discovered the comet in 1969.
Philae's instruments include devices to measure light, electrical magnetism and heat. The lander will also drill below the surface of the comet to extract a sample that will be analyzed onboard and it will provide plenty of images of a world no human has ever seen close up.
The lander's batteries are expected to last just 64 hours. But that should be enough for scientists to gather a huge wealth of data. In addition, the lander has a solar panel that should be able to provide an hour's worth of battery life each day.
I will not bite on the chances to belittle batteries, solar panels, or NASA. This is too big an accomplishment to sully with cheap (but well deserved) political points. Another accomplishment not mentioned in the article is proof that a spacecraft can be landed on a small body. This could be handy one day in the not too distant future.
UPDATE: What would the world do without Twitter? #WeCanLandOnACometButWeCant isn't the stream of egalitarian "wouldn't it be better to spend that money on _____" that I expected. A lot of them are very funny. A lot of them I wanted to reply, "Yes we can!"
The coolest by far was this tweet about the Comet Song. Actual frequency is in millihertz. What you hear is sped up at least 1000 times.
UPDATE: The first picture has been released to the public. Looks like a nice place for a picnic lunch. Or not.
"Everything, gives you cancer,
There's no cure, there's no answer."
- Joe Jackson
Well yeah, because of all the chemicals and pollution and corporations and stuff, right?
The point is that life expectancy and the percentage of Americans reaching old age are both increasing. That explains why, as a paper in The New England Journal of Medicine showed, cancer was the #8 cause of death in 1900 but the #2 cause of death in 2010.* We aren't dying of cancer because of Monsanto's pesticides and GMOs, as one lady recently said to me in an e-mail. We are dying of cancer because we are running out of things to die from.
Wow, is everybody following this? I had seen a couple of other posts, but this is a pretty decent place to start.
My infamous, lefty Facebook throng are diverse in color, creed, age, geography, and gender. But one absolute is a fanatical reverence for Pop-TV Scientist Neil deGrasse Tyson. You cannot be a lefty without an implicit offer to scratch your own eyeballs out if you ever see him doing anything untoward. Like, say, fabricating quotes.
Now the anecdotes about his embellishments are piling up. And some NdGT apostates had the temerity to update his Gloriousness's Wikipedia page -- thus waking the sects devoted to his defense.
All in all, it was exactly what I expected from a group of hopelessly misguided religious zealots who will not tolerate the slander of their savior. There’s a word for people who fantasize about using sexual violence to force their will upon dissenters, but it's not "scientist."
Glenn Reynolds used the word "blowhard" which is a little kinder than mine (rhymes with brick-lead). Aside from his indefatigable defense of climate science, I thought him harmless.
Yet, knowing his modus operandi of "Claim X said Y and deliver diatribe how I enlightened X" when X never really said Y, watch the embedded video at the link. It is intolerable.
Dr. Gabriele Pfister of the NCAR said pollution can affect more than the air.
"It also can damage plants (and) it can damage crop yields," Pfister said.
Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment spokesman Garry Kaufman said the project will also track pollution from wildfires.
"We see emissions from across the ocean coming to impact Colorado's air," Kaufman said.
Experts say this is just the beginning, results will be useful for decades to come.
Your intrepid blogger, however, first read the scientific description of the study, complete with a cool graphic, on a NASA webpage.
Two NASA aircraft are participating in field campaigns beginning this month in Colorado that will probe the factors leading to unhealthy air quality conditions and improve the ability to diagnose air quality conditions from space.
The NASA aircraft will be joined by a research aircraft from the National Science Foundation (NSF) for flights July 16 to Aug. 16 from the Research Aviation Facility maintained by the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) in Boulder, Colorado.
The main study area extends along the Northern Front Range from the Denver metropolitan area in the south to Fort Collins in the north extending eastward from the mountains as far as Greeley. This area contains a diverse mixture of air pollution sources that include transportation, power generation, oil and gas extraction, agriculture, natural vegetation and episodic wildfires.
The region being studied often experiences ozone levels in summer that exceed national health standards. Ground-level ozone is chemically produced from the combination of nitrogen oxides and hydrocarbon emissions in sunlight.
Phys.org -- Physicist James Franson of the University of Maryland has captured the attention of the physics community by posting an article to the peer-reviewed New Journal of Physics in which he claims to have found evidence that suggests the speed of light as described by the theory of general relativity, is actually slower than has been thought.
But it is in South America, thousands of miles from the New Mexico site where the Clovis spear points were discovered, where archaeologists are putting forward some of the most profound challenges to the Clovis-first theory.
Paleontologists in Uruguay published findings in November suggesting that humans hunted giant sloths there about 30,000 years ago. All the way in southern Chile, Tom D. Dillehay, an anthropologist at Vanderbilt University, has shown that humans lived at a coastal site called Monte Verde as early as 14,800 years ago.
And here in Brazil's caatinga, a semi-arid region of mesas and canyons, European and Brazilian archaeologists building on decades of earlier excavations said last year that they had found artifacts at a rock shelter showing that humans had arrived in South America almost 10,000 years before Clovis hunters began appearing in North America.
"The Clovis paradigm is finally buried," said Eric Boëda, the French archaeologist leading the excavations here.
Never mind, too, that the industry's idea of "low fat" became the emblematic SnackWell's and other highly processed "low-fat" carbs (a substitution that is probably the single most important factor in our overweight/obesity problem), as well as reduced fat and even fat-free dairy, on which it made billions of dollars. (How you could produce fat-free "sour cream" is something worth contemplating.)
But let's not cry over the chicharrones or even nicely buttered toast we passed up. And let's not think about the literally millions of people who are repelled by fat, not because it doesn't taste good (any chef will tell you that "fat is flavor") but because they have been brainwashed.
This is the NYTimes, mind you, so we can't leave without a little scolding.
So at this juncture it would be natural for a person who does not read volumes of material about agriculture, diet and health to ask, "If saturated fat isn't bad for me, why should I eat less meat?"
Even if large quantities of industrially produced animal products were safe to eat, the environmental costs are demonstrable and huge.
I ate a lot of SnackWell's on my way up to 270 pounds -- and a lot of bacon on my way down to 200.
Hat-tip: Insty who is right: "AND YET THE FOOD NAZIS WERE SO SURE OF THEMSELVES"
One of the most memorable stops during my 2001 trip to the Austria and Southern Germany was Andechs Monastery, not far from Munich. Occasionally I visit their web site and on a previous visit I found this page on the health benefits of beer. A few highlights:
According to studies in Finland and Italy, the moderate and regular consumption of beer (0.5 l/day) reduces the risk of kidney stones by 40%.
Beer, by the way, is not the cause of the so called beer belly. The beer’s constituents of hops, alcohol, and carbonic acid whet the appetite. Pils itself contains fewer calories than orange and other fruit juices.
Beer has also proved an effective preventive against osteoporosis.
Beer is also important in the fight against cardiovascular diseases (e.g. heart attacks).
Beer also has preventive effects on ischaemic strokes because alcohol, as described above, apparently thins the blood.
According to yearlong studies, moderate and regular beer consumption enhances life expectancy.
These studies have confirmed that a moderate beer consumption reduces the risk of senile dementia by up to 50%.
And of course there's the added benefit, it's delicious!
And, I learned something else this visit - several Andechs beers are now available in the U.S.! I'll be contacting S&H Independent Premium Brands soon to inquire about my favorite brew, Special Hell (basically the helles or pils.) They are, wait for it - on Wynkoop Street in Denver. Pinch me!
One of my heterodox beliefs had a very very good week:
For decades, health officials have urged the public to avoid saturated fat as much as possible, saying it should be replaced with the unsaturated fats in foods like nuts, fish, seeds and vegetable oils.
But the new research, published on Monday in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine, did not find that people who ate higher levels of saturated fat had more heart disease than those who ate less. Nor did it find less disease in those eating higher amounts of unsaturated fat, including monounsaturated fat like olive oil or polyunsaturated fat like corn oil.
This is important to me both as childish retort to "science is settled" and as an anti-government rant. The Food Pyramid -- and its devil spawn MyPlate.gov did a lot of real damage, pushing people toward the carbohydrates that this story suggests to be the real heart disease culprits.
Granted, this study could be upended. But there is a vibrant market out there for nutritional advice. Our government has short-circuited the process multiple times in my life (I am old enough to remember the Four Food Groups as a non-punch line).
Testing a theory by experimentation -- would that this could catch on!
Now, 60 years after [Alan] Turing's death, researchers from Brandeis University and the University of Pittsburgh have provided the first experimental evidence that validates Turing's theory in cell-like structures.
The team published their findings in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences on Monday, March 10.
Turing was the first to offer an explanation of morphogenesis through chemistry. He theorized that identical biological cells differentiate, change shape and create patterns through a process called intercellular reaction-diffusion. In this model, a system of chemicals react with each other and diffuse across a space--say between cells in an embryo. These chemical reactions need an inhibitory agent, to suppress the reaction, and an excitatory agent, to activate the reaction. This chemical reaction, diffused across an embryo, will create patterns of chemically different cells.
According to research, "evening-types tend to be less reliable, less emotionally stable and more apt to suffer from depression, addictions and eating disorders" but at least we're [correlationally] smarter than morning-types.
According to Kanazawa, ancestral humans were typically diurnal, and that a shift towards more nocturnal activities is an "evolutionarily novel preference" of the type normally found in more intelligent individuals, demonstrating "a higher level of cognitive complexity" in the practitioners.
Don't tell my kids. It's hard enough already getting them to go to bed.
The Japanese researchers who won a 2012 Nobel Prize for their 2006 discovery of a process for converting adult stem cells to embryonic stem cells has now made an even greater discovery: a simple way to convert those adult cells to a pre-embryonic state. This could prove as important a step in healthcare as was the discovery of penicillin. NewScientist.com
The team call their new cells "stimulus-triggered acquisition of pluripotency", or STAP cells.
"I don't think for one moment people thought this might be possible in humans," says Chris Mason, professor of regenerative medicine at University College London. "Who would have thought that to reprogram adult cells to a pluripotent state just required a small amount of acid for less than half an hour - it's an incredible discovery."
Reincarnation, or cloning of an identical copy, is not yet proven but regeneration of any organ by injection of STAP cells, is. The implications for treatment of disease and organ failure are truly staggering.
The central fact is that after three quarters of a century of extraordinarily mild conditions, the earth's climate seems to be cooling down. Meteorologists [like economists] disagree about the cause and extent of the cooling trend, as well as over its specific impact on local weather conditions. But they are almost unanimous [Consensus?] in the view that the trend will reduce agricultural productivity for the rest of the century. -- Newsweek, April 28, 1975
Related: "Last April, in the most devastating outbreak of tornadoes ever recorded, 148 twisters killed more than 300 people and caused half a billion dollars' worth of damage in thirteen U.S. states." (Same article)
Detractors like to say "Clean Coal doesn't exist" but Dr. Liang-Shih Fan is one of many scientists laboring, and succeeding, in accomplishing it.
Liang-Shih Fan, professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering, and director of the Clean Coal Lab, has just completed a 203 hour test of a radical new way of obtaining energy from coal. Typical coal-fired power plants burn coal to boil water, and run the resultant steam through turbines to produce electricity. Fan's process, a new technology called "coal-direct chemical looping," does not burn the coal. Instead, it chemically converts coal to heat in a sealed reactor chamber. Tiny iron oxide beads help to deliver oxygen to the coal particles, which are then cycled through an airflow chamber for re-oxygenation, then run back through the reaction chamber. This is the "looping" in the technology's name. The process gives off no air pollution, and the captured carbon dioxide is ninety-nine percent pure, enough to make it a valuable commodity.
The test, which was run on a lab-sized reactor, produced a continuous twenty-five kilowatts of power.
25 KW! That could power a house! Or a car! Oh wait - carbon dioxide? Hasn't the EPA decided that carbon dioxide, necessary for plant growth, is a pollutant? Never mind. Back to windmills and bicycles.
I have discovered a research institute at Stanford University that was established "to support and conduct rigorous scientific studies of compassion and altruistic behavior." Naturally my interest was piqued (and my antennae were raised.)
The Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education or CCARE states its vision thusly:
Create a multi-disciplinary environment whereby compassion and altruism studies are supported and legitimized within the broader scientific community. To use research advances to create tools that allow humans to become more compassionate and to engage more readily in altruistic behaviors toward themselves and others.
First I note that I have yet to see the term "altruism" appear without the companion term "compassion." I assert that it cannot stand on its own. Altruism requires the aid of compassion to gain "support" and "legitimacy."
Secondly, the institute appears to not fully comprehend the full meaning of the concept of altruism:
1. the principle or practice of unselfish concern for or devotion to the welfare of others ( opposed to egoism).
By the stated intent to promote within humans "altruistic behaviors toward themselves" they have revealed a fundamental misunderstanding of the notion of altruism. Their vision can be interpreted as promoting selfishness or egoism as self-altruism, though I wholly doubt that is their intent. I would be tempted to adopt that more "socially acceptable" description into a defense of rational self-interest, but it is a meaningless term: Unselfish concern for or devotion to the welfare of, yourself. (Harcourt Fenton Mudd, call your office.)
So here, at a scientific institute devoted to the study and advancement of altruism, at one of the nation's most prestigious research universities, the principals are unable to assert that their motive is to "allow humans to become more compassionate and to engage more readily in altruistic behaviors toward others." Even with the support of the term compassion, selflessness is a non-starter.
A narrative has developed over the past several years that the Republican Party is anti-science. Recently, thanks to the ignorant remarks about rape made by Rep. Todd Akin, the Democrats have seized the opportunity to remind us that they are the true champions of science in America. But is it really true?
No. As we thoroughly detail in our new book, "Science Left Behind," Democrats are willing to throw science under the bus for any number of pet ideological causes – including anything from genetic modification to vaccines.
Indeed, the only reason Democrats are considered the “pro-science” party is because the media, for whatever reason, has decided to give them a free pass on scientific issues. It is time the free pass be revoked.
You may say, I'm a dreamer,
But I'm not the only one.
With all the usual caveats about the reliability of "scientific studies" here is another datapoint in the marijuana debate.
Prof Moffitt said adolescent brains appeared "more vulnerable to damage and disruption" from cannabis than those of fully mature adults.
Reliable figures on cannabis usage among today's British teens and twentysomethings are hard to come by.
But Prof Moffitt said there was growing concern in the US that cannabis was increasingly being seen as a safe alternative to tobacco.
"This is the first year that more secondary school students in the US are using cannabis than tobacco, according to the Monitoring the Future project at the University of Michigan," she noted.
"Fewer now think cannabis is [more] damaging than tobacco. But cannabis is harmful for the very young."
The news article, by UK Telegraph medical correspondent Stephen Adams, quotes study contributor Professor Terrie Moffitt on the cascading effects of an 8-point IQ diminishment:
"Research has shown that IQ is a strong determinant of a person's access to a college education, their lifelong total income, their access to a good job, their performance on the job, their tendency to develop heart disease, Alzheimer's disease, and even early death," she said.
"Individuals who lose eight IQ points in their teens and 20s may be disadvantaged, relative to their same-age peers, in most of the important aspects of life and for years to come."
Human genome sequencing is cool. I think we all agree on that. Well, I think this is just as cool:
After five years of toil, a consortium of several hundred U.S. researchers has released a detailed census of the myriad bacteria, yeasts, viruses and amoebas that live, eat, excrete, reproduce and die in or on us.
It does sound quite disgusting but it could be as important in understanding human disease mechanisms as anything else previously discovered by modern medicine.
Each of us is home to about 100 trillion microscopic life forms — a figure that's about 10 times higher than the number of cells in the human body. In a 200-pound adult, these organisms can weigh a combined 2 to 6 pounds.
The vast majority of our microscopic denizens appear to be bacteria; 10,000 types may choose to make Homo sapiens home, the scientists found.
Think about this the next time you wash your hands with antibacterial soap. These bacteria are on you, in you, part of you.
The team had set out to identify a "core microbiome," a base-line set of flora that would always be found in the mouth, say, or the large intestine. They didn't really find this, but their analysis revealed that each place in the body seems to have a distinct set of metabolic abilities, be it digestion of sugars in the mouth or of complex carbohydrates in the large intestine. In different people, different microbes appear to be performing the same tasks.
The first hurdle is to understand that these bacteria are not all harmful. Some, in fact, are essential to our survival.
For many scientists, the chief hope is that the data will help them understand how subtle disturbances in the microbiome could be linked to medical disorders. From the first days of life when our guts become populated, these bugs help us get the nutrition we need, stop harmful bacteria from colonizing us and play a key role in shaping our immune system.
The article concludes with the obligatory cautions about overuse of antibiotics but these discoveries stir different ideas in my imagination. Ideas like, maybe this is an explanation for clinical efficacy of naturopathic medicines wherin the active ingredients are diluted almost to the point of oblivion. If they are acting on microbes these amounts may be materially significant. And then there's the observation that people who live together become more and more alike in some ways - if the microbiome helps define us then sharing microbiomes is a mechanism for each of us to help define another. And beyond my feeble generalizations, just think what human engineering Robert A. Heinlein might have imagined with this knowledge!
Via email my brother mocked his Newtness for the moon colony contretemps.
"Do you think putting a manned colony on the moon is a good idea? You're kidding me right! Moon colonization and Obama care are both bad ideas."
He still likes Newt mind you, he just thinks this is a stupid idea that Gingrich should take out of his bag of tricks. Maybe he's right, but I remember the sense of wonder and national pride that gripped this nation during the Apollo age. I could live through that again without complaint. At any rate, it got me wondering why all the moon colony talk all of a sudden. This led me to a related discovery that we didn't notice at the time, possibly because Judge Vinson had just vacated Obamacare in Florida.
"The fact that we've found so many planet candidates in such a tiny fraction of the sky suggests there are countless planets orbiting sun-like stars in our galaxy," said William Borucki of NASA's Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif., the mission's science principal investigator. "We went from zero to 68 Earth-sized planet candidates and zero to 54 candidates in the habitable zone, some of which could have moons with liquid water."
"In our galaxy." Imagine giving the "Palestinians" not just their own state, but their own planet.
My involvement in several DAWG debates on Facebook prompted me to look up examples of historic scientific errors. I found the 2004 article Error and the Nature of Science by University of Minnesota historian and philosopher of biology, Dr. Douglas Allchin.
Allchin, who appears to have been an adherent to the climate change "consensus" at the time, gives what appears to be a thorough list of possible sources of error in science. He calls it a "spectrum of error types." Among them are perceptual bias, reasoning error, overgeneralization, and "fraud, faulty peer review, and other mistaken judgements of credibility." Okay, so I'm very intrigued by this point. Here is a science historian looking for ways to protect and defend the reputation and validity of the scientific method, not just from those with an anti-science agenda (religionists) but from the errors of incompetent or unethical scientists.
But what is the intent of this analysis? It seems a clue can be found in the summary statement of the "spectrum of error types" where he writes,
The remedy for tentativeness in science is active analysis of potential errors, guided by an awareness of error types. Analysis may qualify the scope or certainty of conclusions and guide policy accordingly.
Earlier the author uses tentativeness as a euphemism for the inherent uncertainty in science. So in his summary he wants a "remedy" for the absense of the power of science to "guide policy" through greater "certainty of conclusions."
So what began as, in my estimation, a rejection of the influence of democratic principles (consensus) in science evolved into a suggestion of absolutism in science instead. Katie bar the door!
In the case of global warming mankind has been fortunate in that, since 2004, evidence of one of Allchin's most egregious error types has come to public light through Climategate. It is frightening to contemplate how much greater the political consensus could have been by now without that revelation.
The Denver Post reports that Colorado State University biologist, June Medford, has developed a plant that can detect the presence of explosives by turning from green to white. Isn't it wrong to expose innocent plants to toxic fumes? Where are the People for the Ethical Treatment of Plants when you need them? Moreover, aren't are these "Frankenplants" a menace to the environment? And get this: the plant's name is "arabidopsis." Does that mean it is profiling for Arabs? Somebody call CAIR.
"If you take something into Denver International Airport, like an explosive for a plane, my plants are going to turn white," said Medford, 52. "That's going to get the security guys on you."
Kidding aside, Homeland Security envisions the plant to be so ubiquituous that it can detect explosives at the point of manufacture.
"Because you could engineer these plants any way you want, you could make them highly selective," said Doug Bauer, the Homeland Security explosives research program manager in Washington, D.C.
"Our hope is if these plants could be located ubiquitously, we might be able to detect explosives at the point they are being assembled," he said. "You would have a much greater opportunity for first-responders to interdict and disrupt that activity."
Is The Refugee the only one who listens to this and thinks, "Are you all insane? Even if the plant works, are the bad guys so stupid that they won't be able to find a locale without a nearby arabidopsis or just pull the damn things up? Are these people smoking the produce?"
So far, this little experient has cost the US taxpayer 10 million greenbacks. But the really bad news is that it takes the plants three hours to change colors... and you thought the airport security lines were long now...
Last November 20 I posted this first news of Climategate, which included James Delingpole's headline: Climategate: The final nail in the coffin of 'antropogenic global warming?'
JK was more circumspect but by December 1 admitted that the scandal was a "game changer." Yet, he still hedged: "But it does not expose a hoax as some have claimed. The believers truly believe. As long as well funded people believe, it is not going away."
Today, or rather October 8, the hoax is exposed.
Harold Lewis - Emeritus Professor of Physics, University of California, Santa Barbara, former Chairman; Former member Defense Science Board, chmn of Technology panel; Chairman DSB study on Nuclear Winter; Former member Advisory Committee on Reactor Safeguards; Former member, President’s Nuclear Safety Oversight Committee; Chairman APS study on Nuclear Reactor Safety Chairman Risk Assessment Review Group; Co-founder and former Chairman of JASON; Former member USAF Scientific Advisory Board - resigned from the American Physical Society over events that have transpired since Climategate.
In discussing the publicly released resignation letter Anthony Watts says,
This is an important moment in science history. I would describe it as a letter on the scale of Martin Luther, nailing his 95 theses to the Wittenburg church door. It is worthy of repeating this letter in entirety on every blog that discusses science.
From the letter:
It is of course, the global warming scam, with the (literally) trillions of dollars driving it, that has corrupted so many scientists, and has carried APS before it like a rogue wave. It is the greatest and most successful pseudoscientific fraud I have seen in my long life as a physicist. Anyone who has the faintest doubt that this is so should force himself to read the ClimateGate documents, which lay it bare. (Montford's book organizes the facts very well.) I don't believe that any real physicist, nay scientist, can read that stuff without revulsion. I would almost make that revulsion a definition of the word scientist.
He then goes on to expose the calculated lengths that APS management went to defeat his efforts to establish a Topic Group on Climate Change within the APS. Sharp, smart and irretrievably damaging to APS and the Climate Change movement.
Kanazawa's theory is that intelligence—particularly our ability for on-the-spot problem solving and reasoning—arose as an adaptation to deal with the unusual and unexpected, such as a sudden forest fire.
Since disasters like that are rare in daily life, responding to them wouldn't likely be something our ancestors were hard-wired to "know" how to do. Surviving the fire required both the ability to think up a new behavior, and the willingness to try it out.
But intelligence has no role in classifying certain new behaviors as worthless? And our ancestors were unable to teach their offspring what they had learned? Did this researcher attend Berkeley?
The new study is intriguing, if speculative, other psychologists say.
"Kanazawa has done interesting work, but there are other hypotheses out there for the evolution of intelligence that are equally interesting," said Douglas Detterman, a psychologist at Case Western Reserve University and editor of the journal Intelligence.
For instance, other researchers have advanced the theory that intelligence arose as a way of competing for sex. If that's the case, Kanazawa's conclusions only make sense if, say, being liberal or atheist also makes you more sexually attractive.
You could probably convince me that competition for sex motivated our ancestors to solve problems.
University of California researchers have determined that "yotta," or 10^24 is no longer a number sufficiently large for scientific precision. Thus, they are proposing 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 or 10^27 be named. The current favorite on Facebook is "hella" as in "a helluva lotta zeros."
In separate news, the White House denies that the need for a larger number is the result of the President's recent budget proposal.
On yesterday's program Bill O'Reilly posed the question, "Is the president [Obama] a socialist?" His answer was that while Obama has pursued socialistic policies he isn't an actual socialist because "Mr. Obama doesn't want to seize your house." I would counter that straw man with, "No, but he want's to seize your income to give a house to thems what ain't gots 'em."
Unfortunately I think it gives Obama too much credit to call him a socialist. That would imply that he knows what he's doing. I tend to agree with Randall Hoven at American Thinker who wrote Obama "is the cargo cult president."
At least the real Cargo Cult followers built real things that looked like landing strips to get airplanes loaded with food and supplies to land on them. Obama thinks you get factories to produce things and hospitals to fix people by making speeches -- speeches that are reasonably good imitations of speeches given by real leaders.
If you're not familiar with the cargo cult tribes of the South Pacific you'll want to read the article to see what he means. If you are familiar then you'll want to read the article to see just how eerily similar the Obama Administration (and the alternative energy movement) is to those primitive peoples.
The Global Warming Extremists controlled the argument for years by saying, it's only legitimate science if it's published in certain journals and peer reviewed, and if you control the Journals you control the science. But sadly with Al Gore's invention, the anointed few are losing control, much like the medieval church did with the invention of the printing press.
JK recently heralded America's Petrosesquicentennial, the 150th anniversary of the first American oil well. We are quite enamored of the "black gold" on these pages. And why not? 3.8 gallons of oil derived gasoline (you may have heard of it - it's been used as a primary motor fuel for nearly a hundred years) which can be purchased on any street corner for about ten bucks, produce as much energy as an average lightning bolt (about 500 megajoules.)
And the safety of this miracle fuel is such that anti-industrial zealots like those on Dateline NBC have had to use remotely detonated explosives to recreate accidental fuel tank explosions.
But there's more to oil than gasoline. Much more. Modern necessities made from oil include jet fuel, propane gas, plastics, asphalt, and dozens of petrochemicals essential to hundreds of industries we could hardly imagine living without. (Paints, fertilizers and textiles to name just a few.)
I went searching for the historical significance of the Petrosesquicentennial and found the following graph of world population and income since 1500. It shows a precipitous rise in population around the time of the Industrial Revolution. But the per capita world GDP rose only 31 percent in the early decades of the Industrial Revolution (1820 to about 1870). In the next 30 years however, inflation-adjusted individual incomes went up another 45%, and 20 years later nearly doubled from there. Finally, by the end of the 20th century, individuals earned a whopping SEVEN TIMES what their ancestors did at the time commercial oil production began.
(Click on graph to enlarge)
While the Industrial Revolution began in the early 1800's without oil it "centered on improvement in coal, iron and steam technologies." The truly modern developments "steel, electricity and chemicals" were hallmarks of the Second Industrial Revolution which, though not clearly delineated from the first, roughly coincided with the commercialization of oil in America.
So if you love iPods, cell phones, jet planes, mass transit, modern medicines, supermarkets, artificial light, white collar jobs ... and the income to pay for all of these and more ... you'd best come to grips with your closet love affair with oil.
UPDATE [10:43a EDT]: As often happens, I omitted a key argument in the thread. The point of all this was to set up the assertion that the advent of cheap and abundant oil was not only coincident with the Second Industrial Revolution, but catalyzed it. Try to imagine the course of the industrial age without it. Certainly a gallon of gas could have been replaced, say with 121 cubic feet of natural gas or 9 pounds of coal, but extracting and using a liquid fuel proved far more practical and economical than those gaseous or solid ones, at least for some uses. And I contend those uses were - and remain - important. Add to this the less obvious fact that many chemical uses of oil may be irreplaceable.
Oil has clearly fueled prosperity. Not only that, it did so for everyone.
* Just some guy linked from the "Twitter" section on RealClearPolitics.com.
1. The person who dreamed up the BMI said explicitly that it could not and should not be used to indicate the level of fatness in an individual.
The BMI was introduced in the early 19th century by a Belgian named Lambert Adolphe Jacques Quetelet. He was a mathematician, not a physician. He produced the formula to give a quick and easy way to measure the degree of obesity of the general population to assist the government in allocating resources. In other words, it is a 200-year-old hack.
2. It is scientifically nonsensical.
There is no physiological reason to square a person's height (Quetelet had to square the height to get a formula that matched the overall data. If you can't fix the data, rig the formula!). Moreover, it ignores waist size, which is a clear indicator of obesity level.
3. It is physiologically wrong.
It makes no allowance for the relative proportions of bone, muscle and fat in the body. But bone is denser than muscle and twice as dense as fat, so a person with strong bones, good muscle tone and low fat will have a high BMI. Thus, athletes and fit, health-conscious movie stars who work out a lot tend to find themselves classified as overweight or even obese.
4. It gets the logic wrong.
[Obese people have a high BMI but a high BMI doesn't mean you're obese.]
5. It's bad statistics.
Averages measure entire populations and often don't apply to individuals.
6. It is lying by scientific authority.
Because the BMI is a single number between 1 and 100 (like a percentage) that comes from a mathematical formula, it carries an air of scientific authority. But it is mathematical snake oil.
7. It suggests there are distinct categories of underweight, ideal, overweight and obese, with sharp boundaries that hinge on a decimal place.
That's total nonsense.
8. It makes the more cynical members of society suspect that the medical insurance industry lobbies for the continued use of the BMI to keep their profits high.
Insurance companies sometimes charge higher premiums for people with a high BMI. Among such people are all those fit individuals with good bone and muscle and little fat, who will live long, healthy lives during which they will have to pay those greater premiums.
9. Continued reliance on the BMI means doctors don't feel the need to use one of the more scientifically sound methods that are available to measure obesity levels.
Those alternatives cost a little bit more, but they give far more reliable results.
10. It embarrasses the U.S.
It is embarrassing for one of the most scientifically, technologically and medicinally advanced nations in the world to base advice on how to prevent one of the leading causes of poor health and premature death (obesity) on a 200-year-old numerical hack developed by a mathematician who was not even an expert in what little was known about the human body back then.
To #10 I would add, "...and help make the case for a "health care crisis" in this country."
But even if man-made climate change was real (sorry tg, is real) and even if "renewable" energy sources were beneficial to counter it, the least effective entity to make them a reality is - wait for it - government.
Industries generally develop in three stages. First is scientific feasibility, second is engineering feasibility, and third is economic feasibility.
Using the airline industry as an example, the question in the 1800s was: "Is long-distance air travel possible?"
In the 1800s, balloons were already in use but were not practical. The problem to solve was the heavier-than-air machine.
The Wright Brothers in 1903 proved scientific feasibility. They risked their time, money and lives to show that a heavier-than-air machine could fly.
Lindbergh, in 1927, proved engineering feasibility. He risked time, money and his life to show that long-distance air travel was possible.
This gave investors enough confidence to risk their money in the aircraft industry. In 1935 the Douglas Company came out with the DC-3, which was the beginning of economic feasibility.
The modern airline industry resulted from all this risk-taking. Today, a middle-class American can go anywhere in the world much faster, and in much greater comfort, than a Roman emperor could. Travelers fly because the benefits are greater than the costs. This is economic feasibility.
This three-step model explains why governments are terrible at economic development. The "experts" who comprise the government gamble with other people's money, so they tend to confuse scientific and engineering feasibility with economic feasibility.
Once science and engineering prove something can be done, those who comprise the government will do it - even if the costs are greater than the benefits. [emphasis mine]
This economic development of the economically unfeasible is precisely the modern story of:
Solar photovoltaic power
Ethanol (both glucosic AND celluosic)
Hydrogen fuel cells
Dual-mode hybrid cars
The list goes on...
Yesterday I commented that there's "another important dragon to be slain before" the next elections for congress and for president. That dragon is the myth of man-made global warming caused by our use of economical, safe and abundant energy sources. Many of us have long contended that the idea is founded upon pseudo-science. The late Michael Crighton agreed and in an appendix to his wonderfully entertaining and thought provoking novel 'State of Fear' he wrote "Why politicized science is dangerous."
Imagine that there is a new scientific theory that warns of an impending crisis, and points to a way out.
This theory quickly draws support from leading scientists, politicians and celebrities around the world. Research is funded by distinguished philanthropies, and carried out at prestigious universities. The crisis is reported frequently in the media. The science is taught in college and high-school classrooms.
I don't mean global warming. I'm talking about another theory, which rose to prominence a century ago.
The president of the Czech Republic, Vaclav Klaus, spoke to the National Press Club yesterday (May 27) regarding his book, "Blue Planet in Green Shackles." The key point, from the Refugee's perspective, is that he drew similarities between communism and the current green movement.
In trying to find a text of the speech, the Refugee had difficulty Googling any coverage of it. Given the venue, you would think that it would get plenty of ink. However, even right-of-center journalists such as Fox News' Brit Hume dismissed his remarks more or less as a conspiracy-theory-too-far. Only Charles Krauthammer (whom the Refugee places on a pedastal for his original and insightful thought) gave it any credibility.
After considerable reflection, the Refugee thinks there may be some fire hidden by all the smoke (and hopes that he does not need carbon offsets because of it). The environmental movement was borne from the obvious need to stop the Cuyahoga River from burning and breath new life into a dead Lake Erie. From there, however, it seems to have been hijacked by the ultraliberal left. With all of the cap-and-trade, carbon rationing and other proposals, the left may be able to impose socialism through regulation where it would otherwise be impossible through the ballot box. The carbon regulations will restrict producers, stifle innovation, redistribute weath and, most importantly, allow central planners to dictate economic winners and looser. Follow the money - and power.
Now, the Refugee is no conspiracy theorist and believes that suggesting a conscious, coordinated effort is giving enviros too much credit for intelligence. Instead, the current situation is a product of opportunity that has grown legs. What makes the effort so effective, and insideous, is that everyone supports clean water and clear air. People will allow their freedom to be usurped if it avoids a hideous death-by-ice-melt. Moveover, it can be imposed worldwide (except for the Chinese who can recognize totalitarianism when they see it.) Brilliant!
The only speedbump on the green road to worldwide socialism is an honest debate of climate change science. If the body politic doesn't buy the premise, the prescription is vapor. Which is why it's hard to read anything about Vaclav Klaus. Or why Al Gore says the debate is "over." And why theory is presented as fact. Look, weather forecasters only have a 30% chance of getting tomorrow's high temperature correct, so why is the worldwide temperature forecast 100 years from now unimpeachable?
Does anyone remember the old leftist bumper sticker "Question Authority"? Sound advice indeed when listening to leading enviromental "authorities."
The company borrowed a 13-year-old Budd RDC3, a self-propelled diesel commuter coach, from an Eastern line and towed it to Cleveland, where its motors and passenger seats were removed and replaced with more than 50 instruments to measure speed, stress, bearing temperatures, and ride characteristics. Small radio transmitters were affixed to the front axles and electronic sensors studded other parts of the locomotive. Real-time data was written to magnetic tape, displayed on oscilloscopes, and recorded by direct-writing oscillographs. Remote-controlled cameras made a visual record; track irregularities were recorded digitally.
While this may seem very high tech for 1966, the basic idea for such a real-time rolling laboratory had been used by the New York Central since the 1930s, when instrumentfilled baggage cars tested locomotive and track performance. No other changes were made to the Budd RDC3; the axles, wheels, and frame were the ones the commuter car had been born with. The total cost of the experiment was officially $35,000; the actual figure was probably several times that. (The company boasted that the project did not use a cent of government funds.)
Read that last line again.
Now they'd be looking for a check from the government (any government) before anything even got started.
Building one of the most advanced jet fighters in the world is a challenge for any aerospace company – but the one thing you might think you don't have to worry about when you start such a job is the pull of the moon.
But that is exactly the challenge faced by workers at BAE Systems on the Lancashire coast every time the Typhoon build process begins – because the moon's gravitational pull actually causes the ground to move beneath their feet.
So fine are the tolerances now used to build the Typhoon that even the movements of the tide could throw the jet fighter tolerances out.
Most physics texts are written as if they were supplementary problem books for math courses. They are heavy on the problem-solving, but light (or empty) on the cause-effect relationships, inductive thinking, and reasoning which makes science.
David Harriman, philosopher and historian of physics, is the originator of VanDamme Academy's revolutionary science curriculum. An expert both in physics and in proper pedagogy, Mr Harriman developed and taught a two-year course on the history of physics for VanDamme Academy. His unique approach is to teach physics historically, thereby teaching it inductively. From the early Greeks to Copernicus to Newton, this course presents the essential principles of physics in logical sequence, placing each in the context of the earlier discoveries that made it possible and explaining how each was discovered by reasoning from observations.
Teaching physics by this method not only renders physics thoroughly intelligible--it also makes physics an inspiring story of discovery, in which great thinkers triumph in their quest to grasp the nature of the physical universe.
He sells the CD for $495 and the DVD for $695.
He is not the first to teach physics from a historical perspective. Two others are Dr. Michael Fowler and Dr. Herbert Priestley. While Fowler and Priestley probably did not have the philosophic knowledge (e.g., of induction, deduction, and epistemology in general) of Harriman, they did have a knowledge of physics and its history. And they have some things available for less cost for those of us who cannot yet afford Harriman's work.
The homepage of Dr. Michael Fowler, at UVa, has links to his lectures for
PHYS 109: Galileo and Einstein (Lecturer) Fall
PHYS 152: Introductory Physics for Majors (Lecturer) Spring
On another page you can find: (1) a lecture on using history to teach physics; (2) a leture on heat which teaches physics from a historical (and hence inductive) perspective; (3) a lecture on electricity and magnetism which also teaches from a historical perspective; (4) a lecture on the development of Maxwell’s equations; (5) some quizzes, exercises, and another lecture.
Dr. Herbert Priestley wrote a book entitled Introductory Physics. You can find it on a used-book site such as Alibris or Abe Books.
Introductory Physics by Herbert Priestley (Allyn and Bacon, Inc., 1958) has the best presentation of physics I’ve ever seen. (I have not heard Harriman yet.) He presents concepts in their historical and scientific context. Priestley presents alternative viewpoints that were being used to understand phenomena such as heat or electricity, discusses why each viewpoint was held and the arguments scientists had, and describes the experiments the scientists did – especially the experiments which validated one side or the other. In showing us the development of ideas in physics, Priestley is showing us the correct view of concept-formation and the formation of generalizations, Priestley is showing us that true concepts and propositions come from applying rational, objective methods to the real world.
Priestley attended the University of Leeds, receiving a B.S. in 1933 and a Ph.D. in physics in 1935. He served in the Royal Air Force as an industrial research physicist, civilian education officer, and air intelligence officer. He came to the US as RAF liaison officer in 1942, but stayed on to teach physics at Ripton College after WWII. In 1952, he became chairman of the physics department at Knox College, where he stayed until he retired in 1980. His obituary is on Knox College Website.
A caveat. Priestley does not give Aristotle proper credit as a scientist. People have insulted Aristotle for centuries, for things that are not Aristotle’s fault – people throughout history blindly believed what was written in Aristotle’s corpus, yes, but that is not Aristotle’s fault. Aristotle, in method, was objective, and referred to experience. If he had the evidence available to him which people did who lived 1,000 years or more after he lived, he could have arrived at the conclusions we have -- even Galileo said this. He was a solid scientist in his context, as can be seen in the work he did most: philosophy, logic and biology.
Dr. James Lennox, Professor of Philosophy and the History of Science at the University of Pittsburgh, has some well-written and well-researched articles on his website regarding Aristotle as scientist and philosopher of science. An article directly relevant to some of Priestley's uninformed, unresearched accusations against Aristotle is Lennox's "Aristotle, Galileo and the Mixed Sciences," which discusses (1) Aristotle's use of mathematics as a tool in physics to explain why things happen and (2) Galileo's debt to Aristotle.
Dr. Michael Fowler, Professor of Physics at the University of Virginia also recognized Aristotle’s solid contributions to science. In a lecture on Aristotle, Dr. Fowler says:
To summarize: Aristotle's philosophy laid out an approach to the investigation of all natural phenomena, to determine form by detailed, systematic work, and thus arrive at final causes. His logical method of argument gave a framework for putting knowledge together, and deducing new results. He created what amounted to a fully-fledged professional scientific enterprise, on a scale comparable to a modern university science department. It must be admitted that some of his work - unfortunately, some of the physics - was not up to his usual high standards. He evidently found falling stones a lot less interesting than living creatures. Yet the sheer scale of his enterprise, unmatched in antiquity and for centuries to come, gave an authority to all his writings.
Aristotle is the key figure in this history of ancient science and indeed one of a handful of leading thinkers and doers in the entire history of science from the dawn of man to the present. His work in virtually every scientific field--from biology to physics to chemistry to astronomy--became a cornerstone of Western Science until the Scientific Revolution. And indeed his methodology, his reliance upon close observation and interdisciplinary bent, remain with us today.
Here are some excerpts from Priestley’s book. It is impossible to grasp Priestley’s masterful and rational approach in brief excerpts, so the excerpts must be lengthy. Priestley does use math in his textbook (it is algebra-based), but these excerpts will focus on his discussions of cause and effect and the development of ideas.
I. Excerpt 1: Chp. 15, “Electricity and Chemistry,” pp. 201-205
15.1 Galvanism. Electricity and chemistry are closely inter-related. A chemical reaction can produce a supply of electricity for as long as the reaction continues. This, the first source of a continuous supply of electricity, an electric current, is the principle of the electric battery. Conversely, an electric current can produce a chemical reaction, usually the decomposition of a chemical compound into its simpler elements, the process of electrolysis. Both processes involve the conversion of energy from one form to another; in the first case, chemical energy becomes electrical energy; in the other, the reverse takes place.
Every living cell produces electricity. The functioning of living tissue today is studied through its electrical action. The study of electricity in living tissue, which began quite accidentally about one hundred and fifty years ago, led to the development of the electric battery, for many years thereafter the standard method of producing electricity
About 1750, it was noted that pieces of lead and silver placed above and below the tongue, respectively, with their outer edges in contact, produced an unpleasant and pungent taste not encountered when the metals were placed separately upon the tongue. The phenomenon was attributed to some excitation of the nerves of the tongue. By this time, various physicians and experimenters had demonstrated that electricity could be used as a muscular stimulant in man and animals. This fact had been used to distinguish between paralyzed and atrophied muscles, an electric charge producing a contraction only in a paralyzed muscle.
Before the end of the eighteenth century it was known that an electric discharge passed through the body of a freshly killed animal could cause a convulsive action in its muscles, and that the discharge of an electric eel (section 14.2) produced motion in a nearby dead fish. Identification of the origin of these effects was made by Galvani (1737-1798), a professor of anatomy at Bologna. Galvani began experimenting about 1780, using a Leyden jar [A Leyden jar was the earliest form of electric condenser, consisting of “a bottle filled with water into which was inserted a wire held in place by a cork.” p. 191] and an electrostatic machine to test the effects of the electric discharge upon the nervous system of the frog. During these experiments he made the chance observation that nearby electrical discharge caused convulsions in a freshly prepared frog’s leg in conducting contact with the earth.
[I] had dissected and prepared a frog. [While] attending to something else, I laid it on a table on which stood an electrical machine at some distance…when one of the persons present touched accidentally and lightly the inner [thigh or leg] nerves of the frog with the point of a scalpel all the muscles of the legs seemed to contract again and again as if affected by powerful cramps. [One of my assistants] thought…the action was excited when a spark was discharged from the conductor of the machine [and] called my attention to it…I was eager to test the same and to bring to light what was concealed in it. I therefore myself touched one of the other nerves with the point of the knife and at the same time one of those present drew a spark. The phenomenon was always the same. Without fail there occurred lively contractions in every muscle of the leg at the same instant as that in which the spark jumped…
[Thinking] these motions might arise from the contact with the point of the knife…rather than by the spark, I touched the same nerves again in the same way in other frogs with the point of the knife…with greater pressure [while] no one during this time drew off a spark...no motion could be detected. I [concluded] that perhaps to excite the phenomenon…needed both the contact of a body and the electric spark.
Therefore, I again pressed the blade of the knife on the nerve and kept it there at rest while the spark passed and while the machine was not in motion. The phenomenon only occurred while the sparks were passing. [In many experiments with the same knife] it was remarkable that when the spark passed the motions observed sometimes occurred and sometimes not… The scalpel had a bone handle...if this handle was held in the hand no contractions occurred when the spark passed; but they did occur if the finger rested on the metallic blade or on the iron rivet by which the blade was held in the handle…
Now to put the thing beyond all doubt we…not only touched the nerves of the leg [with a slender dry and clean glass rod] but rubbed them hard while the sparks were passing. But…the phenomenon never appeared. [It] occurred however if we even lightly touched the same nerve with an iron rod and only little sparks passed. [William F. Magie, A Source Book in Physics (New York: McGraw-Hill Book Company, Inc., 1938), p. 421.]
Galvani’s “phenomenon” occurred only when the frog’s leg was in conducting communication with the earth, first by chance contact of the scalpel with the nerve, thereafter intentionally by bringing the leg into contact with a conductor grounded by contact with the human body. He continued his researches, turning to the effect of atmospheric electricity (lightning) on muscular motion. He attached frogs by the nerves to long iron wires, the feet of the frogs being grounded by similar wires. Simultaneously with a flash of lightning the muscles were markedly convulsed.
In both these series of experiments the frog, place upon a body insulated from the ground, became charged by induction (section 14.11) from either the electrostatic machine or lightning. When a grounded metal object (scalpel or iron rod) touched the nerve, the sudden change of potential caused by grounding produced the observed convulsive action.
[I next laid one of the prepared frogs] on an iron plate and began to press the hook which was in the spinal cord against the plate. Behold, the same contractions, the same motions…other metals [gave] the same result, only that the contractions were different [for] different metals…more lively for some and more sluggish for the others. At last it occurred to us to use other [non-conducting] bodies…[dry] glass, rubber, resin, stone or wood. With these...no muscular contractions and motions could be seen. Naturally [this astonished us] and caused us to think that possibly the electricity was present in the animal itself…a very fine nervous fluid which during the occurrence of the phenomenon flows from the nerves to the muscle like the electric current….” [ibid., p. 424.]
Galvani now recognized that here was something entirely new. “to make the thing plainer” he varied the experiment by placing the frog on a glass non-conducting plate. A curved rod connected the hook which entered the spinal cord with the muscles of the leg or feet. Convulsions occurred only when the curved rod was of conducting material and only when the hook and conducting rod were of dissimilar metals.
Two possible explanations of these phenomena suggested themselves to Galvani; that there was electricity in the animal organism, or that there was involved some electrical process depending upon contact of the metals and for which the frog’s legs merely served as a sensitive detector. He leaned toward the first of these – the existence of “animal electricity,” for which the nerves had the greatest affinity and were the repository. His theory further assumed that the inner substance of the nerve served as the conductor of this electricity, while the outer layer of the nerve prevented its dispersal. The muscles were the receivers of the animal electricity, and were charged negatively on the outside and positively on the inside. The mechanism of motion was a discharge of the electric fluid from the inside to the outside of the muscle by way of the nerve (like the discharge of a Leyden jar), and this discharge provided a muscular contractional stimulus to the muscle fibers.
15.2 Volta disagrees with Galvani. Galvani’s experiments and his interpretation of the results aroused considerable interest. Among the physicists, physiologists, and medical men who obtained frogs and pieces of dissimilar metals to repeat the experiments for themselves was Volta (1745-1827), a countryman of Galvani’s and professor of physics at Paris.
Volta, greatly impressed by Galvani’s work, referred to it as “one of those splendid major discoveries which…serve to usher in new epochs, not only because it is new and wonderful but also because it opens up a broad field of experiments that are especially and outstandingly capable of the application. “ [ibid., p. 443.] Volta’s original belief in the correctness of the “animal electricity” theory was weakened when he found that a muscular contraction could be produced simply by allowing a very weak electrical discharge to traverse a nerve without the discharge in anyway passing through the muscles. To produce a contraction required only stimulation of “the nerves that control the motions of the voluntary muscles concerned.”
A physicist rather than a physiologist, Volta now shifted his emphasis to the function of the metallic rods used. Repeating the experiment of placing on the tongue two dissimilar metals, he “covered the point of the tongue...with a strip of tin…With the bowl of a spoon, I touched the tongue further back; then I inclined the handle of the spoon to touch the tin. I expected…a twitching of the tongue…. The expected sensation, however, I did not perceive at all; but instead, a rather strong acid taste at the tip of the tongue…this taste lasts as long as the tin and sliver are in contact with each other. …This shows that the flow of electricity from one place to another is continuing without interruption.” It was “not less remarkable” that reversing the experiment so that the silver touched the tip of the tongue and the tin its middle gave “a very different taste...no longer sour but more alkaline, sharp, and approaching bitter.” [ibid., p. 444.] Bringing together the free ends of strips of dissimilar metal which touched, respectively, the forehead and palate produced, at the instant of contact, a bring flash clearly visible to the eye.
Investigations such as these gradually convinced Volta that the metals not only served as conductors but actually generated the electricity themselves. He accordingly modified his views to the belief that the nerves were merely stimulated by a cause to be found in the metals themselves, which were “in a real sense the exciters of electricity.” By 1794 he declared his opposition to the idea of animal electricity and substituted the term “metallic electricity.” The entire effect arose from the electricity set into circulation when metals were brought into contact with any moist body. This circulation through nerves caused stimulation of associate muscles. He found that the results depended upon the nature of the substances used and drew up a series of substances (metals, graphite, an charcoal) such that the magnitude of the effect produced using any two of the substances increased with the separation of the substances in this series.
Volta now dispensed entirely with the use of nerves and muscles in his investigations, and brought pairs of metals into contact with various moist substances, such as paper, cloth, etc. With a sensitive electrometer which he had previously developed, he was able to show the existence of “contact potential” – that the momentary contact of two dissimilar metals caused them to become oppositely charged, even without any moist substance present. A zinc and a copper disc after being placed in contact were both found to be charged, the zinc positively and the copper negatively. Copper also became negatively charged after contact with iron or tin, although less strongly than after contact with zinc. On the other hand, contact with gold or silver gave copper a positive charge and the gold or silver a negative charge. By numerous experiments along these lines, Volta constructed a series for the metals such that upon bringing any two of them into contact, the earlier in the list became positively charged, the later one negatively charged:
Furthermore, the more widely separated the substances in the series, the greater was the contact charge developed between them.
On the basis of his investigations, Volta originally assumed that the exciting electricity was located only at the points of contact of the metals and that the animal or other fluid served only as a conductor. But further experiments showed that an electric charge can be produced not only between metals in contact, but also between a metal and certain fluids. For instance, an insulated disc of silver or other metal brought into contact with moist wood or paper and then removed was found to be negatively charged. Experimenting further with liquids and metals, Volta found that the best results were obtained from two dissimilar metals with a moist conductor between them, a combination called a galvanic element. The effect of such a single element was multiplied by combining a large number of them to form a “pile.”
In 1800, Volta described a pile which produced a constant flow of electricity. By comparison with a Leyden jar, it was “equal only to a [Leyden jar] very feebly charged; but infinitely surpasses the power of these [jars] in that it does not need, as they do, to be charged in advance by means of an outside source; and in that It can give the disturbance every time that it is properly touched no matter how often.” [ibid., p. 428]
The pile consisted of small, clean and dry discs of zinc and silver and discs of a spongy material capable of absorbing and retaining a liquid. On a table or base is placed a sliver plate, then a
plate of zinc; on this…one of the moistened discs; then another silver [plate], followed immediately by another of zinc, [then another] moistened disc…continue in the same way coupling a plate of sliver with one of zinc, always [in the same order] and inserting between these couples a moistened disc. [ibid.]
Such a pile produced a slight shock when the hands were placed in contact with the top and bottom of the pile, and also the previously experienced effect upon the nerves of taste, sight, and hearing. One drawback was that the moist material between the metal discs dried out, decreasing the electric current generated. To overcome this, Volta devised his “crown of cups,” consisting of a row of beakers of non-metallic material filled with brine into which were placed alternate strips of sliver and zinc. Each silver strip in one cup was joined to the zinc strip in the next cup by a metallic jumper. “A train of 30, 40, 60 of these goblets joined up in this manner…in substance is the same as the [pile] tried before; the essential feature, of the immediate connection of the different metals which form each pair and the mediate connection of one couple with another by the intermediary of a damp conductor, appears in this apparatus as well as in the other.” [ibid., p. 431.] This crown of cups was subsequently improved by substituting copper for silver and dilute sulphuric acid for brine.
Volta reported that the “tension” (potential difference) produced by the pile or cups “is less according as they are nearer in the following series…sliver, copper, iron, tin, lead, zinc, a scale in which the first [is positive with respect] to the second, the second to the third, etc.”
The importance of Volta’s discovery of a means of producing a continuous supply of electricity cannot be overemphasized. Sarton, the distinguished historian of science, compares it with the development of the telescope and microscope, with the fundamental difference that the telescope and microscope “were only means of magnifying our vision. They enabled us to see things which we could not see before, but which existed nevertheless… On the contrary, the electric cell was really a creative instrument; it opened to man a new and incomparable source of energy.” [Bern Dibner, Galvani-Volta (Norwalk: Burndy Library, Inc., 1952), p. 40.]
15.3 The simple voltaic cell. Volta’s identification of the true origin of “animal electricity” led to the familiar batteries now used in radios, automobiles, etc. In every case, production of electricity results from the conversion of chemical into electrical energy. To understand the mechanism involved, consider the simple or voltaic cell, consisting of two dissimilar metals immersed in a liquid, and in essence an element of Volta’s pile.
Genius. Thank you Dr. Priestley.
Priestley then goes on to discuss the work of Michael Faraday in discovering the laws of electrolysis, which led to the development of practical cells, i.e., the batteries we now have in everyday life, and which we take for granted.
But what we have in this excerpt is the scientific history of the development of the modern battery – which came out of experiments which changed fundamentally how we view man, as well. The observation that we had different sensations when metals touched our tongue in different places would have gone nowhere and could have been interpreted in all kinds of ways, without the knowledge that frogs’ nerves and muscles are affected by electricity.
This knowledge was the first step in our modern science of neurology, in understanding how the brain works, and in developing some of the drugs we have today (which have neurological effects because of their chemistry and electrical effects).
And if not for the foundational work of Michael Faraday arising from the research of Volta and Galvani, we would not know what we do today about nutrition and the operation of the cell. What does something so everyday as Gatorade have in it? Electrolytes. Thank Michael Faraday next time you drink some.
Priestley is a genius in taking us from the observation that we had certain sensations when metals touched our tongues, to the modern battery. He presents a missing side of modern scientific texts: causality. Science is about discovering cause-effect relationships. Most modern texts present physics as an exercise in mathematics – the texts could be addenda to math texts, providing word problems and applications of math. They fail miserably in presenting cause-effect relationships, and showing how scientific knowledge really develops. They fail to present the important experiments that led to modern understanding of the material world, and that make physics what it is.
II. Excerpt 2: Chp. 10, “The Nature of Heat,” pp. 135-139
10.6 The measurement of heat. The development of the thermometer opened the doorway to a new science – that of heat measurements – in which the pioneer was Joseph Black (1727-1799), professor of medicine and chemistry at the Universities of Glasgow and Edinburgh. Prior to Black’s work, no clear distinction had been drawn between “quantity of heat” and “degree of hotness (temperature).” While something clearly passed from a hot body to one at a lower temperature, whether that something was heat or temperature was not known. Black was the first to conceive clearly of heat as a measurably physical quantity, distinct from, although related to, temperature as indicated by a thermometer.
He began to investigate the general belief that the amount of heat required to raise the temperature of any body by a given amount was proportional to the density of the body. Fahrenheit, by mixing together water and mercury at different temperatures, had found that despite its much greater density, the heating and cooling effect of a given volume of mercury was only two-thirds that of the same volume of water. From these results Black concluded that “the quantities of heat which different kinds of matter must receive to reduce them to equilibrium with one another, or to raise their temperatures by an equal number of degrees, are not in proportion to the quantity of matter in each, by in proportions widely different from this.” [Abraham Wolf, A History of Science, Technology, and Philosophy in the 18th Century (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1939), p. 178.] Fahrenheit’s experiments led Back to compare the heating and cooling effects of other substances with corresponding effects of an equal bulk of water, obtaining for the different substances values he called their “capacities for heat.”
He went on to observe that the sensation of cold in a hand applied to a piece of ice indicates that the ice receives heat very rapidly. But a thermometer applied to the water dripping from the melting ice show it to be at the same temperature as the ice. “A great quantity, therefore, of the heat…which enters into the melting ice produces no other effect but to give it fluidity, without augmenting its sensible heat; it appears to be absorbed and concealed within the water, so as not to be discoverable by the application of a thermometer.” [ibid, p. 180.] Back now demonstrated that during the melting of ice, and similar changes of state (solid to liquid, liquid to vapor), large quantities of heat were “rendered latent,” absorbed with no change in temperature, and explained these and similar facts by assuming a union of the matter of heat with ice to form water and with water to form steam; i.e.,
Ice + matter of heat = water,
Water+ matter of heat = steam.
10.7 The caloric theory of heat. The more obvious phenomena of heat – combustion, melting, freezing, evaporation, etc. – have been familiar from early times, and ideas concerning the nature of heat go far back in history. Aristotle conceived of fire as one of the four material elements (section 4.2), while the Platonic view was that heat was some kind of motion: “For heat and fire…are themselves begotten by impact and friction: but this is motion.” But throughout the centuries little or no distinction was made between heat and flame.
Various people, including Francis Bacon, Huygens, and Boyle, advanced the idea that heat is a form of motion of the “parts” of a body. Boyle drew attention to the heat generated during the boring of guns and to the fact that “when a smith does hastily hammer a nail,…the hammered metal will grow exceedingly hot, and yet there appears not anything to make it so, save the forcible motion of the hammer.” [ibid, p. 276.] But there was no direct experimental support of these speculations.
Following his work on thermal capacities and latent heats, Black was led to consider the nature of heat. This he did with some reservations, as may be seen from the following extract from his lectures: “Heat is plainly something extraneous to matter. …Having arrived at this conclusion, it may perhaps be required of me to express more distinctly this something – to give a full description, or definition, of what I mean by the word ‘heat’ in matter. This, however, is a demand that I cannot satisfy entirely…. Our knowledge of heat is not brought to that state of perfection that might enable us to propose with confidence a theory of heat of to assign an immediate cause for it.” [Duane Roller, The Early Development of the Concepts of Temperature and Heat, (Cambridge; Harvard University Press, 1950), p. 42.]
Black continued with a review of the theories previously advanced as to the nature of heat, theories which fall into two basic categories – that heat is either motion or a material substance. Reviewing the motion theory, Black say that he “cannot form a conception of this internal (vibration) which has any tendency to explain even the more simple effects of heat.” He then goes on to point out that:
…the greater number of French and German philosophers have held that the motion of which they suppose heat to consist is not a tremor, or vibration, of the particles of the hot body itself, but of the particles of a subtle, highly elastic, and penetrating fluid matter, which is contained in the pores of hot bodies, or interposed among their particles…. But interposed among their particles…. But neither of these suppositions has been fully and accurately considered by their authors, or applied to explain the whole of the facts and phenomena relating to heat. They have not, therefore, supplied us with a proper theory or explication of the nature of heat.
A more ingenious attempt has lately been…given by the late Dr. Cleghorn…. He supposed that heat depends on the abundance of that subtle elastic fluid which had been imagined before by other philosophers to be present in every part of the universe and to be the cause of heat…. he supposed that the ordinary kinds of matter consist of particles having strong [gravitational] attraction both for one another and for the matter of heat; whereas the…matter of heat is self-repelling, its particles having a strong repulsion for one another while they are attracted by other kids of matter.
Such an idea of the nature of heat is the most probable of any that I know.… It is, however, altogether a supposition. [ibid., p. 45.]
In 1779, Cleghorn extended the material theory of heat to include Black’s discoveries of thermal capacity and latent heat. The main properties assigned by Cleghorn to the “matter of heat’ or “caloric,” may be summarized in the following postulates of the caloric theory:
1. Caloric is an elastic fluid, composed of particles which strongly repel each other.
2. Particles of caloric are attracted by particles of ordinary matter.
3. Caloric can be neither destroyed nor created.
4. Caloric can be either sensible caloric, which increases the temperature of body to which it is added and forms an “atmosphere” around the particles of the body, or latent caloric, which is combed with the particles of the body in a manner similar to the chemical combinations of the particles themselves, producing as a new compound the liquid or vapor form of the substance.
5. Caloric may or may not have appreciable weight.
When two bodies at different temperatures were placed in contact, it was supposed that caloric flowed from the hotter to the colder body until equilibrium was established. Expansion was attributed to the mutual repulsion of the caloric which entered the heated body. Development of heat by friction or compression was explained as due either to the fact that the particles of a body rubbed by friction lost some of their “capacity” for caloric, which was thus “liberated,” raising the temperature of the body, or to the fact that friction and pressure squeezed out some of the caloric latent in the pressed body, which thereby became sensibly hot. The caloric theory dominated the science of heat until the middle of the nineteenth century.
It should be noted that toward the end of the eighteenth century the “motion theory” of heat was nothing more than pure speculation, a working hypothesis without any decisive experimental evidence in its favor. By contrast the caloric theory offered a satisfactory and semiquantitative explantion of the known thermal phenomena. Furthermore, the motion theory dealt only with the origin of heat and said nothing about its behavior.
10.8 Does heat have weight? Black pointed out that the fact that bodies expanded when heated had led to the supposition that a heated body increased in weight. Various eighteenth-century experiments to test this supposition had produced conflicting results, none of them proving “that the weight of bodies is increased by their being heated, or by the presence of heat in them.” Some observers found that an increase in the temperature of a body was accompanied by slight increase in weight; some observed a slight loss in weight; others could detect no variation in weight with variation in temperature. The most carefully executed experiments were those of Runford, whose results were negative.
Although Rumford was an able administrator, and an authority on military problems, experimenting on heat was one of his “most agreeable employments.” He believed the mode-of-motion theory to be the sounder view of the nature of heat, even though in his time the caloric theory was well established and generally accepted. The primary purpose of his experiments was to attack the caloric theory from as many different points of view as possible.
Identical glass flasks containing equal weights of water, alcohol, and mercury showed equal temperatures and weights after having been exposed to room temperature (61º F) for 24 hours, after 48 hours at a cooler temperature (30º F), and upon being restored to room temperature after the cooler period. Repeated several times, the experiment gave consistent results. Rumford was convinced that “if heat be, in fact, a substance or matter…it must be something so infinitely rare, even in its most condensed state, as to baffle all our attempts to discover its [weight]… I think we may very safely conclude that all attempts to discover any effect of heat upon the apparent weights of bodies will be fruitless.” [Wolf, op. cit., p. 196.]
Rumford’s experiments showed heat had no detectable weight. So caloric must be imponderable, an opinion which Black had considered to be one of the chief objections to the caloric theory. But to many eighteenth-century scientists and philosophers this was not a serious objection. At that time full acceptance was given to a small class of “imponderable” fluids – including light, electricity, and magnetism – which, unlike ordinary matter, were not subject to gravitational attraction to any observable extent. By attributing to these “imponderables” certain other familiar properties of ordinary matter, the various known phenomena could be fairly satisfactorily explained, and new phenomena often successfully predicted Thus the problem of the weight of heat was not critical in resolving the conflict between the caloric and motion theories of heat. Much more critical was the conservation principle, that caloric could be neither created nor destroyed. Here also Rumford performed certain vital experiments as part of his general attack on the caloric theory.
The caloric theory had been particularly useful in explaining and predicting phenomena in mixing liquids or heating a substance over a fire, in which it is reasonable to conclude that there is no creation or destruction of heat during its conduction from object to object or from fire to object. But where did the heat come from when an object was warmed by rubbing it or hammering it? While the calorists believed they could answer this question and still retain the principle of conservation of caloric, other investigators believed the mode-of-motion theory to be a much more satisfactory explanation.
While engaged in boring cannon at Munich, Rumford observed with surprise “the very considerable degree of heat that a brass gun acquires in a short time in being bored, and with the still higher temperature of the metallic chips separated from it by the borer. The more I meditated on these phenomena, the more they appeared to me to be curious and interesting. A thorough investigation of them seemed even to bid fair to give a farther insight into the hidden nature of heat; and to enable us to form some reasonable conjectures respecting the existence, or nonexistence, of [caloric]….From whence comes the heat actually produced in the mechanical operations? Is it furnished by the metallic chips which are separated by the borer from the solid mass of metal?” [Roller, op. cit., p. 63.] In one experiment, for example, a 113-lb metal blank was heated from 60º F to 130º F while less than two ounces of metallic dust was produced by the borer.
A brass cylinder, placed in a wooden box containing 18 ¾ lbs of water, was made to rotate against a steel borer. The amount of heat produced could be determined by observing the rise in temperature of the water, which was brought from 60 F to the boiling point (212 F) in 2 ¾ hours. As Rumford stated: “It would be difficult to describe the surprise and astonishment expressed in the countenance of the by-standers on seeing so large a quantity of water heated, and actually made to boil without any fire…. We must not forget to consider that most remarkable circumstance, that the source of the heat generated by friction in these experiments, appeared evidently to be inexhaustible….anything which any insulated body, or system of bodies, can continue to furnish without limitation, cannot possibly be a material substance. It appears to me to be extremely difficult, if not quite impossible, to form any distinct idea of anything capable of being excited and communicated in the manner in which the heat was excited and communicated in these experiments, except it be motion. “ [Wolf, op. cit., p. 197.]
Here Rumford emphasizes what he considers the chief result of his experiments, the apparently inexhaustible source of heat generated by friction. The calorists claimed heat is rubbed out of an object by friction. Ultimately, then, all the heat in the object should be exhausted. But this was never observed. Furthermore, in Rumford’s experiments heat apparently was created by friction, refuting the conservation principle which is the foundation of the caloric theory, and denying the material nature of heat, the basis of that conservation principle.
Rumford published the results of his experiments in 1798. One year later Humphrey Davy (1778-1829) published an essay directed against the caloric theory and which dealt in part with the production of heat by friction. The best-known of Davy’s experiments is that in which he rubbed together two blocks of ice fastened by wires to two bars of iron.
Some forty years after the experiments of Rumford and Davy, the problem of heat produced by friction was again investigated, this time on a quantitative basis, by Mayer (in Germany) and Joule (in England). By 1850 these investigators had established beyond little doubt that heat is not a separate substance, but is a form of energy, the kinetic energy of the atoms and molecules of ordinary matter.
Again: genius. The interplay between theory, observation, reasoning and experiment is masterfully presented by Priestley.
Priestley goes on to discuss the work of J.B. Mayer and James Joule in determining the relationship between mechanical energy and heat and in discovering the principle of the conservation of energy.
Introductory Physics I highly recommend to anyone who wants a conceptual, rational understanding of the physical world we live in.