The Climate Scandal That Wasn’t

i-9cb1dad898ac903573f92e4f175e89a5-climebuzz.jpgLast week, hackers pulled a data heist on the Climatic Research Unit of the University of East Anglia, releasing thousands of stolen documents and emails that purportedly exposed a scientific conspiracy to fabricate evidence of global warming. Climate change skeptics dug into the data with forks and knives, choosing the choicest morsels as evidence of fraud. But ScienceBloggers are unimpressed by the stunt. On A Few Things Ill Considered, Coby Beck places tongue in cheek, rejoicing that the Greenland ice sheet is now refreezing. On Deltoid, Tim Lambert reports that NASA is being sued by the Competitive Enterprise Institute for scientist Gavin Schmidt’s activities on the RealClimate blog, where he “makes it perfectly clear that the claims of scientific malpractice are without foundation.” On Stoat, William M. Connolley debunks some of the supposed instances of hanky-panky, writing that “everyone with any sense seems to have got the right answer by now.” James Hrynyshyn on The Island of Doubt calls the stolen data “just plain banal” and “bereft of the context required to understand them in any meaningful way.” Hrynyshyn also presents some new projections from The Copenhagen Diagnosis, which show that global carbon dioxide emissions were 40% higher in 2008 than in 1990, and that by 2100, sea levels may rise by as much as two meters.

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Happy Birthday, Origin!

i-37e9a7ef499187063d96ca72d2409312-originbuzz.jpgCharles Darwin’s Origin of Species was published 150 years ago today, and it continues to inform, illuminate, and stir up controversy. Of course, some tortoises live longer than that, but Darwin’s lasting legacy seems assured. On Gene Expression, Razib Khan tackles a study on the Fore, a cannibalistic people who ate their dead up until 1960. This diet left an imprint on their genes: a deadly prion-caused illness called Kuru led to selection against homozygosity in key alleles. Elsewhere, ERV explores invasive species and their fitness versus native species when both are infected with the same pathogen. In the case of Northern California grasses, although the native perennials are more fit than the invasive annuals, the pathogen hits the natives harder, and so the invaders become more successful. Finally, James Hrynyshyn on The Island of Doubt reviews a new coffee-table book on Darwin that “tells us at least as much about Darwin the man as it does his revolutionary idea.” Get one now, as Hrynyshyn suggests oversize books may be a dying species.

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The Cutting Edge

i-a3701ed49e0049ca10d4e0d331e81180-compbuzz.jpgFaster computers come out all the time, but it’s what we do with a CPU that determines its true usefulness. On Good Math, Bad Math, Mark Chu-Carroll introduces us to Google’s new programming language, Go. Noting the minimalist design of the language, Chu-Carroll writes “if you want a C-like language with some basic object-oriented features and garbage collection, Go is about as simple as you could realistically hope to get.” On the hardware side of things, Jonah Lehrer reports on The Frontal Cortex that IBM researchers have simulated the synaptic equivalent of a cat’s brain, using 147,456 processors and 144 terabytes of memory. But does it want to lick itself? On Collective Imagination, Greg Laden waxes philosophical about artificial and natural intelligence; Google advises him that intelligence is “Bliss,” “A Curse,” “Sexy,” and/or “possible after all.” Also on Collective Imagination, Peter Tu talks about computer vision and facial recognition algorithms, and the uncanny feeling we get when our working models of the world break down.

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Linking Fact and Fiction

i-727d32e5032303905de7127284b5eaa9-sfbuzz.jpgGood science takes time, but good science fiction hinges on impatience. Why wait for the invention of real technological marvels when you can imagine them yourself or see them on TV? On The Quantum Pontiff, Dave Bacon ponders the formative links between fantasy and reality, spurred by an Intel talk on the possibilities of “fictional prototyping.” He writes, “the creative act of telling a story shares many similarities with the creative act of developing a new research idea or inventing a new technology.” On Built on Facts, Matt Springer compares phasers with lasers, writing “it’s a nice job perk that I can see old science fiction tropes come to life pretty much every day.” On Aardvarchaelogy, Martin Rundkvist says there are two ways of writing SF: either you use current scientific knowledge to write an explanation that “sort of makes sense,” or you use “technobabble” to dazzle your readers with made-up vocabulary. Do neither and, like author Dan Simmons, you will be ridiculed. Finally, travel back in time for an article by Chad Orzel on Uncertain Principles, where he considers the long-running role of mysticism in SF, and notes that the genre “has broadened considerably over the last few decades.”

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The Great Debate

i-4daf3576fe3d9c6441642c5541cb6f8a-idbuzz.jpgThe pitched battle between evolutionary theory and Intelligent Design has become one of the signature conflicts of the decade. On Pharyngula, PZ Myers picks up the pieces after his debate with Jerry Bergman on whether ID should be taught in schools. Unambiguously he writes, “creationists are not the heralds of a coming paradigm shift; they are the rotting detritus of the old regime of unreason.” Elsewhere, on Gene Expression, Razib Khan crunches some numbers which show that 10-20% of people in certain Muslim countries believe in evolution, versus 80% in certain European countries. The support for evolution in the U.S.? 40%. Finally, on The Primate Diaries, Eric Michael Johnson parses centuries of anthropocentric thought which placed man atop the “great chain of being,” with other forms of life transitioning smoothly into the inanimate. As Johnson writes, “this vision of divinely ordered perfection was dramatically ripped apart, link-by-link, on November 24, 1859,” a date we will observe next week on the sesquicentennial of Darwin’s Origin of Species.

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New Twists on the Double Helix

i-f8154d0a659650961de81dff61d67948-helixbuzz.jpgForget fashion; when it comes to expressing yourself, it’s your genes that wear you! On Not Exactly Rocket Science, Ed Yong discusses the explosive evolution of AEM genes in humans and elephants—two long-lived, social animals with “very, very large brains.” Big brains need more juice to function, and AEM genes, which govern how mitochondria metabolize food energy, may be a key to evolving intelligence. On Gene Expression, Razib Khan explores the links between gene transmission and language transmission, writing that “linguistic affinity” could modulate gene flow, and vice versa. On Mike the Mad Biologist, Mike flays proponents of “genetic conservatism,” who believe that IQ is highly heritable and educating everyone is a waste of money. This attitude leads Mike to wonder, “What is the genetic heritability of being an ***hole?” Finally, Daniel MacArthur on Genetic Future reports the bankruptcy of deCODE Genetics and the revamped product lineup at 23andMe, suggesting that personal genomics may need a new business model.

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Eating Your Words

i-f8b24259e4cb4a4f197409c0bc261682-smorgasbord_small1.jpgWe often hear that “you are what you eat,” but the relationship between what goes in our bodies and what our bodies make of it is really quite complex. On Respectful Insolence, Orac laments that “diet does not have nearly as large an effect as we had hoped” on the prevention of cancer, and that by the time we reach adulthood, dietary interventions may be too late. Elsewhere, Joseph on Corpus Callosum examines a new study which suggests that drinking coffee lowers the risk of hepatitis C progression in afflicted individuals. Bucking the study’s correlative conclusion, he says it’s “not possible to generalize” about such a select population. On Guilty Planet, Jennifer Jacquet cautions against nutritional narcissism, saying that healthy eating is about more than “me and my body,” it’s about “my community, my country, my planet.” In a separate post, she shows us the first photo taken of a coral eating a jellyfish, making that old adage sound more dubious than ever.

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