Learn something new every day – Trees “sleep”

June 14, 2016

In the only reported study to look at tree siestas, researchers set up lasers that measured the movements of two silver birch trees (Betula pendula) at night. One tree was in Finland and the other in Austria, and both were monitored from dusk until morning on dry, windless nights in September. This was close to the solar equinox, when daylight and nighttime are about equal…

The silver birches’ branches and leaves sagged at night; they reached their lowest position a few hours before sunrise, and then perked up again during the wee hours of the morning, the researchers found.

The silver birches’ branches and leaves sagged at night; they reached their lowest position a few hours before sunrise, and then perked up again during the wee hours of the morning, the researchers found.

“Our results show that the whole tree droops during night, which can be seen as position change in leaves and branches,” study lead author Eetu Puttonen, a researcher at the Finnish Geospatial Research Institute, said in a statement. “The changes are not too large, only up to 10 centimeters [4 inches] for trees with a height of about 5 meters [16 feet].”

Quoting from Live Science for this one. There’s more in the article.

This reminded me of the walking palm tree articles I’d come across before. There’s debate on the truth of that. A BBC travel report quotes a paleobotanist who claims he’s seen how they do it. It could also just be an illusion based on how the trees grow so many roots outward into the ground and as new ones grow in and others die, it’s going to look like the tree “moved” a little when it hasn’t actually. Whichever is right, tour guides will still say they walk because it impresses the tourists.


Today’s Found of Facebook – God can’t co-pilot Ark; hits Coast Guard vessel

June 11, 2016

Via gCaptain:

A 230-foot long replica of Noah’s Ark collided with a Norwegian Coast Guard vessel as it arrived in Oslo, Norway on Friday, causing damage to both ships.

Media says the wooden replica, built by a Dutch carpenter Johan Huibers after he dreamed of a flood in his home town, was being towed into Oslo harbor when it somehow lost control and crashed into the moored patrol vessel Nornen.

Watching the video its hard to tell exactly what happened, but photos posted by Norwegian media show a big hole in the side of the Ark’s wooden hull.

The Ark is now owned by the Ark of Noah Foundation, which was planning on bringing the educational vessel across the Atlantic to Rio de Janeiro for the Olympic Games this summer.

Media reports said there were no animals on board when the collision occurred.

The Ark just sort of lists to the side and taps into the Nornen. As far as the locals walking/running by, they don’t seem interested in watching the collision. I know nothing about boats but maybe rudder failure? Someone at the wheel who’s never actually tried driving a boat before, or has but nothing so wide and bulky?

The Smithsonian reported on some Ark science a few years back. Students out of the University of Leicester crunched the numbers for their study and theorized it was “possible” after deciding on the average length of a cubit (the measurement varies in the Bible), picking which density of wood to work with, and doing the math on buoyancy and water displacement.

Using the density of cypress, they calculated the weight of this hypothetical ark: 1,200,000 kilograms (by comparison the Titanic weighed about 53,000,000 kilograms). Based on the density of sea water, they figured out that an empty box-shaped ark would float with it’s hull only dipping 0.34 meters into the water.

But what about an ark filled with human and animal cargo? Working backwards they assumed that the maximum weight would put the waterline right just below the top of the ark—if the ark is immersed beyond it’s full height, water would spill into the vessel and the ark would capsize.


A boat sunk to its max in the water while still staying afloat could easily take on water from any breaching waves. And according to Euler-Bernoulli beam theory, the strength of a wooden beam decreases with its size, so because when things get bigger they break more easily, the beams that held this huge ark together might have been extremely fragile. Else the beams were short, which would also introduce structural weaknesses due to the higher number of seams between wood planks.

And so on. Doable, but not bloody likely, in my opinion, given the era it supposedly was built and what people had for tools at the time. But people still love to love the Ark and all its insanity…

“Stem cell angels” says yoga instructor after getting vision back

June 6, 2016

Cool story out of Saskatoon. Go Science!

Diagnosed with glaucoma in his left eye last year, Kevin Naidoo, watched his vision deteriorate and it was affecting his work at Yerrama Yoga Sanctuary in the city, which he owns. His father was the one who suggested saving up for stem cell treatments. They wound up trying GoFundMe and soon raised more than enough for a trip to Thailand to get stem cell injections.

Over the course of a week, Naidoo received six stem cell injections in his spine and in both his eyes. And it meant he couldn’t use his eyes for anything so he relied on his parents to feed him, and escort him around the hospital. Naidoo said the experience really taught him a lot about himself.

“I couldn’t write, I couldn’t read, I couldn’t watch TV, I couldn’t do anything, I was left in meditation,” Naidoo said.

As doctors removed the wraps from his eyes. Naidoo said the results were so immediate, he thought he was dreaming.

They’ll continue to grow and improve his eyesight.

“I call them my little angels my little stem cells because I’m so grateful for all of these beautiful women in this world that had healthy babies and donated their stem cells to people who need treatment like me and I pray for them everyday.”

Science works, bitches! (Prayer, not so much.)

Watched Expelled today

June 5, 2016

Saskatoon’s CFI affiliate watched the film Expelled – No Intelligence Allowed this afternoon. The whole film is available on Youtube if you want to put yourself through it.

It’s a “documentary” that plays fast and loose with the notion of facts and tries to claim that Intelligence Design is not only a valid theory better than evolution, but that educators and scientists who support it are run out of town, discredited and essentially thrown in ideological gulags for the rest of eternity for daring to suggest it. He does liken their treatment to gulags in the film and includes stock footage of guillotines and concentration camps and the Berlin Wall because “Darwinists” are close-cousins to Nazis, apparently.

Ben Stein and his team were unscrupulous in twisting everything to fit their agenda. A Scientific American article lists six of the most egregious ways the show manipulated its audience. I’ll include their list, but read the article for full details. (This opinion piece from NBC goes into some of this, too.)

1) Expelled quotes Charles Darwin selectively to connect his ideas to eugenics and the Holocaust.
2) Ben Stein’s speech to a crowded auditorium in the film was a setup.
3) Scientists in the film thought they were being interviewed for a different movie.
4) The ID-sympathetic researcher whom the film paints as having lost his job at the Smithsonian Institution was never an employee there.
5) Science does not reject religious or “design-based” explanations because of dogmatic atheism.
6) Many evolutionary biologists are religious and many religious people accept evolution.

Like Eugenie Scott, who was one of the unfortunates targeted for interviews for this film. She’s Catholic.

I also recall P.Z. Myers writing about his experience with it. I was a fan of his blog at the time and remember this being a topic. He wrote an amusing post about trying to go watch the film he was interviewed for. He was booted from line but his guest, Richard Dawkins (also interviewed), got in without difficulty.

We were trying to remember if this film came before or after the Intelligent Design trial. Kitzmiller v. Dover was 2005 and this film was release in 2008.

In the legal case Kitzmiller v. Dover, tried in 2005 in a Harrisburg, PA, Federal District Court, “intelligent design” was found to be a form of creationism, and therefore, unconstitutional to teach in American public schools.

As the first case to test a school district policy requiring the teaching of “intelligent design,” the trial attracted national and international attention. Both plaintiffs and defendants in the case presented expert testimony over six weeks from September 26 through November 4, 2005). On December 20, 2005, Judge John E. Jones issued a sharply-worded ruling in which he held that “intelligent design” was, as the plaintiffs argued, a form of creationism.

Ball State University in Indiana hired Guillermo Gonzalez to be an assistant professor of astronomy in 2013. He was one of the educators Stein interviewed.

In 2008 Gonzalez was denied tenure at Iowa State University, essentially a form of termination, after which he taught at Grove City College, a Christian liberal arts school in Pennsylvania, before landing at Ball State.

As of May 10th this year, they gave tenure to a guy named Eric Hedin, also for the astronomy department.

A “Boundaries of Science” class taught by Hedin reportedly promoted the idea that nature displays evidence of intelligent design, in contrast to an undirected process like evolution.

In 2013, Ball State President Jo Ann Gora decided ID was not an appropriate subject for a science class after receiving a complaint from the Freedom From Religion Foundation about Hedin’s course. After an investigation by a panel of academic experts, Gora said ID, which some call pseudoscience, was overwhelmingly regarded by the scientific community as a religious belief and not a scientific theory.

But they gave him tenure and Gonzalez is on a tenure track. Added to that, he’s a fellow for the Discovery Institute, the biggest group pushing for ID inclusion.

Michael J.I. Brown, an observational astronomer at Monash University in Melbourne, Australia, told The Star Press in 2014 it was a “remarkable coincidence” that two astronomers who believe in ID ended up at Ball State. Two ID-believing astronomers winding up in the same modestly sized astrophysics department by random chance are as unlikely as two astronomers who own chimpanzees ending up in the same department, Brown said.

Ars Technica reported in April 2016 about an Ohio school district pushing the “teach the controversy” angle.

Zack Kopplin, an activist who has tracked attempts to sneak religious teachings into science classrooms, found a bit of sneaking going on in Youngstown, Ohio. There, a document hosted by the city schools includes a lesson plan that openly endorses intelligent design and suggests the students should be taught that there’s a scientific controversy between it and evolution.

The document focuses on the “Diversity of Life” and is a bizarre mix of normal science and promotion of intelligent design. Most of the first page, for example, is taken up by evolution standards that have language that echoes that of the Next Generation Science Standards. But the discussion is preceded by a statement that’s straight out of the “teach the controversy” approach: “The students examine the content of evolution and intelligent design and consider the merits and flaws of both sides of the argument.” In fact, elsewhere in the document, teachers are told to host a debate where students take turns arguing for evolution and intelligent design.

For a science class I think that’s a colossal waste of class time. Setting up both sides as if they’re in any way on equal footing does a great disservice to actual scientific advancement and understanding. Sure, there are gaps in the knowledge. It’s to be expected. Every year we know more but we’ll never know everything and while the ID side may think it’s somehow egotistical for scientists to claim their theories for origins are valid ideas (from mineral starts to panspermia), it doesn’t make any logical sense to slap a creator into the gap instead and consider the whole thing solved that way.


Guardian angels, road safety and risk taking: connected?

September 25, 2014

If the details reported by New York Magazine can be believed, then yes.

Interviews with 198 people showed that 45 percent believed in “a personal spirit or supernatural power” that watched over them. Further questions were designed to assess the participants’ attitudes toward risk-taking — for example, the question asking how risky the volunteers would rate driving 20 kilometers (12 miles) over the speed limit. Those who believed in guardian angels rated speeding as riskier than those who didn’t believe in the concept.

The study’s designer is David Etkin, “a professor of disaster management at York University” and was surprised by the findings. He thought he’d get an opposite response, that faith in guardian angels may result in people more willing to do the risky thing due to feeling protected by that higher power.

while this study didn’t test why the believers were more risk-averse, he has a theory. People who are more cautious also tend to be more fearful, and so he believes it makes sense that these are the types of people who want to believe in a spiritual safekeeper.

People, by and large, are terrible at assessing risk. The media helps to skew people’s perceptions of dangerous situations but we’d be doing it regardless of their influence. It’s in our nature.

Plus, if a religion puts a lot of stock in the power of fear – fear of eternal damnation, fear of god – then I can see why believers may be less likely to do the bold thing. Far safer to do the safe thing, from a day-to-day life perspective and an afterlife perspective. Speeding isn’t just dangerous as an activity; it’s against the law and breaking laws is sinful. Whose laws are they really afraid of breaking if they speed a little?


Religious youth less likely to try drugs and alcohol, apparently

September 11, 2014

Science Daily is reporting on a paper published in Alcohol Treatment Quarterly.

The youths participating in the study had been referred by the courts or by medical professionals. 195 juvenile offenders agreed to spend two months in a “residential treatment program” where they were interviewed, screened for drug use and otherwise monitored and reported on – for science.

Study findings, which support a growing body of research, suggest that young people who connect to a “higher power” may feel a greater sense of purpose and are less likely to be bothered by feelings of not fitting in, said researcher Byron Johnson, Ph.D., co-director of Baylor’s Institute for Studies of Religion.

How did they get to these findings?

Researchers used four measures: alcohol or drug use, craving for alcohol or drugs; prosocial behaviors (service to others); and self-centered or narcissistic behavior. Forty percent of youths who entered treatments as agnostic or atheist identified themselves as spiritual or religious at discharge, which correlated with a decreased likelihood of testing positive for alcohol and drugs.

“Daily spiritual experiences” such as prayer or worship also were associated with “a greater likelihood of sexual abstinence, increased prosocial behaviors and reduced narcissistic behaviors,” researchers wrote.

It’s a short article and, without having access to the original paper, there’s not much I can do here but parrot the reporters and then throw a few thoughts on the virtual table.

Statistics are some of the most bendable things in the universe. That 40% put in there: Is that 40% of 195? Or did they mean some mystery X % of the 195 identified as non-religious and of those, less than half of them changed their tune by the end of the study? If, for ease of calculation, there had been only 10 agnostics, that’s only 4 minds changed. Hardly staggering or worth reporting on if you ask me.

Also, if X % is agnostic, how big is Y %, the percentage of young offenders identifying as Christian? Were they Christian when they did whatever it is that sent them to court in the first place? If it wasn’t drug or alcohol related, what was it? Thievery? Assault? Graffiti? What?

“Connection to a higher power” apparently doesn’t correlate with “never breaks a law.” Religious kids can still be rebellious even if they never smoke crack or down a mickey of booze. This is evident by the fact that they found 195 kids to study and only X % were non-religious. I say “only X” because non-religious remains a minority position in the States and will be for a while still.

Johnson noted that fewer adolescents today are connected to a religious organization than were youths of previous generations. Twenty-five percent of the millennial generation — people born between 1980 and 2000 — were not attached to any particular faith, Johnson said, citing a 2010 Pew Research report.

Among possible reasons that adolescents may opt not to experiment with drugs are religious instruction, support from congregations, or a conviction that using alcohol and drugs violates their religious beliefs, Johnson said.

I’ll make the case that social support is the key issue here, not religion. To increase pro-social behaviour in youth, how about creating more affordable pro-social activity incentives for everyone overall? Encourage people to know and like and grow to trust their neighbours. Create an environment in the home, school, neighbourhood and overall community that promotes quality behaviour and ethical living. Make it easier to do the right thing, to be the good person. Try to do more earlier to catch the kids that are disconnected and not finding it easy to make friends — and the ones that turn to bullying behaviours to cope. More support for the family unit in general in terms of having a living wage and adequate food and housing. Take some of the stress out of home life and maybe kids wouldn’t have as big a compulsion for a chemical escape from it. Hell, even encouraging people to start gardening can have a positive impact on a community. To quote Ron Finley,

“Gardening is the most therapeutic and defiant act you can do, especially in the inner city. Plus, you get strawberries.”

Fuck yeah! Strawberries!

Any more and I’m just rambling, so I’ll stop there.

Depressing but not surprising: religious areas lead to less scientific thought

September 4, 2014

At least, fewer ideas and inventions patented.:

in a recent paper, Princeton economist Roland Bénabou and two colleagues unveiled a surprising finding that would at least appear to bolster the “conflict” camp: Both across countries and also across US states, higher levels of religiosity are related to lower levels of scientific innovation.

“Places with higher levels of religiosity have lower rates of scientific and technical innovation, as measured by patents per capita,” comments Bénabou. He adds that the pattern persists “when controlling for differences in income per capita, population, and rates of higher education.”

I don’t find that surprising at all.

Japan and China clearly stand out as highly secular, highly innovative countries. At the other extreme, meanwhile, we find nations like Portugal, Morocco, and Iran.

The United States isn’t very from Iran on the first graph provided but the writers clarify that the US does have a lot of patents.

While Chinese residents filed more total patent applications (560,681) in 2012 than citizens of any other country including the United States (460,276), the US still filed more patents per capita, since its population is less than a third of China’s.

Then the researchers focused on the States in general comparing religiously leaning states against others and found similar splits in terms of religious level vs scientific research.

It is important to keep in mind that these findings are correlational in nature; the authors explain that they do not allow for “definite causal inferences to be drawn.” Their own view is that causation probably “goes both ways”: Religiosity stifles innovation, but at the same time, innovation and science weaken religiosity. Or as they put it: “In both international and cross-state U.S. data, there is a significant negative relationship between religiosity and innovativeness (patents per capita), even after controlling for the standard empirical determinants of the latter.”

They also note politics having a lot to do with whether or not a state or country will be avidly pursuing scientific research.

Canada wasn’t mentioned anywhere in this but I’ve been reminded of Canada’s government while reading and an issue between journalists and climate scientists here. I’m not sure how religious Prime Minister Stephen Harper is but the government overall hasn’t been too open about letting scientists speak to the media about environmental issues.

Currently, a google search of “censorship of canadian scientists” gives more than 12 000 000 hits. While the articles and news stories about the muzzling of scientists in Canada are more than abundant, there has been no discernible public outrage or widespread demonstration of support. Perhaps the apolitical nature of the scientific community is to blame, or perhaps the widespread apathy is a tacit agreement with the current government’s opinion that science and politics shouldn’t mix. Whatever the cause, allowing science-based policy to fall by the wayside is shameful for a country that considers itself an example of well-balanced democracy.

A bit more about this from a weather viewpoint, and even more:

In a report called Muzzling Civil Servants: A Threat to Democracy, the UVic researchers present some chilling findings: Scientists are either told not to speak to journalists or to spout a chewed-over party line, rubber-stamped by their PR masters; the restrictions are particularly tight when a journalist is seeking information about research relating to climate change or the tar sands; Environment Canada scientists require approval from the Privy Council Office before speaking publicly on sensitive topics “such as climate change or protection of polar bear and caribou.”

You wouldn’t want the average citizen to learn too much about caribou, now. Who knows how crazy he could get with that kind of information?

It’s worrisome, definitely. I don’t know how much of Canada’s issue comes from religion specifically and how much from Harper and company just being anti-science. That’s a question for someone else to answer.