Science involves a question. Technology involves a problem.

Science involves a question. Technology involves a problem.

Originally shared by Rajini Rao

Science vs. Technology: What’s the Difference?

On a recent Science on Google+ post that highlighted advances in technology, a discussion arose on what is science and why it is different from technology. Jonah Miller emphasized that the distinction between the two was blurry, but “most scientists draw the line at falsifiability. In other words, if you are investigating an idea that you can prove false, then you might be doing science. This idea was first put forward by Karl Popper. Here’s a basic introduction for you:

https://explorable.com/falsifiability

Now, is falsifiability all it takes to do science? Most modern scientists would say no.  Science also involves a system of checks to make sure that you’re not fooling yourself (and you are very easy to fool). This includes things like the peer-review system, keeping careful records, and an emphasis on reproducibility. And by this heuristic, when you build something, like a phone app, with the goal of selling or giving that app away, you’re probably not doing science.”

The image makes the point: Science involves a question. Technology involves a problem. “It may sound like semantics, but projects following each method start at a different point and with different assumptions. Starting with a question suggests that a project will be constructed as a way to find an answer by performing a test or experiment. Starting with a problem, on the other hand, sets an engineering design project up to find a solution—the development of something that can address the needs of the problem.”

Image sourcehttp://www.sciencebuddies.org/blog/2013/09/understanding-the-engineering-design-process.php

Science on Google+ post: https://plus.google.com/u/0/+AndreaFerrante31december2099blog/posts/LmdTJ37CKue

Debunking the preposterous premise that navigation is mediated by testosterone.

Debunking the preposterous premise that navigation is mediated by testosterone.

Originally shared by Zuleyka Zevallos

#ScienceMediaHype Women, testosterone and navigation

As usual, science hyperbole would like us to believe that men are “hardwired” to perform better than women at technical tasks. In this article by Science Alert, the heading tells us women navigate better when given testosterone: “Women can navigate better when given testosterone, study finds” The article itself keeps up this facade. Reading the study, however, we find that nothing of the sort is true.

Fifty-three women were recruited on the basis of being on the oral contraceptive pill and not having significant experience in gaming. Why did the latter matter? Because this experiment uses computer games to simulate navigation. The study does not actually test navigation in real life conditions. That’s usually okay – experiments try to construct experiences in a controlled environment. But when those conditions are created to exclude women with certain skill sets that immediately tells us that what is being measured is not biological processes, but rather experience – a social experience.

Women who game – the fastest growing group of gamers – are excellent at navigation of simulated environments, proving, in fact, that women are more than capable in picking up navigation skills with practice… you know, same as men do. (Studies that try to link technical skills with biology as this study does, to suit a contrived evolutionary psychology hypothesis, fail to account for social experience. This study is no different.)

Women who game, whose existence disproves the flawed biological argument put forward by the researchers, can’t be included in such a study as they immediately disprove the preposterous premise that navigation is mediated by testosterone.

Back to the study: the women were asked to come off the pill a week before the experiments (the pill has elevated levels of estrogen which would counteract with the additional hormones provided in the study). A few of the women were later disqualified from the study due to experiencing nausea during navigation tasks (resulting from the additional testosterone) as well as due to not competing the tasks correctly (AKA human – not biological – error).

Twenty-one women were given a small dosage of testosterone, another 21 women were not. Both groups completed a series of tasks. In some tasks both groups performed slightly differently, in many they preformed the same. Notably, the women on testosterone did not navigate better. Instead, in some tasks where the two groups differed, the key observation was that there was a slightly different level of activity recorded via fMRI, a machine which in this case measures brain activity but does not specifically tell us why that activity differs.

Given the machine can’t give us this explanation, the researchers asked the women to explain why they made the navigation choices they did. When we ask people to describe their experiences and choices, are we measuring biology? Nope. We are measuring social processes.

The researchers did not actually prove that women on testosterone navigate better than those who do not have extra testosterone. It is equally noteworthy that the researchers did not measure what happens to men when they’re given an extra dose of testosterone. If they had, the likelihood that a similar shift in brain activity may be recorded during some tasks would be worth commenting on, in so far as increasing hormones can impact brain activity of anyone. And yet still, if they had sampled men with and without additional testosterone, the fMRI would not give the researchers the answers they sought, as they would still rely on questionnaires to figure out why men make the decisions they make.

Men’s answers, like the women in this study, would reveal social patterns about decision making that reflect cultural narratives. That is, when some groups of White women who don’t play online games are asked to describe why they make certain choices about navigation, they would reflect back socio-cultural reasons which would differ from White men, and which differ again from White women who do game, and which would differ from Indigenous Australian women who live in remote regions, and so on. Our social experiences shape our decision-making and our exposure to certain types of navigation has an impact on our skills.

This study has not proven what is being reported. It simply shows that brain activity can be affected by increased testosterone, without leading to demonstrable changes in navigation skills. That’s not the story being reported on here.

Finally, as with all science media hyperbole, sampling matters: 21 women from undisclosed ethnic groups (the omission tells us they very likely they were White women) do not represent all women. We already know that psychology and cognitive sciences extrapolate on findings from Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, and Democratic (WEIRD) societies to make universal statements that simply are not true (http://goo.gl/H8rlHb).

In the end, this study only tells us we should remain wary of poorly designed research and even more cautious about incomplete science “journalism.” In the words of psychologist Jane Hu, “Writers, we need to stay vigilant and look beyond the easy gender narratives. Readers deserve better.” 

Read more

The study: http://goo.gl/1w79k5

The media report: http://goo.gl/BmrXWt

Image and further discussion on inaccurate reporting of social science research on gender and biology, see my blog post: http://goo.gl/v3fsED

#socialcience   #psychology   #sociology  

California Basin Model

California Basin Model

This is a six day simulation of the California Basin using the coupled HydroGeoSphere and Weather Research and Forecasting models. 

Originally shared by Jason Davison

Integrated Hydrosystem Modeling of the California Basin

The Western United States is facing one of the worst droughts on record. Climate change projections predict warmer temperatures, higher evapotranspiration rates, and no foreseeable increase in precipitation. California, in particular, has supplemented their decreased surface water supplies by mining deep groundwater. However, this supply of groundwater is limited, especially with reduced recharge. These combined factors place California’s water-demanding society at dire risk. 

In an effort to quantify California’s risks, we present a fully integrated water cycle model that captures the dynamics of the subsurface, land surface, and atmospheric domains over the entire California basin. Our water cycle model combines HydroGeoSphere (HGS), a 3-D control-volume finite element model that accommodates variably-saturated subsurface and surface water flow with evapotranspiration processes to the Weather Research and Forecasting (WRF) model, a 3-D finite difference nonhydrostatic mesoscale atmospheric simulator. The two-way coupling within our model, referred to as HGS-WRF, tightly integrates the water cycling processes by passing precipitation and potential evapotranspiration data from WRF to HGS, while exchanging actual evapotranspiration and soil saturation data from HGS to WRF. Furthermore, HGS-WRF implements a flexible coupling method that allows each model to use a unique mesh while maintaining mass conservation within and between domains. Our simulation replicated field measured evapotranspiration fluxes and showed a strong correlation between the soil saturation (depth to groundwater table) and latent heat fluxes. Altogether, the HGS-WRF California basin model is currently the most complete water resource simulation framework as it combines groundwater, surface water, the unsaturated zone, and the atmosphere into one coupled system.

The simulation below illustrates the coupled model running for a six day time period. The first plot, Log Depth, is the surface water elevations over the entire basin in log base 10 units (so a value of -2 is actually 1 cm). The next plot illustrates Precipitation shown as meters per second. The third plot Evapotranspiration is the amount of water coming out of the surface and subsurface as evaporation and from plants (transpiration). The last plot is the change in soil moisture from the initial condition, these values are negative values because the soil is drying with time. 

I am presenting this research at the American Geophysical Union Tuesday, 15 December 2015 in San Francisco. Hope to see you there!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IOZ_UMo6hg4//cdn.embedly.com/widgets/platform.js

Live in 30 mins – come join us as we talk about the links between processed meat and cancer, and how diet can affect…

Live in 30 mins – come join us as we talk about the links between processed meat and cancer, and how diet can affect cancer risk. 

Originally shared by Science on Google+

We’ve all read the headlines about the link between processed meat link and cancer. But what exactly is the risk, and should we give up bacon and burgers? Is it really as bad as smoking? What is the underlying mechanism behind the increased risk of developing cancer? Join us for a Science on Google+ and Cancer Research UK  Hangout on Air as we speak to Dr Kathryn Bradbury and Professor Owen Sansom about this story. 

Kathryn is a nutritional epidemiologist at the University of Oxford who studies the links between diet and cancer. Owen is a molecular biologist at the Cancer Research UK Beatson Institute in Glasgow, who is investigating the cell signalling pathways that are activated in colon cancer. 

This HOA will be hosted by Dr Buddhini Samarasinghe and Dr Kat Arney  . You can tune in on Friday November 27th at 4 PM UK time. The hangout will also be available for viewing on our YouTube channel (https://www.youtube.com/ScienceHangouts) after the event.

The Eternal Itch: Dante’s Eighth Circle of Hell

The Eternal Itch: Dante’s Eighth Circle of Hell

Onchocerciasis or River Blindness is caused by a parasite endemic to Africa that is transferred to a person by the bite of a blackfly. The parasite matures in the host within a year, and then reproduces up to a thousand tiny worms per day.

When untreated, those microfilarial worms invade the skin and travel throughout the body. That results in extreme, extensive, and persistent itching, along with subcutaneous bumps and eventual blindness after they burrow into the eyes.

The parasite has infected up to 25 million people (almost all in Africa), and suicide due to the debilitating itch is unfortunately not uncommon.

There are many reports of people in Africa who never get relief despite deep and intense scratching. In the worst cases, individuals have resorted to heating machetes over a fire and using the hot blades to “numb” or skin their backs out of desperation. Some have used broken shards of ceramic pots to try to gouge the worms out to no avail, and others have dumped boiling hot water on themselves in an attempt to feel “better” — anything to make the itching stop.

Two of this year’s Nobel Prize winners in Medicine, Drs. Omura (Japan) and Campbell (USA) were recognized for their discovery of a drug used to treat River Blindness. More:  http://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/medicine/laureates/2015/press.html

Source: +Johnathan Chung responds to a question in the Science on Google+ community. The best comments or answers to questions will be posted as part of our  #Askascientist  series. Do you have science questions for us? Use the Science Outreach category to ask the science community. 

http://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/medicine/laureates/2015/press.html//cdn.embedly.com/widgets/platform.js

How fast is the universe expanding?

How fast is the universe expanding?

A galaxy cluster one megaparsec away from us is probably moving away from us at about 70 km/s. That’s Hubble’s law:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hubble’s_law

The basic idea is that new empty space is being created at a (roughly) constant rate throughout the universe. Therefore, the further away an object is from us, the more empty space is being created between it and us, because there’s more space. And so it appears to be moving faster.

That means stuff forty-five billion lightyears from us appears to be moving away from us at the speed of light. But that’s an illusion. It’s not really moving.

Think about somebody baking raisin bread in the oven. As the bread bakes, it expands. The raisins don’t move, but they appear to get further away from each other.

That’s why it can look like things are going away from us faster than light, when they’re really not.

(The rate of creation of empty space used to be considered constant, but we believe it’s changing. We don’t know what’s causing that change.,… but we’ve given it the name dark energy. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dark_energy)

If you want a more complete description, including some about the history of Hubble and his law, you could read this article I wrote a while back.

http://www.thephysicsmill.com/2013/03/24/receding-horizons-dark-energy-and-the-expanding-universe/

Source: Jonah Miller  responds to a question in the Science on Google+ community. The best answers to questions will be posted as part of our  #Askascientist  series. Do you have science questions for us? Use the Science Outreach category to ask the science community. 

Image:  http://www.mhhe.com/physsci/astronomy/fix/student/chapter23/23f26.html 

You’ve probably seen the Mandelbrot set before, but you may never have seen how it evolves from one iteration to the…

You’ve probably seen the Mandelbrot set before, but you may never have seen how it evolves from one iteration to the next.

Originally shared by annarita ruberto

Today in Mathematics History: Happy Birthday, Benoit Mandelbrot

Benoit B. Mandelbrot  (20 November 1924 – 14 October 2010) was a Polish-born, French and American scientist-mathematician. He has been most widely recognized and honored for his discoveries in the field of fractal geometry.

Science writer Arthur C. Clarke credits fractals as being “one of the most astonishing discoveries in the entire history of mathematics”.

Studying complex dynamics in the 1970s, Benoit Mandelbrot had a key insight about a particular set of mathematical objects: that these self-similar structures with infinitely repeating complexities were not just curiosities, as they’d been considered since the turn of the century, but were in fact a key to explaining non-smooth objects and complex data sets — which make up, let’s face it, quite a lot of the world. Mandelbrot coined the term “fractal” to describe these objects, and set about sharing his insight with the world.

The Mandelbrot set (expressed as z² + c) was named in Mandelbrot’s honor by Adrien Douady and John H. Hubbard. Its boundary can be magnified infinitely and yet remain magnificently complicated, and its elegant shape made it a poster child for the popular understanding of fractals. Led by Mandelbrot’s enthusiastic work, fractal math has brought new insight to the study of pretty much everything, from the behavior of stocks to the distribution of stars in the universe.

Read more>>

https://www.ted.com/speakers/benoit_mandelbrot

Animation explanation: this beautiful Mandelbrot Set has been developed in R Programming Language.

Read more at source>> 

http://www.r-bloggers.com/mandelbrot-set-evolved/

Further reading

Mandelbrot biography in Mac Tutor archive>>

http://www-history.mcs.st-and.ac.uk/Biographies/Mandelbrot.html

For Italian speakers a my article about fractal geometry>>

http://www.tutto-scienze.org/2012/11/dai-neuroni-alluniverso-la-geometria.html

#history_of_mathematics #benoit_mandelbrot #fractals

We’ve all read the headlines about the link between processed meat link and cancer.

We’ve all read the headlines about the link between processed meat link and cancer. But what exactly is the risk, and should we give up bacon and burgers? Is it really as bad as smoking? What is the underlying mechanism behind the increased risk of developing cancer? Join us for a Science on Google+ and Cancer Research UK  Hangout on Air as we speak to Dr Kathryn Bradbury and Professor Owen Sansom about this story. 

Kathryn is a nutritional epidemiologist at the University of Oxford who studies the links between diet and cancer. Owen is a molecular biologist at the Cancer Research UK Beatson Institute in Glasgow, who is investigating the cell signalling pathways that are activated in colon cancer. 

This HOA will be hosted by Dr Buddhini Samarasinghe and Dr Kat Arney  . You can tune in on Friday November 27th at 4 PM UK time. The hangout will also be available for viewing on our YouTube channel (https://www.youtube.com/ScienceHangouts) after the event.

The Elephant Alarm for Humans : African elephants have a signal for humans.

Originally shared by Lacerant Plainer

The Elephant Alarm for Humans : African elephants have a signal for humans. And it spells trouble. Studies show that elephants react quickly to human voices, becoming more vigilant and running away from the source of human sounds. But we already knew Elephants had a vocabulary. ….

Study shows how elephants react : Researchers from Oxford University carried out a series of audio experiments in which recordings of the voices of the Samburu, a local tribe from North Kenya, were played to resting elephants. The elephants quickly reacted, becoming more vigilant and running away from the sound whilst emitting a distinctive low rumble. When the team, having recorded this rumble, played it back to a group of elephants they reacted in a similar way to the sound of the Samburu voices; running away and becoming very vigilant, perhaps searching for the potentially lethal threat of human hunters.

Is it language? : Lucy explains: ‘Interestingly, the acoustic analysis done by Joseph Soltis at his Disney laboratory showed that the difference between the ”bee alarm rumble” and the ”human alarm rumble” is the same as a vowel-change in human language, which can change the meaning of words (think of ”boo” and ”bee”). Elephants use similar vowel-like changes in their rumbles to differentiate the type of threat they experience, and so give specific warnings to other elephants who can decipher the sounds.’

References and Sources

http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/03/140316133750.htm

Paper: http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0089403

http://www.natureworldnews.com/articles/6291/20140308/elephants-alert-group-to-human-presence-with-unique-alarm-call-video.htm

http://www.wired.com/2012/11/south-korean-talking-elephant/

#elephants  

Quanta Discusses Recent Brain Research

Quanta Discusses Recent Brain Research

Many of you already read Quanta but this is another excellent article that I thought deserved a summary share, How Humans Evolved Supersized Brains. The article delves into the ongoing puzzle as to why and how human brains came to be so big and powerful; why over less than 3 million years they quadrupled in size from 350g to 1,300g, when primates took 60 million years to reach 350g brains in the first place. 

Some points of interest:

➤ New techniques to dissolve brains and extract and count cell nuclei give much more accurate cell counts for brains and, for example, show that larger brains do not always have more neurons and neuronal distribution is often different. The human brain has more neurons in the cerebral cortex than any other animal. 

➤ While an elephant has a brain 2.5 times as large as a human (2.8kg vs 1.2kg), the cerebral cortex of the human brain has 3 times as many neurons (16.3 billion vs 5.6 billion). This is the first time I’ve come across this fact. 

➤ While the human brain as about 86 billion neurons, 69 billion are in the cerebellum and only 16 billion are in the cerebral cortex for high-order intelligence and reasoning. To me this suggests a sort of computational overhang with regard to developing neuromorphic AI: you won’t need hardware that can replicate 86 billion neurons, but only 20% of that – so ~2.5 doublings or ~5 years earlier than expected. 

➤ Human brain makes up 2% of body mass but consumes 20% of total energy, whereas a chimpanzee requires only half that. 

Analysis of cellular glucose-importing genes in the brain and muscle reveals that such genes are 3.2 times more active in human brains compared to chimp brains, but 1.6 times more active in chimp muscles compared to human muscles, and identically active in the respective livers. Human regulatory sequences for these genes show signs of accelerated evolution. Accounting for size and weight, chimp muscles are about twice as strong as humans. 

➤ Key regulatory sequences active in brain development were taken from humans and chimps and introduced into mice: mice with the human version developed brains 12% larger and had cells that divide and multiply in 9 hours instead of 12. 

Goldilocks Factors for Human Intelligence

The development of human intelligence appears dependent on a fortuitous confluence of many different factors:

➤ Development of bipedalism to free up hands for tool-making, at the expense of slower movement compared to predators. 

➤ Development fire-building and hunting to source easier-to-digest and higher-quality foods due to energy allocation away from gut and muscles.

➤ Development of extreme manual dexterity. 

➤ Development of vocal tract capable of complex communication at the expense of choking hazards. 

➤ Development of extremely dense and dangerously energy hungry neural cortex at the expense of muscle power.  

➤ Development of extreme sociality to facilitate large, stable groups of individuals, requiring a long childhood and retention of play and curiosity with age, at the expense of more than a decade of youthful defenselessness. 

➤ I think the general process of neoteny, the retention of juvenile characteristics into adulthood is important here in general to facilitate a great many of these factors. 

➤ A complex environment nonetheless conducive to the survival of such a physically weak animal is also important. 

When considering the development of intelligence not only on Earth, but also elsewhere in the Universe, these are all important factors that should feed into and influence the Drake Equation and Fermi Paradox. There are a lot of subtle factors that were required to be present in just the right way at just the right time for human intelligence to begin to emerge and develop; a lot of luck seems to have been involved. Primate brains were quite content to remain at 350g for 60 million years, not to mention the dinosaur brains before them that were content to remain smaller for a much longer period of time. I hope as we learn more about these different factors we gain a clearer idea of how astronomically improbable the development of our intelligence was and so a greater degree of confidence that the Great Filter is behind us. 

Main article here: https://www.quantamagazine.org/20151110-evolution-of-big-brains/ 

#brain   #intelligence   #evolution