Monthly Archives: January 2009

Franken-Coleman Senate Race Recount: Restart

At 1:00 PM Central Time court procedings being in the Franken-Coleman senate race. A three judge state court will ultimately hear and rule on a lawsuit essentially filed by Coleman’s team. The suit, an “election contest,” alleges a number of problems with the current nearly-certified recount which gives Franken a small lead over Coleman.

All of these issues have been previously aired, and some but not all addressed by the State Canvassing Board. Most analysts currently believe that none of these alleged problems are real, or material in relation to the outcome of this election. Coleman may well agree with this as he has already accepted a position as a lobbyist for a Republican Jewish interest group. Which is kinda funny, but might make sense in a Minnesota context. But not really.

I’ll keep you posted.

Example of Bad Science News Deployment: Caffeine – Leukemia Link

In an astonishing demonstration of the evils of Marketing in a Research University Context, the University of Leicester today announced that an upcoming research project would find a link between coffee consumption by pregnant women and leukemia to develop later in their offspring.

This is a statement made by scientists involved in the Research That Has Not Yet Been Done:

Although there’s no evidence at all of a link between caffeine and cancer, we’re putting two and two together and saying: caffeine can induce these changes and it has been shown that these changes are elevated in leukaemia patients… I wonder if caffeine can somehow sensitise cells or increase the risk of leukaemia? The idea seems plausible.

I’m glad scientists have thee thoughts. Taking a shower, sitting on the water closet, on the tube heading for work, thoughts like this should be rolling around in the heads of researchers, who then take them, critically evaluate them, and turn some of them into hypotheses, operationalize the hypotheses, test them, and move us incrementally (or more) in the direction of greater knowledge and deeper understanding. Of stuff.

Or, alternatively, you can take the random sciency thoughts floating around in the head and turn them into press releases which produce media statements like this:

Women should avoid drinking coffee while pregnant as it may increase their unborn child’s risk of leukaemia

Which, in this particular case, is positioned under a photo of a woman drinking from a Starbuck’s cup, RUINING HER CHILD’S HEALTH!!!!!

Now, to be fair, there is something to this. Caffeine can be shown to mess up DNA in some situations. The exact reason a child develops leukemia is not fully understood. There have been previous links made between caffeine and cancer, but as far as I know these links have all failed to pan out. It does not seem entirely unreasonable to conduct the study that is proposed here.

But it is utterly unreasonable, misleading, exploitative, and dishonest and probably highly unethical to convert a grant proposal into a press event that literally tells people that there is a link between a particular behavior and substance and a horrific childhood cancer, when there is no known link.

Shame on the Leicester press office.


Press release

Altered brain activity in schizophrenia may cause exaggerated focus on self

I thought we already knew this, but here goes:

Schizophrenia may blur the boundary between internal and external realities by over-activating a brain system that is involved in self-reflection, and thus causing an exaggerated focus on self, a new MIT and Harvard brain imaging study has found.

The traditional view of schizophrenia is that the disturbed thoughts, perceptions and emotions that characterize the disease are caused by disconnections among the brain regions that control these different functions.

Continue reading Altered brain activity in schizophrenia may cause exaggerated focus on self

What happens on February 14th?

Lots of important things. For one, it’s Amanda’s birthday! Then, there is some holiday on that date, can’t remember. Labor day or something. Then, the 2009 Readers’ Choice Awards for Linux Journal come out!

Between now and then, go ahead and vote on your favorite Linux Stuff. To take the survey, must insall lynx if don’t have it:

sudo apt-get install lynx

then type in:


Or, if you must, just CLICK HERE.

The Moon Had a Spinning Liquid Core

There are several things that can cause a magnetic signal to form in a rock (and this depends a lot on the rock). One is simply residing on a magnetic planet, like the earth. The other is being shocked by having, for instance, a meteor strike nearby. Another is heating from some other source. Many of the moon rocks collected by Apollo Astronauts show the second kind of magnetic signal (impact). This is not a surprise. But the presence of a signal caused by the first kind of magnetics would be especially interesting, because it would require that the moon have a self-generated magnetic field. Currently, the moon does not have such a field, and to do so would probably require having a molten core that would act as a dynamo, such as happens on the Earth.

MIT scientists are now reporting that one of the oldest rocks collected by Apollo has been reanalyzed, and the presence of a resident planetoid magnetic system is indicated. The moon, if this analysis is correct, once had a spinning molten core, which has subsequently cooled.

Whether or not the moon has had a molten core has been the subject of study, speculation, and debate for some time. The debate probably continues, but this evidence will play heavily in favor of the once-magnetic-moon hypothesis.

An interesting aspect of this story is this: The method used to study the magnetic signal in minerals in this old rock were not available within the immediate years after the sample was first brought to Earth. As we expect to be the case with all of the sciences, the future will bring techniques not presently available. Had samples not been brought back from the moon, but rather analyzed in situ, not only would the equipment available at the time not been as powerful (because only limited machinery could be carried to the moon) but subsequent developments would not be possible.

Always hang on to some of the original sample!

There is a press release about this here.

The LHC will not destroy the planet earth

Because the black holes that the big machine will probably create will decay too quickly to start an irreversible sucking-into-the-black-hole kind of effect.

But wait, there is a glitch in that theory. As being reported by the Physics arXiv blog, Black holes from the LHC could survive for minutes.

In 2002, Roberto Casadio at the Universita di Bologna in Italy and a few pals reassured the world that this was not possible because the black holes would decay before they got the chance to do any damage.

Now they’re not so sure. The question is not simply how quickly a mini-black hole decays but whether this decay always outpaces any growth.

Recalculations seem to indicate that the black holes can last for seconds, maybe longer. This raises two questions:

1) How does that part about how the LHC can’t destroy Switzerland (or more) go again, only this time do it with the black holes lasting, oh, say, 30 seconds?


2) What is the change in the basis of confidence for these predictions that would be mandated if in fact the previous assertions are incorrect? In other words, what is the new meaning of “oh really, we’re quite certain, that think you are saying is totally impossible how could you even think it” in the post “impossible” version of this conversation?

I’m not making any assertions here. I’m just asking.