Courtesy jimrenaud (with adaption by Mark Ryan)Amateur scientist and part-time Science Museum of Minnesota employee, Mark Ryan, announced today that Buzz contributor JGordon is totally insane. Ryan said his conclusion is based mainly on JGordon's recent post regarding a Russian vodka pipeline, but also admitted that some of JG's previous blog postings were involved in the study.
"All the evidence seems to point to the fact that the guy's not playing with a full bag of jacks," Ryan said.
JGordon (Gordonoseus fruitloopius) is a species of humanoid that exists mostly in the Blogosphere and is rarely seen in nature, although there have been some unsubstantiated sightings of the creature loitering in front of museum vending machines. But even then it's not easy to know for sure if it's the real JGordon or a cleverly disguised extraterrestrial wingnut.
The results of Ryan's study appear in today's issue of Science Buzz.
Courtesy whaltHey Buzzketeers! Welcome to the new week! Is it everything you imagined it would be?
So, if I said “Radioactive Man,” would y’all get the Simpsons reference? Bart’s favorite comic book hero is Radioactive Man, a guy who survived an atomic blast, and a lightning bolt shaped piece of metal stuck in his head.
Hey, guess what! There’s a real life Radioactive Man running around now!
Oh… but the radioactivity is potentially dangerous. And he’s some kind of sex offender, who has run away from the authorities.
So that’s a bummer, but the situation provides some opportunity for science education (which is, like, my favorite thing).
How does a sex offender get to be radioactive? Good question.
Not all sex offenders are radioactive. For the most part, you still don’t want to come in close contact with them, but not because of radioactivity.
This particular sex offender, Thomas Marius Leopold, is radioactive because he has an overactive thyroid gland.
The thyroid gland hides out in your neck, and it produces hormones that help regulate your metabolism. Too much thyroid hormone, and your metabolism goes nuts—you get weak and hungry, you can lose weight, and your heart rate becomes jittery. That sort of thing. Some thyroid conditions also cause your eyes to become protuberant, and your thyroid gland to swell, forming a goiter.
One of the treatments for hyperthyroidism involves the use of radioiodine. Radioiodine is an isotope of the element iodine. Iodine is number 53 on the periodic table, so it has 53 protons in each atom. Naturally occurring iodine has 74 neutrons in each atom, but iodine can have different numbers of neutrons (different isotopes). The radioiodine isotope has 78 neutrons, but the atom isn’t stable with that many neutrons, so they decay until there are just 74 left. These decaying neutrons give off beta emissions (electrons and positrons), and gamma rays (highly energetic electromagnetic radiation).
Normally we want to avoid this sort of radioactive stuff, but materials like radioiodine can be very useful when they’re targeted at certain cells or organs (sort of like how we blast tumors with radiation to treat cancer). It just so happens that the thyroid naturally traps iodine in our bodies (it needs iodine to make hormones), so when a patient is given radioactive iodine, the thyroid sucks it right up. When the emissions from decaying neutrons blast into thyroid tissue, the thyroid kind of gets worn out, and slows down—that’s why radioiodine can be good for a thyroid that was overactive in the first place.
Radioiodine is radioactive enough, however, that hospitals often recommend keeping extra space between someone who is on the treatment, like this sex offender on the lam, and folks who might be particularly susceptible to radiation, like small children, or arresting police officers.
The radioactivity isn’t super bad, at least, and it doesn’t last forever—radioiodine has a half-life of about 8 days. That means that after 8 days, half of the radioactive material is gone (turned into something more stable). And after 8 more days, half of what was left is gone (so there’s just ¼ of the original amount left). Eventually the amount of radioiodine left in the body is so negligible that you’re safe hugging pregnant women and handcuffing fugitives.
Wasn’t that interesting? We know about radioiodine now! So if you’re in Great Britain (where this story came from), and there’s a creepy-looking dude who seems to be ruining your film just by being around you, call the police!
Courtesy Mark RyanEducators and students to our south (Iowa –not Mexico) are up in arms about a bill in committee in the Iowa legislature that they say is just another wolf-in-sheep’s-clothing attempt from anti-evolutionists to inject creationism into school curricula.
House File 183, aka the “Evolution Academic Freedom Act” would allow educators in public elementary, secondary, and post-secondary schools to teach “the full range of scientific views regarding chemical and biological evolution” without fear of dismissal, discrimination or being disciplined. But what exactly the full range of scientific views is, they don't say. That's because evolution is by far the best scientific explanation of biological life on Earth that we have at this time.
This attempt to open the way for getting non-scientific views about evolution into the schools is nothing new. The same tactic has been tried recently in other states, and all but one failed. The unfortunate exception was a bill in Louisiana which governor Bobby Jindal, a creationism supporter, recently signed into law.
Opposition to the Iowa legislation is being organized across the state.
“The bill sounds good in its language, but the reality is 99 percent of scientists believe in evolution,” said Hector Avalos, a professor of philosophy and religious studies at Iowa State University. “It is all about Teach the Controversy strategy — the idea it’s fair to teach both sides.”
Fifty-six professors from across Iowa and more than 220 other people have signed an Iowa faculty petition which calls for the legislature to reject HF 183.
“The premise of the petition is that this [legislation] is ridiculous. Let’s stop it here,” said John Logsdon, a University of Iowa associate professor of evolutionary molecular genetics. “It is teaching something that is not science cloaked in an academic freedom issue.”
Opponents say the wording in the bill smacks of the propaganda disseminated by the Discovery Institute, a Seattle-based purveyor of so-called Intelligent Design (creationism all dressed up as science and looking for love). In 2005, a court ruling ( Kitzmiller v. Dover) in Pennsylvania concluded that Intelligent Design is not science, and could not “uncouple itself from its creationist, and thus religious, antecedents.”
Another favorite creationist tactic is to create controversy where there is none. For example, HF 183 states “instructors have experienced or feared discipline, discrimination, or other adverse consequences as a result of presenting the full range of scientific views regarding chemical and biological evolution.” But in reality state education departments have found no such cases of discrimination nor have sponsors of the bill provided any.
HF 183 is supported mainly by conservative religious groups and not from any legitimate scientific or educational organizations. The bill’s sponsor is Rod Roberts, a five-term representative, and ordained minister who also works as Development Director for Christian Churches-Church of Christ in Iowa.
Both the Iowa State Education Association and the Iowa Department of Education oppose the bill.
Courtesy Original by W.S. HartshornToday is the 200th anniversary of the birth of writer and poet Edgar Allan Poe. Best known for his poems, The Raven, and Annabel Lee, and certainly for his many Gothic tales of terror and the macabre, Poe was born January 19, 1809 in the city of Boston, Massachusetts, and is probably the last guy you’d expect to see mentioned on Science Buzz. Well, that’s exactly what I thought, until about two weeks ago, when I came across an interesting book entitled, The Conchologist’s First Book written by none other than E. A. Poe!
How could this be? How could the author of such wonderfully crafted prose as The Telltale Heart and The Cask of Amontillado be the same guy who responsible for a textbook about sea mollusks?
Probably because he was broke most of the time. Poe lived a somewhat short, miserable life. After his father abandoned the family and his mother died of tuberculosis, all the siblings were split up and the young Edgar was taken in by the family of John Allan in Richmond. The Allans never officially adopted Edgar, but christened him with their surname as his middle name. The family moved for a while to the United Kingdom, where Edgar attended school in Scotland and England before returning to America. He enlisted in the army for the steady paycheck and some stability, but after his enlistment was terminated, he became determined to support himself solely from his writing. Not a great decision, considering the financial Panic of 1837, and dismal state of international copyright law at the time (American publishers found it much cheaper to rip-off European writers than pay American ones).
Despite the difficult times and his own demons, Poe was a prolific writer. He published books of poetry, short fiction, essays, and literary criticism for several literary magazines and periodicals, but the poor guy was always strapped for cash and struggling to stay afloat. A good example is his masterful narrative poem The Raven, published in 1845. Although it was hugely popular and made him a household name, Edgar made a grand total of only $9 from the poem. That alone was probably enough to push anyone into depression, madness, alcoholism, or attempted suicide – all conditions Poe himself experienced.
Courtesy Public DomainSo it’s hardly a surprise, when a few years earlier Poe had been offered $50 to write the preface to Thomas Wyatt’s new schoolbook on conchology, he jumped at the chance. Wyatt was looking to expand into the schoolbook market with a shorter and cheaper rewrite of his earlier book titled Manual of Conchology. But there was concern Wyatt’s name on the new book could lead to copyright trouble with his previous publisher, Harper & Brothers, so both Wyatt and his new publisher were looking for a writer of Poe’s (at the time) lesser status under which to publish the book - meaning someone whom the old publisher “would be idle to sue for damages.”
Poe saw it a little differently.
“I wrote it in conjunction with Professor Thomas Wyatt, and Professor McMultrie... my name being put to the work, as best known and most likely to aid its circulation,” he said.
Unfortunately, Wyatt had lifted much of the material in his first book from British naturalist Thomas Brown’sThe Conchologist’s Textbook published in 1837. In the end, Poe was hounded by charges of copyright infringement and plagiarism, but oddly the book was a big success and the only volume printed under Poe’s name to go into a second edition during his lifetime.
Poe certainly wasn’t a scientist, but his writings did influenced science fiction writers such as Jules Verne in France, and later the American H. P. Lovecraft. And Poe is considered the patron saint of detective fiction. His stories such as Murders in the Rue Morgue and The Purloined Letter led Arthur Conan Doyle, the creator of Sherlock Holmes, to say this:
"Each is a root from which a whole literature has developed.... Where was the detective story until Poe breathed the breath of life into it?"
Poe’s own life ended tragically and mysteriously in 1849. After missing for three days, he was found wandering the streets of Baltimore, delirious, and wearing someone else’s clothes. He died shortly after in the hospital on October 7th.
One plagiarized book on mollusks doesn't a scientist make, but it wasn’t Poe's only dabbling with the subject. He wrote a sonnet entitled To Science (1829), and a prose poem titled Eureka (1848) that among other things contains the following interesting passage:
"The assumption of absolute Unity in the primordial Particle includes that of infinite divisibility. Let us conceive the Particle, then, to be only not totally exhausted by diffusion into Space. From the one Particle, as a centre, let us suppose to be irradiated spherically -- in all directions -- to immeasurable but still to definite distances in the previously vacant space -- a certain inexpressibly great yet limited number of unimaginably yet not infinitely minute atoms."
Sounds strikingly like the Big Bang Theory doesn’t it?
Courtesy PieAre SquareYup, you heard me correctly: sea kittens...kittens of the sea. At least, that's the mental image PETA would like us to picture every time we sit down to a fish dinner. Sea kittens are the latest marketing campaign cooked up by those crazy (like a fox?) folks at PETA, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.
According to PETA's website, the youth-oriented campaign hopes to give fish a make-over that will make them sound more cute and cuddly than they are. "PETA thought that by renaming fish sea kittens, compassionate people who would never dream of hurting a dog or a cat might extend that sympathy to fish, or sea kittens," says PETA campaign coordinator Ashley Byrne.
Byrne added, "Most parents would never dream of spending a weekend torturing kittens for fun with their families, but hooking a sea kitten through the mouth and dragging her through the water is the same as hooking a kitten through the mouth and dragging her behind your car."
When you visit PETA's Save the Sea Kittens website, you’ll notice that it’s definitely geared towards families with young children. You can make your own sea kitten, a.k.a. dress up cartoon fish in ridiculous outfits, or read sea kitten bedtime stories, which are even more factually-bereft than normal children's stories - you don't believe me, but it's true!
Beyond the website, PETA has focused its efforts on schools. PETA members have sent letters to several high schools, including Spearfish High School in South Dakota and Whitefish High School in Montana, asking them to change their names to Sea Kitten High School. Just imagine the fear the Sea Kittens would strike into the heart of their opponents on the basketball court or the football field!
Speaking of fear, campaign coordinators are counting on it to discourage kids from eating "sea kitten" products. "Knowing that the fish sticks in the school cafeteria are really made out of tortured sea kittens makes most kids want to lose their lunch." Personally though, if my memory of the fish sticks in the school cafeteria is anything to go on, they were gag-inducing enough on their own without knowing how they’re made – tortured or not.
While the results of this campaign remain to be seen, it's generating a lot of press, from newspapers and press releases to confused and frustrated bloggers. Even the Colbert Report jumped on the bandwagon and you can watch what Stephen Colbert had to say about the campaign during Tip of the Hat/Wag of the Finger below. (The PETA segment is about 1 minute, 30 seconds into the clip.)
Courtesy bistromathgirlAs for me, I'm all for ending harmful fishing practices - the lesser known purpose of this campaign - but that's not going to stop me from having some tasty fish for dinner tomorrow! And somehow, I don't really think that my pet fish will have anything to say on the matter...
Check out these sites for more information on the campaign and its impact around the world:
You may have read a couple weeks ago a NASA report stating that October 2008 was the warmest October ever on record. An enormous hot spot was observed over Siberia, an incredible 10 degrees warmer than normal, raising the global average.
However, the appearance of the words “hot” and “Siberia” in the same sentence made some people suspicious. A couple of bloggers took a closer look at the data, and they found that, for dozens of reporting stations in Siberia, the average October temperature was exactly the same as the average October temperature. That’s pretty much impossible. Clearly what happened is someone copied the numbers from the wrong column, leading to greatly inflated figures, which were then eagerly reported.
So, what can we learn from this little episode?
1) Even experts make mistakes. Though this particular expert, Dr. James Hansen, seems especially prone to making mistakes that support his views. That’s only human, I suppose, but it means we should pay attention to who is publishing a study, and whether they are pushing a particular point of view.
2) Weather is not climate. One sparrow does not make a spring, and one October does not make a global warming crisis. Especially when the October in question was not actually, you know, warm.
3) Read the fine print. Just like the item below, the headline told one story, but the pesky little facts told a very different one. (One of the most important things it tells us is that the folks in charge of monitoring the world’s climate don’t even bother to double-check their own data!)
Courtesy timsamoffOn January 21, 2009, there’s going to be a brand new administration in the White house. Defining the energy policy of the United States is going to be a big issue, and one that’s likely to get tackled early on.
The members of the Obama Administration are going to have their own ideas about how our country should get its energy, but what do you think?
Is green energy your one and only? Are you a coal man? A nuclear gal? Or do you fall asleep murmuring “drill, baby, drill”?
Some options are going to be more expensive than others, each will affect the environment differently, and some are going to take more time before they’re ready. So what’s it going to be?
Voice your opinion in Science Buzz’s new poll: Energy and the Obama Administration.
You might not have been able to vote on November 4, but you can vote now, and you can let everyone know why you think what you think.
Dick and Laura are a young married couple. They've been having trouble conceiving a child. They go to a fertility clinic and begin the process of in vitro fertilization—have a "test-tube baby." The doctor tells them he can test the embryos and tell which ones will be boys and which ones will be girls. Testing an embryo entails a small chance of damaging it.
Courtesy darkmavisPut a star on your calendars today, Buzzketeers, because science is taking a vacation! And I don’t know about y’all, but I’ll be celebrating by eating my own head and diving into a good book. Literally!
Some of you (the sassboxes) might point out that natural laws apparently still apply, and that scientists the world over continue to fiddle around with their science-tools to learn things about the world. But the day I start paying attention to scientists is the day I give up my lifelong dream of eating my own head.
No, I’m listening to the people who have a more direct influence on my day-to-day life: bookies.
See, it seems that a bunch of bookies are concerned that there’s some chance that an alien spaceship will be landing today in the American desert. And so I’m concerned too.
The idea… Nay, the fact of the impending landing came from the Australian psychic, Blossom Goodchild.
—A little side note: I can’t believe it! My name used to be Blossom Goodchild too! I just changed it to JGordon in junior high. I can’t believe we were both born “Blossom Goodchild”! Amazing!
Anyway, Blossom Goodchild, Aussie supernatural, delivers the secrets of love, light, and laughter by channeling “a native American spirit energy” by the name of White Cloud. I’m not entirely clear on why a native American spirit energy would go to Australia for channeling, but who am I to question the ways of the spirits?
Goodchild, presumably with the help of White Cloud, has started a wave of Internet-enthusiasm by predicting the imminent arrival of a massive space ship full of aliens (or “light beings”), which will supposedly be happening today!
The enterprising residents of Earth, not wanting to be caught with our pants down by light beings, have rushed to prepare… by betting on the arrival! Betting so much, in fact, that bookmakers have had to suspend further all wagers.
There has been no evidence of the coming aliens—no radio transmissions, no detected incoming spaceships, and no precedence—except for the word of an Australian good child, and her wandering spirit. And so it would make sense that the odds are set up against the landing. Yet human gamblers aren’t into odds (who ever won something by betting on a sure thing?) or evidence, and they stand to make a lot of money if (when) the ship arrives. See, we shoot from the hip, and we follow our guts, and the bookies know it, and they’re afraid to take any more bets on the spaceship.
So today’s the day, Buzzers. Try to do something impossible. You won’t be the only one.
Do you often find yourself watching those prime-time crime dramas on TV asking yourself, "Wow! I didn't know they could figure out whom the killer is based on a single carpet fiber sample found on the sidewalk outside of a crime scene! Can they really do that?!?" Well, some of the processes we see on TV may not be quick as quick and easy, or even possible compared to real life crime investigation.
Lisa Smith, of the University of Leicester School of Psychology, is doing some research to see how these portrayals of forensics on TV are affecting how jurors view forensic evidence in actual court cases. Jurors make their decisions based upon their knowledge, perceived understanding, and beliefs regarding forensic evidence. So the next time you are watching some evening television or even hear a news story regarding some forensic evidence, think twice about the validity of what you see!
Oh, and if you like, there is an online questionnaire for the study!