There’s a famous old anecdote about Charlemagne that’s been used for ages to explain how interconnected we are among our biological pasts. It has been said that everyone of European ancestry is related to Charlemagne, the great King of the Franks, born in 742 AD. If you’re European, you’re royalty. How is that possible?
I’ll tell you another tidbit first: Not only do all Europeans share Charlemagne as an ancestor, they share everyone alive at the same time as Charlemagne as an ancestor. Everyone who had kids, anyway. Let me explain:
Everyone alive has two biological parents. They each have two parents themselves, for a total of four grandparents. For x number of generations that you travel back in time, you have 2^x direct grandparents of increasing separation. Extrapolate that back to Charlie’s time, and you’d need 1 trillion grandparents to cover all your ancestral bases. Michael from Vsauce did a video about it. Since that’s far more people than have ever been alive, we need to engage some incest to solve the problem. Not banjo-applesauce incest, just a bit of redrawing our family trees into family webs.
Somewhere, far enough back in the web of grandparents, we will find a person whose lines connect to every single person who comes after them. That zig-zagged trail of shared genetic history ends surprisingly recently (for Euros, again): A common European ancestor around 1400 AD. Go a bit farther, and we find a common Earthling ancestor around 3,000 BC. It’s neat stuff. But it’s all based in mathematical models, not real genetic data.
Until now. USC and UC Davis researchers Peter Ralph and Graham Coop have surveyed the genomes of 2,257 Europeans in order to put some real data behind those models. Because of the random shuffling of chromosome fragments that created your father’s sperm and your mother’s egg, you, your siblings and your cousins all share varying chunks of DNA. People who are more closely related share more of these chunks. Depending on how many chunks are shared between two people, we can calculate their approximate relation to each other. Using 2 million shared sequences and a lot of math, they proved the mathematical models correct. Turkish people are more related to other Turks than to someone from Portugal, but they are related enough that, not only do they share one common ancestor a few hundred years ago, but they share every ancestor if you go back a mere thousand years. The models guessed that a long time ago, but now we have the data to prove it.It’s likely that these patterns extend to other regions of Earth, although the numbers might be slightly (but not that) different.
Next time someone in your neck of the ethnic woods points out a famous relative or claims blue-blood descent, remind them that they aren’t so special. All street-sweepers are royalty, all nobles are peasants, and we are all Kings.
Czech photographer Miloslav Druckmüller from the Brno University of Technology reveals the awesome beauty of the solar corona with these amazing composite images that he created by using 47 photos taken during a total solar eclipse.
To achieve the crystal clear effect the shots are comprised from some 40+ photos taken with two different lenses. Additional clarity was achieved due to the incredibly remote location chosen to view the eclipse from, a pier just outside the Enewetak Radiological Observatory on the Marshall Islands, smack dab in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. You can see several more images from the project at Druckmüller’s website and don’t miss this much higher resolution version including some 209 stars.
Here’s A Light Fixture That Runs On Bacteria
As we phase out incandescent lights for compact fluorescents, we save energy but take the risk of mercury pollution (there’s heavy metals galore in CFLs). Whatf if we could light our homes with biology?
Similar to the Glowing Plant project from earlier this week, here’s Philips concept for a microbial lamp powered by the chemistry of biological luminescence. It’s part of Philips’ “Microbial Home” future concept, which also includes urban beehives and bacterial waste recycling.
You can get off the grid, and onto the petri dish.
Participants rated their sexual orientation on a 10-point scale, ranging from gay to straight. Then they took a computer-administered test designed to measure their implicit sexual orientation. In the test, the participants were shown images and words indicative of hetero- and homosexuality (pictures of same-sex and straight couples, words like “homosexual” and “gay”) and were asked to sort them into the appropriate category, gay or straight, as quickly as possible. The computer measured their reaction times.
The twist was that before each word and image appeared, the word “me” or “other” was flashed on the screen for 35 milliseconds — long enough for participants to subliminally process the word but short enough that they could not consciously see it. The theory here, known as semantic association, is that when “me” precedes words or images that reflect your sexual orientation (for example, heterosexual images for a straight person), you will sort these images into the correct category faster than when “me” precedes words or images that are incongruent with your sexual orientation (for example, homosexual images for a straight person). This technique, adapted from similar tests used to assess attitudes like subconscious racial bias, reliably distinguishes between self-identified straight individuals and those who self-identify as lesbian, gay or bisexual.
Using this methodology we identified a subgroup of participants who, despite self-identifying as highly straight, indicated some level of same-sex attraction (that is, they associated “me” with gay-related words and pictures faster than they associated “me” with straight-related words and pictures). Over 20 percent of self-described highly straight individuals showed this discrepancy.
Notably, these “discrepant” individuals were also significantly more likely than other participants to favor anti-gay policies; to be willing to assign significantly harsher punishments to perpetrators of petty crimes if they were presumed to be homosexual; and to express greater implicit hostility toward gay subjects (also measured with the help of subliminal priming). Thus our research suggests that some who oppose homosexuality do tacitly harbor same-sex attraction.
New study indicates homophobia is often a result of repressed homosexual feelings, validating what Freud posited in his concept of “reaction formation,” in which we lash out against others’ expressions of what we loathe in ourselves.
The above is via explore-blog, and it’s a long and fancy way of saying that (at least according to this study) homophobia is often associated with repressed homosexual feelings. This work will be appearing in the next issue of Journal of Stuff Everyone Knows But Couldn’t Quite Prove Until Now.
Not quite a scene from E.T., but close …
What a stunning shot of the moon! Not only does this perfectly capture the optical oddities of the “moon illusion” (why the moon looks bigger near the horizon), but when you think about the sheer technical mastery that went in to making it happen … WOW!
Philipp Schmidli (his website, in German) set up on a hillside a kilometer away so he could get this angle, after scouting the perfect spot on foot using GPS. To get the photo he needed to use a 1200 mm focal length, which is like a reverse-sniper-rifle of optical input. The moon illusion is enhanced by that telephoto trick, too, but you can head over to io9 if you want to dig into the technical details (several commenters there have done a good job with it).
1. dip a spoon of gallium in a glass of hot water
2. make a bubble with smoke instead of air
3. dissolve the tablet in weightlessness
4. set fire to the energy-saving lamp
5. push two identical clouds of smoke
6. create a vacuum in the empty tank
7. set fire to the smoke from the candles
8. overturn the glass with smoke
9. pour the hot solution in a plastic cup [x]
Gonna do 7 at parties
Eruption of the Tvashtar volcano on Jupiter’s moon Io, photographed by New Horizons, 1 March 2007, during its gravity-assist Jupiter flyby on its way to Pluto. I’ve brightened the pictures so that some detail on the darker part of Io is clearer.
The gif covers about 8 minutes of real time. If you count pixels and look up Io’s diameter, it looks like the plume’s “only” being thrown up to an altitude of 200km or so. But in fact the volcano is in the opposite hemisphere to the one we see here (albeit at a high latitude of about 67 degrees), and the plumes are reaching a height of over 300km.
There is much more detail about this volcano at the Gish Bar Times blog.
Moon Rise Time Slice…. this is a collage of 11 photos taken over 27 minutes and 59 seconds
Gorgeous. Also photographic proof that the moon is not, in fact, larger near the horizon. That is merely an illusion.
What do they call that illusion? “The Moon Illusion” of course. ASAPScience did a really nice video about it.
1. All beliefs in whatever realm are theories at some level. (Stephen Schneider)
2. Do not condemn the judgment of another because it differs from your own. You may both be wrong. (Dandemis)
3. Read not to contradict and confute; nor to believe and take for granted; nor to find talk and discourse; but to weigh and consider. (Francis Bacon)
4. Never fall in love with your hypothesis. (Peter Medawar)
5. It is a capital mistake to theorize before one has data. Insensibly one begins to twist facts to suit theories instead of theories to suit facts. (Arthur Conan Doyle)
6. A theory should not attempt to explain all the facts, because some of the facts are wrong. (Francis Crick)
7. The thing that doesn’t fit is the thing that is most interesting. (Richard Feynman)
8. To kill an error is as good a service as, and sometimes even better than, the establishing of a new truth or fact. (Charles Darwin)
9. It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so. (Mark Twain)
10. Ignorance is preferable to error; and he is less remote from the truth who believes nothing, than he who believes what is wrong. (Thomas Jefferson)
11. All truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed, second, it is violently opposed, and third, it is accepted as self-evident. (Arthur Schopenhauer)
Feel like you need to make serious distinctions within the language of science? Maybe brush up on a few key concepts of the subject? Perhaps you feel an article is using word tactics to get people to believe in something false. Scientific American (originally on LiveScience) has a great article highlighting 7 misused science words that are sure to put things into perspective for the public:
The general public so widely misuses the words hypothesis, theory and law that scientists should stop using these terms, writes physicist Rhett Allain of Southeastern Louisiana University, in a blog post on Wired Science.
“I don’t think at this point it’s worth saving those words,” Allain told LiveScience.
A hypothesis is a proposed explanation for something that can actually be tested. But “if you just ask anyone what a hypothesis is, they just immediately say ‘educated guess,’” aid.
2. Just a theory?
Climate-change deniers and creationists have deployed the word “theory” to cast doubt on climate change and evolution.
“It’s as though it weren’t true because it’s just a theory,” Allain said.
That’s despite the fact that an overwhelming amount of evidence supports both human-caused climate change and Darwin’s theory of evolution.
Part of the problem is that the word “theory” means something very different in lay language than it does in science: A scientific theory is an explanation of some aspect of the natural world that has been substantiated through repeated experiments or testing. But to the average Jane or Joe, a theory is just an idea that lives in someone’s head, rather than an explanation rooted in experiment and testing.
However, theory isn’t the only science phrase that causes trouble. Even Allain’s preferred term to replace hypothesis, theory and law — “model” — has its troubles. The word not only refers to toy cars and runway walkers, but also means different things in different scientific fields. A climate model is very different from a mathematical model, for instance.
“Scientists in different fields use these terms differently from each other,” John Hawks, an anthropologist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, wrote in an email to LiveScience. “I don’t think that ‘model’ improves matters. It has an appearance of solidity in physics right now mainly because of the Standard Model. By contrast, in genetics and evolution, ‘models’ are used very differently.” (The Standard Model is the dominant theory governing particle physics.)
When people don’t accept human-caused climate change, the media often describes those individuals as “climate skeptics.” But that may give them too much credit, Michael Mann, a climate scientist at Pennsylvania State University, wrote in an email.
“Simply denying mainstream science based on flimsy, invalid and too-often agenda-driven critiques of science is not skepticism at all. It is contrarianism … or denial,” Mann told LiveScience.
Instead, true skeptics are open to scientific evidence and are willing to evenly assess it.
“All scientists should be skeptics. True skepticism is, as [Carl] Sagan described it, the ‘self-correcting machinery’ of science,” Mann said.
5. Nature vs. nurture
The phrase “nature versus nurture” also gives scientists a headache, because it radically simplifies a very complicated process, said Dan Kruger, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Michigan.
“This is something that modern evolutionists cringe at,” Kruger told LiveScience.
Genes may influence human beings, but so, too, do epigenetic changes. These modifications alter which genes get turned on, and are both heritable and easily influenced by the environment. The environment that shapes human behavior can be anything from the chemicals a fetus is exposed to in the womb to the block a person grew up on to the type of food they ate as a child, Kruger said. All these factors interact in a messy, unpredictable way.
Another word that sets scientists’ teeth on edge is “significant.”
“That’s a huge weasel word. Does it mean statistically significant, or does it mean important?” said Michael O’Brien, the dean of the College of Arts and Science at the University of Missouri.
In statistics, something is significant if a difference is unlikely to be due to random chance. But that may not translate into a meaningful difference, in, say, headache symptoms or IQ.
“Natural” is another bugaboo for scientists. The term has become synonymous with being virtuous, healthy or good. But not everything artificial is unhealthy, and not everything that’s natural is good for you.
“Uranium is natural, and if you inject enough of it, you’re going to die,” Kruger said.
Natural’s sibling “organic” also has a problematic meaning, he said. While organic simply means “carbon-based” to scientists, the term is now used to describe pesticide-free peaches and high-end cotton sheets, as well.