Audiophoolery: Pseudoscience in Consumer Audio. You might think that a science-based field like audio engineering would be immune to the kind of magical thinking we see in other fields. Unfortunately, you would be wrong [...] As a consumerist, it galls me to see people pay thousands of dollars for fancy-looking wire that’s no better than the heavy lamp cord they can buy at any hardware store. Or magic isolation pads and little discs made from exotic hardwood that purport to “improve clarity and reduce listening fatigue,” among other surprising claims. The number of scams based on ignorance of basic audio science grows every day. Via.
Dreaming of Nonsense: The Evolutionary Enigma of Dream Content. Why on earth do our minds conjure up such ridiculous imagery, such inane thoughts, such spectacularly vivid and surreal landscapes, intense emotions—such narrative trash? [more inside]
"In Massachusetts, a young woman makes genetically modified E. coli in a closet she converted into a home lab. A part-time DJ in Berkeley, Calif., works in his attic to cultivate viruses extracted from sewage. In Seattle, a grad-school dropout wants to breed algae in a personal biology lab. These hobbyists represent a growing strain of geekdom known as biohacking, in which do-it-yourselfers tinker with the building blocks of life in the comfort of their own homes." They might be discovering cures for diseases or developing new biofuels, but are their experiments too risky? Via. [more inside]
There are times when having a fully developed brain can almost seem like an impediment. Are babies more aware of the world around them than adults are? Can "thinking like a baby" lead us to be more in tune with our creativity and our ability to learn? Scientists have taken a new look inside the baby mind, which is "unfocused, random, and extremely good at what it does."
Why do mummies scream? Are screaming mummies really testaments to horrific deaths? Or are they the result of natural processes, botched or ad hoc mummification jobs, or the depredations of tomb robbers? Archaeology Online examines the science and history behind the gape-mouthed "masks of agony" seen on some mummies, and explores their portrayal in entertainment and pop culture. The article includes lots of interesting and informative additional links.
Anything but clear. It is well known that panes of stained glass in old European churches are thicker at the bottom because glass is a slow-moving liquid that flows downward over centuries. Well known, yes, but long known to be wrong. Scientists still disagree about the nature of glass, and researchers continue to try to understand its dual personality . [more inside]
The Monty Hall Problem has struck again, and this time it’s not merely embarrassing mathematicians. If the calculations of a Yale economist are correct, there’s a sneaky logical fallacy in some of the most famous experiments in psychology." The NY Times' John Tierney reports on new research into cognitive dissonance as examined through the famous Monty Hall Problem. [A previous MetaFilter thread about the Monty Hall Problem: Let's Make A Deal!]
Dinner With Darwin. Scientists from various disciplines weigh in on what kind of dinner conversation they envision themselves having with Charles Darwin. Via.
A "no-return, solo mission" to Mars? The comments - 179 of them as of the time of this post - are even more interesting than the article.
Affairs of the Lips. "We kiss furtively, lasciviously, gently, shyly, hungrily and exuberantly. We kiss in broad daylight and in the dead of night. We give ceremonial kisses, affectionate kisses, Hollywood air kisses, kisses of death and, at least in fairytales, pecks that revive princesses." But, why do we kiss?
The Anonymity Experiment. Is it possible to hide in plain sight? Privacy-minded people have long warned of a world in which an individual’s every action leaves a trace, in which corporations and governments can peer at will into your life with a few keystrokes on a computer. Now one of the people in charge of information-gathering for the U.S. government says, essentially, that such a world has arrived.
In 1798, English economist Thomas Malthus promised "Famine ... the last, the most dreadful resource of nature." It took another 125 years for world population to double, but only 50 more for it to redouble. By the 1940s, Mexico, China, India, Russia, and Europe were hungry.
Warp Drive, When? "Have you ever wondered when we will be able to travel to distant stars as easily as in science fiction stories?"
Seeing, Hearing and Smelling the World. From the main page, click on the various articles to access a larger left-side menu, with articles including Illusions Reveal The Brain's Assumptions, A Hot Spot in the Brain's Motion Pathway, The Value of Having Two Ears, The Memory of Smells and much more.
What Makes Us Moral and The Morality Quiz. It's war time, and you're hiding in a basement with a group of other people. Enemy soldiers are approaching outside and will be drawn to any sound. If you're found, you'll all be killed immediately. A baby hiding with you starts to cry loudly and cannot be stopped. Smothering it to death is the only way to silence it, saving the lives of everyone in the room. Assume that the parents of the baby are unknown and not present and there will be no penalty for killing the child. Could you be the one who smothered it if no one else would?
Chocolate and the Beer of the Ancients. New archaeological evidence suggests that primitive beer brewers were the first to discover the goodness of chocolate.
Sex Ratio Theory, Ancient and Modern - An 18th Century Debate about Intelligent Design and the Development of Models in Evolutionary Biology [pdf file]. The design argument for the existence of God took a probabilistic turn in the 17th and 18th centuries. Earlier versions, such as Thomas Aquinas’ 5th way, usually embraced the premise that goal-directed systems (things that “act for an end” or have a function) must have been created by an intelligent designer. This idea – which we might express by the slogan “no design without a designer” – survived into the 17th and 18th centuries, and it is with us still in the writings of many creationists. The new version of the argument, inspired by the emerging mathematical theory of probability, removed the premise of necessity. It begins with the thought that goal-directed systems might have arisen by intelligent design or by chance; the problem is to discern which hypothesis is more plausible. From Professor Elliott Sober.
Have You Eaten Your Dirt Today, Honey? A New Approach To The Hygiene Hypothesis. The hypothesis argues: The reason why there is so much asthma, eczema, allergies and maybe even childhood diabetes in the modern world is because we — well infants really — live in too clean a universe. What our baby immune systems need is a kickstart by exposure to viruses, bacteria, worms, pollutants and so on. If you don’t get an infant hit from these icons of uncleanliness, the immune system goes haywire and your body over-reacts to all sorts of invasive things that normally could be ignored. Via. [more inside]
Yummy Science. Researchers unravel the complex combination of physical and emotional reactions that influence our perceptions of what tastes good. Once upon a time, flavor research was a matter of asking housewives to munch a few potato chips... Now it's about providing an exceptional flavor "experience." And as scientists learn to exploit the ways we perceive flavor, food manufacturers will be able to refine their products to appeal to us as individuals. Welcome to the world of personally tailored mass-produced food.
It's been nearly 50 years since the beginning of the International Geophysical Year (IGY), an 18-month period of scientific activities and discoveries that ran from July 1, 1957, to December 31, 1958. Both the US and the USSR launched the world's first artificial satellites during the IGY (Sputnik 1 and Explorer 1). Other achievements of the IGY included the discovery of the Van Allen radiation belts and the mapping of mid-ocean ridges. The IGY also inspired at least one artistic endeavor: Steely Dan's Donald Fagen wrote his 1982 solo song "I.G.Y. (International Geophysical Year)" [YouTube] as an homage to 50s optimism.