If we could understand how the Axelotl salamander regenerates body parts, perhaps eternal youth would be in our grasp. Or not. Most likely we will destroy them first. Fascinating creature.
ASAP Science have posted this lab rule song. Important rules to remember for beginners and experts with a nicely done irreverent tone.
Reblogging this incredibly interesting tribute to Joe Polchinski ‘s D-Branes.
Polchinski — Joe, to all his colleagues — had one of those brains that works magic, and works magically. Scientific minds are as individual as personalities. Each physicist has a unique combination of talents and skills (and weaknesses); in modern lingo, each of us has a superpower or two. Rarely do you find two scientists who have the same ones.
Joe had several superpowers, and they were really strong. He had a tremendous knack for looking at old problems and seeing them in a new light, often overturning conventional wisdom or restating that wisdom in a new, clearer way. And he had prodigious technical ability, which allowed him to follow difficult calculations all the way to the end, on paths that would have deterred most of us.
One of the greatest privileges of my life was to work with Joe, not once but four times. I think I can best tell you a little about him, and about some of his greatest achievements, through the lens of that unforgettable experience.
[To my colleagues: this post was obviously written in trying circumstances, and it is certainly possible that my memory of distant events is foggy and in error. I welcome any corrections that you might wish to suggest.]
Our papers between 1999 and 2006 were a sequence of sorts, aimed at understanding more fully the profound connection between quantum field theory — the language of particle physics — and string theory — best-known today as a candidate for a quantum theory of gravity. In each of those papers, as in many thousands of others written after 1995, Joe’s most influential contribution to physics played a central role. This was the discovery of objects known as “D-branes”, which he found in the context of string theory. (The term is a generalization of the word `membrane’.)
I can already hear the Lee Smolins and Peter Woits of the world screaming at me. ‘A discovery in string theory,’ some will shout, pounding the table, ‘an untested theory that’s not even wrong, should not be called a discovery in physics.’ Pay them no mind; they’re not even close, as you’ll see by the end of my remarks………………………..
The rest of the article is on Matt Strassler‘s blog.
The caffinated autistic updated their post from December 2015 regarding Autism Speaks to make sure the data was updated. There isn’t any improvement in their ability to actually be there for the people they claim to represent. Links to the information are found on The caffinated autistic’s blog. Autism Speaks do not cease disappointing.
Update 4/4/17 – as of December 2015, Autism Speaks now has two autistic board members, Dr. Stephen Shore and Dr. Valarie Paradiz. In addition, their mission statement no longer includes the word “cure” . You can read more specifics here.
When a person thinks of the term “Autism Awareness” in the United States, it’s usually one organization that comes to mind – Autism Speaks. It is heralded by celebrities, politicians, nonprofit and for profit organizations alike. Many parents of autistic children enthusiastically applaud their “efforts”, even partaking in fundraising, despite not knowing much about what those efforts entail.
Ask an autistic person, however, and you might get quite a different picture of Autism Speaks.
The number one tenet of any activism among disability groups is “Nothing About Us Without Us”, yet Autism Speaks can’t even manage to meet this one basic qualification. They have never had an autistic member on their board. Their current board consists of parents, including one who founded SafeMinds, which has contributed to the anti vaccination movement, as well as another board member who used be a board member for Cure Autism Now. To view the full list, click here. To view a list of other leadership in their organization, click here.
The only autistic person high enough up in their leadership to be worth mentioning was John Elder Robison, author of Look Me in the Eye: My Life with Asperger’s Syndrome and part of their science advisory board. He resigned his position in November 2013, a decision he spoke about on his blog.
Autism Speaks spends just 3% of the money they raise back into helping families and autistic people. This comes in various forms, and not all of it is aimed at actually helping autistic people. Some of it is aimed at communication devices for autistic children and teenagers, and this is of course a very good thing. Much of it is also aimed at providing ABA therapy for autistic people, which is a behavioral intervention that much of the autism community opposes, particularly autistic people who are now adults who were subjected to it as children. Some accounts of this are here, here, here and here……………..
The rest of the article is on The caffinated autistic
“We are good at being skeptical when information conflicts with our preexisting beliefs and values,” Landrum noted. “We are bad at being skeptical when information is compatible with our preexisting beliefs and values.” (Scientific American)
Evolution works with what is available in any given species at any given time. Even if a mutation is highly desirable, it is useless unless it gets passed on to new generations. Once upon a time, enough members of human ancestors broke with tradition and started walking on two legs. Environmental circumstances at that time made this mutation ideal for survival and breeding. Becoming bipedal necessitated other mutations in our bodies, including the brain, and many of the mutations have been passed on to us.
Confirmation bias is not necessarily a bad mutation when seen in light of survival. Conscious thinking takes time, enough time that a lion might eat us or we might become exiled from our group because we begin questioning accepted truths. Automatic thinking, on the other hand, helps us make instant decisions that could save our lives. Even researchers have to use confirmation bias by presuming that their samples are randomized and representative enough for a much larger population. However, confirmation bias gets in the way when the information we need goes against what we have been taught and how we have learned. According to Miguel de Unamuno (1924)
“The skeptic does not mean him who doubts, but him who investigates or researches, as opposed to him who asserts and thinks that he has found. The one is the man who studies the problem and the other is the man who gives us a formula, correct or incorrect, as the solution of it.” (Todayinsci)
Many times confirmation bias among the general public and most scientists has stood in the way of progress. Researchers are not innoculated against confirmation bias.Take the old ideology of the West that claimed that the Sun circled the Earth. Galileo was severely punished for claiming that the Earth was NOT the center of the Universe and that it circled the Sun. Alfred Wegner was ridiculed by other scientists for his theories about continental drift. In 1972 John Yudkin warned people about the potential dangers of refined sugar, and his theory destroyed his reputation. Not until well after his death in 1995 did scientists begin research on the potential problems of refined sugar. Even people who study the way we think fall prey to inefficient confirmation bias against other psychologists. It took some time before B.F. Skinner’s theories about learning became accepted. Even now many psychologists struggle with the idea that Skinner claimed he could predict how any of us would react to a stimulus based on previous reactions to the same types of stimuli.
Once we start thinking that there could be something to what another person says or does, or we begin doubting that our culture is an optimal one, we might need to change our behaviour and risk losing social standing. Yet, by doing so, we could end up with a positive effect on ourselves and our lives. One of computer science’s starting points was in the 1840’s with Charles Babbage and Ada Lovelace. We should be impressed with their genius at a time when steam engines were what was available.
Neither of them, in their wildest imaginings, foresaw the possibilities of today. Not many decades in the past specialists in the field had become too comfortable in their paradigms. History of computers on the ICT Lounge has some fun information that shows how amazing and exponential developments in computer science have been.
Just as some of our ancestors decided they could stand up and walk on their hind legs, we too can ask ourselves if there might be something to what our “opponents” argue. Sometimes there is and sometimes there isn’t. Studying other points of view made my life better and taught me a valuable lesson. One that I still struggle to keep in mind, i.e. that my understanding of the world probably isn’t the ideal one.
Or, in the words of Matthew Inman, The Oatmeal:
Propaganda is an odd phenomenon. In spite of the many lies we are told on a daily basis, we accept propaganda as true. Religion, states, science and cultures utilize propaganda in their socialization of individuals as productive members of society. Take biological sex. Many/most people are taught that there are only two sexes, male and female. Attempts to change status quo meets strong resistance. Introduction of third-gender options for birth-certificates, passports, bank papers or other legal documents exemplify how difficult necessary change is. Yet protestations do stop nature from diversifying sexual organs.
Consequences of political cowardice and voter attitudes are harsh for people who are born intersex. Horror stories regarding unsafe health personnel, their dissemination about long term effects and unnecessary operations of healthy children illustrate how dangerous propaganda is. Intersex individuals certainly do not support such assumptions.
While modern medical personnel perpetuate the myth of binary genders, they only spout what medical colleges and universities teach them. Teachers bring with them their own socialization which is based on whatever philosophical background they come from. The West, Middle-East, Asia and Africa all take part in abusing intersex children. Religion plays a large part in cultural philosophies and most religions speak only of male and female, with male as the standard against which all else is measured. Yet biology does not, in the least, care about propaganda people are socialized into.
Genitals start out looking the same. Not until the fetus is between 9 and 12 weeks is it possible to see which main direction their external and internal genitalia will take. From then on the phalloclitoris develops according to the hormonal output from our brains. The phalloclitoris is the soft organ that either stretches out into some kind of penis or it may split and grow internally to lie on either side of the vaginal canal. Nerve endings in the phalloclitoris render it highly sensitive to touch and is likely to produce pleasurable sensations. Removing parts of the phalloclitoris, because it does not fit with conventional opinions about biological sex, is sexual mutilation. Some children are born with a large external phalloclitoris complete with testicles plus a fully functioning uterus and ovaries (2011) Occasionally, teenagers begin menstruating through their penises. Others, like “Bob“, do not discover this reproductive combination until adulthood, and there are people who have lived with a combination of reproductive systems their entire lives without knowing. In the Dominican Republic there are people called guevedoces who begin life as girls and develop penises at puberty. Their status goes from female to male. In extremely rare instances a person may even have one side of their body develop along one line while the other side develops along the other.
The current system does not match reality and reality is what ought to be represented in bureaucracy’s obsession with labels, not an outdated patriarchal world-view that seems to think that an external and large phalloclitoris is the norm to which all else must bow. In Norway medical professionals claim it is unhealthy for the child to have unusual genitals, unlike New York which celebrates a birth certificate designating intersex as a gender. Germany allows genderless birth certificates and France has a neutral gender option on birth certificates. None have gone as far as Malta. In 2015 Malta chose to outlaw forced genital surgical intervention on minors, and I hope that the rest of the world soon joins them in ending this practice of genital mutilation. Only the person with the genitalia should decide what to do with their own bodies.
Over on the silent wave, Liana makes a plea not to demonise autism. Get to know us. What makes us different is nothing to fear. Look, I am surrounded by non-autistic people, and while I might never understand their way of seeing the world, I see no reason to be afraid of them, or their […]
Demonizing autism brings in money from parents and loved ones who want to “cure” this terrible “disease”. Fear is a commodity in this world. People and institutions push that fear until rational behavior disappears and witch-hunts begin. The US has been at a tipping point for a long time. Autists are not the only “different” people who become sales pitches for callous institutions and individuals. There is a reason someone invented the “bleach-cure” for autism. Concern about parents or autistic children had nothing to do with it.
It’s OK to think of us as people. It’s more likely that you will destroy me than that I will destroy you.
There are many theories about why we think and behave as we do. Be they as they may, but the real reason we do what we do, say what we say, and think what we think, lies here:
Killing yourself seems to be one of the great taboos in life. It is perfectly alright to send off young people to kill someone they know nothing about. As long as they do it in another country. Yet they are forbidden to take their own lives if they cannot handle the consequences of those murders. Allowing medical laboratories to test medication on people is fine, but for that lab-“rat” to take their own life is a no-no. We get to take part in sports that may well end up killing the us, yet if that we were to jump off a building to die we would be decried. And the list goes on. Somehow it is worse to be for self-death than it is to accept going to war. Or beating up people for their beliefs and lives. Or abusing family members.
Me. I’m all for people killing themselves. I’m not particularly against people killing other people either. At least not any more than I am against people killing other types of life. Death holds no particular meaning for me. It just is. How life dies is irrelevant once it is gone. I care much more about why people kill themselves or something else.
Looking at the way some people’s lives are, I don’t understand that so few people commit suicide. I realize all sorts of people talk about “it not being worth it”. That type of statement does not make sense. When you are dead you are dead and have no clue what you will or will not miss. Plus some lives are truly shitty. The argument that killing yourself is so much worse for the people around you than other kinds of death is also completely bizarre. That all depends on how their societies have trained them to view death.
Statements that try to tell suicidal people about how they would be missed and how this too shall pass, simply do not understand what how life can be. I have seen some of those lives close up. The last thing I would want to burden a person contemplating suicide with is how they would make me feel. Sure. I would grieve some of those people. But it’s not my choice. It is theirs. Or it should be. If you do choose to kill yourself, at least stay away from bleach. There are better ways to go.
I have no idea if this is an Aspie way of thinking or if I just have more empathy than others. Cause isn’t that what empathy is? Trying to understand and not adding to burdens.
Maps fascinate me. On humanitysdarkerside.com I wrote a post about the various maps I have in my office.
When it comes to maps of the world, I find them to be all about the distribution of power. Power to define who and what goes where on pieces of paper is something people regularly kill other people for. Vivid Maps just posted a picture of the map below. European thinking on who lives where is behind this map that supposedly shows The Distribution of the Human Race.