Showing posts from March, 2015

Did a Volcanic Eruption Kill Off the Neandertals? Science Determines: Sorta

Is "sorta" an appropriately scientific conclusion?

In this case yes.

Most people think that competition between homo sapiens and Neandertals finally brought an end to that fascinating species.  Well, sorta.

It seems that there was a volcano that went off in a massive eruption some 40,000 years ago.  It would be easy to conclude that this eruption put the nail in the Neandertals' coffins, but according to this research, the eruption didn't help, but wasn't the final blow to their survival.

What seems to have had more of an impact was climate change that resulted from the huge insertion of a gas, sulfur dioxide, into the atmosphere.  Where it cooled the atmosphere.

"The roles of climate, hominin competition, and volcanic sulfur cooling and acid deposition are debated as causes of Neandertal extinction."
So there is no agreement in the scientific community about the final demise of the Neandertals.

For a writer of pre-historical fiction, an understanding of what …

Who is Most Likely to Plagarize?

My father once told me, "Plagiarism is the purest form of theft." How right he was. Plagiarism is a concern not only for teachers, but editors, publishers and producers as well.  It seems that every few days a news piece appears about a scientist, musician, author or a journalist being busted for plagiarism.  Sometimes it's for a lack of references, sometimes it's simply blatant theft of someone else's intellectual property. Movie producers are so afraid of being sued for plagiarism they won't read uninvited submissions, returning envelopes unopened if they return them at all. This study from the Spanish University of the Balearic Islands investigates the topic in secondary schools and undergraduate college students. It points out two tendencies: Boys are more likely to plagiarize than girls. Procrastinators are the most likely to plagiarize to meet a deadline. What can teachers or editors do to minimize the chance of an assignment being plagiarized?  Spot checks a…

Examining The Prejudice Against Religious Believers

It's a given: People committed to religious beliefs tend to date and marry others holding the same beliefs.

Turn this around:  People who do not participate in a religion tend to reject a person as dating and marriage partners if he or she hold to a particular belief system.


According to research just released for the University of Otago, it's not the religion itself that is being rejected, it is because we assume that people with religious beliefs are less open-minded and more closed to new experience.

Assuming that someone holds particular trait without trying to determine if a specific person holds this trait is a definition of bigotry.  It is classic profiling.  We object to profiling by the police, but it is a common tendency of all of us.  It's important to understand why.

In this study, the researchers limited their work to choice of dating or marriage partners, but the results imply that this bias against the religious carries into other facets of day to day life …

Einstein's "Spooky Action at a Distance" Proven

This bit of science is important for several reasons.
First, Einstein more or less created the field of quantum mechanics, even though he disparaged his own creation with comments like, "God doesn't play dice with the universe".  Without getting into a field of science that I certainly don't understand, it's my understanding he said this because quantum mechanics is based on probabilities of happenings in the sum-atomic realm.  This made the big guy uncomfortable.  Well, Einstein was wrong.  It turns out that God does play dice with the universe.

Second, his comment about "spooky action at a distance" wasn't meant as an explanation, it was disparaging, again mirroring his discomfort with the whole thing.  Again, I don't pretend to understand the details, but the basic idea is that in some unexplained way if you do something to a particle here, the effects of the something show up on a linked particle over there despite no obvious physical connecti…

The Peaceful, Cooperative Maya Transition From Hunter-gatherer to Farmer

From my college days to my present avocation of researching and writing SNfW, I've had a fascination with anthropology and archaeology.  One assumption of mine is that there was a level of conflict between the hunter-gatherer population of a region and newcomers establishing fixed agricultural settlements.  It seems something that disputes and violence would just happen, sort of like the range wars between ranchers and farmers in the 19th Century American West.

Sound reasonable?

According to new research, that may not be how it happened, at least when fixed settlements started appearing in the midst of hunter-gatherer groups of Maya.  Archaeologists Takeshi Inomata and Daniela Triadan conclude just the opposite based on their analysis of three thousand year old Maya ruins.  If their theory is correct, it puts a different spin on how agriculture spread in leap-frogging jumps along the coasts of the Middle East and Europe.

Here's the story:
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Archaeologists discover Maya …

How Did We Survive the 2012 Solar Eruption? Luck. Pure luck.

 Disaster fiction in print and on film sells well.  We relish the idea of a massive disaster that leaves a few of the hardiest and the luckiest, ourselves included, to struggle to save humanity and to preserve as much culture as they can.

What few people know is that we on Earth came within a hair's breadth of a real disaster from space in July, 2012 when a massive magnetic storm erupted from our Sun.  Had it washed over us, it would have fried out all our cherished electronic cell phones, computers, cameras, heart pacers, television - everything we rely on to survive. 

Had the solar storm struck the Earth, we could now be two years into one of the largest mass extinctions in our planet's 4.5 billion year history.  The human race and all our works should be laying in ashes around us.  In reality, you and I should be dead by now.

But here we are, still enjoying our digital world, 99% of the population unaware of how close we came to at least the end of our civilization and possib…

Friday Factoids: Mouse Erections, How Remembering Makes Us Forget and More

I read 'em so you don't gotta.  And you should be glad.  Reading about mice with erections that may last up to six or more hours (do they know to call the doctor?) is dismaying.  Bewildering.  Funny as hell.  So you're on your own from here out: Mice with Erections Have Less Diabetic Nerve Damage
New animal studies find that Viagra (sildenafil), a drug commonly used to treat erectile dysfunction, may be effective in relieving painful and potentially life-threatening nerve damage in men with long-term diabetes. The drug was given to male mice in the test.  Is it actually less pain in the feet?  Or are they just less aware of it?  Inquiring minds want to know.  Report from the Henry Ford Health System

Remembering Makes You More Forgetful
A new study has shown how intentional recall is beyond a simple reawakening of a memory; and actually leads us to forget other competing experiences that interfere with retrieval. Quite simply, the very act of remembering may be one of the maj…

On Being Humble: E.B. White was Right in Charlotte's Web

It seems the best authors have a knack for accurately describing the personality traits of their characters.  For example, the character change experienced by Ebenezer Scrooge in Dickens A Christmas Carol is considered by research psychologists to be spot on for how the process of change works.
How true to life was Scrooge's change?Is this ability to describe a character strictly from watching others?  Business writer Peter Drucker says in his semi-autobiographical book, Adventures of a Bystander that he and many of the other writers he knows are essentially bystanders, observing what is going on around them.

Another example of a writer getting it right is E.B. White's popular children's book, Charlotte's Web.  Research psychologist Peter Samuelson and his team are researching the deeper meaning of humility.  Among their conclusions?  E.B. White displayed insight into humility and its underlying attributes.

Here's the story:
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The Two Clusters of Humble Trai…

Are We Creating a More Tolerant America?

Following the news can be discouraging.  It so often seems that the world and the U.S. is filled with hate and hate crimes.  So when a research report appears that concludes that the people of our country are, in fact, becoming more tolerant of others, it certainly brightens the day.
Here's the story: *  *  *  *  *
"American culture has become more individualistic  (with) more tolerance for those who are different.
As the nation's headlines turn more and more to issues of tolerance -- race, religion, free speech, same sex marriage -- research by San Diego State University Psychology Professor Jean M. Twenge shows that Americans may be more tolerant than ever before.

In a paper released this month by the journal Social Forces, Twenge, along with Nathan T. Carter and Keith Campbell from the University of Georgia, found that Americans are now more likely to believe that people with different views and lifestyles can and should have the same rights as others, such as givin…