Archive for June 28th, 2005

Why Does Science Hate America?

This is not entirely surprising, but it’s disturbing, and it explains a lot.

I’ll sum up: Essentially, an Emory psychiatrist/neuroscientist conducted an updated version of a 50s experiment on social conformity, wherein test subjects were shown pictures of three-dimensional objects from different angles and asked to identify whether or not they were pictures of the same object. The trick is, they conducted the test with four other “subjects” who were ringers who would give unanimously incorrect responses to some of the pictures, which the real subject would see before making his or her own decision.

The end result was that the subjects went along with the group on wrong answers 41% of the time. Additionally, the real subjects were hooked up to an MRI scanner to monitor their brain activity in an attempt to determine whether decision-making/conflict-resolution or perceptual regions lit up. In other words, did the subjects give in to an urge to go along with their “peers”, or did they actually “see” the same thing they thought everyone else did?

If I’m reading the article correctly, the perceptual centers were activated when the subjects went along with the group, meaning their actual perceptions of reality were altered by social pressures. Also interesting, the subjects who disagreed with the group had activity in their emotional regions, suggesting some degree of stress in resisting the majority.

Assuming the study can be taken seriously (I don’t have enough science-fu to judge), this explains a whole lot about the seemingly inexplicable success of the Republican party. It provides scientific validation of their strategy of manufacturing inevitability and fostering the perception that their positions and talking points represent the conventional wisdom and consensus of a vast, “silent” majority, with any dissenters representing a marginalized radical fringe.

To me, this explains how good people can still support the Republicans. Thanks to the media (which I also believe to be an effective proxy for “the majority”), they think that most people believe what the Republicans are saying, and therefore it must be true. Anything that conflicts with that is just an annoying buzzing sound in the background, or the propagandist rantings of those frustrated liberal wackos.

June 28th, 2005 at 02:14pm Posted by Eli

Entry Filed under: Bush,Media,Politics,Republicans,Rove


I knew it!

THE FACTS Think of all the hours Americans will spend beside pools and lingering on beaches this summer, counting the minutes since their last meal to avoid violating a fundamental rule of swimming: never get into the water on a full stomach.

The only problem, according to experts, is that the warning is yet another old wives’ tale that should be laid to rest. The theory is that the process of digestion increases blood flow to the stomach – away from the muscles needed for swimming – and leads to cramps, which increase the risk of drowning.

Dr. Roshini Rajapaksa, a gastroenterologist at the New York University School of Medicine, said that while swimming strenuously on a full stomach could conceivably lead to cramps, for most recreational swimmers the chances are small. And at least one study that looked at drownings in the United States found that fewer than 1 percent occurred after the victim ate a meal, she added.

But meals that include a drink or two are another story. In 1989, for example, a study in the journal Pediatrics looked at almost 100 adolescents who drowned in Washington and found that 25 percent had been intoxicated. One year later, a study of hundreds of drowning deaths among adults in California found that 41 percent were alcohol related.

THE BOTTOM LINE Swimming after a meal will not increase the risk of drowning, unless alcohol is involved.

1 comment June 28th, 2005 at 10:51am Posted by Eli

Entry Filed under: Science

Lunchtime, Doubly So


Specifically, time and time travel, one of my favorite subjects. Some highlights:

Space and time, some quantum gravity theorists say, are most likely a sort of illusion – or less sensationally, an “approximation” – doomed to be replaced by some more fundamental idea. If only they could think of what that idea is.

“By convention there is space, by convention time,” Dr. David J. Gross… said recently, paraphrasing the Greek philosopher Democritus, “in reality there is. … ?” his voice trailing off.


Looked at closely enough, with an imaginary microscope that could see lengths down to 10-33 centimeters, quantum gravity theorists say, even ordinary space and time dissolve into a boiling mess that Dr. John Wheeler, the Princeton physicist and phrasemaker, called “space-time foam.” At that level of reality, which exists underneath all our fingernails, clocks and rulers as we know them cease to exist.

So far, so good. But here’s where it gets really wacky:

Most scientists, including Einstein, resisted the idea of time travel until 1988 when Dr. Kip Thorne, a gravitational theorist at the California Institute of Technology, and two of his graduate students, Dr. Mike Morris and Dr. Ulvi Yurtsever, published a pair of papers concluding that the laws of physics may allow you to use wormholes, which are like tunnels through space connecting distant points, to travel in time.

These holes, technically called Einstein-Rosen bridges, have long been predicted as a solution of Einstein’s equations. But physicists dismissed them because calculations predicted that gravity would slam them shut.

…Dr. Thorne and his colleagues imagined that such holes could be kept from collapsing and thus maintained to be used as a galactic subway, at least in principle, by threading them with something called Casimir energy… which is a sort of quantum suction produced when two parallel metal plates are placed very close together. According to Einstein’s equations, this suction, or negative pressure, would have an antigravitational effect, keeping the walls of the wormhole apart.

If one mouth of a wormhole was then grabbed by a spaceship and taken on a high-speed trip, according to relativity, its clock would run slow compared with the other end of the wormhole. So the wormhole would become a portal between two different times as well as places.


Some mysterious “dark energy,” astronomers say, is pushing space apart and accelerating the expansion of the universe. The race is on to measure this energy precisely and find out what it is.

Among the weirder and more disturbing explanations for this cosmic riddle is something called phantom energy, which is so virulently antigravitational that it would eventually rip planets, people and even atoms apart, ending everything. As it happens this bizarre stuff would also be perfect for propping open a wormhole, Dr. Lobo of Lisbon recently pointed out. “This certainly is an interesting prospect for an absurdly advanced civilization, as phantom energy probably comprises of 70 percent of the universe,” Dr. Lobo wrote in an e-mail message….

…Dr. Lobo suggested that as the universe was stretched and stretched under phantom energy, microscopic holes in the quantum “space-time foam” might grow to macroscopic usable size. “One could also imagine an advanced civilization mining the cosmic fluid for phantom energy necessary to construct and sustain a traversable wormhole,” he wrote.


In another recent paper, Dr. Amos Ori of the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa describes a time machine that he claims can be built by moving around colossal masses to warp the space inside a doughnut of regular empty space into a particular configuration, something an advanced civilization may be able to do in 100 or 200 years.

The space inside the doughnut, he said, will then naturally evolve according to Einstein’s laws into a time machine.

Mmm… Einsteinian time doughtnut…

Dr. Ori admits that he doesn’t know if his machine would be stable. Time machines could blow up as soon as you turned them on, say some physicists, including Dr. Hawking, who has proposed what he calls the “chronology protection” conjecture to keep the past safe for historians. Random microscopic fluctuations in matter and energy and space itself, they argue, would be amplified by going around and around boundaries of the machine or the wormhole, and finally blow it up.

Dr. Gott and his colleague Dr. Li-Xin Li have shown that there are at least some cases where the time machine does not blow up. But until gravity marries quantum theory, they admit, nobody knows how to predict exactly what the fluctuations would be.

I recommend reading the full article – it’s long, but it has all kinds of nifty stuff about time paradoxes and quantum physics and string theory and stuff.

June 28th, 2005 at 10:45am Posted by Eli

Entry Filed under: Coolness,Science,Weirdness

They Get Letters

Some very good letters to the NYT today on the subject of Iraq. Some of my favorite bits:

All we hear is that there is no timetable and that we want a free and democratic Iraq. That is not a plan. That is a wish. Judging from this administration’s actions in Iraq, the plan is not to have a plan, to send in troops but not anticipate their needs or those of the Iraqis, and to tell people things are getting better while everyone sees a deteriorating quagmire.

It really is amazing how even now the administration appears to have no plan other than to just keep scrounging to maintain troop levels and hope that something good eventually happens.

It’s true, as the White House argues, that telling an enemy when you plan to leave gives the enemy an opportunity to wait you out. But this is true only if the enemy can wait you out. The White House admits that the enemy can wait us out, a fact that contradicts its assertion that there is “steady and substantial progress” in defeating the insurgents.

If we were making such progress, and if the ranks of the insurgents were limited, we could indeed sketch out a rough timetable. The facts are that we are still at war in Iraq and that the White House has no workable plan to defeat the insurgency.

Why has no-one pointed this out before? (If they have, I totally missed it) If the insurgency really is in its “last throes,” why should we care about unveiling a timetable for withdrawal? Can we get Reid and Dean to start hammering at this point, please?

June 28th, 2005 at 10:02am Posted by Eli

Entry Filed under: Bush,Democrats,Iraq,Politics,War


The shadowy and mysterious Codename V. has found a real corker, yes indeed.

June 28th, 2005 at 07:42am Posted by Eli

Entry Filed under: Weirdness

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