Archive for the ‘science’ Category

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The state of science research in Australia is slipping even further

2 December 2014

I’ve harboured dreams of going back into a more scientific job in a few years. I miss doing science. But I’ve realised that to do so in Australia today would be foolish.

Knife cut paper with budget

Earlier this year I mentioned that CSIRO had had to make significant cuts following government reductions in their funding.

The bad news continues. Cuts of support staff mean that CSIRO scientists aren’t spending all their time on doing actual science. And one of our Nobel-tipped researchers has been let go.

CSIRO isn’t the only agency being affected, though; these groups are losing nearly $310m between them:

  • The Australian Research Council (ARC)
  • The Defence Science and Technology Organisation (DSTO)
  • Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (ANSTO)
  • Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS)
  • Cooperative Research Centres (CRCs) program

While there was to be a new $110m+ medical research fund, the unwise doctor’s visit co-payment the Liberal government proposed to deliver it is likely to be abandoned.

An opposition party will always spin hyperbole, but the Australian Labor Party makes a reasonable case that cuts to university and preventative health programs means the overall cuts to science are much bigger, despite their attempt at funding medical research. Someone who has been involved in research grant administration in North America agrees strongly with this view.

The ABC’s Fact Check department estimates that it’s true that science research spending as a percentage of GDP in Australia is as low as it’s been since they started keeping records.

Australia’s science and math skills are slipping, we’re only average on scientific citations, and our collaboration between industry and research is terrible.

It just doesn’t feel like an environment that values science.

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Interactive Periodic Table

16 October 2014

Whether you’re a student learning about the elements or just a chemistry nerd, this interactive periodic table of elements is pretty neat.

period

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News of the Obvious: Homeopathy is Nonsense

9 April 2014

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From Lifehacker:

The Australian National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) has released a new draft paper on the effectiveness of homeopathy following an in-depth analysis across 68 different health conditions. Unsurprisingly, the paper concludes that there is no reliable evidence that homoeopathy is effective for treating any ailment. Rather, it’s a potentially dangerous pseudoscience that can dupe patients into rejecting conventional and effective treatments.

The emphasis is mine.

It will take a lot more than this restatement of obvious science before the scores of homeopathic “treatments” disappear from Australian pharmacy shelves, or before the government stops listening to “alternative” medicine lobby groups.

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Primordial gravitational waves, and ants in the curl of space

18 March 2014
Image

Bicep2

You know a scientific discovery is big when it makes the regular news, and the apparent discovery of primordial gravitational waves has done that.

These results are believed to show what happened in the early universe, right after the Big Bang. If they survive peer review then they’ll be the final confirmation of Einstein’s general theory of relativity, and the first direct evidence of universal inflation. These are big deals because they further strengthen some already very strong theories.

For an interesting illustration of what led to the BICEP2 project and how it was carried out, read this story on Scienceblogs’ Dynamics of Cats.

Being a very clever ant, you realise that you can figure out something about the lake [in which you’re floating]!
For example, you realise that while it is a very deep lake, it is not infinitely deep.
In fact you can, eg by measuring some of the swirls, and where the waves break, figure there are shallows in some parts of the lake.

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Watch Kate Upton Posing In Zero Gravity In A Bikini Because Science

19 February 2014

Thank you, Gizmodo.

Sports Illustrated had a wonderful idea: demonstrate how zero gravity works on muscular and fat body masses by putting Kate Upton in a bikini and taking her in a parabolic flight.

Kate Upton

Moving pictures, too. For the science, you understand.

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Why Do People Fear GMOs?

15 February 2014

There’s a lot of public angst in several parts of the world about Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs). In one way this is surprising, because there is plenty of evidence that they’re entirely safe.

But in another way it’s not so surprising: most people don’t have the biomedical knowledge to know that other species’ DNA is making its way into plants all the time.

And, as this article from Cosmos points out, we have a psychological tendency to fear man-made risks more than natural ones. We also fear risks imposed on us more than ones we decide to subject ourselves to, which is why I think it would be fine to label GMO ingredients in a non-panicky way.

Research into human cognition and risk perception psychology has found that…the brain is only the organ with which we think we think. To be blunt: we are not as smart as we think we are…The brain is first and foremost in charge of keeping us alive and it uses everything it can to figure out whether something might pose a risk, including not only conscious reasoning but all the subconscious animal instincts we have evolved to make quick protective judgments about whether something feels scary. Many of those instincts have been identified, and several of them help explain why that angry young man in the coffee shop is so afraid of GMOs.

food

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Games I made in a Python class: play them

16 January 2014

A few weeks ago I finished my third free online Coursera course: An Introduction to Interactive Programming in Python.

I enjoyed it a great deal. I used to do a lot of programming, but it’s been a long time. I’d never done Python before but didn’t find it a difficult language to get my head around.

It was challenging, though. They covered a lot in the video lectures in each of the 8 weeks, moving very quickly through topics. There were quizzes and programming assignments every week. The amount and depth of work for a free course was considerable.

It focused on interactive programs – that is, games you can play – which was sort of new for me. It was also my first foray into object-oriented programming, which is well-suited for games. This was a challenging change of mindset at first but by the end I really got into it.

We created all our games in an online tool so that we could submit them for peer gaming. You can play the games I created, if you like. Here are a couple of the later ones. After clicking each link you’ll get a screen with the code on it; click the Run button (the one in the upper left with the little arrow) to play the game. Note that these probably won’t work in Internet Explorer, but they should work in Chrome, Firefox, or probably Safari.

Pong. Yep, the game with the two paddles and the bouncy ball. This is made for two players. The player on the left uses the W and S keys to move their paddle up and down; the player on the right uses the Up and Down arrow keys to move theirs. Note that we didn’t implement complicated bounces off the corners of the paddles; the ball either bounces back if it hits the front of the paddle or counts as a miss. There’s a  button to let you restart the game and score.

Memory. This is a single-player game where you turn over two cards at a time by clicking on them with the mouse. If the two you pick match they stay turned over; if they don’t they flip back when you click the next card. The object is to try to match them all in as few clicks as you can. Again, there’s a restart button.

Blackjack. A simple version of the classic card game. A single player plays against a dealer. You can hit (get an additional card) or stand (let the dealer take some); the winner is the closest to 21 without busting (going over). Dealer wins ties, and hits as long as he’s showing less than 16. After a game finishes, hit the Deal button for a new game.

RiceRocks. A simple version of the classic arcade game Asteroids. This one took us two weeks. Single player, but with fancy images and sound (which the course supplied). Use the Left and Right arrow keys to rotate your ship, use the Up arrow key to thrust forward, and the Space bar to shoot. You have three lives. Sorry, no hyperspace or flying saucers. After playing you’ll need to hit the Reset button on the code screen (the back arrow, the last button) or close the browser tab to make the sound stop. Sorry.

There’s a lot of geeky enjoyment built into these games. Enjoy.

RiceRocks

RiceRocks

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