Panglossing Over the Dirty Bits

The evilutionary superscientist P-Zed has just finished debating a horrid simpleton (i.e., a professional creationist) on talk radio. Being a professor, P-Zed knew to read up in advance, which in this case was a laugh riot in itself, because it meant reading his opponent’s book, What Darwin Didn’t Know. One chapter, “Purposeful Design,” argues (among other things) that the sexual organs of the human female were designed to maximize the pleasure of the missionary position.

Yes, it’s another entry in the department of “you couldn’t make this up if you tried.” Better still, for my money, is this bit:
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In Happier News, the ArXivotubes

Luciano da Fontoura Costa, “Communities in Neuronal Complex Networks Revealed by Activation Patterns” (arXiv:0801.4684):

Recently, it has been shown that the communities in neuronal networks of the integrate-and-fire type can be identified by considering patterns containing the beginning times for each cell to receive the first non-zero activation. The received activity was integrated in order to facilitate the spiking of each neuron and to constrain the activation inside the communities, but no time decay of such activation was considered. The present article shows that, by taking into account exponential decays of the stored activation, it is possible to identify the communities also in terms of the patterns of activation along the initial steps of the transient dynamics. The potential of this method is illustrated with respect to complex neuronal networks involving four communities, each of a different type (Erdös-Rény, Barabási-Albert, Watts-Strogatz as well as a simple geographical model). Though the consideration of activation decay has been found to enhance the communities separation, too intense decays tend to yield less discrimination.

The “simple geographical model” is one I’ve played with myself, since it’s so easy to implement (and serves as a null hypothesis for some problems of interest). Throw $$N$$ nodes into a box of $$d$$ dimensions, and connect two nodes if they are closer than some fixed threshold. In this case, the box was 2D, but a 3D version is just as easy to implement.

Controlled Experiments

“Okay, I’m going to hold a small piece of ice against your tooth to test for cold sensitivity. Are you ready?”

“Oh-hay.”

“First, I’ll hold it against the right side, which isn’t having any problems. How does that feel?”

“A i’hl ‘old — ah, ulp, a little cold, not too much pain.”

“Good. Now I’ll move over to the left side and touch it against tooth fifteen, where you’ve been having the ache.”

Aaaaaaahhhh!

On the plus side, I got my own copy of the X-ray picture which the dentist took. The older work on my upper left-side molars shows up as opaque blobs. Years of dissipation and unmoderated sugar intake, all condensed into a symbolism of metal! And, of course, it’s a picture of inside my head taken with invisible light. How cool is that?

2007 TU24: Essay Questions

Now that asteroid 2007 TU24 has safely passed us by, without a single one of the apocalyptic consequences foretold by doomsayers, a few questions linger in the mind:

1. How long will the aforesaid doomsayers keep their act going? “The asteroid isn’t outside of Earth’s magnetosphere yet! Just you wait! The worst is yet to come, because I can still feel its astrological influence perturbing the quantum vibrational levels of my chakras!”

2. How many trivial events, the likes of which happen every day, will be claimed as effects of the asteroid’s passage?

3. Who wants to play Asteroids on my projector TV?

Naturally

Quote of the evening:

People will offer you a pill made from the leaf of an obscure plant and say, “Take it, it can’t hurt you, it’s natural.” But so is deadly nightshade.

Alan Alda (2002)

Phil Plait on 2007 TU24

I haven’t posted a video in a while. So, in honor of today being Friday, here goes:

This is the formidable Phil Plait, explaining why the doomsayers are wrong about asteroid 2007 TU24. Four days from now, when we’re still here, I wonder how those people will react: will they just slink back into the shadows of the Net, or will we be treated to absurd stories about, say, website hit counters acting like prayer wheels and saving us from the Terrible Rock of Doom?

On the arXivotubes

Michael Schnabel, Matthias Kaschube, Fred Wolf, “Pinwheel stability, pattern selection and the geometry of visual space” (arXiv:0801.3832).

It has been proposed that the dynamical stability of topological defects in the visual cortex reflects the Euclidean symmetry of the visual world. We analyze defect stability and pattern selection in a generalized Swift-Hohenberg model of visual cortical development symmetric under the Euclidean group E(2). Euclidean symmetry strongly influences the geometry and multistability of model solutions but does not directly impact on defect stability.

Note to self: file alongside Bressloff, Cowan et al. for future reference.

The Name is Planck, Max Planck

The algorithm informs me that the title for the next James Bond movie, the sequel to the franchise reboot Casino Royale (2006), will be titled Quantum of Solace. This title comes from a short story in Ian Fleming’s collection For Your Eyes Only (1960); the movie of that name used elements from two stories in the book, a third story became part of Licence to Kill (1989), and the title of a fourth story was affixed to the film A View To A Kill (1985).

The title “Quantum of Solace” appears in the story as the smallest possible unit of human compassion. The following paragraph appears in both the Everything2 article on the story (dated 6 March 2001) and today’s Telegraph piece about the movie:

The crux of the story is the emotional phenomenon the Governor calls the Quantum of Solace, the smallest unit of human compassion that two people can have. As long as that compassion exists, people can survive, but when it is gone, when your partner no longer cares about your essential humanity, the relationship is over.

Well, OK, Lucy Cockcroft’s story in the Telegraph doesn’t have the words “of the story” following “crux.” Eit!

Popularizers of physics are going to have a field day with this one. Perhaps, just perhaps, we’ll finally have an example of quantum meaning small!

Math “Joke” of the Day

Q. John is a mathematician. John is a nihilist. John can’t tell a cow from a donut. What does John study?

A. Yep, pointless topology!

Thank you, thank you, I’ll be here all week. . . .

Open Lab Reviewed in Nature

The second annual anthology of science blogging has been reviewed in Nature. Joanne Baker writes,

The editor of this second anthology of the best scientific communiqués from the blogosphere thinks blogs offer new ways to discuss science. The Open Laboratory 2007: the Best Science Writing on Blogs (Lulu.com, 2008) takes the curious approach of using dead tree format to highlight the diversity of scientific ideas, opinions and voices flowing across the Internet.

It is a little paradoxical, when you think about it. To pick the “best” science blog posts, you have to find the ones which work in a non-bloggy format!

Next they’ll be asking which blog posts make the best plots for movies. . . .

Every year a different guest editor â€” here Reed Cartwright, a blogger and genetics and bioinformatics postdoc from North Carolina State University â€” picks the best posts to coincide with the Science Blogging Conference (in North Carolina on 19 January). First-hand accounts bring to life the stresses of a graduate student, a mother returning to the bench and an archaeologist’s joy at unearthing mammoth fossils. Topics tackled are as varied as the writers, from Viagra and tapeworms to trepanning. Explanations are often offered with a personal twist, such as a father’s tale of his child’s Asperger’s syndrome. The measured voices of trustworthy academics make medical research easy to swallow.

Just a spoonful of authority helps the medicine go down! Incidentally, do these selected highlights sound slanted to the life sciences? Well, I should really be asking the same question about the full list of entries, but on that list we’ve got the perils of taking averages, what a “year” really means, the life and death of cold fusion, cyberwar and quantum algorithms, not to slight a more philosophical piece on testability in Earth science.

If you are overwhelmed by the surge in science-related blogging and don’t know where to start, then this compilation may help you steer a course through the sea of perspectives on offer â€” or inspire you to start a blog yourself.

Well, I guess I didn’t screw things up for everybody else, after all.

(Tip’a the fedora to Bora.)

Shorter Tony Campolo

Tony Campolo, author of Letters to a Young Evangelical (2006), has written a diatribe against Charles Darwin which shamelessly regurgitates the ignorant, hateful crap we’ve seen and debunked countless times before. To summarize his position,

Slandering the discoverer of a scientific truth and implying that science has made no progress in the past 150 years are both vitally necessary if we wish to love and honor Jesus.

We can also summarize the response from the seasoned Network travelers:

LOGIC — YOU’RE DOING IT WRONG.

Fixing the defective wiring between Campolo’s ears is left as an exercise for the interested reader.

Spraying Habits of Pop Science

OK, my fellow specimens, it’s time for a rant. This subject came up at lunch today, and I noticed it again at Terra Sigillata; the second occurrence managed to ruin the good mood I’d achieved by reading Neil Shubin’s Your Inner Fish (2008), which is a great book that everybody should buy.

The subject of this rant is the role economics plays in debates on science education, and more broadly, on a meta-level of rantery, the way people are deciding the roles which different tactics should have in science education. To illustrate the problem, let’s have a story. You’re a scientist, I’m a concerned parent, and we’re at a PTA meeting. You say, “We have to teach evolution in our schools, because evolution is the central concept in biology, and the biotech sector is a big part of our economy.” You’ve got my attention â€” that’s step zero! Job well done. Isn’t the appeal to the pocketbook — and the “think of the children” ploy — an effective tactic?
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Joseph Chikelue Obi: Bully and Fraud

Orac reports that the Quackometer Blog is once again under legal pressure. Last time, it was the Society of Homeopaths who wanted the Quackometer off the Net; now, it’s Joseph Chikelue Obi, the world’s foremost expert in metaphysico-theologo-cosmolonigology — excuse me, I meant to say, “nutritional immunomudulation.” He demanded one million pounds for each day that the “highly defamatory contents” of the Quackometer’s website continued to remain visible.

Unhappily, the Quackometer’s ISP caved to the legal pressure (that’s British libel law [EDIT: and spineless ISPs] for ya). But Sunclipse comes to you from the city where, a couple hundred years ago, some uppity colonials started lifting their pewter tankards and proclaiming, “I say, let us have ourselves a Revolution.” So suck it, Dr. Obi — you and everyone else who endangers human life by degrading the practice of medicine.
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Happenings

Abbie Smith is reporting back after finding some truly frightening people in Oklahoma City. Russell Blackford has been appointed editor-in-chief of The Journal of Evolution and Technology, and Tyler DiPietro has written an informative post on the “hiring problem” in algorithm analysis and a practical application of Kolmogorov complexity.

I spent an hour after lunch today experimenting with a toy model of the science blogosphere, investigating how preferential attachment can skew the gender distribution of “Top 10” lists even when individual bloggers are egalitarian and gender-blind. I’ve got the equations for my next SUSY QM post worked out, and a path through them mapped.