Friday, January 18, 2019

Those Who Cannot Remember The Past

James Dewey Watson is 90 years old. The plot to remove honours from Watson and to taint his reputation has been simmering for decades. The same can be said of the other scientists who shared the 1962 Nobel Prize in Physiology. Their elucidation of the structure of DNA was the greatest science achievement of the 20th Century.

When I was at school, the names were Watson, Crick and Wilkins. That trio was synonymous with the way science had become integrated from traditional biology, chemistry and physics. Towards the end of the 20th Century, New Zealand born Maurice Wilkins' name was dropped from that prestigious group. The structure of DNA became attributed to the work of Watson and Crick. Wilkins had been targeted in the move to discredit all three scientists because he was the X-ray crystallographer. The moves had always been to discredit the prizewinners for their alleged use or misuse of data obtained by the X-ray chrystallographer, Rosalind Franklin, who was seen as a rival to Wilkins.

There was always controversy surrounding Franklin's ability to work with Watson, Crick and Wilkins and the contribution that she had undoubtedly made to the work of that team. There was also controversy over who should have been given the most credit for crystallographic studies that contributed to the elucidation of the structure of DNA in 1953, Franklin or Wilkins. However, Franklin died some years before the Nobel Prize was awarded for the work on DNA, so there was no way that she could have been given recognition through such an award. Nobel prizes are not awarded posthumously.

A considerable and accumulating lobby against the famous scientists was made by feminist groups over the years and they used a range of reasons for their campaigns. Latterly, their thrust was of the lack of science honours awarded to women. Rosalind Franklin was featured several times as an example of a female scientist who missed out, notably with reference to the Nobel Prize that was awarded to Watson, Crick and Wilkins after her death.

The momentum for castigation against Watson increased substantially after he was questioned for his controversial opinion of average IQ related to Africans who were native to Africa, which he made known in 2007 – and a new reason for castigation was found. By that time Francis Crick and Maurice Wilkins had died, both in 2004.

James Watson was the last remaining part of the target that was DNA Nobel Prize winners. He has now been hit a bullseye with the ultimate condemnation. He has been stripped of all his academic honours including his Nobel Prize award.

The popular narrative holds that there is no difference between the average IQ of individual races. I don't believe that Watson was stating anything other than the truth when he voiced his opinion about race and IQ, an opinion based on hard core evidence obtained from many studies by different researchers. His attitude was certainly not racist, no more than that of Albert Einstein who has been castigated recently for notes he scribbled in his own private holiday diary, over 100 years ago, on aspects of Chinese culture that he disliked.

Watson's recent castigation is uncannily similar to that of Galileo's in the 17th Century. Galileo was undoubtedly a brilliant scientist who was maligned by those who defended popular narratives at the time and sought to castigate him for his beliefs that differed from those narratives.

In the words of George Santayana,

"Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."

Saturday, July 30, 2016

And The Answer's a Lemon

Isn't it amazing the junk you can find on the Internet? YouTube is a haven for pranksters who make money out of deceit. They broadcast their fraudulent junk on a huge scale. The most recent I came across is this one. It has made over 16,000,000 hits in a few months. It is not scientific and it wouldn't work. It is charlatan snake oil. As well, it's ethically fraudulent and morally misleading. Anyone who is unfortunate enough to have all the resources available at the time they desperately need assistance is in for a shock if they try this for the contraption will not make fire.

The broadcaster demonstrated how this contraption produced enough electrical current to set fire to a bundle of steel wool and dry paper.

I'm appalled at the vast amount of so-called quick and easy fixes to be found on the Internet and that are neither quick nor are they fixes.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Einstein was Right

We've seen light waves from space; now we can see gravity waves.

A hundred years ago, Einstein said that gravity waves existed but they'd never been detected. We now know he was correct. 

Antennas of the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) in Washington State and Louisiana have just detected the gravity 'sound' of two black holes coalescing a billion light years away. Previous to the observation, the black holes were responsible for the phenomenon well known as a pulsar, like the famous PSR B1913+16 in the constellation of Aquila. 

The black holes collapsed a billion years ago, sending out gravity waves and now remain as a single black hole depleted of some of its mass due to the release of this energy.

Check out the blurb.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Food for Thought

The latest OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) result is that computers don't help student learning.

In a recent paper by Peter Evans-Greenwood, Kitty O’Leary, Peter Williams, Deloitte, 18 Sept 2015, the authors write, "(E)ducators need to turn their attention to creating environments and platforms where students can learn what they need to learn when they need to, and instilling in them the habits of mind, attitudes and behaviours that will enable them to thrive in today’s (and tomorrow’s) knowledge-rich environment."

Food for thought?

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

The Myths about the New ‘P’

The US Federal Government, through FDA, has just recently approved the manufacture and use of Palcohol following the false start over its approval last year.

Palcohol is sometimes referred to as 'powdered alcohol' which is a misnomer since Palcohol is not powdered alcohol at all. It is a substance created and manufactured by Mark Phillips, an Arizona businessman. In its rawest form, a preparation like Palcohol consist of pure alcohol held in a matrix of cyclodextrin, an edible white powder, like starch and that is soluble in water. Cyclodextrin, if eaten, is non-toxic, is not sweet, is not digested and is a contribution to dietary fibre. Raw Palcohol looks like icing sugar.

Palcohol has yet to reach the market place in a commercial form, but several states in the US are already preparing to the ban the sale of this substance if they haven’t done so

There’s been a recent revival of activity on the Internet about this now not-so-new consumable, most of which is wrong and has been spread around through ignorance. I applaud Phil Mason's (Thunderf00t's) initiative in swiftly identifying invalid data circulated via the Internet last year. 

Here’s just some of the myths associated with Palcohol:

It can be used to spike drinks.

While this might be true, it would be very difficult to spike a drink successfully using Palcohol. First, the substance has to be stirred for at least a minute for the powder to disperse. Then there is the matter of the volume of powder required to spike the drink effectively – Palcohol contains only about 10% by volume of alcohol. To have the equivalent effect of a single shot of vodka would require almost half a cupful of the powder – not something easy to conceal, never mind dissolve in a standard drink.

Snorting Palcohol gets you drunk superfast.

This myth is hilariously funny for it would mean snorting about half a cupful of Palcohol to get the same effect as drinking one shot of vodka. What is funnier is that even one snort of the powder would cause the consumer unbearable discomfort and pain.

Palcohol is easier to conceal than liquid alcohol.

Pure alcohol forms only 10% of the volume of the Palcohol that holds it. A far easier and more discrete way to conceal alcohol would be to hide the liquid in a suitable container – a practice that has been used for centuries. Palcohol is just too bulky for any useful amount of it to be carried discretely.

Alcohol is heavier than Palcohol so airlines could save millions on fuel costs by providing Palcohol instead of traditional alcoholic drinks. Similar savings can be obtained through lower shipping costs for resorts that rely on imported alcohol.

This is almost as funny as the idea that snorting Palcohol is a quick way to get drunk. Palcohol contains about 50% alcohol by weight, so clearly it would be far cheaper to transport liquid alcohol than the twice as heavy equivalent amount of Palcohol.

Palcohol presents a higher risk than alcohol on its own.

Palcohol certainly does not present any risk to the consumer greater than that already presented by liquid alcohol. In many ways the risks are lessened due to the form that the alcohol is in when received initially by the consumer. An example of this is Palcohol’s inability to flow like liquid alcohol, so it presents a lesser fire risk. 

However, there is one risk that Palcohol now has the potential to present due to the recent publicity of it as a possible banned substance. It is well known that if any substance is banned, consumption of it inevitably increases. When it's eventually released to the market, I predict that the sale of Palcohol will skyrocket initially due to this publicity and level off to an extent that we may never hear much of its existence again.