Originally published at Twixel.net. You can comment here or there.

Alex, a Parrot Who Had a Way With Words, Dies - New York Times

He knew his colors and shapes, he learned more than 100 English words, and with his own brand of one-liners he established himself in TV shows, scientific reports, and news articles as perhaps the world’s most famous talking bird.

But last week Alex, an African Grey parrot, died, apparently of natural causes, said Dr. Irene Pepperberg, a comparative psychologist at Brandeis University and Harvard who studied and worked with the parrot for most of its life and published reports of his progress in scientific journals. The parrot was 31.

That was one smart bird. I’ve read about him several times over the years.

Originally published at Twixel.net. You can comment here or there.

From Bad Astronomy…

Bad Astronomy Blog » Texas: really, really doomed
When I posted about Don McLeroy, a creationist who the Texas governor just appointed to head the State Board of Education, I knew the situation was serious. Following in the bleak tradition of this current White House of making sure you appoint the absolute worst 180-degree-wrong person for a job, McLeroy seems to be the perfect candidate: he thinks the Universe is 6000 years old, he thinks evolution is wrong, he wants to bring religion into the classroom, he honestly thinks abstinence-only sex education is a good idea. I read his website, too, where he makes all this — and much more — very clear.

On his own this guy would just make me sad. But as the head of the BoE, he is dangerous. He wants to brainwash kids. And his ideas would make someone’s from the Dark Ages appear quaint.


I’ve known Rick Perry was a douchebag for awhile…. he’s really validating my opinion with this dumbass.

Originally published at Twixel.net. You can comment here or there.

First artificial life ‘within months’
Scientists could create the first new form of artificial life within months after a landmark breakthrough in which they turned one bacterium into another.
In a development that has triggered unease and excitement in equal measure, scientists in the US took the whole genetic makeup - or genome - of a bacterial cell and transplanted it into a closely related species. This then began to grow and multiply in the lab, turning into the first species in the process. The team that carried out the first “species transplant” says it plans within months to do the same thing with a synthetic genome made from scratch in the laboratory. If that experiment worked, it would mark the creation of a synthetic lifeform.

Very radical work and very cool.

Originally published at Twixel.net. You can comment here or there.

Pharyngula: Another Christian Science Fair embarrasses itself
It’s becoming a trend: Evangelical Christian institutions that try to do science inevitable demonstrate breathtaking inanity of their own. The latest victim is the Pawleys Island Christian Academy. Take a gander at the first place winner in biology.

Brian Benson, an eighth-grade student who won first place in the Life Science/Biology category for his project “Creation Wins!!!,” says he disproved part of the theory of evolution. Using a rolled-up paper towel suspended between two glasses of water with Epsom Salts, the paper towel formed stalactites. He states that the theory that they take millions of years to develop is incorrect.

“Scientists say it takes millions of years to form stalactites,” Benson said. “However, in only a couple of hours, I have formed stalactites just by using paper towel and Epsom Salts.”

This isn’t just wrong, it’s appallingly wrong. He’s wrong on the facts, wrong on the interpretations, wrong on the understanding of how science works. If we’re charitable and grant that a 14 year old has some reasonable excuse for ignorance, we can still indict his parents, his science teacher, and the judges at this fair on gross incompetence on multiple charges.

* This experiment has nothing to do with biology.
* Epsom salts are magnesium sulfate; stalactites are made of calcium carbonate.
* Stalactite growth rates are estimated to be around 0.1-10 centimeters per thousand years. If we assume his ’stalactite’ was 10 cm long and use the slowest growth rate, that’s 100 thousand years, not millions.
* Even if he had demonstrated an accelerated rate of stalactite growth, stalactite length isn’t the method used to date the age of the earth.
* To quote the unquestionable authority, Terry Pratchett: “And all those exclamation points? Five? A sure sign of someone who wears his underpants on his head.” Mister Benson comes perilously close to the underpants limit in his title.

Holy Morons, Batman.

Originally published at Twixel.net. You can comment here or there.

Gene mutation linked to cognition is found only in humans
The human and chimpanzee genomes vary by just 1.2 percent, yet there is a considerable difference in the mental and linguistic capabilities between the two species. A new study showed that a certain form of neuropsin, a protein that plays a role in learning and memory, is expressed only in the central nervous systems of humans and that it originated less than 5 million years ago. The study, which also demonstrated the molecular mechanism that creates this novel protein, will be published online in Human Mutation, the official journal of the Human Genome Variation Society.

Very interesting stuff. I’d be curious to see what this protein did in the other primates and in dolphins and squid.

Originally published at Twixel.net. You can comment here or there.

Women have played major role in history — from the start, authors assert
Of greatest import in this book is the idea that women have always been major players – not simply baby-machines who tended to the children, rustled up roots, collected nuts and berries and relied on macho male hunters to bring home the bacon.

In fact, the authors’ spadework led them to a striking conclusion: that “female humans have been the chief engine in the unprecedented high level of human sociability; were the inventors of the most useful of tools – called the String Revolution; have shared equally in the provision of food for human societies; almost certainly drove the human invention of language; and were the ones who created agriculture.”


But of course.

Originally published at Twixel.net. You can comment here or there.

Discovery Channel :: News - Animals :: Chimps More Evolved Than Humans?
A comparison of human and chimpanzee genes has revealed a startling possibility: chimps may have evolved more than humans in the 6 or 7 million years since both diverged from a common ancestor.

A study comparing human and chimp genes that appear to have evolved since we parted ways shows that humans have about 154 such genes and our nearest primate relative a whopping 233.

This implies that chimps have undergone more evolutionary changes than humans over the same period of time. It also underscores a common misunderstanding that if an animal is “more evolved” it must be smarter or superior to others in some way.


Very interesting.

Originally published at Twixel.net. You can comment here or there.

The prospect of all-female conception - Independent Online Edition > Science & Technology
Women might soon be able to produce sperm in a development that could allow lesbian couples to have their own biological daughters, according to a pioneering study published today.

Scientists are seeking ethical permission to produce synthetic sperm cells from a woman’s bone marrow tissue after showing that it possible to produce rudimentary sperm cells from male bone-marrow tissue.

The researchers said they had already produced early sperm cells from bone-marrow tissue taken from men. They believe the findings show that it may be possible to restore fertility to men who cannot naturally produce their own sperm.

But the results also raise the prospect of being able to take bone-marrow tissue from women and coaxing the stem cells within the female tissue to develop into sperm cells, said Professor Karim Nayernia of the University of Newcastle upon Tyne.


Interesting science. One more piece in the puzzle.

Originally published at Twixel.net. You can comment here or there.

Really Old Stars Perhaps Ideal for Advanced Civilizations - Yahoo! News
Why are SETI scientists interested in M-Stars? As Dr. Peter Backus, Observing Programs Manager for SETI, concluded in a preliminary report on the M-Stars workshop, ‘One…aspect of M dwarfs makes them intriguing for SETI: they may be ideal hosts for advanced technological civilizations because they live an extraordinarily long time. Stars like the Sun live (i.e., they fuse hydrogen into helium) for only about 10 billion years. No M dwarf that ever formed has yet to die; no M dwarf will die for more than another 100 billion years. With such long lifetimes, there are big possibilities for these small stars.’

http://www.keo.org/uk/pages/message.php

Kind of an interesting concept. I got to writing and then started rambling. Wondering how much detail to put into it. Trying to avoid colloquialisms and references that people won't have a clue about in 50K years. Kind of a fun excercise - it's very similar to how you'd have to write to an alien that had never experienced Earth. At least that's what I figure.
http://www.latimes.com/news/local/la-me-mormon16feb16,0,5561316.story

A few years ago, Loayza said, his faith was shaken and his identity stripped away by DNA evidence showing that the ancestors of American natives came from Asia, not the Middle East.

"I've gone through stages," he said. "Absolutely denial. Utter amazement and surprise. Anger and bitterness."

For Mormons, the lack of discernible Hebrew blood in Native Americans is no minor collision between faith and science. It burrows into the historical foundations of the Book of Mormon, a 175-year-old transcription that the church regards as literal and without error.

For those outside the faith, the depth of the church's dilemma can be explained this way: Imagine if DNA evidence revealed that the Pilgrims didn't sail from Europe to escape religious persecution but rather were part of a migration from Iceland — and that U.S. history books were wrong.
groovychk: (science)
Britons unconvinced on evolution

More than half the British population does not accept the theory of evolution, according to a survey.
Furthermore, more than 40% of those questioned believe that creationism or intelligent design should be taught in school science lessons.

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/sci/tech/4648598.stm
"Minister for Sustainable Development Mona Sahlin has declared that Sweden is going to become the first country in the world to break the dependence on fossil energy. Sweden will stop using oil by 2020 and eventually the energy supply of the country will be based on renewable energy only. The goal is to gradually rid the country of gasoline-run cars and oil-heated homes"

http://www.treehugger.com/files/2006/01/sweden_raises_t.php
http://www.usatoday.com/news/nation/2006-01-20-md-same-sex-mariage_x.htm

"Although tradition and societal values are important, they cannot be given so much weight that they alone will justify a discriminatory" law, she wrote.

This is common sense. Amazing... as opposed to good ol' Texas and the institutionalized evil we're creating.
groovychk: (science)
http://www.nzherald.co.nz/section/story.cfm?c_id=5&ObjectID=10364423

An excerpt -

Both men and women feel empathy towards people they know experiencing pain but in men the empathy turns to pleasure when the victim is someone they dislike.

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