Cool Links

If you ask most people what Froot Loops taste like, they will give you a litany of flavors, based on the colors they remember, it seems. 

It's all in their heads, just like buying organic food or homeopathy flu medication. In reality, Froot Loops all taste the same. 

This is not news, it's been well documented since at least the 1990s but it got mentioned in TIME a few days ago and so the blogosphere has been engaged in faux outrage. Not the kind of hyper outrage a Nature editor gets if he uses a real person's name after being insulted over and over on Twitter, but outrage just the same.
The administration has never gotten tired of the idea that money is just something they print and so the solution to the student debt problem - which government created decades ago by declaring a college education a 'right' and making student loans unlimited - is to start forgiving student loans.

This is the wrong approach. Writing in The Atlantic, Jordan Weissmann notes Department of Education data showing that undergraduate tuition at public colleges for the entire United States was under $63 billion.
On Christmas Eve, the Russian research vessel Akademik Shokalskiy, on an Antarctic expedition to duplicate a voyage 100 years ago, the 1911-to-1913 voyage of Australian explorer Douglas Mawson to Antarctica, and study the effects of global warming, became stuck in ice and its 52 passengers were trapped for 8 days before a helicopter from the Chinese ship Xue Long rescued them.

Then the Xue Long got stuck in the ice.

Like climate activists and journalists who insist they need to fly to every climate meeting to build relationships while they tell us to reduce our carbon footprint, it has to be asked how much carbon was created undertaking the trip and the resulting rescue. Answer: A lot.
PETA has decided to show it's support for animal rights by giving human animals hypothermia.

But only female human animals. They seem to hate female humans. No idea why, but hatred is the only explanation for why they would send mostly-naked women onto the streets of Minneapolis wearing nothing but lettuce.

Temperature: 0 degrees. At that temperature frostbite can occur on exposed skin within 30 minutes if the winds reach speeds of 15 miles per hour.
There are no chestnuts roasting on an open fire this Christmas if you live in San Francisco, But, really, if you cared about science, freedom or tolerance you moved long ago so you don't mind. You may even be a member of the SPCC - the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Chestnuts. 

The Bay Area Air Quality Management District says light winds mean the air would be unsafe to breathe if residents burned actual wood in their fireplaces, so they have announced that wood burning will be banned Christmas Eve and probably on Christmas Day, too.

“We’re not picking these days for the fun of it or anything, it completely has to do with the science behind air pollution,” said air district spokesman Tom Flannigan.

Holidays are a big season for anti-science groups. Greenpeace gave us a mopey, dirty Santa saying the North Pole was going to melt and now an anti-GMO group in Russia comes right out and says what most groups won't come right out and say - that GMOs should be banned.

Most anti-science types at least establish a pretense of 'we distrust corporations' or 'this needs to be studied until we find someone to say GMOs are evil'. Not Russia.  Irina Ermakova, vice president of Russia’s National Association for Genetic Safety says “it is necessary to ban GMO, to impose moratorium [on it] for 10 years. While GMO will be prohibited, we can plan experiments, tests, or maybe even new methods of research could be developed.”
A systematic review of studies has found insufficient evidence that vitamin and mineral supplements are effective for preventing cardiovascular disease, cancer, or mortality from those diseases in healthy adults.

Two studies included in the review found lower overall cancer incidence in men who took a multivitamin for over 10 years. Those same studies showed no cancer protection benefit for women.
The eco-terrorism that made Greenpeace famous is no longer in vogue and a large part of their traditionally liberal base has been turned off by their irrational anti-science crusades against food, energy and medicine - basically, the only science they accept is climate science and only then as long as the IPCC continues to estimate our doom.

They are dutifully trying to train the next generation of people scared about science - and they are willing to stoop to Santa to do it. 
Shortly after you began seeing television advertisements for 23andMe, they are gone again. 

Its aggressive marketing campaign has caused skepticism from the FDA about its accuracy - and the claims the company was making made sound a lot like a medical device. 23andMe probably wanted to avoid that kind of approval process, since it takes years but stonewalling the FDA likely did not help.

Now the company says it would only provide ancestry information and raw health data.
Researchers recently decided to see how many Lego bricks end up stuck together after they've all been spun, naturally. To see what "complexes arise" when you tumble those bricks they created "a primitive analog Monte Carlo agent."

Monte Carlo procedures are ways of using algorithms to map everything that might happen in a complex event, then determine from that which events are most likely to happen. Spin enough bricks and you could chart the probability of which bricks get stuck together. 

So they put a whole bucket of old Lego bricks (from the late 1960's and the early 1970's) into a Miele(TM) washing machine. The bricks were treated for 70 minutes, at 40 degree Celsius, without speed spinning at the end, without washing powder.
Self-regulation does not always work. If someone finds an exploit then not using the exploit becomes a competitive disadvantage, and there is nothing inherently ethical about having all of your workforce go on unemployment.  As finance markets have shown us, ethical self-regulation will not occur, and as Cathy O'Neil at MathBabe shows, that is unlikely in the world of Big Data either.
Imagine if there were a simple single statistical measure everybody could use with any set of data and it would reliably separate true from false. Oh, the things we would know!

That is unrealistic, of course.

Yet statistical significance is commonly treated as though it were a magic wand. Take a null hypothesis or look for any association between factors in a data set and abracadabra! Get a “p value” over or under 0.05 and you can be 95% certain it’s either a fluke or it isn’t. You can eliminate chance! You can separate the signal from the noise! You can declare that Republicans are anti-science and Democrats have prettier daughters!
The round wheel was invented because, you know, hauling stuff from place to place on circular things made travel a lot smoother. Imagine putting a wagon on triangles, you would be bouncing and jolting the whole time. And, really, that's the only thing I can't do with triangles. Circles are smooooth.

We know round wheels work, so why would anyone do what that oft-used cliché says you should not do and reinvent the wheel?

Because that's math, it doesn't have to be real. Math is a language so mathematicians can travel through time and make me invisible too - just like science fiction writers can. That doesn't mean they will.
There's no question that if someone asks me what is the best way to make coffee, I am going to tell them with my Chemex. All of the expensive machines in the world can't match this elegant feat of simple engineering.

But I am not a coffee snob. Well, sort of not. When Keurig was still just a leased restaurant machine, they had no home version for their single-cup pods, I bought one from a restaurant sale. It was pretty expensive then but today you can get a home machine for around $150. So I was being a little coffee snobbish avant-garde in buying the machine in the first place but now I am the anti-snob, because single cup machines are gauche and a single cup brew from a pod is what I drink in the morning.
Monsanto has given up trying to introduce modern food science to Europe and that has been a windfall for legacy methods of genetic modification.

Now, BASF and DuPont are eating into continental market share using mutagenesis, which mimics the sun’s irradiation of plants, to create herbicide-resistant crops. It's obviously nothing new, before activists discovered worries about precise genetic modification they expressed no concern at all about the older mutagenesis techniques that produced thousands of varieties of lettuce, oats, rice, and other crops.
Modern science is comprised of cold, objective, Spock-like, reason-based, data-driven searchers in a quest for the truths about natural laws.

Ha ha ha.

In reality, science overall is much like it has always been. It is composed of some charlatans chasing the latest popular tripe, some who are in it for the money, some who are terrible and some who are great. Just like any other job. But a modern mythology has been carefully crafted and if you are competing for taxpayer money, it helps to promote the belief that your way is more ethical, noble and pure than science done by the private sector.

It makes for a tidy narrative. And a completely fake one.
The British Library, videogame festival GameCity and software company Crytek, recently launched the “Off The Map” competition, where participants would have to turn historic maps and engravings into a 3D environment using Crytek's CRYENGINE software.

Contestants could elect to depict Stonehenge, the Pyramids at Giza, or the Tower of London.

Six second-year students from De Montfort University in Leicester went one better - instead of just the Tower of London before 1666, they rendered shops and stalls, sooty back alleys and wharves, gallows and church cemeteries, London Bridge and Pudding Lane, where the fire originated. Even the sunlight has an aspect of historical grime to it. 
In its short existence, No Child Left Behind, which was voted into existence in overwhelmingly bipartisan fashion, accomplished a lot. Girls and boys achieved parity in math for the first time in history, test scores for minorities went up across the board - but it had to die.

It mostly had to die because a Republican had signed it and President Obama, the successor to President Bush, dutifully honored the national teacher's unions once he realized how national politics works. Prior to a looming reelection he had been endorsed both merit pay and No Child Left Behind.

Its successor, because teachers said they do not like 'teaching to the test', are Common Core standards.  And they are taking education from flawed to worse.
Producing research that is accessible, highly-cited, globally visible and impactful is no easy task. Aside from being quality research, it requires multiple other skill sets and competition is fierce.

There are over 3 million research articles written each year and even with pay-to-publish and 'light review' open access journals, only half will show up in international journals.
Know how many scientists got started wondering about nature by blasting ants with a magnifying glass?

Quite a few, actually. While most scientists and engineers don't necessarily like Sid in "Toy Story", they confess to being a lot like him, Frankenstein-ing together toys and hooking things up to firecrackers and such.

With that in mind, The Backyard Brains company has created an app intended to get children to be interested in neuroscience. And I bet it works. But it is controversial, at least among the demographic that makes everything controversial.