Bullfighting

Myths, Misconceptions and Misunderstandings

In late 2012, applied mathematician Samuel Arbesman released an intriguing little book called ‘The Half-Life of Facts’ in which he seeks to explain why a lot of the information that we all thought we knew is continually being disproven. It’s an interesting read, but the central premise should really come as no surprise. After all, science is based upon a continued quest for the refinement of knowledge, in which no theory, no matter how precious, is allowed to become immune to refutation. Still, there remains a stalwart group of pseudo scientific ‘facts’ that possess the peculiar ability to survive intact, even in the face of new contradictory evidence. So in the spirit of public service, and with the hope of helping to cleanup mankind’s collective meme pool, here’s a list of some of science’s most common misconceptions.   5) Bulls are enraged by the colour red This myth is so prevalent it’s even become the basis for a common British …

snake-eating-egg

Why Beethoven could not have been a reptile (or why you can’t swallow a cantaloupe for breakfast)

This is the story of three little bones.They’re called the ossicles (literally little bones in Latin), and they’re in your ear. Unless, that is, you happen to be a reptile reading this, in which case you’ll only have one in each ear with the other two (or rather four) distributed symmetrically in your jaw. It’s a curious bit of evolutionary history, and nicely illustrates an aspect of evolution which called exaptation, the re-purposing of an existing structure. The presence of the ossicles in the reptilian jaw is one of the factors which allows some reptiles (particularly snakes) to swallow things significantly bigger than their own heads (think of a python swallowing a deer, and you’ll get the idea).In mammals on the other hand, these ossicles migrated the short distance from the tip where the jaw meets the skull into the zone known as the middle ear, where they joined the single bone of the reptilian ear which connects the ear-drum …

brave_new_world

Tomorrow’s World

Chances are, if you’re reading this, then you’re a bit of a Science Fiction geek. But even if you do happen to be one of those weird people who remain unfazed by the latest Star Trek trailer, you’re probably still familiar with some of Sci-Fi’s most famous ‘inventions’. From Captain Kirk’s wireless communicator to Marty Mcfly’s pink hoverboard, Sci-Fi has long been predicting the future, with widely varying degrees of success. Still, every once in a while an author comes along with an idea that is so groundbreaking and so accurate that it simply beggars belief. In honour of these scientific savants, we’ve trawled through the history books to bring you Science Fiction’s top five technological predictions.   5) Invention: In Vitro Fertilization, Author: Aldous Huxley In July 1978, Louise Brown achieved instant fame when she became the first baby to be born using in vitro fertilization. As well as bringing joy to her family and friends, her arrival also …

Into That Forest

Book Review: Into That Forest

Into That Forest Author: Louis Nowra Published: 7 January 2013 Publisher: Egmont Books Summary: Wonderfully told and deeply moving ‒ an instant classic. It’s strange to think that, under the right conditions, humans can revert back to the wild state our ancestors worked so hard to detach civilised society from. After all, we still have the tools; keen eyesight and hearing, a decent sense of smell and a predators’ ability to problem solve, we just fail to utilise them, or simply employ them in different ways. And regressing to the wild-side is exactly what happens in Into That Forest; stranded in the Tasmanian wilderness, two young girls, Hannah and Becky, are adopted by a pair of Tasmanian tigers and spend the subsequent four years learning to hunt, read the outback and generally live as wild animals. As the girls integrate themselves with their new parents, they lose the use of English, instead opting to employ the grunts, snarls and body language of …

bicentennial man

When do You stop being You?

Canadian scientists have created a functioning virtual brain able to do many complex tasks humans take for granted – from remembering lists to recognising number. It can even do some basic components of IQ tests. The Semantic Pointer Architecture Unified Network – or SPAUN for short – was created by Chris Eliasmith and his team at the University of Waterloo. With its 2.5 million simulated neurons SPAUN is way ahead of the curve in terms of ability.  It can see with a virtual “eye” and has a virtual “arm” that it uses to draw.  This is all achieved by simulating what tasks the brain can carry out, rather than simulating the exact functioning of the brain. Other projects, such as The Blue Brain Project (TBBP), are taking a slightly more reductionist approach by attempting to simulate every single neuron in action. In 2005, TBBP had created its first simulated nerve cell. By 2008, it was running an artificial neocortical column consisting of 10,000 …

heatwave-in-australia

Heatwave turns Australia purple

Over the past week many parts of Australia have been influenced by unseasonably high temperatures. Although it is the peak of summer, temperatures have continued to soar above average. So high in fact that the Australian Bureau of Meteorology (BOM)  has had to add extra colours to their temperature scale in their colour map. These high temperatures have been caused by a ridge of high pressure developing across the country bringing dry and settled conditions. In addition to this, the El Nino Southern Oscillation (ENSO) pattern is beginning to turn more towards La Nina bringing warmer sea temperatures to the area. ENSO is a climatic pattern that occurs in the tropical Pacific Ocean and alters the temperatures of the water. La Nina is known as the cool phase as the cool water in the eastern Pacific intensifies and the trade winds intensify  but these means that warmer seas are more likely around eastern Australia.  Tuesday (Monday night in the UK) has been the hottest …

ahunter

DVD Review: The Hunter

The Hunter Released: 29 October 2012 Starring: Willem Dafoe, Frances O’Connor, Sam Neil Summary: A beautiful, poignant film with a magnificent central performance from Dafoe.  The thylacine (or Tasmanian tiger) officially became extinct in 1936 but, despite this fact, sightings have been widely reported across the Australian island state of Tasmania ever since. And this is what inspires the basic premise of The Hunter (based on the 1999 novel of the same name): having been reliably informed that a single tiger still survives near to a tiny Tasmanian logging town, a sinister biotech corporation hires Willem Dafoe’s shady character (alias Martin David) to hunt it down for them. Under the flaky guise of a researcher studying wild Tasmanian devils, Martin arrives at his mission site to a hostile reception: ‘we don’t like greenies around here’ is what one angry local tells him in the town bar. And so Martin begins the tricky task of tracking down his elusive quarry whilst trying not …

snow

Extreme cold in China

With temperatures having recently plummeted across most of China, meteorologist Sally Webb explains exactly what’s going on, and outlines some of the crippling consequences for those affected. Temperatures across much of Asia are below average at the moment, but especially so in China. Generally, temperatures are about 5°C below average, but over higher ground they’re dropping to roughly 15°C below what’s expected for this time of year. Bar the south-east coast, most regions have experienced maximum temperatures in the minus numbers and Bayanbulak, a site on top of the Tianshan mountains, had a maximum temperature of a devastatingly low -31.4°C. Even in more populated areas temperatures have struggled to rise over 5°C during the day, and have dropped well below freezing overnight. Off China’s east coast, the Laizhou Bay froze when sea surface temperatures descended below 1°C and local media has reported that over 1,000 ships are trapped in the ice. In addition to this, one hundred commercial flights have been cancelled in the …

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