Medical Studies

This video covers how doctors get swayed by the money. There are various ways that this happens. They get gifts. They are shown promotional material and then asked their opinion on it for $1000. They get flown around to nice places for meetings and have their expenses cover. Doctors in academia as the video says “Go for the science and stay for the money”. They get RICH. The conclusion of a medical study seems to come from who backs the study more than by actual facts. The subtitle for this video is:Financial Conflicts of Interests and the End of Evidence-Based Medicine. I hope we have not seen the “end” yet. (The video is 50 minutes but watching just the start will give you an idea of it. Sorry Mike, there were no cheerleaders in the video.) ... [Read More]

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Saturday Night Science: Tools for Online Privacy

Spy vs. SpyThis will be a somewhat different installment of Saturday Night Science.  Rather than discussing a book or news related to science and technology, this time, motivated by having recently read and reviewed Edward Snowden’s Permanent Record, I’m going to survey some of the tools individuals can use to attempt to reclaim a bit of their privacy in the face of ubiquitous mass surveillance by governments and technology companies.  This is not intended to be an encyclopedic survey of the field, which is vast, complicated, and constantly changing.  Instead, this is an introduction intended to point readers toward tools and approaches, many of which I have used myself, discuss trade-offs between security and convenience, and provide links for further research.  The various topics are largely independent of one another, and are discussed in no particular order.

Private Web Browsing

At this writing, the most widely used Web browser is Google’s Chrome, with a market share around 65% which is expected to grow to more than 70% by the end of 2019.  Chrome is famous for “phoning home”: every site you visit, link you follow, search you perform, and choice you make from the suggestions it so helpfully provides you is potentially reported back to Google headquarters.   This is stored in a dossier maintained about you, especially if you have, as you’re encouraged to, signed the browser in to your Google Account.  That’s how they manage to show you advertisements so exquisitely (or sometimes humorously) targeted based upon your online activity.  But you don’t have to be paranoid to worry about the consequences of, dare I say, such a permanent record being used against you should you come to the attention of the enforcers of good-think who abound in Silicon Valley.... [Read More]

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Mathless in Seattle

Back in May 2006, the Seattle Public Schools distinguished themselves by publishing “Definitions of Racism” which was deservedly mocked and thrown into the Memory Hole, but not before Fourmilab snagged, and preserved for all time, this verbatim copy, which remains a frequently-cited document on our site.

Well, here they go again.  Now we have this document, dated 2019-08-20, titled “K-12 Math Ethnic Studies Framework” [PDF].  (I have linked to the original document on their Web site.  If it disappears under a tsunami of scorn, like the “Definitions of Racism” screed, be assured I have a copy squirreled away which I shall immortalise.)... [Read More]

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SpaceX Starship Update

In the early morning of September 29th, 2019 UTC (evening of September 28th local time in Texas, the 11th anniversary of SpaceX’s first orbital launch for a Falcon 1), SpaceX founder and Chief Engineer Elon Musk presented a perspective on the history of SpaceX and its plans for the Starship and Super Heavy reusable heavy lift launcher.

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See Spot Run

Boston Dynamics have announced that their autonomous mobile robot, Spot, is now kind-of available as a kind-of product.  I say “kind-of” because they haven’t yet quoted a price (according to an article in IEEE Spectrum, it’s expected to be in the range of a luxury car), and sales of the limited production will be in an “early adopter program” targeting customers in industries developing applications for such technology.... [Read More]

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Book Review: Permanent Record

“Permanent Record” by Edward SnowdenThe revolution in communication and computing technologies which has continually accelerated since the introduction of integrated circuits in the 1960s and has since given rise to the Internet, ubiquitous mobile telephony, vast data centres with formidable processing and storage capacity, and technologies such as natural language text processing, voice recognition, and image analysis, has created the potential, for the first time in human history, of mass surveillance to a degree unimagined even in dystopian fiction such as George Orwell’s 1984 or attempted by the secret police of totalitarian regimes like the Soviet Union, Nazi Germany, or North Korea. But, residents of enlightened developed countries such as the United States thought, they were protected, by legal safeguards such as the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, from having their government deploy such forbidding tools against its own citizens. Certainly, there was awareness, from disclosures such as those in James Bamford’s 1982 book The Puzzle Palace, that agencies such as the National Security Agency (NSA) were employing advanced and highly secret technologies to spy upon foreign governments and their agents who might attempt to harm the United States and its citizens, but their activities were circumscribed by a legal framework which strictly limited the scope of their domestic activities.

Well, that’s what most people believed until the courageous acts by Edward Snowden, a senior technical contractor working for the NSA, revealed, in 2013, multiple programs of indiscriminate mass surveillance directed against, well, everybody in the world, U.S. citizens most definitely included. The NSA had developed and deployed a large array of hardware and software tools whose mission was essentially to capture all the communications and personal data of everybody in the world, scan it for items of interest, and store it forever where it could be accessed in future investigations. Data were collected through a multitude of means: monitoring traffic across the Internet, collecting mobile phone call and location data (estimated at five billion records per day in 2013), spidering data from Web sites, breaking vulnerable encryption technologies, working with “corporate partners” to snoop data passing through their facilities, and fusing this vast and varied data with query tools such as XKEYSCORE, which might be thought of as a Google search engine built by people who from the outset proclaimed, “Heck yes, we’re evil!”... [Read More]

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Bereitschaftspotential and Free Will

The headline reads “A Famous Argument Against Free Will Has Been Debunked.” It was prominently displayed at the top of the default Google News Spotlight for several days. The article was at The Atlantic.

The headline is wrong, but the underlying story describes a blow to Determinism that I want to bring to your attention. The news hook behind this particular story is new research getting underway to investigate findings originally reported in a 2012 paper. It provides a needed corrective to a meme that has been going around since the 1980s.

Continue readingBereitschaftspotential and Free Will”

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Another Interstellar Visitor?

C/2019 Q4 Borisov, candidate interstellar cometOn August 30th, 2019, Gennady Borisov, an optician and astronomer at the Crimean Astrophysical Observatory, using equipment he built himself, discovered a dim (18th magnitude) object moving with respect to the distant stars.  Further observations indicated it was cometary in appearance, with a coma around its brightest spot and apparent short tail.  Orbital computations from the limited number of observations indicate that it was discovered at a distance of around 3 astronomical units (AU) (the mean radius of the Earth’s orbit) from the Sun, inbound toward a perihelion on December 10th near 2 AU.

As with ’Oumuamua (1I/2017 U1) in 2017, attempts to fit a typical elliptical or parabolic orbit to the observations failed, and the best fit was found to be a hyperbolic orbit with an eccentricity in excess of 3.  Such an object is not gravitationally bound to the solar system and must be of interstellar origin; after rounding the Sun, it will depart into interstellar space never to be seen again.  This is only the second such object to be observed.  From observations so far (and with less than two weeks of data, these figures will be revised as further observations are made), its inbound velocity to the solar system before it began to be accelerated by the Sun’s gravity was around 30 km/sec, which rules out a hyperbolic orbit due to interactions with solar system objects, as such perturbations cannot create a velocity greater than 3 km/sec.  Here is the Minor Planet Center Circular, MPEC 2019-R106, announcing the discovery, its apparent interstellar nature, and preliminary orbital elements based on the news that’s come to Harvard.... [Read More]

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Sixty Years Ago: First to the Moon

Luna 2, Soviet lunar impact spacecraftLast July, we celebrated Apollo 11, which performed the first manned landing on the Moon on July 20th, 1969.  This month marks the sixtieth anniversary of the first landing on the Moon, and the first spacecraft from Earth to touch another body in the solar system.

On September 12th, 1959, the Soviet Union launched Luna 2 toward the Moon.  This was the fifth Soviet attempt to launch a spacecraft to impact the Moon.  The first three failed during launch.  The fourth, Luna 1, missed the Moon by 5965 km and went into orbit around the Sun.  Luna 2, an identical spacecraft, was launched on a direct trajectory to the Moon by a booster designated 8K72, which used the R-7 ballistic missile (the same type which launched Sputnik) to launch an upper stage called Block E, which boosted the spacecraft toward the Moon.  The launch used a direct trajectory, Jules Verne-style, which did not enter either Earth or Moon orbit, but instead travelled directly from launch to impact on the lunar surface.... [Read More]

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Claws of the Red Dragon

Huawei and 5G logosSteve Bannon, former head of the Trump 2016 presidential campaign, chief strategist in the Trump White House, and executive chairman of Breitbart News, has produced a movie, Claws of the Red Dragon, a fictionalised account of the arrest of Meng Wanzhou, chief financial officer of Chinese technology giant Huawei, in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, in December 2018.

Huawei, founded by Meng’s father, Ren Zhengfei, is described as “China’s largest private company”, and is the world’s largest telecommunications infrastructure provider and the second largest manufacturer of smartphones.  It is estimated that networks using its gear provide mobile communication services to one third of the Earth’s population; its global revenue in 2018 was estimated at US$ 105 billion.  Huawei is a leader in developing infrastructure for 5G mobile networks, which are viewed as a key component of the communications and computing infrastructure of the next decade.... [Read More]

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Saturday Night Science: Transit of Mercury, November 11, 2019

Transit of Mercury, 2003-05-07On November 11th, 2019, between 12:35 and 18:04 universal time (UTC), Mercury, the innermost planet, will pass in front of the Sun as seen from Earth: an astronomical spectacle called a “planetary transit”.  Planetary transits visible from Earth are relatively rare events: only the inner planets Mercury and Venus can ever pass between the Sun and Earth, and they are only seen to cross its disc when the plane of the planet’s orbit intersects the plane of the Earth’s orbit (the ecliptic) close to the time when the planet is at inferior conjunction with the Sun.  On most inferior conjunctions, the orbital planes do not align (or, in other words, are not close to a node crossing) and the planet “misses” the Sun, passing above or below it as seen from Earth.

Mercury’s orbit crosses the ecliptic around May 8 and November 11 at the present epoch, and so transits always occur within a few days of those dates.  The most recent transit of Mercury was on May 9th, 2016 (when, despite being clouded out for most of the event, I managed to briefly observe and photograph it through thin clouds), and the next transit will not occur until November 13th, 2032, so if you miss this one, you’ll have a thirteen year wait until the next opportunity.... [Read More]

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Vikram: India to the Moon

Indian Chandrayaan/Vikram lunar landerYou may recall that back on 2019-04-11 we covered the attempt by Israeli non-profit company SpaceIL to land its Beresheet spacecraft on the Moon.  The landing occurred, but with an impact velocity much greater than the hoped-for soft touchdown, dashing Israel’s hope to be fourth country to soft land on the Moon and, incidentally, thwarting plans for the tardigrade conquest of Earth’s natural satellite.

Now, it’s India’s turn.  Today, on 2019-09-06, India’s Vikram lander is scheduled to attempt a soft landing on the Moon between craters Manzinus C and Simpelius N near 70.9° south latitude, the southernmost point of any Moon landing.  The lander is part of the Chandrayaan-2 mission, which was launched on 2019-07-22 by the Indian Space Research Organisation from the Satish Dhawan Space Centre.  If the landing is successful, the lander will deliver a solar-powered rover, Pragyan, to the surface.  The main Chandrayaan spacecraft will study the Moon from a high-inclination 100 km orbit; it released the lander on Monday at 07:45 UTC.... [Read More]

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