This may, time permitting, be a multi-post day, as I’ve got ideas percolating like an old industrial percolator percolates. Something like that. There’s too much good stuff on Google’s Science! news feed, gotta get to it, so let’s just bullet-point them:
- Milgram revisited. Kind of a watered down study poking at things on the periphery of the key questions, but looking at perennially interesting issues that, in this election year, desperately need looking at. Like your run of the mill sci fi/comic book movie, this article uses Nazis as its hook and designated bad guys. This is a good thing if people are able to make the connection between the average mid-level Nazi henchman just following orders and your average American today: we want so desperately to see the Bad Guys as totally unlike us, when in fact they are *exactly* like us in all important moral respects. We flatter ourselves if we think we’d behave any different than Eichmann if we were put in the same spot – do we really think we’d accept martyrdom? I think we’d cave faced with mere social ostracism, based on what we see all around us. Also, while I knew there were (and should be!) moral issues with how he did the experiments, I was not actually aware that significant challenges to the validity of Milgram’s original protocols existed – there is reference in the article to a critical study I’d like to look at. My opinion has been that within the inevitable limits of any such psychological study, Milgram’s was about as good as it is likely to get.
Super-Hubble! We wants it! I’ve been pining for the Webb like a Norwegian Blue pines for the fjords – and now, there’s *another* way-cool (that’s a technical term, there) space telescope in the works by NASA. I read that article a little twitchy, until the part where they say this new ‘scope gets thrown up *after* the Webb – I was righteously a-feared it was a replacement, not an ‘in addition to’. Phew! Rock on, Science!
- Space plane! Well, kinda – suborbital, but way high up! So Virgin Galactic is rolling out another space plane to replace the one tragically lost in 2014 – and this is a good thing. But I had to crack up at this – “democratization of space” in the sense of bringing almost-space travel to… the exceedingly rich? I don’t think it’s your average plumber, postman or stenographer who’ll be riding this ride.
“It’s a great thing for the industry, [showing] that we can bounce back from hardships,” Eric Stallmer, president of the Commercial Spaceflight Federation, said of Friday’s roll-out…
“We’re just one step closer to the democratization of space,” Stallmer told Space.com.
- Giant birds used to live in the Arctic. 50 million years ago. You know, back when the climate of the earth was much warmer than it is now, like it was from about 65 million years ago to about 4 million years ago. Then, except for a few odd periods, it was much colder than it is now. We’re in one of those odd periods now, an inherently unstable spot between the generally warmer conditions that have prevailed for almost all of the last 65 million years (and for a couple hundred million years before that, at least, but who’s counting?) and the Ice Age we’re most likely taking a brief break from for the last 11,000 years. If you’re looking for a long-term stable climate, based on actual science, it would be one quite a bit warmer, with no ice caps, and sea levels about 300′ higher than they are now – that’s the climate the earth has had for almost all of the last several hundred million years. The climate we have now depends on a very rare and almost certainly unstable state of things: an interglacial period within a larger Ice Age.
- The cautionary tale of the collapse of the Easter Island civilization is reconsidered. Years ago, when I read Diamond’s Guns, Germs and Steel, I noticed an interesting corollary to the Gell-Mann Amnesia Effect: Diamond’s arguments were much more convincing the less you actually knew about what he was talking about. So, instead of saying ‘wait a minute – this dude is blowing smoke!’ you say ‘wow, that stuff about migrating tribes and cultures is really interesting, despite how wrong he is about recent history’. See? We don’t use the doubts and BS alarms we have about what we do know as warnings about accepting somebody’s ideas about what we don’t know. Funny, that. At any rate, you’ll be shocked to hear that newer research casts doubt on the ever-so-politically-convenient theory that the Easter Islanders bred and consumed their way to the destruction of their little island paradise, and probably didn’t even recycle, JUST LIKE HOW WE ARE KILLING GAIA!!!!. Turns out to be more complicated than that.