Welcome to The Tangled Bank 108 and to the little-known but still fascinating Wheat-dogg’s World. I hope that after you peruse the fine entries in this edition of The Tangled Bank you’ll stroll around and check out things here in my neck of the Worldwide Woods.
Today we have science bloggers musing on some of the greater profundities of the universe as well on more concrete issues closer to home. Some of these posts ask more questions than they answer, but heck that’s what science is all about, hey?
I’m the resident physics teacher, so we’re going to start the ball rolling with our lone physical-science submission, from Yoo Chul Chung at Yoo’s Ramblings. (Sorry, life scientists, a little physics never hurt anyone!) After reading the July issue of Scientific American, Yoo contemplates the meaning of hypothetical “building blocks” that can organize themselves to create the space-time we know and love. These “space-time quanta” curiously exist in two dimensions at the quantum level, but exhibit four dimensions at larger scales. Further, causality is integral to this system, closing any fancy relativistic loopholes to would-be time travelers hoping to jump through a wormhole to watch history unfold in real time. There goes about half the world’s Star Trek plotlines …
While Yoo ponders whether the universe is made of building blocks, the Evolved Rationalist considers whether William Dembski is clever enough to even play with blocks. In Dembski: The failure that keeps on failing, our author glosses on Bill’s seeming immunity to rational, logical thought as Bill gripes about the lack of theology in Kenneth Miller’s biology textbooks. Yes, dear friends, you read that right. Check out the Evolved Rationalist and see what we mean.
Now that we have visited these two unfathomables, let’s see what other questions our bloggers have in store for us, before we get sucked into either the vacuum of space-time or the vacuousness of Intelligent Design. How about this one, submitted by the fellows behind Submitted to a Candid World? Can the USA recover from the past eight years of scientific stagnation to once again be a pre-eminent intellectual force on the world stage? Our writers candidly aver that it is our country’s duty to ignore the know-nothings (like the DI) and get back on track, lest we lose our place at the top to China or England, or some other country that actually accepts evolution and global warming as likely.
Not to beat up on Intelligent Design too much, but ID-ists spend a lot of time worrying about bats and where they came from, perhaps because the DI has a belfry infestation. One of our submissions actually discusses bats, specifically their genome size. Greg Laden files a report from Evolution 2008 about a paper delivered by Jillian Smith, a bat genomist. (Is that a real word? Sounds like some gimmick Bruce Wayne would use on his night job …) Smith and her co-author, T. Ryan Gregory, have found that bats in general have a genome size that is small, like that of birds, and unlike other mammals’. Small genomes are happy (as larks?) in small cells, and small cells are like the Powdermilk Biscuits of flying critters: they help bats and birds get up and do what needs to be done – move their wings quick enough to fly! Evolution wins again!
While we’re on the subject of bats and birds, the Brooklyn birder, pinguinus at Great Auk – or Greatest Auk, has some happy news. Apparently, three members of a threatened species of kite have for the first time in memory been spotted nesting far north of their usual hangouts. Hopefully, the Mississippi kites in question are just enjoying a change of scenery and are not trying to tell us something about global warming or the next New England ski season. Time will tell.
On the flip side, we have a report from Charlie at 10,000 Birds about a species that not doing so well. The Sharpe’s Longclaw has dwindled in numbers in its native Kenya to between 10,000 and 19,000 individuals. Charlie has some excellent photos of this charming yellow-bellied bird in its natural habitat on the veldt.
Since we’ve veered into the natural history wing (ha ha, wing, get it?) of this edition of The Tangled Bank, the writers at the Agricultural Diversity Weblog wanted to be as diverse as one site can be and offered not one, but two submissions for us to consume.
Luigi questions whether the meme of dwindling biodiversity has any validity, at least when we look at the varieties of sorghum grown in Ethiopia. The diversity of sorghum strains there endures, he says, belying the notion of genetic erosion. (And while it was well outside the scope of the studies he reviews, sorghum endures here in Kentucky, too. The folks out in western Kentucky, where I lived for a spell, use sorghum for silage and to make a tasty pancake syrup. Yum!)
Luigi’s partner in biodiversification, Jeremy, explores how the terra preta (“black earth”) of Brazil may provide a solution to the disposal of “bio-char” — the ash of burned biofuels. Originally a skeptic, Jeremy now admits that adding bio-char to the soil may just balance the “carbon equation” — while we add CO2 to the atmosphere by burning biofuels we can also return some carbon back to the soil. It may not answer all the problems created by oil addicts, Jeremy says, but the procedure may just save the planet for the rest of us.
Skeptics like Jeremy (and we hope most of the readership here) need reliable information. Where we get it? Certainly not Fox Nooz or Yahoo Answers. A presenter at TAM6 has a possible answer, reports Kylie Sturgiss at PodBlack Blog (say that ten times fast!). The solution? Another website! Well, I’m not convinced, either, and neither is Kylie. Down in Ozland, where she dwells, there are plenty of reliable sources of sound information on the Web. Adding one more “skeptic’s toolbox” may not be all that helpful without some serious study of how people actually use and interpret electronic information, she suggests. More may not be better.
Along those same lines, the health of lab mice seems to benefit much from heroic doses of resveratrol (equivalent to 1,000 bottles of red wine a day!). Can smaller, more realistic doses also help our mousy friends? Ouroboros says yes! And studies suggest lower doses of the compound might just help us humans, too. The Ourobor-ans review a recent paper by Barger, et al., that indicates reasonable doses of resveratrol partially mimic the effects of caloric restrictions and seem to retard the effects of aging in lab mice. Lose weight AND live longer! How cool is that? Makes me want to slosh down a couple more glasses of the chianti I have in the kitchen, but I guess I’ll wait until this Tangled Bank is put to bed.
The oenologists of Ouruboros have their solution to a happier, healthier life, but The Uncredible Hallq takes it one step further: Hey kids! Opioids and cannibinoids are good for you! Nahh, we’re just kidding. Chris Hallquist is not suggesting we all light up a reefer, or some heavier stuff, man. He wants us to understand how chemicals (and drugs, legal or otherwise) affect our brain cells, our body chemistry and our behavior. Beneficial drugs inevitably have side effects, because, like, you know, the brain’s biochemistry is pretty complex, man, so you have to take the good with the bad, and like, hope the bad is less than the good. You dig?
And on that irreverent note, we now leave this edition of The Tangled Bank and resume our regularly scheduled programming. It’s been a pleasure being your host. Thanks for stopping by. Be sure to visit our contributors’ sites. They said it all better than I did, I’m sure.
Greg Laden over at ScienceBlogs takes the helm next time for Tangled Bank #109. See you there on July 9th!