Friday, March 13

Green Energy Incentives


Solar cells adorn the roofs of many homes and warehouses across Germany, while the bright white blades of wind turbines are a frequent sight against the sky in Spain.

If one day these machines become as common on the plains and rooftops of the United States as they are abroad, it may be because the financing technique that gave Europe an early lead in renewable energy is starting to cross the Atlantic.

Put simply, the idea is to pay homeowners and businesses top dollar for producing green energy. In Germany, for example, a homeowner with a rooftop solar system may be paid four times more to produce electricity than the rate paid to a coal-fired power plant. Read more...

Science Advisors Approved by Senate

From the
The Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee gave unanimous approval this afternoon to two of President Obama's key picks for climate and science positions in his administration. Read more...

A Note on Biofuels

This is a post I've been meaning to write for a while now, and a U.N. report came out yesterday ("Water in a Changing World") that just supports my argument too well. Biofuels have been in the news a lot lately, but there is one important fact that doesn't get a lot of attention: the use of corn for ethanol production is essentially a trade of water for energy. When you look at it from this perspective, it really seems pretty stupid. As Sheikh Zaki Yamani, a Saudi Arabian who served as his country's oil minister three decades ago put it:
The Stone Age did not end for lack of stone, and the Oil Age will end long before the world runs out of oil.
But we are in real danger of running out of water:

The (U.N.) report added to recent U.N. warnings about the downsides of developing biofuels to replace heavily polluting hydrocarbons as an energy source, because of the water needed to grow crops like corn and sugar cane to produce ethanol.

Saying about 2,500 liters of water is needed to make 1 liter of biofuel, it said implementing all current national biofuel policies and plans would take 180 cubic kilometers of extra irrigation water and 30 million hectares of cropland.

"The impact could be large for some countries, including China and India, and for some regions of large countries, such as the United States," it said. "There could also be significant implications for water resources, with possible feedback into global grain markets."

When oil prices peaked at over $140 a barrel last year, "the kneejerk reaction was 'well, we are going to grow our energy - biofuels.' But nobody took account of how much water it was going to require," William Cosgrove, coordinator of the report, told journalists.

Read more...(

That is not to say that biofuels don't have any potential, I just think the focus should be on production of biofuels from waste, not from agricultural crops. Unfortunately, corn (or more accurately, the companies that breed it) has much more lobbying power, so that's where all the money continues to go.

Do Electric Cars Really Save Money?

Short answer: yes, but there is more to think about. Check out the facts:

Understanding (and preventing) Aging

The secret to preventing the effects of aging may lie in the most unlikely (and one of the ugliest) organisms: naked mole rats.
With a maximum lifespan of about 30 years, the naked mole rat outlives all other rodents by a long shot. It lives about 10 times longer than the similarly-sized lab mouse and does not show the normal signs of aging such as dementia, menopause, and bone density loss until it's near death (humans start losing bone density in their 30s), says Rochelle Buffenstein, a physiologist at the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio who has spent the past three decades studying the rodents (and admits to having 1,000 of the bald critters living in her lab). What's more, she adds, "We have never seen a single instance of cancer in the lab or in the zoos [where these animals are monitored]."

Buffenstein suspects the mole rat's secret to longevity and good health lies in its proteins. She and her colleagues recently published a study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences showing that proteins in naked mole rat liver cells function much better than mouse liver cells after being exposed to damaging agents such as temperature changes and free radicals (unstable molecules produced by chemical reactions).
The hypothesis is that the naked mole rat is better at identifying and recycling damaged proteins:
This quality control system prevents the animals from accumulating crippled proteins throughout their lives, which is key because many aging diseases such as Alzheimer's are believed to be related to such buildups, says study co-author Asish Chaudhuri, a biochemist at the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio.
The next step is to identify what exactly is responsible for the increased efficiency (i.e. which proteins are involved in the process), so that researchers can devise a way to manipulate the corresponding proteins in humans.

Nation's Best and Brightest Take on Energy

News from The 2009 M.I.T. Energy Conference:
Whether it was a Porsche 914 transformed to run on 18 batteries or the fusion experiment using magnetic levitation to confine into a small space a power source of the same type used by the sun, M.I.T. engineering creativity was on full display on March 6, 2009. (
Check out a slide show with some of the displays:

Thursday, March 12

On the Republican Response

Some republicans are calling for a "strike" by the wealthy in response to proposed tax increases:

Do Religious People Have More Self-Control?

From TierneyLab (

Dr. McCullough, a psychologist at the University of Miami, says he learned a lot from the comments here at the Lab:

I was fascinated by the variety of religious activities that many of you have found useful for increasing self-control, including ritual dietary restrictions, meditation, ritual fasting, and rituals of self-examination and repentance. It seems that many readers could also identify with the idea that overdoing it in the religious realm can cause breakdowns in self-control—a sort of “spiritual burn-out.” Finally, many contributors felt that non-religious ideals—one contributor listed equanimity, mindfulness, compassion, for instance—could help to generate the self-control benefits that seem to be associated with religiosity (though some of you were skeptical about this possibility).

Here are answers from Dr. McCullough to three questions repeatedly raised by Lab readers:

1. “Isn’t it possible that religious people are lying about how much self-control they have.” Sure, but this possibility has grown more unlikely as more evidence has come in. We’re doing studies in my lab right now that enable us to measure people’s self-control by way of behavior and physiological functioning, rather than relying solely on what people say about themselves. These results should tell us more about how meaningful the links between religion and self-control really are.

2. “Couldn’t self-control make people more religious, rather than the other way around?” Absolutely. The fact two variables are related doesn’t mean that one causes the other. Some good causal evidence exists, but we’re doing more research that should help us determine whether religion improves self-control, whether low self-control turns people off of religion, or whether some other variable increases people’s self-control and their religiosity.

3.“What about all those pedophile priests and suicide bombers?” Religion spawns a lot of ugliness, it’s true, and some religious people (and religious leaders) are responsible for some truly horrible behavior. However, those facts are a bit of a distraction from the main question we’ve been asking, which, in its simplified form, is this: “If you take two people who are identical in every way except that one is more religious than the other, will the religious person have more self-control?” I’m not claiming that religion is a panacea, but the scientific support for the idea that religiosity is associated with many benefits for health, well-being, and social adjustment is now quite overwhelming. You can review the evidence here (pdf) and decide for yourself.

We want to determine whether these linkages come from religion’s ability to promote self-control. Maybe it does, and maybe it doesn’t. That’s why we do research! A religion/self-control link could also tell us some things about how the propensity for religion evolved to become a universal human characteristic.

5 Steps To A Greener House

From the
A RECENT search for “green home” pulled up more than 15,000 book titles. Who has time to read them all? So this week, The Green Home tracked down Eric Corey Freed, the author of “Green Building & Remodeling for Dummies,” and asked him to distill this growing cottage industry of green advice into five must-do steps. Read more...

More on Green Cities

The iPhone's Biggest Rival

Forget Blackberry, check out this Palm:

Wednesday, March 11

The Who Cares Hindenburg

Who cares what Anne Coulter thinks?

Green Cities

Check out what cities across the world are doing to become more green:

The Power Of Genetic Engineering

A must see...talking about the production of biofuels as well as antibiotics:

Turd Mining

It Is Futile To Fight With John Stewart, yet Jim Cramer thinks he can take him on - but he only feeds the fire:

Slum Living

From the blog Ideas:
Sure, they’re dangerous, but the world’s slums can teach urban planners a lot, an article says. They’re “walkable, high-density” places where housing and commerce mingle and people look out for each other, have lower birth rates than rural areas, and build structures from “materials that would otherwise be piling up in landfills.” The article prompts one reader to comment: “I always wondered when the eco-crazies would recommend slum living for all to lower our carbon footprints.” [Boston Globe]

This Is Not A Test!

From Thomas Friedman's article in the NYT today:
Friends, this is not a test. Economically, this is the big one. This is August 1914. This is the morning after Pearl Harbor. This is 9/12. Yet, in too many ways, we seem to be playing politics as usual.

...the Republican Party behaves as if it would rather see the country fail than Barack Obama succeed. Rush Limbaugh, the de facto G.O.P. boss, said so explicitly, prompting John McCain to declare about President Obama to Politico: “I don’t want him to fail in his mission of restoring our economy.” The G.O.P. is actually debating whether it wants our president to fail. Rather than help the president make the hard calls, the G.O.P. has opted for cat calls. It would be as if on the morning after 9/11, Democrats said they wanted no part of any war against Al Qaeda — “George Bush, you’re on your own.” Read more...
If you think about it, the phrase "this is not a test" works here on two levels. First the obvious: as Friedman points out, this is not a test to determine how we could/should respond in case of emergency, this is an emergency. Second, this isn't a problem given on a test in school. There is no need to keep your eyes on your own paper - I think it is safe to say that no one will accuse politicians of cheating if they work together.

Tuesday, March 10

Gay Ducks

First it was gays in the military, and now I'm going to talk about gay ducks (that's right, gay ducks). Apparently Blue Ducks are a dying breed in Britain. In fact, there is only one female left. In an attempt to repopulate the species, two males were introduced into the females enclosure - but rather than mate with the female, they fell for each other.
"They stay together all the time, parading up and down their enclosure and whistling to each other as a male might do with a female he wants to mate with," Paul Stevens, the warden at Arundel Wetland Center, tells the Telegraph.
Ducks aren't the only other species to engage in homosexual behavior, "1,500 species...have been observed engaging in homosexual activity."

10 Myths About Sustainability

From, pretty interesting, check it out:
Top 10 Myths About Sustainability:
Even advocates for more responsible, environmentally benign ways of life harbor misunderstanding of what "sustainability" is all about

Video of the Coolest Fish Ever

I blogged about it a few weeks ago, but I just stumbled upon this video with a narrative describing the fish:

A Homophobic Military

Find out how a homophobic military may be partly to blame for 9/11, and more:

Monday, March 9

Regulatin' Genes

This is too funny not to post (although it may be over your head if you know nothing about genetics):

A “motivated approach to dream interpretation”

If you've ever wondered which dreams are significant and which are just your imagination running wild, check out this article by John Tierney:

Chimpanzee Engages in "'Premeditated' Tourist-Stoning"

Apparently this chimp stock-piles rocks and concrete slabs in strategic locations to be used later as ammo for "tourist-stoning."

Check out the full article at Not Exactly Rocket Science

The Chemistry of a Kiss

Yesterday I informed you all about the possible anti-depressive properties of semen; today I will enlighten you regarding the chemistry of your saliva, or to put it more poetically, the science of a kiss.

If you think about it, kissing is a gross behavior - essentially spitting in each others mouth. Because of this, and because we are not the only species to engage in such vile behavior, it is reasonable to believe that there is a reason this behavior has been conserved. So, if you've ever liked someone...that is until you kissed them, there may be more to it than technique (or lack thereof). And furthermore, there may be a reason men are generally considered bad kissers.

The reason may have to do with the fact that, similar to sperm, saliva contains hormones, as explained by Helen Fisher, a biological anthropologist who is a Research Professor and member of the Center for Human Evolution Studies in the Department of Anthropology, Rutgers University and Chief Scientific Advisor to the internet dating site,
"There's evidence that saliva has testosterone in it, and there's also evidence that men like sloppier kisses with more open mouth," Fisher said. "That suggests to me that they are unconsciously trying to transfer testosterone to trigger the sex drive in women."
And there may be more to this chemical assessment than just kissing, Fisher said. "I think kissing is the tip of the ice berg. I think we'll find that all kinds of other chemical systems are in play that we don't know about."

Fisher says she has found from other scientists' research and from her own analysis of statistics on 40,000 people on the dating Web site that there are four dimensions of temperaments, or biologically based traits, and each is associated with different chemical systems in the brain: Dopamine is associated with traits like novelty seeking, risk taking, curiosity and creativity; serotonin was linked to calm, caution, cooperation, loyalty, and tradition; testosterone with decisiveness and emotional containment; and estrogen lumped together with oxytocin was linked to nurturing, patience and social skills.

"It now appears that we are drawn to people with particular biological profiles," she said. And the kiss may be how we assess someone's profile."
Neuroscientist Wendy Hill thinks it also plays a role in pair bonding. Now doesn't that sound more romantic?

Maybe, but she studied this idea by asking college-aged couples to do the decidedly unromantic act of making out for 15 minutes in a lab room at the campus infirmary. By comparing blood and saliva samples from before and after the kissing sessions, she discovered that cortisol, a hormone involved in stress, went down in both men and women. Interestingly, kissing boosted the mens' level of oxytocin, which has been linked to pair bonding, but the level dropped slightly in women.

Hill suspects that despite the flowers and music she provided, this could be because the college health center is where the students go when they feel sick, not sexy, which may affect women more than men.

I'm not so sure I agree with her assessment of why men like sloppier kisses (and not even sure I agree that we do), but for more, check out the full article at Wired Science. And check out this interview from the Colbert Report with Helen Fisher, talking about the science behind

Sunday, March 8

Stem Cell Research Back on Track

In 2001, Bush signed an executive order limiting the use of federal resources for stem cell research to existing lines of stem cells. In other words, no new stem cells could be created, and no research could be done on new lines created by private labs, using federal money or equipment. This severely limited research over the past eight years, as experts agree that the existing lines are inferior to new lines made with new and improved techniques and equipment.

In 2006, the Senate passed a bill that would have lifted the ban on stem cell research, but it was vetoed by Bush the next day. Apparently, Bush didn't understand what most Americans do - that these stem cells are being taken from fertility clinics, where the fertilized eggs are produced in excess in petri dishes, and that most end up being thrown away. The choice is simple for most, when choosing between throwing them away or using them for research that could lead to cures for such diseases as diabetes, heart disease, Parkinsons, and many, many more.

Well, on Monday Obama will finally lift the ban, and allow for federally supported research on new lines. It's about time.

50 Reasons Not To Believe In Evolution

And each more asinine than the next. And why does she seem so proud to be so ignorant?

Semen: an anti-depressant?

The temptation for lewd commentary is too strong, so just check out this post on Neurotopia.