Wednesday, August 31, 2005

A distraction from disaster

I don't have anything good to say about Katrina and New Orleans - I could say some bad things about how Bush has made things worse, and will make things worse, but I don't have the energy to go there.

So all I can offer you is a distraction - a video showing fifteen years of Hubble images in 3 minutes, and with a nice soundtrack. The universe is a horrible and beautiful place.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Glaciers, here I come!

Vacation plans are set, I leave on Friday for Glacier National Park. The fine folks at the Northern Rocky Mountain Science Center are letting me help out on some of their glacier research in the park, where global warming is expected to melt the remaining glaciers in a few decades.

I can say that nineteen years of expensive education have given me no useful skills to help a glaciologist, or any scientist for that matter. That environmental law degree isn't very applicable. Fortunately, in between the times I was getting educated, my six summers as a bum in Alaska gave me some glacier travel experience, so hopefully I won't be completely useless.

I expect to get one or two more posts in, and then it'll be quiet here for a while.

key: science, global warming

The Republican War on Science

The title of this post is the title of a new book by one of my favorite bloggers, Chris Mooney. I haven't had a chance to read it yet, and unfortunately I'll miss Chris when he goes through the area on tour, but the reviews so far look very good. Check it out!

Monday, August 29, 2005

A beautiful court transcript

Maybe you have to be a lawyer for this to make you laugh out loud too, but this was excellent: a Big Evil Corporation tries to push around an unrepresented defendant in court, and gets its head handed to it by the judge. I actually have some sympathy for their copyright claims in general, but the strategy and tactics are abusive.

Of course, now I have to look up the judge: a Clinton nominee. Not a big surprise.

(Via BoingBoing.)

Sunday, August 28, 2005

Volokh Corrections 9 and 10

Todd Zywicki says of the Cindy Sheehan camp-out in Crawford, "My impression is that the overwhelming number of those down there are primarily professional activists rather than grieving family members suggested by the media." A typical false dichotomy - anyone who didn't have a family member die in Iraq is a paid (professional) activist, ignoring what other types of people could be there.

I think one of the Volokhs had said earlier that environmental activists were in it for the money. I don't know where the right wing gets the idea that we're dripping with money - I only wish it were correct.

Meanwhile, the usually-better Jim Lindgren talks about how standard market theory predicts bad results from caps for wholesale gas prices in Hawaii. He fails to consider whether a standard market exists for wholesale gas, just noting without comment that there are 2 refineries and 6 wholesalers, which is nothing like a standard market. Standard monopoly theory, on the other hands, says the wholesalers could be price-gouging retailers, and caps that limit the gouging will not limit the overall gas supply.

Overall, though, this country needs a windfall profits tax, which could fund a decent energy policy without strongly affecting economic incentives (if set at a reasonable level). Yet another way in which Carter reacted much better than Bush to the problems we're facing, and another example of how badly Reagan messed up our country.

key: Volokh correction

Saturday, August 27, 2005

Specifics on women's rights infringement in the Iraqi Constitution

I've seen a lot of news reports about how women's rights may be threatened by incorporating Islamic law into the Iraqi Constitution, with no specifics on why that's the case. Bad journalism - what else is new.

Juan Cole has published some specifics. Unfortunately, I can't find the link for his discussion of child custody under Shiite sharia law, but hopefully my memory is accurate. Upon divorce, the husband's family automatically gets custody of the couple's children. So the only way a woman could get rid of an abusive or otherwise awful husband is by losing her children, who will then be unprotected from the tender mercies of that husband, his family, and his other wives. I call that a recipe for enslavement of women, or disaster for their children. Ironically, this somewhat parallels Saddam Hussein's biography as a child - he was semi-abandoned by his mother, mistreated and generally unloved.

I did find another Cole posting with some other specifics:

"Jaafari's system will give girls half the amount of inheritance that their brothers receive, and may well make women's testimony worth half that of a man in court. If strict gender segregation is enforced, and coeducation ended, Iraqi women may find it difficult to get post-BA training, since they won't be allowed in the professional schools (now coded as "male"), and mostly won't have professional schools for women, or in any case many fewer than for men."


key: Iraq

Friday, August 26, 2005

Viruses and planets

Carl Zimmer points to news indicating that viruses are more lifelike than previously imagined - some viruses are physically active when they leave cells, instead of just waiting to bump into their next victim. More grist for the debate as to whether viruses are living organisms or just degenerate parts of living organisms.

The debate reminds me a little bit about the debate over what constitutes a planet: whether something should be considered alive, or is big enough to be labelled a planet, is not scientifically interesting. Understanding planets/planetoids, and understanding the behavior of things that reproduce, regardless of whether you consider them alive, are much more interesting questions. Zimmer is right that we're blurring distinctions, and that's just fine.

key: science

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Beaten to the punch again

Well, someone else also arranged a global warming bet before me. James Annan has the details. There may be a little money still left on the table by the denialists, so I'm trying to see if they're still interested.

I would like to point out to anyone contemplating a bet against me that I predicted Howard Dean would win the Democratic nomination, and I appeared to do no better in predicting the latest Harry Potter book. If you're looking for an easy mark, I'm your man.

UPDATE: I'm negotiating. Closest I've been to getting a bet...

UPDATE 2: Looks like no bet - one denialist started negotiating but has been gone for quite a while, and the other already made a bet and decided he wasn't interested in more.

key: science, global warming, bet

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Mark Kleiman on a roll

Mark Kleiman had two interesting posts today: first, he says he wants to create a wedge in the creationism/Intelligent Design debate between the "true believers" who think the Bible is literally true, and those who support a religiously inspired origin for humanity as the basis for teaching morals to their children. Kleiman thinks the latter group can be brought around, partly by making clear that biological "Darwinism" and repugnant social Darwinism aren't the same. It's an interesting wedge - I still think there's another wedge that splits the educated conservative leadership from the Biblical Literalists, and the teaching of evolution will eventually force the literalists to find a different and more tolerant basis for morality.

Second, Kleiman riffs on the Reverend Pat Robertson calling for the assasination of the elected Venezuelan leader, Hugo Chavez. As Kleiman says,

"turnabout is fair play. If Robertson is trying to arrange to have Chavez rubbed out, maybe Chavez ought to move first. Better to be tried by twelve than carried by six, and all that."

If Robertson thinks it would be, say, "wrong" for someone to assassinate him, he might think about taking a consistent position on the murder issue.

key: evolution, politics

Monday, August 22, 2005

Juan Cole's latest suggestions for Iraq - replace ground ops with air support

Juan Cole has a bunch of suggestions, and the most important are removing US troops from cities, a phased withdrawal of ground operations, and maintaining a US military air presence so that air support can shut down the bad guys (whoever they are) and prevent a full-scale civil war from breaking out.

I'll have to think about it - I'm not sure if this will work as well in urbanized Iraq as it did in mostly-rural Afghanistan, and it also contradicts my sense that part of Afghanistan's continuing problems is the insufficient military support on the ground to stabilize the central government. On the other hand, the geniuses currently running our Iraq policy aren't doing such a hot job, so maybe this is the best of a group of terrible options.

key: Iraq

Saturday, August 20, 2005

Flooding part 2: Global warming has already caused damaging floods

In an earlier post I said that I wasn't quite so interested in Roger Pielke Jr.'s argument that the science is indefinite as to whether climate change has caused an increase in flooding damage up to the present. I thought what mattered is the solid science that it will occur in the future. Now I'm more interested because I think he's likely wrong in making such a categorical statement.

Earlier this week, after doing a little research I added this comment to Roger's post:

I'm starting to wonder if it is also clearly a good use of science to allege an existing, present-day connection between greenhouse gases and damaging, precipitation-induced, river flooding in and near coastal areas. From the site:

"The estimated rate of sea level rise from anthropogenic climate change from 1910 to 1990 (from modelling studies of thermal expansion, glaciers and ice sheets) ranges from 0.3 to 0.8 mm/yr.

It is very likely that 20th century warming has contributed significantly to the observed sea level rise, through thermal expansion of sea water and widespread loss of land ice."

Projecting from 1990 to today gives an anthropogenic sea level rise of just under 3 cm to just under 8 cm, and near sea-level, precipitation induced, river floods should rise a similar amount. It might not sound like a lot, but every inch counts. It also might be more than that in some areas, especially depending on how high tides move that extra water volume into bays. I understand that near sea level river flooding is at its worst in high tides.

(ADVISORY: Apparently, the rest of this post is stupid. Read it only if you want to waste your time or feel like piling on some more in the comments.)

No response from Roger just yet, but maybe that will happen later. Since posting that comment, I noodled around some more on the issue of how local topography can amplify the high tide effect of a rise in mean sea level. Wikipedia says that the local topography of two bays in Canada transforms an average one-meter ocean tide into 16 and 17 meter local tides. In those cases, a 5 cm mean sea level rise results in approximately one meter rise in sea level at high tide. Obviously, those are extreme examples, but I would expect that 2-times or 3-times amplification of local tides would be common enough. Those areas should have already experienced 6 to 24 cm increase in local high tides from global warming. When the high tides coincides with river flooding, the precipitation-induced flooding damage that Roger is talking about should have already become significantly worse that would otherwise have been the case.

Interestingly, the International Panel on Climate Change's chapter on sea level rise doesn't appear to discuss how future increases in mean sea level could be amplified by local topography to produce much higher sea levels at high tide. I'm guessing that means either that I've missed something and the effect isn't real, or that the next IPCC revision needs to take on this issue.

UPDATE: some knowledgeable commentators are distinctly unimpressed with my tidal amplification argument (I hate it when that happens). I'll have to think about whether anything can be salvaged from that idea, but there probably is a valid reason why this isn't analyzed by the IPCC. I'm sticking with the 3-8 cm mean sea level rise translating into actual flooding damage, though.

key: science, global warming

Friday, August 19, 2005

Atrios is part right and part wrong on Iraq

Atrios is completely right that the main political pressure should be on Administration idiots who brought us to this disaster in Iraq. We can slightly reduce the disaster by getting a declaration that we will leave, entirely, some day from Iraq, and we will not have permanent bases there.

Where Atrios is wrong is in saying the reason some of us reject "getting out now" is that we're in favor of "getting out as soon as we can subject to things being better in some undefined way." I'm not at all convinced that things will get better in Iraq if we stay for an extended period. Rather, I currently think that things might get much worse if we leave within a short period, especially because I don't see a UN peacekeeping force materializing and taking charge in our absence. And unfortunately, the idea that things can't get much worse in Iraq is wrong. As bad as it is there, it can get worse, and until it's clear that the Iraqis want us out, we have to deal with this disaster created by the Bush Administration.

So back to Atrios' main point - part of limiting the disaster is promising to leave sometime, and that needs to be the emphasis.

key: politics, Iraq

Bet's on

Climatologist James Annan finally locates two global warming denialists who are willing to put some real money where there mouths are: they're betting $10,000 over whether temperatures will drop in the next decade.

This is some good news for James' finances. I think it also highlights Richard Lindzen's refusal to take a bet on even better odds. I hope the publicity will help shake out which denialists actually stand by their statements, and which ones don't. If there are any more in the first category, I'd love to get a piece of the action.

key: science, global warming, bet

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Corn-based ethanol not looking good, from a science perspective

Pharyngula has good repost on the issue of whether corn-based ethanol can solve our oil-dependence woes. Short answer: no. Slightly-longer answer: peer reviewed studies suggest it takes more energy to produce ethanol than the energy that ethanol itself produces - in other words, the amount of oil needed to produce ethanol exceeds the energy value of the ethanol produced. Even if that's too pessimistic, the amount of plausible surplus energy is way too low to be a substantial fix for oil-dependence.

Instead the whole ethanol issue is being driven by powerful farm-state politicians and the Iowa presidential primary for both political parties. This might be one of the few examples of Democrats matching Republicans in a war on science.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Science says: global warming will cause damaging floods

Roger Pielke Jr. writes that it has not yet been proven or disproven that any part of the increase in flooding damage in recent decades up to the present is due to climate change up to the present. It took me a little while to figure that out from his post, but I'm pretty sure I've got it right.

I'm somewhat less interested in that proposition and more interested in what will happen in the future, as in the title I've written to this post. Now, the title to this post would be misleading if all that science told us was that only very small percentages of the global population will suffer from increased damaging floods. Similarly, it would be misleading if someone attacked the title's accuracy only because the science was unclear as to what will happen in some small areas.

The reason why global warming will clearly cause flooding is that sea level rise will exacerbate damaging, precipitation-induced, river flooding in and near coastal areas. That's a reasonable, general statement about flooding giving how much of the world population lives near sea level.

This site gives a range for the predicted sea level rise, but it centers around a half-meter rise. That may not sound like much, but it will result in significantly greater damage for areas that would have already been flooded, and a larger total area that is flooded.
Even areas substantially upstream could suffer worse floods. Flood control structures might choose to not release enough water to prevent upstream floods, because of the impact it would have on severe flooding downstream near sea level.

This ignores the additional possibility that warmer temperatures will result in more intense storm events - I have no idea how good the science is for that proposition, but that sea level will rise from global warming is a very strong conclusion.

Long story shortened: global warming will cause flooding. If one has time to say more, the flooding will clearly happen in and near coastal areas where the world's population lives, and may happen further inland as well.

(BTW, I self-plagiarized some of this post from comments I wrote to Roger's post.)

key: science, global warming

Monday, August 15, 2005

Deep Impact a big dud?

Kind of old reference now, but I'm putting it in anyway: an interesting exchange between two of my favorite space science writers, Bruce Moomaw and Oliver Morton. They discuss the spectacular comet impact probe, Deep Impact, that got lots of news coverage over July 4th, but may turn out to be disappointing in terms of science results.

Besides just being interesting, I think this issue points to a problem with space journalism being much less critical than it should be of its subject. Deep Impact received front page coverage everywhere, but try and find discussion of whether it worked as a science mission.

It's understandable that journalists don't want to skewer scientists that are just trying to do something good, but the taxpayers spent over $300 million on that probe and deserve to know if NASA administrators used politics instead of science when selecting space missions. Both Morton and Moomaw (especially Moomaw) are capable of making criticisms, so that makes their work especially worthwhile compared to the normal space journalism.

key: science, space

Friday, August 12, 2005

A bill to stop interstate traffic of primates

Via Mark Kleiman, I found Hilzoy promoting a bill to stop the interstate traffic of primates as pets (but still allowing it for some other reasons). Read Hilzoy for the details, she's very convincing.

The point I would add is that I am very concerned about the morality of treating highly intelligent animals like apes as things to be used solely for our benefit. I'm not sure where monkeys fit on the moral spectrum, but we can also make a societal decision that it's to our benefit not to mistreat animals, and monkeys are likely to be mistreated.

And some monkeys seem to even recognize themselves in mirrors, implying some level of self-consciousness. If we know an animal can recognize its own existence, I'm concerned about treating it as a piece of meat.

key: science, ape, politics

Thursday, August 11, 2005

A (mostly) bad argument against the Iraq War

I keep hearing an argument against the Iraq War that I really dislike, most recently this morning on Air America radio. The argument is that this is not a war bringing freedom and liberation to Iraq because we have not liberated other countries with equally awful dictators.

What they are saying is that you should not do a good thing in one place at one time unless you're willing to do the good thing in all places and all times. My attitude is that I'll take what I can get - if people are willing to do a good thing in a single place for selfish reasons, I'll be glad for that.

The argument is much more valid for questioning the motives of the American leadership that dragged us into this mess. I don't think freedom ranked very high in the motives of the war leaders or they would be more consistent in their approach towards freedom elsewhere.

The real reason for why the decision to begin the war in Iraq was wrong is because of its effects on the US, the world, and Iraq, not because of an unrealistic demand for consistency before taking steps that (theoretically) could make things better.

key: Iraq, ethics

Tangled Bank is up

Tangled Bank #34, a summarized collection of science blog postings, is now online. It includes a link to my petri dish/evolution post, with a better description than I had: a classroom experiment in macroevolution.

Lots of good stuff at the Tangled Bank - I especially liked the posts on invasive species and infectious diseases.

key: science

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

The Shuttle's back and the astronauts are safe

Now, via Brad DeLong, here's a great idea to improve NASA's manned program:

To the uneducated mind, it would seem we could accomplish our current manned space flight objectives more easily by not launching any astronauts into space at all -- leaving the Shuttle and ISS on the ground would result in massive savings without the slighest impact on basic science, while also increasing mission safety by many orders of magnitude.

The astronauts could even do "spacewalks" outside to repair the Shuttle and ISS wearing spacesuits, like some people have been doing recently in Utah and Canada as part of a not-very-convincing simulation of living on Mars.

Very long post at the link but it's very good and well-written, and includes things that I, a space geek, didn't know. Here's another nice quote: "You know you're in trouble when the Russians are adding safety features to your design."

By the way, some people argue that the manned program provides political support for the unmanned, actually-useful, space science program. I don't buy that - NASA's manned program hasn't been exciting in 33 years, but the unmanned program does well when its budget isn't being stolen to finance the manned missions.

Hopefully, someday we'll cancel this stupid, astronaut-killing boondoggle program.

key: science, space, politics

Monday, August 08, 2005

My one Karl Rove/Valerie Plame comment

I've been following the Rove/Libby/Plame issue closely, but haven't had much to say. Except that the Democrats and the press should be targeting both Rove and Libby to get them to issue waivers of confidentiality specifically to Judith Miller so she can leave jail and start testifying about her conversations. Given that both men claim to have waived the confidentiality privilege willingly, there's no objective reason why they can't get specific.

The likely real reason is that they want to claim they've done nothing wrong, claim they're not holding anyone back from testifying, but at the same time, hold Miller back from testifying. These two men and President Bush should pay a political price for being deceptive, or they should get specific.

The faux-Democrat Mickey Kaus says that if Bush forces a specific waiver out of Libby, it will be seen as coerced by Miller and therefore unacceptable. The pressure doesn't have to be on Bush, though, reporters and Democrats can be shoving waiver notices directly under the noses of Libby and Rove. Bush should meanwhile be doing his own investigation for his own reasons, not just to help Miller decide whether to testify to the grand jury.

The choice for the Republicans should be to either come clean, or pay for it at the polls.

UPDATE: Well, that didn't take long:

WHERE'S THE WAIVER? The DCCC's Jesse Lee has the text of a new letter sent by representatives John Conyers, Louise Slaughter, and Rush Holt to I. Lewis Libby. Citing Murray Waas' Prospect report of a meeting between Libby and Judith Miller on July 8, 2003, the Democrats call on Libby to cooperate fully with the Plame investigators by granting Miller a personal waiver to talk about their discussions.

Good for them, they need to keep this up. And time to get reporters to push for the same thing about Libby and Rove.

key: politics

Sunday, August 07, 2005

One objectively-good reason to oppose John Roberts

He's too young (50 years old), and appointing someone who comes down hard on one side of the ideological divide in the judiciary for thirty or more years is bad for the country.

Being able to know in advance how a judge is going to rule on an unsettled question of law, because you know the judge's ideology, is a very bad thing for the law. Because that division in legal interpretation of the Constitution tracks some of the left-right political divisions, it has broad political implications that threaten the essence of an unbiased, non-political judiciary.

I don't know how to solve this problem, which comes down to ideological litmus tests for supporting or opposing judicial nominees. I do know how to reduce the problem though: reduce the stakes of each individual appointment by not having it last so long. What we should really have is term limits for Supreme Court Justices, and possibly other judges, which is something Roberts himself has supported. Absent a Constitutional amendment to put this in place, the alternative is to appoint older nominees. If the average stay on the Court is 20 years or less, there will be enough turnover so that the opposition political party can expect a good chance to nominate their own Justices when they retake the presidency, and the nomination battles will be less intense.

This is just a variation on Roberts' own idea. He should do something else for a while, and then maybe be an appropriate nominee by a conservative president when Roberts is over 60.

key: politics, law

Saturday, August 06, 2005

Too good to pass up

This post from The Poor Man, finding the very best in the big-league conservative blogging (with a loose interpretation of "best").

Thanks Jeff for the tip!

Friday, August 05, 2005

Speciation in a classroom petri dish

Many creationists and some Intelligent Design types accept that "microevolution" occurs within a species, allowing for small, gradual changes, but "macroevolution" from one species to another does not. Here's a typical statement:

"Speciation" in the Darwinian sense of one species gradually changing by selection into another has not been observed and no examples are known.

Of course, it's wrong, but even better than reading about examples in scientific literature would be to demonstrate speciation in a high school classroom petri dish.

So here's my idea - take a bacteria species that cultures easily and normally lives in pH-neutral environment medium, not very acidic and not very alkaline. A teacher could demonstrate this by transferring bacteria cultured on a neutral petri dish to higly acid and highly alkaline dishes, where the bacteria quickly dies.

Now the invention that someone needs to make - a petri dish shaped like a long rectangle that has an acidity gradient, so that it's very acidic at one end, gradually changes to a neutral pH in the center and highly alkaline at the far end. Students transfer bacteria to the neutral pH location, and then wait. Within a time period of days/weeks, the bacteria should, through natural selection, gradually evolve and grow into areas that are increasingly more acidic or alkaline than the parent population could survive in. At the two ends of the petri dish, the students will have created two different bacteria species that are reproductively isolated from each other because they live in incompatible environments. The students can prove that by transferring bacteria from the alkaline end to the acidic end and vice-versa, and they'll observe that the transferred bacteria soon dies. Speciation as described by biologists, for all the students to see right in front of them.

Several additional notes:

Biological education isn't my field, so there may be difficulties with this in practice, but it seems doable.

The idea of a species* is a little squishy when it comes to bacteria, but even if one doesn't accept the species concept for bacteria, the experiment does simulate what happens in nature and lets students see natural selection in front of them.

If some bacteria survive as one long colony of bacteria from the acidic end to the alkaline end, the students will have created a ring species, which is itself a fascinating example of speciation.

Some creationists now accept speciation, and say all the species biodiversity on earth could have developed out of the tiny number of species that could fit into Noah's Ark. They really believe in Noah's Ark. These people will not be affected by this bacteria experiment, but when creationists are forced to start saying the polar opposite of what they had previously been saying, they're going to lose some supporters. The Noah's Ark Darwinists also have all kinds of additional problems, from speciation in slow-maturing vertebrates to zero support in the fossil record.

*UPDATE: changed language from "biological species concept" to "species". See comments for details.

UPDATE 2: I'm about to lose Haloscan comments into the void, and since there a just a few here, I'm going to append them:

The biological species concept is a little squishy when it comes to bacteria...

The BSC doesn't apply to bacteria at all (or any asexually reproducing organisms); that's one of the biggest limitations of/arguments against the BSC. There are other ways to define species in prokaryotes (amount of genetic divergence, ability to exchange plasmids), but I don't think this experiment will produce species, so much as environmentally unique strains.

If some bacteria survive as one long colony of bacteria from the acidic end to the alkaline end, the students will have created a ring species, which is itself a fascinating example of speciation.

Technically a ring species must form a ring. What you are talking about is clinal variation along a linear gradient. Ring speciation (still a contentious topic) involves the meeting of two ends of a circular cline in which adjacent populations can easily exchange alleles, but the two ends have diverged enough to prevent gene flow when they come together to form the ring. Maybe if you did the experiment in a donut shaped container you could observe something similar to ring speciation.

It would be interesting to see if the strains adapted for the pH extremes could coexist in the neutral environment. If they can, I'd question whether or not we can actually consider this speciation. Of course, if one or both strains become so specialized to their new environment that they cannot survive in neutral pH, it could probably be considered speciation.

GravatarThanks RPM - I probably should have said "species" as a concept is a little squishy when it comes to bacteria, rather than the term BSC. Squishy maybe, but not meaningless.

The bacteria species chosen would be a much better analogue to eukaryotes if it were one that readily exchanged DNA information between cells, since that would perform much the same function as sexual reproduction. If the experiment is successful, you then get isolated gene pools in the bacteria groups.

I had also thought of using a donut-shaped petri dish (it would be helpful for educational purposes), but some ring species don't form complete rings, like the California salamander.

Interesting question if the bacteria from the two ends could coexist (and share genes) in the neutral environment. If so, you're probably right that speciation is incomplete. It would be complete in a natural enviroment, though, if that neutral habitat no longer existed. I also would not be surprised if the bacteria that stayed adapted to neutral pH outcompeted the two outlying groups and effectively kept them from coexisting.

Gravataryou mention petri dishes with a gradient in them. Which reminds me of experiments we were shown in a lecture while I was doing my Microbiology degree at the University of Wales, Cardiff.

They were taking samples from high salinaty environments like roadside grit stores and plating them on square dishes with a salinity gradient on them. They were looking for the ranges that bacterial fauna would grow.

I beleive these square gradient plates were pretty low-tech. You tip the plate slightly and pour in high-salt agar so that you get a layer shallow at one and deep at the other. Once it's set you tilt the other way and pour in low-salt agar. Diffusion/Osmosis take care of setting up the gradient for you.

I'm pretty sure that a quick search of the literature would find the original papers.

I shall quit rambling now. Just to point out that the equipment you want already exist.

GravatarThanks huw-l, that's an amazingly simple way to make it work. It seems like it might also work low-acidity and high-acidity agars.

key: science, politics, evolution

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Latest Skeptics' Circle is up

Skeptics' Circle is a periodic roundup of blog posts on issues that skeptics love. The latest Circle mentions two of my posts, as well as other issues I've discussed here (evolution and the mercury/autism issue). Check it out.

(And thanks Tim Lambert for suggesting I send a submission!)

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

July 2005 Iraq casualties

Back to the monthly casualty report:

Avg. daily military fatality rate (Americans and others): 1.87. June was 2.77. May was 2.84, and July 2004 was also 1.87. Overall average to date is 2.32 (note this last number went up slightly from last month, which doesn't make sense - I assume that they must have corrected data recently in order for it to work out like this).

Iraqi monthly military/police fatalities: 304. June was 296. May was 270, no stats for July 2004 (January 2005 is when the stats started: 109).

Comments: a welcome decline in the US fatality rate, although there's some evidence for a summer seasonal decrease in US fatalities. We'll have a better idea of whether's there a trend after September.

I think we have one possible idea of why there are so few well-trained Iraqi police and soldiers - it's because they're dead. Iraqi military and police total deaths so far is 2800, which is only somewhat smaller than the number in fully operational units, and does not include the number of seriously wounded. The US has suffered 15,000 seriously wounded compared to its 1800 dead, so one can expect the Iraqi figure to be much higher. If you consider other types of attrition through people quitting or fleeing the country, and I'd expect the "burn rate" of trained Iraqis is more than 20,000 a year - i.e., you have to exceed that figure substantially before you increase the total number or competent police and soldiers.

key: Iraq, trend

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Evolution debate - bring it on, George

Apparently our Genius-in-Chief has endorsed teaching "intelligent design" as a scientific school of thought worthy of being taught in competition with evolution. I'm all for teaching the non-controversy of this issue - As I've said before, I'm convinced that this debate is a wedge issue that splits Republicans and helps Democrats. Bring it on.

key: science, politics, evolution