Category Archive 'Science'
19 Apr 2020

Collecting DNA From 1000-Year-Old Illuminated Manuscript

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The Atlantic has news about an interesting new approach to DNA study.

The York Gospels were assembled more than a thousand years ago. Bound in leather, illustrated, and illuminated, the book contains the four gospels of the Bible as well as land records and oaths taken by clergymen who read, rubbed, and kissed its pages over centuries. The Archbishops of York still swear their oaths on this book.

The York Gospels are also, quite literally, a bunch of old cow and sheep skins. Skin has DNA, and DNA has its own story to tell.

A group of archaeologists and geneticists in the United Kingdom have now analyzed the remarkably rich DNA reservoir of the York Gospels. They found DNA from humans who swore oaths on its pages and from bacteria likely originating on the hands and mouths of those humans. Best of all though, they found 1,000-year-old DNA from the cows and sheep whose skin became the parchment on which the book is written.

Remarkably, the authors say they extracted all this DNA without destroying even a tiny piece of parchment. All they needed were the crumbs from rubbing the book with erasers, which conservationists routinely use to clean manuscripts. The authors report their findings in a preprint that, as of this article’s publication, has not yet been peer-reviewed, though they plan to submit it to a scientific journal.

If their technique works, it could revolutionize the use of parchment to study history. Every one of these books is a herd of animals. Using DNA, researchers might track how a disease changed the makeup of a herd or how the skin of sheep from one region moved to another medieval trade routes. It’s part of a growing movement to bring together scholars in the sciences and humanities to study medieval manuscripts.

Scientists have extracted DNA from parchment before, but this non-destructive technique expands the potential pool of research material. Archivists are loathe to allow researchers to cut off a piece of, say, the York Gospels, but some eraser crumbs? Sure. “That’s why it’s such an exciting breakthrough. It allows a lot of different manuscripts from a lot of different areas to be analyzed together,” says Bruce Holsinger, an English professor at the University of Virginia who is writing a book about parchment.

The idea to study parchment came to Matthew Collins, an archaeologist at the University of York, after a failed study in bones. A few years ago, he had a graduate student trying to extract ancient DNA from animal bones at an old Viking settlement. There were thousands of bones on the site, but only six that they tested yielded DNA—too few for any statistically significant results. “You can imagine the frustration,” says Collins.

So Collins got to thinking about archives full of old manuscripts. “You look at these shelves, and every one of them has a skin of an animal with a date written on it,” he says. Suddenly you have thousands of animals. And you didn’t even need to go out into the field and dig.


23 Mar 2020

“The COVID-19 Virus Definitely Wasn’t From a Lab”

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Harvard2thebighouse takes on Nature magazine’s claim that the Wuhan Virus could not possibly have been deliberately manufactured in a Communist Chinese Biological Weapons Laboratory.

Maybe you shouldn’t blindly believe everything you read? Even if the source has a pretty solid reputation?

Nature magazine has censored over 1,000 articles at the request of the Chinese government over the past several years. And it seems pretty clear that their recent article, “The proximal origin of SARS-CoV-2” is just one more example of their influence. China bought off the head of Harvard’s chemistry department, you don’t think they could buy off run-of-the-mill research scientists scrambling for tenure and funding and publication? It’s absolutely horrific that so many scientists and researchers are taking part in what’s really clearly a disinformation campaign orchestrated by the Chinese Communist Party, and willfully spreading a smokescreen about something that’s already killed thousands and is projected to kill millions more across the planet.

And while the mainstream corporate media mindless regurgitates claims from the Chinese government that are falsifiable with the simplest of google searches, allowing the public to be lulled into a false sense of security and complacency, and Reddit rapidly censors and moderates anything that might indicate that this virus leaked from a Chinese lab and so the Chinese government is to blame for this pandemic – sites like ZeroHedge, that have been at the forefront of keeping the lines of investigation open, have been banished from Twitter and marginalized.

Detailed rebuttal follows.

Interesting read.

HT: Kimball Corson.

22 Jan 2020

End the Climate Change Argument


Larry Kummer suggests that we stop the silliness and end the Global Warming/Climate Change Debate the right way: with serious science.

Climate models are the center ring of the climate policy debate. Policy-makers need to know that models’ forecasts provide a robust basis for policies that will shape the economy and society of 21st century America – and the world.

That requries validation of models by experts. Human nature being what it is, those experts should be unaffiliated with the groups that designed and run the models (an insight from drug effectiveness testing). The cost of such a project would be pocket change compared to its importance.

America has a wealth of people and institutions capable of doing this. The National Academy of Sciences could be the lead agency in a Federal project to validate climate models. They could mobilize experts in the required wide range of fields.

Operational leadership could be provided by the Verification and Validation Committee of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME). See their Guide for Verification and Validation in Computational Solid Mechanics, their Standard for Verification and Validation in Computational Fluid Dynamics and Heat Transfer, and An Illustration of the Concepts of Verification and Validation in Computational Solid Mechanics. NOAA and NASA could assist. There are probably other expert groups that could help.

This is the opposite of relying on blogs and academic journals to lead the policy debate (a process that would be considered primitive by a colony of cherrystone clams).

This is the opposite of the IPCC’s methodology. It is focused, not broad. It requires a review of climate models by experts unaffiliated with their creation and operation. It uses proven methods relied upon in science, engineering, and business.

The policy gridlock has consumed scarce political resources for several decades, diverting attention from other severe threats (e.g., destruction of ocean ecosystems). If climate alarmists are correct, the gridlock burns time needed for action. Even if they are wrong, these kinds of hot political debates can put fanatics in power – with horrific consequences.

If implemented, this project will not change the climate. But it could break the gridlock. If it shows that models are reliable guides, it could quickly make effective public policy possible.

Why would we continue to rely on the processes which have failed for so long when there is an obvious, easy, and relatively fast alternative?


14 Jun 2019

Why Does the US Use Farenheit Instead of Celsius?

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Norman Rockwell, 15 Below.

Short answer as to why Americans use Fahrenheit – it's people who want to know the temperature.Fahrenheit is how hot…

Posted by ScienceBlogs on Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Short answer as to why Americans use Fahrenheit – it’s people who want to know the temperature.

Fahrenheit is how hot it feels to humans.
Celsius is how hot it feels to water.
Kelvin is how hot it feels to atoms.

We’re all atoms, we’re all primarily water, but we are human.

03 May 2019

Why Anthropogenic Climate Change Cannot Possibly Be “Settled Science”

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In Science, for a theory to be believed, in must make a new prediction –different from those made by previous theories– for an experiment not yet done. For the experiment to be meaningful, we must be able to get an answer that disagrees with that prediction. When that is the case, we say that a theory is falsifiable –vulnerable to being shown false. The theory also has to be confirmable; it must be possible to verify a new prediction that only this theory makes. Only when a theory has been tested and the results agree with the theory do we advance the theory to the ranks of true theories.

Lee Smolin

27 Feb 2019

Maybe the Modern World Is Not as Progressive As It Thinks It Is

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Boston, 1904.

Ol’ Remus points out that Progress has not been progressing in the modern era nearly as much as a lot of people think.

There has been a noticeable lull in theoretical physics for a long while now. Quantum physics today, for example, amounts to experiments and commentary on a theory formulated in the 1920s, a resounding theoretical and technological success but getting long in the tooth. Physicists have been mining it like the Comstock Lode for almost a century, with diminishing returns.

    Consider how little is really new. Television, the “modern marvel” that came of age in mid-twentieth century, depended crucially on the cathode ray tube, a device from the closing years of the eighteen hundreds, just another piece of lab equipment used by Victorian era nuclear researchers. Television was a parallel development of the electronic oscilloscope, first examples of which date to 1897.

    A NASA engineer estimated that all the technology needed to launch a satellite was in place by the 1920s. The Hubble telescope’s central feature is a reflecting telescope invented in the mid-1600s. Einstein’s theory of special relativity was published in 1905, general relativity came ten years later. The LIGO gravity wave detector is built around a Michelson interferometer, invented in 1887. Electromagnetic particle accelerators were well developed in the 1920s, a concept still in use. The circular cyclotron was invented in 1930 , it’s the basis of the CERN Large Hadron Collider. And on and on.

    Science has gone quiescent, and technology is getting drowsy. Consider. The first jet aircraft flew in 1939. Both the F-86 and MiG-15 of Korean War fame first flew in 1947. The Boeing 707 entered service in 1958, sixty one years ago, and it’s the dominant pattern for jet airliners to this day.

    Semiautomatic rifles were marketed to civilians in 1903. Mexico issued standard 7×57 semi auto rifles to the infantry in 1910. France issued the 8×50 RSC , another successful semi auto, in 1917. The AR-15 goes back to 1956. The .45 ACP round goes back to 1910, the 9×19 mm to 1902. The first electronic infrared detector-display was invented in 1929 for the British air defense system.

    Electronic analog computers were in use in 1939, some aboard US submarines. By 1941 they were programmable. The first digital electronic programmable computer was delivered to Bletchley Park in early 1944. The first transistor appeared in 1947. The marriage was as inevitable as in a 1940s two-hanky movie.

    Oldsmobile began selling automobiles in 1897. Electric cars, also first mass marketed in the US in 1897 , were common until the electric starter replaced hand cranking for gasoline powered cars in 1912 and decisively captured the women’s market. GE built its first diesel-electric locomotives in 1918. By the 1930s “diesels” were in general use as yard switchers, were replacing steam in passenger service and in main line heavy freight service beginning in 1939 .

    Telephones were in common use by the 1890s . Radio, in its “wireless telegraphy” form, was patented in 1896. AM radio was first demonstrated in 1906, by the 1920s it was a commercial success. Hollywood first screened color and sound-on-film movies commercially in the early 1920s. The first color television was demonstrated in 1928, the first all electronic color television in 1940. Even the current gee-whiz technological darling, the laser, was first demonstrated in 1960.

    We’ve been cannibalizing the past for six or seven decades, combining this ‘n that, or developing existing stuff to the nth degree and calling it good. Where are the real breakthroughs today? In physics we’re reduced to reading of parallel universes and wormholes and hidden dimensions and “the universe as hologram” on the basis of little more evidence than a competent science fiction writer could conjure from public sources. String theory, the serial Lazarus of theoretical physics, has produced little more than string theorists.

    You’ll notice physics began atrophying right about the time it became Big Science with grants and other government support.

HT: Vanderleun.

12 May 2018

Settled Science

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Kurt Schlichter claims that Science proves that you need a modern semiautomatic, so-called Assault Rifle.

[Y]ou should own, at a minimum, a modern semiautomatic rifle like an AR-15 that is simple to operate, easily accessorized for the individual user, reliable, and rugged. Liberals call these “assault rifles,” though they are not. Insisting that liberals be accurate when describing what they seek to ban is “gunsplaining,” a heinous macroaggression that is right up there with assuming someone’s gender on the Big List O’ Liberal Sins.

If you don’t agree with me, you clearly hate science. Why do liberals hate science so much?

But it is science – the math is clear that chaos is in the cards, and you better be ready.


Now, if only Kurt will get to work demonstrating the scientific basis for my need for a side-lever Stephen Grant hammergun…

03 Jan 2018

Human Eye Colors Explained

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Paul Van Slembrouck:

Did you think that blue eyes are blue because they contain blue pigmented cells? Did you think that green eyes are green for the same reason?

Think again.

That colorful circle around your pupil is the iris. The iris is made up of two layers of cells: the front layer is known as the stroma, and the back layer is known as the epithelium.

The epithelium is a layer with a thickness of two cells and containing dark black-brown pigments. The little specks and strings of black you see in the iris? — that’s the epithelium.

The stroma is made up of colorless collagen fibers. The stroma only occasionally contains brown melanin pigmentation. Sometimes the stroma is totally clear, containing no melanin. …

To everyone curious about Elizabeth Taylor’s mythical violet eyes, the short answer is that — as far as I know — she had grey-blue eyes that could be coaxed into appearing violet with the appropriate lighting or makeup and attire.


06 Nov 2017

“Hold My Beer!”

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NYT: “Male Mammoths Died in ‘Silly Ways’ More Often Than Females, Study Finds.”

Swallowed by a sinkhole. Washed away by a mudflow. Drowned after falling through thin ice.

These are the fates that many unlucky mammoths suffered in Siberia thousands of years ago. Their well-preserved fossils have provided paleobiologists with insight into their prehistoric lives. Now, after performing a genetic analysis on the remains from the furry victims of natural traps, a team of scientists made a striking discovery: Most were male.

“In many species, males tend to do somewhat stupid things that end up getting them killed in silly ways, and it appears that may have been true for mammoths also,” said Love Dalén, an evolutionary biologist from the Swedish Museum of Natural History.

In a study published Thursday in the journal Current Biology, he and his colleagues analyzed DNA from nearly 100 mammoth bones, teeth and tusks, and found that about two-thirds came from males. They speculate the reason for the skewed sex-ratio may have to do with the risky behavior that young males take after leaving the protection of their mothers to live on their own.


09 Sep 2017

Taxonomic Vandalism

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Presumably Naja nigricincta, the Western barred spitting cobra.

Smithsonian reports that there is a problem these days with taxonomic vandalism.

Imagine, if you will, getting bit by an African spitting cobra. These reptiles are bad news for several reasons: First, they spit, shooting a potent cocktail of nerve toxins directly into their victims’ eyes. But they also chomp down, using their fangs to deliver a nasty bite that can lead to respiratory failure, paralysis, and occasionally even death.

Before you go rushing to the hospital in search of antivenin, you’re going to want to look up exactly what kind of snake you’re dealing with. But the results are confusing. According to the official record of species names, governed by the International Commission of Zoological Nomenclature (ICZN), the snake belongs to the genus Spracklandus. What you don’t know is that almost no taxonomists use that name. Instead, most researchers use the unofficial name that pops up in Wikipedia and most scientific journal articles: Afronaja.

This might sound like semantics. But for you, it could mean the difference between life and death. “If you walk in [to the hospital] and say the snake that bit you is called Spracklandus, you might not get the right antivenin,” says Scott Thomson, a herpetologist and taxonomist at Brazil’s Museum of Zoology at the University of São Paulo. After all, “the doctor is not a herpetologist … he’s a medical person trying to save your life.”

In fact, Spracklandus is the center of a heated debate within the world of taxonomy—one that could help determine the future of an entire scientific field. And Raymond Hoser, the Australian researcher who gave Spracklandus its official name, is one of the forefront figures in that debate.

By the numbers, Hoser is a taxonomy maven. Between 2000 and 2012 alone, Hoser named three-quarters of all new genera and subgenera of snakes; overall, he’s named over 800 taxa, including dozens of snakes and lizards. But prominent taxonomists and other herpetologists—including several interviewed for this piece—say that those numbers are misleading.

According to them, Hoser isn’t a prolific scientist at all. What he’s really mastered is a very specific kind of scientific “crime”: taxonomic vandalism.


25 Aug 2017

Cause of Hunley’s Crew’s Death Established By Duke Researchers

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Daily Mail:

The first combat submarine to sink an enemy ship also instantly killed its own eight-man crew with the powerful explosive torpedo it carried, new research has found.

The HL Hunley fought for the confederacy in the US civil war and was sunk near North Charleston, South Carolina, in 1864.

Speculation about the crew’s deaths has included suffocation and drowning, but a new study claims that a shockwave created by their own weapon was to blame.

Researchers from Duke University in North Carolina set blasts near a scale model of the vessel to calculate their impact.

They also shot authentic weapons at historically accurate iron plates.

They used this data to work out the mathematics behind human respiration and the transmission of blast energy.

Ms Rachel Lance, one of the researchers on the study, says the crew died instantly from the force of the explosion travelling through the soft tissues of their bodies, especially their lungs and brains.

Ms Lance calculates the likelihood of immediately fatal lung trauma to be at least 85 per cent for each member of the Hunley crew.

She believes the crippled sub then drifted out on a falling tide and slowly took on water before sinking.

‘This is the characteristic trauma of blast victims, they call it “blast lung”, said Ms Lance.

‘You have an instant fatality that leaves no marks on the skeletal remains.


15 Jul 2017

Everything You Were Told Was True Might Be Wrong

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Take Easter Island. For a long time now, we’ve been told the resident culture’s decline constitutes a cautionary tale about environmental destruction via human excess.

A new study paints a completely different picture. New Atlas:

When Europeans first landed on Easter Island in the 18th century, they found a barren landscape. The story goes that to raise the huge stone heads, called moai, the Rapa Nui people felled most of the island’s trees to use as rollers, burning the rest for fuel and warmth. The negative effects of a treeless island cascaded down, destroying their previous prosperity and leaving the tribes fighting over resources.

“The traditional story is that over time the people of Rapa Nui used up their resources and started to run out of food,” says Carl Lipo, co-author of the study. “One of the resources that they supposedly used up was trees that were growing on the island. Those trees provided canoes and, as a result of the lack of canoes, they could no longer fish. So they started to rely more and more on land food. As they relied on land food, productivity went down because of soil erosion, which led to crop failures … painting the picture of this sort of catastrophe. That’s the traditional narrative.”

To get a better understanding of what the people of Easter Island were eating and how, a team from Binghamton University analyzed human, animal and plant remains dating as far back as 1400 CE. Analyzing the carbon and nitrogen isotopes of the collagen in bones can reveal the diet of ancient people, and these were compared with isotope analyses of the ancient and modern plant and marine samples to get an idea of where their food was coming from.

The results showed that about half of the proteins the Rapa Nui people were consuming came from marine sources, which means they were fishing more consistently for a longer period than they were given credit for. At the same time, the food they were cultivating on land was more productive than previously thought, with the environmental analyses showing an understanding of how to improve poor soil fertility.

“We found that there’s a fairly significant marine diet, over time, throughout history and that people were eating marine resources, and it wasn’t as though they only had food from terrestrial resources,” says Lipo. “We also learned that what they did get from terrestrial resources came from very modified soils, that they were enriching the soils in order to grow the crops. That supports the argument we’ve made in our previous work, that these people came up with an ingenious strategy in enriching the soils by adding bedrock to the surface and inside the soil to create, essentially, fertilizer to support their populations, and that forest loss really isn’t a catastrophe as previously described.”

Although the story of the Rapa Nui’s self-destruction serves as a good fable to teach environmental awareness and responsibility, the Binghamton team concludes that it’s not that simple. The history of Easter Island is more nuanced, and the ancient people shouldn’t be written off as reckless and careless.

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