There ought to be a qualifying exam for parenthood

It's another of those cases where people unfit to be parents abuse their children. Samuel McGehee is accused of murdering his youngest son, suffocating him to death because he wouldn't take a nap. That's horrible, but the next question I have to ask is why this guy was allowed in the same room with small children after what he did last year.

A detective testified that in March 2008, McGehee, concerned about the family's financial state, decided to circumcise his other son at home, using a filet knife.

"There was severe damage to the shaft of the penis," Detective Shawn Jenkins said. "There was a lot of skin removed."

The 3-month-old's scrotum was also lacerated during the procedure, Jenkins said. The child has subsequently endured extensive reconstructive surgeries, and more are expected.

What is it with these religious kooks and their children's penises? I'm the father of two boys, and aside from assistance with basic hygiene when they were very small, I pretty much left their business alone…and the idea of taking a knife to them was unthinkable. I really wonder what crazy fundagelical church this man went to that made circumcision such a priority.

If the law had taken this lunatic aside when he'd committed such a stupid crime and told him that his parenting rights were immediately suspended, there's another little boy who might still be alive today.

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See original: Science News There ought to be a qualifying exam for parenthood

Roger Ebert is such a skeptic

He takes on our country's curious attitude towards patent inanity.

We are edging into an Election Season where strange beliefs will get an unusual airing. Sarah Palin, Mike Huckabee are up front in their disdain for Darwinism and their embrace of one degree or another of Creationism. Obama and most Democrats, and many Republicans have no problem at all with Darwinism, but will be wise to keep that out of their basic stump speech. Palin can draw applause by affirming she doesn't believe mankind shared a common ancestor with oran utans, but Obama will prudently refrain from revealing his belief in the quite provable fact that we do.

It will be a fascinating aspect of the coverage of the approaching campaigns to watch how mainstream news organizations tread on this thin ice. There was an outcry in some circles when most news outlets were slow to simply state that George Bush was wrong about Brownie doin a great job, and Palin was wrong about the Bridge to Nowhere. They were wrong, but few in the MSM said they were, and even fewer, perhaps none, of those outlets will say that Palin or Huckabee are just plain wrong, wrong, wrong about Creationism. Not since Flat Earthers has there been a public dispute in which one side (Darwinism) has so throughly and merciless demolished the other (Creationism). Yet at most the MSM might venture to mention a "debate" or "controversy" between Darwinism and Creationism. News at 10: The debate about the theory of gravity.

He doesn't just target the right-wing follies, either: the lefties get a skewering for their promotion of New Agey Nonsense. It's a good read.

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See original: Science News Roger Ebert is such a skeptic

Medieval Genius Sculptor Vaporised [Aardvarchaeology]


Names are one of the things that separate historical and archaeological thinking from each other. History is full of people of whom little is known beyond their names and perhaps a royal or ecclesiastical title, yet still they are considered to be historical personages. Meanwhile, a dead person found in a nameless prehistoric grave can never attain the same historical stature regardless of the objects preserved with the body and the scientific data extracted from the bones.

This fixation with names was once a characteristic of art historians as well. One of the differences between Medieval and Renaissance art is that in the latter era, much more art can be attributed to named artists. But still, there are a few named Medieval ones too. And they have acted as magnets for attribution of anonymous masterpieces.

Medieval art in Sweden is largely synonymous with church art, of which we have unusually large amounts preserved because our Reformation was not strongly iconoclastic. And there are two huge names: Albertus Pictor (that is, "Albert the painter", born ~1480) from Immenhausen in Germany and Bernt Notke from Lübeck, also in Germany (born ~1440). Both were painters, both died in 1509, both have left signed preserved pieces of work, and the vibrant style of Albert and his workshop is unmistakeable. I recently learned that though he oversaw the frescoes in more than 30 churches, he died at about age 29. He painted those churches at the typical age of an art history undergrad!

But Bernt Notke, it turns out, is a different kind of guy entirely. Reading the new book by one of Sweden's best Medieval art historians, Peter Tångeberg (whom I like to call an archaeologist of sculpture, which is intended as a compliment), I learned that Notke is one of those attribution magnets. And a hollow one to boot.

One of Sweden's finest pieces of Medieval art is St. George and the Dragon in Stockholm cathedral. It is an anonymous work. In 1901/06 influential art historian Johnny Roosval attributed it to Bernt Notke. This attribution stuck: it's part of a good Swedish education to "know" that Notke sculpted St. George. And since that time, innumerable fine anonymous pieces of art have been attributed to the genius behind St. George -- Notke.

But, Tångeberg points out, there are in fact only three pieces of work that are known to be Notke's either through signatures of church archives. They are a triumphal crucifix in Lübeck Cathedral from 1477, a reredos (altarskåp) in Århus cathedral from 1479 and a reredos in Tallinn's All Saints' Church from 1483. And when you look at them you find some interesting facts.

  1. Notke's three works are very dissimilar from each other and must have been made by a group of artisans under his direction. (Hardly surprising, as Notke never claimed to be a sculptor.) This means that it is impossible to identify and characterise Notke's style.

  2. All three works are rather mediocre pieces, far below the level of mastery seen in St. George in Stockholm.

Peter Tångeberg masterfully shows that St. George was not made by Notke or any other artist from Lübeck. Its only real parallels are found in painted religious sculpture from the Burgundian area in the southern Netherlands, where extremely little art of this period survives. In fact, a previously discounted 17th century author reports that the sculpture was ordered from Antwerp.

In any case, there is no longer any good reason to put a name to the people who created St. George and the Dragon. And the genius Bernt Notke, a central figure in North European art history, has simply evaporated, poor fellow.

Check out Peter Tångeberg's paper on re-worked Madonna sculptures with updated faces. And read his new book, Wahrheit und Mythos -- Bernt Notke und die Stockholmer St.-Georgs-Gruppe. Even if you don't read German, get it for the pictures.

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Also check out the featured ScienceBlog of the week: Applied Statistics

See original: ScienceBlogs Select Medieval Genius Sculptor Vaporised [Aardvarchaeology]

What Have We Learned from OLPC?

Four years ago, Nicholas Negroponte introduced the world to the "One Laptop Per Child" idea at WSIS by showing off a "$100 laptop" with UN Secretary General Kofi Annan. The educational and technology fields haven't been the same since.

More than photos of XO + kids - impact

OLPC has impact deeper and farther than just XO's passed out or netbooks snapped up. Its changing education, technology, even culture in ways beyond anyone's expectations. So for the month of December, look for posts about OLPC impact in two forums:

OLPC NewsWe'll have a Guest Posts on OLPC News all month long around OLPC impact.Sumbit a Guest Post today!Educational Technology DebateThis month's conversation is focused just on what we've learned from OLPC. Join the EduTechDebate now!.

See original: One Laptop Per Child News What Have We Learned from OLPC?

The Economic Burden of Antibiotic Resistance [Mike the Mad Biologist]

It's between fifteen to twenty one cents of every dollar spent by hospitals. A recent study examined the costs of antibiotic resistant infections in hospitals. The main finding (italics mine):

The total attributable hospital and societal cost ranges for ARI in the expanded sample were as follows: hospital, $3.4-$5.4 million; mortality, $7.0-$9.2 million; lost productivity, $162,624-$322,707; and total, $10.7-$15.0 million. The total medical cost, if distributed to all sample patients, added $2512-$3929 (16.8%-26.3%) to the mean unadjusted hospital cost for all sample patients.

(An aside: The last sentence describes the additional cost, not the percentage of hospital bills)

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See original: ScienceBlogs Select The Economic Burden of Antibiotic Resistance [Mike the Mad Biologist]

Secondhand smoke exposure in childhood increases lung cancer risk later in life

PHILADELPHIA -- Children exposed to secondhand cigarette smoke have an increased risk of developing lung cancer in adulthood, even if they never smoked.

Results of this study are published in Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention, a journal of the American Association for Cancer Research, as part of a special tobacco focus in the December issue.

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See original: Science News Secondhand smoke exposure in childhood increases lung cancer risk later in life

Acculturation affects smoking cessation success among Latinos

PHILADELPHIA -- Less acculturated Latino men have a more difficult time quitting smoking than those who are more acculturated to U.S. culture, but acculturation has no affect on Latinas odds of quitting smoking. Details of these findings are published in Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention, a journal of the American Association for Cancer Research.

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See original: Science News Acculturation affects smoking cessation success among Latinos

The simple truth


See original: RIKEN RESEARCH The simple truth

Stability reigns


See original: RIKEN RESEARCH Stability reigns

Jupiter: Freund oder Feind?

Wenn ein Asteroid oder Komet mit der Erde zusammenstößt, kann das für die Lebewesen unangenehm werden. Schon kleinere Objekte, die nur ein paar dutzend Meter durchmessen können große lokale Zerstörung anrichten. Und sollte ein kilometergroßer Brocken auf die Erde stürzen sind die Auswirkungen global und Massensterben die Folge.

Ob solche Kollisionen stattfinden, hängt von vielen Faktoren ab. Die Bewegung der erdnahen Asteroiden ist prinzipiell chaotisch und schwer für lange Zeiträume vorhersagbar. Die Population der erdnahen Asteroiden ist außerdem nicht stabil: Kollisionen mit Planeten und der Sonne verringern ihre Zahl; außerdem verlassen viele nach nahen Begegnungen mit größeren Himmelskörpern und dem folgenden gravitativen "Stoß" das Sonnensystem. Andererseits wird das Reservoir an erdnahen Asteroiden immer wieder aus dem Hauptgürtel der Asteroiden (zwischen den Bahnen von Jupiter und Mars) nachgefüllt.

Jupiter spielt hier eine besondere Rolle. Er ist der massivste und größte Planet in unserem Sonnensystem und beeinflusst die Dynamik der Kleinkörper maßgeblich. Es wird ihm auch nachgesagt, er würde die Erde vor allzu vielen Kollisionen beschützen. Seine Gravitationskraft würde Asteroiden, die vielleicht ansonsten irgendwann in die Nähe der Erde kommen, vorzeitig aus dem Sonnensystem werfen bzw. auf ungefährliche Bahnen zwingen.

Aber wie steht es wirklich mit der Beschützerrolle des Jupiters? Astronomen aus Großbritannien haben die Angelegenheit kürzlich mal genau nachgerechnet.

Jonathan Horner und Barrie Jones von der Open University in Milton Keynes haben die Rolle des Jupiters kritisch betrachtet. Jupiters "Beschützerfunktion" wird zum Beispiel oft erwähnt, wenn es darum geht, die Bedingungen in extrasolaren Planetensystem einzuschätzen.

Braucht es nicht nur einen erdähnlichen Planeten, der sich in der lebensfreundlichen, sogenannten "habitablen Zone" um einen Stern befindet sondern vielleicht auch noch einen Gasriesen wie Jupiter, der diese "zweite Erde" vor dem Bombardement mit Asteroiden schützt damit sich dort (höheres) Leben entwickeln kann?

Horner und Jones haben festgestellt, dass es zu diesem Thema erstaunlich wenig konkrete wissenschaftliche Arbeiten gibt. Finnische Forscher haben 2006 einen ähnlichen Ansatz untersucht und kamen zu dem Schluß, dass der Schutz durch Jupiter vielleicht gar nicht so groß ist, wie wir denken.

Und auch wenn man frühere Zeiten betrachtet, wäre die Erde ohne Jupiter vielleicht besser dran gewesen. Während der planetaren Migration in der Frühzeit des Sonnensystems hat Jupiter maßgeblich dazu beigetragen, dass die Erde gerade mit Asteroiden bombardiert wurde. Dieses "Late Heavy Bombardement" hätte es ohne Jupiter wohl nicht gegeben.

Horner und Jones wollten nun durch ausführliche numerische Simulationen der sache auf den Grund gehen: wie sehr beschützt uns Jupiter wirklich? Ihre Ergebnisse werden in Kürze im International Journal of Astrobiology veröffentlicht und können auch hier, hier und hier nachgelesen werden.

Die Asteroiden

Zuerst untersuchten sie den Einfluß von Jupiter auf die Asteroiden im Hauptgürtel. Aus diesem Bereich zwischen den Bahnen von Mars und Jupiter kommt der überwiegende Teil der erdnahen Asteroiden, die uns dann schließlich gefährlich werden können. Resonanzen mit Jupiter können zu Bahnänderungen der ansonsten ungefährlichen Hauptgürtelasteroiden führen die dann Orbits entwickeln, die die Bahnen der inneren Planeten kreuzen. Jupiter erzeugt quasi erst die gefährlichen Asteroiden, vor denen er uns dann schützt!

Aber wie stark ist der Einfluß von Jupiter hier genau? Um das herauszufinden, simulierten Horner und Jones wie sich eine konkrete Ausgangspopulation von Asteroiden im Laufe der Zeit verändert und vor allem wieviele von ihnen schlußendlich mit der Erde kollidieren. Diese Simulation wurde dann für verschiedene schwerer "Jupiters" durchgeführt. Sie verwendeten 12 verschiedene Werte für die Masse die von einem hunderstel der Jupitermasse bis zur doppelten Jupitermasse reichten.

Die Ergebnisse waren interessant. Wenn Jupiter sehr viel kleiner wäre als normal - also in etwa so groß wie Uranus und Neptun - dann wäre der Schutz den er der Erde bieten könnte circa so gut wie mit seiner aktuellen Masse! So ein kleiner Jupiter ist zwar nicht so gut darin, Asteroiden aus dem Sonnensystem zu werfen - dafür ist er aber auch leicht genug, um nicht so viele Asteroiden aus dem Hauptgürtel in die Nähe der Erd zu bringen.

Ein noch kleinerer Jupiter wäre natürlich noch besser. Der würde dann fast gar keine Asteroiden mehr in die Nähe der Erde bringen. Aber dann wäre sowieso alles anders in unserem Sonnensystem. Dann würde es vielleicht gar keinen Asteroidengürtel geben. Der existiert ja nur, weil die Gravitationskraft des großen Jupiter dafür gesorgt hat, das sich dort kein Planet bilden konnte.

Auch ein größerer Jupiter brächte kaum eine Verbesserung. Die Schutzfunktion eines doppelt so schweren Jupiters unterscheidet sich kaum von der des normalen Jupiter.

Richtig interessant wird es aber bei den mittleren Größen! Ein Jupiter der zwischen einem fünftel (das ist etwa so groß wie der Saturn) und der Hälfte der aktuellen Masse hätte, wäre für die Erde sehr schlecht! Die Zahl der kollidierenden Asteroiden würde stark ansteigen. So ein Jupiter wäre kein guter Schutz - eher eine Gefahr für die Erde!

Diese Grafik fasst die Ergebnisse zusammen: die x-Achse zeigt die Masse, die Jupiter in der jeweiligen Simulation hatte; die y-Achse die Anzahl der Asteroidenkollisionen mit der Erde. Die vier Kurven geben den Zustand nach jeweils 1, 2, 5 und 10 Millionen Jahren (von unten nach oben) wieder. Man sieht gut, wie sich die Form der Kurve im Lauf der Zeit stabilisiert (Bild: Jones & Horner, 2009)Grund für das unterschiedliche Verhalten der Asteroiden bei unterschiedlichen Massen sind übrigens die Resonanzen. Ich habe ja schon mal beschrieben, dass es zwei verschiedene Arten gibt: Resonanzen der mittleren Bewegung und säkulare Resonanzen. Die Positionen (allerdings nicht ihre Größe) der Resonanzen der mittleren Bewegung hängt dabei nur von der Position des Jupiter ab - und die ändert sich ja bei den Simulationen nicht. Die säkularen Resonanzen hingegen werden von der Masse beeinflusst.

Eine einflußreiche säkulare Resonanz (für die Experten: die v6-Resonanz) liegt in der aktuellen Situation an der inneren Grenze des Asteroidengürtels. Verringert man die Masse des Jupiters, dann landet sie mitten im Gürtel und kann dort viel mehr Asteroiden in erdnahe Regionen schmeissen.

Die Beschützerrolle des Jupiters ist also weniger klar, als man bisher angenommen hat. Mit einem viel leichteren oder auch schwereren Jupiter wären wir genauso gut dran wie jetzt. Und ein Jupiter, der nur ein wenig leichter wäre als der aktuelle wäre sogar ein deutlich schlechterer Beschützer!

Zumindest gilt das für die Asteroiden...

Die Zentauren

Nicht nur die erdnahen Asteroiden können der Erde gefährlich werden - auch kurzperiodische Kometen können bei einer Kollision unangenehme Folgen verursachen.

Solche Kometen, die für einen Umlauf die Sonne weniger als 200 Jahre brauche, sta...

J. Horner, & B. W. Jones. (2008) Jupiter - friend or foe? I: the asteroids. International Journal of Astrobiology, vol. 7, parts 3. arXiv: 0806.2795v3

Jonti Horner, & Barrie W Jones. (2009) Jupiter - friend or foe? II: the Centaurs. International Journal of Astrobiology. arXiv: 0903.3305v1

J Horner, B W Jones, & J Chambers. (2009) Jupiter - friend or foe? III: the Oort cloud comets. International Journal of Astrobiology. arXiv: 0911.4381v1

See original: Research Blogging - All Topics - German Jupiter: Freund oder Feind?

Climategate emails fuel Republican ire

At a hearing on Capitol Hill yesterday, Republican senators hammered White House science officials about the emails leaked from prominent climate scientists two weeks ago.

“These e-mails show a pattern of suppression, manipulation and secrecy that was inspired by ideology, condescension and profit,” said Jim Sensenbrenner (Rep., Wis.) at a hearing of the House of Representatives’ Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming. He quoted from eight of the emails in his opening statement, and charged that they read more like “scientific fascism than the scientific process”. (AP)

But John Holdren, the presidential science adviser, and Jane Lubchenco, the head of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), said that the affair did nothing to undermine the strong scientific consensus that the earth was warming, largely as a result of human activity.

Some Republicans called for a congressional enquiry into the dispute over the integrity of climate science (Wall Street Journal), but Holdren said that wasn’t needed, as the scientific community had its own process for investigating the legitimacy of data (ScienceInsider).

The debate also included a few science experiments performed by Lubchenco to demonstrate the acidification of the oceans. The hearing was supposed to focus on the latest in global warming findings, but as AP writes, Lubchenco’s “bubble-inducing experiments were ignored in favour of the more explosive emails”.

"These emails are an embarrassment on the brink of Copenhagen," added Candice Miller (Rep., Mich.) ( WSJ).

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See original: Science News Climategate emails fuel Republican ire

Climate e-mail hack ‘will impact on Copenhagen summit’ by Richard Black

3/12/2009 BBC E-mails hacked from a climate research institute suggest climate change does not have a human cause, according to Saudi Arabia’s lead climate negotiator.Mohammad Al-Sabban told BBC News that the issue will have a “huge impact” on next week’s UN climate summit, with countries unwilling to cut emissions. He said the UN summit should [...]

See original: Resources for a sustainable future Climate e-mail hack ‘will impact on Copenhagen summit’ by Richard Black