Jan 1, 2011

What is the logic behind niceness, kindness and even self sacrifice?

RadioLab feature “The Good Show”, a one hour look in to the psychology of kindness. The standard view of evolution is that living things are shaped by cold-hearted competition. And there is no doubt that today’s plants and animals carry the genetic legacy of ancestors who fought fiercely to survive and reproduce.

In this hour, we wonder whether there might also be a logic behind sharing, niceness, kindness … or even, self-sacrifice. Is altruism an aberration, or just an elaborate guise for sneaky self-interest? Do we really live in a selfish, dog-eat-dog world? Or has evolution carved out a hidden code that rewards genuine cooperation?

In this episode, a question that haunted Charles Darwin: if natural selection boils down to survival of the fittest, how do you explain why one creature might stick its neck out for another?

Featuring Richard Dawkins, Robert Axelrod and Carl Zimmer it’s free to stream or download.


Dec 31, 2010

Happy new year

I wanted to take the chanse to wish everybody a Happy New Year! Let just say that a new year comes with new opportunities!

Danny from A Magical Journey

Dec 30, 2010

Crunch time for stem cells

Trials of therapies to treat paralysis and blindness could reveal the therapeutic potential of human embryonic stem cells

Human embryonic stem cells have inspired hope and loathing in almost equal measure. Next year hESCs could prove their worth, thanks to trials of two very different treatments.

HESCs are unique in their ability to form all 200 tissues of the human body. In principle, cells derived from them could regenerate almost any tissue or organ. But because they come from embryos that are later destroyed, their use is controversial. To pacify the opposition the stem cells need to live up to expectation.

Within weeks, surgeons will inject retinal cells derived from hESCs into the eye of an individual with Stargardt's macular dystrophy, in the hope of delaying or preventing blindness, says Robert Lanza of Advanced Cell Technology (ACT) in Worcester, Massachusetts, which is developing the treatment. Eleven more patients are due to be injected in 2011. Any improvements in vision should be obvious and could take as little as six weeks to emerge.

The eye, however, is something of a special case. Insulated from the immune system, cells there are less likely to be rejected than in other parts of the body. To find out whether hESCs have broader therapeutic potential, we need to look to another, more ambitious trial.

Read more at New Scientist

Climate Models Miss Effects of Wind-Shattered Dust

Clumps of dust in the desert shatter like glass on a kitchen floor. This similarity may mean the atmosphere carries more large dust particles than climate models assume.

Dust and other airborne particles’ effect in the atmosphere is “one of the most important problems we need to solve in order to provide better predictions of climate,” said climate scientist Jasper Kok of the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado. Other researchers suspect current models also neglect a large fraction of the climate-warming dust that clogs the skies after dust storms.

Most climate models use dust data from satellites that measure how many particles of different sizes are suspended in the atmosphere. These measurements reveal an abundance of tiny clay particles roughly 2 micrometers across (about one-third the width of a red blood cell), which can reflect sunlight back into space and cool the planet.

But satellites may be missing larger particles, called silts, which don’t hang around in the air as long. Silts up to 20 micrometers in diameter can act as a warm blanket to trap heat inside the Earth’s atmosphere.

To figure out how much clay and silt is actually kicked up from the Earth’s deserts, Kok turned to a well-studied problem in physics: how glass breaks.

Cracks spread through breaking glass in specific patterns, creating predictable numbers and sizes of glass shards. The final distribution of small, medium and large glass fragments follows a mathematical law called scale invariance.

“It shows up all across nature, from asteroids to atomic nuclei,” Kok said. “It’s really just beautiful.”

In a paper published Dec. 28 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Kok showed that the physics of how dust clumps break apart is similar to glass breaking.

Soil scientists have long known that dust clumps act like brittle materials, and physicists have well-tested mathematical descriptions of how brittle materials break. “But no one had put one and two together,” Kok said.

Read more at Wired

Dec 29, 2010

World's Oldest Human Remains?

Israeli archaeologists have discovered human remains dating from 400,000 years ago, challenging conventional wisdom that Homo sapiens originated in Africa, the leader of excavations in Israel said on Tuesday.

Avi Gopher, of Tel Aviv University's Institute of Archaeology, said testing of stalagmites, stalactites and other material found in a cave east of Tel Aviv indicates that eight teeth uncovered there could be the earliest traces so far of our species.

"Our cave was used for a period of about 250,000 years -- from about 400,000 years ago to about 200,000 years ago," he told AFP.

"The teeth are scattered through the layers of the cave, some in the deeper part, that is to say from 400,000 years and through all kinds of other layers that can be up to 200,000 years. The oldest are 400,000 years old," he added."

That calls into question the widely held view that Africa was the birthplace of modern man, said Gopher, who headed the dig at Qesem Cave.

"It is accepted at the moment that the earliest Homo sapiens that we know is in east Africa and is 200,000 years old -- or a little less. We don't know of anywhere else where anyone claims to have an earlier Homo sapiens," he said.

Gopher said the first teeth were discovered in 2006 but he and his team waited until they had several samples, then conducted years of testing, using a variety of dating methods, before publishing their findings.

Read more at Discovery News

The 2010 Sceptical Award

Since the blog A Magical Journey only started in March of 2010 and had to change address once for some strange reason and that I who run this blog am a poor student at a college in Sweden I’m only going to give out one award this year! I might give more awards throughout the years but this time I’m just going to let one award get out because of my lack of funds!  If you want me to get more money to the winners and those who comes behind them just let me know! If there are more people who wotes and gives money to the winners the better they will feel! The only thing that you have to remember is that the podcast, blog, skeptical association or anything like that who are working against the alternative medicine that so far has no proof of working including Homeopathy and alternatives like that! The people who are working against charlatans who think they are psychics that has no proof of their ability or anything like that!

All of you who reads this blog are welcome to vote for the 2011 “Best Of” but this year since there are no time left I’m going to announce the winner myself!

The 2010 winner of “The Best Of” and the winner of 100 Swedish kronor is the Swedish skeptical podcast Skeptikerpodden!

The reason why they win the award is that since they started at the end of march 2010 they have been a true skeptical podcast in Swedish that made skepticism public to the common Swede!  Through the 35 shows of 2010 they have proved that they can improve themselves and make themselves a name in the skeptical society!  I Danny Boston from A Magical Journey want to give you thanks for the great podcast and a congratulation of the 2010 award!

Skeptikerpodden consists of 8 skeptical Swedes who works for free and their names are (In alphabetical order): Anders, Andreas, Carl Johan, John, Jon, Maria, Pekka and Peter

Dec 28, 2010

Ancient Egyptian Priests' Names Preserved in Pottery

Broken pieces of clay pottery have revealed the names of dozens of Egyptian priests who served at the temple of a crocodile god, Egypt's Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA) announced.

Engraved with text dating back to the Roman period, the small potsherds have been found by Italian archaeologists on the west side of the temple dedicated to the crocodile god Soknopaios in Soknopaiou Nesos, an Egyptian village in the Fayoum oasis.

Called ostraca from the Greek word ostrakon (meaning "shell") the inscribed pot fragments “have been very helpful in illuminating the religious practices and the prosopography of Greco-Roman Egypt," the SCA said in a statement.

"We found some 150 ostraca. The majority was inscribed with the names of the priests who served at the temple," Mario Capasso, professor of Papyrology at Salento University, told Discovery News.

"A recurring name is that of a priest named Satabous," Capasso said.

According to Capasso, who co-directed the excavation with Paola Davoli, associate professor of Egyptology at Salento University, each ostracon was used in a sort of ballot draw to determine specific religious roles in the temple.

Read more at Discovery News

2010: the year in science

There has been one major story this year: the Large Hadron Collider. In March, it started colliding particle beams; last month, it smashed beams of lead ions together at 99.99 per cent of the speed of light, achieving a temperature of 10 trillion degrees C, equal to the first microsecond after the Big Bang. The results suggest the early universe behaved like a super-hot liquid. From February, it is hoped that experiments will reveal more about dark matter, the nature of quarks, the Strong Nuclear Force, and, of course, the Higgs boson, the mysterious particle that is believed to give matter mass.

Elsewhere, physicists at the University of California induced quantum behaviour in a machine, making it exist in two quantum states at once. The experiment won Science magazine’s Breakthrough of the Year award for its potential to revolutionise quantum engineering by enabling similar objects to exist in two places simultaneously.

For the first time in Britain, a trial of a treatment based on embryonic stem cells – heralded as the next leap forward for medicine – went ahead. Researchers at University College London, said it “marks the dawn of the Stem Cell Age”. In January, we learnt that a vaccine for leukaemia had been tested on humans. Trials at King’s College London are at an early stage, but the vaccine showed promising results in mice.

In February, hopes of “personalised” cancer treatments were raised by geneticists at Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore. Treatment that is customised according to a person’s genetic fingerprint has been tested on patients with bowel and breast cancer. It is a step towards cancer “becoming a manageable, chronic disease”. The race is also on to be the first scientist to sequence a person’s entire genetic code for less than $1,000.

Read more at The Telegraph

Dec 27, 2010

The Curious Evolution of Holiday Lights

In 1882, the look of the holiday season changed forever.

Instead of decorating a Christmas tree with candles, Edward H. Johnson, inventor and vice president of Thomas Edison’s booming electric company, strung 80 red, white and blue light bulbs on his scrawny evergreen. The whole thing rotated six times per minute on an electric crank.

“I need not tell you that the scintillating evergreen was a pretty sight — one can hardly imagine anything prettier,” wrote a reporter for the Detroit Post and Tribune.

More than a century later, those 80 bulbs have multiplied into hundreds of millions of tiny electric lights — perhaps billions — decorating American homes and roughly 40 million live trees each year.

From those first simple strings of bulbs to computer-controlled LED light displays, we retrace the curious evolution of the holiday light bulb.

Arc Lights

Before the advent of the modern incandescent light bulb, chemist Humphry Davy tinkered with high-voltage arc lights. The devices allowed electricity to jump between two carbon rods, emitting a super-bright point of light.

The design wasn’t long-lasting or safe, however, pushing inventors to create self-contained incandescent lights.

Swan and Edison

The first incandescent lights came out of Sir Joseph Wilson Swan’s workshop as early as 1850. Swan filed a patent for the design in 1861, but the bulb’s carbon filaments burned out quickly in the presence of oxygen.

Thomas Edison was working on his own version and eventually wooed Swan into his company, effectively gaining rights to Swan’s light-bulb patents. Edison knew the secret to success was a better carbon filament (tungsten versions came years later), so his shop tested thousands of plant fibers looking for the best material.

Cotton fibers, which could stay lit for more than 1,500 hours, were found to be the best natural filament in 1880. Edison’s company continued to work on supporting technologies to make the device commonplace, including the parallel circuit, more durable glass bulbs, better dynamos, reliable voltage supplies, fuses, insulation, sockets and even light switches.

Read more at Wired

Woman being prepared for burial comes back to life

Maria das Dores was a few hours from being buried alive when an official noticed she was still breathing.
The 88-year-old was rushed back to the same hospital who had earlier declared her dead.
Officials in Brazil have now launched an investigation into how medical chiefs failed to realise the woman was alive and not dead when they sent her body for burial.
She had been brought to the hospital in the town of Ipatinga suffering from blocked arteries. She also suffered from Alzheimer's and was bedridden.
Doctors declared her dead on Dec 22 after noticing she had no vital signs.

Her body was transferred to a local undertakers to prepare her for burial.

An official looking into her coffin noticed she was still breathing and that she had moved.

Custodia Amancio, daughter of the resuscitated Brazilian woman, said: "We are happy to know my mother is alive and unhappy with the lack of respect due her. We are still not sure if we will sue the municipality and hospital.

Read more at The Telegraph