Science quote of the week

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Prof. Brian Cox offers his opinion of the people who believe the LHC imperils the world.

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From the Telegraph, about the Large Hadron Collider (emphasis mine, for the good bit):

Such is the angst that the American Nobel prize winning physicist Frank Wilczek of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology has even had death threats, said Prof Brian Cox of Manchester University, adding: “Anyone who thinks the LHC will destroy the world is a twat.”

’nuff said.

Bigotry in Australia

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Well, we knew it wasn’t just the Abrahamic religions, and here’s a case in point. Aboriginal leaders in Australia have called for a book to be scrapped because it teaches girls to play a musical instrument. Depressingly Harper Collins have apologised, when what they should have said was “um… it’s the 21st century; you don’t… Read more »

Well, we knew it wasn’t just the Abrahamic religions, and here’s a case in point. Aboriginal leaders in Australia have called for a book to be scrapped because it teaches girls to play a musical instrument.

Depressingly Harper Collins have apologised, when what they should have said was “um… it’s the 21st century; you don’t get to be both respected and a sexist any more.”

I know people tend to think “they’re an ancient culture, we have no right to judge their values,” but I call bullshit. In this case their values are sexist and they’re wrong, and we shouldn’t be afraid to say as much. Sexism isn’t suddenly OK once a culture has been doing it for a certain length of time, and their own inability to move on shouldn’t give them a free pass to try to impose their backwards ideas on others.

Thankfully it looks like Harper Collins have no intention of pulling the book, and the bigots are going to have to learn to live with it.

In which avatars are discussed

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I’ve added monsterID procedurally generated avatars to the site, which work alongside the existing gravatar support.

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A few months back, I quietly added gravatar support to the site for commenters. I didn’t mention it, as I (apparently incorrectly) assumed almost everyone had a gravatar.

Since that’s turned out not to be the case, I’ve installed the excellent WP-monsterID plugin to generate avatars for those commenters that don’t have one. It’s really quite clever: it takes a hash of the commenter’s email address and uses some of it as a seed for a procedurally generated monster. There are millions of possible combinations, and as long as you keep using the same email address in your comments, you’ll always get the same monster. An even cooler side effect is that, you’ll take that monster with you to any other site that uses the same (sort-of-standard-ish) monster-generation code.

Of course, if you create yourself a gravatar, that will override your monster avatar, as well as appearing on all of the many sites around the net with gravatar support.

If you’ve commented here before, you can check back to the old posts, to see what your monster looks like. If you haven’t; feel free to comment on this post, for an example.

Double-plus epic fail

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MSNBC make a truly stupid mistake.

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The problem with throwing around phrases like epic fail for trivial things like incorrectly rating fruit, getting roman numerals wrong right on a watch, or falling out of your exercise-wheel, and with getting irate about someone incorrectly identifying a harvestman as an insect or a spider or both, is that it leaves you very little room to express your even greater incredulity when you see something like this.

I’m going to assume that no-one needs me to point out the obvious flaw with that?

Martian Delta

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This is a photo of a the riverbed of an ancient Martian river with a visible delta, leading into a lake bed.

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A color-enhanced image of the delta in Jezero Crater, which once held a lake. Researchers led by CRISM team member and Brown graduate student Bethany Ehlmann report that ancient rivers ferried clay-like minerals (shown in green) into the lake, forming the delta. Clays tend to trap and preserve organic matter, making the delta a good place to look for signs of ancient life. Image credit: NASA/JPL/JHUAPL/MSSS/Brown University.

A color-enhanced image of the delta in Jezero Crater, which once held a lake. Researchers led by CRISM team member and Brown graduate student Bethany Ehlmann report that ancient rivers ferried clay-like minerals (shown in green) into the lake, forming the delta. Clays tend to trap and preserve organic matter, making the delta a good place to look for signs of ancient life. Image credit: NASA/JPL/JHUAPL/MSSS/Brown University.

This is such a cool photo. The colours aren’t real, but you can clearly see the path an ancient martian river once took to get to a lake, as well as the delta it generated by dumping sediment into that lake. If you squint, you can convince yourself you’re looking at a satellite photo of Earth.

Canals after all.

Image picked up from Reconciliation Ecology.

I feel sick

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Scott Nurberg was killed by jailers in Madison Street Jail in cold blood. I don’t know what else to say.

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I’ve just finished reading about the death of Scott Norberg and, to be honest, I’m lost for words. I feel a strangely potent mix of numbness and outrage, but I have no way to express it.

One thing I can say is that there is no way this should have been an insurance payout; people should be doing time for murder.

Support freedom of expression

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Wow. Just… wow. I don’t know where to begin. A few days ago, a student at the University of Central Florida attended mass at his Church. During communion, when the wafer was placed into his mouth, instead of eating it, he took it and walked out. Catholics went nuts; even after he gave it back,… Read more »

Wow. Just… wow.

I don’t know where to begin.

A few days ago, a student at the University of Central Florida attended mass at his Church. During communion, when the wafer was placed into his mouth, instead of eating it, he took it and walked out. Catholics went nuts; even after he gave it back, the Catholic League (more on them in a moment,) said

We don’t know 100% what Mr. Cooks motivation was. However, if anything were to qualify as a hate crime, to us this seems like this might be it.

We just expect the University to take this seriously. To send a message to not just Mr. Cook but the whole community that this kind of really complete sacrilege will not be tolerated.

Overreacting much? Actually, that kind of sacrilege will be tolerated, especially in America, where freedom of religion (and from religious persecution) is guaranteed by the constitution. Of course, the fanatics don’t quite see it that way, and the poor kid has been getting death threats. Because that’s what turning the other cheek means in America.

Oh, and just so we’re clear: stealing a cracker is a hate crime, but sending death threats? Oh, that’s perfectly acceptable, rational behaviour. If you don’t like the person. And if he’s stolen your magic lunch.

Enter PZ Myers, who, as usual, wrote about it the way it is, in a piece entitled It’s a Frackin’ Cracker. As usual, he pulled no punches in describing the mob as what they are: well… a mob. He also offered to desecrate a communion wafer, if anyone would send him one. Cue a rapid switch of target on the part of the Catholic League; they’re now engaged in a full-on offensive on PZ. Not for anything he’s done, but for something he said he’d do. To a cracker. Apparently conspiracy to wound a biscuit is a cardinal sin if you’re an insane Catholic — and Bill Donohue, the leader of the Catholic League, certainly counts.

So — to get to the point — the Catholic League are trying to stir up a good ol’ fashioned witch hunt, and are inundating PZ with hate mail and death threats, and his employer with demands that he be fired. This is, to be frank, unacceptable. All PZ has done is exercise his right to freedom of expression, and he’s being targeted by a hate campaign. So what to do? Start up a support campaign, that’s what.

PZ is asking that people write a short note of support to @umn.edu">President Robert Bruininks of his University — the University of Minnesota, Morris — and I second his request. PZ is one of the more outspoken voices of reason on the internet, and it would be a shame if he were made to suffer unduly for something as simple as expressing his opinion. If you’re a rational person, even if you’re religious, and don’t agree with PZ, please consider writing a note in support of his right to express himself without fear of being victimised.

I already have. Here’s what I wrote:

Dear Sir,

I’d like to take this chance to add a note to the probably hundreds you’ve already received in support of PZ. He’s a great writer, a great educator, and a credit to your institution.

It’s true that he’s outspoken, and that he pulls no punches in expressing his opinions. That is not a crime, and if Bill Donohue and his supporters restrained themselves to responding in kind then there would be no problem. The fact that they have not, that they have resorted to a campaign of mass harassment, of death threats, and trying to cost PZ his job – in short, a campaign of terrorism – merely underlines why it is so important that we have people like PZ who are unafraid to call these people out on their hypocrisy, and to criticise their unacceptable behaviour in public.

I hope that the incoherent screaming of the mob will not prejudice you against PZ in any way, and that he will be allowed to continue to bring credit to your institution amongst free-thinkers and rationalists across the globe.

Sincerely,

Will Goring,
Reading,
United Kingdom.