Dr. Kiki Sanford makes her seventh appearance on Background Mode. Kiki is a neurophysiologist with a B.S. in conservation biology and a Ph.D. avian neurophysiology from the University of California. She’s a popular science communicator and creator of This Week in Science (TWIS) podcast and radio show.
In this episode, we chat about Elon Musk’s Neuralink, Tardigrades on the Earth’s moon, how Dark Matter may have actually preceded the Big Bang, how older parents tend to have children with fewer behavior problems, the latest findings from the exoplanet hunter, TESS, the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite, and, finally, how climate change is affecting the size of some birds. Dr. Kiki is always a delight to listen to and learn from.
Steve Carper is a Future Historian, researching how the dazzling future that dominated the Golden Age of science fiction was created—starting with the technological frenzy of the late 19th century.
Steve writes a bi-weekly robot column at BlackGate.com and his latest book, published in June 2019, is Robots in American Popular Culture. This book examines society’s reactions to robots and androids such as Robby, Rosie, Elektro, Sparko, Data, WALL-E, C-3PO and the Terminator in popular culture.
Steve and I discussed his new book, covering some of the most famous robots of fiction and then all aspects of robot technology in our culture: robots as servants, enemies, lovers, children, successors and doubles. Where will the evolution of robots take our society next? Klaatu barada nikto.
In 2000 a physicist was asked to study the health risks of wireless networks. He found [PDF] that there “was likely to be a serious health hazard.” Except he was wrong.
In his research, Dr. Curry looked at studies on how radio waves affect tissues isolated in the lab, and misinterpreted the results as applying to cells deep inside the human body. His analysis failed to recognize the protective effect of human skin. At higher radio frequencies, the skin acts as a barrier, shielding the internal organs, including the brain, from exposure. Human skin blocks the even higher frequencies of sunlight.
Despite all the studies showing a link between smartphones and cancer being debunked, I don’t think this idea will ever go away.
iPhones have over 100,000 times more processing power than the Apollo 11 computer; with 4GB of RAM they have over a million times more memory, and with 512GB of storage they have over seven million times more storage.
Despite the rapid technological advances since then, astronauts haven’t actually been back to the moon since 1972. This seems surprising. After all, when we reflect on this historic event, it is often said that we now have more computing power in our pocket than the computer aboard Apollo 11 did. But is that true? And, if so, how much more powerful are our phones?
It’s amazing to see how far technology has advanced since then.
Andrew Orr and John Martellaro join host Kelly Guimont to discuss the Mac’s value to scientists and the new tracking project from Mozilla.
Beth Mole reminds us that scientific studies are more nuanced than a sensationalized news story. The Washington Post wrote about a study showing kids sprouting horns because of bad posture, and phones were to blame. But it’s probably bogus.
Perhaps the most striking problems are that the study makes no mention of horns and does not include any data whatsoever on mobile devices usage by its participants who, according to the Post, are growing alleged horns. Also troubling is that the study authors don’t report much of the data, and some of the results blatantly conflict with each other.
Dr. Matt Stanley is a teacher and researcher in the history and philosophy of science. He holds degrees in astronomy, religion, physics, and the history of science and is interested in the connections between science and the wider culture. His Ph.D. is from Harvard in the history of science, and he is currently a professor at New York University.
We chatted about how Matt came to be immersed in physics as well as the history of science and religion. He found that a proper modern perpective depends on an understanding of how science evolved throughout history. We also briefly touched on how science and religion don’t really contradict each other. Matt told me about a very interesting class he teaches, his podcast “What the If,” and his new book EINSTEIN’S WAR: How Relativity Conquered the World.
An Apple research paper called “App Usage Predicts Cognitive Ability in Older Adults” says that iPhone usage can help predict cognitive decline in older adults [PDF].
To characterize smartphone usage among older adults, we collected iPhone usage data from 84 healthy older adults over three months. We find that older adults use fewer apps, take longer to complete tasks, and send fewer messages. We use cognitive test results from these same older adults to then show that up to 79% of these differences can be explained by cognitive decline, and that we can predict cognitive test performance from smartphone usage with 83% ROCAUC. While older adults differ from younger adults in app usage behavior, the “cognitively young” older adults use smartphones much like their younger counterparts. Our study suggests that to better support all older adults, researchers and developers should consider the full spectrum of cognitive function.
Dr. Andrew Friedman is an astronomer, cosmologist, and data scientist. He’s currently an NSF funded Assistant Research Scientist at the University of California at San Diego Center for Astrophysics & Space Sciences. He is also a Research Affiliate in the MIT Program in Science, Technology and Society. He holds a Ph.D. in Astronomy and Astrophysics from Harvard.
We chatted about how science fiction inspired him as a youth to become a cosmologist. Also, how important it is to have a Ph.D. thesis advisor who’s enthusiastically supportive. Then, we got into some cool topics of cosmology: using Type Ia supernovae to measure the rate of expansion of the universe, why infrared observations of those stars are helpful, whether quantum entanglement suggests a substrate on which spacetime resides, the multiverse, and the implications of the Planck length and Higgs field for our very existence.
Remember that science petition going around that 250 scientists signed, warning about AirPods and cancer? Turns out it had nothing to do with AirPods.
So rather than finding any link between cancer or other issues in levels of EMF at or below the current, accepted regulations, the scientists involved here were simply asking for more research into to area and suggested that it was probably a good idea to limit human exposure.
Various bloggers picked up the subject and worked to associate it with Apple’s AirPods…without regard for the fact that nothing in the petition even suggested concern about in-ear headphones, Bluetooth, or AirPods.
How about some wholesome news for once? Recently, botanists in Hawaii used a drone to find a flower they thought was extinct: Hibiscadelphus woodii.
During the expedition that led to the rediscovery of H. woodii, Wood and Nyberg had hiked hundreds of feet down the Kalalau Valley cliffs, but the difficult terrain prevented them from going any further.
It was then that Nyberg deployed the drone, flying it further down the cliffs, toward the sea, to take a closer look at a specific area of interest. Able to get within a meter or two of the sheer cliff face, he was able to confirm the continued existence of H. woodii.
NASA GLOBE Observer invites you to make observations about the Earth around you. Observations you collect and submit with this app are used by scientists to validate, interpret, and understand satellite data collected by NASA from space. The current version includes two capabilities. GLOBE Clouds allows observers to make regular observations of the Earth’s cloud cover and compare it to NASA satellite observations. GLOBE Mosquito Habitat Mapper allows users to locate mosquito habitats, observe and identify mosquito larvae, and reduce the potential threat of mosquito borne disease. Recently NASA added a new addition: Globe Trees. App Store: Free
Stanley Milgram’s most famous experiment involved taking random people and telling them to electrocute someone who they thought got wrong answers on a quiz. Now there’s a virtual reality version, and the results prove insightful.
During the experiment, participants quizzed a virtual character. A correct answer meant they could move on, while an incorrect answer meant the human participant had to administer a virtual electrical jolt. The scientists noticed that participants sometimes tried to feed the virtual avatar the correct answer by pronouncing it louder — in hopes that they wouldn’t be told to shock them.
An app created by CERN scientists lets you experience the Big Bang in AR. Narrated by Tilda Swinton, you’ll go back in time 13.8 billion years and discover how space, time and the visible universe came to be. See the universe form in the palm of your hand. Witness the formation of the very first stars, our solar system, and the planet we call home. Immerse yourself in the primordial mystery of the early universe in space and watch events unfold around you, in your own physical environment. Learn about the microscopic building blocks that make up everything – and everyone – we know, and find out if we really are made of stars. See the universe form as you stretch out your hand in front of your camera. Create the very first particles and atoms. Make a star explode, create a supernova and explore the nebula. See our solar system come together and hold the Earth in the palm of your hand.Find out how we are made from stars, take a #starselfie and share it with your friends. App Store: Free
I’ve used iNaturalist for a couple years and think it’s a great tool. Two features that help the app stand out from competitors are 1: The machine learning it uses. Once you take a picture, it can automatically suggest what species you’re looking at. 2: With every photo you upload and tag with location and other metadata, you’re contributing to real science. iNaturalist shares data with scientific data repositories like the Global Biodiversity Information Facility.
The app is a joint initiative between The California Academy of Sciences and the National Geographic Society and works sort of like a Shazam for Nature in that it lets you snap a shot of something you come across and instantly get an answer for what that planet, animal, or bug might be.
Over 250 are signing a petition calling on the United Nations and World Health Organization to create stronger guidelines over devices like AirPods and possible links to cancer.
Some experts believe that AirPods may be especially dangerous since the devices sit deep inside the ear canal where they emit radiation to fragile parts of the ear. The scientists also noted other possible health hazards, including an increase in harmful free radicals, genetic damages, structural and functional changes of the reproductive system, learning and memory deficits, and neurological disorders.
Further reading: PSA: Wi-Fi Doesn’t Cause Cancer, Some Guidelines on how to Spot Bad Science.
Dr. Kiki Sanford makes her sixth appearance on Background Mode. Kiki is a neurophysiologist with a B.S. in conservation biology and a Ph.D. avian neurophysiology from the University of California. She’s a popular science communicator and creator of This Week in Science (TWIS) podcast and radio show.
In this episode, we chat about the science of rising sea levels, neural networks and vocoder technology trained to recognize brain patterns related to listening to human speech, how learning two human languages in childhood positively affects the brain, rebooting the human immune system, whether intelligence is sexy, and the colonization of Mars and whether it will be commercially exploited or preserved by all nations like the Earth’s Antarctic. Dr. Kiki is always a delight to listen to and learn from.
Fossils, Finches, and Fuegians is a narrative account of Charles Darwin’s four year voyage on the Beagle to South America, Australia and the Pacific in the 1830s that combines the adventure and excitement of Alan Moorehead’s famous (and now out of print) account with an expert assessment of the scientific discoveries of that journey. The author is Charles Darwin’s great-grandson. No biography of Darwin has yet done justice to what the scientific research actually was that occupied Darwin during the voyage. Keynes shows exactly how Darwin’s geological researches and his observations on natural history sowed the seeds of his revolutionary theory of evolution, and led to the writing of his great works on The Origin of Species and The Descent of Man. Apple Books: US$1.99
Andrew Orr and John Martellaro chat with host Kelly Guimont about how to spot bad science and ways to help verify that claim you read about.
Recently I wrote a PSA on Wi-Fi and cancer, and a lot of people disagree with me by sending me links to studies and other news that also disagree. That’s fine, but at the same time a lot more effort goes into scientific research than cherry picking Google results. I don’t claim to know better than these studies, but a scientific study needs to be taken into context of the field as a whole. John Oliver had a good segment on studies and how they can be misunderstood. Compound Interest has a rough guide to spotting bad science and red flags to watch out for. I’ve made use of this guide for some time, and I think it’s helpful.
This graphic looks at the different factors that can contribute towards ‘bad’ science – it was inspired by the research I carried out for the recent aluminium chlorohydrate graphic, where many articles linked the compound to causing breast cancer, referencing scientific research which drew questionable conclusions from their results.