Archive for: February, 2008

Another picture quiz

Feb 29 2008 Published by under Animals, Biology, Picture Posts, Science

I took the picture below at Ka'ena Point, Oahu in January of 2006. In this picture, there are two Hawaiian Monk Seals. (They can be hard to spot, so I've marked the two animals in a second version of the picture below the fold.) Here's the quiz question that goes with this image: without recourse to Google, estimate the percentage of the total population of the species that can be seen in this one picture.

Monkseals-2

(Click on the pictures to view larger versions.)

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5 responses so far

The Answer to the Critter Quiz

Feb 28 2008 Published by under Biology, Science

On Tuesday, I posted a "can you identify this animal" quiz. I put a picture of an animal up, along with some information about it. The photograph was taken with the animal in captivity, at a location that was relatively near where the animal lived in the wild. The picture was not taken in Australia, and the DNA sequence that was superimposed over the image came from the animal in the picture.

Shawna was the first person to correctly identify both the species of the animal and the location where the picture was taken. The animal is a Brush-Tailed Rock Wallaby (Petrogale penicillata), and the picture was taken at the Honolulu Zoo. The species identification was confirmed by sparc, based on a BLAST search of the DNA sequence in the picture. (If you want a how-to on that, Sandy has an excellent one up on one of her sites.)

The wallaby in the picture was captured in June of 2005 on the grounds of Tripler Army Medical Center. It was transported first to the humane society then the zoo. It was held there for a few months, until the legendary Professor Steve Steve could find the time in his busy schedule to come out to Hawaii and show us how to properly handle the task of re-releasing it into the wild.

One response so far

A picture of a critter, and a puzzle.

Feb 26 2008 Published by under Biology, Science

Here's a picture of an animal that I took (and played around with) a few years ago. The DNA sequence that's superimposed over the picture came from that individual, so you can probably use it to figure out what species you're looking at (if you're so inclined). You can click on the image for a higher resolution version. The animal in question was (obviously) in captivity when the picture was taken, but it has since been re-released into the wild. It was held within 10 miles of the place it was captured, and the picture was not taken in Australia. Can anyone guess where the picture was taken? (Members of my family and Australian philosophers of biology are disqualified from this quiz.)

Wallyseq1

18 responses so far

Historical Figure Meme - Reading Rocks

Feb 25 2008 Published by under Misc Science, Science

Wilkins just tagged me with one of those blog meme things. Apparently, he thinks that I've nothing better to do with my time (and, unfortunately, he's totally correct about that). This particular meme involves historical figures. The rules are simple:

1) Link to the person who tagged you.

2) List 7 random/weird things about your favorite historical figure.

3) Tag seven more people at the end of your blog and link to theirs.

4) Let the person know they have been tagged by leaving a note on their blog.

I'm going to do what both Wilkins and Myers did, and pick someone who probably wouldn't ordinarily come to mind. Those two aristocrats picked members of the nobility. I'm commoner than they are, so I'm going to go with a clergyman who started out from more middle-class roots: The Blessed Niels Stensen (1638-1686), Titular Bishop of Titiopolis.

If you're familiar with geology, you probably know Stensen better by the Latinized version of his name: Nicolas Steno.

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3 responses so far

Infectious Diseases, Vaccinations, Responsibility, and Irresponsibility

Feb 21 2008 Published by under Medicine, Science

A single person contracted an infectious disease in Switzerland sometime during the week before January 15th. Within 10 days, new cases of the disease had been identified in San DIego. Less than two weeks later, the disease was known to have spread to Honolulu. People exposed to the disease are known to have attended a performance of Cirque du Soleil and a major sporting event. This isn't a Tom Clancy novel or a Homeland Security exercise, and the illness in question isn't some obscure new infectious disease. It's measles.

If you're wondering how a disease for which there is a very safe and very effective vaccine managed to travel so far, so fast, it's very simple. Vaccines only work if they are actually administered. In Switzerland, there's no requirement that schoolchildren be vaccinated. In California, vaccination is "required" before children attend school, but parents are permitted to opt out of that "requirement" for religious or "personal" reasons.

The person who contracted measles in Switzerland is an unvaccinated 7-year old. That person spread the disease to two (also unvaccinated) siblings. Between them, they managed to infect two other (unvaccinated) students who attend school with them. When the parents took the first patient to the doctor, four other children who were waiting at the office were exposed to, and contracted, measles. When they returned to the same office, they exposed a total of sixty other people (although it's not yet clear how many of them may have actually contracted the disease).

One of the children who was initially exposed at the doctor's office flew to Honolulu during a period when he or she was contagious, potentially exposing up to 250 more people on the airplane and an unknown number of people who were at the gate area of the airport during the three hours that the family was waiting for their flight. Another of the children exposed at the doctor is a 10-month old. Apparently, the parents of both of these children are big believers in the benefits of early childhood development, because a day care center and a swim school have had to temporarily close their programs for children under one year old.

All of this brings us to the subject of responsibility.

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8 responses so far

John Podesta on ScienceDabate2008

Feb 20 2008 Published by under Science and Politics

If you're looking for a better explanation of why it would be good for the presidential candidates to have a debate on science-related topics, the ScienceDebate now has a number of videos available where knowledgeable people talk about why they think the debate is important. Here's former White House Chief of Staff John Podesta on the subject:

One response so far

The Role of Science in Politics: A Plea for Activism

Suppose that you are taking a walk through the hills above a town, and you reach the foot of a dam. There's a crack in the dam, and it's getting wider. You run back down to the town, and you knock on doors, and you yell and make a fuss, and you tell everyone that the dam is breaking. They thank you for the news, and go back to bed. What do you do next? Do you grab some tools and do what you can to fix the dam, or do you turn and walk away?

Strangely, a number of people (including ScienceBlogger Matt Nisbet) seem to think that the role of the scientific community in those circumstances really should be to turn and walk away:

Let's agree that the goal of the science community is to educate and inform.

That's not just wrong, it's downright dangerous.

There are any number of issues - climate change, resource usage, conservation, species loss, energy policy, global epidemics and pandemics, and that's just the tip of the iceberg - where we, the scientific community, have said we see real threats. In some cases, the threat is distant and preventable; in others, it's a clear and present danger. In all of them, real people are really at risk. Why on earth would I agree that my goal should simply be to educate and inform others about the threats?

The scientific community is not some real grouping of beings that sits off somewhere isolated from the real world. As hard as this might be to believe sometimes, we don't live in a bubble. We don't live in some ivory tower, protected by moats and walls and gates. We really do live in the real world. When we're talking about threats, we're talking about things that will affect our world. They will affect our country. They will affect our neighbors, our friends, our families, and ourselves.

Our understanding of science makes it easier for us to see the threats, and it makes it easier for us to figure out what can be done to minimize the risks. We should not simply tell people what the threats are, and what can be done about them. We need to do everything in our power to make sure that the right steps are taken.

12 responses so far

How Many Species 3: Finally, some answers.

Feb 15 2008 Published by under Biology, Science

Last Thursday, I presented some data about three populations of an insect and asked you to try and figure out how many species scientists think these populations should be grouped into. On Monday, I added data from two more populations, and asked the same thing - try and figure out how many species are present. Now, I'm going to try and answer the question myself, and tell you what other scientists have said about these insects.

A quick review is probably in order before I get to the "answers":

The five populations are arranged in a line, with each separated from the next by a minimum of 5 km. The two populations at the NW end of the line share a reproductive characteristic with the population at the SE end, while the two populations between them do something different. The SE end population looks very slightly different from the other four populations. In lab experiments, none of the populations proved to be completely reproductively isolated from the others. However, the SE most population is largely reproductively isolated from all the others, and there's at least a slight reproductive barrier separating the two NW-most populations from the next two in the line.

Personally, I don't think you could make a good case for there being four species present here (at least from the information I presented), but I do think that reasonable arguments can be made for these populations being classed as 5 species, 3 species, 2 species, or 1 species. Below the fold, I'll give you the official answer. If you haven't read the first two posts in this series yet, you might want to look at them before you look at the "official" answer.

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6 responses so far

Here's a "Man Bites Dog" story for you: "Lightning Strikes God"

Feb 13 2008 Published by under Accidental, Humor

The Daily Mail has a picture of the massive crucifix statue in Rio getting hit by lightning. And it happened on a Sunday, no less.

(ht; Shakesville)

One response so far

The turnout - this just keeps getting better and better.

Feb 13 2008 Published by under Elections, Politics, Presidential

There were three more Presidential primaries yesterday - Maryland, Virginia, and Washington DC. Turnout in all three of them was high yesterday, at least on the Democratic side. The numbers for all three areas are good, but I'm most excited by the Maryland numbers.

In 2004, Democratic candidates received a combined total of 481,476 votes in the Maryland presidential primary. As of right now, Barack Obama has 457,053 votes. That's the figure with 96% of precincts reporting. It doesn't include the absentee ballots, and it doesn't include the provisional ballots that were cast during the extended voting hours that were added because they were having a flipping ice storm there yesterday.

In Virginia, Democratic candidates received a combined total of 396,223 votes in 2004. Obama currently has 623,141 votes, and the combined total is near 1,000,000.

It's enough to make you think that people are actually getting interested about politics.

6 responses so far

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