Friday Links (17-Aug-12)

  • Nice [alleged] quote I just learned about from Thomas Carlyle (1795-1881) on whether other worlds are inhabited: “A sad spectacle. If they be inhabited, what a scope for misery and folly. It they be not inhabited, what a waste of space.” [Source]
  • Amazing science bit I learned: it was known in Pasteur’s time that tartaric acid (found largely in grapes) rotates polarised light 90 degrees to the right. There was another substance known as racemic acid that had exactly the same properties except it didn’t affect light. The amazing bit is that Pasteur hypothesised that racemic acid is a 1:1 solution of mirror image crystals one of which is the same as tartaric acid. He then manually fiddled with the acid until he extracted the other kind of crystals producing the world’s first grape-like acid that rotated light to the left! (This is almost a real-life version of the scene in the Simpsons where in 1909 Mr Burns makes the employees of his atom-smashing plant turn out their pockets to inspect them for stolen atoms.) Plus it’s always great to find out about an entire branch of science that you weren’t aware of.
  • The Young Turks discuss an Egyptian TV segment that has gone viral. It’s a prank candid camera show that gets Egyptian celebrities on camera for a supposed production to reveal (falsely) that they are an Israeli TV channel and the producer in front of the celebrity is an Israeli. In two cases, things get violent very quickly. What I found just as disturbing and creepy is when it was revealed to be a joke, how quickly the perpetrators are eager to make up and hug the people they had just slapped or hit (for being Israeli) — all while muttering how it was their own fault for pretending to be Israeli. There is of course the odiousness of the overall show (the final analysis of the show is that the Egyptian celebrities surprised them with their level of “patriotism” — in our case slapping a woman to the ground). But I think it also gives a general insight into the mindset of an abusive personality — especially in terms of the extreme contrast between being very hostile and very “conciliatory”.
  • Chris Hallquist on how most arguments for a religion are examples of privileging the hypothesis. This is a fallacy invented by Eliezer Yudkowsky here and I think deserves to be on the standard lists.
  • Speaking of another kind of privilege, Crommunist explains how privilege is a one-way mirror and no, when someone is called on having a limited view because of their privilege, it’s NOT a case of “you’re just as bad as those you criticize – my opinion is being dismissed as you complain about people dismissing yours!”
  • Steve Novella on the sequencing of the banana genome and what it might mean for the banana crop (a crop that tends to be taken for granted in wealthy countries but one that’s actually extremely important).
  • An interesting debate on the value of “evolutionary medicine” as a concept over and above the standard frame of medicine. Criticising evolutionary medicine is Harriet Hall. Jerry Coyne responds in support of the concept.
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The thinly-veiled identity of lives and rants in Sydney. Views not his own, provided by hivemind. All my original work on this blog is licensed under a CC BY-NC License.

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