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Early Press. Accreditation: Daniel Chodowiecki [Public domain]

This post is something original, in that it’s not original: it’s a link to an intriguing article published a few years ago, which came to my attention on Flipboard. The article was published in 2013 in The Atlantic, and was a compilation of the 50 “innovations that have done the most to shape the nature of modern life”(since the wheel). I sent emails which included an abridged version of the article to a number of people.… Read the rest “The Greatest Innovations and Breakthroughs”

The Ponte Morandi before collapse View More

Ponte Morandi, Genoa. The tower on the left, and the adjacent roadway, collapsed on August 14, 2018. Picture attribution: Salvatore1991

A terrible tragedy occurred in Genoa, Italy on August 14, 2018. A suspension bridge in that city, part of the A10 motorway, collapsed into the bed of the Polcevera River, 150 feet below. Forty-three people who were driving over the bridge died.

The cable-stayed bridge

The bridge in Genoa, called the Ponte Morandi after its designer, Riccardo Morandi, was opened in 1967.… Read the rest “The Death of Ponte Morandi”

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Necora puber. Photograph: Hans Hillewaert

Cancer is one our most feared diseases, so it isn’t surprising that we notice when it is linked to other parts of our lives. And it’s also not surprising that stories which sound plausible, but which may or may not be supported by evidence, or which are misunderstood, become part of our culture. Three such stories are, that we are in an epidemic of cancer, that vitamin C is a useful anti-cancer agent, and that an abortion increases a woman’s risk of later breast cancer.… Read the rest “Three Cancer Myths”

Modern waste incineration plant in Denmark View More

The Waste-to-Energy plant “Amager Bakke” in Copenhagen, Denmark. Photo credit Niels Quist/Alamy stock photos.

Most people do not enjoy talking, or reading, about garbage. For one thing, it’s boring. But it’s also disturbing: garbage imposes great costs on our economy and our society. The biggest problem is simply the amount of garbage we produce. For example, in 2015, two kilograms (4.4 pounds) of Municipal Solid Waste was generated per citizen of the USA every day (MSW is the fancy name for garbage).… Read the rest “What Should We Do About Garbage? A Burning Question”

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“Livestock are responsible for 18 percent of the greenhouse gases that cause global warming more than cars, planes and all other forms of transport put together. It’s official: taking to the roads in an SUV’s got nothing on cattle flatulence . . . “ This is a direct quote from a recent web post of a climate sceptic. It restates a popular meme about climate change, favoured by conservative commentators: that man isn’t the most important agent of global warming, it’s the farting cows, stupid.… Read the rest “We Need to Talk About Methane”

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Charles Best and Frederick Banting, with one of their research subjects. University of Toronto Archives

This post describes some of the many pathways to scientific discovery. No single model applies to all discoveries, and most discoveries contain elements of different models. I will focus on the field I know best, biomedical research. Biomedical discoveries are usually, but not exclusively, the result of hypothesis- and curiosity-driven “small science”. In contrast, the first report of evidence for the Higgs Boson at the LHC in Switzerland listed over 2500 authors from some 180 institutions, and depended on the construction of a 5 billion dollar supercollider with an annual operating budget of one billion.… Read the rest “THE ART OF SCIENTIFIC DISCOVERY”

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Dr. Lyudmila Trut and a human-friendly fox, 1974.

Foxes have a reputation for being elusive, canny, shy. . . in other words, foxy. Wild foxes in captivity are innately aggressive and fearful of humans – not friendly at all. With a great deal of patience, you may be able train one to be more docile, but it would not be a dog-like pet. However, if you have a slightly weird desire for a pet fox that will behave more like a cocker spaniel than a wild fox, you may be able to get one from a genetic research institute in Russia.… Read the rest “The Curious Case of the Friendly Russian Foxes”

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Blue-green algae on western Lake Erie on September 26, 2017. The border between the United States and Canada runs down the centre of the lake. Landsat 8 image. Source: http://spaceref.com/onorbit/orbital-view-of-algal-blooms-in-lake-erie.html

The natural  history of Lake Okeechobee, at 730 square miles the largest lake in Florida, is intimately entwined with that of the surrounding Everglades. Before the twentieth century, water from the north would drain into the lake, and when the water level rose high enough, it would “sheet-drain” into the southern Everglades.… Read the rest “BLUE-GREEN ALGAE: THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE UGLY”

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Many people like bacon. More than like milk, or country and western music, or Donald Trump. According to the website Statista, in 2018 more than 80% of Americans said that they eat it, and 18% say they don’t (1.8% aren’t sure; say what?). As an unreconstructed omnivore (I’m trying, vegans, I’m trying) I too eat bacon on occasion. And being analytically compulsive, I’m curious — how many calories does it contain? In particular, “side bacon”, the kind most people eat (even Canadians eat mostly side bacon).… Read the rest “How Many Calories in Bacon?”

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Samuel Hahnemann, father of homeopathic medicine.

A paper published in the June 30, 1988 issue of the high-profile scientific journal Nature shocked the biomedical research world. Its anodyne title, “Human Basophil Degranulation Triggered by Very Dilute Antiserum Against IgE”, probably didn’t cause any non-scientists to choke on their breakfast cereal. But in the eyes of the mainstream scientific world, the article made a radical claim: Pure water, admittedly with a special history, could generate an immune reaction in a test tube.… Read the rest “The Fading Memory of Water”