Friday, August 22, 2008

Spliced feed for The Science Network

Spliced feed for The Science Network

Developing World Nuclear Revolution [Sciencebase Science Blog]

Posted: 22 Aug 2008 07:00 AM CDT

nuclear-powerNot being one to shy away from controversy (viz. my MMR and vaccination item, the intelligent Dawkins debate post and the recent flurry of global warming items, including on entitled Climate change debunked), I thought I’d dive headlong into the muddy ethical, economic, and engineering puddle that is nuclear power.

However, I am wearing a buoyancy aid, a nose-clip, ear-plugs, and protective goggles in the form of a peer-reviewed review from the International Journal of Global Energy Issues (2008, 30, 393-412), rather than skinny dipping.

In that paper, John Cleveland of the International Atomic Energy Agency, in Vienna, points out that currently nuclear power produces around 15 percent of the electricity we use worldwide. This time last year, there were 438 nuclear power plants providing more than 370 Gigawatts with 31 new units under construction looking to add 24 GW to that total, although with a few being decommissioned in the meantime.

Cleveland explains that several countries are planning to either introduce nuclear energy or expand their nuclear generation capacity, and that most of the new plants will be of evolutionary, rather than innovative design. They will incorporate improvements over existing electricity generating nuclear plant designs achieved through small to moderate modifications, with a strong emphasis on maintaining proven design features to minimize technological risks. Cleveland suggests that in the longer term, innovative new designs will help to promote a new era of nuclear power.

He argues that the increasing demand for power both in the industrialized and developing world, together with nuclear power's positive attributes, provide a solid rationale for expanding nuclear power sources:

  • Nuclear power’s lengthening experience and good performance. The industry now has more than 12,000 reactor years of experience, and the global average nuclear plant availability during 2006 reached 83%
  • Growing energy needs. All forecasts project increases. The strategies are country dependent, but usually involve a mix of energy sources
  • Interest in advanced applications of nuclear energy, such as seawater desalination, steam for heavy oil recovery and heat and electricity for hydrogen production
  • Environmental concerns and constraints. The Kyoto Protocol has been in force since February 2006, and for many countries (most OECD countries, Russia, the Baltic nations and some countries of the Former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe) emissions limits are imposed
  • Security of energy supply is a national priority in essentially every country
  • Nuclear power is economically competitive and provides stability of electricity price.

He adds that nuclear power faces significant challenges, nevertheless, including the continuing need to sustain a high level of safety assurance, implementing high-level waste disposal, and strengthening the nuclear non-proliferation regime.

Success in these areas will provide a sound basis for establishing nuclear power as a sustainable energy source.

Evolutionary nuclear plants that utilise the best of current systems are already being built in several countries, and, adds Cleveland, are likely to be the primary choice for the next decade or two. Innovative, nuclear plants, are a different matter. In general they will require a new design paradigm, construction and testing of a prototype, and then a pilot plant before commercialisation, and so may not be implemented until about the second quarter of this century.

Several innovative designs are being developed for the Small- to Medium-Size Reactor (SMR) range and could find their introduction into the increasingly power hungry developing nations, as well as in some cases into industrialized countries. In developing countries, boosting self-reliance, keeping costs down, and enhancing local work force participation and participation of the domestic industry could be important factors for the governments of those nations to pursue.


Developing World Nuclear Revolution

Car exhaust linked to heart disease, says expert [Earth & Sky Podcast]

Posted: 22 Aug 2008 04:08 AM CDT

Scientists have linked car exhaust with higher risk of heart disease. That's according to a study led by research toxicologist John Incardona that started with fish.

This posting includes an audio/video/photo media file: Download Now

Scientific Stereotype [Sciencebase Science Blog]

Posted: 21 Aug 2008 04:00 PM CDT

Scientific stereotype

The wacky characters that introduce kids to science may be doing more harm than good. Reinforcing the white-man-in-a-lab-coat or mad-scientist stereotype could diminish not only children’s interest in science, but also the diversity of future scientific workplaces.

The Web is littered with “Ask a Scientist” sites aimed at getting children “into” science. Some of these sites do provide useful resources for youngsters curious about things such as “Why is the sky blue?”, “Why do
have nipples?
Why do men have nipples?“, and “How can I best extrapolate a Hurter-Driffield curve in my experiments on photographic material transmission densities?”

OK, I made that last one up. But the critical feature of many of these sites is the personification of the so-called expert with names like Ask a Boffin, “Find Out Why with Dr. Calculus,” Ask a Mad Scientist, or some such. Almost invariably, a cartoon character will be a stumpy guy in a white coat, with wild gray hair, waving a test tube around or wielding a clipboard. And, on the whole, he will be white. I was personally involved in one such “expert questions” site several years ago, and to my chagrin, the editor called the site “Ask the Egghead” - and created just such a character in the form of Professor Hypothesis.

What does this say about the common adult perception of how children perceive scientists? Well, for a start, it reinforces the classic stereotype
of scientists as absent-minded
it reinforces the classic stereotype of scientists as absent-minded professor cliche, generally messing around with chemicals or constantly scribbling notes in lab books and, almost certainly, white and male.

While grandiose efforts to promote high-quality science education abound, and public understanding of science (PUS) initiatives are high on the agendas of learned societies everywhere, these could be doomed from the outset by ingrained views we gain as children about what scientists do, what they look like, and who they are.

A fairly formal assay of children’s views of scientists was undertaken recently by a team at Leicester University in England and Australia’s Curtin University of Technology. Although the results have not yet been published, based on preliminary analysis the main conclusion from the research is that children think of scientists as boring white men with glasses, beards, and strange hair. According to lead researcher Tina Jarvis, director of Leicester’s School of Education, many children say they do not want to be a scientist because scientists never have fun!

Jarvis and colleagues, along with Lionie Rennie of Curtin, studied the responses of more than 4,000 children in Britain and Australia over the last eight years and concluded that the stereotypes persist, at least among six- to eight-year-olds. Worryingly, children of Asian and African-Caribbean descent generally held the same opinion as their white peers. Most children’s sketches of scientists endowed them with a white, male face and the usual eccentric hair. Boys, Jarvis says, never drew women, and girls did so only very occasionally. While there may well be a minority of scientists who fit the category, it indicates a very narrow view of scientists, one that is so very often reinforced through TV programs and cartoons, comic books, and comments from nonscientist parents and other adults. We then wonder why so many girls and non-white children find it very difficult to envision themselves as future scientists.

Elizabeth Moss, a Cambridge, England mother of two young children, believes there is a simple explanation for these results: “From age 2 or 3 to 5, children have such vivid imaginationschildren have such vivid imaginations, but then they go to school and are made to feel that they should think and act like everyone else and they seem to lose their individual imaginations, and draw what is expected of them.”

Alan Gray is 13 and in eighth grade in Ontario, Canada. “Recently, in our science class, we were asked to draw a picture of a scientist,” he reports. “When we handed it in, our teacher got what she expected: mostly all of us had drawn men with white lab coats and tubes with liquids in them.” He does not think the class was pandering to a greater stereotype, though. “If you asked us to draw popular kids, we’d draw them with makeup and nice clothes and big houses. If you asked us to draw farmers, we’d draw men with overalls, baseball caps, and straw in their mouths.”

Marilyn Fleer, associate professor of education at the University of Canberra in Australia, notes, “Although there are still stereotypical responses given when children are asked to draw a scientist, if you interview them they will qualify their work by saying they had to draw it that way, so that you know what it is.”

“This is an interesting area,” says Christine Khwaja, who teaches primary school teachers at Middlesex University in London. But she also asks whether children draw scientists as boffins because that is what they think scientists are really like, or because that is what they think they are expected to draw? “There seems to be very little in the national curriculum on the nature of science, who does it, and why,” she adds. She suggests, “A discussion around these areas might make children think more widely about who is a scientist and what scientists actually do.” She even suggests that there are many jobs, from hairdresser to zookeeper, in which science is important and that children’s image of scientists might be helped by raising awareness of these.

West Coast scientist and teacher Monique DeRuggiero says she much prefers jeans to lab coats, although she still keeps a well-decorated lab coat for messy labs and is not concerned by revelations of children perceiving scientists as stereotypes. “I do not see a problem with children drawing pictures of scientists as men in white coats; we do need to know what children’s perceptions
are before
we can change them
we do need to know what children’s perceptions are before we can change them.” She emphasizes the point that once you know what children expect, you can then teach them the reality by exposing them to examples of real scientists, showing them pictures, movies, stories of all types of scientists in all types of work. Getting real scientists to visit the school or taking a class trip to a lab can also help eradicate misconceptions.

Jupadhye Upadhye, a computer programmer with an Indian software company based in Singapore, blames comic books with characters like Inspector Gadget and stories that are littered with scientist stereotypes: Professor Calculus, Captain Nemo, Frankenstein, “Doc” Brown in the movie Back to the Future - even legendary quirky scientists such as Newton, and especially Einstein. “All of these add to the image,” she says. “Moreover, everyone likes to build myths and interesting characteristics around scientific personalities, to set them aside as somehow different from the rest of us.”

“It is important to challenge children in their thinking, and the adults who work with them,” believes Kate Banfield, who manages a preschool daycare center in West Yorkshire. If the children are portraying scientists as white middle-aged men in lab coatschildren are portraying scientists as white middle-aged men in lab coats, she says, you need to offer them an alternative experience. Invite non-white or female scientists from local labs to talk about their work; find books and stories about scientists who are women or ethnic minorities. However, the most important strategy for breaking down stereotypes is to raise children’s awareness of what they are and how they are perpetuated. Encourage them to question assumptions and confront stereotypes.

The SCICentre (National Centre for Initial Teacher Training in Primary School Science) at Leicester University, of which Jarvis is director, produces materials to educate parents and educators about science, scientists, and technology. The latest booklet, entitled Helping Primary Children Understand Science and Technology, seeks to improve children’s ideas of scientists by getting them involved in activities such as role playing, discussions, and reading and writing about science. The booklet is illustrated with photographs of a diverse range of scientists at work with the aim of broadening views, presumably of both children and educators.

But Martin Counihan of the University of Southampton worries that children don’t think very much about scientists at allchildren don’t think very much about scientists at all these days, compared with a couple of decades ago. “What image do children have of other rare breeds such as, say, theologians? Or historians?” he asks. “And insofar as children do think about scientists, their image is probably colored much more by the biosciences than previously.”

With the focus in school curricula on numeracy and literacy, especially in the U.K., there is little room for science. Yet Jarvis believes there is no reason why science cannot be incorporated into these two key areas and indeed enhance them. She believes that if children do not learn to love science before they are eleven, then the scientific part of their secondary education is essentially lost on them.

Fleer has looked into how technology education for young children has changed through the years. There’s been an increase in resource development to support technology teaching in schools, she says, but only a limited amount of research has been done in the three-to-eight-year-old age group to assess the effects. Although most parents are familiar with the seemingly innate scientific curiosity of their offspring, Fleer’s pilot study revealed that children as young as three years can engage in oral and visual planning as part of the process of making things, such as model giraffes and butterflies, from different materials.

Greg Degeyter is a meteorologist from Mississippi State University who has made several school appearances. “The students seemed genuinely interested in what was being said. Any well-presented information seems to strike their imagination and make them interested in the subject,” he says. He does not feel that the children expected someone in a white lab coatchildren expected someone in a white lab coat, but then accedes that most of their experiences with a meteorologist includes someone in a dress coat and tie, and suggests that is what they expect. “In general,” he adds, “I do think that children are intimidated by science. Perhaps not the younger ones but as they get older.” As for stereotypes seen by younger children, “It probably is true for scientists in general,” he suggests, “Most children seem to think of a doctor as someone who studies science, and he is in white garb.” He asks whether it is a bad thing. “Children think of scientists as smart, albeit a bit weird (as shown by the hair), and dedicated to the profession. If anything should be done it is to have more interaction between the scientific community and the public.”

Toby Bankson, a ninth grader in Mountlake Terrace, Washington, believes the stereotype may actually have some benefits. “It may be one of the things that turns a young child’s eyes toward science in the first place,” she says. “In a video show at school, for instance, would kids watch a ‘normal’ scientist for even 15 minutes?” she asks. Which is why shows like Bill Nye: The Science Guy and Beakman’s World are so popularScience Guy and Beakman’s World are so popular and get children to pay attention willingly to information about science. “With everything else a kid could watch these days, that’s a small miracle!” adds Bankson.

Stereotypes persist in all walks of life, but in the realm of science, where public trust has become frazzled by the seeming autocracy of those guys with crazy hair wearing lab coats and wielding chemicals, perhaps it’s time to say goodbye to Professor Hypothesis and his cronies, and introduce children to some real scientists.

This feature article originally appeared under the title, Uncool boffins, all - children’s stereotypes of scientists - in my Adapt or Die column in the sunk HMSBeagle on the scuppered BioMedNet, it was reprinted here 2001-05-21 but hopefully its sentiments are worthy of repeating today if only to nudge the Null Physics item down to #2 ;-)


Scientific Stereotype

Marc Bekoff on animal joy, animal sorrow [Earth & Sky Podcast]

Posted: 21 Aug 2008 04:08 AM CDT

“Animals are just so there in the moment, perhaps their joy is richer than human joy and their grief is deeper than human grief.” said Mark Bekoff, evolutionary biologist at University of Colorado. Bekoff talked to EarthSky about animal joy and animal sorrow.

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Skeptics Guide #158 - July 30th, 2008 [The Skeptics' Guide to the Universe]

Posted: 02 Aug 2008 07:25 AM CDT

Interview with Banachek; News Items: Edgar Mitchell UFO Claims, UFOs and Terrorism, Gas from Garbage; Your Questions and E-mail: House and the Therapeutic Diagnosis; Science or Fiction

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Skepticality #082 - Rationalist Rap - Interview: Greydon Square [Skepticality - Science and Revolutionary Ideas]

Posted: 29 Jul 2008 10:07 PM CDT

The mainstream rap and hip hop communities are known not only for a way with words and penchant for controversy, but also for occasional drama. Rapper Greydon Square is no exception. On this week's episode of Skepticality, Derek and Swoopy hang loose with Greydon and talk about his musical influences, being embraced by the atheist community â and why this Compton native (raised as a legal orphan by the Department of Children & Family Services of California) refuses to be a product of the system.

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Skeptics Guide #157 - July 23rd, 2008 [The Skeptics' Guide to the Universe]

Posted: 25 Jul 2008 07:25 AM CDT

Interview with George Hrab; News Items: New Plutoid, Detox Danger, Amanda Peet Defends Vaccines, Barbara Walters Disses James Van Praagh, Allah Meat; Your Questions and E-mail: Chaos Theory; Science or Fiction

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Skeptics Guide #156 - July 16th, 2008 [The Skeptics' Guide to the Universe]

Posted: 19 Jul 2008 07:25 AM CDT

Interview with Neil deGrasse Tyson; News Items: Black Hole Hubbub, Its Just a Cracker, Tiktalik Nonsense, Micro Laser Surgery; Your Questions and E-mail: Convincing Evidence; Science or Fiction

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Active galactic nuclei with laser guide star adaptive optics []

Posted: 16 Jul 2008 10:10 AM CDT

I found this presentation on Google Video: Active galactic nuclei with laser guide star adaptive optics. It is from the AAS 212th Meeting. The presenter is Claire Max.

Adaptive optics on the current generation of 8 - 10 meter telescopes yields spatial resolutions in the near-infrared comparable to those of Hubble at visible wavelengths. Laser guide stars are now making these high spatial resolutions available over a large fraction of the sky. I will describe several areas in which these advances are being applied to AGN science: 1) measurement of black hole masses in nearby galaxies from kinematics of stars and gas; 2) study of the spatial distribution of stellar populations and dust in galaxies at 0.5 < z < 1.5, and 3) tests of the relationship between galaxy mergers and AGN activity. I will conclude with a discussion of the planned Next Generation Adaptive Optics system at the W. M. Keck Observatory, outlining the expected improvements in AGN science with this new system.

A timelapse of the Paranal laser guide star []

Posted: 16 Jul 2008 09:54 AM CDT

The authors of the time lapse movie are Stéphane Guisard, Valère Leroy and Jean Pajus. It is fun to see the PARSEC laser pointing to different directions of the universe over the night. I wonder what the night sky would look like in Hawaii, where there are several guide star lasers.

This is a time lapse movie made from individual images taken with a Canon 20Da camera and a 8mm lens. This accelerated movie shows a complete night at Paranal Observatory starting at sunset and finishing at dawn. That night, the Laser Guide Star Facility was in use and its yellow sodium Laser beam left its footprint on our movie. The laser beam creates a Laser Guide Star in the high atmosphere, 90 km above us. This ‘bright’ artificial star helps the adaptive optics system located in the main telescope, to measure and correct the distorsions of the images produced by the atmosphere, in real time and several hundreds of times per second.

The bright part of the Milky Way, containing the galactic center, is disappearing to the west on the left hand side of the movie. The Andromeda galaxy is visible also, as a diffused and elongated spot crossing the sky just above the domes. One can also see the Pleiades and “upside down” Orion constellation rising (remember this movie is done from the Southern hemisphere) together with the other half of our Milky Way . Finally the moon lightens the morning sky just before sunrise.

Skepticality #081 - Alpha Kids - Interviews: Banachek, Mel Lipman & Lori Lipman Brown [Skepticality - Science and Revolutionary Ideas]

Posted: 15 Jul 2008 06:29 PM CDT

Continuing from last week's interviews recorded at the "Amazing Meeting 6" conference, Derek & Swoopy talk with secular lobbyist Lori Lipman Brown and her father Mel Lipman (both secular humanists with backgrounds in law and government). They also speak with mentalist Banachek, who has been responsible for putting more magic and mentalism on American television than any other magic consultant in the world. While the paths of these skeptics seem widely divergent, Derek & Swoopy learn that their common decision to further skepticism within their chosen professions illuminates many similar truthsâ

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