NASA Celebrates Mars Rover Landing

Source: YouTube.

This has to be one of the coolest geeky moment of our times. It was heartening to see so many people tune in to watch it live on the Internet.

Good-looking couples have more daughters?

Beautiful parents tend to have more daughters than their homelier counterparts, according to a report by evolutionary psychologist Dr. Satoshi Kanazawa of the London School of Economics

Now don't assume that if you have a daughter that you are a good-looking couple :) But the real kicker in the article is, "guys tend go for beautiful women when looking for something long-term, while women seek out good-looking guys for the short-term, but not necessarily for the long haul." So if your wife is beautiful, you are the ugly one. Obviously, I'm not geneticist so this story might be BS to the real scientists out there.

According to Wikipedia,

In 2006 he published an article in the Journal of Theoretical Biology, claiming that attractive people are 26% less likely to have male offspring. In a letter to the editors, Columbia statistician Andrew Gelman points out that a correct interpretation of the regression coefficients in Kanazawa's analysis is that attractive people are 8% more likely to have girls, an error that Kanazawa acknowledges. Gelman further argues that Kanazawa's analysis does not convincingly show causality, because of possible endogeneity as well as problematic interpretations of statistical significance in multiple comparisons. While Kanazawa claims that the former error is "merely linguistic" and that he addressed the latter two in his initial article, Gelman maintains that his original criticism remains valid.[8]"

The age-old correlation-causation debate. So why did MSNBC report this as real news? Because that’s what mainstream media does.

[Link to Good-looking couples have more daughters?]

Apollo 11 Launch in Slow Motion

[via Kottke] “This clip is raw from Camera E-8 on the launch umbilical tower/mobile launch program of Apollo 11, July 16, 1969.” Excellent narration that highlights the importance of checklists.

Ten Things You Didn’t Know About Orgasm

“Bonk” author Mary Roach delves into obscure scientific research, some of it centuries old, to make 10 surprising claims about sexual climax, ranging from the bizarre to the hilarious.

Immensely information and entertaining. Mary Roach doesn’t use as many puns as she could have and the twinkle in her eye says that she definitely would have if she weren’t on stage at TED. Her talk reveals hajjar bizarre facts and if you thought your job sucked, the pig farmer in the video has one up on you. And better still, if you think your research work in the lab is boring. Masters and Johnson or Kinsey will agree. And apparently, there is a woman who can orgasm at will so when asked, if she does it all the time she replied, not really because when I get home, I’m tired. So women use that excuse even on themselves :)

Afraid of Vaccines?

Vaccines are become the new ‘abortion’ for the science-illiterate masses; complete with a scientist to hate and death threats.

A Nobel Economist

Interesting (and frustrating) discussion on whether the Economics Nobel is truly a Nobel. Not that I ever hope to but I agree with Yglesias when he says, “they should change it and make it a Social Science Prize rather than an Economics Prize.”

Eliminating NSF Funding for Political Science?

Americans who have an interest in electoral politics can turn to CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, the print media, and a seemingly endless number of political commentators on the Internet [source].

That’s the reason Senator Coburn offers for eliminating NSF funding for political science research. I’m not sure Coburn really understand what research is; much less political and social science research. He wants to divert $91.3 million over the last years that was allocated to political science to biology, chemistry, geology, and physics which are “real fields of science”. Is he sure? I mean, we have creation museums, Bible studies, alchemy, witchcraft, and UFO abduction discussions and clubs too, right? I’m actually shocked that political and social science gets only $9 million per year from the NSF. What’s with Oklahoma and ignorance of science? The other Senator (Inhofe) continues to deny global warming and is even planning to lead a counter-delegation to Copenhagen next year where world leaders are meeting in a climate change summit. I hope Coburn’s amendment is defeated and better sense prevails.

Update: If you wish, you can sign this petition and have a letter/email sent to your local Congressman/Senators.

Fraudulent Pollster?

Nate Silver has a comprehensive analysis of the polling firm, Strategic Visions, LLC and posits that the pollster might be cooking their books. He uses statistical analysis to look if the distribution of the trailing digits of their polls are indeed random but ends up finding something fishy, even after comparing with a control group. Poll mein kuch kaala hai. Update: Mark Blumenthal at Pollster provides the roundup and is also interested in answers that Strategic Vision, LLC is still failing to provide.

Why Health Advice on ‘Oprah’ Could Make You Sick

You may worship Oprah and consider her the Second Coming but this takedown in Newsweek on her proclivity to promote false science is compelling. No one should be above doubt and just because Oprah says so, it always ain’t so.

The Case for Cougars

From PLoS Medicine: Older fathers have dumber kids. The more geriatric the dad, the dimmer the progeny, on measures including “thinking and reasoning, concentration, memory, understanding, speaking, and reading”…the secondary finding, which was that older mothers were associated with smarter children. Uh-oh! Considering we have the exact opposite situation, this doesn’t bode well for our future progeny. Well, at least now we have an excuse.

Do only Atheists believe in Evolution?

Religion and Evolution

The world celebrated Charles Darwin’s 200th birthday this past Thursday. Darwin, as many know, is known for his revolutionary theory of evolution. Evolution has been unanimously acknowledged by the scientific community and served as the basis of biology. But compared to other scientific theories (yup! gravity is a theory too), evolution gets the step-brotherly treatment from the general population driven primarily from religious dogma.

Surprisingly, according to this chart by Pew Research, a higher percentage of Buddhists, Hindus, and Jews abelieve in evolution than atheists (unaffiliated)[via]. Go figure! Does this imply that religiosity does not affect belief in evolution? Probably but it helps to remind oneself that Buddhists, Hindus, and Jews make up for less than one percent individually of the total population and they are more likely to be college-educated and high-income. The religious zealots of these religions are less likely to be in the United States although religious tenets of Buddhism and Hinduism isn’t in conflict with evolution compared to Christianity. High levels of education and income probably explain the Jewish angle. It is still a significant level above the general United States population of which only 48% believe in evolution. The role of religion in social and cultural life in the United States has permeated to the educational system leading to skewed beliefs and results in United States lagging behind in belief for evolution compared to its peers of developed nations.

Sakshi had raised the issue (on Twitter) on whether people really understand how evolution works as opposed to belief. I admit that the Maharashtra school board hardly touched on the topic let alone explain it. If it was taught after 10th standard, I had already opted for a Biology-exempt curriculum of PCM (Physics-Chemistry-Maths) for my 12th boards. Yup, I blame the educational system for not including teaching of evolution earlier but that’s a rant for another day. I would attribute belief in evolution or for that matter, any scientific fact as deferring to the experts whom we implicitly trust. There is much in our technologically advanced society that we do not understand but believe in. Of course, one should make utmost efforts to understand evolution but to merely dismiss it without actually studying it because of its apparent contradiction with your religious beliefs is detrimental to your intellect. On a related note, read Olivia Judson’s Dr Tatiana’s Sex Advice to All Creation delightful, fun, and of course, informative book on mechanisms of evolution.

On the Indian front, if a higher percentage of Indians ‘believe’ in evolution then it is probably due to the fact that there is no competing argument present in the Indian society as intelligent design is in the United States. The level of religiosity in India is similar to that of the U.S. but compared to Christianity, Hinduism perhaps does not impose strict beliefs that believers need to adhere to be considered as Hindus. Science and religion have largely co-existed peacefully in India and although there have been occasional skirmishes, science and education has been left alone. Not surprisingly, belief in evolution in rigid Islamic societies is pretty low too and I’m not sure the United States wants to be in that company.

Oral Sex and HIV

“Swedish researchers have shown that lots of oral sex with an HIV-infected partner may actually be protective against the virus”; according to a study published in the AIDS journal. What now? Don’t rush into it before you check the p-value; no pun intended.

Potted Plant Blogging

If you were thinking of blogging full-time be mindful that you might have competition from a potted plant.

Photos of the Sun

Amazing pictures of the sun. And so many of them remind me of the eye of Sauron.

Never Forget a Face

While explaining why women tend to remember faces better than men, David Geary says: “Remembering details of personal experiences is important for monitoring and maneuvering relationships, including disrupting the social and romantic ties of other women who are competitors” [via]. No comment :)