Wednesday, 29 December 2010

SCIENCE NEWS ROUND-UP: 2010

A round-up of the most significant science stories from the year 2010


World’s Largest Particle Betting Pool Nearing Conclusion

Scientists at the World’s largest Particle accelerator (The Large Hadron Collider, LHC) recently announced that they were closer than ever to finding an eventual winner of the world’s largest betting pool concerning elementary quantum particles.

“We’re all getting really excited about the eventual discovery of the ‘God particle’” says leading physicist Professor Brian Delacour. ‘The pool’s been running since before the collider was built, but since then both the theory and the technology have really come along drastically, so we have been able to really expand the number of eventual candidates for the ultimate particle and really flesh out the betting pool.

According to most scientists, the particle that gives rise to mass, the aforementioned ‘God particle’, is the Higgs Boson, although this is yet to be conclusively proven. It is this proof that many of the largest particle accelerators are attempting to discover. When asked about this, Professor Delacour said ‘of course, the Higgs Boson is the most likely candidate, but that option was picked out of the hat by a San-Franciscan at a conference in 2003. He’s not even a physicist, he’s a conservationist or something, but you know how pissed people can get at conferences, nobody had a clue at the time. So now we’re hoping to discover the most elementary particle is not the Higgs, but something a bit more exotic again. Anything so that jammy bastard doesn’t walk away with the prize fund“

When asked whether this was the noblest aim for experiments using equipment costing billions, Professor Delacour was surprisingly frank. “Of course it isn’t, but then to be honest, we probably stopped finding out generally useful things sometime in the mid-80’s, so now gambling and spite are the main motivators for us carrying on. I’m not optimistic about my chances, I’ll be honest. A few of my colleagues have drawn things like types of quark or neutrinos as the most fundamental components of matter. What do I get? Odd socks! That would help iron out some issues in the whole missing-matter problem, but I reckon it’s a long shot. My co-investigator got Styrofoam pellets, and there’s a Swiss quantum theorist lecturer who got potpourri. We all had a good laugh and that, but we’re not really feeling as motivated as we once were, and that’s a fact’.

When asked when he expected a winner of the pool to be announced, Professor Delacour was noncommittal. “Knowing this thing, it could be anytime from tomorrow to twenty years from now”, he said, before vigorously thumping the section of the LHC he was stood beside for emphasis. “We’ve got to keep it at close to absolute zero. Every time it suffers a glitch we have to reboot the whole bloody thing, and that takes about 14 months. It’s like Windows Vista, but colder.

When asked, Professor Delacour revealed that the prize fund for the particle betting pool currently stands at 458 Euro (£391). “It’s the biggest in the world, but that’s not saying much given the subject matter. Hah! ‘Subject Matter’! I’m writing that down!” He then ran off to find a pencil.



Ancient humans “not quite as Genocidal as first thought” say Palaeontologists

Although assumed to be responsible for the untimely extinction of every species to suffer such a fate, recent discoveries by palaeontologists suggest that one of the more famous extinct species, Woolly Mammoths, may have died out as a result of its own incompetence.

Doctor Michael Lalsow, Head of Prehistoric Studies at the Institute for Anthropology in Inverness, welcomed the findings. “It seems to be taken as read that ancient humans were savage insatiable killers and all other creatures were noble, wise beasts, perfectly in tune with nature. However, research now suggests that primitive humans were weedy half-formed idiots and other animals were lumbering vacuous morons that evolved themselves into unsustainable predicaments”.

Recent research has revealed that mammoths died out as a result of the depletion of grasslandsfollowing the end of the ice age, rather than excessive hunting by contemporary humans. “It’s ironic when you think about it, people complain about deforestation in order to raise cattle, but it was reforestation that killed off even bigger grazing quadrupeds, so if anything the forests are just reaping what they sew. That’s an agriculture joke there, by the way, so it works on two levels” Dr Laslow reassured us.

Dr Laslow also admitted to always being sceptical about the original overhunting hypothesis. “You ever seen a mammoth? About 7 tons of angry orange fur and giant tusks. It’ll take more than a dimly aware primate waving a stick to bring one of them down, let alone ALL of them. They’re not like Pandas; they wouldn’t need round-the-clock attention just to make sure they don’t shit themselves to death after eating the wrong kind of twig. If they hadn’t been so dependent on grass they would still be around today. My mother always said, ‘stay away from that grass! It’ll be the death of you!’ I used to think she meant the ‘grass’ as in drugs, but then she was massive with orange hair as well, so maybe it was racial memory.’

However, not everyone is so eager to dismiss the overhunting philosophy. A contrasting view was put forward by Buck McChickford, professional hunter and president of the Sarah Palin Fan club (Wyoming chapter).

“My great-grand daddy brought down at least 5 o’ them woolly mammoths in the winter of ’38 using nuttin’ but his old colt and a fishin’ pole. Had to build a bigger cabin just to mount the heads.” When asked how this could be true when mammoths largely died out around 10,000 years ago, Mr McChickford laughed and pointed out that this ‘were plum stupid, boy! God only gone done made the world some six ‘hunnerd years ago’. This argument continued, but the rest was unintelligible. When asked if he’d ever killed a mammoth himself, Mr McChickford replied by saying “You callin’ me a Queer?” before scratching his unfeasibly large and suspiciously sock-like genitals.



Brain Scans Reveal Direct Link between Enthusiasm for Brain Scans and Scientific Incompetence

Recent studies have shown that the more impressed a researcher is by brain imaging techniques, the more likely they are to produce studies and data that are about as useful as a rice-paper catheter. A metastudy conducted on a substantial body of recently published papers revealed an inverse relationship between a), a researcher’s reliance on impressive brain scanning techniques in their research, and b), their ability to make even the vaguest sense of all the cool flashing lights they’re looking at.

This came as no surprise to many experts in the field of Neuroscience. Doctor James Van Johnson, head of Cerebrology at the Maidenhead School of Brain Biology, explains.

“The technology to study living, functioning brains was a very important breakthrough in neuroscience. However, it’s important to remember that it’s a painfully complex process requiring extensive analysis and data collection before we can even achieve results beyond that offered by random guessing”. However, many recent studies have reportedly used neuroimaging techniques to link certain behaviours and traits with specific brain regions. When asked if he took issue with these studies, Dr Van Johnson responded by swearing profusely. When he had calmed down (which took 73 minutes, including coffee breaks), the following conversation occurred.

“Do you know what an active brain looks like?” asked Dr Van Johnson. Our reporter suggested that it was probably a warmer, leakier version of an inactive brain, which is reminiscent of a dense grey blancmange trying to impersonate a walnut.

“Fair point yes” agreed Dr Van Johnson, “But I meant on an imaging scanner? It depends on the technique you use of course, there are several, but it’s generally all over the place. That whole thing about us using ‘only 10% of the brain’ is complete bollocks, we use all of it all the time, and that’s reflected in a scan. To find a significant level of activity in a certain area in response to a certain process, that takes substantial time and effort. But some people just see the cool flashing colours that represent someone’s thoughts and they assume it must be like reading a book. Not even a proper book with normal words, but some sort of brightly coloured Fisher-price book, about the alphabet or a monosyllabic story about a dog. An inflatable one that you can take in the bath, at that. Well, it’s not, it’s a damn sight more complicated than that. I have a PhD in this sort of thing, I would know.”

Other researchers, however, disagree with the findings of the metastudy and intend to pursue the use of brain imaging techniques in studies linking bits of brain with hard-to-define abstract behaviours. Recent papers have linked enlarged amygdalas with expanded social circles, political views with differing brain structures, meditation with an above-average sized hippocampus, and a more densely-innervated Shatner’s Bassoon with a love of dark satirical comedies.

“It’s a whole new paradigm” said Doctor Terence ‘Moonbeam’ Gustafson, a researcher in Neuroholistic tendencies at the University of Omnicultural Research (online only). “With this technology we can see directly into the mind, into the psyche, and eventually, into the soul. We are morally obligated to use this technology to take science beyond the crusty neo-fascist restrictions of the established institutions and into the realms of spirituality and oneness”. When asked if he believed the use of scanning technology could ‘bring Phrenology into the 21stcentury’, Dr Gustafson said “Yes! Yes exactly! That’s precisely what we’re doing here”. When it was pointed out that phrenology was based on scientifically unfounded theories and widely discredited during the 19th century, he added “except for that bit”.

Other researchers also object to Dr Van Johnson’s views. Professor Harold Wyszynski, of the Brain Imaging Centre for Investigative Studies in Detroit, wished to give his views on why brain imaging techniques are both crucial and informative for research. In order to demonstrate this effectively, he insisted that the interview be conducted from an MRI machine and that we derive the answers to the questions from the images produced by his brain. When asked why he felt brain imaging techniques were so useful, his answer was BLUE FLASH-GREEN FLASH-YELLOW BLUR-RED FLASH-BLUE SPLODGE SHIFTING INTO GREEN SPLODGE-LARGE DARK GREY STRIPE-BLUE SPIRALLY THING-GREEN FLASH-ORANGE PULSE-BLUE FLASH-LOCALISED BLUE FLASH. He then sneezed and the scanner needed to be recalibrated.



Moon Landing Conspiracy Gets Even More Elaborate

More than 40 years after the original conspiracy to convince the world that man had landed on the moon was initiated, NASA continue to add yet more layers of complexity and detail to this ludicrous but far-reaching notion that humans are capable of travelling to Earth’s natural satellite.

The most recent addition to the vast body of fabricated data that supposedly supports the possibility of a moon landing is the ‘discovery’ of large bodies of water ‘on the moon’. Professional moon-landing debunker Keith Armstrong stated that “this is just yet another example of the elaborately concocted fiction by NASA in order to perpetuate the myth that humans are somehow capable of travelling to the moon”. When asked why he thought it was that numerous international scientific bodies not affiliated with NASA or the US government were treating the information as genuine, Mr Armstrong stated that “That’s exactly how they do things. They buy off all these scientific groups and bodies so they’ll back up their lies. That way NASA gets to keep their budget”. When it was pointed out that NASA’s budget wouldn’t even come close to enough for bribing that many international scientific bodies, Mr Armstrong pointed out that “they’re cunning, you see. They planted that water on the moon in order to fool the scientific community into supporting their agenda”.

When asked about the logical paradox behind the contention that NASA went to the moon in order to perpetuate the myth that they went to the moon, Mr Armstrong accused our reporter of being ‘one of them!’ and ejected them from the premises. Further attempts to contact him for a quote proved unsuccessful, possibly due to a combination of his tin foil hat and poor phone signal in his mother’s basement where he lives.

Other sources take a more optimistic view of the alleged findings. Doctor Nathaniel Price, Conspiracologist at the Centre for Bizarre Beliefs (Surrey), suggests that there is great potential in the claim of discovering water on the moon.

“The nature of the moon-landing conspiracy means it has endured for some considerable time, despite the limited material available from the 60’s and 70’s for effective debunking, which has been repeatedly assessed countless times over the intervening decades and is in danger of growing stale. This new development could lead to a much more extensive volume of claims and data to refute. Moon bases, established communities on the lunar surface, regular transit of the Earth-Moon distance, structures that would be clearly visible from the Earth’s surface with any decent telescope, there are so many possibilities offered by this latest development for conspiracy theorists to vociferously deny in the face of considerable evidence. This ‘discovery’ could breathe new life into the moon-landing debunkers conspiracy, and fire up a great deal more interest and investment for the 21st century. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have the New World Order on the other line…”



Rationalists Suffer Side Effects after Poorly Judged Alt-Med Protest

Alternative medicine practitioners claimed vindication this week after a large group of skeptic protestors were discovered to have suffered serious side effects after a coordinated mass-overdose of homeopathic remedies back in January. The original point of the protest was to demonstrate that the mass-produced alternative medications have no active ingredients and thus cannot lead to overdose or side effects, but pro-homeopathy experts now claim that the protest has backfired.

“The argument that they have no harmful side effects is only valid in terms of accepted medical definitions. However, as homeopathy is clearly an alternative medicine, then logically it would have ALTERNATIVE side effects that differ to standard medicine” claims professional alternative medicine proponent Harrison Ford (no relation). He then went on to detail the significant alternative side-effects suffered by the protestors.

“An excess of homeopathic remedies can have dangerously powerful soporific effects. As such, it’s highly likely that nearly 100% of the protestors will have experienced prolonged periods of unconsciousness, around 7-9 hours on average, within 24 hours of their overdose. In many cases, this can be compounded by some form of minor respiratory obstruction, resulting in excessive noise production of a nasal/throaty sort during the unconscious period. This is most commonly experienced in males”

Mr Ford also pointed out that the benign, alternative mode of action of alternative remedies meant the side-effects occur outside the usual time frames. “Unlike harsh, dangerous traditional medicines, alternative medicines have a more subtle action, and as such most ill effects will take a while to occur, which is why it only looked like they didn’t happen to the impatient protestors. For example, the positive energies resulting from homeopathic remedies mean the immune system is less active and so becomes sedentary, and this means that the protestors will have become more susceptible to viruses. I’ll be many of them suffered some form of cold or similar infection between 0 to 2 or 10 to 12 months of their overdose. But not so much outside their time frames. Outside of those times, the homeopathic remedies will have built up in the skin cells, so they would have, around 6-8 months of the overdose, found the skin on their arms and faces to be browner/redder than normal. The areas of skin normally covered by clothing won’t have been affected as much because of science”.

“Women in particular may have found themselves suffering serious ill-effects for several days every month since the overdose. They may claim that this had been occurring for many years before the overdose, but this overlooks the fact that homeopathic remedies work retroactively; they cure illnesses you suffered before taking them, which means they didn’t happen at all. That’s how good they are”

“In extreme cases, a homeopathic overdose has been known to lead to an insatiable desire to appear on radio talk shows and other media outlets in order to criticise homeopathy. This is because their bodies are subconsciously rejecting to the presence of homeopathic agents but do not know what to do about it”

Several sceptical activists were contacted for comment, but all of them just laughed at our reporters. Renowned Placebologist and raconteur Dr A. A. Alan was also contacted via email, but declined to answer any questions. He did, however, wish us a happy new year and assured us he would ‘be back in the office on January 3rd’.



“I am not playing God!” insists bearded, thunderbolt-wielding Scientist

Despite claiming to have created the world’s first synthetic organism and the subsequent backlash, Dr Craig Venter insisted that he is in no way playing God, in an interview conducted while Dr Venter was dressed in white robes and sat on a large golden throne.

“The accusations being thrown at me are ludicrous” he asserted, “Granted, I have created a completely novel life form, this life form would definitely not exist without me, so therefore I gave it life, and if it were to develop in complexity to the point where it could think and reason then it would be unsurprising if it eventually came to recognise me as its creator and worship me accordingly. I certainly didn’t have this in mind when I performed this ‘Genesis’, if you will, but if it should come about then I certainly wouldn’t interfere, because that’s not how science works”.

Periodically, when confronted with a question he didn’t like, Dr Venter proceeded to shock the interviewer with his fingers, using a nearby Van de Graaff generator to create ‘lightning’. When asked how he responded to accusations that these synthetic life forms could be dangerous, Dr Venter was dismissive.

“Yes yes, old news. Every possible scientific advance has led to the old ‘possible dangers’ accusation, and it’s always people themselves who are the deciding factor in whether something is harmful or not. Now these life forms I’ve created, they won’t do anything deliberately dangerous”. It was asked if this was due to the fact that they are single-celled organisms currently confined to a Petri dish. In response, Dr Venter became visibly uncomfortable and adopted an expression that could be described as ‘vengeful’.

“For now” he admitted, portentously. “But these life forms could develop to unprecedented levels of sophistication. But there’s nothing to worry about, if it turns out they display dangerous behaviours, I’ll instruct them to resist their natural tendencies. See, what’s God-like about that?”

Following an awkward pause, Dr Venter continued “The potential of these life-forms in astounding. We could create medical breakthroughs that are unthinkable to modern science. We could take a damaged organ and they could synthesise a new one, no matter how complex. An eye for an eye, and all that. There’s nothing God-like about what I’m doing here, although I’ll wage war on anyone who tries to copy me. No others other than me, that’s my motto. Anyway, God doesn’t exist, and I do, so if anything I’m better than God.”

When asked if he had any advice for people who were still worried about the potential dangers of his synthetic life forms, Dr Venter gave us a set of crucial instructions for the safe use of his discovery. He urged us to tell everyone about these instructions, despite the fact that they were carved into large stone blocks. He then kicked us out of his elaborate garden.

Dr Venter would like us to point out that his original request to conduct the interview via flaming shrubbery proved unworkable.



Celebrities in “Knowing absolutely piss-all about anything Scientific” shocker

Recent revelations have shocked the scientific community to its core in no way whatsoever by showing that many celebrities hold views that are not only unscientific, but are barely consistent with reality on the most basic of levels. Some of the more wacky celebrity theories and views include wearing bracelets that improve strength and fitness, reabsorbing sperm to improve combat prowess, eating charcoal to mop up ‘toxins’, and worshipping a zombie carpenter who existed 2000 years ago. None of these things have any basis in science, but then neither do the majority of celebrities.

“It’s hardly surprising when you think about it” says Professor Eugene Schmembly, head of optically-compromising widespread data at the Devon University of Humanology (DUH). “Your typical celebrity is someone who’s paid extravagant sums to knock a ball about in some specific fashion, which doesn’t really encourage much rational thinking, or get’s paid extravagant sums to convincingly pretend that a situation or occurrence which demonstrably isn’t real actually is real, and that actively discourages rational thinking. Of course there are also the celebrities who are famous for willingly revealing oversized body parts, but if you rely on them for important information then you deserve everything you get, frankly. If I want medical advice, I go to a qualified doctor, but if you’d rather consult the woman who was in Grease 30 years ago, a coronation street actor or some mindless thug with a thyroid problem who’s only famous for marrying a woman with so many silicone implants she probably qualifies as a cyborg, then be my guest. But don’t expect me to mourn your removal from the gene pool”

Given the relative scarcity of celebrity scientists and the seeming abundance of celebrities who hold unscientific views, is there something about celebrity itself that promotes unscientific thinking? Professor Schmembly believes that there may.

“I’m not a celebrity myself so can’t speak from a completely informed viewpoint, but from what I’ve seen and heard, most celebrities are overly pampered vacuous airheads who get paid ridiculous fees for doing nothing of consequence and are constantly surrounded by people agreeing with whatever they say for fear of them ever being told they’re wrong about something. But again, that’s just my opinion. In these circumstances, it’s understandable that you’d end up thinking that your own opinions are significant enough to alter the fabric of the universe in order to accommodate them, rather than what they really are; meaningless guff spouted by someone whose existence has actually depleted from the pool of human knowledge.”

Professor Schmembly’s application to be in the final series of Big Brother was rejected, and his unicycle act never made it to the live showing of Britain’s Got Talent, but he insists he isn’t bitter about it.



Bacteria sue NASA for Libel in landmark legal case

In what is sure to be a groundbreaking event in legal history, a group of bacteria from Mono Lake, California, are suing the National Aeronautic and Space Administration (NASA) for libel, after misrepresenting them in the mainstream media.

According to preliminary reports, the bacteria in question were “grievously offended” and suffered “considerable mental anguish” after NASA held a press conference and engaged with international media where they claimed that the bacteria in question were able to ‘thrive on arsenic’, instead of the more traditional phosphorous, which is essential for numerous critical cellular processes.

Although the American legal system does not have any provisions for allowing a federal institution to be sued by single-celled organisms, the fact that the press coverage was international allowed the offended bacteria to take advantage of English libel laws, which are notoriously complex and archaic, to the point where they take into account periods before multi-cellular life occurred.

A spokesman on behalf of the law firm representing the bacteria (Carter-Ruck) made the following statement.

“Our clients were grievously offended by the accusation that they thrived on the poisonous chemical arsenic, which as most scientists have realised, is incorrect. They were not permitted any opportunity to put their own views or claims across, they were not consulted as to this veracity of this statement, they did not give their express consent to be removed from their natural habitat and studied extensively but incorrectly before arriving at the erroneous, slanderous conclusion. By making the aforementioned claims, our clients have found themselves ostracised from every other known life form on Earth. They have even struggled to find legal representation, but thankfully Carter-Ruck have never shied away from representing poisonous, subhuman claimants”.

A spokesman for the campaign for libel reform had this to say, “The fact that this case can be brought before the courts at all reveals how badly the English libel system needs to be overhauled. In order to be more in-keeping with modern society, it should be limited to Eukaryotic organisms at the very least.”


(All Science News Updates can be found HERE)


Most of the above never happened. It's an attempt at satire. Just so you know.

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5 comments:

Grandma Peg said...

Ahhhhhh- finally someone has poked well deserved humor at the celebs who sway public opinion on serious medical conditions. Nothing irks me more!

Ed Yong said...

This is the funniest thing I've read ALL year. (Disclosure: I have thus far read only a feature about Rwandan refugees in WIRED)

Dana Hunter said...

The best science satire! Thank you for this, even though it means my poor un-vacuumed floor has suffered shameful neglect far longer than it should have.

Scientific Chick said...

Awesome post! Love the brain scans story. It's frighteningly real. Did you see the research that shows that jurors are more swayed by brain scans than other type of evidence? "My brain made me do it!" :)

Edgarooney said...

". . . and a more densely-innervated Shatner’s Bassoon with a love of dark satirical comedies."

Sooooo good. Beyond description good. Thanks!

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