Science and Technology Links

1. Scientific American: Scientific American's Top 10 Science Stories of 2013

A carbon threshold breached, commitments to brain science made, mystery neutrinos found and human evolution revised—these and other events highlight the year in science and technology as picked by the editors of Scientific American

2. Reuters: "Peak farmland" is here, crop area to diminish: study

(Reuters) - The amount of land needed to grow crops worldwide is at a peak, and a geographical area more than twice the size of France will be able to return to its natural state by 2060 as a result of rising yields and slower population growth, a group of experts said on Monday.

Their report, conflicting with United Nations studies that say more cropland will be needed in coming decades to avert hunger and price spikes as the world population rises above 7 billion, said humanity had reached what it called "Peak Farmland". ...

... "We believe that humanity has reached Peak Farmland, and that a large net global restoration of land to nature is ready to begin," said Jesse Ausubel, director of the Program for the Human Environment at the Rockefeller University in New York.

"Happily, the cause is not exhaustion of arable land, as many had feared, but rather moderation of population and tastes and ingenuity of farmers," he wrote in a speech about the study he led in the journal Population and Development Review. ...

3. Mashable: The Universal Translator Is Real and Its Name Is Sigmo

Ever since Star Trek explained away how all alien races could speak English through a piece of future tech called the Universal Translator, technology companies have worked to create just such a device. One may have succeeded in developing a 1.0 version with the Sigmo.

The Sigmo is a small, pillbox-sized device equipped with a microphone and speaker, but with a cloud-connected twist. Select the language you'd like to translate into, then hold the Sigmo up and speak to it. The Sigmo records your voice, then sends the recording to the cloud for translation via Bluetooth connection with your smartphone.


4. Inhabit: Africa's First Plastic Bottle House Rises in Nigeria

... the nearly-complete home is bullet and fireproof, earthquake resistant, and maintains a comfortable interior temperature of 64 degrees fahrenheit year round!


5. Wired: The World’s Largest Mega-Ship Launches for the First Time

... At 600,000 tons and 243 feet wide, when the Prelude left its dry dock in South Korea after a year-long build, it unseated the Emma Maersk (1,302 feet) as the world’s largest ship. But calling it a ship is almost a misnomer. The Prelude is a floating liquefied natural gas (FLNG) facility that will be posted off the coast of Western Australia and will stay there for the next quarter-century.

As an FLNG plant, the Prelude handles everything involved in capturing, processing, and storing liquid natural gas, sucking the stuff from deep within the Earth and refining 3.9 million tons each year before it’s offloaded onto smaller ships that bring it back to the mainland. ...

6. Business Insider: The Number Of Smartphones In Use Is About To Pass The Number Of PCs


7. Scientific American: China Moon Rover Landing Marks a Space Program on the Rise

China cemented its reputation as the fastest rising star on the space scene this weekend by landing a rover on the moon—a challenging feat pulled off by only two nations before: the U.S. and the Soviet Union. “This is a very big deal indeed,” says lunar scientist Paul Spudis of the Lunar and Planetary Institute in Houston. “Landing on the moon is not something easily attained—it requires precision maneuvering, tracking, computation and engineering. It is a delicate task and the Chinese success reflects a mature, evolving and capable program.” ...

8. Scientific American: Study Linking Genetically Modified Corn to Rat Tumors Is Retracted

Bowing to scientists' near-universal scorn, the journal Food and Chemical Toxicology today fulfilled its threat to retract a controversial paper claiming that a genetically modified (GM) maize causes serious disease in rats, after the authors refused to withdraw it.

The paper, from a research group led by Gilles-Eric Séralini, a molecular biologist at the University of Caen, France, and published in 2012,  showed “no evidence of fraud or intentional misrepresentation of the data,” said a statement from Elsevier, which publishes the journal. But the small number and type of animals used in the study mean that “no definitive conclusions can be reached.” The known high incidence of tumors in the Sprague–Dawley strain of rat ”cannot be excluded as the cause of the higher mortality and incidence observed in the treated groups,” it added. ...

9. Forbes: Scientists Make More Eye Cells - With An Inkjet Printer

British researchers have used an inkjet printer to successfully print retinal cells for the first time, in what could be a breakthrough for the treatment of optic nerve injury and diseases like glaucoma. ...

10. Berkley Earth (via Watts Up With That): Explaining and Understanding Declines in U.S. CO2 Emissions


11. Carpe Diem: Fossil fuels will continue to supply > 80% of US energy through 2040, while renewables will play only a minor role


12. Slate: $7 Trillion to Fight Climate Change? Bjorn Lomborg

The EU proposes spending that much on projects that will barely reduce temperatures or lower sea levels. ...

... This does not mean that climate change is not important; it means only that the EU’s climate policy is not smart. Over the course of this century, the ideal EU policy would cost more than $7 trillion, yet it would reduce the temperature rise by just 0.05o Celsius and lower sea levels by a trivial 9 millimeters. After spending all that money, we would not even be able to tell the difference. ...

... We need a smarter approach to tackling climate change. Rather than relying on cutting a few tons of incredibly overpriced CO2 now, we need to invest in research and development aimed at innovating down the cost of green energy in the long run, so that everyone will switch. ...

13. New York Times: The Poor Need Cheap Fossil Fuels

... About 3.5 million of them die prematurely each year as a result of breathing the polluted air inside their homes — about 200,000 more than the number who die prematurely each year from breathing polluted air outside, according to a study by the World Health Organization.

There’s no question that burning fossil fuels is leading to a warmer climate and that addressing this problem is important. But doing so is a question of timing and priority. For many parts of the world, fossil fuels are still vital and will be for the next few decades, because they are the only means to lift people out of the smoke and darkness of energy poverty. ...

... The developed world needs a smarter approach toward cleaner fuels. The United States has been showing the way. Hydraulic fracturing has produced an abundance of inexpensive natural gas, leading to a shift away from coal in electricity production. Because burning natural gas emits half the carbon dioxide of coal, this technology has helped the United States reduce carbon dioxide emissions to the lowest level since the mid-1990s, even as emissions rise globally. We need to export this technology and help other nations exploit it.

At the same time, wealthy Western nations must step up investments into research and development in green energy technologies to ensure that cleaner energy eventually becomes so cheap that everyone will want it.

But until then they should not stand in the way of poorer nations as they turn to coal and other fossil fuels. This approach will get our priorities right. And perhaps then, people will be able to cook in their own homes without slowly killing themselves.

14. NPR: Environmentalists Split Over Need For Nuclear Power

15. BBC: Nuclear fusion milestone passed at US lab

Harnessing fusion - the process that powers the Sun - could provide an unlimited and cheap source of energy.

But to be viable, fusion power plants would have to produce more energy than they consume, which has proven elusive.

Now, a breakthrough by scientists at the National Ignition Facility (NIF) could boost hopes of scaling up fusion. ...

 16. Popular 97% Study Falsely Classifies Scientists' Papers, according to the scientists that published them

The paper, Cook et al. (2013) 'Quantifying the consensus on anthropogenic global warming in the scientific literature' searched the Web of Science for the phrases "global warming" and "global climate change" then categorizing these results to their alleged level of endorsement of AGW. These results were then used to allege a 97% consensus on human-caused global warming.

To get to the truth, I emailed a sample of scientists whose papers were used in the study and asked them if the categorization by Cook et al. (2013) is an accurate representation of their paper. Their responses are eye opening and evidence that the Cook et al. (2013) team falsely classified scientists' papers as "endorsing AGW", apparently believing to know more about the papers than their authors. ...

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