Category Archives: Research

Can Wikipedia medical articles kill you?

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According to a recent study, words might pack way more of a punch than sticks and stones if you’re seeking medical advice.

The study reviewed a number of Wikipedia articles on common medical conditions and found that around 90 per cent of the articles contained errors.

Now this is in itself a worrying state of affairs, but according to the study it gets worse:

‘47% to 70% of physicians and medical students admitting to using [Wikipedia] as a reference,’ the study says.

That basically means that your doctor might be using Wikipedia as a reference for finding out what’s wrong with you – and how to treat it. Scary, huh?

Especially if you look at the advice that the people behind the study gave to the BBC.

A side note:

The study was published in The Journal of the American Osteopathic Association. Now I don’t know if it’s a case of Wikipedia wanting to get its own back, but the on-line lexicon’s description of osteopathy includes the following:

‘The practice of osteopathy does not always adhere to evidence-based medicine (EBM). There are few high-quality research studies demonstrating that osteopathy is effective in treating any medical condition other than lower back pain.’

So people who don’t always adhere to evidence-based medicine carried out a statistical analysis….I’m sure there’s irony there somewhere, but I’m just not sure where it is…..

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Your ‘smart’ fridge will broadcast adds – which may or may not (ever) exist

Photo: Ryan Steele
Photo: Ryan Steele

Imagine that you’re about to run out of milk. This sucks, because it means a trip to the store. Now imagine that your fridge is ‘smart’ and can see that you’re about to run out. Seeing as it’s ‘smart’ it can order the milk by itself – it would, however, just like to talk to you about what you’re missing out on by not switching to the new IsMilk brand.

Sounds wacky? Well, according to Google, this is the future of tomorrow, and not a hundred years.

“We expect the definition of “mobile” to continue to evolve as more and more “smart” devices gain traction in the market. For example, a few years from now, we and other companies could be serving ads and other content on refrigerators, car dashboards, thermostats, glasses, and watches, to name just a few possibilities. Our expectation is that users will be using our services and viewing our ads on an increasingly wide diversity of devices in the future, and thus our advertising systems are becoming increasingly device-agnostic,” the company wrote in a recent report.

And that’s fine. I mean, ads everywhere makes sense – especially if you’re Google.

What doesn’t make sense to me is the basic concept of a smart fridge. The definition of ‘smart’ in relation to intelligence is ‘having or showing a quick-witted intelligence.’ The fridge is basically going to be able to count. Lots of milk equals good, some milk is worrisome and no milk is bad. Surely that doesn’t make something smart?

A truly smart fridge would potentially let everything go old, giving its owners food poisoning – just because it was incredibly bored with just counting and then ordering things that were in short supply.

Oh yeah, it will also be capable of broadcasting adds. Adds that according to Google are ‘device-agnostic’.

The definition of ‘agnostic’ is ‘a person who believes that nothing is known or can be known of the existence or nature of God.’ So in this case the fridge, this means that it believes that nothing can be known about whether or not adds exist – and if they did, you wouldn’t be able to describe them or what they were like.

I’m not sure if that’s smart or incredibly stupid….

Japan draws up plans for solar power stations in space

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To fans of science fiction, the idea of having solar power stations in space sending down energy to Earth is far from new.

News is, however, the fact that Japan have drawn up plans for exactly such a power station.

The idea, which is still just an idea, goes as follows:

Take an island, fill it witl billions of tiny rectifying antennas able of converting microwave energy into DC electricity. Run a cable from the island, where no-one is going to want to live, because of the radiation, to the mainland. Now take a handfull (or two) of solar collectors, shoot them into space and have them set up in a geosynchronous orbit and beam down microwaves onto the island from 36 000 km above Earth.

Sounds great, and as long as the whole thing worked according to plan. If the solar collectors missed their target, or someone decided to tinker with the whole setup, things could be very, very different.

Imagine a giant microwave oven, and then stuff the population of Tokyo into it…..

Where do we feel that emotion?

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It’s often said that you can make decisions with your head or your heart, which is something most of us have experience with, but have you ever thought about where you feel different emotions?

Is love solely an emotion of the heart, for example?

It was partially questions like this that engineering and psychology researchers in Finland recently set out to answer.

They showed volunteers two blank silhouettes of person on a screen and then told the subjects to think about an emotion. The volunteers then painted areas of the body that they felt were stimulated by that emotion (warm, red and yellow areas on the figures). On a second silhouette, they painted areas of the body that get deactivated during that emotion (the blue areas). The figures above show the findings across all volunteers.

It shows interesting details, like that the physical response to pride and anger are almost the same, and that happiness, love and anger seem to be the only feelings associated with your hands.

An interesting further study would be to see if where we feel emotions varies between countries and cultures.

Sun on climate change: I didn’t do it!

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New scientific data shows that the sun is unlikely to have contributed much to the global warming phenomenons like melting ice caps, higher temperatures, more unstable, and, according to some, Miley Cyrus.

“Research examining the causes of climate change in the northern hemisphere over the past 1000 years has shown that until the year 1800, the key driver of periodic changes in climate was volcanic eruptions. These tend to prevent sunlight reaching the Earth, causing cool, drier weather. Since 1900, greenhouse gases have been the primary cause of climate change,” scientists from University of Edinburgh said in a recent press release.

To boldly grow – NASA plans plantgrowing on the Moon

NASA is nothing if not ambitious. And that definitely goes for their latest idea: growing plants on the Moon.

Now this is an idea that catches the imagination – just think how high a sunflower could grown at the Moon’s low gravity. And for the more illegally minded horticulturists – imagine how far from the authorities your crops would be 🙂

“They will try to grow arabidopsis (a word my spell checker wanted to change to archbishops..admittedly a more Monty Pythonesque idea, but probably not what NASA are looking to do), basil, sunflowers, and turnips in coffee-can-sized aluminium cylinders that will serve as plant habitats,” according to this piece in Forbes.

The idea is to test the viability of growing food on another planetary body, as well as conducting valuable research that might in future make it easier to grow produce in inhospitable parts of our own planet.

The time of year for walking on a lake – on the Moon

It’s that time of year. The time when scientists line up around the block to answer age-old questions like: ‘would I be able to run across the surface of a pond or lake, if that pond or lake was on the Moon?’.

We are, of course, talking of the Ig Nobel Prize awards. Each year, the Ig Nobel celebrates what can, to put it mildly, be described as improbable research. I’ve previously said that the people who get grants for the various projects presented at the Ig Nobel awards should be kept in the world of science. If any of them ever switched to selling used cars, everyone would be driving 1997 Nissans and Fords before we could say E = MC squared.

Take the winner in the field of medicine, where the winners assessed the effect of listening to opera, on heart transplant patients. Sounds good (sorry, poor pun), doesn’t it? Well, the patients in question were mice.

Or what about the price for chemistry? The winners had spent years (and research funds) discovering that the biochemical process by which onions make people cry is even more complicated than scientists previously realized. So complicated it makes scientists cry? Perhaps.

My personal favourite also has one of the longest and most specific titles that should really have been in a Douglas Novel: “Surgical Management of an Epidemic of Penile Amputations in Siam” — techniques which they recommend, except in cases where the amputated penis had been partially eaten by a duck.

Oh, and the answer to the question above was yes – you can run on the surface of a pond on the Moon…or, some people would be able to do so…it depends on your weight.

See more great science fun, you should go here.

How much energy would it take to completely wipe you out?

Science Fiction is cool! Just think of things like ray guns…or the phasers from Star Trek. I’ve personally spent way too much time wondering about questions like: ‘how would phasers actually work?’, usually followed by questions like ‘how often would you get the setting on it wrong and end up vaporizing someone instead of just stunning them?’.

Good thing we have science – and scientists, because they are the sort of people who will sit down and find answers for questions like this.

Let’s start with the concept of vaporizing. If we take a pedantic view, then this involves splitting every single atom in your body down into its most base components. This is not an easy thing to do. Actually, it takes “460 kilojoules of energy to break just one mole of oxygen-hydrogen bonds—around the same energy that a 2,000-pound car going 70 miles per hour”.

So, getting out the mother of all abacuses, scientists worked out that it would take a whopping three gigajoules of energy to completely vaporize you. To put it into context, that’s the amount of energy you need to melt 5,000 pounds (roughly 2.2 tonnes) of steel.

Who do we have thank for this information? Well, it’s actually the undergraduate students on the Natural Sciences/Interdisciplinary Science degree programmes at the University of Leicester.

NASA crashes something and gets to cheer about it

NASA scientists recently had the novel experience of getting to crash a piece of multi-million dollar equipment – and then cheer about the fact that they had just crashes a multi-million dollar piece of equipment.

The precious piece of equipment was a CH-46E Sea Knight helicopter, and the purpose of the crash was to test the helicopter’s crashworthiness – a word that I would guess usually leaves NASA scientists with nervous ticks.

New work proves uncertainty principle – or at least seems to…

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Werner Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle is one of the most famous mathematical expressions, which could mean that it’s interesting that the man himself expressed it ‘only informally and intuitively’.

The principle is expressed mathematically above.

Looks simple, but like Einstein’s little E equals and so on, it isn’t when you think about the consequences – which has made many a physics student want to run into a wall, just to make the head buzzing stop.

Basically, it means that the more sure you are about where in space a certain particle is, the less sure you can be about how fast it’s going and where it’s headed and the other way around.

Another way of describing that is to say that if you ‘saw’ a car and measured its speed to exactly 65,3 mph and its direction to be due North you wouldn’t know if it was in Reading or Cuba. If you spotted the same car in the exact middle of the only roundabout in Manningtree (smallest town in England) you wouldn’t be able to tell if it was going 2 or 734,5 mph, or if it was also heading for Reading (yay, rhyme!) or was taking the scenic route to the centre of the Earth.

Confusing? It is to me. And it was only made worse by the fact that scientist used to say that they were unsure about the uncertainty principle….

Luckily those days seem to be over now.

“Our work shows that you can’t measure something with an accuracy any better than the fundamental quantum uncertainty,” Paul Busch, a theoretical physicist at the University of York, UK, recently told the magazine Nature.

I’m pretty sure that makes me feel better…