Weighing 75 years of the nuclear age


What is it like to sit for 75 years with the capability to destroy earth many times over?

No deliberate nuclear attack has taken place since the bombings of Japan, in part because of the sheer horror of those events. But the threat never goes away. “The risk of a nuclear weapon being used somewhere in the world in these next years is probably higher than it’s been since the Cuban missile crisis,” Moniz said. “We see concerns in North Korea, India-Pakistan. Russia of course remains, with a large arsenal, and we do not have a very constructive relationship right now with Russia.” North Korea launched a missile test just this week, the latest in a string of tests that have moved it steadily towards the goal of being able to hit the continental United States with a nuclear weapon.

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Elisabeth Eaves & Julian HaydaBulletin of the Atomic Scientists

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Do dolphins get Alzheimer’s disease?


Having a large brain comes at a cost.

Also, as do humans, dolphins have a highly evolved brain development and a very complex social relationship. This brain similarity with humans suggests the possibility that dolphins, as humans, have developed similar molecular machineries and pathological characteristics, including similar neurodegenerative diseases.

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Maria Carolina Gallego & David BorcheltEarthSky

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There are two sides of a coin. This is the other side for Big Data.

Feynman was speaking to the sense of wonder that science should evoke in all of us. Carl Sagan realized this too when he said that not only is science compatible with spirituality, but it’s a profound source of spirituality. To realize that the world is a multilayered, many-splendored thing, to realize that everything around us is connected through particles and forces, to realize that every time we take a breath or fly on a plane we are being held alive and aloft by the wonderful and weird principles of mechanics and electromagnetism and atomic physics, and to realize that these phenomena are actually real as opposed to the fictional revelations of religion, should be as much a spiritual experience as anything else in one’s life. In this sense, knowing about quantum mechanics or molecular biology is no different from listening to the Goldberg Variations or gazing up at the Sistine Chapel. But this spiritual experience can come only when we let our imaginations run free, constraining them in the straitjacket of skepticism only after they have furiously streaked across the sky of wonder. The first woman, when she asked what the stars were made of, did not ask for a p value.

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Ashutosh Jogalekar — 3quarksdaily

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World Scientists’ Warning to Humanity: A Second Notice


Around 15,000 scientists write a warning to Humanity.

On the twenty-fifth anniversary of their call, we look back at their warning and evaluate the human response by exploring available time-series data. Since 1992, with the exception of stabilizing the stratospheric ozone layer, humanity has failed to make sufficient progress in generally solving these foreseen environmental challenges, and alarmingly, most of them are getting far worse (figure 1, file S1). Especially troubling is the current trajectory of potentially catastrophic climate change due to rising GHGs from burning fossil fuels (Hansen et al. 2013), deforestation (Keenan et al. 2015), and agricultural production— particularly from farming ruminants for meat consumption (Ripple et al. 2014). Moreover, we have unleashed a mass extinction event, the sixth in roughly 540 million years, wherein many current life forms could be annihilated or at least committed to extinction by the end of this century.

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Alexander Grothendieck, the secret genius of mathematics


In an obituary David Mumford and John Tate wrote:

“Although mathematics became more and more abstract and general throughout the 20th century, it was Alexander Grothendieck who was the greatest master of this trend. His unique skill was to eliminate all unnecessary hypotheses and burrow into an area so deeply that its inner patterns on the most abstract level revealed themselves–and then, like a magician, show how the solution of old problems fell out in straightforward ways now that their real nature had been revealed.”

The name of Grothendieck, a mathematician who died recently at the age of 86, is not very well-known or is completely unknown to the public. We are talking here about an extraordinary person who made a mark on the culture of his time – a lone genius who opened new unimagined paths in mathematics, not only one of the greatest scientists of the twentieth century, but also a libertarian spirit, a rebel, a nonconformist who brutally broke all ties with the mathematical community in 1970 at the height of his fame just like Rimbaud suddenly abandoned writing poetry. Rimbaud turned away from his muse and chose personal advancement over his art by getting into the coffee and gun trade; Grothendieck withdrew from society to live in solitude in a small village in the Pyrenees, not to escape from himself but to find himself in an insatiable spiritual quest that is documented in Crops and Seeds.

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Gerard Lebrun Alex Leburn

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Flexible working: Science in the gig economy


How is the gig economy going to affect scientific research?

There are lots of scientists in the wilderness — that point where you are tired of doing postdocs and you question what you’re doing. The gig economy can be one way to find a path, by providing an income stream while you figure stuff out. It can help you realize what marketable skills you have. It can give you time to mourn the loss of a job in academia that you thought you were going to have but that never really existed. And it helps to expand your network into places that would be interested in your skill set, such as the technology community. Eventually, you realize you can leave academia without leaving research.

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Roberta Kwok — Nature

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“I need more time”: Weighing the Option of Egg Freezing


Is this the right time?

I’ll go through the egg-freezing treatment, pumped with hormones each day, and feel like a living balloon, completely empty inside and so bloated I can barely move, but the procedure will give me the chance of maybe, one day, having a child, the act that gives so many people a sense of true purpose and meaning. Yet through the growing of eggs in my body and the sacrifices I’ll make just in those short ten days—unable to work or write, run or travel, all the things that I’m learning bring me real joy—I will realize, when I’m completely alone, staring back at my own reflection, that I’m just not sure that’s the purpose I want.

I need more time.

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Emily Smith — Catapult

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