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 Post subject: from current journals as of 2017 11 16
PostPosted: Thu Nov 16, 2017 8:38 pm 
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American Scientist November-December 2017
Problematic Pedestrian Bridges
Henry Petroski’s specialty is bridges, although he crosses over into other topics periodically. You would think something as straightforward as a bridge would have all the bugs worked out by now, but new bridges continue to pose problems. The first case Petroski discusses is the London Millennium Bridge, a pedestrian walkway across the Thames. The bridge had to be closed three days after it opened because it swayed too much; the problem was traced to neglecting to consider the sideways component of force when walking. A similar pedestrian bridge in Paris had to be shut down for a different reason; in this case it was the resonant frequency of footfalls that caused the problem. And the Squibb Park bridge in Brooklyn was closed a year after it opened; it apparently had both problems, bouncing up and down and twisting sideways. Although Petroski doesn’t come right out and say it, his description hints part of the problem was a desire to make the bridge “natural”; the walkways and much of the structure was made out of wood. After the original designers couldn’t fix the problem, despite a lawsuit by the city, another bridge company was brought in and eventually corrected things with various damping mechanisms. The second bridge company was the same one that had built the bouncy Millenium Bridge.

Nature 19 October 2017
This week
Computer future
The Los Angeles Times has an automated program that picks up information from the USGS web sites and automatically writes stories. This June it announced a M6.8 earthquake in Santa Barbara, California; the catch was the bot had read data incorrectly and reported an earthquake that had occurred in 1925.
News in focus
US agency moves to revoke emissions limits
There was some stir about this in the MSM. I confess I’m not entirely sure what’s going on, because I’ve been out of the field for seven years. The gist seems to be that there were Obama-era regulations that proclaimed greenhouse gases were a threat to human health and the environment. There are a number of parts to the Clean Air Act; the one I had to deal with mostly was the one setting standards for “priority air pollutants”. The original priority air pollutants were defined by the Clean Air Act (i.e., they were set by law rather than by regulation); however, the law allowed the EPA to add things to the priority pollutant list. The EPA never has; instead the greenhouse regulations were applied “major stationary sources”; previously these had been things like petroleum refineries, power plants, and manufacturing facilities (they were also applied to vehicle sources, but that’s not at issue here). The catch was, as is often the case, the EPA applied emission limits without really thinking about what they were getting into; if strictly applied, the greenhouse gas limits would have made every large parking lot in the country a “major source”. Well, again the usual happened and everybody sued to prevent the regulations from being implemented; the Supremes ruled against the EPA and said the regulations could only be applied to “traditional” major sources – until these lawsuits were settled. (The EPA probably breathed a collective sigh of relief here, since they didn’t even remotely have the resources necessary to regulate every parking lot in the US). This way, the EPA could point to the Supreme Court as the bad guys, drowning polar bears and so on, while not having to do the upstaffing that would have been necessary if the Supremes had gone the other way – again, at least not until all the court battles were done. So the greenhouse gas regulations (mostly for carbon dioxide) just got inflicted on those sources that had already been under the regulations for other pollutants. What the Trump EPA wants to do is go back to status quo ante Obama – which is essentially right where we are now, since the courts have prevented the new Obama administration rules from being implemented.
The shape of work to come
This is a special issue on machine learning, especially as it applies to employment. Although this particular article has several themes, a major focus is “gig” workers, freelance information workers that do things like translation, image labeling, surveys, etc. – basically what you would see on Mechanical Turk. Gig workers have access to global market – you can work at home in Nairobi for somebody in La Jolla. However, all the jobs are for English speakers (50% are in the US, the other countries in the top five are the UK, Australia, Canada, and India; and I bet the Indian jobs are for English speakers too). The countries with the most gig workers are India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, the US and the UK. It’s noted that while gig workers are portrayed as independent and individualistic, there’s actually a lot of cooperation.
Lessons from history for the future of work
We hear a lot about “income inequality”; while mostly skeptical I’m beginning to think there may be something to it. While all through the Industrial Revolution, GDP per worker kept pace with income per worker (the graphs start in 1770), in the late 1970s things began to change; real income per worker has flatlined while productivity per worker continues to increase (the graphs show Great Britain from 1770 to 1890 and the US from 1895 to 2016). It’s suggested this is mostly due to the booming Chinese and East Asian economies, and that the US manufacturing sector will never recover no matter what is tried.
Reboot for the AI revolution
There’s already software that can diagnose skin cancer from images as well as the best dermatologist. It’s suggested that people in traditional knowledge-intensive fields – like doctors – are more risk from AI than conventional wisdom suggests, with the comment that it’s easier to imagine a competent AI doctor than a competent AI nurse. However, it’s also noted that humans working with AI – “centaurs” – perform better (at chess, for example) than either AI or humans alone.

Science 13 October 2017
First test for seafloor mining
Japan’s economic ministry has successfully tested a remotely operated machine that excavates and crushes ore; the slurry is then pumped to a surface ship. The deposit is 1600 meters deep, off the coast of Okinawa, and within Japan’s Exclusive Economic Zone. It’s claimed the deposit can fulfil Japan’s annual demand for zinc, plus lesser amounts of gold, copper, and lead, thus reducing demand for imported raw materials. Six other deposits in the EEZ have been identified. The process is expected to be fully commercialized by 2020.
Uganda removes hurdle for GM crops
No GM crops have actually been approved; however, Uganda has tested disease-resistant bananas and cassava. The law will make it easier to do large-scale field tests and commercial production. The usual people are outraged.
News in depth
’Science wars’ veteran has a new mission
Recently retired French sociologist Bruno Latour was one of the “deconstructionists” criticized by Paul Goss and Norman Levitt in Higher Superstition, for claiming scientific facts are just socially constructed. He now acknowledges that, although “it felt good to put scientists down a little”, he was influenced by “juvenile enthusiasm”. The main reason for his change of heart turns out to be climate change denial; apparently people have taken his earlier work to mean climate change is just another socially constructed alternative fact, and he doesn’t like that. While I welcome his change of views, I would be more enthusiastic if it wasn’t so politically correct.
Publishers take academic networking site to court
ReseachGate is a for-profit scientific social networking site based out of Berlin, sort of a Facebook for scientists. Scientists could do all the usually social networking stuff – posting pictures of cats and Bettie Page – but could also post published papers, which is where they ran afoul of commercial publishers, who have filed suit over massive copyright violations. Traditionally, when you published a scientific paper in a commercial journal, you were always allowed a certain number – typically 50 or 100 – of “reprints”; these were copies of the journal pages that included your article, and were provided by the publisher. If other researchers were interested, they could request one; typically, by sending a postcard to one of the authors. In the event you ran out of reprints, you could make more copies; this was technically a copyright violation but no publisher cared because the quantity was so small. I had boxes of reprints stashed in the basement for years; I think I got a total of one request - for somebody in China - which I wasn’t able to fill because of US restrictions. (I didn’t try very hard; there was probably a way around it). On the surface, then, ResearchGate wasn’t that different from the traditional method; authors posted their own papers on their own pages. The catch is, of course, that it was vastly easier; the hypothetical Chinese researcher didn’t have to go to the effort of reading the original article in a paper journal, filing out a postcard, and working out the appropriate international postage. Conversely the recipient of the reprint request didn’t have to fish a copy out of a dusty box in the basement, figure out international postage (which might be bothersome, because the reprint typically was too many pages to send as an ordinary 1st-class letter), and drop it in the mail. With ResearchGate, you didn’t even have to subscribe to the publishing journal; you could just search for likely keywords or author names and download. The lawsuit doesn’t ask for damages, but wants ResearchGate to take down copyrighted papers. Legal experts consulted by Science suggested ResearchGate will probably lose the suit, but the results would only be enforceable in Germany, which means the worms will still be out of the can.
Addressing supply issues for natural products in the clinic
Scalable synthesis of bryostatin-1 and analogs, adjuvant leads against latent HIV
Trabectin is an anticancer agent made by tunicates; originally, they were wild-collected but a Spanish pharmaceutical company tried farming them in the 1990s. Although farming was successful (100 tonnes of organism were collected), drug yield was so low (<1mg/kg) the effort was abandoned. Eventually (2003) a synthesis pathway was worked out and the drug is now commercially available. Halichondin B (HB) is a broad-spectrum anticancer agent isolated from Japanese marine sponges; the US National Cancer Institute harvested a metric ton of sponges and produced 310 mg of HB. Sponge farming efforts were unsuccessful. Again, synthesis efforts were eventually successful. Bryostatin-1 comes from bryozoans and is being tested for use against cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, and latent HIV. The NCI harvested 13 tonnes of bryozoans in the 1980s and produced 18 grams of bryostatin-1, enough for clinical trials but not enough for actual drug production. Now a 29-step synthesis pathway has been worked out, with an overall 4.8% yield, allowing production in gram quantities. Note and report.

Nature 5 October 2017
News in focus
Internet research triggers scrutiny
Banksy is a UK graffiti artist of international repute. Last year a group of researchers correlated the locations of Banksy street art with publicly available databases on people’s addresses and movements and deduced the artist’s likely identity. Because the research only used public data, it did not go through the normal ethics review. This caused the expected hand-wringing among ethicists; personally, while generally believing big data is a good thing I concede there could be problems. There was a vaguely similar situation where a graduate student used publicly available data to identify the medical condition of Massachusetts governor William Weld, including his prescriptions.
News features
The Seasteading Institute is a nonprofit that proposes to build island nations. (Since the proposed structures will float, perhaps they could be called “ship nations”). The idea is being pitched to several groups – libertarians, Silicon Valley entrepreneurs, oceanographers, Burning Man enthusiasts, and island nations fearing sea level rise. Nature, of course, is mostly interested in comments from oceanographers, who are cautiously optimistic, noting the structures could fill a gap between research vessels and shore-based labs. French Polynesian is targeted as a likely site; Tahitians were cautiously optimistic too, envisioning an incubator for science and business. However, skeptics noted smiling white foreigners have promised great things to Polynesia before, but what they ended up getting was atmospheric nuclear testing. The general idea has been around for a while, and is the subject of a Niven/Barnes science fiction novel. The most obvious concern to me – which wasn’t even hinted at in the article – is what do you do when the inevitable typhoon comes?
The Great Gas Gold Rush
The article features a photograph of the LNG tanker Ineos Insight being escorted into a harbor in Norway; the accompanying tugboat is spraying streams of water in the traditional greeting. Enormous letters on the side of the ship proclaim “SHALE GAS FOR PROGRESS”. The article doesn’t address shale gas as a fuel, but rather as a chemical feedstock. Ethene – ethylene if you are old fashioned – is the most used feedstock (150M tonnes/year) in the chemical industry, especially for plastics, and is usually manufactured by steam cracking crude oil. Substituting natural gas will work – and is cleaner and less energy intensive. The main drawback seems to be cracking crude oil gives an abundance of byproducts that can be used for other chemical processes, while reforming natural gas (methane, ethane, propane and butane) pretty much leaves you with methane, ethene, propene, and various butenes. There’s renewed interest in the Fisher-Tropsch process to do things with the methane; the article notes there are only 6 industrial scale FT plants in the world; the largest is in Qatar and uses 45M m³ of methane a day; combined, FT plants put out about 3% of the world’s CO₂ emissions.
Giga-voxel computational morphogenesis for structural design
I had to look up “voxel”; it’s the 3D analogue of pixel. The article discusses airplane wing designs using structural modeling techniques. The results look really odd, if you’re used to spars and struts; what initially came to mind was the “vein” pattern in insect wings.


Printable organometallic perovskite enables large-area, low-low dose X-ray imaging
“Perovskite” in the strict sense is calcium titanium oxide (CaTiO₃); in the more general sense it’s anything that exhibits the same crystal structure. Various combinations of elements in the perovskite structure make for very efficient solar cells; the same technology applies to X-ray detectors has demonstrated an order of magnitude more sensitivity (and thus a lower X-ray dose) than current materials. (In one of those little environmental ironies, the most sensitive perovskite solar cells and X-ray detectors use lead and fluorine in the structure, not perceived as the most environmental benign materials).

Earth September-October 2017
A Pitch to study BREW: the Beer-Renewable Energy-Water nexus
Author Michael Webber is deputy director of the Energy Institute at the University of Texas. The article slightly tongue-in-cheek, slightly serious – relating the history of brewing to the history of energy consumption. Webber notes that the development of inexpensive energy for transportation – steam and Diesel – and for refrigeration lead to the replacement of small local breweries by large multi-state corporations. He also notes the national biofuels policy has raised the price of grain – and thus, of beer. It’s suggested that distributed energy sources will also lead to a proliferation of breweries – he comments that the US now has a record number of breweries; the previous record was set in 1873.
Young Costa Rican lavas might represent pockets of primordial mantle
Komatiite is an extrusive volcanic rock – a lava – formed from extreme high temperature melts (>1600° C). Ordinary basalt melts at around 1200° C. Komatiites are very rare after the Archaean; the idea is the mantle cooled down to the point where they could no longer form. However, there are outcrops of young komatiite rocks in the Tortugal area of Costa Rica (“Young” is, as usual in geology, a relative term; the lavas are about 90M years old). The suggestion is there might be little pockets of ultrahot mantle still around down there.
End of ice age may have been too wet for megafauna
Yet another explanation for end-Pleistocene extinctions: changing climate, in particular increased rainfall, changed steppe grassland to bogs and peatlands which couldn’t support large mammals. African and south Asian mammals were spared because it was already forested.
T. rex’s bone-crushing bite
It’s estimated T. rex’s bite force was 30300 kg/cm², enough to break even the strongest bones, and thus T. rex could exploit mineral-rich bone and marrow that smaller carnivores couldn’t get to. Don’t know; T. rex teeth don’t look that much different from smaller theropods. However, they were frequently replaced – there are many more T. rex teeth known than skeletons – so maybe the animal accommodated to tooth breakage that way.

Nature 28 September 2017
Seven Days
Smoke control
WHO has condemned the Foundation for a Smoke-Free World, apparently because it is funded by grants from Philip Morris. A cursory glance at the Foundation’s web site doesn’t seem to show any deep plots by the tobacco industry, but I could easily be mistake as I didn’t dig very deep. At any rate WHO accuses FSFW of “attempting to breach the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control”.
News in focus
German vote opens policy rift
Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union won the largest share of seats but her lead is diminished and her partners in the last coalition, the Social Democrats, have said they will move into the Opposition. That leaves Merkel with a choice of the Alternative for Germany (AfD), the Greens, and the Free Democrats (FDP). The FDP is described in this note as “liberal” but “pro-business”, the AfD is “far right”, and we know what the Greens are like. Nature expresses concern that the parties will “spar” over climate policy.
News and Views
Evaporating planetesimals
Earth’s volatile contents established by melting and vaporization
Magnesium isotope evidence that accretional vapour loss shapes planetary compositions
Chrondite meteorites are assumed to represent the primordial composition of the solar nebula, and seem to confirm this by having roughly the same elemental composition as the Sun. However, Earth and the other terrestrial planets are depleted in volatile elements; Nature suggests explanations for this are “controversial”. The note and articles suggest the reason is volatile loss during planetesimal accretionary collisions violent enough to evaporate rock; evidence comes from abundance of chalcophile elements (first paper) and magnesium isotope ratios (second paper).
Early trace of life from 3.95 Ga sedimentary rocks in Labrador, Canada
The argument here is plausible but requires a pretty long chain of suppositions. The Saglek Block is a group of metasediments in northeast Labrador, including pelites (metamorphic siltstone, claystone, or shale), metaconglomerates, metacarbonates, and chert. It is intruded by the 3.95 Ga Uivak Gneiss, which provides a date by way of zircon fission tracks. All of the metasedimentary rocks have traces of graphite; this occurs along bedding planes and has laminations similar to Phanerozoic organic matter (I assume the authors are implying that the graphite represents the remnants of some sort of biofilm, but they don’t come right out and say so). The graphite exhibits C¹³ depletion characteristic of organic material.

Science 22 September 2017
News in depth
Russia heightens defenses against climate change
The head of the Russian meteorological agency (ROSHYDROMET) was recently fired, reportedly because he failed to predict a May storm that killed 18 people in Moscow. The Russian government is in something of a bind; everybody seems to acknowledge that climate change is occurring but Russia gets a good chunk of revenue from selling oil and gas. Government-friendly newspapers have suggested the whole thing is a foreign plot or the US is targeting Russia with a “weather weapon”. Russian emissions targets are “unambitious”; they assume a 1990s baseline, before the collapse of the Soviet Union wiped out a lot of industry, and Russia will have no problem meeting them.
China’s childhood experiment
We’ve had threads on the problems caused by China’s former “one-child” policy; this article highlight another emerging problem, an immense gap in educational performance between urban and rural China. Western studies (disputed by the Chinese government) claim that more than half of eighth-graders in rural China score below 90 on IQ tests. The suggested explanation is rural parents migrate to the cities for work; however, regulations require they leave their children behind (according to the article, children must be schooled in the area where their parents were originally registered). That leaves rural children in the care of grandparents, who are often illiterate and poorly prepared to do home preschooling and “enrichment”.

 Post subject: Re: from current journals as of 2017 11 16
PostPosted: Fri Nov 17, 2017 12:43 am 
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Joined: Fri Apr 04, 2008 12:06 pm
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Location: South Carolina
...the catch was the bot had read data incorrectly and reported an earthquake that had occurred in 1925.

OMG! :o They've done it - AI has achieved sentience! It's alive! It's alive!

Because the research only used public data, it did not go through the normal ethics review. This caused the expected hand-wringing among ethicists...

4Chan Sleuths use 'flight patterns' to track down & capture Shia Lebeouf's anti-Trump flag

Y gwir yn erbyn y byd.

(BTW, I'm on Facebook, so friend me, already - since it's just us here, the name is Ceridwen Keeley.)

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