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Posts from the ‘science’ Category

Convergent/divergent

Convergent and divergent evolution

As a zoologist (yes even ichthyologists are zoologists) the way species from different continents with little or no genetic relationship can end up… looking like they might be cousins. Hedgehogs and echidnas. Or if you’re going to look at long, thin sticky tongues and a diet of underground insects, pangolins, anteaters and echidnas. That’s an example of convergent evolution. Different species facing the same problems/needs getting selected toward a similar end-design. But actually their nearest (genetic material) relations are something very different.

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How to Read: Science Edition

Last week I’d offered to do a full write up of how to read scientific paper critically, and asked if there was any interest in such a topic. No one asked for this, but here you are anyway. I did the research, and I’ve got nothin’ else! Besides which, it’s a fascinating topic to me, and every time I delve deeper into it, I get happier about my career decisions that led me away from the publishing train. Because a lot of the problems in science today stem from the way scientists are evaluated: have you published anything recently? In a serious journal? No? Ok, any journal will do. Did you have positive, real effects? No? No one cares you proved a negative, go back and get me a positive. We want results, or you’re fired! Which, human nature being what it is, leads to… well, it’s not science, unless you’re talking about the study of human psychology when backed into a corner and one’s livelihood threatened. In dire cases when the scientist’s government gets involved, one’s life might be at stake. And that’s even without getting into citation padding, authorial padding (there’s an ongoing scandal in South Korea where researchers have been adding their children’s names onto their papers to pad the children’s academic resumes), and duplication of results. Not replication, which is the gold standard, but using the same results in multiple papers, which is highly unethical and will lead, if caught, to a retraction of the paper. Enough of those, and you will lose your funding, position and have to start over. Read more

Getting the Science Right

I’m tired. How tired am I? Well, I had a moment yesterday where I didn’t look closely enough as I wrote and scheduled a post and I have put my planned MGC post up on my blog. In my defense, the backend of wordpress sites looks remarkably similar. However! I will extrapolate out of my post there, on science giving us a window into the past and how that can spark a story, into something that has come up a few times recently. Namely: refreshing knowledge of math and science for those who have been out of school for a while, or have developed a new interest in it. As writers of science fiction, I would hope that this would be of interest to you, although it’s hard to say where to start, precisely. That you will have to determine! Read more

Davids

“I really don’t mind if you sit this one out,

My words but a whisper, your deafness a shout.” (Jethro Tull, Thick as a Brick)

I’ve just heard that The Chronicles of Davids is being released on the third of September. I have a story in this alongside such luminaries as David Drake and David Weber (Honestly the only way I get into that kind of company is by having my maternal grandfather and my great uncle’s names. Names were few and far between in those days, and when people found one they tended to keep using them until they wore out. They weren’t like these disposable modern names, that show scuff-marks after a few years, let along centuries. But they don’t make like that anymore.) Read more

A monster in the sand

“As flies to wanton boys are we to th’ gods,
They kill us for their sport.” (King Lear, William Shakespeare)

That’s rather how my poor characters must feel. And not a god they can appease, but the sort of rotten bastard whose divine purpose was to maintain the sacrificial stone knife industry. Read more

It was the Lemurians, honest.

In a fit of whimsy (I have them often) I set out to write a book which takes as its starting point the idea that the ‘kooky new-age ideas’, everything you might find in the Fortean Times, from Mystic Crystals to Lemuria to Burrowing Llamas… is, if not actually per se ‘true’ but had its origins in something that, with broken telephone style oral tradition, gave birth to the idea. It’s a very tongue-in-cheek story… pure and unrestrained space opera, with disbelief suspended because the reader chooses to let go and enjoy, rather than being (for want of a better word) conned into going along with what superficially seems sort-of plausible.

I say this and I’ll have people in tinfoil hats accusing me of betraying the secrets of the Ancients.  The principal secret of the ancients seems to have been to live much shorter lives. The other secrets, such as women having perhaps two dresses, and there being no flush toilets are considered too unbelievable to even be used in fiction these days. Read more

Millions of Years of Reading Material

The book, in the forms we might recognize it, has been around for a heartbeat in terms of the universe. Even now, we discuss it’s demise, as we read on our e-readers, or our phones, and the shelves of paper seem so dusty and old-fashioned. Scientists come up with even newer ways to store data – they have encoded cat videos on DNA, to sum up the absurdity of the internet in one small petri dish. They have stored data on molecules that could endure for millions of years (at least, theoretically, none of them having proved that hypothesis).

Just like the storage of data on other mediums, though, this has it’s own problems. Paper is flammable and wettable. 8-tracks, cassette tapes, hard drives, CDs DVDs Blue rays and many many more need specialized readers to access the data stored on them. Sure, molecular data storage is tiny and durable. But do they make handheld mass spectrometers yet? Oh, wait, yes they do. And unlike many spectrometer detectors, the process is non-destructive of the sample being read (again, in theory. But we’re talking science fiction right now, not mass practicality for many people to carry in their pocketses). So yes, in theory we could have millions of books for millions of years, as long as we remember how to read them. Read more