dignity in a curious context

May 30, 2008 at 9:51 am | | news, science and the public, science community

The “dignity” of plants? I don’t get it.

This Nature news article discusses a legal quagmire that has resulted from a Swiss law requiring the “dignity” of creatures be considered in funding research.

By Merriam-Webster’s definition, dignity is “the quality or state of being worthy, honored, or esteemed” or “formal reserve or seriousness of manner, appearance, or language.” The latter definition hardly applies, unless you think that one can determine when a plant appears reserved or serious—or when it doesn’t.

As far as being esteemed, I understand that some people would prefer to see a sapling on the forest floor than in a test tube, but scientific research in a laboratory has no effect on the natural beauty of a woods.

The bottom line is that, because plants are not sentient, we should not be concerned about their “well-being” or “dignity.” That’s not simply anthropomorphizing, that’s animopomorphizing.

Now, I might be biased, because I’m a vegetarian. In my more naïve days, I opposed animal experimentation. (Of course, I have always opposed violence or crimes against animal researchers or labs.) Today, I feel that the subject is too complex to blindly oppose all vivisection, or to stubbornly support cruel animal experimentation. The complications arise from the fact that animals are sentient—feel pain and have desires. Meanwhile, there are benefits to humanity as a result of animal experimentation that cannot be denied. While I hope that vivisection will be phased out over the next several decades, I do not support a ban.

Research on plants is a simple issue: plants are not sentient. The values we see in plants—independence, natural life, etc.—are only emotions that we place on them. Again, I understand the desire to see majestic trees in their natural habitat, but that should not interfere with our desire to learn. Anyway, it’s not as if plant researchers go clear-cut forests and do little experiments!

Whatever, I just needed to rant.

Plaigiarise an American? The French would never do that!

May 21, 2008 at 11:07 am | | literature, science community, scientific integrity

I was recently doing a bit of reading and happened to have two papers on the same subject, short pulse amplification, on my desk at the same time. As I was reading the more recent paper I kept having the feeling that I had just read something very similar. Upon comparison I found that almost the entirety of the more recent paper was plaigiarised from the earlier paper. The French authors even stole a figure from the earlier paper, all without referencing. Ironically the figure that they stole happened to be figure 6 in the original and in their paper, so the text that I copied from the two manuscripts even has the same figure numbers in it! Check out the papers yourself to see just how low people can go in science.

This is excerpted from the 1998 paper by Backus et al.

materials due to the Pockels cells and polarizers can add high-order dispersion to an amplifier system, making it more difficult to recompress very short pulses. Nevertheless, regenerative amplifiers have also been used to generate pulses of 30 fs and shorter durations.102–104

A multipass preamplifier configuration differs from the regenerative amplifier in that, as its name suggests, the beam passes through the gain medium multiple times without the use of a cavity, as shown in Fig. 6(b). The particular geometry

This is excerpted from the 2001 paper by Cheriaux and Chambaret

materials due to the Pockels cells and polarizers can add high-order dispersion to an amplifier system, making the recompression more difficult for very short pulses. Nevertheless, regenerative amplifiers have also been used to
generate pulses of 30 fs and shorter duration [36, 37].

A multipass preamplifier configuration (figure 6(b)) differs from the regenerative amplifier in that, as its name suggests, the beam passes through the gain medium multiple times without the use of a cavity. The particular geometry

[UPDATE: I wanted to put in the copied figures. See my addition to David’s post below.

From the first paper:

From the later paper:

And there you have it. -Sam]

Fuel Economy and A/C

May 18, 2008 at 11:48 am | | everyday science, news, science and the public

So, I’ve heard from several people over the course of my life that it is more fuel efficient to run a car with the windows down rather than use the A/C.

However, a new article on Fuel Economy Myths from CNN-Money suggests that this isn’t so at high speeds.

There’s no question air-conditioning makes extra work for the engine, increasing fuel use. But car air conditioners are much more efficient today than they used to be. In around-town driving, using the A/C will drop fuel economy by about a mile a gallon.

Meanwhile, driving at higher speeds with the windows down greatly increases aerodynamic drag. As speed increases, drag becomes more of an issue, making A/C use the more efficient choice at high speeds.

At most speeds and in most vehicles, A/C use drains slightly more fuel than driving with the windows down, contends David Champion, head of auto testing for Consumer Reports. “My final take on is that it’s very close,” says Phil Reed, consumer advice editor for Edmunds.com. “It’s hard to measure the difference and every vehicle is different.”

The best choice—if temperature and humidity allow—is to keep the windows rolled up and to turn the A/C compressor off. You can keep the fans running to blow in air from the outside, but your car will be as aerodynamic as possible while still letting you breathe. You will save gas, but the fuel economy improvement will be slight.

Other myths include the idea the Premium gas gives you better gas mileage (false in modern cars – the car’s computer can tell the density of the fuel and adjusts the spark plug timing. Lower-octane fuel “slightly” decreases horsepower, but has negligible effect on fuel economy), and that over-inflating tires increase fuel economy (obviously true – less friction, but dangerous due to braking and turning issues).


Happy L.A.S.E.R. Day!

May 16, 2008 at 9:57 am | | history, news

When I hit the google front page, I almost leaped for joy.

I’m not really sure when the birthday of the laser really is. Anybody know whether a single date is even relevant? Weren’t there classified projects that predated Maiman’s work? What about the MASER?

A Phyrric Victory

May 14, 2008 at 2:00 pm | | lab safety

Alright, Stanford, you win.  I promise I won’t bring my bicycle in the lab anymore.  Now can I please have my pull-stations back?

the edible laser

May 12, 2008 at 9:12 am | | history, nerd

The beginnings of the laser age must have been a fun time: crazy new experimental possibilities, beautiful optical demonstrations, dye lasers squirting carcinogens everywhere, and new lasing materials around every corner.

The “edible” laser is a great example:

High-gain directional stimulated emission has been observed for a number of dyes in gelatin with pumping by a nitrogen laser or a liquid dye laser. For some dyes the gel is made with water and gelatin; for others a detergent must be added or glycerin used instead of water. (Source: Hänsch, T.;  Pernier, M.;  Schawlow, A. IEEE Journal of Quantum Electronics 1971, 7, 45-46.)

I probably would not eat that for multiple reasons: I’m vegetarian, the detergents probably wouldn’t taste good, a nitrogen laser in the eye is unappetizing, and I doubt that fluorescein is food-grade. Theodore Hänsch describes some of these fun laser stories in Optics and Photonics News 2005, 16(2), 14-16 (or the PDF here).

It’s a fun read. Or just read the first page, then look at the pictures, like I did.

Gaming for Science: Fold.it goes public!

May 9, 2008 at 11:47 am | | science and the public, science@home, software, wild web

I just saw a remarkable take on an age-old problem: Protein Folding. David Baker at the University of Washington converted the problem of protein folding into an interactive game that we can play. Check it out at Fold.it (currently beeing /. to death)

Details about the science are sparse, but my undestanding is that they’re trying to train us like a neural network of sorts- first we learn to fold known protein structures, and then the group will release new “puzzles” of unknown or unreleased structures and see how the the borg collective does against other folding projects .

Oh yea, I made an “Everyday Scientists”mebeli group! Can’t wait to play when I get home

Poll: Laser Breath

May 2, 2008 at 4:23 pm | | hardware, open thread

The above original adornment of our laser head had to be removed, ostensibly due to the possibility of back reflections, fire, and the subsequent destruction of sensitive optics. Although the first thing my boss said when he saw it was, “I really hate that guy;” so maybe that logic is only a smokescreen.

In either case, now that we’ve reconfigured the case, it is possible to redecorate it with something shooting a laser beam. As such, I leave it up to you to suggest possible candidates. Some suggestions were another Nixon, Reagan, Chuck Norris, Bishop Desmond Tutu, or the Hello Kitty. What do you think?


May 2, 2008 at 1:33 pm | | grad life

While biking across campus to the main library, I overheard this conversation:

Very young boy (looking at the Stanford Quad): Is it a prison?

Father: Well, not technically a prison, no.


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