Sunday, 24 November 2013

Science ruins everyone's fun

On browsing facebook this morning (something I question my rationale for doing every time I log in, I guess it speaks to my inner egotist) I noted that one of the "trending" posts was a girl blabbing on about "Ancient crystal pyramids under the bermuda triangle."

I am sceptical, instantly of any such claim, especially when such a claim makes a point like these crystal structures must influence ocean currents (which, oceanographic studies show there isn't any "interesting" current features around the area), that we don't know how they got there and hence why science must be wrong and the nuts must be right; and finally that there is absolutely no evidence of these structures even existing.

My inner rationalist leaps to attention, and I am struck with an overwhelming urge to post every tiny bit of logic at this person and their ridiculous followers (who I am certain only approve of this, not because they agree but because they like the person posting). I could cite tons of studies done and work on the subject. But my hands are halted. Previous experience has taught me that people don't like their opinions to be challenged. They tend to see it not as an attack on their opinion but on them personally. As a scientist, I am used to people attacking my ideas but we come to accept that most other people in the world don't.

And this raises my main point. Science is forever seen as "ruining everyone's fun" with it's logic, and rigorous testing. I mean, how dare it sit there with any authority over unfounded and potentially harmful opinions that are often spouted out of the mouths of people with absolutely no credentials (a mail order PhD is not equivalent to a real PhD which takes 3 or 4 years of solid work to complete).

I read recently that a boy in Calgary died due to his mother's belief in homeopathic medicines. The cause of death more worryingly was a strep infection. A mild, curable infection that certainly hasn't been a death sentence in the western world since the days of the 1800s. And for what, so that this innocent child's mother could have a level of moral superiority over her friends who support "big pharma" and don't understand nature or the holistic methods that pre-date logical and rational chemistry by nearly 200 years.

The whole "natural" notion, (or Organic to the uninitiated) makes me sick. Science merely harnesses nature to do our bidding. If it couldn't happen in nature then it can't happen in the lab. It's merely a probability of likelihood. How many animals for example have evolved transition metal based touch screens. None, because it's not feasible. But it could still potentially happen. The notion that if it doesn't happen in nature then it's not good for us is likely founded in the unethical practices of the past (which to a lesser extent continue to this day) but I raise the point that selling you a drug with side effects for a large sum of money is far better than selling you some "magic powder" that is in reality sugar for a large of sum of money when it comes down to treating diseases.

But people don't like to be questioned on their decisions. Especially when their decisions are not logical or rational. They like people to blindly accept them. A friend of mine once made a claim that alcohol could help treat liver disease. I asked for a source. He told me he didn't need one, and then linked me to a dubious website on holistic medicine which cited various "new age" magazines as it's references. What I found more concerning is that this is man who studies a science course alongside myself, who views pharmaceutical companies as little more than pill pushers but is not afraid to take unknown substances sold to him as class A drugs which are synthetic chemicals, and are still made in even more unethical ways.

Science isn't fun. I will accept this. There was once an age of discovery where the discoveries made were understandable to the general populace. But this day has passed. The recent discovery of the Higg's boson is a prime example. The Higg's Boson was big news. The "God particle" it was dubbed, but if you asked the general public, on the street, what on earth was the "Higg's boson" most wouldn't be able to tell you, or they would be able to make a comment along the lines of it being a particle in physics. Science is now very esoteric. Great discoveries like the Higg's Boson are important, but most people aren't going to understand it. Now, if you don't understand it, that's fine. But don't try and drag unsubstantiated claims about medicine and pseudosience into the argument. Science is complicated enough if it isn't having to fight off people who make ludicrous claims.

Tuesday, 19 February 2013

Euro Truck Simulator 2, or how I learned how to stop worrying and love trucks.

I should be a busy student. With many deadlines and a lot of work to do. I wish my brain would somehow cotton on to this. It can't.

Instead, I have been mostly doing this!!!
This happened on my first outing. I haven't quite got this truck malarkey. 

Don't you just hate it when you go out for a drive and this happens.

Why did I think that driving at night was a good idea?

 The wheels, oh god, the wheels!

Still not got it. But that package will get there on time!

I don't even know what happened here.

 I bought my own truck. It's pink and I did this with it the first time I took it out.

Sod other trucks! I rule the road!!
Well, I did rule the road. Not really on it atm.

And thus concludes a dramatically short piece about how crap I am at truck driving.


Wednesday, 6 February 2013

A return to First West Coast and HS2

So, it's been a few months and First have lost the west coast franchise, though not in the circumstances I might've predicted. But it's nice to see a re-evaluation of the bidding process and a continuation of Virgin Trains services on the West Coast route.

But this is a minor point; a mere reference to something that was before.

My main rant today is about HS2, this government's farce of a high speed rail plan.

So I think we ought to go over the plans to begin with. The first stage of High Speed 2 is the construction of a new rail route through the midlands serving just outside of Birmingham. Coming later is the construction of a new terminus (at the former LNWR station at Curzon Street), and if the money doesn't run out then the route will be extended to serve Manchester, the East Mids and Leeds.

I have a few minor problems with this. My major concern is with the initial route. It doesn't go anywhere, and I do not believe that passengers will pay extra to save a very small amount of time. I am not opposed to the idea of a high speed line in Britain, as we are one of a very small minority of European nations who do not have an intercity high speed line. I just fear that this will be a prime example of what I can only refer to as "British Engineering" that is, something that was hurried out to appease a lot of people but fails at a key level and will be used mostly as an excuse for future governments to criticise the decisions of the current government.

Now, I would propose a few changes to this high speed proposal. I believe that the current route from London to Birmingham is fine, but that it ought to be routed out of a different terminal to Euston, as Euston is extremely busy. Say, Marylebone for example. This route should travel along the chiltern until outside of London, where it can branch away and become a high speed line proper. This could then pass over the west coast mainline near to Birmingham, and an interchange from the high speed line could be provided. That is to say, the high speed train could leave the high speed line and travel to Birmingham New Street, where it could say, continue onwards to Manchester or Liverpool or even Glasgow.

I like this as it helps relieve pressure on the overly busy West Coast line between London and Birmingham, freeing up spaces for more commuter services between the two cities and creating more freight opportunities also. I also like that this would mean that in theory the high speed line could be extended when ready to be as opposed to all being done at once. People will always be able to travel from Euston to Manchester, just the journey time would be reduced when the extended high speed line would be opened.

Now this is not without some problems, and I think the main is engineering a train that is compatible with both the limited loading gauge of British urban railways and the European loading gauge usually used on high speed lines, but hey, this train already exists in the form of Eurostar. We would merely have to update this to a new spec.

But, y'know, what do I know?

Tuesday, 5 February 2013

A stegosaurus a day.

My friend Stuart has a blog. You should check it out if you like stegosauruses and origami.

Linky linky.

A Stegosaurus a Day