India experiences ‘gendercide’

Social conditions in India mean that, for many people, male infants are valued more than female. Boys stay at home, bring in dowries, work for the family, and take care of parents in their old age. Girls leave home, cost dowries, work for the husband’s family, and take care of the husband’s parents. And families always try to have the children that benefit them.

Working within those rules, families reduce the number of female children by selective abortion, covert infanticide, and starvation or other deadly neglect.

The proportion of females in among children is at an all-time low.

Of course, this leads to problems at marriageable age. Instead of scrapping the dowry and reworking social expectations, parents of boys will be buying kidnapped girls.

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India rules that touting Astrology isn’t false advertising

The Register reports that the Bombay High Court ruled in February that astrologers can’t be prosecuted under India’s Drugs and Magical Remedies Act. As the register points out, that’s not the same as saying that astrology is a science.

You can read the act here.

Penguin species distinguished in New Zealand

Researchers in New Zealand have discovered that the very rare yellow-eyed penguin is not a remnant population that survived overhunting, but a new species that moved in from the Antarctic

A team from the University of Adelaide, the University of Otago, and Canterbury Museum in New Zealand has identified a previously unknown penguin species while conducting research on New Zealand’s endangered yellow-eyed penguin, one the world’s rarest penguin species and the subject of an extensive conservation effort.

The Waitaha penguin became extinct after Polynesian settlement but before 1500 AD, creating an opportunity for the yellow-eyed penguin to subsequently colonise the New Zealand mainland from its base in the sub-Antarctic islands.

“Our findings demonstrate that yellow-eyed penguins on mainland New Zealand are not a declining remnant of a previous abundant population, but came from the sub-Antarctic relatively recently and replaced the extinct Waitaha Penguin,” said team member Dr Jeremy Austin, deputy director of the Australian Centre for Ancient DNA.

This shows how species can spread when biological barriers are removed.

University Of Adelaide (2008, November 19). ‘New’ Penguin Species In New Zealand Found Using Ancient DNA From Fossils. ScienceDaily. Retrieved April 10, 2011, from http://www.sciencedaily.com­ /releases/2008/11/081118194528.htm

The trouble with theocracies

It’s a convenience for governments to be conflated with their deity’s representatives on earth, as it lends authority to their every pronouncement. However, it’s a darned inconvenience to the Loyal Opposition: Iranian Conservative representatives call for death of opposition leaders.

Some 50 conservative MPs marched through parliament’s main hall on Tuesday, chanting “Death to Mousavi, death to Karroubi”, shown on state TV.

Mr. Mousabi, Mr. Karroubi

The article lead says

Members of Iran’s parliament have called for opposition leaders Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi to be tried and executed.

Further down,

n a statement carried by the official IRNA news agency, conservative parliamentarians said: “Mehdi Karroubi and Mir Hossein Mousavi are corrupts on earth and should be tried.” The charge “corrupt on earth” has been levelled at political dissidents in the past and carries the death penalty in Iran.

Guys? This is not how democracy is done.

Lysenkoism in the Bible

As someone mentioned the other day, the biblical story of Jacob getting spotted sheep by making pregnant sheep look at mottled sticks could be read as support for Lysenkoism:

T. D. Lysenko

[Lysenko] was inclined to enunciations of the wildest voluntarism: “In order to obtain a certain result, You must want to obtain precisely that result; if you want to obtain a certain result, you will obtain it …. I need only such people as will obtain the results I need”. Older scientists were, of course, horrified at such talk, so utterly alien to the habits of mind in which scientific method was grounded.

But Lysenko was the man of the hour, suited as he was to step into the role of the man of the people, the man of the soil, who had come up from humble origins under the revolution and who directed all of his energies into the great tasks of socialist construction. He knew well how to whip up massive peasant support, how to woo journalists, and how to enlist the enthusiasm of party and government officials. He began to be pictured as the model scientist for the new era. He was credited with conscientiously bringing a massive increase in grain yield to the Soviet state, while geneticists idly speculated on eye colour in fruit flies. —Helen Sheehan, “Who Was Lysenko? What Was Lysenkoism?” under subhead “TD Lysenko”

Is anyone else reminded of (Paragraph 1) “The Universe gives you what you ask for” and (Paragraph 2) Sarah Palin?

Lysenko’s career was a tragedy for science in the Soviet Union with dozens if not hundreds of Soviet scientists losing their jobs, being imprisoned, and even being executed for insisting on genetics (not wishes) and scientific research, not slipshod demonstrations and faulty record-keeping, as the basis for successful agriculture.

The author concludes

My own view of what is required in the way of an analysis of Lysenkoism is that it cannot be understood simply as a story of personal opportunism and political terror, nor as a cautionary tale against the dangers of bureaucratic interference in intellectual life or of ideological distortion of science….

What went wrong was that the proper procedures for coming to terms with such complex issues were short-circuited by grasping for easy slogans and simplistic solutions and imposing them by administrative fiat.

Book: A New Human

I just recently bought A New Human: The Startling Discovery and Strange Story of the “Hobbits” of Flores, Indonesia.

The narrative voice is that of Mike Morwood, the principal Australian investigator in the discovery of Homo floresiensis. The cover design indicates that Penny Van Oosterzee did the bulk of the writing. The story certainly emphasizes that research is an intensely human and collaborative effort, recruiting large teams of researchers with various areas of expertise. The book is fascinating, especially all the techniques used to accurately date the findings. I learned something about techniques for nailing down accurate dates, about island biogeography, and about the probable origins of H. floresiensis: a small-bodied transitional form between Australopithecus and Homo.

Some minor details aren’t clear, e.g. which specimen or person is which in a picture. And I would have liked a medium-scale map of Flores and its surrounding islands. We go from small scale, where Lombok and Komodo are nameless blobs, to large scale, showing only a fraction of the island. A map showing the tectonic plates and subduction zones in Indonesia would have been nice, too. And there’s no index!  However, the story is engrossing and there is a list for further reading.

Infinity Pool in Singapore

I have just learned that an Infinity Pool is one where there is no visible pool edge, so that the water’s “horizon” is all that separates a swimmer from the scenery.

The most spectacular example is the new p0ool in Singapore’s Marina Bay Sands Resort hotel’s Skypark. Members of the public can visit the Skypark and observation deck for a fee.

It is across the top of three buildings comprising a very tall hotel. The pool looks over the ocean and the skyline of Singapore. It would make me nervous to swim near the edge.

But I guess it’s fine unless there’s an earthquake!

See more at Damn Cool Pics. Hat tip to Jennifer Coyne at Coyne Pilates.

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