Hard News by Russell Brown

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Hard News: Science: it's complicated

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  • nzlemming, in reply to Ross Mason,

    Well, I got as far as the glass tube, but when I attached the vacuum, it sucked all the water out and shorted the machine.

    Waikanae • Since Nov 2006 • 2935 posts Report Reply

  • Ross Mason,

    NZlemming........
    You are in advertising aren't you.

    Upper Hutt • Since Jun 2007 • 1590 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown, in reply to Sacha,

    no evidence that any harm results

    I think you’re missing the point of the precautionary principle. Once there’s evidence of harm in the wild it’s way too late.

    “As far as we know” is just not good enough if you want to claim perfect absence of risk of harm.

    Just going back through this thread for inspiration on question lines. Sacha, about half your answers to Bart boil down to but you can't prove it doesn't! And no, Bart can't prove a negative, and wouldn't try, but he did a very good job of attempting to convey the probabilities as he assesses them.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22848 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown, in reply to Bart Janssen,

    ALL of our modern crops are completely useless competitors in the wild. They all require careful watering and fertilisers and pest control.

    And some of them -- e.g. the cereal hybrids -- won't last past a single season. I recall when I researched this (and I use the word "research" in the light and journalistic sense) and heard people complaining that farmers would be prevented from re-using GM seed, thinking, but virtually no one re-uses seed now anyway.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22848 posts Report Reply

  • Sacha, in reply to Russell Brown,

    Sacha, about half your answers to Bart boil down to but you can't prove it doesn't!

    I was seeking a level of reassurance equivalent to the level of enthusiasm and certainty about benefits. I fully understand that the reality is more nuanced, but the precautionary principle does tangle with science's basic "can't prove a negative" premise.

    Ak • Since May 2008 • 19740 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown, in reply to richard,

    To quote myself in the same post: “we are trying to figure out how the big bang would have worked if string theory is true, and whether the string theory version of the big bang leads to a universe with distinctive properties which might be observable when we look into the sky.”

    How much more do you want ;-)

    You didn't explain what string theory is. :-)

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22848 posts Report Reply

  • Sacha, in reply to Russell Brown,

    virtually no one re-uses seed now anyway

    Except farmers in poorer countries.

    Ak • Since May 2008 • 19740 posts Report Reply

  • Sofie Bribiesca, in reply to Russell Brown,

    So could you answer ma question about where we go to in the Owen Glen building to morrow?:)

    here and there. • Since Nov 2007 • 6796 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown, in reply to Bart Janssen,

    The toxin they refer to is Bt toxin which is specifically an insect toxin and has no effect on animals. It is a protein itself that binds to a receptor in the insect gut. Those receptors are only found in insects and each Bt toxin is highly specific for specific receptors. That’s why Bt toxin effective against corn pests has no effect on bees. Also why there is no effective Bt toxin for aphids :(.

    Seems worth noting that Bt toxin is approved in certain forms under organic certification.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22848 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown, in reply to recordari,

    If anything, the large scale corporate approach to GM has been to hold the future of global food supplies to ransom for greater economic return. What possible humanitarian justification could there be for terminator gene technology in third world seed supplies?

    The "terminator gene" -- producing plants which, like many of the modern hybrid crops already in use, cannot reproduce -- was actually originally conceived to ease fears about GM plants spreading their DNA. It was only when it got its scary name that it became a bad thing.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22848 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown, in reply to Sofie Bribiesca,

    So could you answer ma question about where we go to in the Owen Glen building to morrow?:)

    The front door. Main entrance. Right on the road.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22848 posts Report Reply

  • Sofie Bribiesca,

    ta much.

    here and there. • Since Nov 2007 • 6796 posts Report Reply

  • Knowledge Bro, in reply to Russell Brown,

    You didn’t explain what string theory is. :-)

    This sounds like a job for a Bold Keg Owner
    String theory is actually very simple, I first figured this out in the early seventies before it was known by such a name.
    It has to do with the relationship of time, space and energy on at a quantum level.
    Think of matter as a ripple of energy in space, a string if you will. It is a bit of a misnomer as the string in the explanation is, in itself, matter. Think, instead, of the ripple itself, like a vibrating string. The ripple is the relationship of the Energy (movement of the string) to Space (the length of the string in one dimension) and Time (the movement of the string in the second dimension)
    With me so far?
    The beauty of this is that it negates infinities, physicists hate infinities, too long between lunches. It does this by eliminating the idea of particles being dimensionless points (which could only happen in a non Space/Time enviroment which, as we all know, would be stupid).
    The current concept dejour is M theory (as in many dimensional strings, a bit like a fuzzy ball) but i digress.
    So, in a nutshell, string theory is a way of visualising this ripple that we believe constitutes the nature of matter at a quantum level.
    As you know, it's Knowledge Bro.
    Bong World Eek

    Behind the fridge • Since Mar 2009 • 58 posts Report Reply

  • Ian Dalziel, in reply to Sofie Bribiesca,

    Owen Glenn Building

    OMG another OGB...

    Christchurch • Since Dec 2006 • 7950 posts Report Reply

  • Ian Dalziel, in reply to Knowledge Bro,

    Bosun Higgs, take it to the bridge...

    Think of matter as a ripple of energy in space, a string if you will.

    Does the string have mass?
    Or is it like light and potentially exists at all points in its path?
    So is it more like a whip ripple (linear) than a radial ripple?
    Or is it both?

    Christchurch • Since Dec 2006 • 7950 posts Report Reply

  • Lilith __, in reply to Ian Dalziel,

    Does the string have mass?

    No one is asking the obvious question, "How long is it?" ;-)

    Dunedin • Since Jul 2010 • 3891 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson, in reply to Lilith __,

    Or "how small a hole can it get through"

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 10657 posts Report Reply

  • Knowledge Bro,

    First let me clear up the string thing, it is a mere analogy, the ripple is more like a standing wave which, if you could see it, it would look like a string. As for having mass, it actually creates mass by virtue of its Energy, E=M, forget the C² for now, Energy is Mass and Mass is Energy. What we are discussing here is how this relates to Time and Space. The Particle occupies Space by virtue of its Energy over Time, hence the ripple. You can determine the Energy by Space over Time, the same as you measure the energy (speed) of a vehicle Km over Hours and using permutations of that equation you can calculate all parameters of the event, you can also answer the question "Are we there yet"
    If I may slip ever so slightly off topic here, if you apply these concepts to Heisenberg's uncertainty principle then you can understand how you can say how fast the car is going but not where it is at a point in time and, correspondingly, know where it is but not its speed.
    WQhich reminds me...
    Werner Heisenberg and Erwin Schrödinger were driving along when they were pulled over for speeding. The cop says, 'Do you know how fast you were going?' Heisenberg says, 'No, but I can definitely tell you where I was.' The cop decides to search the car and finds a dead cat in the trunk. He says, 'Do you know there's a dead cat in the trunk?' Schrödinger says, 'I do now!'

    As to how long it is? Well that would depend on its Energy, its amplitude and frequency but that is another box of cats with tins of worms.
    As to “how small a hole can it get through” that would depend on the colour of the hole.

    Behind the fridge • Since Mar 2009 • 58 posts Report Reply

  • Steve Barnes, in reply to Lilith __,

    No one is asking the obvious question, “How long is it?” ;-)

    Twice as long as from the centre to the end?

    Peria • Since Dec 2006 • 5521 posts Report Reply

  • Hilary Stace, in reply to Ian Dalziel,

    There's also one in Lambton Quay Wellington, that's often featured on the TV weather, is frequented by tourists and is a lovely place to work in.

    Wgtn • Since Jun 2008 • 3226 posts Report Reply

  • Yamis, in reply to Sacha,

    I try and re-use seeds from the Botanic gardens all the time. :)

    Since Nov 2006 • 903 posts Report Reply

  • Bart Janssen, in reply to Sacha,

    virtually no one re-uses seed now anyway

    Except farmers in poorer countries.

    Just a note that this is much less common than you think even in poorer countries. Seed even hybrid seed is cheap and produces much higher yields. The cost versus benefit is so good that even in the poorest countries it works out better to use hybrid seed to feed your family.

    BTW hybrid vigour which is the observation that the progeny from parents that are different are more vigorous than either parent is an old observation that we still don't understand. It is the reason nobody saves seed from the progeny, instead they cross the parents and use that seed.

    It works for almost every plant species, especially for inbred species like modern high yielding crops. It seems to involve changes in gene expression across the whole genome all at once. If we could understand it and/or control it we could shorten the breeding and selection process for new crops by decades.

    If we could bypass it by controlling apomixis (fancy word for causing mommy plant to produce exact copies of herself rather than bothering with daddy's genes aka cloning) then we'd shorten the breeding process and probably capture traits we can't get any other way.

    Both breeding improvements would allow more different crops to become high enough in yield to be used widely. That would start to give us the diversity we need in food crops without sacrificing yield.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 4460 posts Report Reply

  • Sofie Bribiesca, in reply to Bart Janssen,

    If we could bypass it by controlling apomixis (fancy word for causing mommy plant to produce exact copies of herself rather than bothering with daddy’s genes aka cloning)

    Ah, what about marijuana? Not that I am an expert, but it has been known that growers of that plant claim to clone.

    here and there. • Since Nov 2007 • 6796 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson, in reply to Sofie Bribiesca,

    The bulk of what is available in NZ is done that way, I'm told. But there are reasons that go beyond yield efficiency. If you grow from seed you have to plant a lot of plants to get a much smaller number that you will keep. If you get caught, they count up the plants and bust accordingly. Cuttings will turn into plants whose qualities are reliable, so a much smaller number is needed. It's less legally risky. I don't think considerations like that come up with corn.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 10657 posts Report Reply

  • Joe Wylie, in reply to Russell Brown,

    . . . virtually no one re-uses seed now anyway.

    It happens all the time with tomatoes. While many of the so-called "heritage" varieties and public domain hybrids could do with a bit of bioscience improvement - e.g. resistance to occasional virus hits and thinner skins - this kind of ill-informed puff piece only demonstrates that corporate science journalism can be every bit as subject to folk belief as the effete wholegrain straw people whose pretensions it cheerfully mocks.

    In practice, cracking and splitting of fruit is rarely if ever caused by "fungal infections". More often it's a result of erratic irrigation. While a bit of gene manipulation could help produce better fruit, it's unlikely to happen when there's little serious effort made to identify the problem. The real doozy is the claim that "any plant that sets only two fruits, as heirlooms sometimes do, is bound to produce juicier, sweeter and more flavorful fruit than varieties that set 100, as commercial types do."

    Seriously, growing tomato varieties purely for flavour isn't something akin to bonsai cultivation. I still have enough home-grown pasta sauce puree in the freezer from last summer's output to prove it. Given how great it tastes that's a testimony to how well these varieties can produce, rather than any forbearance on my part.

    flat earth • Since Jan 2007 • 4593 posts Report Reply

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