You are currently browsing the category archive for the ‘Scientific Facts’ category.

Apologies for being so inactive. Work really kills a lot of your motivation to do other things.

I’ve only felt like doing short posts of late and as some of you may have noticed, the posts I tend to do here are long. Anyway, I still engage in scientific discussion when the chance arises and typed this one out recently – thought I would share it. I typed this on my phone by the way, so forgive any grammar/syntax/punctuation errors.

Damn this is getting frustrating. Time to drop some knowledge bombs.

Antimatter is NOT dark matter. Dark matter is matter that we have not discovered and have literally no idea about – hence dark. We know it exists because it affects light and other properties in the universe in a way that currently known matter cannot describe (i.e more light curvature than one would expect given how much known matter there is – hence that means there’s more “stuff” out there than we know). Dark energy is used to describe the accelerated expansion of the universe. Remember, what’s dark mean? It meabs we don’t know. So we expect expansion to be slowing down but it’s actually increasing so there must be some energy we don’t know about. Those of you that actually UNDERSTAND Einstein’s equation E=mc^2 will know energy and mass are the interchangeable, so dark energy and dark matter are essentially the same thing.

Now ANTImatter is not dark. What does that mean? We KNOW about it. What is matter made up of? Particles. So antimatter is a broad term for a whole bunch of particles called antiparticles. Every particle theoretically has an antiparticle with the same mass but opposite charge, therefore when they come into contact with each other they annihilate each other and cause decay (into other forms of energy/particles). Carl Anderson discovered the POSITRON. It is the antiparticle of the ELECTRON. Both are known to exist and scientists can create them at will. No, it’s not the end of the world. Positrons ONLY annihilate electrons. All elementary particles have a known antiparticle. 

Further reading for you if you’re interested is CP Violation which explains why there’s more matter than antimatter in the universe.

Boom. Science bitches.

On a side note, I think I will begin every scientific explanation I give with “Time to drop some knowledge bombs” and end it with “Boom. Science bitches.” from now on. Sound good?

After a recent publication in the National Academy of Science (2012), trials of a new antibody commenced on mice with seven different types of cancer tumours. The antibody, which operates by blocking the CD47 protein’s signal, killed or shrunk all tumours it was used on. The CD47 protein releases a signal that tricks the body’s immune system into not destroying harmful cells, and by blocking that signal the immune system can be instructed to attack cancer cells. Whilst this protein is found on healthy blood cells, it has been demonstrated to be found in much larger concentrations in cancer cells.

Following the successful trials on mice, the team (California Institute of Regenerative Medicine, led by Weissman) recently got a 4 year, $20 million grant to begin human trials for this new drug. By blocking the “don’t eat me” signal, the team hopes this can be a legitimate cure with minimal toxicity.

This is, of course, an exciting step forward but it does beg the question – what’s wrong with our priorities? $20 million over 4 years to potentially cure cancer for all of humanity? That’s only $5 million a year. At the same time, the US military is spending over $700 billion a year destroying humanity.

I’ve always considered humankind to be an inherently destructive force. We bring ruin to everything around us, even each other. Just a little something to think about.


… is a load of crap.

For those who don’t know, apparently people are actually taking this seriously and Queensland communities are starting to ban fluoridation in water. Here’s a picture I stole off a friend’s Facebook wall – one he took on a train:


I first heard of this on the Q&A episode where Lawrence Krauss appeared. He was awesome as usual but had a bit of difficulty trying not to offend people and trying to dumb down his scientific explanations (particularly in regards to nothingness, which I should make a separate post on). Anyway, one of the ministers of health was there too and she mentioned some politician in Queensland – a body builder – who claimed that he’d rather take banned substances for a year than drink fluoridated water. I find this hilarious because most body builders have some idea about nutrition and he obviously doesn’t.

For those of you even farther behind in the news, fluoride is added to tap water and was one of the biggest dental intervention movements in Australian history.

My first step in exposing the bullshit of all these fluoride conspirators should be the end game. Take a look at their credentials. I saw some anti-fluoride argument on a site called “Evolution-Kills” and smelled bullshit straight away. I also found some other dodgy sites with questionable sources. This reminds me of all the quack scientists that create their own publication labels to publish their “scientific” articles because no peer-reviewed article will accept them, and the ones who create their own universities to give themselves degrees. The more scientifically oblivious may have a difficult time sifting through all the bullshit so my first step is always to look at the source.

Here’s a few sources:

The National Academy of Science:

This report identified fluoride as a mineral that can positively influence human health, and although earlier NRC reports were not conclusive in their opinions, this report concluded that fluoride was considered to be an element essential for human life based on its role in cellular functions involving metabolic or biochemical processes. The report further stated that fluoride in drinking water has two beneficial effects: preventing tooth decay (dental caries) and contributing to bone mineralization and bone matrix integrity.

World Health Organisation Report:

Fluoride has beneficial effects on teeth at low concentrations in drinking-water, but excessive exposure to fluoride in drinking-water, or in combination with exposure to fluoride from other sources, can give rise to a number of adverse effects. These range from mild dental fluorosis to crippling skeletal fluorosis as the level and period of exposure increases. Crippling skeletal fluorosis is a significant cause of morbidity in a number of regions of the world.

… The beneficial and the detrimental effects of fluoride naturally present in water were well established by the early 1940s. High levels of fluoride present in concentrations up to 10 mg l were associated with dental fluorosis (yellowish or brownish striations or mottling of the enamel) while low levels of fluoride, less than 0.1 mg/l, were associated with high levels of dental decay (Edmunds and Smedley, 1996), although poor nutritional status is also an important contributory factor.

Now these are balanced views. No real science is going to declare an absolute benefit with no side effects – and that’s something important to note. However, skeletal fluorosis doesn’t occur in areas where fluoride levels are within safe levels (Kaminsky et al, 1990). See what I did there? Provided a proper source.

In regards to the accusation of fluoride being a carcinogenic – that’s just another example of non-scientific people trying to make scientific claims. Here’s a quote:

Some fluoridation opponents have suggested that fluoride is carcinogenic; claims which have been criticized as being based on statistical bias and deliberate exaggeration. (Cook-Mozaffari 1996, Spencer 1998, Pollick 2006) A frequently cited study by fluoridation opponents is the US National Cancer Institutes Surveillance, Epidemiology and End Results (SEER) program which reported a higher in cadence of osteosarcoma (bone cancer) among young males in two fluoridated areas of the United States . (Hoover et al 1991a) Further analysis of the time trends by Hoover et al (1991b) however found that the increased prevalence of osteosarcoma was not related to the time of fluoridation. Moreover, a similar study by Mahoney et al (1991) found no difference in the prevalence of osteosarcoma among any age group between fluoridated and non fluoridated cities in New York State .

But most of all, fluoride is in toothpaste and mouthwash. If these people truly believe that it’s poison or whatever, why don’t they just stop brushing their teeth and see what happens? Problem solved.

Apollo Syndrome was coined by Dr Meredith Belbin and describes the phenomenon in which teams of highly capable individuals perform poorly as a collective. Whilst counter-intuitive, I’m sure many of you can think of examples where you’ve seen this happen (the first that comes to my mind is NBA All-Star teams). I should clarify, by badly I mean with a lack of synergy (they perform worse than they should given their individual talents).

There are many reasons for this phenomenon and I’m sure the brighter of you all can come up with a few yourself just by thinking about it. Belbin specifically noted the following flaws in Apollo teams:

  • Excessive time spent in abortive or destructive debate in which members try to persuade others to adopt their own point of view, and demonstrating a flair for spotting weaknesses in others’ arguments (the latter part is such a good description of me).
  • Difficulties faced in decision making and decisions that were reached displayed incoherence and were somewhat inconsistent.
  • Members tended to act individually without taking into account what other members were doing, making the team difficult to manage.
  • Members recognised what was happening but overcompensated by avoiding confrontation, which equally added to problems.

These are somewhat axiomatic – now that I’ve listed them to you, you’re probably thinking it makes a lot of sense. Apollo teams do work though, and in understanding their failings you can help maximise their benefits.

In general, successful Apollo teams lacked highly dominant individuals and had a particular style of leadership. As with all relationships, some sort of compromise must be available so that everyone is kept in line.

The overarching theme of Belbin’s work relates to the concept of synergy. You’re all probably aware of what synergy is but in practice, most people will choose raw “stats” (of an individual) over how well they fit into the team. I guess the lesson to take from here is to consider each person’s ability to contribute, not how qualified each person is by themselves.

What’s interesting is this also displays the tendency for “Alpha males” to butt heads. This is an evolutionary remnant of our primal selves, so I find it quaint that it still exists in so many forms in contemporary society. However, I do have a conflicting theory that I may mention in a later post.

Apparently, Apollo Syndrome has evolved to be used as a term to describe the condition of a person having an overly important view of their own role within a team.

The negative synergy that is a result of Apollo teams is often characterised as a “Deadly Embrace”, a computing term in which two programs will prevent each other from making progress. The most common example is when two programs take exclusive control of a particular file, and then try to gain access to the other file. Each program will refuse to relinquish their own file and wait for the other to release their’s – therefore nothing ever happens. Applying this to human teams can be quite an apt analogy.

As interesting as this is as a little tip and a bit of extra knowledge, you might not see much relevance of this to your daily lives. In that case, I would encourage you to read between the lines and apply the core principle to appropriate scenarios. Apollo Syndrome is often taught in management courses (that’s where I learned it from – a management course at my university) and does in fact have relevance and impact. It’s not just another funny little theory that nobody pays attention to – it’s definitely something to keep in mind.


Took the lazy option and decided to answer my own question in my short story: The Loneliest Particle in the Universe.

I posed the question “How many scientific references can you point out?”

Here’s the list, off the top of my head:

Fusion/fission of elements in stars.

Wave-particle duality.

Time dilation.

Schrodinger’s cat (as a reference to quantum mechanics).

Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle.

Light dispersion.

Observer effect.

Diameter of the universe.

Life in the universe.


I have work in the morning and not enough time to explain these, but I may come back and do so, perhaps in separate posts.

In the meantime, enjoy searching for these references.

So you thought you were forever alone? Meet Photon, The Loneliest Particle in the Universe. Feel free to click that link if you want to read a short story about this topic.

Some of you might know about time dilation (most of you, hopefully). Basically, as you approach light speed (denoted by the constant c) time slows. If you reach time is frozen (from your perspective). Perspectives are a huge part of science and relate to a lot of really interesting theories, some of which I will make separate posts about. For now, though:

So, let’s introduce our forever alone particle, Mr. Photon. Photons are the particle associated with light (and electromagnetic radiation). Since, for all intents and purposes, a photon is light, they travel at c. That means time never passes for a photon.

From the moment a photon is emitted, it is frozen for all eternity in that very same moment. Time doesn’t pass for it, and from its point of view, it never travels. If that last bit was confusing, remember what I said about perspectives. Travelling implies speed, which implies distance covered over a period of time.

Even if it moves from one side of the universe to the other, the photon will always be entirely alone, frozen in the moment it was born.

And you thought you were lonely.

Reductionists, theists and ignorant people (these don’t necessarily exclude each other) often argue that science is unemotional, destroying of hope and a bleak outlook on life. I’ve always argued the exact opposite. There is very little in the world that can be as poetically melancholy as what I have just described, and photons are really just the tip of the iceberg.

Join science. We have cookies and a cat that is both dead and alive.


Regarding my passion for writing, I’ve been a bit lacklustre lately. Full time work coupled with a dimming inspiration has made it difficult for me to “pick up the pen” so to speak.

Luckily science is absolutely awe inspiring (though I usually write fantasy over sci-fi). I was reminded of time dilation whilst reading about the universe and it made me want to write something. Something that is poetic in a way only science can be, and yet still informative and intellectual.

I have to admit, I may have bitten off more than I could chew. It was very difficult to make scientific references, whilst keeping character and maintain a rough scientific accuracy. A fuller explanation of this story can be found in this post, but I recommend you read the story first.

See if you can name all the scientific references I made! Otherwise, just enjoy.


The Loneliest Particle in the Universe

I am born into a frozen plane.

Behind me is a surging mass of super heated elements. I know this, but to my eyes it is dim and grey. And unmoving. Everything around me is unmoving.

There are more stars like the one behind me but they are few and far between. They provide a speckle of grey on an overwhelmingly black canvas.

There is no direction or goal, but my nature compels me to move forward. I leave my place of origin and venture alone into the black void.

I begin to pass rocks, planets and stars. Soon, I am crossing galaxies, but still, nothing around me moves. The worlds around me are desolate and empty.

I pass clusters of galaxies with innumerable stars but I am still alone. Nothing moves. The universe around me is frozen. It is not dead, but neither is it truly alive. Kind of like me. I am not dead, because I exist, but am I really alive? More stars pass as I ponder this. Perhaps I am both dead and alive. I may never know which. I need somebody to verify my existence – somebody who is not me.

As I pass through the empty universe, I search frantically for somebody, anybody who can tell me that I am real. That I am alive. Time stands still for everything around me, but I cannot stop. I am compelled to move only forward, straight and true. It is in my nature.

I grow tired. Not physically, for I have not aged, but emotionally I am drained. I see the vast universe around me but I am completely alone. I see others that look like me, some travelling and some just born, but the moment I lay eyes on them, a part of them is frozen to the spot and a part I cannot see is gone. Perhaps they are just like me – stuck in their own frozen planes.

Finally, I see a planet. Like everything around it, it is dim and grey, but somehow it feels … blue. What excites me most is what I see on the planet’s surface. Sentient life, capable of communication and thus capable of telling me if I am real.

A moment of surprise hits me as I pass through the atmosphere. Large clusters of molecules hang liquid in the air. As I pass through them, I feel my body pulled and stretched to breaking point. All manner of colour bursts forth from me but I struggle forward. It feels as if parts of me cannot keep up, but I continue straight ahead. It is in my nature.

My excitement mounts as I pass overhead, but soon I realise my happiness is premature. These creatures are frozen too, and I am moving too fast. Even if they spot a part of me, I realise I will be gone. Just like the others, I cannot truly be seen or measured. I can never know if I am alive.

It happens too quickly but I am gone. The blackness before me is soul crushing. The star here is dark – far darker than anything I’ve seen so far – and I feel as though all hope is lost. I know there is more sentience out there, but I also know now that I am a paradox. Nobody can truly see me. I will travel over 93 billion light years and not a second will go by. But for the entire journey I will be alone.

From my birth I was destined to be frozen in that one single moment for all eternity. I am Photon, the loneliest particle in the universe.

First of all, my apologies for the long time between posts now. I’m a bit busy lately and have been preoccupied with other things. Also, I haven’t come across anything particularly interesting lately that feels like I can do a relatively short post on it.

I was reminded of this one by a post on ScienceAlert. As I am lazy right now, I’ll just sum up the point. I’m sure most of my readers now trust me enough to not need references. If you must have references before believing me, feel free to Google them.

Basically, there’s an old myth that you shouldn’t go swimming until 30 minutes after eating. This has been a pretty persistent myth despite no health organisations actually backing it (The Royal Lifesaving Association, Academy of Pediatrics, US Consumer Product Safety Commission and American Red Cross say nothing about swimming after eating). Nevertheless, the power of ignorance to propagate is astounding and many people stick to this one as if it were fact.

But let’s take a look deeper, shall we? Why shouldn’t we swim until at least 30 minutes after? Well, here’s where opinions begin to differ (one tell-tale sign of an unscientific “fact”). Some claim that it causes vomiting, others that it can cause cramps, and more still that the stomach’s act of digesting food redirects blood flow from your limbs, potentially causing you to drown. The truth? None of these are on the mark, though like all good myths they have a tiny kernel of truth. Yes, digestion does redirect blood flow, but not nearly enough to cause the kind of paralysis that would lead to drowning. Imagine if that were true. And this can contribute to cramps, but there are many other factors that are a much stronger factor on cramps, such as muscle fatigue.

Now some of you might be going “But I do vomit when I swim after eating! Therefore you, sir, are incorrect!” Let me remind you that an argument from personal experience is an anecdotal fallacy. It is, quite simply, wrong to argue with it. I should add though, if you’re susceptible to vomiting after eating, you probably ate too much in one go. Those that have read my nutrition posts or know anything about the glycemic index and/or insulin response mechanism by your body to food should know that it’s bad for you to eat large amounts in one sitting (with some exceptions).


Humankind seems to revel in its end-of-the-world theories. Never mind the huge list of predicted apocalypses that never happened, it seems a never-ending capacity for ignorance and stupidity constantly drives people to believe this or that will destroy the Earth.

This time it’s DA14, an asteroid that will be passing by Earth on the 15th of February 2013. The asteroid is about 45 metres across (150 feet) and will be closer to Earth than our satellites in geostationary orbit. As close a shave as this sounds, there’s no real danger.



Unfortunately, a lot of the failed Mayan doomsday supporters are quick to jump on the next apocalypse hoax, claiming that the asteroid will impact the Earth. It will not.

The sun’s gravitational pull on the asteroid will limit its distance to 3.2 Earth radii, about 20,406 km. By comparison, satellites in geosynchronous orbit circle at around 35,800 km.

NASA has assured that it will not impact Earth, but DA14 will be added to a list of objects to watch as it will potentially return in 2020.

A lot of comparison has been made to the Tunguska event in 1908 in which a meteoroid exploded above the Podkamennaya Tunguska River in Siberia, flattening about 2,000 km^2 of forest. Amazing and frightening as that is, let me remind you that first of all, Earth has a long history of being hit by asteroids so there’s nothing close to an apocalypse there, and second of all, this one won’t even hit.

Anyway, my job here is just to combat ignorance so hopefully those of you who read this will be able to scoff the next time someone says we’re going to be wiped out by DA14. For those of you that are stargazers, this will be a very interesting event to watch.

Has anyone else (especially in Australia) noticed that all our milk cartons spontaneously developed “Permeate Free” labels? Seems some genius came up with the idea of labelling their milk as permeate free, to which every single other milk company responded by doing the same. Simple marketing and economics.

However, I disapprove of the entire hype and I’m here to call it for what it is – a load of bull (pardon the pun). The onset of this permeate free craze seems to be fuelled by some sort of misconception that permeates are a cheap waste product that is added to milk. It is not. Permeate comes from the milk itself. What you buy, regardless of whether or not it’s permeate free, is still 100% milk product.

What is permeate specifically though? Well it’s basically a collective term for the lactose, water, vitamin and mineral components of the milk. It is greenish due to the high vitamin B content.

So what was the supposed “scandal”? Milk companies were adding it to milk. Or should I say, re-adding, since it came from the milk in the first place. This process is done for standardisation of nutrient levels. The nutrition table on your milk can only be accurate because permeates are used to keep the milk at that level.

There’s a lot of rubbish about it being a “waste product”. If anything, it’s the healthy part of milk.

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 184 other followers

Blog Stats

  • 269,687 hits