Category Archives: Science


I don’t know why, but I’ve found Importance of Achromatic Contrast in Short-Range Fruit Foraging of Primates strangely fascinating. Here’s a snip:

Despite these findings, behavioral observation of wild primate populations has given a limited support for trichromat advantage. In a study of wild mixed-species troops of saddleback (Saguinus fuscicollis) and mustached (S. mystax) tamarins, trichromats are further from their neighbors than their dichromatic conspecifics are during vigilance, which is explained through the potentially better perception of predation risk in trichromats [33]. Results of many other field observations are equivocal or opposite to the pattern expected of the trichromat advantage hypothesis.

One reason is the simplicity (but amazing complexity and importance) of the question: so what’s the advantage then of trichromacy?

By simplicity I mean: the basic questions matter still and still need pursuing. It’s a fascinating piece.

Thanks to Bora Zivkovic for the original link.


Hendree Milward, one of our wondeful math faculty has posted the escalator problem:

Escalator Problem
Adrian is at the top of descending escalator, and his son Brad is at the bottom.
Adrian starts walking down the escalator, and counts 40 steps when he reaches the bottom. Brad starts running up the escalator, at three times the speed his father is walking down, and counts 72 steps when he reaches the top.
How many steps are visible when the escalator is stopped?

On Dark Matter

From Ron Cowen and Science News

Cosmologists are agog about the possibility that an orbiting observatory may have discovered particles of dark matter — the proposed, invisible material that researchers believe makes up most of the mass of the universe.

At two meetings in August, researchers analyzing data from the Russian-European observatory PAMELA, short for Payload for Antimatter Matter Exploration and Light-nuclei Astrophysics, reported preliminary evidence that the device had recorded more positrons from the Milky Way than could be accounted for by the standard model of elementary particle physics.

On Science and Humanities

Chris Mooney on connections:

If science today isn’t learning much from the humanities, neither is it learning enough from those with expertise in politics or in communication. And it shows. Consider the experience of American science in the 2000s. Despite producing more Ph.D.s than ever—with 29,854 in 2006 representing an all-time high according to the National Science Foundation—science found itself continually outraged by inaccurate media coverage of science; poor science education and widespread public science illiteracy; a resurgence of anti-evolutionism; and the Bush administration’s assault on scientific expertise on issues like climate change.

Science today doesn’t have any problem producing; but it has a huge problem connecting.

Alas, while some in science are beginning to recognize this problem, for others it still remains off the radar. Part of the problem may be that science convinced itself, not so long ago, that it had actually vanquished the problem highlighted by Snow. In particular, about a decade or more ago came claims (originating with literary agent John Brockman) that a so-called “third culture” had come to the rescue and bridged the gap. “Third culture” scientists were typically thought of as including people like E.O. Wilson, Stephen Jay Gould, Stephen Pinker, and especially Richard Dawkins. During the 1990s and beyond, these scientists sold lots of popular books—and that, of course, represented a core element of their success.

Math and Philosophy Series

Skiff DescriptionJesse Abbot kicks off the first of a three part series of talks in the history and philosophy of math and science with Peter Skiff of Bard College. Meet us just off from the Cyber Cafe at 1PM tomorrow at the college.

This should be a wonderful kick-off to an interesting series of events that will extend into the Spring, including “Calculus in India Before Newton and Leibniz” by Kimberly Plofker of Union College and “The Anthropic Principle: Its Ethical and Philosophical Implications” by our own Vladimir Gromov.

Geoengineering Climate

I find this article at Real Climate very interesting, a nice peekhole into potential disaster:

One also has to wonder whether the international treaties and organizations needed to agree on and execute a geoengineering scheme are significantly easier to realize than the agreements needed to decarbonize the energy future, which would offer safer and more durable climate protection. And once you open the Pandora’s box of geoengineered climate, what do you do if nations disagree about what kind of climate they want, or if some poor nation objects to suffering drought in order to cancel heat waves in Chicago? Great fodder for science fiction novels about climate wars, but I’d prefer not to have to think about it happening for real.

Another issue, of course, is political diversion. I have students writing about the issue of climate at the moment and they are thinking about it in interesting ways, measuring carbon footprints, thinking about tax breaks and incentive. Speculation is good, wild, grounded ideas, better. For crises ahead, we need level heads.