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January 06, 2012

Science: Drug dogs don't really sniff out drugs

They just key in on people the handler-cop is suspicious of. pandagon.net - it's the eye of the panda, it's the thrill of the bite
Sebastian recounts research showing that dogs' tendency to signal has more to do with what the cop is thinking than what the dog is smelling. Anyone who knows dogs should have guessed this one; dogs are basically human-obsessed machines who watch their humans super carefully and try very hard to please them. Of course drug dogs are more worried about pleasing master than producing good results. The real world results are predictable, but no less upsetting for it: A tracking study was done of drug sniffing dogs in Illinois which found that the searches their 'alerts' triggered found no evidence of drugs 56% of the time. For Hispanic people searched as a result of the 'alerts' there was no evidence of drugs 63% of the time. You can read about it at the Chicago Tribune. The cops are pulling the "well, they're guilty of something" bullshit, saying the dogs are smelling drugs that used to be there. Maybe. But again, I point to the well-documented Clever Hans effect and suggest that it's something else entirely, which is that the dogs are picking up on the officers' prejudices and acting accordingly. Obviously, the ultimate goal here is to call off the War on (Some People Who Use) Drugs, which is run on magic and bigotry, and does more to destroy communities than to prevent drug addiction. But in the more immediate future, we must demand an immediate end to all use of drug dogs, certainly until it can be demonstrated in double blind studies run by experts that the dogs are detecting drugs and not reacting to subconscious signals sent by police. Since I highly doubt that can be demonstrated, basically I'm saying that drug dogs should be permanently banned. Even if they worked, they're basically a cheap attempt by law enforcement to skirt constitutional protections, but since they don't even work, they're nothing but a magic trick used to distract from what's really going on: cops conducting illegal searches based on their own prejudices.

Pentagon and DARPA choose astronaut to lead 100-year starship project

It's a pipedream, but a beautiful one. BBC News - Former astronaut to lead starship effort
The Pentagon's premiere research agency has chosen a former astronaut to lead a foundation that is designed to take humanity to the stars. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (Darpa) and Nasa are sponsoring the project, known as the 100-Year Starship. Mae Jemison, the first African-American woman to go into space, was notified last week that she had won, according to a copy of a Darpa letter obtained by the BBC. Since leaving Nasa, Jemison has been involved in science education programmes, and is known as a space travel enthusiast and long-time Star Trek fan. Her organisation, the Dorothy Jemison Foundation for Excellence, is partnered on the Darpa project with Icarus Interstellar, a non-profit organisation that is dedicated to interstellar travel, and the Foundation for Enterprise Development.

January 01, 2012

Pests already developing resistance to genetically modified corn's attacks

It took less than eight years. Pesky insects becoming resistant to genetically modified corn
Back in 2003, a strain of genetically modified crop known as Bt corn was introduced. Since the crop produces chemicals that are deadly to the western corn rootworm, one of the most destructive corn parasites, it gave farmers the opportunity to pull in bigger harvests with fewer pesticides. But now, less than a decade later, it seems the insects are already evolving the resistance necessary to keep on eating Bt corn. The United States has completely embraced Bt corn, and it now accounts for 65% of all corn grown. So far, the rootworms have demonstrated resistance in only a few isolated instances, with the pests destroying crops in parts of four Midwestern states. A big part of the problem seems to be that farmers aren't taking the same precautions with Bt corn that they used to take with its regular counterpart. Normally, farmers will rotate different types of crops, which lessens the chance that pests can build up a resistance to the protective toxins. But because corn is so ridiculously profitable right now, many farmers are abandoning rotation altogether, thinking that the Bt corn can withstand any pests. . . .

December 27, 2011

This is an amazing video of comet Lovejoy over the Andes

Watch full screen, in HD. Maybe with some Floyd on for the full planetarium experience.

Comet Lovejoy above the Andes from St├ęphane Guisard on Vimeo.

Time lapse: The spectacle of Comet Lovejoy | Bad Astronomy | Discover Magazine