Month: September 2017

Steady State Theory

Steady State Theory was a theory proposed in twentieth-century cosmology to explain evidence that the universe was expanding, but still retain the core idea that the universe always looks the same, and is therefore unchanging in practice (and has no beginning and no end). This idea has largely been discredited due to astronomical evidence that suggests the universe is, in fact, changing over time. STEADY STATE THEORY BACKGROUND AND DEVELOPMENT When Einstein created his theory of general relativity, early analysis showed that it created a universe that was unstable — expanding or contracting — rather than the static universe that had always been assumed. Einstein also held this assumption about a static universe, so he introduced a term into his general relativity field equations called the cosmological constant, which served the purpose of holding the universe in a static state. However, when Edwin Hubble discovered evidence that distant galaxies were, in fact, expanding away from the Earth in all directions, scientists (including Einstein) realized that the universe didn’t seem to be static and the term …

How safe is exercise supplements

An Australian woman with a genetic disorder died from consuming too many protein supplements, it was recently reported. The woman in question, Meegan Hefford, a 25-year-old bodybuilder, suffered from a rare, undiagnosed disorder that caused a fatal build-up of ammonia in her body (ammonia is produced when the body breaks down protein). This raises the question: are exercise supplements safe? In healthy people, most commonly used supplements intended to enhance the body – often referred to in the scientific literature as “nutraceuticals” or “functional foods” – are harmless. Nonetheless, there are rare cases where underlying health conditions or excessive consumption could cause ill health. By far the most common supplement taken by gym goers are those containing amino acids in the form of protein, protein hydrolysates (such as whey protein), or individual branched chain amino acids (BCAA), containing leucine, isoleucine and valine. People take these supplements to support muscle building on the premise that amino acids are the building blocks of muscle tissue. Aside from the rare genetic disorder suffered by Meegan Hefford, are there …

When does borrowing become cultural appropriation in dance?

Dance has been a significant part of human culture since the very earliest civilisations. While today it is done more for entertainment purposes, its use can be traced back many thousands of years to ancient ceremonies and rituals. For as long as they have been moving, dancers have always borrowed from other forms of movement, using them as inspiration to evolve their own work. But in recent years, when too much inspiration is taken, critics have started accusing dancers of cultural appropriation. Take belly dance for example. One of the world’s oldest forms of dance, it originated in Middle Eastern and Northern African countries, such as Egypt, Turkey and Lebanon, but is now danced around the world. Belly dancing isn’t just one type of dance: there is no single set of moves to follow in time to a beat. Though there are certain moves that are similar – focusing on the hips, chest and shoulders being moved in isolation from the rest of the body – each culture has its own version of a belly …

Tech companies want to detect your emotions and expressions, but users are not happy

As revealed in a patent filing, Facebook is interested in using webcams and smartphone cameras to read our emotions, and track expressions and reactions. The idea is that by understanding emotional behaviour, Facebook can show us more of what we react positively to in our Facebook news feeds and less of what we do not – whether that’s friends’ holiday photos, or advertisements. This might appear innocuous, but consider some of the detail. In addition to smiles, joy, amazement, surprise, humour and excitement, the patent also lists negative emotions. Possibly being read for signs of disappointment, confusion, indifference, boredom, anger, pain and depression is neither innocent, nor fun. In fact, Facebook is no stranger to using data about emotions. Some readers might remember the furore when Facebook secretly tweaked user’s news feeds to understand “emotional contagion”. This meant that when users logged into their Facebook pages, some were shown content in their news feeds with a greater number of positive words and others were shown content deemed as sadder than average. This changed the emotional …

Would you want Google to know if you have ‘criminal genes’?

Artificial intelligence is already being put to use in the NHS, with Google’s AI firm DeepMind providing technology to help monitor patients. Now I have discovered that Google has met with Genomic England – a company set up by the Department of Health to deliver the 100,000 Genomes Project – to discuss whether DeepMind could get involved. If this were to happen, it could help bring down costs and speed up genetic sequencing – potentially helping the science to flourish. But what are the risks of letting a private company have access to sensitive genetic data? Genomic sequencing has huge potential – it could hold the key to improving our understanding of a range of diseases, including cancer, and eventually help find treatments for them. The 100,000 Genomes Project was set up by the government to sequence genomes of 100,000 people. And it won’t stop there. A new report from the UK’s chief medical officer, Sally Davies, is calling for an expansion of the project. However, a statement by the Department of Health in response …

India’s ‘instant divorce’ ban,Un-Islamic, arbitrary, unconstitutional.”

“Un-Islamic, arbitrary, unconstitutional.” That was the judgement of the Indian Supreme Court as it announced a ban on the contentious practice of instant “triple-talaq”. Triple-talaq is a form of Islamic divorce which allows a husband to dissolve his marriage instantly and unilaterally, simply through pronouncing “talaq” (divorce) three times to his wife. While it has long existed in customary practice, it carries little formal sanction within Islamic law itself. It receives no endorsement in the Qur’an, which stresses unambiguously that all divorces should work through a staggered process which allows space for reconciliation. And authoritative works of jurisprudence uniformly declare instant-talaq to be “sinful”, if not always technically “forbidden”. It is on these grounds that, especially over the last century, a large majority of Muslim countries have banned instant-talaq, including neighbours Pakistan and Bangladesh. Sri Lankahas also banned it. Nevertheless, instant-talaq had remained legal in India. Delivered either in person, or increasingly via text message, email or WhatsApp, it led to countless women suffering the fates of instant abandonment, homelessness or destitution. This is why …

Is feminism killing romance?

Heterosexual romantic relationships have historically been all about men courting and “keeping” women. And it’s a powerful tradition. Whether it’s asking someone out, picking up the bill, or being the main breadwinner in the family, many of the ideas we have about romance are still based on men being initiators and directors and women being receivers and caretakers. Yet society is changing. Women are increasingly entering the “male domains” of high-powered jobs and sexual freedom. So how does all this affect romance? Given that popular (mis)conceptions of feminism tend to malign feminists as man-haters or lesbians, it’s easy to see why many people view gender equality as incompatible with romance and a hindrance to romantic relationships. But is this really the case? Let’s take a look at the evidence. Traditionally, women’s main route to status and influence involved attracting high-status romantic partners. But while the movement for gender equality has changed things, cultural scripts about romance have curtailed women’s social roles and still continue to do so. For example, when adolescent girls describe their first …

Physics of bubbles can tell us about language

What do the physics of bubbles have in common with the way you and I speak? Not a lot, you might think. But my recently published research uses the physics of surface tension (the effect that determines the shape of bubbles) to explore language patterns – where and how dialects occur. This connection between physical and social systems may seem surprising, but connections of this kind have a long history. The 19th century physicist Ludwig Boltzmann spent much of his life trying to explain how the physical world behaves based on some simple assumptions about the atoms from which it is made. His theories, which link atomic behaviour to the large scale properties of matter, are called “statistical mechanics”. At the time, there was considerable doubt that atoms even existed, so Boltzmann’s success is remarkable because the detailed properties of the systems he was studying were unknown. The idea that details don’t matter when you are considering a very large number of interacting agents is tantalising for those interested in the collective behaviour of large …

Statues of medical racist who experimented on slaves should also be taken down

Confederate generals are not the only statues causing public outrage in the US. On Saturday, protesters gathered in New York City’s Central Park to call for the removal of a monument to James Marion Sims – the “father of gynaecology” – a doctor who bought, sold and experimented on slaves. There are two other Sims statues on state-owned property. One is in Columbia, South Carolina, and the other in Montgomery, Alabama. In an interview with MSNBC, Steve Benjamin, the mayor of Columbia, recently agreed that the local Sims statue should come down “at some point”. Now the New York Academy of Medicine has reissued a statementsupporting the removal of Sims’ effigy from Central Park. Over the past five decades, a small army of academics – including social historians, feminists, African American scholars and bioethicists – have reached a consensus that Sims’ medical research on enslaved patients was dangerous, exploitative and deeply unethical – even by the standards of his times. And doctors at the Medical University of South Carolina, in Sims’ home state, have publicly …

Decriminalising sex work will not protect human rights

Amnesty International declares itself to have an overarching commitment to advancing gender equality and women’s rights. Against the backdrop of this ethical aspiration, a controversial new policy has been adopted. It calls for the decriminalisation of prostitution, in order to protect the human rights of sex workers. Sex workers are one of the most marginalised groups in the world and are at constant risk of discrimination, violence and abuse. Amnesty International has concluded the criminalisation of consensual sex work encourages – rather than alleviates – this abuse. The policy calls on states to decriminalise prostitution and to ensure that sex workers enjoy full and equal legal protection from exploitation, trafficking and violence. Where’s the evidence? The policy, which was recently ratified at Amnesty’s decision-making forum in Dublin, has wrought heated discussion since it was first drafted two years ago. Two opposing camps have arisen. A camp made up of pressure groups, academics and sex workers applauds Amnesty’s decision. They see it as a victory for a marginalised and vilified group of people. They cite research …