Jan 18, 2019
This story has, like the light from Rigel, travelled to us over the centuries to provide a small but noticeable illumination to our modern world.
Our story starts with a team of intrepid scientists making an heroic survey of ancient tooth plaque. A movie premise that is bound to get you popcorn munching and creating some tooth plaque all of your very own.
Studies of this tartar can provide us with a many clues as to the otherwise forgotten lives of people who WILL be direct ancestors of many of us.
This dental bacterial film has been found to contain DNA, living bacteria, textiles, pollen, food and even tiny insect wings; which I’m really hoping don’t qualify under the heading of food. Although, this was a time where the drinking water was reputed for its tendency to contain “creeping things”!
Like any great story, this team made a discovery that was not expected. Blue tooth; well blueish tooth; well teeth with bits of blue on them to be precise. Blue in the form of lapis lazuli, a name that is embarrassingly sexy considering that it literally translates into english as Blue Stone! And that’s exactly what it is. But lapis lazuli is so important because blue is a rare pigment to come by, so this rock was THE blue pigment and was therefore highly valuable.
The most likely explanation for the blue spangled teeth was that they belonged to an artist. Books from these days were all handwritten and were commonly decorated with beautiful and intricate illustrations. An artist moistening the tip of their brush with saliva may well have deposited pigment on their teeth. This theory is bolstered by the discovery being made on the grounds of a religious site, as monks were the people who performed most of this work.
But the big surprise was that this person was not a monk. SHE couldn’t have been. She was a nun. This may not seem like a big deal today, but the jobs that women were allowed to do all of those years ago were very restrictive and working on intellectual materials like books was not previously considered to be within the remit. It may be that tartar, of all things, is helping us to rewrite history!]
It’s finally happening – they are speaking to us! If aliens were to radio-signal us they’ve found probably the friendliest nation to contact!
Enough of stereotypes – Canadian scientists have detected fast radio bursts from a galaxy 1.5 billion light years away. Thirteen of them! Coincidence? I don’t think so!
This is only the second time an observation like this has been made, and the first one was done by a different telescope.
Scientists have no clue what this might be, but just to calm the spirits down – one of the most notable other times when astronomers detected frequent radio bursts in a pattern – we also thought it was aliens, and it turned out to be pulsars. Which if you ask me is even cooler!
It’s often said that you should never meet your heroes for fear of being disappointed. But sometimes people save you the trouble and broadcast their cockwombledry for the world to see.
Enter James Watson; the walking lesson on why admiring the achievement does not mean that you also have to admire the man!
To many, James Watson is the pioneering hero of Watson & Crick fame who brought us the landmark discovery of the double helix structure of DNA. But to an increasing demographic he is that unbearable bigoted dinosaur who often opens his mouth and leaves everyone else wishing that he hadn’t.
Can you guess where I’m going with this yet?
People have been in no doubt about Watson's general attitudes to those he considers inferior. Rosalind Franklin's overlooked contributions to the discovery of the double helix may not have been solely down to Watson, but the disrespectful account that he gives of her in his book “The Double Helix” leaves no readers in any doubts as to his opinions.
Having already been expelled from his chancellorship of New York's Cold Spring Harbour Laboratory in 2007 for classic points of view such as being “gloomy about the prospect of Africa” because “all our social policies are based on the fact that their intelligence is the same as ours, whereas all the testing says, not really”
Watson said that while he hopes everyone is equal, “people who have to deal with black employees find this not true”.
Watson did manage to limit the damage at the time by apologising for his statements but the same institution who took action against him in 2007 has now revoked all titles and honours that were once bestowed on him after his comments on a recent documentary.
When asked if his opinions had changed on the matter he said “Not at all. I would like for them to have changed, that there be new knowledge that says that your nurture is much more important than nature. But I haven’t seen any knowledge. And there’s a difference on the average between blacks and whites on IQ tests. I would say the difference is, it’s genetic”
In case anyone is in doubt, I would like to clarify that it is not. According to genetics there is not even any empirical support for the idea of race. More genetic variation is seen within races rather than between them.
Yes middle aged white academic men do perform best in IQ tests but that is mainly because IQ tests were invented by middle aged white academic men. It doesn't mean that white men are more intelligent, it just means that they are better at IQ tests, which are already highly questionable as to their effectiveness at measuring what is really a very abstract collection of skills!
Rant over, now breathe. With Tom not here I don’t want to be the host who takes over screaming into the void. And I’d just like to remind everyone that you have not been listening to the Ass-Hole of the Month feature. This is just the news!]
Note about the Asshole of the Month that I’ll share with audience: the reason we’re not doing that is because it has become redundant during these years of the Trump Presidency.
Elon Musk keeps trying to bring us to Mars and this time, he’s doing it in retro style.
SpaceX revealed a model of a sub-orbital flight craft for vertical take off and landing which looks like one from the 1950’s film Destination Moon.
The prototype should be ready for test-flight in June, so keep your eyes open, people.
SpaceX also plans the development of an orbital ship of the same class, which will be taller and with slightly different geometry to facilitate actually going into orbit. Both are the new generation space-craft from SpaceX which inherit the work done by Falcon Heavy, and are from a production line called StarShip.
To be honest, the rocket looks a bit too smooth to look real, but who knows – we might have had the right design already in the 50s’ science fiction movie.
The latest science news in quiz form. Can you beat the Blue Streak team?
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Thank you, Mary.
That concludes this episode of the Blue Streak Science Podcast.
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This show is produced by the Blue Streak Science team, and edited by Pro Podcast Solutions.
Our hosts today were Chris MacAlister, and Nevena Hristozova.
I’m JD Goodwin.
Thank you for joining us.
And remember…follow the science!