Roundup of missed stories – February 8, 2016

Previous editions of such roundups are here and here. Basically, the following are developments I’d have liked to cover but haven’t been able to for lack of time. You’re free to dig into them.

1. Cross-cultural studies of toddler self-awareness have been using an unfair test – “There’s a simple and fun way to test a toddler’s self-awareness. You make a red mark (or place a red sticker) on their forehead discreetly, and then you see what happens when they look in a mirror. If they have a sense of self – that is, if they recognise themselves as a distinct entity in the world – then they will see that there is a strange red mark on their face and attempt to touch it or remove it. This is called the “mirror self-recognition test” and by age two most kids “pass” the test, at least in Western countries. Several studies have suggested that the ability to pass the test is delayed, sometimes by years, in non-Western cultures, such as rural India and Cameroon, Fiji and Peru. But now a study in Developmental Science says this may be because the mirror test is culturally biased.”

2. Quantum Physics came from the Vedas: Schrödinger, Einstein and Tesla were all Vedantists – If you know me, you know I always suspect such explorations: “In the 1920’s quantum mechanics was created by the three great minds mentioned above: Heisenberg, Bohr and Schrödinger, who all read from and greatly respected the Vedas. They elaborated upon these ancient books of wisdom in their own language and with modern mathematical formulas in order to try to understand the ideas that are to be found throughout the Vedas, referred to in the ancient Sanskrit as “Brahman,” “Paramatma,” “Akasha” and “Atman.” As Schrödinger said, “some blood transfusion from the East to the West to save Western science from spiritual anemia.””

3. Evaluation of the global impacts of mitigation on persistent, bioaccumulative and toxic pollutants in marine fish – “The lack of standardized monitoring approaches, coupled with the globalization of seafood imports and exports, makes estimating the likely exposure to individual consumers based on market choices challenging. However, this analysis reveals the widespread and pervasive nature of persistent, bioaccumulative and toxic chemicals in seafood and the need to tackle these challenges. In terms of human health, standards are developed in a singular fashion, evaluating risks for only one pollutant at a time. In reality, fish often contain multiple classes of PBTs simultaneously. Understanding additive effects of multiple exposures to PBTs is the next step in determining the “real” exposure risk to consumers, in all kinds of food.”

4a. Universal decoherence due to gravitational time dilation – “Here we consider low-energy quantum mechanics in the presence of gravitational time dilation and show that the latter leads to the decoherence of quantum superpositions. Time dilation induces a universal coupling between the internal degrees of freedom and the centre of mass of a composite particle. The resulting correlations lead to decoherence in the particle position, even without any external environment.”

4b. Questioning universal decoherence due to gravitational time dilation – “A striking example in this regard is provided by the work of Pikovski et al., in which it is claimed that gravitational effects generically produce a novel form of decoherence for systems with internal degrees of freedom, which would account for the emergence of classicality. The effect is supposed to arise from the different gravitational redshifts suffered by such systems when placed in superpositions of positions along the direction of the gravitational field. There are, however, serious issues with the arguments of the paper.”

5. Fractality à la carte: a general particle aggregation model – “In nature, fractal structures emerge in a wide variety of systems as a local optimization of entropic and energetic distributions. The fractality of these systems determines many of their physical, chemical and/or biological properties. … Here, we propose a simple and versatile model of particle aggregation that is, on the one hand, able to reveal the specific entropic and energetic contributions to the clusters’ fractality and morphology, and, on the other, capable to generate an ample assortment of rich natural-looking aggregates with any prescribed fractal dimension.”

6. In retrospect: Dawkins’s ideas on evolution – “Books about science tend to fall into two categories: those that explain it to lay people in the hope of cultivating a wide readership, and those that try to persuade fellow scientists to support a new theory, usually with equations. Books that achieve both — changing science and reaching the public — are rare. Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species (1859) was one. The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins is another. From the moment of its publication 40 years ago, it has been a sparkling best-seller and a scientific game-changer.”

7. New insights into the properties of an atomic nucleus using 48Ca – “Writing in Nature Physics, Gaute Hagen and colleagues push the limits of ab initio calculations to reach a benchmark medium-heavy nucleus, 48Ca. This is an important advance because it takes ab initio calculations into the mass region where meaningful comparison with other theories, such as nuclear density-functional theory, are thought to be appropriate. Furthermore, ab initio calculations of a neutron-rich nucleus such as 48Ca, having 20 protons and 28 neutrons, gives access to nuclear properties that are, at present, poorly established.” (Also, do we know everything about anything at all? Seems not.)

8. An audit of scientific research? – “When it comes to enforcing compliance, there is an established method that any taxpayer or corporate accountant has a healthy fear of: the audit. We propose a systematic and independent audit of research manuscripts before they are reviewed by a journal’s panel of referees and editors. Here we outline an approach that draws on the arms of the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and corporate auditing methods, adapting the concept for the unique needs of scientific research.”

9. Beall took a dig at The Scholarly Kitchen. The Kitchen’s Joe Esposito interviewed him to understand why. – “Esposito: I want to be sure I understand you on this point. To an earlier question you replied that although you focus on identifying OA publishers of little or no merit, you believed that there are useful OA venues. But your response just now seems to suggest that all Gold OA is a bad thing. Can you clarify your position?

Beall: I stand by both statements. I know some would love to catch me in a contradiction and declare victory, but some things are ambiguous, and at universities we specialize in dealing with ambiguities and uncertainties.

You brought up the concept of self-contradiction, so I am reminded that in late 2013 you authored a mean and hurtful blog post in The Scholarly Kitchen entitled Parting Company with Jeffrey Beall. Why are you communicating with me now after so firmly declaring an intention to end contact with me?”