Marching for Science #4

Well, we’ve had the long-awaited Science March. It was, as expected, very much an anti-Trump event. Topics on people’s minds included threatened budget cuts, climate change, pesticides, intersectionality, immigration policy, defence policy, and the claim that climate change science had been removed from the EPA web site (it hadn’t).


March for Science, Washington, DC (photo: Becker1999)

Trump’s response to the march was “My administration is committed to advancing scientific research that leads to a better understanding of our environment and of environmental risks. … As we do so, we should remember that rigorous science depends not on ideology, but on a spirit of honest inquiry and robust debate.” I’m not sure if the marchers expected any outcome other than that.


March for Science, Washington, DC (photo: Becker1999)

There was the usual set of signs suggesting that peer-reviewed science is “true.” Which is odd, because cold fusion claims passed peer review, along with much other dubious work. Indeed, peer review has known problems. Perhaps, in public debate, we scientists should put more emphasis on replication.


Harp History

After some feedback on my harp twins post, I thought I’d say something about the history of the harp. It’s one of the oldest musical instruments (following the flute and the drum). Harps are known to go back to 3500 BC, in Ur. Harp design has varied considerably over the 5500 years since then.


Harpist depicted on the Standard of Ur, c. 2500 BC

Later harps were of particular importance to the Celtic people, and the harp is still a symbol of Ireland today.


The medieval Queen Mary harp, c. 1400s (photo: David Monniaux)

A limitation of harps has been that the strings correspond only to the white keys on the piano. A significant improvement was the pedal harp – initially the single-action version, and from 1810 the double-action version. The double-action pedal harp is typically tuned to C major, the key of 7 flats. There are 7 pedals, with e.g. the C pedal connecting to all the C strings. Using the pedal can effectively shorten all the strings in this group to give either C or C (and the same for other groups of notes).

Child prodigy Alisa Sadikova playing the pedal harp (at age 9)

The pedal harp is the main concert instrument today. Garrison Keillor once described the instrument as “an instrument for a saint” because “it takes fourteen hours to tune a harp, which remains in tune for about twenty minutes, or until somebody opens the door.”


A modern electric lever harp (photo:Athy)

Smaller harps (including modern electric harps, like the one above) use levers to modify individual strings (which makes key changes much more difficult than with the pedal harp). Electric harps weighing up to 8 kg are described as “wearable,” which reminds me a little of this 11 kg grand-daddy of the laptop.

Camille and Kennerly Kitt playing “wearable” electric harps

The harp is often seen as a stereotypically feminine instrument – when I look at American harpists on Wikipedia, I count 10 men and 60 women. There are, however, exceptions.

Jakez François (president of French company Camac Harps) playing jazz


Solar Car Fundraising

These solar cars from Solar Team Twente (The Netherlands), Antakari Solar Team (Chile), the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (USA), and Solar Team GB (UK) do not yet exist, but you can help fund their construction – and the construction of dozens of other cars. See the gold coin icons in this list for donation websites. All the teams plan to race in the World Solar Challenge in Australia this October.


The Harp Twins

Someone recently pointed me at Camille and Kennerly Kitt, the so-called “Harp Twins” (above). I admire anybody who “thinks outside the box,” and these young women have clearly left the “box” of traditional harp-playing several light-years behind.

Their rather eclectic oeuvre includes film, game, and TV tie-ins (from e.g. Lord of the Rings or The Legend of Zelda); rock, folk, and pop classics (like “Hotel California” or “House of the Rising Sun”); metal (from bands like Iron Maiden or Metallica); and other music (such as “Amazing Grace” and “Scarborough Fair”). They have just started releasing their own compositions. The chart below summarises their releases by genre (data taken from Wikipedia, so probably incomplete).


Another Shrimp in the Wall

The Pink Floyd pistol shrimp, Synalpheus pinkfloydi (above, photo by Arthur Anker) is a recently described alpheid shrimp. As with other shrimp in this family, the snapping sound produced by the large claw is loud enough to kill small fish. The shrimp is described in a Zootaxa paper, which contains this wonderful line:

Distribution. Presently known only from the type locality on the Pacific side of Panama; likely more widespread in the tropical eastern Pacific, but unlikely to occur on the Dark Side of the Moon due to lack of suitable habitat.”

And it keeps getting better. The Oxford University Museum of Natural History has also celebrated the discovery with the beautiful artwork below (Another Shrimp in the Wall, by artist and scientist Kate Pocklington).


Marching for Science #3

The March for Science continues to be controversial. Some scientists will attend the march, and others will sit it out. Above is the wordcloud for the march website, as at April 18. The top six words are “science,” “march,” “community,” “scientific,” “policy,” and “diversity.” Combining those results with recent news, I think this indicates that the focus of the march has finally stabilised, and that intersectionality and diversity within science is now the key topic. I wonder how the audience of the march will react?


Stories of the Past and Future

Inspired by a classic XKCD cartoon, the infographic above shows the year of publication and of setting for several novels, plays, and films.

They fall into four groups. The top (white) section is literature set in our future. The upper grey section contains obsolete predictions – literature (like the book 1984) set in the future when it was written, but now set in our past. The centre grey section contains what XKCD calls “former period pieces” – literature (like Shakespeare’s Richard III) set in the past, but written closer to the setting than to our day. He points out that modern audiences may not realise “which parts were supposed to sound old.” The lower grey section contains literature (like Ivanhoe) set in the more distant past.