All posts tagged: scientific

The Download: AI accelerating scientific discovery, and Tesla’s EV charging meltdown

The Download: AI accelerating scientific discovery, and Tesla’s EV charging meltdown

What’s new: Google DeepMind has released an improved version of its biology prediction tool, AlphaFold, that can predict the structures not only of proteins but of nearly all the elements of biological life. How they did it: AlphaFold 3’s larger library of molecules and higher level of complexity required improvements to the underlying model architecture. So DeepMind turned to diffusion techniques, which have been steadily improving in recent years and power image and video generators. It works by training a model to start with a noisy image and then reduce that noise bit by bit until an accurate prediction emerges—a method that allows AlphaFold 3 to handle a much larger set of inputs. Why it matters: It’s a development that could help accelerate drug discovery and other scientific research. And the tool is already being used to experiment with identifying everything from more resilient crops to new vaccines. Read the full story. —James O’Donnell Why EV charging needs more than Tesla Tesla, one of the biggest electric vehicle makers in the world, laid off its …

Kill the sun! How wild thought experiments drive scientific discovery

Kill the sun! How wild thought experiments drive scientific discovery

Listen, it’s not that I actually want to kill the sun – I just want to figure out how. But when I told my colleagues at New Scientist that I was recruiting scientists to do just this, I was met with baffled looks. I write about space every single day, an­d I find it endlessly fascinating. I feel at home with the mysteries of the cosmos, so why would I want to ruin any part of it, let alone kill our beloved and essential star? Despite their confusion, my colleagues indulged me and my partner in destruction, our US editor Chelsea Whyte. We started reaching out to free-thinking astrophysicists and planetary scientists, asking them to join us on our podcast, Dead Planets Society. With them we began tinkering with the universe – in our minds, at least – not only killing the sun but imagining a gravitational wave apocalypse, what would happen if sliced the moon in half or chiseled the Earth into a cube. As we thought about questions to ask the guests we …

The scientific story behind the timeline of our Universe

The scientific story behind the timeline of our Universe

Today, it’s now 13.8 billion years since the Big Bang occurred. Our observable Universe extends for 46.1 billion light-years in all directions, and is made of: 68% dark energy, 27% dark matter, 4.9% normal (atom-based) matter, 0.09% neutrinos, and 0.01% radiation, with no hint of other components like spatial curvature, cosmic strings, domain walls, or any other weird stuff we can imagine. If we were to run the clock backward, however, we’d find that dark energy wasn’t always dominant. There was a time when matter dominated, and before that, when radiation did. There was a time when there were no stars, no neutral atoms, no atomic nuclei, no protons and neutrons, and even no massive particles. But how do we know precisely when these events and epochs occurred? That’s what Marshall Randolph wants to know, asking: “When I read about the epochs of the universe, they are tagged with a specific time. The Hadron epoch, for example, started at 10^-6 seconds. The timelines of the epochs are given almost as if I should know them. …

Parents’ epistemological beliefs shape children’s scientific reasoning abilities, study suggests

Parents’ epistemological beliefs shape children’s scientific reasoning abilities, study suggests

A recent study published in the journal Developmental Science has explored how parents’ views on knowledge and learning (epistemological beliefs) influence their children’s ability to think scientifically from kindergarten through elementary school. The findings suggest that these parental beliefs significantly impact children’s early scientific reasoning abilities, irrespective of the parents’ level of education or the children’s own cognitive abilities. Scientific reasoning is crucial for effective problem-solving and decision-making in our increasingly complex world. Previous studies have shown that children can exhibit sophisticated scientific reasoning skills at a young age, influenced by their understanding of the relationship between hypotheses and evidence. While the effect of educators’ and students’ epistemological beliefs on their teaching and learning has been well-documented, less is known about the impact of parents’ beliefs on their children’s development in this area. “We got interested in this topic because we noticed that some kids are really good at scientific thinking from a young age, while others struggle more. We wanted to figure out why that is,” said study author Christopher Osterhaus, a professor of …

How scientific thinking can fix collaboration in a mixed-up world

How scientific thinking can fix collaboration in a mixed-up world

Trust in science has declined. According to Pew, the share of Americans who say they have “a great deal of confidence” in scientists has fallen (from 39% in 2020 to 23% today). The view that science has positively impacted society has also tumbled (from 73% in 2019 to 57% today) That is regrettable because as the authors of the new book Third Millennium Thinking point out, science is about more than creating microwaves, vaccines, and other modern-day niceties. It’s the most successful system of knowledge gathering and problem-solving in human history. Big Think recently spoke with the book’s authors: Saul Perlmutter, a physicist and 2011 Nobel Laureate; John Campbell, a professor of philosophy at the University of California, Berkeley; and Robert MacCoun, a social psychologist and professor of law at Stanford University. During our conversation, we discussed how the relationship between science and the public has changed, why people need to understand how science works, and how we can bring its practices and frameworks to bear on the challenges we face today. Big Think: How …

ChatGPT hallucinates fake but plausible scientific citations at a staggering rate, study finds

ChatGPT hallucinates fake but plausible scientific citations at a staggering rate, study finds

A recent study has found that scientific citations generated by ChatGPT often do not correspond to real academic work. The study, published in the Canadian Psychological Association’s Mind Pad, found that “false citation rates” across various psychology subfields ranged from 6% to 60%. Surprisingly, these fabricated citations feature elements such as legitimate researchers’ names and properly formatted digital object identifiers (DOIs), which could easily mislead both students and researchers. ChatGPT is an artificial intelligence language model developed by OpenAI, which is capable of generating human-like text based on the input it receives. As a part of the larger GPT (Generative Pre-trained Transformer) series, ChatGPT has been trained on a vast amount of text data, allowing it to generate coherent responses across various topics. This capability, however, also presents certain challenges, especially in contexts that require high accuracy and reliability, such as academic writing. As AI tools like ChatGPT become more accessible and widely used, there is a growing concern about their implications for academic integrity. Specifically, the tool’s ability to “hallucinate” information — generate plausible …

New research provides the first scientific evidence for the “whorearchy”

New research provides the first scientific evidence for the “whorearchy”

In a groundbreaking study published in the Archives of Sexual Behavior, researchers have ventured into a seldom-explored domain: the societal perceptions of sex work and its various forms, ranging from prostitution to webcamming. The study found evidence of a hierarchical ranking among these forms, dubbed the “whorearchy,” with webcamming perceived as offering more agency to women and prostitution seen in a more negative light. Interestingly, the study also uncovered that individual attitudes towards these forms of sex work are significantly influenced by a person’s socio-political orientation and views on sexuality. Despite the ubiquitous nature of sex work and its considerable economic impact, societal attitudes towards this profession remain complex and often negative. Previous research has largely overlooked the nuanced views people hold regarding different forms of sex work. Recognizing this gap, researchers aimed to provide a more nuanced understanding of these attitudes and explore the predictors behind them. “During the height of the COVID pandemic, I noticed there was a lot of discussion online about people turning to sex work in order to supplement their …

Eclipses aren’t just visual spectacles, they are at the heart of scientific efforts to understand distant planets

Eclipses aren’t just visual spectacles, they are at the heart of scientific efforts to understand distant planets

The total solar eclipse across North America on April 8 2024 is a stunning and memorable event for everyone in its path. However, eclipses are not just valued for their visual impact, they are at the heart of cutting-edge science. Eclipses can tell us a vast amount about distant planets beyond our Solar System – or exoplanets. Since the first exoplanet was detected in 1992, astronomers have discovered more than 5,600 worlds orbiting stars other than the Sun. They have used a variety of powerful telescopes to observe them. However, as with the total solar eclipse, there is still a vital role to be played by amateur astronomers, through several citizen science projects designed to assist with observations of these distant worlds. A solar eclipse occurs when the Moon passes between the Earth and the Sun. Although the Sun is 400 times bigger than the Moon, it is also about 400 times farther away. This is why it appears to be the same size in our sky. When an eclipse occurs, the Moon barely blocks …

Five scientific ways to help reduce feelings of anxiety

Five scientific ways to help reduce feelings of anxiety

Eating salmon may help your body build neurotransmitters that ease anxiety Shutterstock/Rawpixel.co​m WHEN anxiety hits, how can you calm your whirring brain? For some people, worrying thoughts interfere with their daily lives, affecting their health and reducing their ability to maintain relationships. In these cases, the standard treatments are medications such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) or a talking therapy like cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). Alongside these, there are other techniques that may help. Here are five strategies that have the best evidence behind them. Confront your demons Exposure therapy, a variation of CBT, encourages people to confront the sources of their anxiety. To cope with their worries, many people practise “avoidance“, which reduces short-term discomfort, but prevents them from learning how to deal with their fears. If a socially anxious person always backs out of engagements, for example, they will continue to believe that conversation with strangers is frightening, whereas if they attend, they might find that making small talk is easier than expected. Virtual reality can help kick-start the process in a …

How logic and reasoning can fail as scientific tools

How logic and reasoning can fail as scientific tools

Throughout history, there have been two main ways humanity has attempted to gain knowledge about the world: top-down, where we start with certain principles and demand logical self-consistency, and bottom-up, where we obtain empirical information about the Universe and then synthesize it together into a larger, self-consistent framework. The top-down approach is often credited to Plato and is known as a priori reasoning, with everything being derivable as long as you have an accurate set of postulates. The bottom-up approach, contrariwise, is attributed to Plato’s successor and great rival, Aristotle, and is known as a posteriori reasoning: starting from known facts and building up your model of reality from that foundation, rather than deriving them from overarching postulates. In science, these two approaches go hand-in-hand. Measurements, observations, and experimental outcomes help us build a larger theoretical framework to explain what occurs in the Universe, while our theoretical understanding enables us to make new predictions, even about physical situations we haven’t encountered before. However, no amount of sound, logical reasoning can ever substitute for empirical knowledge. Time and time again, …