Category Archives: life

On the results of 2012 London Olympics: Energetic records of animals and man

A. M. Makarieva, V. G. Gorshkov

  • Who is the Champion of Champions: Sergey Kirdyapkin, Ivan Ukhov, Usain Bolt or Michael Phelps?
  • What would have happened to a flea had it jumped to a height of 2 meters?
  • In which sports is man second only to the donkey and the elephant?
  • Long-term disqualification of Homo sapiens on the Olympics of Life

All animals can move. But each species has perfected in a particular type of motion. Some animals set records in running, others are particularly good at walking or crawling, yet others are outstanding arboreal acrobats. Swifts fly better than anybody else, but they are pathetic on land where they can only crawl very slowly searching for a small hill from which they could take off. Loons fly very well both in the air and underwater, but they cannot walk. It is a huge problem for a loon to approach her nest moving on the ground – because of that the loon must build the nest very close to the water edge of a lake or a river (they cannot nest on the seashore because sea water comes and goes with tides). Moles can dig tunnels under the ground at a rate of up to 10 cm per second, but they practically never show up above the ground. Brachiating monkeys that rely on their hands to move in the tree canopy make great acrobatic performances on the trees but avoid coming down to the ground.

How are all these and other species-specific skills maintained? The answer comes from considering the stability principles of life organization. Continue reading

Thoughts on Russian science and biotic pump prompted by a Washington Post article

A colleague from the U.S. shared the following link to a Washington Post article about Russian science: In Russia, the lost generation of science

The article by Will Euglund is fairly objective and highlights some major problems in Russian Science. The discussion that followed with over a hundred comments is perhaps even more entertaining. E.g., reader smithj2 bitterly complained:

Mr. Euglund understates the problem. The Ministry of Education and Science and leading research universities and institutes are also a major source of the problem. So few senior scientists in Russia conduct proper science that it is not just the 1990 to 2010 generation that is lost but also those educated in the 1970s and 1980s who no longer produce crediable scientific work. Corruption is widespread and deeply embedded. The concept of peer review is nonexistant. Having worked both in the US from 1994 to 2004 and now in Russia at top research university from 2004 to the present I can tell you from an insiders perspective that in general Russian science is lost to a sea of corruption and backroom deals.

The fact that Russian scientists do not publish in English and can not work in English is the source of the problem. They remain isolated from the general trends in scientific work.

It is interesting to compare this insider’s view with the following two comments made by readers in response to Mr. Euglund’s question

As the writer of this article, I’d like to ask — do scientists in the U.S. (and other countries) feel they have more control over their professional lives than Russian scientists do? And if so, how can Russia head in that direction?

Reader woodyag observed

I work as an “independent scholar” in the US; I’ve also worked in China, years ago. As an outsider when I visit and speak at universities, the insiders see me as a shoulder to cry on- and cry they do. I have horror stories from the top US institutions to match anything you have from Russia; though the twists tend to be different.

The biggest problem (my opinion) in the west is scientific “inflation”. How do we get so many papers published? By far the easiest way is – publish crap, lots of it. It has become a corrupt process; “you peer-review my crap, and I’ll peer review yours“. This goes on constantly, and has now reached the point where those publishing even at the highest levels don’t even KNOW it’s crap.

A specific case in point: this article in the Proceedings of the National Academy recently got headlines in science sections from the NYT to the BBC:

My fellow evolutionary scientists simply read that with jaws dropped. …

martini137 added another angle:

Will, I have been a scientist in the USA most of my adult life. I am now retired. I have much contact with Russian and other Eastern Bloc scientists. They can publish non-plate tectonic geophysics, non-big bang cosmology, non-general relativity gravity, non-quantum chromodynamic particle theory, and non-Darwin evolution. Try that in this country and see what happens to your career. All of my major papers were published abroad. We have more to learn from Russian scientists than they have to learn from us.

To synthesize:

(1) peer-review is non-existent in Russia; Russian scientists do not publish in international journals and remain isolated from general research trends (smithj2);
(2) western scientists publish a lot because “you peer-review my crap, and I peer-review yours” (woodyag);
(3) Russian scientists can publish what they wish not looking at the “conventional wisdom” (martini137);

While of course none of these statements is 100% true, and the percentage of their correspondence to reality is different between the three of them, the comments are meaningful. On the one hand, when you are certain that you are going in the right direction, it is good to have an efficient peer-review system. It helps quickly isolate the crackpots that would otherwise pollute the information space and interfere with the scientific march to progress.

On the other hand, when you do not actually know where to go (or worse yet, when you increasingly suspect that you may be driving in a totally unreasonable direction as is the case, for example, with the numerical global climate modeling), the same peer-review system and the same strategy “publish much, publish well” become at best counter-productive and at worst suicidal. Science is a social enterprise. Scientific research can go in any direction, including those with zero or negative outcome, fostered by competition and prestige ranking in a group of professionals. The stricter those social rules are, the more inert the scientific community becomes. The more inert the community, the larger the cost of mistakes any community inevitably commits in choosing the direction of research.

Changing a research direction is perhaps the most painful activity that a scientist can be involved in. It entails a long period when one does not produce anything but is evaluating multiple directions, setting the intellectual stage of future work within himself, making the first shy steps forward and backward again. In the meantime, his fellows continue to “publish much, publish well”. Social rating of the potential innovator slides down enhancing nervous tension that steals from productivity. Worse, when the researcher ultimately comes forward with a first paper, chances that he receives encouragement from his fellows that are all streaming in an opposite direction, are minimal. He will be unable to publish at all. As a researcher commented, his papers would

suggest that all the other investigators working in this field have been “missing the boat” for many years. Quite frankly, it is a bit insulting, and that has probably contributed to some of the resistance you’ve met.

So, were it true what smithj2, woodyag and martinil37 say about Russia versus the west, our scientists should be producing lots of crap (whatever the latter is defined). At the same time, one should not be surprised at conceptual breakthroughs coming from our country rather then from elsewhere. This especially pertains to theoretical research, where the expensive dependence on equipment (an Achilles heal of modern Russian science) is minimal. When one’s salary (whatever high or low) is largely decoupled from how much and where one publishes, one can afford more time to actually doing science.

Russian Spring. The voices of bog

In the end of 2011 we marked ten years of the biotic regulation presence in the Internet. To celebrate this occasion we are happy to share with our readers our record of a Russian spring symphony. Have you ever heard what happens on a northern bog in spring? You are welcome to listen. These voices have been there for several millions of years (the average species lifetime).

Deforestation in Colombia: Obsession with carbon leaves more negative consequences overlooked

Colombia: In the eye of the storm by Peter Bunyard

Temperature and flooding in Thailand

The condensation-induced atmospheric dynamics posits condensation rather than a temperature gradient to be the driver of winds (see here for a more detailed discussion). The conventional explanation holds it rains during the wet season because land is warmer than the ocean and the moist air comes from the ocean to ascend over land (because the warm air rises). When moist air rises, it rains. It does not rain during the dry season because the land is colder and the cold air does not ascend.

Let us now look at this excerpt discussing the causes of floods in Thailand:

Other than looking at precipitation, one way to determine the difference between the wet and dry season is to look at air and water temperatures relative to each other. The dry season is characterized by cooler temperatures over the land, and warmer temperatures over the ocean. GLOBE schools in this region could verify this by examining both the Max/Min/Current Air Temperature protocol as well as finding a data source that provides sea surface temperatures from ships or buoys. Because of these temperature differences, a gradient forms, and the winds will blow from the Northeast, bringing cooler air in from China.

In other words, one thinks it is dry because winds do not come from the warm ocean to the cold land. In the meantime,

In early 2011, an unusual cold wave hit the region, and temperatures were below average for a few days. This caused the normal temperature gradient seen in the dry season to be even more pronounced. While this doesn’t sound like something that would cause major flooding, more convection formed due to the different amounts of heating and caused this devastating flooding.

In other words, it became even colder over land, but now it suddenly rained heavily.

Food for thought.

See also “Why the heat?” for an opposite case, when the land became abnormally hot, but not a single raindrop fell down (the 2010 heat wave in Russia).

Modern economic instability and the problem of surplus distribution from a natural science viewpoint

In October 2011 it was announced that the human population had exceeded seven billion and continued to grow. On this occasion here we will consider the interrelated ecological and economic problems associated with population growth and the strong resource-dependence of the modern market-based civilization.

1. Labor of animals and man: the surplus difference
2. Millionaires, billionaires and the human population size
3. Why is concentration of surpluses encouraged/tolerated?
4. Property over raw resources: An economic black hole
5. Crisis in the developed world: how oil corroded the U.S. from inside
6. Closing remarks: a biotic regulation outlook

Energy dependence, oil price and public debt in the U.S.A.

Continue reading