Microsoft attempted to release a new interactive Twitter bot that would try to have conversations with people. To no one’s surprise, Twitter users quickly figured out how to get it to say lots of horrible things. You would think that they would have expected this and would have tried harder to find some way to keep it from saying anything too offensive.
Apparently the Tribeca Film Festival will feature a documentary on the disgraced anti-vaccine doctor Andrew Wakefield. Unfortunately, the film is probably not discussing the history and facts on the vaccines & autism controversy. Instead, it’s likely a positive portrayal of Wakefield and similar doctors. Wakefield’s original paper asserting that vaccines increase the risk of autism was retracted several years ago after it was found that there were various ethical and methodological errors (including outright fraud), yet much of the anti-vaccine movement still doesn’t seem to have realized it yet. His supporters seem to now just be crackpots ranting about how his groundbreaking research is just being suppressed by the establishment. (If you have ever seen physics crackpots, this kind of thinking is one of the telltale signs that they have no interest in actually learning anything and only want to pontificate about their pet “theories”). Even among people who stop talking about autism, there seems to be significant fear that the vaccines are overwhelming children’s immune systems ( 1) ludicrous & 2) there is actually less exposure with more modern vaccines than with fewer earlier vaccines), among other concerns
The film festival already responded saying that their film choices are supposed to foster “dialogue and discussion.” This makes sense when there is a valid controversy. There is no known link between vaccines and autism, so there is basically one side that is doing research and showing that there doesn’t seem to be any problem, and another one that just asserts that the data is wrong. Similarly to the evolution/creation controversy, there is no academic controversy here. Worse, even if the vaccine opponents are right, it is almost certain that giving vaccines still does far more good than harm.
The president is in Havana right now for the first presidential visit to Cuba in nearly 90 years. It’s still surprising at how quickly things are moving right now. It’s still illegal for US citizens to just go to Cuba for vacations but it seems pretty likely that that will change soon.
The Edelweiss experiment has released a new preprint including updated limits in the low mass region from their WIMP dark matter search using germanium bolometers. There are still some stronger limits, but one interesting thing is that this further bolsters the case that the various purported WIMP signals from other experiments are probably not actually dark matter. The results from experiments like CoGeNT, CRESST, and DAMA all lie above the limit shown here.
The New York Times has a new interactive feature detailing the things that we’ve learned so far from the New Horizons Pluto mission. It includes a bunch of short videos and I think is basically summarizing the new Science papers that appeared yesterday. The papers include studies of the atmosphere, satellites, geology, and other properties of Pluto.
Today is Pi Day (3/14), and is also accurate to 5 digits (3/14/16), so it’s an extra special Pi Day that won’t happen again for 100 years.
The human Go master has finally defeated the Go-playing supercomputer in the fourth out of a planned six matches. The computer is up 3-1 so it is still very likely end up with more wins. However, this at least shows that the Go computer cannot just defeat anyone at any time. There is still room for improvement.
There’s an interesting article in Bloomberg from a Harvard law professor on the same-sex marriage case in Puerto Rico. This one provides some analysis from an actual legal expert on the usage of the Insular Cases in the decision. The author thinks that the reasoning in the decision is ultimately not well supported but also that the status of Puerto Rico as defined by the Insular Cases is basically indefensible.
It’s now been five years since the huge earthquake off the coast of Japan in 2011 and the subsequent tsunami and reactor meltdowns at the Fukushima Daiichi plant in Fukushima prefecture. Japan is just starting to try to turn some reactors back on and the Fukushima site still isn’t completely secured. The Fukushima Daiichi disaster is the second largest nuclear accident ever recorded (Chernobyl remains the worst). It’ll still be a long time before things are really cleaned up.
At the same time, there’s still plenty of fear-mongering about nuclear power. I’ve had people try to tell me that much of that region of Japan is now basically a radioactive wasteland (something that happens in a town like Boulder), which is very far from the truth. There is a closed zone around the plant (I’ve never been particularly close though) but even a few towns away things are safe.
After winning a couple more primaries earlier this week, Trump used his victory speech as an opportunity to plug various Trump-branded products. That is already one of the most bizarre things to happen in a presidential race since I can remember. It’s already been pointed out various times that many presidential campaigns seem to be little more than vanity projects meant to drum up support for a new book or a sinecure at a partisan think tank. But, what makes this even worse is that most of the products either aren’t owned by Trump or don’t actually exist anymore.