Category Archives: Science

Theranos Under Investigation

It’s been reported that Theranos is now under several federal investigations, this time for securities violations. It’s possible that the company could end up getting shut down. None of this is very surprising to people who have followed this story. The CEO, Elizabeth Holmes, was featured in some glowing mainstream press coverage last year but soon after questions started arising about the company. They claimed to have a method to do blood tests with a much smaller amount of blood than in traditional tests, but this has been called into question. It’s now widely thought that the claims were wildly overstated, if not outright false.

I would also mention that the CNBC clip shown is worse than useless. It seems as if they’re taking most of the company’s responses at face value, which is never a very good idea in this kind of scandal.

Kepler Telescope Lost & Found

Over the past week or so, it looked like the Kepler telescope finally broke down for good. Luckily, it somehow recovered and may be able to run again. It’s already well past its original mission length but there’s still plenty of data to take if it’s able to. Even if it can’t take good data again, Kepler has already allowed scientists to make huge advances in the field of exoplanets (i.e. planets outside our solar system).

Anti-Vaccine Movie at the Tribeca Film Festival

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 Wakefield’s original paper asserting that vaccines increase the risk of autism was retracted several years ago after it was found that there were various ethical and methodological errors (including outright fraud), yet much of the anti-vaccine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.

Edelweiss Releases New WIMP Limits

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.

New Article on Sterile Neutrinos

Symmetry has a fairly new article on sterile neutrinos, explaining some of the basic ideas about what they are and why we’re interested in them. Measurements of the Z peak in e+/e- collisions at LEP showed that there are only 3 neutrinos, but there are some caveats to that. The measurements showing that there are 3 neutrinos really mean that there are 3 neutrinos that (1) have less than half the Z mass (91.2 GeV) and (2) interact with Standard Model particles via the weak force.

If we can instead add some “neutrinos” that don’t interact through the weak force, then there’s room for more neutrinos. One of the main ways people search for them is to find problems with the standard picture of 3-neutrino oscillations. If there are sterile neutrinos that mix with the three usual flavors (electron, muon, and tau), then maybe we can find evidence of neutrinos oscillating into sterile neutrinos. That is, regular neutrinos seemingly disappearing altogether rather than changing from one type to another.

New e+/e- Collider Turns On

SuperKEKB, an upgraded version of the KEK B electron/positron collider at the KEK lab in Tsukuba has started up. There are no collisions yet, but they are starting to run beams around the main ring. The Belle II experiment will use he SuperKEKB facility to study B physics – that is, the physics of B mesons (and other particles involving b quarks). These are particularly interesting because the lifetimes of many of these particles decay weakly with long enough lifetimes to actually measure how far they travelled. B physics allows for high precision tests of various aspects of the Standard Model, including things like CP violation in the quark sector (i.e. matter/antimatter differences), particle spectroscopy (measuring the properties of the various kinds of composite particles), and searches for various kinds of new physics.