Eat Your Marshmallow – it doesn’t condemn you to failure #psychology #science #scientific #experiment

roasting a marshmallow over a campfire

I never liked marshmallows much – it’s more fun to incinerate them

Psychology is having a replication crisis. Iconic studies are falling apart when researchers try the same experiment using improved methods and find… nothing’s there.

It turns out, a lot of psychology that’s entered modern culture is based on small studies of Western college students – hardly representatives of all humanity or even all Americans. Adding college employees and their families as subjects still offers a very limited sample.

Consider the marshmallow test. Young children who resist eating a marshmallow when promised, if they wait, they’ll get two, are supposedly on the road to successful adult lives.

Ultimately, a new study finds limited support for the idea that being able to delay gratification leads to better outcomes. Instead, it suggests that the capacity to hold out for a second marshmallow is shaped in large part by a child’s social and economic background—and, in turn, that that background, not the ability to delay gratification, is what’s behind kids’ long-term success.

If your pantry is empty or the adults in your life have trouble caring for you, then eating that marshmallow now instead of waiting makes sense.

Let’s not just pick on psychology. Medicine, economics, marketing, sports, and hydrology all need to clean up their act.

Table of percentages of experiments replicatedSometimes, outright fraud has been involved. Replication in science is good at weeding out fraud, but it takes time. Part of the problem seems to be that journals like to publish exciting new studies, not yeoman replications. Ditto universities and anyone else funding research. It’s a situation so-sad-it’s-funny: in one Big Bang Theory episode, Leonard’s mother disses him for replicating someone else’s work.

But without reproducible results, you don’t truly have science.

More classic experiments fail replication, click this link.

  • Stanford Prison Experiment
  • Robbers Cave
  • Milgram electroshock test
  • Our brains can be subtly “primed” with thoughts and actions
  • Merely smiling caused people to become happier
  • Stereotype threat

Not all questionable studies are old:

  • “Narcissism epidemic” among millennials

Disproved studies are often retracted. Such news doesn’t make it into the popular press very often, but you can find more here.

I love science – it’s the best way to learn about the physical world we share. But as Stephen Jay Gould said, science must be understood as a gutsy human enterprise.

Human weaknesses follow us all, but the method will lead us true if we let it. That’s not always easy, but it’s right.


Apollo 11 Anniversary Begins – I still get goosebumps #NASA #Apollo50th #Apollo11

Happy Anniversary to Apollo, NASA, America, and the World.

Apollo 11 launched on July 16, human beings walked on the Moon on the 20th, and the astronauts splashed down safely back on Earth on July 24. That’s over a week of anniversaries.

Space Center Houston‘s becoming a bit of a theme park (which means some things cost money and the web-site has annoying pop-ups asking you to subscribe – sigh) so if you’re in the area, check out events here. There are also some neat photos, info, and other stuff on their site.

NASA has reopened Apollo mission control at the Johnson Space Center after a restoration that makes it look like it did in 1969. There’s functioning electronics, familiar furniture and other attentions to detail. The New York Times noted that there are even period-appropriate soft drink cans and cigarettes.

So, pull on a short-sleeved, white shirt and narrow, black tie; slide a bunch of pens into your pocket protector; and relive the drama of  Apollo team members left behind on Earth.

You can find hours of Apollo 11 video on You Tube – join the mission yourself. I still get goosebumps and hold my breath as Armstrong pilots the lander. We copy you down Eagle.

Haiku for Every Element – You’ll Love This Cool Site #haiku #sciku #chemistry #poetry #ChemHaiku

I just ran into this site and have to share. If you love science-inspired poetry, you’ll get a kick out of this.

A review of the Periodic Table composed of 119 science haiku, one for each element, plus a closing haiku for element 119 (not yet synthesized). The haiku encompass astronomy, biology, chemistry, history, physics, and a bit of whimsical flair. Click or hover over an element on the Periodic Table to read the haiku. Share these poems and add your own on Twitter with hashtag #ChemHaiku. From Mary Soon Lee

Electron shell blocks on Periodic Table

One of the cool things about the Periodic Table is that it organizes elements by their physical structure

Check out this site and then write your own poems.


Views of Reality #sciku #haiku #science #maths #math

Einstein’s relativity
State reality

Equations from a partial calcuation of gravity

Only in the language of math can you discuss gravity – sadly, beyond me. But we can all enjoy a classic experiment on the moon, in the absence of air…

Citizen Scientists! Tackle this hundred year old question – can you fry an egg on a summer sidewalk? #citizenscience #summertime

frying eggs in a pan

A pan and a cooktop definitely will be easier

Since at least 1899, Americans have speculated about frying an egg on a summer sidewalk. Can it be done?

Short answer – no. Long answer – it depends. Ah! The joy of “it depends.”

You can’t believe YouTube! You didn’t really think you could, did you? You’ll have to try for yourself.

Do this at home, if you don’t mind making a mess. First – set the parameters of your experiment. How cooked must your egg become?

When you cook an egg, the heat transfers energy to the molecules, causing the proteins to unravel. After a few minutes, the strings of proteins weave and bind together, and most of the water evaporates.

Yolk proteins begin to condense near 150 degrees Fahrenheit, while the albumen proteins ovotransferrin and ovalbumin thicken near 142 and 184 degrees, respectively.

Let’s say you like runny yolks. Maybe softly-set egg whites too. So aim for… oh, let’s round it off and say, 140 degrees F.

I know from my wildland fire fighter training that dry grass baking in the sun can routinely reach 100 degrees F. A record for the highest official temperature on Earth comes from Death Valley USA:  134.1 degrees F (56.7 °C) That’s the temperature of the air, not a solid soaking up photons.

People quibble over that record, and you may not want to take your egg to Death Valley, but this seems promising.

It’s not just temperature that matters, it’s heat transfer. Ever bake a cake? Did you tap the cake’s top to judge if it’s done? Would you tap the pan? The difference is heat transfer rates.

So how about the sidewalk? Concrete isn’t the best material to transfer heat to a food item, which is why we don’t have a lot of concrete fry pans.

Asphalt would be better, “smoother and tighter, and also going to be hotter and hold its heat better… If you’ve got a road that’s at 150 or 155 degrees and you crack an egg onto it, it’s going to lower the temperature [at that spot], and that temperature’s not going to heat back up anytime soon.”

My home town in upstate New York, USA, has sidewalks made of slabs of black slate. Better than concrete for sure, but I don’t know how it compares to asphalt.

There are lots of ways to cook with solar ovens, and mirrors, aluminum foil, and magnifying glasses can help too. Is any such equipment allowed for your experiment?

Two cold drinks

I made one for you too

I tell you what. I’m going to sit in the shade with a cold drink. Let me know how your experiment turns out.

Thanks to for their article.

Bananas – favorite fruit – an endangered species? #banana #biology

This isn’t the first time I read such a dire warning: will bananas vanish from the breakfast table?

bananas in a pantry

I didn’t go far for this picture – into my own kitchen pantry

The Cavendish, which makes up most of the global market — is under assault from insect infestations, declining soil fertility and climate change. But the biggest hazard by far are two plant pathogens that are scavenging their way through vast monoculture (large scale, single-crop) plantations of this fruit worldwide.

Industrial farming means machines do a lot of the work, and that means farms are created for machines. To be efficient, machines must be both smart and stupid. Where they’re stupid, we simplify and change the environment to fit their needs.

I don’t know how mechanized banana farming is, but the monoculture approach has generally produced huge amounts of cheap food. It’s a great success until it isn’t.

I doubt bananas are doomed. We’ve been through this before. In the 1950s, the Gros Michel variety was attacked by fusarium wilt, and so the Cavendish was bred to replace it. This lovely fruit now accounts for what we in America see in our stores. Still harvested from huge monoculture farms.

Today, there are hundreds of varieties of non-commercial banana. The beloved fruit will survive and probably never leave our shelves. In another few decades, we’ll breed another new variety to dodge another threat. We know how to breed bananas.

Now if we could only learn how to grow them sustainably. Maybe smarter machines are the answer. Or maybe smarter humans.

Happy July 4th America #July4 #JulyFourth #Parade

fire trucks line up for a small town July 4th parade

Fire trucks line up on the side street – ready to enter the parade

Independence Day in my small town means a parade that starts at 10am, because summer mornings are brilliantly clear and the day is hot by noon. My volunteer fire department and most departments in the county participated.

We don’t need a European style parade-of-weapons to celebrate. Local political groups, softball teams, and other businesses and organizations fill the street and set up booths in lovely Gough Park where food vendors join the celebration. Share my snapshots and Happy 4th.

Parade marshal and flag hoor guard preare for small town parade

Parade marshal and flag honor guard prepare to begin

Local police and flag honor guard lead small town parade

Silver City police lead the flag at start of our small town parade

Flag hoor guard in small town parade

small town parade

They’re off!