Archive for the ‘Biology’ Category

Beyond the Big Bang

Tonight I attended a talk by science journalist and author Simon Singh at Darwin College in Cambridge University on the development of the Big Bang theory. I’ve seen Simon talk before and he’s a very entertaining speaker using, among other things, electrocuted gherkins and backtracked Led Zeplin to illustrate the science behind the Big Bang.

Meeting with Simon Singh at Cambridge University

As a biologist and journalist I often find myself debating with theists on the origin of life but rarely the origin of the universe. So I was interested to learn that the idea for the Big Bang was originally suggested by George Lemaitre a brilliant physicist and Roman Catholic priest. It’s not easy to say if Lemaitre supported the idea of an expanding universe because it fit into the biblical idea of a created universe, but it nevertheless gained support from scientists and the Catholic church alike. I guess that’s why physicists don’t have to put up with the same religious backlash biologists have to despite that, even by Singh’s own admission to me after the talk, the Big Bang has far less evidence to support it than evolution.

But that might be about to change. A new idea is gaining ground that the universe never began but repeatedly expands and contracts. Already the Catholic church has come out in opposition to it. Although, quite rightly, it has its critics among scientists too. It’s originator, Neil Turok of Cambridge University, has a bet with Stephen Hawking to see which idea, a Cyclic or Big Bang universe, will eventually prove correct.

Depending on who collects physicists and biologists may soon be in the same boat.


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It’s the holy grail for taxonomists. Imagine an encyclopaedia containing the details of every known living thing on Earth. If each species had its own page the book would weigh almost half a tonne and sit on a shelf over 80 metres long.

Now a project has been launched by a group of scientists and technology companies that will bring together knowlege gathered on every species over the last 250 years and bring it to a truly global audience. This week the first 30,000 pages of a massive online Encyclopedia of Life has been unveiled and over the next ten years will grow to include 1.8 million pages.

Each species page is a mixture of text, images, video, scientific data, and other information drawn from different sources, and all vetted by experts. The developers say that soon the public and citizen scientists will be able to submit pictures, video and information, the best of which will appear on the site. So just like the species themeselves the encyclopedia will continually evolve as new discoveries are made and information is added.

In addition to the first 30,000 completed pages EOL currently has placeholder pages for 1 million species, and about two dozen highly developed multimedia pages as an example of what to expect in time as the EOL develops. It’s a great idea and will be a monumental feat if they can pull it off, even if the completed EOL will still only represent around 10 percent of all the species estimated to be out there.

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Welcome to my Guerrilla Science blog. As you can see the site is still under construction but once up and running will feature reviews of science papers that rock my (and everyone elses) world. There will also be reports from the front-line in the ongoing war on reason led by religion and clueless politicians. Stay tuned.

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