The USSR landed probes on Venus over 30 years ago, is it time to go back?

The atmosphere of Venus is over ninety-five per cent carbon dioxide, the pressure at the surface is 92 times that of earth and the average surface temperature is 735 K (462 °C; 863 °F), higher than the melting point of lead. Not to mention that there are large clouds of sulphuric acid raining down corrosive droplets and winds on the surface that can reach 300 kilometres per hour (190 mph). Not exactly the most forgiving place. With the recent fervor around the possibility of life on mars, fuelled by the landing of the Curiosity rover last summer, no one seems to …

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Paralysed and unaware of it – Brain lesions and anosognosia

A few weeks ago I wrote about the Dunning-Kruger effect which affects people who are so incompetent that they don’t realise that they are incompetent. Dr David Dunning, after whom the effect is named, described the Dunning-Kruger effect as the “anosognosia of everyday life”. Which, as far as scientific analogies go, is a pretty good way of putting it. Unless you don’t know what anosognosia is. But don’t worry, I’m just about to tell you.

What’s up with this heatwave?

Something completely out of the ordinary happened this week in London. It was hot. And sunny. For a week straight. Next up: hell will freeze over and donkeys will fly. In fact, it was too hot. While houses in usually much hotter countries are built to handle this kind of heat, British houses are designed to keep heat in during the winter. Also, air conditioning is very rare in the UK (unlike in places like the US where it is practically ubiquitous), leaving most people ill-equipped to deal with the heat. As the temperature rose to historical highs, my productivity …

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Metals don’t ‘smell’ of metal

We all know the acrid mushroom-like metallic smell that comes from metallic utensils, doorknobs, sweaty dumbbells, cutlery, coins and jewelry. It smells of ‘metal’. Except that metal does not smell. We can’t ‘smell’ iron atoms. In fact, when we smell metals we are actually smelling ourselves.

Is all life related?

All living organisms on earth are related. All of them. Every bacteria, tree, bird, snake, cat, dog, human. There is overwhelming evidence that we all descend from a single common ancestor.

Two goats and a car – The Monty Hall problem

Just a couple of weeks ago, I outlined the birthday paradox, a well-known counter-intuitive mathematical puzzle. Today, we’re going to explore another quite famous statistical problem, the one with the game show host, three doors, two goats and a car. The problem goes something like this. You’re at a game show on tv. There are three closed doors. Behind two of the doors there is a goat and behind one there is a car. The host of the game show asks you to pick one of the three doors. Once you do, the host opens one of the two unpicked …

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Is the ‘supermoon’ really super?

Just a week ago, the whole internet was getting ready for the supermoon, a full moon that is slightly (ever so slightly) bigger than usual. But there is really nothing special about ‘supermoons’, it’s just an astronomical coincidence that is practically impossible to notice. To the naked eye it does not look any different. What exactly is a ‘supermoon’?

Unskilled and unaware of it – The Dunning-Kruger Effect

The fool doth think he is wise, but the wise man knows himself to be a fool. -Shakespeare, As you like it, Act 5 Scene 1 In 1995 a short, fat, very recognisable man called Macarthur Wheeler robbed 2 banks at gunpoint in Philadelphia. He didn’t bother to cover his face. Obviously, the police had no trouble identifying and arresting him. He was quite puzzled. After all, he claimed, he had covered his face in lemon juice.

Hearing by seeing – The McGurk Effect

Humans use vision as well as hearing to understand speech. There is no better example of this than the McGurk effect. Imagine a recording of a person saying “bah” over and over again. What sound are you going to hear? “Bah”, obviously. However, if this sound is accompanied by a video of this person saying “vah” you will start hearing “vah” or “fah” instead, even though the audio has not changed. Just have a look at the video: