Author Archives: Aidan Quinn Graham

Where are all the Aliens?

The famous Fermi Paradox is as follows: Where are all the aliens? In our known universe, there are 500 billion sun-like stars, with anywhere from 1-10 planets revolving around them. That’s anywhere from 500 billion to 5 trillion planets that could theoretically host life. Surely, some of these planets nurtured the early seeds of life, and surely some of that life developed into intelligent life. Even the most pessimistic estimate about when humans will settle other planets is a billion years. So why then, is there no intelligent life, which would have had billions of years head start on us, spread out across the universe? It would, after all,

It is possible that there are life forms spread out on many planets, however, it is strange that we have seen no sign of them. There are more pessimistic theories about why there is no sign of life, ranging from ‘all intelligent life destroys itself as soon as it can’ and the idea that there are no other life forms in the universe.

This relates to class in that it is the scientific community posing a question and theorizing about answers, while being unable to prove/support a theory.  

NFL Concussion

Millions watched as the St. Louis Rams faced off against the Baltimore Ravens in what served as a showcase for the health drawbacks of repeated hits endured by football players throughout the season. Rams quarterback Case Keenum dropped back to pass in the fourth quarter before being slammed to the ground by a Raven defender. Moments later, as teammates tried to help their quarterback up off the ground, Keenum appeared visibly dizzy and unable to get to his feet. Obvious to everyone watching, Keenum had suffered a severe concussion. However, Keenum remained in the game for the remainder of the fourth quarter. The NFL has protocols for players with concussions, but all those protocols failed to protect the player from himself, knowing that exiting the game would be squandering an opportunity to prove that he can be a professional football player, something he has undoubtedly dreamed of since being a kid.

With social media highlighting player injuries more than ever, and a new movie being released next month starring Will Smith about the beginnings of concussion research, the issue is in the spotlight more than ever. So the question remains: how damaging are concussions?

One study conducted by Johns Hopkins University recruited nine former NFL players ranging in age from 50-80, with the same number of control people who never played football or sustained any head trauma. The researchers conducted brain scans of several types, as well as memory tests on the 18 subjects. The study found that not only did the players have serious abnormalities in their brains, they also suffered from having a worse memory than the control subjects.

Several other studies have been conducted to find similar alarming results, however, the research into the science behind concussions and how to better treat/prevent them is low.  As Phd Paul Comper puts it, “despite the proliferation of neuropsychological research on sports-related concussion over the past decade, the methodological quality of studies appears to be highly variable, with many lacking proper scientific rigour.” Concussion research is not nearly at the levels it needs to be to match the seriousness of the injury.

This is an example of a scientific topic not having enough research to be definitively understood, which is something that leads to harmful consequences for athletes.   

Demographics in Politics

Politicians are always looking for a way to gain the upperhand over their opponent, and demographics are a huge part of that. For example, people under the age of 40 lean democrat 60% of the time, and jewish people tend to lean democrat 70% of the time. These data points are incredibly important for the outcomes of elections.

Republicans in the upcoming election are asking questions like “what percentage of the Hispanic vote do we need to win to take the election?” and “how can we gain ground in the low income sector”. There is a science to these questions that can radically alter the outcome of an election.

This is an example of a science that has real applicable value in our world that many people do not think of as science. Data is becoming more and more prevalent in our society, and the best politicians and corporations are using it to their advantage.

Alien Megastructure Discovered! (Not Really)

As we learned in class, scientific misinformation can spread like wildfire. Often, the general public can sque a scientific conclusion, turning a true statement into a sensationalist headline, misrepresenting the truth.

That is exactly what happened last month when an astronomer at, none other than, Penn State concluded that the mysterious lighting around a distant star, KIC 8462852, which dimmed in a frequent fashion, may be caused by an ‘Alien Megastructure’. Within days, publications around the world published articles about the finding, social media was trending with the idea, and people were asking each other about the discovery, all of which left out a key word in the conclusion: may be.

Even as the conclusion was drawn, the astronomer pointed out that extraterrestrial involvement in the phenomenon was simply one of many possibilities. None the less, that didn’t stop the headlines. “Alien Megastructure Discovered!” was a common line across the internet, completely ignoring the lack of any conformation or hard evidence.

Luckily, this case of scientific misinformation was not harmful. There have been many cases in the past of people spreading ‘facts’ about important things, such as the effect of cigarettes and alcohol, which were untrue or simply misleading. These cases can lead to dangerous outcomes.

It is important in the scientific community to be responsible about the information you spread, and the case of the ‘alien megastructure’ is an example of what can happen when sensationalism comes before facts.   

Caffeine: Good or Bad?

Caffeine is either a miracle, capable of making an otherwise drowsy person into an awake and alert individual, or a toxin that should be avoided at all costs, depending on who you ask.

All college students know the feeling: having a test the next day and being too tired to study all night. It’s only natural that one would turn to a completely legal, widely used drink with the promise of alertness. But not everyone loves the stuff: many people find the caffeine-rich substance to make them jittery and incapable of really studying. So what is the deal?

Amazingly, the research around a widely used and highly polarizing drink such as coffee is still incomplete, with scientists discovering new information about the stuff all the time. As one researcher at Johns Hopkins puts it, coffee’s “particular effects on strengthening memories and making them resistant to forgetting has never been examined in detail in humans.”

Conducting a double-blind trial on people who had not previously been coffee drinkers, giving some a dose of caffeine and others a placebo, and studying their memory of a series of images.

The people who consumed the caffeine tablet were significantly better at remembering the images, leading the researches to conclude that Caffeine has a positive impact on human memory.

German scientists for Pub Med gathered different type of scientific research on the subject through a survey in which they compared grades among middle school students and their caffeine intake. They found that, in general, caffeine usage lead to higher grades.

These two examples of scientific research about caffeine usage relate to class, in that they showcase two types of ways in which scientists can make conclusions about a topic, the first being a double blind experiment and the other being a survey.  

Fighting Aging

Humans have become complacent with the idea of death. This is not surprising, considering that everyone born more than 150 years ago has since died. This is not to say that people have not wondered, longed or even attempted to achieve immortality.

The biggest obstacle to this, and one that seems insurmountable to most, is aging. Even by curing every disease and preventing any physical action that would otherwise end a human life, human genetics would still give way to cell loss, DNA damage, immune system decline and the various other factors that we group together and call “aging.” While preventing this can feel like a hopeless cause, dreamers throughout history, from Alexander the Great (and even before) have searched for the mythical fountain of youth in an attempt to beat nature and live forever.

The failures of past wealthy people to attain immortality has not, however, deterred today’s wealthy people from trying. And while their goals are the same, their approach is very different. Where Alexander searched for a fictitious fountain, today’s tech titans, such as Sergey Brin (Google), Larry Ellison (Oracle) and Peter Thiel (PayPal) are all attempting to transcend human biology through emerging sciences focused on improving human DNA.

This idea is far fetched, difficult and maybe even silly, but the same has been said in the past about several other technological/medical advances which have later become true.

Carbon Emissions: The Stupidest Experiment Ever

Electric car maker Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk recently called humanity’s addiction to burning fossil fuels “the dumbest experiment in history,” and he could not be more right.

Citing a recent UK Met Office report, Time published an article claiming that the global climate will reach record breaking temperatures from the remainder of 2015 through 2016. If this sounds familiar, it’s because the record for “hottest year ever” was previously broken in 2014, the year that barley inched out 2010. In fact, the 10 hottest years on record have all come since 1998. To better understand what’s happening, The Daily Kos provides this year-over-year chart of global temperatures since 1880.


It’s not just temperature changes, however. According to National Geographic, sea levels have risen between 4 and 8 inches in the past century, with an exponential increase of that rate in the past decade.

As per NASA, Earth’s ice sheets are also in a rapid decline. Greenland, for example, has lost between 36 and 60 miles of ice between 2002 and 2006.


The hypothesis here is simple: as humans pour more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, it causes a greenhouse effect which leads to increasing global temperatures, melting ice caps, rising sea levels and other weather related phenomenon.

There is not only mounting evidence to support the above hypothesis, but also a 97% consensus among active climate scientists that “climate-warming trends over the past century are very likely due to human activities.” The key word here, however, is “likely.”

This brings us back the the stupid experiment we find ourselves running.

As we have learned, the scientific community is rarely, if ever, 100% sure about anything. Climate deniers are quick to point the this “skepticism” as a reason for inaction on the issue of climate change. But as Musk points out, why would we need to be 100% certain before we act? As he put it, “If we don’t find a solution to burning oil for transport, when we then run out of oil, the economy will collapse and society will come to an end. If we know we have to get off oil no matter what, we know that is an inescapable outcome, why run this crazy experiment of changing the chemical composition of the atmosphere and oceans by adding enormous amounts of CO2 that have been buried since the Precambrian Era?”

We are essentially playing Russian roulette with the earth. The smart thing for us to do would be to find sustainable solutions to out energy needs, (such as electric vehicles, solar panels, wind turbines or hydropower) and fast.


Initial Blog Post

Hello Classmates! My name is Aidan Graham, a Junior PL SC major from Brooklyn, NY.

I am taking this class because I have always been interested in the role that Science plays in the world around us, but am totally awful at actually doing science. Last Spring, I took an astronomy class because thats exactly the kind of thing I am interested in… Or so I thought. I liked the idea of learning abstract ideas about the Cosmos, but instead, I ended memorizing the chemical composition of stars (73% Hydrogen and 25% Helium) and looking like this:


This class, however, seems perfect for me. I want to understand more about the way science affects our society, but have no interest in the hard science itself.