November 17, 2013 | David F. Coppedge

Surprising Things Science Didn't Know

Scientists presume to speak with confidence about the origin of the universe and billions of years, but have been clueless about some everyday things close to home in the present.

Mystery of the whistling teakettlePhysOrg reported that two Cambridge researchers have finally figured out how the teakettle produces a whistle.  “Researchers have finally worked out where the noise that makes kettles whistle actually comes from – a problem which has puzzled scientists for more than 100 years.”  Science Now wrote wittily about this, saying:

For centuries, physicists have made their living by illuminating the secrets of our universe, from gravity to electricity to black holes. But among the search for Higgs bosons and the endless unspooling of string theories, there remained a particularly glaring mystery: Why does a teakettle whistle? “Oh that,” they said, standing at their stoves in between bouts of programming supercomputers. “Vibrations. Or something.” Now, we are happy to report, human intellect has at last triumphed over the dark shadow of ignorance and solved the conundrum lurking within one of our lowest-tech kitchen appliances…. And having solved another mystery of our vast but perhaps ultimately knowable universe, they smile and sip their tea.

Discovery in the knee:  One would think after centuries of dissections and surgeries that the human knee is pretty well understood.  Not so; a “new” ligament has been discovered, reported the BBC News, named the anterolateral ligament.  It looks pretty obvious from the photo in Medical Xpress.  It’s important, too: it helps protect the knee when we twist or change direction.  Without it, the knee can suddenly give way.  A surgeon outside the study group remarked, “If you look back through history there has been a veiled understanding that something is going on on that side of the knee but this work finally gives us a better understanding.”

Manhattan’s Grand Canyon:  Just 100 miles off Manhattan’s shores, a canyon rivaling the Grand Canyon plunges off the continental shelf into the deep sea.  Live Science says that Hudson Canyon is “a city in its own right, brimming with an extraordinary universe of life.”  So close to the busiest city on earth, it’s a gigantic feature biologists are only beginning to inventory, inhabited by animals small and great – from plankton to sperm whales, corals, squid, sea anemones, swordfish and much more, some of which are shown in an embedded video clip.  Hudson is just one of 15 such large submarine canyons along the east coast south of Cape Cod that the article says are remnants of ancient rivers that flowed off the continental shelf when sea level was lower.  Beyond the canyon is a series of prominent seamounts – dormant volcanoes rising thousands of feet from the seafloor.

Those large canyons appear to be Flood remnants.  It’s hard to imagine ordinary rivers carving so many canyons that huge so close to one another.  Only if massive, unprecedented waters were draining off the continents would these remnant geological features be expected.

Once science can figure out the teakettle, maybe it can move on to more grandiose ambitions like explaining why toast tends to land buttered side down.  Those problems at least are tractable.  Evolution is so full of variables, unknowns and degrees of freedom, its error bars surpass the axes.  That’s why any story fits between the error bars.  Let’s tell the Darwin Party to stop wasting our time with speculations about the unobservable past, and help the guy with the bum knee get through physical therapy.  He needs compassionate evidence-based knowledge of knee structure and function, not storytelling about how vacant ecospace led to the Cambrian explosion.


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