In 1928, a farmer digging in his garden found a flower blooming underground. Three years ago, scientists discovered that it's so well adapted to living underground that it has lost almost all of its chloroplast genes. While this species is unusual for an orchid in the extent of its parasitism, it turns out that all orchids are actually parasites--stealing nitrogen from tiny fungi in the soil without trading any carbon back as plants usually do. See photos of the underground orchid here.
How Obesity Became a Disease [The Atlantic] And, as a consequence, how weight loss became an industry.
For their senior project, George Mason University students Seth Robertson and Viet Tran decided to ignore all of their professors and classmates who told them their idea was terrible. They proceeded to invent a fire extinguisher that uses sound waves instead of chemicals to put out fires. The project was partially inspired by the fact that traditional fire extinguishers do not work in space. [more inside]
Every day, news sources report on medical studies that describe promising new treatments. Most of them don't pan out in the end. Julia Belluz reports on "why you shouldn’t believe that exciting new medical study." Her article includes a figure showing which foods are reported to cause cancer and which ones are reported to prevent it. (Spoiler: they're the same foods.)
"On July 14, NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft will fly past Pluto, offering the first close-up look at that small, distant world and its largest moon, Charon. These denizens of the outer solar system will be transformed from poorly seen, hazy bodies to tangible worlds with distinct features." Who gets to name those features? You do. Via Bad Astronomy.
The Brain’s Empathy Gap: [New York Times]
Can mapping neural pathways help us make friends with our enemies?
Nature reviews the rise of short-sightedness and the connection to outdoor light exposure.
P-hacking, or inflation bias, is the selective inclusion of experimental results that suggest statistical significance, as well as the selective exclusion of results which argue against the hypothesis. Skewing work towards positive results helps investigators publish in high-profile journals, which in turn improves access to funding. In a recent PLOS publication, Michael Jennions and Megan Head use text-mining and meta-analyses to determine the extent to which this influences a broad array of published research, offering recommendations on how to reduce this practice.
As Smithsonian.com notes, researchers have found hints that human pheromones exist: The smell of tears, for example, seems to tamp down men’s sexual arousal and testosterone levels. Despite decades of research, a true human sex pheromone has yet to be found. Perhaps you thought otherwise. You are not alone. Tristram Wyatt, an Oxford biologist, explains how one corporation successfully created a scientific myth . [more inside]
Yeti Debate Swirls: Study Reveals Origin of Mysterious Hairs The yeti, a legendary shaggy, bipedal beast from the Himalayas, made headlines last year when a geneticist said he had solved the mystery of its origins. But now, scientists have found the hair samples used in that study didn't come from a mysterious animal, but rather from the Himalayan brown bear. [more inside]
This Fast-Food-Loving, Organics-Hating Ivy League Prof Will Trick You Into Eating Better: Mother Jones on food psychologist Brian Wansink's work with restaurants, grocery stores, and schools on how to encourage better eating.
Science once communicated in a polyglot of tongues, but now English rules alone. How did this happen – and at what cost?
That's the argument made by Ben Thomas earlier this week. Thomas charges that overenthusiastic viral sharing of half-baked scientific projects can make it more difficult for more well-planned projects to achieve success, particularly when high-profile crowdfunded projects go on to flop badly. Worse, the public backlash when real, messier science fails to live up to the flashy, unrealistic claims that media and social media hype blows up can have repercussions even for scientists who are funded by traditional grants. Signe Cane has a useful criticism of Thomas' piece with advice for non-specialists on how to try to separate cool things in real scientific work from cool things that are mostly hype and exaggerations. On the flip side of crowdfunding, Jacquelyn Gill shares her experience of using crowdfunding to fund her scientific research, ultimately concluding that it was a hell of a lot of work for relatively minimal payout. And Terry McGlynn, another ecologist, expresses some reservations about the effects of crowdfunding and other publicly marketed initiatives on science more broadly.
The early days of Apple's ResearchKit software seem set to revolutionize clinical research recruitment, with one Parkinson's study enrolling thousands of people in just a few hours. Apple's new ResearchKit: 'Ethics quagmire' or medical research aid?, from The Verge, discusses some of the ethical quandaries surrounding recruitment for medical studies via mobile app. A follow-up article discusses some changes already made to the developer guidelines to address some of these concerns about informed consent and data sharing. Ars Technica covers the Food and Drug Administration's regulatory requirements for medical devices and how they may apply to mobile apps, including those using ResearchKit.
If other horses are the equivalent of feral dogs, then the Przewalski’s horse is a wolf. In its native Mongolia, where it goes by the name takhi, it is known as the father of horses. Mongolians regard the takhi as spiritual, holy animals, and for millennia they largely left them alone... The trouble all began in the late 19th century, when the Western world finally took note of the takhi. Nikolai Przewalski, a Polish-born explorer serving as a colonel in the Russian army, “discovered” the horses during an 1878 expedition to the Mongolian-Chinese frontier. Naturally, Przewalski named the horse after himself, and when he returned to the West, word quickly spread among zoos, adventurers, and curio collectors about the mysterious wild horses.
Douglas Starr, in Blood, quotes the British Secretary of War, asked in 1937 what the nation proposed to do about a mass blood supply. The secretary was dismissive. Blood could not be stored for long or in great quantities, he said. On the hoof was better. “It was more satisfactory to store our blood in our people.” Janet Vaughan did not agree, and Janet Vaughan did something about it. Her medical director gave her £100, and she sent off her assistants in taxis to find all the tubing that London shops could provide.Longreads profiles Janet Vaughan, a British scientist who found better treatments for anemia than arsenic using herself as a test subject, was a major force in creating London's first blood banks using cheap tubing and ice cream trucks, studied emergency nutrition in a post-liberation concentration Nazi death camp, and continued active research into blood and radiation into her eighties, while occasionally serving as a model for Virginia Woolf characters.
“You Are Welcome Here”: Small Stickers Make a Big Difference for LGBTQ Scientists
Upon entering, I immediately noticed tiny stickers dotting the halls: the iconic WHOI ship, sailing in front of a rainbow sky over the words, “You are welcome here.” I can’t describe how powerful it was to see those welcome messages on the office doors of scientists’ whose work had inspired me to pursue biological oceanography – in a building commemorating an oceanographer, Alfred C. Redfield, who discovered a conserved atomic ratio between carbon, nitrogen and phosphorus that I think about in my research every day. The ship stickers are small, maybe even easy to miss if you’re not attuned, but they packed a punch strong enough to rid me of my worries. I left the Redfield Building with renewed vigor, confident about what I was pursuing, only worried about feet that were literally wet, but not figuratively.
A few years ago, it occurred to a few scientists that neither mice or rats are capable of vomiting. What about other rodents? It turns out that being unable to vomit is a trait common to all rodents, not just mice and rats. Interests piqued, the researchers set out to find out why.
Scientists are developing ways to edit the DNA of tomorrow’s children. Should they stop before it’s too late?
The team gathered samples over the course of a year from sewage treatment plants in 71 different cities in 31 states, chosen for their geographic spread and range of obesity rates. The leanest city sampled was Steamboat Springs, Colorado, with an obesity rate of 13.5 percent, while the heaviest was St. Joseph, Missouri, with a rate of 37.4 percent. ... "If we had a city with a higher percentage of obese people, we would see a higher percentage of the kinds of bacteria associated with obesity,"
That's right - it's time for Mammal March Madness! "Battle outcome is a function of the two species' attributes within the battle environment. Attributes considered in calculating battle outcome include temperament, weaponry, armor, body mass, fight style, and other fun facts that are relevant to the outcome. These are one on one- head to head combat situations- um except for the mythical mammals that have multiple heads. Some random error has been introduced into calculating battle outcome & the amount of that error is scaled to the disparity in rankings between combatants. Early rounds, the battle occurs in the better-ranked species' habitat (home court advantage). BUT once we get to the ELITE EIGHT, battle location will be random: forest, semi-arid desert, intertidal zone, or snowy tundra." Action kicks off on March 9 with the wildcard match up between the pygmy jerboa and the bumblebee bat (Kitti's Hognosed Bat). You can follow the action on twitter using the hashtag #2015MMM or on the blog Mammals Suck. In the meantime, start filling out your brackets - common names or binomial nomenclature.
Troubles in Paradise is a review of the history and arguments of the creationism/intelligent design movement, written by James Downard.
Common knowledge about squirrels is that they are basically furry rats. Yes, they are adorable in an amnesiac sort of way, what with their inability to remember where they buried their nuts, but the modern squirrel is not typically considered a manifestation of anything monstrous. Interestingly, much like Coca-Cola and Pop Rocks, if you combine Viking aesthetics with squirrels, you produce a malevolent little rodent called Ratatoskr (“Drill Tooth” in Old Norse) that spends his days spreading malicious gossip and trying to start a fight between the eagle at the top of the World Tree Yggdrasil and the angry Wyrm beneath called Níðhöggr, generally with phrases like, “Did you hear what he said about your mother?”
Scientists have figured out what makes Indian food so delicious. [Washington Post]
In a large new analysis of more than 2,000 popular recipes, data scientists have discovered perhaps the key reason why Indian food tastes so unique: It does something radical with flavors, something very different from what we tend to do in the United States and the rest of Western culture. And it does it at the molecular level.
One hundred years ago today, on March 3, 1915, a Naval Appropriations Bill was passed through Congress and signed by president Woodrow Wilson. A small rider was attached to the bill and went through the process almost completely unnoticed. That rider legislated the formation of the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics. [more inside]
Scientists at the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne have captured "The first ever photograph of light as both a particle and wave" (images of the photo and the microscope in right hand column) using "EPFL’s ultrafast energy-filtered transmission electron microscope – one of the two in the world." The EPFL's explanatory video: Two-in-one photography: Light as wave and particle. Reference: Simultaneous observation of the quantization and the interference pattern of a plasmonic near-field. Nature Communications.
Unfortunately, what textbooks, lab manuals and web pages say about these human traits is mostly wrong. Most of the common, visible human traits that are used in classrooms do NOT have a simple one-locus, two-allele, dominant vs. recessive method of inheritance. Rolling your tongue is not dominant to non-rolling, unattached earlobes are not dominant to attached, straight thumbs are not dominant to hitchhiker's thumb, etc.
Using DNA to Build a Face, and a Case by Andrew Pollack [New York Times]
The growing capability to determine physical characteristics from genetics can help the police, but it also raises questions of rights and profiling.
For years, politicians wanting to block legislation on climate change have bolstered their arguments by pointing to the work of a handful of scientists who claim that greenhouse gases pose little risk to humanity. [more inside]
British-based webforum Mumsnet (For Parents, By Parents) had a fun time this weekend, when a new member decided she was sick and tired of dinosaurs being forced on our children. [more inside]
In 1900, the average dairy cow in America produced 424 gallons of milk each year. By 2000, that figure had more than quadrupled, to 2,116 gallons. We explore the incredible science that transformed the American cow into a milk machine—but we also uncover the disturbing history of prejudice and animal cruelty that accompanied it. Along the way, we’ll introduce you to the insane logic of the Lifetime Cheese Merit algorithm and the surreal bull trials of the 1920s. This is the untold story behind that most wholesome and quotidian of beverages: milk. Prepare to be horrified and amazed in equal measure.
From the initial 202,586 applicants, 100 hopefuls have been selected to proceed to the next round of the Mars One Astronaut Selection Process. The final 100 chosen come from around the world, with 39 from the Americas, 31 from Europe, 16 from Asia, 7 from Africa, and 7 from Oceania. A total of 40 candidates will eventually be chosen to take part in a training programme and live in a copy of the Mars outpost on Earth. [more inside]
American Tintype - After a personal tragedy, Harry Taylor discovered a passion for the 150-year-old craft of tintype photography.
Amazon's Mechanical Turk has become an important tool for social science research, but a fascinating piece by PBS Newshour discusses why this might be a problem, with a great profile of professional survey takers, who average hundreds, even thousands of social science surveys each. This is not just idle speculation, recent research [PDF] shows that experienced Turkers no longer have typical "gut reactions" to social experiments, creating a struggle with how to deal with non-naivete [PDF]. Take a look at the questions that professional Tukers are asked the most, and be sure to take the survey in the middle of the first article! [more inside]
There’s a scene in Stanley Kubrick’s comic masterpiece Dr. Strangelove in which Jack D. Ripper, an American general who’s gone rogue and ordered a nuclear attack on the Soviet Union, unspools his paranoid worldview—and the explanation for why he drinks “only distilled water, or rainwater, and only pure grain alcohol”
Wind chill is vitally important information. Or is it a meaningless number useful only in making weather forecasts more dramatic? [more inside]
So! The "bird" category has (somewhat culture specific) internal structure. For example, most Americans will agree that a robin is a better example of a bird than an albatross, and an albatross is a better bird than an ostrich. (And while bats are not birds, they are better birds than horses are, and horses are better birds than refrigerators are; so the gradations continue to some extent outside the category boundary).Let's talk about category structure and oppression: how the way we think about categories feeds into social oppression and justice.
How scientists are using Lego to manipulate insects. An unusual scientific paper has just appeared online detailing how entomologists can use Legos to build apparatuses to handle museum specimens. This is important: museum specimens are what we use to study biological history, and preserving them is increasingly less well funded. Fortunately, innovations like this fall into a larger biological tradition of building your own equipment. [more inside]
"Do whatever it takes to not fool yourself, period, that's the scientific method" - Neil deGrasse Tyson. What if we can't do that?
Science fair projects for kids. 128 pages of science fair projects for kids, graded by difficulty. 40 more experiments. This has been your Metafilter parenting resource for the week of February 9-13.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, nursing assistants suffered back and other musculoskeletal injuries more than any other occupation in 2013. NPR's Daniel Zwerdling investigated the root cause for many of these injuries: Lifting and moving patients. [more inside]
The station is called Junction Gate, a colony seed that never fully blossomed. You see plans for mines, habitat modules, research facilities, and shipyards.
"Another simple pseudo-scientist who gets a pat on the back for finding what he was looking for. No subtle thinking here. No qualifying or consideration of alternate interpretation. No honest presentation of the limits of your study. No alternative explanations. This is why the majority of social scientists are flimsy. It is a weak science desperately pretend[sic] it has hard evidence for complex phenomena." [more inside]
Kubricks' 2001: One Man's Incredible Odyssey - "With today's article I've decided to cover the truly outstanding visual effects and design work from one of the single most influential and remarkable pieces of cinema of the twentieth century - Stanley Kubricks' 2001-A SPACE ODYSSEY (1968) - a film that just gets better and better with the passing years"
Have you any spare mercury about the house? Are you well supplied with saltpetre, phosphorus, and oil of vitriol? Such domestic staples can you afford you ENDLESS AMUSEMENT! in the form of hundreds of science tricks from 1847! [more inside]
Michael Pollan in the latest New Yorker about the mainstreaming of research on psychedelic treatment for depression, anxiety, and addiction. "The fact that a drug given once can have such an effect for so long is an unprecedented finding. We have never had anything like it in the psychiatric field.”