Can evolution explain acts of kindness, and morality? [The Guardian]
We arranged a debate between a sceptical Tom Stoppard and the evolutionary biologist David Sloan Wilson. Stuart Jeffries acted as referee. We arranged for the two to meet recently in the grand boardroom of Wilson’s London publishers to discuss their differences, and reflect on two hard problems – what is the proper scope of science, and what is it to be human.
"The first 21 days of a bee's life in 60 seconds" is a time-lapse video by photographer Anand Varma, who discusses his collaboration with the bee lab at UC Davis in breeding a naturally mite-resistant line of honeybees. (Via.)
Tomorrowland: how Walt Disney’s strange utopia shaped the world of tomorrow - cryogenically frozen head not included.
Jill Lepore talks with Amelia Lester and David Haglund about the role of women in contemporary science fiction - A discussion on the New Yorker Podcast
If I do something clumsy or awkward, a sort of mental flag pops up in my head, and it bears a chimp’s face. Once someone caught me, at 13, picking my nose in school: was that a lingering habit from my time among the chimps? Our family cats hated me because I could not keep my hands off them; even more than usual for a small child, I always wanted to pick them up. Perhaps furry things seemed more welcoming to me than they did to other children. In my early 20s, I caught myself sitting cross-legged at a desk chair. That’s a regular habit of mine, but on that day I happened to be sitting in a courtroom — as counsel at a defense table. I blamed the chimps then, too. But that’s what I tell myself, of course. I don’t tell others about the chimps much.In "Monkey Day Care," Michelle Dean writes for The Verge about her recollections of being a child participant in primate research, her frustrating attempt to find out more about the study, and about the history of and ethical questions about such research.
Some Paths to the True Knowledge[*] - "Attention conservation notice: A 5000+ word attempt to provide real ancestors and support for an imaginary ideology I don't actually accept, drawing on fields in which I am in no way an expert. Contains long quotations from even-longer-dead writers, reckless extrapolation from arcane scientific theories, and an unwarranted tone of patiently explaining harsh, basic truths. Altogether, academic in one of the worst senses. Also, spoilers for several of MacLeod's novels, notably but not just The Cassini Division. Written for, and cross-posted to, Crooked Timber's seminar on MacLeod, where I will not be reading the comments."
When Birds Squawk, Other Species Seem to Listen by Christopher Solomon [New York Times]
A professor’s hunch is that birds are saying much more in warning of danger than previously suspected, and that other animals have evolved to understand the signals.
Scientists say they have reversed a bit of bird evolution in the lab and re-created a dinosaurlike snout in developing chickens.
The Singing Sailor Underwater Defense System - the Swedish Peace and Arbitration Society sends out a message of peace, love, understanding and respect to Russian submariners cruising through the Stockholm archepelago
The joke was funny because this was just a tiny, two-year college, with no engineering program. Getting into space was the last thing on the minds of these students; they were just trying to escape poverty. Next thing they knew, NASA was calling them up.
can life survive for billions of years longer than the expected timeline on Earth? as scientists continue to discover older and older solar systems & galaxies, it’s likely that before long we’ll find an ancient planet in a habitable zone. knowing if life is possible on this exoplanet would have immense implications for habitability and the development of ancient life according to researcher Tiago Campante's paper "An Ancient Extrasolar System with Five Sub-Earth-Size Planets". this animation starts by showing us Kepler's field-of-view in the direction of the constellations Cygnus and Lyra, and then we're taken to the vicinity of the Kepler-444 planetary system, located some 117 light years away.
Biologist/blogger PZ Myers provides a nice introduction to evolutionary theory, and explains how classical Darwinism is distorted by proponents of scientific racism and other pseudoscientific movements.
Science Needs a New Ritual
And so transcendence can take the form of blindness to differences between people and to our own biases. We assume scientists all think and believe the same things, even beyond the unequivocal data. We are all equal as scientists if we all value the same principles. And what we value comes almost entirely from Enlightenment-era Europe. This is a troubling state of affairs if we claim to strive for all humanity.
This is my vision of life. A conversation with evolutionary biologist and author Richard Dawkins. (Video and transcript)
"What could you possibly have in common with a mushroom, or a dinosaur, or even a bacterium? More than you might think. In this Lab, you’ll puzzle out the evolutionary relationships linking together a spectacular array of species. Explore the tree of life and get a front row seat to what some have called the greatest show on Earth. That show is evolution." Evolution Lab is a educational game created by the Life on Earth Project and NOVA Labs
Associate Professor Rana Dajani describes why she teaches evolution to Muslim students in Jordan.
1977 changed everything in Hollywood. "I'm not here to wonder whether Star Wars: Rebels is legacy pop culture — like DC and Marvel superheroes — that parents might be forcing on their kids the way white boomer dads evangelize Steely Dan. Instead, as the Avengers kick off another summer of mighty Marvel mook-blasting, I just want to ask: Why do we (mostly) agree, today, that this material is appropriate? And is something lost when pew-pew action/adventure follows the trajectory of soft drinks and fast food — going from occasional treat to everyday staple? In short, how did the decapitations of orcs and robots become the very center of our media culture?"
1,825 days after the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill, Perrin Ireland (@experrinment) and the Natural Resources Defense Council ask: Where'd the oil go?
Frank Wilczek: Physics in 100 Years [pdf] - "Here I indulge in wide-ranging speculations on the shape of physics, and technology closely related to physics, over the next one hundred years. Themes include the many faces of unification, the re-imagining of quantum theory, and new forms of engineering on small, intermediate, and large scales." [more inside]
What happens when you put a red hot ball of nickel on a huge novelty jawbreaker (Red hot nickel ball previously)
The CRISPR Revolution [ungated: 1,2,3] - "Biologists continue to hone their tools for deleting, replacing or otherwise editing DNA and a strategy called CRISPR has quickly become one of the most popular ways to do genome engineering. Utilizing a modified bacterial protein and a RNA that guides it to a specific DNA sequence, the CRISPR system provides unprecedented control over genes in many species, including perhaps humans. This control has allowed many new types of experiments, but also raised questions about what CRISPR can enable." [more inside]
Mary Putnam Jacobi challenged Clarke’s thinly veiled justification for discrimination with 232 pages of hard numbers, charts, and analysis. She gathered survey results covering a woman’s monthly pain, cycle length, daily exercise, and education along with physiological indicators like pulse, rectal temperature, and ounces of urine. To really bring her argument home, Jacobi had test subjects undergo muscle strength tests before, during, and after menstruation. The paper was almost painfully evenhanded. Her scientific method-supported mic drop: “There is nothing in the nature of menstruation to imply the necessity, or even the desirability, of rest.”
The Nautilus and her Corps of Exploration are mapping and exploring ocean features from the Gulf Coast up to British Columbia. Yesterday, they found a whale. You can watch live to see what they find next!
"Second, it is a mistake to pit post-modernism and social constructivism against evolutionary psychology as though they are in an intellectual death match that only one side can win. This tribalistic, us-versus-them thinking isn't helpful to science. Much like partitioning the causes of human behavior into nurture versus nature or culture versus biology or learned versus innate, social constructivism versus evolutionary psychology is a false dichotomy that may feel intuitively correct but should not be utilized very often by serious scientists (exceptions include behavioral genetics studies)."
Stop gloating, morning people. You might be up early, but you aren't morally superior. What's your chronotype? Find out here.
Chris Crowe has a girlfriend. She stands a leggy 5 feet tall, weighs a trim 11 pounds, and sports a set of wings like you’ve never seen. Walnut the white-naped crane is the most genetically distinct endangered crane on the block — which means she needs to have been making babies, like, yesterday. Walnut was raised by humans at a zoo, and as a result, she recognizes and trusts humans — and is deeply hostile to other cranes. How hostile? She killed the two male cranes that her former keepers attempted to pair with her. "I like to jokingly tell people that Walnut ‘allegedly’ killed two male cranes," Crowe says. "It’s not like she was tried and convicted. We don’t know her side of the story."
Today if you ask someone to name a woman scientist, the first and only name they'll offer is Marie Curie. When Silvia Tomášková, director of the Women in Science program at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, brings up famous female scientists with her students—and this has been happening since she started teaching 20 years ago—she gets the same reaction: “Marie Curie.” Tomášková always tries to move them on. “Let's not even start there. Who else?” [more inside]
Vani Hari, AKA the Food Babe, has amassed a loyal following in her Food Babe Army. The recent subject of profiles and interviews in the New York Times, the New York Post and New York Magazine, Hari implores her soldiers to petition food companies to change their formulas. She's also written a bestselling book telling you that you can change your life in 21 days by "breaking free of the hidden toxins in your life." She and her army are out to change the world.--The "Food Babe" Blogger Is Full of Shit
I’m occasionally told my life would be easier if I backed off from my relentless efforts to advance evolution education. Maybe so. But to shy away from emphasizing evolutionary biology is to fail as a biology teacher. I continue to teach biology as I do, because biology makes sense only in the light of evolution.
Fish oil: it's been touted as a solution to heart health, dementia, glaucoma, and a host of other ailments. Unfortunately, it turns out that most of the evidence for its benefits is equivocal at best. And it turns out that fish oil isn't particularly useful for our pets, either. Worse, it turns out that the foundational study that kicked off interest in fish oil as a supplement is not quite as promising for fish oils as it is usually construed and cited. Given that fish oil can induce strokes in high quantities (and may interfere with treatments like chemotherapy), is poorly regulated, and is expensive, should we be promoting fish oil supplements as strongly as we do?
Measure Yourself by the Standard of the Capybara
April is both Mathematics Awareness Month and National Poetry Month, so logically we should be reading mathematical poetry. "Unit of Measure" by Sandra Beasley is a perfect poem for this purpose. This year ’s Mathematics Awareness Month theme is “mathematics, magic, and mystery.” How could a poem that proposes the capybara as a universal ruler not be magical? How could the fishiness of the capybara not be mysterious?[more inside]
In biology, model organisms are the workhorse species in which most biological science gets done: fruit flies (D. melanogaster), house mice (M. musculus), shale cress (A. thaliana), zebra fish (D. rerio), nematodes (C. elegans), yeast (S. cerevisiae), and bacteria (E. coli.) They are science's heavy hitters... in the lab. But most scientists know almost nothing about how these species behave in the wild, outside of the context of humans. ELife's new series on the natural history of model species aims to change that. So far, they have published on the natural history of zebra fish, E. coli, and nematodes, with more to follow.
Twirl an upside-down soda glass and toss it down a tabletop (somewhat like the hero in the video game Tapper), and the glass will pull off in a direction opposite of the spin. Spin a granite curling stone and throw it down the ice, however, and it will travel in the same direction as the spin. Video blog SmarterEveryDay looks at physics theories that try to figure out why this counterintuitive result happens.
By now, we’ve all heard about the low numbers of American women in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). My own new research, co-authored with Kathrine W. Phillips and Erika V. Hall, indicates that bias, not pipeline issues or personal choices, pushes women out of science – and that bias plays out differently depending on a woman’s race or ethnicity.
Editor quits journal over pay-for-expedited peer-review offer "With a tweet yesterday, an editor of Scientific Reports, one of Nature Publishing Group’s open-access journals, has resigned in a very public protest of NPG’s recent decision to allow authors to pay money to expedite peer review of their submitted papers. "
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.)