With such headlines as Man-aconda — the snake that looks like a penis (The Sun, natch), and references to it as a "trouser snake" or "floppy snake" might make you think the large, eyeless and limbless creature might actually be a snake. But it is not, it's a Ceacilian, a group of limbless amphibians with no or tiny eyes. But what's really impressive about this large creature is that is is lungless, despite residing in environments like muddy mangrove pools. A paper by Marinus Hoogmoed et al. (PDF, 22 pages, 2011) from Bol. Mus. Para. Emílio Goeldi. Cienc. Nat., Belém, describes several then-new specimens of Atretochoana eiselti from Brazil, which were compared to older preserved specimens that were kept with scant information. [more inside]
Drugs in the class "Anticholinergics", which includes Benadryl, Dramamine, and an ingredient in Tylenol PM, have been associated with increased risk of dementia or other cognitive impairment. [more inside]
"The most unappreciated and undervalued forms of technological labour are also the most ordinary: those who repair and maintain technologies that already exist, that were ‘innovated’ long ago....We can think of labour that goes into maintenance and repair as the work of the maintainers, those individuals whose work keeps ordinary existence going rather than introducing novel things." Innovation is overrated: "Hail the Maintainers," an essay by Lee Vinsel and Andrew Russell.
"While crows and ravens get most of the attention, smaller members of the corvid family like jays and nutcrackers are out in the world busily building and rebuilding forests. Not on purpose, of course, but through a behavior charmingly called “scatter hoarding,” which basically involves stashing seeds around in various places for later devourment." And this allows the trees - oaks, chestnuts, beeches, hickories - to "borrow the wings of birds." [more inside]
"In the winter of 2014, students at Iowa State University received emails asking them to volunteer for an experiment. Researchers were looking for women who would eat bananas that had been genetically engineered to produce extra carotenes, the yellow-orange nutrients that take their name from carrots. Our bodies use alpha and beta carotenes to make retinol, better known as vitamin A, and the experiment was testing how much of the carotenes in the bananas would transform to vitamin A. The researchers were part of an international team trying to end vitamin A deficiency. The emails reached the volunteers they needed to begin the experiment, but they also reached protesters. “As a student in the sustainability program, I immediately started asking questions,” said Iowa State postdoc Rivka Fidel. “Is this proven safe? Have they considered the broader cultural and economic issues?” ... Fidel told me she and her friends had found it nearly impossible to extract information from researchers, or from the Gates Foundation, which is providing funding for this project. Too often conversations about these kinds of issues simply reverberate within their respective echo chambers. So to bridge the gap I took the gist of the students’ questions to people at the Gates Foundation, scientists working on the banana, and the one person who may have done the most to fight vitamin A deficiency — an ophthalmologist who has no interest in either promoting or bashing GMOs." [more inside]
While it's quite exciting to hear that the extinct 'Siberian unicorn' may have lived alongside humans, except it's more exciting to see Elasmotherium sibiricum as depicted by Heinrich Harder, which is more like the elusive tiny unicorn pony that lead police on a chase (thanks Horse Channel!) than a large, hairy relative of the rhinoceros that was neither particularly horse-like nor mythological.
The New York State attorney general’s office accused four major retailers on Monday of selling fraudulent and potentially dangerous herbal supplements and demanded that they remove the products from their shelves. The authorities said they had conducted tests on top-selling store brands of herbal supplements at four national retailers — GNC, Target, Walgreens and Walmart — and found that four out of five of the products did not contain any of the herbs on their labels. The tests showed that pills labeled medicinal herbs often contained little more than cheap fillers like powdered rice, asparagus and houseplants, and in some cases substances that could be dangerous to those with allergies. [NYTimes], [WaPo] [more inside]
If asked to think of the lasting legacies of Ronald Reagan, you might conjure up the long shadow of US military intervention in Central America or the coordinated attack on organized labor and public-sector programs. Probably few of us would think about the spectacle of Shrek hawking Twinkies. But one lasting consequence of Reagan’s reign is felt by every parent in the country every day: As president, Reagan opened the floodgates to targeted junk food marketing to children and teens.What Ronald Reagan has to do with Dora on your Popsicle package: the backstory behind Shrek hawking Twinkies (and everything else) [more inside]
In the wake of the sequencing of the human genome in the early 2000s, genome pioneers and social scientists alike called for an end to the use of race as a variable in genetic research. Unfortunately, by some measures, the use of race as a biological category has increased in the postgenomic age. Although inconsistent definition and use has been a chief problem with the race concept, it has historically been used as a taxonomic categorization based on common hereditary traits (such as skin color) to elucidate the relationship between our ancestry and our genes. We believe the use of biological concepts of race in human genetic research—so disputed and so mired in confusion—is problematic at best and harmful at worst. It is time for biologists to find a better way. - An editorial in Science exploring the conundrum facing genomic researchers where race is both fundamentally flawed as a scientific model and violently dangerous but still the only consistent lens through which study participants understand the information they have about their own connection to human diversity [more inside]
When “Mike” spotted a newspaper advert for a clinic making prosthetic fingers in the 90s, he thought it was a scam. But the ex-yakuza member had booked himself a consultation within the hour. For almost a decade, a stumpy pinkie on his left hand had marked out his previous allegiance to the criminal world, preventing him from leading a normal life. A fake little finger, he thought, sounded outlandish, but it was worth a shot. It might allow him to disguise his past—and help shield against Japanese society’s prejudiced view of ex-yakuza members in search of redemption. [more inside]
"Don't look at them directly,” Rie Henriksen whispers, “otherwise they get suspicious.” The neuroscientist is referring to a dozen or so chickens loitering just a few metres away in the car park of a scenic observation point for Opaekaa Falls on the island of Kauai, Hawaii. As the two try to act casual by their rented car, a jet-black hen with splashes of iridescent green feathers pecks its way along a trail of bird feed up to a device called a goal trap. Wright tugs at a string looped around his big toe and a spring-loaded net snaps over the bird. After a moment of stunned silence, the hen erupts into squawking fury. Biologists see in the feral animals an improbable experiment in evolution: what happens when chickens go wild?[more inside]
Following the Christian Reconquest and unification of Spain, concluded with the marriage of Ferdinand II of Aragon and Isabella I of Castile, the victorious Catholic sovereigns decreed on March 31, 1492 that all Jews convert to Christianity or leave Spain by the last day of July. Whether they stayed or left, many Jewish families continued to practice their faith in secret. Such crypto-Jews passed their traditions down the generations and around the world, some ending up in the Southwest. 500 years later, New Mexico's "hidden Jews" were found among strong Hispanic Catholic communities. Though some were skeptical about the origins of certain family practices, additional research and a pattern of breast cancer lead to genetic testing and confirmation of prior beliefs. [more inside]
A paper published in the journal Royal Society Open Science details how photo data from Flickr can be used to predict people's movements. [more inside]
We live in a world filled with viruses; they are everywhere that host species exist.
The Human Virome's Permanent Mark
The Human Virome's Permanent Mark
The virome doesn’t get as much love as its charismatic older brother, the microbiome. Studies of the bacteria that live inside us have caught the public imagination, showing that we contain a teeming diversity of critters whose populations affect everything from our diets to our immune systems. Thanks to cheap DNA sequencing, you can send samples of your microbiome to a lab and have a quick census taken; services like American Gut will even give you a colorful chart showing you which bacteria have been found and in what numbers. (Strictly the virome is part of the microbiome, which includes all the viruses, protozoa, and fungi living in one environment ― but bacteria are the stars of the show.)[more inside]
The Reproducibility Project out of UVa recently published their findings in Science: Estimating the reproducibility of psychological science
We conducted replications of 100 experimental and correlational studies published in three psychology journals using high-powered designs and original materials when available. ... The mean effect size (r) of the replication effects (Mr = 0.197, SD = 0.257) was half the magnitude of the mean effect size of the original effects (Mr = 0.403, SD = 0.188), representing a substantial decline. Ninety-seven percent of original studies had significant results (P < .05). Thirty-six percent of replications had significant results;[more inside]
Chiara Vigo is the last master of weaving the sea-silk cloth bysso [byssus]and showcases her art at Museo del Bisso in Sant'Antioco, Sardinia. [more inside]
Peter Watts: No Brainer.
For decades now, I have been haunted by the grainy, black-and-white x-ray of a human skull. It is alive but empty, with a cavernous fluid-filled space where the brain should be. A thin layer of brain tissue lines that cavity like an amniotic sac. The image hails from a 1980 review article[PDF] in Science: Roger Lewin, the author, reports that the patient in question had “virtually no brain”. But that’s not what scared me; hydrocephalus is nothing new, and it takes more to creep out this ex-biologist than a picture of Ventricles Gone Wild. What scared me was the fact that this virtually brain-free patient had an IQ of 126.[more inside]
What do Mark A. Bedau's Weak Emergence[PDF], Stewart Cohen's Contextualism, Skepticism, and the Structure of Reasons, Paul Benson's Free agency and self-worth, and Michael G.F. Martin's Perception, Concepts, and Memory have in common? They're all Sleeping Beauties. [more inside]
Carl Zimmer writes for The New York Times: How Simple Can Life Get? It's Complicated - "Scientists have long wondered how much further life can be stripped down and still remain alive. Is there a genetic essence of life? The answer seems to be that the true essence of life is not some handful of genes, but coexistence." [more inside]
Ellie Lobel was 27 when she was bitten by a tick and contracted Lyme disease. And she was not yet 45 when she decided to give up fighting for survival. ... “Nothing was working any more, and nobody had any answers for me,” she says. “Doctors couldn’t help me. I was spending all this cash and was going broke, and when I got my last test results back and all my counts were just horrible, I knew right then and there that this was the end.” ... So she packed up everything and moved to California to die. And she almost did. Less than a week after moving, Ellie was attacked by a swarm of Africanised bees.[more inside]
Repairing Bad Memories
[Daniela Schiller] explained how recent research, including her own, has shown that memories are not unchanging physical traces in the brain. Instead, they are malleable constructs that may be rebuilt every time they are recalled. The research suggests, she said, that doctors (and psychotherapists) might be able to use this knowledge to help patients block the fearful emotions they experience when recalling a traumatic event, converting chronic sources of debilitating anxiety into benign trips down memory lane. And then Schiller went back to what she had been doing, which was providing a slamming, rhythmic beat on drums and backup vocals for the Amygdaloids(previously), a rock band composed of New York City neuroscientists.[more inside]
John Richard Boyd was a U.S. Air Force F-86 and F-100 pilot. Indeed, at the elite Fighter Weapons School he was arguably the best pilot and instructor in the world during his tenure. Boyd could make jet fighters do “impossible” things and simultaneously out-think adversaries. As a result Boyd gained the moniker “40 Second Boyd” because he quickly defeated all challengers in simulated aerial combat.from a review of “Boyd: The Fighter Pilot Who Changed the Art of War” by Robert Coram. [more inside]
Tom Bartlett writes for The Chronicle of Higher Education: The Science Of Hatred
What makes humans capable of horrific violence? Why do we deny atrocities in the face of overwhelming evidence? A small group of psychologists say they are moving toward answers. Is anyone listening?[more inside]
The Galula Doctrine: An Interview with Galula's Biographer A.A. Cohen, who wrote Galula: The Life And Writings of the French Officer Who Defined Counterinsurgency, and an excerpt. [more inside]
As the West African Ebola epidemic stretches into its 10th month: researchers have identified the likely cause of the initial outbreak: a young boy playing with bats in a village in Guinea. The NY Times considers how the opportunity to contain the epidemic was missed and the effects of Ebola on West African economies. Vanity Fair takes a look at the failure to contain the disease within Guinea, Frontline goes to "Ground Zero" in Guinea, and searches for a missing Ebola patient. Meanwhile, West Africans welcomed Christmas (previously) and the New Year. Africa Stop Ebola!
Portia is a jumping spider that eats other spiders, through complex layers[PDF] of visual recognition and planned, trial-and-error[PDF, html] movement, even losing sight of it's target. How does a hunter get to be smarter than the prey, while having the same number of neurons, not even as many as a honeybee? Well, that's the interesting part ... [more inside]
How A Virus Hid In Our Genome For Six Million Years. Carl Zimmer writes for Phenomena [more inside]
In this paper, we examine a first-year torque and angular acceleration problem to address a possible use of the forelimbs of Tyrannosaurus rex. A 1/40th-scale model is brought to the classroom to introduce the students to the quandary: given that the forelimbs of T. rex were too short to reach its mouth, what function did the forelimbs serve? This issue crosses several scientific disciplines including paleontology, ecology, and physics, making it a great starting point for thinking “outside the box..." Lipkin and Carpenter have suggested that the forelimbs were used to hold a struggling victim (which had not been dispatched with the first bite) while the final, lethal bite was applied. If that is the case, then the forelimbs must be capable of large angular accelerations α in order to grab the animal attempting to escape. The concepts of the typical first-year physics course are sufficient to test this hypothesis... Naturally, student love solving any problem related to Tyrannosaurus rex.
Since September 11, 2001, according to the START terrorism database, there have been twenty lethal terrorist attacks in the United States, resulting in the deaths of forty-six people. There have been, at most, a handful of assassinations. According to the FBI, from 2001 to 2011, there have been nearly 250 mass shootings, defined as the death of four or more people. According to USA Today, whose data on mass shootings is considered at least as reliable as the FBI's, there have been 191 mass shootings since 2006, with 34 described as "public" shootings—seemingly random events, stranger to stranger. Nearly a thousand people have died; many more have been wounded. What America feared after the 9/11 attacks—that it would be perpetually attacked by outsiders calling themselves Americans—finally has transpired, only with an awful twist: It is perpetually attacked by Americans who call themselves outsiders.[more inside]
The Los Angeles Men's Central Jail’s gay wing was set up in response to a 1985 ACLU lawsuit, which aimed to protect homosexual inmates from a higher threat of physical violence than heterosexuals faced. But something unexpected has happened. The inmates are safer now, yes. But they’ve surprised everyone, perhaps even themselves, by setting up a small and flourishing society behind bars. Once released, some re-offend in order to be with an inmate they love. There are hatreds and occasionally even severe violence, but there is also friendship, community, love — and, especially, harmless rule-bending to dress up like models or decorate their bunks, often via devious means. LA Weekly looks inside MCJ, with an exclusive video the unique situation, from Voice Media Group. For further reading on the unique K6G unit, see Two Models of the Prison: Accidental Humanity and Hypermasculinity in the L.A. County Jail (PDF), and Governmental 'Gaydar': Race, Sexual Identity and Incarceration (PDF), both scholarly articles that study this part of MCJ.
Sugar: the evolution of a forbidden fruit
Sweetness was meant to be irresistible. We are born with a sweet tooth. Babies drink in sugar with their mother’s milk. Sweetness represents an instant energy boost, a fuel that kept our ancestors going in a harsher world where taste buds evolved to distinguish health-giving ripeness and freshness from the dangers of bitter, sour, toxic foods. Sugar gives us drug-like pleasures – lab rats deprived of their sugar-water fix exhibit classic signs of withdrawal. When things are going well, we blissfully say, “Life is sweet.”[more inside]
How much damage can a 6 year-old possibly do? An analysis of the cost of raising a child like Calvin from Calvin and Hobbes [more inside]
"In my experience, the reminder that the sexual fantasy isn’t real, that the women who perform availability aren’t ACTUALLY available, that we aren’t ACTUALLY clamouring to be sexualized by men, that we control when the fantasy starts and stops, and that our performance is just that, a performance that requires compensation… well, some men find that hard to swallow." [more inside]
Essays and longer texts written in English can provide interesting insights into the linguistic background of the writer, and about the history of other languages, even dying languages, when evaluated by a new computer program developed by a team of computer scientists at MIT and Israel’s Technion. As told on NPR, this discovery came about by accident, when the new program classified someone as Russian when they were Polish, due to the similarity in grammar between the languages. Researchers realized this could allow the program to re-create language families, and could be applied to people who currently may not speak their original language, allowing some categorization of dying languages. More from MIT, and a link to the paper (PDF, from the 2014 Meeting of the Association for Computational Linguistics).
"If a woman is objectified in a relationship, the research indicates, it's more likely that her male partner will sexually coerce and pressure her." [more inside]
Your body is home to about 100 trillion bacteria and other microbes, collectively known as your microbiome. Naturalists first became aware of our invisible lodgers in the 1600s, but it wasn’t until the past few years that we’ve become really familiar with them. This recent research has given the microbiome a cuddly kind of fame. We’ve come to appreciate how beneficial our microbes are — breaking down our food, fighting off infections and nurturing our immune system. It’s a lovely, invisible garden we should be tending for our own well-being. But in the journal Bioessays, a team of scientists has raised a creepier possibility. Perhaps our menagerie of germs is also influencing our behavior in order to advance its own evolutionary success — giving us cravings for certain foods, for example.[more inside]
"For many a female octopus, laying eggs marks the beginning of the end (pdf, 1.11MB). She needs to cover them and defend them against would-be predators. She needs to gently waft currents over them so they get a constant supply of fresh, oxygenated water. And she does this continuously, never leaving and never eating. (via)."
Since 2010, Breanne Fahs, associate professor of women and gender studies in ASU's New College of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences, has offered her students extra credit to personally challenge body hair norms, and document their experiences for the ten weeks during the class: men shave all their body hair from the neck down, while women don't shave. Comments from the public at large are mixed, as you might expect. But if you want to read something with more content, Fahs recently published a research article on imagined experiences of women compared to the documented experiences of her female students, titled Perilous Patches and Pitstaches: Imagined Versus Lived Experiences of Women’s Body Hair Growth (PDF)
Bacterial diseases cause millions of deaths every year. Most of these bacteria were benign at some point in their evolutionary past, and we don’t always understand what turned them into disease-causing pathogens. In a new study, researchers have tracked down when this switch happened in one flesh-eating bacteria. They think the knowledge might help predict future epidemics. [more inside]
Harvard University and XVIVO have come together again (Previouslyw/ a commercial focus, Previouslierw/an Academic focus) to add to the growing series of scientific animations for BioVisions -- Harvard's multimedia lab in the department of Molecular and Cellular Biology. 'Protein Packing' strives to more accurately depict the molecular chaos in each and every cell, with proteins jittering around in what may seem like random motion. Proteins occupy roughly 40% of the cytoplasm, creating an environment that risks unintentional interaction and aggregation. Via diffusion and motor protein transport, these molecules are directed to sites where they are needed.
Much of this is no doubt inspired by the beautiful art and explained illustrations of David Goodsell, a biologist at Scripps who has been accurately portraying the crowdedness of the cellular landscape for a long time now.[more inside]
Scholars often speak of ancient Greek masculinity and manhood as if there was a single, monolithic, simple conception. I will show that the ancient Greeks, like us today, had competing models or constructions of gender and that what it meant to be a man was different in different contexts. I will focus on three constructions of the masculine gender in ancient (classical and post-classical) Greece: the Athenian civic model, the Spartan martial model, and the Stoic philosophical model. I will focus on how these share certain commonalities, how they differ in significant ways, how each makes sense in terms of larger ideological contexts and needs, and, finally how constructions of masculinities today draw from all three. (10 page PDF) [more inside]
This Video Will Hurt
A detailed explanation of a fascinating field of science and medicine by the always interesting C.G.P. Grey.[more inside]
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