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]
In 1973, a small think-tank with the mandate of anticipating and preparing for future threats was formed inside the DoD, called the Office of Net Assessment. A RAND corp strategist named Andrew Marshall was placed at its head. Forty years later, he's still at it and has survived the latest round of budget cuts - for now. [more inside]
Because who is perfect? Disabled mannequins will be eliciting astonished looks from passers-by on Zurich's Bahnhofstrasse today. Between the perfect mannequins, there will be figures with scoliosis or brittle bone disease modelling the latest fashions. One will have shortened limbs; the other a malformed spine. The campaign has been devised for the International Day of Persons with Disabilities by Pro Infirmis, an organisation for the disabled.
Busty Mannequins and an Inflated Sense of Beauty in Venezuela In Venezuela, women are confronted with a culture of increasingly enhanced physiques fueled by beauty pageants and plastic surgery. - The New York Times [more inside]
Busty Mannequins and an Inflated Sense of Beauty in Venezuela In Venezuela, women are confronted with a culture of increasingly enhanced physiques fueled by beauty pageants and plastic surgery. - The New York Times [more inside]
The legal framework of terrorism has been ... complex. Under the Bush Administration, terrorists were deemd to be "unlawful enemy combatants," and not afforded the protections of the III Geneva Convention. The policy, thought not the name, has continued under the Obama Adminstration, and this indeterminate legal status has significantly complicated efforts to try or release them. However, there is an older legal model that may suffice: piracy. (previously [more inside]
"On a sunny day in 1998, Maura Gillison was walking across the campus of Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland, thinking about a virus. The young oncologist bumped into the director of the university's cancer centre, who asked politely about her work. Gillison described her discovery of early evidence that human papillomavirus (HPV) — a ubiquitous pathogen that infects nearly every human at some point in their lives — could be causing tens of thousands of cases of throat cancer each year in the United States. The senior doctor stared down at Gillison, not saying a word. “That was the first clue that what I was doing was interesting to others and had potential significance,” recalls Gillison."
Human papillomavirus is causing a new form of head and neck cancer— leaving researchers scrambling to understand risk factors, tests and treatments.[more inside]
You Are Not So Smart: Survivorship Bias, demonstrated through Abraham Wald's work at the Statistical Research Group in World War 2. [more inside]
Abstract: Cycling is popular among children, but results in thousands of injuries annually. In recent years, many states and localities have enacted bicycle helmet laws. We examine direct and indirect effects of these laws on injuries. Using hospital-level panel data and triple difference models, we find helmet laws are associated with reductions in bicycle-related head injuries among children. However, laws also are associated with decreases in non-head cycling injuries, as well as increases in head injuries from other wheeled sports. Thus, the observed reduction in bicycle-related head injuries may be due to reductions in bicycle riding induced by the laws. [FULL TEXT PDF] [more inside]
False memories of fabricated political events [ABSTRACT]. In the largest false memory study to date, 5,269 participants were asked about their memories for three true and one of five fabricated political events. Each fabricated event was accompanied by a photographic image purportedly depicting that event. Approximately half the participants falsely remembered that the false event happened, with 27% remembering that they saw the events happen on the news. Political orientation appeared to influence the formation of false memories, with conservatives more likely to falsely remember seeing Barack Obama shaking hands with the president of Iran, and liberals more likely to remember George W. Bush vacationing with a baseball celebrity during the Hurricane Katrina disaster. A follow-up study supported the explanation that events are more easily implanted in memory when they are congruent with a person's preexisting attitudes and evaluations, in part because attitude-congruent false events promote feelings of recognition and familiarity, which in turn interfere with source attributions. [FULL TEXT PDF AVAILABLE HERE] [more inside]
"Hundreds (maybe thousands) of spiders congregate between poles in the town of Santo Antonio de Plantina / PR." [more inside]
Researchers at Japan's National Institute of Genetics have succeeded in imaging neuronal activity in a fish's brain. They showed a genetically modified (to enable easier imaging) fish some food and "correlate[d] neuronal activity in the brain with prey capture behavior." The video is short but cool. (A link to the study abstract in Current Biology)
The practice of lying to one's children to encourage behavioral compliance was investigated among parents in the US (N = 114) and China (N = 85). The vast majority of parents (84% in the US and 98% in China) reported having lied to their children for this purpose. Within each country, the practice most frequently took the form of falsely threatening to leave a child alone in public if he or she refused to follow the parent. Crosscultural differences were seen: A larger proportion of the parents in China reported that they employed instrumental lie-telling to promote behavioral compliance, and a larger proportion approved of this practice, as compared to the parents in the US. This difference was not seen on measures relating to the practice of lying to promote positive feelings, or on measures relating to statements about fantasy characters such as the tooth fairy. Findings are discussed with reference to sociocultural values and certain parenting-related challenges that extend across cultures. [HTML] -- [PDF] [more inside]
If you've never done the Wingate-cycle test, let me try to explain what it feels like: It feels like your legs are giving birth. It feels like you've got an eight-martini hangover in your calves. Your face contorts like a porn star in an AVN-award-winning threesome scene. You emit noises that resemble feedback at a thrash-metal concert. Maybe your eyes are closed and you're rocking your head back and forth. The upside: It's over in 30 seconds. ... I rode the Wingate cycle as part of my research on a surprising and potentially life-altering theory called high-intensity interval training (HIIT). Think of it as the Evelyn Wood of exercise. The idea is that lightning-quick intense workouts might be as good for you as — if not better than — longer medium-intensity workouts.[more inside]
This week the FDA announced that they were approving a new kind of flu vaccine. Nestled in the articles was an odd fact: unlike traditional flu vaccines, the new kind, called Flublok, is produced by the cells of insects. This is the kind of detail that you might skim over without giving it a thought. If you did pause to ponder, you might be puzzled: how could insects possibly make a vaccine against viruses that infect humans? The answer may surprise you. To make vaccines, scientists are tapping into a battle between viruses and insects that’s raging in forests and fields and backyards all around us. It’s an important lesson in how to find new ideas in biotechnology: first, leave biologists free to explore the weirdest corners of nature they can find. [more inside]
The Norovirus: A Study in Puked Perfection, "Each norovirus carries just nine protein-coding genes (you have about 20,000). Even with that skimpy genetic toolkit, noroviruses can break the locks on our cells, slip in, and hack our own DNA to make new noroviruses. The details of this invasion are sketchy, alas, because scientists haven’t figured out a good way to rear noroviruses in human cells in their labs. It’s not even clear exactly which type of cell they invade once they reach the gut. Regardless of the type, they clearly know how to exploit their hosts. Noroviruses come roaring out of the infected cells in vast numbers. And then they come roaring out of the body. Within a day of infection, noroviruses have rewired our digestive system so that stuff comes flying out from both ends." [more inside]
Woese once said of himself and his work that when a wise man points out the moon, only a fool looks at the finger. Let us all be fools if just for a moment .
Microbiology's Scarred Revolutionary(PDF), Carl Woese (pron.: /ˈwoʊz/), a biophysicist and evolutionary microbiologist whose discovery 35 years ago of a “third domain” of life in the vast realm of micro-organisms altered scientific understanding of evolution, died on Sunday at his home in Urbana, Ill. He was 84. [more inside]
Association of Coffee Drinking with Total and Cause-Specific Mortality [FULL TEXT HTML]: "We used data from a very large study, the National Institutes of Health (NIH)–AARP Diet and Health Study (ClinicalTrials.gov number, NCT00340015), to determine whether coffee consumption is associated with total or cause-specific mortality. The current analysis, involving more than 400,000 participants and 52,000 deaths, had ample power to detect even modest associations and allowed for subgroup analyses according to important baseline factors, including the presence or absence of adiposity and diabetes, as well as cigarette-smoking status." [more inside]
Deciphering the Tools of Nature’s Zombies: The ability of parasites to alter the behaviour of their hosts fascinates both scientists and non-scientists alike. One reason that this topic resonates with so many is that it touches on core philosophical issues such as the existence of free will. If the mind is merely a machine, then it can be controlled by any entity that understands the code and has access to the machinery. This special issue of The Journal of Experimental Biology highlights some of the best-understood examples of parasite-induced changes in host brain and behaviour, encompassing both invertebrate and vertebrate hosts and micro- and macro-parasites. Full issue annotated inside: [more inside]
Contesting the “Nature” Of Conformity: What Milgram and Zimbardo's Studies Really Show [FULL TEXT] [more inside]
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