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.)
"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,"