Monthly Archives: June 2011

New posts on the @sciamblogs Guest Blog

Four today:

Overprescribing the Healthy Elderly: Why Funding Research and Drug Safety is Paramount By Laura Newman

Lindau Nobel Meeting–Cowboy hats and countesses By Lucas Brouwers

Lindau Nobel Meeting–The future of biomedicine By Christine Ottery

Lindau Nobel Meeting–Glowing brainbows By Lucas Brouwers

Read, comment, share….

ScienceOnline2011 – interview with John Hawks

Continuing with the tradition from last three years, I will occasionally post interviews with some of the participants of the ScienceOnline2011 conference that was held in the Research Triangle Park, NC back in January 2011. See all the interviews in this series here.

Today I chat with John Hawks (Twitter)

Welcome to A Blog Around The Clock. Would you, please, tell my readers a little bit more about yourself? Where are you coming from (both geographically and philosophically)? What is your (scientific) background?

I’ve been based in Madison for nine years, at the University of Wisconsin. I was born and raised in Norton, Kansas – a small, rural town halfway between Kansas City and Denver. I loved science when I was a kid, but it really wasn’t until I was halfway through college that I realized that I could be a scientist. I started as an English and French major, but I gradually made my way into anthropology.

I’ve taught evolution in Kansas, Michigan, Utah, and Wisconsin. Kansas gets a bad rap on this. Speaking from experience, the Kansas kids are the best. There’s a real sense in which a practical knowledge of animals and plants helps give a background for understanding evolutionary changes. This is how Darwin came up with the idea in the first place, after all. I really think that people who know animal breeding on an intuitive level are already primed to understand natural selection, and kids in rural Kansas (and rural Wisconsin) have that background.

Teachers need the resources to show these kids the human fossil record, and exercises to pull them into 21st century genetics. Why do we make kids sit four or five times through the same boring stuff about Mendel, when you can run a genome browser on any computer?

Tell us a little more about your career trajectory so far: interesting projects past and present?

I began my career working with fossil hominins, and still do a lot of work with skeletal collections. Early on, I realized that genetics really had the potential to become a much more important source of evidence about the past, and I taught myself genetics.

I was telling someone the other day that I’m an anthropologist because it’s those questions about our evolution that always guide what I do. I’ve published on the whole range of our evolutionary history: the earliest hominins and the timing of the human-chimpanzee divergence, the origin of Homo, the Neandertals, late Homo erectus and the origin of modern humans, and the very recent part of our evolution in the last few thousand years.

A few years ago my friend Greg Cochran and I reasoned that natural selection in humans ought to have become much stronger and faster in the recent past, because the human population really grew rapidly in size after we developed agriculture. That realization led us to some really interesting work on the recent evolution of human populations. People have been evolving in all kinds of interesting ways, and understanding that history may help us to identify the genes that make a difference in human variations and diseases.

What is taking up the most of your time and passion these days? What are your goals?

My students and I are working with archaic human genomes from several Neandertals from Europe, and one from a site called Denisova Cave in the Altai Mountains. This week I’m flying to Novosibirsk to travel out to the site. Denisova is fascinating because it’s a mystery: a population that we didn’t suspect existed from fossils alone, but for which we now have a complete genome. In some ways the problem of modern human origins has been solved. What’s exciting is that we’re discovering things about ancient humans that are not evident from their bones — things about immunity, muscle, the digestive system, and potentially the brain.

To my mind, the central problem in human evolution right now is the origin of our genus, Homo. I’ve been working on this question from a genetic perspective, and it’s also a very exciting moment in the fossil and archaeological records with new discoveries in South Africa and the Republic of Georgia. Over the next two years I will be directing a lot of effort to this problem and I expect that our view two years from now will be pretty different from today.

Stories about fossil hominins engage me, and I use genetics to add detail to them. We have the power now to find out things that nobody ever knew about our ancestors — and I just love figuring out how.

What aspect of science communication and/or particular use of the Web in science interests you the most?

The primary data of human genetics are more than ever available for free to the public. There is no barrier keeping high school students from doing the same kind of work on the Neandertal genome that my graduate students are doing today. I’m running a public forum this summer on personal genomes, and I can give the participants all the websites and software that we use to analyze genomes, because they’re all available for free to anyone. I find that tremendously empowering.

At the same time, I’ve gotten to a point in science where I’m often part of conversations that are more restricted, more closed. And it’s frustrating. I look at the web as a way to broaden our conversations, to bring in people who have knowledge and skills. I’m interested in more open scientific meetings, where being in the room isn’t a prerequisite to effective participation.

Streaming, live-tweeting and live-blogging are very important to me as ways to broaden the audience of scientific meetings. I am excited by ways of digitally archiving conversations and meetings, and sending those out to different levels. Why shouldn’t scientific meetings have a K-12 feed going out from them for students to follow? Why don’t we exploit the opportunity, when we have a thousand scientists together, to create content that can go out to the public in some compelling way?

I’m inspired by people who find ways to share new ideas. Paleoanthropology is a field where top researchers still get away with hiding their data from scrutiny. That culture has to change. Science means that others must be able to confirm observations independently. The web has made it possible to share data on a wide scale — as we see today in genetics, astronomy, and other data-intensive fields. The human fossil record is a drop in the bucket compared to the data that will be collected every night by the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope. And those astronomical data will all be open. What is stopping us from making the human fossil record available to schoolkids all over the world?

How does (if it does) blogging figure in your work? How about social networks, e.g., Twitter, FriendFeed, Facebook and others? How do you intergrate all of your online activity into a coherent whole? Do you find all this online activity to be a net positive (or even a necessity) in what you do?

My blog is my scientific memory. I really mean that, and I’ll explain why.

Several years ago I decided to commit to using a content management system, and I started using a series of Perl scripts to translate content from plain text files and present it as XHTML. For five years I ran everything that way off my own server with a simple versioning system: Published and unpublished files differ by a single letter in the file extension, the whole thing was updated across several computers and the server by rsync. It’s a beautiful system (at least, at small scale) and it meant that I could seamlessly present myself with a different blog than the public.

I wanted to structure my own notes, build an argument, maintain references consistently across multiple posts, and reuse material in scientific papers as I needed. I write 1 or two long posts every day, and maybe five or six short ones. I share the things I think are worth sharing, or are ready to share, which is really one or two short posts a day and a long post every 3 or 4 days. My computer is full of stuff I don’t publish. A lot ends up in scientific papers, some of it just serves as background for later work, and all of it makes up my structured, organized databank of knowledge about human evolution. My memory. I search this body of writing when I start thinking about how to address a new topic, and more often than not I’ve already written something relevant, giving me a place to start and build new material.

Twitter is like ham radio. I keep up with my faraway friends and meet new people, and a whole crew of folks around the world may be listening in. Yesterday I was carrying on a conversation about leprosy — you’ll see that on my blog maybe weeks from now.

There are certain people who just make me smile when they update.

When and how did you first discover science blogs? What are some of your favourites? Have you discovered any cool science blogs by the participants at the Conference?

When journalists started to realize that science blogs were a phenomenon, in 2005 or so, I’d been going for a while and had pretty good traffic, so I was ranked right up there on the lists of science blogs to read. I’m really gratified that my readership has grown continuously since then.

I have some great favorites that I’ve read from the start, or at least for several years. Razib Khan, Mo Costandi, Sabine Hossenfelder, Michael Eisen, Alex Golub, Daniel MacArthur. Genomes Unzipped is just full of compelling stuff, and they’re sharing data and tools along with writing about genetic testing.

I feel sad when people stop writing. There have been all these genetics grad students and postdocs over the years who wrote pseudonymously, and who mostly stopped when they got tenure-track jobs. Grant applications kill creativity.

In the last couple of years I’ve seen a tremendous growth in biological anthropology and archaeology blogs and social networks. For a long time I felt really lonely, and now I find I’m not so much the hepcat anymore. Right now, it’s Kristina Killgrove, Julienne Rutherford, and Kate Clancy in biological anthropology, Julien Riel-Salvatore and Colleen Morgan in archaeology, who really impress me.

I follow the Scientopia feed and just admire the energy of the bloggers on that network. I feel like many of the young, exciting bloggers are embedded within their school or professional networks more than “science blogging” as a category. I think we need some more ways to draw good people across disciplines. I was telling somebody the other day that the Scientific American guest blog has become the place to be seen.

What was the best aspect of ScienceOnline2011 for you? Any suggestions for next year?

I’m organizing a conference and I want it to be just like ScienceOnline. I’ve never been to an event that made it so natural to establish lasting contacts with people, to talk about common issues across scientific disciplines, to expand the conversation outside the room.

The challenge is to raise the bar. At a given moment, the people in the room may be the most engaged, but they’re only the crest of a much larger wave moving science communication forward. How do we connect the energy with patrons who want this to happen?

Is there anything that happened at this Conference – a session, something someone said or did or wrote – that will change the way you think about science communication, or something that you will take with you to your job, or to your science reading and writing?

Some moments I will never forget.

Thank you so much for the interview. I hope to see you again here next January!

On @sciam blogs today

On the Guest Blog:

Beauty Pageants and the Misunderstanding of Evolution Meet….Again by Susanna Speier

Lindau Nobel Meeting–Joke van Bemmel, Chromatin and Epigenetics by Christine Ottery

Lindau Nobel Meeting–Evolutionary Chemistry with Jean-Marie Lehn by Lucas Brouwers

Lindau Nobel Meeting–Peter Agre and Torsten Wiesel: Nobel laureate scientific diplomacy builds bridges by Christine Ottery

Lindau Nobel Meeting–Buckminsterfullerene and the Third Man by Lucas Brouwers

And on the Expeditions blog:

Squid Studies: “It is not down in any map; true places never are” — Herman Melville, Moby Dick by William Gilly

Enjoy, comment, share…

On @sciamblogs today

Three posts on the Guest Blog today:

A Journey in Sharing Science: From the Lab to Social Media and Beyond by Jason A. Tetro

Lindau Nobel Meeting–Sentences that win Nobel prizes by Lucas Brouwers

Lindau Nobel Meeting–If HIV is attacked, it adapts by Lucas Brouwers

Enjoy, comment, share…

Today on @sciam blogs

On the Guest Blog:

Education Reform in the Wrong Direction: High-Stake Consequences for New York State Teachers and Their Students by Jeanne Garbarino

Lindau Nobel Meeting–Monday’s Researcher: Madhurima Benekareddy by Christine Ottery

Lindau Nobel Meeting–Stressed Mind, Stressed DNA by Christine Ottery

Lindau Nobel Meeting–Beef Bug to Blame for Bowel Cancer? by Christine Ottery

Lindau Nobel Meeting–Ada Yonath: Climbing the Everest with polar bears by Lucas Brouwers.

On Observations blog:

Are Violent Video Games Corrupting Children? Supreme Court Says States Cannot Decide by Larry Greenemeier

Sequencing of Tasmanian Devil Genome Suggests New Attack on Contagious Cancer, Clues for Conservation by Katherine Harmon

And on the Expeditions blog:

Squid Studies: Correction, Connections and Calamar by William Gilly

As always – read, enjoy, comment, share…

Open Laboratory 2011 – submissions so far

The submission form for the 2011 edition of Open Lab is now open. Any blog post written since December 1, 2010 is eligible for submission.

We accept essays, stories, poetry, cartoons/comics, original art.

Once you are done submitting your own posts, you can start looking at the others’, including on aggregators like ScienceSeeker.org, Scienceblogging.org and Researchblogging.org.

As I always do, I will keep posting the full list of submitted entries once a week until the deadline – see the listing under the fold.

You can buy the last five annual collections here. You can read Prefaces and Introductions to older editions here.

Help us spread the word by displaying these badges (designed by Doctor Zen:

Continue reading

On the @SciAm blogs today

On the Guest Blog, three posts today (so far!):

Stick to the Science by Michael E. Mann

Lindau Nobel Meeting–The Cross-Pollination of Ideas by Christine Ottery

Too Hard for Science? Experimenting on Children Like Lab Rats by Charles Q. Choi, interviewing Steven Pinker.

On Cross-Check:

Defending Stephen Jay Gould’s Crusade against Biological Determinism by John Horgan

Enjoy, comment, share….

Today on @sciam blogs

On the Guest Blog:

Close Encounters of Science and Medicine by Iwona Fijalkowska

On Expeditions blog:

We Visit Fishy Relatives, Geology Wonderland by Ashley Poust and Hannah Susorney

On Extinction Countdown:

Platypus Threatened by Climate Change by John Platt

On Solar at Home:

Twatter? Phasebook? My(Green)Space? Can Social Networking Be Harnessed for Energy Conservation?

ScienceOnline2011 – interview with Bonnie Swoger

Continuing with the tradition from last three years, I will occasionally post interviews with some of the participants of the ScienceOnline2011 conference that was held in the Research Triangle Park, NC back in January 2011. See all the interviews in this series here.

Today I chat with Bonnie Swoger (blog, Twitter)

Welcome to A Blog Around The Clock. Would you, please, tell my readers a little bit more about yourself? Where are you coming from (both geographically and philosophically)? What is your (scientific) background?

I am a science librarian at a small public liberal arts college in central New York. I started out as a geologist, completing a masters degree without really knowing what I wanted to do with it. I spent a few years teaching introductory geology before realizing that what I was really interested in was how scientists communicate with each other. Through the eyes of my students, I was able to see that this world of scientific communication (which I took for granted) was difficult for some of them to access and understand. I decided that I could help students navigate this world as a librarian.

What is taking up the most of your time and passion these days? What are your goals?

My regular work day consists of answering reference questions (most of the science-related ones come my way), teaching undergraduate students about the nature of the scientific literature (and how to access it) and working with faculty. At the moment, I am exploring ways of convincing faculty who are not immersed in science blogs and other “new” forms of scientific communication to pay attention to these developments. In turn, I work with these faculty to teach their students about how scientists communicate – including traditional methods and new-fangled technologies.

What aspect of science communication and/or particular use of the Web in science interests you the most?

I am very interested in the slowly changing nature of peer review (open review, post publication review, etc.). Most researchers still rely (and teach their students to rely) on the traditional system. They are very wary of some of the new experiments. I would like to see faculty be open to these developments so that they can teach their students about them. The peer review system will change – it isn’t set in stone – and it may get more complicated for undergraduate students to recognize “quality” work. At the moment, they typically have one litmus test – peer review. Even though that test isn’t failsafe, it’s easy to apply. As the peer review system changes, professors will have to educate their students on how things work. I think that librarians can be a useful partner in this education.

When and how did you first discover science blogs? What are some of your favourites? Have you discovered any cool science blogs by the participants at the Conference?

I discovered science blogs prior to my career switch, when I was teaching geology. The discussions about “Web 2.0″ and “Science 2.0″ were part of what encouraged me to pursue librarianship – I wanted to help students learn about these new developments. I am especially fond of the thoughtful blogs written by some outstanding science librarians Christina Pikas and John Dupuis, both of whom are ScienceOnline participants.

How does (if it does) blogging figure in your work? How about social networks, e.g., Twitter, FriendFeed, Facebook and others? How do you intergrate all of your online activity into a coherent whole? Do you find all this online activity to be a net positive (or even a necessity) in what you do?

I started blogging about two years ago, just after I got involved with Twitter. For me, the blog forces me to think through various issues that arise in scholarly communication, publishing and education. I can also reach out to science faculty in my quest to convince them to spend time teaching their students about scientific communication – don’t assume they just pick it up as they go. Twitter has become a very important source of professional development for me, as well as introduced me to some wonderful colleagues. Although there aren’t a lot of faculty at my institution who use it, I can follow practicing scientists and keep up with publishing trends. I learn about a lot of new resources and developing news stories via Twitter, often making me the most informed person in the room regarding scholarly communication.

What was the best aspect of ScienceOnline2011 for you? Any suggestions for next year?

My favorite aspect of this conference is the diverse group of folks who attend. Scientists, teaching faculty, journalists and librarians rarely sit down and talk about how scientists communicate with one another. It allows each group to gain a better understanding of the processes, strengths and limitations of the other groups. Because I concentrate on undergraduate education, I would love to see a conversation with teaching faculty, librarians and students about strategies to teach undergraduates about science communication (new and old).

Is there anything that happened at this Conference – a session, something someone said or did or wrote – that will change the way you think about science communication, or something that you will take with you to your job, or to your science reading and writing?

For me, the most interesting discussions at ScienceOnline2011 centered around alternative metrics for measuring scholarly “impact”. At the conference, scientists and scholars who were engaged in new forms of scholarly communication argued passionately that the Impact Factor was horrible and everyone seemed to be in agreement that new metrics were needed. Back at my institution, the case for new metrics isn’t as clear. There is still a distrust among many rank-and-file researchers about blogs and data sharing and pre-prints as legitimate scientific work. While they don’t love the impact factor, they don’t see the pressing need to develop new metrics because the things they may measure (downloads, bookmarks, etc.) aren’t as tried and true as citations. There seems to be a dichotomy in the science community – those who are actively engaged in newer forms of scholarship and those who just aren’t interested. Before any alternative metrics can gain acceptance, a large portion of the scientific community may still need to be convinced of the importance of what the alt metrics are measuring.

Thank you so much for the interview. I hope to see you again in Raleigh in January.

New posts on the @SciAm blogs

On the Guest Blog:

#WSF11: The Invisible Language of Smell by Bora Zivkovic and Perrin Ireland

On Expeditions blog:

The South Pacific Islands Survey–One Illness Threatens a Cook Islander’s Way of Life by Lindsey Hoshaw

Go to Landfill, Find a Dinosaur Footprint! by Christi Lorang

On Anecdotes From The Archive:

Hold Your Horses with Electricity by Mary Karmelek

On Cross-Check:

Cool Science Classics for Summer Reading, Part 2 by John Horgan

Enjoy, comment, share….

New issue of Journal of Science Communication

June 2011 issue of JCOM – Journal of Science Communication – (issue 2, volume 10) is online.

Plenty of fodder for blogging! Let me know if you comment on any of these papers.

Where is public communication of science going?

We have published this issue of JCOM while the call for papers is open for the twelfth Public Communication of Science and Technology conference. The biennial meeting will be held in April 2012 and for the first time in Italy: the hosting city in Florence. The 2012 edition of the PCST conference is being held after more than twenty years of growth of the network of scholars that founded it and the expansion of its boundaries outside the European context from which it was created. JCOM is a part of this network, made up not only of individuals but also of organisations, university departments, journals, national conferences and so on.

Science as theatre: a New Zealand history of performances and exhibitions

In colonial times in New Zealand the portrayal of science to the public had a sense of theatre, with nineteenth and early twentieth century grand exhibitions of a new nation’s resources and its technological achievements complemented by spectacular public lectures and demonstrations by visitors from overseas and scientific ‘showmen’. However, from 1926 to the mid-1990s there were few public displays of scientific research and its applications, corresponding to an inward-looking science regime presided over by the Government science agency, the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research. The subsequent development of science centres with their emphasis on visitor participation has led to an increase in the audience for science and a revival of theatricality in presentation of exhibitions, demonstration lectures, café scientifiques, and science-related activities.

What are the features of non-expert opinions on regenerative medicine? Opinion analysis of workshop participants

Regenerative medicine (RM) has the potential to strongly impact on society. To determine non-experts’ impressions of RM, we analyzed opinions obtained from workshops in which participants freely discussed RM. Three major features were apparent. First, non-experts were most concerned with the possible effects of RM after it has been fully realized in society. Second, non-experts expressed concerns not only about RM itself, but also about the governance and operation of the technology. Third, non-experts were not only concerned about direct influences of RM, but also about its potential indirect influences. These identified features are likely to be controversial issues when RM is introduced into society. It is important to promote early discussion of these issues by society as a whole.

From journal to headline: the accuracy of climate science news in Danish high quality newspapers

A significant number of mass media news stories on climate change quote scientific publications. However, the journalistic process of popularizing scientific research regarding climate change has been profoundly criticized for being manipulative and inaccurate. This preliminary study used content analysis to examine the accuracy of Danish high quality newspapers in quoting scientific publications from 1997 to 2009. Out of 88 articles, 46 contained inaccuracies though the majority was found to be insignificant and random. The study concludes that Danish broadsheet newspapers are ‘moderately inaccurate’ in quoting science publications but are not deliberately hyping scientific claims. However, the study also shows that 11% contained confusion of source, meaning that statements originating from press material or other news outlets were incorrectly credited to scientific peer-reviewed publications.

Science and the Internet: be fruitful and multiply?

What role and citizenship has the scientific thought on the web, or rather on the social side of the web? Does it benefit from the debate between peers and with the general public, or else does it only risk to become a monologue? How to deal with the number of instruments the Internet is able to provide in making, discussing and disseminating research? These are some of the questions tackled by the reflections from scholars and experts which were the basis for our debate.

The Internet phenomenon

The Internet has become a worldwide phenomenon. It is undeniable that the Net has forcefully entered everyday life, ceasing to be a useful tool only for a small circle of researchers and academics, to become a new and versatile means of mass communication. And measuring Internet access and calculating the number of Internet users is not easy. By using the domain names registered in the “.it” as an endogenous metric, the Institute of Informatics and Telematics of the Italian National Research Council (IIT-CNR) carried out a research on Internet diffusion in Italy taking into account some major categories of users (enterprises, non-profit organizations, individuals, professionals and public bodies) and territorial distribution (nation, macro-area, region and province). This research has made it possible to carry out an initial analysis of the digital divide in Italy.

Access to news on line: myths, risks and facts

Although the debates on the Internet (sceptical, enthusiastic and finally more mature ones) in our country started in the mid 90s, it is only over the past few years that the Internet, especially thanks to social networks, has become a daily practice for millions of Italians. Television still is the main medium to spread information, but as it becomes increasingly cross-bred with the Internet (and other media too), the information-spreading process deeply changes. This creates, also in our country, the preconditions for the development of a web public (an active and connected one), founded on the new practices of multitasking and participatory information.

Social networks, a populated picture

Man, by his very nature, puts things between himself and the environment, turning the latter into a place, a space. He arranges the environment around him on multiple levels, by projecting parts of himself and shaping the frontiers and the horizons that surround, define and represent him. This was learnt a long time ago, but a trace and a memory remain in the way man acts: when mapping reality (both physical reality and the reality explored through digital means), we observe it and find a way through it by adopting behaviours that have always been similar. What has changed in this mapping is the ability to recognise, especially the ability to interpret maps and creatively work them.

Big Announcements

No, not that! (Yet)

First, let’s get bad news out of the way – in the end, I will not be able to go to the World Conference of Science Journalists in Doha, Qatar. But I will watch (with envy, of course) the #WCSJ11 hashtag on Twitter. And I will re-double my efforts to make it to Science Online London in September and the NASW/CASW Science Writers meeting in Flagstaff in October.

Now to the bright side, and some good news.

Starting in September and lasting two years, as was just announced over the weekend, I will be a Visiting Scholar at the NYU school of journalism Science, Health and Environmental Reporting Program (SHERP), co-sponsored by Jay Rosen’s Studio 20 (more). This will be a great opportunity for me to learn about the teaching of the craft from within, and to help the students network and prepare for the new media ecosystem. This promises to be great fun! And is a great honor, of course.

On the @SciAm blogs today

Today on the blogs:

On the Guest Blog:

Book Review: The Future of Water by Matthew Garcia.

The Intelligent Homosexual’s Guide to Natural Selection and Evolution, with a Key to Many Complicating Factors by Jeremy Yoder

On the Expeditions blog:

MSU China Paleontology Expedition: Rock Mapping a Challenge for Biology Student by Amanda Wregglesworth

Squid Studies: Changing Seas and Shrinking Squid

New posts on the @SciAm blogs

Two new posts this morning…

On the Guest Blog:

Stem rust Ug99 – The agricultural bully by Tiffany Stecker.

On the Expeditions blog:

Incredible find in temple museum, harrowing rescue on crumbly mudstone by Betsy Kruk

Enjoy, comment, share…

Open Laboratory 2011 – submissions so far

The submission form for the 2011 edition of Open Lab is now open. Any blog post written since December 1, 2010 is eligible for submission.

We accept essays, stories, poetry, cartoons/comics, original art.

Once you are done submitting your own posts, you can start looking at the others’, including on aggregators like ScienceSeeker.org, Scienceblogging.org and Researchblogging.org.

As I always do, I will keep posting the full list of submitted entries once a week until the deadline – see the listing under the fold.

You can buy the last five annual collections here. You can read Prefaces and Introductions to older editions here.

Help us spread the word by displaying these badges (designed by Doctor Zen:

Continue reading

New posts on the @SciAm blogs

Happy Father’s Day!

On the Guest Blog:

Good Dads and Not-So-Good Dads in the Animal Kingdom by David Manly and Lauren Reid.

See more about The Science of Fatherhood.

On the Expeditions blog:

MSU China Paleontology Expedition–Beautiful window serves as escape hatch for baby dinosaur by Betsy Kruk

Fossil hunting in China very different than in Montana by Ashley Poust

Squid Studies: Scientists Seeking and Savoring Squid by William Gilly

Enjoy, comment, share…

New posts on @SciAm blogs

Plenty of interesting stuff on SciAm blogs today, something for everyone:

On the Guest Blog:

Too Hard for Science? Neutrinos from the Big Bang by Charles Q. Choi

On the Expeditions blog:

MSU China Paleontology Expedition–New season starts with division of egg duties, petrified trees, soybean Popsicles by Betsy Kruk

Squid Studies: Back to the Sea of Cortez by William Gilly

On Observations blog:

Leap Seconds May Hit a Speed Bump by Sophie Bushwick

On Extinction Countdown blog:

Arabian Oryx Makes History as First Species to Be Upgraded from “Extinct in the Wild” to “Vulnerable” by John Platt

On Bering in Mind blog:

Female Ejaculation: The Long Road To Non-Discovery by Jesse Bering

As always, read, enjoy, post comments, and share with your friends on social networks…

New posts on the @SciAm blogs, including two on #arseniclife

There are two new blog posts on the #arseniclife saga on the Guest Blog today;

Rosie Redfield – From the shadows to the spotlight to the dustbin – the rise and fall of GFAJ-1

And Marie-Claire Shanahan – Arsenic bacteria have changed science…science education that is

Today, we are also starting a new trip on the Expeditions blog:

New Expedition – MSU student research with dinosaur eggs in China

Enjoy, comment, share…

New posts on the @SciAm blogs

Since you last heard from me, there were two new posts on the Guest Blog:

The Power of Theory in Science by Ethan Siegel.

Linking Erosional and Depositional Landscapes by Brian Romans.

And we finished the ‘Problems Without Passports’ series of posts on the Expeditions blog:

Experiential Learning and Communicating by Jim Haw.

Thank you, Scientific Research Diving at USC Dornsife by me.

As always: read, comment, share….

Lots of cool stuff on the @sciam blogs today

First, two posts on the Guest Blog:

What bats, bombs, and sharks taught us about hearing by Bradley Voytek, includes old, rare, amazing footage from the original 1940s experiments that established that bats use echo-location!

Stranded whales on the Key Largo shore by Michelle Bialeck.

On Expeditions:

Problems Without Passports: Scientific Research Diving at USC Dornsife–Looking Ahead byDavid Ginsburg.

On Anecdotes from the Archive:

A Closer Look at New York City’s Tap Water Monsters

On Cross-Check:

Cool Science Classics for Summer Reading by John Horgan.

Enjoy, comment, share…

New posts on the @SciAm blogs

Two posts on the Guest Blog today:

Weinergate: Private Records in a Public Age by Krystal D’Costa.

When Cells Discovered Architecture by Jennifer Frazer.

And on the Expeditions blog:

Problems Without Passports: Scientific Research Diving at USC Dornsife – Just When You Think It Can’t Get Any Better by Genivieve McCormick.

Read, enjoy, comment and share…

Open Laboratory 2011 – submissions so far

The submission form for the 2011 edition of Open Lab is now open. Any blog post written since December 1, 2010 is eligible for submission.

We accept essays, stories, poetry, cartoons/comics, original art.

Once you are done submitting your own posts, you can start looking at the others’, including on aggregators like ScienceSeeker.org, Scienceblogging.org and Researchblogging.org.

As I always do, I will keep posting the full list of submitted entries once a week until the deadline – see the listing under the fold.

You can buy the last five annual collections here. You can read Prefaces and Introductions to older editions here.

Help us spread the word by displaying these badges (designed by Doctor Zen:

Continue reading

The Bezos Scholars Program at the World Science Festival

The World Science Festival is a place where one goes to see the giants of science, many of whom are household names (at least in scientifically inclined households) like E. O. Wilson, Steven Pinker and James Watson, people on top of their game in their scientific fields, as well as science supporters in other walks of life, including entertainment—Alan Alda, Maggie Gullenhal and Susan Sarandon were there, among others—and journalism (see this for an example, or check out more complete coverage of the Festival at Nature Network).

With so many exciting sessions, panels and other events at the Festival, it was hard to choose which ones to attend. One of the events I especially wanted to see centered on the other end of the spectrum—the youngest researchers, just getting to taste the scientific life for the first time in their lives.

On the morning of Saturday the 4th, four high school seniors from New York schools presented their research at the N.Y.U. Kimmel Center. This is the second year that the project, The Bezos Scholars Program, sponsored jointly by the Bezos Family Foundation and the World Science Festival, took place.

Each student starts the program as a high school junior and, with mentoring by a science teacher and a scientist or engineer in the community, spends a year working on the project. At the end of the year, the students get to present their findings at the Festival and also get to meet the senior scientists, attend other events, all expenses paid by the Bezos Family.

The event, so far, has not been broadly advertised by the Festival probably to avoid having crowds in the thousands assembling to give the students stage fright. Still, the room was filled by dozens of local scientists, writers and educators and the students certainly did not disappoint.

It is important to note here that a big part of organization, coordination and coaching was done by Summer Ash (see also).

The projects

To summarize the research projects, I asked Perrin Ireland to provide cartoon versions of the presentations. Perrin Ireland is a graphic science journalist who currently serves as Science Storyteller at AlphaChimp Studio, Inc. She uses art and narrative to facilitate scientists sharing their stories, and creates comics about the research process.

More importantly for us here, unlike most of us who write notes when attending presentations, Perrin draws them. You can find more of Perrin’s work at Small and Tender, and follow her on Twitter at @experrinment.

“Aluminum Ion-Induced Degeneration of Dopamine Neurons in Caenorhabditis elegans”

First up was Rozalina Suleymanova from Bard High School Early College Queens. Her teacher is Kevin Bisceglia, Ph.D. and her mentor is Dr. Maria Doitsidou from The Hobert Laboratory in the Department of Biochemistry & Molecular Biophysics at Columbia University Medical Center.

Aluminum is found in brain tissues of Alzheimers’ patients. It is reasonable to hypothesize that aluminum can also affect neurons in other neurodegenrative diseases such as Parkinson’s. In Parkinson’s, it is the neurons that secrete dopamine that are affected.

Human brains are large and complex, but the nematode worm Caenorhabditis elegans has a simple nervous system in which every individual neuron (out of a total of 302) is known – where it is, what neurotransmitter it uses, and what function it performs. It is also an excellent laboratory model organism, with easy husbandry and breeding, short lifespan, and genetic techniques in place.

What Rozalina Suleymanova did was make a new strain of C.elegans in which only the eight dopamine-releasing neurons express green fluoresecent protein which allowed her to see them under a epiflorescence microscope.

She then exposed the worms to different doses of aluminum(III) in the form of AlCl3 either as acute exposure (30 minutes of high concentration) or as chronic exposure (12 days of continuous exposure of lower concentration).

Under the acute regimen, some worms died (how many – depended on the concentration). But the worms that survived showed no changes in the dopamine neurons. Under chronic exposure, all worms survived and only a very small proportion (not different from chance) showed some minor changes in the dopamine neurons. Thus, essentially negative results (hard to publish), but excellent work!

“The Structural Stability of Trusses”

Next up was Matthew Taggart from the NYC LAB School for Collaborative Studies, his teacher and Ali Kowalsky and his mentors Jeremy Billig, P.E., Senior Engineer at McLaren Engineering Group in NYC.

He used a program called Risa3D to build virtual bridges. The program enabled him to test the design of bridges built of iron trusses.

By varying heights (‘depth’) and widths (‘span’) of trusses and applying vertical downward force onto them until they broke, he discovered that it is the height-width ratio, not either one of the dimensions alone, that determines the strength and resistance of this kind of bridge design.

Needless to say, these kinds of calculations are performed during the process of actual design of infrastructure – using computer program first, verifying by hand calculations second, then doing test designs before starting the real construction.

“Identifying Presence of Race Bias Among Youth”

Saba Khalid from the Brooklyn Technical High School was the third student researcher up on stage, accompanied by her teacher Janice Baranowski, and her mentor Dr. Gaëlle C. Pierre from the Department of Psychology at NYU School of Medicine.

She devised a questionnaire, based on some older literature on race perception, and distributed it to the students at her school. Each question showed five pictures of dolls, each with a different skin tone, and asked which of the five dolls is most likely to be working in a particular profession.

Saba Khalid then analyzed the data correlating the responses to the race/ethnicity of the responder, to their socio-economic status and other parameters.

Out of many different responses, Saba Khalid pointed out three examples that are in some way typical. For one, respondents of all races predominantly pointed the darkest doll as a likely employee in a fast-food restaurant. At the other end, most respondents of all races chose the lightest doll for the profession of a pilot. Interestingly, for the profession of a teacher, the answers were quite evenly spread, with some tendency for respondents to pick a doll closest to their own skin color.

“Proactive and Reactive Connection Relevance Heuristics In A Virtual Social Network”

Finally, Tyler A. Romeo from the Staten Island Technical High School took stage. His teacher is Frank Mazza and his mentor is Dr. Dennis Shasha from the Department of Computer Science at the Courant Institute of Mathematical Sciences at NYU.

There are two ways an online service can make recommendations to its users. One method tracks the user’s prior choices and recommends items that are similar in some way. Think of Amazon.com recommending books similar to the books you have looked at or ordered. The other method is collaborative filtering – the site recommend items that other users who are similar to you have liked in the past.

What Tyler Romeo did was to recruit eight volunteers from his school who are active Facebook users, and wrote an app for them to install. The app analyzed prior behavior of these users as to which items they found interesting (by commenting or “Like”-ing) using the type and length (but not content) of the post as a key parameter. Tyler then used a support vector machine to predict which new items on the participants’ Facebook walls would be considered interesting by others.

What Tyler concluded was that a support vector machine may be able to predict which posts users will find interesting. Also, “cleaning up” the Facebook Walls to include only the “interesting” posts improved the overall quality of the posts compared to a random feed, which can possibly lead to an improved experience for the user.

***

After the event, several of us in the audience concluded that the quality of the work we just saw was definitely higher than expected for high school – college level for sure, and the Nematode work probably as good as a Masters project. Also, the way they did the presentations gave us confidence to ask tough questions and not to treat them too gently just because they are so young.

And it is there, during the Q&A sessions, where they really shone and showed that they truly own their research and are not just well coached by Summer Ash and their mentors. They understood all questions, addressed every component of multi-component questions, demonstrated complete grasp of the issues, and always gave satisfactory answers (and yes, sometimes saying “I don’t know” is a satisfactory answer even if you are much older than 18 and not just entering the world of science).

They identified weaknesses in their experiments, and suggested good follow-up experiments for the future. I was deeply impressed by their focus and presence of mind – I know for myself how hard it is to do a good Q&A session after giving a presentation. They are definitely going places – I hope they choose careers in science as they have what it takes to succeed.

***

My first thought, after being so impressed by the presentations, was: why only four students? There must be many more talented students in New York schools, with aptitude for and interest in science and engineering.

Finding the right match between three very busy people—the student, the teacher and the mentor—and then coordinating their times and sustaining the work and enthusiasm for an entire year must be quite a challenge.

I am wondering how much a program like this can be scaled up to include more students. Also, having such a program in a city that is smaller, slower, less competitive than New York City, where fewer such educational organizations may exist but are more likely to see each other as collaborators than competitors, may be easier. It would be interesting to see how well similar programs do in other places. But for now, clearly, New York City takes the lead. Great job!

New posts on the @SciAm blogs…

First, more coverage of the World Science Festival, on the Observations blog – The Bezos Scholars Program at the World Science Festival by Bora Zivkovic and Perrin Ireland.

Then, on the Guest Blog, two posts today (and many more to come next week, some delicious stuff to be looking forward to):

Ant Thrills: Seeing Leaf-Cutter Ants through an Artist’s Eyes by Jessica Wapner.

Too Hard for Science? Regaining the Element of Surprise by Charles Q. Choi.

As always: read, enjoy, post comments, and share with your friends on social networks…

New posts on the @SciAm blogs

Lots of good stuff today!

On the Guest Blog – three posts today:

To Turn Up the Music, Cochlear Implants Need a Software Update by Allison Bland.

It’s Your Virtual Assistant, Doc. Who Is Watson? by Karthika Muthukumaraswamy.

Lindau Nobel meeting – courting Minerva with Ragnar Granit by Lucas Brouwers.

On Expeditions blog:

Problems Without Passports: Scientific Research Diving at USC Dornsife–Last Child in the Reef by Emilie Moore.

And a cool thought-experiment post on Observations by George Musser:

What Would Happen If Earth and Mars Switched Places?

Read, enjoy, comment, share with friends…

New posts on the @SciAm blogs

Three great posts today!

First this morning, a wonderful longform article by Ed Yong on the Guest Blog – The Renaissance Man: How to Become a Scientist Over and Over Again.

Then, just a few minutes ago, as today is the World Oceans Day, also on Guest Blog – A World Ocean by Kevin Zelnio.

Finally, on the ‘Anecdotes from the Archive’ blog, Mary Karmelek: As the Wheel Turns: Syria’s Past and Present.

Enjoy, comment, share with your friends…

New posts on the @SciAm blogs

There are two new posts on the Guest Blog today:

Simply Brilliant Science: Creating Healthier Eggs for a Healthier You by Kiyomi Deards.

What Does the New Double-Slit Experiment Actually Show? by Matthew Francis.

And on the Expeditions blog: Problems Without Passports: Scientific Research Diving at USC Dornsife – Peleliu: 67 Years After the Battle – A New and Different Conflict by Jim Haw.

Read, enjoy, comment, share….

New posts on the SciAm blogs

Two posts on the Guest Blog today:

Too Hard for Science? Seeing If 10,000 Hours Make You an Expert by Charles Q. Choi.

And if you missed it this morning – All about Stories: How to Tell Them, How They’re Changing, and What They Have to Do with Science by Lena Groeger and Perrin Ireland.

Also of interest: Why I’m Not Proud of Being Gay by Jesse Bering.

Read, comment, share…

Stories: what we did at #WSF11 last week

As you probably know, I spent last week in New York City, combining business with pleasure – some work, some fun with friends (including #NYCscitweetup with around 50 people!), some fun with just Catharine and me, and some attendance at the World Science Festival.

My panel on Thursday afternoon went quite well, and two brief posts about it went up quickly on Nature Network and the WSF11 official blog.

But now, there is a really thorough and amazing piece on it, combining text by Lena Groeger (who also did a great job livetweeting the event) with comic-strip visualization of the panel by Perrin Ireland – worth your time! Check it out: All about Stories: How to Tell Them, How They’re Changing, and What They Have to Do with Science

More about the trip and the Festival still to come…

Update: See also coverage at Mother Geek.

The 3rd Annual 3QD Science Prize

The great science blog 3 Quarks Daily has announced the voting for it’s third annual prize for the best science writing on blogs. Last year, the judge was Richard Dawkins. This year, once the voting by the public narrows down the choices, the finalists will be judged by Lisa Randall.

Check out the nominees (yes, one of my posts is there, but look around and pick one that you think is the best) and then vote for your favorite.

Open Laboratory 2011 – submissions so far

The submission form for the 2011 edition of Open Lab is now open. Any blog post written since December 1, 2010 is eligible for submission.

We accept essays, stories, poetry, cartoons/comics, original art.

Once you are done submitting your own posts, you can start looking at the others’, including on aggregators like ScienceSeeker.org, Scienceblogging.org and Researchblogging.org.

As I always do, I will keep posting the full list of submitted entries once a week until the deadline – see the listing under the fold.

You can buy the last five annual collections here. You can read Prefaces and Introductions to older editions here.

Help us spread the word by displaying these badges (designed by Doctor Zen:

Continue reading

New posts on the SciAm blogs

Problems Without Passports: Scientific Research Diving at USC Dornsife series is going strong – there are two new posts from the trip on the Expeditions blog this weekend:

Preserving Biodiversity by Wendy Whitcombe.

And Palau Protects and Conserves by Kirstie Jones.

Check them out, comment and share!

New posts on the SciAm blogs

On the Expeditions blog: Problems Without Passports: Scientific Research Diving at USC Dornsife–Making a Difference: Environmental Students in Palau by Patrick Talbott and Gabrielle Roffe.

On the Guest Blog: Thorium, Polonium, Radium, Oh My! Marie Curie and Maggie Gyllenhaal Kick Off the 2011 World Science Festival by Neda Afsarmanesh.

Also on the Guest Blog: Too Hard for Science? Joan Slonczewski–Reshaping Ourselves for Our Changing World by Charles Q. Choi.

And on ‘Cross-Check’, John Horgan has a new post – Don’t Believe Scare Stories about Cyber War.

New posts on the SciAm blogs

On the Expeditions blog, early this morning – Problems Without Passports: Scientific Research Diving at USC Dornsife– Reflections at the Edge of the Pacific Ocean by David Ginsburg.

Last night on the Guest Blog: Does Quantum Mechanics Flout the Laws of Thermodynamics? by Vlatko Vedral.

Read, comment, share…

Two new posts on the SciAm Guest Blog

Both responding to recent news – landing of the shuttle last night, and new report on safety of cell phones:

Living Interplanetary Space Flight Experiment–or Why Were All the Strange Creatures on the Shuttle Endeavour? by David Warmflash.

Cell Phones, Cancer and the Dangers of Risk Perception by David Ropeik.

Read, enjoy, comment, and share…

Best of May at A Blog Around The Clock

I posted only 35 times in May.

In May I committed scienceblogging: Cicadas, or how I Am Such A Scientist, or a demonstration of good editing.

I also could not resist blogging something about the journalistic mindset – Is education what journalists do?

I went to Wake Forest University to give a workshop on science communication and compiled resources shown there: Scientific Communication all-you-can-eat Linkfest.

It was my birthday.

I keep interviewing attendees of ScienceOnline2011 – there are five new ones this month: Robin Lloyd, Thomas Peterson, Pascale Lane, Holly Bik and Seth Mnookin.

I made sure that the Scientific American Guest Blog was busy all month as well, full of great posts on a diversity of topics – check them all out:

Too Hard For Science? Recreating What Killed Pompeii By Charles Q. Choi

Kids Learn Better When You Bring Science Home By Peggy Ashbrook

Slabs, Sneakers, Gyres and the Grotesque By Matthew Garcia

Overboard: 28,800 toys and one man lost at sea By Lindsey Hoshaw

A True Duck Hunt: interview with Donovan Hohn By David Manly

How does a floating plastic duckie end up where it does? By Eric Heupel

How do you ID a dead Osama? By Christie Wilcox

Threat of Future Cyber Attacks by Al Qaeda Remains Low By Scott Borg

Did Rapid DNA Analysis Verify Osama Bin Laden’s Death? By Susanna Speier

Too Hard for Science? Dean Kamen–Defying Gravity By Charles Q. Choi

Too Hard for Science? Simulating the Human Brain By Charles Q. Choi

When, and Why, Did Everyone Stop Eating Gluten? By Diana Gitig

Bedbug Revival 2011: What You Need to Know By Amy Maxmen

Flying in the Coffin Corner–Air France Flight 447 By Keith Eric Grant

Too Hard for Science? Freeman Dyson–ESP By Charles Q. Choi

Too Hard for Science? Bora Zivkovic–Centuries to Solve the Secrets of Cicadas By Charles Q. Choi

So You Think You Know Why Animals Play… By Lynda Sharpe

Looking for Empathy in a Conflict-Ridden World By Kristina Bjoran

Too Hard for Science? An Early Warning System for Killer Asteroids By Charles Q. Choi

Levees and the illusion of Flood Control [Explainer] By Anne Jefferson

Curing Paralysis–Again By R. Douglas Fields

Too Hard for Science?–Journey to the Core of the Earth By Charles Q. Choi

The Data Are In Regarding Satoshi Kanazawa By Khadijah Britton

Physics and the Immortality of the Soul By Sean M. Carroll

The Evolution of Common Sense by John Wilkins.

The Politics of the Null Hypothesis By Stephanie Zvan.

Too Hard for Science? E. O. Wilson–A Vertical Map of Life on Earth By Charles Q. Choi.

Helium Hokum: Why Airships Will Never Be Part of Our Transportation Infrastructure By Joseph A. Dick.

Too Hard For Science? The Genetic Foundations of Intelligence By Charles Q. Choi.

Health Reporting and Its Sources By Hadas Shema.

We finished the Arctic series on the Expeditions blog: The Catlin Arctic Survey: Going home

And we started two new expeditions on the Expeditions blog – first one is from The South Pacific Islands Survey, with all posts written by Lindsey Hoshaw:

Destination: The Cook Islands!
Forecast: Stomach Turbulence
South Pacific Flotsam
We discover what’s floating in the Pacific Ocean!
Pop Quiz
5 Things You Didn’t Know about Life on a Boat
Our First Student Questions!
We’re in the Cook Islands!

The second one is a USC scientific diving class – Problems Without Passports: Scientific Research Diving at USC Dornsife – also in the Pacific, written by a whole collection of instructors and students:

Getting Ready for Guam and Palau By Jim Haw
Why Guam? By Jim Haw
Why Palau? By David Ginsburg
Catalina Island, by Caitlin Contag
The Endangered Endemics and the Aggressive Invader By Jim Haw
Some History Should Not Repeat Itself By Wendy Whitcombe
Contrasting Reef Ecosystems in Guam By Mareika Vandeveer and Justin Bogda
The News from Guam By Caitlin Contag

Previously in the “Best of…” series:

2011

April
March
February
January

2010

December
November
October
September
August
July
June
May
April
March
February
January

2009

December
November
October
September
August
July
June
May
April
March
February
January