Category Archives: Energy & Sustainability

They eat horses, don’t they?

“Behave, or I’ll send you to Italy!”.

That’s a strange threat! Wouldn’t it be wonderful to go there to visit the wine country, see the art in Florence, learn some history in Rome, and enjoy the Adriatic beaches?

Not if you hear the above and you are a horse! Especially if you were a horse back in the day when I used to ride in my now-extinct homeland of Yugoslavia.

With total number of horses in the country small and dwindling after the cavalry was disbanded in 1948, with fast urbanization of the country reducing the number of horses working the fields, and before equestrian sports started taking off again in the late 1980s, there was no need for a dedicated horse slaughterhouse. Occasionally a really urgent case would be slaughtered in a cattle slaughterhouse. A horse in agony after an injury would be killed on the spot (e.g., on the racetrack) and its meat donated to the perennially strapped-for-cash Belgrade Zoo for lions and other carnivores, But most horses at the end of their lives ended up on trucks headed to the meat market of Italy (and probably a few also to Austria – but I don’t have access to any documents, just what everyone in the horse business at the time knew).

With all the horse meat ending up in Italy, there was not much left for domestic consumption. Thus whole generations grew up without ever tasting it. The culture gradually changed. A horse butcher had a store in Belgrade for about a decade in the 1960s, but had to close due to low demand. Later, in mid-1980s, another entrepreneurial butcher opened a horse-meat store, this time promoting it as a delicacy rather than utilitarian, cheap alternative to beef. That store did not last long, either.

While there is no taboo against eating horse in the Balkans, there are definitely cultural forces that prevent it from being as popular as it is for its neighbors to the West, And those forces are divided by generations.

According to the elders, especially those with clear memories of World War II, horse meat was a poor man’s food, only to be consumed in times of war or famine. If you can afford beef, pork, lamb and chicken, why should you stoop so low as to eat the tough, acidic horse meat?

On the other hand, youngsters saw horses in a much less utilitarian way. They did not remember thousands of cavalry horses, cart horses, and draft horses filling the countryside. They did not remember poverty and hunger. Every horse they met had a name, be it a nice riding school pony, or a stunningly beautiful sports horse.

Obviously, neither of the two age groups could be easily persuaded that horse meat is a delicacy.

I saw that generational divide myself one day, back in the 1980s. We grilled some horse steaks…at the barn, right after we finished riding, grooming and petting our horses. There were horses inside, happily munching their oats in their stalls. There were other horses outside, sliced and roasting on the grill. How conflicted everyone’s feelings were!

But that was an excellent opportunity for all of us to discuss and debate the ethical, utilitarian, economic, nutritional, ecological and other angles of horse consumption. Why older people found it easier to eat the meat than the younger folk? Why was it easier for men than for women? Why some found it delicious, while others hated its texture and taste? Many of the young, pony-obsessed girls wouldn’t touch it, while younger boys gave it a try despite obvious disgust.

In the end, it all came down to names. You cannot eat an animal whose name you knew when it was alive. Name gives it a personality. An animal whose name you know is also an animal you know well – its looks and behavior and personality. It’s a friend. Friends don’t eat friends.

The steaks we had came from a horse we knew nothing about. Not the name, not age, sex, breed, color, anything. Perhaps the previous owner really loved that horse, cried when loading it onto the slaughterhouse truck. Just like one day, certainly, someone in Italy was going to eat the flesh of our horses we loved, and could do it because of not knowing those horses personally.

But by buying and eating that horse’s meat, we helped that previous owner recover some of the financial loss. Perhaps it was a farmer who lost a horse essential for working his farm. Without taking the meat price for the old horse, the farmer would not be able to buy a new horse, and would not be able to work the farm and feed his family. The circle of life would have been broken, both the human one and the equine one.

That was the economy of individual horse ownership by regular people. Of course, if you are rich or live in a rich country, and if you can afford to keep all your horses out on pastures until they die the natural death, by all means do that. But most people cannot afford that. And yet they need to have horses for their livelihoods. Eating horse meat is an essential part of such an economy.

I can attest that this statement is true.

I can attest that this statement is true.

But then it got tricky. The problem became more complex. After all, it is relatively easy for an individual to decide not to eat horse meat because of ethical concerns. But that is the meat of a dead horse who died in order to provide that meat. So, how do you try to use ethical considerations to explain why you refuse to eat meat of the horse who is still alive? I am talking about marinated, delicious testicles of the stallion who is still prancing out in the paddock. In a country where offal is a perfectly normal part of everyday cuisine, and one can order sweetbreads in any decent restaurant. No harm was done to any animal. So, why not eat it? Not an easy question to answer. And it’s pretty obvious that the answer is not rooted in ethics, economics, ecology, nutrition or health concerns. It is psychological and aesthetic, thus it is rooted in culture.

And this is where we switch gears, as we need to start comparing cultures, in this case Balkans with America.

“Behaving or not, you’re going to Mexico!”

The question “shall we eat horse meat?” is coupled with the related question “shall we slaughter horses?”. In both countries, most of the horse slaughter (and consumption) is outsourced to other countries (Italy in the case of the Balkans, Mexico in the case of USA). Yet the attitudes are different. There, if there were more horses and there was more appetite for meat, there would be horse slaughter in place with almost nobody’s objection. Without too much emotional opposition to eating horses, economic forces would be allowed to dictate what happens on the ground.

Here, there is an overabundance of horses, but because there is no appetite for meat at all, slaughtering horses is considered a very bad idea. Hence such outcry when the slaughter of horses was recently made legal again after a long time (and opening a slaughterhouse is fraught with difficulties).

If unicorns were easier to catch, they would be a staple diet in at least some cultures.

If unicorns were easier to catch, they would be a staple diet in at least some cultures.

The shift in culture that I started observing in the 1980s there, already occurred much earlier here in the States. Horses are still used in agriculture there, especially in more mountainous regions where tractors are ineffective and uneconomical. Many small farmers cannot afford tractors, or have too little land to need one. Older people still remember the life on the farm, and even kids have seen horses working in the field. The movement from country to city happened too recently.

Here, agriculture has long ago moved from small farmers to gigantic agribusiness. Very few people have any personal experience with a horse working the land. Most horses are used for pleasure and sport – they have names and are treated as pets, rather than as beasts of burden.

Also, there is an overproduction of horses here. So many horses are bred, often of poor quality, that many never get to be ridden at all – they go straight to Mexico while still young. It is not that just old, sick or lame horses get slaughtered, it’s healthy foals! It’s not just a natural circle of life, it’s production of horses directly for slaughter.

Then, there is the issue of food safety. There is a reason Europe does not allow import of American horsemeat, no matter how much demand there may be there (and demand is dropping there as well). One never knows if the meat came from a racehorse (or if it’s horse meat at all). The rules for drug use (from steroids to painkillers) in racehorses in the USA are so lax compared to other countries, that it is almost certain that the meat of an American racehorse is unfit for human consumption. And how can one know if the steak or sausage came from a draft horse or a racehorse? With eating horse in America being potentially dangerous, it’s not strange that people don’t do it, and the cultural tradition of eating horses quickly dies out. If your parents never ate horse meat, you won’t either. Cultural food habits start at home.

But there are other reasons why American culture is so strongly against eating (and thus slaughtering) horses. I vaguely alluded to some of those already, but now need to be more explicit. And for this, we need to go back to the old master, anthropologist Marshall Sahlins and his 1976 essay La Pensee Bourgeoise: Western Society as Culture, in which he takes a close look as to why Americans eat cows and pigs, but don’t eat horses and dogs.

Manly Men in the Feed Lot.

True, “in most parts of the world, people are grateful to eat whatever is available to them.” Vast areas of the planet have scant vegetation. Plant agriculture is impossible due to poor soil. People need and want to live there anyway, at least as nomads if not settlers, but cannot sustain themselves on an occasional root or berry. They have to carry their food with them, but that also takes up energy. So the best way to survive in such harsh environments is to have the food walk along with them. Cattle, goats, sheep, camels, donkeys, mules, asses and yes, horses, are the sources of daily nourisment, both meat and dairy.

In places of plenty, in times of plenty, one can afford to have culture, rather than necessity, dictate what foods are deemed OK and what foods are not:

Yet the point is not only of consuming interest; the productive relation of American society to its own and the world environment is organized by specific valuations of edibility and inedibility, themselves qualitative and in no way justifiable by biological, ecological, or economic advantage.

There is no nutritional reason not to eat horse. If anything, horse meat may have some advantages over beef. If production of horse meat was a viable, large industry due to high demand, it would have similar environmental impact as beef industry has now, and the economics would be the same as well. Low demand is due to culture, which determines even how food taste is perceived. It is not surprising that food preferences then become deeply ingrained, and offers of locally unusual foods elicit strong negative responses based entirely on emotions, rather than rational calculations. So even during times of crisis and famine, those cultural and emotional obstacles prevent the population from taking advantage of available food sources, regardless of governmental, corporate, scientific or media efforts to help enlighten the population about it. The angry reactions are based entirely on cultural norms and emotional sense of disgust. Sahlins uses this example from the Honolulu Advertiser of 15 April 1973:

“Horses are to be loved and ridden,” Gallagher said. “In other words, horses are shown affection, where cattle that are raised for beef … they’ve never had someone pet them or brush them, or anything like that. To buy someone’s horse up and slaughter it, that, I just don’t see it. “

Sahlins again:

In a crisis, the contradictions of the system reveal themselves. During the meteoric inflation of food prices in the spring of 1973, American capitalism did not fall apart-quite the contrary; but the cleavages in the food system did surface. Responsible government officials suggested that the people might be well-advised to buy the cheaper cuts of meat such as kidneys, heart, or entrails-after all, they are just as nutritious as hamburger. To Americans, this particular suggestion made Marie Antoinette seem like a model of compassion (see fig. 10). The reason for the disgust seems to go to the same logic as greeted certain unsavory attempts to substitute horsemeat for beef during the same period.

When I came to the States, I understood that I would not be eating horse here at all. Which is fine with me – I tried a steak once and a sausage once, and while they were OK, I can totally live without them. But when we castrated a couple of colts at the barn, none of the whites would touch the testicles. But they were expertly prepared by an African American friend and we ate them with great appreciation.

Salome serves roasted unicorn head, which inludes cheecks, lips, tongue and brain.

As I wrote at length a few years ago, one of the specifics of American cuisine, due to culture, lies in its history. When we talk about Balkans food preferences, we are covering pretty much everyone who lives there – the class divisions and cultural divisions were always quite miniscule there. But when we talk about American food preferences, we tend to forget a big chunk of American culture. Whites prefer beef to other species, and will almost universally not eat offal. But there is a whole parallel culture, often unmentioned. The soul food, the Southern food, all the offal and innards and roadkill and strange foods that were cooked, and recipes perfected into delicacies by generations of African Americans, descendant of slaves who fixed steaks for the white masters and learned how to utilize everything else from the slaughtered animals. They have no problem with offal – or horse – as that is an intergral component of that subdivision of the American culture. Sahlins:

The poorer people buy the cheaper cuts, cheaper because they are socially inferior meats. But poverty is in the first place ethnically and racially encoded. Blacks and whites enter differentially into the American labor market, their participation ordered by an invidious distinction of relative “civilization.” Black is in American society as the savage among us, objective nature in culture itself. Yet then, by virtue of the ensuing distribution of income, the “inferiority” of blacks is realized also as a culinary defilement. “Soul food” may be made a virtue. But only as the negation of a general logic in which cultural degradation is confirmed by dietary preferences akin to cannibalism, even as this metaphorical attribute of the food is confirmed by the status of those who prefer it. I would not invoke “the so-called totemism” merely in casual analogy to the pensee sauvage. True that Levi-Strauss writes as if totemism had retreated in our society to a few marginal resorts or occasional practices (I 963a; 1966). And fair enough-in the sense that the “totemic operator,” articulating differences in the cultural series to differences in natural species, is no longer a main architecture of the cultural system. But one must wonder whether it has not been replaced by species and varieties of manufactured objects, which like totemic categories have the power of making even the demarcation of their individual owners a procedure of social classification. (My colleague Milton Singer suggests that what Freud said of national differentiation might well be generalized to capitalism, that it is narcissism in respect of minor differences.)

Marshall Sahlins then delves into the question of words and names. As he reminds us, Red Queen said, “It isn’t etiquette to cut anybody you’ve been introduced to.” Horses (and dogs) have names. Most cows (and pigs) don’t.

Muscles of accepted food animals have cute monikers that hide what parts of the animal and which animal they came from. There is beef and pork and mutton. There are steaks and t-bones and round and chuck. But un-acceptable species don’t have such cutesy names for their muscles. Horse meat is called horsemeat. Dog’s would be dog-meat. Nothing to hide. Likewise, names for innards are not cutesy, hiding the obvious source: liver is liver, tongue is tongue, kidneys are kidney (though intestines become tripe, and testicles, probably due to puritanism, become whitebreads). Sahlins again:

Edibility is inversely related to humanity. The same holds in the preferences and common designations applied to edible portions of the animal. Americans frame a categorical distinction between the “inner” and “outer” parts which represents to them the same principle of relation to humanity, metaphorically extended. The organic nature of the flesh (muscle and fat) is at once disguised and its preferability indicated by the general term “meat,” and again by particular conventions such as “roast,” “steak,” “chops,” or “chuck”; whereas the internal organs are frankly known as such (or as “innards”), and more specifically as “heart,” “tongue,” “kidney,” and so on-except as they are euphemistically transformed by the process of preparation into such products as “sweetbreads.”The internal and external parts, in other words, are respectively assimilated to and distinguished from parts of the human body-on the same model as we conceive our “innermost selves” as our “true selves”-and the two categories are accordingly ranked as more or less fit for human consumption. The distinction between “inner” and “outer” thus duplicates within the animal the differentiation drawn between edible and tabu species, the whole making up a single logic on two planes with the consistent implication of a prohibition on cannibalism. It is this symbolic logic which organizes demand. The social value of steak or roast, as compared with tripe or tongue, is what underlies the difference in economic value. From the nutritional point of view, such a notion of “better” and “inferior” cuts would be difficult to defend. Moreover, steak remains the most expensive meat even though its absolute supply is much greater than that of tongue; there is much more steak to the cow than there is tongue. But more, the symbolic scheme of edibility joins with that organizing the relations of production to precipitate, through income distribution and demand, an entire totemic order, uniting in a parallel series of differences the status of persons and what they eat.

Of course, there are cultural (and language) differences between nations as to how they name the animals and how they name edible body parts. French is quite different from English in that regard, for instance. In Serbian, the words for muscle-meats from various animals are not cutesy but directly derived from the names of those species: govedo=govedina (cattle=beef), tele=teletina (calf=veal), ovca=ovcetina (sheep=mutton). Where eating animals is both an economic and a cultural necessity, where there is no taboo or even mild unease about eating meat, there is no need to come up with linguistic camouflage.

But what I find most interesting in Marshall Sahlins’ article is this passage:

The exploitation of the American environment, the mode of relation to the landscape, depends on the model of a meal that includes a central meat element with the peripheral support of carbohydrates and vegetables-while the centrality of the meat, which is also a notion of its “strength,” evokes the masculine pole of a sexual code of food which must go back to the Indo-European identification of cattle or increasable wealth with virility. The indispensabilitty of meat as “strength,” and of steak as the epitome of virile meats, remains a basic condition of American diet (note the training table of athletic teams, in football especially). Hence also a corresponding structure of agricultural production of feed grains, and in turn a specific articulation to world markets-all of which would change overnight if we ate dogs. By comparison with this meaningful calculus of food preferences, supply, demand, and price offer the interest of institutional means of a system that does not include production costs in its own principles of hierarchy. The “opportunity costs” of our economic rationality are a secondary formation, an expression of relationships already given. by another kind of thought, figured a posteriori within the constraints of a logic of meaningful order. The tabu on horses and dogs thus renders unthinkable the consumption of a set of animals whose production is practically feasible and which are nutritionally not to be despised.

The American meal – a big juicy beef steak surrounded by a little bit of vegetables mainly as decoration – as a manly man’s meal. The meal of the pioneer, the cowboy, the self-sustained, survivalist, rugged individualist. The beef steak as a descendant of the steak a hunter hunted in the past. Beef steak as a product of the hard work in the harsh environment in the vast expanses of the American West. Only the toughest need apply. The cultural mythology that led to placing beef at the pinnacle, that led to distaste for eating any other species (not for macho men!), that led to taboo against eating horses (companions and co-workers in the difficult production of beef), and that eventually led to hyperproduction of beef for the growing population by consolidating it from small farms into huge feed lots owned by large agribusiness. So, both the illogical, uneconomical, and environmentally damaging food instructure in the States AND the taboo against eating horse may stem from the same cultural source – the early self-sufficient pioneer man.

But that was centuries ago. Surely we have progressed since then. Remember when Michael Pollan made the full circle, from feed lot (symbolic hunt) through a series of organic and local small operations back to the non-symbolic, real hunt, he had difficulty pulling the trigger. We are more civilized now.

In his book A Primate’s Memoir, Robert Sapolsky relates how he adjusts his own diet depending on where he is. Earlier in his career he used to split his year in half. During the half spent teaching neuroscience at Sanford, he was a vegetarian. In America, one has that choice. But in the other half of the year, studying baboons in the field in Africa, he ate what the locals fixed. Yes, a zebra leg. Not just that he would have insulted the hosts by refusing, but if he refused it would incur additional expense and effort of the hosts – they would have to find nutritious plant food every day for him, something that is not as easy to do in that region. There are good reasons why local diet is mainly based on hunted animals.

Thus, the deep roots of the American culture may prevent us from ever eating horse. Although it makes no economical, health, nutritional or environmental sense, that is OK as it makes cultural sense and we can afford this taboo.

But we should re-analyze why outdated machismo is still guiding the way our food instructure works in damaging ways and perhaps do something constructive about it to bring it along into the 21st century, somewhat away from beef and gigantic feed lots and toward a more sustainable, environmentally friendly, public-health reasonable, nutritionally balanced food system.

~~~~~

References:

Marshall Sahlins, La Pensee Bourgeoise: Western Society as Culture, in Culture and Practical Reason (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1976) (pp. 166 – 179)

Images:

Photo of me: original photo by Russ Creech, photoshop by Mindy Weisberger.

Unicorn on the grill and on the platter, original art from Taymouth Hours, 14th century, at British Library, additional photoshop by Sarah J Biggs. Originally posted on April Fool’s Day by Julian Harrison at Medieval manuscripts blog of the British Library.

Let’s Not Spring Forward.

Cross-posted from Zocalo Public Square.

Even cows don’t like Daylight Saving Time. Come Sunday morning, when the milking machines get attached to their udders a whole hour too early, the otherwise placid bovines on dairy farms around the United States will snort in surprise and dismay. They may give less milk than usual. They could take days or weeks to get used to the new milking schedules.

We are no different. While most of us won’t be hooking ourselves up to udder pumps, our bodies next week will experience a disturbance very much like the cows’ – one that can affect our mental and physical health. The reason lies in the clash between sensitive, eons-old biology deep within our cells, and human-imposed time-keeping traditions that are barely a century old. Twice every year, when we “spring forward” and “fall back,” our bodies must do battle between “sun time” and “social time.”

Before the mid-19th century, time was more flexible. Each town and village maintained the local church clock more-or-less in sync with the natural light-dark cycles of the sun. The spread of railroads changed all that. The need to keep trains moving in and out of stations at predictable times forced the adoption of a standardized time. That, in turn, led to the formation of time zones.

Daylight Saving Time (DST)—the resetting of all clocks twice a year—was first proposed by New Zealand entomologist George Vernon Hudson in 1895, for quite selfish purposes. He was studying daily cycles in insects and wanted to be able to do more of it during daylight hours. But his idea of maximizing daylight soon spread. The first country to adopt DST was Germany in 1912. Most other countries soon followed, including the United States, which instituted DST in 1918.

The leading argument in favor of DST has always been that it saves energy. Back in the early 20th century, most energy was used for lighting. So, the argument went, placing work and school schedules within daylight hours would save electricity. People wouldn’t need to use light bulbs to navigate around their homes, offices, factories, and fields in the dark, and they would have more time in the evening to indulge in commerce and entertainment.

Today, the situation is very different. The proportion of total energy that is used for lighting is miniscule compared to other, time-independent uses like factories, computers, nuclear plants, airport radars, and other facilities that run 24/7. Energy companies themselves have measured the effect, and have concluded that DST does not save energy.

With this knowledge, some nations have started re-thinking the concept. Russia, for example, abandoned the clock change in 2011, keeping one time all year round. Iceland and Belarus did the same. On the other hand, in 2007, U.S. Congress, clinging to the notion that DST saves energy, moved the onset of DST three weeks earlier than before. That change, I think, makes a difficult transition even more stressful.

Although Congress can impose these changes, it’s a bit unclear who exactly has the right to determine whether DST is implemented. Until very recently, a large number of individual counties in the state of Indiana refused to go through the clock-changing ritual. Arizona doesn’t change its clocks at all—the only state in the union (apart from Hawaii) to defy DST altogether. This lack of clarity about who is in charge may be one of the reasons why a more sustained effort to abolish DST has been unsuccessful nationwide.

Whether or not DST saves energy is the least of the reasons why it’s a bad idea. Much more important are the health effects of sudden, hour-long shifts on our bodies and minds. Chronobiologists who study circadian rhythms know that for several days after the spring-forward clock resetting – and especially that first Monday – traffic accidents increase, workplace injuries go up and, perhaps most telling, incidences of heart attacks rise sharply. Cases of depression also go up. As the faint light of dawn starts preparing our bodies for waking up (mainly through the rise of cortisol secretion), our various organs, including the heart, also start preparing for increased function. If the alarm clock suddenly rings an hour earlier than usual, a weak heart can suffer an infarct.

The reason for negative health effects of DST is that, in essence, the entire world is jet-lagged for a few days. Unlike some animals, like honeybees and reindeer, humans have a very robust circadian clock system that resists abrupt shifts.

Every cell in our bodies contains a biological clock which coordinates the events in those cells—for example, when gene transcription turns on and off, or when specific proteins are made. When we are exposed to a light-dark cycle that is different from what we experienced the previous days, some types of cells synchronize to the new environmental cycle faster than the others. Cells in our eyes, for example, may adjust in about a day, while cells in our brains take a couple of days. Cells in the digestive system and liver may take weeks. So, for weeks after the DST clock change, our bodies are like a clock shop in which each timepiece cuckoos at a different time of day—a cacophony of confusing signals.

Our bodies are constantly being pulled apart by conflicting demands of the natural ‘sun time‘ and culturally imposed ‘social time‘. People living in urban areas may be better shielded from the sun time than their rural counterparts, because of artificial lighting and the skyglow it produces, but nobody is completely isolated from its influence. Twelve noon according to the clock is not twelve noon according to the planet. Citizens of Barcelona and Bucarest are almost two hours apart in their perception of sun time, yet live in the same social time—the same time zone that encompasses most of Europe.

Even those of us who are lucky enough to work from home and can generally set our own work schedules are not completely immune to the effects of DST. I still have to drive my daughter to school at the time prescribed by the local clock, not by local sunlight. My colleagues have expectations about when I will pick up the phone for a teleconference or respond to their emails. I am supposed to show up for my dental appointment at 7am, not “two hours after dawn”.

But if I ever buy a cow—and that is not as crazy as it sounds since I live next door to a dairy farm—I have a plan. Of course I’ll ignore the bi-annual clock changes, which I hear many smart dairy farmers already do. But I’ll go a step further and ignore social time altogether, milking her at the sun time her nervous system can understand, probably the crack of dawn. Whatever I do, I will never make her suffer through the sudden shift of DST. And none of us human animals should suffer it, either.

Image: Dirk Hanson

Why the NYTimes “Green Blog” Is Now Essential

A few days ago we woke up to the news that the New York Times is eliminating their environment desk.

Predictably, the immediate reaction of many was “oh, noooo!”.

After all, whenever we hear such news, about a science or health or environmental desk being eliminated at a media organization, this means the reporters and editors of that beat have been fired.

But New York Times did not fire anyone. Instead, they will disperse the environmental reporters around the building. Instead of all of them sitting together, chatting with each other, they will sit next to other people, chatting with political, economic, science, health, education and other reporters.

The concern also arose as this piece of news came as a part of broader news of cost-cutting at the New York Times and actual impending layoffs of high-level editors.

And concern is certainly warranted. But there is potential for this to be a good thing. It all depends on the implementation.

My first reaction, quoted here, was that this may be a way to modernize environmental reporting at the Times. After all, reporters were not fired, the senior editors may be. All the environmental expertise is still at the Times, but now outside of its own ghetto, able to cross-fertilize with other beats, and to collaborate with reporters with other domains of expertise.

My cautiously positive reaction to this news probably comes from my recent thinking (and blogging) about three aspects of modern media. One is about the distinction between beats and obsessions. The other one is about the importance of expertise in today’s journalism. And the other one is the distinction between push and pull models of science (and other) communication.

Let me parse these a little bit more….

Beats vs. Obsessions

I wrote at length about this before, but let me restate it briefly, the part that is the most relevant to this situation.

….But another way the difference is explained is that an obsession is actually broader, not narrower, by being multidisciplinary. Instead of looking at many stories from one angle, it focuses on a single story from many angles. This may be a way to solve some Wicked Problems….

By dispersing environmental reporters from a dedicated desk to other desks, New York Times eliminated the environmental beat. Now environmental reporters are free to follow their own obsessions – whatever aspect of the environment they most care about at any given time. In essence, The New York Times is starting to quartzify itself (did I just invent a new word? I bet Quartz folks will be pleased). Instead of the environmental vertical, The New York Times will now have an environmental horizontal – environmental angle permeating a lot of other stories, as environmental reporters talk to and influence their new office neighbors.

Importance of Expertise

I have argued many times before, and most recently and forcefully here, that having or building expertise on the topic one covers is an essential aspect of modern journalism. Being a generalist will become harder and harder to do successfully. Specialization rules. And there are many kinds of expertise and ways of being a specialist.

It is much easier to turn an expert into a journalist than a journalist into an expert (though that is certainly not impossible), and there have been many calls lately (here is just the latest one) for journalism schools to insist on science, and even more importantly on math and statistics classes as requirements for their students.

I will now make an assumption that all NYTimes environmental reporters actually have sufficient expertise to report on the environment. They are now bringing that expertise to other desks. And they are now forced to discuss this with people whose expertise lies elsewhere. They will get into debates and discussions. They will teach each other. They will change each others minds on various things. They will be prompted by those discussions to dig in deep and do some research. That will inspire them to write the next piece and next piece, possibly in collaboration with each other. By forcing cross-fertilization between people with different specialties, NYTimes will force them all to learn from each other, become more sophisticated, to tackle more complex and nuanced stories, and to produce better articles. That’s the theory… We’ll see if that happens in practice. It all depends on implementation.

Push vs. Pull

You may have seen this excellent post that Danielle re-posted the other day.

I know I talk a lot about push vs. pull methods for science communication, but the earliest appearance of the concept on my blog is this brief but cool video clip. Soon after, I described and explained the concept in much more detail here and here. I have since applied it to a bunch of other topics, from the role of new/upcoming journalists to the different reporting strategies for different areas of science to strategies for gaining trust in the broader population to differences between science reporting on blogs vs traditional media to narrative storytelling in science.

I have argued many times that, despite the proliferation of many new outlets that may do reporting better, traditional big venues, like The New York Times (and just a few other ‘biggies’, like BBC, Guardian, Washington Post, The Economist, PBS, NPR and not many more), will continue to play an important role in the media ecosystem for quite some time. These are trusted brands for far too many people who grew up in that world. And they generally do a good job, even if nobody can be perfect, and expert bloggers are quick to point out errors as they appear.

But, nobody but a few crazy news junkies, all of whom are probably in the business anyway so not the target audience, reads any newspaper, including The New York Times, every day, every page, every article. I’ll tell you a secret – print edition of The New York Times lands on my front porch every night. My wife reads some of it sometimes. It is there mostly in case something I see online is so long that I want to sit back and read it on paper rather than on screen. Or if a friend of mine publishes something so I want to cut it out. Or my name appears in it, and I want to cut it out and save it, to show my Mom.

But back in the old times, when I actually read newspapers on paper, how did I do it? I pick up the paper. I open it up. I take out all the sections I am not interested in – Sports, Auto, Business, Real Estate, Classifieds, etc. – and throw them directly into the recycling bin. Then I read the parts I am interested in (front sections, domestic and world news, opinion, Sunday Magazine, Week In Review, Book Review). When I was a kid, I read the comics first, then TV and movie listings, then Kids section, perhaps some nature/science, perhaps some sports.

Other people have their own preferences. If there is such a thing as “Environment” section, or “Health” section, or “Science” section, how many people do you think automatically recycle them and go straight to Sports instead?

A dedicated Environment section is a pull method. It pulls in readers who are already interested in the topic. Others never see it. And being online doesn’t change a thing – it works the same way as on paper, in its own ghetto, isolated from the stuff people actually read.

The ‘push’ method inserts science/health/environment stories everywhere, in all sections of the paper, linked from all the pages of the website. It includes science/health/environment angles into many other stories. People interested in politics, economics, education, art, culture, comic strips, whatever, get a steady diet of relevant information mixed into their breakfast. They can’t avoid it any more. It is pushed onto them without their explicit request.

Let’s hope that The New York Times is thinking this way, as that would be the best possible outcome.

Central importance of the Green Blog

The managing editor Dean Baquet was reported to say this about the Green Blog: “If it has impact and audience it will survive”.

That is disappointing. Green Blog’s destiny is not, and especially now should not, be decided by the vagaries of traffic. It has suddenly become much more essential to the Times than they know, or so it seems. Let me try to explain…

Dispersing all the environmental reporting all around New York Times is a potentially great “push” strategy – feeding the unsuspecting readers a steady diet of environmental thinking.

But dispersing all the environmental reporting all around New York Times also makes it very difficult for the “pull” audience, the readers who are interested in environment, to find everything. People who are interested in environment, people like me, will be forced to look into automatically recyclable sections, like Business or Real Estate for articles with potentially environmental angles. That takes time and energy we don’t have, so we’ll rather miss those articles.

Now, some tech-savvy know-it-all is likely to post a comment “Use Tags”. Sure, you are a programmer, you know what tags are. Can you explain that to your grandma? Can you teach her how to use them?

No, the answer is Green Blog.

Green Blog should now become not just a cool place for interns to build their reporting chops, but also:

– place where all environmental reporters link to, explain, describe and quote from all their articles that appear elsewhere in the Times,
– place where someone puts together, every week, a summary and round-up of all environment-related Times articles of the previous week,
– place where all environmental reporters come to crowdsource their stories, get feedback and expert information from readers as they are working on their more and more complex stories
– place where all environmental reporters come to see each others work, now that they are not sitting next to each other,
– a central place where people like me can come and at a single glance see all of the Times environmental reporting in one place, and
– a central place where someone like Andy Revkin can check each day to see what else is going on in the Times regarding environment, so he can blog about it on Dot Earth.

This is like what ethologists call the “central foraging place”, like a beehive. Honeybees (readers) get information (blog posts) from other foragers where the flowers (NYT articles) are, so they go there (following links) to get nectar. They then return to the hive (Green Blog) to deposit the nectar (their comments), to tell others where else the flowers are good (e.g., on other sites beyond NYT) and to get new information so they can go for another run, again and again.

Now that there is no Environment desk and no Environment editor, the Green Blog should assume those two roles.

Now, if only higher ups at the Times get to read this post. If you know them, can you share the link to this post with them?

Image: Everystockphoto.com

Did NYC rats survive hurricane Sandy?

Floodwaters enter Hugh L. Carey Tunnel. MTA photo

Floodwaters enter Hugh L. Carey Tunnel. MTA photo

How many of the NYC rats survived hurricane Sandy? This question has been asked in the wake of Sandy’s flooding of lower and east Manhattan. See, for example, articles in Huffington Post Green, Forbes, National Geographic, Business Insider, Mother Nature Network and NYMag.

The short answer is: some rats drowned, some survived.

The complicated question, how many drowned and how many survived, is probably impossible to answer. But we can speculate using the information and knowledge we have in our possession. But things we really need to know, we don’t – information is just not available (and some of it never will be).

How many rats are in NYC?

Nobody knows. Nobody seems to even be attempting to estimate.

Beware of the myth that there is one rat per person. That is a very old myth. It started in 1909 when W.R.Boelter published a study of rats in England. He asked farmers (but never bothered to look in the cities) to estimate how many rats they have in their fields. From that informal survey, Boelter came up with an average of one rat per acre (yes, of agricultural land). At that time, there were 40 million cultivated acres in England. From that, he estimated the total population of rats on agricultural land to be about 40 million. Completely coincidentally, England in 1909 also had a population of 40 million people. So, the 1:1 ratio stuck. And it has been repeated for more than a century, by media, by scientists, by United Nations, by pest control companies, by health departments, and apparently everyone else.

In 1949, Dave Davis did a systematic study of rats, by trapping and capturing them, and estimated that rat population in New York City was only about 250,000. Not even close to 8 million.

An aside – I have an indirect personal connection to Davis. For a while he was a professor in the Department of Zoology at NCSU, that is, in my own department. At the time he was ready to retire, in the 1970s, he was actively working on daily and seasonal rhythms in various animals. He used to work with Curt Richter before, at Johns Hopkins, and Curt is one of the pioneers of chronobiology. David sent some woodchucks on a ship from Philadelphia to Australia. While on the ship, rats kept EST time, but quickly re-entrained to the Australian local time once they arrived there and were exposed to ambient light. Although the field was still very young, Davis’ work made the rest of the department aware of it (they did not think it was Biorrhythms silliness, as many assumed at the time), so they were interested in hiring a replacement who was doing something similar. So they hired this bright, young lad from Texas in his spot – two Science papers already published and he took only 3.5 years to get both MS and PhD. The new faculty’s name was Herbert Underwood. Two decades later I joined the Underwood lab. The rest is history.

Anyway, back to rat population. Estimates vary wildly, to as high as 32 million. Nobody really knows.

New York City is old. It was built and rebuilt. New buildings were built on top of the old ones. There are old, buried tunnels, rooms, chambers, now not accessible to humans but perfectly accessible to rats. Gradually, the city dug out more and more sewers, more and more various pipes, more subways and other tunnels. Thus more places for rats to nest. We gradually built comfortable homes for more and more rats.

The rat population is not evenly distributed either. They tend to be where poor people live, and where the restaurants are. That’s where there is food.

And not all rats go to the surface. Rats are pretty loyal to the place of birth, and rarely venture more than about 60 feet from it, throughout their lives. If displaced, they can find their way home from as far as 4 miles, but for a foot-long animal, that is an extremely long distance.

If they can get food down under, e.g., from subway passengers throwing out uneaten food onto the tracks (which they do), rats never need to go up to the surface. They never get captured and counted in surface surveys.

Can rats swim?

Yes, rats are strong swimmers. They can even dive for a little while – see this video: if a domesticated rat can be trained to dive (and enjoy it), I assume that a wild rat can do it when its life is threatened:

The thing is, swimming in a water maze in the lab, or on the surface of a body of water is one thing. Swimming upward, against the powerful stream of water streaming downward is a completely different thing. They may be strong swimmers, but they are not Johnny Weissmullers.

Photo: Hiroko Masuike, NYTimes

MTA workers pumping out water from subway tracks at South Ferry subway station in New York, Tuesday, October 30, 2012. Photo: Hiroko Masuike, NYTimes

There are many ways up to the surface, but they all go up. And if the water was mainly gushing into the tunnels from above, from the streets as Sandy was flooding, they would have had to swim or dive up narrow pipes, essentially vertically up against the water. No way. Those guys drowned.

To go up to the surface, rats need to know the way to the surface. Rats know their own territory very well. But rats that never go to the surface do not know how to get there. They may still want to instinctually go up, but they don’t know the way so would have to get lucky to actually find the stairs and then fight their way up against the gushing water.

Rats already on the surface would probably be fine. The water and wind from Battery would carry them north until they reach the dry ground. They can certainly stay on the surface. Salty water is denser than fresh water, so they would find it even easier to stay on the surface, though their eyes may not like all of the salt.

What was flooded, when and how?

Right now, we do not know exactly where, when and how the water entered the subway tunnels, sewers, etc. MTA site does not provide much information. New York Times does not either – they are concerned with information useful to people, e.g., when will the subway open again, not where, when and how the subway initially flooded. Most likely the water came from above, from the flooded streets after sea water rose high at the Battery and the East side. This is important. It is easier for rats to float on the surface of water rising from below, than to fight against the water falling from above.

Also, most of Manhattan (and rest of NYC) did not flood at all. Most of the rats probably survived just fine where they were.

Who lived, who died?

NYC subways system flooding. New York Times (see link in the main text). So, from above, we can speculate that many rats survived. Some were never affected by flooding. Some were on the surface already and managed to run or swim to the higher ground. Some knew their way out to the surface and made it there. Rats are smart and crafty – if they can find a way to hide or go out, they will.

But some rats certainly drowned. Those are the rats that live deep inside holes we never know about, let alone visit. Rats that never go up to the surface. Rats that had the misfortune to have to try to escape essentially vertically up against strong gushing water.

There is a rule of thumb – if you see a rat on the surface during the daylight time, this means that the underground population is enormous. And I see them every month I go up to New York. When the rats are crowded, dominant rats take the best spots. If the population forages on the surface, dominant rats forage during the night. Subdominant (or submissive) rats are temporally displaced to the daytime shift.

This is important. If Sandy started to flood the tunnels during the day (and nobody knows, or makes public, this information as the subway was already closed to people by then), it will be the non-dominant rats who are on the surface, and thus more likely to survive. If the flooding started at night, it will be dominant rats on the surface, floating away into safety. Dominant rats are more likely to be able to relocate and survive in other places where they have to compete with locals. Non-dominant rats would have a much harder time finding a new home.

So, my guess is that most of the rats survived. But quite a large number of rats drowned – depending on exact location, depth, how much they know how to get to the surface at all, their exact route to the surface, and their status in the social hierarchy.

You can learn much more about New York City rats from Rats: Observations on the History and Habitat of the City’s Most Unwanted Inhabitants by Robert Sullivan, one of the most wonderful popular science books I have read over the past decade.

I will also be doing a HuffPoLive segment about this at 1pm EDT, will post the link in the comments once I have it.

Update: More from The Urban Scientist, Jezebel, Tha Daily Beast, Live Science, Forbes.

Tigers take to the night – for peaceful coexistence with humans

In an ideal ecosystem, each species has its own niche – a different “job description”: what it does, what it eats, where it sleeps, and more.

But world is often not an ideal place. In many instances, two species may live in the same spot, yet overlap in some of their roles or needs. They may both compete for the same tree-holes or caves for dwelling, or they may eat the same food. It is not necessary for the two species to be aggressive toward each other, but it is likely that one of the species will be more efficient in gaining the resource than the other.

What is the “loser” to do?

Schematic of possible human+tiger distribution in the Chitan National Park in Nepal

One solution is to move elsewhere. This is called spatial displacement or spatial niche partitioning in ecological jargon. For example, the less competitive species can move some miles down the road, where the more efficient competitor does not live. The place may not be as good – less food and shelter, for example, but it is good enough for individuals to survive and breed, and for the population to persist for a long period of time.

Perhaps the only place to go is up – up the slope of the mountain to higher elevation. There may be stronger winds, colder winters, less vegetation to hide in from predators, and less food, but again, it may be good enough for the population to survive. If this persists for a substantial amount of time, natural selection has the opportunity to introduce new adaptations for the new environment, even to the point of evolving a new species, sufficiently different from other populations of the same species that remains in other places.

In some cases, there is nowhere to go. The two species may inhabit an island. This is often the way an invasive species drives a local island species to extinction. Or you may remember the high school experiment in which you placed colonies of two bacterial species in a petri dish, watching as one colony uses the food better, grows faster, and finally completely kills off the other species.

If there is nowhere to go in space, there is a possibility to go somewhere in time. This is called temporal displacement or temporal niche partitioning. The two species remain in the same place, but divvy up the day (or year). The more efficient (or aggressive) species keeps doing what it’s always been doing. But the less efficient species embarks on a new time regime.

There have been a number of observed instances of this. The best documented one is the case of two closely related species of spiny mice inhabiting the “Evolution Canyon” in Israel. The common spiny mouse (A. cahirinus) is, like most rodents, night-active (nocturnal). The other species, the golden spiny mouse (A. russatus) is actively foraging during the day (diurnal), which is unusual for a rodent. When brought into the laboratory and isolated, monitoring of the circadian rhythms of activity showed that both species are inherently nocturnal. The golden spiny mouse forages during the day as a purely behavioral adaptation – its genetics drives it to eat at night, but its environment (including the presence of smells of the other species) dictates eating during the day.

Furthermore, as this situation has persisted for long periods of time, the golden spiny mice have evolved changes in their eyes, adapting them better for a diurnal mode of life. The genes and developmental pathways underlying the development of the eyes apparently contained more useful variation that natural selection could act upon than the underlying biological clock which is still “stuck” in its ancestral condition. This is not optimal – it would be presumably be better if all of the animal’s biochemical, metabolic, physiological and behavioral functions switched to the daytime regimen, but it is also obviously “good enough” for the species to survive and thrive.

Tiger caught on a camera trap in Nepal. Photo: Government of Nepal.

Tiger caught on a camera trap in Nepal. Photo: Government of Nepal.

Today, a new paper in Proceeding of the National Academy of Sciences (not online yet – PNAS is legendary for being late at actually publishing their papers at the time embargo lifts, but check the link later) introduces another interesting example of temporal niche partitioning – and this time it is relevant both for conservation purposes and for human safety.

Researchers from Nepal, in collaboration with Neil Carter and colleagues at the Michigan State University, East Lansing, observed that Chitan National Park in Nepal, one of the 28 world’s tiger reserves large enough to support 25 or more breeding females, has a healthy population of tigers. Yet, the Park is also full of humans, and the interactions between humans and tigers are relatively rare.

Their hypothesis was that tigers and humans may use the space of the large park differently, each species limiting its activities to particular areas of the park. Humans in the park include  locals who forage, hunt and collect wood in the park, a growing number of tourists, and the military units which traverse the park in jeeps to ensure safety and prevent poaching. The two species compete for some of the same resources – mainly space, but to some extent also food. The two species are also afraid of each other and would tend to avoid meeting each other if possible.

To test this, the researchers installed motion-sensitive cameras inside the park as well as just outside of it. What they discovered was that the two species completely overlapped in space, using the same roads and trails. But, humans remained strictly diurnal animals, confounding their activities to the daylight hours and generally avoiding the darkness. On the other hand, tigers, which are normally day-active animals, switched to the night. They triggered the same cameras in the same places, but mainly at times when humans were not around – during the night.

While being interesting in its own right, as well as a potential model for future research, this study also has practical consequences. It shows that temporal niche partitioning is a strategy that can be employed by tigers, at least as a “good enough” strategy that can allow the tiger population to survive and thrive over long periods of time. This means that humans and tigers can coexist and use exactly the same spaces. The finding makes it easier to politically “sell”, set up, fund and run protection areas for tigers as there may be no need to displace the resident humans as long as there is sufficient guard against poaching.

 

Reference:

Neil H. Carter, Binoj K. Shrestha, Jhamak B. Karki, Narendra Man Babu Pradhan and Jianguo Liu. Coexistence between wildlife and humans at fine spatial scales, PNAS, September 4, 2012

The Scienceblogging Weekly (August 26th, 2012)

The week was too busy to finish this on Friday. Then on Saturday the news broke that Neil Armstrong died – something I wanted to highlight as a special topic – so I decided to wait another day and give people a chance to wrote posts and articles about Neil. So, with a delay, the weekly linkfest is here!

 

Blog of the Week:

We are all in the gutter is a an astronomy and astrophysics group blog. The title of the blog comes from the quote “We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.” from Lady Windermere’s Fan by Oscar Wilde. Emma, Niall, Rita and Stuart are astronomers, astrophysicists, star-gazers and space geeks at various career stages, having fun with their blog, exploring the universe from every angle they can possibly think of.

 

Top 10:

Unless They’re Zombies, Fossils Don’t Live by Brian Switek:

I hate the phrase “living fossil.” The term should be eradicated from the vocabulary of science writers, and anyone who employs it should be promptly encased in Carbonite. “Missing link” is the only slogan that pisses me off more. My acute allergic reaction to the idiom may be a little overwrought, I admit. But, to me, “living fossil” is nonsense that obscures more than it elucidates. Take the coelacanth, for example….

Hyenas Eschew Lent, Chew Donkeys Instead by Anne-Marie Hodge:

Anyone who has ever attended a holiday parade or gone on a summer vacation knows that cultures tend to create their own seasonal patterns. In much of Western culture, December is a time of much celebrating and feasting, while similarly wintry January is relatively dreary and dull (after New Year’s celebrations subside). This raises a question: how do the behaviors and culture of a society affect the animals that depend upon that society’s garbage for their food? The progressive encroachment of human settlements into the habitats of wild animals has opened opportunities for animals to avail themselves of human refuse. A raccoon in North America is likely to find a juicy watermelon rind in July and leftover turkey remains in November. Perhaps equally enticing for a roving dumpster-diver, but by no means nutritionally equivalent….

Why Is the Night Sky Turning Red? by Amy Shira Teitel:

The idea of a red sky at night used to invoke beautiful images of vibrant sunsets, the product of warm sunlight bathing the sky near the horizon. The adage of “red sky at night, sailor’s delight” refers to a calm night ahead; a red sunset suggests a high-pressure system in the west is bringing calm weather. But red skies at night have taken on a new meaning in recent decades. As outdoor lighting become increasingly prominent, our night skies are gradually turning from black to red….

When will we find life in space? by Phil Plait:

One of the reasons I love astronomy is that it doesn’t flinch from the big questions. And one of the biggest is: are we alone? Another reason I love astronomy: it has a good shot at answering this question…

Paleo-politics: The really long view by Will Femia:

…..The other explanation is that the Cretaceous ended when, 65 million years ago, an asteroid (or asteroids) slammed into the earth, right across the future-Gulf of Mexico at the tip of the Yucatan Peninsula. Not only did the impact and resulting fallout from that asteroid kill the dinosaurs, it also wiped out huge quantities of marine life, including many of the “tiny marine plankton with carbonate skeletons” (I’m guessing some version of Coccolithophore? Anyone?) that would become the rich soil that slaves would farm on land their ancestors would inhabit in voting districts that would favor Democratic candidates around the turn of the second millennium of the Common Era……

What the Dark Knight knows about holding our urban lives together by Scott Huler:

There’s a lot not to love about The Dark Knight Rises, the crazyish new chapter in the latest Batman cycle: a series of actions and explosions so unconnected that they make a Rorschach test look like a syllogism by comparison; Marion Cotillard’s death scene, which lacked only her eyes rolling up and her tongue lolling sideways from her mouth to equal those put on by toddlers on playgrounds; and Christian Bale’s Batman growl — close your eyes and you think Cookie Monster is saving Gotham City….One thing the movie got right, though, is its focus on the infrastructure systems that serve as the beating and vulnerable heart of our urban existence. Every major plot point directly relates to the built environment and the networks that make every element of our lives possible….

Science For Princesses by Janet Stemwedel:

I have always known that I loved science, that delicious alliance of imagination and methodical testing that could help you figure out something about how a piece of the world worked. However, being born at the tail-end of the 1960s, I grew up in a culture that wanted me to know that girls were not supposed to like science. In fact, between toy commercials and TV shows, teachers and peers, I got the message pretty quickly that science is not something for girls. Rather, girls should turn their attention to more important matters . . . like being properly feminine. There was a way that girls were supposed to be—neat and tidy and pretty and pink and quiet and well-behaved. I was not any of those things. I didn’t want to be any of those things. I didn’t know how to be any of those things. And, as far as I could tell, trying to be those things was not going to help me get my hands on the science-y stuff that I wanted. So what was the point?….

How to Annoy E.O. Wilson by Michelle Nijhuis:

…….During a panel at the Aspen Environment Forum in Colorado, as she describes here, Emma piqued Wilson with her talk of making more nature — of expanding our definition of the natural world to include places humans have invaded, altered, and restored. Spending billions trying to return coastal areas like the Everglades to pre-Columbian “purity,” she added, is a lost cause. Better to invest in upslope reserves, and perhaps even learn to admire the tenacity of invasive species…..

Father’s age dictates rate of new mutations by Virginia Hughes:

With every passing year, men are increasingly likely to transmit new mutations to their children, according to the largest study yet of the so-called paternal age effect, published yesterday in Nature. The findings could help explain why older men are more likely to have a child with autism or schizophrenia than are younger men, the researchers say….

I Am Science…and a Nerd by Craig McClain:

I am a nerd. I was a nerd. I will be a nerd. Perhaps in kindergarten I wasn’t, where nerdom had difficulty establishing itself among the simple lessons of the alphabet, counting, and colors. In kindergarten, we are more or less the same in deficiencies and achievements. But after that, I am pretty confident my geek flag flew. I cannot remember ever being a bad student. Repeated straight A’s and the honor role defined me….

 

Special topic 1: Neil Armstrong

Neil Armstrong’s message to the future by Amy Shira Teitel

Neil Armstrong: Ace Engineer and Hotshot Test Pilot by Amy Shira Teitel

Neil Armstrong’s legacy went to waste but a new space race is on the cards by Alok Jha

Neil Armstrong: 1930 – 2012 by Phil Plait

Pow! ZOOM! To the Moon! by Phil Plait

Debunking myths about Neil Armstrong by James Oberg

Rocks remember, and so do we by Ethan Siegel

What Neil Armstrong Knew Is What We Never Will by Charles P. Pierce

Keep in mind as you put together your Neil Armstrong packages tonight… by Charles Apple

The Man and the Moon by Anthony Lane

As We Say Goodbye to Neil Armstrong, Should We Also Let Go of Our Space Fantasies? by John Horgan

For Neil Armstrong, the First Moon Walker, It Was All about Landing the Eagle by Andrew Chaikin

Neil Armstrong by Babbage

Neil Armstrong Talks About The First Moon Walk by Robert Krulwich

Neil Armstrong by Neil Gaiman

Neil Armstrong’s Last Interview by Jeff Marlow

RIP Neil Armstrong, star of the first big story of my news career by Steve Buttry

The Cold War Push Behind Neil Armstrong’s ‘One Small Step’ by Andrew C. Revkin

Rest in Peace, Neil Armstrong by Matthew Francis

 

Special topic 2: rape and pregnancy

Rep. Todd Akin (R-MO) serves on House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology by David Kroll

Here is Some Legitimate Science on Pregnancy and Rape and What Do You Do When There is No Best Dataset? A follow-up on pregnancy and rape statistics by Kate Clancy

The sperm don’t care how they got there, Rep. Akin by Emily Willingham

Sure, women cannot get pregnant from rape. Also, all mean people are ugly and puppies are immortal. by Melanie Tannenbaum

Legitimate rape, seminal priming, and preeclampsia by Jon Wilkins

Unfamiliar sperm, Tibetans, and cheese: Why evolutionary biology doesn’t excuse Todd Akin by Jeremy Yoder

What people who talk about “legitimate rape” really mean by Naomi McAuliffe

Todd Akin and the Anti-Science House Science Committee by Brandon Keim

‘Legitimate rape’ – a medieval medical concept by Vanessa Heggie

Backstory: the reporter who interviewed Akin by Mike Hoyt

A letter to Paul Ryan about forcible rape by Dr. Jen Gunter

Pregnancy Flowchart by Adam Weinstein

Hard words: Do we know what we’re talking about when we talk about rape? by Kathryn Blaze Carlson

The Crackpot Caucus by Timothy Egan

Why Sex Education Helps End Rape by Erica Grigg

Akin breakin’ science by Phil Plait

It’s trigger warning week by Laurie Penny

Rape exceptions aren’t legitimate by Irin Carmon

Where Akin got the idea that rape victims rarely get pregnant by Tim Townsend and Blythe Bernhard

An Open Letter to Rep. Akin From a Woman Who Got Pregnant From Rape by Shauna Prewitt

Todd Akin’s Abortion Position Reflects GOP Platform by Laura Bassett

Conservative Media Dismiss Akin “Rape” Comments As “Dumb,” But Rhetoric Is Reflected In GOP Policies by MIKE BURNS & SOLANGE UWIMANA

The Problem With Men Explaining Things by Rebecca Solnit

Todd Akin and the Right’s False Fact Machine by Josh Barro

Words and deeds by David Wescott

Rep. Todd Akin’s statements have a familiar ring to them… by Sassquach

Legitimate takedown: Todd Akin meets the women of the Internet by Virginia Heffernan

A Canard That Will Not Die: ‘Legitimate Rape’ Doesn’t Cause Pregnancy by Garance Franke-Ruta

The Official Guide to Legitimate Rape by Katie J.M. Baker

Todd Akin’s “Legitimate Rape” Comment Was Not a Misstatement. It Was a Worldview. by Laura Helmuth

Rep. Todd Akin’s Rape Remark At Odds With Science Of Pregnancy by Jeanna Bryner

What Does Todd Akin Think “Legitimate Rape” Is? by Amy Davidson

 

Special topic 3: superbug at NIH

The “NIH Superbug”: This Is Happening Every Day by Maryn McKenna

Genome detectives unravel spread of stealthy bacteria in a hospital by Ed Yong

Not a failure, a lesson. The NIH Clinical Center KPC Outbreak by Eli Perencevich

The NIH Superbug Story—a Missing Piece by Judy Stone

Hunting a Superbug by Deborah Blum

‘Superbug’ stalked NIH hospital last year, killing six by Brian Vastag

NIH should have notified it of superbug outbreak, Montgomery County official says by Brian Vastag

Like a Game of Clue, Genomics Tracks Outbreak, Revealing Evolution in Action by Ricki Lewis

Genome Detectives Solve a Hospital’s Deadly Outbreak by Gina Kolata

Govt. Gene Sleuths Stop Superbug That Killed 6 by The Associated Press

 

Best Images:

Drake equation: How many alien civilizations exist? by IIBStudio

Sunday Morning Anole Cartoon: When Lizard Biologists Compete by Rich Glor

If you were to summarise the world into 100 people, how would the population turn out? by Charlie Hilton

Conventional Wisdom by Randy Yeip

Are those pictures of Mars from the Curiosity rover? by Is Twitter Wrong?

Miss Insomnia Tulip’s Anatomical Macaroons by AnatomyUK

Votive Ear by Jai Virdi

Glow-in-the-dark cockroaches look like Jawas by Jess Zimmerman

London Zoo animal audit – in pictures by The Guardian

Animals in the News by Alan Taylor

 

Best Videos:

How Did Apollo-era Astronauts Sleep in Space? and Learning to Land on the Moon by Amy Shira Teitel

Amazing Color Differences In Lizard Populations Separated By Little Distance by Jonathan Losos

Can dinosaurs still be badass with feathers? by Charlie Jane Anders

Camera shutter speed synchronized with helicopter blade frequency by whataboutlarry1

Why Insect Wings Don’t Fracture by Sid Perkins

The High-Resolution Life of a Neuron by Brandon Keim

Curiosity Drops in on Mars in High-Res by JPLnews

Doodling in Math Class: Connecting Dots by Vi Hart

Jessica Wise: How fiction can change reality by TEDEducation

Learning By Play by Nadja Popovich

 

Science:

Three Ways of Looking at the Great Pacific Garbage Patch by Miriam Goldstein

Thomas Kuhn: the man who changed the way the world looked at science by John Naughton

Kuhn the Irrationalist by Peter Coles

A brief history on how I became an Animal Behaviourist… by Kate Mornement

How Domed Dinosaurs Grew Up by Brian Switek

Microbes manipulate your mind by Mo Costandi

Kissing bug – the real vampire of Latin America by Samantha Price

Is solidarity a thing of the past? by Kurt Cobb

No, immunology should get the same scrutiny as psychiatry. And vice versa. by Tim Skellet

So, you’ve dropped a vial or lost a sample box in your liquid nitrogen container…now what? by Brian Krueger

Breeder by Melissa Wilson-Sayres

‘Beam Us Up, Mr. Scott!’: Why Misquotations Catch On by Maria Konnikova

Superbug Summer Books: EXPERIMENT ELEVEN by Maryn McKenna

Chemical Free Dirt (for the Fairytale Garden) and Smoked Out and No, no. Not Nicholas Kristof on Chemicals Again by Deborah Blum

Why are languages so different—and disorderly? by Philip Ball

Aphids, carotenoids and photosynthesis by Ian Le Guillou

Do Be a Dick (sometimes): Emotions and Skeptics by Ashley F. Miller

Tesla’s Revenge: Filmmakers Kickstart Electrifying Docudrama About Cult Genius by Hugh Hart

The neurology of Psalm 137 by Vaughan Bell

Book review: Connectome by Sebastian Seung by Moheb Costandi

TGIPF: Penis in My Head by Christie Aschwanden

First US stem cell trial for autistic children launches today by Kathleen Raven

Stem cell clinical trial for autism: proceed with caution by Emily Willingham

Is a trial of stem cell therapy in autism scientifically and ethically justified? by Orac

Would Rachel Carson Embrace ‘Frankenfoods’? – This Scientist Believes ‘Yes’ by Pamela Ronald

Debunking the Hunter-Gatherer Workout by Herman Pontzer

Morality and Basketball by Sean Carroll

Republican spending plan casts shadow on science by Amy Maxmen

Making Liquor Recommendations by Dr24hours

Richard Dawkins in Playboy by Faye Flam

Amateur Scientists Discover Asian Needle Ant Has Expanded its Range by Thousands of Miles, Unnoticed by Rob Dunn

Dogs Chasing Their Tails Are Akin to Humans With OCD and Celebrating 1,447 Years of the Loch Ness Monster and Go to Sleep, All-Nighter Cram Fests Don’t Work and Want to Avoid a Mid-Life Crisis? Get Friends and Crafty Bonobo Shows Humans Aren’t the Only Stone Tool-Makers by Rachel Nuwer

Asperger’s Doesn’t Make You an Asshole by Heina

Bodies in art, art in bodies by John Hawks

NASA’s Amazing Gliding Gemini Capsules by Amy Shira Teitel

Can Identical Twins Get Away With Murder? by Brian Palmer

What can survive on Mars? by Steven A. Edwards

How to Learn a Language Nobody Speaks and Lance Armstrong Surrenders Against Doping Charges and Will be Banned for Life by Rose Eveleth

Rockstars, Ethograms and Behavior (Problems) by Julie Hecht

Planetary alignment pyramid scheme by Phil Plait

We Can Save the World by Eating Bugs and Drinking Urine by Erin Biba

Clothes Make the Man—Literally and The Neuroscience of Optimism by Jordan Gaines

Wasps Follow Order of Succession When Queen Dies and The Shambulance: Zero-Calorie Noodles? by Elizabeth Preston

Friday Weird Science: This quail has a cloth fetish by Scicurious

Vowel Movement: How Americans near the Great Lakes are radically changing the sound of English. by Rob Mifsud

How to Teach a Horse the Rules of the Road by Miriam Kramer

Remnants of a stellar suicide pact and The Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Scientific Talk by Matthew Francis

Helium-Breathing Gibbons Sing Like Human Sopranos by Tanya Lewis

Siberian Princess reveals her 2,500 year old tattoos by The Siberian Times reporter

The birthplace of English? by Tim De Chant

Anti-Terrorism Campaigns and the Criminalization of Public Non-Conformity by Gwen Sharp

Hormones Explain Why Girls Like Dolls & Boys Like Trucks by Natalie Wolchover

The Nature of Consciousness: How the Internet Could Learn to Feel by Steve Paulson

New Morbid Terminology: Coffin Birth by Katy Meyers

Are You a Hero or a Bystander? by Sue Shellenbarger

Invasive species provide important lessons for surviving climate change and New species of barbet discovered in Peru by GrrlScientist

Just how big were dinosaurs? by Dave Hone

How Plantain Trees Could Become an Energy Source by Rhitu Chatterjee

Night Thoughts of a Classical Physicist by Ann Finkbeiner

WWWTP? Time’s Aspirin Structure Causes Headache by See Arr Oh

Candidates clam up on climate by Curtis Brainard

Overlooked and Underfoot: Sidewalk Cleaning in New York City by Ashley Taylor

Spawning coral monitored for effects of climate change by Melissa Gaskill

10 Myths About Space Travel That Make Science Fiction Better by Charlie Jane Anders

Goo-eating snakes and the eggs that evade them by Andrew Durso

Bonobo Stone Tales: The Making Of A Story by Charles Choi

Replacement Parts and Newly discovered rat that can’t gnaw or chew by Ed Yong

Artist Patricia Olynyk inspired by light pollution by Casey Rentz

Scoop: A preview of Romney’s energy plan by Philip Bump

Neuroscience: Solving The Hard-On Problem by Neuroskeptic

Every Step You Take by Wendy Lovelady

Fighting the stereotype that math is only for boys by Patricia Valoy

The Wall Street Journal Does It Again: Another Whopper Of A Lie On Climate Science by Dana Nucitelli

It’s all about objective multiples… by Mia Cobb

Medieval Women as Physicians by Tracy Barrett

Was Vincent van Gogh Color Blind? It Sure Looks Like It by Colin Schultz

Ego v. Efficiency at the U.S. National Science Board by Jeffrey Mervis

The Science of Bad Neuroscience by Neurobonkers

Social Position Drives Gene Regulation of the Immune System by Daniel Lende

Q&A: Alexandra Cousteau by Emily Fisher

The evolutionary history of dragons, illustrated by a scientist by Annalee Newitz

Egg-ceptionally Bad by Cassandra Willyard

The Free Will Confusion (1): On “My Brain Made Me Do It!” by Stephan Schleim

Should we teach algebra? by Paul Raeburn

The Rats of War: Konrad Lorenz and the Anthropic Shift by Liam Heneghan

Why College Binge Drinkers Are Happier, Have High Status by Maia Szalavitz

How many species are there? by Zen Faulkes

 

Media, Publishing, Technology and Society:

How to Succeed in Journalism when You Can’t Afford an Internship by Alexandra Kimball

Who are the offline-academics? by Katie Wheat

Sick of Impact Factors: Coda by Stephen Curry

Taking the Impact Factor seriously is similar to taking creationism, homeopathy or divining seriously by Bjoern Brembs

There are cons to open acces? Really? by Bjoern Brembs

“You’re not entitled to your own facts” vs. That’s your opinion. Kiss my ad. by Jay Rosen

Twitter rewrites the script for political conventions by Martha T. Moore

Barbara Mack: best media lawyer I ever worked with by Steve Buttry

Ask A Writer: “How Do I Write What The Audience Wants To Read?” by Chuck Wendig

The End of My Writing Career / Author Sharon Potts by Clay Stafford

Research As You Go by Steven Johnson

The ridiculous SVP embargo is back again by Ross Mounce

Intellectual power and responsibility in an age of superstars by Daniel W. Drezner

Coming in the side door: The value of homepages is shifting from traffic-driver to brand by Adrienne LaFrance

Google Hiring Data Reveals Two Things Women Can Do To Get Hired And Promoted More by Nicholas Carlson

A Day In My Life As A Freelance Science Writer by Charles Choi

Turn Off the Phone (and the Tension) by Jenna Wortham

Adulthood, Delayed: What Has the Recession Done to Millennials? by Derek Thompson

Why Are Young People Ditching Cars for Smartphones? by Jordan Weissmann

The Cheapest Generation by Derek Thompson and Jordan Weissmann

How Wikipedia Manages Sources for Breaking News by Heather Ford

Ex-NPR Hill reporter: Lied to daily by Patrick Gavin

Report: Social network demographics in 2012 by Pingdom

6 questions journalists should be able to answer before pitching a story by Tom Huang

Plagiarism, defamation and the power of hyperlinks and The billion-dollar question: What is journalism for? and Why it’s better for fact-checking to be done in public by Mathew Ingram

Rutgers Professor’s Research Shows Social Network Sites Foster Close and Diverse Connections by Lisa Intrabartola

Don’t blame Twitter when journos tweet stupid things; blame stupidity by Steve Buttry

How long-form journalism is getting ‘a new lease of life’ in the digital world by Rachel McAthy

Why fact-checking matters by Emily Willingham

Rotary Dial by Ftrain

The closing of American academia by Sarah Kendzior

Be More Productive. Take Time Off. by Jason Fried

Journalist Of The Day: SciAm’s Bora Zivkovic talks about the evolution of social by Chao Li

 

Blogs of the Week so far:

May 11, 2012: Academic Panhandling
May 18, 2012: Anole Annals
May 25th, 2012: Better Posters
June 1st, 2012: Vintage Space
June 8th, 2012: Tanya Khovanova’s Math Blog
June 15th, 2012: Russlings
June 22nd, 2012: Parasite of the Day
June 29th, 2012: March of the Fossil Penguins
July 6th, 2012: Musings of a Dinosaur
July 13th, 2012: Contagions
July 21th, 2012: Life is short, but snakes are long
July 27th, 2012: Science Decoded
August 11th, 2012: Powered By Osteons
August 18th, 2012: Do you believe in dog?

The Scienceblogging Weekly (August 18th, 2012)

Blog of the Week:

Do you believe in dog? is a brand new blog. It is written by two dog researchers, one in New York City, the other in Yarra Valley just outside of Melbourne, Australia. Julie Hecht you may already know from her wonderful blog Dog Spies, her writing in The Bark, or her research which we covered here at SciAm. She studies (and teaches about) dog cognition. Mia Cobb, the Australian, did her research in animal behavior on birds and ants, but now works on issues of dog shelters, welfare and performance science of working dogs. What is the coolest thing about the blog is that the two of them write for each other, addressing each other in each post, thus teaching and learning from each other in a dialogue to which we are all invited to participate in and contribute.

 

Top 10:

Tales from the OR by Summer Ash:

WARNING: This post contains my blood and guts, literally. If you’re squeamish, I recommend skipping this one. What follows is my journey through the operating room at Columbia-Presbyterian on July 18, 2012. Apologies, but I couldn’t help starting off with yet another pop culture reference (this time from Wes Anderson’s Rushmore)….

An example of why it is important to distinguish evolution as fact, theory, and path. by T. Ryan Gregory:

I, and others, have pointed out that there are three aspects of evolution: evolution as fact, evolution as theory, and evolution as path. Evolution as fact refers to the historical reality that species are related through common ancestry. This is supported by a massive amount of evidence from a wide array of independent sources. Evolution as theory refers to the proposed explanations for how “descent with modification” occurs — mutation, natural selection, genetic drift, etc. Evolution as path refers to the actual patterns that have occurred during the history of life, such as when certain events (e.g., branching points, extinctions, etc.) took place, how lineages are related, when and how many times certain traits evolved, and such. The important point is that these three components are largely independent…

The Childhood Aquatic by John Romano:

There is a structurally integral part of my psyche that is the keystone to my existence. I am not sure how it was placed in such a vital position, but it seems this part of me is embedded in my DNA. Something that I can never remember being without. The absolute and total fascination with the natural world….

Abraham Lincoln and The Embalmer by Romeo Vitelli:

The assassination of Abraham Lincoln on April 15, 1865 shocked a nation still recovering from four years of bloody civil war. Along with the hunt for his killers and the uncovering of the assassination plot against the President and several other members of his administration, there was also the logistic nightmare of his funeral and the need to transport the President’s body by train from Washington D.C. to his final resting place in Springfield, Illinois. Since the funeral train would retrace the route that Lincoln had traveled to Washington following his election, the body would be viewed by millions of mourners along the way during the numerous planned stops. All of which raised the question of how to keep the body preserved long enough to reach its destination. Considering the fact that funeral embalming was a relatively new development at that time, some very special arrangements needed to be made…

Inspiration from bassist Victor Wooten shows me a new way to deal with my “child-as-scientist” frustrations by Marie-Claire Shanahan:

I have a confession to make: I cringe a little every time I see a school science or science outreach program justified by saying something like, “Young children are natural scientists, truly curious about the world” (That particular quote is from the Delaware Museum of Natural History). I feel like a curmudgeon about it because it often comes with really good intentions to get students actively involved in doing science (something I definitely support)….

How a Tick Bite Made Me Allergic to Meat by Helen Chappell:

The last time I ate a hamburger, I spent the night in the emergency room. There wasn’t anything wrong with the hamburger itself—aside from being a bit overdone—but it sent me into anaphylactic shock. It wasn’t always this way…

Are wolves really all that? by DeLene Beeland:

Have conservation scientists become carried away, touting the ecological benefits of wolves where there are perhaps — dare I say it? — not as many as we believe there to be? Perhaps some people in the media, and even some in science, have gotten carried away with the ecological changes that wolves are actually capable of mediating, says globally-renowned wolf biologist L. David Mech in his most recent paper “Is science in danger of sanctifying the wolf?” …

Losing One’s Head: A Frustrating Search for the ‘Truth’ about Decapitation by Lindsey Fitzharris:

If you ever find yourself in a pub with me, chances are that at some point, the conversation will turn to death. Not just death, but the terrifying and horrible ways people have succumbed to it in the past. I have often heard a story retold about a man who attended the execution of his friend during the French Revolution. Seconds after the guillotine fell, the man retrieved the severed head and asked it a series of questions in order to determine whether or not it was possible to retain consciousness after decapitation. Through a system of blinking, the victim allegedly communicated his message back to his friend. The ending to this story changes according to the whims of the narrator… or perhaps the number of drinks he or she has consumed by that time. I wondered: was this the 18th-century equivalent to an urban legend? Or could there, in fact, be a degree of truth in this ghastly tale?….

A Dirty, Deadly Bite by Brian Switek:

Dragons aren’t real. At least, the fire-breathing wyverns and coiling wyrms of medieval lore aren’t. Those reptilian menaces were products of superstition and pre-scientific ideas about prehistoric creatures. They were ugly amalgamations inspired by our fears and actual fossil remains of long-extinct mammals and dinosaurs. But in the early 20th century, reporters excitedly relayed the discovery of what quickly became known as the Komodo dragon – ten foot long lizards that had coexisted with humans on South Pacific islands for thousands of years, but had only just been recognized by western science….

The Itsy Bitsy Drummer by Helen Shen:

Rrrr… RRR… Thack! Thack! Thrusting his front legs skyward, the male jumping spider shakes his rear end to send thumps, scrapes, and buzzes through the ground. He’s playing for a female’s attention, dazzling her eight eyes with semaphore while drumming out seductive seismic signals. A few missteps could turn the spider’s performance into a dinner show—with the star as the main dish. The ferocious female demands precise choreography, set to a groovy beat that UC Berkeley behavioral ecologist Damian Elias is working to decipher….


Best Images:

On Cephalopods and Science Fiction by Jen Richards

Beautiful periodic table from LIFE magazine’s 1949 special on the atom by Frank Swain

Curiosity’s photos (cartoon) by Viktor Poór

A bacterium on a diatom on an amphipod on a frog on a bump on the log in the hole in the bottom of the sea!<!–

The Spider Wars by bonybones

UNDERCOVER by Jun Takahashi

The Olympics Are Over and Here Are the Best Infographics by Rose Eveleth

They fell out of the sky! by Bill Harding

Elgar’s Explosion by Eva Amsen

Teaching history by Zach Weinersmith

Old Friends by Beatrice the Biologist

Tasting the rainbow: The ants whose multi-coloured abdomens show exactly what they’ve been eating by Mohamed Babu

Anole Raids A Hummingbird Feeder by Karen Morris

Unicorn Blood Parasite by The-Episiarch

Cures of all Kinds by Jai Virdi

 

Best Videos:

The GMO Song: “OMG GMOs!” by Andrew Bean, David Holmes, Sharon Shattuck, and Krishnan Vasudevan

Do watch this – probably the best ever debris flow video, from Austria last week by Dave Petley

Tricky Mister! Indirect Sperm Transfer in Primitive Hexapods by The Bug Chicks

Helmet Cam Strapped to Hunting Falcon Captures “Birds-Eye-View” Footage by Michael Zhang

Seat vibration test: oscillate the human by Marc Abrahams

Lice on a Bird: Convergent Evolution in action! by Bug Girl

 

Science:

Where Fire Meets the Sea by Tanya Lewis

Curiosity Landing: What’s With All the Peanuts? and Apollo’s Youthful Glow and The Soviets’ First Space ‘Rendezvous’ by Amy Shira Teitel

The benefits of seeing a “challenge” where others see a “threat.” and Why do swimmers hate Lane 8? and The psychology of doping accusations: Which athletes raise the most suspicion? by Melanie Tannenbaum

Could you be an Olympic athlete? by Catherine de Lange

Mysterious Tides: Toxic blooms of marine algae are getting worse, and some think we’re to blame. by Marissa Fessenden

Astrobiology: Worth It? by GunnarDW

Olympics Physics: The Long Jump and Linear Regression by Rhett Allain

Diseases That Just Won’t Quit by Tim Wall

Think Like a Doctor: A Peculiar Heartbeat Solved! by Lisa Sanders

The Bullying Culture of Medical School by Pauline Chen

Two Tales of Symbiosis by Elio Schaechter

Where the Minutes Are Longer: The Weird Science of Telling Time on Mars by Rebecca J. Rosen

Stop Calling Sherlock a Sociopath! Thanks, a Psychologist. by Maria Konnikova

Why cocaine users should learn Bayes’ Theorem by Precocity

Science on crack, 2: Walter White & cooking crystal meth by Puff the Mutant Dragon

We live in a geocentric world! by Thony C.

Murder by Physics by Matthew Francis

In Vietnamese community, treating taboos on cancer by Erin Loury

Years After Slash and Burn, Brazil Haunted by ‘Black Carbon’ and Science Takes Fat Out Of Chocolate, Replaces It With Fruit and Defending a Sanctuary With Paint and Song by Rachel Nuwer

Why We Need Ecological Medicine by Rob Dunn

Is PTSD A Product of War, or Of Our Times? by David Dobbs

A very modern trauma by Vaughan Bell

Curious about Curiosity: the Science Lab on Mars (Part I) and Search for Water (Part II) and Life on Mars (Part III) by Claire.W

Popping up trouble with butter and Alzheimer’s by biochembelle

A New Species Discovered … On Flickr by Adam Cole

Cells = drugs = government regulation? by Ada Ao

On the loss of a mentor: Al Malkinson, lung cancer researcher, scholar, gentleman by David Kroll

The Hidden Power of Whale Poop by Brandon Keim

What do you do when you’re sick? by Jai Virdi

Choice of Wood in Cremation Pyres by Katy Meyers

Food and trust of science and Does a Ph.D. train you to head a lab? by Zen Faulkes

Africa Grows Too Hot to Grow Chocolate by Mollie Bloudoff-Indelicato

Community health workers help HIV patient change attitude, life by Helen Shen

Hyenas Show It’s Better to Be Creative than Try, Try Again and Close Look at Bison DNA Reveals Our Dirty Fingerprints by Elizabeth Preston

CDC: Pretty Much Everyone Is Fat by Maryn McKenna

Why did people start mummifying their dead in the driest place on Earth? by Ed Yong

Found in translation: where do cures come from? by Jenny Rohn

Mouse Eyes Come With Built-In Bird Detectors by Sophie Bushwick

Atop Everest, two Sherpas and a watchmaker forged a friendship that changed their lives by Samantha Larson

Here’s an Omical Tale: Scientists Discover Spreading Suffix by Robert Lee Hotz

Flavors of Uncertainty: The Difference between Denial and Debate by Wendee Holtcamp

Tracks of an Oak Killer by Erin Loury

What is fair in the Olympics? Is sex a special case? and What is DNA? by Genegeek

That Eternal Question by Nicholas Suntzeff

Choosing the Paths Less Traveled? There’s an App for That by Henry Grabar

“Canopy” Meg Lowman (forest ecologist) – podcast by Samantha Larson

Scientific reproducibility, for fun and profit by John Timmer

Good Scientist! You Get a Badge. by Carl Zimmer

Reproducing Scientific Results – On Purpose by Derek Lowe

Common Lab Dye Found to Interrupt Formation of Huntington’s Disease Proteins by Kathleen Raven

No, that’s not a picture of a double sunset on Mars and An unreal Mars skyline by Phil Plait

How to Patch the PhD Problem by Alison McCook

Lead’s Everlasting Legacy by Meghan D. Rosen

Tweeting my genome #twenome and “Run away!”: a one-size-fits-all solution by Alex Brown

The Rise of the Three-Parent Family by Annalee Newitz

The Political Benefits of Taking a Pro-Climate Stand in 2012 by Connie Roser-Renouf, Anthony Leiserowitz, Edward Maibach

The Circadian Advantage: How Sleep Patterns Benefit Certain NFL Teams by David K. Randall

Book Review: Newjack Guarding Sing Sing by Erin Podolak

Dear HigherEd Communicators: John Tesh is Kicking Our Asses by Elizabeth Monier-Williams

When Yellow Fever Came to the Americas by Michelle Ziegler

The Mind of a Flip-Flopper and Cow Week: Angry cows vs. angry mothers by Maggie Koerth-Baker

PhD2.0 and anecdotes from the trenches by Jeanne Garbarino

The Sea Longs for Red Devils by Daniela Hernandez

Cooperating For Selfish Reasons by Miss Behavior

The Mix-Up that Ended the World by Erik Vance

Intimate Life of Mosquitoes by Lowell Goldsmith

What Anti-Trafficking Advocates Can Learn from Sex Workers: The Dynamics of Choice, Circumstance, and Coercion by danah boyd

Confessions of a Fake Scientist by Phil Edwards

Baby, You Light Up My World Like Nobody Else by Rachel Wang

Nothing Says Baby-Makin’ Like Desiccated Bacon and Scientists create a “Dow Jones” for ocean health by Allie Wilkinson

The Evolution of Shark Week, Pop-Culture Leviathan by Ashley Fetters

The Smell of Fear (No Tweets Necessary) by Natalie Angier

Post-Antipsychiatry by The Neurocritic

Where Have All The Cults Gone? and Is Poker A Game of Skill or Luck? by Neuroskeptic

Brain’s Drain: Neuroscientists Discover Cranial Cleansing System by Daisy Yuhas

This Woman Wants You to Buy Her, Piece by Piece by Rose Eveleth

My Brain Made Me Do It: Psychopaths and Free Will and How PTSD and Addiction Can Be Safely Treated Together and Couples Therapy Can Help PTSD and Improve Relationships by Maia Szalavitz

On quack cancer cures, and “alternative medicine” as religion by Xeni Jardin

Scientists can block heroin addiction now? and Offbeat tales: The summer heat takes its toll and Morning wrap-up by Paul Raeburn

How to Put a Curator in a Box: Part 1 and Ask an Exhibitionist #1: What’s the fake water? by Helen Chappell

Sharks and lasers, not just for entertainment! by Craig McClain

Giant cluster phenomenally fertile by Nadia Drake

Emma Marris: In Defense of Everglades Pythons and A Song Tries to Go Beyond the ‘OMG’ Reaction to GMOs by Andrew Revkin

The Emerging Revolution in Game Theory by The Physics arXiv Blog

“A simple feat… only expensive”: The Oatmeal tries saving Tesla’s lab by Casey Johnston

How many colors are really in a rainbow? by Ethan Siegel

Spiders Weave Better on LSD-25 by Clyde

Are Drug Companies Faking an Innovation Crisis? Uh, No. by Derek Lowe

Gorilla Joy Without a Doubt by Marc Bekoff

Turning Trauma Into Story: the Benefits of Journaling by Jordan Gaines

A Lesson in Rocketry by Marie-Claire Shanahan

PhD what is it good for? #leavingacademia by Jerry Nguyen

Contraception, healthcare and the costs women will leave behind by Katie Rogers and Ruth Spencer

The problem with poker by Pete Etchells

Rare Discovery: Hook-Legged Spider Found in Oregon Cave by Douglas Main

Why I’m Working Toward my Ph.D. at a Museum by Alejandro Grajales

How not to criticize psychiatry, part 1 by Tim Skellet

Book Review: The Wolverine Way, by Douglas Chadwick by DeLene Beeland

On Sciences and Humanities: Reflections on Coyne and Konnikova by German Dziebel

Citizen scientists may beat the pros in identifying at-risk species by Kate Shaw

The Long-Lived Legacy of the Cambrian’s “Wonderful Life” by Brian Switek

Bigger and Smaller by Lucy E. Hornstein

Scissor Sisters by Sally Adee

Brain network: social media and the cognitive scientist (pdf) by Tom Stafford and Vaughan Bell

 

Media, Publishing, Technology and Society:

Sick of Impact Factors by Stephen Curry

A smear campaign against Impact Factors…and the Sheep of Science by Drugmonkey

Deep impact: Our manuscript on the consequences of journal rank by Bjoern Brembs

Chess ratings and Impact Factor and Self archiving science is not the solution by Zen Faulkes

On publishing in PLoS One, and what’s the matter with ecology? by C. Titus Brown

Should supreme court justices use Google? by Paul Raeburn

Geneticists eye the potential of arXiv and Neanderthal sex debate highlights benefits of pre-publication by Ewen Callaway

9 ways to find helpful people and organizations to follow on Twitter by Steve Buttry

Instead of a press release: Options to add to your press release diet by Denise Graveline

Jonah Lehrer and the Problems with “Pithy” Science Writing by Karthika Muthukumaraswamy

Using Links as Citations Helps Gizmodo Defeat a Defamation Claim–Redmond v. Gawker Media by Eric Goldman

Discover magazine moving to Wisconsin and Discover magazine update by Paul Raeburn

New! New! New! (not yet) and If I were making a Twitter clone… and Making a Twitter clone, day II by Dave Winer

Magazines Don’t Have a Digital Problem, They Have a Bundling Problem by Hamish McKenzie

Should journalists specialize? by Kallen Dewey Kentner

Science Outreach in North Carolina by Russ Campbell

Stop Publishing Web Pages by Anil Dash

Author Platform Lessons from #1 New York Times Bestseller Rebecca Skloot by Dan Blank

To Think, To Write, To Publish by Maria Delaney

Do We Need Another Information Sharing Platform? by Jalees Rehman

How The American University was Killed, in Five Easy Steps by Debra Leigh Scott

13 ways of looking at Medium, the new blogging/sharing/discovery platform from @ev and Obvious by Joshua Benton

How To Lose Twitter Followers by Neuroskeptic

What to Do With Political Lies by Garance Franke-Ruta

Science Communication in the PhD process by Heather Doran

Science News staffers complain about misappropriation of their copy by UPI and UPI’s second response on misuse of copy by Paul Raeburn

UPI shirks responsibility by Curtis Brainard

News stories that aren’t news by John L. Robinson

Student Paper Editors Quit at University of Georgia by RICHARD PÉREZ-PEÑA

Letter from the Editor in Chief by Polina Marinova

Students walk out on University of Georgia newspaper by Andrew Beaujon

UGA Red & Black staff walks out today in protest. Is it now Red & Dead? by Maureen Downey

Witness describes confrontation between Grady NewSource Reporter and Red & Black Publisher by Grady Newsource

Study: Journalists’ lousy understanding of fair use leads to self-censorship by Andrew Beaujon

Five types of problem writer by Ann Friedman

Jonah Lehrer’s Mistake — And Ours by Peter Sims

Making Studies Out of Nothing at All by Taylor Kubota

On being a journalist, getting quotes by Razib Khan

Mendeley Acquires SciLife, a Social Network for Scientists and Researchers by Darrell Etherington

Nikola Tesla museum campaign earns $500,000 online in two days by Adam Gabbatt

Lessons on the Internet for LAMs from The Oatmeal: Or, Crowdfunding and the Long Geeky Tail by Trevor Owens

Further Decline in Credibility Ratings for Most News Organizations by Pew

The Update by Matt Thompson

Metrics, metrics everywhere: How do we measure the impact of journalism? by Jonathan Stray

Why we are poles apart on climate change and Doing science is different from communicating it — even when the science is the science of science communication by Dan Kahan

Hey, Twitter — shouldn’t it be about the users? by Mathew Ingram

The first steps towards a modern system of scientific publication by Joe Pickrell

Reflections on science blogging by Puff the Mutant Dragon

 

Blogs of the Week so far:

May 11, 2012: Academic Panhandling
May 18, 2012: Anole Annals
May 25th, 2012: Better Posters
June 1st, 2012: Vintage Space
June 8th, 2012: Tanya Khovanova’s Math Blog
June 15th, 2012: Russlings
June 22nd, 2012: Parasite of the Day
June 29th, 2012: March of the Fossil Penguins
July 6th, 2012: Musings of a Dinosaur
July 13th, 2012: Contagions
July 21th, 2012: Life is short, but snakes are long
July 27th, 2012: Science Decoded
August 11th, 2012: Powered By Osteons

The Scienceblogging Weekly (August 11th, 2012)

Blog of the Week:

Kristina Killgrove (Twitter) is a bioarchaeologist. Her blog Powered By Osteons covers a wide spectrum of topics on archaeology, bioanthropology, and the classical world. But what it has the most, and is most exciting, are bones. Lots of bones. Human bones. Skulls and femurs and pelvises and what we can learn about the past from studying them.

 

Top 10:

Satisfying Curiosity: preparing for the Mars landing by John Rennie:

…All the Mars rovers so far, from the trailblazing Sojourner to the overachieving twins Spirit and Opportunity, have been extraordinary exploratory robots, but Curiosity represents an ambitious new extreme. Most obviously, it’s much bigger: Curiosity weighs almost a ton and is the size of a small car, whereas Spirit and Opportunity were half as long and a fifth as massive and Sojourner was not much bigger than a large cat….

Muscles and the Lactic Acid Myth by Larry Moran:

…It’s all a myth. Lactic acid has nothing to do with acidosis (the buildup of acid in the muscles). In fact, it’s not even clear that acidosis is the problem, but let’s deal with that another time….

Is a PhD required for good science writing? by Emily Willingham:

…..In fact, as someone who has a PhD in science but has been a writer longer than I’ve been a scientist, I’d argue that it might be better not to have specific training in science if you’re reaching for an audience of nonscientists, depending on what your goal as a writer is. If your goal is to tell a great science story that keeps the nonscientist reading and thinking, “wow” or “I get it,” then scientific training might be an anti-requisite. If your target is critique and analysis of science, then scientific training could be quite useful as long as you don’t let your deep background blind you to what your readers might not understand as well as you…..

What Grown-Ups Can Learn From Kids’ Books by Maria Konnikova:

….The little prince isn’t alone in carrying insights that are lost on a child. What of Alice in her wonderland and mirrored adventures? Alice’s story may have been born from a tale told to children one lazy afternoon, but it became much more: a deep philosophical meditation….

Olympic Physics: Air Density and Bob Beamon’s Crazy-Awesome Long Jump by Rhett Allain:

Even now, there are those who claim that the long-jump record of 8.9 meters that Bob Beamon set in 1968 was so crazy awesome because he accomplished it in Mexico City, which is almost 8,000 feet above sea level. The argument is that the air is thinner, and so there is less air resistance, and Mexico City is further from the center of the earth, and so the gravitational forces are smaller. Does any of this have any impact? And if so, does it really matter?…

Is corn the new milk? Evolutionarily speaking, that is. by Jeremy Yoder:

It is a widespread misconception that, as we developed the technology to reshape our environment to our preferences, human beings neutralized the power of natural selection. Quite the opposite is true: some of the best-known examples of recent evolutionary change in humans are attributable to technology. People who colonized high-altitude environments were selected for tolerance of low-oxygen conditions in the high Himalayas and Andes; populations that have historically raised cattle for milk evolved the ability to digest milk sugars as adults….

In the Bronx, Rights Get Fuzzy by Cassie Rodenberg:

I’ve been working with photographer Chris Arnade to document stories in Hunts Point, Bronx and often-ignored areas of New York City. Over the course of the last year, we have noticed the impact the city’s Stop and Frisk policy has on the neighborhood. Recently, we made the decision to start documenting that in action should we see it. This Sunday, we did:…

What do Christian fundamentalists have against set theory? by Maggie Koerth-Baker:

I’ve mentioned here before that I went to fundamentalist Christian schools from grade 8 through grade 11. I learned high school biology from a Bob Jones University textbook, watched videos of Ken Ham talking about cryptozoology as extra credit assignments, and my mental database of American history probably includes way more information about great revival movements than yours does. In my experience, when the schools I went to followed actual facts, they did a good job in education. Small class sizes, lots of hands-on, lots of writing, and lots of time spent teaching to learn rather than teaching to a standardized test. But when they decided that the facts were ungodly, things went to crazytown pretty damn quick….

Stop Calling Sherlock a Sociopath! Thanks, a Psychologist. by Maria Konnikova:

I’d like to get something off my chest. It’s been bugging me for a very, very long time. Sherlock Holmes is not a sociopath. He is not even a “high-functioning sociopath,” as the otherwise truly excellent BBC Sherlock has styled him (I take the words straight from Benedict Cumberbatch’s mouth). There. I’ve said it…

What’s the difference between “transparency” and “invisibility”? by Greg Gbur:

In writing my previous post on The Murderer Invisible, I started thinking again about the relationship between something being “transparent” and something being truly “invisible”. Most of us can appreciate that, under the right circumstances, a transparent object like a glass window can be very hard to see, but most of us also appreciate that glass is not even close to fitting the popular perception of invisibility. In fact, though we encounter plenty of transparent things in nature, we don’t encounter invisible things….

 

Special topic: Curiosity:

Mars needs rovers! (and it just got a big one) by Matthew Francis

What Curiosity Will and Won’t Teach Us About Martian Life by Jeffrey L. Bada

A lifetime of curiosity: An interview with JPL director Charles Elachi by Nadia Drake

How Did We Get That Incredible Photo of Curiosity’s Descent on Mars? by Alexis Madrigal

Landing Curiosity on Mars was Way Harder and Way Less Expensive than the Olympics by Rose Eveleth

Watching Curiosity’s Mars Landing Live on a 53-Foot Screen in Times Square by Laura Geggel

Me and Curiosity by Taylor Kubota

“Curiosity” Driven Science by Larry Moran

Long day at the office as scientists get in sync with Mars by Bridie Smith

Curiosity’s first color photo of Mars is only its second-most exciting photograph yet by Robert T. Gonzalez

Meanwhile in Mars…. by Shibin Dinesh

Curiosity Rover: Driving Lessons on Mars by Tamara Krinsky

Engineering Life to Survive on Mars and Aid Human Colonization by Tanya Lewis

http://www.npr.org/blogs/thetwo-way/2012/08/08/158433038/amazingly-earth-like-curiosity-beams-first-full-frame-photo-of-mars by Eyder Peralta

See what it’s like to be a flight controller for Curiosity by Ruth Suehle

SCUBA Diving through the Endless Martian Desert by Thomas Hayden

Poet Laureates of Mars: Meet the NASA Team Behind Curiosity’s Twitter by Benjamin Soloway

 

Best Images:

Mars orbiter catches Curiosity by the tail by Eric Hand

Mars orbiter catches pic of Curiosity on its way down! and Curiosity landing site: the whole mess by Phil Plait

Curiosity Rover’s Home on Mars: A Powers-of-Ten Visual Explainer by Alexis Madrigal

Classic Scientific Illustrations by Ian Wang

Stickleback by Simone

 

Best Videos:

The only existing video footage of Mark Twain, as filmed by Thomas Edison by Robert T. Gonzalez

3D-printed exoskeleton gives a little girl use of her arms by Sean Ludwig

Curiosity’s Descent by JPLnews

Fred Guterl by The Daily Show

Forget Wireless Keyboards and Touch Your Plant Instead by Katie Pratt

The Scienceline music video awards by Kelly Slivka

How Math Comes to Mind: Intuition, Visualization, and Teaching by Stanislas Dehaene and Steven Strogatz

High Speed Video of Flipping Cats by destinws2

Mark Achtman on Plague Genetics by Michelle Ziegler

 

Science:

Superbug Summer Books: THE POWER OF HABIT by Maryn McKenna

Olympic Greatness: Biology or Motivation? by Melanie Tannenbaum

Backpacking Lizards For Science: Radio-Tracking Puerto Rican Anoles by Jonathan Losos

Will Climate Doubt Dry Up with the Drought? by Bob Deans

Undead: The Rabies Virus Remains a Medical Mystery by Monica Murphy and Bill Wasik

In Antarctica, Dreaming of Mars by Alexander Kumar

How to Unstick a Gecko and Mom’s Genes Make Males Die Sooner by Elizabeth Preston

Laboratory dye repurposed against protein clumps found in Huntington’s disease by Kathleen Raven

Stress Is a Real Killer—for Dragonflies by Douglas Main

Only Young Scientists Overthrow Old Concepts? and What Does “pH” Mean? by Larry Moran

Award-winning teacher Michael Lampert: WHY I LOVE SCIENCE by Casey Rentz

Sandpipers forgo sleep for days because there’s too much sex to be had and Prisoners pitch in to save endangered butterfly and A circuit for aggression in the brains of angry birds by Ed Yong

The Largest Waves in the Sea Aren’t at the Beach by Kim Martini

Plants with Personality by Emily Anthes

What’s up with social psychology? by Thom Baguley

The Molecular Olympics by Stuart Cantrill

Free online tool helps identify bat calls by Mark Kinver

New Forensics Tool for Catching Elephant Poachers and Man Wears Artificial Uterus for Science & His Wife and Celebrating 80 Years of LEGO by Rachel Nuwer

Historiography of the Market for Health by Jaipreet Virdi

Sleep research reveals keys to health by Lydialyle Gibson

Olympic Diving Physics by Paige Brown

Apollo 15’s Bizarre Contraband Stamp Debacle and How NASA Engineered the Enduring Apollo Flags by Amy Shira Teitel

Explaining Risk: Know Your Aristotle by Trisha Greenhalgh

Species Traits and Community Assembly by Jacquelyn Gill

First-Ever National Survey on Genetically Engineered Mosquitoes Shows Mixed Support by Matt Shipman

A Cult of Quantity by Will

Nope, these birds are not lesbians by Annalee Newitz

The Spruce Street Swamps by David H.

Psychology and Its Discontents by Carol Tavris

The Kangaroo’s Tale: How an errant elevator door ended an odd form of popular entertainment by Jack El-Hai

Ehux: The Little Eukaryote with a Big History by Jaime E. Zlamal

A New Generation of “Digital Ornithologists” by Abby McBride

The story behind “Scaling Metagenome Assembly with Probabilistic de Bruijn Graphs” by C. Titus Brown

What Lurks In Logs by Carl Zimmer

The Sham Ph.D. by Dave G Mumby

In Defense of Algebra by Nicholas Warner

A Mysterious “Alien” Creature Identified by NC Museum Researchers by jasoncryan

Fear of a Black Hole by Matthew Francis

Skeletons in the Closet by Heather Pringle

Serbian entity in Bosnia and Herzegovina pledges to revolutionise its “unsatisfactory” science by Mićo Tatalović

TGIPF: Slug Sex Redux by Cassandra Willyard

Anorexia nervosa, neurobiology, and family-based treatment by Harriet Brown

Ten clues to the modern poisoner by Deborah Blum

Cheetah Sets New Land Speed Record, Beats Bolt by 4 Seconds by Tanya Lewis

Science settles some decades-old debates about the best way to swim by Michael Ann Dobbs

Seven climate-change diseases to ruin your day by James West

Anolis sagrei (Cuban Brown Anole) in Valdosta, Georgia! 04 August 2012 by Janson Jones

Stiletto snakes by Andrew Durso

 

Media, Publishing, Technology and Society:

Judge Posner: Embedding Infringing Videos Is Not Copyright Infringement, And Neither Is Watching Them by Mike Masnick

Everything That’s Wrong with Political Journalism in One Washington Post Item by Jay Rosen

Scientific Communication As Sequential Art by Bret Victor

How to Write a Malcolm Gladwell Book by Zach Weiner

Where peer-review went wrong and Some more of peer-review’s greatest mistakes and What is this peer-review process anyway? by Mike Taylor

Chipping away at “hard” — for the poets and What has podcasting accomplished? by Dave Winer

Oracles, Big Answers, & Pop Sci’s Neglect of Mystery by David Dobbs

Journalism at the speed of bytes – a timely report by Lawrie Zion

Advice and examples on how and what journalists should tweet by Steve Buttry

PeerJ: are we reinventing the wheel? by Eduardo Santos

Blogging about blogging, and tweeting about tweeting: what I have learnt after 100 tweets by Michael McCarthy

Whither Science Publishing? by Bob Grant

Beware, Tech Abandoners. People Without Facebook Accounts Are ‘Suspicious.’ by Kashmir Hill

Downgrading Facebook. Tech Abandoner? Or Rational Lifestyle Choice? by Haydn Shaughnessy

Security Questions: The Biggest Joke in Online Identity Verification by Rebecca J. Rosen

All in a Single String by Maria Konnikova

Who’s That Woman In The Twitter Bot Profile? by Jason Feifer

Why Cartoons, sex and music are necessary in science communication by Emily Coren

Social Media for the Physiologist – A Modern Utopia or a Brave New World? by Dr. Isis with contributions from Danielle Lee, Pascale Lane, and Kristy Meyer

An Unexpected Ass Kicking and 7 Things I Learned From My Encounter With Russell Kirsch by Joel Runyon

Enter an Elevator with Confidence by Heather R.

Evidence-based, informative and on YouTube? How to communicate science in the Internet age by Dorothy Bishop

The Future of the Internet is…a la Carte by Matt Shipman

If #Google Plus is “Deserted” I Hope It Stays That Way by Tinu Abayomi-Paul

The false-balance trap by Paul Raeburn

Cheating in Online Courses by Dan Ariely

There’s only one truly open platform — the web by Mathew Ingram

The balance trap by Natasha Loder

Knit Together by Mindy Weisberger

 

Blogs of the Week so far:

May 11, 2012: Academic Panhandling
May 18, 2012: Anole Annals
May 25th, 2012: Better Posters
June 1st, 2012: Vintage Space
June 8th, 2012: Tanya Khovanova’s Math Blog
June 15th, 2012: Russlings
June 22nd, 2012: Parasite of the Day
June 29th, 2012: March of the Fossil Penguins
July 6th, 2012: Musings of a Dinosaur
July 13th, 2012: Contagions
July 21th, 2012: Life is short, but snakes are long
July 27th, 2012: Science Decoded

The Scienceblogging Weekly (August 4th, 2012)

Blog of the Week:

Beatrice the Biologist says this about itself: it is “part science blog, part comic, and part incoherent rambling: science edutainment at its finest.” Written – or rather drawn – by Katie McKissick, each post is a visual delight and will make you chuckle…and learn.

 

Top 10:

Gavin’s Story: Whole Exome Sequencing Finds Mystery Mutation by Ricki Lewis:

In a hotel ballroom on the campus of the University of Pennsylvania on a midsummer Saturday in 2010, an unusual roll call was under way at the Family Conference for the Foundation for Retinal Research. Betsy Brint, co-head of organization, was calling out what sounded like code words – CEP290, GUCY20, LRAT – and for each one, a few people would stand up, excited, then form little groups. After all 18 abbreviations had been called, representing the genes known to cause Leber congenital amaurosis (LCA), a few sets of parents were left standing. Troy and Jennifer Stevens, of Chino, California, were among those whose childrens’ genes and mutations were still a mystery….

Alain de Botton Tries Hand at Sex, Fails by AV Flox:

…..The next sections jump into “evolutionary-biological interpretation,” which we took to mean science, and which gave us the distinct impression that the author’s research of sex stopped at the work of William H. Masters and Virginia E. Johnson instead of starting there. That’s not surprising, though. ….

Even Deadly Snakes and Monkey Shit Couldn’t Stop Me From Excavating Maya Ruins in the Jungle by Charles Choi:

Snakes. In the ancient Maya ruins where I’m working at with archaeologists, the creatures we fear most are probably the snakes. That fact might sound like the punchline to an Indiana Jones joke, until you hear about the most dreaded serpent here in the jungles of Belize. The fer-de-lance is likely the deadliest snake in Latin America, packing an amputate-if-you’re-lucky bite if it goes untreated. Its long fangs can go right through a boot, and it’s aggressive – unlike many snakes that seem more afraid of us than we are of them, the fer-de-lance won’t hesitate to strike. ….

The importance of being Aquaman, or how to save the Atlantean from his briny fate by Andrew Thaler:

….There’s no way around it. Even with the huge amounts of heat Aquaman would produce as he burned through his daily 48,000 Calories, he is going to get cold. With little body fat and no fur to speak of, his heat retention potential is pitiful. Fortunately, there are plenty of simple solutions to the thermal problem. Unfortunately, almost all of them involve visible changes to his physique….

Moths, Memory, and Motivation by James Hathaway:

….We quickly found out that something that seemed simple – catching a bunch of pretty colored insects and putting them in boxes – was actually demanding and nearly endlessly complex and mysterious. A lot of the butterflies that were the coolest, the rarest, the most beautiful, lived in strange places – treetops, the edges of swamps and streams, sunlit clearings in deep woods – and only flew in certain seasons and specific times of the day – early spring, late afternoon. We learned why – mating rituals, foodplant availability, lifecycle requirements. We didn’t just read, we observed. We learned that the books were not always right – insects are really variable and behave differently in different locales. We developed hypotheses, collected information that supported or contradicted them. We learned, at least concerning a couple dozen species of butterflies in the part of upstate New York where we lived, how nature worked. Nature taught us the science we needed to use, and science taught us what there was to know. (Not that we knew enough to call it “science, “ of course.) It was like the world had opened up. ….

Pain Control by Shara Yurkiewicz:

She had only been in the hospital twice in her life: once when she was nine and now, 60 years later. She had gotten tonsils out then. She was getting tumors out now. Her abdomen hurt when she was awake. Her abdomen would also hurt during exploratory surgery, although she wouldn’t be able to feel it under general anesthesia. Her body would feel it, though, and could respond by dangerously spiking or plunging her vitals. She needed an epidural before surgery to keep the pain under control…..

Bad Chemistry by Deborah Blum:

The start of the story is this: In December 2008, a 23-year-old research assistant named Sheri Sangji accidentally set herself on fire while working in a chemistry laboratory at the University of California, Los Angeles. She died 18 days later in a hospital burn unit….

Is Childhood Pertussis Vaccine Less Effective Than We Thought? by Maryn McKenna:

Delicately and cautiously, health authorities in the United States and other countries are beginning to open up a difficult topic: Whether the extraordinary ongoing epidemic of whooping cough, the worst in more than 50 years, may be due in part to unexpected poor performance by the vaccine meant to prevent the disease….

Meet the people who keep your lights on and Blackout: What’s wrong with the American grid by Maggie Koerth-Baker:

Power was restored today in India, where more than 600 million people had been living without electricity for two days. That’s good news, but it’s left many Americans wondering whether our own electric grid is vulnerable. Here’s the good news: The North American electric grid is not likely to crash in the kind of catastrophic way we’ve just seen in India. I’m currently interviewing scientists about the weaknesses in our system and what’s being done to fix them and will have more on that for you tomorrow or Friday….

New OCD Symptom: Tail Chasing by Elizabeth Preston:

…Dogs with compulsion may pace, chase imaginary flies, or lick their flanks until they get sores, despite their owners’ best efforts to make them stop. Certain breeds are especially vulnerable. A staple of canine compulsion is tail chasing, which frequently strikes bull terriers and German shepherds. On one forum, user MatrixsDad complains that his German shepherd “is constantly chasing and barking at her tail…She comes up and puts her backside against anyone who’s standing around so she can get a better view of her tail before she starts chasing it.”…

 

Special topic 1: Jonah Lehrer

Jonah Lehrer’s Deceptions by Michael C. Moynihan

Jonah Lehrer Resigns From The New Yorker After Making Up Dylan Quotes for His Book by JULIE BOSMAN

The deception ratchet by Bradley Voytek

Jonah Lehrer, Bob Dylan, and journalistic unquotations and More unquotations from the New Yorker by Mark Liberman

Neuroscience author resigns from The New Yorker after admitting to fabricating Dylan quotes. by Paul Raeburn

Jonah Lehrer’s Grievous Oraculism by Ta-Nehisi Coates

Jonah Lehrer throws it all away by Roxane Gay

How we decide (to falsify). by Janet D. Stemwedel

Original thoughts? by Eva Amsen

Can cheaters repent? by Christie Aschwanden

Jonah Lehrer debacle lesson: Do your homework by Randy Lewis

‘It’s hard to start at the top,’ says Sharon Waxman of Jonah Lehrer by Steve Myers

What Jonah Lehrer reveals about popular science writing by Daniel Bor

Jonah Lehrer Turned His Back On Science by Khalil A. Cassimally

15 Minutes of Meaning for Jonah Lehrer by Alexis Madrigal

Why I Still Really Like Jonah Lehrer by J.S. Adams

On Bob Dylan And Jonah Lehrer, Two Fabulists by Ann Powers

Jonah Lehrer’s missing compass by Seth Mnookin

 

Special topic 2: Algebra

Abandoning Algebra Is Not the Answer by Evelyn Lamb

Does mathematics have a place in higher education? by Cathy O’Neil

When Andrew Hacker asks “Is Algebra Necessary?”, why doesn’t he just ask “Is High School Necessary?” by Rob Knop

Yes, algebra is necessary by Daniel Willingham

Why Algebra Matters (and Why Andrew Hacker is Off-Target) by RiShawn Biddle

“Is Algebra Necessary?” Are You High? by Blake Stacey

A modest proposal by PZ Myers

Algebra Is Necessary, But What About How It’s Taught? by Melanie Tannenbaum

It’s Not the Algebra, It’s the Arithmetic by Mike the Mad Biologist

On Algebra, High Expectations, and the Common Core by Dana Goldstein

The end of algebra by Alexandra Petri

Mathematical Illiteracy in the NYT by Mark C. Chu-Carroll

In Defense of Algebra by Evelyn Lamb

Scientific American Math Doc Defends Algebra Ed by Steve Mirsky

Why We Need m(x)+b: A Response to “Is Algebra Necessary?” by Erik Kimel

 

Best Images:

Macro photographs of snails and insects in the rain by Vadim Trunov

An ant that protects herself with… um… butt foam and More hanging larvae by Alex Wild

URI Sci Comms Day with Bora Zivkovic by Katie, PhD

Teaching Molecular Biology with Watercolors by Rachel Nuwer

Could a Whale-Powered Bus Be the Future of Transportation? by Rachel Nuwer

Hypogean Wildstyle: Dominik Strzelec’s Byzantine Geology by Paul Prudence

Quite Possibly the Cutest (Accurate) Dinosaur Illustration Ever by Annalee Newitz

 

Best Videos:

Watch 131 Years of Global Warming in 26 Seconds by Climate Central

Women in science … on television?!? Evidently not by Emily Willingham

Is There Life On Mars? by KPCC

Ben Goldacre at TEDMED 2012 by TEDMED

London Plague of 1665 by Michelle Ziegler

Field Biology: setting and baiting traps by DNLee

Twitter Algorithm Predicts When You’ll Get Sick (8 Days In Advance, With 90% Accuracy) [STUDY] by Shea Bennett

Curiosity (the New Mars Rover) Explained by phdcomics

100 Gallons: Reflections From A Nation Powered By Water by Powering A Nation

Best Anole Documentary Ever by Jonathan Losos

Sight by Eran May-raz and Daniel Lazo

How Did Apollo Astronauts Learn to Land on the Moon? by Amy Shira Teitel

 

Science:

Antibodies found in Peruvians suggest natural resistance to rabies in local vampire bats and NIH emerges with new emergency medicine research hub by Kathleen Raven

What’s next for scientific teaching? by Zen Faulkes

Deep-sea squid can break off all its arms onto an enemy by Ed Yong

Catching Fraud: Simonsohn Says and Why Don’t Social Scientists Want To Be Read? and Social Science and Language, Again and DSM-5 R.I.P? by Neuroskeptic

If You Compare Yourself With Michael Phelps, Will You Become A Better Swimmer? and We Won. They Lost. by Melanie Tannenbaum

A trustworthy guide to black hole astronomy by Matthew Francis

Velcro Hairs Allow Ants to Hang Their Larvae by Alex Wild

I, For One, Welcome Our New Fishy Overlords by Ian O’Neill

Is this study the bane of crypto-zoologists? by Esther Inglis-Arkell

Vacation Adventure: The La Brea Tar Pits by Erin Podolak

Are climate sceptics more likely to be conspiracy theorists? by Adam Corner

Michael Phelps, Losing the 400IM, and His Taper by Daniel Lende

What Is the Nocebo Effect? by Joseph Stromberg

Why do women leave science? by Zinemin

Muller is still rubbish by William M. Connolley

Breakthrough: The First Complete Computer Model of a Living Organism by George Dvorsky

How The Fukushima Exclusion Zone Shows Us What Comes After The Anthropocene by Colin Schultz

Interdisciplinarity, Heritability, and Public Policy by Kris Hardies

Why Dogs Chase Laser Beams (and Why It Can Drive Them Nuts) by Natalie Wolchover

The Hunter Hunted: Searching for the Body of an Anatomist by Lindsey Fitzharris

The Devil’s Technology by Ross Chapman

Lives of the Deaf by Jaipreet Virdi

Clouding the Olympic issue, China style by Claire

I want to ration your health care by PalMD

Galápagos Redux: When Is It OK to Kill Goats? by Virginia Hughes, Michelle Nijhuis and Jason G. Goldman

Broken heartland: The looming collapse of agriculture on the Great Plains by Wil S. Hylton

Why Experts are Almost Always Wrong by Rose Eveleth

Work-Life Balance for Whom? by Athene Donald

Stiletto snakes by Andrew Durso

New Lights to Help ISS Astronauts Stay Alert by Liat Clark

The Vomit-Inducing Gemini 8 Mission and NASA’s Manned Grand Tour of the Inner Planets by Amy Shira Teitel

Artificial Beginnings: Understanding the Origin of Life by Recreating It by Eric Sawyer

To know a tiger is at least to start tolerating them, study shows and Tigers, people, and finding ways for both to thrive by Sue Nichols

Higgs Discovery: Personal Reflections by Matt Strassler

Did Gymnast Jordyn Wieber Perform Too Soon? In Olympic scoring, the last shall be first. by Karla Starr

Chop Like A Girl by Michelle Nijhuis

Curiosity readies for dramatic entrance and Mission control before the party and Curiosity to look for habitable environs by Nadia Drake

Why is Pluto not a planet? by Tristan Avella

Once upon a time: The possible story of viruses by Audrey Richard

How to pronounce “Muller’s Ratchet” by Jon Wilkins

The evolution of music by James Gaines

Sex testing and the Olympics: myths, rumours and confirmation bias by Vanessa Heggie

Light Pollution’s Potentially Harmful Effects Highlighted In New Film by Lynne Peoples

Taking the scenic route by Kelly Slivka

wesome Harry Potter Fan Decodes Wizarding Genetics: It’s All About Trinucleotide Repeats by Susana Polo

How the Elephant Makes Its Rumble by Veronique Greenwood

Swiss sheep to be outfitted to cry ‘wolf’ by text message by Agence France-Presse

TGIPF: Sex When You Can’t Hang On by Erik Vance

Human cycles: History as science by Laura Spinney

A HOT topic in transit by Taylor Kubota

Stiletto snakes by Andrew Durso

 

Media, Publishing, Technology and Society:

Imagining a ‘World Without Patents’… by Mark Summerfield

Five years as a science blogger – my experiences and how it began by Stephan Schleim

9 Reasons Why Running A Science Blog Is Good For You by Julio Peironcely

Top ten tips for blogging for scientists by Paul Knoepfler

The art and craft of science blogging by Daniel Blustein

Science Reporting Gone Wrong by Paige Brown

Reddit as a Science Outreach Tool by Brian Kahn

Setting Sail Toward a Science Communications Career by Liz Neeley

Journalists slow the environmental debate by Mari Kildahl

The journalistic method: Making the jump from science to journalism by Jessica Morrison

Does journalistic ‘balance’ hurt America? by Trudy Lieberman

The missing millions of Kibera and Kidnapped at birth and Grandma Obama’s support for domestic violence by Martin Robbins

#riscweet! How to Effectively Communicate Science on the Web by Viet Le

A New Age for Truth by Craig Silverman

Big data is our generation’s civil rights issue, and we don’t know it by Alistair Croll

 

Blogs of the Week so far:

May 11, 2012: Academic Panhandling
May 18, 2012: Anole Annals
May 25th, 2012: Better Posters
June 1st, 2012: Vintage Space
June 8th, 2012: Tanya Khovanova’s Math Blog
June 15th, 2012: Russlings
June 22nd, 2012: Parasite of the Day
June 29th, 2012: March of the Fossil Penguins
July 6th, 2012: Musings of a Dinosaur
July 13th, 2012: Contagions
July 21th, 2012: Life is short, but snakes are long
July 27th, 2012: Science Decoded

The Scienceblogging Weekly (July 27th, 2012)

Blog of the Week:

Science Decoded is a wonderful mix of science, book reviews, and thoughts about the media, written by Erin Podolak, alumna of the University of Wisconsin program for Science Journalism, and now a science writer for The Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.

 

Top 10:

A Killer Without Regret by Deborah Blum:

In the summer of 1920, a 29-year-old son of Minnesota farmers docked his boat (acquired with stolen money) at a small island in New York City’s East River. One by one he hired out-of-work sailors to crew for him. And one by one, he shot them in the head with a Colt .45 and dumped their bodies in the water. Before he was executed in 1930, Carl Panzram put the sailor body tally at 10 although he estimated that was only about half his total murder count. “For all these things, I am not in the least sorry,” he wrote in a jail house confessional. “I was so full of hate that there was no room in me for such feelings as love, pity, kindness or honor or decency.”…

The marathon & Olympic movement on Huffington Post by Greg Downey:

Many people think they know the story of the very first ‘marathon.’ Pheidippides, reputedly the fastest man in the Greek army, allegedly ran from the battlefield at Marathon twenty-five miles to Athens in 490 BCE to announce a Greek victory over the invading Persians. Bolting into the Athenian assembly, he shouted, νικωμεν (nikomen), ‘We have won!’ and promptly keeled over dead….

Galápagos Monday: The People Problem by Virginia Hughes:

…Two-thirds of the jobs on the islands are in the service sector. The tourists come, of course, because of the amazing plants and animals. They contribute money directly to conservation efforts, and their patronage boots the economy and allows the government to set up its own conservation management systems. That’s all great, except — more people also means more: ships, construction, roads, vehicles, hotels, restaurants, water and energy use, garbage, and sewage. All of that threatens the habitats and health of the plants and animals. In other words, the whole thing is unsustainable. The growing economy in the Galápagos is simultaneously supporting more science and conservation efforts and destroying the things that need to be studied and conserved. The economy is eating itself….

Geometry Proves Sheep Are Selfish Jerks by Elizabeth Preston:

Sometimes what looks like friendly behavior is really an attempt to get one’s neighbor eaten by a wolf before oneself. Sheep, for instance, seem cozy enough in their flocks. What’s a better way to travel than surrounded by 100 percent merino? But the real reason they stick close to their neighbors is to save their own woolly rear ends…

Noisy sex means death for flies if bats are listening by Ed Yong:

Some folks just can’t help being loud in bed, but noisy liaisons can lead to a swift death… at least for a housefly. In a German cowshed, Natterer’s bats eavesdrop on mating flies, homing in on their distinctive sexual buzzes….

Wisconsin frac sand sites double by Kate Prengaman:

Tucked behind a hill in rural Trempealeau County, farmland undergoes an industrial transformation. Outside this city of 1,300, Preferred Sands turns Wisconsin’s sandy soil into a hot commodity. A wall of green trees opens to a vast expanse of sand buzzing with activity. Excavators mine and conveyors carry the sand from towering stockpiles up into the processing plant. Every week, this facility ships 7,500 tons of sand by rail to oil and gas fields in Texas, North Dakota and Pennsylvania. …

Language Serves the Group by Edmund Blair Bolles:

Steven Pinker has posted an important essay on group selection. You can gather its thesis from the title, “The False Allure of Group Selection.” Since I am on record saying that group selection (really, multilevel selection) was critical to the evolution of language, I read the essay with strong interest. Let me say right off that I was astonished to find that the essay makes no remarks about the evolution of language. Pinker is a famous proponent of language’s evolutionary origins and biological basis, but he says nothing of group selection and language. Instead he criticizes ideas that group selection explains religion, culture, and nations. I am skeptical of those claims too. Pinker is a fine writer and I got several chuckles out of his examination of various shallow appeals to group selection. Was I laughing at my own doom?…

Ending the AIDS epidemic by John Rennie:

Thirty-one years into the HIV epidemic, health authorities are finally starting to sound hopeful about the prospects for curbing it. If that sentence sounds bitter or sarcastic, it isn’t meant to be. Rather, it’s an honest assessment of how long and frequently depressing the era of HIV and AIDS has been, and of how much misery it has spawned. But it also acknowledges reasons to think that maybe, just maybe that’s beginning to change….

Ending U.S. chimpanzee laboratories will save chimpanzee research by Brian Hare:

…The non-lab research model has now become the dominant research model. In my area of research a collection of just five zoos and African sanctuaries recently published more scientific papers in higher impact journals than all five active U.S. chimpanzee laboratories. These non-lab researchers contributed data relevant to fighting HIV, Malaria, Parkinson’s, Autism, Alzheimer’s, and a myriad of other human ailments. They did this while studying chimpanzees that live life freely in extremely enriched environments. …

One way to successfully invade a habitat: eat the competition by Jeremy Yoder:

The Asian Harlequin ladybug, Harmonia axyridis, eats aphids like they’re Popplers, and it’s been repeatedly introduced into the U.S. and Europe to do exactly that. But since it was first introduced, H. axyridis has spread of its own accord, and displaced native ladybugs. This isn’t just because the Harlequin ladybug eats more aphids, or breeds faster, than the locals; it looks like part of the Harlequin’s success is due to the fact that it eats its native competition….

 

Special topic: Sally Ride

American Astronaut Sally Ride Dies at 61 by John Matson

Remembering Sally Ride by Nadia Drake

Sally Ride’s Astronaut Class Completely Changed NASA’s Demographics by Amy Shira Teitel

What Sally Ride Did For STEM Education by Austin Carr

Sally Ride’s Space Flight Was Not Exactly A Great Moment for Feminism by Laura Helmuth

The Women Who Would Have Been Sally Ride by Alexis Madrigal

Rest in peace, Sally Ride by Matthew Francis

First Female U.S. Astronaut, Sally Ride, Comes Out In Obituary by Chris Geidner

Sally Ride by The AstroDyke

Why Aren’t There Any Openly Gay Astronauts? by Natalie Wolchover

Thank you, Sally Ride by Meg Urry

 

Best Images:

Sketching at the American Museum of Natural History by Marissa Fessenden

Manatees by Jen Richards

Sunday Morning Anole Cartoon by Rich Glor

Anole Photo Of The Day by Jonathan Losos

Sharks, Art, and Conservation by Heather Goldstone

Dapper Days in China by peacay

 

Best Videos:

MIT video models airports most likely to spread diseases by Kathleen Raven

Leprosy Facts: Ancient Disease Still In Our Midst by Cara Santa Maria

The Art of Hatching by Allison DeVan

Bear Cam: Watch Brown Bears Catch Salmon in Alaska by Tanya Lewis

Why Whales are Weird by Joy Reidenberg

Ask Jay Rosen Anything: What Does Political Journalism Get Wrong? Get Right? by Andrew Sullivan

Olympicene – Periodic Table of Videos by periodicvideos

 

Science:

Science on crack: the chemistry of illegal drugs, 1 by Puff the Mutant Dragon

The International AIDS Conference Returns: So Much Still To Do by Maryn McKenna

“We took a rat apart and rebuilt it as a jellyfish.” and Aging termites put on suicide backpacks full of chemical weapons by Ed Yong

How Do You Choke Away the British Open? The Science of the Tight Collar by David Dobbs

A Brief History of the Eustachian Tube and The Catheter by Jaipreet Virdi

The Secret Life of Western Corn Rootworm Beetles by James Hamblin

Soccer’s Big Data Revolution by Khalil A. Cassimally

FDA advisory panel looks positively on new eye drug by Kathleen Raven

Autism Outreach on Wheels: Students Design Mobile Clinic for A.J. Drexel Autism Institute by Rachel Ewing

Batman Movies Don’t Kill. But They’re Friendly to the Concept. and Batman Returns: How Culture Shapes Muddle Into Madness by David Dobbs

Inside the Minds of Mass Killers by Daniel Lende

How Urban Parks Enhance Your Brain by Eric Jaffe

World’s Coolest Animal Bridges and Should Dolphins and Whales Have Human Rights? by Rachel Nuwer

How Aldous Huxley, 118 Today, Predicted the Present Far More Accurately than George Orwell and Mapping Afghanistan’s Geology from Really, Really Far Away by Rose Eveleth

There is no greenhouse effect by Robert Grumbine

And Finally the Hounding Duck Can Rest by Carl Zimmer

What’s next for scientific teaching? by Zen Faulkes

Speciation in Bears by Larry Moran

Scientists make curing HIV a priority by Erin Loury

New Study Suggests Humans, Not Climate, Killed Off Neanderthals by Colin Schultz

When Bad Theories Happen to Good Scientists by Matt Ridley

Lemurs Most Threatened Mammals on the Planet by Karl Leif Bates

A year of anarchy in science by Michael Brooks

The Secrets of Geek Mating Rituals by Annalee Newitz

On Leaving Academia by Terran Lane

How Not to Counsel Smokers by Lucy E. Hornstein

The Colorado shooting suspect: how “smart?” by David Kroll

Why don’t we consume dairy products from mammals that aren’t cows? by Benjamin Phelan

Can Sleep Deprivation Cause Psychotic Behaviour? by Romeo Vitelli

Is Mythology Like Facebook? by John Bohannon

Crossing valleys in fitness landscapes by Bjørn Østman

How NFL and NBA cheerleaders and citizen scientists came together. by Darlene Cavalier

Unraveling the left brain/right brain theory by Amanda Mascarelli

The Aurora Shootings and The Mean World Syndrome by David Ropeik

What is this “Mass Spectrometer”? by Penny Higgins

Shark Teeth Have Built-In Toothpaste by Jennifer Viegas

Meet the Skeptics: Why Some Doubt Biomedical Models – and What it Takes to Win Them Over by Kristin Sainani

The Stoneflies: Old or New? by Christopher Taylor

Wrong for the Right Reasons by Matthew Martyniuk

Search Trends Reveal Sexual Seasons and A Case Study in Voodoo Genetics by Neuroskeptic

The brewer’s yoke, the domestication of microbes by A Schooner of Science

The horrible truth about Spiderman’s Anatomy by Bug Girl

Nixon’s Contingency Plan for a Failed Apollo 11 by Amy Shira Teitel

Once an Archaeologist…? Plan B Careers in Archaeology by Becky Wragg Sykes

Diagnosing the Killer in Colorado by Deborah Blum

Olympic Physics: Tennis and Olympic Physics: Diving by Matt Shipman

It Takes an 8-Year-Old to Outsmart a Crow by Elizabeth Preston

Why You Can’t Fake A Good Horn by Carl Zimmer

“The Redder the Better” . . . Sometimes by Anne-Marie Hodge

Exploring the Mind of the Mountain Gorilla by Kimberly Gerson

Cuts loom for US science by Ivan Semeniuk & Helen Thompson

Skepticism And The Second Enlightenment by Kyle Hill

Greenland Melt Was Predicted In Advance By Paper Awaiting Publication by Dan Satterfield

Drought hurts shipping industry, raises prices by Mollie Bloudoff-Indelicato

Olympic Pseudoscience by Steven Novella

Velcro Hairs Allow Ants to Hang Their Larvae by Alex Wild

Circadian Rhythms: Our Eyes, Our Rhythms by Anita Slomski

Scientists in North Carolina will take close look at ants from Chicago by Jessica M. Morrison

DIYBio: Placenta Stem Cells for Research and More by Ada Ao

Beginnings – three simple words by Pete Etchells

Why climate change doesn’t spark moral outrage, and how it could by David Roberts

TGIPF: The Bed Bug and His Violent Penis by Brooke Borel

 

Media, Publishing, Technology and Society:

The Making of PeerJ and Open Science, SciBarCamp and Les Horribles Cernettes by Graham Steel

Thomas Friedman’s Lessons for Anthropologists by Daniel Lende and Greg Downey

ABC News: armchair psychologist: The network offers irresponsible speculation about the Colorado shooter by Curtis Brainard

How We Play Today by Jamie Rosenberg and George Myers

Anatomy of a Zombie Lie… by Tom Levenson

Grief in the Age of Social Media by Callie Schweitzer

A Self-Made Man Looks At How He Made It by John Scalzi

Another science startup that’s changing how research is done. An interview with Elizabeth Iorns of Science Exchange. by William Gunn

If you email it, they will comment and No Comment? by Ethan Perlstein

Blogging expertise by Zen Faulkes

Explaining the news through song: A personal case study by David Holmes

Taming the Impact Factor by Iddo Friedberg

The dark side of data by Mike Loukides

The Death Of SEO: The Rise of Social, PR, And Real Content by Ken Krogue

Blogging, Tweeting, and Other Digital Activities: A Beginner’s Guide to the Internet for Early-career Scholars by Melinda Baldwin

Enduring lessons from being fired 20 years ago by Steve Buttry

Social Media and the Science Classroom, a Twitter Discussion by Michele Arduengo

What Users do with PLOS ONE Papers by Martin Fenner

The Great Sieve: This Is What Browsing Scientific Research Looks Like by Rebecca J. Rosen

Content Factor: A Measure of a Journal’s Contribution to Knowledge by Joseph Bernstein and Chancellor F. Gray

Meet Lena Groeger: @ProPublica’s newest news app developer by Elizabeth R. Miller

Who should see what when? Three principles for personalized news by Jonathan Stray

Predicting the growth of PLoS ONE by Najko Jahn

UK government will enforce open access to development research by Alok Jha

Who’s Talking About ScienceOnline? Interactive Map Of 1000 #Scio13 Twitterers by Mary Canady

An open Twitter-like ecosystem by Dave Winer

A new era for the Nature Network blogs by Lou Woodley

Why a high Google rank is becoming ‘worthless’ by Brad Shorr

BuzzFeed’s strategy by Chris Dixon

ScienceOnline Project Postcard by Karyn Traphagen

Bunch of Fives – Why Blogging is Great, and Tips for Starting by Suzi Gage

How BuzzFeed wants to reinvent wire stories for social media by Justin Ellis

The State of Educational Blogging in 2012 by Sue Waters

How journalists can do a better job of correcting errors on social media by Craig Silverman

Sharing stories with sources before publication is risky, but can improve accuracy and To show or not to show? by Steve Buttry

Quantifying impact: A better metric for measuring journalism by Greg Linch

Going paperless: eliminate stacks of paper by converting paper magazine subscriptions to digital subscriptions by Jamie Todd Rubin

Are You Reading These 17 Science Blogs? You Should by Julio Peironcely

No credit for Uncle Sam in creating Net? Vint Cerf disagrees by Charles Cooper

They Didn’t Build That by Paul Krugman

So, who really did invent the Internet? by Michael Hiltzik

WSJ mangles history to argue government didn’t launch the Internet by Timothy B. Lee

 

=================

Blogs of the Week so far:

May 11, 2012: Academic Panhandling
May 18, 2012: Anole Annals
May 25th, 2012: Better Posters
June 1st, 2012: Vintage Space
June 8th, 2012: Tanya Khovanova’s Math Blog
June 15th, 2012: Russlings
June 22nd, 2012: Parasite of the Day
June 29th, 2012: March of the Fossil Penguins
July 6th, 2012: Musings of a Dinosaur
July 13th, 2012: Contagions
July 21th, 2012: Life is short, but snakes are long

The Scienceblogging Weekly (July 21th, 2012)

Blog of the Week:

Life is short, but snakes are long is written by Andrew Durso who is a PhD student at Utah State University, where he studies the behavior, physiology, and ecology of toad-eating snakes. So, everything on his blog is about snakes. And every post on his blog has something about snakes that you have not known before.

 

Top 10:

Global Warming’s Terrifying New Math by Bill McKibben:

If the pictures of those towering wildfires in Colorado haven’t convinced you, or the size of your AC bill this summer, here are some hard numbers about climate change: June broke or tied 3,215 high-temperature records across the United States. That followed the warmest May on record for the Northern Hemisphere – the 327th consecutive month in which the temperature of the entire globe exceeded the 20th-century average, the odds of which occurring by simple chance were 3.7 x 10-99, a number considerably larger than the number of stars in the universe…

The Mystery of the Missing Chromosome (With A Special Guest Appearance from Facebook Creationists) by Carl Zimmer:

There’s something fascinating about our chromosomes. We have 23 pairs. Chimpanzees and gorillas, our closest living relatives, have 24. If you come to these facts cold, you might think this represented an existential crisis for evolutionary biologists. If we do indeed descend from a common ancestor with great apes, then our ancestors must have lost a pair after our lineage branched off, some six million years ago. How on Earth could we just give up an entire chromosome….

Are Warnings About the Side Effects of Drugs Making Us Sick? by Steve Silberman

Your doctor doesn’t like what’s going on with your blood pressure. You’ve been taking medication for it, but he wants to put you on a new drug, and you’re fine with that. Then he leans in close and says in his most reassuring, man-to-man voice, “I should tell you that a small number of my patients have experienced some minor sexual dysfunction on this drug. It’s nothing to be ashamed of, and the good news is that this side effect is totally reversible. If you have any ‘issues’ in the bedroom, don’t hesitate to call, and we’ll switch you to another type of drug called an ACE inhibitor.” OK, you say, you’ll keep that in mind…..

Battling antivaccinationists at FreedomFest by Orac:

Like so many other skeptics, I just returned from TAM, which, despite all the conflict and drama surrounding it this year, actually turned out to be a highly enjoyable experience for myself and most people I talked to. As I’ve been doing the last few years, I joined up with Steve Novella and other proponents of science-based medicine to do a workshop about how difficult it is to find decent health information on the Internet, and how the “University of Google” all too frequently puts quackery on the same level as reliable sources of medical information because all that matters for most search engines when it comes to ranking search results is the number and kinds of sites that link to a given site…..

Epic fraud: How to succeed in science (without doing any) by John Timmer:

Running scientific experiments is, frankly, a pain in the ass. Sure, it’s incredibly satisfying when days or weeks of hard work produce a clean-looking result that’s easy to interpret. But often as not, experiments simply fail for no obvious reason. Even when they work, the results often leave you scratching your head, wondering “what in the world is that supposed to tell me?” The simplest solution to these problems is obvious: don’t do experiments….

One Molecule for Love, Morality, and Prosperity? by Ed Yong:

Imagine a molecule that underlies the virtues that glue societies together. Imagine that it brought out the better angels of our nature with just a sniff and could “rebond our troubled world.” Imagine that it was the “source of love and prosperity” and explained “what makes us good and evil.” Well, carry on imagining. This is a story about oxytocin, and oxytocin is not that molecule….

How We Changed Penguins Just by Watching by Elizabeth Preston:

If a penguin falls in the forest and no one is there to hear it, I don’t know what kind of forest that is—but everyone who’s interested in penguins is probably hanging out a lot closer to the South Pole. The charismatic birds let scientists and tourists alike get a close look without too much trouble. And all that familiarity has the potential to change penguins, and other closely watched animals, for good….

What Would Happen If a Lion Fought a Tiger? by Natalie Wolchover:

This ultimate cat fight has happened more times than you might expect. The Romans pitted African lions against Asian tigers in the Coliseum, to the rip-roaring pleasure of the Plebeians. A few fights were also staged in the early decades of the 20th century, and on several modern occasions, accidental cross-species encounters at zoos have quickly developed into gruesome scenes guaranteed to scar any nearby schoolchildren for life. But how do these lion versus tiger showdowns go down?…

In Search of Grote Reber by Matthew Francis:

Unlike most sites where the business of cosmology is done, Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory—known colloquially as Fermilab—isn’t in a remote spot. The facility is in Batavia, Illinois, part of the sprawling metroplex of Chicago, and it’s just a short drive from two major tollways. The Standard Model describes a plethora of particles, but it has nothing on the number of fast-food joints and auto shops within ten minutes’ drive of the Fermilab gates. My friend hosting me during my stay in Illinois wasn’t even aware of the lab’s location, despite having friends living close by—the area around it is that dense…

Dancing in digital immortality: The evolution of Merce Cunningham’s “Loops” by Ashley Taylor:

The modern dancer and choreographer Merce Cunningham died in 2009, and his company gave its final performance at the end of last year. Many of his dances will live on in the memories of former company members who go on to restage them. But there’s one solo, “Loops,” that Cunningham never taught to another dancer. This piece lives on through a different medium: digital motion capture…

 

Special topic: Science of Superheros

Batman and Gotham: A Deeply Dysfunctional Love Story by Adam Rogers

The horrifying physiological and psychological consequences of being Aquaman by Southern Fried Scientist

Dear Science, leave Aquaman alone! by AmasianV

Why Aquaman is the best damn superhero in comic history by Cyriaque Lamar

Physics Shows Batman’s Cape Is Suicide Machine by Liat Clark

The Fall and Rise of the Dark Knight-the Difficulties of Batman’s Life While He Exists by E. Paul Zehr

Science sways superheroes by Alan Boyle

 

Best Images:

The Goddamned Particle by Perrin Ireland

Your Skeleton – on the Internet by Daniel Lende

Animals With Misleading Names by Rosemary Mosco

The Bizarre, Breathtaking Science Photos of Fritz Goro by Tanya Lewis

American World War II Plague Posters by Michelle Ziegler

Beautiful biodiversity illustrations by Becca Stadtlander

 

Best Videos:

Friday Science Cinema by Justine E. Hausheer

When astronomers get video cameras…… by Niall

NSF Rhode Island Video Boot Camp participant Dr. Sunshine Menezes delivers her message. by NSFMessengers

Tagging Giants: Studying Whale Sharks in Cendrawasih Bay by Mark Erdmann

Variety is the Spice of Lice by TheFieldMuseum

Five Men Agree To Stand Directly Under An Exploding Nuclear Bomb by Robert Krulwich

Chuck Norris, tapeworms, and the future of science: video of my keynote talk by Carl Zimmer

 

Science:

Patients, Prisoners, and Mass Shootings — A Timeline by David Dobbs

Gorilla Youngsters Seen Dismantling Poachers’ Traps—A First by Ker Than

Life on the Leg of a Crab by Craig McClain

Can you Shoot an Arrow Backwards – into Space? by David Dilworth

How to “downplay the achievements of science” by Eoin Lettice

Why Facial Disfigurements Creep Us Out by Joseph Bennington-Castro

Wisconsin’s Sand Rush by Kate Prengaman

A Way to Trap Carbon Deep in the Ocean and City Officials Declare War on Lawn Gardens by Rachel Nuwer

From Living Room to Lily Pad: Is the Fatal Amphibian Chytrid Fungus Spread via Pet Frogs? by Sarah Fecht

Just good friends? Attraction to opposite-sex friends is common but burdensome by Christian Jarrett

Just My Luck (or is it?) by David Nussbaum

The Bra Is 500 Years Older Than We Thought and 400 Years Worth of Water Discovered in Sub-Saharan Namibia by Colin Schultz

Learning from the Tubeworm by Michelle Nijhuis

The Real Life of Pi by Noby Leong

How would you like to sleep with the fishes? by aranyak

‘Get Over It’: Climate Change Is Happening by Eric Roston

Recycling the Seasons by Erin Gettler

Fusing chromosomes by John Hawks

No sweet outcome for PhD worker bees by Elizabeth Gibney

Q&A With Mariette DiChristina: Born a Scientist by Jeanne Garbarino

Lion’s Mane Jellyfish Image: This Is (Literally) How Things Blow Up On The Internet! by Anthony Wing Kosner

The Endless Summer by Mark Bittman

Performance enhancement: Superhuman athletes by Helen Thompson

Discovery of ‘God particle’ has UNC roots by Samuel Mason

Just the facts ain’t enough, ma’am by Wilson da Silva

Artificial Volcanoes Aren’t the Solution to Warming by Erik Klemetti

Dolphins May Be Math Geniuses by Jennifer Viegas

New Science Emboldens Long Shot Bid for Dolphin, Whale Rights by Brandon Keim

What it’s Like to Witness a Grunion Run by Jason Goldman

Everything Is a Remix: The Sound of Horses Racing on TV Is Actually a Sample of Buffaloes Charging and Exploding Chocolate, Poisoned Scuba Suits, and the Bulgarian Umbrella: A Survey of Strange Assassination Tech by Alexis Madrigal

Secrets of the clam tongue: a case study in opportunistic science outreach and New nightmare fuel: the giant scaleworm Eulagisca by Miriam Goldstein

Pardon me–is this stool taken? by Bug Girl

10 species named after famous people by Bethan Jinkinson

Pancakes, served with a side of science by Aatish Bhatia

One fish, two fish and 400,000 zebrafish by Kathleen Raven

The Dirty Dozen: A wish list for psychology and cognitive neuroscience by Chris Chambers

Brain Scanning… Or Vein Scanning? by Neuroskeptic

What was the oldest Olympic sport? by Greg Laden

Dr Hornstein hasn’t gone the way of the dinosaur by Lucy Hornstein

Science Metaphors (cont.): Sub-Grid Physics by Ann Finkbeiner

Will we ever run the 100 metres in 9 seconds? by Ed Yong

Dinosaur Aunts, Bacterial Stowaways, & Insect Milk by Katie Hinde

Geneticists Evolve Fruit Flies With the Ability to Count by Liat Clark

Scientists take a bird’s eye view to prevent bird-aircraft collisions by Allie Wilkinson

Technique gets clear images from light reflected off blank paper by Matthew Francis

Vitamin D gets frequent testing, but the results are a bit quizzical by Jessica M. Morrison

How Placebo’s Evil Twin Makes You Sicker by Elizabeth Preston

Galápagos Monday: When Conservation Means Killing by Virginia Hughes

‘Canopy Meg’ wants you to care about the rainforest by Samantha Larson

Person With Autism Manages To Do Something by Zoe

Using zombies to teach science by Tara C. Smith

Ecomorphs Converge On Suites Of Correlated Traits by Yoel Stuart

Is Society Becoming Over-Medicalized? Interview with Executive Editor of Reuters Health, Dr. Ivan Oransky by Shiv Gaglani

How land-inefficient is organic agriculture? by Mark Lynas

Record Heat Wave Pushes U.S. Belief in Climate Change to 70% by Mark Drajem

 

Media, Publishing, Technology and Society:

That plan to archive every tweet in the Library of Congress? Definitely still happening by Andrew Phelps

More on the Library of Congress and Twitter by Dave Winer (also see my Science Blogs – definition, and a history)

v1 by Rethink Digg

Example Visualizations using the PLoS Search and ALM APIs and More fun with Visualizations by Martin Fenner

ScienceWriters2012: The NC Scouting Report by Rosalind Reid

Could the iPad save magazines? by Molly Mirhashem

The techies in journalism are not the problem by Anna Tarkov

Readership of papers vs. blog posts by Jeremy Fox

Why Flip The Classroom When We Can Make It Do Cartwheels? by Cathy N. Davidson

Higgs this, boson that by Richard Panek

Beginner Blogging – The Prequel by Renee Dobbs

Power to the People (When it Comes to Funding Research) by Aurélie Coulon

Curation techniques, types and tips by Steve Buttry

No Internet For One Year: Tech Writer Tries Life Offline by Joanna Stern

Why Dave Winer Invented the Blog and How blogging came to be by Dave Winer

Introducing #smarttakes: pop-up aggregation from the Guardian by Ruth Spencer

‘False Balance’ in Some Coverage of Carolina Sea-Level Controversy by Sara Peach

Brought to book: Academic journals face a radical shake-up by The Economist

All’s Not Fair in Science and Publishing by Frederick Southwick

Let journalists do their jobs by David Wescott

How Academics Face the World: A Study of 5829 Homepage Pictures by Owen Churches, Rebecca Callahan, Dana Michalski, Nicola Brewer, Emma Turner, Hannah Amy Diane Keage, Nicole Annette Thomas and Mike Elmo Richard Nicholls

MIT Economist: Here’s How Copyright Laws Impoverish Wikipedia by Robinson Meyer

Why ‘future of journalism’ confabs fail by Alan D. Mutter

Why paywall journalism is changing how journalists write by Tim Burrowes

ProPublica gets $1.9 million from Knight to expand its efforts in data journalism by Adrienne LaFrance

The trouble with content by Jeff Jarvis

The Scholar’s Frenemy by PHLane

Dealing with Edits and Comments by hurleybirds

Don’t Have Time to Tweet-bollocks! Twitter can even save you time as a scientist. by Scott Wagers

Communicating science in the age of the internet by Deevy Bishop

Laptops in Lecture? by Rhett Allain

What was the first science blog? by Paul Raeburn

Scientific particles collide with social media to benefit of all by Marie Boran

On science blogs this week: Scandal by Tabitha M. Powledge

Standing on the Shoulders of Bloggers: Carnival frustration searing my soul. by Thony Christie

The Rise of Open Science by Roger Câmara

The Web Is Not the Internet (You’re Probably Getting That Wrong) by Abraham_Riesman

Delete the Save Button by Farhad Manjoo

How Reddit Became the Internet’s Vigilante Voltron by Wylie Overstreet

 

======

Blogs of the Week so far:

May 11, 2012: Academic Panhandling
May 18, 2012: Anole Annals
May 25th, 2012: Better Posters
June 1st, 2012: Vintage Space
June 8th, 2012: Tanya Khovanova’s Math Blog
June 15th, 2012: Russlings
June 22nd, 2012: Parasite of the Day
June 29th, 2012: March of the Fossil Penguins
July 6th, 2012: Musings of a Dinosaur
July 13th, 2012: Contagions

The Scienceblogging Weekly (July 13th, 2012)

Blog of the Week:

Contagions is a blog written by Michelle Ziegler (Twitter, Facebook, the other two blogs by Michelle – Heavenfield and Selah – are focused entirely on history and not on medicine or science). In Contagions, Michelle explores infectious disease – there is a lot about the Plague – from history to epidemiology to most recent scientific papers. Sometimes gruesome, always fascinating.

 

Top 10:

Is Autism an “Epidemic” or Are We Just Noticing More People Who Have It? by Emily Willingham:

In March the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) the newly measured autism prevalences for 8-year-olds in the United States, and headlines roared about a “1 in 88 autism epidemic.” The fear-mongering has led some enterprising folk to latch onto our nation’s growing chemophobia and link the rise in autism to “toxins” or other alleged insults, and some to sell their research, books, and “cures.” On the other hand, some researchers say that what we’re really seeing is likely the upshot of more awareness about autism and ever-shifting diagnostic categories and criteria….

New technique identifies magnetic cells in animals by watching them spin by Ed Yong:

A migrating robin can keep a straight course even when it flies through a cloudy night sky, devoid of obvious landmarks. That’s because it can sense the Earth’s magnetic field. Something in its body acts as a living compass, giving it a sense of direction and position. This ability – known as magnetoreception – isn’t unique to robins. It’s been found in many other birds, sharks and rays, salmon and trout, turtles, bats, ants and bees, and possibly cows, deer and foxes. But despite more than 50 years of research, the details of the magnetic sense are still elusive….

The Sex Scholar by Kara Platoni:

Decades before Kinsey, Stanford professor Clelia Mosher polled Victorian-era women on their bedroom behavior—then kept the startling results under wraps….

Bloggers and Bowerbirds by Erin Kissane:

There are still a lot of elbows being thrown in the squabble about “creation” versus “curation,” and it seems to be getting worse. As humans tend to do, we’re talking past each other and pretending to simplicity in the face of the complex and the weird. Here’s what I think is going on. I think we’re getting tripped up by two things: clumsy language and a misapprehension about competition for limited resources….

Citations, Social Media & Science by Morgan D. Jackson:

This morning I was reading a newly published paper that I found intriguing, not only for its content1 but also for who it cited — sort of. Among the regular cadre of peer-reviewed journal articles supporting the author’s findings were two blog posts by University of Glasgow professor Roderic Page. Rod is a major proponent for digitizing and linking biodiversity literature with all aspects of a species’ pixel-trail across the internet, so I was excited to see his blog being “formally” recognized. As I finished reading the paper and reached the References section, I skimmed through to see how a blog citation might be formatted. Much to my dismay, after breezing through the L’s, M’s, and N’s I found myself within the R’s, with nary a Page in sight…

Investigation: Drug Resistance, Chicken And 8 Million UTIs by Maryn McKenna:

…I’ve been working with a great new group, the Food and Environment Reporting Network — one of the grant-funded journalism organizations that have arisen in the wake of the collapse of mainstream journalism — on an important, under-reported topic. Which is: Over the past decade, a group of researchers in several countries have been uncovering links between the use of antibiotics in chicken production and the rising occurrence of resistance in one of the most common bacterial infections in the world. The infection in question is UTI, which just about every woman I know will recognize: It stands for urinary tract infection, and on average one out of every 9 women in the United States suffers one at least once per year. There are 6 million to 8 million UTIs in the US each year, costing at least $1 billion in healthcare spending….

The hows and whys of human attraction by Barbara J. King:

Robin Dunbar may not be a household name, but some of his thinking has reached the status of household ideas. You’ve heard that 150 is an approximate upper limit on the number of our family-and-friend relationships because that’s how many connections we can track? That’s Dunbar. You’ve read the theory that language evolved as a sort of replacement for hands-on grooming among our primate relatives when group size got big? That’s Dunbar too. Now, in The Science of Love and Betrayal, Dunbar, who is Professor of Evolutionary Anthropology at Oxford, asks seductive questions about love and friendship. Why do men and women pair-bond when so many other animals don’t? How do biology and sociality intersect in explaining human attraction to others? …

Crimes and Misdemeanors: Reforming Social Psychology by Dave Nussbaum:

The recent news of Dirk Smeesters’ resignation is certainly not good news for social psychology, particularly so soon after the Diedrik Stapel case, but I believe it can serve as an opportunity for the field to take important steps towards reform. The reforms that are needed the most, however, are not restricted to preventing or detecting the few instances of fraud by unscrupulous researchers who are intentionally falsifying data. What we should be more concerned about are the far less egregious, but much more common offenses that many of us commit, often unknowingly or unintentionally, and almost never with fraudulent intent….

The Vampire of Venice Returns, or What Is that Brick Doing in that Skull’s Mouth? by Kristina Killgrove:

It seems like every spring there is renewed coverage of a partial skeleton that was found on the island of Lazaretto Nuovo (one of two 15th-16th century leper colonies near Venice) in 2009. I’ve never covered it here, but since I was alerted to an airing of a documentary about the skeleton on Italian TV this week, I thought it may be time to track the progress of the so-called Vampire of Venice (“il vampiro di Venezia” in Italian, and not to be confused with a similarly named Dr. Who episode)….

How the Deaf Brain Rewires Itself to ‘Hear’ Touch and Sight by Nadja Popovich:

Our experiences help shape our brains. So it might make sense that for a person born without hearing, the part of the brain that’s meant to process audio would be underdeveloped. But according to a new study, those who have been deaf since birth actually use the sound-related part of the brain — known as the primary auditory cortex — to do even more heavy lifting than their hearing counterparts. …

 

Special topic 1: #arseniclife:

The Case (Study) of Arsenic Life: How the Internet Can Make Science Better by Rebecca J. Rosen

Live-blogging Arsenic Life by Carl Zimmer

Discovery of an arsenic-friendly microbe refuted and Q and A: Critical ‘Arseniclife’ studies released by Dan Vergano

Pair Of Studies Rebuts Arsenic-Based Life by Carmen Drahl

Arsenic Death by ChemBark

“Arsenic bacteria”: Coffin, meet nails by Ashutosh Jogalekar

Arsenic Life, Cold Fusion, and the Allure of Wishful Thinking by Matthew Francis

Another chink in the Ingelfinger armor? Arsenic life talk forces Science to release paper early, without embargo and Science has “not asked for a correction or retraction” of arsenic life paper, and why situation is unlike XMRV-CFS by Ivan Oransky

Arsenic-Life Discovery Debunked—But “Alien” Organism Still Odd by Richard A. Lovett

Consider the publication embargo… and NASA’s cowardly responses to their #arseniclife FAIL by Rosie Redfield

New research points toward “no” on arsenic life by Phil Plait

Annoying Arsenic Claim Debunked for Good – We Hope. by Faye Flam

Notorious Arsenic-Tolerant Bacterium Needs Phosphorus After All by Quirin Schiermeier

Despite refutation, Science arsenic life paper deserves retraction, scientist argues by David Sanders

Two studies show ‘weird life’ microbe can’t live on arsenic by Alan Boyle

Latest on #ArsenicLife by Jonathan Eisen

Journal retreats from controversial arsenic paper by Marc Kaufman

New Science Papers Prove NASA Failed Big Time In Promoting Supposedly Earth-Shaking Discovery That Wasn’t by Matthew Herper

 

Special topic 2: glut of PhDs:

WaPo: Not enough jobs for science PhDs by David Kroll

The STEM PhD Glut Makes the Mainstream Media by Mike the Mad Biologist

Subtleties of the Crappy Job Market for Scientists by Julianne Dalcanton

The wages of a life science Ph.D. (not high!) and More on jobs & Ph.D.s by Razib Khan

“Alternate careers” is just the next exploitation strategy? by DrugMonkey

Too many scientists? by Puff the Mutant Dragon

Washington Post: “U.S. pushes for more scientists, but the jobs aren’t there.” by Chemjobber

Life as PhD student by Elf Eldridge

 

Best Images:

TICKS ON A SNAKE by teresa.frog.applause

On Writing by Abstruse Goose

Here’s Something You Don’t See Every Day by Jonathan Losos

Arctic Biologist Shares Astonishing Sea Creatures With the World by Pete Brook

Visual Field by xkcd

 

Best Videos:

Nobel laureate occasionally hangs out on street corners, answering physics questions by Maggie Koerth-Baker

Snake Stunt: Drinking While Dangling by Andrew C. Revkin

Talent Search » TED@Vancouver » Carin Bondar: Reproduction and survival in the animal kingdom

Talent Search » TED@Sydney » James Byrne: How plants have sex

Stomach Bacteria Show Early Human Travels by skepTV

Piecing together Patagonia’s ancient vegetation by Melanie Connor

Opening Keynote from Cameron Neylon – Network Enabled Research by Open Repositories 2012

‘Big Ass Shark’ Unexpectedly Swipes Fish Off Girl’s Line Like Something Out of a Movie by Neetzan Zimmerman

The Higgs Boson, Part II: What is Mass? by MinutePhysics

Alan Turing: His Mind, His Life (VIDEO, Part Two) by Cara Santa Maria

This is What Snake Venom Does to Blood! by fragrancemad

Is Apollo 18 Real? by Amy Shira Teitel

#CurlyHairMafia on the Secret of NIMH by DNLee

From Galileo to Galaxy Zoo: Astronomy in the Digital Age by Alessandro Mangiafico

 

Science:

No, the web is not driving us mad and Why I am always unlucky but you are always careless by Vaughan Bell

Where are the Canadian media in analysing the Death of Evidence protest? by Marie-Claire Shanahan

The Dead Sea is Dying: Can
A Controversial Plan Save It?
by Dave Levitan

Trajectory of a falling Batman by Ben Goldacre

The mundaneness of science by Christie Aschwanden

Brain Scans Predict When Poker Players Will Bluff and Why Successful Leaders Share Their Harems by Elizabeth Preston

Egg-eating snakes and This blog is supposed to be about snakes, but if you can’t make exceptions for family, then you’re a jerk by Andrew Durso

Doubt Is Good for Science, But Bad for PR by Stuart Firestein

When you throb with pain…are you feeling the beat? by scicurious

Little fellah bums by Michael Wellan

Silk cages preserve vaccines and antibiotics for months without refrigeration and Urban noise can turn sparrow females into bad mums and Chicken vaccines merged to form live viruses and caused outbreaks of irony and Uncertainty shrouds psychologist’s resignation by Ed Yong

South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley slashes funding for coastal science and sustainable development by David Shiffman

Daily Mail, HuffPo Dumb Down Dinosex by Brian Switek

Q&A With Deborah Berebichez: Seeing the World Through Physics Glasses by Double Xpression

Mathematics and HIV by Jessica Wapner

Thai Farmers Fight ‘Global Warming Fines’ by Prangtip Daorueng

Why Crowds Can Turn Deadly by Emily Badger

You can hide those lying eyes by Zen Faulkes

You can’t ban redheaded sperm by David Winter

Zombies and Volleyball: The Benefits of the Bystander Effect by Melanie Tannenbaum

Q: Why Do We Wear Pants? A: Horses by Alexis Madrigal

There is something and not nothing by Roger Ebert

Want to Get Teens Interested in Math and Science? Target Their Parents by Anna Mikulak

Scientific History and the Lessons for Today’s Emerging Ideas by The Physics arXiv Blog

A striking experiment shows how you can run on quicksand and Black hole shines a light on dark galaxies by Matthew Francis

Why Canada’s scientists need our support by Alice Bell

Why Eugenics Will Always Fail by Esther Inglis-Arkell

Gnathia marleyi — or not by Susan Perkins

Will We Ever Find All the Dinosaurs? by Brian Switek

Should we all be guinea pigs? by John Rennie

Pipes, Reins, & the Cerebral Winepress: Mechanical Metaphor in Vesalius’ Fabrica by Marri Lynn

The climate of the climate change debate is changing by Myles Allen

Lizards Can’t Take The Heat – But Can They Take The Cold? by Martha Munoz

Crackpots, geniuses, and how to tell the difference by Maggie Koerth-Baker

Relativistic Baseball: What would happen if you tried to hit a baseball pitched at 90% the speed of light? by xkcd

I saw the (negative) sign: Problems with fMRI research by Dana Smith

Nikola Tesla and the magic of science by Danica Radovanovic

Why George Will Is Wrong About Weather And Climate by Jocelyn Fong

If “Fifty Shades of Grey” Had Been Written by a Biology Textbook Author by Ricki Lewis

Keeping Parkinson’s Disease a Secret by Kate Yandell

Distrusting Scientific Research by Kelsey Tsipis

Weird Fiction Monday: Mass Effect: Apocalypse by Greg Gbur

Could the S.H.I.E.L.D. Helicarrier Fly? by Rhett Allain

Planet of the Mega Disasters by Faye Flam

Dr. Drew Cashes In by Charles Seife

Galápagos Monday: The Sad Sex Life of Lonesome George by Virginia Hughes

Crowdfunding Questions With Petridish.org Co-founder Matt Salzberg by Travis Saunders

Roid Age: steroids in sport and the paradox of pharmacological puritanism by Greg Downey

Traditional Sexual Values Challenged in Classic Animal Study by Brandon Keim

Painless Injections by Tianyou Xu

Down, boy! The politics of humping by jwoestendiek

Notes on Some of Those 79 “New” Shark Species by Chuck Bangley

What’s the difference between “Opossum” and “Possum”? by Jason Bittel

A Brief History of Money by James Surowiecki

Tree Rings and Climate: Some Recent Developments by Michael E. Mann, Gavin Schmidt, and Eric Steig

The American Heat Wave and Global Warming by MarkCC

Brain Time by David Eagleman

Increase in wildfire frequency and severity – is it real? by Kelly Ramirez

 

Media, Publishing, Technology and Society:

If Mitt Romney were running a “post-truth” campaign, would the political press report it? by Jay Rosen

Chronicling Mitt’s Mendacity, Vol. XXV by Steve Benen

SPARC Europe’s response to the inaccuracies in the article by the Daily Mail’s City Editor on 18 June by Alma Swan

Wheeler: Spoken word, handwritten letters make lasting impressions by Burgetta Wheeler

The Blogfather on science blogging by NASW

Twitter and the Arab Spring: New Evidence by Henry Farrell

Predatory Open-Access Journals? by Sarah Hird

Academic blogging: minority scholars cannot afford to be silent by Denise Horn

Should Applied Funding Go To Academia Or Startups? by Elizabeth Iorns

The Importance of Open Access: An Interview with Patient Advocate Graham Steel by PatientsLikeMe

Are you sure that’s true? Truth Goggles tackles fishy claims at the moment of consumption by Andrew Phelps

The Dreamers’ dreams: young immigrants tell their stories by Ruth Spencer

Retraction tracking by Zen Faulkes

J-school grads turn to startup scene by Anne Field

Thoughts on the Finch Report, part 1 and Part 2 by Mike Taylor

A history of science blogging and Reflections on 10 years in science blogging by Razib Khan

A History of Science Blogging and Communicating Science to Society by Larry Moran

Bora’s Science Blogging Post by Eva Amsen

Video Tip of the Week: ScienceSeeker for science blogging by Mary Mangan

Sharpening ideas: From topic to story by Dan Ferber

Challenging ‘He Said, She Said’ Journalism by Linda Greenhouse

Are we stuck in filter bubbles? Here are five potential paths out by Jonathan Stray

Alan Alda warms up science communication with the Flame Challenge and The Flame Challenge winners, and other attempts to get science communication out of its rut by Peter Linett

Darpa Wants You to Be Its Hackathon Guinea Pig by Arikia Milikan

Science journalism through the looking glass by Chris Chambers and Petroc Sumner

How the byline beast was born by Jack Shafer

The left’s gone left but the right’s gone nuts: Asymmetrical polarization in action by David Roberts

Confessions of an Internet Addict by Alexis Madrigal

Science, Blogging and Plagiarism by Michael McBurney

How future-safe was the first Harvard blogging site? by Dave Winer

Why Blogs Fail by Neuroskeptic

Takes Two to Tango by Karen McLeod

How to live-tweet from an event by Tia Fisher

Is Open Access a Moral or a Business Issue? A Conversation with The Pennsylvania State University Press by Prof. Hacker

Reflections on Games For Change by Eric Martin

All’s Not Fair in Science and Publishing by Frederick Southwick

The ultimate geek road trip: North Carolina’s mega data center cluster by Katie Fehrenbacher and 10 reasons Apple, Facebook & Google chose North Carolina for their mega data centers and The controversial world of clean power and data centers and The story behind how Apple’s iCloud data center got built and That’s a wrap: The 4-part series on North Carolina’s mega data centers

What should society journals do about open access? and What does it cost to publish a paper with Elsevier? by Mike Taylor

The Blob versus the blog: arguing how social media is changing science and Transformative idea for peer review: reviewing & grading the reviewers by Paul Knoepfler

Three Keys to Clearing Two Social Media Hurdles by Farris Timimi

How the iPad helps scientists do their jobs by Joel Mathis

Reforming Copyright Is Possible by Pamela Samuelson

Piecemeal existence: For today’s young freelancers, what will traffic bear? by Ben Adler

The significance of plot without conflict by Still Eating Oranges

The Scienceblogging Weekly (July 6th, 2012)

Blog of the Week:

Musings of a Dinosaur is a blog written by a physician, family practitioner, Lucy E. Hornstein, author of the book Declarations of a Dinosaur: 10 Laws I’ve Learned as a Family Doctor. Having a small general family practice is different from beeing a specialist in a large hospital. Approach to patients is different. The way one runs the business is different. The thoughts about electronic medical records (a frequent topic of the blog) are different. A valuable perspective, wry and funny and insightful.

 

Top 10:

Maxwell’s demon goes quantum, can do work, write and erase data by Matthew Francis:

At any temperature above absolute zero, particles in a system move randomly, an effect known as thermal fluctuation. The random character of the fluctuations means they cannot be put to work in a mechanical sense (the measure of the energy unavailable for work is called entropy). 19th century physicist James Clerk Maxwell proposed a tiny intelligent “demon” that could harvest the thermal fluctuations to restore their usefulness; later work in the 20th century showed that the demon itself would have entropy, which would keep the thermodynamic books balanced.

Interesting by Shara Yurkiewicz:

I pull up a test result for my patient, and the senior resident standing behind me lets out an excited squeal. “I’ve never seen the imaging come back positive for this,” she says. Our two-week-old infant, who already has a rare infection, also has a rare associated structural abnormality. It’s not benign, but it is fixable. The fix usually requires surgery. As we walk over to the patient’s room to update her mother, my senior gushes about the zebra that was uncovered on the ultrasound. She asks me if I’m excited. “I dunno,” I mutter, which is somewhat more diplomatic than my disgust that she is. ”Her kid has to get surgery now.”

The world’s smallest fly probably decapitates really tiny ants by Ed Yong:

…Even though flies as a group aren’t exactly giants, the new species was around half the size of the previous smallest species. Brown named it Euryplatea nanaknihali after Nanak Nihal Weiss, a young boy from Brown’s home town in Los Angeles. Weiss is an entomology fanatic and Brown hopes that the name will help to keep his interest for years to come….

Creationists and Climate “Skeptics” – Separate Species or Just Different Breeds? by Faye Flam:

Several of the regular readers of this column have told me that since I’ve been brave enough to tell the truth about evolution, I should do the same for climate change and expose it as a hoax. In one case I replied that in my stories I always strive to reflect the truth to the best of my abilities. He wrote that he was “disappointed.” These evolution-accepting climate change “skeptics” are an interesting breed, revealing some key differences in the ways they and creationists approach science. Self-described climate skeptics are much more scattered in their views than are creationists, but they are better organized and together speak with a louder, and angrier voice….

Printing dinosaurs: the mad science of new paleontology by Laura June:

In April of this year, I headed out to a marl pit in Clayton, New Jersey to watch a team of Drexel University students and their teacher, Professor Kenneth Lacovara, dig for fossils. Marl, a lime-rich mud, had been mined and used as the 19th century’s leading fertilizer, but since around World War II (with the development of more advanced, synthetic fertilizers), demand for it has steeply lessened, and there aren’t many marl mining businesses left in the US. The marl pits of Southern New Jersey are famous for something else, though: they have been incredibly rich in fossil finds. In February, Dr. Lacovara had announced that the Paleontology department at Drexel would team up with the Engineering department for what would largely be a novel new project: scanning all of the fossils in the University’s collection (including some previously unidentified dinosaurs of Lacovara’s own finds in other parts of the world) using a 3D scanner. The Engineering department would then take those scans and use a 3D printer to create 1/10 scale models of the most important bones. But, he reported, that wouldn’t be the end of it: they intended, he said, to use those scale polymer “printouts” to model and then engineer fully working limbs, complete with musculature — to create, in effect, a fully accurate robotic dinosaur leg or arm, and eventually, a complete dinosaur….

Childbirth and C-sections in pre-modern times by Kristina Killgrove:

Basically since we started walking upright, childbirth has been difficult for women. Evolution selected for larger and larger brains in our hominin ancestors such that today our newborns have heads roughly 102% the size of the mother’s pelvic inlet width (Rosenberg 1992). Yes, you read that right. Our babies’ heads are actually two percent larger than our skeletal anatomy…

Self help: forget positive thinking, try positive action by Richard Wiseman:

For years self-help gurus have preached the same simple mantra: if you want to improve your life then you need to change how you think. Force yourself to have positive thoughts and you will become happier. Visualise your dream self and you will enjoy increased success. Think like a millionaire and you will magically grow rich. In principle, this idea sounds perfectly reasonable. However, in practice it often proves ineffective….

The Uncertainty Principle for climate (and chemical) models by Ashutosh Jogalekar:

A recent issue of Nature had an interesting article on what seems to be a wholly paradoxical feature of models used in climate science; as the models are becoming increasingly realistic, they are also becoming less accurate and predictive because of growing uncertainties. I can only imagine this to be an excruciatingly painful fact for climate modelers who seem to be facing the equivalent of the Heisenberg uncertainty principle for their field. It’s an especially worrisome time to deal with such issues since the modelers need to include their predictions in the next IPCC report on climate change which is due to be published next year….

The living rainbow: A fatal flaw in a classic study of sexual selection by Jeremy Yoder:

A key component of classical sexual selection theory is the idea that males maximize their evolutionary fitness—the number of children they ultimately have—by mating with lots of females, while females maximize their fitness by selecting only one or a few high-quality partners. It’s pretty clear that this model works well for some species (like ducks), but also that there are many it doesn’t fit so well. Now it looks like one of the “classic” experimental examples of sexual selection may actually fall into the latter category….

Dr. Google and Mr. Hyde by David Gorski:

….Like all major new technologies, the Internet has a good side and a bad side. In many cases, the same property is both good and bad, and one place that this is particularly true is in medical information. The Internet has an abundance of medical information, all there for the reading and learning, and various discussion forums that began with online BBS services and the now mostly obsolete global discussion community of Usenet allow people from all over the world who would never have communicated directly with each other before to share information and experiences. Unfortunately, there is a dark side to this. Regular readers of this blog know what that dark side is, too. The same technology that allows reputable scientists and doctors to publish reliable medical information to the world at very low cost also allows quacks and cranks to spew their misinformation, nonsense, pseudoscience, and quackery to the whole world at very little cost. And, boy, do they ever! In many ways, the quacks are a far more effective online presence than skeptics and supporters of science-based medicine. I mean, look at SBM itself. We’re still using a generic WordPress template. Now look at an antivaccine website like The International Medical Council on Vaccination or Generation Rescue or the antivaccine blog Age of Autism. Look at quack websites like NaturalNews.com The comparison, at least when it comes to web and blog design, is not flattering…..

 

Special topic: Higgs boson:

What is the Higgs boson? – video by Ian Sample and Laurence Topham

What Is the Higgs Boson? [Video] by George Musser

Higgs Boson VIDEO: A Metaphor To Explain The Particle, Or Further Confuse You by Cara Santa Maria and Henry Reich

Sonnet on a Higgs-Like Particle (video) by Vi Hart

New Particle Resembling Long-Sought Higgs Boson Uncovered at Large Hadron Collider by John Matson

If You Want More Higgs Hype, Don’t Read This Column by John Horgan

Beyond Higgs: On Supersymmetry (or Lack Thereof) by Glenn Starkman

Mr Boson, I presume…? by Charles Ebikeme

Live-Blogging the Higgs Seminar by Sean Carroll

Science Friday by Sean Carroll

Higgsteria: We Didn’t Need No U.S. Super Collider by Gary Stix

Pros and Cons of building particle accelerators – Werner Heisenberg by Beatrice Lugger

Higgs? Probably not tomorrow and Discovering a boson and Linux at CERN and The mysterious Mr. Higgs by Gianluigi Filippelli

Who gives a Higgs? by Jacqui Hayes

What If the New Particle Isn’t the Higgs Boson? by Natalie Wolchover

Why the Higgs Particle Matters by Matt Strassler

The Best Analogies Scientists and Journalists Use To Explain the Higgs Boson by J. Bryan Lowder

High on Higgs by Subhra Priyadarshini

Stop calling it “The God Particle!” by Dr. Dave Goldberg

The Higgs Boson explained by PhD Comics by Jorge Cham, via Nathan Yau

Scientists’ search for Higgs boson yields new subatomic particle by Brian Vastag and Joel Achenbach

The Higgs Boson – Certainly, certainly (?) there! (at least, I am pretty certain it is) by Julian Champkin

Gallery: how Wired readers picture the Higgs Boson by Ian Steadman

The Art of Science – Particle Accelerator Art by Michele Banks

Gettin’ Higgy With it: A Roundup of Higgs Boson Jokes on Twitter by Xeni Jardin

Higgs! by Phil Plait

Higgs Boson: the jokes edition by Khalil A. Cassimally

Scientists might have found the Higgs Boson by Maggie Koerth-Baker

Higgsdependence Day! by Matthew R. Francis

Physicists Find Elusive Particle Seen as Key to Universe by DENNIS OVERBYE

How the Discovery of the Higgs Boson Could Break Physics by Adam Mann

CERN Announces Discovery of Higgs-like Particle by PRI The World

What It Means to Find “a Higgs” by Mariette DiChristina

So What’s the Big Deal About the Higgs Boson, Anyway? A Physics Double Xplainer by Matthew Francis

A Moment for Particle Physics: The End of a 40-Year Story? by Stephen Wolfram

Higgs-like discovery from the inside by Jon Butterworth

The Higgs Boson and my mom by Laura Jane Martin

What Higgs Boson Evidence Looks Like by Ira Flatow

Higgs boson: Prof Stephen Hawking loses $100 bet by Nick Collins

Physicists Detect New Heavy Particle by Virat Markandeya

Hipster Pop Quiz: What is the Higgs Boson? by Motherboard

These Hipsters Have No Idea About the Higgs Boson by Megan Garber

CERN Finds New Particle (And it Might be the Higgs Boson!) by Miriam Kramer

Does 5-sigma = discovery? by Hyperspace

It’s true, they say they have the Higgs in the bag. Big news. Just imagine the hubbub were it deemed imaginary. and Goldarned god particle by Charlie Petit

So the Higgs boson walks into a… by Eryn Brown

Lighter side of the Higgs boson by Alan Boyle

Nobel Laureates in Physics React to the Higgs-Like Particle News [Video] by Nature magazine

Do You Understand The Higgs Boson? by Fake Science

It’s kind of a Higgs deal by Zen Faulkes

Field Day by Rheanna Sand

 

Best Images:

Snake Oil? The scientific evidence for health supplements by David McCandless and Andy Perkins

Unusual Bridges For Animals – Wildlife Overpasses by THE WORLD GEOGRAPHY

Horoscoped by David McCandless

The complete history of philosophy visualized in one graph by Simon Raper, via George Dvorsky

Paper birds – now with some internal anatomy by Diana Beltran Herrera

How Do We Know by The Census Bureau

 

Best Videos:

Curiosity’s Seven Minutes of Terror by NASA

Hermit Crab in Glass Shell turning over by Robert DuGrenier

Virtual Pigeon Attracts, Baffles Randy Males by Rachel Nuwer

Stephen Colbert Interviews Neil deGrasse Tyson at Montclair Kimberley Academy – 2010-Jan-29 by teridon

Fracking by Carin Bondar

Watch a giant African land snail enjoying a nice cool shower by Lauren Davis

Science Is A Girl Thing: Chris Hardwick, Cara Santa Maria Talk Women In STEM On G4’s ‘Attack Of The Show’ by Cara Santa Maria

Speed Comparison: GT vs. F1 cars by mclaren777

Why We Need to Broaden Participation in Science by RMCRSLDM

Science Writing in the Age of Denial, April 23, 2012 videos by University of Wisconsin-Madison

What Happens Inside the Large Hadron Collider? by George Musser and Rose Eveleth

Som Sabadell flashmob by Banco Sabadell

Octopus ‘vulgaris’ hatchlings hatching by Richard Ross

Ophiarachna Predatory Brittle Star FEEDING ACTION! by ChrisM

Deep-Sea Cephalopods Hide Using Light by AMNHorg

 

Science:

The Good-Old Days of Contraception: Lemon-Peel Diaphragms and Beaver-Testicle Tea by Sophie Bushwick

TGIPF: Iceland’s Phallological Museum by Alex Witze and Jeff Kanipe

The Myth of the Rational Scientist by Byron Jennings

Do scientists need an equivalent of the Hippocratic Oath to ensure ethical conduct? by Lou Woodley

Will We Ever Find Dinosaurs Caught in the Act? and Pterosaurs Done Wrong by Brian Switek

Trees, grass, carbon dioxide and the battle for dominance by GrrlScientist

Franz Boas and Neuroanthropology by Daniel Lende

Altmetrics and the Future of Science by Samuel Arbesman

Lunch: An Urban Invention by Nicola Twilley

The Making Of Meat-Eating America by Dan Charles

How To Start Your Own Farm by Forrest Pritchard

Foie Gras Hypocrisy by Matt Pressberg

U.N. Report from Rio on Environment a ‘Suicide Note’ by Mark McDonald

A “rule-of-forearm” for collecting data in Botswana by Andrew J King

Microbiomes mediating microevolution by Zen Faulkes

Dietary supplements: Manufacturing troubles widespread, FDA inspections show by Trine Tsouderos

Grizzlies move into Polar bear territory by Rebecca Deatsman

The Unsung Scientist, Louis-Antoine Ranvier by Cynthia McKelvey

Turning trauma into story: the benefits of journaling by Jordan Gaines

The tyranny of π: A semirational rant on an irrational number by Jonathan Chang

Draining the Desert? by Kate Prengaman

BOOK REVIEW: Companions in Wonder: Children and Adults Exploring Nature Together by Michael Barton

Ancient impact crater may be largest ever found by Stephen “DarkSyde” Andrew

Rising Heat at the Beach Threatens Largest Sea Turtles, Climate Change Models Show by Rachel Ewing

You Can See Poor From Space by Philadelinquency

Maya Lin: A Memorial to A Vanishing Natural World by Diane Toomey

The Problems With Forecasting and How to Get Better at It by Nate Silver

Ray Bradbury and the Lost Planetarium Show by David Romanowski

Opossums: Survival Machines and Opossum Reproduction by Jason Bittel

Conducting Cells in Mosses by Jessica M. Budke

What’s the difference between one kid with a fever and one without? by Connor Bamford

You want to cut me where? by Steven Salzberg

Birds of the Sun by Christopher Taylor

Coffee: a caffeinated chronicle by Jordan Gaines

Inner Ears Reveal Speed of Early Primates and The Shambulance: Ab Toning Belts (or, Muscle Tone Is All in Your Head) and Flightless Giant’s Flower Diet Revealed by Poop Fossils by Elizabeth Preston

Reviving the ‘apparently dead’ in Georgian Britain by Alun Withey

Don’t trust the religious by P.Z.Myers

Mother Nature Wants to Eat You, or: The Trouble With Alternative Med by Puff the Mutant Dragon

Galápagos Monday: World Within Itself by Virginia Hughes

Not in Our Genes by Bryan Appleyard

On the merits of science literacy by Alice Bell

Defining a hybrid species by Retrieverman

Sleep Research in the Blind May Help Us All by Steven Lockley, Ph.D.

Male Lactation- there’s probably something wrong with you by Noby Leong

Bill McKibben on the Global Warming Hoax by Bill McKibben

Why the Left-Brain Right-Brain Myth Will Probably Never Die by Christian Jarrett

Do Bears Sense That Hunters Are Afoot? and Thinking About Your Own Demise Inspires Environmentalism by Rachel Nuwer

Infrastructure and You by Marie-Claire Shanahan, Scott Huler and Tim De Chant

Bottles Full of Brain-Boosters by Carl Zimmer

New Study: Climate Deniers Are Emoting–Especially the Conspiracy Theorists and The Politics of Ice and Fire by Chris Mooney

What’s Behind The Record Heat? by Douglas Main

Jungle Science and the Future of Conservation by Mireya Mayor

A Poison for Assassins and Tiny Fireworks by Deborah Blum

“Why Do We Have to Learn This Stuff?”—A New Genetics for 21st Century Students by Rosemary J. Redfield

Darwin, Darwinism, and Uncertainty: book review by Matt Young

You’re Not as Happy as You Think You Are, Behavioral Scientists Report by Thomas Hayden

Strange sounds: How the brain makes sense of degraded speech by Julia Erb

Do We Need “Evolutionary Medicine”? by Harriet Hall

What the Germs in Your Bellybutton Say About You by Jason Tetro

Just a Reminder by Mike Haubrich

Night Shift by Rob Dunn

When Killer Whales Attack by Kieran Mulvaney

Voyager 1: The Little Spacecraft That Could by Amy Shira Teitel

Marriage is a tool society uses to reproduce by Greg Laden

Supplements: Something Smells Fishy by Cassandra Willyard

Cost of scientific research – and political naivity by Ken Perrott

The time has come: public participation in science policy making. and Harnessing Citizen Scientists: Let’s Create a Very Public Office of Technology Assessment by Darlene Cavalier

Get to know the narwhal! by Heidi Smith

Worm kills insects by vomiting Hulk-like bacteria by Ed Yong

The Tasmanian Echidna’s Four-Headed Penis by Lucy Cooke

Why Do Flamingos Stand On One Leg? by Matt Soniak

The First Poem Published in a Scientific Journal by Maria Popova

Truth and Reconciliation for Group Selection (pdf) by David Sloan Wilson

With a snail’s help a fish transitions from dying to dead by Craig McClain

Can You Learn To Be Synaesthetic? and False Positive Neuroscience? by Neuroskeptic

The Psychologist: Vladimir Nabokov’s understanding of human nature anticipated the advances in psychology since his day by Brian Boyd

 

Media, Publishing, Technology and Society:

The Geek Poet Strikes Back by Beth McNichol

A field guide to ocean science and conservation on twitter by Andrew Thaler

How to solve impossible problems: Daniel Russell’s awesome Google search techniques by John Tedesco

Should Google and Amazon be allowed to control domains? by Mathew Ingram

Calling Dr. Google by Jeff Jarvis

Belated thoughts on the Finch Report on achieving Open Access by Mike Taylor

The ‘Busy’ Trap by Tim Kreider and Have You Fallen Into The Busy Trap? by Brad Feld and Do We All Work Too Much? And Do We Really Have a Choice? by Walter Frick

The Death and Rebirth of Television News: “All of Life is Reduced to the Common Rubble of Banality” by Steven Lloyd Wilson

The Enlightenment project could inspire our media by Matthew da Silva

What Twitter could have been by Dalton Caldwell

A manifesto for the newspaper’s public editor in the social media era by Dan Gillmor

Why Google Plus isn’t dead — well, yet by John D. Sutter

SciWriteLabs 8.3: Adjudicating the Lehrer plagiarism accusations. Plus: Do Arianna and Oprah deserve lifelong bans? by Seth Mnookin

The Great American Novel by Maria Konnikova

Of Flying Cars and the Declining Rate of Profit by David Graeber (also see reactions by Henry Farrell and Cassiodorus)

Journatic worker takes ‘This American Life’ inside outsourced journalism by Anna Tarkov

Positive signs from Wiley on open access and Dear Wiley: please use Creative Commons Attribution for your open-access activities by Mike Taylor

On Tides, Visibility, and Quiet Revolutionary Acts by Dana Hunter

The View from Nowhere Interviews Trenberth by Michael Tobis

Social Networking For Scientists – The Wiki by Christie Wilcox

Save your darlings: Blank on Blank gives new life to old tape by Adrienne LaFrance

Hooray for the Awesome Wave of Lady Scientists in Action Movies by Alyssa Rosenberg

Long-form journalism project Matter aiming for September launch by Rachel McAthy

The Predictable Comment by The Digital Cuttlefish

Dramatic Growth of Open Access by Heather Morrison

The 2012 presidential election: what voters want – the community agenda by Jay Rosen and Nadja Popovich

Website Tests How Political Opposites Actually Discuss Differences by Marissa Alioto

Sorry, Your Tweets Can Still Be Subpoenaed by Adam Martin

Why You Should Be An Open Notebook Scientist by Anthony Salvagno

Startups that Catalyze Science by Samuel Arbesman

New research center in Madagascar opens today

Mireya Mayor and Patricia Wright

Mireya Mayor and Patricia Wright

Today, renowned primatologist Dr. Patricia Wright, and the Prime Minister and the Minister of Higher Education of Madagascar will unveil and open NamanaBe Hall (which translates as Friendship Hall) – a new research, arts and community outreach building in Ranomafana, Madagascar.

The 1,440 square meter building is as ‘green’ as can be – built out of local materials (locally-sourced granite, brick, and eucalyptus flooring), with work by local artisans and craftsmen, it has gardens and solar panels on the roof, gray water recycling, solar hot water, natural cooling, and enhanced use of daylight. Apart from it being sustainable, it is also hoped to provide an example to local (and global) populations on how to employ “green” techniques in building design and construction.

Centre Valbio by Dede Randrianarista

Centre Valbio by Dede Randrianarista

NamanaBe Hall is the newest addition to Stony Brook University’s research center – Centre ValBio – built in 2003 to help indigenous people and the international community with conservation in Madagascar. It is a center of research in biodiversity, and also a community center for arts, environmental outreach, conservation education, and economic development of the region of the Ranomafana National Park. With the addition of NamanaBe Hall, Centre ValBio will become the largest, most modern, and most important research hub in Madagascar.

Construction of Namanabe Hall by Noel Rowe.

Construction of Namanabe Hall by Noel Rowe.

The new hall will have a conference room for 80 people, a computer training lab and library, an audiovisual office, dormitories, and a modern, sophisticated scientific laboratory equipped to study biodiversity (genetics, hormones and parasites) and infectious diseases. The whole campus will be equipped with high speed internet. In one word – perfect setting for a ScienceOnlineMadagascar 😉

During the opening ceremony, the founder of the Centre ValBio, Dr. Patricia Wright will receive a Commander National Medal of Honor.

Pat Wright with the villagers. Photo by Mitch Irwin.

Pat Wright with the villagers. Photo by Mitch Irwin.

A world-renowned primatologist, Dr. Wright is a McArthur Genius Fellow and will now be the first recepient of all three major medals that Malagasy government can give. The first is the Chevalier Medal of Honor. To get this high honor one must have done exceptional deeds in one’s field. If one accomplishes a second exceptional deed or work one can receive the Officier Medal eight to ten years after the Chevaliar. The third medal, the Commander, can only be awarded five years after the Officier and denotes a person who has done honorable and exceptional work throughout their careers.

The Medals of Honor are awarded to person’s of high achievement, who are creative and have contributed exceptionally to the country of Madagascar. Dr. Wright will now be the first recipient of all three, for her 26 years of conservation work to advance Malagasy biodiversity. Grammy-award winning Malagasy brand Tarika Be (voted by Time Magazine as one of the “10 Best Bands in the World” alongside U2 and Radiohead) will perform at the inauguration.

Thanks to Mireya Mayor and Stony Brook University for heads-up and information.

 

The Scienceblogging Weekly (June 29th, 2012)

Blog of the Week:

This week’s choice was easy – March of the Fossil Penguins, written by Dr. Daniel Ksepka. What is there not to like? Penguins! Fossils! Straight from the keyboard of the leading world expert on the topic. Enjoy!

 

Top 10:

How presidential elections are impacted by a 100 million year old coastline by Craig McClain:

Hale County in west central Alabama and Bamberg County in southern South Carolina are 450 miles apart. Both counties have a population of 16,000 of which around 60% are African American. The median households and per capita incomes are well below their respective state’s median, in Hale nearly $10,000 less. Both were named after confederate officers–Stephen Fowler Hale and Francis Marion Bamberg. And although Hale’s county seat is the self-proclaimed Catfish Capitol, pulling catfish out of the Edisto River in Bamberg County is a favorite past time. These two counties share another unique feature. Amidst a blanket of Republican red both Hale and Bamberg voted primarily Democratic in the 2000, 2004, and again in the 2008 presidential elections. Indeed, Hale and Bamberg belong to a belt of counties cutting through the deep south–Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina, and North Carolina–that have voted over 50% Democratic in recent presidential elections. Why? A 100 million year old coastline….

The Curious Case of the Poisoned Cows by Deborah Blum:

On a bright morning in early June, a Texas rancher named Jerry Abel turned his small herd of cattle out to graze. The 18 cows moved hungrily into that field of fresh grass. Within a few hours, only three were still alive. Abel’s 80 acre ranch sits just a little east of Austin and the story was strange enough that on Sunday a local CBS affiliate picked it up. “There was nothing you could do,” Abel told KEYE about his desperate efforts to save the animals. “Obviously, they were dying.”…

In the Steps of a Hungry Acrocanthosaurus by Brian Switek:

Compared to mounted dinosaur skeletons, fossil footprints might seem like mundane objects. They only record one small part of a fantastic creature, and it is harder to envision a whole dinosaur from the ground up than the wrap flesh around a skeletal frame. But we should not forget that dinosaur footprints are fossilized behavior—stone snapshots of an animal’s life. And sometimes, trackways record dramatic moments in dinosaur lives….

When It Comes to Numbers, We’re All Late Bloomers by Elizabeth Preston:

Good news for aspiring jelly-bean jar estimators who are under 30! Your intuitive grasp of numbers may not have peaked yet. Unlike other cognitive skills, the ability to approximate keeps improving well into adulthood. Since the skill is tied to mathematical smarts, this news might bring hope to struggling students….

Summer of Smoke by Christie Aschwanden:

June 8, 2012, Cedaredge Colorado—It was an ordinary Friday afternoon. I was at my desk writing when I looked out the window and saw an enormous plume of smoke billowing from the back of our property. It was the kind of moment when you’re supposed to remain calm and remember all the wise things you learned in first aid class or girl scouts. (Stop! Drop! Roll!) Instead, I panicked.

Plague at the Siege of Caffa, 1346 by Michelle Ziegler:

The first stage of the Black Death among Europeans was said to begin with the whoosh of a Mongol trebuchet. Gabriele De’ Mussi, a lawyer from near Genoa writing in about 1348, is believed to have recorded the account of the earliest use of plague as weapon of war at Caffa in 1346….

New flu gene found hiding in plain sight, and affects severity of infections by Ed Yong:

I could write the entire genome of a flu virus in around 100 tweets. It is just 14,000 letters long; for comparison, our genome has over 3 billion letters. This tiny collection of genetic material is enough to kill millions of people. Even though it has been sequenced time and time again, there is still a lot we don’t know about it….

‘Man-sheep-dog’: inter-species social skills by Paul Keil and Greg Downey:

Paul, the lead author, interviewed sheepdog trialer Damian Wilson about his interactions with his dog, a border collie named Yandarra Whiskey. Damian and Whiskey gave Paul a demonstration of the techniques used in sheepdog competitions as they together tried to move a mob of three sheep. In a competition in New South Wales, a trainer and dog have to move three sheep who have never been herded through a difficult obstacle course, and the trainer loses points if he (or, less frequently, she) breaks from a slow, measured pace walking the course. The rules mean that the dog itself must be trained until it anticipates the sheep’s reactions, and understands, on some level, what dog and trainer, together, are trying to accomplish. Although the trialer may give commands, the dog, too, is a kind of expert….

Preview: 3-D Space Shuttle Movie Will Bring the Launch Pad to Your Living Room by Tanya Lewis:

If you missed the final launch of the Space Shuttle, or the first private spacecraft rendezvous with the International Space Station, fear not. A new documentary to be released late this year promises you a fiery, 3-D, launch-pad view of these historic flights…

A Wartime Medical Dispenser by Jaipreet Virdi:

The Napoleonic Wars brought John Harrison Curtis’ studies to a standstill, as he became one of thousands of young men conscripted to fight against Napoleonic advances towards Britain. With his medical learning in hand, Curtis enlisted in the Royal Navy in 1808, to obtain his qualifications as surgeon and extend his medical skills. Since 1745, the Royal College of Surgeons in London, Edinburgh and Dublin, and the Navy held close associations with each other as the College was responsible for examining naval surgeons for active service. To be admitted as surgeon in the navy, candidates had to obtain a certificate of competence from the College and then be subjected to a two-hour oral examination at Somerset House….

 

Special topic #1: Getting young journalists and scientists to become savvy on the Web:

#Realtalk for the j-school graduate on the first five years of your career by Ann Friedman

Young journalists don’t seem to care about the Web: Why not? by Phillip Smith

Few Tweet successes as Generation Y fails to use blog-standard tools by Elizabeth Gibney

British Ph.D. Students Don’t Tweet by Elizabeth Gibney

 

Special topic #2: Wicked Problems:

Covering Wicked Problems by Jay Rosen

Overcoming Wicked Problems by Michael Shellenberger and Ted Nordhaus

Andrew Revkin on the Super Wicked Problem of Climate Change by Amanda Frank

David Roberts on the Simple Climate Problem by Andrew Revkin

Wicked Problems by UpLook

 

Best Images:

Global Distribution of Nobel Prizes Reflects Great Shifts in Modern History [Infographic] by Scientific American Magazine

 

Best Videos:

Mathematically Correct Breakfast by George Hart

A Song About A Circle Constant by Vi Hart

Oldest Sound Recording Resurrected from Paper by Eric Olson

A Glass Act — Harry Potter Theme Played on Wine Glasses by murayu74

What does traffic have to do with fluid dynamics? by FY! Fluid Dynamics

Milestone for WINS by The Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University

Beautiful Black Art by Tony Barnhart

Making the Invisible Visible in Video by MITNewsOffice

How Many Men Does it Take to Pull an Astronaut Out of the Ocean? by Amy Shira Teitel

Scraps to soil: New Yorkers carry compost to Greenmarkets instead of tossing it in the trash by Laura Geggel and Virat Markandeya

Instant Egghead – Do Cosmic Rays Spark Lightning? by Phil Yam

 

Science:

Beware Stimulus Effects in Psychology by Neuroskeptic

Do cephalopods dream of aquatic sheep? and Big in Japan by Zen Faulkes

TGIPF: The Weird World of Banana Slug Sex by Cassandra Willyard

How to Spot Pseudoneuroscience and Biobunk by APS

Bad science not about same-sex parenting by Andrew Perrin

Adrenaline Junkies Look to the Moon for Great New Fix by Amy Shira Teitel

Snakes that chew their food by Andrew Durso

The Anthropocene, and the tech that might save humans by Christie Nicholson

Far out in North Carolina by Stefan Rahmstorf

Ostrich! Get your ostrich here! The man behind the Greenmarket ostrich stand by Taylor Kubota

S.O.S. Save Our Seagrass by Whitney Campbell

What does the way you count on your fingers say about your brain? by Corrinne Burns

Size and evolution by Anthony King

Madness over sea level rise in North Carolina by John Bruno

How Will Global Warming Affect Lizards? A Detailed Physiological Study On Puerto Rican Anoles by Jonathan Losos

Seven sins of scientists part 5: snobbery by Paul Knoepfler

Tidal massaging reveals a hidden ocean on Saturn’s moon, Titan by Matthew Francis

How did the remote control get so awful and confusing? by Daniel Engber

Thoughts on Obamacare by Pal MD

Why supermarket tomatoes look great but taste bland and Exposed: the severe ethical breaches of superhero journalists and Mystery of the flatfish head solved *cough* four years ago *cough* and Why a new case of misconduct in psychology heralds interesting times for the field and Californian condor not extinct yet, but still regularly poisoned by lead by Ed Yong

Shiny! Top 10 reasons why seafarers love Joss Whedon’s Firefly by Miriam Goldstein and Craig McClain

Mysterious Fairy Circles Are ‘Alive’ by Rachel Nuwer

The Dolomite Problem – Peeking Under The Hood by Suvrat Kher

The Curse of the Lead Bullet by Deborah Blum

Should Linus Pauling’s erroneous 1953 model of DNA be retracted? by Jeff Perkel

How to trick people into eating dog food and H*MPING: Why do they do it? by Julie Hecht

The New ExxonMobil: Has the Tiger Changed Its Stripes? and A Court’s Scientific Smackdown: The D.C. Circuit Trashes Science Deniers on Global Warming and the EPA by Chris Mooney

America’s Other Audubon: A Victorian Woman’s Radical Journey of Art, Science & Entrepreneurship by Maria Popova

CDC proposes testing baby boomers for hepatitis C by Jessica M. Morrison

Climate-Studying Seals Bring Back Happy News by Elizabeth Preston

Brave New Worlds by Cameron Walker

Your Color Red Really Could Be My Blue by Natalie Wolchover

Science Denied by Phil Primack

A New Satellite Tool Tracks Deforestation by Rachel Nuwer

Sleeper Sharks Slurp Snoozing Seals by Brian Switek

The Lessons (and Echoes) of Silent Spring by Keith Kloor

The curse of the gingers by PZ Myers

The Higgs Boson is a Liberal Conspiracy To Get The Government More Involved In Mass* by Tom Levenson

Poland’s wolves trot across key wildlife overpasses by DeLene Beeland

In defense of pink microscopes by TheCellularScale

In Defense of #sciencegirlthing by Ben Young Landis

Social Justice in Animals and Animals in Visual Media by Marc Bekoff

Of wanton plants and prudish immune systems: late-night thoughts for National Pollinator Week by Leafwarbler

 

Media, Publishing, Technology and Society:

SciWriteLabs 8.1: The Lehrer affair, consequence-free plagiarism, and rules for blogging and SciWriteLabs 8.2: Is it kosher to re-use wording from Facebook updates in your journalism? And: do we need a Son of Sam law for media miscreants? by Seth Mnookin

Disrupting journalism education, too by Jeff Jarvis and Disrupting education by Dave Winer

Open Notebook Series: What is an Open Notebook? by Anthony Salvagno

Genius writing – or can a good lab journal help you become smarter? by Eric-Wubbo Lameijer

On Blogging, Direction And Ben Radford’s “Still Skeptical of Blogs” by Kylie Sturgess

Launching version 2.2: Twitter Integration by ScienceSeeker

A bad bad week for access by Richard Smith

Social Networking Concept May Have Emerged During Renaissance, Researchers Say by Tara Kelly

Wellcome Trust will penalise scientists who don’t embrace open access by Alok Jha

Shaking Up Israel’s National Archives: A conversation with Israel’s new chief archivist by Yair Rosenberg

Google’s One-Gender-Fits-All T-Shirts Don’t Fit by Ryan Tate

Library of Congress Acquires Carl Sagan Papers by Audrey Fischer

Putting People at the Center of Journalism by Josh Stearns

How do you tell when the news is biased? It depends on how you see yourself by Jonathan Stray

All A’Twitter: How Social Media Aids in Science Outreach – Discussion and Conclusions by Caitlyn
Zimmerman

Did you just tell me to go fuck myself? by Ian Mulvany

Scientists On Twitter: 30 Biologists And Chemists To Follow by Rebecca Searles

Measuring and Visualizing Interdisciplinarity by Samuel Arbesman

Why Porn and Journalism Have the Same Big Problem by Jordan Weissmann

Can you go on the press release diet? A 12-step program by Denise Graveline

How the New York Times technology blog, Bits, perpetuated the myth of a mental illness due to mobile phone use: Or, Follow the money by Les Posen

The Scienceblogging Weekly (June 22nd, 2012)

Blog of the Week:

Like clockwork, almost every day for more than two years, Tommy Leung and Susan Perkins bring you Parasite of the Day. Sometimes gross, but always fascinating. And considering how most of us don’t pay much attention to parasites these days, there is something cool to learn every single day.

 

Top 10:

The only good abortion is my abortion by Maggie Koerth-Baker:

…Of course, we don’t call it an abortion. We call it “a procedure” or a D&C. See, my potential abortion is one of the good abortions. I’m 31 years old. I’m married. These days, I’m pretty well off. I would very much like to stay pregnant right now. In fact, I have just spent the last year—following an earlier miscarriage—trying rather desperately to get pregnant…

Defending Jonah Lehrer by Bradley Voytek (about criticisim of neuroscience, not “self-plagiarism”):

Cognitive neuroscience grew out of experimental psychology, which has decades of amazing observations to link psychology and behavior. But with this legacy comes a lot of baggage. Experimental psychologists observed that we have the capacity for memory, attention, emotion, etc. and they sought to piece those phenomena apart. With the advent of neuroimaging techniques, psychologists put people in brain scanners to see where in the brain behaviors “were”. But this is the wrong way of thinking about these concepts.

The genius myth by Zen Faulkes:

…This myth of destiny and inevitable triumph of genius is, to me, completely the opposite of what science is. The scientific method leveled the playing field for discovering truth. Anyone could follow the methods and get to the bottom of things, so truth was no longer subject to tricky things like personal revelation….

Climate change is simple: We do something or we’re screwed by David Roberts:

…The challenge I took on was to convey the gist of my “brutal logic of climate change” post in a reasonably short amount of time, using as little scientific jargon as possible. Just: there is a problem that calls for urgent action. Business-as-usual means disaster. This is all gloom and doom — not even much humor. I know that turns people off or shuts them down. I know people need to feel a sense of hope and efficacy. I know — indeed, have recently been writing — that we need a vision of a sustainable future. But I needed to do my own version of “Danger Will Robinson!” Just to get it on the record…

Tunes without composers: music naturally evolves on DarwinTunes by Ed Yong:

…The tunes embedded above weren’t written by a composer, but fashioned through natural selection. They are the offspring of DarwinTunes, a program which creates bursts of noise that gradually evolve based on the preferences of thousands of human listeners. After hundreds of generations, tracks that are boring and grating soon morph into tunes that are really quite rhythmic and pleasant (even if they won’t be topping charts any time soon)….

Snake-eating beetles by Andrew Durso:

So little is known about the parasites of snakes that we tend to discount them all together, but the ecological and evolutionary interactions between hosts and their parasites can be very strong. This is a story about how two enterprising snake biologists solved a mystery that had been puzzling entomologists for decades…

Test-Tube Piggies: How did the guinea pig become a symbol of science? by Daniel Engber:

…To call someone or something a guinea pig may suggest a mere experiment (“Joe Biden was put out as a guinea pig for the White House”), or it can invoke the specter of exploitation (the U.S. Army wanted “to use young men as guinea pigs and throw them away”). The image either describes the scientific process or condemns it. It’s a totem or a scarecrow. What makes this wording more curious is the fact that guinea pigs, real ones, don’t mean much to working scientists. For all their rhetorical importance, the animals scarcely register in the lab…

What’s changed in evolution and ecology since I started my Ph.D. by Jeremy Yoder:

Last month, I filed my PhD dissertation, bringing to an end an intellectual and personal journey that began seven years ago in the summer of 2005. I know a lot more now than I did then, and I know a lot more about the boundaries of what I don’t know, too. But not only has my knowledge changed—evolution and ecology looks a lot different now than it did seven years ago when I was planning my dissertation research. At some point, and often multiple points, in the process of getting a PhD, everybody wonders whether what they’re doing is already out of date. Some of the transformations in the field I think I could see coming. For instance, it was clear in 2005 that computational power would keep increasing, phylogenetics would be used more and more to ask interesting questions, more and more genomes would be available for analysis, and evolutionary developmental biology was on the rise. It was unfortunately also predictable that it would be possible to study climate change in real time over PhD-length timescales. And although the 2008 global financial crisis didn’t help, it was clear that funding and jobs were going to be more competitive than they had been for our predecessors….

Drawing sharp boundaries in a fuzzy world by Chris Rowan:

Humans are natural splitters. We have an innate tendency to look at the world and mentally sort everything into different categories, and grades, and entities: this is one thing, that is another; it was this, now it’s that. Our perception of colour is a good example of how our brains automatically split a continuum into discrete boxes. We’ve incorporated our love of classification deep into science, trying to formalise and quantify the dividing lines we want to draw on everything: it’s this when conditions A and B are met, it’s that when we see Y and Z. But nature doesn’t often make it easy for us to draw our sharp dividing lines….

Why the Scientist Stereotype Is Bad for Everyone, Especially Kids by Michael Brooks:

To many – too many – science is something like North Korea. Not only is it impossible to read or understand anything that comes out of that place, there are so many cultural differences that it’s barely worth trying. It’s easier just to let them get on with their lives while you get on with yours; as long as they don’t take our jobs or attack our way of life, we’ll leave them in peace…

 

Special topic #1: Science: It’s a Girl Thing

“Science: It’s a Girl Thing”: Lab Barbie, Extra Lipstick by Maryn McKenna

Hey girl! Science wants YOU – but don’t forget the lipstick by Gozde Zorlu

Girls! Be A Scientist! You too Can Dance in the Lab in High Heels! by Deborah Blum

Friday Sprog Blogging: You’ve made it clear “it’s a girl thing,” but is “it” science? and Science For Princesses and How do we make room for pink microscopes? (More thoughts on gendered science kits.) by Janet D. Stemwedel

#sciencegirlthing: the PR guy’s take by David Wescott

E.U.’s ‘Science, it’s a girl thing’ campaign sparks a backlash by Olga Khazan

Science – It’s a Girl Thing (Insert Facepalm Here) by Carin Bondar and Joanne Manaster

Why “Pinkifying” Science Does More Harm Than Good by Noisy Astronomer

Hey Science, “How YOU doin’?” by Summer Ash

 

Special topic #2: Turtles

Turtle Anatomy, in Stunning Images from 1820 by Maria Popova

Galápagos Monday: Lynn’s Tortoises by Galápagos Monday: Lynn’s Tortoises

Terrifying sex organs of male turtles by Darren Naish

Turtles Have Horrifying Penises by Erin Gloria Ryan

Sex locked in stone: Fossil turtle pairs provide first direct evidence of prehistoric vertebrate mating. by Brian Switek

What Remains in the Rock by Brian Switek

Friday Weird Science: Why, you DIRTY LITTLE HERPS! by Scicurious

Preserved in the Act and Fossilized Turtle Whoopie by Craig McClain

 

Best Videos:

Eating on a Green Roof: New York’s Buildings Provide Food, Habitat for Wildlife by Rachel Nuwer, Chris New and Brennan Kelley

How do Spaceships Landing in Water Not Hit Boats? by Amy Shira Teitel

Must-watch video on rip currents by Miriam Goldstein

Whale Rainbow by rsean9000

Charged Gold Nanoparticles “Unzip” DNA by N.C.State

World Science Festival Fascinates With Robotic Animals, World’s Lightest Material, Quantum Levitation by Cara Santa Maria

 

Best Images:

Human Microbiome Project by Perrin Ireland

Greek octopus forms coalition with dolphin’s genitals by Rowan Hooper

 

Science:

The Difference Between Science ‘Skills’ and ‘Knowledge’ by Emily Richmond

How To Stop Science Alienation Syndrome by Deborah Blum

How to Determine If A Controversial Statement Is Scientifically True by Alan Henry

Numeric Pareidolia and Vortex Math by MarkCC

Tech-Based Dollhouse Inspires Future Girl Scientists by Kellie Foxx-Gonzalez

Med Student Rescues Body Part From Airport Security by Robert Krulwich

Things I Learnt from my (Unscientific) Experiences with Crowdsourcing. by David Ng

In Defense of Genetically Modified Crops by Sarah Zhang

When Did Americans Lose Their British Accents? and Why Do People Feel Phantom Cellphone Vibrations? by Matt Soniak

NASA Astronauts Brought Playmates to the Moon and Valentina Tereshkova Was the First Woman in Space and NASA and FAA Agree on the Future of Spaceflight and Vintage Space Fun Fact: NASA’s Canadian Contingent and Mars Rover Curiosity’s Retro Parachute by Amy Shira Teitel

Brains are Different on Macs by Neuroskeptic

Putting Fear In Your Ears: What Makes Music Sound Scary by Jessica Stoller-Conrad

Former Quantitative Trader Spurns Wall Street to Explore the Final Frontier by Patrick Clark

Can Anoles With Differently Shaped Genitals Interbreed? and Territorial And Thermoregulatory Behavior Of Sri Lankan Otocryptis Lizards by Jonathan Losos

How can scientists communicate to the public if they can’t even explain their work to each other? by Maggie

On this Father’s Day, let’s remember the allofathers, too by Emily Willingham

Are Fathers an Endangered Species? by Paul Raeburn

A shot to the head by Vaughan Bell

Get Ready, Because Voyager I Is *This Close* to Leaving Our Solar System by Rebecca J. Rosen

Does All Wine Taste the Same? by Jonah Lehrer

The Blind Spot: A Requiem by Megan Garber and Driving without a Blind Spot May Be Closer Than It Appears by Rachel Ewing

Notebooks Shed Light on an Antibiotic’s Contested Discovery by Peter Pringle

10-year-old solves science riddle and co-authors paper by Jon White

Keeping strong during a long winter nap by Zen Faulkes

What did Galileo ever do to you? by Ken Perrott

End the macho culture that turns women off science by Athene Donald

What’s in a (Gene) Name? by Hillary Rosner

Darwin, Worm Grunters, and Menacing Moles by Anthony Martin

Growing Up on Zoloft – Talking Drugs, Depression, and Identity With Katherine Sharpe by David Dobbs

ANAL CONES! Diadematid sea urchin mysteries! and Follow up on the Anal Cone! (thanks to the New Scientist) by Christopher Mah

How to find good sperm by Kristian Sjøgren

It has long been a mystery why flamingos in captivity suffer foot lesions. A Danish study now claims to have solved a part of this mystery. by Jeppe Wojcik

Black bears show counting skills on computers by Matt Bardo

DIY biology by Laura H. Kahn

Same Old Story: Too Many Graduate Students by Rob Knop

Scientists Find Weak Evidence That Unhealthy Lifestyles Lead to Weak Sperm by Allie Wilkinson

Sound Scholarly Communication by David De Roure

Sports doping, Victorian style by Vanessa Heggie

Welcome to the Anthropocene by David Biello

Goat Moms Recognize Their Kids Saying “Ma!” and The Shambulance: Ionic Foot Detox Baths by Elizabeth Preston

Thoughts on Tarbosaurus, Part 1. and Part 2 by Victoria Arbour

An Abstemious Home by Jessa Gamble

Crowdfunding: It’s not a grant … or is it? by Rebecca Rashid Achterman

The monthly ring: Expanding HIV prevention options for women by Dr. Zeda Rosenberg

Experiments hint at a new type of electronics: valleytronics and Quantum fluctuations may uncover a clue to high-temperature superconductivity by Matthew Francis

Reinventing the Wheel by Meagan Phelan

When Mammals Ate Dinosaurs by Brian Switek

The Rise of the Fork: Knives and spoons are ancient. But we’ve only been eating with forks for a few centuries. by Sara Goldsmith

‘Silent Spring’ is 50. The Credit, and the Blame, It Deserves. by David Ropeik

As America grows more polarized, conservatives increasingly reject science and rational thought by Amanda Marcotte

In the year 2023, and humans are on Mars for all to see by Kevin Orrman-Rossiter

Scalia’s Republican Brain: Why He’ll Come Up With a Reason to Overturn the Healthcare Mandate by Dylan Otto Krider

Does art-from-science really add anything? by Jon Butterworth

Prairie Ridge Ecostation by Christine L. Goforth

Let’s not get carried away by Markus Pössel

 

Media, Publishing, Technology and Society:

The Slow Web by Jack Cheng

Using Storytelling in Blogs by Maximilian Majewski

I’ll ask the questions here! by M.S.

Lawyer attacking The Oatmeal shocked by big mean Internet’s reaction and Lawyer tries and fails to shut down The Oatmeal’s charitable fundraiser by Casey Johnston and The Oatmeal v. FunnyJunk, Part IV: Charles Carreon Sues Everybody by Ken and The Guy Continues to Mess With The Oatmeal by Kevin Underhill and Funnyjunk’s Lawyer Charles Carreon Just Keeps Digging: Promises He’ll Find Some Law To Go After Oatmeal’s Matt Inman by Mike Masnick

Journalism education cannot teach its way to the future by Howard Finberg and Why Professors Value Journalism Degrees More Than Professionals (Beyond the Obvious) by Carrie Brown-Smith

How would you engage the community in a vagina discussion? by Steve Buttry

Socialising Research: How to get your research results noticed and used. by Jo Hawkins

All A’Twitter: How Social Media Aids in Science Outreach – Chapter 11: Set of Best Practices for Social Media Use by Caitlyn Zimmerman

Teachers and Administrators, Don’t Be Scared of Technology: It Won’t Replace the Classroom by Jody Passanisi and Shara Peters

Is it ok to get paid to promote Open Access? by John Dupuis

Pay attention to what Nick Denton is doing with comments by Clay Shirky

Watergate mythology invites pushback, ignores journalism’s messy nature by Andrew Beaujon

Why Women Still Can’t Have It All by Anne-Marie Slaughter and No One ‘Has It All,’ Because ‘Having It All’ Doesn’t Exist by Lindy West

When Twitter Stumbles, Sites Across the Web Go Down With It by Alexander Furnas

Open Access and Science Communication. Reflections on the need for a more open communication environment by Alessandro Delfanti

A step-by-step approach for science communication practitioners: a design perspective by Maarten C.A. van der Sanden and Frans J. Meijman

Does the technical staff at the World Health Organization (WHO) tweet? by Nina Bjerglund

An Open Letter To Conference Organizers and Panel Moderators by Sean Bonner

Twitterror by Oliver Reichenstein

To create a new social network or not to? Scientists weigh in. by Upwell

The Perfect Technocracy: Facebook’s Attempt to Create Good Government for 900 Million People and Inside Google’s Plan to Build a Catalog of Every Single Thing, Ever by Alexis Madrigal

Why Pen Names Might Be a Bad Idea for Most Bloggers by Ryan Matthew Pierson

Blogging relieves stress on new mothers by Victoria M Indivero

Should We (And Can We) Regulate What We Do Not Understand? by Kathleen Wisneski

Scholars are quickly moving toward a universe of web-native communication by Jason Priem, Judit Bar-Ilan, Stefanie Haustein, Isabella Peters, Hadas Shema, and Jens Terliesner

Bill Marriott: Chairman of the Blog by Michael S. Rosenwald

Apps I Want to Go Away by Sam Grobart

Some Thoughts on Peer Review and Altmetrics by Ian Mulvany

 

Extra: On the Finch report on Open Access:

Open access is the future of academic publishing, says Finch report by Alok Jha

The Finch Report on open access: it’s complicated by Stephen Curry

First thoughts on the Finch Report: Good steps but missed opportunities by Cameron Neylon

U.K. Panel Backs Open Access for All Publicly Funded Research Papers by Kai Kupferschmidt

Finch Report, a Trojan Horse, Serves Publishing Industry Interests Instead of UK Research Interests by Stevan Harnad

 

Extra: On the “self-plagiarism” saga:

On science blogs this week: Jonah Lehrer by Tabitha M. Powledge

Jonah Lehrer: The issues are simple by Paul Raeburn

This Week in Review: The potential of Microsoft’s Surface, and keeping blogging ideas fresh by Mark Coddington

Jonah Lehrer, Hypertext Author by Dorian Taylor

Jonah Lehrer “Self-Plagiarism” Brouhaha is Crap by Matthew E May

New Journalistic Workflow by Bora Zivkovic

Blogging and recycling: thoughts on the ethics of reuse. by Janet D. Stemwedel

How Jonah Lehrer should blog by Felix Salmon

The ethics of recycling content: Jonah Lehrer accused of self-plagiarism by Jonathan M. Gitlin

A (Partial) Defense of Jonah Lehrer by Robert Wright

The Tyranny of Novelty by Matthew Francis

Jonah Lehrer, self-borrowing and the problem with “big ideas” by Laura Hazard Owen

The Scienceblogging Weekly (June 15th, 2012)

Blog of the Week:

Russ Williams is the Director of the North Carolina Zoological Society and, as far as I know, the only “director of a zoo” who blogs. And does he ever – Russ has been blogging up a storm ever since 2005 when Ed Cone taught him how (you may call me The Blogfather, but Ed Cone is the blogfather for many of us in North Carolina). On his blog Russlings, Russ covers plenty – what is new at the N.C.Zoo in Asheboro, what is new in other zoos around the country and the world, what is new in policy and politics of animal conservation, plus cool pictures and videos of wildlife. But where the value really comes up is at the times of natural disasters – Russ is “in the know” and often the first and/or the only person to blog about the status of zoos and aquaria, as well as farm animals, wildlife preserves etc, in the affected areas. During disasters, Russlings is the Go-To place for such coverage.

 

Top 10:

How Our Disinterest in ‘The Environment’ Signals the End of Nature by Christopher Mims:

No one reading this has the slightest fucking clue what “nature” is, and in 1995 fisheries scientist Daniel Pauly proved it. In the paper that introduced the term “shifting baselines,” Pauly described how experts who determined how many fish should be caught often started with whatever the baseline state of the ecosystem was when they started their careers, instead of considering what a fishery might have looked like in the past, when it wasn’t nearly as degraded….

Getting used to being in charge of the planet by David Roberts:

…Nonetheless, like evolution, the dominance of human beings on Spaceship Earth is a profound and terrifying threat to all sorts of traditional worldviews. If Darwin showed us that God is not our author, the Anthropocene shows that He is not our caretaker. There’s no parent to supply us with endless resources and endless room to dispose of our waste. There’s no one to protect us or prevent us from screwing it all up….

Walking the Line: How to Identify Safe Limits for Human Impacts on the Planet by David Biello:

Is preserving the general environmental conditions that allowed civilization to flourish—a moderate climate, a rich array of species, rivers that reach the sea—necessary to ensure humanity endures? Or is minimizing alterations to the global environment introduced by human activity—rising levels of CO2 from fossil-fuel burning, widespread extinction, dams that impound water—more important to our success? Choosing the right approach is vital as the scale of human impact on the planet becomes so large that scientists are calling this new epoch in Earth’s history the Anthropocene (when human activity alters global climate and ecosystems)…

#GMOFAQ: Transferring genes from one species to another is neither unnatural nor dangerous by Michael Eisen:

Last week I wrote about the anti-science campaign being waged by opponents of the use of genetically modified organisms in agriculture. In that post, I promised to address a series of questions/fears about GMOs that seem to underly peoples’ objections to the technology. I’m not going to try to make this a comprehensive reference site about GMOs and the literature on their use and safety (I’m compiling some good general resources here.) I want to say a few things about myself too…

Sea level rise 101 by John Bruno:

Based on the NC legislature’s decree about the science of sea level rise projections and some of the related propaganda we have seen from climate change deniers, I get the sense there is a lot of confusion about sea level rise. So here is a primer on what we know about sea level and climate change…

Dirty soil and diabetes: Anniston’s toxic legacy by Brett Israel:

The Rev. Thomas Long doesn’t have neighbors on Montrose Avenue anymore. Everyone is gone. Widespread chemical contamination from a Monsanto plant was discovered in this quiet city in the Appalachian foothills back in the 1990s. In West Anniston, behind Long’s home, a church was fenced off, and men in “moon suits” cleaned the site for weeks. Nearby, boarded windows and sunken porches hang from abandoned shotgun houses. Stray dogs roam the narrow streets. A red “nuisance” sign peeks above the un-mowed lawn of one empty house. Bulldozers will be here soon…

Pollution, Poverty, People of Color: No beba el agua. Don’t drink the water. by Liza Gross

Jessica Sanchez sits on the edge of her seat in her mother’s kitchen, hands resting on her bulging belly. Eight months pregnant, she’s excited about the imminent birth of her son. But she’s scared too. A few feet away, her mother, Bertha Dias, scrubs potatoes with water she bought from a vending machine. She won’t use the tap water because it’s contaminated with nitrates…

The crayola-fication of the world: How we gave colors names, and it messed with our brains (part II) by Aatish Bhatia:

Lately, I’ve got colors on the brain. In part I of this post I talked about the common roads that different cultures travel down as they name the colors in their world. And I came across the idea that color names are, in some sense, culturally universal. The way that languages carve up the visual spectrum isn’t arbitrary. Different cultures with independent histories often end up with the same colors in their vocabulary. Of course, the word that they use for red might be quite different – red, rouge, laal, whatever. Yet the concept of redness, that vivid region of the visual spectrum that we associate with fire, strawberries, blood or ketchup, is something that most cultures share….

How the Chicken Conquered the World by Jerry Adler and Andrew Lawler:

The chickens that saved Western civilization were discovered, according to legend, by the side of a road in Greece in the first decade of the fifth century B.C. The Athenian general Themistocles, on his way to confront the invading Persian forces, stopped to watch two cocks fighting and summoned his troops, saying: “Behold, these do not fight for their household gods, for the monuments of their ancestors, for glory, for liberty or the safety of their children, but only because one will not give way to the other.” The tale does not describe what happened to the loser, nor explain why the soldiers found this display of instinctive aggression inspirational rather than pointless and depressing. But history records that the Greeks, thus heartened, went on to repel the invaders, preserving the civilization that today honors those same creatures by breading, frying and dipping them into one’s choice of sauce. The descendants of those roosters might well think—if they were capable of such profound thought—that their ancient forebears have a lot to answer for….

‘Sexual depravity’ of penguins that Antarctic scientist dared not reveal by Robin McKie:

It was the sight of a young male Adélie penguin attempting to have sex with a dead female that particularly unnerved George Murray Levick, a scientist with the 1910-13 Scott Antarctic Expedition. No such observation had ever been recorded before, as far as he knew, and Levick, a typical Edwardian Englishman, was horrified. Blizzards and freezing cold were one thing. Penguin perversion was another….

 

Special topic #1: stimulants in school:

The Questions About ADHD Drugs The New York Times Didn’t Ask by Matthew Herper

The labels change, the game remains the same by Vaughan Bell

The NY Times: When Stimulants Are Bad by Robert Whitaker

The Horror of Drug-Boosted Grades and SAT Scores by Jacob Sullum

Should Ritalin Be Distributed To Everyone Taking the SATs? by Gary Stix.

 

Special topic #2: Prometheus and science in the movies:

The biology of Prometheus by Zen Faulkes

The Science of Prometheus – a review, containing a lot of spoilers by Frank Swain

Prometheus: an archaeological perspective (sort of). by Henry Rothwell

Ridley Scott’s Prometheus Examines the Roots of Alien’s Mythology by Larry Greenemeier

‘Prometheus’ Offers a Creationist Indulgence for Science Geeks by James Gorman

Prometheus: what was that about? Ten key questions by Ben Walters

Stealing fire by Zen Faulkes

Space: The Science of Prometheus by Discovery News

What’s Wrong With Prometheus (a Partial List) by Julian Sanchez


Best Videos:

Instant Egghead – What Causes Brain Freeze? by Ferris Jabr and Eric Olson

The Fabulab’s Flame Challenge by Jeanne Garbarino, Perrin Ireland and Deborah Berebichez

Curly Haired Mafia – Prometheus SPOILERS!!! (video) by Lali DeRosier, DNLee and Dr.Rhubidium


Best Image:

UCD worker wins award for rare photo of bee sting in action by Andrea Gallo


Science:

Sensory Ecology of the Third Eye by Ashli Moore

Lovely Lysenko by Dominic Berry

Assuming the Doctor’s a ‘He’ by Danielle Ofri, M.D.

Why We (Accidentally) Name Babies for Hurricanes by Elizabeth Preston

What is a vagina? by Emily Willingham

Imaginary Numbers are Real by Matthew Francis

Curious Experiments by Archbishop Marsh’s Library. “‘Curious Experiments’ for ‘The Amusement and Entertainment of Ladies, as well as Gentlemen’ which took place before a paying audience in Dublin in 1743.” recreated by high school students 270 years later.

Crowdfunding: A New Opportunity for Science and Innovation by John R. Platt

Old Books that Guided Science by Samuel Arbesman

Why you probably won’t experience your own traumatic death by George Dvorsky

June Gloom by Cameron Walker

Dear Slate: America Needs More Artists by See Arr Oh

Negative results and dodgy papers: keep quiet or publish? by Tom W. Phillips

Our Animal Natures by Barbara Natterson-Horowitz and Kathryn Bowers

‘I’m Not Your Wife!’ A New Study Points to a Hidden Form of Sexism by Gayle Tzemach Lemmon

Achtman on Plague Evolution by Michelle Ziegler

Would You Call Me A Scientist? by Sheril Kirshenbaum

Visiting “Brains. The Mind as Matter” at the Wellcome Collection by The curious neuron

Food Trade Too Complex to Track Food Safety by Maryn McKenna

The Johannes Kepler Defense by Romeo Vitelli

Taking the colour out of light. by Thony C. “The man who didn’t invent the achromatic lens” John Dollond born 9 June 1706.

Carnivorous plants respond to increased soil nitrogen, eco-news websites completely miss the point by Andrew Thaler

Virginia Lawmaker Says ‘Sea Level Rise’ Is A ‘Left Wing Term,’ Excises It From State Report On Coastal Flooding by Rebecca Leber

Teaching Neuroanatomy With A Showercap by Neuroskeptic

Fungus Inside Us: A New Health Frontier? by Brandon Keim

The Top Ten Strangest Self-Experiments Ever by Alex Boese

G r e a t e r / l e t t e r / s p a c i n g / helps reading in dyslexia by The Neurocritic

Dangerous Interventions: MMS and Autism by Emily Willingham

Cholera vaccine deployed to control African outbreak by Gozde Zorlu

Bath salts and… zombies? by Donna

You Don’t Have What it Takes by Lucy E. Hornstein MD

What they didn’t tell you about the transit of Venus by Rebekah Higgitt

Science Outreach: What Do You Need? by Matt Shipman

Double Xpression: Liz Neeley, Science Communicator Extraordinaire by Jeanne Garbarino

Overeating Makes Flies Obese, Diabetic, Dead by Elizabeth Preston

Creationism Uses Dinosaurs to Lure Kids Into Radical Ideas, But Scientists Should Not Care Too Much by Cameron English

No, America Does NOT Need More Scientists and Engineers by Derek Lowe

Plant uses chemical weapons to make mice spit out its seeds and To control cannibal toads, you just need the right bait and Fear of spiders changes bodies of grasshoppers and makes plants decay more slowly and Microbial Menagerie and Male spider castrates himself and gets more stamina by Ed Yong

Where have I been? Or, science outreach’s place in science. by Lauren Meyer

The culinary adventures of a cuttlefish by Jonas

Science Communication: A sort-of-kind-of Carnival, and some more thoughts of mine by Scicurious

Scientists map ‘Facebook for birds’ by Alan Boyle

Double Xpression: Debbie Berebichez, PhD Physicist by Jeanne Garbarino

The anthropologist and the kurgans by John Hawks

Scientists Tackle The Geography Of Nature Vs. Nurture In Maps Of U.K. by Ted Burnham

Does Acceptance of Evolution Matter? by Ed Brayton

Did Neanderthals Produce Cave Paintings? by Sarah Everts


Media, Publishing, Technology and Society:

Sorry, Young Man, You’re Not the Most Important Demographic in Tech by Alexis Madrigal

Online Seniors: Tech-Savvier Than You Think by Frederic Lardinois

Open access to research is inevitable, says Nature editor-in-chief by Alok Jha

A Serious Look at Funny Faces by Henry Adams – on the history of cartoons.

An Anarchist Constitution for Twitter by Rebecca Greenfield

Why Twitter Matters: Tomorrow’s Knowledge Network by Nigel Cameron

Learning To Write From Chopin by Murr Brewster

An alternative to the college degree? by Amy Scott

From scrubbing floors to Ivy League: Homeless student to go to dream college by Vivian Kuo

11 dreams for the publishing debate — #1 fewer papers and 11 dreams for the publishing debate — #2 get real credit for surveys and exposition and 11 dreams for the publishing debate — #3 get real credit for refereeing and #4 get real credit for communicating and
#5 sharing all our work every way we can by Peter Krautzberger

All A’Twitter: How Social Media Aids in Science Outreach – Chapter 8: Talking with the Social Media Experts and Chapter 9: Gathering Survey Results, and Chapter 10: Coming to Conclusions by Caitlyn Zimmerman

Why the World’s Most Perfect News Tweet Is Kind of Boring by Megan Garber

Do Journo Watchers Ignore Environmental Beat? by Keith Kloor

Exhausted With The Same by Erika Napoletano

Why you should be excited about vector-based maps in iOS 6 by Tim De Chant

Pitch Perfect – a primer for scientists reaching out to journalists by Liz Neeley

Social media and Google Analytics – who’s interested in botany? by Alun Salt

Paying for information versus *access* to information: A key distinction for news publishers by Robert Niles

Please RT by n+1 editors

The Scienceblogging Weekly (June 8th, 2012)

Wow – this was hard! I could have had at least Top 20 instead of Top 10 (but you’ll find them all listed down there anyway)…

 

Blog of the Week:

Tanya Khovanova’s Math Blog is a blog by Tanya Khovanova, a Visiting Scholar and Research Affiliate at MIT, a 1976 gold medalist (and 1975 silver medalist) at the International Mathematics Olympiad. What she does the most (though there is occasionally other stuff there) is to pose difficult (and some not to so difficult) mathematical problems and puzzles for her readers to try to solve in the comments. Go ahead and give it a try yourself!

 

Top 10:

Sea Level Rise Is Tied to Prevalence of Homosexuality by Craig McClain:

Although only two years old and previously unrecognized by the scientific establishment, Global Draining (GD) has now become a widely accepted theory. GD states that sea level is falling not rising (Southern Fried Science, 2010a). Current rates of GD indicate the entire world’s ocean will be empty by 2026 (Southern Fried Science, 2010a). Local-scale observation of in situ draining combined with a robust theoretical model firmly place the rate of draining at 40 Gigatons of water per year (Dr. M, 2010). It has been argued that both one and multiple holes occur in the ocean floor that allow for GD (i.e. the monoclavis versus polyclavis hypotheses via McCay, 2010; Southern Fried Science, 2010b). However, the impacts and causes of GD are not clearly understood. Despite this, GD is a fundamental tenet of nearly every facet of science and likely correlated with many aspects of biology, economics, sociology, religion, and politics. For example, GD is likely to lead to massive die offs of sharks and reduce global atmospheric oxygen levels (Shark Diver, 2010)…

The crayola-fication of the world: How we gave colors names, and it messed with our brains (part I) by Aatish Bhatia:

In Japan, people often refer to traffic lights as being blue in color. And this is a bit odd, because the traffic signal indicating ‘go’ in Japan is just as green as it is anywhere else in the world. So why is the color getting lost in translation? This visual conundrum has its roots in the history of language…

Arsenic Life Wrap-Up: The Good, the ‘Not-So-Good’ by See Arr Oh:

“Arsenic Life,” a hot-button issue for much of the past year, reemerged this week with two new papers, one propitious, and one, well…not so much….

In defense of frivolities and open-ended experiments by Bradley Voytek:

My first child was born just about nine months ago. From the hospital window on that memorable day, I could see that it was surprisingly sunny for a Berkeley autumn afternoon. At the time, I’d only slept about three of the last 38 hours. My mind was making up for the missing haze that usually fills the Berkeley sky. Despite my cloudy state, I can easily recall those moments following my first afternoon laying with my newborn son. In those minutes, he cleared my mind better than the sun had cleared the Berkeley skies…

Women’s Work by Virginia Hughes:

I write mostly about neuroscience, genetics and biotechnology. That means I spend most of my time talking to and writing about men.

In May of 2011 (chosen arbitrarily just because it was a year ago and I’m pretty sure I wasn’t thinking about this gender gap then), 89 percent of my phone interviews were with men.

I can think of a few reasons for this…

The Mechanics and Meaning of That Ol’ Dial-Up Modem Sound by Alexis Madrigal:

Of all the noises that my children will not understand, the one that is nearest to my heart is not from a song or a television show or a jingle. It’s the sound of a modem connecting with another modem across the repurposed telephone infrastructure. It was the noise of being part of the beginning of the Internet…

I’m not a speciesist, but… by Jack Scanlan:

Is it a paradox to hate your own species? Is such a feeling the product of a broken and conflicted mind? Or could it perhaps be the signature of psychopathy? Every day these questions run through my mind and I feel guilty. Why? Well, because I do hate my own species. Homo sapiens is terrible, and I’m surprised more people don’t recognise this…

The science and ethics of voluntary amputation by Mo Costandi:

…In January 2000, the mass media ran several stories about Robert Smith, a surgeon at the Falkirk and District Royal Infirmary who had amputated the legs of two patients at their own request and was planning a third amputation. The news stories incorrectly described the patients as suffering from Body Dysmorphic Disorder. They further stated that the director of NHS trust running the hospital at which Smith works described the amputation of healthy limbs as “inappropriate”; since then, no British hospital has performed a voluntary amputation…

In Defense of Mickey Mouse Science by Byron Jennings:

…I suppose one could hook up the computers directly to the experiments and have them generate models, test the models against new observations and then modify the experimental apparatus without any human intervention. However, I am not sure that would be science. Science is ultimately a human activity and the models we produce are products of the human mind. It is not enough that the computer knows the answer. We want to have some feeling for the results, to understand them. Without the simple models, Mickey Mouse science, that would not be possible: the big news made ever so small…

From plaster to programming: How borrowed technologies are changing paleontology by Justine E. Hausheer:

In popular culture, paleontologists are like Indiana Jones. Rugged men wandering through rocky deserts, wearing wide-brimmed leather hats and multi-pocketed khaki vests. Rock-hammers hang nonchalantly from their belt-loops, maps and note-pads protrude from pockets. On a whim, they brush aside some sand to reveal a ferocious skull and massive vertebrae, and then they puzzle out the mysteries of dinosaurs just by staring at the rocks. But in contemporary science, paleontologists are biologists, computer programmers, and engineers…

 

Special topic: Scientists, Journalism and Outreach

Eh, the whole week started with The Unwritten Rules of Journalism by Adam Ruben and then the blogosphere exploded – see for yourself:

Make Me Feel Something, Please by Soren Wheeler

Will Scientists Ever Get Science Writing? by Deborah Blum

Science Careers Magazine: A platform for a funny guy who says he really hates science journalism by Charlie Petit

Keep Cool Science Journalists by Khalil A. Cassimally

Congratulations! You’re Dumb! by Matthew Francis

Science is more than freaks and circuses by Paul Livingston

A KISS for communicating science by biochembelle

Scientists Engaging With The Public: Let’s Get Started and Talking About Science: Why Do You Do What You Do? by Matt Shipman

Summary of the #ReachingOutSci Series by nature.com Communities Team

On Outreach: something’s got to give by scicurious

A Call To Arms For Young Science Journalists by Khalil A. Cassimally

Which came first, rewarding outreach or doing it? On chickens, eggs, and overworked scientists by Kate Clancy

The root of problems by Zen Faulkes

Quick thoughts on the what and why of science outreach by Cedar Riener

Where Have All the Scientists Gone? by Magdeline Lum

Why are scientists trapped in the ivory tower and what can be done to escape? by Jeanne Garbarino

Speak Up, Scientists! by Tom Bartlett

So You Want To Communicate Science Online: The Flowchart by Miriam Goldstein

Some Scattered Thoughts on Outreach Work by Eight Crayon Science

One Venus transit – but many kinds of scientific outreach by Chris Rowan

 

Best Videos:

A Wildlife Rescue Center for New York City by Rachel Nuwer, video by Kelly Slivka and Kate Yandell.

The Curious Sex Lives Of Animals (VIDEO) by Cara Santa Maria and Carin Bondar

What we didn’t know about penis anatomy (video) by Diane Kelly

CreatureCast – Ginko (video) by Casey Dunn

Fruitfly Development, Cell by Cell (video) by Joe Hanson

 

Science:

How Our Disinterest in ‘The Environment’ Signals the End of Nature by Christopher Mims

Dramatic impacts on beach microbial communities following the Deepwater Horizon oil spill by Holy Bik

I Point To TED Talks and I Point to Kim Kardashian. That Is All. by Carl Zimmer

NASA’s Manned Venus Orbital Mission and This Is What Happens When Galaxies Collide and The X-15′s First Glide by Amy Shira Teitel

North Carolina’s attempted ban on sea level rise is a boon for Global Draining researchers by Southern Fried Scientist

How Intuition and the Imagination Fuel Scientific Discovery and Creativity: A 1957 Guide by Maria Popova

Battleship Earth: Does the Pentagon have the right weapons to fight off an alien invasion? by Cara Parks and Joshua E. Keating

Is Arsenic the Worst Chemical in the World? and The Arsenic Diet by Deborah Blum

Bad Reaction: The Toxicity of Chemical-Free Claims by Sharon Hill

Peptide shows potential to reverse skin fibrosis and Turning down the heat revs up brown fat by Kathleen Raven

Mermaids Embodies the Rotting Carcass of Science TV and Time for a Dinosaur Attack? by Brian Switek

David Dobbs and science storytelling: Lost in your brain. by Paul Raeburn

Piscine Geriatrics and Update on the iFish by whizbang

“HULK SMASH GM” – mixing angry Greens with bad science by Martin Robbins

For an Isolated Tribe, Time Follows the Terrain, and the Future is Uphill by Valerie Ross

Turning Scientific Perplexity into Ordinary Statistical Uncertainty by Cosma Shalizi

Credible Amelia Earhart Signals Were Ignored by Rossella Lorenzi and More Amelia Earhart Nonsense by Brian Dunning

“How do you feel about Evidence-Based Medicine?” by Harriet Hall

Wind-aided birds on their way north by Liz O’Connell

Transit of Venus through the ages by Jonathan Nally

Attempts to predict earthquakes may do more harm than good by David Petley

Reporting Preliminary Findings by Steven Novella

What makes sea-level rise? by Stefan Rahmstorf

Detectable but not hazardous: radioactive marine life of Fukushima by Miriam Goldstein

Elaine Fuchs: “There’s no comfortable route for a scientist” by Rachel Zwick

Why the GOP distrusts science and Conservatives Attack Scientific Findings About Why They Hate Science (Helping to Confirm the Science) by Chris Mooney

Jumping Vampire Spiders Choose Victims by Headwear and Why You Can’t Kill a Mosquito with a Raindrop and Rare Blooms by Elizabeth Preston

To study vampire spiders, build Frankenstein mosquitoes and Cockroaches and geckos disappear by swinging under ledges… and inspire robots and Giant insects disappeared thanks to falling oxygen levels and agile birds and Bacteria turn themselves into living electric grids by sending currents down mineral wires and How to weigh dinosaurs with lasers and Will we ever… clone a mammoth? by Ed Yong

New species are found all the time, even in Europe. by Tim Parshall

Sunday morning musings by PalMD

Winning the climate culture war and The top five things voters need to know about conservatives and climate change by David Roberts

Genetic Modification – What’s the big deal? by Donna

Cancer on the Brain by David Ropeik

Learning by Making: American kids should be building rockets and robots, not taking standardized tests. by Dale Dougherty

“Arsenic bacteria”: If you hadn’t nailed ‘im to the perch ‘e’d be pushing up the daisies by Ashutosh Jogalekar

BP Demands Scientist Emails in Gulf Oil Spill Lawsuit by Brandon Keim

Will Lex Luthor save North Carolina from climate change? by Michael Yudell

Coordinated Hunting in Red Devils by Craig McClain

Use it or lose it? by Levi Morran

Natural voyeurism: Animal webcams make peeping Toms of us all by Kelly Slivka

Why We Don’t Believe In Science by Jonah Lehrer

Mermaids do not exist, and five other important things people should, but do not, know about the ocean by WhySharksMatter

Transits of Earth from Other Planets by John Rennie

Bend me, shape me: flexible electronics perform under punishing conditions by Matthew Francis

The Invasivore’s Dilemma by Michelle Nijhuis

Beware Of The Branches: The Impacts Of Habitat Structure On Locomotion And Path Choice by Timothy Higham

Science Hubris, or Shame on You, Mayim Bialik by Lucy E. Hornstein MD

Your guide to zombie parasite journalism by Carl Zimmer

Science Gallery Pushes Art With A Social Conscience by Lucas Kavner

This Is Your Quail on Drugs, Behaving Badly by Neda Semnani

Making neuroscience public: Neurohype, neuroscepticism and neuroblogging by Brigitte Nerlich

Dictators Turn Strangely Benevolent in Online Game by Dave Mosher

The Platypus Fallacy. by T. Ryan Gregory

What You Know About the Difference in Dolphins and Porpoises is Wrong by SoundingTheSea

Has the public’s understanding of science devolved into a perverse worship of uncertainty? by Pamela Ronald

Darwin’s ‘clumsy’ prose by Angelique Richardson

Life and science challenges: flames, Hawkeye, the needle and the damage done by Jeanne Garbarino

Mars One: The Martian Chronicles or Big Brother Live on Mars? by Danica Radovanovic

Driving without a Blind Spot May Be Closer Than It Appears by Rachel Ewing

I love waking up to bad science in the morning paper by Rachel Felt

Interloper of the Venus Transit by Phil Plait

Brian: The Typographical Error that Brought Early Career Neuroscientists and Artists Together by Megan J. Dowie, Erin Forsyth and Leah Forsyth

How can I stop…… stammering? by Stuart Farrimond

Identical Twins, Different Lives by Neuroskeptic

That Antidepressants In Water Cause Autism Study by Neuroskeptic, and Fish, Antidepressants, Autism and a Problematic Research Premise by Dorothy Bishop, and Taking the Bait: A Fish (and autism) Story by Deborah Blum

Zombies are not a health problem (for us). Should they be a solution? by Jonathan Purtle

Portrait of the Archaeologist as Young Artist by Heather Pringle

Building a Shadow CV by Jacquelyn Gill

WHO adopts global vaccine action plan by Gozde Zorlu

The Republican Brain: The perils and promise of taking a stand. by Paul Raeburn

N. Carolina Senate decides to include science in sea level projections after all by John Timmer

 

Media, Publishing and Technology:

Lessons in blogging (and tweeting) from Samuel Pepys by Justin Ellis

Social Networks Over Time and the Invariants of Interaction by Samuel Arbesman

This I believe about journalism, newspapers and the future of media by Tim J. McGuire

Beyond citations: Scholars’ visibility on the social Web by Judit Bar-Ilan, Stefanie Haustein, Isabella Peters, Jason Priem, Hadas Shema and Jens Terliesner

Wi-Fi and Amtrak: Missed Connections by Ron Nixon – obviously written by someone who’s never boarded anything but Acela, which is notorious for bad wifi. I find wifi perfectly usable on the Carolinian route of Amtrak.

The North West London Blues by Zadie Smith

SPARC Open Access Newsletter, issue #164 by Peter Suber

Facebook will sell me to you, and you to me by Scott Rosenberg

A brief history of Car Talk: “They’ve changed the way people see public radio in America” by Andrew Phelps

Ebook revolution can kindle a passion for publishing by Ed Victor

My Gettysburg oration: A vision for journalism that can long endure by Steve Buttry

All A’Twitter: How Social Media Aids in Science Outreach – Chapter 6: Struggles of Facebook for the Multipurpose Marine Cadastre and Chapter 7: Survey Design by Caitlyn Zimmerman

Not a fan of the big Bitly revamp? Here are 9 alternatives by Nancy Messieh and A little free advice for Bitly by Dave Winer

Added Value: I do not think those words mean what you think they mean and 25,000 signatures and still rolling: Implications of the White House petition by Cameron Neylon

Sustainable quality by Dan Conover

Revisiting the View from Nowhere by John L. Robinson

How Writing A Science Blog Saved My PhD and 3 Mandatory Tools For Digital Scientists by Julio Peironcely

How the Internet Became Boring by Christopher Mims

“Dear Author” by Ted C. MacRae

What Is a Blog Post? by Rob Jenkins

Startup Culture: Values vs. Vibe by Chris Moody

Ask TON: Organizing notes by Jeanne Erdmann and Siri Carpenter

Why Reporting Is Ripe For Innovation by Vadim Lavrusik

Guys! I Have the Next Big Thing: A Social Network for Hermit Crabs by Alexis Madrigal

Arianna Huffington says HuffPo’s ‘sideboob’ news page is meant as a joke by Ruth Spencer

Does your newsroom have a smart-refrigerator strategy? by Adrienne LaFrance

How to improve environmental coverage? by Curtis Brainard

10 Timeframes by Paul Ford

It’s a Googly World: A Map of the Planet’s Most Visited Websites by Country by Rebecca J. Rosen

Twitter Gives you the Bird by Armin and Twitter’s new bird logo by Dave Winer

The great newspaper liquidation by Jack Shafer

The Scienceblogging Weekly (June 1st, 2012)

Blog of the Week:

Vintage Space is a blog by Amy Shira Teitel, science writer and historian of space exploration living in Arizona. She has been busy lately, contributing articles to Discovery News, Motherboard, Spaceflight Observer podcasts, Scientific American Guest Blog, Soapbox Science blog, Timeline Magazine, AmericaSpace and Universe Today, among else. Vintage Space is her writing laboratory, where she first explores topics she may subsequently expand into longer pieces for other venues. And she links to all of her articles as they go live in various places so you can keep up with her prolific output. Those of you regular readers of Scientific American blogs may remember her guest posts, and for those of you not familiar, those can give you the taste of her fascinating forays into the history of space: Sky Crane – how to land Curiosity on the surface of Mars and Apollo 1: The Fire That Shocked NASA and John Glenn: The Man Behind the Hero.

Top 10:

Nicotine and the Chemistry of Murder by Deborah Blum:

The 1850 murder of Gustave Fougnies in Belgium is not famous because of the cleverness of his killers. Not at all. They – his sister and brother-in-law – practically set off signal flares announcing their parts in a suspicious death.

It’s not famous because it was such a classic high society murder. The killers were the dashing, expensive, and deeply indebted Comte and Countess de Bocarmé. The death occurred during a dangerously intimate dinner at their chateau, a 18th century mansion on an estate in southern Belgium.

Nor it is remembered because the Comte died by guillotine in 1851 – so many did after all.

No, this is a famous murder because of its use of a notably lethal poison. And because the solving of this particular murder changed the history of toxicology, helped lay the foundation for modern forensic science. The poison, by the way, was the plant alkaloid nicotine….

Richard Dawkins, Edward O. Wilson, and the Consensus of the Many by David Sloan Wilson:

…I mean Dawkins and Wilson no disrespect by calling them two among many. I trust that they would agree and would defer to others especially when it comes to mathematical models, which is not their area of expertise. If the public is going to become literate on the issues at stake—as well they should, because they are fundamental to the study of human sociality—then they will need to realize that both Wilson and Dawkins get some things right and other things wrong. Moreover, the entire community of scientists is in more agreement than the infamous exchange in Nature seems to indicate. Taking the argument from authority seriously can lead to a breakthrough in the public’s understanding of social evolution. …

The protein makes the poison: Dancing fruit flies and terfenadine by Ashutosh Jogalekar:

…Dose-specific toxicity is indeed of paramount importance in medicine, but if you delve deeper, the common mechanism underlying the toxicity of many drugs often has less to do with the specific drugs themselves and more to do with the other major player in the interaction of drugs with the human body – proteins. Unwarranted dosages of drugs are certainly dangerous, but even in these cases the effect is often mediated by specific proteins. Thus in this post, I want to take a slightly different tack and want to reinforce the idea that when it comes to drugs it’s often wise to remember that “the protein makes the poison”. I want to reinforce the fact that toxicity is often a function of multiple entities and not just one. In fact this concept underlies most of the side-effects of drugs, manifested in all those ominous sounding warnings delivered in rapid fire intonations in otherwise soothing drug commercials…

The trouble with brain scans by Vaughan Bell:

Neuroscientists have long been banging their heads on their desks over exaggerated reports of brain scanning studies. Media stories illustrated with coloured scans, supposedly showing how the brain works, are now a standard part of the science pages and some people find them so convincing that they are touted as ways of designing education for our children, evaluating the effectiveness of marketing campaigns and testing potential recruits…

Cloaking the rainbow by Rose Eveleth:

Invisibility cloaks aren’t just for Harry Potter anymore. Last year, researchers made one that cloaked things in time. Now they’ve made thousands of tiny invisibility cloaks that trap a rainbow. That’s right, 25,000 invisibility cloaks trapping a rainbow. The first question you might be asking is: why? Why does it take 25,000 invisibility cloaks to trap a rainbow? Or maybe, why trap a rainbow in the first place?

An Analysis of Blaster Fire in Star Wars by Rhett Allain:

You have no idea how long I have been planning to look at the blasters in Star Wars. No idea. Finally, the 35th Anniversary of Star Wars has motivated me to complete my study (which I haven’t actually started). Here is the deal: What are these blasters? How fast are the blaster bolts? Do the blasters from the spacecraft travel at about the same speed as the handheld blasters? Why do people still think these are lasers?…

Don’t worry so much about being the right type of science role model by Marie-Claire Shanahan:

What does it mean to be a good role? Am I a good role model? Playing around with kids at home or in the middle of a science classroom, adults often ask themselves these questions, especially when it comes to girls and science. But despite having asked them many times myself, I don’t think they’re the right questions…

Evolutionary psychology: A dialogue by Jeremy Yoder:

A Biologist went down to the coffee shop one day, because the walk out to the edge of the University campus provided some brief respite from the laboratory. Along the way the Biologist encountered an Evolutionary Psychologist, who was also going to the coffee shop, and they fell to walking together…

How I Stopped Worrying (about science accuracy) And Learned to Love The Story by Phil Plait:

When I was a kid – and who am I kidding; when I was an adult too – I made fun of the science in movies. “That’s so fakey!” I would cry out loud when a spaceship roared past, or a slimy alien stalked our heroes. Eventually, my verbal exclamations evolved into written ones. Not long after creating my first website (back in the Dark Internet Ages of 1997) I decided it would be fun to critique the science of movies, and I dove in with both glee and fervor. No movie was safe, from Armageddon to Austin Powers…

The Fantastic Gliding Stegosaurus by Brian Switek:

Stegosaurus is undoubtedly one of the most perplexing dinosaurs. What was all that iconic armor for? (And how did amorous stegosaurs get around that complication?) Paleontologists have been investigating and debating the function of Stegosaurus ornamentation for decades, but without much consensus. The dinosaur’s spectacular plates were certainly prominent visual signals, but could they also have been used for regulating body temperature? Or might there be some evolutionary impetus we’re not thinking of?

 

Science:

The Anatomy of a Videogame-Scare Story by Brian Fung

My Favorite Toxic Chemical by John Spevacek:

Urban trees reveal income inequality and Home Income inequality, as seen from space by Tim De Chant

Neuroscientists should study Zombie Ants by TheCellularScale

Octopuses Host a Masterclass on Hiding by Elizabeth Preston

Toxic Carnival: Day Three and Toxic Carnival: Day Four and Toxic Carnival: Day Five by Matthew Hartings

Social Sauropods? by Brian Switek

Birds Have Juvenile Dinosaur Skulls by Brian Switek

Ecological complexity breeds evolutionary complication by Jeremy Yoder:

Fire-chasing beetles sense infrared radiation from fires hundreds of kilometres away by Ed Yong:

Crowdfunding as the future of science funding? by Anthony Salvagno

Revisiting why incompetents think they’re awesome by Chris Lee. “Dunning-Kruger study today: The uninformed aren’t as doomed as the Web suggests.”

Lost in your brain by David Dobbs – “When science writer David Dobbs is suddenly unable to remember how to drive his kids to school, he sets off on a quest to understand his own brain, and makes a shocking discovery.”

Earth took ten million years to recover from Permian-Triassic extinction by Duncan Geere

Of Darwin, Earthworms, and Backyard Science by Anthony Martin

The great Pacific garbage reality by Usha Lee McFarling – “The great Pacific garbage reality. It’s not tsunami debris we should fear; it’s the trash clogging our oceans.”

The snakes that eat caviar by Andrew Durso

On the humanity (or lack thereof) of the X-Men by Megan M. McCullen

Tuatara reptile slices food with ‘steak-knife teeth’ by Victoria Gill

Traumatized animal radically changes diet and behavior in an unhealthy way: the real story of the “vegetarian shark” by David Shiffman

Reaching Out: Why are scientists trapped in the ivory tower and what can be done to escape? by Jeanne Garbarino

Keep shouting. You never know who is listening. by Emily Finke


Media, Publishing and Technology:

We need to reinvent the article by Sean Blanda

Blogonomics, ten years on by Henry Copeland

The 10 Biggest Social Media Lies by Mike Elgan

The Floppy Disk means Save, and 14 other old people Icons that don’t make sense anymore by Scott Hanselman

Wikipedia as an explainer by Dave Winer

Libre redistribution – a key facet of Open Access by Ross Mounce

Amid Tweets and Slide Shows, the Longform Still Thrives: How the form survives in this digital era by Emma Bazilian

Making More Scientists by John Wilbanks

What is it that journalists do? It can’t be reduced to just one thing by Jonathan Stray

Why “We the People” should support open access by Bill Hooker

The Scienceblogging Weekly (May 25th, 2012)

Blog of the Week:

Over the years, Better Posters blog has become the “Go To” place to send students when they start preparing posters for their first scientific meetings. Updated weekly, on Thursdays, this blog by Dr. Zen Faulkes (who also blogs at his other two awesome blogs NeuroDojo and Marmorkrebs, as well as on the #SciFund blog) provides ideas, suggestions, underlying theory, and thorough, fair critiques of poster design for scientific conferences. It is a link I (and I am sure many others) send whenever asked what is the best resource for preparing a good poster. Zen Faulkes also has a broader category of posts about presentations in general, both oral and poster, under the Zen of Presentations tag on his other blog.

Top 10:

Phineas Gage’s connectome by Mo Costandi:

Anyone who has studied psychology or neuroscience will be familiar with the incredible case of Phineas Gage, the railroad worker who had a metre-long iron rod propelled straight through his head at high speed in an explosion. Gage famously survived this horrific accident, but underwent dramatic personality changes afterwards. In recent years researchers reconstructed his skull and the passage of the rod through it, to try to understand how these changes were related to his brain damage. Now, neuroscientists from the University of California, Los Angeles have produced Gage’s connectome – a detailed wiring diagram of his brain, showing how its long-range connections were altered by the injury.

Replication studies: Bad copy by Ed Yong:

Positive results in psychology can behave like rumours: easy to release but hard to dispel. They dominate most journals, which strive to present new, exciting research. Meanwhile, attempts to replicate those studies, especially when the findings are negative, go unpublished, languishing in personal file drawers or circulating in conversations around the water cooler. “There are some experiments that everyone knows don’t replicate, but this knowledge doesn’t get into the literature,” says Wagenmakers. The publication barrier can be chilling, he adds. “I’ve seen students spending their entire PhD period trying to replicate a phenomenon, failing, and quitting academia because they had nothing to show for their time.” These problems occur throughout the sciences, but psychology has a number of deeply entrenched cultural norms that exacerbate them. It has become common practice, for example, to tweak experimental designs in ways that practically guarantee positive results. And once positive results are published, few researchers replicate the experiment exactly, instead carrying out ‘conceptual replications’ that test similar hypotheses using different methods. This practice, say critics, builds a house of cards on potentially shaky foundations…

Plan X; or, Planning White’s Small Step by Amy Shira Teitel:

In 1964, the launch schedule for the Gemini program was set and it was tight. Missions with new objectives would launch every eight to ten weeks taking NASA a step closer to the Moon each time. But hardware setbacks and some surprising feats by Soviet cosmonauts took a toll on the schedule. In the first half of 1965, NASA developed a plan that would see Gemini match and begin to overtake the Soviet Union in space. It was done largely in secret and known internally as Plan X….

Against the Infantilization of the Natural History Museum by Justin Erik Halldór Smith (and related: Relics With Much to Tell About Bird Diets May Be Lost to Time by Sarah Fecht):

…The project of exhaustively collecting and describing the basic kinds of large animal, and analyzing and displaying these animals’ bodily parts and systems, is a project that gained momentum in the late Renaissance and that was largely completed by the end of the 19th century. Like, say, realist painting in the Western tradition, it is a project that has a bounded history (indeed the two histories fairly closely overlap one another). This means that an alpaca intestine displayed in formaldehyde is a sample of a part of a South American camelid; but it is also an artefact of a modern European knowledge project. In this respect a proper natural history museum, that is to say an unreconstructed adult natural history museum, is really two museums at once: it is a museum of nature, but also a museum of the history of a very singular attempt to know nature quite literally inside-out….

What a Physics Student Can Teach Us About How Visitors Walk Through a Museum by Henry Adams:

….To devise a good layout requires some understanding of what museum visitors do, and there’s surprisingly little literature on this topic. Most of the studies of museum-goers that I’ve seen rely on questionnaires. They ask people what they did, what they learned, and what they liked and didn’t like. No doubt there are virtues to this technique, but it assumes that people are aware of what they’re doing. It doesn’t take into account how much looking depends on parts of the brain that are largely instinctive and intuitive and often not easily accessible to our rational consciousness. Was there another mode of investigation and description that would illuminate what was actually taking place?…

Lies You’ve Been Told About the Pacific Garbage Patch by Annalee Newitz:

You’ve probably heard of the “Pacific garbage patch,” also called the “trash vortex.” It’s a region of the North Pacific ocean where the northern jet stream and the southern trade winds, moving opposite directions, create a vast, gently circling region of water called the North Pacific Gyre — and at its center, there are tons of plastic garbage. You may even have seen this picture of the garbage patch, above — right? Wrong….

The (misunderstood) language of DNA by Genegeek:

I love analogies and use them often to get people to think about scientific concepts in new ways. I’ll share some of my favourite ones on the blog but today, I want to talk about Analogies Gone Bad….There is a lovely analogy to help people understand DNA code: DNA can be seen as a language…

Killers that sux by DrRubidium:

You might notice the sting of the injection. Within seconds you’d realize you’re having trouble moving your eyes and fingers, followed by your arms and legs. If you were standing, you’d collapse. In a heap on the floor, you’d realize nearly every muscle in your body was paralyzed. Being fully conscious, your sense of panic would be rising as rapidly as the paralysis was spreading. Swallowing and breathing has become more and more difficult. Slipping into unconsciousness, your last conscious thought may well be “I am going to die.”…

What Is the “Bible of Psychiatry” Supposed to Do? The Peculiar Challenges of an Uncertain Science by Vaughan Bell:

The American Psychiatric Association have just published the latest update of the draft DSM-5 psychiatric diagnosis manual, which is due to be completed in 2013. The changes have provoked much comment, criticism, and heated debate, and many have used the opportunity to attack psychiatric diagnosis and the perceived failure to find “biological tests” to replace descriptions of mental phenomena. But to understand the strengths and weaknesses of psychiatric diagnosis, it’s important to know where the challenges lie….

Do Plants Smell Other Plants? This One Does, Then Strangles What It Smells by Robert Krulwich:

“Plants smell,” says botanist David Chamovitz. Yes, they give off odors, but that’s not what Chamovitz means. He means plants can smell other plants. “Plants know when their fruit is ripe, when their [plant] neighbor has been cut by a gardener’s shears, or when their neighbor is being eaten by a ravenous bug; they smell it,” he writes in his new book, What a Plant Knows. They don’t have noses or a nervous system, but they still have an olfactory sense, and they can differentiate. He says there’s a vine that can smell the difference between a tomato and a stalk of wheat. It will choose one over the other, based on…smell! In a moment I’ll show you how….

Special topic: pigeons

Why Aren’t Cities Littered With Dead Pigeons? by John Metcalfe:

Any fair-sized city in the United States is lousy with pigeons, hoovering up bread crumbs from public squares and head-bobbing so much they look like little Jay Zs groovin’ to some fresh beats. The favorite rumpus room of the pigeon, New York City, is thought to contain anywhere between 1 and 7 million of the flapping rats of the sky. So where are all the dead ones?

Big Bird: Are New York’s pigeons getting fatter? An investigation into animal obesity. by David Merritt Johns

Pigeon GPS Identified by Megan Scudellari: “A population of neurons in pigeon brains encodes direction, intensity, and polarity of the Earth’s magnetic field.”

Pigeons have tiny compasses in their heads by Greg Laden.

Speaking pigeon by Kelly Slivka: Keeping up with New York City’s feathered underdogs.

Science:

The Zebra Neuron by TheCellularScale – Von Economo Neurons discovered in more and more species, lose the “human specialness” role.

Is the Purpose of Sleep to Let Our Brains “Defragment,” Like a Hard Drive? by Neuroskeptic. Or is it “Disk Cleaner”, or “Reboot”?

Gaming and Exercise: Will Diablo III Derail Your Discipline? by Melanie Tannenbaum – from the horse’s mouth – this research was done in her lab.

It’s supposed to hurt to think about it! by Ethan Siegel: “One of the most fundamental questions about the Universe that anyone can ask is, “Why is there anything here at all?””

Legal highs making the drug war obsolete by Vaughan Bell:

The Drachma and the Euro as a Cybernetic Question by Michael Tobis:

Life Traces as Cover Art and The Ichnology of Peeps by Tony Martin.

Copulatory vocalizations of chacma baboons (Papio ursinus), gibbons (Hylobates hoolock), and humans. by NCBI ROFL. Sonograms, thus it is science!

Putting the ‘Fear’ in Climate Change by Paige Brown – “Do scientists and climate communicators really need the ‘scary’ headlines and alarming facts to get media coverage?”

Energy Drinks: What’s the Big Deal? by Dirk Hanson: “The sons of Red Bull are sporting record concentrations of caffeine.”

Failure – what doesn’t get published in Psychology (for good reason?) by Åse Kvist Innes-Ker.

Uncertainty overdone by Bryan Walker: “As a concerned human being I don’t want scientists to soft-pedal on that evidence.”

A Sensitive Subject, on quantifying uncertainties in modeling climate change and its impacts, by Tamsin Edwards:

Could Angry Birds lead to mass murder? by Martin Robbins: “Attempts to link last year’s Norway shootings to Call of Duty are spectacularly misguided. Moral panic about violent video games is based on prejudice, ignorance and the selective use of flawed research.”

Chemistry at the hairdresser by JessTheChemist.

Our Favorite Toxic Chemicals and Toxic Carnival: Day One and Toxic Carnival: Day Two and Pain, Undoubtedly, Comes with the Cure by Matthew Hartings.

Neurons are like equations by TheCellularScale .

Persuasion and the Brain by David R. Gruber:

New sense organ helps giant whales to coordinate the world’s biggest mouthfuls by Ed Yong

In The Beginning Was the Mudskipper? by Carl Zimmer

Virtual resurrection shows that early four-legged animal couldn’t walk very well by Ed Yong

The Positively Biased Life by Matthew Chew on non-publication of negative data, and on ecology as a discipline.

Will you explain the differences (and similarities) between endemic and epidemic diseases? by Emily Willingham. Eeeek – imagine a pandemic of iguanas!

It is a mistake to eliminate government science. Part I and Part II by Simon Goring

Carpenter versus Aurora 7 by Amy Shira Teitel

You scientist, we want you to get ahead….but not too FAR ahead! by Anne Buchanan

Birding from parking level five: Suburban ospreys in Florida by Justine E. Hausheer

The smokeless stove: A partnership between academics and designers in New York City has produced a stove that could reduce child deaths in Africa by Emma Bryce

Media, Publishing and Technology:

Your 5-minute, 5-day orientation to Twitter by Anton Zuiker

Web Design Manifesto 2012 by Jeffrey Zeldman

The teacher I hated who changed my life by General Tso:

How to Deal with Information Overload by Walter Jessen and Simon Franz.

Can Blogs Be Used to Resolve Conflicts? by Greg Laden:

Data journalism research at Columbia aims to close data science skills gap by Emily Bell and Alex Howard

The Facebook Fallacy by Michael Wolff: “For all its valuation, the social network is just another ad-supported site. Without an earth-changing idea, it will collapse and take down the Web.”

How Amy O’Leary live-tweeted her own speech — and won the #backchannel by Andrew Phelps

The verdict: is blogging or tweeting about research papers worth it? and When was the last time you asked how your published research was doing? by Melissa Terras

Who gives a tweet? After 24 hours and 860 downloads, we think quite a few actually do by Kaisa Puustinen and Rosalind Edwards

Why newspapers need to lose the ‘view from nowhere’ by Mathew Ingram

Buzz Bissinger: Newspaper editors are “very cautious — too cautious” by Adrienne LaFrance

How obsession can fuel science blogging: The story of Retraction Watch by Ivan Oransky

Text mining: what do publishers have against this hi-tech research tool? by Alok Jha

Copy editing: It’s taught me a lot, but it has to change by Steve Buttry

When Should Schools Start in the morning?

This is not really a new post. But it is not exactly a re-publishing of an old post either. It is a lightly edited mashup or compilation of excerpts from several old posts – I hope it all makes sense this way, all in one place. The sources of material are these old posts:

Sleep Schedules in Adolescents (March 26, 2006)
ClockNews – Adolescent Sleep (March 28, 2006)
More on sleep in adolescents (April 01, 2006)
When Should Schools Start in the morning? (April 02, 2006)
All Politics Is Local (June 29, 2006)
Adolescent Sleep Schedule (September 10, 2006)
Books: “Snooze…Or Lose! – 10 “No-War” Ways To Improve Your Teen’s Sleep Habits” by Helene A. Emsellem, MD (May 15, 2008)

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I am glad to see that there is more and more interest in and awareness of sleep research. Just watch Sanjay Gupta on CNN or listen to the recent segment on Weekend America on NPR.

At the same time, I am often alarmed at the levels of ignorance still rampant in the general population, and even more the negative social connotations of sleep as an indicator of laziness.

Nothing pains me more than when I see educators (in comments) revealing such biases in regards to their student in the adolescent years. Why do teachers think that their charges are lazy, irresponsible bums, and persist in such belief even when confronted with clear scientific data demonstrating that sleep phase in adolescents is markedly delayed in comparison to younger and older people?

In short, presumably under the influence of the sudden surge of sex steroid hormones (and my own research gently touched on this), the circadian clock phase-advances in teen years. It persists in this state until one is almost 30 years old. After that, it settles into its adult pattern. Of course, we are talking about human populations, not individuals – you can surely give me an anecdote about someone who does not follow this pattern. That’s fine. Of course there are exceptions, as there is vast genetic (and thus phenotypic) variation in human populations. This does not in any way diminish the findings of population studies.

Everyone, from little children, through teens and young adults to elderly, belongs to one of the ‘chronotypes’. You can be a more or less extreme lark (phase-advanced, tend to wake up and fall asleep early), a more or less extreme owl (phase-delayed, tend to wake up and fall asleep late). You can be something in between – some kind of “median” (I don’t want to call this normal, because the whole spectrum is normal) chronotype.

Along a different continuum, one can be very rigid (usually the extreme larks find it really difficult to adjust to work schedules that do not fit their clocks), or quite flexible (people who find it easy to work night-shifts or rotating shifts and tend to remain in such jobs long after their colleagues with less flexible clocks have quit).

No matter where you are on these continua, once you hit puberty your clock will phase-delay. If you were an owl to begin with, you will become a more extreme owl for about a dozen years. If you are an extreme lark, you’ll be a less extreme lark. In the late 20s, your clock will gradually go back to your baseline chronotype and retain it for the rest of your life.

The important thing to remember is that chronotypes are not social constructs (although work-hours and school-hours are). No amount of bribing or threatening can make an adolescent fall asleep early. Don’t blame video games or TV. Even if you take all of these away (and you should that late at night, and replace them with books) and switch off the lights, the poor teen will toss and turn and not fall asleep until midnight or later, thus getting only about 4-6 hours of sleep until it is time to get up and go to school again.

More and more school districts around the country, especially in more enlightened and progressive areas, are heeding the science and making a rational decision to follow the science and adjust the school-start times accordingly. Instead of forcing teenagers to wake up at their biological midnight (circa 6am) to go to school, where invariably they sleep through the first two morning classes, more and more schools are adopting the reverse busing schedule: elementary schools first (around 7:50am), middle schools next (around 8:20am) and high schools last (around 8:50am). I hope all schools around the country eventually adopt this schedule and quit torturing the teens and then blaming the teens for sleeping in class and making bad grades.

No matter how much you may wish to think that everything in human behavior originates in culture, biology will trump you every now and then, and then you should better pay attention, especially if the life, health, happiness and educational quality of other people depends on your decisions.

======

Recently, Lance Mannion wrote an interesting post on the topic, which reminded me also of an older post by Ezra Klein in which the commenters voiced all the usual arguments heard in this debate.

There are a couple of more details that I have not touched upon in the previous posts.

First, lack of sleep can lead to obesity and even diabetes, as the circadian clock is tightly connected to the ghrelin/leptin system of hormonal control of hunger, feeding and fat-deposition.

Second, lack of sleep discourages exercise. Put these two pieces of data together, and you get a national epidemic of obesity, not just a bunch of sleep-deprived children.

Third, lack of sleep has a well-documented effect on mood. No, teenagers are not naturally that moody – at least not all of them. They are just barely “functional” (instead of “optimal”) and walk through life like zombies because they are operating on 4-8 hours of sleep instead of 9 hours (optimal for teens, it goes down to about 8 for adults). Of course they are moody.

Fourth, chronic sleep deprivation can have long-term consequences, ranging from psychiatric diseases to cancer. Remember that teens in high-school (and college students are faring worse!) are constantly jet-lagged!

There is even a hypothesis floating around that sleep-delay in adolescence may affect the onset of picking up smoking.

Fifth – and I did not think of this although it is obvious – teenagers above a certain age, still in high school, are allowed to drive. If they are driving themselves to school at 6 or 7am, when their circadian clocks think is it 3 or 4am, it is as if they are driving drunk. There is actually a scale devised by one of the sleep researchers that tells which time of the night corresponds to what number of bottles of beer. Driving at 4am (or driving a ship, like Exxon Valdez, or operating a power-plant, like one in Chernobyl) is the equivalent of driving drunk – way over the legal limits. Teenagers driving at 7am are equally “drunk”.

One of the reasons for the resistance to healthy initiatives to change school-start schedules stems from the fact that the world is organized by adults and adults want to have the world run according to schedules that fit their moods and are unwilling to change it – they may not know that teens feel differently, or they defend their preferences nonetheless.

A large proportion of adults in this country still subscribe to barbaric notions that sleep is a shameful activity, a sign of laziness, and that teens need to be tortured in order to “steel” them to grow into “real men”. This has roots all the way back to the Puritan so-called “work-ethic” which is really a “no fun for anyone” punitive ethic long ago shown to be physically and emotionally debilitating.

When I was a kid, back in old now-non-existent Yugoslavia, most schools in big urban areas worked in two shifts. All the kids started school at 8am and ended at 1:15pm for one week, then started at 2pm and ended at 7:15pm the next week, and so on…

If a school had, let’s say, twelve classes of the seventh grade, six of those would be in the A-shift and the other six in the B-shift. Each shift had its own complete set of teachers, assistants, nurses…everything except the one shared Principal and the school psychologist.

The time between 1:15pm and 2pm was for supplementary classes (either for those who needed extra help, or for those preparing for Math Olympics and such) and clubs. That was also time for kids from two shifts to meet and get to know each other (it is amazing how many kids from opposite shifts started dating each other after the year-end Big Trip to the Coast). There was no such thing as the American hype for high-school competitive sports, which I still find strange and curious after 15 [now 20] years in this country.

Thus, you get to sleep in for a week (but miss out on afternoon activities), then have to get up relatively early for a week but have the afternoon free to gallivant around town. Nobody there understands what’s the American fuss over kids being home alone – of course they are home alone, cleaning the house, fixing meals, doing homework and BETTER be getting to school on time!

Teachers were pretty understanding about sleeping types. I do not recall ever having a big test, quiz or exam being given at the extremes of the day (around 8am or around 7pm). As an owl myself, I was much more likely to raise my hand, participate in discussions, or volunteer for oral examinations during the week when I was in school in the afternoon, and that was fine with most of my teachers.

Transportation was not an issue. Most kids lived close enough to their neighborhood school to walk. For those who lived a little farther away – hey, no problem, that’s Europe, so Belgrade has a huge and pretty efficient public transportation system. I do not remember ever seeing any of my friends ever being dropped off to school by a parent driving a car! Or being brought to or picked up from school by a parent beyond fourth grade at all – period. And the minimum driving age being 18, nobody drove themselves to school either.

In rural areas, there was no need for two shifts – something like 9am-2:15pm was good enough to accommodate all of the kids.

I do not think that this kind of system can be implemented in the USA. It relies on an efficient public transportation which, with exception of a few oldest East Coast cities, is practically non-existent. American cities have been built for cars.

But some things can be done.

First, swap the starting times so elementary kids go to school first, middle school next and high school last (e.g., around 8am, 8:30am and 9am respectively). Studies show that teens do not go to sleep later if their school starts later. Some cynics claim that is what teens will do. But they do not. Actually, they fall asleep at the same time, thus gaining an additional hour of sleep.

Teens are almost adults. The current generation of teens, perhaps because of a closer and tighter contact with their parents than any generation before, is the most serious, mature and responsible generation I have seen. Give them a benefit of the doubt. Just because you were into mischief and hated your parents when you were their age does not mean that today’s kids are the same.

Second, start the school day – for all kids every day – with PE (or some kind of exercise), preferably outdoors, as both exposure to daylight and the exercise have been shown to aid in phase-shifting the circadian clock.

Third, let them eat breakfast afterwards (sticking to a meal schedule also helps entrain the clock). Follow up with the electives which kids may be most interested in.

By the time they hit math, science and English classes around 11 or so, their bodies are finally fully awake and they can understand what the teacher is saying, and do the tests with a clear mind instead of in a sleepy haze.

Do not permit any caffeine to be sold in schools. Advise parents not to allow TV or any other electronics to be in kids’ bedrooms. Let them enjoy those activities in the living room. Bedroom is for sleeping, and sleeping alone. A book before bed is fine, but screens just keep them awake even longer.

Finally, rethink all those extra activities you are forcing the teens to do: sports, art, music, etc. In teen’s minds, the day does not start with the beginning of school in the morning. We may think that we are at work most of our day. Teens do not – they consider their day to begin at the time school-day is over. Their day begins in the afternoon. School is something they have to deal with before they can have their day. Realize this and give them time and space to do with their day what they want. Do not push them to do things that you think they’ll need to get into Harvard. Let them be – leave them alone. Then they’ll go to sleep at a normal time.

Concern for our kids’ physical and mental health HAS to trump all other concerns, including economic costs, cultural traditions and adult preferences. We have a problem and we need to do something, informed by science, to fix the problem. Blaming the messenger, proposing to do nothing, and, the worst, blaming the kids, is unacceptable.

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All of this targets high-schoolers. However, there is barely any mention of college students who are, chronobiologically, in the same age-group as high-school students, i.e., their sleep cycles are phase-delayed compared to both little kids and to adults.

In a way, this may be because there is not much adults can do about college students. They are supposedly adults themselves and capable of taking care of themselves. Nobody forces (at least in theory) them to take 8am classes. Nobody forces them to spend nights partying either.

They are on their own, away from their parents’ direct supervision, so nobody can tell them to remove TVs and electronic games out of their bedrooms. The college administrators cannot deal with this because it is an invasion of students’ privacy.

Forward-looking school systems in reality-based communities around the country have, over the last several years, implemented a policy that is based on science – sending elementary school kids to school first in the morning, middle-schoolers next, and high-schoolers last. This is based on the effects of puberty on the performance of the human circadian clock.

For teenagers, 6am is practically midnight – their bodies have barely begun to sleep. Although there have been some irrational (or on-the-surface-economics-based) voices of opposition – based on outdated notions of laziness – they were not reasonable enough, especially not in comparison to the scientific and medical information at hand, for school boards to reject these changes.

I am very happy that my kids are going to school in such an enlightened environment, and I am also happy to note that every year more school systems adopt the reasonable starting schedules based on current scientific knowledge.

Yet, college students are, from what I heard, in much worse shape than high-schoolers. Both groups should sleep around 9 hours per day (adults over thirty are good with about 8 hours). High-schoolers get on average 6.9 hours. College students are down to about five! The continuous insomnia of college students even has its own name in chronobiology: Student Lag (like jet-lag without travelling to cool places). Is there anything we, as a society, can do to alleviate student lag? Should we?

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This kind of ignorant bleating makes me froth at the mouth every time – I guess it is because this is my own blogging “turf”.

One of the recurring themes of my blog is the disdain I have for people who equate sleep with laziness out of their Puritan core of understanding of the world, their “work ethic” which is a smokescreen for power-play, their vicious disrespect for everyone who is not like them, and the nasty feeling of superiority they have towards the teenagers just because they are older, bigger, stronger and more powerful than the kids. Not to forget the idiotic notions that kids need to be “hardened”, or that, just because they managed to survive some hardships when they were teens, all the future generations have to be sentenced to the same types of hardships, just to make it even. This is bullying behavior, and disregarding and/or twisting science in the search for personal triumphalism irks me to no end.

I hated getting up early, too. I still hate it, and I’m so far beyond growth hormones that I don’t even remember how they felt. But I do remember that in middle and high school, I dragged myself out of the house at 5 a.m. every day of the week to deliver papers before I caught the 6:45 a.m. bus to school. I never fell asleep in class. Neither did anybody else. And something caused me to grow 6 inches and add 35 pounds between sophomore and junior year. At the end of that kind of day, complete with cross-country, basketball or track, I had no trouble falling asleep at 10 p.m.

He said that he grew up in height and weight when he was in high school. Who knows how much more he would have grown if he was not so sleep deprived (if his self-congatulatory stories are to be believed and he did not slack off every chance he had). Perhaps he would not grow up to be so grouchy and mean-spirited if he had a more normal adolescence.

I don’t know where he got the idea that growth hormone is a cause of the phase-delay of circadian rhythms in adolescence. It could be, but it is unlikely – we just don’t know yet. But, if a hormone is a cause, than it is much more likely to be sex steroids. Perhaps his sleep-deprived and testosterone-deprived youth turned him into a sissy with male anxiety he channels into lashing at those weaker than him?

In previous centuries, adolescents in an agrarian society got up at 4:30 or 5a.m. with their parents to milk the cows or do any other of a long list of chores. Did growth hormones pass them by? Where were the “studies” that showed they really needed to go to bed after midnight and sleep until 10? And why weren’t their parents all being reported to the DSS? Oh, that’s right, there was no DSS. How did that generation survive?

He assumes that in times before electricity, teenagers used to wake up and fall asleep at the same time adults did. Well, they did not. Studies of sleep patterns in primitive tribes show that adolescents are the last ones to wake up (and nobody bashes them for it – it is the New Primitives with access to the media that do that) and the last ones to fall asleep – they serve as first-shift sentries during the night watch.

Even in this, the 21st century, kids who enter the military at 17 find that they can fall asleep easily at 9:30 or 10, because they know they’re going to be getting up at 4:30 or 5. Apparently the Army hasn’t read the study on circadian rhythms.

Actually, the military being the most worried by this problem is funding a lot of research on circadian rhythms and sleep and has been for decades. Because they know, first hand, how big a problem it is and that yelling sargeants do not alert soldiers make.

Kids, if you need more sleep, my study shows there’s a simple way to get it. Turn off – I mean “power down” – the cell phone, the iPod and the computer sometime before 11 p.m. Turn off the TV. Turn off the light. Lie down in bed and close your eyes.

…and sit in the dark for the next four hours, heh?

What especially drives me crazy is that so many teachers, people who work with adolescents every day, succumb to this indulgence in personal power over the children. It is easier to get into a self-righteous ‘high’ than to study the science and do something about the problem. It is easier to blame the kids than to admit personal impotence and try to do something about it by studying the issue.

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My regular readers are probably aware that the topic of adolescent sleep and the issue of starting times of schools are some of my favourite subjects for a variety of reasons: I am a chronobiologist, I am an extreme “owl” (hence the name of this blog), I am a parent of developing extreme “owls”, I have a particular distaste for Puritanical equation of sleep with laziness which always raises its ugly head in discussions of adolescent sleep, and much of my own past research was somewhat related to this topic.

So, I was particularly pleased when Jessica of the excellent Bee Policy blog informed me of the recent publication of a book devoted entirely to this topic. Snooze…or Lose! by Helen Emsellem was published by National Academies and Jessica managed to get me an advanced reading copy to review.

You can also read the book online (or buy the PDF). Much more information on the topic can be found on the book webpage, on the National Slep Foundation website, on Dr.Emsellem’s homepage and the Start Later for Excellence in Education Proposal (S.L.E.E.P.) website. I strongly encourage you to look around those webpages.

Her daughter Elyssa wrote one of the chapters in the book and is promoting the book and the information relevant to teenagers at the place where teenagers are most likely to see it – on MySpace (you see – it’s not just music bands who caught onto this trick – serious information can be promoted at MySpace as well).

The main audience for this book are teenagers themselves and their parents – I think in this order although officially the order is reversed. Secondarily, the audience are teachers, administrators and officials in charge of school policy. Who this book is not targeted to are scientists and book reviewers because there are no end notes!

Anyway, considering that the main audience are teens, their parents and teachers (i.e., laypeople), the book is admirably clear and readable. The book starts out with presenting the problem – the chronic sleep deprivation of adolescents in modern society – and provides ample evidence that this is indeed a wide-spread problem. It continues with a simple primer on physiology of sleep and circadian rhythms, followed by a review of the current knowledge of the negative consequences of chronic sleep deprivation: from susceptibility to diseases, through psychological and behavioral problems, to problems of physical and mental performance.

A whole chapter – the one I found most interesting – is devoted to the role of sleep in various kinds of memory and the negative effects of sleep deprivation on learning – both declarative and episodic memory, as well as kinesthetic memory needed for athletic performance and safe driving. This is where I missed the end notes the most.

Throughout the book, Dr.Emsellem makes statements of fact about sleep that are obviously derived from research. I’d like to see the references to that research so I can evaluate for myself how strong each such statement is. Although my specialty is chronobiology (physiology, development, reproduction, behavior, ecology and evolution) of birds, and secondarily that of mammals, reptiles, invertebrates and microorganisms (I could never quite get excited about clocks in fish, fungi and plants, or molecular aspects of circadian rhythms, or medical aspects of human rhythms), I am quite familiar with the literature on sleep, including in humans.

Thus, I know that the statements in the book reflect scientific consensus but that the meaning of “consensus” is quite elastic. In some cases, it means “there is a mountain of evidence for this statement and no evidence against it, so it is highly unlikely that this will change any time soon”. In other cases it means “there are a few studies suggesting this, but they are not perfect and there are some studies with differing results, and this can stand for now but is likely to me modified or completely overturned by future research”.

Having end notes would help the expert reader see how weak or strong each one of these findings is, and would also be suggestive to lay readers that the statements in the book are supported by actual research and are not just the author’s invention as seen in so many self-help books. End notes and references add to the believability of the text even if one does not bother to check the papers out.

The book then turns to variety of factors, both biological and social, that conspire to deprive our teens of sleep, both from the perspective of a sleep researcher and from the perspective of teenagers. Little snippets of teenagers’ thoughts on the topic are included throughout the book and add an important perspective as well as make the book more fun to read. Otherwise, the “case studies”, the bane of so many psychology books, are kept to the minimum, discussed very briefly, and used wisely..

In the next section, Dr.Emsellem turns to solutions. First, she present several tests of sleep deprivation that readers can administer themselves in order to self-diagnose the problem. She then describes ten different strategies that parents and teens can work on together in order to solve the problem of sleep deprivation and all the concomittant negative effects (and Alyssa adds her own chapter on the teen perspective on how those can work). If that does not work, she describes additional methods that a sleep doctor may prescribe to help solve the problem. There is also a short chapter describing a couple of other sleep disorders, e.g., sleep apnea, that also contribute to sleep deprivation in affected individuals.

The last portion of the book addresses the social aspects of sleep deprivation and changes that parents and teens can make in their homes, as well as broader community, towards solving the problem. For adults, being a role model for the child is important and this requires paying attention to one’s own sleep hygiene.

The very last portion is really the raison d’etre of the book – how to make one’s community change the school starting times. The author presents a couple of examples of school districts in which such change was enacted, the strategies parents used to force such changes and the incredible positive results of such changes. The whole book is really designed to provide information to parents and teens who are working on changing their local attitudes toward school starting times.

The schools used to start about 9am for most of the century (and before). Then, due to the pressure from business and economic (read “busing”) woes of school districts, the school starting times started creeping earlier and earlier starting back in 1970s until they reach the horribly early times seen today in many places, requiring kids to get up as early as 5am in order to catch the school bus on time. As a result, high schoolers (and to some extent middle schoolers and college students) sleep through the first two periods in school, feel weak and groggy all day long, more easily succumb to diseases, have trouble learning and performing well in school and the athletic field, and are in too bad mood to be pleasant at home – this is not the natural state of things as much as the stereotype of the “grouchy teen” is prevalent in the society, it is mainly due to sleep deprivation and the biggest factor causing sleep deprivation are early school starting times.

In places in which enlightened and progressive school boards succumbed to the wishes of parents and students, i.e., in places in which parents and students used smart diplomatic tactics to engender such change, the positive results are astounding. The grades went up. The test scores went up. The students are happy. The parents are happy. The teachers are happy. The coaches are happy because their teams are winning all the state championships. There is a decrease in tardiness and absences. There is a decrease in sick days and even in numbers of diagnoses of ADD and depression in teens. There is a drop in teen crime. There is a drop in car accidents involving teens (by 15% in one place!). The whole county feels upbeat about it!

While the book makes me – a scientist – thirsty for end notes and references, it does remarkably well what it was designed to do – arm the parent and kids with knowledge needed to make a positive change in their communities – a change that is necessary in order to raise new generations to be healthy and successful, something we owe to our children.

We should do this no matter how much it costs, but the experiences from places in which the changes were made, contrary to doomsayers, is that there was no additional cost to this at all. The changes were implemented slowly and with everyone involved pitching in their opinion and their expertise until the best possible system was arrived at, adapted to the local community situation. No new buses were needed to be rented. No unexpected new costs appeared. And having a safe, happy community saved money elsewhere (e.g., accidents and crime rate decline). And it worked wonderfully everywhere.

So, get the book and let your child read it, you read it, give a copy to other people in your community: the teachers, the school principal, the pediatrician, the child psychologist, the school board members, the superintendent of education and the governor. This is something that is easy to do, there are no good reasons against it and the health and the future of our kids is at stake. It is something worth fighting for and this book is your first weapon.

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Related:

Everything You Always Wanted To Know About Sleep (But Were Too Afraid To Ask)
Sun Time is the Real Time
What is a ‘natural’ sleep pattern?
Lesson of the Day: Circadian Clocks are HARD to shift!
Circadian Rhythms in Human Mating
Seasonal Affective Disorder – The Basics
Data for #drunksci: Daily rhythm of alcohol tolerance
Basics: Biological Clock
Spring Forward, Fall Back – should you watch out tomorrow morning?
(Non) Adaptive Function of Sleep

Shaq and the Mini-Shaq, the extreme primates.

The world’s smallest primate in his hand measures only five inches and weighs two ounces, clearly dwarfed by the 7’1” 325-pound Shaq.

The world’s smallest primate in his hand measures only five inches and weighs two ounces, clearly dwarfed by the 7’1” 325-pound Shaq.

Shaquille O’Neil, one of the world’s most recognizable professional basketball players has used his stature to highlight one of the world’s smallest primates: the mouse lemur from Madagascar.

Shaq, an NBA legend who retired last year and earned a doctorate degree in education from Barry University in 2012, posed with a mouse lemur at Zoo Miami in March to advocate for Centre ValBio, a non-profit conservation organization based in the rainforests of Madagascar. Under the direction of primatologist Dr. Patricia Wright, Centre ValBio aims to better understand and protect the island’s endangered wildlife and habitats.

National Geographic Explorer and TV Host Mireya Mayor & Shaq

National Geographic Explorer and TV Host Mireya Mayor & Shaq

Fuggles the lemur was on loan from the Duke Lemur Center in North Carolina, traveling down to Florida with two handlers and copious supplies of mealworms. Both institutions – Centre ValBio and Duke Lemur Center – are doing excellent work with the people of Madagascar to preserve endangered species habitat through education and economic development. CVB has also built a research facility there.

Shaq was joined by Dr. Mireya Mayor, an author and National Geographic Explorer & TV Host who focuses on primates.

Mireya Mayor and <em>Microcebus mittermier</em> in 2000

Mireya Mayor and Microcebus mittermier in 2000

Mayor has been working in Madagascar since 1997 and has been involved in primate conservation for over 15 years. The idea to photograph one of the world’s largest primates (Shaq) with the world’s smallest came to her when she looked at a National Geographic photograph taken of her and a mouse lemur she co-discovered in northern Madagascar in 2000 (Microcebus mittermieri).

Shaq flexes his muscle for Centre ValBio & the wildlife of Madagascar.

Shaq flexes his muscle for Centre ValBio & the wildlife of Madagascar.

All photos by Ron Magill.

The Scienceblogging Weekly (May 18, 2012)

Blog of the Week:

For the greatest portion of the history of biology, every organism was a “model organism”. One would pick a problem and then choose which organism would be most suited for answering those particular questions. Then, in the 1990s, everyone jumped onto the bandwagon of studying just a handful of organisms that could be genetically modified at the time: mouse, fruitfly, thale cress, zebrafish, African clawed frog, bread mold, brewer’s yeast, or E.coli. All the other organisms were all but abandoned, only studied by a small number of die-hard researchers and, increasingly, amateurs. Now that technology allows us to investigate (and to some extent manipulate) entire genomes of almost any species we’d like, researchers are going back and rediscovering the abandoned model organisms once again. One of these is Anolis, a large group of species of lizards, noted for their dewlaps, and known especially for their fast adaptive radiation on tropical islands.

And now there is a blog that covers everything about these lizards – Anole Annals. Posts are written both by veteran researchers and their students, from several laboratories, as well as other contributors. They cover both recent and historical papers on evolution, ecology, biogeography, behavior, physiology, biomechanics and genetics of this diverse group of reptiles. They also describe their own research, including anecdotes and adventures from field work, equipment they use in the lab, and successes in discovery. On top of that, they help people ID the species from pictures, pay attention to the appearance of anoles in art and in the popular culture and generally have a lot of fun doing all of this. A blog entirely devoted to just one group of animals sounds very ‘niche’, but what they did was build a blog that has something for everyone and is a great fun (as well as insightful and educational) read for everyone.

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Top 10:

The secret molecular life of soap bubbles (1913) by Greg Gbur:

…Today we take for granted that all material objects in the universe are comprised of discrete “bits” of matter, which we call atoms; however, even up until the early 20th century there were still proponents of the continuum hypothesis, in which all matter is assumed to be infinitely divisible…

Motherhood, war, and attachment: what does it all mean? by Emily Willingham:

I’m sure many mothers can attest to the following: You have friends who also are mothers. I bet that for most of us, those friends represent a spectrum of attitudes about parenting, education, religion, Fifty Shades of Grey, recycling, diet, discipline, Oprah, and more. They also probably don’t all dress just like you, talk just like you, have the same level of education as you, same employment, same ambitions, same hair, or same toothpaste. And I bet that for many of us, in our interactions with our friends, we have found ourselves judging everything from why she insists on wearing those shoes to why she lets little Timmy eat Pop Tarts. Yet, despite all of this mental observation and, yes, judging, we still manage to get along, go out to dinner together, meet at one another’s homes, and gab our heads off during play dates. That’s not a war. That’s life….

As oxygen filled the world, life’s universal clock began to tick by Ed Yong:

The Earth’s earliest days were largely free of oxygen. Then, around 2.5 billion years ago, primitive bacteria started to flood the atmosphere with this vital gas. They produced it in the process of harnessing the sun’s energy to make their own nutrients, just as plants do today. The building oxygen levels reddened the planet, as black iron minerals oxidised into rusty hues. They also killed off most of the world’s microbes, which were unable to cope with this new destructive gas. And in the survivors of this planetary upheaval, life’s first clock began to tick and tock….

Poisoning the Dalai Lama. Or Not by Deborah Blum:

Earlier this week, the Tibetan Buddhist leader, the Dalai Lama, told British journalists that he’d been warned of an ingenious Chinese plot to assassinate him with poison. Very ingenious, according to the plot he laid out for the Sunday Telegraph. He’d learned, he said, of a plan to send out a squad of women, pretending to be followers, who would have poison spread through either their hair or headscarves. When he laid his hands on their heads for a blessing, a lethal dose could be absorbed through his skin…

The Brain Hidden Epidemic: Tapeworms Living Inside People’s Brains by Carl Zimmer:

….But sometimes tapeworms take a wrong turn. Instead of going into a pig, the eggs end up in a human. This can occur if someone shedding tapeworm eggs contaminates food that other people then eat. When the egg hatches, the confused larva does not develop into an adult in the human’s intestines. Instead, it acts as it would inside a pig. It burrows into the person’s bloodstream and gets swept through the body. Often those parasites end up in the brain, where they form cysts….

Why Octopuses Should Run Our National Security Infrastructure by Annalee Newitz:

Next time the government wants new ideas about how to protect our nation’s security, it should consult an octopus. That’s the unusual proposition of marine biologist Rafe Sagarin, a pioneer in the infant field of “natural security,” where experts use models from nature to help them come up with emergency responses to everything from terrorist attacks to pandemics. Sagarin has just published a book about his work called Learning from the Octopus: How Secrets from Nature Can Help Us Fight Terrorist Attacks, Natural Disasters, and Disease. Any scientific theory that involves the superiority of cephalopods is automatically intriguing, so I called up Sagarin to talk about it.

Solving the Mystery of the Placental Jellyfish by Craig McClain:

Yesterday the DSN crew first saw the video above. What is this large floating sheet of goo? Is it alive? Was it once alive? The two leading contenders seems to be that it is A) an old whale placenta or B) a rare and enigmatic deep-sea jellyfish. And the answer is…. B)

Physics’s PR problem: Moving beyond string theory and multiple universes by Ashutosh Jogalekar:

….The problem is that most of the popular physics that the public enjoys constitutes perhaps 10% of the research that physicists worldwide are engaged in. Again, count the number of physics books in your local bookstore, and you will notice that about 90% of them cover quantum mechanics, cosmology, particle physics and “theories of everything”. You would be hard-pressed to find volumes on condensed matter physics, biophysics, the physics of “soft” matter like liquids and non-linear dynamics. And yes, these are bonafide fields of physics that have engaged physics’s best minds for decades and which are as exciting as any other field of science. Yet if you ask physics-friendly laymen what cutting-edge physics is about, the answers will typically span the Big Bang, Higgs boson, black holes, dark matter, string theory and even time-travel. There will be scant mention if any of say spectroscopy, optics, polymers, magnetic resonance, lasers or even superconductivity….

Dear Media, Leave My Dinosaurs Alone by Brian Switek:

I wish I could take dinosaurs away from the media for a while. Someone certainly should. Lazy journalists and unscrupulous documentary creators have amply demonstrated that they just can’t play nice with Tyrannosaurus, Triceratops and kin…

Do Bonobos And Chimpanzees Offer A Path To Understanding Human Behavior? by Sheril Kirshenbaum:

What leads people to acts of violence and genocide? What triggers empathy and altruism? Duke evolutionary biologist Brian Hare and research scientist Vanessa Woods believe the answer may be found in the great ape known as the bonobo….

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Special topic: snakes:

And the Cascabel will Fall Quiet… by John F Taylor. Rattlesnakes may actually be learning and they may become more dangerous if their roundups aren’t stopped.

Spore Dispersal by Snakes by Jessica M. Budke

The Secret to Success Is Giant-Jawed Snake Babies by Elizabeth Preston

Identifying snake sheds, part II by Andrew Durso

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Science:

Pacific plastic, sea skaters, and the media: behind the scenes of my recent paper by Miriam Goldstein. Once you are featured in The Onion, your career has reached the peak. What more can one do after that?

In the wake of high-profile controversies, psychologists are facing up to problems with replication. by Ed Yong. Psychology example, applicable at least to some extent to other fields.

The Flavor of Neutrinos by Matthew Francis

Confusing messages about sugar are stupid by David Despain

Two Earths would be needed to sustain human activity by 2030, report finds by Meghan Neal

Science vs. PR by Robert McHenry. How a scientific paper about chemistry turned into mass media articles about alien dinosaurs.

Who hates cilantro? Study aims to find out by Cari Nierenberg

Microbiology at Sea: A tale of ballast, vomit, and cockroaches by Holly Bik

Is the U.S. Ready for Home HIV Tests? by Benjamin Plackett

Lessons from the Lab: How to Make Group Projects Successful by Annie Murphy Paul. “Megacollaboration is becoming the norm in science. Here’s what we can learn about what works when working together.”

Sometimes scientists have a duty to swap the pipette for the placard by Adam Smith

Academics on archosaurs: Jerry Harris by Dave Hone

Whistle Recognition in Bottlenose Dolphins by Tara Thean

The regulation of nonsense by Jann Bellamy on medical quackery and CAM.

What Happens to All That Volcanic Ash? by Erik Klemetti

Cannibalism? by Mark Crislip

Science Standards: The Next Generation by Rhett Allain

Is the holocaust denial/climate change denial comparison apt? by Mark Hoofnagle

The Coming Beepocalypse, It’s hard out there for a bee, and Bees and STDs by Bug Girl

Huge Turtle Was Titanoboa’s Neighbor by Brian Switek

De-caffeinating pills? Say it ain’t so, Think Geek by David Kroll

Human morality is evolving by Ken Perrott

5 Things the Science Doesn’t Say About the Conservative Brain by Chris Mooney

The Republican Brain by Chris Mooney by Chad Orzel

Turning Wolves into Hounds by Heather Pringle

Dendrites of Direction by TheCellularScale

LA smog: more cows than cars? by Scott K. Johnson

The New Atheism and Evolutionary Religious Studies: Clarifying Their Relationship by David Sloan Wilson

Opinion: Academia Suppresses Creativity by Fred Southwick

Methods for Studying Coincidences by Samuel Arbesman

Is misconduct more likely in drug trials than in other biomedical research? by Ivan Oransky

A rising tide of willful ignorance by Rob Schofield. Lobbyists pushing to dictate which data scientists are allowed to use.

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Media, Publishing and Technology:

All A’Twitter: How Social Media Aids in Science Outreach a Master’s Thesis by Caitlyn Zimmerman about the pros & cons and strategies in using social media in Marine Conservation outreach.

Guest Editorial: It’s Time To e-Volve: Taking Responsibility for Science Communication in a Digital Age by Christie Wilcox

Young scientists ask: Is there room out there for one more science communicator? by Denise Graveline

The SA Incubator: Helping Hatch Science Writers Since July 2011 by Erin Podolak

Research Blogs and the Discussion of Scholarly Information by Hadas Shema, Judit Bar-Ilan and Mike Thelwall, a research paper about science blogs using the ResearchBlogging.org aggregator. Responses by Scicurious, Neurocritic, Jonathan Eisen, Caroline Tucker, Misha Angrist and Invader Xan.

Beyond a Trend: How Scientists Use Social Media by Jessica Rohde

Twitter is like… by dorkymum. A beautiful metaphor to try on n00bs.

Do I Write? Or Do I Tweet? by Geoff Brumfiel

Mom, this is how twitter works by Jessica Hische

Printed books existed nearly 600 years before Gutenberg’s Bible by Annalee Newitz

Digital Pagination by Nate Barham. The page-flip is just another in a long line of “unnecessary” features to help us poor humans understand the content.

My personal take: 3 reasons I don’t like newspaper paywalls by Mathew Ingram and a response to it, Paywalls are backward-looking by Dave Winer.

Commenting, Moderation, and Provocation by Marc Bousquet

Aggregation guidelines: Link, attribute, add value by Steve Buttry – a definitive guide.

Please Don’t Learn to Code by Jeff Atwood, and Should you learn to code? by Dave Winer, and Don’t tell me not to learn! by Eva Amsen.

The newsonomics of News U.: Journalism and education are both about knowledge. Could their post-disruption business models start to blur? by Ken Doctor.

See, this is why publishers irritate me so much and Publishers versus everyone by Mike Taylor

The government spends billions on research. Should we have to pay $20,000 more to see the results? by Suzy Khimm

The Tao of Shutterstock: What Makes a Stock Photo a Stock Photo? by Megan Garber

How Facebook Saved Us from Suburbia by Christopher Mims and Does Facebook Turn People Into Narcissists? by Tara Parker-Pope

The tip of the iceberg- what digital photography really costs by Brendan Moyle

A Brief History and Proposed Definition for ‘Attention Economics’ by Adrian J. Ebsary

Under construction – ITER in LEGO

If you just received your new issue of Scientific American, you saw the article The Problems with ITER and the Fading Dream of Fusion Energy by Geoff Brumfiel. Accompanying image (a little small online, but nice and big in print) is a photograph by Hironobu Maeda of a sculpture by Sachiko Akinaga. It is a LEGO model of the ITER fusion reactor which has been under construction for many years now, and apparently will keep being under construction for many years to come.

You may think that the image is a photoshop, or a drawing, or that perhaps the LEGO model does exist somewhere, perhaps in some studio in Japan, or at ITER construction site itself.

But no. The model is in the middle of the Scientific American newsroom! A couple of weeks ago when I went to our New York City office, I took these photos of the model. Now that the embargo has lifted, I can show you some more details of the model:

How barley domesticated its clock

barleyMost organisms that live on or near the surface of the Earth or its oceans have evolved a circadian clock – a daily timer of all biochemical, physiological and behavioral functions.

Daily cycle of light and darkness in the environment is a selective factor – having an internal clock is an adaptation that allows organisms to predict and prepare for instead of passively react to cyclical changes in the environment. The regularity of the light-dark cycle is usually a good predictor for other (perhaps not as precise) cycles of temperature, availability of food, or activity of predators.

ResearchBlogging.orgIt gets trickier for organisms that live in places where the light-dark cycle may be missing for big chunks of the year (the polar regions), or where light-dark cycle is not a good predictor of other relevant events in the environment (e.g,. cannot predict rain in very arid regions), or where light cannot penetrate at all (deep ocean, caves, underground burrows). In such organisms the clock may get uncoupled from some of its functions, e.g., it may still time biochemical but not behavioral events. Or the clock may be temporarily or permanently turned off.

Even animals that constantly live in caves still tend to have functioning circadian clocks even if they are not used by these animals to drive rhythms in behavior. In animals that regularly travel into and out of the caves, like bats, the clock is robust.

A number of organisms have been studied in which the clock may temporarily be turned off. In the chestnut tree , circadian clock stops in winter. In reindeer in the high Northern latitudes, behavioral rhythms (and underlying clock) work only during the short springs and autumns, not during the long polar winters and summers. In social insects, castes that spend their time inside the hive and need to work around the clock also do not have a functioning circadian clock.

The organisms that live in extreme environments tend to be difficult to study. It may be a harsh environment for the human researchers to spend long periods of time in. The organisms may not be easy to bring into the lab to study under controlled conditions. Most of such organisms are far from being standard “laboratory models” which means that little is known about their genetics, biochemistry, physiology and behavior.

Thus, one is limited in choices as to which rhythms to study and what conclusions one can take from such studies. A limited number of overt rhythms can be easily monitored in a standardized manner even in the laboratory. A record of overall physical activity and movement is usually made. Additional measured rhythms may be daily fluctuations in hormones, e.g., melatonin. And tissue samples may be taken over a 24-hour period for analysis of patterns of expression of core clock genes.

This approach may miss stuff. For example, even if there is no cycling of clock genes or overt behavioral rhythms, this does not mean that the clock may not be working anyway – cytoplasmatic cellular clocks, or ensembles of neural cells producing weak rhythms, or hormonal feedback loops between endocrine glands could still be producing daily cycles in some aspects of metabolism not identified by the researchers. The adaptive function of the clock is so strong, if nothing else for coordinating internal events, that is is difficult to persuasively and definitively demonstrate that absolutely nothing in the body cycles around a 24-hours cycle.

An important function of the clock is also in measuring changes in daylength – days get longer in spring and shorter during fall. Even environments that have no daily cycles for a while, or no utility in using light-dark cycles, may have strong seasonality, and seasons are another important aspect of the environment related to time. Most organisms use their circadian clocks to measure the changes in daylength through a mechanism called photoperiodism. So even organisms that have no use for daily clocks, may still retain them for their higher-level function of fine-tuning the annual calendar of events.

Domestication also has an effect on circadian clock as one can argue that the lab and the farm are “extreme environments” in some sense. It is well known that many domesticated strains of laboratory mice, rats and nematodes have lost seasonality. Most of our domesticated animals have vastly prolonged breeding seasons – sometimes spanning the entire year, or adding a Fall season to the existing Spring one  – compared to their wild relatives. Domestication may be a strong selective force for abandoning seasonality, which reduces the need for a functional circadian clock as well, especially if human care – feeding, defense, etc. – replace the need for the organism to fend for itself in sync with the cycles of nature.

Now a new player is entering this line of research – barley (Hordeum vulgare). Last week, Faure et al, published an open access paper in PNAS showing that strains of barley from Northern Europe have mutations in one of their photoperiodic genes – EARLY MATURITY8 (EAM8) – and that this gene greatly reduces the amplitude of expression of the core circadian clock genes.

As a result, northern varieties of barley can start flowering early and fast in the season, completely ignoring daylength, just following the normal developmental program. At the same time the disrupted clock allows for much longer daily activity of photosynthesis during long summer days, as it does not shut it down before darkness arrives in the evening.

One can imagine how such mutants were prized in the earlier history of the domestication. As humans moved more and more north, only the barley that could be harvested early and produced large yields was valuable. Late harvest may have been too late: humans may have already moved on, driven by hunger, and left the field to be harvested by birds. Or the harvest, being so small and late, would have been used only for consumption (winter is coming – time to brew some beer!) and not for seed for the next year.

Plant circadian clocks are very complex at the molecular level, involving several different feedback loops in expression, some operating in the morning, others in the evening, etc. Importantly, some of the genes involved in photoperiodism and flowering are intricately connected to the clock and may be a part of some of the clock feedback loops. Most of the past research focused on the way clock genes regulate flowering genes. This is an unusual paper in that it discovers the opposite direction – how a gene involved in flowering feeds back on the clock genes and regulates the way the clock works.

What is exciting about this work is that barley is not a difficult organism to do research on. One does not need heroic efforts or expensive Arctic or speleological gear to study it – it is a domesticated plant, easily grown in fields, glasshouses and labs. Furthermore, much of its biology is already well known, including the similarity between its genes and those of Arabidopsis thaliana, the standard model for plant research.

As a number of strains of barley exist, some southern some northern, there is plenty of material to do comparative studies to figure out exactly which genes and processes were involved in the process of domestication – what was selected for as the humans took their crops with them on their northward migrations. This makes barley potentially a useful standard laboratory model for the general studies of evolution under domestication.

Reference:

Faure, S., Turner, A.S., Gruszka, D., Christodoulou, V., Davis, S.J., von Korff, M. & Laurie, D.A. Mutation at the circadian clock gene EARLY MATURITY 8 adapts domesticated barley (Hordeum vulgare) to short growing seasons, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1120496109

Related at Scientific American:

Chestnut Tree Circadian Clock Stops In Winter
Evolutionary Medicine: Does reindeer have a circadian stop-watch instead of a clock?
Domestication – it’s a matter of time (always is for me, that’s my ‘hammer’ for all nails)
Why social insects do not suffer from ill effects of rotating and night shift work?
Clock Evolution
Whence Clocks?
Circadian clock without DNA–History and the power of metaphor
Basics: Biological Clock
Clock Classics: It All Started with the Plants

Image: Wikimedia Commons, public domain.

The Scienceblogging Weekly (May 11, 2012)

In the flood of information, filters are invaluable – people you trust to pick the best so you can focus on that, only that, and ignore the less important stuff.

Editors (including Jason here at the network) at ScienceSeeker.org and editors (including Krystal here at the network) at ResearchBlogging.org filter the best science blog posts each week.

Ed Yong’s weekly linkfests (like this one) and monthly Top 10 choices he’d pay for (see this for an example) are must-bookmark resources.

Some other bloggers are occasional or regular sources of links I pay attention to, e.g., John Dupuis on academia, publishing, libraries and books, Chad Orzel on academia and science – especially physics, Mike the Mad Biologist on science and politics, and the crew at the Knight Science Journalism Tracker for the media coverage of science. And at the NASW site, Tabitha Powledge has a must-read On science blogs this week summary every Friday.

Most of the articles and blog posts I read every day are brought to my attention by my friends on Twitter, Google Plus and Facebook, I get some through email notifications, as well as gleaned from ScienceBlogging.org and ScienceSeeker.org science blog aggregators. I then share a LOT of those links to my followers on Twitter, Facebook and Google Plus every day.

Every workday around midnight I post a linkfest on The Network Central to make it easier to see our network posts if you missed them during the day. Khalil and I take turns highlighting the best work by up-and-coming science writers on The SA Incubator blog. Weekly posting of the ever-growing list of posts submitted for the Open Laboratory is another resource. SciAm homepage is also set as a collection of filters – we decide what goes into “Blogs” box, what in the “Latest News” feed, what in the “Science Agenda” on top of the page, and what to collect into “In-Depth Reports” over time.

Now I will also start a weekly collection of links that are “best of the best” of everything I read over a period of a week – not the posts from #SciAmBlogs, but the rest of the Web: other blogs and other media sites. That means a lot of cutting! I mean, I tweet TONS of links every day! Choosing the best will not come easy to me, so this is a good exercise for me as well, and I hope will become a useful resource to you.

I’ll try to do this every Friday, time of day dependent on travel, work, life etc. Let me know in the comments if you have suggestions for formatting, timing, etc.

Blog of the Week:

Academic Panhandling: The art of granting for your supper. Everything you ever needed to know about writing grant proposals, written by a professional grant writer.

Top 10:

The Moscow Rules – Science Edition: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7, Part 8, Part 9 and Part 10 by Zen Faulkes, guest-blogging at Scientopia:

The Moscow Rules were directives that undercover American intelligence agents allegedly used in the Cold War. The rules were there to increase agent’s chances of making it out safely.

Sometimes, being in academic science can feel like being enemy territory in a cold war. You are often in strange territory (new lab), with many unfamiliar people (other grad students, post-docs, faculty) whose motivations are unclear. You might not trust them completely (especially administrators). There might not be the risk of attempted assassination by having poison injected into you with a specially built umbrella, but there’s enough similarity that the Moscow Rules can still apply…

If You Want A Lizard To Run Fast, Yell At It by Jonathan Losos:

…“As you well know, some days things just don’t seem to go well when testing whole animal performance. On one of those days out of frustration, fatigue, etc., we simply yelled at an apparent “slacker” lizard in jest. Much to our surprise this seemed to make a difference. We were also aware of the two recent papers for other species of lizards in which sound appeared relevant to behaviors associated with detecting threats. So, we figured what the heck, why not test for such effects systematically. Unlike many of the studies that you and others have performed with anoles, unless we simply can’t get a lizards to run along the racetrack or they appear unhealthy, we include data from all of the individuals rather than subjectively rating the trials for their quantity. Perhaps, some of the gains in speed associated with our yelling were greatest for those individuals that otherwise might have been discarded after receiving a poor subjective quality rating. Of course, we lack a simple way of determining this. Similarly, we have not yet methodically tested for whether expletives are more effective that milder language.”…

Invisible aliens: they’re not life as we know it — yet by John Rennie:

Both publications posit that life, at its most abstract, involves a thermodynamic disequilibrium. That is, life involves physical structures that can only maintain their integrity with inputs of energy. These physical structures will require covalent bonds between atoms (to allow nontrivial chemical reactions), so the environment in which life appears must allow such chemistry to occur. Some kind of liquid, but not necessarily water, would therefore also be necessary to enable those reactions. Finally, some molecules in the living system would need to be capable of Darwinian evolution for the life to arise. (Take note, creationist doubters of evolution: it is now a useful part of the definition of life!)

From theory and experiments, both papers argue that life with these traits could evolve under a wide (but definitely limited) range of environments. Carbon-based life on worlds with liquid water might represent a particularly versatile and common set of solutions, but biochemistry could go in many directions even on Earthlike worlds. And on planets and moons where terrestrial life would perish instantly, life based on silicon instead of carbon or liquid hydrocarbons instead of water might thrive…

Plastic Lessons by Shara Yurkiewicz:

I always feel awkward when I talk to plastic patients. The simulation mannequins are impressive: their eyes blink, their chests expand as they breathe, they have pulses, they bleed, they burn. A screen monitors vital signs: I administer a pressor and a dipping blood pressure perks up, or I order a beta blocker and a racing heart rate slows. A physician in the next room lends her voice to play the patient, responding to what I do and say. A physician in the same room becomes a tech, relying results of my tests and nudging me through the next steps when I veer off course….

Twilight of the giants in taxonomy by Emmett Duffy:

In an important sense, nothing exists until it’s given a name. And in the living world of organisms, names—official, scientific names—are assigned by unique creatures called taxonomists, experts in the minutiae of structure and biology of particular groups of organisms, working according to a strict and arcane body of rules of biological nomenclature. These individuals tend to be specialists—sages of whales, anglerfishes, microscopic worms that live only between the grains of sand on beaches, microscopic algae, purple sulfur bacteria, and everything in between…

Is Technology Destroying Your Relationships? by A.V.Flox:

Social networks put a number on those weak ties, but we all have weak ties in our meatspace lives. Marche bemoans how we use machines to check out at the grocery store instead of waiting in line with other people to have our purchases rung up by an actual human. But I wonder — even if you were to speak to the woman giving you dirty looks because you were buying a product with a big carbon footprint, can you actually call that a meaningful relationship?

I talk to people all the time — cab drivers, waiters, flight attendants, the guy at the post office, my manicurist, my barista, the boys at the convenience store where I buy my cigarettes, the guy at the newsstand. I am there, in the flesh. Does this mean our connections are any more meaningful than a like or a plus on social media?

Weak ties exist. They’re everywhere. All we have to do to make them meaningful is take the chance to go deeper. This is as true online as it is offline.

What does it mean to say that something causes 16% of cancers? by Ed Yong:

…executives and policy-makers love PAFs, and they especially love comparing them across different risk factors. They are nice, solid numbers that make for strong bullet points and eye-grabbing Powerpoint slides. They have a nasty habit of becoming influential well beyond their actual scientific value. I have seen them used as the arbitrators of decisions, lined up on a single graphic that supposedly illustrates the magnitude of different problems. But of course, they do no such thing…

The Mysterious Case of the Vanishing Genius by Mike Martin:

Margie Profet was always a study in sharp contradictions. A maverick thinker remembered for her innocent demeanor, she was a woman who paired running shorts with heavy sweaters year-round, and had a professional pedigree as eccentric as her clothing choices: Profet had multiple academic degrees but no true perch in academe. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, Profet published original theories about female reproduction that pushed the boundaries of evolutionary biology, forcing an entire field to take note. Indeed, back then it was hard not to notice Margie Profet, a vibrant young woman who made a “forever impression” on grade school chums and Harvard Ph.D.s alike. Today, the most salient fact about Profet is her absence. Neither friends, former advisers, publishers, nor ex-lovers has any idea what happened to her or where she is today. Sometime between 2002 and 2005, Profet, who was then in her mid-40s, vanished without a trace…

Fear fans flames for chemical makers by Patricia Callahan and Sam Roe (see also Part 2 Big Tobacco wins fire marshals as allies in flame retardant push and Part 3 Distorting science):

Manufacturers of fire retardants rely on questionable testimony, front groups to push standards that boost demand for their toxic — and ineffective — products

Asymmetrical snakes by Andrew Durso:

Animals have a long tradition of being bilaterally symmetrical – that is, of the left side and the right being nearly identical. Sure, there are a few exceptions – the human heart is nearly always farther to the left side, for instance. Snakes and other elongate, limbless animals sometimes stagger their paired organs (gonads, kidneys) so that one is in front of the other, to better fit in their cylindrical bodies. Most snakes have even done away with one of their two lungs. But the basic external body plan, the bones and muscles on the left and the right, are always mirror-images of one another, right?

Enter the pareatid snakes…

Science:

Drop the base to make bagels more delectable by Raychelle Burks:

Sometimes, just hearing that certain chemicals are in food just puts people off. “I think that a lot of people would be really surprised about the precise chemicals that are used to make their favorite foods,” said Dr. Hartings. Take Cool Whip for example. One of its ingredients is polysorbate-60, a chemical that helps give Cool Whip its puffy appearance. Polysorbate-60 moonlights as an ingredient in sexual lubricants like K-Y YOURS+MINE. Our foods contain all kinds of chemicals that have more than one job. Thankfully, one of those jobs is making food delicious.

Insects that skate on the ocean benefit from plastic junk by Ed Yong:

Imagine a world of two dimensions, a world with no up or down… just across. No climbing, falling, jumping, or ducking… just shimmying and sidling. Welcome to the world of the sea skater.

Sea skaters, or ocean striders, are small bugs. They’re relatives of the pond skaters or water striders that zip spread-eagled across the surface of ponds and lakes. Except they skate over the open ocean, eating plankton at the surface…

Problems in the neurozone by Pete Etchells:

Having a scan of your brain is a uniquely odd experience. I had one done once. I was loaded, torpedo-like, into a claustrophobia-inducing, cocoon-like chamber for nearly an hour, the first few terrifying minutes of which I spent desperately trying to recall whether I had actually passed that metal ball-bearing I swallowed when I was a kid. The machines themselves are pretty damn loud, but something about repetitive clunking noises seems to lull me into a state of relaxation, so I spent the majority of my time in the launch chamber trying not to snooze. Honestly, it was all quite enjoyable…

Abandoment issues by Dr. Al Dove, guest-blogging at NeuroDojo:

There exists on my hard drive a folder into which I loathe copying files, but only slightly less than I would loathe deleting them all together. It is a folder called “Aborted Manuscripts” and it is this folder which is the source of my shame. It is a graveyard of stupid ideas and of great ones poorly executed, of unfinished cogitations, of journal rejections, of unresponsive colleagues and of frustrating students. It’s a roadmap documenting 15 years of science (read: “me”) not doing what science (read: “me”) is supposed to do – get published…

Put Away The Bell Curve: Most Of Us Aren’t ‘Average’ by Shankar Vedantam:

The bell curve powerfully shapes how we think of human performance: If lots of students or employees happen to show up as extreme outliers — they’re either very good or very bad — we assume they must represent a skewed sample, because only a few people in a truly random sample are supposed to be outliers.

New research suggests, however, that rather than describe how humans perform, the bell curve may actually be constraining how people perform. Minus such constraints, a new paper argues, lots of people are actually outliers.

Human performance, by this account, does not often fit the bell curve or what scientists call a normal distribution. Rather, it is more likely to fit what scientists call a power distribution…

The real CSI: what happens at a crime scene? by Craig Taylor:

From the diver who finds the body parts, to the forensic specialist who identifies flecks of paint on the victim and the handwriting expert who examines the killer’s notes… What happens behind the yellow tape of one crime scene

Of mice and Marmaduke (and dinosaur farts) by Mike Argento:

EDITOR’S NOTE: The following column contains sophomoric humor and references to the bodily functions of dinosaurs and the size of certain anatomical features of mice, all in the name of science. If this kind of thing offends you, please skip this and go right to Marmaduke. That dog, he cracks us up…

Spacesuit In A Cave by Sarah Everts:

Most visitors to the million-year-old Dachstein Giant Ice Cave prefer to wear standard winter coats during visits to its freezing, icy interior. But for five days the Dachstein cave systems were a temporary lab for a squad of space scientists. Some 50 scientists assembled from three continents to use the UNESCO World Heritage site as a proxy for Mars—a first for the cave system, which normally hosts jazz concerts, modern art exhibits, laser shows, and a steady stream of tourists….

Experimental Biology Blogging: Self-promotion and ‘self-promotion’ by Scicurious:

But of course, this is because academics have two different kinds of self-promotion. One is ok, and one is not. One takes place in the ivory tower, and one involves the dreaded public…

1859’s “Great Auroral Storm”—the week the Sun touched the earth by Matthew Lasar:

Noon approached on September 1, 1859, and British astronomer Richard Christopher Carrington was busy with his favorite pastime: tracking sunspots, those huge regions of the star darkened by shifts in its magnetic field. He projected the Sun’s image from his viewing device onto a plate of glass stained a “pale straw colour,” which gave him a picture of the fiery globe one inch shy of a foot in diameter…

The Physics of Spilled Coffee by Jon Cartwright:

…Krechetnikov and his graduate student Hans Mayer decided to investigate coffee spilling at a fluid dynamics conference last year when they watched overburdened participants trying to carry their drinks to and fro. They quickly realized that the physics wasn’t simple. Aside from the mechanics of human walking, which depends on a person’s age, health, and gender, there is the highly involved science of liquid sloshing, which depends on a complex interplay of accelerations, torques, and forces. …

Why Do Conference Talks Suck, and How Can We Change That? by Matthew R. Francis:

…Yes, some speakers are better than others, and a few of the 42 talks I heard were very good. Also, I know I used to commit many of the same sins I witnessed in talks yesterday and the day before, so as I list the problems, I’ll flag my own bad habits (current and former). Based on conversations with my friends, this is not a problem limited to particle physics conferences, much less to physics conferences in general: it’s endemic in science, and perhaps most academic fields…

Sleek, Smart Spacesuits Are on the Horizon by Amy Shira Teitel:

Spacesuits are poised to go the way of the cell phone – once bulky and cumbersome, researchers are working on making them slim and smart. In the future, astronauts might be wearing specially engineered garments that combine the life-preserving features of a spacesuit with augmented reality technology that could intuit the wearer’s needs…

How and Why Neuroscience should be taught in School by TheCellularScale:

…Neuroscience is sort of where genetics was 20-30 years ago: The scientific frontier, fascinating to the public, changing the general worldview, raising ethical questions, science fiction’s closest reflection in reality. This has its benefits and its downfalls. There is currently strong general enthusiasm for neuroscience for just these reasons, but because everything ‘neuro’ is so exciting, the risk of media misrepresentation is high and the misuse of neuroscience concepts and terms by pseudo-science is common. …

Fetal Attraction by Robert Krulwich:

…Dr. Johnson says cells from fetal boys and girls have been found in mothers “four to five decades following the last pregnancy.” That fetus may have grown into a middle aged pharmacist, and still his cells are inside his mother. Cells wouldn’t persist in foreign body for NO reason. They must be doing something, but what?…

On Biocultural Anthropology by Daniel Lende:

…what brings many students into anthropology, and still impassions me about the field, is that it does approach the question of “What does it mean to be human?” in the broadest, most interdisciplinary way. And it strikes me that we have some core analytical approaches to that question that matter, and that this style of thinking is what really makes up the holism of anthropology, rather than a particular commitment to four-fields and working across the different sub-disciplines. This human lens includes a comparative approach, an attention to variation across time and space, a recognition that we as researchers inevitably bias our own data, and, yes, a commitment to drawing on multiple strands of research…

94 Elements by The 94 Elements team:

There are 94 naturally occurring elements, from Hydrogen to Plutonium, and together they make up everything in the world. The stories of the elements are the stories of our own lives, revealing the details of our personal lives, the patterns of our economies, and our relationships with our natural resources.

94 Elements is a new global filmmaking project, exploring our lives through the lens of the elements. The project is producing a collection of stories by different filmmakers about the endless ways the elements touch our daily lives. Each filmmaker takes one element as the basis for a film around how it’s used. The films are surprising and moving human stories – this is not about science, but about our human relationships with our mineral resources.

How Does the FDA Monitor Your Medical Implants? It Doesn’t, Really by Lena Groeger:

Each prescription drug you take has a unique code that the government can use to track problems. But artificial hips and pacemakers? They are implanted without identification, along with many other medical devices. In fact, the FDA doesn’t know how many devices are implanted into patients each year – it simply doesn’t track that data.

The past decade has seen numerous high profile cases of malfunctioning medical devices, which have led to injury or even death. Critics say the FDA’s minimal monitoring of devices contributes to these problems….

Leptin: Linking Malnutrition and Vulnerability to Infection by Michelle Ziegler:

As long as leptin levels stay within normal levels, all of the functions displayed above function normally. As the leptin levels drop, many of these functions are adversely effected. It is a wide-spread trigger for a starvation response. Why cripple the immune response during starvation? My best guess would be because of the huge energy expenditure required to keep the immune response running normally, especially in cellular proliferation.

Experts debate what makes a healthy vagina by Anna Salleh:

New US findings suggest our accepted definition of a healthy vagina could be ethnically biased, say some researchers, but others caution against over-interpreting the data.

A new study published today in Science Translational Medicine found, what an accompanying commentary describes as, an “unexpected and astonishing” variability over time in the vaginal bacterial communities of apparently healthy women….

The Ph.D. Now Comes With Food Stamps by Stacey Patton:

…A record number of people are depending on federally financed food assistance. Food-stamp use increased from an average monthly caseload of 17 million in 2000 to 44 million people in 2011, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Web site. Last year, one in six people—almost 50 million Americans, or 15 percent of the population—received food stamps.

Ms. Bruninga-Matteau is part of an often overlooked, and growing, subgroup of Ph.D. recipients, adjunct professors, and other Americans with advanced degrees who have had to apply for food stamps or some other form of government aid since late 2007….

Nicholas Kristof and the Bad, Bad Chemical World by Deborah Blum:

…Because his secondary crusade of the last few years, you know, the one against evil industrial chemicals, is really starting to annoy me. This is not saying that he’s entirely wrong – there are evil industrial chemicals out there. And, in many cases, they aren’t as well researched or as well regulated as they should be.

But if we, as journalists, are going to demand meticulous standards for the study and oversight of chemical compounds then we should try to be meticulous ourselves in making the case. And much as I would like it to be otherwise, I don’t see enough of that in Kristof’s chemical columns. They tend instead to be sloppy in their use of language, less than thorough, and chemophobic enough to undermine his legitimate points….

How Academic Biologists and Physicists View Science Outreach by Elaine Howard Ecklund, Sarah A. James and Anne E. Lincoln:

Scholars and pundits alike argue that U.S. scientists could do more to reach out to the general public. Yet, to date, there have been few systematic studies that examine how scientists understand the barriers that impede such outreach. Through analysis of 97 semi-structured interviews with academic biologists and physicists at top research universities in the United States, we classify the type and target audiences of scientists’ outreach activities. Finally, we explore the narratives academic scientists have about outreach and its reception in the academy, in particular what they perceive as impediments to these activities. We find that scientists’ outreach activities are stratified by gender and that university and disciplinary rewards as well as scientists’ perceptions of their own skills have an impact on science outreach. Research contributions and recommendations for university policy follow.

Blue-eyed-people-are-all-related zombie news by Jon Wilkins:

…So, to recap, 1) Cool paper. 2) Sex between blue-eyed people is not incest. 3) We have no idea when or where this mutation came from, but it is now conceivable that we could ask the question. 4) Embarrassingly bad science reporting spontaneously rises from the grave four years later and tries to eat your brain.

Conceptual Replication by Dave Nussbaum:

There is no substitute for direct replication – if you cannot reproduce the same result using the same methods then you cannot have a cumulative science. But conceptual replication also has a very important role to play in psychological science. What is conceptual replication? It’s when instead of replicating the exact same experiment in exactly the same way, we test the experiment’s underlying hypothesis using different methods…

Replicating Dissonance by Dave Nussbaum:

Another reason conceptual replication is so important is that if the field relies exclusively on direct replication then they risk replicating the same mistakes as well. Today I wanted to illustrate this risk by looking back at the history of one of social psychology’s most influential theories: cognitive dissonance. The richness and depth of Cognitive Dissonance Theory is a result of dozens of conceptual replications. I suggest that, had it not been for conceptual replication – had dissonance only been tested and re-tested in the original paradigm (Brehm’s Free Choice Paradigm) – the theory may not have stood up to recent criticisms directed at that particular paradigm…

Chimp acts like jerk, gets praised by scientists by Eoin O’Carroll:

A chimpanzee at Furuvik Zoo in Sweden has been lauded for his ‘innovation’ and ‘sophisticated cognitive skills,’ after behaving like a complete schmuck.

What is Peru’s dolphin and pelican die-off telling us? by Al Dove:

As many as 900 dolphins and over 4,000 pelicans have washed up dead on the beaches of northern Peru in the last couple of months, (see news coverage here, here and here), leading to a flurry of activity as various authorities and other interested parties move to find out what is going on. Experts cited in the news coverage suggest that unusually warm surface waters (10F higher than the season average) are changing the swimming patterns of the huge anchovetta schools off the coast of Peru, driving them deeper and out of the diving range of pelicans. In other words, the pelicans appear to be starving. The dolphins on the other hand, have shown a high prevalence of infection with morbilivirus, which is an infectious disease…

Why a Sperm Cell Is Like a Roomba by Elizabeth Preston:

A sperm cell, much like an expensive robotic vacuum cleaner, is a minimally intelligent body on a mission. Both the Roomba and the male gamete have to navigate a walled space without much idea where they’re going or why. And although it won’t clean your floors on the way, the sperm cell uses some of the same strategy as the robot vacuum…

In the Spring, Bat Moms Choose Girls by Elizabeth Preston:

Naturally a mother bat is happy to welcome into the world a bouncing baby whatever, as long as it has all its fingers and toe-claws. But she also wants her little one to have every advantage she can give it. So when spring comes early, big brown bats prefer to keep their female embryos. Unwanted males are reabsorbed into their mothers’ bodies as if they never existed…

Media, Publishing and Technology:

Science and Truth: We’re All in It Together by Jack Hitt:

…By now, readers understand that the definitive “copy” of any article is no longer the one on paper but the online copy, precisely because it’s the version that’s been read and mauled and annotated by readers. (If a book isn’t read until it’s written in — as I was always told — then maybe an article is not published until it’s been commented upon.) Writers know this already. The print edition of any article is little more than a trophy version, the equivalent of a diploma or certificate of merit — suitable for framing, not much else.

We call the fallout to any article the “comments,” but since they are often filled with solid arguments, smart corrections and new facts, the thing needs a nobler name. Maybe “gloss.” In the Middle Ages, students often wrote notes in the margins of well-regarded manuscripts. These glosses, along with other forms of marginalia, took on a life of their own, becoming their own form of knowledge, as important as, say, midrash is to Jewish scriptures. The best glosses were compiled into, of course, glossaries and later published — serving as some of the very first dictionaries in Europe.

Any article, journalistic or scientific, that sparks a debate typically winds up looking more like a good manuscript 700 years ago than a magazine piece only 10 years ago. The truth is that every decent article now aspires to become the wiki of its own headline. …

Neuroscience: Bloggers rule? by Paul Raeburn:

..We might be hard put to find any area of science coverage that hasn’t been subject to those kinds of distortions. Coverage of Lipitor and its ilk was certainly as likely to contain dramatic headlines, and particular agendas, including those of pharmaceutical companies. And ideological arguments? It depends upon what the meaning of “ideological” is…

Brain waves by Curtis Brainard:

From advice about “exercising your mind” to treatises on “the gay brain,” media coverage of neuroscience in the UK often pushes “thinly disguised ideological arguments” and reinforces artificial divisions between social groups, according to a new study….

What Will Become of the Paper Book? by Michael Agresta:

…In the past several years, we’ve all heard readers mourn the passing of the printed word. The elegy is familiar: I crave the smell of a well-worn book, the weight of it in my hands; all of my favorite books I discovered through loans from a friend, that minor but still-significant ritual of trust; I need to see it on my shelf after I’ve read it (and I don’t mind if others see it too); and what is a classic if not a book where I’m forced to rediscover my own embarrassing college-age marginalia?

Luddites can take comfort in the persistence of vinyl records, postcards, and photographic film. The paper book will likewise survive, but its place in the culture will change significantly. As it loses its traditional value as an efficient vessel for text, the paper book’s other qualities—from its role in literary history to its inimitable design possibilities to its potential for physical beauty—will take on more importance. The future is yet to be written, but a few possibilities for the fate of the paper book are already on display on bookshelves near you…

Abraham Lincoln Did Not Invent Facebook: How a Guy and His Blog Fooled the Whole Wide Internet by Megan Garber:

…He expected — and banked on — the web’s virality, he says; he didn’t anticipate, though, how eagerly that web’s self-defined news sources would pass along his “discovery.” And he assumed people would figure out the story’s hoaxiness much more quickly than they actually did — and, then, that the corrective powers of the social web would make that joke clear within the first hour or so after the story went live…

WWW inventor warns against call for comment sections to be placed under Data Rentention Act by Kristine Lowe:

…Berners-Lee said he was concerned about how increased demands for monitoring the web, both from governments looking for greater powers to track down terrorists and companies looking to trade our personal web data for commercial purposes, threatens the very infrastructure of the web.

He described his worry that people in the end will no longer trust and use the web for e.g. researching sensitive things like depression if they fear everything they do online is being monitored…

7 New Educational Startups Founded By Minorities in Tech by Wayne Sutton:

One of today’s most challenging yet promising markets is the educational system. If you want to see startups hungry to disrupt an industry, look no further. Founders are trying to solve the problems plaguing our education system: including reconciling student debt, providing students with the skills required to land a job both before and after graduation, and offering the best course material online regardless of age, location and educational level…

5 things med students can do to engage in social media and medicine by Josh Herigon:

One topic we neglected, however, was what current medical students can do right now to get their foot in the door and begin engaging in the social media and medicine conversation. I had hoped to get to this topic during my panel discussion, but there just weren’t enough hours to cover everything. Below is my attempt to remedy this omission. Here are a few simple things you can do:

Blinding us with science journals by Peter McKnight:

A competitive university culture that discourages the sharing of knowledge has led to the publication of many flawed and fraudulent studies…

The Arrogance of Publishers vs. Academic Culture – Why the Outcome Is Virtually Certain a scholarly kitchen metaphor by Mark Carrigan:

Imagine a situation where homes had no kitchens and utensils were unavailable. We would all be dependent on cafes and restaurants to eat and, it follows, our idea of what it is to prepare food would be exhausted by those working in such a capacity within these establishments. Now introduce kitchens into homes and affordable utensils into shops. Suddenly we can cook meals at home. Obviously the quality of the infrastructure is lower and there’s less expertise. For the sake of the thought-experiment, assume kitchens and utensils appeared suddenly, to an extent profoundly disruptive of established practices of going out for every meal. The meals cooked at home would be of poor quality, probably pragmatically orientated and often imitating (poorly) the meals available in restaurants and cafes.

The Science of Obituaries: Dead Pools, Obits in the Can and More by Arthur S. Brisbane:

Mr. McDonald said The Times currently has 1,500 advance obits in the can – “and we’re adding about 250 a year. Even if you subtract the number of those we’ll publish in a given year – say, 50 – the archive is growing significantly.”…

The Psychological Prerequisites of Punditry by Julian Sanchez (also see response by Andrew Sullivan):

….The nice way to say this is that selects for pundits who have a thick skin—or forces them to quickly develop one. The less nice way to say it is that it forces you to stop giving a shit what other people think. Maybe not universally——you’ll pick out a domain of people whose criticisms are allowed to slip through the armor—but by default….

Four perspectives on communicating your research, and then one more. #EB2012 by William Gunn:

…The most popular sentence of the whole session was “Don’t underestimate your audience’s intelligence, but do underestimate their vocabulary.” In other words, drop the jargon if you want the public to get what you’re saying. …

Filter-then-publish vs. publish-then-filter by Mike Taylor:

…In the face of such a flood of information, no-one can read everything that’s made it through the filters into all their favourite journals. So in practice what actually happens is that each of us filters again – finding relevant publications in a huge range of journals by the social web we’re in: mailing lists, blogs, Twitter, and so on. I believe some people even use FaceBook….

10 Commandments of Twitter for Academics by Katrina Gulliver:

…Twitter is what you make of it, and its flexibility is one of its greatest strengths. I’m going to explain why I have found it useful, professionally and personally, and lay out some guidelines for academics who don’t know where to start….

Fungible by Stijn Debrouwere:

A treatise on fungibility, or, a framework for understanding the mess the news industry is in and the opportunities that lie ahead.

Why Publishers Don’t Like Apps by Jason Pontin:

…But the real problem with apps was more profound. When people read news and features on electronic media, they expect stories to possess the linky-ness of the Web, but stories in apps didn’t really link. The apps were, in the jargon of information technology, “walled gardens,” and although sometimes beautiful, they were small, stifling gardens. For readers, none of that beauty overcame the weirdness and frustration of reading digital media closed off from other digital media. …

The brilliant Joe Weisenthal by Felix Salmon:

Appelbaum is absolutely right that Weisenthal stands apart by starting earlier, writing more, publishing faster. That’s who Joe is. But he’s absolutely wrong that there’s an “intensely competitive world of financial blogging, dominated by young men who work long hours and comment on every new development”. Go on — name a single other financial blogger who fits that description. I’m waiting. There’s the anonymous group blog ZeroHedge, perhaps. But the fact is that Henry Blodget, in hiring and promoting Joe, has succeeded in identifying and harnessing and leveraging a nervous energy which has been there all along. He didn’t start with some kind of inhuman job description and then hire Joe to fill it; he found Joe and then basked in the fruits of encouraging him to simply be his natural self.

River of News — FTW! by Dave Winer:

…I don’t think that fancy layout trumps newness. The name “news” tells you what’s important about news. Newness. So if you follow that clue, it leads you to the obvious conclusion that news should present first the newest bits we have. What’s next? The second newest bits. And third, fourth and so on. permalink
News is one of those things that is that simple. But it takes people a while to get there if they don’t allocate the time to take walks in the park and think about this stuff in an organized way….

Blogging and Kickstarter go together by Dave Winer:

…But once the users can communicate with each other, we will be able to pool our experience, and given enough time, smart users will learn the technology well enough to make the products that (key point here) they know there is demand for. Because they are the ones demanding it….

The Pernicious Myth That Slideshows Drive ‘Traffic’ by Alexis Madrigal:

…If you’re trying to juice page views, your staff will ineluctably be forced to make galleries. Where else can they get a 10x or 20x multiplier on their work? I can guarantee you that will not help you break the kinds of stories or do the kinds of analysis that will keep people coming back. Not only that, but it’s demoralizing to your best people, the ones who want to be out there producing their best work.

Worse, readers may click through your slideshow, but they’ll hate you a liiitttle bit more than they did when they got to the site. And I bet they’ll feel the same way about whatever advertiser was unlucky enough to get stuck on the page with some stupid thing that a reporter did with a little bit of hate in his heart and fingertips. ….

ScienceOnline2012 – interview with David Shiffman

Every year I ask some of the attendees of the ScienceOnline conferences to tell me (and my readers) more about themselves, their careers, current projects and their views on the use of the Web in science, science education or science communication. So now we continue with the participants of ScienceOnline2012. See all the interviews in this series here.

Today my guest is David Shiffman (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 background, scientific education?

I’m originally from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where I learned about the ocean from the Discovery Channel, books, and frequent visits to the Pittsburgh Zoo’s aquarium. After getting SCUBA certified as soon as I was old enough, I started attending SeaCamp, a marine science camp in the Florida Keys. I went there for five consecutive summers as a camper, and eventually worked there as a science instructor. I graduated with distinction in Biology (with a concentration in Marine Science) from Duke University in 2007, after studying abroad on the Great Barrier Reef and spending a semester at Duke’s marine lab in the Outer Banks. I earned my Masters in Marine Biology from the College of Charleston (Charleston, SC) in 2011, and am currently working on my Ph.D. at the University of Miami’s Abess Center for Ecosystem Science and Policy.

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

shark tagging

David and an RJ Dunlap intern restraining an 8 foot lemon shark so that other interns can take samples. The tube in the shark's mouth is a water pump, allowing it to breathe while out of the water.

I’ve always been passionate about (more than a few have called me obsessed with) sharks. My Masters thesis focused on using state-of-the-art techniques to determine what a local shark species was eating and how it fit into the food chain without sacrificing the animal. We found the same results as a series of previous studies that had resulted in sacrificing over 10,000 sharks, and did it by taking only small muscle samples and releasing the animals unharmed. My Ph.D. dissertation will focus on, surprisingly, why sharks matter – specifically, why coral reef shark species in Florida and the Bahamas are important ecologically and economically.

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

Eventually, I see myself doing university-level teaching and research. These days, my time is divided between classwork (yes, technically I’m in the 20th grade, but I still have classes), using social media to educate people about the oceans, planning my dissertation, and tagging sharks in the Florida Keys. Our field program has taken over a thousand high school students and community members out with us to tag sharks and learn about the oceans, and this strong commitment to citizen science and public education is a big part of what attracted me to this lab.

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

I am fascinated by the use of social media to educate people about science and the environment, and to create real conservation policy changes. I’m working with colleagues in Australia to write the first published case study of using twitter to change a government policy that would have harmed an endangered species of shark.

Additionally, I’ve used our lab twitter account (@RJ_Dunlap) to teach marine biology 101 courses. I write a lesson plan, convert it into 140 character chunks (including links to YouTube videos, news articles, research papers, photos, etc) and tweet for about half an hour. A live Q & A follows. We’ve had participants from all over the world.

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

Running my lab (The RJ Dunlap Marine Conservation Program) social media accounts, including a blog, twitter account, and Facebook fan page, is half of my research assistantship for my Ph.D., and social media will actually be a part of my dissertation. I’m going to use advanced twitter analytical tools to track how science and conservation ideas spread across the world via twitter.

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?

Andrew Thaler, the Southern Fried Scientist, was my roommate at Duke and we’ve been close friends since. He attended Science Online 2009 and called me excitedly soon after. I started blogging on Southern Fried Science right after that, and joined twitter a few months later. At this point, I primarily find new science blogs through my twitter feed. There are so many good ones by Science Online participants and others that it’d be hard for me to name favorites, but as a marine scientist, I’m also sure to keep up with Deep Sea News. In addition to throwing legendary Science Online parties, those folks have their finger on the pulse of the marine science and conservation world.

What was the best aspect of ScienceOnline2012 for you? Any suggestions for next year? 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, blog-reading and blog-writing?

I always leave Science Online inspired to try new things in the social media world, and this year was no exception. A University of Miami colleague and I are going to try to start a podcast based on Alok’s workshop.

Thank you for the interview. Looking forward to seeing you again next January (if not before – tagging sharks in Florida)!

Outreach, activism and persuasion at ScienceOnline2012

Much of science communication is not trying to be “objective” and present “both sides”, but rather is an attempt to educate, inform and persuade, sometimes working against the forces of pseudoscience and quackery. We have a series of sessions helping you navigate these waters.

You Got Your Politics in My Science (discussion) – John Timmer and Stephanie Zvan

Like it or not, anyone involved in communicating science will end up facing decisions about where the boundary lies between basic reporting and advocacy. Some scientific findings, like those surrounding the safety and efficacy of vaccination, call out for public education and political action. The U.S. government is the largest source of funding in many fields, which inextricably links science to policy decisions. And this year sees a U.S. presidential election in which there are stark differences in the acceptance of basic science between many candidates. Where is the boundary between informing about science–including its attendant politics–and advocating? When is advocacy appropriate? Is it even possible to avoid it? And how can staking out positions on issues unrelated to science (perhaps on Twitter or Facebook) influence how your professional work as a science communicator or scientist is perceived?

Networking Beyond the Academy (discussion) – Nancy Parmalee and Summer Ash

So you’ve been at the bench for a decade and now you’d like to branch out. Is your passport in order? Do you speak the language? What is the exchange rate for academic currency? A discussion of transferable skills, cultural and linguistic differences, and navigating a different world. Topics of interest: staying abreast of happenings  outside of the academy, using your network to find opportunities, figuring out how to be great once you get there.

Covering Political Neuroscience in the Blogosphere (discussion) – Chris Mooney and Andrea Kuszewski

Recent research suggests that liberals and conservatives differ, in a measurable way, in brain structure and function. Yeah. Think about that. This work is far from phrenology, but interpreting its meaning is difficult and contentious. And indeed, given the massively controversial nature of this research, how can science bloggers contribute measure and sanity to the discussion of it? What caveats are necessary? What declarations are supportable? For it is not like this work is going away. Rather, we can expect more and more of these types of studies—of political phenotypes, of bio-politics—to emerge.

Citizens, experts, and science (discussion) – Amy Freitag and Janet Stemwedel

This session hopes to explore the “third wave of science” or “democratizing science” as we move beyond recognizing trained scientists as the sole source of authoritative, objective expertise. We will discuss some examples of how citizens can get involved in the scientific process – both in terms of where in the process (idea generation through analysis) and how (web access, in the field, etc.). Finally, we will cover what ethical questions must be addressed as this movement towards participatory science broadens.
– use of the web as a citizen science tool for data collection and beyond
– including citizens in the scientific process from idea generation to analysis and outreach
– ethics (who gets credit/authorship, where do you publish, etc.)
– Academic rewards for participating in participatory science
– conversations on blogs as early review
– who qualifies as an “expert” and what criteria do we use

Blogging Science While Female (discussion) – Christie Wilcox and Janet Stemwedel

The session on women in science blogging at Science Online 2011 sparked internet-wide discussion about sexism, discrimination and gender representation in science and science blogging. Now here we are, a year later. How have we, as a community, faced the issues brought up by last year’s discussion? What has changed? What have we learned, and what challenges still lie ahead? Moderators and attendees will assess the current state of women in the science blogosphere and discuss the best way we can support and encourage gender representation in science blogging.

Understanding audiences and how to know when you are *really* reaching out (discussion)- Kevin Zelnio and Emily Finke

Who is your audience? Do you write for anyone who will listen or do you target specific groups? How do you know you are reaching anyone? How do you address audience ignorance without making your audience feel ignorant? This session will explore taking a science communication pluralism approach to maximize the number of audiences we can reach. Some writers want to reach other scientists or professionals in their fields, some view their online activities as “broader impact” or outreach, while others write for publishing outlets and others write for whoever pays attention! Audiences are segregated by age class, geography, career, background knowledge and other random interests and often use widely different social networks for finding, aggregating an sharing content. How can we manage the balance of voice, scientific accuracy and tailoring content to appeal to a wider variety of audiences? How can we best communicate to different audiences without making anyone feel either ignorant or bored? Let’s discuss how science writers craft their content to cater to more than one audience, how they can address lack of basic background knowledge, how social networking is utilized and can be further harnessed and whether social media (and which types) make any difference in pimping your content out for a broader reach. What are the appropriate metrics to measure impact across a diverse array of audiences and more importantly what metrics do we need that are currently not available or accessible on freely available web stats software?

Broadening the Participation of Underrepresented Populations in Online Science Communication and Communities (discussion) – Danielle Lee

How are you using your skills in online communication to engage students and/or fellow scientists from underrepresented groups? How do you feel about the unusual digital divide: while texting is used more by underrepresented groups, does that compromise writing skills? How can non-minority allies cultivate and retain minority students into the sciences? Are credibility and authenticity necessary for mentoring minorities? Women scientist bloggers have been increasingly successful in creating a supportive online community that addresses their needs – what are the challenges for scientist-bloggers from underrepresented groups? More generally, and in the spirit of Dr. King, how has the web been used for nonviolent protesting and influencing culture?

Science Communication, Risk Communication, and the role of Social Networks (discussion) – David Ropeik

As important as it is for science communicators to provide clear, relevant, accurate information, people’s views about climate change or vaccines or genetically modified food or chemicals or nuclear power, or so many other health and safety issues, are a blend of conscious reasoning about the factual evidence, and subconscious emotional interpretation of that evidence. The subjective nature of risk perception, which shapes the choices people make as individuals and together as a society, raises unique challenges and ethical issues for science communicators. At a time of rising science denialism, as researchers in Italy face manslaughter charges for how they handled risk communication around the 2009 L’Aquila earthquake, with the debate about climate change raging, this is a critically important issue. Topics to explore include: Why do people’s fears so often not match the evidence? What is the ethical obligation of science communication about risk? What is the latest research on risk perception? How can we integrate this research into science communication training? How does social media amplify or attenuate perceived risk?

Blogging to save the world: Conservation biology and social media (discussion) – David Shiffman and Neil Hammerschlag

Students, researchers, and staff from the University of Miami’s RJ Dunlap Marine Conservation Program will discuss how their lab uses social media tools to educate people about the marine environment and how they use these tools to encourage science-based conservation policies. The discussion will include using Twitter to teach ‘introduction to marine biology lectures’ online, webinars and other free online resources for educators, a ‘virtual expedition’, and more. Additionally, the speakers will share their personal experiences using social media to generate support for conservation-friendly policy changes using petitions, encouraging people to contact policymakers directly, and other techniques. We will also discuss the strengths and weaknesses of social media technology as it applies to conservation biology in general, as well as the future of these tools for this purpose.

Science writing in and for developing nations (discussion) – Grant Jacobs and Madhusudan Katti

To what extent might good science coverage improve the lot of the so-called ‘developing’ nations, what practical steps might help achieve this, what are the needs of science writers/journalists in those locations, etc. This topic may seem to clash with the demographics of those attending scio with most attendees coming from North America, the UK & Europe, but it’s topic that appeals to a wish to improve the lot of “developing” nations. It also appeals in that I’ve seen so little discussion of science writing/journalism in developing nations. I’m taking ‘developing nations’ very loosely here to allow for examples from nations that might be considered further developed than the poorest of the poor. In Western nations we rally against pseudoscience and poor reporting of science. For developing nations these issues run deeper. Would it be idealism to aspire to shift the mindsets of those in pivotal positions in those nations? Mindsets are, in many respects, the hardest thing to shift and practical initiatives can come to nothing if the will and want to use them isn’t there. Would these nations be helped by media there showing “heroes” in sound science and practical science-based applications? Is there a gap in who traditional media reach (think of low literacy in these nations) – would alternative communication be more effective? (Travelling seminars, perhaps?) What case examples might serve as prototypes? What organisations will, or might, support ventures like these?

Can Democracy Still Work in the Age of Science? (discussion) – Shawn Otto

Jefferson’s central idea of democracy is that “whenever the people are well-informed, they can be trusted with their own government.” Jefferson thought it required “no very high degree” of education for people to be well-enough informed. But what happens in a world dominated by complex science? Are the people still well-enough informed to be trusted with their own government? Why or why not? Today, science is under political attack like never before. At the same time, science impacts almost every aspect of modern life, and is poised to create more knowledge in the next 40 years than in all of recorded history. Can we expect attacks to increase or lessen? Why is this happening? Why is it so much worse in the United States than the UK or EU? Why are people the world over protesting against both autocratic and democratic governments? Can democracy survive the rush of science? We’ll compare strategies scientists and journalists can use online and off to manage these emerging science challenges – together with a world of unsolved legacy environmental science challenges – for science and better public policy.

Learn more:

Homepage
Blog
Planning Wiki
Draft Program
See who’s registered
Waitlist sign-up
Facebook page
FriendFeed group
Tumblr coverage blog
Google Plus official page
Google Plus circle of participants
Twitter account
#scio12 hashtag
Twitter repository
Twitter list of participants
Previous conferences
Nice things people said about ScienceOnline2010
ScienceOnline2011 on YouTube
ScienceOnline2011 on Flickr
ScienceOnline2011 official recordings

Previously in this series:

What is: ScienceOnline2012 – and it’s coming soon!
ScienceOnline participants’ interviews
Some updates on #scio12, #NYCscitweetup, Story Collider and more.
Updates: ScienceOnline2012, Science blogging, Open Laboratory, and #NYCSciTweetup
ScienceOnline2012 – we have the Keynote Speaker!
Mathematics – Algebra and Statistics and more – at ScienceOnline2012
Information, data and technology at ScienceOnline2012
Health and Medicine at ScienceOnline2012
Education at ScienceOnline2012
Movies and Video at ScienceOnline2011
Sound and Music at ScienceOnline2012
Visual Communication at ScienceOnline2012
Submissions for the Cyberscreen Science Film Festival are now OPEN!
Scientists and the Media, at ScienceOnline2012
Writing, narrative and books at ScienceOnline2012

The Fracking Song

My Water’s On Fire Tonight is a video that went viral back in May. It is a production of Studio 20 students in the NYU school of journalism (Music by David Holmes and Andrew Bean, Vocals by David Holmes and Niel Bekker, Animation by Adam Sakellarides and Lisa Rucker) in collaboration with ProPublica, as part of their Explainer project.

What I particularly like about this video is that it has two explaining “levels”. The video itself is sufficient enough to briefly inform and educate about the issue of fracking. But, if anyone wants to learn more (or has problems with some of the statements in the video due to ideological biases), one only needs to look at the lyrics which are posted on the Explainer site and linked at the YouTube video itself. The lyrics contain links to in-depth ProPublica articles that support each of the statements made in the video. A thorough reader can go from these and dig even deeper, looking at primary sources identified in the articles, and so on.

Here are the lyrics (with links) so you can see for yourself:

Fracking is a form of natural gas drilling
An alternative to oil cause the oil kept spilling
Bringing jobs to small towns so everybody’s willing
People turn on their lights and the drillers make a killing

Water goes into the pipe, the pipe into the ground
The pressure creates fissures 7,000 feet down
The cracks release the gas that powers your town
That well is fracked….. Yeah totally fracked

But there’s more in the water than just H2O
Toxic chemicals help to make the fluid flow
With names like benzene and formaldehyde
You better keep ‘em far away from the water supply

The drillers say the fissures are a mile below
The groundwater pumped into American homes
But don’t tell it to the residents of Sublette Wy-O
That water’s fracked…. We’re talking Benzene…

What the frack is going on with all this fracking going on
I think we need some facts to come to light
I know we want our energy but nothing ever comes for free
I think my water’s on fire tonight

So it all goes back to 2005
Bush said gas drillers didn’t have to comply
with the Safe Drinking Water Act, before too long
It was “frack, baby, frack” until the break of dawn.

With the EPA out it was up to the states
But they didn’t have the money to investigate
Sick people couldn’t prove fracking was to blame
All the while water wells were going up in flames

Cause it’s hard to contain all the methane released
It can get into the air, it can get into the streams.
It’s a greenhouse gas, worse than CO2
Fracking done wrong could lead to climate change too

Now it’s not that drillers should never be fracking
But the current regulation is severely lacking
Reduce the toxins, contain the gas and wastewater
And the people won’t get sick and the planet won’t get hotter

What the frack is going on with all this fracking going on
I think we need some facts to come to light
I know we want our energy but nothing ever comes for free
I think my water’s on fire tonight.

What does it mean that a nation is ‘Unscientific’?

I first wrote and published this blog post on December 22, 2009. I thought I’d re-publish it here, on the new blog, in light of the recent discussion on the network about scientists communicating to the public (see Social Media for Scientists Part 1: It’s Our Job, Social Media for Scientists Part 2: You Do Have Time., Science communication? I wish it were that easy…, On Naïveté Among Scientists Who Wish to Communicate and Social Media for Scientists Part 2.5: Breaking Stereotypes). It’s long, so take your time, perhaps print it out or save on Instapaper if you have difficulty reading it all on screen.

If a publisher offered me a contract to write a book under a title that would be something like “Unscientific America”, how would I go about it?

I would definitely be SUCH a scientist! But, being such a scientist does not mean indulging in Sesquipedalian Obscurantism.

Being such a scientist means being dilligent, thorough and systematic in one’s reasearch. And then being excited about presenting the findings, while being honest about the degree of confidence one can have in each piece of information.

I was not offered a book contract, and I do not have the resources and nine or twelve months to write such a book. But in the next couple of hours days I will write a blog post (this one, I am just starting) thinking through the methodology I would use for such a project, musing about difficulties, jotting down notes and – this being a blog – asking readers for links to information that can either reinforce or challenge my hypotheses. So please follow me under the fold…..

Reasons and Goals and Target Audience

Why write such a book? What is the reason a publisher would want to invest in it? What’s the point?

I assume that the motivation comes from seeing a distressing world in which Global Warming Denialists, anti-vaccination mobs, Creationists, Animal Rights activists, opponents of genetically-modified food, and other anti-science forces are having far too much effect – most definitely a negative, potentially disastrous effect – on local, national and international policies. The book should be an exploration for the causes of such a situation and then should derive the possible remedies from the identified causes.

The authors of Unscientific America, Am I Making Myself Clear? and Don’t Be Such a Scientist are pretty explicit about the target audience for their books being scientists.

This implies (and the content of all three books supports this implication) that reaching the goal is in the hands of scientists ONLY (and implicitly out of jurisdiction of anyone else). But this implication should not be a starting point of the book. It is one of the several possible alternative hypotheses that the books should be testing, and the results of the investigation may or may not lead to accepting this result. Work needs to be done first.

Thus I would do the research first and only in the end, once I come to some conclusions, would I decide who is the most appropriate target audience, i.e., which groups of people have potentially the greatest power to effect change in a positive direction. Then I’d write a book specifically for them.

Definitions of Terms

For a longer piece of writing, like a book, it is essential to precisely define the key terms in the beginning and then to stick to those definitions throughout. Doing this prevents one from falling into a trap of shifting one’s working definitions from chapter to chapter because it’s easier (e.g., there is more information out there to discuss).

The key term for this project is the word “unscientific” (and its opposite “scientific”). How would I define it in the light of the Reasons And Goals I outlined above?

There are several candidate definitions that people explicitly or implicitly use in books, papers or blog posts on the topic. Let’s take a look.

1) An unscientific nation is one in which most citizens do not do well on tests of scientific facts.
2) An unscientific nation is one in which most citizens do not understand the Scientific Method and the way scientists really work.
3) An unscientific nation is one in which most citizens do not have trust in scientists, physicians and scientific institutions.

All three of these definitions are important and potentially useful for different projects. But are they useful for this particular project?

I’d say No. Why? Because the Reasons And Goals of the project are to figure out why some nations do not base policy on science. These three definitions focus on, I think, the wrong population: all citizens. And thus they are likely to come up with wrong solutions (better science education, better science popularization/communication, etc.). But it is not all citizens who enact policies. It is their governments who do so. So, for the purposes of my project, I would use a definition somewhat like this:

4) An unscientific nation is one in which the government is not Reality Based.

While it is unfortunate that countries are decision-makers on global policies, that is the reality right now and we need to work within a reality framework. There are also many other science-related policies that are not necessarily global but affect the lives, health and productivity of the citizens of an individual country, so the nation (aka it’s government) is, for now, the appropriate place to focus on.

And the project should also study the way the definitions 1 through 3 relate to Definition 4. And thus explore how other sub-populations outside the government (including, among others, working scientists), can influence the governmental policies.

Once decided on the working definition, I’d write it on a Post-It note and stick it on my monitor, always being reminded of it, not allowing myself to switch to any seductive alternatives.

Methodology

Governments are groups of people. Writing laws and enacting policies (and all the politicking and decision-making and horse-trading that goes into it) are behaviors of people. Thus I would study the behavior of governments using the demonstrably best framework for the study of any behavior – Niko Tinbergen’s Four Questions (PDF).

To refresh your memory, Tinbergen’s four questions are:

1) Mechanism:
– defining the behavior
– describing the behavior
– describing the underlying mechanisms of behavior at all levels of organization from molecules to neurons to organ systems to organisms to populations.

2) Ontogeny
– development of the behavior
– timing (during one’s lifetime or daily/seasonal) of behavior
– is the behavior instinctive or due to learning

3) History
– how and from what precursors did the behavior evolve
– was the behavior directly selected for or a by-product of selection for something else or a more-or-less random effect of genetic drift
– what kinds of environments have, in the past, resulted in the appearance of the behavior

4) Function
– is the behavior adaptive, maladaptive or neutral
– are there situations in which an adaptive behavior becomes maladaptive

Behavior of policy-making governments is a little bit different from the behavior of seagulls and sicklebacks, so I would have to rephrase some of these ideas somewhat, while keeping true to the spirit of the Four Questions.

The first two (mechanism and ontogeny) are also known as Proximate Causes, asking the How questions. The latter two (History and Function) are known as Ultimate Causes, asking the Why questions. Those who have studied the history of Behavioral Biology know that research projects based on Tinbergen’s framework are necessarily Integrative (asking the question from many angles at many levels of organization) and Comparative (asking the question from many related species).

Making an exciting finding in Drosophila melanogaster is not an answer to a basic biological question – it is a hypothesis that can only be tested by doing the same research in a bunch of other species. This can tell us if the finding is generalizable (thus fundamental) or is it just a quirk of Drosophila melanogaster.

Likewise, study of only one nation, e.g., United States, is not sufficient. Only a comparison with other nations can tell us if the analysis of the American situation is insightful for studying the question of “national unscientificness” or if it is just a unique quirk of this country alone.

Mechanism

Let’s start with the definition again: “An unscientific nation is one in which the government is not Reality Based.”

What does that mean? How does such a government operate?

An unscientific government is one that does not tackle the world as it is, but through wishful thinking and ideology. It is impervious to logic, uninterested in data and does not keep empirical knowledge in any regard. It prefers decisions made “from the gut” to those made by studying the world with one’s brain and devising realistic policies meant to fix real problems. It is essentially posturing (to voters, for example, as needed for re-election, or to political opponents, or to leaders of other countries) coupled with treating one’s own emotional problems (often related to power and a hierarchical view of the world). It usually but not always operates independently of any outside influences (voters, academics, media, etc.) because it can.

The flip side is a Scientific government. It is not necessarily scientistic or technocratic, just Reality Based. It attempts to figure out as best it can how the world really works, what is the real source of the problem, and what policy is most likely to fix the problem. Often this process entails getting information from experts on the way the world really works, which are often scientists. They will get the most reliable information, build the most realistic models, and figure out actions that are most likely to result in the solution to the problem. Such a government would not always follow exactly what scientists suggest – they are elected to their best in governing a country, so they will have to take into account other considerations, e.g., political consideration (can we sell this to voters), economic consideration (can we afford to do this) and foreign policy consideration (will we make some countries enemies if we do this). Thus art of the compromise comes in, but it is based on reality – it is not an ideological compromise.

And such a government does not just consult science, but acts like a scientist in a sense. A new law or regulation is not writ in stone, but is regarded as an experiment. Once enacted, the new policy is continuously monitored and measured for effectiveness and if necessary modified, replaced or removed.

Ontogeny

Let’s start with the definition again: “An unscientific nation is one in which the government is not Reality Based.”

How does a country get a government like this? How does a country get any kind of government? It can happen slowly (election, of succession of royalty), or abruptly (a coup or revolution or outside invasion).

Or, to be more precise, how does a country get its policies made?

What is really essential to bear in mind is the level of independence of the government – how much are they forced to listen to the voice of the people. An Emperor or King or Generalissimus does not need to listen to the people. He can make any laws or policies he wants. Some such dictators make it very clear that the punishment for even the mildest dissent will be painful (see Ceausescu for a historical example). Others are much better at using the power of the state, including the schools and the media, to get the population to love them and thus willingly support everything they do (see Tito for a historical example).

On the other extreme of the spectrum are countries in which elections are frequent and the voters have the power to remove one from the government pretty swiftly – the countries with perpetual ‘campaign mode’ in politics.

And there is an entire continuum in-between.

So we have two main players here: the government and the population it governs.

We have four possible combinations of ‘scientificness’ of the two players: scientific government + unscientific voters, scientific government + scientific voters, unscientific government + unscientific voters and unscientific government + scientific voters. In which ‘scientificness’ is used in the sense of “Reality-Based” for the government and in the sense of Definition 3 (trust in scientists and scientific institutions) for the voters.

And then we have the long spectrum of the influence of the population on the government ranging from zero to all.

If both the government and the voters are scientific, it does not matter how much the government has to listen to the voters – it will do the right thing.

If both the government and the voters are unscientific, it also does not matter how much the government has to listen to the voters – it will do the wrong thing anyway.

But if the government is scientific and voters are not, then it takes an independent, courageouos or strong government to do the right thing despite the will of the people.

And if the government is unscientific but voters are scientific, it takes a tentative, voter-dependent government in perpetual ‘campaign mode’ to be persuaded to do the right thing despite their own instincts and beliefs.

OK, this is a simple, two-element model. It is a scaffolding on which to build more complex yet more realistic models. Of course there are other players involved, those who can push either the government or the people in the direction of greater or lesser ‘scientificness’:

Industry – often new scientific data suggest that the industry needs to change the way it does its business, e.g., to reduce negative environmental impact, or to reduce negative health effects on their employees or customers. In a country in which the economic and financial systems are set up in a way that rewards only short-term profits (or worse, rely on bad proxy numbers like the value of stocks in the stock market which is, remember, the market of second-hand stocks traded by others, not by companies themselves), then the industry will have to resist Reality-Based solutions and will try to affect the governmental policies in that direction.

They can do that via lobbyists in some countries, or more directly (during a golf game with their buddies in the government) in other places. Or they can try indirectly – trying to persuade the people (if the people are deemed influential in that country) directly or via influence on the media (during a golf-game with the star TV pundit, or by building a PR machine – read that link!!!).

In other countries, though, the particular industry may be government-run, or may be persuadable by people or the media to quickly adopt science-based solutions without risking much in the market-place. It all depends on the way the economy is set up.

National Academy of Sciences and other scientific institutions (or even individual scientists) will have a much greater voice in the the policy-making process in some countries than in others. Where not having direct influence on the government, they may try to work indirectly, persuading the people via media or other venues.

Media is another important player here. It has the power to influence the voters, and also has the power to influence the industry leaders and the governments. How? The government thinks that the media presents the view of the people. The people think that the media presents the view of the government. The latter are, in many countries (most notably in the USA) correct. The media writes what it thinks the government thinks. And government reads the media to find out what the people think yet only finds the reflection of itself and is satisfied to find the will of the people so wonderfully aligned with their own. Add some PR machinery or direct money from the industry to the leaders of the media, and their interests miraculously become the “voice of the people” that the government will be happy to go along with. This is a short and condensed version of an important argument, to which I will return a little later (if you have the patience to read this post to the very end).

Religious organizations are a very powerful lobby in some countries, often, but not always, on the anti-science side of things.

So, it is a model with a number of players and in each country the power-dynamics between them are different: who can persuade whom, the final executor of the resulting decision of all these players being the national government which then, in cases like Climate Change or global pandemics, has to enter a higher-level field, negotiating with other governments which all have different kinds and intensities of fire aimed at their toes at home.

To summarize: the development and enactment (“ontogeny”) of policy decisions depends on relative power of various players, the key player being the government. The ‘relative power’, or ‘independence’ means ability to influence or overpower other players while at the same time being immune to the influence by the other players.

History

Let’s start with the definition again: “An unscientific nation is one in which the government is not Reality Based.”

So, if the ontogeny of each policy decision is dependent on the relative power and relative ‘scientificness’ of all the involved players, how does such a system, with those particular power-relations evolve, i.e., come to be over time? What kinds of events, or actions (by whom?), produce change in the system?

Who gets to be in the government? Who gets to be an industry leader? Who gets to be a talking head on TV? What are their backgrounds? Ideologies? Do they get better science education than the rest of the population or is the educational system equal for everyone?

Education – not just science education, but more importantly education that fosters critical thinking and openness to new ideas, is an important factor in developing ‘scientificness’ (in the sense of being Reality Based) in different segments of the society. Is there such an educational system in a particular nation? For all or just for the the chosen few (rich and powerful)?

Education is important, but not a be-all and end-all of it. After all, people have received PhDs in geology or evolutionary biology and still remained Creationists.

Ideological and religious background can trump all education, through mental filters of various kinds.

Does knowing scientific facts make one more likely to be Reality Based? Perhaps a little, but is it enough to spread through the population and lead to a strong pro-science voice?

Does understanding the Scientific Method make one Reality Based? Perhaps a little, but is it enough to spread through the population and lead to a strong pro-science voice?

Can the school have any effect on the level of trust one has in scientists and scientific institutions? Probably very little….

How much critical-thinking and scientific education of the population actually translates into reality-based policies enacted by their government is something that needs to be studied. I expect that this will differ between countries and will, in the end, not make much of a difference.

After all, tests of scientific trivia across many countries do not show great differences between countries (the results are pretty bad everywhere), yet the scientificness of their governments’ policies vary hugely.

Keep reading, I’ll explain why I think that a little later….

It is in the answering the History question (of the Tinbergen’s four questions) that the Comparative Method really comes to the fore. By studying a behavior across many species one can figure out if the behavior, wherever it occurs, is the result of evolutionary history going back deep in time, tracing back to some ancient ancestor of all the studied species. That behavior is than retained in all extanct species because it either remains adaptive or because, even though not very useful any more, it is not maladaptive enough to be selected against. And if it does disappear from some lineages, we can ask what environmental forces led to their disapperance (selection against it or random event). On the other hand, we can figure out if the behavior emerges independently, over and over again, in every species that finds itself in a particular environment – that tells us something not just about history but also about Function of that behavior.

So, focusing here only on the ‘scientificness’ of the United States is blind. One has to analyze a number of other countries, their current policies, their histories and how they got to where they are now. This is a big project, but I am sure that researchers in other nations have done studies of their own homelands and published their findings.

It’s just that we here in the US tend not to pay attention to those.

I do not assert that I have any expertise on the matter, but I can provide anecdotally a view from one other country as an illustration, and perhaps as a motivation to others to conduct relevant studies in various countries and then do head-to-head comparisons.

I grew up in Yugoslavia. It is several countries now, but culturally they are all similar so for the sake of this argument, I can pretty much use Yugoslavia and Serbia interchangeably in this example.

It was a country where garbage was on the streets. Black smoke was proudly emanating from the factory smoke-stacks. The patriarchal machismo saw Nature as something to be exploited and conquered.

I went to Serbia a few months ago. Belgrade is spotlessly clean and beautiful. What happened in the elapsed time?

First, there was a switch from socialism (though a strange, market-based socialism) to capitalism. Brand-new, still unregulated capitalism to which people are not used to (and don’t yet know how to play the game, or feel that it is not even ethical to try playing that game) breeds insecurity, which inflames nationalism and empowers religion.

Second, there was a decade of wars, and sanctions, and anti-government demonstrations not noticed by the West, and being a pariah, and being presented as criminals in the international press, and being a bargaining tool between the superpowers. And then getting bombed at the end of it all. And then the internal political fights and sending Milosevic to The Hague. With all that pounding over so many years, all the machismo is gone.

Look at these two guys:

They live in Eastern Serbia. The first thing they asked me when I got off the bus in their town (Milosevic’s hometown) was “are you one of those communists?”. I had to think fast: what communists – 19th century Marxists, Tito-era communists, Milosevic-style communists, current powerless/marginalized Communist party? Then I smiled – I realized they used the word “communist” as a synonym for “government”. I could say I was not and be true to it. They are anti-government royalists! They support the church not because they are very religious, but because it is the only institution that really cares about national pride of Serbs. They want a King not because they love the guy so much but because they cannot stomach the insecurity that comes with frequent changes in the government that naturally flow from having regular democratic elections. They crave stability (who could blame them after the crazy 1990s!), hopefully headed by an iron-fisted ruler who will sit in his palace, looking beautiful in his kingly dress, for decades without change.

If they lived in the USA they would be extreme Right, perhaps teabaggers. And totally anti-science on every issue from Climate Change to Creationism. A perfect example, seen in every country in the world, of the tension between city and country (that leads to so many wars!).

Yet, they are actually scientists. Furthermore, they are die-hard environmentalists. They do research on how to recycle some nasty industrial byproducts. And they made it their lives’ main goal to teach kids to think like environmentalists, with several projects involving local schools. For them, being an environmentalist and making and keeping Serbia clean and not contributing to global warming is a matter of national pride.

I am still kicking myself in the butt for forgetting my camera one day in Belgrade when I encountered a garbage can that had an inscription, in black marker (obviously written by a neighbor) appealing to national pride. It said something along the lines of “If you are a true Serb, you will not put recyclables in this trash can – the recycling container is in the back yard”.

Edit, October 6th, 2011: Bothered by this omission, when I visited Belgrade again two years later, and almost two years since I wrote this post, I made a point of going again to that part of town, walking up that street, finding that house, entering the hallway and taking the pictures – it says “Brothers Serbs!!!, do not throw trash bags and bottles into this can”:

Somebody, at some point over the past decade, had a great idea to harness national pride in the pursuit of environmental goals, devised a PR campaign towards that goal – and succeeded. I will have to figure out how that exactly happened. If I figure it out, I promise to blog about it.

Nikola Tesla being a Serb is a matter of national pride. The results of scientific research from nuclear physics to maize genetics are a matter of national pride. Petnica is a matter of national pride (which explained why the defunding of it was vigorously and successfully fought by the people). Being an intellectual, a prolific reader, and someone who can discuss Selfish Gene at the bar are matters of national pride. Serbs are supposed to be smart and educated. None of that anti-intellectualism stuff – we are Europeans with a long intellectual and scientific tradition.

Does it mean people are actually well educated in science? I am not sure what is the state of science education right now, but when I was in school there was TONS of science in the classroom – but taught as factoids. By the time I graduated high school I had behind me eight years of physics, eight years of chemistry, eight years of biology (also a year each of ecology, microbiology, molecular biology, botany and zoology due to my occupational tracking), eight years of geography (including basics of cosmology, geology, meteorology and oceanography), and twelve years of math. But we barely had any labs. And we never really tackled Scientific Method much. And we did not have it presented in any kind of historical or philosophical context. We did learn detailed biographies of Darwin and Tesla and Pupin and Milankovich and Pancich, but in a hero-mode of history. So, yes, we learned a lot of facts, and we learned to admire a few scientific geniuses (especially if they were from our homeland), but we did not really learn any critical thinking skills from it.

Thus, Serbs can talk at length about science, yet not always be critical about it. They fall oh-so-easily for scientific-sounding gibberish, from astrology to medical quackery, despite having a huge repository of science-trivia knowledge typical of Eastern European educational systems. They reject Creationism because Darwin is a hero and believing in evolution is a mark of an educated European (likewise for Climate Change – it is what educated people are supposed to understand and support, not fight against like the Troglodytes do), but they are not really able (like citizens of any country, really) to be fully skeptical of pseudoscientific ideas that sound scientific on the surface.

There are currently strong voices against getting vaccinated for swine flu. But the reasons are different than in the USA. The typical Jenny McCarthy autism-vaccine quasi-connection is not strong there. They reject the vaccine because it comes from the West. And West is always suspect. What is the Western interest in selling us the vaccines? Are they trying to poison us? Is it warfare? The scars are too fresh.

But then Dr.Kon comes on TV and tells them to get vaccinated and why they should do so. And they believe him (well, he is on TV all the time!). He is a premier authority on epidemiology there. And scientists there have authority. And they are trusted. Thus when the government wants to enact policies that are Reality Based and require the people to change their habits (as in many environmental issues), the government invites academics to speak and uses those academics as authorities they rely on for enacting such policies.

Last time I was there, I watched a long (2 hours long) show on TV that everyone was glued to. About swine flu and vaccines. Who was in the studio? Dr.Kon. And a few other physicians. And a bunch of medical students. The only person in the studio who was obviously uneducated and dumb was the moderator from the TV station (I later heard, from one of the participants, that she was even drinking during the breaks). No politicians. No representatives of politically-motivated nay-saying groups. Facts only wanted, thus experts only. And it was still a contentious and occasionally downright aggressive debate – experts debating fine points of timing of vaccines, how many, which kind of vaccine, who should get it first, etc.

And that kind of show is not unique there. Scientists, physicians, academics are often in the media, revered and trusted as relevant sources of expertise on the information how the world really works and what are the most likely actions that can potentially solve a problem. There have always been science and nature shows on TV and nobody ever thought that watering down the language was needed – the audience understood, or understood enough. And was fascinated. And believed it all. And loved it. And kept the love and reverence for science for the rest of their lives.

In a nation in which it is perfectly normal that the local drunk sitting at the bar is reading Feynman while drowning sorrow in slivovitz, where bookstores are full of books about science and nature (and philosophy! – it’s big there), where the media is full of science and reveres scientists (while the anti-science cranks are mostly ignored, never invited, or laughed at), where the government takes the academics’ word as law – is it surprising that people trust scientists and encourage the government to enact science-based solutions to problems even if they don’t truly understand them?

Both this year and last year when I visited Belgrade I gave multiple radio interviews (a few of those were hour-long) and a brief TV interview (where I met ubiqutous Dr.Kon who was also on the same show right after me). Thus I had a chance to chat with a lot of media people there and discuss the state of the media and journalism in today’s world.

Of course, as people everywhere are wont to do, they complained about the state of Serbian media. Did they forget the state it was in during Milosevic era? I tried to tell them how for me, looking from the outside, it looked perfectly good. I watched the TV there and noticed that TV anchors called a spade a spade and were very well informed about the issues they were talking about.

For example, back in 2008 there were many TV debates ahead of the elections. The anchor would not ask “Can you explain your economic plan?” in an open-ended manner, let the candidate trot our talking points and then, like Wolf Blitzer, say Let’s leave it there. They would say something like this “When one runs the math on your economic proposal, one finds out that it would lead to X number of jobs lost, X billion in lost revenue, X billion in budget deficit, and X percent of inflation. How can you propose such a destructive plan?”. When the candidate tries to weasel out, the anchor turnes to the opposing candidate and says “What do you think?” and gives him 30 minutes to actually DO the math on air, totally destroying the bad proposal, leaving the opponent to fume and the audience to laugh. Then she turns to that other candidate and does the same grill on him. One with a more reasonable plan that survives the math and on-air dissection wins. And probably wins the election. How it should be done. And – even when it comes to economics – Reality rules the day. Facts. Numbers. Logic.

So I would tell my media friends about it and say that is so much better than the US media. To which they laughed – “What US media? US does not have media!”. And then they would explain to me how in the US there may be something that superficially looks like media because it uses the same technological channels – the technology of TV, radio and newspapers. But that what goes through those channels has no resemblance to journalism. It is a combination of entertainment (bread and circuses for the masses) and propaganda for whichever President’s strings are currently being pulled by the military-industrial complex.

Ouch!

I guess looking from the outside, one is able to see more clearly….

From their point of view, US foreign policy is what matters. From that point of view there is not much difference between Republicans and Democrats – they are both involved in the American imperialist project (oops, “American interests abroad”). Remember that Bush Sr. screwed up the region at the time when it could still be saved, and that then Clintonistas came in, ignorant of the local history, geography and politics and did every single thing wrong there, prolonging the war by years resulting in many more dead, wounded and displaced, and ending up bombing Belgrade, while at the same time frustrating the opposition that was trying to get rid of Milosevic and could have done so years earlier if the Democratic U.S. president did not keep interfering. So, differences in domestic policy do not really matter for foreign observers. I guess Serbs were still hopeful, until this week, that at least Obama would be more reliable on Global Warming. Eh. But from their point of view, and rightly so, there is no real media in the US, at least not media that is visible by many Americans and potentially visible to foreigners if one searches really hard.

To summarize, Serbia has a population that possesses a lot of knowledge of science trivia, an honest interest in science, has no idea how science works, has no skeptical skills, yet reveres science and trusts scientists. It is a matter of national pride. And is not aligned with any particular ideology or political party. And it is something that is mirrored by and perpetuated, however imperfectly, by schools, media and government. Thus, despite the population being either scientific or unscientific, depending on which definition one uses (yes on being scientific if using definition #1, no if #2, yes if #3), the country as an entity that really matters here (definition #4) is a Reality-Based one and can easily be so as it is in sync with the voters and the media on this account. And can be so no matter which party is in power there. Most of the parties there (at least serious ones that have a chance of getting elected to govern) are Reality Based enough at least to know they cannot ignore science and reality with impunity.

I am sure my American readers have already done the comparative study in their minds while reading the case of Serbia above. And probably readers from other countries as well. Put your thoughts in the comments, please, so we can all learn more.

Function

Let’s start with the definition again: “An unscientific nation is one in which the government is not Reality Based.”

First question here is: is having a Reality Based government adaptive for the country? Does it do better than if it was not Reality Based?

Ahm. Look at the USA. Reagan years (trickle-down economics), plus Bush Sr. years (voodoo economics), plus Clintonite conservative triangulation followed by devastatingly dangerous Contract On America, and the final nail in the coffin in 2000-2008 with recklessly ideological bullying by the Bush Republicans. It is a testament to natural wealth and the robustness of the US economy that the country still exists and that we are not all literally starving in the streets. Any other country would not be able to survive 30 years of Fairy-Tales-based policy-making and would have been annihilated from within. Yet even America is hurting. Badly. Ask the Afghans and Iraqis.

Ask the tens of millions of poor, unemployed/underemployed and uninsured Americans. Look at the economic numbers. See the environmental devastation we produced.

Policy based on ideology and wishful thinking and “from the gut” is disastrous.

But, just because having a Reality Based government is adaptive does not mean it is a “natural state of things”, thus….

The second question: is the Reality-Based or Unscientific the default state for a nation?

That’s a question that can be thought of in terms of entropy (which of the two extreme states is lower energy, thus easy to attain, while the opposite state requires input of energy) or in terms of an adaptive landscape (which of the two extreme states is on the adaptive peak that requires climbing onto, and which one is in the valley).

In other words, is it natural for a country to be Unscientific and work needs to be done to make it Scientific? Or is it a natural state for a country to be Scientific and work needs to be done to make it Unscientific? This absolutely requires comparative study and a historical study.

If ancient state was Unscientific because there was no science and thus all the nations were originally Unscientific, did some nations become Scientific easily (it’s all downhill so just let it slide) or did it always require a lot of effort? What explains why some nations are still Unscientific, including the USA?

I do not have the answer to that question – it would be a part of the project of book-writing to study the issue and try to come up with an answer. But it is a neccessary question for this project. No prescription can be made without getting an answer to it first.

So, let’s for the sake of the argument assume that the “natural”, low-energy state is somewhere in-between the extreme states. As science progresses and governments want to generally do the best they can for their people, they more and more consult the “experts on reality” i.e., scientists and come up with more and more reality-based solutions.

There will be forces that try to speed up the process. And there will be forces that try to slow down the process. The rate of change will be a resulting vector or the sum of those forces. In each country those forces will have different indentities, strengths and directions, so the rate of movement and the trajectory of movement will be different.

What are some of the likely forces and their relative effectiveness? What factors will influence their effectiveness?

I already talked about Industry above so there’s not much new to say here. If, due to the economic and financial system, they have to pay attention primarily to short-term profits, they will be a force that slows down the process and will use direct line to politicians, or lobbyists, or PR machinery, or will try to
influence the media, whatever it takes to have their way.

Education is an important factor here. How much science is taught? How is it taught? Is the curriculum updated frequently to keep up with the advances of science? Does it teach trivia/facts, or scientific method, or critical thinking, or reverence for hero-scientists? Or does it consist of memorizing some ancient religious book? Who determines the curriculum – a national organization of educational experts, or a locally elected school board composed of who knows who?

While education in itself is no panacea, the populace that is well educated in science will be more receptive to scientific ideas in the media, will not need watering down of language when the science is presented in the media and, indirectly, may be more likely to support governmental initiatives that are demonstrably based on the best current scientific understanding of the world.

Organized Anti-Science Movements are usually allies of, or funded by, political or religious organizations. Thus, they should be treated as such, on a case-by-case basis.

The pseudoscience associated with the political Left is usually fragmented – each with its own organization – and has no influence on the Democratic Party in the USA or on much of public discourse. Chopra-style purveyors of NewAge spiritual woo don’t have any common interests with Animal Rights activists. On the other hand, anti-science movements of the Right are all parts of the same movement, coordinated with each other, and heavily funded by the same conservative network of rich organizations.

Creationists ARE Global Warming Denialists ARE opponents of stem cell research ARE Republican activists and elected officials. Their goal is not just blocking one particular area of science, but a much broader cultural rewinding of the clock. They are the key elements of the Republican party (what is left of it today), not just having an outside influence on it.

Religion tends to be, in most places, a force trying to slow down the progress. But we have to think about this smartly. It is not religion per se, it is religion used as a scaffolding for ideology, an excuse for ideology, and a symbol for rallying the ideological brethren.

Ideology is quite dependent on geography. Liberal ideology tends to thrive in big cities, where diversity of people and their beliefs breeds tolerance, where higher education is abundantly available, and where traveling is something that is done on a regular basis – seeing the world is a great liberalizer. On the other hand, small rural communities tend to be conservative because they are racially, culturally, ideologically and religiously homogeneous. The group cohesion is necessary for daily survival.

Outsiders are potentially disruptive and viewed with suspicion. They are The Other. To be scorned.

So, the more people move from country to city (as industrial revolution engendered) more they become liberalized and more they are likely to embrace reality. Those who stay in the country are more likely to stick to tradition (organized by the local religious institution) and resist disruptive change. If the rural folks perceive a science-based change in policy to be disruptive of their tradition, they will resist it (or, like my Serbian friends above, will embrace it for their own reasons, e.g., national pride).

So the city/country ratio of the country is an important determinant of the potential for a change towards scientificness of the government. Also, the relative voice that city and country have will be a factor. In countries, like USA, in which rural states and counties have disproportionately large representation in Congress, their negative influence on the movement towards Reality Based governance will be greater. In other countries, the intelligentsia that lives in the capital drives the policy and the rural areas are ignored.

Another problem with hiding an ideological resistance to change behind the skirt of religion is that in many places religion is a taboo topic for conversation, including in the media. Thus religion cannot be analyzed, questioned and criticized in public without a huge backlash. Any talk of it makes even some of the liberal seculars nervous who then try to advise the critics to abide by the tradition of silence and keep it quiet – a strategy that historically never worked and only emboldens the regressives to try harder to take control of the government and turn the country into a theocracy. Sunshine is the best disinfectant and cockroaches scurry off when you shine a light on them. Likewise, a silence about religion, and undue “respect” for religion just gives the cowards boldness to try harder to proselytize. Remember they are essentially cowards – afraid of everything new and unfamiliar. Cowards understand the language of force. They can recognize who has the balls and will run away if threatened (oh, sure, they will be yelling loudly while running away, but that can be ignored).

Even the most dry and technical analysis of religion tends to receive a very aggressive counter-response. Is it due to calculated resistance to criticisms that are seen as challenges to tradition, or an incredibly thin skin of the religious, or such a tight identification of the believers with their belief that they are incapable of seeing critiques of ideas as anything but personal attacks – I don’t know.

But as a strong factor slowing down progress towards a Scientific Nation, religion has to be openly analyzed and criticized. The topic must be made palatable to the media.

And even those liberal atheists who are uneasy, due to cozy yet traditional upbringing, with discussions of religion will have to get used to the fact that regressive, conservative religion has to be challenged in public. The faked “hurt feelings” of the religious should not be a consideration here – they need to hear the criticism (many will be responsive – they just never thought about it before, took it for granted because of the silence) and grow up to withstand it, or cower in the corner if they don’t like it, or break the shackles themselves. The super-religious will not be moved one way or another. Liberal believers have to be challenged: whose side they are on – reality or their regressive religious brethren? But fence-sitters are more likely (though they will take time, nothing instantly) to move away from religion if exposed to criticisms, despite the initial recoiling and distaste, than become more religious just because “those atheists are so uncivil”. It is ugly, and slow, but the net result is positive.

The Overton Window (illustrated) is an important concept to think about when discussing the struggle against conservatism dressed up as religion. And it is important to understand how it fits within the project of communicating science (important link) to the public. It is also related to the way we can work on changing what is acceptable to say in the media.

The struggle against religious digging-in-the-heels is a two-tiered project that requires two sets of people using two different strategies. One group uses gentle hand-holding tactics to help individuals cross over. The other group moves the Overton Window of what is acceptable to say by being very public and even harsh in their criticisms. The two groups cannot work without each other. The first group cannot start moving people over if there is no acceptable discussion of religion in the public and the media.

The latter cannot be successful if there are no troups in the trenches to hold the hands of individuals and bring them into the public square they prepared. And even the shouting matches between the two groups – the former trying to silence the latter – are actually good: the noise is also part of the moving of the Overton Window and making criticism of religion acceptable topic in the mainstream society.

In any country in which religion is a powerful force slowing down (or even reversing) the movement towards a Reality Based government, one has to have a counter-force: either a a well-organized or a loose secular/atheist coalition that has the courage to speak up and make possible the environment in which discussion of religion is deemed normal and respectable. I understand not everyone has the guts for this (how many death threats has PZ Myers received in his life?), but those who do should be applauded, not silenced. They are making a real and positive difference.

Scientists tend to be a force that helps usher a government toward becoming more Reality Based. The average density of scientific researchers per million of population is around 1000 (Source PDF). The highest is in Japan (a little over 5000 per million) and USA (a little below 5000 per million). That is a very small number. Consider also that only a very small proportion of researchers are in academia. In all countries most of the researchers are employed by the government, the military or the industry.

Only a sliver works in universities or in basic-science Centers or Institutes (where the currency are publications, not patents). And many have leaked out of the tenure-track rat-race and work as teachers, journalists, writers, press information officers, journal editors, museum curators, etc.

Thus the voice of the scientists themselves will always be small, even if all scientists get up in arms and organize and get really loud in demanding something. Some scientists are interested in doing their work and have no interest in any kind of activism or popularization or education. Others are interested in making sure funding keeps flowing. Others are interested in making sure that the published research findings are freely available to all. Only a small number of scientists are primarily interested in seeing research findings applied to policy, be it public health, or local environmental problems, or global problems like Climate Change.

So, scientists will always be viewed by the government as an interest group, a small and feeble one at that. Which is why the ScienceDebate2008 action was safely ignored, though it did have some small effects around the edges, probably not sufficient to affect election, though. And the group can certainly keep working on having the voice of scientists, unified, heard in the halls of power.

While scientists can be leaders, they cannot accomplish anything in politics on their own. They have to recruit millions of non-scientists to their cause if they are to be effective. To do so, they have to be trusted. In order to get trust, they have to defeat the forces that paint them in negative light – otherwise, the general population is quite inclined to view scientists with reverence for their intellect. The industry lobbyists and PR agencies have brought in (in the USA) the negative stereotypes of scientists as pointy-headed intellectuals whose only interest is personal wealth and destruction of free market. That’s BS and you know where that came from (tobacco lobby until defeated, then later the same PR henchmen now working for the oil/coal lobby), and you know it is not the case in most other countries. Re-read Chris Mooney’s Republican War On Science for a detailed history and analysis of the sources of anti-intellectualism and anti-science sentiment in America.

In a country with a decent general education, which includes some decent science education, there is no need to water down science for the audience. Serbs have no problem with scientific terminology on TV or in books. Those scientists who are not good at communicating tend to retreat into their labs and not attempt to communicate. Which is just fine. But many, perhaps most scientists are excellent communicators – they speak with passion and clarity and need no special ‘communications’ classes to get any more effective than they already are.

I organize ScienceOnline conferences every year. Scientists, either currently active in research or not any more, keep contacting me directly (or I hear about them from others who suggest I take a look at their work), asking to do a demo of their popularization activities. You have no idea how many scientists tweet and blog and make podcasts and produce videos, and do museum demonstrations, and do Science Cafes, and run local radio shows, and give public lectures, etc, etc. Thousands! And most of the stuff they produce is excellent! There are tons of scientists who are very active in popularization of science and are very good at it. And very effective for their audiences. We don’t need more of them. We don’t need them to learn how to become better communicators. What we need is to push their existing work onto unsuspecting audience that does not already flock to them. The “push” strategy in place of the “pull” strategy. Talking to the people who don’t even know they would be excited by a scientific topic, not just to those who actively search for them.

Saying that it is up to scientists to turn their government into a Reality Based one, that it is scientists who are inactive at communication who are responsible for the government being Unscientific, suggesting that all can change if only more scientists learned how to communicate better and then do it, in short the theses of Unscientific America, Am I Making Myself Clear? and Don’t Be Such a Scientist, are misguided at best. The scientists are doing their best already, a fantastic job actually, but their efforts are just a subset of a subset of a subset of a sliver of a side-show of a tangent of the solution to the problem. They are the only ones really on board in the USA right now and giving their maximum. How do we get others on board, too?

The very few scientists who are charged with actually lobbying the government in some way should get special training in how to do it. This has nothing to do with ‘science communication’ or learning how to become more exciting speakers. The chapter in Unscientific America about talking to politicians is the best chapter in the book. It explains what mistakes untrained scientists make when trying to persuade a politician. A very useful lesson. But it has nothing to do with having more scientists become better communicators. It’s a specialized task that requires specialized training for a very small number of specially chosen scientists. Perhaps the organization that got built around ScienceDebate can set up a training camp for those rare scientists who will be talking to politicians, whoever they are and whenever that happens. That can ve very useful.

Entertainment Industry is a special case. Back in Yugoslavia I had the pleasure of working with several film crews, some local, some international, as they paid to use our horses as props (or sometimes us as riders of those horses in action scenes). I have never met, in my life before or after, such an unbelievable collection of arrogant, ignorant Narcissists as the film crews, especially the directors (or other people supposed to be creative – folks in charge of technical or managerial aspects, e.g., the sound or lighting techs or the cameramen and even most actors tended to be quite normal). I was flabbergasted at the mere existence of such completely self-loving idiots, whose self-importance and over-inflated egos were based on nothing but hot air and some New-Age woo. But they certainly held themselves in high regard. They knew everything about everything and were never wrong about anything and got all pouty if contradicted (especially with facts). It was a nightmare working with such blowhards.

I was lucky never to work on a film in the USA, but from what I can see and read (and the results they put on screen), it does not seem like Hollywood is any better, perhaps worse. Sure, there are a few humble and educated exceptions, here as well as there, but they are rare – and they are too far up in the hierarchy for me, a mere mortal, to ever meet them and thus evaluate them in person. Don’t believe me? Just read this, this, this, this, this and this for the latest illustration of how they think and operate (lots of informative stuff in the comments as well). Gah! They don’t even know how idiotic they are.

Yet, the entertainment industry has a large effect on the perception of science and scientists by the public. And while they have their own mores and traditions that drive most of what they do, they are also a reflection of what the general society thinks. It is a two-way street, which gives one hope that even they can be reformed, with a lot of effort and time.

Remember that many scripts are proposed. Only a few are actually turned into movies. The decision as to what will get filmed rests on the movie moguls – heads of big studios. The smaller fish watch what the big fish do and try to emulate it next year. Thus our targets need to be the Big Producers and Big Directors, people who actually have influence on the movie industry as a whole.

How do we change the culture of Hollywood? There are many scientists who drop out of science careers. Some may be interested in a career in the movie industry.

Infiltrate!

The thing is, don’t be such a Randy Olson. When you go to Hollywood, don’t leave all your critical faculties behind. Do not accept the Hollywood voodoo. They have no idea, no matter how loudly they yell, about what they are doing. Really. They have no idea what really makes a good movie. Multi-million dollar projects were flops.

Tiny-budget independent movies became big hits. They are all winging it. There is no real system to their madness. Don’t believe it when they tell you otherwise.

The idea is not to infiltrate them in order to become yet another hyper Hollywood idiot. The idea is to remain who you are, unimpressed by the glitz, and change their culture from within. Use your science – do research on what works on audiences. Demonstrate how much more exciting is a story that stays true to reality than the one that just stays with old worn-out movie-making tropes. Challenge the old wrong ideas they have about “what works”.

And above else, keep your cool. The Hollywood crowd loves Randy Olson because he is such a stereotypical scientist. Unfortunately, he is uncomfortable in that role and eager to try to blend in with them and be deemed “cool” (which is the currency of Hollywood) instead of capitalizing on what he is – the brainiac at the table, the one they should all look up to for realistic, grounded advice. He is playing right into their stereotypes instead of busting them.

Now, I have never met Randy [edit: I have, briefly, since this post was first published], but he admits he is stiff and that he had to work hard on becoming a good communicator (and then through the camera lens, not talking). But he is an exception to the rule. I dare you to put me on stage or in front of a microphone – we’ll all have a lot of fun. I also don’t know why are Randy’s experiences with other scientists so bad.

Yes, I have seen some dreary science talks, but they were a minority. Most talks were fun, engaging, humorous, crystal-clear on the substance and joy to listen to. Perhaps my experience is unusual? Perhaps chronobiologists are somehow better speakers than other scientists (no, there are a couple of famously bad ones there)? Perhaps NCSU is a place where the art of giving oral presentation is much more strongly fostered than elsewhere (after all, an NCSU professor wrote the best book on the subject)?

Perhaps I saw all the best speakers in departmental seminars (and I saw 3-4 per week in 3-4 departments over ten years – that’s a lot of talks, but I guess I am one of those few irresistibly curious scientists) because we have a special culture of it? Or because I was on the departmental seminar committee for two years and myself picked the best? I doubt it. I think Randy just had bad luck. Or selective memory. Most scientific talks, no matter if the audience is the inner-most circle of the discipline or lay audience at a museum, are a blast.

So, scientists can be and usually are interesting and animated. What leads to the horrendous movies in the end is that it does not really matter what scientists say. Matt Weddell was quote-mined. It happens to everyone (not just scientists) when interviewed for a movie. The entertainment guy comes to you with a pre-set story, uninterested at all in changing it, and is fishing for quotes that are usable. If you say that something he wants to show is not true, he will edit the “not” out of your sentence and have you say it’s true. Too arrogant to even know they are being dishonest. This is the world they operate in. Better become media-savvy or refuse interviews. Being media-savvy, not falling into traps that the entertainments sets, is a completely different skill from ‘becoming a better communicator’. Scientists in general can talk great, but some how-to-deal-with-inherently-dishonest-media training is in order if one is to be interviewed for a documentary.

We as scientists will never be able to get millions of people to refuse to go see a movie just because we say it’s misrepresenting science. But we can start affecting the big studio moguls by working for them, or, like Jennifer and others are doing, giving them structured, correct and respectful advice. It will be a long uphill slog. But it can be done as a part of changing the broader culture. With little help from us, movie world will gladly follow the changes in the broader society if that means ticket sales.

But in the end, the entertainment industry is not a major source of pro- or anti-intellectual sentiment, or of scientific information. When you watch a movie you know it’s fantasy. Do you know how much people learn from a science documentary? Almost zero. You all remember Ida (Darwinius massilae), don’t you? When the paper came out I bought a shirt with a picture of Ida. I wore it around a lot. Many people I met in the street knew what it was….a fossil. At best a primate fossil. Seen “on TV the other night”. When asked to say more – nobody could. Nobody uttered the phrases “human ancestor” or “missing link” let alone any Latin. All they knew there was this fossil discovered and that it was beautiful and cool. Actually – a win for the science. They found something scientific to be cool. They were never going to or meant to learn any more than that. The documentary did its job: showed that science is cool. No more, and one should not expect any more. And if it was not “pushed” on the general audience everywhere (instead of just the History Channel which is “pull” method), nobody would have ever heard of it. From our perspective, it was a media circus (perhaps because we are not used to it). From the perspective of general audience, it was a small blip on the radar, but something that showed that science is cool.

So, I think that the entertainment industry tends to reflect the society. In the big scheme of things, they tend to be followers, not leaders. I’d rather focus energies on changing the society (and let the movies follow) than try the difficult struggle to change the movie industry first. It’s more cost-effective that way.

Corporate Media also differs from country to country.

In some places, the press is officially or unofficially owned, run and controled by the government. The ‘Government Knows Best’ press. It serves as a progaganda organ for the government, telling citizens (and other countries, which is usually more important) what the government thinks and does. That way people know what NOT to say in public if they want to avoid imprisonment. In this kind of country, the government is independent (belligerently so) and does whatever it wants. It can choose to be Reality Based or not while being completely impervious to criticism and uninterested in popular opinion. And people are unlikely to rise just because their opinions are ignored – they need to really hurt in order to revolt. And this may take decades of suffering.

On the other extreme are countries in which the independent press acts as an unofficial political opposition. It is the ‘Government is Always Wrong’ press. It does not represent the thinking of the government, but also does not represent the views of the broader population either, rather it represents a particular political view of the group (perhaps a political party) that de facto runs the press. This is a rare situation and does not last long – either the government goes down, or the press gets shut down and replaced by something more to the liking of the government. This is a theoretical case – anyone know of a real-world example of this?

In between the two extremes, there are media with various degrees of independence and various degrees of influence.

My constant criticisms of the press are really focused on the US situation only. This is because the US press is in a league of its own. It is not government-owned but acts as one and, more insidiously, pretends to be independent and “watchdog” while not being so. Worse, many people buy into that lie. How does that work?

The local and metro journalists take their cues from the D.C. press, the so-called Village. They trust the Villagers because they are “at the source”. Villagers rub shoulders with the politicians every day, get ‘insider’ information (often planted to them on purpose, but they are too giddy to notice) and act very wise in the matters of politics. This is what Jay Rosen calls the Church of the Savvy. They are buddies with the Democrats and the Republicans, consider both to be their friends and hear from both what their stands are on various topics. Thus they decide that whatever these guys say is within the realm of realistic. Everything else is not.

Even if they venture outside of the capital, when they hear people saying things that are not in their realm of possible, they dismiss it as ‘naive’ or ‘extreme’.

They are the keepers of the Overton Window, working hard on preventing anyone from moving it in any direction. They are comfortable in the status quo and hate change so they work hard on preventing change from happening. That way they keep all their politician friends.

They do not see themselves as judges of the veracity of claims – they make reality. They are just scribes – they transcribe what someone from the Left says, then what someone from the Right says, then stake their reasonable and realistic position smack in the middle (do they use the ruler and compass to determine exactly where the mid-point is?). Everyone outside of that middle is an extremist. And every idea outside that narrow domain is unworthy of mention. Like single-payer healthcare system – not savvy, not realistic (or so they determined in advance, thus not worth a mention, which then makes it unrealistic). Or WMDs being a lie.

Sorry, but the mid-point between a truth and a lie is still a lie.

Sometimes they encounter difficulties when trying their best to do the HeSaidSheSaid journalism. One side is so obviously right and the other so obviously wrong. What to do, what to do? Invent a new side, of course! Here is a great recent example: the GW denialists salivating over hacked e-mails were so obviously wrong (and morons) and the other side, the scientists and the Reality-Based community are so obviously right, the journos could not have any of that – that would be equal to conceding defeat. So they dug out from under some rock a completely irrelevant party – the Greens and environmentalists. Yeah, cool, those wackos can be portrayed as equally nutty as the GW denialists, thus the journos remain firmly in the middle, grinning smugly about their own wisdom. Oh, and the “middle-ground” they thusly discovered? It is suspiciously palatable to the anti-scientific forces of the oil/coal industry and their Republican marionettes. The savvy middle, yeah right.

Then the next morning, Washington politicians wake up and open their Washington Post, New York Times and Wall Street Journal to see what is the pulse of the nation.

They see that only the stances they are happy with are reported as being the discourse of the people. They go happily with their day. No challenge permitted.

In short, the US press acts as a barrier between the people and their government. They report to the people what the politicians deem reasonable (which would never change if left entirely to them – have you seen the average age of the US Senators?) and they report the same stuff to the politicians as the view of the people. No free exchange of ideas and opinions can pass through that barrier – the Villagers are keeping those gates closed and they decide what is and what is not “realistic”. When change happens, it is always because information bypasses the press. And then they are distressed and surprised. It’s hard work adapting to a new landscape, learning all over again who now supports what and reporting thusly.

Another reason they do this is because they are themselves not Reality Based. Unlike that Serbian anchor I mentioned above, they are incapable of doing the math and analysing a policy proposal themselves. All they are capable of doing is transcribing what various political spokes-persons say with no ability to estimate (let alone actually know) who is based in reality and who is just bullshitting them. Such ignorance is the source of their post-modernism – it’s all opinion to them, because they have no idea how to determine and assign a Truth value to any statement. “We report you decide” also means “we are too ignorant to decide for ourselves”. It also means “Truth is what we say it is, reality be damned”.

By actively preventing any change from occurring, and by staking their position as “realistic” although it is a mid-point between reality and batshit insane (thus keeping the batshit-insane ideas legitimized), the Villagers (and their followers in the provinces) keep the country from moving in the direction from Unscientific to Scientific. Always halfway to Reality-Based, never really getting there. The press is working mightily to make sure that never happens.

Prescription

Let’s start with the definition again: “An unscientific nation is one in which the government is not Reality Based.”

Focus back on the Government. It appears that, due to the Media, the US government is geometrically precisely mid-way between Reality-Based and Anti-Reality Based points. That is a pretty abysmal place to be, when you think about it. Far too far away from Reality-Based.

There are strong anti-Reality forces in the country: the Industry (because the economic system rewards only short-terms thinking), the Educational system (being determined on the local level), Electoral system (disproportionately rewarding the rural areas), Religion (unchallenged in its privileged position of being unquestioned), Entertainment Industry (which is just dumb), Republican Party (what is left of it now that the teabaggers aka birthers aka Palin-drones aka 26%-ers have purged it from the last human with a brain, but still not laughed out of court by the press), and the Media (which actively legitimizes insane views and prevents change).

The pro-Reality forces are much smaller, much less organized, much less funded, and all outside of the power establishment: scientists, good science teachers, good science writers/journalists, and vocal atheists. So how can such a small bunch break the gates and effect change? By recruiting more people and then making the government know what the will of the people really is. This means bypassing the media and, in the process, opposing all the other powerful players. It’s a dangerous game!

So how does one build a coalition, oppose the negative forces, bypass the media and talk directly to the government? In other words, how does one make it obvious to the government that their only option is to become Reality Based if they wish to get re-elected and remain in power?

First, one should identify the forces that are either purposefully trying to slow down or reverse the movement towards a Reality Based nation, or inadvertently helping such forces. Then do all of these:

1) Organized Action – build coalitions and actively oppose the anti-science activity, policy proposals, anti-science political candidates, etc.
2) Stick and Carrot – praise the people/organizations when they do something right, and slam them when they do something wrong. Make sure they hear it in both cases.
3) Punishment – organize boycotts of products, for example
4) Infiltration – reform the organization from within, making it more pro-Reality
5) Bypassing – build parallel organizations that do the job better, then put efforts into marginalizing the older, traditional organizations you are replacing

By using all of these approaches simultaneously, one can potentially win. How does one do all of that? It’s all about communication.

New Media

The ultimate target of communication is the government. One can get to it directly or indirectly.

You can go to WhiteHouse.gov or USA.gov or contact your representatives. Many are now on Facebook and Twitter – follow them and reply. Some employee there is probably tasked with reporting to the boss what the people are saying. Or go to OSTP blog – they are listening. Or to ExpertLabs (Anil Dash will be at ScienceOnline2010, specifically to get your feedback as to how to build and run that site to make it useful for the administration to get input from the experts).

Or you can go indirectly. Remember that the politicians, geriatric patients for the most part, get their ‘pulse of the nation’ by reading traditional media. If the message of

Reality is not fairly represented in the media, see the above five tactics. Praise the journos who do it right (directly or in various online venues). Slam the journos who do it wrong (they’ll burn, they’ll squeal, but most will learn their lesson). Infiltrate – become a journalist and do a better job. Bypass – build new online communications and media powerhouses. Those tactics are not mutually exclusive, they are complementary.

Sure, the governments (as well as other anti-Reality forces) are also aware of the new media channels and will try to use them for their own purposes. But there’s more of us. And we last longer – we don’t get elected for a few years, we breed. In the end, we’ll win.

Bad Guys TM also can use the Web for organizing, sure. But who has the advantage? The side that has a numerical advantage online. Remember that 26% of Americans are fundamentally anti-science. That means that 74% are reality-based, or at least amenable to intelligent persuasion. That is already a numerical advantage. Also remember that most of the anti-science forces are in the hinterland, where there is much less likelihood one can get online access (no cable, wifi or internet cafes out in the country), or have a computer or iPhone, or be mentally eager to start using such tools – a much more traditional society. That is also an advantage (for now, that will get erased pretty fast).

Getting a link from a Creationist site brings a few hits, an almost undiscoverably small number. Getting a link, even if just in a comment thread, from Pharyngula or Panda’s Thumb or RichardDawkins.net sends a humongous avalanche of traffic. While the Creationists may be having their own echo-chambers, our echo-chamber is much bigger, by being realistic it is much more likely to grow (and not be limited to the 26%) through new recruits, and will thus be potentially much louder and much effective in the long run.

How did those online communities (to take atheists as an example here) get to be so big? Before the Web, most atheists in the States thought they were alone, or in a tiny minority. Usenet newsgroups, forums, blogs, social networks revealed they count in millions – many, often pseudonymously at first, revealed online what they never told anyone before. This recognition engendered boldness. More people came out of the closet and told census workers and pollsters they are atheists. More became open about it in RL. Suddenly atheism is the fastest-growing religious self-identification in the country.

When media started discussing atheism as an emerging phenomenon by having two religious leaders discussing it in the studio (CNN), they got slammed so hard, they had to do another show and invite an actual atheist to it. The proliferation of books and blogs by vocal atheists made the topic acceptable in the public sphere. Media was forced to change to reflect this. Overton Window has moved. While Bush Sr. could say with impunity that atheists are not real Americans, his son, who is himself much more of a fundamentalist Christian, could not say that (or was prevented by advisors to say that). Vocal atheists, who found each other and organized online, engendered a large cultural shift.

The same can be done with a shift towards becoming a more Reality Based nation. It was especially disappointing to see that authors of the three books about science communication I linked to above, although three of them are bloggers, do not understand the power of the Web. You don’t need to have diligently read blogs, articles and books by Clay Shirky, danah boyd, Kevin Kelly, Jeff Jarvis, Eszter Hargittai, Dan Gilmor, Dave Winer, Theresa Nielsen Hayden, Jay Rosen and Scott Rosenberg to grok it.

Being a blogger for a few years and witnessing (and even participating in) numerous instances of the online community getting organized and effecting change (resignation or firing of officials, media mea culpas, passage or defeat of legislation, GOTW efforts, electoral results, etc.) should be sufficient.

When people formerly known as audience have communicaton tools at their disposal, they can communicate with each other (thus discover each other, agree on the goals, and organize action) and to those in power. When those in power become more afraid of us than of the CEOs or TV pundits, they’ll do their job for which we hired them.

Are we there yet? No, but we are getting there fast. In 2004, the existing handful of bloggers could not affect the results of the Presidential election. Already in 2006, they affected some mid-term elections. In 2008, online organizing was one important element of the Obama strategy to win. Locally, it can be even stronger. If you are running for office here in Chapel Hill, you better show up at Orange Politics. If you don’t (or worse, show up and be belligerent), your candidacy (and probably all future candidacies) is doomed.

Don’t judge a new communications ecosystem by its first unsteady steps. It will get there…. And sooner the worst of the traditional media goes under, sooner we can build a more modern media system in which it is much more likely that the participation of many people will ensure that the best expertise gets transmitted the broadest (techies are frantically working on better filtering tools, combining algorithms with human-curated recommendation systems) and that the best available information, as well as the will of the people, gets to its intended target, which is the government.

So, grooming a few more scientists to become a little better at talking about their research is a drop in