Some interesting blog posts and articles I've read over the past few weeks:
The giant’s shoulders: September 2010 edition (Science history carnival)
Alice Bell looks at humour in science and finds it can sometimes be a bad thing. But mostly a good thing
There's been a lot of energy expended blogging and writing about the LA Times's investigation of teacher performance in Los Angeles, using "Value Added Modeling," which basically looks at how much a student's scores improved during a year with a given teacher.
People who consider themselves fully rational individuals are ignorant about basic psychology and their own minds. It is easy for white men in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields to perceive themselves as more rational than other groups, because our society associates rationality with whites, men, and STEM professionals.
Noola Griffiths is an academic who studies the psychology of music, and she’s published a cracking paper on what women wear, and how that effects your judgement of their performance. The results are predictable; but the context is interesting.Four female musicians were filmed playing in three different outfits: a concert dress, jeans, and a nightclubbing dress. [. . .] For technical proficiency, performers in a concert dress were rated higher than if they were in jeans or a clubbing dress, even though the actual audio performance was exactly the same every time (and played by a separate musician who was never filmed).
After showing the resulting footage to a group of women, the academics found that the ladies "were most attracted to male dancers who have big, flamboyant moves," according to the AP. "The movements around the head, neck and trunk were the most important," said Nick Neave, one of the study's co-authors. "The good dancers had lots of different movements and used them with flair and creativity."
Nature and Environment
You've probably wondered how wildlife filmmakers are able to follow a polar bear and her cub across a year. Or get perfect close-up shots of a bear feasting on a deer carcass. In a new book, veteran wildlife filmmaker Chris Palmer offers an insider's look at the practices (and secrets) of the wildlife film industry. What he describes will surprise you
On the evening of the ninth anniversary of 9/11, the twin columns of light projected as a memorial over the World Trade Center site became a source of mystery. Illuminated in the beams were thousands of small white objects, sparkling and spiraling, unlike anything seen on other nights.
Healthy, sane humans do not stab themselves in the thighs, or bathe their eyes in lemon juice. So why do we so love to assault one of the most sensitive organs in the human body, the tongue, with what amounts to chemical warfare?
[note that "chilli" refers to hot peppers, not chili stews]
Ants known to defend certain species of Acacia trees from elephant predation deter the massive herbivores so effectively that they are impacting entire savanna ecosystems . . .
There are a lot of myths out there about the marine world, but by far the one that bothers me the most is the notion that sharks don't get cancer. This simply untrue statement has led to the slaughter of millions of sharks via the industry for shark cartilage pills, which are sold to desperate cancer patients under the false pretense that they can help reduce or cure their illness.
Previous research has shown that dogs can use lots of different forms of human communicative signals to find food, and they can also inform humans of the location of hidden food, by looking back and forth between that human and a second location. But what is it about dogs that allows them to comprehend and invoke human social communication?
I get a lot of emails. Most can be casually filed away, but among the spam and fluff from PR agencies, there are occasionally some absolute gems. And so it was that on August 21st, one Paul Sanders saw fit to send me four photos of a chicken.
Is there value to sex? For higher organisms, absolutely. Animals, plants and fungi that reproduce only by cloning are scarce as hen’s teeth, suggesting the gene shuffling of sex pays handsome dividends.
Many species of figs are pollinated by symbiotic wasps, but there are other fig varieties that develop edible, seedless figs through a process called parthenocarpy. A dominant mutation in the plant allows unfertilized flowers to stay on the tree and develop into yummy figs. While these seedless fruits are delicious, the plants that produce them are sterile, able to reproduce only through human intervention.
Top Photomicrographs of Life Beginning | Wired Science (beautiful embryo photography)
One of the most fascinating things about the history of life is the way distantly related species can look alike. In some cases, the similarities are superficial, and in other cases they are signs of a common ancestry. And sometimes–as in the case of our brain and the brains of worms–it’s a little of both.
Health and Medicine
I recently received an email from a company called MyGeneProfile: "By discovering your child's inborn talents & personality traits, it can surely provide a great head start to groom your child in the right way ... our Inborn Talent Genetic Test has 99.8% accuracy." [. . . ] The company relies on a widespread assumption that people's mental and physical attributes are predictable from their genes. So where does this belief come from, and is it wrong?
Sure, some of these ovulation studies have a legitimate goal: They are meant to explore whether women subtly advertise their fertility. Unlike other primates, human females don't make it explicit when they're ovulating. But then there are the studies that are just about figuring out how to get women to shop more. The study from last month, about the "sexier clothing" ovulating women buy, is Exhibit A. It was conducted by marketing researchers.
Neuron Culture has a fantastic piece on how a long touted ‘depression gene’ turned out to reduce the risk of mood problems in people in East Asians and why we can’t always understand genetic effects on behaviour without understanding culture.
... it is now well known that the United States Army experimented with LSD on willing and unwilling military personnel and civilians. Less well known is the work of a group of psychiatrists working in the Canadian province of Saskatchewan, who pioneered the use of LSD as a treatment for alcoholism, and claimed that it produced unprecedented rates of recovery.
The notion that aspartame is unsafe has been circulating almost since it first appeared, and like rumors and misinformation have a tendency to do, fears surrounding aspartame have taken on a life of their own.
The question comes down to this: are the same areas of the brain activated when you drink sugary drinks as opposed to drinks sweetened with non-caloric sweetener? And does this VARY by the SIZE of the tasting you are doing?
[part 5 of a 5-part series]
Ordinarily news stories that herald a promising new treatment based on the recovery of one patient would raise eyebrows and elicit heavy grumbling from experienced medical reporters. That’s not statistics, it’s not science, it’s just something for researchers to follow up but not bother reporters about until they have something solid. But this case may deserve forbearance.
When 15-year-old Rhys Morgan was diagnosed with Crohn's disease a few months ago he turned to the internet for help, and came across the Crohn's Disease Forum, a website offering support to patients.. . .He followed the site for a while and noticed a disturbing undercurrent of people trying to push alternative medicines to members. One product in particular was called Miracle Mineral Solution (MMS), and its website claimed it cured cancer, Aids, malaria, and basically most things short of actual death.
Among the compelling evidence provided are studies demonstrating significantly diminished mental acuity for sleep-deprived medical residents at levels comparable to 0.05% blood alcohol levels.
The paper is, indeed, interesting and provocative. Which makes it a double shame that the Times coverage is so woefully incomplete. Belkin’s answer for “Why Mothers and Fathers Play Differently” is oxytocin. And…oxytocin. And did I mention oxytocin?