Archive for the 'Recent Reading' category

Recent Reading – 10/12/10

Oct 12 2010 Published by under Biology & Environment, Recent Reading

Some interesting recent posts elsewhere:

Blog Carnivals

Scientists of All Sorts

Nature & Science

Medicine & Health

Science Writing

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Recent Reading – 9/25/10

Sep 25 2010 Published by under Biology & Environment, Recent Reading

Some interesting blog posts and articles I've read over the past few weeks:

The giant’s shoulders: September 2010 edition (Science history carnival)

Misleading food labels—are you eating what you think you are? | Body Politic

A physicist, a chemist and a zoologist walk into a bar … | Alice Bell @

Alice Bell looks at humour in science and finds it can sometimes be a bad thing. But mostly a good thing

Teacher Evaluation and Test Scores, aleph-nought in a series : Uncertain Principles

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.

The Myth of White Male Geek Rationality | Geek Feminism Blog

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.

Blind prejudice – Bad Science

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).

Science: Women Are Attracted to Men Who Dance ‘Flamboyantly’ -- Daily Intel

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

How Much of Wildlife Filmmaking is Staged? | Age of Engagement @ Big Think

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

9/11 Memorial Lights Trap Thousands of Birds | Wired Science

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.

Why do we eat chilli? | Jason Goldman @

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 save trees from elephants - The Scientist

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 . . .

Ocean of Pseudoscience: Sharks DO get cancer! : Observations of a Nerd

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.

Wolves Are Smart, but Dogs Look Back : The Thoughtful Animal

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?

In which I set up a collaboration between a biologist, a farmer and a chimeric chicken | Not Exactly Rocket Science

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.

Sex and the Single Chromosome | ScienceMatters @ Berkeley

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.

Seedlessness | Oscillator

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)

The Worm In Your Brain | The Loom

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

Where does the myth of a gene for things like intelligence come from? | Dorothy Bishop @

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?

The many weaknesses of ovulation studies | By Jessica Grose @ Slate Magazine

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.

How culture can invert genetic risk | Mind Hacks

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.

The secret history of psychedelic psychiatry | Neurophilosophy

...  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.

Aspartame – Truth vs Fiction | Science-Based Medicine

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.

Does your brain know you’re drinking Diet? | Neurotic Physiology

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?

Obese, but metabolically healthy: Is weight loss detrimental? | Obesity Panacea

[part 5 of a 5-part series]

Lots of Ink: Gene therapy seems to almost cure one young man of beta-thalassemia |Knight Science Journalism Tracker

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.

The man who encourages the sick and dying to drink industrial bleach | Martin Robbins @

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.

See also: Moderators of a medical forum hide safety warning about drinking what is effectively bleach | Alice in Galaxyland

Excessive work hours: a serious safety hazards for workers | The Pump Handle

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.

Mom and Pop Parenting: Determinism Strikes Again | Wonderland

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?

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Recent Reading 8/30/10

Aug 30 2010 Published by under Recent Reading

Some of my recent reading:

Maggie Koerth-Baker @ BoingBoing: Adorable kitten fails mirror self-recognition test (adorably)

Mr. Science Show: The Sailors' (syphilis detecting) Handshake (you never know when it might come in handy)

Carl Zimmer @ The New York Times: Scientists Square Off on Evolutionary Value of Helping Relatives

Why are worker ants sterile? Why do birds sometimes help their parents raise more chicks, instead of having chicks of their own? Why do bacteria explode with toxins to kill rival colonies? In 1964, the British biologist William Hamilton published a landmark paper to answer these kinds of questions. Sometimes, he argued, helping your relatives can spread your genes faster than having children of your own.

(see also 'Grandmother hypothesis' takes a hit : Nature News)

80 Beats: Is an Ant Colony’s Caste System Determined by Epigenetics?

What does it take to be a long-living queen? Change your gene expression, say researchers who analyzed both worker ant and queen ant genes in two ant species–making the humble bug the second social insect (after the bee) to get sequenced.

Vince LiCata @ The World's Fair: Latisse!

The existence of the drug Latisse is clearly a harbinger of the end of modern civilization, in more ways than one, but it is also intensely fascinating and creepy. When I first heard of it, about a year ago, I really thought it was some sort of satirical article about the current status of big pharma and their slow but steady drift towards more (and more profitable) "lifestyle" medications. But's frickin' real!

Scicurious @ Neurotic Physiology: PCR: when you need to find out who the daddy is.

And if weren’t for a guy studying bacteria in a hot spring, medicine would not be where it is now. I’m sure Dr. Brock never really thought about the potential applications until they happened. But I hope he’s very pleased.
And that’s the thing. You NEVER KNOW where the next breakthrough will come from.

Samia @ 49 percent: radicalism, love and the scientific temperament

To say that most scientists feel discomfort with our own (scientific) ignorance is a bit of an understatement. Indeed, a peculiar, obsessive intellectual unrest seems to propel our adventures through our various specialties. But Medawar also believed scientists possess a "sanguine temperament" that expects to be able to surmount almost any problem given enough time and information. We are not afraid to use the tools at our disposal to increase our knowledge, even if they may be unfamiliar at first.

Daniel Lametti @ Slate Magazine: How bathroom posture affects your health

Shortly before Christmas in 1978, the leader of the free world came down with a severe case of hemorrhoids. The pain was so bad that President Carter had to take a day off from work. A few weeks later, Time Magazine asked a proctologist named Michael Freilich to explain the president's ailment. "We were not meant to sit on toilets," he said, "we were meant to squat in the field." He's probably right.

David Ng @ BoingBoing: Citizen science and why biodiversity is a great portal to discovery

It only takes a single child and a trip outdoors, to realize that it is arguably our planet's richest resource of intellectual query.This is also why I think citizen science projects are particularly wonderful. Many of them do focus on wildlife spotting. And while there's obviously many caveats associated with these projects (i.e. can the non-expert provide valid observation), at their heart, they are a mechanism for people to get involved with science, and in a way which is meant to involve an element of relevancy (i.e. you're collecting data!)

Emily Singer @ Technology Review: A Family Mystery, Solved by a Genome

After sequencing his genome, James Lupski discovered the mutations that led him and three of his siblings to develop a neurological disorder (Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease).

Markus Jokela @ University of Helsinki:  Press: ‘Women are getting more beautiful’ – Getting the story right

Having your study publicized by the media is nice. Having your study misrepresented and misinterpreted in the process is not. The media coverage of my paper on physical attractiveness and having children had a bad start and even worse follow-up. The origin of the problem: Times Online news article sexing up the finding a bit too much (I wasn’t interviewed for this article at all and heard about it only after it had been published). Then things got worse . . .
[this is a year old, but it's a telling example of how the main stream media can distort science news]

See also: Times Higher Education - Trial by error

Razib Khan @ Gene Expression: The individual & social risks of cousin marriage

This post was inspired by a recent Channel 4 special, When Cousins Marry: Reporter Feature. ...  But it highlights that the issue is going to be salient in the United Kingdom for a generation or so at a minimum. As I said, in the United States inbreeding is a way to make fun of poor, uneducated, and isolated whites. ... The American perception of inbred people is not particularly positive, and the accusations of being inbred are used to mock and humiliate. But when it comes to the issue in Britain it is different, because consanguineous marriage is a feature of the Muslim community, and there are issues of race, religion and class which are operative

Tara Parker-Pope @ New York Times: Phys Ed: Does Music Make You Exercise Harder?

... it’s music’s dual ability to distract attention (a psychological effect) while simultaneously goosing the heart and the muscles (physiological impacts) that makes it so effective during everyday exercise. Multiple experiments have found that music increases a person’s subjective sense of motivation during a workout, and also concretely affects his or her performance. The resulting interactions between body, brain and music are complex and intertwined.

Mara Grunbaum @ scienceline: Pees and Carrots

They were perfectly lovely, the beets Surendra Pradhan and Helvi Heinonen-Tanski grew: round and hefty, a rich burgundy, their flavor sweet and faintly earthy like the dirt from which they came. Unless someone told you, you’d never know the beets were grown with human urine.

erv: Immunizations: "If your children have been vaccinated against xyz disease, why would you care if others are NOT vaccinated" [no need for a pull quote when the gist of the post is in the title!]

Newscripts: The Chemistry of Stadium Foods

Here at the ACS meeting in Boston, Newscripts was part of an elite group of reporters treated to a quick lesson in popcorn, ballpark hot dogs, and beer before a Red Sox game at Fenway Park. “The Chemistry of Stadium Food,” is part of an ongoing series of events on food chemistry at national meetings hosted by the ACS Office of Public Affairs.

Joe Kloc @ SEED Magazine: Into the Uncanny Valley

New findings shed light on a century’s worth of bizarre explanations for the eerie feeling we get around lifelike robots.

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Recent Reading: 8/24/10

Aug 24 2010 Published by under Recent Reading

The big news in science blogging this past week was the launch of, which aggregates science blog feeds. It currently includes the big science blogging networks (Scientopia (of course!),, Nature Network Blogs), as well as the blogs at Discover, Scientific American, WIRED Science, Popular Mechanics and many others.  It currently lacks the feeds of independent science bloggers, but hopefully that will change in the near future.

Some of my recent reading:

Science and Nature

Medicine & Health

History of Science

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Recent Reading: 8/14/10

Aug 14 2010 Published by under Recent Reading

A few interesting bioscience-related posts elsewhere, in no particular order:

Also be sure to check out the Scientopia Cafe Press store for all your T-shirt and coffee mug needs.

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