What we're talking about Out of the Earth, Out of the Blue Friday, January 30, 2015

Out of the Earth, Out of the Blue

A new early human fossil has been reported, recovered from the seabed near Taiwan. We are calling it Penghu 1. Simply put, it is the lower right jaw of a hominid (hominine) that most resembles either a form of Homo erectus or Archaic Homo sapiens (kin to, but not, Neanderthal). Teeth are fairly useful for…

An unexpected find and very exciting moment for researchers exploring what lies beneath 740 meters of ice in Antarctica…fish! An amazing find given the perpetual darkness and cold. In an expedition sponsored by the National Science Foundation, scientists and ice drillers bored a hole through the Ross Ice Shelf near the coast of Antarctica, 850…

Surprise!

Uncertain Principles January 28, 2015

Over at Curious Wavefunction, Ashutosh Jogalekar offers a list of great surprising results in physics. This is fairly comprehensive, but leaves out one of my favorites, which is the discovery of the muon. Muons are particles like electrons, but a couple hundred times heavier. When they were first detected in cosmic ray traces in 1936,…

Greg Laden reports on a hominid fossil "recovered from the seabed near Taiwan" which reveals new levels of dental diversity among proto-humans and may qualify as a new species. Greg says the specimen known as Penghu "is yet another indicator that multiple different hominids lived on the Earth at the same time after the rise of Homo erectus." But why was it located underwater? In another example of what lies beneath, Dr. Dolittle marvels at "an unexpected find and very exciting moment for researchers;" the discovery of small fish and invertebrates thriving below 740 meters of ice near the coast of Antarctica. Exactly how these animals survive in the stark ecosystem has yet to be determined. Meanwhile, on Uncertain Principles, Chad Orzel reflects on the history of surprising physics discoveries. He provides as an example the discovery of the muon in 1936, a subatomic particle that no one was even looking for. Chad writes, "The eminently quotable I.I. Rabi famously responded to the news by asking 'Who ordered that?'" No one, but we'll take it.

Channel Surfing

Life Science

Something interesting happened in 2014. The total number of databases that Nucleic Acids Research (NAR) tracks dropped by three databases! What happened?  Did people quit making databases?  No.  This year, the “dead” databases (links no longer valid) outnumber the new ones. To celebrate Digital World Biology’s release of Molecule World I’ll discuss some of the new structure databases…

We’re hiring! If you have skill in teaching, and want to hone those skills at a school with a reputation for excellence in teaching, apply! Full-Time One-Year Position in Biology University of Minnesota, Morris The University of Minnesota, Morris seeks an individual committed to excellence in undergraduate education, to fill a full-time, one-year, possibly renewable,…

Dan Graur has suggested some changes to the classification of DNA. It’s one more pile of terminology to keep straight, but the distinctions are conceptually useful — I particularly appreciate literal vs. indifferent DNA as subdivisions of functional DNA. The pronouncements of the ENCODE Project Consortium regarding “junk DNA” exposed the need for an evolutionary…

Physical Science

I wrote up another piece about football for the Conversation, this time drawing on material from Eureka, explaining how great football players are using scientific thinking: Seattle Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman gets called a lot of things. He calls himself the greatest cornerback in the NFL (and Seattle fans tend to agree). Sportswriters and some…

“Even in hindsight, I would not change one whit of the Voyager experience. Dreams and sweat carried it off. But most of all, its legacy makes us all Earth travelers among the stars.” -Charley Kohlhase It’s a taxing enough task to launch something off the surface of the Earth, escaping our planet’s gravity and finding…

“From an incandescent mass we have originated, and into a frozen mass we shall turn. Merciless is the law of nature, and rapidly and irresistibly we are drawn to our doom.” -Nikola Tesla Stability: it’s the hallmark of the Solar System. The motions of all the planetary bodies are regular and periodic. The paths of…

Environment

Suddenly and for the first time I saw Amanda as a little child wide eyed with both awe and fear, among other children some sitting on the floor, some in chairs, some standing behind desks, eyes trained on a TV monitor and their teacher as the sudden realization dawned on all of them that the…

The Blizzard continues. The center of the low pressure system moved to the northeast more than expected, so the maximum snowfall amounts have also moved deeper into New England, and it the storm may end up dropping the largest amounts Downeast, in Maine, rather than around New York and southern New England. Nonetheless maximum snow…

This week’s snapshot of just one work-related fatality in the U.S. This one occurred on January 23, 2015 in Middletown, CT.

Humanities

Exploring the Uberization of work; big retailers fight new OSHA injury reporting rule; Congress members introduce paid leave for federal workers; and John Boehner inadvertently makes the case for a minimum wage increase.

Evidence has been accumulating about the toll of prolonged sitting, and a new systematic review and meta-analysis published in the Archives of Internal Medicine shows just how harmful sedentary habits can be.

Tonight’s bedtime stories included two books involving flying characters: Foo, the Flying Frog of Washtub Pond (in which the title character gets blown into the sky by a gust of wind), and The Magic Brush. The latter is a dead-grandparent book, but ends with a cheerful picture of the kids reunited with their grandfather in…

Education

Something interesting happened in 2014. The total number of databases that Nucleic Acids Research (NAR) tracks dropped by three databases! What happened?  Did people quit making databases?  No.  This year, the “dead” databases (links no longer valid) outnumber the new ones. To celebrate Digital World Biology’s release of Molecule World I’ll discuss some of the new structure databases…

An unexpected find and very exciting moment for researchers exploring what lies beneath 740 meters of ice in Antarctica…fish! An amazing find given the perpetual darkness and cold. In an expedition sponsored by the National Science Foundation, scientists and ice drillers bored a hole through the Ross Ice Shelf near the coast of Antarctica, 850…

Science Teaching researcher Prof. Nir Orion  recently returned from Peru, where his award-winning Blue Planet teaching unit was adopted by the Peruvian Ministry of Education Q: You have been working for many years to get schoolchildren out of the classroom setting. Why? A: Schools in general and science teaching in particular are supposed to teach…

Politics

The closing of the Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power plant didn’t make many headlines, but for me it brought back a flood of memories and an important lesson.

I’m not in the mood for heavy blogging just now, so how about we discuss something light and frivolous. Like the meaning of life. Back in July, I wrote this: Answers about our origins have no implications at all for questions of meaning and value. Arising through blind, uncaring forces in no way implies that…

In the week before his 2015 State of the Union address, President Obama took modest but important steps toward expanding US workers’ access to paid sick and family leave.

Medicine

Yesterday, I wrote about false balance in reporting on vaccines in the wake of the Disneyland measles outbreak. For those who’ve never encountered this blog, what I mean by false balance is when journalists, in a misguided belief that there are “two sides” (i.e., an actual scientific controversy) about the safety of childhood vaccines and…

Imagine, if you will, a time machine capsule going all the way back to the earliest days of this blog, back in 2005 and 2006. Now consider the antivaccine movement, which somehow I became very interested in very early, an interest that continues to this day. Do you remember one theme that I kept hitting…

If there’s one aspect of 2014 that I enjoyed, it’s that it was a very bad year for our old friend, America’s quack, a.k.a. Dr. Mehmet Oz. It seemed that, finally, some of the chickens were coming home to roost and Dr. Oz was starting to suffer a bit for his promotion of quackery and…

Brain & Behavior

Dr. Thane Wibbels (University of Alabama at Birmingham) is interested in studying how temperature affects the sex of red-eared slider turtle embryos. For humans, the answer is simple: sex chromosomes. You know, the combination of XX means girl and XY means boy. Turtles are not that simple. Temperature is a factor in determining whether the…

I came across an interesting study published last month in American Journal of Physiology – Regulatory, Integrative and Comparative Physiology on obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), which is a disorder in which the upper airway is repeatedly obstructed during sleep resulting in bouts of intermittent hypoxia (low oxygen concentrations). I had no idea that OSA is…

I listened to a really interesting story on NPR this morning about new discoveries regarding the flight patterns of bar-headed geese. These birds are known for their incredible ability to fly over the Himalayas on their annual migration to central Asia. Until now, it was often assumed that the birds reached a specific altitude and then simply…

Technology

An unexpected find and very exciting moment for researchers exploring what lies beneath 740 meters of ice in Antarctica…fish! An amazing find given the perpetual darkness and cold. In an expedition sponsored by the National Science Foundation, scientists and ice drillers bored a hole through the Ross Ice Shelf near the coast of Antarctica, 850…

Just a note to celebrate the life and times of Hedy Lamarr, who died on this day, 2000, at the age of 85. Lamarr had a very interesting career that involved major acting accomplishments, milestone acting events, and direct involvement in the invention of the technology that now forms the basis of WiFi, BlueTooth and…

I’ve decided to do a new round of profiles in the Project for Non-Academic Science (acronym deliberately chosen to coincide with a journal), as a way of getting a little more information out there to students studying in STEM fields who will likely end up with jobs off the “standard” academic science track. The fourteenth…

Information Science

Something interesting happened in 2014. The total number of databases that Nucleic Acids Research (NAR) tracks dropped by three databases! What happened?  Did people quit making databases?  No.  This year, the “dead” databases (links no longer valid) outnumber the new ones. To celebrate Digital World Biology’s release of Molecule World I’ll discuss some of the new structure databases…

I’ve recently written about the Serengeti Strategy, a coin termed by climate scientist Michael Mann to describe the anti-science strategy of personal attacks against individual scientists in an attempt to discredit valid scientific research one might find inconvenient. Science Careers (from Science Magazine) has a new item called “Science under the microscope” looking at bad…

On May 20th, 2013 I published my most popular post ever. It was The Canadian War on Science: A long, unexaggerated, devastating chronological indictment. In it, I chronicled at some considerable length the various anti-science measures by the current Canadian Conservative government. The chronological aspect was particularly interesting as you could see the ramping up…

Jobs

Exploring the Uberization of work; big retailers fight new OSHA injury reporting rule; Congress members introduce paid leave for federal workers; and John Boehner inadvertently makes the case for a minimum wage increase.

This week’s snapshot of just one work-related fatality in the U.S. This one occurred on January 23, 2015 in Middletown, CT.

Rarely do poverty and optimal health go together. In fact, income is consistently tapped as a major factor underpinning a person’s opportunity to live a long and healthy life. Unfortunately, children don’t fare much better, with low-income children facing increased risks of poor health and development. So, just how many American children face this challenge today? Four out of every 10.