Living the Scientific Life (Scientist, Interrupted)

The Tangled BankWelcome to the 49th issue of Tangled Bank. Honestly, I was blown away by the large number of contributions that I received (if I counted correctly, there are 34 essays in this issue). This response was unexpected, and I was awake almost all night preparing this for you, so I hope you are ready to settle in with a glass of wine while you devote your time and brain space to reading and thinking about science, nature and medicine. If there are any broken links, please notify me via email and I will fix as soon as humanly possible (well, after I wake up from my nap).


My drinking pal and sibling blogger at the famous Pharyngula, PZ Myers, reports on an interesting paper published in Human Genetics that describes an extreme example of scrambled chromosomes in a mother and her daughter. After looking at the figures that accompany this case study, you will be amazed to know that the mother was able to reproduce at all, in fact.

The wonderfully multi-talented Ewen Callaway, author of Complex Medium, describes how bacteria compensate for reduced fitness after developing antibiotic resistance. Hint: It has nothing to do with prayer.

Another of my sibling bloggers, Tara, at Aetiology, finally escaped the clutches of AIDS deniers long enough to send her contribution, Edenomics 101. Tara’s piece analyzes two papers by Jeffrey Schragin that were published in the back-slapping creationist magazine, Creation Research Society Quarterly.

Coturnix, author of the science blog, Circadiana, writes about procaryotic circadian rhythms in cyanobacteria. This article also discusses the data suggesting that circadian clocks evolved five separate times.

Spring is .. springing, and everywhere you look, there it is! Sex, sex, sex; it’s everywhere! But in the midst of all this overt passion, have you ever wondered why sex is so ubiquitous? How did sex evolve? There recently was a paper published in the top-tier journal, Nature, that explores this very question, and Dan writes a long but interesting essay about it. The first author on this very same paper, Ricardo, also discusses this paper on his blog (congratulations for being published in Nature, Ricardo!). His contribution includes links to several more articles.

Sibling blogger at Evolgen, RPM, writes about another recent paper that appeared in the top-tier journal, Nature. This paper suggests that the phenotypic differences between humans and chimpanzees is due to the divergence in gene expression, rather than changes in structure (i.e.; coding sequences). Further, the protein sequences of these transcription factors appear to be evolving under positive selection, which may lead to differential expression of the genes whose expression is regulated by these “master controller” genes.

Kambiz reports that a new paper in Biology Letters suggests that, contrary to the accepted dogma, the evolution of primate vision was NOT driven by the need to effectively exploit fruits as a food source. This was primarily based on natural selection for seeing red colors — an indicator that fruits are ripe and therefore, ready to eat. According to Kambiz, this paper proposes another, alternative, selective force for seeing red colors in primates. (Male Mandrill, pictured).

Evolutionary Philosophy

A new group blog by a group of philosophers, hpb etc., contributes an essay by Rob that focuses on historical and conceptual issues in evolutionary biology, Solving Lewontin’s “Paradox of Variation?”

Science And Ethics

Janet, sibling blogger at Adventures in Science and Ethics, raises important points regarding how to recognize the limits of one’s expertise. She points out that as much as there is to know, you can’t be an expert on everything. Knowing how far the tether of your expertise extends is part of being a responsible scientist.

Speaking of ethical issues, there also is the situation where one can oversell one’s research to the public. Long-time blog pal, Peter, author of B and B, discusses two topics in his contribution, Icy super-Earth or Gassy sub-Neptune? (artist’s rendition of the new superplanet is pictured). He discusses the data in the original paper, linked from his essay, and compares this to the language used in the news story, wondering if this disparity can result in confused reporters and a head-scratching public. He writes;

Gould is clearly using the “icy super-Earth” phrase in his public statements to get press attention. An equally (perhaps more) accurate alternative — “Gassy Neptune-like world” — would not attract nearly the same attention. Well over a hundred extrasolar planets have been discovered in the last decade — what’s one more without a catchy slogan?

And then there’s the situation where science influences social justice: nowhere is science playing a larger role in justice than perhaps in the fight against diseases such as AIDS, malaria, and Tuberculosis – particularily in the ravaged developing world. The public perception of this social role of science is strongly affected by the media and entertainment industries, in particular. To address this, the Terry magazine editorial team provides a cynical and constrasting look at the economics of the entertainment industry versus things such as the U.N. Millenium Development Goals, which includes efforts to combat these devastating diseases, while also casting a positive light on the efforts towards environmental and civic sustainability by 2015.

Human Psychology and Anthropology

Violent video games and their effect on social behavior is explored in this report of a 2005 paper published in Psychological Science. In this piece, sibling blogger and writer, Dave Munger, describes a study that details a revised application of “The Prisoner’s Dilemma”, Does fighting against a common enemy promote trust? This essay comes to the conclusion that different types of violent games affect aggressive behavior differently — and the same may be true for social behavior.

A reader and blogger, Alun, kindly nominated this delightful essay, Sky Disc (pictured) — which I originally mistook for a big cookie covered with green icing — written by Laputan Logic. This story is a brief overview of an artifact putatively discovered in Germany. Probably dating from the Bronze Age, everything about this artifact is shrouded in mystery — its point of origin, the circumstances surrounding its excavation, its age and original purpose.

Politics Surrounding Health and Science

Long time blog pal and proud new papa, James, managed to find some time away from mountains of dirty diapers to comment on an article that appeared in the recent New Yorker. This article discussed the religious politics behind the debate surrounding whether to vaccinate the public against the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV, pictured). James also has a really great political cartoon accompanying this piece.

I, your host, reviewed the evidence presented in a recently published report in my rant about the identity of the real vectors that are spreading avian influenza around the world, and it ain’t wild birds, as claimed so loudly by the UN and other international agencies.

Medical News

Another long-time pal and sibling blogger of mine, Orac, writes about a rather elegant recent study that demonstrates the anti-carcinogenic effects of green tea on mice with lung cancer.

The Evil Monkey, author of Neurotopia has been writing a series about different types of hormone replacement therapies and their physiological consequences for menopausal women. In this particular piece, which is part 2, the Evil Monkey examines the composition of common hormone therapies available on the market, the physiological consequences of hormone loss and replacement, and Women’s Health Initiative (WHI) studies. (pictured; 17Beta-Estradiol, the primary circulating estrogen during reproductive years).

According to the authors of Fight Aging, there are signs of progress towards achieving the so-called longevity dividend. This article is features many links.


Charles, author of Science and Reason, discusses the important functions of Mirror Neurons (pictured). Charles’ essay is based on a piece by Sandra Blakeslee that was published in January in the New York Times.

Food Chemistry

Food chemistry is an underrepresented topic on Tangled Bank, so this contribution deserves its own category to draw reader attention to it. This essay discusses the stability of vitamins during processing. The author, Lab Cat, is a new contributor to Tangled Bank, so be sure to make her feel welcome by leaving a comment on her blog. Hopefully, more authors will send in their food chemistry essays in the future.


What is outside the boundaries of the universe? Nothing? Well, what is nothing? Rob Knop, a Professor of Astronomy and author of Galactic Interactions, contributes his thoughts about a question that he is often asked when giving talks to the public; What is the universe expanding into?

Energy in The Future

Nick Anthis, PhD Candidate and author of The Scientific Activist, contributed this piece, Is Fusion in our Future? In his essay, Nick briefly discusses the structural attributes of particular atoms that make them capable of releasing energy both when undergoing fusion as well as fission — which is counter to the “laws” governing the nature of chemical reactions that we learned — and the engineering problems associated with containing the intense heat associated with nuclear fusion. Even though he concludes that fusion energy is currently unfeasible, he is unwilling to give up on this energy source just yet.

Scientists Can Laugh, Too

This just out from Kansas, by Avant News; a new study proves that the universe was created by committee.

Science, Man and Environment

Scientists as detectives: The Questionable Authority contributes an interesting and well-written essay describing how scientists are using evolutionary biogeography to deduce the origins of an invasive insect that is threatening the continued existence of an endemic Hawai’ian tree species, the Wiliwili, Erythrina sandwichensis. This piece includes links to previous background essays by the same author.

A new member of the ScienceBlogs community, FrinkTank, was inspired by the CATO Institute to write an earnest and personal discussion about an impending extinction; ours. They observe that we’re fooling ourselves if we deny that the writing is on the wall. No one has an end-stage plan for what to do when the Earth’s population swells to 10 billion or more. Can you say “Soylent Green”?

Jennifer at Invasive Species writes about the “termites in the mulch” urban legend that was having a go-around last week in her essay, Termite Over Matter.

I wanted to introduce this essay to you as another example of an invasive species, but wondered if I was making a bad pun … well, you be the judge. John Lynch, a faculty fellow in Arizona and blog sibling, writes about the catfish from hell. I’d tell you more about this essay, but why spoil your fun? Instead, I’ll tell you the basic question: does this tiny catfish really lodge itself inside the penises (peni?) of unsuspecting skinny-dipping humans?

Nature and Natural History

Mike, author of 10,000 Birds, contributed this brief natural history of the Northern Shoveler, Anas clypeata, a lovely duck species. This piece includes a wonderful photo of a drake in Central Park.

The Eastern Phoebe, Sayornis phoebe, is considered by many to be a harbinger of spring on the east coast. Long-time blog pal, John, tells us more about the natural history of this fairly common bird species.

Carel Brest van Kempen, artist extraordinaire and author of the blog, Rigor Vitae, has written an overview of frog reproductive strategies that evolved in response to desiccation and predation pressures. He also comments about the value of making your own observations. As an added bonus, he includes one of his gorgeous acrylic paintings of a strawberry poison dart frog, Dendrobates pumilio (the frog is pictured here, not the painting!), with a tadpole riding on its back as it clings to a tree trunk, high above the forest floor. When you get to the essay, be sure to click on the accompanying image for a larger version in its own window. The painting alone is worth a visit.

If you were a tree and you wanted to warn other nearby trees about leaf munching beetles, what would you do? Sandra recalls the apple-hurling trees in The Wizard of Oz when she writes this piece about talking plants.

Bev, the author of Burning Silo, writes a short essay about her nature-based phenology calendar for the coming year, basically, this is a calendar based on the timing of a series observations about the natural world. This piece includes some stunning photography.

Science Education

While not strictly science related, the anti-International Baccalaureate (anti-IB) movement has many parallels with the anti-evolution push. Wheatdogg contributes his long but well-reasoned analysis of the anti-IB movement and what it could mean for American education if it is not stopped. He writes;

Educators and parents who value their children’s education would do well to keep an eye out for these people. While IB is not widespread, the objections to it could be applied to any of a number of important educational programs. Intelligent design is not the only threat to a decent public school education.

Chris, author of Mixing Memory, describes three factors that make the job of biology teaching more difficult in Thinking About Evolution: Cognitive Factors That Get in the Way. This is a long piece, but well worth reading.

The Tangled Bank

Okay, dear readers, that’s it for this issue of Tangled Bank. I had a great time preparing it; I hope it is acceptable to you (and especially to the contributors, without whom this would not have happened). I am taking a well-deserved rest for a little while, so I hope this is enough to keep you all engaged for a few hours.

Notes about this issue: Not all submissions were accepted because I could not fit them in to the logical flow of topics available to this issue. I apologize. Only one submission per author was accepted, even though I received as many as four submissions from some of you. Also, since this is a blog carnival, I did not accept webbed submissions, even though some were sent in. Chris Clarke; several attempts download your submission were unsuccessful, so I finally gave up at 3 in the morning. I know; I am a wimp. I truly regret this because I so love your writing and wanted to include it here, and advise you to please resubmit your piece to the next issue of Tangled Bank.

Article Submissions: The next issue of Tangled Bank will be hosted by The Island of Doubt on 29 March. Submission(s) can be emailed to PZ Myers, or to the Tangled Bank host [at] tangledbank [dot] net by 28 March 2006. Please write “Tangled Bank” in the subject line.


  1. #1 Dave Munger
    March 15, 2006

    Well done! I can’t wait to read all these! And I love the pictures!

  2. #2 Tabor
    March 15, 2006

    I am exhausted just thinking about it. Knowing the pain of reading this many proposals…you deserve a hand. Now I am going to read the blog entry…

  3. #3 coturnix
    March 15, 2006

    Thank you! Great Tangled Bank!

  4. #4 ch2
    March 15, 2006

    Brilliant. Just made my way half-way through.

  5. #5 Not Shitashi
    March 15, 2006

    I love that we’re in this, but NOT in the humor category…ah, that maverick Mr. Orange. I thrill to think of how many aneurysms will result from people clicking over to our site and seeing the kind of sophomoric claptrap we usually traffick in.

  6. #6 John
    March 15, 2006

    There is so much interesting reading here.

  7. #7 Eli Stephens
    March 15, 2006

    For another aspect of mirror neurons, this article (summarized here) entitled “Are humans naturally greedy?” makes for interesting reading.

  8. #8 Dawn
    March 15, 2006

    Congrats on your Tangled Bank, nice job!

  9. #9 GrrlScientist
    March 15, 2006

    it was fun reading everything, but i wish i had scheduled more time for this than i did: there are several essays that i plan to reread this weekend.

    in fact, now that i am awake, i have rewritten the introductions for several of the linked essays so they make a little more sense. my goal is to tell readers why they want to read each piece that i link to, without spoiling their joy in discovery.

  10. #10 Max
    March 16, 2006

    Normally when I read blog carnivals, I put the carnival in the first tab in Firefox and open up the most interesting links in successive tabs; when I’m done with the carnival, there will be 3-5 links.

    I’m only about halfway through this Tangled Bank and my Firefox is already overflowing with tabs and I’m just too excited for the articles already open to even get to the others yet.

    Excellent, truly excellent, to the host and the contributors. My hat’s off to y’all.

  11. #11 Nooj
    March 17, 2006

    Thanks so much for this! Lots of reading fun and I get to learn something too. You’ve outdone yourself.

  12. #12 GrrlScientist
    March 17, 2006

    Max; that is a great compliment, i hope all the contributors read it.

    Nooj; i am happy to help increase your signal to noise ratio.

  13. #13 gbruno
    May 8, 2006

    love the blog.
    Hate that tornado advert [‘mega disasters’],
    Consider ditching it?
    I hate ads which necessitate a “close” button –
    one never knows what a shark’s ‘close’ button actually does.

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