Nam et ipsa scientia potestas est (And thus knowledge itself is power)
— Sir Francis Bacon.
As you know, the first full week of October is Nobel Prize week, the week when new discoveries and innovations that benefit humanity are celebrated on the worldwide stage. In short, this is the one week of the year when scientists get to be international “rock stars”! So in honor of the Nobels, I think it is appropriate to celebrate science by focusing on those who write about science, nature, medicine and technology for the public. The only blog carnival that does this is Scientia Pro Publica (Science for the People). I hope you enjoy this collection of essays and that you are encouraged to submit essays as you read your way through the blogosphere during the next couple weeks.
Nature and Natural History
Many scientists got their start early, often by being exposed to nature when they were kids. In this photoessay, Spider Webs and Warblers, the author, Dan of Nature Observances — by Forestal, takes his eight-year-old son out hiking and spends a little time seeing the world through his son’s eyes. As an added bonus, the author does add three bird species to his Life List, too (no photos of those, however).
The author of the blog with a self-admitted identity crisis, Save Your Breath For Running Ponies, wrote about the Tongue-eating louse, Cymothoa exigua, which acts as a fish parasite. This essay, “It Pays To Be Nice To Your Tongue-Eating Isopod, Unfortunate Weaverfish,” is written in an engaging conversational tone that will appeal to many readers.
What do birds and bees have in common? Some species of birds and bees act as pollinators. In this photoessay, written and published by my friend, DNLee, author of Urban Science Adventures! you will find an interesting refresher course in pollination ecology.
Pollination involves plants as well as their pollinators, which provides a nice segue to Surbhi Bhatia’s contribution at The Viewspaper. This essay, Micro-Propagation: A Revolution in Agriculture, investigates the practice of rapidly multiplying stock plant material to produce a large number of progeny plants, using modern plant tissue culture methods. This brief piece investigates both the positive and negative social aspects associated with this practice.
Not all introduced species are beneficial. Even when introduced for beneficial reasons, introduced species can have unforeseen negative impacts on the environment and the native species around them. Take Cane Toads: they were introduced to Australia to control a particular bug, but ended up eating everything they could fit in their mouths, especially native, endangered species. Or look at the mongoose, brought to Hawaii to control rat populations. While it does enjoy the invasive rodents, it also feeds on the eggs of native birds, decimating their populations. Now, there’s another species to add to the list of dangerous invasives: The Japanese White-Eye. In this essay, written by Observations of a Nerd, we learn that White-Eyes are Killing Off Native Birds In Hawaii.
As an undergrad, I studied the natural history of bacteria for one of my undergrad projects. I focused on the voraciously predatory Bdellovibrio spp., which are aggressive free-swimming hunters (I always visualized them as the orcas of the bacterial world). As a result of my undergrad studies, I became only the third person in the world to culture wild Bdellovibrio in the lab, according to my sources. In this essay, Lab Rat tells us about the various hunting strategies used by wild bacteria to seek out, destroy, and consume their prey — including strategies used by “my” Bdellovibrios.
DNLee presents her notes on the Ethology Conference — The Development of Behavior on her blog, Urban Science Adventures! This conference consists of four days, each organized around one of Nikolaas Tinbergen’s Four Questions (need I remind you that Tinbergen was a co-winner of the 1973 Nobel Prize in Medicine, along with Karl von Frisch and Konrad Lorenz?)
In his analysis, Misunderstanding Dawkins: The Role of Metaphor in Science, Eric Michael Johnson at The Primate Diaries proposes the question, “At what point do genes stop having a profound influence [over evolution] and memes take over?” The comments are thoughtful as well.
Psychology and Psychiatry
Speaking of behavior, here’s an interesting situation where the human subconscious reveals the truth to a careful observer. In this scenario, a man accused of a crime is brought into a police interrogation room and sits down at an empty table. There’s no polygraph equipment in sight, and the typical two-cop questioning team isn’t in the room either. Instead, one officer enters the room with a piece of paper and a pencil in his hands. He sets them in front of the suspect, steps back, and calmly says, “draw.” What is the purpose of this exercise? In this essay, the author of Neuronarrative, David DiSalvo, tells us that the police are relying on the psychology of lying to trip up liars. For example, if a person claimed to have met a particular person somewhere, the liar will not be able to draw the specifics of a location where they hadn’t been and would not include a drawing of the person they’d supposedly met in that location.
The structure of the brain is hypothesized to mediate some mental illnesses. Such is the case with the corpus callosum, the bridge between the two hemispheres of the brain. According to Julian Jaynes, who first hypothesized that poor neural communication between these two hemispheres is the underlying reason that some people hear voices, this was the ancestral condition for humans. Nowadays, most people who hear voices inside their heads are unusual and are diagnosed as schizophrenics. In this essay, Hearing Voices — Underpinnings of Auditory Hallucinations by BrainBlogger, we are provided with an interesting overview to the social and neurological phenomena associated with hearing voices.
In the midst of much health care reform talk, not enough attention seems focused on ensuring health care systems’ preparedness to deal with cognitive health issues — with Alzheimer’s Disease as the most dramatic example. These health issues are predicted to grow, given aging population trends. Sharp Brains investigates and reports on this topic in an interesting (and somewhat depressing) essay entitled Alzheimer’s Disease: is our Healthcare System Ready?
This essay, by Richard Grant at The Scientist, is a combination of behavior and chemistry. It presents an amusing real-life glimpse into learning and behavior by describing an unforgettable chemistry lesson about exothermic reactions: On School days — Part III.
Physics & Astronomy
Why do we need to know the precise distance between the moon and the Earth and why should we care about this? The author of ArcSecond answers these questions in an interesting geometrically-based essay entitled Reflections on the Moon.
That Blurry Boundary between Mathematics, Statistics and Technology
Continuing to blur the boundaries between mathematics, statistics and technology, let’s pretend that you are a contestant on a game show, and are asked to pick one of three doors, behind one of which is a new car that you win if you pick it. After picking a door, the host then reveals one of the other doors without a car in it, and offers to let you switch your choice. So, should you switch? The answer is always yes: If you switch, you have a 2/3 chance of winning the car, and if you stay the course, you have a 1/3 chance of winning. This blog essay provides the code necessary to simulate this rejection sampling scenario in a computer game.
In Virus Illusion Confusion, Stephen Curry, author of Reciprocal Space abuses an iPhone and encourages his readers to puzzle out the scientific phenomenon underlying what this abuse reveals to us.
Science and Society
Denis DuBay writes A letter to George Will on the blog, This View of Earth about Will’s responsibility to correctly present science to the public. In this letter, DuBay writes; “As a supposedly intelligent observer and writer, you have every right, and even obligation, to critically evaluate and comment upon alternative courses of action we might take to address the climate-change challenge facing us. You even have the right in a free country to misrepresent the scientific evidence. However, when you misrepresent the scientific evidence, you do yourself, your children, and the rest of us, serious harm.”
Hope Leman presents Nature Precedings: a Fusion of Science 2.0, Open Science, Research 2.0 and Social Networking on her blog, Next Generation Science. This is an interesting user-generated commentary about the new open access site, Nature Preceedings.
Accredited Online Colleges sent in a list of 50 Fascinating Lectures on the Future of the Planet. This list includes links to each lecture which are mostly audio or video lectures that are freely available to the public. I have not viewed all of these videos nor listened to all the audio files, and there is easily enough material linked there to keep the average person busy for many weeks.
Last but not least, in The Missing Link, Romeo Vitelli, author of Providentia, briefly examines the lives of “freaks” that were often hailed as “A Living Proof of Darwin’s Theory of the Descent of Man” by circuses, zoos and museums. In this essay, you’ll learn that, as the popularity of these “freak shows” waned, a surprising social phenomenon rose to take its place.
Thus ends this edition of Scientia Pro Publica (Science for the People). The host for the upcoming 19 October edition is Luke at Genetic Interference. To send your submissions to Scientia Pro Publica, either use this automated submission form or use the cute little widget on the right (sometimes that widget doesn’t upload when the mother site is nonfunctional). Be sure to include the URL or “permalink”, the essay title and, to make life easier for the host, please include a 2-3 sentence summary. If you wish to read the archived issues to see those contributions that were included previously, visit the Scientia website for links to archived carnivals. Please note that all essays must be written for the purpose of communicating with the public and non-specialists, and all submissions that look suspiciously as either advertising or pseudoscience will be rejected.
Since this is a traveling blog carnival, it needs host sites to travel to. I need hosts for these editions: 16 November, 7 & 21 December and all editions that will publish in 2010. If you are interested in hosting this carnival on your blog, please contact me as soon as possible by emailing me or leaving a comment here (please note that I prefer hosts who have had their writing included in one or more editions of this carnival). Scientia Pro Publica is published on the first and third Monday of each month, so feel free to choose a particular date, or I’ll assign you the first available date.