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What we're talking about Saturday, March 25, 2017

Exoplanet Extravaganza

“It isn’t only the beauty of the night sky that thrills me. It’s the sense I have that some of those points of light are the home stars of beings not so different from us, daily cares and all. who look across space with wonder, just as we do.” -Frank Drake What is it that…

As more and more exoplanets (at first) and earth-like exoplanets (eventually) have been discovered, the way thy are described to us has become increasingly sophisticated. Below are embeds of diverse video descriptions that have been very quickly developed and distributed given the freshness of this latest scientific discovery. Note that the practice of very clearly…

Exoplanet hunters have discovered a cache of rocky planets orbiting a star called TRAPPIST-1 only forty light-years away. Compared to our sun, TRAPPIST-1 is tiny, and all its planets orbit closer than Mercury orbits Sol. But three of them are still in the Goldilocks zone that could be just right for life, and all seven planets could theoretically hold liquid water. While Ethan Siegel introduces the neighboring star system with spectacular illustrations from NASA and ESO, Greg Laden says that the practice of saying these images are artistic interpretations "has largely fallen by the wayside." Instead, scientific outreach has turned to storytelling in order to capture public interest.

Channel Surfing

Life Science

Leptin is a hormone that signals the brain to suppress appetite in humans. While researchers at the University of Michigan described a similar appetite regulating role for leptin in South African clawed frogs (Xenopus), they also discovered that leptin signals limb development in tadpoles. They suspect that this happens once there are sufficient energy stores to begin the…

The Neotropical Companion by John Kricher came out years ago, in the late 80s if I recall correctly. I’ve got a copy of it around somewhere. I loved that book because it did a great job integrating all the things in one place: animals, plants, habitats, evolution, etc. Even though I was working in the…

What it’s like to be an octopus? This review of Peter Godfrey Smith’s book, Other Minds: The Octopus, the Sea, and the Deep Origins of Consciousness, captures perfectly why I’ve been fascinated by them — they’re the closest thing to aliens we’ve got. Unlike cetaceans – whose sentience it is possible to imagine, partly because…

Physical Science

“It is only through labor and painful effort, by grim energy and resolute courage, that we move on to better things.” -Theodore Roosevelt Energy is a fundamental property of nature, and yet it’s also one of the most purely understood phenomena from a conceptual point of view. Some objects have energy inherently, such as in…

I mentioned in passing in the Forbes post about science funding that I’m thoroughly sick of hearing about how the World Wide Web was invented at CERN. I got into an argument about this a while back on Twitter, too, but had to go do something else and couldn’t go into much detail. It’s probably…

“The creation of something new is not accomplished by the intellect but by the play instinct acting from inner necessity. The creative mind plays with the objects it loves.” -Carl Jung 13.8 billion years ago, the Universe as we know it came into existence. Today, the part we can observe is 46 billion light years…

Environment

28 years ago today, the Exxon Valdez oil tanker ran aground off the coast of Alaska and released 11 million gallons of crude oil.

Media Matters has an amazing and rather depressing report out on the way broadcast media in the US covered climate change. I’m going to give you a handful of bullet points that reflect only some of the results of this detailed study, then you go read it. Bottom line: Coverage in 2016 was a fraction…

The Great Persuasion: Reinventing Free Markets since the Depression is a history by Angus Burgin of… well, you can read the potted summaries there, none are quite exact, I’ll off you another gross simplification: of the transition from Hayek as prophet-in-the-wilderness to the triumph of Friedman. So, this post is yet more politics, or economics,…

Humanities

You all know about this: It is being said that the OK sign is used to indicated “White Power” and this use has been spotted among politicians and celebrities everywhere. Is this real? I don’t know. Is it a valid symbol for “White Power”? Certainly not. The problem with the white power symbol is that…

California farmworkers living in fear of deportation; Ontario health care workers call on officials to address violence in the workplace; West Virginia legislators consider dramatic loosening of mine safety standards; and thousands of workers get ready to strike on May 1.

“Qualitative research” seems largely to mean “anecdotal material with no statistical representativity”. I’m starting a support group for people who think the novel American Gods is not great, not bad, not particularly memorable. Woah-ho, dude. Lucid dreaming is when you train yourself to a) know that you’re dreaming, b) direct events in the dream. This…

Education

I mentioned in passing in the Forbes post about science funding that I’m thoroughly sick of hearing about how the World Wide Web was invented at CERN. I got into an argument about this a while back on Twitter, too, but had to go do something else and couldn’t go into much detail. It’s probably…

A bunch of people in my social-media feeds are sharing this post by Alana Cattapan titled Time-sucking academic job applications don’t know enormity of what they ask. It describes an ad asking for two sample course syllabi “not merely syllabi for courses previously taught — but rather syllabi for specific courses in the hiring department,”…

Water bears, aka tardigrades, are resilient little creatures. These microscopic animals can survive both freezing and boiling temperatures, radiation, high pressure, starvation, the vacuum of space and even desiccation. This last ability caught the attention of a team of researchers interested in how they are able to survive for years despite being completely dried out, an ability known…

Politics

In real estate. I’m not an expert on this but I’ve seen the sausage being made a few times. Individuals with investment money, commercial businesses that might use new space, other possible tenants, maybe or maybe not some designers or builders, municipal or other government stakeholders, community stakeholders such as neighborhood associations, etc. consider a…

I mentioned in passing in the Forbes post about science funding that I’m thoroughly sick of hearing about how the World Wide Web was invented at CERN. I got into an argument about this a while back on Twitter, too, but had to go do something else and couldn’t go into much detail. It’s probably…

A bunch of people in my social-media feeds are sharing this post by Alana Cattapan titled Time-sucking academic job applications don’t know enormity of what they ask. It describes an ad asking for two sample course syllabi “not merely syllabi for courses previously taught — but rather syllabi for specific courses in the hiring department,”…

Medicine

I’ve written before about how our vaccination rate here in Michigan are…suboptimal. Indeed, a couple of years ago, health officials were so alarmed at the increases in personal belief exemptions to school vaccine mandates that a new regulation was instituted that require parents seeking nonmedical exemptions to school vaccine mandates to travel to an office…

Out of southern California, comes a lesson that something as seemingly benign as turmeric can kill when weaponized in the hands of a quack.

The grieving widower killed the naturopath who treated his wife with cancer after telling her that “chemo is for losers.” Where I see a tragedy, naturopaths see an opportunity to argue for naturopathic licensure.

Brain & Behavior

Darwin’s Unfinished Symphony: How Culture Made the Human Mind is a new book on cultural evolution in humans from a biological perspective. This is an interesting book and a good book, and I recommend it, but I need to add a strong caveat. The author could have made a more compelling argument had he more…

via GIPHY A new article published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences presents the discovery of a species of frog with fluorescence. The South American polka dot tree frog, aka Hypsiboas punctatus is already rather cute under normal light. But when exposed to UV light, this frog really shines. It gets its glowing personality from…

I had a bunch of quarters in my pocket. About six dollars worth, along with a couple of one dollar coins. I pulled all the change out of my pocket and placed it on a desktop. I walked away. A few minutes later, I went to grab the coins so I could bring them to…

Technology

Researchers studying komodo dragons (Varanus komodoensis) at George Mason University discovered 48 previously unknown peptides in their blood that might have antimicrobial properties. Their findings were published in the Journal of Proteome Research. For the largest lizard, these peptides may help prevent the animals from getting infections from their own saliva, which is host to at least 57 species…

This is much better than the one you’ve already seen.

Drones are so early 20th century: That doesn’t actually look too hard to make. The only tricky part is how to attach it to the monkey.

Information Science

The world is going to hell in a hand basket. But at least we can laugh as we’re sucked relentlessly into the Hellmouth. Maybe if we all collectively understood science and evidence better, the path to Hell wouldn’t be quite so straight and narrow. So maybe that’s what’s making me think of these particular funny…

OK, I admit, Friday Fun a few days late… In any case, last Friday marked the 20th anniversary of the premiere of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Yes, March 10, 1997 marked the very first episode of one of the greatest TV shows of all time, and certainly my personal favourite. Although I didn’t start watching…

In 2015, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency released a report finding 457 fracking-related spills in eight states between 2006 and 2012. Last month, a new study tallied more than 6,600 fracking spills in just four states between 2005 and 2014. But, as usual, the numbers only tell part of the story.

Jobs

A bunch of people in my social-media feeds are sharing this post by Alana Cattapan titled Time-sucking academic job applications don’t know enormity of what they ask. It describes an ad asking for two sample course syllabi “not merely syllabi for courses previously taught — but rather syllabi for specific courses in the hiring department,”…

President Trump’s nominee for Labor Secretary provided a peek during his confirmation hearing on his approach to running the Labor Department. Several things he said made me ask myself: “will employees at the Labor Department challenge Alex Acosta to keep his word on that?”

California farmworkers living in fear of deportation; Ontario health care workers call on officials to address violence in the workplace; West Virginia legislators consider dramatic loosening of mine safety standards; and thousands of workers get ready to strike on May 1.