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Archives for September, 2011

Anticlimactic Research

A new paper published in the journal Animal Behavior tackles the origin of the female orgasm—does it have gender-specific advantages, or is it merely a byproduct of male adaptations? Having polled 10,000 twins about their orgasmic tendencies, researchers found “no significant correlation between opposite-sex twins and siblings” and therefore concluded that “selection pressures on male…

Too Much; Not Enough

On Starts With a Bang, Ethan Siegel investigates the hamstringing of the James Webb Space Telescope. Originally scheduled to launch in 2013 at a cost of $5.1 billion, the JWST was pushed to 2015 and $6.5 billion by a government review panel that faulted NASA mismanagement. But the revised numbers counted on timely infusions of…

Feats of Engineering

It seems like every time we turn around, there’s another new smartphone or robotic butler pouring coffee in our laps. On Uncertain Principles, the engineering breakthroughs du jour are “technical advances in ion trap quantum computing.” Chad Orzel explains, “previous experiments have used optical frequencies to manipulate the states of the ions, using light from…

Editor Does What’s Right (for Wrong)

On Deltoid, Tim Lambert reports that Wolfgang Wagner, Editor-in-Chief of the journal Remote Sensing, has taken personal responsibility for the publication of a “problematic” paper and resigned his role. Wagner writes, “With this step I would also like to personally protest against how the authors and like-minded climate sceptics have much exaggerated the paper’s conclusions,”…

East Coast Disaster Aftermath

Natural disaster struck twice last month on the east coast of the United States: first, a magnitude 5.8 earthquake rattled windows from Atlanta to Boston, and then a waning hurricane whirled all the way to New York City and on to Canada as a tropical storm. The temblor caused hundreds of millions of dollars in…

Extraterrestrial Seed

Earlier this month, NASA announced the discovery of DNA components in a meteorite. On We Beasties, Heather Olins writes that “while claims of meteorites containing DNA components have been made before, they may very well have been terrestrial contamination. This seems to be different, because the meteorite also contains similar molecules that are never found…

Eye-Catching Classes (and Carats)

On Starts With a Bang, Ethan Siegel explains that although we see the full range of spectral classes in the night sky—from cool red M stars to blazing blue O’s—75% of nearby stars “are the reddest, coolest, M-class stars, including the closest star to us.” Only 4.2 light-years away, Proxima Centauri “is invisible even with…

Mind the Red Herrings

On Stoat, a new paper says that misinformation causes confusion about otherwise settled climate science, and suggests that the “direct study of misinformation” can potentially “sharpen student critical thinking skills, raise awareness of the processes of science such as peer review, and improve understanding of the basic science.” William M. Connolley looks at more papers…

Incredible Animal Adaptations

Greg Laden reports that scientists have sequenced the genome of the Tammar Wallaby, which boasts “the longest period of embryonic diapause of any known mammal, highly synchronized seasonal breeding and an unusual system of lactation.” The new research “provides a hitherto lacking understanding of marsupial gene evolution and hopes to have identified marsupial-specific genetic elements.”…

Evidence, Layer by Layer

Evidence that life on Earth is very old (and of humble origin) continues to accrue, but some beliefs are insurmountable. On EvolutionBlog, Jason Rosenhouse refutes the argument that the evolution of complex molecules and organisms is highly improbable. He notes that if we “imagine evolution proceeding by selecting genotypes entirely at random, then the probability…