Posts tagged science
Posts tagged science
There may come a time when, late one night deep in the forests of Madagascar, you stumble upon something that is magnificent in its diminution. A creature so glorious in its eensiness that you must steel every nerve to keep the squee at bay. But this encounter was no accident… you spent months of planning, weeks of waiting for permits and equipment, and so many long nights setting traps to ensnare this single, miniscule beast…
And now it is time.
Time to make the decision that will either bring these months to their most glorious fruition, or leave you bitter and empty-handed.
1) Gingerly rub the soft mound of its belly… gently! Ever so gently…
2) Daub its tiny ventrum with rubbing alcohol? Cooling sensations help!
3) Delicately squeeze it? It is, after all, roughly the size of a travel-sized toothpaste tube.
Choose, but choose wisely:
There are only so many ways to convince a mouse lemur (Microcebus spp.) to urinate.
And you NEED that urine.
Special thanks to my one of my favorite partners in gimlet-soaked-Jesus-hosted-glittery-burlesque crime for this post (and the International Primatological Society meetings in Hanoi for bringing us together again). Keep gingerly rubbing those fuzzy bellies, Luca. Keep gingerly rubbing.
Eusociality and Other Sex-Free Lifestyles: Why Members of Sexual Species May Choose To Stay Chaste
Sometimes I hear people making derisive comments towards asexual individuals, something along the lines of how it goes against nature to never have sex, therefore something is horribly wrong with them, etc., etc.
The specific plague I wish upon those people is an infestation of termites. Why termites? I’ll talk about that in a bit.
At one point highly social behavior presented kind of a paradox to the traditional, selfish-gene style evolutionary theory. Charles Darwin famously admitted that it was the social behavior of the bee that was going to bring down his entire construction, because most bees- nay, the vast majority of all individual bees spend all their times leading pious, sexless lives centered around helping one other bee reproduce. At the peak of the season, honeybee colonies can have 60,000 nonbreeding individuals- and just one sexually active queen.
Darwin, of course, did not yet know about genes, but he had an inkling that heredity was a clue- that by helping their relatives, the bees were actually helping themselves. Later scientists have filled in more of the gaps using modern molecular science, and yes, from a genetic standpoint, helping a relative is something like helping a piece of yourself.
But at what point does the value of helping close relatives outweigh the value of actually reproducing? That is a question biologists have been grappling with for quite a while. Because in the game of evolution, what matters isn’t how big your species’ population is- what matters is how many of those individuals share your genes.
If something is ‘old as fuck’ then it’s about 1.2 billion years old because that’s when life evolved sexual reproduction.
However, if something is “old as balls” it’s only about 65 million years old, when placental mammals began to evolve proper testicles.
Fish Out of Water Learn to Walk
Around 400 million years ago, fish left the water and started to evolve into land-loving creatures. But how did the transition happen? A new and unusual experiment could shed some light on the kinds of changes that enabled fins to become limbs. Researchers took a fish species known to be able to walk on its fins from time to time, and raised it on land. Watch the fish promenade in this Nature Video.
Read the paper: http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/nature13708
Read the News & Views: http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/nature13743
The Gouldian finch are small, brightly colored birds with green backs, yellow bellies, and purple breasts with a light blue uppertail and a cream undertail. Sometimes called lady gouldians, their facial color can vary, but black is the most common. Gouldian finch chicks are equipped with blue phosphorescent beads along their mouths, making it easy for the parents to feed them in the darkness of the nest cavity.
Photo credit: Greg Grall/National Aquarium
99.999% chance that this species has a problem with brood parasitism. Especially with that intricately patterned palate. Also, those bright beads don’t just help parents see the chicks- they actually help the chicks compete with one another to get the most food from mom and dad. The flashier the mouth, the more attention they receive.
Carboni is back!
Solar Eclipse and Milky Way seen from ISS (International Space Station)
LIFE IS TRULY AMAZING
The Functions of Different Pupil Shapes
There are a lot of different pupil shapes among vertebrates (and some invertebrates, too).
The eye itself is kind of a weird misshapen organ, particularly in land animals where it has had to compensate for, you know, the fact that it originally evolved in the water. Light passes differently through water than it does in air, not to mention that now we have to worry about our lenses- which have to be moist to properly function- drying out.
But the focus (ha ha) today is on the pupil, the transparent bit inside the iris that allows light to enter the eye. Without it, our eyes would be functionless. With it, there are a whole bunch of different ways that animals can shape their vision- and their pupil- to their advantage.
Of course, no two scientists seem to agree on exactly what these advantages are.
In which The Huffington Post confirms what vampires have known all along.
Vampire Mom Reveals One Weird Trick to Reverse Aging - Her Elders Are Furious!!!
I would really like someone to explain to me how birds are literally reptiles. Every time I contest that decision the response I get is basically “people with PhDs say this. you obviously don’t know how to science. here is some jargon which I hope you don’t understand.” and there is no effort made to clear up the issue. Birds are endothermic, and they have different respiratory systems and hearts from reptiles, not to mention the myriad of morphological trademarks that are completely unique to them. Really birds are as different from reptiles as mammals are different from reptiles, but for some reason they’re more and more frequently being lumped together. I know the history and the way the phylogenetic tree works and all that, but I don’t understand why the distinction between birds and reptiles is fading in the way we refer to them. Could someone just explain this to me? Because everyone I’ve asked about it gets defensive and elitist and acts like I’m insulting their mothers.
It depends on which definition of “reptile” you’re using. “Scaly cold-blooded animal” is what most people mean by the word in casual conversation, but if you mean any animal more closely related to lizards than to mammals (sauropsids) then yes, birds are reptiles.
Basically, “reptile” is a confusing word.
What countries have most influenced the way you speak? Take this test designed by MIT researchers and find out.
Take this test, guys! It determines what dialect you speak (if your native language is English) and which country you are from (if English isn’t your first language!).
It is an algorithm which maps out the differences in English grammar around the world.
Their top 3 guesses for my English dialect were Canadian, American, & South African, while their top 3 guesses for my native language were English, Russian, & Dutch!
Their choices for dialect:
American Standard (yep!)
Singaporean (at least I won’t sound too American if I go there?)
Canadian (I guess?)
Their choices for first language:
Portuguese (no Spanish?)
I did tell them my own speaking is a mix of Upstate New York and Southern.
1. South African (that was a surprise)
2. American (Standard)
3. US Black Vernacular
they guessed that my native first language is Dutch ….
I was imagining that my first choice for dialect would be American standard and second would be RP, but South African? What the shit? I’ve never even been to the continent of Africa!
1. American (Standard)
1. English (yeh)
Our top three guesses for your English dialect:1. Singaporean
3. American (Standard)
Our top three guesses for your native (first) language:
1. American (Standard)
2. US Black Vernacular / Ebonics
I don’t know about option #2. I’m white so I don’t *intentionally* use Ebonics or AAVE, because that’d be cultural appropriation among other things. But I do hang out with a very racially mixed group of people, both online and in real life, so it’s possible I’ve picked stuff up.
2. American (Standard)
1. New Zealand
2. South African
Dialect - Australian, Scottish, South African. Native language - English, Finnish, German. Got both correct, the other choices are interesting!
Got South African, American (Standard), and Canadian. Not sure where South African came from…
Got native language right (English), but its secondary guess was Russian, which is kind of interesting since Mom was Lithuanian. (Third guess was Dutch.)
Fish from Acidic Waters Less Able to Smell
Fish living on coral reefs where carbon dioxide seeps from the ocean floor are less able to detect predator odor than fish from normal coral reefs, according to a new study.
The study confirms laboratory experiments showing that the behavior of reef fishes can be seriously affected by increased carbon dioxide concentrations in the ocean. The new study is the first to analyze the sensory impairment of fish from CO2 seeps, where pH is similar to what climate models forecast for surface waters by the turn of the century.
Read more: http://www.laboratoryequipment.com/news/2014/04/fish-acidic-waters-less-able-smell
'Expertise' as used here almost always requires the acceptance and approval of the Powers That Be - automatically excluding anyone who has knowledge that comes from experience (look, ‘expert’ and ‘experience’ have the same root for a reason), who can’t afford/has no access to traditional institutions through which ‘expertise’ is conferred, whose expertise conflicts with the agenda of those Powers, etc., etc.
The glory of Google and Wikipedia and everything like them is their ability to democratize knowledge. Furthermore, that is precisely what teachers want: to help people learn stuff, whether they normally would or not, whether it’s taught in schools or has been thrown aside for three months of test prep, whether it’s the area someone specializes in or is simply curious about… There’s no reason whatsoever that knowledge has to come from a ‘professional’ rather than some other source; that doesn’t make the knowledge any less potent, or any less true.
There is no division between “students and teachers, knowers and wonderers”. I am a teacher; I am also a student, always, because no matter your knowledge, you can always learn more. ‘Knowers’ v. ‘wonderers’? Really? How do you think people come to know things in the first place? I’m definitely an ‘expert’ on a number of things—an institutionally certified expert, even!—but I still wonder about all those things. Besides, who determines what is ‘knowing’? Plenty of those things I have expertise in are *not* institutionally certified, and that makes my expertise not one whit less.
For instance: I know a shitload more about recovering from traumatic brain events than my neurologist. He knows all about how these things happen in the first place, all the ins and outs and mechanisms; however, when it comes to practical advice for what’s necessary to not continue to fuck yourself up in the weeks afterward, he learns a hell of a lot from me. He’s an MD/PhD, he’s about as ‘expert’ as you can get; but that’s nothing in the face of actual experience. In fact, the main reason I knew he was an infinitely better doctor than the other neurologists I’d seen is because he acknowledged how little he knew about the experience of, say, having your life force drained from you by anti-seizure medication. Despite his honest-to-Dog genius, he does not pretend to all-encompassing expertise, or treat his fount of knowledge as the only valid source - which makes him smarter and more ‘expert’ than anyone who thinks they know it all.
And everyone knows that the only difference between professionals and laymen is that one gets paid for their achievements and the other doesn’t. It’s such a pathetic example, really: ‘laymen’ is a word created to distinguish the people who were not endorsed by the institutional Powers That Be in religious life; the Jesus Christ of the Bible was a layman, and as such was anathema to the institution. Now, we’ve all seen how much we should blindly trust and accept what the Church/etc. tells us, right?
Finally, that bit about “achievement in an area” is utterly nonsensical. Is ‘achievement’ supposed to stand in for ‘experience’—which, as already noted, is never accepted as institutionally valid in conferring ‘expertise’? Does ‘achievement’ mean an official document a la a diploma? How many of the world’s political leaders have degrees in management, policy, diplomacy, etc.? Have they ‘achieved’ less than those who have studied those topics in a fucking ivory tower? To reverse the question, there’s that old saw about how those who can’t do, teach. Now, I think that’s bullshit, because teaching is a fucking skill, and plenty of people who have incredible achievement in an area can’t go into a classroom and convey any of that in a useful way. By the same token, when those people *are* good teachers, do we keep them out of the classroom because their ‘expertise’ comes from experience rather than academic success? Never.
This whole thing is bullshit. All those signal words—expertise, professional, layman, student, teacher, knower, wonderer, achievement—are deliberately misused, ignorant of their actual definitions and meanings, to make a faux-profound statement that has no purpose other than to bitch about how the Powers That Be are no longer as all-important in conferring expertise as they used to be.
You can be an expert without paying for it. That really pisses this person off.
"I worry that in an information-driven age of technological marvels, nobody will treat me like I’m a wizard-priest anymore."
I think this is becoming a sort of under-the-table war. And I’m not really exaggerating. For example, recently various academic groups and journals have been banning their members and editors from having blogs:
“Academic blogging grew from the desire to compensate for people being unable to access academic scholarship,” Saideman told the Guardian. He said academic blogging has become a part of a professor’s job and that it is part of a movement to share scholarship with broader groups of people, including translating it into other languages.
One of his many critiques of the ISA’s proposal is that it further reduces the plurality of voices in scholarship, potentially affecting the number of minorities and women heard in academic discussions. If you’re telling people that the only way to be on editorial teams is by reducing your voice elsewhere, then that’s logically going to reduce the amount of voices out there,” Saideman said.
I’m a scientist. I’m not sure how other disciplines work, but for science, this ease-of-learning is the greatest thing ever.
I mean, it does have the slight downside that a lot of people don’t know the difference between peer-reviewed scientific research and something an angry layman made up on their blog, but that’s a teething problem. The laypeople of my generation know a lot more about reliable sources than the previous generation, and the next will know even more. I don’t think that random googling and home workshopping will ever compensate fully for actual scientific training, largely because there’s no regulation. But that’s not the point.
Science works by taking a lot of different people who are interested in the truth and having them all work on similar sorts of things and interpret the facts as best they can. Everyone is, of course, biased. Everyone wants their preferred truth to ‘win’, everyone makes accidental assumptions that support what they want to be true, even in the most evidence-based practices. But the whole point of science is that because the evidence is what’s important, these biases balance out within the community. If an experimenter misses a detail, somebody else picks up on it. If an experiment gives unusual results, this is noticed when other people repeat it. Science works only because there is a huge amount of variety in the way scientists think, in what they think about, and in what they personally believe.
But the problem that nobody will talk about in science is this: there’s not that much variety. Because in school, we were given a bunch of facts about the world to memorise, and we were told (wrongly) that memorising those was “science”. Some of us loved doing that. Most people hated it. those that loved it kept doing it, and many of us became scientists. But here’s the thing — there’s no reason whatsoever to believe that people who like memorising stuff about the world will necessarily make the best scientists. This process filters out people who think differently, and then we look back and say ‘well they didn’t do well in science and they gave it up so clearly they don’t have the mind for it’. Of course they gave it up. We forced them out by lying about what science was.
My point here is that some people don’t have the attention span to read a bunch of scientific articles. Some people don’t have the right linguistic aptitude for it — or, come to think of it, the money for it, since many of these things are behind a paywall and only members of scientific and educational institutions can browse them freely. Some people don’t care about how photosynthesis works unless it relates directly to what they’re doing at the time. Without so much open access to information, these people would be filtered out of the scientific community. But with things like the internet, they’re not. Some of them might decide to become scientists if they self-teach the basics, because the basics aren’t ridiculously boring for them that way. Many won’t, but they’ll still be more knowledgable about the world, still participate in forum discussions, still advise scientist friends and blog for science students. And this is a problem because… what? Us textbooky people can’t pretend to be smarter than everyone else any more? Somebody who failed year 11 chemistry might have the audacity to correct our physics calculations based on what they learned from google scholar?
I’m having a little trouble seeing that as a bad thing.