Here’s something cool!

This plant might be the next step in creating environmentally friendly products. Image from ScienceDaily.

Just a quick one for today.  There’s this really cool story from ScienceDaily that went up this week all about what could be a new breakthrough in creating petroleum-based products using genetically engineered plants.  Pretty much, this group of scientists have [...]

A new online resource for science… well, actually Nature

The Nature Publishing Group has a new online initiative called SCITABLE. Trying not to hold the name against them, I checked out the bells and whistles of the site. Their mission is that:

SCITABLE brings together a library of scientific overviews with a worldwide community of scientists, researchers, teachers, and students. Use SCITABLE  to:

  • Learn about a range of scientific subjects
  • Collaborate online with other students and teachers
  • Publish your activities and portfolio to the worldwide science community … continue reading this entry.

Women’s Work

Two unrelated articles in separate periodicals got me thinking about gender inequality in our society. First, the NYTimes science section ran an article this week discussing a piece of legislation that has been passed by the House designed to address gender disparities in the sciences. The legislation proposes a series of workshops aimed to discuss:

methods that minimize the effects of gender bias in evaluation of Federal research grants and in the related academic advancement of actual and potential recipients of these grants, including hiring, tenure, promotion, and selection for any honor based in part on the recipient’s research record.

How they are going to address all of this in a workshop, I would love to know. … continue reading this entry.

Science: A Self-Correcting System

Nebraska Man: Proof that folks from the midwest have ALWAYS had fantastic abs.

Nebraska Man: Proof that folks from the midwest have ALWAYS had fantastic abs.

A recent study has shown that performing a lumpectomy, the removal of a woman’s lymph nodes under her armpit, does not increase survival rates for women with certain early breast cancers.  This is fantastic news for women who might suffer from symptoms of breast cancer in the coming years, but it also means that perhaps millions of women underwent unnecessary surgery with painful consequences, and gained nothing for it.  It’s the kind of news story that can really make you distrust the medical profession.  Why did they go through so many surgeries, and not realize that what they were doing was helping no one?  There’s definitely a way to look at this story that puts scientific medicine on the defensive.  For me though, this kind of story is the reason I trust science.  I know that if the science gets something wrong, it will eventually be able to correct itself. … continue reading this entry.

A PR professional’s take on science and the public

In a recent article in Wired, a big Hollywood PR specialist gives her views on how to handle the current problem of the public’s view of science. The answer: Science needs a publicist.

I totally agree that science needs some professional image help. But-and there is always a but-with our current funding model for research, who [...]

Why basic research matters, for example

This post was previously posted on Gotham Skeptic in the first weeks of the blog’s existence. The topic has been on my mind since the announcement last week of Craig Venter’s amazing achievement.

A common mold yielded the most important antibiotic of the last century.

A common mold yielded the most important antibiotic of the last century.

This is probably the single most important issue to me as a scientist and as a citizen. Coming up with a straightforward answer to why basic research is important is difficult every time I am asked to do so, and depends on who is doing the asking. When writing to a granting agency, it is crucial to outline why my particular aspect of research needs to be pursued more rigorously, and with that granting agency’s money. When it is asked by an acquaintance on the street, I have to first assess the asker’s understanding of how science is done in order to respond. … continue reading this entry.

I wonder if the hacker was a disgruntled ex?

1995 film, United Artists

1995 film, United Artists

When a friend directed me to the stories indicating that the webmail server for the Climate Research Unit (CRU) at the University of East Anglia was hacked, I felt like a bomb had gone off in my stomach. Private emails among scientists discussing controversial and difficult research? This is going to be a cherry-picking, anti-science, PR nightmare. After reading only one or two blog posts covering the story, I instead sat down to read the actual leaked emails in chronological order. These are cataloged and searchable! over at The Opinion Times (but I will not provide the link here, you can search it yourself).

First, my opinion on the issue of the hacking of these emails, derived after a quick discussion with a wise, open-source-loving, and somewhat idealistic friend. It is true. Your email does not belong to you. Your email that you send using your government-funded university webserver definitely does not belong to you. However, it is culturally and socially accepted that email is meant to be read by the sender and receiver only. So, yes, in the grand scheme of Web 2.0 and our technologically driven globalization, anything on the web is free and open to anyone with the means of obtaining it. But reading other people’s email is unforgivably rude. … continue reading this entry.

The New Plague

Vaccine FearA new epidemic is creeping across parts of the US. It primarily affects infants and children of higher socio-economic status, and it has the potential to cause horrible illness and death. It has already begun to cause outbreaks in scattered communities throughout the country. If it is not contained quickly, more carnage will result. The epidemic I am describing is not Swine Flu. It is not a newly mutated animal virus imported from some far-flung corner of the globe. It is the epidemic of parental vaccine fear, and it is a major threat to the safety of children everywhere. … continue reading this entry.

Early man thought dogs made good eatin’

I visited with my friend’s pug the other day. This snuffling, bug-eyed, often smelly, but albeit, gregarious little dog is a shocking testament to the natural variation that may exist within a single species. Or as my friend’s boyfriend is fond of pointing out… it is hard to believe that came from a wolf. Variation is essentially the raw building material upon which natural selection works. Granted, in the case of Canis lupus familiaris much of the variation was selected for by humans rather than environmental pressures; however, a new theory on dog domestication, reported on in the NYTimes, educated me a bit on this topic.

Model is Scsi, photos by Tesia

Model is Scsi, photos by Tesia

Heretofore, I had believed the common myth that as humans settled into a more stationary lifestyle, they domesticated wolves to serve as guards against the things that go bump in the night. However, there is growing support for the notion that as humans settled down, created garbage pits, and began the quick journey towards becoming the wasteful fiends we are today, it may have behooved dogs to domesticate themselves.1 So, while earlier I claimed humans as responsible for shaping the diversity of the modern domestic dog, rather than natural environmental pressures, it would appear that this theory identifies humans as just another environmental pressure in the lives of early domestic dogs. As humans began to be equated with food for these dogs, it probably made them more susceptible for further domestication as humans discovered beneficial uses for having the dogs around. … continue reading this entry.

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