With apologies to Soundgarden, our cars aren't burning dinosaur bones.
Instead, most scientists think oil started out as plankton and other tiny ocean critters, specifically their lipids—tough, stringy molecules that bacteria want to eat about as much as you enjoy dining on gristle or tendons. The idea is that, unlike the rest of the biologic material, lipids don't get gobbled up by bacteria, instead falling out to the bottom of the ocean, where they're covered by millions of years of sediment and eventually become oil. One researcher told LiveScience that some petroleum molecules actually resemble lipids found in cell membranes.
Interestingly, there's a small faction of researchers who say petroleum isn't the fossil fuel everybody thinks. This theory—that the carbon precursor of oil has nothing to do with decomposing organisms, has existed deep within the Earth probably since the planet formed and seeps upward through the mantle—was popular in Soviet Russia, but doesn't match up with what we know about the composition of petroleum and where deposits are likely to be found. That said, recent research has shown that it's theoretically possible for certain hydrocarbons to be synthesized under conditions found in the Earth's mantle. So the mechanism is realistic, even if there's no evidence that petroleum is really being produced this way.
Image courtesy Flickr user richardmasoner, via CC
The legendary cup, designed to punish greedy drinkers, explained masterfully by Salad Fingers’ dad Sir Martyn Poliakoff. His YouTube channel is packed with similarly excellent videos wherein lab assistant Neil is persuaded to execute unnerving experiments. (previously.)
A trio of scholars who study the psychology and philosophy of science have written a fantastic paper for Springer’s Sythese looking at the way that climate change conspiracy theorists construct their view of the world, and how these conspiracy theories contain self-contradictory theses (like the idea that climate change can’t be predicted and the idea […]
Princeton University psych prof Susan Fiske published an open letter denouncing the practice of using social media to call out statistical errors in psychology research, describing the people who do this as “terrorists” and arguing that this was toxic because of the structure of social science scholarship, having an outsized effect on careers.
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