Here's a Christmas season leftover that I stumbled across recently and thoroughly enjoyed: Three scientific theories that could explain a "virgin" (or, even, possibly virgin) birth
. — Maggie
It's the fact that they eat so damn slowly
, sometimes, writes Ed Yong. Seriously, mosquitoes. When a scientist offers you their arm, the least you can do is hurry it up. — Maggie
It's possible that lightning wouldn't exist without cosmic rays from space
. Scientists have set up one of the largest experiments in physics to figure out whether this is true. — Maggie
You may have heard that science proves saturated fat is good for you — or, at least, that it's not the devil. That claim is based on a meta-analysis, a study of studies that reviews a wide variety of research on a given subject. Meta-analyses are a great way to get a big-picture view of what science says about a subject and the results of one of these papers means a lot more than the results of a single study, on its own.
Trouble is, this particular meta-analysis has a lot of flaws, writes James McWilliams at the Pacific Standard. Chief among them: The authors left out a couple of key studies that came the opposite conclusion and they misrepresented the results of a third. That doesn't mean butter IS the devil. But it does mean that you should pause before declaring this particular paper the final word on what is and isn't healthy to eat.
Image: "Butter" by Last Hero :: CC Attribution-ShareAlike License
After a years-long mission, a NASA spacecraft captured seven particles of interstellar dust
as those bits whooshed around the solar system at speeds of tens of thousands of kilometers per hour. Then, it returned the dust to Earth. Scientists are now studying those grains for clues about the birth of our solar system. — Maggie
Laura and Rob Sheppard lost three children the same way — all were born with brains that stopped developing a little less than halfway through pregnancy
. The deaths might have remained a mystery, but for the power of personal genomics and connections the Sheppards were able to make between scientists in different parts of the country who were studying disorders nobody realized were really the same thing. — Maggie
Concrete sewers are being devoured by their microbial ecosystems
and researchers at the University of Colorado are trying to find a way to stop it. (Full disclosure: My husband's cousin Ali Ling
is one of the researchers who worked on this project.) — Maggie
Coincidence and fallacy are instantaneous. But science creeps along very slowly. Deep Sea News has a nice discussion of what happens when those two forces crash
into each other. — Maggie
Scientific consensus suggests that dinosaurs died out thanks to the combination of an asteroid impact, massive volcanic eruptions, and climate change. But there have been other
ideas on the subject. Brian Switek has cataloged some of the odder theories
, from poor eyesight to deadly farts to overactive pituitary glands. — Maggie
A new study of students at a Christian college found that the kids who had been homeschooled were more willing to extend basic civil liberties to their political/cultural opposites than those who had gone to public school. At The Conversation, scientist Robert Kunzman critiques this study and explains how it fits into the larger context
of what we know about home schooling. — Maggie
Risk perception expert David Ropeik on why we fear the things we fear and the role of the media in making our perceptions of risk even more screwed up
than they are naturally. — Maggie
For the first time since 2010, researchers are returning to the site of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill
, to study the long-term effects first hand. — Maggie
Ebola is scary. (Hypothesis: The fewer syllables a disease has, the scarier it is at a gut/click-bait level. For example, plague compared to malaria.) And it's true that the recent outbreak of Ebola in Guinea is objectively unusual by virtue of how widespread it is throughout the country. Generally, Ebola is relatively easy to quarantine off and tends to get itself stuck in rural areas.
But Ebola is not a disease that travelers from Western countries should be particularly concerned about. Nor, for that matter, is it even a disease that people living in Guinea, and the other African countries where Ebola has popped up, should be particularly concerned about. Ebola is scary. But, relatively speaking, Ebola kills far fewer people and has far less of an impact on the lives of ordinary people than endemic diseases like tuberculosis, the aforementioned malaria, and any number of intestinal diseases that cause childhood diarrhea. The CBC has a nice story that focuses in on this perspective. You should read it.
Thanks to Tom Zeller!
Come to Kellerton, Iowa this Saturday (just off I-35, near the Missouri border) and you can watch prairie chickens engage in elaborate mating dances
. The action starts just before dawn and the chickens will probably be, *ahem*, spent by 9:30 am.