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Evolution happens. Even in Oklahoma.

In Tulsa, Oklahoma, over the last 30 years, the number of cliff swallows killed by moving vehicles has drastically decreased. That change can't be accounted for by alterations in traffic patterns or swallow populations, say scientists. Instead, they think it's tied to the fact that the birds' wingspan is also decreasing. This adaptation — whether selected for by vehicular birdicide and/or other factors — helps swallows be more nimble in the air at high speeds, making it easier for them to avoid oncoming traffic. (EDIT: Sorry guys, I made an error here. Some of the researchers were from Tulsa, but study actually happened in Nebraska. Evolution takes place throughout the plains states.)

Getting to know "Mitochondrial Eve"

By studying the way it has mutated and changed over time, scientists can trace human mitochondrial DNA — the DNA that is passed from mother to daughter — back to a single woman. Basically, everybody alive is descended from her. But that's not the same thing as saying that Mitochondrial Eve was once the only woman alive. In a very nice piece — with helpful illustrations — the Christian (but evolution-accepting) scientists at BioLogos explain what Mitochondrial Eve really means and why she can't be used as an argument for creationism. Whether or not you've ever found yourself arguing this point with a family member or friend, the piece is really useful for deepening your understanding of a pop-science concept that's often thrown around without a clear explanation behind it.

Great moments in pedantry: Which came first, the chicken or the egg?

This debate is partly about semantics, and partly about the fact that evolution is more like a curve than a stair-step.

The evolution of white fur and an animal sex scandal

Up north — in Canada and other places where snowy winters are reliable (and reliably heavy) — you find more animals whose fur comes in various shades of white. This is true even for species that are brown or black further south. The difference is obvious. But how does it happen? Carl Zimmer presents two possible paths to paleness — random mutation, and fortuitous cross-species mating. In related news: Golden retrievers are probably getting it on with Canadian coyotes.

WTF, evolution?

A blog which offers helpful critiques of some of the weirder parts of nature.

Utensils probably gave us all overbites

According to a new book, the human overbite developed at different times, in different places — and was always coincident with the widespread use of eating utensils. In Europe, for instance, evidence suggests that humans have only had an overbite for about 250 years.

Meet Zack Kopplin, the 19-year-old who started winning battles against teaching creationism in Louisiana public schools when he was 14

IO9 profiles Zack Kopplin, a 19-year-old, five-year veteran of the fight against teaching creationism in Louisiana's science classes. Kopplin was a student when the a law came into effect allowing teachers to bring creationist material to class, and he took up the cause, winning a battle that prevented the exclusion of evolution from Louisiana science classes altogether. Kopplin has been vilified by state legislators and creationists, but refuses to give up the fight. If I can raise a kid with this much sense, savvy, passion and ethical commitment, I'll consider my life to have been worthwhile:

He also has his eyes set on vouchers. After an Alternet story came out about a school in the Louisiana voucher program teaching that the Loch Ness Monster was real and disproved evolution, Kopplin looked deeper into the program and found that this wasn't just one school, but at least 19 other schools, too.

School vouchers, he argues, unconstitutionally fund the teaching of creationism because many of the schools in these programs are private fundamentalist religious schools who are teaching creationism.

"These schools have every right to teach whatever they want — no matter how much I disagree with it — as long as they are fully private," he says. "But when they take public money through vouchers, these schools need to be accountable to the public in the same way that public schools are and they must abide by the same rules." Kopplin is hoping for more transparency in these programs so the public can see what is being taught with taxpayers' money.

How 19-year-old activist Zack Kopplin is making life hell for Louisiana’s creationists [George Dvorsky/IO9]

How plants stay warm

Plants and animals have to adapt to live in high latitudes and chilly mountain environments. With animals, we kind of instinctively know what makes a creature cold-weather ready — thick, shaggy fur; big, wide snowshoe paws. But what are the features of cold-weather plants? It's one of those really interesting questions that's easy to forget to ask.

At The Olive Tree blog, Tracey Switek has at least one answer. In cold places, you see more plants that grow in little mounded clumps. Of course, plants can't really rely on huddling together to create warmth. So you still have to ask, "Why is it better to grow in a mound when it's cold out?"

The dome-like shape which the cushions tend to take (made possible by an adaptation that makes all the plants in the clump grow upward at the same rate, so no one plant is high above all the others), and the closeness with which those plants grow, makes these clumps perfect heat traps. The temperature on or inside a cushion can be up to 15 °C more than the air temperature above it. The cushions are able to retain heat radiating up from the soil, as well as absorbing heat from the sun (a very dense, large, clump of green can get surprisingly warm on a sunny day at high altitude). Add to that the fact that the wind speed in and around a cushion can be cut by up to 98% from open areas, you have a perfect recipe to prevent heat loss. Many alpine cushion plants also have very hairy leaves, which trap even more heat within. This allows the plants to maintain a relatively stable, warmer than average microclimate that is resistant to sudden changes in weather and temperature outside (such as freezing temperatures at night or sudden storms). Interestingly enough, this stabilizing effect can also be a benefit when it gets too hot out, maintaining lower temperatures against baking sunshine.

Very cool!

Read the rest of the story

Via Sci Curious

Image: Michael Haferkamp, via CC

Red-nosed reindeer are real

It's true! Science proves it!

And it's more than just an effect of infrared imaging. If you duck over to Joseph Stromberg's post at the Surprising Science blog, you'll see a photo of a real, live reindeer with an adorably red nose (and upper lip).

Turns out, it's the result of an evolutionary adaptation. Some (but not all) reindeer have noses full of densely packed blood vessels — a difference that makes those reindeer better at regulating their own body temperatures.

To come to the findings, the scientists examined the noses of two reindeer and five human volunteers with a hand-held video microscope that allowed them to see individual blood vessels and the flow of blood in real time. They discovered that the reindeer had a 25% higher concentration of blood vessels in their noses, on average.

They also put the reindeer on a treadmill and used infrared imaging to measure what parts of their bodies shed the most heat after exercise. The nose, along with the hind legs, reached temperatures as high as 75°F—relatively hot for a reindeer—indicating that one of the main functions of all this blood flow is to help regulate temperature, bringing large volumes of blood close to the surface when the animals are overheated, so its heat can radiate out into the air.

Also: red-nosed reindeer on treadmills, you guys. This is clearly the most adorable science of the holiday season.

Read the full story

Via Bart King

Vote Darwin

The Georgia congressman who called evolution "lies straight from the pit of hell" won reelection Tuesday in an uncontested race. But 4000 of his constituents managed to find a write-in candidate they could believe in — the father of evolution, who has been dead for 130 years. (Via Jennifer Ouellette)

Game of Life with floating point operations: beautiful Smoothlife

Smoothlife (paper, source code is a floating-point version of the old Game of Life, a classic of evolutionary computing and genetic algorithms. By adding floating point math to the mix, Smoothlife produces an absolutely lovely output:

SmoothLife is a family of rules created by Stephan Rafler. It was designed as a continuous version of Conway's Game of Life - using floating point values instead of integers. This rule is SmoothLifeL which supports many interesting phenomena such as gliders that can travel in any direction, rotating pairs of gliders, wickstretchers and the appearance of elastic tension in the 'cords' that join the blobs.

(via JWZ)

A fun image that I think you will enjoy

Hey guys! Check out this great JPEG I found last month. The caption was created by physics blogger Matthew Francis, and I've really been looking forward to sharing it with you!

In totally unrelated news, I just read a story by Stephanie Pappas at, all about evolutionary psychologists' ongoing attempts to determine whether human females prefer our men hairy or smooth and, if so, why. Pappas' story covers a recent study that tried (and failed) to support one hypothesis: Women like hairless guys because we somehow know that hairy chests could be havens for parasites. A Sean Connery-like thatch is just one more place for lice to hang out.

Studying the preferences of women in two different cultures — Turkey and Slovakia — the researchers expected to find that Turkish women were more likely to choose hairless men because that country has long had higher rates of parasite-transmitted disease. Instead, they found that women in both countries overwhelmingly preferred their gentlemen in a less-wooly state.

The headline on the LiveScience article: "Why Women Don't Fall for Hairy Guys Remains A Scientific Mystery".

Thanks to Joanne Manaster for the inspiration!

Why can we see through some animals?

Creature Cast is one of my favorite blogs — a series of charmingly animated videos about surprising, oft-overlooked details in the animal kingdom. Better yet, the videos are often made by students who work with professor Casey Dunn's evolution and diversity laboratory at Brown University.

In this entry, Riley Thompson, from the College of the Atlantic, explains how transparency — the biological kind — really works. Why can we see through some animals and not others?

See more videos at Creature Cast

Tim Minchin explains evolution and genomics in an animated video

Tracy King sends us an "animated history of genetics from Nature to celebrate the release of ENCODE. Narrated by Tim Minchin and animated by the team who made Storm. Written by Adam Rutherford (Nature), Andrew Ellard (Red Dwarf, IT Crowd) and Tracy King (TAM London).

Ever since a monk called Mendel started breeding pea plants we've been learning about our genomes. In 1953, Watson, Crick and Franklin described the structure of the molecule that makes up our genomes: the DNA double helix. Then, in 2001, scientists wrote down the entire 3-billion letter code contained in the average human genome. Now they're trying to interpret that code; to work out how it's used to make different types of cells and different people. The ENCODE project, as it's called, is the latest chapter in the story of you.

The Story of You: ENCODE and the human genome (Thanks, Tracy!)

The descent of Petey

Bird and Moon comics offers this helpful illustration of how evolution screwed over the parakeet.

See the full comic, "Evolution Sucks"

Via David Ng

Why did our species survive?

Today, we're the only living member of the genus Homo and the only living member of the subtribe Hominina. Along with chimpanzees and bonobos, we're all that remains of the tribe Hominini.

But the fossil record tells us that wasn't always the case. There were, for instance, at least eight other species of Homo running around this planet at one time. So what happened to them? What makes us so special that we're still here? And isn't it just a little weird and meta to be fretting about this? I mean, do lions and tigers spend a lot of time pondering the fate of the Smilodon?

Today, starting at 12:00 Eastern, you can watch as a panel of scientists tackle these and other questions. "Why We Prevailed" is part of the World Science Festival and features anthropologist Alison Brooks, genome biologist Ed Green, paleoanthropologist Chris Stringer (one of the key researchers behind the "Out of Africa" theory), and renowned evolutionary biologist Edward O. Wilson.

You can also join in a live conversation about the panel, which I'll be hosting. Just post to Twitter with hashtag #prevail, or join us at UStream.

TOM THE DANCING BUG: Obama Sparks Creationism Controversy With "Evolution" of His Gay Marriage Position

Support Tom the Dancing Bug and receive untold BENEFITS and PRIVILEGES by joining the brand new INNER HIVE right now!

“$9.99 every six months to support one of my all-time favorite comics. Boom, done.” -John Gruber, Daring Fireball, INNER HIVE member since four weeks ago

Read the rest

Please insert your Sir Mix-a-Lot joke here

Humans' have exceptionally rounded rear ends compared to our primate relatives. Turns out, that beefed-up gluteus maximus helps stabilize our upper body when we run, keeping us from falling forward. Read more about the biology and theoretical evolution of running at the Harvard Gazette. (Via Nicholas Thompson)

Bizarre Mardi Gras floats of yesteryear

IO9's Cyriaque Lamar has dug through the Tulane University Louisiana Research Collection of Mardi Gras costume and float designs and uncovered an utterly bizarre float entered in 1873 by the Mistick Krewe of Comus, who set out to lampoon both Charles Darwin and the Reconstruction. They dressed up as their idea of the "missing link" with heavy racist overtones. They didn't make it through the parade -- the police shut them down at Canal Street.

In 1873, Mardi Gras revelers from the Mistick Krewe of Comus — unversed in this newfangled evolutionary theory and angry at the Northern interlopers — dressed up as the "missing links" between animals, plants, and humans. Therefore, you had frightening human-grape and human-corn hybrids running around and fauna baring the faces of Ulysses S. Grant, other hated politicians, and Darwin himself.

You can see these costumes here, but this being 1870s Louisiana, the masquerade was absurdly racist.

Lamar's post details other floats and costumes, including an 1884 version of the Aeneid, an 1888 Middle Ages mythos float, an 1892 tribute to fruits and vegetables, an 1895 Asgard, a 1900 Alice in Wonderland, and a 1925 Japanese mythology set.

In the 1870s, Charles Darwin was the theme of a downright deranged Mardi Gras parade

Why Monsanto didn't expect Roundup-resistant weeds

Whatever its faults, the seed company Monsanto does employ some very smart people, who have a keen understanding of plant genetics. Given that, I've long wondered why the company has been so blindsided by the fairly basic idea that weeds evolve. Did anyone really expect that, when faced with a pressure that threatened their existence, the weeds wouldn't adapt and become resistant to Monsanto's Roundup herbicide?

Apparently, that's exactly what they expected, according to a story on NPR's website.

Daniel Charles interviewed several people who were employed by Monsanto at the time the company released Roundup-tolerant soybeans back in 1996. He found a single, coherent cause of this very strange oversight. Shorter version: Monsanto got so blinded by past performance and its own personal experience that, as an institution, it started to assume nothing would ever change.

First, the company had been selling Roundup for years without any problems. Second, and perhaps most important, the company's scientists had just spent more than a decade, and many millions of dollars, trying to create the Roundup-resistant plants that they desperately wanted — soybeans and cotton and corn. It had been incredibly difficult. When I interviewed former Monsanto scientists for my book on biotech crops, one of them called it the company's "Manhattan Project."

Personally, I find that first assumption particularly egregious. Weeds do best at building resistance to herbicides when the same herbicide is being liberally applied to the same land year after year after year. In order to assume that this behavior wouldn't be the outcome of combining Roundup and Roundup Ready crops, Monsanto would almost have to assume that those products wouldn't be terribly effective. After all, if you expect that combination to work (and work well) why would you then expect farmers to bother with using herbicide sparingly, or varying the type of herbicide they used?

Read the rest of Daniel Charles' story.

Cancer is even more complicated than we thought

There's some really interesting—and rather disturbing—research coming out of the UK on the nature of cancer cells and why advanced-stage cancers are so difficult to treat.

Scientists have long known that the same type of cancer can play out in very different ways, from a genetic perspective, in one patient compared to another. But this new research shows that, even within the same patient—even within the same tumor—different samples of cancer cells have more genetic differences than they have similarities.

That's a very big deal. It means that cancer cells aren't just cells that grow uncontrollably. They also mutate. Which means that they evolve. That fact has serious implications for cancer treatment. Just like bacteria can evolve to become resistant to antibiotics, cancer cells can evolve resistance to the treatments we throw at them. At Not Exactly Rocket Science, Ed Yong explains how this discovery fits into the bigger picture of why curing cancer is so damned difficult:

For a start, cancer isn’t a single disease, so we can dispense with the idea of a single “cure”. There are over 200 different types, each with their own individual quirks. Even for a single type – say, breast cancer – there can be many different sub-types that demand different treatments. Even within a single subtype, one patient’s tumour can be very different from another’s. They could both have very different sets of mutated genes, which can affect their prognosis and which drugs they should take.

And now we know that's true within a tumor, as well. At the Cancer Research UK blog (where Ed used to work), Henry Scowcroft has a nice summary of how this one discovery explains three perplexing problems we've long had with cancer cells:

Firstly, cancer is very difficult to cure after it has spread. This is despite years of progress in chemotherapy and radiotherapy, two techniques that can offer respite to people with advanced cancer.

Secondly, most advanced cancers eventually become resistant to every type of drug used to treat them – both ‘traditional’ chemo and these newer agents. This is quite extraordinary: tumours can work out how to cope with chemicals that they’ve never ‘seen’ before – a biological superpower far beyond that of infectious diseases. Just consider how it’s taken ‘multidrug resistant’ bacteria like MRSA decades to evolve. Yet cancers can do this in a matter of months or even weeks. How?

And finally, researchers haven’t yet managed to develop tests to predict how a patient’s disease will progress, nor monitor their progress (a field called ‘biomarker’ research) – this is despite years of research, and a lot of tantalising pilot studies. Sometimes researchers detect a promising ‘signal’ by looking at samples from a handful of patients, only for this to disappear in larger numbers of people.

Read Ed Yong's full story on this research.

Read Henry Snowcroft's full story on this research.

Ant has had it up to here with your academic controversies

If you read our story about the ant evolution debates then you will enjoy this LOLant made by biologist and insect blogger Alex Wild. (Thalex!)

"My Favorite Museum Exhibit": The cyclops

"My Favorite Museum Exhibit" is a series of posts aimed at giving BoingBoing readers a chance to show off their favorite exhibits and specimens, preferably from museums that might go overlooked in the tourism pantheon. I'll be featuring posts in this series all week. Want to see them all? Check out the archive post. I'll update the full list there every morning.

From Australia's McLeay Natural History Museum at Sydney University comes ... dun dun dun ... the Cyclops!

Sorry. I've got a bit of THE TRIUMPH OF MAN stuck in my head. Actually, this skull belonged to a foal, says Justin Cahill, who sent in the photos. It's part of a long, natural history museum tradition of exhibiting the weird and often grotesque, preserving them as examples of how the natural way isn't always ideal. The same forces that shape evolution can also seriously screw you up. So much of what we call "normal" is based on chance.

Nobody ever actually saw this foal alive, by the way. The skull was found in the Hawkesbury River in 1841. But there have been attempts to reconstruct what the horse might have looked like during it's brief time alive. You can see that photo after the cut:

Read the rest

"My Favorite Museum Exhibit": An Archaeopteryx in Wyoming

"My Favorite Museum Exhibit" is a series of posts aimed at giving BoingBoing readers a chance to show off their favorite exhibits and specimens, preferably from museums that might go overlooked in the tourism pantheon. I'll be featuring posts in this series all week. Want to see them all? Check out the archive post. I'll update the full list there every morning.

For children of a certain nerdy persuasion, "archaeopteryx" is liable to be the first five-syllable word they ever pronounce. That's because archaeopteryx was a dinosaur with feathers, and wings. The first specimen was uncovered in 1861, and most of us probably grew up being told that archaeopteryx was the first bird. That isn't exactly true. Today, most paleontologists say it wasn't the ancestor of the birds we know, but rather a relative of that ancestor—a lower branch of the bird family tree that died away. That said, archaeopertyx is still incredibly important to our understanding of what the earliest birds might have been like, and archaeopteryx specimens are still incredibly rare, coveted things.

There are only 11 archaeopteryx specimens in the entire world, all hailing from one region of Germany. Most of them are in museums in Europe. But one archaeopteryx—in fact, one of the best-preserved of the bunch—resides in a tiny museum in Thermopolis, Wyoming. For the artistically inclined: Imagine running across a second, legit version of the Mona Lisa in a small museum in Wyoming with no crowds and no lines. In 2007, reader Mark Ryan and his brother got to see the Thermopolis archaeopteryx and took the photo of it posted here.

My brother and I had scheduled one of our regular "geo trips" out west and learned that the Wyoming Dinosaur Center, a cool museum in Thermopolis, Wyoming, had somehow acquired an Archaeopteryx specimen (one of only 10 in the world) and would be placing it on display starting the week we were going to be in Wyoming. Thermopolis is located about 2 hours southeast of Yellowstone National Park, but that didn't stop us from driving the 5 hours from Laramie just to see it. It was fantastic! They had the actual fossil on display (I've heard that most of the big museums only display casts of the Archaeopteryx specimens they own). There were no crowds, no lines, no special exhibit fees, just the "Thermopolis specimen" in a small window display in a hallway leading to the main exhibit hall.

According to Wikipedia, Thermopolis got its archaeopteryx as a donation from a Swiss collector who'd previously owned the specimen. It's also worth noting that the Wyoming Dinosaur Center seems to loan out its archaeopteryx to other museums quite frequently. So, if you're in the area, and you want to see an archaeopteryx, you should probably check with the museum before you get your hopes up.

Barry White's sperm quality: Why are deep-voiced men attractive?

Here's a fascinating study that shines a bright spotlight of nuance on some of those maybe-too-simplistic assumptions we make about evolution, physical characteristics, and reproductive fitness.

If you've paid any attention to reporting on the science of what humans find attractive and why, you won't be surprised to learn that studies consistently show that deeper voices are associated with stereotypically manly-man characteristics such as hairier bodies and taller height, that men with these voices and characteristics are judged as being more attractive, and that deep-voiced dudes seem to get more action from more ladies.

Based on all of that, you might be tempted to speculate that a deeper voice is an outward sign of how fertile and virile a dude is and that ladies have evolved to be attracted to that show of baby-making prowess. And that makes sense ...

Except that men with deep voices also seem to have lower-quality sperm. At the Anthropology in Practice blog, Krystal D'Costa explains:

These assessments aren’t entirely made up. There is evidence that secondary sexual traits can predict health and fertility of a partner. Brilliant colors and showy displays have long been natural indicators of potential sexual fitness. For example, deer with bigger, more complex antlers also have larger testes and more motile sperm. Lower frequency sounds have been linked to larger body size across all primate species

However, semen analysis reveals that men with deeper voices have lower scores on seven motility parameters (7)—even when the lifestyle and environmental factors are accounted for. While men with deeper voices may have more sexual partners, they seem less prepared to pass on their genes. Researchers believe the lower sperm quality reflects a trade-off that comes with having to compete for mates:

“Animals have finite resources to partition amongst reproductive activities, and the theoretical models of sperm expenditure assume a basic trade-off between male investment in attracting mates and in gaining fertilizations. Recent studies of non-human animals are providing empirical evidence for this basic life-history trade-off. A number of studies have also reported short-term declines in semen quality associated with social dominance."

Via DNLee

Hybrid sharks in the south Pacific

The Australian blacktip shark lives in tropical waters. The common blacktip shark prefers its water subtropical and temperate. Because of the difference in habitat, these two animals have become separate subspecies with distinct physical differences.

However, there are some places where their habitats overlap. And here, along the eastern coast of Australia, there is interspecies nookie. And hybrid baby sharks.

Now, none of that is particularly shocking. Hybrid zones, where the habitats of two genetically compatible species overlap, aren't ridiculously common, but scientists have documented quite a few. What makes this finding interesting is that the two species and their hybrid have been genetically documented. Hybrid zones can be fuzzy places. What happens there calls into question how sure we can be that that what we call species really are all that different from one another.

What makes this study interesting is that researchers actually performed genetic testing on sharks caught in the hybrid zone. They found distinct genetic differences between the blacktip and Australian blacktip sharks, especially in their mitochondrial DNA. And the hybrids were identified based on genetics as well. That's something that's a lot more rare in the study of wild hybrids. The information gathered here could end up having a lot to teach us about how evolution happens and what speciation really means.

Via Mo Costandi

Why the study of evolution matters

"Teaching science without evolution is like teaching sentence structure without the alphabet." That's a quote from Carin Bondar, one of the awesome scientists interviewed in this video about why evolution needs to be taught in public schools.

You'll note that all the scientists in the video happen to be female. That's because it's kind of a response, meant as a counterpoint to that incredibly obnoxious video of Miss America contestants' responses to the same question. Women who know science know evolution matters.

Thanks to scientists Matt Shipman, David Wescott, Jamie Vernon, Kevin Zelnio and Andrea Kuszewski for producing this awesome film.

Why you should be skeptical of evolutionary psychology

Using the attractiveness of waist-to-hip ratio as an example, psychologist and blogger Sabrina Golonka explains why you have to be skeptical when someone declares a psychological finding to be a universal human truth. It's not universal if it doesn't cross cultures. But we don't have great cross-cultural psychology data, and, where the data does exist, it suggests that things we assume must be true across cultures often are not.

What good is half a wing?

One of the most common arguments you'll hear against evolution (or, at least, one of the most common arguments I heard growing up amongst creationists) had to do with transitional forms. An eye is a valuable thing, this argument goes. But half an eye? That's just a disability.

Like many of the really common arguments against evolution, this one crumbles the minute you start to apply the slightest bit of fridge logic. Sure, half an eye is less useful than a full eye. (Or, more accurately, a clustering of light-sensitive cells don't have all the functionality of a modern eyeball and optic nerve system.) But, if most of the other creatures have no eyes, and you have a few light-sensitive cells, you've got an advantage. And an advantage is all it takes.

Now apply that to the evolution of birds. One of the cool things about this process is that it appears that feathers evolved before flight. In fact, feathers seems to have evolved rather independently of flight.

You might ask: What's the point of that? How are feathers an advantage if they can't help you fly? Is this just about looking pretty? Maybe. But on his blog, The Loom, Carl Zimmer presents another hypothesis. Feathers and wings, even without flight, might have given their owners a physical advantage over bare-skinned cousins. The birds in this video aren't flying. You can see that their feet don't leave the ground. But the act of flapping those feathers around helps them to walk up inclines that would otherwise be impassable walls. That's enough to escape a predator and live to breed another day. And it's also pretty damn astounding to watch. You'll find more footage at The Loom.

Video Link

S#*@ scientists say

How do you define "aerosol", or "manipulation"? What about "organic", "mutant" and "confidence"?

The truth is that scientists often say words that do not mean what the general public thinks they mean. And that's a problem. If you're not speaking the same language, miscommunication is inevitable. There's a new paper up in Physics Today, which argues that it's the responsibility of all scientists to think about the colloquial meanings of words and talk in a way the public can understand.

But here's the first step: Making it clear to scientists which words cause communication problems. You can see the list from the Physics Today paper above. Meanwhile, the Southern Fried Science blog has added to the collection, and Southern Fried Science blogger Andrew Thaler is looking for more suggestions. You can add words that you think scientists and public use differently to Thaler's Google Docs spreadsheet. If you've got a good alternative for a confusing word, add that, too.

Via Mountain Beltway