1. Contrary to what you might have learned from Star Trek and Star Wars, planets do not have a single climate. So it's not really reasonable to say "Winnipeg is as cold as the surface of Mars", unless you're going to specify where on Mars you are talking about. And when in the Martian year you are talking about it. Geekquinox, the blog that first started the current trend of comparing Canada to the Red Planet, was looking at the afternoon temperature (sans wind chill) in Winnipeg on December 31st (-31 degrees Celsius) and daily temperatures collected in November and December by the Curiosity Rover, at Gale Crater, Mars (lowest afternoon high: -31 degrees Celsius). This comparison leaves out the fact that Gale Crater is in the Martian tropics. In the mid-latitudes, however, the average temperature is closer to -50 degrees Celsius. Also, Mars has huge temperature swings from day to night. On the same day that Geekquinox reported a monthly average high at Gale Crater of -31 C (Sol 486) the monthly average low was -110 C.
Love this list of 20 rules of thumb to help you analyze the validity of science news. A lot of it boils down to statistics and common sense (hey, you guys, scientists are human), but it's also stuff that easy to lose sight of when you're excited or scared or totally fascinated. Print this out and read it before you click "share". — Maggie
The very fact that you are reading this sentence, contemplating whether you want to listen to this podcast, means that you are living out a fantasy from a previous generation's cyberpunk novel.
However you made it here, however you got these words into your brain, you did so by diving through data streams first cooked up by delirious engineers downing late-night coffees, wandering deep within rows of data tape unspooling from jerky, spinning platters.
We've been dreaming of this life for a long time, since before the vacuum tubes and punchcards of the '40s, and now that we are here, some people are worried that the tech will, at best, make us lazy, and at worst make us stupid.
Jeremie from La Quadrature du Net writes, "Yesterday the 2014-2019 defense bill passed first reading in the French National Assembly. It marks a strong shift towards total online surveillance. If passed, the bill will not only allow live monitoring of everyone's personal and private data but also do so without judicial oversight, as the surveillance will be enabled through administrative request. The bill also turns permanent measures that were only temporary."
i09's Annalee Newitz has a theory about why some stories get shared around the Internet more than others — and, not coincidentally, why nuanced stories about science tend to get shared less than, say, the average LOLcat. If she's right, the real trick with science reporting on the Internet is to write accurate stories that aren't all reported from deep in the Valley of Ambiguity. — Maggie
Yesterday, the Popular Science website announced that it would no longer allow readers to comment on new stories. Why? Because science, says online editor Suzanne LeBarre, who cited research showing how a minority of uncivilized, vitriolic comments can skew readers' understanding of the content of a story and contribute to political/ideological polarizations of opinion. Mother Jones wrote about the same study more in-depth earlier this year. — Maggie
A few years ago, Harriet Hall googled "The One True Cause of all disease", just to see what the Internet would come up with. She counted 67 One True Causes before she got bored (52 of them made it into the handy chart above).
Besides making for an amusing anecdote, this little exercise also helps illustrate why there's a problem with ideologically driven medical treatments — the sort that comes from people who are pushing a lifestyle or a philosophy along with ostensible healthcare. It's both intriguing and convenient to think that, if we just open the right secret door, we can find the thing that's actually causing all our problems. The truth, unfortunately, seems to be that our bodies and the world they inhabit are complicated and messy and that lots of of things can lead to disease (doctors typically learn to divide these things into nine different categories, Hall says). In fact, a disease we think of as a single entity can have its roots in more than one thing. All of this is pretty obvious but it's the kind of obvious that's worth rubbing our noses in on occasion. If somebody tells you that everything from obesity to bipolar disorder to allergies to cancer all stem from the same root and can be treated or prevented with the exact same treatment, there's probably good reason to question what they're telling you.
I've gotten a few questions about the Drunk Science video that I posted here yesterday. The two most common: "Will there be another Drunk Science?" And, "Jeezus, didn't science journalist Charles Q. Choi drink a bit too much for this?"
The answers to those questions are, respectively, "No" and "Yes". Choi is probably the best person to explain both answers, which he does in a blog post that discusses the science of an alcohol-induced blackout, and why — despite the fact that everybody involved with Drunk Science thinks the final result is pretty damn funny and generally good Internet — we won't ever be doing anything like that again.
"Born in the caul" is a phrase that's connected with a lot of cross-cultural myths and superstitions — babies born in the caul are supposed to be destined for lives of fame and fortune (or, possibly, misfortune and grisly death, depending on which legends you're listening to). Biologically, though, it refers to a baby that's born with part of the amniotic sac — the bubble of fluid a fetus grows in inside the uterus — still attached. Usually, a piece of the sac is draped over the baby's head or face. These are called caul births, and they're rare. But, about once in every 80,000 births, you'll get something truly extraordinary — "en-caul", a baby born inside a completely intact amniotic sac, fluid and all.
There's a photo of a recent en-caul birth making the rounds online. The photo is being attributed to Greek obstetrician Aris Tsigris. It's fascinating. But it's also pretty graphic, so fair warning on that. (If the sight of newborn infants and blood gives you the vapors, you might also want to avoid most of the links in this post, as well.)
John Brownlee on the unlikely evolution of the @ symbol: "Rejuvenated by its insertion before every Twitter handle, the @ symbol today is almost a pronoun. It has a very personal meaning for billions of people across the planet. It’s the symbol that means “digital me.”" — Rob