Really, really intriguing piece at Nature News by Heidi Ledford. It's all about a class of patients called "exceptional responders" — aka, the people who got a benefit (sometimes a big one) from a medication or treatment that otherwise failed the clinical trial process
. When we do clinical trials, we're looking at group averages. We want to know whether a drug performed better than placebo when administered to lots of people. Sometimes, though, drugs that can't do that do seem to have a positive effect for a few lucky individuals. Now, scientists are trying to figure out why that is. What makes those people special? And how should this change the way we do research? Read the rest
Featuring five different kinds of sea ice + penguins on fast forward
This morning, Marketplace Tech Report had a story on a new cellulose-based building material that could be made by genetically engineered bacteria — altered versions of the bacteria that naturally make stuff like kombucha. This tech sounds like it's got a long way to go from laboratory to the real world, but if they can perfect the process and make it large enough quantities, what you'd end up with a strong, inexpensive goop that could be used to build everything from medical dressings, to digital paper, to spaceships. Yes, you could theoretically use this stuff to make rocket casings, according to R. Malcolm Brown, Jr.
, a professor of cell biology at UT Austin. And if you can build a rocket from this stuff, you could also break the same material back down into an edible, high-fiber foodstuff. Read the rest
It's drug week at Popular Science and Shaunacy Ferro would like you to know why doctors can't give you LSD — and why they maybe ought to be
. Read the rest
i09's Annalee Newitz is donating her body to science when she dies. In a moving and fascinating article, she tells the story of her mother's death, how it led her to make this choice for herself, and what happens to bodies once they find their way into the hands of medical schools and scientists
. Read the rest
In a study of 6,455 semen samples (yup), scientists at Israel's Ben-Gurion University of the Negev found that human sperm were most atheletic — and were found in the highest concentrations — in winter. There was a marked decrease in sperm motility and numbers in spring, summer, and fall
. It's an interesting and logical addendum to the fact that sperm counts and motility decrease in men who subject their testicles to warm conditions; in hot tubs, say, or a pair of overly tight underpants. Read the rest
This excerpt from the new book, Read the rest
Let's just play this safe and assume that, until more samples have been collected and detailed DNA analysis has been done, the real answer to the question, "Is bacteria found in Antarctica's Lake Vostok
actually new to science or just contamination from the drilling?" is "We don't really know."
This is a great example of why making scientific pronouncements from the field, before you've had time to do the really in-depth analysis that goes into writing a peer-reviewed research paper, can be problematic. Right now, you've got different camps of researchers making totally contradictory claims. Who is right is, so far, anybody's guess. Read the rest
Say you're a marine biologist and you want to study the little bitty creatures of the sea — shrimps and worms and things like that. How do you go about capturing them?
Why, with an underwater vacuum, of course.
At the PNAS First Look blog, David Harris writes that this "SCUBA-tank powered vacuum, called an “airlift,” inhales shrimp, sand fleas, marine worms, and 'things that would swim away if they had the chance.'" Read the rest
Part 2 of Science and gun violence: why is the research so weak?
The town of Macapá is in the north of Brazil, on the coast, where the Amazon River flows into the Atlantic. On December 5th, 2001, Sir Peter Blake and his crew decided to spend the night there. They were on their way back to the ocean after a journey down the Amazon, documenting the effects of climate change for the National Geographic Society.
That night, while their guard was down, a group of masked bandits boarded the boat. Read the rest
John Mark Ockerbloom's "From Wikipedia to our libraries" is a fabulous proposal for creating research synergies between libraries and Wikipedia, by adding templates to Wikipedia articles that direct readers to unique, offline-only (or onsite-only) library resources at their favorite local libraries. Ockerbloom's approach acknowledges and respects the fact that patrons start their searches online, and seeks only to improve the outcomes of their research -- not to convince them not to start with the Internet.
Read the rest
So how do we get people from Wikipedia articles to the related offerings of our local libraries? Essentially we need three things: First, we need ways to embed links in Wikipedia to the libraries that readers use. (We can’t reasonably add individual links from an article to each library out there, because there are too many of them– there has to be a way that each Wikipedia reader can get to their own favored libraries via the same links.) Second, we need ways to derive appropriate library concepts and local searches from the subjects of Wikipedia articles, so the links go somewhere useful. Finally, we need good summaries of the resources a reader’s library makes available on those concepts, so the links end up showing something useful. With all of these in place, it should be possible for researchers to get from a Wikipedia article on a topic straight to a guide to their local library’s offerings on that topic in a single click.
I’ve developed some tools to enable these one-click Wikipedia -library transitions.
Basic science — the kind of research done for curiosity's sake, in order to better understand how parts of our world work — is the foundation of applied science — research that's aimed at developing a product, or tool, or achieving a goal. In the United States, the federal government is, by far, the number one funding source for basic research. So what happens to that investment in our future when things like the Sequester come along? Obviously, funding goes down. But the details are what's important here. Tom Levenson explains the short-term and long-term impacts. Read the rest
In the late 1950s, American scientists very publicly readied a crew of monkeys for a series of trips into Earth orbit and back. As far as the researchers knew, Project Discoverer was an actual, honest-to-Ike peaceful scientific program. Naturally, they were wrong about that. In reality, their work was part of an elaborate cover-up masking a spy satellite program
. At The Primate Diaries, Eric Michael Johnson reports on some fascinating space history. Read the rest
Researchers at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory are studying how the seemingly innocuous things we do in our homes and offices can have big impacts on our health. One of those things is cooking, because the way we cook can affect the air we breathe. Scientists are trying to figure out how to make houses safer, but to do that, they need to understand how
people use houses — what we cook in them and how we cook it. You can help by taking this quick, anonymous survey
. Read the rest
We know that lead exposure can be dangerous. We know that it can cause brain damage. But what levels are dangerous. How does that damage express itself? And how do you separate the effects of lead poisoning from a whole host of other potentially dangerous, damaging factors? Last week, Mother Jones had a well-done article about research that is drawing connections between leaded gasoline and the crime wave of the mid 20th century
. That's a hypothesis. It's a hypothesis with a lot of correlational evidence. But it's not proof. I recommend reading public health researcher Scott Firestone's excellent article that delves into the details of the studies from the Mother Jones story
. It's a great look at the lines between public health as a science and public health as activism and it helps shine some light on why seemingly airtight cases aren't always immediately acted upon. Read the rest
We've talked here before about the crazy things you can find when you read the "Methods" section of a scientific research paper. (Ostensibly, that's the boring part.)
If you want a quick laugh this morning — or if you want to get a peek at how the sausages are made — check out the Twitter hashtag #overlyhonestmethods, where scientists are talking about the backstory behind seemingly dry statements like "A population of male rats was chosen for this study". Read the rest
You will be pleased to note that multiple physicists are at work on the problem of why a piece of falling toast tends to land with the butter side down
. Read the rest