Boing Boing 

How medical abortion works


The latest Oh Joy Sex Toy webcomic covers medical abortion in its signature style: humane, thorough and approachable.

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Free PDF: Advanced Quantum Thermodynamics (is a subject I know very little about)"


Dave Ng writes, "My new book is Advanced Quantum Thermodynamics (is a subject I know very little about) collecting my science humor and creative non-fiction: great for the 'hipster that doesn't get science' but who wants to look like the 'hipster that gets Advanced Quantum Thermodynamics'"

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Relaxing with scientists

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When the Congressional Science committee wants to talk about the cold weather, and when NASA has to defend their budget by explaining why NASA is important, it can make people who believe in facts... a bit tense.

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Anti-vaxxer ordered to pay EUR100K to winner of "measles aren't real" bet


Stefan Lanka, a "vaccination skeptic" who claims that measles are a psychosomatic condition brought on by "traumatic separations," publicly challenged people to prove that measles was caused by a virus.

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This Book is a Planetarium (really!)


Master paper artist Kelli Anderson has a forthcoming title called This Book is a Planetarium that literally converts into a planetarium, as well as a smartphone amplifier, and many other paper contraptions.

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Book Preview: The Boy Who Played with Fusion

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This June, Harcourt releases The Boy Who Played with Fusion: Extreme Science, Extreme Parenting, and How to Make a Star. Written by journalist Tom Clynes, the book got its start as a 2012 Popular Science story of the same name. I've been reading an early galley and love the way Clynes weaves tales of a precocious youngster, his wise parents, and his baffled teachers. It’s an inside look at raising a typical, angsty teen, except one who gives Ted talks on the weekends and hangs with world-class physicists.

Taylor hadn’t realized that his biggest challenge, by far, would be to create a workable vacuum. He needed enough negative pressure to create an almost empty space for his subatomic particles to travel. If any gas or air molecules were left inside the tube, the high-energy particles would collide with them and lose energy. “Imagine a freeway in Los Angeles and you want to go 100 miles an hour,” Taylor explains. “If you try that at rush hour you’re going to hit other cars. But in the middle of the night it’s wide open and you can go fast.”

To pump out the tube, Taylor used a refrigerator compressor and wired it to run backward. Then, Taylor loaded the deuterium gas he’d generated. “I was so excited,” he says. “Me and Tom got the Van de Graaff up to 200,000 volts, and with the Model-T arc we tried to get plasma going.”

But even though they used higher-tech fasteners than Lawrence did in the 1930s, they had trouble creating enough vacuum to get a sustained plasma field, and a clear enough path to accelerate particles to any measurable degree. They tweaked the fasteners and tried all sorts of sealant—silicon rubber, epoxy, “and a few other things,” says Taylor. “We were using techniques from the sixties and seventies, and we modernized them, but with our expertise and materials we could only go so far. Most of it worked. But not the big picture.”

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Siberian Crater Watch: More giant holes found

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Following news reports last summer of Arctic craters, a February 23 report in the Siberian Times documents several more depressions as shown in photos and satellite images.

Scientists believe the craters are caused by global warming, as underground methane is allowed to escape through warming permafrost. However, even though the craters look ominously like the inverse of Devils Tower, according to a reassuring Washington Post article, the methane from such formations is nowhere near enough to impact the atmosphere.

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"Why you shouldn’t freak out about those mysterious Siberian craters" [Washington Post]

Mezmerizing slo-mo of young praying mantises in action

A University of Cambridge zoologist analyzed almost 400 videos of juvenile mantises jumping onto a pole for a March 5 study in the journal Current Biology. Malcolm Burrows concluded that the bugs spin their bodies to help them land on target.

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The actual video from the study is soundless, but for my money, the footage from New Scientist (that linked above) benefits from its Blue Danube soundtrack. The music lends the sequences an air of a very classy insect pole dance.

"Watch a praying mantis perform acrobatic jumps" [New Scientist]

Interactive tour of nuclear arsenals since WWII

Explore how many nukes there are in the world, and where they are, courtesy of the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists' interactive Nuclear Notebook -- a useful way to discover whether some friendly superpower has stashed nukes in your harbour.

Creative science journal, including the science of Wookiees


Dave Ng writes, "The Science Creative Quarterly is pleased to release its first volume of both a print offering of collected works, AND the much vaulted Annals of Praetachoral Mechanics."

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First-ever photo of light behaving as a wave and particle


Nicholas writes, "Since Einstein's day, scientists have been trying to directly observe the wave- and particle- aspects of light at the same time. Now, scientists at a Swiss lab have succeeded in capturing the first-ever snapshot of this dual behavior."

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Kids send Maker projects to space

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If the whole Potter franchise didn't already seem to give UK kids special powers, now this: primary and secondary schoolers can enter a contest by April 5 to program a Raspberry Pi for the International Space Station. Astronauts will upload kids' software to the newest credit-card-sized $35 computer for projects. That happens in November.

Meanwhile, I'm trying to think of a way to pass as a high school kid and also use the gyroscope, magnetometer, temperature probe, and infrared cameras on the Pi to do something cool 300 miles over the planet.

Seminal fluid praised in study

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Feb 2015 paper published by North Carolina State and Cornell biologists finds seminal fluid to be way more than just a medium for sperm. It helps create an important "post-copulatory" environment because of "plasma proteins [that] play critical roles in modulating female reproductive physiology." The paper -- "On a Matter of Seminal Importance" -- earns bonus points for awesome graphics and puns.

The dystopian future of quantified babies

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A group of design students from a Swedish university published an insightful academic paper last year spoofing all the baby health trackers now pitched to parents. The trackers measure things like a baby's breathing rate, heart rate, and sleep, and are made by startups including Mimo Baby, Owlet, Sproutling, and Monbaby.

Is this fear mongering for new moms? Or will these devices actually offer valuable data on infants? I think it's too early to tell. But the paper does a good job of critiquing the design pitfalls of the user experience. It argues such devices could needlessly raise anxiety and remove intuition from parenting.

There's a cool hand-drawn storyboard of a new mom deciding not to go the park with Johnny after she binges on biometric data:

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Also, a good rendering of an epidemiological map overlay that would show all the kids in your neighborhood suffering from excessive booger:

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The science of vaccine denial

The only real scientific mystery about vaccines is why so many people buy into the deadly pseudoscience of vaccine denial and put their kids -- and yours -- at risk of catching ancient, vanquished, deadly diseases.

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Don't argue about vaccination with Rob Schneider if you value your sanity

California Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez made the mistake of returning actor Rob Schneider's deranged anti-vaxx phonecalls and lived to tell the tale: "That is 20 minutes of my life I'll never get back arguing that vaccines don't cause autism with Deuce Bigalow, male gigolo."

Dreamland: Adventures in the Strange Science of Sleep

David K Randall's Dreamland is a review of the best scientific thinking that illuminates and important subject: namely, why do we spend a third of our lives paralyzed, eyes closed, having vivid hallucinations?Read the rest

Cognition, categories and oppression


Our minds naturally group things in culturally specific categories -- for Americans, robins are more "bird" than albatrosses -- and we're better at categorizing more prototypical items than outliers -- but what does this mean when we group humans in categories like "real Americans"?

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Police interrogation techniques generate false memories of committing crimes


Psychologists terminated a study that showed the ease of implanting false memories of committing terrible, violent crimes in the recent past in their subjects -- the experiment was terminated because some subjects couldn't be convinced that they hadn't committed the crime after they were told the truth.

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Turd transplant leads to rapid weight-gain and obesity


A woman whose c.difficile infection was treated with a fecal transplant from her overweight daughter experienced rapid and dramatic weight gain as soon as her daughter's microbial nation took hold in her gut.

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Scientific American and fansubbers help video spread in Hungary

Dean from Amara writes, "Editors at Scientific American noticed they were getting a TON of hits on the video What Happens to Your Body after You Die? To their surprise, the majority of the views were originating in Hungary."

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Watch "Do Try This At Home," science series using common items

At-Bristol's Live Science Team has a wonderful video series of experiments that can be done with inexpensive materials available at typical hardware, kitchenware, and grocery stores, like turning water into instant ice.

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E=MC2 bowtie


Want to wear a bowtie, but afraid it won't be nerdy enough? The $25 Einstein bowtie is just the thing for you. (via Geeky Merch)

I Think You'll Find It's a Bit More Complicated Than That

Over the past decade, pharma-fighting Dr Ben Goldacre has written more than 500,000 words of fearlessly combative science journalism.Read the rest

"Sticky," gorgeous animated short about saving

Animator Jilli Rose created this lovely animated short about a group of stick insects stranded for 80 years near Lord Howe Island, on a sea stack with only one shrub for protection. It also tells the story of the scientists who discovered them and raced to save them from extinction.

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Podcast: should I worry about this?


Eden Robins sez, "My friend Cat Oddy and I worry a lot, so we decided to create a podcast to exorcise those worries: we research a different topic for each episode, and then discuss if it is actually worth worrying about."

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The American science-denial playbook

Michael Mann, the author of The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars: Dispatches from the Front Lines and creator of the "hockey-stick" climate-change graph used in An Inconvenient Truth, writes in the the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists about the uniquely American "witch-hunt" he and other climate scientists are subjected to.

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Embroidered anatomical notebooks


Chara from Athens, Greece operates an amazing Etsy store full of hand-embroidered notebooks featuring anatomical, natural and historical themes: the circulatory system, the heart, a spider, Leonardo da Vinci's Apostle James, blood circulation of the head and many more. (via Geeky Merch)

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The day I met a creationist at the science conference

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The last place you expect to meet a creationist is at the annual American Geophysical Union conference. I don't know how I got so lucky.

Yesterday morning, I wandered through the posters presented at the event, with a thought to translating their scientific jargon into something interesting to read. Since my background is biological, I thought that discipline would be the obvious place to start—in particular, something about microbes doing interesting things under the surface of the Earth.

A title caught my eye. It was one of the first posters in the aisle, so prominent to the casual passerby:

A COMPARISON OF δ13C & pMC VALUES for TEN CRETACEOUS-JURASSIC DINOSAUR BONES from TEXAS to ALASKA USA, CHINA AND EUROPE WITH THAT OF COAL AND DIAMONDS PRESENTED IN THE 2003 AGU MEETING

Dinosaur bones and diamonds! My brain, attracted to both old and shiny objects, sent me in closer to investigate. As I was trying to interpret the densely-packed board of letters, numbers, and figures printed in incredibly tiny print, I was approached by a slight, elderly man in glasses. A name badge declaring him to be Hugh Miller, the first author on the poster.

He asked if I had any questions. I asked if he could just give me a quick summary of the work. He talked about performing mass spectrometry on samples of various dinosaur bones that produced age estimates ranging from 15,000 to 50,000 years. My spidey-sense tingled. I peered over his shoulder, searching for bullet points to figure out what was going on here.

That's when I read it: "humans, neanderthals, and dinosaurs existed together."

The poster was challenging radiocarbon dating using Carbon-14 (C-14) isotopes. It suggested that their data, comparing coal, diamond, wood, and dinosaur bones, were sufficient to throw all of geology into question. Namely, that based on their data, the age estimate of the dinosaurs was off by some 2000x.

Moreover, humanity must be increasingly concerned about asteroid strikes to the Earth, because that age estimate error would influence our estimate of the size of the whole universe (since we look at the size of the universe through the lens of time), which would mean that everything in our solar system is more densely packed. Hence, we are more likely to be hit by asteroids because they are so much closer to us than thought.

This makes about as much sense as the Indiana Jones movie with ancient alien archaeologists.

credit: Paramount Pictures

credit: Paramount Pictures

I don't know if Hugh saw the quizzical look in my eyes, but when he was interrupted by someone asking for something, I quickly backed away.

Now, here's the thing about Carbon-14 dating. This isotope has a very short half-life (the time necessary for the element to reduce in mass by half) of only 5730 years. Since it decays so quickly, it is useless for dating objects more than about 40-50,000 years old. The background levels of C-14 radiation in the laboratory have to be compensated for.

According to the NCSE website:

"This radiation cannot be totally eliminated from the laboratory, so one could probably get a "radiocarbon" date of fifty thousand years from a pure carbon-free piece of tin."

And, this is pretty much what the poster presented.

When looking at fossils preserved in sedimentary rock, the fossil itself can be dated, but often a technique called "bracketing" is used where the igneous rock on either side of the fossil is dated with radioactive isotopes that have half-lives on the order of millions of years. This give scientists a range of time in which the animal could have lived. The poster authors, Hugh included, were basing their attack on one technique in the geological toolkit, and disregarding all other evidence that would have undermined their conclusions.

How did this abstract get past the selection process? I have no idea, but I hope that people at the conference were able to see that it was not science. It was an example of belief masquerading as scientific inquiry.