Boing Boing 

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

1024px-Dakota_Fm_Dinosaur_Ridge

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.

Adventurers can help science by sharing their data

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:K2_8611.jpg#mediaviewer/File:K2_8611.jpg

"K2 8611" by Kogo - Own work. Licensed under GFDL via Wikimedia Commons

By adding a little sampling to their adventures out in the wild, explorers in hard-to-reach locations could lend a big hand to scientific research.

An organization called Adventurers and Scientists for Conservation hopes to bring the two professions together in the name of science.

This week, I sat in on a session at the American Geophysical Union meeting in which the speakers discussed the merits of citizen science and the potential impact that explorers could make on scientific data collection.

Many scientists are explorer and trek across the globe, but often they have responsibilities that keep them tied to the institutions where they work with limited opportunities to get into the field for data collection. If sampling techniques can be simplified and standardized so that anyone can learn how collect the necessary bits of rock, water, flora, etc. at particular sites, why not ask the people who are already out there to help out?

Additionally, those out exploring are often on the front lines of witnessing changes to our planet, and are passionate about wanting to help in some way.

Not all science can utilize the citizenry, but for those projects that can, this seems like an amazing resource on both sides of the equation.

Mars burps methane. Scientists want to know why.

 Nasa's Curiosity rover found methane at about 1 part per billion in the atmosphere of Mars. That's 4,000 times less than in the air on our own planet. Gotta be all the farts. Photograph: Nasa/JPL-Caltech/MSSS/EPA


Nasa's Curiosity rover found methane at about 1 part per billion in the atmosphere of Mars. That's 4,000 times less than in the air on our own planet. Gotta be all the farts. Photograph: Nasa/JPL-Caltech/MSSS/EPA

NASA scientists reported results from the Mars Curiosity roving science lab at the American Geophysical Union to a packed room of press chomping at the bit for a big story. It turns out Mars has gas. It burps methane "sporadically, and episodically," according to Curiosity co-investigator, Sushil Atreya.

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Humanity at night

NASA scientists, at the American Geophysical Union’s annual meeting, revealed images from space of humanity—and our wonderful cultural behaviors.Read the rest