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Scientists begin studying annual bee death rates in a really substantive way

For the first time, the European Union began closely monitoring the deaths of bees during the course of a year. The results have been somewhat encouraging, with death rates lower than expected in 2012-2013. Maggie 2

$5 programmable chemistry set inspired by music box

Stanford bioengineer Manu Prakash and his colleagues devised a $5 "chemistry set" that can be programmed to mix various reactants by punching holes in a paper tape and feeding it through the handheld device. Prakash says he was inspired by a hand-cranked music box. This latest device for what Prakash calls "frugal science" is on the heels of his amazing 50-cent folding microscope that I blogged previously.

"Music box inspires a chemistry set for kids and scientists in developing countries" (SCOPE)

An ad for radium-laced cooking utensils

Here's to your health! I liked scientist and blogger Danielle Lee's take on this ad, others like it, and the history that they represent.

They teach us about how we as a society respond — eagerly — with the prospect of a new innovation, any, especially if it solves a problem. Today we know that Radium is dangerous. So why were these sold to the public before it was thoroughly vetted first? Well, it was vetted - to the best of science's ability then. And as a result of the new info & mistake discovered hindsight, we change course. But let's be clear - SCIENCE isn't the reason for this ad or marketing this product as the best thing ever. That's ECONOMICS. Often, the beef people have with innovation is due to the marketing and politics surrounding how society (we) will use them. The discovery itself isn't usually problematic. Just things to keep in mind as we continue to debate next steps in navigating life on this shrinking planet.

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Where do tectonic plates come from?

Well, kids, you see, when one chunk of Earth's crust loves another very much, they slam together and one chunk is forced underneath of the other. A new study suggests that this process of subduction is sufficient to explain the formation of the tectonic plates we know today. Maggie 5

Doubleclicks celebrate the paperback of Scatter, Adapt, and Remember with a new song

The paperback edition of Annalee Newitz's excellent Scatter, Adapt, and Remember: How Humans Will Survive a Mass Extinction comes out today, and to celebrate, Annalee has commissioned a song about the book from nerd rockers the Doubleclicks. It's terrific.

Here's my original review from the hardcover's publication last May:

Scatter's premise is that the human race will face extinction-grade crises in the future, and that we can learn how to survive them by examining the strategies of species that successfully weathered previous extinction events, and cultures and tribes of humans that have managed to survive their own near-annihilation.

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Space history auction on Tuesday

Boot

RingOn Tuesday, Bonhams auction house will put a massive collection of space history items on the block for sale. The Space History Sale features patches, signed ephemera, autographed lunar globe and actual hardware that made it to the moon. For example, at right, the polarizing camera filter used by Apollo 15 astronaut James Irwin is expected to go for $20,000 to $30,000. Above, one of only three known castings of Buzz Aldrin's moon boot, also valued at around $20,000 to $30,000. There's also a Mercury period spacesuit estimated at $8,000 to $12,000.

"We have items that came directly from astronauts, items that they carried into lunar orbit with them, items that went to the lunar surface and items that have lunar dust on them," says Bonhams space history expert Cassandra Hatton.

"Space history auction includes Apollo items, Mercury spacesuit" (AP) (Thanks, Bob Pescovitz!)

Bonhams: The Space History Sale

Nobody wants a push-button orgasm

In 2001, a scientist inadvertently discovered that a pain-relief implant could double as an automatic orgasm-maker. Press a button, receive orgasm. Strangely, he continues to have trouble finding both volunteers to test and perfect this system and funding to study and market it. Who would have guessed that instant climax would turn out to be such a business failure? Maggie 54

How to: Make a baby with no sex

Here's a Christmas season leftover that I stumbled across recently and thoroughly enjoyed: Three scientific theories that could explain a "virgin" (or, even, possibly virgin) birth. Maggie 24

The worst thing about feeding mosquitoes on your own blood

It's the fact that they eat so damn slowly, sometimes, writes Ed Yong. Seriously, mosquitoes. When a scientist offers you their arm, the least you can do is hurry it up. Maggie 5

The "butter is good" study has some serious flaws

You may have heard that science proves saturated fat is good for you — or, at least, that it's not the devil. That claim is based on a meta-analysis, a study of studies that reviews a wide variety of research on a given subject. Meta-analyses are a great way to get a big-picture view of what science says about a subject and the results of one of these papers means a lot more than the results of a single study, on its own.

Trouble is, this particular meta-analysis has a lot of flaws, writes James McWilliams at the Pacific Standard. Chief among them: The authors left out a couple of key studies that came the opposite conclusion and they misrepresented the results of a third. That doesn't mean butter IS the devil. But it does mean that you should pause before declaring this particular paper the final word on what is and isn't healthy to eat.

Image: "Butter" by Last Hero :: CC Attribution-ShareAlike License

Scientists capture seven particles of stardust

After a years-long mission, a NASA spacecraft captured seven particles of interstellar dust as those bits whooshed around the solar system at speeds of tens of thousands of kilometers per hour. Then, it returned the dust to Earth. Scientists are now studying those grains for clues about the birth of our solar system. Maggie 10

How personal genomics solved a family's tragic health mystery

Laura and Rob Sheppard lost three children the same way — all were born with brains that stopped developing a little less than halfway through pregnancy. The deaths might have remained a mystery, but for the power of personal genomics and connections the Sheppards were able to make between scientists in different parts of the country who were studying disorders nobody realized were really the same thing. Maggie 12

The bacteria that ate our sewers

Concrete sewers are being devoured by their microbial ecosystems and researchers at the University of Colorado are trying to find a way to stop it. (Full disclosure: My husband's cousin Ali Ling is one of the researchers who worked on this project.) Maggie 5

Science is slow, and that's good

Coincidence and fallacy are instantaneous. But science creeps along very slowly. Deep Sea News has a nice discussion of what happens when those two forces crash into each other. Maggie 2

Study calls for placebo-controlled trials of parachute effectiveness

This may be one of the best joke research papers I've ever seen. Via David Ng.