Archive for February, 2008

Live from the Biggest Science Conference in the World: Can Sharks Survive a Human-Attack?

By Jennifer Barone | February 17, 2008 5:47 pm

As sharks face intense fishing–with over a million killed each year for their prized fins and for meat–shark researchers sketched out the state of the ocean’s top predators and wondered about their future.

Julia Baum studies the great sharks: large top predators including hammerheads, tiger sharks, great whites, bull and dusky sharks, oceanic whitetips, blues, threshers, and mako. All of these species have declined more than 80% in just the last 20 years, and many species have been cut down by 90% or more. Many are already listed as vulnerable or endangered by the IUCN.

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Live from the Biggest Science Conference in the World: Hillary and Barack Debate Science

By Lizzie Buchen | February 17, 2008 5:21 pm

Alas, in a big election year, even an international science conference isn’t safe from politics. Read More

MORE ABOUT: AAAS, Clinton, Obama

Live from the Biggest Science Conference in the World: How Imagination Works

By Jennifer Barone | February 17, 2008 4:52 pm

Psychologists and neuroscientists got together today for a dive into the imaginitive mind. What parts of our brains allow us to experience the past, the future, and the perspective of others? What goes on in our brains during those processes? Read More

Live from the Biggest Science Conference in the World: Does the Media Suck at Climate Coverage?

By Jennifer Barone | February 16, 2008 6:42 pm

News about climate change has skyrocketed in recent years, but how good is the information that reaches audiences? Do newspapers, magazines, and TV accurately reflect the science behind the issue? Is reporting “balanced,” and what does that term mean for an issue where most scientists agree about the big picture, though differences on the details abound?

Scientists and journalists gathered at today’s conference to look at how global warming plays out in the media (though, as one commenter noted, the simplistic term “global warming” has fallen from favor, replaced by the all-encompassing “climate change”).

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Live from the Biggest Science Conference in the World: Putting a Price on the Oceans

By Jennifer Barone | February 16, 2008 12:49 pm

For all their mystery, we know two things about the world’s oceans pretty well: One, they’re huge, and two, they do a lot for human beings (producing food, storing carbon, allowing travel and shipping, and scads of other good stuff). But just how much is a particular patch of healthy, functioning ocean real estate worth to humanity? And how can we decide on the places that are most important to protect, and how to balance the dozens of competing demands on the waters around us? This morning’s Marine Symposium saw a line-up of top marine ecologists grappling with how to start quantifying and valuing the “ecosystem services” performed by ocean environments. Read More


Live from the Biggest Science Conference in the World: Baby Talk

By Lizzie Buchen | February 16, 2008 12:09 pm

baby.jpgInfants—to anyone other than their parents—can be a bore. Beyond cooing and crying, babies appear to be all sleep and bodily functions. But deep inside those cute, fuzzy little heads, infants are performing scores of staggering statistical feats. Bombarded with a bewildering range of sounds since birth, they possess mechanisms that scour these signals for statistical regularity, allowing them to emerge with something quite astonishing: an understanding of spoken language.

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MORE ABOUT: AAAS, language

Live from the Biggest Science Conference in the World: Who Needs Words?

By Lizzie Buchen | February 16, 2008 10:31 am

Anyone who’s frozen up during a job interview, a grade-school theater performance, or what would otherwise have been an irresistibly suave and witty pick-up line knows how paralyzing it is to truly be “at a loss for words.” Luckily, the experience is a temporary one, and before long the language that has inundated your life since you were little comes flooding back. But what if you grew up without any words at all? It’s pretty much impossible to imagine living in a world without words, but here at AAAS, “Thinking With and Without Language” took a peek at the thoughts of some people who happened to grow up without the privileges of language.

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MORE ABOUT: AAAS, language, math

Live from the Biggest Science Conference in the World: Shark Attack, Antarctica

By Karen Rowan | February 16, 2008 9:16 am

It may not be long before sharks invade Antarctic waters. Due to global warming the Antarctic seas are changing and becoming an inviting ground for sharks that will soon turn to the prey-rich southern waters, says Cheryl Wilga of the University of Rhode Island.

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Live from the Biggest Science Conference in the World: First GMOs, Now Pharming?

By Tyghe Trimble | February 15, 2008 7:02 pm

If you’ve ever wondered: Are there drugs in my Wheaties? I can assure you there are not—at least not unless your very shady trainer is trying to get you to win the Tour de France. But if the talk today at AAAS (“Drugs in Our Corn Flakes? Our Health and the Economic Risks of ‘Pharma’ and Industrial Crops”) is at all a marker of things to come with the marriage of pharmaceuticals and agriculture, that breakfast of champions might require a prescription.

The idea of pharmaceuticals made out of plants is not a new one, it’s about as new as, well, the idea that we could genetically engineer our plants to provide more of those things that we want—bug repellents, big ears, and higher oil content. All these things have been done and so far they have caused no physical harm to anyone (let us note here that the results of this giant experiment with our food is quite preliminary).

Today, Paul Gepts, Robert Wizner, and Charles Arntzen give us mixed messages on whether or not we should be tampering with the genes of our food sources for the greater good. Here are two tales from the discussion: a cautionary tale and a tale of hope.

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Live from the Biggest Science Conference in the World: Deep-Sea Skeletons

By Karen Rowan | February 15, 2008 5:30 pm

Today at the Hynes Convention Center in the heart of Boston, AAAS went “Into the Deep” with a symposium exposing deep-sea coral as an ancient organism (older than you’d think), a tool that can be used to measure climate change, and a victim of trawling, disappearing at an alarming rate.

Deep-sea corals may be the oldest known organisms in the ocean, says Brendan Roark, a geochemist from Stanford University. The oldest among them were once thought to be about 1,800 years old, but Roark’s new radio carbon dating studies show they can be as old as 4,200 years. The key to the new evidence was provided in the finding that these corals grow much more slowly than previously thought–it takes one species over 700 years to grow an inch. Flying in the face of conventional thinking, Alberto Lindner of the University of Sao Paulo in Brazil says that deep-sea corals are actually the ancestors of their shallow-water cousins. Warm, sunlit shallow seas were once thought to be the cradles of coral diversity. But Lindner’s DNA evidence shows that the more familiar shallow water corals, such as those that form the Great Barrier Reef, are actually the new comers on the evolutionary scene. Read More


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