I found this incredible film by Cristobal Vila (via Eterea Studios) at Cocktail Party Physics. There’s also a terrific list featuring some of Jennifer’s favorite math books for popular audiences so go visit!
For the first time, the genome of an ancient man has been analyzed, providing clues about what humans were up to 4,000 years ago. As reported in Nature, Danish researchers were able to study the preserved swatch of a Greenlander’s hair that had been first excavated in 1986–suspected to have been discarded after a trim.
From just this small sample sealed in hair keratin, scientists obtained clues about the way he looked and his susceptibility to certain diseases. For example, they expect he had thick hair, brown eyes, dry earwax, and was at risk for baldness. By employing advanced DNA sequencing technology, the hair provides us a more revealing glimpse into our past than ever before possible. But perhaps the most intriguing aspect of this research is that we have new evidence for a migration of ancient humans about 5,500 years ago from Siberia to Greenland. Check out the editor’s summary here and listen to the Nature Podcast for details.
I have a hunch we’ll be hearing a lot more about the DNA of much older humans very soon…
I’ve been quieter on the blog this week while in Texas–where I must say I’m impressed at both the hospitality and barbecue. But that doesn’t mean I can escape the PR mess that is “ClimateGate.” Out at a local pub last night, surrounded by cheering basketball fans and $2.25 pints, it wasn’t long before a friendly new acquaintance inquired, “So what’s all this stuff on tv about scientists and data?”
I continue to believe that despite however many editorials are published in academic journals, however many science journalists come forward playing defense, and no matter how many scientists calmly (or not so calmly) explain that this email kerfuffle probably only serves to demonstrate that scientists are people too, the damage has been done. The entire episode is an unfortunate case study of our increasingly Unscientific America–an example of how the media distorts a story, partisanship spins the details to suit a particular agenda, and scientists are ill-equipped to manage the PR fallout.
I am saddened to observe the state of broad perception of climate science, but not surprised. Further, this is not “the public’s” fault. It’s up to us in the scientific community to figure out how to stay on message. If we aren’t prepared to speak up for ourselves in a united voice about the state of the planet, others with less noble intentions will. And we won’t like the result.
Another major scientific voice–Nature‘s editorial page–has now come out stating that the Swifthack affair has no impact on the credibility of mainstream climate science:
Nothing in the e-mails undermines the scientific case that global warming is real — or that human activities are almost certainly the cause. That case is supported by multiple, robust lines of evidence, including several that are completely independent of the climate reconstructions debated in the e-mails.
The stolen e-mails have prompted queries about whether Nature will investigate some of the researchers’ own papers. One e-mail talked of displaying the data using a ‘trick’ — slang for a clever (and legitimate) technique, but a word that denialists have used to accuse the researchers of fabricating their results. It is Nature‘s policy to investigate such matters if there are substantive reasons for concern, but nothing we have seen so far in the e-mails qualifies.
From people familiar with modern climate science and the robustness of its conclusions, I can confidently predict that this message will continue to be echoed. You can read the full Nature editorial here.