The week’s research
- fMRI is a controversial technique, not least because studies that use it are often overinterpreted and there are still some fundamental unanswered questions about how to interpret its results. Now, SciCurious talks about a new study that helps to tell us exactly what those pretty brain pictures mean.
- At Scientific American, Ferris Jabr discusses the minor third, a chord that conveys sadness in both speech and music. “When it comes to sorrow, music and human speech might speak the same language.”
- Butterfly wings are beautifully colourful but the colours come not from pigments but from the structures of the wings at a microscopic level.
- Ratcheting up the competitive pressure just encourages students to cheat more, rather than to cooperate, says the BPS Research Digest blog.
- Human pluripotent stem cells (reprogrammed from adult cells) have been created using a viral vector without any genes, says Elie Dolgin at Nature News. “This was the control experiment that went wrong, effectively.”
- Brandon Keim writes about a leaping fish that thrives on land. Apparently, it engages in awesome aerial duels, like Yoda in Episode II.
- We have sequenced the body louse genome. The significance isn’t a head-scratcher. I’ll get my coat.
- A 30-million-year old fossil pelican tells us that even back then, they looked silly.
- Climate change contrarians are in the vast minority, and lack scientific credibility and expertise, according to a new PNAS study discussed in Scientific American. I’m shocked, shocked I tell you.
- The bones of Caravaggio have been found and they reveal what killed him – lead poisoning from his paints.
- Egyptian vultures use twigs to gather wool for nests, says Michael Marshall in New Scientist’s Zoologger.
- Four-legged creatures may have gained a foothold by ditching genes guiding fin development, according to Janelle Weaver in Nature.
- The origin of the mysterious condition known as blindsight has been revealed.
- It’s the 10th anniversary of the human genome. Nature has some great coverage. Meanwhile, sequencing a genome is faster and cheaper, but is it better, asks Michael Le Page.
- In which we fail the whale: a whaling ‘peace deal’ has fallen apart
- Jonah Lehrer on metacognition –the feeling of knowing what you know. We do this quickly and accurately. “The metacognitive brain is able to almost instantly make an assessment about all the facts, errata and detritus stuffed into the cortex.” And Vaughan Bell has more.
- While England were busy drawing against Algeria, a much more interesting turns of events was playing out – the FDA’s advisory panel rejects a drug called flibanserin, designed to tackle the so-called “Hypoactive Sexual Desire Disorder” in women. Petra Boynton has the story and an excellent breakdown of why this is a victory for science.
- When scientists attack – over at the Primate Diaries, there’s a little dust-up afoot about cultural learning in chimpanzees.
- Tor Wager, a scientist trying to understand the placebo effect.
- ScienceNews evaluates claims around voice-based lie detection, the latest technology that claims to do a better job than the polygraph, but doesn’t (*cough*fMRI*cough*)
- Science writers are fond of saying that the human genome’s total count of 20,000 genes came as a surprise to everyone. Not so, says John Hawks. At least one person predicted that in 1948.
- London is being invaded by dinosaurs. The Walking with Dinosaurs arena show is on and at NPR, one of the actors from the New York show talks about what it’s like to place a baby T.rex. “I base a lot of, to be honest, a lot of the characterization off of my dog.” Meanwhile, giant pterosaurs fly in the SouthBank.
- A single paper can shove a journal’s impact factor from around 2.5 to 50. Which does make them seem a touch useless, doesn’t it?
- A frozen Siberian mammoth is heading to France to be bombarded with gamma rays. MAMMOTH SMASH.
- You really ought to be following Linda Geddes’s Bumpology series at New Scientist, where she is effectively blogging her pregnancy. But with SCIENCE.
- One reason why humans are special and unique: We masturbate. A lot. Jesse Bering’s long feature at Scientific American goes on an on an ism…
- This video of a young chimp investigating a hidden camera is the best piece of wildlife filmmaking I think I’ve ever seen. It’s incredibly moving. Just look at those eyes.
- Bad Astronomy has probably the best aurora photo I’ve ever seen. Taken from space, no less.
- Onion: Eons of Darwinian evolution somehow produce Mitch.
- A giant spider crab sloughs off its shell in time lapse
Journalism, communication and the internet
- Ah, Jonathan Leake, he of the embargo-breaking nominative determinism. If you’re going to repeatedly publish science news ahead of everyone else, perhaps you might think to make the story actually, y’know, not be shit? This week, the Sunday Times retracted Leake’s bogus story on a “bogus rainforest claim” by the IPCC that turned out not to be very bogus after all. Happily.
- Ivan Oransky discusses the Ingelfinger Rule, and why scientists (as well as journals) don’t want other scientists scooping them.
- “Bring on the bloggers, do. Some of them are very clever. But you have to admit that they are also a bit weird.” Heh. Alice Bell talks about why citizen science still needs specialists. She also introduces the concept of monitorial citizenship, which she expands on (together with some great ideas around expertise) on her own blog.
- Bora Zivkovic takes those ideas and runs with them, talking about how journalists become “temporary experts” on whatever they’re reporting on.
- “The media, rather than informing people, now merely report on public ignorance. Do our viewers agree?” I love XKCD
- Social reading via the Kindle (and the NYT)
- Andrew Maynard sings praises for I’m a Scientist, Get Me Out of Here, an idea that he (quite rightly) wants to see in other countries.
- T DeLene Beeland interviews me for the Charlotte Observer. I love the big picture, simply captioned “Yong”.
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