Weekly Roundup

Still image from Google’s animated doodle for Earth Day 2013.

Monday was Earth Day! Google celebrated with an elaborate doodle. But according to Phil Plait, they got a few astronomical details wrong

With all the debate over what is and what isn’t being taught in public school science classrooms, it’s a refreshing change to see a proposed bill to mandate the inclusion of science fiction in West Virginia middle and high school curriculums. Ray Canterbury, a legislator from the West Virginia House of Delegates, proposed the bill; he stated in an interview with Blastr that  “I’m not interested in fantasy novels about dragons, I’m primarily interested in things where advanced technology is a key component of the storyline, both in terms of the problems that it presents and the solutions that it offers.”

A new study in BJOG suggests that light drinking by pregnant womenmeaning 1 or 2 drinks a weekwas not harmful to their unborn children. While the links between fetal alcohol syndrome and drinking during pregnancy are clear, studies over the last few years have investigated the safety of occasional drinking, and led to discussions about motherschoices during pregnancy.

An independent journalist is suing the University of Central Florida for access to records related to the publication of the debut analysis of the “New Family Structures Study” in Social Science Research last year. The journal has been criticized for the speedy publication (and timeliness) of Mark Regnerus’ paper, as well as its methodology and the political motivation of the project’s funders. Regnerus, an associate professor at the University of Texas, commented on the study’s results for Slate last year.

Publicity? A media frenzy? An interview on the Colbert Report? Most grad students don’t expect to get famous from coursework assignments, but University of Massachusetts Amherst economics Ph.D. student Thomas Herndon’s unsuccessful attempt to replicate the results of the prominent Reinhart-Rogoff “Growth in a Time of Debt” study revealed a simple coding error in the original Excel spreadsheet, leading to a publication with his professors, Michael Ash and Robert Pollin.…

Weekly Roundup

It’s a women’s magazine headline! No, it’s a stand-up routine! No, it’s a recent study in PLOS ONE: men can’t read women’s emotions.

Changes in the upcoming 5th edition of the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) have been in the news this week. The best simile’s from Slate: “If we think of having a diagnosable mental illness as being under a tent, the tent seems pretty big. Huge, in fact.”

In light of the recent measles epidemic in the UK, Andrew Wakefield blames the government in a statement for The Independent. The paper quickly followed up with a damning article, with critics calling the whole episode “lunacy.”

The US Supreme Court is debating whether human genes can be patented, as Myriad Genetics defends their patents on breast cancer susceptibility genes BRCA1 and BRCA2. It may all come down to “snipping.”

Weekly Roundup

I’m back from a 2-week hiatus in Quebec, where it’s still freezing. Thanks to Mike for his great job filling in last week.

Canadian scientists determined that Monarch butterflies migrate to Mexico using a built-in solar-calibrated compass, and not a “true” navigation system with positional awareness. Bonus points to CBC News author Emily Chung for including researchers’ “experimental bumps,” including uncooperative butterflies who wouldn’t migrate within the flight simulator, showcasing how the course of an experiment isn’t always smooth.  The research is forthcoming in PNAS.

Sheila Jasanoff raises questions about the accountability (and lack thereof) of science advisers in the fourth article of The Guardian’s series on science advice (read parts 1, 2, and 3).

Will Oremus at Slate reminds us that Margaret Thatcher was really a “climate hawk”: she promoted responsible, sustainable economic development and was one of the earliest world leaders who spoke about the danger of global warming.

Here’s an amazing time-lapse video from Scott Lawson’s YouTube channel demonstrating magnetism with iron oxide-infused Silly Putty. Phil Plait at Bad Astronomy explains the properties at work, as well as why science needs more cool stuff like this.