Weekly Roundup

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If you’re looking for the latest debate over scientific controversy, head to Twitter where rapper B.o.B. posted a series of images and arguments in favour of a flat Earth. As Gawker rightly points out, B.o.B. has more followers (2.3 million) than any of the world’s news organizations. Update: Neil deGrasse Tyson has entered the fray. But B.o.B.’s response is a diss track. So, I guess it’s a tie.

2 Engineers have built a robotic apparatus that solves a Rubik’s Cube in just over 1 second. And no, it doesn’t need to peel off the stickers and rearrange them.

Grapefruit? Phenolic? Hay-like? Thanks to sensory scientists, the new Coffee Taster’s Flavor Wheel can tell you exactly how to describe your morning pick-me-up, if you’re the kind of person who always wanted to but lacked the vocabulary of a connoisseur. And speaking of sensory science, there’s a newly discovered link between serotonin and sour taste, as researchers determined that the neurotransmitter is the previously-unknown chemical messenger released by type III taste cells.

Here at the Bubble Chamber, we’re all about science and public policy. So we were happy to dig into Tania Lombrozo’s piece at NPR arguing that science, on its own, can’t decide policy, which links to other great recent work on the subject.

Is climate change killing all the aliens? Climate joins other Earth-salient fears like nuclear war and overpopulation in our Fermi paradox-based speculations about the non-appearance of extraterrestrials.

Outbreaks of the Zika virus are currently on the rise in South and Central America and the Caribbean. The virus’ symptoms are usually mild, involving up to a week’s worth of fever and fatigue; it may also be associated with Guillain-Barré syndrome. As epidemiologists struggle to research and contain the understudied disease, travel advisories for pregnant women have been issued for areas of Zika outbreaks as the virus is linked to microcephaly in babies whose mothers were bitten by Zika-carrying Aedes mosquitoes. Some governments in affected areas are urging women to avoid becoming pregnant, which is a complex issue in countries like El Salvador where abortion (including miscarriage) is illegal and birth control is not approved by the Catholic Church. The virus may also be  transmitted sexually, although research has been limited because Zika doesn’t infect typical animal models and there hasn’t been much interest in the disease until the recent outbreaks.…

Weekly Roundup

The planets… are aligning! And, for the next month, all viewable in the same night. Here’s a guide to spotting our 5 closest neighbours with the naked eye, as well as Neptune and Uranus if you’ve got a small telescope.

Stephen Hawking is at it again with his “optimistic” doom and gloom predictions about humanity ruining life on this planet. Luckily, we’ll have colonized other places by then, so the Earth’s destruction is no big deal.

Here’s Nathan Myhrvold’s latest volley in favour of government support for basic science at Scientific American, arguing against Matt Ridley’s position (popular with belt-tightening politicians) that government should leave scientific innovation to the scientists.

This was no garden of Eden but a relentless battle“: The Atlantic explores the life and work of 17th-century artist Maria Sibylla Merian, whose lavish, detail-oriented images of insects depicted ecological communities before such a concept existed.

Bad science won’t die, according to Jill Neimark at Quartz, because we readily accept results (even discredited ones) that confirm our innate fears of contagion.

And finally, to the disappointment of almost everyone, there’s not likely to ever be a spider-man. At least one one without 40% body surface devoted to wall-crawlin’.

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Weekly Roundup, Best “Best Of” Edition

It’s time for our annual Roundup roundup, where I count down the best “best of” science and technology lists from 2015.

10. Reflecting interest in science topics by the mainstream media, Scientific American’s Top 10 Science Stories of 2015 features their list of newsworthy items. Football concussions, drone regulation, and cybersecurity make the cut, as did Volkswagen’s diesel misdeeds.

9. Discovery News’ Top 10 Space Stories of 2015: Readers’ Choice, detailing the year’s most popular NASA missions, observatory discoveries, and commercial spaceflight trials, as well as The Martian.

8. The award for the best science news we didn’t hear about goes to the Smithsonian for Cool Science Stories You May Have Missed in 2015, including weather-controlling mushrooms.

7. Weird Science! The Top 10 Weirdest Science Stories Of 2015 from IFLScience counts down such oddities as DARPA’s vampire drones, human chimerism, and whatever nonsense flatworms are up to these days.

6. Phil Plait of Slate’s Bad Astronomy blog gives us The Top Space and Astronomy Stories of 2015 (in video form, including a transcript with images).

5. For a briefer overview emphasizing Canadian content (the Nobel Prize in Physics, but disappointing results in a poll about attitudes about climate change), check out Quirks & Quarks’ host Bob McDonald’s The top science stories of 2015 that were covered by his CBC radio program.

4. Top 10 STEM Toys for 2015 by The Toy Insider Mom, which includes both last year’s STEM for girls heavyweight GoldieBlox and their more recent lookalike Mighty Makers from K’NEX.

3. Gizmodo’s 10 Scariest, Weirdest, Coolest Robots of 2015, including Canada’s very own hitchBOT.

2. WIRED’s Nick Stockton showcases “all the science heroics from the past year” with All the Most Winningest Science From 2015. Topping the list: reproducibility watchdog Brian Nosek.

And best of all the “best of” lists, thanks to its pleasantly underhyped approach…

1. Mental Floss’ Top 10 Science Stories of 2015 by science journalist Dan Falk keeps the hype on a low simmer instead of the usual rolling boil, sharing our excitement about awesome science news while deftly debunking the nonsense.…