sn-beetongues

Warming world has shrunk bee tongues

If you were getting tired of the peppered-moth-in-industrialized-Britain example of evolution in action, here’s a new twist: bee tongues evolving in response to global warming! This example isn’t likely to convince skeptics of evolution or global warming, but maybe it’s efficient to have all your enemies arrayed against you at once?

In the midst of a widespread decline in bees, particularly in the United States, a few bumblebees are finding a way to cope: shorter tongues. In just 40 years, the tongues of two bumblebee species living high up in Colorado’s Rocky Mountains have shrunk by almost 25% in their average length, according to a new study. A warming world has spurred these changes, researchers conclude, because the total number of flowers has declined in this region—and the shorter tongue enables the bees to suck nectar from more kinds of flowers.

 

“It’s one of the best examples of the effect of climate that I’ve seen,” says Sydney Cameron, an entomologist at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, who was not involved with the work. But the bees’ successful adaptation may be the silver lining of a very dark cloud. A variety of so-called long-tubed flowers, including penstemon, Indian paintbrush, clover, wild indigo, monkshood, bluebell, snapdragon, larkspur, and foxglove, require long-tongued bumblebees for pollination. “The reality is that long-tube flowers will disappear,” Cameron warns. And then, “you are losing biodiversity on a major scale.”

 

Many of the bumblebees that first arose sport tongues about half the length of their bodies, having evolved special relationships with particular long-tubed flowers. Matching tongue length to flower depth makes foraging and pollination more efficient, and many such matches have evolved through time.

 

But globally, long-tongued bumblebees are declining, says Cameron, as are many bees, in part because of climate change, pesticide use, and habitat loss. There were also indications that in some species, long tongues were shrinking.

Source: Warming world has shrunk bee tongues

At least 10 Afghan civilians, including eight schoolchildren, have been killed in fighting involving Western troops in Narang district of Kunar Province in Afghanistan. (RAWA)

A Crook against the “Evidence for Technocracy”

Anthony J. Gavin at Ways of Worldmaking has a great discussion of value neutrality in science, specifically relating to Canadian science policy. His discussion is based on a CBC debate between University of Ottawa biologist Katie Gibbs, who argues that federal politicians ought to be discussing science policy during the leadership campaign, and columnist Clive Crook, who argues that scientists should just stay out of politics altogether and simply provide politicians with objective facts on which to base their decisions.

Gavin’s whole discussion is interesting, but I was particularly intrigued  by this line of argument:

Gibbs’ view puts value-content not into the facts discovered by scientists, but into science itself. Usually scientists and philosophers of this persuasion appraise whichever their notion of the scientific method: used to arrive at facts by way of the testing of hypotheses against empirical observations, through the fuse of several degrees of abstraction. The facts themselves do not have any value-content, but the scientific method does. Her view envisions greater autonomy for researchers and rings of class individualism and elitism, affording value to an epistemic culture in-demand rather than their specific product. Crook’s view, on the other hand, is conservative against the progressive element contained in the rising intellectual microcosm within the capitalist class.

 

Neither view seems quite correct to me. Facts have value-content, both inwardly and outwardly. Consider the fact, “75% of all casualties in World War II were civilians”. If you’re interested, that’s nearly 50 million people. Value-content comes into this fact through the productive means which birthed it. For example, does a person who succumbs to a lingering lung infection from having inspired a modicum of Mustard Gas several years after the end of the war count as a casualty? What about the countless infants in the following generation that would die simply for having been born into crushing war-torn poverty?

 

Outwardly, the fact is harrowing to hear. It makes me unhappy. It makes me dislike war. No doubt my reaction upon hearing this fact is socially and culturally conditioned, but this does not rob it of its value-content. If anything, it correlates value-content with shared evaluative practices and norms. It seems that we are inclined to make use of facts when we reason, and that we evaluate facts according to our own worldviews and against our own experiences.

 

Methods, such as experimental practices and statistical models of inference, do not have value-content, but are value relevant in their factive manifestations. Value judgements are made even in ostensibly minute methodological details. But ‘science’ (supposing a group of spuriously connected methodologies) has no intrinsic value. Science is the dominant epistemic culture living in a postcolonial and multicultural society. Public uptake of the scientific worldview is as much a role for the scientist-as-citizen as it is a role for science journalism. The understanding of and receptivity to scientific facts is a function of the ideological outgrowth of the institution, whose expansion under the neoliberal model is fueled by market forces.

My instinct is to argue the opposite: that facts could conceivably be value free, given suitable precision, but the decisions that scientists make never can be. Gavin argues that “casualty” is an inherently value-laden term, pointing to the agonizing decisions required to define just what a casualty is, and the emotions that such considerations engender. I agree that all of the decisions involved in defining casualty are decisions that involve values, but I don’t see that this makes “casualty” itself value-laden, once the decisions over how to precisely define it have been made. Conversely, the decision to accept a statement such as “We expect average global surface temperatures to rise by two degrees over the next century” is no less value-laden for having no obvious “valuey” words. I believe that Heather Douglas’s discussion in Science, Policy, and the Value-Free Ideal, supports my view, but Gavin’s discussion makes me wonder if I’ve misread her.

 

Source: A Crook against the “Evidence for Technocracy” | ways of worldmaking.

Image Source: http://www.rawa.org/temp/runews/2009/12/28/10-afghan-civilians-including-8-schoolchildren-killed-during-western-operation.html

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There Is No Theory of Everything

Simon Critchley at the New York Times relates the life an work of philosopher Frank Cioffi, focusing on his account of the relationship between science and the humanities:

Despite the astonishing breadth of his interests, Frank’s core obsession in teaching turned on the relation between science and the humanities. More particularly, his concern was with the relation between the causal explanations offered by science and the kinds of humanistic description we find, say, in the novels of Dickens or Dostoevsky, or in the sociological writings of Erving Goffman and David Riesman. His quest was to try and clarify the occasions when a scientific explanation was appropriate and when it was not, and we need instead a humanistic remark. His conviction was that our confusions about science and the humanities had wide-ranging and malign societal consequences.

Source: There Is No Theory of Everything – The New York Times.

Image: http://www.thetimes.co.uk/tto/opinion/obituaries/article3422801.ece

Weekly Roundup

“A man travels to outer space, while his identical twin remains on earth…” Thanks to astronauts Mark and Scott Kelley, NASA can finally replicate this mainstay of physics textbook examples (although it’s no true twin paradox, as the ISS doesn’t travel at near-light speed).

Questions surround the details of last week’s announcement of homo nadeli, with some scientists criticizing the premature creation of a new species. Others implicate the PR-science journalism-imprecise headline hype cycle has been implicated. And the Atlantic asks why the homo nadeli specimens haven’t been dated yet; it turns out it’s very difficult and complicated to accurately date fossils from so long ago.

If you haven’t yet heard of #clockboy, WIRED has a rundown of Ahmed Mohamed’s saga.

Jacking up the price of lifesaving drugs then doubling down on social media, tends to send your reputation right down to moustache-twirling villain levels. Just ask Turing Pharmaceuticals CEO Martin Shkreli.

Finally, a primer of key moments in technological and cultural history of the mid-to-late 20th century.…

Weekly Roundup

The catch is this – the person must be skinny and preferably small” This Facebook post recruited the all-female team of spelunking anthropologists who recovered the fossils of new species Homo naledi and had to be able to fit a 7-inch-wide passage in the Rising Star cave in South Africa.

There are plenty of mature themes in Rebecca Skloot’s bestselling The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks: medical ethics, ownership and commercialization of body tissue, informed consent, and racial dimensions of medicine. A Tennessee parent, however, is concerned about what she perceives as different mature themes.

Amyloid-beta proteins, associated with Alzheimer’s disease, were discovered in the brains of deceased Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease patients who had been treated with injections of human growth hormone as children. Following multiple “Is Alzheimer’s contagious?” headlines, the original study’s authors try to assuage those worries with a helpful FAQ.

National Geographic is now mainly owned by 21st Century Fox and will lose its nonprofit status. Some are concerned about commercial interests interfering with the magazine’s scientific mission, as Fox CEO Rupert Murdoch has expressed climate change-denying views.

Ridley Scott’s new film The Martian, based on Andy Weir’s bestselling e-book, contains realistic, NASA-approved science and buoys the hopes of technically-minded space fans everywhere.…

Weekly Roundup

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We’ve been on vacation for what seems like forever, but the Bubble Chamber’s Weekly Roundup is back. We plan to keep you updated on the most important (and quirky) science, policy, and HPS news throughout the year. Enjoy!

The Open Science Collaboration’s paper in Science investigating reproducibility in psychology made headlines when research teams could only replicate 39% of the original studies’ effects. Brian Nosek and other lead authors discussed the paper and answered questions in a reddit AMA, emphasizing the importance of transparency and shared data. In the latest Atlantic, Bourree Lam has a great primer on retraction and replication issues plaguing the sciences, while Christie Aschwanden at FiveTirtyEight argues that science isn’t broken; it’s just hard, examining p-hacking and the pressure to publish.

While policymakers boost STEM, whither the humanities? Adding creativity and insight for tech apps, according to Forbes’ profile Stewart Butterfield, CEO of Slack Technologies with a MA in philosophy and the history of science.

Environment Canada scientist and folk singer Tony Turner was placed on administrative leave pending an investigation of his Harperman protest song, reigniting the debate over the government muzzling of scientists. A nationwide sing-along is planned for Sept. 17th, and there’s a petition demanding Turner’s reinstatement.

…the unfortunate paradox is that while Greenland’s climate appears to be changing rapidly and garnering the world’s attention, the conditions in which many Greenlanders and other Arctic peoples live could not change rapidly enough.” Anthropologist Hunter Snyder at Nat Geo makes a case for broadening our research interests in the Arctic.

In a summer of conversations about scientists and professors’ appearance, with #Ilooklikeanengineer, #Ilooklikeaprofessor, and #distractinglysexy rallying discussions of diversity, appearance-based bias, and privilege, less well-known blog Sartorial Science celebrates fashion-minded scientists, fighting the notion being a good dresser makes you not serious enough for science. And with Mad Art Lab’s Scientist Paper Dolls, you can dress your favourite thinkers however you like.

“Don’t open that door!” Michael Greshko at Science 2.0 explores new research on how suspenseful movies influence visual attention and why we can’t look away.…

Better Science Policy in Canada

Government funded science is necessary. The government is the only entity with the resources to keep track of the long-term and widespread trends in population growth, pollution, climate change, poverty and so on. The government must therefore take some of our tax money and pay scientists to do research on issues that might lead to what is good for its citizens, whether they approve of it or not. As our Prime Minister says, “vital statistics are critical. You can’t manage what you can’t measure.”

Any ruling political party will face the question of how best to fund and engage with science. While all parties agree that science is valuable, they manage it differently because they have to make different trade-offs based on their values and ideologies.

Suppose science values truth, society values well-being, government values security and industry values wealth. The way these four elements interact determine how their values are balanced. If you value wealth, you might focus on promoting science that is profitable. If you value well-being, you might focus on medicine and technology. This is further complicated by the changing constraints on the resources of time, money, materials and humans.

Many people have argued that the current Conservative government has traded away too much science in the interest of wealth and other party interests. Followers of this blog will already know what I’m talking about. Here are some of the accusations.

Climate scientists are not allowed to speak about climate change, to the media or the public. The reason given was that meteorologists are not qualified to speak about climate change. With no one speaking about climate change, media coverage has gone down 80%. (See also herehere and here). This supposedly profits Harper because with no one to stand in his way, he won’t have to reduce emissions (and profit) in factories, or worry too much about the damage caused by the Alberta oil sands. Some evidence of this attitude is the fact that the conservative government has pulled us out of the Kyoto protocol. We are a top-ten polluting country worldwide, and we have turned our backs on one of the most important international agreements ever made to fight global climate change.

Scientists at the Canadian Institute of Health Research must now find matching funds from industrial sources to be eligible for grants. This makes it much harder to do basic research. And it makes things especially difficult for those who study Aboriginal health issues, as there aren’t many organizations willing to invest in that research.

A report from the Broadbent institute shows that the Canadian Revenue Agency appears to be targeting left-leaning charitable organizations that focus on environmental issues, while right-leaning charities escape.

Canada’s Commissioner of the Environment has found that Canada is delaying any monitoring of oil sands pollution, as well as creating misleading information in previous reports. Also the federal committee responsible for Canada’s climate has not met in three years.

Seven of the nine most important libraries belonging to the departments of oceans and fisheries were shut down to save money by digitizing the data. But only a tiny fraction was actually digitized. The rest of the books were thrown in dumpsters, burned or sent to landfills.

Here is a partial list of some of the other things that have been shut down:

  • Environmental Emergency Response Program
  • Urban Wastewater Program
  • Canadian Foundation for Climate and Atmospheric Sciences
  • Smokestacks Emissions Monitoring Team
  • Hazardous Materials Information Review Commission
  • National Roundtable on the Environment and the Economy
  • Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency, Winnipeg Office
  • Municipal Water and Wastewater Survey
  • Environmental Protection Operations
  • Action Plan on Clean Water
  • Polar Environment Atmospheric Research Laboratory (PEARL)
  • Sustainable Water Management Division
  • Environmental Effects Monitoring Program
  • Federal Contaminated Sites Action Plan
  • Canadian Centre for Inland Waters
  • Clean Air Agenda
  • Air Quality Health Index
  • Species at Risk Program
  • Weather and Environmental Services
  • Substance and Waste Management
  • Ocean Contaminants & Marine Toxicology Program
  • Experimental Lakes Area
  • Centre for Offshore Oil & Gas Energy Research
  • Conservation and Protection Office (L’anse au Loup, NL)
  • Conservation and Protection Office (Trepassey, NL)
  • Conservation and Protection Office (Rigolet, NL)
  • Conservation and Protection Office (Burgeo, NL)
  • Conservation and Protection Office (Arnold’s Cove, NL)
  • Conservation and Protection Office (Baddeck, NS)
  • Conservation and Protection Office (Canso, NS)
  • Conservation and Protection Office (Sheet Harbour, NS)
  • Conservation and Protection Office (Woodstock, NB)
  • Conservation and Protection Office (Port Hood, NS)
  • Conservation and Protection Office (Wallace, NS)
  • Conservation and Protection Office (Kedgwick, NB)
  • Conservation and Protection Office (Montague, PEI)
  • Conservation and Protection Office (Inuvik, NT)
  • Conservation and Protection Office (Rankin Inlet, NU)
  • Conservation and Protection Office (Clearwater, BC)
  • Conservation and Protection Office (Comox, BC)
  • Conservation and Protection Office (Hazelton, BC)
  • Conservation and Protection Office (Quesnel, BC)
  • Conservation and Protection Office (Pender Harbour, BC)
  • Species-at-Risk Program
  • Habitat Management Program
  • DFO Institute of Ocean Sciences (Sidney, BC)
  • Freshwater Institute – Winnipeg
  • Oil Spill Counter-Measures Team
  • Water Pollution Research Lab (Sidney, BC)
  • Water Pollution Research Lab (Winnipeg, MB)
  • Water Pollution Research Lab (Burlington, ON)
  • Water Pollution Research Lab (Mont-Joli, QC)
  • Water Pollution Research Lab (Moncton, NB)
  • Water Pollution Research Lab (Dartmouth, NS)
  • St. Andrew Biological Station
  • Canadian Scientific Submersible Facility
  • Ice Information Partnership
  • First Nations and Inuit Health
  • Fertilizer Pre-Market Efficacy Assessment program
  • Enforcement of Product of Canada label
  • RADARSAT Constellation Mission
  • Whapmagoostui-Kuujjuarapik Research station
  • Kluane Lake Research Station
  • Bamfield Marine Science Centre
  • Microfungal Collection and Herborium
  • Biogeoscience Institute
  • Coriolis II research Vessel
  • OIE Laboratory for Infectious Salmon Anaemia
  • Canadian Phycological Culture Centre
  • Polaris Portable Observatories for Lithospheric Analysis and Research
  • Mount Megantic ObservatoryInshore Rescue Boat Program
  • Species at Risk Atlantic Salmon Production Facilities
  • Northwest Atlantic Fisheries Organization
  • At-Sean Observer Programs
  • Pacific Forestry Centre, Satellite Office (Prince George, BC)
  • Canadian Centre for Remote Sensing
  • Pulp and Paper Green Transformation Program
  • Isotopes Supply Initiative
  • Clean Energy Fund
  • Sustainable Development Technology Canada – Next Generation Biofuels Fund
  • Program of Energy Research and Development
  • Pacific Forestry Centre
  • Astronomy Interpretation Centre – Centre of the Universe
  • MRI research, Institute Biodiagnostics
  • Polar Continental Shelf Progam
  • Aquatic Ecotoxicology, Aquatic and Crop Resource Development
  • Molecular Biochemistry Laboratory, Aquatic and Crop Resource Development
  • Plant Metabolism Research, Aquatic and Crop Resource Development
  • Human Health Therapeutics research program
  • Environmental Risks to Health program
  • Substance Use and Abuse program
  • First Nations and Inuit Primary Health Care program
  • Health Infrastructure Support for First Nations and Inuit program
  • Interim Federal Health Program
  • Prairie Farm Rehabilitation Administration
  • Environmental Knowledge, Technology, Information, and Measurement program
  • Science, Innovation and Adoption program
  • Rural and Co-operatives Development program
  • Centre for Plant Health (Sidney, BC)
  • National Aboriginal Health Organization
  • First Nations Statistical Institute
  • Cultural Connections for Aboriginal Youth
  • Smoke Stacks Emissions Monitoring Team
  • National Roundtable on the Environment and Economy
  • Environmental Protections Operations Compliant Promotion Program
  • Sustainable Water Management Division
  • Environmental Effects Monitoring program
  • Fresh Water Institute
  • Canadian Centre for Inlands Waters (Burlington)
  • World Ozone and Ultraviolet Radiation Data Centre
  • Environmental Emergencies Program
  • Parks Canada
  • Montreal Biosphere
  • Statistics Canada
  • Fields Institute for Research in Mathematical Sciences
  • Laboratory for the Analysis of Natural and Synthetic Environmental Toxicants
  • National Ultrahigh-field NMR Facility for Solids
  • IsoTrace AMS Facility
  • Canadian Phycological Culture Centre
  • Canadian Resource Centre for Zebrafish Genetics
  • Neuroendocrinology Assay Laboratory at the University of Western Ontario
  • Canadian Centre for DNA Barcoding
  • Portable Observatories for Lithospheric Analysis and Research Investigating (POLARIS) (Ontario)
  • Canadian Institute for Theoretical Astrophysics
  • Brockhouse Institute for Materials Research
  • St.

The Year’s Geekiest Gifts

If you wanted to give your true love all the gifts from the 12 Days of Christmas, it would cost you $27,673. But there’s no need to shell out that much for our picks of the best science-themed and geekiest gifts of 2014… except for #9.

1. You Are Here: Around the World in 92 Minutes, astronaut Chris Hadfield’s book of stunning photographs from the International Space Station.

2. Engineering kit/anti-“pink aisle” company GoldieBlox released its character Goldie as an articulated action figure, complete with zipline. True to form, they produced a striking video for its launch.

3. Due to incredible demand, the female scientist LEGO Research Institute is back in stores and online. No need to pay twice or even more than five times the price at online resellers! Be aware, there’s often a limit of 1 per household.

4. You can use littleBits modular electronic prototyping kits for anything from learning to program with Arduino to converting your appliances into a smarthome

5. It’s trivia time! The Art of Science Advanced Trivia Game (available at thinkGeek) lets you tailor trivia categories to players’ scientific strengths, with wickedly challenging questions in a variety of science fields.

6. Proof: The Science of Booze is Adam Rogers’ riveting history of alcohol, exploring the various sciences involved in its production as well as in our insatiable demand for its many varieties.

7. A Klein bottle opener, consisting of a single-surface shape. This “mathematical joke” is 3D printed from stainless steel.

8. The “STEM: Women Are All Over It” shirt, successfully Kickstarted in response to #shirtgate. Although the for-charity fundraising just ended, the shirt’s pattern, comprised of the faces of female scientists, will be made available soon.

9. The pièce de résistance: Wernher von Braun’s house. You and your family could live in the original mid-century modern home of the noted space engineer and rocket scientist, located in Huntsville, Alabama. It’ll only set you back $379K U.S.…

Weekly Roundup – We Need to Talk about TED

Why read books or papers when there are easily-digestible videos of charismatic experts summarizing their work for you? Here are 5 interesting recent TED Talks, running the gamut from astronomy to metaphysics.

What’s the next window into our universe?

How not to be ignorant about the world

What makes us sick?

What’s next in 3D printing?

Why does the universe exist?

But to keep you from getting complacent (and to trap you in a paradox) here’s a classic TED talk on why TED talks are terrible.…