Category Archives: Weekly Roundup

Weekly Roundup

Image via the galileowaswrong blog.

The release of the trailer for The Principle, a geocentric film casting doubt on Copernicanism, resulted in statements from several people featured in the trailer distancing themselves from the project. Narrator Kate Mulgrew explained on Facebook that she was misled about the nature of the project and that “I am not a geocentrist, nor am I in any way a proponent of geocentrism.” Physicist Lawrence Krauss reasoned that producers either purchased footage of him from another production company, interviewed him under false pretences, or used public domain footage. With regard to the latter, producer Rick Delano said in a released statement that “I can tell him how he ended up in our film. He signed a release form, and cashed a check.” Robert Sungenis, the film’s executive producer, is a geocentrist, running the blog.

Old men become grumpy around age 70, but they live longer in nursing homes.

Entrain, a new app, calculates how best to fight jet lag. The app’s methodology is supported by a recent paper in PLOS Computational Biology.

Just in time for Homeopathy Awareness Week, a new draft report by Australia’s National Health and Medical Research Council debunked homeopathy’s effectiveness. Homeopathy proponents were permitted to submit material for the report, but it didn’t meet the council’s scientific standards.

“Language diversity” correlates both with mountainous terrain that isolates human groups and with rivers that bring those groups together.

Jenny McCarthy argues in an op-ed piece for the Chicago Sun-Times that she is not and has never been against vaccines. Phil Plait provides an excellent argument to the contrary, but I’ll add that her backtracking might have been motivated by the resurgence of preventable disease outbreaks, grimly documented in the Jenny McCarthy Body Count website.

Kansas is not planning to black out the science program Cosmos, despite the viral popularity of the satirical news story.

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Weekly Roundup


Here’s a roundup of the best April Fool’s Day hoaxes from around the web, and another one focused on the science/library community. But NPR’s prank is the clear winner.

“You don’t think of the Bible necessarily as a scientifically accurate source of information, so I guess we were quite surprised when we discovered it would work. We’re not proving that it’s true, but the concept would definitely work”: Physics students at the University of Leicester have determined that Noah’s ark would indeed be buoyant.

Don’t tell Mr. Toad: A new study suggests that children retain less information about animals from anthropomorphized accounts. But kids learn more when science is packaged in a music video.

We don’t have stasis fields yet, but in a new clinical trial, gunshot or stabbing victims will be placed in suspended animation (induced hypothermia) while doctors repair damaged organs. [via Marginal Revolution]

Eliminating invasive species is more difficult than we realize, as is even labelling them “native” or “alien.”

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Weekly Roundup

Which diet is best? According to new research, none of them.

Cosmos continues to attract controversy as Creationists demand equal time for their theories on the program.

Cancer care in hospitals should not include unproven treatments like reflexology and reiki, argues Brian Palmer at Slate. And nearly half of Americans believe at least one medical conspiracy theory, according to a BMJ survey.

Users of the new Spreadsheets app have gamified their sexual encounters. Here’s a map showing the average duration of intercourse in each American state. And here’s a series of (PG-rated) sketches of animal mating rituals, if they were performed by humans.

As a nice change from contemporary parenting debates, here’s a look into the way parents dealt with teenagers during the Middle Ages.

A paper on climate change deniers’ belief in conspiracy theories has been pulled from Frontiers in Psychology due to the “legal context” created by allegations of defamation.

A postdoc was sabotaged by one of her peers, reports Science (paywall-protected), and claims in a lawsuit that she received inadequate response from the school and her supervisor.

A buzzword-induced fetish for innovation is not the same as a robust technology policy, argues Evgeny Morozov at the New Republic.

Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales responds to a petition criticizing the representation of holistic medicine: ”What we won’t do is pretend that the work of lunatic charlatans is the equivalent of ‘true scientific discourse’. It isn’t.”

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Weekly Roundup

Conflicting with previous results, a new study supports the 5-second food rule.

The end may be nigh, according to a NASA-funded study of past complex civilizations employing both natural and social scientists. The paper, which will eventually be published in Ecological Economics, points to resource overexploitation and economic inequalities as the harbingers of doom, but offers a silver lining: structural changes or policy initiatives could stave off societal collapse.

Should parents ban handheld device use in children? Maybe not.

Rebekah Higgitt examines the many reactions, mostly negative, to the rebooted TV science program Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey‘s portrayal of Giordano Bruno from the history of science community.

Migraines and hangovers may now be curable, for about $300 each.

When high schools roll back their start times, results include better grades and fewer car crashes.

Following the recent removal of Asperger’s as a diagnostic category, a behavioural neurologist believes the ADHD label should be next to disappear.

Say goodbye to dessert: the WHO proposes limiting added sugars to 5% of caloric intake, or around 6 teaspoons of added sugar per day for the average person, halving their previous recommendation. But not to worry; if Virginia Tech professor Y.H. Percival Zhang’s research can scale up, we’ll all be eating starch from wood chips and other currently-inedible plant parts.

Gravitational waves have been discovered in the cosmic background radiation, which would confirm cosmic inflation theory. Here’s Ethan Siegel’s great breakdown, with diagrams.

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Weekly Roundup

Powerpoint presentations are the bane of higher education and the corporate world, claims this Powerpoint presentation.

A 43% reduction in American childhood obesity has been reported across multiple news outlets, but some question such striking results. Mark Liberman at Language Log has done some digging and suspects both the statistical treatment of reference population growth charts, as well as changes to the sampling method which result in a more racially-inclusive population.

We eat too much of everything… except yogourt: the FDA has proposed new serving sizes for several types of food to better reflect actual consumption habits.

Here is the first x-ray image of individual living cells, preserved without chemical fixation, from Physical Review Letters. This research illustrates the nanoscale damage to cell structures caused by traditional techniques [via Gizmodo].

What do women want while ovulating? Positional goods that improve their status compared to that of other women, according to a new paper in the Journal of Marketing Research. “Overall, women’s monthly hormonal fluctuations seem to have a substantial effect on consumer behavior by systematically altering their positional concerns, a finding that has important implications for marketers, consumers, and researchers” [via Marginal Revolution].

A new Pew survey of millennials, a demographic who confuse their parents, teachers, therapists, and bosses, shows that they are also pretty confused.

Men who act sexually aggressive in a barroom setting don’t drink more alcohol, but they target women who do, claims a new study in Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research [via Jezebel].

Insert a reference to your thawed-virus horror film of choice: a thirty thousand-year-old giant virus was discovered in the Siberian permafrost. But don’t worry; it only infects amoebas [via io9].

If you’ve got the time to scroll through mostly darkness, check out this scale representation of the solar system where the moon = one pixel.

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Weekly Roundup

“Professors, We Need You!” Nicholas Kristof argues in the New York Times that professors need to make themselves relevant in real-world debates. Professors argued back that they already do, and that they might be better off staying in the (shrinking) ivory tower: for one thing, there are no FBI background checks.

Food research is notorious for flip-flopping, but studies suggest that consumers of whole milk and butter are less likely to be obese. NPR explores this “full fat paradox.”

“These gender differences that everyone knows exist, and they know they’ll always exist and they’re biological — when I started pressing on them I found that a lot of those assumptions hadn’t really been tested.” New York Magazine interviews psychologist Terri Conley, whose work debunks evolutionary explanations for men and women’s sex preferences.

Jackie Chan has joined the fight to halt the consumption of endangered animal products for food and traditional remedies.

Lonely people are more likely to die sooner, and lonely cancer patients suffer detrimental lifestyle impacts.

Man’s best friend, indeed: dogs’ brains react to voices and emotional cues similar to those of humans.

High school grades predict college success better than SAT scores do.

A new study in JAMA Pediatrics suggests a link between using acetaminophen (paracetamol; found in Tylenol and other medications) during pregnancy and ADHD/hyperkinetic behaviours in children. However, doctors believe that these results do not warrant a change in the drug’s classification as a safe painkiller for pregnant women.

Over 120 research papers residing in Springer and IEEE subscription publications have been removed after Cyril Labbé discovered that they were produced by SCIgen, a program designed by MIT graduate students to generate nonsense computer science papers. If you suspect a given computer science paper is gibberish, you can test it using Labbé’s website.

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Weekly Roundup

One in four Americans believes that the sun revolves around the Earth, according to the results of a NSF survey presented at the recent AAAS meeting. But according to Time magazine, Europeans fared even worse on that question, with one in three responding incorrectly.

Despite an outpouring of protest and offers of rehousing, Copenhagen Zoo killed its “surplus” male giraffe Marius, and then performed a public autopsy with children in the audience. Meat from the corpse was fed to the zoo’s lions. Marius’ death has sparked discussion on the ethics of zoo conservation, with some blaming the zoo’s actions on Denmark’s pragmatic culture.

The health outcomes of people living in food deserts, areas without access to fresh food and which have prompted healthy eating initiatives, aren’t improved by improving access to fresh food; some researchers even believe food deserts aren’t the issue but that the cumulative stress (allostatic load) caused by long-term poverty is responsible for illness. Nutrition is a confusing field with a ”dysfunctional research establishment.” All we know without a doubt is that Americans really love pizza.

A report commissioned by The Beer Store, Ontario’s beer retailer, claims that beer would become more expensive if customers could purchase it at convenience stores. But the author of a previous study commissioned by the Ontario Convenience Store Association disagrees.

Bill Nye, The Science Guy debated Ken Ham, young-Earth creationist and head of the Creation Museum, on the question “Is creation a viable model of origins in today’s modern, scientific era?” The entire debate can be viewed on YouTube. While some in the scientific community welcomed the publicity, others claimed that Nye lost by showing up. Post-debate, creationists provided answers to evolutionist issues raised at the debate, while Buzzfeed collected questions from creationists which have been tackled by quite a few bloggers.

Some sciences are just harder than others: a new study in the  Interdisciplinary Journal on Research and Religion claims that social science professors are more religious and politically extreme than their counterparts in the natural sciences, and that the difference is due to the higher intelligence of the natural scientists, thanks to the correlation of both religiosity and political extremism with lower intelligence. [via Marginal Revolution]

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Weekly Roundup

What should a first-semester, first-year, part-time, mature psychology MA student do upon discovering faulty math in an extremely popular paper in American Psychologist claiming that complex fluid dynamics proves that a ratio of 2.9013 positive to negative emotions is the tipping point for human flourishing? Well, if you’re Nick Brown, you team up with Alan Sokal and psychologist Harris Friedman and publish a takedown in the same journal.

GoldieBlox, the engineering toy designed for girls that we’ve written about before, won Intuit’s Small Business, Big Game contest, beating thousands of competitors. Here‘s their prize: a professionally-produced commercial.

It’s been a bad week for the organic food movement: a PLOS One study sponsored by the organic milk industry claiming that the fat profile of organic milk is better for your heart has been debunked, and Slate published an analysis of the pesticide risks of feeding children regular produce, concluding that they are not significant.

After the passage of a comprehensive Child Rights Law in the United Arab Emirates, it is now illegal to not breastfeed your baby. [via Jezebel]

Much has been written about Stephen Hawking’s black hole U-turn, prompted by his submission of a paper to arXiv claiming that “there are no black holes.” But as PopMech points out, Hawking’s quote continues with “—in the sense of regimes from which light can’t escape to infinity. There are, however, apparent horizons which persist for a period of time”: Hawking is weighing in on a debate about event horizons. And to top it off, the Borowitz Report posted a satirical column wherein Michelle Bachman claims that Hawking’s reversal means we shouldn’t believe climate or evolutionary science, which quickly went viral. [via Gizmodo]

Children’s “weight fate” may be set as early as kindergarten: according to a new study in the New England Journal of Medicine, overweight 5-year-olds are much more likely to be overweight as teenagers.

Fighting a straw snowman: in a curious piece at Scientific American, The truth about “wind chill”: Does it even really exist? Mark Fischetti argues that “wind chill is not real” because skin temperature would never fall to reported wind chill levels, then goes into the details of the perceivable phenomenon. [via Salon]

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Weekly Roundup

Why do dogs romp in the snow? Because it’s fun, of course!

Acclaimed biologist Lewis Wolpert has apologized for using the unattributed work of published papers, websites, and Wikipedia in his 2011 popular science book on ageing, You’re Looking Very Well, which has now been withdrawn by his publisher Faber & Faber. Wolpert, in his 80s, also included unattributed material in a not-yet-published manuscript, Why Can’t a Woman Be More Like a Man? This case joins other recent high-profile cases including Jane Goodall’s Seeds of Hope (plagiarism) and Jonah Lehrer’s Imagine: How Creativity Works (quote fabrication).

A new study in PNAS links metabolism and lifespan in mammals, attributing primates’ longevity to differences in energy usage.

Puberty at 5? “Precocious” is right.

Dick Swaab, a neurobiologist from Amsterdam University, presented controversial results from his new book We Are Our Brains on mothers’ lifestyle choices and infants’ development (including their sexuality and IQ) in an interview with the Sunday Times (paywall-protected; summarized in the Telegraph). Swaab’s description of homosexuality, along with lower IQ and autism, as the result of fetal exposure to toxins, is troubling to some.

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Weekly Roundup

Experts are divided on whether our mobile technologies isolate us or bring us together.

The Doomsday Clock is still at 5 minutes to midnight; the same rating as 2007, 2012, and last year.

We’re not eating our vegetables, and those unhealthy habits at home contribute to obesity even more than fast food does. But reaching for the diet soda is no remedy, as overweight adults choosing sugar-free drinks tend to eat more.

Do you hate applying for grants? With this proposed decentralized alternative, scientists would crowd-fund each other’s work while enjoying a fixed annual research stipend. [via Marginal Revolution]

Charter schools, which operate independently but receive public funding, are subverting the separation of church and state with “stealth creationism” and other agendas of the religious right, reports Zach Kopplin for Slate.

Archeologists describe Roman headhunting taking place in Britain around the 2nd century AD, based on improved forensic work on skulls recovered in London in 1988.

The best part of waking up is remembering what happened yesterday: caffeine ingested after a study session improved subjects’ retention after 24 hours.

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