Category Archives: Weekly Roundup

Weekly Roundup

Employees are happier after a workday containing smartphone “microbreaks,” which likely offer an equivalent benefit to coffee breaks, short walks, or water-cooler chatter with coworkers.

A new study in PLOS ONE reveals the scientific 1%: the 150,608 scientists who published a paper every year between 1996 and 2011 (a group described as having an “uninterrupted, continuous presence” in the literature) are immensely prolific, listed as authors in 41.7% of journal articles and in 87.1% of papers with more than 1000 citations during the period. [via Urban Demographics]

Your happiness and mental well-being may depend on your genetic proximity to Denmark. Hamlet, Ophelia et al. might disagree.

A newly-discovered pontarachnid mite has been named after Jennifer LopezLitarachna lopezae was so named by the international team of researchers because they enjoyed Lopez’s music while preparing their manuscript, recently published in ZooKeys.

In honour of the 45th anniversary of NASA’s Apollo 11 lunar landing, here’s space historian Amy Shira Teitel explaining the contingency plan if the moonwalking astronauts had been stranded on the lunar surface. Teitel is also “live”-tweeting the Apollo 11 mission’s timeline over the next few days. Scientific American discussed whether the Apollo landing sites ought to be protected for their historical importance. And this week NASA made a bold announcement at a panel on the search for extraterrestrial life, claiming to be “very, very close in terms of technology and science to actually finding the other Earth and our chance to find signs of life on another world.”

i09 offers some of the most peculiar historical quotations about science from the U.S. Supreme Court.

Do not click this link unless you’re prepared to be exposed to a thought experiment the very consideration of which may bring about a malevolent and grudge-holding AI singularity.

A lecturer at Kalasin Rajabhat University in Thailand was caught on tape offering higher grades for coupon-stamps from 7-11, and has been suspended pending an investigation. However, the students involved have recanted and, contrary to evidence on video, claim the exchange was their idea and that the stamps were handed in for charity.

It’s not your imagination; the other checkout lines ARE moving faster than yours. To explain why, you need some queueing theory.

Circadian rhythms are a trending topic: a study titled “The Morality of Larks and Owls” found that both early risers and night owls are most prone to immoral behaviour when fighting their internal clocks, and researchers have found that insulin may have a regulatory effect on the body’s internal clock, meaning that the future might hold a food-based cure for jet lag.

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Weekly Roundup

“I don’t want to get into the debate about climate change, but I will simply point out that I think in academia we all agree that the temperature on Mars is exactly as it is here. Nobody will dispute that. Yet there are no coal mines on Mars. There are no factories on Mars that I’m aware of.”

If you can’t replicate an experiment, you’re probably just doing it wrong, and you’re pointlessly impugning other scientists, claims Harvard social neuroscientist Jason Mitchell. Philosopher of science Eric Winsberg offers an excellent rebuttal, explaining that Mitchell is restating what Collins and Pinch call the “Golden Hands” argument without appreciating the value of replication in scientific experimentation.

He shoots… we tweet! Now that the World Cup is over, check out the amazing patterns in Twitter data during World Cup penalty shootouts.

A longform article in the New Yorker explores teachers’ involvement in an Atlanta public middle school’s cheating ring responsible for inflating standardized test scores under No Child Left Behind.

A religious anti-abortion group invited to teach an abstinence-only sex ed lesson promoting sexual purity in an Edmonton public school won’t be back next year after a student and her mother filed a human rights complaint.

Well, that’s one way to get published: Investigations into a “peer review and citation ring” have prompted SAGE Publications to retract 60 papers from the Journal of Vibration and Control where at least one professor was fabricating reviewer identities in the journal’s online submission system.

They say to write what you know, so when historian of science Laura Braitman adopted a dog who turned out to be anxious and prone to self-harm, she wrote a book exploring animal mental illness.

They can’t be that nice if they keep shocking people… New research from the Journal of Personality describes how people with more “agreeable” personalities were more likely than “contrarians” to progress further in a Milgram-like experiment.

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Weekly Roundup – It’s Too Hot Edition

The Weekly Roundup at the Bubble Chamber is assembled with care in Toronto, where the temperature has been hitting the 30s (that’s 86 F) for the last week. So in honour of our missing air conditioner, which would have been delivered today but for the ineptitude of UPS, here’s a summer-themed roundup for your reading pleasure. Don’t forget to stay hydrated and reapply your sunscreen every two hours.

MSNBC.com offers a general summer science primer, from druids to shark attacks.

The Ottawa Citizen’s Tom Spears has a “Science of Summer” column; so far he’s covered loons and fireflies.

Summer jobs are good for teens, according to a new study from UBC.

Lifehacker teaches you how to build a mosquito trap to harness the bug-attracting power of yeast fermentation. Or you could always go hunting.

In honour of recent national holidays, here’s the chemistry of fireworks and the physics of sparklers.

The Fancy Food Show in NYC promoted beat-the-heat innovations like alcoholic ice cream, nutritious ice chips, and gelato within the original fruit’s peel. If food for the BBQ is more your thing, you can enhance your bacon cheeseburger with some recursive bacon-cheeseburger-flavoured cheese.

In other summer food news, Gawker has a history of popsicle-related crime, in case you were unaware of this summer phenomenon. And a Kickstarter campaign to fund potato salad has collected %317,100 (and counting) of its original $10 goal.

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Weekly Roundup

It’s nothing but bad news for Facebook this week: One-upmanship on the social network ruined Scott’s life in the viral short film “What’s On Your Mind?,” while real-life Facebook use decreases life satisfaction and makes users feel worse, according to the first study of the social network which tracked emotions over time. Even worse, researchers from Facebook, UCSF, and Cornell may have violated research ethics standards, PNAS journal policy, and even federal law in conducting a study in which modifying Facebook’s algorithm manipulated uninformed users’ emotional experiences.

Just in time for McD’s Dollar Drink Days, New York state’s Court of Appeals has rejected the reinstation of New York City’s ban on sugary drinks for containers greater than 16 ounces.

Neutrinos are a really hot topic. Even sterile ones.

If you don’t vaccinate your children, either for religious reasons or for Wakefield-McCarthy reasons, they may be barred from attending public school in New York and Ohio during disease outbreaks because of the danger to themselves and others. And that’s too bad, because if your parents don’t believe you should benefit from the world’s most effective public health measure against infectious diseases, you need all the education you can get.

If your doctor thinks your stroke was simply stress, video evidence might do the trick.

It turns out most of us don’t know how to study. Here are the most important tips for student learning and retention from Make it Stick: The Science of Successful Learning, a new book summarizing memory research from psychologists from Washington University in St. Louis.

No need for Paleo Diet gurus; just check Neanderthal poop.

A new video PSA from Verizon and the PBS/AOL initiative Makers makes the link between the messages girls receive growing up and the STEM gender disparity.

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Weekly Roundup

Here’s how cities say “stay out” with anti-homeless design, part of the wider phenomenon of hostile architecture.

If it walks like eugenics and quacks like eugenics… Dozens of female inmates were sterilized without consent in California, and a Virginia man’s plea bargain included a promise to get a vasectomy.

Up to 75 CDC researchers may have been exposed to live anthrax.

The first description of fellatio in male bears has been published. The study attributes the behaviour (observed in captive bears) to an absence of maternal suckling, but its claim that mammals rarely engage in non-copulative sexual behaviours suggests that their lit review was incomplete.

Scientists weigh in on the commonly misused terms that drive them crazy. Bonus: the pseudoscientific claims that drive us crazy. And speaking of pseudoscience, Dr. Oz admitted before a senate committee that the weight-loss ingredients he endorses aren’t miraculous, but he defended his right to employ “flowery language.”

Some of Wyoming’s math & science professors, as well as some of its churches, support reformed educational standards that include climate change and evolution, while others criticize them for requiring “a materialistic explanation for any phenomenon addressed by science” or for leading to negative economic consequences for the energy-exporting state if global warming is taught in schools. [via i09]

“Suicidal thoughts” warnings on antidepressants may have indirectly led to increased suicide attempts.

Whooping cough, a vaccine-preventable bacterial infection that can be fatal in infants, is now an epidemic in California. At least one sufferer of last year’s outbreak thinks she knows who to blame.

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Weekly Roundup

Never judge someone before you walk a mile in their pyjamas: thanks to “enclothed cognition” it turns out that clothes affect our perception [podcast].

The FIFA World Cup has begun. Here’s Scientific American’s rundown of soccer science, old and new. Open wide!

Be careful what you say around the cooler; Gwyneth Paltrow reminds us that water has feelings too.

Rare diseases often lack clinical attention, public awareness, and fundraising campaigns; many are undocumented, unnamed, or have no known cause or treatment. FORGE (Finding of Rare Disease Genes in Canada), a massive coordinated study, has identified the genetic mutations associated with 146 rare childhood diseases, thanks to high-speed sequencing technologies. 67 of the genes hadn’t been linked to a disease before.

It turns out economics is for chimps.

Porcine Epidemic Diarrhea virus (PEDv), a livestock epidemic of uncertain origin affecting pigs in the US, has spread to over 30 states, wiped out nearly 10% of the American pig population, and increased the price of bacon.

Headlines far and wide proclaimed that a computer program has “passed the Turing test.” What they really mean is that by pretending to be Eugene Goostman, a teenager from the Ukraine with a poor grasp of English, the program won a University of Reading contest by convincing 1 in 3 judges that it was a human being, satisfying Turing’s predictions for the capabilities of artificial intelligence for the year 2000. So perhaps the resulting skepticism is warranted.

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Weekly Roundup

LEGO has announced that it has approved one of the finalists in its Ideas product competition: a trio of female scientists based on Ellen Kooijman (aka Alatriel Elensar)’s Female Minifigure Set. It will be marketed as the LEGO Research Institute, and will be eventually available in stores.

Here are anonymous comments made by “muzzled” Canadian government scientists about the state of science under the Harper Government. Yikes! On a related note, Stephen Harper urged Canadians to “listen to the scientific evidence” when it comes to vaccinating children.

How many polar bears are there? It turns out that’s a tricky question.

Solar roadways have made a big splash with a successful Indiegogo campaign and flashy video. The husband-and-wife team of Scott and Julie Brusaw want to replace asphalt roads, sidewalks, and parking lots with durable, LED-programmable, and replaceable hexagonal panels that would generate electricity, with additional benefits including warning drivers of obstacles or animal crossings, responding to parking lot conditions, and providing infrastructure for buried power, phone, and internet lines. Unfortunately, critics figure that the project’s estimated $56 trillion price tag will be an impediment to scalability, as will problems such as keeping the glass layers clean and preventing traffic hacking.

The Chemical Blog describes the chemical composition of tattoo ink, which is surprisingly unregulated.

There is more fructose in many soft drinks and sweetened juices than their labels disclose, according to a new study in Nutrition. This is a problem for the Corn Refiners Association, who claim that High-Fructose Corn Syrup (or “corn sugar,” as we learn in this helpful video) is practically equivalent to sucrose (table sugar; glucose-fructose in a 1:1 ratio).

The FDA’s cost-benefit analysis for new e-cigarette regulations includes a “lost pleasure” factor which accounts for the expected decrease in lifetime pleasure for those who quit.

Sometimes all you need is a good headline: Researchers Develop Robot That Lets Them Feel Softness of Virtual Breasts.

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Weekly Roundup – Supersized

Welcome to a super sized weekly roundup! I’m on vacation next week; here’s a double helping of stories to keep you sated until next time.

A new, disputed study from Cornell’s Food and Brand Lab suggests that  eating chicken on the bone increased aggression in children compared with eating pre-cut pieces. It sounds like fun research: the drumstick-eaters “were also more likely leave the 9-foot circle radius, jump around, and stand on the picnic tables without permission.” The Cornell Lab, home of the endless soup bowl, studies the social and environmental factors influencing food consumption. 

A climate scientist explains how she explains climate change to her fellow evangelical Christians: why should they care about a changing climate?

Don’t panic, but Mount St. Helens’ magma is repressurizing.

“Selfitis,” or the obsessive taking and posting of photos of oneself, isn’t a new mental disorder, but many of us were fooled by the satirical story claiming that the American Psychiatric Association coined the new disease category.

Ketchup, perhaps the tastiest of the non-Newtonian fluids, is notoriously hard to pour from a glass bottle. NPR goes into the details of the condiment’s physics that were illustrated in George Zaidan’s TED talk. If manufacturers ever incorporate LiquiGlide, the food-safe, potentially profit-eating surface coating, into their containers, it will be a whole new ballgame.

Coke and Pepsi have bowed to public pressure and removed brominated vegetable oil (BVO) from their soft drinks. Popular Science explains what BVO is and what it was doing in soda in the first place.

We may know the secret of how the pyramids were built.

Gender, science, and bad reporting: A study in Nature [paywall] revealing genes on the Y chromosome that fulfill the same function as those on the X chromosome is publicized as demonstrating sexual difference, the very opposite of the study’s findings. What’s behind this “sex difference paradigm?” [via Feminist Philosophers]. Also, duck penises are all well and good, but what about duck vaginas? Ed Yong at Nat Geo’s blog Not Exactly Rocket Science explores the combination of biological and social factors that influence the differential treatment of animals’ sex organs.

Useful Science is a new site that offers bite-sized summaries of useful science, collected by a team of mainly Canadian grad students. Another new useful website is Something Pop, which helps you make decisions by ranking the components of your choices.

A meta-analysis debunks most of the headline-worthy claims about the strength of the ovulatory cycle over women’s preferences. [via Slate]

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Weekly Roundup

Morse code telegraph clubs, like this one in Omaha, offer public engagement and historical reenactments of a previously ubiquitous technology. No blockbuster protagonists should be without this pivotal skill.

In Oklahoma’s haste to conduct a science experiment on two men behind a veil of secrecy, our state has disgraced itself before the nation and world.” The most recent in a series of botched executions took place in Oklahoma after an untested mixture of drugs was administered to death-row inmate Clayton Lockett, fuelling the debate over capital punishment. States are unable to use traditional lethal injection drugs, which are no longer produced by pharmaceutical companies.

Food isn’t irradiated to prevent foodborne illness because consumers are afraid of the word “radiation.” I’m sure this topic was debated at the Food Safety Summit, right before the food poisoning.

Did you ever wonder how sloths breathe upside down? Me neither, but here‘s the explanation.

Google is removing ads for crisis pregnancy centres (counselling women to avoid contraception and abortions) that appear when users search for abortion providers; 79% of these ads falsely suggest that the centres provide medical and abortion services.

By now we know that sitting is killing us, but there are more benefits to being upright now that a new study links walking and creativity.

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Weekly Roundup

You’re not you when you’re hungry: research suggests low blood sugar and irritability are linked, especially irritability at one’s spouse as measured by pricking voodoo dolls and punishment via loud noise. Cartoonist Maki Naro at Popular Science illustrates the “hangry” phenomenon here and here.

It’s a big week for ancient history: puppy prints on Roman tiles and a translation of a fixed Greek wrestling match.

What does your baby cry? According to evolutionary biology, to stop you from getting to work on a sibling.

Cats make terrible research subjects: “Very often, they didn’t participate in the experiment or they walked in the wrong direction.”

Our brains are bad judges of distance, imagining our destinations to be closer than equivalent distances behind us. In addition, we evaluate people and businesses more favourably if they are ahead of us rather than behind us.

It’s been an interesting week for language use in the communication of animal research. Here’s an interesting debate about the “female penis” of Neotrogla curvata. NPR describes how “Albatrosses are 100 percent faithful. That’s not to say that albatross dads don’t occasionally have a dalliance with ladies who aren’t their mates.” Finally, at the Daily Mail, we are treated to “Men really are less likely to say ‘not tonight dear, I have a headache’ than women, new research shows” and “Women lose their libido when they are in pain while men do not.” Top-notch reporting on the research on sex differences in libido response to pain, as long as you keep in mind that the men and women were mice.

YouTube science show Smarter Every Day has a wonderful video showing counterintuitive behaviour of a helium balloon in a moving minivan. There’s a great explanation at i09.

If nothing gets done, it’s not your fault: you just have the lazy gene. Or the procrastination gene. I’m sure the boss will understand.

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