Weekly Roundup

A new study lends more support to the hygiene hypothesis, the notion that our over-sterilized environment is harmful to developing immune systems. Scientists from B.C. Children’s Hospital found 4 strains of bacteria whose absence from the intestinal flora of 3-month-olds was associated with childhood asthma.

How clean is the air in your town? Now you can find out in real time with the World Air Quality Index which assimilates pollution data from sites around the world.

R2-D2 and a picture of a cat were launched to near space by two girls from Seattle. Their homemade “Loki Lego Launcher” reached 78 thousand feet; you can watch their GoPro footage.

Worms that digest plastic may solve our pollution woes. That is, of course, as long as our tampering with complex ecosystems doesn’t have Simpsonesque unintended consequences.

“Is it possible to fall or crash on a bike or on a walk to work? Absolutely. But it’s also possible we’ll be slowly struck down by longer-term ills that driving seems to be associated with.” Kelsey Campbell-Dollaghan at Gizmodo has a great summary of research on the health and stress effects of various commutes.

Federal science and politicians aren’t currently the warmest of bedfellows, both in Canada and the USA, as the powers that be continue to resist or dismantle science for policymaking. Following the  shooting at Umpqua Community College (yet another mass shooting) the US Congress extended a preexisting ban on CDC research into the public health effects of gun violence, even though American victims of gun deaths vastly outnumber those killed by terrorism. Seeking to encourage transparency in federal science, Write2Know‘s second letter-writing campaign draws to a close, and its tally signed letters this year requesting information from politicians about Canadian federal science is in the thousands. Lastly, Environment Canada scientist and “Harperman” auteur Tony Turner has decided to retire rather than remain under paid suspension while the investigation into his alleged breach of the Canadian values and ethics code for public servants; you can now find him unmuzzled on the election circuit.…

Weekly Roundup

Brain Pickings has new research from Stanford social psychologist Jennifer Aaker on how we narrate our stages of happiness across our  lifetimes.

From “clues to possible water flows” to “NASA finds water on Mars” to “salty water flows on Mars today” to “possible niches for life, NASA says” to “life on Mars is likely, scientists say“, the discovery of recurring slope lineae on Mars has led to the usual pattern of overhyping NASA can’t seem to shed. At Quartz, Akshat Rathi deflates the NASA announcement about water on mars and what it means for future missions: “NASA’s press statement makes it seem that scientists have certain evidence of flowing water. They do not. What they have is chemical evidence that gives a strong suggestion of liquid water mixed with salts. More importantly, however, even if NASA was 100% certain that there is liquid water on Mars, it could not do anything about it.” Oh, and Rush Limbaugh thinks it’s a left-wing conspiracy.

People got pretty excited about Sunday’s super-blood-moon-eclipse. Here are some of the best pictures of the #supermoon from around the world.

The biggest surprise of MacLean’s Policy Face-Off Machine is that respondents “overwhelmingly” support making government science accessible to the public and ending current muzzling and data-destruction policies. Don Martin from CTV’s Power Play asked Evidence for Democracy‘s Scott Findlay (University of Ottawa) why science isn’t a more prominent election issue. If you want answers from Canadian politicians on pressing science questions, check out Write2Know.

“Scientific” racism is all around. The Washington Post explores the ugly history and current iteration of our preference for genetic explanations of racial characteristics.…

Weekly Roundup


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.…

Weekly Roundup

Many of the news stories about ebola are overhyped (something Jon Stewart lamented back in August). But don’t despair. The CDC has clear information and guidelines for the public. If you’re looking for something more detailed, Nature has extensive and thoughtful coverage including both news and research papers.

We’ve been “50 years away” from fusion technology for about the last 50 years, but that’s all over now that fusion technology is 10 years away. Maybe.

NPR has a couple of podcasts exploring the history of women in computing and the link between the rise of gendered marketing of personal computers and the decline of women programmers from their prior ubiquity in the position. The history of computing, and of women’s contribution therein, has become a hot topic in popular culture, dramatized in the series Bletchley Circle and Halt and Catch Fire and the upcoming Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game.

In light of this week’s recall notices, be sure not to drink spoiled milk. While you’re at it, don’t self-medicate with bleaching agent sodium chlorite. Health Canada has seized and issued warnings about the “Miracle Mineral Solution” bogus cancer and autism cure, while the Canadian Food Inspection Agency has recalled Natrel dairy products over faults in the company’s pasteurization process.

In a longform article for The Atlantic, Meghan O’Rourke surveys the recent spate of books by physicians bemoaning the current state of the medical profession, the decline of the doctor-patient relationship, and the lack of recognition that an empathetic medical team offers benefits on par with those from sophisticated, high-tech interventions.

The last place you’d expect to find a national park is downtown Toronto, but that’s exactly where the David Suzuki Foundation’s volunteer park rangers work to create and protect a Homegrown National Park designed to increase urban green space, encourage pollinators, and promote green community-based projects.

YouTube vlogger Cory Williams (DudeLikeHella) found the “coolest sound ever” skipping rocks on a frozen lake in Alaska. The bizarre pinging and twanging sounds audible in the viral video are due to vibrations in the ice.…

Weekly Roundup is going on vacation

That’s right, this will be the last column of the summer. I know you’ll miss us, so it’s supersized to tide you over until September.

We already knew that having sisters (who do the chores) make men more conservative, girls get lower allowances for doing more chores, and Pat Mainardi’s masterpiece The Politics of Housework is nearing its 45th birthday. A new study suggests that daughters’ career ambitions are enhanced when their fathers help out around the house.

Are you sensitive to gluten? Are you sure? The authors of the original study identifying non-celiac gluten sensitivity were repeatedly unable to replicate their results.

It’s Shark Week, and that means the return of the proud Discovery Channel tradition of lying to scientists.

You can debunk and debunk-debunk all you want, but academic urban legends persist thanks to a variety of poor citation practices. Even superstars aren’t immune to the temptations of research shortcuts, as Žižek and Goodall must attest.

With the announcement of this year’s Fields MedalsMaryam Mirzakhani became the first female recipient of the highest prize in mathematics. Alex Bellos at the Guardian breaks down the 4 medallists’ work.

How NASA psychologically screens astronaut candidates: “We’re looking for the ‘right stuff,’ but we’re also trying to get rid of people with the ‘wrong stuff.'” Which is important, since astronauts don’t get enough sleep either on Earth or in space.

In light of this year’s Xtreme Eating Awards, Slate explains why it’s misleading to directly compare calorie-laden foods and hours of exercise. I don’t know if I’d swim 7 hours for the Cheesecake Factory’s 2,780-calorie Bruléed French Toast with bacon, but with 93 grams of saturated fat, it’s one menu item that’s better shared with the whole table.

Kentucky State University interim president Raymond Burse took a voluntary $90K salary cut to increase the pay rate for minimum-wage university employees.

Christie Aschwanden reviews the results of several recent surveys suggesting that sexual harassment and gender bias are widespread in the sciences.

What is the key to happiness? Having things work out better than you expect, according to a PNAS study claiming to have produced an equation that can predict happiness through MRI data. We enjoy anticipating good things, but we’re even happier with pleasant surprises. Unfortunately for pessimists, grumbling about how bad things are likely to be erodes the benefits of an unexpected happy ending.

Here’s an interesting debate about the science Ph.D. job market, where Slate’s Jordan Weissmann sees the situation as bleak and Bloomberg Businessweek’s Alison Schrager disagrees. Weissman’s rebuttal points out the opportunity costs for science and math students of not pursuing an M.B.A. instead—an option which offers better renumeration.


Weekly Roundup


The Russian lizard sex satellite, which had been orbiting unresponsively as reported by multiple outlets thrilled to be able to include “lizard sex satellite” in a headline, is fine now that researchers have regained control.

Unless they can patent a walk in the woods, pharmaceutical companies are out of luck: doctors are prescribing time outdoors.

Here’s a mathematical model of social epidemics, explaining how smoking spreads in different societies.

“In 2 kilometers, turn right for a pleasant view.” Yahoo researchers have programmed a GPS algorithm to generate the most scenic route to your destination.

What happens when the governor of California takes an interest in your paleoecology paper? A key consensus statement on climate change.

How much does it matter where the economics PhD you’ve just hired attended school? Plenty: the top schools’ graduates have a worse publication record in top journals than those from other schools. And a new paper identifies scientific “Kardashians,” who have more Twitter followers than they “deserve” based on their citation record. A debate on Twitter over the value of Twitter followers ensued.

A private fertility clinic in Calgary has come under fire when a single white female patient claimed that a doctor informed her that she could only obtain sperm from white donors. Following this, the clinic’s administrative director explained the policy further, claiming that “…I’m not sure that we should be creating rainbow families just because some single woman decides that that’s what she wants. That’s her prerogative, but that’s not her prerogative in our clinic.” Facing widespread criticism, the clinic claimed that they no longer had a “mixed-race” ban and that the remarks were the opinion of a single doctor.

Here are some declassified secret plans from the 1960s for an American moon base, as well as a thorough justification for their participation in the space race.

Scans of Neymar’s brain show reduced activity during motor skills exercises, suggesting that the soccer superstar plays on “autopilot.”…

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.…

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.…

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.…

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.…