Weekly Roundup, Post-election #Cdnsci Edition

One of the first actions of the new Liberal government was the reinstatement of Canada’s long-form census on Nov. 5th, one day after its swearing-in. The data collected in the 2011 National Household Survey, the shorter, non-mandatory version of the survey, has been confirmed not be compatible with previous StatsCan data collection efforts, and not to provide enough information about the effectiveness of social programs. The long-form census had broad support across segments of Canadian society, and its cancellation in 2010 was denounced by almost everyone, even inspiring a song in favour of its preservation. The move for its reinstatement occurred in time for the next planned census, in 2016, to the relief of researchers at the University of Toronto. A Globe and Mail editorial argues that in addition to the return of the long-form census, the Liberal government must reinvest in StatsCan, undoing the deep budget cuts of the Harper era.

Another major science policy issue during the campaign, the unmuzzling of Canadian federal scientists, took place the next day. These scientists are now permitted to discuss their work with the media and the public. Under Harper, scientists were treated as “second-class citizens” hundreds of scientists in the public service were “asked to exclude or alter technical information in government documents for non-scientific reasons” according to a 2013 survey.  Celebrations at the unmuzzling were mixed with warnings that better Canadian science policy requires restoring lost jobs, repairing damaged relations between government and NGO agencies, reversing decisions relying on bad or no evidence; basically, overturning the many issues of Harper era’s science policy. Policy expert Paul Boothe warns, in addition, that government scientists must maintain a difficult balance of objectivity and loyalty no matter who’s in charge.

Weekly Roundup

We still have no idea what to eat, but now we’re worried about meat. And sugar. And potatoes.  And cranberry sauce.

Want an original costume this Halloween, or an entirely unoriginal one? Just ask Google. If you’re a science fan, you can build a playable Pumpkris or perform some spooky experiments or find the geekiestgeekiest costumes.

And the onslaught on science was painstakingly documented, which tends to happen when you go after librarians.” The newly elected Canadian Liberal government has pledged to reverse muzzling policies affecting federal scientists and to reinstate the long-form census.

Should field biologists kill rare specimens of species for study? Many disagree with this longstanding natural history practice, as suggested by to recent debates over the actions of the AMNH’s Christopher Filardi who euthanized a moustached kingfisher for further study.

The BMJ has retracted former Memorial University nutrition scientist R. K. Chandra’s study on the links between eczema risk and  infant formula/breastmilk, thanks in part to a 2006 CBC documentary.

It is not a good time to be one of higher education’s fields of study in the humanities and social sciences, as they have been the target of disdain across the political spectrum. In Canada, Stephen Harper has been notoriously anti-sociology. Now potential Republican candidate Jeb Bush has dismissed the college majors of psychology and philosophy, linking them to  jobs in the fast-food industry. In response, psych majors are describing their meaningful work on Twitter using the hashtag #ThisPsychMajor.…

Weekly Roundup

We have no idea what to eat.

Women suffer the deleterious health effects of stressful jobs more strongly, and should be relegated to career choices better suited to the feminine temperament, like “scientists and architects.”

Dark side of the moon(base).

Back to the Future II’s “future” happens tomorrow (October 21st, 2015). We’ve already seen a working hoverboard prototype; which of the film’s other predictions have come true?

“What was once whispered privately in laboratories and offices is being discussed publicly, loudly, and clearly.” WIRED looks at why we’re not putting up with sexism in science anymore.

Lastly, a bizarre story from the GMO wars, in which University of Florida plant scientist Kevin Folta, whose ties to Monsanto were revealed in a FOIA-aided investigation, had previously interviewed himself on the topic of GMOs via his pseudonymous science podcast personality Vern Blazek.…

Weekly Roundup

Do you like black coffee? Celery? Tonic water? Beer? You may have psychopathic tendencies. Or you may just be a person who likes to eat and drink stuff.

Yesterday was Ada Lovelace Day, celebrating the contributions of the woman we generally (but not always) consider to be the first computer programmer. It’s also a time to highlight historical women scientists as well as encourage girls’ interest in technology. There are events worldwide; in Canada, there will be a Wikipedia edit-a-thon at York University on Oct. 29th. In addition to her role as STEM touchstone, Lovelace has also become something of a steampunk heroine.

The Dr. Oz ShowNot as terrible as it was before.

Finally, a debate on the state of federal science policy during the election. Candidates from each party (including the Conservatives, who refused to participate in a similar debate earlier in the election) answered questions from Bob McDonald, host of CBC’s Quirks and Quarks on federal research, muzzling, and the environment.

Queen’s University emeritus professor Arthur McDonald will share the 2015 Nobel Prize in physics with  Takaaki Kajita for their work demonstrating neutrino oscillation, which required a non-zero mass for neutrinos and consequently challenged the Standard Model of particle physics. Science fiction fans will recognize SNOLAB, the Sudbury Neutrino Observatory laboratory where McDonald conducted his research, as the location of a portal to a parallel dimension of Neanderthals in the Hugo award-winning Robert J. Sawyer novel Homonids.

Thor’s hammer Mjolnir can only be wielded by someone “worthy”; in Marvel comics and shared universe of films, it’s the most prominent example of Arthur C. Clarke’s adage that “any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” Indeed, Thor‘s filmmakers relied on Clarke’s “magi-tech rule” to explain the abilities of a pantheon of Norse gods/benevolent aliens. Now someone’s built a real-life Mjolnir with its own “worthiness” criterion, thanks to an electromagnet and fingerprint scanner.…

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.”…