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.…

Second Write2Know Campaign Launches 28/09


Write2Know for University Educators

Do you teach university-level courses related to the environment and health? Civics and science? Do you need concrete and empirical examples of the links between science, citizenship, and politics for your students? Are you passionate about the role of education in democracy and social change?

Involve your students in the Write2Know campaign this fall! This letter-writing campaign gives students the tools they need to ask federal scientists questions about research in the public interest. Students can also sign pre-written Write2Know letters posing questions to federal scientists and ministers about the health of our bodies, communities, and environments.  Students can learn about the relationship between science, politics, the environment and human health. And with the federal election underway, Write2know gets students involved in civic life.

Use Write2Know into your classroom to:

  1. Discuss health and/or environmental issues relevant to your course and the broader Canadian and international contexts. Topics include: Marine plasticsclimate changeresource extraction, nuclear waste, endocrine disruptors, and more.
  2. Explore the role of the federal government in monitoring the health and well-being of Canadians, and disseminating research in the public interest. What is the relationship between knowledge and governance? What kinds of access to information do we require for a healthy democracy?
  3. Learn about the recent history of censoring federal scientists and destruction of scientific data in Canada.
  4. Discuss the role of public interest research and public access to federally funded research on environmental and human health.
  5. Sign a Write2know letter addressed to federal scientists and ministers, or develop your own questions for a federal scientist. A “How To Guide” for developing new questions is provided on the Write2Know website.

The Write2Know website offers a suite of resources for classroom teaching, including:

  • Videos and articles that contextualize the issue of science and citizenship in Canada
  • A How to Guide for writing your own letters
  • Informative slides to accompany your lecture (Single SlideMultiple Slides)
  • Links to access the directory of federal scientists and their specialties
  • Sample Write2know letters
  • Media coverage about federal science and scientists in Canada

Write2Know week runs September 28-October 2, when a concentrated push for letters will be made. However, you can write or sign letters before or after this period.

For more about the Write2Know campaign and to learn more about us, and our partners, see our website.

Want to share your ideas, classroom activities, and resources? We’d love to hear from you and share your ideas with other educators. Write to us at write2knowproject@gmail.com

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


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

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 – 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.…

Is it 99.999% certain that humans are driving global warming? (No.)

A post recently came up in my Facebook feed that is notable for the confluence of three things: (1) a spectacular claim, (2) it’s wrong, and (3) it’s not a journalist’s fault. The combination of (1) and (2) is quite common, but usually it turns out that the actual science is much less spectacular than the headline suggests, because a journalist or editor has misunderstood the science or amplified the claim unjustifiably in order to garner readers. In this case, though, the paper itself is at fault.

The usual story. Not this time!

The claim in question is that “it is highly likely (99.999 percent) that the 304 consecutive months of anomalously warm global temperatures to June 2010 is directly attributable to the accumulation of global greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.”1 The Facebook post linked to an article from The Conversation, but that quote is directly from their paper, published this April in Climate Risk Management.

  1. Kokic, Philip, Steven Crimp, and Mark Howden. “A Probabilistic Analysis of Human Influence on Recent Record Global Mean Temperature Changes.” Climate Risk Management 3.C (2014): 1–12. Web. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2212096314000163