The Scienceblogging Weekly (May 18, 2012)

Blog of the Week:

For the greatest portion of the history of biology, every organism was a “model organism”. One would pick a problem and then choose which organism would be most suited for answering those particular questions. Then, in the 1990s, everyone jumped onto the bandwagon of studying just a handful of organisms that could be genetically modified at the time: mouse, fruitfly, thale cress, zebrafish, African clawed frog, bread mold, brewer’s yeast, or E.coli. All the other organisms were all but abandoned, only studied by a small number of die-hard researchers and, increasingly, amateurs. Now that technology allows us to investigate (and to some extent manipulate) entire genomes of almost any species we’d like, researchers are going back and rediscovering the abandoned model organisms once again. One of these is Anolis, a large group of species of lizards, noted for their dewlaps, and known especially for their fast adaptive radiation on tropical islands.

And now there is a blog that covers everything about these lizards – Anole Annals. Posts are written both by veteran researchers and their students, from several laboratories, as well as other contributors. They cover both recent and historical papers on evolution, ecology, biogeography, behavior, physiology, biomechanics and genetics of this diverse group of reptiles. They also describe their own research, including anecdotes and adventures from field work, equipment they use in the lab, and successes in discovery. On top of that, they help people ID the species from pictures, pay attention to the appearance of anoles in art and in the popular culture and generally have a lot of fun doing all of this. A blog entirely devoted to just one group of animals sounds very ‘niche’, but what they did was build a blog that has something for everyone and is a great fun (as well as insightful and educational) read for everyone.


Top 10:

The secret molecular life of soap bubbles (1913) by Greg Gbur:

…Today we take for granted that all material objects in the universe are comprised of discrete bits of matter, which we call atoms; however, even up until the early 20th century there were still proponents of the continuum hypothesis, in which all matter is assumed to be infinitely divisible…

Motherhood, war, and attachment: what does it all mean? by Emily Willingham:

I m sure many mothers can attest to the following: You have friends who also are mothers. I bet that for most of us, those friends represent a spectrum of attitudes about parenting, education, religion, Fifty Shades of Grey, recycling, diet, discipline, Oprah, and more. They also probably don t all dress just like you, talk just like you, have the same level of education as you, same employment, same ambitions, same hair, or same toothpaste. And I bet that for many of us, in our interactions with our friends, we have found ourselves judging everything from why she insists on wearing those shoes to why she lets little Timmy eat Pop Tarts. Yet, despite all of this mental observation and, yes, judging, we still manage to get along, go out to dinner together, meet at one another s homes, and gab our heads off during play dates. That s not a war. That s life….

As oxygen filled the world, life s universal clock began to tick by Ed Yong:

The Earth s earliest days were largely free of oxygen. Then, around 2.5 billion years ago, primitive bacteria started to flood the atmosphere with this vital gas. They produced it in the process of harnessing the sun s energy to make their own nutrients, just as plants do today. The building oxygen levels reddened the planet, as black iron minerals oxidised into rusty hues. They also killed off most of the world s microbes, which were unable to cope with this new destructive gas. And in the survivors of this planetary upheaval, life s first clock began to tick and tock….

Poisoning the Dalai Lama. Or Not by Deborah Blum:

Earlier this week, the Tibetan Buddhist leader, the Dalai Lama, told British journalists that he d been warned of an ingenious Chinese plot to assassinate him with poison. Very ingenious, according to the plot he laid out for the Sunday Telegraph. He d learned, he said, of a plan to send out a squad of women, pretending to be followers, who would have poison spread through either their hair or headscarves. When he laid his hands on their heads for a blessing, a lethal dose could be absorbed through his skin…

The Brain Hidden Epidemic: Tapeworms Living Inside People’s Brains by Carl Zimmer:

….But sometimes tapeworms take a wrong turn. Instead of going into a pig, the eggs end up in a human. This can occur if someone shedding tapeworm eggs contaminates food that other people then eat. When the egg hatches, the confused larva does not develop into an adult in the human s intestines. Instead, it acts as it would inside a pig. It burrows into the person s bloodstream and gets swept through the body. Often those parasites end up in the brain, where they form cysts….

Why Octopuses Should Run Our National Security Infrastructure by Annalee Newitz:

Next time the government wants new ideas about how to protect our nation’s security, it should consult an octopus. That’s the unusual proposition of marine biologist Rafe Sagarin, a pioneer in the infant field of “natural security,” where experts use models from nature to help them come up with emergency responses to everything from terrorist attacks to pandemics. Sagarin has just published a book about his work called Learning from the Octopus: How Secrets from Nature Can Help Us Fight Terrorist Attacks, Natural Disasters, and Disease. Any scientific theory that involves the superiority of cephalopods is automatically intriguing, so I called up Sagarin to talk about it.

Solving the Mystery of the Placental Jellyfish by Craig McClain:

Yesterday the DSN crew first saw the video above. What is this large floating sheet of goo? Is it alive? Was it once alive? The two leading contenders seems to be that it is A) an old whale placenta or B) a rare and enigmatic deep-sea jellyfish. And the answer is . B)

Physics’s PR problem: Moving beyond string theory and multiple universes by Ashutosh Jogalekar:

….The problem is that most of the popular physics that the public enjoys constitutes perhaps 10% of the research that physicists worldwide are engaged in. Again, count the number of physics books in your local bookstore, and you will notice that about 90% of them cover quantum mechanics, cosmology, particle physics and “theories of everything”. You would be hard-pressed to find volumes on condensed matter physics, biophysics, the physics of “soft” matter like liquids and non-linear dynamics. And yes, these are bonafide fields of physics that have engaged physics’s best minds for decades and which are as exciting as any other field of science. Yet if you ask physics-friendly laymen what cutting-edge physics is about, the answers will typically span the Big Bang, Higgs boson, black holes, dark matter, string theory and even time-travel. There will be scant mention if any of say spectroscopy, optics, polymers, magnetic resonance, lasers or even superconductivity….

Dear Media, Leave My Dinosaurs Alone by Brian Switek:

I wish I could take dinosaurs away from the media for a while. Someone certainly should. Lazy journalists and unscrupulous documentary creators have amply demonstrated that they just can t play nice with Tyrannosaurus, Triceratops and kin…

Do Bonobos And Chimpanzees Offer A Path To Understanding Human Behavior? by Sheril Kirshenbaum:

What leads people to acts of violence and genocide? What triggers empathy and altruism? Duke evolutionary biologist Brian Hare and research scientist Vanessa Woods believe the answer may be found in the great ape known as the bonobo….


Special topic: snakes:

And the Cascabel will Fall Quiet by John F Taylor. Rattlesnakes may actually be learning and they may become more dangerous if their roundups aren’t stopped.

Spore Dispersal by Snakes by Jessica M. Budke

The Secret to Success Is Giant-Jawed Snake Babies by Elizabeth Preston

Identifying snake sheds, part II by Andrew Durso



Pacific plastic, sea skaters, and the media: behind the scenes of my recent paper by Miriam Goldstein. Once you are featured in The Onion, your career has reached the peak. What more can one do after that?

In the wake of high-profile controversies, psychologists are facing up to problems with replication. by Ed Yong. Psychology example, applicable at least to some extent to other fields.

The Flavor of Neutrinos by Matthew Francis

Confusing messages about sugar are stupid by David Despain

Two Earths would be needed to sustain human activity by 2030, report finds by Meghan Neal

Science vs. PR by Robert McHenry. How a scientific paper about chemistry turned into mass media articles about alien dinosaurs.

Who hates cilantro? Study aims to find out by Cari Nierenberg

Microbiology at Sea: A tale of ballast, vomit, and cockroaches by Holly Bik

Is the U.S. Ready for Home HIV Tests? by Benjamin Plackett

Lessons from the Lab: How to Make Group Projects Successful by Annie Murphy Paul. “Megacollaboration is becoming the norm in science. Here’s what we can learn about what works when working together.”

Sometimes scientists have a duty to swap the pipette for the placard by Adam Smith

Academics on archosaurs: Jerry Harris by Dave Hone

Whistle Recognition in Bottlenose Dolphins by Tara Thean

The regulation of nonsense by Jann Bellamy on medical quackery and CAM.

What Happens to All That Volcanic Ash? by Erik Klemetti

Cannibalism? by Mark Crislip

Science Standards: The Next Generation by Rhett Allain

Is the holocaust denial/climate change denial comparison apt? by Mark Hoofnagle

The Coming Beepocalypse, It’s hard out there for a bee, and Bees and STDs by Bug Girl

Huge Turtle Was Titanoboa s Neighbor by Brian Switek

De-caffeinating pills? Say it ain t so, Think Geek by David Kroll

Human morality is evolving by Ken Perrott

5 Things the Science Doesn’t Say About the Conservative Brain by Chris Mooney

The Republican Brain by Chris Mooney by Chad Orzel

Turning Wolves into Hounds by Heather Pringle

Dendrites of Direction by TheCellularScale

LA smog: more cows than cars? by Scott K. Johnson

The New Atheism and Evolutionary Religious Studies: Clarifying Their Relationship by David Sloan Wilson

Opinion: Academia Suppresses Creativity by Fred Southwick

Methods for Studying Coincidences by Samuel Arbesman

Is misconduct more likely in drug trials than in other biomedical research? by Ivan Oransky

A rising tide of willful ignorance by Rob Schofield. Lobbyists pushing to dictate which data scientists are allowed to use.


Media, Publishing and Technology:

All A’Twitter: How Social Media Aids in Science Outreach a Master’s Thesis by Caitlyn Zimmerman about the pros & cons and strategies in using social media in Marine Conservation outreach.

Guest Editorial: It’s Time To e-Volve: Taking Responsibility for Science Communication in a Digital Age by Christie Wilcox

Young scientists ask: Is there room out there for one more science communicator? by Denise Graveline

The SA Incubator: Helping Hatch Science Writers Since July 2011 by Erin Podolak

Research Blogs and the Discussion of Scholarly Information by Hadas Shema, Judit Bar-Ilan and Mike Thelwall, a research paper about science blogs using the aggregator. Responses by Scicurious, Neurocritic, Jonathan Eisen, Caroline Tucker, Misha Angrist and Invader Xan.

Beyond a Trend: How Scientists Use Social Media by Jessica Rohde

Twitter is like by dorkymum. A beautiful metaphor to try on n00bs.

Do I Write? Or Do I Tweet? by Geoff Brumfiel

Mom, this is how twitter works by Jessica Hische

Printed books existed nearly 600 years before Gutenberg s Bible by Annalee Newitz

Digital Pagination by Nate Barham. The page-flip is just another in a long line of unnecessary features to help us poor humans understand the content.

My personal take: 3 reasons I don t like newspaper paywalls by Mathew Ingram and a response to it, Paywalls are backward-looking by Dave Winer.

Commenting, Moderation, and Provocation by Marc Bousquet

Aggregation guidelines: Link, attribute, add value by Steve Buttry – a definitive guide.

Please Don’t Learn to Code by Jeff Atwood, and Should you learn to code? by Dave Winer, and Don’t tell me not to learn! by Eva Amsen.

The newsonomics of News U.: Journalism and education are both about knowledge. Could their post-disruption business models start to blur? by Ken Doctor.

See, this is why publishers irritate me so much and Publishers versus everyone by Mike Taylor

The government spends billions on research. Should we have to pay $20,000 more to see the results? by Suzy Khimm

The Tao of Shutterstock: What Makes a Stock Photo a Stock Photo? by Megan Garber

How Facebook Saved Us from Suburbia by Christopher Mims and Does Facebook Turn People Into Narcissists? by Tara Parker-Pope

The tip of the iceberg- what digital photography really costs by Brendan Moyle

A Brief History and Proposed Definition for ‘Attention Economics’ by Adrian J. Ebsary

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