Category Archives: Science

Wrong Side of the Tracks

Science has always been a craft-based activity and the best scientists tend quite literally to be “hands on”. […] Gentlemen do not get their hands dirty in that way. So the greatest of British scientists have tended to be from the fringes of the UK, geographically or socially. The two towering figures of 19th-century British science were Michael Faraday and James Clerk Maxwell. Faraday, Mrs Thatcher’s favourite scientist, was the son of a blacksmith and an adherent to an obscure religious sect, the Sandemanians. Maxwell, the brilliant theoretical physicist, was a Scot.

The Secret Sex Life of Marie Curie and the personal dimension of practitioners of science.

What are you eating?

I once went into a few local restaurants to surreptitiously test the tuna they served. Some tuna was tuna, some was grouper, some was Nile perch, but all of it looked the same when cooked. In many cases this is not a case of restaurants misleading customers, or even being mislead themselves, but simply a problem with the length of the supply chain. The more intermediates that a piece of fish has to go through to get from the boat to your table, the more chances there are for it to be misidentified.

Southern Fried Scientist (commenting on a TED talk by Stephen Palumbi) on a challenge to supply-side conservation.

Got Parasites?

Throughout 2010, the folks at Parasite of the Day have been exploring those hardy stowaways of the animal kindgdom. Now they are counting down the 12 Parasites of Christmas. Each entry offers the opportunity to vote—interesting, cool, funny, or yuck!

Shown, that quintessentially holiday parasite—and subject of December 17th’s Parasite of the Day—mistletoe, in a vintage postcard collected by Cheryl Hicks.

They Came from Mono Lake

By turns delightful and serious discussion (and links roundup) of the teaser, FREAKOUT ALL OVER THE INNERTUBES, and explanatory voices of reason that emerged this week around NASA’s arsenic-in-a-pinch-using microbes from Mono Lake (plus a brief coda on an invader we’ve been struggling with for a while now: HIV) at On science blogs this week: Alien abductions (NASW).

Occam’s Razor Is Too Dull

This strikes me as rather sad, not least because it has the potential to (perhaps inadvertently) hold back some really interesting work:

ABSTRACT: From the process of organic evolution to the analysis of insect societies as self-organizing systems, biology is full of awe-inspiring examples of complexity arising from simplicity. Yet in the contemporary study of animal cognition, demonstrations that complex human-like behavior arises from simple mechanisms rather than from ‘higher’ processes, such as insight or theory of mind, are often seen as uninteresting and ‘killjoy’, almost a denial of mental continuity between other species and humans. At the same time, however, research elsewhere in psychology increasingly reveals an unexpected role in human behavior for simple, unconscious and sometimes irrational processes shared by other animals. Greater appreciation of such mechanisms in nonhuman species would contribute to a deeper, more truly comparative psychology.

“Clever animals and killjoy explanations in comparative psychology.” (essay; Sara J. Shettleworth)

Medicinal Laughter

In light of these findings for positive wellbeing, as well as of the complex conceptual content of sense of humor, it is possible that sense of humor is best conceived of as one aspect of a broader psychological characteristic that facilitates a general state of wellbeing, rather than a specific emotional state of mirthfulness.

In an endearingly not particularly funny article, Mark Crislip at Science-Based Medicine explores laughter as medicine and sense of humor as a marker for health (and touches on something I’ve always suspected: the more you complain, the harder you are to kill).