Tag Archives: science

Her dog was her coauthor

At the start of her career, NIH immunologist Polly Matzinger disliked writing in the passive voice and felt too insecure to adopt the first person. So she listed her dog, Galadriel Mirkwood, as a coauthor.

Their paper was published in 1978 in the Journal of Experimental Medicine. When the editor learned Galadriel’s species, he barred Matzinger from his pages for the rest of his life.

From Futility Closet. Also, Wikipedia.

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The making of your voice

dce79bd88862bebfc836bd3a031434033cbedd67 m1 The making of your voice

Via Ffffound.

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Dr. Henry Oakeley explains that plants are trying to kill you, not cure you

Dr. Henry Oakeley is the garden fellow at London’s Royal College of Physicians, oversees a garden of hundreds of plants used in herbal medicine, and thinks that herbal medicine is basically crap.

But if plants are, for the most part, as medicinally useless as he believes, how does he explain their centrality to the beliefs and practices of medical practitioners for centuries?

“Because they believed in the tooth fairy,” he says matter of factly. “They had no concept of illness or of chemistry or biochemistry. They believed all plants had been put on the earth by the creator for mankind’s use. So if the plant had a particular shape, it indicated that the creator had put it on the planet for a particular use.”

Citing as an example the use of blue liverwort, Hepatica nobilis , once cultivated as a liver tonic because its three-lobed leaf form mirrored the shape of the liver, he says, “It was absolute rubbish. They had no idea how the body worked.”

From The Irish Times, via Boing Boing.

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Touching makes people more persuadable

When you want someone to do something, it helps to touch them. It is scientifically shown.

Passersby, 53 men and 67 women, were asked by two confederates to look after a large and very excited dog for 10 minutes because each wanted to go into a pharmacy where animals were prohibited. In half of the cases, subjects were touched during the request. Analysis showed that, when touched, 55% of the subjects agreed with the request whereas 35% only in the no-touch control condition agreed.

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Out of context science

“There is no decision making going on by the mucus”
How Bacteria Swim in Your Stomach

“they put a nautilus in a tank of water, and pressurized the tank until the nautilus imploded”
Moving on up – Vertical migrations of Nautilus

“aim is for the robot to be able to propel itself in any fluid mucus without having to carry its own reserve of mucus along”
A study reveals the keys to the locomotion of snails

And more at Out of Context Science, via i09.

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We’re 98.6 degrees for a reason

Why is the human body 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit? Some scientists have an idea:

Albert Einstein College of Medicine researchers previously showed that every one degree Celsius rise in body temperature wards off about 6 percent more fungal species. So tens of thousands of fungi can infect reptiles and amphibians, but we can only be invaded by a few hundred fungi.

In the new work, the researchers created a mathematical model that weighed the fungal protection benefits versus the metabolic cost of high body temperature. And the optimal temperature was 98.1, quite close to what evolution figured out. The research was published in the open-access journal mBio. [Aviv Bergman and Arturo Casadevall, “Mammalian Endothermy Optimally Restricts Fungi and Metabolic Costs”]

Via 80 Beats.

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Sir Paul Nurse

Here’s the interesting story of Sir Paul Nurse, a Nobel prize winner and new president of the Royal Society. It turns out the prominent geneticist found out three years ago that his sister was his mother and his parents were his grandparents.

‘Miriam married when I was two-and-a-half and moved away to live with her husband, but she would come back to us every weekend. At the time I thought that was normal, but it isn’t really, is it? I thought she was visiting our parents but now I think she was visiting me. There’s a picture of her holding my hand on her wedding day, which must have been very poignant for her as it was the day she left me.
‘She went on to have three other children and I don’t think she ever told her husband about me. It was after her death that I learned she had pictures next to her bed of all four of her babies. Three were of her legitimate children. I was the fourth. It makes me feel sad to know that I can’t talk to her about it and ask her how she coped with her secret for all those years.’

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How to know if something is supernatural

Sean from Cosmic Variance has some interesting thoughts on what makes something “supernatural” and whether science is qualified to study such things. He divides out three categories:

  1. The silent: things that have absolutely no effect on anything that happens in the world.
  2. The hidden: things that affect the world only indirectly, without being immediately observable themselves.
  3. The lawless: things that affect the world in ways that are observable (directly or otherwise), but not subject to the regularities of natural law.

There is literally nothing to say about stuff that would be categorized as silent. They affect nothing and so are unobservable and uninteresting. So that’s a category that’s off-limits to science.

The example Sean gives for stuff that’s categorized as the hidden is dark matter. It fits the definition perfectly. In fact, the only reason we have the concept of dark matter is because its effects — but not it — have been observed. We don’t know anything about dark matter other than what we’ve seen it do to other, directly observable, things. Yet, dark matter is definitely science. Which is to say, science can conclude facts about dark matter.

Finally, the lawless: stuff that’s observable, but that you can’t say anything about. But wait… can’t I say that “I can’t say anything about it”? Can there ever be something that you truly can’t say anything about?

Sean hypothesizes about how scientists would react to more evidence of a truly lawless and supernatural force. Basically, he thinks scientists would be able to accept some God-like entity that broke all the rules — given enough evidence. I think the scientists would be thrilled with such a compelling mystery to try and solve.

UPDATE: On re-reading, I see that I’ve contradicted my point about the silent with my point about the lawless. There’s one thing you can say about the silent. They’re silent. Except, I think the crucial difference between the silent and the lawless is that you can’t even know the silent exists. So by definition, if something that’s lawless isn’t silent, there’s more you can say about it than something that’s silent.

Via The Morning News.

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Alaska’s governor doesn’t want to speculate

“Only God knows,” [Governor of Alaska, Sean] Parnell responded, when asked if the earth was more accurately described as “6,000” or “six billion” years old.

“I really dont know,” Parnell then said. “For either one of us to do it is quite speculative.”

No, Governor Parnell, it’s only speculative for you because you are the one who doesn’t know what he’s talking about. There are actually good, non-speculative reasons to think the Earth is billions of years old.

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Baby born recently was conceived 20 years ago

A woman recently gave birth to a baby after she was implanted with a donated embryo. The embryo was conceived and frozen 20 years ago by a couple who were trying to get pregnant through in vitro fertilization.

That couple had anonymously donated their leftover embryos after the woman successfully gave birth. Thing was, they did so in 1990 – meaning that the boy just born to the woman in the study has a sibling out there somewhere who was conceived at the same time but is 20 years younger.

Via The Slatest.

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