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The Scienceblogging Weekly (May 25th, 2012)

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.


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Blog of the Week:

Over the years, Better Posters blog has become the “Go To” place to send students when they start preparing posters for their first scientific meetings. Updated weekly, on Thursdays, this blog by Dr. Zen Faulkes (who also blogs at his other two awesome blogs NeuroDojo and Marmorkrebs, as well as on the #SciFund blog) provides ideas, suggestions, underlying theory, and thorough, fair critiques of poster design for scientific conferences. It is a link I (and I am sure many others) send whenever asked what is the best resource for preparing a good poster. Zen Faulkes also has a broader category of posts about presentations in general, both oral and poster, under the Zen of Presentations tag on his other blog.

Top 10:

Phineas Gage’s connectome by Mo Costandi:

Anyone who has studied psychology or neuroscience will be familiar with the incredible case of Phineas Gage, the railroad worker who had a metre-long iron rod propelled straight through his head at high speed in an explosion. Gage famously survived this horrific accident, but underwent dramatic personality changes afterwards. In recent years researchers reconstructed his skull and the passage of the rod through it, to try to understand how these changes were related to his brain damage. Now, neuroscientists from the University of California, Los Angeles have produced Gage’s connectome – a detailed wiring diagram of his brain, showing how its long-range connections were altered by the injury.

Replication studies: Bad copy by Ed Yong:

Positive results in psychology can behave like rumours: easy to release but hard to dispel. They dominate most journals, which strive to present new, exciting research. Meanwhile, attempts to replicate those studies, especially when the findings are negative, go unpublished, languishing in personal file drawers or circulating in conversations around the water cooler. “There are some experiments that everyone knows don’t replicate, but this knowledge doesn’t get into the literature,” says Wagenmakers. The publication barrier can be chilling, he adds. “I’ve seen students spending their entire PhD period trying to replicate a phenomenon, failing, and quitting academia because they had nothing to show for their time.” These problems occur throughout the sciences, but psychology has a number of deeply entrenched cultural norms that exacerbate them. It has become common practice, for example, to tweak experimental designs in ways that practically guarantee positive results. And once positive results are published, few researchers replicate the experiment exactly, instead carrying out ‘conceptual replications’ that test similar hypotheses using different methods. This practice, say critics, builds a house of cards on potentially shaky foundations…

Plan X; or, Planning White’s Small Step by Amy Shira Teitel:

In 1964, the launch schedule for the Gemini program was set and it was tight. Missions with new objectives would launch every eight to ten weeks taking NASA a step closer to the Moon each time. But hardware setbacks and some surprising feats by Soviet cosmonauts took a toll on the schedule. In the first half of 1965, NASA developed a plan that would see Gemini match and begin to overtake the Soviet Union in space. It was done largely in secret and known internally as Plan X….

Against the Infantilization of the Natural History Museum by Justin Erik Halldór Smith (and related: Relics With Much to Tell About Bird Diets May Be Lost to Time by Sarah Fecht):

…The project of exhaustively collecting and describing the basic kinds of large animal, and analyzing and displaying these animals’ bodily parts and systems, is a project that gained momentum in the late Renaissance and that was largely completed by the end of the 19th century. Like, say, realist painting in the Western tradition, it is a project that has a bounded history (indeed the two histories fairly closely overlap one another). This means that an alpaca intestine displayed in formaldehyde is a sample of a part of a South American camelid; but it is also an artefact of a modern European knowledge project. In this respect a proper natural history museum, that is to say an unreconstructed adult natural history museum, is really two museums at once: it is a museum of nature, but also a museum of the history of a very singular attempt to know nature quite literally inside-out….

What a Physics Student Can Teach Us About How Visitors Walk Through a Museum by Henry Adams:

….To devise a good layout requires some understanding of what museum visitors do, and there’s surprisingly little literature on this topic. Most of the studies of museum-goers that I’ve seen rely on questionnaires. They ask people what they did, what they learned, and what they liked and didn’t like. No doubt there are virtues to this technique, but it assumes that people are aware of what they’re doing. It doesn’t take into account how much looking depends on parts of the brain that are largely instinctive and intuitive and often not easily accessible to our rational consciousness. Was there another mode of investigation and description that would illuminate what was actually taking place?…

Lies You’ve Been Told About the Pacific Garbage Patch by Annalee Newitz:

You’ve probably heard of the “Pacific garbage patch,” also called the “trash vortex.” It’s a region of the North Pacific ocean where the northern jet stream and the southern trade winds, moving opposite directions, create a vast, gently circling region of water called the North Pacific Gyre — and at its center, there are tons of plastic garbage. You may even have seen this picture of the garbage patch, above — right? Wrong….

The (misunderstood) language of DNA by Genegeek:

I love analogies and use them often to get people to think about scientific concepts in new ways. I’ll share some of my favourite ones on the blog but today, I want to talk about Analogies Gone Bad….There is a lovely analogy to help people understand DNA code: DNA can be seen as a language…

Killers that sux by DrRubidium:

You might notice the sting of the injection. Within seconds you’d realize you’re having trouble moving your eyes and fingers, followed by your arms and legs. If you were standing, you’d collapse. In a heap on the floor, you’d realize nearly every muscle in your body was paralyzed. Being fully conscious, your sense of panic would be rising as rapidly as the paralysis was spreading. Swallowing and breathing has become more and more difficult. Slipping into unconsciousness, your last conscious thought may well be “I am going to die.”…

What Is the “Bible of Psychiatry” Supposed to Do? The Peculiar Challenges of an Uncertain Science by Vaughan Bell:

The American Psychiatric Association have just published the latest update of the draft DSM-5 psychiatric diagnosis manual, which is due to be completed in 2013. The changes have provoked much comment, criticism, and heated debate, and many have used the opportunity to attack psychiatric diagnosis and the perceived failure to find “biological tests” to replace descriptions of mental phenomena. But to understand the strengths and weaknesses of psychiatric diagnosis, it’s important to know where the challenges lie….

Do Plants Smell Other Plants? This One Does, Then Strangles What It Smells by Robert Krulwich:

“Plants smell,” says botanist David Chamovitz. Yes, they give off odors, but that’s not what Chamovitz means. He means plants can smell other plants. “Plants know when their fruit is ripe, when their [plant] neighbor has been cut by a gardener’s shears, or when their neighbor is being eaten by a ravenous bug; they smell it,” he writes in his new book, What a Plant Knows. They don’t have noses or a nervous system, but they still have an olfactory sense, and they can differentiate. He says there’s a vine that can smell the difference between a tomato and a stalk of wheat. It will choose one over the other, based on…smell! In a moment I’ll show you how….

Special topic: pigeons

Why Aren’t Cities Littered With Dead Pigeons? by John Metcalfe:

Any fair-sized city in the United States is lousy with pigeons, hoovering up bread crumbs from public squares and head-bobbing so much they look like little Jay Zs groovin’ to some fresh beats. The favorite rumpus room of the pigeon, New York City, is thought to contain anywhere between 1 and 7 million of the flapping rats of the sky. So where are all the dead ones?

Big Bird: Are New York’s pigeons getting fatter? An investigation into animal obesity. by David Merritt Johns

Pigeon GPS Identified by Megan Scudellari: “A population of neurons in pigeon brains encodes direction, intensity, and polarity of the Earth’s magnetic field.”

Pigeons have tiny compasses in their heads by Greg Laden.

Speaking pigeon by Kelly Slivka: Keeping up with New York City’s feathered underdogs.

Science:

The Zebra Neuron by TheCellularScale – Von Economo Neurons discovered in more and more species, lose the “human specialness” role.

Is the Purpose of Sleep to Let Our Brains “Defragment,” Like a Hard Drive? by Neuroskeptic. Or is it “Disk Cleaner”, or “Reboot”?

Gaming and Exercise: Will Diablo III Derail Your Discipline? by Melanie Tannenbaum – from the horse’s mouth – this research was done in her lab.

It’s supposed to hurt to think about it! by Ethan Siegel: “One of the most fundamental questions about the Universe that anyone can ask is, “Why is there anything here at all?”"

Legal highs making the drug war obsolete by Vaughan Bell:

The Drachma and the Euro as a Cybernetic Question by Michael Tobis:

Life Traces as Cover Art and The Ichnology of Peeps by Tony Martin.

Copulatory vocalizations of chacma baboons (Papio ursinus), gibbons (Hylobates hoolock), and humans. by NCBI ROFL. Sonograms, thus it is science!

Putting the ‘Fear’ in Climate Change by Paige Brown – “Do scientists and climate communicators really need the ‘scary’ headlines and alarming facts to get media coverage?”

Energy Drinks: What’s the Big Deal? by Dirk Hanson: “The sons of Red Bull are sporting record concentrations of caffeine.”

Failure – what doesn’t get published in Psychology (for good reason?) by Åse Kvist Innes-Ker.

Uncertainty overdone by Bryan Walker: “As a concerned human being I don’t want scientists to soft-pedal on that evidence.”

A Sensitive Subject, on quantifying uncertainties in modeling climate change and its impacts, by Tamsin Edwards:

Could Angry Birds lead to mass murder? by Martin Robbins: “Attempts to link last year’s Norway shootings to Call of Duty are spectacularly misguided. Moral panic about violent video games is based on prejudice, ignorance and the selective use of flawed research.”

Chemistry at the hairdresser by JessTheChemist.

Our Favorite Toxic Chemicals and Toxic Carnival: Day One and Toxic Carnival: Day Two and Pain, Undoubtedly, Comes with the Cure by Matthew Hartings.

Neurons are like equations by TheCellularScale .

Persuasion and the Brain by David R. Gruber:

New sense organ helps giant whales to coordinate the world’s biggest mouthfuls by Ed Yong

In The Beginning Was the Mudskipper? by Carl Zimmer

Virtual resurrection shows that early four-legged animal couldn’t walk very well by Ed Yong

The Positively Biased Life by Matthew Chew on non-publication of negative data, and on ecology as a discipline.

Will you explain the differences (and similarities) between endemic and epidemic diseases? by Emily Willingham. Eeeek – imagine a pandemic of iguanas!

It is a mistake to eliminate government science. Part I and Part II by Simon Goring

Carpenter versus Aurora 7 by Amy Shira Teitel

You scientist, we want you to get ahead….but not too FAR ahead! by Anne Buchanan

Birding from parking level five: Suburban ospreys in Florida by Justine E. Hausheer

The smokeless stove: A partnership between academics and designers in New York City has produced a stove that could reduce child deaths in Africa by Emma Bryce

Media, Publishing and Technology:

Your 5-minute, 5-day orientation to Twitter by Anton Zuiker

Web Design Manifesto 2012 by Jeffrey Zeldman

The teacher I hated who changed my life by General Tso:

How to Deal with Information Overload by Walter Jessen and Simon Franz.

Can Blogs Be Used to Resolve Conflicts? by Greg Laden:

Data journalism research at Columbia aims to close data science skills gap by Emily Bell and Alex Howard

The Facebook Fallacy by Michael Wolff: “For all its valuation, the social network is just another ad-supported site. Without an earth-changing idea, it will collapse and take down the Web.”

How Amy O’Leary live-tweeted her own speech — and won the #backchannel by Andrew Phelps

The verdict: is blogging or tweeting about research papers worth it? and When was the last time you asked how your published research was doing? by Melissa Terras

Who gives a tweet? After 24 hours and 860 downloads, we think quite a few actually do by Kaisa Puustinen and Rosalind Edwards

Why newspapers need to lose the ‘view from nowhere’ by Mathew Ingram

Buzz Bissinger: Newspaper editors are “very cautious — too cautious” by Adrienne LaFrance

How obsession can fuel science blogging: The story of Retraction Watch by Ivan Oransky

Text mining: what do publishers have against this hi-tech research tool? by Alok Jha

Copy editing: It’s taught me a lot, but it has to change by Steve Buttry






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