Blog of the Week:
Vintage Space is a blog by Amy Shira Teitel, science writer and historian of space exploration living in Arizona. She has been busy lately, contributing articles to Discovery News, Motherboard, Spaceflight Observer podcasts, Scientific American Guest Blog, Soapbox Science blog, Timeline Magazine, AmericaSpace and Universe Today, among else. Vintage Space is her writing laboratory, where she first explores topics she may subsequently expand into longer pieces for other venues. And she links to all of her articles as they go live in various places so you can keep up with her prolific output. Those of you regular readers of Scientific American blogs may remember her guest posts, and for those of you not familiar, those can give you the taste of her fascinating forays into the history of space: Sky Crane – how to land Curiosity on the surface of Mars and Apollo 1: The Fire That Shocked NASA and John Glenn: The Man Behind the Hero.
Nicotine and the Chemistry of Murder by Deborah Blum:
The 1850 murder of Gustave Fougnies in Belgium is not famous because of the cleverness of his killers. Not at all. They – his sister and brother-in-law – practically set off signal flares announcing their parts in a suspicious death.
It’s not famous because it was such a classic high society murder. The killers were the dashing, expensive, and deeply indebted Comte and Countess de Bocarmé. The death occurred during a dangerously intimate dinner at their chateau, a 18th century mansion on an estate in southern Belgium.
Nor it is remembered because the Comte died by guillotine in 1851 – so many did after all.
No, this is a famous murder because of its use of a notably lethal poison. And because the solving of this particular murder changed the history of toxicology, helped lay the foundation for modern forensic science. The poison, by the way, was the plant alkaloid nicotine….
Richard Dawkins, Edward O. Wilson, and the Consensus of the Many by David Sloan Wilson:
…I mean Dawkins and Wilson no disrespect by calling them two among many. I trust that they would agree and would defer to others especially when it comes to mathematical models, which is not their area of expertise. If the public is going to become literate on the issues at stake—as well they should, because they are fundamental to the study of human sociality—then they will need to realize that both Wilson and Dawkins get some things right and other things wrong. Moreover, the entire community of scientists is in more agreement than the infamous exchange in Nature seems to indicate. Taking the argument from authority seriously can lead to a breakthrough in the public’s understanding of social evolution. …
The protein makes the poison: Dancing fruit flies and terfenadine by Ashutosh Jogalekar:
…Dose-specific toxicity is indeed of paramount importance in medicine, but if you delve deeper, the common mechanism underlying the toxicity of many drugs often has less to do with the specific drugs themselves and more to do with the other major player in the interaction of drugs with the human body – proteins. Unwarranted dosages of drugs are certainly dangerous, but even in these cases the effect is often mediated by specific proteins. Thus in this post, I want to take a slightly different tack and want to reinforce the idea that when it comes to drugs it’s often wise to remember that “the protein makes the poison”. I want to reinforce the fact that toxicity is often a function of multiple entities and not just one. In fact this concept underlies most of the side-effects of drugs, manifested in all those ominous sounding warnings delivered in rapid fire intonations in otherwise soothing drug commercials…
The trouble with brain scans by Vaughan Bell:
Neuroscientists have long been banging their heads on their desks over exaggerated reports of brain scanning studies. Media stories illustrated with coloured scans, supposedly showing how the brain works, are now a standard part of the science pages and some people find them so convincing that they are touted as ways of designing education for our children, evaluating the effectiveness of marketing campaigns and testing potential recruits…
Cloaking the rainbow by Rose Eveleth:
Invisibility cloaks aren’t just for Harry Potter anymore. Last year, researchers made one that cloaked things in time. Now they’ve made thousands of tiny invisibility cloaks that trap a rainbow. That’s right, 25,000 invisibility cloaks trapping a rainbow. The first question you might be asking is: why? Why does it take 25,000 invisibility cloaks to trap a rainbow? Or maybe, why trap a rainbow in the first place?
An Analysis of Blaster Fire in Star Wars by Rhett Allain:
You have no idea how long I have been planning to look at the blasters in Star Wars. No idea. Finally, the 35th Anniversary of Star Wars has motivated me to complete my study (which I haven’t actually started). Here is the deal: What are these blasters? How fast are the blaster bolts? Do the blasters from the spacecraft travel at about the same speed as the handheld blasters? Why do people still think these are lasers?…
Don’t worry so much about being the right type of science role model by Marie-Claire Shanahan:
What does it mean to be a good role? Am I a good role model? Playing around with kids at home or in the middle of a science classroom, adults often ask themselves these questions, especially when it comes to girls and science. But despite having asked them many times myself, I don’t think they’re the right questions…
Evolutionary psychology: A dialogue by Jeremy Yoder:
A Biologist went down to the coffee shop one day, because the walk out to the edge of the University campus provided some brief respite from the laboratory. Along the way the Biologist encountered an Evolutionary Psychologist, who was also going to the coffee shop, and they fell to walking together…
When I was a kid – and who am I kidding; when I was an adult too – I made fun of the science in movies. “That’s so fakey!” I would cry out loud when a spaceship roared past, or a slimy alien stalked our heroes. Eventually, my verbal exclamations evolved into written ones. Not long after creating my first website (back in the Dark Internet Ages of 1997) I decided it would be fun to critique the science of movies, and I dove in with both glee and fervor. No movie was safe, from Armageddon to Austin Powers…
The Fantastic Gliding Stegosaurus by Brian Switek:
Stegosaurus is undoubtedly one of the most perplexing dinosaurs. What was all that iconic armor for? (And how did amorous stegosaurs get around that complication?) Paleontologists have been investigating and debating the function of Stegosaurus ornamentation for decades, but without much consensus. The dinosaur’s spectacular plates were certainly prominent visual signals, but could they also have been used for regulating body temperature? Or might there be some evolutionary impetus we’re not thinking of?
The Anatomy of a Videogame-Scare Story by Brian Fung
My Favorite Toxic Chemical by John Spevacek:
Neuroscientists should study Zombie Ants by TheCellularScale
Octopuses Host a Masterclass on Hiding by Elizabeth Preston
Social Sauropods? by Brian Switek
Birds Have Juvenile Dinosaur Skulls by Brian Switek
Ecological complexity breeds evolutionary complication by Jeremy Yoder:
Crowdfunding as the future of science funding? by Anthony Salvagno
Revisiting why incompetents think they’re awesome by Chris Lee. “Dunning-Kruger study today: The uninformed aren’t as doomed as the Web suggests.”
Lost in your brain by David Dobbs – “When science writer David Dobbs is suddenly unable to remember how to drive his kids to school, he sets off on a quest to understand his own brain, and makes a shocking discovery.”
Of Darwin, Earthworms, and Backyard Science by Anthony Martin
The great Pacific garbage reality by Usha Lee McFarling – “The great Pacific garbage reality. It’s not tsunami debris we should fear; it’s the trash clogging our oceans.”
The snakes that eat caviar by Andrew Durso
On the humanity (or lack thereof) of the X-Men by Megan M. McCullen
Tuatara reptile slices food with ‘steak-knife teeth’ by Victoria Gill
Keep shouting. You never know who is listening. by Emily Finke
Media, Publishing and Technology:
We need to reinvent the article by Sean Blanda
Blogonomics, ten years on by Henry Copeland
The 10 Biggest Social Media Lies by Mike Elgan
Wikipedia as an explainer by Dave Winer
Libre redistribution – a key facet of Open Access by Ross Mounce
Making More Scientists by John Wilbanks
What is it that journalists do? It can’t be reduced to just one thing by Jonathan Stray
Why “We the People” should support open access by Bill Hooker
Secrets of the Universe: Past, Present, FutureX