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Khalil’s Picks (21 December 2012)

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


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Welcome to the end-of-the-world edition of Picks which does not highlight any articles about the end of the world. Go figure. What this week’s picks do highlight is unsurprisingly much cooler (and at times more serious).

The next Mayan inspired end-of-the-world edition of Picks will be in roughly 144,000 days. Until then…

A very very good blog post about the unfairness of the media’s portrayal of people will mental illnesses. This is a must-read by Natasha Lewis Harrington at GatheringMagic.com.

The Myths of Madness
Today, I want to talk about something serious. I’m not going to criticize you or tell you what to do—you are all thoughtful people; you know how to take this information and make of it what you will. All I ask is that you give me a few minutes to talk about depictions of mental illness.

This article by Robert T. Gonzalez for io9 is geekingly fantastic and kind of creepy. What would happen if you could block out all (or as much of) external stimuli? To test this, some people have been submerged into gallons of water with masks to cover their head. What they report when retrieved is quite astonishing.

Everything you ever wanted to know about sensory deprivation chambers
On Fringe, a sensory deprivation tank can activate your mental powers and even open a gateway to another universe. But what can floating in a dark warm tank do for you in real life? And why would people even want to do such a thing?

Did you know that some researchers are working in the “emerging field of meme science?” Those researchers are looking into creating memes to sensitise people about climate change as Rachel Nuwer writes in the New York Times’ Green blog.

What’s Your Meme? Changing the Climate Change Conversation
Yes we can! Ermahgerd. Occupy. I had a dream. Haters gonna hate. Tear down this wall! Gangnam Style. Drill, baby, drill. We are constantly bombarded by memes in our daily lives. Some spontaneously flare up and then burn out as quickly as they appeared, while others stick around for decades. We hardly consider their presence, much less contemplate their possible influence on our lives.

Photoshopped photos are probably more effective than you think they are. In a great piece for BBC Future, Rose Eveleth describes how doctored photos can alter our memories. She includes some fascinating examples too.

How fake images change our memory and behaviour
Doctored images can affect what we eat, how we vote and even our childhood recollections. The question scientists are asking is why there’s nothing we can do to stop it. The year was a memorable one – looking back at the unforgettable images over the past 12 months, you might think of apocalyptic-looking clouds over Manhattan during Hurricane Sandy, or Mitt Romney’s children mistakenly standing in a line spelling out the word “MONEY”, or even the winning US Powerball lottery ticket that became the most shared picture on Facebook. There’s only one problem. All these images are fake.

Seeder el-Showk, on his blog, Inspiring Science, writes about a mysterious gene that acts as a buffer, allowing mutations to accumulate unseen and free from the pressures of selection.

Hsp90: translating environmental stress into evolutionary change
In the 1990s, Suzanne Rutherford and Susan Lindquist were studying fruit flies with a mutated version of the Hsp90 gene and found that the absence of this single gene led to a wide range of developmental defects.  This was surprising not only because Hsp90 isn’t directly related to development, but also because of the remarkable breadth of its impact.  Uncovering how this gene affects so many aspects of development has led to an intriguing story linking responses to environmental stress with the evolution of developmental pathways.

And even more:

You can find more writings from early-career science writers by following this Twitter list. Have a nice weekend (assuming the world is still intact until then).

Khalil A. Cassimally About the Author: Khalil A. Cassimally is the Community Coordinator of The Conversation UK. He's also a science blogger. He hails from a tropical island and is a happy geek. Subscribe to his updates on Facebook and Google+. Follow on Twitter @notscientific.

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



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