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Khalil’s Picks (4 October 2013)

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


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This week on Picks, we’ve got a great selection: the science (or pseudoscience?) of sleep apps, Nobel guinea pigs, “clean eating,” dinosaurs, the computer that smells and so much more…

Sleep Cycle App: Precise, or Placebo? by Jordan Gaines Lewis

Thanks to the Internet, it’s the age of self-diagnosis. People like to learn about (and treat) themselves through technology.  Especially when pretty graphs are involved. As a sleep researcher, I was interested in my friends’ use of sleep-tracking apps, and I received a pretty positive response when I prompted them for their thoughts.

Keepers of the Oil: The Science of Fried by Rachel E. Gross

Larry Fyfe will not wait in line. But for 45 years, he’s made his living off people willing to wait in his lines. Fyfe runs four concession stands at the Iowa State Fair, most of which specialize in deep-fried foods on sticks. In 1999, Fyfe introduced the hordes to fried Twinkies. This year he served up nearly 10,000 fried Oreos. “I’m glad people aren’t like me,” Fyfe says. “I won’t stand in line for anything.”

Nobel guinea pigs by Ian Le Guillou

Although nearly 85% of Nobel Prizes in Physiology or Medicine have relied upon animal research, a few laureates have used themselves as guinea pigs. Below, UAR details some of these self-experimenters, who each took a risky step for their own reasons – bravery, desperation and hope.

The other selfie: a single case study experiment on “clean eating” by Kathleen Raven

Since I began routinely reading Scientific American comments online and in the magazine’s letters to the editor, I’ve encountered a recurring theme: Readers lament that the celebrated publication isn’t as scientific as it once was in the fifties or the nineties (depending on who is writing). Complaints pile up. Teeth gnash. But no disgruntled reader, to my knowledge, has offered solutions beyond complaints. Since commenters keep their arguments shallow, I don’t give them much credence.

That’s one small step for dinosaur-kind.. by Collin VanBuren

It seems that ever since the first dinosaur was mounted in a museum, palaeontologists have been curious about dinosaur limb posture and locomotion. The posture of the back legs was determined early on as being upright (completely vertical, like that of an elephant or a lion) as opposed to sprawling (splayed out to the side, like the limbs of crocodilians and most lizards). However, the jury’s still out on forelimb posture and mobility in dinosaurs.

What Do Your Hands Say About You? by Dana Smith

When I tell people that I ‘do psychology’ I typically get one of three reactions. 1) People ask if I can read their thoughts. No, unless you’re a drunken guy in a bar, in which case, gross. 2) They begin to tell me about their current psychological troubles and parental issues, to which I listen sympathetically and then make it clear that I got into experimental psychology because I didn’t want to have to listen to people’s problems (sorry). Or 3) they ask me a very astute question about the brain that 9 times out of 10 I can’t answer. This last option is by far the most preferable and I’ve had several very interesting conversations come out of these interactions.

Predicting what your food smells like just got easier by Adam Kucharski

Familiar everyday odours such as coffee and red wine are produced by a blend of different substances. Given that we know aroma is nothing but a mix of volatile chemicals, can we understand them enough to predict the smell they will produce? Our sense of smell is driven by an “olfactory system”, but scientists have remained puzzled as to exactly how it works. Being able to crack this nose code would help reveal how the brain processes scents. It may also bring riches to companies that can exploit such a technology.

And some more:

Epigenetics and Evolution by Sedeer el-Showk
Keep It Simple Students: Mapping the Biological Pathways of Parkinson’s Disease by Tien Nguyen
Get Your Hands Off My Genes! by Hannah Waters
Demand for Bananas Puts Costa Rica’s Caimans at Risk by Allie Wilkinson
An appetite for controversy: Brian Greene brings out Richard Dawkins’ softer side by Kathryn Free
U.S. physician payments vary widely, mysteriously: study by Kathleen Raven
Wisdom from Weisman: The author suggests that empowering women could feed the future by Rebecca Cudmore
The neurobiology of “cuffing season” (How the brain influences monogamy) by Caitlin Kirkwood

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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