The SA Incubator

The SA Incubator

The next generation of science writers and journalists.

Bora's Picks (October 5th, 2012)


Artist’s masterpiece is a load of garbage by Laura Geggel:

On her plane ride from New York to Kenya, Asher Jay imagined the untamed safari awaiting her—lions with snarled manes and wrinkled rhinos covered in a coat of dust.

Instead, she saw miles of plastic bags tangled in trees. And she heard news of a lion cub killed by a vehicle driven by tourists* who were eager to see wildlife—eager enough to venture, illegally, off-road. Whatever leisurely vacation she had planned evaporated on the hot Kenyan plains. Jay, a 28-year-old environmental activist, had work to do....

Hey science, what’s going on? by Pete Etchells:

To many, retracted science papers are an unfortunate part of the process. With the best intent, we are told, scientists are only human, and will inevitably make mistakes. And it’s a good thing that retractions exist – it shows honesty and integrity in the system; that scientists are willing to admit to their mistakes, and correct them for the common good. Or so we’ve been led to believe. As Carl Zimmer notes in a recent New York Times piece, Nature reported last year that the rise in retraction rate exceeds the rise in the number of papers published in the last ten years – going up from about 30 retractions per year in the early 2000s, to as much as 400 in the last year. While at first this rise was welcomed by a wide range of parties, you can’t help but feel that it’s all starting to become a bit of an embarrassment. Why are so many papers being retracted?...

Body politic by Akshat Rathi:

IN 1882 W.S. Gilbert wrote, to a tune by Sir Arthur Sullivan, a ditty that went “I often think it’s comical how Nature always does contrive/that every boy and every gal that’s born into the world alive/is either a little Liberal or else a little Conservative.”

In the 19th century, that view, though humorously intended, would not have been out of place among respectable thinkers. The detail of a man’s opinion might be changed by circumstances. But the idea that much of his character was ingrained at birth held no terrors. It is not, however, a view that cut much ice in 20th-century social-scientific thinking, particularly after the second world war. Those who allowed that it might have some value were generally shouted down and sometimes abused, along with all others vehemently suspected of the heresy of believing that genetic differences between individuals could have a role in shaping their behavioural differences....

Why aren’t my kids hyper after binging on sugar? by Gillian Mayman:

I refuse to buy cookies, candy, and other sugary treats at the grocery store. This isn’t because I insist on perfect nutrition for my children. It’s because if I buy anything like that, my kids will consume it all within an hour of it arriving in our kitchen....

Mouse stem cells manipulated to create egg-producing ovary by Susan Matthews:

From recent news about uterus transplants to controversy over the possibility of so-called ‘three-parent children’, the lengths to which modern medicine will go to achieve conception are increasingly expanding. Creating an ovary that can itself produce viable eggs might soon be added to that list....

How Mosquitos Are Out-Smarting Humans by Rose Eveleth:

Mosquitos. We all hate them. That buzzing, biting, itchiness-inducing insect is not only super annoying but also super dangerous. Mosquitos transmit malaria, West Nile virus, dengue fever, Rift Valley fever, yellow fever and various forms of infections that cause brain inflammation. Fun....

Store your data under glass by Lily Hay Newman:

Losing data sucks. One minute you’re showing off the GoPro video you took while skydiving and the next minute your external hard drive is soaked in margarita mix and making ominous grinding sounds. The worst. But developers at Hitachi announced on Sept. 24 that they have created a way to preserve data for millions of years....

Cohabiting black holes challenge theory by Nadia Drake:

Hiding in a clump of stars 10,000 light-years away are two small black holes, slowly sipping their stellar prey.

But the black holes shouldn’t be there — at least, not both of them. The snacking pair disobeys prevailing theories that predict the survival of only one black hole in M22, a globular cluster of stars. And, like cockroaches and rats, observing two means the cluster could contain many, many more small black holes — perhaps as many as 100, a team of astronomers reports in the Oct. 4 Nature....

The Psychology of Sputnik by Amy Shira Teitel :

Fifty-five years ago today, the Soviet Union launched history's first artificial satellite.

Sputnik was an innocuous satellite; Soviet scientists behind the launch were just happy to successfully put the probe into orbit. But in the United States the reaction was different. ...

Yom Kippur and the Science of Fasting by Gabriel Popkin:

Last week, I along with millions of people took off work and went 25 hours without food or water. No, we weren’t orchestrating a spontaneous hunger strike; we were observing Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the Jewish calendar. The instruction to fast comes from the Bible, but the Bible also tells us to do all kinds of other things—sacrifice animals, stone adulterers—that even the most pious ignore today. So why do we continue to find this one relevant? I believe the answer can be sought not just in religious texts, of which I confess to being almost entirely ignorant, but also in science....

Paper wasps follow a secret succession line by Naveena Sadasivam:

Royal successions in human history have often been violent and disorderly affairs. These bloody power struggles are seen in the insect kingdom as well, where emerging queen bees kill virgin queens and breeding termites fight over the right to pass on their genes — but this is not the case with paper wasps. ...

British Architects Plan to Build a House Entirely From Waste by Rachel Nuwer:

England will soon begin construction on its first building constructed entirely from waste. The ecohouse will be situated on the University of Brighton’s campus and will be built from surplus materials from local building sites and industries. The architects plan to open up production so that students, apprentices, local builders and school children can get involved in crafting the house...

SFSYO Scientist of the Month: Penny Higgins by Erin Podolak:

Hello first graders! I am so excited to share with you our first scientist of the month, Penny Higgins, PhD. I asked Penny a bunch of questions to find out more about what she does. I hope you will enjoy learning more about her. Below you can read my interview with Penny, and if you'd like to ask her any questions, be sure to leave them in the comments! ...

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

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