This week, we have the science of ant colonies, the mathematics of war, cannabis and more. In other words, the usual brilliance.
I love ants! They’ve always fascinated me, with their moving in trails, knocking against one another... And now, a new study shows that they have behaviour comparable to they way the Internet works. Blogger, Sedeer El-Showk, in his blog, Inspiring Science, dives into the study and explains exactly how complex an ant colony is. Complex but masterfully efficient. Must read.
A recent study looking at how colonies of ants regulate their foraging behaviour has caused a bit of a buzz online. A lot of the coverage has focused on a similarity highlighted in the press release, which says that the ants “determine how many foragers to send out of the nest in much the same way that Internet protocols discover how much bandwidth is available for the transfer of data”. While it’s wonderful that the study has received so much attention, I can’t help but feel that the really interesting aspect of this study has been overlooked in the excitement about the “anternet”. While the similarity between the two systems is striking, I’m more fascinated by a basic difference: unlike our computer networks, the regulation system in ants isn’t purposefully designed but emerges from uncoordinated decisions made by individuals.
Markus Hammonds, at Australian Science, has an interesting piece about scientists modelling wars and conflicts. This should be enough to get you to click on the link below.
Scientists often exercise a certain detachment when doing their work. I’ve often seem friends and colleagues get “lost in the numbers” and forget precisely what it is they’re looking at and what those numbers actually mean. However, in some cases this may not be a bad thing. For instance, in the analysis of conflict data.
A new paper published this week roughly points to an association between use of cannabis and IQ. According to the study, cannabis use is harmful to adolescent brains, but not so for “older” brains. Suzi Gage in her blog, Sifting the Evidence, is not convinced and has some serious issues with the study itself. (Also makes for great excuse to learn more about the scientific method, this.)
Reports from various news outlets have been discussing a paper published a couple of days ago in PNAS. The paper investigates cannabis dependence, and it’s relation to change in IQ. Media articles have interpreted these findings as ‘cannabis use is harmful to adolescent brains, but not afterwards’. Now, before I go on, I should say that I’m not disputing that this may be the case, but I don’t think this paper provides as strong evidence as is being reported, for a number of reasons, which I’ll go through here.
Turns out we can understand statistical concepts quite well. Thing is, we usually don’t communicate stats very well and this prompts a lot of head-scratching. And more serious problems too. Good blog post by Scitable blogger, Kyle Hill.
Even though risk is incredibly important to understand, we are terrible at understanding it. For example, many people are more afraid of flying than of driving (though driving is likely the most dangerous thing you do every day), we still worry about shark attacks while swimming (though 15 times more people in 2010 were killed by dogs than by sharks) and some are even callous enough to laugh in the face of the flu (though tens of thousands of people die from it each year). But is this misunderstanding the product of pure ignorance, or something else?
In the New York Times, Kelly Slivka has a super awesome three-minute video which takes us on a trip with scientists who are tagging humpback whales.
With the help of new technology, researchers are capturing the details of humpback whale behavior on their North Atlantic feeding grounds.
Lauren Fuge muses about the need for ethics in science in her blog, Science In A Can. She argues that putting unwarranted restrains on scientific research, as is currently the case, slows down progress. Inculcating the field with ethics is a way to set it all right. Very thoughtful piece.
Science is the most powerful truth-seeking tool that humanity has ever devised, but it’s consistently mistrusted, resisted, ignored, and subjected to scrutiny—because although knowledge can illuminate our world, it can also darken it. Sure, you’d struggle to batter someone to death with a Higgs Boson, but the fact remains that scientific knowledge can be used for unforeseen and possibly nefarious purposes.
You can find early-career science writers on Twitter on this list. Should provide you with lots of great content during the weekend. Enjoy!
UPDATE (3 September 2012, 09:16 EST): Surname of blogger Seeder included.