Friday, June 17, 2011 2:40 PM
What makes a bike stay upright? Many of us can repeat the conventional grade-school wisdom that the gyroscopic effect is the magical stabilizer of the spinning bike wheel—but scientists are finding that the physics of biking are much more complex than this, reports Science News. They are learning this in part by trying to knock over moving bikes.
A bicycle in motion, even riderless, can coast for long distances without falling. The bike-abusing researchers are learning that neither the gyroscopic effect nor another long-accepted explanation, the “trail effect,” entirely explains the bike’s stability. Writes Science News:
Bicycles, the team suggests, are more complicated than previously thought. While gyro and trail effects can contribute to stability, other factors such as the distribution of mass and the bike’s moment of inertia can play a role as well. Computer simulations that take all of these factors into account could lead to improved designs for folding bikes with small wheels or bikes that carry cargo, [scientist Andy] Ruina says.
So remember, bikers, whether you’re keeping it pure on a fixed-gear or geeking out on a slow-rolling “comfort” bike, many of the same physical forces apply. And as for the oft-maligned weird cousins of the bicycle world, recumbent bike riders? They are no less than the fearless test pilots of the future.
Source: Science News
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Thursday, March 25, 2010 2:14 PM
Too often, scientists today rely on statistics that they don’t understand. As a result, “there are more false claims made in medical literature than anyone appreciates,” biostatistician Steven Goodman told Science News. In fact, the entire system of how scientists use statistics to draw conclusions is being called into question. Science News quotes statistician David Salsburg who wrote, “This problem is still unsolved, and… if it remains unsolved, the whole of the statistical approach to science may come crashing down on its own inconsistencies.”
Science News explains the problem:
It’s science’s dirtiest secret: The “scientific method” of testing hypotheses by statistical analysis stands on a flimsy foundation. Statistical tests are supposed to guide scientists in judging whether an experimental result reflects some real effect or is merely a random fluke, but the standard methods mix mutually inconsistent philosophies and offer no meaningful basis for making such decisions. Even when performed correctly, statistical tests are widely misunderstood and frequently misinterpreted. As a result, countless conclusions in the scientific literature are erroneous, and tests of medical dangers or treatments are often contradictory and confusing.
Source: Science News
Wednesday, February 17, 2010 2:59 PM
Every month, social psychologist Arie Kruglanski sends a research report to the Department of Homeland Security from his National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism (better known, mercifully, as START). In a Miller-McCune interview with Kruglanski, he talks about what he’s learned about suicide attackers and the people who support them. “Many people think of terrorists, especially suicide bombers, as not quite human,” says Tom Jacobs in his first question to Kruglanski, “presumably because they’ve set aside that basic human motivation of self-preservation. But your research suggests their motivations are quite recognizably human.” Here’s some of what Kruglanski had to say...
On the “quite recognizably human” motivations of suicide attackers:
Personal significance is a motivation that has been recognized by psychological theorists as a major driving force of human behavior. Terrorists feel that through suicide, their lives will achieve tremendous significance. They will become heroes, martyrs. In many cases, their decision is a response to a great loss of significance, which can occur through humiliation, discrimination, or personal problems that have nothing to do with the conflict in which their group is engaged.
On America’s martyrs:
Even in our country, we venerate our heroes.—our soldiers who are willing to put themselves in harm’s way for the sake of ideals we hold dear.
More on significance as a motivator:
According to terror management theory, we are alone among all species in that we are aware of our impending demise. As a consequence, we have this nightmare of ending up as an insignificant speck of dust in an uncaring universe.
Source: Miller-McCune (article not yet available online)
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Image by Jeff Severns Guntzel.
Thursday, February 26, 2009 4:27 PM
Promoting more women in the workplace isn’t just equitable, it’s profitable. Researchers have found that Fortune 500 companies that aggressively promote women to high levels consistently outperform their industry peers, Roy Douglas Adler writes for Miller-McCune. Adler and his colleagues at Pepperdine University used data from a study on the glass ceiling and found that the companies best at promoting women outperformed the industry median on various measures of profitability.
Adler stresses that the correlation between hiring women and profitability doesn’t show a causation, but he does come up with a possible explanation:
Firms exhibit higher profitability when their top executives make smart decisions. One of the smart decisions those executives have consistently made at successful Fortune 500 firms is to include women in the executive suite—so that regardless of gender, the best brains are available to continue making smart, and profitable, decisions.
Tuesday, February 24, 2009 4:15 PM
Natural history museums have traditionally measured their worth by the breadth of their physical collections. With all the digital projects that archive scientific information, these holdings may seem outdated or superfluous. Carl Zimmer thinks museums still have an important role to play in the future of science research and education, though, and writes for Seed about the importance of maintaining their real-world collections.
Digital projects like the The Encyclopedia of Life, which catalogues the work of natural history museums digitally, are evolving into stiff competition for museums. These digital resources are often less costly to maintain than regular museums, and they can sometimes reach larger audiences.
Zimmer hopes that the existence of resources like EOL won't discourage museums from taking care of their physical collections. He cites a recent case of an set of Neanderthal bones in a German museum: After languishing in storage for 150 years, scientists found them, took DNA samples, and were able to draw new insights about our evolutionary relationship to Neanderthals. Preserving physical museum collections, then, is not just a nod to the past, but a way of claiming “a stake in our future.”
Image courtesy of Christian Guthier, licensed under Creative Commons.
Wednesday, January 21, 2009 1:13 PM
The new issue of Environment Magazine offers up a powerful tool for citizen journalists and professional muckrakers alike: links to dozens of web resources for exploring “the tremendous amount of environmental information to be had from the U.S. government, both new and old.”
Tuesday, December 16, 2008 9:37 AM
Japan seems to have decidedly more fun with their space program than their fellow astronauts. Just two months after heralding their space-launched paper airplanes, Japanese brewer Sapporo has announced the development of beer brewed from “Sapporo Space Barley.” The barley seedlings spent five months aboard the Russian Research Modules of the International Space Station before coming back to Earth for planting, harvesting, and fermentation.
The batch produced 100 liters of beer, most of which will be used for studies on the “Impact of Extreme Environmental Stresses on Barley” (an experiment I wouldn’t mind being a part of) and the possibility of brewing in space. The brewery is doing a small public tasting in January, but alas, the brew apparently tastes just like regular beer.
(Thanks, Boing Boing)
Image courtesy of ronin691, licensed under Creative Commons.
Wednesday, October 29, 2008 10:03 AM
During a speech in Pittsburgh last week, Salon.com reports that Sarah Palin took another swing at earmarked spending, giving a specific wink towards "fruit fly research in Paris, France!"
Palin was referring to money secured by California congressman Mike Thompson for the study of the olive fruit fly, according to Salon. The Alaska Governor opted not to tell the audience that the flies have been infesting olive groves for decades in Mediterranean climates (hence research in France) and more recently have started affecting crops in California. Thompson was adamant about his decision to fund studies of the pest, which he called "the single largest threat to the U.S. olive and olive oil industries.”
Palin may attack the program as frivolous, but fruit fly testing has proven indispensable in genetic research (it was through fruit flies that we discovered how chromosomes determine sex, for example), and it’s also helped scientists better understand autism, an issue in which Palin has repeatedly shown interest.
It's also worth noting that just a few months ago, Palin herself had pushed for earmarked money to study, among other things, the mating habits of crabs. That study seems less ridiculous when revealed that the money would be used to research "Bering Sea crab productivity and sustainability as necessary to restore crab stocks."
Attacking fruit fly and crab studies could make for a cheap political point in front of audiences, but a little more information shows that kind of research deserves respect.
Image courtesy of
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Tuesday, September 30, 2008 12:13 PM
Scientists are trying to understand the concept of beauty using neurology, thinking that the "eye of the beholder" could be linked to a function of the brain. Writing for Seed, Moheb Costandi presents a history of scientific attempts to figure out the essence of beauty, from experiments with mescaline in the 1920s to Semir Zeki’s pioneering work in neuroaesthetics at University College London.
UCL scientists are collaborating with leaders in the arts and humanities to study the beauty in many forms, including prose and music. They’re are also examining the ways people perceive the aesthetics of architecture and other spatial relationships. In one study where scientists monitored brain activity as subjects looked at paintings, Costandi reports that “the ‘uglier’ a painting, the greater the motor cortex activity, as if the brain was preparing to escape.”
Researchers hope to learn what universal qualities, if any, the human mind assigns to beautiful things, how long-term exposure to beauty might permanently alter our neurological pathways, and how beauty affects other neurological conditions, such as depression. “An object’s beauty may not be universal,” Costandi speculates, “but the neural basis for appreciating beauty probably is.”
(Image adapted from a photo by goatling, licensed by Creative Commons.)
Thursday, September 11, 2008 9:46 AM
Society may be moving toward a more liberated view of love, but people increasingly are shackling themselves with rigid rules and systems when finding partners, Jean Hannah Edelstein writes in the Guardian. Online daters apply “scientific” formulas to their profiles in an effort to home in on the partner of their dreams, often neglecting more frustrating, unscientific, but endlessly fascinating pursuits like “pointless flirting.”
This methodological approach to love is reinforced, according to Edelstein, by the steady stream of studies designed to illuminate a scientific order to human relationships. After dating a man who looked eerily like her father, Edelstein writes that she was “absolved from responsibility for it” by a recent study suggesting that women are often attracted to men who look like their fathers. Freud may have written about that very idea years ago, but the new findings, reported by the Guardian, are being cited as further evidence of “sexual imprinting,” where sexual attraction in humans is determined early in childhood.
New studies are also pointing to a kind of genetic pre-determinism on love. The New Scientist reports that gene coding could “help to determine whether men are serial commitment-phobes or devoted husbands.” The researchers found that the more copies of a section of the gene RS3 334 that a man has, the less likely he is to remain monogamous. Having pinpointed the genetics of relationships, the team is now trying to test for gene coding in altruism and jealousy.
And even beyond the pages of Cosmo, new studies about how to attract potential mates are released nearly every slow news day. The British newspaper Telegraph has determined that a rollercoaster is the best place for a first date, since the excitement will cause people to release the hormone phenyl ethyl-amine, which is also released when a person first sees someone he or she is attracted to. And the BBC News reports that the simple act of saying “I love you” has the ability to make people more attractive.
The question for Edelstein is: What effect do studies like these have on our relationships? The findings could make dating more efficient, Edelstein writes, saving people time so they could “redirect it towards less sexy, but important undertakings, like recycling and exercise.” People could even sign on to Genepartner.com, a website designed to pair people off based on their genes. But what do people lose? By eliminating potential mates who are blonde, brunette, short, tall, strong, or weak, people cut themselves off from a huge portion of the dating pool, one of whom may be able to surprise them. That’s not a theory. That’s simple statistics.
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Monday, September 08, 2008 11:41 AM
Information overload, data-security anxiety, and a feeling of queasiness about our culture’s proliferation of nonsense are inextricable parts of the human condition in the Google Age, according to Geert Lovink writing for Eurozine.
The impact of the modern “society of the query,” according to Lovnik, has caused people to forget the “art of asking the right question.” If we don’t know what information we’re looking for, we’ll never find it. No search engine (now matter how advanced) is going to help us find the right questions.
The Google society has also created an overwhelming accumulation of “data trash.” The problem is that if we’re too overwhelmed by data, we’ll have no time for serendipity—the equally lost art of stumbling upon good ideas. Lovnik summarizes his points, writing:
For the time being we will remain obsessed with the diminishing quality of the answers to our queries – and not with the underlying problem, namely the poor quality of our education and the diminishing ability to think in a critical way…What is necessary is a reappropriation of time. At the moment there is simply not enough of it to stroll around like a flaneur. … Stop searching. Start questioning. Rather than trying to defend ourselves against ‘information glut,’ we can approach this situation creatively as the opportunity to invent new forms appropriate for our information-rich world.
(Thanks, 3 Quarks Daily.)
Image by Juancho, licensed by Creative Commons.
Thursday, August 21, 2008 12:37 PM
Therapy and 12-step groups are two of the most popular routes to recovery for people addicted to alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs. But some scientists are looking to pharmaceuticals in hopes of breaking the cycle of addiction.
Anti-stress pills are one drug that scientists believe could fight addiction to alcohol, Melinda Wenner reports for the Scientific American. Researchers at the National Institutes of Health and University College London administered a stress-reduction drug to highly anxious recovering alcoholics, which reduced their craving for a drink, especially in high-stress situations. The study didn’t prove whether stress medication could help alcoholics long-term, but represents another step forward in efforts to treat addiction with pharmaceuticals.
A more radical drug therapy for addiction is being pioneered in Canada. Writing for This Magazine, Peter Tupper profiles a nonprofit rehabilitation facility in British Columbia called Iboga Therapy House, where addicts are administered ibogaine, a drug classified as Schedule I in the United States (meaning its in the same category as cannabis, heroin, and LSD). The extremely powerful drug induces “a dream-like state lasting anywhere from 24 to 36 hours,” during which patients are monitored by medical professionals. Ibogaine's main benefit seems to be relief from painful withdrawal symptoms, and many subjects report a near or total cessation of cravings after the treatment ends. Ibogaine is unregulated in Canada, and its questionable legality makes the drug’s efficacy difficult to track, but facilities like Iboga House appear to be part of a growing subfield of pharmaceutical addiction treatment.
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Thursday, July 31, 2008 1:41 PM
Medical treatment and 12-step groups have been the traditional routes to recovery for people addicted to alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs. But new approaches toward substance abuse suggest that breaking the cycle of addiction might be too complex for science to handle.
Some scientists are testing to see if addiction can be fought with anti-stress pills, Melinda Wenner reports for the Scientific American. Researchers at the National Institutes of Health and University College London administered a stress-reduction drug to highly anxious recovering alcoholics, which reduced their craving for a drink, especially in times of high stress. The study is inconclusive in determining whether stress medication could help alcoholics long-term, but represents another step forward in efforts to treat addiction with pharmaceuticals.
On a cultural scale, public health officials are looking to health advisories as a way to stem the tide of addiction. Science Daily reports that excessive drinking can lead to an increased risk of metabolic syndrome—a combination of disorders including heart disease, obesity, and high blood pressure. One study, published by the Centers for Disease Control, suggests that emphasizing the heart disease link could discourage people from drinking excessively.
Others have looked to “do-it-yourself” cures as a way out of addiction without the professional help. According to another article in the Scientific American, eminent social psychologist Stanley Schachter sparked controversy in 1982 when he concluded that addicts who successfully broke their habits without professional treatment or self-help groups were just as likely to recover as those who sought professional treatment.
One of Schachter’s explanations for his findings was that these “D.I.Y” recoveries were more effective than those who sought outside help, because the first group’s dependencies were not as severe as the latter’s. Schachter also concluded that many of these former addicts were able to resume moderate use of alcohol and drugs without abusing them.
The study antagonized treatment professionals who adhere to a disease model of addiction—where nothing short of total abstinence constitutes recovery—as well as researchers who questioned his methods. Skeptics were quick to point out that definitions vary for concepts such as addiction, treatment, and recovery, and affected the possible interpretations of studies like Schachter’s.
The controversy echoes the prevailing belief among addicts and recovery experts that addiction manifests in different ways among different people, and no two people’s addictions are identical. Though science can help combat substance abuse, the elusive and nebulous nature of chemical dependency—its complex emotional, psychological, and physiological ramifications—suggests that the plight of some addicts might always lie just out of science’s reach.
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Tuesday, December 04, 2007 10:17 AM
Happiness is cheap. In fact, real happiness comes from little things like a chocolate bar, an afternoon nap, or a good book, Science Daily reports. University of Nottingham psychologist, Dr Richard Tunney compared the happiness of lottery winners with non-lottery winners, asking each group what they did to make themselves happy. The study found that "cost-free" activities, like pursuing a hobby or laying in a hammock, contributed more to happiness than buying stuff, even expensive stuff. "It appears that spending time relaxing is the secret to a happy life,” said Dr Tunney. “Cost-free pleasures are the ones that make the difference—even when you can afford anything that you want." This is good news for people who think that happiness is constantly out of reach: A good nap is really all people need. —Brendan Mackie
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