1/24/2008 5:56:31 PM
Women are less likely to have their academic papers published when the reviewers know that the author is female, according to a recent study published on ScienceDirect. Researchers looked at two scientific journals of similar subject matter, one where the reviewers knew the author’s gender and the other where the author’s gender was unknown. When the author’s gender wasn’t known, the percentage of women-authored papers went up. According to the authors of the study, “this increased representation of female authors more accurately reflects the (US) life sciences academic workforce composition, which is 37% female.”
1/24/2008 11:16:01 AM
After years of breathing noxious exhaust fumes from fossil fuel-propelled vehicles, urban bike riders will be the first to say that cars are bad for the environment. Now they’ll have the data to back it up. Researchers at Cambridge University in the U.K. are studying air pollution using wireless sensors installed on bike couriers’ mobile phones, the New Scientist reports. Not only are they cheaper than field researchers, the couriers are also able to test pollution levels in areas not usually monitored for air quality.
Image by David Bleasdale, licensed under Creative Commons.
1/24/2008 10:25:30 AM
Poring over charts and graphs or peering into particle accelerators can be an essential part of science, but Jonah Lehrer, author of the book Proust Was A Neuroscientist, argues in Seed that scientists should be paying more attention to art. Artists, Lehrer argues, can describe complex ideas in new ways, making unexpected analogies between the mysterious and the tangible. This can help scientists of all stripes understand their world better. Lehrer imagines a world in which science and art don’t face each other with the awkward silence of girls and boys at the fifth grade dance. He wants the two cultures to merge into one, because in the end they have the same goal: to understand human experience.
Santa Clara University is doing its part to meld art and science through an innovative class led by a science professor and a dance teacher. The two have teamed up to teach a course explaining basic physics through dance. Writing for the January issue of Physics World [excerpt available online], the professors explain that the course gives students “both the scientific tools to measure and understand as well as the personal experience of forces and motion. The physics involved is simply the mechanics of a moving body under the influence of gravity; the goal is to understand the physical principles that govern the dancer’s motion.”
1/23/2008 3:54:35 PM
The walls of my apartment click. The radiator pops. The refrigerator hums and my sink gurgles. Even when police cars aren’t sounding their alarms toward my window (a fairly common occurrence), my apartment is seldom in a state of silence. I’ve come to accept the barrage of excessive sound as an unavoidable product of urban living, but according to Elizabeth Svaboda in Science & Spirit, that noise could be causing more harm than I know.
Citing a recent study on people's reactions to noise, Svaboda writes that “excessive noise made people more violent and aggressive, increased their risk of heart problems and sleep deficits, decimated their productivity, and impaired their ability to learn. In short, unwanted noise degraded almost every aspect of their lives.” When people hear loud noises, the evolutionary “fight or flight” response kicks in, creating major physiological changes. The constant noise people experience every day can cause massive damage to people’s health and wellbeing. Doctor Louis Hagler, who has conducted many studies on the adverse affects of noise, is quoted in the piece saying, "Now we know secondhand noise is as bad for us as secondhand smoke."
1/23/2008 12:15:37 PM
A worldwide consortium of hackers have turned their attentions away from computer viruses to spend more time with children’s toys. These friendly techie geeks would rather create a violin-playing plant than steal your identity. An article by David Silverberg in Toronto’s Now magazine profiles these hackers, organized by the design collective Tinker.it, who remodel and reimagine toys. The ultimate goal, according to the CEO of Tinker.it, Alexandra Deschamps-Sonsino, is a creation “that really brings out the properties of [a] toy and makes people see the toy in a different way.” So tinker away, gentle hackers, and leave my bank account alone.
1/18/2008 3:09:14 PM
Last May I proudly received my college diploma and promptly forgot most of what I’d learned since high school. Six months later, my brain had atrophied to the point where all I had to show for my fancy education was a set of pretentious anecdotes to throw around at dinner parties. And I’m rarely invited to dinner parties.
I decided that I needed to exercise my mind before my diploma became a glorified paperweight. After minutes of thinking, I came up with a plan: I would listen to free university lectures online, plugging up the holes in my education. I thought the project could chart a path to self-discovery and the heights of genius.
The first days of my project were exciting. Prestigious universities from Yale to MIT offer recorded lectures online, and many lists of courses can be found through Google. The litany of subjects that I could study with just a few clicks stunned me. Would I choose to brush up on my long-neglected scientific knowledge? Or would I study the history of coffee?
My inaugural lecture was a course by Edmund Bertschinger and Edwin F. Taylor called Exploring Black Holes: General Relativity and Astrophysics from MIT’s iTunes U. That sounded like a challenge. Within minutes I was watching a pair of upper-level physicists explaining how upper-level physicists understand the nature of time and space by looking through black-holes. It was just like college: I understood what was going on, but just barely.
That night I went to a swanky party and amazed everyone by dropping cool phrases like “Hawking Radiation” and “Super Black Holes”—phrases I didn’t know existed that morning. I celebrated my success by devouring the host’s wide spread of hors d’oeuvres: the taste of wisdom.
The next morning, pushing through the grimy darkness of a post-party headache, I forced myself to subscribe to a multitude of new courses. I downloaded a Stanford talk that featured the Dalai Lama chatting with neuroscientists and a course on “the built environment.” In college I had heard of these ideas (I think I wrote a couple essays about them) but now I thought I’d actually learn about them.
Weeks later, I have come to admit defeat. As of today, I have failed to listen to a single course in its entirety, though my goal was to cram three semesters of academic work into three weeks. My visions of unscrambling the mysteries of the universe and impressing women have yet to be realized. I now admit a taint of over-ambition in my project. I have realized with gathering horror that the pressures of post-college life have robbed me of my idle time to learn.
One day I may return to my attempt at self-education. For now, though, I will try to accomplish the more manageable goals that escaped my ambition during my college tenure: eating three meals a day and getting semi-regular haircuts. That territory, for the time being, is uncharted enough.
1/16/2008 9:47:41 AM
Staring deep into their well-diversified, value-added crystal ball, the staff of the Economist has pulled out three well-reasoned visions of what 2008 will bring. Contrary to expectations, the article predicts that internet surfing speeds will slow this coming year. Bandwidth-hungry user-generated content and chatter from increasingly ubiquitous personal WiFi devices could end up making all your favorite websites much slower. If this happens, I predict that marketing the slowdown as “retro speed” or “dial-up throwbacks” won’t go over well with the public.
The article also forsees a highly valued section of the wireless spectrum known as the 700 megahertz band helping the internet shed its tethers and increase open access. The band, newly liberated by analog television’s demise, is currently being auctioned off, and open-access advocate Google could bid $5 billion or more to buy it.
Finally, longtime advocates (and beneficiaries) of closed, proprietary technology might be forced to turn on their heels if they have any hope of surviving. New, open-source technologies are poised to upend the tech market in the coming year. If they don’t adapt quickly, even Microsoft and Apple could fall victim to the open-sourced Linux penguin and his little friends.
– Jason Ericson
1/15/2008 2:08:40 PM
If you’re like me, articles purporting to debunk common but mistaken beliefs will put you to sleep faster than a turkey dinner.
The problem is, despite of my commonly held belief, turkey doesn’t put people to sleep faster than many other foods. In fact, turkey doesn’t have any more tryptophan (the chemical blamed for post-turkey drowsiness) than several other, more common sources of animal protein. According to a new study produced by the Indiana University School of Medicine and reported by ScienceDaily, the belief that turkey is especially high in tryptophan is a myth, likely originating from the huge, exhausting feasts of which turkey is often a part.
The study’s authors looked at the tryptophan in turkey and six other common medical myths. The beliefs they studied are popular, not only among the general public but also among doctors—who often perpetuate such myths with the stamp of authority. Other myths busters include the following: people actually use more than 10 percent of their brains, hair and fingernails will not keep growing after death, and reading by low light will not permanently hurt people’s eyes.
Of course, the individual factoids are less interesting to me than in the larger lesson: doctors are susceptible to medical myths—just like everyone else.
1/15/2008 1:54:19 PM
Finally, news about a product from China that isn’t poisoning small children: Researchers have invented what’s being dubbed “super wine.” According to an article in the New Scientist, a new, genetically modified wine could help to increase lifespan. The wine is made from grapes containing six times the standard amount of resveratrol, a compound found in red wine that is thought to help stave off heart disease.
Consumers might not want to start buying super wine by the case, however. Some scientists doubt the benefits of resveratrol, David Biello writes for the Scientific American. Researchers maintain that humans would need to consume the compound in much higher doses than red wine, even the modified wine, can provide. And all health bets may disappear if the wine is paired with lead-based cheese.
1/15/2008 10:58:10 AM
Sitting on their hairy haunches, peering into a rousing fire, a pair of newly-evolved humans named Ugg and Ook munch thoughtfully on the raw flesh of a recent kill. Ugg accidentally drops a nugget of flesh into the fire, and grabs it as quickly as he can:
“Hey, Ook,” Ugg calls out to his dining companion. “This burnt meat actually tastes pretty good.”
“It’s good, yeah,” Ook says. “But what would you think about adding some cilantro salsa or a nice mango chutney? Maybe you could serve a little bit of red wine to wash it down?”
Since humanity’s first, stumbling attempts at cookery, people have been chemically altering food. Lately, a new branch of food preparation—known by the pretentious moniker “molecular gastronomy”—has begun to baffle and amuse diners with foodstuffs like fried mayonnaise, knotted foie gras, and foam. Writing for Discover Bruno Maddox explains that molecular gastronomy is the logical next step in the long relationship between cooking and science. In fact, cavemen like Ugg and Ook started to experiment with a kind of molecular gastronomy thousands of years ago.
“It’s a point so obvious one feels silly making it,” Maddox writes. “The relationship of cooking to Science is the same as that of engineering to Science: an intimacy that approaches identity.”
Molecular gastronomy simply pushes the envelope a little bit. Even when the food—all decked out in foam and gimmicks—doesn’t taste especially good, it’s something new. For all its pretentiousness, Maddox hopes that molecular gastronomy will make us think about our food in new ways, and continue Ook and Ugg’s important work.
1/14/2008 12:10:12 PM
Intimate details of peoples’ lives are freely available through the magic of Google. Many people post their names, email and street addresses, phone numbers, and photos to the internet, without much thought about it. According to a survey released last month by the Pew Internet & American Life Project, 60 percent of internet users aren’t worried about how much of their personal information is available online.
Teenagers and children are often accused of being too cavalier with the details of their lives, but the survey suggests that adults are even more open with their personal information. Among people with visible profiles on social networking sites, such as MySpace or Facebook, the study reports that teens “make more conservative choices with respect to visibility” than their adult counterparts. A full 61 percent of adults don’t try to limit how much information is available about them online, and only 38 percent said that they have taken action to limit that information.
“Of course, what amuses me is that adults are saying one thing and doing another,” writes social networking guru Danah Boyd on her blog. Adults are telling children to protect themselves online, and then not protecting their own information. That kind of “do as I say, not as I do” attitude could hinder a meaningful and nuanced view of privacy in both children and adults.
1/14/2008 10:17:03 AM
In the short YouTube clip below, well-known film director David Lynch (Twin Peaks, Blue Velvet) talks about the movie-watching experience you’ll get on an iPhone. It’s not a real iPhone commercial. It’s far more funny.
1/6/2008 12:33:09 PM
With so much information available on the internet, many people stick to websites they agree with. Liberals tend to read liberal blogs, and conservatives read conservative ones. Techies interact with other techies, and artists with other artists. If you want to see the new Michael Moore movie, Amazon.com or Netflix can suggest dozens of other anti-war, anti-corporate films. People can spend a lifetime surfing the web, and never have to confront a dissenting point of view.
This kind of filtering and self-selecting isn’t new, but it’s getting more extreme. “As a result of the Internet,” University of Chicago professor Cass R. Sunstein writes for the Chronicle of Higher Education, “we live increasingly in an era of enclaves and niches — much of it voluntary, much of it produced by those who think they know, and often do know, what we're likely to like.” These niches reinforce similar points of view, creating what Sunstein calls “enclave extremism.”
Extremism isn’t always a bad thing, according to Sunstein. Abolitionists and civil-rights activists were extremists in their time. Problems arise when the reinforced point of view is wrong. Global-warming deniers can find plenty of “evidence” on the internet that environmentalism is a fraud. Sunstein writes that a lack of dissent can also lead to “mutual suspicion, unjustified rage, and social fragmentation” if left unchecked.
1/5/2008 12:52:29 PM
Next time you find yourself at the White Castle drive-thru, ordering a beach ball-sized sack of slyders, don’t blame the midnight munchies. Blame evolution. Blame the monkey, hidden deep inside the mossy roots of your family tree, happily swinging through the jungle picking fruit. According to an article in LiveScience, it’s the monkey’s fault that humans are so easily influenced by fast-food commercials, bright neon signs, and colorful billboards.
Humans’ paternal primates relied on a specific set of skills and senses to survive in the wild. Many of those traits have been passed on to us. Some of the abilities we share with monkeys—seeing colors, perceiving three dimensions—are the same abilities that make us susceptible to even the simplest marketing ploys. Monkeys needed 3D vision to jump from tree to tree. In humans, seeing in three dimensions can make TV hamburgers look irresistible. Monkeys developed the ability to see colors, a trait that helped them judge the ripeness of fruit. Humans' ability to see colors can make stomachs grumble when they see the bright fruits and veggies in grocery-store ads. The article gives the impression that humans haven’t come very far as a species, especially when it comes to food.
1/5/2008 12:28:30 PM
High-powered telescopes can now peek at the origins of distant stars, but there’s still little we know about our own cosmic backyard. Take, for example, the outer solar system: the dark, comet-infested void beyond the planets. Writing for Space.com, Charles Q. Choi runs through some of the open questions surrounding the outer solar system.
One of Choi’s most intriguing unknowns is an area known as the Oort Cloud, a scattering of trillions of comets spinning in the far reaches of the solar system. It’s so far away from the sun that no human has ever actually see it, scientists have only inferred its existence. Some have hypothesized that the Oort Cloud was part of a “protoplanetary disk” that surrounded the sun some 4.6 billion years ago. Understanding the mysteries the cloud contains could give insight into the formation of our humble earth.
1/5/2008 11:42:18 AM
Robotics, in my view, is a science filled with empty promises. It’s the scientific equivalent of the Nintendo my dad promised me as a child: the one that never arrived. Robotics is filled with dreams of future mechanical companions: dancing, car-driving, fun-loving robot friends. In reality, scientists continue to focus on more practical robots to assist in assembly lines and kick hard-working Americans out of their jobs.
Despite the continual let-down, the Scientific American still reports that 2007 was a good year for robots. Alright, the robot that can play the violin is pretty cool. But a dancing, mechanical friend seems more important to me than a robot to perform surgeries in outer space.
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