Archive for the 'General science' category

ResearchBlogging editor's selections: snails do it anti-chirally, the Tasmanian fish mystery, and an amateur impact hypothesis

Aug 16 2010 Published by under [Etc], General science, Science news

skyskull "Dr. SkySkull" selects several notable posts each week from a miscellany of categories. He blogs at Skulls in the Stars.

Late posting of editor's selections this week -- life's events, including an emergency vet trip with a sick kitty (she's fine) -- delayed things!

  • Some snails prefer doing it anti-chiral. In our bawdiest post of the week, Kevin Zelnio of The Online Laboratory of Kevin Zelnio talk a bit about how snails procreate -- it turns out that one species of snail prefers to find mates that have shells that twist opposite to their own! *gasp!*
  • Why did the Tasmanians stop eating fish? Who doesn't love a mystery?  In an intriguing post, Greg Laden of his eponymous blog investigates what happened when early human inhabitants of islands were slowly cut off from the mainland by changing sea conditions.  The connection to fish eating is explained!
  • Amateur impact hypothesis makes it into major archaeology journal. Does an ancient Greek legend refer to a massive meteor strike in antiquity?  Martin Rundkvist of Aardvarchaeology looks at a recent paper making the case, and argues that the evidence isn't really what it's cracked up to be.

That's it for this week!  Next Monday, I'll hopefully be back on schedule!

No responses yet

The Giant's Shoulders #26, "Fools, failures and frauds" edition, is out!

Aug 16 2010 Published by under [Etc], General science, Science news

Hear ye, hear ye -- the 26th edition of The Giant's Shoulders, labeled the "Fools, failures and frauds" special edition, is available for perusal at Neurotic Physiology!  In this edition of the carnival we take a special look at those who committed scientific fraud, who performed experiments that failed, and folks who were just plain wrong and/or crazy!  Thanks to Scicurious for putting together a most excellent edition of the carnival!

The next edition of the carnival will be held at Entertaining Research, and the deadline for entries is September 15th.  Entries can be submitted through or directly to the host blog, as usual!

No responses yet

ResearchBlogging editor's selections: Chemistry extravaganza!

Aug 09 2010 Published by under [Etc], General science, Science news

skyskull "Dr. SkySkull" selects several notable posts each week from a miscellany of categories. He blogs at Skulls in the Stars.

This week's set of editor's selections is a "chemistry extravaganza"! The posts that jumped out at me were heavily focused on the science and techniques of chemistry. Enjoy!

  • Determining the structure by looking at the molecule. Anyone who has taken at least high school chemistry knows that determining the structural properties of a molecule is a very difficult process. Now, as Lars Fischer of EuCheMS 2010 Blog reports, researchers have been able to use atomic force microscopy to directly image individual molecules!
  • How bacteria help create dinosaur fossils. Fossilization has traditionally been treated as a purely chemical process: bone is replaced gradually by mineral. However, recent research suggests that bacteria may actually play a crucial role in the formation of such fossils; Brian Switek of Dinosaur Tracking reports.
  • A simplified yet quantitative model for macromolecular crowding. Research into biological processes such as protein folding are often done with the proteins in solution; however, the interior of cells are crowded with stuff and that crowding effects what can and will happen. Michael Long of Phased reports on new simulations designed to understand such crowding.
  • Foldit: Innovative biology for gamers and Humans beat computers in predicting protein structures. Speaking of protein folding, here we have two different reports on a novel technique for studying the phenomenon! It has become somewhat commonplace to use crowdsourcing to help researchers tackle complex problems. However, Grrlscientist of This Scientific Life and the eponymous The Curious Wavefunction report on a new strategy: making protein-folding research into a video game!

Check back next week for more "miscellaneous" suggestions!

2 responses so far

ResearchBlogging editor's selections: Phytoliths, Hubble bubbles, computer-generated hypotheses, and plasma shields

Aug 02 2010 Published by under [Etc], General science, Science news

skyskull "Dr. SkySkull" selects several notable posts each week from a miscellany of categories. He blogs at Skulls in the Stars.

  • Past lives caught in the dust of trees. Alun at AlunSalt describes a little-discussed botanical and archaeobotanical phenomenon called phytoliths. This dust, formed in the interior of some living plants, can form a valuable record of a region's botanical history.
  • Hubble bubble. The eponymous The Astronomist explains the concept of a "Hubble bubble" -- an alternative interpretation of phenomena typically linked to dark energy -- and explains why this hypothesis is unlikely to be true.
  • Can computers help scientists with their reading? Every scientist out there knows that the flood of new publications is impossible to keep up with, and is in general overwhelming! Rob Mitchum of ScienceLife describes a proposal to not only use computers to sort through the torrent of results, but pinpoint new hypotheses and identify large-scale patterns that would otherwise be overlooked.
  • Force fields and plasma shields. We've seen lots of science fiction ideas become reality over the past 100 years, but one that has not been realized is the "force field". Is it possible to make a force field or plasma shield with today's science? In an entertaining post, Ryan Anderson of The Science of Starcraft looks at what might work... and what has been proposed already!

Check back next Monday for more "miscellaneous" selections!

No responses yet

Weird science facts, March 14-March 27

Jul 28 2010 Published by under General science

Several months ago, I started a "tag" on Twitter called #weirdscifacts, in which I am chronicling in short form various little oddities about the people, events, and phenomena of science.  I've vowed to do these facts daily for a full year, and I'm 130 in already!

Unfortunately, I didn't realize when I started that Twitter doesn't allow tag searches beyond the most recent week!  The only way to currently view my earlier facts on Twitter directly is to rummage through my entire set of Tweets, a tedious proposition.  So I've decided to post the week's #weirdscifacts here every Wednesday, though I'll do two weeks at a time until I catch up.

My #weirdscifacts are short blurbs that are intended to encourage people to investigate further.  Since I have more space on the blog, I'll fill in a little more context when it will help understand the topic.

See the week's facts below the fold!

Continue Reading »

2 responses so far

ResearchBlogging editor's selections: WEIRD science, copycat suicides, square quantum mechanics, nanophobia and Mars' oceans

Jul 26 2010 Published by under General science, Science news

  • Are most experimental subjects in behavioral science WEIRD? "Weird" here is an acronym, but also reflects the idea that the representative samples in behavioral science aren't really that representative of humanity as a whole.  Michael Meadon of Ionian Enchantment discusses the research related to this intriguing observation, and its implications.
  • The Media Noose: Copycat Suicides and Social Learning. We've all heard of "copycat crimes" before, but it had certainly never occurred to me that they could be a source of cultural study!  At A Replicated Typo 2.0, wintz looks at research into copycat suicides, and the media's role in the phenomenon.
  • Quantum Mechanics Is Square: "Ruling Out Multi-Order Interference in Quantum Mechanics". A new test of quantum mechanics has come back with a negative result, but an important one.  Chad Orzel at Uncertain Principles explains the research and why you should find it interesting.
  • Just say no to sunscreen nanophobia! Aaah! Nanoscience!  In recent years there has been an increasing, and often unjustified, fear of nanotechnology the public's eye (I partly blame Michael Crichton).  At sciencebase, David Bradley looks at the recent hysteria regarding nanoparticles in sunscreen, and explains why the panic is overblown.
  • New Evidence for an Ocean on Mars? A recent paper suggests that evidence for former oceans on Mars has been right there in front of us all the time!  Ryan at The Martian Chronicles describes the details.

Finally, for those who deal with reviewing for journals, a new proposal to make the process work better -- "privatizing" the reviewer commons!  jebyrnes at I'm a chordata, urochordata! explains the details, and links to a petition!

Check back next Monday!

One response so far

Release the kraken! (1790)

Jul 24 2010 Published by under General science, History of science

This is a science topic that isn't really my field, but it's just so charming that I had to post about it.  While browsing through the Transactions of the Royal Society of Edinburgh from 1790, I found a note titled, "letter relative to the kraken", which describes an alleged sighting of the beast!  I quote the short note in full:

At the same Meeting, a letter was read from John Ramsay L'Amy, Esq; one of the Justices of Peace for the county of Forfar, and Mr. John Guild, one of the Magistrates of Dundee, inclosing an affidavit made before them, of Jens Anderson, master, and Mads Jenson, mate of a Norwegian ship, relating to the appearance of a supposed kraken or sea-worm, on Sunday, August 5. 1786. about 15 leagues to the eastward of the coast of Scotland, in north latitude 56.16.  The appearance was that of three low islands or sand-banks of a grayish colour, within less than a mile's distance from the ship, and extending about three miles from the one extremity to the other.  It remained in sight about fifty minutes, and upon the springing up of a breeze, gradually sunk into the water.  The account contains no further particulars worthy of notice, and is perfectly consistent with the idea of this being nothing more than a fog-bank, of which the appearances are familiar to mariners.

Today, it is generally recognized that the legend of the kraken was inspired by actual sightings of the giant squid, genus Architeuthis, a deep ocean cephalopod that can reach over 40 feet in total length!  Giant squid are one of those rare natural phenomena that were widely believed in long before they were formally recognized by the scientific community (another example is the phenomenon of freak waves, which I discussed in a recent post).

Formal recognition of the giant squid only seems to have began in the mid-1800s, with the recovery of a partial carcass by the French warship Alecton in 1861, the characterization and naming of the species by Japetus Steenstrup in the 1850s, and a mass beaching that occurred in Newfoundland between 1870 and 1880 that provided many specimens.  It is not surprising, then, to see that the Royal Society of Edinburgh was skeptical of the 1786 sighting described above.

At least in this case, though, the Society was right to be skeptical -- whatever the mariners saw on their voyage, they certainly didn't see a 3-mile long giant squid!  It is somewhat odd to think that they simply saw a fog bank, however, as the Society itself notes, "of which the appearances are familiar to mariners."

I have no other comment about this letter, other than to say again that one can find really interesting stuff by browsing the old scientific journals!


"Letter relative to the kraken," Trans. Roy. Soc. Edinburgh 2 (1790), 16-17.

5 responses so far

ResearchBlogging editor's selections: why no wheels?, GADZOOKS!, butterfly faces and gravity's existence

Jul 19 2010 Published by under General science, Science news

Check back next week for more "miscellaneous" suggestions!

9 responses so far

The Giant's Shoulders #25, 2nd anniversary edition, is out!

Jul 16 2010 Published by under General science, Science news

The Giant's Shoulders #25 is officially out at The Dispersal of Darwin, and it marks the two year anniversary since the first carnival!  In honor of it, Michael has put together a truly massive list of posts for the month, celebrating the history of science -- many thanks to him for assembling it!  If you follow me on Twitter, I'll try and post some links to highlights from the carnival throughout the day, even though everything is worth reading!

The next month's edition will be hosted by Scicurious at Are You Scicurious? It will also be a special event, as we have dubbed it to be a special "fools, failures, and frauds" edition -- it's time to commemorate the history of those scientific discoveries that didn't work out as intended!  Though all entries on the history of science will still be accepted, consider submitting a history of science post that describes (a) some really stupid or crazy scientific research (or researchers), (b) research that didn't work out as intended or expected, (c) research that was completely fraudulent.  I'll have more to say about this special edition in the next few days, as well as a few other bits of news.

Entries can be submitted through or directly to the host blog, as usual!

3 responses so far

ResearchBlogging editor's selections: International romance, sluggish T-rex, double rainbows and World Cup excuses

Jul 12 2010 Published by under General science, Science news

It was, perhaps not surprisingly, a relatively quiet week in research blogging, but there were still lots of great posts!

  • Men, English, and international romance. We begin this week with a post about international relationships, specifically of Japanese folks with foreigners.  There's been a lot of attention paid to Japanese women with foreign men, but what about the reverse?  In an amusing post, Lachlan of Language on the Move looks at some of the cultural aspects.
  • Tyrannosaurus didn't have the nerve to run fast. Those scared to death by the t-rex in Jurassic Park can breathe a sigh of relief -- recent research suggests that the "tyrant lizard" couldn't move nearly as fast as depicted.  Brian Switek of Dinosaur Tracking explains the reassuring details.
  • The science of double rainbows (OMG, what does this mean?). Everyone loves to see a rainbow, but we feel doubly blessed when we see a double rainbow.   How do such rainbows form?  Westius of Mr. Science Show explains the physics.
  • Top ten excuses for World Cup losers (with citations). Finally, in honor of the recently-concluded World Cup, Duncan of O'Really? gives us the top ten excuses for failure -- and the scientific citations that back them up!

Check back next Monday for more miscellaneous selections!

No responses yet

« Newer posts Older posts »