Archive for: July, 2011

Friday Weird Science: Knights in Shining Armor, Not as sexy as you might think

Jul 29 2011 Published by under Friday Weird Science, Uncategorized

This new article has gained substantial attention on the interwebs, and who can blame us? After all, knights, shining armor, it's what lots of people like to pretend to be (or pretend to be rescued by, goes both ways).

Picture it if you would: a damsel in distress, inches from death in the maw of a GIANT DRAGON, she shrieks for help!! Suddenly, over a ridge appears the pennant of a shining knight on horseback!! He draws his sword and gallops to her rescue...

...and then he gets close enough to smell. The severe BO emanating off his frame frightens off the poor hyperosmic dragon. He approaches the damsel, now swooning from more than just fear, and rips off his helmet, to reveal a face completely dripping with sweat...

Awwww c'mon, aren't you totally romanced??

Because you know, all that armor may look very romantic, but it's not exactly the lightest. And the question then becomes: how hard is it to carry?
(Image of a man in full armor. DID he in fact die on the field of battle or of illness? Or was it from heat and exhaustion in all that metal?)

Askew et al. "Limitations imposed by wearing armour on Medieval soldiers’ locomotor performance" Proceedings of the Royal Society B, 2011

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Concerned about your vole's amphetamine habit? Get them a wife!

Jul 27 2011 Published by under Addiction, Neuroscience, Physiology/Pharmacology

Sci's been meaning to cover this paper for a while, honestly. There is really so much to blog and so little time, you know? I saw this paper make a minor splash when it came out back in June, and I've been wanting to read it myself. And what better way to really READ a paper than to blog it?

So let me introduce the subject of today's paper, the monogamous prairie vole.


The prairie vole is kind of a darling of the research vole. I mean, it's got nothing on mus musculus, but we do tend to like our voles. They're monogamous! Isn't that sweet! It's cute and easy to breed, and...monogamous! Really, that's the defining feature that makes them interesting, because there really are relatively few species out there other than primates that ARE monogamous. Only 3% of mammals, in fact. So some research has gone in to what it is that MAKES them monogamous, especially when compared to their extremely close cousins the mountain voles.

And then of course, once you've got through all the monogamy issues with the oxytocin and the vasopressin, you start to look at other aspects of this rare kind of social behavior. Things that can be affected by it and things that can affect it.

Things like drugs.

Liu et al. "Social Bonding Decreases the Rewarding Properties of Amphetamine through a Dopamine D1 Receptor-Mediated Mechanism" J. Neuroscience, 2011.

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Sci at SciAm: Wicked Bugs!

Jul 25 2011 Published by under Uncategorized

Make sure to check out my post at SciAm today, on "wicked bugs: the louse that conquered Napoleon's army and other diabolical insects". It's a fun read (though unsettling at points, and those sparrow wasps we SCARY), and I got to ask the author a few questions! Head over and check it out!

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On the Issue of Pseudonymity

Jul 24 2011 Published by under Synaptic Misfires

Honestly, I feel like I write this post every year. Or at least discuss writing it every year. Usually other people say what I think much better on these issues than I do. And yet, every time, I hear from people, via Twitter, Email, etc, saying I should join under my Real Name. That what I have to say is less valid, less useful, and I suppose, less interesting under "Scicurious" than it is under my Real Identity. And how using a pseudonym means I am untrustworthy, possibly a troll, and for all they know could mean I'm actually a cat whacking the keyboard rhythmically with its paws (which, hey, it's true, you've outed me now).

(I'm pretty cute, yeah?)

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54 responses so far

Friday Weird Science: The Lion Eats Tonight

Jul 22 2011 Published by under Friday Weird Science

A weemahway, A weemahway...

You think too hard about this paper, you'll get this song in your head for the next few days. Don't say I didn't warn you.

Humans. We have a lot of fears, many of them somewhat justified. Heights, spiders, the scream mask. The dark. In Westernized countries a lot of these things are antiquated notions relegated to cheap horror movies with basically no relevance in the real world.

But what if some of our fears, some of the things we built stories on, DID come from something real? What if all of our strange superstitions about the full moon (werewolves, insomnia, insanity, loads of rumors about disease), were actually based in something?

And what if that something was lions!?

(Having never been up close and personal with a lion, my usual response is "awwww, big kitty!" But keep in mind that kitty isn't going to give you little love nips on the ends of your fingers.)

Packer et al. "Fear of Darkness, the Full Moon and the Nocturnal Ecology of African Lions" PLoS ONE, 2011.

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Sci goes to Japan, Part the...Last.

Jul 21 2011 Published by under Synaptic Misfires, Uncategorized

Because I can't remember what part we're on. But this is the LAST, I promise! Sorry it took so long, photo sharing issues plus other things like jetlag. 🙂

Day 9: Back to Tokyo!

We had a little time before we went back to Tokyo in the morning, and so we headed off to the To-ji temple, Japan's largest pagoda. It's got this thin multilayered spire on the top, and you can't help but wonder if they put those last inches there to get that "tallest pagoda in Japan" heading). No pictures are allowed inside the temple complex, but there are beautiful gold Buddhas and temple guardians inside. I also looked a little closer and noticed, on the gold painted Buddhas, that a lot of them have thin mustaches painted on. Not like graffiti, like Buddha, in Japanese tradition, had a mustache. Hey, you never know.

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You ARE what you eat. At least, your brain is. Anyone surprised?

Jul 20 2011 Published by under Behavioral Neuro, Neuroscience

A tweet via @Vaughnbell yesterday shared this paper, and I just couldn't let it go by. Sigh. So very much to blog, so very little time.

I don't know how you all feel about breakfast, but for Sci, it's a little essential. I NEED it. If I don't get breakfast by 10am I am a ravening hunger beast appeased only by large amounts of coffee and Snickers. In fact, even WITH breakfast this happens. There's just no way to really be sure.

I wasn't always this way. In fact, in middle school and high school, you were lucky if I also ate LUNCH. No breakfast, no lunch. Yeah, by the end of the day I often had no energy, was grumpy, and no fun to be around. But I was also a teenager, so I have to figure most people didn't notice anything. 🙂 In fact, it wasn't until grad school that I began to really comprehend the importance of having something with the coffee in the morning. It made me feel better, gave me higher energy...and it even made me a little sharper.

But now I look back upon my breakfast-less ways with suspicion. Could they have hurt more than my energy? Could I have missed out on something important?! Was a little lady-Einstein just SITTING in my head waiting to get out, and I will never know because my breakfast...CHANGED MY BRAIN?

Taki et al. "Breakfast Staple Types Affect Brain Gray Matter Volume and Cognitive Function in Healthy Children" PLoS ONE. 2011.


I think we've heard this one before.

(Source. Used under Creative Commons License)

(Also, I'd like to all to know that Sci ate breakfast as she read this paper. Just in case, you know.)

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Sci is at SciAm today!

Jul 18 2011 Published by under Behavioral Neuro

Today being Monday, Sci will be over at her Sci Am blog, expounding today on the latest paper about coffee. I mean, what ELSE?!


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Sci goes to Japan, Part the Fourth

Jul 16 2011 Published by under Synaptic Misfires, Uncategorized

We are now at the fourth part in the series in which Sci and Mr. S went to Japan. And I've got more photos, and MOAR weird foods!!

We headed to Kyoto in the morning, using the famous Shinkansen: the bullet train! This is a very good thing. You can take a normal train from Tokyo to Kyoto, but I hope you brought a lot of reading...because it takes 9 hours. But on the bullet train, what took 9 hours now takes THREE.

Also, bullet trains have funny noses.

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Friday Weird Science: They totally knew Lady Gaga was coming.

Jul 15 2011 Published by under Friday Weird Science

One of my favorite types of posts is the type where I get to throw in a ton of music links. This one is no exception. Put on your headphones!

I saw this paper covered in an article on Jezebel before I left for vacation, and there just wasn't time to cover it then. The basic idea is that the author of today's study used fMRI on a bunch of teenagers (for a study on peer pressure). He used some random music from undiscovered bands for a random part of the study. Imagine his surprise when, a few years later, he hears a song, and it sounds oddly familiar. It's a song from his study! Specifically, this song:

And so the author went back to his old data. Rather than looking for brain activation correlated with peer pressure, however, he looked at the reaction to the music clips themselves. He found a correlation between brain activation and music that went on to become popular. And the authors concluded that this means brain scans could be used to identify new hit songs.

And I'll be honest that I don't think he's wrong, I think we can identify new hit songs before they ever go to market. But I don't think we need a frakkin' expensive fMRI to do it.

Berns and Moore. "A neural predictor of cultural popularity" Journal of Consumer Psychology, 2011.

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