Archive for: December, 2011

Friday Weird Science Repost: That MotherF**king HURTS.

Dec 30 2011 Published by under Friday Weird Science

Sci is off on vacation for a few days this time of year (to my credit, I really think I earned it). Unfortunately, on the VERY FIRST DAY, I went and took a massive fall (which is what happens when you go running with an inexperienced Golden Retriever, who is very sweet, and was VERY SORRY).

And as I was lying there on the ground, bleeding from various places (don't worry, it turned out very minor), all I could say was a string of various curses. Mostly out of sheer embarrassment, but also because I knew about this study, and I knew how to kill the pain! Stephens, Atkins, Kingston. "Swearing as a response to pain" NeuroReport, 2009.

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Books I've read this year, edition...4?

Dec 29 2011 Published by under Book Reviews

Wow. 4 years now of posting lists of my read books, in my eternal quest to become a well read (and hopefully well educated, though I suppose those don't always go together) person. At this point, I mostly post them to a) keep track of what I've read, cause I forget, and b) get recommendations from other people. I don't always get to take them, but I DO love recommendations!

So here we go. I got up to 37 books this year. I always aim for 30, so I'm feeling pretty proud.

And does anyone have and recommendations for next year?

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At SciAm today: Cocaine and the risky sexual habits of...Quail?

Dec 28 2011 Published by under Basic Science Posts, Synaptic Misfires

Sci is at SciAm today, talking about the latest "wastebook" a book released to point out "ridiculous" public spending, and which singled out many STEM projects this year, including one on cocaine...and risky sex habits in quail. At SciAm, I'll talk about why we need these research projects, and why pointing it out in a "wastebook" isn't going to change whether or not it is funded. Check it out!

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Recipe Day, Grad Student Eating in Style! Spinach Soup Edition

Dec 26 2011 Published by under Grad Student Eating in Style!

I haven't shared a cheap eating recipe in a long while. This is a sad thing. While Sci is no longer a starving grad student, I AM still a post-doc, and we don't get paid much better. And living in a Big Honkin' City is no financial treat, either. This recipe, which I snagged from my Mother in Law, is a really lovely vegetarian soup, warm and filly, and perfect for those long winter nights in the lab!

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Friday Weird Science GUEST POST: Sexy roach phermones and woodpeckers

Dec 23 2011 Published by under Friday Weird Science

Sci saw the PR announcement for this paper, and I TOTALLY wanted to cover it. Unfortunately, I was prevented by severe Katsaridaphobia. Luckily, I contacted the Fantastic Bug_Girl, who was VERY pleased to take this on for me! Many kudos to Bug_Girl, esp since I only had to start freaking out when I uploaded the photos. 🙂 And make sure to stay to the end for an ENTOMOLOGICAL CHRISTMAS CAROL!!!

Most humans–and I include quite a few entomologists in that category–love to hate roaches. This is a sad thing, because the vast majority of roaches never set foot (feet?) in a kitchen. The few species that tap-dance around in your sugar bowl are just a tiny piece of a huge spectrum of amazing roachy biodiversity in the world.

Over 99% of all roach species are innocent soil and forest dwellers, and are important for ecosystem functioning. Some of them can leap like grasshoppers. Some of them can run 4 times faster than a cheetah (well, in terms of body lengths traveled per second, anyway.) The group of insects with the highest frequency of parental care? Roaches. One estimate puts roaches at 24% of all arthropod biomass in tree canopies, and 43% of arthropod biomass in alluvial forests. There are a LOT of roaches in the world, and you’ve never seen or heard of most of them. H. E. Evans may have said it best:

“The study of roaches may lack the aesthetic values of bird-watching and the glamour of space flight, but nonetheless it would seem to be one of the more worthwhile of human activities.” [Life on a Little Known Planet]

This week a new paper came out that highlights the importance of roaches to an animal we have kinder feelings about:

The red cockaded Woodpecker

Unusual macrocyclic lactone sex pheromone of Parcoblatta lata, a primary food source of the endangered red-cockaded woodpecker. Eliyahu et. al PNAS Dec. 19 2011

The red-cockaded woodpecker is an adorable little bird that lives in old pine forests. Historically their range covered much of the eastern US, but these days they are down to remnant populations in the southern US, and they’ve been listed as an endangered species since 1970.

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The only thing birds have to fear is fear itself

Dec 21 2011 Published by under Evolution, Natural Sciences, Uncategorized

Well, at least, the only thing THESE birds have to fear is fear itself.

This is one of those studies that, when you lay it out, seems really...simple. Clear layout. Clear results. But it challenges a lot of the things that we once assumed about predator:prey relationships. Most particularly, it overturns the idea that the only thing making prey die from predation is the predators themselves.

This seems really simple, right? Fox eats bunny, lots of foxes mean the bunny population declines. Just foxes being AROUND bunnies (but eating, say, SmartOnes meals or something), well the bunnies wouldn't get eaten and the prey population would stay the same or even increase. Right?

Well...wrong. It turns out that sometimes what the prey population has to fear, is FEAR of predation itself.

Zanette et al. "Perceived Predation Risk Reduces the Number of Offspring Songbirds Produce per Year" Science, 2011.

(this is a full video by the authors, showing the results of their finding! Wish more people could do this!)

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Comfort might be most comforting, if you've got an oxytocin receptor gene

Dec 19 2011 Published by under Behavioral Neuro

Sci is over at Scientific American today, talking about a new study in PNAS on ocytocin receptor gene variants and how people respond to social stress. And it turns out only some people may respond best when their friends are around. It's a very cool study, go check it out!

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Friday Weird Science: The Erection of the Ostrich

Dec 16 2011 Published by under Friday Weird Science, Uncategorized

I saw this last week, and while the world may have moved on, I CANNOT let the ostrich penis rest. So now it is time to talk about the ostrich, and about the head of the ostrich that never gets buried in the sand, if you know what I mean. I mean, the debate was CONTENTIOUS. WHAT was keeping those ostriches HARD? The world needs to know! Blood or lymph, blood or lymph, we need a study that will put this debate to bed (as it were). And now, a study has come! (You see that I did there). So of course I had to cover it. While other places have talked about the study, I felt they missed a couple of points (there are photos of EMU PENISES AND OMG THEY ARE WEIRD), and they missed something else. This MASSIVELY quote-worthy. Just you wait.

P. L. R. Brennan & R. O. Prum. "The erection mechanism of the ratite penis" Journal of Zoology, 2011.

(pictures below the fold NSFW. Well, if you know what you're looking at, anyway)

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Do you love Science? Well, that depends, do you like sleep?

Dec 15 2011 Published by under Academia, Uncategorized

In the wrapup of the recent Nobel ceremonies (always much less feted than the actual announcement of the winners, but there you go), there was a panel, talking to young scientists, from Nobel Prize winners, about what it takes to succeed (or at least to end up as a Nobel Prize winner).

A write up at Scientific American on the panel is here. I have to say I was...kind of dismayed. What caused my dismay is what the Nobel Laureates had to say about being successful in science. Some choice quotes below the fold, but my general impression made award winning science look like this:


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Dec 14 2011 Published by under Behavioral Neuro

Every time I do a post on ANYTHING concerning space, I have to reference this:

Also, I have to put in a plug for Mary Roach's Packing for Mars, which is the weird science of space. It's awesome. There's POOP in space, you guys.

Anyway. Gravity, or the lack thereof, changes a lot of things about the way we live. How hard our hearts work, our bone and muscle conditioning, changes in hormones, not to mention the motion sickness. But the question here was...what about pain? Conditions which simulate microgravity may affect cognitive function (though results on whether it actually does are mixed), and this may in turn affect how we process things like pain.

And how do you study something like this? Put a bunch of guys in beds, and point their heads at the floor.

(What, you thought we'd do this in space? Funding is tight you know! Source)

Spironelli and Angrilli. "Influence of Body Position on Cortical Pain-Related Somatosensory Processing: An ERP Study" PLoS ONE, 2011.

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