Archive for: September, 2012

Sunday Funny: Howlin' at the moon

Sep 30 2012 Published by under Sunday Funnies, Synaptic Misfires

Humans don't do it, but we surely BELIEVE that we do.

Today's Sunday Funny comes to you courtesy of Keith Laws and a tweet I saw. Presented with eyerolling and the muttered comment "people are stupid".

Psychol Rep. 1995 Feb;76(1):32-4.
Belief in lunar effects on human behavior.
Vance DE.

University of New Orleans.

Questionnaires sent to 325 people indicated that 140 people (43%) held the personal belief that lunar phenomena alter individual behavior. Specifically, mental health professionals (social workers, master's clinical psychologists, nurses' aides, LPNs) held this belief more strongly than other occupational groups.


6 responses so far

The Ignobels continue: chimp butts and coffee and green hair, oh my!

Sep 28 2012 Published by under Friday Weird Science

Sci has been blogging up at a storm over at SciAm Blogs, talking about this year's IgNobel prize winners!! Make sure to check out the coverage of chimps who can recognize other chimps by their butts, the town that had green hair, and the fluid dynamics of why your coffee won't stop freakin' spilling when you walk. And there will be MORE! OH YES. There are a lot of Ignobel prizes and I've got at least two more to go! Stay tuned!

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Make sure to check out the WINNERS of the 2012 IGNOBEL PRIZES!

Sep 25 2012 Published by under Friday Weird Science

Sci has been blogging up a storm over at SciAm Blogs, talking about this year's IgNobel Prize winners! It was a great ceremony and a really fun time, and now I'm blogging each and every winner, from the people who use old ammunition to make diamonds, the people who wrote the reports on the reports and concluded that more reports are needed, the invention of the speechjammer, leaning to the left to make number estimates go down, and now, the the famous (and infamous) study of the dead salmon in the fMRI. It's hilarity and it's SCIENCE! Head over and check it out!

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Sunday Funny: Is your pyramid correctly aligned?

Sep 23 2012 Published by under Sunday Funnies

This week's Sunday Funny brought to you by Biochembelle. Given the one two weeks ago, I'm starting to wonder why on earth she knows QUITE so much about pyramid alignment. 🙂

Presented with eyerolling.

Indian J Exp Biol. 2007 May;45(5):455-8.
Influence of alignment of the pyramid on its beneficial effects.
Bhat S, Rao G, Murthy KD, Bhat PG.

Department of Biochemistry, Melaka Manipal Medical College, International Centre for Health Sciences, Manipal 576 104, India.

The present study was aimed to find out whether a change in the alignment of the pyramid from the north-south axis causes any variation in the effects produced by it on plasma cortisol levels and markers of oxidative stress in erythrocytes of adult-female Wistar rats. Plasma cortisol and erythrocyte TBARS levels were significantly lower whereas erythrocyte GSH was significantly higher in rats kept in pyramid that was aligned on the four cardinal points--north, east, south and west, as compared to normal control rats. Although there was a significant difference in the plasma cortisol level between normal control group and the group of rats kept in randomly aligned pyramid, there was no significant difference between these two groups for the other parameters. Erythrocyte TBARS levels in the group of rats kept in the randomly aligned pyramid was significantly higher than that in the group kept in the magnetically aligned pyramid. The results suggest that the north-south alignment of the pyramid is crucial for its expected effects.


I always wondered why I was so stressed. Obviously I have been misaligning my pyramids due to their northeasterly orientation.

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The 22nd 1st Annual IGNOBEL PRIZES!!

Sep 21 2012 Published by under Friday Weird Science

Yes! Sci was in Boston last night (wish I could stay, but I am like a ninja. A ninja of SCIENCE) for the 2012 IGNOBEL PRIZES! It was a super fun ceremony this year, with the usual paper airplane throwing, moments of science, and someone describing the whole of the universe using balloons and pie. That part was particularly awesome.

As for the winners, these are some well earned prizes, and Sci is over at Scientific American Blogs with a full list, a livestream, AND NOW...the full blogging of the Ignobels will begin. Yup! I got to chat with all the winners (except for the Medicine Prize, those guys eluded me, which might be good, their prize sounded...explosive), and I'll be blogging each of the prizes and the papers that earned them, so keep an eye on the blog and stay tuned! It's going to be a wild week!

2 responses so far

The Sports Psychology of Academia: Playing the Game and Staying Sane

Sep 19 2012 Published by under Academia

Kate Clancy has another excellent post up at Context and Variation. This one is on the idea of using sports psychology to help yourself function in academia.

Go read it. Then come back. 🙂

I like this idea very much. In particular, I really like the idea of deliberately separating out what you can and cannot control in your academic life, and using that knowledge to work on the things you can, and trying to let go of the things you can't.

I think it's an important idea to try and think this way. I often hear about or go to seminars on "mentorship", or "getting ahead in academia", or "maximizing your networking potential". A lot of these seminars are helpful, but a lot of them also actually depend on you having a good beginning position in the first place. "Getting ahead in academia" seminars often assume that you have already worked with some well known people and are already well published and funded. "Mentorship" seminars or "networking" seminars often assume that you are working with people who want to mentor you, or actively work to help you network, or heck, even successful social skills. And if you look around at those seminars, and you do NOT feel as poised and prepared as the others around you...well you start to wonder if this is all your fault.

And once you start to wonder if it's all your fault that you don't already have a paper in Nature, a K99, a new technique you invented, and Nobel laureates asking to collaborate, well, forging ahead and pursuing the career you want can begin to seem like a dim chance.

This is why I like Kate's analogy of looking at how you deal with these problems in sports: divide things up. Determine what you can control, and what you can't. That list of what you can't control? Try to minimize it, or stress about it less. And then bust your butt on the things you CAN control.

When I go running, I cannot control the weather. I can't control the crowds on race day. I can't control the fact that I have a bad knee that gets me down.

But I can control how much I train. I can control what I eat beforehand, I can carry my own water and dress for the weather. I can control how I add weight training and work on building muscle to make up for my bad knee. I can make the most of what I have, and with it, achieve to the best of my ability.

I was forced to think of this recently. I ran a really bad race. And in the end, it was mostly my fault. The weather was great, the crowds were good, I had water and everything I needed. But I did not TRAIN.

And as I sit here now icing both my knees, I try to focus on that. I didn't train. I'm not going to dwell on what that last 2 miles felt like when I tried to speed up and nothing happened. But training? That is something within my control. I'm going to get back up (as soon as my knees will let me), and I'm going to start training again.

But somehow, I rarely think of the things that are IN my control when life gets me down in science. And isn't it about time we tried?

So here we go.

Things I cannot control in my academic career:

  • Other people's priorities, including those of my boss or my previous bosses
  • Other people I am competing against for grants for publications
  • The current grant climate and what determines it
  • The people I will applying to for academic positions
  • Problems with laboratory supplies or just bad luck.

Of course these are the most general things I cannot control and there are more specific instances for all of these. I can't control whether the colleagues that I am currently working with have our shared manuscript as their top priority. I cannot control the fact that paylines for grants are below 10%. I cannot control whether open positions at universities want someone who is most certainly not me.

But now we come to the better, more optimistic question.

What can I control:

  • My priorities and goals, experimental, methodological, funding, political, and career-wise
  • My attitude
  • My actions

For example: I cannot control whether my current colleagues have our shared papers as their priorities. But I can control how I choose my future collaborations and colleagues, whether I seek out work with people who are like the current people I work with, or whether I search for a set of collaborators that may have a different way of working. I cannot control the paylines, but I can control which and whether I apply for the grants, and I can make my own grant proposals as watertight as possible. I cannot control the things that people may say about my papers, but I can try to make logical arguments and create a clear explanation with my data. I cannot control what people are looking for when they have a job ad, but I can control how I present myself and carefully tailor my applications. And perhaps most importantly, I can control my attitude and actions. I can get up and try again. I can work to become the best at what I do in my tiny slice of the science world. I can keep trying to do what I need to do to achieve my own goals.

Thinking like this can help me to maintain a positive attitude about my career (even though being a trainee can seem awfully powerless sometimes). When the things I cannot control get me down, I can try to focus on what I can control to help myself recover, move on, and get as far ahead as I can, or adjust my own goals and priorities to make sure I end up happy with my science and where I end up.

This is more than just thinking positive. This is focusing on what you can do to mitigate problems. This is working hard to position yourself well. This is learning from your mistakes (something you do a lot of in science) and changing your behavior going forward. This is defining your priorities and researching how to get where you want to be.

So, has anyone else tried this? Has it worked for you? What are some of the things you cannot control, and some of the things that you can? I'm interested to hear what you think.

7 responses so far

At SciAm blogs today: orexin and binge eating rats

Sep 17 2012 Published by under Behavioral Neuro

Sci is at SciAm blogs today, talking about a new study on orexin and binge eating in rats. Orexin is a newish neurotransmitter with a couple of interesting behavioral effects, one of which is on appetite. It's an interesting study and it's nice to see a 'new' molecule pick up steam. Head over and check it out.

One response so far

Sunday Funny: that avocado is going RIGHT to your cervix

Sep 16 2012 Published by under Synaptic Misfires

Presented with eyerolling, from my Facebook feed:

I don't know about you, but every time I eat an eggplant, all I can think is "man, this is just going STRAIGHT to my cervix".

4 responses so far

Friday Weird Science: The physics of the strapless evening gown

Sep 14 2012 Published by under Friday Weird Science

Today's Friday Weird Science comes to you courtesy of Marc Abrahams, the founder of the IgNobel Prizes (which I'm going to next week! So excited!!). The study was featured in his new book, This is Improbable, and Marc was kind enough to send me a copy of this paper when I asked about it. (Ok, honestly, Marc has sent me a freakin' AVALANCHE of papers...because there were just that many awesome ones. And those were only the first 40 pages of the book! Marc Abrahams will be the official patron saint of weird science for the next year at least. Worship him, ye masses).

I didn't even have to come up with a fun title for this one!

Charles E. Siem "A Stress Analysis of a Strapless Evening Gown" (last edited online 7/2010).


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25 responses so far

A predator that's cool will pressure fish to school

Sep 12 2012 Published by under Evolution, Uncategorized

Sings: *but that's why birds do it, bees do it, little fishies in the seeeeeas do it, let's do it...*

Let's come together. Into groups, schools, herds, flocks. Prey animals all over the world do it.

We know why prey animals tend to clump together. More animals means more eyes to spot predators. More animals means if the predator gets someone, it's less likely to be you. More animals means that the predator could get confused by so many bodies and miss entirely.

Those are the general reasons why prey animals hang together. But when they do hang together, such as when fish school, they also tend to MOVE together. It's not just a group of fish milling around, the fish group into clumps and move in coordinated patterns. Since so many species do it, we assume this has an evolutionary advantage, but we had no direct proof of this.

Until the authors of this paper decided to frustrate the heck out of some bluegill sunfish.


C. C. Ioannou, V. Guttal, I. D. Couzin. "Predatory Fish Select for Coordinated Collective Motion in Virtual Prey" Science, 2012.

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