Archive for: January, 2013

Scicurious Guest Writer: Sleight of hand, sleight of mind

Jan 30 2013 Published by under Scicurious Guest Writers

Over at SciAm Blogs today, I'm hosting this month's Scicurious Guest Writer, Phil Corlett! Phil is an Assistant Professor at Yale, and is talking about the potential interaction between our sense of "self", the immune system's sense of "self", and how it might relate to psychosis. Head over and check it out!

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On Identity: #scio13

Jan 28 2013 Published by under Academia

Sci is over at SciAm Blogs today, talking about my other session for Science online 2013! On Saturday afternoon, we'll be talking about Identity, and the way that different identities can affect our writing and how we approach social media. And the session is going to be live videoed in room 3!! It promises to be an exciting and informative time, and to get the discussion started, I've got a post up talking about other types that may face issues of identity: superheroes. Head over and check it out.

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Friday Weird Science: Echidna ejaculation is a little one-sided

Jan 25 2013 Published by under Friday Weird Science, Uncategorized

WARNING: Some of the pictures you are about to see are NSFW. And kind of gross. So you know.

Echidnas, aka Spiny Ant Eaters, are among the species that, until now, I usually forgot existed. When it comes to monotremes, the platypus is the most charismatic (or at least, definitely the oddest looking) of the bunch. And echidnas, well, they just look like...kind of a cross between a hedgehog and an anteater. Kind of cute, but not really memorable.

But now. NOW I will never forget the echidna again. And neither will you. Because this little guy has a FOUR-HEADED PENIS. This penis has so many heads, in fact, that the echidna can play it cool...he only has to use two at a time.

Johnston et al "One-Sided Ejaculation of Echidna Sperm Bundles" The American Naturalist, 2007.

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#scio13: Blogging for the long haul

Jan 24 2013 Published by under Blog Carnivals

I'm so honored this year to be leading TWO discussions at Science Online!! The first up will be Dr. Zen and I, talking about blogging for the long haul. How do you keep it going, build your "brand", and avoid the ever-looming fear of burnout? Let's talk about strategies and where it all might be going! And if you can't be at Science Online this year, fear not! The session with be live cast, so you can participate via twitter as it's going on. Hope to "see" you soon!

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Silent reading isn't so silent, at least, not to your brain

Jan 23 2013 Published by under Behavioral Neuro, Uncategorized

If you're reading this sentence, chances are you're reading it silently (if you're reading it out loud, hey, that's cool too). Your lips aren't moving, you're not making any sound that other people can hear. But are you making "sound" in your head? Many people who read silently do so by imagining a voice speaking the words they are reading (and often, it's your own voice, so there's even a specific "tone". I wonder if this is what makes people react so strongly to some blog posts). This could be because when we learn to read, we associate symbols with verbal sounds until the association is effortless (as for reading learning in the deaf, it may occur another way).*

This is particularly interesting because it means that reading silently is producing "cross-talk" between different sensory systems, with written words producing an auditory experience for the reader. But is it really an auditory experience?

Perrone-Bertolotti et al. "How Silent Is Silent Reading? Intracerebral Evidence for Top-Down Activation of Temporal Voice Areas during Reading" Journal of Neuroscience, 2012.

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Dragonflies keeping their eyes on the prize

Jan 21 2013 Published by under Behavioral Neuro

...and not just their eyes, their wings! Sci is at SciAm Blogs today, talking about a recent study which showed how dragonflies make the lightning fast adjustment to their wings that allow them to catch prey. That, and a lot of other interesting facts about dragonflies, can be found over at the Scicurious Brain! Head over and check it out!

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Friday Weird Science: Slutty Sloppy Barnacle Spermcasting

Jan 18 2013 Published by under Friday Weird Science

Ah, barnacles. You wouldn't really think that something with the reputation of...well, of being a barnacle, would really have an exciting sex life. I mean, they're barnacles. They are the very definition of something that is stuck in the mud. They hatch, they head to the open ocean for a few glorious weeks as whale-food, and if they survive the experience, they find a nice rock (or pier, or the bottom of a boat, or possible a whale if it wants to see the world) to call home. And never move again. Thus, the reputation of the barnacle is sealed as being possibly the most boring of creatures.

But it's not true. You see, when you're stuck to a rock, well, it's hard to meet people. If you know what I mean. You don't get out much. And so when it comes to passing on the species, barnacles have had to get creative.

The first thing that this results in is the biggest penis (relative to body size) in the world. It can be up to eight TIMES as long as the animal itself. When you're stuck to a rock, and you feel the need to breed, sometimes you have to let your penis do the walking.

And of course, you have to watch these things in action.

(Source. Did you see the one in the back just whip it out?! Barnacle porn, my friends)

You can see above how the barnacle gets it on. The penis basically hunts blind until it hits another barnacle. Then it deposits sperm into the mantle of the barnacle, which can then be used to fertilize eggs.

The longest penis in the world works well if your lover is just the next barnacle over. But what if you're all alone? What do you do?

Well, barnacles are hermaphrodites, and for many years (since Darwin, in fact) it's been thought that if they can't find someone to do for them, they just do for themselves. Self-fertilize, etc. People have often found lone barnacles with fertilized eggs, so they just assumed it happened. But while there's great video of barnacle mating, there isn't any of self-fertilization. Are barnacles just shy masturbators?

Nope, it's more than that.

Barazandeh et al. "Something Darwin didn't know about barnacles: spermcast mating in a common stalked species" Proceedings of the Royal Society B, 2013.

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Exercise fuel: Is that a banana in your pocket or are you increasing your performance?

Jan 16 2013 Published by under Physiology/Pharmacology

As a distance runner, I see a lot of nutritional advice. As we get more serious about running, more serious about decreasing our times, increasing our distance, and other measures of "performance", we start haunting forums and websites, places that refer to food as "fuel". You hear a lot about "pre-race fuel", "post-race fuel", "post-workout fuel". Is it better to have an apple with peanut butter 1 hour before running? Or a bowl of oatmeal two hours before? It's better to "fuel" with pasta the night before a half marathon, but what about a 10k? When you're running for more than an hour, when should the "race fuel" come out? What kind? When do you switch from water to Gatorade and in what amounts? Should we never eat cheese? These are the kinds of questions that can make runners spend hours comparing notes, and that's not even getting into the actual workouts and races themselves! We all want to do our best, and we all want to feel our best doing it, to recover quickly, and to do it again.

When you talk a lot about different types of "fuel", you hear a lot about certain ones in particular. Peanut butter gets a lot of praise, high protein, tasty, and you don't have to eat a lot of it. For extreme conditions, honey will get you there. Oatmeal is a universal favorite. And then there's the banana. I sometimes think that endurance athletes must account for 90% of all banana sales in the US. No matter where you are, at the end of every race, 5k, or ultra-marathon, there will ALWAYS be bananas. Huge piles of them on the post-race tables, and racers snarfing them down.

Me, I've always felt a certain amount of banana conflict. In my daily life, I really hate them. I hate the flavor, I REALLY hate the texture. And the gross little strings just make me gag. The first thing that turns me off a food is telling me it's got banana in it. But after a long run, or a race…I'll snarf those bananas just like everyone else. After morning workouts I'll be there choking down a banana with my breakfast, grimacing all the while. Heck, after a while I ever started to crave them! During a long race, you really do start to visualize that banana at the end.

But why do I do it? I still hate them. I still choke them down and try desperately to get the taste out of my mouth afterward.

But I'm a runner, and I have always, always been told that bananas are a freaking wonder fruit. They've got carbohydrates, they've got potassium, they've got fiber. They've got the sugar to keep you on your feet and the potassium to stop your muscle cramps. They are THE thing that every athlete should eat.

I have always, always been told this. But after a while, I started hunting around. Where is the proof?! After all, we SEE all that nutritional advice…but most of it is anecdotal at best. What's truth and what's not? And where lies the banana?


Nieman et al. "Bananas as an energy source during exercise: a metabolomics approach" PLoS ONE, 2012.
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15 responses so far

Don't look back in anger.

Jan 14 2013 Published by under Behavioral Neuro

What the difference between someone aging happily, and someone with late-onset depression? Does it have to do with regret? Missed opportunities? The authors of this paper think so, and devised a test to look at it. But did they really get at regret? What does it mean for aging? Head over to Scientific American Blogs and check it out.

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Friday Weird Science: Hot Hot High Heels.

Jan 11 2013 Published by under Friday Weird Science

I feel like I am contractually* obligated to pull out the high heels for this post.


(My fav heels. Lipstick added for good measure)

Everyone knows why we wear high heels, right? For the sexy times, of course! In fact, it's not just sexy times, it's biological sexy times. As the headlines cried out to me this week "OFFICIAL SCIENCE: HIGH HEELS MAKE YOU SEXY (LADIES)".

But is it the heels? And what does this mean? Strap on your stilettos, and let's take a look.

Morris et al. "High heels as supernormal stimuli: How wearing high heels affects judgements of
female attractiveness" Evolution and Human Behavior, 2013.

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