Archive for: September, 2013

IgNobels 2013! Who ate the dead shrew for science?

There was a young student who swallowed a shrew.
Didn’t even chew, just swallowed a shrew.
It’s what scientists do.

Sci is still over at SciAm covering this year's IgNobel prizes! Today it's the Archeology prize, for the pair that swallowed a shrew, and then analyzed what came out the other end. For science. Head over and check it out!

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Ignobels 2013! Reattachment of the penis, unless it was first eaten by a duck

Sep 13 2013 Published by under Friday Weird Science, IgNobel Prizes!

I'm over at SciAm Blogs today, and for the next few days, blogging the fabulously weird IgNobel prizes!! The ceremony was last night, and now I'm doing in depth analyses of all of the winners, and we're starting with...weirdest first. The IgNobel winner in public health, the reattachment of the penis, unless of course, it was partially eaten by a duck first. Like you do. For more about the reattachment, and why there's a duck in the first place, head over and check it out!


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Renaming Alternatives

Sep 11 2013 Published by under Academia

I've been thinking a lot about a recent post by Biochembelle called "the pipeline isn't leaky".

I definitely agree with her, the way we define "the pipeline" is that you're only in it if you're headed toward tenure track, and that's a problem. Because, while I'm still using my science degrees, and I feel like I'm still doing a lot of cool work on behalf of science (and I hope to do a lot, lot more), I feel like a drip. I feel like I've "failed" because I don't have a tenure track job.

Some of that is on me, of course. I originally went into science because I DID want a tenure track job. Along the way, my desires changed, as I saw the reality of what a TT job is like (writing grants day and night is NOT my cup of tea). Getting out of the pipeline, however, was much harder than just realizing that wasn't what I wanted. There is a HUGE amount of pressure to stay in the pipeline. Pressure because that's what you "should" be doing in the eyes of the people around you, pressure because if you leave the pipeline, you are letting people down. Pressure because, if you leave the pipeline, you are automatically assumed to have failed out of it, even if the reality was that you wanted to leave (yes, yes, everyone says that they personally do not feel this way. The pervading culture says otherwise). Pressure because so few women do make it, and if you leave, you are failing to be an example to your gender. And there's other kinds of pressure, the interior feeling that maybe you ARE failing out, maybe you CAN'T hack it and that's why you're leaving. Pressure to stay in because it's the devil you know. Pressure to stay in because, often, you don't know how to do anything else.

All that pressure makes for a fast flow of water, and if you're not careful it'll carry you along. This can't be good, either for the people in it, or for the people who "drip out".

There needs to be a change. I think it could start by renaming the "pipeline", maybe a web? A network? Something else, so that we have to change how we think of the endpoints of scientific training. If there is a network, or a pipeline, there's no one endpoint, instead there are several. Tenure track AND policy AND writing AND industry AND admin. Just acknowledging in our every day language that these options exist helps to legitimize them.

But I think it also needs to be acknowledged culturally. Trainees shouldn't have to feel REALLY nervous about talking about "alternative careers" with their PIs. Many of them do feel nervous. Many of them will be so nervous that the PI will get angry, be reproachful, or start ignoring their work that they never talk about it. That's a problem.

This means PIs need to acknowledge that not all trainees will go to the tenure track, and that those trainees who don't...are not failures. PIs, or departments, might need to keep in touch with previous lab people who left the tenure track, so they have resources for students who are looking at other careers. Just having those names of people outside the tenure track can mean so much. The assumption, when you see that no one in academia knows people in other careers, and that you have to bring them in for seminars with outside groups like postdoc support groups and PhD groups, etc, is that...these people are not successful. If they were, your advisors would know and respect them.But if they don't, if they speak disparagingly about other trainees career choices, or just forget those trainees exist at's not encouraging to people trying to get out of academia. Not only do you not know who to turn to for advice, you begin to "drink the koolaid", to see people outside of academia as not successful by your metric, and even if you KNOW, intellectually, that's not true, it colors how you see them.

PIs need to explicitly make it ok to seek out other careers. There are groups and seminars at some schools to help with this, but I think it's particularly important that PIs become involved. Otherwise, students and trainees often feel like they have to pursue career goals behind their PI's back, furtively.  I remember numerous times "sneaking" out of the lab at 5pm to get to a seminar, or saying I had a "lunch" so I could go to a seminar. Lab work is important, but somehow it's always ok to go to the departmental seminars, and watch the same people present their work over and over again at the departmental group meetings. But going to an alternative careers seminar? Well, shouldn't you be, you know, IN THE LAB?! That kind of selective pressure is the kind of pressure that keeps grad student's lips sealed about their career ambitions. And it means that, in many cases, they remain in the dark, unaware of potential mentors or contacts that could help them get where they want to go.

This is not going to change overnight. But I wonder how much of it might change, if we just stopped calling it the "pipeline". If we just acknowledge, everywhere that 5/6 of PhDs go somewhere other than the tenure track, and if we point out, and highlight, where it is that they go. It's a small step, but small words can mean big things sometimes, in the long run.

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A Cocaine Vaccine?

Sep 09 2013 Published by under Addiction, Neuroscience

I am at SciAm Blogs today, talking about a recent paper on the cocaine vaccine. Does it work? And how? What does it do? Head over and check it out.

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IgNobels are Coming Soon!!!

Sep 08 2013 Published by under Friday Weird Science

I'm so excited! This year, for the third year in a row now, I'll be heading to Boston to cover the IgNobel Prizes, the funniest prizes in science! It's a fantastic time, and full of some AMAZINGLY weird science, which I will be covering in depth over at Scientific American. So make sure to head over on Thursday, 9/12, at 6:00PM EDT, to see the coverage! I'll also be live-tweeting from @scicurious, using the #ignobel hashtag.

Make sure to check it out! I'm incredibly excited and can't wait to share ALL the weird science with you!

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Friday Weird Science: A Dolphin Gets 'Spontaneous'

Sep 06 2013 Published by under Friday Weird Science, Uncategorized

Do you ever wish that you were more like a dolphin? More playful, carefree? More, you know, spontaneous?



I guess that depends on what you mean by "spontaneous". Aside from the many interesting habits of dolphins (spoiler, dolphins can be raging jerks, and they, and their good looks are the primary reason Lisa Frank exists. Which, I must say, makes them a jerk in my book), it turns out that dolphins can be particularly spontaneous in one, special way.


Morisaka et al. "Spontaneous Ejaculation in a Wild Indo-Pacific Bottlenose Dolphin (Tursiops aduncus)" PLoS ONE, 2013.

(Note: Today's Friday Weird Science is courtesy of David Schiffman, of Southern Fried Science. So if you find what you are about to see disturbing/gross, blame it all on him.)

(Another Note: What you are about to see may be disturbing/gross.)

Continue Reading »

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Help Us Spread Science To GeekGirlCon!!

Sep 02 2013 Published by under Activism

I don't know about you, but when I was a kid, I actually had relatively little science exposure. I wasn't one of those kids who won prizes at the science fair, because I didn't have scientist parents to lend me their labs (I did something totally lame with daffodils). I got my main exposure when I went to something called Nature Camp (I had had bad experiences with regular camp, and this one promised classes! Classes were something I could do). I was a kid, interested in nature, and IT. WAS. AWESOME. Seriously. That camp became the best two weeks out of every single summer until I graduated. By the time I finished the first year (we took classes and I "majored" in entomology, because BUGS), I was a full blown science nerd. And all it took was a little exposure.

And a bunch of us would like to bring a little bit of that exposure to GeekGirlCon! We got a table accepted to give attendees a taste of DIY SCIENCE!


We will run the zone all day Saturday, October 19th (day #1 of GGC) and half the day on Sunday, October 20th (day #2).  Who is "we"?  To name but a few...

The DIY Science Zone will be in a high-traffic area of GGC, which is at the Washington State Convention Center.  We've picked activities well-suited for (1) a variety of ages, (2) are affordable when scaled up to large audiences, (3) can be done mostly with household ingredients, and (4) with low messiness factors.   What will the zone offer?

  • DNA extraction made easy!
  • Are you bitter? A genetic taste test.
  • Magic breath! Acid-base chemistry of the body.
  • CSI: GGC! Finding latent prints using ninhydrin.
  • Coffee ground fossils! Perfect for Seattle.
  • Neuron know-how! Build your own & learn how they work.
  • Slime-to-go!  Make your own bag of goo.
  • Making craters! Please bring your own sound effects.
  • Dancing raisins!  No choreography skills required.
  • Nature notebooks! A mix of art & nature.

Some of these projects will be scheduled, while others are drop-in activities.  All scheduled activities will occur several times during the operation of the zone, giving GGC attendees plenty of opportunities to experiment in the zone!


Awesome RIGHT?! I am hoping to run the build your own neuron station. Fun for every age and you take home your own neuron! We're already assured an attendence of awesome geek ladies, and we want to give them a little science to take home!


But...first we need to get there. And pay for it. This is, obviously, not any of our real time jobs, and in the case of some of us...$$$ is what's standing between us and GeekGirlCon. Can you help us out?!

Items include:

What will your cash be spent on?

  1. Zone supplies (activity ingredients, tarps, cleaning supplies, etc.)
  2. Zone advertising (banners, flyers, posters, etc.) - being in a high traffic area helps, but we'll still need to advertise around the con!
  3. Two-day GGC badges for zone workers
  4. Two hotel rooms for zone workers within a short walking distance of the con
  5. Airfare assistance to zone workers needed financial help

How much are we looking to raise?  $5000-$6000.  Items #4 and #5 are the biggest expenses and here's why that money is worth it...

WHY is the money worth it? Because we are willing to make complete asses of ourselves to get the science to the people! Here's what we'll do:

What are we willing to do to get your money?  Acts of whimsy for each fundraising milestone reached!

  • For every $100 raised, @DrMRFrancis will wear his Cthulhu hat in public.  Photographs will be provided!  UNLOCKED!

  • If the Royal Society of Chemistry donates $100, I'll wear a tiara and welcome my students with the royal wave to one class session.

  • @Chemjobber is known for his ceramic duck, which is his Twitter avatar. If $300 is raised, he will change his duck's hat (and outfit?) by popular demand, no matter how silly. If we reach $750, he will answer with "Quack!" at GGC whenever someone says, "Hey, CJ!"

  • My feelings about Nickelback are well-known.

For evey $500 raised, I will listen to a different Nickelback album.  Surprisingly, there appear to be 7 Nickelback albums.  Just how will I prove I've listened to each album? Google Hangouts On Air! @DNLee5  will join me as she loves Nickelback.  UPDATE: @docfreeride is strongly advises against Nickelback consumption and will donate to have me NOT listen to Nickelback.  Mark your donation "NO NB" and you might be able to save me!  It'll take "NO NB"  funds equal $500 to save me from each album.

  • If Nature Publishing Group (NPG) donates $500, we'll stage a dramatic reading of a paper in Nature Methods. WITH PROPS.
  • When we reach $1000, we will bust out in song! We'll do a group sing-a-long video via Google Hangouts On Air and you'll be able to vote on which song we 'll sing!  My vote is for Don't Stop Believin' by Journey.
  • What happens when you Mad Libs somebody's thesis abstract?!  Hi-Lar-Ity! We'll take to Google Hangouts On Air, where @NoisyAstromer will lead us in this game of nouns, verbs, and adverbs.  We'll make this happen for every $1000 we raise - using our own abstracts!
  • Will we sell-out to corporations? You know it! If you're a business and you donate $1000, we'll drop product placements in all Google Hangouts On Airs and videos. Say you're the American Chemical Society... I will personally wear your t-shirt, while drinking from your coffee mug, all while using your pen to play cowbell in our music videos.  The more money you donate, the more product placement!  NOTE: we're scientists, so no quack products will be featured and we're got to keep it clean, so no NSFW.
  • Not a corporation, but able to donate a lump sum of $500 or more?  @Lalsox will knit you a set of personalized zombie dolls (see below)!  Limited to five sets.

zombie dolls

  • When we've raised $1500, @Scicurious will write a science version of a pop song and @DrMRFrancis will perform it!  I'll accompany with cowbell!
  • Wouldn't you want to see @Seelix's cat dressed-up as each of The Avengers?  When we hit $2000, The Catavengers will happen!
  • For $2500, @DNLee5 will do a terrible re-enactment of @SamuelLJackson's demise in Deep Blue Sea with the help of  me and @Lalsox at GGC.  We're confident our shark will actually look better than the one in the movie...
  • Sock puppets performing a (much shorter!) re-enactment of Prometheus, corrected for science and common sense? YES!  The budget of Prometheus was about ~$130 million, but @Sargent will stage Sockmetheus if we raise a mere $3000!
  • If we reach $4000, we'll do a 5 minute (or less!) re-enactment of a movie at GGC and upload it to YouTube.  We'll use a reader poll to select the movie! I suspect we'll be horribly acting our way through some Nicholas Sparks adaptation...
  • When we've raised $5000, we'll dance a jig. Seriously, a jig.  And yes, we'll be dancing it badly.
  • We'll faint if we raise $6000. Probably onto fainting couches, of course.  A few of us won't just faint, we'll do a Leyomi Drop.

Yes. If we raise enough, I will compose you a science song! Haven't you always wanted one!? For you, I will listed to Miley Cyrus or Gotye, or something else, and you will hear the sweet strains of "Fund Me Maybe." You know this is what you want.

And also, there's the opportunity to torture Dr. Rubidium with Nickleback. Heck, I'm donating to that one. >:)

So please help us out if you can! We're so excited to be able to get people interested in science, and we'd hate to be shut down for lack of funds. 🙁 Click here to donate, and THANK YOU in advance!


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