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Turing's theory of chemical morphogenesis validated 60 years after his death

Turing's theory of chemical morphogenesis validated 60 years after his death | Communicating Science | Scoop.it

Alan Turing's accomplishments in computer science are well known, but lesser known is his impact on biology and chemistry. In his only paper on biology, Turing proposed a theory of morphogenesis, or how identical copies of a single cell differentiate, for example, into an organism with arms and legs, a head and tail.

Now, 60 years after Turing's death, researchers from Brandeis University and the University of Pittsburgh have provided the first experimental evidence that validates Turing's theory in cell-like structures.

 

The team published their findings in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences on Monday, March 10.

 

Turing was the first to offer an explanation of morphogenesis through chemistry. He theorized that identical biological cells differentiate, change shape and create patterns through a process called intercellular reaction-diffusion. In this model, a system of chemicals react with each other and diffuse across a space—say between cells in an embryo. These chemical reactions need an inhibitory agent, to suppress the reaction, and an excitatory agent, to activate the reaction. This chemical reaction, diffused across an embryo, will create patterns of chemically different cells.

 

Turing predicted six different patterns could arise from this model. At Brandeis, Seth Fraden, professor of physics, and Irv Epstein, the Henry F. Fischbach Professor of Chemistry, created rings of synthetic, cell-like structures with activating and inhibiting chemical reactions to test Turing's model. They observed all six patterns plus a seventh unpredicted by Turing.


Via Dr. Stefan Gruenwald
The Science & Education team's insight:

Turings achievements continue to amaze:

http://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/scienceshow/alan-turing-e28093-thinker-ahead-of-his-time/4034006

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Communicating Science
Examples and discussion of current science, science communication and science teaching
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Are Humans Are Shaping Our Own Evolution?

Are Humans Are Shaping Our Own Evolution? | Communicating Science | Scoop.it

Like other species, we are the products of millions of years of adaptation. Now we're taking matters into our own hands.


Conventional evolution is alive and well in our species. Not long ago we knew the makeup of only a handful of the roughly 20,000 protein-encoding genes in our cells; today we know the function of about 12,000. But genes are only a tiny percentage of the DNA in our genome. More discoveries are certain to come—and quickly. From this trove of genetic information, researchers have already identified dozens of examples of relatively recent evolution. Anatomically modern humans migrated from Africa sometime between 80,000 and 50,000 years ago.


Our original genetic inheritance was appropriate for the warm climates where we first evolved from early hominins to humans, from knuckle-walkers to hunters and gatherers. But a lot has happened since that time, as humans have expanded around the world and the demands posed by new challenges have altered our genetic makeup. Recent, real-life examples of this process abound. Australian Aboriginals living in desert climates have a genetic variant, developed in the past 10,000 years, that allows them to adjust more easily to extreme high temperatures. Prehistorically, most humans, like other mammals, could digest milk only in infancy—we had genes that turned off the production of the milk-digesting enzyme when we were weaned. But around 9,000 years ago, some humans began to herd animals rather than just hunt them. These herders developed genetic alterations that allowed them to continue making the relevant enzyme for their whole lives, a handy adaptation when their livestock were producing a vitamin-rich protein.


In a recent article in the Scientist, John Hawks, a paleoanthropologist at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, wrote how impressed he was at the speed with which the gene was disseminated: “up to 10 percent per generation. Its advantage was enormous, perhaps the strongest known for any recent human trait.”

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Speculative but worth thinking about
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Manufacturing a car creates as much carbon as driving it

Manufacturing a car creates as much carbon as driving it | Communicating Science | Scoop.it

Making a new car creates as much carbon pollution as driving it, so it's often bettrer to keep your old banger on the road than to upgrade to a greener model


The carbon footprint of a new car: 6 tonnes CO2e: Citroen C1, basic spec 17 tonnes CO2e: Ford Mondeo, medium spec 35 tonnes CO2e: Land Rover Discovery, top of the range The carbon footprint of making a car is immensely complex.


Ores have to be dug out of the ground and the metals extracted. These have to be turned into parts. Other components have to be brought together: rubber tyres, plastic dashboards, paint, and so on. All of this involves transporting things around the world. The whole lot then has to be assembled, and every stage in the process requires energy. The companies that make cars have offices and other infrastructure with their own carbon footprints, which we need to somehow allocate proportionately to the cars that are made.


In other words, even more than with most items, the manufacture of a car causes ripples that extend throughout the economy. To give just one simple example among millions, the assembly plant uses phones and they in turn had to be manufactured, along with the phone lines that transmit the calls. The ripples go on and on for ever. Attempts to capture all these stages by adding them up individually are doomed from the outset to result in an underestimate, because the task is just too big.

The Science & Education team's insight:
An old one but I hadn't realised this so am sharing. Highlights the importance of lifetime planning.
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Volcanic eruptions may have periodically wiped out Antarctic penguin colonies

Volcanic eruptions may have periodically wiped out Antarctic penguin colonies | Communicating Science | Scoop.it

Climate change not only the threat to the birds


Long-term changes in climate and sea ice coverage aren’t the only problems that Antarctica’s penguins face: Volcanoes can also take their toll, a new study suggests. Consider gentoo penguins (Pygoscelius papua), which have a major breeding colony (image) on Ardley Island off the Antarctic peninsula. The orange-billed birds first appeared on the island about 6700 years ago, and previous studies indicate that the climate and sea surface temperatures in the region have been good to them thus far. But sediment cores drilled from a 7300-square-meter lake on the island—which today collects runoff that includes prodigious amounts of penguin guano as well as material eroded from the island’s bedrock—tell a different story. At three times since the birds arrived, major eruptions of a volcano on Deception Island, which lies about 120 kilometers away, have cloaked Ardley Island with centimeters-thick layers of ash that later washed into the lake, the researchers report in Nature Communications. It’s not clear whether each of those ash layers chronicles a single large eruption or a closely spaced sequence of smaller ones. Regardless, guano-free followed by guano-poor sediments left in the wake of these three eruptions suggest that breeding penguins were wiped out—or abandoned the island for posteruption intervals ranging between 400 and 800 years. Thick layers of ash would have made it hard for the birds to breathe, compromised the immune systems of adult and hatchling penguins, and may have prevented adults from collecting pebbles that they needed to construct their nests, the researchers suggest.

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Science communication training should be about more than just how to transmit knowledge

Science communication training should be about more than just how to transmit knowledge | Communicating Science | Scoop.it

Broader goals like building trust, fostering excitement about science and influencing policy decisions don't necessarily just fall into place when researchers focus only on describing their work.


For some scientists, communicating effectively with the public seems to come naturally. Astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson currently has more than five million Twitter followers. Astronomer Carl Sagan enraptured audiences for decades as a ubiquitous cosmic sage on American televisions. And Stephen Jay Gould’s public visibility was such that he voiced an animated version of himself on “The Simpsons.”


But, for most scientists, outward-facing communication is not something they’ve typically thought about much… let alone sought to cultivate. But times change. Leaders in the scientific community are increasingly calling on their scientist colleagues to meaningfully engage with their fellow citizens. The hope is that such interactions can improve the science-society relationship at a time when we are confronting a growing list of high-stakes, high-controversy issues including climate change, synthetic biology and epigenetics. The gauntlet has been issued, but can scientists meet it? The answer to that question largely depends on one key group: professional science communication trainers who offer formalized guidance designed to improve scientists’ public communication efforts. There’s a wellspring of science communication programs, among them the Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science, the Center for Public Engagement with Science & Technology at the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the COMPASS Science Communication.


Programs like these typically provide communication courses of a half-day up to a week or more. Some organizations also employ in-house personnel to train their scientists to communicate. Given the important role these training programs now play in the public communication of science, we sought to examine their work. Broadly, we were looking for commonalities in their efforts and experiences, and we wanted to spot possible opportunities for their growth. We were especially interested in something we view as being critical to effective public engagement: helping scientists identify and try to achieve specific communication goals.

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The earth at night - the latest pics

The earth at night - the latest pics | Communicating Science | Scoop.it

New global maps of Earth at night provide the clearest-ever composite view of the patterns of human settlement across our planet. The NASA team is also now automating nighttime imagery processing to make the data available within hours of acquisition — potentially aiding short-term weather forecasting and disaster response efforts.


Today they are releasing a new global composite map of night lights as observed in 2016, as well as a revised version of the 2012 map (8 MB jpg | 265 MB jpg). The NASA group has examined the different ways that light is radiated, scattered and reflected by land, atmospheric and ocean surfaces. The principal challenge in nighttime satellite imaging is accounting for the phases of the moon, which constantly varies the amount of light shining on Earth, though in predictable ways. Likewise, seasonal vegetation, clouds, aerosols, snow and ice cover, and even faint atmospheric emissions (such as airglow and auroras) change the way light is observed in different parts of the world. The new maps were produced with data from all months of each year. The team wrote code that picked the clearest night views each month, ultimately combining moonlight-free and moonlight-corrected data.

The Science & Education team's insight:
Good high def photomontages and comparison between 2012 and 2016
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How to disperse your seeds: African elephants may transport seeds farther than any other land animal

How to disperse your seeds: African elephants may transport seeds farther than any other land animal | Communicating Science | Scoop.it

Study suggests the pachyderms play a key role in maintaining tree diversity on the savanna.


Share on facebook 675 Share on twitter Share on pinterest Share on reddit 2 A bull elephant eats from a fig tree in Kenya. Savanna elephants can transport seeds many kilometers and likely help maintain the genetic diversity of trees. © Jonathan & Angela Scott/AWL Images Ltd/Aurora Photos ‘This is amazing!’ African elephants may transport seeds farther than any other land animal By Erik StokstadApr. 10, 2017 , 2:30 PM The African savanna elephant holds the prize for largest living terrestrial animal, and now it apparently just set another land record: the longest distance mover of seeds.


The pachyderms can transport seeds up to 65 kilometers, according to a study of elephant dung in South Africa. That’s 30 times farther than savanna birds take seeds, and it indicates that elephants play a significant role in maintaining the genetic diversity of trees on the savanna. “The scale of movement is really mind opening,” says Greg Adler, an ecologist at the University of Wisconsin in Oshkosh who was not involved in the study. “The implication is that elephants are absolutely critical to the integrity of these African savanna ecosystems.” Plants make fruit to encourage animals to eat and then move their seeds to new locations.


Not only does this help expand the plant population, it also prevents seedlings from competing with their parents or suffering from any pathogens that may have accumulated in their home turf. Seeds lucky enough to be eaten by a large animal drop onto their new habitat encased in a big lump of nutrients. For some species, passing through the digestive tract of an animal increases the percentage of seeds that sprout. There seem to be other benefits as well; elephant dung, for example, somehow protects seeds from predation by beetles.

The Science & Education team's insight:
But birds still win (by a substantial margin)
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Obituary for Kenneth Arrow (1921-2017)

Obituary for Kenneth Arrow (1921-2017) | Communicating Science | Scoop.it

One of the most influential thinkers in economic theory.


Kenneth Arrow was the doyen of economic theory during the second half of the twentieth century. His fundamental and diverse contributions — to fields including welfare economics, which aims to evaluate social welfare on the basis of individual choices or preferences — were founded on abstract reasoning and remarkably few elementary mathematical concepts.


The tools and concepts he introduced helped to shape important aspects of US President Barack Obama's Affordable Care Act. They are also staples of research and teaching in economics at both undergraduate and graduate levels.

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A great applied mathematical thinker and humanist
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The periodic table: everything you have always wanted to know

The periodic table: everything you have always wanted to know | Communicating Science | Scoop.it

The periodic table is one of the classic images of science that is found in labs as well as on t-shirts, mugs, even set to music. But what exactly is the periodic table?


But what exactly does the periodic table show? In brief, it is an attempt to organise the collection of the elements – all of the known pure compounds made from a single type of atom.


There are two ways to look at how the periodic table is constructed, based on either the observed properties of the elements contained within it, or on the subatomic construction of the atoms that form each element.

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A good range of representations about a classic scientific tool
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The genetics of how Tibetans can live on the world's highest plateau

The genetics of how Tibetans can live on the world's highest plateau | Communicating Science | Scoop.it

Adaptations include those for increased BMI and folate production


It’s not easy living thousands of meters above sea level. The air holds less oxygen, there’s more harmful ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun, and food supplies vary dramatically from season to season. But that doesn’t stop nearly 5 million people from living on the Tibetan Plateau, the world’s highest at an average of 1200 meters.


Now, scientists working with the largest-ever sample of Tibetan genomes have discovered seven new ways in which Tibetan genes have been tweaked to cope with high altitude, resulting in higher body mass index (BMI) and a boost in the body’s production of the vitamin folate. Scientists have long known how the people of the Tibetan Plateau, including Nepal’s famous mountain-climbing Sherpa, deal with oxygen levels up to 40% less than those at sea level. Unlike most mountain climbers, whose bodies acclimatize to higher elevations by temporarily boosting hemoglobin—a blood protein that carries oxygen throughout the body—Tibetans have evolved a suite of other biochemical adaptations that let their bodies use oxygen extremely efficiently. That’s good news for the Tibetans, because too much hemoglobin makes the blood harder to pump and likelier to clot, increasing the chances of stroke and heart disease.


But the details of Tibetans’ adaptations have been a mystery. Previous studies have suggested that two genes, EPAS1 (inherited from ancient hominins known as Denisovans) and ELGN1, play roles in reducing hemoglobin and boosting oxygen use. To find out whether other genes are involved, a team of scientists led by Jian Yang at the University of Queensland in Brisbane, Australia, and Zi-Bing Jin at Wenzhou Medical University in China compared the genomes of 3008 Tibetans and 7287 non-Tibetans.

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Is dark energy an illusion? What simulations may tell us

Is dark energy an illusion? What simulations may tell us | Communicating Science | Scoop.it

Variations in universe’s density can explain away dark energy, theorists claim


At issue is the way cosmologists calculate how the universe evolved over the past 13.8 billion years. Roughly speaking, they rely on two equations. One describes how matter coalesces into galaxies and clusters of galaxies. The other, known as the Friedmann–Lemaître–Robertson–Walker (FLRW) metric, comes out of Einstein’s theory of gravity, or general relativity, and scientists use it to calculate how much the universe has expanded at any time. At each step in time in a simulation, the cosmologists’ program uses the FLRW metric to calculate the “scale factor,” which specifies how much the universe has grown.


The program then uses the scale factor as an input to calculate how the formation of galaxies and clusters advances in that step. Strictly speaking, however, the FLRW equation applies to a smooth and homogeneous universe. So to calculate the scale factor at each step, cosmologists typically assume the universe is smooth and use its average density—determined from the simulation—as the FLRW metric’s input. That’s a bit dicey, because general relativity says that mass and energy warp spacetime. As a result, space should expand faster in emptier regions and slower in crowded ones, where the galaxies’ gravity pulls against the expansion.


Thus, in principle, inhomogeneities in the universe can feed back through the dynamics and affect the universe’s expansion. Gábor Rácz and László Dobos, astrophysicists at Eötvös Loránd University in Budapest, and their colleagues set out to capture that “backreaction.” They simulated a cube of space measuring 480 million light-years along each side. Instead of using the FLRW metric to calculate at each time step a single scale factor for the entire cube, they broke the cube into 1 million miniuniverses and then used the equation to calculate the scale factor in each of them. “We assume that every region of the universe determines its expansion rate itself,” Dobos says. The researchers then calculated the average of the many scale factors, which can differ from the scale factor calculated from the average density.

The Science & Education team's insight:
Computer simulations (may) reveal new understandings not only of climate change but also of the evolution of the universe
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Could Storytelling Be the Secret Sauce to STEM Education?

Could Storytelling Be the Secret Sauce to STEM Education? | Communicating Science | Scoop.it

By exploring stories, learners can acquire a deeper understanding and appreciation of STEM.


Fruchter has worked to put what’s he has learned about teaching computer programming with fiction into a curriculum called StoryCode. He classifies STEM fiction into three categories: explicit, science fiction and implicit STEM texts. Explicit STEM texts are novels like “Moby Dick,” where there’s a lot to learn about marine biology and ecology already embedded in the story. For younger students, “Little House on the Prairie” might fall into this category, with all its descriptions of practical engineering projects. Fruchter finds these useful, but a lot of reading without much STEM payoff.


Science Fiction texts are fertile ground for discussion because they usually involve a mostly rationale world with one irrational scientific change upon which the whole future of humanity rests. For example, Madeleine L’Engle’s book, “A Wind in the Door,” takes the reader inside the mitochondria of a character to battle a microscopic plague. Along the way, readers learn a lot about what mitochondria really do in the body.


Implicit STEM texts are ones where the literary action is a metaphor for the operation of scientific principle, like binary and “The Lady, or the Tiger?” Fruchter teaches Ursula Le Guin’s “A Wizard of Earthsea” because magic functions in the book in almost identical ways to the how CSS and HTML work. He also likes Dashiell Hammett’s famous detective novel “The Maltese Falcon” and “Mind of My Mind” by Octavia Butler, a book where psychics take over the world.


Fruchter says Butler’s book is an embodiment of the proper way to write an object-oriented program. “When you can call a line of code a spell, then you are getting somewhere,” Fruchter said. After all, isn’t computer code basically modern magic?

The Science & Education team's insight:
I am often suspicious of the advice that to communicate in science you need to always tell as story. Although narrative is a very powerful way to engage and organise, there are many other form in which we can communicate. Relating narrative to coding is, however, a novel claim and I like it.
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Open science: The findings of medical research are disseminated too slowly

Open science: The findings of medical research are disseminated too slowly | Communicating Science | Scoop.it

Periodical journals have been the principal means of disseminating science since the 17th century. The oldest still around, the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society (pictured above), appeared first in 1665. Over the intervening three and a half centuries journals have established conventions for publication—such as insisting on independent (and usually anonymous) peer review of submissions—that are intended to preserve the integrity of the scientific process. They have, though, come under increasing attack in recent years.


One criticism, in a world where most non-commercial scientific research is sponsored by governments, is that there should be no further charge for reading the results of taxpayer-funded work. Journals, in other words, should have no cover or subscription price. A second is that the process of getting a paper published takes too long. Months—sometimes years—can pass while a hopeful researcher first finds a journal willing to publish, and then waits for peer review and the negotiation of amendments. That keeps others in the field in the dark about new results for longer than is really necessary, and thus slows down the progress of science. Third, though this is less easy to prove, many researchers suspect that anonymous peer review is sometimes exploited by rivals to delay the publication of competitors’ papers, or, conversely, that cabals of mates scratch each others’ backs, review-wise.


To these criticisms, another may be added, which is not the fault of journals, but still needs addressing. This is the unwillingness of many researchers to publish the data on which their conclusions are based. Some journals do insist on full disclosure of data, but not all are so particular. And, even then, the data in question will not see the light until publication day.

The Science & Education team's insight:
This rehashes many of criticisms of scientific publishing that you have read in this feed and in the scientific journals themselves, but does it with the Economists' usual clarity and thoroughness.
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Measuring malaria on your breath

Measuring malaria on your breath | Communicating Science | Scoop.it

It’s really annoying to get bitten by a mosquito. But in many places in the world, that small bite can cause a life-threatening disease: malaria.


Malaria is a very tricky disease. Once you are infected, it can take weeks before you start to feel sick. Even then, malaria feels just like the ‘flu. Blood tests are expensive, and it can take several days to get the results, so most people don’t get tested. They just stay home and wait to get better. Sadly, not everyone recovers – malaria kills almost half a million people worldwide each year. For Amalia Berna, the call to action was irresistible. “When I saw the numbers – how many children die – I thought, ‘This is terrible!’ And we in CSIRO have the tools to save lives.” So Amalia and her team set to work developing a new way to diagnose malaria. Amalia’s specialty is detecting and analysing volatile chemicals. That might sound scary, but it’s actually quite sweet. Volatile chemicals are ones that turn to gas at around room temperature – and that includes all the chemicals that we can smell. “When I started at CSIRO, we were doing a lot of aroma analysis of wines and grapes,” explains Amalia. “It was beautiful.” The scientific expertise Amalia’s team developed while studying these sweet smells would later prove very useful. “We built a huge capability to measure volatiles in human breath,” she says. “For me, it was very easy to use that knowledge for grapes and wines and transfer the capability into health.” Amalia identified several chemicals in the breath that indicated a malaria infection. The first laboratory tests of these chemicals, known as biomarkers, have been very successful.

The Science & Education team's insight:
From the CSIRO's Double Helix magazine
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Signs of deep microbial life in deep ocean rocks

Signs of deep microbial life in deep ocean rocks | Communicating Science | Scoop.it

We document organic matter encapsulated in rock clasts from a oceanic serpentinite mud volcano above the Izu–Bonin–Mariana subduction zone (Pacific Ocean). Although we cannot pinpoint the exact origin of the organic matter, chemical analysis of the constituents resembles molecular signatures that could be produced by microbial life deep within or below the mud volcano. Considering the known temperature limit for life, 122 °C, and the subduction zone forearc geotherm where such mud volcanoes are located, we estimate that life could exist as deep as ∼10,000 m below the seafloor. This is considerably deeper than other active serpentinizing regions such as midocean ridges and could have provided sheltered ecosystems for life to survive the more violent phases of Earth’s history.

The Science & Education team's insight:
Indicative only but together with other evidence shows the huge of amounts of life below the crust use energy pathways other than photosynthesis
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Australia's National Science Statement

Australia's National Science Statement | Communicating Science | Scoop.it
The National Science Statement sets a long‑term approach to science, providing guidance for government investment and decision making and clarity on strategic aims. What is meant by 'science'? Natural, physical and life sciences, including medical and health sciences, mathematics, engineering and technology‑related disciplines. This includes the full spectrum from basic to applied scientific research in both the public and private sectors, and the infrastructure, skills, institutions, knowledge and policies that make it possible. The government's vision is for an Australian society engaged in and enriched by science This means achieving four objectives: engaging all Australians with science building our scientific capability and skills producing new research, knowledge and technologies improving and enriching Australians' lives through science and research

To realise its vision, the government will act in three leadership roles: supporting science by providing funding and other resources for the spectrum of basic to applied scientific research, critical scientific infrastructure and equipment, and science and mathematics education, directly investing in Australia's future participating in science by producing, using and sharing research, data and information, operating scientific research infrastructure and engaging with science internationally enabling science by setting institutional arrangements that shape the science system and its interactions with business and the community, including the translation of research into economic and other benefits.

In supporting science, developing science policies and carrying out science-related activities and decisions, the government will: recognise that science is fundamental to the economy and social wellbeing, and core to the mission of the government, as part of a multidisciplinary research ecosystem ensure that scientific research investment is focused on high‑quality research, Australia's scientific strengths and agreed science and research priorities ensure that support across the spectrum of basic to applied research is stable and predictable encourage and support collaboration across disciplines, across sectors and across international borders ensure that opportunities for all Australians to engage with all aspects of the science process are maximised show and promote leadership in actively addressing inequality in science education, participation nd employment measure and report performance of the science system as a whole and government agencies individually seek advice from experts in their respective fields in assessing priorities and research quality and in making policy.
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Not all that exciting but worth perusing
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Science by stealth: secret missions of a visual science communicator

Science by stealth: secret missions of a visual science communicator | Communicating Science | Scoop.it

There once was a DNA molecule, magnified 250 million times. Its mutated form hovered above Federation Square, Melbourne, perceived only subliminally by many of the transient pedestrians below.


As a visual science communicator, science by stealth is one of my most powerful strategies. Using striking visuals, and some opportunistic positioning, it is not that hard to inject just a little taste of hard-core molecular biology into the lives of every day people who are not traditionally interested in science.


On the topic of science by stealth, science communicator Dr Craig Cormick with Kylie Sturgess in 2013 said “We’re very good at getting the converted more engaged and more interested in science. But I think we have trouble reaching those in the next category down the line that are marginally interested or occasionally uninterested. So, the challenge I find is often, how do you have a conversation about science that’s not apparently about science, that has a lot of science intrinsically built in its content … …science by stealth is often the answer.”

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A Trip to the Zoo Can Get People Talking About Climate Change

A Trip to the Zoo Can Get People Talking About Climate Change | Communicating Science | Scoop.it

Your goal may be to see the cute koalas, but your takeaway may be a better grasp of a grim situation.


New research suggests that may be true for a lot of Americans. It also offers evidence that, when members of the public are given the vocabulary they need to grasp the gravity of the situation, they are more likely to engage in conversation about what needs to be done.


That’s the conclusion of Penn State University researchers, who tested the effects of an under-the-radar climate change education effort. They report its dual focus — providing an understandable explanation of the problem, and noting how individuals and communities can help — is potent enough to get people talking.


Writing in the Journal of Environmental Psychology, Nathaniel Geiger, Janet Swim, and John Fraser focus on an ambitious program by the National Network for Oceanographic and Climate Change Interpretation.


The organization works with “informal educators at informal science learning centers such as aquariums, national parks, and zoos” to help them spread understandable information about climate change. Participants “are taught a variety of communication techniques,” including research-tested metaphors and analogies “that help visitors understand explanatory chains of human activities that contribute to, or can mitigate, climate change.”

The Science & Education team's insight:
An innovative approach which puts into practice some current thinking
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El Niño: Pacific Wind and Current Changes Bring Warm, Wild Weather

El Niño: Pacific Wind and Current Changes Bring Warm, Wild Weather | Communicating Science | Scoop.it

El Niño is one of the most important weather-producing phenomena on Earth. The changing ocean conditions disrupt weather patterns and marine life in the Pacific and around the world. Satellites are unraveling the many traits of this wild child of weather.


If you want to understand how interconnected our planet is—how patterns and events in one place can affect life half a world away—study El Niño.


Episodic shifts in winds and water currents across the equatorial Pacific can cause floods in the South American desert while stalling and drying up the monsoon in Indonesia and India. Atmospheric circulation patterns that promote hurricanes and typhoons in the Pacific can also knock them down over the Atlantic. Fish populations in one part of the ocean might crash, while others thrive and spread well beyond their usual territory.


During an El Niño event, the surface waters in the central and eastern Pacific Ocean become significantly warmer than usual. That change is intimately tied to the atmosphere and to the winds blowing over the vast Pacific. Easterly trade winds (which blow from the Americas toward Asia) falter and can even turn around into westerlies. This allows great masses of warm water to slosh from the western Pacific toward the Americas. It also reduces the upwelling of cooler, nutrient-rich waters from the deep—shutting down or reversing ocean currents along the equator and along the west coast of South and Central America.

The Science & Education team's insight:
NASA is still criticised for documenting climate change but they continue not only to measure and document but also to educate and make their research freely available
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Mobile-phone signals used to augment rain forecasts

Mobile-phone signals used to augment rain forecasts | Communicating Science | Scoop.it

Real-time analysis of wireless communications data could improve weather forecasts around the world.


Meteorologists have long struggled to forecast storms and flooding at the level of streets and neighborhoods, but they may soon make headway thanks to the spread of mobile-phone networks. This strategy relies on the physics of how water scatters and absorbs microwaves.


In 2006, researchers demonstrated that they could estimate how much precipitation was falling in an area by comparing changes in the signal strength between communication towers1. Accessing the commercial signals of mobile-phone companies was a major stumbling block for researchers, however, and the field progressed slowly. That is changing now, enabling experiments across Europe and Africa.


The technology now appears ready for primetime. It could lead to more precise flood warnings — and more accurate storm predictions if the new data are integrated into modern weather forecasting models. Proponents also hope to use this approach to expand modern weather services in developing countries.

The Science & Education team's insight:
A clever piece of research and technology
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Watch a badger bury an entire cow

Watch a badger bury an entire cow | Communicating Science | Scoop.it

Caching dead animals helps clear the land—and ease hunger


Most of us probably wouldn’t think of burying meat to preserve it. But the technique is a smart one in the wild, where scavengers abound. So when a male badger stumbled onto the carcass of a nearly 23-kilogram calf in Utah’s Grassy Mountains, he quickly set to work (see video above). The calf’s body was one of seven that researchers had strategically placed and targeted with video cameras to find out more about the winter habits of scavengers in the Great Basin. When the calf disappeared a week later, they thought a coyote or a mountain lion had dragged away the tempting remains. Only after reviewing the footage did they identify the culprit: an 11-kilogram male badger, who had spent 5 days digging to store the calf in his underground “refrigerator.” Many other species, from mountain lions to black bears, also stash their prey, usually covering the remains with branches and dirt. Badgers have been known to cache the bodies of smaller animals such as rodents and rabbits, but this is the first time they have been seen burying an animal larger than themselves, the researchers report today in Western North American Naturalist. The discovery suggests that badgers may play a previously unknown, but important, role in removing rotting or diseased carrion—helping ranchers, and themselves, in the process.
The Science & Education team's insight:
This is just fun to watch - well actually it buried a calf but still pretty impressive
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The seven deadly sins of statistical misinterpretation, and how to avoid them

The seven deadly sins of statistical misinterpretation, and how to avoid them | Communicating Science | Scoop.it

Here are some all-too-common errors when it comes to interpreting statistics, and how to avoid them.


1.  Assuming small differences are meaningful-Many of the daily fluctuations in the stock market represent chance rather than anything meaningful. Differences in polls when one party is ahead by a point or two are often just statistical noise.


2. Equating statistical significance with real-world significance We often hear generalisations about how two groups differ in some way, such as that women are more nurturing while men are physically stronger.


3. Neglecting to look at extremes The flipside of effect size is relevant when the thing that you’re focusing on follows a “normal distribution” (sometimes called a “bell curve”). This is where most people are near the average score and only a tiny group is well above or well below average. 


4. Trusting coincidence Did you know there’s a correlation between the number of people who drowned each year in the United States by falling into a swimming pool and number of films Nicholas Cage appeared in?


5. Getting causation backwards When two things are correlated – say, unemployment and mental health issues – it might be tempting to see an “obvious” causal path – say that mental health problems lead to unemployment. 


6. Forgetting to consider outside causes People often fail to evaluate possible “third factors”, or outside causes, that may create an association between two things because both are actually outcomes of the third factor.


7. Deceptive graphs A lot of mischief occurs in the scaling and labelling of the vertical axis on graphs. The labels should show the full meaningful range of whatever you’re looking at.

The Science & Education team's insight:
See also the excellent: Levitin, Daniel. (2016). A field guide to lies and statistics. London: Viking.
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Norway plans to exterminate a large reindeer herd to stop a fatal infectious prion brain disease

Norway plans to exterminate a large reindeer herd to stop a fatal infectious prion brain disease | Communicating Science | Scoop.it

Hunters will cull some 2000 animals to contain Europe’s first outbreak of chronic wasting disease


CWD, discovered in 1967, has been found in 24 U.S. states and two Canadian provinces, and it has been spread in part by shipments of infected animals. Many species of cervids are susceptible, including elk, moose, and several kinds of deer. Infected animals typically begin showing symptoms such as weight loss, lethargy, and drooling 2 to 3 years after infection and then die within months. In Wyoming, where CWD has been endemic for decades, up to 40% of some herds are infected, and white-tailed deer populations are declining by 10% a year.


CWD is very contagious: Prions spread easily through saliva, urine, and feces, and can linger in the environment for years, which suggests that feeding stations and salt licks are hot spots of infection. Once the disease has become firmly established, environmental contamination makes eradication very hard, says Christina Sigurdson, a prion researcher at the University of California, San Diego. “It hasn’t been shown so far to be possible,” she says. There’s no evidence that humans can get sick from eating infected deer, but it is not recommended. (Mad cow disease, also caused by prions, can infect people who eat contaminated meat and has caused more than 200 deaths so far.)


Norway’s first CWD case was detected by chance after wildlife biologists working in the rugged mountains of Nordfjella found a sick young reindeer on 15 March 2016. After its death, tests at the Norwegian Veterinary Institute (NVI) in Oslo pointed to CWD. “I couldn’t believe it,” says NVI prion researcher Sylvie Benestad. But international reference labs confirmed her diagnosis.

The Science & Education team's insight:
Another (after Bovine Spongioform Encephalitus, Kuru and Creutzfeld-Jacob Disease) prion disease
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Science censorship is a global issue

Science censorship is a global issue | Communicating Science | Scoop.it
President Donald Trump issued an order on 23 January to effectively gag US government scientists at the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Agriculture from communicating with the media and the public (see Nature 542, 10–11; 2017). Regrettably, suppression of public scientific information is already the norm, or is being attempted, in many countries (see, for example, go.nature.com/2kr5dnd). We fear that such gagging orders could encourage senior bureaucrats to use funding as a tool with which to rein in academic freedoms.

In Australia, public servants must abide by codes of conduct for communication that restrict them from contributing scientific evidence to public debates. Allegations emerged in 2011 that an Australian state government had threatened to stop funding university scientists who spoke out against cattle grazing in national parks, despite peer-reviewed evidence that this could damage a fragile alpine ecosystem and was unlikely to reduce fire risk as claimed (see also Nature 471, 422; 2011).

The response of scientists to this type of coercion has been to share scientific information widely and openly using such legal means as social media to defend facts and transparency (see Nature 541, 435; 2017). Academics and scientific associations are among the last still free to speak, so must continue to do so to protect open discussion of government policies.
The Science & Education team's insight:
A short article but important
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Is fruit eating responsible for big brains?

Is fruit eating responsible for big brains? | Communicating Science | Scoop.it

Controversial study suggests diet, not social life, drove brain evolution


Ask any biologist what makes primates special, and they’ll tell you the same thing: big brains. Those impressive noggins make it possible for primates from spider monkeys to humans to use tools, find food, and navigate the complex relationships of group living. But scientists disagree on what drove primates to evolve big brains in the first place. Now, a new study comes to an unexpected conclusion: fruit.


“The paper is enormously valuable,” says Richard Wrangham, a biological anthropologist at Harvard University who was not involved in the work. For the last 20 years, many scientists have argued that primates evolved bigger brains to live in bigger groups, an idea known as the “social brain hypothesis.” The new study’s large sample size and robust statistical methods suggest diet and ecology deserve more attention, Wrangham says. But not everyone is convinced. Others say that although a nutrient-rich diet allows for bigger brains, it wouldn’t be enough by itself to serve as a selective evolutionary pressure. When the authors compare diet and social life, “they’re comparing apples and oranges,” says Robin Dunbar, an evolutionary psychologist at the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom and one of the original authors of the social brain hypothesis.


Alex DeCasien, the new study’s author, didn’t set out to shake up this decades-long debate. The doctoral student in biological anthropology at New York University in New York City wanted to tease out whether monogamous primates had bigger or smaller brains than more promiscuous species. She collected data about the diets and social lives of more than 140 species across all four primate groups—monkeys, apes, lorises, and lemurs—and calculated which features were more likely to be associated with bigger brains. To her surprise, neither monogamy nor promiscuity predicted anything about a primate’s brain size. Neither did any other measure of social complexity, such as group size. The only factor that seemed to predict which species had larger brains was whether their diets were primarily leaves or fruit, DeCasien and her colleagues report today in Nature Ecology & Evolution.

The Science & Education team's insight:
There will continue to be debate about the development of intelligence, one more contribution.
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Deceitful science reporting by the Australian newspaper, again - on climate change

Deceitful science reporting by the Australian newspaper, again - on climate change | Communicating Science | Scoop.it

The Australian offers scant coverage about the latest bleaching of the Great Barrier Reef


Even more remarkable, The Australian’s environment editor, Graham Lloyd, who describes himself as: "… a fearless reporter on all sides of the environment debate. — The Australian " has also had absolutely nothing to say. Extraordinary isn’t it? In fact, Lloyd’s been silent on coral bleaching since mid-last year when he reported that scientists had exaggerated the problem. That it wasn’t too bad. And that the scientific world was divided. Media Watch ripped into that article at the time because Lloyd relied heavily to make his case on a bird migration specialist from California called Jim Steele. Who was not an expert on coral reefs, Or on oceans, Or on global warming,

The Science & Education team's insight:
Lloyd has long record of deceit and ignorance:
http://www.abc.net.au/mediawatch/transcripts/s4189864.htm

This is a long tradition of the Murdoch media
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