Communicating Science
2.9K views | +0 today
Communicating Science
Examples and discussion of current science, science communication and science teaching
Your new post is loading...
Your new post is loading...
Scooped by The Science & Education team
Scoop.it!

Vegan diets one source of malnutrition - but supplements can fix

Vegan diets one source of malnutrition - but supplements can fix | Communicating Science | Scoop.it

Does the West need bio-fortification programmes to prevent an epidemic of hidden hunger caused by a rise in veganism?


Eating a plant-based diet may lower the risk of chronic disease and is good for the environment, but poorly planned vegan diets that do not replace the critical nutrients found in meat, can lead to serious micronutrient deficiencies.


Bone health is a concern for long-term vegans. Vegans are consistently reported to have lower intakes of calcium and vitamin D, with resultant lower blood levels of vitamin D and lower bone mineral density reported worldwide. Fracture rates are also nearly a third higher among vegans compared with the general population.


Omega 3 and iodine levels are also lower compared with meat eaters, as are vitamin B12 levels. Vitamin B12 is most often obtained from animal foods, and higher rates of deficiency have been found in vegans compared with other vegetarians and meat eaters. The symptoms can be serious and include extreme tiredness and weakness, poor digestion and developmental delays in young children. Untreated, vitamin B12 deficiency can cause irreversible nerve damage.

The Science & Education team's insight:
Another thing to worry about but to be forewarned is to be forearmed. A more sympathetic rewriting of the article would have made it much more likely to influence vegans.
more...
No comment yet.
Scooped by The Science & Education team
Scoop.it!

First CRISPR babies: Six questions that remain

First CRISPR babies: Six questions that remain | Communicating Science | Scoop.it

Startling human-genome editing claim leaves many open questions, from He Jiankui's next move to the future of the field.


The meeting at which He Jiankui explained his extraordinary claim to have helped produce the first babies — twin girls — born with edited genomes came to a close with a statement that came down hard on the scientist.


“We heard an unexpected and deeply disturbing claim that human embryos had been edited and implanted, resulting in a pregnancy and the birth of twins,” reads the statement released by the organizing committee of the Second International Summit on Human Genome Editing in Hong Kong on 29 November. “Even if the modifications are verified, the procedure was irresponsible and failed to conform with international norms."

The Science & Education team's insight:
There is a lot more to find out about this research and a lot more to be said. A great case study for ethics and socio-cultural issues  in science. There is lots of good analysis about at the moment, for example: https://theconversation.com/crispr-babies-and-other-ethical-missteps-in-science-threaten-chinas-global-standing-108009
more...
No comment yet.
Scooped by The Science & Education team
Scoop.it!

The insect apocalypse is here

The insect apocalypse is here | Communicating Science | Scoop.it

What does it mean for the rest of life on Earth?


Because insects are legion, inconspicuous and hard to meaningfully track, the fear that there might be far fewer than before was more felt than documented. People noticed it by canals or in backyards or under streetlights at night — familiar places that had become unfamiliarly empty. The feeling was so common that entomologists developed a shorthand for it, named for the way many people first began to notice that they weren’t seeing as many bugs. They called it the windshield phenomenon.


When entomologists began noticing and investigating insect declines, they lamented the absence of solid information from the past in which to ground their experiences of the present. “We see a hundred of something, and we think we’re fine,” Wagner says, “but what if there were 100,000 two generations ago?” Rob Dunn, an ecologist at North Carolina State University who helped design the net experiment in Denmark, recently searched for studies showing the effect of pesticide spraying on the quantity of insects living in nearby forests. He was surprised to find that no such studies existed. “We ignored really basic questions,” he said. “It feels like we’ve dropped the ball in some giant collective way.”

The Science & Education team's insight:
A bit of hyperbole in the title but good extended form journalism (and an important issue)
more...
No comment yet.
Scooped by The Science & Education team
Scoop.it!

Fake illnesses cause real harm

Fake illnesses cause real harm | Communicating Science | Scoop.it

Afflicted is a documentary following the lives and treatments of people "diagnosed" with illnesses not recognized by science. Conversely, it could also be seen as a documentary illustrating the risks and harms of alternative medicine.


Fake illnesses have been created and used by quacks to peddle snake oil for as long as there has been snake oil to sell. That’s not a new thing. What is a new thing is the role of social media in allowing people to isolate themselves in social media echo chambers. Social media echo chambers that can be easily manipulated by people who have a financial interest in selling treatments for illnesses that don’t exist. One Facebook group, “Multiple Chemical Sensitivity and EMF Sensitivity Healed” is owned by someone who sells a book on how to treat MCS and EMF sensitivity.


While the subjects in Afflicted have strong family support both financially and emotionally, it’s the people who don’t and aren’t going to be in a Netflix show that concern me. It’s truly shocking to look into a fake illness support group echo chamber, and see how easily someone could be sucked in. These illnesses might be fake but they can get people killed, via suicide or sketchy treatments. It’s unfortunate that mental illness and mental health treatment is stigmatized to the point where it’s considered offensive to recommend mental health treatment to someone who likely has a psychosomatic illness. If people who believe they have these illnesses don’t receive the compassionate, evidence-based care they need, they will be taken advantage of.

The Science & Education team's insight:
A review of a program that you probably never need to watch but it, without a great deal of nuance, makes some important points.
more...
No comment yet.
Scooped by The Science & Education team
Scoop.it!

Hominids not to blame for extinction of African megafauna

Hominids not to blame for extinction of African megafauna | Communicating Science | Scoop.it
Human ancestors have been proposed as drivers of extinctions of Africa's diverse large mammal communities. Faith et al. challenge this view with an analysis of eastern African herbivore communities spanning the past ∼7 million years (see the Perspective by Bobe and Carvalho). Megaherbivores (for example, elephants, rhinos, and hippos) began to decline about 4.6 million years ago, preceding evidence for hominin consumption of animal tissues by more than 1 million years. Instead, megaherbivore decline may have been triggered by declining atmospheric carbon dioxide and expansion of grasslands.


It has long been proposed that pre-modern hominin impacts drove extinctions and shaped the evolutionary history of Africa’s exceptionally diverse large mammal communities, but this hypothesis has yet to be rigorously tested. We analyzed eastern African herbivore communities spanning the past 7 million years—encompassing the entirety of hominin evolutionary history—to test the hypothesis that top-down impacts of tool-bearing, meat-eating hominins contributed to the demise of megaherbivores prior to the emergence of Homo sapiens . We document a steady, long-term decline of megaherbivores beginning ~4.6 million years ago, long before the appearance of hominin species capable of exerting top-down control of large mammal communities and predating evidence for hominin interactions with megaherbivore prey. Expansion of C4 grasslands can account for the loss of megaherbivore diversity.

The Science & Education team's insight:
Another one of my favourite theories hits the dust but it doesn't clear humans from most of the other megafaunal extinctions.
more...
No comment yet.
Scooped by The Science & Education team
Scoop.it!

First ion-drive plane flight

First ion-drive plane flight | Communicating Science | Scoop.it

Scientists demonstrate silent 'ion drive' powered by charged air.


Researchers from MIT have flown a plane powered by an ‘ion drive’ for the first time. The drive uses high powered electrodes to ionise and accelerate air particles, creating an ‘ionic wind’. This wind drove a 5m wide craft across a sports hall. Unlike the ion drives which have powered space craft for decades, this new drive uses air as its accelerant. The researchers say it could power silent drones.

The Science & Education team's insight:
Good use of an interview, animation and film
more...
No comment yet.
Scooped by The Science & Education team
Scoop.it!

The secrets of cube-shaped wombat faeces

The secrets of cube-shaped wombat faeces | Communicating Science | Scoop.it

Researchers investigate why excrement emerges in awkward-shaped blocks


Of all the many mysteries that surround the common wombat, it is hard to find one as baffling as its ability – broadly acknowledged as unique in the natural world – to produce faeces shaped like cubes.


Why the pudgy marsupials might benefit from six-faced faeces is generally agreed upon: wombats mark their territorial borders with fragrant piles of poo and the larger the piles the better. With die-shaped dung, wombats boost the odds that their droppings, deposited near burrow entrances, prominent rocks, raised ground and logs, will not roll away. That, at least, is the thinking.


But quite how the animals produce the awkward-shaped blocks – and they can pass up to 100 per night, presumably with some trepidation – has proved a harder one to work out. Scientists who find themselves intrigued by the phenomenon have made little progress beyond ruling out the nagging suspicion that the animals possessed square anuses.

The Science & Education team's insight:
Not exactly a solution but good fun. Why was this done by an American and reported by Brits?
more...
No comment yet.
Scooped by The Science & Education team
Scoop.it!

Advice for a starting PhD

Advice for a starting PhD | Communicating Science | Scoop.it

Recent PhD graduate Lucy A. Taylor shares the advice she and her colleagues wish they had received.


1. Maintain a healthy work–life balance by finding a routine that works for you. It’s better to develop a good balance and work steadily throughout your programme than to work intensively and burn out. Looking after yourself is key to success.


2. Discuss expectations with your supervisor. Everyone works differently. Make sure you know your needs and communicate them to your supervisor early on, so you can work productively together.


3. Invest time in literature reviews. These reviews, both before and after data collection, help you to develop your research aims and conclusions.


4. Decide on your goals early. Look at your departmental guidelines and then establish clear PhD aims or questions on the basis of your thesis requirements. Goals can change later, but a clear plan will help you to maintain focus.


5. “I don’t need to write that down, I’ll remember it” is the biggest lie you can tell yourself! Write down everything you do — even if it doesn’t work. This includes meeting notes, method details, code annotations, among other things.


6. Organize your work and workspace. In particular, make sure to use meaningful labels, so you know what and where things are. Organizing early will save you time later on.


7. It’s never too early to start writing your thesis. Write and show your work to your supervisor as you go — even if you don’t end up using your early work, it’s good practice and a way to get ideas organized in your head.


8. Break your thesis down into SMART (specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and timely) goals. You will be more productive if your to-do list reads “draft first paragraph of the results” rather than “write chapter 1”. Many small actions lead to one complete thesis.


9. The best thesis is a finished thesis. No matter how much time you spend perfecting your first draft, your work will come back covered in corrections, and you will go through more drafts before you submit your final version. Send your drafts to your supervisor sooner rather than later.



10. Be honest with your supervisor. Let them know if you don’t understand something, if you’ve messed up an experiment or if they forgot to give you feedback. The more honest you are, the better your relationship will be. Helping your supervisor to help you is key.


11. Back up your work! You can avoid many tears by doing this at least weekly.


12. Socialize with your lab group and other students. It’s a great way to discuss PhD experiences, get advice and help, improve your research and make friends.


13. Attend departmental seminars and lab-group meetings, even (or especially) when the topic is not your area of expertise. What you learn could change the direction of your research and career. Regular attendance will also be noticed.


14. Present your research. This can be at lab-group meetings, conferences and so on. Presenting can be scary, but it gets easier as you practise, and it’s a fantastic way to network and get feedback at the same time.


15. Aim to publish your research. It might not work out, but drafting articles and submitting them to journals is a great way to learn new skills and enhance your CV.


16. Have a life outside work. Although your lab group is like your work family, it’s great for your mental health to be able to escape work. This could be through sport, clubs, hobbies, holidays or spending time with friends.


17. Don’t compare yourself with others. Your PhD is an opportunity to conduct original research that reveals new information. As such, all PhD programmes are different. You just need to do what works for you and your project.


18. The nature of research means that things will not always go according to plan. This does not mean you are a bad student. Keep calm, take a break and then carry on. Experiments that fail can still be written up as part of a successful PhD.


19. Never struggle on your own. Talk to other students and have frank discussions with your supervisor. There’s no shame in asking for help. You are not alone.


20. Enjoy your PhD! It can be tough, and there will be days when you wish you had a ‘normal’ job, but PhDs are full of wonderful experiences and give you the opportunity to work on something that fascinates you. Celebrate your successes and enjoy yourself.

The Science & Education team's insight:
Even if it is written for a lab based science PhD most of the advice is pretty sensible.
more...
No comment yet.
Scooped by The Science & Education team
Scoop.it!

Leon Lederman (1922-2018): “Physics is not religion, if it were, we would have a much easier time raising money.”

Leon Lederman (1922-2018): “Physics is not religion, if it were, we would have a much easier time raising money.” | Communicating Science | Scoop.it

Physicist who expanded the family tree of fundamental particles.


PDF version Leon Lederman Credit: Kevin Fleming/Corbis/Getty Leon Max Lederman’s stunning discoveries, leadership and advocacy laid the foundations for particle physics today. His discovery of the muon neutrino established that there was more than one type of neutrino. His observation of muon decay knocked down a pillar theory about symmetry in one of the fundamental forces. His discovery of the long-lived neutral kaon meson helped to home in on one of the great mysteries of physics. And his discovery of bottom quarks — subatomic particles that make up neutrons and protons — led researchers to uncover a third family of quarks.


Self-effacing, approachable and imaginative, Lederman was a consummate joke-teller. “Physics is not religion,” he used to quip. “If it were, we would have a much easier time raising money.” He had good taste in research problems and a gift for recognizing connections and opportunities. He was also a charismatic communicator; in later years, he focused on advancing science education. He died on 3 October in Rexburg, Idaho, aged 96.

The Science & Education team's insight:
more...
No comment yet.
Scooped by The Science & Education team
Scoop.it!

Elegant sea cucumbers in the Southern Ocean filmed by Australian Antarctic Division

Elegant sea cucumbers in the Southern Ocean filmed by Australian Antarctic Division | Communicating Science | Scoop.it

A mesmerizing deep-sea dancer by the name of Enypniastes eximia is enjoying a moment in the limelight after being filmed in the Southern Ocean off East Antarctica for what officials describe as the first time in that region. The footage of the sea cucumber, which is colloquially referred to as the “headless chicken monster,” comes courtesy of new underwater camera technology being used by researchers to aid in marine conservation efforts.


Video of the holothuroid was shared Sunday by the Australian Antarctic Division, which is part of Australia’s Department of the Environment and Energy. According to the division, the Enypniastes eximia had previously only been filmed in the Gulf of Mexico. “For me what is remarkable about this discovery is that we had no idea that this organism would be found in the Southern Ocean.


All the previous specimens we could find records of are from further north than where we recorded it at Heard Island,” Australian Antarctic Division Program Leader Dirk Welsford told Gizmodo by email. “It highlights how little we know about the deep ocean, particularly down south.”


This remarkable little creature—one of hundreds of known species of sea cucumber—spends most of its time buoying along the seafloor and using its “modified tube-feet” to feed on surface sediments, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). They can swim if they want to, and use fin-like structures to escape predators or lift off the ocean floor. Sea cucumbers are an important part of the marine ecosystem—they’re sometimes referred to as the vacuum cleaners of the sea—but some are on the brink of extinction as the result of overfishing.

The Science & Education team's insight:
Why is this stunningly beautiful creature called  a "headless chicken monster"?
more...
No comment yet.
Scooped by The Science & Education team
Scoop.it!

Brush Turkeys - Citizen science project

Brush Turkeys - Citizen science project | Communicating Science | Scoop.it

Explore the map and view all the locations.


The Australian Brush-turkey (Alectura lathami) is an endemic Australian bird species from the Megapode family. Birds in the Megapode family are also known as mound-builders. Brush-turkeys occur naturally in rainforests and woodlands, where they forage by raking through leaf litter and soil for fruit, seeds, insects, lizards, and almost anything edible. Despite being poor fliers, they are capable runners and climbers. What sets them apart from other birds is their unique reproductive behaviour. Rather than incubating their eggs with their body heat, Brush-turkey males construct huge nest mounds out of soil and leaf litter, often weighing up to 3 tonnes. The breakdown and decomposition of this material produces heat that keeps the buried eggs around 33°C. Once the chicks hatch they are completely independent of their parents and are capable of forging and flight from day one.

The Science & Education team's insight:
Another citizen science project uses a commercial platform: https://www.spotteron.net/
more...
No comment yet.
Scooped by The Science & Education team
Scoop.it!

Doing a PhD requires you to embrace failure

Doing a PhD requires you to embrace failure | Communicating Science | Scoop.it

Students must learn that a doctoral degree isn’t for everyone — and that not doing one might be a better option.


My own graduate experience and 20 years in academic research have taught me that someone can be a good student without necessarily having what it takes to get a PhD or a career in academia. Often, students I see think that a solid undergraduate degree should guarantee later academic success, but the reality is quite different.


Along with a healthy dose of luck, the key attributes needed to produce a worthy PhD thesis are a readiness to accept failure; resilience; persistence; the ability to troubleshoot; dedication; independence; and a willingness to commit to very hard work — together with curiosity and a passion for research. The two most common causes of hardship in PhD students are an inability to accept failure and choosing this career path for the prestige, rather than out of any real interest in research.

The Science & Education team's insight:
Giving students the time and permission to fail and repeat and learn
more...
No comment yet.
Scooped by The Science & Education team
Scoop.it!

Black holes have soft hair: Stephen Hawking's final paper

Black holes have soft hair: Stephen Hawking's final paper | Communicating Science | Scoop.it

Malcolm Perry, who worked with Hawking on his final paper, explains how it improves our understanding of one of the enduring mysteries of the universe


The information paradox is perhaps the most puzzling problem in fundamental theoretical physics today. It was discovered by Stephen Hawking 43 years ago, and until recently has puzzled many. Starting in 2015, Stephen, Andrew Strominger and I started to wonder if we could understand a way out of this difficulty by questioning the basic assumptions that underlie the difficulties.


We published our first paper on the subject in 2016 and have been working hard on this problem ever since. The most recent work, and perhaps the last paper that Stephen was involved in, has just come out. While we have not solved the information paradox, we hope that we have paved the way, and we are continuing our intensive work in this area.

The Science & Education team's insight:
And if you want to read the paper
more...
No comment yet.
Scooped by The Science & Education team
Scoop.it!

The top ten weird science stories of 2018 and more

The top ten weird science stories of 2018 and more | Communicating Science | Scoop.it

The top 10 WEIRD science stories of 2018 from the AusSMC

There was no shortage of weird and wonderful science in 2018 - octopuses were high on ecstasy, a billionaire shot a car into space, scientists injected memories between sea snails and someone started a petition to drink the 'mummy juice' found in a 2,000-year-old sarcophagus, among many other peculiar science tales.

The Science & Education team's insight:
There is also the top ten straight science stories from the great Australian Media Science Centre (if you haven't signed up to Scimex yet, what is stopping you?)
Try not to think of Hokusai's 蛸と海女
more...
No comment yet.
Scooped by The Science & Education team
Scoop.it!

Discovery of new source of low-energy X-rays complicates measuring universe's expansion

Discovery of new source of low-energy X-rays complicates measuring universe's expansion | Communicating Science | Scoop.it

A study led by Texas Tech University shows that supersoft X-ray emissions can come from accretion as well as nuclear fusion.


For decades, astronomers and astrophysicists have used a specific type of supernova to measure the expansion of the universe. But a recent discovery led by Texas Tech University may turn that notion on its head. Supersoft X-ray emission – a very strong level of the weakest X-rays – has long been considered a result of nuclear fusion on the surface of a white dwarf, a small, very dense star. But a new detection of supersoft emissions that are clearly not powered by fusion is showing scientists that fusion is not the only way such emissions occur, according to a study published today (Dec. 3) in the journal Nature Astronomy. Read more at: https://phys.org/news/2018-12-discovery-complicates-efforts-universe-expansion.html#jCp

The Science & Education team's insight:
Even when you think you know the universe's expansion (but not why), a new discovery can throw it all up in the air. The mechanism of the production of soft (low-energy) X-rays and how it was inferred is actually more interesting than speculations about the expansion of the universe.
more...
No comment yet.
Scooped by The Science & Education team
Scoop.it!

Air Dryers vs Paper Towels

Air Dryers vs Paper Towels | Communicating Science | Scoop.it

Which hand drying method is the best, air or paper towel? The answer is more complicated than you might think – but do wash your hand.


Given all of this, what is the best current decision regarding hand drying method in public spaces? The answer is – it depends. It depends upon your priorities.


If your major goal is minimizing carbon footprint or personal cost, than air jets are the way to go. If you want to maximize customer service, than it seems that most people prefer paper towels, given that they use them more and avoid or minimize their use of air dryers in high percentages. You can also provide both options and let patrons decide, depending on their preferences and current needs.


If, however, your primary goal is hygiene, which is the case in hospitals and other healthcare settings, then paper towels are the current clear winner. They dry hands faster, more completely, and minimize the spread of bacteria to the environment and cross contamination. Since hospitals are notoriously loaded with resistant infectious bacteria, this is clearly an important goal.


There are other considerations, however. Focusing on drying method ignores the issue of how hands are cleaned in the first place. There is clear evidence that washing hands thoroughly with soap is critical to good hygiene. If soap is used, then there is essentially no significant bacteria left to spread to the environment.


Further, hospitals generally use sanitizer, which contains alcohol and is self drying. The CDC recommends either washing with soap, or using a sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol to minimize bacteria. Some studies show that high alcohol content hand sanitizers are superior to hand washing for reducing bacteria, in fact. (Although hand washing is better for removing dirt.)

The Science & Education team's insight:
An ongoing debate - cogently articulated
more...
No comment yet.
Scooped by The Science & Education team
Scoop.it!

First human embryo genome edit provokes international outcry

First human embryo genome edit provokes international outcry | Communicating Science | Scoop.it

The startling announcement by a Chinese scientist represents a controversial leap in the use of genome-editing.


A Chinese scientist claims to have helped make the world’s first genome-edited babies — twin girls, who were born this month. The announcement has provoked shock and outrage among scientists around the world.


He Jiankui, a genome-editing researcher at the Southern University of Science and Technology of China in Shenzhen, says that he impregnated a woman with embryos that had been edited to disable the genetic pathway HIV uses to infect cells.


In a video posted to YouTube, He says the girls are healthy and now at home with their parents. Sequencing of the babies’ DNA has shown that the editing worked, and altered only the target gene, he says.


The scientist’s claims have not been verified through independent genome testing, nor published in a peer-reviewed journal. But, if true, the twins’ birth would represent a significant — and controversial — leap in the use of genome editing. Until now, the use of these tools in embryos has been limited to research, often to investigate the benefit of using the technology to eliminate disease-causing mutations from the human germ line. But some studies have reported off-target effects, raising significant safety concerns.

The Science & Education team's insight:
Sooner or later it had to happen. The real question is whether this will open the floodgates or whether like nuclear weapons this will be contained - for a time. We need to think about how we will respond to genetically engineered humans.
more...
No comment yet.
Scooped by The Science & Education team
Scoop.it!

STEM: What’s holding females back?

STEM: What’s holding females back? | Communicating Science | Scoop.it

Dr Sue Thomson addresses three broad areas that may hold females back from participation in STEM subjects in school and in entering these careers, providing teachers with the knowledge to address the underlying issues.


While the 20th century saw women stride ahead in their participation in education and the workforce, there are still gender differences apparent in some areas of education. In particular, females do not enrol in higher mathematics, science, or ICT, or move into STEM-based careers to the same extent as males. We rightly celebrate great achievements for women in science, such as the Nobel Prizes awarded in Physics to Donna Strickland and in Chemistry to Frances Arnold this year, but why are these achievements such a rarity?


Perhaps it’s because women are still vastly underrepresented in many of the sciences at tertiary level. The OECD reported that in 2012 only 14 per cent of young women entering university for the first time chose science-related fields compared to 39 per cent of young men and, within these science-related fields, enrolments are quite skewed, reflecting long-held beliefs about ability. Overall, young women represent almost half of the enrolments in the natural sciences; however, this is predominantly in biological and environmental sciences, in which more than half of the enrolments are females. In the physical sciences, young women make up about 38 per cent of enrolments, dropping to 25 per cent in mathematics and statistics. In other STEM related fields, young women make up 22 per cent of the enrolments in engineering, and just 19 per cent of the enrolments in ICT (OECD, 2018). These enrolments reflect the decline in participation in mathematics and the sciences at secondary school – across the country enrolments in such have declined, and they declined from a low base.


This article addresses three broad areas that may hold females back from participation in these subjects in school and in entering STEM careers, providing teachers with the knowledge to address the underlying issues.

The Science & Education team's insight:
We still don't know but at least we asking the questions
more...
No comment yet.
Scooped by The Science & Education team
Scoop.it!

Extinction domino effect during extreme environmental change

Extinction domino effect during extreme environmental change | Communicating Science | Scoop.it

Climate change and human activity are dooming species at an unprecedented rate via a plethora of direct and indirect, often synergic, mechanisms. Among these, primary extinctions driven by environmental change could be just the tip of an enormous extinction iceberg. As our understanding of the importance of ecological interactions in shaping ecosystem identity advances, it is becoming clearer how the disappearance of consumers following the depletion of their resources — a process known as ‘co-extinction’ — is more likely the major driver of biodiversity loss. Although the general relevance of co-extinctions is supported by a sound and robust theoretical background, the challenges in obtaining empirical information about ongoing (and past) co-extinction events complicate the assessment of their relative contributions to the rapid decline of species diversity even in well-known systems, let alone at the global scale. By subjecting a large set of virtual Earths to different trajectories of extreme environmental change (global heating and cooling), and by tracking species loss up to the complete annihilation of all life either accounting or not for co-extinction processes, we show how ecological dependencies amplify the direct effects of environmental change on the collapse of planetary diversity by up to ten times.

The Science & Education team's insight:
Fun with computer games (I mean simulations)
more...
No comment yet.
Scooped by The Science & Education team
Scoop.it!

Metric system overhaul will dethrone the one, true kilogram

Metric system overhaul will dethrone the one, true kilogram | Communicating Science | Scoop.it

Rewrite of units in terms of physical constants will depose Le Grand K


Like an aging monarch, Le Grand K is about to bow to modernity. For 130 years, this gleaming cylinder of platinum-iridium alloy has served as the world’s standard for mass. Kept in a bell jar and locked away at the International Bureau of Weights and Measures (BIPM) in Sèvres, France, the weight has been taken out every 40 years or so to calibrate similar weights around the world. Now, in a revolution far less bloody than the one that cost King Louis XVI his head, it will cede its throne as the one, true kilogram.


When the 26th General Conference on Weights and Measures (CGPM) convenes next week in Versailles, France, representatives of the 60 member nations are expected to vote to redefine the International System of Units (SI) so that four of its base units—the kilogram, ampere, kelvin, and mole—are defined indirectly, in terms of physical constants that will be fixed by fiat. They’ll join the other three base units—the second, meter, and candela (a measure of a light’s perceived brightness)—that are already defined that way. The rewrite eliminates the last physical artifact used to define a unit, Le Grand K.

The Science & Education team's insight:
I may be a nerdy physicist but this is exciting. The last constant to fall. Measurement has always been central to physics and becoming more precise has created the world we inhabit. Witness the measurement of gravity waves which (to me) is the most recent dazzling example of precision (see Simon Winchester's latest book). Defining the units of measurement in terms of physical constants also captures the rich interplay between theoretical and experimental physics: a seamless transition from a physical object to an idea.
more...
No comment yet.
Scooped by The Science & Education team
Scoop.it!

Smart cockies make tools out of cardboard that are just the right length (and females can make them the right width)

Smart cockies make tools out of cardboard that are just the right length (and females can make them the right width) | Communicating Science | Scoop.it
The ability to innovatively use or even manufacture different tools depending on a current situation can be silhouetted against examples of stereotyped, inborn tool use/manufacture and is thus often associated to advanced cognitive processing. In this study we confronted non-specialized, yet innovative tool making birds, Goffin’s cockatoos (Cacatua goffiniana), with an apparatus featuring an out-of-reach food reward that could be placed at different distances from a tool opening. Alternatively, the food stayed at a constant distance but the tool opening in the front of the apparatus had different diameters. We used a novel material for tool manufacture (cardboard) that demanded an incrementally increased manufacturing effort from the actor, depending on the length of the tool required. We found that our subjects used two strategies to succeed in this tasks: either by making carboard-stripe tools using the full length of the material sheets originally offered or by adjusting the lengths of their tools to different goal distances. Subjects also discarded cardboard stripes that were too short to reach the goal prior to use and discarded longer pieces when the goal was further away than when it was close. Nevertheless, likely due to morphological constraints, the birds failed to adjust the widths of their tools depending on the diameter of the tool opening.
The Science & Education team's insight:
The division between humans and animals becomes fuzzier and fuzzier but remember, even though this is very clever, we are still not getting much further than a three year old.
more...
No comment yet.
Scooped by The Science & Education team
Scoop.it!

How citizen science is transforming research

How citizen science is transforming research | Communicating Science | Scoop.it

Projects that recruit the public are getting more ambitious and diverse, but the field faces some growing pains.


PDF version Filip Meysman knew he had made his mark on Antwerp when he overheard commuters discussing his research project on the train. Then, just a few days later, he saw an advertisement about his work on television. There it was, he says, “in between the toothpaste and George Clooney’s Nespresso”.


As a biogeochemist at the University of Antwerp in Belgium, Meysman wasn’t used to drawing so much attention. But that was before he adopted the citizens of northern Belgium as research partners. With the help of the Flemish environmental protection agency and a regional newspaper, Meysman and a team of non-academics attracted more than 50,000 people to CurieuzeNeuzen, an effort to assess the region’s air quality (the name is a play on Antwerp dialect for ‘nosy’ people).


The project ultimately distributed air-pollution samplers to 20,000 participants, who took readings for a month (see ‘Street science’). More than 99% of the sensors were returned to Meysman’s laboratory for analysis, yielding a bounty of 17,800 data points. They provided Meysman and his colleagues with information about nitrogen dioxide concentrations at ‘nose height’ — a level of the atmosphere that can’t be discerned by satellite and would be prohibitively expensive for scientists to measure on their own. “It has given us a data set which it is not possible to get by other means,” says Meysman, who models air quality.

The Science & Education team's insight:
I have always maintained that the real affordance of citizen science is in education. Here is another one that has just popped up: https://openexplorer.nationalgeographic.com/see
If you are interested you can join Australian Citizen Science Association https://citizenscience.org.au/ and don't forget Zooinverse https://www.zooniverse.org/

more...
No comment yet.
Scooped by The Science & Education team
Scoop.it!

Climate change killed off the marsupial lion

Climate change killed off the marsupial lion | Communicating Science | Scoop.it

Australia’s fiercest pouched predator was a forest specialist that took a hit when trees began to recede 350,000 years ago.


Australia’s largest-ever marsupial predator, Thylacoleo carnifex, probably dined on creatures from densely forested environments, according to a recent analysis.


This exposé of the creature’s culinary habits — presented at the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology meeting in Albuquerque, New Mexico, on 18 October — supports the idea that climate change led to this predator’s eventual extinction 30,000 to 40,000 years ago.


Research leader Larisa DeSantis, a palaeoecologist at Vanderbilt University in Tennessee, says that increasingly dry conditions that began in Australia 350,000 years ago would have shrunk the continent’s forests, causing populations of woodland prey to dwindle. This would have left their predators, such as the marsupial lion T. carnifex, vulnerable to extinction.

The Science & Education team's insight:
A clearer picture of our most iconic extinct carnivore
more...
No comment yet.
Scooped by The Science & Education team
Scoop.it!

Finding HIV's hiding places in the body

Finding HIV's hiding places in the body | Communicating Science | Scoop.it

To prevent the virus from rebounding after drug therapy, researchers must first map where it lurks in the body.


Antiretroviral drugs have transformed HIV infection from a death sentence to a chronic condition for many people who carry the virus. But because HIV never truly leaves the body, the virus rebounds rapidly if patients stop taking the drugs for even a short time.


Now scientists are trying to figure out how, and where, HIV hides when blood tests show that a person’s viral load is low or undetectable. The location of this reservoir has long been a mystery, but that could soon change. Powerful new techniques are giving researchers an unprecedented look at how HIV travels though the bodies of people and animals — turning up clues to the virus’s hiding places and new targets for future therapies. HIV is a challenging foe because it integrates into the DNA of its host cells.


Some scientists argue that a true cure would require removing all traces of the virus’s DNA from the body, rather than simply preventing HIV from hijacking cells to replicate itself — and that goal may be unreachable. “We are starting to realize that getting rid of all the HIV DNA is not completely realistic,” says Sara Gianella, an infectious-disease researcher at the University of California, San Diego.

The Science & Education team's insight:
Finding ways to investigate a cunning adversary
more...
No comment yet.
Scooped by The Science & Education team
Scoop.it!

More evidence of dramatic loss of insects around the world

More evidence of dramatic loss of insects around the world | Communicating Science | Scoop.it
Insects around the world are in a crisis, according to a small but growing number of long-term studies showing dramatic declines in invertebrate populations. A new report suggests that the problem is more widespread than scientists realized. Huge numbers of bugs have been lost in a pristine national forest in Puerto Rico, the study found, and the forest’s insect-eating animals have gone missing, too.

In 2014, an international team of biologists estimated that, in the past 35 years, the abundance of invertebrates such as beetles and bees had decreased by 45 percent. In places where long-term insect data are available, mainly in Europe, insect numbers are plummeting. A study last year showed a 76 percent decrease in flying insects in the past few decades in German nature preserves.

The latest report, published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, shows that this startling loss of insect abundance extends to the Americas. The study’s authors implicate climate change in the loss of tropical invertebrates.

“This study in PNAS is a real wake-up call — a clarion call — that the phenomenon could be much, much bigger, and across many more ecosystems,” said David Wagner, an expert in invertebrate conservation at the University of Connecticut who was not involved with this research. He added: “This is one of the most disturbing articles I have ever read.”
The Science & Education team's insight:
See the editorial in the latest issue of PNAS
more...
No comment yet.