Science Art: Ecphora gardnerae, by J.C. McConnell

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A shellfish that was around when megalodons swam and the first crows flew.

It was drawn by J.C. McConnell, a doctor who officially worked as a clerk for the Army Medical Museum, and gained a reputation for his shells, especially prehistoric ones.

If you’re going to be known for anything, I guess, why not that?

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SONG: "Jump, Jump, Jump."

SONG: “Jump, Jump, Jump”.

ARTIST: grant.

SOURCE: Based on “Fish and Adaptation: Mangrove Fish Jumps into Air in Warming Water”, Nature World News, 21 Oct 2015, as used in the post “Global warming might make the fish jump.”

ABSTRACT: First, let me say that this was done on time, even early. It started as a jokey thing I was singing to my son while he was watching me play guitar on the couch, and I decided what the hell. They call it “playing” music for a reason. (I guess if I spoke …

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SONG: All Praise Black Ice

SONG: “All Praise Black Ice”.

ARTIST: grant.

SOURCE: Based on “New Horizons Finds Blue Skies and Water Ice on Pluto”,, 8 Oct 2015, as used in the post “There’s water ice on another planet. Not Mars. Pluto.”


Laryngitis followed by a business trip and here I am, a couple weeks late. I hope the brass section makes up for that.

(Yes, there’s brass in there, somewhere. I really need help mastering these things, but one does what one can in between everything e…

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Science Art: Taf. V: Feuer-Salamander by Bruno Dürigen.


Fire salamanders.

They don’t look so hot.


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Science Art: Chemical Laboratory room. Experimental Research labs, Burroughs Wellcome and Co. Tuckahoe, New York

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Welcome to Wellcome.

They’ve got all kinds of wonderful things in their image gallery, including this marvelous experimenter in an even more marvelous experimental lab.

In 1935, this was where the future was made.

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It’s a little reading robot for the whole wide internet.

5 November 2015 // 0 Comments

New Scientist looks at the AI that’s been assigned the unenviable task of reading every scientific paper online and finding the important ones: Semantic Scholar, which launches today from the Seattle-based Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence (AI2), can automatically read, digest and categorise findings from the estimated 2 million scientific papers published each year. Up to half of these papers are never read by more than three people. The system aims to identify previously overlooked connections and information. “Our vision is of a scientist’s apprentice, giving researchers a very powerful way to analyse what’s going on in their field,” says Oren Etzioni, director of AI2. “If you’re a medical researcher, you could ask ‘what’s the latest on these drug interactions?’ Or even a query in natural language like, ‘what are papers saying about middle-aged women with diabetes and this particular drug?’” The system works by crawling the web for publicly available scientific papers, then scanning […]

Wrong Science. As if the p-hacking wasn’t bad enough…

12 October 2015 // 0 Comments

Nature tackles the “reproducibility problem” – trying to find out why some WRONG things get published as being RIGHT, but also how exactly scientists get so good at fooling themselves: Reflecting today on how it happened, [statistician Andrew] Gelman traces his error back to the natural fallibility of the human brain: “The results seemed perfectly reasonable,” he says. “Lots of times with these kinds of coding errors you get results that are just ridiculous. So you know something’s got to be wrong and you go back and search until you find the problem. If nothing seems wrong, it’s easier to miss it.” This is the big problem in science that no one is talking about: even an honest person is a master of self-deception. Our brains evolved long ago on the African savannah, where jumping to plausible conclusions about the location of ripe fruit or the presence of a predator was a matter of survival. […]

Short, simple abstracts… aren’t cited as much as those with abstracts tending to maximize the high-verbosity quotient.

5 May 2015 // 0 Comments

Laboratory Equipment has sad news for those of us who like straight, simple, elegant communication. It appears that scientific articles with abstracts packed with (unnecessary and obfuscatory) jargon are cited more often: The study, published in PLoS Computational Biology, suggests that most general writing rules are not as effective in scientific publications, which may reflect the influence of online search upon how science is discovered and consumed today. “What I think is funny is there’s this disconnect between what you’d like to read, and what scientists actually cite,” said Stefano Allesina, senior author of the study. “It’s very suggestive that we should not trust writing tips we take for granted.” During a seminar for incoming graduate students on how to write effective abstracts, Allesina wondered whether there was hard evidence for the “rules” that were taught. So Allesina and Cody Weinberger, a University of Chicago undergraduate, gathered hundreds of writing suggestions from scientific literature and […]

Make science beautiful, researchers.

27 January 2015 // 0 Comments

That, according to Nature, is the call issued by ecologist Stephen Heard, who wants researchers to keep their prose whimsical, funny, elegant and moving: In a guest post on the Tree of Life blog, Heard wrote that “style and beauty are not incompatible with scientific writing” and offered a few examples to make the point. One of these is a 2011 article in which Matthew Rockman, an evolutionary biologist at New York University in New York City, uses the nineteenth-century California gold rush as an extended metaphor for the ongoing hunt for meaningful gene variants in the human genome. Rockman wrote: “The shiny (Mendelian) nuggets are rapidly being collected, and ever larger teams of researchers with ever more powerful technologies are now probing whole genomes to find their quarry.” … [Isabelle Côté, a marine ecologist at Simon Fraser University in Burnaby, Canada, ]says that some of her own attempts at whimsy have been quashed by […]

Post-Script: The House just passed a bill barring scientists from advising the EPA on their own research.

20 November 2014 // 0 Comments

This is from Salon, so not exactly science reportage here, but still: In what might be the most ridiculous aspect of the whole thing, the bill forbids scientific experts from participating in “advisory activities” that either directly or indirectly involve their own work. In case that wasn’t clear: experts would be forbidden from sharing their expertise in their own research — the bizarre assumption, apparently, being that having conducted peer-reviewed studies on a topic would constitute a conflict of interest. “In other words,” wrote Union of Concerned Scientists director Andrew A. Rosenberg in an editorial for RollCall, “academic scientists who know the most about a subject can’t weigh in, but experts paid by corporations who want to block regulations can.”

“There are some real frustrations.” – Rocket scientist & Representative Rush Holt, on how science works in Congress.

20 November 2014 // 0 Comments

Scientific American (via Nature) has more about Rush Holt’s eight-term Congressional career, and his new gig as CEO of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS): Is it distressing that science funding has been slashed in recent years? It’s not just science funding. In Congress, the public understanding of science has slipped in recent years and the way science is integrated into public policy has deteriorated somewhat so there is a lot of work to be done. This is not just communication and education but also making sure scientists understand the importance of integrating their work into public policy. Why has that slippage taken place? For a variety of reasons, some of which go back to the fact that for 50 years now in schools we have been teaching science primarily for future scientists rather than for every future member of society and every future citizen. …. In the current political climate of […]

Fish researchers: “Our mirrors have become USELESS!”

10 October 2014 // 0 Comments

Nature breaks the news to behaviorists – and this is more important than it might seem – that fish don’t really think mirrors are uninvited strangers: “There’s been a very long history of using a mirror as it’s just so handy,” says Robert Elwood, an animal-behaviour researcher at Queen’s University in Belfast, UK. Using a mirror radically simplifies aggression experiments, cutting down the number of animals required and providing the animal being observed with an ‘opponent’ perfectly matched in terms of size and weight. But in a study just published in Animal Behaviour, Elwood and his team add to evidence that many mirror studies are flawed. The researchers looked at how convict cichlid fish (Amatitlania nigrofasciata) reacted both to mirrors and to real fish of their own species. This species prefers to display their right side in aggression displays, which means that they end up alongside each other in a head-to-tail configuration. It is impossible […]

Is a hard rain gonna fall… on scientists who’re slipping Dylan lyrics into their articles?

30 September 2014 // 0 Comments

Washington Post reveals a secret scientific conspiracy to sneak as many Bob Dylan lyrics into publications as possible: While writing an article about intestinal gasses 17 years ago, Karolinska Institute researchers John Lundberg and Eddie Weitzberg couldn’t resist a punny title: “Nitric Oxide and inflammation: The answer is blowing in the wind”. Thus began their descent down the slippery slope of Bob Dylan call-outs. While the two men never put lyrics into their peer-reviewed studies, The Local Sweden reports, they started a personal tradition of getting as many Dylan quotes as possible into everything else they wrote — articles about other peoples’ work, editorials, book introductions, and so on. Soon, the pun ring doubled in size. … A fifth scientist joined the group when his article “Tangled up in blue: Molecular cardiology in the postmolecular era” hit the stands. Now, the researchers say, they have a running bet: Whoever can sneak in the most references […]

Science Art: Water Features and Relief Features, from The preparation of illustrations for reports of the United States Geological survey, with brief descriptions of processes of reproduction, 1920

2 February 2014 // 0 Comments

Click to embiggen An illustration illustrating illustration. This is how standardized maps are made. These are the standards. From The preparation of illustrations for reports of the United States Geological survey, with brief descriptions of processes of reproduction, by John L. Ridgway, a meta-illustrator.

A positron and an electron walk into a bar…

6 January 2014 // 0 Comments

The Guardian polls scientists to get their favorite (and corniest) science jokes: ? A weed scientist goes into a shop. He asks: “Hey, you got any of that inhibitor of 3-phosphoshikimate-carboxyvinyl transferase? Shopkeeper: “You mean Roundup?” Scientist: “Yeah, that’s it. I can never remember that dang name.” Made up by and first told by me. John A Pickett, scientific leader of chemical ecology, Rothamsted Research … ? After sex, one behaviourist turned to another behaviourist and said, “That was great for you, but how was it for me?” It’s an oldie. I came across it in the late 1980s in a book by cognitive science legend Philip Johnson-Laird. Behaviourism was a movement in psychology that put the scientific observation of behaviour above theorising about unobservables like thoughts, feelings and beliefs. Johnson-Laird was one of my teachers at Cambridge, and he was using the joke to comment on the “cognitive revolution” that had overthrown behaviourism and […]

India’s super-efficient Mars mission.

5 November 2013 // 0 Comments

You might have seen on BBC and elsewhere that India launched a rocket to Mars. But have you seen the Quartz article on just how inexpensively they managed to do it?: Christened Mangalyaan, or Mars vehicle, the rocket is part of a scientific mission that cost a grand total of Rs 4.5 billion, or $73 million. In terms of the space business, that’s a bargain. By contrast, NASA’s next Mars mission will cost $671 million and do the same thing as India’s craft: orbit the red planet collecting data. The secret to India’s low-budget space program is a simple one: operating within constraints and without luxuries. The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) adapts what technology it can, strips out costs wherever it can and is staffed with modestly-paid yet incredibly hard-working scientists, explains the Economic Times. It is willing to take more risks, for example by building just one physical model of its craft compared […]

Brain-tech DIYers! Grinders! Wire-heads! Uncle Sam wants YOU!

25 October 2013 // 0 Comments

PhysOrg is sending out the call, as the Pentagon prepares to team up with brain-tech DIYers: […A]t the Maker Faire in New York, a new low-cost EEG recording front end was debuted at DARPA’s booth. Known as OpenBCI, the device can process eight channels of high quality EEG data, and interface it to popular platforms like Arduino. Arduinos are ideal devices because there is a huge developer community that provides, among other things, “shields” which plug right in to the Arduino boards to add functionality. An Arduino is also easy to program with an intuitive language that does not require tedious assembly-level knowledge. Furthermore, additional analysis functions are provided by increasing popular Processing software development environment. DARPA program manager William Casebeer said that his goal was to return next year to the Maker meeting with a device that costs under $30. Other low cost projects they are funding include 3D printed electrodes by a startup […]

Science Art: “How to Get Ahead in Science? Simple.” Jim Kelly, Houston Press, August 19, 1991.

3 September 2013 // 0 Comments

Ever since the Buckyball story broke big last year, Rice University chemist Rick Smalley has been getting the phone calls. Rick, they say, this is Jamie in Minnesota, and I saw this article. I just wanted you to know that I’ve dreamed about this molecule and now I can see it. And Smalley, whose job it is in a sense to dream about molecules, finds himself talking to a complete stranger about the one he discovered by accident. Officially, the molecule is called buckminsterfullerene, in honor of the eccentric futurist-inventor R. Buckminster Fuller, and it fascinates not only the Jamies of this world, but the Paul Chus as well…. Ride easy, Jim.

Meet the woman who found “the God particle”.

29 July 2013 // 0 Comments introduces us to the genteel, cultured Fabiola Gianotti – accomplished pianist, paleontologist’s daughter, coffee enthusiast, trained classicist… and the kind of person who hunts the Higgs boson: Nature is her ultimate inspiration, Gianotti says, and she explains how she inherited her love of it from her father, an Italian micropaleontologist. His work meant the family was mainly based in busy cities, first Rome and later Milan, but he ensured his young daughter was taken on excursions to the great outdoors at every opportunity. “I remember very long walks in the mountains, where we stopped at every step to admire a little plant or a little butterfly,” she says. An ammonite fossil, well known for displaying nature’s Fibonacci code, sits on her coffee table, a strong reminder of those times with her father, as well as a clue to guests that this is the home not just of a scientist but of a modern Renaissance […]

Frederick Kaufman wants to open-source genetically modified crops. And maybe save the planet.

10 July 2013 // 0 Comments

Slate has printed his controversial plan to live up to the promise of gene science without the industrial agriculture downside: The GMO story has become mired in the eco-wrecking narrative of industrial agriculture, and that is too bad for those who understand the real risks of climate change and discern our desperate need for innovation. And while the blue-sky hype of a genetically secured food supply has not become a reality, there have been a few breakthroughs. Even as climate change has increased the prevalence of many plant diseases, the new science can take credit for genetic inoculations that saved Hawaii’s papaya business. It’s also led to flood-resistant rice, created by Pamela Ronald of the University of California–Davis. Of course, the party-line foodie dare not say anything positive about GMOs, at risk of being labeled a stooge of the foodopolists. And it’s true: Monsanto, Dow, Bayer, and Pioneer are not interested in GMO innovations that […]

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