As a scientist I often get questions about new and exciting science in the news! Sadly most of this isn’t new… and the excitement is false.
But answering the questions, and better informing the public is worth it.
The anti-vaccine movement really bothers me, and people saying “vaccines cause autism, you can’t prove it doesn’t!”… sigh.
Luckily I stumbled across this amazing cartoon that answers every question you could ever have about vaccines.
The New Year is always a great time for reflection – Science, I Choose You! has put together an extremely link-tastic review of how 2014 went in terms of women in science. It reminds us of both the good (a woman won a Fields Medal in mathematics for the first time ever!) and the bad (specifically #gamergate and #shirtstorm). I highly recommend checking out the whole post – here!
There is a long history of organisms evolving to look similar to toxic/poisonous organisms. For example, there are a plentiful number of butterflies that resemble the very toxic monarch butterfly.
But this is a new one for me: Chicks of the cinereous mourner has plumage that looks exactly like the caterpillar. It even moves the way the caterpillar moves! Check out this article over at National Geographic.
Or just watch this cute little caterpillar:
And the bird that wants to look just like them:
While we all take a quick break for the holidays, we wanted to share this excellent fungal Christmas Tree!
A few weeks ago I posted that 80,000,000 bacteria may be transferred when you make-out with someone for greater than 10 seconds. Perhaps it’s no surprise then that a bacterial signature may also be transferred during other intimate activities.
At one point in the study, the two people who lived together suddenly had more similarity in their pubic hair bacteria than they had before. It turned out that they’d had sex 18 hours before the sample collection. Ergo, the study authors suggest, a forensic investigator could use microbial shifts to help prove that two people had had intimate contact.
Data came from a study where researchers looked at head and pubic hair samples from seven individuals, finding that pubic hair microbes are more “individualized” than head hair microbes. And while the authors acknowledge this is very, very preliminary – the (distant) applications of microbial evidence are interesting to think about:
“The implication of this present study is that the transfer of bacteria between victim and offender, in rape cases, may provide a new way of linking the offender to the victim, in instances in which no human DNA is transferred.”
Read more about the study here.
The keywords of this post are ones I’m unwilling to Google Image search – so here’s an alpaca with silly hair. Relevant? No. Amusing and better than what would come up under a search for “pubic hair microbiome”? Yes.
The pale-headed brushfinch, Atlapetes pallidiceps, is a conservation success story, or at least the first chapter of one. The birds were thought to be extinct, until a 1998 survey [PDF] of Ecuador’s Yunguilla Valley found four nesting pairs, and observed them foraging for insects and fruit. Following that rediscovery, the Fundacion Jocotoco secured a reserve encompassing the brush finches’ known territory, and took steps to control brood-parasitic cowbirds that were threatening them. Now, the population is five times bigger, with as many as 200 of the birds living in the reserve.
Have the brush finches’ rebounded enough to secure their population for the future? Populations that decline so precipitously can lose genetic variation, and may not regain it even if their numbers increase again. With reduced genetic variation, species that have undergone such a “population bottleneck” event may be unable to respond to natural selection imposed by disease or changing environments.
When science is used to support proposed changes to public policy, it isn’t uncommon for opponents of the policy changes to question the legitimacy of the studies cited. This often leads to rejection of scientific studies for completely unscientific reasons, and can even devolve into outright scientific denialism.
Earlier this year, the Obama administration proposed controversial policy changes related to sexual assault prevention on college campuses. As evidence of the need for reform, the White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault cited the statistic that one in five women attending college are sexually assaulted at some point during their time on campus. Unsurprisingly, those opposed to the sexual assault policy changes are questioning the legitimacy of both the statistic and the study that produced it.
Recently, Emily Yoffe published an article in which she argues that the statistics on sexual assault presented by the Obama administration are misleading. Yoffe describes herself as “bringing some healthy skepticism to the hard work of putting a number on the prevalence of campus rape.” The thing is, skepticism in and of itself isn’t really that helpful unless you understand how to think critically about scientific studies. Yoffe’s article presents a good example of how misconceptions about research methodology and statistics can derail an otherwise productive conversation and steer it towards the territory of science denialism.