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Memories from Lost Villages (from Liz O'Connell's blog)

Tue, 04/17/2012 - 12:38pm

Laura Nielsen for FrontierScientistsLostVillages_AttuWoman.PNGAttu Woman, John Malcolm Greany, 1941World War II brought conflict and trial to Alaska.Unalaska, located in the Aleutian Islands, had served as a trading hub for local villages. Native people from Biorka, Kashega, and Makushin would bring goods like fox pelts and baskets via boat and hiking trail to Unalaska to trade.In June 4, 1942, Unalaska was bombed.Nearby residents from the smallest Aleutian villages were evacuated via steamship and resettled in internment camps in southeast Alaska. They stayed in Wrangell then relocated to Ward Lake Evacuation camp near Ketchikan. The majority of the residents were Unangan (Aleut) Native people. When the war ended many were told their old home villages were unfit to live in; they were not resettled in their home villages but in Akutan or Unalaska.The story of the Attu people from Attu Island, the most westerly island of the Aletutian Island chain, is even more dire. They were captured by Japanese forces and held during the war in Otaru on the island of Hokkaido, Japan. Nearly half of their number perished. The Attu islanders were sent back to Alaska in 1946 and ended up in Atka, not back on Attu Island.LostVillages_AleutiansMap.PNGAleutian IslandsThe story of these four Aleutian villages, emptied during World War II and never resettled, for some are not only compelling history but living memory. The National Park Service’s Affiliated Areas program has endeavored to document the history of the Unangan (Aleut) villages lost during World War II. The Lost Villages Project tells stories from these Aleutian World War II National Historic Areas. This is accomplished through tales from former residents and stories collected and shared by their descendants.Each village hosted fewer than 50 people, yet many are touched by the project, which combines memories and oral history with photographs and records. Voyages aboard the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Tiĝla^x took Unalaska elders back to the villages of their childhood: Makushin in September 2009, and Kashega and Biorka in September 2010. Their descendants also attended, traveling to the sites of the old villages and standing in the places where so many stories began. Another trip is planned in the summer of 2012 to visit Attu.Want to know more? Read Lost Letters from Attu (2009) by Mary Breu, a book about her great-aunt Etta Jones. Look for the book Attu Boy, Nick Golodof’s memories of Japan. NPS is assisting Nick Golodof, and the book will include other first-person accounts as well as translated segments of a Japanese book “On the Train of the Picture” (1980s) by Masami Sugiyama. Sugiyama hunted for the story of a picture snapped of a Japanese soldier named Kanami carrying young Nick Golodof piggyback. The National Park Service’s page on <a href="""" target="_blank">The Lost Villages Project notes that “each of the trips so far have been documented on video and in photographs. Products of the Lost Villages project will include two books, and possibly one or more DVDs, as well as a museum exhibit.” What wonderful ethnohistoric research into Native settlements in Alaska.LostVillages_KanamiNick.PNG“On the Train of the Picture” Masami Sugiyama.April is archaeology month in Alaska. Find more on Arctic Archaeology at"In Southwest Alaska, the Aleutian Range becomes the backbone of the Alaska Peninsula and continues as the Aleutian Islands, extending about 1300 miles into the Bering Sea." NPS <a href="""" target="_blank">Archaeological Overview of Alaska.Cited:The National Park Service’s <a href="""" target="_blank">The Lost Villages ProjectThe National Park Service’s <a href="""" target="_blank">Archaeological Overview of AlaskaDr. Rachel Mason of the NPS presents <a href="""" target="_blank">’Return to the Lost Villages of the Aleutians’ Remembering and Revisiting the Lost Villages of the Aleutians

Experts, novices, incremental and disruptive innovation (from Farooq Khan's blog)

Tue, 04/17/2012 - 8:39am

In the last few weeks I’ve been refining a methodology and consulting model together with my colleagues. Creating innovation and accelerating scientific discovery is an exciting challenge especially in this era of convergence. Diversity of people, perspectives and solutions are essential ingredients to creating innovation. However a key challenge is how people are thrown together, and managed to make those giant leaps in thinking. Scott Page explores this brilliantly in his book, ‘The Difference: How the Power of Diversity Creates Better Groups, Firms, Schools, and Societies’, and Naveed Jain’s article on problem solving adds some more weight to research on how diverse teams are better at solving complex problems. In particular I was struck by Naveed’s observations on the Wendy Schmidt Oil Cleanup X Prize Challenge. So if somebody came up to me and asked how you clean oil in an oil spill, I’m thinking about it very differently from any expert because they know what they have done in the past. So we actually did that at X Prize. We had an oil cleanup prize for $1 million. BP spent $20 billion, and with this $1 million prize, the winner was five times better than what BP was using and 99% efficient. One of the finalists was a team that consists of a guy from a tattoo parlor, a dentist, and a mechanic.Such examples are enriched by the feats of gamers to solve complex molecular problems on Obsessive gamers’ hours at the computer have now topped scientists’ efforts to improve a model enzyme, in what researchers say is the first crowdsourced redesign of a protein. Crowdsourcing is in its infancy, and this combined with the scientific and technological trends transforming our lives, now and in the future present us with abundant possibilities, something which Peter Diamandis and Steven Kotler discuss in their book, ‘Abundance’. An article in Design Mind also touches upon these themes, and how companies who want to survive this century will have to radically change. bq. Eighty-eight percent said that companies will innovate in ways that are “totally different than ever before” in the 21st century.Exciting times. I’ve said it many times before. I can’t help but say it again.

NOW for SCIENCE in SERBIA (from Ivana Gadjanski's blog)

Tue, 04/17/2012 - 6:19am

I have had some major changes in my personal life. Of course it affected my professional life, as well as blogging here. I won’t be writing here any details, but this phenomenon of how personal life can determine the professional aspects is very interesting to me and I plan to write about it in some future posts. However, now, I would like to share here the link from Nature News Blog about Serbian scientists who are up in arms after the science and education ministries were merged in a restructuring of the government last month. Mika’s photo: 986522_mika 01.jpg and the link to the website: where you can sign the petition to re-establish the Ministry of Science in Serbia! I have. GO MIKA!

Of Beaches, Spring Break, and Animal Emergencies (from Paige Brown's blog)

Tue, 04/17/2012 - 3:18am

Today’s blog post is really just my elaborate excuse for why I haven’t blogged in about a week… with some science and health lessons tied in!First up… last week I was warmly invited on a trip to Gulf Shores, Alabama for spring break with my beau’s family! I saved and closed a working document of my mass communications theory paper on the concept of framing in the media (due in a couple of weeks) and packed up for the beach. Swimsuit, sunscreen (SPF 70 broadband… no skin cancer for me, thank you), extra towels, dog food, and yes, our furry black boxer Mojo!I’m telling you… dogs LOVE the beach. I think Mojo was in dog heaven… just to see him in the sand was hilarious (first time I’ve ever seen him dig… and boy, was that dog trying to dig to China or what!). He chased tiny white crabs as we took an evening walk on the beach – and caught a few to boot. He bit at the frothy waves like his life depended upon it. And I was amazed at how fast he could run in the sand!But owning a pet is not all fun and games. Let me start off by saying I was prepared for my dog’s first trip to the beach. I brought along some fancy blue perfumed doggy bags – because nobody likes dog mess on the beach, not to mention it’s a hook worm hazard. The hook worm is an intestinal parasite with which Mojo is unfortunately familiar (see Mojo’s first vet visit post) and which can burrow into the human foot upon direct contact.I had eye drops in case sand got into Mojo’s droopy eyes. Sand can be a significant irritant if left lodged in your dog’s paws or left in his eyes.I brought along a first aid kit – bandages and ointment in the case Mojo, or one of us for that matter, ran into some stinging jellies or broken glass. 773px-Staphylococcus_aureus_01.jpg I brought along Mojo’s cephalexin antibiotic pills, which the vet had prescribed to him the week before for a pimply rash that had broken out in his armpits and on his stomach. That rash had turned out to be a staph infection – a common ailment in young dogs, the vet told me, perhaps due to hormonal or immune factors in the young dog. The infection, caused by the bacteria staphylococcus intermedius_, a normal resident on a dog’s skin and coat, might have resulted from my puppy’s food and/or environmental allergies. He did lay all day long in wet, freshly cut grass over a recent weekend at the river.So the trip was wonderful. Sure, Mojo ate some sand, drank some salt water, and had some rather loose doggy mess (hope I didn’t ruin your dinner!). But we rollicked in the sun, caught some rays, and kayaked out to a close sand bar. We had a leisurely car ride back, and Mojo had his head in my lap the entire time… he was in doggy heaven.bench/DSCN5659.jpg" width=“450” height=“360” class=“mt-image-center” style=“text-align: center; display: block; margin: 0 auto 20px;” />**That is, until about 2am the night we returned from the beach.* I feared that Mojo hadn’t had much water to drink that day as we were driving back, but I had offered him plenty of water and had given him his antibiotics that night. At 2am, I woke up to Mojo barking. I stumbled across our living room (can’t see without my contacts) let him out downstairs in our tiny fenced-in yard. When he came back up, he was acting funny about going back into his cage. I flipped on the lights – sure enough, vomit everywhere.So, being the good owner that I am, I cleaned up his vomit at 2am, gave him new blankets, and went back to sleep. But not for long. I woke up to the unpleasant sound of him vomiting again… 3 times. That is when things started getting really scary. I let him out downstairs, where he practically fell down the stairs, acted confused, and collapsed onto the ground in a corner of the yard. When I went to get him, I had to basically drag him back up the stairs. Getting him back into the light of the kitchen, I could that his eyes were swelling shut. *I freaked out.* There is a first time for everything, and this last Friday night was my first time in the ‘emergency room’ at the animal hospital at Louisiana State University. They pumped Mojo with fluids, claiming that he was dehydrated, gave him anti-vomiting medicine, and sent him home. Great.I woke up to a boxer (who already has enormous lips) with lips, nose, and eyes swollen almost beyond recognition. I fed him two Benadryl capsules (yes, you can give a dog Benadryl, which is a simple antihistamine against allergens) given his history with allergies.What the heck was wrong with my dog! It sure wasn’t simple dehydration, and according to my regular vet it wasn’t likely a reaction to the cephalexin antibiotic as the emergency room vets had claimed. But we stayed off the antibiotic for a few days, and Mojo enjoyed a diet of soft canned gastrointestinal ID food. You can imagine my dismay when the SAME thing happened to Mojo last night – vomiting, confusion, difficulty moving, trembling. I quickly gave my boxer two Benadryl and stayed up trying to comfort him. And no, he had NOT received his antibiotic that night. So, like a good investigative journalist, I got on the internet (kids, don’t do this at home!). I started to suspect that Mojo had been poisoned… both fateful nights I had let him into our downstairs backyard to go to the bathroom before bed. And I should probably mention that Mojo LOVES to eat plants… we call the dog part cow! I started looking for plants that are poisonous to dogs…clematis.jpg What I found out scares me. In our backyard, we have ivy and we have this beautiful purple flowing climbing plant called Clematis, or Leather Flower. As it turns out, ivy is toxic to dogs, and the Clematis is VERY POISONOUS to dogs. The Clematis plant, of the buttercup family, produces a toxin called *Protoanemonin**, a low molecular weight lactone that acts as an antibacterial agent… and a strong irritant. Some of the symptoms of ingestion of Clematis include mouth irritation, swelling, nausea, vomiting, and confusion.All I know is that tonight, I didn’t let Mojo out downstairs without a leach… and he has NOT vomited tonight, even with his normal dose of cephalexin. I think some toxic plant or allergic reaction to an environmental factor might have been the culprit after all!_So, at least for now, the case of the sick Mojo is partially solved… and we will be more careful now than before of letting Mojo eat mysterious plants. A long night at the animal hospital and $300 later, all the prevention that was needed was keeping Mojo on a leach! Bummer…Let this be a lesson to all dog lovers… beware the unassuming toxic plants in your backyard.0US/all.js#xfbml=1&appId=227596150586831"; fjs.parentNode.insertBefore(js, fjs);}(document, ‘script’, ‘facebook-jssdk’));

Sunflowers and Fibonacci [video] (from Grrl Scientist's blog)

Tue, 04/17/2012 - 3:00am

SUMMARY: An interesting group participation project for the Manchester Science Festival: growing sunflowers! Screengrab.Today’s video is a good beginning for a Monday morning in spring. It tells you a little about Fibonacci numbers in nature, a subject that Alan Turing was studying before he died. This video also tells you about an interesting “citizen science project” being held by the upcoming Manchester Science Festival that you can participate in: growing sunflowers!

Welcome to Sifting the Evidence (from Suzi Gage's blog)

Mon, 04/16/2012 - 11:14am

Well hello there! I’m Suzi, and I’m delighted to be starting this blog here on Nature Network. It’s a continuation of a blog Dylan Williams, Neil Davies and I began in July 2011. We’re all PhD students based at the University of Bristol’s School of Social and Community Medicine. Neil and Dylan are in their final year, so I’ll be writing the lion’s share of posts here to begin with!Our aim in setting up the blog originally was to improve our science communication writing skills, and (hopefully) to write informative articles about public health (and in Neil’s case, sometimes economics) research and debate we’d found interesting or noteworthy. Public health research by its very nature concerns us all, so accurate and clear reporting of it is vital. To that end if something is unclear in a post we write, do let us know. Blogging should be a two-way street, we want to learn as well as inform!About me; research wise I’m particularly interested in illicit and other recreational drug use, and mental health issues, amongst other things (so expect a post fairly soon about plain cigarette packaging, I would imagine). The research I’m conducting myself investigates associations between cannabis and tobacco use, and psychotic symptoms or depression (an overview is here).Aside from the PhD, I’m interested in science communication more broadly. I’m currently making podcasts about research in to recreational drugs, aimed at teenagers. I’m also heavily involved with Children of the 90s (also known as ALSPAC), which is the dataset I use for my research (although it’s so much more than a dataset – I’ve blogged about it in the past too). But I do have a life outside academia: I play in a couple of bands and I love to run.Thanks for coming to the blog, and look out for our first post soon, or come and say hello here, or on twitter I’m @soozaphone!

test post (from Nature Network Team's blog)

Mon, 04/16/2012 - 9:08am

this is a test

Is it a bird? Is it a plane? Is it a ... Yep! [video] (from Grrl Scientist's blog)

Mon, 04/16/2012 - 3:00am

SUMMARY: This animal behaviour video features my favourite source of entertaining behaviour: birds! This week’s animal behaviour video comes from an eagle-eyed friend of mine, Friends Of Darwin. In this video, we watch an office worker in Mumbai throw a paper aeroplane out of his 18th story office window. The video follows this aeroplane’s progress as it flutters over the nearby hillside, only to be intercepted by a pair of black kites, Milvus migrans. One of the birds captures it, floats high in the sky with it, then grows wise to the true nature of the aeroplane and drops onto the distant hillside.

Blog on Hiatus During Finals (from Graham Morehead's blog)

Sun, 04/15/2012 - 10:42pm

Workload extremely heavy during finals. Blog on temporary hiatus.

The most promising words in science are not 'eureka!' but 'that's funny...' (from Karen Vancampenhout's blog)

Fri, 04/13/2012 - 9:13am

As so well stated by A. Einstein, science is at its best when you accidentally stumble upon something:

A few years ago, when analysing samples for our paper on determining factors of soil organic matter chemistry in temperate forest topsoil (Soil Biology and Biochemistry 42, 568-579) we accidentally analysed some subsoil samples as well. We soon realised our mistake, cursed our own stupidity, redid that part of the labwork with the obligatory grumpyness and gave the whole thing no further thought.

Until last year however, when procrastinating a bit, I came across these subsoil datafiles again and decided to have a look at them… I soon realised that something really odd was going on in these samples: very labile, plant derived chemical components were abundant in the subsoil organic matter. I had never seen such signatures in literature before, so we decided to “dig into it”…

Turns out this mistake was a lucky one: these accidentally analysed samples gave us the idea for our latest paper: “Organic matter of subsoil horizons under broadleaved forest: highly processed or labile and plant-derived?” (Soil Biology and Biochemistry 50, 40-46)!

So, on this Friday 13th, I wish you all a lot of good bad-luck!

The secret life of plankton [video] (from Grrl Scientist's blog)

Fri, 04/13/2012 - 3:00am

SUMMARY: This video tells the story of one fish, found on a bed of ice in a local supermarket, from its beginning as a microscopic planktonic larva This is an interesting video, telling the beginnings of life for one fish, found on a bed of ice in a local supermarket, as a microscopic planktonic larva. Today’s science video relies on new videography techniques that allow us to film microscopic creatures and to learn about and experience their world. Marine biologist Tierney Thys has created a film designed to ignite wonder and curiosity about this hidden world that underpins our own food chain.

Time for an "Occupy Science" in India? (from Kausik Datta's blog)

Thu, 04/12/2012 - 10:28pm

Yes. Yes!! Oh, yes! — This was my reaction while reading a commentary in April 12’s Nature.

In a policy commentary article titled Bold strategies for Indian Science (Nature 484, 159-160;12 April 2012), Gautam Desiraju, a professor of Chemistry in the prestigious Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore, and the current president of the International Union of Crystallography, held forth forcefully on what he thought were the bottlenecks that seem to be holding back the progress of Indian science. I found much to agree with.

The writing on the wall has been there for some time. At the 99th Annual Session of the Indian Science Congress in early January 2012, in a speech largely filled with self-congratulatory platitudes, the Honorable Prime Minister of India, Dr. Manmohan Singh, stated: “Over the past few decades, India’s relative position in the World of Science has been declining and we have been overtaken by countries like China.

Sayeth Prof. Desiraju, “Yes, we know.

Desiraju explains:

At present, India has a trickle-down strategy, in which elite institutions are supported in the hope that good science there will energize the masses, and a bottom-up approach, in which the general public is targeted with schemes to popularize science.

When I was growing up in India, there were a handful of elite institutions for higher science and technology education and research. In the recent past, a lot many more have been set up under various programs by the Government of India (See, for instance, this excellent list of autonomous higher education institutions in India, courtesy Wikipedia), especially the five Indian Institutes of Science Education and Research (IISERs), established by the Ministry of Human Resource Development, Government of India, with the express purpose of science education and basic science research. And although the current budgetary allocation to Indian science stands at a dismal 0.9% of the GDP, the government has committed to increase it to 2% by the next five years. The 24th February 2012 issue of Science, featuring a series focusing on Indian Science, reported on the ambitious proposal:

(at the Indian Science Congress) Manmohan Singh pledged to hike R&D expenditures from around $3 billion last year to $8 billion in 2017… to turbocharge initiatives to create elite research institutions, bring expatriate Indian scientists home, enrich science education, and equip smart new laboratories… Over the next 5 years, an estimated $1.2 billion in public funds will be funneled to a new National Science and Engineering Research Board…

In short, the age-old practice of throwing money towards a problem, with no regards to the need for new strategies or the provision of real solutions, laments Desiraju. As a result, we have glaring deficits at various levels

  • glitzy level: no Nobel prize winner since C.V. Raman in 1930, no highly Shanghai-ranked university, no miracle drug for a tropical disease and no sequencing of the rice genome.
  • industrial level: no breakthroughs to rival the telephone, the transistor or Teflon.
  • organizational level: no postdoctoral system worth its name, and an undergraduate teaching system in a shambles.
  • (academic level) We figure occasionally in the best journals, yet we tolerate plagiarism, misconduct and nepotism. And yet, the innate abilities and talents of India are palpable.

Why is it that this country has not been able to harness its strengths into deliverables? Availability of funding is not the principal problem with Indian science, opines Desiraju, but something more sinister, more deeply ingrained, involving “the country’s historical, economic and sociological profile” that needs to be understood and appreciated if India as a nation is to progress in Science and Technology.

Desiraju offers two majorly important factors contributing to the decline in Indian science, namely:

  1. A feudal-colonial mindset, created by (i) the Indian “cultural value system, backed by Hindu scriptural authority”, as well as (ii) “Centuries of servitude”… that “have made the average Indian docile, obedient and sycophantic.
  2. Variants of corruption, including irregularities in academic and administrative appointments, nepotism, regional parochialism, old-boys’ networks, indifference, lack of introspection, administrative vindictiveness, studied silences and so forth, all factors that “conspire to create an atmosphere that lacks innovation and creativity.

Desiraju believes that this feudal-colonial mentality has had far-reaching and debilitating consequences for research, pointing out two significant lacunae that impact the status and quality of science done in the Indian institutions:

… our lack of the ability to question and dissent that is so essential to science. Most of the faculty in our better institutions have done postdoctoral work in a foreign laboratory of consequence. Unlike young scientists in advanced countries, however, newly returned Indian lecturers typically relive their golden moments as postdocs throughout their research careers. The best research papers from India may be competent, but they do not inspire or excite. Very few Indian scientists are known as opinion-makers, trend-setters or leaders. They follow obediently.

And secondly, perhaps more importantly in the context:

… our unquestioning acceptance – bordering on subservience – to older people. In this part of the world, age is blindly equated with wisdom, and youth with immaturity. This facilitates the continuance of the status quo. Geriatric individuals with administrative and political clout reinforce their positions so well that we are unable to eject them.

Having had first-hand experience of this system, I couldn’t agree more. And these two points may not even be mutually exclusive. The status of science education is abysmal; questions are stifled and dissent is severely frowned upon. We have become a nation of excellent test-takers, who can ace exams by regurgitating rote-memorized material, but fail miserably when it comes to independent thinking and intellectual exercises. Our science curriculum seldom teaches us to be critical and rational. It is no wonder that the country’s education system has been infiltrated by superstitious nonsense and pseudoscientific mumbo-jumbo, such as astrology and homeopathy. It doesn’t come as a surprise that higher education and research opportunities are often dominated by clannish cliques with immense power over funding decisions.

As long as these cultural issues and social idiosyncrasies continue to exist, no amount of money will produce a satisfactory achievement or a scientific output that is relevant to our place in the world. As Desiraju suggests, the administration and the authorities must search within themselves the “underlying causes for this lack of satisfaction and relevance. Until then, no amount of bankrolling, populism, bureaucrat bashing or whistle-stop tours by prominent Western scientists will help.”

In the final synthesis, Desiraju suggests a number of short- and long-term measures that can encourage new ideas, as well as enhance enthusiasm and participation of the masses. I would certainly include in this some program or curriculum that will help elevate the public understanding and appreciation for science and the scientific process.

Desiraju also advocates high-level funding for projects of national importance in the areas of sustainable growth and development, such as energy, water and public health, the latter being particularly important given the high infant mortality rate, incomplete immunization coverage, presence of malnutrition and extremely high HIV prevalence (Source: UNICEF India statistics).

In addition, he recommends abolishing “the present system of awards, prizes and recognitions in higher-level science. This would dissuade younger scientists from chasing awards rather than doing good science, and it would reduce the influence of the cliques who allocate prizes.” I am not sure how much this deincentivization would work for career scientists, but a reduction in the dominance of the said cliques would be a welcome change.

The ONLY area in which I differ from Dr. Desiraju is his proposal for “removal of caste-based quotas and reservations in the educational and research sectors”; I know that given the well-known irregularities and politics of appeasement prevalent in the reservation system, many have called for the outright elimination of such quotas, and frankly, I personally find the caste-based inequality and discrimination morally repugnant. Yet, as long as a better and equitable system to protect the interests of the socially and economically marginalized is not in place, the quota system is the only choice we have to serve that important purpose, called social justice. If anything, such intervention encourages the minorities to come forward and participate in the social process which will eventually lead to progress and development. However, this would be a discussion for another day.

Gautam R. Desiraju (2012). Policy: Bold strategies for Indian science Nature, 484, 159-160 DOI: 10.1038/484159a

It's not just the buses that we should be bothered about (from Peter Etchells' blog)

Thu, 04/12/2012 - 4:06pm

A twitter storm erupted earlier this afternoon, after plans were announced to plaster adverts on London buses next week with the slogan “Not gay! Ex-gay, post-gay and proud. Get over it!”. The slogan is the brainchild of the Core Issues Trust, a “Christian initiative seeking to support men and women with homosexual issues who voluntarily seek change in sexual preference and expression.” It is their carefully-worded belief that mainstream psychiatric knowledge is incorrect, and that some people who are homosexual do not want to be so, and need help becoming ‘ex-gay’. Thankfully, common sense won out, and a few hours later, Boris Johnson stepped in and blocked the advertising campaign from going ahead. Great, story done.Well, not quite. Although the quotes from the proponents of the advert campaign didn’t push any published evidence suggesting that so-called ‘reparative’ or ‘reorientation’ therapy works, I am concerned that in the coming days and weeks, when this issue is brought up again in the media, evidence from two papers will be bandied about. The papers in question were published in 2007 and 2011 by two researchers called Jones and Yarmouth. The first, entitled “Ex-gays?: a longitudinal study of religiously mediated change in sexual orientation” (you can read excerpts here) is a book published by InterVarsity Press, the publishing arm of the UK’s Universities and Colleges Christian Fellowship. In other words, it’s not been subjected to the usual rigors of the scientific peer-review process; treat it with a (big) pinch of salt. The other paper, however, has been peer-reviewed, and appears in the Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy (here, but behind a paywall). The study involved following just under 100 men and women for a period of 6-7 years. The individuals had identified themselves as ‘troubled with their sexual orientation and participated in specific Exodus-affiliated ministries to achieve ’freedom from homosexuality through the power of Jesus Christ’. Using self-report measures of homosexual/heterosexual thoughts, and measures of distress, the authors report that, overall, the individuals experienced a ‘positive’ (their words) shift towards heterosexual experience, and on average, the therapy was not harmful to them. All of the individuals in this study were members of Exodus International, a coalition of Christian ministries in the United States. Sixteen of these affiliated ministries contacted their members, and it was then up to the individual whether or not they wanted to take part. This creates a problem known as self-selection bias. Put simply, selecting a group of participants for an experiment in this way makes it difficult to determine whether the cause of any results you collect is due to the variables that you’re interested in, or due to a random commonality that the participants share. In the case of this study, one basic issue is that because the authors were relying on participants to contact them to take part in the study, everyone who eventually took part clearly had a specific motivation to be involved. But they might also share other common factors; it’s difficult to speculate on what these might be because the authors don’t report any attempts to assess them. A second point of contention is that while the authors report that overall, their participants experienced a shift towards heterosexual experience, it’s a pretty weak effect – out of 61 participants remaining in the final year of assessment, 31 reported this shift, and 30 reported no shift or a shift in the opposite direction. Worryingly, for the measures of harm, whilst the authors report some modest yet significant positive trends, they also note in the discussion that they “cannot conclude that particular individuals in this study were not harmed by their attempt to change. Specific individuals may claim to have experienced harm from the attempt to change, and those claims may be legitimate, but although it may be that the attempt to change orientation caused harm by its very nature, it may also be that the harm was caused by particular intervention methods that were inept, harsh, punitive, or otherwise ill-conceived”. Essentially, it appears that there was no standardised method of delivering the therapeutic intervention, and from this sentence, there is the suggestion that some of the interventions were, to put it mildly, inappropriate or unethical.So to summarise, the paper reports weak trends in a biased sample, which to be honest, isn’t good enough. On the back of this work, it is pretty much impossible to come to any meaningful conclusion about whether sexual orientation can be changed via the use of religious interventions. And it’s really serious that the authors mention that the therapy was causing harm to some participants; there should have been clear ethical guidelines in place, as there are for any good scientific study. All of these issues should have been flagged during the review process for this paper, and I fear that on this occasion, standards might have slipped. But please bear these issues in mind when you see papers like these being thrown about as evidence for the efficacy of reparative therapy.

Just in time for the Diamond Jubilee: the Queen's portrait on a diamond [video] (from Grrl Scientist's blog)

Thu, 04/12/2012 - 3:00am

SUMMARY: Today’s science video is special: it’s the first time ever that the portrait of Queen Elizabeth II has been etched onto a diamondToday’s science video is special: it’s the first time ever that the portrait of Queen Elizabeth II has been etched onto a diamond. This was done to celebrate her diamond jubilee, which is an international celebration ongoing through 2012 to mark the 60th anniversary of the accession of Queen Elizabeth II to the throne. In this video, we see where this diamond came from, which image was etched, and how the etching was done:

Hoping they'll lose Pinterest (from Eva Amsen's blog)

Wed, 04/11/2012 - 6:31pm

The people who introduced me to blogging were not scientists or academics. They were online friends I’d met through playing games. A few of them set up their first blogs in 2001, and I thought it looked fun, so I started one as well. It was on an archaic blogging platform that doesn’t exist anymore. B2? Greymatter? Whichever came first. It was more a diary than anything else, and the only people reading it were my friends. When I first started thinking about expanding my blog to cover science, there weren’t many other science blogs. I’d been clicking around to see what was out there, and I remember seeing the blog that was later revealed to have been the science blog of the woman who moonlighted as a prostitute and who blogged about that elsewhere under the Belle du Jour pseudonym. There were really only about five science blogs back then. It was ages ago. The web was young.Now I manage a professional science blog, where researchers sign up for a Wordpress account and blog about their work. Scientists have taken up blogging as an almost natural thing, and I don’t mind that at all. Of course they would. It’s a medium. You can use it for anything you want. Pictures of cats. Science. It makes sense.The people who introduced me to Twitter were not scientists. They were my techie friends in Toronto, who I knew via blogger meetups. “What is Twitter?” I asked in a pub one night, and my friend said “It’s like Facebook, if it only had status updates.” Now I manage two Twitter accounts for work. They’re followed by Twitter accounts from other scientific publishers. I don’t mind that at all. It’s a good way of keeping in touch. Twitter has become its own medium. You can tweet about anything you want. Sandwiches. Science. It makes sense.I joined Facebook so I could see a friend’s photos that she uploaded there. She’s not a scientist. Now I manage a Facebook page for work. I link to the posts and job ads that scientists have posted on our blog. Scientific societies ‘like’ my status updates – or at least the people managing their page do. I don’t mind that at all. Almost everyone has a Facebook page now, and subscribing to professional updates is a convenient way for them to see all the news they need to know in one place. Family news. Science news. It makes sense.But sometimes, certain internet-minded scientists, who so fervently jumped on blogging half a decade after it first started, go a teensy bit overboard in their praising of an online tool. I heard about FriendFeed via science bloggers. None of my other friends ever used it.I heard about Google Wave at a science blogging conference. None of my other friends ever used it or even heard of it. I heard about Google Plus via science bloggers. A few of my other friends created a profile, but immediately abandoned it – like everyone else.The people who introduced me to Pinterest were not scientists, admittedly, but this time it only took weeks, not years, for the first science/web-people to jump on the bandwagon. They were really excited about it. Probably the most excited I have ever seen a group of mostly men be about a website of mostly pictures of dresses. And the dreaded questions were asked: “How can we use this for science?” You can’t, okay! Just leave it! Not EVERYTHING on the internet has to be twisted and molded into some sort of vehicle for science communication. If it’s a good fit for such communication, like blogging or Twitter, it will happen. But if you try to force your professional research interests onto something that is so purposely modeled after scrapbooks and inspirational pinboards and NOT after anything remotely resembling the way you normally distribute or find scientific information, you are only going to be annoyed and disappointed. Disappointed with the way it functions. Disappointed with the restrictions it imposes. Why do I care? I didn’t care that FriendFeed or Google Wave or Google+ never worked out, but as soon as I now see the same group of people that thought those tools were the next big thing get completely disproportionately excited about an online product, I fear that it will succumb to the same fate. And I do rather like scrapbooks and inspirational pinboards.Academics may have invented the web, but not everything that’s on the web has to do with academics. Nobody is going to judge you if you just want to use a product for fun, so please stop trying to turn everything you like into work.My only consolation is Instagram – a safe haven of food and pets. Until the first person sepia-filters their lab notes and considers it as a medium for research dissemination, that is.pinterest.png

Resurrection blues (from Lee Turnpenny's blog)

Wed, 04/11/2012 - 9:32am

On my first ship it was not untypical for ‘Daily Orders’ to be appended with a message from on high, instructing that care be taken when traversing the freshly polished deck-tiled passageways, with specific addressing to ‘tea spillers’ and ‘hot-buttered toast drippers’. My best mess-mate, with whom I shared an often unpopularity-provoking confused quizzical attitude, looked at me aghast: “I can’t believe these are the guys who run this fucking ship!”Last week, in a Downing Street reception for Christian leaders, the Blue Spectre delivered a pre-Easter speech which encapsulates why I instinctively find him an odious PR stylist. Being Prime Minister, he has (I assume) speech-writer(s) who generate text for him to read out. I don’t know whether or not it was they who badly worded his guileful address, but he does, presumably, read through beforehand to make sure it conveys his message. (Let us hope so, otherwise the ramifications are particularly disturbing.) I say guileful, but that would imply skill; rather, in its patronising translucency, perhaps tyronic is more applicable.The full text can be found at this church and state amalgamation. I just want to address (at the ever-present risk of lifting out of context, but you can check for yourself if you are concerned I’m doing him any disservice) a few of his sapient nuggets. Early on, he exposes himself to that gaping question as to an individual’s faith: bq. ‘… we obviously spend a lot of time celebrating Christmas and thinking about Christmas, but actually, really, Easter in many ways is the one that counts. Even those of us who sometimes struggle with some parts of the message – the idea of resurrection, of a living God, of someone who’s still with us – is fantastically important even if you sometimes, as I do, struggle over some of the details.’Yes, Easter is the one; the resurrection bit is pretty key to Christianity, isn’t it? But it seems that “call me Dave” doesn’t believe it. Specifically, which ‘details’ keep him awake at night? If he does not accept the key doctrines espoused by those religious leaders with whom he ingratiates himself, just why does he consider it worthwhile to promote them – when, after all, he is not a religious leader? And why is the idea of resurrection so important? The adverb is actually a key inclusion: it is an important fantasy. It seems, then, our PM acknowledges that Christianity is constructed upon a foundation of fabrication.But it does come in very handy. So, just to convince that he is on the same hymn sheet, he adopts the ‘Defender of the Faith’ stance:bq. ‘I think there is something of a Christian fight-back going on in Britain and I think that’s a thoroughly good thing. I think you could see it in the enormous reception of the Pope’s visit; I think you could see it with the successful return visit that Sayeeda Warsi led. I think you can see it, actually, in the reception to Sayeeda’s superb speeches about standing up for faith and celebrating faith and, as she so famously put it, actually doing God in Britain.’Ahh, a swipe at those pesky ‘militant secularists’ who are fouling things up for everybody with their unconservative questioning of the status quo. How bloody predictable from the man who appointed Warsi and Pickles. Appeal to the persecution complex. Air-brush recent history by referring to the Pope’s visit as successful and worthwhile; his anosmic disregard of the malodour that clings to that cassock abetting efforts to waft it out of the window in the hope that it will, in time, quietly dissipate. Perhaps he sanctioned Warsi’s cupidinous words; he certainly endorses his fatuous minister’s overturning of a high court judicial ruling. Just how does the law work here? Warsi misrepresented our country at The Vatican; he misrepresents it to its own people. Change tack by appealing to ‘values’ – that always works:bq. ‘The values of the Bible, the values of Christianity are the values that we need – values of compassion, of respect, of responsibility, of tolerance. Now, I’ve made this argument many times that you don’t have to be a Christian or you don’t have to adhere to another religion to have strong values, to believe in strong values or to pass those values on to your children, but the point I always make is that it helps.’How does it help? How? Because he cannot muster the imagination to come up with a better argument than the recycling of the Church’s claim of the moral high ground? The Bible does not have a monopoly on these ‘values’ – and never has had. Cameron knows this – at least he ought to do. However, as he gets on to later, he needs the Church to pique our consciences. He goes on to make a ‘plea.’ Rather, an indication that, in his efforts to keep church leaders sweet and on board, he may backtrack on his previous attempt to portray himself as modernistic with last year’s endorsement of gay marriage “… because I am a Conservative.”bq. ‘Now my plea: my plea is that I hope that in spite of the disagreements and the arguments we will undoubtedly have, the plea is that I hope we don’t all fall out too much over the issue of gay marriage.’The problem with hot potatoes is they don’t cool down as quickly as pasties. I guess this explains in part the previous schmoozing references to you know who. If he advocates the right to gay marriage, then he is, in effect, stating that he considers the Pope wrong on this. But that would be a public show of disrespect of the Pope’s position, which would jeopardise his relationship with (Catholic) church leaders ‘The point I’d make is this: if this does go ahead it will change what happens in a registry office; it will not change what happens in a church. If this doesn’t go ahead, to those of us who’d like it to go ahead, there will still be civil partnerships, so gay people will be able to form a partnership that gives them many of the advantages of marriage.’ Okay…. so what is being said here? Telling the church to butt out of what takes place outside its hallowed walls? Is that not an endorsement of secularism? Perhaps he ought to clarify on this because it doesn’t dovetail with the otherwise ‘Christian country’ mantra, does it?bq. ‘The domestic challenge is, and you’d be surprised if I didn’t bring it up, the issue of the Big Society. I think there is enormous potential in churches and faith-based organisations to tackle some of the deepest problems we have in our society, whether it is educational and under-attainment, whether it is homelessness, whether it is mental health.’Ah, we get to the core. The nebulous Big Society rises again. Yet, I wonder, is there a hint that he is becoming somewhat embarrassed by this thing he wants to divert our thoughts back towards when the shit is flying from the fan? The plea to church authorities to fill in where cuts to benefits and councils have forced the reduction of services. What was that about ‘values’? In the wake of the pensions, pasties, petrol and prat-ism debacles, Easter could not come quick enough for Cameron. A national holiday: distraction for the apathetic; faith fleetingly stirred by TV rescreens of Biblical epics; opportune time for rekindling relations with big church cheeses. What should we make of him then, and his ‘Onward Christian Soldiers’ rhetoric? Perhaps, being Easter time, it is poor taste to be contrary. Yet, is it not poor taste when church leaders use it to flagwave credit for Fabrice Muamba’s recovery? And is it not discomforting when our leader delivers a speech so cringeworthy, any self-respecting sixth-former would find it hard to live down? How on earth did he…? No, actually … I do get it. And I, for one, am not too surprised. Best reserve any invective for the in ballast Clegg, who before very long will likely not have any ship to steer.

Phrenology (cartoon) (from Viktor Poor's blog)

Wed, 04/11/2012 - 8:35am

Check out this brilliant sci-ence cartoon on phrenology, then see how can you improve yourself:phrenology.PNG

Riding the Booster [video] (from Grrl Scientist's blog)

Wed, 04/11/2012 - 3:00am

SUMMARY: Riding a solid rocket booster up and then down again during a launch of the space shuttle. screengrab. Here’s a fun little video from NASA: an HD video that shows a stunning view from a solid rocket booster attached to the space shuttle, pushing it up into orbit, and then not attached to the space shuttle, whilst the booster is plunging back to Earth.

Alaska dune yields oldest human remains of far north (from Liz O'Connell's blog)

Tue, 04/10/2012 - 12:27pm

by Ned RozellLast summer, archaeologist Ben Potter was supervising a group of researchers digging on an ancient sand dune above the Tanana River. Potter, who had a field camp he needed to start at another site, was anxious to get through the last day of work at the dune.Two graduate students, Patrick Hall and Jill Baxter-McIntosh, were slowly moving earth with metal trowels in a layer of charcoal that suggested an ancient fire pit. Potter worked his way over to help and began exposing bone fragments that were different from the bones of fish and small mammals the students had found embedded throughout the site.The University of Alaska Fairbanks researcher recognized parts of a skull from a large mammal — possibly human — though he knew the chances of that were astronomically low. Potter scraped the soil with the blade of his trowel. He heard a click. As he blew away tan silt as fine as flour, there was a human molar.“Everybody stop!” he said to the others digging at the site.Because he knew that artifacts found at the level of the tooth were about 11,500-years-old, Potter suddenly realized he was in the midst of an archaeologist’s dream — he and his team had unearthed the oldest human remains found in the far north.Remains_skullparts.jpgBone fragments from a three-year old who died 11,500 years ago in the Tanana Valley. [Photo by Maureen McCombs, University of Alaska Fairbanks]“That was quite an amazing feeling, holding the molar in my hand,” Potter said.He called over Josh Reuther, a graduate student from the University of Arizona who had also logged many hours at the site. He showed Reuther the tooth without saying a word.“We knew the significance right away,” Potter said.As that summer day was the last day of the dig, the archeologists backfilled much of the site with soil, working until 5 a.m. They caught their scheduled helicopter ride out a few hours later, each of them a bit less tired than they might have been without the discovery.Potter and his coworkers returned to the site to continue excavating after getting a blessing to continue from interested officials at both the Healy Lake Traditional Council, the local tribe recognized by the federal government, and the Tanana Chiefs Conference in Fairbanks.Potter and his team, which included Joel Irish and Carol Gelvin-Reymiller of UAF and Reuther and Vance Holliday of the University of Arizona, excavated the partially cremated bones of a three-year-old child who was alive before spruce trees crept into Alaska, at a time when the rising ocean was flooding the Bering Land Bridge.Along with the child, they also found evidence of something that may prove just as significant — the oldest known human dwelling in northern North America. It was circular, at least six feet in diameter, with a fire pit in the middle. Potter thinks it was the right size for a nuclear family that subsisted at least during summer on salmon, ground squirrels and ptarmigan.“This is an important discovery,” said James Dixon, director of the University of New Mexico’s Maxwell Museum of Anthropology and author of the book, “Bones, Boats and Bison.” “The human remains are well dated, and are the oldest yet discovered in Alaska and Canada. (And it’s) wonderful to see the cooperation between Tanana Chiefs Conference and the University of Alaska.”The child, aged from its tooth development by UAF’s Irish, lived at the end of the last great Ice Age. The find is at what archaeologists call the Upward Sun River site or “Xaasaa Na’,”the spot’s name according to a Native woman who lived in Salchaket village and who passed the name on to an anthropologist in the 1960s. The site is near a major drainage that flows into the Tanana River between Delta Junction and Fairbanks.Crews working for Northern Land Use Research, an archeology-consulting firm, discovered the site in 2006. Potter and Pete Bowers of Northern Land Use Research were supervising the work under contract to the Surface Transportation Board. This survey, required by law, was to identify and protect archaeological remains that might be disturbed by the proposed Alaska Railroad extension to Delta Junction.Remains_excavation.jpgFrom left, Josh Reuther, Ben Potter and Joel Irish excavate the burial pit at the Upward Sun River site near the Tanana River. [Photo courtesy of Ben Potter.]The skeletal fragments of the three-year-old were cremated in the dwelling’s cook pit. The people who lived there then covered the pit with earth and abandoned the site, Potter said.“A cremated child burial within a house floor pit fits a pattern known for other northern Eurasian Upper Paleolithic sites,” said David Yesner of the University of Alaska Anchorage, a professor who has done a lot of work in the area, much of it at the nearby Broken Mammoth site. “Perhaps more importantly for contemporary Athabascan peoples of interior Alaska who practiced cremation burials in pre-European contact times, it suggests some additional possibility of cultural, if not biological, linkages to the ancient past.”Potter and his colleagues have submitted bone samples for both isotopic testing (which will help reveal what the child was eating) and DNA testing (which, if the bones can yield it, might reveal how closely related the child was to Natives of the area today).The 11,500-year-old bones and teeth are the first remnants of ancient man found in Alaska since 1996, when University of South Dakota researcher Tim Heaton found the bones of a man dated to about 10,500 years ago in a limestone cave on Prince of Wales Island. The skeletal remains of “Kennewick Man,” found in southern Washington, have been dated to about 9,300 years ago.The discovery of the dwelling and the cremated child were both finds that have eluded Alaska archaeologists since William Healy Dall searched for signs of ancient people in Alaska about 150 years ago. Potter is now comparing Upward Sun River with a site in Russia, near Ushki Lake on the Kamchatka Peninsula, which is of a similar date and also features house pits and buried human bones.“The residential behaviors inferred here are ones we’ve never seen before,” Potter said. “The comparisons with Ushki suggest similar land use strategies (between today’s Alaska and Siberia) at the time when Asia and North America were separated by rising sea levels.”.Originally published in the Alaska Science Forum March 3, 2011 Article #2053 Alaska dune yields oldest human remains of far north by Ned Rozell“This column is provided as a public service by the Geophysical Institute, University of Alaska Fairbanks, in cooperation with the UAF research community. Ned Rozell is a science writer at the institute.”

Test by laura (from Nature Network Team's blog)

Tue, 04/10/2012 - 10:00am

laura is cool