Sunday, October 10, 2010

Scientia Pro Publica 42: The Ultimate Answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, The Universe, and Everything.

That's right! I am proud to present to you this particular edition of Scientia Pro Publica, your ULTIMATE guide to the best science, nature and medical writing on the web... the best, that is, until next week.

Let’s get started with the obvious: we all think science is pretty cool, or we wouldn’t be here. Self-proclaimed science lover Julie links us to some great resources to celebrate our collective appreciation of nature (and rockets!) in her posts World Space Week! and A New Website for Rocket Lovers over at Mama Joules. For some more fun, check out Sailing by Starlight: The Lost Art of Celestial Navigation at Southern Fried Science. There, Andrew teaches us all a lesson about living without navigational equipment. That's right. No Google maps, no GPS, no atlas or street names or landmarks; just you, the sea, and the sky.

Now, let’s talk gossip. Over at Not Ranting… Honestly, Austin Elliot has put together a great post about the scandal discussed in almost every molecular biology class: the publicity garnered by Crick, Watson and Wilkins for their discovery of the structure of DNA in the early 1950s. As the story goes, neither Rosalind Franklin nor Erwin Chargaff were given due credit for their contributions. Elliot documents firsthand evidence to the contrary in DNA – letters, stories, narratives 60 years on.

A more recent excerpt from the scientific tabloids is the “Climategate” scandal. Earlier this year, one of the three major sources of world climate change data came under attack, threatening the credibility of the global warming movement. Andy Extance at Simple Climate discusses the role of weathercasters in this scandal and the ramifications of their personal political affiliations in his post, I Don’t Care What the Weatherman Says, When the Weatherman Puts Politics Ahead of Science.

Objectivity isn't the only thing in our world that is experiencing a shortage. Certain types of fish are actually being overharvested due to ignorance regarding differences between species. Find out more about the taxonomy of skates in David Shiffman's What Species of Skate is for Dinner? at Southern Fried Science. Hannah at Sleeping With the Fishes also writes about overfishing (but with a twist) in Can Seabirds Overfish a Resource?. Meanwhile, at It’s a Micro World After All, Thomas Joseph discusses a different kind of endangerment: wasted energy. In Waste Not, Want Not, he details a recent paper that lays out exactly how much energy the world consumes every year to produce food that ends up spoiled or thrown out. Check out his post for some outrageous figures. And while we're on the topic of waste, Amy at Southern Fried Science might make you think twice the next time you're about to head to the beach. For some surprising facts about the kind of waste products that go into the ocean, read Chemistry of the Great Big Blue: Sewage.

Our understanding of modern science has increased exponentially over the last 100 years, leading some to believe that we are reaching the final frontier of scientific knowledge. Not so, according to Akshat from the Chemistry World Blog. In Have We Solved All the Questions in Chemistry?, he cites a few examples to prove that we are far from being Masters of the Universe.

That being said, even the best writers succumb to overblown language. Andrew at 360 Degree Skeptic begins his critique of groan-inducing rhetoric in The Sloppies: My Awards for Bad Science Writing (Part One). So there are bad science writers. But according to Mike at Traversing the Razor, there are many other categories of science writers as well. Check out his post and learn, What Kind of Science Communicator Are You?.

If you find yourself identifying with what Mike calls The Performer, you might appreciate Blowing Apart Streotypes, a post about the huge difference between the media's portrayal of science and science itself, written by Katherine Haxton at Endless Possibilities v3.0. Make sure you also check out a few posts from September's Ocean of Pseudoscience week: Flipper is a Fraud!, in which Chuck at Ya Like Dags? bursts the bubble of TV-dolphin enthusiasts, and Samurai Crabs, posted at Arthropoda. There, Michael Bok debunks the myth that these crabs are actually the souls of Japanese samurai killed in the 1185 Battle of Dan-no-ura.

It might be these types of legends that lead many in the West to doubt the validity of other Eastern sciences - namely, medicine. Chris at Martial Development endeavors to shift the Western understanding of the ancient concept of chi with an excerpt from Chi Gong: The Ancient Chinese Way to Health by Bruce Holbrook. Holbrook’s aim is not to prove the existence of chi; instead, he suggests that western science would do well to weaken its cultural bias. Read about the biochemical and physical legitimacy of what the Chinese call "chi" in Chris’ post, Science and the Problem With Chi.

Chinese medicine isn’t the only health field susceptible to misinterpretation and backlash. You may have heard some questionable conclusions here in the West about a supposed connection between sleep and weight loss. Akshat at The Allotrope sets the story straight in Sleep More to Lose Weight? Meanwhile, Andrew at 360 Degree Skeptic considers a new clinical trial: Placebo Treatments for Better Sex.

Speaking of sex, Eric Michael Johnson discusses the evolution of human sexuality in a guest post at The Primate Diaries in Exile. Read Sex, Evolution, and the Case of the Missing Polygamists for a twist on the Fred-Wilma Flintstone archetype of early human mating patterns.

And if you think Dino was the only king of the castle back in his day, think again. Revise your vision of the Mesozoic era by reading Giant Mesozoic Badger Turned Mammalian Dogma on its Head, written by Emily Willingham at the College Biology Blog. While you’re at it, let Julia Zichello at Evolverie teach you something about the evolution of skulls since the dawn of mammalkind in her post, What Change May Come. You can also check out Punctuated Equilibrium for more in the evolution vein. In Nuclear Receptors Show Evolution is the Greatest Tinkerer, Grrlscientist explains that the extreme variety in protein structure we see today might be traceable back to one single instance of complexity that underwent small changes over long periods of time.

Whether you study proteins or any other part of our physiology, it is obvious that the human body has evolved to become an incredible machine. Over time, humans have adapted to fight off a wide variety of threats to their well-being. Take microbes for example. Most of us know that our bodies are constantly fighting against external pathogens at the cellular level. So what’s the deal with probiotics found in yogurt and other supplements? Why are certain bacteria good for us, while other bacteria makes us sick? Learn how our bodies maintain the tenuous balance between the two in SE Gould’s post, Friend or Foe? How the Immune System Copes With the Gut Microbiotica over at Lab Rat.

It isn't hard to understand why the human gut has established a symbiotic relationship with certain strains of bacteria. After all, both parties benefit! As it turns out, organisms that can evolve to invoke positive feelings in other species have an advantage over those who cannot. For some reason, flowers actually elicit greater emotional wellbeing in humans than any other studied organism. Could it be that, over time, they have evolved the ability to exploit our happiness for their own gain? Find out in You Are Being Manipulated by Flowers, written by Warren at Positive Psychology Digest.

So flowers can make us happy, and they can certainly brighten up a room, but they can't fix patients suffering from heart disease. Corn, on the other hand, might be able to! In health news, scientists have designed a new type of plastic stent made of corn for patients with blocked or clogged arteries. Instead of remaining implanted in the patient’s blood vessel like a traditional metal stent, it dissolves after about a year and a half and vanishes without a trace. Sarah Rich of Fastco Design explains more in Plastics Made from Corn Could Save Your Life. Those crazy kids and their crazy technology. What will they think up next?


An issue of Scientia Pro Publica every single week, that's what! But in order to accomplish this amazing feat, we need more hosts - including one for the next issue! If you're interested in hosting the carnival, check here for the schedule, and sign up for an open slot. If compiling mass quantities of awesome blogposts isn't your thing, but you would still like to participate, you can submit high-quality posts that you have read or written using this handy submission form.

Thanks to all the readers and writers who made this 42nd issue possible! I hope you have all enjoyed it. Remember, the next edition is scheduled to be published on October 25th. See you all then!


  1. You shine as a scientific "Anchor Woman" presenting your multi-faceted guests with their valuable contributions....Perhaps an ongoing host position?
    You did a splendid job.....congratulations!

  2. Vanessa-I am hooked on your blog. Great work!! This is definitely a calling for you. Keep writing!

  3. Another great carnival! Just one small thing - the post at Endless Possibilities v3.0 was written by Katherine Haxton, not me.

  4. excellent work, vanessa. many thanks for hosting, and for doing such a wonderful job.

  5. Thanks for hosting Vanessa!

  6. Great hosting! Thanks for including my post :)