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  • August 25, 2012
  • 08:32 AM

Who dunnit? The avoidable crisis of scientific authorship

by Richard Kunert in Brain's Idea

This year, Germany’s highest court reached a damning verdict concerning academic pay. It is so low that it is in breach of the constitution. Why do research then? One reason is that it gives you prestige – which often precedes money. Brain areas are still talked about in terms of Brodmann areas and not Smith [...]... Read more »

  • August 20, 2012
  • 08:09 AM

Digital Research 2012: September 10th-12th St Catherine’s College, Oxford, UK

by Duncan Hull in O'Really?

The UK’s premier Digital Research community event is being held in Oxford 10-12 September 2012. Come along to showcase and share the latest in digital research practice – and set the agenda for tomorrow at Digital Research 2012. The conference features an exciting 3-day programme with a great set of invited speakers together with showcases of the work and vision of the Digital Research community. Here are some highlights of the programme – please see the website for the full programme and registration information.... Read more »

Lazer D., Pentland A., Adamic L., Aral S., Barabasi A.-L., Brewer D., Christakis N., Contractor N., Fowler J., & Gutmann M. (2009) SOCIAL SCIENCE: Computational Social Science. Science, 323(5915), 723. DOI: 10.1126/science.1167742  

  • August 18, 2012
  • 08:19 AM

To Treat or Not To Treat... But How?

by Christen Rune Stensvold in Blastocystis Parasite Blog

In the "To Treat of Not To Treat" series (please look up previous post here), we have come to the "...But How?" episode.

Blastocystis may be susceptible to a number of drugs - in vitro. In vitro is not the opposite of in vivo. In vitro just means that the test has been done on an organism that has been isolated from its usual habitat and tested e.g. in a flask, test tube, etc. In the lab, strains can be challenged and manipulated in multiple ways, but there is no guarantee that the outcome of an in vitro susceptibility test is reproducible in vivo, i.e. when the organism is challenged in its natural habitat and under "natural" conditions. Hence, if you test Blastocystis against metronidazole or any other compound (such as iodine) in vitro, and you observe an effect, you cannot rely on being able to reproduce the effect in vivo. This is due to a variety of reasons including pharmaco-kinetics and pharmaco-dynamics, including the ability of the drug to reach the parasite in its ecological niche, impact of the drug on other micro-organisms, strain-dependent differences in susceptibility (including inherent or acquired resistance), etc.... Read more »

Coyle CM, Varughese J, Weiss LM, & Tanowitz HB. (2012) Blastocystis: to treat or not to treat.. Clinical infectious diseases : an official publication of the Infectious Diseases Society of America, 54(1), 105-10. PMID: 22075794  

Engsbro AL, & Stensvold CR. (2012) Blastocystis: To Treat Or Not To Treat..But How?. Clinical infectious diseases : an official publication of the Infectious Diseases Society of America. PMID: 22893582  

Stensvold CR, Smith HV, Nagel R, Olsen KE, & Traub RJ. (2010) Eradication of Blastocystis carriage with antimicrobials: reality or delusion?. Journal of clinical gastroenterology, 44(2), 85-90. PMID: 19834337  

  • August 17, 2012
  • 10:28 AM

Some Thoughts on Using Randomized Controlled Trials in International Development

by Jason in Views From Beyond the OR

TweetI recently came across a post on the Council for Foreign Relations’ Development Channel that asked: Are Randomized Controlled Trials a Good Way to Evaluate Development Projects? This is an incredibly important question because, as the authors note, “International donors … Continue reading →... Read more »

  • August 16, 2012
  • 07:40 AM

Independent Confirmation of Results and Academic Publishers: A Potential Opportunity?

by James in Open Science

Having already written about the need to independently test results, I’m pleased to see a news article in Nature that highlights the following initiative by Science Exchange to replicate high-profile papers: Scientific publishers are backing an initiative to encourage authors of high-profile research papers to get their results replicated by independent labs. Validation studies will [...]... Read more »

  • August 14, 2012
  • 08:56 AM

James Joyce, Intertextuality and Memoir

by Janine Utell in The Comics Grid. Journal of Comics Scholarship

Janine Utell examines James Joyce, intertextuality, and the transgressive figure of the daughter in two recent graphic memoirs: Alison Bechdel's Fun Home (2006) and Dotter of Her Father's Eyes by Mary and Bryan Talbot (2012). ... Read more »

  • August 12, 2012
  • 02:37 PM

Human embryonic (knowledge) germ(ination) cells

by Lee Turnpenny in The Mawk Moth Profligacies

On the acknowledged difficulties of deriving and culturing human embryonic germ cells, in light of some informative new data...... Read more »

  • August 9, 2012
  • 02:48 PM

Is music a result of sexual selection? [Revisited]

by Henkjan Honing in Music Matters

Cover of NRC Cultureel Supplement.It was Darwin’s hunch: music, as widespread as it is in our human culture, could well be a result of sexual selection, one of the two selection mechanisms he proposed to be at the basis of our evolution (the other being natural selection).Today an article by Wim Köhler appeared in the Dutch newspaper NRC elaborating on this idea: the potential evolutionary advantage of ‘mooizingers’ - those who perform well musically.Music as a result of sexual selection has been adapted by psychologist Geoffrey Miller in his often cited book The Mating Mind, in which he suggests music to be one of the many social and cultural behaviors that we use to impress the opposite sex. At first it seems convincing idea…However, there is a lot to bring in against this hypothesis (see earlier blogs). The most striking being simply the absence of empirical evidence! (The only evidence that Miller brought forward was the amount of offspring Jimi Hendrix produced - officially three!?)Cognitive biologist Tecumseh Fitch (Vienna University) and his colleagues recently designed an experiment to put the sexual selection hypothesis to the test: does the ability to produce complex musical sounds  reflect qualities that are relevant in mate choice contexts, supporting the idea of music to be functionally analogous to the sexually-selected acoustic displays of some animals, such as songbirds? If this hypothesis is correct, women may be expected to show heightened preferences for more complex music when they are most fertile -- was the reasoning of the Vienna research team. To to test this hypothesis the Vienna team used computer-generated musical pieces and ovulation predictor kits. The researchers found that women prefer more complex music in general, but they found no evidence that their preference for more complex music increased around ovulation. As such these findings are not consistent with the hypothesis that a heightened preference/bias in women for more complex music around ovulation could have played a role in the evolution of music. More empirical research is needed of course, but for the time being and considering the empirical evidence that is available, there is no study, as yet, that supports the sexual selection hypothesis for music. Charlton, Benjamin D., Filippi, Piera, & Fitch, W. Tecumseh (2012). Do Women Prefer More Complex Music around Ovulation? PLoS ONE, 7 (4) DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0035626Honing, H., & Ploeger, A. (2012). Cognition and the Evolution of Music: Pitfalls and Prospects Topics in Cognitive Science. DOI: 10.1111/j.1756-8765.2012.01210.x... Read more »

  • August 9, 2012
  • 11:23 AM

Is music a result of sexual selection?

by Henkjan Honing in Music Matters

Cognitive biologist Tecumseh Fitch (Vienna University) and his colleagues recently designed an experiment to put the sexual selection hypothesis to the test: does the ability to produce complex musical sounds reflect qualities that are relevant in mate choice contexts, supporting the idea of music to be functionally analogous to the sexually-selected acoustic displays of some animals, such as songbirds. ... Read more »

  • August 8, 2012
  • 01:28 PM

The Forever Decline: Academia’s Monograph Crisis

by James in Open Science

A decade or so ago you’d be forgiven for thinking that the monograph was in terminal decline. Just take the now 13-year-old words of Stanley Chodorow, who in his work, The Pace of Scholarship, the Scholarly Career, and the Monograph, claimed that the specialization of the academic monograph signalled “Its evolutionary track is at an [...]... Read more »

Willinsky, John. (2009) Toward the Design of an Open Monograph Press. JOURNAL OF ELECTRONIC PUBLISHING, 12(1). DOI: 10.3998/3336451.0012.103  

  • August 4, 2012
  • 09:40 PM

Why mosses can grow in the desert, and why their future is uncertain

by matt in Geodermatophilia

Readers of this blog won't be so surprised, but most people are unaware that mosses grow in deserts and semiarid zones. The reason they can do so is that desert mosses are dessication tolerators, meaning they are capable of drying without dying. While dry, they are in a state of suspended animation, simply waiting for the next hydration period so that biological activity - and hopefully - net photosynthesis can occur. They rehydrate literally in seconds, and are immediately active. You could measure their respiration right away, for example. I always tell people that this is somewhat like spilling a glass of water on Tutankhamun, resulting in him coming back to life. A pretty cool party trick in my opinion. Biocrust organisms in general do this, but it is perhaps most dramatic in the mosses. Here's a video posted by Casey Allen of a simulated rain event.

And another from a class led by Larry Macafee at Badlands National Park. Focus is a little fuzzy, but you can see individual plants hydrating.

Neat trick for sure, but it does come with costs. Biocrust organisms do not regulate water loss with stomates (pores which a plant can open and close to regulate the rate of carbon coming in and water going out), so they lose that water they gained passively due to simply evaporation. They hang onto water very similarly to a piece of a paper towel - soaking it up via contact and losing it to evaporation. Every dry down event is thought to damage membrane integrity a little bit, so that the first order of business when rehydrating is maintenance. Many researchers have shown that upon rehydration there is a period of net respiration, and that after the photosynthetic rate may exceed the respiration rate, resulting in positive carbon uptake. If that happens growth is possible. But if that net photosynthetic threshold is not reached, the hydration event has resulted in carbon loss, and therefore dry mass loss. In other words the mosses would be shrinking a tiny bit rather than growing....bad news. So you can imagine that short hydration events due to small rain events or just high temperature driving fast evaporation, could damage mosses. Further, many such events could even kill them. So nature's tough guys have an Achilles heel, and seem to straddle a knife edge of survival. The climate is changing: what if increased temperatures or altered frequency or magnitude of rain events decrease hydration times? These mosses seem vulnerable to catastrophe.

Recent papers, including an awesome one by Reed et al. in Nature Climate Change, have induced rapid changes in biocrust community composition as a function of experimental climate change manipulations in a 5 year experiment. They induced a 2 degree C warming using infrared lamps in the field in Utah. This is a modest warming effect compared to multi-GCM projections for the area. They crossed this warming effect with a watering treatment which doubled the frequency of rain events but only slightly increased the total amount of rainfall. It's not surprising to me that this had an effect....but what is surprising is that the authors induced a 90% moss mortality in only 1 year!.

Moss dieback in response to increased frequency of small summer rainfall events (Zelikova et al. 2012)

Mosses fail to attain net photosynthesis when experiencing 1.25 mm rain events, contrasting with a 5 mm rain event (Reed et al. 2012).

This effect was essentially exclusively driven by the watering frequency treatment. The group also tracked effects rippling through the entire community. Under the high frequency summer rain treatment, cyanobacterial cover apparently expanded filling the gap left by the mosses, but pigment concentrations suggest that biomass was declining (Zelikova et al. 2012). Meanwhile bacteria and fungi were in decline (Zelikova et al. 2012), and enzyme signatures suggested that decomposition rates were faster under the frequent watering regime. In addition, changes were induced to nitrogen cycling, including increased nitrfication and a shift from an ammonium to a possibly leakier nitrate dominated regime.

Unlike temperature projections, precipitation projections from climate models are notoriously variable. Therefore, we don't know if climate changes will induce this utter tanking of biocrusts and their function. It is a plausible scenario, however,  that the summer monsoon in the Colorado Plateau region would bring a higher frequency of storms. This is exactly what we don't want. Not only would we lose soil fertility, but biocrusts would be less able to aggregate soils and prevent dust emissions which could go on to affect Western US water supplies (see previous post).

I should point out that this simulated climate change scenario is not necessarily the most plausible in all drylands, and the apparent indifference of biocrusts to warming may also not be universal. These studies from Utah, contrast nicely with another study which shows a clear negative effect of 2 - 4 degree C warming on lichen-dominated biocrusts in Spain (Escolar et al. in press).

Escolar C, Maestre FT, Martínez, I, Bowke, MA 2012. Warming reduces the growth and diversity of lichen dominated biological soil crusts in a semi-arid environment: implications for ecosystem structure and function. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: in press.

Zelikova TJ, Houseman DC, Grote EE, Neher DA, Belnap J. 2012. Warming and increased precipitation frequency on the Colorado Plateau: implications for biological soil crusts and soil processes. Plant & Soil DOI 10.1007/s11104-011-1097-z

Reed SC, Coe KK, Sparks JP, Houseman DC, Zelikova, TJ, Belnap J (2012). Changes to dryland rainfall result in rapid moss mortality and altered soil fertility. Nature Climate Change DOI: 10.1038/nclimate1596

... Read more »

  • August 3, 2012
  • 03:47 AM

Where did all the BBC programme metadata go? The infax catalogue online

by Duncan Hull in O'Really?

Over at @BBCSport and @BBC2012 there are some Olympian feats of big data wrestling going on behind the scenes for London 2012 [1]. While we all enjoy the Olympics on a range of platforms and devices, a team of twenty engineers is busy making it all happen. It’s great that the BBC, unlike other large organisations, can talk openly about their technology and share hard-won knowledge widely.... Read more »

  • July 31, 2012
  • 06:25 PM

Who should make the first move?

by eHarmony Labs in eHarmony Labs Blog

When it comes to online dating, who should make the first move? You or them? ... Read more »

  • July 30, 2012
  • 03:40 PM

Solving the Positive Results Bias

by James in Open Science

One of the biggest problems facing science is that it’s done by us mere humans. We’re highly fallible and, as a result, science is vulnerable to our numerous list of biases. To some extent the scientific method, as a collective activity, has gradually evolved to shield itself against these individual-level biases. For instance, the notion [...]... Read more »

  • July 29, 2012
  • 04:16 PM

Algebra Is Necessary, But What About How It’s Taught?

by Melanie Tannenbaum in PsySociety

In a recent New York Times op-ed, Andrew Hacker suggested that the typical math curriculum might not really be a necessary aspect of modern education — at least, not in the form that it currently takes. Hacker suggests that the … Continue reading →... Read more »

Rogers, T.B., Kuiper, N.A., & Kirker, W.S. (1977) Self-Reference and the Encoding of Personal Information. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. DOI: 10.1037//0022-3514.35.9.677  

Klein, S. B., & Loftus, J. (1988) The nature of self-referrent encoding: The contribution of elaborative and organizational processes. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. info:/

Wason, P. C., & Shapiro, D. (1971) Natural and contrived experience in a reasoning problem. Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology. DOI: 10.1080/00335557143000068  

  • July 29, 2012
  • 09:38 AM

Why Don't Social Scientists Want To Be Read?

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

Here's the abstract of a paper just out called In pursuit of leanness: The management of appearance, affect and masculinities within a men's weight loss forum.In a somatic society which promotes visible, idealized forms of embodiment, men are increasingly being interpellated [sic] as image-conscious body-subjects. Some research suggests that men negotiate appearance issues in complex and varied ways, partly because image concerns are conventionally feminized. However, little research has considered how overweight men construct body projects in the context of weight loss, or how men talk to each other about weight management efforts. Since sources of information and support for overweight men are now provided online, including dedicated weight loss discussion forums, our analysis focuses on one such forum, linked to a popular male-targeted magazine. We conducted a thematic analysis of selected extracts from seven threads on the forum. Our analysis suggests a widespread focus on appearance, as well as the use of emotion categories when describing difficult bodily experiences. Invariably, however, such talk was carefully constructed and constrained by hegemonic masculinities founded on discipline, work-orientation, pragmatism and self-reliance. The findings are discussed in relation to magazine masculinities and aesthetics, as well as literature on male embodiment.Phew. Now I think it's fair to say that this is a typical example of what might be called the "social sciences style" of writing. That's why I've chosen to blog about it; nothing I'm going to say is a criticism of this paper as such, but rather of the whole genre.Why do social scientists write like this?This paper is about a really interesting topic - the mixed messages men get about what it means to be "a man" or "manly" in today's society. Very topical, not at all 'niche', and important in lots of ways. So why is it written in a way which makes it impenetrable to all except specialists?I don't think it has to be that way. I've rewritten this abstract, and I've tried to say the same thing without the jargon:Modern men face a dilemma: society tells them that they ought to have an attractive body, but they are also warned that being concerned about beauty and body image is a feminine trait. However, little research has considered how overweight men think and talk about weight loss. Online weight loss forums offer a window onto such issues, so we analyzed seven threads from one such site, linked to a popular men's magazine. We found that while men took part in (often emotional) discussions of their own appearances and bodies, they always framed such talk strictly within conventionally "masculine" terms such as discipline, work-orientation, pragmatism and self-reliance. We discuss this, in the context of men's magazines treatment of masculinity and male beauty, and relate this to previous work.Whether I've succeeded, I'll leave others to judge, but I think I have and there's no trick to it - I just read the original, tried to understand it, and wrote down my thoughts.I'm not saying that the original abstract was "badly written". I suspect it was quite expertly written but that the purpose of writing it was less to communicate ideas clearly, than to satisfy some set of criteria of what 'serious social science' should be like.If I'm right - isn't that a shame? The ideas here deserve a wide audience, so why aren't they aimed at one?Bennett E, and Gough B (2012). In pursuit of leanness : The management of appearance, affect and masculinities within a men's weight loss forum. Health (London, England : 1997) PMID: 22815334... Read more »

  • July 28, 2012
  • 09:56 PM

Self-citing bloggers: my research is the coolest thing ever (let me tell you all about it!)

by Hadas Shema in Information Culture

Every enthusiastic scientist knows that once you reach a certain level of specialization, there are very few people in your immediate surroundings that actually understand what you say. Eyes of family and friends get a bit glassy when you tell them about the SIR2 homologs, and nobody wants to look at your C. elegans’ baby [...]

... Read more »

Shema, H., Bar-Ilan, J., & Thelwall, M. (2012) Self- Citation of Bloggers in the Science Blogosphere. To be presented at COSCI12, Dusseldorf, August 1-5. info:/

  • July 27, 2012
  • 03:35 AM

Olympic Science: The Long Jump to Conclusions

by Duncan Hull in O'Really?

If Science were an Olympic sport, which events would scientists excel at?... Read more »

Cressey Daniel, & Callaway Ewen. (2012) Science at the Olympics: Team science. Nature, 487(7407), 292. DOI: 10.1038/487290a  

Noakes Timothy, & Spedding Michael. (2012) Olympics: Run for your life. Nature, 487(7407), 296. DOI: 10.1038/487295a  

Enriquez Juan, & Gullans Steve. (2012) Olympics: Genetically enhanced Olympics are coming. Nature, 487(7407), 297. DOI: 10.1038/487297a  

Loza-Coll Mariano A. (2012) Piled too high. Nature, 486(7403), 431. DOI: 10.1038/nj7403-431a  

  • July 26, 2012
  • 06:03 AM

New fluorophore: 1% quantum yield!!

by postgradsci in interested in science?

A recent JACS comm (Beneditti et al) has detailed the development of a novel fluorophore, based on cyclopenta[b]naphthalene, and looked into its photophysical properties – namely its solvatochromism and quantum [...]... Read more »

  • July 24, 2012
  • 08:48 PM

Social Networking Use and Your Relationship

by eHarmony Labs in eHarmony Labs Blog

So you’ve been dating your new love for over a month now and they still haven’t changed their online relationship status even though you have. No biggie right? According to psychology researchers, this may have some implications. ... Read more »

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