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  • March 14, 2013
  • 07:12 AM

Ejaculating Every Day Keeps the Doctor Away?

by Carian Thus in United Academics

This image, spreading over the Internet, suggests that frequent ejaculation lowers the risk of prostate cancer with one third. But is it also true? We checked the original research paper to find out.
... Read more »

Giles, G., Severi, G., English, D., McCredie, M., Borland, R., Boyle, P., & Hopper, J. (2003) Sexual factors and prostate cancer. BJU International, 92(3), 211-216. DOI: 10.1046/j.1464-410X.2003.04319.x  

  • March 14, 2013
  • 07:03 AM

More Competion Means More Corruption, New Smog-test Study Finds

by Andrew Porterfield in United Academics

Most economists, business people and even educators and scientists assume the merits of competition; it’s supposed to lead to lower prices and improvements in quality. But, as a study on the automobile smog-testing industry shows, competition can lead to corruption and even public health problems.

A research group led by University of Southern California management professor Victor Bennett found that the structure of the smog-testing industry can lead many firms to cheat on their customers’ smog-check results. And this cheating takes place because it can actually lead to better customer relationships.... Read more »

  • March 8, 2013
  • 10:01 AM

The Need to Know Science Better

by Andrew Porterfield in United Academics

A new study underscores a chronic problem in American (and European) society; a lack of scientific literacy. A recent study from the universities of Bristol and Cardiff found that science was one of the most difficult-to-understand topics by the average reader (environmental issues, politics, economics and religion topped out the rest of that list).

Unfortunately, these are issues somewhat vital to functioning in complex society. So, what’s the problem? Why is science in particular, so hard to understand?... Read more »

Flaounas, I., Ali, O., Lansdall-Welfare, T., De Bie, T., Mosdell, N., Lewis, J., & Cristianini, N. (2013) RESEARCH METHODS IN THE AGE OF DIGITAL JOURNALISM. Digital Journalism, 1(1), 102-116. DOI: 10.1080/21670811.2012.714928  

  • March 8, 2013
  • 07:29 AM

Debunking the Political Myth of “Legitimate Rape”

by Katja Keuchenius in United Academics

When he was running for the U.S. Senate last summer, Rep. Todd Akin, a Republican from Missouri, made a huge gaffe; he claimed that female rape victims’ bodies “just shut down,” preventing pregnancy from occurring. Therefore, according to that logic, any rape that resulted in pregnancy was, instead, consensual. His statement was in support of proposed policies that would restrict the availability of abortion even in the case of rape or incest.... Read more »

  • March 7, 2013
  • 07:23 AM

Sex Can Relieve Severe Headaches

by Carian Thus in United Academics

Maybe you’re not really into it when you have a splitting headache, but new research proves that sexual activity can acutally sooth or even stop your pain.... Read more »

  • March 5, 2013
  • 03:38 PM

New stem cell approach for the treatment of Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy

by beredim in Stem Cells Freak

In a new study, researchers from the University of Minnesota's Lillehei Heart Institute (UMLHI) used induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) and a novel genetic repair method to create skeletal stem cells, which in turn were used to partially restore muscle function in a Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy (DMD) mouse model.Full Story... Read more »

Filareto, A., Parker, S., Darabi, R., Borges, L., Iacovino, M., Schaaf, T., Mayerhofer, T., Chamberlain, J., Ervasti, J., McIvor, R.... (2013) An ex vivo gene therapy approach to treat muscular dystrophy using inducible pluripotent stem cells. Nature Communications, 1549. DOI: 10.1038/ncomms2550  

  • March 5, 2013
  • 08:10 AM

Lesbian Beetle Sex—It’s the Man’s Faul

by Andrew Porterfield in United Academics

Why does gay and lesbian sex exist? If the purpose of sex is reproduction, it makes no evolutionary sense. But recent work by a group at Uppsala University in Sweden has turned that notion on its head.

While beetles are hardly the species to investigate if you’re looking for the origins of same-sex love, recent work on their copulation system shows an evolutionary advantage to same-sex mating behaviors.... Read more »

  • March 5, 2013
  • 07:47 AM

Following the Nerd Herd – The Stereotype Revisited

by Anouk Vleugels in United Academics

“I was such a nerd in high school.” Most people who’ve been on a few first dates will recognize this line. Having nerd qualities, apparently, is nothing to be ashamed of anymore; it shows you’re quirky, unique and intelligent.. Nerds are fun now. So whatever happened to getting stuffed into the trash can for being different? And what exactly did the nerd evolve into?... Read more »

  • March 5, 2013
  • 04:16 AM

Why Think of Jumping From Great Heights

by Mark Fonseca Rendeiro in United Academics

I grew up going back and forth between New Jersey and New York City, which often meant going over a bridge. And that is probably my earliest memory of sitting in the car wondering, what if we drive off this bridge? Years later I would find my way to the top of sky scrapers and spires overlooking cities around the world, naturally to marvel at the view, but each time with that strange familiar thought, what if I jump or fall off this building?

Suicidal thoughts? I don’t think so. But why do our imaginations so often ponder the idea?... Read more »

  • March 3, 2013
  • 09:17 PM

“It Wasn’t My Idea to Come Here”: Young Women Lack Ownership of the Idea to Immigrate

by Mark Rubin in Mark Rubin's Social Psychology Research Blog

Together with getting married and buying a house, the decision to immigrate is one of the most important decisions that a person can make. So, it’s important that immigrants feel that they have satisfactory input into the process of deciding whether or not to migrate. In some recent research, I looked at a very early stage of this decision-making process: ownership of the idea to immigrate.... Read more »

  • March 3, 2013
  • 07:11 AM

The Genetics and Birth of Homer’s Iliad

by Gunnar de Winter in United Academics

The Iliad, Homer’s epic poem telling the tale of Achilles and the war of Troy, is widely considered to be one of the greatest and well-known pieces of ancient literature. Despite its status, however, the date of its production is still uncertain.... Read more »

Altschuler, E., Calude, A., Meade, A., & Pagel, M. (2013) Linguistic evidence supports date for Homeric epics. BioEssays. DOI: 10.1002/bies.201200165  

  • March 1, 2013
  • 09:53 PM

RSPCA Australia Scientific Seminar 2013: Recap

by Cobb & Hecht in Do You Believe In Dog?

Hi Julie, what a week! Thanks for all that great information about The Sounds of Dogs, that was so interesting. I definitely recognise differences in the way my dogs bark. They have very different vocalisations for "strange person at the door", "someone familiar that I'm excited to see at the door" and "Oh my goodness, you just did something that we're not meant to do!" (that last one is ALWAYS Elke 'dobbing' on Caleb - she would have totally been the teacher's pet in a classroom environment!).The RSPCA Australia Scientific Seminar in Canberra was a fantastic day. So many interesting presentations on various topics all focussing on the day's theme: When coping is not enough- promoting positive welfare states in animals.The keynote presentations from David Mellor and James Yeates were (as expected!) really thought-provoking in regards to the journey animals welfare science has taken over the past thirty years and the recent focus on animal affective states (we can probably just call them animals feelings/emotions). It was fabulous to see so many friends and fellow scientists from all over Australia and hear about their latest news regarding zoo, companion, livestock, working and even pest animal research. Some of the slides from my presentation about the welfare of working dogs.As you know, we're moving from understanding how animals cope in welfare-poor environments and taking a huge leap to try and learn how we can help them flourish. Exciting times! Here are a few of the notes I wrote down while listening to talks on the day:- Importance of teaching undergraduate students to assess the complexities of animal welfare issues objectively; use of e-simulation programs to enhance student understanding of animal welfare practices and economic/production components to decisions (Susan Hazel) - Animal welfare is about people as much as it is about animals - Australian dogs spend a lot of time in residential backyards monitoring for their owners' return from work. Most separation anxiety behavioural issues related to this management practice can be resolved by giving dogs access to indoors; preferably to owner's bed; but access to worn socks/underwear can also help if bed not available. (Robert Holmes) - Re: texting during talks -- Blackberries are loud, iPhones are quiet  - Death is not an animal welfare issue (assuming done humanely) ??? If considered as deprivation of a life worth living, it might be.  - Future will move from species-specific provision of welfare to greater individualism. Challenge in developing codes of practice/welfare to provide for individual but still be functional at herd/group/facility level As you can see, there were some really huge ideas being thrown about the room! I'll be sure to let you know when the full papers come out in the proceedings from this excellent day. I am so grateful to have been given the opportunity by RSPCA Australia to speak amongst such a great line up. There's so much to think about in the wake of all the amazing talks, I think I just need to go and think! If you'd like to get into the thick of my current mind-space, you can check out the Public Lecture 'How happy does a happy animal have to be (and how can we tell)? given by James Yeates (essentially the same as his keynote address) recorded in Melbourne, the day after the Canberra event:  How happy does a happy animal have to be (and how can we tell?) from ... Read more »

  • March 1, 2013
  • 01:49 PM

Sleeping With Someone Is Better

by Mark Fonseca Rendeiro in United Academics

Whether you love or hate sleeping alone, turns out, sleeping with someone is better for you.... Read more »

  • March 1, 2013
  • 04:19 AM

Why We Have Heads

by Andrew Porterfield in United Academics

It seems obvious until you look at the whole animal kingdom. Why have a head? And why pack it with a brain and sensory organs?... Read more »

  • February 26, 2013
  • 12:21 PM

They All Look The Same

by Diapadion in Lord of the Apes

A few weeks have passed since Iran claimed to have sent a monkey to space and back. It did not take long for skeptics to point out that the two monkeys look nothing alike. I can't begin to explain why Iran wouldn't do a better job staging their publicity photographs. My mind has been occupied with (in my opinion) a more interesting question: Why is it easy to distinguish between individuals of some primate species, but not others?

I've spent time with a number of primate species, but in terms of sheer hours of exposure, chacma baboons and rhesus macaques take the top two slots. I know both these species very well. Yet, rhesus macaques are easy for me to distinguish between, while chacma baboons are exceptionally difficult to identify. After spending a few hours with some macaques, I can reliably tell you their name and personality, mostly from looking at their faces. After spending hundreds of hours with the same baboons, I could not tell them apart, at least not based on their faces. They really do all look the same. Its more effective to look at the pattern of tears on their ears, and the shape of the callosities on their rumps. Its quite humbling, actually.

A similar phenomena exists in humans, known as the Cross-Race Effect. Or, as the All Look Same effect. In humans, the difference is based on race, but its not racism. How much of the effect can be explained by nature versus nurture is a matter of contention, but has everything to do with an individual's upbringing, who the individual spends time around as they grow up.

The monkey face recognition effect must be different because I didn't grow up spending large amounts of time around rhesus monkeys. So, I turned to genetic diversity for ideas. The more diverse a species is, the easier it should be to identify within the species. It stands to reason that the species which is much easier to identify (rhesus macaques) would have higher genetic diversity.

Research started off easy. The rhesus macaque is three times as diverse but more closely equivalent in damaging coding variation as compared to the human. That is about as straight forward an answer as I have ever seen in the title of an academic publication. Okay, so what about chacma baboons?

Baboon diversity is not as well understood. Rhesus monkeys are widespread, plus they're the animal of choice when it comes to biomedical research. Baboons are also widespread, and favorites of field researchers. But you don't see them as much in labs, so genetic testing is not a routine procedure. Nonetheless, I found an article which addresses my questions.

Quantifying diversity is a not a simple matter. From data collection to bio-informatic analysis, it can be a bumpy road. I don't know why exactly Newman et al. chose to quantify diversity with the mean percent pairwise difference in haplotypes, but it happens to be pretty easy to explain. To use the metric, you take your data, a set of DNA samples from individual monkeys, and compare each individual's DNA to everyone else's within the same species. You count the number of differences  observed between individual base pairs at the same places in the DNA sequences. Then, convert that number into a percentage, and finally, average all of the comparisons between individuals. That's the author's measure of within species diversity.

The diversity found in rhesus macaques was 4.2%. In chacma baboons, it was 0.9%. That is a considerable difference. These numbers are only given a small mention in this part of the paper, so I don't know the margins of error. Nevertheless, these finding support the hypothesis that baboons are harder to distinguish because there is really is less distinguishing information available; less diversity within the species.

However, there are some extenuating circumstances. The baboons I interact with in Cape Town are from a small population, in fact, a subspecies of chacma baboon, Papio ursinus ursinus. Now their diversity is cut down even further, possibly by an order of magnitude or more.

Most of the rhesus macaques I've spent time with were in captive colonies. There are many rhesus sub-species; no one knows the pedigree of colony monkeys, another dirty secret of the biomedical community. But, my best guess is that they came from rhesus populations as wide spread as you can imagine, so the diversity in colonies is likely to approach 4.2%. I have interacted with wild groups of rhesus macaques, but only for short periods (hours), not for months as I have with the baboons. Are they more difficult to identify than the captive monkeys I know? Yes, they are, but not as difficult as wild baboons.

Which raises a follow-up question: What is the right way to quantify how easy it is to tell members of a species or sub-species apart? My gut feelings aren't going to hold up under scrutiny. Appropriate paradigms already exist: show people (or monkeys) a series of faces, some new some repeated, and ask them if they've seen each one before. As I've heard many Professors say (to myself and others around me), "you could get a thesis out of these experiments."

Yuan, Q., Zhou, Z., Lindell, S., Higley, J., Ferguson, B., Thompson, R., Lopez, J., Suomi, S., Baghal, B., Baker, M., Mash, D., Barr, C., & Goldman, D. (2012). The rhesus macaque is three times as diverse but more closely equivalent in damaging coding variation as compared to the human BMC Genetics, 13 (1) DOI: 10.1186/1471-2156-13-52
Newman, T., Jolly, C., & Rogers, J. (2004). Mitochondrial phylogeny and systematics of baboons (Papio) American Journal of Physical Anthropology, 124 (1), 17-27 DOI: 10.1002/ajpa.10340... Read more »

Newman, T., Jolly, C., & Rogers, J. (2004) Mitochondrial phylogeny and systematics of baboons (Papio). American Journal of Physical Anthropology, 124(1), 17-27. DOI: 10.1002/ajpa.10340  

  • February 26, 2013
  • 07:10 AM

Sea Lamprey Genome Sheds Light on Human Evolution

by Carian Thus in United Academics

Although the identity of this monster is not yet confirmed, it's probably a massive sea lamprey. Scienists just managed to decode the entire genome of this creature, which can give important information about human evolution. ... Read more »

Smith, J., Kuraku, S., Holt, C., Sauka-Spengler, T., Jiang, N., Campbell, M., Yandell, M., Manousaki, T., Meyer, A., Bloom, O.... (2013) Sequencing of the sea lamprey (Petromyzon marinus) genome provides insights into vertebrate evolution. Nature Genetics. DOI: 10.1038/ng.2568  

  • February 25, 2013
  • 03:00 PM

Whorfian economics reconsidered: Why future tense?

by Sean Roberts in A Replicated Typo 2.0

Keith Chen has found a link between people's economic decisions and whether their language has a future tense. But are there other linguistic variables that are even better at predicting economic decisions?... Read more »

Sean Roberts, & James Winters. (2012) Social Structure and Language Structure: the New Nomothetic Approach. Psycology of Language Learning, 16(2), 89-112. info:/10.2478/v10057-012-0008-6

  • February 24, 2013
  • 01:00 PM

Scientizing Art

by TheCellularScale in The Cellular Scale

I've always been fascinated with the way the eye moves around a piece of art. Andrew Wyeth's "Christina's World" (or as I looked up "that painting of a girl in a field looking at a house")This piece by Andrew Wyeth is an obvious example of an artist completely controlling your gaze. There are pretty much no options here. You look at the girl and then you follow her gaze to the house. You probably then take a quick glance at that other house/barn to the left, and then maybe follow the edge of the light circle around the houses. (It's my opinion that that is how the eye should go on this painting, but I have no eye tracking data to support it.)A paper last year in PLoS One really tries to "scientize' this process by testing what factors determine the eye movements, and the 'clusters' where the eye tended to fall. Massaro et al., (2012) compare dynamic and static images and images that contain human subjects or nature subjects. Their cluster analysis overlaying classic paintings makes for quite interesting images: The next installment at MoMAThis one is a dynamic human image. Each patch of color shows where the parts of the painting where the eye lingers (face, hands, ....crotch...). The authors do all sorts of interesting analysis on this and other paintings, having participants rate the painting for 'movement' or for 'aesthetic value' and since the paper is open access, it is free to people who may not have university access to journal publications. Anyone can read the whole thing here. One interesting thing that the authors find is that pictures containing humans have fewer clusters than pictures of nature. I expect this is because certain aspects of humans (faces, hands ...crotches...) are so salient and the brain focuses directly on them, while all the branches of a tree for example have about equal 'meaning' for a creates modern art Another great image from this paper. The authors show how much gazing was done at different parts of a painting through a heat map. This one is a human static image. The end result is actually quite haunting because the place that you want to look is blanked out (sort of like a Magritte painting). So here are my questions: If someone looks at a blank page, where does their eye naturally go? Is there some sort of common pattern that most people use just to scan an area? Do chimpanzees use a similar pattern to scan a blank page? Does everyone have their own unique scanning pattern? Or is it just pretty much random?  And here's an idea for artists: Buy yourself an eye tracker and have customers come use it and stare at a blank page. Trace their eye movements and then create a dynamic painting (or T-shirt, or napkin drawing) that follows the person's natural scanning patterns. This would be the ultimate in commissioned custom art! (Then give me one for free, because I think this sounds like fun.)© TheCellularScale Massaro D, Savazzi F, Di Dio C, Freedberg D, Gallese V, Gilli G, & Marchetti A (2012). When art moves the eyes: a behavioral and eye-tracking study. PloS one, 7 (5) PMID: 22624007... Read more »

Massaro D, Savazzi F, Di Dio C, Freedberg D, Gallese V, Gilli G, & Marchetti A. (2012) When art moves the eyes: a behavioral and eye-tracking study. PloS one, 7(5). PMID: 22624007  

  • February 22, 2013
  • 11:32 AM

Why Do People Faint at the Sight of Blood?

by Andrew Porterfield in United Academics

The sight of blood doesn’t frighten most people, but can cause fainting and severe anxiety in others. The phenomenon, known as blood-injury-injection phobia (cleverly abbreviated as “BII”), is rather common, affecting about 3.5 percent of all men and women. ... Read more »

  • February 22, 2013
  • 01:50 AM

Electricity Between Bees and Flowers

by Carian Thus in United Academics

Beyond their colors, sizes, and other fascinating attributes, have you considered the electrical capabilities of bees and flowers? A new study by researchers from the University of Bristol has uncovered the fact that both sides are actually making use of electricity to communicate with one another. How? First we have the bee, who is of course always flying through the air which is filled with charged particles. As a result of this, the bee actually carries a positive charge. Then there is the plant, which is of course grounded and therefore carries a negative charge and conducts electricity very slowly.... Read more »

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