This tumblr's for all the great men and women of science for whom we owe our current understanding of the natural world; their achievements, their failures, and even their quirks, we celebrate them all.
For Science. For Inquiry. For Humanity.
(Click each image for short details)
Every year for nearly four decades, Nikon has received hundreds of entries in its Small World microscope photography contest. Every year, the images are more amazing, and this year’s winners — selected from nearly 2,000 submissions — are undoubtedly the best yet.
Super-close-ups of garlic, snail fossils, stinging nettle, bat embryos, bone cancer and a ladybug are among the top images this year. The first place winner (above) shows the blood-brain barrier in a living zebrafish embryo, which Nikon believes is the first image ever to show the formation of this barrier in a live animal.
“We used fluorescent proteins to look at brain endothelial cells and watched the blood-brain barrier develop in real-time,” the winners, Jennifer Peters and Michael Taylor of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, in Memphis, said in a press release. “We took a 3-dimensional snapshot under a confocal microscope. Then, we stacked the images and compressed them into one – pseudo coloring them in rainbow to illustrate depth.”
Here are the top 20 photomicrographs from the 38th Nikon Small World competition, selected for their originality, informational content, and visual impact by a panel of scientists, journalists and optical imaging experts. — Continue over at WiredScience
Since 1975, retracted research papers have been steadily increasing in number. Of course, so has the larger output of research papers. But the number of retractions is growing faster than papers themselves, and the reasons behind this trend are troubling. A new report in PNAS dug into retractions in more detail than ever before to figure out what the hell was going on.
As John Timmer and Carl Zimmer report (more details in both articles), this isn’t the first time that someone has pointed out the increase in retractions. But before now, honest mistakes, technical errors and later corrections accounted for most of the retracted work. Not anymore.
By digging through more than 2,000 retractions in the PubMed database, outright fraud was to blame for more than 40% of the cases. The higher profile of the journal, the more likely fraud was to blame. Publication pressure anyone?
Anyone who’s worked in scientific research knows the pressure of publishing all too well. While the problem isn’t as widespread as the numbers make it seem (a handful of labs are repeat offenders and throw the rates off), this is a troubling trend, and detecting copycats isn’t enough.
We’ve got to change the culture, and erase the worst of the publish-or-perish attitude. “Getting a paper” is never worth committing fraud. Science has nothing if it loses the public trust. The truth in our discoveries is lost if we cheat to get there.
NASA’s Intense Satellite Views of Hurricane Sandy
How the Sun and Moon Are Helping Sandy’s Waters Rise
As Hurricane Sandy makes landfall on the Northeast coast of the U.S. over the next couple days, we are already seeing reports of higher-than normal tidal surges for a storm this size. Hurricanes always bring high seas along with them thanks to their intense low pressure, but the fact that Hurricane Sandy happened during a full moon (Monday night) is putting that rising water on steroids.
In a full moon (or new moon), the Earth, Sun and Moon are aligned in a way that not only allows the usual lunar pull on the tides, but also a solar pull! It’s stretching the Earth’s oceans like taffy, creating more extreme high tides that will make Sandy’s surge much worse. The Moon has a much greater pull on tides because of its distance to Earth, but the Sun’s mass gives it a serious influence in situations like this.
The top image shows how this phenomenon works, with the radius of the Earth and Moon to scale. The thing that amazes me is how far apart, in size and in distance, these three bodies really are! The bottom image shows the correct size scale for the Sun, Moon and Earth, but only the Earth/Moon distance is to scale. The Sun would be so far away that I’d have to walk into the next office to finish the graphic!
Staring Into Galactic Infinity
The European Space Organization (ESO) has just released the stunning photo above. At first glance, its just another fine piece of star porn, beautiful little glowing dots and clouds, like so many others whose images we have captured in our quest to catalogue the observable universe.
But this one is special.
This is a nine-gigapixel image was taken using a telescope that looks into the infrared, allowing us to see through the dusty galactic arms. The view is of the galactic center of the Milky Way, our home. That means somewhere in the glowing center lies a black hole, and we are here, rotating around it. The photo marks the largest catalogue of Milky Way stars ever assembled.
If you made counting all of the 84 million objects so far identified in this picture a full-time job, counting 16 hours per day at a comfortable pace, it would take you somewhere in the neighborhood of 20 years to finish. If it were printed at book resolution, that image would be 9 meters tall and 7 meters wide.
And this is less than 1% of the whole sky. In just our own galaxy.
Astronomers have spotted a rare X-ray star explosion near the center of our Milky Way galaxy, revealing a previously unknown black hole munching on gas from a neighboring sun-like star.
Image: Gas builds up in a storage disk around a black hole, eventually leading to a bright X-ray nova. Credit:NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center
NASA’s Swift satellite made the cosmic find last month when it detected a new and rapidly brightening X-ray source a few degrees from the galactic center of the Milky Way. Astronomers identified the outburst as a short-lived bright X-ray nova, which is produced when a stream of gas rushes toward either a neutron star or a black hole. Unlike a supernova, which is the explosive death of a star, novas are smaller explosions that do not completely destroy a star.
The black hole is thought to be 20,000 to 30,000 light-years away in the galaxy’s inner region. Astronomers, who named the bright X-ray nova Swift J1745-26 after its coordinates in space, said witnessing such an event is rare.
It is hard to know exactly when it became acceptable for U.S. politicians to be antiscience. For some two centuries science was a preeminent force in American politics, and scientific innovation has been the leading driver of U.S. economic growth since World War II. Kids in the 1960s gathered in school cafeterias to watch moon launches and landings on televisions wheeled in on carts. Breakthroughs in the 1970s and 1980s sparked the computer revolution and a new information economy. Advances in biology, based on evolutionary theory, created the biotech industry. New research in genetics is poised to transform the understanding of disease and the practice of medicine, agriculture and other fields.
The Founding Fathers were science enthusiasts. Thomas Jefferson, a lawyer and scientist, built the primary justification for the nation’s independence on the thinking of Isaac Newton, Francis Bacon and John Locke—the creators of physics, inductive reasoning and empiricism. He called them his “trinity of three greatest men.” If anyone can discover the truth by using reason and science, Jefferson reasoned, then no one is naturally closer to the truth than anyone else. Consequently, those in positions of authority do not have the right to impose their beliefs on other people. The people themselves retain this inalienable right. Based on this foundation of science—of knowledge gained by systematic study and testing instead of by the assertions of ideology—the argument for a new, democratic form of government was self-evident.
Yet despite its history and today’s unprecedented riches from science, the U.S. has begun to slip off of its science foundation. Indeed, in this election cycle, some 236 years after Jefferson penned the Declaration of Independence, several major party contenders for political office took positions that can only be described as “antiscience”: against evolution, human-induced climate change, vaccines, stem cell research, and more. A former Republican governor even warned that his own political party was in danger of becoming “the antiscience party.”
Such positions could typically be dismissed as nothing more than election-year posturing except that they reflect an anti-intellectual conformity that is gaining strength in the U.S. at precisely the moment that most of the important opportunities for economic growth, and serious threats to the well-being of the nation, require a better grasp of scientific issues. By turning public opinion away from the antiauthoritarian principles of the nation’s founders, the new science denialism is creating an existential crisis like few the country has faced before.
[Continued at the Link]
A large number of major party contenders for political office this year took antiscience positions against evolution, human-induced climate change, vaccines, stem cell research, and more.
Such positions are surprising because the economy is such a big factor in this election, and half the economic growth since World War II can be traced to innovations in science and technology.
Partisans at both ends of the political spectrum have been guilty of science denialism. But the Republican version is particularly dangerous because it attacks the validity of science itself.
U.S. voters must push candidates and elected officials to express their views on the major science questions facing the nation or risk losing out to those countries with reality-based policies.
NOBEL PRIZE ANNOUNCEMENT!
Congratulations to the winners of the 2012 Nobel Prize in Medicine:
John B. Gurdon and Shinya Yamanaka are the joint winners of the 2012 Nobel Prize in Medicine for their discovery that mature cells can be reprogrammed to become pluripotent.
Check out this article for more information on pluripotent stem cells and these two scientist’s contribution to medicine:
This was a pretty obvious choice this year, but that does not diminish the incredible science done by these two gentlemen. I guess what I’m really saying is “I totally picked right, so go me!”
I agree that Wisconsin’s James Thomson could/should have been included in this award along with Yamanaka (although Gurdon’s work predates them). The protein factors that turn on the appropriate genes to convert adult cells back into an embryonic or stem cell-like state would not be known without Dr. Thomson’s work. We got mad love for ya, Dr. Thomson.
It’s one of the fastest “research to Nobel” turnarounds that I know of, but I think it’s well-deserved. It may yet be decades before we see medical benefits resulting from this sort of work, but we have come close to decoding one of the most basic questions of biology: What makes this cell do this thing, and how can we make it do something else?
Happy Nobel-mas! More awards to come …
It’s not a predetermined path….Look at for example Phil Plait. Phil Plait is a professional astrophysicist, and then he had a blog, and the blog became a book, and a lot of interest in the book, and he saw the need for skepticism to be addressed in society, and he became a big part of that movement–you don’t pre-script that. It’s hard to prescript it.
My career path–you just don’t pre-script it. You do what you do best, and what you like the most, and you figure out along the way how that best fits into the opportunities of culture and the greater society.
So in graduate school, I wrote a question and answer column for StarDate magazine, out of the University of Texas, and that became a book, and when you have a book, TV shows want your views on things–one thing leads to another. But in all cases, the common denominator is that it starts out by writing.
So my advice to someone who wanted to be a science communicator is, you write. Writing is the excuse you can give yourself to organize ideas in coherent sentences in ways that make sense not only word to word, but sentence to sentence and paragraph to paragraph. And that is the art of communication, being clear and succinct. And the proving ground for that is writing.
Today, blogs–if you get a popular blog, you can gain some weight in that way, and in an earlier day, I would have said you write op-eds, letters to the editor. A way to get your name out there with your point of view, that others might not have.
But regardless, it’s writing. And initially, you’re not paid for the writing, you’re just writing because you can’t not write, or because the urge is so strong you just have to. And eventually, people take notice, if you say interesting things and you say them well, or humorously, or perceptively, then others take notice of it, and one thing leads to another.
So you can’t pre-script it, you just have to do what feels right, and express what inspires you, and then watch where the chips fall at that point.