Newspapers and media outlets have a really irritating habit of defining people by their personal relationships to others, and this is never more apparent when they speak of professional women. A good example of that was brought to my attention today, Margaret Archer, a female professor and the most senior female in the Vatican has the headline refer to her as "grandmother".
Why is the media so focused on a woman's ability to generate progeny? Woman from all walks of life can and do plenty of things apart from reproduce and maintain a family life. Last year there was controversy about how Yvonne Brill's obituary seemed to place the emphasis on her role in family life rather than the amazing work she did in rocket science.
It seems to happen all too often for women and I have encountered it throughout my life. When the topic of jobs comes up during a social occasion and meeting new people (the exception being at a conference, but then we ask about research and not what we do for a living) the most common response is surprise ("you don't look like a scientist") and asking me to repeat what I just said.
Define the individual and their accomplishments, not their socially acceptable "role" with respect to other people.
Also, this debate has completely gone off track from the subject being tackled, upholding the rights of those who have been enslaved and abused. I don't care whether she is working for the pope or not, whether she is a mother, daughter, grandmother, cousin etc. it is an issue that needs more focus and hopefully it is her professionalism that will help her to get the work done.
What I think has been exciting about the news of the discovery of a particle that bears a strong resemblance to the hypothetical Higgs Boson (and it has not been proven that it is the Higgs Boson particle yet, just that they have found a particle where the Higgs Boson was predicted to be) is how excited others are and how it has captured the imagination of individuals, whether they are scientists or non-scientists. The impact of the discovery will only be realised in the future and I am sure that this day will go down in history. Brian Cox explains it fairly well in this video clip from the BBC.
Still not sure of what the Higgs Boson is?
(I admit that I have to keep checking my facts as I am not a particle physicist)
PhD Comics have a good video explanation about the complexity of the discovery and the particle itself on this link (Higgs Boson Explained).
Congratulations to everyone involved in the discovery!
I would recommend this Scientific American article (link) discussing our ability to empathise.
It seems that there are several forms of empathy. The one we commonly think of is an emotional and situational empathy. We can place ourselves in another's shoes and gain some form of understanding about how they might feel and why they react in the manner they do. But empathy goes much further than this. Evidence shows that the same neurons are fired whether we directly experience something or when we observe it happening to others (European Journal Neuroscience). This is not restricted to humans but has also been observed in monkeys (Experimental brain research). Additionally, there appears to be a link between the strength of this neural response and individual ability to empathise with another's perspective (Neuroimage) (the Scientific American article summarises each study quite nicely for those unable to open the full papers). So it seems that we may be able to "feel" another's situation to far greater depth than we had previously thought.
I wonder how this links in with peoples choice of books, films and other entertainment, or if it does at all?
A new scientist article today discusses the early stage research producing meat within a lab.
I personally think the time-frames are far far too ambitious. I also find myself pondering the consequences of its eventual success, as I have no doubt it will be successful one day.
In the first instance, what is the moral stance on killing animals for food?
I am a big advocate of ethical farming practises where the animals are kept in free-range conditions and have a relatively good lifestyle. I am also an advocate of humane slaughter and purchasing meat from local farms (something that is very difficult in my current location, in the UK it was far easier to do and I will be returning to that practise). I do not think that killing animals is inherently wrong or immoral, although a duty of care would demand that we are careful to ensure the least amount of suffering is inflicted.
Are there other options?
We have the option of feeding ourselves healthily on a vegetarian diet, but with some sacrifice at the individual level. It is not a choice for those with sensitive stomach conditions. Nevertheless, many people are vegetarian for ethical reasons and there are some possible health benefits. In the future it seems there will be an additional option in synthetic meat that might well offer healthier alternatives to the meat most people can access today.
Is synthetic meat any more ethical than raising animals to slaughter?
At present, the cells have to be obtained from animals, as does the "food" the cells are given (fetal calf serum). So, while the quantity of animals slaughtered may be lessened, it still involves animal slaughter. I am not sure there is a clear cut moral superiority in place here. Reduction of animals being slaughtered, yes, but still slaughter.
I am unsure. The prospect of wiping out animal farming and the resultant loss of livelihoods and farms is quite daunting. But a way of life is not necessarily a reason to continue immoral acts, if they are indeed immoral, and farming does damage the natural landscape. What niggles at me more is the loss of diversity farming has given us in the pig, sheep, cattle, chicken etc breeds we have today and the joy it can be to keep such animals and be in touch with where our food comes from. I have kept livestock, I have grown my own food, and there really is nothing in comparison to that sense of achievement in doing so, nor the quality of the food produced. I have not hunted animals but I can see how that might achieve the same sense of accomplishment. So maybe I simply have an attachment to a the way of life and a certain skill set that is grounded in emotion rather than reason. I would certainly be sorry to see it disappear. It will be interesting to see how this pans out in the future.
An article from Scientific American discusses the debate about slowing down science.
And I agree with the arguments made about the "fast food" approach to science. having worked in Switzerland, UK and the USA I have noticed varying approached to science. The push for getting high impact publications in the shortest amount of time possible is dangerous as it can lead to misinterpretations of data and also high rate of post-doc burn out. The requirement to get things out now is driven by the increasing difficulty in scientific funding, especially in the USA. Working in other parts of the world, i encountered a much better work-life balance and while pressure was there, it was not crippling. perhaps it has just been the labs I have worked in, but prior to my appointments in the USA, I and the colleagues i had were primarily working on one project and making a lot of progress in a relatively short amount of time. We had other research to do, supervision of undergraduate students and teaching responsibilities, but the research on a single project meant that we we could do all the necessary background research which facilitated our data interpretations. Here, in the US, the two labs i have worked in have been completely different, with each of us having multiple projects of equal priorities, vastly slowing down our progress on any particular one. Yet, the pressure is on to continue to publish as if each project was our only one, which in turn leads to long hours over a sustained period of time and eventual burn-out and mistakes being made. It can also reach the point where the actual quality of the research is also diminished, leading to the necessity of retracting publications.
As mentioned in the article in a quote, Darwin took years to get around to publishing his work, constantly re-thinking and refining it. In today's science any post-doc doing that would simply be out of a job as funding would likely run out and not be renewed due to lack of "progress" (often judged by publications). in my opinion, these types of issues need to be addressed and slowing down science to give us researchers time to think and plan properly will, from my perspective, ultimately increase the speed of general scientific progression.
I came across this article earlier (Bug Girl tweeted it) about science writing.
I am interested in conveying how exciting science can be and I have a passion for it myself. It is a part of who I am and has taught me to be a skeptic, not taking things a face value but looking into the data and evidence behind any claims made. While this is not a science blog, it is a part of who I am and as such science discussions periodically come up on here. I linked to the article above as it raises certain questions that I thought it would be fun to answer. (This ended up being a long post so I will stick with this one for now).
The most surprising aspect is how complex cells and biological tissues or samples are at the molecular level. As we are able to see structures with ever greater accuracy and resolution, it brings up a whole host of interesting questions and concepts about the nature of biological processes. Minute changes that take place within protein structures can cause significant differences to molecular interactions and can result in a cascade of events leading to widespread effects that influence the entire organism. As we unravel more details about biological interactions and the tiny nanomachines that make up our cells and tissues, the more we can see how remarkable biology is and how unnecessary and, quite frankly, how ridiculous a deity really is. the deeper we delve, the greater the awe I experience and the beauty that I perceive in how amazing and unique each organism really is and yet at the same time, how linked we are by our evolutionary history to every other organism. I don't think words can ever really convey the majesty it all.
And that partially describes what I also find the most exciting. Each time a new sample is put under the microscope, it reveals an entire new world. You never know what to expect as nothing is ever like the depictions in textbooks or diagrams. Each time I look at the complex structures of a new sample it takes a while, from a few seconds to a few hours, to orient myself, to understand what it is I am seeing and how to navigate around and interpret it. I think it is similar to what is experienced when you travel to a different country. Everything is very different at first glance, the clothes might be different, the food, tastes, sights and sounds of the society around you. The topography and architecture will be different, you may be using different means of travel, and there are hurdles to overcome in working out how to find your way in this new culture. But after that initial strangeness, you soon realize that everything is fundamentally the same. Human societies may have different values, but the individuals that make up those societies are actually pretty similar at the basic levels. The cities and towns may look different but they still will have familiar features and functions. The excitement I feel when I look at a new sample is the explorer in me finding my way in a new environment.
There is another type of excitement. And that is when everything clicks into place. When you have been looking and analyzing or working hard on something for a long time, it may be years or decades of work, and suddenly it all becomes clear and you understand! It all clicks into place. That is a rare feeling but definitely an amazing one that I think is experienced by all scientists at one point or another and probably other fields as well.
Why is it important? Science is a path to knowledge. Microscopy is another tool of science that links hypotheses to conclusions and the innovations stemming from conclusions via the process of data collection. I work in an array of different subjects with the underlying specialty in microscopy. I am an expert in the techniques I employ rather than in the subject I study. I help other researchers that are subject specialists in using these tools to answer the questions they have without the need for them to spend 10 years or so reaching my level of experience and technical skill. In this collaborative manner more research can be done, more knowledge gained and greater eventual benefit achieved than could be reached if we all worked as individuals. It is furthering our collective knowledge and as such, it is as important as any other endeavor for gaining information about ourselves and the world we live in.
Fine example of the effectiveness of peer review and the corrective process in science. It can be tough getting published and very hard when additional results show that you may be wrong, but that IS the process of science and why it is one of the only real mechanisms we have to gain knowledge about reality (in contrast to faith). A paper was published in Science, revealing some very interesting data and conclusions about human longevity and genetic markers that could indicate your life-span. However, the peer-process of publishing in science took effect and flaws in the study were quickly revealed, causing the authors to re-assess their conclusions and eventually withdraw their paper and seek publication elsewhere, following revision.
Since when has religion done that? How often do faith based assumptions get re-examined in the light of new evidence and are kept regardless? I would have a lot less contempt for established religions if they did do this and for the followers of faith that claims a knowledge of the world in contradiction to established evidence.
Nature forms around certain building blocks, the Fibonacci sequence being one of them. This beautiful video shows it quite clearly.
The Fibonacci sequence is a series of numbers. it starts with 0 and 1. By adding the most recent two numbers together you get the next result, so in the first instance you get 1. The sequence thus far is 0, 1, 1. By adding the last two number this time you get 2. 0, 1, 1, 2.... The sequence continues to be generated in this manner. 0, 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, 55, 89, 144 etc.
However, while it is interesting that some biological specimens do conform to the Fibonacci numbers, not all patterns in biology do, it is not an underlying sequence that determines biological structures! It is simply an example of one of the patterns humans make of natural phenomena. This page in particular does a really good job of debunking that particular myth.
And for those seeking some peace and relaxation this Monday morning, here is another beautiful video from the same creators of the video above. Based on an Escher woodcarving and something I found to be quite relaxing earlier today.
Well, I doubt stem cells will have much influence on how hurt you are by the dissolution of a relationship. That said, it seems that new research, discussed in news articles on the Nature (Nature) and BBC (BBC news) websites (the research article is presented in Nature also) indicated that dormant heart stem cells can be woken up and set to work following a heart attack. Cardiomyocytes (heart cells) are damaged during a heart attack. A normal heart has limited repair mechanisms and once damaged the cells will inhibit the proper functioning of the heart, which could ultimately lead to further, and possibly fatal, attacks.
The research that has just been published, and previous research (referenced in the Nature news piece) indicate that a particular protein can help the natural heart stem cells generate new blood supply and muscle tissue, repairing sites that have been damaged. It seems there is a bit of debate about how effective the protein would be in humans and whether a preventative approach for high risk patients or injecting the protein following heart attack would have the greatest effect. Still, the results are very interesting and show promise of making a significant difference to heart patients in the future.
Skeptical kinkster musing on whatever takes my fancy!