I’m loath to begin a weekly roundup on a low note, and I’m truly sorry to have to, but this most certainly needs to be discussed. It’s been a turbulent week this week in the science blogging world. Turbulent and full of raised concerns over the state of things for those in a science communication career. Basically, there have been two sexual harassment scandals in the news – the first concerning Urban Scientist Danielle Lee and her terrible treatment by an editor at biology online, and the second around playwright and author Monica Byrne and some downright shameful behaviour on the part of Bora Zivkovic, blogs editor at Scientific American.
Both women, after being given rather distasteful treatment, decided to go public with the matter. This has rightfully sparked some quite heated discussions across the online science writing community. The entire matter is summarised quite well by Priya Shetty at the Huffington Post and Laura Helmuth at Slate. I’d recommend reading Dr Isis’ perspective on all of this too. My personal opinion is that the behaviour of “Ofek” at biology online (who has been fired since the incident in question) and of Zivkovic (who has since resigned from the board of directors and Science Online) is an utter disgrace and humiliation to all of us involved in the science communication community. While it’s reassuring to know that neither of these recent events has occurred without repercussions, it raises the huge concern of precisely how often events like these occur and simply go unreported.
I feel it’s of prime importance to all of us to show our support to Lee and Byrne, not only for their sake but for the sake of all others out there who’ve been similarly marginalised. They need to know that they have our support and that we will listen if they choose to make the remarkably difficult decision to speak out about experiences like these. That is, after all, what a community is all about. Personally, I’d like all of online scicomms to be an open and welcoming forum for discussion of all kinds. I’m not sure if I feel it can be, knowing that things like this are occurring beneath the surface, but I truly hope that such nasty incidents can someday be a thing of the past.
Now… Scandals aside, there have also been some rather remarkable happenings this week in science.
Perhaps most remarkable is the news that amputees may be able to have their sense of touch restored with technology. Much like Luke Skywalker in The Return of the Jedi, people left disabled due to amputations may soon be able to not only control prosthetic limbs directly with their brains, but also feel them. Needless to say, the implications of this are just wonderful!
In my lab at the University of Chicago, we’re working to better understand how the sensory nervous system captures information about the surface, shape and texture of objects and conveys it to the brain. Our latest research creates a blueprint for building touch-sensitive prosthetic limbs that one day could convey real-time sensory information to amputees and tetraplegics via a direct interface with the brain.
Recognising threats is a vital skill in the natural world, and has been a mainstay of evolution in animals since the Precambrian era. And some creatures have evidently gone to great lengths. Latest research shows that the rainbowfish, a fairly humble seeming species, can smell predators when they’re still embryos, a mere 4 days after fertilisation!
Jennifer Kelley, a scientist with the University of Western Australia, explains that predator recognition is required at such an early age because responding to predator cues is absolutely crucial for early survival. For example, detection of “alarm cues” suggests that other fish in the vicinity have been attacked by predators.
Seeming like something taken straight out of Michael Crichton’s Jurassic Park, blood has been discovered inside a fossilised mosquito for the first time ever. While most likely not from a dinosaur, it’s fascinating to finally have concrete proof of such an audacious science fiction concept.
Even if it doesn’t bring us closer to getting an amusement park of death and delight, this is a pretty exciting discovery. We never knew that blood could last so long inside of a mosquito! What other kinds of surprises are hiding underneath Montana?
And finally, as an avid Instagram user myself, I find it rather interesting that a study has found that photographing your dinner can actually make the meal less enjoyable. While this doesn’t look to be a particularly big study, it exposes an interesting little facet of human psychology. And for the record, no, I don’t normally Instagram my food. Though I know a few people who do.
Basically, when we look at photos of say, fish and chips over and over before we eat it, our senses become ‘bored’. The photos ruin your appetite by making you feel like you’ve already experienced eating the fish and chips before… This sensation is measured in levels of satiation, a scientific term for the ‘drop in enjoyment with repeated consumption’. Consumption, in this case can just be viewing a photo of food, not actually eating a food.
And finally, let’s end with something pretty. For some gorgeous botanical images, Botanartist is a brand new blog full of some really rather charming photographs of plants, both close up and extremely close up through a microscope. If you want to enjoy some cool macro photography and scientific explanations of what you’re seeing, you’ll probably find all of this just as marvellous as I do!
I hope everyone has a great week. Until next time, DFTBA and stay curious!