Courtesy matt coatsImagine a crime scene that has hundreds of crime scene investigators. All of the students at Arlington High School in St. Paul, MN are working together to crack the case! As part of the school’s BioSMART program, intended to expose students sciences, engineering, business, etc., this school-wide lesson is drawing on a variety of different disciplines. Art students have become sketch artists, English language learners are questioning “persons of interest”, other students are working to determine the angles of blood spatter. I think this lesson is really a neat way to highlight how crime scene investigation draws on many different subjects and specialists. It is also a cool way to get students interested in subjects that maybe they would not have thought about before. What do you think?
Courtesy monseurlamSorry to break it to you, dudes, but you aren’t just ugly ducklings—you’re just ugly. Or, if you are mirror-melting hot, those good looks are an invention all of your own, so skip the father’s day present, and get yourself something nice.
See, guys and boys, you’re dad may have taught you how to gut a possum, and he might even have given you your first possum-gutting knife, but he didn’t give you the looks that attracted all those hungry eyes at the possum market. He saved those for your sister.
It turns out that men don’t inherit their fathers’ “attractiveness”. Fathers do pass on masculine features to their sons, but there doesn’t seem to be any strong correlation between attractive fathers (or, technically, “hot dads”) and attractive sons. So says the journal Animal Behaviour.
By rating the images of hundreds of males and females, and their respective parents, the recent study hoped to test the theory that women seek out attractive mates to produce sexy male offspring, who will in turn pass on their mother’s genes.
Uh uh. The study found that hot dads didn’t necessarily have hot boys, and that unattractive fathers (or “ug dads”) didn’t necessarily have ug boys. In fact, the study found no evidence of male-to-male attractiveness inheritance at all. So that beautiful bone structure, those sparkling eyes, that indefinable something that makes you so, so foxy… where did that come from? Your mother, perhaps?
Nope, attractiveness doesn’t seem to come from your mom either. It seems that when boys are born, they’re cast out into the Land of Fug to fend for themselves, and if they find a sunny hilltop to build a face on, they have to do it on their own.
Mothers, the study found, do pass on attractiveness to their daughters. And, ironically, so do fathers—hot dads are likely to have attractive daughters. That means that daughters are getting all those good looks funneled into them from both sides! Ooooh, I hate them so much!
It’s like the legend of Puss in Boots, really. The wealthy old miller and his wife (who I believe was some sort of novelty hat heiress) were on their deathbeds at the same time (food poisoning, I believe), and were deciding how to divvy up their vast wealth between their two sons and one daughter. Keep in mind, this was before division was invented, so the two dying parents decided that the fairest thing to do would be to give all their money to the daughter and none to the sons. The daughter lived a long and very happy life, and no more needs to be said about her. One of the sons died more or less on the spot (food poisoning, I believe), and the other grabbed the miller’s cat and did a runner.
The stolen cat may or may not have had a plan for the surviving son’s well-being, but there was no way to tell, because the cat couldn’t speak English, and the son couldn’t speak Cat. So, making the best of what he had, the son forgot to feed the cat until it died, and then took its fur. (And this was clever in itself, because the son was still too poor to afford a knife, and he had to be creative—that’s where the saying “there’s more than one way to skin a cat” comes from.) The son then used the beautiful fur (it was a good cat) to make an attractive fur hat (a skill he learned from his mother), which he sold to a local eccentric. The profits from the sale were then invested in the construction of a new animal shelter/hat factory. The venture proved to be a lucrative one, and it kept the man in stockings and gin for the rest of his life, until he burned the factory down so that his own son couldn’t inherit it.
Do you see the connection? If you replace all references to money in the story with the word “hotness,” the analogy is particularly apt.
Courtesy MASH DnARTAfter 35 years, a previously unknown victim of Texas serial killer Dean Corll can now rest easy. Victim ML73-3349, along with two other unidentified bodies have spent the past 35 years in a cold storage unit with the hope that additional evidence or new techniques may shed some light on their identities. Enter forensic anthropologist Sharon Derrick! She has spent the last two years investigating this cold case.
Part of her work included looking over missing persons reports from around the time of the murders to determine if any had the same basic physical characteristics of the remains and reconstructions of what the victim may have looked like. A likely candidate popped up, Randell Lee Harvey.
The next step was to locate relatives of Harvey to acquire some DNA that could be compared to that of the victim. Derrick was able to locate two sisters. However, after multiple tests, the results of the DNA (both mitochondrial and nuclear) profiles matched, though not specifically enough to conclusively determine that ML73-3349 was Harvey.
However, the sisters recognized a jacket found with the body. The victim also had a comb and similar boots to the type that Harvey wore. Additionally, the victim also had a similar overbite to Harvey. Corll also had two accomplices, one of which recognized a drawing of Harvey, and was able to locate the house where Harvey's family had lived.
The combination of DNA tests, profiles, and circumstantial evidence all indicate that victim ML73-3349 is indeed Randell Lee Harvey. The other two victims remain unidentified.
Courtesy EJP PhotoThere’s snow on the cryptocouch, y’all. How did it get there? I thought the cryptocouch was in a basement somewhere. (That’s what you say.) And that’s what I thought too.
We were wrong. The cryptocouch, it seems, is very much a mobile entity. Sure, it lives in a basement, and that’s where we all (w’all) most often sit on it, but the cryptocouch also travels. It’s like that bed from the Nintendo Entertainment System’s Little Nemo: The Dream Master (Nemo! Help your cat, little man!)—the sucker flies. It flies.
It has to fly, because how else could we explain the snow? See, the cryptocouch has just recently returned from the Himalayan kingdom of Nepal, where it was following a group of Japanese researchers on a mountaintop nearly five miles high.
This particular peak, Dhaulagiri IV, happens to be where the Japanese team claims to have found traces of the legendary yeti. That’s right, y’all, yeti is in the house again already. He’s just not in your house. The primary goal of this expedition was to catch a yeti on film.
And that didn’t happen. But they did find something almost as good: yeti footprints in the snow. (Oh, that’s where all that snow came from, cryptocouch.)
Photographs of the prints can be found at the link above, or at the team’s own site here. Don’t get all sassy if that link doesn’t work, though—you aren’t the only one who wants to see yeti footprints.
If you can’t see the photos, or refuse to do anything that you’re told to do (I’m with you there, brother), here’s the deal: the footprints (or footprint, I’m not totally certain) were found in crusty snow on the mountain, and measure about 8 inches long. The leader of the team insists that they don’t belong to any of the other local animals, saying that his team has been coming to the region for years, and knows what bear, deer, wolf, and snow leopard prints look like; these prints look different.
On a previous expedition, a team member thinks he caught a glimpse of the silhouette of a possible yeti. It was about 200 meters away, but he estimated its height at about 1.5 meters (slightly less than 5 feet). So this particular yeti doesn’t have all that imposing of a figure.
Short yeti or no, we aren’t here to judge, are we? Well, we sort of are, but we aren’t handing out value judgments. We’re here to evaluate the evidence, and to decide if it’s likely that there’s a diminutive hairy man roaming the slopes of the Himalayas. The footprint isn’t quite doing it for me, but the couch saw fit to make the trip, so we’ll be sticking with the yeti for now.
Courtesy US Air ForceI attended yet another great Cafe Scientifique event put on by the Bell Museum the other night called: Art and Aeronautics—A Conversation with Tomás Saraceno. Tomás and his teammate Alberto are artists in residence at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis and have been working with the Aerospace Engineering and Mechanics department at the University of Minnesota. In short they are building a giant balloon out of reclaimed trash--primarily plastic bags. This talk got me on an balloon science research kick and thought I would share some links:
First off, check out some of the pics of Tomás and Alberto's project, the Museo Aero Solar.
There was lots of talk at the presentation about women's important role in the early days of flight when ballooning dominated. There was even some debate about whether a woman was the first person in space...via balloon...in the 1920s! I couldn't immediately find any information on this claim on ye old internets, but I would love to hear from any buzz readers who might know more information.
Getting to space by balloon might seem crazy, but that's exactly what the Air Force was trying to do before our attempts with rockets. Check out Project Manhigh(yep its really called that) and Project Excelsior. Several of these early space balloons were piloted by Air Force Colonel Joseph Kittinger, the first, possibly only, man to ever break the speed of sound, without a vehicle. He did it by jumping out of a balloon about 20 miles up.
Students are getting into the high altitude balloon game all over the place as well: reusable experiment platform goes to the edge of space, pics at the edge of space, and legos in space.
I think balloons are my new favorite science obsession.
Do they or don’t they? For years, we’ve been hearing rumors that holding a cellphone right next you’re your brain wasn’t the wisest thing in the world, as some suspected it may cause cancer. And for years, we’ve been hearing experts, including the American Cancer Society, insist there was no firm evidence of a link. But now some surgeons are raising the question again.
A new study is underway in Britain to try and resolve the question.
What are the major differences in Microbiology and Immunization biology? Just wondering.
Courtesy Mark RyanNowadays, when a new dinosaur is discovered (something that happens about every two weeks) it goes through a careful process of study and description before given an official name. Professor Michael Benton from Bristol University, UK, has made a study of how accurate dinosaur naming is, and if new discoveries are actually that or just duplicates of a previously named creature. His conclusion is that - lately anyway - paleontologists have been doing a pretty good job sorting the new from the old.
"My research suggests we're getting better at naming things; we're being more critical; we're using better material," said professor Benton. But that hasn’t always been the case.
Courtesy WikipediaBack in the 1870’s when two titans of early American paleontology were battling each other for supremacy in their field, new dinosaurs were being described and named on the skimpiest of fossil evidence. During those contentious times, former friends Othniel Charles Marsh and Edward Drinker Cope named and described hundreds of dinosaurs, each trying to outdo the other in their quest to be paleontology's Top Dog. Great and wonderful discoveries arose from their fierce competition, but in the frenzy many mistakes were made that would require sorting out. Sometimes newly bestowed names were already in use for a completely different animal not necessarily even a dinosaur (preoccupied name), but usually one would name a dinosaur the other or someone else (including themselves) had already named previously (junior synonym) with similar but less complete remains. Once a name enters the scientific literature it becomes somewhat difficult to remove it.
Courtesy Mark RyanThe most famous case of name confusion involved the Brontosaurus. Bones of the lumbering sauropod were discovered in Wyoming in 1879, and Marsh christened it Brontosaurus excelsus. But in 1903, four years after Marsh’s death, paleontologist Elmer Riggs determined that an earlier discovered sauropod called Apatosaurus ajax was a juvenile version of the same creature, Marsh had named that one, too, just two years before from very partial remains found in Colorado. Since the rules of scientific naming established by the ICZN give priority to the first published name, a compromise was made (Apatosaurus excelsus) and the name Brontosaurus was abandoned from official use, although it has remained in the vernacular.
Courtesy Mark RyanAnother well-known dinosaur, Allosaurus, had originally been named Antrodemus, based on a single partial tail vertebra given to Ferdinand Hayden when he was surveying the western United States. Hayden passed the fossil onto paleontologist Joseph Leidy who named it Antrodemus valens. Even though the name preceded Allosaurus by about seven years, the original fossil was determined just too fragmentary, and its source rock formation uncertain, so the name Allosaurus prevailed sending Antrodemus toward nomen obitum (forgotten name) classification. (Of course new evidence could reverse this). But that wasn’t the end of it. After the genus had been sorted out, many of the separate allosaur species named by Marsh and others were later deemed as either synonymous or having doubtful and invalid names.
Antrodemus then became what is known as a senior synonym, a name preceding the more established Allosaurus but, in this rare case, no longer in use. (Other questionable genera such as Creosaurus, Epanterias, and Labrosaurus are considered by many paleontologists as junior synonyms for Allosaurus or even numen dubium because they haven’t been studied enough to establish distinct genera). All had been collected and named during the Marsh and Cope Bone Wars. Of course Marsh and Cope weren't alone in all this. Many other duplicate and unsubstantiated type specimens have been established by other paleontologists through the years.
Professor Benton’s study, which has been published in the journal Biology Letters, delved into the background of the more than 1000 dinosaur ever named, and re-examined the material used to establish the type specimens. These are the fossils upon which the original research, descriptions and figures (illustrations) were based that led to the naming of the dinosaur. In some cases better and more complete remains were used, and professor Benton he was able to whittle the list down to about 500 distinct species of dinosaurs,
"There's no point somebody such as myself doing big statistical analyses of numbers of dinosaur species through time - or indeed any other fossil group - if you can't be confident that they really are genuinely different," Benton said.
Courtesy bryankennedyFollowing the results of an evaluation by a panel of experts at the University of Minnesota, the magazine New Scientist published an article last week announcing that some of the data used in a groundbreaking study on adult stem cells had been falsified.
The study, performed at the University of Minnesota under the supervision of Catherine Verfaillie, is part of a line of research that seemed to indicate that adult stem cells, taken from bone marrow, are pluripotent—that is that they have the potential to develop into any type of cell. Previously, only embryonic stem cells were thought to be pluripotent, and Verfaillie’s research looked like it could eventually offer an alternative to the ethically complicated use of embryonic cells for research (which requires the destruction of an embryo).
Unfortunately, other scientists had trouble replicating Verfaillie’s results, which were published in the journal Nature. New Scientist began examining the research done by Verfaillie and her team, and found that key images in the research appeared several times in papers for different experiments, and, in the case of a related study in the publication Blood, were used twice in the same paper, but had been visually altered slightly, and flipped 180 degrees. New Scientist reported their findings to the University, which began a formal investigation of the matter.
The University just recently completed the investigation, and found that data in the blood article had indeed been falsified (the images in particular), by a former PhD student of Verfaillies’, Morayma Reyes. The University and Catherine Verfaillie have asked Blood to redact the study.
Verfaillie has stated that she was unaware of the problems with the published study, and while she didn’t believe that the data was deliberately falsified, she takes ultimate responsibility for the errors.
Reyes, who now works as an assistant professor at the University of Washington, denies that the images represent deliberately altered data, and blames the errors on inadequate supervision and training. She claims that she had neither the equipment (photo editing software) nor knowledge required to alter the images. The differences in the reoccurring images were likely the result of the inadvertent use of the image adjusting tools built into lab equipment, she says, and the duplication of a figure within the Blood paper was accidental. Reyes also feels that she has been treated unfairly by the University, and that the expert panel in the investigation demonstrated a clear “lack of expertise” in the field of stem cell biology.
The altered images, Reyes asserts, shouldn’t change the results of the paper, but the whole incident brings up some interesting issues on the process of vetting science. While the errors in the paper never should have made it past Verfaillie and the rest of her team, the process of peer review should have caught them anyway. Generally, before research is published in a scientific journal, the editors select several scientists in the particular field of the paper to evaluate and comment (often anonymously) on the paper. The review panel is meant to confirm that the methodology of the experiments and the interpretation of the results are sound. Research can then be recommended (or not) for publication.
Publishing research essentially formally submits it to the scientific community, and it’s common for other scientists to attempt to replicate experiments, especially if a study makes particularly striking claims (like adult stem cells being pluripotent). The work of other scientists in replicating results is, obviously, essential to the scientific method—in this case is was what finally drew attention to some of the irregularities in Verfaillie’s team’s work.
Reproducibility can be a tricky thing, though—difficulty in repeating results doesn’t necessarily mean that they aren’t reproducible. (Here’s a good article on repeating and reproducing results.) But the problems in reproducing these results drew attention to the questionable data, which brought up another aspect of scientific vetting: the University’s investigation into academic misconduct. If the problems with reproducibility seem to come from data being changed, added, or omitted to strengthen a conclusion, then there could be a serious problem. This sort of misconduct undermines scientific progress, and can call into question the reputation of the institution it came out of and the validity of other research performed there. And if Morayma Reyes seems a little extra defensive in her letter, it’s understandable, because being accused of academic misconduct is a big deal, and no good for your career and future work.
The subject of the research further complicates the situation—this isn’t the first time issues of academic dishonesty have come up with regards to stem cell research. In 2006, a Korean scientist’s claims that he had cloned human embryos (thereby eliminating the need to destroy new embryos for stem cells) turned out to be based on lies. There’s a fear that the potentially huge medical payoff of stem cell research, as well as the ethical debate surrounding the use of human embryonic stem cells, could lead to science that is less than completely thorough, or even situations like the Korean controversy. And that’s bad for science in general. There’s also the thought that errors that are unintentional (as may be the case with Reyes’ images) could be the result of “pathological science,” where results are steered in a particular direction by scientists because of “subjective effects, wishful thinking, or threshold interactions.” It doesn’t have the same ethical problems, but pathological results aren’t a whole lot better for science than straight-out misconduct, and it’s a serious potential pitfall with the benefits of stem cell research waiting out there as temptations.
So there you go. It looks like things are, for the most part, being handled appropriately in this situation, but it’s an interesting window into scientific process.
Any thoughts? Does it seem like the vetting process of science is lacking in some way? Or is it maybe too thorough? Professor Reyes, I imagine, would argue that too much has been made of this situation, and there are many who argue that the process of peer review limits the communication and dissemination of scientific ideas.
Or, even better, does it seem like I got something wrong here?
Let’s have it, Buzzketeers.
Courtesy Mark RyanBoy, times must be getting tough if NASA’s latest endeavor is any indication. Researchers from the space agency recently dropped a whole slew of rubber ducks into openings in Greenland's Jakobshaven Glacier in hopes of understanding how and where melt waters from the ice sheet ends up in Baffin Bay. They’re also trying to understand why glaciers increase their speed during the summer months. The Jakobshaven Glacier, which is suspected of calving the iceberg that sank the Titanic in 1912, is Greenland’s fastest moving glacier. The current thinking is that melt water forming on top of the ice flow during the summer months travels down narrow tubes called moulins to the glaciers base where it acts as a lubricant thus speeding up the ice sheet's movement. This isn’t exactly rocket science, is it? Anyway, each little ducky carries a label with the words "science experiment" and "reward" printed on it in three languages, along with an email address. The researchers hope that those who come across the toy quackers will contact them with information about when and where they found them. So far no one has gotten back to NASA but agency officials are confidant when they do it will add to our understanding of glaciers and their role in rising sea levels. So why has NASA has resorted to using such a low-tech approach? One source claims it's because a previous test using a metallic probe failed to return any data. Another source claims the probe is being used in conjunction with the rubber bath toys. Whatever the case it looks duck hunting season has opened.
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