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Science’s Great Expectations For 2011: How Did We Do?

5 Jan

The new issue of Science features a “Scorecard” considering 2011′s “Areas to Watch.” So how did last year’s most anticipated breakthroughs fare? Since many Culture of Science readers don’t have access to the piece, here’s my summary of the results:

1) Science predicted we would see the first big results from the The Large Hadron Collider, but so far, no new physics to report.

2) Adaptation genes were expected to be big in 2011 and the journal is mixed on the outcome. While there were several important papers, “most of these efforts have not yielded promised gene finds.” That said, I predict major developments on the way.

3) No laser fusion yet.

4) There has been progress in studying the development of antibodies for a wide range of flu and HIV variants, but scientists haven’t created broad ranging vaccines. Maybe one day.

5) Electric cars haven’t been widely adopted, but there are more of them on the road.

6) Finally some encouraging news: The results of the most recent malaria vaccine trial has met “modest expectations.”

Not bad. So what are you anticipating most for 2012?

Who Doesn’t Love Aliens?

11 Dec

In 2011, space has nothing on oceans! Click full screen and be mesmerized..

H/T Chris Anderson

Do Our Brains Really Turn Women Into Objects?

11 Oct

Scientific American has a new article up about “the well-known tension between seeing someone as, and appreciating them for, a body as opposed to a mind.” I’ve only skimmed the research involved, but the conclusion troubles me:

Objectification might not lead to perceptions of women as inanimate objects but as different kinds of humans—ones that are capable of feeling but not thinking.

According to this new study by Kurt Gray and colleagues in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology:

As the sexual suggestiveness of [images of individuals] increased, perceptions of [her ability to think critically] decreased and perceptions of [her ability to feel] increased accordingly.

I have not explored the methods yet, so do not know if the research participants where mainly college students and how much culture (i.e. experiences, country of origin, etc.) may have played a role in their responses.

What interests me most is that the SciAm piece brings up politics–with regard to our perceptions of candidates. I’m often frustrated by the way that women are held to very different standards than men along the campaign trail. For example, before the 2008 election, both Sarah Palin and Hillary Clinton were cast as stereotypes, ogled, and photo-shopped by the media. So does science suggest this behavior is inevitable?

I certainly hope not.

Bad Project

24 Jan

If you haven’t already caught Bad Project by Zheng Lab, watch this and compare to the original fabulous video Bad Romance by Lady Gaga (produced by my brilliant cousin Nicole Ehrlich).

Hubble’s View of ‘Mystic Mountain’

24 Aug

This is one of my favorite images ever captured by Hubble:

Infrared View of Pillar and Jets HH 901/902

Credit: NASA, ESA, and M. Livio and the Hubble 20th Anniversary Team (STScI)

Hubble’s 20th anniversary image shows a mountain of dust and gas rising in the Carina Nebula. The top of a three-light-year tall pillar of cool hydrogen is being worn away by the radiation of nearby stars, while stars within the pillar unleash jets of gas that stream from the peaks.

Cactus Flower

28 Jul

One night every few years, this bat-pollinated cactus flower blossoms. Tonight in Austin, TX…


XX at Common Sense Atheism: Harmful or Harmless Fun?

17 Jul

Several long-time Intersection readers have emailed asking how I feel about being included on a list of “sexy scientists” at Common Sense Atheism. On that thread, someone named “Hansen” noted:

Oh dear, you may be in serious trouble now for placing Sheril Kirshenbaum on that list.

The link leads to Singled Out: My response from March 2009 to the hullabaloo and broader discussion in the science blogosphere after I joined the Discover Network.

Blogger Luke Muehlhauser followed up with a second post asking whether he’s sexist based on what I wrote back then. [The context on why I composed it could have been clearer.] Initially, I hesitated to get involved because it’s an area that has been discussed in detail here already. But Luke took the time to contact me himself and seems polite and genuinely interested in my perspective. I looked back at Common Sense Atheism and the growing discussion that’s now over 300 comments. It’s mostly a thoughtful discourse and you can follow along here.

Since so many people seem to assume they know what I’d say or how I feel, I’ve decided it’s worth weighing in myself. Luke appears to be open-minded, so I will think on this over the weekend. I’ll have a response on Monday, but please remember that I can only express my individual perspective, not serve as some kind of representative for any “camp.”

In the mean time, I invite our readers to share your opinions in comments. Would you call Luke sexist? Be offended or flattered to land on a “sexy” list? Do you feel these are harmful or harmless fun?

[Update: Luke's follow up post]

Politics, Religion, Sex, and Intelligence?

27 Feb

Before another person emails me this article, yes I’ve seen it.

(CNN) — Political, religious and sexual behaviors may be reflections of intelligence, a new study finds.

Anyone who follows the blog should already know I’m highly skeptical about such stories and their purported findings (although I am confident they result in lots of traffic online at the url). I have not seen the primary source, but want to respond to the emails I’m receiving.

In short, the reason this troubles me very much is because–regardless of what the actual study says–the way it’s been written up as a ‘news‘ item is misleading (especially for those who don’t read past the headline). Of course many of the factors considered will show interesting correlations in a sample, but correlation does not equal causation. Each is extremely dependent on social mores, cultural norms, hormones, relationships, socieoeconomic status, and much, much, more. Still, I would be interested to see the data and read the methodology.

That said, I can’t help but wonder if this is a classic example of ‘The Science News Cycle‘.

Dear News Media…

23 Jan


Which is Better For Science? Inaccurate Media Coverage Or No Coverage At All

17 Nov

Miriam Goldstein recently brought up a very important question in comments:

I would love to see you or Chris tackle this question – is media coverage where the science is inaccurate better than no media coverage? I fear that inflated claims like the ones in the NYT article may cause the public to discount the whole issue, once they find out that some of the facts are exaggerated or false.

The short answer is, of course, it depends. More science coverage is critically necessary if we’re to foster broader public understanding, acceptance, and appreciation of science, BUT hyperbole and inaccurate stories frequently undermine good intentions.

Before diving in, I’d like to hear from readers… Is inaccurate media coverage of science better than no coverage at all?