Scientists versus the public

So, this is interesting, comparing the attitudes of a representative sample of the public versus a large survey of the membership of the American Academy for the Advancement of Science:


So, what’s with the scientists against vaccines?  I also think it is notable that far and away the largest discrepancy is on eating GMO foods.

Photo of the day

From an In Focus photos of the week gallery:


Lemurs eat at Qingdao Forest Wildlife World in Qingdao, a seaport city in China’s Shandong province, on January 27.

China Daily/Reuters

It’s hot in here

Very cool data visualization of our warming planet.  Though, I’m sure it’s all just sun spots or some other natural cycle.  Nothing to worry about.  James Inhofe said so.  This is just a screen shot, click the link to watch the animation.



Mega quick hits (part I)

1) Fascinating NYT Magazine piece on kids with Prader-Willi syndrome.  It basically turns off your brains ability to feel stated from food.  The sufferers perceive as if they are always starving.

2) Lawrence Krauss says, no, astrobiology has not made the case for God (I did not realize people were arguing that it has– but they are wrong).

3) Stop playing too long, boring games with your kids and play these instead, says 538.  I’m going to order Pocket Hive and glad to see our family favorite, Carcassonne, made the list of top games.

4) Really nice Op-Ed from Zephyr Teachout on big money corruption in US politics:

Corruption exists when institutions and officials charged with serving the public serve their own ends. Under current law, campaign contributions are illegal if there is an explicit quid pro quo, and legal if there isn’t. But legal campaign contributions can be as bad as bribes in creating obligations. The corruption that hides in plain sight is the real threat to our democracy.

Think of campaign contributions as the gateway drug to bribes. In our private financing system, candidates are trained to respond to campaign cash and serve donors’ interests. Politicians are expected to spend half their time talking to funders and to keep them happy. Given this context, it’s not hard to see how a bribery charge can feel like a technical argument instead of a moral one.

5) Maybe putting it a little strongly, but I really liked this piece entitled, “If you don’t understand poverty, you’re a sociopath.”

6) The Vatican has stopped releasing doves because they have been getting killed by other birds upon release.

7) The A-10 is an awesomely effective plane and super-affordable to use compared to others.  But it’s old technology and the Air Force wants to replace it with the astronomically more expensive F-35.

8) The social pressure people place on their peers to drink is so absurd.  Here John Ore shares all the strategies he uses to deal with this when he takes January off from drinking.  People just shouldn’t care so much whether their friends are drinking or not.  But they do.  As a mostly non-drinker– simply don’t like the taste of most alcohol and I really don’t need a drug for a social lubricant– this drives me crazy.

9) Five useful pieces of advice for raising nicer kids.  Definitely need to use this more on at least one of my progeny.

10) “Giant snow penis demolished at Texas Tech.”  The headline says it all– though there’s a nice video at the link.

11) I keep reading articles on why I should turn down my heat.  Sorry, hate being cold.  Actually much prefer being hot.  I suffered through graduate school freezing through the winters to save money, but have since rewarded my professor self with not freezing through the winter (much easier in NC than OH, too).

12) A universal flu vaccine may be coming down the pipe in a few years.  That would be awesome.

13) This profile of a Boston marathon bombing survivor trying to decide whether to amputate her one remaining (and very painful) leg or not was a tremendous read.  Long, but totally worth it.

14) Did cutting unemployment benefits lead to more people getting jobs.  Some economists think so.

15) I did not realize that there was such a controversy raging over “American Sniper” until quite recently.  I gotta say, this piece hoisting Chris Kyle by the petard of his own words, makes a good case.

16) Haven’t been hearing much about Russia lately, but it’s economy is in big, big trouble.

17) Some research shows that registering young people to vote before they turn 18 is actually a really effective way to increase turnout among 18-year olds.  Naturally, NC Republicans did away with our law that used to do just this.

18) Enjoyed this “medical mystery” account.  Kind of amazing the ultimate source of this retired nurse’s very serious medical problems.  (Sorry, not going to give it away– quite an interesting surprise).

19) The moment when the purpose of college went to simply getting a job– we have Ronald Reagan to thank.

20) For the moment, this oh-so-disturbing New Yorker article on how the Albuquerque PD just love to shoot people and get away with it is ungated.  Read it while you can.

Should you vaccinate your kids?

Love this:

A Simple Flowchart to Help You Decide If You Should Vaccinate Your Child

Photo of the day

From the National Geographic Tumblr:

Young lovers embrace beside the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, 1960.Photograph by Thomas Nebbia, National Geographic Creative

Young lovers embrace beside the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, 1960.PHOTOGRAPH BY THOMAS NEBBIA, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC CREATIVE

Just a rat in a cage

Really enjoyed this Wired story about the scientific debate on whether rats have empathy (I’m quite persuaded that they do).  First, some of the experimental evidence:

On a table in Mason’s University of Chicago lab sits a plexiglass box about two feet square. Inside is a white Sprague-Dawley rat, a strain bred for laboratory study, and a plexiglass canister holding a black-and-white Long-Evans rat.

The trapped Long-Evans is clearly agitated. The white rat is too. Instinctively, she wants to stay in the corner; rats avoid open spaces, and navigate by touch, which is why you often see them scurrying along walls. Yet she rushes again and again to the canister, sniffing at the rat inside, nosing the glass, nudging the door. Eventually, she opens it, freeing the rat. They rub together.

At a purely descriptive level, you could say one rat helped another. Why that happened is the question. According to Peggy Mason and collaborator Inbal Ben-Ami Bartal, the free rat appears to empathize with her trapped comrade. She recognized the rat’s distress, grew distressed herself and wanted to help. This appears to be a powerful impulse in rats. In tests of whether rats would rather eat than help another rat, the researchers found empathy’s pull to be as strong as their desire for chocolate — and rats do love their chocolate.

The two researchers first claimed rats might feel empathy in a high-profile 2011Science paper describing rats freeing their cagemates, rats they had been cohabitating with. They expand on those findings in the latest study, which describes rats helping strangers. It’s a radical, even controversial, claim. Some scientists recognize that chimpanzees, a few cetaceans and perhaps elephants could be empathic, but few have ascribed that trait to rats. If R. norvegicus can be empathic, that fundamentally “human” trait might in fact be ubiquitous.

Seems like a lot of the objections basically boil down looking for any explanation other than empathy or almost re-defining the word so that’s not what the rats are doing.  But I think the strongest case is actually a very logical one:

Other researchers defended the possibility of rat empathy. “Ants are not rats,”quipped Frans de Waal, an Emory University ethologist who has written extensively about empathy, on Facebook. “It would be totally surprising, from a Darwinian perspective, if humans had empathy and other mammals totally lacked it.” …

Frans de Waal thinks empathy originated with maternal care, with evolution favoring those mothers most attentive to their offspring. Of course it could work in the other direction, too: Evolution favors offspring who pay attention to their elders. Rat mothers, it should be noted, are historically renowned for their devoted affection.

“Given the importance of social learning in rats,” said Emilie Snell-Rood, a biologist at the University of Minnesota, and its usefulness “in a situation where a novel predator like humans are trying to kill you all the time, I would expect increased selection on social learning.”

Anyway, plenty more good stuff in here about how rats can help us understand cognition, etc.  Or as one scientist puts it:

As neurobiologist Peggy Mason, a pioneer in rat empathy research put it, “I’m perfectly happy thinking of myself as a rat with a fancy neocortex.”

Or, in other words… despite all my rage, I am still just a rat in a cage.

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