"Our sense of wonder grows exponentially; the greater the knowledge, the deeper the mystery."

-- E.O. Wilson

Web scienceontap.blogspot.com

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Mars Rover "Spirit"... R.I.P.

Born in 2003, active well beyond her expected life, Mars Rover "Spirit's" productive life is over. It was a great 7-year ride. Congratulations NASA!! Meanwhile, her sister "Opportunity" continues to roam the Martian landscape.


Saturday, January 30, 2010

Remarkable Rotifers

Ed Yong on the incredible bdelloid rotifers who've become famous in recently published research due to their unusual survival/evolutionary strategies:


...earlier Yong articles on these same teensy critters are listed at end of the above piece.

Friday, January 29, 2010

The Sea Around Us

Just another encore of a previous Friday video... David Gallo's 5-minute TED Talk on on the incredible wonder of some deep sea creatures:

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Sex In Space

Gotta believe a lot of blogs will be linking to this one:


Brief report on serious study by NASA of workable positions (they've been tested!) for sex in space (and they're not talking about the backseat of a car... then again, maybe not so different). Serious news report, but still some of the lines a tad funny.

(Update: apparently a hoax story; see comment below)

A Link To An Incendiary Blog Post

As someone interested in linguistic recursion, I gotta join in... the below blog post has been getting a fair amount of attention around the Intertubes:


(it won't be everyone's cup-a-tea, but I like it)

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Forensic Science

Interesting article on the 2001 American anthrax attacks... STIIIIIILL, an open case:


Saturday, January 23, 2010

Some Applied Science

An artificial nose (for sniffing explosives):


Friday, January 22, 2010

On the Fringe

Today's Friday video: just an encore of a favorite from last year....

(not necessarily for the squeamish!)

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Citizen Science On Tap

Are you a citizen and you like science? Well, you may want to hook up with "citizen science" projects available here:


"Match your passion & preferences to a science project!"

Music and Neuro-expectations

"Music has a grammar, which, like language, consists of rules that specify which notes can follow which other notes in a piece of music. According to Pearce: "the question is whether the rules are hard-wired into the auditory system or learned through experience of listening to music and recording, unconsciously, which notes tend to follow others."

Read the rest of the piece from ScienceDaily on the brain's processing of music and expectations here:


Wednesday, January 20, 2010

E.O. Wilson in New Yorker

E.O. Wilson writes in the New Yorker, of all places, and fiction at that! :


Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Danger of the 'Dilbert' Workplace

 More on the ill effect of sitting and sedentary lifestyle here:


Peter Woit on Physics

Peter Woit, over at "Big Think," on physics, math, and string theory (from a critical perspective):


Monday, January 18, 2010

Sponsors of ....

Sorry for the digression, but moving away (faaaaar away) from science for the moment, this list of Rush Limbaugh's sponsors is making its way around the Internet (...just in case anyone is interested):


Candid Camera Reveals More Tool Use in Crows

 Using motion sensitive cameras in the wild British researchers document tool use by crows as previously demonstrated in the laboratory and elsewhere:


The Shape of Things To Come (#scio10 take-away)

Today, just my own broad take-away message from this weekend's ScienceOnline 2010 conference...
(If you read a lot of science blogs you'll likely see some wrap-ups to the just-ended conference, or you may already have encountered it on social networking sites -- #scio10 ):

In recent years several writers have criticized the Web, and especially the blogosphere, for 'dumbing down' society; bloggers particularly, are seen as driven by narcissism and egotism in a race to the lowest common denominator, in their quest for audience. Most of the millions of blogs out there are indeed mediocre at best... and probably worse. Moreover, it's true that outrageous, controversial, gratuitous, violent, or sexual postings often attract more audience than higher-quality thoughtful content, although over time consistently well-done blogs do generally rise to the surface and find a niche.

I sometimes fret about the future of the blogosphere myself... will it implode in another decade of its own anarchism and infantilism, damaging society irreparably in the process? (for example professional journalism, as we've known it for over a century, may well die, as will other careers). Before this week's conference though I read Scott Rosenberg's "Say Everything," on the history of blogging, and including a more upbeat, optimistic view of its future evolution. And then at ScienceOnline the energy, diversity, and even almost hive-like intelligence of the attendees (and their parental-like love for their blogs), reinforced my optimism in the underlying value of blogs (even though 10 years from now we may view today as but the primitive Medieval Ages of blogging).

 I might still even agree with critics that blogs are largely fueled by narcissism and egocentricity, but... so too are many aspects of society, politics, economics because some level of egotism is part of being human. Ego becomes troubling when it drives the pursuit of money and material things, or power, but most bloggers profit little if any from their blogs at all. Yet they often expend 5 to 40+ hrs./wk. keyboarding away in a sheer labor-of-love of communicating. If that's in part a product of the ego so be it; I'm not so sure it's a bad thing, compared to coveting the newest 72-inch flat screen TV because your neighbor got one. Egocentrism may well have been a central ill force in the recent near collapse of our poorly-regulated free market economy, but in the realm of ideas and communication, it may actually contribute to productive creativity.

If the American system is broken, as many say, the fix will almost certainly deeply involve the Internet, and in some small way blogs will have a role. For now it's still the wild, wild West out there, but the open collective conscience will gradually sort things out. Witnessing the vibrant change-agents and early-adopters at ScienceOnline bolstered my faith and trust that those forging the digital future generally (and thankfully) have their heads in the right place --- in fact frankly it's hard to imagine how they could possibly screw things up any moreso than previous generations have already done!!

....It all reminds me a bit of an old '60s pop hit, "Nothing Can Change the Shape of Things to Come" by Max Frost and the Troopers (for all you ex-hippies out there):

"There are changes
Lyin' ahead in every road
And there are new thoughts
Ready and waiting to explode
When tomorrow is today
The bells may toll for some
But nothing can change the shape of things to come...

There are new dreams
Crowdin' out old realities
There's revolution
Sweepin' in like a fresh new breeze
Let the old world make believe
It's blind and deaf and dumb
But nothing can change the shape of things to come..."

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Not Exactly, 'What Is the Meaning of Life?'

For the physics geeks out there...

"Is physics deterministic?" and other inquiries from Sean Carroll's list of fundamental physics questions to be addressed over the next century:


Friday, January 15, 2010

The Intelligence of Dolphins

 Friday video: Hunting Strategy of Bottlenose Dolphins

Thursday, January 14, 2010

"The Top 10 Unanswered Questions in the Universe"

As formulated by 10 physicists:


Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Free Online Learning Courses

A list of free online courses available in math, sciences, psychology, computer science, and much more, here:


Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Data-Mining Feelings

Ways of knowing, science, social interaction, data mining, and feelings... all in one post from an astrophysicist...:


Monday, January 11, 2010

One of the World's Critical Questions...

"Why do pigeons walk with bobbing heads?" :


TV Watching and Health

 I don't generally put much weight in epidemiological-type studies, but would concur with the conclusions of this study finding TV watching (and other sedentary behaviors, especially involving sitting) shave years off one's lifespan (correlating with heart disease):


Sunday, January 10, 2010

A Couple More Book Reviews

....of "A Brilliant Darkness" (Joao Magueijo) and "Something Incredibly Wonderful Happens" (K.C. Cole) here:


Clay Shirky on the Internet

"This shock of inclusion, where professional media gives way to participation by two billion amateurs (a threshold we will cross this year) means that average quality of public thought has collapsed; when anyone can say anything any time, how could it not? If all that happens from this influx of amateurs is the destruction of existing models for producing high-quality material, we would be at the beginning of another Dark Ages.
So it falls to us to make sure that isn't all that happens."

Read the rest of researcher Clay Shirky's take on what the internet is doing to society here:


(The page on the "Edge" site that this is on contains a LOT of thought-provoking reading.)

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Some Personal Genomics Links

Personal genomics will undoubtedly be an integral part of human lives at some point in the future; maybe more quickly than some anticipate. Blog entry below that points to some recent readings worth a gander on the 'net:


Evidence-based Medicine

Good article on "evidence-based medicine" (EBM) here:


I would only add though that even the "double-blind randomized clinical trials," cited as the highest level of evidence, can still be marred by imprecision and uncontrolled (often undefined or unrecognized) intervening variables, and ought be interpreted with caution, especially if sample size is small.  No matter how strictly one endeavors to define it, "evidence" often remains inevitably in the eye of the beholder.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Don't Try This At Home Kids

Friday video: Offered up strictly for your entertainment; though I s'pose there may be some science involved here somewhere(???):

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Science On Tap in 2020

Interesting Nature piece on what's in store for the year 2020 in several science/policy areas as foreseen by some experts:


(I think I find the forecast on "lasers" the most interesting of the bunch.)

Science Online 2010

"Science Online 2010," the 4th annual engaging conference of science communicators/bloggers/educators/journalists held in Research Triangle Park, N.C. each January, is just a week away (Jan. 15-17).
For those who are interested but can't attend (too late to register now) you can follow along much of the happenings at these social network sites:

 Twitter: http://twitter.com/scio10 and hashtag: http://twitter.com/#search?q=scio10

 FriendFeed: http://friendfeed.com/scienceonline2010

 Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/event.php?eid=118219988767

Visit the main website/wiki to learn more about the conference and program, and also to find out where much of the event will be livestreamed on the Web:


Okay So You're 98% Chimpanzee... and 8% Virus

New research indicates that as much as 8% of the human genome derives from inserted bornavirus genomic material (different from previously-known retrovirus insertions), which may be a causative factor in various psychiatric disorders:


Wednesday, January 6, 2010


For those who want to compute the circumference of a circle with outrageous accuracy ;-) ....
Pi computed to 2.7 trillion digits (..."trillion" with a "tr"):


(....Daniel Tammet really has his work cut out for him now!)

Geometric Patterns in the Mind

Math and hallucinations of the psychedelic sort:


"The Human Spark"

PBS's special "The Human Spark" (looking at what makes us human) begins a 3-part showing tonight (in some locales) -- check your local PBS listings:


A Little Essay From a Carbon-based Life Form

On the joy of physics and studying the little bit of non-empty space that exists:


Tuesday, January 5, 2010

New Science Blog from NPR

Thanks to 'Cosmic Variance' blog for making me aware of a new science blog run by NPR with a bevy of contributors that should make for thoughtful reading (K.C. Cole, Stuart Kauffman, Ursula Goodenough, Adam Frank, and Marcelo Gleiser):


(I've added it to the 'science writing' list in right-hand column as "NPR Science Blog.")

On With Twitter

An interesting take on "Twitter" from the NY Times here:


I imagine I agree with much said in the piece, though I still wonder if Twitter as we know it today won't have evolved into something totally different and barely recognizable within 5 years' time. If Twitter doesn't 'crash-and-burn' in the next couple years, then it is likely in the infancy of a long-life.
"Social media" are one of the endlessly-interesting aspects of the ever-changing Internet, and observing the sort of 'cultural' evolution they signify, occurring right before our eyes in real-time, is fascinating. Like many others I only reluctantly joined "Twitter," and then too fell under its spell, though still uncertain where, pray tell, it is headed.

Outside-the-Box Thinker: Thomas Gold

The peculiar life and achievements of science gadfly (and astrophysicist) Dr. Thomas Gold:




Monday, January 4, 2010

Book Picks From Scientific American

Recent book recommendations from Scientific American HERE.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Rate of Genomic Change

Study of Arabidopsis yielding better understanding of the surprising rate of genomic mutations (with possible extrapolation to humans):


Dolphins as 'Non-human Persons'

Scientists argue for moral standing for dolphins:


Some Books

Good NY Times review (by Alison Gopnik) of Stanislas Dehaene's fascinating "Reading In the Brain" HERE.

Also, "59 Seconds," the latest from the always-interesting (and quirky) British psychologist Richard Wiseman is now available in American bookstores.

And a review of new books from two popular physics bloggers below ["How To Teach Physics To Your Dog" (Chad Orzel) and "From Eternity To Here" (Sean Carroll)] :


Saturday, January 2, 2010

Climate Change, Gate, Warming

Diandra at 'Cocktail Party Physics' addresses the climate change controversy:


Biodiversity for 2010... and Beyond

2010 is the International Year of Biodiversity:


Friday, January 1, 2010

Nurturing Creativity

For the Friday video, one of the top 10 favorite-rated TED talks, Ken Robinson on education and creativity: