Category Archives: Lab Results

Science and research.

The Triumphant Rise of Urology, and Other Nerdtastic Trendlines

Analyzing 35 million citations from 7,000 journals, researchers at the University of Washington and the Santa Fe Institute have traced and plotted changes and fluctuations in the prevalence of various fields of scientific study over the past decade.

Among the most notable observations are the branching of broad study areas into more specialized, standalone disciplines, and the emergence of newly defined fields, such as neuroscience (which was, indeed, an interdisciplinary concentration when I majored in it — or something like it — as an undergraduate in the nascent millennium):

The alluvial diagram illustrates, for example, how over the years 2001–2005, urology gradually splits off from oncology and how the field of infectious diseases becomes a unique discipline, instead of a subset of medicine, in 2003. But these changes are just two of many over this period. In the same diagram, we also highlight the biggest structural change in scientific citation patterns over the past decade: the transformation of neuroscience from interdisciplinary specialty to a mature and stand-alone discipline, comparable to physics or chemistry, economics or law, molecular biology or medicine.

Also worth remarking: the conspicuous lack of progress in the field of making graphs that don’t give you a migraine.

(Published in PLoS ONE.)

It separates us from the animals — by 160 characters

While we’re on the subject of kids… Dispatch from a 4th grade science class at the elite Ramaz School in New York City.

Teacher: What are some important things we couldn’t do without opposable thumbs?

Student: Texting!

The ortho Jewish school is tentative on the subject of evolution, but surely regardless of how we got these useful digits it was all part of Hashem’s master plan. And God said unto Abraham, “Text me after sundown.”

Related: Chatspeak Shows No Effect on Spelling, May Improve Haikus.

Publish or Perm Press

How do you know that you rinse and spin among the intellectual elite? When this is on the magazine rack at your neighborhood laundromat:

As an added bonus there was also a recent issue of PopSci, so I could distract myself from the sad triviality of my days by perusing my own bylines. So easily salved, the tender ego of a writer.

Monday AM Quiz: Find out if you’re a nerd

If you laugh at any of these jokes, performed by “science comedian” Brian Malow, you are officially a nerd. Welcome.

Bonus: if you watch/enjoy the additional video on his website, like I did, you’re super geeky.

About two-thirds of the way through it he wonders, “Why is it that if you like science you’re labeled a geek or a brain? Has that ever struck anyone as unfair? Is it any less geeky to have vast knowledge of sports trivia and statistics?” Yes. Much less.

[via Boing Boing]

Space Elevator Is No-Laughing Matter

Space elevator + pop culture irreverence = scitechilarity


RPI to Beirut: End Transmission

beer_pong_get_your_balls_wetIn an effort to thwart the spread of H1 N1, the Swine Flu, on campus, the administration at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, NY has finally taken a measure it should have taken a long time ago: It’s banned beer pong. Said the Times Union yesterday:

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute is asking students to curb the sharing of cups after a group of students contracted the swine flu during a weekend of drinking games, according to Dr. Leslie Lawrence, medical director of the school’s health center.

“While it might seem fun over the weekend, it will not be enjoyable when you and your friends are sick and missing class or midterm examinations,” he wrote in a message distributed to RPI students and staff.

Thus far, RPI has seen one of the region’s highest number of swine flu cases among its student population, with 21 cases of influenza, including about 14 that are active. Seven of those students are in campus isolation rooms and seven have returned home with their families. Several staff and faculty have also been experienced flu-like symptoms and Lawrence said the cases are steadily growing.

The latest cases were tied to social events and a school football game, after which students were playing drinking games. Lawrence cautioned students that alcohol does not kill the flu virus and said it was particularly important during social events to wash hands and avoid close contact, concepts that may seem foreign at a college keg party.

Chatspeak Shows No Effect on Spelling, May Improve Haikus

Child development researchers at the University of Alberta reported last week that using common text and IM abbreviations, or “chatspeak,” does not affect kids’ spelling aptitude. My first reaction to the results was dismay. I wanted proof that today’s youth are getting dumber. Dumber, at least, than the youth of, well, my youth. But upon reflection, and with all due respect to the intentions of the study, I think the premise is fundamentally misaligned.

I’ve maligned the overuse of AOLanguage for years, and its epidemic penetration never ceases to annoy. Although it may well reinforce already established bad habits, digital lingo has very little to do with standard spoken and formal written English. It’s a dialect unto itself. Kids likely don’t think that writing a text and taking a spelling test are in any way related. And really, they aren’t. Sure, children might write “UR” instead of “your,” but make them memorize how to spell “definite” and “maintenance” and they’re going to do it. Similarly, they’ll read To Kill a Mockingbird for class, but on their own it’s all Tiger Beat and Mad Magazine. (Kids still read that stuff, don’t they?)

What’s troubling in the wide view is that people use messenger and text and facebook walls as communicative crutches. Not just the youngins; we grown-ups are just as guilty. Social interactions take places less and less frequently in social settings and more and more often in social networks, and our face-to-face muscles are withering in atrophy. I have come to wonder, for instance, how exactly people go from being friends-of-friends to dating without first connecting on facebook (or at least without a little facebook stalking), which is particularly disturbing given the fact that I’m not on the facebook.

According to the university press release,

[Authors Connie Varnhagen and Nicole Pugh] both agree that the results of their study should ease some concerns and even open up discussion on how this language can be perhaps be embraced within an educational or academic context.

“If you want students to think very precisely and concisely and be able to express themselves, it might be interesting to have them create instant messages with ideas, maybe allow them opportunities to use more of this new dialect in brief reports or fun activities,” said Varnhagen.

Thought-provoking idea, but here’s another one. Instead of encouraging malleable young minds to regard IMs as vehicles for academic thought, perhaps it’d be better to set aside cell phones and 140-character limits and make them practice actually talking to people. Like, with their mouths.

What’s in a name?

Better question this morning might be: what’s in a Hippo?

Aphrodite, as it turns out.

I know it’s silly, but I just couldn’t help but laugh at this headline from one of my favorite nerd-pubs, Eureakalert science newswire:

Figurines of Aphrodite from the era of the Roman Empire discovered in Hippos

In Hippos!

I don’t even really care where Hippos is, or why this is news. I just want to picture the grinning ‘potamuses/’potami and wonder how the intrepid discoverers got in there in the first place.

Emoticontinental Divide

Well if we can’t trust emoticons to express how we feel, who can we trust?

A study published in Current Biology reveals that Easterners and Westerners use different facial cues to recognize emotion. While we scan all features, Asians tend to focus on the eyes, which can lead to cultural confusion, particularly when interpreting emotions like fear, surprise, disgust and anger. (NB if you ever see me, best to assume I’m displaying all four.)

Interestingly, this accounts for why Asians often opt for different emoticons than we do. Here, the mouth tends to do the heavy lifting, whereas in the East there are myriad variations in the eyes. To wit:

Western Happy  : )

Eastern Happy  ^_^

Western Sad  : (

Eastern Sad  ;_; (tears! so clever!)

Western Surprised  :0

Eastern Surprised  O_o

You get the picture. Now this is the part where I make an unseemly joke about their eyes never actually being open wide. What’s the agreed-upon emoticon for Don’t Hit Me?