Tara Smith Archives

If there’s anyone living in the Columbus, OH, area who’s interested in getting involved (or more involved) in science outreach and the Science Cafe movement, now’s your chance. The Columbus Science Pub, which I started off back in September 2010 and which now boasts over 450 fans on Facebook, is looking for new leadership to take over when Dan (the current organizer) leaves Cowtown at the end of the summer.

Anyone interested should send a note to [Enable javascript to see this email address.].

For more information on the Columbus Science Pub, go to Columbus Science Pub’s Facebook site or for information on the Science Cafe movement, check out http://www.sciencecafes.org/.

Margulis does it again

| 32 Comments

We all know of once-respected scientists who ended up going off the deep end, adhering to an unproven idea despite massive evidence to the contrary. Linus Pauling and his advocacy of megadoses of Vitamin C, or Peter Duesberg’s descent into HIV denial. It’s all the more disappointing when the one taking a dive is a woman, since there are, compared to men, relatively fewer female “big names” in the sciences. So when one goes from views that were outside of the mainstream (but later proven largely correct) to complete science denialism, it makes it all the more depressing. Even worse, mainstream popular science magazines like Scientific American (with this article by Peter Duesberg) and Discover (Duesberg again) give these ideas reputable press. And now Discover has done it again by giving “maverick” biologist Lynn Margulis a profile in their latest issue. More over at Aetiology.

Help Isis help undergrads

| 7 Comments

Dr. Isis has a sweet announcement today. In conjunction with the American Physiological Society, she’s funding an award for undergraduate researchers. She’s donating her monthly Scienceblogs payment to the cause, and APS is providing matching funds, up to $500. Help her out by clicking over to check out her blog; her post describing the award is here for more information.

Anti-evolution bill in Iowa

| 58 Comments

I am so incredibly tardy with this information that Arizonian John Lynch and the lovely folks at Uncommon Descent have already blogged this, but recently an “academic freedom” bill was introduced in Iowa. For those who may be unfamiliar, in addition to “teach the controversy,” these “academic freedom” bills are one of the new tactics for creationists who want to introduce creationism into science classrooms via the back door by claiming that teachers need the protection to teach “the full range of scientific views” when it comes to evolution (in other words, to teach creationism/ID). The bill states that:

Readers from waaaay back may recall an event I helped out with a few years ago, bringing together scientists, philosophers, and our resident IDist to discuss evolution and intelligent design. One of the speakers was University of Iowa professor Mark Blumberg, a colleague in the Department of Psychology. Dr. Blumberg also happens to be a prolific author, and has just released his third book in 4 years: “Freaks of Nature: What Anomalies Tell us About Development and Evolution.”

As if that wasn’t enough (and all of this while maintaining a very active laboratory, serving as Editor-in-Chief of Behavioral Neuroscience, and as President of the International Society for Developmental Psychobiology–and presumably sleeping at some point), he’s also now getting his feet wet as a blogger, discussing the legacy of Richard Goldschmidt, and the “bridgeless gaps” between species–and between evolutionary biologists. Stop by and welcome him to the author side of the blogosphere (he’s been a reader for awhile), and look for a review of “Freaks of Nature” here at some point in the future.

An interesting new paper is just out today in PLoS ONE. You recall the announcement a few years back that soft tissue that resembled organic tissue had been isolated from a Tyrannosaurus femur. This started off a huge controversy in the field (and beyond)–researchers disagreeing with each other whether the structures seen were indeed blood cells and vessels; creationists crowing about how this finding represented “proof” that the earth was indeed young and dinosaurs had existed just a few thousand years ago; and of course, talk of cloning and DNA analysis. On the side of “soft tissue = dino blood” were findings that reported identification of the iron-containing protein heme (potentially from the red blood cells) and morphology of cells and vessels similar to that seen in modern-day ostriches and emu. However, the new paper by Kaye et al. provides an alternative explanation: that the structures aren’t actual vessels and cells, but are instead iron-rich bacterial biofilms. Read the rest over at Aetiology

I really need more time to fill in a gap in my microbiology education: environmental microbiology. I run across papers all the time that are absolutely fascinating, and wish I had a free year to just take some additional coursework in this area. For instance, a paper in today’s Science magazine discusses how atmospheric bacteria result in the formation of snow.

More over at Aetiology.

It’s not certain there will be a decision immediately, though:

From the Iowa State Daily:

The Iowa Board of Regents will meet Thursday to discuss the tenure denial appeal of Guillermo Gonzalez, assistant professor of physics and astronomy at Iowa State, at its regional meeting on the ISU campus.

The meeting is at 8:30 a.m., with a one-hour closed session dedicated to discussing the appeal beginning at 8:35 a.m. The regents will emerge with either a decision on the case or a decision to postpone it.

“The board does not have to decide within the hour time slot given for the meeting, and discussion may take place over the following days,” said Iowa Board of Regents President David Miles.

Stay tuned…

Loss of a giant: Joshua Lederberg

| 3 Comments

Joshua Lederberg passed away on Saturday.

Joshua Lederberg, Nobel Prize-winning molecular biologist who shaped the field of bacterial genetics, and served as chair of The Scientist’s advisory board since 1986, died on Saturday (February 2). He was 82.

Lederberg shared a Nobel Prize in physiology and medicine in 1958 for the discovery that certain strains of bacteria reproduce by mating, thereby exchanging their genetic material. This overturned the idea held at the time that bacteria did not warrant genetic study and set the field of bacterial genetics into motion.

Lederberg truly was a visionary, and along with his ex-wife, Esther (who died just over a year ago), really jump-started the field of microbial genetics (and indeed, made it much easier to study genetics, period), winning a Nobel prize for his genetic work when he was only 33. Years later, he teamed up with Carl Sagan to raise awareness about microbes in space, and was an advocate of science communication and sound policy (serving as an advisor for multiple presidents). In recent years, he’s spoken out about antibiotic resistance and bioterrorism, among other topics, and always emphasized the importance of basic research in microbiology. He could also give a helluva interesting talk, judging from the few times I’ve seen him speak. He was truly a living legend, and the void he leaves is palpable.

More info and access to papers at the here at the National Library of Medicine. Image from here.

Darwin Day 2008 in Iowa City

| 7 Comments

Darwin Day is fast approaching, and we’ll be celebrating with 2 and a half days’ worth of festivities here in Iowa next month, on February 14-16. We’re featuring talks by Dr. Massimo Pigliucci, Dr. Martha McClintock, and University of Iowa paleontologist Dr. Christopher Brochu, as well as a dinner social Friday night (tickets required, and they’re already going fast!). Head over to Aetiology for all the details.

It’s only taken 30 years, but information about Ebola in nature is finally starting to snowball. First, after almost 15 years of disappearing from the human population, Ebola returned with a vengeance in the mid 1990s, causing illness in 6 separate outbreaks in Gabon, Ivory Coast, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), and South Africa (imported case) between 1994 and 1996. As doctors and scientists rushed in to contain the outbreaks, they were also able to collect viral samples, and trap animals and insects in the area, searching for a reservoir for the virus. In this decade, there have been almost yearly outbreaks of Ebola and/or the closely related Marburg virus in Africa, resulting in the discovery of both Ebola and Marburg infection in species of fruit bats–suggesting these animals may be a reservoir species for filoviruses (though more work remains to be done to confirm this).

As I blogged about previously, prior work has suggested that the most deadly Ebola subtype, known as Ebola-Zaire (EBO-Z) after its initial site of isolation, has been spreading steadily eastward across the central African continent. This was tracked by examining isolates of the virus obtained during human epidemics, which introduces a bias into the sample. However, viral isolates from other sources have been quite difficult to obtain, despite many years of searching. A new paper examines viral isolates collected from dead gorillas and reconstructs their phylogeny in an effort to fill in some of these gaps.

(Continued over at Aetiology).

So, after all the kvetching the Discovery Institute did over the Guillermo Gonzalez tenure denial case, why aren’t they rushing to the defense of one Steve Bitterman, a community college professor at Southwest Community College here in Iowa. The case is still developing, but what is known is that Bitterman was fired last week–apparently for teaching that Genesis isn’t literal. More over at Aetiology

Have a few minutes to spare?

| 14 Comments

[EDITED TO ADD: thanks! We reached 1000 survey responses in just about 10 hours’ time, so the survey is now closed…we really appreciate your participation!]

If so, we’d love to have your input at a quick survey looking more closely at science blog readers (and writers!):

This survey attempts to access the opinions of bloggers, blog-readers, and non-blog folk in regards to the impact of blogs on the outside world. The authors of the survey are completing an academic manuscript on the impact of science blogging and this survey will provide invaluable data to answer the following questions:

Who reads or writes blogs? What are the perceptions of blogging, and what are the views of those who read blogs? How do academics and others perceive science blogging? What, if any, influence does science blogging have on science in general?

Please consider participating in the survey as an act of ‘internet solidarity’! It will likely take 10 minutes, and a bit more if you are a blogger yourself. We thank you in advance.

Many of you may remember Danica McKellar from her role as Winnie Cooper in The Wonder Years in the late 1980s and early 1990s. What you may not know is that, following the television show, McKellar attended UCLA, where she graduated summa cum laude with a major in mathematics (and published proof to boot). Since graduation, McKellar has maintained an interest in math and science education for girls, and has been active in promoting this. She’s now also published a book on math education for middle school girls (Math Doesn’t Suck: How to Survive Middle-School Math Without Losing Your Mind or Breaking a Nail) that comes out in early August. For those interested, I have a review of the book up here at Aetiology. I also managed to snag an interview with Danica about the book and other topics, including math advocacy for girls that you can check out here.

Tripoli Six: Home and Free

| 9 Comments

It’s over in Libya. Nick previously blogged about the Tripoli Six: a Palestinian doctor and five Bulgarian nurses, working in Libya, who were accused of infecting hundreds of children with HIV. The group have been imprisoned since 1999–despite the fact that an analysis of the HIV isolates from the children confirmed that the epidemic began before the medical workers arrived in the country (and continued even after they were jailed). After a long battle, mostly legal and political rather than scientific, they’ve been freed and sent back to Bulgaria. More on the story at the BBC and the New York Times.

I should note that though the science ultimately wasn’t the determining factor in their release, the science blogosphere and Nature (with journalist/blogger Declan Butler leading the charge) were important in keeping this prominent in the scientific community. And while we celebrate their freedom, there are still hundreds of HIV-infected children in Libya, and grieving parents who missed out on justice in this case.

A looong time ago, I mentioned that I spent St. Patrick’s Day weekend in Wartburg College in Waverly, Iowa, at a symposium I helped to plan (but neglected to blog! Oops). Along with other scientists, theologians, philosophers, and generally interested persons, we worked for a bit over a year to put this symposium together. Why?

The principal aim of the conference is to clarify the causes of the conflict between science educators and those who wish to have Intelligent Design taught in public schools. We do not claim to be neutral on this issue. We are convinced that ID is not good science and should not be presented as such. Our position is consonant with that of the National Center for Science Education and the Iowa Academy of Science. We believe that the polarization of opinion on this issue has created misunderstanding and confusion and that a clarification of terminology and concepts is essential for productive dialogue and decision making.

How did it turn out? I have the write-up over at Aetiology

By now, regular readers will probably be familiar with The Clergy Letter Project spearheaded by Michael Zimmerman. Formulated in part to respond to the framing of the evolution controversy as a battle between science and religion, the letter now boasts more than 10,700 signatures from clergy, and have sponsored Evolution Sunday events for the past 2 years.

Well, Zimmerman has a new project now:

Our latest initiative is to create a list of scientists around the world who are willing to answer scientific questions posed by clergy who are supportive of modern science in general and evolution in particular (Link). In just a bit over three weeks, we already have over 200 scientists signed up to help out. I hasten to add that the information these scientists will be providing will be solely of a scientific nature and thus their personal religious inclinations are absolutely irrelevant.

In addition to creating a useful resource for clergy, I am hoping for the list to make a major political statement: religious leaders and scientists can work together – despite what religious fundamentalists claim. I also would very much like to have more names on this list than the number of scientists the Discovery Institute has on a list it trumpets of scientists claiming to “question” evolution.

(Emphasis mine). If you’re interested, drop an email to Michael ([Enable javascript to see this email address.]) and include your name, title, address, area(s) of expertise, and email address–and spread the word!

(Cross-posted at Aetiology).

Over at Uncommon Descent, the blog of William Dembski and friends, a contributor has a post up discussing Peter Duesberg’s aneuploidy hypothesis for cancer (which Orac discussed here for more background). The post itself is a bit confusing–it’s titled “When Darwinism Hurts,” and according to the author’s clarification, it’s about “Darwinism” leading us down the wrong path as far as cancer research goes. (Though whether cancer would be due to mutations in specific genes or in chromosomes, it’s still an evolutionary process, but I digress…) To me, anyway, the more interesting portion was in the comments section, where both DaveScot and Sal Cordova imply also that HIV might not cause AIDS; more over at Aetiology.

I was back in Ohio last week to celebrate my grandparents’ 60th wedding anniversary. While I was in the area, a number of the PT regulars also met up south of Cincinnati to take our own tour of Answers in Genesis’ Creation Museum. (Wesley has a picture of the group here; I’ll also try to scan in another “official” picture tomorrow).

My brain still hurts. My thoughts on everything over at Aetiology (with photos, of course).

As y’all know, a frequent topic of conversation here is communicating science to the public. While many of us do it directly via sites such as this one, the bulk of science writing that the public will read is done by the pros–people writing for the magazines and newspapers, among other outlets. Often, their stories include interviews with research scientists. However, we’re not always so easy to get in touch with, and we blow reporters off altogether–apparently, pretty frequently.

On a listserv I subscribe to, there recently was a discussion amongst writers regarding how to get academics (and business-types; don’t feel the question is limited *only* to academics) to respond to interview requests. However, given the wording of the question and some of the responses, I think the question itself highlighted a bit of the gulf between journalists and academics, so I’m putting some of my own thoughts on why academics don’t respond first at Aetiology (and particularly when they are at conferences or on business travel, which was the topic of one comment), and I welcome any suggestions you have on how you prefer to be contacted–and what might improve response rates for writers. (It would be great if any writers out there added their additional comments as well–imagine, a dialogue!…)

About this Archive

This page is an archive of recent entries written by Tara Smith.

Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.

Categories

Archives

Author Archives

Powered by Movable Type 4.361

Site Meter