Archive for the ‘General science’ Category

New York City Cricket Crawl

8 September 2009

No, this is not a frat boy pub crawl in cricket costume. On September 11th, the night before NECSS (have your tickets yet?), Discover Life in conjunction with the American Natural History Museum is sponsoring the first New York City Cricket Crawl,  “an aural expedition and a celebration of life in the leafy jungles of urban and suburban NYC and surrounding area.” More specifically, these organizations are urging people to wander their neighborhoods, with ears cocked, listening for the burring sounds of crickets and katydids. Under the hum of cars, stereos, screaming kids, droning air conditioners, and laughing hipsters, how many species do you think you can identify in your neighborhood?

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Skepticism starts at home

27 August 2009

In “What Do I Do Next?” a list of 105 ways to become an active skeptic , editor Daniel Loxton and his colleagues discuss personal relationships at length.  Karen Stollznow, editor of The Skeptic magazine reminds us that:

We are always representatives for skepticism, and should always be ready to discuss a skeptical perspective, where appropriate, with our children, family, friends, colleagues and strangers. This isn’t proselytizing; this is promoting science, education, logic, and healthy skepticism.

This is a tall order. Being put on the spot, potentially about topics you are not well versed in, can be difficult. I would add to the litany detailed in “What Do I Do Next?” that skepticism starts at home, and it is likely that your family is a good place to start discussing the consequences and reality of pseudoscience. They might get a little pissed off, but unlikely to hold a grudge. (more…)

Star light, start bright… Wow! I can actually see stars tonight

20 August 2009

Saturday night I zoomed up the Catalina Highway, a 28-mile serpentine course through craggy mountains leading to the tippy-top of Mt. Lemmon. An impressive 9,157 feet above Tucson, Arizona, sits the Mt. Lemmon Observatory. Operated in conjunction with the University of Arizona’s Steward Observatory, Mt. Lemmon has a research station that is home to some impressive space-viewing equipment and several biological research projects focused on the amazing mountain ecosystem. (more…)

Operationalizing God

12 August 2009

god with protractor

Say I wanted to conduct a study. I wanted to determine if a group of people in one situation or condition had more, less or equal chance of having anxiety as another group of individuals in a different situation or condition. Most of you can probably imagine how this would be set up; two groups, one exposed to one condition, the other exposed to a different scenario. In each group, I would count how many people in that group suffered from anxiety during the condition. In the end, I would evaluate (perhaps using sophisticated means) if there was a significant difference in the proportion of anxious people between the groups. Perhaps I might even conclude something, should I find such a difference.

All sounds rather scientific, yes? Well, it is. It’s an experiment. Folks publish academic articles of this nature all the time. But, and here’s the kicker, how did we know when one of the participants in either group was anxious? What does anxiety look like? Is it graded on a continuum, and if so, how is it graded? Is it just a dichotomy dividing anxious/not anxious people, and if so, how do qualify a person for either group? (more…)

Hey, you got art in my science! No, you got science in my art!

7 August 2009

There has been a recent trend to blend science and art as a means to promote science to a broader audience, and perhaps to promote art to a broader audience as well. I endeavor to be the beneficiary of the latter effort. This marriage of disciplines seems an especially apt way to reach New Yorkers. The most recent broadcast of NPR’s Science Friday did a piece on “The Art of the Natural History Museum,” in which they described the work involved in creating scientifically accurate exhibits and reconstructions of extinct organisms. The show featured individuals who were more scientist than artist, and those more artist than scientist, and described how they work together to create projects that are at the same time both accurate and pleasing to the eye. (more…)

Why basic research matters, for example

4 August 2009

This is probably the single most important issue to me as a scientist and as a citizen. Coming up with a straightforward answer to why basic research is important is difficult every time I am asked to do so, and depends on who is doing the asking. When writing to a granting agency, it is crucial to outline why my particular aspect of research needs to be pursued more rigorously, and with that granting agency’s money. When it is asked by an acquaintance on the street, I have to first assess the asker’s understanding of how science is done in order to respond. (more…)

Recovered memories: evidence?

24 July 2009

That people develop memories for events in their lives that never took place is a phenomenon well documented in the psychological literature. False memories can be produced through simple suggestion and real memories can become clustered with new data to alter them in some way. More so, to the person experiencing the false or changed memory, they  seem exactly like the real thing (Loftus, 1997 & 2003; Ofshe & Watters, 1994). (more…)