Welcome to the 37th iteration of Scientia Pro Publica, the carnival that brings together a selection of writings from the blogosphere on the environment, human health, and various other sciences. This week we have a whole gamut of essays ranging across the spectrum, so I won’t keep you long before you can start sampling the goods. Just remember to leave a comment to let the authors know what you think of their writing. And note that the next edition will be hosted by Dr. Shock on Aug 30th, so don’t forget to submit links to blog posts that catch your eye over the next couple of weeks.
Journeys through space and time
Let us start the journey at the biggest of scales, shall we? Ever wondered what a Galaxy is, really? Astro Basics offers a comprehensive overview of what a Galaxy is
, and what it has meant to us, astronomers and laypersons, through the history of astronomy. Staying with history, but closer to home, Romeo Vitelli at Provedentia
shares an interesting tale of extreme, you might even say pathological, denialism in the 19th century when Alfred Russell Wallace took on John Hampden’s Flat Earth Wager
looking for some easy cash but ending up with more than he had bargained for. There a lesson in there somewhere for the current “debates” between scientists and denialists of various sorts, I’m sure.
Of human glory and folly
This business of science has led us on some amazing journeys, from the galactic to the molecular scales. At Reciprocal Space
, Stephen Curry tells us the fascinating story of an amazing molecule without which we would not survive, a molecule of life and death
! Akshat Rathi at the Allotrope
tells us how far we have come from the discovery of that critical molecule, to becoming molecular architects
, for we have mastered the art and science of constructing complex naturally occurring molecules in the laboratory from easily available raw materials! How’s that for human achievement?! Or hubris? Because we still don’t fully understand how many of the more complex molecules, such as proteins, fold into their three-dimensional functional forms after being transcribed from their DNA code. Which is why scientists have to turn to gamers for help, with Foldit, a game reviewed by GrrlScientist who is now at Scientopia
It is difficult to escape humanity’s influence in even the remotest places on earth, as both the travel essays above also indicate. We humans have a tendency to start and get into all kinds of trouble, for ourselves and for other species on this planet. Patrick Clarkin
has tried to unravel one of the biggest knots in this human tendency to self-destruct, the biology of war
, by exploring the connections between war, health, and evolution. Much to think about in that there post!
If you think, however, that wildlife conservation is a simple matter of removing undesirable introduced elements from an ecosystem, especially elements of human disturbance such as invasive species or cattle in national parks, Pavithra Sankaran’s post at eco logic
should serve to dispel you of such notions. She shares troubling and intriguing lessons (but not entirely clear ones) from experiments to mitigate conflicts between two sets of desperate neighbors
: the endangered wildlife of Bandipur Tiger Reserve, and the rural poor who eke out a marginal existence at the edges of that park. What drives the people to take their cattle grazing into Bandipur, despite ongoing low-intensity trench warfare against the official forces that make this one of the best protected Tiger Reserves in India? The answer may surprise you. Just as a lasting solution continues to elude.
So is there hope for biodiversity? Well, we all have to do our bit, don’t we? And so have the taxonomic splitters at the American Ornithologists’ Union
(of which I have been an itinerant member)! They have gone and increased the diversity of bird species yet again simply by splitting a number of former species into two (or more) new ones! How’s that for reversing the loss of biodiversity?! All joking aside, this taxonomist’s scalpel can actually be a valuable tool for conservation because it forces us to recognize the extent of genetic and evolutionary diversity within what we may think of as but one species. And so the work continues, says John Beetham at a DC Birding Blog
The lows and highs of doing science
Speaking of the dynamics of science, and of human folly, this last week plunged the animal behavior/cognitive science community into some despair when Harvard University announced that it had placed eminent primate behavioral psychologist Marc Hauser on a year’s leave because an internal investigation had found potentially serious scientific misconduct in his lab. Of course this story is getting much play in the press, but I found the perspectives of David Dobbs at Neuron Culture
, Melodye of Child’s Play
at the new Scientopia blog network
, and John Hawkes
worth reading. Undoubtedly there is a lot more being written in the science blogosphere about this still unfolding situation, another bump in the road for behavioral science which has weathered a few such setbacks, and will no doubt emerge stronger from all the soul-searching engendered by this controversy.
But I can’t leave you on that sour note now, can I? Not at the end of a science carnival? So let me turn you to a more uplifting story about the true joy of doing science, the profound sense of wonder and amazement about the natural world that propels us all on this shared journey to the ever expanding frontiers of science. Alistair Dove at Deep Type Flow shares the pure bliss of dancing with a giant
May we all find such bliss!