Category Archives: Science

Gamification of Open Science

Overall, it really does look like the badges help, not just with increasing sharing rates but with making sure that shared data is helpful to the research community. Of all the 2,478 articles used in the study, those without badges were very weak about sharing: “Just six of 37 articles from journals without badges and two of 10 articles from [Psychological Science] before badges that reported available data had accessible, correct, usable data,” write the authors. By contrast, of the articles with badges, “actual sharing was very similar to reported sharing.”

Source: Simple badge incentive could help eliminate bad science | Ars Technica

This is both amazing and inspiring. Just putting badges on papers if they have open data dramatically increases the papers including open data. It's not perfect, but it is clearly an incentive system that helps a lot.

Drones Stymie Rhino Poachers

Poaching is a threat to the survival of rhinos worldwide, and anti-poaching efforts have always been one step behind. Now, park rangers in South Africa have a leg up. John Petersen from the Air Shepherd program tells host Steve Curwood how the power of predictive analytics combined with drone technology could help to rescue the rhinos.

Source: Living on Earth: Drones Stymie Rhino Poachers

Very cool effort to re-purpose predictive analytics systems that were designed to find roadside bombs, to figure out where poachers are likely to be, then fly drones to find them. Initial results are really promising. No Rhinos were taken in the protected area during their 6 month trial, down from 12 - 14 a month previously.

The Biggest Concerns About GMO Food Aren't Really About GMOs

Everyone from Chipotle to the Food Babe rails against genetically modified ingredients, and laws to label GMO foods are making progress in some states. But the laser focus on GMOs is misguided, because most of the concerns people raise about them aren’t really about GMOs.

“GMO” is the buzzword for genetically modified crops where the plant’s DNA has been changed in the lab, typically by inserting a gene from another species. Technically there are other types of genetically modified organisms (living things), but no GMO animals are used in our food, and GMO bacteria are widespread but not controversial.

Source: The Biggest Concerns About GMO Food Aren't Really About GMOs

This whole article is a must read for anyone interested in the current state of how the modern food system works. It's pretty incredible in actually looking in depth at a slew of mechanisms used to hybridize our food, and which the GMO label actually only applies to a very narrow slice of some of the most well controlled using bacterial gene transfer. A mechanism that was recently discovered to have happened naturally, thousands of years ago, with the Sweet Potato.

Also, incredibly, the comments on that article are incredibly thoughtful and nuanced. It's one of the few internet conversations that I've seen recently where people were legitimately curious and thought provoking.

 

Ebola behind a paywall

MONROVIA, Liberia — The conventional wisdom among public health authorities is that the Ebola virus, which killed at least 10,000 people in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea, was a new phenomenon, not seen in West Africa before 2013. (The one exception was an anomalous case in Ivory Coast in 1994, when a Swiss primatologist was infected after performing an autopsy on a chimpanzee.)

The conventional wisdom is wrong. We were stunned recently when we stumbled across an article by European researchers in Annals of Virology: “The results seem to indicate that Liberia has to be included in the Ebola virus endemic zone.” In the future, the authors asserted, “medical personnel in Liberian health centers should be aware of the possibility that they may come across active cases and thus be prepared to avoid nosocomial epidemics,” referring to hospital-acquired infection.

What triggered our dismay was not the words, but when they were written: The paper was published in 1982.

via Yes, We Were Warned About Ebola - NYTimes.com.

The information existed that Ebola existed in Liberia. However, that information was trapped behind a research journal paywall, so didn't end up in the hands of the people that really could have used it. A contributing factor to why this Ebola outbreak got so out of control.

Microwaves Explained

The reason microwaves don't cook evenly comes straight from physics. When you continuously feed waves into a space—which is what microwaves do—you'll often have some "dead" spots:

In two dimensions, you get a similar but more complicated pattern.

via Microwaves.

All to answer the question of what's the best way to reheat Chinese leftovers. How I love 'What If'.

BBC - the Elements

BBC the Elements

A close look at chemical elements, the basic building blocks of the universe. Where do we get them, what do we use them for and how do they fit into the economy?

via BBC - Podcasts and Downloads - Elements.

BBC is running this very cool audio series that dedicates 40 minutes each to every element in the periodic table, specifically looking at how it fits into our economy. They are doing one element a week and started last November, so are about 1/2 way through the periodic table now.

So far all the episodes I've managed to randomly catch on WAMC have been great. But if you want the complete set, they've got it loaded up as a podcast as well. Definitely worth your time.

Massively collaborative synthetic biology

I recently started listening to podcasts by the Long Now Foundation, which is their monthly recorded lecture series. They've all been really good. However, this month's talk on Massively collaborative synthetic biology by Drew Endy was beyond really good. This is one of the best things I've listened to all year.

The talk gives you a primer on the current state of bioengineering, through lens of the iGEM program, which works with high school and college students participating in annual competitions to build reusable bio bricks. This program was born 10 years ago as a winter session class at MIT. Incoming students had the expectation that they would be taught about bioengineering, especially how to create organisms... except, no one had really figured that out yet. So instead the faculty framed this as a "let's learn together" exercise. And it grew from there.

During one of the iGEM summers they were working on changing the smells of e coli. Part of this exploration involved going to a local cheese shop and picking some of the smelliest cheeses to tinker with the options they had in front of them. In the process the students asked and interesting question though: most of these cheeses are small batch artisanal. As such, these are made by humans by hand. The human biome is massively diverse in bacteria. Could it be that the cheese maker is more than craftsman, but also mother to the cheese? The bacteria of the cheese maker herself being an important part of the final product.

There is also an interesting wander through the ethics of the field. Right now the conversation (via news reporting and entertainment) around genetic modification is starkly black and white. It's doom or it's salvation. It's definitely neither. But until we get out of a black and white world, we can't actually have the useful and productive conversation about the space.

Drew also lays out this vision of retooling our mater supply chain to be one that's biology based instead of petroleum based. Making stuff today largely requires fossil fuels. Not just for feed stock, but for the energy of the whole transformation process. But in a bioengineering future we could transform our making of stuff to be the growing of stuff. Going straight from the raw source of energy on this planet (the Sun) into the manufacturing process. To me, this is a really compelling future.

Honestly, these snippets just touch the surface. Do yourself a favor and have a listen to the talk. You won't regret it.

 

Facebook's Experiment

The internet is currently a fury on Facebook's paper where they spent 1 week in 2012 an manipulated 0.1% of their users feeds to have them see more positive or more negative than average posts, and see what they produced in return. And they published the results here. A very solid summary at the Atlantic.

screenshot_170

This outrage seems a little odd, in contrast to the Freemium game explosion, which is all about being as brutally manipulative as possible to make you buy in app upgrades. Candy Crush basically is actively exploiting the same human weaknesses that creates gambling addiction. If we want to talk about ethics in computing right now, Freemium is something we need to have a very serious conversation about.

The study highlights how your filter bubble impacts your mood. If you are exposed to more positive content, you end up more positive. If you are exposed to more negative content, you end up more negative. Not by huge margins, but by noticable ones. Who you are is impacted by what you emotionally ingest. It shouldn't be a surprising idea, but it does take something like Facebook to be able to measure the effect with enough controls to make sure it's real.

If seeing a few minutes a day of more positive or negative content impacts your mood enough to get a reaction out of you, what else impacts it? Home; Work; Friends; Media. And what hacks can you do to impact it yourself.