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395 posts categorized "Science"

February 21, 2009

Meet New York City's bedbug expert

Louis Sorkin is an entomologist at the American Museum of Natural History.

As bedbug infestations become more common, Sorkin has become New York's go-to guy for scientific information on the blood sucking pests.

Sorkin has more than earned his bedbug cred. He raises the parasites in jars for study and sustains them on his own blood.

Update: In other parasite news...

December 29, 2008

Chemistry is not a crime, and Lewis Casey is not a criminal

More war on drugs hysteria: Canadian college student Lewis Casey was arrested and imprisoned on suspicion of operating a meth lab in his family's garage. The police later admitted that 18-year-old Casey wasn't making drugs, but they kept him in jail anyway on the grounds that he had materials that could have been made into explosives.

As PZ says, "Errm, having the "materials necessary to produce explosives" is an awfully low bar to set. If we're going to go that route, let's round up and arrest all the farmers — they've got fuel oil and fertilizer in bulk, and are a far more serious danger."

Friends and family say Casey is just an enthusiastic science student who likes to dabble at home. He has been released from jail but he's not allowed to perform experiments, except under school supervision. His trial will continue on Jan 26.

November 21, 2008

Mini mammoths?

2807498931_1a40bcf7af_m Scientists say mammoths could be cloned by from fragments of the mammoth genome pieced together from disparate scraps of fur, flesh, or bone:

Though the stuffed animals in natural history museums are not likely to burst into life again, these old collections are full of items that may contain ancient DNA that can be decoded by the new generation of DNA sequencing machines.

If the genome of an extinct species can be reconstructed, biologists can work out the exact DNA differences with the genome of its nearest living relative. There are talks on how to modify the DNA in an elephant’s egg so that after each round of changes it would progressively resemble the DNA in a mammoth egg. The final-stage egg could then be brought to term in an elephant mother, and mammoths might once again roam the Siberian steppes. [NYT]

Experts estimate that it would only cost about $10 million to bring back mammoths. But in these tough economic times, funding this project won't be easy.

So, here's what I'm thinking.... It couldn't be that much more expensive to engineer a dwarf mammoth, small enough for the pet market. Suppose they started with a pygmy elephant ovum and a dwarf mammoth DNA, and worked their way down from there.

Chihuahuas are the descendants of wolves, right?

I know I'd invest a couple hundred bucks today to reserve my mini mammoth.

[Photo by David Reid, licensed under Creative Commons.]

October 21, 2008

40-foot fossil snake discovered

Paleontologists have found the fossilized remains of a huge ancestor of the boa constrictor.

At a site in northern Colombia, (paleontologist Jonathan) Bloch and his colleagues unearthed the partial remains of an ancient snake. Each of the dozen or so vertebrae in that body segment measured about 10 centimeters across. That’s about twice the width of the largest vertebra taken from a 6-meter–long, modern-day anaconda, another modern relative, Bloch notes.

None of the ribs included in the fossil are complete, but the size and curvature of the fragments that remain indicate that the snake “would have had trouble fitting though the door into your office,” he adds. The gargantuan fossils represent an as yet unnamed species. [Science News; HT: Boing Boing]

2008 has been a blockbuster year for herpetology. In August, evolutionary biologist Blair Hedges of Penn State University announced the discovery of the world's smallest snake.

One of the best parts about the smallest snake discovery was his argument for why his snake must be the smallest: "The snake may even be as miniscule as nature could go for snakes since, if it were any smaller, he believes its young would have nothing to eat. As it stands, Hedges thinks it primarily consumes the tiny larvae of termites and ants."

That's it people, that's as small as they get.

October 06, 2008

McCain threatened federal official over telescope and lied about it

John McCain threatened a U.S. forest supervisor's job in 1989 and lied about it, the Las Vegas Review-Journal reports.

At the time, McCain adamantly denied threatening the official, but documents obtained by the Review-Journal cast doubt on the candidate's heated denial:

McCain had already shown a willingness to throw his weight around, according to some involved in the Mount Graham project.

At one point, he targeted Jim Abbott, a U.S. Forest Service supervisor he blamed for slowing progress on the observatory.


McCain was alleged at the time to have told Abbott that he would be "the shortest-tenured forest supervisor in the history of the Forest Service" if he didn't help the project move forward.

Federal law prohibits threats that obstruct or impede the work of federal employees.

McCain, when confronted with the allegation in the early 1990s, adamantly denied threatening Abbott and railed against anyone who accused him of misconduct. Abbott later backed McCain's story.

But Gibbons and other GAO investigators charged with examining the scientific fights over the project also reached conclusions about related personal clashes.

An internal GAO memo from 1990 obtained by the Review-Journal refers to McCain's "admitted threat" to the forest supervisor. The memo was designed to remain between the GAO and McCain's office. Its contents have never been made public before.

Ironically, the fight was over the construction of a giant optical telescope in McCain's home state of Arizona.

Ironically, McCain loves to bash earmarks, a more traditional strategy for facilitating pet projects in a legislator's district. He brags, falsely, that he has never asked for earmarks.

He has openly mocked federally funded science projects, including the $4 million the USGS has spent compiling genetic profiles on grizzly populations in Montana.

This episode shows the lengths McCain was willing to go to deliver the kind of federal spending that he would now deride as pork.

[HT: bmaz.]

September 12, 2008

Palin championed aerial hunting of wolves

As governor of Alaska, Sarah Palin teamed up with lobbyist for the hunting industry to champion the aerial hunting of wolves an bears. In 2007, she spent $400,000 of taxpayer's money to propagandize the public about the benefits of shooting wildlife with air supremacy:

The controversy over Palin's promotion of predator control goes beyond animal rights activists recoiling at the thought of picking off wolves from airplanes. A raft of scientists has argued that Palin has provided little evidence that the current program of systematically killing wolves, estimated at a population of 7,000 to 11,000, will result in more moose for hunters. State estimates of moose populations have come under scrutiny. Some wildlife biologists say predator control advocates don't even understand what wolves eat.

State officials stand by their scientific findings on predator control. "Several times over the past several years, our science has been challenged in court," says Bruce Bartley, a spokesman for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. "In every instance it has prevailed." [Salon]

Now an environmental group is taking Palin to task for her record on aerial hunting. Be warned, the ad is graphic, disturbing, and factual:

Aerial hunting is an affront to honorable hunters and animal lovers because it's unsportsmanlike and pseudoscientific.

August 15, 2008

HPV and cervical cancer

DrPal has a good post explaining the science behind the HPV vaccine.

August 05, 2008

Gorillas that were missed: 125,000 endangered apes discovered in the Congo

Rejoice friends: Primatologists have discovered a massive number of endangered lowland gorillas in the Congo!

What's funny about tire gauges?

The Republicans have been handing out tire gages with Obama's name on them. This is meant as a joke because Obama pointed out that the U.S. stands to save more energy from keeping the nation's tires properly inflated than it would from offshore drilling.

The tire gauges are supposed to be a joke. I don't get it. Usually, I can reverse engineer jokes even if they don't make me laugh. This one leaves me at a loss. What's funny about an attractive useful gadget that associates your opponent with his own message?

I can see why the Obama campaign would give out tire gage pumps to donors. That would be making fun of John McCain and the emptiness of his offshore drilling promises.

I can imagine the creative brief. Suggested tagline: McCain's plan falls flat. So, remember to check your tires with this Obama tire gage.

Frank Jones at TIME Magazine thought McCain's wisecrack was funny:

Now that many of us have had a good laugh following Sen. John McCain's presidential campaign's use of tire-inflation gauges as weapons of mass distraction against Sen. Barack Obama, can we acknowledge that properly inflated tires could indeed save a tremendous amount of energy?

So can driving at or slightly above the speed limit. Or keeping a vehicle tuned up so it operates more efficiently.

Even though there's a dispute over whether Obama's claim that inflated tires and tune-ups would save more oil than could be extracted by drilling off-shore, it seems indisputable that there could be considerable savings from such relatively easy efforts. [Swampland/TIME]

Can anyone explain the joke as written? Sometimes I feel like I'm from a completely different culture than Republicans and "respectable" journalists. 

August 04, 2008

HPV vaccination misinformation and bias in Medscape

David Gorski catches Medscape recycling pseudoscience about the HPV vaccine Gardasil and does a characteristically thorough job of debunking these claims.