Month: August 2012

Requiescat: David Rakoff

Requiescat: David Rakoff

He died last night of that cancer. Thanks to This American Life for putting this online—and for being the main venue through which I knew him, while I could. See also: Fresh Air, Boing Boing, and the Awl.

Incidentally, this piece from the last TAL live show wasn’t the final work of his I heard—that would be this imaginary correspondence between Gregor Samsa and Dr. Seuss. Which, I know, right? But it’s really pretty awesome.◼


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Science online, dilated pupils edition

Science online, dilated pupils edition

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pupils 2007 An apt pupil. Photo by thraxil.
  • So. Freaking. Cool. NASA successfully landed a car-sized, nuclear-powered, laser-equipped exploratory rover on Mars—for a fifth of the cost of the 2012 Olympic Games.
  • Meanwhile, in the life sciences. Thousands of ecologists converge on Portland, Oregon for the Ecological Society of America meeting. Check Dynamic Ecology and EEB & Flow for coverage.
  • What is the difference between wheelchair racing and cycling, when you think about it? The line between human athletic achievement and technological advancement is fuzzier than you might think.
  • Next: NOM announces that pupil dilation is a “lifestyle choice.” A new approach to testing sexual orientation measures pupil dilation. See also good discussion by Scicurious and Deborah Blum.
  • Yet another microbiome. Examining the bacteria living on the surface of plant roots might be as informative as examining the ones living inside plant roots.
  • Commitment to innovation? Apparently the fundamentalist textbooks for Christian schools are now opposed to set theory.
  • FACT: Wearing a bike helmet all day = 80% reduced risk of death by meteor. How to clearly explain risk, with an illustrative story.
  • Because we only think they think they’re people. Why it’s important to avoid anthropomorphizing when discussing the sexual habits of non-human animals.
  • Cool! Google Scholar will now identify new articles for you to read based on your own publication list.
  • That … sounds like a problem. Some of the world’s most important food-producing regions are living on non-renewable water.


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Is corn the new milk? Evolutionarily speaking, that is.

Is corn the new milk? Evolutionarily speaking, that is.

 

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colorful fall corn Corn. Photo by srqpix.

ResearchBlogging.orgIt is a widespread misconception that, as we developed the technology to reshape our environment to our preferences, human beings neutralized the power of natural selection. Quite the opposite is true: some of the best-known examples of recent evolutionary change in humans are attributable to technology. People who colonized high-altitude environments were selected for tolerance of low-oxygen conditions in the high Himalayas and Andes; populations that have historically raised cattle for milk evolved the ability to digest milk sugars as adults.

A recent study of population genetics in Native American groups suggests that another example is ripening in the experimental fields just a few blocks away from my office at the University of Minnesota: Corn, or maize, may have exerted natural selection on the human populations that first cultivated it.

The target of this new study is an allele called 230Cys, a variant of a gene involved in transporting cholesterol. 230Cys is known only in Native American populations, and it’s associated with abnormally low production of HDL cholesterol (that’s the “good” kind of cholesterol) and thereby increased risk for obesity, diabetes, and heart disease. In Native American populations, the genetic code near 230Cys shows the reduced diversity associated with a selective sweep, which suggests that, although it’s not particuarly helpful now, this variant may have been favored by selection in the past.

Read more …

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Rainbow flags over the ‘burbs

Rainbow flags over the ‘burbs

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Rainbow Flag Photo by Mktp.

Over at The Atlantic, there’s a nice piece about how the conversation-centric campaign against the proposed anti-gay-marriage amendment to Minnesota’s state constitution is playing out in communities outside the famously queer-friendly Twin Cities. It comes across as pretty hopeful, I’d say.

[Wendy] Ivins recalls a discussion she had one night with a neighbor who argued, “There are more important issues to deal with, like the economy.”

Ivins’ husband, Gary, stepped in. “I’m not an economist,” he said. “I can’t solve the economy. I’m not a military strategist, so I can’t do that. I’m a doctor — and this I do know: Every human being deserves the right to be treated the same as everybody else, and the ability to marry and spend your life with someone is a fundamental right. This is on our ballot right now; it’s important to us right now that we do something about this.”

“The person backed down a bit,” Ivins says. “It’s all about civil rights, injustice. But it’s simpler than that. It’s about individual families—what does it mean personally to you?”

That’s right out of the Minnesotans United for All Families playbook, that is. For more detail (and, yes, the inevitable references to Lake Wobegone), go read the whole thing.◼


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Science online, solve for x edition

Science online, solve for x edition

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Ocean Latte Save your Starbucks card, and have a cup of ocean instead. Photo by nicadlr.


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