Science & Society

The stereotype of the nerdy computer scientist who stays up all night coding and has no social life may be driving women away from the field, and  this stereotype can be brought to mind based only on the the environment in a classroom or office, according to a study published this month in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.
"When people think of computer science the image that immediately pops into many of their minds is of the computer geek surrounded by such things as computer games, science fiction memorabilia and junk food," said Sapna Cheryan, a University of Washington assistant professor of psychology and the study's lead author.

Several weeks ago, New Scientist ran a story about some mathematical modeling work that a couple of researchers in Mexico did. They modeled public transportation systems, and investigated the clumping effect that causes buses and trains that are supposed to be evenly spaced to wind up traveling in irregularly spaced clusters:

Public transport vehicles — underground trains, for example — set off from the start of their routes equally spaced. The problem starts when one is briefly delayed, making more time for passengers to accumulate at stations further down the track. Since passenger boarding is the main factor delaying trains, these extra people slow the train even more.

    It’s all true! He was right! He was totally, hopelessly wrong about selfish genes, but he was right about memes. Well…he was a little bit right. He was wrong to equate the evolution of memes to the evolution of organisms, meme evolution being Lamarckian in character. But he was right to point out the potential capacity for memes (i.e cultural concepts) to prevent logical thought in the minds of their hosts. To ‘colonise’ those minds as Fred Phillips puts it. Dawkins likes to use religion to illustrate this point, but I prefer his own pet theory of   selfish genes.
In a recent Journal of the National Cancer Institute editorial, doctors expressed concern over the media's coverage of oncology research, citing examples of exaggerated fears, hopes, and a general lack of skepticism in the reporting. 

The editorial points, for example, to the misleading coverage of a New England Journal of Medicine study that documented the trial results of the new anti-cancer drug olaparib. One national news outlet claimed the drug "was the most important cancer breakthrough of the decade," but failed to note that the study was uncontrolled (so there is no way to know if the drug accounted for the findings), and very preliminary (it is not known if the findings will ever translate into longer life).

Searches are personal. My first piece in Scientific Blogging was about the Copenhagen Congress. The 11-day conference will start tomorrow. So I did a search for you on climate and energy in my own writing here. At the end included also is the must-read list for Copenhagen from Nature.

The article, "Rage Against the Machines: Explaining Outcomes in Counterinsurgency Wars," by Lyall and Wilson III is an interesting read for anyone looking for a scientific explanations as to why insurgencies fought in modernity are losing propositions.

As a veterinarian for research animals, I have an odd job, and part of the oddness is the amount of time I spend thinking about how to kill animals. Christie Wilcox posted on how carbon dioxide near-asphyxiation causes panic in mouse and human, so I had to pay close attention.

The winners of our first-ever writing competition here at Scientific Blogging were announced this week, and we couldn’t be happier with the results. Three outstanding articles were selected by YOU – the readers, and all three are certainly worthy of the recognition.
From The Times, a journalist global warming skeptic changes his tune:

I thought global warming was all bog-standard, apocalyptic nonsense when it first emerged in the 1980s. People, I knew, like nothing better than an End-of-the-World story to give their lives meaning. I also knew that science is dynamic. Big ideas rise and fall. Once the Earth was the centre of the universe. Then it wasn’t. Once Isaac Newton had completed physics. Then he hadn’t. Once there was going to be a new ice age. Then there wasn’t.

The NY Times headline on Nov 18, 2009, read: “Why Exercise Makes you Less Anxious