Wednesday Web Watch for May 27, 2015


Making claims when writing an article about science & technology (as we often do here) usually requires consideration of sound scientific reports.   Presumably, this means turning to trustworthy sources that publish equally reputable and reliable studies.   There are those of us who are not trained to expertly evaluate and reproduce scientific experiments, much less conduct the original.  So we rely on the gatekeepers of bad science to weed out the good from the bad.  Yet how are we to be certain that what we are asserting as fact, really is verifiably accurate?  In an article titled The Trouble With Scientists, Nautilus contributor Philip Ball discusses the issue of biased science through the lens of concerned stakeholders.  Ball highlights cognitive biases, motivated reasoning, pressures to “publish or perish,” and peer-review pitfalls.  He then reveals how one psychologist, in particular, is attempting to address bad science with the “Open Science Framework” (“OSF”), a research registry scheme administered through the Center for Open Science in Charlottesville, VA.  Aside from promoting transparency, the OSF requires the formulation of a detailed hypotheses, before, not after results are established, so as not to “present unexpected results as expected.”  OSF users report positive experiences, characterizing it as an essential tool for practicing sound science.

Tuesday Triple Trivia for May 26, 2015

3 Questions. 3 Hints. 3 Answers.  Every Tuesday.

1. What Beach Boys song may have inspired this start-up’s name?


Answer:  no wheels? No problem.  Just download the Getaround app and unlock your way to freedom — in someone else’s car.  For the time being, car rental access is limited to Washington, D.C., Portland, OR or San Francisco, CA.  Getaround installs a device in networked cars that customers unlock via an app.  Once unlocked, the car keys are available inside the car.  A minimum hourly rental time applies, after which time charges are applied in 15-minute increments.  The renter can expect to be charged $5 to $9 an hour of which Getaround takes a 40 percent cut.  For the lessor, there is a $99 installation fee, and a $20 monthly network connection fee.  Getaround guarantees a $1000 monthly income the first three months — and provides driver insurance.  Read the details here while listening to the Beach Boys here.

2. Arizona State University employs some very bright, productive and inspiring people, including this individual whose treatment for a particular infectious disease may be a life-changer.



Answer: bio pharmer Charles Arntzen assisted in the development of ZMapp, an injectable tobacco-inspired synthetic serum said to currently be “the most promising drug treatment for people infected with Ebola.”  With the the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services agreeing to pony-up up to $42 million dollars last fall for sufficient supplies, pharming could become a very lucrative, life-saving business.   Read the details here.

3. Blue dress or gold dress?



Answer: no, not the dresses again.  Let’s focus instead on an optical illusion created by MIT researchers that initially looks like Marilyn Monroe but changes to Albert Einstein as the image gets closer.   Advertisers take note: it’s all about how our brain processes details both with respect to distance and time.  Take a look here.

Wednesday Web Watch for May 20, 2015


An interesting piece by Bryan Helwig on predictive genetic testing for military personnel.  Helwig notes that progress in the area of genetic technology is responsible for the identification of geno/phenotypes prone to certain psychological and physical health conditions.  Those who favor genetic testing in the military note its effectiveness in helping to ensure fewer physical and psychological “casualties” of war.  Critics, on the other hand, claim it raises privacy concerns and results in civil rights infringements.   Helwig cautions there are many things in play, therefore, predictive genetic testing is not foolproof.   He advises that in addition to scientific accuracy, legal (e.g. the potential application of GINA), policy and ethical issues need to be addressed further before the practice of predictive genetic testing is implemented across the board.

Tuesday Triple Trivia for May 19, 2015


3 Questions. 3 Hints. 3 Answers.  Every Tuesday.

1. What scientific procedure has given new meaning to “surf & turf”?


Answer: meet the land version of the cowfish.  Although isolated from a worm, not a fish, the fat1 gene, involved in the production of n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (i.e. omega-3s), was successfully inserted into fetal cells of cattle.  Omega-3 oils, typically found in fish, combat heart disease, obesity and neurodegenerative disorders.  The fat1 gene is responsible for increasing omega-3 dietary levels by five times the average amount, resulting in a higher nutritional value per serving.  Nonetheless, of the 14 animals receiving the fat1 gene, only 3 survived past the age of 4-months.  The animals’ demise is said to be predominantly due to inflammatory disease and a common cattle infection.  However, more research is required to determine whether the genetic manipulation played a role in the cattle’s fate.  Read the details here.

2. What is another reason to abide by the “look but don’t touch” (or snort) motto?


Answer: fingerprint-based mass spectrometry chemical analysis can determine whether cocaine use was limited to touching the substance or whether it was also ingested.  The process has the opportunity to become more practical and is less invasive than current drug-testing techniques. Read more here.

3. What novel differentiation process may help crime-busters to no longer see double?


Answer:  Wrong HRMA.  Rather, the HRMA in question (high-resolution melt curve analysis) refers to a technique used by scientists to detect differences among DNA.  HRMA is attractive because it is less expensive and time-consuming than whole genome sequencing (WGS).  The technique comes in especially handy when scientists, prompted by law enforcement, are tasked with distinguishing one identical twin from another.  The process allows for the identification of DNA differences that are the result of environmental factors.  Unless identical twins experience the exact same things at exactly the same time, throughout the course of their lives, they will leave different DNA “fingerprints” behind — subtle differences that scientists have identified through both WGS and the potentially more practical HRMA method.  However, scientists do caution that time lapses between when samples were obtained can affect accuracy as can sample variations — so samples should always come from the same bodily fluid.  Read the story here.