Saturday, May 31, 2008

Life changes

Well, it's official. I have become a paid shill of the biotech industry. This week I accepted a job at a biotech company in California, and will be leaving my post-doctoral position at a medical school. For the next few weeks posting will likely be lighter than normal, as I have to move my family across the country and get settled. I'm going to try to keep the Friday beautiful sciences coming, at the very least, but I've missed several of those in the last few weeks.

As an aside, I intend to continue writing about biotech issues of societal relevance, but in this case, I won't write at all about the industry I am working with. This is for two reasons (one more important than the other) --- One, as it will look like I am biased (but I try to write about data, and not about conclusions, so this shouldn't be all that important). Two, I don't want to anger my new biotech overlords, should they ever learn of my blog.

As I've always intended to maintain anonymity, that shouldn't be hard.


Thursday, May 29, 2008

Science: You're doing it wrong

Hat tip to Orac.


Tuesday, May 27, 2008

How big is big?

This cool video shows size scales. It's a useful and entertaining description of powers of 10.

As it turns out, we're very small...


Thursday, May 22, 2008

87th Skeptics' Circle

The 87th Skeptics' Circle is up at Action Skeptics. Go have a gander.


Friday, May 16, 2008

American Association for the Advancement of Science on Expelled

Folks may have already seen this statement about the Expelled movie, but here it is to reiterate the position of the American Association for the Advancement of Science:

AAAS further decries the profound dishonesty and lack of civility demonstrated by this effort. The movie includes interviews with scientists who report that they were deceived into appearing as part of such a production, and advance segments [of the film] broadly depict those who accept evolution as racist and sympathetic to Nazis. Such generalized insults are untrue and grossly unfair to millions of scientists in the United States and worldwide who are working to cure disease, solve hunger, improve national security, and otherwise advance science to improve the quality of human life.


Friday beautiful science

Sorry I've been quiet for a while. Various personal issues have kept me fairly occupied (including flying out to California for a job interview at a biotech company).

Today's Friday beautiful science is something I've lusted after ever since I first saw it. It's a 3-dimensional map of our best data about the Milky Way galaxy, mapped out in painstaking detail inside of a cube of glass. It's simply beautiful.

Behold: a galaxy suspended in a glass cube.

A laser was used to etch around 80,000 of the stars in the Milky Way, using three-dimensional data from the Japan’s National Astronomical Observatory.

Production of the cube was motivated by the urge to see a galaxy in three dimensions. In encyclopedias and such, galaxies can only be viewed in two: we wanted to do so from all directions. Even the Magellan Cloud, comparatively close to us, is outside this cube. Space can be sparsely filled, one could say…or rather, there are great extremes in density.
I've made prints of many of my other Friday beautiful science photos. Perhaps some day I'll save enough Japanese yen to be able to purchase this little beauty...


Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Colbert in space.


Tuesday, May 6, 2008

I have a job interview.

And for what it's worth, I hope they have pizza. ;)


Monday, May 5, 2008

Where do they come from?

As a funny aside post, I've been getting more visits lately. Really, in the last month, I've seen a pretty large increase in what has been otherwise a relative trickle of traffic, compared to some of my science blogging compadres.

And where are these people headed? To this post. Yep, in the last month, 2/3 of my traffic is headed to my Leap Year Skeptics' Circle post. I admit, I was a little proud of that post. I like writing ironic, tongue-in-cheek stories for the Skeptics' Circle.

I was going to point out to Orac that the Skeptics' Circle had seen an upsurge in popularity, until I poked around a little further to discover *why* I'm getting all this traffic... It turns out, that as of a few weeks ago, my little blog shows up as the number one hit on Google image searches for sex (if you have safe search turned on - I rather doubt that I'm at the top of the heap if you turn off safe search). Go figure. Not quite the demographic that this post was aiming for, but what the hell. Hopefully they learn something while ogling the photo of this woman:

Edited for Brigit.


Friday, May 2, 2008

Friday beautiful science

Today's Friday beautiful science comes from a shot taken of a Saudi Arabian lava field from the International Space Station:

Harrat Khaybar, Saudi Arabia is featured in this image photographed by an Expedition 16 crewmember on the International Space Station. The western half of the Arabian peninsula contains not only large expanses of sand and gravel, but extensive lava fields known as haraat (harrat for a named field). One such field is the 14,000-square kilometer Harrat Khaybar, located approximately 137 kilometers to the northeast of the city of Al Madinah (Medina). According to scientists, the volcanic field was formed by eruptions along a 100-kilometer long north-south linear vent system over the past 5 million years; the most recent recorded eruption took place between 600 - 700 A.D. Harrat Khaybar contains a wide range of volcanic rock types and spectacular landforms, several of which are represented in this view. Jabal al Quidr is built from several generations of dark, fluid basalt lava flows; the flows surround the 322--meter high stratovolcano (Jabal is translated as "mountain" in Arabic). Jabal Abyad, in the center of the image, was formed from a more viscous, silica-rich lava classified as a rhyolite.


Thursday, May 1, 2008

Be mindful of a plant's dignity.

This from Nature:

The Swiss federal government's ethics committee on non-human biotechnology has mapped out guidelines to help granting agencies decide which research applications deeply offend the dignity of plants — and hence become unfundable.
Ummm... dignity of plants? Oy. When I eat plants, do I offend their dignity?
Although most people might be bewildered that a discussion on how to define 'plant dignity' should be taking place at all, the stakes for Swiss plant scientists are high. The Gene Technology Law, which came into effect in 2004, stipulates that 'the dignity of creatures' should be considered in any research. The phrase has been widely criticized for its general woolliness, but it indisputably includes plants.

All plant biotechnology grant applications must now include a paragraph explaining the extent to which plant dignity is considered. “But scientists don't know what it means,” says Beat Keller of the Institute of Plant Biology at the University of Zurich who is running the first field trial — of disease-resistant corn (maize) — to be approved under the new legislation.

“At the moment not even authorities who decide on grants know what the 'dignity of plants' really means,” says Markus Schefer, a constitution lawyer at the University of Basel and a member of the ethics committee. “That's why we were asked to deliberate.”

The constitution says that the 'dignity of creatures' must be taken into account in the gene-technology arena, which is why the term has been adopted into the regulations. The government called on the advice of its ethics committee two years ago to help develop a definition for plants. “My first reaction was — what the heck are we doing considering the dignity of plants,” says Schefer. “But this very broad provision exists, and we have to help to prevent a legal mire.”
This deserves no more comment than to say it is absolutely and totally nutty. Please, someone, take the keys away from the nuts who wrote this law.


Dishonesty from the producers of Expelled? Say it ain't so!!!

Recently, someone tried to impersonate the Office of Research Integrity, a branch of the National Institutes of Health. They sent e-mails to the biology faculty of Vanderbilt University, expecting to be able to con them into seeing the creationist movie Expelled. Can you believe it? From the e-mail:

Intelligent design is widely regarded as the idiot-savant stepchild of creationism.
Well, I can agree with half of "idiot-savant".

What else can they say?
For all the movie's flaws, it underscores the need for greater openness in the discussion of biological origins. We live in a free society that cherishes rational discourse. We are committed to arguing our ideas across the table from others without fear of reprisal or coercion. Science most of all should exemplify freedom of thought and expression.

The movie's chief flaw, in our view, is its failure to argue that intelligent design possesses real intellectual and scientific merit. The Center for Scientific Integrity has learned that to remedy this defect, the producers of EXPELLED have officially endorsed a book by William Dembski and Jonathan Wells titled THE DESIGN OF LIFE ( We urge that you watch this movie and read this book before weighing into the national debate that Ben Stein is initiating.
Go see it! Buy my book!

Hugs and kisses,
Jake Akins, Executive Director Center for Scientific Integrity ( (Website under construction)
Advancing Freedom of Thought and Expression in Science
Oh, wait. No website. What, the NIH can't afford a website??!!? Who do they think they're fooling?

Go to the Faithful Penguin and read the whole thing. Simply amazing.