Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Official BUS statement re:Upstart Science Blog

ooo, get you New Scientist, with your new (ish) Short Sharp Science blog.
Think you are better than Big Up Science!, with your well written, up to the minute posts on cutting edge science news?

Well, let me tell you something, when you've been infrequently posting poorly written things about science since 2005, then you can come play ball with the Big Up Science! massive, you dig?

We get the press releases n'all you know. It's just that we choose to ignore them as we know that what we write will be ill informed nonsense and only one of the Scientician's pals will ever read it.

To teach you a lesson, I'm going to put a link to you here and probably read your blog, as you frequently post interesting things that are just the sort of thing I like to read, thus wasting time when I should really be starting an in situ.

edit: and thet've got picture. Show offs.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Fight Night: Evolution vs creationism! (or why evolution is right and creationism is wrong)

So last night your friendly local scientician popped off to the Royal Society in London for a lecture by Prof. Steve Jones of University College London (UCL) titled "Why creationism is wrong, and evolution is right"(availible here as download, as are a number of other interesting lectures).
Combative title, I'm sure you'll agree. Off I went, anticipating a juicy pompous lecture (pompous in a good way you understand) with creationist baiting much like you get in forums such as talk.origins, and a bitter debate at the end with placard waving members of the Evangelical Alliance egging Prof. Jones as he was ushered into a blacked out BMW to escape the lynch mob. But no, with the exception of a couple of cheap but frankly funny shots at G-Dub (to give the president of the USA his proper hip-hop name), the lecture was a concise primer of the facts of dawinian natural selection with the evidence speaking for itself. And very nice it was too. I'm not going to write about this evidence, it seems to me half the internet is full of this argument already. If you have even the slightest capacity for independent thought you'll be able to see that natural selection as described by the original Chuck-D (to give Darwin his proper hip-hop name) is just the way it is, and that creationism is just mythology and “intelligent” design and the rest are just plain balls.
So I left the lecture with a slight disappointment by the lack of blood spilt and the punches pulled, until I read the statement by the Royal Society issued at the lecture (as reported in the Guardian). The whole point of the lecture was for the RS to issue this statement. Christ, I thought, we are at the thin edge of the wedge with ID and creationism if such statement even need to be made. Prof. Jones in part cited the rise of fundamental Islam and Christianity as reasons for the apparent increase in creationism, but was most dispairing of the special place the PM has for faith schools in the education system. It all seems like madness.
But then I thought about the nice beardy man in purple and my faith in humanity was a little restored. But only a bit. Come on Rowan, have a word with our Tony will you? Or at least make sure Gordon is sensible (and the boy Milliband, just in case). Please.

edit: And Dave too. I suppose.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Hynosurgery... Live!!

So, tonight More4 will be screening a live hernia operation on a hypnotized patient, with no anaesthetic. Crazy. I'll be tuning in for the screams, I'm morbid, I know.

The More4 web site has an interview with the surgeon here, he's done a couple of these before, and seems quite positive but not too hysterical about it, saying that it's not going to replace anaesthesia.
I'd write more, but I've not done my research. Watch this space, maybe. Actually, better to watch this space...

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Bird Flu Mania

Of course, BFM has been sweeping Asia and Europe for some time now, but being an unashamed Blighty-phile, things have now got serious.
A dead swan in Fife was found to have had *the-deadly-H5N1-strain* launching BFM across the UK (though as the swan was far far away from where newspapers are written, we're not yet at full scale BFM).
Swans enjoy a unique status in Britain, being feared for their arm-breaking ability yet protected by being owned by the Queen.
Poultry within a 3km radius of the swan have been 'forcibly housed'.
Flu viruses originated in water birds and doesn't normally make them sick, making it easier for the virus to spread (the birds aren't laid up in bed) to other birds. The scary thing about *the-deadly-H5N1-strain* is that it can spread to humans, and as it adapts to new hosts may be more deadly than flu strains seen in the past...

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Sinister Snails Fox Crabs

Sinister: such a great word, made all the better for being a synonym for left handed. I've never trusted them left handers.

What the devil am I blathering on about? Well mollusc fanciers (or malacologists as I bet they call themselves when trying to impress girls, like saying you're a scientician of any sort helps you pick up chicks (and no, there are no female malacologists, but don't quote me on that)), have discovered that contrary to expectations, back in the Plio-Pleistocene (2.5 MYA to 1.5 MYA) snails with a left handed, or sinistral (we got there eventually) whorl, had a better survival rate than their right handed, or dextral, cousins. The shock of this is that left handed species of cone snails pretty much went extinct 1.8MYA, and whelk dextral and sinistral species have lived side by side, suggesting no advantage and a possible disadvantage to sinistrality. The disadvantage coming about due to sexual selection form the females.

This research (Dietl and Hendricks, Biology Letters, 2006) reads like a forensic investigation, where they studied the number of repaired crab claw scars on paired samples of similar sinistral and dextral shell fossils, with increased scars indicating more survived encounters with hungry crabs. I did similar things back in my osteology/forensic anthropology days, but never on snails. I'm no malacologist. Or osteologist for that matter.
They then watched a crab (a box crab no less) attacking whelks and concluded that it has difficulty opening sinistral snails, although this was in the discussion and they don't present much data to back it up. Maybe they have better things to do?
The analogy of left handed snails and left handed boxers, tennis players and baseballers is then made (baseballers? is that right? hmmm, I'm English so I dunno. They don't mention cricket, but it's true there too, also in Biology Letters, Brooks et al), since the "opponent" knows little about the southpaw. Hmmm, best not take this too far or we'll be likening Matthew Hayden to a whelk soon.
It's an interesting point, but if the advantage of sinistrallity was so much, then why are they so rare? It is an advantage to be sinistral in a right handed world in terms of survival, but sexual selection pulls the other way for the right handers, a point they make, but they also finish the article with "it's not all about sex", nice quip. Malacologists eh? What are they like.
I say however, if everything was sinistral, or if sinistral and dextral were found in equal measures, then the opponent (crab or over hyped British tennis player) would have more experience of cackhandedness, and so the advantage would instantly disappear.
And so ends another overly long, poorly written and ill-informed edition of Big Up Science!