Of Schemes and Memes Blog

Best of Nature Network: 21 – 26 May


This week the annual two-day Science Communication Conference took place in London, its aim being to address the key issues facing science communicators in the UK, bringing together those involved in public engagement. People from a range of backgrounds including science journalists, charity workers, broadcasters, press officers and policy-makers gathered at Kings Place London. It was a great opportunity for attendees to share ideas, learn about developments and network. For those unable to attend, we have created a couple of Storify storyboards to collate all of the tweets from the event. You can see the Day 1 Storify here and the Day 2 Storify here. Feel free to leave your own memory of the event in the comment thread.

Now onto another popular annual event: the Lindau Nobel Laureate conference. From June 26 – July 1, 2011, 25 Nobel Laureates and 570 young researchers from 80 countries will meet at Lindau in Germany to exchange ideas, discuss projects and build international networks. This will be the 61st Lindau Meeting of Nobel Laureates and this year is dedicated to Physiology/Medicine. You can find out more about the preparations for this event in Scilog’s blogger Beatrice Lugger’s post, Preparing for Lindau 2011. Her post discusses how social media will be used to cover the event’s activities. In the meantime, you can keep updated about the event through twitter #lnlm11.

Animal traits

This week GrrlScientist has been taking a close look at the common North American songbird, the white-throated sparrow. She reveals that it may be evolving a second pair of sex chromosomes! You can find out more in her post.


Another type of flying animal is relevant to Kausik Datta’s latest post in which he reveals that, in much the same way as bats do, some people can “see” their world in sound. Kausik dissects a recent post by Ed Yong who presents a fascinating study – published in PLoS One – about how some blind human beings are able to use the technique of echolocation; they make clicking noises with their tongue (or with an object like a cane) and, from the rebounding echoes, are able to estimate not only the presence of objects in their paths, but also the distance, size, shape and texture of those objects:

This is amazing! I have seen adult blind individuals walking around with the aid of their foldable walking stick; they would tap the ground ahead of them before placing a foot ahead. But if taught how to echolocate, these people should be able to lead assistance-free, normal lives, engage in regular activities, and not be at risk for getting injured even on busy streets. The possibilities are endless.


This week’s guest blogger is Steve Fuller, a Professor of Social Epistemology in the Department of Sociology at the University of Warwick. In his guest post, What The Computer Says About Who We Are he considers a staged on-line debate held by the Economist in October 2010. They were asking which is the most important technological innovation of the 20th century – the digital computer or the artificial fertiliser. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the computer won by a margin of 3-to-1 and Steve questions why this is in his post:

Seen in this light, it is not surprising that an invention that ‘merely’ keeps alive our normal biological bodies – such as the artificial fertiliser – should be ranked decidedly lower than the computer in terms of importance. Back in the 1960s, the economist Thomas Schelling argued that you can tell the value that people place on their own lives by the amount they are willing to pay for securing it.

An interesting debate has been sparked in his comment thread; feel free to join in.

Science Writing

Paige Brown in her latest post, Motion, Theme, and a Human Face is looking at science writing, providing some top tips to make it engaging for non-scientists. She argues that science writing requires a human element:

However, the human element of story is paramount when it comes to non-scientists reading science writing, enjoying science writing, and going on with their lives all the more knowledgeable and inspired to see science as relevant to their daily lives..

Paige also discusses the challenges faced for scientists who attempt to incorporate the human element into their news, article or blog posts, providing some advice to help overcome these difficulties.

In line with the writing theme, blogger Richard Williams in his latest update, how do you write highlights a number of interesting character traits that he has acquired over his years of studying. He asks what writing techniques work for other grad students and fellow scientists, encouraging those who have similar foibles to join in the discussion:

The second observation, is that I find it difficult to write on demand. I actually think I’m not a bad ‘morning person’, but when it comes to writing, I’ve realised I need a couple of hours for my brain to actually wake up. I’ve therefore decided to allocate the reading of papers, planning of the immediate tasks at hand, or just listening to music in order to get the grey matter ticking over in the morning.

Heart disease

Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States and costs the country upwards of $316 billion in terms of healthcare costs, drugs and lost productivity. This week the Spoonful of Medicine blog, brought to you by Nature Chemistry, reveals that a team of researchers are introducing a new type of catheterization procedure which produces detailed images of the fatty build-up inside blood vessel walls in the heart, hoping to identify those at the highest risk of a heart attack:

“This may be a new way to identify high risk plaques in coronary arteries— the ones responsible for heart attacks,” says Farouc Jaffer of Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, lead author of a paper describing the technology that appears in Science Translational Medicine today.

You can find out more about this new approach in their blog post.

Now onto a habit that is often related to heart disease – smoking. Blogger David Johnson, in his latest post Impulsivity and teen smoking looks at a recent Nature Neuroscience study that has provided even more reasons for teens to avoid smoking:

Researchers from the Netherlands found that in adolescent rats, exposure to smoking led to increased and long lasting impulsiveness and impaired measures of attention in adulthood. In contrast, adult animals exposed to similar levels of nicotine did not show these long term effects. So, the impulsiveness that might lead a teen to try smoking could be increased by the very product of that impulsiveness, creating a vicious feedback cycle. Nasty business.

David’s take home message is definitely clear: Parents, do everything you can to keep your kids from smoking! You can find out more in his post.

Onto something desktop.bmp else that can also prove dangerous – radiation. This week’s Sciable’s blogger Naseem S. reveals that only 10% of Americans can actually explain what radiation is. She explains how is it ironic that even though many of us are unaware of radiation (because our senses can’t detect it), it is all around us:

Microwaves, radios, and even bananas all expose us to radiation. But the danger isn’t found in substance, it is the type of radiation and length of your exposure to it that you should be worried about.

The post gives a full breakdown of what radiation is, the different types and the health risks it poses.

Out of this world

A very short post this week from Barbara Ferreira who is directing us to the newest press release of the European Southern Observatory (ESO), the very first science release she has helped research:

ESO’s Very Large Telescope (VLT) has teamed up with NASA’s Cassini spacecraft to study a rare storm in the atmosphere of the planet Saturn in more detail than has ever been possible before. The new study by an international team will appear this week in the journal Science.

Reporting on another mission, NPG’s News blog have revealed in their latest blog post, NASA plans asteroid sample return that NASA will launch an asteroid sample return mission in 2016. The mission, called the Origins-Spectral Interpretation-Resource Identification-Security-Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-REx), will be the first by the US to bring back material from an asteroid.

OSIRIS-Rex will bring back from 60 grams to 2 kilograms worth of material. OSIRIS-REx may also be more relevant to the question of life’s origins because it will visit a carbonaceous meteorite, 1999 RQ36 , that may harbor organic materials like amino acids that may have seeded the Earth 4.5 billion years ago


This week Towel Day was celebrated as a tribute by fans of the late author Douglas Adams. On this day, fans carry a towel with them to demonstrate their love for the books and the author, as referred to in Adams’ The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. In Viktor Poor’s latest comic strip he shows how everyone arrived at the lab on Towel Day……

towel day 2011.png


  1. Report this comment

    Bob O'Hara said:

    This week’s guest blogger is Steve Fuller, a Professor of Social Epistemology in the Department of Sociology at the University of Warwick

    I have to say, I was disappointed that NN gave the soapbox to Fuller. For those who don’t know, he appeared at the Dover trial for the Intelligent Design side, arguing in favour of ID being taught in schools. Should Nature Network really be promoting people who are anti-science?

  2. Report this comment

    Lou Woodley said:

    Hi Bob, thanks for your comments.  The intention with this week’s Soapbox Science post was not to "promote people who are anti-science". As you know, the guest posts are opportunities for individuals to express their opinions on a new project, book, event or other topic, with the aim of sparking some debate. We’re not endorsing, nor promoting any item or thesis presented on those posts and we simply thought that the topic of Steve’s post was an interesting one (and completely separate from the Intelligent Design argument). Sorry for an offence it might have caused.

  3. Report this comment

    Steve Fuller said:

    In any case, I’m not ‘anti-science’ .  However, I am anti-dogmatism, though some people who consider themselves ‘pro-science’ sometimes confuse the two sorts of opposition, as perhaps in this case.

Comments are closed.