Of Schemes and Memes Blog

Best of Nature Network: 4th – 10th June

Festival Fever

logo_wsf.gifSadly, what the New York Times is calling “a new cultural institution,” the World Science Festival, is now over. But for those who were unable to attend this spectacular five day scientific extravaganza, you can relive your experience with our blogging coverage which summarises the festival highlights. Whether you want to learn more about Rosalind Franklin, or to discover the darker side to our universe, you can find links to all of our coverage, as well as other coverage here. Do let us know if we have missed out anything and feel free to share your experience of the festival in the comment threads.

To tie in with our Science Festival theme, this week’s guest blogger is Jan Zalasiewicz, a Senior Lecturer at the Department of Geology, University of Leicester, UK. His main research interests are in palaeoenvironmental change during episodes of Earth history. In his guest post, Making Hay, he reflects on what it’s like to talk about science at a festival and in particular the scientific influences present at the Hay Festival this year:

And, of course, there was lots of conversation, and the meeting of people that normally don’t cross my personal orbit. The Hay Festival is good for science – this year, there were John Barrow, Brian Cox, Martin Rees and many others.

What’s your Colin Firth’s Erdős-Bacon number?

Onto another guest blogger, as this week The Sceptical Chymist blog has been introducing readers to their newest guest blogger, Kyle Finchsigmate, who some of you may already be familiar with. His post, The awards business, considers how scientists are credited in academia:

Academia is a bizarre place where people run around giving each other awards openly but then are occasionally found gossiping maliciously behind each other’s backs. IN FACT, we have become so accustomed to being awarded titles and medals that we have created a commercial enterprise out of the whole business.

colin.jpgNow onto someone who is accustomed to being awarded for his talents, Colin Firth. This week, blogger Eva Amsen reveals that Colin Firth is having a good year after winning an Oscar and having his name published on his very first scientific paper. His paper looks at whether our brains predetermine which way we swing politically:

Firth asked whether the brains actually looked different, and Rees now showed that indeed the progressive voters also had an increased anterior cingulate cortex compared to more conservative voters.

Education – too expensive?

London blogger, Joanna Scott, has also been updating us on Colin Firth’s achievement in her post, Weekend news: Celebrity neuroscientists and a new University for London. Her update includes other important news and on the education front she discusses the announcement of a new private university to be founded in London: the New College of the Humanities. Philosopher AC Grayling is behind the initiative and will be its first master: subjects taught will include the humanities, economics and law and amongst those already signed up to teach are Richard Dawkins, Niall Ferguson, Steven Pinker and Steve Jones:

The for-profit university which has secured private funding, will be based in Bloomsbury and tuition fees will be £18,000 per year – twice the limit for public universities, and the cause of much of the controversy so far.

College: What is it Good For? asks Scitable’s blogger Norman Johnson in his latest post. He is questioning whether the steep price tag for higher education is still worth it. In his post, he weights up the pros and cons of going to university and considers literature written by Harvard’s Bass Professor of English, Louis Menand:

College education does provide substantial economic benefits. Menand points out that as of 2008, those with a four-year college degree earned almost twice as much as those with just a high school diploma.

What do you think? Feel free to have your say in his comment thread.

Enthusiastic about science?

Eric-Wubbo Lameijer has been looking at enthusiasm in his latest post, How to grow a passion. He considers research which indicates that enthusiasm is not a random favour from the gods, nor does enthusiasm for a particular activity seem to be pre-programmed into our genes. He looks at the different types of enthusiasm and suggests ways we can become more enthusiastic in our scientific endeavours:

And if we want to become more enthusiastic about what to do, either to be more successful in it or just to have more fun in daily life, it would help to understand passion’s determinants.

Women, pregnancy and maternity leave

The role of women in science is always a popular theme in the blogosphere and this is the focus of Shannon Weiman’s latest post where she has been reviewing Girl Geek Dinner #9, an event which provides an opportunity for women in the technology industry to meet and network. Held in the world renowned Genentech campus in the South San Francisco Bay, Shannon gives us her thoughts on the day, as well a brief history of the event:

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Founded in London by a woman who was fed up with being treated as inferior by her predominantly male colleagues in the technology industry, Sarah Blow decided to take action and host her own techy events for women.

Karen Vancampenhout continues the women in science theme in her latest post, New horizons, where she is asking whether maternity leave will hinder her science work:

As a soon-to-be mum, I was fascinated by the big baby question on Nature Network’s Woman in Science forum, where Angela Saini wondered if “pausing to have a baby can really damage a scientific career”?

You can find her thoughts on this topic in her post.

This week, Paige Brown has been looking at a major downside to working with Nanomaterials: Pregnancy Complications. In her post she considers a recent article in Nature Nanotechnology which investigates the potential risks of nanomaterials, specifically various sized silica and titanium dioxide nanoparticles, for causing pregnancy complications in mice:

With up to 15% of human pregnancies in the United States being affected by poor fetal growth due to defects in or damages to placental tissue (Cetin 2009), researchers argue that nanomaterials found in many drug formulations as well as several food and women’s cosmetic products deserve a careful investigation.

Her post reveals several food sources containing nano sized particles, such as Slim Shake Chocolate, cooking sprays, pesticides and fertilizers. She also explains what poor fetal growth is and suggests the mechanisms by which these nanomatierials may have a detrimental effect.

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Science Online NYC (SoNYC)

On Wednesday, we hosted our third installment of the monthly Science Online NYC (SoNYC) discussion series. The topic for debate this month was Science and the Law and the panel featured Nadim Shohdy, Simon Singh, Matt Berntsen and Dan Vorhaus. You can find an archive of all of the tweets from the event in a Storify at the end of our summary post, as well as links to other blog content on the event. Finally, if you have any suggestions for a future panel or would be interested in sponsoring one of the events, please get in touch.

Launch of Lindau

This week saw the unveiling of the new version of the Lindau Nobel Community site – a place which hopes to act as a hub for connecting attendees at this year’s Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting. You can find out more about the site’s improvements and features in Lou’s introductory post featured on Scilogs, Blogs are in bloom & social media’s in session:

We still have an official blog, with entries written in both German and English, but this year we also welcome a Spanish and a Chinese blogger to the team (Hello, Yvonne! Hello, Felix!). Again, there’s a Twitter stream of the conversations around the meeting – just add the hashtag #lnlm11 to any of your tweets to be included.

Cystic Fibrosis trial on hold!

The Spoonful of medicine blog have revealed that, after ten years of preclinical work and nearly £30 million ($50 million) in funding, gene therapist, Eric Alton, who was ready to get his cystic fibrosis clinical trial off the ground, has had to put the project on hold. After so much time and effort, the consortium’s funding organization — the Cystic Fibrosis Trust — has found itself £6 million short and the trial has been delayed. You can find out more about this decision in their post:

They had completed the first round of clinical testing to ensure that a single dose was safe. And they were looking forward to the next clinical phase, with the gene therapy administered once a month for an entire year to 120 patients. But then the funding tap ran dry.

E-coli outbreak

ecoli.jpgThis week blogger Tej Nishtala has been discussing the recent _E.coli _outbreak in Germany. In his first post, Rampant E.coli he reveals more details about the outbreak, a brief history of E.Coli infections, as well as his speculations on how antibiotic resistance in bacteria may originate:

Scientists speculate the antibiotic resistance in the bacteria to have originated from either water or soil. One possible explanation I could think of is the non-human sources of selective pressure like the introduction of antibiotics in the animal feed for better growth.

His second post on the matter, E.coli 2011 has its roots in E.coli 2001, reveals that the BGI has released a complete genome map of the E.coli O104 strain responsible for this epidemic. You can find out more in his post.

Continuing this topic, NPG’s News Blog has been asking in their latest update, Europe’s E. coli outbreak: time for the antibiotics? As enterohaemorrhagic E.coli continues to cause an unprecedented number of life-threatening infections in Europe, American medics are questioning Germany’s approach to the outbreak:

…traditional methods are simply not enough to save the lives of many severely ill patients in this outbreak. Ten days ago, German clinicians turned to a new monoclonal antibody therapy called eculizumab.

Finally

In the light of the recent E.coli outbreak and for a funny end to this week’s blogs, Viktor Poor is providing answers to those wondering where these “new” strains of E.coli come from…

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