Of Schemes and Memes Blog

Best of Nature Network, nature.com blogs and Scitable: 5 – 10 February

Telepathy? I think not

Nature’s Neuroscience blog, Action Potential, discusses how frustrating it can be when the press over-hype science stories relating to reading brain activity. I-han Chou considers a paper which typifies this effect, a study from Jack Gallant‘s lab about a model for decoding natural images from fMRI activity:

Speaking of overhyping, why are decoding studies always the ones described as ‘mind reading’? If mind reading is the inference of mental state by another individual, then isn’t any measurement of brain activity mind reading? Not just evoked and voluntary fMRI and ERP activity in humans, but receptive field mapping in macaques, recording during escape behavior in flies; it’s all inference of mental state. Of course, “mind reading” is a convenient and accessible shorthand for describing the analysis of brain activity – I’ll confess, I’ve used it, though not about decoding. But after seeing how it’s been extrapolated I doubt I will again.

Continue to the post to find out more.

Book reviews

 Eva Amsen reviews Angela Saini’s new book, Geek Nation:

The geeks introduced in the book are a different breed of geek than the ones we’re used to. They’re not all-round geeks, with geeky hobbies and creative pastimes, but they’re very focussed on their careers. Students at the prestigious Indian Institute of Technology are driven by the pressure of academic success and the promise of a good job after graduation. They barely have time off – let alone hobbies.

Have you read the book? Let us know if you enjoyed it in the comment thread.

In another book review, GrrlScientist has been evaluating university lecturer and writer Eric Scerri’s newest book, The Periodic Table: A Very Short Introduction:

 In this book, we are introduced to an interesting cast of international characters, including physicists, chemists, geologists, teachers, tradesmen and nobleman, all who played a role in the discovery and evolution of the periodic table. Notably, we meet Scottish physician, William Prout, whose proposal that all matter was composed of hydrogen atoms motivated the scientists of the day to obtain ever more accurate weights for each atom in their quest to prove whether his hypothesis was correct.

For further reading you can check out Eric Scerri’s guest post on Soapbox Science from December; The periodic table: matter matters.

Open Season

Now onto this week’s Soapbox Science post, “Open Science” by author Misha Angrist who considers the relationship between patients and researchers:

We complain about lack of public support for science, funding cuts, and public skepticism about evolution, climate change and, for all I know, gravity. As I imagine you are, I am deeply vexed by both the bean counters and the deniers. And it is entirely possible that nothing will sway them. But if we insist upon paternalism (“you can’t handle the truth”), elitism (“you can’t understand the truth”), and legalism (“if I tell you the truth, you will sue me”), then we can be certain of it.

If biomedical science remains an “us and them” proposition, it bodes well neither for us nor for them.

What are your thoughts on his post?

17, it’s a magic number

GrrlScientist  explains that 17 is the minimum number of clues required to give a unique sudoku solution — but how did mathematicians prove this?

Of course, sudoku’s popularity has led to a number of mathematical questions focused on its unique solutions, such as, how many unique sudoku puzzles are possible? (6.67 x 1021) What are the greatest number of clues that can be provided that will not give an unique solution? (77 — just 4 less than a filled grid) What are the fewest clues that can be provided that will give an unique solution?

You can find a video which explains all in her post.

Science Online conference

Scitable’s high school blogger, Sabrina DeRiso, is revealing some of the lessons she took away from the Science Online conference which took place in North Carolina last month:

A great trick I learned was when stumbling upon a topic you want to write about, think of all possible way to discuss a topic. This encouraged me to not look past a hard topic that interests me.

If you attended Science Online North Carolina, why not impart the pearls of wisdom you took away from the conference in her comment thread?

Debating H5N1 and dual-use research

On 2 February, scientists and public health officials squared off in a panel discussion at the New York Academy of Sciences and Brendan Maher has been reporting on this conversation on the News blog.  Debate raged around the fate of two papers which describe a mutant strain of the avian influenza virus H5N1. The virus is capable of mammal-to-mammal transmission, which has raised concern that it might be transferable to humans. Several panelists sat down with Nature News to discuss their positions and you can watch this discussion in the video below:

The power of statistics

Valentine’s day is approaching, but how can you show your love to your partner? Viktor Poor has one idea:

Do you have any better suggestions?



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