Of Schemes and Memes Blog

Best of Nature Network, nature.com blogs and Scitable: 11 – 13 April

The Ethics of Transplants – Why Careless Thought Costs Lives

Soapbox Science is the nature.com guest blog. This week’s post is by Janet Radcliffe Richards, Professor of Practical Philosophy at the University of Oxford. In her post she looks at the moral dilemmas associated with transplants:

Transplants save and transform lives;  but the only way to get an organ is to take it from someone else, and this has produced a quite distinctive set of moral and practical problems.  Not surprisingly, people have strong feelings about their organs, and ever since they understood that parts of their own bodies could be transferred to others, they have demanded explicit rights to control their use. Thousands of people deteriorate and die every year because the organs that could save them are not available, but transplantation scandals are hardly ever about lives unnecessarily lost:  they are about organs said to have been improperly procured.  Those are the stories that really stir up the public, and cause donation rates to drop still further.

Do you agree with Janet’s thoughts? Feel free to join in the conversation.  You can also let us know if you’ve an idea for a topic that you’d like to see discussed on the Soapbox – we welcome contributions about all areas of science and science outreach.

A green revolution for the Arab Spring

Mohammed Yahia reports in the House of Wisdom Blog that Najib Saab, an environmentalist and secretary general of the Arab Forum for Environment and Development (AFED), suggested  in a commentary piece last week on SciDev.Net that the Arab world needs to invest in science research which focuses on a shift to green economies:

Saab suggests several measures that should have positive effect on the economy, such as shifting to sustainable agricultural practices, which could save up to US$114 billion annually and create millions of jobs in rural poorer communities. Reducing energy subsidiaries and greening existing buildings in the overflowing cities of the Arab world should also save billions. He argues that science and research policies should be employed to help this transition to green economies.

Many developing countries are often wary that investing in green economies will come with a substantial initial investment but Saab stresses it will bring net profits to the region as a whole.

Find links to the full commentary piece in Mohammed’s post.

Cognitive Embodiment

Scitable’s blogger Taylor Burns is discussing cognitive embodiment in his latest post. He explains that it is a complex and fascinating research area and that cognition is a situated activity; our bodies (and surroundings) influence our cognition, just as the mind influences bodily function:

A classic example is a study done by Yale psychologist John Bargh, where participants holding warm as opposed to cold cups of coffee were more likely to judge a someone as trustworthy. A more recent British study found that volunteers who washed their hands rated a moral dilemma as being less severe than did volunteers who didn’t wash their hands.

You can also find a simplified list of other example associations in Taylor’s post, as well as a video displaying an example of the phenomenon.

A puzzling earthquake

Helen Thompson reports in the News Blog that the 8.6 magnitude earthquake which shook the seafloor 400 kilometers off the west coast of Aceh in northern Sumatra on 11 April (see map) may not have been a killer, but its surprising power has seismologists rattled:

The quake, which lasted about 100 seconds, bears little resemblance to the catastrophic 9.1 magnitude quake that struck the same region in December 2004. Yesterday’s quake was marked predominantly by ‘strike-slip’ motion – meaning that two sections of Earth’s crust rubbed against each other horizontally rather than one piece thrusting up over or down under another. The absence of vertical motion accounts for why the quake did not generate a major tsunami. Nevertheless, this quake has generated some provocative scientific questions.

What makes this earthquake unique? Find out in the post.

Just in time for the Diamond Jubilee!

GrrlScientist is linking out to a science video in her latest post, just in time for the Diamond Jubilee. It’s the first time ever that the portrait of Queen Elizabeth II has been etched onto a diamond. In the video you can see where the diamond came from, which image was etched and how the etching was done:

Milepost for solid-state quantum bits

Physicists have succeeded in entangling two quantum bits, or qubits, within a semiconductor trap — a basic building block of a quantum computer, reveals Eric Hand in the News Blog. 

“It establishes a very important benchmark,” says Amir Yacoby, a physicist at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, who led a team publishing the result today in the journal Science.

Quantum computers are being sought for their ability to pursue complicated problems beyond the ken of classical computers, such as decryption, and would employ the peculiar qualities of qubits. Unlike classical bits, qubits take advantage of the quantum mechanical phenomenon of superposition, which allows them to store a 0 and 1 at the same time. Entangling two qubits allows simultaneous operations on the equivalent of four classical bits, while 14 entangled qubits would store 16,384 bits, and so on, exponentially. According to IBM, 250 qubits would contain more bits than there are atoms in the Universe.

Continue to the post to find out more.


Nature Network blogger, Eva Amsen, reveals her own opinions about the use of social site Pinterest for communicating science to the general public:

And the dreaded questions were asked: “How can we use this for science?”

You can’t, okay! Just leave it!

Not EVERYTHING on the internet has to be twisted and molded into some sort of vehicle for science communication. If it’s a good fit for such communication, like blogging or Twitter, it will happen. But if you try to force your professional research interests onto something that is so purposely modeled after scrapbooks and inspirational pinboards and NOT after anything remotely resembling the way you normally distribute or find scientific information, you are only going to be annoyed and disappointed. Disappointed with the way it functions. Disappointed with the restrictions it imposes.

Do you agree with Eva’s thoughts? Feel free to join in the heated discussion online and in her comment thread. 

Oldest human remains of far north

An archaeologist’s dream is unearthing old human remains, especially when they are 11,500-years-old. In their latest post, The Frontier Scientists reveal that last summer, archaeologist Ben Potter did just this after supervising a group of researchers digging on an ancient sand dune above the Tanana River.

The University of Alaska Fairbanks researcher recognized parts of a skull from a large mammal — possibly human — though he knew the chances of that were astronomically low. Potter scraped the soil with the blade of his trowel. He heard a click. As he blew away tan silt as fine as flour, there was a human molar.

“Everybody stop!” he said to the others digging at the site.

Because he knew that artifacts found at the level of the tooth were about 11,500-years-old, Potter suddenly realized he was in the midst of an archaeologist’s dream — he and his team had unearthed the oldest human remains found in the far north.

(Photo: Bone fragments from a three-year old who died 11,500 years ago in the Tanana Valley.)

Find out what scientists can learn from this discovery in the post.


Choosing a scientific vocation can involve challenging and unanticipated decisions, often with no tour guide to follow. 

This was the main focus of last week’s Soapbox Science series where we heard from 13 guest bloggers all sharing their career transitions. Nature Jobs blogger, Rachel Bowden has compiled a handy summary of the series here.  Have a read and let us know your thoughts, or feel free to join in the online conversation.


Check out this science cartoon on phrenology from Viktor Poór, then see how can you improve yourself:


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