Guest Work

This is the Sciblogs guest blog, where we run science-related submissions from the Sciblogs community and beyond. Contact Sciblogs editor Peter Griffin about making a submission - or about hosting a blog on Sciblogs.

The Psychology of Pill Testing - Guest Work

Jan 18, 2018

By Dr Jez Weston Our clients have already purchased drugs and most already plan to use them. Yet when they discover that the substances they have are not the substances they presume them to be, half tell us that they will not take them. This is a significant percentage and, as far as we know, a far larger change of behaviour than that achieved through other means of reducing the harm from drugs. Of course, our clients could be lying to us about their intentions. However, the numbers have been consistent across several years. We also have a disposal jar full of bleach and many clients are willing to destroy their samples in front of us, so we think their intentions are valid. So why are people willing to believe our results and act upon them? We think there … Read More

Did artists lead the way in mathematics? - Guest Work

Jan 18, 2018

Henry Adams, Case Western Reserve University This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article. Mathematics and art are generally viewed as very different disciplines – one devoted to abstract thought, the other to feeling. But sometimes the parallels between the two are uncanny. From Islamic tiling to the chaotic patterns of Jackson Pollock, we can see remarkable similarities between art and the mathematical research that follows it. The two modes of thinking are not exactly the same, but, in interesting ways, often one seems to foreshadow the other. Does art sometimes spur mathematical discovery? There’s no simple answer to this question, but in some instances it seems very likely. Patterns in the Alhambra Consider Islamic ornament, such as that found in the Alhambra in Granada, Spain. In the 14th and 15th … Read More

Data should smash the biological myth of promiscuous males and sexually coy females - Guest Work

Jan 17, 2018

Zuleyma Tang-Martinez, University of Missouri-St. Louis. This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article. That males are naturally promiscuous while females are coy and choosy is a widely held belief. Even many scientists – including some biologists, psychologists and anthropologists – tout this notion when interviewed by the media about almost any aspect of male-female differences, including in human beings. In fact, certain human behaviors such as rape, marital infidelity and some forms of domestic abuse have been portrayed as adaptive traits that evolved because males are promiscuous while females are sexually reluctant. These ideas, which are pervasive in Western culture, also have served as the cornerstone for the evolutionary study of sexual selection, sex differences and sex roles among animals. Only recently have some … Read More

Recreational drugs and the technology of pill testing - Guest Work

Jan 17, 2018

by Dr Jez Weston Drug policy is slowly starting to move from ineffective moralising to the adoption of effective and evidence-based approaches. KnowYourStuffNZ provides drug-related harm reduction at events and music festivals, which in practice means a constant stream of people coming to our tent to get their drugs checked. The need is clear. This summer, for instance, we’ve noticed a particularly strong batch of MDMA (ecstasy) pills circulating at events we are testing at. Worryingly, we have also discovered that one-third of people’s drugs are not what they think they are. More positively, around half the people who discover their drugs are not as expected decide not to take those drugs. We think we can prove that pill testing is the most effective way we know of reducing harm from drugs at events. In this two-part series, … Read More

Babies can learn the value of persistence by watching grownups stick with a challenge - Guest Work

Jan 17, 2018

Julia Leonard, Massachusetts Institute of Technology. This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article. You’re at home trying to make fresh tomato sauce, but can’t seem to get the tomatoes out of their plastic container from the grocery store. The bottom latch is not opening, so you pull harder. Although you’ve never seen this type of tomato container before, you have opened many similar ones in the past. After a minute of trying, you stop to consider the situation – should you keep pushing and pulling? Should you ask a friend for help? Should you give up on fresh tomatoes and just open a can? We make decisions like this all the time. How much effort should we expend on something? We have only so much time and energy in the day. Read More

Scientist at work: I’ve dived in hundreds of underwater caves hunting for new forms of life - Guest Work

Jan 16, 2018

Tom Iliffe, Texas A&M University. This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article. Maybe when you picture a university professor doing research it involves test tubes and beakers, or perhaps poring over musty manuscripts in a dimly lit library, or maybe going out into the field to examine new crop-growing techniques or animal-breeding methods. All of it’s good, solid research and I commend them all. Then there is what I do – cave diving. To study the biology and ecology of coastal, saltwater caves and the marine fauna that inhabit them, my cave diving partners and I head underground and underwater to explore these unique and challenging ecosystems. Often we go to places no other human has been. While the peaks of the tallest mountains can be viewed from an airplane or the … Read More

The ‘greatest pandemic in history’ was 100 years ago – but many of us still get the basic facts wrong - Guest Work

Jan 16, 2018

Richard Gunderman, Indiana University This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article. This year marks the 100th anniversary of the great influenza pandemic of 1918. Between 50 and 100 million people are thought to have died, representing as much as 5 percent of the world’s population. Half a billion people were infected. Especially remarkable was the 1918 flu’s predilection for taking the lives of otherwise healthy young adults, as opposed to children and the elderly, who usually suffer most. Some have called it the greatest pandemic in history. The 1918 flu pandemic has been a regular subject of speculation over the last century. Historians and scientists have advanced numerous hypotheses regarding its origin, spread and consequences. As a result, many of us harbor misconceptions about it. By correcting these … Read More

Quantum speed limit may put brakes on quantum computers - Guest Work

Jan 15, 2018

Sebastian Deffner, University of Maryland, Baltimore County This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.  Over the past five decades, standard computer processors have gotten increasingly faster. In recent years, however, the limits to that technology have become clear: Chip components can only get so small, and be packed only so closely together, before they overlap or short-circuit. If companies are to continue building ever-faster computers, something will need to change. One key hope for the future of increasingly fast computing is my own field, quantum physics. Quantum computers are expected to be much faster than anything the information age has developed so far. But my recent research has revealed that quantum computers will have limits of their own – and has suggested ways to figure out what … Read More

Super-black feathers can absorb virtually every photon of light that hits them - Guest Work

Jan 12, 2018

Dakota McCoy, Harvard University. This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article. What do birds and aerospace engineers have in common? Both have invented incredibly dark, “super-black” surfaces that absorb almost every last bit of light that strikes them. Of course scientists worked intentionally to devise these materials. It’s evolution that brought this amazing trait about in birds. My co-lead author Teresa Feo, our colleagues Todd A. Harvey and Rick Prum and I recently investigated the super-black feathers in some of the most outlandish animals on earth: the Birds of Paradise. These are resplendent birds native to Papua New Guinea and surrounding areas. Males are brilliantly colored, with complicated mating dances. Females, who are drab and brown in comparison, carefully inspect the ornaments and dances of males before choosing their … Read More

Young doctors struggle to learn robotic surgery – so they are practicing in the shadows - Guest Work

Jan 11, 2018

Matt Beane, University of California, Santa Barbara.  This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article. Artificial intelligence and robotics spell massive changes to the world of work. These technologies can automate new tasks, and we are making more of them, faster, better and cheaper than ever before. Surgery was early to the robotics party: Over a third of U.S. hospitals have at least one surgical robot. Such robots have been in widespread use by a growing variety of surgical disciplines, including urology and gynecology, for over a decade. That means the technology has been around for least two generations of surgeons and surgical staff. I studied robotic surgery for over two years to understand how surgeons are adapting. I observed hundreds of robotic and “traditional” procedures at five hospitals and interviewed surgeons … Read More