Science and journalism have a delicate relationship. Science needs its message to disseminate through the public; journalists need news to disseminate. But like a group of children playing telephone, the message can become distorted. Mistakes are inevitable because research is messy. This quintessentially human endeavor is a lengthy and ongoing process that takes time to smooth out mistakes and biases. At best, these mistakes fizzle from the news circuit. At worst, they can harm public health.
A major impediment to the scientific endeavor today is a lack of transparency, communication, and public visibility. In 1991, the fields of mathematics, physics, and computer science came up with a partial solution to this problem, arXiv.org, an online repository and forum to store, disperse, and discuss preprints, which are scientific manuscripts and communications prior to peer-review. While there is an increasing recognition of the role preprints play in the future of scientific communication, the life sciences have been indisputably behind the curve. However, this is rapidly changing, and at the forefront of the revolution is Jessica Polka, Ph.D. She is currently a visiting scholar at the Whitehead Institute and director of ASAPbio, a biologist-driven project to promote the productive use of preprints in the life sciences. I recently had the opportunity to speak with her about the rise of preprints in the life sciences.
After a long day at work, you just want to unwind with some entertainment on your commute back home. What if you could learn about some fun scientific topics, say trash-eating robots or cannibalistic galaxies, through an engaging conversation? Hold on, we are not asking you to converse with your fellow commuters (god forbid!). You could just tune in to Elizabeth's podcasts to hear her interview experts on a wide range of topics that explore the role of science in our lives.
Imagine you met a girl at a barbeque who asked you to lick your elbow. Would you try it? Would you make an excuse to get away? What if you did both at precisely the same time?
Using ideas from quantum physics and cosmology, the play Constellations addresses the universal question, what if? What would our lives be like if we had made a different choice? If we said the same words slightly differently? This is the story of a cosmologist named Marianne (Ginnifer Goodwin) and Roland, a bee keeper (Allen Leech) and every decision they ever and never made.
What makes the Alien franchise so impactful is how utterly terrifying the titular Aliens are. These creatures are so grotesque and foreign to audiences, particularly in their reproductive strategy, that fans are simultaneously horrified and fascinated by what is on screen. Perhaps unknown to many viewers, the lifecycle of Xenomorph XX121 from the films is not so unlike that of many common parasites found on our planet. The rest of this essay will compare the biology of the Xenomorphs to parasitoid wasps and nematomorph worms from Earth to illustrate how close to reality the biology of these aliens is and to discuss this exceptional instance of science inspiring artists.
From supernovas to rain, humans to amoebas, all matter can be broken down into three key particles: electrons, protons, and neutrons. But over the years, scientists discovered even more particles, and that neutrons and protons could be broken down into even smaller parts, called elementary particles. Physicists created a theory called the Standard Model to interpret how elementary particles comprise the universe. The model is often depicted as a gigantic equation or as a periodic table of particles as a way to describe complex particle interactions. Strangely enough, some of these interactions are reminiscent of a time in our lives that we’re all too familiar with – high school.
In November of 2016, you may have seen a version of a headline like this: “Male birth control study nixed after men can’t handle side effects women face daily”. Steeped in some truth (a study was indeed cancelled after men experienced harsh side effects similar to what many women experience) and masked by outrage (from readers and authors who didn’t know that the severity of side effects far exceeded those felt by women), the news clearly struck a chord with many people who wish for the burden of birth control to be shared by men and women.