17 February 2013

Science Roundup 1

The following are some science stories that I found particularly interesting recently, whether for reported science or for particularly compelling writing or for something just plain interesting. This may become a continuing feature.

The Imperfect Myth of the Female Poisoner. Deborah Blum explains why, despite the continuing myth of poison being a "woman's weapon," it is actually a gender-neutral weapon; historically, the population of poisoners has been divided nearly equally between men and women -- although a larger percentage of female murderers do chose poison.
"In the 1945 Sherlock Holmes movie, Pursuit to Algiers, Holmes (Basil Rathbone) considers it obvious: 'Poison is a woman’s weapon.' And you hear that same thought echoing down the decades, surfacing, for instance, in George Martin’s Game of Thrones in which poison is described, as the preferred weapon of women, craven and eunuchs."
When Experts Go Blind. Virginia Hughes writes about a study in which radiologists focused on looking for cancer nodules failed to see a humorous addition to the scans.
"'It’s a vivid example that looking at something and seeing it are different,' says Drew, a postdoctoral fellow in Jeremy Wolf’s lab. 'You can put your eyes on something, but if you’re not looking for it, then you’re functionally blind to it.'"
Every tooth is correct. Every whisker is correct. Ed Yong featured a new image last week that portrayed the last ancestor of all placential mammals. This week, he talks a little bit about what the team of paleoartists put into this fantastic image. Also new this week: a link to a really big version of the image, in which you can see every single correct detail.
"Palaeoartists—those who reconstruct dinosaurs and other prehistoric beasties—need to create vivid, evocative portraits that are still technically true to the creatures they are trying to depict. The latter task must have been especially demanding when a team of scientists spent 5 years reconstructing every single facet of that creature’s body."
Walnut the True Measure of a Dinosaur's Brain. Brian Switek covers the delightfully silly story of a paleontologist who set out to correct a journalist who compared a dinosaur's brain to the size of a tennis ball. A tennis ball, of course, is much too large to be an accurate comparison for an Ampelosaurus brain.
"In the post, Witmer wrote that he and his colleagues were 'proposing the walnut as the new official unit of measure of dinosaur brain size, based on our microCT-scanned 26.2 cc walnut as the standard.' Of course, this was just some playful paleontology."
Rosemary Learns Hearing. Again. Ann Finkbeiner tells the lovely tale of Rosemary Pryde, who lost her hearing when she was four years old and had to learn to hear with a hearing aid. Over the years it got more and more difficult. Now in her late sixties, Rosemary recently had a cochlear implant and has to learn to hear again.
"The first time Rosemary’s implant is activated, she turns off the hearing aid in her left ear, and hears an angry buzz, then low sounds with pauses – buzz, pause, buzz buzz, pause – then sounds she thinks might be words. Her audiologist is talking to her, so she lip reads and then thinks she really is hearing words, though her audiologist sounds like Darth Vader, a deep, robotic monotone, with the middles of the words fuzzy and the edges of the words somehow frayed."

Every one of these stories gave me pause. I found myself reading them over again more slowly, sometimes a couple times. Which, if any, of these stories appealed to you? Tell me in the comments.