Did the Vikings use crystal ‘sunstones’ to discover America?

By Stephen Harding, University of Nottingham

Ancient records tell us that the intrepid Viking seafarers who discovered Iceland, Greenland and eventually North America navigated using landmarks, birds and whales, and little else. There’s little doubt that Viking sailors would also have used the positions of stars at night and the sun during the daytime, and archaeologists have discovered what appears to be a kind of Viking navigational sundial. But without magnetic compasses, like all ancient sailors they would have struggled to find their way once the clouds came over.

However, there are also several reports in Nordic sagas and other sources of a sólarsteinn “sunstone”. The literature doesn’t say what this was used for but it has sparked decades of research examining if this might be a reference to a more intriguing form of navigational tool.

The idea is that the Vikings may have used the interaction of sunlight with particular types of crystal to create a navigational aid that may even have worked in overcast conditions. This would mean the Vikings had discovered the basic principles of measuring polarised light centuries before they were explained scientifically and which are today used to identify and measure different chemicals. Scientists are now getting closer to establishing if this form of navigation would have been possible, or if it is just a fanciful theory.

[Read more…]

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Ancient societies were far more advanced than we commonly assume

Pacific Standard reports: Trapezoids are, oddly enough, fundamental to modern science. When European scientists used them to simplify certain astronomical calculations in the 14th century, it was an important first step toward calculus—the mathematics Isaac Newton and Gottfried Leibniz developed to understand the physics of astronomical objects like planets. In other words, trapezoids are important, and we’ve known this for nearly 700 years.

Well, the Babylonians knew all of that 14 centuries earlier, according to new research published in Science, proving once again that ancient societies were way more advanced than we’d like to think. [Continue reading…]

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Inferred planet ten times size of Earth has yet to be seen

Science magazine reports: The solar system appears to have a new ninth planet. Today, two scientists announced evidence that a body nearly the size of Neptune — but as yet unseen — orbits the sun every 15,000 years. During the solar system’s infancy 4.5 billion years ago, they say, the giant planet was knocked out of the planet-forming region near the sun. Slowed down by gas, the planet settled into a distant elliptical orbit, where it still lurks today.

The claim is the strongest yet in the centuries-long search for a “Planet X” beyond Neptune. The quest has been plagued by far-fetched claims and even outright quackery. But the new evidence comes from a pair of respected planetary scientists, Konstantin Batygin and Mike Brown of the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) in Pasadena, who prepared for the inevitable skepticism with detailed analyses of the orbits of other distant objects and months of computer simulations. “If you say, ‘We have evidence for Planet X,’ almost any astronomer will say, ‘This again? These guys are clearly crazy.’ I would, too,” Brown says. “Why is this different? This is different because this time we’re right.”

Outside scientists say their calculations stack up and express a mixture of caution and excitement about the result. “I could not imagine a bigger deal if — and of course that’s a boldface ‘if’ — if it turns out to be right,” says Gregory Laughlin, a planetary scientist at the University of California (UC), Santa Cruz. “What’s thrilling about it is [the planet] is detectable.” [Continue reading…]

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Most threats to humans come from science and technology, warns Hawking

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The Guardian reports: The human race faces one its most dangerous centuries yet as progress in science and technology becomes an ever greater threat to our existence, Stephen Hawking warns.

The chances of disaster on planet Earth will rise to a near certainty in the next one to ten thousand years, the eminent cosmologist said, but it will take more than a century to set up colonies in space where human beings could live on among the stars.

“We will not establish self-sustaining colonies in space for at least the next hundred years, so we have to be very careful in this period,” Hawking said. His comments echo those of Lord Rees, the astronomer royal, who raised his own concerns about the risks of self-annihilation in his 2003 book Our Final Century.

Speaking to the Radio Times ahead of the BBC Reith Lecture, in which he will explain the science of black holes, Hawking said most of the threats humans now face come from advances in science and technology, such as nuclear weapons and genetically engineered viruses. [Continue reading…]

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The deep space of digital reading

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Paul La Farge writes: In A History of Reading, the Canadian novelist and essayist Alberto Manguel describes a remarkable transformation of human consciousness, which took place around the 10th century A.D.: the advent of silent reading. Human beings have been reading for thousands of years, but in antiquity, the normal thing was to read aloud. When Augustine (the future St. Augustine) went to see his teacher, Ambrose, in Milan, in 384 A.D., he was stunned to see him looking at a book and not saying anything. With the advent of silent reading, Manguel writes,

… the reader was at last able to establish an unrestricted relationship with the book and the words. The words no longer needed to occupy the time required to pronounce them. They could exist in interior space, rushing on or barely begun, fully deciphered or only half-said, while the reader’s thoughts inspected them at leisure, drawing new notions from them, allowing comparisons from memory or from other books left open for simultaneous perusal.

To read silently is to free your mind to reflect, to remember, to question and compare. The cognitive scientist Maryanne Wolf calls this freedom “the secret gift of time to think”: When the reading brain becomes able to process written symbols automatically, the thinking brain, the I, has time to go beyond those symbols, to develop itself and the culture in which it lives.

A thousand years later, critics fear that digital technology has put this gift in peril. The Internet’s flood of information, together with the distractions of social media, threaten to overwhelm the interior space of reading, stranding us in what the journalist Nicholas Carr has called “the shallows,” a frenzied flitting from one fact to the next. In Carr’s view, the “endless, mesmerizing buzz” of the Internet imperils our very being: “One of the greatest dangers we face,” he writes, “as we automate the work of our minds, as we cede control over the flow of our thoughts and memories to a powerful electronic system, is … a slow erosion of our humanness and our humanity.”

There’s no question that digital technology presents challenges to the reading brain, but, seen from a historical perspective, these look like differences of degree, rather than of kind. To the extent that digital reading represents something new, its potential cuts both ways. Done badly (which is to say, done cynically), the Internet reduces us to mindless clickers, racing numbly to the bottom of a bottomless feed; but done well, it has the potential to expand and augment the very contemplative space that we have prized in ourselves ever since we learned to read without moving our lips. [Continue reading…]

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Scientists who give science a bad name

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According to theoretical physicist and cosmologist, Lawrence Krauss, gravitational waves “may have been discovered!!”


The earlier rumor Krauss referred to was this:


LIGO stands for Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory — a project involving more than 900 scientists. Krauss isn’t one of them.

Following Krauss’s tweet in September, LIGO spokesperson Gabriela González, a physicist at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge, told Davide Castelvecchi she was “upset at the possibility that someone in the LIGO team might have initiated the rumour, although Krauss and other researchers told me [DC] that they did not hear it directly from members of the LIGO collaboration. ‘I give it a 10–15% likelihood of being right,’ says Krauss, who works at Arizona State University in Tempe.”

Krauss has now boosted his confidence level to 60% — a surprisingly high level given that he says this:

“I don’t know if the rumour is solid,” Krauss told the Guardian. “If I don’t hear anything in the next two months, I’ll conclude it was false.”

González now tells Ian Sample at The Guardian:

“The LIGO instruments are still taking data today, and it takes us time to analyse, interpret and review results, so we don’t have any results to share yet.

“We take pride in reviewing our results carefully before submitting them for publication – and for important results, we plan to ask for our papers to be peer-reviewed before we announce the results – that takes time too!” she said.

At this point, it seems like the story might reveal more about Lawrence Krauss than it says about gravitational waves.

What makes Krauss’s excitement so uncontainable when the news will definitely come out — if and when there is news — without his help?

Scientists have a duty to fulfill a role as public educators and there has never before been a time when this need has been greater. To a degree this is an evangelical role, but as with every other individual who assumes such a position, each is at risk of becoming intoxicated by the reverential respect they receive from their audience as message and messenger become intertwined.

This may then lead to an over-extension of authority — exactly what Krauss and fellow scientists who dub themselves antitheists are guilty of when they make pronouncements about religion.

Here’s Krauss on religion and xenophobia:

Last night, The Guardian reports:

More than 200 far-right extremists have been arrested after they went on a rampage during a xenophobic rally in the German city of Leipzig, setting cars on fire and smashing windows.

Many of the extremists were already known to police as football hooligans and wrought chaos on Monday in an area known to be left-leaning, while thousands of supporters of the anti-migrant Pegida movement held an anti-refugee demonstration elsewhere in the city, authorities said.

A total of 211 arrests were made after the Connewitz district of the eastern city was attacked, police confirmed.

Are we to view this as a modern-day crusade in which German Christians purge their fatherland of the invading Muslim hordes?

On the contrary, I doubt very much that many (or perhaps even any) of those involved would be particularly ardent in expressing any religious faith. What is likely beyond doubt is that they were all white.

Xenophobia is generally a form of racism and the xenophobes don’t close ranks on the basis of theological quizzing — they can identify their cohorts and their enemies simply through the color of their skin.

When religion and racism intermingle, the underpinning of the racism is much less likely to be found in religious doctrine itself than it is on prevalent affiliations based on racial, national and cultural identity.

If as they claim, the antitheists want to rescue humanity from religion because of its irrationality, why focus on religion alone? There are many other forms of irrational behavior that are equally if not more destructive.

For instance, the religion in modernity which through advertising relentlessly promotes more widespread and unquestioning faith than that found in any conventional religion, is consumerism: the belief that the acquisition of material goods is the key to human happiness.

You are what you own — I know of no other idea that is more irrational and yet holds such a firm grip on so much of humanity.

This religion has grown more rapidly and more extensively than any other in human history and in the process now jeopardizes the future of life on Earth.

In terms of doctrine, most conventional religions oppose materialism. As the Bible says:

Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal.

The antitheists are going to say this is a bad investment because heaven doesn’t exist, but in doing so they devalue the ecological wisdom contained in such religious efforts to rein in human avarice.

The core criticism of religion is directed at its appeal to beliefs that have no empirical foundation and yet what’s strange about focusing on doctrine is that it glosses over the gulf between belief and practice.

Arguably, the destructive impact of religion derives mostly from the fact that so many believers fail to practice what they profess. They situate the locus of meaning in the wrong place by thinking, this is who I am, rather than this is how I live. In so doing, they inhabit identity traps: static forms of self-definition that obscure the dynamic and interactive nature of human experience.

On this issue, Lawrence Krauss and others could learn a lot from Neil deGrasse Tyson:

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Why life is not a thing but a restless manner of being

Tim Requarth writes: Mike Russell found his moment of inspiration on a warm spring evening in Glasgow in 1983, when his 11-year-old son broke a new toy. The toy in question was a chemical garden, a small plastic tank in which stalactite-like tendrils grew out of seed crystals placed in a mineral solution. Although the tendrils appeared solid from the outside, when shattered they revealed their true nature: each one was actually a network of hollow tubes, like bundles of tiny cocktail straws.

At the time, Russell, a geologist, was struggling to understand an unusual rock he had recently found. It, too, was solid on the outside but inside was full of hollow tubes, their thin walls riddled with microscopic compartments. It dawned on him then that this rock – like the formations in his son’s toy – must have formed in some unusual kind of liquid solution. Russell posited a whole new geological phenomenon to explain it: undersea hydrothermal hotspots where mineral-rich water spewed from Earth’s interior and then precipitated in the cool surrounding water, creating chemical gardens of towering, hollow rocks growing up from the ocean floor.

That was a huge intuitive leap, but it soon led Russell to an even more outlandish thought. ‘I had the epiphany that life emerged from those rocks,’ he said. ‘Many years later, people would tell me the idea was amazing, but it wasn’t to me. I was just thinking in a different realm, in the light of what I knew as a geologist. I didn’t set out to study the origin of life, but it just seemed so obvious.’

What seemed obvious to Russell was that his hypothetical chemical gardens could solve one of the deepest riddles of life’s origin: the energy problem. Then as now, many leading theories of life’s origins had their roots in Charles Darwin’s speculation of a ‘warm little pond’, in which inanimate matter, energised by heat, sunlight or lightning, formed complex molecules that eventually began reproducing themselves. For decades, most origin-of-life research has focused on how such self-replicating chemistry could have arisen. They largely brushed aside the other key question, how the first living things obtained the energy to grow, reproduce and evolve to greater complexity.

But in Russell’s mind, the origin of life and the source of the energy it needed were a single issue, the two parts inextricably intertwined. As a geologist (now working at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California), he came at the problem with a very different perspective from his biology-trained colleagues. Undersea chemical gardens, Russell realised, would have provided an abundant flux of matter and energy in the same place – a setting conducive for self-replicating reactions, and also a free lunch for fledgling creatures. It has long troubled researchers that the emergence of life seems to rely on highly improbable chemical events that lead toward greater complexity. By considering energy first, Russell believed he could address that. In his view, the emergence of biological complexity was not improbable but inevitable. [Continue reading…]

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Dawn of the Anthropocene: Five ways we know humans have triggered a new geological epoch

By Jan A. Zalasiewicz, University of Leicester and Mark Williams, University of Leicester

Is the Anthropocene real? That is, the vigorously debated concept of a new geological epoch driven by humans.

Our environmental impact is indeed profound – there is little debate about that – but is it significant on a geological timescale, measured over millions of years? And will humans leave a distinctive mark upon the layers of rocks that geologists of 100,000,000AD might use to investigate the present day?

Together with other members of the Anthropocene Working Group we’ve just published a study in Science that pulls much of the evidence together.

The case for the Anthropocene might be distilled into five strands:

1. Carbon in the atmosphere

Carbon is important, both due to its growing impact on global warming and because it leaves long-lived geological traces. The increased levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere – now higher than at any time in at least the past few million years – can be found as fossil bubbles in the geologically short-lived “rock” that is polar ice.

But there are wider and more long-lived traces too, in the form of changed patterns of carbon isotopes (absorbed by every living thing) and in tiny, virtually indestructible particles of fly ash released from furnaces and chimneys. These are leaving an indelible signal in rock and soil strata now accumulating.

[Read more…]

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Mapping the Earth from the surface to the core

Steve LeVine writes: This was the defining tension underlying the half-century-long study of the supercontinents: That, unlike in other fields that deal in the very old, the scientists had no time machine. Astronomers, by looking through telescopes at galaxies billions of light years away, are transported back to the early universe. Paleontologists, by stumbling on ancient fossils, can look directly at remnants of prehistoric life. But no instrument or evidence had ever similarly teleported their paleogeologist comrades back to the age of supercontinents.

Instead, paleogeologists painstakingly pieced together their theories using disparate fragments of clues, mainly from the magnetic signatures in old rocks. At first, to give their field a face, they translated these clues into cut-out shapes on paper or in Adobe Illustrator, and strung them together into mosaic-like animations still found today on Google.

But while pretty good as far as they went, most such depictions were faulty in important ways. Among the unavoidable imperfections was their typical reliance on a “flat Earth,” two-dimensional illustrations that distorted the appearance and movement of the continents. In addition, they provided plate movements, but ignored the inextricable system that penetrates thousands of miles into the bowels of the Earth, linked all the way to the core. [Continue reading…]

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Poachers using science papers to target newly discovered species

The Guardian reports: Academic journals have begun withholding the geographical locations of newly discovered species after poachers used the information in peer-reviewed papers to collect previously unknown lizards, frogs and snakes from the wild, the Guardian has learned.

In an age of extinctions, scientists usually love to trumpet the discovery of new species, revealing biological and geographical data that sheds new light on the mysteries of evolution.

But earlier this year, an announcement in the Zootaxa academic journal that two new species of large gecko had been found in southern China contained a strange omission: the species’ whereabouts.

“Due to the popularity of this genus as novelty pets, and recurring cases of scientific descriptions driving herpetofauna to near-extinction by commercial collectors, we do not disclose the collecting localities of these restricted-range species in this publication,” the paper said. [Continue reading…]

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Will we ever understand the beginning of the universe?

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Ross Andersen writes: One crisp day last March, Harvard professor John Kovac walked out of his office and into a taxicab that whisked him across town, to a building on the edge of the MIT campus. People were paying attention to Kovac’s comings and goings that week. He was the subject of a fast-spreading rumour. Kovac is an experimental cosmologist midway through the prime of a charmed career. He did his doctoral work at the University of Chicago and a postdoc at Caltech before landing a professorship at Harvard. He is a blue chip. And since 2009, he has been principal investigator of BICEP2, an ingenious scientific experiment at the South Pole.

Kovac had come to MIT to visit Alan Guth, a world-renowned theoretical cosmologist, who made his name more than 30 years ago when he devised the theory of inflation. Guth told Kovac to take the back steps up to his office, to avoid being seen. If Guth’s colleagues caught a glimpse of the two men talking, the whispers swirling around Kovac would have swelled to a roar.

The science of cosmology has achieved wonders in recent centuries. It has enlarged the world we can see and think about by ontological orders of magnitude. Cosmology wrenched the Earth from the centre of the Universe, and heaved it, like a discus, into its whirling orbit around one unremarkable star among the billions that speed around the black-hole centre of our galaxy, a galaxy that floats in deep space with billions of others, all of them colliding and combining, before they fly apart from each other for all eternity. Art, literature, religion and philosophy ignore cosmology at their peril.

But cosmology’s hot streak has stalled. Cosmologists have looked deep into time, almost all the way back to the Big Bang itself, but they don’t know what came before it. They don’t know whether the Big Bang was the beginning, or merely one of many beginnings. Something entirely unimaginable might have preceded it. Cosmologists don’t know if the world we see around us is spatially infinite, or if there are other kinds of worlds beyond our horizon, or in other dimensions. And then the big mystery, the one that keeps the priests and the physicists up at night: no cosmologist has a clue why there is something rather than nothing. [Continue reading…]

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The magical Solar System discoveries we made in 2015

By Monica Grady, The Open University

It has been a busy year for Solar System exploration – and particularly our galactic neighbourhood’s small icy bodies. Comets, asteroids, Kuiper Belt Objects and planetary satellites have all been in the news – from stunning images of comet 67P Churyumov-Gerasimenko at the start of the year, to the recent close-up of Saturn’s moon, Enceladus, via Ceres and Pluto.

Early January was a continuation of the stream of data from Rosetta, as comet 67P drew closer to the sun. Images were released of jets emanating from the sun-facing surface, from which it could be seen that sublimation of water-ice increased during the daytime, and died down at night. But because the dark surface of the comet retained some heat, the comet was not completely inactive at night – it was possible that fluid might exist for very short periods, leading to sub-surface hydrous activity.

Activity on Comet 67P.
ESA/Rosetta/MPS for OSIRIS Team MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/SSO/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA, CC BY-SA

One of the other significant results from Rosetta was recognition from magnetic measurements that the two lobes of the comet had been separate bodies, presumably brought together by collision.

Closest approach to the sun was in mid-August, a few weeks after the Philae lander signalled that it had woken up after its enforced hibernation. Unfortunately, communication between Rosetta and Philae could not be established reliably, leaving a certain amount of frustration that additional data could not be acquired from the surface.

[Read more…]

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Are humans reaching the limits of our ability to probe the laws of nature?

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Natalie Wolchover writes: Physicists typically think they “need philosophers and historians of science like birds need ornithologists,” the Nobel laureate David Gross told a roomful of philosophers, historians and physicists last week in Munich, Germany, paraphrasing Richard Feynman.

But desperate times call for desperate measures.

Fundamental physics faces a problem, Gross explained — one dire enough to call for outsiders’ perspectives. “I’m not sure that we don’t need each other at this point in time,” he said.

It was the opening session of a three-day workshop, held in a Romanesque-style lecture hall at Ludwig Maximilian University (LMU Munich) one year after George Ellis and Joe Silk, two white-haired physicists now sitting in the front row, called for such a conference in an incendiary opinion piece in Nature. One hundred attendees had descended on a land with a celebrated tradition in both physics and the philosophy of science to wage what Ellis and Silk declared a “battle for the heart and soul of physics.”

The crisis, as Ellis and Silk tell it, is the wildly speculative nature of modern physics theories, which they say reflects a dangerous departure from the scientific method. Many of today’s theorists — chief among them the proponents of string theory and the multiverse hypothesis — appear convinced of their ideas on the grounds that they are beautiful or logically compelling, despite the impossibility of testing them. Ellis and Silk accused these theorists of “moving the goalposts” of science and blurring the line between physics and pseudoscience. “The imprimatur of science should be awarded only to a theory that is testable,” Ellis and Silk wrote, thereby disqualifying most of the leading theories of the past 40 years. “Only then can we defend science from attack.”

They were reacting, in part, to the controversial ideas of Richard Dawid, an Austrian philosopher whose 2013 book String Theory and the Scientific Method identified three kinds of “non-empirical” evidence that Dawid says can help build trust in scientific theories absent empirical data. Dawid, a researcher at LMU Munich, answered Ellis and Silk’s battle cry and assembled far-flung scholars anchoring all sides of the argument for the high-profile event last week.

Gross, a supporter of string theory who won the 2004 Nobel Prize in physics for his work on the force that glues atoms together, kicked off the workshop by asserting that the problem lies not with physicists but with a “fact of nature” — one that we have been approaching inevitably for four centuries.

The dogged pursuit of a fundamental theory governing all forces of nature requires physicists to inspect the universe more and more closely — to examine, for instance, the atoms within matter, the protons and neutrons within those atoms, and the quarks within those protons and neutrons. But this zooming in demands evermore energy, and the difficulty and cost of building new machines increases exponentially relative to the energy requirement, Gross said. “It hasn’t been a problem so much for the last 400 years, where we’ve gone from centimeters to millionths of a millionth of a millionth of a centimeter” — the current resolving power of the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) in Switzerland, he said. “We’ve gone very far, but this energy-squared is killing us.”

As we approach the practical limits of our ability to probe nature’s underlying principles, the minds of theorists have wandered far beyond the tiniest observable distances and highest possible energies. Strong clues indicate that the truly fundamental constituents of the universe lie at a distance scale 10 million billion times smaller than the resolving power of the LHC. This is the domain of nature that string theory, a candidate “theory of everything,” attempts to describe. But it’s a domain that no one has the faintest idea how to access. [Continue reading…]

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A scientific approach designed to precisely calibrate the metrics needed for quantifying bullshit

Science News reports: Dutch social psychologist Diederik Stapel was known for his meteoric rise, until he was known for his fall. His research on social interactions, which spanned topics from infidelity to selfishness to discrimination, frequently appeared in top-tier journals. But then in 2011, three junior researchers raised concerns that Stapel was fabricating data. Stapel’s institution, Tilburg University, suspended him and launched a formal investigation. A commission ultimately determined that of his more than 125 research papers, at least 55 were based on fraudulent data. Stapel now has 57 retractions to his name.

The case provided an unusual opportunity for exploring the language of deception: One set of Stapel’s papers that discussed faked data and a set of his papers based on legitimate results. Linguists David Markowitz and Jeffrey Hancock ran an analysis of articles in each set that listed Stapel as the first author. The researchers discovered particular tells in the language that allowed them to peg the fraudulent work with roughly 70 percent accuracy. While Stapel was careful to concoct data that appeared to be reasonable, he oversold his false goods, using, for example, more science-related terms and more amplifying terms, like extreme and exceptionally, in the now-retracted papers.

Markowitz and Hancock, now at Stanford, are still probing the language of lies, and they recently ran a similar analysis on a larger sample of papers with fudged data.

The bottom line: Fraudulent papers were full of jargon, harder to read, and bloated with references. This parsing-of-language approach, which the team describes in the Journal of Language and Social Psychology, might be used to flag papers that deserve extra scrutiny. But tricks for detecting counterfeit data are unlikely to thwart the murkier problem of questionable research practices or the general lack of clarity in the scientific literature.

“This is an important contribution to the discussion of quality control in research,”Nick Steneck, a science historian at the University of Michigan and an expert in research integrity practices, told me. “But there’s a whole lot of other reasons why clarity and readability of scientific writing matters, including making things understandable to the public.” [Continue reading…]

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Naturalists are becoming an endangered species

By David Norman, University of Cambridge

The phrase “Natural History” is linked in most people’s minds today with places that use the phrase: the various Natural History Museums, or television programmes narrated so evocatively by renowned naturalist Sir David Attenborough.

As times have changed, used in its traditional sense the phrase now has an almost archaic ring to it, perhaps recalling the Victorian obsession with collecting butterflies or beetles, rocks or fossils, or stuffed birds and animals, or perhaps the 18th century best-seller, Gilbert White’s The Natural History of Selborne.

Once natural history was part of what was equally archaically called natural philosophy, encompassing the enquiry into all aspects of the natural world that we inhabit, from the tiniest creature to the largest, to molecules and materials, to planets and stars in outer space. These days, we call it science. Natural history specifically strives to study and understand organisms within their environment, which would these days equate to the disciplines of ecology or conservation.

In a recent article in the journal BioScience, a group of 17 scientists decry what they see as a shift away from this traditional learning (once typical parts of biology degrees) that taught students about organisms: where they live, what they eat, how they behave, their variety and relationships to their ecosystems in which they live.

Partly by the promise of a course-specific career, and perhaps partly because of poorly taught courses that can emphasise rote learning, students are enticed into more exciting fields such as biotechnology or evolutionary developmental biology (“evo-devo”), where understanding an organism is less important than understanding the function of a particular organ or limb.

[Read more…]

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