Author Archives: Josh Witten

Falkland Islands or Bust

Get your NIH study section on and make a decision about the funding of important research. Students of Dr. Jacquelyn Gill of the University of Maine, who started #scishirt, are crowdfunding $10,000 for their research project looking at the climate history of the Falkland Islands. As of this writing, they have ten more days to a little more than $4000.

The Falklands Islands are a biodiversity hotspot in the South Atlantic, but are threatened by climate and land use change. To protect penguins, marine mammals, and other species, we need to better understand how the islands have responded to past periods of rapid climate change. Funds raised through this campaign will help us take peat cores, to establish a climate and ecological history for the Falkland Islands spanning the last 20,000 years.
-Penguins, plants, and people: Getting to the core of climate change in the Falkland Islands

Science a Movie Title – #ScienceaMovieTitle

Starting with #SciWars, we’ve been in the semi-regular habit of dedication Fridays to sciencing quotes from a particular movie, with one brief (or not so brief) foray into Shakespeare (#ShakesPeerReview). Often, the biggest challenge is not picking a great movie to do, but figuring out a good, science-y hashtag* (see #GhostBusterSci for an example of such difficulties).  So, I thought we could crowdsource some ideas. We got more than a few (as of this writing, there had been about 1000 #ScienceaMovieTitle tweets).

Today, we kicked off #ScienceaMovieTitle with:

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Haven’t run the numbers on it, but I can be pretty sure using a tortilla chip and guacomole to simulate the Philae landings is now the second best thing I’ve done on the Internet.

Click the image below for a progressively more complete Storify collection of the #ScienceaMovieTitle tweets. UPDATE: Your #ScienceaMovieTitle tweets required not one, not two, but three Storifys to contain them. We have a trilogy. Just as your favorite deity or deity replacement intended.

Screenshot 2014-11-21 14.25.23*I also have a backlog of scienced movie titles that amuse me, but aren’t associated with enough great lines to be good fodder for script rewrites (see #ConanthePostDoc for an example where folks only know one line – though there are SO many really).

Science for the People: The Psychopath Whisperer

sftpThis week on Science for the People, we’re looking at the science of psychopathy. We’ll spend the hour learning  about social science research, neuroimaging and behavioral therapies with Kent Kiehl, neuroscience researcher, lecturer and author of The Psychopath Whisperer: The Science of Those Without Conscience.

*Josh provides research help to Science for the People and is, therefore, completely biased.

The Palette of Dunloe

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Gap of Dunloe (County Kerry, Ireland); Photo Credit: Josh Witten (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

In 2011, we took the family to County Kerry in Ireland for Easter (I was working at the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge, UK at the time). One of the highlights of the trip was walking at the Gap of Dunloe. The gorse was in full bloom, providing a bright contrast to the greens, greys, browns, and blues of the landscape.

We didn’t really do much. Just walked. And looked. Among all the wonderful mornings we have had as a family, that morning at the Gap of Dunloe is a stand out. Afterward, the kids fell asleep in the car and we took a leisurely drive around the Ring of Kerry.

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cropped-dunloe-vintage-fp-banner-trans-3 Since Mike and I founded The Finch & Pea, we’ve slowly and steadily made superficial changes to the site’s style, without getting away from our original “online science pub” idea. We still love the concept; but we (by which I mean me) like to fiddle with things. So, over a series of incremental changes, we’ve changed quite a bit – as you can see from looking at our various site headers.

Maybe it is the approaching winter and shortening days. Maybe it is the pessimistic feeling that our Internet home is a bleak Mad Max wasteland roamed by gangs of sociopaths, pock-marked by outposts of civilization. Maybe I was procrastinating. Whatever the reason, we decided to brighten up some of the colors around the joint, while still being recognizable and feeling like home. We wanted to keep the same general theme to our site colors, but draw the updated versions from nature.

Gap of Dunloe (County Kerry, Ireland); Photo Credit: Josh Witten (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Gap of Dunloe (County Kerry, Ireland); Photo Credit: Josh Witten (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

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Specula-tion

Rose Eveleth, editor at The Atlantic, spent the last few days targeted by threats and abuse for being the first to say the same thing we did, but being a woman while doing so.

Today, she came back with a ridiculously good article – “Why No One Can Design a Better Speculum” – on the racist/misogynist history of the despised speculum and why we’ve been unable to substantially improve on the basic design for 150 years:

One might expect our modern spirit of innovation and disruption to turn its eye on the speculum. Surely something invented so long ago, under such dubious circumstances, could use an update. And many have tried. In the past 10 years, new designs for the speculum have continuously cropped up, only to fade away again. But while medical manufacturers continue to improve the design in little ways, there has been no real contender to displace the duck-billed model. The speculum’s history is inextricably linked to extreme racism and misogyny. But for all that, it just may be the best design we’re ever likely to have.
- Rose Eveleth, The Atlantic

The article does include images of specula and technical illustrations of female anatomy, which may not be considered “Safe for Work” in your workplace.