This week, psychologist Brian Nosek and his colleagues from the Center for Open Science released the results of four years of work on a unique project. Since 2011, he and 270 other scientists in The Reproducibility Project have been attempting to replicate 100 previously published psychology studies. The results, published this week in Science, were worse than expected – just 36% of the replicated studies produced as strong a result as the original research.
That sounds pretty bad! But this article by Ed Yong in The Atlantic goes systematically through the issues around study design, publication and replicability and concludes that “failed replications don’t discredit the original studies, any more than successful ones enshrine them as truth.”
Most scientists agree that more efforts like the Reproducibility Project are essential to leading scientific research toward practices that produce more robust results. Luckily, research cats are generally amenable to repeating experiments over and over again, particularly if they involve can openers or pushing objects off tables.
DNA temporary tattoo by the Vexed Muddler
The Science Tribe are a proud people, many of whom display their allegiances on their skin in a dazzling variety of geeky tattoos. Science writers @Scicurious and @Laelaps, for example, both have cool tats designed by @FlyingTrilobite – a caffeine molecule and some dino bones. But there are those who fear the needle, or the commitment, of permanent ink. For them, The Vexed Muddler has created a new series of temporary science tattoos, available in her etsy shop. The Vexed Muddler (aka Peggy Muddles) is a biology lab tech by day, and she knows her microbes. You can chose from a variety of bacteria, a spiky virus and a classic DNA double helix. So be a trendsetter, wear your gut flora on the outside for a change. While you’re at it, you might want to accessorize with one of the Muddler’s lovely ceramic necklaces, in styles ranging from mitochondria to whipworms.
It’s almost time for football season! What has that to do with either science or cats, you ask? Bear with us. We’ll get there.
A few weeks ago, Kathryn Schulz published a widely-noticed article in The New Yorker about “The Really Big One,” that is, on the likelihood of a huge earthquake in the Pacific Northwest of the US. The piece pointed out the dense population and poor earthquake-readiness of the area around the Cascadia subduction zone, which includes the city of Seattle, Washington.
However, at least some scientists in Seattle are preparing for earthquakes, and they’re using their local NFL fans to help them do it. The Seattle Seahawks’ fans are famously rowdy and noisy. After Marshawn Lynch’s “Beast Quake” touchdown in the 2011 NFL playoffs, the crowd’s roars not only shook the Seattle stadium, but also the surrounding ground.
We know this because scientists at the University of Washington in Seattle had placed a sensor just across the street from the stadium. Seismologist John Vidale noticed a clear signal post-touchdown. Vidale realized that the energy of 70,000 fans jumping around for a minute could come close to the energy released by a small earthquake and that athletic events might be a good venue for testing seismic instruments. Football games have the added benefit of being scheduled in advance, unlike earthquakes.
Vidale and his colleagues installed three portable sensors inside the Seahawks’ stadium just before the January 2015 NFL playoff games in Seattle. Somewhat surprisingly, the strongest signal didn’t show up during a game-changing play, but during the halftime show, as the crowd jumped and danced with the music. In addition to testing sensors, the researchers were able to develop software, called QuickShake, to display the seismic recordings on the scoreboard with a delay of just a few seconds. All of this work will help them better measure and analyze seismic activity, and potentially assist in improving building design and earthquake preparedness.
You can learn more about the scientists’ work with the Seahawks here. So that’s the science. Where, you ask, are the cats?
Told you we’d get there.
Why do cats always head straight for that one person who hates or fears them, while avoiding the person who desperately wants to cuddle? According to this article in Slate, the answer is actually slightly more complex than “because fuck you.”
According to Diane Meriwether, “all aggression in the feline world starts with staring,” and people who love cats will tend to look straight at a kitty, while those who don’t will avoid catching the cat’s eye. Furthermore, “When humans don’t like cats, they try not to pet them. If the cat comes over, the person might instinctively pet it once, then he withdraws his hand and hopes the cat will go away. Of course, playing hard-to-get with a cat is one of the best ways to make friends.”
So basically, cats love it when you act like a jerk at a bar, giving them a tiny bit of attention while pretending you’re not really interested, and then backing off. Sigh. If you really can’t bring yourself to act like this, you can always try filling your pockets with catnip.
A researcher at a British museum recently discovered perfectly preserved kitteh paw prints on a roof tile dating from Roman times. An archaeologist at Gloucester City Museum who was examining thousands of fragments of Roman roof tile came across the uniquely-marked fragment, which was excavated in Gloucester in 1969. Archaeologists believe a cat walked across some wet tiles which were drying in the sun in about AD 100.
Lise Noakes of Gloucester City Council noted that “dog paw prints, people’s boot prints and even a piglet’s trotter print have all been found on tiles from Roman Gloucester, but cat prints are very rare.” Most cats, of course, prefer to keep their paws clean and dry. But now that they know their prints are rare and valuable, some enterprising kittehs are sure to jump into the field of custom paint and cement work.