Scientists this week announced the strongest evidence yet that there may be liquid water on Mars. A paper published in Nature Geoscience described observations made by researchers over the past three years that indicate that water – most likely in the form of a salty brine – appears seasonally on Mars, forming dark lines as it trickles down steep slopes. Although scientists have known for years that Mars once had water, the new evidence provides hope that one day humans may discover life on the red planet. The latest announcement was based on the study of photographs of the surface of Mars. However, we can reveal here exclusively that a super-sekrit kitteh mission led by Commander Kibbles flew up to have a look and can confirm the findings. Yes, there is water, and yes, it is yucky.
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.
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.
This week brought confusing news on the legal status of research animals, as a judge in New York state seemed to grant two chimps legal personhood and then revoke it the next day.
New York Supreme Court Justice Barbara Jaffe signed an order on April 20 requiring Stony Brook University to respond to claims by the Nonhuman Rights Project (NhRP) that two research chimpanzees, Hercules and Leo, were being unlawfully detained. The NhRP then claimed that by this action the judge had implicitly granted the chimps legal personhood, because the document, called a writ of habeas corpus, can only be granted to a person in New York state.
However, after extensive media coverage on April 21, Jaffe amended the order, letting arguments on the detention of the chimps go forward but removing the words WRIT OF HABEAS CORPUS from the top of the document.
Sorry, chimps. As far as legal status, cats really do seem to have it better. In 2012, Hank the cat ran for the senate in Virginia, while in 2011, a cat in Italy inherited $156 million. Power. Money. Noms and naps. What next, kittehs?