Science for the People: Pests in the City

sftpThis week, Science for the People is exploring the ways human-made environments support – and shape – the lives of many species we think of as vermin. We’ll talk to Geography and Environmental Studies Professor Dawn Day Biehler about her book Pests in the City: Flies, Bedbugs, Cockroaches, and Rats. We also speak to postdoctoral researcher Clint Penick about his research on the junk food diets of urban ants.

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

Study shows multi-taskers are fooling themselves

This study may be old news to many of you, but I don’t remember encountering it. From my university’s teaching newsletter:

The findings of the third, laboratory-based, study further illuminate the relationship between the use of devices and the potential for distraction. The researchers in this study set out to test whether undergraduates who are “heavy media multi-taskers” might have an improved ability, relative to peers who are “light media multi-taskers,” to filter out distracting information. The researchers defined “media multi-tasking” or simultaneously engaging with different media—including print, television, computer-based video, music, text messaging, instant messaging, web-surfing, email. Their findings were precisely the opposite of what they had expected to find: heavy media multi-tasking was related to a reduced ability to ignore distractions and focus on pertinent information—even after accounting for potential differences in academic aptitude, personality and performance on standard creativity and memory tasks. Continue reading “Study shows multi-taskers are fooling themselves”

Do you want to see the research you pay for?

Then you should sign a petition to encourage the White House to require all tax payer funded research publications to be freely available online.


Require free access over the Internet to scientific journal articles arising from taxpayer-funded research.

We believe in the power of the Internet to foster innovation, research, and education. Requiring the published results of taxpayer-funded research to be posted on the Internet in human and machine readable form would provide access to patients and caregivers, students and their teachers, researchers, entrepreneurs, and other taxpayers who paid for the research. Expanding access would speed the research process and increase the return on our investment in scientific research.

The highly successful Public Access Policy of the National Institutes of Health proves that this can be done without disrupting the research process, and we urge President Obama to act now to implement open access policies for all federal agencies that fund scientific research.

* via access2research

Energy and information (or lack thereof) in biological thinking

Eric Smith, “Thermodynamics of Natural Selection” (PDF):

The two paradigms dominating biological theory are the machine-like functioning of componentry (increasingly elaborated in molecular biology) (Alberts, 2002), and the Darwinian framework for understanding the stochastic dynamics of death and reproduction (Gould, 2002; Lewontin, 1974). The representation of biological processes as machines is often by way of models, which represent control flow and causation, and for which the goal is to conceptually or quantitatively reproduce typical observed behaviors (mechanisms of binding, Stormo and Fields, 1998, transcription or translation, Berman et al., 2006, cell cycling, Novak et al., 2001, regulation of cell division, Tyson et al., 2002 or metabolic pathways, Holter et al., 2001, etc.). Energy naturally appears in these contexts as an input, as a quantitative constraint, or as a medium of control. However, models constructed for the purpose of illustrating causality often diminish the importance of the incursion of error at all levels of organization and the consequent energetic costs of systemic error correction, and so are not suited to composition into a system-level description of either emergence or stability. At the other extreme, Darwinian selection is a purely informational theory, concerned with emergence and stabilization through statistical processes. Yet, for lack of a comprehensive theory of individual function, models of the dynamics resulting from selection inevitably take for granted (Hartl and Clark, 1997) the platform of physiology, growth, development, and reproduction, decoupling the problem of information input from energetic constraints on the mechanisms by which it occurs.

I’ve always had a hunch that this was true…

Retracted Science and the Retraction Index:

A plot of the journal retraction index versus the impact factor revealed a surprisingly robust correlation between the journal retraction index and its impact factor (P < 0.0001 by Spearman rank correlation) (Fig. 1). Although correlation does not imply causality, this preliminary investigation suggests that the probability that an article published in a higher-impact journal will be retracted is higher than that for an article published in a lower-impact journal.

The charitable interpretation is that high-impact journals are willing to take higher risks in exchange for a bigger splash. And of course there is a not-so-charitable interpretation… a focus on big splash and getting a big scoop trumps scientific rigor.

(h/t io9)

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