What We’re Reading
Here are some of the stories that caught NCSE’s eye this week. Feel free to share articles that crossed your screen in the comment section, or e-mail us directly during the week with things that caught your eye. We’ll add the best to our weekly posts.
- NASA Confirms Evidence that Liquid Water Flows on Today’s Mars, NASA, September 28, 2015 — NASA announces evidence that Mars has liquid water. Life on Earth is, of course, all related (because evolution), and all dependent on water. NCSE’s Josh Rosenau ponders whether other kinds of life might arise and evolve on Mars, and, indeed, may be hiding in plain sight on Earth.
- Talking Science and God with the Pope’s New Astronomer, Science, September 29, 2015 — Vatican astronomer Fr. Guy Consolmagno, in an interview with Science magazine, explains why there’s a Vatican astronomer, what a Vatican astronomer does, and how he sees science and religion working together.
- Book Review: Darwin on Evolution: Words of Wisdom from the Father of Evolution, The Dispersal of Darwin, October 1, 2015 — History-of-science blogger Michael D. Barton pans a new collection of quotations from Darwin, noting that some are spurious, some are unsourced, and some aren't even from Darwin.
- Fossils Help to Reveal the True Colours of Extinct Mammals for the First Time, The Conversation, October 1, 2015 — Who would have thought that we could figure out from their fossils what colors long-extinct animals had? Yet Jakob Vinther and Caitlin Colleary explain how they ascertained the color of 49-million-year-old bats.
- Stirring and Amusing, ‘The Martian’ Defines What’s Best about Big Movies, Washington Post, October 1, 2015 — In her review of blockbuster hit The Martian, the Washington Post’s Ann Hornaday praises the movie for its positive portrayal of science, saying, “at a time when a kid can get busted for bringing a DIY clock to school, presidential candidates seriously debate the value of vaccinations and even the Pope can’t win over global warming skeptics, the problem-solving valorized in ‘The Martian’ provides a simultaneously stirring and spirited example of how cool science can be.”
- 3 Share Nobel Medicine Prize for Tropical Disease Drugs, The New York Times, October 5, 2015, and Takaaki Kajita and Arthur McDonald Share Nobel in Physics for Work on Neutrinos, The New York Times, October 6, 2015 — Chemists win Nobel prize: thank microbes. Physicists win Nobel prize for following up on an unexpected result. NCSE’s Josh Rosenau blogs about the role of serendipity in science here.
- Illegal Trade Threatens One-Third of World’s Cacti with Extinction, Newsweek, October 6, 2015 — A study published on October 5 in Nature Plants found that the cacti are among the most threatened taxonomic groups, with 31% of evaluated species found to be at risk. NCSE’s Emily Schoerning points out that while popular press coverage, like that in the Newsweek article cited here, focus on the pressure that illegal trade places on many species, the original research article stresses that agriculture and land use change plays an even more important role.
- NH Presidential Forum on Energy, Environment for GOP Candidates Canceled, National Wildlife Federation, October 7, 2015 — What if they gave a debate, and nobody came? The National Wildlife Federation announces that a proposed forum to discuss energy and environment issues has been canceled due to “insufficient candidate participation” from GOP presidential hopefuls.
- How Giraffes Became Winners by a Neck, Laelaps, October 7, 2015 — Brian Switek reports on a recent research paper on giraffe evolution. We can replace Lamarckian just-so stories now that we know more about how giraffe necks evolved.
- Scientists Recover First Genome of Ancient Human from Africa, The New York Times, October 8, 2015 — Carl Zimmer reports that a complete genome has been recovered and sequenced from a 4,500-year-old skeleton from Ethiopia and reveals some pretty cool things about human evolution.
- The Rise of the Jaw Slingers, October 8, 2015, Not Exactly Rocket Science — If you’ve ever seen a fish skeleton, you know that fish can have terrifying jaws full of teeth. But you might not know that many fish can sling these terrifying jaws out to snatch prey. Ed Yong has the scoop on some new research that provides insights into the evolution of this ability.
- World’s Oceans Facing Biggest Coral Die-Off in History, Scientists Warn, The Guardian, October 8, 2015 — NOAA releases report on coral bleaching suggesting that 5% of world's corals may die in 2015. Interestingly, this appears to be from temperature changes attributable to the current ENSO (El Nino Southern Oscillation) cycle, rather than ocean acidification—a reminder that ecosystems are subject to a multitude of potential stressors.
- Do Conspiracy Theorists See More Patterns in Randomness? Apparently Not, Ars Technica, October 9, 2015 — People more prone to conspiracy theories (a common correlate of science denial) are not actually more likely to see patterns in randomness. UNLESS THE RESEARCHERS ARE JUST HIDING THE EVIDENCE.