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The uBiome controversy

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uBiome is a cool project serving a widely recognized need: the mapping of the human microbiome. We’ve posted about uBiome on Twitter and Facebook, and have generally been pretty jazzed about the enterprise. Our enthusiasm took a major hit, however, when Melissa Bates and other bloggers began to voice serious concerns about the ethical oversight of the project, or rather the apparent lack thereof.

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Muses: DIY spectroscopy

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The Public Lab is, I think, a generally stellar example of how to go about citizen science: they identify genuine, pressing scientific needs that are underserved by existing institutions, develop effective and practical ways of addressing them, and then deftly articulate both to the public. Those steps are difficult enough to get right individually, let alone all at once—and repeatedly. Their ingenuity, insight and deep understanding of practical citizen science makes them not just role models, but inspirations. And that makes them an excellent subject for our first “Muses” post—a category for people and projects we find inspiring.

A whole lot of science fan culture tends to focus on heavy machinery: think the Large Hadron Collider or the Curiosity rover. These things are important for physicists and astronomers (and fans like me), but if you’re in a wetland, a factory, residential area, or salmon farm and you encounter an unknown substance, particle collision is not going to tell you what’s in your water. For that, you need spectrometry. And for that, it turns out, you do not need a PhD. Read More »Muses: DIY spectroscopy

A Habronattus coecatus jumping spider facing down and to the right.

Jumping spiders: Communication and miniaturization

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This should be evident from the title, but in case it’s not: If the combination of the words “jumping” and “spider” disturbs you, this is not the post for you. But if spiders only make you a little uncomfortable, I suggest sticking this one out, because from the perspective of animal behaviour and physiology, these things are cool. They’re also really small, so if for example you had a traumatic experience once involving a very large spider crawling onto your hand without you noticing (hypothetically of course) the miniature marvels that I talk about in this post should seem friendly enough.

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The chimaera with the wheel of teeth

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This is a majorly cool piece by Becky Crew on the Scientific American blog network. It details the slow, incremental progress toward a scientific consensus on a truly weird anatomical feature exhibited by some prehistoric chimaeras (fish that share a relatively recent common ancestor with the modern shark). It’s a great scientific problem. “We’ve discovered what… Read More »The chimaera with the wheel of teeth

Client showcase: Climate risk management

One of our frequent flyers at Talk Science to Me is the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD). IISD is constantly publishing papers about sustainability issues, from just about every sector and every part of the world. They have a massive archive of previous work, which you can browse at your leisure with no paywall. One of the larger projects we’ve worked on for IISD is a series of papers about climate risk management. In this case, IISD contracted with us to help them document an initiative carried out in partnership with the United Nations Development Programme.

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Image permission: Doing it right

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Whether you’re putting together a permanent exhibit or a last-minute powerpoint, it’s all but inevitable that you’ll encounter a point at which the most sensible option is to use material that someone else created. This is more frequently the case with images since they’re usually harder to recreate yourself. And in the age of Google Images and instant screenshots, there’s almost nothing in practical terms that can stop you from using any picture you want. Here at Talk Science however, we recommend being careful with your media usage—and we negotiate image permission for many of our clients.

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The face of an orange cat sleeping.

This just in: Twitter users like cats (#MyParasite poll)

A couple of days ago we posted the first of a series we’re going to call “treasures”: stories about random things in science that we think are beautiful, surprising, amazing or just plain cool. They’re going to be paired with the little circular image icons on our homepage, which we’ll begin rotating, so over time visitors to our site will see a changing set of discoveries. Tuesday’s treasure was the tongue-eating sea louse, a parasitic crustacean that lives inside the mouths of fish—and does exactly what its name says.

Read More »This just in: Twitter users like cats (#MyParasite poll)