8 August, 2014

Rapid advances in technology have lowered the cost of sequencing an individual’s genome from the several billion dollars that it cost a decade ago to just a few thousand dollars today and have correspondingly greatly expanded the use of genomic information in medicine. Because of the lack of evidence available for assessing variants, evaluation bodies have made only a few recommendations for the use of genetic tests in health care. […] However, due to insufficient evidence, it has been challenging to recommend the use of a genetic test.

Assessing Genomic Sequencing Information for Health Care Decision Making: Workshop Summary

8 August, 2014

The emotion system in animals may thus have evolved by natural selection because it simultaneously enhances three important functions, the behavioural robustness of individuals, the evolvability of gene pools and the rate of evolutionary innovation at several architectural levels.

The emotion system promotes diversity and evolvability

8 August, 2014

In Arabic, as in many languages, the future is “ahead” and the past is “behind.” Yet in the research reported here, we showed that Arabic speakers tend to conceptualize the future as behind and the past as ahead of them, despite using spoken metaphors that suggest the opposite.

When You Think About It, Your Past Is in Front of You

8 August, 2014

We examined the relationship between self-reported sleep duration and false memories and the effect of 24 hr of total sleep deprivation on susceptibility to false memories. We found that under certain conditions, sleep deprivation can increase the risk of developing false memories.

Sleep Deprivation and False Memories

8 August, 2014

These results are similar to those reported previously for human infants, and predictive looking did not differ among the three species of great apes. Thus, great apes make on-line goal-based predictions about the actions of other individuals; this skill is not unique to humans but is shared more widely among primates.

Great Apes Generate Goal-Based Action Predictions

8 August, 2014

Contrary to the contentions of its proponents, no explicit, irreversible ecological thresholds allow distinctions between ‘novel ecosystems’ and ‘hybrid’ or ‘historic’ ones. Further, there is no clear message as to what practitioners should do with a ‘novel ecosystem’. In addition, ecosystems of many types are being conserved, or restored to trajectories within historical ranges of variation, despite severe degradation that could have led to their being pronounced ‘novel’.

A critique of the ‘novel ecosystem’ concept: Trends in Ecology & Evolution

5 August, 2014

Here we analyse all studies to date that have investigated the bees’ dance error. We conclude that the error in the honeybee waggle dance is nonadaptive and that the bees dance as best they can.

Honeybee waggle dance error: adaption or constraint? Unravelling the complex dance language of honeybees

29 July, 2014

What was most striking, though, was finding that Thoreau’s most Transcendentalist (or Romantic) moments, the ones proclaiming that the human mind and the natural world are braided in continuous harmony, are inspired by the very opposite of wilderness. These pronouncements, which made Thoreau such an apt saint for later environmentalists, come in Walden as responses to places where the world is ruptured, broken, split open by human powers. Thoreau’s Romanticism, in a way, was always Anthropocene.

Jedediah Purdy: In the Shit With Thoreau: A Walden for the Anthropocene

27 July, 2014

People love to do hard work together and to feel that the work is real; that is to say primary, productive, needed. Knowing and enjoying the skills of our hands and our well-made tools is fundamental. It is a tragic dilemma that much of the best work men do together is no longer quite right. The fine information on the techniques of hand-whaling and all the steps of the flensing and rendering described in Moby Dick must now, we know, be measured against the terrible specter of the extinction of whales. Even the farmer or the carpenter is uneasy: pesticides, herbicides, creepy subsidies, welfare water, cheap materials, ugly subdivisions, walls that won’t last. Who can be proud? And our conservationist-environmentalist-moral outrage is often (in its frustration) aimed at the logger or the rancher, when the real power is in the hands of people who make unimaginably larger sums of money, people im- peccably groomed, excellently educated at the best universities— male and female alike—eating fine foods and reading classy litera- ture, while orchestrating the investment and legislation that ruin the world. As I grew into young manhood in the Pacific Northwest, advised by a cedar tree, learning the history of my region, practicing mountaineering, studying the native cultures, and inventing the little rituals that kept my spirit sane, I was often supporting myself by the woodcutting skills I learned on the Depression stump-farm.

—Gary Snyder, “Ancient Forests of the Far West

17 July, 2014

A handful of city soil contains more biodiversity than is found on all the dead planets of the solar system….

Biodiversity conservation and the extinction of experience

2 June, 2014
The more you learn about an animal’s behaviour, the more you feel personally invested in its survival. (via Towards an integrated conservation ethology | Biodiversity Conservation)

The more you learn about an animal’s behaviour, the more you feel personally invested in its survival. (via Towards an integrated conservation ethology | Biodiversity Conservation)

22 May, 2014

Redeeming the Sea Lamprey


Quick notes on unloved, unappreciated sea lampreys, since Joe Kernan’s mouth-breathing put them in the news cycle:

> They’re generally described as an invasive species, but there are places — most notably, Lake Ontario, as John Waldman showed — where they are actually natives.

> Where they are natives, they can play an extremely valuable ecological role. To quote an OnEarth Magazine article of my own on Penobscot River  restoration, from a section about research on migratory fish by Steve Coghlan and colleagues at the University of Maine:

Coghlan came to Maine from upstate New York, where it wasn’t uncommon for biologists to poison entire streams in hopes of exterminating lamprey. At Sedgeunkedunk, he has found them to be, unexpectedly, a keystone species: to build spawning nests they thrash rocks into place, in the process dislodging fish eggs and invertebrates for other creatures to eat, and loosening gravel for salmon to build their nests. When lamprey die, their decomposing bodies provide a burst of food for insects and microorganisms at the food chain’s base.

Downstream from the lampreys’ carcasses, Coghlan has discovered, biological productivity explodes. That productivity may extend onto land: alewives and lamprey fattened at sea may once have constituted a biomass comparable to the northwest Pacific salmon runs, which are thought to have fertilized the region’s great forests.

Something that didn’t fit in that section: all that thrashing also creates habitat. As Coghlan and colleagues recently wrote, “spawning sea lampreys are ecosystem engineers.” People hate them for killing fish — but in a sense, they bring those fish to life in the first place.

Photo: T. Lawrence, GLFC

9 April, 2014

We report a survey of climate-blog visitors to identify the variables underlying acceptance and rejection of climate science. Our findings parallel those of previous work and show that endorsement of free-market economics predicted rejection of climate science. Endorsement of free markets also predicted the rejection of other established scientific findings, such as the facts that HIV causes AIDS and that smoking causes lung cancer. We additionally show that, above and beyond endorsement of free markets, endorsement of a cluster of conspiracy theories (e.g., that the Federal Bureau of Investigation killed Martin Luther King, Jr.) predicted rejection of climate science as well as other scientific findings. Our results provide empirical support for previous suggestions that conspiratorial thinking contributes to the rejection of science.

NASA Faked the Moon Landing—Therefore, (Climate) Science Is a Hoax

8 April, 2014

I’ve been raising chickens for eight years, and since I let them roam across our five acres of pasture, forest and brush, I get to observe them all the time. Even though they have tiny brains, there is a lot more going on inside those brains than people give credit. When one of the hens laid and hatched a clutch of eggs under a porch, she changed my understanding of chickens as I watched her raise her chicks. I hesitate to use words like loving and caring, but the way she looked after those chicks and the way they responded to her is difficult to describe without using words like love and caring.
So now I replenish the flock by letting mothers hatch and raise chicks. After watching how much richer chicks’ lives are when they have a mother, I want all the chickens I have to have the experience being raised by a mother. It’s odd using terms like emotional stability and self confidence with animals like chickens, but you end up resorting to those terms when you compare mother-raised chickens versus chickens which grow up without a mother. Since humans and chickens have a common ancestor somewhere back in time, it’s not surprising that there are some ancient behavioral traits that are shared by both. And jumping into sexual politics, I sometimes joke that watching rooster behavior has given me an understanding of straight men and the way they compete with each other. They just can’t help it. It’s as hard wired in their brains as it is in roosters.

— A comment on Dogs and Cats Are Blurring the Lines Between Pets and People