“It requires indeed some courage to undertake a labor of such far-reaching extent,” Mendel wrote in his 1865 paper, describing an eight-year experiment on cross-fertilization that ultimately revealed the existence of genes. But “courage,” I would argue, is the wrong word here. More than “courage,” there is something else evident in that work — a quality that I can only describe as “tenderness.”

It is a word not typically used to describe science or scientists. It shares roots, of course, with “tending” — a farmer’s or gardener’s activity — but also with “tension,” the stretching of a pea tendril to incline it toward sunlight or train it on an arbor. It describes a certain intimacy between humans and nature — a nourishment that must happen before investigation can happen, the delicacy of labor that must be performed before the delicacy of its fruits can be harvested.

On science and tenderness – beautiful read (via explore-blog)

(via explore-blog)

[Scientists] found that emotionally charged writing activated areas of the brain which are known to respond to music. Predominantly on the right side, these regions had previously been shown to give rise to the “shivers down the spine” feeling caused by an emotional response to music. The researchers found that when study participants read one of their favorite passages of poetry, regions of the brain associated with memory were stimulated more strongly than “reading areas.” This suggests that reading a favorite passage is like a recollection. When the team specifically compared poetry to prose, they found evidence that poetry activates brain regions associated with introspection – such as the posterior cingulate cortex and medial temporal lobes.

Study finds that poetry enchants the brain much like music does. Cue in Edna St. Vincent Millay, who famously exclaimed, “Without music I should wish to die. Even poetry, Sweet Patron Muse forgive me the words, is not what music is.” (via explore-blog)

(via explore-blog)

On our latest blog post, I discuss managing ethics in the workplace. Within academia, you can’t conduct research without ethics approval from your university. Outside of academia, some research organisations will have ethics protocols in place, but most workplaces are unlikely to stipulate ethics in the way we see it in sociology. Ethics is more than just doing what we think is right. Sociological ethics is about following the consensus of our discipline.This includes:  a code of professional integrity; guidelines for how to carry out, use and communicate our findings; protocols for how to manage relationships with research participants, clients, stakeholders and funding organisations; and our rights and obligations to all living beings, resources and the communities involved in and impacted by our work. Read more on how to manage ethics in the workplace over on our blog. High-res

On our latest blog post, I discuss managing ethics in the workplace. Within academia, you can’t conduct research without ethics approval from your university. Outside of academia, some research organisations will have ethics protocols in place, but most workplaces are unlikely to stipulate ethics in the way we see it in sociology. Ethics is more than just doing what we think is right. Sociological ethics is about following the consensus of our discipline.This includes:  a code of professional integrity; guidelines for how to carry out, use and communicate our findings; protocols for how to manage relationships with research participants, clients, stakeholders and funding organisations; and our rights and obligations to all living beings, resources and the communities involved in and impacted by our work. Read more on how to manage ethics in the workplace over on our blog.

Let’s face it: the stereotypical specimen is a young white male with thick glasses, strong opinions about operating systems and a collection of Star Wars figurines. If that’s what we immediately associate with science – whether or not it’s an accurate portrayal of actual scientists – then coolifying nerdiness might be attractive for those who fit the mold, but could inadvertently steer away from science those who don’t.

Might a more inclusive portrayal of science – one that includes a few well-dressed and socially astute women, for example – draw more people to science than a “coolified” depiction of stereotypical nerdiness? It might.  (via npr)

Commodification of the young white male geek as epitome stereotype of a scientist marginalises women, minorities and non “geeky” scientists.

  • Reblogged from npr

The overall motivation for my desire to see more Black women as mentors in science is not self-centered. I believe that science needs the perspectives, ideas, and creativity that can only result from diversification. As more underrepresented women and men of color are offered positions, more of them will take up roles as PIs, research advisors and administrators, and I am certain that more of my needs and those of others like me will be met. In order to navigate a career that I love, but that requires years of exhaustive training and that comes with no guarantee of financial reward, I have to be thoughtful of what will ensure my success. This applies to everyone.

American biology student Stephani Page is undertaking her PhD research. She argues that there is a dire need to introduce diversity within the upper ranks of scientific leadership. As Page notes in her guest post in Nature’s Soap Box Science blog, it is rare for Black research students to encounter other Black women scientists while they undertake science degree. As she recounts, Page has had wonderful mentors who are White - but where are the diverse role models for non-white students to aspire towards? The lack of diversity in science vexing and important topic for all disciplines. Sociology is not immune. While sociology is attracting more non-white students, these students are less likely to get jobs within academia.

Autism Research Discussion Live on Air Today

I’m one of the moderators for Science on Google+. I curate the social science stream. Our community is co-hosting a discussion on autism research live on air, in around an hour’s time (2pm Australian time or 10pm USA EST or 3am UTC/GMT). Our co-host partner is Autism Brainstorm, a research-led community of practice that puts families in touch with experts and resources of support.

Join us to hear experts discuss the latest developments in education, policy and biomedical treatments. Some of our experts are diagnosed on along the autism spectrum disorder and all researchers are advocates of research-led community support services.

You’ll have a chance to post questions ahead of the panel discussion as well as while we’re live on air. You can also join us live on air if you’d like to talk directly with the panel if you get in early enough. Otherwise, the Hangout will stream live on air so you can just watch along and still submit written questions. 

In the mean time, if you’d like to see the latest research and recommendations on autism to USA Government,  have a read of the Updated Strategic Plan. Among other issues, the key research informing this plan identifies:

  • International data are showing an increase in diagnoses pertaining to the autism spectrum. Studies have shown a rise in diagnosis amongst minority youth and adults from lower socio-economic backgrounds (especially those living alone). Researchers suggest there may still be more people who do not have access to services to receive adequate diagnosis and support
  • Brain imaging, neuro-physiology, molecular and phenotyping, and immunity research into autism has improved, providing new insights on the neural connectivity affecting autism. Biological research has also made progress in examining other conditions and disorders that co-exist and affect autism experiences such as epilepsy
  • Gaps in biomedical research include genomic, immunity and gender differences. These areas raise bio-ethical issues that researchers must be trained in. This requires that the research community develop comprehensive research and policy guidelines
  • While more studies have emerged in the past couple of years studying genetic and environmental factors, problems remain. Prioritisation of diagnosis is an issue, given there are windows of time in which diagnosis is most crucial, and so research on these areas is paramount. For example, the preconception and prenatal periods
  • Community intervention is also time-sensitive with respect to early behaviour. Research finds that young children who receive more hours of intervention (therapies, specialised education) generally have better outcomes. Enhanced research on biomarkers would also greatly improve the medical treatments available
  • Sociological issues require research-based policy intervention. This includes access and payment of affordable healthcare. International research shows that minority children (specifically Latin children in the USA) as well as children living in rural areas experience up to 1.5 times more difficulty getting an autism diagnosis, or a delay of up to 6 months in some. This means that While middle-class children living in urban areas have a better chance of accessing diagnosis and treatment, while other disadvantaged groups suffer. There is a broader institutional problem in helping families and communities support people with autism. Children with autism are more likely to wander  off alone in public and become exposed to danger. Schools are also inadequately managing autism. One study by the U.S.A. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights finds that 70% of cases where a child has been restrained at school involved autistic children. People experiencing autism also have a higher mortality rate but this is connected to co-occurring conditions like epilepsy. Young adult and adult interventions is a growing area that requires further research and funding. Community-based care would better help families managing these sociological and health factors

Our on air discussion today will speak to some of these issues. Join our discussion via this link where you’ll also find the speaker bios and links to their research.

The OECD’s Better Life Index attempts to compare well-being amongst OECD nations using education, housing, environment measures. The Economist has reproduced this graphic, which ranks Australia first, the USA second and Norway third.
On the one hand these types of surveys are useful because they measure social conditions rather than simply material wealth. On the other hand, this particular graphic neglects other socio-economic measures that give a different picture of national well-being.
For example, the Index makes a sweeping statement about gender: “Taking all 11 topics of the BLI into account, the differences between women and men’s well-being are small. However, there are topics where men do much better than women, such as for instance jobs and earnings. Conversely, women fare better than men in health, education, community and life satisfaction.”
This does not really reflect social science data, which show how men and women’s mental health differs according to marital status, life stage, social network support. The 2012 World Development Report compares low, median and high income nations, noting that men in Australia and the USA are over-represented in violent crimes and incarceration. Moreover, domestic inequalities and social welfare distribution mean that these countries are ranked lower than Scandinavian nations. High-res

The OECD’s Better Life Index attempts to compare well-being amongst OECD nations using education, housing, environment measures. The Economist has reproduced this graphic, which ranks Australia first, the USA second and Norway third.

On the one hand these types of surveys are useful because they measure social conditions rather than simply material wealth. On the other hand, this particular graphic neglects other socio-economic measures that give a different picture of national well-being.

For example, the Index makes a sweeping statement about gender: “Taking all 11 topics of the BLI into account, the differences between women and men’s well-being are small. However, there are topics where men do much better than women, such as for instance jobs and earnings. Conversely, women fare better than men in health, education, community and life satisfaction.”

This does not really reflect social science data, which show how men and women’s mental health differs according to marital status, life stage, social network support. The 2012 World Development Report compares low, median and high income nations, noting that men in Australia and the USA are over-represented in violent crimes and incarceration. Moreover, domestic inequalities and social welfare distribution mean that these countries are ranked lower than Scandinavian nations.

Being bilingual opens up new worlds to speakers. It also appears to delay the onset of dementia…

In the Hyderabad region, a language called Telugu is spoken by the majority Hindu group, and another called Dakkhini by the minority Muslim population. Hindi and English are also commonly spoken in formal contexts, including at school. Most people who grow up in the region, then, are bilingual, and routinely exposed to at least three languages.

The patients who contributed data to the study, then, are surrounded by multiple languages in everyday life, not primarily as a result of moving from one location to another. This turns out to be an important factor, as the authors explain:

In contrast to previous studies, the bilingual group was drawn from the same environment as the monolingual one and the results were therefore free from the confounding effects of immigration. The bilingual effect on age at dementia onset was shown independently of other potential confounding factors, such as education, sex, occupation, cardiovascular risk factors, and urban vs rural dwelling, of subjects with dementia.

In other words, thanks in large part to the study’s cultural context, these researchers made great progress zeroing in on bilingualism as the specific reason for the delay in dementia symptoms.

What exactly is it about the ability to speak in two languages that seems to provide this protective effect? Alladi and co-authors explain:

The constant need in a bilingual person to selectively activate one language and suppress the other is thought to lead to a better development of executive functions and attentional tasks with cognitive advantages being best documented in attentional control, inhibition, and conflict resolution.

Source: NPR.

Read the study in Neurology (behind a paywall). Or check out these open source links:

  • Delaying the onset of Alzheimer disease, Neurology 2010. 
  • Language Control in Different Contexts: The Behavioral Ecology of Bilingual Speakers, Frontiers in Psychology
  • A Longitudinal Study of Memory Advantages in Bilinguals, PLOS ONE.

Links via Nicodin Bogdan on Science in Google+.

#Film review: Gravity is a tense and engrossing movie by the uber talented and versatile Mexican director Alfonso Cuarón, whose previous films include Y Tu Mama También and Children of Men. The film is a masterpiece of the #3D medium. The claustrophobia and infinite vastness of #space is rendered as a breathtaking spectacle. Sandra Bullock has never been better as Ryan, a medical doctor and researcher whose scientific credentials are left vague and as implausible as any other Hollywood depiction of #science. Nevertheless it was gratifying to see a woman as the centrepiece of a blockbuster film that doesn’t simply treat her as eye candy. George Clooney relies on his usual smooth talking charm playing seasoned astronaut Kowalsky. He is overseeing Ryan’s mission to repair a “prototype” in space. The mission is derailed when space debris leaves the astronauts floating off course. The story is sparse, concerned solely with the practicalities of survival, but the visuals and mood are brilliantly gripping.  Go watch it at the #cinema. It’s with paying extra for the 3D effects. #movies #latincinema #latin #AlfonsoCuaron High-res

#Film review: Gravity is a tense and engrossing movie by the uber talented and versatile Mexican director Alfonso Cuarón, whose previous films include Y Tu Mama También and Children of Men. The film is a masterpiece of the #3D medium. The claustrophobia and infinite vastness of #space is rendered as a breathtaking spectacle. Sandra Bullock has never been better as Ryan, a medical doctor and researcher whose scientific credentials are left vague and as implausible as any other Hollywood depiction of #science. Nevertheless it was gratifying to see a woman as the centrepiece of a blockbuster film that doesn’t simply treat her as eye candy. George Clooney relies on his usual smooth talking charm playing seasoned astronaut Kowalsky. He is overseeing Ryan’s mission to repair a “prototype” in space. The mission is derailed when space debris leaves the astronauts floating off course. The story is sparse, concerned solely with the practicalities of survival, but the visuals and mood are brilliantly gripping. Go watch it at the #cinema. It’s with paying extra for the 3D effects. #movies #latincinema #latin #AlfonsoCuaron

Prove Your World is a terrific webseries being developed by Dr Brian Koberlein, astrophysicist and RIT professor. Brian will be working with a team of experts, all with PhDs in their fields to create a fun and educational webseries for kids under 13 years. 

Remember that teacher that inspired you to pursue your scientific dream? This show wants to be that spark for children all over. Most science TV shows for kids are either boring, inaccurate or they are entertaining but they don’t really teach people real science. Prove Your World wants to do more.

They’re looking for donations on their Kickstarter to help them bring the series to life. 

Brian is one of my colleagues from the Science on Google+ community (we’re part of the 22 curators of this community). Take a look at Brian’s Google+ page, his posts are insightful, accessible and the quality material gives you further confidence of the amazing job he will do with this webseries.

This comic by xkcd is a great conversation starter for the sociology of moral panics. In 1871, Sunday Magazine lamented the lost art of letter writing. They bemoan the fact that as it becomes cheaper to write and send letters, people value “quality” letter writing less. This is seen to be to the detriment of society. The proliferation of letter writing evolves as new technologies make paper, ink and postal services more available to the masses.
The rest of the comic charts excellent examples from prestigious books, journals and professionals fretting about how technology changes the quality of human communication. We see these arguments continue today as some traditional media owners and some intellectuals decry the advent of social media and blogging, as well as how the internet in general supposedly ruins our collective intelligence. A couple of years a go, I wrote about how philosopher Edward De Bono said social media causes laziness.
What is at play behind these arguments is actually a moral panic about the control of cultural capital: technologies shift power over who controls information (in Marxist terms, the owners of the means of production). Technology doesn’t drive social change as it’s not some overpowering social force that we accept mindlessly. Instead, social relations change in response to people finding new uses for technology, and this is a feed back loop that pushes innovation in communications.
Take a look at the expanded comic and see what you think. 
Credit: Link via Brian Glick on Google+.

This comic by xkcd is a great conversation starter for the sociology of moral panics. In 1871, Sunday Magazine lamented the lost art of letter writing. They bemoan the fact that as it becomes cheaper to write and send letters, people value “quality” letter writing less. This is seen to be to the detriment of society. The proliferation of letter writing evolves as new technologies make paper, ink and postal services more available to the masses.

The rest of the comic charts excellent examples from prestigious books, journals and professionals fretting about how technology changes the quality of human communication. We see these arguments continue today as some traditional media owners and some intellectuals decry the advent of social media and blogging, as well as how the internet in general supposedly ruins our collective intelligence. A couple of years a go, I wrote about how philosopher Edward De Bono said social media causes laziness.

What is at play behind these arguments is actually a moral panic about the control of cultural capital: technologies shift power over who controls information (in Marxist terms, the owners of the means of production). Technology doesn’t drive social change as it’s not some overpowering social force that we accept mindlessly. Instead, social relations change in response to people finding new uses for technology, and this is a feed back loop that pushes innovation in communications.

Take a look at the expanded comic and see what you think. 

Credit: Link via Brian Glick on Google+.