August 2012 Archives

Soil Bacteria Give Pathogens Antibiotic Resistance?

Perhaps the biggest problem in microbiology today is the rising tide of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. From MRSA and VRSA to gonorrhea, this problem raises the frightening specter that bacterial infections that were once easily controlled by antibiotics may...

Why Do Schizophrenics Hear Voices?

In a way, you're never alone. Your inner consciousness is always there to keep you company. That voice inside your head is reliably available for conversation. These intensely personal and comforting self-to-self dialogues are splayed across the humdrum of a...

The First Men on the Moon

In honor of the late Neil Armstrong, let's review the lives of the three men who comprised the crew of the first moon landing in 1969.Armstrong, of course, became the most famous member of the Apollo 11 mission. An engineer by trade (he referred to himself as...

The Salt Cave: Cure-all or Quackery?

Salt cave therapy, a new form of alternative medicine that was transplanted from Europe, is steadily spreading across the United States.The basic idea is this: patients enter a room designed to imitate a subterranean, salt-permeated environment, like those...

Science Wants to Control Your Mind!

When watching Star Wars, most kids are probably enthralled with the space battles, the dizzying special effects, and the blistering lightsaber duels. But as a child, I was more interested in the Jedi's mind control powers. It was a fascination rooted in the...

Unknown Selective Force Shapes Bacterial Evolution

Most organisms' characteristics are shaped by the process of natural selection. For instance, slow bunny rabbits get eaten by wolves, so nature has selected for the survival of fast bunny rabbits. But, not all traits are under such intense selective pressure....

How to Examine Rocks 163 Million Miles Away

How do you tell what something is made of without picking it up, touching it, or even coming within 163 million miles of it? The Curiosity rover, which landed on Mars two weeks ago, has a clever method to do just this, which was tested on Sunday.Mockup of...

Animal Sexuality Isn't a Political Issue

Do animals exhibit homosexual behavior? The simple answer to this question is yes, frequently. Scientists have observed a menagerie of animals engaging in a host of same-sex activities such as pair bonding, sexual displays, and copulation. The exhaustive list...

Male Fruit Flies Have Method for Dealing with Rejection

The courtship ritual of the lowly male fruit fly is far more elaborate than one might presume. It goes a little something like this:First, the eager hopeful taps the female's body with his foreleg, partially to say, "Well hello, beautiful," but mostly to make...

Can Insects Make Energy from Sunlight?

Photosynthesis is a metabolic process in which the energy from sunlight is converted into chemical energy. It is mostly associated with plants, but it commonly occurs in bacteria and algae, too. Though there are rare exceptions (e.g., a salamander which lives...

Savantism: A Rare Side Effect of Head Trauma

Getting smacked in the head is no picnic, as most football players, hockey players, and boxers would attest. Debilitating side effects such as headaches, memory loss, depression, and fatigue can swiftly follow suit. Moreover, recent research has shown that...

Cold Fusion: Tempest in a Test Tube

Last week chemist Martin Fleischmann, who (along with another chemist, Stanley Pons) made the world-famous claim of realizing "cold fusion," died.Pons, left, and Fleischmann, right, with their tiny supposed fusion device (AP photo)What is cold fusion?All...

3 Social Science Studies for Entertainment Purposes Only

Social scientists have long sought to be regarded with the same scholarly gravitas as their colleagues in other, harder, branches of science. But for them, reaching a higher echelon of esteem has proved elusive. Why? Because many social scientists have a...

Brush Up on Your Fake Science

Did you know that Aristotle originally categorized the world into five elements: fire, earth, air, water, and tzatziki sauce? No, you say? Well, have you ever heard of the Venus Puppy Trap? You know, it's the plant that lures in adorable canines and cutely...

Rachel Maddow's Misleading Report on Fracking

MSNBC host Rachel Maddow recently covered the topic of fracking on her television show. (The video segment is embedded at the bottom of this post.) She framed the issue as a struggle between satisfying our nation's energy demand and maintaining public safety....

Daring Dreamers Look Ahead to Interstellar Travel

Early last month, NASA unveiled the Orion crew module during a ceremony held at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The announcement attracted engineers, ex-astronauts, and politicians, all keenly excited about Orion's potential to take up the lofty mantle...

Curiosity: A Singular American Victory

The number of America's robotic citizens on Mars grew by a resounding one late Sunday night when Curiosity conducted a nearly flawless landing procedure and successfully touched down on the Red Planet.For the thousands, perhaps millions, of Americans watching...

Parakeet Pests Used For Human Speech Studies

Even though I like birds, I'll be the first to admit that they are annoying. They have no bowel control, they sometimes bite, and, most irritatingly, they make a lot of noise. Parrots especially have a reputation for their loud, repetitive chatter, and for...

Sexy Red Dragonflies and the Chemistry of Love

Sexual maturation is a part of life. Admittedly, for humans, it is awkward -- squeaky voices, strange smells and curly hairs growing in unspeakable places. Much of the rest of the biosphere, however, matures more gracefully. Many animals, including insects,...

Live Chat: Curiosity Rover Arrives at Mars

In the early morning of August 6th, NASA scientists will attempt what is perhaps the most mind-bogglingly difficult space landing of all time when the Curiosity Mars rover reaches the "Red Planet." Tune in to Newton Blog at 3 p.m. EDT today for a live web...

How Would You Die in Outer Space?

Over the decades, Hollywood has exposed many hapless characters to the frigid, unforgiving vacuum of outer space, much to the guilty viewing pleasure of the audience. We, as members of that audience, have been fed countless cinematic, special effects treats...

Natural Gas, Not Corporations, Killing Solar Power

Why aren't the deserts and prairies of our country plastered with solar panels? Why don't we turn on all of our appliances knowing that we are relying only on the billions of years of constantly replenished light that our sun will provide us? Isn't the price...