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16 Year Winter Finished The Dinosaurs

11/04/2017 05:00:39 AM

Most people would be able to say that it was an impact by an enormous meteor that did for the dinosaurs 66 million years ago. I have written previously about the less commonly known vulcanism of the Deccan Traps which also played a likely sizeable ...

Maybe T. rex’s Arms Wern’t So Useless After All?

10/28/2017 04:00:12 AM

The arms of Tyrannosaurus rex have the become the stuff of legend. The butt of a million internet jokes about having short, useless arms the memes have become so prevalent that people are as likely to let out a laugh rather than a quiver of ...

Baryon Carry On Explained

10/14/2017 04:00:42 AM

Time for a bit of physics. You are probably aware that we cannot currently account for about 95% of the matter in the universe. Dark Matter and Dark Energy are the place holder names we use to describe the missing mass and energy until such ...

Genetics Offers a Workaround for Celiac Disease

10/07/2017 08:16:42 AM

As a follow up to last week’s post on CRISPR DNA editing, this week we have a story on the practical application of said technique. Celiac disease is the disorder where an individual is allergic to one of the components of gluten, -gliadins. ...

CRISPR: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

09/30/2017 04:00:20 AM

It occurred to me that I’m a geneticist writing a science blog and I’ve never written about the phenomenon that is CRISPR/Cas9. Anyone vaguely interested in science, and I’m assuming that must include you, dear Reader, cannot have failed ...

“Typhoid” Mary Mallon

09/23/2017 04:00:23 AM

On this day in 1869 in County Tyrone, Ireland, a baby girl by the name of Mary was born. Certainly, there’s nothing unusual in that. Very little is known of the formative years of young Mary Mallon, but at the age of 15 she became a part of ...

The Female Viking Warrior Controversy

09/17/2017 08:26:24 AM

A matter of some controversy this week. You may have seen in the news lately that an ancient viking burial with all the trappings of an experienced warrior was shown to be that of a female. I first became aware of this story about a week ago ...

Saturnian Swan Song

09/09/2017 04:04:23 AM

Saturn. Truly, one of the most beautiful objects known to man. We’re lucky to have something in our solar system that is both so wonderful to look at and so scientifically informative. Twenty years ago we launched the Cassini-Huygens probe. ...

Update On Tabby’s Star

09/03/2017 06:32:08 AM

Hey Science Fans! I’m back from a week off and ready to write so let’s get to it. You’ll no doubt remember the curious case of Tabby’s Star: a star about 1300 lightyears away that can very rapidly change its brightness in a way that ...

On Algae, And How They Terraformed The Earth

08/19/2017 05:00:28 AM

This week, science fans, the small matter of life on Earth as we know it. You have probably heard of the Cambrian explosion, that point about 540 million years ago when multicellular life suddenly appears in the fossil record. For the previous ...

The FDA Goes To War With Nicotine

08/12/2017 05:00:52 AM

I am really quite passionately against smoking, I really hate it. Asides from the obvious health impact it’s just gross. Which is unfortunate because all my girlfriends have been smokers. Mercifully, my current partner quit smoking over a ...

The Paradox of Achilles and the Tortoise

08/05/2017 04:00:01 AM

Being a massive Star Trek nerd I am regularly exposed to time paradoxes. The writers seemed to throw in at least one or two time travel episodes per series and as sure as eggs is eggs, there would be a warning about protecting the time continuum. ...

When It Comes To Teaching Children, A Picture Is Not Worth A Thousand Words

07/29/2017 04:00:26 AM

Some interesting research was published last week that, to begin with, seemed a little counter intuitive to me but actually makes sense when you look at it a little more deeply. It concerns teaching words to pre-schoolers and how best effectively ...

USDA Approves Release Of Genetically Modified Moth

07/22/2017 04:00:06 AM

You may remember last year when the USDA approved a field trial of genetically modified mosquitos in Florida. Although there were the usual ideologically opposed protests the trial is progressing. Well, last week the USDA approved another field ...

Fracture In Larsen C Ice Shelf Results In Third Largest Iceberg Ever

07/15/2017 04:00:25 AM

It has been some time coming but the enormous chunk of ice that has been slowly breaking away from the side of the Larsen C ice shelf has, now, broken free. The resultant iceberg is about 5800 sq km in size and weighs in in the region of a trillion ...

Galactic Naval Gazing

07/08/2017 04:00:37 AM

More news from outer space this week where there is a race afoot in the world of astrophysics, a race to achieve what, just a decade or two ago, would have been assumed was simply not possible. Several teams around the world are doing their ...

Juno Delivers The Goods

06/25/2017 11:11:59 AM

First of all, apologies for being a day late with this post. Secondly, just look at these amazing pictures! These images are amongst those sent back from the Juno spacecraft currently orbiting Jupiter. Every 50 days or so the craft swoops in ...

New Pan-African Model For Human Origins Proposed

06/17/2017 04:00:21 AM

Few fields of human endeavour are moving quite as quickly as that of anthropology and human evolution. On an almost weekly basis there are new papers being published that, instead of adding to or slightly finessing existing current models, require ...

Aspartame: Sweet Success

06/10/2017 04:00:02 AM

I like Pepsi Max. It’s my favourite soft drink. Sadly, PepsiCo is not paying me to say that, it’s just a boring fact. Whilst I would never claim that it is a health drink (if there even is such a thing), there is no sugar and no calories ...

Claim Of European Origin For Human Evolution Is All Teeth And No Bite

06/03/2017 05:00:50 AM

About 7 million years ago in the region of the Rift Valley in eastern Africa there is an ape. It is small, compared to us; maybe just a metre tall but it is hard to tell as it sits in the lower branches of a tree. It’s cautious, looking intently ...

Wax Worm Can Eat Our Plastic Pollution

05/27/2017 05:00:51 AM

I heard a lovely, little story the other day of a serendipitous discovery that may well change the world. One day a couple of years ago, Federica Bertocchini was inspecting her beehives. She noticed that she had an infestation of wax worms living ...

The Great Vitamin And Supplement Hoax

05/20/2017 05:00:38 AM

As I travel the underground to work each morning I must survive a barrage of advertising. Everywhere you look in a modern city there is some kind of attempt to get you to buy the latest doodad or visit this or that place. One of the largest ...

Human Altruism: Social Construct or Hardwired Behaviour?

05/13/2017 05:00:23 AM

Why do we help others? More specifically, why do we help others that are not related to us? What do we get out of it? Evolutionarily speaking it doesn’t make any sense. Every organism in nature seems to be entirely focussed on doing whatever ...

Human History Twist

05/07/2017 04:00:17 AM

On the island of Flores, about a decade ago, in the Liang Bua cave there were discovered some bones. The bones were human like, but small, perhaps those of a child. Mercifully, this was not the scene of a grisly infanticide but the last resting ...

Saturnian Wonder

05/01/2017 05:00:25 AM

An extra post this week because I just can’t pass up the chance to point out the images coming in from Cassini right now. As you have probably heard in the news, as the Cassini mission comes to an end because of a lack of fuel, its orbit has ...

The Cosmic Microwave Background

04/29/2017 03:08:39 AM

The image above is one of the most beautiful I have ever seen. You may well recognise it as the iconic cosmic microwave background data released by NASA in 2010. For the previous nine years the Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe (WMAP) had ...

Turmeric Injections

04/22/2017 05:00:50 AM

I love a good curry. Obviously little old Indian grandmothers and Indian restaurants make the best ones but I am also capable of making a halfway decent curry from scratch. One of the several spices I tend to use is turmeric, not so much for ...

The Detox Myth

04/15/2017 05:00:15 AM

I would say that at least once per month I hear that someone I know is going on a detox. This seems to mean different things to different people. For some it is laying off the booze after a particularly heavy weekend; for others it is eating ...

New Paper Radically Redraws the Dinosaur Family Tree

04/08/2017 05:00:31 AM

When I was a kid I used to make little wooden models of dinosaurs. My favourites were my T.rex, triceratops and a pteranodon that hung from the ceiling amongst my Spitfires and Tornados. Even at that age I knew that the three main groups of ...

Newsflash: I’m A Neanderthal, And So Are You

04/02/2017 05:00:38 AM

I was listening to one of my favourite podcasts the other day (The Skeptics Guide to the Universe, check it out, it’s awesome) as they discussed some new papers about hominin skulls. The first was a paper from China, published in Science, ...

The Brain Training Myth

03/25/2017 05:00:06 AM

For about a decade now we have had wave after wave of advertising and op ed pieces telling us that brain training games can improve your memory, your cognition and even stave off dementia. The problem with all this is that it is not true. In ...

Elephants Never Forget… Or Sleep

03/18/2017 05:00:37 AM

It is fairly well established in humans that a good night’s sleep is important for long term memory formation. Deep sleep seems to be a part of the mechanism by which we process the days events and data and lay down the appropriate memories. ...

James Webb Space Telescope Part 2: The Engineering

03/11/2017 04:00:13 AM

Last time out I wrote about the incredible scientific goals of the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), due to launch towards the end of next year. The earliest light in the universe is its main goal along with analysing the birth of new solar ...

James Webb Space Telescope Part 1: The Science

03/04/2017 04:00:27 AM

More astronomy today. This week it occurred to me that we’re approaching one year to go until the launch of the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST). The JWST is very big news for anyone interested in learning about the early universe and also ...

What’s The Harm?

02/28/2017 04:00:16 AM

What’s the harm? That’s the question I’m sometimes asked when I’ve explained why a particular pseudoscience or alternative medicine is nothing but BS. If someone wants to have a few needles stuck in them or to swallow a sugar pill, who ...

Jupiter Update: Good News and Bad News

02/25/2017 04:00:29 AM

Two astronomical updates for you today; one good, one bad. Let’s start with the bad news. Two faulty helium valves on the Juno spacecraft mean that it is unlikely that it will be able to make the super close orbits that had been intended. ...

Antarctic Sea Ice Reaches Record Low

02/21/2017 04:00:01 AM

In a statement released last Thursday the British Antarctic Survey commented on data showing that sea ice in the Antarctic this summer reached a record new low. Satellite data shows that sea ice contracted to 2.28m sq km on February 13th beating ...

Device Reads Mind of Completely Paralysed Patients

02/18/2017 04:00:35 AM

I grant you, the title of this post makes a bold claim but I’m confident I’m not misrepresenting the science. A couple of weeks ago an interesting, open access paper was published in PLOS Biology. It detailed how people that were completely ...

Meteor Impact Or Volcanic Eruption; That Is The Question

02/15/2017 04:00:50 AM

Today it is widely accepted that the extinction of the non-avian dinosaurs was caused by the giant meteorite impact at Chicxulub, Mexico; this has not always been the received wisdom, however. Fifty years ago it was thought that the enormous ...

Happy Darwin Day

02/12/2017 18:15:58 PM

Happy Darwin Day everyone. 

Jupiter: As You Have Never Seen Her Before

02/11/2017 06:14:02 AM

The first time I saw the image below I was quickly flicking through my Twitter feed without paying too much attention. I assumed it was an artists impression of some new exoplanet or some such; beautiful but not real and so I moved on. It was ...

Breaking News: Sticking Needles in Babies Does Not Stop Them Crying

02/08/2017 04:00:01 AM

We turn now to one of my favourite whipping boys of complimentary and alternative medicine (CAM): acupuncture. More than 3000 research studies into acupuncture are yet to show any kind of effect other than that of an elaborate placebo. Why would ...

Trial Of Super Yielding Genetically Modified Wheat Approved

02/05/2017 04:00:12 AM

By the middle of this century it is expected that there will be 9 billion humans alive on this planet. That’s really rather a large number of hungry mouths to feed and it is thought that global food production will need to increase by 40% ...

Ancient Two Mouthed Fossil Inspires Two Stories

02/02/2017 04:00:04 AM

I’m going to tell you two stories. The first is a story about a group of researchers from Cambridge, UK; China and Germany. The team discovered very ancient fossils in the rocks of Shaanxi province in China that, they report, are the oldest ...

Robotic Sleeve Helps A Broken Heart To Pump

01/31/2017 04:00:37 AM

When you’re writing a blog I always find it helps to have a compelling image or video to go along with it. Today I have managed to rustle up a video of a pig’s heart inside a robotic sleeve, so that should just about do it. The fist sized ...

Exoplanets Directly Observed For The First Time

01/28/2017 12:21:45 PM

Every day as I trawl through the science news I see something that makes me say, “Huh, cool.” But every now and then I see something that completely blows me away. The video below is one such item. What we have here is direct imaging of ...

Return of the Skeptilogicon

01/26/2017 16:27:41 PM

Hey science fans! The Skeptilogicon is back and full of more science than ever*. I humbly apologise for my recent hiatus, I can only blame the combination of having a job, a young family and a degree on the go all at once. Something had to give ...

Evolution in Real Time: Antibiotic Resistance

09/18/2016 07:01:43 AM

I saw a paper in Science this week that was simultaneously very exciting and, frankly, terrifying. It involved the study of antibiotic resistance in Escherichia coli. Many studies have been done looking at how E. coli and other bacteria can ...

Taking It Easy

09/09/2016 05:53:12 AM

I’m afraid we’ve got to that point where I have to start properly working on my masters again which means I will have less time to write this blog. Similarly to last semester I will do one post per week, probably posted on a Sunday. Every ...

Juno Reveals Jupiter

09/07/2016 04:00:06 AM

Last week the Juno spacecraft made its first close pass of Jupiter. Passing within just 2500 miles of the surface the craft was able to take unprecedented pictures of the gas giant. In the image below you can see the north pole of Jupiter. The ...

Genetically Modified Aubergine Reveals Desperation of Anti-GMO Zealots

09/05/2016 04:00:17 AM

I have written extensively in the past about the benefits of genetically modified crops and how the anti-GMO lobby will tell any lie they can think of to try to discredit a technology that not only doesn’t do harm but actually has the potential ...

New Drug Hints at First Treatment For Alzheimer’s Disease

09/03/2016 04:00:43 AM

Given a sizeable portion of the institute I work in is dedicated to the investigation of Alzheimer’s Disease (AD) it would be remiss of me if I didn’t mention the exciting new paper on a potential treatment. Published this week in Nature ...

Devil Facial Tumour Disease: First Resistant Individuals Discovered

09/01/2016 06:04:34 AM

When I was a kid one of my favourite tv shows was Taz-Mania, Taz’s short temper and weird way of speaking were great and the juxtaposition of his super middle-class family was hilarious. At the time I don’t think I was even aware that the ...