Latest science News

Replicability and Biology

In January, news broke that on another of the replicability trials. Researchers from the Center for Open Science and Science Exchange, won grant funding to replicate 50 important studies. They have just published the first results of the project, having picked 5 influential research studies that focused on cancer. Of the 5 studies, three of the replication trials had strikingly different results than the original published studies. The results are leaving scientists with many questions: for example, the researchers interested in replicability did not try to figure out why 3 of the studies had achieved different results: should that be a goal? An author of one of the original studies, Iriving Weissman, also argued that the people reproducing his experiment had focused on a peripheral finding from his study, rather than the main one. As an NPR article points out, this result has implications for cancer research, as the original articles have influenced the direction of research in the field, as well as research funding.

Curious? You can read (or listen to) the NPR report, or read the editorial, feature article, and review article describing the replication process, its goals and its results, published in the open access journal eLife.

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Nutrition Research Leaves Unanswered Questions

Sugar.jpg In "Unexpected Honey Study Shows Woes of Nutrition Research," an article in the New York Times, author Aaron Carroll discusses why so we still have lingering questions about so many of the current claims about nutrition. Carroll discusses a study that contradicts a belief that many people currently have: that natural sweeteners like honey, agave nectar, or maple syrup are better for you than created sweeteners like high fructose corn syrup.

However, as Carroll points out, the study that caused the fuss had some methodical problems: for example, the study only involved 55 people, and only followed those people for 2 weeks. Is that enough data upon which to base large lifestyle changes? The article also includes links to similar articles Carroll has published on weight loss, healthy foods and exercise, all of which are interesting reads.

Want to think through what questions you should be asking after reading scientific research articles, so that you're not naively believing certain research? Check out How to Read and Critique a Scientific Research Article from our library collection.

Image Credit: Romain Behar, Sugars; clockwise from top left: White refined, unrefined, brown, unprocessed cane.
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How Do Celebrity Scientists Change Public Debates About Science?

Curious about how scientists actually feel about the well-known (celebrity) scientists who regularly engage in scientific debates? Check out “Responding To Richard: Celebrity And (Mis)Representation Of Science” by David Johnson, Elaine Howard Ecklund, Di Di, and Kirstin R. W. Matthews, published in 2016 in Public Understanding of Science.

The article authors interviewed 48 other scientists about their perceptions of Richard Dawkins, and find that opinions were mixed: while some believed that he asserted science’s role in public debates, others had trouble with what they saw as his misrepresentation of science.

You can read the full article here.

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Thinking Scientifically

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Fake news is something we’re all thinking about at the moment, but it doesn’t start or stop with just political news. A Survival Guide To The Misinformation Age: Scientific Habits Of Mind, one of the newest books in the library collection, has chapters discussing how to read graphs, what probability means, and practice of the scientific thinking generally. Want to know if you're consuming fake news? Knowing when you're looking at problematic data or logic can help you to make that distinction. The book has gotten great reviews so far--check it out!

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Climate Change and Trees

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In interesting news, scientists studying climate change have discovered that it appears that trees and other land-based plants slowed the growth of atmospheric carbon dioxide by absorbing 60 percent (rather than almost 50) of carbon dioxide produced between 2002-2014. In the article "Recent pause in the growth rate of atmospheric CO2 due to enhanced terrestrial carbon uptake," lead article scientist Trevor Keenan discusses some of the reasons this may be happening, from more plant growth in thawing Arctic regions, to changes in nutrient deposition in the soil, light quality, and ozone concentrations.

Curious? Check it out for yourself: you can read the full article, from Nature Communications. You can also read a summary of the research in a Washington Post article.

You can also check carbon dioxide emissions data at the Global Carbon project.

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The Purpose of Citizen Science

I know that I've talked about citizen science before, but Jason Lloyd has published an article in Slate I find thought-provoking. Titled "Citizen Science Isn’t Just About Collecting Data," Lloyd discusses how grounded participation in research projects can increase scientific literacy. As Lloyd says:

But citizens can do more for science than just collect data (as important as data collection is). By educating themselves in the research and infusing urgency into the process, citizen scientists can get involved in decisions about what gets researched, how research is conducted, and how results should be used. This pushes the bounds of citizen science in new and contentious ways.

Citizen participation in science-related decision-making can mean advocating for testing, as residents in Flint, Michigan, did when they realized that, despite their state Department of Environmental Quality’s claims, their water was contaminated with lead. It can mean loudly encouraging new research priorities, like AIDS activists did in the 1980s and some cancer patient advocates do today. Or it can mean funding the development of better air-quality samplers for use by communities near petrochemical facilities.

As we all have a role to play in public policy decisions, from what to do about vaccination rates among children to whether or not to support alternative energy projects, it's helpful for students to have experience with collecting and analyzing data in a meaningful way.

The article also includes some interesting citizen science projects for students, from earth science through biology to astronomy. Interested in finding more options? Zooniverse is still providing examples of projects that could use volunteers, or contact me to find more potential projects.

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Are Books Always Credible?

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Are you using books (or assigning books to your students) as part of research projects because you believe that they are more error-proof than other sources?

You might want to rethink that-- read Shannon Palus's article "Why Doesn't Anyone* Fact-Check Science Books?" in Slate about how book editing is not an entirely expert endeavor. Some of her arguments are backed up by different incidents in the publishing world, such as the fact that Little, Brown, and Co published a book by a woman who told her readers not to eat food comprised of chemicals.

What should you do instead? Check out our guide to evaluating sources and remember that this is a process you should use with ALL sources.

Image Credit: Origin of Species
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Climate Change in the Midwest

Often, reports on climate change focus on far away locations such as the Arctic or even the East Coast. Want to know how climate change is projected to impact local areas? Check out the following sources:

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What Does the Data Say?

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A recent study published in the British Medical Journal shows how misrepresented/misunderstood data from a scientific experiment can change our lives in fundamental ways. Titled "Re-evaluation of the traditional diet-heart hypothesis: Analysis of recovered data from Minnesota Coronary Experiment (1968-73)," the article details how the Minnesota Coronary Experiment shaped our understanding of the recommended diet for heart health. The authors of the study recommended a diet that swapped animal based-fats for vegetable oils, arguing that this would lead to improved heart health. Their recommendation is still part of the American Dietary Guidelines.

However, as the authors of the recent BMJ article chronicle, the full data from the Minnesota Coronary Experiment shows that the recommendation was not supported by the results of the experiment. In fact, while the cholesterol levels of those who ate the low fat and low cholesterol diet using vegetable oils did go down, there was an increase in mortality for those same patients rather than the expected reduction in mortality. "Re-evaluation of the traditional diet-heart hypothesis" therefore not only illustrates the importance of re-testing experiments to make sure that the conclusions are valid, but it proves the importance of critically evaluating every article, even scholarly ones, from research design down to the data set when available.

Read the full scholarly article "Re-evaluation of the traditional diet-heart hypothesis: analysis of recovered data from Minnesota Coronary Experiment (1968-73)" by Christopher E Ramsden, et al. in the British Medical Journal.

Read a popular summary "This study 40 years ago could have reshaped the American diet. But it was never fully published" by Peter Whoriskey in The Washington Post.

Gender and Science: Who Does What Scientific Work?

The Chronicle of Higher Education has posted a story about a forthcoming article in Academic Medicine about gender and science. The researchers, including Cassidy Sugimoto of the IU Bloomington School of Informatics, discovered that women are "disproportionately performing the experimental work involved in producing science — the pipetting, the centrifuging, the sequencing. Men, meanwhile, are more likely to be credited for analyzing data, conceiving experiments, contributing resources, or writing the study." The authors analyzed 85000 articles published from seven of the PLOS journals to reach this conclusion. The article also contains a fast summary of other key studies that analyzed gender and science.

Read the full summary in the Chronicle here.

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