Category Archives: Science

Ask a Fisheries Expert!

Do you have any burning questions about fish, sharks, fishing, or fisheries? Want to ask an expert (or at least an expert-in-training)? Well, today is your lucky day! Starting at 4pm EST, myself and a bunch of other graduate students from the FSU Coastal & Marine Lab will be doing a reddit AMA and will attempt to answer all of your queries. Ask Us Anything!

MY Best Science Stuff of 2013

After putting together a list of lists of top science stories from 2013, I figured I would make one of my own. Some of these things caught my eye recently, others are older than 2013. Either way, here’s a few things science that I thought deserved a look last year:

Maybe one of the biggest stories, at least in terms of scientific misinformation, concerned the failed Japanese nuclear reactor in Fukushima. A nuclear meltdown is big news, and the disaster in Japan is only the second time a level 7 event has occurred worldwide. The fact that the plant was on the coast and that possibly contaminated fluids leaked (and may still be leaking) into the ocean is surely cause for alarm. Or is it? Last year multiple alarmist articles popped up, going viral across social media spreading misinformation like wildfire. One of the best summaries of the science behind what actually happened can be found here (spoiler alert: nothing to see here, folks. Although you might want to check out where your fish oil pills come from!)

On the lighter side of things, apparently dolphins like drugs.

China landed a rover on the moon and sent back the first picture taken from the surface in three decades!

Two nicely done primers on complicated ideas: the nicely summarized Book of Bad Arguments, and the visualization of a theory.

I added to my personal marine animal bucket list with with the bobbit worm and the supersonic mantis shrimp. For more about the mantis shrimp, this fantastic Radiolab episode about color was one of the more memorable radio programs I heard this year.

What all the state birds are now, and what they should be instead.

Not a science story, but a nice infographic of a shocking trend in public employee salaries across the nation.

Finally (and I know this is old but it came in handy last year): Which supplements are worth it and which ones are modern snake oil?

2013 Science Wrap-up

The end of the year is upon us, which means year-end wrap ups. Here is a brief, non-exhaustive list of lists of the Best Science Stories of 2013. I never seem to have enough time to peruse these, so I am storing them here for myself; of course I hope you enjoy these as well!

Southern Fried Science’s 13 Amazing Things Scientists Discovered About Sharks in 2013

Discover Magazine’s Top 10 Science Stories of 2013

Huffington Post’s 10 Science Stories That Changed The Way We Look At The World Around Us in 2013

Wired Magazine’s Top 13 Stories of 2013

Minnesota Public Radio’s Best Science Stories of 2013

Space Porn Friday

This video is pretty wild:

I love the arcs of Neptune and Pluto with their long, slow revolutions vortices. Watching this makes me feel a bit uneasy, much like I imagine Pope Clement VII must have felt when hearing Copernicus’ heliocentricity theory for the first time.  But as Kottke warns, take this with a grain of salt – I don’t buy the “lagging” bit. The follow-up is even tripper and had me wondering such deep thoughts as, “Gee, I wonder if it matters how close to the Galactic Plane we are right now?”

Excellent question

From Deep-Sea News:

Why is it that we now condemn the man on the left but celebrate the dudes on the right? What is fundamentally different about these two photos?


I think it is because we can readily see the impact of killing a lion but the ecological effects of removing upper level pelagic predators are practically invisible to us. What do you think?

Science-y things for a Tuesday morning

Two things that caught my eye this morning, the first is a story about students gaming a professor’s grading scheme on the final exam:

“‘The students refused to come into the room and take the exam, so we sat there for a while: me on the inside, they on the outside,’ Fröhlich said. ‘After about 20-30 minutes I would give up…. Then we all left.’”

Why would the students boycott? Because the prof curved his grades based on the top performer… so if the top score was a 0, then everyone gets an A! The prof was cool about the whole thing, but he has since changed his protocols so it can’t happen again. Full story here.

Ever thought about getting a tattoo? Perhaps you already have one, maybe you are totally against the very idea. I personally don’t have any, but I’m not against them – I just haven’t found anything I’d like to have permanently imprinted on my body. This may, however, have changed this morning, when I saw this:


which of course sent me on a random walk through nerd tattoos on the web, and wow there are a lot! Including this one, based on Darwin’s original mock-up of the tree of life:


Now I’m imagining where these would look good on me. Do you have any science tattoos? Would you consider getting one?

Aquairus lives! Sort of…

Good news today! It seems that the Aquarius Reef Base mission has secured funding… enough funding to keep it alive anyway, if not actively doing science. Full story from BoingBoing here, self-promoting links to where I’ve talked about this before here, flickr photostream of pictures of Aquarius so that you can spend too much time dreaming about diving on an awesome undersea lab here.

Climate change and the human population

Climate change is making headlines today, after President Obama spoke directly on the subject yesterday in his 2nd inaugural address:

     “We, the people, still believe that our obligations as Americans are not just to ourselves, but to all posterity.  We will respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations.

Some may still deny the overwhelming judgment of science, but none can avoid the devastating impact of raging fires, and crippling drought, and more powerful storms.  The path towards sustainable energy sources will be long and sometimes difficult. But American cannot resist this transition.  We must lead it.

We cannot cede to other nations the technology that will power new jobs and new industries.  We must claim its promise. That’s how we will maintain our economic vitality and our national treasure, our forests and waterways, our crop lands and snow capped peaks.  That is how we will preserve our planet, commanded to our care by God.  That’s what will lend meaning to the creed our fathers once declared.”

– Barack Obama

Stirring words, and yet I was quite surprised to hear them. Not only because the topic of climate change was nearly absent during the recent election cycle, but also because the latest Draft Climate Assessment Report, what will eventually be the official government stance on the subject, was released at 4:30PM on a Friday, the time-slot reserved for low-priority federal news. What does the report say? In short, we’re all screwed: climate change is real, it’s already happening [by the way, did you hear that 2012 was the hottest year on record in the US?], and we are not doing nearly enough to slow it down.

Also in the news today is Dr. Paul Ehrlich, author of The Population Bomb, and proponent of the rather unpopular opinion that, frankly, there’s too many of us already and no one has the right to have as many babies as they might want. Dr. Ehrlich’s latest paper, recently published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society presents the hypothesis that, just as many historical civilizations have collapsed in the past, a similar fate is destined for our current, global civilization, and the main cause will be self-made climate disruption. So even if the world’s human population eventually levels off around 9 billion, and according to Dr. Hans Rosling, this is entirely possible, even this might be too many humans for one fragile earth.

The Wonder of Jellyfish

Last week my friend Jeff sent me a link to a really fascinating article about  Turritopsis dohrnii – the “immortal” jellyfish. Turns out this little animal never seems to die but rather it sort of morphs backwards when it reaches the last stage of its reproductive cycle. For most jellyfish, their life cycle alternates between two stages – the polyp stage, which is rooted to the substrate and can reproduce asexually, and the medusa stage, which is the more familiar “swimming” jelly stage and reproduces sexually. What the immortal jelly does different is, after reproducing as a medusa, the animal first turns back into an amorphous blob of undifferentiated cells before shooting up stalks that turn into new polyps. Never before has this reversal been noted in another species – polyps turn into medusae but not the other way around! Until now, of course. It remains unclear as to what, exactly, this news means to us humans. Dr. Shin Kubota,a researcher in Japan, has been growing T. dohrnii in his lab for the past few years. He, for one, is convinced that the secrets of the immortal jellyfish can be applied to us humans so that one day we too could be immortal. I am not so sure about this, seeing as how the “regeneration” event from medusa to polyp stage involves a complete reorganization of the body plan (imagine, in order to keep on living, your body has to revert to an infant!). Nor is it clear that immortality would be a great thing for all 7 billion (and counting) of us humans already here on earth. Nevertheless, it is a fascinating story about a fascinating species, one that belongs to a group of creatures called the Cnidarians.

Upside-down jelly

Upside-down jelly

Another amazing Cnidarian is the upside-down, or Cassiopeia jelly. These guys live all over the canals and shallow backwaters of the Florida Keys. Like corals, they have photosynthetic zooxanthellae that provide the jellyfish with energy and their greenish coloration. The symbiotic algae hitches a ride with the jellyfish, trading the protection afforded by a nest of stinging tentacles for extra food that it provides to the jellyfish. All in all, two amazing examples of Phylum Cnidaria.

Crowdfunding Science

Recently Scientific American came out with a list of ten potential World Changing ideas in science for 2012. On the list among such lofty ideas as DNA free organisms, data mining smartphones, and electronic tattoos, is the idea of crowdfunding science. This is a topic I’ve been interested in for a while now, after all I managed to fund an entire field season this way, and I strongly believe that crowdfunding represents a new paradigm for funding science.

Besides my own research, I’ve plugged other research projects on this blog in the past. Checking up on the Project Aquarius ReefBase finds the project out of time and far short of their goal. However, a graduate student here at Florida State just raised more than her goal in less than 48 hours! So what lessons are to be learned from these examples? Well, for one I don’t think that crowdfunding is an adequate substitute for public funding. Aquarius ReefBase had to turn to crowdfunding because their sponsoring agency, the National Underwater Research Program, was cut completely from the federal budget (you can read up here on why I think this is a bad thing). The micro-donation model just won’t work to fund a $3 million per year project, however it seems to be perfect for funding smaller projects, like the ones that graduate students take on. If you care about science and think it is important, please consider joining the growing crowd and donate to a struggling scientist!

You can donate to Althea’s project here, or check out a list of other crowdfunding groups that focus on science:


SciFund Challenge (fuelled by Rockethub)


Indiegogo (these guys fund other projects too but they consistently feature science projects)