Happy Valentine’s Day … science!

Happy Valentine’s Day … science! February 14, 2013

• Some say the world will end in fire. Some say in ice. And some say in supervolcanic eruptions, fungal outbreaks, y-ray bursts, or submarine landslides.

• “Yes, Standard Orbit, Captain. And we’re detecting signs of life on the surface.”

• Am I linking to Christie Wilcox’s Scientific American article just for the headline? No, it’s an encouraging story about a medical refinement that will help sick people get better. But the headline is pretty terrific, too.

• “Japan plans world’s largest offshore wind farm near Fukushima.”

It will be larger than any of the offshore wind farms in the U.S. because even though it’s 20-freakin’-13 the U.S. still has no offshore wind farms.

• “Meet the House GOP’™s Anti-Science Committee,” writes TPM’s Benjy Sarlin. They don’t believe in climate science or evolution, but at least Todd Akin’s gone now and his former colleague Phil Gingrey says he was only “partly right” about the magical contraceptive powers of “legitimate rape.”

• As Ian Malcom said, “life, uh … finds a way.”

• “How Do Researchers Feed Thousands of Bloodthirsty Bed Bugs?

• “It’s no surprise that lots of Americans are falling in love with solar.”

• “Everything you believe about obesity is probably wrong,” writes Sarah Kliff of Team Ezra.

Kliff cites the New England Journal of Medicine on seven myths which have been “proven wrong in randomized, controlled studies,” and six presumptions, “which have not been disproved, but also lack any research backing.”

Most of these are reasonable-seeming theories — many of them are things you may have heard from teachers or health reporters or even from successful dieters and may have accepted as true. They sound true. But half of them are, in fact, contradicted by research. The other half, “are not currently supported by research — but have not been proven wrong either.”

• Ed Yong provides the best writing and reporting I’ve ever encountered on this particular subject:

The video was a revelation to Diane Kelly from the University of Massachusetts, and the key to interpreting the utterly bizarre penis of the American alligator. Here are the highlights: it’s permanently erect; it shoots out like toothpaste from a tube; and it bounces back because it basically has a rubber band attached to it. “It is really weird,” says Kelly. “Really weird.”

That’s not something she’d say lightly. Animal penises are her specialty.

• A convergence of inspirations: Carl Sagan tells the story of Eratosthenes.

That’s the right answer. Eratosthenes’ only tools were sticks, eyes, feet, and brains. Plus a zest for experiment. With those tools he correctly deduced the circumference of the Earth, to high precision, with an error of only a few percent. That’s pretty good figuring for 2,200 years ago.

I love that story, and I love that storyteller.

• Gnyaaaaaaaughhhh.

Sarah Laskow of Grist explains what you’re seeing in that NSFA (not safe for arachnophobes) video:

Spiders like these live in colonies of thousands. Thousands. And they make gigantic webs — webs more than nine feet in diameter. Nine feet.

That’s what you’re seeing here: several thousand spiders and their incredibly large web, from which many of them are falling onto the ground.

And Brad Plumer helpfully clarifies that these are probably Anelosimus eximius, a “social spider.” In the case of spiders, I think I prefer the quiet loners who keep to themselves.

But here’s what I can’t figure out about that video: Where are the birds? Or the bats? As skin-crawlingly awful as a sky-filled with thousands of spiders appears to me, to a bird or a bat, this should look like one big all-you-can-eat buffet.


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  • Lunch Meat

    I admit I don’t understand the fear of all spiders or all snakes.

    The legs, man. The legs. *shudders*

  • Snakes don’t bug me at all really; but spiders and bugs give me the willies ><; always have.  I suspect it's because I got stung by a wasp on the back of my head when I was 5 – insects and anything resembling them has terrified me ever since.

  • B

     Snakes are awesome, but spiders have an excessive number of legs.

    Fortunately for me, my cats consider spiders both fun toys and tasty snacks, so I don’t find them in my apartment *that* often.

  •  It did!??!  Awwwwwwesome!

  • The dropbears are keeping quiet, so far. I guess the intense heat is affecting them.

  • Fusina

     Last summer a wolf spider decided that the area right behind our back door was an awesome place for a web. We got used to ducking under it–it went from the gutter to the rail on the steps, about five feet and the same wide. One afternoon we got to watch it building its web, which was pretty cool since they do the bit round webs. I suspect that the recycling bins were the insect attractor, we rinse but don’t wash the cans and jars.

    While I don’t like them crawling on me, I have a live and let live toward non-poisonous spiders. Black Widows, on the other hand, are on my autosmush list.

  • Carstonio

    Cool! This was the Senate, so next comes the House and the governor. Looking forward to Illinois joining the club – the New England states, New York, Maryland, Iowa and Washington.

  • Fusina

     WoooooooHoooooooo! How many more states are left?

  • “The landscape of journalism has changed a lot,” Kushner continue. “People take stands now.

    Technically, the only stand a journalist should take is against falsehood.

  • Obligatory Kate Beaton comic: Brown Recluse Spider-Man

  • Consumer Unit 5012

    Life beneath the ice? You mean like Beasts of the Southern Wild?

     More like shoggoths.

  • Consumer Unit 5012

     The Old West mythology claims that the Native Americans were the ones
    doing the scalping. Similar to how John Ford’s film Stagecoach has a
    white man preparing to shoot a white woman rather than let her be
    captured, when the fate that he feared was far more likely to happen to
    Native American women by white men.

    It’s ALWAYS Projection.  ALWAYS.

    On the subject of sports team names, am I a bad person for liking the Fighting Whities?

  • Consumer Unit 5012

     If you see snakes with legs, I don’t blame you for freaking out.

    (I’m not scared of spiders or snakes, but wasps freak me out – I got stung too often as a kid, I suspect.)

  • Tricksterson

    Yet another reason I love Shadowrun.  Not only are there dropbears in the Sixth World, they’re vampiric!

  • Carstonio

    On the subject of sports team names, am I a bad person for liking the Fighting Whities?

    If it was the Fighting Tighty Whities, then it would be payback for the Lingerie Bowl.

  • The_L1985

     “In the morning we went for a walk in the large attached gardens, looking
    for fresh mangos–which grow so abundantly in Hana that “fruit stands”
    consist of a pile of mangos and a box for money, on the honor system.”

    I’m not sure why I liked that image so much. :)

  • The_L1985

     You and me both, sir.  I love snakes, and to me a tarantula is adorable because it’s a fuzzy spider. ::3

  • The_L1985


  • vsm

    Besides giving James Stewart a very dark role, Anthony Mann’s Naked Spur is pretty interesting for addressing this issue, even if only obliquely. One of the characters is a white soldier chased by a band of Native Americans for raping the chief’s daughter. The other white characters are appalled but continue traveling with him.

  • SisterCoyote

    I kinda like spiders. I’ve only intentionally killed one in the past few… years, I think. I was sitting on the sofa, with my laptop, and something brown and massive – legs as long as my fingers – just about sprinted over the top of the sofa, perhaps from the window, and into my shoe on the living room floor. And, in a blind panic, I grabbed my wooden broadsword and pounded the shoe into oblivion. Regretted it, later. We’ve only got black widows and occasional recluses here, and that was definitely neither.

    The article on bedbugs had me crawling, though. Those things are just horrific.

  • I actually have a tarantula puppet. It’s soft and fuzzy, and about the size of my head.

    The reactions* I get to it, so far, have always been the same: adults freak out and try not to look at it; little kids pick it up and give it a big hug.

    * Initial reactions. Most adults get used to it…

  • stardreamer42

    I went to Grosse Pointe North High School; our team name was the Norsemen and the logo was a clip-art profile of a Viking. Just as stereotypical, but we don’t have a long and ugly history of vicious discrimination and bigotry against people of Scandinavian heritage, so anyone who wanted to bring that up as a counter-example would be full of shit.

  • stardreamer42

     I made a deal with Arachne — she keeps her children OUT of my house, and I don’t bother them in the yard. Spiders outdoors are useful and pretty. Spiders indoors are fair game.

  • P J Evans

     That’s the deal I have with shiny black spiders – they stay out of my space, and I don’t flatten them. (Same deal for ants: they stay out, and I only decimate them when they start invading.)

  • Rae

    The awesome part about that Twitter exchange was that it was only the start – I think the CSA made a pretty set of screencaps of the full thing, but other Star Trek cast members (and Wil Wheaton) got into it, too.

  • banancat

     Turns out that fear isn’t a perfectly rational reaction.  Go figure.

  • reynard61

    “On the subject of sports team names, am I a bad person for liking the name the Fighting Whities?”

    Not if you also don’t mind the 1908 YMCA Swastikas basketball team, or the 1922 Fernie Swastikas Women’s Hockey team, or the 1916 Edmondton Swastikas Women’s Hockey team.

  • Diona the Lurker

    To be fair, not all Australian wildlife will kill you. As proof, I present the Christmas Spider, a social spider that’s terrified of humans:
    As a kid, they were in the bush around my parents’ house in the summer, and I was rather frightened of them – but then, I’ve always been scared of spiders. I feel a bit guilty now, knowing they were more terrified of me than I was of them.

  • Carstonio

    While that’s true, that has nothing to do with my point. I was saying that I didn’t understand the fear. I become afraid to one degree or another when others are angry or upset. There’s nothing rational about that fear either, but it’s almost certainly based in previous experiences. I might understand someone’s fear of snakes and spiders if zie was traumatized at an early age by these.

  • EllieMurasaki

    None of those are Nazi-era. Did the swastika have those associations before the Nazis got hold of it?

  •  To my understanding it did not, it’s a very old symbol that shows up in several places all over the planet, particularly India and further east.  (I’ve heard it also shows up as a Native American symbol as well.)

    So yeah, my understanding is that pre-Nazis, the swastika was just a symbol that meant different things to different people in different places. 

    That said I’ll leave the disclaimer that “I could be wrong” – I’m hardly an expert.

  • Diona the Lurker

    Yes, the swastika is a very old symbol, which in the early 20th century became very popular as a symbol of good luck. More on this here:
    and in more detail here:

  • vsm

    Swastikas are still frequently used in Japan and presumably other Asian countries without Fascist connotations. If you ever see one in a map, it probably marks a Buddhist temple.

  • Posterboy