Search Results for: Science

I Have a Half Mind to Donate My Brain to Science

AP Photo/Teresa Crawford

Every year, thousands of Americans donate their brains to science. Dara Bramson‘s grandmother will be one of them. Since Bramson was a child, her grandmother Marge Pearlson has carried a plastic replica brain in her purse as a prop and conversation starter. With Pearlson now at an age where her donation time is approaching, Bramson has been wondering: how does the donation process worked, and where does grandmother’s brain end and her identity begin? For The Atlantic, she visited the University of Miami’s Brain Endowment Bank to find out.

Walking the halls of Miami’s Brain Endowment Bank, I was introduced to researchers and peered into a microscope at Alzheimer’s tissue. I wondered what people and which spaces would encounter my grandmother’s brain. I struggled—still—to reduce her to tissue on a slide. I wanted to ask the researchers if they can call tissue inanimate with conviction.

At one point, the bank’s office manager plopped a thick folder on a desk in front of me. This was my grandmother’s file—a collection of medical records as well as letters, photographs, and invitations that my grandmother shared with the bank to keep them informed about her life over the years. The office manager called the file impressive, wagging another thin manila folder, the norm for most donors.

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Homeward Bound: Allegedly a Sea of Sexual Harassment in the Field of Science

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Homeward Bound is an Australian organization dedicated to helping women achieve leadership positions in the field of science, though ironically, the mentorship program has allegedly been plagued by the prevalence of sexual harassment during the program’s three-week long Antarctic voyage. Perhaps the worst part? Women who have reported concerns feel silenced by the organization. “Their belief is that Homeward Bound is not yet a safe space for women, even as it works toward making science more inclusive of them.” Read Eve Andrewspiece at Grist.

The women who wrote to me, all alumnae of Homeward Bound’s inaugural Antarctic voyage, alleged that, rather than working to remove barriers that stymie women scientists, the trip was plagued by them. They noted several instances of sexual harassment and bullying, and one participant alleged a disturbing episode of what she labeled “sexual coercion” at the hands of one of the ship’s crew. Much of that environment of hostility was perpetuated, they say, by Homeward Bound’s leadership and faculty.

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What If Forensic Science Isn’t Really Science?

(Busà Photography/Getty)

Forensic science — the kind that traces the grooves in bullets, the mark of a shoe, or the scrape of a tool — emerged in the early 20th century as a way to professionalize police work. But once its findings made their way into the court system, it became almost impossible to divide the good forensic science from the bad.

In an in-depth feature for The Nation, Meehan Christ and Tim Requarth look at the case of Jimmy Genrich, who was found guilty of a series of pipe bombings in the early 1990s after forensic evidence linked tools found in his apartment with markings on the bombs.

The evidence was circumstantial — Genrich was nowhere near the scene of the crime — and while the forensics specialist was able to show that the tools Genrich had in his possession could have made the marks, he was unable to show that similar tools would make the same marks. “Holy shit, this is not science,” remembers Genrich’s lawyer. “It’s like voodoo.”

Law enforcement borrowed terms from science, establishing crime “laboratories” staffed by forensic “scientists” who announced “theories” cloaked in their own specialized jargon. But forensic “science” focused on inventing clever ways to solve cases and win convictions; it was never about forming theories and testing them according to basic scientific standards. By adopting the trappings of science, the forensic disciplines co-opted its authority while abandoning its methods.

Once a technique has made it into court and survived appeals, subsequent judges, most of whom have no scientific training and little ability to assess the scientific validity of a technique, will continue to allow it by citing precedent. Forensic examiners, in turn, cite precedent in order to claim that their techniques are reliable science. Prosecutors point to guilty verdicts as evidence that the science brought to court was sound. In this circular way, legal rulings — which never really vetted the science to begin with — substitute for scientific proof … Nowhere in this process is anyone required to provide empirical evidence that the techniques work as advertised.

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Forensic Science Put Jimmy Genrich in Prison for 24 Years. What if It Wasn’t Science?

Longreads Pick

Forensic science — the kind that traces the grooves in bullets, the mark of a shoe, or the scrape of a tool — emerged in the early 20th century as a way to professionalize police work. But once its findings made their way into the court system, it became almost impossible to divide the good forensic science from the bad.


Source: The Nation
Published: Feb 6, 2018
Length: 46 minutes (11,700 words)

Longreads Best of 2017: Science, Technology, and Business Writing

We asked writers and editors to choose some of their favorite stories of the year in various categories. Here is the best in science, tech, and business writing.

Deborah Blum
Director of the Knight Science Journalism program at MIT and author of The Poisoner’s Handbook

The Touch of Madness (David Dobbs, Pacific Standard)

A beautifully rendered exploration of the slow, relentless creep of schizophrenia into the life of a brilliant graduate student, her slow recognition of the fact, and the failure of her academic community to recognize the issue or to support her. Dobbs’ piece functions both as an inquiry into our faltering understanding of mental illness and our cultural failure to respond to it with integrity. It’s the kind of compassionate and morally-centered journalism we should all aspire to.

Elmo Keep
Australian writer and journalist living in Mexico, runner-up for the 2017 Bragg Prize for Science Writing

How Eclipse Chasers Are Putting a Small Kentucky Town on the Map (Lucas Reilly, Mental Floss)

Anyone willing to write about syzygy in the shadow of Annie Dillard’s classic 1982 essay “Total Eclipse” has balls for miles. Reilly’s decision to focus on the logistics faced by tiny towns preparing to be inundated by thousands of eclipse watchers was inspired. It brilliantly conveyed the shared enthusiasms that celestial events animate in us. Between these two essays, I’m convinced a total eclipse would be a psychic event so overwhelming I might not survive it. I’ve got 2037 in Antarctica on my bucket list — if it’s still there in twenty years.    Read more…

The Science of Spying: How the CIA Secretly Recruits Academics

Longreads Pick

The US spy agency has spent millions of dollars creating whole scientific conferences in order to gather intelligence and get nuclear scientists from countries like Iran to defect.

Source: The Guardian
Published: Oct 10, 2017
Length: 16 minutes (4,100 words)

What Happens When a Science Fiction Genius Starts Blogging?

Longreads Pick

After giving up writing fiction at age 87, fantasy, science fiction, and speculative fiction author Ursula K. Le Guin has started a blog. Internet citizens may want to know: does she write about her cat, Pard? Why yes, yes she does — while examining the human condition, of course.

Published: Sep 7, 2017
Length: 6 minutes (1,734 words)

Brain-Altering Science and the Search for a New Normal

Longreads Pick
Published: Mar 13, 2017
Length: 13 minutes (3,483 words)

Seven Stories About the Science Behind Fast Food

(AP Photo/Sunday Alamba, File)

I am a pizza apostate. Not only do I use a fork and knife whenever I eat pizza, I also sometimes bypass my normal slice joint for the siren call of deliciously buttered-and-garlic salted crust that only Dominos can deliver.

According to Bloomberg, I am not the only one who can’t resist the Michigan chain’s pies: the company is now worth a staggering $9 billion—its share price has risen more than 2,000 percent since 2010 (outpacing the likes of Google and Apple)—and Dominos has not only been brought back to life, it is now the leading force in the intersection of fast food and technology. As Susan Berfield writes,

Domino’s has always understood the importance of not having to go anywhere. Although you can still walk into a restaurant if you must, there are at least a dozen ways to order a Domino’s pizza in absentia. Some are self-explanatory: mobile apps, Apple Watch, Facebook Messenger. Others need some explanation. To order via Twitter, you must create an online account, save a pizza as your favorite (known as your Easy Order), and connect it to your Twitter account. Then tweet a pizza emoji to @dominos. “We’ll know who you are, what pizza you want, your default location and payment,” Maloney says. “We send a ‘Sounds awesome, are you sure?’ You send a thumbs up.” But if you want to order something other than your favorite, you’re out of luck.

Maloney clears away the remains of our lunch (Pacific Veggie, thin crust) to show me option 12 on his phone: zero-click ordering. “This will freak you out,” he says. “What’s the easiest way to order? When you don’t have to do anything.” One day Maloney and Garcia were in the car with their ad guys, dreaming of how to one-up Amazon’s one-click ordering. Three months later they had their zero-click app, which does require one click to start. “Tap the Domino’s icon to open it and find my Easy Order,” Maloney says. That’s it. “I have 10 seconds before it automatically places the order.” A big countdown clock appears on Maloney’s screen. If he does nothing, his Easy Order, a 12-inch hand-tossed pizza, will be on its way to his home.

While Dominos is at the forefront of our fast food, it isn’t the only company to have paired food science and tech to deliver a product that is utterly craveable. The following are some of the best pieces in the past several years to capture this culinary shift. Read more…

Science vs. the Jellyfish! (Hint: the Jellyfish Are Winning)

black and white photo of a jellyfish
Photo by Bryan Jones (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Jellyfish: we can’t predict where and when they’ll appear, we can’t anticipate where they’ll go, they can shut down an aircraft carrier, and we can’t figure how how to reduce their population. Tamar Stelling, in the Correspondent, looks at these amazingly resilient sacks of goo.

“Fight jellyfish?” Boero says when I speak with him on Skype. “Forget it.” Any tactic you’d use to combat any other plague is useless against jellyfish. Pesticides don’t affect them. Many species don’t actively swim in any particular direction, so you can’t chase them away. Electrocution doesn’t work. Acoustic shocks? Nope: with no brain or ears, a jellyfish has no notion of sound. “Jellyfish shredders, hormones – you’re just treating the symptoms,” Boero says.

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