DBpedia in ReadWriteWeb’s Top 10 Semantic Web Products of 2009

The new year is slowly approaching and people start compiling their top x lists of 2009, with x usually ranging between 10 and 365.
The popular Web technology blog ReadWriteWeb has chosen x with value 10 and picked DBpedia as one of their top Semantic Web products of 2009. Its actually the only non-commercial [...]

See original: DBpedia DBpedia in ReadWriteWeb’s Top 10 Semantic Web Products of 2009

Feeding birds 'changes evolution'

Bird-feeders, hung in many a garden, can affect the way our feathered friends evolve, according to scientists.

See original: Earth | Earth News Feeding birds 'changes evolution'

Benjamin Tseng: Amazing gel shows Ubiquitin is transferred one-at-a-time and on a millisecond timescale!

Benjamin Tseng
Amazing gel shows Ubiquitin is transferred one-at-a-time and on a millisecond timescale! - http://www.iayork.com/Mystery...
Amazing gel shows Ubiquitin is transferred one-at-a-time and on a millisecond timescale!
Shirley Wu, Ruchira S. Datta, Michael Kuhn and 9 other people liked this
That's awesome. - Bill Hooker
Ian York rocks, as do the scientists who did this. - Mr. Gunn
Gels still speak, even without lasers... - Mark A Jensen

See original: FriendFeed - search Benjamin Tseng: Amazing gel shows Ubiquitin is transferred one-at-a-time and on a millisecond timescale!

British birdfeeders split blackcaps into two genetically distinct groups [Not Exactly Rocket Science]

In the forests of Germany live large numbers of blackcaps, a small species of songbird. They all look very similar, but they actually belong to two genetically distinct groups that are becoming more disparate with time. For the moment, the best way to tell them apart is to wait for winter. As the cold sets in, one group of blackcaps flies southwest to Spain, while a smaller group heads northwest towards Britain.

Blackcap.jpgIf the prospect of spending winter in Britain rather than Spain seems odd to you, you're not alone. Indeed, blackcaps were hardly ever ventured across these shores before the 1950s. But since then, the birds have taken advantage of the glut of food left out on bird tables by animal-loving Brits. These banquets, along with the luxury of not flying over the Alps, have made Britain an increasingly popular holiday destination for wintering blackcaps. And that has set them down the path towards becoming two separate species.

The mystery of Britain's winter blackcaps was solved in a classic series of experiments by Peter Berthold (awesome beard) in 1992. Berthold found that chicks from the two populations (those that fly to Britain and those that fly to Spain) would always fly in the same direction as their parents even if they were raised in identical environments. This strongly suggested that their travel plans were genetically set, and Berthold proved that by breeding birds from the two groups. Amazingly, their offspring migrated in a west-northwest direction, about halfway between the routes of their parents.  

Berthold went on to show that the blackcaps' inherited itineraries were the result of a handful of genes at most. And these initial differences have become magnified over time. When spring returns, the blackcaps fly home, they select mates and they form bonds that will last until the next year. But those returning from Britain have less distance to cover so they reach Germany first and they pair up with each other. When the stragglers from Spain get there, they only have each other to mate with.

Even though all of these birds spend most of the year in each others' company, they are actually two populations separated by barriers of time that prevent genes from flowing from one group to another. Gregor Rolshausen from the University of Freiburg has found that their genetic separation is already well underway.

He has found the Spanish migrants are genetically more distinct from the British ones than they are to individuals from more distant parts of Germany, some 800km away. These differences have arisen over just 30 generations and they're now sizeable enough that with a bit of DNA sequencing, individuals can be assigned to the right group with an accuracy of 85%.

It's highly unlikely that the British migrants arose because of an influx of genes from other blackcap populations. For a start, no European blackcaps had ever been found to migrate in a northwesterly direction before 1960.

Instead, Rolshausen thinks that the crucial factor was human altruism - by giving food to wintering birds, we also gave an advantage to any individuals with mutations that sent them in an unorthodox direction. Previously such birds would have simply died, but with humans around, they (and the genes they carried) flourished.

Their bodies have even changed. The British migrants have rounder wings. In general, European blackcaps with shorter migration routes tend to have rounder wings - they're more manoeuvrable but less suited to long distances. They also have narrower and longer beaks, for they are generalists that mostly eat seeds and fat from garden feeders. Birds that arrive in Spain eat fruit and those with broader bills can eat larger fruit.

Their colours are also slightly different. British migrants have browner backs and beaks, while the Spanish migrants are greyer. It's not clear why, but Rolshausen thinks that these changing hues could provide the birds with a way of recognising, and sticking to, their closer relatives.

This is one of the few studies to show that human activities - the provision of food to wintering birds - are powerful enough to set up reproductive barriers among animals that live in the same place. It also shows that these first few steps of speciation can happen with extraordinary pace, in just 50 years or so. As Rolshausen notes, the blackcaps are testament to the speed with which evolution can operate.

No one can say whether the blackcaps will actually split into two different species. All the conditions are right, but our activities may change the playing field once again, so that the birds experience entirely new sets of evolutionary pressures.

Reference: Current Biology 10.1016/j.cub.2009.10.061

More on speciation:

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Also check out the featured ScienceBlog of the week: Applied Statistics

See original: ScienceBlogs Select British birdfeeders split blackcaps into two genetically distinct groups [Not Exactly Rocket Science]

What Have We Learned from OLPC?

Four years ago, Nicholas Negroponte introduced the world to the "One Laptop Per Child" idea at WSIS by showing off a "$100 laptop" with UN Secretary General Kofi Annan. The educational and technology fields haven't been the same since.

More than photos of XO + kids - impact

OLPC has impact deeper and farther than just XO's passed out or netbooks snapped up. Its changing education, technology, even culture in ways beyond anyone's expectations. So for the month of December, look for posts about OLPC impact in two forums:

OLPC NewsWe'll have a Guest Posts on OLPC News all month long around OLPC impact.Sumbit a Guest Post today!Educational Technology DebateThis month's conversation is focused just on what we've learned from OLPC. Join the EduTechDebate now!.

See original: One Laptop Per Child News What Have We Learned from OLPC?

The Climate Change Emails: Implications for Public Education and Engagement [Framing Science]

I've been busy the past week with wrapping up the semester and in conducting interviews with candidates for a tenure-track position in science journalism here at AU. As a consequence, I have not had the chance to post about continuing developments related to the stolen emails from servers at East Anglia University's Climate Research Unit (CRU).

However, today is a convenient time to weigh in, since I share many of the same conclusions offered by Mike Hulme in recent op-eds at the BBC and Wall Street Journal.

Before discussing the Hulme articles, let me relay a few observations. Since the stolen email story broke, my concern has been that many bloggers and commentators are overlooking the true significance of the event. Not unexpectedly, the storyline offered by these commentators simplistically defines the event as yet another effort by the conservative movement to manufacture doubt and to wage a "war on science."

Yet this predictable storyline overlooks the fact that scientists, science reporters, educators, and their institutions may have unintentionally created the conditions that helped a single focusing event turn into a global controversy and media frenzy. Reaction to the content of the East Anglia emails is so intense because it shows scientists talking and behaving in ways that cut against the stereotypical image of impartial, Vulcan-like high priests of reason. For too long in school and in news reporting, we have portrayed a cartoon image of how science is done, its connection to policy debates, and how scientists participate in these debates. This has worked for scientists in the past, but as the types of questions that society faces and as modes of communication change, the public is expecting and demanding greater involvement in science-related decisions and greater accountability on the part of scientists. The East Anglia emails are a wake up call that we need to shift modes to educate, communicate, and report on how science really works and its role relative to societal decisions. We need to fundamentally re-think how we educate, involve and engage the public in questions of science-related policy.

Specific to the East Anglia event and climate change, Mike Hulme and Jerome Ravetz adeptly describe this challenge in an opinion article at the BBC. As they write:

The disclosure and content of these private exchanges [the CRU emails] is only the latest in a long line of instances that point to the need for major changes in the relationship between science and the public.

By this, we mean a more concerted effort to explain and engage the public in understanding the processes and practices of science and scientists, as much as explaining the substance of their knowledge and how (un)certain it is.

How well does the public understand professional peer review, for example, or the role of a workshop, a seminar and a conference in science?

Does the public understand how scientists go about resolving differences of opinion or reaching consensus about an important question when the uncertainties are large?

We don't mean the "textbook" answers to such things; all practising scientists know that they do not simply follow a rulebook to do their science, otherwise it could be done by a robot.

Science is a deeply human activity, and we need to be more honest about what this entails. Rather than undermining science, it would actually allow the public to place their trust more appropriately in the various types of knowledge that scientists can offer.

So how would we start to go about changing how we educate the public on these realities of science as an institution? One starting place, and an idea I have been pitching, is to develop a "civic science literacy" curriculum module that can be incorporated in entry-level college science courses for majors and non-majors alike. Here's how I describe this module in a recent review article:

[The module] would introduce students to quality online news sources about science, teach students about how to constructively use participatory tools such as blogs and other social media applications, educate students on how to critically evaluate evidence and claims as presented in the media, introduce students to the relationships between science and institutions as they are often covered in the news, and socialize students into enjoying and following science by way of digital media after they complete their formal science coursework. In short, this type of media literacy curriculum would not only potentially grow the audience for science media, but also impart the skills, motivation, and know-how that students need to be participatory citizens in the online and real worlds.

So where in the popular media might we look for examples to include as part of this curriculum? A place to start is the ongoing conversation at Andrew Revkin's Dot Earth blog, one of the few places in the U.S. mainstream media where many of these sociological and political questions related to climate science are addressed. A second leading source, relevant to many fields in the life sciences, would be articles from The Scientist magazine, which routinely offers strong context for understanding the financial, social, and political dimensions of science. Other sources include David Goldston's past columns on science policy at Nature or other commentary articles appearing at the Nature outlets. Past articles at Issues in Science & Technology are also good sources, such as this recent article on the "politicization" of science by Daniel Sarewitz.

Finally, a leading resource is this past series by CBC Radio on "How to Think about Science," a series that introduces listeners to research in the field of social studies of science. I raved about the series when it came out and now the series transcripts are available as an edited volume.

Of course, these popular media sources should be complemented by deeper, yet still accessible core readings. Examples might include Mike Hulme's recently published Why We Disagree About Climate Change, Roger Pielke's Honest Broker, or chapters from this excellent edited volume on science communication and public engagement.

[For readers attending the upcoming AGU meetings, a pre-conference panel will explore many of these issues. Go here for details and to register.]

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Also check out the featured ScienceBlog of the week: Applied Statistics

See original: ScienceBlogs Select The Climate Change Emails: Implications for Public Education and Engagement [Framing Science]

Open access and the Google book settlement

From Peter Suber’s November 2009 issue of the SPARC Open Access Newsletter

See original: SPARC - Full Feed Open access and the Google book settlement

There ought to be a qualifying exam for parenthood

It's another of those cases where people unfit to be parents abuse their children. Samuel McGehee is accused of murdering his youngest son, suffocating him to death because he wouldn't take a nap. That's horrible, but the next question I have to ask is why this guy was allowed in the same room with small children after what he did last year.

A detective testified that in March 2008, McGehee, concerned about the family's financial state, decided to circumcise his other son at home, using a filet knife.

"There was severe damage to the shaft of the penis," Detective Shawn Jenkins said. "There was a lot of skin removed."

The 3-month-old's scrotum was also lacerated during the procedure, Jenkins said. The child has subsequently endured extensive reconstructive surgeries, and more are expected.

What is it with these religious kooks and their children's penises? I'm the father of two boys, and aside from assistance with basic hygiene when they were very small, I pretty much left their business alone…and the idea of taking a knife to them was unthinkable. I really wonder what crazy fundagelical church this man went to that made circumcision such a priority.

If the law had taken this lunatic aside when he'd committed such a stupid crime and told him that his parenting rights were immediately suspended, there's another little boy who might still be alive today.

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See original: Science News There ought to be a qualifying exam for parenthood

Roger Ebert is such a skeptic

He takes on our country's curious attitude towards patent inanity.

We are edging into an Election Season where strange beliefs will get an unusual airing. Sarah Palin, Mike Huckabee are up front in their disdain for Darwinism and their embrace of one degree or another of Creationism. Obama and most Democrats, and many Republicans have no problem at all with Darwinism, but will be wise to keep that out of their basic stump speech. Palin can draw applause by affirming she doesn't believe mankind shared a common ancestor with oran utans, but Obama will prudently refrain from revealing his belief in the quite provable fact that we do.

It will be a fascinating aspect of the coverage of the approaching campaigns to watch how mainstream news organizations tread on this thin ice. There was an outcry in some circles when most news outlets were slow to simply state that George Bush was wrong about Brownie doin a great job, and Palin was wrong about the Bridge to Nowhere. They were wrong, but few in the MSM said they were, and even fewer, perhaps none, of those outlets will say that Palin or Huckabee are just plain wrong, wrong, wrong about Creationism. Not since Flat Earthers has there been a public dispute in which one side (Darwinism) has so throughly and merciless demolished the other (Creationism). Yet at most the MSM might venture to mention a "debate" or "controversy" between Darwinism and Creationism. News at 10: The debate about the theory of gravity.

He doesn't just target the right-wing follies, either: the lefties get a skewering for their promotion of New Agey Nonsense. It's a good read.

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  1. Roger Ebert, humanist Best read of the day: Roger Ebert muses on mortality....
  2. Roger Ebert doesn’t review Creation There's a new movie coming out about Darwin that does...
  3. More clues to God’s identity! One of those right-wing circle-jerks has been going on in...

See original: Science News Roger Ebert is such a skeptic

Medieval Genius Sculptor Vaporised [Aardvarchaeology]


Names are one of the things that separate historical and archaeological thinking from each other. History is full of people of whom little is known beyond their names and perhaps a royal or ecclesiastical title, yet still they are considered to be historical personages. Meanwhile, a dead person found in a nameless prehistoric grave can never attain the same historical stature regardless of the objects preserved with the body and the scientific data extracted from the bones.

This fixation with names was once a characteristic of art historians as well. One of the differences between Medieval and Renaissance art is that in the latter era, much more art can be attributed to named artists. But still, there are a few named Medieval ones too. And they have acted as magnets for attribution of anonymous masterpieces.

Medieval art in Sweden is largely synonymous with church art, of which we have unusually large amounts preserved because our Reformation was not strongly iconoclastic. And there are two huge names: Albertus Pictor (that is, "Albert the painter", born ~1480) from Immenhausen in Germany and Bernt Notke from Lübeck, also in Germany (born ~1440). Both were painters, both died in 1509, both have left signed preserved pieces of work, and the vibrant style of Albert and his workshop is unmistakeable. I recently learned that though he oversaw the frescoes in more than 30 churches, he died at about age 29. He painted those churches at the typical age of an art history undergrad!

But Bernt Notke, it turns out, is a different kind of guy entirely. Reading the new book by one of Sweden's best Medieval art historians, Peter Tångeberg (whom I like to call an archaeologist of sculpture, which is intended as a compliment), I learned that Notke is one of those attribution magnets. And a hollow one to boot.

One of Sweden's finest pieces of Medieval art is St. George and the Dragon in Stockholm cathedral. It is an anonymous work. In 1901/06 influential art historian Johnny Roosval attributed it to Bernt Notke. This attribution stuck: it's part of a good Swedish education to "know" that Notke sculpted St. George. And since that time, innumerable fine anonymous pieces of art have been attributed to the genius behind St. George -- Notke.

But, Tångeberg points out, there are in fact only three pieces of work that are known to be Notke's either through signatures of church archives. They are a triumphal crucifix in Lübeck Cathedral from 1477, a reredos (altarskåp) in Århus cathedral from 1479 and a reredos in Tallinn's All Saints' Church from 1483. And when you look at them you find some interesting facts.

  1. Notke's three works are very dissimilar from each other and must have been made by a group of artisans under his direction. (Hardly surprising, as Notke never claimed to be a sculptor.) This means that it is impossible to identify and characterise Notke's style.

  2. All three works are rather mediocre pieces, far below the level of mastery seen in St. George in Stockholm.

Peter Tångeberg masterfully shows that St. George was not made by Notke or any other artist from Lübeck. Its only real parallels are found in painted religious sculpture from the Burgundian area in the southern Netherlands, where extremely little art of this period survives. In fact, a previously discounted 17th century author reports that the sculpture was ordered from Antwerp.

In any case, there is no longer any good reason to put a name to the people who created St. George and the Dragon. And the genius Bernt Notke, a central figure in North European art history, has simply evaporated, poor fellow.

Check out Peter Tångeberg's paper on re-worked Madonna sculptures with updated faces. And read his new book, Wahrheit und Mythos -- Bernt Notke und die Stockholmer St.-Georgs-Gruppe. Even if you don't read German, get it for the pictures.

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Also check out the featured ScienceBlog of the week: Applied Statistics

See original: ScienceBlogs Select Medieval Genius Sculptor Vaporised [Aardvarchaeology]