Science in the news

Lt Dan sent me a link to this funny PhD Comics panel the other day, which accurately captures the lack of information and overabundance of hyperbole that’s all too common in science reporting:

Click to embiggen

Click to embiggen

It’s not a joke. Check out this Language Log entry from yesterday that spots a headline suggestion that if you learn Chinese you can develop perfect pitch.

PhD Comics has also done a very funny follow-up about science news items that always make the papers. And, if I’m honest, this blog.

Click to embiggen

Click to embiggen

Nine Carols and Lessons for Godless People

During a holiday different-points-view piece last year, UK comedian Robin Ince was told that as he was an atheist he must want to do away with the holiday season altogether. To show that secularists and scientists can be as festive (and lazy and overindulgent) as anyone else, Ince arranged a holiday show of comedy and music called Nine Carols and Lessons for Godless People, billed as “a Rational Celebration for Christmas”. The original date at the 400-person Bloomsbury Theatre sold out. They added another, and it sold out. So they added a third at the 4000-person Hammersmith Apollo; it was this show that I attended last night.

Comedy was the main thrust of the evening, with some science jokes and many jabs at religion, alternative medicine, and psychics. There were songs (many funny), singalongs, and a small orchestra. There were talks about science from noted authorities.

The entertainment was very uneven, but averaged out to be more fun than not. Josie Long was pretty weak, Ricky Gervais was very bad (I really don’t find his standup very good), and a couple of the novelty songs were just plain dumb. But some – like Ince and Stewart Lee – were funny, and Dara O’Briainwas hilarious. Jarvis Cocker showed up to play a couple of topical songs, delivered loosely but enjoyably. Popular science author Simon Singh told a funny story about Katie Melua being a nerd. Richard Dawkins read three excerpts from his books, clear and evocative indicators of why he became a populariser of science. There were a couple of snippets from Carl Sagan. Tim Minchin did some funny beat poetry about confronting hippy-dippy alt-medicine nonsense at a dinner party. But I thought Ben Goldacre’s parable – about AIDS denialists and vitamin fantasists and the awful, real damage that bullshit can do – was the most moving part of the evening.

Just because you’re rational doesn’t mean you can’t be festive and fun.

Robin Ince

Photo from Diamond Geyser via Creative Commons license

Mind Hacks: Everything I know about psychiatry, I learnt from heavy metal

The always-excellent Mind Hacks blog has an entry from yesterday that merges science and music in a funny way, and is therefore right up this blog’s alley. Namely, that the whole range of psychopathology can be found on the cover of heavy metal albums.

The first supporting album that came to my mind, like the first commenter’s, was Black Sabbath’s Paranoid. There must be dozens more.

xkcd: The universe, top to bottom, on a log scale

It’s always brilliant, but I really like today’s cartoon. There’s very little cooler than a logarithmic scale, to be honest.

Hey, look: it’s Ford Prefect.

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epMotion makes pipetting sexy

Another blog post mixing music and science.

I did a few general chemistry courses during my school and university education. I did only one full-on course, in analytical chemistry (basically, “What is this stuff, exactly?”). That course required that I pipette a lot.

A pipette is a device that transports a precise amount of liquid. It’s essentially a tube with gradations marked on it, and some means for sucking liquid up to the desired level in the tube and then spitting it back out to where you want to go.

The old-school pipettes we had in my uni lab were glass tubes with a rubber bulb on the end, and they worked just like a turkey baster: squeeze the bulb, dip the end of the tube into the liquid, slowly release the bulb, watch liquid get sucked up, adjust to the right level, transport to a receptacle, and squeeze the bulb to eject all the liquid. It takes skill, it’s not especially accurate, but it’s cheap and simple. There were some easier, more accurate, piston-driven pipettes (working a bit more like a syringe) around, but I think they were only available to grad students or proper chemistry programme people.

There are now even fancier, high-tech, no-effort-at-all pipetting systems, it seems. And one company, Eppendorf, thinks that boy bands are the best way to sell its epMotion system. Tongue-in-cheek, and hilarious.

[Thanks, BoingBoing.]