Unisexual Ambystoma

Unisexual Ambystoma

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

What I think is cool in science, July (late) edition

Killer Cats
Look, I'll be the first to admit that I don't care for cats. I prefer the companionship of a good canine.

However, cats are to be admired for one thing: they are well-tuned killing machines. Don't believe me when I say that Fluffy is a murderous night stalker? Check out the new report that suggests outdoor cats are killing a lot more wildlife than previously expected. The study, conducted by National Geographic and the University of Georgia, straps small video cameras to cats and analyzes how they spend their time. You can watch what some of the cats were up to here. It is pretty entertaining.

Kitty cams. Yeah, it sounds silly. So why is it important?

Well, there are millions of feral cats across the globe. These cats are considered invasive, and are widely regarded as responsible for demolishing many bird species. This study is the first to really document all the behaviors of these animals, and it shows that, yes, cats kill a lot of animals. However, the study also documents the many risk behaviors that outdoor cats participate in and how often they participate in these dangerous activities, such as crossing busy roads (45% of studied cats), drinking strange substances (25%), and exploring storm drains (20%).

The punchline seems clear: cats need to stay inside on your lap, for their health and the health of wildlife.

Centrolene sabini is #7,000

7,000 Amphibians!
AmphibiaWeb, a database ran by the University of California - Berkley, celebrated the discovery of the 7,000th species of amphibian.

The scientific focus on amphibians declines over the past three decades has spurred a great deal of interest in these lovely creatures, and one facet of that interest is the discovery and description of new species. The fear of losing amphibians has probably lead to a better understanding of amphibian diversity.

I think that this is all great, of course. However, the thing I was most excited about was the way that AmphibiaWeb celebrated: through song. Please listen to it, because it is awesome.

Most Biologists are Terrified of Math
Two biologists at the University of Bristol, UK recently published a study entitled "Heavy use of equations impedes communication among biologists". This study demonstrated that scientific papers that have multiple equations are less cited by other scientists, except in other theoretical-type papers.

I can relate to this phenomenon well. Like many other grad students, when I pick up a scientific paper and turn to the second page to be greeted by this:
I do this:
This isn't really me. My office isn't that clean.
Well, it isn't that bad, but I can see how an avoidance of equation-riddled papers could develop. I would love to have an opinion on this matter, but nothing I could say would be better said that Dr. E.O. Wilson during his TED talk, "Advice for young scientists". Whether you are a scientist or not, I highly recommend watching his presentation for motivation. His basic point is that rather than focusing on acquiring mastery of skill after skill, young scientists should focus on developing big questions in difficult fields. In an era where technology makes communication with others easy, technical skill is widely available. It is impossible to know it all, but it is feasible to find someone who knows an awful lot about something you need to know.