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28 Aug 16:06

Developmental plasticity is not Lamarckism [Pharyngula]

by PZ Myers

Sometimes, people email me with good questions. Here’s one.

When I was a kid, my own visualization of evolution was Lamarckism.

But I didn’t know it. In reading Dawkins and others, I know it doesn’t exist. But it seems this article is claiming it does to some extent. Can you comment? I’m curious as to the current consensus as I’ve been reading a lot about genes that can be turned on and passed to offspring. Can you take a look?

This is a fairly common question. Looked at naively, developmental plasticity seems to be Lamarckian — we’re talking about organisms responding with morphological changes to their environment, just like Lamarck’s example of the giraffe stretching its neck. But that’s only the first step; the transmission of a distribution of traits to the next generation is purely Darwinian.

The article that prompted the question is about an experiment in Polypterus, in which the fish were raised in a terrestrial environment, and consequent changes in their limbs and behavior were observed.

A species of fish native to Africa could shed light on the evolutionary process that led fish to move on to dry land. The Dragon fish, Polypterus senegalus is not a normal fish – it has two lungs, and can survive outside of water. In a new eight-month experiment researchers have shown that if a Dragon fish is raised outside of water, the fish changes notably. The fish raised out of water showed differences in their bones and muscles involved in movement not shown in those raised in water.

Fish moved on to dry land and evolved into quadruped vertebrates around 400 million years ago, and it is thought that the Dragon fish is a living demonstration of a phenomenon known as developmental plasticity. This theory states that a creature’s physiology can be changed by environmental factors, and that overtime, these changes are incorporated in to the animal’s genome.

Hans Larsson, of McGill University’s Redpath Museum says that the aim of the experiment was to see the physical changes on Dragon fish that are raised out of the water.

“We wanted to push them in this new environment to see if we could reveal this cryptic variation, and if it works, what does it look like?”

Here’s a video of the animals, illustrating the outcome of the experiment.

Very cool, right? But it doesn’t contradict modern evolutionary theory at all — in fact, it doesn’t require any new concepts, but only the marriage of an understanding of evolution and development. Let’s take those concepts step by step.

Most genetic variation is neutral or nearly so — it has no detectable effect on the phenotype or on viability. Genetic variation can accumulate by drift, but if the differences don’t have any differential effect on survival or reproduction, selection doesn’t care. Most of the variation between humans, for instance, is cryptic: you don’t see it, it doesn’t do much of anything that we can see, but if you look at genes or proteins directly, you can find little differences. Consider blood types, for example: you can’t tell by looking at someone whether they are type A, B, AB, or O, and mostly these don’t seem to matter to the individual (I’m glossing over immunological effects — there is evidence that the blood groups may have arisen in response to malaria infections, for instance).

In order for selection to work, genetic variation has to be visible to it. These cryptic variations only matter if they are made visible to selection. Blood types didn’t have a major effect on people UNTIL blood transfusions became common responses to major injuries…and then having a rare blood type became a detriment. (Again, or until people are otherwise immunologically challenged by parasites with a differential response to blood antigens)

Organisms are plastic: that is, they change their patterns of gene expression in response to the environment. We don’t change blood types, so developmental plasticity is not going to be a major factor there, but other properties of our body are amenable to change. Exercise regularly, your muscles get bigger; eat lots of candy bars, you accumulate fat. There are also genetic differences within these responses. Some people build muscle easily when working out, others are slow to change; some people can eat lots of calories without storing it all as fat, others have metabolisms that shunt most of their intake directly into fat production.

Changing the environment leads to plastic changes in gene expression, which exposes genetic variation to selection. If candy bars were not readily available, the different degrees of fat storage in different people would not be an issue — nobody has the surplus calories, so everybody has the same lean body. You can’t select for the variants either way. Dump a load of candy bars on that population, though, and selectable differences will emerge.

The experiments with Polypterus show something similar. The animals have an inherent capacity for building stronger limbs that is not visible when they are raised continuously in an aquatic environment, but when they are raised in a terrestrial environment, they tend to reinforce bones to a degree that resembles that of fossil fishopods. This is not surprising, any more than it would be surprising if you grew stronger pecs if I forced you to do pushups every day, all day. It also isn’t Lamarckian if you work out and bulk up.

Where it has evolutionary consequences is in the opportunities it opens for selection. If early fish had a propensity for building more robust bones in a terrestrial environment, which allows them to live longer or be more mobile on land, the act of living on land first creates an opportunity for variants that increase terrestrial mobility to be operated on by selection. These variants would be invisible if the animals were always living in the water, after all.

So this is why when we talk about genetic assimilation and say the phenotype comes first, then the genotype arises to consolidate the adaptation, we aren’t talking about anything contrary to standard Darwinian modes of selection. Developmental plasticity creates situations in which otherwise invisible genes can become subject to selection.

30 Aug 12:00

Party Car of the Day

29 Aug 04:00

Writing Skills

I'd like to find a corpus of writing from children in a non-self-selected sample (e.g. handwritten letters to the president from everyone in the same teacher's 7th grade class every year)--and score the kids today versus the kids 20 years ago on various objective measures of writing quality. I've heard the idea that exposure to all this amateur peer practice is hurting us, but I'd bet on the generation that conducts the bulk of their social lives via the written word over the generation that occasionally wrote book reports and letters to grandma once a year, any day.
13 Jul 17:55

Lessons From Brazil's War on Poverty

Brazil is a giant when it comes to soccer. In the late 1990s, it was a giant in another area, this one much less desirable: Brazil had one of the highest levels of income inequality in the world, as home to some of the world’s poorest people, while its richest competed with the wealthiest in the United States and elsewhere.1

In 2001, Brazil’s Gini coefficient — the most common (but not necessarily most attractive) measure of inequality2 — hovered around 0.60, a very high figure by any standard. (A Gini coefficient of 0 represents perfect equality where everyone earns the same income, and 1 represents complete inequality where all the country’s income accrues to a single person.) By comparison, the U.S. — not exactly a bastion of equality — had a Gini coefficient of 0.4 in 2000.3


But from 2001 to 2007, income inequality in Brazil started to decline at an unprecedented rate: The Gini coefficient fell from above 0.60 to below 0.55, reaching its lowest level in more than 30 years. The incomes of the poorest tenth of Brazilians grew by 7 percent per year, nearly three times the national average of 2.5 percent. In less than a decade, Brazil had managed to cut the proportion of its population living in extreme poverty in half.4

This sharp decline coincided with the introduction of Brazil’s first cash transfer programs in 2001. Created to reduce poverty in the short-run, these programs also provided incentives to households to invest in their children’s education, health and nutrition. Brazil was following on the success of Mexico, which a couple of years earlier had introduced PROGRESA, perhaps the world’s best-known and most influential conditional cash transfer program.5 Brazil consolidated its programs into one program, called Bolsa Familia, in 2003.

Bolsa Familia targeted households whose per capita monthly income was less than 120 reais (a yearly income of $828). The government paid these households between 20 to 182 reais per month (between $132 to $1,248 a year) if they met certain conditions: Children under the age of 17 had to regularly attend school; pregnant women had to visit clinics for prenatal and antenatal care; and parents needed to make sure their children were fully immunized by age 5 and received growth check-ups until age 6. It also provided a small allocation to extremely poor households with no strings attached. By 2010, Bolsa Familia had grown to one of the world’s largest conditional cash transfer programs, providing 40 billion reais (about $24 billion) to nearly 50 million people, about a quarter of Brazil’s population.

So what role did Bolsa Familia play in the decline of inequality in Brazil since 2000? With such a large transfer of money from taxpayers to Brazil’s poorest, you’d imagine there must have been some impact, but how much of one? Identifying the causal effects of large, nationwide government programs is challenging. Many factors can affect the distribution of income over time. Shifting demographics, the changing nature of work, and women’s participation in the labor force can all affect income inequality. If you wanted to truly isolate Bolsa Familia’s effect, you could theoretically conduct an experiment — not unlike the trials that pharmaceutical companies routinely do to test a drug’s effectiveness — where you’d randomly assign some communities and not others to the cash transfer program, and then compare inequality between them.

However, this type of social experiment is hard, if not impossible, for governments to conduct for a long period of time. For example, Mexico did randomly assign some eligible communities to PROGRESA while withholding the benefits from other (equally eligible) communities at the start, but this pilot phase lasted only 18 months, after which the program was rolled out to all eligible areas. An 18-month period might have been sufficient to evaluate the effects of the program on children’s school attendance and women’s visits to health clinics, but it was too short a period to evaluate the program’s longer-term impacts on poverty and inequality. In any case, researcher Gala Diaz Langou says that leaving some areas out of the program was not politically feasible in Brazil, so there was no such experimentation with Bolsa Familia.6

So if you can’t do a randomized trial, what can you do to assess the program’s effect on Brazil’s drop in income inequality? Economists often try to understand changes in income inequality by quantifying all the elements that affect the distribution of income, such as the proportion of adults who work, the number of hours they work, their hourly wages, whether they have income from other assets, and whether they’re receiving money from the government. Once income is broken down by source at a given point in time, researchers can try to isolate the role of each source in changes in the distribution of income by keeping that factor constant over time and allowing all the remaining factors to vary. While this approach doesn’t identify the causal effect of any one factor on changes in a country’s Gini coefficient, it’s still a useful accounting exercise — helpful in focusing on the main factors associated with the changes in the distribution of incomes.7

Using this approach, two studies — a 2010 paper on Brazil (by Ricardo Barros and co-authors from Brazil’s Institute of Applied Economic Research) and a 2013 paper on a number of countries in Latin America including Brazil (by the World Bank’s Joao Pedro Azevedo and co-authors) — have separately found that government transfers accounted for about 40 percent of the decline in inequality in Brazil, with expansions in pensions and Bolsa Familia (and a related program for people with disabilities) contributing roughly equally to the decline in income inequality. However, of these government transfers, Bolsa Familia was by far the most important component in raising the income levels of Brazil’s poorest households: Between 2001 and 2007, the share of people receiving these conditional cash transfer payments increased by more than 10 percentage points, from 6.5 percent to 16.9 percent. This accounted for the entire increase in the share of households that received non-labor income (i.e. income from sources outside of working a job).

Hence, available estimates suggest that Bolsa Familia contributed about 15 to 20 percent of the decline in income inequality during the decade starting in 2000. These effects were most likely achieved by putting money directly into the pockets of poor households.8 Because the money is tied to parents’ investing more in their children’s health and education, advocates of the program hope these cash transfers will not only reduce poverty in real time, but keep the next generation from poverty as well. And it appears Bolsa Familia may also have had some success in this respect: Paul Glewwe of the University of Minnesota and Ana Lucia Kassouf of the University of Sao Paulo found in 2012 that the program has led to improvements in children’s school enrollment and advancement, which could translate into higher incomes for them as adults and further reductions in poverty and inequality.

But if Bolsa Familia only accounted for 15 to 20 percent of the drop in income inequality in Brazil, what contributed the most? The same two studies agree that rising wages among the poor were the main driver of the decline in inequality in Brazil. While their methodologies differ slightly, the studies show that changes in labor income accounted for 55 to 60 percent of the drop in income inequality.

And why did wages for the poor rise? Even before Bolsa Familia, the Brazilian government adopted policies that expanded access to education: Between 1995 and 2005, the average schooling among workers increased by almost two years. At the same time, the hourly wages for a worker with a given level of education rose much faster among the poor than the rest of the population, likely due to the increased demand for low-skilled labor that accompanied the commodity and price booms experienced in Brazil, and Latin America more generally, according to research by Leonardo Gasparini of the National University of La Plata in Argentina and co-authors. So, a combination of public policy (expansion of access to education and government transfers to the poor) and favorable market factors (rising wages for low-skilled workers) led to substantial declines in inequality in Brazil.

Income inequality in Brazil and Latin America remains high. Barros and his co-authors estimate that almost two more decades of similar progress is needed to bring income inequality in Brazil down to the world average.9 Expanding cash transfer programs like Bolsa Familia might be tough for the government, particularly in periods of tighter budgets. However, experimentation with these programs’ design (in Brazil and elsewhere) — for example, expanding Bolsa Familia benefits instead of pursuing continued increases in pensions for older Brazilians10 — can allow governments to maximize impacts while keeping a lid on program budgets.

05 Aug 13:23

Women of the Arxiv [Uncertain Principles]

by Chad Orzel

Over at FiveThirtyEight, they have a number-crunching analysis of the number of papers (co)authored by women in the arxiv preprint server, including a breakdown of first-author and last-author papers by women, which are perhaps better indicators of prestige. The key time series graph is here:

Fraction of women authors on the arxiv preprint server over time, from FivethirtyEight.

Fraction of women authors on the arxiv preprint server over time, from FivethirtyEight.

This shows a steady increase (save for a brief drop in the first couple of years, which probably ought to be discounted as the arxiv was just getting started) from a bit over 5% women in the early 90′s to a bit over 15% now. The more detailed discussion in the article is worth reading, and mostly stands on its own.

One thing, though, that I wish they had included was a reference to this graph from the American Institutes of Physics showing basically the same trend:

Fraction of Ph.D.'s in physics awarded to women, as a function of time. From the AIP Statistical Research center.

Fraction of Ph.D.’s in physics awarded to women, as a function of time. From the AIP Statistical Research center.

That’s showing the fraction of physics Ph.D.’s earned by women over the years, and rises from a bit over 10% in the early 90′s to around 20% now. The data on women in faculty positions is less complete, but shows a similar trend.

The FiveThirtyEight piece, by Emma Pierson, covers a lot of issues, but I wish they’d dealt a bit more with this change over time. Because in some ways, that tells you a lot about the underlying dynamics– if the number of papers featuring women as authors simply tracks the number of women in physics in general, that’s one thing. If it rises more slowly than you would expect from the number of women in physics, that would be saying something else, and much less positive. Absent that, it’s hard to know what to really think about the trend Pierson reports.

Of course, it’s a difficult matter to tease this out, and there’s also an issue of subfield distribution– the arxiv started out as exclusively high-energy theory, and has expanded over time to cover a lot more of physics and math, but it’s by no means complete– when I spot an interesting paper in AMO physics, there’s only about a 50% chance that I’ll be able to find an arxiv copy. That’s going to affect the pool from which they’re drawing, which affects what you would expect to see in terms of authorship.

But this kind of basic analysis is a good starting point, and it’s always nice to have more data in the discussion.

06 Aug 02:38

#AskEkman: How Do I Become a Facial Expression Expert?

by Paul Ekman, Ph.D.
Paul Ekman answers the popular question 'How do I become a facial expression expert?' in his new #AskEkman blog series.

read more

06 Aug 11:00

John Oliver Takes on Native Advertising

11 Aug 14:35

Gifs mostram Raio-X do corpo humano em ação

by youPIX

Olá, aluninhos, na aula de hoje vamos ver como funciona o corpo humano. O designer Cameron Drake criou gifs animados de Raios-X do corpo humano em ação: dobra, desdobra, redobra, desdobra, dobra…

Olha que coisa incrível!






The post Gifs mostram Raio-X do corpo humano em ação appeared first on youPIX.

16 Jan 00:11

Do we look like the kind of store that sells “I Just Called to Say I Love You?”

by Kerry

Kay spotted these signs while shopping for CDs at a store named JB Hi-Fi in Melbourne. “I personally agree with everything said on there,” Kay says, “but the two 17-year-olds who brought the note to my attention clearly didn’t. (One of them actually said ‘Who the fuck is Johnny Rotten?’) I thought it was priceless.”

New Rules for the Punk/Emo/Hardcore Section

And the old rules stand: No asking why The Clash are in the Punk section — you will be removed! No sitting on the floor! No complaining about Green Day! I don't care if you like their old stuff better than their new stuff because it's not punk now. Unless you're G.G. Allin or Johnny Rotten you ain't punk either so shut up! Listening to hardcore does not make you tough. Just saying! Behave. The Game is watchin.

related: Top five musical crimes perpetrated by record store customers in the 90s and 2000s

15 Jan 10:16

Família Coala – solidão

by Fábio Coala

Muito bom quando ela aparece pra conversar, né? Né, gente?!

O post Família Coala – solidão apareceu primeiro em Mentirinhas.

15 Jan 15:00

AskScience: Is it possible to get multiple different colds/flu viruses at the same time? [We Beasties]

by Kevin Bonham

There are a lot of reasons that posts to this blog sometimes don’t happen for months at a time, but one of them is that I can often get sucked down the rabbit hole that is Reddit. If you don’t know about reddit yet, you may not want to click that link, but if you do know (and you’re reading this blog), you may know about one of the communities (subreddits) there – a place called r/askscience. It’s a forum where people can ask questions of a scientific nature (anything from “Why are pigeons so successful as an urban animal?” to “What’s so special about the speed of light?“), and then actual scientists from a slough of different fields will answer. I’m a panelist (one of those scientists), in this community, and I’ve spent a lot of time answering questions there, so I thought I’d let that work do some double-duty here. I’ll start with some questions that I answered a while ago, but I’ll try to post future responses in a bit more timely matter. If you have any questions you’d like to ask, please do!

Question: Is it possible to get multiple different colds/flu viruses at the same time? If so, what are the effects?


Yes, this is called a “superinfection.”

The effects will vary quite a bit depending on the details. Many of the responses of the immune system to an infection are general – if you get infected with two rhinoviruses (one of the virus types that causes “colds”) of the same type or two rhinoviruses of different types, the cells around the area of infection will respond in essentially the same way – principally by activating inflammation and something called the “antiviral state.”

The response of your adaptive immune system (T-cells and B-cells) will be a bit different, since there would be two sets of activating signals with a co-infection, but it’s hard to max out an immune response, and to some extent the different viruses will be competing with each other. It’s possible that it will take you longer to recover, but I’m not aware of any solid data on this.

On the other hand, if you are co-infected with two different types of infection, say a bacterial and a viral infection, this can cause serious problems, since the immune response necessary to deal with viruses and the response necessary to deal with bacteria can be quite different, and the response to one can be counterproductive to the response to the other. In fact, most people that die “of the flu” actually die from bacterial infections of the lung that were able to gain a foothold because of the immune response to the flu virus.

Follow-up question: Would having a fungal infection of say… of the skin decrease the effectiveness of the immune systems ability to fight a bacterial and or viral infection at the same time?


A fungal infection in the skin is not likely to effect the immune response in, say the lung. Again, it depends a lot on specifics, and some infections can have systemic consequences. But as I said before, it’s hard to run out of immune response. The reason that having two different kinds of infections in the lungs is an issue is not because you’re running out of immune response, but because the immune environment is different.

Think about it this way – say you’re the military and you’re trying to combat an invading army and also rescue hostages being held by terrorists. If the invasion is in Boston and the terrorists are in New York – no problem. You can bomb the army and send in SWAT for the terrorists. If the terrorists are in a building surrounded by the invading army, then getting SWAT into the building is going to be impossible, and bombing the army is going to kill your hostages. Different immune responses are necessary to combat different types of infections, and they’re not always mutually compatible. But if the infections are in different places, the immune system is more than capable of local responses.

15 Jan 17:34


by youPIX

A gente já falou aqui que não foi um ano fácil pros (nunca antes lidos) “Termos de Uso” das grandes redes sociais mundiais. Instagram e Facebook foram algumas das redes que enfrentaram a ira dos usuários em 2012.

Foi o início de um movimento mega importante de compreensão por parte do usuário sobre o que significa dar um “Eu Aceito” nos Termos dessas redes: o aceite é, sim, um contrato de adesão, então temos que brigar por melhores contratos.

O caso mais recente desse movimento rolou com o Instagram, que tentou mudar seus Termos de Uso pra ter pra si o direito de comercializar fotos dos usuários sem dividir com estes a receita e se viu em meio à uma mobilização mundial de usuários que culminou com o Instagramcídio de muitos e, claro, à declaração de derrota do Instagram, que voltou aos termos originais de uso do site.

O Instagram fez parecer que a polêmica toda não havia afetado o uso do aplicativo, mas acaba de sair um report que mostra justamente o contrário!

De acordo com a AppStats, empresa que monitora o tráfego de todos esses aplicativos, o Instagram perdeu metade (METADE!!!) de todos os seus usuários ativos, indo de 40 milhões pra 17 milhões.

Que fase, hein?

Via Blue Bus e Wallblog



No exato dia da polêmica sobre os Termos de Uso (18/dezembro), a quantidade de usuários ativos caiu mais da metade – indo de 16 milhões pra 5 milhões, mas depois se recuperou. De dezembro pra janeiro, o número de usuários ativos por dia e por semana caiu (depois de sofrer um boomz no período das férias, óbvio), porém, o número de usuários continua a crescer.

O que isso significa? Que temos mais novos usuários mas menos usuários usando o Instagram loucamente como antes. É mais gente, usando menos.

Ainda, o Facebook negou que esses dados estejam corretos e bloqueou o acesso de ferramentas de métricas às estatísticas do IG.


15 Jan 19:00

Required Clothing WIN

Required Clothing WIN

Submitted by: Unknown

Tagged: design , shirt , bacon , g rated , win Share on Facebook
15 Jan 15:46

bellafonte12: A bit a Fry and Laurie♥ Oh, they are insane. :D♥

Ana Arantes

It can't get better. Just can't.


A bit a Fry and Laurie♥ Oh, they are insane. :D♥

12 Jan 14:08

A Magia da Realidade [The Magic Of Reality]

by @meire_g

a magia da realidade

A Magia da Realidade’ , um livro infanto-juvenil escrito por Richard Dawkins com ilustrações de Dave McKean, o mesmo cara que trabalhou no departamento de arte dos filmes de Harry Potter

Oi gente,

Para pais que desejam impulsionar a curiosidade científica e o ceticismo de seus filhos não há nada melhor do que um auxílio dos grandes divulgadores científicos, já que infelizmente o despreparo nesta área tem morada certa em boa parte das escolas Brasil afora e nem sempre sabemos como abordar certos assuntos com as crianças.

A informação pronta, superficial e por vezes mais do que descartável que vem sendo apresentada às crianças e adolescentes em tempos de Twitter, Facebook, ‘livros’ resumidos, apostilas preparatórias e substituição da leitura de livros clássicos por releituras hollywoodianas têm preocupado aqueles que foram criados dentro de uma atmosfera de estímulo ao pensamento crítico, como eu, o Igor e tanta gente com a qual convivemos bem de perto. Não raro nos vemos em discussões sobre o tema e mesmo me considerando uma pessoa otimista sempre emito previsões meio catastróficas.

Há algum tempo eu e o Ed Ondo estavámos planejando criar uma série de livros infantis para pais e filhos contendo temas difíceis para pais que querem dar explicações lógicas para seus filhos, como a doença crônica na infância, morte na família e outros. Mas iniciei outra pós-graduação, não rolou nenhum patrocínio e o projeto acabou esfriando. Sei que possivelmente não conseguiríamos atingir um público tão grande, mas certamente teríamos ficado bem satisfeitos se tudo tivesse dado certo.

Se não geramos novo conteúdo pelo menos podemos multiplicar o que de muito bom já existe.

Em 2011 o biólogo Richard Dawkins, o mesmo que ao publicar a emblemática carta à sua filha Juliet já havia mostrado uma habilidade incrível para falar com crianças, publicou ‘The Magic Of Reality’, um alívio para quem compartilha a mesma angústia que eu.

Graças à Companhia das Letras o livro foi traduzido para o português alguns meses depois e conta com temas interessantíssimos para os pais lerem com seus filhos em idade escolar mas sobretudo espetacular para crianças acima de 10 anos. Em minha opinião a obra é indispensável para adolescentes e até para adultos jovens ainda alheios aos desdobramentos mentais que livres pensadores trilham para entender a realidade que nos cerca.

a magia_indice

Se você associa Dawkins à militância ateísta e já começou a ler o post com um juízo negativo antecipado, é preciso que saiba que este livro não é um manual de ateísmo para crianças e tampouco é um manual contra religiões específicas, já que lida com todas de uma maneira igual. É um manual que exorta a criança e o adolescente a evitar um preenchimento de lacunas ainda não respondidas com explicações mágicas, por isso acho uma obra fortemente indicada para crianças a partir dos 6 anos, fase em que o pensamento mágico começa a se desfazer naturalmente. Se a criança já entendeu que o Papai Noel não existe está na hora de conhecer mais como as coisas funcionam.

Se a família tem uma crença e segue um determinado dogma isso não deve ser um motivo para impedir que a criança desenvolva um ceticismo em diversas áreas. A curiosidade científica não é nem deve ser atrelada ao ateísmo ou tratada como sendo propriedade de não religiosos. Quem afirma que a ciência é incompatível com a crença em um ou mais Deuses está apenas caindo num vício de seleção por pura ignorância ou querendo agredir ou rebaixar pessoas religiosas, o que é lamentável de uma forma ou de outra. Uma criança deve crescer aprendendo a questionar inclusive quem nega a religião da sua família, isso é salutar.

Se há algo a atrelar à curiosidade científica é à liberdade de pensamento, isso sim. Um livre pensador pode ser religioso sem que isso prejudique seu juízo crítico na área que pretende estudar, desde que ele tenha sido criado como indivíduo dono do seu pensamento e entenda o que é e o que não é alçada da religião. Então presto aqui todo meu apoio à família que doutrina seus filhos dentro do que crê, desde que não os impeça de buscar explicações racionais para fenômenos naturais. Por exemplo, uma família pode ser cristã e aceitar as fortes evidências em favor da Evolução da nossa espécie bem como uma família Budista, judia, espírita ou politeísta pode aceitar o mesmo. Enquanto as religiões dividem as pessoas em grupos muito diferentes entre si a ciência as une em um grupo só e este livro mostra como a verdade é fascinante. Como pessoa que busca a magia da realidade me sinto inserida na maior ‘religião’ do planeta, porque nela há pessoas de todas as religiões e pessoas sem credo também.

Se a família professa quaisquer credos só terá problemas com este livro se for fundamentalista e refutar as melhores evidências científicas disponíveis até o presente para explicar diversos fenômenos naturais, então se for este o caso não recomendo a leitura e peço desculpas antecipadamente caso eu tenha magoado alguém com este post.

Para os demais religiosos e para os não religiosos só vejo diversão e uma porta aberta para aumentar mais ainda o vínculo afetivo e admiração que os filhos nutrem pelos seus pais. Como dizia meu avô, a Educação é a herança maior que os pais podem deixar para os seus filhos.

Um beijo,



10 Jan 18:51

Best Science Books 2012: The Hill Times [Confessions of a Science Librarian]

by John Dupuis

Another list for your reading, gift-giving and collection development pleasure.

Every year for the last bunch of years I’ve been linking to and posting about all the “year’s best sciencey books” lists that appear in various media outlets and shining a bit of light on the best of the year.

All the previous 2012 lists are here.

This post includes the following: The Hill Times’ List of Top 100 Best Political, Government, Public policy and Canadian History Books in 2012

  • The Energy of Slavery: Oil and the New Servitude by Andrew Nikiforuk
  • The End of Growth: But Is That Bad? by Jeff Rubin
  • Save The Humans by Rob Stewart
  • Access to Medicines as a Human Right: Implications for Pharmaceutical Industry Responsibility edited by Lisa Forman and Jillian Clare Kohler
  • Canadians and the Natural Environment to the Twenty-First Century by Neil S. Forkey
  • Dreams & Due Diligence: Till and McCulloch’s Stem Cell Discovery and Legacy by Joe Sornberge
  • Making Medicare: New Perspectives on the History of Medicare in Canada edited by Gregory P. Marchildon
  • Our War on Ourselves: Rethinking Science, Technology, and Economic Growth by Willem H. Vanderburg
  • Phoenix: The Life of Norman Bethune by Roderick Stewart and Sharon Stewart
  • The Great Reversal: How We Let Technology Take Control of the Planet by David Edward Tabachnick
  • The Universe Within: From Quantum to Cosmos by Neil Turok
  • Three Bio-Realms: Biotechnology and the Governance of Food, Health, and Life in Canada by G. Bruce Doern and Michael J. Prince

I’m always looking for recommendations and notifications of book lists as they appear in various media outlets. If you see one that I haven’t covered, please let me know at jdupuis at yorku dot ca or in the comments.

I am picking up most of my lists from Largehearted Boy.

For my purposes, I define science books pretty broadly to include science, engineering, computing, history & philosophy of science & technology, environment, social aspects of science and even business books about technology trends or technology innovation. Deciding what is and isn’t a science book is squishy at best, especially at the margins, but in the end I pick books that seem broadly about science and technology rather than something else completely. Lists of business, history or nature books are among the tricky ones.

And if you wish to support my humble list-making efforts, run on over to Amazon, take a look at Steve Jobs or The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks or maybe even something else from today’s list.

11 Jan 04:00

Troubled Souls: Spirituality as a Mental Health Hazard

by Scott A. McGreal, MSc.
Despite claims that spirituality benefits one's mental health, a British study found that people who identified as spiritual but not religious were more likely to have a mental disorder than conventionally religious people and those who were neither religious nor spiritual.

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11 Jan 11:00


11 Jan 11:43

No ritmo atual, SP levaria 172 anos para ter metrô como o de Londres

Mantendo ritmo médio de expansão desde inauguração, rede de SP só alcançaria tamanho atual do metrô de Londres no ano 2267.
11 Jan 12:30

The Science of Why We Are All Female, Animated

by Maria Popova

Why males have nipples, or what a zipper has to do with the distinction between male and female genitalia.

On the heels of this week’s launch of my yearlong project celebrating history’s trailblazing women and this recent meditation on how to be a woman comes this illustrated scientific explanation of why we all begin our lives as females, biologically speaking.

AsapSCIENCE have previously covered the science of productivity, what alcohol does to your brain, why we blush, the science of lucid dreaming, how music enchants the brain, and the neurobiology of orgasms.

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Brain Pickings takes 450+ hours a month to curate and edit across the different platforms, and remains banner-free. If it brings you any joy and inspiration, please consider a modest donation – it lets me know I'm doing something right. Holstee

11 Jan 12:45

H. P. Lovecraft’s Advice to Aspiring Writers, 1920

by Maria Popova

“A page of Addison or of Irving will teach more of style than a whole manual of rules, whilst a story of Poe’s will impress upon the mind a more vivid notion of powerful and correct description and narration than will ten dry chapters of a bulky textbook.”

“If there is a magic in story writing,” admonished Henry Miller, “and I am convinced there is, no one has ever been able to reduce it to a recipe that can be passed from one person to another.” And yet, famous advice on writing abounds.

In January of 1920, iconic science fiction and fantasy author H. P. Lovecraft published a short guide titled “Literary Composition” for United Amateur Press Association — a grassroots literary education collective that dubbed itself an “exponent of amateur journalism,” an early version of today’s blogs and citizen journalism. Found in the anthology Writings in the United Amateur (free download; public library), the essay offers aspiring writers technical tips and big-picture wisdom on the art and craft of the written word.

Much like Jennifer Egan did nearly a century later, Lovecraft stresses the vital osmosis between reading and writing:

No aspiring author should content himself with a mere acquisition of technical rules. … All attempts at gaining literary polish must begin with judicious reading, and the learner must never cease to hold this phase uppermost. In many cases, the usage of good authors will be found a more effective guide than any amount of precept. A page of Addison or of Irving will teach more of style than a whole manual of rules, whilst a story of Poe’s will impress upon the mind a more vivid notion of powerful and correct description and narration than will ten dry chapters of a bulky textbook.

Lovecraft notes the equal importance of non-reading as intellectual choice:

It is also important that cheaper types of reading, if hitherto followed, be dropped. Popular magazines inculcate a careless and deplorable style which is hard to unlearn, and which impedes the acquisition of a purer style. If such things must be read, let them be skimmed over as lightly as possible. An excellent habit to cultivate is the analytical study of the King James Bible. For simple yet rich and forceful English, this masterly production is hard to equal; and even though its Saxon vocabulary and poetic rhythm be unsuited to general composition, it is an invaluable model for writers on quaint or imaginative themes.

He advocates for cultivating a love of uncommon words:

One superlatively important effect of wide reading is the enlargement of vocabulary which always accompanies it. The average student is gravely impeded by the narrow range of words from which he must choose, and he soon discovers that in long compositions he cannot avoid monotony. In reading, the novice should note the varied mode of expression practiced by good authors, and should keep in his mind for future use the many appropriate synonymes he encounters. Never should an unfamiliar word be passed over without elucidation; for with a little conscientious research we may each day add to our conquests in the realm of philology, and become more and more ready for graceful independent expression.

But in enlarging the vocabulary, we must beware lest we misuse our new possessions. We must remember that there are fine distinctions betwixt apparently similar words, and that language must ever be selected with intelligent care.

Like Thoreau, Lovecraft finds in nature a literary muse:

For the purpose of securing epithets at once accurate and felicitous, the young author should familiarize himself thoroughly with the general aspect and phenomena of Nature, as well as with the ideas and associations which these things produce in the human mind.

He offers a meditation on fact and fiction, with a cautionary note about narrative sequence:

In fictional narration, verisimilitude is absolutely essential. A story must be consistent and must contain no event glaringly removed from the usual order of things, unless that event is the main incident, and is approached with the most careful preparation. In real life, odd and erratic things do occasionally happen; but they are out of place in an ordinary story, since fiction is a sort of idealization of the average. Development should be as lifelike as possible, and a weak, trickling conclusion should be assiduously avoided. The end of a story must be stronger rather than weaker than the beginning; since it is the end which contains the denouement or culmination, and which will leave the strongest impression upon the reader. It would not be amiss for the novice to write the last paragraph of his story first, once a synopsis of the plot has been carefully prepared—as it always should be. In this way he will be able to concentrate his freshest mental vigour upon the most important part of his narrative; and if any changes be later found needful, they can easily be made. In no part of a narrative should a grand or emphatic thought or passage be followed by one of tame or prosaic quality. This is anticlimax, and exposes a writer to much ridicule.

Lovecraft enumerates the twenty most common mistakes of young authors, “aside from those gross violations of syntax which ordinary education corrects,” and offers a common cure for all:

  1. Erroneous plurals of nouns, as vallies or echos.
  2. Barbarous compound nouns, as viewpoint or upkeep.
  3. Want of correspondence in number between noun and verb where the two are widely separated or the construction involved.
  4. Ambiguous use of pronouns.
  5. Erroneous case of pronouns, as whom for who, and vice versa, or phrases like “between you and I,” or “Let we who are loyal, act promptly.”
  6. Erroneous use of shall and will, and of other auxiliary verbs.
  7. Use of intransitive for transitive verbs, as “he was graduated from college,” or vice versa, as “he ingratiated with the tyrant.”
  8. Use of nouns for verbs, as “he motored to Boston,” or “he voiced a protest.”
  9. Errors in moods and tenses of verbs, as “If I was he, I should do otherwise,” or “He said the earth was round.”
  10. The split infinitive, as “to calmly glide.”
  11. The erroneous perfect infinitive, as “Last week I expected to have met you.”
  12. False verb-forms, as “I pled with him.”
  13. Use of like for as, as “I strive to write like Pope wrote.”
  14. Misuse of prepositions, as “The gift was bestowed to an unworthy object,” or “The gold was divided between the five men.”
  15. The superfluous conjunction, as “I wish for you to do this.”
  16. Use of words in wrong senses, as “The book greatly intrigued me,” “Leave me take this,” “He was obsessed with the idea,” or “He is a meticulous writer.”
  17. Erroneous use of non-Anglicised foreign forms, as “a strange phenomena,” or “two stratas of clouds.”
  18. Use of false or unauthorized words, as burglarize or supremest.
  19. Errors of taste, including vulgarisms, pompousness, repetition, vagueness, ambiguousness, colloquialism, bathos, bombast, pleonasm, tautology, harshness, mixed metaphor, and every sort of rhetorical awkwardness.
  20. Errors of spelling and punctuation, and confusion of forms such as that which leads many to place an apostrophe in the possessive pronoun its.

Of all blunders, there is hardly one which might not be avoided through diligent study of simple textbooks on grammar and rhetoric, intelligent perusal of the best authors, and care and forethought in composition. Almost no excuse exists for their persistent occurrence, since the sources of correction are so numerous and so available.

For more timeless wisdom on writing, see F. Scott Fitzgerald’s letter of advice, Zadie Smith’s 10 rules of writing, Kurt Vonnegut’s 8 guidelines for a great story, David Ogilvy’s 10 no-bullshit tips, Henry Miller’s 11 commandments, Jack Kerouac’s 30 beliefs and techniques, John Steinbeck’s 6 pointers, Neil Gaiman’s 8 rules, Margaret Atwood’s 10 practical tips, and Susan Sontag’s synthesized learnings.

Donating = Loving

In 2012, bringing you (ad-free) Brain Pickings took more than 5,000 hours. If you found any joy and stimulation here this year, please consider becoming a Member and supporting with a recurring monthly donation of your choosing, between a cup of coffee and a fancy dinner:

♥ $10 / month♥ $3 / month♥ $25 / month♥ $50 / month♥ $100 / month

You can also become a one-time patron with a single donation in any amount:

Brain Pickings has a free weekly newsletter and people say it’s cool. It comes out on Sundays and offers the week’s best articles. Here’s what to expect. Like? Sign up.

Brain Pickings takes 450+ hours a month to curate and edit across the different platforms, and remains banner-free. If it brings you any joy and inspiration, please consider a modest donation – it lets me know I'm doing something right. Holstee

11 Jan 13:37

Creche pescoçuda

by (ANDRÉ Montejorge)
Simplesmente maravilhosa a recém-concluída creche projetada pelo escritório de arquitetura francês Hondelatte Laporte Architectes. Inspirada na criativa imaginação infantil e em toda a fascinação que animais em geral proporcionam aos baixinhos, uma enorme girafa é o ponto central da construção. O gigantesco bicho amarelo parece estar saindo das entranhas do edifício que ainda conta com outras esculturas, bem menores, para alegria da criançada. A "Creche da Girafa" está localizada em um bairro de Paris. "Pescoçudamente legaus"!
Link para o site do Hondelatte Laporte Architectes
11 Jan 15:00

Crows Really Are Mind-Readers

by ScienceNow
Crows Really Are Mind-Readers Are crows mind readers? Recent studies have suggested that the birds hide food because they think others will steal it -- a complex intuition that has been seen in only a select few creatures. Some critics have suggested that the ...
11 Jan 15:22

Concealed handguns study takes a different approach to measuring risk [The Pump Handle]

by The Pump Handle

by Kim Krisberg

Amidst discussions of new gun control measures, a study finds that adding new settings where people can bring concealed weapons could increase the risk of some crimes.

The study authors note that while that risk is pretty small, it’s still a risk and one that policymakers should take into consideration. Published in the January issue of the American Journal of Public Health, the study examined 2001–2009 data from the Texas Department of Public Safety on criminal convictions associated with holders and nonholders of concealed handgun licenses (CHL). It found that concealed handgun license holders were much less likely than those without a license to be convicted of a crime. Also, most non-license holder convictions involved a higher-prevalence crime, such as burglary or robbery, while convictions among license holders were more likely to involve a lower-prevalence crime, such as a sexual offense or an offense involving a death. Study authors Charles Phillips, Obioma Nwaiwu, Darcy McMaughan, Rachel Edwards and Szu-hsuan Lin write:

The public heath impact of firearms on American society is a contentious issue. With the growth in CHL legislation, the legal carrying of concealed handguns has become an element in the ongoing academic and policy debates over the relationship between public health and firearms. Thus far, empirical results indicate that CHL legislation lowered crime rates, increased crime rates, or had no significant effect on crime rates. As the National Research Council concluded in 2004, “with the current evidence it is not possible to determine that there is a causal link between the passage of right-to-carry laws and crime rates.

The study notes that concealed weapon advocates often cite data examining general crime rates — rates that find license holders are less likely to commit a crime — to argue that concealed handgun licenses are ending up in “safe hands.” This study, however, looks at the data differently: Instead of examining overall crime rates, the authors examine the differences in crime convictions between license holders and non-license holders.

In studying the Texas data, the authors found that the most common criminal convictions among non-license holders were simple assaults, robberies and burglaries, all of which accounted for 70 percent of convictions studied among non-license holders. (For example, robbery and burglary accounted for 22 percent of non-license holder convictions, but only 3 percent of convictions among license holders.) When compared with non-license holders, a higher proportion of license-holder convictions were for sexual offenses, weapons offenses, deadly conduct and offenses involving the intentional killing of a person. (For example, among non-license holders, 7.6 percent of convictions were for sexual offenses, while 17 percent of license-holder convictions were for sexual offenses.)

Overall, Texans without a concealed handgun license committed many more crimes than their licensed counterparts. Study authors wrote that “CHL holders rarely ‘break bad.’ When they do cross the line into illegality, the types of criminality for which they are convicted differ significantly from the convictions of nonlicensees.” Such differences are likely due to the demographic characteristics of concealed handgun license holders and the availability of handguns. In other words, weapons offenses may be more likely among those with a license precisely because they’re more likely to have a gun with them.

As policymakers consider expanding the types of places where people can bring concealed weapons, such as in schools or churches, the authors noted that their study results show such a policy change could increase gun-related offenses in previously gun-free zones.

“Holders of a CHL in Texas in 2001 to 2009 were almost universally a law-abiding population, like most individuals who shared their demographic characteristics,” the study authors wrote. “However, in those rare instances when they committed crimes…they were more likely to be convicted for serious weapons-related offenses.”

According to the study, from 1987 to 2010, the number of states that allow people to carry concealed handguns grew from 10 states to 40 states.

For more on the study, visit

Kim Krisberg is a freelance public health writer living in Austin, Texas, and has been writing about public health for the last decade.

11 Jan 16:14

The Strange Science of Sleep

by Stephen Fleming, Ph.D.
Evolution has endowed many animals, from giraffes to fruit flies, with a period of mandatory downtime. It’s as if the latest laptop computer or iPad were to arrive with the warning: “Must remain switched off for at least seven hours a day”. Sleep is a puzzling affair. What is going on after bedtime?

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12 Jan 01:00

In old country...

12 Jan 11:00

I Don't Like This Trick.