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This Week in Science 2017–09–17


Author(s): Scott Douglas Jacobsen

Publication (Outlet/Website): Medium (Humanist Voices)

Publication Date (yyyy/mm/dd): 2017/09/17

“We live in a world of uncertainty.

Our decisions — long-term or spur-of-the-moment — are always made with incomplete information. We can never fully anticipate, with perfect certainty, the outcome of our decisions or the unintended consequences. But because we must act with some degree of confidence, we are very good at fooling ourselves into a sense of certainty. Worse, we are good at fooling others.

For most of human history, progress of all kinds was slow, because ideas and practices that were helpful in the short run got locked in and blocked further insights. This lasted until the invention of practices that allowed groups of people to efficiently discover and root out error.”


“When you can afford it (new research has revealed that the average wedding costs a whopping £27,161 on average!) when you’ve been together a few years, when you feel ‘ready’… There are plenty of theories about when the best time to get married is, but science has its own offering.

For years, divorce research led us to believe that marrying later is related to lower odds of divorce. But a study from 2015, which has recently resurfaced has thrown doubt over that conclusion.

Led by the Institute of Family Studies (IFS) at the University of Utah, the researchrevealed that couples who marry in their late twenties or early thirties face the lowest odds of divorce.”


“Math and science are hot topics with contemporary filmmakers. Think of the brilliant portrayal of African-American mathematicians and scientists in 1960s NASA in “Hidden Figures” or the tale of mathematical genius, Srinivasa Ramanujan, and his groundbreaking work with Godfrey Hardy at Cambridge University in “The Man Who Knew Infinity.”

The Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF), underway this month, is not immune to the charms of math and science, with past crowd-pleasers such as “The Theory of Everything” and “The Martian.” As a mathematics professor with a love for film and a Patron’s Circle membership that offers access to many of the festival’s premieres, I go on an annual search for STEM-centric movies.

Strange cultural collisions can occur between STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) storytelling and fans. In a cast chat after the TIFF 2015 premiere of “The Imitation Game,” Benedict Cumberbatch spoke about the protagonist, Alan Turing, as a mathematician and gay icon. In a now famous incident, his thoughtful reflections on Turing were disrupted by an audience member asking to “feast on his yumminess.””


“ Since the 1980s, the design and synthesis of molecular machines has been identified as a grand challenge for molecular engineering. Robots are an important type of molecular machine that automatically carry out complex nanomechanical tasks. DNA molecules are excellent materials for building molecular robots, because their geometric, thermodynamic, and kinetic properties are well understood and highly programmable. So far, the development of DNA robots has been limited to simple functions. Most DNA robots were designed to perform a single function: walking in a controlled direction. A few demonstrations included a second function combined with walking (for example, picking up nanoparticles or choosing a path at a junction). However, these relatively more complex functions were also more difficult to control, and the complexity of the tasks was limited to what the robot can perform within 3 to 12 steps. In addition, each robot design was tailored for a specific task, complicating efforts to develop new robots that perform new tasks by combining functions and mechanisms.”


“ Three-dimensional (3D) microstructures created by microfabrication and additive manufacturing have demonstrated value across a number of fields, ranging from biomedicine to microelectronics. However, the techniques used to create these devices each have their own characteristic set of advantages and limitations with regards to resolution, material compatibility, and geometrical constraints that determine the types of microstructures that can be formed. We describe a microfabrication method, termed StampEd Assembly of polymer Layers (SEAL), and create injectable pulsatile drug-delivery microparticles, pH sensors, and 3D microfluidic devices that we could not produce using traditional 3D printing. SEAL allows us to generate microstructures with complex geometry at high resolution, produce fully enclosed internal cavities containing a solid or liquid, and use potentially any thermoplastic material without processing additives.”


“After I started out in a university faculty position nearly 30 years ago, the early years were rough. Not because of problems, exactly, but because of opportunities — too many of them. I did not know how much was enough, so I just did more and more. As a result, I lived a life distracted, both at home and at work, with too much to do and too many people to possibly satisfy. Guilt was a constant companion — for not spending enough time with my family, for not devoting enough time to my students, for not accepting a review request or committee assignment. It simply was not sustainable. It took me several years after getting tenure to come back to some semblance of a balanced life.

Now, when I mentor early-career scientists I warn them about the unsustainability trap that I fell into. And I try to instill the idea that the goal is to stride across the finish line — whether you are completing a postdoc, getting tenure, or reaching some other career goal — with a smile on your face, not in a state of collapse.

But how? A sustainable scientist is still a hard-working scientist. Combining hard work with laserlike focus and ruthless time management is an important step toward making your life sustainable. Even more important is opportunity management.”


“Wild speculation based on tidbits of scientific evidence, unwarranted extrapolations of scientific theories, and ridiculous conspiracy theories about scientific data are rampant in the media.

Scientific and medical fraud is a large and growing problem as well, with numerous high-profile cases damaging public trust in the scientific and medical communities.

Anti-science media output (tailored for target audiences) is poisoning the public discourse on a wide range of scientific, medical, technological, and safety issues, making government policies dysfunctional.

Just as Galileo was faced with anti-science sentiment, so are modern societies faced with a bipartisan, three-pronged assault; the result is lost jobs, wasted resources, and misspent money.”



In-Sight Publishing by Scott Douglas Jacobsen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License. Based on a work at


© Scott Douglas Jacobsen and In-Sight Publishing 2012-Present. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Scott Douglas Jacobsen and In-Sight Publishing with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. All interviewees and authors co-copyright their material and may disseminate for their independent purposes.

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