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This Week in Science 2018–03–11


Author(s): Scott Douglas Jacobsen

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

Publication Date (yyyy/mm/dd): 2018/03/11

Today we continue our annual look at what makes this season special, a time when nature is doing much more than just hitting the Pause button for three months. Welcome to the Science of Late Winter.

Plants have been busy through the deep freeze, even though winter keeps them very still and we can’t see any activity. They are silently and invisibly preparing for the approaching spring.

Recharging batteries is “a good analogy,” says plant biologist Jessica Forrest of the University of Ottawa.

“Basically there is some genetic reprogramming that happens, that basically re-starts the clock in a sense and lets organisms spring back to life in the spring.”


“Recently, we had a look at a global survey of the state of science, which tracked the efforts different countries are putting into training scientists and pursuing research. That set of “science indicators” included a bit of information on how the public viewed science, even though that wasn’t the primary purpose of the report.

So we were happy to find out that someone had done a thorough job of looking into the global attitudes toward science. 3M, a company that views itself as research-driven, commissioned surveys in 14 different countries with a mix of developed and developing economies, and the results are pretty encouraging. Despite the many cultural differences, people consistently feel that science has an overall positive impact on global society, and they’re excited by what we learn.

But buried in the positives are a few areas of concern. Most people don’t recognize the impact that science has had on their daily lives and view it as something that their kids might be involved with. Yet younger people are more likely to view themselves as skeptical of science and not trusting of what scientists have discovered.”


“A big and hopeful thing happened at the end of last week in the area of fake news. That is, there was an article published in Science magazine on Friday, March 9, 2018, in which scientists call for:

… interdisciplinary research to reduce the spread of fake news and to address the underlying pathologies it has revealed.

These future studies will be an important first step in understanding fake news, and in helping people to learn to recognize it, and, perhaps most importantly, in helping to reduce the spread and impact of fake news on the internet and social media platforms. David M. J. Lazer in Boston is lead author on the article, which is co-authored by an additional 15 social scientists and legal scholars. Lazer is a professor of political science and computer and information science and co-director of the Northeastern University’s NULab. He and his colleagues write that:

Internet platforms have become the most important enablers and primary conduits of fake news. It is inexpensive to create a website that has the trappings of a professional news organization. It has also been easy to monetize content through online ads and social media dissemination. The internet not only provides a medium for publishing fake news but offers tools to actively promote dissemination.”


“A Saturday night shooting on Coronation Avenue in Kelowna has left behind numerous bullet holes and a shattered glass door.

RCMP police vehicles were stationed outside the home in the downtown core, but no information has been provided to media.

One bullet went straight through the white picket fence in front of the home, another bullet can be seen going into the house on the side.

Yellow police caution tape is strung in the back of the house and glass is shattered on the floor where a front door used to be.”


“RINCE GEORGE — The Central Interior Science Exhibition was held Saturday afternoon at the University of Northern BC.

Prince George, Quesnel and the Nechako Lakes School district participated.

99 projects and 132 students competed at the science fair. Grade seven student, Prabhnoor Kaur Sidhu, looked at how to build buildings that could potentially withstand natural disasters.

Two of the winners were Carsen Wenger and David Hoy with their project “Temperature Effects on Salt and Sugar Crystal Growth”. They won the Biotechnology & Pharmaceutical Sciences category. The results of their experiment showed that both salt and sugar crystals grew best at room temperature.”


“On the hormonal roller coaster of life, the ups and downs of childbirth are the Tower of Power. For nine long months, a woman’s body and brain absorb a slow upwelling of hormones, notably progesterone and estrogen. The ovaries and placenta produce these two chemicals in a gradual but relentless rise to support the developing fetus.

With the birth of a baby, and the immediate expulsion of the placenta, hormone levels plummet. No other physiological change comes close to this kind of free fall in both speed and intensity. For most women, the brain and body make a smooth landing, but more than 1 in 10 women in the United States may have trouble coping with the sudden crash. Those new mothers are left feeling depressed, isolated or anxious at a time society expects them to be deliriously happy.”


Dr. Molly Shoichet is Ontario’s first chief scientist, a professor at the University of Toronto’s Institute of Biomaterials and Biomedical Engineering, and was appointed an Officer of the Order of Canada in 2017. You can reach her on Twitter @MollyShoichet or by email at

Children are curious about the natural and physical world; they’re inherently fascinated with how it works and why things function the way they do. But this innate scientific curiosity diminishes as they grow up. In fact, when most adults think of science, they remember the smell of formaldehyde in a biology lab or having to memorize the periodic table. If I’m at a cocktail party and tell people that I teach chemistry at the University of Toronto, they usually walk away.

I often wonder what it is about science that provokes both awe and yawn in people. Are they too intimidated by their perceived lack of knowledge to learn more, or are they just bored by science? Is it because scientists are seen as elitist and our work too complicated to understand? Have we as a society placed science on a pedestal so high that it has virtually disappeared from the public eye?”


“In 2002 the biologist John Sulston, who has died of stomach cancer aged 75, shared a Nobel prize for physiology. He won it for elucidating the entire sequence in which the daughters of a single cell divide and sometimes disappear as an embryo grows into an adult in the tiny roundworm Caenorhabditis elegans. However, he is much better known for leading the British team that sequenced a third of the human genome, and for the fierce integrity with which he successfully argued that all genomic data should be openly accessible to the scientific community without commercial involvement.

Previously content to pursue his work out of the public eye, in 1998 Sulston found himself catapulted on to the front pages as the publicly funded Human Genome Project (HGP) faced competition from a rival, private genome-sequencing project launched by the American geneticist Craig Venter’s Celera Genomics. Sulston took every opportunity to challenge, on both ethical and scientific grounds, a model in which access to the data would be controlled by commercial licence agreements.”



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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