Barricading the Body

i-c9bba66ea3462ae89bd67638e5f99bb3-armorbuzz.jpgIf not always wieldy, armor offers great protection against teeth, talons and pincers–not to mention blades, bullets and shrapnel. On Not Exactly Rocket Science, Ed Yong reports that a deep sea snail has evolved one of the toughest shells on the planet, a three-layer system that has scientists rethinking the possibilities of human armor. These creatures must survive “highly acidic water, scorching temperatures and crushing pressures”—as well as prying crabs—and have made the most of their unique environment in doing so. Brian Switek shows us a mammalian version of armor on Laelaps, in his discussion of the peculiar glyptodont. Brian likens these extinct relatives of the armadillo to “extensively armored ground sloths with hard bowl-shaped shells and club-like tails.” And on Tetrapod Zoology, Darren Naish brings reptiles into the mix, with everyone’s favorite walking fortress, the turtle. These particular turtles are unusual, however, in that they have reduced the boniness of their carapace, resulting in a soft, rubbery shell. When everyone’s not out to get you, it’s easy to let down your guard.

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Cause and Effect

i-ef376aa01674d7e92fdfcf87b80dc9b3-causebuzz.jpgEvolutionary change responds to all kinds of pressures, and sometimes, the results can be surprising. On Gene Expression, Razib Khan challenges the idea that human evolution has stopped since “the vast majority of humans reach the age of potential reproduction.” He explains that differential mortality is not a precondition for natural selection, and supports his claim with data on human height and reproduction. In a separate post, Razib considers the feral dogs of Moscow, a pack of 35,000 with unique characteristics, such as the savvy to ride the subway. On Living the Scientific Life, GrrlScientist asks why some birds suffer the “tremendous sacrifices demanded by migration,” when suitable nesting ground is often closer at claw. New research suggests these birds may brave the inhospitable latitudes precisely because these harsh climes are less likely to support ravenous predators. And on Guilty Planet, Jennifer Jacquet wonders if Somali piracy has improved the catch by discouraging commercial fishing, a phenomenon which was previously witnessed after WWII. While wars and piracy may have unexpected upshots, Jennifer writes that if we just “left the ocean alone, fisheries would likely rebound.”

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ScienceOnline 2010

i-84cd865bedcf796c4094271cf1f55d9e-sciobuzz.jpgScienceOnline 2010 is underway, and for those not lucky enough to be in attendance, there are other ways to participate. On The ScienceOnline 2010 Blog, Coturnix tells us how to keep up with the latest discussion via social networking outlets, and on Discovering Biology In a Digital World, Sandra Porter offers an even more radical alternative. Coturnix writes “a record number of SciBlings will be in attendance” this year, and overall the conference will have over 250 participants. Along with online civility which we covered last week, another topic at the conference will be the future of science journalism. Ed Yong on Not Exactly Rocket Science writes that in a world of blurring lines, “science journalism will be increasingly defined by its values rather than by its practitioners.” And David Dobbs on Neuron Culture adds that the real issue is what “practices and values and principles we need to keep in mind as we walk into the fog.” Meanwhile there are many other sessions happening all weekend, so stay tuned as these awesome minds go head to head.

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Gotta Make ‘Em All!

i-f3e8e8a7a47942cfeff88cc7a13accd1-phylobuzz.jpgCharmanders and Squirtles are fascinating creatures–but being fictional, they place pretty low on the relevancy scale. Still, kids of all ages are obsessed with Pokémon, and David Ng on The World’s Fair wants to turn that admiration toward real creatures so that we might better learn and care about the lifeforms on our planet. The project is called Phylomon, and all creative and scientific types are invited to produce illustrations, write content, and design gameplay for the cause. Jessica Palmer sees big potential on Bioephemera, writing this is a chance for kids “to discover that real biology is also incredibly cool.” Meanwhile, candidates for killer playing cards abound. On Living the Scientific Life, GrrlScientist presents the Arctic Tern, “the world’s champion commuters.” Researchers have recently discovered these little birds migrate a staggering 70,000 km each year. On Oscillator, Christina Agapakis wonders at Elysia chlorotica, a symbiotic slug which not only blends in with algae, but also ingests algal chloroplasts in order to photosynthesize energy. And on A Blog Around the Clock, Coturnix makes us double-take at a moth with venomous-looking wings. When real life is this incredible, who needs a Pikachu anyway?

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Disaster in Haiti

i-d3117d58103843f9a9903e10af3e49f5-haitibuzz.jpgA 7.0 magnitude earthquake rocked Haiti yesterday, and while the devastation is readily apparent, the human toll is not yet known. Chris Rowan details the tectonics on the event on Highly Allochtonous, explaining that the epicenter’s proximity to Port-au-Prince means the capital “endured the maximum possible shaking intensity from an earthquake of this size.” Rowan goes on to conclude the diminutive Caribbean plate experienced a strike-slip fault along its northern edge with the much larger North American plate, a rupture which was not “particularly unusual” in the “tectonic context,” but which in the economic context of the western hemisphere’s poorest nation makes for nothing short of a catastrophe. Jonah Lehrer on The Frontal Cortex fears the impending casualty count, writing that when humans are faced with such large numbers, “the emotional event becomes an abstraction, which fails to trigger the proper moral reaction.” Eric Klemetti on Eruptions reports that the US Pacific Tsunami Warning Center issued a local Tsunami Watch last night, and PZ Myers and Greg Laden offer links for us to stay on top of the story and make donations to aid agencies providing help in the wake of this disaster.

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Anything But Social Darwinism

i-62441fcfb6318d55d076629ead2c0d34-darbuzz.jpgOn The Primate Diaries, Eric Michael Johnson deconstructs “social Darwinism” in order to “raise some questions about the usefulness of [the term] and the way it has been applied.” The concept has little to do with Charles Darwin, but it has often been misapplied to his idea of natural selection. Instead, social Darwinism springs from the sociology of Herbert Spencer, the man who coined the term “survival of the fittest” and believed the poor should be left alone and not aided by the government. From there, things get even murkier–in the 20th century the term “social Darwinist” was applied not only to the laissez-faire Spencer, but also to the imperialist Teddy Roosevelt, the eugenicist Adolf Hitler, and a selection of other disparate individuals. As Johnson writes, social Darwinism “is a mere amalgamation of tenuously related ideas that do not form a unified structure,” a theory that has been retroactively concocted and applied. Take some time to read through the series, which Razib Khan on Gene Expression calls “blogging as scholarship at its best.”

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The Quest for Fitness—Join the Party

i-adb57b247ad00a9a0e4251130519cc11-fitbuzz.jpgResolutions are one thing, but change doesn’t happen overnight. If you find yourself not living up to your goals, don’t put them off for another year; regardless of the date on the calendar, every day is a chance to get something right. There is a growing buzz here on ScienceBlogs about health and fitness, and we invite all our readers and bloggers to join the discussion. ERV kicks things off, wondering why there aren’t more scientific voices to guide those on the quest for personal health through the “minefield of woo” that promises miraculous ways to get in shape. Ethan Siegel responds on Starts With A Bang!, writing that fitness is ultimately a personal ideal, about “your body and your life.” Ethan goes on to outline proper workout methodology and explains how to start building the muscles we want. And ERV trashes the idea that weightlifting will bulk you up while cardio will make you slim, since skinny people can still hold on to an unhealthy percentage of body fat. Lifting weights will foster lean and not necessarily bulky muscle, a vital aspect of developing fitness. We see a different aspect of the quest on Thus Spake Zuska, where Zuska reveals the obstacles that get in the way of our best intentions. And before recounting his incredible ambulatory feats, Greg Laden compares us to a bunch of cattle, slow to get going but just waiting to stampede.

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