Hanging Upside-Down in the Tree of Life

On Tetrapod Zoology, Darren Naish acquaints us with all manner of vesper bats, a group which comprises 410 of the 1110 bat species worldwide. In Part I, Darren provides an overview of the group as a whole, including their snub-nosed morphology, invertebrate eating habits, echolocation frequencies, and migratory tactics, which may have “evolved at least six times independently.” In part III, he looks at a sister group to vesper bats called bent-wing bats, which “have the smallest reported genome of any mammal: it’s about half average size.” And in part VII, Darren explains that desert long-eared bats “drop right on to their scorpion prey and may be repeatedly stung on the body and face while subduing them: amazingly, this seems to have no effect.” In all parts, Darren shows us fantastic pictures of the species at hand, and explains their physical attributes and their position in the phylogenetic tree. There are now XX parts in the complete series.

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Science, Hot off the Press

Bridging new media and old, The Open Laboratory takes the best scientific blogging of the year and prints it on actual paper. For 2010, forty reviewers narrowed down nearly 900 submissions to fifty of the very best. This year’s edition also includes six poems and a cartoon! Editor Jason G. Goldman announces availability of the book on The Thoughtful Animal, suggesting you “buy one for yourself, buy one for your significant other, buy one for each family member, buy one each for as many neighbors, friends and colleagues you can think of, and buy a copy for the local library.” In another post, he runs down the list of finalists included in Open labratory 2010, and thanks everyone involved in the genesis of the project. Congratulations Jason on a job well done! We are already looking forward to Open Lab 2011, which will be the sixth iteration of this groundbreaking publication.

Using Less Electricity

On Casaubon’s Book, Sharon Astyk sees a future filled with nuclear power, deepwater drilling, hydrofracking, and mountaintop removal. To hell with the consequences, just give us the juice! But when the oil, gas, and coal are gone, the landscape pulverized, and the depleted cores of uranium piling up in the background, we’ll have to change our energy habits the hard way. Sharon says if we want to start stopping now, we must create a new narrative. She writes, “You can endure anything—as long as it is part of a story of heroism and transformation.” On Confessions of a Science Librarian, John DuPuis shares a new book about infrastructure by Scott Huler, explaining “the current troubles in Japan are only more indicative of the need to pay attention to the threads that keep our society running.” And on The USA Science and Engineering Festival Blog, Joanna Pool profiles researcher Angela Belcher, who “is focused on developing tougher and more effective materials and devices for clean energy, electronics, the environment and medicine.” Green technology could be a helpful substitute, but in the long run, only sacrifice will preserve the planet.

Fusing Art and Science

We are excited to introduce a new blog dedicated to The Art of Science Learning. This project will culminate in the spring with conferences across the United States. Funded by the National Science Foundation, The Art of Science Learning will explore “how the arts can strengthen STEM skills and spark creativity in the 21st-Century American workforce.” Over the coming weeks and months, voices on this blog will “lay out the landscape and articulate many of the issues and challenges we’ll be discussing at the conferences.” To start things off, David Green suggests we bring science into the arts as well as the arts into science, and describes a new course at Bard College that challenged humanities students to do “plenty of hands-on lab work.” Peter Economy compares the math and science scores of the U.S. with those of other nations, saying “we must find new approaches to educating our youth in math and science—the current approaches are clearly broken.” And Helena Carmena shares the results of an “experiment with science, art, and literacy integration” in a fourth-grade classroom, where students were first asked to draw a scientist and artist, and ended up improving their standardized test scores. See the revealing illustrations on The Art of Science Learning, and join in on the discussion as we seek to bring together art and science for the sake of improving education.

Indiscriminate Force Rocks Japan

The staggering 9.0 magnitude earthquake that struck off the coast of Japan March 11 sent a thirty foot tall tsunami raging up to six miles inland, with diminished waves reaching all the way to the Pacific Islands and the shores of North America. In Japan, thousands are dead, and the devastation is stunning. On Thoughts from Kansas, Josh Rosenau reflects that due Japanese diligence may have spared millions of lives, noting “the earthquake in Haiti last year, which was 100 times weaker, killed 230,000.” On Observations of a Nerd, Christie Wilcox recounts her experience in Hawaii, from watching the disaster unfold on television to waiting for the “eerie tsunami sirens” to wail. And Greg Laden screens a collection of videos showing the initial havoc in Japan.

We are All Scientists

On Uncertain Principles, Chad Orzel differs with Neil Degrasse Tyson, saying that scientific thinking isn’t that new, or that exclusive, and in fact has defined humanity from the very beginning. Chad describes science as “a method for figuring things out: you look at some situation, come up with a possible explanation, and try it to see if it works.” We start with idle hands, move on to stone tools, furrowed fields, Egyptian pyramids, Roman aqueducts, and now the pinnacle of our drive to master the universe, the iPad 2. In a follow-up article, Chad dismisses stereotypes of the scientific elite, saying “scientific thinking and scientific problem solving use exactly the same mental skills that you apply to pretty much any task more complicated than breathing.” Charlie Sheen provides a good example on Dean’s Corner, where he was recently described by Neil DeGrasse Tyson as being “more scientifically literate than most.” Dean Toney has his doubts about Tyson’s assessment, but Sheen does ask a pretty pointed cosmological question.