#SciLogs Weekly: Algorithms, Shutdown, Sea Otters & Ripples of Doubt

24 October 2013 by Paige Brown, posted in Science Blogosphere, SciLogs

Another great week at SciLogs!

In blogger news, Scilogs’ newest addition is Martin Angler, a computer scientist, freelance science journalist and eloquent writer who looks to cover anything and everything related to algorithms, mathematical and computer models on his new Scilogs blog Algoworld (for “algo-rigthms,” of course!)

Check out Martin’s newest post on algorithm ethics: how does an autonomous car decide “who to run over” when faced with a potential accident in both lanes?

Other superb posts this week include Matt Shipman’s Science, Science Communication Slowly Recovering at Federal Agencies.

“The government shutdown caused an unfortunate disruption in vital EPA services that protect people’s health and the environment,” says Cathy Milbourn, an EPA spokesperson. “EPA employees will work to tackle the three-week backlog on pesticide imports and other services as quickly as possible, however delays are expected in this process. However, other important actions that did not take place during the shutdown, like air, water and hazardous waste inspections, cannot be made up.”

The National Institute of Health (@nih_nhlbi) even featured Shipman’s post on their news page this week and tweeted about the blog post:

Other posts of interest included Michael Blume’s Social Psychology of Religion – Ten Gems from Big Gods by Ara Norenzayan and Troy McConaghy’s The Sun-Centered Solar System and Other Baloney:

“The standard story learned by schoolchildren is that Ptolemy (c. 90–168 CE) thought the Earth was the center of the universe, and everyone agreed, for a long time. Then in 1543, Copernicus came along, said the Sun is at the center, and almost everyone changed their mind, although it took a while. Well, that's baloney. For starters, there were some ancients who thought the Sun was at the center. Aristarchus of Samos (c. 310–230 BCE) was one.”

What do sea otters and kelp forests have in common? Laura Nielsen for Frontier Scientists explains that sea otters, once believed to be completely extinct, have actually bounced back to some extent to become important climate defenders when they inhabit kept forests:

“Sea urchins pose a humongous threat to kelp forests because they multiply quickly and eat at the holdfasts (roots) of kelp forests, feeding on the kelp frond where it attaches to the ocean floor. When otters are present, they control Sea urchin populations. Sea urchins hide from otters in rock crevices. Instead of taking down living kelp plants through overgrazing, they feed on naturally-fallen kelp detrius. Sea otters' presence is crucial in keeping the ecosystem balanced and the kelp forests healthy and thriving. And, even if you live far from the Pacific Ocean, that matters to you because kelp forests are one of the ocean’s great carbon sinks; they help mitigate the effects of climate change.”

Sea Otter grooming, Moss Landing, California. / Attribution Sstasi (Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported)

Other blog posts of note this week include Aerial Ballet: Dance of the Dunlins by @GrrlScientist, A Smashing Idea: The Story Collider by @alex_brovvn, and Scientist Clinician Jamboree.

If you missed blogosphere news from last week, check out Malcolm Campbell’s Morsels For The Mind – 18/10/2013.

“This week was a tough week for the science communication community. First, Danielle Lee reported how, when she said “No” to a blogging condition, the very strong inference was made that she was an “urban whore”. To makes matters much worse, the Scientific American Blog Network, Dr. Lee’s blogging home, deleted her post on the matter. Unsurprisingly, this invoked a number of posts by people shocked, dismayed and angered by the shameful treatment of Dr. Lee. Some incredibly powerful writing on this subject was found herehere,herehere and here. Eventually Scientific American restored Dr. Lee’s post with an apology. In the interim, some exceptional pieces of writing on the matter followed. Among the best were brilliant posts by Tressie McMillan Cottom (here) by David Kroll (here), and by Daniel Lende (here). The case shone a light on matters that are in dire need of attention – as was widely acknowledged across the science communication community. Unfortunately (but, ultimately, perhaps fortunately), the case also catalyzed revelations about sexual harassment that struck right at the heart of this same community. This week, three brave women, Monica ByrneKathleen Raven, and Hannah Waters, confronted sexual harassment by a leading science community blog manager. Their harrowing stories are here and here. For those who think that words & actions made by men in positions of power and privilege are “harmless”, spend some time with Ripples Of Doubt, then think again.”

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