On science blogs this week: Snickering

SCIENCE AND POLITICS AND HOMOSEXUALITY. Science writers have been talking about this week's North Carolina election, wondering whether the strong approval of an amendment to the state constitution forbidding same-sex marriage is cause enough to relocate next October's meeting of the National Association of Science Writers, scheduled for the Research Triangle.

Opinions on listservs have ranged from an appalled yes to negatives based on the hassle and financial penalties involved in venue-switching — not to mention insults to local science writers who have been busting their butts to help organize the thing. Also (my position), departing would penalize NC citizens in one of the few areas in the state that voted against the amendment. I think they should be rewarded — to the extent that impecunious science writers offer much in the way of financial rewards.

Some also argued that the topic was off-topic for people who are supposed to be talking about science writing. That prompted me to go looking for recent blogging about the science of homoeroticism and finding not an awful lot.

The most relevant piece, really, is not a blog at all, but an editorial by Howy Jacobs in this month's issue of EMBO Reports. It recaps the research on gay genes dating back to Dean Hamer's first paper in 1993, pointing out that not a lot more has been done on the topic since then and attributing that lack to the very complex science politics surrounding this research. (HT to Bob Roehr for the link.)

There was a bit of recent blogging. At the LA Times's Booster Shots, for instance, Karen Kaplan discussed research showing that same-sex marriage is good for public health. This applies even among gays who are not married, although the research she cites was done on men only.

Science has now produced some data on the long-argued notion that rabid homophobia can be a cloak for the gay inclination. Deric Bownds' Mindblog excerpts an op-ed describing their research by scientists who studied the sexual inclinations of 784 university students. The researchers reported that 1 in 5 students who professed to be strongly heterosexual displayed some sexual attraction to others of their gender. These folks also tended to favor anti-gay policies and display negative attitudes toward people they believed to be gay. Rob Brooks also blogged about this research at HuffPo. His piece is noteworthy mostly because it quotes Christopher Hitchens on radical homophobics whose hidden homosexuality is publicly, devastatingly, unmasked. An irreplaceable loss to polemics, Hitchens is as pungently eloquent after death as he was in life.

At Powered by Osteons, bioarchaeologist Kristina Killgrove notes that last year's gay caveman has resurfaced. He, if indeed the skeleton is a he, was unearthed from a pre-Bronze Age dig in the Czech Republic, a burial where a skeleton accompanied by grave goods usually associated with female burials was declared to be male. Hence, so said the media, gay. Or hence, said paleoanthropologist John Hawks at the time, quite possibly a bad job of skeleton-sexing. And hence, although only 5,000 years old and found in a village with longhouses, a caveman.

Why do we find homosexual behavior in other animals amusing? I am terribly afraid it may be the last residue of snickering about gay life that was socially acceptable in the species Homo sap not so long ago. Anyway, here we have Pharyngula's PZ Myers, of all people, snickering about homoeroticism in cephalopods under the hed "Gaily frolicking squid".

A TON OF QUOTES. There's a new post at The Open Notebook ("The story behind the best science stories"). It's about the use of quotes and leads off with a somewhat startling quote itself, this reportedly from a Slate editor:

We almost never use quotes. They don’t do anything. They waste the readers’ time.

TON's post quotes several other editors who mostly disagree, arguing that quotes have their place. You can add your comments too.

HOT AIR ABOUT FARTING DINOSAURS. Speaking of snickering, who can resist writing about research speculating that Mesozoic global warming was caused by dinosaur farts? Not, apparently, I. And my tragic defense is the widespread company I keep. (Wearing my science-journalism helmet, I note also that current conventional wisdom concerning methane emissions from today's livestock is that most of it is the result of burps, not farts. But, wearing my belled blogging cap, I succumb to reality: Farts are funnier.)

Dinosaurs poised for action on global warming. Credit: I, Dinoguy2.

At the Knight Science Journalism Tracker, Charlie Petit presents a long list of media perpetrators and attempts foolery of his own. Brian Switek, master of all things Dinosauria at his blog Dinosaur Tracking, is just irritated at media, especially Fox News, which simply made stuff up. Astonishing.

Switek regards the gas-generating hypothesis as not crazy, but points out its uncertainties. For example:

The new research relies on a stack of assumptions and is, at best, a rough model. We don’t know what the gut flora of sauropods was like; therefore, we don’t know whether they farted at all.

Even Anthony Watts, the climate "skeptic" who blogs at Watts Up With That?, is appalled — although, predictably, he blames the researchers rather than the media.

It’s another modeling extrapolation...Something smells alright – the stench of extrapolation is overpowering.

At the Knoepfler Lab Stem Cell Blog, Paul Knoepfler blames the researchers too, and extrapolates to his own field.

To me this paper is just so hyped, but it is actually not that unusual to see this happen in science and certainly it happens in the stem cell field too. There are stem cell research papers that I would call the equivalent of dinosaur farts.
May. 11, 2012

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