Category Archives: Sifting Through the Stool

I Discuss Science Art in a Science Discussion


Art has been a large part of science for hundreds of years; before imaging technologies, any scientific observations had to be drawn by hand in order to preserve the information for future research. This necessity spurned some of the most intricate and beautiful collections of naturalist art we have.

The tradition of Scientific Art (SciArt) persists today, however, with the advent of modern digital imaging techniques, it’s now more the work of artists interested in science than the other way around. This is interesting given the fact that it usually brings a level of interpretation with it, as most artists don’t have a PhD-level understanding of scientific principals and they are usually using science as part of a larger idea.

An exhibit called ‘Common Descent’, on display at Central Booking in NYC looks at the interpretation of science by artists; specifically evolution. In a recent panel discussion about the exhibit, I got the chance to sit down with another evolutionary biologist, Giacomo Mancini, as well as two artists featured in the exhibit, C Bangs and Lynn Sures. We discussed our work and the intersection of science and art and took questions from the audience concerning evolution in the modern age.

The panel moderator, Yasmin Tayag and myself wrote an article chronicling the event for the Scientific American guest blog. By all means, head over and check it out, and check out the exhibit if you get a chance; it’s on until June 8th.

Neanderthals had great view of their own stupid extinction

steeleA recent study suggests that Neanderthals may have become extinct because their eyes were too big. According to researchers at Oxford University, Neanderthal eye sockets measured 6mm larger than those of modern humans, on average. Eiluned Pearce, one of three scientists that made the discovery, claims that larger eyes were necessary in Neanderthals that migrated out of sunny Africa up into dismally overcast Europe. Actually, it’s not the eyes that got them in the end, it’s the secondary consequence of brain organization; larger eyes require more brain dedication to visual processing leaving less for higher intelligence. Pearce suggests that the sacrificed intelligence prevented Neanderthals from living and working in communities, which confers a huge advantage to survival. Coupled with an ice age that occurred about 28,000 years ago, Neanderthals’ thinking problem may have led to their elimination.

Considering Neanderthals survived just fine for about 225,000 years preceding the ice age, my guess is that they would have lasted much longer if it hadn’t been for that really bad winter. If history allows me to predict anything though, it’s that if that winter hadn’t gotten them, the winter of man’s discontent with them would have. Adding huge eyes, cuboidal heads and matted body hair a la George the Animal Steele to slightly different skin color? I’m sure they would have been widely accepted as our equals.

Pearce stresses that Neanderthals, while intelligently inferior were not stupid, but I’m guessing that bit was added to the manuscript so as not to completely come off as that bitchy popular kid in school.

‘Big eyes and stupid? Like, why don’t you just kill yourself now? Or just wait for all of that snow that’s on its way, I’m sure you won’t have any problems, like, seeing it coming, will you? Do they even make glasses big enough for you? Your contact lenses must be, like, the size of quarters. I like your body hair though.’

Since we have been on the subject of evolution a bit lately, I thought I would expand on this study and predict where evolution may be taking us humans in the future…backwards! Darkness made Neanderthals dumb and prevented life-saving social activity. Now we choose to sit in dark rooms by ourselves ‘socializing’ with computers, engorging our eyes with coffee and Red Bull. Who will save us during the next ice age? McDonalds and Old Navy, no doubt, but Christ, I’m writing this article in an ill-lit room by myself right now…and it’s snowing outside! We’re doomed!

Speaking of the migration out of Africa, this guy is repeating it, all the way to the tip of South America. 21,000 miles. On foot. It might get a little tricky around the Bering Straits considering that land bridge went the way of the Neanderthals quite some time ago. But kudos. I wish I had the resources and time for that.

What’s in a Title?

journal.pntd.0001969.g001I’m not going to spend any time arguing the merits of a recent article published in PLOS Neglected Tropical Diseases, but with the title “An In-Depth Analysis of a Piece of Shit: Distribution of Schistosoma mansoni and Hookworm Eggs in Human Stool“, I feel it warrants some attention.  And given the blatant departure from some level of professionalism, including the first panel of the first figure (shown), my guess is that attention is exactly what PLOS is trying to arouse.

But maybe PLOS is onto something; as far as I can tell, this sort of ballsy, first time move was enough to make a science paper go viral, which is the first time I can imagine something like that happening.  Before long, shit will be trending and PLOS will be a first stop for scientists looking to publish something non-conventional or risque. PLOS could even make a name for itself within the lay population, becoming synonymous with ‘science results made fun’. Or shit.