Transcript: TWIS.ORG March 31, 2009

Justin: Disclaimer! Disclaimer! Disclaimer!

Getting it wrong is one of the most important things you can do in the pursuit of science. The more things you get wrong, the less places truth has to hide. More than simply a process of elimination, getting it wrong can actually produce new facts.

For instance, if we go back in time to the days of early men, we can imagine an early attempt to reach the moon by throwing a rock while it is directly over head. Not only does this attempt illustrate the wrong way to reach the moon, it also produces facts about gravity, acceleration, and potentially head injuries that could be later studied.

And while throwing rocks at the moon much like the following hour of our programming does not necessarily represent the views or opinions of the University of California at Davis, KDVS or its sponsors.

We should all feel like great Liberty to get things wrong on a daily basis. For every wrong answer is a step towards the truth. Every dumb question – one less that needed to be asked. Every failed experiment eliminates the need for it to be done that way again.

And every intuitive false belief refuted finds us a more objective understanding upon which to stand. In fact, wrong thinking makes the impossible possible.

If only by learning new ways of not going about attempting it, it could be said and therefore it’s about to be that getting things wrong is the easiest way to learn new things.

And while you ponder the possible wrong things you can think today, we will eliminate a few facts so as not to make your efforts in vain. You’re on This Week in Science, coming up next.

(Extended paper crumple).

Good morning, Kirsten!

Kirsten: Good morning, Justin! How is it going today?

Justin: Good.

Kirsten: Good. It’s always good on Tuesday mornings. I’ve got a tightness in microphone thing here. It doesn’t want to – yeah, there we go, tightened the screws.

Justin: So much science-y goodness all around the world.

Kirsten: There is so much science-y goodness. I was so excited about a lot of the stories that came through this week. There was some big evolution in the schools news this – in Texas just last week.

Justin: Mm hmm.

Kirsten: Big stem cell discovery. And then there was a bunch of stuff related to, you know, the black hole from last week. You know, it’s old news that I’m – it’s new news that has to be discussed. You know, all sorts of fun – fun, good things. That’s very, very exciting. Science is exciting, people.

Justin: It is. I’ve got a lot of wrong stuff.

Kirsten: Wrong stuff.

Justin: I’ve got a lot of stories about science getting it wrong.

Kirsten: Hence, the disclaimer.

Justin: Hence – well, no. I think the disclaimer came first from my own having gotten black holes wrong last week, my own solar mass faux pas.

Kirsten: Yeah.

Justin: And then, yeah, I just – I found tons of stuff where science got it wrong this week.

Kirsten: And, you know, it’s not – unlike in what you said in the disclaimer, it’s not a bad thing to have a wrong idea to come up with something wrong. And that’s something that there was – a couple of weeks ago, there was a study that came out. People looking at the fact that negative results don’t get published as often as the ones that do…

Justin: Right.

Kirsten: …are closer to verifying, you know, the path of a hypothesis that you have.

Justin: Which eliminates my entire chance of doing science.

Kirsten: Right.

Justin: I could come up with the wrong things every week.

Kirsten: Yeah, but it’s – I mean that’s – it’s something that I think it’s related to the way that funding in science takes place the way that the publication process works, I mean publishing unless it’s like a really major negative result that like turns everything on its head. It’s not — people just go, “Hey, that’s negative. My study didn’t work.”

Justin: Yeah.

Kirsten: As opposed to saying, “Oh, that my part of my – this hypothesis, you know, was negated. And we need to move on.

Justin: Which seems like there could be a danger of then repeating the mistakes of the past.

Kirsten: Exactly! Exactly!

Justin: As opposed to eliminating them from…

Kirsten: If people knew that that part of that experiment, that didn’t work that this didn’t happen, that things didn’t work in the right way, in the way that people thought they would. It might keep people from going down paths and repeating stuff.

Justin: On the other hand, maybe we see experiment itself, the way it was designed or the experiment or some other so maybe doing the same wrong study a bunch of times and finally getting a right result; it means that it was just harder to elicit the truth from it than it was first hypothesized. You see, I don’t know.

Kirsten: That’s a very, very astute comment.

Justin: Well, thank you.

Kirsten: You’re welcome.

Justin: Only it’s astute.

Kirsten: Yeah. So anyway, today we got tons of science news and like I said stem cells, evolution, black holes and other fun stuff on my end.

Justin: Bring it! Bring it!

Kirsten: What did you bring? What do you have?

Justin: Oh, I’ve got squishy balls, tuberculosis.

Kirsten: You’re a really healthy one there.

Justin: Why video games are better than carrots?

Kirsten: And I think we’re going to revisit a story from the past, right?

Justin: Oh yeah. And then there’s my old stand on fore skins…

Kirsten: Yeah.

Justin: …which is slim-what back in the news, I guess.

Kirsten: Oh, the rant that never ends. Okay. So the big news in stem cells this last week, University of Wisconsin-Madison scientists found a way to get human skin cells to turn into a pluripotent embryonic stem cells — well, embryonic-like stem cells — without the same problems of viral DNA being a part of the process.

So, this potentially gets rid of the problem of cancer-causing foreign DNA particles or segments within these young cells, which has been one of the major stumbling blocks to the use of adult stem cells in therapeutic processes that would rely on things like – as replacement for embryonic stem cells.

So, what does this mean to you? Nothing. No, you just give me a look like, “What?”

Justin: No, I’m with you. This is my nodding. Here’s just my not falling asleep.

Kirsten: Yeah. So the potential is very great. I think that, you know, what we’re looking at is we’re getting closer and closer to understanding the instructions that make our cells what they are — that make cells duplicate, replicate to become particular programmed cell types to go backwards to an un-programmed “I can be anything” kind of cell.

Justin: Mm hmm.

Kirsten: You know, our understanding of that is only going to benefit us in science. And the ability to get there is becoming – it’s getting closer and closer and closer.

So, the fact that they’re using – they are fine tuning this technology in such a way that they’re getting rid of the problematic, you know, foreign DNA agents and making it. And this is human cells, not another animal type. This is all us.

Justin: Awesome.

Kirsten: It’s cool. It’s big news.

Justin: Yeah.

Kirsten: I mean it’s a big step in the pluripotent stem cell research.

Justin: And as we learn equally big news, cells from the eye that were believed to be retinal stem cells…

Kirsten: Oh yeah.

Justin: …it turns out they were misidentified. Totally not stem cells. There was a new research led by Michael Dyer, Ph.D. of the St. Jude Department of Developmental Neurobiology and his research has found that “Cells isolated from the eye that other scientists had believed to be retinal stem cells are, in fact, normal adult cells.” There goes cure for blindness.

“If retinal stem cells could be obtained, they might provide the basis for treatments to, yeah, restore sight for millions of people…”

Kirsten: Yeah.

Justin: “…who have, you know, blindness caused by retinal degeneration.” There is – this is a cross story with something else I was doing. But it’s something – I was just actually was quoting from somebody else having said. But anyway, if the amount of degenerative eye diseases, of lack of sight, if the appended wasn’t the eyeball but was legs, we would be amazed by the amount of people, you know, on crutches and in wheelchairs walking down the street. Eye diseases are very, very common.

Kirsten: But it’s not as apparent.

Justin: No.

Kirsten: And that’s the point that you’re making is that you don’t…

Justin: No, it’s hard to see because your eyes are bad. But it’s everywhere. So, he’s saying, yeah, “More promising than misidentified cells or the efforts aimed that reengineering the stem cells to develop light sensitive photoreceptor cells that are lost as a result of the degeneration.”

And this is a quote say, “This approach would solve many problems of developing cell-based therapy for blindness. First, these cells are immortal, so they can be grown and definitely produce large amounts of cells for treatment. And secondly, they could be immunologically…”

Kirsten: That was nice.

Justin: “…immunologically matched to the patients so there’d be no danger of rejection.” As, you know, you can get the organ from somebody else, it doesn’t match quite, the body rejects it as being a foreign thing.

So – yeah, so the one thing is they found that these cells when they’ve looked really, really close they have little bits of pigment to them. Even though in the culture, they created the spherical cells that showed sort of the activation genes characteristic of what the stem cell would be. They weren’t.

So, this is “science had it wrong”. But now that they’ve got it right, it makes them one step closer to real cures for blindness.

Kirsten: Excuse me. I had a good build up to it. Yeah. And it is unfortunate that they have realized these aren’t actually stem cells.

Justin: It’s good that they know.

Kirsten: But it’s good.

Justin: It’s fantastic they know.

Kirsten: Right because they’re not barking up the wrong tree. They’re not going…

Justin: Yeah, there are no more dogs underneath that squirrel. Speaking of squirrels, that actually just…

Kirsten: But…

Justin: Oh, go ahead.

Kirsten: But I was – I mean, I think it’s in terms of people who argue, “Oh, we have all the look at adult cells and look…” And there are people who say that adult cells we need to stop going down the road of embryonic stem cell research because adult stem cells can do everything that embryonic stem cells do. And that’s not true. It’s not correct. We don’t know that adult cells can do everything that the embryonic cells do.

And studies like this that go, “Oh, we were wrong. We don’t actually have the cell type that we thought we had.” That I think, you know, we just need to be careful. We can’t just get rid of one entire arm of research just because you think the other arm is better.

Justin: Yeah.

Kirsten: Two arms are better than one, sometimes, maybe. I don’t know.

Justin: Well, and it’s also that the whole like being – there’s the story that I have here that actually illustrates pretty well when we get to it. Giving words or caution to your research, throwing in those little…

Kirsten: Little caveats of…

Justin: …little disclaimers along the way.

Kirsten: Mm hmm.

Justin: Squirrels – squirrels by the way…

Kirsten: Yes, your squirrels.

Justin: The town has been taken over by red squirrels. When I grow up in this town, there were gray squirrels. There are no gray squirrels. I don’t see them anywhere.

There’s a small red super agile, fast, little, red squirrels that are all over town now. This is some sort of, you know, just observational science. The roads out to the farm country are littered with these things. I’ve just noticed this. There’s just like four or five every way, every direction I go that I can see on the road that didn’t make it across. So I just thought that maybe there’s just so many of them. I don’t know.

Kirsten: The kamikaze squirrels.

Justin: No. This morning, these are fast, agile – I mean acrobatics in the trees. One ran out in front of me today. Darted back and forth, start to pirouettes in the middle of my lane. I went over him. He got lucky and hit no tire. But it did – it just whatever there are vehicle avoidance system in these squirrels is severely lacking.

Kirsten: It’s better than the rabbit that my mom ran over before Easter when I was little.

Justin: Before – oh no.

Kirsten: Yeah, my mom killed the Easter bunny. She did. We were driving – I grew up in the country.

Justin: Yeah.

Kirsten: Dirt roads and everything, driving next to the field down the dirty roads. And this “rack jabbit” comes and pops right at the car and…

Justin: (Rack jabbit).

Kirsten: (Rack jabbit). And then all of a sudden the bunny didn’t move. And he just went under the car. And (dan-dan-dan-dan) under the car. My mom was like, “Oh, dear.” And so I went to school. And I don’t get to tell everybody that my mom killed the Easter bunny. There was no Easter that year. It was a sad, sad year.

Okay. So, last week we reported on a story regarding supernova that turned into a black hole, right? And the researchers from the University of San Diego and the Weizmann Institute in Israel were able to go back to previous pictures and be able to track the progress of the star that became the black hole. And that was the story from last week.

And then, you know, this week I got another story from somebody. And I kind of was looking around. And it seemed like they were two stories going around on the internet. And that this one from — this was on the website — is basically about this odd ball supernova that exploded and it’s changing the way that scientists are thinking about supernova formation. So, what stars go supernova?

Justin: Yeah.

Kirsten: And it doesn’t mention the black hole at all. So the question here is like, “Okay. So was there a black hole? Was there not a black hole?”

Justin: I prevented it with my mind powers. So, it’s not been wrong from last week.

Kirsten: What was the – you prevented it. Exactly!

Justin: My spooky mind powers.

Kirsten: Yeah. And it was kind of, you know, what was the story here because different scientific organizations or different media organizations picked up the story differently and reported slightly different facts? And just if you go through all the stories, it makes it a little bit confusing.

The reality is the article that was published in Nature, they looked at – the thing is that they had never – they couldn’t figure out whether or not this particular supernova, they knew that it went supernova. They didn’t know where – what it came from. Was it from a cluster of stars? Was it from one star? What did the star look like because they caught the supernova? But then they they’re like, “Oh, where did it come from? So, let’s go back in time and look at.”

Justin: They can tell by the x-ray of pulses that it was about 50 solar masses, which is plenty to go supernova.

Kirsten: Plenty.

Justin: It’s in fact – it’s pretty big.

Kirsten: It’s pretty big. However – so, they looked back and they were like, “Okay. What kind of star was it?” And they found that this star is what’s known as a luminous blue — oh, what is it — luminous blue variable star. And that means they kind of pulse. And they’re – it’s kind of like a volcano where the activity comes and it goes.

And it wasn’t mature. These luminous blue variables are not as mature as stars that normally are considered to be the ones that go supernova. They thought, “Okay. Well, this one shouldn’t have gone supernova because it hasn’t used up all of the helium inside of it that would actually cause it to start the implosion process that results in a supernova and the black hole.”

So, story – end of the story is that luminous blue variable was not expected to go supernova. But it did. So, this kind of makes some question. Okay, maybe there are other ages, other stages of star development that can go supernova. It does still support. There was a black hole.

Justin: I thought there wasn’t.

Kirsten: No.

Justin: So, you know, I’m now confused.

Kirsten: That’s something – that’s what the process of the supernova. Some of the material from the star is exploded and shot away from the star in that bright burst that is a supernova.

But that’s not all the materials of a star. The anterior of the star collapses on itself. And that’s the heavy stuff. And the star was big enough that there was enough material that didn’t blow away, that imploded into itself to create the black hole.

Justin: I thought the problem was that it hadn’t imploded. But again, I was wrong about these solar masses. I’m going to quit betting on the black holes right now.

Kirsten: And the Minion (Paula), she wrote in to say she loved the black hole birth story. And she was sure that 1,000 people had written in. But you only need to be about ten times bigger than the Sun to collapse into a black hole. Interestingly, there’s a lot of contradictory data about this on the web.

Justin: Yeah.

Kirsten: Some report three solar masses, and some report eight. Ten seems to be a conservative estimate. And she quotes from the black – the NASA website on black holes, “Black holes are the evolutionary endpoints of stars at least 10 to 15 times as massive as the Sun. If a star that massive or larger undergoes a supernova explosion, it may leave behind a fairly massive burned out stellar remnant.

With no outward forces to oppose gravitational forces, the remnant will collapse in on itself. The star eventually collapses to the point of zero volume and infinite density, creating what is known as a “singularity”.

As the density increases, the path of light rays emitted from the star are bent and eventually wrapped irrevocably around the star. Any emitted photons are trapped into an orbit by the intense gravitational field; they will never leave it because no light escapes after the star reaches this infinite density, it is called a black hole.”

Justin: Mm hmm.

Kirsten: Thanks, (Paula).

Justin: Okay. And she’s right. The contradiction isn’t really that contradictory though. I did a little my own looking into this. And it turns out the smallest black hole known to science XTEJ1650-500 — it was discovered by eight years ago — has a diameter of 15 miles on the solar mass of 3.8 times out of our Sun.

Kirsten: That’s pretty small.

Justin: Pretty small. And I think what – the confusion is that theoretically a black hole can be anywhere from 1.7 to 2.7 solar masses. It’s the smallest size, okay?

Kirsten: Mm hmm.

Justin: But that’s not the size of the star that needs to implode to create that. What happens is when a star implodes and goes supernova and collapse or collapses upon itself, much of the energy is lost; much of the mass is ejected out in the space.

So while the smallest size to have a black hole as wise is 1.7 to 2.7. The star before that may still be required to be like 10 to 14 solar masses before it collapses.

So that might be why there’s the contradictory info about, you know, the solar masses what it takes to have a black hole.

Kirsten: Mm hmm.

Justin: It’s whether you’re starting or ending, you know, looking at the beginning or the end of that process.

Kirsten: And something else to note in all of these black hole business, what scientist understand, people have been theorizing about black holes for years and years and years and years. But it was really only about ten years ago that we started really observing supernovas become black holes. And so, the process of star life cycle and black hole formation has really only within the last ten years gotten observational evidence.

Justin: Wow.

Kirsten: So that’s pretty – I mean that’s not a very long time.

Justin: No.

Kirsten: So, this is pretty new stuff. It’s pretty cool.

Justin: And we’re talking about 10 to 50 Suns worth of black holeness in all of these. The galaxy centers, the black holes that they believe that lurk in the heart of galaxies could be millions of Suns strong.

Kirsten: I don’t want to go there.

Justin: That’s a crazy for us.

Kirsten: Danger! You are listening to This Week in Science. Oh, there’s a cool, cool, cool story. So there was an asteroid that was detected. I think it was a week ago.

It was also talked about in Nature – detailed in Nature. The Catalina Sky Survey telescope, it’s an automated telescope in Arizona, detected the asteroid. Nineteen hours later, it collided with the Earth’s atmosphere and exploded above Northern Sudan.

Justin: Oh!

Kirsten: Yeah. So, people didn’t think that it was going to, you know – oh okay, it exploded really high in the Earth’s atmosphere. And so, most people thought, “Well, pieces of it probably did not survive to land on the surface of the planet.”

But there was a meteor astronomer from the SETI Institute, Carl Sagan Center, Peter Jenniskens – I hope I got his name right. He thought, “Hey, maybe we’ll be able to find some pieces. He got a mission together to go to the desert and search for these meteorite particles. And they found some.

So now, this is the first time that they have spotted a body coming in from outer space, watched it explode and they found pieces of it on the surface of the planet.

Justin: Wow.

Kirsten: And been able to correlate the trajectory…

Justin: To see where it came from.

Kirsten: …to see where it came from and what it’s made up of. So now, they’re doing chemical analysis to determine what it’s made up of, what kind of conditions it formed under. And, you know, yeah. There are so many interesting things that can actually come from this.

And what they’re saying, one of the quotes here from one of the study team members, Rocco Mancinelli, he says, “2008 TC3, which is the name of the asteroid, could serve as a Rosetta Stone providing us with essential clues to the processes that built Earth and its planetary siblings.”

It’s pretty neat. It’s very, very neat. So, I think that the fact that they – people thought that it wouldn’t last within this mission to go out and search for the pieces that would have landed on the surface of the planet actually was – had results and they were able to find something. This I think is proof that maybe we should be paying attention to these exploding objects in our atmosphere more often and take a look at them.

Justin: Yeah.

Kirsten: Go out to the Desert of Sudan.

Justin: Well, somebody else go out. No, thank you.

Kirsten: Go to the Nubian Desert. Search for meteorites.

Justin: Don’t they ever land on like the Bahamas or Hawaii? I would totally go look for meteor in Hawaii.

Kirsten: Yeah. And I think it’s interesting also, the asteroids are the things that are like shooting through the sky. And then once it lands and goes through our atmosphere, that’s a meteor – meteorite particle that lands on the planet, interesting distinction.

Justin: Yeah typhoon, hurricane. Yeah, that’s the prettiest thing.

New evidence vindicates video vice in terms of vision. Recent research now readable in Nature and Neuroscience, challenging the long held perception that human visual system’s ability to discern shades of gray was an unchangeable, un-improvable attribute.

As it turns out, long held perception was wrong. Wrong, I tell you. Certain types of fast paced video gaming can increase the ability to perceive changes in shades of gray by as much as 58%.

Kirsten: Whoa!

Justin: Yeah. University of Rochester Professor of Brain and Cognitive Sciences, Daphne Bavelier, tested the contrast sensitivity function of 22 students then divided them into two groups. One played the action video games like unreal tournament, “Call of Duty”. First person shooter. So, you run on, shoot stuff, jump over things.

Kirsten: Mm hmm.

Justin: Very fast moving graphics across the screen. Second group played The Sims, which has co-graphics but you don’t like knock your soda off the coffee table trying to keep up with the action.

Kirsten: Those were the games I like.

Justin: It’s for girls. It’s a girl game.

Kirsten: Oh, you should see me play the games where things attack you. Oh, ridiculous!

Justin: It’s about just having a regular life I think, right?

Kirsten: Yeah.

Justin: So, you go to work, you cook. You have to go to the bathroom and bathe in The Sims.

Kirsten: Oh, yeah. Well, I don’t play The Sims.

Justin: Oh, okay.

Kirsten: I have no idea.

Justin: Volunteers played 50 hours of their assigned games over the course of nine weeks. At the end of the training, students who played the action game showed an average of 43% improvement in the ability to discern close shades of gray, and whereas the people who played the more passive game, The Sims, showed no visual improvements.

Professor Bavelier further found that frequent action game junkies had the 58% – over 58% better at perceiving fine differences in the contrast. “Normally, improving contrast sensitivity means getting glasses or eye surgery, somehow changing the optics of the eye,” says Bavelier. “But we found that action video games train the brain to process the existing visual information more efficiently. Improvements lasts for months after the game play stopped.”

So, this is some interesting information here.

Kirsten: Yeah. I’m just thinking that it doesn’t seem – I mean, this – it might seem surprising but at the same time the ability of the brain, you know, practice makes perfect.

So, you practice the piano, and your fingers get faster and, you know, you’re able to play songs more efficiently, more effectively. Playing soccer, you know, your muscles get stronger. You’re able to do more, you know, fancy moves. And suddenly your head butting into the goal.

You know, there are all sorts of examples in life of our brain adapting to what you’ve spent a lot of time doing. So, if this is something that you practice on a regular basis, those neural pathways are going to become more efficient.

Justin: Yeah. And – but the thing here, I think, is there has been a separation in the science. Okay?

Kirsten: Mm hmm.

Justin: The people who’ve been looking at improving the eye are people very focused on the eye who have ignored the fact that there’s a brain behind that.

Kirsten: Not the brain so much. And the majority – well, I don’t know. Most neuro scientists understand that there…

Justin: Because you’re the smarter of the two (versions) of the science.

Kirsten: Right.

Justin: Okay. That’s right.

Kirsten: The visual systems within the brain do the majority of visual processing. The eye is just a little – it’s a little tool.

Justin: It’s a little tool, right.

Kirsten: Yeah.

Justin: But because there’s nothing physically changing on the eye, I think a lot of the sciences have thought that no difference could be transmitted in for the vision.

So – and according to — okay, this is Bavelier again, “To the best of our knowledge, this is the first demonstration that contrast sensitivity can be improved by simple training. When people play action games, they’re changing brain’s pathway responsible for visual processing. These games push the human visual system to the limits and the brain adapts to it, and we’ve seen the positive effect remains for even two years after the training was over.”

So, this is what I take a little tangent. I once read a book called the “Art of Seeing by Aldous Huxley.

Kirsten: Mm hmm.

Justin: And in it is he’s telling of something called the “Bates Method”. The Bates method was a turn of the last century, you know, like early 1900s a way of training the eye to see better to correct vision.

Kirsten: Mm hmm.

Justin: Now, what he thought was going on perhaps was just an exercising the eye to make the eye stronger, some eye muscles something like this.

Kirsten: Right, that if you – and you can make the eye muscle stronger.

Justin: Sure.

Kirsten: So, if you focus on something close-up and far away, and close-up and far away, you do these exercises everyday, you can improve your vision.

Justin: Right. And one of the thing – he was heavily discounted because of course the science was saying this no physical way to fix the eye like that.

Kirsten: Mm hmm.

Justin: That doesn’t actually change that enough about the eye that you can actually improve vision.

Kirsten: Right, right.

Justin: Aldous Huxley swore by it because he restored his vision with this.

Kirsten: Yeah.

Justin: But this is what’s kind of interesting. One of the things that Bates’ suggests is that the manner of eye movement affects the sight. And one of the practices he does is called “shifting”, moving eyes back and forth really quickly. So, everything looks like is moving.

Kirsten: Right.

Justin: And then you stop and things become a little more clear when you move the eyes. And one of the things that suggest…

Kirsten: Justin is doing that right now.

Justin: Yes.

Kirsten: And he looks really funny.

Justin: One of the things he suggests – and there were some also some other…

Kirsten: Goofy eyes.

Justin: …meta physics behind. It’s like this is how the eagle looks. The eagle doesn’t stare. The eagle constantly looks around.

Kirsten: Mm hmm.

Justin: And that’s why the eagle can see a mouse from flying high above. One of the exercises he says that the smaller the area over which you swing your eyes back and forth are doing this, the smaller that area the greater the benefit to your sight. And I put him in context to this video game. We were just staring at the screen moving our eyes all over the screen.

Kirsten: Interesting.

Justin: Isn’t that kind of a neat little correlation? So here we have this ancient wisdom of less than 100 years ago. That’s in a way was refuted as being wrong, Crack Pot sort of a thing.

Kirsten: Could possibly have something to do with the improvements. Not an improvement that you see shades of gray.

Justin: Yeah. I’m sure it could.

Kirsten: But in ability to maybe pick up things in your field of vision.

Justin: I bet you it would even increase it. I would go back – I would say that if you took that Bates method — I would just guess it in my hypothesis for further study would be that if you took the Bates method and did that for awhile and tested shades of gray, I bet you would see a similar improvement. And what’s funny is of course Bates thought it was because the relaxation of the eye itself and all these…

Kirsten: I don’t – nobody has done that. So, maybe we should do that.

Justin: …and it was discounted because nothing was actually physically can be changed in the eye that way really. And it turns out maybe the brain. There’s nobody was thinking that the brain — hello, in here. Knock! Knock! Who was that knocking from inside of my skull?

Kirsten: There was another study recently also that was suggesting that another aspect of vision are – in our peripheral field of view that were actually paying attention to objects in our peripheral field of vision more than it was thought that we were.

So, the study actually had people focusing on one small area. But then tested them on things that were happening in the periphery that are, you know, normally consider, oh, it’s just happens in your periphery but you’re not paying attention to it.

Justin: Right.

Kirsten: And it actually – the study actually showed that hey, even though it’s happening in the periphery, your brain is paying attention to it and there is attention being paid.

Justin: According to William Burroughs, everything you experience whether you notice it or not is being recorded for future reference.

Kirsten: Oh thanks, Mr. Burroughs. We’ll be back after this. We’ve got some…

Justin: Science!

Kirsten: Yeah, more science for you. Stay tuned for This Week in Science.

Justin: And we’re back.

Kirsten: Use your brain people. Texas State Board of Education voted on new science standards among other things in our meeting just last week. And the following is from a press release from the Texas Freedom Network. “The word ‘weaknesses’ no longer appears in the science standards. But the document still has plenty of potential footholds for creationist attacks on evolution to make their way into Texas classrooms.

Through a series of contradictory and convoluted amendments, the board crafted a road map that creationists will use to pressure publishers into putting phony arguments attacking established science into textbooks.

We appreciate that the politicians on the board seek compromise, but don’t agree that comprises can be made on established mainstream science or on honest education policy.

What’s truly unfortunate is that we now have to revisit this entire debate in two years when new science textbooks are adopted. Perhaps the Texas legislature can do something to prevent that.”

And from a National Center for Science Education press release, they say, “What we have now is Son of Strengths and Weaknesses,” says Josh Rosenau, a project director for NCSE. “Having students ‘analyze and evaluate all sides of scientific evidence’ is code that gives creationists a green light to attack biology textbooks.”

For example, the revised biology standard (7B) reflects two discredited creationist ideas — that “sudden appearance” and “stasis” in the fossil record somehow disprove evolution”.

“The new standard directs students to “analyze and evaluate the sufficiency of scientific explanations concerning any data of sudden appearance, stasis and the sequential nature of groups in the fossil records.” Other new standards include language such as “is thought to” or “proposed transitional fossils” to make evolutionary concepts seem more tentative.

The question now is whether textbook publishers will bend to the pressure from creationist groups to change the information in science text.

Justin: Wow.

Kirsten: Yeah. So, it was a kind of a bitter-sweet school board meeting for those people who are trying to maintain science standards especially with regards to the teaching of evolution in the classroom.

Some things were changed for the better, other things were not. And there was also some – there were also some changes to the wording for the teaching of climate change and global warming to make it also seem like it is less agreed upon by the scientific community.

Justin: I think that it’s – I think it would be fine to have more religious-ity in the classroom as long as they allowed me to write the counterpoint for Atheism because really I think that’s the one – no, that’s the thing that would make people less willing to try to put God into a classroom is if then as a counter, children were taught Atheism – actually taught Atheism in school.

It would be very – you don’t want your children to admit — not even to today me — you don’t want the ten year old me taking on your religion. This ten year old me had some verbal combat skills even back then. And I would have taken on religion in the classroom and debate, yeah, they converted your children. Yeah.

Kirsten: Yeah. I guess why I think it’s, you know, it just seems like why can’t we just have things be parallel? Why can’t we have a history of world, religions, class in the social studies?

And why can’t we just maintain science in the science classroom? I mean it is a good idea to teach students critical inquiry and teach them to ask questions and teach them to analyze data.

However, the way that this stuff is worded, it suggests that the data that’s there – and they’re actually interested in putting them.

Justin: I think this is updated in science to create – to have ground for critical thinking. I don’t think you need, you know, the supernatural to be involved in science for critical thinking to take place.

Kirsten: No.

Justin: World Health Organization estimates that 1/3 of the world’s population is at least asymptomatically infected with tuberculosis, 10% will eventually develop the disease. And that new instances of TB infection occur once every second. Wow!

Current treatment for tuberculosis targets the active tuberculosis bacterium has very little effect on asymptomatic, the latent, the non-replicating group. So you can have tuberculosis. Barely a third of the people on the planet have it.

Kirsten: That’s a lot.

Justin: But it can be latent. It can be, you know, that can be carriers, (that’s basic, right)?

Kirsten: Mm hmm.

Justin: So, the development of new drugs to combat TB…

Kirsten: That’s billions of people.

Justin: Yeah, that’s like 2 billion, you know.

Kirsten: More than 2 billion.

Justin: Is it more than 6 billion people now?

Kirsten: Yes.

Justin: Only seven or eight, oh gosh so many people moving in now. The strains now are becoming resistant to the major anti drugs – anti-TB drugs. There are strains that are completely resistant. So, we need new treatments. Team of University of Maryland scientists has paved the way for the development of new drug therapies that combat both be active and be asymptomatic, the latent tuberculosis. That’s the big one.

Kirsten: Yeah.

Justin: That’s the one that’s lurking and hiding.

Kirsten: Asymptomatic means that they carry it and can spread it.

Justin: Yeah.

Kirsten: But not know it.

Justin: But they don’t even know they got it. They’re not sick.

Kirsten: Right. So you’re not doing anything potentially to protect others.

Justin: Right.

Kirsten: Mm hmm.

Justin: So it – they find a unique structure in mechanism of an enzyme, the bacterium that causes the disease. Assistant Professor of Chemistry and Biochemistry, Barbara Gerratana of the University’s College of Chemical and Life Sciences led the research team, which included the graduate student, Melissa Resto, and assistant professor Nicole LaRonde-LeBlanc. I love that name.

Kirsten: Mm hmm.

Justin: “The NAD+ synthetase enzyme that our study describes is absolutely essential for the survival of the tuberculosis bacteria and an important drug target. We now use the information we have about its structure and mechanism to develop inhibitors for this enzyme.

Study entitled, “Regulation of active site coupling in glutamine-dependent NAD+ sythetase,” was published March 8, 2009 in Nature Structural & Molecular Biology magazine.

NAD – it’s harder.

Kirsten: NAD.

Justin: NAD+ synthetase represents one of a small handful of TB drugs targeted at the iron-clad – and that has iron-clad validation, the lack of a crystal structure was the only serious impediment to drug development. “And this study represents a hugely important step forward,” said Clifton E. Barry, Chief of the Tuberculosis Research Section of the Intramural Research Division of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

“Inhibiting NadE even kills non-replicating cells, so this discovery may well benefit 1/3 of the human population that carries that latent bacteria.” Say it again. The discovery may well benefit 1/3 of the human population? Science!

“We are optimistic about the potential for developing new drugs that will effectively target the enzyme TB.” I want to point out something in this study as amazing as this finding is that in terms – in light of our conversations about, you know, the cold fusion and the stem cells in the eyes.

Kirsten: Mm hmm.

Justin: I’m going to go back or a little of the wording in this study that we just heard. It’s, “Paved the way for the development of… May well benefit… Hugely important step forward… Optimistic about the potential for…” It’s not exactly disclaimers that are going on here.

Kirsten: Yeah.

Justin: It’s to find art of not anticipating results before the actual research is done, before the actual findings. It is keeping expectations limited to objective fact. Well done University of Maryland, College of Chemical and Life Sciences for not only your great discovery but for keeping it real.

Kirsten: Keeping it real. So, in the UK, scientists have discovered that daddy long legs populations dropping are having a bad effect on bird populations. Daddy long legs, now I, you know, never really consider that, you know, maybe one type of insect will have such an effect on a large number of bird populations.

But in this study published in the journal Global Change Biology and led by Dr. James Pearce Higgins of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds in Scotland, shows that the changes in spring temperature, so the increasing spring temperatures at an earlier date are affecting the golden plover’s ability to match the spring emergence of their – in England their cranefly is called the daddy long legs. This isn’t the daddy long legs spider like we have here. They’re cranefly prey.

So the higher temperatures in late summer are killing the cranefry — I can’t say it — cranefly larva and resulting in a drop of up to 95% in the number of adult craneflies that are emerging the following spring. And that is a large part of the food source of the golden plover and is not going to bode well for the survival of the little baby plovers.

Yeah. Dr. Mark Whittingham says, “The population of Golden Plovers in our study will likely be extinct in around 100 years if temperature predictions are correct and the birds cannot adapt to feed on other prey sources.”

Sad news. Hopefully, these birds will pick it up and adapt and find other prey sources. And, you know, some species are able to do that. And what behavioral research suggests is that the more of a specialist an animal is the less of a chance of them adapting they’re going to have.

The more of a generalist the better chance that they’re going to have, surviving and adapting to new climactic conditions. So, I mean, we’re looking at huge drops in bird populations here in the United States as the results of changing insect population changes in foliage around the country.

The migration of birds is being affected as well as their – and their breeding and their ability to survive based on these food sources and finding of breeding grounds that are appropriate for them to continuing to remain appropriate for them.

You know, some birds are going to do very, very well. And others are not as things change. And this is going – it’s not just birds that are affected. They’re just very visible in how they’re affected.

Happy news!

Justin: Something less visible. Scientific underwater submersible activity turns early evolutionary understanding upside down by observing squishy balls.

Kirsten: Upside down?

Justin: Yeah, underwater anyway.

Kirsten: Squishy balls?

Justin: Squishy balls.

Kirsten: What?

Justin: Squishy balls in Bahamas.

Kirsten: Whoa!

Justin: Mikhail V. Matz of the University of Texas at Austin and his team were looking for soft-illuminating life forms of the deep when they made a curious observation of something they were not looking for. They weren’t funded for this.

Kirsten: I found a curious thing at the drug store.

Justin: (Isn’t that in the prime directive).

Kirsten: I went to the drug store and they had this funny like squishy things that light up – that lit up inside when you sit them on the ground. I don’t know if that’s same accidental discovery.

Justin: No, this don’t light up. This don’t light up. This is something that were – it was hundreds of little described as grape-sized balls that appeared to have left tracks behind them, reminiscent of worms like they had this little picture these little balls like – I mean, looks as though they’ve been rolling. Only some of them even looked like they’ve been rolling uphill under the water like maybe it’s the current that’s moving them. It’s hard to say it. But they leave these little tracks behind them.

Balls turned out to be giant protozoans.

Kirsten: Whoa!

Justin: Gromia sphaerica to be somewhat exact, large single cell creatures that have this sort of thin – they called it a “test”. That’s a shell-like covering that Matz describes as being squishy, like feeling like a grape skin and that they’re kind of squishy feeling.

Kirsten: Uh-oh.

Justin: They’re part of an ancient protozoan group called rhizopods, okay. Interesting connection was made. The worm-like tracks in the seafloor looked an awful lot like grooves found in sedimentary rock formed 1.8 billion years ago. Those sedimentary fossil grooves are the only piece of evidence that had put multicellular life on earth so very long ago. Okay?

So the new evidence or the next evidence because 1.8 billion years ago we have these tracks. It looked like it could be form of worms. But whatever form…

Kirsten: And they think multicellular.

Justin: …must be multicellular creature.

Kirsten: Yeah, yeah.

Justin: And the only evidence that they get after that comes about 580 million years ago. See what from 1.8 billion to, you know, you took off…

Kirsten: Halved it basically.

Justin: Right, from less than halved it.

Kirsten: Yeah.

Justin: The observation suggests that protozoans possibly but not worms or worm-like creatures or multicellular creatures could be responsible for the fossil tracks, thereby eliminating evidence of multicellular life from the planet for over a billion years. The findings were detailed in the journal Current Biology in November.

That’s a fantastic connection of observation to make. It’s something they weren’t looking for. They made, you know, a critical observation of it. And somebody connected it to, “Hey, you know what that reminds me of?”

Kirsten: Maybe there wasn’t multicellular life that long ago when we think there was.

Justin: Yeah because the next evidence shows up like over a billion years later.

Kirsten: Mm hmm.

Justin: There’s kind of a huge gap and, you know, if we’ve got multicellular, especially if we got something to the point of a worm, we should perhaps have seen some sort of an evidence since in that billion years.

Kirsten: Maybe it was all just squishy balls.

Justin: Yeah, squishy balls. What if we all – all of life on earth evolved from squishy balls.

Kirsten: Nice – very nice.

Justin: And they’re testy because that went to the show that’s called a testy.

Kirsten: Researchers publishing in PLoS ONE, the Public Library of Science.

Justin: That’s online, isn’t it?

Kirsten: It is online and it’s free to access. That means anyone can look at it, which is fabulous. Researchers at the University of Chicago published that they discovered a new species of dinosaur that breathed like a bird — putting yet more evidence behind the idea that birds are evolve from dinosaurs.

Justin: Just something I only learned last year that I thought we sought that birds had lungs like people have lungs.

Kirsten: No, they have air sacs. They have. And the air sacs allow air to move. So basically, the way birds have hollow lungs, they also have — hollow lungs — hollow bones that make them lighter. They also have this air sac will extend to different cavities within the birds.

And they are like a secondary system. And as the bird inhales air flows in. And the air sacs are filled. And then that’s like one breathe. And so, it’s like a flow through system where it never stops so that, you know, how we have to breathe in and breathe out. And it’s just air in, air out. With them it’s air that’s constantly in.

So air comes in, it fills the sacs. And then as the bird exhales, it then goes in to the lungs. And then a new set of air is brought in to the sacs. And it constantly is flowing through. And so this is what allows birds to also fly to higher altitudes because they’ve got more oxygen and more ability to prevent carbon dioxide air from mixing with the oxygen air – oxygenated air in the lungs.

Justin: Cool.

Kirsten: Yeah separates it better. Now, this bird what they’re calling Aerosteon seems to have a unique system. It has hollow bones that they believe acted similarly to the air sacs of today’s birds. And this is one of the first pieces of hollow boned dinosaur evidence they found.

This 80 million-year old giant was found in the bad lands of Argentina. And let’s see the Cretaceous period during that time, the area would have been highly forested, vibrant ecosystem, very different from today’s hot, dry desert environment that it is. But it also would have made terrific, terrific place for all of the prey species that Aerosteon ate. It was a very carnivorous bird dinosaur.

Justin: Dino bird.

Kirsten: Dino bird, yes. And it was related – let’s see if I can find it in the story here. Yeah, they examined the teeth. They have determined from the teeth that it is a theropod – a distant descendant of the Allosaurus.

And this is another interesting piece because it was thought that the Allosaurus were – had died out a long time ago in South America before the appearance of this Aerosteon.

But Sereno, the scientist involved in the study says that, “Pangaea, the great supercontinent, which was the birthplace of the dinosaurs had broken apart, and South America was largely isolated on its own. And the Atlantic Ocean was narrower, but not connected to any other land masses.” And he thinks that this breaking apart allowed the Aerosteon to exist isolated from other species in South America.

Justin: It’s awesome.

Kirsten: Yes, very interesting — carnivorous bird-like dinosaur.

Justin: (brrkkk) That was terrible. I’m ready for Minion Mailbag. You got any other stories you want to throw out there?

Kirsten: Oh, a very quick story about hermit crabs feeling pain and remembering it.

Justin: Oh yeah.

Kirsten: Yeah. They – some scientists at Queen’s University in Belfast published in the journal Animal Behavior their study of these hermit crabs. They shocked them in their shells. And hermit crabs like – they will sometimes switch shells for shell that they consider to be better. So these hermit crabs that were shocked were more likely to trade their shell for another shell than those crabs that had not been shocked.

Justin: As one’s got a short in it somewhere. I don’t know.

Kirsten: This one’s, “I got to go.”

Justin: Something else – something’s not right here.

Kirsten: Anyway, think a little bit about the hermit crab and its ability to remember and feel pain. What is it they say about crustaceans? Fish even insects, you had the caterpillar last week who could remember pain (unintelligible).

Justin: Yeah. We got a correction on how to say caterpillar. Mine wasn’t even cater or cata-pillar. Mine was cat-a, with no “d”, cat-a-pillar. I don’t know what.

Kirsten: Cat-a-pillar.

Justin: Cat-a-pillar.

Kirsten: Yeah. Minion (Barbara), she said, “Tees, pronounce ca-ter-pillar, not cater-pillar. Similarly the number 20 is pronounced twen-ty, not twen-ny. No wonder so many children spell words incorrectly. I still love your podcast. And the accents occasionally gave me a chuckle. Keep up the good work and try to use all the letters in your words.”

Justin: Who was that?

Kirsten: From (Barbara).

Justin: From (Barbara) and she must be British.

Kirsten: I don’t know.

Justin: Our accent?

Kirsten: She loves our CD. Good.

Justin: Or maybe we’re just speaking that bad of English. It doesn’t even translate into…

Kirsten: I don’t speak English.

Justin: Minion (Don) took issue with my recommending organic shampoo, last week’s discovery that – in light of last week’s discovery there was formaldehyde dioxin carcinogens in some commercial baby products.

He points out that both organic and regular products are comprised of variety of chemical compounds. And the only difference is that all things organic-contained, only chemical compound is produced from natural processes, from plants. Thus, in order for organic products to be safer than regular products, the natural compounds must be inherently safer than man-made compounds.

Kirsten: Yeah.

Justin: This premise is patently false.

Kirsten: Yup.

Justin: Minion (Don) further more goes on to say, “Organic products are usually comprised of plant-based ingredients. Chemical compositions of those ingredients are variable due to the differences in species, growth environments, soil, water, microbial life.

Unless consistently tested for specifically process or specifically process, people cannot attest to an absolute knowledge of chemical composition. Thus, cannot attest to a known absence of harmful chemical compounds.

Ultimately, the safety of a product is bended on the choice and knowledge of ingredients regardless of the source. I’m not against organics. Just a faulty science and logics often used to justify their over – them over regular products. While I’m sure the comment it’s impatience are not intentional. I just felt that it’s necessary to address, especially sense it was presented in the programming promoting science.”

I agree with (Don) here to a very great degree.

Kirsten: Mm hmm.

Justin: We have report in past in the effects of synthetic estrogens that you can find in a lot of organics. I think one of the – I think lavender…

Kirsten: Lavender, yeah.

Justin: …was one of the – and maybe it was peppermint oil. I don’t remember. The lavender was definitely the big offender there.

Kirsten: Yeah.

Justin: That could actually have some really negative effects if you use them on children. So thank you for the correction, (Don). I would like now to recommend that young children simply have no products used on them. They really don’t need it.

They really don’t need lotions. They really don’t – you know, babies can have dry skin and there’s nothing wrong with it. They don’t need to be lathered. They don’t need to be bubbled. You can use a soap where it doesn’t lather up on them. They don’t have that much hair. It’s not going to be a big bill.

Kirsten: And then the Sun, you just wrap them up and put them underneath something like a hat.

Justin: What?

Kirsten: You know, you don’t have to put them – instead of sunblock.

Justin: Right. And if you take them outside just put a blanket over the kid like, what are you talking about? Oh my goodness.

Kirsten: Oh dear. We had a couple of comments from our Pie Day broadcast. And Minion (Terry Kensler), he said – he heard either me or Justin say that…

Justin: You.

Kirsten: It was me.

Justin: It wasn’t me.

Kirsten: I said it that I needed to know the value of Pi to compare the values of various sizes of round pizza pies. And again, (John Breck) also says the following comment, “Nope, Pi cancels out. So what you need is the price divided by the radius square of the Pi to see which gives you the most pie with the least dough.

Also in another pie subject you raised this last 03/14 was just a small pie. We have a small pie every year. Our last medium pie was in the 20th century on 03/14/16. And we will have our next in just seven years again on 03/14/16. We had a large pie on 03/14/1593 and I don’t think we will ever have another.”

Thanks for humoring me. Keep the good work.

Justin: Never ever.

Kirsten: Never ever. And I just wanted to say that, you know, in terms of cancelling out the pies, well, you have to know the pie is there in the first place to cancel it out, right?

Justin: The pizza pie.

Kirsten: No, yeah pizza pie.

Justin: We have to know the pizza pie is there. That’s one thing…

Kirsten: I mean Pi still makes it possible, maybe. Oh, yeah you’re right.

Justin: I guess we’re at the end.

Kirsten: Cancel the pies. We’re at the end of our show.

Justin: Oh, (Steven Daniels), (Ambrel Scotland), one of my ancestral stamping grounds there. This UK skepticism on the circumcision that they call it – basically they say calling the Americans obsessed with circumcision because of this — what I still claim to be a faulty statistical study. We’ll get into that again some other time.

Kirsten: We might have to get into it. We’ll allow you that rant.

Justin: Yeah.

Kirsten: Some other time.

Justin: I’ll get into my foreskin again somehow.

Kirsten: I just want to remind everybody that the TWIS Bookclub is now reading the Drunkard’s Walk: How Randomness Rules Our Lives by Leonard Mlodinow.

Justin: It is not a biography.

Kirsten: Not a biography and you can find information – you can join in the Bookclub at Thanks to everyone for writing in with all your stories, comments, everything will hopefully be able to get to other people’s awesome emails. There’s one that wants his – (Nigel) wants to help you out with your printing problem.

Justin: Oh, I think I may have some.

Kirsten: So, I just want to say thanks to (Nigel), (Noel), (Ted Schivales), (Ardium), (Eljich), I just mess up your name again, (Sarah), (Ryan), (Carl), (David), (Ben), (Ed Dyer), thank you for all the stories you continually send in and the humorous comments that just make me laugh every Friday.

(Dawn), (Rocky) and (Janice), (Jaya) and your sister (Madison), (Tom), (Kurt), (Crabfu), all of you, thanks for writing in this week. It was fabulous to get you emails. And…

Justin: Yeah, thank you for listening. TWIS is available via podcast, if you want to listen later. If you can go on the internet there, you go to iTunes, look up This Week in Science in the iTunes’ podcast directory or you can visit us at and there are some instructions on how to get the podcast, there’s a forum, there’s all kind of stuff.

Kirsten: Fun stuff. For more information you’ve heard on anything here today, show notes with links to the source articles will be available on And we also want to hear from you, so email us at or

Justin: Be sure to put TWIS somewhere in the subject line or you’ll be spam filtered. We want to hear feedbacks. So, if there’s topic you’d like us to cover, address, suggestion for an interview, comments, stock tips insider once only, please let us know.

Kirsten: And we’ll be back here on KDVS next Tuesday at 8:30 am Pacific Time. We hope you’ll join us again for more great science news.

Justin: And if you’ve learned anything from today’s show, remember…

Kirsten: Oh, it’s all in your head.

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