Archive for 'News about research'

What’s Eating You, and/or Vice Versa: Microbes

Wednesday, December 17th, 2014

If you enjoyed the new opera “What’s Eating You“, which was about two people and all the microbes in and on them, you will (probably) enjoy this newly published study. It’s about people, their microbes, and who eats whom:

The microbes we eat: abundance and taxonomy of microbes consumed in a day’s worth of meals for three diet types,” Jenna M. Lang [pictured here], Jonathan A. Eisen, Angela M. Zivkovic, PeerJ, epub December 9, 2014. The authors, at the University of California, Davis, report:

lang“Far more attention has been paid to the microbes in our feces than the microbes in our food…. Little is known about the effects of ingested microbial communities that are present in typical American diets, and even the basic questions of which microbes, how many of them, and how much they vary from diet to diet and meal to meal, have not been answered.

“We characterized the microbiota of three different dietary patterns in order to estimate: the average total amount of daily microbes ingested via food and beverages, and their composition in three daily meal plans representing three different dietary patterns.”

Maddie Stone gives further details about the study, in Motherboard.

The opera premiered as part of the 2014 Ig Nobel Prize ceremony. You may have heard a snippet, at the tail end of the recent Science Friday radio broadcast. You can see and hear the complete opera (all three acts) in this video of the Ig Nobel ceremony:

BONUS: Retraction Watch reports the case of a scientific paper, about gut microbes, apparently having eaten pieces of lots of other scientific papers about gut microbes.

BONUS: The same kind of “what microbes does it eat?” analysis could be performed on other animals. This video shows a cat eating some of the contents of a seafood shop in Vladivostok, reports the Death and Taxes blog. (Thanks to Betsy Devine for bringing it to our attention):


Bird-feather counters exhibited pluck, tediously

Wednesday, December 17th, 2014
hat with feathers 1910

Feathers, on a hat on a person, circa 1910. Photo: Library of Congress.

Many humans have spent days, months or years counting feathers. Here are exciting highlights from some of their reports.

In 1936 Alexander Wetmore, of the US National Museum in Washington, gathered all the published reports he could find about someone or other counting how many feathers were on particular birds. “The work of feather counting is tedious and exacting,” he explained, “and yields small result relative to the labour involved.”

Among Wetmore’s gatherings from his peers: “Dr Jonathan Dwight found 3,235 feathers on a male Bobolink taken in spring. RC McGregor has recorded 1,899 feathers on a Savannah sparrow … and 6,544 on a glaucous winged Gull … Miss Phoebe Knappen has reported 11,903 feathers on an adult female mallard … the bird being one that had died from phosphorus poisoning.”

Wetmore proceeded to have someone he could count on do some do some new counting on his behalf: “The actual labour of counting was done under my direct supervision by Marie Siebrecht (now Mrs James Montroy) who, employed as an assistant, worked carefully and conscientiously at a long and somewhat tedious task”….

—So begins another Improbable Research column in The Guardian.

Multiplicity of Authors: Quisquaters and Guillous

Tuesday, December 16th, 2014

This entry in our Multiplicity of Authors collection features several Quisiquaters and several Guillous:

JJ-QHow to Explain Zero-Knowledge Protocols to Your Children,” Jean-Jacques Quisquater [pictured here], Myriam Quisquater, Muriel Quisquater, Michaël Quisquater, Louis C. Guillou, Marie Annick Guillou, Gaïd Guillou, Anna Guillou, Gwenolé Guillou, Soazig Guillou, Thomas A. Berson, Proceedings of the 9th Annual International Cryptology Conference, Santa Barbara, California, USA, August 20-24, 1989, pp. 628-631.

(Thanks to Jean-Jacques Quisquater for bringing this to our attention.)

Lots and lots of bits of copying in scientific literature

Sunday, December 14th, 2014

A new study indicates that lots of bits of old studies turn up, verbatim, in lots of newer scientific studies. The new study (which I have not checked to see whether it contains uncredited copied text) is:


Patterns of text reuse in a scientific corpus,” Daniel T. Citron  and Paul Ginsparg [pictured here], Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, epub December 8, 2014. The authors at Cornell University, report:

“We consider the incidence of text ‘reuse’ by researchers via a systematic pairwise comparison of the text content of all articles deposited to from 1991 to 2012. We measure the global frequencies of three classes of text reuse and measure how chronic text reuse is distributed among authors in the dataset. We infer a baseline for accepted practice, perhaps surprisingly permissive compared with other societal contexts, and a clearly delineated set of aberrant authors. We find a negative correlation between the amount of reused text in an article and its influence, as measured by subsequent citations.”

Co-author Ginsparg is the creator of arXiv.

John Bohannon gives further details and comment, in Science magazine.

(Thanks to investigator Scott Langill for bringing this to our attention.)

Are shoes good for you?

Sunday, December 14th, 2014

The Swiss researchers who (some of them) two years ago did an “analysis of a piece of shit”  now supply an answer to the question “Are shoes good for you?” They are two-fifths of the way towards completing the poetical list “shoes and shit [reverse sic] and sealing wax, cabbages and kings“.

Their shit study is called “An In-Depth Analysis of a Piece of Shit: Distribution of Schistosoma mansoni and Hookworm Eggs in Human Stool.” Their shoes study is:

Association between Footwear Use and Neglected Tropical Diseases: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis,” Sara Tomczyk, Kebede Deribe, Simon J. Brooker, Hannah Clark, Khizar Rafique, Stefanie Knopp, Jürg Utzinger, Gail Davey, PLOS Neglected Tropical Diseases, 8(11), epub Novembr 13, 2014. e3285. (Thanks to Pratik Dave for bringing this to our attention.) The authors report:

Utzinger“Consistent use of footwear may help in preventing or slowing down the progression of many neglected tropical diseases (NTDs). We conducted a systematic review and meta-analysis to assess the association between footwear use and infection or disease for those NTDs for which the route of transmission or occurrence may be through the feet. We found that footwear use reduces the risk of Buruli ulcer, tungiasis, hookworm, any STH infection, strongyloidiasis, and leptospirosis. No significant association between footwear use and podoconiosis was found and no data were available for mycetoma, myiasis or snakebite. We recommend that access to footwear should be prioritized alongside existing NTD interventions to ensure a lasting reduction of multiple NTDs and to accelerate their control and elimination.”

Professor Jürg Utzinger [pictured here], a driving force behind both studies, will soon take on new responsibilities:

The Board of Governors of the Swiss Tropical and Public Health Institute (Swiss TPH) has elected Prof. Jürg Utzinger as the new director with effect from 1 July 2015. The vote was unanimous. Prof Utzinger will succeed Prof. Marcel Tanner, who has led the Institute with great success since 1997 and is to stand down after three terms in office on 30 June 2015.