The world’s oldest story? Astronomers say global myths about ‘seven sisters’ stars may reach back 100,000 years

In cultures around the world, myths about “seven sisters” describe a cluster of stars, but today the naked eye can only discern six stars. What’s up with that? Cultures around the world call the Pleiades constellation ‘seven sisters’, even though we can only see six stars today. But things looked quite different 100,000 years ago. […] How come the Australian Aboriginal stories are so similar to the Greek ones? Anthropologists used to think Europeans might have brought the Greek story to Australia, where it was adapted by Aboriginal people for their own purposes. But the Aboriginal stories seem to be…

Mask-wearing cuts Covid incidence by 53%, says global study

Globally, Covid cases exceeded 250 million this month. The virus is still infecting 50 million people worldwide every 90 days due to the highly transmissible Delta variant, with thousands dying each day. Now a systematic review and meta analysis of non-pharmaceutical interventions has found for the first time that mask wearing, social distancing and handwashing are all effective measures at curbing cases – with mask wearing the most effective.  —Guardian

The battle against airborne COVID has shifted. Why your mask is the last layer of defence

There has been a paradigm shift in the thinking behind mask use, to the current emphasis on protecting oneself as opposed to the initial consideration of keeping others safe from what we might be exhaling, said Colin Furness, an infection control epidemiologist at the University of Toronto. “The game has changed,” he said. “We’re not masking to protect others from our own droplets now, we’re masking to protect ourselves from people who are being lackadaisical and reckless.” Added family physician and epidemiologist Dr. Jeff Kwong: “We’re all so fixated on the vaccines, and definitely don’t get me wrong, they’re very…

Murder Is Her Hobby: Frances Glessner Lee and The Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death

Simulations are powerful tools for understanding our world. Murder Is Her Hobby: Frances Glessner Lee and The Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death explores the surprising intersection between craft and forensic science. It also tells the story of how a woman co-opted traditionally feminine crafts to advance the male-dominated field of police investigation and to establish herself as one of its leading voices. Frances Glessner Lee (1878-1962) crafted her extraordinary “Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death”—exquisitely detailed miniature crime scenes—to train homicide investigators to “convict the guilty, clear the innocent, and find the truth in a nutshell.” These dollhouse-sized dioramas of true…

Why I Left Academe to Become a Science Communicator: The pursuit of academic research was too narrow for me.

From explaining the effectiveness of social distancing for preventing the spread of COVID-19 to communicating earthquake preparedness plans to the public, scicomm efforts are vital for helping turn research into action. Yet despite scicomm’s importance, it remains a hugely overlooked, underdeveloped and unknown area in academia. Academics are trained to communicate with other academics, and jargon-filled research papers prevent broad audiences from engaging with and understanding impactful scientific discoveries.

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The Masterpiece Society (#StarTrek #TNG Rewatch, Season 5, Episode 13) Space Thing Threatens Genetically Perfect Colony

Rewatching ST:TNG When a Space Thing threatens a genetically perfect colony, the wary inhabitants resist Picard’s offer to evacuate. Humans on Moab IV have for two centuries enjoyed a carefully designed society. The charismatic leader Conor speaks glowingly of fulfilling the role he was genetically engineered to hold, while the rigid traditionalist Martin undiplomatically scoffs at LaForge’s blindness. Conor is taken with Troi, who seems charmed by his attention. LaForge and the engineer Hannah strike up a good working relationship, which gets a bit awkward when LaForge gives a disability-rights speech (“I guess if I’d been conceived on your world,…

See How Vaccines Can Make the Difference in Delta Variant’s Impact

Here’s a great NYT “interactive” story that points out, if there’s an outbreak of the virus in a community where most of the people are vaccinated, most of the people who catch the disease will be vaccinated, simply because most of the people have been vaccinated. (I remind my students that if there are more shark attacks on hot days, it’s not the heat that causes the sharks to attack; with more people in the water, more people will encounter sharks, hence more attacks. When there are more people in a community who are vaccinated, the people who do get…

Unvaccinated dad records days of regret in hospital — and makes heartbreaking request for daughter’s wedding in case he dies

Between difficult breaths of supplemental oxygen, Travis Campbell is fighting to relay a message about his battle with Covid-19 in a Virginia hospital. He really regrets not getting vaccinated. And while he hopes he’s turned a corner, for a very scary stretch, he thought he needed to make arrangements to die. —CNN

As White Evangelical Vaccine Refusal Reminds Us, Sometimes Religion is the Problem

When reality contradicts the truths that define group membership, the evangelical community circles the wagons and puts the power and influence of its tight institutional network behind the assertion that, in fact, the emperor is wearing clothes, and anyone who says otherwise is a dirty godless liberal intent on persecuting Christians. How do I justify such a frank, unflattering assertion? Well, I’m not only well-versed in the relevant data and literature, but I grew up in evangelical authoritarianism myself, with a Christian school education and participation in short-term youth mission trips. I have evangelical vaccine refusers among my close relatives, and…

The insect apocalypse: ‘Our world will grind to a halt without them’

It is 50 years since I first collected those caterpillars in the school playground, and every year that has passed there have been slightly fewer butterflies, fewer bumblebees – fewer of almost all the myriad little beasts that make the world go round. These fascinating and beautiful creatures are disappearing, ant by ant, bee by bee, day by day. Estimates vary and are imprecise, but it seems likely that insects have declined in abundance by 75% or more since I was five years old. The scientific evidence for this grows stronger every year, as studies are published describing the collapse of monarch…

The YouTubers who blew the whistle on an anti-vax plot

While rational minds worry about the impact of biased cable TV channels, and as the Delta mutation spreads globally, a mysterious marketing agency is offering to pay social media influencers to post anti-vax disinformation. Mirko normally ignores offers from brands asking him to advertise their products to his more than 1.5 million subscribers. But the sponsorship offer he received in May this year was unlike any other. An influencer marketing agency called Fazze offered to pay him to promote what it said was leaked information that suggested the death rate among people who had the Pfizer vaccine was almost three…

‘I’m sorry, but it’s too late’: Alabama doctor tells unvaccinated, dying COVID patients

Donald Trump is vaccinated. Mitch McConnell is vaccinated. Fox personalities Hannity and Doocy and FOX owner Rupert Murdock are all vaccinated. “They cry. And they tell me they didn’t know. They thought it was a hoax. They thought it was political. They thought because they had a certain blood type or a certain skin color they wouldn’t get as sick. They thought it was ‘just the flu’. But they were wrong. And they wish they could go back. But they can’t. So they thank me and they go get the vaccine. And I go back to my office, write their…

Vaccine hesitancy morphs into hostility, as opposition to shots hardens

What began as “vaccine hesitancy” has morphed into outright vaccine hostility, as conservatives increasingly attack the White House’s coronavirus message, mischaracterize its vaccination campaign and, more and more, vow to skip the shots altogether. The notion that the vaccine drive is pointless or harmful — or perhaps even a government plot — is increasingly an article of faith among supporters of former president Donald Trump, on a par with assertions that the last election was stolen and the assault on the U.S. Capitol was overblown. —Washington Post

Take a moment to appreciate these good COVID-19 statistics

May 1, my state had the third-highest per-capita C-19 infection rate. A little over a month later, Pennsylvania now has the fifth-lowest rate. I am privileged that I have access to good healthcare and that my income hasn’t been affected by the lockdown, and that my school has taken the initiative to require this fall’s students to show evidence of vaccination (or to apply for accommodations). The pandemic is not over. Some states are seeing a resurgence. And of course the pandemic is still raging in many places around the world. But it’s worth it to take a moment to…

I absolutely adored Spock. Loving Dad was much more complicated.

A great father-son story, written by Adam Nimoy, son of Leonard Nimoy. I was 10 when “Star Trek” debuted in 1966, and I was reading Spider-Man comics and listening to the Beatles at home in LA — a very different experience from having to deliver newspapers in the dead of a Boston winter. Dad’s zeal for work had its downside. His career always came first. He was not one to come to Little League games, for example — a regular source of disappointment for a boy who just wanted to please the father he so admired. For many years, we…