Archive for September, 2012


Badass Scientist of the Week: Dr. Benjamin Carson

Dr. Benjamin Carson (1951—) is an internationally acclaimed neurosurgeon, author, public speaker and surgical pioneer. He came from humble origins, raised in Detroit by a single mother, Sonya, who worked several jobs to keep her family afloat. Sonya had dropped out of school in third grade, but she was dedicated to helping her two young sons become successful—thanks to her, the unwilling Carson became a voracious reader and rose from the bottom to the top of his class. He attended Yale on a scholarship, where he completed a degree in Psychology, but in medical school his interests switched from psychiatry to neurosurgery—his ability to visualize the brain in three dimensions and his excellent hand-eye coordination made him an ideal surgeon. He soon became the first African American accepted into the residency program at the prestigious Johns Hopkins Hospital. After a time in Perth, Australia, as chief neurosurgical resident at the Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital, Carson returned to the US and was named director of pediatric neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins—the youngest doctor ever to receive the honour, at age 33. He still holds this position today. He quickly became renowned as a skilful surgeon who would take on risky or hopeless cases, combining surgical skills and knowledge with new technology. Carson is particularly well known for his work on conjoined twins, and he made medical history in 1987 by separating a pair of Siamese twins joined at the back of the head. He’s also revived a procedure called a hemispherectomy to treat patients who suffer from chronic seizures, developed a method to treat brain-stem tumours, was the first doctor to operate on a fetus in the womb, and has received the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Carson currently operates on 300 children a year, and is in high demand as a public speaker—he’s dedicated to helping young people realise than anything is possible, no matter who you are.

It’s a rare thing in a free market when a customer is refused the ability to buy a company’s product and is told its money is “no good here.” Surprisingly, after centuries of enthusiastically supporting publishers’ products, libraries find themselves in just that position with purchasing ebooks from three of the largest publishers in the world. Simon & Schuster, Macmillan, and Penguin have been denying access to their ebooks for our nation’s 112,000 libraries and roughly 169 million public library users. Let’s be clear on what this means: If our libraries’ digital bookshelves mirrored the New York Times fiction bestseller list, we would be missing half of our collection any given week due to these publishers’ policies. The popular Bared to You and The Glass Castle are not available in libraries because libraries cannot purchase them at any price. Today’s teens also will not find the digital copy of Judy Blume’s seminal Forever, nor today’s blockbuster “Hunger Games” series.

Libraries around the country are developing mobile applications and online discovery systems that make it easier to explore books and authors on the go. Seventy-six percent of public libraries now offer ebooks – double the number from only five years ago – and 39 percent of libraries have purchased and circulate e-readers. Public libraries alone spend more than $1.3 billion annually on their collections of print, audio, video, and electronic materials. They are investing not only in access to content and devices, but also in teaching the skills needed to navigate and utilize digital content successfully.


Librarians understand that publishing is not just another industry. It has special and important significance to society. Libraries complement and, in fact, actively support this industry by supporting literacy and seeking to spread an infectious and lifelong love of reading and learning. Library lending encourages patrons to experiment by sampling new authors, topics, and genres. This experimentation stimulates the market for books, with the library serving as a de facto discovery, promotion, and awareness service for authors and publishers.


We librarians cannot stand by and do nothing while some publishers deepen the digital divide. We cannot wait passively while some publishers deny access to our cultural record. We must speak out on behalf of today’s – and tomorrow’s – readers. The library community demands meaningful change and creative solutions that serve libraries and our readers who rightfully expect the same access to ebooks as they have to printed books.

So, which side will you be on? Will you join us in a future of liberating literature for all? Libraries stand with readers, thinkers, writers, dreamers, and inventors. Books and knowledge – in all their forms – are essential. Access to them must not be denied.

Important, strongly worded open letter to publishers by American Library Association president Maureen Sullivan, lest we forget what libraries do for society. (via explore-blog)



Last year, the comic/blog XKCD had the Internet examine various colors and name them. They ended up with a sample size of 5,000,000, and designer Stephen Von Worley turned the 2,000 most common responses into a gender-exploring interactive infographic. As it seemingly turns out, men and women call the same colors different names.

Hat tip: Flowing Data

When a comic becomes a science experiment, this is what happens. And it is awesome.

I had completely forgotten about this, but the wait was worth it. Definitely check out this hyper-interactive look on the naming and color perception differences between genders.

The things Randall Munroe does with xkcd, What-If, and his projects outside of it (like this) makes him one of my favorite science communicators. We may not need to know how powerful and how many lasers it would take to light up the moon, but the process and consequences are fascinating.

And that’s what makes science cool.


A sense of scale is an important thing to keep in mind, to serve as a reminder of the stunning grandeur in this view of life. Although it should be noted that it’s an elephant bird femur (now extinct), not an elephant femur.

Sort of like this bacteria-diatom-amphipod infinite zoom GIF.


Hummingbird and elephant’s femur, 1951, from LIFE magazine’s archival photos of bones by the great Andrewas Feininger.

Also see Patrick Gries and Jean-Baptiste de Panafieu’s stunning black-and-white images of animal skeletons

Lily flower

Garlic bulb


Small round cactus

Some really mesmerizing GIFs of common plants being imaged by a MRI.

Clockwise: Lily flower, a bulb of garlic, a small cactus (the spines were, unfortunately, too dry to image), and an ear of corn

(Credit to blog Inside Insides by Andy Ellison)

T-rex with robot arms..terrifying indeed.


The foreleg suckers of Dytiscus marginalis, the great diving beetle.

Dr. Stephen Lowry, University of Ulster.




AHAHAHAHAHA … I can’t even … Oh man, just when I thought I was done with Gangnam Style, you pull me back in!

(video by AlexRMSTITANIC)


Underwater Landscape Photos from National Geographic’s amazing collection.