In things that never happened

After the tragic school shooting in Parkland, there was a lot of tweets on the subject on twitter.  Of the ones I saw, most were either talking about how to stop school shootings, or amplifying the voices of those who were direcetly affected by this school shooting. And then there were the Russian bots, pushing any gun control talking points.

And then there were the rare gems like the following


I call this a gem, because it is such a blatant lie, that it is amazing that he thought he could get away with it.

In many European countries, including my native Denmark, there is no such thing as an armed security guard. Either you are police or military, or you are unarmed. In other European countries, there are armed guards in high risk situations, e.g. transporting money, but rarely at any other time. Again, the general rule is, that if you are armed, you are police or military.

In no European country I know off, would anyone think of placing armed guards at a school, except in very extreme situations. For example, police guards Jewish schools when there is a very high Islamic terrorist threat level.

So, the idea that anyone would think it commonplace to place armed guards at a school, regardless of the size, clearly shows that the person has no understanding on the situation in Europe – it is, in other words, a fundamentally US question.

I am not the only who has made fun of this tweet, J.K Rowling has done so as well, and David Burke has taken it down (but not acknowledged that it was a lie).

We are not as unique as we think we are

From ScienceDaily: Norway rats trade different commodities

Researchers of the University of Bern have shown for the first time in an experiment that also non-human animals exchange different kind of favours. Humans commonly trade different commodities, which is considered a core competence of our species. However, this capacity is not exclusively human as Norway rats exchange different commodities, too. They strictly follow the principle “tit for tat” — even when paying with different currencies, such as grooming or food provisioning.

In an experimental study, Manon Schweinfurth and Michael Taborsky from the Institute of Ecology and Evolution of the University of Bern tested whether common Norway rats engage in reciprocal trading of two different forms of help, i.e. allogrooming and food provisioning. Their test rats experienced a partner either cooperating or non-cooperating in one of the two commodities. To induce allogrooming, the researchers applied saltwater on the test rats’ neck, which is hardly accessible to self-grooming, so help by a partner is needed.

To induce food provisioning, partner rats could pull food items towards the test rats. Afterwards, test rats had the opportunity to reciprocate favours by the alternative service, i.e. allogrooming the partner after receiving food from it, or donating food after having been allogroomed. The test rats groomed more often cooperating than non-cooperating food providers, and they donated food more often to partners that had heavily groomed them before. Apparently, they traded these two services among another according to the decision rules of direct reciprocity.

“This result indicates that reciprocal trading among non-human animals may be much more widespread than currently assumed. It is not limited to large-brained species with advanced cognitive abilities,” says Manon Schweinfurth.

As is usually the case with ScienceDaily, the text is based upon the University’s press release, and it takes a bit of digging to find the actual paper, which is in Current Biology.

Reciprocal Trading of Different Commodities in Norway Rats

The prevalence of reciprocal cooperation in non-human animals is hotly debated [1, 2]. Part of this dispute rests on the assumption that reciprocity means paying like with like [3]. However, exchanges between social partners may involve different commodities and services. Hitherto, there is no experimental evidence that animals other than primates exchange different commodities among conspecifics based on the decision rules of direct reciprocity. Here, we show that Norway rats (Rattus norvegicus) apply direct reciprocity rules when exchanging two different social services: food provisioning and allogrooming. Focal rats were made to experience partners either cooperating or non-cooperating in one of the two commodities. Afterward, they had the opportunity to reciprocate favors by the alternative service. Test rats traded allogrooming against food provisioning, and vice versa, thereby acting by the rules of direct reciprocity. This might indicate that reciprocal altruism among non-human animals is much more widespread than currently assumed.

As the summary of the paper shows, the press release was overselling the unique human aspect of reciprocity using different commodities. This behavior have been observed in other primates. This study, however, is the first to show the behavior outside primates.

I always find it interesting when a study shows that a trait that is presumed to be unique for humans, or primates, actually exist among other animals. It makes you wonder if the reason why the traits are considered unique among humans/primates, is because we simply haven’t looked for them before.

Scooped science gets a second chance

One of the biggest fears of scientist doing research is getting scooped by other scientist, making their research unpublishable. Now, there is good news to scientists, or at least biologist. PLOS Biology has a new policy when it comes to scooped research.

Scientific research can be a cutthroat business, with undue pressure to publish quickly, first, and frequently. The resulting race to publish ahead of competitors is intense and to the detriment of the scientific endeavor. Just as summiting Everest second is still an incredible achievement, so too, we believe, is the scientific research resulting from a group who have (perhaps inadvertently) replicated the important findings of another group. To recognize this, we are formalizing a policy whereby manuscripts that confirm or extend a recently published study (“scooped” manuscripts, also referred to as complementary) are eligible for consideration at PLOS Biology.

Being scooped is loosely defined as when two independent groups studying the same system produce the same or similar results, and one group publishes their work first. Being scooped is often considered to devalue the second, complementary study; many journals will reject it citing lack of novelty. However, there is a self-evident benefit to publishing complementary research, and at PLOS Biology, we consider that two papers from two groups independently identifying the same phenomenon in parallel increase the confidence in the results of the work.

This new policy, acknowledging the value of complementary studies, therefore addresses the current concern regarding the reproducibility, or lack thereof, of scientific findings. Currently, the gold standard for demonstrating that an article is based on solid results is a replication study. These studies are generally conducted after publication and are considered critically important for supporting and advancing scientific theories. We argue that the “organic” replication of a complementary study is even better than a post-hoc and often costly replication study for supporting conclusions. There are other efforts underway to improve reproducibility and encourage replication, such as the Reproducibility Project: Cancer Biology (, as well as endeavors to implement high-quality reporting. With consideration of complementary research, PLOS Biology will support and promote scientific reproducibility and replication.

Of course there is a time limit on publishing complementary results

Under our newly codified policy, authors of a complementary study have six months from the publication or posting (to a preprint server) of the first article to submit their manuscript to PLOS Biology. We hope that authors will use these six months to fully support and potentially extend the results of the first article. Complementary research submitted beyond the six-month period may still be considered, depending on individual circumstances. All submissions must still meet our editorial requirements for depth of study and potential impact.

I think this is a great move by PLOS Biology and as they say, it should help address the widespread concern with reproducibility of scientific results.

The time limit for complementary results makes sense, but I hope that PLOS Biology is open for papers reproducing older results, if the papers are important enough.

Lazy linking

A few thing I have found of interest.

SF will wipe thousands of marijuana convictions off the books

San Francisco will retroactively apply California’s marijuana-legalization laws to past criminal cases, District Attorney George Gascón said Wednesday — expunging or reducing misdemeanor and felony convictions going back decades.

The unprecedented move will affect thousands of people whose marijuana convictions brand them with criminal histories that can hurt chances of finding jobs and obtaining some government benefits.

Proposition 64, which state voters passed in November 2016, legalized the recreational use of marijuana in California for those 21 and older and permitted the possession up to 1 ounce of cannabis. The legislation also allows those with past marijuana convictions that would have been lesser crimes — or no crime at all — under Prop. 64 to petition a court to recall or dismiss their cases.

This is an important move. A lot of people have been jailed in the past for crimes which is no longer on the books, and it is only fair that they get released.

Science behind bars: How a Turkish physicist wrote research papers in prison

Thousands of academics in Turkish universities stand accused of either having supported terrorism or the attempted coup against President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in July 2016. Theoretical physicist Ali Kaya is one of them. He was arrested three months after the failed coup and held for more than a year before his trial took place. On 20 December, a court declared him guilty of being a member of a terrorist organization and sentenced him to six years of imprisonment — but released him early owing to the time he had already served in prison while awaiting trial. Kaya says that he is innocent and is appealing against the verdict. In the meantime, he has been suspended from his academic post, and he has yet to learn whether his university, Boğaziçi University in Istanbul, plans to fire him or to await the outcome of the appeal.

This story shows how Turkey has become a totalitarian regime, and how scientists can persevere under horrible circumstances.

Your Grandma Was a Chain Migrant!

Jennifer Mendelsohn, a freelance writer based in Baltimore, has a low tolerance for bad faith. Last summer, after Stephen Miller, the White House senior policy adviser, went on television to support a bill that would penalize immigrants who didn’t speak English, Mendelsohn took to Twitter. “Miller favors immigrants who speak English,” she began. “But the 1910 census shows his own great-grandmother couldn’t.” Her tweet, which included a photograph of a census document indicating that Miller’s ancestor spoke only Yiddish, went viral. “It’s hilarious how easy it is to find hypocrisy,” Mendelsohn said. “And I’m a scary-good sleuth.”

Ursula K. Le Guin, the spiritual mother of generations of writers; John Scalzi pays tribute

World’s oceans rise to hottest temperatures ever recorded ‘by far’

‘Long upward trend that extends back many decades does prove global warming’

Not that we really need any more evidence.

Spiritual hyperplane

How spiritualists of the 19th century forged a lasting association between higher dimensions and the occult world

Interesting bit of history.