RIP Challenger. Remembering the explosion, 30 years later #NASA

RIP to all seven crew members aboard the Challenger, which devastatingly blew up 30 years ago today:

(CNN)Much like the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, or the morning of September 11, 2001, most Americans remember where they were when they heard the news of the Challenger disaster.

It was NASA’s first in-flight tragedy. Challenger launched from Kennedy Space Center in Florida on January 28, 1986. Shortly after liftoff, the space shuttle’s external fuel tank collapsed, causing what looked like an explosion, and the shuttle broke apart and fell.

CNN dives into How the Challenger Disaster changed NASA.

and NPR also remembers the disaster: 30 years after explosion, engineer still blames himself.


Neil deGrasse Tyson vs B.O.B = not really a contest #gravity #TheEarthisRound

This is HILARIOUS and AWESOME. Definitely one of the funnier things to happen to science. Enjoy as Huffington Post summarizes the entire ordeal:

Neil deGrasse Tyson Literally Drops The Mic In B.o.B Feud

“And, by the way, this is called gravity!”

You ever feel like B.o.B. actually thinks airplanes are shooting stars?

The rapper showed off his hatred for science and “facts” recently, getting into an argument (and subsequent rap battle) with Neil deGrasse Tyson over the Earth being flat. Well, now the rapper’s point appears to have flat-lined after Tyson’s appearance on “The Nightly Show” on Wednesday.

The scientist responded to a B.o.B. diss by schooling the rapper on exactly why he’s wrong, making points about Calculus and B.o.B.’s “size” relative to Earth. (Yeah, dude went there.) But the best part came when Tyson gave us this gem:

“Isaac Newton, my man, said, ‘If I have seen farther than others, it’s by standing on the shoulders of giants.’ Can I get an amen? So that’s right B.o.B. When you stand on the shoulders of those who came before, you might just see far enough to realize the Earth isn’t fucking flat!”

He added, “And, by the way, this is called gravity!”

Cue the mic drop.

Pardon us while we go lose our minds.

Doing a disservice to the future heroes of crispr? More on the #crispr debate!

In light of the recent Heroes of CRISPR article by Eric Lander in Cell (and subsequent backlash), Gary McDowel (for The Spectroscope) weighs in by saying the article does a disservice to future scientists.  In addition to discrediting the work of females in developing the technology, Gary brings up a good point that several of the scientists who did the work (junior scientists- grad students and postdocs) were not given the full credit they deserved:

Two weeks before leaving Harvard Medical School, I went to a symposium on the recent breakthrough discovery of CRISPR. It was 2013. Le Cong, Luhan Yang, Patrick David Hsu (graduate students working with George Church and/or Feng Zhang) and Hui Yang, a postdoc with Rudolf Jaenisch, all gave talks on their most recent work. The room was packed with graduate students and postdocs; the talks were exciting and engaging; the excitement about science happening right around us in Boston was truly palpable. Indeed, the world was taking notice: Patrick David Hsu, at the age of 22, was named one of Forbe’s 30 scientists under 30 (by a panel including Jennifer Doudna). Hui Yang has been cited 950 times in one paper alone.

However, none of these heroes of CRISPR, junior scientists who did crucial work in uncovering the workings CRISPR-Cas9 system, are mentioned in Eric Lander’s perspective, “Heroes of CRISPR”, published recently in Cell. In fact, all of the “Heroes of CRISPR” are Principal Investigators in academia only, and not any other level or kind of investigator. The omission is not unusual (such work is usually described as being that of the Principal Investigator in scientific discussions) except for a point Lander attempts to make about young scientists:

It is instructive that so many of the Heroes of CRISPR did their seminal work near the very start of their scientific careers (including Mojica, Horvath, Marraffini, Charpentier, Vogel, and Zhang)—in several cases, before the age of 30. With youth often comes a willingness to take risks—on uncharted directions and seemingly obscure questions—and a drive to succeed. It’s an important reminder at a time that the median age for first grants from the NIH has crept up to 42.”

Through this very piece Eric Lander exemplifies the effects of hypercompetition caused by this rising grant age. The patent-, prize-, and PR-wrangling surrounding CRISPR is a microcosm of the pressures that many young scientists feel: a perceived need to spin your science out of proportion, to make an impact, get the high impact factor papers and so get the increasingly competitive grant funding.

Speaking from my perspective as a young scientist, this piece just reinforces and exemplifies so many of my disappointments with the way science is now. The work is biased to favor a particular narrative in a patent battle over a biological process. In this biased perspective the work inevitably draws comparisons between the sidelining of Doudna and Charpentier and the marginalization of Rosalind Franklin in the discovery of the structure of DNA.

To write a history of CRISPR — a true, unbiased history of CRISPR — it would have been appropriate to fact-check thoroughly, even have multiple authorships, on this piece. Indeed, part of the history of CRISPR itself will no doubt be the patent battle and the implications that has for future scientific endeavors. Cell has lost a great opportunity produce a clear, collaborative history of the origins of CRISPR. Lander and Cell must have known that this piece would be recognized by the scientific community as a revisionist “Whig history”, and that makes it all the more astounding that a leading scientist would write it, and that a high-impact factor journal would publish it. Or perhaps I am just a science romantic, and this truly is a sign of the scientific times.

Acknowledgements: Many thanks to Jessica Polka for helpful comments and critiques.

Conflict of Interest Statement: This piece is written in a personal capacity and is my own opinion. However, I am involved with the Future of Research organization which has an interest in addressing issues facing young scientists.

NFL meddling in NIH researcher selection?

This is a timely topic since there are some important football games today and it’s almost the superbowl. Last year the NFL donated $30million to the NIH for brain research on the impacts of football. Very necessary since a) there’s a lot of evidence linking brain injury to football and b) the league has been under scrutiny lately because of this. However, it seems as though the NFL may be trying to influence the type of research being conducted. ESPN reports:

Three of the NFL’s top health and safety officers confronted the National Institutes of Health last June after the NIH selected a Boston University researcher to lead a major study on football and brain disease, Outside the Lines has learned.

The new information contradicts denials by the NFL and a foundation it partners with that the league had any involvement or input in the fate of a $16 million study to find methods to diagnose — in living patients — chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a brain disease found in dozens of deceased NFL players.

Outside the Lines reported in December that the NFL, which in 2012 promised an “unrestricted” $30 million gift to the NIH for brain research, backed out of funding the new study over concerns about the lead researcher, Boston University’s Dr. Robert Stern, who has been critical of the league. In the story, a senior NIH official said that the NFL retained veto power over projects it might fund with its donation, and it effectively used that power in the Stern study. Almost immediately, NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy deemed the report “inaccurate.” The league and the foundation both said the league’s overall donation comes with no strings attached.

But Dr. Walter Koroshetz, director of the National Institute for Neurological Disorders and Stroke, told Outside the Lines this week that the NFL raised several concerns about Stern’s selection during a June conference call that included Jeff Miller, the NFL’s senior vice president for health and safety; Dr. Richard Ellenbogen, co-chairman of the Head, Neck and Spine Committee; and Dr. Mitch Berger, chairman of the sub-committee on the long-term effects of brain and spine injury.

The NFL alleged that the review process that led to Stern’s selection was marred by conflicts of interest, Koroshetz said. In addition, league officials charged that Stern was biased because he had filed an affidavit opposing the settlement of a lawsuit in which thousands of former players accused the NFL of hiding the link between football and brain damage.

Continue reading

@GeneticLiteracy’s top 6 #science news items from last week #GLPTop6

From this past week, here are the #GLPTop6 among many great stories on human and agriculture genetics around the world. Please share and help spread the news!

  1. Alison Van Eenennaam: Why botched Italian GMO soy study never made science sense by Alison Van Eenennaam

  2. Ultrasound may help cancer drugs penetrate blood-brain barrier byBen Locwin

  3. Michael Pollan: Foodie journalist promotes organics, scorns mainstream farming by Biotech Gallery

  4. GMO face-off: USRTK’s Stacy Malkan vs Florida’s Kevin Folta by Jack Payne & Kevin Folta & Stacy Malkan

  5. Everything you need to know about Zika, virus that’s spreading like wildfire by Arvind Suresh

  6. Media and organic created myth: UN endorses small-scale organic farming over biotech by Iida Ruishalme

Anti-Science Quotable: GOP candidates on winter storm Jonas

As if winter storm Jonas wasn’t terrible enough on it’s own, GOP candidates have been weighing in with their opinions. Compiled by Huffington Post:

Sen. Cruz Issues Statement on “Climate Change” and Winter Storm Jonas

North Conway, N.H. — U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) January 20th released a statement on President Obama’s failed policy as related to Winter Storm Jonas:

“Even as End Times-levels of snow are headed to our nation’s capital city, the Obama Administration continues to propagate the false religion of “climate change,” indulging the educated elite while normal Americans prepare for a completely routine historic blizzard event.”

“While liberal, left-leaning Democratic activists and so-called scientists may insist that extreme weather events like Winter Storm Jonas, in tandem with increasingly warmer record average temperatures, are warning signs of their so-called climate change, the satellite data simply isn’t there. These extreme fluctuations — and the national security risks that they cause for our men and women overseas — merit no government intervention or consideration of policy proposals. Ever. At all.”

Sen. Cruz continued: “I look forward to joining Sens. Inhoffe and Wicker for a snowball fight upon my…

As for my opinions on Senator Cruz’s statements, check out this previous post. It’s increasingly worrisome that this guy is running for president (and doing surprisingly well in the polls…)

Jeb! (Bush) Reacts to the Impending Snow Storm

Ames, IA — “When I was governor or Florida we never had snow and I have the non-erased e-mails to prove it. Mr. Trump and Senator Cruz may claim that they would prevent snow, but I’m the only candidate with proven solutions to prevent snow and be the best! candidate to beat Hillary Clinton.

“When I’m president, HEY — STOP LAUGHING!. When I’m president I’ll go to every single person’s house and shovel their driveway. Because that’s the kind of person I am — I care.”

That’s just false and unrealistic.

Former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin

“While these media heads are spinning about the impending snow coldness attack, why don’t we just say “no thank ya” to this global warming line, thinking about the real Americans who have to shovel walks not made for DC highbrow elites and we’ll stand strong against this ice-IS threat.”

No. Just no.


Facts on Winter Storm Jonas #Snowzilla16

For all you weather aficionados, is providing the full synopsis on winter storm Jonas. As someone stuck in in DC during the storm, it truly was an epic blizzard!!


Winter Storm Jonas produced prolific amounts of snow in parts of the East, rivaling infamous snowstorms of the recent past. Snowfall totals from the storm topped out near 42 inches in West Virginia and at least 14 states in total received more than a foot of snow from the storm.

Below is a look at Jonas’ ranking in history among some of the biggest storms on record, topping the Blizzard of 1996 or the February 2003 President’s Day II storm in some cases. You will also find a full recap of snow, wind and coastal flooding reports by state.

Where Jonas Was the All-Time Heaviest Snowstorm

Jonas was the single biggest snowstorm on record for at least six locations in the East:

  • Allentown, Pennsylvania: 31.9 inches Jan. 22-23, 2016 crushed the Jan. 7-9, 1996 blizzard total of 25.9 inches.
  • Baltimore-Washington International Airport, Maryland (BWI): 29.2 inches Jan 22-23, 2016 beat the President’s Day II storm of Feb. 16-18, 2003. Records date back to 1892.
  • Harrisburg, Pennsylvania: 30.2 inches Jan. 22-23, 2016 tops 25 inches Feb. 11-12, 1983. Records date back to 1888.
  • New York – LaGuardia Airport: 27.9 inches Jan. 23, 2016 beats the previous record snowstorm of 25.4 inches Feb. 11-12, 2006. Records date back to 1945.
  • New York – JFK Airport: 30.5 inches Jan. 23, 2016 beats the previous record snowstorm of 26 inches in the President’s Day II storm of Feb. 16-18, 2003.
  • Newark, New Jersey: 27.9 inches Jan. 22-23, 2016 surpassed the Jan. 7-8, 1996 blizzard total of 27.8 inches. Records date back to 1893.

Jonas also ranked high among the biggest snowstorms on record in the following locations, but fell short of the record.

  • New York City’s Central Park: Jonas dumped 26.8 inches of snow on Central Park where records date back to 1869. This was just shy of the record snowstorm of 26.9 inches set Feb. 11-12, 2006.
  • Washington, D.C.: The storm total of 17.8 inches at Reagan-National Airport tied Feb. 5-6, 2010 as the fourth heaviest snowstorm dating to 1884. 
  • Philadelphia: A storm total of 22.4 inches was recorded in Jonas, ranking as the fourth heaviest snowstorm. This is also equal to the amount of snow Phildelphia averages during the course of an entire season.

Most Extreme Snowfall Totals By State

At least six states saw more than 2 feet of snow and 14 states reported more than a foot of snow from Jonas. Here are some of the most extreme snowfall totals from Jonas by state.

Mid-Atlantic and Northeast (Jan. 22-24, 2016)

  • West Virginia: 42 inches of snow in Glengary, in the eastern panhandle of West Virginia.
  • Virginia: 39 inches in Philomont, about 25 miles northwest of Washington, D.C.
  • Maryland: 38 inches in Redhouse, in western Maryland. Redhouse is 150 miles west of Baltimore.
  • New York: 31.3 inches in Port Richmond.
  • Pennsylvania: 38.3 inches near Greencastle.
  • New Jersey: 33 inches in Morris Plains.
  • Connecticut: 16 inches in Norwalk.
  • Delaware: 17.2 inches in Woodside.
  • Rhode Island: 15.5 inches at Westerly, in the southwestern corner of the state.
  • Massachusetts: 15.5 inches at West Harwich on Cape Cod. Blizzard conditions verified in Chatham, Nantucket, Martha’s Vineyard and Plymouth.

South and Ohio Valley (Friday-Early Saturday)

  • Kentucky: 22 inches near Booneville in eastern Kentucky; 12.2 inches of snow and 0.30 inch of ice in Bowling Green; 2 inch per hour snowfall rates in Jackson with a storm total of 16.2 inches
  • North Carolina: 19 inches near Old Fort. Also 0.65 inches of ice glaze near Selma.
  • Ohio: 17 inches in Graysville, in southeast Ohio, about 80 miles southwest of Pittsburgh.
  • Tennessee: 14 inches in Jamestown. Nashville reported thundersnow during the day Friday with a storm total of 8 inches.
  • Arkansas: 8 inches near Sherwood, Cabot and Jacksonville.
  • Georgia: 7.5 inches at Dillard in Rabun County of far northeast Georgia.
  • South Carolina: 7.5 inches of snow in Inman; 1/2 inch of ice glaze in Fort Mill. Both are close to the North Carolina border.
  • Illinois: 5.5 inches at Shawneetown, in the southeastern parts of the state near the Ohio River.
  • Indiana: 5 inches in Floyds Knobs, just over the Ohio River from Louisville.
  • Alabama: 3.5 inches near Harvest, just to the northwest of Huntsville.
  • Louisiana: 2.5 inches in Haynesville, near the Arkansas border.
  • Mississippi: 2 inches in Oxford and Myrtle, both in northern Mississippi.

During the early stages of Jonas’ development, snow fell in the Plains states Thursday. Snowfall totals included:

  • Kansas: 10 inches in Barnes; 9.5 inches in Haddam
  • Nebraska: 9 inches in Hebron; 8 inches in Hubbell
  • Missouri: 3 inches snow in East Prairie

High Winds

Very high winds developed over the Mid-Atlantic, just north of the low pressure center associated with Winter Storm Jonas, later expanding into parts of southeastern New England.

Some of the highest reported wind gusts include:

  • 85 mph on Assateague Island in Maryland (4:40 a.m. Saturday)
  • 75 mph Dewey Beach, Delaware (7:35 a.m. Saturday)
  • 75 mph at Langley Air Force Base near Newport News, Virginia (12:43 a.m. Saturday)
  • 73 mph at Siasconsett, Massachusetts on Nantucket Island (2:47 p.m. Saturday)
  • 73 mph in Lewes, Delaware (6:18 a.m. Saturday)
  • 72 mph at Good Luck Point, New Jersey (6:49 a.m. Saturday)
  • 71 mph in Poquoson, Virginia (1 a.m. Saturday)
  • 70 mph at Marshfield, Massachusetts (4:55 p.m. Saturday)
  • 70 mph at Wallops Island, Virginia (4:32 a.m. Saturday)
  • 69 mph at Cape Henry in Virginia Beach, Virginia (12:12 a.m. Saturday)
  • 68 mph at Tuckerton, New Jersey (6:47 a.m. Saturday)
  • 66 mph in Georgetown, Delaware (4:40 a.m. Saturday)

Top sustained winds include:

  • 57 mph at Assateague Island, Maryland (4:40 a.m. Saturday)
  • 56 mph just offshore at the Chesapeake Light buoy east of Virginia Beach, Virginia (12 a.m. Saturday)
  • 59 mph in Lewes, Delaware (6:24 a.m. Saturday)
  • 55 mph at Cape Henry in Virginia Beach, Virginia (12:12 a.m. Saturday)
  • 55 mph at the Brandywine Light buoy in lower Delaware Bay (5:00 a.m. Saturday)
  • 53 mph at Wallops Island, Virginia (4:36 a.m. Saturday)

Coastal Flooding

On Saturday morning, the water level at Lewes, Delaware, rose to 9.27 feet, due to a storm surge of more than 4 feet above normal astronomical tides. This is the highest level on record at that location, beating 9.20 feet during the infamous Ash Wednesday nor’easter on March 6, 1962. Record flooding has also been observed in at least three New Jersey locations (Great Channel at Stone Harbor, Cape May Harbor, Delaware Bay at Cape May). Major impacts were reported from the flooding from southern New Jersey into Delaware.