Cognitions about cognition (and other science)
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Hey anti-vaxxers: time to give it up. Most of the risk for autism can be explained by common genes.


Changyuraptor yangi is a newly-described microraptorine dromaeosaur dinosaur from the early Cretaceous (Yixian formation) of Liaoning, China.

The animal would have been around 4 feet long in life, and its fossil shows that it was covered in feathers — including, as in its smaller cousin Microraptor, a pair of “leg wings” represented by long paired pennaceous feathers on the metatarsals and tibiotarsus. One of Changyuraptor's most unique features is its voluminous tail feathers, and these feathers constitute the longest of any known non-avian dinosaur, with the most distal retrices reaching around 30 cm in length.

Changyuraptor is also by far the largest “four-winged” dinosaur known, and while this might not be as big of a deal as it sounds (given that there aren’t very many “four-winged” dinosaurs), it does show that small size wasn’t necessarily the gatekeeper to certain volant adaptations. I personally doubt that this animal was doing anything approaching powered flight, but the long tail feathers and multiple sets of long, well-developed lifting surfaces may have been a boon to gliding and controlled descent. The exceptionally long tail feathers therefore might have been used as a sort of “pitch control” device, wherein a large, relatively heavy animal would have needed especially fine-tuned control over rapid falls onto prey or in safe landings from higher ground. As Buzz Lightyear would say, “This isn’t flying, it’s falling with style!”

Gouache paint on A3-size hot-pressed illustration board, approx. 5-6 hours.

Gang Han et al. 2014. “A new raptorial dinosaur with exceptionally long feathering provides insights into dromaeosaurid flight performance”. Nature Communications. 5: 4382.

What a gorgeous illustration (and great description)! I also wrote about Changyuraptor last week - it’s fun to see what its second pair of wings might’ve looked like.

Reason #1938751938713 why “lean in” isn’t always good advice.

Weird Al | Word Crimes (Blurred Lines parody)

Today was a horrible news day. The Malaysia Airlines crash, Gaza, a super racist casting call, the transphobic cover of Science magazine. So I thought I would go home and watch all the Weird Al videos that came out this week: Foil (parody of Lorde’s Royals), Handy (parody of Iggy Azalea’s Fancy), Tacky (parody of Pharrell’s Happy), and this.

And somehow, even Weird Al managed to irk me! He’s clearly a smart guy, and it’s disappointing he’s pushing a prescriptivist message here - that there is one correct grammar, and that’s the grammar of white people from the ’50s. Anyone else was raised “in a sewer” - or, you know, grew up speaking a different dialect or language, or didn’t have the privilege of receiving an upper class language arts education.

Language is a living, breathing thing, and like it or not, “literally” now means “figuratively,” and we can end sentences with prepositions whenever we want to. (See what I did there? Sorry.) Using “proper grammar” is an indication of your class, not your intelligence. It may seem like a frivolous thing to be irked by, but to me, the attitude of self-proclaimed grammar nazis is not much different from a xenophobe’s declaration that “we speak English here in ‘murrica”: it’s about whether or not you speak the “right” language to signal that you fit in with the upper class.

Equally irksome: A LINGUIST IS NOT A PERSON WHO EDITS YOUR GRAMMAR! A linguist is a person who studies languages. Of all people in the world, linguists are probably least likely to endorse this type of message, because their entire job relies on understanding that language is a social construction.

Also, I will never stop using emojis and YOU CAN’T MAKE ME, Weird Al. 💩

For the new study, published in June in Diabetes, researchers affiliated with the National Institutes of Health persuaded five healthy young male volunteers to sleep in climate-controlled chambers at the N.I.H. for four months. The men went about their normal lives during the days, then returned at 8 every evening. All meals, including lunch, were provided, to keep their caloric intakes constant. They slept in hospital scrubs under light sheets.

For the first month, the researchers kept the bedrooms at 75 degrees, considered a neutral temperature that would not prompt moderating responses from the body. The next month, the bedrooms were cooled to 66 degrees, a temperature that the researchers expected might stimulate brown-fat activity (but not shivering, which usually begins at more frigid temperatures). The following month, the bedrooms were reset to 75 degrees, to undo any effects from the chillier room, and for the last month, the sleeping temperature was a balmy 81 degrees. Throughout, the subjects’ blood-sugar and insulin levels and daily caloric expenditures were tracked; after each month, the amount of brown fat was measured.

The cold temperatures, it turned out, changed the men’s bodies noticeably. Most striking, after four weeks of sleeping at 66 degrees, the men had almost doubled their volumes of brown fat. Their insulin sensitivity, which is affected by shifts in blood sugar, improved.
I’m psyched that there’s research that justifies my preference for sleeping in cold rooms, but the real news here: the NIH got these guys to sleep at the NIH for four months? Eating NIH-issued food and sleeping in NIH-issued beds in hospital scrubs? I wonder how much that job pays.

Last week, hundreds of EU neuroscientists signed a petition urging the European Commission to revamp their plans for the Human Brain Project, a billion-euro project to “map the human brain.” Scientists have criticized the project for being unfocused - here’s why.

A theory, brought forth in the 1980s by US neurologists Norman Geschwind and Albert Galaburda, posits that testosterone delays the maturation of the left brain hemisphere during embryonic development. The left brain hemisphere is dominant among right-handers, the right brain hemisphere is dominant among left-handers. Intrauterine testosterone levels are higher in the male fetus, because of its own testosterone secretion, than in the female fetus. However, the testosterone level of the mother and external factors may also affect intrauterine testosterone levels. Specifically, more daylight may increase testosterone levels, making a seasonality effect plausible.

Fun phenomenon - and if people keep looking into this, it has the potential to tell us more about fetal development. In the meantime, left-handers, here's my favorite store to get kitschy gifts for my dad (who is left-handed, and was born in December).

(via The Last Word On Nothing | Abstruse Goose: Sudokomic Game)

Here’s a fun puzzle for you, comic artists.

Take a moment today and be thankful we do not share the earth with this ginormous toothy bird.