Happy Friday! (Or, er, Saturday by the time I post this.) Anyway, here are a few of the stories that caught my eye this week:
Final Space Shuttle Launch:
Marcia Dunn, AP Aerospace Writer, reflects on 21 years of covering space shuttle launches.
Live video of the last shuttle launch from NBC Nightly News.
Neuroscientist Takes on Criminal Justice System: In a fascinating article published this month in the Atlantic Monthly, David Eagleman argues that criminal behavior (and the decision not to engage in criminal behavior) may not always be a matter of choice, but for some at least may have more to do with biology. He cites several cases where brain damage from tumors and changes in brain chemistry from treatment for diseases like Parkinson’s have radically changed behavior–the brain tumor sending one man on a shooting rampage and the Parkinson’s treatment triggering excessive gambling and compulsive eating in a whole host of others. Instead of simply locking people up (or letting dangerous criminals go based on the presence of a brain tumor, altered brain chemistry, or other brain damage), Eagleman argues for the creation of a more humane and flexible justice system that takes these factors into account during sentencing. And one that updates rehabilitation to include a stint at what Eagleman describes as a prefrontal training gym to strengthen impulse control and enable prisoners to bring their behaviors–if not their thoughts–back in line with societal norms.
Another take on the article:
- David Eagleman and The Brain on Trial (readingbyeugene.com)
More Bones Than One Paleontological Team Could Handle: An excavation in west-central Colorado has yielded 5,000 large bones from mammoths, mastodons, giant ground sloths, and other prehistoric creatures as well as thousands of smaller fossils including rodent teeth and salamander vertebrae. In the early days of the seven-week dig, paleontologists realized that there was more to find than their team could handle alone, so recruited a team of volunteer diggers, including 15 local teachers. So, what did you do on your summer vacation?
Using Coconuts to Reconstruct Prehistoric Trade Routes: By studying the DNA of more than 1300 coconuts, plant evolutionary biologist Kenneth Olson and his colleagues have been able to gain new insights into human cultivation, exploration, trade, and colonization.
And last but not least…
Another Stranded Penguin Update: I am happy to report that after four operations and a DNA test caretakers for Happy Feet (the penguin stranded in New Zealand) now know the penguin is a boy. In other news, he’s graduated from fish milkshakes to solid food, happily packing away about 4.4 lbs of salmon every day. And he has a corporate sponsor.