The Trust Molecule by Paul J. Zak –

Research that I have done over the past decade suggests that a chemical messenger called oxytocin accounts for why some people give freely of themselves and others are coldhearted louts, why some people cheat and steal and others you can trust with your life, why some husbands are more faithful than others, and why women tend to be nicer and more generous than men. In our blood and in the brain, oxytocin appears to be the chemical elixir that creates bonds of trust not just in our intimate relationships but also in our business dealings, in politics and in society at large.

“Baby, I was born this way.” More and more, it looks as if the boundaries of our potential are wired into our genetic makeup at birth. IQ has a hereditary component, physical abilities have heritable components, and now it appears that trust and selflessness also have a physical foundation and thus a heritable component. But just like our innate physical abilities, while the boundaries may be set, what we actually do within those boundaries is in a sense up to our choices.

Did exploding stars help life on Earth to thrive?


The biosphere seems to contain a reflection of the sky, in that the evolution of life mirrors the evolution of the Galaxy.

Svensmark has put out a blockbuster of a paper, if it holds up. He’s using a correlation between nearby supernova and biological diversity in the fossil record, after accounting for other factors which affect the biodiversity of the Earth. I’m going to read the paper several times before saying more…

A statistical analysis indicates that the Solar system has experienced many large short-term increases in the flux of Galactic cosmic rays (GCR) from nearby SNe. The hypothesis that a high GCR flux should coincide with cold conditions on the Earth is borne out by comparing the general geological record of climate over the past 510 Myr with the fluctuating local SN rates. Surprisingly, a simple combination of tectonics (long-term changes in sea level) and astrophysical activity (SN rates) largely accounts for the observed variations in marine biodiversity over the past 510 Myr.


Baby We Were Born This Way

I know there’s a knee-jerk reaction that this can’t be right: ‘There’s no way there’s a gene that’s responsible for my politics,’ ” says Matthew C. Keller, a behavioral geneticist at the University of Colorado. “For me, this is a genetic IQ test. If they say that type of thing, it means they don’t understand genetics that well.

Fascinating article in the New York magazine about genetics and politics. I can’t wait to read Jonathan Haidt’s new book “The Righteous Mind.” But the NY mag article needs to be tempered by another of Dr. Haidt’s observations, which comes from an interview at an Edge conference

“I just briefly want to say, I think it’s also crucial, as long as you’re going to be a nativist and say, “oh, you know, evolution, it’s innate,” you also have to be a constructivist. I’m all in favor of reductionism, as long as it’s paired with emergentism. You’ve got to be able to go down to the low level, but then also up to the level of institutions and cultural traditions and, you know, all kinds of local factors. A dictum of cultural psychology is that “culture and psyche make each other up.” You know, we psychologists are specialists in the psyche. What are the gears turning in the mind? But those gears turn, and they evolved to turn, in various ecological and economic contexts. We’ve got to look at the two-way relations between psychology and the level above us, as well as the reductionist or neural level below us.”

Ivy tower research doesn’t always hold up in the Real World

During a decade as head of global cancer research at Amgen, C. Glenn Begley identified 53 “landmark” publications — papers in top journals, from reputable labs — for his team to reproduce. Begley sought to double-check the findings before trying to build on them for drug development.

Result: 47 of the 53 could not be replicated. He described his findings in a commentary piece published on Wednesday in the journal Nature.

Seeing irreproducible or misleading results published as peer reviewed scientific results is extremely disheartening. Science absolutely depends upon honest disclosure of experimental results along with transparent discussion of any real or suspected problems. Scientific papers designed not to further understanding but simply to further careers ought to result in career destruction. This sort of  dishonest research work harms Science, harms society, and ultimately harms humanity. Richard Feynman said it best in his famous Cargo Cult Science commencement address at Caltech…

It’s a kind of scientific integrity, a principle of scientific thought that corresponds to a kind of utter honesty–a kind of leaning over backwards. For example, if you’re doing an experiment, you should report everything that you think might make it invalid–not only what you think is right about it: other causes that could possibly explain your results; and things you thought of that you’ve eliminated by some other experiment, and how they worked–to make sure the other fellow can tell they have been eliminated.

Details that could throw doubt on your interpretation must be given, if you know them. You must do the best you can–if you know anything at all wrong, or possibly wrong–to explain it. If you make a theory, for example, and advertise it, or put it out, then you must also put down all the facts that disagree with it, as well as those that agree with it. There is also a more subtle problem. When you have put a lot of ideas together to make an elaborate theory, you want to make sure, when explaining what it fits, that those things it fits are not just the things that gave you the idea for the theory; but that the finished theory makes something else come out right, in addition.