2014 - The year in revolutionary research

Posted on Sunday, December 14th, 2014 by Semanti Mukhopadhyay

As we near the close of a very eventful year, the media is abuzz with lists of the most talked about events, celebrities, news, books, movies, places and God knows what not of 2014. Scanning through all those lists, I began wondering about the most talked about issues in science in the year and stumbled upon an article in "The Daily Mail" regarding a recently published list by ALTMETRIC.

Sounds Gibberish, eh?

Well, the Altmetric is a London based firm which has compiled a list of the 100 most talked about scientific papers in 2014, based on the number of mentions in mainstream news and blogs as well as Twitter, Reddit and Facebook. Unbeknownst to us, the mortal ignorant, a lot seems to have happened in the scientific circles! Let’s take a look:

Experimental evidence of massive scale emotion contagion through social networks.Proceedings of the National Academies of Sciences of the United States of America.

This one can be summed up as social networking meets psychology meets controversy!

This work tried to find out the influence of a friend’s status updates on human moods. Controversy brewed, as expected, when Facebook altered user timelines during a period of one week in June 2012, in order to highlight specific positive and negative items without the user's knowledge.

Facebook data scientist Adam D.I. Kramer later apologised for the same stating that the research benefits did not justify the anxiety caused although it was done with the noble intention of providing experimental evidence that emotional contagion occurs without direct interaction between people.

Variation in Melanism and Female Preference in Proximate but Ecologically distinct Environments Ethology

Suppose if I tell you that the black spot on your right elbow is important from an evolutionary perspective! Hey there, are you laughing? In my defence, this has actually been proven!

In this very interesting work, two different poeciliid fish habitat sites were studied-one with Hydrogen Sulphide (toxic) and the other lacking Hydrogen Sulphide. Melanistic females from the toxic spring exhibited a significant preference for melanistic males, while non-melanistic females from the same population exhibited no preference. Females from the non-sulphidic reference population discriminated strongly against melanistic males. Hence, it was shown that variation in pigmentation traits could, very well, be an effective window to evolutionary processes due to their importance for survival and reproduction.

Stimulus-triggered fate conversion of somatic cells into pluripotency

- Nature

Imagine a scientist at the climax of his career, whose hard earned position in the scientific community is crushed under the accusation of forgery! Respect probably crumbles down faster than light, if I may say so!

The paper in question claimed that ordinary cells can be converted into stem cells with acid. The paper had to be retracted and the lead author was forced to resign after an in-depth investigation by the RIKEN institute found the lead author Haruko Obokata guilty of falsifying data.

Dogs are sensitive to small variations of the Earth's magnetic field

-Frontiers in Zoology

The researchers measured the direction of the body axis in 70 dogs of 37 breeds during defecation and urination over a two year period and sorted data according to the geomagnetic conditions during that time.

Interestingly, they found that dogs preferred to excrete with the body being aligned along the North-South axis under calm Magnetic Fields conditions and not under unstable magnetic fields. This is the first time that such a phenomenon has been shown to be present in dogs, although many mammals are already known to be exhibiting this nature.

In the end, I hope progress in science continues to enlighten and entertain. In the upcoming "UN International Year of Light", I believe this light will allow science to venture into newer avenues and open new horizons of human understanding.


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