The Science of Writing and Reading

By Onderwijsgek (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

By Onderwijsgek (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons

It’s been a while since I’ve written any posts related to science on here. There are some really cool articles that have come out, specifically about books. (Hint: Books are good for your health, and can even improve your memory, according to Bustle.)

Reading and Your Brain

According to the Daily Mail, scientists have found that reading a novel can affect your brain for days afterwards. Researchers from Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia gave people sections of a novel described as a “page turner” to read each day, and then went through a fMRI scan each morning after. They found heightened connectivity in parts of the brain, which may mean that your favorite books could have lasting impacts and possibly actually change your life.

According to Bustle, “According to the fiction feeling hypothesis, narratives with emotional contents invite readers more to be empathic with the protagonists and thus engage the affective empathy network of the brain, the anterior insula and mid-cingulate cortex, than do stories with neutral contents.”

Life Hacker gives some tips on how to read a book in just one day. The gist is to mix it up between ebook, print book, and audiobook, read in intervals, take notes, and find a good spot to do your reading.

And on a related note, Test Tube shared an interesting article explaining why people go deaf when reading. I’ve noticed this a lot with myself, when I’m really into a book, I tend to lose track of everything else around me. According to the article, it’s called “inattentional deafness,” and it means “when our brain is immersed in an intense task, the time it takes the brain to convey information to our consciousness is delayed. This process is known as the P3 Response. The team found that our auditory and visual senses share a limited neural resource. This partially explains how we tend to “zone out” from time to time.”

Writing Good Books

The Telegraph reported on scientists who came up with an algorithm that analyzes books and predicts if they will become bestsellers. A team from Stony Brook University in New York used books from Project Gutenberg and found that their algorithm matched the success of the public domain books 84% of the time. Some insights: books with lots of conjunctions, nouns and verbs did well compared to books with more adverbs.

Teleread reported on Typedrummer, which makes drum sounds out of text. Every letter has a particular sound, and according to the article, “actual sentences yield more complex and actually attractive sounds.”

Content Sharing

The Next Web shared that combining neuroscience and psychology can help us create content that people actually want to share. Emotion often makes people want to share, so it’s important to know why people want to share and what kind of content is shareable. Examples include being entertaining, inspiring, or useful, expressing ourselves, or nurturing our relationships with close friends. In general, positive messages are more likely to be shared, as well as practical information.

Machine learning can help readers find the content/books they’re looking for, according to an article in Digital Book World. A company called “Intellogo is able to recognize ideas and literary concepts, such as the mood of a text or a style of writing, with the software’s algorithms interpreting excerpts from any variety of sources (ebooks, Internet articles, Wikipedia, etc.) and can then connect, predict and recommend content based on user criteria.”



I Know Dino: The Podcast

I Know Dino logoAfter months of researching, interviewing, and polishing, we have finally launched our long-awaited I Know Dino podcast (part of a larger I Know Dino project, which involves blog posts, books, and more)!

You can find our new, free podcast on iTunes at:

Our first episode features Pete Larson, president of the Black Hills Institute in South Dakota. Pete is a T-rex expert, and one of the main people in the documentary Dinosaur 13:

When Paleontologist Peter Larson and his team from the Black Hills Institute made the world’s greatest dinosaur discovery in 1990, they knew it was the find of a lifetime; the largest, most complete T. rex ever found. But during a ten-year battle with the U.S. government, powerful museums, Native American tribes, and competing paleontologists they found themselves not only fighting to keep their dinosaur but fighting for their freedom as well.

For those who may prefer reading, see the full transcript of our first episode here.

And our second episode features Dr. Anthony J. Martin, a paleontologist who specializes in ichnology, which according to his website, is “the study of modern and ancient traces caused by animal behavior, such as tracks, trails, burrows, and nests.”

Dr. Martin is also the author of several books, including his most recent one, Dinosaurs Without Bones. You can also find him on Twitter, @Ichnologist. and I recommend reading his post that dissects the ichnology in the Jurassic Park movies.

Living in a Sci-Fi World

CES (Consumer Electronics Association) was last week, and companies demoed a lot of really cool gadgets. One I think is worth sharing is a product by Tactus, a company in California. Tactus developed a screen that can turn into a flat tablet into something with actual bumpy buttons, to make it easier to type. When you’re not using the typepad, the buttons just disappear back into the screen, making it flat again. Click here to watch the video for more details–it’s pretty awesome.

The Higgs Boson / The “God particle”

From NPR:

“Two teams of scientists using the Large Hadron Collider at the European Organization for Nuclear Research, or CERN, announced in Geneva this morning that they have detected a new subatomic particle that bears the hallmarks of the elusive and highly sought after Higgs boson. In layman’s terms, the Higgs is referred to as the “God Particle” because the field it produces gives atoms their mass. Were it not for the Higgs, the world we know would be completely different — there would be no chemistry, no architecture, no us. It would be a massless mess of aimless particles running around at light speed.”

Pretty exciting stuff. Read the full article here.

Do eBooks Weigh Anything?

Interesting question posed by a New York Times reader:

When an e-reader is loaded with thousands of books, does it gain any weight?

The answer?

“In principle, the answer is yes,” said John D. Kubiatowicz, a professor of computer science at the University of California, Berkeley.

To read the whole explanation, click here.

Maybe Someday We Can Visit The Whole Universe

That became my dream after I learned that scientists at CERN in Switzerland have successfully conducted an experiment proving Einstein’s theory of relativity wrong. Turns out, things can travel faster than the speed of light (at least subatomic particles anyway). But hey, it’s a start.

Read more…

In the Name of Science

Photo by Josh Landis, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Turns out that the bands scientists have been attaching to penguins for 50 years to study them has been doing more harm than good. Because of the bands, penguins are producing fewer offspring and have a lower survival rate–probably because the bands impede their swimming abilities, which makes it harder to gather food. Still, the success of the penguins help indicate climate change, so it’s important for scientists to continue to study them. How? They may switch to microchips.

Penguins Harmed By Tracking Bands, Study Finds

Paleontologists have discovered a new dinosaur! Discovered in northeastern Argentine, its name is Eodromaeus, and at four feet long and 10-14 pounds, it would have made for a cute pet. This dinosaur lived around 230 million years ago, just a couple million years before theropods such as the T-rex existed (it probably evolved into a T-rex). Eodromaeus is similar to another dinosaur that lived around the same time, called Eoraptor. Both could run on two legs and were small in stature, but Eoraptor was probably an ancestor to sauropods (like Apatosaurus).

Pet-Size Dinosaur Was Early Ancestor to T.-Rex, Researchers Say

Thousands of birds have been dropping dead out of the sky lately, and many of those deaths were caused by the birds colliding with buildings. A 2009 study found that at least 9,000 birds crash into buildings in New York City each year.

A Bird Collision in Our Midst

In the Name of Science

Science is constantly changing and scientists are always learning new things. This week, my focus is on the prehistoric, unsolved deaths, and green tech.

Recently, researchers have reported that an extinct Jamaican bird, from the ibis family (but flightless), used its handbone as a clublike weapons. The fossil was discovered in 1997, and the bird became extinct around 12,000 years ago, but scientists still have many unanswered questions.

Prehistoric Bird Used Wings as Weapon, Study Says

Going with the prehistoric theme, I also recently posted about the new research that shows Triceratops was never a species of dinosaur.

Triceratops Never Existed

Time Magazine has published some interesting lists. Inspired by the sudden death of thousands of red-winged blackbirds in Arkansas and 500 blackbirds in Louisiana last weekend, Time has compiled a list of ten of the strangest mass animal deaths.

Top 10 Strange Mass Animal Deaths

Lastly, Time also has looked at creative environmental solutions by modern companies.

Top 20 Green Tech Ideas

Triceratops Never Existed

Being a huge dinosaur-lover, I can’t believe I’m just hearing about this now, but back in July/August of this year, it was announced that triceratops never existed. In fact, both Triceratops and Torosaurus are now believed to have been the same dinosaur, but at different growth stages. Sound familiar? It’s a lot like the mix-up with Brontosaurus and Apatosaurus, and in fact both mistakes were made by Othniel Marsh (read my article, “Brontosaurus Does Not Exist“).

So, after more than 100 years, paleontologists have examined enough fossils to see that although Triceratops’ skull looks very different from Torosaurus, the dinosaur just looked very different once it was older.

For more information, read Scientists: Triceratops May Never Have Existed

Total Lunar Eclipse

My attempt at photographing the lunar eclipse without a tripod.

Tonight/early morning, there was a total lunar eclipse–“the first time in 372 years that a total lunar eclipse also marks the beginning of the winter solstice,” according to the New York Times. From my perspective here in Hoboken, it was beautiful. The moon was a deep red, and at 3:05 a.m. or so I could see the eclipse ending. (I think my California friends may have been jealous, since they’re currently experiencing a “Pineapple Express“–severe thunderstorms from Hawaii–and could not see the eclipse for themselves).

The eclipse could be seen with Google Earth’s sky feature via Slooh. For more information and to see photos, check out the NASA website and the NASA Flickr group. And between midnight and 5 a.m. Eastern Time, NASA is hosting a Q & A with astronomer Mitzi Adams. If you want to read more about it on Twitter, the hashtag is #eclipsenyt.