Driving rats?!

Yes, rats have been trained to drive.

Not actual cars, but small vehicles in a lab. They can control left, right, and forward. The rats learned to drive to get food. And scientists found that learning to drive seemed to reduce stress.

The ability of rats to drive these cars demonstrates the “neuroplasticity” of their brains, says Lambert. This refers to their ability to respond flexibly to novel challenges. “I do believe that rats are smarter than most people perceive them to be, and that most animals are smarter in unique ways than we think,” she says.

And there are neat videos of rats driving their “cars”.

Here’s another article that includes information on the two groups of rats involved, including that they seemed to enjoy just driving their cars even if there were no treats involved, but only if they lived with many other rats in an enriching environment.

Why is the news always so bad? Because that’s what we pay attention to.

If you’ve noticed that the news system likes to report on things going wrong instead of the nice things that happen, you now have evidence for the reason behind it. Humans pay more attention to bad things than good things. This study is about a world-wide 17 country study on how people react to negative news.

For example, while statistically, we are safer now than in the past, people are more and more afraid of it because the news concentrates on the bad things, not the good things that happen. That just isn’t “news”.

Water on habitable exoplanet?

From Wikipedia:

K2-18b, also known as EPIC 201912552 b, is an exoplanet orbiting the red dwarf star K2-18, located 124 light-years (38 pc) away from Earth. The planet, initially discovered through the Kepler Space Observatory, is about eight times the mass of Earth, thus is classified as a super Earth. It has a 33-day orbit within the star’s habitable zone, but it is unlikely to be habitable.

In 2019, two independent research studies, combining data from the Kepler space telescope, the Spitzer Space Telescope, and the Hubble Space Telescope, concluded that there are significant amounts of water vapour in its atmosphere, a first for a planet in the habitable zone.

So, first exoplanet in a habitable zone with water vapor in the atmosphere! Neat! But it’s around a red dwarf star, and tidally locked. So it’s not likely to be actually habitable by humans. Red dwarfs are small stars that last much longer than our sun. They tend to have too much radiation to let life as we know it evolve. Being tidally locked means the same side of the planet always faces the star, so one side is hot and the other is cold. Life as we know it could probably only live on the circular edge where the star is near the horizon.

Environmental change changing grasslands

Since the first Homo sapiens emerged in Africa 300,000 years ago, grasslands have sustained humans and thousands of other species. Today, those grasslands are shifting. Global change — including climate change, pollution and other widespread environmental alterations — is transforming plant species in grasslands, and not always in the way scientists expected, a new study reveals.

National Science Foundation

Read more here.

A new human species

Recently, archaeologists in the Philippines found new kinds of human bones. They looked like humans, and were about 67,000 years old. When they compared these bones to the bones of other human species and close relatives, they found that they were similar, but there were some marked differences. Enough differences to call them a different species: homo luzonensis.

What does it mean to be self-aware?

That is the question that some scientists are coming back to. There is a test to see if an animal is self-aware: the mirror test. First scientists put a mirror in the environment so the animal can get familiar with it. Then they put a mark on their body that they can only see in the mirror. It’s evidence for self-awareness if they look in the mirror and then touch that part of their body.

Human can do this when they’re about 2 years old. Many other primates also pass. So do elephants, and 1 bird, the magpie. Some scientists disagree that they elephants and magpies really passed.

And now, there’s another possible species that might be considered self-aware: The cleaner wrasse. This is an intelligent, very social, fish that lives in coral reefs. Researchers gave some the mirror test, and some of them passed. The injected a bit of color under the scales around the “chin” of the fish, and after seeing their reflection, they tried to scrape their chin on the sandy bottom, something they do to remove irritants.

The researchers had a lot of trouble getting their paper published, possibly due to resistance in the scientific community to admitting that a fish can be self-aware. Many scientists doubt the results of this experiment, thinking that the fish’s behavior doesn’t show self-awareness.

Just what this experiment means has yet to be decided, but it’s very interesting.

Science being suppressed at the Department of the Interior

It’s not a surprise that the Trump administration doesn’t pay attention to science. But at the Interior Department, it’s so bad that the Union of Concerned Scientists have written a report about it.

The current administration has been

  • Systematically suppressing science
  • Failing to acknowledge or act on climate change
  • Silencing or intimidating agency scientists and staff
  • Attacking science-based laws that protect wildlife

As a science educator, this willful dismissal of evidence and attitude that politics is more important than reality upsets me greatly. I hope that soon my government will come to its senses and pay attention to the world around us.