eLife Episode 43: Is science getting harder to understand?

22 November 2017
Presented by Chris Smith.

In this episode we hear how scientists have discovered that muscles play a role in controlling the brain's body clock; how circumcision rates among men at risk of HIV can be increased, and the monkeys that use tools to feed a seafood habit...

In this episode

A stack of journals

00:36 - Are science papers getting harder to read?

Signs that science is getting more incomprehensible, even to other scientists, over time...

Are science papers getting harder to read?
with William Thompson, Karolinska Institute

Are science papers getting harder to read? William Thompson tells Chris Smith why the increasing use of scientific jargon is affecting intelligibility...

Gastrocnemius muscle in a mouse

06:44 - Muscles control the body clock

A specific gene in skeletal muscle helps to regulate sleep...

Muscles control the body clock
with Chris Ehlen, Moorhouse School of Medicine

The 2017 Nobel prize for physiology or medicine was awarded for research on the biological rhythms that dictate the lives of all of us. The circadian clock ticks chemically and genetically in every one of our cells, matching metabolism and growth to the demands of the time of day. And our understanding was that the brain contains a master clock - a cluster of interconnected nerve cells called the suprachiasmatic nucleus - and these use hormones and nerve signals to set the times of all of the “peripheral clocks” elsewhere in the body. So imagine Chris Ehlen’s surprise when he accidentally discovered that if you knock out BMAL1 - one of the genes that runs the clock - in skeletal muscle cells, the brain can’t keep time properly until it’s restored. Chris Smith heard how...

Different population segments need differing information about circumcision

12:41 - Raising the rates of circumcision

Sema Sgaier explains how psychographic-behavioral segmentation can highlight how to get the message across.

Raising the rates of circumcision
with Sema Sgaier, Surgo Foundation

Measures designed to improve public health have to serve several masters: you need to change the behaviour of the largest group of people possible, and you need to do it in a way that’s cost effective and time efficient. Traditionally, providers have adopted largely a one size fits all approach but research by Sema Sgaier suggests that, when you do this, the message is lost on large sectors of society. Instead, she’s investigating the use of a process called “psychographic-behavioral segmentation” that uses machine learning to divide the population up into groups that need to be targeted a specific way. She’s looking at how to maximise the uptake of circumcision among men to prevent HIV infection. She explained the strategy to Chris Smith...

Wallaby and joey

19:04 - Genes in teats and placentas

What have a placenta and a marsupial mammary gland got in common?

Genes in teats and placentas
with Marilyn Renfree, University of Melbourne

What have a placenta and a marsupial mammary gland got in common? When scientists in America and in Australia compared the patterns of genes active in both, the answer is quite a lot. Chris Smith speaks with Marilyn Renfree, from the University of Melbourne…

Macaques using tools to collect shellfish in Thailand

23:53 - Tooled-up monkeys drive shellfish to extinction

Macaques change their tool choices as seafood becomes more scarce...

Tooled-up monkeys drive shellfish to extinction
with Lydia Luncz, University of Oxford

Humans aren’t the only animals to use tools. And nor, it would appear, are we the only group that risks, through the use of such tools, driving other species to extinction. Speaking with Chris Smith, Lydia Luncz has been looking at a population of macaques that use stones to harvest shellfish. As they deplete their stocks of prey, they’re changing their tool choices. And when the food runs out, the knowledge of that tool use will also most likely vanish…

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