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Kate Rauner's short stories of scifi & fantasy

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Ever Read That a Scare Turned Someone’s Hair White? Yeah, That’s a Thing, Though Not the Way Stories Tell It #scarystory #science

The wheezy old horror story trope about terror turning someone’s hair white is true! Though, stress can’t bleach hair that’s already grown out. Only peroxide does that. But stress can kill off the cells that give hair color.

There are many ways your hair can lose its color, but Ya-Chieh Hsu, a professor of stem cell and regenerative biology at Harvard, and his team have a study out in Nature that identifies one cellular pathway resulting from stress. In a study on rats:

The team began searching for corresponding changes in the physiological pathways that give rise to coat color. They were particularly interested in the behaviors of two types of cells: differentiated melanocytes, which produce pigment in the hair and skin, and melanocyte stem cells, the raw material from which melanocytes develop. popsci.com

A fancy rat, the breed used for pets

Pushed by a flood of stress-induced noradrenaline, the relevant stem cells completely disappeared from hair follicles, never to return. Without stem cells to replenish the color-creating melanocytes, hairs grew out white.

While this is a nifty discovery, I do cringe a bit at how the rats were stressed. The scientists injected the rats with resiniferatoxin, an analogue of the chili pepper compound capsaicin, which causes pain.

I want to understand my hair as much as the next guy, but do we have to specifically cause pain to do it? I would guess there’s no permanent damage, and any stress inducer is something the rats wouldn’t volunteer to endure, but it makes me queasy.

Serial Stories – Have You Met Vella? #Vella #stories

Charles Dickens published his stories this way, and so did Flash Gordon (well, his writers and film-makers did.) It’s the serial!

Have you seen Amazon’s latest format? It’s called Vella, and it presents stories in the time-honored serial format. You get to read a couple episodes for free and then use tokens to buy more of the story. No subscription needed and, to borrow a phrase, you only pay for what you read.

I don’t know all the details, but if this sounds like fun, click over to my Vella page and be sure to claim your free tokens, available now, just to have in your back pocket in case this format tickles your fancy.

I’m giving the format a whirl, so please read my episodes. Be sure to Follow the story and click the Thumbs Up at the end of each episode. You’re doing me a big favor. No need to write a review to help me out – just click. Thank you, thank you, because now others will find my story too. You make all the difference!


Armageddon, One Sucker at a Time
Action / Adventure Scifi Fantasy about Con Artists and the End of the World

Flint Benning has an underground stash of N95 masks and freeze-dried food to last for decades. With a career in black operations, he’s an expert in survival. Surely the world’s elite will pay him for the ultimate Armageddon hide-away.

So why is he bankrupt? Flint will die a pauper in the rubble of humanity’s despair.

Until he meets dooms-dayers with more imagination.

The end of the world is going to be fun.

Thanks to Deposit Photos for Cropped shot of young businessman holding stack of cash at an ethereum mining farm, and to FEMA for the nuclear explosion image.

When the Virus Kept Humans Home #sciku #haiku #whales #nature

Covid anthropause
Whales respond to quiet seas
But what do they say?

Michelle Fournet of Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, USA, realized that the Covid lock down presented her with a once-in-a-lifetime chance. She could listen to the whales of Alaska’s Glacier Bay National Park when they were free of cruise ship traffic. And she discovered a difference. The humpbacks sounded like a 45-year-old recording, before cruise ships proliferated, from nearby Frederick Sound. Thanks to Hakai for the article. There are bound to more more studies coming out about wildlife reactions to human’s withdrawal during the pandemic: to the anthropause.

Why Are Science Frauds So Easy to Detect? #sciencematters

This question led me to learn a new bit of British slang: Pull the other one, it’s got bells on. As in, wow, is that an obvious lie.

Scientists examine Piltdown Man, a fraud from 1912 that took 40 years to definitively prove to be faked fossils. That was a highly successful fraud.

[In] a common feature of scientific frauds that involve fake data… Often, the fake data does not stand up to even casual scrutiny.

Which is puzzling. If you’re going to commit scientific fraud, presumably you want to get away with it. So why commit fraud in such a transparently obvious way? dynamicecology

The article’s author, Jeremy Fox, notes that art forgeries are often brilliant. “It’s a striking contrast with the laughable obviousness of many scientific frauds.”

What’s the deal? Maybe it’s because journals hate to “waste” space on endless tables and graphs, or maybe because there’s little reward for careful examination and replication.

Data are unlikely to be closely inspected by anyone. Heck, until fairly recently your data were unlikely to be inspected by anyone because you weren’t expected to show them to anyone! And even these days, when post-publication data sharing is increasingly the rule in many fields, it’s still rare for the shared data associated with any given paper to be inspected by anyone. dynamicecology

Fox notes that, in science or art, fakers put in as much effort as the curious will expend examining the fake. I think of it as conservation of energy. Or perhaps some fakes are the product of researchers who are panicked, lazy, or irrational. After all, scientists (and wanna be scientists) are only human. Some frauds are only exposed when the good guys’ tools catch up with the bad guys’ efforts. And there are plenty of good guys. That’s science in action, which is why science remains the best way to learn about the physical world we all share.