Dogs do it, too, while they pee and poo

A dog in the earth’s magnetic field.

Hurray! The 2014 Ig Nobel Prize in Biology goes to a group of researchers led by Hynek Burda from the Department of General Zoology of my faculty, and including colleagues from the Czech Republic. The performance of team members Sabine Begall and Pascal Malkemper at the awards ceremony was breathtaking, literally (you know what I mean if you watch the life webcast after about 52 min). But now a bit about the science. After having found previously preferential alignment with the earth’s magnetic field in grazing cattle, deer, and foxes, they have now studied dogs (see publication). Specifically, they collected thousands of observations of dogs defecating, urinating, and marking their territories, and then correlated the orientation of the dogs with the magnetic field. A statistical analysis showed that dogs indeed also preferentially align with the magnetic field in these situations — if the magnetic weather is calm. So, if you have lost your compass while hiking, watch man’s best friend in the morning, and you regain your orientation. Of course, only if the magnetic weather is calm.

Panel discussion on women in the life sciences

In an earlier post I have outlined that we have a remarkable drop in the proportion of women in the life sciences from about 60% to 80% up to the postdoctoral level, down to about 20% at the level of professors. My faculty has invited a panel of five competent women from academia and industry to discuss this topic on October 10 (in German). The discussion will be moderated by Marija Bakker. Please find the announcement on the website of the faculty.  We are really looking forward to this event!

We can Prof!


Ebola in West Africa — a look at recent data (UPDATE)

Update on confirmed Ebola cases in West Africa with new data from September 2014. Blue: confirmed cases of Ebola infection, red: confirmed deaths. Note that vertical axis is scaled logarithmically.

The previous post, based on July-August 2014 Disease Outbreak News from WHO, has shown that the Ebola outbreak in West Africa follows an exponential dynamics. New data from early September, now including a confirmed case from Senegal and many more from other countries in West Africa, still display the same exponential increase, with a doubling of cases each month.

If you compare the new plot with the plot in the previous post, you see that I could have obtained the accurate position of the new September point by linear extrapolation in the logarithmic plot. A simple interpretation of the sustained exponential increase is that so far the measures introduced in the outbreak area are ineffective.

A promising development is that Sierra Leone, one of the countries most severely affected by the outbreak will introduce a lock-down later in September. If the lock-down will be effective, it will show up in our logarithmic plot as a deviation from the straight line to a curve with a decreased slope. (Note added: Medecins Sans Frontieres says that the measure may be not helpful.)

There is an instructive wikipedia article on this outbreak. A key factor facilitating the spread of Ebola is probably “extreme poverty” (including amongst many other things a lack of science-based education). Somehow, we all know this, and we know how we could do better.