Thursday, May 23, 2013

Where's the Vengeance Team?

Yes, dear readers, we are still alive despite the pit of Carkoon known as "editing a rap song when you know nothing about rapping." Resting gracefully on the event horizon of total musical despair, we decided to take a break to fill you in a little bit on what's new in the Vengeance Household!

First and foremost, science. Meaghan and Amy recently(ish) went to Berkeley to collect data on oreodonts and omomyids. Meaghan has been doing a lot of preliminary research on character variation in oreodonts and in camelids, so spent most of her time measuring skull after skull after skull, as well as taking pictures to do some geometric morphometric analyses. Amy spent some time measuring itty bitty adorable primate teeth fossils, but mostly was finishing up her thesis so spent most of her time crumpled over her computer cursing at Mesquite, a phylogenetic software program.

We managed to also get some climbing in, heading to Smith Rock, Yosemite, and Indian Rock State Parks for Meaghan's first multi-pitch and some awesome bouldering. Meaghan and Amy shared a tandem rapel, which was made even more special by the lovely song that Amy serenaded Meaghan with the whole way down.

Meaghan is the milk in Amy's cocoa puffs, apparently

Meaghan just won prizes at the 3 Minute Thesis competition and the Graduate Student Research Forum, while Amy passed her Honors College thesis with distinction (ahem, the highest honor) and moved to Denali National Park, where she will be working for the Park Service finding and mapping Cretaceous dinosaur trackways. This summer Meaghan will be working as a field biologist, but will be interspersing that with a trip to the Chicago Field Museum as well as a trip to the American Museum of Natural History, courtesy of the Teddy Roosevelt Grant she's received. So while Vengeance Team North tracks dinosaurs, Vengeance Team South going to molest oreodonts.

View A Summer of Science! in a larger map

 But don't fret, dear readers - the blog will not be abandoned. Not even for fossils. Meaghan is still hard at work on editing the sloth rap into something that is funny and not just horribly, horribly cringe-worthy (RAPPING IS REALLY HARD GUYS!), and Amy is working on a few posts about the sequester suckitude and how she hasn't yet gotten eaten by bears in Alaska. We're also working on figuring out google chat to schedule a few more interviews, compiling all the worst possible scientific concepts you can google with your safe search filter off, and drawing ancient fish carrying basketballs (it will make sense, just trust us).

But in the meantime, here is an excellent youtube video you should all enjoy about a cat experiencing ennui.

And if you liked the Sloth Rap Battle trailer before, imagine how much you'll love the extended version! Hint: you'll love it a lot. Like... a whole hell of a lot.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Canada's Putting a Price Tag on Science

Dear Readers, we have two great shameful secrets to reveal to you today. Secret number one is that Meaghan has a hidden past, buried deep in her DNA: she is half Canadian, born in the frozen wastes of the North and holding citizenship both there and here.

Sorry aboot that?

Whew. That feels good to get off of our chests.

Secret number two is a little less shameful for us, but a whole lot more shameful for Canada: apparently they, too, have morons in charge. Essentially, the guy in charge of the National Research Council (Canada's equivalent of the National Science Foundation) has declared that "scientific discovery is not valuable unless it has commercial value," and that the NRC will be shifting its focus accordingly. A short glance at the webpage for the NRC reads very much like a business - their new tagline (and isn't it great when a government agency decides it needs a tagline??) is the catch-all bland statement of "working with clients and partners, we provide innovation support, strategic research, scientific and technical services." If you took out 'scientific' you'd have the generic business model for any IT or marketing company. Given that the focus has gone commercial, it sounds like removing science from their science foundation is exactly what they plan on doing.

"Our organization is now easier for business to understand and access," says John McDouchnozzle, the guy in charge of the new changes in town. And that's great, it really is - because big business is exactly what has driven great research in the past. In fact, commercial viability of research has led to such great discoveries as the fact that whale ears AREN'T hurt by sonar, scientists don't think the climate is changing, and the fact that tobacco isn't bad for us! Oh wait... all three of those particular findings were funded by extremely biased, often commercially-driven sources and have since been contradicted? Hmm.

Dr Joe Camel, PhD in the Science of Marketing

The truth is that sometimes scientific discovery is not only commercially nonviable, it is directly contradictory to the interests of the industry involved. Putting a price tag on science will not just eliminate basic research that contributes to the whole (which has no immediate monetary effect but may add to future research that does). It could also directly inhibit research that doesn't say what commercialism and industry want it to say.

Meanwhile, Canada's health organization says it's totes cool to use homeopathic alternatives to vaccines. Why get a shot when you can drink tiger's blood? It's ALL THE SAME, SAYS CANADA. In fact with this new regime, it's probably good for the tiger, too! Removes weaklings from the gene pool, and everyone knows a smaller gene pool is a better gene pool, amiright??

Seriously. Did you guys have a real harsh winter up there or something? Sounds like the Canadian government got a nasty case of frostbite on the brain.

WTF, Canada. WTF.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Sloth Facts, a Rap Battle Primer

Listen. Shit’s about to get real epic up here in this blog. We’re talking full-on rap battle, with poorly produced background beepy sounds and some real feats of coordination in the dance sequences. Basically if Flynt Flossy rapped about science, he’d be hella jealous of our style.

But we recognize that not all of you are as up-to-date on your sloth facts as the Vengeance Team Rap Duo, which might make you miss some of the SHEER BRILLIANCE of our lyrical majesty. To avoid your own disappointment in yourself, we’ve provided a background info sheet to catch you up on what’s hot and trending in the world of sloth biology.  

The Three-Toed Tree Sloth
Genus: Bradypus

Here’s a handsome little sloth hangin’ out in a tree. These guys literally are made to hang; they have a suspensorial locomotion system that is so specialized they actually struggle to get around on the ground and are forced to drag themselves like a drunken Lindsey Lohan because they don’t have the musculature to crawl. They try not to go down to the ground much because that’s how they get their asses eaten, but unlike birds who shit wherever and whenever they please, sloths seem embarrassed to let loose their stools from the sky. To meld these two issues, sloths poop only once a week. They crawl down from their trees, their tiny bodies filled to the brim with heavy fecal matter (up to 37% of their body weight is gut contents) and take a shit at the base of the tree, like the civilized creatures they are.

The winner of 2013's first annual sloth marathon
Top sloth speed is 0.24 kilometers per hour (0.15 mph), and they are so slow that they actually have algae growing on them, and several specialized species of moth that live in their fur. Of course, that could also be because up to 75% of their time is spent sleeping, with a further 10% spent resting; they’re barely more mobile than a rock. At some point in their evolution sloths didn’t have teeth, and when they re-evolved them they forgot to make enamel. So now they just have dentine (the pulpy innards of our own teeth). Good thing they just eat plants.

They don’t maintain a constant internal temperature (aka, they’re cold blooded), which is part of why they’re restricted to warm, tropical environments. Oh yeah, and like the little creepy stalkers they are, they are capable of turning their head up to 270 degrees. 

Giant Ground Sloth
Genus: Megatherium
"Stop pointing at my crotch!"

Pertinent fact number one: they’re extinct. Pertinent fact number two: they’re still pretty awesome. Ground sloths were big, knuckle-walking oafs that lived from the Oligocene through the end of the Ice Age in much of the Americas. They lumbered around in their furry pimpsuits (which covered up a skin full of hard bony knobs called osteoderms), and they walked on their knuckles to keep their huge claws sharp.

Why the huge claws? Great question, lots of different answers. Slapping fools is a pretty obvious choice - either out of righteous indignation or for defense. Though there have been some that thought they might have been carnivores, there’s caves full of giant sloth turds lingering around, and it’s full of plants including extinct yuccas. Fun extra fact: when you rehydrate said poo, it smells just like fresh poo!

Though originally from South America, giant ground sloths showed up in North America in the Miocene which was before that convenient land bridge (currently known as Panama) showed up. Supposedly there were enough islands between the two continents that giant ground sloths were able to just swim right across! 


Hayssen, Virginia. 2009. Bradypus tridactylus (Pilosa: Bradypodidae). American Society of Mammalogists.

Marshall, Larry. 1998. Land Mammals and the Great American Interchange. American Scientist volume 76.

Thanks to Edward Davis and Nick Famoso for some sloth fact tips!