Welcome to autumn, the season when school starts back up and neglected blogs come to life again. Before we round up recent science news, though, a quick question for Turbid Plaque readers. We're considering presenting The Filtrate in video format. Is this a bad idea, or the worst idea ever? Let us know what you think.
Speaking of back-to-school season, what's the best way to teach? According to the results of a new randomized experiment, "active learning," in which students participate in exercises instead of passively listening to lectures, gives them a better understanding of the material. However, the students felt like they'd learned less in the active learning group. They got smarter, but felt dumber, which could be a good way to combat the Dunning-Kruger effect.
In that spirit, here's an active learning assignment for readers of this blog: check your emergency preparedness supplies. September is National Preparedness Month, so now's a good time to do it. Don't worry, it doesn't have to be complicated. Just make sure you have a few days' food and water on hand, along with supplies of medications and other health needs, in case, say, a hurricane rolls through your state. Because it's probably best not to trust official predictions about those kinds of things these days.
Switching to a more cheerful topic, let's talk about capybaras. They're adorable, right? I mean, who doesn't love rodents the size of large dogs? Ticks certainly love them, which makes them a major reservoir for Brazilian spotted fever. A new paper describes the ecology of this nasty tick-borne bacterial disease, and how capybaras in human-dominated areas drive its spread. You knew a story about a cute animal would have to have some horrible twist to appear on his blog, right?
In another tropical area further north, scientists are hacking their way deep into the jungles of Mexico's Montes Azules Biosphere Reserve to find a lost Maya city. They haven't found it yet, but Lizzie Wade's story about the effort is well worth reading. It also reminds me that while my science reporting beat is pretty cool in some ways, it'll never be quite as awesome as hers.
Microbiology and public health reporters like me end up with stories such as the Dengvaxia saga. Mentioned in earlier aliquots of The Filtrate and discussed a few times on TWiV, Dengvaxia was Sanofi Pasteur's ill-fated dengue fever vaccine. Launched in the Philippines in 2016, the vaccine was later withdrawn because of a serious complication that many virologists saw coming. Parents of the affected children, who developed worse disease than they would have if they hadn't been vaccinated, are understandably upset that the Filipino government and the company now appear to be sweeping the whole thing under the rug. I'm thinking of a word that starts with "cluster" and rhymes with "pluck."
We'll end this week's roundup with a cat-and-mouse story, or really a mouse-as-cat story. A major question in parasitology is how parasites with multiple hosts know which one they're in. Toxoplasma gondii, for example, goes through different life cycle stages in mice and cats. In a cool new paper, researchers identified the molecular signals that the parasite uses to identify its feline host. Modifying a mouse to express the same signals caused T. gondii to undergo its cat cycle in the mouse, providing a new, easier to study model for this disease. The cats, as usual, didn't give a damn.
That's it for this week. As always, if you want to comment on a story covered here, you can reach me through Twitter.