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SCIENCE MAGAZINE, PUBLISHED weekly by the American Association for the Advancement of Science, often includes tidbits of one sort or another. Some are arcane, others as timely as today’s headlines (to recoin a phrase). Here are three recent ones.

How Woodpeckers Get Unstuck. As described by Elizabeth Pennisi in Science online, January 7, 2021, scientists “took high-speed videos of two black woodpeckers (Dryocopus martius) pecking away at hardwood trunks and analyzed them frame by frame.” Here’s a Science video, January 7, 2021.

Pennisi writes, “The bird’s secret: an ability to move its upper and lower beaks independently.” Each time its bill hits the wood, the woodpecker rotates its head slightly to the side. What’s more, the top part of its beak moves independently from its skull. This action creates a free space between the beak tip and the wood at the bottom of the punctured hole, thus releasing the beak for another peck. 

“Until now,” Pennisi notes, “scientists have thought woodpecker bills would need to be rigidly attached to the skull to successfully drill into the wood to find insect prey. But actually, the bill’s flexibility in these joints ensures that the bird’s signature ‘rat-a-tat-tat’ doesn’t stop at ‘rat.’ ”

Science Groups Respond to Insurrection. Also in January 15, 2021, Science magazine carried a News item reporting that, “Several science advocacy groups last week called for President Trump to resign or be immediately removed from office for inciting the 6 January attack by a violent mob on the U.S. Capitol.” 

Image from Science, January 15, 2021.

Groups calling for Trump’s ouster included the March for Science, first active in 2017, and the Union for Concerned Scientists, as well as the organizations 500 Women Scientists and 314 Action. Andrew Rosenberg, director of UCS’s Center for Science and Democracy, said, “There need to be consequences. This was a true threat to our democracy.” 

Alas, my own item here at SimanaitisSays, “Scientific Breakthrough: Republicans Evolve to Have Spines in Less Than 24 Hours!,” January 9, 2021, proved to be wishful thinking. The latest Republican line is claiming that ex-Presidents cannot be impeached.

Sort of like claiming incumbent Presidents cannot lose subsequent elections.

On Consequences. A News item in Science magazine, January 15, 2021, described an incident that rocked an archaeology conference.

Robert Schuyler (bottom right) interrupted Liz Quinlan (second from top left) and used a Nazi phrase and salute during the opening plenary of a virtual archaeology conference. Image from Science online, January 11, 2021.

A followup came in Science online, January 26, 2021: Lizzie Wade recounted, “On 6 January, [Robert] Schuyler interrupted the plenary presentation of Liz Quinlan, an archaeologist and doctoral student at the University of York, about her work as the virtual conference’s accessibility coordinator. When Quinlan attempted to hold the floor, Schuyler said, ‘I’m sorry, but I have freedom of speech.’ Then he thrust his arm into the air and said ‘Sieg heil to you.’

Wade continues that on January 25, 2021, “UPenn [archaeologist Schuyler’s institution] updated a statement about the incident, saying Schuyler has retired from the university. Kathleen Morrison, chair of UPenn’s anthropology department, also tweeted the news but declined to comment further. Schuyler did not respond to requests from Science for comment.”

To recall UCS’s Andrew Rosenberg, “There need to be consequences.” ds 

© Dennis Simanaitis,, 2021


  1. Pingback: SCIENCE TIDBITS: FASCINATING, TIMELY, CONSEQUENTIAL – Glyn Hnutu-healh: History, Alchemy, and Me

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