Science Buzz: Sexist reviewers, bullies, universal blood and smartphone pain relief

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Editor’s note: In this recurring column, science writer Robert Starr rounds up the previous week’s top science stories. Have a suggestion? Send a tweet to @RobertKStarr, and your link might appear in next week’s Science Buzz.

There are many ways to improve a scientific study. You can gather more data, tighten the controls or use more precise measuring tools. Scientists Fiona Ingleby and Megan Head recently received a strange suggestion for strengthening their research paper: invite one or two male scientists to put their names on it.

Before the journal PLOS ONE published Ingleby and Head’s study, they required that it go through peer review, which is the process by which scientists read the paper and make sure that the data justifies the results. This is standard, and the reviewers are ideally tough but fair. In the case of this paper, which looked at gender differences for Ph.D. students who move on to postdoctoral positions, the anonymous reviewer suggested that the female authors may be biased and that Ingleby and Head should invite male authors to lend their names and opinions to the study.

Ingleby posted the review to Twitter, where it ignited a flurry of responses. PLOS ONE — the journal that Ingleby and Head submitted to — came forward and apologized for its mistake, promising to re-evaluate the paper with a different reviewer.

PLOS ONE mentioned nothing about whether it would give that next reviewer a couple of female co-reviewers to help eliminate bias.

Society’s perception of bullying has shifted over the last several years — once considered sort of a rite of passage, bullying today is understood as a serious issue that needs to be addressed. A new study published in the Lancet Psychiatry gives additional support for the latter view, suggesting that peer bullying takes a major psychological toll on children, with an impact on them greater than the impact of abuse from adults.

The study looked at children in both the United States and the United Kingdom and found that bullied children suffered later in life from more mental health issues, such as anxiety, depression and suicidal tendencies, than those who experienced physical, sexual or emotional abuse from adults.

This suggests schools need to take a more active role in preventing bullying.

O-negative is the blood type donation centers most desire because anyone’s body can accept O-negative blood. The problem is that only about 7 percent of the population can produce it. However, a new breakthrough may lead the way to turning everybody into a universal donor.

 

The researchers of a study published in the Journal of the American Chemical Society looked at an enzyme that could take blood and remove the antigen sugars that classify it as A or B. Previously, the enzyme couldn’t remove the sugars from enough cells to render it efficient.

A bacteria produces the enzyme, and the researchers used directed evolution to alter this bacteria until the enzyme became 170 times more efficient than the original one.

How soon until the development makes it to the Red Cross? Nobody knows for sure, but researchers are trying to B positive.

Sometimes, text messages hurt — like when your significant other breaks up with you at 2 a.m. and calls you a poop emoji. But other times, text messages can actually alleviate pain, as a new study published in Pain Medicine found. Researchers recruited subjects who were about to undergo minor surgeries. During the surgery, those who texted a friend or even a complete stranger required less anesthetic than subjects who played a game on their phone or who didn’t have a phone at all.

So, next time you’re hurting, text a friend.

Thanks for reading Science Buzz this semester. Stay tuned for the year's last Science Scene this Thursday.