I’ve got your missing links right here (08 September 2012)

ENCODE reactions

The ENCODE project has definitely dominated the news this week. I’ve had various reactions to my mega-post from “one of your best” to “you blew it”. I do want to note, as in this set of tweets, that getting in all the nuances and caveats, capturing both the enthusiasm and scepticism about the project, and making it all make sense for both a general and scientific audience, to a deadline, was not easy. It was more like the opposite of easy.

I’ve mulled over the post in the ensuing days. I knew not to use the “long dismissed as junk” trope. I mentioned that the types of elements that were identified were not a surprise, and ENCODE’s value was as a comprehensive catalogue. I tried to point out where the 80% figure came from, the uncertainty around it, and what “functional” meant. One of the hardest things about a story like this is that even if you have a mental list of points and caveats to tick off, and even if you think you get them in the piece, you never know if readers will pick up on them, or what message they’ll end up taking away. Are those points visible, or just there?

Anyway, I eventually decided that what was in the post was reasonable, but it needed more. I still think it’s important to get across what the ENCODE researchers think about their work, it is an exciting project, and it’s a lot more than junk-or-no-junk. But given the widespread commentary – critical, sceptical and thoughtful – it needed an update. You’ll find that update in the main post itself, time- and date-stamped, and an explanation about why I decided to edit rather than post a follow-up.

I’ve also been collecting links to other commentary, specifically about the science of the project. They’re there in the post itself, but repeated here to draw attention to them. The list in the post will continue to be updated. This list will not.

And finally: I love this tweet from Oliver Morton: “Genomes are like genome metaphors: messy, slowly accreted, self contradictory, more complex than anyone would think reasonable”.

Top picks

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Totally briliant Alexis Madrigal story on how Google is building the world’s best maps with its Ground-Truth project

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Dancing woolly aphids will probably stab you. By Bec Crew

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Kerri Smith profiles Xing Xu, China’s premier dinosaur hunter

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Maryn McKenna on that new tick-borne “Heartland” disease, the latest in a rapidly appearing line of new diseases

Paralysed people with broken spines get feeling back in stem cell world first


Marc Hauser, fraudulent scientist, blames colleagues, explains he was REALLY busy. His business plan: 1) Run lab, teach, sit on boards, like EVERY OTHER PI 2) ???? 3) Fabricate research

Making people sign their forms at the top leads to more honest answers. Cool real-world experiment

Brushing your teeth in space is hard.

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What’s in a (disease) name? How multiple, complex names for a disease harms patients.

Mitt Romney believes in basic science, such as cold fusion. Wait, what?

New network encourages scientists to spend just 5 mins/wk speaking out against misinformation on animal research

An interview with conservation writer David Quammen.

The Japanese river otter is extinct, its memory preserved in a truly awful piece of taxidermy

Pentagon’s Robot Cheetah outruns Usain Bolt and heads towards your house as we speak

Another study fails to replicate an old Bargh priming study, and my blog post is Ref #12.

Spermy llamarama with Kate Clancy.

How A $440,000 Drug Is Turning Alexion Into Biotech’s New Innovation Powerhouse

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Fungi shoot salt into the air and make clouds over the Amazon. Which is awesome.

Species can now be named online. “The very fact that we’re discussing this in 2012 seems sort of silly” – Mike Taylor.

Obama and Romney tackle 14 top science questions

While many people struggle to find jobs, this disgraced fraudster gets a new home at a cancer centre.

Tigers take night shift to dodge humans

As Silent Spring turns 50, Rachel Carson’s biographer looks at five decades of attacks on her book

The Optimism Bias in Science

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NO. WAI. Beaches more popular when it’s sunny, study finds

1/5 of invertebrate species at risk of extinction. Poor spineless things (Insert lame political commentary.)

Species multiply as Earth heats up. Before you say anything: RATES.

Tear-jerking comic about the tragic life of one of the Space Invaders invaders

Poignant: ‘A great silence is spreading over the natural world’

Drawing dinosaurs: how is palaeoart produced? With intense collaboration, it seems.

“*Is this science?” Hilarity from Sophie Scott.

“While, on Earth, scientific papers were languishing in review, an SUV-sized robot made its way to another planet” – Michael Eisen on the ludicrous nature of scientific publishing.

The TB test you can do at home

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Makes scents: Whale-scat-sniffing dog helps conservation efforts



Earlier this week, someone on Twitter asked for my qualifications and the university I went to, so she could decide whether to read one of my pieces or not. To forestall such bulls**t in the future, here is a copy of my degree.

Ha! Genius. A poem made from slides at Jeff Bezos’ Kindle presentation

What an absolutely gorgeous photo of a giant Pacific octopus.

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In a mass knife fight to the death between every American president, who would win and why?

Really evocative. Composite photos merge scenes from 1906 San Francisco quake w/ present day

XKCD: What would the world be like if the land masses were rotated by an angle of 90 degrees?

Best protest sign ever

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Blogger and microbiologist Jim Caryl has a photography website, and it’s fantastic.

Timelapse video of man drawing the Manhattan skyline freehand



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Bill Clinton’s speech, with edits in-line showing where he went off-script. Man should give all my talks.

Which of these is not like the others? GQ Men of the Year Covers

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She just wanted to read her book & be left alone.

Woman stung by scorpion, charged nearly $40,000 for antivenom at an Arizona hospital. “It’s our nature,” said the US.

Words David Foster Wallace’s Mom Invented

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