I’ve Got Your Missing Links Right Here (18 January 2014)

Top picks

This 4000-wd piece by John Gravois starts off about toast, and ends as a sublime, moving story about much more. Best thing I’ve read this week.

This is a wonderful collection of science demo videos, by Alom Shaha and Jonathan Sanderson. A great resource for teachers. Or anyone, really.

“Its many eyes gleamed orange under the light.” I continue to love Nadia Drake’s dispatches from her Amazon trek.

The experiment that forever changed how we think about reality. Aatish Bhatia on typically fine form.

Hunting falcons rely on sailor’s trick. Incredible bird’s eye videos. Also: “The footage from the falcon in Britain was cut short after the bird was shot out of the sky by a farmer.”

The husband/wife team of Bill and Emma Keller published two op/eds in the NYT and the Guardian respectively, about how cancer patient Lisa Adams handles herself online. Adams, whose work I’ve linked to repeatedly here, is notable for casting an honest, insightful and critical eye on her experience with cancer. The Keller-Keller pieces, by contrast, are callous, awful and misrepresentative. They have, however, triggered some thoughtful, well-written, responses. This by Zeynep Tufecki is probably the best single response to the mess, but you should also check out: Xeni Jardin’s response on Twitter; Megan Garber on live-tweeting one’s suffering; a perspective from Hodgkins lymphoma patient Robert Kessler; an analysis of the Kellers’ multiple journalistic screw-ups by Christie Aschwanden; Maryn McKenna on how the Kellers misrepresented Adams and her writing, Meanwhile, both Kellers double-down. Bill plays “political correctness” card, making him one op/ed away from “Wake up, sheeple”. Emma claims to be a more reliable source on Lisa Adams than Lisa Adams.

Fascinating. The life of a “standardised patient“: someone who acts out medical problems for med students

Pheromones that ant/bee/wasp queens use to suppress reproductive potential in workers may have come from chemicals that showcased fertility instead.

Heartbreaking but important piece from Rose George about her dad’s life & death from dementia

Natural things are good for you! Like asbestos! Wait… By Deborah Blum.

How fish came ashore: Carl Zimmer on the back half of the land invasion.

Here is a poem about the capybara as a unit of measure

This year’s Edge Question is “What scientific idea is ready for retirement?” I liked Alex Holcombe’s answer—the idea that science is self-correcting—and Kate Clancy’s—the way we produce and advance science. Both a bit meta, but good for it.

Which came first, the rain or the forest? By Robert Krulwich, based on this really good (and delightfully charming) explainer on the origins (and future) of rainforests.

Fukushima isn’t really affecting sea life, or North America. Craig McClain rounds up some reliable info

The science of praise, by Maria Konnikova.

Clocks versus rocks – Round Gajillion in the debate over the origin of placental mammals


Another test of the hypothesis that wet, wrinkly fingers are tire treads. No support. For more on this story, see this post.

You have 3 months to see the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History’s dinosaurs before they disappear for 5 years.

The case against human exceptionalism.

Ivan Oransky takes a deep and fair look at the retraction of the GMO-cancer paper

Thousands of fish in a glass of water.

“The vultures take into consideration… how likely it is that the prey will die”

Kelly Hills has an excellent response to a ludicrous misogynistic letter, published in Nature. Nature have apologised.

In which Chris Chambers shivs fMRI in the back, but then dresses the wound while whispering gently.

Gene therapy as treatment for blindness

What’s behind the bizarre neglectful parenting of Amazonian macaws?

In which a lot of studies on American and European college students are somehow applicable to negotiations with Iran

Nature editorial on the NHS data issue

Giant spiky woodlouse, blue iguana, meat-eating frog, rockhopper penguins: all UK species being failed

What map projections would do to your face.

A mystery chemical is leaking into a West Virginia river and… er, that’s it

I’ve always wondered about this: people taking the piss on self-report surveys must surely be a big problem?

“Evidence of fake crying by a baby

Shark attack survivors unite to save sharks

Fascinating piece on super-smelling hunter-gatherers in Southeast Asia

My risk-benefit ratio for personal genetics like 23andme. Virginia Hughes explores the recent FDA fracas.

Y chromosome is not doomed to shrivel away to nothing

The $1,000 Genome Arrives–For Real, This Time. (Although note that this doesn’t mean you can get your genome sequenced for a grand.

Why ‘irrational’ choices (as defined by frankly irrational economic models) can be rational

On the origin of scorpion venom. Report is garbled but you get the idea. (“Protein’s genetic structure” saywhatnow?)

Nice piece on Woo Suk Hwang, but I’m not that interested in redemption stories for science fraudsters.

Bacteria are everywhere and most are harmless. Also, toilet seats are pretty clean.

For our size, primates expend 50% less energy than other mammals. You, especially. It’s just embarassing.

Amazing headline and dek: 6yrs After Chemical Ban, Fewer Female Snails Are Growing Penises

Newly discovered ant convinces others to be its slave.

Mega-gardeners: How elephants affect global weather

Let she who wants sex cast the first stone; Female capuchin monkeys throw stones to attract mates. “In each case, the male hit with the stone copulated with the sexually displaying female.”

“If it tastes good you should sequence it,” he tells me. “You should know what’s in the genes of that species.” On China’s massive genomics operation.

“Although there isn’t an official octopus-opening-jars record book…”

Shark species thought to be extinct found in fish market (and obviously may now be extinct).

Why do Body Lice Spread Disease, While Head Lice do not?

Despite the recurrent hype, “vitamin D supplements, to put it plainly, are a waste of money.”

Google Lens? A clear, flexible, electronic circuit that fits on the surface of a contact lens

Martha, the last passenger pigeon, was a “testimony to humankind’s great powers of destruction”

“Part of the challenge will be finding a common language to describe movements of the human tongue & the octopus arm

Can coffee boost memory? A new study, but one with weak stats.

Crowdfunding: making it easier for YOU to help spurious neurononsense become reality.

Some interesting thoughts on diagnostic delays in rare diseases and why it matters.

“We can’t keep his body forever, you know.’ Eight words I will never, ever forget.”

That photo of a 160-ft giant squid is a hoax



Hilarious. PLOS ONE paper reinvents the heatmap as a “Quilt plot”. This is like that time someone reinvented integration in 1994.

Gorgeous pastel drawings of icebergs and glaciers.

15th-century monk leaves a note cursing the cat that pissed on his work

In response to this discovery, the Daily Mash: Birds have revealed they fly in a V-formation because it looks ‘classy’.

These Storm Chaser’s Photos Are Incredible

Hamlet’s “to be or not to be” soliloquy as a flow chart

Racial Misprofiling: When “Arab” stock photos go terribly wrong.

*Incredible* paper art turns The Hobbit into a bust of Smaug

Be right back, going to do this to all my books.

Good choice of editors for an animal behaviour series.

Every sports interview ever.

Where humans live

Go Where Raisins Swell Into Grapes, And Lemons Light The Sky

If I was this hawk, I would probably have the same expression.


The Wellcome Trust and the New Statesman launch a paid scholarship for aspiring science writers from ethnic minorities

If you work in sci-comm or policy, you should get Alice Bell to work for you. She knows her stuff & is now freelance.

The NYT had a mistake on every front page for more than 100 years.

“Were an editor to start, there would be no stopping.” An award for snarkiest literary review

“After years fearing oblivion, the published novelist now feels that success was inevitable”

The Boston Globe is giving its subscribers $100 worth of Globe ad space to hand over to any nonprofit they wish

“Keep on making it the better, which involves constant criticism.” Orwell on why he wrote 1984.

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