I’ve Got Your Missing Links Right Here (21 December 2013)

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Top picks

Veronique Greenwood’s piece on Swiss helicopter-flown cows is one of the most delightful things I’ve read this year. A perfect example of a piece that starts about something quirky and is gradually reveals itself to be about something really important.

A sad tribute to the space robots we lost in 2013, by Adam Mann.

A child checks into hospital with mitochondrial disease. The hospital says it’s psychiatric. Her parents lose custody. This is “parent-ectomy“, where a disputed medical diagnosis leads to parents losing care of their child. An incredible, gut-wrenching story by Neil Swidey and Patricia Wen.

This Atavist story about hippos in America has the best teaser I’ve ever read. Look at that second graf!

“I’ve come out on the wrong end of the equation again. The trial drug combination didn’t work.” Heartbreaking post from Lisa Adams about the reality for people with metastatic breast cancer.

The story of a tiny sculpture that got to the Moon but caused scandal back on Earth, by Corey Powell.

How humans created domestic cats. By Becca Rosen.

“”Are you really Santa Claus?” she asked. At first, [Colonel] Shoup was, understandably, confused.” A most wonderful story in which a typo leads to lots of kids calling a top secret military phone line. By Megan Garber.

“There’s no frickin’ pattern at all.” On tracking the secret life of great white sharks.

The genome of this tiny tree could help to tell us why the world became full of flowers.

The wonderful Kate Clancy is one of Nature’s 10 people who mattered this year, for her work on exposing the extent of sexual harassment in her field. Congratulations, Kate.

It’s amazing that from a single Neanderthal toe bone, we can now get a full genome of comparable quality to what you’d get from a living human. Carl Zimmer reports.

At higher altitude, your brain fits in your skull more snugly, so your risk of concussion is lower! By Liz Preston.

Karen Weintraub on the controversy around children with three biological parents.

Maybe some “terrible two” toddlers stay terrible? What then? David Dobbs considers.

Nathan Myhrvold—patent troll, food enthusiast and dinosaur hobbyist—challenges some high-profile papers on dinosaur growth rates. The author’s responses are thus far worrying, but the critique is long and more is sure to come.

Dust-borne bacteria from houses with dogs can prevent allergies (in mice) by changing their gut microbes. By me.

Leafy Green ‘Solar-Powered’ Sea Slugs Begin to Reveal Their True Colors. Good round-up of recent controversy, by Ferris Jabr.


Wow! Brazilian scientists discover a new species of tapir! A pygmy tapir (which, being a tapir, is still huge).

A randomised control trial for a waiting list (which could be bad for your health).

1856 – when a squirrel up a tree in NYC was big news.

Meet Niijima, the world’s youngest island. It’s barely a month old.

What colours are the sun?

I got 7/9 in Nature’s end of the year science news quiz. Try it.

10 fish weirder than the fish in the 10 weirdest fish in the world list

15 Best Behavioural Science Graphs 2010-13 (Warning: some experiments may be rubbish.)

Last of the Last: A NatGeo series on saving Earth’s rarest species

Vitamin pills “should be avoided”; they don’t prevent cancer, heart disease, dementia, and may cause harm.

The Grand Inga dam will be the world’s largest, generating *twice* as much power as the Three Gorges Dam.

“It’s a good sign that the push for replication is so strong that there’s now a backlash against it”

“Death is required; harm is forbidden” A New Yorker piece on the “oxymoronic quest for humane executions

Inflatable moth butt feather-dusters.

Want to help monitor deforestation using satellites, from home? Take a crash course

The Trouble w/ Oxytocin, Part I: Does OT Actually Increase Trusting Behavior?

Using drones to save orangutans.

H5N1, H7N9, now H10N8. It’s a bird flu world and we’re just living in it.

They’ve turned Walking with Dinosaurs into Cretaceous Happy Feet. Oy.

How scientists are working to save a corpse-eating beetle—our only hope against the zombie apocalypse.

Homo erectus hand boneHomo erectus hand bone suggests earlier “human” anatomy

Zebra stripes may have evolved for dazzle camouflage to create illusions of movement.

Greg Foot’s 12 Explosions of Christmas.

Interactive chart of fastest things on earth. If this were accurate, the cheetah would stop a third of the way along and Usain Bolt would explode.

What is the evidence for a feathered Tyrannosaurus?

Europa, one of Jupiter’s moons, may be the first alien world with active plate tectonics!

Death by chocolate, literally.

13-yr re-examination of evidence concludes that Neanderthals did bury their dead.

Polynesian people used binary numbers 600 yrs ago, some 300 yrs before Leibniz.

FDA to makers of antibacterial soaps: Put up or shut up.

Two big stories this week on the secret communications of plants.

Moms think their youngest kids are smaller than they really are

Neuroscience Is Getting Its Day in Court, Whether It’s Ready or Not

A model world: All scientific models are wrong but some at least are useful.

The science of Ripper Street.

Could water be flowing freely on Mars today?

David Dobbs has tweaked his controversial piece on the selfish gene, producing a second version. Here’s his rationale, and a good response from Sergio Graziosi.

Is it an accident so many outrageous words (e.g. hullaballoo, brouhaha) describe outrageous situations?

Amazon parrot reclassified as a species becomes conservation priority

Aspirin risks may outweigh benefits in healthy adults

You can’t beat the cold. An encyclopedic look at non-cures.

80% of scientific data are lost within 20 years.

Forget supervolcanoes, let’s start talking about kiloruptions. Erik Klemetti on a metric scale for volcano kabooms.


The terrifying taxidermy of the Malaysian Cat Museum

Cape buffalo launches lion 5m into the air.

Stunning winners from a microscopy competition.

A polar bear peers up from beneath the sea ice in the winning shot from our Photo Contest

Best 404 page ever

On average, James Bond drank 92 units of alcohol per wk, which explains the shaking. A wonderful BMJ Christmas paper

Beautiful Slow Motion Video of an Espresso Extraction

How the world’s media would report the apocalypse.

Ever seen an owl swim?


What if a magazine editor edited a BBC News story about Syria?

Tom Levenson, Janet Stemwedel & Maryn McKenna talk about science, sexism and harassment.

The inventor of karaoke went on to invent a cockroach-killing machine, and now lives atop a mountain in Kobe.

What’s it really like to fight an epee duel with live blades? Here’s an amazing account from Italy in 1924

Here’s Peter Aldhous making a lot of sense about a scientific approach to journalism

The best/worst errors and corrections of 2013

Bilbo Baggins, woman. A weird old trick for undermining the patriarchy

Huh. The Wellcome Trust owns more than 1% of Twitter.

When you are caught for plagiarising, and your apology is *also* plagiarised, you maybe have a problem.

At what point in human history were there too many (English) books to be able to read them all in one lifetime?

The best of NiemanLab’s journalism predictions for 2014: text matters, just like in all other years!

Redditor explores abandoned building, discovers treasure trove of Batman graffiti

Sumimasen!: “most useful word in Japanese

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