I’ve got your missing links right here (21st August 2010)


The case of Marc Hauser really erupted this week. The Chronicle published the first direct accusation of wrongdoing from a brave lab member. Harvard Dean Michael Smith published a letter confirming the misconduct, David Dobbs has yet more great analysis (including a discussion on study design) Frans de Waal comments on the implications, and Nicholas Wade has an excellent piece on Hauser, including viewpoints from a veritable who’s who of scientists, such as Hauser’s mentors, Cheney and Seyfarth. The last sentence is tragic.

Fossil sponges may be the earliest known animal life. Here’s a great video of the cool ‘grind and scan’ method used to reconstruct them. The Guardian commits one of my favourite headline memes (earlier… than thought) And the Today programme, apparently some bastion of British journalism, cocks the story right up. But hang on – is an even older sponge fossil discovery having trouble getting published because of academic rivalry?

Tyrone Hayes, a researcher working on the effects of a pesticide on amphibians, has been accused of violating ethical standards because of a series of frankly incredible emails he sent to Syngenta representatives. Nature has the story and the full emails.

You want dinosaurs. Fighty, stabby, bitey dinosaurs. You especially want them written about by Brian Switek in Wired, with pretty pictures.

Ray Kurzweil has predicted again that we’re two decades away from reverse-engineering the brain. John Rennie thinks otherwise and provides great links to other take-downs.

Seals off the British coast are washing up dead with horrific corkscrew injuries. The third picture is terrifying – I’m warning you.

Lots more after the jump

I covered fossilised evidence of parasite mind-control this week and of course, so did Carl Zimmer, whose take you should read. Also listen to his dulcet tones on a recent episode of Weeds!

Lizards that mistake other males for females? Awkwaaaaaaaaaard! From Neurodojo.

Triffids!  Cornwall couple return from holiday to find their plant had grown eight metres in two months. And just after the Perseid meteor shower. TO THE BUNKERS!

The tsunami that killed struck Tonga and Samoa last year was caused by two earthquakes, which masked each other.

These turtle boys don’t cut no slack. Except for that time they were butchered to extinction by humans…

Immortal trees can reproduce by cloning but “they’re still not immune from the ravages of time,” says Brandon Keim in Wired.

“You’ve all heard it takes two to tango. And it certainly takes two (or more) to argue. And now, apparently it really does take two to have a conversation.” Scicurious reports.

“Can a stroll in the park replace the psychiatrist’s couch?” asks Ferris Jabr. Er, maybe. But the production of a brand-new journal by people in the field makes me raise an eyebrow.

Typically sharp Newsweek piece from Mary Carmichael on two recent genome-wide studies, one on cholesterol & one on personality differences – and why one was a success and the other a failure.

Whatever Happened to Seismosaurus? (and why it’s good that science frequently self-corrects) by Brian Switek

Muscle memory in Science News, or why “pumping up is easier for people who have been buff before”

Back on my post about gene-testing, Raj, a sharp commenter, points out that the 23andme homepage has a black woman and an Asian man with his kid – all groups who are very unlikely to benefit from the results, which mostly apply to white European/Americans.

A survey shows many Americans don’t understand how to save energy or which actions matter, covered in the Economist.

From Mind Hacks, a darkened restaurant reveals how what we see affects how full we feel.

“We believe our findings, although dismal for our research program, convey important messages to the scientific community and to scientific journals.” Ivan Oransky covers another interesting retraction.

“University of Washington engineers are developing the first device able to transmit American Sign Language over [mobile phones].

“Prescribing therapies that are “as good as placebo” simply creates deception, cost, and possible harm through the application of physical interventions that cannot improve upon holding a patient’s hand and listening to them.” Sage words from PalMD.

A perfect storm of topic and author: Jonah Lehrer writes about choice blindness and the great tea/jam-swap experiment.

This is why I subscribe to the Times. Great stuff from Mark Henderson: How astronomy is helping in fight against cancer. I was even at the conversation when Mark found this story!

Lucas Brouwers at Thoughtomics has a great post on why “living fossils” is a nonsense phrase

Eric Michael Johnson discusses the evolution of menopause and the “grandmother hypothesis” at Carin Bondar’s blog

How’d that get there? Scientists find a 22-mile-long oily plume drifting in the Gulf of Mexico.

One becomes a thousand. The first cell divisions of a zebrafish embryo, captured in beautiful video, and reported by Nature.

“In other words, it’s more of a plastic soup than a plastic island.” Mike Orcutt on the fate of plastic in the ocean  at Popular Mechanics.”

The moon is shrinking. Apparently, she’s getting a bit wrinkly, says Ian Sample.

John Pavlus has a really quite brilliant explanation of why the P vs NP problem matters.

Bacteria smell their way to food. Well, maybe. Nature News has some good debate about the claim.

“Sex is both stressful and good for the brain.” Jonah Lehrer and Brian Mossop both take on this cool paper.


An awesome blog by Dawn Foster exposes London’s misogyny towards female cyclists. Say hi to 101 Wankers.

Newsweek has an amazing infographic comparing countries around the world by various metrics of “quality” – a wonderful feature adorned with the somewhat linkbaity title of “The World’s Best Countries”

Spain declares war on pigeons with a net catapult. This is every bit as awesome as it sounds. Surely, a cat-apult next?

“”You’re a primate, Mandrill, not a f**king Care Bear.” I love F**k You, Penguin.

It’s nice we can finally look back on that whole oil spill and laugh, says the Onion.

This made my day. Penguins chasing a butterfly. Presumably to trap it and use it for evil experiments, for their hearts are full of hate.

Stare into the eyes of 40 ape faces. Dare you not to be moved.

This brilliant image from Gizmodo tells us exactly what a PhD is: a tiny nipple on the sphere of human knowledge.

From Wired: Iceland designers propose eerily beautiful humanoid pylons.

I’ve discovered that David Attenborough is making a 2-part series on life during the Ediacaran and Cambrian periods. This will be incredible, and the sort of thing that you can only do if you have decades of reputation behind you.

The law of futurology

Incredible miniature art carved from the tips of pencils

This is probably not the best time to wheel out a stock photo..

Gaze upon these beautiful pictures of bodies of water. They “bring us comfort, euphoria, life, “ says Pictory.

This IS rocket science! Watch a space shuttle launch from the perspective of a booster rocket

Well here’s a study to make your blood run cold. Poor goldfish. Poor, poor goldfish.

Heh. Monstrous Wildlife: Essential Knowledge About Graboids

Via Sciencepunk, this is exactly the noise that plays in my head when I’m assimilating new info.


When 3 bloggers love each other very much, they spend all night together and give birth to a brilliant meta-network: Scienceblogging.org, an aggregator that collects feeds from science blog networks.

The Origin of Science Writers thread has a new influx of entries this week that are worth checking out. I particularly liked Martin Robbins’s sentiments about the new writing ecosystem, and Henry Gee’s “I am convinced the best writers don’t choose this as a career. Writing chooses them”

Geekcalendar is officially open for pre-order! Buy it now! Money goes towards libel reform. The photos (non-naked, I might add) are really very good and I’m in one of them. ”

Heard that the web is dead? Stabbed in the servers by mobile apps? Not so. Despite predictions from Prince Wired, Alexis Madrigal shows us how incorrect doom-saying has coloured the evolution of technology, Dave Winer lists 7 nice things about the web that you can’t get on mobile apps, Boing Boing exposes some bogus stats, and Technologizer documents how everything is dead.

The New York Times published a story about a group of neuroscientists who went rafting to muse on what the brain does without multi-tasking. That’s it. No, really, that’s it. I might go drinking with some hepatologists. Can I get into the New York Times?

Bora Zivkovic continues his series of insightful pieces on science blogging, discussing how blogs affect the brands of cooperative versus corporate networks. I weigh in with a comment.

The BMJ are launching a new open-access journal. Good.

This article by Dave Munger illustrates a common point that I think journalists should heed – if you’re going to debunk something, do it as early as possible, preferably in the headline if not the first paragraph. Some readers never RTFA. Every word matters.

Rumours of cutbacks for the Royal Institution Christmas lectures have been greatly exaggerated. The number has been cut back but the budget is 40% bigger! And it has falling hamsters. Mark Henderson reports (from behind a paywall).

Columbia University if offering a twin Masters in Journalism and Programming. It’s a great idea. That way, grads can hope to at least be half-employed…”

Charlie Brooker on writing: “To function efficiently as a writer, 95% of your brain has to teleport off into nowhere”

Bora posted a nice sentiment on republishing old blog posts with edits and updates. A great idea: here’s my own example.

Doom for the newspaper industry. But look, science books are all over the New York Times bestseller list!

This is a very instructive case study for how to completely screw up a media interview. Scientists take note. Some lessons: how you say something matters as much as what you say; it is not enough to be right; never get angry.

The Guardian has a great piece about how pedants have been bemoaning the demise of English for centuries, featuring 19th century textspeak, Jonathan Swift’s Proposal for Correcting, Improving and Ascertaining the English Tongue, and combat.

Ben Goldacre had a spat with Channel 4 journalist Samira Ahmed over an equation that looked like a crap PR formula but turned out to have more substantive origins. Ben has since apologised repeatedly, and Jon Simons has a great mature post on the incident, saying “I think it would be a tragedy if the behaviour of some inadvertently led to journalists withdrawing from interacting with us.”

JL Vernon has a sharp take on science as a brand in itself and how to create brand loyalists.

For anyone in London, I’ll be taking part in a debate on 23rd September on whether science journalists should take sides.


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