I’ve Got Your Missing Links Right Here (22 December 2012)

For new readers, this collection of “missing links” appears every Saturday and compiles all the fascinating stuff I found around the internet in the preceding week. It’s separated into Top Picks (the best stuff), Science/News/Writing (science writing), Heh/Wow/Huh (silliness, satire, photos, videos), and Journalism/Internet/Society (a miscellany of my other interests). If links are broken, let me know in the comments.

Top picks

Why antibiotics are like swallowing grenades – Carl Zimmer knocks it out of the park in his first Phenomena post

Dan Engber’s long piece on cancer research, and the quest to personalise treatments, has an absolutely unbeatable intro paragraph and just keeps on getting better from there

AMAZING! Puddle of oil transforms into the world’s most evil Christmas tree.

An amateur linguist tried to invent the perfect language, but loses control of it. Great Joshua Foer story on invented languages.

Alexis Madrigal, Becca Rosen and Megan Garber edit a compilation of the Atlantic’s best tech writing from the year. This is unbeatable. You know what I love about their work? They’re anti-pundits. They find insight and beauty in the mundane, rather than vice versa.

Virginia Hughes is one of my favourite writers, and this inaugural post at Phenomena, on why music moves us so, shows why.

1800 years ago, a volcano exploded. Then some fish got lips like Angelina Jolie.

12 of the strangest surgical instruments in history. Number one is “The Scarificator”. No, really.

“As the unsuspecting Alice crosses the event horizon, she will encounter a massive wall of fire” – Great Jennifer Ouellette piece on black hole physics

The NYT has a stunningly designed story on avalanches, notable not just for its beauty but the fact that it doesn’t kill my browser

Is there a hidden dinosaur in a Jurassic boneyard? Or just a young dinosaur that we already knew about? By Brian Switek

An inventory of all the junk we left on the moon, including a falcon feather, javelins, and lots of actual sh*t – “the price we pay for discovery”. By Megan Garber.

Colossal’s top 15 posts of the year are a smorgasbord of visual awesomeness

Why do cicadas emerge in 13 or 17-year pulses? Could it be to engineer populations of the birds that eat them?

Hilarious. What do you do if your interviewee throws a massive strop? Something like this. “This isn’t a Profile of Nassim Taleb” by Tom Bartlett.

Molly Crockett on how to spot neurobunk. From TED, which has hosted its fair share of neurobunk.

Saturn. Wow.

The Taliban murdered 6 vaccine workers in Pakistan, but the CIA should take some responsibility, says Maryn McKenna (who predicted this would happen months ago).

Spider builds fake spider decoys! I love that this discovery was recounted in blog post!

The lack of accepted sign language versions of scientific terms is hard for deaf students. But that’s changing.

Untested stem cell treatments are being used in cosmetics with horrible results. One woman grew bones in her eye. By Ferris Jabr.

I asked people to explain “principal component analysis” to a schoolchild, in just 140 characters. Some of the responses are fantastic.

Autism, empathy and violence: one of these things doesn’t belong here. Great piece by Emily Willingham


Maryn McKenna on the return of dengue fever to the US

On the evolution of cavities

You spend most of a day struggling over a difficult paper, and then comments like this make it all worthwhile

In a shocking twist, Brian Switek *cements* a prehistoric predator’s reputation as an effective killer. He must be unwell

We’re all genetic mosaics, and that’s good news for stem cell research.

Good idea: Nature Neuroscience introduces a methods reporting checklist

Biology is ad hoc, redundant, messy, & contingent… like bad experimental fiction” – Ann Finkbeiner

Redrawing the tree of life. How many trunks does it have? By Carl Zimmer

Pitcher Plants Entice Ants With a Water Slide of Death

This thing was sort of like a huge aquatic Komodo dragon that lived in rivers

Bursts of pressure prevent breast cancer cells from making tumours (in a flask, not in breasts!)

Nature’s top ten people who mattered in science this year

Bizarre behaviour from an editor at Nature Materials, and a great example of how the norms of internet communication are a minefield for some

Mealworms roasting on a open fire…”

That clip of an eagle snatching a baby was fake. But I love the bird expert’s comments. “Er, I think you’ll find that’s an osprey”

“The nasal microcirculation of reindeer is richly vascularised.” Hence: red

SciCurious delves into two recent studies on switching off depression-like symptoms in mice

Singing frog and ‘walking’ catfish among 126 new species discovered in Mekong basin – in pictures

Orphaned orangutans gave a good opportunity to test ideas about ape cultures

Crowds Are Not People, My Friend

Eels … helped me embrace the unnameable and get to the essence of experience, that which cannot be quantified.”

Is the scientific literature really self-correcting? It’s certainly plagued by irreproducibility… as “systemic problem built on [perverse] incentives”.

A response to the horrendous Science: It’s a Girl Thing video.

Nature’s features of the year include some of the best science writing anywhere. (Fair warning: one of them is by me.)

Google is paying the WWF $5 million to buy drones to protect African rhinos

Could electricity help to regenerate organs? One biologist is championing this long-neglected idea. Cynthia Graber’s new piece for Matter.

George Amato is trying to save wildlife with genetics, one genome at a time.

The last word spoken on the moon was “Ignition!” By Amy Shira Teitel.

Your body is probably not fit enough to go into space

Spinning threads from the slime of the absolutely revolting hagfish

NASA’s year in review. Overachievers.

Male rats take cocaine, give birth to sons who… are resistant to cocaine?

Paralysed woman takes control of robotic arm

Have the Discovery Channel really got a giant squid on video? Yes, apparently and 18 mins of HD!

New York, a graveyard for languages

A very psychological chocolate


I’m going to back up all my science writing with the Onion’s new encyclopaedia

We need to talk about Kevin: Diagnosing Home Alone burglars’ injuries

T.rex trying to tell everyone he’s choking. Poor tyrant king.

Top 25 ZooBorns of All Time. Cute overlo… never mind.

A 2-billion-pixel picture of Everest.

Amazing underwater photography. Every caption could be “Ruh-roh!”

British Problems. Amazing. I relate to so many of these.

Why the three wise men would have ended up in Botswana

Explore Tim Flach’s extraordinary animal portraits

A hard-hitting expose from Adam Rogers: giant bipedal humanoid robots are a terrible, terrible weapons platform.

A tornado of fish. Absolutely stunning images.


The Internet in North Korea: where USB sticks are tied to balloons and floated over the border, and the leader’s name appears in a slightly bigger font than anything else

Why did Boeing fly 20,000 pounds of potatoes instead of passengers?

In reaction to a silly “Internet-killed-the-Christmas-card” piece, Alexis Madrigal offers something delightful

Social media is not a profession

On the Instagram kerfuffle, and why the “What did you expect?” attitude is wrong

12 letters that didn’t make the alphabet, including thorn from the Futhark alphabet!

I am Adam Lanza’s mother”, and an interesting and reasoned response to that piece.

Google is harnessing Ray Kurzweil’s powers as an inventor and engineer, not a “sci-fi Deepak Chopra”

“Did you get into journalism to mislead or scare the hell out of people? No”

NiemanLab’s predictions for journalism in 2013. Some of these are sharp and interesting. Others say “disruptor” a lot

“Friends are the solution to everything.” A lovely lesson for the year from Robert Krulwich.

Read This Next

I’ve got your missing links right here (9 February 2013)
I’ve Got Your Missing Links Right Here (06 December 2014)
I’ve got your missing links right here (24 March 2012)

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