I’ve got your missing links right here (25 August 2012)

Top picks

US politician Todd Akin, who sits on the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, thinks that women have magical wilfully-deployed vagina venom that can stop them being pregnant if they’re raped. This horror, and the ensuing discussion, threw up a lot of excellent, but hard-going, material that’s well worth your time. Do read it: This is a very important issue. Trigger warnings, obviously.

The news that fathers pass on more genetic mutations to their children as they age was widely reported, but a tough story. The problem is that there are 3 separate issues here that almost everyone mushed together, but needed to be parsed out. 1) What’s the risk of passing mutations to child? 2) What’s the risk that those mutations would lead to conditions like autism? 3) What’s the connection to the incidence of said conditions? Absolute numbers and comparisons to other sources of genetic variation would be helpful. Otherwise, you get panicked middle-aged men worrying that they’ve shot their partners up with autism sperm. Or something. Ewen Callaway’s coverage at Nature was good, and Virginia Hughes totally nailed it: we have no clue how much autism this explains. The BBC, meanwhile, flubbed it with the headline “Older dads linked to rise in mental illness”, which was then changed to the less offensive but no less dodgy “Older dads linked to rise in genetic disorders”

The Brainmaker: profile of Yoshiki Sasai, a tissue engineer who has grown parts of an eye and a brain in a dish

Squid camouflage cells pulsate to the tune of Cypress Hill. Insane! In the membrane!

This is such a great image, well-narrated: picture the energy of the world as a giant waterfall, says Ollie Morton.

Bacterium on a diatom on an amphipod! Amazing.

Curiosity’s dirty little secret: How a Russian nuke factory supplied the fuel for the rover. By Geoff Brumfiel.

A drug used to kill fungi can slow the growth of tumors. Carl Zimmer on how we can use evolution to hunt for drugs

Three Ways of Looking at the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. Me: Don’t lie to ppl for “engagement.”

Did you know some butterflies can see with their butts? More examples of bizarre animal sight

George Church creates a 70-million-strong print run of his new book… in DNA. Because he’s George Church and he can.

Massive congrats to Seth Mnookin, who won an NASW Science in Society Journalism award for his book on the autism-vaccination scare: The Panic Virus. Read it, if you haven’t already. Some superb journalism, right there.

Peer review is a cinch when your peer reviewers are you under sockpuppet accounts!! Possibly the craziest Retraction Watch story yet!

Hi-res video footage shows proteins shuttling in and out of a single neuron.Curiosity leaves behind its makers’ signature with every roll of its wheels. Which is just fab.

“The Solar System consists of the Sun, Jupiter, and assorted rubble.”

Stop using the phrase “living fossil“. Kthxbai. By Brian Switek.

Scientists give helium to gibbons for kicks SCIENCE. Can we just give helium to all animals? And make a TV series? Life on Helium, narrated by David Attenborough? Who will be on helium?

Does Self-Awareness Require a Complex Brain? By Ferris Jabr

Emma Marris on how to annoy E. O. Wilson. Great piece on two contrasting views on conservation.

The BMJ argues that pharma’s innovation crisis is a fiction. Derek Lowe piledrives that argument into the mat



“The latest twist in the origin-of-life tale is double helical.”

Sea slugs engage in stab-sex more often than is strictly necessary

We’ve discovered a new lizard speci… never mind

Gizmodo learns about IPS cells six years late, and explodes in a burst of hype and fail.

This 15-year-old apparently invented a cancer detection method that looks for a biomarker. Sadly, he oversells it, which means he’ll fit right into the biomarker field.

Immortal Chemist” software links all known chemical compounds & reactions into one giant network

Chris Goodall on Matt Ridley’s “doom-laden warnings about human susceptibility to doom-laden warnings”

Excellent, somewhat mixed, review of Sebastian Seung’s new book on the connectome, by Mo Costandi.

We Can Save the World by Eating Bugs and Drinking Urine. Counterpoint: screw the world!

Paper reporting fossil cheetah retracted. It was a fake made of plaster, plastic, and random bones

French lake turns blood red. High salt content kills shrimp & releases the red algae they eat

Scientists say that octopuses are conscious. Octopuses presumably knew that already

The science of bad neuroscience: a lecture by Dorothy Bishop.

One of the most heavily studied variants in psychological genetics doesn’t actually do anything

Brain damage increases appeal of misleading advertising. Maybe “neuro-marketers” will next lobotomize the consumer?

Did Komodo dragons evolve to eat pygmy elephants?

Guardian of Ocean Life, Armed With Pen and Brush: a profile of Peter Ellis.

Oh no worries. Just a squid with terrifying hooks at the tips of its tentacles. Don’t have nightmares or anything

Cities are using nature to cut pollution – the rise of Green infrastructure

The Innocence Project says that forensic investigation needs more science

Glowing South American cockroaches mimic toxic beetles. As Jess Zimmerman points out, they look like Jawas.

Cobra bites Nepalese man; man bites cobra

Lampreys purge 20% of genome from most cells. That’ll be the fraction that codes for mercy, then.

Why do estimates of the size of dinosaurs vary so wildly?

The war on parasites from the point of view of a bird and an extinct dinosaur

The crisis of fraud and poor replicability in social psychology prompts the SPSP to… er… form a committee and organise a symposium. Right. Well done, folks. Daniel Simons isn’t best pleased

Why it’s difficult to tickle ourselves

Science writing: not like this. 3 paragraphs of build-up then quantumsomethinglookoverthere!

What do tool-making bonobos tell us about our own origins? Good coverage by Brandon Keim, and Sue Savage-Rumbaugh addresses the most important point here.

Brandon Keim profiles discipline-hopping scientist Erez Aiden

Behold this cascade of crap science. Last year, a paper said that countries w/ more Toxoplamsa gondii infection (a brain parasite transmitted through cat faeces) have more brain cancer, which is a completely useless result for the reasons I outlined here. Now, a 2nd team refutes it by saying brain cancer rates are same in cat owners and non-cat owners. Which it itself pointless, since cat ownership doesn’t actually correlate well with T.gondii infection – eating contaminated meat is more important. So this is a case of refuting a useless study with an irrelevant study. Everyone punches themselves in the face. I facepalm.

A Transparency Index for sci publishing? Interesting idea from founders of Retraction Watch.

Interesting debate on the word “neurotypical” to mean “not autistic”.

Regular readers will know of my undying love for The Atlantic’s tech blogging. Their health coverage, however, is fricking atrocious. This, for example: “Eggs Are Nearly as Bad for Your Arteries as Cigarettes“? Here’s Cassandra Willyard with a great take down.

A curious incident of a deceased giraffe has reopened the question of whether animals mourn their dead

Gloves turn hand gestures into speech.

Seminal fluid from boars, rabbits, and stallions, for example, induced ovulation in female llamas.”

Incredible mimicry: New species wants you to See No Weevil

University lab tech “found drunk and partially nude,” two monkeys out of cages

More cool mimicry: a ladybug-mimicking spider

NASA vaporised a rock on another planet with its laser-wielding, plutonium-hearted science lab

“You DARE to discover ME?” New owl discovered in Philippines

The first steps towards a modern system of scientific publication: with pre-print servers

First evidence for photosynthesis – or something a bit like it – in insects?

A modern-day Phineas Gage: Iron bar removed from builder’s head

Trogloraptor – a newfound cave spider with wicked clawed legs

Birth control for men edges closer – Researchers make male mice reversibly infertile without using hormones.

So, NASA, what’s up with all the peanuts? Amy Shira Teitel gives a fascinating & surprisingly historical answer



The evolutionary history of dragons, illustrated by a scientist

Naked Darth Vader” is the most bizarre science press release we’ve ever seen

Rolling in the Higgs – an a capella video.

How to separate eggs with a water bottle. WHAT FRESH SORCERY IS THIS?

Onion’s really cutting deep at the moment: Nation Celebrates Full Week Without Deadly Mass Shooting. With unfortunate update.

WOW: Armed with ballpoint pens, Russian Portuguese artist creates portraits that look like photographs

The Top 10 Most CAPS LOCKED Tweeted Words form a hilarious sentence.

The Doomba – a weaponised Roomba

My wife bought this for me. Essential freelancer tool

Gorgeous shot of a school of cownose rays.

Gorgeous photos of lightning strikes

7 buildings that appear to defy the laws of physics

Scientists Teach Chimpanzee To Conduct 3-Year Study On Primates

I’d quite like to sit inside a skull

“It’s still unclear what the HuffPo’s thing actually is but apparently it’s like the future of journalism or something”



Samsung owes Apple over $1bn. “We’ll have continuous updates as the court goes through the 700+ items in the verdict form,” says Wired. I dive off the nearest cliff.

Techcrunch reacts to an embargo break in the most childish, toys-out-of-pram way. Killing a story for the sake of 12 hrs? Grow up.

“The braille edition of Playboy is a popular item…” No, really. For the articles

Yesterday, we found out what’s inside this mystery package from 1912. In the end: “F**king newspapers.” And a scarf.

All the words in Cormac McCarthy’s novels. (pdf)

How to succeed in journalism when you can’t afford an internship.

Here’s the so-called journalist who utterly fluffed his duty and failed to call Akin out.

Xenu’s beard! Scientologists have tricked their way into primary schools posing as drugs campaigners

“At first I was literally writing “Science, science, science” in the dialogue” – Joss Whedon.

Is the home page dying? Do most people burst in through the windows?

America: where many f**ks were given

On Aug 18, 2012, Delta gave in to fears of bigots and refused to let a man board a flight because of his T-shirt

Do you wanna be the authorial equivalent to McDonald’s? On the bulls**t of brands, platforms & products

Newsweek admits it has no fact-checking. At all. Ta-Nehisi Coates explains why this is bad

Niall Ferguson says his reputation isn’t undermined by the fact that his Newsweek cover piece on Obama is full of errors, which is the sort of made-up tripe you’d now expect him to say

David Carr on Lehrer, Zakaria and other journalists dancing on the edge of truth

Cropped photo of Swedish Playboy model is probably the most widely used for testing image processing algorithms

Twitter is often wrong, as are you


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