I’ve got your missing links right here – 25th December 2010

(Merry Christmas everyone)

Top ten picks

Rise of the Denisovians – Carl Zimmer on the new group of ancient humans, identified through a pinky and a molar. The group are cousins of the Neanderthals, belonging to a lineage that split off from them about 400,000 years ago. They also interbred with some early humans, and some of their genes turn up in modern Melanesians. John Hawks has a must-read FAQ on the discovery, Razib Khan has a very detailed and contextual take on the paper’s implications, and Zimmer reports back with some interesting dissentA brief history of science and journalism, two disciplines that diverged and are now reconnecting, ably narrated by Bora Zivkovic.

Last year, US scientists suggested that the mouse virus XMRV could cause chronic fatigue syndrome, and ever since, labs have largely failed at replicating the results. Now, four new papers by independent international labs all come to the same conclusion: XMRV doesn’t cause CFS.

The real 12 stages of a lunar eclipse – a scoop by John Rennie. Number 6 is “Intrusion of strange dimensions” and number 8 is “Cthulhu”.

Science writing done right. Nature’s top 10 features for 2010. This includes some of my favourites, including Virginia Hughes on fMRI, Brendan Maher’s sabotage expose and David Adams’s interview with Phil Jones. Nature also follows up on last year’s top stories to find out what happened next.

“I think maybe it has something to do with that there was some hype.” Felisa Wolfe-Simon – she of arsenic bacteria fame – gives an exclusive interview to Elizabeth Pennisi of ScienceNOW about the paper and the backlash.

Babies as young as seven months old may be able to take into account the thoughts and beliefs of other people,” reports Janelle Weaver. I know plenty of adults who can’t do this…

“Deep in a cave in the forests of northern Spain are the remains of a gruesome massacre.“  Carl Zimmer describes a cave where a Neanderthal family was slaughtered by cannibals. Ann Gibbons discusses the social side of the discovery. “It’s similar to what you would find if you went to a wedding and sampled the people in the wedding party. If you sample 12 people in the street, you would never find so many people with the same mtDNA.”

Steve Silberman had some brilliant coverage of the new placebo study that I wrote about, setting it into context and interviewing one of the authors. PalMD and Orac have their own more critical takes.

The juxtaposition of this post and these ads are either great or unfortunate depending on how you look at it. Likewise for these two main stories.

A video of rotating Jupiter, taken FROM THE GROUND. Phil Plait just blew my teeny mind.


Discoblog’s 10 weirdest science stories of the year… including THAT immaculate conception

John Rennie and Carl Zimmer take on Ray Kurzweil’s Singularity predictions while the man himself responds to one of Rennie’s earlier pieces.

Mary Carmichael versus the “genes don’t matter” camp. Environmental determinism is a new one on me.

Alom Shaha on the wonderful Blackawton bees story – with some great comments.

The day after life almost died. Fossil hunters uncover complete 252m year-old underwater world.

The arsenic story rumbles onward. Zachary Knight disputes the chemistry, describing Wolfe-Simon’s response as “impressive logical contortions”.

Trust in climate science declines with days exposed to Fox News

A quarter of DNA was born by 2.8 billion yrs ago

Scientists study the movements of the black ghost knifefish using a robot. Other animal taxa: the black ghost knifefish laughs at your feeble common names

Daniel Cressey discusses a wonderful piece of forensic genetics – the tale of the mysterious mouse’s tail.

A great feature on embodied cognition, one of my favourite psychological topics.

A Qatari team discover new planet and name it Qatar-1.

Using ultrasound to study the click sounds of African languages.

Brian Switek on the abundantly vegetarian relatives of Tyrannosaurus and Velociraptor

Who needs structure, anyway? A tiny, mucus-covered animal shatters assumptions about genome architecture

Mandarin speakers are more likely than English ones to think about time vertically (earlier times above and later times below)

Depressing. Science names a quantum computing paper as the “Breakthrough of the Year”. The first author is pleased, intends to leave science for finance.

Drinking, smoking, taking prescription meds or failing to eat a balanced diet can influence the health of men’s future children. Emily Anthes on epigenetics.

New genes arise quickly, even essential ones.

BPS Research Digest on “paralysis deniers”.

“Variation is the real norm” Kate Clancy says, “I don’t have a 28 day menstrual cycle & neither should you”

Did astronomer’s religion cost him a job? Nice summary of the case at 80Beats.

The Parasite of the Day blog is almost done with its 365-strong set. Check out the 12 Parasites of Christmas

Mobile phone radiation linked to people jumping to conclusions, by Matt Parker

Brandon Keim covers the story about female chimps treating sticks as dolls (which I did too), and raises the idea that the similarities with human play are just cultural convergence – two behaviours that arose independently but look the same. Smart analytical journalism.

WordLens – the augmented reality app that translates text on the fly – apparently does so very badly. Shame.

Would you eat soylent green? No, seriously, would you?

African elephants are two distinct species

Maggie Koerth-Baker celebrates the 72nd anniversary o the coelocanth’s rediscovery. Why 72nd? Because we coelacanth.

According to the latest Gallup poll, the situation with creationist belief in the US has gone from unfeasibly bad to merely unfathomably bad

“We should always be willing to question the outcomes of science, but we should be even more willing to question ourselves.” Another response to Jonah Lehrer’s New Yorker piece.

Religious people are out-reproducing secular ones. Jesse Bering discusses God’s little rabbits, with a great intro story.

Nature reports on the IPCC’s ad for a new communications chief – the toughest job in the world?

Jennifer Frazer on amazing giant ocean viruses.

Lena Groeger on the public understanding of genetics

Have a look at Brendan Maher’s top 5 long reads of 2010 – the man has taste


SILLY Bias – when people fail to realise that BMJ Christmas articles are meant to be funny satire

Say hi to WTF, the CIA’s new Wikileaks Task Force. Coming soon: the Leaks Obviation League

“I find my courage where I can, but I take my weapons from science.” XKCD is wonderful when poignant.

“I have a fleet of flying robots, ranging from very small ones that are similar to the micro-aerial vehicles being developed in labs today.“An augmented reality app for colour blindness on iPhone and Android

The Guardian’s ace science reporter Alok Jha scores an exclusive interview with Santa.

Swan lake: a photo that I took on a wintry walk

More ngram fun: a great one about the growing nature of human ambition; an odd 20-year oscillation for ‘child’; and the rise of Big Science

Santa and his reindeer, off their faces on shrooms – a modern mycological myth about the origins of Santa

New ruins push back origin of ruins by LOADS

An amazing image of a massive cave dwarfing a puny explorer.

‘Merry Xmas’ written in silicon atoms in a 100 nm square

Now you too can hang dread Cthulhu from your Christmas tree


Daily Mash: “We have reached the point where the best journalist in Britain may actually be Noel Edmonds.” Heh.


“The Wikileaks Cablegate scandal is the most exciting and interesting hacker scandal ever.” Bruce Sterling on Assange and Wikileaks


Google now analyses search results according to reading ease. Using this tool, it seems that says my writing has simplified over time, from my WordPress days to my ScienceBlogs incarnation to the current Discover one.

The Daily Mail’s Wikileaks ‘revelation’ about Muslim students is their own 2008 story. Hell is being trapped in a recursive loop of Mail stories.

A new Infographics magazine. Unsurprisingly, it’s quite nicely designed.

Salvation! Listings for journalism jobs go up 25% over 15mths

The Atlantic reports on the dispute about a chronic lyme disease article at the Chicago Tribune, involving PalMD and other bloggers, Paul Raeburn from the Knight Science Journalism Tracker and Pamela Weintraub from Discover Magazine. The latter provides “a rather stunning confusion of means and ends.”

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