Top twelve picks
Sheril Kirshenbaum’s Science of Kissing is finally out. I wish I had time to write a full review, but here’s the gist: the book is one of the most accessible works of popular science I’ve read in a while. It takes a whirlwind tour through the world of kissing, from cultural studies to animal behaviour to neuroscience. Every chapter is perfectly judged for a general reader, with enough detail to stimulate the mind but without getting bogged down in anything. The prose is crisp and light-hearted but no less scholarly for it. The result is a quick, fun and informative read – a great example of taking a fascinating topic and running with it. For a taster, try this excerpt, read Razib Khan’s full review, or read Sheril’s latest piece in the New Statesman about why a kiss still outperforms a dating website.
OpenLab 2010 is here, collecting 50 of the best blog posts of the last year. I helped to judge it and I’m honoured to have an entry among the 50. It’s a great list and includes some favourites of mine from the last year by Steve Silberman, Carl Zimmer, Eric Michael Johnson, David Dobbs, Brian Switek, Deborah Blum, Emily Anthes, Christie Wilcox and PalMD. On top of that, you have posts by such illustrious folk as Phil Plait, SciCurious, Olivia Judson, Lucas Brouwers, Hannah Waters, Mo Costandi, DeLene Beeland, Darren Naish and Jason Goldman (who edited and coordinated the whole thing). It’s worth your time.
The Internet was clogged by reports of birds dying en masse and falling from the sky, followed by similar reports about fish and crabs. Google is tracking the deaths on a map. Alexis Madrigal was one of the first to point out that “it’s actually really strange how often thousands of birds die at once” and others have pointed out that these die-offs aren’t uncommon. Meanwhile, I took a shocking photo that reveals the latest tragic victim of the Aflockalypse, and the Hairpin decodes the pattern of the deaths.
What if people die because of your research? Synthetic chemist David Nichols describes how his research on psychedelic compounds has been abused — with fatal consequences. David Kroll has a great follow-up on the social responsibility of scientists.
“The placenta was neither washed nor dried.” Out-of-context science: in which science articles are badly quoted in ways that are interesting but completely meaningless
“Once upon a time, infants were quietly removed from orphanages and delivered to the home economics programs at elite U.S. colleges, where young women were eager to learn the science of mothering.” Emily Anthes investigates the story of “practice babies”.
When life DOESN’T find a way: Hannah Waters muses on the instances when living things don’t adapt.
A 10-yr-old girl becomes the youngest person to discover a supernova, the little overachiever.
Vanity Fair has a great feature by Sara Ellison about Wikileaks, and how it’s still critically dependent on mainstream media organisations. The Atlantic has a great piece on Assanage, the Guardian and the back-story behind the leaked leaks. And this excellent analysis of the Vanity Fair piece says, “”Wikileaks is like the blogosphere before it became partially integrated with traditional media.”
The now-infamous Andrew Wakefield paper on vaccines and autism has been branded as a “fraud” by the BMJ. There’s really nothing new here, but it’s a chance to look at a fascinating case study in journalism. Here are two pieces by CNN – same network, same story. One excellent broadcast interview by Anderson Cooper; one god-awful he-said-she-said report by various unidentified reporters. Meanwhile, you might as well read Brian Deer’s summary of the fraud, if you haven’t heard about it a million times already. Have a look at Seth Mnookin’s interesting pop at the BMJ for their PR burst. And Emily Willingham breaks new ground by actually asking an interesting question: Where are the two other non-retracting authors on that Wakefield paper?
“I’m not playing God!” insists bearded, thunderbolt-wielding Scientist” and other tales in Dean Burnett’s hilarious satirical roundup of 2010
“Like a Gray’s Anatomy colouring book, come to life” Google Body lets you search, zoom, rotate body parts
“Prolonged sleep deprivation, forced nudity and painful body positions… not only are these methods unethical, but the scientific basis used to validate them was flawed.” US torture techniques are based on bad science
“The larger point, though, is that there is nothing inherently mysterious about why the scientific process occasionally fails or the decline effect occurs… First, though, we have to admit that we’ve got a problem.” Jonah Lehrer mounts an able defence of his piece on the decline effect.
The loss of Arctic ice may promote hybrid marine mammals. Hey, if there’s a chance of getting narwhalruses, I’m leaving my VCR on all the time.
“When human beings decide that something tastes good, we can take them down pretty quickly.” Two creative ways to deal with invasive species: eat them (invasivorism); or turn them into shoes
“The use of dire predictions to encourage action on climate change may be backfiring and increasing doubt”, because they undermine belief in a fair world.
New and first-ever clinical guidelines for treating MRSA in hospitals and primary care, by Maryn McKenna
Please welcome excellent science journalist Claire Ainsworth to the world of blogging. Her new blog, Imago, starts off with a wonderful piece about the ecology of cheese.
“To everything there is a season. Even the sexual proclivities of butterflies.” Climate affects which sex takes the lead in sex.
Spider sex play speeds up successful mating.
Why you can or cannot pick out voices among the din of a cocktail party
Isn’t that just the way? Complex animal life explodes in diversity, then low oxygen levels in the oceans suffocates a lot of them.
Brian Switek and the Legend of the Killer Storks (and the awful truth). Meanwhile, Brian’s coverage of the Xenicibis (boxing ibis) storycoverage of the Xenicibis (boxing ibis) storycoverage of the Xenicibis (boxing ibis) story was much better than mine. Go and read that instead.
Falsifying Popper: a great piece by Jenny Rohn on whether science actually works by falsifying hypotheses. Bonus: a great comment thread
Russians first to explore Lake Vostok in Antarctica, buried for 14 million years
“The abundant borrowing of words really is an inspiring testament to the flexibility and adaptability of human languages.” Lucas Brouwers on the language tree.
Could a couple of teeth rewrite human evolutionary history? Unlikely. Nature talks to the archaeologist behind the controversial claims, who gives a fairly unimpressive response. And good on them for mentioning and linking to Brian Switek and Carl Zimmer’s excellent blogging. (See last week’s roundup for their takes)
Hunting allegedly extinct ferrets – great bit of storytelling from David Manly
“Thankfully, this story doesn’t end with the destruction of the human race.” 34000-year-old bacteria found alive.
Bambipox! A new virus discovered in white-tailed deer, and humans can catch it
Should reading be harder? Sure, as long as you don’t use Comic Sans…
Blood test for Alzheimer’s? As usual, more work to do, but this is most accurate so far
Shark conservation act becomes law. Good.
“They have the potential to be survivors.” Why it’s worth conserving deep-sea hydrothermal vents.
How will climate change affect the insurance industry? Scientific American investigates.
Nudge, nudge, wink wink… How the Government wants to change the way we think. One of the deepest articles so far on No.10’s Behavioural Insight Team
The top 10 lifeforms living on Lady Gaga; a nice hook for a story about the microbiome
Thermal imaging shows the signs of disease in Yellowstone wolves
Colin Schultz talks about 11 space missions that will make the headlines in 2011
All pieces on New Caledonian crows are basically: Here’s yet another way in which they’re awesomely clever
How you can become more powerful by literally standing tall
All you need to know about cannibalistic squid
Study claims 31.8% of retracted papers are not flagged as such on journal websites.
Maryn McKenna covers new evidence that NDM-1 (the bacterial super-resistance gene) came from India
The Daily Mash on the iPhone bug that caused the alarm to fail: “A software bug affected the rectangular nipple’s ability to effectively parent its charges, leaving them vulnerable to self-reliance for the first time since 2007… The company pledged to keep its stores open round the clock, offering advice on whether to eat vegetables and how to sit up properly like a big boy.”
The ISS passes in front of the sun for 0.9 seconds during a solar eclipse… and a guy takes the perfect photo
Surely a future IgNobel winner? Maths determines if someone could shoot their eye out with an airgun.
“I think we can safely say this is the largest jungle inside a cave in the entire world”
Want to watch 15 minutes of StarCraft II gameplay adorably narrated by a 4-year-old girl? Sure you do.
“The sword is the weapon of nerds. It’s also the weapon of schizophrenics. And, most of all, it’s the weapon of schizophrenic nerds.”
How do you present negative scientific results? An empty data table
Vulture wearing a transmitter is accused of being an Israeli spy.
Amphibious hydrocar, yours for half a million pounds.
It’s what Florence Nightingale would do, if she were rubbish. An early contender for worst news graphic of 2011
Gunther Von Hagens will contribute his own corpse to his Body Worlds exhibition. Please please please can we have a competition to choose his pose?
A gorgeous phytoplankton bloom
“Sometimes an appropriate chamber can be found on eBay, but generally it is best to make one.“ Build your own nuclear fusion reactor
The decay of Detroit. Beautiful and heartbreaking.
On this list of best/worst jobs, newspaper journalist is at #188, while stenographer is at #31. Insert you own joke here.
“Please stop writing headlines that “[X] is dead” or about “wars” between companies,” and other top wishes for media commentators in 2011.
Ivan Oransky; “Why was that paper retracted?” Journal editor: “It’s none of your damn business.”
In Canada, journalists are less trusted than chiropractors (31% vs 43%). Better than lawyers though.
ZOMGScience – a, er, new approach to science blogging. Not safe for work, or those offended by swearing.
US publisher removes the N-word and “injun” from Huckleberry Finn. Rewriting historical texts? How Orwellian.
What happens to print journalists after they lose their jobs?
Drugmonkey reflects on 2010, the year of the science blog
When caught lifting story, a Press Association news editor says, “There’s no copyright on news” It’s Cooks Source all over again.
This 11-year-old’s letter to the editor—pointing out errors in the paper—both amuses and disappoints me. She’s going to grow up into tomorrow’s comment troll.
‘Better’ beats ‘first’. The case against chasing scoops.
Go and read David Dobbs’s Best of 2010, for a great example of blog as news analysis/commentary
I wrote about a study showing that men were less sexually aroused after sniffing female tears. I was worried about rampant misogyny in mainstream coverage, but was pleasantly surprised. Except for this shocking MSNBC piece that reads like it was written by a lads’ mag reject. This sort of unacceptable bullshit is offensive to both men and women.
I signed up for Quora and I’m not quite sure why. Nonetheless, there are already pieces about whether Quora will save journalism, which means we’re weeks away from pieces saying that Quora will kill journalism, and months away from pieces saying Quora is dead. Look, it’s started already.
Congratulations to the Atlantic, which made its first profit in decades thanks to its superb web team.
Rosie Redfield launches ScienceLeaks, a site with the noble goal of giving people more access to paper, via the somewhat dubious route of copyright infringement.
This book should be interesting. An insider’s take on Wikileaks, written by Daniel Domscheit-Berg, a former spokesman who fell out with Assange.