I’ve got your missing links right here (4 June 2011)

First, a book recommendation

Unnatural Selection by Mara Hvistendahl is this year’s Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks.

I don’t say that lightly, and I don’t simply mean that it is a great book. This is a story that needs to be told. It’s the story of the incredible bias in sex ratio in Asia and Eastern Europe. It’s the story of the selective abortion of female foetuses that has led to the disappearance of 160 million women and girls, a number greater than the entire female population of the US. It’s the story of the origins of sex-selective abortion, a practice that has its roots, not in the typical culprits of cultural bias and old traditions, but in rising wealth, Western influence and new technology.

Hvistendahl goes round the world, talking to the people affected by this issue, from the demographer who realised that something was wrong to the young doctor who performs the abortions to the Vietnamese bride trafficked to fulfil the desires of a man in a womanless world. Her writing is vivid and tight, and her reportage is first-class. This is one of the finest reads of the year.

Top eleven picks

‘Duh’ science: Why researchers spend so much time proving the obvious

This For Now: a promising new blog by Blake Hunsicke, largely about space, starting w/ a 5-part exploration of China’s space programme

The arsenic-bacteria story creates a blogger out of Steven Benner, who writes beautifully about the perils of cross-disciplinary science

To mark 30 yrs of AIDS, @marynmck tells the story of Wayne X. Shandera, the man who first alerted the world to HIV, along with continuing excerpts from her old book.

Top reporting on the mysterious new E.coli strain that’s causing problems in Germany, by Marian Turner. The same strain sequenced in 3 days by a desktop DNA decoder; also read Matthew Herper’s great piece on the man behind the decoder. And is the “new” strain really new? Mike the Mad Biologist doesn’t think so after analysing the data himself. Tara Smith chips in too.

Science asks authors to retract XMRV-chronic fatigue sydnrome paper; when they refuse, issue Expression of Concern. Carl Zimmer talks about the virus’s de-discovery and Nature asks about the state of chronic fatigue research in life after XMRV.

Amazing story: pensioners offer to clean up Fukushima, saying they’ll die anyway before they get cancer

Archive of Scientific Illustration. Beautiful. Interesting

Jon Ronson on how to spot a psychopath & the world’s first ever marathon nude LSD-fuelled psychotherapy session

For anyone confused by the WHO announcement about mobile phones and cancer, here’s my long explainer on what the announcement means, and the science to date, written as part of my day job (and a radio interview with me on the same topic).


A good interview from Maggie Koerth-Baker on risk, safety & public communication

German police train vulture detectives to find bodies. “…experiment raises ethical concerns because of risk that a vulture could start pecking at a dead body”

“Listen… did the Americans land on Mars? Or is this you with your experiment?” 1 yr into a Mars simulation

The human brain runs on conflict by David Eagleman

Jo Marchant on how gender stereotypes are affecting sexual conflict research

The increasingly empty plains of Masai Mara, and why the future of conservation may rest with unprotected lands, by Hillary Rosner

Porpoiseless slaughter. Californian dolphin gang caught killing porpoises

Brazil approves a controversial dam that could displace 40,000 indigenous people – see this heartbreaking photo

“Much research is conducted for reasons other than the pursuit of truth” – a great piece by John Ioannidis

Take a look at the world’s oldest mathematical object

Social Newtwork? Frogs Reunited? Social network launched to save amphibians

This is you in all your frustratingly irrational glory.

Despite worst global recession for 80 yrs, 2010 saw highest carbon emissions in history

Germany to end all nuclear power by 2022. Er, and in their place?

“If people are told free will doesn’t exist, their brains might follow suit.”

“To my knowledge, however, there’s only one time in history when bird dung caused a war.”

Really good summary of recent study on “autism genes” by the Neuroskeptic.

Excellent Ben Goldacre piece on silencing children who recognise bad science

Shock School’ for Autistic Children Should Be Shuttered

A pterosaurs’ crest is good for steering

Weird. Narcissists’ perceptions of how others see them are more accurate than their perceptions of themselves

Passive aggression: Parasitic wasp larvae interfere with each other via their host’s host plant

Good Jesse Bering piece on race, beauty and dubious science

It’s silly to say this will tell you your life length.” Liz Blackburn on Life Length’s telomere test.

World’s first alternative medicine prof Edzard Ernst reflects on his journey from homeopath to sceptic

Support wind farms? It would be less controversial to argue for blackouts, says George Monbiot

So how DO you diagnose autism? By Dorothy Bishop

Scientists argue against conclusion that bacteria consumed Deepwater Horizon methane

Validation of Dunbar’s Number In Twitter Conversations – human brain limits number of friends to 150

‘Minority Report’ like pre-crime detector secretly tested in northeastern America


Amputee creates a tattoo that makes his shoulder become a dolphin.

The staircase one! Want want want WANT! Seriously cool bookshelves

George Lucas, held captive for many years, returns to take on the impostor who made those prequels.

Chinese teenager sold kidney for iPad2. iPad2 less good at filtering fluids

Penguin-huddling, seen at high speed

Invoking Superman led to longer delays…”

Guy makes a slingshot rifle that fires circular saw blades.

Acupuncture trials are “equivalent of mapping the DNA of pixies or conducting a geological study of Narnia.”

Rastafarians could help cure arachnophobia. Because, er, they look a bit like spiders. sil

Neurosurgery with a cordless drill and other insane DIY surgeries you won’t believe actually worked


Google Correlate blows my mind

Alone & begging for death – the end of Mladic’s 11 years on the run http://reut.rs/lSxjXu

How do you go on living after your family is brutally murdered? A harrowing tale, told in reverse chronology

21 authors advise Steve Silberman on how to write a book. An essential list.

In which Nadia el-Awaddy takes off her hijab and rediscovers her high-school self

Here’s what the new NYT exec editor Jill Abramson had to say on science journalism and blogs in 2009

Glick’s piece about the death of the news article is more a prediction that the length distribution of news will go bimodal

Malaysian blogger made to tweet 100 apologies in defamation lawsuit:

Great Moments in Science Writing: The Alpha Cavewoman Fiasco.

No echoing the echo chamber – great John Hawks post on communication and information diversity.