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Spotted links – 4th September 2010

News

This week’s must-read piece is an interview by Steve Silberman – the first post of his new blog no less – with Oliver Sacks, a neurologist and excellent writer in his own right. Learn about the incredible hallucinations that followed Sacks’ bout with cancer in his eye. This is what happens when a journalist who does their research gets the best out of an interviewee who’s a consummate storyteller.

“She stays feminine all the way from the lungs up to the glottis and is neutered only when she reaches the tip of the tongue.” A brilliant NYT piece on how language shapes the way we think, which scores extra points for the beautiful writing.

Last week, Harvard researchers published a paper in Nature that slammed the value of helping relatives in explaining the evolution of selfless behaviour. Carl Zimmer has the best take on the study yet. Meanwhile, scientists are falling over themselves to criticise the paper. Jerry Coyne accuses them of wilful ignorance. And over at Wired, biologists compete to see who can get the pithiest smackdown in. William Hughes wins with, “Previously I always had a nagging concern that maybe Wilson had thought of something that everyone else had missed… Having read this paper, I’m now quite confident that’s not the case.”

Jennifer Ouellette on mucus, slime, hagfish, Ghostbusters and Buffy. It’s the usual mix of cool science, pop culture and great writing that we’ve all come to expect.

Can a study that opens the brains of worms open a can of worms about brains? Yes, says Carl Zimmer

Sigh. I really want to like the BBC but then they write about a “double space strke” that “caused dinosaur extinction”, which led to this and this, and explains why I think this.

Then again, Matt Walker is a shining bastion of quality in the middle of the BBC. Here he is on wild chimps outwitting human hunters by deactivating snares.

Were ancient Nubians dosing up on antibiotic beer?

This video of self-organising muscle fibres in Wired just blew my mind. They look like bird flocks.

More after the jump…

One headline reads “Doing Puzzles ‘Could Speed Up Dementia.’” Another, “Brain Exercise Helps Stave Off Dementia.” 80 Beats looks at how both headlines came from the same study.

Two ant genomes were published in Science last week. Alex Wild makes the great point that the paper had only 16 authors! That’s ridiculous!

“For centuries scientists routinely straightened the tails of mosasaur fossils in their reconstructions,” writes Brian Switek in the Guardian. But the truth is much… kinkier.

Is this whale melancholic, alone and increasingly sad, or simply a grumpy hermit muttering obscenities to itself? A heartbreaking tale in 52 Hertz, by John Rennie. Just give in to the anthromorphism, just this one.

City landscapes could draw hurricanes, the big cyclone-teases.

We found that there is a pretty strong genetic predisposition to not reply to surveys.” Or, how to turn a cool result out of your dismal participation rate…

The bedbug: “international arthropod of mystery.”

REVERSAL! Lava flows preserve evidence of superfast flip of Earth’s magnetic poles, by Alex Witze

Flattery will get you nowhere, if by “get you nowhere” you mean “make clever people stupid”. What computers teach us about emotion.

Carl Zimmer just can’t be beaten when it comes to creating vivid, evocative, brutally short descriptions. Here he calls coral reefs “the ocean’s superorganism”.

How to define mental health when “only 23% of the population are without symptoms of personality disorder”? Provocative stuff from Vaughan Bell.

Are cephalopods (squids, octopuses, cuttlefish etc.) conscious? A superb series by Mike Lisieski

Climate ‘sceptic’ Bjorn Lomborg declared global warming as a “one of the chief concerns facing the world today”.  Howard Friel writes in the Guardian that “This is the lipstick, but the pig is still a pig.”

Meanwhile the Economist reports on potential shake-ups at the IPCC.

I’m not as think as you drunk I am. Why people are crap at estimating each other’s drunkenness, by BPS Research Digest

Talk about shaky ground! Seismologists are being threatened with criminal charges for not predicting deadly quakes.

SciCurious talks about PCR, a technique that shouldn’t work and why it actually does

It’s not exactly brain surge… Oh wait, it’s exactly that. Bronze age brain surgery, no less. Jo Marchant reports.

“Like the tales of Japanese soldiers found deep in jungles unaware that the war has ended, they seem to exist in a sort of jungle of misunderstanding” Martin Robbins on journalists covering MMR scares

There is no science writer who ties scientific discourse into real-world events better than Jonah Lehrer. Here he is on Chilean miners.

You are about to read a discussion on Satoshi Kanazawa’s writing. Place a cushion behind your head so your rolling eyes don’t cause whiplash.

Hurts so good. SciCurious on the distracting neuroscience of self-harm.

Nature has a great piece on the study about rewriting evolutionary history, which I also covered.

Evan Harris on sex education, STIs and objectification of women

Concrete reinforced with steel is common. Concrete reinforced with bacteria is awesome.

Oh dear. Fear of falling puts you at high risk of falling, regardless of actual risk. Vulnerable but stoically oblivious people had low risk.

The death of Cedric the Tasmanian devil is a big blow – find out why on the Great Beyond blog

LSD vs OCD – psychedelic drugs for mental illness by Mo Costandi

Want to check your genome on your iPhone? There’s an app for that… (soon)

“The results of two experiments supported the hypothesis that, for sexist men, exposure to sexist humor can promote the behavioral release of prejudice against women.”

What happens when a deaf man has Tourette’s? He signs obscenities, according to Emily Anthes

“Unlike infectious diseases and news, behavior change spreads faster through online networks that have many close connections instead of many distant ties,” writes Jess McNally in Wired.

Heh/wow

You don’t want to know about the animal labelled #10 – the long line under the whale.

Live tiger found among bag full of stuffed tigers. “Did you pack this bag yourself, sir?”

Spider 1: man 0

Imagine Sean Connery saying “Tsetse flies spread sleeping sickness”. Now watch this awesome video from the Wellcome Trust about the tsetse: a fly with the life cycle of a mammal. It’s godawfully techy and the money shot at 4:22 is interrupted by the break between the videos but you have to see it.

The tripod fish walks on stilts. I’ve known about it since I was a kid but thanks to Deep Sea News, I now know *why* it has a tripod

The world’s most useless Wikipedia page.

The Guardian had a silly poll about Stephen Hawking. My response.

Facebook has become self-aware and it’s out for flesh.

A wonderfully sublime piece of scientific writing by Ann Finkbeiner. This came out of nowhere, making me smile.

This is what a hurricane looks like from space

Journalism/blogging/internet

As I mentioned on Friday, TWO new blogging networks launched last week, from the Guardian and PLoS. This is going to be a lot of fun.

“But here’s the simple truth: If someone wants to sue you, they can. Easily, too,” writes Amy Wallace, about her experience getting sued by anti-vaccination loons.

Alexis Madrigal talks about Longshot, the magazine he co-founded, whose latest issue was put together in 2 days! I love his musings on the things that make paper great.

Alice Bell talks about taking science journalism upstream. “That probably sounds dirtier than it should.”

“The history of Web linking has been a long chronicle of controversies we didn’t need to have,” bemoans Scott Rosenberg, in the final part of this fantastic trilogy defending links. Read this.

The first season of Inside Nature’s Giants is on YouTube. This splendid series features a team of geeks dissecting a giraffe, elephant, crocodile and whale in a lecture theatre, talking about their anatomy and evolution. It has no right to be as incredible as it is. Watch the pure unadulterated joy of knowledgeable, eloquent people talking about what they love and cutting. It. Up.

Those who can, teach. Alom Shaha on science communication and why “I don’t want to see science become something that people “believe” is important and cool and sexy without understanding why.”

“Google made it harder for editors/writers to defend responsible linking.” Scott Rosenberg continues his able defence of links, looking at “how business linking can ruin the experience of reading on the Web”

If the web is “robbing us of the ability to think critically”, imagine what Nicholas Carr was like before. Once again, a tribute to anecdotes, confirmation bias, and selective reading of the literature.

Skeptics are often great, but sometimes they’re not. Here’s a list of the way in which they’re not.

Jay Rosen provides more food for thought about journalism-in-transition, over at the Economist

Jennifer Ouellette’s book – Calculus Diaries – is out now! Go get it.

7 thoughts on “Spotted links – 4th September 2010

  1. Ehi, the “missing link” title was so catchy, why did you switch to “spotted links”?
    ***
    About Wilson and Nowak’s paper on (that is, against) kin selection I would also suggest this page from Richard Dawkins’ website where two interesting discussions on the subject (one authored by Dawkins himself) can be accessed and downloaded:
    http://richarddawkins.net/discussions/510757-how-not-to-think-about-kin-selection
    They’re both from the ’70s, but still worth reading imho
    ***
    On the seismologists threatened with criminal charges for not predicting quakes: sigh, another shame for Italy. I tried to forgot it, many thanks for reminding me
    ***
    As usual you link far more than I can read, even though (almost) all seems so interesting, damn you Ed Yong
    [At least I had already seen the chimp vs traps video (beginning of a real planet of the apes? who cares, go chimps) and read Zimmer’s article on nervous systems]

  2. Aha. *Finally* figured out that any writer of non-fiction who is described as a “consummate storyteller” is someone I am probably going to have a lot of difficulty reading.

    Thanks for accidentally setting off the belated figuring-out, I sort of knew it, as usual just didn’t know how to phrase it. And it’s about the existence of atypical brains, not a judgment on consummate storytellers.

  3. I like the title ‘spotted links’ since it is a double pun: spotted as in links that you noticed and as in spotted lynx, the wild cat, whose name sounds like links. So clever!

  4. There’s something rather odd about some of the crappy recent BBC articles – they were written by Howard Falcon Lang who is a very fine palaeontologist (and no stranger to having his work publicised in the media) and has been on some sort of media fellowship thing over the summer. You’d think he’d know better. Or perhaps his media training has involved being told to come up with these stupid angles on stories.

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