A Blog by

I’ve Got Your Missing Links Right Here (5 September 2015)

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Top picks

By me in the Atlantic, this week: The $1 foldable, pocket microscope; the phantom road that shows how traffic noise affects birds, and the animal that’s a colony of living jet engines with a shared nervous system.

I visited Micropia, Amsterdam’s microbe museum, and wrote about it for the New Yorker

An incredible year-long investigation from Bryan Christy shows how ivory poaching funds terrorism.

Brooke Borel on the hidden challenge faced by marijuana growers: a regulatory tangle that deprives them of good pesticides

“The world’s longest yard sale runs for nearly 700 miles along a vertical line connecting Alabama & Michigan”. By Helen Rosner.

RIP Oliver Sacks. Here’s Robert Krulwich’s moving tribute

Their village is going to be swept away, but the people of Newtok, Alaska have nowhere to go. By Alana Semuels

The Summer That Never Was – not a whine about the weather, but a rather beautiful lament about hope and expectations

A vaccinated man has been shedding virulent polio for 28 years. What does this mean for eradication? By Maryn McKenna

Why are there fish 8,370 metres below the ocean surface but none at 8,400 metres? By Rebecca Helm

“It’s just this kind of situation that prompted Scotland Yard to form a team of super-recognizers.” By Erika Engelhaupt.

What To Do When Someone Gives You A Giant Squid: Call in a bunch of favours and buy loads of rubber gloves, basically. By Hayley Campbell



Internal replications aren’t the solution to the replication crisis in psychology

Chimp that attacked a drone with a stick planned ahead

New journal aims to publish from ‘all stages of the research cycle’.

The bizarre beasts living in Romania’s poison cave

Pre-registering big drug trials resulted in fewer drugs having a positive effect.

Join the Club – How Ankylosaurs Evolved Their Formidable Tails

Can the Chinese Government Get Its People to Like GMOs?

Mice fed a diet high in saturated fat show shifts in their gut microbes and develop obesity-related inflammation.

“All normal sensory perception in humans is hallucinations constrained by sensory input.”

Weaver ants as biological control agents outperform pesticides

Mental illness flooded into New Orleans as the storm waters receded.”

Three cheers for the pink Galapagos land iguana

One of the great debates in neuroscience: are all neurodegenerative diseases caused by prions?

The Oliver Sacks reading list

Six will enter, one will leave (this year-long NASA experiment)

Rare diseases emerge from decades of neglect.

Found: 2.6 trillion trees

Why don’t elephants explode? Why don’t giant shrews exist?

Coffee bats, farm chimps, and other wild animals making do in developed habitats

Genome editing has huge potential but we need an open-ended ethical debate: a statement from funders

Intellectually disabled people often get antipsychotics in absence of mental illness

Extinct toad got better

First new prion disease for 50 yrs? Cool, but also PNAS Contributed paper. Outside commenters are sceptical

Seabirds are vital to the health of the oceans. 90% of them are filled with plastic.

Stunning microscope images of live cells doing their thing, and a profile of the scientist who invented the scope in question



All the things we apparently hate

Beautiful photos of birds catching fish

A live interview, interrupted by a blue whale

IAU: ‘ice-age unit’. A cool idea from XKCD



Google Shot the Serif.

“My first reaction was despair. My second was: My son sleeps just like that.” On the migrant crisis

Harry Potter and the Phantom Menace

Title: **** Nuance. Abstract: Seriously, **** it

India’s stepwells: “an entire category of architecture slipping off history’s grid”

“He’s known in some circles as the guy who can save bits of history right before they disappear.”

A Blog by

I’ve Got Your Missing Links Right Here (29 August 2015)

Sign up for The Ed’s Up—a weekly newsletter of my writing plus some of the best stuff from around the Internet.


Top picks

Read the New Yorker’s devastating Hiroshima story from 1946, of six ordinary lives, brutally interrupted.

Here’s David Attenborough saying a blue whale’s heart is the size of a car. Which is not true.

Aatish Bhatia and Robert Krulwich have started a new blog together. It’s called Noticing. It’ll be great.

Talking on the phone stopped being enjoyable because the experience of talking on the phone fundamentally changed. By Ian Bogost.

There’s a version of Turkish in which all the syllables have been converted into piercing whistles. By Michelle Nijhuis.

Torture doesn’t work; so, what does? Peter Aldhous a fascinating look at the science of interrogation.

A story about corn wars between the USA and China, featuring spies smuggling corn kernels

Christie Aschwanden synthesises the ongoing fraud and irreproducibility crises in science.

Sandcastles built as if “Antoni Gaudi had designed the fictional island of Laputa in a dream.” By Adrienne LaFrance

How Big Pharma used feminism to get the “Female Viagra” approved. Great story by Azeen Ghorayshi. Meanwhile, Jen Gunter reports that the safety of this women-only drug was based on tests of 23 men and 2 women.

Emily Willingham reviews Steve Silberman’s new book Neurotribes, about “a haunting history and new hope for autistic people”.

What goes through the minds of people who try to break obscure world records? Cari Romm considers.

A massive study quantifies psychology’s reproducibility problem. By me at the Atlantic.

“In Space, Every Goodbye Could Be Our Last.” Beautiful writing from Nadia Drake about space exploration



“Frankly, I just don’t think musk oxen have the sex appeal pandas do.”

Chemo drug works by tricking cells into thinking they’re infected

Helping the trees save themselves from a deadly insect invader

Sometimes, it’s hard to give a crap.

Biologists Are Tweeting Photos Of Animal Genitalia With The Hashtag #JunkOff

Can we save the Sumatran rhino from extinction?

Evolutionary secrets of cancer cells revealed in new research

Why do we sneeze when we look at bright lights?

Chickens help scientists study dinosaur death pose

The man who saw his double in the mirror. A creepy case

Dorothy Bishop on what the Reproducibility Project says about psychology and how the field can improve. Vaughan Bell has a good analysis of the results, too.

Karolinska fnds trachea surgeon Paolo Macchiarini not guilty of misconduct.

The Verge Review of Animals: the giant water bug

The First National Inventory of All Household Life (on a swab)

3-D millipede genitals are strangely fascinating”

Professor re-encounters a very rare nautilus

Using microbial warfare as a possible treatment for bat White Nose Syndrome

Why humans are unique among predators on our planet

The Lost Dream Journal of the Man Who Discovered Neurons, Santiago Ramon y Cajal

Ants form amazing daisy chains to drag away millipedes

Smart piece on the recently hyped “first 3D-printed drug“, by Robinson Meyer

Gut bacteria –> autoimmune disease of the eye.

These just-discovered tropical spiders can soar from tree to tree

Informed Consent” a play on genomics and bioethics

Some frogs can quickly switch on genetic resistance to pesticides

Environmentalism’s history as an élite, white movement

The Internet of Elephant Seals – Why animals make the best oceanographic instruments

Venomous animal trapped by alcohol: the quintessential Australian story.

A new paper claims to find epigenetic effects in Holocaust survivors. Not so, says Jerry Coyne.

Here’s PLOS, re-enacting that scene from Fight Club where Ed Norton repeatedly punches himself in the face.

Trophy hunting causes problems for lion societies beyond killing individuals.

To avoid mosquitoes, stop breathing and be invisible.

Ants drug themselves with toxins when they’re sick

Mimicry has a puzzle at its heart: Time and again, scientists find examples of overkill. Animals don’t seem to receive an extra benefit from making their disguises more elaborate.” By Carl Zimmer.

Blood-Sucking Bugs Are Smart at Night, Dumb by Day

A vomiting machine shows how viruses spread in puke

Weird things start to happen when you stare into someone’s eyes for 10 minutes

Gulls are snacking on baby seals’ eyeballs

What Is Elegance in Science?

Mutilated rhino treated with innovative bandage made from elephant skin. Elephant now seeking innovative bandage made from rhino skin.

On rebranding the cockroach

Fatal great white shark attacks on sea otters have tripled over the past 25 years



American vs European Robins

No One Knows Joy Like This Man Yelling Underwater About Sea Lions

Europa or frying pan?

Blue whales are really rare and we’re unlikely to see o… oh there’s one.



Fountain pens want to connect letters. Ballpoint pens need to be convinced to write.”

Annalee Newitz finds that Ashley Madison was actively and maliciously scamming men

Everything you’ve heard about chastity belts is a lie: they were never really a thing

George Monbiot: roadkill squirrel eater.

Little girl breaks 2000-year-old vase, museum says thanks

Why I’m reading more women, and fewer men.

Like Uber but for poo.

ISIS Enshrines a Theology of Rape

How do algorithms rule Amazon’s warehouses?

Dog-sh*t Luck & other Chinese idioms we should start using in English

The Village Without Men

Very solid list of science accounts to follow on Twitter. High on really good people, low on celebs.

The Atlantic is bringing bloggy back with the Notes section.



A Blog by

I’ve Got Your Missing Links Right Here (27 June 2015)

Sign up for The Ed’s Up—a weekly newsletter of my writing plus some of the best stuff from around the Internet.


[A slightly curtailed selection this week as I’ve been away at a conference. Normal service will resume in July.]


Top picks

You know when you get a splinter & your body expels it? Starfish can do that but to an EXTREME degree. By Liz Preston.

This Tumblr of Epic Conducting Photos (and GIFs) made my day.

A “feeling for the organism” – David Baltrus is absolutely right on the need for natural history in the era of genomics

Maria Konnikova on whether pornography is bad for us. Spoiler: no.

“Certain people, researchers have discovered, can’t summon up mental images — it’s as if their mind’s eye is blind.” Carl Zimmer on aphantasia.

Can the Bacteria in Your Gut Explain Your Mood? Peter Andrey Smith on the science of the “gut-brain axis



Inside the Fight to Stop Giraffes’ ‘Silent Extinction’

New fossil gives some clues about how turtles got their shells.

The hard science of oxytocin [spoiler: not just a hug hormone]

Early focus groups, mostly women, told Microsoft they felt like Clippy was leering at them.

Human-organs-on-chips win Design of the Year

A vengeful firefly? Serial killer at a rave? Compromised spy with a flare gun? Oh, right, millipede.

Why Argentina is the bookshop capital of the world

Science has just published a comment seriously calling into question the “Chick Mental Number Line” story that I reported on.

Chris Chambers and Brian Nosek on new journal guidelines for open science and reproducibility

Giraffe survives battle wound, adapts to life with a zig-zag neck

Obama interviews Attenborough!!!

“What do we do when antibiotics don’t work any more?” Maryn McKenna’s excellent TED talk is live.

Astoundingly beautiful: Radiant reefs found deep in the Red Sea

World’s Frogs Unveil 5-Million-Year Plan To Move Up Food Chain

Racehorses are getting faster. Why?

“Study: Floating Heap Of Trash Now Ocean’s Apex Predator”

New fossil gives some clues about how turtles got their shells.

What happens when you want your crazy futuristic cyborg implant removed?

The Onion on mass extinctions

This artist drew modern animals like the way we draw dinosaurs and it’s horrifying

An impossible sight on Earth: 3 crescent moons in 1 shot, Titan, Rhea & Mimas, frm Cassini

A “cockroach-inspired robot

An investigation into the perks and pitfalls of being a celebrity tree

Filling in the story of Europe’s first humans

“It was as if were looking directly into life’s birthplace.” Jen Barone travels to some hydrothermal vents.


A Blog by

I’ve Got Your Missing Links Right Here (20 June 2015)

Sign up for The Ed’s Up—a weekly newsletter of my writing plus some of the best stuff from around the Internet.


Top picks

Hazing Ravens With Lasers: A Humane Way to Save Baby Tortoises?” By Chris Clarke.

The genome of Kennewick Man rekindles a legal feud—coverage from Carl Zimmer and Ewen Callaway. Watch out for Jennifer Raff’s superb quote in the latter.

Fascinating job: from theatre make-up artist to guardian of scientific data integrity

Jurassic World wasn’t faithful to science, but so what? Great comment by Stephen Brusatte. (Let’s talk about sexism, instead. Or heels. But also hilarity.)

Astronauts Have Done So, So Much With Duct Tape And Electrical Tape. By Mika McKinnon

If the sea swallows a country, does it survive as a virtual nation? By Rachel Nuwer

Vaccines in the ’60s made people more likely to develop chlamydia — and now we know why. Arielle Duhaime-Ross on the solving of a decades-old mystery.

“But the biggest mistake, he said, was a simple one: South Korea did not expect MERS to arrive.” Maryn McKenna on how we forget about the border-hopping abilities of diseases, to our detriment.

““What are the odds that you are wrong?” I asked, or so I remember. “I’d say zero,” the critic replied. “No chance.” That’s how you fail the nut test.” How Dan Vergano converted from a climate change skeptic to a believer.

A single-celled organism with a complex eye. By Michael LePage

The Relentless Symmetry of a Jellyfish, by Adrienne LaFrance. “When a moon jellyfish is injured, it grows new tissue to become more symmetrical—but not necessarily to replace lost limbs.”

Two weeks ago, Facebook disabled Nadia Drake’s account. Here’s what’s happened since, and why it matters. Superb post on all kinds of important online issues.

“The phrase, ‘the rabbit died’ was, at one point, a euphemism for a positive pregnancy test.” By Cari Romm

Neural nets can “hallucinate” items that they were trained on, creating really trippy art.

Such a wonderful Helen MacDonald ode to field guides. Got a little emotional at the last 2 lines. Also: duck chart!



“A persistent, lopsided cloud of dust is hanging around our moon.” Nadia Drake, on the continuing surprises of our little satellite.

Blind researchers are better researchers. Here’s how we should be taking fuller advantage of that.

“Science isn’t just sexist – it’s also deeply hierarchical.”

“Now we have to get rid of the chief penguin.”

Activating happy memories cheers moody mice” but “hard to imagine how… could translate to humans”

A researcher sent evidence of data anomalies in 29 papers to 3 journals. 6+ months later, not one editor has replied

Ace Laura Schulz talk on the surprisingly logical minds of babies. (And, boy, TED audiences really don’t get literary refs)

“The perception is that we are all looking for a fountain of youth. We want to avoid that”

Is there anywhere on Earth that is still free of pollution?

Below Our Feet, a World of Hidden Life: the Earth Microbiome Project

The story of a slave who solved the high-stakes mystery of vanilla bean sex.

First full genome of an organism sequenced and assembled using technology the size of a smartphone

When animals break out of the zoo, who survives? Weirdly, flamingos make the best fugitives

Retractions Coming Out From Under Science’s Rug. A profile of Ivan Oransky and Adam Marcus.

“No matter how thrilling this movie may be, one question will plague me throughout: where are the dung beetles?”

High-speed cameras capture how bouncing rain spreads crop disease.

Humanity’s Most Problematic Attempts to Get All the Water

A placenta on a chip. Microchip, not potato chip. That would be weird.

Two of the best things–naked mole rats, and Emily Graslie–in the same video. I rest my case.

These ‘silver’ ants use special hairs to survive the harshest desert heat

Kangaroos are lefties

Promising new antimalarial drug with many advantages; mouse study, but very interesting

Well, we’re probably all still screwed with climate change but at least everyone now knows what an encyclical is

Tool use is innate in chimps but not bonobos

Sophie Scott’s awesome TED talk on laughter has had 1.2 million views in 8 weeks! Go watch it if you haven’t already.

How the mantis shrimp beats the crap out of everything without breaking its fists.

Finding the unlimited funding gene, and inserting it into people with CRISPR.

The cutest octopus ever may end up with the name ‘adorabilis’

Broccoli: the silent killer.

Mining unknown microbes for antibiotics

Almost 80% of crop pollination by wild bees is provided by just 2% of the most common species

Disrupt wildlife trade in China and you could reduce most of global wildlife trafficking

Can your brain get too full?

Meanwhile in the Future: Never Sleep Again, Using This Drug

Microbiologists discovered 35 new phyla of bacteria in Colorado

Nepal earthquake moved Mount Everest by three centimeters

The Philae comet lander woke up after 8 months!

I already assumed that this is all Jack Horner does with his spare time

A microbial vaccine against post-traumatic stress? (Mouse study; preliminary; intriguing)

I honestly thought that we’d already accepted African elephants as 2 species, but apparently, the debate continues



Rough drafts of Hemingway’s baby shoes story

Italy’s “culture commandos” wage global war, recover 137,000 objects

Oh come on, with this paper title

7 Things Everyone Does When They Work From Home

No one ever thinks of the reputational cost to animals that appear on natural history documentaries



Anatomy of a Myth: the World’s Biggest E-Waste Dump Isn’t.

On people who define themselves by what they don’t like

Deborah Blum writes about the impact of Tim Hunt’s comments on women in science—and she was actually there when he made them.

Transitioning from science to science writing.


A Blog by

I’ve Got Your Missing Links Right Here (13 June 2015)

Sign up for The Ed’s Up—a weekly newsletter of my writing plus some of the best stuff from around the Internet.


Top picks

Meanwhile in the Future is an awesome podcast by Rose Eveleth, which combines science, science-fiction, radio drama, and fun speculation. I recommend it. Highlights real future scenarios (end of antibiotics) to fun implausible ones (space pirates drag second moon to Earth).

On rabbit-holes, real, figurative, and both. By the peerless Kathryn Schulz, who is clearly having too much fun at the New Yorker.

“If the GoPro camera is first-person singular, the camera trap is third-person plural.” Wonderful piece and slide-show about Serengeti camera traps, spying on Africa’s wildlife. By Alan Burdick.

“Using less than a drop of blood, a new test can reveal nearly every virus a person has ever been exposed to.” Okay, sure, every known virus, but this is still a cool technique with many possible applications.

Sea spiders: not spiders; move in slow motion; genitals on legs. By Matt Simon

DARPA had a robotics challenge. Here’s a vid of robots falling down.

What? Oh, nothing. Just an injectable polymer mesh that can wire nanoscale electrodes up to the brain. La dee da. By Elizabeth Gibney.

Please welcome the wonderful Robert Krulwich to Phenomena!

My New Scientist feature about programming gut microbes to fight disease & improve health. Paywall, sadly.

Blanket octopuses literally rip the tentacles right off portuguese men-o-war and use them like little nunchuks”. And other amazing facts, curated by Rebecca Helm.

“Among the most puzzling aspects of Ebola virus, since its first recognized emergence almost four decades ago, is that it disappears for years at a time.” David Quammen tries to track down its hiding place.

“How many times does the world have to be threatened with a deadly pandemic that moves from one species to another before people get the point?” Michael Specter on our relative unconcern over bird flu in chickens

The surprisingly fascinating science of how Swiss cheese gets its holes. By Nicola Twilley

Nobel laureate makes an ass of himself, but spawns a wonderful rebuttal hashtag and this great piece: The unseen women behind Tim Hunt’s Nobel discovery, by Helen Cahill

A delightful look at Pluto’s five moons. By Nadia Drake

What did the notorious Stanford Prison Experiment really show? By Maria Konnikova



Evolution tuned this moth’s night vision to follow swaying flowers

The Problem With Naming Observatories For Bigots

Weird animal world discovered in deepest Pacific Ocean vents

Eating brains helped Papua New Guinea tribe resist disease caused by… eating brains.

Ants show metacognition? As always with these kinds of stories, it’s debatable.

“In West Africa, scientists have found a group of chimpanzees who make a habit of pilfering alcoholic drinks.”

“This is what passes for good news from Fukushima…”

Cells that give fruit flies direction are arranged like a compass, “kind of like a cosmic joke”.

New dinosaur Regaliceratops, sporting its jazz frill

Computer scientists develop automated methods to recognize tattoos in images, aiding law enforcement.

Traces of dinosaur blood/proteins found in rubbish fossil fragments.

“This is going to be the Hegel summer.” On the goals of summer reading.

Sooo… what’s up with the terrifying, giant, green, slimy worm?

Odorous house ants smell like blue cheese- both create the same chemicals. A lovely tale of scientific curiosity.

Critics say new study linking creativity and mental illness is lacking

Dinosaur Physiology Debate Continues to Simmer.

How much DNA is on Earth?

If I could choose a word to precede “lampreys”, “raining” would be near the bottom of the list

Polar bear caught eating dolphin for the 1st time: adaptability in the face of climate change

Counting crows.

Meet Australia’s only non-venomous animal: this guy whose blood has saved two million babies.

Robbers are looting ancient Iranian cemetery with NSFW gravestones

“The fairest message is that both these methods are equally wrong. Ours is just wrong at the lower end.” Scientists downsize the giant Dreadnoughtus

Meet the team who built a dead T.rex so scientists could autopsy it on TV

Greedy killer whale eats 27 porpoises and seals

Strongest biological material known? Limpet teeth

“No need to wait for the cyborg future—it’s already here.”

Lawsuit reveals details of chronic fatigue syndrome-XMRV research fiasco

Carl Zimmer talks to Radiolab about rewriting DNA & what it means for our future.

Ten stories from the history of science and technology Hollywood should tell next.

“Then I found out that ‘storia‘ meant both ‘history’ and ‘story,’ and I was desperately confused.”

The Tyranny of Planned Obsolescence

The frog with a frog in its throat

US gives captive research chimps endangered-species protection

There was a reason US gov’t placed Plum Island bio lab where it did; now it’s moving to Tornado Alley

Some centipedes & spiders have converged on a similar venom that may guide insecticide design



Clickhole visits Google’s headquarters

‘Arrangements’ by Emily Blincoe: assorted objects neatly arranged.

The Microbes on the Handprint of an 8-Year-Old After Playing Outside

The last paragraph makes this


Neuroscience lab manager talks about the Human Brain Project

Africa’s Oldest Trees Photographed Against Starry Night Skies

Funniest thing I’ve seen all week? Month? Year?



Film critic couldn’t get to a press screening of Jurassic World, so interviewed a 10-yr-old about dinosaurs

“A sword in the hands of a woman doesn’t transform into a symbol of love.” Jess Zimmerman on Furiosa Imperator and warrior women in culture

Astronauts have the Internet in space but it is slooooow

The life of a shepherd—Q&A with the unlikeliest of bestselling authors.

“Why Is There So Much Hate for the Word “Moist”?”

How ClickHole became the best thing on the Internet


A Blog by

I’ve Got Your Missing Links Right Here (30 May 2015)

Sign up for The Ed’s Up—a weekly newsletter of my writing plus some of the best stuff from around the Internet.


Top picks

“But how do expenses work if you’re a spy, doing secret work?” This is an amazing piece by Sarah Laskow about espionage and bureaucracy

More than 19,000 saiga antelope have died in Kazakhstan in the last two weeks, and no one knows why.

Fascinating piece on people who experience psychosomatic blindness or paralysis w/o any neurological problems. By Suzanne O Sullivan

“So you’re related to Charlemagne? You and every other living European… “ Superb piece by Adam Rutherford on the value (or lack thereof) of genetic ancestry testing. Featuring Charlemagne… and Hugh.

Antibiotics aren’t profitable to make, so who will pay for the new ones we desperately need? Maryn McKenna reports.

When did consciousness begin? Veronique Greenwood on the weird world of Julian Jaynes & how his 1970s theory of consciousness fares in the present day.

This robot can perform brain surgery on fruit flies, while this one can recover from a broken leg.

6 Extra Pairs of Genitals Is Just Too Much of a Good Thing.” By Gwen Pearson

“Where are we headed? Is it really to Mars? Or is it just to Kazakhstan?” Elizabeth Kolbert considers the case for colonising Mars

“For scientists who study human evolution, the last few months have been a whirlwind.” Carl Zimmer on our blossoming family tree.



Butterflies Have an Extra Stomach Attached to Their Vaginas

Save the dementor wasp

I give you good odds that this won’t replicate

How necking shaped the giraffe

Moby Dick Got Busy

The story of LaCour’s fraud just keeps on giving. Don’t miss the final paragraph.

Caught on Camera: Swifts reunited after 9 months apart

A giant freezer in Antarctica to store ice, in preparation for climate change.

Replica early microscope shows van Leeuwenhoek saw what he claimed

3D-printed ‘fake’ eggs could help us find out how birds spot impostors in the nest

First bats successfully treated for White-Nose Syndrome.

A twist of poo? Caterpillar disguise strategy.

This Futuristic Concrete Heals Itself With Built-In Bacteria.

A community turns to a massive fake orca in its battle with nuisance sea lions.

Office workers set up crash mats for goslings in Canada

Many ‘amygdala’ activations might be blood vessel artefacts

Bed bugs are an insect version of the vampire tale, and evoke that sense of creepy psychosexual invasion

Madagascar’s panther chameleon is actually 11 diff species, not just one

Kangaroos sometimes adopt babies. Is this a case of evolution’s imperfection?

The female mathematician who changed the course of physics—but couldn’t get a job

Mice develop thinner skin after just 3 months in space

“it’s not really anything we need in our log cabin.” Why physicist has put Nobel prize medal up for auction

A lovely, safe-for-work slide show about the biology of sex across the tree of life.

Volcanic eruption in Galapagos threatens pink iguanas.

Critically endangered dolphin has only 10 mature females left, and will be extinct within 15 yrs

Hacking the nervous system through the vagus nerve

“C’mon guys, tell it like it is: You’re making brain balls.”

Evolution is a grand process that works even on a tiny scale

“Science has taken a turn towards darkness“.

In this extraordinary case of mimicry, a harmless katydid, mimics the feared tarantula hawk wasp

Mexican jays ‘weigh’ peanuts and take the heavier ones

Thoughts on the Promises of Big Genomics

And I would’ve got away with it too if it wasn’t for you pesky archaeologists

US military accidentally ships live anthrax to labs

NY Centre ends support for Liberian chimps it used for research



Beautiful bubble snails, nudibrancs & other underwater wonders.

Mario Kart: Fury Road; also, Feminist Mad Max Tumblr

American falls down rabbit-hole of British slang, gets well confused. Hilarious.




Today’s word is “paracosm

Using Twitter as a reporting tool, featuring me and others.

This is what it’s like to fall in love with a woman who doesn’t exist

Spot-on analysis of the ethical flaws and spurious claims of that chocolate hoax

A Blog by

I’ve Got Your Missing Links Right Here (16 May 2015)

Sign up for The Ed’s Up—a weekly newsletter of my writing plus some of the best stuff from around the Internet.


Top picks

A great profile of optogenetics pioneer Karl Deisseroth, who helped to revolutionise neuroscience with light. By John Colapinto.

“They have found a way to turn the beaks of chicken embryos back into dinosaur-like snouts.” Carl Zimmer on dino-chickens.

“If you think of our planet as an eyeball, the Antarctic plateau is its iris, and the Dark Sector its pupil.” This is a majestic piece from Ross Andersen on cosmology’s faltering winning streak, and the recent BICEP2 controversy. Long but incredibly readable.

“Why Pluto’s Moons Turned William Shatner Into a Sad Volcano”. By Nadia Drake, with wonderful Shatner quotes.

What would the world be like if we could grow babies in artificial wombs? A new podcast about the future, from Rose Eveleth.

What happens to our bodies when we die. Fascinating Mo Costandi piece.

Water: really familiar but also the weirdest liquid on the planet. By Alok Jha

Kathryn Schulz reviews the wonderful Nell Fink, featuring Jonathan Franzen and a kookaburra. Like all of Schulz’s work, a joy to read.

Dying Trees Can Send Food to Neighbors of Different Species via ‘Wood-Wide Web’. Incredible story by Jennifer Frazer.

Tagged animals carry more than human technology; they carry human ways of visualizing the world.” Wonderful piece by Helen Macdonald

When Sandy Bem found out she had Alzheimer’s, she resolved that before the disease stole her mind, she would kill herself. The question was, when? Astonishing piece by Robin Marantz Henig



The legend of the hairy trout – and the awful cotton mold that makes it happen

Death by horn-lock” is apparently a thing that can (rarely) happen.

To help firms deal with angry customers, one company is building a very, very angry robot.

Is some elegant math behind the insanely long time bamboo takes to flower?

Fruit-fly genomics paper has 1,014 authors.

Scientists just published three studies about The Dress

Humans Were Not Made To Sit For 8 Hours At A Desk Balanced On Top Of A Smaller Desk, Drawing Pictures Of Other Desks

The newest crayfish species looks like a Lisa Frank creation

“For the first time in 41 years, no one will climb Mount Everest this year.”

Will Storr on social perfectionism, and why suicide is more common among men than women.

A profile of Jennifer Doudna, a pioneer who helped to make genetic engineering possible.

A third of Egypt’s animal mummies have revived & broken free to terrorise the world; that’s what that study CLEARLY shows

The science behind the 2nd most popular TED talk of all time—on power-posing—doesn’t stack up.

“Think about it: A shark is basically a bear plus deep water and no air”

Root Fungi Can Turn Pine Trees Into Carnivores — or at Least Accomplices

What a Dinosaur’s Mating Scream Sounds Like

How gut microbes influence the body’s clock

Blinding peer review: yes or no? 17 studies (12 trials)

Genome of 40,000-yr-old jaw from Romania suggests humans interbred with Neanderthals in Europe

Jumping trap-jaw ants escape from antlion sand pits

Rabies, one of the world’s most deadly pathogens, is revolutionizing brain science

Do snails have eyes? A 17thC ‘mythbuster’ investigates

Confused spider mite males prefer dead potential mates to living females because dumb

On dimensions

Amazonians know these floating forests weren’t ACTUALLY made by giant anacondas. But they still are wary of them.

The latest dispatch from the Department of Totally Vindicating my Lifestyle

Discovered a disease? WHO has new rules for avoiding offensive names. No people, places, food.

Antibiotic-resistant strain of typhoid driving previously unrecognized epidemic in Africa

This is one of many examples that explain why I have almost entirely stopped reading pop-psych books.

Phil Zimbardo tries to do an impression of a credible scientist. He fails.

In a subterranean laboratory volunteers are signing up be centrifuged to sleep



We Asked These Astronauts What It’s Like To Be In Space

I didn’t know that I needed a smooth saxophone version of the Game of Thrones theme in my life, but apparently I did

Gorgeous video of honeybee metamorphosis

Ouch. NASA felt that.

Guy races the Tube between Blackfriars and Cannon Street

So…apparently this is what happens when you pour molten aluminium into a watermelon

Protein structure font.



A medieval mass grave, discovered under a Paris supermarket. This is what queue-jumping gets you.

Why Scientists Are Upset About The Facebook Filter Bubble Study

“You have to love the words more than anything” – Warren Ellis on life as a freelance writer.

Art project: Raw food in perfect cubes

Oh sure when you put it like that, that’s not at all terrifying, nope.

A tribute to Douglas Adams

Fascinating read on why most of the UK election polls & forecasts were so wrong.

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I’ve Got Your Missing Links Right Here (25 April 2015)

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Top picks

This piece on the psychology of cuts in movies, by Jeffrey Zacks, features the work of one Professor Cutting. It’s also fascinating.

Ancient viruses, hidden in the genome, “spring to life in the earliest stages of the development of human embryos”. By Carl Zimmer.

Hidden viruses could act as maps for forensic biologists looking to identify unknown bodies. By Rebecca Kreston.

The rumours were true: Chinese scientists have begun modifying human embryos using CRISPR. Carl Zimmer explains how we got to here and what the developments mean.

“Scientists should spend more time analyzing apes’ behavior in precisely those places where humans are disrupting their lives.” We are now part of their world. By Emily Anthes.

“Technology is making it harder to differentiate between the people we perform and the people we are.” Smart Megan Garber piece on surveillance societies

How Philippe Jeandet tasted 170-year-old shipwrecked champagne. “Expert tasters described it as “cheesy”.” By Allie Wilkinson.

“There’s actually no such thing as big science; we should really be calling it big engineering.” Tim Requarth on the failings of the Human Brain Project

“A short checklist called the Static-99 weighs facts about a sex offender’s past in order to predict the likelihood of future crimes.” Those ten questions can mean a lifetime behind bars. By Peter Aldhous.

A unique rendition of Bach’s Prelude No 1

A volcanic eruption timelapse: “Like a violent sunrise—clouds piling six miles skyward; flecks of lightning—that evokes the creation of a planet.” By Adrienne LaFrance

Being invisible is “great fun” but it’s an eerie sensation. It’s hard to describe.” Welcome Erika Engelhaupt to the Phenomena club!



An incredible data visualisation of bird migration

People don’t know what real scientists look like. Neither do scientists.

Conservationists turn tiny New Zealand island into bold wildlife experiment

On Animal Deaths and Human Anxieties—a look at mass wildlife die-offs

DNA editing in mouse embryos prevents disease

Blessed by Science: How Genetic Medicine Changed a Strictly Religious Community

I don’t do ironing, but I would if it meant killing the eggs of flesh-burrowing flies.

“The Man Who Drank Cholera and Launched the Yogurt Craze” – a Nautilus biography of Ilya Metchnikoff

Are probiotics BS? A podcast.

‘Wellness Guru’ Belle Gibson lied about having brain cancer, profited from lying about bogus cancer cures. “I would like people to say, ‘Okay, she’s human.'” Got it. You’re human. Barely.”

Video catches space geckos playing

Check out Hakai Magazine—a new science magazine on coasts and the people who live there.

A review of The Vital Question: Why Is Life the Way It Is, by Nick Lane

Billions of blue jellyfish wash up on Pacific beaches

Because of their hydraulic limbs, tarantulas become uncoordinated at high temperatures.

Blastoff McRocketboots: name of pet fish at Mars expedition simulation in Hawaii

Chimpanzee ‘personhood’ case sows confusion

Fascinating history of the stethoscope or, as it began, the rolled-up tube.

Congrats to Craig McClain who got a starfish named after him. “McClain’s six-armed fleshy star”. OO-ER.

On the natural history of New York’s rats

First ‘living figure’ in published paper – automatically redraws as outside data comes in

Glaciologists stockpile ice cores to preserve the temperature record for a post-glacier world

Wolf spider gets squashed—and hundreds of babies emerge

Spiderlings pierce her abdomen with their mouthparts and over the course of several hours drain her innards.”

Hippos spray their poo – and that’s actually a great thing for the environment.

Is that viral photo of a *quadruple* rainbow real? Yes! Here’s how it works

Oldest stone tools (3.3m yrs) may put end to theory that complex tool-making began with genus Homo

Is the sound of knuckle-cracking caused by a gas-cavity forming, or bursting?

The day Darwin stepped into a cage with an orangutan.

Lorna Dawson has pioneered methods to help convict criminals using the dirt from their shoes

“My focus is to change people’s relationship with science, from one of observation to one of active contribution and participation” – Ariel Waldman

“The issue I was asked to address is whether killer robots violate either a right to life or the “laws of humanity”

“Watch us turn a point of light into a planet.”

What is the biggest swamp in the world? It’s an oddly difficult question to answer

The Disease That Turned Us Into Genetic-Information Junkies



Gorgeous timelapse of recent total eclipse over Svalbard

Facts: Yoda first appeared in a 14th-c illuminated manuscript



Virginia Hughes talks to Open Notebook about how she found and crafted her superb story on “sleepyheads“.

Google’s Other Big Research Project: Curbing Its Own Prejudice

Tina Packer on the evolution of Shakespeare’s female characters

Beware the narrative that makes your life easier, and absolves you of responsibility for your own actions

Congratulations to Elizabeth Kolbert for the Pulitzer Prize for her book, The Sixth Extinction!


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I’ve Got Your Missing Links Right Here (19 April 2015)

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Top picks

Egg freezing is not fertility insurance: It’s the perfect regret machine.” Superb piece by Abby Rabinowitz on the social effects that the mere existence of a new technology can have.

“The fight has astronomers asking whether a pristine view of the stars trumps the beliefs of people on the ground.” Azeen Ghorayshi on the emotional fight between astronomers and native Hawaiians over the construction of a giant telescope.

In which the wonderful Nancy Kanwisher shaves her head to explain brain anatomy. Trepanning, next?

It’s a good story: the world’s loneliest whale, singing a song that none of its peers can hear. It may, however, not be true. By Chris Baraniuk.

As the climate changes and ice disappears, scientists who study ice face an increasingly difficult job, as the subject of their research literally melts away. By Neil Savage.

Leonardo da Vinci’s resume is incredible.

Centuries of Italian History Are Unearthed in Quest to Fix Toilet”. An amazing story of DIY archaeology by Jim Yardley

Yes, especially in the context of digital communications, has come to mean something more like no.” Megan Garber on the linguistics of yes.

Redeeming the Sea Lamprey: How a Much-Hated Animal Brings Streams to Life. By Brandon Keim.

Could a post-apocalyptic world reboot civilisation without fossil fuels? Lewis Dartnell explores.

Paige Williams on the incredible journey of an Alaskan totem pole that was stolen by a Hollywood star.

Will the dams of the Mekong River damn the people who live along it? Michelle Nijhuis investigates.

Huge sperm whale surprises the crew of a deep-sea submersible. Their joy is infectious.



Update on the project to resurrect the gastric brooding frog

David Dobbs reviews Alice Dreger’s new book, Galileo’s Middle Finger

“As far as Irvine knows, he’s the first student anywhere to conduct an underwater thesis defence

Thought extinct for decades, a rare monkey is captured on film for the first time

A new study claims that women are twice as likely to be hired into scientific jobs as men with the same qualifications. Here are two good analyses of the problems with the study.

Here’s Michael Specter on glyphosphate, cancer, and risk assessments, making a lot of sense.

Famed Mountain Lion Seeks Comfort Under An LA Home. Excellent last paragraph.

Serotonin and the science of sex – SciCurious on a complicated update to a 2011 Nature paper

Congrats to Siri Carpenter & Jeanne Erdmann for securing a grant to keep the Open Notebook running.

The monkeys, they destroy all the wires and eat all the wires.” This is how civilisation will end.

“The world’s last surviving male northern white rhino is under 24-hour armed guard”

Before whales, zombie worms ate plesiosaur bones.

“With the aid of high-speed cameras, scientists have revealed how octopuses co-ordinate their arms to crawl.”

“They are the only [non-human] apes that regularly hunt w/ tools — and females do the majority of that hunting”

Cancer mutations often misidentified in the clinic

A Gray Whale Breaks The Record For Longest Mammal Migration

Here’s how much of our galaxy we’ve begun to explore for other worlds.

On getting good coffee on the ISS: “the only thing it took was hosting more Italians from orbit”

When looking up at skyscrapers, ever imagine what could live between them?

Watch these bacteria shed their cell walls to defend themselves against immune cells.

If You Want Healthy Cows, Feed Them Magnets

Calling all penguins: One man’s quest to photograph every species

Stephen Hawking singing Monty Python

The key to telling dinosaur sexes apart may be in the tail bones

It’s time to get rid of the “headclutcher” photo that accompanies mental health stories

“In bright sunlight they are the most exquisitely beautiful birds.” Redeeming magpies.

Cuddly lemurs fight off huge marauding snake

A leader in the polio eradication effort looks back and forward on the 60th anniversary of the vaccine.



The world’s first 3-D printed band has instruments that look like sci-fi weapons

Chimp bats drone out of sky

Want to have a freakish accident that will give you superpowers? Here are 7 great toxic spots.

Strangely soothing



You can make things 76% artier by slapping a golden ratio onto them. Sadly, it’s all nonsense.

Spot-on review of Jon Ronson’s new book So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed

Inspired by happiness research, CEO raises base salary at 120-person company to $70,000.

The causes of musicians’ deaths, by genre.

Robot vacuum cleaner attacks woman as she sleeps. It begins.

Megan Garber with a hot take on hot takes.

“This Public Shaming Is Not Like The Other”.

Historical neckbeards and Wikipedia: an investigation


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I’ve Got Your Missing Links Right Here (11 April 2015)

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Top picks

“It is possible, according to many sources, to become invisible, but you must be patient, methodical, and willing to eat almost anything.” Kathryn Schulz on wonderful form about the science and history of invisibility. And here’s a second piece from her on the phrase “No, totally”.

Maryn McKenna on a “1000-year-old MRSA remedy”, discussing the fascinating lost science but also the significant regulatory hurdles to come.

This amazing street art only appears when it’s raining

A beautiful new piece from Oliver Sacks on life’s need for constancy, and the disorder of sickness

On the colours of alien landscapes, by Nicola Twilley

“Once they have listened to a nightingale in full voice, they yearn to hear that sound again. Its absence lessens our lives.” Helen Macdonald on our emptier springs.

The dark side of the moon. Nadia Drake on new evidence that our moon was formed when a Mars-sized planet crashed into Earth.

“It is easy to forget, when the sky goes dark, that an eclipse is an optical illusion.” A great account of not quite seeing an eclipse, by Lavinia Greenlaw

Veronique Greenwood explores the science of the perfect chips.

In light of the Rolling Stone debacle, Christie Aschwanden talks about how the “cult of narrative” trips up journalism, and Ivan Oransky asks if science is really better than journalism at self-correction.

BRONTOSAURUS FOREVER! Brontosaurus returns as a true dinosaur genus. The name, of course, comes from the Greek words for “IN YOUR FACE, PEDANTS” and “lizard”.



New monkey species revealed thanks to distinctive penis/scrotum

Fans of Southern Reach Trilogy may enjoy this study on fungi and… hauntings.

Marine protected areas help fish recovery

Glass Anchors Strengthen Sponges and Enlighten Engineers

Similar genes, very different parasites: Rob Dunn on humans and chimps

Did natural selection make the Dutch the tallest people on the planet?

Doc who did 1st penis transplant “surprised by the overwhelming amount of interest in the surgery”.

Desert-Dwelling Fish Can ‘Hold Its Breath’ for Five Hours

How a Quest to Find a ‘Unicorn‘ Changed One Man’s Life

Medieval Parasite-Filled Poop Found in Jerusalem Latrine

Why Do Fingernails Grow So Much Faster Than Toenails?

Giant pandas meet in the forest for secret panda parties

Death, the beach, and Humboldt squid

The latest exemplar of Yong’s Law of Maximally Ironic Wrongdoing.

Strange prehistoric fish was a master shredder

A clever shock-absorbing bicycle wheel adapted for wheelchairs.

The origin of “microbiome”: I agree with the conclusion that it has dual meanings, an ecological one and a genomic one

I’m glad I wasn’t the only one who disliked Gawker’s Food Babe “takedown”.

This is not a chameleon, walking. It’s a hyperrealistic body painting on two women.

Mapping All The Chemicals And Tiny Bacteria Living On Our Skin

Tardigrades return from the dead

Catastrophic forgetting also stands in the way of one of the long-standing goals for artificial intelligence”

“Catastrophic metamorphosis”: the worm that grows inside itself

You do you, hermit crab. Don’t even listen to what everyone else says.

Smiling changes how you view the world

The myths and realities of mental health

What do electrical currents do to brains? Elif Batuman on transcranial direct-current stimulation

Science by authority is a poor model for communication

In my dreams, the Audobon Society calls Jonathan Franzen a long list of bird names that sound like insults. Like slaty-legged crake and bearded tit. But this will do.



Aw, penguins are so adorabOH GOD WHAT IS THAT KILL IT WITH FIRE.

Why We Shouldn’t Force Alligators And Crocodiles To Wear Sashes That Say ‘Alligator’ And ‘Crocodile’

Well-meaning fools: “Swim free, baby turtles!” Wildlife authorities: “Er, those are tortoises and they can’t swim.”

Journalist’s guide to insect identification.

SeaWorld Responds To California Drought By Draining Animal Tanks Halfway

Study Suggests Paleo Dieters Lose Average Of Ten Pounds, Three Friends Per Month



“I realized the people telling me to read specific lists of books were people interested in upholding the status quo”

A couple of recommendations:

The Heretics, by Will Storr (aka The Unpersuadables in the US) is an incredibly perceptive look into the forces that drive people to believe in wacky things. Storr combines hard investigative journalism with a degree of compassion and self-deprecation that is rarely found in this genre. He’s also very funny.

“Why do obviously intelligent people believe things in spite of the evidence against them? Will Storr has travelled across the world to meet an extraordinary cast of modern heretics in order to answer this question. He goes on a tour of Holocaust sites with David Irving and a band of neo-Nazis, experiences his own murder during ‘past-life regression’ hypnosis, takes part in a mass homeopathic overdose, and investigates a new disease affecting tens of thousands of people – a disease that doesn’t actually exist.”

Love and Treasure, by Ayelet Waldman, tells three stories, set in differing time periods, united by a single piece of jewellery. Unlike many novels which use this device, Waldman’s constructs a whole that is truly greater than, and illuminated by, the sum of its beautifully constructed parts.

“A fugitive train loaded with the plunder of a doomed people. A dazzling jewelled pendant in the form of a stylized peacock. And three men – an American infantry captain in World War II, an Israeli-born dealer in art stolen by the Nazis, and a pioneering psychiatrist in fin-de-siècle Budapest – who find their carefully-wrought lives turned upside-down by three fierce women, each locked in a struggle against her own history and the history of our times. And at the centre of Love and Treasure, nested like a photograph hidden in a locket, a mystery: where does the worth of a people and its treasures truly lie?”


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I’ve Got Your Missing Links Right Here (4 April 2015)

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Top picks

Welcome the wonderful Maryn Mckenna to the Phenomena network, with her new blog—Germination—on antibiotics, food, agriculture, and more. Here’s her first post on whether Easter chicks are bad for you.

“When the customer returns for dinner, the manager presents the live pangolin to the table.” Sad story by Rachel Nuwer on one of the world’s most trafficked animals.

The hunt for cute viral content is driving cruelty to wildlife. Consider that before sharing those photos of dancing frogs.

New Facebook App Wants To Test Your DNA. Will the FDA get involved? By Virginia Hughes

Thomas Gray lived six days, but his life has lasting impact.” An amazing story on organ donations by Michael Vitez

The fungus “pretends, on separate occasions, to be both to be a flower and a pollen grain, and its acts are so successful that it manages to fool both the bumblebee and the blueberry bush.” By Jennifer Frazer

The dystopian lake filled by the world’s tech lust. By Tim Maugham.

“Can two forces threatening the sustainability of sharks—the fishermen of Mexico and consumers in China—help the fish survive?” By Erik Vance

Great account by John Platt on how zoos acquire endangered animals, like orang-utans, that were bred in captivity

“I started giving these flies funny names: this one’s genitalia look like bunny ears, I’ll name it ‘Bunny’.” Emily Hartop on how she discovered 30 new species of flies in Los Angeles.



Did A Soviet Psychiatrist Identify Autism In 1925?

What the “Swiss cheese model” of error can teach us about medicine, featuring the wonderfully named Dr Reason.

Are Microbes the Taste-Makers of the Future?

Along Roadsides and Power Lines, Hope for Bees and Butterflies

Largest Rhino Airlift Ever to Move 100 At-Risk Animals

“[They] chose the Greek name Kryptonia because it means hidden or secret, and because it evokes Superman”

Unpowered boots improve on evolution, reduce costs of walking by 7%.

I’m going to interpret this as evidence of flute-playing hyenas.

Amazing tiny birds fly without landing for three days

Red Meat Is Not the Enemy

“The overall effect is of a lobster tail that’s out for revenge on those who drew butter against it.”

Mini enzyme moves gene editing [a tiny bit] closer to the clinic

Smarter people make better teachers … or do they?

Glowing tampons are an important scientific tool to detect water pollution

Moths Fondly Remember Plant Species Where They Lost Their Virginity

The universality of human experience at 7pm.

NYC ants have a taste for junk food

Depression isn’t what you think it is.

Johns Hopkins sued for $1 billion over role in 1940s experiments that infected 1000+ Guatemalans with syphilis

Why floating balls might make your babies act like little geniuses

Tracking the origins of prostate cancer. Fascinating about the metastases created by union of of different clones.

God, talk about the cure being worse than the disease…



The horror of Amazon’s new dash button.

“Were We Too Hard on Jonah Lehrer? A new book says yes. The facts say no.”

Cards Against Humanity science expansion pack

Beware of Franzen high places. The Audobon Society on Jonathan Franzen’s disingenuous letter on climate.


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I’ve Got Your Missing Links Right Here (28 March 2015)

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Top picks

“Watch. Steven Haddock, one of the world experts on life-forms that make light, is about to nudge the animal with a glass stick.” Olivia Judson on the glowing creatures of the oceans.

Ellie Lobel was ready to die. Then she was attacked by bees… She thinks they saved her life.” Incredible story by Christie Wilcox.

Department of Unintended Consequences: Attempts to kill rattlesnakes accidentally killed off a snake-eating snake, leading to more venomous snakes. By Jason Goldman.

Like a cosmic wrecking ball, Jupiter may have wiped ancient worlds off the map of our solar system. By Andrew Fazekas

Deep, man. Real deep. An interactive journey to the centre of the Earth.

Scientists in Iceland have produced an unprecedented snapshot of a nation’s genetic makeup.” Carl Zimmer discusses what this means.

13 wonderful minutes of three women doing squirrel taxidermy – a new episode of Emily Graslie’s Brain Scoop.

Lonni Sue Johnson, a woman with uncommonly profound amnesia, “is assembling one of the world’s largest bodies of unfinished art.” Great story by Daniel Zalewski

“Goodall feels the opportunity closing. She says she hasn’t slept in the same bed for three consecutive weeks in more than 20 years.” Paul Tullis on Jane Goodall’s mission to save the remaining chimpanzees.

14 years’ worth of rain just fell in one day in the Atacama Desert–the driest place on earth

Loving this piece from Robinson Meyer on spotting whales and elephants from space

“A team of neuroscientists is on a trolley headed for a cliff. A lone philosopher stands at the switch”. Sally Adee on the trolley problem, what it really means, and how it’s misused.



Earth sweeps up over 100k pounds of space dust *every day*, which helps to fertilise plankton.

“In 2013, the Philippines had so many typhoons that it ran out of letters to name them…”

Discussing underrepresentation was the only method that increases the likelihood of pursuing a physics career.”

Kin selection still stands.

It’s not just humans that face epidemics: 10 animal diseases

UK scientists warn about ‘chilling effect’ of new media rules

Can we explore Mars without contaminating it? Not likely.

Watch Scientists Try Everything to Put a Camera on a Manatee

Hauntingly Beautiful (and Slightly Disturbing) Photographs Of Animal Anatomy

Can elephants sniff out bombs? Or, better yet, inspire bomb detectors?

When discussing Humanity’s next move to space, the language we use matters.

Frog can change skin texture from smooth to spiny when surrounded by moss.

Cancer researchers support Angelina Jolie’s decision to have her ovaries removed and praise her for openly discussing it, although Slate warns about doing as she does not as she says.

Global warming turns rainforest leaves into junk food

Decompensation: a medical euphemism for “everything falling to crap”

NASA’s astronaut twin study looks like an exercise in doing lots of seriously underpowered comparisons that won’t tell us very much.

The parasite that tracks cicadas down by their love songs

Spiders have inspired engineers to design pioneering medical devices such as artificial tendons and corneas

“IARC is saying that glyphosate probably COULD cause cancer in humans, but not that it probably DOES.” Good analysis of a recent report on a weedkiller chemical

“If you don’t think of spiders as cute and cuddly, then you’ve never met Sparklemuffin, Skeletorus, and the elephant spider”

Scientists urge museums to sever ties with fossil fuel industry.

A coral reef fish’s ability to mimic different species makes it more successful at hunting – but also keeps it safe from predators

Cool opossum research but, come on, what biologist talks about universal anti-venom with a straight face?

Why autonomous butlers are the beginning of everyday robotics

George Johnson brings clarity to the NYT’s cancer coverage.

I look forward to these non-stick bottles entering the markets & unwary diners dumping ALL the ketchup on their chips

I like to think that PNAS is just openly trolling UKIP now.

“Just like the human internet, the fungal internet has a dark side.” Applause for “wood wide web”

Enormous bulge at the equator of the solar system’s largest moon suggests that its poles have shifted by 90 degrees.

On Ebola: “It hasn’t become increasingly lethal or increasingly virulent”

Rajendra Singh has brought water for first time to a 1,000 villages



This is probably why people with no self-awareness rule the world.

“That’s one small step fo- HOLY **** LOOK OUT IT’S GOT SOME KIND OF DRILL!”

“Looking Back On My Life, I Guess My Biggest Regret Is Trying To Fight That Alligator 5 Minutes Ago”

7 Strange Habits Of Great Writers

Scientists Discover Eating Serves Function Other Than Easing Anxiety

Frozen meets The Thing



“I was Patient Zero of losing a personal reputation on a global scale almost instantaneously.” – Monica Lewinsky

TED’s social media editor shares what happened when they posted Monica Lewinsky’s talk

Reporter asks Google to confirm rumor. Rep sends him a gif. Reporter assumes it’s a joke. “Rep assured us it was not”

“Plus who doesn’t like jazz hands?!”

Sweden’s main dictionary is adding a gender-neutral pronoun

Phil McKenna tells The Open Notebook the story behind his amazing story: Life in the Death Zone




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I’ve Got Your Missing Links Right Here (21 March 2015)

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Top picks

“Three days before Britain declared war, on September 3, 1939, Janet Vaughan received a telegram from the Medical Research Council. It read, “Start bleeding.”” Rose George on a woman who changed our relationship with blood.

The great Hillary Rosner on the beetle that’s killing North America’s forests, and what their incursion says about our changing world.

I love this Alexis Madrigal piece on doing talks from memory; it’s such a rewarding thing to do, and something I adored of the TED experience

“The paper describes a way to read the book of history in human DNA to a level of detail that is completely unprecedented.” Christine Kenneally on a fantastic new paper on Britain’s DNA

Prosthetic devices have long been created by men, for men.” A fascinating, top-class piece by Rose Eveleth

The most remarkable globe in the world is in a Brooklyn office building. Via Atlas Obscura.

This is a really interesting piece on how Apple works the three metals in its watches. By Greg Koenig

Mars One finalist talks about how ridiculous and flawed the whole affair is

Wonderful Arielle Duhaime-Ross piece on flatworms, memory, the revival of controversial experiments, and the Unabomber

There are craters on the side of the moon that *faces* us that we can’t really see w/o relying on gravity fields. By Nadia Drake.

The Palm Tree That Waters and Fertilizes Itself. By Liz Preston.



The devastating environmental impacts of poorly planned road building

A velvet worm’s slime cannon is like a garden hose

The “world’s forests are fragmenting into tiny patches”—more than 70% are within 0.6 miles of an edge.

How a grad student’s 3am blog comment became a paper that challenged a titan of economics

DNA does not explain The Dress

Whales pump nutrients upwards by eating at depth and releasing “flocculent fecal plumes” at the surface.

“I prefer my seafood without sperm, thank you”

George Church, a geneticist at HMS, believes the new study should not have been published”

G is for goddamned goshawk.

Insects Unlocked: a new photography initiative from Alex Wild.

Researchers track eye movements to sway moral decisions. Tiny effect; I agree with Churchland

Our cyborg beetle legions are almost ready for deployment

Nice paper on wild baboons showing social partners have similar microbiomes (as in humans, termites, b/bees…)

Why do we find it so hard to torture robots?

“When humans began building shelters about 20,000 years ago, we unrolled a welcome mat for other species.”

Artist Uses an Eye Tracker to Draw Portraits Using Only His Eyes

The NYT published a truly abysmal piece by Nick Bilton on phones and cancer, which distorts the evidence and quotes a noted quack. Phil Plait gets angry. Also here’s an explainer on phones/cancer that I wrote in 2011. It still holds.

Brilliant and lovely art-essay on race, comics, and how we see color.

These giant bomb-sniffing rats could save your life one day

The Meaning of Siberia’s Mystery Craters

How microbes inspire art

The Newest Place on Earth

Quorum-Sensing Molecule Modifies Gut Microbiota

Why you should never, ever interrupt mating tortoises



The Only 31 Things Standing Between You And Your Dreams

THIS Pallas cat video

Here’s someone tickling a platypus

A hilariously absurd passage from a 1969 popular science book. (Marginalia mine.)



South Korea is the plastic surgery capital of the world

A Side-by-side Comparison of the First and Last Frames of 55 Movies

Good roundtable on journalist/scientist relationships, featuring some familiar faces.

The head of Google’s “unconscious bias program” fulfils her mandate in spectacular fashion by calling out her CEO for unconscious bias.

Wait, you want your employees to discuss race relations with people who, by definition, haven’t had their coffee yet?

What, no YOU have dust in your eye.

“Apparently every Disney woman is a clone/direct descendant of some primordial creature with huge round cheeks”

How to Google Something You Don’t Know How to Describe




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I’ve Got Your Missing Links Right Here (14 March 2015)

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Top picks

One of the very best writers, Kathryn Schulz, reviews my favourite book of last year, Helen Macdonald’s H IS FOR HAWK. This is just multi-layered bliss. And Macdonald’s nature column at the NYT Magazine gets off to a flying start: “We have all been reminded that a day can be cut in two by three seconds of a hunting peregrine“.

Is Most of Our DNA Garbage? Carl Zimmer covers a fascinating but controversial topic, cuts himself, and merges with an onion.

RIP Lisa Adams, an incredible woman who showed the world what cancer is really like, and how to live with it in grace, dignity, and courage. “Find a bit of beauty in the world today. Share it. If you can’t find it, create it. Some days this may be hard to do. Persevere.”

“To actually understand who the Pigeon King was… it may help to put common sense aside.” Quirky. Animals. Brilliant told. This is a quintessential Jon Mooallem piece.

“To be a coral scientist is to buy front-row tickets to a tragedy.” Veronique Greenwood on a possible blink of hope.

“There is no book more human than Good Omens.” Jess Zimmerman pays tribute to Terry Pratchett, gone too soon.

Much to love in Alom Shaha’s latest piece on school science practicals, whether they matter, and why the “science community” might like to actually ask some teachers about them.

Women go for prenatal genetic test, find out they have cancer. Big story, broken by Virginia Hughes

How New Zealand ended up at the forefront of the legal psychoactive drug business, thanks to a rock musician-cum-drug lord with a social mission. By Maia Szalavitz.

If you wrapped a cylinder around the Eiffel Tower, the air in the tube would outweigh the iron in the tower. Aatish Bhatia compares the tower to a bone.

Rose Eveleth offers a reality check on the hype around 3D printed hands

“One scientist compared the feeling to walking down a street in California and seeing a giraffe.” Carl Zimmer on a whale on the wrong side of the world.

Apple’s new ResearchKit: ‘Ethics quagmire’ or medical research aid? By Arielle Duhaime-Ross; a great look at what ethics in medical research actually involves.

We can find buried oceans under the surface of one of Jupiter’s moons, by studying its auroras. Wonderful piece by Nadia Drake.

The origin of the anus—a story about the extraordinary evolution of our most embarrassing organ, after our brains and mouths. By Matt Walker.



5 Languages That Could Change the Way You See the World

485 million year old fossil was a giant… er… [stares at screen, squints, tilts head]

“If the bonobos disappeared, [18] plants would also likely go extinct.”

Marine census lists 228,445 known species, deletes 190,400 duplicates

“Controlling what grows in our yards is like playing God. By favoring productive species, we can create life”

John Horgan rightly lambasts the NYT for a “feel-good gene” op/ed that’s basically a “sensationalized press release”

Being stabbed with a mucus dagger is not even the worst part of snail sex

“One of the few good news stories in primatology”: the lesula monkey.

“It’s not pigments that change chameleons’ color; it’s [their] sparkling skin.”

Today I learned that some scorpions can spray venom from their stings.

I really wish people would stop wasting time with cancer-sniffing dogs. The principle has been proved. Move on the actual sensors. Also: 88% accuracy is rubbish for a low-prevalence disease. See here.

Update on antibiotic resistance: we’re still screwed. By Julia Belluz.

“This is the first example of memory manipulation during sleep.”

Fresh claims of multiple horizontally transferred genes in animal genomes. For real this time, or 2001 all over again?

Scientists Call For Moratorium On Human “Gene Editing” Experiments

Cheetahs are teaching robots how to run at MIT

“Not giving boys the HPV vaccine is institutional homophobia”

“We have Stone Age emotions. We have medieval institutions…And we have god-like technology.” -EO Wilson

What’s in My Gut? The quantified self meets the microbiome

How to stop sexual harassment and assault of field scientists

“Researchers nearly double size of worker ants

You are not a tetrachromat and this graphic is bullsh*t

Here’s a virtual prehistoric whale biting down on the skull of a prehistoric baby dolphin.

The Ghost of Ivory Bills

In which Christina Agapakis interviews me and others on poo, and the transplantation thereof.

The smiling marsupial, a favorite selfie subject for tourists, is facing serious threats

You Got the Touch; You Got the Power

Complex societies evolved without belief in all-powerful deity

Bacteria pipe food to each other with tiny tubes

Robo-rescuers battle it out in $2m disaster challenge

Why are elephants and other animals so wrinkly?

A peacock’s tail makes noises too are low for humans to hear, but attract other peacocks.

Ancient Wheat DNA Find Shifts Early UK Farming Theories

On World Wildlife Day, a video on the illicit trade in great apes, narrated by great ape Richard Wrangham

For Dwarf Planet Ceres, 4.6 Billion Years of Anonymity End This Week

“The research adds to a fierce debate over whether climate change influences human conflict.”

An ode to termites, by Natalie Angier.

The origins of different groups of HIV

“In other words, the desire to grab something to eat becomes the desire to grab anything at all.” “The recent experiments began more or less by accident. “We went to an insect fair recently…”

Can gene therapy succeed when vaccines fail? Estonia learns how to back up a nation’s worth of data, to protect against Russian attack: http://econ.st/1KCjAfo

“Sexing up the human pheromone story: How a corporation started a scientific myth”

After handshakes, we sniff people’s scent on our hands. More cool work by Noam Sobel

Solitary worker ants live only 1/10th as long compared to those in small groups.

“It’s not a tomato garden” Meet the Microbes that Live in Our Vaginas

Meet Dudley, the most nightmare-inducing site marker in the deep sea



Clickhole has published a noir choose-your-own-adventure game and it’s amazing.

“Is your bionic arm better than Iron Man’s?”

These Scientific Names Were Chosen Purely To Insult Certain People

Humanity has clearly dropped the ball on our naming duties

Print your own Haeckel posters, key chains, clocks, bags, pillows, mousepads, hip flasks (!!)

Amazing! Prosthetic Allows Dog To Sting With Deadly Poison For First Time



RIP Terry Pratchett

Silence: an experiment

No-one knows what caused the crooked forest of Gryfino in Poland

A day in the life of Amanda Gefter, whose routine is eerily similar to mine.

Do you remember the first time you were flabbergasted by the real world?


A Blog by

I’ve Got Your Missing Links Right Here (28 February 2015)

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Top picks

Two boys from either side of the Iron Curtain, united through a love of birds, turn a no man’s land into an ecological success story. This piece from Phil McKenna is one of the best I’ve read recently. I cried at the end.

The time everyone “corrected” the world’s smartest woman, and she was right. A great piece about the Monty Hall Problem.

The Science of Why No One Agrees on the Color of This Dress. Adam Rogers explains.

An Italian surgeon claims that he can do head transplants. It’s complete nonsense. Virtually every new organisation covers it terribly. Azeen Ghorayshi at Buzzfeed does it right.

You think you’re safe and then–BAM–an octopus leaps out of the water and kills you.

Mars Missions Are A Scam. Dan Vergano tells it like it is.

Science routinely reinforces the public’s mistrust with our everyday foibles.” Hope Jahren with some harsh truths about science communication.

Patients with bionic hands control them using thought alone. Lovely piece by Alok Jha

On icebergs, by Donovan Hohn, in Moby-Duck. I highly recommend this book.

Jessica Wapner’s piece on circumcision is a great exercise in thinking one’s way through convoluted evidence where there may be no right answer.

Eyelashes in mammals are always roughly 1/3 as long as the eye’s width. Why?

“It’s one of the world’s most startling ecological calamities – the story of how cotton soaked up an entire sea.”



On the learning styles myth

“She moved with a kind of liquid speed underwater.” An obituary for “Shark Lady” Eugenie Clark

Killer chytrid fungus has been confirmed throughout Madagascar

Significant move: psychology journal bans p-values.

Games are to AI researchers what fruit flies are to biology — a stripped-back system in which to test theories.” New AI plays old games like Pong and Space Invaders.

How sign language is developing new signs for modern words

Avoid Killer Gerbil Headlines Like A Cliche

Baby sea turtles starved of oxygen by beach microbes

“I guess you can make hypothesis about anything & a ‘hypothesis’ about ‘potential’ isn’t very strong.” Carl Zimmer on a new paper about whether Ebola can go airborne.

When did dinosaurs learn to fly?

This is nonsense. You cannot reconstruct a person’s face from DNA at a crime scene.

Dragonfly eyes see the world in many colours.” This is wrong. Extra opsin genes doesn’t mean seeing more colours.

Frontiers, throwing its reputation onto a spike

The fantastic transformation of subway cars into artificial reefs

The six challenges the world faces in trying to fully wipe out the West Africa Ebola outbreak.

“If any creature needs the publicity a “day” can provide, it’s the pangolin.”

Rob Knight’s TED talk: How our microbes make us who we are.

The bladderwort packs its genome in the same way that I don’t pack my bags.

You’ve handled brains; it’s not like silly putty that you can pull through a hole.”

Autistic people spark Twitter fight against Autism Speaks

“I would never be motivated by money for anything”, says shady climate scientist receiving fossil fuel industry money

The deeper issue with the UCLA superbug crisis: how likely it is to happen again.

Toronto Star retracts HPV vaccine story




Nearly Frozen Waves

“In the 19thC, everyone used standing desks. [It] was a great century that didn’t have any problems.”

Best selfie ever, by Buzz Aldrin.

This Wisconsin house is perfectly ordinary if you ignore the 55-ton boulder forcibly embedded in it

Soul-terrifying emails for writers



“He didn’t lack the time to read. He was simply choosing not to.”

Aeon Ideas: the cool topics of Aeon fused with the discussion style of Quora.

“I wanted to tell him that inspiration is a joke and is about as meaningful as a bartender’s smile.”

Comics fan dies of unexplained causes. Family gets obit to list cause of death as “uppercut from Batman