The Links Effect

By Ed Yong | July 4, 2010 1:02 pm

Research news

A new set of fossils from Gabon may be the earliest evidence of multicellular creatures. Or, not. I wrote about them briefly, but Nature News has a great piece with thoughts from various scientists, and Chris at Highly Allochthonous explains why, at the very least, we can confidently say that the fossils at 2.1-billion years old.

Scientists have created a remote controlled “robofish” that sticklebacks accept as one of their own, says BBC News. Now, for Phase Two…

XMRV – the virus that has or has not been linked to cause chronic fatigue syndrome – is stirring up headlines again. Heidi Ledford at Nature reports on the CDC’s decision to delay the publication of a new study, following the emergence of conflicting results elsewhere. And Grant Jacobs at Code for Life uses this as a case study for context in science journalism.

You’ve probably heard about the new super-whale called Leviathan, which I and everyone else wrote about. What you may not have heard about is that the name may not be valid, given that Leviathan had previously been assigned to a mammoth. SV-POW has the story and some great debates in the comments. The authors are checking out the problem but if they are forced to change the name, what will they choose? Megaleviathan? Ultraleviathan? Mechaleviathan? Brian? Failocetus?

The human body makes rare antibodies effective against all flu viruses and these might be boosted to design a better universal flu treatment, says Maggie Fox at Reuters

A new technique for deciphering the calls of sperm whales allows the magnificent, mysterious creatures to be studied in unprecedented detail, says Brandon Keim in Wired. Researchers identified subtle variations caused by differences in the shape of individual whales’ heads. It’s the first time that sperm whale vocalizations have been linked to specific individuals.

A new scent is enough to spark the evolution of a new moth species — and it can start with just a single genetic mutation. More from Wired.

Other goings-on

The early buzz on Brian Switek’s first book Written in Stone is tremendous. I read three chapters when they were in a very early draft stage and they were superb. We can only guess what he’s managed to do with them since then, but the book is available for pre-order on Amazon. Go and buy it.

Simon Jenkins has launched another half-arsed attack on science in the Guardian. Scientists decided that mockery was the only good response to such tripe, and launched #SpoofJenks Monday. I particularly loved the efforts from Matt Parker, Jon Butterworth, and Stephen Curry. Meanwhile, Imran Khan spoils the fun with a substantive response to Jenkins with, you know, points and stuff.

Peter Aldhous at New Scientist reports on a zoo with plans to save endangered species by reprogramming cells from dead animals into stem cells. First step: a drill (it’s a monkey, not a tool).

You know that things are bad with the oil spill when the fact that thousands of turtles not burning to death is a cause for celebration. You know, earlier this year, thousands of turtles weren’t burning to death on a fairly regular basis.

Ben Goldacre has a somewhat depressing take on a paper about people’s reactions to scientific evidence. “When presented with unwelcome scientific evidence, it seems, in a desperate bid to retain some consistency in their world view, people would rather conclude that science in general is broken. This is an interesting finding. But I’m not sure it makes me very happy.”

Is a parasite influencing people’s World Cup skills? Is a parasite influencing people’s tendency to ascribe everything to parasites? Mind Hacks has more, but Vaughan’s probably been taken over by a parasite that reproduces by searching Pubmed.

Neurodojo talks about what happens to neurons when you’re as small as a shrew or as large as an elephant.

What do astronauts want to be when they grow up? A lovely piece by Tom Whyntie in the Guardian.

Despite an election pledge to take an evidence-based approach to health, the Conservatives have appointed MPs Nadine Dorries and David Tredinnick to the health select committee. Martin Robbins laments.

Heh/Wow

The Large Hadron Collider FAQ. “What would happen if I went inside it?” “Just. Don’t.”

What, if anything, is Big Bird? The Loom brings us a talk on the evolutionary affinities of a strange bird species

A gallery of close-ups of bug eyes, from Wired

Susan Orlean can apparently write about anything. Including hashtags.

Journalism and communication

The big news this week is that the Times has finally disappeared behind a full paywall. It’s a sad day for science journalism, for the Times provides some of the best science reporting out there thanks to folks like Mark Henderson, Hannah Devlin, Sam Lister et al. Through Eureka, they’ve shown that a science supplement can work in a national newspaper. They set up one of the only science blogs from a mainstream source that actually works. And they’ve always shown a great understanding of the value that the Internet and social media can bring to science journalism. To see all of that be less accessible to people is a big shame, but to be honest, I would be happy to pay a little less than the current asking price of £2/week for access to the science sections alone… (Also, the Sunday Times has disappeared behind a paywall too, so you win some, you lose some.) In the meantime, it’s interesting that the Guardian is going to the opposite extreme, by offering a plug-in that ports their content directly onto blogs. There’s also a good discussion on the future of paywalls at the Strange Attractor blog. Hint: people pay for the platform not the content,

More kerfuffle on embargoes this week around a study on menopause and the increasingly appropriately named Jonathan Leake. Ivan Oransky, as per usual, has a great take on the whole affair and Leake’s own thoughts. Fiona Fox is discusses Leake’s priors, Natasha Loder praises him and thinks he should be offered an apology, and Gimpyblog disagrees, having read the ESHRE’s media policy.

An interesting thought-provoking thread from Jack of Kent on the image of skepticism, with some great comments building up.

A truly inspiring interview with Eric Roston on science journalism, writing, new media and more, brought to you by Bora Zivkovic.

Scott Rosenberg at Wordyard is knocking them out of the park at the moment, with two great posts on journalists and public criticism, and the recent journo/blogger war (Episode #38302) at the Washington Post. Meanwhile, Brian Cubbison has another excellent piece on journos/bloggers (Episode #38303). I loved this: “Anyone who speaks of bloggers vs. journalists should be made to show their work. Strengthen the argument with links to actual bloggers and journalists. Anyone who uses the saggy, worn-out cliche of bloggers in pajamas should name one, just one, or be made to take down that sign above the desk, “When your mother says she loves you, check it out.”

Do arrogant, condescending, and dismissive attitudes contribute to the journalism crisis?” asks Abel Pharmboy. This isn’t one of those question headlines where the answer is no…

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Uncategorized

Comments (3)

  1. jud

    Please sign the petition (my website) and help us get the XMRV studies released! Gov. Should not interfere with the peer review process!

  2. Thanks for the link, Ed! The chapters have improved quite a bit since the last time you saw them, and I will be sure to send a review copy your way when they are ready. I have greatly appreciated your help and encouragement during the writing process – I hope you like the finished product.

  3. Goldacre re “people’s reactions to scientific evidence”. It has been very well demonstrated (with no need for further investigation imho) that people are hardwired to reject information that doesn’t fit their world view. See the Jonestown Kool Aid debacle for an example of how far cognitive dissonance can take you. It’s the reason I don’t bother “discussing/debating/arguing” science with a non-science individual. A literal waste of time (and I don’t have spare time to waste).

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