I've got your missing links right here – 20th November 2010

By Ed Yong | November 20, 2010 12:00 pm

Top ten from the week

This is an incredible story about a surprising 1918 autopsy, beautifully told by Maryn McKenna, whose Superbug blog has rapidly shot up to the top echelons of my favourites list.

“I like to think the worst is over, but it’s coming up to the first anniversary and it’s something I’ll always remember at this time of year, when the nights close in. This is the time it happened.” David Adam’s brilliant feature/interview with Phil Jones, the scientist at the heart of ‘Climategate’ And in a similar vein, a retrospective by another climate scientist Mike Hulme

Incredible sudoku-solving bacteria, by Frank Swain.

Jesse Bering ejaculates about premature ejaculation – is it a sexual fail or an evolutionary win? And comment 11 is absolutely priceless. I propose a magazine called Scientific Victorian that only covers biology below the ankle and above the neck.

Do psychic powers exist? A paper published last week claimed so, and bloggers have provided some superb critical analysis. The important thing is that these critiques could apply to all sorts of studies…

“Awe is our first principle. If we weren’t all using science to chase it in some way or another, why be in this business at all?” Read of the week: John Pavlus’s manifesto for achieving awesome. This is basically the goal of this blog.

“Somebody in your classroom uses a service that you can’t detect, that you can’t defend against, that you may not even know exists.” This is the incredible story of a self-professed “academic mercenary” who makes a living by ghost-writing essays for cheating students.

“The ability to exist in two worlds at once – the experiential and the unseen scientific –  provides me with a great deal of satisfaction, as if, by just thinking, I can fill in historical details of the world around me.  But how do you get to that point?” Hannah Waters discusses the scientific worldview, and why it’s both hard and rewarding.

Genetics in the time of cholera: did one person bring cholera to Haiti?

A fusion poison that could kill animals evolved more than one billion years before animals existed. Superb stuff from Lucas Brouwers.

More after the jump…

Science writing and news

The Nature paper where Watson and Crick published their DNA model was never peer-reviewed. Why? “Its correctness is self-evident”

A Tadpole Taste Test with Students as “Mock Predators”. Emily Anthes continues to win the blogosphere.

Pterosaurs may have pole-vaulted to take flight

“Without even knowing it, movie soundtrack makers appear to mimic the sounds of animals in distress.”

Doctors have injected stem cells into a man’s brain for the first time, in a stroke trial. A nice example of how to report medical stories currently in progress, and responsibly.

“If scientists and advocates can communicate their findings in less apocalyptic ways…” Dire messages about global warming can backfire. The mechanism is especially interesting.

EPA recognizes CO2 as a water pollutant, due to ocean acidification.

A Swedish girl developed all the major symptoms of autism at 14, following a viral infection.

Does a semi-suicidal, 40-ft cooperative amoebic blob lurk beneath that cow pasture?

A third of Texans think that humans and dinosaurs co-existed. It’s weeping time, my friends.

Antimatter atom trapped for first time, say scientists. “It’s a trap!” says antimatter atom.

Oh, now I get it. Matt Parker brilliantly explains the P vs NP problem.

Quacks and poachers team up to screw over rhinos and cancer patients. Heart-breaking.

A new virus that affects switchgrass could be bad news for a biomass production.

“One of the deepest flaws in our brains, then, might be a by-product of one of its most impressive strengths.” Carl Zimmer describes the bottleneck in your head

Scientists respond to ocean acidification doubts

Forensic podiatry. No, really. By Virginia Hughes

Mo Costandi has been doing some great reporting from the Society for Neuroscience conference. Here he is on optogenetics and synaesthesia

Tweeting students are more engaged and get better grades. Yakawow.

Half-moth. Half-machine. All-cop. Well, two out of three.

Mo’ money, mo’ life satisfaction. SciCurious talks about the link between money and happiness.

Some pretty strong evidence surfaces that the Stuxnet virus was targeted at enrichment centrifuges in nuclear power plants.

“The grandmasters didn’t remember the board better than amateurs. Rather, they saw the board better.” The cost of expertise: Jonah Lehrer on “chunking chessmasters”

What makes a psychopath? Hint: it’s not the moustache.

Tyrannosaurus rex had some extra junk in the trunk

Drongos are twankers.

I have the conch! Scientists analyze tunes from 3,000-year-old conch-shell instruments

On The Reckless Physicking of Amateur Females. Florence Nightingale vs. homeopathy

Telltale bacteria could reveal time of drowning, says New Scientist. Maybe. With more tests. Etc. As per usual.

How fast is the world’s ice going to melt? Justin Gillis reports at the NYT, with a great interactive graphic.

And an absolutely terrible piece by John Horgan in Scientific American, about how some areas of science are apparently going backwards. By that, he means “failing to reach an arbitrarily set deadline based on media hype”. His examples include gene therapy, which despite saving a patient from a lifetime of blood transfusions earlier this year, is “a bust”. Dire.


How to flay a Moebius strip bagel in one knife-stroke

Sea otter ecologist. This would be the world’s best job. How would you ever concentrate enough to actually gather any data?

BBC Breaking. Yes. Yes it is.

Astronaut Tracy Caldwell Dyson looks down on Earth from the ISS. Wow.

Large Hadron Collider scientists release music record. No word on whether listeners will want to be sucked into an apocalyptic black hole.

The evolution of the alphabet

Speaking of which… Hadronn Cjolidder. (If Ikea made particle accelerators)

This is a PNAS paper about the categorisation of PNAS papers. And the navel-gazing award goes to…


I’ve giv’n her all she’s got captain, an’ I canna give her no more.”

Awww… Ultimate Psittacosaurus Snuggle

Rhesus monkeys learn about dominance from the movies.

Thick-crust extremophiles. Life found in the deepest, unexplored layer of the Earth’s crust.

The world’s smallest water bottle – it holds one water molecule

I’m of two minds about this. Sure, these molecular animations are pretty, but they’re also completely devoid of any content. A bit of a wasted opportunity…

How T.rex really hunted. Maybe. Well probably not. But this is amazing, especially this image.

Dear Telegraph, where is the “dinosaur the size of a giraffe“? Is it standing behind the pterosaur?

Everything about these anatomy tattoos is wrong and terrifying.


Alan Rusbridger’s superb list of 15 reasons why Twitter matters for media organisations and the full text of his excellent lecture

Scientists who are best communicators with public have highest citation rate… Why scientists should embrace the media

James Frey would like you to help him violate your dignity write the next Harry Potter

Middle East TV talent show seeks to promote science

A fascinating and extensive list of blind bloggers/writers/journalists

“ProPublica’s aim with its stories, he said, is to capture reader interest with “a bit of a drumbeat of communication.” When breaking is not breaking. How do you cover breaking news when crises are slow?

The Obama administration will appoint a “privacy czar” but there’s no word on who yet BECAUSE IT’S NONE OF YOUR BUSINESS

Ah Fox News. So impartial it hurts…

It’s not just science journalism. Financial journalism can suck too.

An interview with Ferris Jabr. This guy’s one to watch, folks.

“Science is Vital: “We want a fair share of the π”. Demolition: “Osbourne F*** off’.” Students, get wittier placards. Some lessons that the student demos could have learned from Science is Vital.


Comments (12)

  1. Quinn O

    Great collection. Love the mobius bagel.

  2. Amy Sheldon

    Ed tweets: So those weekly link roundups I do… Are they useful? Do ppl read them? Should I bother?

    YES! YES! Please bother! You always manage to find articles that I haven’t seen elsewhere that I end up sending to friends – “You gotta read this!”

  3. Swift Loris

    Oh, my goodness, yes!

  4. Old Geezer

    Take Wednesdays off if you must, but keep the “Missing Links” coming!

  5. SimonG

    Very interesting, Ed. I don’t always look at every link but there’s always something to make me smile/frown/think.
    Few comments as I guess most people comment on the original sites.

  6. Thanks folks. I’ll keep em coming then. I never really expected comments here, but it’s good to know that these collections are useful. They take a non-trivial amount of time to put together.

  7. Daniel J. Andrews

    Yep, keep them coming, Ed. If they’re too time-consuming, maybe do it twice a month instead of four times a month? Takes me a few days to get around to reading most of them.

    Just read the academic mercenary one. Think I had a student who used one of those to produce a paper that read like it was taken right from a high-end science journal. I’ve peer-reviewed work for journals before and this paper read like it had been extensively edited, reviewed by experts. I couldn’t find anything I’d want to change.

    I used our university’s cheating detection software to see if I could find it online elsewhere, I googled away, but nothing. It was really really good and apparently original, but written by a lazy first year biology student who could barely write a lab report. She got an A+ for that , but she failed more tests, didn’t hand in other assignments, didn’t write finals and didn’t come back after Christmas.

    [EY: Yeah, one can only hope that people who use his services are eventually ferreted out through lack of actual talent. But, I’m not hopeful…]

  8. The evolution of the alphabet link looks familiar. It originally comes from this page (with copyrights to the University of Maryland).

    I originally found it in 2007, and linked to it in a June 2007 blog post in which I speculated on alternative history evolutions of the alphabet. (Search my blog for the word “phoenician” if you’re interested.)

  9. “And comment 11 is absolutely priceless”. Indeed XD
    “I propose a magazine called Scientific Victorian that only covers biology below the ankle and above the neck”. Might still be too adult for some people – a naked neck is, you know… naked
    ““If scientists and advocates can communicate their findings in less apocalyptic ways…” Dire messages about global warming can backfire”. I’ve been thinking it for a long while. Truth is like a beautiful lady: too much make up won’t improve her look, on the contrary will make her look like a whore
    “Quacks and poachers team up to screw over rhinos and cancer patients. Heart-breaking”. Indeed :(
    “What makes a psychopath? Hint: it’s not the moustache”. Of course not, that makes you just Italian (Family Guy teaches)
    “Thick-crust extremophiles. Life found in the deepest, unexplored layer of the Earth’s crust”. Wow, those bacteria are even tougher than Desulforudis audaxviator. And while people think about implications for Mars, I think it might support the estimation that living biomass inside the crust might exceed all life living above the crust, made by that Gold who proposed the “Deep-hot biosphere” theory if I remember well. (But I’m still pretty convinced that petroleum had a biological origin, sorry mr. Gold)
    “Dear Telegraph, where is the “dinosaur the size of a giraffe“? Is it standing behind the pterosaur?”. Ha!

  10. Hey Ed,
    Thanks for mentioning http://www.treeosaur.com on your cool blog!! So far, I have received mixed opinions (positive and negative) from paleontologists/scientists regarding my amateur theory. Below is a Dinosaur Mailing List comment from theropod expert Dr. Thomas Holtz.

  11. Io

    A “just so” theory about female orgasms that were touched upon in the premature ejaculation article: what if the female orgasm is delayed so that she would want to mate even after having sex with a single male? Suppose she has sex with four males and only then is satisfied: could it be that the healthiest sperm would “win” and thus be advantageous for the female?

  12. Ed … A definite yes please for these weekly link round-ups. Always lots of interesting stuff in here I’ve missed. Greatly appreciate you taking the time to do this.


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