Top ten picks
For obvious reasons, this week’s picks will take a slightly different format. First up is a list of my favourite coverage of the Japanese crisis, followed by five other top picks.
- Maggie Koerth-Baker wrote the best “explainer”, heads and shoulders above the rest in terms of clarity. Is everything you know about nuclear power plants out of the Simpsons? Start here.
- Other good explainers: John Timmer at Ars Technica, The Economist, and an excellent, unique video explainer from the Guardian, featuring Ian Sample looking over at the week’s events.
- Andrew Maynard was one of the first with a good guide on the health effects of radiation. Also have a look at this Knight Tracker post for links to other good (and very bad) explainers on how radiation is measured and what it does to you.
- Chris Rowan wrote a great explainer about the earthquake and tsunami at Scientific American
- Cristine Russell compares the Fukushima situation to Three Mile Island, which she reported on, and suggests some good sources
- Geoff Brumfiel and David Cyranoski absolutely killed with their reporting over at Nature. Their landing page on the situation would probably be my first port of call for updates. In particular, read Geoff’s piece “Fukushima incident is out of control” and this unique story by Declan Bulter with an open data angle
- I love the Wall Street Journal’s interactive Reactor Monitor
- Scientific American talks about the Fukushima 50 – the people who stayed behind to ward off nuclear meltdown.
- The NYT on the dearth of good information from Japan’s leadership.
- “Sh*t!” my dad says. Geoblogger Evelyn Mervine interviews her dad (a nuclear engineer) on Japan’s current situation. A great example of the ability of the web to empower people who might not otherwise have had a voice. This is also worth noting for the crowdsourced transcription effort!
- A piece by MIT’s Josef Oehmen gave a well-written description of how nuclear reactors work before downplaying the dangers of the situation. Salon talks about Oehmen’s credentials and Geniusnow has an interesting take on some conflicts of interest
In pictures and video
- The Big Picture, as ever, conveys the level of devastation in Japan
- The Atlantic collects photos that depict the recovery efforts.
- Some truly shocking before and after satellite pictures of the tsunami-hit areas from ABC and the NYT
- The most alarming video of the tsunami so far – it starts like a burst drain and ends with a house being carried away.
- An interactive map of Japan’s earthquakes
Political and social ramifications
- Two pieces at the Economist: one covering the recovery process, attempts to cope with dwindling food, how the economy will respond, and the national’s cultural reactions; and another looking at the effects on the energy industry and the country’s position at a crossroads in history.
- “Let’s not block construction indefinitely while we go on mindlessly pumping oil. Because nuclear energy, for all its risks, is safer,” writes Will Saletan in an excellent piece on the political… er… fallout.
- You know these are the end times when the Daily Mail is the voice of measured reason (the headline’s a bit much, but there’s much to like about the piece).
- The Center for Public Integrity shows that there’s no bias like hindsight bias.
- Fear drive up US demand for potassium iodide pills.
- David Spiegelhalter, Professor of the Public Understanding of Risk, warns against overplaying the nuclear risk
- And fear of radiation could be more dangerous to health than radiation itself.
- Alexis Madrigal takes us on a retrospective look at our hopes and fears for nuclear power through Google’s Ngrams.
- “Hours after the first shock waves hit, two of the largest crime groups went into action, opening their offices to those stranded in Tokyo, and shipping food, water, and blankets to the devastated areas…” Even the Yakuza are helping out. Awesome story by Jake Adelstein at the Daily Beast
- Charles Choi heads to Chernobyl to report on the worst nuclear accident in history
- Homeopaths try to cash in. No, I think you’ll find find that water is what caused the Japanese problem in the first place.
- Phil Plait debunks the supermoon nonsense
- “The actual coverage has often been nonsensical, contradictory, overdramatic and occasionally hysterical,” says Wilson da Silva, editor of COSMOS
- Curtis Brainard talks about the challenges of juggling a triple-whammy of disasters
The Psychology of Bloggers vs. Journalists: Jay Rosen invites you to lie down on his couch and discusses the origin of lazy thinking on both sides of this tired, tired debate.
Possibly my favourite thing of the year – Craig Venter got a cease and desist letter from the Joyce estate after including a line from one of Joyce’s poems in the genome of his synthetic organism. He also messed up a Feynman quote. Maybe version 2.0 can have a retraction and correction in it?
Does XMRV cause chronic fatigue syndrome? Ewen Callaway covers the debate and more interestingly, the story about the woman who is the biggest defender of the XMRV idea.
Jonathan Eisen finds something… weird. Is it a fourth domain of life or just some freaky viruses? Or both? New Scientist has an easy take, and Carl Zimmer has a masterful piece that provides some context and includes a guest appearance from me and my “Yong-o-matic Horizontal Gene Transfer Injector”. But surely for the most thorough (but hardest) version, you should go to the man himself.
I was going to do an April Fools’ post on the Journal of Cosmology but I can’t outdo their actual staff. NASA’s Chief Scientist is a Grand Inquisitors, journalists are on their payroll, there’s a big cover-up, none of the critics of Hoover’s paper (on bacteria’ fossils in meteorites) are “legitimate scientists”, and so on. Meanwhile, Chandra Wickramasinghe speaks about his sacking by Cardiff University
Maryn McKenna uses St Patrick’s Day as an excuse for a story about history and disease.
Jonah Lehrer gets tough on talent, tough on the causes of talent.
Check out Rose Eveleth’s new blog Sounds Like Science – every post accompanied by cool recording. Nice idea. HT @BoraZ
The lionfish is delicious and needs to die.
MESSENGER becomes the first craft to orbit Mercury. Every article I read about this feels like it’s shouting the probe’s name at me.
Your brain is a rain forest – an interesting piece on neurodiversity
A wearable PET scanner? Rats wake up for behavioural research.
The microbiome never ceases to amaze – friendly bacteria fight the flu. Another reason not to give antibiotics to the virally sick?
“I do not want to resort to hyperbole, but it feels like a whole generation of would-be scientists is being snubbed” Nathan Ley on what it’s like to apply for a studentship in the UK just as the government’s austerity measures start to bite
Human and other primates have similar aging patterns
The power of lonely – what we do better without other people around. Other than using the toilet.
When did Europeans first harness fire? Later than thought, apparently. And how does Richard Wrangham react to an idea that contradicts his hypothesis that cooking helped drive human intelligence? Rather charmingly, it turns out.
“Oh, that internet. It has not a single citation and it is positively full of blackguards and scoundrels.” I’m paraphrasing. Read the actual response from McDermott & Rosen on the charge of ignoring the post-publication peer review of arsenic life.
I like to think of myself as an “Apatosaurus denialist.” Brian Switek eulogises Brontosaurus
“Both science and spirituality came from space.” “We have to conclude that the second law has in fact been violated here”. Applied Mathematical Letters has all the best retracted papers.
Heather Pringle on Google People Finder and not being evil
International Space Station operations will continue until 2020
Should smallpox virus be destroyed?
Jeremy Yoder thoroughly and calmly takes apart the claim that homophobia is adaptive.
Bats and whales, from parasites of snails. Where did animals comes from? Carl Zimmer reports.
“The purpose of keeping these retraction notices slim is not to produce too much detail” http://bit.ly/gOBAyY HT @ivanoransky
Ants in my scanner: 5 year time-lapse of an ant colony changing in a scanner, by Catherine de Lange
Whirling jaws of death – I’ll never look at rotifers in the same way again
I refuse to believe that we cannot find gainful employment for a good swordmaker.
“This page is meant to explain some of the basic steps of Norse wooden shipbuilding, and should not be regarded as a complete how-to guide.”
Moviebarcodes: films deconstructed by scene colour palettes
‘Planet Earth’ PA Still Trying To Get Release Forms From Every Bird In Serengeti
DARPA to train soldiers, sorry “warfighters”, to “achieve positive outcomes during the difficult social encounters“.
In a scientific first, two researchers managed to… OH KITTENS!
Maths leads to better head
Heh. This cracked me up.
My schedule, courtesy of XKCD
Mapping the legitimacy of fictional doctors: Venkman, Brown, Doom, Strangelove etc
Do specialist journalists need to know anything about their subject? Do you need a science degree to write about science? Ben Goldacre discusses.
I usually hate “X is dead” stories but when X is SEO, I will queue to twist the knife
Some reactions to churnalism.com including some frankly absurd defensiveness
Watch the Science Online 2011 session heard round science blogosphere – perils of blogging as a woman under a real name
The Economist on why the atomic unit of journalism is probably going to move away from “the article”
Journalists, this is how you handle a Twitter screw-up
The US military is paying companies to invent internet trolls. I love how the tone of the article makes it sound like this is a new nefarious scheme and not something that happens all the time anyway