I’ve got your missing links right here (19 March 2011)

By Ed Yong | March 19, 2011 12:00 pm

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.



In pictures and video

Political and social ramifications


The coverage

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


A Brief History of Awesome by Alice Bell, who also muses on the value of science fairs

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

This is a public service announcement. Stop Linking To “Top 100 Blogs”. And more reasons here.

Nerds, we need to have a talk

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


Comments (12)

  1. Wow!

    Nature, The Wall Street Journal, Scientific American, The New York Times, the (in)famous Oehmen post, and my little geology blog. Now that’s something I never thought I would see.

    Thank you for what I consider to be an enormous compliment, Ed. Really, though, we should all thank my wonderful father and his willingness to share his knowledge from years of experience in the nuclear power industry.

  2. Stella

    Time to figure out how to make your links open in a new window, so they don’t actually take me away from Facebook. The current result makes me hesitate to click, though your stuff is good.

  3. Great lineup of links to check out. Plus Evelyn’s wonderful interview, which did more to help me understand the nuclear situation than almost any other report I’ve read.

    I’m in Tokyo and have been going through all of this with everyone. Even a week after the big earthquake the ground is still shaking. And even though Tokyo isn’t nearly as bad as the horror going on up north, it’s bad enough to have sent panic throughout Tokyo, so that there are food shortages in the supermarkets. Thousands of people are escaping for the southwest, to get away from the unending, and often big, “aftershocks” (might as well just call them what they are… “eearthquakes”… all, as of this moment, 604 of them). I’m so on edge that I’ve slept with my clothes on for the entire week! Getting in the shower, taking off your clothes, is terrifying. And you get to the point where everything seems to be constantly swaying, the way you feel when stepping on land after a spell at sea.

    Just wanted to inform you of a site that I started and a group of people around the world are frantically trying to update to provide pragmatic, level-headed information for people going through the crisis. We have two groups, one a Facebook group called “Disaster Japan Information Gathering”, where people around the world gather as many links as they can find that are relevant to Japan’s situation, and post these in the group. From there a small group of authors from the Disaster Japan blog/site harvest the most useful information and post it to the blog. We try to categorize and tag each link as comprehensively as possible so that the site is easy to navigate and find information. Hopefully the site will be of use to people looking for sober answers in a frightening time.

    Needless to say, I am furious with the news agencies that have been sending around scaremonger stories of the nuclear disaster and taking away from the far more important and tragic problem of the devastation of the north.

  4. Carl’s Zimmer post on a potential fourth domain is amazing

    “Is everything you know about nuclear power plants out of the Simpsons?”
    Nucular, it’s pronounced nucular
    Too bad you can’t read Italian Ed, in the link below there is a very clear explanation of how nuclear powerplants work and what went wrong and could happen in Fukushima:

    “Even the Yakuza are helping out”
    I’m envious. In Italy mafia-linked businessmen started making plans on how to gain money from (illegal and bad) reconstruction plans the same night an earthquake destroyed L’Aquila. There were phone interceptions in which they were heard laughing about it

    “Do you need a science degree to write about science?”
    Does David Attenborough have a degree in natural sciences?

  5. nefernika

    In re: bloggers v. journalists

    I am reminded of something that a literature professor of mine used to say, which is, “the more arbitrary a boundary is, the more violently the boundary must be defended.” This is something you can see in the defense of gender or racial boundaries, but I can see it at work in this professional boundary dispute, too!

  6. Chew

    Maggie managed to mess up the only detail that was important to the reactors in Japan: decay heat. When the control rods are inserted the fission almost completely stops. Any fission that happens afterwards is a minuscule contribution to the decay heat. It is the radioactive decay of the fission byproducts (I, Cs, Xe, etc) that add the vast majority to the decay heat. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Decay_heat

  7. Adela

    MIT NSE deparment blog has been doing a great job of explaining all the basics as well. They separated out the different issues for example decay heat into individual posts. Charts, graphs and formulas included so you can verify the math.

  8. A broken link, in this sentence: “But surely for the most thorough (but hardest) version, you should go to the man himself.” Should just be http://ff.im/-zuJtr (There’s a lot of cruft before it, starting with a mailto link).

    Also, @Stella (#2): do you know about right-clicking on links? (Or, optionally, clicking while holding down either the Shift key or Ctrl key.) That should handle your complaint about being taken away from the page you’re on.

  9. Daniel J. Andrews

    At Stella—definitely right-click (as bjkeefe says). I go down through Ed’s list and right click on all the links I find interesting. I then read my way through page after page, closing them (or forwarding them to others) as I finish. The Ctrl key and click shortcut is a new one for me. Thanks bjkeefe!

  10. Steve

    Ed, I can’t access the “most alarming video” link. Both Firefox and Internet Explorer return an “Authorization Required” page.

  11. Shame. I can’t find another version of the same clip.

  12. @Daniel: y/w! Glad I could provide something of use.

    @Ed: link is still broken. See my comment at #8. (Just a minor thing, admittedly.)


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