I've got your missing links right here (4 August 2012)

By Ed Yong | August 4, 2012 12:00 pm

Top picks

Fascinating profile of a transgender scientist on his experience and the science gap

Great piece on tough topic: Is Childhood Pertussis Vaccine Less Effective Than We Thought, by Maryn Mckenna

Deborah Blum’s on fire in this great post on a student death in a UCLA lab

Cool! In the Peruvian Amazon, there are folks who shrug off rabies. (They get bitten a lot by vampires though)

Evgeny Morozov’s hilarious, scathing, completely spot-on review of two TED books and the entire TED monolith is so wonderfully caustic, I needed to lie down afterwards. Sample: “TED is no longer [about] ideas “worth spreading.” [It is] an insatiable kingpin of international meme laundering.”

Cancer stem cells have been tracked. This is nothing less than watching tumours being born. I wonder what the cancer stem cell skeptics will think.

The sad downfall of Jonah Lehrer deepens, beginning with the revelation that he fabricated Bob Dylan quotes for his new book, leading to his resignation from the New Yorker, the pulling of his book, and more. I’ve promoted much of Jonah’s work on this blog, but this clearly violates the “don’t make stuff up” and the “make your thesis fit the evidence, not the other way round” rules of science writing. Amid the burst of shallow, reactionary, almost-gleeful pieces (summed up here), there were also gems. This piece by Bradley Voytek on “the deception ratchet”, this interview with Michael Moynihan who started things off, Alexis Madrigal’s short, punchy meta-take on the ideas culture (“When everyone makes media, everything is a news peg.”), Mark Liberman’s take on fabrication in the media, and Daniel Bor’s neuroscientist perspective on what this means for pop science writing, are all worth reading. That last piece is notable for relating how Jonah covered up an error by shunting the blame to his editor, before wilfully re-making that error. It’s awful to see someone being publicly pilloried, but that marks a point where my sympathy starts evaporating.

Science of history? “Cliodynamics” claims cyclical patterns in world history but some doubt whether it’s good science. Good Nature feature exploring the debate.

Virginia Hughes on how most coverage on the brain’s critical period is wrong, and missed its own critical period.

A new type of flu leapt from birds to seals. Carl Zimmer covers it with typical excellence. This guy, however, is really worried.

It’s 1879, and psychology is just about to be born.” – great historical post by Maria Konnikova

The secrets behind national anthems. This is a fascinating topic – the author, Alex Marshall, is an old friend.

India’s power cuts affected 10% of all humans on Earth.  And here’s everything you need to know on the energy side of the story in 7 paragraphs by David Biello.

This is really useful: how to talk to people in wheelchairs

Ah, the good old days, when kids’ chemistry kits contained cyanide and uranium dust.

HA! What the ending of Dark Knight Rises would’ve really been like, given actual physics. Spoilers, obviously. And let’s all welcome Geoff Brumfiel to the world of blogging.

Wow. Net-casting spider hunt filmed in wild

The fallacy that brain-based explanations of behavior mean less responsibility. Good neuroscience piece in the NYT.

An ant that protects herself with butt foam. Yeah, hur-hur, but also those photos are amazing.

Why do men collect dinosaur eggs? “1. collecting is a dude thing 2. the dude thing must be sexual 3. DINOSAUR EGGS 4. ? 5. …PROFIT.”

Why climate change does not spark moral outrage & how it could, by David Roberts

Nice round-up on the race to get rid of HIV completely

Superb piece on journalism’s failure to expose its own flaws. “Those who get it wrong spend a few days in the spanking machine and then it is back to business as usual…. Journalists assign a nobility to the profession that obscures the flaws within it…. The public isn’t buying.”


Why, at 40 feet and 20 tons, are whale sharks so darn small? Craig McClain is going to find out

“It shouldn’t have come to this.” – Neuroskeptic blames reviewers for not spotting the psych fraud that Simonsohn did

The killer whale is an apex predator that ****s up other apex predators. Maybe don’t treat it like a pet? By Barbara King

Aussie billionaire wants to chuck his money down the drain and waste everyone’s time by trying to create Jurassic Park.

You can practically feel the frustration radiating off David Biello in this piece on melting glaciers and continuing climate contrarianism.

Best headline ever: Even Deadly Snakes and Monkey Sh*t Couldn’t Stop Me From Excavating Maya Ruins in the Jungle. A tale of adventure from Charles Choi.

“‘Look mom, they’re wrestling!’ he would say. She would stop & look at me. I would slowly shake my head.” Eric Vance on dolphin sex

Drug-resistant gonorrhoea spreading around Europe. A slow clap for us. Also, that story led me onto Wikpedia’s entry on gonorrhoea, and this image. Beware the alluring clap-ridden femme, o brave tiny men of the military!

New ‘spray-on skin’ treatment developed for venous leg ulcers

Some good news: deforestation levels fall in the Brazilian Amazon for 4th year running

Veronique Greenwood: “How did you mount an elephant larynx on a tube?” Scientist: “There was a certain amount of duct tape involved.”

Try the chimpanzee diet

What your brain does when it picks out a voice from the crowd?

Sturzstrom: when dirt flows like lava

How long would it take to tweet a human genome? At 1 tweet/minute… 38 years.

This is a rare misstep for Robert Krulwich: a piece about a theory that, while seductive, is a load of tosh. Someone should send an advisory notice to science writers to just fervently ignore Donald Williamson’s metamorphosis stuff. Krulwich has since added an update, but it doesn’t quite convey how nonsensical and thoroughly disproved the idea actually is.

“Roughly 1% of published papers are fraudulent“: now is the time to confront scientific misconduct.

“Probably the overall biggest risk is our lack of imagination.” –Eric Hand on Curiosity’s “7 minutes of terror”

The record-breaking chilli that fights your nervous system, rioters, and poverty

Humpback songs are so mainstream. I like bowhead whale song. You’ve probably never heard of it.

AAAAARRGGGHH Visceral larva: why you shouldn’t ingest living earthworms and geckos

Dibs on the soundproof room!! 400 lots of neuroscience lab equipment on auction

“The” human genome does not exist. A piece on the limits of the standard reference sequence.

Bob Ward goes for the jugular with this damning take on Matt Ridley, viscount, sometimes science journalist, climate change “skeptic” and failed bank head.

Sloths have rubbish balance – probably because they barely move

DNA hints at African cousins to humans

Buddhist ceremonial releases of captive birds & other animals harms wildlife, may introduce disease

Uncanny valley gets new pit: you can store loved one’s ashes in a 3D-printed urn in the shape of their head

His recent troubles aside, here’s a great exchange between Jonah Lehrer and Chris Chabris on how to write about psychology and uncertain evidence.

Congrats to the Guardian’s newest bloggers: Dean Burnett with Brain Flapping, and Rebekah Heggett and Vanessa Heggie with their history of science blog, the H Word.

10,000 volt 3D electric sprayer which fires streams of heart cells could patch up damaged heart tissue

BP oil spill dispersants “knocked the middle” out of Gulf food chain

How Karma Plays Out in the Real World

NIAID director urges continuation of H5N1 research moratorium. Yeah, H5N1’s not going to honour it too, is it?

A salesman fighting the anti-aging telomere-meddling company he used to work for

Sperm whales like to sleep standing up. We’re a giant hammer away from Whack-a-Whale

The evolutionary adaptations that Aquaman would need to not immediately die or go insane

A continuation of Neuroskeptic’s thoughts on language use in the social sciences, with great comments.

The Sanna retractions begin w/ a paper at Psych Sci.

First approved “digital pill” can be swallowed & tells if you’ve taken your medicine

Oh bloody hell. First firing of a 3D-printed gun

Moral molecule, eh? Oxytocin decreases the adherence to fairness norms (paper).

Hitchhiking jellyfish, gonad-loving parasites and the skeleton shrimp

Russian avatar email is new Nigerian banking email: Russian Mogul Wants to Upload Your Brains

Airborne lasers are uncovering ancient structures, redefining archaeology

Michelle Nijhuis and Jason Goldman discuss the men who stare at (and then kill) goats

SciCurious has a great post on mimetic desire and now I want one too

11 Everyday Things That Are Terrifying Under a Microscope

2 dolphin communities join forces, begin scheming. Probably.

NHS among developed world’s most efficient health systems, says study. Or perhaps, “was”.

Electronic sensor rivals sensitivity of human skin; Inspired by beetles

A somber reflection on the dark side of photojournalism: photographers who didn’t help

Climate “skeptics” all too credulous about paranoid conspiracy theories

LMFLO: Death from laughter

Animal activists’ terror tactics drive staff out of laboratories

The human body: a caustic, abrasive environment in which artificial joints sometimes struggle to thrive



A map of London’s most common names, by area. Or, multiculturalism visualised.

XKCD nails what happens when introverts socialise.

Onion: “300M W/out Electricity In India After Restoration Of Power”

Beautiful, naturalistic paper bird sculptures

Heh. Peter Jackson will film a 95-hour Silmarrillon adaptation. “That is just gonna be balls-to-the-wall f**king amazing – especially if its true Christopher Walken is playing Melkor.”

Faith in humanity restored! Someone broke into Steve Silberman’s car and someone else did this.

Why do we fall, Bruce? Because we make terrible decisions when attempting to read simple climbing routes.”

WOW! Lord of the rings. Saturn as you’ve never seen it.

Best Twitter account yet? @KimKierkegaard the philosophy of Kierkegaard mashed with the tweets of Kim Kardashian.

Greatest interview ever

This gymnastics photo makes me simultaneously wince and look awestruck. I look a bit silly now

The health benefits of facial hair. Forget that Factor 30 sunscreen.



The database of every bomb the US has dropped since WWI is called THOR.

The only way to cover gymnastics is through GIFs.

Jennifer Kahn tells the story behind her story on child psychopathy to The Open Notebook

‘Africa’s propaganda trail’ by Martin Robbins – a stirring read about the lies told to aid visitors in Africa.

BBC apologies for Paxman offending people who believe in literal truth of Genesis. Apparently, being biased against nonsense is a bad thing.

The Plural of E-Mail (It’s “pain”.)

Twitter pulled the account of a journalist who complained about NBC’s Olympics coverage. Laura Gluhanich asked why Twitter didn’t suspend “the account that posted my home address and threatened to dismember me.”

Wikileaks transforms into Wikimadeupsh*t

I have a duty, and I execute the duty” – U.S. drone pilot. And by “duty”, he means “guy”.

New Yorker’s David Remnick on the art of the profile

“How to Blurb & Blurb & Blurb.”

Journalists forbid journalists from covering their meeting.


Comments (14)

  1. Scott

    A little tip on writing about transgender people – use the gender that they live in, or identify as. For Ben, don’t say “Fascinating profile of a transgender scientist on his/her experience and the science gap”, say “Fascinating profile of a transgender scientist on his experience and the science gap”.

    You’ve transitioned from being single to being married – no-one would think of writing, “Fascinating profile of married journalist Ed Yong, where the singleton/husband describes his experiences.”

  2. Gzoref

    Thank you so much for the link to Evgeny Morozov’s TNR review. I love a good scathing book review.

  3. That TED pamphlet review by Evgeny Morozov was incredible. Thanks so much for sharing.

  4. @Scott – Thanks, that’s helpful. I’ve amended.

  5. David Hobby

    Re: “Heh. Peter Jackson will film a 95-hour Silmarrillon adaptation.”

    This seems to be a complete joke, from 2008. So the “huh” is why it made the list of links?

  6. This is not the first time that someone has felt the need to inform me that a piece that is obviously satire is in fact, satire. Actually, when I included this, I thought, “Someone’s going to do that again. I know, I’ll stick the word “Heh” in front so that it’s clear.”

    Apparently not.

  7. David Hobby


    Sorry. I got that it was satire. The question was: Why old satire?

    Now that the Hobbit movie has ballooned, it’s topical again?

  8. Daniel J. Andrews

    That net-casting spider is a first filmed in the wild? I thought that was done in a BBC Sir David Attenborough segment. Bola spiders were also included in that too (I think). I presume, then, that they didn’t film that in the wild.

    btw, if you have an address where Sir David can be contacted, I’d like to send him a letter also (referring to your Twitter message) letting him know how he inspired me to go into the biology field (I changed careers, spent a lot of time in school, I was so inspired).

  9. @David – Ah I see. It may be old, but it’s new to me. I saw it on Twitter and didn’t check the date.

    @Daniel – A lot of the old wildlife documentary stuff, including a lot of Attenborough’s stuff, was filmed in captivity. He doesn’t pretend otherwise. If you check out, say, Life on Earth, it’s clear that a lot of it was filmed in a tank. Also: clever editing. When he did Life in Cold Blood in 2008, that was the first footage of a rattlesnake kill! Every other earlier piece of footage is a snake striking at a camera, and then later, a snake eating a mouse.

    As to is address, yes, I have it but I tend not to give it out. (A lot of people ask!) It’s easily Google-able though.

  10. Daniel J. Andrews

    :-) Completely understandable, Ed. I did have the googlable address, but I’m never sure if those things are real or not. I did send an email letter to the Dear Sir David site. Perhaps I’ll print it off and mail it to the address I’ve found.

    btw, I have no problems with the BBC filming some things in captivity–as you said, they don’t pretend otherwise. Why people suddenly got all upset because the polar bear cub births were filmed in captivity and not in the actual snow cave on the side of the mountain is rather bizarre (their ideology takes over, looking for an excuse to criticize Sir David for daring to mention climate, etc). BBC certainly didn’t hide that as it is mentioned on their website.

    Enjoy Portland. I was supposed to be there, and then zipping up to Vancouver for the North American Ornithology conference the following week. But work schedule changed at the last minute and I was out west a few weeks earlier than I was supposed to be. sigh. Guess I’ll just have to be jealous.

  11. The google-able address is definitely real. I’ve actually been round to his house. It’s lovely. All the other houses have SUVs. He has treeferns.

  12. Anthony

    Ed, a couple of things I’d like to say:
    1) I don’t read science journalism… I come here because you find the interesting bits for me. Thanks.
    2) “All the other houses have SUVs. He has treeferns.” is one of the best things I’ve ever read.
    3) You also appear to have the only constructive comments sections on the entire internet.

  13. Daniel J. Andrews

    I’ve actually been round to his house.

    !!!!!!! *wow* !!!!!!!!

  14. G

    Huh, I though Ed’s “his/her” original wording referenced the content of the article, that the scientist was discussing his experiences before and after. Experiences as “her” and then experiences as “him.”

    I notice that “How to talk to a person in a wheelchair” doesn’t include “Don’t assume that because a person has physical difficulties, they’re also mentally challenged.” Perhaps the author of the article has experienced a consistently higher class of person than I have, the times I’ve been wheelchair-bound. People leaning way over and using baby-talk into the face of an adult who happens to be sitting is reprehensible. There’ve been a few times that my husband was so offended, on my behalf, that he wanted to slap the person speaking at me. Had a lot of sympathy for the people who insist on always using their various custom wheelchairs that put their heads at standing height.


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