I've got your missing links right here (27 October 2012)

By Ed Yong | October 27, 2012 12:00 pm

Top picks

Five Italian scientists were sentenced to 6 years in prison for failing to properly communicate the risk of an earthquake that devastated the town of l’Aquila. Here are several pieces about the ill-judged decision:

“People will… hypothesise invincible, transsexual, border-hopping serial killers just to keep the story coherent…” Vaughan Bell on the subjectivity of forensic science.

The genetics of stupidity are more interesting than those of intelligence, says David Dobbs.

Why do children hide by covering their eyes? The answer is really complicated, and very cool. By Christian Jarrett.

Really enjoyed Alice Roberts’ Prehistoric Autopsy – a great documentary about prehistoric hominids. Brits can watch on iPlayer. Everyone else can use an anonymiser.

On prosthetics: “If your leg isn’t comfortable, who gives a crap how expensive or amazing your foot is?”

Big, Smart, Green: A Vision for Modern Farming. Brandon Keim covers a fascinating approach in his typically excellent fashion.

You don’t buy e-books from Amazon; you rent them under an unlimited, but easily revoked, licence

Another yawning dogs study, but Alexis Madrigal finds little to yawn about. He muses instead on science’s zig-zags

Scientist tries her hand at journalism for a few weeks, and finds that it’s really hard. Love this.

“Tracing the backstory can be just as intriguing as reporting the news.” Top post on the baby-DNA-in-mum’s-brain story

Really huge planets could apparently survive being swallowed by a star. “It’s still good! It’s still good!”

Did T.rex eat Triceratops by *pulling off its freakin’ head*?? Bonus: an illustrated step-by-step guide!

Ski slopes vs. craggy mountains – good balanced piece by Dan Fagin on the controversial behaviour of hormone disruptors

Saudi Arabia fires top virus-hunter after he finds virus – that new coronavirus that had everyone worried a while back. Great reporting from Debora Mackenzie

I like this a lot: it’s an ad guy talking to other ad guys, but totally applicable to science communication.

Really good take on the discovery of those feathered ostrich-dinosaurs that I wrote about. Veronique Greenwood goes into the details about how they were actually found.

Big parts of Wikipedia are basically completed & that’s something of a problem for the encyclopedia, says Rebecca Rosen

If you’ve ever wondered what doing research feels like…

Good piece from Bora Zivkovic about a recent fossil-fest conference, and what palaeontologists actually talk about

Rewrite the textbooks! Penis worm develops anus-first.



Surprisingly beautiful: the half-erased blackboards of quantum physics labs

10 most horrible deaths in a DIY space project. “Complete rocket explosion” is only #10

Hilarious list of 5 reasons why “cleansing” your colon is nonsense. I liked “It’s rude to firehose your friends”

This Atlantic piece, about creating a personalised virus that targets leaders of state, connects a good summary of several current scientific trends, and some stirring science-fiction, with some huge logical gaps. It never justifies the “personalised virus” angle, which means that the lede becomes a red herring that subverts the rest of piece

CNN retracts a story on hormones and voters – should the story have been dropped in the first place? Meanwhile, Kate Clancy and SciCurious eviscerate the paper

When you’re almost extinct, your bounty goes up

How archer fish create super spit

How Scientific American’s Bec Crew was plagiarised by the Daily Mail’s Damien Gayle. What. A. Prat.

Harvard hospital apologizes for promoting “weak” data on aspartame, cancer. A win for responsible journalism, PR and more.

Neanderthal vs modern human: who would win?

I rather like this – straight NYT profile of a guy who likes nature.

Vic Charlton on the science of tobacco and “harm reduction

Big splashy medical results are probably too good to be true—new Ioannidis work

Why we can’t get along with our future selves. My future self’s burning through all my savings, that’s why.

A strong wave of new bloggers over at SciLogs. I’m particularly looking forward to Amy Shira Teitel, Nathalia Holt and Matt Shipman’s contributions.

21 words that could clear up the recent methods-reporting issues in psychology

Climate scientist Michael E Mann sues for defamation

How did 4-winged dinosaur Microraptor fly? Kate Wong covers a new study.

New evidence for dinosaur protein preservation, but the DNA claims really are just taking the piss, surely?

Nature sums up the recent furore on a rogue iron fertilization experiment

A celebration of biological blues

Badgers live to badge another day

Never Go Into the Sea, Part #38108 – the Bobbit worm

On oxytocin and The Walking Dead

Fossil scars capture dinosaur headbutts

Brain scans during sleep can decode visual content of dreams. Sort of. Not well.

The mysterious origins of the “8 glasses of water a day” rule. Which is nonsense.

Watch sea lice devour a pig from the inside-out

Fish use skin crystals to swim around law of physics

The Assoc of the British Pharma Industry to Ben Goldacre: “LALALALALALALALALAICAN’THEARYOU”

So, it turns out urine isn’t actually sterile.

Japanese Cabinet members chip in to buy Shinya Yamanka a new washing machine, following his Nobel win. (You’d have thought Yamanaka could just reprogram a dishwasher into a washing machine…)

The Ukrainian Navy teaches dolphins how to kill people, says an… anonymous source. Right. Are they also training journalists to jump the shark?



Here’s world-renowned geneticist Eric Lander dancing to Gangnam Style.

Most terrifying cause of death ever?

Amazing photos of small and microscopic things. I especially love the fruit fly eye.

Herpes cupcakes! Smoker’s lung cake! The world’s most revolting (anatomically correct) cakes

Why field biologists shouldn’t get their feet wet (literally)

An amusing trawl through Wikipedia



Bora Zivkovic on beats vs. obsessions, columns vs. blogs, generalists vs. specialists

Rebecca Watson sums up her experience of misogyny, harrassment and rape threats among the “skeptic” “community”

Really good presentation about Impostor Syndrome

Some good tips on pitching stories, from the Open Notebook

How a parody Twitter account resurrected a god-maker

So… how DID Google bring Street View to the Grand Canyon? With these guys

“What It Was Like to Be a Telephone Operator on the Night Orson Welles Broadcast ‘War of the Worlds”

Very sad to learn of the Radiolab “Yellow Rain” controversy. Here’s a cogent summary and viewpoint, and a response from RadioLab.

Pregnancy via rape: all part of god’s beautiful plan. Said–yes, you guessed it–a Republican Senate nominee

Be sure to check out Deborah Blum’s new e-book. It’s a true crime story, but be warned – some truly disturbing stuff here.

I rather love this post explaining why The Avengers was really Black Widow and Friends.

Oddly moved by hearing the laughter of 19th-century people who are definitely all dead

Matter is about to launch, with its 1st story in Nov 15.


Comments (8)

  1. Hey Ed—Aatish Bhatia isn’t on SciLogs.com. Perhaps you meant Akshat Rathi instead?

  2. Brad Dawkins

    The earthquake scientists were sentenced to six YEARS in prison. You said six months.

    [D’oh! Fixed. Thanks – Ed]

  3. Sequoia

    The “genetics of stupidity” link isn’t working.

  4. As an Italian scientist* living abroad, I feel ashamed and enraged for the earthquake trial. I want to thank you because the articles you linked to pretty much cover the whole story and what we should get from it. I particularly appreciated Maria’s piece in greengabbro because she nails the most important point perfectly: even admitting a poor communication from the charged, the *right* thing for the people would still have been to STAY HOME. Yes, scientists’ message of “low risk of a strong quake” was misunderstood by L’Aquila residents as “NO risk of a strong quake”, but even if that was not the case, the “statistically” right response from the citizens would still have been to sleep in their houses (which should have been anti-seismic – not geologists’ fault if they weren’t!).

    We may compare it with what’s now happening in another part of Italy, the Pollino (Southern Italy). The other day there was a relatively strong earthquake (though just one person died, of heart attack), but in the last 2 years the area has been affected by HUNDREDS of small to medium magnitude seismic events – an earthquake swarm not at all unlike that in L’Aquila before the big one. If we follow the same logic that led to the L’Aquila conviction, people in Pollino should have left their homes 2 years ago and been living in tents or whatever since then!

    Incredibly, many Italians still don’t seem to get that most of our country is at high seismic risk, and don’t demand enough from institutions in terms of prevention measures. After all the real problem with L’Aquila was that an earthquake of that intensity should NOT have caused so much damage – apart from the 300+ killed it really destroyed entire towns, which would not have happened if most building were anti-seismic, as they should have been according to Italian law.

    And yet Italians don’t get it, they keep confiding on luck or divine providence, and then after some inevitable disaster occurs they must find someone to blame. This not only with earthquakes, but also with hydrogeological risk. Every year several Italian towns are affected by landslides and floods resulting at best in financial damage, and not uncommonly in casualties… and yet people not only keep living in high-risk areas (which is partly understandable, where else could they go, Yorkshire?), but to BUILD anew in high-risk areas. Italians after all aren’t renowned for long-term planning and “historic” memory…
    Apologies for the overlong comment

    * If a 2nd year PhD students can be allowed to describe himself as a scientist. Usually I’d be modest and put inverted commas but today I’m totally going for the S word

  5. Jim Woodgett

    Excellent set of questions and facts. You’re a scientist if you employ scientific method to your thinking. A PhD does not qualify anyone if they choose to ignore scientific logic.

    As for L’Aquila, where is the outrage directed at the planners, the builders and the inspectors? This is only too common. The tragedies of various earthquakes in seemingly ‘targeting’ schools and care homes revealing shoddy building and the true values of society are repeated over and over. Lets blame the scientists because they fall back on those pesky things called evidence and hide behind bizarre concepts such as probability and relative risk. Easy targets.

  6. Phil E.

    The article relating to “Climate scientist Michael E Mann sues for defamation” was a publicity stunt by Mann to rescue his reputation. The suit is rapidly becoming a nightmare for him as his own lawsuit and words are effectively destroying his credibility and proving the defendants point. His case has been severely compromised by egotistical “embellishments” of his “credentials”

  7. Tony Mach

    “Ski slopes vs. craggy mountains – good balanced piece by Dan Fagin on the controversial behaviour of hormone disruptors.”


    One of the three poster-boy examples for the non-monotonous curves from the article is not as clear cut as it might appear:


    The BPA/cancer in mice study has cancer induced by other means, so there is a non-trivial interaction between BPA and the already present cancer.

    The stuff that mice are fed in studies is not necessarily an accurate representation of the diet from their evolutionary environment. So I wouldn’t be surprised if there are non-trivial interactions between the “non-monotonous” substance on test, and possible evolutionary novel substances contained in mouse chow (you know, stuff like trans-fatty acids, high seed oil content, and so on – stuff mice had definitly no access to in their evolutionary environment).

    If you like non-obvious results with regards to BPA, you will love this:


  8. Nathan Myers

    When a co-worker made fun of me for how much water he sees me drinking, my response was, “You talk *just like* someone who’s never had a kidney stone.” I strongly recommend, for all of you who, like him, have never had a kidney stone, against the experience.

    Really, once is more than enough.

    * * *

    I gather that rodents (and rats, which are no longer rodents!) are routinely exposed to saturation levels of phthalates in their drinking water and their cage materials, unless the phthalate effect itself is under examination. Can any negative result in a typical endocrine disruption experiment be trusted?


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