For new readers, this collection of “missing links” rounds up fascinating stuff I find around the internet, and appears every Saturday. It’s separated into Top Picks (the best stuff), Science/News/Writing (science writing), Heh/Wow/Huh (silliness, satire, photos, videos), and Journalism/Internet/Society (a miscellany of my other interests). If links are broken, let me know in the comments.
“Restless genes” by David Dobbs, about the genetics and other factors behind the human urge to explore, is one of the best science stories of the year, let alone the week. It’s beautifully written without sacrificing nuance. I know David personally, and I know how much he agonises about capturing the complexity of the science that he covers. And when someone does that, and puts in the work, you get results like this.
Giant crabs are marching on Antarctica. Douglas Fox narrates their invasion.
“Dear Cancer, I beat you aged 8 & today I got my PhD in cancer research” – By Vicky Forster
This piece by Brian Switek, on a hypothesis that puts life on land 65myrs early, is a great example of critical reporting. Also note: it’s a Nature news story that takes down a Nature paper. Editorial independence FTW!
Jonathan Eisen lists more scientific lapses from the NYT’s immortal jellyfish story. See also: Paul Raeburn’s critique that I linked to last week, and a comment from one of the original authors on the paper that started everything. To me, this story epitomises a lot of problems in science writing: a generalist writer seduced by one man’s spiel, science suffering as a result, and (in some of the reactions on Twitter) people *still* calling it a “good story” because it’s nicely written. Just… no.
John Hutchinson did a Reddit AMA about dinosaurs, frozen body parts, and his awesome dissection research. Worth a read
This slow-motion video of a cheetah running is the most incredible thing I’ve seen all…. Well, it’s incredible. Note how freakishly steady the head is! And focus on one foot – watch how much distance the animal covers between the foot lifting off and coming down again! And do NOT miss the end, where you see how it looks in real-time.
The closest planet to the sun has loads of ice! Amazing news about Mercury!
Human Evolution [Is Going Through] an Exciting New Phase – excellent piece by Brandon Keim
Stunningly good read about a man’s journey from earache to brain tumour to coma, and the ensuing end-of-life court battle.
The Lying Disease: Why do some people fake cancer online? An incredible piece on “Munchausen’s by Internet”.
The big news in journalism this week is the publication of the Leveson report. Here’s a take from Emily Bell arguing why it’s already irrelevant, and another good take from the Economist. And the Daily Mash: “The thing where everyone gets their news has promised to find out what a ‘Leveson’ is.”
Syria cut itself off from the internet, killed cell service-not good.
Pentagon: autonomous robots won’t be allowed to kill you, but they can spy on you and hack you. YAYSES!
“Why do some people want to amputate a perfectly healthy limb? And why would any doctor help them?” Anil Ananthaswamy’s story launches Matter, a new magazine for long-form science journalism. If you care about deep, high-quality science writing, please support them. It’s only 99c.
The best piece yet analysing the Jonah Lehrer affair and what it means for science writing. Recommended for any wannabe writers. And Carl Zimmer has a tremendous response about the “big old mess” that is science writing .
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:
First, my piece from a few months back on why earthquake prediction is either really improbable or outrightly impossible
Nature’s report tells us the l’Aquila prosecutor sought a sentence of 4 years, but the judge awarded 6 and hasn’t said why
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
This is a great idea: the Brain Train podcast. Academics ask questions about something they’re ignorant but curious about, to other experts. Who then ask questions about something they’re ignorant but curious about….
The number of Nobel laureates is strongly correlated with national chocolate consumption. Hilarious NEJM paper – and a great Reuters piece that teases out the lessons from it. Note that it *explains* why correlation isn’t causation without using that goddamn phrase.
“The Internet Blowhard’s Favorite Phrase”: Correlation doesn’t imply causation. By Dan Engber. Piece meanders a lot but I agree with the basic sentiment. The phrase is apt in many cases but often used unintelligently.