Saturday, December 11, 2010
Top ten picks
You’ll need a New Yorker subscription for the full article, but honestly, Jonah Lehrer’s piece – The Truth Wears Off – is worth it. It is deeply fascinating and deeply troubling. In discussing the fact that many scientific results wither away when replicated, Lehrer writes, “The decline effect is troubling because it reminds us how difficult it is to prove anything.” It makes me want to include a photo of Jonah next to all my pieces saying “Oh REALLY?” Meanwhile, Discover has a related piece on the “streetlight effect”.
“The Antikythera Mechanism is the oldest known scientific computer, built in Greece at around 100 BCE. Lost for 2000 years, it was recovered from a shipwreck in 1901. But not until a century later was its purpose understood: an astronomical clock that determines the positions of celestial bodies with extraordinary precision. In 2010, we built a fully-functional replica out of Lego.” Massive congratulations to John Pavlus, Adam Rutherford and Andy Carol for their astounding work. Read the “making of” post at John’s site.
The mice with two dads: Mickey and Jerry have produced baby mice with no mothers.
This is absolutely incredible. You can work out the entire genome of an unborn foetus using a blood sample from mum.
Brandon Keim has done a wonderful job with this community-funded investigation into white nose syndrome – the mysterious disease killing off American bats.
“They say, rather ingenuously, that if you have Alzheimer’s it’s the best form of Alzheimer’s to have. This is a moot point.” Terry Pratchett on his disease.
Chinese scientists dress up as pandas. As Neil Withers said on Twitter, maybe all pandas are scientists in suits. Picture 3 is especially wonderful. “The researchers wear panda costumes to ensure that the cub’s environment is devoid of human influence.” You mean, except for the plastic boxes and the human in a massive, stinky panda suit?
“All this work certainly builds a strong circumstantial case that the Oriental hornets have indeed evolved an organic solar collector—perhaps not photosynthetic in the usual sense, but something similar.” The solar-powered hornets are back in the news and John Rennie has a measured take on the paper.
What happens when an alligator bites an electric eel? The same thing that happens to everything else (nods at X-Men film).
The first MRI scan of a baby during birth reveals that babies look like the aliens from Mars Attacks.
More after the jump…
“A female messenger could attract a more diverse crowd, including other women. The point of punditry is often to persuade people that science is worthwhile and, more to the point, deserves funding… Women should stand shoulder to shoulder with their male colleagues to make this happen.” Jenny Rohn has a great Nature piece on why female researchers should speak out in the media.
Hobbits shared their islands with giant storks.
“Cancer villages” in Turkey could help to stave off a public health disaster in North Dakota.
I need a hero. “The goal of the project is simple: to put decades of experimental research to use in… churning out good guys with the same efficiency that gangs and terrorist groups produce bad guys.”
Mountain gorilla numbers “soar” by 26%. For perspective, there are now 480 rather than 380. My office floor has more people than that.
Mary Carmichael profiles Harvard geneticist George Church. As with all her stuff on personal genomics, it’s joyous.
Have a listen to Adam Rutherford’s radio documentary on epigenetics (will only work for Brits, I think).
Carl Zimmer alerts to a free series of online lectures where you can learn about astrobiology. A great, great resource.
Kirghiz tribesmen of central Asia use golden eagles to hunt and kill wolves. What? You don’t?
“As species disappear, infectious diseases rise in humans and throughout the animal kingdom, so extinctions directly affect our health and chances for survival as a species.” Oh dear.
While I aspire to both, Obesity Panacea tells me that sitting too much is not the same as exercising too little
“Maybe there’s a gene for the belief that genes can explain everything. If so, I’m missing it.“ Casey Schwartz goes over the lamentable coverage of the “slut gene”
3D without the headaches, thanks to “The I”. Frank Swain reports.
A fascinating look at weird, arcane world of dinosaur-naming (and why it hasn’t caught up with the web)
Scorpions glow in the dark to detect moonlight? Well it’s one idea, anyway.
“The starfish have effectively done a lot of the hard work for us” Non-stick starfish could inspire new anti-inflammation medicines
Did asteroids deliver bling to Earth? “It could have just have easily not have happened, and then you wouldn’t be wearing a gold ring after your wedding”
The world’s most expensive book sold for 10 million dollars, and it’s a natural history classic – JJ Audobon’s Birds of America. I’ve always loved the wonderful contorted poses for the long-necked species.
Neuroscience – it will not help you design the right kitchen. But can it help me pick between 235 virtually identical shades of creamy white paint?
No evidence of time before Big Bang. (I’m crap at physics and I can’t even remember what I did last Tuesday, so just imagine how painful this is for me…)
It’s not looking good for coral reefs.
This is why your iPod battery wears out: charging makes nanowires dance and deform (on video, no less)
Then and Now: repeat photography captures changing landscapes
Flying on a laser. I love this because the practical applications are unknown. It’s just “neat”.
Everest is littered with dead, exposed bodies. Warning, there are lots of graphic photos.
Here’s a list of different things by length, across several orders of magnitude. I love Wikipedia so much.
Remember that hilarious paper on writer’s block? It has been replicated.
Ageing Kazakhstan President asks scientists to find fountain of youth. You can practically hear him yelling, “What’s taking so long?!”
Two penguins re-enact Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers. And ducklings get blown off their feet by the wind
Wow. Look at the Sun’s massive “prominence”. It’s a million kilometres across. I have flare envy.
The Daily Mash: Assange to escape from police at the top of some stairs
RCT = Randomised Crocodile Touching
XKCD’s complete map of optimal tic-tac-toe moves
Jeremy Hunt gets renamed on live radio. You might also enjoy this list of top 13 howlers.
“Cortical response to electrical stimulation in human rectum”. No wonder they only recruited 17 volunteers.
This blog goes into a scary level of detail on the legal implications of living in a world of superheroes and supervillains
Say hi to Jenny Rohn, Richard Grant, Henry Gee, Cath Ennis, Dr Aust, Erika Cule, Stephen Curry, Frank Norman and more at their new blogging network – Occam’s Typewriter.
Journalism gets a lot of criticism, but seldom with any data behind it. This, therefore, is good. Scientists rated the accuracy of news stories about cancer genetics. Overall, the scores were middling but press release claims were more likely to be accurate than those in news stories. The study also highlights the importance of external quotes.
I wrote 33,000 words in November. Also, my posts are three times longer than the average blogger. Science3.0 has some interesting data on blogger productiveness.
The most horrific newspaper correction of all time. I think I threw up a little bit.
Can you defame someone with a hyperlink?
So, Wikileaks. Umberto Eco has a wonderful piece on Wikileaks, positing that we’re in a bizarrely recursive Orwellian world where the state watches its citizens and the citizens watch the state. John Naughton has a great piece on why we need to live with the WikiLeakable world or shut down the net. Emily Bell has a great post on how Wikileaks has woken up journalism. And finally, the Atlantic: if you absolutely positively have to know what to think about Wikileaks, accept no substitutes.
The Guardian wrote that “just one British black Caribbean student was admitted to Oxford last year.” A case of discrimination? No, a salutary lesson in statistics. Seamus McCauley brings the true analysis at virtualeconomics.co.uk.
And finally… absolutely wonderful. Media mistakes and corrections of the year. Cooks Source, Climategate, plus many other hilarious examples.