Planet Earth

Saturday links

Not Exactly Rocket ScienceBy Ed YongMay 15, 2010 5:49 PM


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It's been a great week for science news. Here are my picks:

  • Is Earth the best place to search for other forms of life? Paul Davies thinks so. “No planet is more Earth-like than Earth itself, so if the path to life is easy, then life should have started up many times over right here.” Meanwhile, Wired covers a US biochemist who has done the first rigorous statistical test of the LUCA hypothesis – that all life on Earth descended from a common ancestor.

  • I have just discovered the Animal Review blog. It has reviews. Of animals. And it’s brilliant.

  • The Deepwater Horizon tragedy is far worse than initially suggested. The Boston Globe’s Big Picture uses beautiful photos to highlight the scope of the disaster while over at The Intersection, Darlene Cavalier (the Science Cheerleader) has a compelling post on whether prizes for innovative solutions can save the gulf.

  • A new study narrows down the genetic changes that allow Tibetans to live in the roof of the world, 15,000 ft above sea level. 80 Beats has the story, and Razib dives into the detail.

  • It’s like a cloudspotter’s dream – if you think clouds look cool from the ground, Wired shows you just how amazing their formations can seem from space.

  • David Dobbs has a gracious and thoughtful piece on “push” science journalism – how to get science out to as diverse an audience as possible.

  • Brooke Greenberg is 17 but she’s still the size of a one-year-old. What does her DNA tell us about the genetics of ageing? The Times investigates.

  • Amid the hullaballoo over Britain’s new coalition government, Mark Henderson has a thoughtful analysis of the appointment of David Willetts, the new Science Minister.

  • Robert Mugabe is set to send a modern ark to Kim Jong-Il as a present. You can’t make this stuff up. Presumably he’ll send two elephants... no, 50 eleph... no, 740,030 eleph... no, 374,001,058 ele.. oh sod it.

  • From now on, when new papers on fossil hominids come out, I’m just going to head straight to Scientific American to see what Kate Wong has to say about it. Check out her cracking piece on the full Neanderthal genome and how it shows that Neanderthals and humans interbred. Meanwhile, Nature has a great piece on ancient DNA and New Scientist has an editorial on welcoming Neanderthals to the Homo sapiens family. And the lamentable Huffington Post shows how not to write about science with this piece that could well have come from the Onion.

  • Science Now reports on a crack in the mirror neuron hypothesis of autism. One wonders how people will look back on the mirror neuron hypothesis in decades to come.

  • I don’t usually link to the BBC’s science coverage (a bit vanilla for my tastes) but this piece on black holes is notable because it, shock, gasp, actually links to the original paper. The end times are nigh.

  • Vaughan Bell and the Neuroskeptic skewer pieces that oversimplify the roles of cortisol, the so-called “stress hormone”. “A few data points short of a bar graph,” says Vaughan.

  • Massive congratulations to Rebecca Skloot, whose peerless book The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks will be turned into an HBO movie thanks to Oprah and Alan Ball. The Lacks family will be consulting on the project.

  • Michael Marshall meets the self-sacrificing child clone wasps

  • Two papers came out this week about the early bird, Archaeopteryx. I blogged about one of them, which showed that its feathers were too narrow for flapping, and Ars Technica has the other story, which reveals the feathers’ biochemistry.

  • The Illusion of the Year is an absolute cracker. Go and marvel.

  • Fascinatingly, Twitter turns out to be a decent stand-in for public opinion polls with a 72-79% correlation to traditional polls, according to Ars Technica.

  • Can lions eavesdrop on the calls of their competitors, the beautiful African wild dogs? Brian Switek analyses.

  • Say hi to Deborah Blum, writer of the Speakeasy Science blog, author of the Poisoner’s Handbook and the latest ScienceBlogs recruit. Go add her to your RSS list.

  • And also say hi to John Rennie, former editor of Scientific American, who now has his own blog, Rennie's Last Nerve, which promises to be very entertaining. Follow him on Twitter too.

  • SciencePunk shows us a bee that creates beautiful nests out of flower petals.

  • Dolphins are gits. They beat up porpoises, pulping their internal organs and using their sonar to aim the blows. Where are your rainbows now, teenage girls? And according to The Onion, they can’t even mock celebrity culture.

  • Amid dozens of Genome-of-the-Day stories, Nature discusses a recent development that’s actually important – technology that can simultaneously read both a genome and an epigenome.

  • Do mice show pain on their faces? Yes, according to scientists who have created the Mouse Grimace Scale. They’re laughing on the inside, really.

  • Lizards – the latest known casualties of climate change. Science Now and Nature tell us that “20% of all lizard species could go extinct by 2080 if climate change is left unchecked”. The trends are particularly worrying because lizards, which David Attenborough described as “dragons of the dry”, should be very tolerant of climate change.

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