Morsels For The Mind – 10/01/2014
Every day we provide you with #SixIncredibleThingsBeforeBreakfast to nibble away at. Here you can fill your brain with the most intellectually stimulating “amuse bouches” from the past week – a veritable smorgasbord for the cranium. They’re all here for you to load up your plate – this week’s “Morsels for the mind”. Enjoy!
If you do nothing else, make sure to check out the “Reads / views / listens of the week”.
Feather, fur & fin – birds, beasts, fishes, and the things they do
There was a lot of interest in prairie dogs’ contagious yips this week. Here is a trio:
Get along little doggie! Prairie dogs’ yippee-yi-yay gets passed along like a contagion. Bec Crew shares.
Don’t know if prairie dogs yawn contagiously also, but dogs catch yawns from humans.
Doggone it. Last 100 yrs of selective breeding has messed up our canine companions. Big time.
Fear factor. Folks have difficulty telling when their dogs are fearful. They shouldn’t. Julie Hecht explains.
The eyes have it. Raising eyebrows to make face more baby-like increases dog adoptability. Companion Animal Psychology looks at the science.
“There’s no Iron Throne involved in this power struggle – just the race for reproductive success.” Quote from an interesting piece by Brittany Fallon on chimps’ sex lives.
Oh boy. Infant male chimps may socialise more than females. Don’t read too much into it, says Felicity Muth.
All together now. Dolphin megapod - 3000-5000 at once!
Sound sleepers. These bats snooze through the din of automobile traffic. Excellent post by Elizabeth Preston.
Home on the range. Bighorn sheep reintroduced to where they once played. Kate Yoshida on a new herd.
Pet hypothesis. Are petting zoo visitor enriching the animal’s lives or aversive? Interesting and timely story by Jason Goldman.
Lions & tigers & bears, goodbye? Like 75% of large carnivores, they are all in decline. Dire situation explained by Matt McGrath.
A big deal. When large carnivores are on the decline, the impacts are significant. Christopher Joyce reports why.
Losing by a hare’s breath? What accounts for lack of lagomorphs in Patagonia? Matthew Cobb considers the question.
Better under pressure. Jason Goldman explains how relaxed natural selection pressure almost doomed bird to extinction.
Long haul flight. Little bird makes 26k km migration from Shetlands to Ecuador. Yow.
An end to bore done? Might birds defeat the emerald ash borer?
Get on up. When climate gets tough, penguins head to higher ground. Becky Oskin gets to the top of it.
Up and at it. Penguins beat climate by climbing ice cliffs to nest, as Jonathan Amos reports.
No yolking matter. In 1911, 3 men trekked 100km in Antactica to collect penguin eggs. Why? GrrlScientist has the answer.
The next two morsels are linked via Richard Meinertzhagen, who (fraudulently) reported an owlet extinct, so it wasn’t properly protected. Astounding story heard through John Platt.
Owl’s well that ends well? Nope. An owl, thought extinct, found, but highly endangered. John Platt covers it.
No bones about it. Brendan Borrell on how the shark genome illuminates cartilaginous fish biology.
Bugs’ life – insects and other things that creep, crawl and otherwise delight
Walloping websnappers! Spectacular spiders, photographed by Nicky Bay.
Fossil finds – organisms of times past – palaeontology, archaeology, anthropology, history and the like
There was much interest in the hues of ancient marine animals this week. Some of the coverage:
True colours. The real hues of ancient sea creatures revealed. Illuminating piece by Sid Perkins.
Made in the shade. The colours of ancient creatures that lived in the oceans depths. Ed Yong shades in the details.
Everybody gets the blues. But not extinct sea reptiles, they only got the greys. Rebecca Morelle on some shady business.
Flower power. Amazing floral structures from the Cretaceous, in amber.
A luring argument. If crocs use sticks as lures, might dinosaurs have also used tools? Brian Switek considers the question.
Top drawer research. Dinosaur discoveries can be made from fossils stored on museum shelves. Brian Switek looks into it.
The whole tooth? Pleistocene hunter-gatherers had cavities, maybe from nuts in diet. Gemma Tarlach takes a bite out of a nutty subject.
Sign of the times. 2300 yr old multiplication table, made of bamboo strips. Jane Qiu describes this ancient find.
Beautiful botanicals – wonders of the photosynthesising world – that is, mainly plants
Rocky romance. Ancient flowers caught in the act in amber.
A matter of time. Amazing homage to ancient bristlecone pines - threatened by climate change. Great film by Grant Slater.
Something for nothing. Phosphorous deficiency promotes partnership between plants & helpful fungus.
Golden opportunity. Tracy Vence on how “gold leaf” takes on new meaning with biogeochemical prospecting.
“The debate isn’t about actual GMOs — it’s about the stories we’ve attached to them.” Excellent piece. I don’t agree with everything Nathanael Johnson writes but admire his levelheaded, informed approach to a fraught debate.
Microscopic marvels – smaller than the eye can see, but big in action – bacteria, fungi and viruses
Mystery microbe. Cholera strain that caused plague last century mysteriously disappeared. Ewen Callaway examines the clues.
Going viral? Is it time to turn to anti-bacterial viruses to combat antibiotic-resistant microbes? Anne Buchanan makes the case - compellingly.
Not so catchy? MERS may not be as contagious as originally feared (yet). Super analysis by Helen Branswell. Speaking of which:
Stool to stand by. Faecal transplants are helping out kids with gut infections. Meeri Kim gets to the bottom of it.
Molecular machinery – the toils of the macromolecules of life – nucleic acids and proteins (and others) – from molecules to cells to organs to organisms (including genetics & genomics)
Into the fold. Role of folding environment in making mis-folded prion proteins. Interesting biochemistry, described by S.E. Gould
Double or nothing? How gene duplication might have fuelled human evolution. Awesome explainer by Emily Singer.
Cancer seems insistent on becoming the one left standing — death’s final resort.” Quote by George Johnson from a thought-provoking piece on the scientific challenge of cancer.
Earth, wind and fire – planet shaping – geology, meteorology, oceanography, the environment & climate
“Wind chill is the scourge of most meteorologists…it really skews the picture.” Brilliant, timely piece by Les Perreaux.
The upper crust. Was once drippy. Cool.
Star attractions – the final frontier, space
All that glitters is not gold. Sometimes it’s ice. And planets.
Star attraction. Alex Witze on how a bloated, dying star has a surprise neutron star in its core.
Light entertainment. Lisa Grossman describes how the Hubble telescope has used gravitational lensing to see galaxies 12B light yrs away. The image it acquired is astonishing.
Going the extra distance. James Morgan reports that the distance between galaxies has been measured with unprecedented accuracy.
This rocks! 5 new rocky exoplanets.
A new lease on life? Might ailing planet-hunter, Kepler, get a new mission? Let’s hope so! Miriam Kramer on what's next for everyone's favourite planet-finding probe.
“The launching of this bottle into the cosmic ocean says something very hopeful about life on this planet.” Quote by Carl Sagan, from a wonderful film by Penny Lane on a love letter in space. View of the week.
Forces of nature – big-ticket items – cosmology, mathematics, computation, chemistry, physics, ecology & evolution
Oh nothing. Anil Ananthaswamy on how vast expanses of nothingness could lead to new theory of gravity.
Let there be life. Did evolving abiotic chemical systems give rise to life? Superb piece by Cadell Last.
Hot stuff. Astronauts research supercritical water - it burns without flames. Jason Major explains.
Getting it together. Remarkable self-assembly of a flower-like, liquid crystal lens. Jessica Hamzelou looks into it.
Intelligence designed? Artificial intelligence is not where you’re being told it’s at. Gary Marcus does some myth busting.
Time travellers. Daphnia hatched from 700 yr old eggs shed light on evolution. Astounding research, expertly described by Carl Zimmer.
Running to stand still. Akshat Rathi on how the Red Queen hypothesis may explain rainforest biodiversity.
The way back machine. Looking at your evolutionary ancestry. Good fun.
What? Where? When? Interactive map of extinctions over geological time. Very cool.
Matters of mind – how we, and other animals, perceive our world and our place in it – neuroscience, mental health, psychology, sociology & human interest stories
“I always felt I was conditioning myself for that situation.” Quote from a genius piece by Paul Tough, a harrowing tale a fisherman tossed overboard. Read of the week.
“When systems designed to save lives are hard to grasp, we’ve reached a technological threshold that bears examining.” Quote from a fabulous piece by Samuel Arbesman on technological complexity & how to deal with it. Read of the week.
“The lure of the technological sublime has ruined more than one social movement.” Quote by Evgeny Morozov from a thought-provoking piece on invention & democratisation of technology.
Minute minders. Looking at the brain in exquisitely high resolution. James Gorman looks into it.
Walk it off. Getting a step ahead in life: the hows and whys of walking about. Excellent read by Barbara King.
Tuning up the brain. Folks take pill, unleash child-like pitch perfection. Hmm.
Better read? Matt Shipman explains how “readability” scores for materials assigned to students are pretty well useless.
Stuck in the net. Even when your friends change, the structure of your social network is preserved. Elizabeth Preston tells you how.
One step ahead. Walking about the city reveals things otherwise missed. Superb piece by William Helmreich.
Behind the scenes – the workings of life’s museum of natural history – discovery, communication, and education
The nature of things. Wonderful post exploring the continuum between nature writing & science writing, by Sarah Boon. Read of the week.
Duly noted. Incredible value of natural history field notes…in education. Awesome piece by Chris Buddle. Read of the week.
“This Sci Curious post is a must read for all aspiring scientists: "Leaving academia. The “system” failed me. It should have failed me sooner." Must do more in academia to provide folks with different paths to embrace their passion for science. The academic path is just one route to a life in science. Shouldn’t be presented as the sole route. Read of the week. Read the comments!
Was about to comment on the great Sci Curious post in the morsel above, but Cedar Riener perfectly articulated anything I might have said. Cedar Riener’s response is superb: Some definitions of “scientist” too narrow. “Success” defined in limited terms. It’s high time we defined “scientist” more broadly. Science is a big tent. Come in, there’s plenty of room. Read of the week.
Just say no. Why one prof declined an invitation to the dark side (admin). Good perspective by Terry McGlynn.
“Get the machine that goes ‘bing!’.” Scientific equipment is great, big ideas are better. Superb piece by Philip Ball. Read of the week.
You probably already knew, but the quote in the last morsel references this fabulous Monty Python sketch.
“Reality check: Medicine is super-Hard”. Excellent piece by Matthew Herper explaining why just-turned-17-year-old Jack Andraka isn’t on Forbes 30 Under 30. What is equally excellent, is Jack Andraka's mature response: "Thanks so much for article & clearing up some confusion. Appreciate judges comments & recommendations." Both Matthew Herper & Jack Andraka show great integrity, respect, and thoughtfulness. Model behaviour, both. Read of the week.
“Jairo is dead. For me there is no justice.” The murder of sea turtle defender Jairo Mora Sandoval. This Matthew Power piece on conservationist Jairo Mora Sandoval’s murder is a stunning must read. Read of the week.
“It’s hugely valuable to de-mystify the process of science.” From a super interview of Katie Mack by Julie Gould.
“To attract authors to send their best work to you & referees to review for you, become more sensitive to our needs.” Quote by Dorothy Bishop from a superb post on how scientific journals must change. Spot on!
Devil in the details. Ewen Callaway on how preclinical animal studies are lacking details needed to assess work.
“This might go against everything some have been taught.” Quote from a thought-provoking editorial by L.A. Harvey about abolishing hypothesis tests in clinical trials.
Zen & the art of biology? Are Buddhism & life science aligned? Thought provoking piece by David Barash.
Factor it out. We need to reduce the emphasis placed on science journal impact factors. Excellent case made by Steve Caplan.
Strength in small numbers? While underrepresented, female scientists may be better at the job. Richard Grant makes the case. (Bad headline on the original piece though.)
You only had to ask. Great insights into reddit’s “Ask Me Anything” (AMA). Superb post by Alexis Madrigal.
Keeping it simple. Is the “TED oversimplification” meme an oversimplification? Chris Anderson makes the case that it is.
A motional rescue. Super selection of top science videos. Great views.