Morsels For The Mind – 13/12/2013
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
Constant gardeners. Bonobos key in forest seed dispersal. Their loss to bushmeat a huge ecosystem risk, as Christina Pham reports.
Absence of malice? We & other animals need to know when someone has ill intent. Jason Goldman continues his comparison of humans and other animals.
Aye, robot. Like us, chimpanzees intrigued by & interact with automatons. Barbara King on a fascinating find.
Dogs and cats. Living together. And not getting along. Wolves & cougars.
The better to eat you with, my dear. Evolution of fictional wolves. Amazing piece by The 17th Fish, on phylogenetic trees & folk tales. Super explainer. If you haven't already checked out the Scatter Feed blog, where this piece was posted, do so right away. Those folks can write. Read of the week.
The Smiths were wrong. Meat isn't murder. It's torture. Brilliant, if depressing, feature by Paul Solotaroff. Read of the week.
Agony & ivory. We're going to lose elephants if we don't halt illegal animal parts trade. Kate Wong on a dire situation.
Behind by a neck. Okapi, endangered forest giraffe. Sad story, but a great post by Christopher Basu. If you haven't already checked out the Scatter Feed blog, where this piece was posted, do so right away. Those folks can write.
Nice for mice? We must carefully consider how the mouse is used in research. Important ethical issue, sensitively covered by Ken Weiss.
Feigning feistiness. Birds bluff aggressive intent. Philip Ball on amazing avian behaviour.
"The painted Pūkekos never recovered their status; their shields, shrunk for good, were now considered the saddest." Quote by Colin Schultz, from a wonderfully Seussian natural history.
Agents of shield. Bird's facial shield determines perching order.
Sticking it to naysayers. Gator stick use suggests they're more intelligent than thought. Jason Goldman on a find that's no croc (well, it's sort of a croc).
Shaping up. Evolution of sandcastle-building novelty in fish.
Eat up! Want to keep invasive lion fish in check? Put 'em on the menu. Melissa Gaskill reports on the case being made.
Combing for origins. Comb jellies emerged from base of animal family tree. Carl Zimmer digs into the roots of animal origins.
Slugging it out. Amazing diversification of antarctic slugs.
“To study them myself I swore, like many marine scientists before. Long live our oceans, evermore.” Quote by Sheanna Steingass from a wonderful, poetic ode to ocean life.
Bugs’ life – insects and other things that creep, crawl and otherwise delight
Proof in the putting. Fruit flies put eggs where per cent alcohol is just right, as Brian Owens reports.
Sizing up the competition. Ant size evolves faster than shape.
Amazing arthropods. Wonderful wrap-up of the week's best on the science of creepy crawlies. Chris Buddle keeps the bugs coming.
Fossil finds – organisms of times past – palaeontology, archaeology, anthropology, history and the like
Icthyosaurs didn't suck. Literally.
That sinking feeling. How giant pterosaurs avoided being sunk in open water. Dave Hone has buoyant writing on this tale.
Back to the old house. On the origins of home building.Interesting anthropology by Ian Tattersall.
Make sure to read both of the Brian Switek pieces on sabre cats:
Fangs for the memories. The rise, demise & potential reappearance of sabre-tooth cats. Brian Switek expands on his look at sabre cats.
Beautiful botanicals – wonders of the photosynthesising world – that is, mainly plants
An army of clones? No, a grove of them. And they are amazing.
Honed for home. Local adaptations in plants.
Night moves. Nocturnal floral action.
Key to success. Plant immunity based on lock & key complex.
Microscopic marvels – smaller than the eye can see, but big in action – bacteria, fungi and viruses
Home sweet home. Jello accommodation for microbes provides foundation for pathogen research. Zach Zorich reports.
The bugs of war. Infections are the only big winners during wartime, as Jonathan Ball reports.
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)
Testing genes? Genetic variation contributes to >50% of variation in exam results. Hmm. Ian Sample on a find that mustn't be used as justification to alter the education system.
A nose for value. For odour perception gene function, it's a case of use it or lose it. Carl Zimmer's explanation here is nothing to sniff at. Speaking of which:
Sins of the fathers. Dad's diet leaves a mark on kids.
Earth, wind and fire – planet shaping – geology, meteorology, oceanography, the environment & climate
Really enjoying Alok Jha's Antarctic research expedition journal. Looking forward to seeing how it all progresses. See the next morsels for examples of the voyage log:
“The nausea & discomfort was a fitting start to our expedition.” An Antarctic journey begins, with Alok Jha and colleagues.
“I woke up this morning when I slid, head-first, into the wall at the end of my narrow bunk.” Quote from one of Alok Jha's excellent journal entries on his Antarctic expedition.
Lasting legacy. Looking for plastic, adrift in remote southern seas. Alok Jha reports from the Antarctic expedition.
“A billion years ago, a huge rift nearly cleaved North America down the middle. Then it failed.” Quote from an outstanding piece by Jessica Marshall, on our geological history. Read of the week.
Can you dig it? Is mystery pock-marked landscape merely gopher excavations? Intriguing hypothesis, explored by Rebecca Morelle.
The big chill. There's a place on this planet that is really frickin' cold. Mark Fischetti on a place that gives you goosebumps.
Not so sweet. Huge quantities of artificial sweeteners in river system. Mind boggling find reported by Ivan Semeniuk.
Accept no substitutes. For many elements we use, there are no substitutes. Akshat Rathi on an important subject.
Lights out. Artificial lighting is destroying the night sky. Excellent feature by Mark Binelli. Read of the week.
Star attractions – the final frontier, space
Far out! The wonderful worlds beyond our own solar system: exoplanets. Joe Hanson takes a look into space. View of the week.
The sun & the heir. Searching for our star's siblings. Joseph Baneth Allen reports.
“Everything evolves to wisdom & peace—& stability—through big revolutionary events.” Quote by Alessandro Morbidelli from super piece by Corey Powell on the evolution of our solar system. Read of the week.
Saturnian sculptors. Moons shape rings. Gorgeous.
Power of place. Earth sits precisely within the habitable zone in our solar system.
Forces of nature – big-ticket items – cosmology, mathematics, computation, chemistry, physics, ecology & evolution
A matter of time. A phenomenal, elegant, profoundly illuminating look at deep time. Must view. View of the week.
The hole truth. Extracting energy from black holes would be risky business.
Missing link? Drawing a fascinating connection between quantum entanglement & wormholes. Katia Moskvitch provides a great explainer here.
Ironing out fine wine. Get rid of iron, keep you wine tasting fine for longer. Mmmm. Sci Curious uncorks the chemistry.
Goldilocks' mug? A cup that holds coffee at just the right temperature. Matt Shipman on a hot topic.
Ah, there you are. New algorithm finds you, even in untagged photo. Cool but kinda scary.
Had the time of their life? Did the early universe support life? Zeeya Merali looks at the evidence.
Special delivery? Did life-bearing debris from dino-killing asteroid impact travel to other planets? James Morgan looks at the evidence.
Domestic bliss? How much does the process of domestication really tell us about evolution? Anne Buchanan considers.
Stepping it up. Step-like fitness trajectory observed in long-term evolution experiments. Richard Lenski on his long term evolution experiments. Speaking of which:
Getting better all the time. Even if environment constant, evolution endlessly hones fitness. Richard Lenski continues his "take-home message" series on his long term evolution experiments.
"To prevent an ecological crisis, we must become alarmed." Problem is, we don't become alarmed. Superb piece by Robert Krulwich.
Matters of mind – how we, and other animals, perceive our world and our place in it
“Imagine being born into a world of bewildering, inescapable sensory overload.” Quote by Maia Szalavitz from an awesome piece on the brain & autism. Read of the week.
Child's play? Infant cognition research is tricky, but it grows on you. Interesting subject, explored by Angela Saini.
When the drugs don't work. What failed general anaesthesia tells us about consciousness. Maggie Koerth-Baker does a great job investigating a timely topic.
Skin in the game. Nudity offers social benefits. Gary Lewandowski shares the naked truth.
Do you mind? A deliciously irreverent look at "differences" in female vs male brains. Dean Burnett does a great job here.
Behind the scenes – the workings of the museum – discovery and communication
“Science, after all, is a quest,..one of the oldest and most enduring stories we have.” Quote by Michelle Nijhuis, from a wonderful piece on science writing. Read of the week.
Popularity contest? When personality & popularising affect get in the way of science. Great take by Razib Khan.
Reality check. What we think a science prof does may not be what a science prof does. Chris Buddle sets the record straight.
Carrots win. Most professorial performance management is fairly useless, but incentives work. Jonathan Jones explains.
“Writing is a form of self-expression that bundles my creative outbursts to something others might enjoy.”Quote by Annelie Wendeberg from a superb piece on how we fail to teach proper science writing. Annelie Wendeberg's piece is also a sign off (for now) from SciLogs. Her super storytelling will be sorely missed.
No more tiers? Nobelist Randy Schekman opposes top tier "luxury" journals. A rather privileged position to take.
Tiering up. Assessing the impact of publishing in top tier journals. Eugenie Samuel Reich looks at the data.
“I tip my hat to him. But I hope he is not done with this issue.” Stephen Curry on Schekman & impact factors.
“With Twitter, my academic world expanded.” Quote by Gozde Ozakinci from a great piece by James Coyne on value & advice on twitter use for Early Career Researchers (and everyone else in academia, really).
Deeper impact. Twitter may not change academic impact of research, but enhances social impact. Emily Darling on a key distinction between the roles social media can play in disseminating science.
“Despite good intentions & initiatives, gender inequality is still rife in science.” Not good. Excellent follow up here:
"Many researchers face uphill battle in getting citations...specifically, researchers who are women." Matt Shipman delves into a troubling report.
Seasons greetings! Check out Kate Whittington's lovely, interactive, festive, natural history sketchbook. View of the week.