Morsels For The Mind – 14/02/2014
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
This week, a zoo euthanised a healthy giraffe. This raised many issues. The best handling of these issues is found on the next four morsels, which nicely complement each other:
“Don’t be drawn in by the hype and really think about the issues at hand before you decide.” Quote by Christie Wilcox from a brilliant, balanced piece on the events related to Marius the giraffe. Read of the week.
A zed & two nots. The story of Marius the giraffe suggests what zoos oughtn’t do. Superb, thoughtful consideration of a difficult topic, by Virginia Morell. Read of the week.
Tall order. Zoos must think carefully about alternatives to euthanising “surplus” giraffes. Excellent look at a fraught issue, by Jason Goldman. Read of the week.
Long & short of it. There’s another way to look at the sacrifice of a zoo giraffe. Irrespective of your view on Marius the giraffe, do read Kim Moynahan’s piece. Important issue. Read of the week.
Send policy packing? Plans to remove wolves’ protection met with howls of criticism, as Virginia Morell reports.
Packing it in? Genetically speaking, is iconic wolf pack on its last legs? Emma Marris takes a look.
Some folks say dogs are just wolves in dog’s clothing. They would be wrong. Because science. I wrote this.
Getting a head of themselves. Jennifer Viegas reports on how unthinking dog breeding is causing horrible brain problems.
Love your dog? Keep them away from the valentine chocolate. It’s poison. Important post (particularly for dog companions) by Deborah Blum.
Trotting to a different beat. The mutation we selected that changed horses’ gait. Elizabeth Pennisi will bring you up to speed.
No monkeying around? Climate change pushes lion tamarin monkeys to brink. John Platt on yet another dire situation.
Flukey finds? Counting whales via satellite has advantages…and drawbacks, as Henry Nicholls reveals.
Aye, robots. Animal populations are being infiltrated by robots. To help animals. Emily Anthes shows how.
Ahead by a whisker. Crowd-sourced photos help ID sea lions based on their snout hairs. Nick Evershed reports.
Agony & ivory. Since 2002, 65% of forest elephants slaughtered for tusks. John Platt shares some bad news.
The fine point. Poaching rhinos is wrong, but root of problem is TCM market for horn, as Sue Lloyd-Roberts reveals.
Ganging up. Crime syndicate gangs are decimating tiger populations. Sharon Guynup immerses herself in the gang culture, and comes up with a remarkable story. Read of the week.
What’s the big deal?! Sheep-sized rats?! Um, maybe in tens of millions of years… Tori Herridge takes a critical look at recent reporting of a strange story.
Headline fail: “Owl viciously attacks rabbit hunter." Better: “Hunter invades owl territory, steals prey, loses.”
“Researchers..gather their data by driving a pickup truck at..90km/h, directly at birds in the road.” Quote by Philip Ball on research ultimately aimed at *helping* birds. Yes, really.
A wing & a prayer. Sighting of rare manumea raises hopes that species still has breeding population. John Platt on a hopeful find.
Something to crow about. This corvid is genius! Must view video. View of the week.
Highway to shell. Mapping where fisheries pose big risks to sea turtles. Virginia Gewin reports on a conservation challenge.
Shell games. The disappearance & reappearance of Darwin’s tortoise. Great story by Henry Nicholls.
Good news, bad news. Using genomics to crack down on illegal pet trade finds new “dragon”. Nsikan Akpan reports.
Keep it down! Human-derived mechanical noise messes up feeding in fish, as Felicity Muth reports.
Animal attraction. Creatures in black & white. Gorgeous portraits by Lukas Holas.
Bugs’ life – insects and other things that creep, crawl and otherwise delight
Life is sweet. When your feet sense sugar. Like a bee does.
Spidey sense is tingling? Black widows figure out just how much to fight back. Amazing arachnid action, nicely reported by Felicity Muth.
“At the end you’ll also feel a bit hopeful. We can make things better. There is still time to act.” Quote by Gwen Pearson on a wonderful Jilli Rose animation based on “tree lobster” conservation. View of the week.
Fossil finds – organisms of times past – palaeontology, archaeology, anthropology, history and the like
“The fossil record is quite simply heaving with transitions, & any statement to the contrary is clearly incorrect.” Quote by Dave Hone from brilliant, must read on transitional fossils. Read of the week.
Life everlasting? 252M yrs ago, in a mere 60k years, 90% of all life was extinguished. Becky Oskin looks back.
Shell shock. Surprising emergence of turtle fossil tells evolutionary tale. Fascinating little story, by Andy Farke.
A colourful past. Legacy of birds’ plumage hues goes back to feathered dinosaurs. Cool story by Helen Thompson.
Family ties? Are 800k-yr-old footprints from a family? Or is it wishful thinking? Barbara King addresses the questions, wonderfully.
The following six morsels tell the remarkable story & issues surrounding the genome sequence of the “Clovis boy”. Great reads on important subject.
A life less ordinary. Genome of young boy from 12600 yrs ago tells tale of 1st Americans. Super story by Catherine Brahic. Read of the week.
A bridge across time. Genome of Clovis boy supports Bering land bridge origin for Americans. Charles Choi reports.
Remains of the day. Ewen Callaway describes how ancient American genome raises ethical issues around his burial.
“Notions of identity & origin are more complex than lines of descent drawn in DNA.” How to interpret the Clovis boy genome sequence. Important.
“He’s kind of like a King Tut in a way.” Shane Doyle on the Clovis boy whose genome was sequenced. Great interview with Catherine Brahic.
“People think that there’s a DNA test that can prove if somebody is Native American or not. There isn’t.” Quote by Kim Tallbear from an excellent, thought-provoking interview with Linda Geddes. Read of the week.
Beautiful botanicals – wonders of the photosynthesising world – that is, mainly plants
A flowering of thought. Plants helped Darwin’s ideas on evolution take root. Superb bit of history, beautifully described by Henry Nicholls. Read of the week.
Message in a bottle. Story of transatlantic travel told in bottle gourd’s genome. Superb story, by Carl Zimmer. Read of the week.
Leave the lid up. “Toilet plant” needs all faeces it can get.
Peak performance. Tree roots on mountains act like a climate thermostat.
The perks of biodiversity? More & better coffee. Bob Grant on how to have a java that's all 'round good.
“Calling a company evil is easy. Say something enough times & everyone thinks it’s the truth.” Quote by David Friedberg from an excellent, nuanced piece by Keith Kloor on Monsanto.
Microscopic marvels – smaller than the eye can see, but big in action – bacteria, fungi and viruses
Inside scoop. Andrew Anthony describes the perspective gained by having one’s gut microbes sequenced.
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)
It’s a small world. Marvellous microscopy.
Historical hookups. Genomes hold evidence of migrations, invasions & trade. Daniel Cossins looks into it.
Formula for success? If it’s baby formula, it might be worth determining if it should be tailored to baby’s sex. Interesting research featuring Katie Hinde, reported by Ian Sample.
“If Salk had refused to vaccinate his sons, would other parents have been so willing to vaccinate theirs?” Quote by Cassandra Willyard from an excellent read on Jonas Salk using the polio vaccine on his own son.
“We should be aiming to save lives, not create as many cancer patients as we possibly can.” Superb writing by Christie Aschwanden on an important topic - mammography.
Earth, wind and fire – planet shaping – geology, meteorology, oceanography, the environment & climate
Fire & ice. Shape remarkable landscapes.
Darwin rocked! Dana Hunter reminds us that it’s important to remember Darwin's contributions to geology as well.
“The more extreme an experience is, the more deeply it effects one’s beliefs...” Quote by Maria Konnikova from a super read on impact of heat waves & polar vortices on climate perspective.
“There was a mummified hand, like it was waiting to be held. It was 34 years on, & I was holding my brother’s hand.” Quote from an amazing, affecting read by Ed Douglas on a poignant side-effect of glacial retreat. Read of the week.
Star attractions – the final frontier, space
Way out there. Galaxies 13B light years away. Amazing.
Forces of nature – big-ticket items – cosmology, mathematics, computing, chemistry, physics, ecology & evolution
Go with the flow. Treating the universe as a fluid to uncover Big Bang’s secrets. Natalie Wolchover on a fascinating approach to cosmology. Read of the week.
The hole truth. Did Hawking really eliminate black holes? Um, not so much. Excellent dissection of a timely topic, by Matthew Francis. Read of the week.
Greater transparency. Illuminating explainer on why you can see through glass, by Mark Miodownik.
Oh what a tangled Web we’ve woven. Rachel Nuwer finds that it is tough to find a place where you can truly disconnect.
Getting it together. Working like a termite ensemble, robots build stuff. Nadia Drake reports on some very cool research.
Where the wild things are? How best to conserve nature. Even conservationists disagree, as Amy Mathews Amos describes.
“It’s the wild, rambunctious product of genes & evolution, competition & symbiosis.” Quote by Nadia Drake from an awesome post on “nature at its most raw & captivating”, the Amazon jungle.
Do you believe in evolution? “No, I don’t. I accept the overwhelming evidence for evolution, belief isn’t necessary." Quote by Ryan Ellingson, handly defusing the “big criticisms” of evolution. Great read.
Odds & ends. Were we destined to be here, or is it all just chance? Great reflection by Jon Butterworth.
Matters of mind – how we, and other animals, perceive our world and our place in it – neuroscience, mental health, psychology, sociology & human interest stories
Everything you’ve always wanted to know about kissing but were afraid to ask. Awesome video by Joe Hanson. View of the week.
A touching tale. How stimulating the brain alters the sense of touch. Fascinating story by Virginia Hughes.
Watch out. Being watched changes our behaviour. But not chimps. Fascinating observations, beautifully connected by Jason Goldman.
“Brain death is a tragic topic where neuroscience, ethics & philosophy collide.” Excellent treatment of a sensitive subject by Christian Jarrett.
Placebo sleep? Yep, it’s a thing. As Tom Jacobs explains, you are more rested if you're told you had good shut eye. Might there be "nocebo sleep" also - feeling exhausted because you were told you had a restless night? Hmm. Watch this space.
Topic of note. How big leaps in pitch, like in “Over the Rainbow”, catch our ear. Cool story by Philip Ball.
Why DO we give flowers to profess our love? Because evolution! I wrote this.
Creature comfort. Caring for animals may help kids develop sympathy & empathy. Excellent look at some recent research, by Zazie Todd.
“Obstinate cheerfulness makes illness & deprivation easier to bear, reduces the damage they cause & postpones death.” Quote by Patrick Rabbitt on ageing, death & depression. Lots of food for thought.
Behind the scenes – the workings of life’s museum of natural history – discovery, communication, and education
“He provided us with a lens that irrevocably changed the way we see & understand life on Earth.” Darwin changed the way we see the world. It’s a vision worth sharing! I wrote this.
Minding p raises Qs. Stats darling, the p-value, gets a comeuppance. Regina Nuzzo did a great job reporting on one of the most intensely discussed issues of the week. See the comments also. Read of the week.
“H1N1 is swine flu mixed with bird flu..for it to exist, pigs had to mate with birds.” Um, no. Quote from an excellent, thoughtful post by Kim Moynahan on the challenges of science communication.
“For many of us working in the field, the obviousness of the low numbers..has neutralised any astonishment.” Quote by Athene Donald on from an excellent piece on a report on female representation in academic STEM.
“Butterflies take flight amidst a web of lines & helices…the mathematical complexity of nature starts to make sense.” Quote by Liz Stinson on Rafael Araujo’s mind-blowing fusion of maths, natural history & artistry.
Drawing on experience. Lovely cartoon on interactions with non-human animals, by Connie Sun, shared by Robert Krulwich.
Seeing is believing. Year's best science visualisations. Simply stunning. Must view. View of the week.