Morsels For The Mind – 18/07/2014
Every day we provide you with Six Incredible Things Before Breakfast 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
"I've been at the wrong end of a defecating sperm whale: it smells, it's nutrient rich, & could just save the world." Quote by Philip Hoare from a great piece on the value of whale poo, and whales generally.
Saving cetaceans. Using mathematical models to stave off ship strikes on whales, featuring Asha De Vos.
Dammed to extinction. Human manipulation of rivers spells doom for freshwater dolphins, reports Rachel Nuwer.
Udderly intriguing. Rebecca Rupp shares some surprising things about milk.
A whole other dimension. Conservation guided by how animals negotiate 3D environments. Cool use of technology, expertly described by Jason Goldman.
A puppy is a puppy. Pup personality a poor predictor of adult dog personality. Great take by Zazie Todd.
Getting a head in life Jeff Craig on how domesticated animals may have come by their facial features.
Hide and seek. Unique tiger hide patterns might help track illegal trade, reports John Platt.
Pet peeve. Cheetahs as "luxury pets" driving wild populations to extinction. Depressing, but well told, story by Damian Carrington.
A matter of pride. "Living walls" allow lions & herders to peacefully co-exist. Richard Schiffman perfectly describes this brilliant approach.
More turf, less surf. Polar bear diet changes with loss of sea ice, explains Douglas Fischer.
Weaseling in. Fishers, members of the weasel family, are making a big comeback. Literally, as Jason Bittel explains.
Auk-ward ending. The demise of the Great Auk - an important cautionary tale, by Samantha Galasso.
Island of no return? Remarkable isle has highest concentration of venomous snakes in the world, as Natasha Geiling reveals.
A breed apart? Rachel Mitchell looks at the ridiculous things we've created through selective breeding.
Step right up? Shark Week became "The Greatest Show on Earth" by deceit. Great critique by Christie Wilcox.
Not so Rosie. When a celebrity doesn't understand the meaning of "endangered". Great critique by Christie Wilcox. Read of the week.
Mighty Mississippi? Engineering iconic river decimated one of the mightiest migrations. Great piece by Paul Greenberg.
Family dinner. Crab larvae on the menu only when their parents are hungry. Craig McClain takes a look.
Refining relations. Sorting out the complexities of sea cucumber taxonomy. Stephenie Livingston looks at where things stand.
X factors. Plants & animals in beautiful X-rays, photographed by Arie van't Riet.
Bugs’ life – insects and other things that creep, crawl and otherwise delight – the arthropods
Beating the heat. Fake spider silk could form basis of fire-resistant undies, explains Jordan Golson.
Fossil finds – organisms of times past – palaeontology, archaeology, anthropology, history and the like
Beautiful botanicals – wonders of the photosynthesising world – that is, mainly plants
A good dusting. Flower puffs pollen onto visiting birds for cross fertilisation. Boer Deng takes a look.
Bon appétit! A little stress from the plants we eat helps us out, explains Moises Velasquez-Manoff.
Rust never sleeps. Rebecca Rupp on the rust fungus that threatens our food supply.
Root of a bad idea. A plant's appearance was once thought to signify what ailment it cured. Amazing medicinal plant history, by Matt Simon.
Best fronds for life? Could ferns help avert planetary overheating again? Interesting hypothesis, nicely shared by Jennifer Huizen.
The South will rise again? The "plant that ate the South" causes carbon release from soil. I wrote this.
Myths that keep cropping up. Smart debunking of claims about genetically modified crops, by Brooke Borel.
"The paper's methodology was so shoddy..it probably shouldn't have been published to begin with." Quote by Brooke Borel from a fresh look at Séralini's recycled "GMOs & cancer" paper.
Microscopic marvels – smaller than the eye can see, but big in action – bacteria, fungi and viruses
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 & epigenetics)
"These children are teaching us a lot we didn't know about ourselves." Quote from a brilliant, must read piece by Seth Mnookin on rare genetic diseases. Read of the week.
It's all relative? Do friends really share the same gene variants as family? Jonathan Webb considers the possibility.
All in the family? Our friends are as related to us as our 4th cousins are. Intriguing genetics, nicely described by Carl Engelking.
Proton-passing protein. Squid skin component transfers light around. Technology potential. Kevin Mayer describes some interesting new work.
A bloody conundrum. Despite knowing about blood types for >100 years, they remain mysterious. A real tour de force feature, by Carl Zimmer. Read of the week.
Jet lagged? Maybe some strategic snacking is in order, as Ben Thomas explains.
Forces of nature – big-ticket items – ecology, evolution & extinction
A sorry tail. Did life on the "long tail" of niches doom ammonites to extinction? Becky Oskin considers the possibility.
Ship shape. Virtual library now loaded with texts Darwin had on The Beagle. Anna Simmonds on a virtual book nook.
Child's play. Making evolution accessible to kids...through song! Great stuff, by Tania Lombrozo.
It's not easy being green. Could we engineer humans to be environmentally benign? Frank Swain conducts a cool thought experiment.
Earth, wind and fire – planet shaping – geology, meteorology, oceanography, the environment & climate
Current affairs. Sid Perkins explains why the Amazon runs "backwards".
In the hot seat. Biodiversity hotspots to see elevated temperatures. Not cool. Mark Fischetti shares the evidence.
Glad tidings. Making huge waves indoors to test tides' turbulence. Eliza Strickland looks at how it is done.
Star attractions – the final frontier, space
A real bright spot. Spectacular celestial explosion.
Beautiful bridge. String of young stars links old galaxies.
Celestial swirl. A cloud where stars are born.
The long goodbye. Has Voyager still not entered interstellar space…again? Andrew Grant considers where things are at.
Fantastically frosty. Dry ice gullies on Mars.
Getting physical – physical sciences – cosmology, physics, chemistry, mathematics, computing, engineering, and technology
Bursting with excitement. Interstellar radio burst.
Heavy on the light. Universe seems to have more UV than can be accounted for. What's its source?
Getting into the swing of things. How do swinging arms impact running energy efficiency? Alex Hutchinson considers the latest evidence.
Moving with the swingers. Paradoxically, runners save energy by swinging their arms, explains Charles Choi.
In a tight spot? Squishy octopus-mimicking robotic muscles might help, explains Megan Gannon.
The hole picture. The Pigeonhole Principle can allow you to make powerful inferences, explains Esther Inglis-Arkell.
Sine of the times. How Fourier transform finds undulating waves amongst complexity. Superb explainer, by Alok Jha. Read of the week.
Well read? How digital reading is changing (hurting) comprehension. Great eye-opener by Maria Konnikova.
A dose of medicine – science in practice in a medical setting, and health-, nutrition-, and exercise-related stories
It takes guts. Mechanisms underlying effect of weight-loss surgery. Fascinating research, beautifully explained in this feature by Virginia Hughes. Read of the week.
Finding the sweet spot. How do we actually determine if someone is "pre-diabetic"? Important consideration, by Tania Browne.
Staying flexible. Aerobic exercise might give your arteries healthy flexibility as you age. Alex Hutchinson looks at the evidence.
Stretching belief. Does stretching before exercise really have a benefit? Alex Hutchinson considers the controversy.
Oh nothing. Just anthrax & H5N1 being shipped about improperly. That is all. Sara Reardon looks at some worrying missteps.
Breathtaking. Frank Swain looks at the remarkable capacity of some to hold their breath.
Matters of mind – how we, and other animals, perceive our world and our place in it – neuroscience, mental health, psychology, sociology & human interest stories
Forget me not? If we can help trauma victims forget, is something important lost? Superb piece, by Emily Anthes. Read of the week.
“Biogenetic explanations for mental health problems can have troubling implications for the people who suffer them." Quote by Nick Haslam on the unintended impact of knowing more about mental illness.
The future is in plastic? Examining the basis of neuroplasticity, to shape the adult mind. Gary Stix considers the recent advances.
A link between compulsive porn viewing & drug addiction? Um, not so much. Chris Chambers takes a look at "a master class on how to tackle a controversial topic with confident transparency."
"There are many reasons to love cats & dogs. Perhaps we should be most troubled by those who love neither." Quote by Nick Haslam from a thought-provoking post on why we love dogs & cats.
A flip of the coin. Sometimes the best decision is random choice. Wonderful read, by Michael Schulson. Read of the week.
Behind the scenes – the workings of life’s museum of natural history – discovery, communication, and education
"I hope that people read my story and want to do something positive with their lives too." Quote by Lisa Milella from an inspiring piece on terminal illness & a bucket list to help endangered animals. Read of the week.
This happens. Sexual harassment in fieldwork. This incredibly important study by Kate Clancy, Robin Nelson, Julienne Rutherford, and Katie Hinde is essential reading for all principle investigators - read "fieldwork" broadly. Read of the week.
"It is unacceptable to commit the metaphoric violence of beheading for the purpose of staging." Quote by Anaiis Flox from an important piece on the problems with this week's Science magazine cover. Read of the week.
"Only by understanding our scientific giants as full human beings can we do them justice." Quote by Matthew Francis from a thoughtful piece on Feynman & hero worship. Read of the week.
Heroic blunders. Does hero worship really have a place in science outreach? Important look at a science communication conundrum, by Janet Stemwedel. Read of the week.
Getting the point. Galileo gave the world his middle finger, & much more. Great reflection on a relic, by Richard Panek.
“If there is a path forward for us, one that leads beyond the mentality of divide-and-conquer, this is it.” Quote in last tweet by Corey Powell from a thoughtful, thought-provoking piece on "cosmic thinking". Read of the week.