Sleep, Vaccines, and Stoners as Arms Dealers: The Week’s Glitter

A while back I considered writing a book about sleep. I’ve learned since that’s a sure sign predictor of a good NY Times story sometime in the following 5 to 10 years. So here it is: The latest science on sleep.

In the same vein as the old, McSweeney’s brings us a great new list on what your favorite songs say about you. E.g.: “Santana: You’ve had an hours-long conversation w/someone b4 realizing it was just a pile of clothes.”

via @GreatDismal: Time Lapse Auroras Over Norway Seriously gorgeous.

The NYT weighs in with great review of ‘The Panic Virus’ by @sethmnookin

via tgoetz, this horrifying stat: In the 19th c, TB was the largest killer – about 25% of all deaths, and 40% of working class deaths, were caused by TB. More at

@taylordobbs points to an utterly fascinating article about two young stoners who made millions as international arms dealers
BoingBoing asks, Does the pharmaceutical industry exaggerate their R&D costs?
@mocost points us to some minimalist posters about metal disorders
And the happy thought of the week, via steyblind: Success is achieved, but not enjoyed, by the obsessed.

The Science of Swearing. Read the F’ing Thing!

Don’t miss this. Over at Mind Hacks, blogger, psychiatrist, and writer Vaughan Bell, always on the lookout for items of scientific importance and wonder, has turned up an entertaining study of teenage swearing.

Teenagers love to swear. Says who? Says science you melon farmers. And what could be better than a top ten of teenage swearing compiled by science wielding psycholinguists? A US – UK show down. Let the cursing commence.

The book Trends in Teenage Talk: Corpus Compilation, Analysis and Findingswas written to summarise the findings of research on the word use of teenagers in London.

In Chapter 4, on slang and swearing, the authors compare the frequency of swear words in London teens to the same from an earlier study in East Coast American adolescents.

First the Londoners:

And now on to the East Coast Americans:

I love the contrast between US and UK usages. Some interesting variations. Londoners seem to prefer fucking to fuck, which suggests they’re using the F word as an adjective to modify other nouns (see list), while the Americans are simply blurting it out. I think either usage has its place. I also wonder if any of the UK fucking usages employ fucking as a gerund. (As in “Oh, what a fucking.” Or, to hijack the example from the Wikipedia entry (heh) on gerunds, “Fucking is an easy process for some.”) Haven’t heard it, but you never know.

Bell has his own reactions.

I would first like to express my disappointment that the word bollocks is being neglected by UK teenagers.

Unfortunately, a decline in social standards and a lack of respect for tradition is leading to a generation of fucking obsessed adolescents.

He’s just getting started. He’s got more. Don’t be an ass. Get your bloody arse over there and read the thing. It will make your day.

Is Sharing a Technology? John Hawks Asks the Kids

Is sharing a technology?

These may seem an odd question. But over at John Hawks’s Weblog, of all places, John Hawks is spinning an intriguing argument that the social context supporting behaviors such as sharing and counting plays such a vital role that it amounts to a sort of  technological infrastructure — and its outcome (the behavior) a sort of tool:

Following on after yesterday’s post about hunter-gatherer population structure, I ended with the proposal that cooperation may be a “cognitive technology” in the same way suggested for numbers (“Number as cognitive technology”).

The technology perspective attracts me. It seems a productive way to examine the interaction between innate and extrinsic factors leading to human behaviors. We learn about numbers. Without a development of the brain within a cultural setting with widespread counting and training in number use, people don’t develop the habits of mind that allow rapid comparison of cardinal values. They can still operate on sets of objects and compare their quantities, but they are missing a shorthand, a symbolic shortcut, that comes with learning and practice. Numerical concepts, invented and repeatedly used by human societies, give learners access to this symbolic method of problem-solving.

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Cosmology journal declares enemies evil, war won, all life alien

I lack time to do this justice, but thought it should enter the public record. The Journal of Cosmology’s latest release about the Hoover assertions about signs of alien life in a meteor, below, speaks for itself. You can find other context at my prior post on this. I should note that when the journal says (below) that they’ve received “absolutely no evidence that the results from the Hoover study are not valid,” it ignores arguments from qualified people such as such as Rosie Redfield and Phil Plait. This thing has turned into a real circus. I don’t even know where to start. They don’t know when to stop.

Full text below the jump.

From: [email protected] Date: March 18, 2011 2:20:17 AM GMT To: Edit[email protected] Subject: NASA Threatens NASA Scientist

–NASA Threatens NASA Scientist

-Microfossil Evidence Certified as Valid

–Nature &  Science Editors Uncooperative – Know Meteor-Microfossil Results are Valid

-The War Between Science (JOC)  vs Religion (NASA) (PRESS RELEASE REPRODUCED ON JOC WEBSITE)

The Journal of Cosmology upon reviewing the evidence and the opinions of experts who have submitted their comments and evaluations, does hereby certify the paradigm shattering findings of Richard Hoover. We confirm the validity of his discovery of ancient microfossils similar to cyanobacteria in meteorites older than Earth.

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The Pope’s Balls, Nagel’s Bats, Barthes, Baldwin, and other pleasures

I’ve been head-down on a complicated piece of writing this week; an enormous pleasure, but it steals you away. Forgive the quiet. Below is what broke through.

The week’s upper-deck shot was hit by Joe Posnanski:

In the car that day, I finally figured it out … finally figured out what kept Dad going through all those long, dull, painful, agonizing days at the factory. He didn’t say it. I didn’t say it either.

And Joe Posnanski is smart enough to not say it here. Instead he plants it and lets it grow inside you. When I got this the other day, I  read it all before breakfast and thought about it all day. Work, love, family, and Bruce Springsteen’s ‘The Promise’. Wonderful. Via @taylordobbs and Hugh Willett.

The other hits:

Penis Spines, Pearly Papules, and Pope Benedict’s Balls. This post by Eric Johnson is so entertaining that it’s easy to miss that it’s great post-publication peer review.

“‘Librarians are the boots on the ground,‘ Grimes told me. ‘We don’t care what the tech is, we care about what the user actually needs. That’s our mandate.'” Great stuff from SXSW, via AtlanticTech.

Hollywood career advice from Alec Baldwin. One of the few good things to come out of the Sheen shining.

“Writing is not only a technical activity, it is also a bodily practice of jouissance.” One more reason to love Roland Barthes.

What is it like to get hit by a bat? David Brooks just learned. He learned from Thomas Nagel, who once penned a seminal essay on consciousness called What is it like to be a bat, and last week took a swing at Brooks’s pop-neuro book.

Older elephants know the best anti-lion moves With some great vid. From Ed Yong

Why do some people cling desperately to the  Twisted Psychology of Bloggers vs. Journalists?. Jay Rosen explains.

The Strange Case of Josef Oehmen | Genius Now This is the guy who wasn’t worried about the Japanese nuclear reactors. I’m thinking he’s got plenty to worry about now.


Image: Mickey Mantle, courtesy NY Daily News. In one of his bios, Mantle said that every time he swung, he swung as hard as he could; he wanted to hit it 700 feet. He almost did, yet he still hit .298 lifetime. Man wasn’t human — except when he faced Koufax.

How to Crack Open Science – from ScienceOnline

What’s Keeping Us from Open Science? Is It the Powers That Be, Or Is It… Us? from Smartley-Dunn on Vimeo.

Despite all its wonders, science today operates under some enormous constraints, many of them concentrated around the academic paper, which started as a way to spread science faster and wider, but now often serves more as a bottleneck than a conduit. The so-called “open science” movement is trying to change this. At ScienceOnline in North Carolina a few weeks ago, I moderated a panel that discussed these efforts. The program description is below.

Related sessions included Open Notebook Science, on how scientists can better share data, and one on how the web is changing how we measure scientific impact.


What’s keeping us from Open Science? Is it the powers the be, or is it … us?

David Dobbs, Melody Dye, Jan Reichelt, Kristi Holmes, John Timmer, Sara Wood

There’s been a lot of talk about open science — the need to not only make all science publications open-access, but to change current research, publication, and reputational structures to take full advantage of the internet, and to accelerate and enrich the flow and development of scientific data, idea, findings, and discussion. But what’s holding us back? What changes need be made to ensure a) free and open access to scientific results and publications and b) a more free, open, faster flow of scientific information? Can we just start publishing papers on blogs and let the hivemind replace peer review? Do open notebooks really work? How can we encourage scientists to contribute by reviewing and commenting on others’ work rather than focusing just on “the paper”? We’ll discuss these questions, as well as a) where the current bottlenecks are b) key functions served by current structures (such as publishing, peer review, and credit/reputation systems) that need to be replaced in an open system; and c) ideas and efforts already underway to serve those new functions.

Arsenic Author Dumps Peer Review, Takes Case to TED

Back in December, when NASA-funded researcher Felisa Wolfe-Simon caught criticism online for her paper asserting a particular bacteria was incorporating arsenic into its DNA, virtually rewriting the rules of life, she declined to talk to the press, saying she preferred to limit debate to the peer-reviewed press. She said, to be exact

Any discourse will have to be peer-reviewed in the same manner as our paper was, and go through a vetting process so that all discussion is properly moderated.

Apparently the peer-reviewed realm now includes the high-profile TED conference, where on Wednesday Wolfe-Simon  talked about her paper. Neither video nor transcript is released as yet, but accounts suggest she discussed her controversial discovery outside the realm of peer review — in fact, in the most public venue imaginable —and one anonymous source I spoke to today said she repeated the paper’s explicit and disputed claims about arsenic incorporating DNA.

I’m curious to see the vid. For now, I’m filing this under shocked but unsurprised. This is real chutzpah, to assert you’ll stick to peer review, thank you, and refuse to talk to press, and then take the stage at TED.

Journal of Cosmology Takes “You Ignorant Slut” Route

The meteoric alien saga is getting deeply weird. My earlier post covered and tracked this fracas over a paper finding signs of alien life in a meteor. As I said then, the journal publishing it seemed the most interesting thing about it. It has proven the case, and continues to do so. Here’s a snippet of the journal’s latest statement about the critics of the Hoover paper.

Tremendous efforts have been made to shout down the truth, and the same crackpots, self-promoters, liars, and failures, are quoted repeatedly in the media. However, where is the evidence the Hoover study is not accurate?

Few legitimate scientists have come forward to contest Hoover’s findings. Why is that? Because the evidence is solid.

As I noted in my earlier post, several have contested Hoover’s findings, and none of those are listed on the Journal’s list of responses to the paper.

Arsenic Paper Reviewer Can’t See Out of Ivory Tower

As the Bug said to Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones in Men in Black (at about 1:20 in clip above) “You don’t get it.”

Even as the blogosphere tries to check the claims (and press coverage) of last week’s Richard Hoover paper about alien life in meteors, behavioral and evolution researcher Zen Faulkes, over at NeuroDojo, notes a major fail in a review in press at BioEssays of last December’s controversial Wolfe-Simon paper about the Mono Lake bug. He reports that the reviewers flat out ignore a wealth of existing critiques on the Wolfe-Simon paper — and tries to obscure its omission by suggesting that such critiques were anonymous. Here’s Zen:

To recap: In early December, NASA holds a press conference relevant to astrobiology, wherein Felisa Wolfe-Simon announces a paper on a very interesting bacteria. The bacteria is indisputably arsenic tolerant, but Wolf-Simon and her eleven co-authors claim that the bacteria is not just tolerating arsenic, but using it in place of phosphorus. Before the weekend is out, strong criticisms of the paper appear on blogs. Wolfe-Simon initially refuses to respond to anything that isn’t in a peer-reviewed journal, but later relents and put up a FAQ on her website.

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The Orgueil Meteorite’s Fall

However flawed the science might be in Richard Hoover’s paper claiming signs of alien life in the Orgueil meteorite, I like his description of the stone’s blazing fall into southern France.

At 8:08 P.M. on May 14, 1864 a brilliant fireball illuminated a large region of southern France and thunderous explosions were heard as the blue-white fireball streaked across the sky, turned a dull red color and produced a long thin white smoke trail (Jollois, 1864; d’Esparbés, 1864). The weather was nice on this spring evening in the south of France. Soon after the explosions were heard, a shower of stones fell within an 18 km east-west scatter ellipse between the villages of Orgueil, Campsas and Nohic (Tarn-et-Garonne). The main fall occurred near the village of Orgueil (43o 53’ N; 01o 23’ E) and villagers collected over 20 jet-black stones immediately after the fall. Many of the Orgueil stones had complete fusion crusts and a few were quite large (one with mass ~11 kg). The Orgueil bolide was so spectacular that many villagers at St. Clar thought they were surrounded by flames. The Marquise de Puylaroque (1864) reported that her house looked like “the interior of a furnace” and she heard a rumbling noise that sounded like firearms and lasted for 2-3 minutes. The detonations were so violent that some villagers thought the event was an earthquake (Bergé, 1864).

Elsewhere, I was interested to find this isn’t the first time someone has found something in the Orgueil mass. This means nothing one way or another as far as Hoover’s conclusions goes, but it’s an interesting bit of history. From Wikipedia:

In 1965, a fragment of the Orgueil meteorite, kept in a sealed glass jar in Montauban since its discovery, was found to have a seed capsule embedded in it, whilst the original glassy layer on the outside remained apparently undisturbed. Despite great initial excitement, the seed capsule was shown to be that of a European rush, glued into the fragment and camouflaged using coal dust. The outer “fusion layer” was in fact glue. Whilst the perpetrator is unknown, it is thought that the hoax was aimed at influencing 19th century debate on spontaneous generation by demonstrating the transformation of inorganic to biological matter.

Update Mar 9, 2:18 pm GMT: Since posting this I’ve learned that Ferris Jabr put up a longer (but not terribly long; it’s just right) post on the meteor’s historic fall. Jabr also reported on the wider controversy over whether the meteor contains alien life, in Alien-life claims spark monster mud-slinging, which provides some very nice context.