London’s twitterscape, with contour lines and everything

UK writer Ian Leslie, at his excellent blog Marbury, relays this fabulous contour map of London’s twitter activity. As he notes below, other cities are available as well.

a map of london’s twittering classes


Via Strange Maps comes this creative visualisation of London’s Twitter traffic, with different regions re-named to reflect the amount of Twitter activity. The map was made by Fabian Neuhaus, from the Centre for Advance Spatial Analysis. You can see other Tweet Cities, including New York, here.

I am posting this from Clerkenwell Ridge.

[NB from DD: I’l be up there around Hampstead Side — though with luck will rent an office somewhere near the high ground.]

The Onion sequences Ozzy Osbourne’s genome


I can’t resist, since a) this is funny and b) my Ozzy post was Neuron Culture’s most heavily trafficked ever. The Onion, picking up the news that Ozzy is having his genome sequenced, got an inside line, managed to get early results, and reports them thusly:

Last month, the Cambridge, MA company Knome began mapping the complete DNA sequence for heavy metal singer and former reality star Ozzy Osbourne. Here are some of the discoveries made so far:

  • His DNA contains vast sequences of mumbly code that are almost completely indecipherable
  • Subliminal genes that must be unraveled backwards
  • Brain unique in that it possesses not just opiate receptors, but powerful transmitters as well
  • Gene responsible for making Jack Daniel’s unappealing in any amount less than a fifth
  • Shares a close genetic link with no other living creature

and so on. Go get the (sorta) real thing. My original post here. Still no word on Keith Richards.

A ship beneath the World Trade Center


So some good comes of all this. Workers excavating for reconstruction at the World Trade Center have found the skeleton of an 18th-century ship — and at least one leather shoe.

In the middle of tomorrow, a great ribbed ghost has emerged from a distant yesterday.

On Tuesday morning, workers excavating the site of the underground vehicle security center for the future World Trade Center hit a row of sturdy, upright wood timbers, regularly spaced, sticking out of a briny gray muck flecked with oyster shells.

The Times has it covered, with a nice slideshow of photos from the site.

Good parents, bad kids, and the distraction of nature-nurture

bad seed

Patty McCormack, left, and Nancy Kelly
in the 1956 film “The Bad Seed.”
The Everett Collection, via the
New York Times

I almost didn’t address this Times story on “bad seeds,” written by a psychiatrist, but a few people asked, given my interest in child-raising and the interplay of nature and nurture and behavioral genetics, and once I gave it some thought I realized it was interesting in its central omission. It opens with a description of a patient whose child has grown into an adult she doesn’t much like. The author, after nothing that other therapists had suggested their parenting might lack in some key areas, largely sets that concern aside:

This supposedly suboptimal couple had managed to raise two other well-adjusted and perfectly nice boys. How could they have pulled that off if they were such bad parents?

To be sure, they had a fundamentally different relationship with their difficult child. My patient would be the first to admit that she was often angry with him, something she rarely experienced with his brothers.

But that left open a fundamental question: If the young man did not suffer from any demonstrable psychiatric disorder, just what was his problem?

My answer may sound heretical, coming from a psychiatrist. After all, our bent is to see misbehavior as psychopathology that needs treatment; there is no such thing as a bad person, just a sick one.

But maybe this young man was just not a nice person.

It’s interesting (but not novel) to note that decent or even good parents can end up with kids that, ah, don’t work out. If you’ve raised kids and watched others raised kids, you’ve seen this. And even good kids sometimes get two wheels in the ditch; they usually correct and get back on the pavement. So nothing new there.

Yet this story raises the subject — and doesn’t really add much. It toys with the nature-nurture issue — but to no gain, because it’s raised just to set aside without any real examination. He ends up concluding the kid’d just not a nice kid; but this we knew to start.

The mistake was setting up the innate v trained polarity to start with, as if the answer lay at one end of the other. As Karen James noted on Twitter, It shouldn’t surprise us that you can’t always (or ever) untangle the complex entwinement of nature and nurture? Nature and nurture isn’t an either-or or even a ping-pong game. It’s a conversation in which both are simultaneously talking and listening to one another. You can’t separate the effect. Each depends on the other for its salience: genes mean nothing without experience; experience can’t exist without genes. Life is complicated.

That said, I don’t think the parenting gets a pass in this case just because these parents raised two good boys. I’m not looking to blame the parents. But to move the parenting off the table assumes they treated all three kids roughly the same, when even the psychiatrist here notes they probably treated the difficult boy differently.

I suspect that in him these parents met a challenge they didn’t know how to handle.

That doesn’t damn them; parenting is hard. It’s the hardest thing. Yet I would think that most people who have raised more than one kid knows that each presents certain challenges, and a given parent will find it much easier to meet some challenges than others. Calming a meltdown draws on you differently than, say, getting a kid to brush regularly or do her homework. A shy child raises different challenges than one incredibly outgoing; an angry child needs a different response than a sad child. Parenting goes well when your response matches well the moment. We’re all better at some of these than others.

And as I noted in “The Orchid Hypothesis,” these interactions can hinge on tiny moments the parent may not even be aware of.

To the researchers’ delight, the intervention worked. The moms, watching the videos, learned to spot cues they’d missed before, or to respond differently to cues they’d seen but had reacted to poorly. Quite a few mothers, for instance, had agreed only reluctantly to read picture books to their fidgety, difficult kids, saying they wouldn’t sit still for it. But according to Bakermans-Kranenburg, when these mothers viewed the playback they were “surprised to see how much pleasure it was for the child—and for them.” Most mothers began reading to their children regularly, producing what Bakermans-Kranenburg describes as “a peaceful time that they had dismissed as impossible.”

Bakermans-Kranenburg, who worked up the video intervention being described above, told me the key to improving the parenting — and thus the kids’ behavior — was getting parents to spot, in the videos the researchers took of them, the fleeting moments in which a good moment starts to turn bad, and other moments in which the parents managed to spot trouble coming and turn the moment good. The parents having trouble with their toddlers usually weren’t spotting the tiny cues that signalled those crucial moments. When they learned to, things started to improve.
Big doors swing on small hinges. That’s the mystery of parenting, and of how people become what they become. This story missed that.
Check it out at Mind: Accepting That Good Parents May Plant Bad Seeds

Glitter in the stream: evolving brains, evolving journalism, & kids and genes

What caught my eye the last few days:


Human Evolution Recapped in Kids’ Brain Growth Don’t tell Stephen Jay Gould. As it happens, I’m working on a story (or rather, NOT working on it as I write this post) that helps partly explain why ontogeny may follow phylogeny here. Unfortunately, the story is moving at an evolutionary pace, and won’t see light of day for some time. Will definitely let you know when it’s out.

I’m also working on a story about schizophrenia, and so probably would have bought this book anyway. But this review quickened my hand. More good stuff from Somatosphere. Somatosphere: Book Review: The Madness within Us: Schizophrenia as a Neuronal Process by Robert Freedman

Bloggers and citizen journalists not filling gap left by media cuts, says report More transition pains. Gotta figure this one out. In my town, Montpelier, we have very little of either — very little substantial coverage from either traditional or citizen journalists. As a result, key issues go poorly discussed.

  Should newspapers publish full interview transcripts online? One unspoken reason writers might resist: We often sound really dumb as we struggle to ask people smart questions. Writers don’t like it when their words look dumb on the page.

Cities may be magnets for disaster. As if New Orleans needed more bad news.

@phylogenomics: Freeing my father’s publications part 4 I like this. Jonathan Eisen, a monster scientist himself, rescues his father’s scientific work from nondigital obscurity.

Where the ScienceBlog exodees went

The wonderful Skulls in the Stars is kindly keeping tabs on the virtual whereabouts of the bloggers who left Scienceblogs over PepsiGate. I thought I’d pass on the information here for those who aren’t in Skull’s feedstreams. Though you should go to Skulls and subscribe etc, as thanks for this.

This was updated this morning:

  • Anne Jefferson and Chris Rowan of Highly Allochthonous have found a new home for their blog within the brand-new domain name

  • Eric Michael Johnson of The Primate Diaries has decided to leave SBs; he doesn’t have a new home yet, but can be found on his Twitter andFacebook accounts.

  • Blake Stacey of Science After Sunclipse has returned to his original wordpress blog. [DD ed note: Stacey lodged a comment saying plans for blogging frequency still unclear)

  • Scicurious of Neurotopia has returned to her site at are you scicurious?

  • Brian Switek hasn’t decided where he’ll end up, though possibly at hisold wordpress site.  In the meantime, he can be found on the author page for his upcoming book, and also writing posts for Dinosaur Tracking for the Smithsonian.

  • David Dobbs is now at Neuron Culture.

  • Dave Bacon, The Quantum Pontiff, has returned to his original blog in a move only partly related to Pepsi.

  • Alex Wild of Myrmecos returning to his old site.

  • Rebecca Skloot of Culture Dish has, at least for the moment, moved her blog to her personal site.

  • Mark Chu-Carroll of Good Math, Bad Math is officially leaving Scienceblogs.

A few folks are still on hiatus to think things through or to see how things play out: currently only Superbug seems to be openly on hiatus.

  • Mike, the Mad Biologist has tentatively decided to stay with SBs.

  • Class M has decided to stay with SBs in light of the reversal regarding PepsiCo.

  • Eruptions has tentatively decided to stay with SBs.

  • The Thoughtful Animal is “cautiously optimistic” about SBs and hasdecided to stay.

  • Causaubon’s Book feels that management exceeded her expectations in fixing the mess and is back to work.

  • Reports of Living the Scientific Life (Scientist, Interrupted) leaving seem to have been mistaken; she appears to be staying for the moment.

Note: Carl Zimmer is also keeping a list of evacuees here.

Aglitter in the net


From 10 Crazy-Looking New Deep-Sea Creature

Yes, have I actually been reading something other than PepsiGate.

10 Crazy-Looking New Deep-Sea Creatures, from the good folks at Wired Science.

Frans de Waal reviews  The Price of Altruism, by Oren Harman. The existence of altruism is one of the great rich puzzles of evolution. One big thinker on the subject examines another.

Planck telescope’s fab picture of the universe, our galaxy like a fog over the fading dawn. Global coverage from Tracker.

your friends agree with you less than you think. Nice coverage from the eclectic Ian Leslie

Neuroplasticity is not a new discovery This is true — but I want to argue (as I have privately with my buddy Vaughan) that the term is still useful, whereas Vaughan wants it tossed, for reasons well-argued. But I’ll have to elaborate on that at another time. Meanwhile Vaughan has gathered a fascinating bunch of citations from the last century plus on the subject.

Is post-traumatic stress more widespread than we thought? Oy. I’d argue otherwise. In fact, I did.

A Nation of Neurotics? Blame the Puppet Masters? in which Carl Zimmer’s keenly tuned parasite radar is activated. “Once again, I hear the siren song of Toxoplasma.”

And some tweet highlights and pointers

Darwin2009: Long-term field studies of primates: Considering the past, present, and future

bmossop: wow RT @vaughanbell: Full documentary on how people who need care for mental illness end up in prisons. via @kfranklinphd

Why I’m Staying Gone from ScienceBlogs


I knew when I left ScienceBlogs that SB might well reverse and kill their ill-considered Food Frontiers. But I knew that would happen if and only if the reaction to that lame decision was so toxic and threatening to SB that they’d feel they had to kill Food Frontier. How would it get toxic? It would get toxic if they lost some top bloggers and suffered a horrific PR kickback throughout the blogosphere.

Some have questioned from the start whether those who left or went on hiatus were overreacting. To some, SB’s reversal seems to have confirmed we got our panties in a wad over not much. Two answers to that:

1. The only reason SB has reversed is because several of their bloggers, including some heavy hitters like Skloot and Laelaps, got their panties sufficiently wadded to up and leave.

2. Sb’s fail was as a big fail. The objections that it wasn’t that bad miss the mark. Some have asked, well, why shouldn’t Pepsi have voice in the conversation about science? But no one was saying Pepsi shouldn’t have a voice. In case no one has noticed, Pepsi can put up a blog on its own, and it had; it already had a voice on the blogosphere, even aside from the zillions it is free to spend on advertising.

But having a voice and buying a place at a table where places are usually earned through credibility rather than cash — that’s a different can of soda. I and others objected because when SB decided to take money to give Pepsi a blog alongside the nonsponsored blogs at SB, and almost virtually indistinguishable fromi them, it crossed all sorts of lines. And these lines are fundamental.

I alluded to some of those in my own exit post, but no one has summed it up more neatly that Martin Robbins did in his post. Robbins hits it on the head: SB’s Pepsi move created dyspepsia because it violated important principles and practices about identity, respect, and the crucial distinction between editorial and advertising.


The first point is really so simple that it’s banal, and it’s quite staggering that Adam Bly, Seed’s CEO, doesn’t seem to understand it. To its bloggers and readers, ScienceBlogs was always a meritocracy built by top science bloggers. They attracted the best science bloggers from the US and increasingly around the world, and allowed a community to organically develop in which everyone had a stake….

It should be immediately obvious that selling a seat at this table damages the brand, whoever it is. It’s like watching King Arthur hand-pick eleven knights of the Round Table, and then sell the twelfth seat on Ebay. If anyone can buy themselves a Seed Blog, then one of the main reasons to blog there – the prestige – is gone. And the effect of that is doubled when King Arthur himself doesn’t bother to tell the knights until some rich kid in Gucci armour wanders in the room asking where the bar is.


“The SEED management team has repeatedly failed to treat me and my fellow bloggers with courtesy and respect, and this latest event goes beyond disrespect into actively undermining our credibility.”

The above quote is from Brian Switek, one of the top science writers on the web, and a jewel in Seed’s crown until yesterday, when he quit.

The latest insult for Switek was that the bloggers who helped build the site weren’t consulted on such a fundamental change in direction. I’m not privy to the internal world of ScienceBlogs, but when your best writers are saying things like…

“…the skanky clandestine manner in which it was executed is a fucking slap in the face from Adam Bly and the ScienceBlogs overlords, reflecting their overall (lack of) respect for our collective contributions and investments.”

…then, my friend, you have fucked up very badly. As Abel puts it: “You reap what you sow.”

The following guidance comes from the American Society of Magazine Editors, and was highlighted yesterday by Knight Science Journalism, who point out that this is an issue that traditional media have wrestled with for years. It’s worth reading in full:

“For magazines to be trusted by consumers and to endure as brands, readers must be assured of their editorial integrity.”

“Editorial-looking sections or pages that are not produced by a magazines editors are not editorial content. They should be labeled Advertisement, Special Advertising Section or Promotion at the top of every page in type as prominent as the magazines normal body type…”

“Advertisers should not pay to place their products in editorial pages nor should they demand placement in return for advertising.”

This is one of the fundamental rules in US magazine publishing, and one that a website indexed by Google News ought to take seriously (the comment by a reader of Jack of Kent’s blog that “these are only blogs, not published content” is spectacularly naive). It’s also one of the scummier practices we see in British newspapers – all those Daily Mail stories about products with telephone numbers and websites at the bottom.

I hope that’s clear. These are not particularly fuzzy lines. And they are not trivial. They are fundamental. I may catch flak for this, but I think it significant that some of the earliest, most empatic, and sharpest actions and objections came from people with some grounding in journalism. As Robbins points, out, journalism has long recognized that it’s vital to have clear distinctions between advertising and editorial, and the entire point of the Pepsi blog was to blur those lines, and give a commercial message some of the dressings of editorial content. It let Pepsi buy a credibility that should be earned otherwise. In doing so, it threatened the credibility of the bloggers who established ScienceBlogs. In that sense it was a zero-sum game that created winners and losers: Pepsi bought the right to siphon credibility from SB’s bloggers. That’s what that giant slurping sound was.
Now SB has reversed itself, killing the Pepsi blog, and some are asking if we can just move on now.
Please to give me a break. That SB would make such a mistake to start with signals, to me, so profound a disregard for both the bloggers and the principles of good journalism that I can’t see returning there.
That said, I don’t question the decisions of those who stay on; there’s some day good people and bloggers that appear to be staying, and I’ve no problem with that. But I must say that, having not questioned for a moment the wisdom of those who are staying, I find find it irritating to have any of them question my decision to go.

A food blog I can’t digest

[This is a copy of the outta-here post I put up at ScienceBlogs this morning..]

Hoo boy. I never thought I’d have to resign a blogging position in protest. But so I find.

I’m dismayed at ScienceBlogs’ decision to run material written by PepsiCo as what amounts to editorial content — equivalent, that is, to the dozens of blogs written by scientists, bloggers, and writers who come with a different, more straightforward sort of agenda. This is like having Pfizer run CME; it presents problems I can’t overlook. My Sblings should and will do as they see and feel best, and can and will do so without censure or judgment from me. But I cannot help but feel complicit in this if I stay.


PepsiCo wants this spot, and can gain from it, only because the bloggers here have sought to write genuinely as individuals trying to communicate something genuinely arising from their own minds and work. But PepsciCo — I speak of the company, not of the individuals slated to write for Food Frontiers, of whom I know little — clearly has a different agenda, which is to use the whatever credibility that the bloggers here generate for the site to improve the company’s standing and credibility about food. That is a job they should do with their food.


As PalMD and others have pointed out, PepsiCo hardly lacks platform. The only value they can gain from writing here is to draw on the credibility created by a bunch of independent voices engaged in earnest,= thoughtful (well, most of the time), and genuine conversation. Even if PepsiCo were not paying for the privilege — and I’d be quite surprised to find they aren’t, for why would ScienceBlogs risk its credibility otherwise? — this would be a problem. As it is, however, assuming PepsiCo is paying, then they’re buying credibility generated by others even as they damage same.


Call me old-fashioned, but I can’t cotton to this. With the addition of Food Frontiers, ScienceBlogs has redrawn the boundaries of what it considers legitimate and constructive blogo-journalism about science. In doing so they define an environment I can’t live comfortably in. So with this post I’m leaving ScienceBlogs. For the moment I am moving my blog to Neuron Culture, hosted by WordPress, while considering other venues that might make sense for me. See below for links to the new Neuron Culture as well as other ways to follow me and my writing.


I know all too well that the changing media landscape presents financial challenges. But this isn’t the way to meet them. 



Neuron Culture will continue/resume here. It’s missing some recent posts at the moment due to an export/import snafu I’m in the midst of correcting.

To subscribe to its new RSS feed (for Google Reader and such), go here.

You can also follow me at Twitter, go to my main web page, track my Google shared items, or follow my Tumblr log, which gets it all.


A bit messy during reconstruction

Pardon the chaos here. Many posts are out of date order, and quite a few still missing, as I try to move my posts over from my former home at ScienceBlogs. (A few posts didn’t come over; many others took on today’s date instead of their original posting dates.)

Our best crews are working on it. They’re skipping lunch and everything — but keep asking for Pepsi. Don’t quite get it.