Since it’s one of those days where I feel like one of the few people working a full day, I’ll keep the links brief. Regular programming will resume next Tuesday.
1) You can set your watch by the timing of the predictable backlash to major scientific announcements, particularly in this age of instant internet vetting. Much of the immediate criticism tends to focus on how the media handled/exaggerated the scientific finding; i.e. the transition of my twitter feed’s take on J. Craig Venter’s “synthetic life” from enthusiasm to calling him “the Paris Hilton of science.”
But the more interesting wave takes place months later, when publications rebutting the original journal article begin appearing. This week, that slower wave crashed against last year’s unveiling of Ardi, the 4.4-million-year-old partial skeleton argued to be a human ancestor by its discoverers. Today in Science, the same journal that published the original paper, two groups attempt to chip away at the conclusions surrounding Ardi – whether the species lived in a woodland habitat and where it falls on the human family tree, closer to us or apes. Science allowed the original authors to respond to both comments, and the New York Times and the San Francisco Chronicle played the role of referee.
2) The Gulf of Mexico offshore oil spill continues unabated, and the major journals are both doing a nice job of explaining the scientific aspects of the story without getting mucked up in the politics. Science has dedicated a page to their spill coverage, where I found this interesting article about the oil-eating bacteria of the ocean (and how BP’s dispersants might interfere with their natural activity). Nature’s page features posts from a reporter on the research ship Pelican, which was in the Gulf studying the effects of the spill earlier this month. To explain the “top kill” strategy employed yesterday by BP to plug up the oil spill, CNN turned to esteemed scientific communicator Bill Nye the Science Guy. Thus far, the top kill clog appears to be working; let’s hope it stays that way.
3) Mars Phoenix RIP. The Knight Science Journalism Tracker has a roundup of obituaries written for the NASA Mars probe, which was officially declared inoperable this week. Charlie Petit also raises a good question: was it really a success? Often, space projects are given the benefit of the doubt because of the wonder they inspire, but the high cost of such efforts mean they should receive just as much, if not more, scrutiny than other scientific experiments.
4) The increased risk-taking behavior of younger siblings is illustrated with a real world example: stolen bases by baseball players.
5) And finally, celebrate the opening of beach season with this excellent article by my former Tribune colleague Joel Hood about how scientists are developing new methods of measuring and forecasting harmful bacteria in Lake Michigan. Good to see science on the front page in Chicago.