Tangled Bank 95: Here I stand and can do no other

Welcome to the 95th installment of Tangled Bank, a blog carnival devoted “to science and medicine, broadly defined.”

The installment’s title was inspired by its issue number, and comes from a probably apocryphal line almost definitely never uttered by Martin Luther, the author of the 95 Theses — in honor of Tangled Bank founder PZ Myers‘ deep love for Christianity (or possibly for just nailing things into churches).

If you’re visiting Ouroboros for the first time: Greetings! The site is devoted to reviewing research literature in the biology of aging (e.g., this recent paper on p53 activity and late-life cancer risk, or this one on mitochondrial replacement). Feel free to poke around and stay awhile. If you like what you see, subscribe to our RSS feed.

In The Scientific Paper: past, present and probable future, Bora Zivkovic of A Blog Around the Clock discusses (at considerable length) the role of technology in communication, the evolution of the scientific literature, and the challenges and opportunities presented by the increasing use of the web in scientific publication.

One of the clearest illustrations of how the web is changing scientific publication is the rapid adoption of online video as a means of disseminating observations and even whole papers. In Fun With Video, Jennifer Forman Orth at Invasive Species Weblog provides us with the cream of the crop in her field of interest.

Publication is important for disseminating knowledge but also for preserving it. Another form of preservation, gene-banking, is becoming increasingly important in the face of human encroachment on the environment and now-inevitable climate change. These efforts to preserve genetic diversity are faced with tremendous technological challenges; to make matters worse, they also have to deal with the wrath of Zeus and Thor. In Lightning strikes coconuts twice (and more), Luigi Guarino describes a threat to gene-banking that comes from an unexpected direction. It never rains but it pours: Also at the Agricultural Biodiversity Weblog, Luigi follows up with stories about wind damage and, happily, the slow recovery of a genebank from the ravages of the weather.

On the darker side of the literature, Sunil Laxman of Balancing Life investigates two recent cases of plagiarism in Ethics, plagiarism, eTBLAST and déjà vu. Stories about scientific fraud of any kind usually make me feel queasy, but happily Sunil’s story ends on a positive note, with a description of a software tool that is serendipitously able to root out, er, overly enthusiastic borrowers.

GrrlScientist of Living the Scientific Life ponders the ancient nature/nurture debate. In Lovebird behavior: Nature or Nurture?, she discusses a study in which hybridization of different lovebird species was used to parse the differential contribution of genes, experience and environment. In the holiday spirit, or perhaps having momentarily forgotten her first submission, GrrlScientist provides us with further bounty, delving into a seasonally appropriate analysis of the psychology of giving and also poking a stick into James Watson’s woodpile.

Taking us from the descent of one particular man to the Descent of Man, Jeremy Mohn at An Evolving Creation gives us (in the author’s words) an article “about the importance of theories in providing a coherent framework for scientific investigation. It presents a timeline of important discoveries relating to Human and great ape chromosome similarities, with links to the peer-reviewed articles in which the discoveries were first reported. The timeline illustrates the centrality of evolutionary theory in making sense out of the observations.”

Evolution didn’t stop with the advent of Homo sapiens of course. Greg Laden reviews in detail the recent finding that the rate of human evolution (as evidenced by the rate of sequence change over time) has accelerated over the past 10 to 50 thousand years: Study Suggests Increased Rate of Human Adaptive Evolution. There might be hope for us yet.

Humans may be evolving more rapidly because of our accelerating ability to alter our own fitness landscape. Dave Ng of Terry* submitted Dave Semeniuk’s post What’s Your Anthrome? or “If you Can’t Save Them, Name Them After Yourself”, a meditation on the species with the dubious distinction of having the greatest global impact on the environment.

One ancient human environment — Londinium, the Roman city that precursed modern London — is under close investigation by archaeologists. Tim Jones at remote central digs up the latest findings in Unprecedented Hoard of Roman Archaeology Found at Drapers Gardens, Moorgate.

From archaeology to medicine, from potshards to bones: The aforementioned PZ Myers describes a skeletal adaptation in human beings — well, in half of us, anyway — at his blog Pharyngula. Despite the prevalence of lower back pain during pregnancy, apparently it would be far worse if not for evolutionary alteration of the shapes of lumbar vertebrae. Pickles and ice cream all ’round in the edifying post Load-bearing adaptation of women’s spines. (PZ also wanted to share a bit about bisexual necrophiliac fruit flies, who don’t have to worry about adapting to gestation…for lots of reasons.)

We can’t evolve out from under everything that goes wrong with the skeleton, unfortunately. In Know Your Pathology: Diffuse Idiopathic Skeletal Hyperostosis, the author of Archaeozoology discusses the diagnostic features of a painful-sounding skeletal disease that was apparently shared by Neanderthals…and some bears. Oh my!

Over at SharpBrains, Alvaro Fernandez provides a host of advice about exercising the brain, maintaining intellectual flexibility, and topping off one’s mental reserves: Jogging our brains for brain vitality and healthy aging. For those of us planning on engaging in deep communion with the couch this winter, the exercised described in this post might just keep our IQs rising along with our waist size.

The malleability of the mind is also the theme of Ed Yong’s piece Subliminal flag shifts political views and voting choices. In his post at Not Exactly Rocket Science, Ed describes an Israeli study demonstrating that short flashes of national flags — but not scrambled images with the same colors and shapes — can significantly increase future actions, even when the viewer is unaware that they’ve seen the flag. Speaking as an American, I have to say that I simply can’t imagine a flag turning a person into a mindless robot …

Finally, what installment of Tangled Bank would be complete without a weird plant to do the tangling? In The viscoelastic flytrap, KFC of The Physics ArXiv Blog gets bogged down in the insect-trapping properties of Nepenthes pitcher plants.

The next Tangled Bank will be hosted by Martin Rundkvist at Aardvarchaeology, on January 9th 2008. Send your posts to host@tangledbank.net.


  1. Really. I came here because this is supposed to be a blog about the science behind the biology of aging – that’s what’s advertised.

    So what does this last entry – entirely about other subjects have to do with the “biology of aging”???

    It may all be very interesting. That is NOT the point. The point is that it doesn’t belong here. Time is a limited commodity. It is NOT of added value that you include here stuff that’s OFF TOPIC (however interesting in its own right).

    Please resist the temptation of including “interesting stuff” that has nothing to do with the purpose of the blog. It’s a waste of time for those of us who trusted your motto “Research in the Biology of Aging”. Yes, it is your blog and you can do as you wish, but be aware that this severely degrades the usefulness of your blog – and by the way, I was aware of virtually every issue touched upon in that last entry… so that’s not what I come here for – I can get that elsewhere. Try not to be yet another of a million blogs that fancy themselves aggregators of nebulously defined “interesting stuff”. Wading through a sea of off topic reports and musings, in order to ferret out the few nuggets of on topic posts is a time-wasting chore.

    Less is more. And On Topic rules all.

    Thanks for listening to feedback.

  2. It’s a carnival, you dumb shit. This is one of the ways blog authors bring in new readers — people who might not even know that they’re interested in the focus topic, or that there is a web site devoted to it — and a major mechanism by which the community of science bloggers engages in lateral diffusion of information and linkage. Linkage, by the way, is how search engines identify authoritative sites, and why you found this blog on your Ask Jeeves search.

    Want an aging article? Scroll down. It ain’t hard. And never, ever presume to give me advice on how to blog or tell me what to write on my own site.

    “Thanks for listening to feedback.” Fuck you.

  3. LOL. Actually, I did not find this blog through “Ask Jeeves”. It was from a comment on metafilter. This kind of *personalized* word of mouth is the best way to gain readership and popularity, rather than spammy “linkage” on the front page. Somehow other blogs manage to confine their linkage to a sidebar or comments. It’s really not that hard, and it really looks better and saves time. Too bad you don’t have the confidence that you can gain readership that way.

    As to “just scroll down” – this is in fact a chore. When people check blogs, often they have no more than a couple of minutes in between doing other things. They just want to hit on the articles immediately to judge if it’s worth reading. In that scenario, wading through off topic linkage spam IS in fact a waste of time.

    The rest of your reaction is disappointing in a number of ways. First, because there’s anything wrong with a reader giving you advice/feedback – unless you are doing it just for yourself (in which case why is it accessible to the public), the whole point of a blog is that it addresses itself to its readers. To then high handedly excoriate me for “presuming” to give you advice/feedback is appallingly graceless. If you don’t agree with my feedback, ignore it, or state your reasons, but to attack your reader in the manner you did casts you in a really bad light. I was just giving you feedback, prefaced with “yes, it is your blog and you can do as you wish, but…” – and your response …?

    The final “fuck you” to my polite “thanks for listening to feedback” is the response of someone who has no respect for other human beings. This is not psychologically healthy – read what you wrote, and think about it.

    Maybe one day you’ll understand. It doesn’t matter at this point. There’s usually a silver lining in everything. In this case, you voluntarily revealed yourself, and that’s where you stand for all to see.

    I will not trouble you further, and your blog will not be one of my stops anymore. There’s a big world out there, and you are stuck with your perspective. Good luck.

  4. Hello John,

    Quick science behind the biology of aging: we need to ensure novelty, variety and constant challenge.

    Your comment: a great example of what not to do.

    Chris: thanks!

  5. He is too lazy to scroll down, yet has all the time and energy to tell an experienced and prominent blogger How.To.Blog (with all the wrong advice, including the uber-stupid “Stay On Topic”). He has not even heard of carnivals and yet has the gall to talk about blogging from a position of authority – Blah!

    He could have spent some time finding out what a carnival is, in one easy click:

  6. Chris, you rock. I love your blog and I loved your carnival and I love your attitude. Scrolling is not a chore.

  7. Thanks for having my back, folks.

    Hope everyone had happy holidays. I’ll be live again within the next day or so.

    Looking forward to 2008!

Comments are closed.