The obligatory “Best of” post. And it’s a beast. A “Beast of”, you might say.
Right. I really wasn’t going to do this. It’s not that I don’t have a long list of articles I read in 2012. Quite a frightening number, really, in probably a searing indictment of my character - after all, it tells you a lot more than you need to know about my blithe unconcern for prior commitments, and what I was really doing when I was supposed to be doing other, actually important stuff. Although I would almost always pause reading for matters of medical urgency, or the third time someone called my name exasperatedly.
The problem, I’m sorry to say, is that I posted all these articles to Facebook, in the dark days before I moved to Tumblr. How much did I post, you ask? Let’s just say that my departure from that venerable social network has left people’s newsfeeds a desolate wasteland, which may, to be honest, be a welcome development for many. Whatever. SUCK IT, Facebook.
The problem, you see, is not that I don’t want to comb through my cherished articles, each one of which I loved with a tenderness forged in the desperation of procrastination, and remember the special place each one has in my heart. This one, for example, that I read hiding out in the basement under the guise of doing laundry. Or that one, voraciously consumed in the bathroom with the shower running because I was late for a dinner party. That I was hosting. It’s only that, well, Facebook is to personal data what Death-Eaters are to souls and Muggles. Retrieving my articles has been an enterprise fraught with the frustration of repeatedly trying to download archived data and being told, after a wait of several hours, that the download failed and must be re-tried.
But nothing is too good for you, dear reader. And so I have made this Herculean effort on your behalf, and also because there is something unpleasant but important I need to do that I am ignoring.
What follows is a (very loosely grouped) list of some (only some!) of my favorite articles from 2012, the ones I consider the most important and/or the most interesting. (A hundred of my closest friends!) Or at least, that I read in 2012; they may have been posted earlier and I unconscionably missed them. I tried to pare it down, really I did, but it’s kind of like going on vacation and not being able to pick what to bring so you end up packing 12 outfits for a 5-day absence and have to pay a baggage surcharge at the airport. Where available, I’ve included the author, date posted, and short blurb from the original. So without further ado, here’s everything you should have read in 2012.
You’re wrong. But it’s really quite liberating, when you think about it.
The Key to Science (and Life) Is Being Wrong
Steven Ross Pomeroy, Scientific American, November 13, 2012
Even as statistical math is being celebrated for its predictive power in the US election, there are problems with its use in scientific analysis. Individual studies are generally not enough to draw a firm conclusion, which is why breathless journalism touting the results of the latest study as fact often turn out to be misleading, and just serve to erode public trust in science. What’s needed is to look at the entire body of evidence for a claim, and treat each new study with healthy skepticism.
Odds Are, It’s Wrong: Science fails to face the shortcomings of statistics
Tom Siegfried, Science News, March 12, 2010
”The vast majority of doctors in these studies seem to have thought that if around 80% of women with breast cancer have positive mammographies, then the probability of a women with a positive mammography having breast cancer must be around 80%.” Bayes is probably the most important theorem you don’t understand.
Thomas Bayes and Bayes’s Theorem
Shane Parrish, Farnam Street, December 5, 2012
“I just met Sally. She is very adventurous, a real adrenaline junkie. Is Sally more likely to be a skydiving instructor, or an accountant?” Or, imagine you just screened positive for TB, and your doctor says the test is 99% accurate. What are the odds you actually have the disease? If you answered “skydiving instructor” to the first and 99% to the second, then you need to be acquainted with Bayes’ Rule. Because you can never get too much Bayes.
Odds again: Bayes made usable
Ian Pollock, Rationally Speaking, November 29, 2012
”Random” does not mean “evenly distributed”. Why is this important? Because we tend to assign meaning to clusters of events, imbuing them with non-randomness. “Bad things come in threes,” we’re assured. They might. But that still doesn’t mean they’re not random.
If it looks random, it probably isn’t
Dan’s Data, November 13, 2012
Very coherent primer on the much-maligned M-theory.
Meet the mother theory
Marianne Freiberger, Plus Magazine, April 19, 2012
Seven equations that rule your world
Ian Stewart, New Scientist, February 13, 2012
And now, in the “Neglected contributions of women in science” department.
Emmy Noether: The Mighty Mathematician You’ve Never Heard Of
Natalie Angier, New York Times, March 26, 2012
Pardis Sabeti, the Iranian-born molecular biologist who just won a Smithsonian award, is kind of awesome.
Pardis Sabeti, the Rollerblading Rock Star Scientist of Harvard
The recipient of the Smithsonian American Ingenuity Award for natural sciences blazed a new view of how to treat infectious diseases via genetics
Seth Mnookin, Smithsonian, December 2012
Weather, unlike climate, is notoriously hard to predict. It is best described by a branch of mathematics known as chaos theory, which doesn’t mean that it isn’t deterministic - in theory, if we knew all the initial conditions, we could predict the weather to a high degree of accuracy. But, as the theory famously goes, a butterfly flapping its wings in one part of the world can set in motion a cascade of events that results in a tornado in another. Excellent exposition by golden boy Nate Silver.
The Weatherman Is Not a Moron
Nate Silver, New York Times, September 7, 2012
Evangelical missionary spends two decades with remote Amazon tribe, becomes atheist linguist who sparks fierce debate over foundational assertion of Chomskyan linguistics.
THE INTERPRETER: Has a remote Amazonian tribe upended our understanding of language?
John Colapinto, New Yorker, April 16, 2007
The gifts of the Jews are many. Sadly, this is not one of them.
The Lethal Gene That Emerged in Ancient Palestine and Spread Around the Globe
A long line of discoveries shows the history and biology of the world’s most studied piece of DNA, a mutation that causes breast cancer.
Jeff Wheelwright, Discover Magazine, March 05, 2012
”After Greiner visited the participants in their homes, interviewing them and taking their blood, Barzilai would get calls saying that the young man was very nice, but why didn’t he touch the cake they’d prepared?” Ashkenazi Jews, as a small, relatively homogeneous population, make excellent subjects for genetic studies. Bonus: interspersed with lots of good Jewish jokes.
What Do a Bunch of Old Jews Know About Living Forever?
Irving Kahn is about to celebrate his 106th birthday. He still goes to work every day. Scientists are studying him and several hundred other Ashkenazim to find out what keeps them going. And going. And going. The secrets of the alter kockers.
Jesse Green, New York Magazine, November 6, 2011
”Once, Freud treated a female patient who complained of menstrual cramps. He sent her to an ear, nose, and throat doctor he knew who had this hypothesis that runny noses and menstruation were connected. During recovery, after her nasal cavity had received a proper chiseling, she complained of a growing pain in her sinuses that not even morphine could abate, and one night she produced two bowls of pus before horking out a piece of bone the size of a water chestnut. Freud concluded the hemorrhage was the result of a hysterical episode fueled by repressed sexual longings. A return trip to the surgeon determined it was actually a leftover piece of gauze. Freud remained unconvinced, claiming her relief came from psychoanalysis.” An entertaining and thorough look at ego depletion (aka willpower) from the author of “You Are Not So Smart”.
Steven Johnson, You Are Not So Smart blog, April 17, 2012
We like to weave everything into a good narrative, but it is often at the cost of truly rational decision-making.
Our Gift for Good Stories Blinds Us to the Truth
Reid Hastie, Bloomberg, May 9, 2012
”If you’re alive, you’ve encountered it, whether it was the guy at the mall trying to sell you Power Balance bracelets, the shampoo commercial promising you that ‘amino acids’ will make your hair shiny, or the peddlers of “ natural remedies” or fad diet plans, who in a classic expansion of a basic tenet of advertising, make you think you have a problem so they can sell you something to solve it.” Read this. Then read it again. And when you’re done, share it with all your friends.
10 Questions To Distinguish Real From Fake Science
Emily Willingham, Forbes, November 8, 2012
”…if you’re walking around with a fake product from a high-fashion designer… you have a constant reminder of your own shaded morality, and because of that, I think fashion, unlike other things, could actually create dishonesty in other things as well.”
Why We Lie, Go to Prison and Eat Cake: 10 Questions With Dan Ariely
Joanna Pearlstein, Wired, June 22, 2012
How does Target know you’re pregnant before your parents do? The science of habit.
How Companies Learn Your Secrets
Charles Duhigg, New York Times, February 16, 2012
Complement the above with an excerpt from Charles Duhigg’s book.
The Power of Habit: How the history of toothpaste explains why you can’t lose weight.
Charles Duhigg, Slate, February 28, 2012
Confirmed: creative types are real SOBs.
How Creativity Connects with Immorality
Are creative types more likely to cross moral boundaries?
Travis Riddle, Scientific American
”If five million people can be convinced to log into Zynga’s Facebook game Farmville each day to water a virtual garden and literally watch the grass grow on their computer screens, surely there must be a way to co-opt those same neural circuits that reward mindless gaming to make learning more addictive and enjoyable.”
How I learned a language in 22 hours
He’s never been good with languages, so can Joshua Foer really hope to learn Lingala in a day?
Joshua Foer, Guardian, November 9, 2012
”After the professor explained the evidently distasteful, outmoded process that became more popularly known as behavior modification, Vargas’s classmates began discussing the common knowledge that Skinner had used the harsh techniques on his daughter, leaving her mentally disturbed and institutionalized. Vargas raised her hand and stated that Skinner in fact had had two daughters, and that both were living perfectly normal lives. ‘I didn’t see any need to embarrass them by mentioning that I was one of those daughters,’ she says.”
The Perfected Self
David H. Freedman, The Atlantic, May 21, 2012
“From our phenomenological point of view, it may seem to us that we construct and use theories in order to achieve explanations or have sex in order to achieve orgasm. From an evolutionary point of view, however, the relationship is reversed: we experience orgasms and explanations to ensure that we make babies and theories.” Why Turing’s suicide did not inspire the Apple logo, but you want to go ahead and believe it anyway. And a bonus posthumous Feynman quote.
Hunters of Myths: Why Our Brains Love Origins
Maria Konnikova, Scientific American, April 7, 2012
Fascinating interview with famed neurologist V.S. Ramachandran.
Adventures In Behavioral Neurology—Or—What Neurology Can Tell Us About Human Nature
So here is something staring you in the face, an extraordinary syndrome, utterly mysterious, where a person wants his normal limb removed. Why does this happen? There are all kinds of crazy theories about it including Freudian theories. One theory asserts, for example, that it’s an attention seeking behavior. This chap wants attention so he asks you to remove his arm. It doesn’t make any sense. Why does he not want his nose removed or ear removed or something less drastic? Why an arm? It seems a little bit too drastic for seeking attention.
V.S. Ramachandran, Edge, February 21, 2012
Sebastian Seung on the connectome, or, how your brain’s wiring affects your personality.
How mapping neurons could reveal how experiences affect mental wiring
Sebastian Seung, Wired, June 14, 2012
Burgeoning field of connectomics means it’s a good time to be a neuroscientist, bad time to be a worm.
The Connectome Debate: Is Mapping the Mind of a Worm Worth It?
Scientists have mapped a tiny roundworm’s entire nervous system. Did it teach them anything about its behavior?
Ferris Jabr, Scientific American, October 2, 2012
Auditory hallucinations can be musical, or not. They can be accompanied by visual hallucinations or occur on their own, like tinnitus. An auditory hallucination is not like an earworm; it appears to emanate from an external source. Many people associate auditory hallucinations with mental illness, like schizophrenia, but as famed neurologist Oliver Sacks explains in this book excerpt, they can occur in many otherwise neurotypical people.
Exclusive First Read: ‘Hallucinations,’ By Oliver Sacks
Oliver Sacks, NPR, October 24, 2012
What’s that, you say? Can’t get enough of Oliver Sacks’ new book?
Oliver Sacks, Exploring How Hallucinations Happen
Fresh Air interview, November 06, 2012
”When in experiments black and white Americans were flashed pictures of the other race, their amygdalas, the brain’s center of fear and anger, were activated so quickly and subtly that the centers of the brain were unaware of the response.” How we are wired for group adhesion.
Biologist E.O. Wilson on Why Humans, Like Ants, Need a Tribe
Religion. Sports. War. Biologist E.O. Wilson says our drive to join a group—and to fight for it—is what makes us human.
E.O. Wilson, Newsweek, April 2, 2012
“Of an estimated 15,000 species of mammals and birds, fewer than 14 account for 90 percent of what we eat. Of more than 10,000 edible plants, three crops—wheat, rice, and corn—provide half the world’s calories.”
How We Won the Hominid Wars, and All the Others Died Out
The unique adaptability of Homo sapiens is what allowed us to survive when so many other species died out, paleoanthropologist Rick Potts contends.
Jill Neimark, Discover, February 23, 2012
Higgs the guy on Higgs the boson: “I spend more time telling people that explanations by physicists who should know better are nonsense. The one that I object to is that the acquisition of mass by a particle is like dragging it through treacle. That is a process where you are losing energy.” So how does he explain it? “Somewhat like the refraction of light through a medium.”
Peter Higgs: Boson discovery like being hit by a wave
Jessica Griggs, New Scientist, July 10, 2012
”Our Big Bang may not be unique, any more than planetary systems are.” Astronomer Martin Rees on the multiverse theory of cosmology.
One universe among many?
Research may open the way for a conceptual shift of Copernican proportions
Martin Rees, Prospect, April 25, 2012
Astronomer Phil Plait gives the rundown on the possibility of extraterrestrial life in this article for the BBC.
Will we ever… find life elsewhere in the universe?
The idea of aliens may seem absurd. But times change, as does science, says Phil Plait, and this makes the idea far more plausible than it once appeared.
Phil Plait, BBC, August 9, 2012
“I’m discounting claims that UFOs contain aliens. Why would they appear only to cranks and weirdos?” and “I gave a party for time-travelers, but I didn’t send out the invitations until after the party. I sat there a long time, but no one came.” On his disability, which leaves him on a ventilator and unable to move: “I have been very successful in my scientific work, and have become one of the best known scientists in the world. I have three children and three grandchildren so far. I travel widely, have been to Antarctica, and have met the presidents of Korea, China, India, Ireland, Chile, and the United States. I have been down in a submarine and up on a zero-gravity flight, in preparation for the flight into space that I’m hoping to make on Virgin Galactic.”
Stephen Hawking on time travel, M-theory, and extra terrestrial life
Invite time travelers to a party late? “I sat there a long time, no one came.”
Michael Venables, Ars Technica, July 1, 2012
Some estimates have it that of the approximately 100 trillion cells that compose the human body, only 10 trillion are human (although these figures vary wildly depending on the source you consult). The rest make up what is called your microbiome, and scientists are only starting to understand it. Excellent overview by lauded science writer Carl Zimmer.
Tending the Body’s Microbial Garden
Carl Zimmer, New York Times, June 18, 2012
Were Neanderthals a distinct species? Genetic studies show that our last common ancestor was 800,000 years ago, that modern Europeans and Asians interbred with them on possibly several distinct occasions up to about 40,000 years ago, and that they were still extant until at least 28,000 years ago. How we define Neanderthals touches on our definition of a species, and even what it means to be human.
Are Neanderthals Human?
In August 1856, in the German valley of Neander—Neanderthal in German—men cutting limestone for the Prussian construction industry stumbled upon some bones in a cave. Looking vaguely human, the bones—a piece of a skull, portions of limbs, and fragments of shoulder blades and ribs—eventually made their way to an anatomist in Bonn named Hermann Schaafhausen.
Carl Zimmer, NOVA, September 20, 2012
In this National Geographic article from 2006, Carl Zimmer explains the sparse simplicity of evolution, and how it builds complexity by tinkering with what’s already there.
A Fin is a Limb is a Wing
How Evolution Fashioned its Masterworks
Carl Zimmer, National Geographic, November 2006
Aristotle thought the brain was made of cold phlegm. Medieval Christians thought the brain was dominated by three ventricles filled with animal spirit. As late as the 17th century, a leading English philosopher could confidently assert that the brain “shows no more capacity for thought than a cake of suet or a bowl of curds.” Contrast this with the modern view of the brain as a computational device - albeit an immensely complex, sophisticated (and buggy) one. Futurists like Ray Kurzweil believe it will one day be possible to upload your brain to a computer that will outlast your physical body, effectively rendering you immortal. But new advances in neuroscience only serve to reveal the paucity of our current knowledge of the human brain, so if the day ever comes when we can model it with sufficient accuracy, yours and my neurons will have long since ceased to fire.
From Cooling System to Thinking Machine
The Long, Strange History of Ideas About the Brain
Carl Zimmer, Being Human, October 10, 2012
Note: Do not eat bat droppings from an African cave. And other cautionary tales of the coming viral apocalypse. Adapted from David Quammen’s book Spillover.
Where Will The Next Pandemic Come From? And How Can We Stop It?
Out of the wild
David Quammen, PopSci, October 15, 2012
”But when parents choose not to vaccinate, they’re not simply putting their own kids at risk; they’re also unwittingly jeopardizing newborns, pregnant women, the elderly, and people like Julieanna with preexisting conditions.”
Why So Many Parents Are Delaying or Skipping Vaccines
Seth Mnookin, Parade, October 7, 2012
Demystifying the origins of life: The last common ancestor of all living things may have been a pore in a geothermal vent in an ancient ocean.
Was our oldest ancestor a proton-powered rock?
Nick Lane, New Scientist, October 19, 2009, as featured in Sott.net
And more on competing theories of abiogenesis (origin of life).
Traces of Inaugural Life
Geologists, biologists join forces to tell new stories about the first cells on Earth
Sarah C.P. Williams, Science News, May 4, 2012
“A placebo, you might say, is an ersatz drug that makes you feel better, while a nocebo is a fake drug that makes you feel worse. Of course, in both cases, it’s not the pill that’s doing the work; it’s your own body, responding to the social context in which you take the pill.”
Are Warnings About the Side Effects of Drugs Making Us Sick?
Steve Silberman, Plos Blogs, July 16, 2012
”The researchers gently stroked the ‘nipple and areola’ of all patients and got responses from five, four men and one woman. Then they stroked the skin at the root of the penis on the 18 male patients, and four responded with ‘gentle seesaw movements of the penis.’” Disturbing article about so-called Beating Heart Deaths.
The Beating Heart Donors
They urinate. They have heart attacks and bedsores. They have babies. They may even feel pain. Meet the organ donors who are “pretty dead.”
Dick Teresi, Discover, May 2, 2012
Tolstoy famously wrote, “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” In a society plagued by mental illness, happiness is the holy grail of many researchers, who try to tease out, one by one, the determining factors that make us happy (genetics: 50%, environment: 10%, and attitude: 40%, according to one). But as the Harvard study shows, it’s not easy even to agree on measures of happiness. Self-reports of happiness are subject to bias, distortion, and pure delusion. The man who fell down the stairs drunk to his death was arguably more introspective and joyous than the one who, towards the end of his life, claimed he wouldn’t change a thing. If there’s one thing you’ll learn from the original Atlantic article on the study from 1999, it’s that we can never tell what dark undercurrents flow in men’s hearts. Oh. And also, that Tolstoy was dead wrong.
What Makes Us Happy?
Is there a formula—some mix of love, work, and psychological adaptation—for a good life? For 72 years, researchers at Harvard have been examining this question, following 268 men who entered college in the late 1930s through war, career, marriage and divorce, parenthood and grandparenthood, and old age. Here, for the first time, a journalist gains access to the archive of one of the most comprehensive longitudinal studies in history. Its contents, as much literature as science, offer profound insight into the human condition—and into the brilliant, complex mind of the study’s longtime director, George Vaillant.
Joshua Wolf Shenk, The Atlantic, June 2009
”If it took so long for one of the best hospitals in the world to get to this step, how many other people were going untreated, diagnosed with a mental illness or condemned to a life in a nursing home or a psychiatric ward?”
Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness [Excerpt]
In a new memoir a young journalist traces her recovery from an autoimmune disorder that masqueraded as psychosis
Susannah Cahalan, Scientific American, November 16, 2012
A devastating outbreak of kuru in a remote part of Papua New Guinea some 50 years ago decimated its women and children. This infectious, long incubating disease is yielding insights into mad cow, Parkinson’s, and Alzheimer’s, and raises worries about contamination of our blood supply.
The Last Laughing Death
Jo Chandler, The Global Mail, November 13, 2012
Steven Pinker famously called music “auditory cheesecake”. There are many competing theories as to why humans have evolved a love of music and dancing. One theory suggests that it has been sexually selected to attract mates. Another suggests that its primary purpose was to bind large groups of people into a cohesive unit. Some argue that it developed to bridge the gap between our non-talking and our talking ancestors, and others that it emerged as a by-product of language, not a precursor to it. The fact that music can evoke such strong emotions in us suggests that it is an emergent property of the brain, and that ultimately no one of these theories on its own may be correct - evolution may have repurposed an existing set of skills to serve a different goal than the ones they originally evolved for.
Biologists are addressing one of humanity’s strangest attributes, its all-singing, all-dancing culture
The Economist, December 18, 2008
Formula makers among those in the forefront of research into the remarkable properties of human milk.
The Impressive Power of Breast Milk
Breast-feeding boosts an infant’s immune system and promotes a healthy gut. Scientists are finally isolating the compounds responsible. The result could be a health breakthrough for all ages.
Florence Williams, Discover, August 8, 2012
A well-written essay on Turing’s contributions to modern science.
A Mind from Math
Alan Turing foresaw machines’ potential to mimic brains
Tom Siegfried, Science News, June 15, 2012
What’s the difference between a Wall Street executive and a serial killer? One is a hardened psychopath lacking remorse and empathy. The other is a murderer.
How to Act Like a Psychopath without Really Trying [Excerpt]
People who don’t care—or don’t need to care—what others think of them show how crucial reputation is to civilization. Understanding it could reduce crime, improve ethical behavior and rein in Wall Street excesses
John Whitfield, Scientific American, December 9, 2011
”In another famous case, a 9-year-old boy named Jeffrey Bailey pushed a toddler into the deep end of a motel swimming pool in Florida. As the boy struggled and sank to the bottom, Bailey pulled up a chair to watch. Questioned by the police afterward, Bailey explained that he was curious to see someone drown. When he was taken into custody, he seemed untroubled by the prospect of jail but was pleased to be the center of attention.” Deeply disturbing article about identifying and treating psychopathy in children.
Can You Call a 9-Year-Old a Psychopath?
Jennifer Kahn, New York Times, May 11, 2012
Psychopaths were really big this year.
An Interview with a Psychopath [Excerpt]
Kevin Dutton pits his own mind against that of a psychopath
What Psychopaths Teach Us about How to Succeed [Excerpt]
We can learn a lot from psychopaths. Certain aspects of their personalities and intellect are often hallmarks of success
Kevin Dutton, Scientific American, October 12, 2012
An anatomy of a scandal.
Jonah Lehrer’s Journalistic Misdeeds at Wired.com
An investigation reveals evidence of plagiarism, dodgy quotes, and factual inaccuracies.
Charles Seife, Slate, August 31, 2012
”The scientific fields that are the most exciting to today’s writers - neuroscience, evolutionary biology, behavioral economics - are fashionable despite, or perhaps because of, their newness, which makes breakthrough findings both thrilling and unreliable. In these fields, in which shiny new insights so rarely pan out, every popularizer must be, almost by definition, a huckster.” In the wake of the Jonah Lehrer scandal, a lot of soul-searching about science popularizing.
Proust Wasn’t a Neuroscientist. Neither was Jonah Lehrer.
The disgraced journalist’s biggest sin had nothing to do with self-plagiarism. Or fabricating Bob Dylan quotes. All he did was what was asked.
Boris Kachka, New York Magazine, October 28, 2012
People die on the operating table as pharma reps look on, as a result of using a product known to be risky in a manner proscribed by the FDA. A chilling tale of medical malfeasance and pharmacological skulduggery that will shake you to the core. Part of me still doubts this is true.
Bad to the bone: A medical horror story
When medical device company Synthes decided to illegally test a bone cement on people, the results were disastrous. A disturbing tale of corporate crime and punishment.
Mina Kimes, CNN, September 18, 2012
“Drugs are tested by the people who manufacture them, in poorly designed trials, on hopelessly small numbers of weird, unrepresentative patients, and analysed using techniques that are flawed by design, in such a way that they exaggerate the benefits of treatments.” If we’re to discourage people from alternative medicine, which is even more poorly tested and regulated and can result in greater harm and fewer benefits, then we need to make sure the system we do have is transparent and effective.
The drugs don’t work: a modern medical scandal
The doctors prescribing the drugs don’t know they don’t do what they’re meant to. Nor do their patients. The manufacturers know full well, but they’re not telling.
Ben Goldacre, Guardian, September 21, 2012
”Interviews, FDA documents and e-mails released by a Senate investigation indicate that GlaxoSmithKline withheld key information from the academic researchers it had selected to do the work; decided against conducting a proposed trial, because it might have shown unflattering side effects; and published the results of an unfinished trial even though they were inconclusive and served to do little but obscure the signs of danger that had arisen.”
As drug industry’s influence over research grows, so does the potential for bias
CAN MEDICAL RESEARCH BE TRUSTED? A Washington Post investigation finds pharmaceutical companies influence the research that determines drug prescriptions for millions of Americans.
Peter Whoriskey, Washington Post, November 24, 2012
”87 percent of researchers who expressed “favorable views” of GlaxoSmithKline’s diabetes drug Avandia, despite indications that it might increase the risk of heart attacks, had some financial involvement with the drug’s manufacturer. And when a U.S. Food and Drug Administration committee debated whether or not to pull Avandia from the market because of the link to heart attacks, it came out that members of the committee, too, had been taking money from drug companies.” Because you can’t have too many exposés of the pharmaceutical industry.
How Drug Company Money Is Undermining Science
The pharmaceutical industry funnels money to prominent scientists who are doing research that affects its products—and nobody can stop it
Charles Seife, Scientific American, November 21, 2012
”More than a million women who were told they had early stage cancer — most of whom underwent surgery, chemotherapy or radiation — for a ‘cancer’ that was never going to make them sick.” Similarly, most men will die with prostate cancer, but not from prostate cancer, which is relatively benign and slow-growing in the majority of cases. More screening may be killing you: The screening itself may have inherent risks (like exposure to radiation, or perforation), and may lead to treatment that is unnecessary and dangerous. And it’s costing us a fortune.
Cancer Survivor or Victim of Overdiagnosis?
H. Gilbert Welch, New York Times, November 21, 2012
Unlike other resources, information is infinitely shareable. Cultural evolution, defined as the transmission of information, proceeds at a much faster pace than genetic evolution. In this interview, a Canadian researcher explains how he thinks cultural evolution drove human genetic evolution.
How Culture Drove Human Evolution
Part of my program of research is to convince people that they should stop distinguishing cultural and biological evolution as separate in that way. We want to think of it all as biological evolution.
Joseph Henrich, Edge, September 4, 2012
”Finally, and most surprisingly to us, we found that the collective intelligence of the group was significantly correlated with the percentage of women in the group. More women were correlated with a more intelligent group. Interestingly, this last result is not just a diversity result. It’s not just saying that you need groups with some men and some women. It looks like that it’s a more or less linear trend. That is, more women are better all the way up to all women.”
Thomas W. Malone, Edge, November 21, 2012
What do our body lice and brain plasticity tell us about the possible fate of our species?
State of the Species
Does success spell doom for Homo sapiens?
Charles C. Mann, Orion, November/December 2012
The Central Dogma of molecular biology states that information flow is from DNA to RNA to protein, but the study of epigenetics suggests a mechanism by which environment can alter DNA and be transmitted through heredity.
Lamarck and the Missing Lnc
Epigenetic changes accrued over an organism’s lifetime may leave a permanent heritable mark on the genome, through the help of long noncoding RNAs.
Kevin V. Morris, The Scientist, October 1, 2012
A dense but interesting piece comparing the theory of evolution to Turing’s ideas, by the philosopher Daniel Dennett.
‘A Perfect and Beautiful Machine’: What Darwin’s Theory of Evolution Reveals About Artificial Intelligence
Charles Darwin and Alan Turing, in their different ways, both homed in on the same idea: the existence of competence without comprehension.
Daniel C. Dennett, The Atlantic, June 22, 2012
”The system is hi-tech all the way; the greenhouse is in a remote spot, but the grower, a hyper-enthusiastic 27-year-old Canadian, Dave Pratt, can rather delightfully control all the growing conditions for his tonnes of crops from an iPhone app if he’s out on the town – or even home in Ontario.”
Growing food in the desert: is this the solution to the world’s food crisis?
Philipp Saumweber is creating a miracle in the barren Australian outback, growing tonnes of fresh food. So why has he fallen out with the pioneering environmentalist who invented the revolutionary system?
Jonathan Margolis, Observer, November 24, 2012
An inside look at Google’s Project Ground Truth.
How Google Builds Its Maps—and What It Means for the Future of Everything
An exclusive look inside Ground Truth, the secretive program to build the world’s best accurate maps.
Alexis C. Madrigal, The Atlantic, September 6, 2012
Google is far more awesome, and innovative, than you can possibly imagine.
Google Throws Open Doors to Its Top-Secret Data Center
Steven Levy, Wired, October 17, 2012
This is quite possibly alarmist. But you’ll want to read it anyway.
The NSA Is Building the Country’s Biggest Spy Center (Watch What You Say)
James Bamford, Wired, March 15, 2012
”In short, the very four digits that Amazon considers unimportant enough to display in the clear on the web are precisely the same ones that Apple considers secure enough to perform identity verification.” Even the tech savvy can get hacked because of security policies at Apple and Amazon that are designed for customer ease instead of security.
How Apple and Amazon Security Flaws Led to My Epic Hacking
Matt Honan, Wired, August 6, 2012
“Most people will fall for it unless they’ve been trained not to. But most companies aren’t doing that.” Meet Cosmo, a clever, oversized 15 year old who used simple social engineering tactics to outwit big-name tech companies. Tech industry, are you listening?
Cosmo, the Hacker ‘God’ Who Fell to Earth
Matt Honan, Wired, September 11, 2012
It’s a tale worthy of a Dan Brown novel: ciphers, secret societies, and elaborate rituals. And the computer algorithm that cracked it.
They Cracked This 250-Year-Old Code, and Found a Secret Society Inside
Noah Shachtman, Wired, November 16, 2012
”There are people who see the proliferation of stupid games as a good thing. In fact, they believe that games may be the answer to all of humanity’s problems.”
Just One More Game…
Angry Birds, Farmville and Other Hyperaddictive ‘Stupid Games’
Sam Anderson, New York Times, April 4, 2012
Gripping excerpt from a new book about Anonymous describing their takedown of HBGary.
Anonymous strikes back
Salon exclusive: A D.C. computer executive thought he could outwit the hacker collective. He was very, very wrong
Parmy Olson, Salon, June 3, 2012
In the UK, private parties can lead the prosecution against individuals. Here’s the story of how a movie studio trade group funded the investigation and led the prosecution of SurfTheChannel owner Anton Vickerman - after the Crown determined that it didn’t have sufficient evidence for a case.
Private justice: How Hollywood money put a Brit behind bars
Industry-funded prosecution leads to 4-year sentence for SurfTheChannel owner.
Timothy B. Lee, Ars Technica, August 16, 2012
Meet the ladyphone: overpriced, underperforming, and pink (and possibly accompanied by a makeup kit).
Does this smartphone make me look stupid? Meet the “ladyphones”
Many phones “made for women” have substandard specs and options.
Casey Johnston, Ars Technica, March 13, 2012
“Proof showing its command server required people with different levels of trust to carry out various jobs depending on their level of sensitivity is consistent with a large, highly structured operation. The fact that work on Flame began no later than 2006 and the operators developed separate malware further suggests a group with almost limitless resources.” Fascinating autopsy of Flame malware, successor to Stuxnet, targeting Iran. Not to miss: the bar chart showing number of victims broken down by country.
New in-the-wild malware linked to state-sponsored Flame targeting Iran
Data suggests Flame was created by an advanced, nation-sponsored group with cash.
Dan Goodin, Ars Technica, September 17, 2012
”The Georgian hack is one more reminder that these tools aren’t esoteric at all; indeed, they are widely available online and entire forums have sprung up to trade images of “slaves” (usually women) whose computers have been infected and who are being spied upon, often with voyeuristic or sexual intent.” A Russian spy-ring targets Georgian government agencies. What happens next is kind of awesome, but also comes with some hard lessons.
How Georgia doxed a Russian hacker (and why it matters)
Caucasian conflagration has some wider lessons for online security.
Nate Anderson, Ars Technica, November 2, 2012
”Welcome to the hidden side of yur soul, where you view the yung and innocent. We have been around since 2002, offering the best of private and series Child Pornography (CP), (hardcore/soft core) all for FREE!” Down to the deliberate misspelling, a fake Web site serves as an FBI honeypot to entrap kiddie porn consumers. GOTCHA.
“The hidden side of your soul”: How the FBI uses the Web as a child porn honeypot
That child porn site might just be run by the FBI.
Nate Anderson, Ars Technica, April 23 2012
Anonymous’ “Commander X” is a fugitive from the FBI wandering an undisclosed location in Canada.
Anon on the run: How Commander X jumped bail and fled to Canada
One fugitive’s epic tale.
Nate Anderson, Ars Technica, December 11, 2012
They’re like the warlords of Reddit. They moderate discussion boards and post pictures of dead underage girls for users’ titillation. A profile of a 49 y.o. military dad, husband to a disabled woman, and Internet troll.
Unmasking Reddit’s Violentacrez, The Biggest Troll on the Web
Adrian Chen, Gawker, October 12, 2012
The deep Web: get yer assassins, illegal street drugs, and unmentionable smut here.
Mail-order drugs, hitmen & child porn: A journey into the dark corners of the deep web
Joel Falconer, The Next Web, October 8, 2012
“…new articulated spine, which allows for completely realistic and natural torso positioning and range of motion…the new removable deep throat mouth insert, which features a canal which goes down the throat of the doll versus straight back into the head, for up to 7” of penetration…full head design without magnets or velcro…a numbered certificate of authenticity signed by the actress…”
How technology is changing the way we have sex
Mic Wright, The Next Web, October 6, 2012
”Across the Web, people forward the e-mail as a public awareness effort that the Mikkelsons dub slacktivism-sending a warning without putting in any effort to see if it might be true.” We all have them: those elderly relatives who forward the email or copy-and-paste the FB status about the free gift card or the Amber alert. Snopes.com is the one-stop shop for your urban legend debunking.
Rumor Detectives: True Story or Online Hoax?
Giant dogs? One-winged airplanes? Death by Pop Rocks? Sounds like a case for Snopes.com.
David Hochman, Reader’s Digest, April 2009
Arts and Life (by which I mean, Everything Else)
What really caused ecological collapse in Easter Island? New theory lays out an alternative to the one Jared Diamond wrote about in his book Collapse, and suggests the rapanui (Easter Islanders) were not to blame.
If They Could Only Talk
“The statues walked,” Easter Islanders say. Archaeologists are still trying to figure out how—and whether their story is a cautionary tale of environmental disaster or a celebration of human ingenuity.
Hannah Bloch, National Geographic, July 2012
“‘Do you think about the elephant?’ I ask.
‘Not at all,’ he says.”
The ivory trade reads like the poster child for cross-nation interfaith cooperation. The killers are mainly African, largely Muslim. The traders are Catholics from the Philippines to the Vatican and Buddhists all across Southeast Asia. It implicates a pedophile priest - now head of protocol for the Philippines’ largest Roman Catholic archdiocese - and a Buddhist formerly Scorpion Monk-turned-Elephant Monk. The organizations charged with overseeing the conservation of elephants may be helping to promote their slaughter. Your child could conceivably grow up in a world without elephants.
Thousands of elephants die each year so that their tusks can be carved into religious objects. Can the slaughter be stopped?
Bryan Christy, National Geographic, October 2012
“The question is: Do you want your children to grow up in a world without elephants?” The poachers might be impoverished villagers, the Congolese military, the janjaweed, or the Lord’s Resistance Army. Fueled by demand from China’s burgeoning middle class for ivory, and aided by Asian organized crime syndicates, militia and military alike are leading an epic slaughter of African elephants to fund their slaughter of African civilians.
Elephants Dying in Epic Frenzy as Ivory Fuels Wars and Profits
Jeffrey Gettleman, New York Times, September 3, 2012
If you regularly contort your body into odd shapes in the practice of yoga, you need to read this.
How Yoga Can Wreck Your Body
William J. Broad, New York Times, January 5, 2012
”In 2009, the nation watched in awe as the state board worked on approving a new science curriculum under the leadership of a chair who believed that ‘evolution is hooey.’ In 2010, the subject was social studies and the teachers tasked with drawing up course guidelines were supposed to work in consultation with ‘experts’ added on by the board, one of whom believed that the income tax was contrary to the word of God in the scriptures.” How a bunch of ignorant ideologues influences what millions of schoolkids are learning.
How Texas Inflicts Bad Textbooks on Us
Gail Collins, New York Review of Books, June 21, 2012
”The number two bull of the last century, Pawnee Farm Arlinda Chief, had more than 16,000 daughters, 500,000 granddaughers, and 2 million great granddaughters. He’s responsible for about 14 percent of all the genetic material in all Holsteins, USDA scientists estimate.” The genomics of milk production.
The Perfect Milk Machine: How Big Data Transformed the Dairy Industry
Dairy scientists are the Gregor Mendels of the genomics age, developing new methods for understanding the link between genes and living things, all while quadrupling the average cow’s milk production since your parents were born.
Alexis C. Madrigal, The Atlantic, May 1, 2012
Paying it forward - with a kidney.
60 Lives, 30 Kidneys, All Linked
Kevin Sack, New York Times, February 18, 2012
“My penis is the shape, size and color of a baby eggplant.” First dates gone awry. FOR THE PRURIENT.
The Incident Report. Or, The Time I Broke It
Jeff Winkler, The Awl, March 9th, 2012
And here’s another thing Olympic athletes do well.
Will you still medal in the morning?
The real games in the Olympic Village will not be televised
Sam Alipour, ESPN, July 14, 2012
”Snoop Dogg was behind the wheel, talking on a cell phone; a chandelier swayed gently above him. Imboden handed him a Little Something. ‘This dude just gave me a 24k gold vibrator,’ Snoop relayed into the phone. Then he turned to Imboden. ‘Thank you, my nigga. I’m gonna put this to work right now.’” The buzz about a new breed of vibrator.
Can a Better Vibrator Inspire an Age of Great American Sex?
Sex toys have transformed into sophisticated and well-designed gadgets that take their inspiration from Apple not Hustler. But one company has a bigger hope: that a better machine could mean better sex for a repressed nation.
Andy Isaacson, The Atlantic, May 14, 2012
”Women in all branches of the armed forces, including the Coast Guard… tell stories that follow a similar pattern — a sexual assault, a command dismissive of the allegations and a psychiatric discharge.”
Rape victims say military labels them ‘crazy’
David S. Martin, CNN, April 14, 2012
“’She was a prostitute,’ a police investigator might say if the victim has a belly-button ring or is wearing a miniskirt.” In Guatemala, you stand a high likelihood of being murdered simply for being a woman. Many of the perpetrators go unpunished. It is a travesty.
Letter From Guatemala
Aaron Shulman, Los Angeles Review of Books, March 29th, 2012
”…for the sake of the investigation, Anas, who normally doesn’t even drink, began injecting drugs into his arm.” Fascinating profile of one Ghanaian investigative journalist whose exploits read like an action thriller. Journalistic subterfuge is considered unethical here, but it’s a compelling way to expose wrongdoing, which is why it’s used in law enforcement.
Smuggler, Forger, Writer, Spy
ANAS AREMEYAW ANAS IS A GHANAIAN INVESTIGATIVE JOURNALIST WITH MANY DISGUISES—FROM ADDICT TO IMAM—AND ONE OVERRIDING MISSION: TO FORCE GHANA’S GOVERNMENT TO ACT AGAINST THE LAWBREAKERS HE EXPOSES.
Nicholas Schmidle, The Atlantic, November 2011
The article that set the Internet afire.
Why Women Still Can’t Have It All
It’s time to stop fooling ourselves, says a woman who left a position of power: the women who have managed to be both mothers and top professionals are superhuman, rich, or self-employed. If we truly believe in equal opportunity for all women, here’s what has to change.
Anne-Marie Slaughter, The Atlantic, July/August 2012
Mass psychogenic illness is an unpopular, but often inescapable, diagnosis.
What Happened to the Girls in Le Roy
Susan Dominus, New York Times, March 7, 2012
Nigerian penis theft, and other manifestations of mass psychogenic illness. (It even has a name: koro.)
A Mind Dismembered
In search of the magical penis thieves
Frank Bures, Harpers, June 2008
How mock trials are conducted in Russia: In addition to striking down most of the defense’s questions, denying the defense an opportunity to call any of its witnesses, and trying to restrict the flow of information out of the courtroom, the judge refused to adjourn the trial for the day and kept the defendants without food and proper hydration.
Pussy Riot v. Putin: A Front Row Seat at a Russian Dark Comedy
Julia Ioffe, New Republic, August 26, 2012
David Sedaris on being a patient in France.
DENTISTS WITHOUT BORDERS: Socialized medicine in the heart of Old Europe.
David Sedaris, New Yorker, April 2, 2012
“I would like to die on Mars. Just not on impact.” Profile of the fascinating Elon Musk, whose biography, like that of all successful people, is part luck, part audacity, and part perseverance.
Elon Musk, the 21st Century Industrialist
Ashlee Vance, Bloomberg Businessweek, September 13, 2012
A night-owl’s manifesto. Superbly written.
Writing in the Dark
Confessions of a literary night owl.
Kathryn Schulz, New York Magazine, May 3, 2012
They’re hard-working, ambitious, academically gifted, they go to elite schools, and they cheat to get ahead.
Stuyvesant kids do it. Harvard kids do it. Smart kids may especially do it. But why?
Robert Kolker, New York Magazine, September 16, 2012
Baby carrots are the ultimate in makeovers. They don’t just spring out of the ground in that convenient, cute shape; they’re cut from the dregs of the carrot world, knobby and twisted, edible but unattractive.
How Carrots Became The New Junk Food
Jeff Dunn believes he can double the $1 billion baby-carrot business — and promote healthy eating — by marketing the vegetable like Doritos. His secret weapon? He knows every snack-marketing trick in the book.
Douglas McGray, Fast Company, March 22, 2011
“Revelation is a highly colored picture of the present, not a prophecy of the future.” Elaine Pagels on the Book of Revelation.
THE BIG REVEAL: Why does the Bible end that way?
Adam Gopnik, New Yorker, March 5, 2012
”There is a difference between a pogrom, where men kill their neighbors in rage, and a genocide, where children are shipped in from distant parts in order to be killed. The first makes you despair of man’s inhumanity to man; the second makes you despair of humanity.” Geography is not destiny, but Adam Gopnik’s beautiful prose could almost convince you of anything.
FACES, PLACES, SPACES: The renaissance of geographic history.
Adam Gopnik, New Yorker, October 29, 2012
In a small, sleepy town in Rhode Island in the 19th century, the corpse of a woman suspected to be a vampire was exhumed, and her heart burned to ashes and fed to her dying brother. Her story is said to have inspired Bram Stoker and H.P. Lovecraft.
The Great New England Vampire Panic
Two hundred years after the Salem witch trials, farmers became convinced that their relatives were returning from the grave to feed on the living
Abigail Tucker, Smithsonian, October 2012
“You have guns; you don’t need a salary.” Harrowing account of war in the Congo.
How Millions Have Been Dying in the Congo
Neal Ascherson, New York Review of Books, April 5, 2012
At a residential school in NY State, children with developmental disabilities are outfitted with electrodes, and employees are closely monitored to ensure they administer shocks to students for non-compliance. It sounds like One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest, but it’s happening today.
31 Shocks Later
Andre McCollins’s mother thought she’d finally found the right school for her son—one equipped to treat his behavioral and developmental problems. Then she took a closer look at that treatment.
Jennifer Gonnerman, New York Magazine, September 2, 2012
And where were you June 11, 323 BC, ‘round about 5 pm?
Who Killed Alexander the Great?
James Romm examines some intriguing new theories about a long-standing historical mystery.
James Romm, History Today, April 2012
How a cross-dressing charlatan astrologer became a tool in the British war against the Nazis.
The Inconvenient Astrologer Of MI5
Emma Garman, The Awl, April 11, 2012
In the spring of 1940, 22,000 Polish officers were executed on Stalin’s orders and buried in mass graves. Three years later, the Americans were made aware of the atrocity, but chose not to acknowledge it publicly lest they lose a valuable ally in the war and, later, ratchet up tension during the Cold War. It’s not entirely clear what could have been gained by speaking out, but it is clear that there were compelling reasons to keep quiet.
Memos show US Hushed up Soviet crime
Vanessa Gera and Randy Herschaft, Reuters, September 10, 2012
”One day, in a burst of religious fervor, Wells threw acid at a couple of prostitutes in the street and was arrested. In jail, as the chloroform wore off, he realized what he had done, and in anguish he took his own life. Wells’ widow remarked that the discovery of anesthesia had been to her and her family an unspeakable evil.’” The surprisingly painful history of anesthesia.
Dream of a World Without Pain
Alicia Puglionesi, This Recording, May 11, 2012
”For Bettina Goering, the great-niece of Hitler’s designated successor Hermann Goering, she felt she needed to take drastic action to deal with her family’s legacy. Both she and her brother chose to be sterilised.” The descendants of Nazi war criminals are haunted by their pasts.
Nazi legacy: The troubled descendants
Frances Cronin, BBC, May 22, 2012
WikiLeaks is partisan and anti-American, and has chosen to consign itself to irrelevance by advancing the personal agenda of Julian Assange and casting its lot with undemocratic states like Russia and Ecuador. It has been marked by infighting and a lack of professionalism, and frankly its revelations aren’t even that interesting anymore.
How WikiLeaks Blew It
The sad downfall of Julian Assange and his empire of secrets.
Joshua E. Keating, Foreign Policy, August 16, 2012
Qaddafi is a misunderstood uniter, the burka is a tool of liberation, and other lies your travel guidebooks are telling you.
Why do so many travel guides make excuses for dictators?
Michael Moynihan, Foreign Policy, September/October 2012
The article that made her the most alternately reviled and admired mother in America.
Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior
Can a regimen of no playdates, no TV, no computer games and hours of music practice create happy kids? And what happens when they fight back?
Amy Chua, Wall Street Journal, January 8, 2012
”I received a parcel at my home address. I ripped it open and there was a tupperware lunchbox inside full of ashes. There was a note included ‘Say hello to your relatives from Auschwitz.’ I was physically sick.” What an anti-Semitic troll looks like in real life.
Meeting A Troll
Leo Traynor, Traynor’s Eye, September 24, 2012
Early in the 20th century, J. L. Kraft left the Ontario cheese farm where he’d grown up and founded the international food conglomerate that bears his name. Today, Kraft Dinner is one of the most popular grocery items in Canada. This article details its history and its strategy for remaining relevant.
The (un)natural history of Kraft Dinner — a dish that has shaped not only what we eat, but also who we are
Sasha Chapman, The Walrus, September 2012
”After the 31-year-old, auburn-haired spy and her lover stripped in the hall outside the code room, Cynthia, naked but for her pearls and high-heeled shoes, signaled out a window to a waiting OSS safe expert, a specialist known as the ‘Georgia Cracker.’ He soon had the safe open and the codebooks removed; an OSS team photographed the books in a hotel nearby, and Cynthia returned them to the safe before dawn.”
The CIA Burglar Who Went Rogue
Douglas Groat thought he understood the risks of his job—until he took on his own employer
David Wise, Smithsonian, October 2012
Teller is the short, silent partner in the famed magic duo Penn and Teller. (He’s had his name legally changed so it’s just that - Teller.) He is so devoted to his craft and to maintaining his persona that he will not consent to be filmed speaking aloud in interviews. For some time now, Teller has been pursuing an elusive magician who copied one of his tricks. But he is doing it Teller-style - which means all may not be what it seems. (Here’s the piece referred to in this article that Teller penned for the Atlantic about the Enoch Soames incident.)
The Honor System
Stealing magic has become a commonplace crime. Teller, a man of infinite delicacy and deceit, decided to do something about it.
Chris Jones, Esquire, October 2012
Christopher Hitchens’ last days, beautifully written by his wife Carol Blue.
Christopher Hitchens: an impossible act to follow
Christopher Hitchens, the influential writer who died last year, approached the end with his customary wit and charisma intact – and his wife always by his side. Carol Blue recalls their final months together.
Carol Blue, Telegraph, August 25, 2012
Rep. Joe Walsh, R-Ill., “glibly stated recently that there is no such thing as a medically necessary abortion”. But that’s not the experience of the unlucky 1 in 1000 pregnant women who learn they have cancer. This is the story of one of them.
What “health of the mother” means
When cancer was suspected during my pregnancy, I faced a decision no woman wants — and few politicians understand
Suzanne Edwards, Salon, October 24, 2012
”It seems our profound fascination with serial killers is matched by an equally profound lack of interest in their victims.” In 1985, the author of this article was a hitchhiking teenage girl trying to stay unharmed in the sexually predatory world of long-distance trucking. This is the gripping story of that world, and of the sadistic serial killer she may have escaped from.
The Truck Stop Killer
He was methodical, he rode the highways, and he preyed on teenage girls. Girls who’d run away. Girls no one would miss. In the summer of 1985, the author was such a girl. One night on I-95, she hitched a ride from a stranger and endured the most terrifying moments of her life. Now, years later, she returns to the scenes of her fugitive youth looking for clues to that terror—and the girls who lost their lives to it
Vanessa Veselka, GQ, November 2012
According to the CDC, “food sickens 48 million Americans a year, with 128,000 hospitalized and 3,000 killed”. From fields strewn with human feces to contaminated food-processing plants audited only cursorily by those with strong ties to industry, food-borne illnesses are on the rise. Your fridge is trying to kill you, and this chilling article explains why. (Costco shoppers, take heart: the warehouse conglomerate has more stringent standards than other merchants.)
Food Sickens Millions as Company-Paid Checks Find It Safe
Stephanie Armour, John Lippert & Michael Smith, Bloomberg, October 10, 2012
”I can’t tell you that I don’t go home and think about semen stains on a 6-year-old’s SpongeBob underwear. What I can do is see the grotesque and not be grossed out by it. The finger. The guts. That’s the gift that I have.” Profile of Rhonda Roby, the remarkable forensic scientist who has helped identify the victims of serial killer, Pinochet, various American wars, and 9/11.
Naming the Dead at Ground Zero
Remains are unearthed after 9/11. A corpse is found under John Wayne Gacy’s house. Rhonda Roby goes to work. Those bones, to her, are families, waiting.
Julia Heaberlin, D Magazine, October 24, 2012
A nuanced and vivid account of the events leading up to Tyler Clementi’s suicide.
THE STORY OF A SUICIDE: Two college roommates, a webcam, and a tragedy.
Ian Parker, New Yorker, February 6, 2012
”In the spring of my sophomore year, the disparate parts of myself I had managed to hold together—the part of me that thought being gay was wrong, the part that slept with men anyway, the part of myself I let the world see, and the part that suffered in silence—came undone. I slept in 20-minute spurts for two nights, consumed with despair. I eyed the prescription bottles on my dresser with anxious excitement. I had reached a point at which I feared myself more than what would happen if I were gay.”
My So-Called Ex-Gay Life
A deep look at the fringe movement that just lost its only shred of scientific support.
Gabriel Arana, Prospect, April 11, 2012
”I remember one time I was in a restaurant toilet and I saw a beautiful black man. At the time it was hard to get sperm from men of different ethnicities, so I told him I was in need of sperm. He became very angry and punched me.”
Come inside: the world’s biggest sperm bank
The world’s biggest sperm bank holds 170 litres of sperm, exports to more than 70 countries, and is responsible for more than 2,000 babies a year
Sarfraz Manzoor, Guardian, November 2, 2012
What happens when a white woman adopts a black baby.
A transracial adoption teaches our writer that issues of race in the U.S. are anything but black and white.
Debra Monroe, Guernica, April 1, 2012
”I just got that same Smith for my kid,” he said.
I looked at him. He appeared far too young to have a grown son.
“Wait, how old is your kid?” I asked.
“Six,” he said.
Guns ‘R Us
Fast and Furious. Conceal and carry. The Dark Knight theater shootings. In America these days, it seems like everyone is packing heat. In fact, we’re the most heavily armed populace on the planet. So where do most of us go when we need a shiny new Glock or a convenient AK-47? Increasingly to mega-shops like Sprague’s Sports in Yuma, Arizona. That’s where Jeanne Marie Laskas ventured recently, spending a few shifts behind the counter and seeing for herself how we shop, sell, justify, and even come to love the deadliest things among us
Jeanne Marie Laskas, GQ, September 2012
The Jill Lepore piece on gun control so good that Fareed Zakaria of CNN was accused of plagiarizing it.
BATTLEGROUND AMERICA: One nation, under the gun.
Jill Lepore, New Yorker, April 23, 2012
The vagina is not magic, and this book smacks of rank pseudoscience. A masterful takedown of Naomi Wolfe by Zoë Heller.
Pride and Prejudice
Zoë Heller, New York Review of Books, September 27, 2012
And speaking of scathing reviews, this one came in for its fair share of buzz.
As Not Seen on TV
Restaurant Review: Guy’s American Kitchen & Bar in Times Square
Pete Wells, New York Times, November 13, 2012
Scholars looking to document some of the estimated 3000+ endangered languages don’t have far to travel. New York is among the most linguistically diverse places on earth, and also home to the renaissance of a once critically endangered language, Yiddish.
New York, a graveyard for languages
Mark Turin, BBC, December 15, 2012
It’s no myth that Jews are overrepresented among intellectual types, but why? An analysis undermines the theory that it was because Jews were prohibited from owning land and thus were forced into trade and other more cosmopolitan professions (a shift to trade preceded the prohibition on land ownership, and was often was what sparked it). Because Jewish attrition was so high, those who retained their Jewish identity were a self-selecting group that valued literacy as a means of biblical study, were obliged to earn higher wages to support it, and had ready access to a network of co-religionists in other countries to facilitate transnational trade.
The Chosen Few
Has an emphasis on education been bad for the Jewish population?
Steven Weiss, Slate, November 9, 2012
How bizarre is this story? A trove of documents found in a Montana meth house exposes improper campaign ties between a shady political activist group and Republican candidates.
Mysterious Docs Found in Meth House Reveal Inner Workings of Dark Money Group
Kim Barker and Rick Young and Emma Schwartz, Frontline, October 29, 2012
”On TV, images of people racing through the aisles of stores for sale-priced items, in a sort of American Pamplona, have become as much a part of the day after Thanksgiving as leftovers.” In developing countries, people mainly die in crowd crushes at religious festivals. In developed countries, it’s sports events, music concerts, and Black Friday.
CRUSH POINT: When large crowds assemble, is there a way to keep them safe?
John Seabrook, New Yorker, February 7, 2011
”For more than two months Boniadi’s punishment was to scrub toilets with a toothbrush on her hands and knees, clean bathroom tiles with acid, and dig ditches in the middle of the night.”
What Katie Didn’t Know
In the fall of 2004, an accomplished, gorgeous Scientologist named Nazanin Boniadi was allegedly selected by officials in the organization to be Tom Cruise’s next girlfriend. Her never-before-told story—of the months inseparable from the star (and his watchers), before she fell out of favor—reveals a complex dynamic that also affected Cruise’s relationships with Nicole Kidman, Penélope Cruz, and, now, Katie Holmes. Maureen Orth investigates.
Maureen Orth, Vanity Fair, October 2012
I knew that Scientology was guilty of using coercion, threats, and blackmail on its own members and unaffiliated individuals. But I learnt here for the first time that, shockingly, it has effectively used these tactics on the IRS and law enforcement to obtain judgements favorable to it. Scientology is in decline, as measured by the numbers of worldwide members, and that’s a good thing. (Also note the chilling effect Britain’s harsh anti-libel laws have had on combating Scientology there.)
The decline and (probable) fall of the Scientology empire
Jim Lippard, Skeptic, 2011
Golden Dawn hints at a dark tomorrow for Greece.
‘Now we’re thousands and it’s only the beginning’: Nazi-styled Golden Dawn is no longer marginal in Greece
Dina Kyriakidou, National Post/Reuters, November 12, 2012
“I had different tasks, including bringing food to your father. Sometimes he wouldn’t touch the food, I wasn’t sure if he was praying or thinking. So I would take the food away. Under his influence, I changed my life. I do not harm anyone anymore.” The story of a Polish Resistance hero who infiltrated Auschwitz before escaping and battling the Nazis during the Warsaw Uprising, only to be tortured and executed and dumped in a mass grave by the Communists.
The Man Who Volunteered for Auschwitz
Why a member of the Polish underground sent himself into the infamous prison camp
David de Sola, The Atlantic, October 5, 2012
Nigeria: home of the 419 scam, lynch mobs, and now, a nascent conscience.
Perplexed … Perplexed’: On Mob Justice in Nigeria
Why is lynching so common in the West African country?
Teju Cole, The Atlantic, October 24, 2013
I still hear people laud the Cuban model as an example of social and economic equality. Now is a good time to lay those absurd claims to rest.
Splendor Amid Poverty: Gallery Nights With Cuba’s Gilded Elite
A photographer’s inside look at the secret lives of Havana’s super-rich, just down the street from its many poor, are a reminder that this supposed communist paradise is anything but equal.
Lois Farrow Parshley, The Atlantic, September 5, 2012
Cuba has recently relaxed restrictions on citizens’ travel to and from the island nation. Or have they? Not if you’re a medical or other professional, an expat, or someone who can’t afford the passport application. In other words, everybody.
You Can Check Out Anytime You Like…
Why the Cuban government’s new law relaxing travel restrictions isn’t what it’s reported to be.
Yoani Sánchez, Foreign Policy, November 13, 2012
“Like a rat getting married to an elephant.” I can’t even. Just read it. Bring tissue.
Too Young to Wed
The secret world of child brides
Cynthia Gorney, National Geographic, June 2011
“It is necessary to control women’s sexual urges. They must be chaste to preserve their beauty.” In Indonesia, female genital mutilation is widely practiced, rarely discussed.
The day I saw 248 girls suffering genital mutilation
In 2006, while in Indonesia and six months pregnant, Abigail Haworth became one of the few journalists ever to see young girls being ‘circumcised’. Until now she has been unable to tell this shocking story
Abigail Haworth, Observer, November 17, 2012
”In a country where girls as young as two were offered up by their families as wives for men in their sixties and seventies, it was a reasonable arrangement viewed as a highly compatible match.” Damning revelations, if true, from an upcoming book about the Shafia family.
‘Give me away … if he is a good man’ — An excerpt from Without Honour: The True Story of the Shafia Family and the Kingston Canal Murders
Hamed Shafia’s promise to his sister on her wedding night: If you leave with your husband, I’ll ‘kill everyone here’
Rob Tripp and Adrian Humphries, National Post, October 2012
”In Tijuana, beginning in 2008, an obese psychopath named Teodoro Garcia Simental, affiliated with the Sinaloa Cartel, which was battling for control of the city’s drug routes, allegedly exercised what must be the most openly insane regime in the history of the drug wars: He is said to have dismembered 300 victims and had his henchmen dissolve them in barrels of lye. At one point, he allegedly arranged nine of his victims, several of them uniformed police officers, on a street, so that they spelled out his nickname.”
The Truce On Drugs
What happens now that the war has failed?
Benjamin Wallace-Wells, New York Magazine, November 25, 2012
In this century alone, an estimated 72 journalists have been killed in Mexico. Their murders rarely result in prosecution by a corrupt judiciary. They’re buffeted on all sides: death threats from drug cartels, bribes from government officials, and sub-optimal working conditions and low wages by their employers.
Mexico: Risking Life for Truth
Alma Guillermoprieto, New York Review of Books, November 22, 2012
”Teach the student and the pupil to disapprove of his parents if he heard them talk about the State’s secrets, and to inform them that this is wrong. Teach them to criticize their parents politely if they heard them talk about the secrets of Party organizations. You should place in every corner a son devoted to the Revolution, with a reliable eye and a wise mind.” Finally, a treatise on democracy from that visionary practitioner of it, Saddam Hussein.
Saddam Hussein’s Speeches on Democracy (1977-1978)
“The question of democracy is an extremely complicated one. It needs your great concern.”
Maria Popova, Brain Pickings, October 2, 2012
Syria’s Assad represents the dying gasp of a movement that began in the 1930s, incorporating the most destructive elements of communism, national socialism, anti-Zionism, and anti-colonialism with a smattering of Islamism, and quickly devolved to a totalitarian tribalism. Like the other great adherent of Baathism, Saddam Hussein, Assad’s insistence on presiding over the slaughter of his countrymen, instead of acquiescing quietly to a comfortable exile abroad, means the regime will end only with his death.
Baathism: An Obituary
The end of an ideology.
Paul Berman, New Republic, September 14, 2012
This will make you want to weep.
Born in the Gulag: Why a North Korean Boy Sent His Own Mother to Her Death
Life inside North Korea’s Camp 14 so twisted 13-year-old Shin In Geun that he betrayed his mother and only brother.
Blaine Harden, The Atlantic, March 28, 2012
”One day when I was five months pregnant, while I was in the fields with other women, he came after me and he beat me with no mercy. While I was on the ground he took out a knife. The other women were begging him to stop. He did not kill me at the end. I was taken to a shrine. There, he melted plastic and poured it on my body. When I came here my whole body was in terrible pain.” Around 800 women languish in campus across Ghana accused of witchcraft and terrified of returning to their communities in case of reprisal. Others are killed and never make it to the camp.
In Ghana’s witch camps, the accused are never safe
Ghana has pledged to close its camps where women accused of witchcraft are detained for years. But the women might not be safe back in their communities.
Robyn Dixon, Los Angeles Times, September 9, 2012
”The usually stoic mother… wept when she saw her child’s lifeless face, eyes open and covered in ants, resting in the orange sands of the Mauritanian desert. The master who raped Moulkheir to produce the child wanted to punish his slave. He told her she would work faster without the child on her back.” In Mauritania, slavery is widespread. Those who seek to abolish it are punished, and those who would report it are systematically stymied. To compound the problem, many slaves, who are illiterate and uneducated and know no other life, can’t begin to imagine a life of freedom. Their slavery is mental as much as it is physical.
Slavery’s last stronghold
Mauritania’s endless sea of sand dunes hides an open secret: An estimated 10% to 20% of the population lives in slavery. But as one woman’s journey shows, the first step toward freedom is realizing you’re enslaved.
John D. Sutter, CNN, March 2012
“Most rape victims get it once—for us, it happens millions and millions of times.” If you think that human trafficking is something that only happens in benighted countries, think again. This is a harrowing read that will challenge many of your assumptions about prostitution - more prostitutes die as a result of murder than from any other cause, and legalizing prostitution has in many countries, like the Netherlands, simply increased the flow of human trafficking.
Sex Trafficking of Americans: The Girls Next Door
Even as celebrity activists such as Emma Thompson, Demi Moore, and Mira Sorvino raise awareness about commercial sex trafficking, survivor Rachel Lloyd publishes her memoir Girls Like Us, and the Senate introduces a new bipartisan bill for victim support, the problem proliferates across continents, in casinos, on streets, and directly into your mobile device. And, as Amy Fine Collins shows, human trafficking is much closer to home than you think; victims, younger than ever, are just as likely to be the homegrown American girl next door as illegally imported foreigners. Having gained access to victims, law-enforcement officials, and a convicted trafficker, Collins follows a major case that put to the test the federal government’s Trafficking Victims Protection Act.
Amy Fine Collins, Vanity Fair, May 24, 2011
“In an exemplary display, the Boss takes careful aim at a rope hanging on the other side of the arena and fires shot after shot, squarely hitting the rope each time while chanting Yahoud (‘Jew’) on each pull of the trigger. He seems to think it’s funny, but no one else laughs.”
Paintballing With Hezbollah
Is the path straight to their hearts
Mitchell Prothero, Vice, March 2012
Catching KSM: a riveting read.
Inside the Mission to Catch Khalid Sheikh Mohammed
How the FBI, CIA, and Pakistani intelligence worked together — or didn’t — in the global hunt for the mastermind behind September 11, 2001.
Terry McDermott and Josh Meyer, The Atlantic, April 2, 2012
”During their lives, people collected bonus points so that they would be rewarded in the afterlife. Bora was familiar with the principle from computer games.”
Islamist Mind Games: How Young German Men Are Lured into Jihad
Young Muslim men in Germany are systematically trying to recruit their peers for jihad using sophisticated rhetoric and psychology and by targeting vulnerable youths who are searching for direction in life. Two men who have quit the scene tell their story to SPIEGEL, providing a rare look into a dangerous underground.
Özlem Gezer, Der Spiegel, August 28, 2012
“‘If you don’t come back, we’ll kill you. If you write a book about this, we’ll kill you. Maybe your children will have accidents.’ Then the cleric whispered the Koranic traveler’s prayer in Bouzari’s ears, entrusting him to the care of the Almighty.” The chilling story of a Canadian refugee’s experiences inside one of the world’s most notorious prisons.
Escape from Iran: One Man’s Journey From Riches to the Torture Chamber to Freedom
Sohrab Ahmari, The Atlantic, March 20, 2012
”Augustine saw a noble purpose in rape, [praising] rape for keeping women humble, letting them know ‘whether previously they were arrogant with regard to their virginity or over-fond of praise, or whether they would have become proud had they not suffered violation.’ Classical mythology is full of rape, usually seen as a positive event for the rapist, who is often a god; Zeus so took Europa and Leda; Dionysus raped Aura; Poseidon, Aethra; Apollo, Euadne. It is noteworthy that every one of these rapes produces children. The rape of a vestal virgin by Mars produced Romulus and Remus, who founded Rome. Romulus organized the rape of the Sabine women to populate his new city. In much later civilizations, the rape of the Sabines was considered a noble story; in the Renaissance, it often graced marriage chests.” An essential piece on children conceived in rape, and the women who must bear them.
The legitimate children of rape
Andrew Solomon, New Yorker, August 29, 2012
Powerful piece by a young Montrealer.
To Be a Woman in Pakistan: Six Stories of Abuse, Shame, and Survival
Zara Jamal, The Atlantic, April 9, 2012
Months before the al-Qaeda attacks of 9/11, the Taliban were widely condemned when they destroyed the priceless pre-Islamic Buddhist statues of Bamiyan in Afghanistan. Similarly, since a coup six months ago that has left Malians effectively ungoverned, al-Qaeda-affiliated Islamists have rushed to fill the void by imposing harsh sharia law and systematically erasing the UNESCO-designated World Heritage Site of Timbuktu.
What went wrong in Mali?
Bruce Whitehouse, London Review of Books, August 30, 2012
The fascinating history of Islamic radicalism in Yemen, from bin Laden to Iranian influence.
The Jihadis of Yemen
Robert F. Worth, New York Review of Books, December 6, 2012
”Imagine you are a young man sleeping in your bedroom. In the bedroom directly below, your aunt lies asleep. Now imagine that an earthquake happens that collapses your floor, causing you to fall directly on top of her. For the sake of argument, let’s assume that you’re both nude, and you’re erect, and you land with such perfect precision on top of her that you unintentionally achieve intercourse. Is the child of such an encounter halalzadeh (legitimate) or haramzadeh (a bastard)?”
The Ayatollah Under the Bed(sheets)
In the Islamic Republic of Iran, all politics may not be sexual, but all sex is political.
Karim Sadjadpour, Foreign Policy, May/June 2012
”Most everyone in Glen Rose that I know believes man and dinosaurs coexisted.The only conflict we have is when people move from metropolitan areas and have different value systems.”
Tracking Creation in Glen Rose
Robyn Ross, Texas Observer, April 4, 2012
Assembling a Jewish baseball team: “Sheldon Wallman, co-editor of the review, said his publication was the first to identify Brad Ausmus as a Jew after receiving a hot tip from a reliable source. ‘His mother called me up,’ Wallman said.”
Wanted: Jewish Ballplayers
Barry Bearak, New York Times, September 18, 2012
”A Hasid arrives in heaven and finds a superb restaurant operated by Moses and supervised by God himself. ‘I’ll have the fruit platter,’ he says.” A professor of philosophy and Jewish studies at McGill finds himself holding philosophy seminars with an underground group of lapsed ultra-Orthodox Jews. A long and fascinating read.
Spinoza in Shtreimels: An Underground Seminar
Carlos Fraenkel, Jewish Review of Books, Fall 2012
“They don’t believe in science. They hate art. They hate literature. They don’t pay taxes. For me, to be a Jew is to be curious, compassionate with others. These guys only care about themselves.”
Escape From the Holy Shtetl
Gitty Grunwald fled the pious world of her mother to return to the secular city of her grandparents. There’s only one problem: The Satmars kept her daughter. A family saga of four generations of American Jews.
Mark Jacobson, New York Magazine, July 13, 2008
”I was the lucky one for a while — inferior, weaker and happier for it. What I didn’t know was that it would end. Marriage began our hell, the day we stopped being girls. But that’s a story for another time. Because up until age 18, we had it better. We who did not wake up with the sun.” Part 1 of a series.
Girls Are the Lucky Ones
Hasidic Girls Grow Slowly, While Boys Are Molded Into Men
Judy Brown, Forward, December 6, 2012
“There are three problems specific to the ex-religious when they first try to date: Inexperience, having no identity, and having no understanding of the opposite sex.”
Hey Baby, What’s Your Sinai?
Teaching ex-Orthodox Jews how to date in New York.
Diana Spechler, Slate, April 27, 2012
“She couldn’t babysit as an atheist, but she could when she was on crack.”
Atheism in America
Godlessness is the last big taboo in the US, where non-believers face discrimination and isolation
Julian Baggini, FT Magazine, February 3, 2012
“Since our primitive ancestors learned to speak, it has been a universal and common human practice to gather in a group and listen to a speaker.” Thoughtful piece on balancing the fine line between freedom of expression and incitement of hatred.
Words As Weapons
Susan Benesch, World Policy Institute, Spring 2012
Like a Dostoyevsky novel, but with rap.
The Man Who Charged Himself With Murder
Trevell Coleman wasn’t sure whether he’d killed a man. But after seventeen years, he needed to find out.
Jennifer Gonnerman, New York Magazine, November 18, 2012
This was a lot less science-y and more human interest-y than the headline implies, but fascinating in a macabre kind of way.
Real-life CSI: When one identical twin is accused of killing the other
Michael S. Rosenwald, Washington Post, November 8, 2012
Obama’s re-election campaign employed:
Sophisticated algorithms for targeting voters.
Obama Does It Better
When it comes to targeting and persuading voters, the Democrats have a bigger advantage over the GOP than either party has ever had in the modern campaign era.
Sasha Issenberg, October 29, 2012
A volunteer network of behavioral scientists.
Academic ‘Dream Team’ Helped Obama’s Effort
Benedict Carey, New York Times, November 12, 2012
And superior software to coordinate it all.
Built to win: Deep inside Obama’s campaign tech
How Obama’s tech team built a “force multiplier” with Amazon and a narwhal.
Sean Gallagher, Ars Technica, November 14, 2012
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