Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Tangled Bank, Issue #23, The Birdday Edition

Welcome to the 23rd issue of Tangled Bank! The wine and champagne have been chilling all day, the glasses are spotless, I have wonderful hors doerves for you to nibble on and a pianist (one of my good friends) is playing for you. So feel free to come in and help yourselves to this sumptuous smorgasbord of excellent blogged writing about science, nature and medicine. Please wander from room to room where you will find a variety of topics being discussed, or feel free to take your shoes off and sit on the pillows in the bay windows. I think this issue is the largest and most diverse yet, so there is something here for everyone, whether you are a university professor, an interested reader or a 12-year-old aspiring scholar. When you need to rest your eyes for a minute, please sip your wine (yes, 12-year-olds are allowed to drink wine on my blog) and enjoy the company of good friends, each with their special talents and gifts, and indulge yourself with interesting conversation.

I have categorized these essays into sections where they seem to fit best, but please do not limit yourselves to only one genre because there are some interesting surprises that lurk here.

Biology, Zoology and Natural History:

Let’s start this section by talking about one of my most favorite topics in the world; birds. In this essay, Mike, one of the authors of 10,000 Birds, writes about the great gray owl, Strix nebulosa, that recently appeared in NY State for a probable first-ever state record for this species.

New Zealander, Xavier, writes about his paper that was just published in his story, Urban Noise and Birdsong in the team blog, About Town. The link from his blog entry to the PDF of his paper is now functioning (thanks to Hunting the Snark, who is hosting his PDF).

Now that I’ve satisfied my bird passion, let’s make the transition to spiders by asking, ‘what do music, spiders, and beer have in common?’ In Adventures In Journalism: Redback On The Toilet Seat, published in the team blog, Silflay Hraka, Bigwig questions the species identification of an “orange and possibly brown thing” mentioned in a Reuters’ news story and learns something interesting.

Now that you’ve finished reading about identifying spiders, Dinesh, author of Points of Departure and first-time contributor to Tangled Bank, reveals a helpful hint for hikers, naturalists and field biologists for keeping spider webs from encasing your face (thereby causing your inner arachnophobe needless terror) as you wander through the woods in The Spider Web Hack.

Chris, author of Creek Running North, discovers Coprinus mushrooms in his compost pile, and describes their natural history and beneficial relationships to green plants in this amusing and informative essay.

Gaw3 is a neurobiologist who writes Keats’ Telescope, named for a poem that “nicely captures the feeling that I love most about being a scientist – the moments of utter surprise and awe.” In this essay, Life on the Edge, gaw3 talks about photosynthetic bacteria which live under extremely cold and dry conditions.

Invasive Species:

Josh, author of Thoughts from Kansas, discusses the politics and ecology surrounding the pygmy rabbit in Fish and Wildlife Agrees to Review Petition on Pygmy Rabbit, which shares the same vanishing habitat with the sage grouse that, incidentally, was not granted protected status by the USFWS.

I am the Key Master is a brief notice of a variety of on-line resources that can be used to document invasive plants in the New England region of the USA using the electronic field guide to “Invasive Plants in Winter”, by plant ecologist, Jennifer. This might be a useful model for those who wish to do something similar in other parts of the world.

PZ Special Birdday Gift Feature Story:

This amusing story is actually retold from an earlier account related by the author’s father, who seems to moonlight as a practical joker; Squid? Or Octopus? … or atmospheric convection?? This article was written by another first-time contributor and self-professed “PZ admirer”, Alphabitch.

Evolutionary Biology:

PZ, author of Pharyngula, birdday boy and head cheese of Tangled Bank, sends these lovely pictures of cephalopod and polychaete cartilages combined with a discussion of how invertebrates can help us understand the evolution of cartilage in vertebrates in Invertebrate Cartilages. Predictably, this article reminds me of my anatomy and physiology students, who should be studying madly for their lab exam tomorrow -- part of which covers cartilage (I wish we had such lovely slides to look at!).

In this nice transition from zoology to microbial evolution, Syaffolee discusses the evolutionary relationship of mitochondria to hydrogenosomes, an unusual intracellular organelle that allows anaerobic metabolism in certain microbes in The Evolution of Powerhouses.

In this interesting essay that also addresses the “intelligent design” legerdemain, Evolution Project And A Truly Fair And Balanced Fox, Bora, author of Science and Politics, describes how simply changing the timing of one event during embryonic development can result a suite of changes, ranging from social behavior to morphology and even endocrinology.

The Cambrian explosion (when the first vertebrates arose) was not as explosive as many people think. DarkSyd, who writes Unscrewing the Inscrutable, provides a general overview of the event and then launches into his own “wild speculations” as to what might have happened during those early days of evolution before our ancient ancestors pulled themselves from the primordial ooze in Science Brainteaser: The Cambrian Explosion.

Bora explores the historical politics behind Lysenko’s ideologically inspired “scientific” report published in 1949 in Yugoslavia. In Lysenko Gets A D-Minus On My Genetics Test, Bora gives credit to Lysenko for identifying what was wrong with western biology at that time, while simultaneously being blind to what was wrong with his own science, which ultimately led to famine in the Soviet Union, costing many thousands of people their lives.

Charlie, author of Shades of Grey, focuses on semantics in Giving the Truth Scope, which is his proposal to rename the “intelligent design” (ID) legerdemain to accurately reflect what ID sneakily tries to preach to a largely apathetic public.

Josh, who co-authors The Evolution Project, proposes an interesting idea for making evolutionary research more accessible to the public by summarizing the basic hypothesis tested in the paper in terms that the public cares about in Reflections on 300 examples. He also appeals to you for help with this project.

Evolutionary Psychology and Behavior

In an interesting essay that continues the evolution theme, Chris, a cognitive scientist and author of Mixing Memory, explores the limits of evolutionary psychology and explains how it differs from evolutionary biology in What, If Anything, Can Evolutionary Stories Tell Us About Human Cognition?

In this rather pointed essay, Chris describes how careful reading and critical thinking are essential for writing a coherent argument in How Evolutionary Psychology Can Make You Look Like an Ass.

Neurobiology and Learning:

Dave, the co-author of Cognitive Daily and a new contributor to Tangled Bank, describes how little we really notice in our environment in this delightful story, Our ability to see change over time. This story uses a Quicktime animation to make the point.

Another story by Dave explores how our brains perceive optical illusions. He studies a fascinating painting, “Slave Market with the Disappearing Bust of Voltaire”, by one of my favorite painters, Salvador Dali, in How do we Decide what We’re Seeing? (by the way, the first picture shown in this story looks more like a gull than a duck to me. What do you think?).

Scott, an assistant professor of music, reports on a very unusual form of synaesthesia, in Musical Taste, as originally described in the journal, Nature. This is something that I wish I had! Scott is author of Musical Perceptions.

In this story, Rami briefly investigates how applied learning is distinct from intellectual learning in TOM’S ONLINE TENNIS LESSON - Learning to Learn Tennis! (Although, I think that both types of learning have more commonalities than differences .. do you agree?).

I’ve often wondered how social trauma affects generations of people, and these two thoughtful and well-written essays explore that very theme. Threading the Needle skillfully blends psychology, sociology and epidemiology in this exploration of the possibility that offspring of slaves are scarred by the psychological legacy of this trauma in Traumatic Reverberation, Part I and Part II.

Clinical Medicine and Epidemiology:

Let’s begin the medicine section with a story describing how a woman’s aching knees saved her life, in Medicine: Family History. The author, smallhands2, has dedicated her blog to raising public awareness about Colorectal Cancer this month.

How often do you actually follow through on your promise to follow your doctor’s advice? Even doctors know the answer to that question, so imagine one physican’s surprise when he learns the real reason for his patient’s promised compliance in Before the Pain Comes. Dr. Charles is a physician who is the author of The Examining Room of Dr. Charles.

Continuing our medical theme is the humorous tale of a medical sleuth, The Life of a Consult, describing the frustrating lack of basic investigation by a patient’s primary physician prior to asking for a medical consultation written by Mad House Madman, author of Chronicles of a Medical Mad House.

Another first-time contributor to Tangled Bank, Trish Wilson, is ill with laryngitis so she is thinking about diseases a lot. After reading a comment from a sympathetic reader whose wife had suffered from a variant of avian influenza, she began reading more about this disease. This article is the result of painstaking research through the CDC website; Scientists Believe That Bird Flu Will Mutate To A Pathogen Transmitted From Human To Human.

Your host for this issue of Tangled Bank, GrrlScientist, asks how mortality and infectivity rates are determined for infectious diseases in Is Avian Influenza THAT deadly? This is the first of several articles that your host is writing that address various aspects of Avian Influenza.

The Art in Science and Life:

In this delightful essay that skillfully juxtaposes several unlikely topics, Rexroth’s Daughter, one half of the pair who co-author Dharma Bums, talks about electromagnetic calling cards and Accidental Time Capsules as embodied by a variety of Lucys that have touched us as a culture and as scientists throughout the years. Then, in this poem, Forty Dozen Eggs, Rexroth’s Daughter continues to delight as she describes the passage of her life in an intriguing way.

Reflections on Science:

Are you more afraid of spiders, the dentist or public speaking? For those of you who said, “public speaking”, here is a “two-fer” by Orac describing how important it is for aspiring scientists to master Public Speaking and how he overcame his fear. This article is followed up with Short Scientific Talks for Dummies, a “nuts and bolts” essay on how to give short scientific presentations. Orac is a medical scientist, author of Respectful Insolence and is a frequent contributor to Tangled Bank.

Unfortunately, it’s not as easy to find a job in science (especially in my field, evolutionary biology) as many people believe (including most graduate students and newly-minted PhDs) as I report in this piece that would be funny if it wasn’t still excruciatingly, painfully true; ’Virtually Unemployable’ Scientist Slated to Sell Body to Fund Research.

To help solve the difficulties that many young PhDs have with merely finding a paying job in their field, YoungFemaleScientist proposes an unusual solution in her article, Propagation of Indoctrination. This is YoungFemaleScientist’s first contribution to Tangled Bank.


How does the sun shine? This well-written and uplifting obituary (because Hans Bethe died recently), Hans Bethe, 1906-2005, celebrates the life of a giant by describing how this discovery came about. This fascinating essay was written by an astrophysicist and software engineer.

To you, dear readers, thank you for reading my issue of Tangled Bank! I hope you enjoyed reading it as much as I enjoyed putting it all together for you. The next edition of Tangled Bank will be at Syaffolee on 23 March. Send your submissions to directly to the editor at syaffolee, PZ Myers or to For all contributors to this (the best yet) issue of Tangled Bank, feel free to add this badge to your article along with a link back to this page so your readers can navigate more easily;

The Tangled Bank


© 2004, 2005, 2006 by GrrlScientist

13 Peer Reviews:

Blogger coturnix said...

What a wonderful new Tangled Bank! You did a great job!!!!! It's getting better and better every time.

10:44 AM  
Blogger jojo said...

All of it, a great read! Especially enjoyed Mike's "Great Gray" article. Good job.

5:30 PM  
Blogger Rexroth's Daughter said...

"Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic."
-Arthur C. Clarke

thanks for a wonderful blog. great tangled bank. the bums are greatly enjoying a slice of the blogosphere we had not seen before.

good luck on the job thing.

dread pirate roberts

6:10 PM  
Blogger P.M.Bryant said...

I'm blown away at the quality of posts this week. In particular, DarkSyd's post on the Cambrian Explosion was fascinating to me.

6:58 PM  
Blogger GrrlScientist said...

Thanks everyone for your positive feedback on this issue of Tangled Bank! It was fun to put it together although it was somewhat overwhelming during the last couple days (I was working on it late at night and early in the mornings so now I am exhausted). I am always interested to know which stories you most enjoyed, so thanks for mentioning them to me. There are some stories in this issue that I want to re-read myself!

7:55 AM  
Blogger EdWonk said...

Nice Job! There are lots of juicy items to chew over..

4:59 AM  
Blogger GrrlScientist said...

Thank you, EdWonk! I hope you enjoy them!

3:58 PM  
Blogger Ben C. said...

I've visited your site often over the past week and enjoy your style. I'm a NYer and may have met you at one of the Pale Male vigils. All the best on your job quest!

BTW, why does the 10,000 birds article think that a recent Great Gray Owl sighting is a New York State first? GGOs are listed in 'Bull's Birds of New York State' as a 'Casual Visitant' and many have been seen over the past century.

9:37 PM  
Blogger Ben C. said...

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9:39 PM  
Blogger Ben C. said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

9:39 PM  
Blogger Ben C. said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

9:39 PM  
Blogger Ben C. said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

9:44 PM  
Blogger GrrlScientist said...

Hello Ben C.! I hope that your enthusiasm for my blog is contageous (10 comments, wow!). It's good to see some of the Pale Male/Lola crowd still hanging out here. It is indeed possible that you met me at one of the protests, I was at nearly all of them (although the intense cold did discourage me from attending several) but I was very quiet .. mostly running around with my pen and notebook, eavesdropping and asking questions, etc. Several people mistook me for a reporter so I had to clarify by saying, "no, I'm only a blogger."

I forgot that bloggers were getting a LOT of attention in the media at that time, so instead of deflecting attention, my statement made people MORE interested (and therefore, more willing) to share their thoughts and information with me. So it worked out well for all in the end. I ended up with mountains of material that I never used in any blog essay, though.

To answer your question, I have no idea why Mike (at 10,000 Birds) thinks that the vagrant GGO is a first state record. I am not as familiar with state records for the east coast as I am for the west coast, so I am not as able to "vet" people's east coast bird claims as I wish I was. You'll have to ask him.

10:25 AM  

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