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The internet is a CIA project, says Vladimir Putin


Russia's Prime Minister Vladimir Putin holds a cup, 2010. REUTERS/Ria Novosti/Alexei Druzhinin.

Speaking today at a media forum in St. Petersburg, Russian president Vladimir Putin said the Internet began as a "CIA project," and that "is still developing as such." Russia must "fight for its interests" online, to resist US political and military control. From AP:

A Russian blogger complained to Putin that foreign websites and Yandex, the web search engine which is bigger in Russia than Google, are storing information on servers abroad, which could be undermining Russia's security. In his reply, Putin mentioned unspecified pressure that was exerted on Yandex in its early years and chided the company for its registration in the Netherlands "not only for tax reasons but for other considerations, too."

Online quizzes explained

Online "character quizzes," suddenly ultra-viral thanks to adroit Facebook-centric designs at sites like Zimbio, are all the rage. Are they fueled by narcissism? No, says Devon Maloney: it's fear: "We crave the peace of mind that comes from believing the human condition is quantifiable." Which is to say, of course, our own conditions. It's the Myers-Briggs sorting hat for a new generation, telling you what you just told it. Rob 15

Creepypasta, the new keystroke in horror

Clipboard-sized, unsettling, endlessly mutating pseudolore with dark and scary themes. Creepypasta is going mainstream. [Aoen Magazine] Rob 7

Three reasons it's not a good idea to directly compare the temperatures of different planets

1. Contrary to what you might have learned from Star Trek and Star Wars, planets do not have a single climate.
So it's not really reasonable to say "Winnipeg is as cold as the surface of Mars", unless you're going to specify where on Mars you are talking about. And when in the Martian year you are talking about it. Geekquinox, the blog that first started the current trend of comparing Canada to the Red Planet, was looking at the afternoon temperature (sans wind chill) in Winnipeg on December 31st (-31 degrees Celsius) and daily temperatures collected in November and December by the Curiosity Rover, at Gale Crater, Mars (lowest afternoon high: -31 degrees Celsius). This comparison leaves out the fact that Gale Crater is in the Martian tropics. In the mid-latitudes, however, the average temperature is closer to -50 degrees Celsius. Also, Mars has huge temperature swings from day to night. On the same day that Geekquinox reported a monthly average high at Gale Crater of -31 C (Sol 486) the monthly average low was -110 C.

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Is that cool news true? Here's how you judge.

Love this list of 20 rules of thumb to help you analyze the validity of science news. A lot of it boils down to statistics and common sense (hey, you guys, scientists are human), but it's also stuff that easy to lose sight of when you're excited or scared or totally fascinated. Print this out and read it before you click "share". Maggie 19

You Are Not So Smart podcast 013: Clive Thompson and How Technology Affects Our Minds


YANSS: RSS | iTunes | Download this episode | Stitcher

The very fact that you are reading this sentence, contemplating whether you want to listen to this podcast, means that you are living out a fantasy from a previous generation's cyberpunk novel.

However you made it here, however you got these words into your brain, you did so by diving through data streams first cooked up by delirious engineers downing late-night coffees, wandering deep within rows of data tape unspooling from jerky, spinning platters.

We've been dreaming of this life for a long time, since before the vacuum tubes and punchcards of the '40s, and now that we are here, some people are worried that the tech will, at best, make us lazy, and at worst make us stupid.

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French bill to legalize bulk Internet spying moving through National Assembly

Jeremie from La Quadrature du Net writes, "Yesterday the 2014-2019 defense bill passed first reading in the French National Assembly. It marks a strong shift towards total online surveillance. If passed, the bill will not only allow live monitoring of everyone's personal and private data but also do so without judicial oversight, as the surveillance will be enabled through administrative request. The bill also turns permanent measures that were only temporary."

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Viral news and the "Valley of Ambiguity"

i09's Annalee Newitz has a theory about why some stories get shared around the Internet more than others — and, not coincidentally, why nuanced stories about science tend to get shared less than, say, the average LOLcat. If she's right, the real trick with science reporting on the Internet is to write accurate stories that aren't all reported from deep in the Valley of Ambiguity. Maggie 7

Popular Science has an evidence-based reason for shutting down its comment section

Yesterday, the Popular Science website announced that it would no longer allow readers to comment on new stories. Why? Because science, says online editor Suzanne LeBarre, who cited research showing how a minority of uncivilized, vitriolic comments can skew readers' understanding of the content of a story and contribute to political/ideological polarizations of opinion. Mother Jones wrote about the same study more in-depth earlier this year. Maggie 61

The One True Cause of all disease (All 52 of them)

A few years ago, Harriet Hall googled "The One True Cause of all disease", just to see what the Internet would come up with. She counted 67 One True Causes before she got bored (52 of them made it into the handy chart above).

Besides making for an amusing anecdote, this little exercise also helps illustrate why there's a problem with ideologically driven medical treatments — the sort that comes from people who are pushing a lifestyle or a philosophy along with ostensible healthcare. It's both intriguing and convenient to think that, if we just open the right secret door, we can find the thing that's actually causing all our problems. The truth, unfortunately, seems to be that our bodies and the world they inhabit are complicated and messy and that lots of of things can lead to disease (doctors typically learn to divide these things into nine different categories, Hall says). In fact, a disease we think of as a single entity can have its roots in more than one thing. All of this is pretty obvious but it's the kind of obvious that's worth rubbing our noses in on occasion. If somebody tells you that everything from obesity to bipolar disorder to allergies to cancer all stem from the same root and can be treated or prevented with the exact same treatment, there's probably good reason to question what they're telling you.

The myth of the ugly blobfish

Here we have the common Internet blobfish, recently voted World's Ugliest Animal.

But wait! At Smithsonian, Colin Schultz has made a very good case for why the blobfish doesn't deserve its unattractive reputation. This isn't about beauty being subjective (although some might find the above picture more cute than ugly). Instead, it's about atmospheric pressure, and what happens to a fish removed from its natural, deep-sea, high-pressure habitat.

Here is what the blobfish really looks like, before somebody took him to the surface and snapped an embarrassing photo:

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One weird trick for sleazy marketing success

Armed with a cheap laptop and a pre-paid debit card, Alex Kaufman figures out what happens when you actually buy something from on one of those “One Weird Trick” ads. [Slate] Rob 9

The making of Drunk Science (and why I am never making another one)

I've gotten a few questions about the Drunk Science video that I posted here yesterday. The two most common: "Will there be another Drunk Science?" And, "Jeezus, didn't science journalist Charles Q. Choi drink a bit too much for this?"

The answers to those questions are, respectively, "No" and "Yes". Choi is probably the best person to explain both answers, which he does in a blog post that discusses the science of an alcohol-induced blackout, and why — despite the fact that everybody involved with Drunk Science thinks the final result is pretty damn funny and generally good Internet — we won't ever be doing anything like that again.

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Duck penises: The saga continues

As we all know by now, ducks have penises. Rather epic penises, in fact. Chickens, though, are penis-less. In fact, most birds don't have them. In an important update in duck sex news, Ed Yong follows the work of several scientists who are trying to better understand how genitals evolve and why they differ so much between species and genuses. Bonus new fact: A dissected goose penis looks surprisingly like a less-colorful Man-O-War jellyfish. Maggie

Bubble boy: Baby born inside intact amniotic sac

"Born in the caul" is a phrase that's connected with a lot of cross-cultural myths and superstitions — babies born in the caul are supposed to be destined for lives of fame and fortune (or, possibly, misfortune and grisly death, depending on which legends you're listening to). Biologically, though, it refers to a baby that's born with part of the amniotic sac — the bubble of fluid a fetus grows in inside the uterus — still attached. Usually, a piece of the sac is draped over the baby's head or face. These are called caul births, and they're rare. But, about once in every 80,000 births, you'll get something truly extraordinary — "en-caul", a baby born inside a completely intact amniotic sac, fluid and all.

There's a photo of a recent en-caul birth making the rounds online. The photo is being attributed to Greek obstetrician Aris Tsigris. It's fascinating. But it's also pretty graphic, so fair warning on that. (If the sight of newborn infants and blood gives you the vapors, you might also want to avoid most of the links in this post, as well.)

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