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The new flu

After stumping her doctors, a sick Taiwanese woman turned out to be infected with a strain of bird flu never before seen in humans. She survived, and nobody else appears to be infected, but you might want to get used to thinking about H6N1.

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.

Afghan Taliban critiques journalism ethics of The Daily Beast


The website banner for shahamat-english.com, an English-language website of the Taliban in Afghanistan.

A Daily Beast story about Taliban’s ruling council meeting for peace talks in Pakistan “violates the basic principles of journalism” and is "nonsense," according to the Afghan Taliban. That's not as bad as having your news organization banned on Reddit, but it's still gotta hurt.

The Taliban's critique, below, in full:

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Mexican drug lord assassinated by killer clowns


Francisco Rafael Arellano Félix , the eldest of seven brothers of the Tijuana cartel.

Francisco Rafael Arellano Félix, the eldest brother in Mexico's once-dominant Tijuana drug cartel, was shot to death by gunmen disguised as clowns at a children's party on Friday.

The 63-year-old drug lord was also known by the nicknames "El Pelón" (the baldie) or Menso, ("stupid/crazy"). He was assassinated by a man in a clown suit during a family gathering at an upscale resort in Cabo San Lucas, a popular tourist destination on the Baja California peninsula, state special investigations prosecutor Isai Arias told Associated Press on Saturday:

An official of the Baja California Sur state prosecutor's office told the AP that the costumes included a wig and a round red nose.

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Press freedom case of NYT reporter James Risen may go to Supreme Court

"A federal appeals court will not reconsider a decision compelling a journalist to identify a source who disclosed details of a secret CIA operation," reports the AP:

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More on the new Omidyar-backed news venture Greenwald's leaving the Guardian for

A rep for Omidyar replies to the early Washington Post scoop I blogged yesterday, and corrects the record: "The new venture will be backed by Pierre Omidyar, personally, not Omidyar Network. Here is a blog post by Pierre on the topic today. Additionally, Honolulu Civil Beat is not funded by Omidyar Network, it is a separate entity."

Glenn Greenwald vs. hopelessly unprepared BBC interviewer

BBC current affairs shows have long been about their own adversarial tone, and there's something to be thankful in that: Britain's media culture forces politicians to subject themselves to grillings in a way that just doesn't happen much in America. But the fearless, no-nonsense style is often so affected that it relies upon the anxiety and obedience of interview subjects. When one comes along who knows what the deal is, the hosts are left to "yes, but" their way through trivial and poorly-prepared interview scripts.

A perfect example unfolded on BBC Newsnight yesterday, where The Guardian's Glenn Greenwald faced off against an interviewer, Kirsty Wark, so hopeless that she didn't even know the good questions to attack him with.

Three things to know about postpartum depression as you read about Miriam Carey and the Capitol car chase


On the Today Show this morning, a psychologist said "postpartum depression has led mothers to kill their children." This is not true.

Yesterday, Miriam Carey died after being shot by police following a car chase between the White House and the US Capitol building. Carey is reported to have tried to ram through barricades at the White House, hitting at least one officer as well as a squad car. She then drove her vehicle into barriers in front of the Hart Senate Building before being fatally shot by law enforcement officers. She was unarmed. A child identified as her daughter — a little more than one year old — was in the car the whole time.

Today, news outlets are reporting that Carey had a history of traumatic brain injury and postpartum depression, the latter of which may have been severe enough to send her to the hospital at some point in the past year. Nobody knows what, if any, effect this may have had on what happened yesterday. But it's led to plenty of speculation, and the spread of bad information that stigmatizes women suffering from an incredibly common mental illness.

For instance, on NBC's Today Show this morning, psychologist Jennifer Hartstein declared that "postpartum depression has led mothers to kill their children" — a statement that conflates PPD with a different disorder AND overstates the risk that other disorder poses to kids.

Over the next few days, we're all likely to hear a lot of discussion about postpartum depression. As you absorb that news, keep the following facts in mind:

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Surveillance video of Navy Yard shooter Aaron Alexis

The FBI released surveillance video of Aaron Alexis who killed 12 people at the Washington Navy Yard on September 16. According to an FBI spokesperson, Alexis was under the "delusional belief that he was being controlled or influenced by electro-magnetic waves." (CNN)

The story of the rapist's wife

The rape and murder of a 23-year-old physiotherapy student last December drew worldwide attention to India's struggles with tradition, women's rights, and street harassment. In a piece for the Wall Street Journal, Krishna Pokharel and Aditi Malhotra add another layer to that onion, following the story of Punita Devi, the wife of one of the convicted rapists. She, too, is suffering from the fallout of her husband's choices — and in ways that come back to those issues of tradition and equality. Living in a rural area where widows lose both their honor and any viable means of financial support, Devi is facing a future where she expects to be turned out of her in-laws' home, cannot return to her parents, and is judged and punished ... not for being the wife of a rapist, but for being nobody's wife.

Coming soon: More than one data point on the transgender experience in the military

Part of the problem with the Chelsea Manning situation is that it's spawned a lot of not-terribly-well-informed discussion about the roles and experiences of transgendered people in the military. There's a risk of this one big anecdote coming to represent the whole. Enter the Kinsey Institute — America's favorite source of sexuality science — which just got a grant to do actual research on the lives of transgender service members.

Second panda cub born dead

A full day after the birth of her cub, panda Mei Xiang gave birth to a second, stillborn, cub. The first cub is still doing great. But the second one had developmental abnormalities and wasn't ever really going to live.

Obama: It's time to invest in our electric grid

The American electric grid averages 90-214 minutes of blackout time per customer, per year. And that's not counting blackouts caused by natural disasters. Meanwhile, between 2000 and 2006, the electricity industry put less than 2/10 of 1% of revenues into research and development. (You can read more about this in a BoingBoing feature I wrote last year.) Yesterday, the White House released a report calling for increased spending to upgrade and overhaul this aging — but incredible important — infrastructure.

More thoughts on lab meat

Yesterday, Rob told you about the first public tasting of a burger that was grown in a laboratory, from strips of flesh built up from muscle stem cells. I found a couple of great links today that build on that news. First: The secret ingredient in lab-grown meat is fetal cow blood. (It's both a significant part of the high price of lab meat, and a reason why your vegan friend won't be eating lab meat anytime soon.) Also be sure to check out synthetic biologist Christina Agapakis' perspective — she tones down some of the hype while making it clear why lab meat is still pretty impressive.

What happened to other Americans who fled to Russia?

Hopefully, Edward Snowden's sojourn in Russia will go better than most of the historic examples of Americans defecting to that country.

Drop of pitch finally caught on film

Begun in 1927 at The University of Queensland, Australia, the pitch-drop experiment is an attempt to prove that pitch (a sticky, black, seemingly solid form of petroleum) is actually just a particularly viscous liquid. It takes years for a drop of pitch to form and, until this week, nobody had ever observed the drops in the act of, well, dropping. The catch: It wasn't the University of Queensland that finally succeeded. Instead, the documentary footage comes from a different (and less famous) pitch-drop experiment at Trinity College, Dublin, Ireland. You can watch the drop drip in a video at their site.

How do you get a water leak in a spacesuit helmet?

Astronaut Luca Parmitano had to cut short his spacewalk yesterday, after his helmet flooded with more than a liter of water. How's that happen? Initially, Parmitano suspected a leak in his 32 oz. drink bag, which is fitted into the front of the suit and connects to the helmet via a tube and built-in drinking valve, writes Thomas Jones at Popular Mechanics. But the actual culprit is likely to be the suit's cooling system — a series of water-filled tubes that run all around the astronaut's body.

The messy science that spotted J.K. Rowling's secret novel

Behind the unveiling of J.K. Rowling as the author of a pseudonymously published detective novel lies a messy and not-terribly-precise science called "forensic stylistics". Using specially designed software — or, less often, just a trained eye — experts in the field try to match writing styles and discern the true authorship of disputed texts. But, even when they turn out to be right, as in the Rowling case, their findings are less than exact. Linguist Ben Zimmer explores the field and its usefulness at The Wall Street Journal.

Archaeologists unearth possible vampire graveyard in Poland

Polish tradition dictates that, in order to prevent a corpse from rising as a vampire, you must bury it with the head lopped off the body and positioned between the legs. Archaeologists recently found a burial site with four such bodies in southern Poland.

In search of: The 52 Hz Whale

This fall, a team of scientists (backed up by a crew of documentary filmmakers) will head out to the Pacific in search of "The Loneliest Whale in the World", aka "The 52 Hz Whale", in honor of the unique frequency of its vocalizations.

The dumb T.Rex controversy everybody's talking about

Scientists found a Tyrannosaurus Rex tooth embedded in the tailbone of a duckbilled dinosaur. Now, everybody wants to know: Does this mean T.Rex really was a predator, rather than a scavenger, as has been proposed in previous studies? The correct answer is "STFU." That's my paraphrase of John Hutchinson — who studies the biomechanics of large animals, including T.Rex. He says the "controversy" here doesn't really exist. That's because most carnivores are both predators and scavengers and most paleontologists would agree that T.Rex is no exception to that rule.

A moon you could walk across in a day

The Hubble Space Telescope has discovered a previously unnoticed moon orbiting the planet Neptune. Given the poetic name S/2004 N 1, it is apparently a mere 12 miles across.

Does MERS come from bats? Or possibly, camels?

MERS — the deadly coronavirus related to SARS — has infected 77 people in the Middle East (that we're aware of) and killed half of them (as far as we know). Now, scientists are starting to look for its source and they're focusing in on two animals that have lots of opportunity to interact with local populations in Saudi Arabia, and other countries.

The science of deadly fires

Investigators are still trying to understand what happened to the 19 firefighters who were killed last weekend in Arizona, while battling a wildfire. Climatewire's Nathanael Massey explains how a dangerous-but-dealable blaze can quickly become something much more deadly.

Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism wins out against political opponents

Last month, Wisconsin legislators tried to kick the independently funded Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism off of the University of Wisconsin - Madison campus and prevent UW professors from working with the organization. The move (which was led by a legislator whose fundraising had been called into question by the WCIJ) prompted major backlash across the political spectrum and, over the weekend, it was vetoed by Wisconsin's Republican governor, Scott Walker.

Texas Senate will vote on abortion bill Monday, at behest of Rick Perry

An 11-hour filibuster by Sen. Wendy Davis (and a heady late-night mixture of parliamentary confusion and public protest) prevented the Texas Senate from voting on a restrictive abortion bill that would close almost all the state's clinics and ban abortion after 20 weeks. That was Tuesday. Next Monday, the Senate will convene again to vote on the same bill, after Governor Rick Perry ordered a special session to make sure the bill passes.

Red panda escapes zoo, is recaptured with help from Twitter

Three weeks ago, humans set Rusty the Red Panda up on a blind date of indeterminate length with a female red panda named Shama at the Smithsonian National Zoo. Today, Rusty "went out for a pack of smokes", but his attempt at skipping town was thwarted by the zoo's Twitter followers, who caught him hiding in the bushes of a nearby neighborhood.

Risk of forest fires rising near Chernobyl

A trend towards drier, hotter summers in the forests around the abandoned nuclear power plant at Chernobyl has increased the riks of forest fires in the region — which is a big deal, considering the fact that trees and plants in the area have absorbed some of the radioactive isotopes from the 1986 disaster. If they burn, more people will be exposed to airborne particles. It's a small fraction compared with the people exposed by the original Chernobyl power plant fire, but still dangerous.

Meet the NASA Astronaut Class of 2013

More than 6000 people applied, eight were chosen. And, for the first time, NASA has an astronaut class with gender parity — four men, and four women.

Nazi SS commander discovered living in Minneapolis

Michael Karkoc — a 94-year-old Ukranian immigrant who lives in a neighborhood of Minneapolis known for housing populations of both Eastern Europeans and artists — has turned out to be a former Nazi SS commander whose unit was involved in cracking down on the Warsaw uprising, as well as other brutal attacks on civilians. The Associated Press broke the story and Minnesota Public Radio has some great, in-depth coverage. Reached at his home, Karkoc told AP reporters, "I don't think I can explain." (Strangely, this has been a big week for Nazi-related news. Yesterday, Xeni posted a story about the discovery of a diary belonging to one of Hitler's confidants.)