Phrenology bust modeled on a human death mask

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The Morbid Anatomy Museum recently acquired a 19th-century phrenological death mask. Liza Young, a museum studies student at St. John's University, tracked down its history.

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The woman with a nose on her back

There are some pretty freakish, but well-substantiated, reports this week that demonstrate just how much we still have to learn about stem cells and how they work (and don't work).

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Very old erotic graffiti found in Greece

Photograph: Helena Smith


Photograph: Helena Smith

Now we know that Nikasitimos banged Timion (in the past continuous tense, implying a long stamina) on what is now a remote stone outcrop on the Agean island of Astypalaia, approximately 2,500 years ago.

Animation about ant colonies

Stanford biologist Deborah M. Gordon's animated explanation of an ant colony, "one of the most complex social organizations in the animal kingdom."

How Komodo Dragons hunt

Komodo Dragons are venomous. All they need to kill prey much larger than themselves is a single bite.

How would a bird the size of a boat get airborne?

Pelagornis sandersi is a 25-million-year-old bird with a 24-foot-long wingspan. Scientists now think it could have flown.

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Perfect "Aryan" was Jewish

Pseudoscience for the win. It would be funny if it weren't for, you know, the Holocaust.

The science of why some people don't like cilantro

It's okay, cilantro lovers. The haters aren't wrong. They're just disabled.

How indirect allergen exposure works

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I'd always sort of thought that people with severe peanut allergies could have a reaction from being too close to peanuts, even without touching them. Turns out, that's not true. Usually.

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Kitty sees you

This fantastic footage of a curious Pallas's Cat was taken last year in a zoo in England (I love the shot at :21.)

There's a lot of misinformation flitting about the Internet in relation to this video, so you should really read the great write up on it by Matthew Cobb at the Why Evolution is True blog. He tracked down the fact that the video comes from a zoo and not (as has been widely reported) from camera traps in Nepal.

There are, however, images of Pallas's Cats in Nepal that were taken by a camera trap. Here's one of a Pallas's Cat, apparently attempting to use the bathroom in peace and quiet only to be rudely interrupted by a camera flash.

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Biohackers making "real vegan cheese"

The biohackers at BioCurious and Counter Culture Labs are seeking support in their effort to bioengineer baker's yeast to make Real Vegan Cheese!

Real Vegan Cheese is a not a cheese substitute! It all begins with regular old baker's yeast. Through synthetic biology, we engineer our yeast to become milk-protein factories, churning out real milk proteins (known as caseins). These milk proteins are then combined with water, vegan sugar and oil to make a kind of milk which is ultimately converted into Real Vegan Cheese using the age-old cheese-making process.
Real Vegan Cheese (Thanks, Eri Gentry!)

Magnificent contraption: vacuum-cleaner/foam-ball particle accelerator

Niklas Roy's DIY particle accelerator contraption is based on vacuum-cleaner-powered pneumatic tube technology, installed in a beautiful glass pavilion located in the middle of a roundabout in Groningen, The Netherlands.

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How World War I brought women into science

Fascinating history at Nature, about the way war began the still-unfinished process of integrating female minds into the scientific world.

A history of Down Syndrome

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From their inclusion in 16th-century paintings to their roles in famous families (including, probably, Darwin's), people with Down Syndrome are part of history.

At the Down Wit Dat blog, there's a 8-part (with more on the way) feature that provides some much-needed inclusion to people who are usually just a footnote to somebody else's history. Naturally, the series delves into ideas like eugenics and the institutionalization of differently abled Americans. But, even there, the story is centered on people with Down Syndrome and, as such, it offers a perspective and information that you likely haven't heard before. Great stuff.

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Here's an excerpt about the short life of Charles Waring Darwin, the youngest child of the Charles Darwin you know. Based off historical records and the surviving photograph that you can see here, historians suspect that he had Down Syndrome.

Henrietta, one of his daughters, had this to say about Charles Waring in her book "Emma Darwin, A century of family letters...":

"The poor little baby was born without its full share of intelligence. Both my father and mother were infinitely tender towards him..."

Charles Darwin himself had this to say about his youngest child:

“He was small for his age and backward in walking and talking.... He was of a remarkable sweet, placid and joyful disposition, but had not high spirits.... He often made strange grimaces and shivered, when excited.... He would lie for a long time placidly on my lap looking with a steady and pleased expression at my face... making nice little bubbling noises as I moved his chin.”

Looking at the photograph of the then 45 year old Emma and her newborn son, it is not hard to see what appears to be a "weakened" bridge to the nose and quite possibly be epicanthal folds. However, the photo is extremely grainy and we will never know for sure. Charles Waring Darwin passed away from Scarlet fever at 19 months of age, never having learned to walk or talk. Darwin Sr. recorded in his journal that day: "Poor Dear Baby Died." He was unable to attend the first reading and publication of his theory of Natural Selection due to the illness and death of his youngest son.

What happens to forests when invasive insects win?

A 2011 photograph from Wisconsin shows what damage the larvae of the emerald ash borer are doing to ash trees in the United States. Credit John Ehlke/The West Bend Daily News


A 2011 photograph from Wisconsin shows what damage the larvae of the emerald ash borer are doing to ash trees in the United States. Credit John Ehlke/The West Bend Daily News

Emerald Ash Borer will likely kill 99% of the ash trees in North America. We can't stop it. So what happens next?

At The New York Times, you can read a story I wrote about why we will lose the battle against the Asian beetle Emerald Ash Borer and what that loss is teaching scientists about the complicated ecological networks that make up forests.

A 2009 study in the journal Biological Invasions listed 43 native insect species that rely on ash trees for food or breeding. Those insects are the food supply for birds, including woodpeckers.

“You end up with a different ecosystem that different species prefer and where the old ones can’t do as well,” said Kathleen Knight, a research ecologist with the Forest Service.