The Loom

Fellow scienceblogger Coturnix is assembling some posts about science for an anthology. He’s been asking for people to contribute suggestions. I’ve been meaning to thumb through my old posts in order to send one over, but it’s been more of a challenge than I thought. Part of the problem is that pieces of writing are like children, and it’s no fun to break up the family. The other part of the problem is that my brain is just about reduced to goo between finishing my book and managing a couple of sick kids over the Christmas break. So let me turn to you, dear reader. Is there any post on the Loom that sticks out in your memory? Leave a comment or drop an email if you are so moved. For those who are new to the Loom, I rounded up some of my older posts when I introduced myself here at scienceblogs. Coturnix’s deadline is January 2.

Thanks for letting me pick your distributed brain.


  1. #1 Gabe
    December 27, 2006

    The best post, the one that hooked me reading The Loom and subsequently brought me to science blogs is the Zombie Cockroach post! Best post ever.

  2. #2 Noumenon
    December 27, 2006

    I choose the second half of Fleas, Fish, and the Careful Art of Deconstruction. This post makes scientists look really good. You start out with the sort of hypothesis that many people have heard and most would accept: cave fish lose their eyes because they don’t need them. Then you show how a scientific approach to the question works: how there are multiple hypotheses to explain this and scientists find ways to test them.

    Next, the post makes evolution look good to people who are in a balance between it and creationism. There’s no “it evolved that way because it needed it, just so.” You show how you actually have to know something about how the fish works to know how it evolved. You have to know how the eye nerve is connected to the Hedgehog gene and what else it does to realize that the loss of eye might just be collateral damage and not advantageous in itself. If evolution’s purpose was to be “atheistic creationism,” the simple “it doesn’t need eyes” would have been enough.

    The best part about the post is how much you learn along the way. If you don’t accept any of the evolution stuff, you still pick up a lot of fun facts about cavefish. And, more important, in the digressions and details you see a picture of scientists (and the science writer) as people who are genuinely interested in cavefish and things. They don’t just sit around all day trying to keep Christians from joining the university. That perspective of showing science as something worth doing for itself makes this blog a far more convincing argument for evolution and science in general than a blog that only cared about evolution and went looking for science to support its conclusions.

  3. #3 Mike Kaspari
    December 27, 2006

    The most lively discussion, and certainly one of the most useful, was the interview with Randy Olsen on how to teach evolution (sorry the links I found were broken,but I suspect you know the post I’m talking about!).

    Getting Things Done in Academia
    a guide for graduate students in science

  4. #4 Cameron
    December 27, 2006

    Virus evolution or gene networks has my vote.

  5. #5 Jeremy Henty
    December 27, 2006

    “My Darwinian Daughters”, if only for the last sentence of the first paragraph.

  6. #6 Peter
    December 27, 2006

    The zombie cockroach one gets my vote too. I was an occasional reader before that, and a daily checker since. It even spurred my roomate to by Parasite Rex and At the Water’s Edge.

  7. #7 Peter
    December 27, 2006

    ^’buy’, sorry.

  8. #8 Perry
    December 27, 2006

    Any of your parasite posts would be great. The wisdom of parasites works.

    Incidentally, I’ve enjoyed your blog and books. Keep up the great work.

  9. #9 Atiz
    December 27, 2006

    Zombie cockroaches have my vote, similarly to Peter’s room mate, I have also went on to read Parasite Rex and At the Water’s Edge. I immensely enjoyed both books too.
    Between, I found out that Ampulex used to be a common sight in the kampung(village) days – there’s even an idiom about it dragging the cockroach. I also managed to see a live demo of zombie cockroach just below my flat – was so elated 🙂

  10. #10 Atiz
    December 27, 2006

    Zombie cockroaches have my vote, similarly to Peter’s room mate, I have also went on to read Parasite Rex and At the Water’s Edge. I immensely enjoyed both books too.
    Between, I found out from my parents that Ampulex used to be a common sight in the kampung(village) days – there’s even an idiom about it dragging the cockroach. I also managed to see a live demo of zombie cockroach just below my flat – was so elated 🙂

  11. #11 Ben
    December 27, 2006

    I too would push for the zombie cockroach post. It also fits with your love of the parasitic.

  12. #12 Brian S.
    December 28, 2006

    The first toxoplasma post, although I can’t remember if that preceded the migration to scienceblogs. Hobbit stuff is very good too except it doesn’t have a definitive answer – maybe a good example of science as process?

  13. #13 autumnmist
    December 28, 2006

    I second Noumenon’s vote for the cave fish eyes article.

  14. #14 Veledan
    December 29, 2006

    My initial reaction was to vote for your recent article on slime moulds, which was the first one that made me buy one of your books. But having read the articles linked above, I’m with Noumenon: I’d probably have turned up at Amazon even more promptly had I read that first 🙂

  15. #15 Noumenon
    December 30, 2006

    I went back and looked for some other articles of yours I had bookmarked. I do like the slime mold post too, but I’d already been exposed to the idea of natural selection for altruism and cheating. The Sixty-Million-Year Virus was interesting. Down With the Male-Killers was interesting, possibly your NYT Silent Struggle article has a broader appeal.

    Oh! I just tried searching my e-mail instead of my bookmarks for your articles. Taking the Plunge is a good post. You don’t just claim “we do too have transitional fossils of whales!” You also show how actual scientists actually work with transitional fossils of sloths, making it seem like there are a lot out there we just don’t care about. The Origin of the Ridiculous is also a pretty good post about transitional whale fossils. (Though no-one ever answered my question about “branch support values”…) Hopping to Wyoming was a good post for showing science working together — geologists studying carbon in the crusts, paleontologists tracking the spread of Teilhardina fossils, plate tectonics giving the timing of the land bridges. You read it and you’re like, “You can’t just reject fossils and believe in a young earth… a whole lot of science fits together if you believe in the old earth and it all breaks without one.”

    Florida,where the living is contradictory was a a good example of scientists using natural selection as a tool. That’s far more convincing than seeing it used as a theory. You had a similar post on AIDS virus mapping with natural selection programs. That’s the strength of your blog in general. By getting so far into the details of the science, you give people the experience of seeing evolutionary theory used as a tool. That’s far more convincing than arguing for it as an abstraction. It makes scientists seem a lot more sympathetic, too. You may think they’re all deluded “evolution theologists,” but you have to grant that they put a lot of effort into their work, and it makes you wonder whether they could really be that lazy and unskeptical about evolution when they’re so smart and hardworking otherwise.

  16. #16 Carlie
    December 30, 2006

    My first thought was ZOMBIE COCKROACH! Then I saw that it was the first comment, and multiples thereafter, but I’ll throw my vote in for it anyway. I also liked the H. florensis series, but it is a bit long altogether.

  17. #17 litreofcola
    December 31, 2006

    zombie cockroach!

  18. #18 Greg
    December 31, 2006

    I liked Angels and Extinctions. It did a good job of developing the theme that science is an ongoing effort, done in many areas, in many small steps, and riddled with gaps between those steps. The fact that there are gaps in our knowledge should in no way invalidate the conclusions reached, or the theories advanced.

  19. #19 John Monfries
    January 4, 2007

    I liked the hobbit posts (the zombie cockroach was too creepy!), but so many of your posts are very informative and fascinating for the non-expert.

    By the way, have you yet seen the Mike Morwood book The Discovery of the Hobbit. It’s written for the layperson (like me), and presents a detailed and exciting story of the dig, and the stunningness of the discovery, as well as much information on the difficulties of coping with Indonesian bureaucracy. It left me with a very low opinion of the behaviour of the sceptics lobby, especially Teuku Jakob (but I suppose there are two sides to most stories).

    Anyway, I would dearly like to hear what you think of the book when you get hold of it.

  20. #20 Oliver
    January 6, 2007

    The Zombie Cockroach post, or any of the Toxoplasma Gondi posts.

  21. #21 paulm
    January 12, 2007

    I’d also vote for the fish and fleas one. (If I’m not too late) hadn’t read this one previously, but finding it through this thread gave me an excuse to take a welcome break from a writing job I’ve got on. Do let us know which one you eventually choose Carl.

  22. #22 Carl Zimmer
    January 12, 2007

    I wasn’t doing the choosing. I suggested the zombie parasites, but they picked the eyes instead. Hey, at least I got in.

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