Charlemagne’s DNA and Our Universal Royalty. Carl Zimmer on why, if you are of European descent, you are descended from Charlemagne. This 2004 paper explains why everyone who was alive 3000 years ago who has living descendents, are the ancestors of everyone living today. Coalescence! I really like that they present results from a series of models along the realism/tractability continuum – from a simple analytic treatment to a very complicated world-wide simulation. This is pretty mind-blowing stuff.
Fact of Fiction? The Legend of the QWERTY Keyboard. The QWERTY keyboard is often used as an example of an inefficient technology persisting through institutional inertia. The popular legend is that the QWERTY Keyboard was designed slow down typists so they would not jam mechanical typewriters. It looks like its design was really influenced to help those transcribing Morse code from telegraph machines. Note that this still leaves the institutional inertia story intact.
The Groundbreaking Isaac Newton Invention You’ve Never Heard Of. Did Newton really invent the idea of averaging data to reduce variance? That would be pretty neat, but it seems like someone would have come up with that earlier.
A Congressman’s Own Peer Review. Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson may be my new favorite lawmaker.
What China and Russia Don’t Get About Soft Power. An interesting discussion of the pitfalls of soft power.
Science Communication Round-Up:
Why do kidneys need cells? “One person’s jargon is another person’s technical vocabulary”
Defensive Scholarly Writing and Science Communication. Kate Clancy on why scientists often write the way they do.
Over this past fortnight, members of the UC Davis Human Behavioral Ecology Lab group have been emailing around their favorite references on good writing: Politics and the English Language, George Orwell; Fenimore Cooper’s Literary Offences, Mark Twain; Economical Writing, Deirdre McCloskey; The Elements of Style, Strunk and White
Bonus Links (entertaining in an internet sort-of-way):
Is Your State’s Highest-Paid Employee A Coach? (Probably)