this week

I read a number of interesting things in the last week and it’s been difficult choosing “most interesting,” so I’ve settled on something of a smorgasbord. First up, two somewhat-related articles:

USS Monitor Faces

Nearly 150 years after they went down with their ship in a fierce Cape Hatteras storm, two members of the crew of the famed Civil War ironclad USS Monitor have come back to life in the form of newly created facial reconstructions.


The Ever-Amazing Ötzi

Since it was discovered in 1991, preserved in 5,300 years’ worth of ice and snow in the Italian Alps, the body of the so-called Tyrolean Iceman has yielded a great deal of information. Scientists have learned his age (about 46), that he had knee problems, and how he died (by the shot of an arrow).

Now, researchers have sequenced the complete genome of the iceman, nicknamed Ötzi, and discovered even more intriguing details. They report in the journal Nature Communications that he had brown eyes and brown hair, was lactose intolerant and had Type O blood.


Honorable mentions:

A Romani Mystery from Dr. Beachcombing’s Brizarre History

Scientists found Romani mitochondrial DNA in a cemetery in Norwich in East Anglia in use from the tenth to eleventh centuries when conventional wisdom says they didn’t arrive in England until the 17th century.

And Scott Turow on how lack of competition amongst booksellers hurts authors.

From “Why Are We So Afraid of Creativity?” by Maria Konnikova, Scientific American Blogs, February 26, 2012:


“The Implicit Association Test (IAT) is a tool that was created to look for discrepancies between consciously held beliefs (i.e., a belief in racial equality) and unconscious biases (i.e., a faster reaction time when pairing white with positive concepts and black with negative ones than vice versa). The measure can test for implicit bias toward any number of groups (though the most common one tests racial biases) by looking at reaction times for associations between positive and negative attributes and pictures of group representatives. Sometimes, the stereotypical positives are represented by the same key; sometimes, by different ones. Ditto the negatives. And your speed of categorization in each of these circumstances determines your implicit bias. To take the racial example, if you are faster to categorize when “European American” and “good” share a key and “African American” and “bad” share a key, it is taken as evidence of an implicit race bias.

“Over the years, the IAT has shown a prevalence of unconscious biases in areas such as race, gender, sexual orientation, age, mental disease, and disability. Now, it has been expanded to something that had never appeared in need of testing: creativity.

“In a series of studies, participants had to complete the same good-bad category pairing as in the standard IAT, only this time, with two words that expressed an attitude that was either practical (such as functional, constructive, or useful) or creative (novel, inventive, original, etc.). The result: even those people who had explicitly ranked creativity as high on their list of positive attributes showed an implicit bias against it relative to practicality under conditions of uncertainty.”