Sunday, September 13, 2015

Best blog post in the past year

3 Quarks Daily is running their annual contest to pick the best blog posts in the past year. The finalists will be picked by popular vote and the winner will be selected from the finalists by Nick Lane. You can review the rules at: Nick Lane to Judge 6th Annual 3QD Science Prize.

The formal description of the prize is "6th annual prize for the best blog and online-only writing in the category of science." This is important because although the rules refer to "blog posts" and "blog entries" it's clear that most of the nominees are more like online poplar science articles than typical blog posts.

Here's a list of the current nominees ...

All I didn’t know about Cancer
Wonderful Latin Names, Part III: Two creatures named “merianae
The Monarch Butterflies
Mo'orea Scavenger Hunt
Masters of deception: how spiders trick ants
The AI Revolution: The Road to Superintelligence
The public subsidy of scientific publishing monopolies
David Kordahl on After Physics and The Island of Knowledge : The Limits of Science and the Search for Meaning and Our Mathematical Universe : My Quest for the Ultimate Nature of Reality
Artificially Flavored Intelligence
Randomness: the Ghost in the Machine?
3 myths of physics, especially in textbooks
Proof that Hell is Exothermic [DANGER! Popup Quiz]
Destiny's Child
The fundamental philosophical dilemma of chemistry [Danger! This web site locks you on the page so you can't use the "back" button!]
On Optimal Paths & Minimal Action
Tambora 1815: Just How Big Was The Eruption?
Serotonin and the science of sex
From Discovery to Dust
How Does a Dog's Brain Respond to the Smell of a Familiar Human?
When a Giant Asteroid Impact Created Its Own Magma
Intemperate Planet: How Natural Systems Magnify the Effects of Global Warming
A gynandromorph moth comes to the light – and tells a story about science
Ants have group-level personalities, study shows
Infinite hotels in swirling beams of light
How 'unspecial' are you? What other animals have taught us about human uniqueness
The Saddest Thing I Know about the Integers"
Four-Legged Snake Shakes Up Squamate Family Tree – Or Does It?
Geoscience Column: The Oldest Eurypterid
Another Brick in the Wall
Why Is There Dark Matter?
Feeling Bipolar Disorder In Your Gut
Bezoars are gross bits of gunk that get stuck in your guts
CONFIRMED: The Last Great Prediction Of The Big Bang!
Both Beautiful and Disturbing, a New NASA Visualization Shows Carbon Dioxide Emissions Swirling Around the World
No Love in Boulder for Colorado’s GMO Labeling Proposition
The Beginning of the End: How Blow Flies find Corpses
Ask Ethan #96: Is the Multiverse science?
The Sound So Loud That It Circled the Earth Four Times
Editing Human Embryos: So This Happened
Your Guide to Pluto: Everything We've Learned From New Horizons So Far
Shadows on the Moon: an ephemeral archaeology
How a 19th Century Math Genius Taught Us the Best Way to Hold a Pizza Slice
The pain in the brain game
When Hubble Stared at Nothing for 100 Hours

What we need is a prize—or at least serious recognition—for blog posts exclusively from "amateurs," that is people who write for non-profit sites and who do not get paid for their posts. Surely we want to encourage scientists, graduate students, and post-docs to communicate about science? We aren't going to succeed if all the recognition for "science" writing goes to science journalists.

Also, let's make sure we distinguish between good science and good writing. Most people who vote for best articles don't know if what they are being told is accurate or not. All they know is that the article is a good read and it tells then something they didn't know.

Take a look at the previous winners to see who makes to the Top Quark.

2013: no prize given that year

I was thinking of nominating one of my posts so I looked over the past year's list and found four that I thought were suitable. I realized when I re-read them that they are very different from the ones that make the finalist list on 3 Quarks Daily.

It's clear that I'm not writing for the general public. My science posts tend to be directed at people who already know a lot about biology and the level of understanding is much higher than that found in the wining posts of the past few years. I'm also not very good at the popular writing style in my blog posts. I have to fix that if I'm going to publish a trade book.


  1. Larry

    I just don't really know how to put this. It is not easy.Firstly, your blog on human mutation rate you linked us to isn't very good. You fail miserably to describe, not to mention explain, the mutation rate difference between the genders.

    Secondly,"The mutation rate can be described and defined in many ways. For most purposes, we can assume, that it's equivalent to the error rate of DNA replication since that accounts for the vast majority of substitutions."

    I've learned one thing;If scientists, and especially evolutionists, assume something, most knowledgeable scientist and the rest of them simply ignore it.

    So, Larry, what would motivate you to "assume that this posts on your blog is worthwhile an award? I'm hoping for the best and, unfortunately, fearing the worst.

    1. Sceptical Mind, you are entertaining as always. Your post shows you didn't understand any of that "math stuff" in Larry's post, which answers both your questions/objections.

  2. I think you did a very good job explaining the common misunderstanding of the Central Dogma of Molecular Biology. I specially like your posts about the faulty logic of the Intelligent Design creationists and the critic to the junk DNA revisionists. Keep doing the good job, I learn a lot reading your site.

  3. Dr. Moran,

    Your blog introduced me to genetic drift and neutral theory which I had little previous exposure to. Also, this blog is frequented by experts in evolutionary biology and I enjoy reading their input and arguments. While your blog can go over my head at times, I very much enjoy your posts and have learned a lot. Thank you!

    1. Thanks. The main reason I started a blog was for the debate and discussion in the comments. Like you, that's where I learn.

      Lately, the comment section has been invaded by people who have nothing to contribute. I don't want this blog to degenerate into pointless discussions about trivial issues so I'm going to become a bit ruthless about deleting comments.

    2. Larry

      I don't mean to be rude, but my first and last impression of your blog has always been the same; for some reason you seem to enjoy the name calling "IDiot".
      Well , I'm not going to comment on this. We both know how fulfilling it is to "live up to the name".
      Congrats Larry. I hope that one day in the future someone mentions your name as the great opposer of ID with your trademark "IDiot". I personally think that it will be a trademark one day, well possibly, but who knows. Look at Dawkins. He is going down in flames though rich.

    3. I don't mean to be rude

      Yes you do. Almost always.

    4. Lately, the comment section has been invaded by people who have nothing to contribute.

      So I'm not alone in feeling there was once a far better class of IDiot (relatively speaking) commenting here.

  4. Science here in this contest means conclusions or conclusive investigations without conclusions IN the natural universe.
    Yet Science is a methodology that defines the conclusions made.
    I don't see how most of these things are science.
    They still say science means any accurate conclusion. Thats not science. Its ordinary investigation done forever by all of mankind.
    Science is a verb and not a noun.
    Anyways its a small point i guess.
    Good luck to the host to gain the prize or be noted.
    I didn't see any creationist things? Must be an oversight.

    1. "I didn't see any creationist things? Must be an oversight."

      It's not an oversight. Creationism isn't science, it's a religious belief.

  5. I don't think my website locks you on the page. What seems to be happening is that with Safari it opens up a new window or tab (so that there's no back button by definition). It seems to work ok with Chrome though.

    1. "I didn't see any creationist things? Must be an oversight."

      Must be. I also found it amazing that there was nothing by Barry Arrogant or Kairos (don't call me Gordon Mullings) Focus. I thought that the merit of their inclusion in the list would be "self-evident".

      But seriously, it is your blog that has raised my interest again in biology and evolution. I stopped following the literature almost three decades ago. I fell across your across your blog. I can't say that I always agree with you, but you certainly make me think.

    2. I'm mostly interested in controversial ideas and that's why I post on subjects where lots of people will disagree. This is almost the exact opposite of writing a textbook where I have to be really careful about controversy.

      When it comes to writing a trade book for a general audience, the issues become quite complicated. The most successful trade books on biology tend to avoid discussing controversy even if they advocate a controversial viewpoint. The reason why Dawkin's books are so successful is because he rarely mentions viewpoints that challenge his way of looking at evolution, Or, when he does, he sets up strawmen that are easy to destroy.

      Gould's books, on the other hand, tend to go too far in the other direction and that's why so many people find his views confusing.

      I lean in the direction of Gould so my books—if they ever get published—will be complicated. I'm working on a book called "What's in Your Genome" but it's going to be a lot more difficult than Nessa Carey's book or John Parrington's book because I want to cover the entire debate over junk DNA. Publisher's aren't so happy about publishing books like that.

    3. Larry

      As a writer of text books, can you explain to everyone, including myself, why controversy is frowned upon in text books? For obvious reasons, I always thought it would be the opposite.

    4. Sceptical mind, if there is no controversy, you don't have to think...

      In text books others do that for you.

      The first think my mentor told me while starting my PhD is to start thinking for myself. That was the best advice anobody ever gave me.

    5. Did it really work for you? It looks as if you just blindly trusted your religious leaders and the authority of the Bible.

    6. I imagine its particularly satisfying when "thinking for yourself" happens to coincide with the faith-based beliefs you were indoctrinated with from an early age.

      The clearest sign of being on the right track is when your beliefs contradict those of scientists, who never did have much to do with the increase in human comprehension of the universe in which we live.

  6. This is one of the best science blogs on Earth.

    Keep up the great work.

  7. You may catch the judge's interest with you "metabolism first vrs primordial soup"" blog posts ;-)

    1. I strongly suspect that Nick Lane will bend over backwards to avoid giving the award to a post that promotes his views on the origin of life.

    2. Why Larry?

      Is your view more realistic than Nicks on OOL?
      Both of you have no evidence whatsoever. How difficult is this one to judge?

    3. SM, thanks for proving that you don't actually read the blog(s) that you attempt to criticize!

    4. @Larry Moran,

      On a more serious note, some of the younger scientists that I f̶o̶r̶c̶e̶d̶ ̶t̶o̶ ̶r̶e̶a̶d̶ showed the human mutation rates post to learned a lot. If there was a in-blog vote, that's where I would cast mine.

    5. Me too. A student or an interested layperson can learn a lot from it, especially in combination with the earlier thematic series, "Estimating the Human Mutation Rate". It's a shame only a single post can be nominated.

    6. screwed up mind drooled:

      "Is your view more realistic than Nicks on OOL?
      Both of you have no evidence whatsoever."

      Hey screwball, what is your detailed "view" of how, when, where, and why life originated, and what detailed, scientifically testable evidence can you provide to support your "view"? Let's see how "realistic" your "view" is. By the way, I include "why" in my questions to you because you believe that life (especially human life) and everything else has a particular 'purpose', don't you? So be sure to describe and provide evidence that supports your "view" about that.

      My prediction: screwed up mind will run away from answering questions, as usual.

  8. Evidence of OOL, any method: ID, Godditit, The Little Green Men - or nature at work in all its splendor, mysterious ways or whatever? Nobody has evidence. The ID/religious alternative is the weakest as long as no evidence of the existence of divine intervention in mundane matters on Earth has ever been found.

    Natural forces fit very nicely with the scientific approach, and with the absolute absence of evidence to the contrary, that still is the best explanation. It has explanatory power, YEC and/or ID rest solely on unfettered faith.

    Maybe we can't prove a natural cause for OOL. Iris Fry: "The Emergence of Life on Earth" is a good source for info on how science is approaching the problem. OTOH, I am still wating for a little more, just the tiniest glint of something credible at all in the way of support for any of the YEC/ID positions.

  9. Dear Larry,

    Thanks so much for your insightful thoughts about our prize, especially the idea that perhaps it should be awarded strictly to amateurs. Maybe you are right. As it happens, I am thinking of shutting the prizes down after this year, as there seems to be waning interest in them (partly the Facebook effect, probably) but also because they take up a lot of my time and I have a busier than usual year coming up. In any case, I am happy to have discovered your excellent blog. I wish you HAS nominated something of your own. Oh, well.

    Best wishes, Abbas (Editor, 3QD)