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The Dallas-based biotechnology company Colossal Biosciences has a vision: “To see the Woolly Mammoth thunder upon the tundra once again.” Founders George Church and Ben Lamm have already racked up an impressive list of high-profile funders and investors, including Peter Thiel, Tony Robbins, Paris Hilton, Winklevoss Capital — and, according to the public portfolio its venture capital arm released this month, the CIA. Colossal says it hopes to use advanced genetic sequencing to resurrect two extinct mammals — not just the giant, ice age mammoth, but also a mid-sized marsupial known as the thylacine, or Tasmanian tiger, that died out less than a century ago. On its website, the company vows: “Combining the science of genetics with the business of discovery, we endeavor to jumpstart nature’s ancestral heartbeat.”
Otters are art history’s unsung muses
Though seals are probably the gateway to aquatic mammal fandom, connoisseurs of the genre all agree that otters are best in class. These furry powerhouses are not only capable of tender intimacy and novel tool usage, they often just seem to be having the best time ever. So it’s no wonder that they have been a recurring motif throughout art history. “The pose of raised paws signifies the otter’s adoration of the sun god when he rises in the morning,” reads the label on this Ancient Egyptian bronze statuette, dating to between 664 and 30 BCE. “In myth otters were attached to the goddess Wadjet of Lower Egypt, whose cult was centered in Buto, in the northern Delta.”
Japanese professor wins Ig Nobel prize for study on knob turning
It is one of life’s overlooked arts: the optimal way to turn a knob. Now an investigation into this neglected question has been recognised with one of science’s most coveted accolades: an Ig Nobel prize. After a series of lab-based trials, a team of Japanese industrial designers arrived at the central conclusion that the bigger the knob, the more fingers required to turn it. The team is one of 10 to be recognised at this year’s Ig Nobel awards for research that “first makes you laugh, then makes you think.” Other awards at the virtual ceremony on Thursday evening include the physics prize for showing why ducklings swim in a line formation, and the economics prize for explaining, mathematically, why success most often goes not to the most talented people, but instead to the luckiest.
On language, overuse, and hyperbole
From Emily McCrary-Ruiz-Esparza in LitHub (via Why Is This Interesting?) comes a phenomenon known as “semantic bleaching”: To attract attention, we submit to the “maxim of extravagance.” You really want people to see the taxidermied pig you just bought, so you tell your friend, “Man, this thing is incredible. It’s wearing a lederhosen and everything.” Your friend goes to see the pig and he too is surprised by the thing. He starts telling his friends, “that thing is incredible.” This is called “conformity.” Word gets around the neighborhood and then the whole block is talking about the incredible taxidermied pig. This is called “frequency.” You’re out for a walk one day, and you flag down a Door Dasher on a bicycle. “Have you seen the—” “The incredible taxidermied pig? Yeah man, whatever.” This is called “predictability.”
Riding with one of the world’s last whaling tribes
The shore of Lamalera Bay is too rocky and parched to grow crops, but the newcomers soon discovered that even one of the sperm whales schooling just offshore would provide enough meat to feed everyone for weeks. To survive this harsh environment and the dangerous work, the Lamalerans evolved a unique culture that has been rated by anthropologists as one of the world’s most cooperative and generous. Today, the Lamalerans are among the small and ever-dwindling number of hunter-gatherer societies in existence, and the only one to survive by whaling. Although they will harpoon anything from porpoises to orcas, their main prey are sperm whales, the largest carnivore in history.
What happened when my entire family came out
There’s a photo of my family from November 1981, when we are still living in Greenville, S.C. I remember that I lost my first tooth while we were sitting in the studio’s waiting area at Sears. If there were an instruction manual for the modern American family of the 20th century, this photo could have been on its cover. Dad, the son of a minister, had gone to law school and was working in-house at a Fortune 500 company. Mom cared for us at home full-time. But these identities obscured secrets, hidden shames so pervasive and toxic that although they went unnamed, they couldn’t be entirely concealed. As a child, Dad had nurtured crushes on boys. As a teen, Mom had been romantically involved with a young man who turned out to be an alleged murderer. Then, in the space of five years, everything changed. We all came out.
The youngest scientist on the Manhattan Project was also a spy