The Weekender, August 17, 2018

1) “The Nastiest Feud in Science” (The Atlantic, 35 minutes, September 2018). The title (in the HTML at least) is “What Caused the Dinosaur Extinction” and if you combine the two titles, you get why this one is so interesting. Thanks to Andrea S. for the tip!

[Paleontologists Gerta Keller] was searching for fresh evidence that would help prove her hypothesis about what killed the dinosaurs—and invalidate the asteroid-impact theory that many of us learned in school as uncontested fact. According to this well-established fire-and-brimstone scenario, the dinosaurs were exterminated when a six-mile-wide asteroid, larger than Mount Everest is tall, slammed into our planet with the force of 10 billion atomic bombs. The impact unleashed giant fireballs, crushing tsunamis, continent-shaking earthquakes, and suffocating darkness that transformed the Earth into what one poetic scientist described as “an Old Testament version of hell.”

Before the asteroid hypothesis took hold, researchers had proposed other, similarly bizarre explanations for the dinosaurs’ demise: gluttony, protracted food poisoning, terminal chastity, acute stupidity, even Paleo-weltschmerz—death by boredom. These theories fell by the wayside when, in 1980, the Nobel Prize–winning physicist Luis Alvarez and three colleagues from UC Berkeley announced a discovery in the journal Science. They had found iridium—a hard, silver-gray element that lurks in the bowels of planets, including ours—deposited all over the world at approximately the same time that, according to the fossil record, creatures were dying en masse. Mystery solved: An asteroid had crashed into the Earth, spewing iridium and pulverized rock dust around the globe and wiping out most life forms.

[ . . . ]

But Keller doesn’t buy any of it. “It’s like a fairy tale: ‘Big rock from sky hits the dinosaurs, and boom they go.’ And it has all the aspects of a really nice story,” she said. “It’s just not true.”

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3) “The outrageous scam of “free” tablets for the incarcerated” (The Outline, 6 minutes, August 2018). The tables are free. To use them, though, is anything but. A FaceTime-like video chat between an inmate and a family member, for example, can run $18 an hour (!!).

4) The Now I Know Week in Review:

Monday: When Fake News Became a Problem for Mary Tyler Moore — The Chicago Post wasn’t a real newspaper, except that it was.

Tuesday: The Great Jam of China — Traffic, not strawberry.

Wednesday: How Popcorn Became a Movie Theater Thing — Why do we eat popcorn at movie theaters?

Thursday: The Homeless Man With a Unique Home — This was really hard to write a title for.


5) “Meet The People Who Spend Their Free Time Removing Fake Accounts From Facebook” (Buzzfeed News, 8 minutes, August 2018). The last sentence of the excerpt below was jaw-dropping.

Kathy Kostrub-Waters and Bryan Denny estimate they’ve spent more than 5,000 hours over the past two years monitoring Facebook to track down and report scammers who steal photos from members of the US military, create fake accounts using their identities, and swindle unsuspecting people out of money.

During that time they reported roughly 2,000 fake military accounts, submitted three quarterly reports summarizing their findings to Facebook, and even met with Federal Trade Commission, Pentagon, and Facebook employees to talk about their work.

Kostrub-Waters and Denny aren’t security or fraud consultants, nor do they have any official relationship with the company. They do it all in their spare time.

6) “Inside the Very Big, Very Controversial Business of Dog Cloning” (Vanity Fair, 18 minutes, September 2018). The subhead: “Barbra Streisand is not alone. At a South Korean laboratory, a once-disgraced doctor is replicating hundreds of deceased pets for the rich and famous. It’s made for more than a few questions of bioethics.”

Have a great weekend!