Mary Carmichael

Stories by Mary Carmichael

  • HEALTH: NO BONES ABOUT IT

    Osteoporosis is already common among the elderly. But a new surgeon general's report says that, in the near future, fully half of people older than 50 will be at risk for the disease. Widespread as it may be, osteoporosis is largely preventable. Traditional safeguards are the best: 30 minutes of exercise per day, plus at least 1,000 milligrams of calcium and 200 International Units of vitamin D. Four cups of milk contain about that much of both. After 50, you should increase the amounts to 1,500mg of calcium and 400IU of vitamin D, and you'll also need other, extra precautions. A minor fracture can be an early warning, so if you break even the smallest bone, get a bone-density test. If you've been diagnosed, take heart. Pharmaceutical companies are working on several new osteoporosis drugs, and current ones can fortify bones and even, in some cases, repair damage. To get a free booklet on improving your bone health, check out surgeongeneral.gov.
  • VISION: GETTING A GOOD LOOK

    Ask anyone with bifocals: doctors can't give patients older than 45 perfect vision. In middle age, the lens loses elasticity. But the muscles operating it, allowing younger people to change focus automatically, work long past then. Ophthalmologists have been trying to exploit that fact with procedures ranging from Lasik, which doesn't allow for perfect near vision, to the low-tech approach of using only one eye, aided by a contact, for focusing on close objects. In 1998, the FDA approved the Array, a multifocal lens that can cause some to see halos around bright light sources. Others still need to wear glasses. The "holy grail" of ophthalmology, says Dr. Howard Fine, is elusive. But maybe not for long. Eyeonics' CrystaLens moves forward within the eye automatically. The Synchrony, by Visiogen, works like a telescope, using two lenses that change the focus depending on how far they are from each other. And the NuLens, says Fine, who sits on the company's board, bulges directly into...
  • Cut Stress--Cut Sugar

    Compared with other methods of managing diabetes--strict diets, insulin injections, vigilant blood-sugar monitoring--Richard Surwit's technique seems too easy to be true. It doesn't involve pills or shots. It doesn't technically require a doctor's supervision. And if you're a diabetic reading this, you can start treatment right now, just by taking a deep, relaxing breath. Feel better?If Surwit is right, you should. By lowering stress, he argues, patients with diabetes, particularly type 2, can keep their illness in check. Stress raises the body's levels of cortisol and epinephrine and, via those hormones, the amount of glucose in the blood. Because diabetics cannot make enough insulin to metabolize the raised sugar levels, the sugar stays high long after the stress has ended.Surwit, a psychologist, first stumbled on the principle 25 years ago. Mind-body medicine was in its infancy, and he was frankly more interested in its potential for preventing heart disease. But a colleague, a...
  • A New Style In The Operating Room

    Under the lights of his operating room at New York Presbyterian Hospital, heart surgeon Dr. Craig Smith looks like a futurist, using high-tech robotic techniques on elderly patients once deemed too fragile for major surgery. Outside the OR, he's pure old school, with a deadpan wit and a schedule of 16-hour days. A college running back, he says he copes with stress by "keeping my emotions canned up and focusing on the job." To perform a "relatively routine" quadruple bypass on former president Bill Clinton last week, Smith postponed his 34th-wedding-anniversary vacation. He's just what Americans picture when they think of a surgeon: brilliant, stoic, workaholic and male.In the near future, surgeons like Smith may be the exception, not the rule. Since 1999 surgery has attracted about 5 percent of medical graduates--down dramatically from the 12 percent it pulled in the '80s and '90s, when the best and brightest students saw it as both intellectually enriching and, well, enriching....
  • SUNFLOWER POWER?

    America may still depend on foreign oil for energy, but if blue-sky scientists have their way, in the future it will rely on ecofriendly domestic fuels--like plankton, sunflowers, gold or bananas, which may not be a major U.S. crop but at least are grown in this hemisphere. Last week three different research groups made the case for the latter three sources as the fuels of tomorrow. Sunflower oil yields hydrogen suitable for powering fuel cells in cars. In a sort of reverse alchemy, gold, reacting with water and carbon monoxide, can run a fuel cell, too. Rotting bananas give off methane gas. As for plankton, Oregon State University scientists announced in early August that the microscopic sea dwellers can be converted into electricity as they decompose.Don't dump your Exxon stock yet, though. None of the four new power sources produces much buzz for the buck. To power just one household appliance for a day, it would take roughly 120 pounds of bananas, and with blights and pests...
  • ARCHEOLOGY: QUESTIONS IN QUMRAN

    Yuval Peleg and Itzhak Magen are not revolutionaries. They work for the establishment--both respected archeologists have offices at the Israel Antiquities Authority. And, lest you have visions of Indy Jones, they've spent the last 10 years quietly excavating at Qumran, where the Dead Sea scrolls were found in 1947. But in the past month Peleg and Magen have set off what can only be called an academic revolution.The scrolls, which contain the oldest known version of the Old Testament, are the work of ascetic Jews called Essenes, who were poor by choice. Archeologists have always assumed they lived at Qumran, a site revered by Jews and Christians alike. The problem is that whoever lived at Qumran wasn't poor. Peleg and Magen have dug up jewelry, perfume bottles, combs and other trinkets that aren't consistent with the Essenes' way of life. That may mean the scrolls weren't written in Qumran at all--which makes the barren plateau suddenly look a lot less holy.Norman Golb, a University...
  • TRANSITION

    FRANCIS CRICK, 88 Crick's life, like the strands of DNA whose structure he helped discover, was entwined with its opposite--where Francis Crick was private, James Watson was gregarious. Always the second man of the double helix, Crick largely stayed at home during its 50th-anniversary celebrations last year while Watson, 12 years his junior and still sprightly, welcomed the cameras.But Crick, who died last week after a long fight with cancer, was no shadow. (He wasn't completely solitary, either. He passed on his own DNA to three children.) A prominent molecular biologist even before the discovery that won him the Nobel Prize, Crick was more established than Watson, with more to lose if his theory had been wrong. But he was confident: shortly after they formulated the model, he proclaimed to the patrons of a Cambridge pub that they had found "the secret of life." And they had. The entire biotech industry, the Human Genome Project--and many of the cancer treatments that let Crick...
  • DRIVING KIDS FROM DRINK

    Anyone who's taken high-school health class has seen it: the filmstrip with graphic footage of drunken-driving wrecks. For years anyone who went to college viewed it there, too. There was just one problem: it didn't keep kids from drinking. "There's absolutely no evidence those scare tactics worked," says William DeJong, director of the Higher Education Center for Alcohol and Other Drug Prevention. So administrators are trying a new strategy: educate, don't agitate. Some new college alcohol-abuse programs are straight-up shots of science, while others look at campus culture, but they all resist preachiness.In the '90s, public concern and several high-profile deaths vaulted alcohol abuse to the top of college agendas. In 2003 the average school spent $21,000 on curbing alcohol abuse--double the total from 2000. What does the money buy? Much of it goes to science-heavy computer programs like Alcohol 101, an educational videogame in which players send a virtual student to a frat party...
  • HEALTH BENEFITS

    Stress, colds, sleep deprivation, trouble with family and friends, trouble with "more than friends," depression, Internet addiction, sinus infections, deaths in the family, alcohol--according to the National College Health Assessment, if you're an undergraduate or about to be one, these are the top 10 things you think will keep you from getting straight A's next year. And that's not even including nutrition, exercise, personal safety or sexual health.College is scary enough when you don't have to worry about staying healthy. But for many undergraduates, it's a completely new experience, medically speaking. College students don't have to eat their broccoli anymore, unless they like it on their pizza. If they need someone to talk to, Mom and Dad may be in the next state over, not the next room. And in most cases, the pediatricians who've charted their health through childhood aren't around either. Without someone to act in loco parentis, the prospect of college itself could make an...
  • IN THE NEWS: HOW LOW CAN IT GO?

    Americans have a cholesterol problem, and we know it. But some who hoped they were in the clear may have gotten a shock last week when the National Cholesterol Education Program drastically lowered its LDL, or "bad cholesterol" guidelines. Patients at very high risk for a heart attack (those with underlying heart disease plus other risk factors like diabetes, smoking and hypertension) are now advised to shoot for 70 mg/dL or lower, down from 100, while those at high risk who were aiming for 130 should now get below 100. Moderately high-risk patients should try for 100, too, even if it means taking statins they weren't on before. Should you be one of the 36 million Americans on the drugs? Yes, if you're in the very high or high-risk groups (ask your doctor which one you're in). If you're only at moderately high risk, they're worth considering, especially if your LDL is above 130. But docs at the American Heart Association warn that statins offer far fewer benefits than "lifestyle...
  • HEALTH: SLEEP MORE, WEIGH LESS?

    Nearly a third of American children are overweight. How do you keep yours from joining the group? A study published last week in the Journal of Pediatrics points to some surprising warning signs. Children prone to tantrums may be at higher risk for obesity--perhaps because their parents use food to soothe them. Parents who showed either too little or too much concern for their children's diets (thus not letting the kids make their own healthy choices) might also contribute to a problem. And researchers found that kids who ended up overweight tended to sleep a half hour less than fit kids each night. (Those who sleep less may not be exercising enough during the day.) The upshot? Send Junior outside to play--and if he scrapes his knee, don't comfort him with a cookie.
  • WEST NILE: A VACCINE ON THE WAY... BUT NOT THIS S

    The year's first case of human West Nile virus cropped up last week in New Mexico, and although it was a mild one, officials are expecting the season to be anything but. Few areas of the country are still untouched by the disease, which has taken up residence in hundreds of species of wild birds, rodents and reptiles in the five years since it arrived in the States. It's starting early; the first human case last year didn't appear until July. And the specter is looming larger this year as doctors discover the disease's long-term effects. Some patients who recovered months ago still suffer shortness of breath, fevers, pain, paralysis and irreversible nerve damage. Although almost 80 percent of people infected with the virus show no symptoms, there's still no cure for the 20 percent who do, other than rest, liquids and time.There is, however, a vaccine, albeit one that so far has worked in only 15 people. Last week, Acambis announced that all of the subjects in its as-yet-small...
  • PSST. NEED A JOLT?

    Sudden cardiac arrest kills 930 people every day, mostly in their own homes. Using a defibrillator and CPR in the first five minutes can quadruple one's chances of survival. Increasingly common in public places like airports, the heart-shocking devices are now available for home use, too. "People who have absolutely no medical training can use them," says cardiac electrophysiologist Gust Bardy, who helped design Philips' model, which the FDA approved for homes last year. But at $1,995 or more, it doesn't come cheap. Is it worth it? The American Heart Association officially says there's not enough data to recommend the devices, but, says the AHA's Dr. Vinay Nadkarni, "it's really a concept whose time has come." In the next few years the organization will probably endorse the machines for widespread use in the home, he says. For now, it's a good idea to contact your local Red Cross (redcross.org) for training. And if you know you're at risk for heart disease--especially if your home...
  • Man's Best Friend Meets Dna Testing

    The Pharaoh hound is a noble breed. Depicted on the walls of Egyptian tombs, it's thought to have been man's best friend for 2,000 years, even when dogs were more like wolves than the docile creatures we know today. There's just one problem. According to a new genetic study of 85 dog breeds, the pharaoh hound was bred not in the first century but the 19th, possibly by breeders trying to emulate dogs from ancient times. In other words, it's a fake.The American Kennel Club participated in the study, helping scientists get DNA samples from more than 400 dogs. But that doesn't mean all dog lovers are welcoming the new evidence. For breeders, the pharaoh-hound findings are a particularly nasty surprise, like looking under a supposed 18th-century armoire and discovering the mark of Pottery Barn. "I wasn't there 2,000 years ago, so I'm not going to dispute the study," says Jodi Lewis of Leavenworth, Kans., who owns nine pharaoh hounds. "But it's like talking about politics or religion--you...
  • Have It Your Way: Redesigning Birth

    Water birth, homebirth, HypnoBirthing--when Marion McCartney started as a nurse-midwife 30 years ago, none of those were popular, and birth was just birth. Women didn't get to choose their method of labor. If they were lucky, their doctors let them choose who stayed beside them as they pushed. "It was a medical event, not a personal experience," McCartney says. "Women were chaining their husbands to the delivery table so they'd be allowed to stay in the room. They didn't have any control."Today they've got almost more control than the doctors. From working mothers who schedule Caesarean sections around their office hours to those who insist on laboring at home on a birthing seat, expectant mothers are increasingly giving birth on their own terms. "Women are taking a bigger role in what they want from childbirth," says Dr. Mari-Paule Thiet, chief of obstetrics at the University of California, San Francisco's Birth Center. "And physicians are listening more." But how to respond?...
  • No Fries, Please

    The first thing Dr. Stuart Trager wants you to know about the Atkins Youth Initiative is that it is not, repeat, not an attempt to starve America's children of carbohydrates, much less give them an excuse to eat nothing but bunless bacon cheeseburgers. He's got proof, too: one of the AYI's new recommended lunches for kids. There are fresh radishes and strawberries and grilled chicken, all low-carb mainstays of the Atkins weight-loss regimen, but the chicken is sandwiched between two pieces of plain old healthy brown bread. And on top of the strawberries--is that whipped cream? "We're promoting the need to move away from highly refined sugar and carbohydrates. That's not controversial. Everyone agrees that emerging science supports that message," says Trager, chairman of the Atkins Physicians Council. "Putting kids on the Atkins diet is clearly in no way our agenda."So what exactly is the agenda? For the past year, Atkins Nutritionals, Inc., has been working quietly on a plan to...
  • IN THE NEWS: HEALTHIER MORNINGS

    Morning sickness isn't a serious health problem, but try telling that to the 80 percent of expectant mothers whose days are derailed by nausea and vomiting early in their pregnancies. Drugs are available to combat morning sickness, but many women worry about taking them and instead turn to natural remedies like ginger. There's good news for them this week. A small trial in the April issue of Obstetrics & Gynecology shows that ginger--long used in folk medicine to cure nausea--is as effective as vitamin B6, the first-line treatment endorsed by the American College of Obstetricians. It's safe, too, a conclusion bolstered by earlier studies. No studies have examined ginger tea or food products. Until they do, the best bet is one gram per day, via tablet.
  • HEALTH: HELPING DEPRESSED KIDS

    It was a news story certain to stoke public fears. Last week the FDA announced that antidepressants, the very drugs that were supposed to lift patients out of emotional danger, might cause some of them to worsen and even turn suicidal in the first few weeks of therapy. Kids are particularly vulnerable, the FDA said. From now on, the drugs will come with a prominent warning label. But that won't be enough to soothe parents. With the science murky, they are starting to question whether their kids should be on the drugs at all--and even adult patients are starting to have some doubts.During the 14 years since a Harvard doctor first suggested a link between Prozac and suicide, the popularity of antidepressants has exploded. Thirty million Americans (including 10 million kids) take the drugs. Until now the FDA has been relatively silent on their possible dangers, although regulatory agencies in other countries have required warnings for years. But after trials indicated that depressed...
  • ENVIRONMENT: ASBESTOS, STILL LURKING

    It's been almost two decades since a series of lawsuits drew wide attention to the problem of asbestos. Compared with toxic mold, the cancer-causing fibers may not even be the scariest household hazard anymore. A brief panic after 9/11 was unwarranted; the slightly elevated asbestos levels near the WTC posed no danger. And last month Marshall Levin--the judge who presided over the huge, historic 1992 Baltimore asbestos suit, with a record 8,600 plaintiffs--died. So if the public thought the whole issue was dead, too, it could be forgiven.But the folks at the Environmental Working Group make a point of not forgetting, and they think Americans had better refresh their own memories. A new EWG report says 10,000 Americans die each year from asbestos-related illnesses--a trend that may be increasing, despite efforts to rid buildings of the substance. The EWG's Richard Wiles says the only way to stop the trend is to ban asbestos outright and offer free screenings to all. He also hopes...
  • VISITING MARS? DON'T DRINK THE WATER.

    When scientists try to describe what makes Earth special, they usually note that it's the "wet planet." Now they'll have to come up with some other distinction. Last week NASA confirmed that Mars, too, was once home to water--and the source may have looked a lot like a geological feature here on Earth. Mars's water, says Central Michigan University geologist Kathy Benison, probably existed in the form of "acid lakes," shallow beds of salty water found largely (until now) in Australia. Scientists' big break last week was finding jarosite. The mineral forms only in the presence of low-pH water. Acid-lake beds are also reservoirs of iron-rich compounds like hematite. Translation: they're Martian red. And Benison, a leading expert on ancient acid lakes, thinks the crystals recovered by the Mars rover resemble those she has found in Earthly sediments.If the Red Planet did have acid lakes long ago, alien-life enthusiasts have a lot to be, well, enthused about. Although the lakes on Earth...
  • REHABILITATION: HOW A BRAIN HEALS

    It was a truism, conventional wisdom, a nasty fact of life. For years, doctors insisted that after the initial six-month recovery period, stroke victims could not improve substantially. Traditional rehab focused on compensation: teaching a patient who lost the use of his right hand to write with his left. Little attention was paid to the affected side of the body. Stroke, after all, kills brain cells, and no one expected the brain to heal, especially years after a stroke, since it cannot regenerate.When Liz Layug had a stroke two years ago, she thought she'd never walk normally again. Three weeks of rehab didn't do much to change her mind. She went home from the hospital in a wheelchair, her left leg immobilized by a brace, her left hand immobilized by her brain's inability to command it. She couldn't drive, and even after she rose from the wheelchair on two legs again, she could barely cross the street in the time it took for WALK to click over to DON'T WALK. It's easy to assume...
  • ATKINS UNDER ATTACK

    Dr. Neal Barnard may come from a family of cattle ranchers, but he's got a beef against meat. For 19 years, the founder of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine has preached the virtues of veganism, accusing parents of "child abuse" if they feed their kids so much as a slice of bacon and calling the Atkins-diet logo, a red A, "the scarlet letter." PCRM is a sort of anti-Atkins foundation, with attention-grabbing press conferences and a list of patients who blame the meaty diet for their poor health. So it's no surprise that in the carb war's latest skirmish, Barnard is the attacking general.What is surprising, though, is PCRM's new battle strategy. Last week, after years of conventional scientific warfare, the group went guerrilla, leaking to The Wall Street Journal a copy of a New York City medical examiner's report on Dr. Robert Atkins's death from a fall last April. The report said the 6-foot Atkins weighed 258 pounds and had congestive heart failure, hypertension and...
  • HEALTH: THE NEXT EPIDEMIC

    By the time RHDV had cut its swath through China, 140 million had died. In Italy, the disease killed 64 million, then spread as far as Czechoslovakia, Spain and Germany. The Australians brought the pathogen home willingly for tests on a nearby island; it escaped to the mainland and killed 30 million. Today it is endemic on four continents--and in spring 2000, it surfaced in Iowa. Twenty-seven died.If you don't know the story of RHDV, it's probably because you're not a rabbit. (That's what the R stands for.) While the decimation of animal populations can make headlines, they're generally not on the front page. But with new, A-1-worthy diseases now cropping up nearly every year, a team of researchers decided to look again at the RHDV outbreaks. What they found, reported in this week's Science, may help those seeking to contain the next big human epidemic. Before its sudden spread, RHDV--like many human pathogens--was a mild, under-the-radar virus. In computer models of large, freely...
  • TRASH: INTO TREASURE?

    Even without the time travel, it's a stretch to say that "Back to the Future Part II" was even a little realistic. Case in point: shouldn't we have flying cars by now? But one of the movie's other snazzy technologies--"Mr. Fusion," the trash bin cum energy source--is ready for reality. Like Mr. Fusion, Startech Environmental's new Plasma Converter can turn trash, even hazardous waste, into power, in the form of a hydrogen-rich gas. One converter is already running in Japan, and founder Joe Longo says he has bids out in "Europe, Latin America, the Pacific Rim"--pretty much everywhere. Two weeks ago he floated a proposal to the "garbage nerds" of the New York Citywide Recycling Advisory Board. (That's co-chair Kendall Christiansen's phrase, not ours.) Another company, Masada, is also seeking N.Y.C.'s attention and building a trash-to-ethanol plant in Middletown, N.Y. And Changing World Technologies is touting a machine that turns organic waste into oil. Changing world, indeed.
  • NO GIRLS, PLEASE

    For years Rukmini Devi helped Indian couples in the impoverished state of Bihar choose the sex of their children. But in her decades of work, she never once used PGD. Bihar has few ultrasound machines and fewer fertility labs; many of its towns lack even basic health clinics, and most couples don't know their children's gender before birth. But boys are a treasured commodity in Bihar, and if a couple can't choose a child's sex prenatally, they can see a dai like Devi. For 80 cents, says Devi, who is now retired, a dai will help a woman give birth. For 80 cents more, she will take a newborn girl, hold her upside down by the waist and "give a sharp jerk," snapping the spinal cord. She will then declare the infant stillborn. "Many couples insist that we get rid of the baby girl at birth," Devi says. "What can we do?"It is a question health officials in parts of Asia have been struggling to answer for years. Like most European countries, India, China and South Korea have banned sex...
  • HEALTH: BLOWING SMOKE

    If you had resolved to quit smoking this year, you've probably already given up. But a new Cornell study of almost 2,500 smokers ought to encourage you to keep trying, especially if you're female. The results show that women are twice as likely as men to get lung cancer. They're also more likely to die from it. "We've got to reach out to these women," says Dr. Claudia Henschke, the study's author. "They shouldn't start smoking, and they really need to stop." Why they're so vulnerable, no one knows; they may be more susceptible to carcinogens. Whatever the reason, the situation is grim for both sexes. In 2003 there were 171,900 new cases and 157,200 deaths. Lung cancer is largely preventable; those numbers are far too high.
  • AN IRREPRESSIBLE IDEA

    Remember "repressed memory"? In the 1990s it dominated headlines so much that you may well have wanted to repress the whole phenomenon yourself. Courts became clogged with cases based on memories of abuse the plaintiffs had suddenly "recovered," and even Lucy from "Peanuts," in doctor mode, made a diagnosis: "The fact that you can't remember being abducted by aliens and satanically abused," she told Charlie Brown, "is proof that it really happened."Scientists scoffed, of course. In many cases, therapists had planted ideas in their patients' minds. "There was an abundance of evidence that people could come to remember things they'd never experienced," says University of Oregon psychologist Michael Anderson. And if people could in fact repress real memories, there was little physiological evidence of it, much less an "abundance." But times change, and Anderson thinks he now has some. In this week's Science he makes the controversial argument that subconscious memory repression really...
  • DIET: FEELING FISHY ABOUT FISH

    For healthy eaters, the choice between beef and fish can seem like a no-brainer--one is linked to heart disease, and the other is linked to its prevention. Over the last decade, the pro-fish chorus has only grown louder as scientists have discovered that the omega-3 fatty acids found in many fish may ward off heart attacks, strokes and possibly cancer. And salmon, rich in omega-3s, is even promoted as a skin treatment. In light of the latest mad-cow scare, it might appear best to simply substitute fish for beef and stop worrying altogether--no threat of BSE, no heart disease, no wrinkles, no problem. But in the scientifically murky world of food safety, things are never that easy. Fish have problems of their own: their tissues can pick up pollutants from the tainted waters around them, including chemicals that may be harmful to humans, such as mercury and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs). And the list of risky species is growing. Last month the FDA warned women of childbearing age...
  • HEALTH: COLD COMFORT INDEED

    All the flu going around in the past few months has eclipsed that usual winter complaint: the common cold. But sniffles and coughing have one problem the flu doesn't. While antivirals can quell multiple flu symptoms in days, the common cold has no cure--only a host of sprays and syrups promising to temporarily soothe its many individual symptoms. Now, as alternative medicine has started earning acceptance (though somewhat grudgingly) in modern medical circles, scientists are starting to look closely at the dozens of alternative cold remedies on drugstore shelves. Should you spend your money on any of them, or just wait out the symptoms until you can breathe easy again?Of all the potential remedies, vitamin C is probably the best known--and it comes in tasty drops. But as for effectiveness, it gets an F. The C myth was started by the otherwise brilliant chemist Linus Pauling, who became convinced that large doses could stop a cold's symptoms and shorten its duration. Early studies...
  • SOUNDS FISHY

    For healthy eaters, the choice between beef and fish can seem like a no-brainer--one is linked to heart disease, and the other is linked to its prevention. Over the past decade, the pro-fish chorus has only grown louder as scientists have discovered that the omega-3 fatty acids found in many fish may ward off heart attacks, strokes and possibly cancer. And salmon, rich in omega-3s, is even promoted as a skin treatment. In light of the latest mad-cow scare, it might appear best to simply substitute fish for beef and stop worrying altogether--no threat of BSE, no heart disease, no wrinkles, no problem. But in the scientifically murky world of food safety, things are never that easy. Fish have problems of their own: their tissues can pick up pollutants from the tainted waters around them, including chemicals that may be harmful to humans, such as mercury and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs). And the list of risky species is growing. Last month the U.S. Food and Drug Administration...
  • Physics: We Don't Get It, Either

    With its talk of space-time and cosmic microwave backgrounds, astrophysics has a tendency to sound like sci-fi. But 2003 made it clear that the truth was stranger than even that kind of fiction. Take Science magazine's Breakthrough of the Year--the confirmation of "dark energy" and "dark matter" lurking in the vast void of space. It's a major, fundamental development in physics, the discovery of the very stuff that makes up the overwhelming majority of our universe. The kinds of ordinary particles we're all familiar with--electrons and protons and such--make up only 4 percent of known matter. The rest is either dark matter or dark energy. But there's still so little known about those exotic entities that the very concept is able to flummox even the editor who anointed it the year's biggest Big Idea. Told that a journalist had some basic questions about dark matter and energy, Science editor in chief Donald Kennedy responded, "Join the club." (In all fairness, the guy's a biologist....