Sharon Begley

Stories by Sharon Begley

  • No Freezing in the Dark or Drinking Warm Beer

    Energy efficiency got a bad name at approximately the moment that a cardigan-wearing President Jimmy Carter gave a televised address to the nation in 1977 and told us all to turn down the thermostats. Ever since, the idea of using less energy has become equated in the public’s mind with sitting in the dark, freezing (or, in summer, broiling) and drinking warm beer—in short, going without. ...
  • Earth Overshoot Day

    If you’ve been feeling more than usually guilty about the environment since Tuesday, September 23, there may be a reason: that was the day humans used up all the resources—on cropland, pasture, forests and in fisheries—that nature will provide this year, according to data from the Global Footprint Network, a research group. By the end of the year, we will have used the biological capacity of 1.4 planets, which is only possible, of course, by drawing on the store of resources from previous years.  In 1996, humanity was using 15 percent more resources per year than the planet supplied, putting Earth Overshoot Day in November. By 2050, if we keep on our current consumption path, we’ll be using two planets-worth of natural resources per year, putting Earth Overshoot Day on July 1. This is progress?
  • Will Chemo Work for You?

    There’s a lot of research these days aimed at identifying characteristics of cancer cells that make them susceptible to particular treatments, as breast-cancer cells with extra expression of the her2 protein are treatable with Herceptin. Equally important, it seems to me, is identifying cancers that will not respond to standard chemo, which can be hugely debilitating. It would be a great help to patients if doctors could tell before administering a single dose whether the chemo will help....
  • Male Chauvinism = Big Paycheck?

    Brace yourself for a spate of stories about how “what you think may affect what you earn,” as the press release from the American Psychological Association puts it. Sounds innocuous. But the "what you think" refers to whether you believe that a woman's place is in the home. “A new study has found that men who believe in traditional roles for women earn more money than men who don’t,” APA continues. There you have it: if you want to rake it in, guys, adopt attitudes that value keeping the little lady barefoot and pregnant....
  • Begley: Let Them Eat Micronutrients

    There is a good but sobering reason why "ending world hunger" has been a perennial hope of beauty-pageant contestants at least since Miss America contestants began naming that as their greatest wish: we haven't come close to doing it. This year some 900 million people—including 178 million children under 5—are suffering from malnutrition, estimates the United Nations; every day 50,000 starve to death. As the world community scans the horizon for solutions to world hunger, it is seeing visions of amber fields of genetically modified grain. Just as the development of high-yielding rice and other crops created the green revolution of the 1960s and saved tens of millions of people from starvation, so genetically modified crops are the great hope of the 21st century.GM crops, however, are likely to feed about as many people as Miss America. A new report by agriculture experts from 60 nations foresees "a limited role for biotech crops" in reducing world hunger. (Biotech companies withdrew...
  • GOP vs. Dems: The Climate Chasm

    Hard to believe, but Republicans once took the lead in environmental protection and conservation: Richard Nixon proposed the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency and signed the law establishing it in 1970. George Bush (#41) signed an important extension of the Clean Air Act in 1990 and made the U.S. a signatory to the international treaty that paved the way for the Kyoto Treaty on climate change. Theodore Roosevelt pioneered the creation of the country’s national parks....
  • Trees Will Save Us From Global Warming? Scratch That

    For the couple of decades the Greening Earth Society, a creation of the coal industry, has been happily insisting that the more carbon dioxide we pump into the atmosphere the lusher and more verdant the world will be. As far as climate change goes, their attitude is Alfred E. Neuman’s: what, me worry?...
  • Lab Notes: The Moral Voter

    Over at her blog Lab Notes, Sharon Begley writes on new studies of voter behavior. An excerpt: ...
  • The Passions of Voters: Whose Morals Are They, Anyway?

    The AP story  on John McCain’s taking a 48-44 lead over Barack Obama included this quite: “My heart sort of runs with McCain and my mind probably tends to run toward Obama,” said David Scorup, 58, a county government official in Othello, Wash. “I think I resonate more with McCain.”...
  • Even Avatars Are Racist?

    Now that Americans are hanging around virtual worlds almost as much (it seems) as the real one, research on how we behave in places like Second Life and how things like our choice of avatar spills over into the real world is heating up. As I described in a column last February, players who had super-attractive avatars have an exaggerated view of their real-world appearance and act accordingly. For instance, they believe that especially attractive men or women whose faces they’re shown from an online dating site would be interested in them. (When you have a more realistic view of your attractiveness, you dial down your expectations.) Now a study finds an uglier side to avatars: they display racist attitudes just as real people in the real world do....
  • Cancer: The Roads Not Taken

    With all the ways cancer cells can elude chemotherapies (as well as radiation, for some of the same reasons: radiation damages DNA, but malignant cells activate DNA-repair mechanisms), it may seem a miracle that anyone beats cancer. Yet clearly, millions of people do; some living with it for decades, others having no detectable malignancies by the end of treatment. What gives?...
  • Why One Dumb Tumor Is Smarter Than 100 Oncologists

    This week’s story paints a fairly bleak picture of cancer therapy 37 years after the start of the war on cancer, but as I spoke to some of the nation’s leading oncologists about their memories of when they first entered the field, I was struck by two things: the real progress that has been made since 1971, and their remarkable ability to remain hopeful in the face of a disease that, 1,500 times a day (that's how many people in the U.S. will die of cancer every day this year), reminds them that cancer keeps winning far too many battles....
  • Cancer: A Long List of Missed Opportunities

    Mea culpa: Lab Notes was missing in action last week because I couldn’t tear myself away from interviewing oncologists for the story in this week’s magazine [] about the war on cancer. I wanted to chart the progress that has been made against the disease in the 37 years since Richard Nixon launched the war on cancer, and that meant talking to researchers and clinicians who have been in trenches for several decades. ...
  • Rethinking the War on Cancer

    After billions spent on research and decades of hit-or-miss treatments, it's time to rethink the war on cancer.
  • Carbon Villains, the Sequel

    When I wrote last year about the Center for Global Development’s Carbon Monitoring for Action database last November when it launched, I noted what a wealth of information it offered on sources of carbon dioxide emissions throughout the world, from the worst actors down to whether your own utility is an angel or a villain when it comes to CO2 emissions. With its latest data, CGD shows again what a mess we’re in when it comes to reining in greenhouse emissions. Some highlights, which are more like lowlights:...
  • Why You Can't Swat a Fly

    The reason you can’t swat a fly is that, for a creature with a brain hardly deserving of the name, the fly is a marvel of calculating ability. But before I explain what scientists led by Michael Dickinson of the California Institute of Technology (that would be the Dickinson whose e-mail is "flyman") have learned about how the fly brain calculates the location of the looming swatter, formulates an escape plan and plants its legs in an optimal position to hop out of the way (all within about 100 milliseconds of spotting the swatter), let’s cut to the chase: the best way to swat a fly, Dickinson says, is “not to swat at the fly’s starting position, but rather to aim a bit forward of that to anticipate where the fly is going to jump when it first sees your swatter.”...
  • Becoming A Real-Life Caveman--For Science, Of Course

    Metin Eren just spent three years in his lab living like a Neanderthal—or at least working like one. Starting with a specimen of a green sand silicate from the chalk cliffs at Seaton on the Devonshire coast, he used hammerstones to knock off flakes the way Neanderthals did and then a piece of boxwood to knock flakes off the way Homo sapiens sapiens, who replaced Neanderthals in Europe, did. He also found antler billets to be quite useful for the finer details of stone-tool making....
  • Share and Share Alike

    A growing number of studies are looking at whether non-human animals have a moral sense. One of my favorites from a few years back focused on fairness. Scientists at the Yerkes National Primate Research Center placed two cups of food on a tray that was counterweighted so that, in order for the capuchin monkeys in a nearby cage to reel it in and have a snack, both had to pull a bar. By cooperating, the monkeys could move the tray against the cage so that Sammy could reach one cup and Bias the other. The monkeys figured it out and cooperated....
  • Spreading Democracy, Monkey Style

    This week brought a rich assortment of “isn’t that amazing” animal stories, including the mother gorilla in a German zoo who continued to carry her dead infant. Mourning (to be anthropomorphic about it) is hardly unknown in the non-human part of the animal kingdom. In 2006 a panda named Ya Ya, living in a zoo in China, seemed inconsolable after accidentally crushing her newborn to death. She wailed and kept searching for the tiny body after a keeper took it away, and when the keeper checked on her she looked at him with teary eyes....
  • East Brains, West Brains

    How do you look at a face? Since 1965 it has been a tenet of psychology that people look at faces through the triangle method; that is, they scan the eyes (especially) and then the mouth, in a basic visual process assumed to be common to all humans. But guess what? This conclusion was based on studies in which only Westerners participated. Now that someone has finally thought to study non-Westerners, you can consign the universality of facial processing to the scientific dustbin....
  • Racial Medicine: Not So Fast

    Next time you want to start a bar fight, proclaim to everyone within earshot that “race is not real; it is just a social and cultural construct and has no biological validity.” Then duck before you get punched in the face. . . . but as you're avoiding injury try to hand your would-be assailants a new paper published online this afternoon by the journal Clinical Pharmacology & Therapeutics, which concludes that classifying people by the crude category of race—as in, of African, Asian or European ancestry—for medical purposes, as some people want to do, is really, really stupid....
  • Kaplan: Are We Educating Enough Engineers?

    Workplace doomsayers keep predicting dire consequences from a looming shortage of scientists and engineers. Yet the real numbers tell another story.
  • Climate: Winners and Losers

    Memo to Gov. Schwarzenegger: you are right to make California a leader in the fight to control global warming. If a new study is right, your state is going to get hammered more than any other in the country as the climate changes. Droughts? Wildfires? Yes, yes and more yes....
  • Thank a Grandmother

    Why do animals, notably women, outlive their reproductive years? Nature would seem to have little or no use for us once we reach middle age, let alone our dotage; after all, the only thing evolution cares about—by which I mean, acts on—is how many offspring we leave. Why, then, should we live beyond the time when we can reproduce? ...