Sharon Begley

Good-News Gorillas

  . . . But the news on the primate front is not all grim. Yesterday I blogged on a new analysis of the world's apes and monkeys, which found that 48 percent of species and subspecies face a real risk of extinction.

Last Primate Standing

What difference does eight dead gorillas make? As Newsweek reported exactly a year ago, when poachers slaughtered eight of the world's last remaining mountain gorillas—including in Congo's supposedly protected Virunga National Park—it cruelly highlighted a threat that conservationists thought was behind them: illegal hunting.

To Get the Girl, Throw Rivals Off the Scent

Take it from a fish: if you have your eye on someone cute at the beach or a party this weekend, pretend to your friends that you have no interest whatsoever in him (or her), to throw them off the scent.   Everything else being equal, male Atlantic mollies (Poecilia Mexicana) prefer to mate with female Atlantic mollies rather than female Amazon mollies (a cousin species, but one in which male sperm do not contribute any genes to the offspring, meaning there's hardly any evolutionary reason to...

Stem Cells for ALS

Does anyone need more proof that stem cells are not going to serve as universal repair kits for Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease, Lou Gehrig's disease and spinal cord injury any time soon?

Exercise in a Pill

Move over, steroids. Take a hike, human growth hormone. If scientists are right, a simple pill can enhance and even mimic the beneficial effects of exercise.

There's a Peasant Under My Van Gogh!

If only Vincent van Gogh (1853−1890) had been able to afford canvas, the world would have many more of the master's paintings. But as scholars have long known, van Gogh re-used his canvasses, especially when he wasn't happy with a painting, creating a new work on top of an old one.

CT-Scanning the Past

CT scans have been done on mummies (showing that King Tut wasn't murdered), dinosaurs (determining, for instance, what parasaurolophus sounded like) and other pieces of the past, and now scientists have put computed tomography (CT) technology to another nifty use: taking skull fragments of a rare extinct lemur which were found at sites thousands of miles apart and virtually assembling them to produce a nearly-complete skull.   The first fossil of the extinct lemur called Hadropithecus...

Alzheimer's: Have Many Grains of Salt Ready

The huge annual Alzheimer's meeting starts tomorrow in Chicago, and it comes at an interesting time for the field. I mean "interesting" in, of course, the sense of the old curse, "may you live in interesting times."   The last couple of weeks brought shocks from two different directions.

Tapping Tobacco to Cure Cancer

Sure, broccoli fights cancer. But tobacco?   When scientists at Stanford University looked around for a good way to grow a cancer vaccine, they realized they could do no better than the plant that has caused more cancers than you can count.

Ulcers Out, Asthma In?

An old joke holds that the only people allowed to refer to themselves as "we" are royalty, editors and people with tapeworms. Yet as a 2007 NEWSWEEK cover story notes, we are all collections of thousands of species of bacteria, worms and other parasites—and losing some of them, it turns out, has dire consequences.

Grrrl Power

We've all been there (though some of us longer ago than others): the cruising bar, fraternity party or other gathering place where men vastly outnumber women.

Breast Self-Exam: Don't Count on It

It's a tough call, deciding which topics gets readers most incensed. Evolution always makes a strong run for the title, but I have to go with something else: readers get really, really upset when you tell them that early cancer detection is unlikely to save their life.   So apologies that I have to say it again.

Extreme Weather As Far As the Eye Can See

If you want to know who is really, really upset about natural disasters—ranking right after the victims, of course, but probably ahead of the environmental activists who point to the disasters and see the hand of climate change—look no further than the insurance industry and its re-insurers (those are the companies that insure the insurers).

Juiced: Guilt by Graph?

Here's one of those phrases that The New Yorker would label as "sentences we never read past":   "I was skimming the program for the annual meeting of the American Statistical Association . . ."   But really, where else can you find not only research on "Modeling Sparse Generalized Longitudinal Observations with Latent Gaussian Processes" but also on managerial strategies in baseball, parity in the NFL and the accuracy of sports predictions?

Poetic Justice in Climate Change

Not that anything about global warming is fair, but one of the most unjust things about it is that the nations that have spewed most of the greenhouse gases into the atmosphere tend to be in the north (the U.S., Europe and now China), while the nations that stand to suffer the mostas in having their entire island covered by the rising seastend to be in the south.

What Do Female Mosquitoes Want, Anyway?

If you are diligently following the experts' advice on mosquito control—getting rid of standing water in old tires, pots, gouges in your patio and other places where water pools—scientists have made a discovery that can reduce your labors: concentrate on the puddles where leaves are floating.

The Scandal That is Alzheimer's Research

Of all the columns I've written, no topic has brought more agonized, heartfelt and desperate-sounding emails than Alzheimer's disease. Back in 2004, I wrote three columns (when I was at The Wall Street Journal) on how one particular theory of what causes this awful disease—and therefore the best approach for treating it—has had the field in a headlock, censoring competing theories.

Train Your Mind, Change Your DNA

Yeah, I know that headline echoes yesterday's, but I can't help it: we have now moved beyond studies showing that mental training alters the structure and function of the brain to studies showing that it alters the structure and function of our genes.Regular readers may have noticed that I'm not a big fan of the "my genes made me do it" school of life, whether "it" is acting in a certain way (as genes "for" shyness or neuroticism supposedly make you do) or developing a particular disease.

Train Your Mind, Kick Your Craving

Can you think your way out of addiction? Maybe not yet, but the latest results from the burgeoning field of research that examines how mental training can alter the brain—and therefore behavior—say the rest of the answer may be "but probably soon." In a new study, just published online in Nature Neuroscience and scheduled for the print version later this year, Elizabeth Phelps of New York University and colleagues measured how volunteers responded physiologically (including through brain...

Global Warming and Bad Weather

It's almost a point of pride with climatologists. Whenever someplace is hit with a heat wave, drought, killer storm or other extreme weather, scientists trip over themselves to absolve global warming.

Penn & Teller, and Believing in Dumb Things

There is definitely something to be said for holding a science meeting in Las Vegas, especially when the subject of the meeting is skepticism about pseudoscience and the paranormal.

Darwin Must Be Smiling

Let me say this at the outset: I don't expect the latest discovery of a "transitional fossil"—the kind of thing that was once called a missing link—to change anyone's mind about evolution.

On Your Mark, Get Set . . .

In Olympic track events, the difference between winning a medal and going home empty-handed is measured in hundredths of a second, so no edge is too small to dismiss—even the advantage you get from proximity to the starter's pistol.

Poor Puffins

Polar bears have enough people advocating for them and working to save them from the effects of global warming, so how about some sympathy for puffins? A warmer world threatens polar bears because it melts the arctic sea ice they use as a hunting platform.