Sharon Begley

Bumper Stickers = Road Rage

 Bob Rowan / Progressive Image-Corbis I used to think that the most dangerous thing about bumper stickers was that they make curious drivers inch ever closer to the car in front of them in order to read the things ("He Put the Duh in W," perhaps, or "At Least the War on the Environment is Going Well," or "49% Bitch, 51% Sweetheart; Don't Push It," or "If There Is a Tourist Season, Why Can't We Shoot Them?"—for all of which I am indebted to

Mercury Tooth Fillings: FDA Does an About Face

When you're sitting in the dentist's chair waiting to have a cavity filled, you don't see the package the amalgam filling comes in. But if you did your eye might well be drawn to a couple of "contraindications," med-speak for "situations in which the dentist should not use this product." In addition to ho-hum warnings about not using the amalgam, which contains about as much mercury as a thermometer, in patients known to be allergic to amalgam (duh), the manufacturers say it should not be used...

Physics. Beach Reading. Really.

When I write about new science books in my On Science columns for the print magazine, I try to pick ones that are Important and Interesting--you know, those that expose how corporate scientists cook the books when it comes to studying the toxicity of their products, or that explore how the human brain evolved.

No More Mascara!

Two phrases that drug companies almost never want to see in the same sentence: "clinical trial" and "side effects." Almost any time an experimental drug has an effect other than the intended one—treating heart disease, diabetes, whatever—it's bad news, which is why the huge majority of drugs flame out in clinical trials and never reach the market (or get pulled from the market, as Vioxx was when it was found to raise patients' risk of heart attacks).

ET: Phoning Sooner Than We Think?

Maybe it's time to put some new numbers into the Drake Equation. That's the formula, developed by astronomer Frank Drake in 1961, that estimates the number of civilizations in the galaxy which are sufficiently advanced to have harnessed the electromagnetic spectrum—a fancy way of saying they have radio waves, TV and other components of technology that we could detect even from here.

Mind Reading: Another Step Closer

If things keep going like this, it will be as easy to pick up someone's thoughts as it is their cell-phone conversation. It's been only a few months since I wrote about scientists who had trained a computer to distinguish thoughts: "Scientists at Carnegie Mellon University showed people drawings of five tools hammer, drill and the like) and five dwellings (castle, igloo …) and asked them to think about each object's properties, uses and anything else that came to mind.

Pterosaurs: No Thanks, I'll Walk

It is the dream of children of any age to fly, and I don't mean United or Delta. Yet if new research is right, then at least some of the magnificent flying reptiles of the Mesozoic called pterosaurs preferred to walk, thank you very much—at least for mealtime.

Fewer Hurricanes in the Greenhouse World

There's a reason Americans suddenly started to believe in the reality of climate change starting in late 2005 and early 2006, and it wasn't (only) Al Gore: they saw the devastation that hurricane Katrina wreaked, listened to scientists saying global warming made such storms more likely, and said "oh %^$#!." So it will be interesting to see how the public reacts to new research saying that hurricanes may not be more frequent after all (though they will be more destructive).

The Vatican and Little Green Men

Here's the curious thing about the head of the Vatican's astronomical observatory saying there's a strong likelihood that extraterrestrial beings exist and that they are part of God's plan: not the "what," but the "when," as in "why now?" In the long interview he gave the Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano yesterday, Father José Gabriel Funes, a Jesuit priest from Argentina, called the existence of extraterrestrials a real possibility. "Astronomers contend that the universe is made up...

Two Americas: The Death Gap

Are you better off today than you were 10 years ago? Some version of that is a favorite question of politicians looking to oust the party in power. As of today, if the "you" refers to American adults with a high-school education or less, and if the "better off" refers to the most basic measure you can think of—whether you are alive or dead—the answer is a shameful "no." Last month I blogged about a study that underlined how we truly are Two Americas (though the idea never gained traction...

In Defense of Ethanol

In the 12 years that I have speaking to him, Robert Zubrin has never disappointed. Whether he was devising a bargain-basement way to mount a manned mission to Mars (rather than taking along the fuel you need for the return trip, produce it from compounds in the Martian atmosphere once you get there, founding Pioneer Astronautics or serving as president of the Mars Society, Zubrin has never let conventional wisdom get in his way.

Which Orphans Do You Want to Starve?

Here's a moral dilemma that seems tragically timely, given the chaos surrounding attempts to deliver aid to Burma's cyclone victims. There are In this and similar moral dilemmas, efficiency (the total number of meals lost) is pitted again against equity (how evenly the burden of lost meals is shared among the children).

How Child Abuse Gets Into the Brain

This has been the enduring mystery: How do events in the outside world get inside your head? That is, how do things that affect whether a child grows up to be contented and well-adjusted or a neurotic mess—things like abuse and neglect—change the gray matter to produce the brain activity and circuitry that corresponds to these psychological states?

Window on the Mind: Will the Antidepressant Work?

Bad enough that antidepressants fail to help an estimated one-third of people suffering from depression. Even worse is that it can take 6 to 8 weeks before that becomes clear: the patient dutifully swallows Zoloft after Zoloft or Paxil after Paxil, only to find after two months that she is no better off—at which point her doctor typically puts her on a different med, and the whole process of trial-and-error starts all over again.