Sharon Begley

Why Masturbation Helps Procreation

Since Christine "I'm Not a Witch" O'Donnell is campaigning for the U.S. Senate and not the directorship of the Kinsey Institute, maybe we should give her a pass when it comes to her views on sex and, specifically, masturbation.

How Voter Anger Is Influencing the Election

Given that the Tea Party movement was launched with a furious on-air outburst by CNBC's Rick Santelli in February 2009, when he called for a "Chicago Tea Party" to protest the White House mortgage-bailout plan, it's not surprising that this is the year of the "mad as hell" voter.

Why the FDA May Reverse Course on Avastin

If the summer of 2009 was the season of "death panels," as the debate over health-care reform exploded, this is the season of "17.5k dead women a year." That's the body count scaremongers are predicting if the Food and Drug Administration rescinds its provisional approval of the drug Avastin for metastatic breast cancer.

The Trouble With the New Book 'On Second Thought'

Surely we don't need another book to tell us how stupid we are? In 2008 alone, "Predictably Irrational," by MIT behavioral scientist Dan Ariely, regaled us with examples of behavior and decisions that defy logic (the aspirin we're told costs $1 makes our headaches go away faster than an identical one that we're told costs a nickel), while "Sway" described "the irresistible pull of irrational behavior," and "Nudge" explained how slightly reframing decisions—to increase employee participation...

Curing Cancer

What treatable tumors can teach us about improving the odds in the deadliest cases.

Why the Belief That Obama Is Muslim?

New research helps explain why so many Americans think President Obama is a Muslim, by showing that simply having people focus on their own social identity, when it is different from a candidate's—rather than having them think about a candidate's race or age—is enough to get many to believe false information about the person.

BP's 22-Mile-Long Monster

Is most of the oil gone or not? At the beginning of the month the government released its assessment of where the 4.9 million barrels of oil from the Deepwater Horizon had gone.

Why We're So Clueless About Being Green

You could practically hear a collective groan from enviros across the world yesterday when The New York Times reported on city apartment dwellers who leave their air conditioning running for days and days when they are not even home: with "utilities included" in their rent, these model citizens don't pay for it, and they want to walk into a nice cool room when they get back from vacation or just a tough, hot slog from the subway.

Why Evolution May Favor Irrationality

The fact that humans are subject to all these failures of rational thought seems to make no sense. Reason is supposed to be the highest achievement of the human mind, and the route to knowledge and wise decisions. But as psychologists have been documenting since the 1960s, humans are really, really bad at reasoning.

Some Pharmaceutical Clinical Trial Results Are Buried, Study Shows

Investors interested in pharma stocks and patients eager to know if an experimental drug works have one thing in common: they devour stories reporting the results of clinical trials, which assess whether a new drug is safe and effective. Now it turns out they have something else in common: they're not getting the whole story.

Will This Phone Kill You?

There are many, many ways to screw up experiments on the biological effects of cell-phone radiation, and in 20 years of studies scientists seem to have used every one. The result is a confused public and nearly incoherent government policies that careen back and forth like a drunk after last call.

America's Dirty Beaches

Tar balls? A sheen of crude? Oil mousse? Amateur hour. The real villains of America's beaches are not the scattered and dissipating messes from the Deepwater Horizon disaster, but the nationwide and relentless releases of disease-causing pathogens—human and animal feces—that reach the shorelines from storm runoff and sewage overflows.

Why Summer Vacation Won't Make You Happier

Looking forward to getting away from it all? Brace yourself: the daydreaming you do now may be the best part. Studies show that there's no difference in happiness levels between people who get away for a week and people who have to stay at work.

Scientists Try to Stop Iffy BP Oil-Spill Cleanup

Now that the well appears to be capped, scientists are calling for an end to the knee-jerk and unscientific engineering projects designed to protect the wetlands. Rather than keep the coastline safe, the experts argued in an impassioned letter to Ret. Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen, these projects could change the ecology of the coastlines for good.

The Trouble With Using Undergrads for Research

Where would psychology be without lab rats—by which I mean American undergraduates? These human guinea pigs have spent hours in psych labs staring at optical illusions to reveal how the human visual system is wired.

How Intestinal Bacteria May Make You Fat

A growing body of evidence suggests that it's bacteria, not burgers, that might ultimately lead to obesity. But what does that mean for a nation battling an obesity crisis?

The Anti-Lesbian Drug

Genetic engineers, move over: the latest scheme for creating children to a parent's specifications requires no DNA tinkering, but merely giving mom a steroid while she's pregnant, and presto--no chance that her daughters will be lesbians or (worse?) 'uppity.'

Study: Folic Acid Doesn't Cut Heart-Attack Risk

When will we ever learn? Over and over, experts tell us, and the media reports, that people who engage in behavior X (let's say it's making paper dolls in their spare time) have a lower rate of disease Y (heart attacks, say) than people who do not make paper dolls. Inside the latest example of the problem with observational studies.

The Science of Aging Brains

The myth of the doddering senior is just that. Scientists have disproved the notion that aging dulls one's wits. It turns out that not only are older brains wiser, they may be faster and smarter, too.

Bad Health Habits Blamed on Genetics

Genes have a lot to tell us about our body and our health. But relying too closely on their message—much of which is still unknown—people may make poor choices.

Don't Just 'Do Something'

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal is desperate: millions of gallons of BP's crude are launching an amphibious assault on his beaches and wetlands. So let's do the math: desperation + a pol's "do something" mentality = a loony decision to build 14-foot sand berms.

Boycott BP? Don't Bother

It might make you feel better to drive past that yellow-and-green sunburst when you need to fill your tank. But where is your money really going instead?

What the Spill Will Kill

Giant plumes of crude oil mixed with methane are sweeping the ocean depths with devastating consequences. 'I'm not too worried about oil on the surface,' says one scientist. 'It's the things we don't see that worry me the most.'

More Bad News: Oil to Travel up the Atlantic Coast

Using computer models of ocean currents, scientists at the National Center for Atmospheric Research, part of the Commerce Department, conclude that once the oil in the uppermost ocean has been picked up by the Gulf of Mexico's energetic Loop Current, it is likely to reach Florida's Atlantic coast within weeks.

What We Can Learn From the Jewish Genome

Jews have historically considered themselves "people of the book" (am hasefer in Hebrew), referring to sacred tomes, but the phrase is turning out to have an equally powerful, if unintended, meaning: scientists are able to read Jewish genomes like a history book.

What Scientists Can Learn From 'Nothing'

Neuroscience is having its dark-energy moment, feeling as chagrined as astronomers who belatedly realized that the cosmos is awash in more invisible matter and mysterious ("dark") energy than make up the atoms in all the stars, planets, nebulae, and galaxies.