Sharon Begley

Sharon Begley: The Math Gender Gap Explained

Even the most hidebound male chauvinists have been forced to admit that girls are as good at math as boys, on average. Boys no longer start outperforming girls at age 12 or 13, as they did as late as the 1970s; in the U.S., high school girls now take calculus at the same rate as boys;  tests mandated by No Child Left Behind show that girls have reached parity with boys in math achievement through high school; and tests of complex problem-solving (which NCLB doesn't measure) find that girls...

Origami DNA

DNA is useful for many things, starting with that whole molecule-of-heredity thing and moving on to identifying murderers and rapists while exonerating the innocent.

Birds Got Rhythm

It's bird week at Lab Notes, what with yesterday's blue tits and now this: Just because one cockatoo named Snowball can bob and sway to the Backstreet Boys, as millions of YouTube fans know, doesn't mean birds can sense musical beat and rhythm.

Promiscuous Blue Tits

Everyone knows that females are programmed to be monogamous and males to be promiscuous, since a female is limited in how many offspring she can have in any period of time but males, by spreading their seed far and wide, have practically limitless opportunities for paternity.

Botox Warning

When I wrote a year ago about surprising new evidence that Botox and other drugs containing the neurotoxin botulinum could travel from the site of injection to the brain, it wasn't clear whether this posed a threat to patients (the study I described was done on lab animals).

Googling the Flu

Official reports of swine flu cases always lag behind actual cases. It takes time for people to get to a doctor, get diagnosed, and have the results reported to public health surveillance networks.

The Problem With Drug Clinical Trials

It's bad enough when a medication for asthma, hypertension or anything else doesn't do what it's supposed to. Even more exasperating is knowing that the way the system of drug discovery and testing is set up, it's practically guaranteed to produce medications that will not help a lot of the people they're aimed at.

Brain Imaging and (More) Voodoo, But Politer

Even when you're skewering an entire field of science, the better part of valor might be to use terms such as "circular analysis" rather than, say, "voodoo." The latter is how a team of scientists characterized some findings from brain imaging, as I described in a print column and a previous post about an upcoming paper in Perspectives on Psychological Sciences (but available ahead of print here) by Ed Vul of MIT, Hal Pashler of UC San Diego and colleagues.

Smackdown! EPA, FDA and Mercury in Fish

It isn't every day that one federal agency says the work of another has such "serious scientific flaws" that the work is "not a product [we] should endorse as it does not reach the level of scientific rigor." Nor is it every day that federal agency #1 (as we'll call it) says that while federal agency #2 may have tried to get its act together in response to earlier criticism, the work is "essentially unchanged, and . . . [still] scientifically flawed." Yet this is how the U.S. Environmental...

The Brains of Early Birds and Night Owls

Early birds wake up at the crack of dawn and struggle to stay alert and productive (especially in the cognitive realm) in the evening. Night owls perform well in the evening but are worthless if you yank them out of bed too early in the morning.

The Blob That Didn't Eat the Universe

It's hard to resist an astronomy discovery when it's called a blob, even if the precise name is the Lyman-Alpha blob. In a paper being published this afternoon in Astrophysical Journal, astronomers are announcing that they spied such an object—thought to be an enormous body of gas that may be the precursor to a galaxy—dating from when the universe was a mere 800 million years old.

Sports Drinks: No Swallowing Necessary

There's all sorts of mumbo-jumbo about how sports drinks boost athletes' performance, especially in endurance events such as yesterday's Boston Marathon. But according to an intriguing new study, it isn't the sports drinks' calories (athletes benefit even if they spit out the drink rather than swallow it) or their sweet taste (drinks with artificial sweeteners do not boost performance).

A Tweeting Brain

For patients suffering from locked-in syndrome, in which they are completely paralyzed and able to do no more than blink their eyes, the greatest hope is not walking, not feeding themselves, not anything else having to do with moving: it is communicating. (An episode of House last month did a good job of depicting the horror of locked-in syndrome, which can be caused by amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, aka Lou Gehrig's disease, brain-stem stroke or high spinal cord injury.) Hence the intense...

Kids, Genes and Daycare

You can always count on studies of daycare to scare the living daylights out of parents, especially when they find that the more hours kids spend in daycare the more likely they are to be aggressive (a conclusion that, critics said, reflected shortcomings in the study) and that poor-quality daycare can hinder kids' cognitive development, as the original report of a long-running study and a more user-friendly write-up both note.

Here Comes the . . . Oops: Make That, 'There Goes the Sun'

There is no clearer evidence of how controversial geo-engineering (altering the atmosphere so as to reduce global warming, perhaps by lofting a haze of sulfate aerosols into the stratosphere to reduce incoming sunlight) is than the tempest stirred up when White House science adviser John Holdren told the Associated Press that the administration was discussing it.

R.I.P.: John Maddox

Literary agent and Edge impresario John Brockman is reporting that John Maddox, long-time editor of the journal Nature, died Monday night at the age of 93.

God and Mental Health

With two seders behind us, Good Friday upon us and Easter two days away, let us sing the praises of religion for its power to improve mental health (pace, Hitchens and Dawkins).

Bookshelf: Supersense

When I was working on a 2007 column and then a longer story last year about why people believe in paranormal and supernatural phenomena, one of the most insightful scientists I spoke to was psychology researcher Bruce Hood of Britain's University of Bristol.