Sharon Begley

Bookshelf: 'Toxic Truth'

Sometimes it takes an SOB to get anything accomplished, especially against steep odds, and the battle to protect children from lead was especially uphill.

Your Brain on Schadenfreude . . . Or Not

Full confession: after the concerns raised by scientists about brain imaging, which I've written about here before as well as in the paper magazine, I don't think I'll ever look at an fMRI study the same way again.

For Prostate Cancer, Just Pee? Not So Fast

Before we get all excited about a potential urine test for prostate cancer, which is being reported tomorrow in the journal Nature, it's worth remembering how littered the medical landscape is with promising early-detection tests that bombed.

"Under the Sea," in 3D

If you are the kind of aquarium goer who can't help touching the glass in hopes of petting a fish, then if you see Under the Sea 3D at an Imax Theatre you should definitely sit on your hands: thanks to the 3D effect, green sea turtles, cuttlefish, sea lions, leafy sea dragons and other denizens of the Coral Triangle (around Papua New Guinea and Indonesia) and the Great Barrier Reef seem to swim just inches in front of your hands.

Snakes on a Plane? Try 'as Big as a Plane'

The discovery of a 60-million-years-old fossil snake from northeastern Colombia, South America, whose size makes today's anacondas and pythons seem like garter snakes is being hailed for the light it sheds on ancient climates, but let's be honest here: the attention it's getting has more to do with its mammoth measurements.

Human Clones: One Step Closer

The science of cloning and stem cells has been somewhat of an unholy mess, what with fraudulent claims (by a South Korean biologist) of generating custom-made stem cells lines and, sigh, of producing a baby through cloning. (The little cloned boy should be 5 now; we wish him well in kindergarten.) The latest advance therefore shouldn't inspire headlines about cloned babies being right around the corner, but here goes: scientists have transferred DNA from an adult human cell into a human egg,...

More on Brain Voodoo

I had no intention of revisiting the debate over the use of brain imaging in social neuroscience, which I blogged about last month. But that post brought such a tsumani of anger, dismay, invective and outrage that I felt an obligation to go back and dig more deeply into whether the charges in a paper by Ed Vul of MIT, Hal Pashler of UC San Diego and colleagues that is in press at Perspectives on Psychological Science were as meritless as many of the scientists I heard from claimed.

What Good Are New Brain Cells?

Ever since neuroscientists discovered a decade ago that middle-aged and even old brains keep producing new neurons, they have puzzled over a fundamental question: are these new recruits good for anything, and if so, what? "Intuitively we feel that those new brain cells have to be good for something, but nobody really knows what it is," said James (Brad) Aimone, a graduate student at the University of California, San Diego.   He and Fred Gage, who led the paradigm-changing discovery of adult...

Space Photos: Vote Early and Often

If your collection of space photographs has some gaps, this is your chance to fill at least one of them.   NASA has invited the public to vote on the next celestial object for the Hubble Space Telescope to photograph.

Climate Change: Oops, Too Late!

It will be interesting to see what climate deniers make of this headline: New Study Shows Climate Change Largely Irreversible. If it is—irreversible, that is—then a reasonable response might be, so then why exactly am I being asked to conserve energy and buy a hybrid car and pay more for wind power . . .

Here, Fido! (Watch Carefully)

If you're out of ideas for a conversation over family dinner tonight, try this (it works better if you have a four-legged pet): how do cats and dogs walk?

An 'Obama Effect' on Blacks' Test Scores?

On only the fourth day of his presidency, it's obviously way too soon to assess whether Barack Obama's effect on African-Americans will extend beyond providing hope and inspiration.

Global Warming Goes South

And now the last holdout has succumbed: Antarctica had been the only one of the seven continents that measurements showed was not heating up, but a new analysis of the past 50 years, using more complete records than ever before, shows that the mercury has been rising on the southern continent, too.

Designer Babies

It was probably inevitable. With the growing use of preimplantation genetic diagnosis (PGD) , in which embryos created by in vitro fertilization are screened for genetic defects, the day was going to come when fertility doctors used it not for the well-established purpose of identifying glitches that invariably lead to disease—mutations such as those causing hemophilia, fragile X syndrome, neuromuscular dystrophies, Rett syndrome, cystic fibrosis, Tay-Sachs, sickle-cell anemia and Huntington...

Eat Cereal, Have Boys? On Second Thought . . .

When scientists in England reported last April that what a woman eats around the time she conceives can affect whether she has a boy or a girl—the headline-making finding of the study, titled "You Are What Your Mother Eats," was that women who ate breakfast cereal were more likely to have a boy—it was picked up by more newspapers and Websites than you can count (including here, here and here). Basically, they reported that 56 percent of women who consumed the most calories (including...

Zoos on the Chopping Block

With state and municipal budgets bleeding red ink, programs from Medicaid to after-school activities are on the chopping block, at least until (unless?) the feds come to the rescue with a stimulus plan.

The 'Voodoo' Science of Brain Imaging

If you are a fan of science news, then odds are you are also intrigued by brain imaging, the technique that produces those colorful pictures of brains "lit up" with activity, showing which regions are behind which behaviors, thoughts and emotions.

'I Hate It When Black People Do That!'

So there you are, sitting in a tiny waiting room with one white man and one African-American. The latter suddenly says, oh no, I left my cell phone in my car, leaps up and walks to the door, lightly bumping against the knees of the white man.

The First Americans? Make That the First Two

Looking back, it was pretty dumb to think that people got to the Americas from Asia once, or that a single group braved the ice bridge to the new world. A cool new study published online today in the journal Current Biology may bury that simplistic assumption once and for all: according to the evidence of mitochondrial DNA, the first Americans arrived in at least two separate migrations, at about the same time, about 15,000 to 17,000 years ago.

Tetris for Trauma?

It's too soon to load Tetris onto the equipment that soldiers carry into battle, but there's an intriguing hint that playing that geometric game might act as what scientists are calling a "cognitive vaccine" against the horrible flashbacks that characterize post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which more and more of those returning home from Iraq and Afghanistan are suffering.   The idea of using Tetris to vaccinate soldiers against PTSD rests on two facts.

That Collision You Hear Will Be Andromeda

Newborn stars? Planets beyond our solar system? Black holes? The annual meeting of the American Astronomical Society has these and every other (it seems) denizen of the universe, but I have to mention three among my favorites of the discoveries being presented:   Our Milky Way galaxy is heavier, moving faster and therefore more likely to smack into its nearest neighbor than astronomers thought.

Waiter, There's a Bug in My Yogurt!

I'm filing this under the heading "e-mails I wished I never opened."   Foe decades the innocuous words "artificial colors" or "color added" has been allowed to hide the presence of—sorry, but there's no way to soften the blow here—insects in foods.