Every December the online intellectual salon called Edge, presided over by literary agent John Brockman, asks a select (virtual) assembly of scientists to ponder a question, such as what they are optimistic about (2007), what "dangerous" ideas they have (2006) and what they believe is true but cannot prove (2005).
A good way not to win friends in an immigrant community is to blame its high rate of birth defects on the practice of cousin marriages. That's what British environment minister Phil Woolas did in February, blaming birth defects in children in the UK's Pakistani community on marriages between first cousins. "If you have a child with your cousin, the likelihood is there will be a genetic problem," he told the Sunday Times. (Calls by a Muslim activist group that Woolas be fired went for naught; he...
Thinking of moving? Go nowhere until you consult the "death map," a county-by-county snapshot of the likelihood of dying from a natural disaster like an earthquake or hurricane.
Slaying medical myths is like playing whack-a-mole: no sooner do you eliminate one than another pops up. Last year Rachel Vreeman and Aaron Carroll of Indiana University School of Medicine exposed seven medical beliefs as myths (more on this below), and now they are refining their aim: in a paper in BMJ, the duo shows that seven medical beliefs related to Christmas are as shaky as an underdone plum pudding: Sugar makes kids hyperactive? "While sugarplums may dance in children's heads,...
Going, going ... The universe as we see it—that starry expanse in the night sky—may never get better than it is now, at least in a visual sense: dark energy, the mysterious springy stuff that is causing the cosmic expansion to accelerate, is also squelching the growth of the largest entities in the universe, clusters of galaxies.
One of the coolest examples of tool use by animals (the non-human kind) isn't chimps that twist sticks into termite mounds to haul out a nice insect dinner, or that use rocks to crush nuts—impressive, to be sure, but I think many of us have come to take for granted that our close cousins are clever enough to use tools.
Advice for anyone who wants to be happier: pick the right friends. For the increasing number of Americans who view happiness as a goal in and of itself rather than (sorry to be so old-fashioned) the result of, oh, leading a rewarding life or helping others or achieving something—a trend I bemoaned recently—the latest study provides a simple recipe.
Finally, more scientists are taking aim at the ludicrous idea that there is a biology of beauty—specifically, that men prefer women with an hourglass shape because that is a sign of fertility, and men wired to find fertile women attractive were and are more likely to have descendants, who would carry their gene for that preference.
There is no better way to attract reports of the paranormal than to write a story casting doubt on it, and attract them I did. Besides the usual ghost sightings, my favorite was from a nice man in Florida who told me about his wonderful typewriter (note: not a word processor): he would type a few letters of a word and the machine would fill in the rest, apparently having read his thoughts.
Yet another good friend told me over the weekend how she had narrowly (in her estimation) escaped death: she had had a mammogram a few months ago, a lump had been detected and deemed suspicious, surgery was scheduled, the lump was removed and found to be malignant.
While all of us who are rooting for the existence of little green men have been cheered by each discovery of a planet orbiting a star other than our sun—an "exoplanet," of which there were 322 when I checked the catalog a minute ago—there's always been a tinge of disappointment.
I was intrigued, and a bit alarmed, by a study in this month's . The study used an imaging agent called Pittsburgh Compound B (so-named because it was discovered at the University of Pittsburgh; it detects brain deposits ) to examine the brains of 43 people, age 65 to 88, who had neither Alzheimer's disease nor mild cognitive impairment.
Explain this: if Alzheimer's disease is caused by the accumulation of sticky amyloid plaques and neurofibrillary tangles that kill neurons (as the leading theories of the disease hold), then how can holding a job that poses minimal cognitive demands and watching a lot of TV raise your risk of developing the disease?
As I watch this year's impatiens, vinca and petunias shrivel up and die, this is what I am not thinking: "oh goodie, I get to plant another crop of annuals next spring!" No, I am thinking, "if a stupid tulip can be a perennial, why can't these come back every year, too, with minimal intervention on my part?" I am therefore looking forward to plant breeders taking a discovery published online this afternoon in Nature Genetics and later in a print version of the journal and putting it to...
The tragedy of autism is compounded by one fact that makes desperate parents wish they could turn back the hands of time: symptoms of the neurodevelopmental disorder typically show up when a child is 2 or 3 or even older, but by then it may be too late to prevent or reverse whatever glitches in brain development (still pretty much a mystery) underlie the disease.