Columns that appear in Science News Prime, our weekly iPad edition, are available here for Science News print and digital subscribers to read in full.
SN Prime January 30, 2012 | Vol. 2, No. 4
In The World Without Us, writer Alan Weisman speculates on what might happen to the Earth if people disappeared tomorrow. Much of the change is predictable: Cities crumble, plants proliferate and nobody has to worry about election-year politics anymore.
But what would happen to the heat-trapping gases people have pumped into the air with their machines? Would carbon dioxide get sucked down into newborn forests, quickly cleansing the air (if not the airwaves) back to a pristine state?
Well, no. Thanks to the long “memory” of the planet’s ai...
SN Prime, February 13, 2012 | Vol. 2, No. 6
Any serious assessment of America’s rising economic inequality must consider the decline of manufacturing, globalization in labor markets and tax policies that allow rich people to keep more of their investment winnings.
But where’s the fun in that? For those of us who like our history with a bit more mystery, the really interesting question is how human societies became unequal in the first place.
The classic interpretation blames the origin
of agriculture. Anthropologists have found
that hunter-gatherer societies like those that pred...
SN Prime February 20, 2012 | Vol. 2, No. 7
FIRST OF TWO PARTS — Most people don’t associate math with fun. Video games, on the other hand — whether Angry Birds, World of Warcraft or good old Pac-Man — send the fun meter berserk. U.S. video game sales topped $16 billion in 2011. Yet it turns out that math — not those sales numbers, but hardcore abstract mathematics — can tell us something about the fun of
playing video games.
Video game designers spend a lot of time thinking about what makes games fun. Today, much of that thinking is influenced by the
SN Prime, February 27, 2012 | Vol. 2, No. 8
SECOND OF TWO PARTS — Ever since some kid shunned fresh air for a game of Pong — one of the first home video games — back in 1975, scientists (and parents) have been debating the merits and malignancies of such play. And as the video game landscape has become richer, so has the research. But despite decades of study, scientists are still asking the 64 kilobyte question: Do video games boost brain power or damage it? The answer is simple: It’s complicated.
“One can no more say what the effects of video games are, than one c...
SN Prime February 6, 2012 | Vol. 2, No. 5
Unless you’re totally disconnected from the world around you, you’ve noticed by now that everything in the world around you is connected — in a network.
It’s not like the old days, when the “networks” were designated by acronyms for companies producing TV shows. Networks are more diverse now, consisting of any system of nodes connected by links: Web pages and hyperlinks, electric power plants and transmission lines, actors in movies with Kevin Bacon. Since the late 1990s, scientists have been analyzing every sort of network they ca...
SN Prime December 19 & 26, 2011 | Vol. 1, No. 25
Let’s talk about evidence-based medicine.
Suppose you’re in the hospital and a nurse takes your temperature to find out whether you have a fever. Providing that the thermometer is working properly, it will give you a number that answers the question. It’s all the evidence you need. It doesn’t matter how many other patients in the hospital have had their temperature taken lately.
But suppose you need to gather more sophisticated medical evidence: You want to know whether your version of a specific gene predisposes you to a ce...
SN Prime December 12, 2011 | Vol 1., No. 24
In the desolation of East
Antarctica lies a mountain range like no other: phantom peaks buried from view beneath thousands of meters of ice.
H.P. Lovecraft, the fantasy and horror writer, might well have been describing this range in his 1931 novella At the Mountains of Madness. In it, a
geology professor leads an Antarctic expedition to mountains higher than the
Himalayas, only to find insanity and death lurking beyond.
These days, Antarctic geologists may feel twinges of insanity when pondering the money and logistics needed to study ...
SN Prime | December 5, 2011 | Vol. 1, No. 23
High school chemistry teacher Walter White has terminal
cancer. Concerned about leaving his family with mountains of medical bills, he
begins cooking up and selling primo crystal meth. He also uses his chemistry
skills to dissolve dead bodies, burn through locks and make undetectable
White isn’t a real scientist — he’s a fictional character on
the television drama Breaking Bad. The show has won six Emmy awards, and some
consider it one of the greatest TV dramas of all time. But Breaking Bad is not without its detractors...
SN Prime | November 21 & 28 2011 |
Vol.1 , No. 22
It had to be an awesome sight. The fountain of fire would have been visible for dozens of miles around; the pillar of smoke could have been seen for hundreds of miles. Ash and steam would have generated fearsome thunder and lightning. Forests would have been set ablaze. Anybody in the Southwest who didn’t directly witness the Sunset Crater eruption definitely would have heard about it.
Sometime around 1085, a fissure opened up in the ground about 50 miles southeast of the Grand Canyon. A curtain of fire hundreds of meters high emer...
SN Prime | September 12, 2011 | Vol. 1, No. 13
room at the Hotel Monaco in Chicago was small, but not cramped. There’s a
decent attached restaurant and a free evening wine hour in the ornate — yet cozy, thanks to the working
fireplace — lobby. The hotel is a few blocks
from the convention center, ideal for a reporter covering a scientific
conference. I know, because I was there. But how do you know I was there?
closely at my review. Online reviews are
littered with linguistic clues that separate legitimate reviews from the fakes,
new research reveals. A...