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  • Letters to the Editor

    Readers ponder children’s pretend play, planetary dust storms and more

    Flight of fantasy

    Similar to their hunter-gatherer counterparts, many children in Western societies prefer play that mimics the things that adults do, Bruce Bower reported in “When it’s playtime, many kids prefer reality over fantasy" (SN: 2/17/18, p. 22). But fantasy play may still be valuable.

    Reader Pat Rapp wondered about the implications of an experiment that showed that...

    03/22/2018 - 10:18 Anthropology, Technology, Planetary Science
  • Science Stats

    The great Pacific garbage patch may be 16 times as massive as we thought

    We’re going to need a bigger trash can.

    A pooling of plastic waste floating in the ocean between California and Hawaii contains at least 79,000 tons of material spread over 1.6 million square kilometers, researchers report March 22 in Scientific Reports. That’s the equivalent to the mass of more than 6,500 school buses. Known as the great Pacific garbage patch, the hoard is four to 16...

    03/22/2018 - 10:00 Pollution, Oceans
  • Feature

    How oral vaccines could save Ethiopian wolves from extinction

    Deep in the Bale Mountains of Ethiopia, wildlife workers trek up above 9,800 feet to save some of the world’s most rare carnivores, Ethiopian wolves.

    “It’s cold, tough work,” says Eric Bedin, who leads the field monitoring team in its uphill battle.

    In this sparse, sometimes snowy landscape, the lanky and ginger-colored wolves (Canis simensis) reign as the region’s apex predators....

    03/22/2018 - 09:00 Animals, Biomedicine, Conservation
  • News

    False alarms may be a necessary part of earthquake early warnings

    Earthquake warning systems face a tough trade-off: To give enough time to take cover or shut down emergency systems, alerts may need to go out before it’s clear how strong the quake will be. And that raises the risk of false alarms, undermining confidence in any warning system.

    A new study aims to quantify the best-case scenario for warning time from a hypothetical earthquake early...

    03/21/2018 - 16:20 Earth
  • News

    Male birth control pill passes a safety test

    CHICAGO — A once-daily capsule safely suppressed reproductive hormones in men, making it an appealing candidate for a male birth control pill, according to a small study.

    After about a month of treatment, a new prototype pill called dimethandrolone undecanoate, or DMAU, had reduced levels of hormones including testosterone that are necessary for sperm production. During that time, none...

    03/21/2018 - 09:00 Health
  • Science Visualized

    Meet the giants among viruses

    For decades, the name “virus” meant small and simple. Not anymore. Meet the giants.

    Today, scientists are finding ever bigger viruses that pack impressive amounts of genetic material. The era of the giant virus began in 2003 with the discovery of the first Mimivirus (SN: 5/23/09, p. 9). The viral titan is about 750 nanometers across with a genetic pantry boasting around 1.2 million base...

    03/21/2018 - 07:00 Microbiology
  • News

    5 things we’ve learned about Saturn since Cassini died

    THE WOODLANDS, Texas — It’s been six months since NASA’s Cassini spacecraft plunged to its doom in the atmosphere of Saturn, but scientists didn’t spend much time mourning. They got busy, analyzing the spacecraft’s final data.

    The Cassini mission ended September 15, 2017, after more than 13 years orbiting Saturn (SN Online: 9/15/17). The spacecraft’s final 22 orbits, dubbed the Grand...

    03/20/2018 - 15:30 Planetary Science, Astronomy
  • News

    How obesity makes it harder to taste

    As mice plumped up on a high-fat diet, some of their taste buds vanished. This disappearing act could explain why some people with obesity seem to have a weakened sense of taste, which may compel them to eat more.

    Compared with siblings that were fed normal mouse chow, mice given high-fat meals lost about 25 percent of their taste buds over eight weeks. Buds went missing because mature...

    03/20/2018 - 14:00 Health, Nutrition
  • The Science Life

    Kids are starting to picture scientists as women

    Ask a classroom of children to draw a scientist, and you’ll see plenty of Crayola-colored lab coats, goggles and bubbling beakers. That image hasn’t changed much since the 1960s. But the person wearing the lab coat is shifting.

    A new analysis finds that more female scientists have appeared in kids’ drawings in recent decades — going from nearly nonexistent in the 1960s to about a third...

    03/20/2018 - 11:27 Science & Society
  • Science Ticker

    First pedestrian death from a self-driving car fuels safety debate

    The first known pedestrian fatality involving a fully autonomous self-driving car will most likely raise questions about the vehicles’ safety.

    But “until we know what happened, we can’t really know what this incident means” for the future of self-driving vehicles, says Philip Koopman, a robotics safety expert at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh. Only when we know more about the...

    03/19/2018 - 18:24 Technology, Artificial Intelligence, Science & Society