Vol. 180 No. #11
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More Stories from the November 19, 2011 issue

  1. Earth

    Pole flips tied to plate tectonics

    A lopsided arrangement of continents could lead to reversals in Earth's magnetic field.

  2. Health & Medicine

    Nose divides sweet from foul

    The way scent-detection machinery is laid out suggests that people are born with some innate olfactory preferences.

  3. Chemistry

    Miracle fruit secret revealed

    Bizarre berry works by sensitizing the tongue's sweet sensors to acidic flavors.

  4. Life

    Food makes male flies frisky

    Courtship behavior in a classic lab insect is driven by the aroma of dinner.

  5. Health & Medicine

    The mind’s eye revealed

    A new technology uses brain scans to see what a person is watching.

  6. Space

    Messenger from Mercury

    NASA orbiter returns images of odd landforms on the solar system's innermost planet.

  7. Space

    Longer cosmic ruler based on black holes

    A new method promises to improve the precision of extreme astronomical distance measurements.

  8. Earth

    Arctic ozone loss in 2011 unprecedented

    Report describes a ‘hole’ comparable to conditions observed over Antarctica during the mid-1980s.

  9. Humans

    Inca takeovers not usually hostile

    Skeletal evidence suggests that war was not the answer for Inca imperialists.

  10. Humans

    Stone Age paint shop unearthed

    The discovery of tools for making a substance possibly used in body decoration suggests humans could invent and plan by 100,000 years ago.

  11. Humans

    Plague bug not so fierce after all

    DNA analysis shows bacterium was fairly ordinary but thrived in pestilent conditions of medieval Europe.

  12. Life

    Take my enemy, please

    The risky business of relocating endangered species might have better outcomes if conservationists shift solitary animals along with their usual territorial rivals.

  13. Health & Medicine

    Teen brains’ growing pains

    Testing captures substantial changes in some youths’ IQs and gray matter.

  14. Health & Medicine

    Measles cases up in U.S. and Canada

    Both countries report 2011 to be the worst year since the mid-1990s.

  15. Health & Medicine

    Annual Meeting of the Infectious Diseases Society of America and the HIV Medicine Association

    The mystery of HIV elite controllers, a vaccine against C. difficile, blood transfusion and infection, and contaminated public surfaces.

  16. Psychology

    Digital bounty hunters unleashed

    Internet technique shows promise as fast way to mobilize huge problem-solving teams.

  17. Humans

    Facebook value overstated, study finds

    Some estimates of the social networking site's worth appear to make impossible assumptions.

  18. Health & Medicine

    Brain gene activity changes through life

    Studies track biochemical patterns from just after conception to old age.

  19. SN Online

    LIFE Cycads, often called “dinosaur plants,” aren’t so ancient after all. Read “Cycads not ‘living fossils.’ “ HUMANS Ancient cooking pots show diets shifted slowly from fishing to agriculture. See “Early farmers’ fishy menu.“ ON THE SCENE BLOG The Drake Equation for tallying alien life turns 50. See “The Drake Equation: All in the family,” […]

  20. Science Future for November 19, 2011

    November 22Learn cocktail chemistry at the Houston Museum of Natural Science. Go to www.hmns.org December 1Explore all things that glow at San Francisco’s Exploratorium. Ages 18 and up. See www.exploratorium.edu/afterdark December 5Make folded structures in a workshop at St. Paul’s Science Museum of Minnesota. See www.smm.org/librarylaboratory

  21. Science Past from the issue of November 18, 1961

    NEW EVIDENCE FOUND OF EXPANDING UNIVERSE — The universe is expanding, then collapsing again after a long time, evidence from photographs taken with the 200-inch telescope atop Mt. Palomar indicate. Dr. William A. Baum of Mt. Wilson and Palomar Observatories, Pasadena, Calif., said that present-day observations are not compatible with a steady-state universe in which […]

  22. Better than Human: The Promise and Perils of Enhancing Ourselves (Philosophy in Action) by Allen Buchanan

    A philosopher examines biomedical enhancement — from improving memory to increasing stamina — and approaches to its future applications. Oxford Univ. Press, 2011, 199 p., $21.95

  23. Fascinating Mathematical People: Interviews and Memoirs, Donald J. Albers and Gerald L. Alexanderson, eds.

    Interviews reveal people who have shaped mathematics, like “mathemagician” Arthur Benjamin and Harold Bacon, who taught calculus to an Alcatraz prisoner. Princeton Univ. Press, 2011, 328 p., $35

  24. The Best American Science and Nature Writing 2011, Mary Roach, ed.

    Relive or discover nonfiction science writing from the last year on topics from captive orcas to organ selling. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2011, 384 p., $14.95

  25. Making Sense of People: Decoding the Mysteries of Personality (FT Press Science) by Samuel Barondes

    A psychiatrist describes how findings in personality research can be used in everyday life to understand others and improve relationships. FT Press, 2011, 230 p., $25.99

  26. BOOK REVIEW: The Most Human Human: What Talking with Computers Teaches Us About What It Means to Be Alive by Brian Christian

    As anyone struggling to navigate a tangled web of automated customer service knows, most computers have a long way to go before they can impersonate a human. In this engaging and thought-provoking book, Christian describes his efforts to keep machines in their place. The chapters follow Christian’s preparations for a competition in which artificial intelligence […]

  27. BOOK REVIEW: World in the Balance: The Historic Quest for an Absolute System of Measurement by Robert Crease

    There’s more to the meter than a metal stick. Crease, a physicist and philosopher, traces the rise of the metric system, telling a colorful tale of global conquest driven by kings, revolutionaries, polyglots and privateers — and ultimately scientists looking for rulers that could outlast any physical object. The French Revolution, argues Crease, set the […]

  28. Space Eats

    Even an Iron Chef couldn’t master what a food-centric cadre of NASA scientists do every day: Devise tasty, healthy meals for astronauts to take into low-Earth orbit and beyond — perhaps even to Mars. Lettuce and chard are among crops tested at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida for future space gardens. NASA Kennedy Space […]

  29. Darwin’s Tongues

    Talk is cheap, but scientific value lurks in all that gab. Words cascading out of countless flapping gums contain secrets about the evolution of language that a new breed of researchers plan to expose with statistical tools borrowed from genetics. Dan Page HERITABLE WORDS A new breed of researchers are studying the evolution of language […]

  30. A Spitting Image of Health

    Rinse and spit. Peter Dazeley/Getty Images SALIVA’S SOURCE Glands on the bottom of the mouth and sides of the cheeks make saliva and empty it into the mouth via ducts. Within the glands, networks of capillaries take up proteins and other molecules from the blood, adding them to the gland-derived fluid. Nicolle Rager Fuller A […]

  31. Letters

    Defining the human species Having read “Humans benefited by interbreeding” (SN: 10/8/11, p. 13), I wonder if I have missed what, to me, seems a major change in the definition of “species.” I was taught that the attempted crossbreeding of animals of two different species could result in either no offspring or sterile offspring. If […]

  32. Cornell project brings peregrines back to the eastern United States

    With a little help, peregrine falcons make a comeback from the devastating effects of DDT.

  33. Genentech: The Beginnings of Biotech (Synthesis) by Sally Smith Hughes

    A genetic engineering company’s meteoric rise illustrates the development of the biotech industry. Univ. of Chicago Press, 2011, 213 p., $25