WCBE

Tania Lombrozo

In the world of Facebook, relationship status comes in a few flavors: "married" and "divorced," "single" and "it's complicated." When it comes to science, relationship status has its own varieties: love and hate, comprehension and confusion.

Some of these relationships reflect values and emotions, while others are epistemic: They reflect what we know or understand about science.

What's the relationship to science that we should be aiming to achieve? And why does it matter?

This election season, voters should be evaluating the presidential candidates' attitudes toward science.

ScienceDebate.org proposes a set of 20 science and science policy questions for all candidates, suggesting that "science impacts voters at least as much as the economic policy, foreign policy, and faith and values candidates share on the campaign trail."

Every semester, college instructors face a choice: whether to restrict the use of laptops and other devices in their classrooms or to, instead, let students decide for themselves.

And for classrooms that do allow devices, students face an ongoing set of choices: to take notes electronically or by hand, to check the textbook or the text message, to check Instagram or Twitter.

On June 20, 1840, Samuel Morse received a patent for an early version of the electric telegraph. His ideas for transmitting and recording signals helped revolutionize long-distance communication.

In a talk in Pittsburgh in 1997, the late evolutionary biologist Stephen J. Gould allegedly characterized humans as "the primates who tell stories." Psychologist Robyn Dawes went much further, suggesting humans are "the primates whose cognitive capacity shuts down in the absence of a story."

My 5-year-old doesn't know much about astrophysics, but she'll cheerfully tell you that a shooting star is not a star, but a meteor — a bit of science trivia that she picked up from an album of children's songs about science by the band They Might be Giants.

Last month, I wrote a review of Eileen Pollack's The Only Woman in the Room, a memoir about Pollack's experiences as a physics major at Yale in the 1970s.

A friend from high school recently sent me this hilarious and heartbreaking video of twin baby girls fighting over a pacifier:

What makes for a truly merry Christmas? Is your time better spent picking perfect, personalized gifts and decorating your home, or enjoying holiday cheer with family and friends?

Confusion gets a bad rap.

A textbook that confuses its readers sounds like a bad textbook. Teachers who confuse their students sound like bad teachers.

But research suggests that some of the time, confusion can actually be a good thing — an important step toward learning.

Childhood is a time for pretend play, imaginary friends and fantastical creatures. Flying ponies reliably beat documentaries with the preschool set.

Yet adults are no strangers to fiction. We love movies and novels, poems and plays. We also love television, even when it isn't preceded by "reality."

I forgot to schedule a haircut last week. I regularly forget my usernames and passwords. I've forgotten anniversaries, birthdays and promises.

If these confessions sound familiar, it's because we forget all the time. And when we notice we've forgotten, it usually means the thing we forgot was important. Forgetting in these cases is a failing and we naturally wish our memories were more complete. It's no wonder, then, that forgetting has a bad rap.

The results of a new poll, released last week by the Pew Research Center, suggest that the American public's scientific literacy is — to use a technical term — so-so.

When I was pregnant with my first child, friends and family inevitably asked about my diet.

"Are you sticking to vegan food?" they wondered, with variable admiration or anxiety.

For some, the curiosity was about cravings. One mother told me she was irresistibly (and unexpectedly) drawn to hot dogs her third trimester; another confessed her sudden fascination with red meat. Surely, I'd crave things beyond the vegan sections of Whole Foods? (I didn't. Mostly.)

Many illnesses are contagious. You'd do well to avoid your neighbor's sneeze, for example, and to wash your hands after tending to your sick child.

But what about mental illness?

The idea that anxiety, autism or major depression could be transmitted through contact may sound crazy — and it probably is. There's a lot we don't know about the origins of mental illness, but the mechanisms identified so far point in other directions.

In an interview earlier this year, Sen. Harry Reid argued that it's time for a woman to run for president.

"Women have qualities that we've been lacking in America for a long time," he told New York Times reporter Adam Nagourney. For instance, he said, "Women are much more patient."

With the recent outbreak of measles originating from Disneyland, there's been no shortage of speculation, accusation and recrimination concerning why some people won't vaccinate their children.

Which is a better magic trick: turning a dove into a glass of milk, or a glass of milk into a dove? Turning a rose into a vase, or a vase into a rose?

For most people, the way these transformations go makes a big difference. In each case, they find the transformation from a nonliving object to a living thing more interesting — but why? Is it just more exciting to see a living thing appear than to have it vanish? Or is there something deeper at work?

Sometime in 2014, I read Brigid Schulte's Overwhelmed: Work, Love, and Play When No One Has the Time and was struck by this passage comparing the culture of work in America with that in Denmark:

"Most Danes don't feel obligated to check their smartphones and e-mail after hours. In fact, they say, people who put in long hours and constantly check e-mail after hours are seen not as ideal worker warriors, as in America, but as inefficient."

Since 1982, Gallup has been tracking the American public's views on human origins, providing three mutually exclusive options from which to choose. According to the most recent poll, 42 percent of Americans endorse the idea that God created humans in their present form within the past 10,000 years or so, 31 percent say that humans evolved over millions of years with God guiding the process, and 19 percent say that humans evolved over millions of years with no role for God at all.

"Pink is clearly freighted with sociocultural significance. And much of it isn't pretty."

So writes philosopher Liz Camp in a blog post titled "The Socio-Aesthetics of Pink." In the post, Camp discloses her 2-year-old daughter's deep love of pink, exploring why she herself is so irked by the little one's palette-based passion. The post is part parental reflections, part hard-core philosophy and part cultural commentary.

As a (mostly vegan) vegetarian for ethical reasons, I've encountered all sorts of responses to arguments for animal welfare. Here's one that I've heard surprisingly often, nabbed from a comment to a recent article arguing that atheists should be vegan:

Not long ago, Caren Walker, a PhD student at the University of California at Berkeley, was hiking in Tilden Park with her brother Michael when they came upon what looked like wild carrots.

"Yum, yum, yum!" exclaimed Michael (with perhaps greater eloquence, but no less enthusiasm). "These will make a tasty soup!"

Last week, the satirical "news" source The Onion reported that the field of psychology was disbanding as researchers realized they had been studying the mind with nothing but itself.