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Science + Technology

Natural history collections serve as a time capsule of sorts, preserving life on Earth. And these collections — birds, bones, stones — always carry the fingerprints of those who collected the specimens. Their passions, interests and hard work become part of what’s stored in flash display cases or dusty drawers.

So when a collection’s future is threatened, it gets personal.

This last week brought big news in the struggle over climate change and climate science.

Has anyone — a parent, teacher, or boss — told you to purge the words "um" and "uh" from your conversation?

When these words creep into our narrative as we tell a story at home, school, or work, it's natural to feel that we can do better with our speech fluency.

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?

A couple weeks ago, astronomers announced they had detected gravitational waves from a "kilonova" (I hate that name but we'll wait for another blog post to explain why).

A few weeks before that, the Nobel Prize was awarded for the work that went into LIGO, the gravitational wave observatory.

Living in cities or suburbs, amid the race of everyday routine, we have little time to care about what goes on at the planetary level — or about the uniqueness of our planet.

Often, as we go through the world, the key is to ask the right question.

When it comes to figuring out the nature of physical reality, part of that process starts at the absolute edge of the observable universe — the cosmic horizon, a distant layer from which light has only just, in this very instant, managed to reach us after more than 13 billion years of racing through space.

This intangible boundary between the knowable and the unknowable is, at present, roughly a thousand, trillion, trillion meters across — should you possess the means to measure it.

When President Donald Trump announced the U.S. would withdraw from the Paris climate accord, he said he represented "Pittsburgh, not Paris."

Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto disagreed. He traveled to Germany this week as part of an unofficial delegation of more than 100 Americans, American officials and business owners who say they are still committed to climate talks taking place in Bonn. One element of Pittsburgh's climate strategy has been encouraging innovation in a technology known as microgrids.

California Gov. Jerry Brown is vowing to lead the nation on climate change, as the Trump administration pulls back. But the Trump administration could get in California's way.

In his annual State of the State speech, California Gov. Jerry Brown had one key message about climate change: perseverance.

"We cannot fall back and give in to the climate deniers," Brown said. "The science is clear. The danger is real."

Updated at 8:40 a.m. ET on Jan. 24

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has released crisp, color images of Earth from its newest orbiting weather satellite.

Six million years ago, giant otters weighing more than 100 pounds lived among birds and water lilies in the wooded wetlands of China's Yunnan province.

That's according to new research from a team of scientists who discovered a well-preserved cranium of the newly-discovered species in an open lignite mine in 2010. They recently published their findings in the Journal of Systematic Palaeontology.

Updated at 3 p.m. ET on Jan. 27

There has been a lot of arguing about the size of crowds in the past few days. Estimates for President Trump's inauguration and the Women's March a day later vary widely.

Seventy-five people have been arrested across Europe for allegedly trafficking stolen art and archaeological relics, according to Spanish police who led the investigation.

Interpol and the U.N.'s culture agency, UNESCO, helped in the investigation, as did the European policing agency Europol and the World Customs Organization, according to a statement by UNESCO.

When former Texas Gov. Rick Perry faces the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources for his confirmation hearing on Thursday, his first test could be whether he remembers the name of the agency he's been picked to head.

The Obama administration has dropped a controversial proposal that would have required all federally funded scientists to get permission from patients before using their cells, blood, tissue or DNA for research.

The first results from a major project to measure the reliability of cancer research have highlighted a big problem: Labs trying to repeat published experiments often can't.

That's not to say that the original studies are wrong. But the results of a review published Thursday, in the open-access journal eLife, are a sobering reminder that science often fails at one of its most basic requirements — an experiment in one lab ought to be reproducible in another one.

In 2015, Lida Xing was visiting a market in northern Myanmar when a salesman brought out a piece of amber about the size of a pink rubber eraser. Inside, he could see a couple of ancient ants and a fuzzy brown tuft that the salesman said was a plant.

As soon as Xing saw it, he knew it wasn't a plant. It was the delicate, feathered tail of a tiny dinosaur.

(*Spoiler alert: This post refers to key elements of the movie.)

"It is not about you," says the Ancient One, marvelously played by Tilda Swinton in the movie Doctor Strange — based on the Marvel comic — released in theaters last Friday.

She is talking to Dr. Steven Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch), who is at a crossroads: either return to his previous life as a superstar-conceited neurosurgeon, or use his newly acquired mystic powers to save the world.

Imagine you're passing a fast-food restaurant and you smell hamburger on the grill. You're hungry, so you pull in and eat one ... and the foam box it comes in.

That's apparently what's happening with some oceanic birds. And now scientists think they know why.

The fact that sea animals and birds eat floating plastic has long puzzled biologists. Their best guess was that it looks like food. But the new evidence suggests that for a lot of birds, plastic actually smells like food.

In excavated waste heaps along the western coast of Greenland, researchers have found evidence that ancient Greenlanders, known as the paleo-Inuit or Saqqaq, may have been eating large amounts of bowhead whale. But these 4,000-year-old "dumpsters" are from millennia before humans had specialized technology to hunt down such massive prey.

A few months ago, neurosurgeon Jocelyne Bloch emerged from a 10-hour surgery that she hadn't done before.

"Most of my patients are humans," says Bloch, who works at the Lausanne University Hospital in Switzerland.

This patient was a rhesus macaque.

The monkey's spinal cord had been partially cut. So while his brain was fine and his legs were fine, the two couldn't communicate.

Leaders from 195 countries are meeting in Morocco to discuss how to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions.

The United Nations climate change conference began Monday and runs through Nov. 18. It is the first major climate meeting since the Paris climate change agreement was passed at last year's conference.

Erik Vance didn't go to a doctor until he was 18; he grew up in California in a family that practiced Christian Science. "For the first half of my life, I never questioned the power of God to heal me," Vance writes in his new book, Suggestible You: Placebos, False Memories, Hypnosis, and the Power of Your Astonishing Brain.

So, it's Election Day here in the United States.

Every presidential election seems important, but I am sure that I am not alone in thinking this one is different, maybe more important than most.

So, please, go vote.

When you're done, I give you (once again) Carl Sagan's beautiful "Pale Blue Dot" speech to put it all in perspective.

Of all the things that have come up during this election cycle — from immigration to the size of one candidate's hands — one issue that didn't get much air time was climate change.

A magnitude 5.0 earthquake shook central Oklahoma on Sunday evening, damaging several buildings. Multiple aftershocks also hit the area, the U.S. Geological Survey says.

The quake epicenter was about a mile west of the town of Cushing, the largest commercial crude oil storage center in North America and the southern terminus of the Keystone pipeline.

Federal scientists have launched another test in human volunteers of a Zika vaccine. This one uses a more traditional approach than an experiment that started in August.

When electric cars began to take hold in the U.S. market — a small hold — the big concern was range anxiety: the fear that your vehicle doesn't have the fuel to get to your destination.

Whether it's an IUD, a shot, an implant, or a daily pill, birth control is a regular part of many adult women's lives. It has left a lot of women asking: Why not men?

There's a seductive idea, currently being road-tested, for how to stop the world's forests from disappearing. It relies on big food companies.

That's because most forests are being cleared in order to grow crops or graze cattle. And the resulting palm oil, soybeans or beef find their way into foods being sold by a relatively small number of global companies.

So here's the strategy: Get those companies to boycott products from deforested land, and much of the economic incentive to clear more forests will disappear. This should slow down or even stop the loss of forests.

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