Originally published on Tue July 16, 2013 12:18 pm
How does science make progress? How do scientists know what they claim to know? What does it mean when scientists say they have come to a consensus?
These questions are far more than academic. We live in a world where issues of science and technology dominate headlines and policy. In that way, science and its claims effect the very real world choices we all face in domains as varied as climate change, genetically modified foods and the uses of Big Data.
Tyrannosaurus rex is perhaps one of the most famous animals to have ever roamed the Earth. This huge, fierce meat-eater has graced Hollywood films as the perpetual villain, and it has played a notorious role in the science community that studies it, too.
In the wake of the National Security Agency cyber-spying revelations, you may be worrying about the government keeping track of your digital life. But, for less than $300, a group of ordinary hackers found a way to tap right into Verizon cellphones.
This is a group of good-guy, or "white hat", hackers. They hacked the phones to warn wireless carriers that the phones have a security flaw.
People tend to remember that the atomic bomb was developed at Los Alamos, N.M., and Oak Ridge, Tenn., but they often forget about a third nuclear production complex â€” the Hanford Site in Richland, Wash. It's where they built the world's first full-scale nuclear reactor.
The "B Reactor" is a windowless, cinder block hulk out in the middle of nowhere. You might mistake it for an abandoned cement plant. But inside, it's a lovingly preserved time capsule of the Atomic Age. If you're lucky, your guide will be one of the people who worked here when the place was still new.
Rarer than any metal, any mineral, so rare that if you scan the entire earth, all six million billion billion kilos or 13,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 pounds of our planet, you would find only one ounce of it?
What is so rare it has never been seen directly, because if you could get enough of it together, it would self-vaporize from its own radioactive heat?
If mosquitoes used Yelp, they might look for their next meal by searching nearby for a heavy-breathing human with Type O blood, sporting a red shirt and more than a smattering of skin bacteria. Preferably either pregnant or holding a beer.
To keep America's wilderness anything like it used to be when the country was truly wild takes the help of biologists. They have to balance the needs of wildlife with those of cattle-ranching and tourism, and even weigh the value of one species against another. Ultimately, they have to pick and choose who makes it onto the ark. And, as scientists in Montana's Centennial Valley have discovered, all that choosing can be tricky.
America is as much of a melting pot for dogs as it is for their human friends. Walk through any dog park and you'll find a range of breeds from Europe, Asia, even Australia and mutts and mixes of every kind.
But a few indigenous breeds in North America have a purer pedigree â€” at least one has genetic roots in the continent that stretch back 1,000 years or more, according to a new study. These modern North American breeds â€” including that current urban darling, the Chihuahua â€” descended from the continent's original canine inhabitants and have not mixed much with European breeds.
If you are going to shell out cash sending a kid to college, you might as well get in on their fun too. That's how my daughter's post-modern lit class slammed me into The Waste Land by T.S. Eliot.
It is, arguably, one of the most important poems of the 20th century. At least that is what they told her and that is what my dad told me when he first gave me a copy as a boy. But she had a class that helped her understand the poem. Alone in my study I didn't get it ... again (sorry Dad).
Across the Midwestern corn belt, a familiar battle has resumed, hidden in the soil. On one side are tiny, white larvae of the corn rootworm. On the other side are farmers and the insect-killing arsenal of modern agriculture.
America's hugely productive food system is one of its success stories. The nation will export a projected $139.5 billion in agricultural products this fiscal year alone. It's an industry that supports "more than 1 million jobs," according to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.
But all that productivity has taken a toll on the environment, especially rivers and lakes: Agriculture is the nation's leading cause of impaired water quality, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
A dispute over the names of two new moons of Pluto is highlighting a broader battle over who names what in our solar system and beyond. On one side is the International Astronomical Union (IAU), a venerable consortium of astronomers who have set the naming rules for the better part of a century. On the other side, a growing number of astronomers who feel the IAU has unfairly designated itself as the intergalactic naming police.
U.S. inventor Doug Engelbart, the man known as the father of the computer mouse and a thinker who helped introduce other key innovations, died Wednesday morning at age 88. His death was announced today by the Computer History Museum.
If you died 55,000 years ago in the lands east of the Mediterranean, you'd be lucky to be buried in an isolated pit with a few animal parts thrown in. But new archaeological evidence shows that by about 12,000 years ago, you might have gotten a flower-lined grave in a small cemetery.
The value of elephant ivory has skyrocketed in the past few years. That's led to a huge increase in elephant poaching in Africa and, in turn, created new urgency to stop the trade. And as poachers have become savvier, scientists have devised more sophisticated methods of catching the thieves.
A pound of ivory is now worth more than $1,000, with wildlife experts attributing the rise in price largely to consumers, especially in Asia, who have new money to spend on ivory carvings.