Essays & Opinion

Open Season on Climate Science

I coined the term “Serengeti Strategy” to describe how industry special interests and their powerful patrons single out individual climate researchers or teams of scientists for attack, not unlike the way lions of the Serengeti target an individual zebra from the herd. This week, they are out for blood again.

Unsung: Jewel Plummer Cobb

Over the course of 2016, we lost a great many pioneers in the world of music, film, and entertainment, but on the first day of the new year, we also said goodbye to another unsung hero of the sciences — Dr. Jewel Plummer Cobb, a biologist and former president of California State University, Fullerton.

A Math Lesson From Hitler’s Germany

As a new administration with a pronounced anti-science bent takes power in the United States, some scholars recall what happened at Göttingen as a cautionary tale. Rather than a Nazi-style crackdown on free speech, what alarms them is the idea of a post-truth world, in which evidence doesn’t matter.

Just Add Science?

Common wisdom suggests that the remedy for unscientific beliefs on everything from climate change to evolution is to simply administer more reporting on the science. The problem is, studies have shown time and time again that this strategy doesn’t work. So what’s a well-meaning science journalist to do?

Chemistry Lessons

In her new novel, “The Chemist,” author Stephenie Meyer doesn’t so much create a believable scientist as cobble together various scientific terms and vignettes, then graft them, Frankenstein-style, onto a standard Meyer ingénue. The result is a patchwork of a lead character in a monster of a book.

We Need to Study Weed

We need to be studying cannabis, its myriad cultivated strains, and their effects on a variety of medical conditions. We also need to examine public health and policy implications. In short, we need to be doing research — but because of federal restrictions, it’s nearly impossible to do in this country.

The Last Word

We love stories about dying languages and their last speakers for the same reasons that we love stories about the last buffalo, the last passenger pigeon, or the last cowboy: They confirm an evolutionary story we tell ourselves about what’s fit for the modern world, and what’s unsuited for the times.

The Problem of the Lazy Brain

A host of recent research suggests that, at one time or another, we are all susceptible to being duped. The science also helps to explain why the late American novelist and Nobel laureate, William Faulkner, was spot-on when he observed that “Facts and truth really don’t have much to do with each other.”

Just Warming Up

Scientists say the stakes for climate research have never been higher. But by questioning employees of the Department of Energy and installing climate skeptics and fossil fuel executives to lead the EPA and serve as Secretary of State, Donald Trump’s administration is gearing up to rally against it.

This Price Is Not Right

The head of the Department of Health and Human Services has a moral responsibility to care for all people. Based on his track record, U.S. Rep. Tom Price — an orthopedic surgeon himself, as well as a Christian — seems poised to make basic health care more difficult for millions of women and children.

Education and Automation: Tools for Navigating a Sea of Fake News

“Every man should have a built-in automatic crap detector operating inside him,” Ernest Hemingway once said. “It also should have a manual drill and a crank handle in case the machine breaks down.” Fifty years later, the need is greater than ever. Can software tools help when all else fails?

Trump and the Social Psychology of Prejudice

Social and psychological research suggests that individual expressions of prejudice depend highly on perceived social norms. After a bitter campaign in which Donald Trump disparaged numerous social and ethnic groups, his ascension to the White House has almost certainly shifted those norms.

Unsung: William Claytor

Largely unknown to the broader public, William Claytor — only the third African American to receive a Ph.D. in mathematics — typifies both the importance of peer mentoring in advancing the careers of people of color, and the tragic legacy of institutional racism that no amount of mentoring could overcome.

Warning: This Lab May Cause Injury or Death

Many of the hundreds of thousands of aspiring and early-career scientists — students, postdocs, and technicians — who labor in the labs, shops, and field stations of the nation’s universities appear to spend their days in an environment plagued by risks that are well known, yet uncorrected.

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