Variables

 
Reported features, essays, op-eds, columns, and reviews.

Five Questions for Steffen Foss Hansen

Nanoparticles confer special properties — strength, lightness, chemical reactivity — that make them useful in everything from cosmetics to car maintenance. Yet much remains to be learned about how these materials affect humans, animals, and the environment. And for the most part, the public is in the dark.

Forgotten, but Not Gone

In the 2000 movie “Memento,” a man with amnesia has himself tattooed with words and phrases to help him recall information about his wife’s killer. The strategy isn’t so different from what some real-life amnesics use. Instinctively, they rely on a type of memory they retain despite their amnesia.

Pill Pushers in White Coats

In less than 200 unassuming, readable, and carefully referenced pages, “Drug Dealer, M.D.” may be the most important medical book of the decade for finally getting the story of the opioid epidemic exactly right. And it’s not just medical bad apples the title refers to — it’s every doctor in the country.

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.

The Low-Carb Lowdown

The theory supporting low-carb dieting posits that if a person doesn’t eat many carbohydrates, the pancreas doesn’t release as much insulin, and less fat is stored. This idea is rejected by many mainstream authorities, but if it leads to healthier eating overall, does the debate really matter?

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.

Return to Sender

After years of drought, California is getting some much-needed relief, but the state — like many other regions of the world — will continue to face challenges to its drinking water supply. Recycling sewage may sound profoundly unappetizing, but it may be part of the answer. (Visual by Lucas Haugen)

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.

The Road to Fossil Fuel Dependence

In the years after World War II, the U.S. decided the best way to defend itself again future invasion was to build a monumental interstate highway system. But this network of roads has had dramatic effects on the way we live, and is a root cause of global political and environmental instability.

Silencing Scientists: A Recent History

In this installment of the Undark Five, Gretchen Goldman, research director for the Center for Science and Democracy at the Union of Concerned Scientists, discusses how President Trump’s clampdown on communication from federal agencies compares to actions taken during the Bush and Obama administrations.

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.

After the Oxbow

For reasons complex, historic, and muddy, the lower Mississippi River ecosystem now depends greatly on the slow-moving, seasonal backwaters that thread through the thin, riverside forests that persist between engineered levees. Those backwaters, a growing chorus of scientists say, are beginning to disappear.

Five Questions for Mitchell Valdés-Sosa

In this installment of the Undark Five, Mitchell Valdés-Sosa, director of the Cuban Neuroscience Center, discusses how academia and scientific research operate in communist Cuba, the country’s need for outside funding, and the possible challenges that will come with the arrival of the Trump Administration.

Connecting the Dots

In one of his final acts in office, President Obama added an additional 48,000 acres of protected land to Oregon’s little-known Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument. Ranchers and loggers called it a tragedy, but scientists say it was a crucial victory for biodiversity and landscape connectivity.

Top