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Observations


Opinion, arguments & analyses from the editors of Scientific American
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    From the editors and reporters of Scientific American , this blog delivers commentary, opinion and analysis on the latest developments in science and technology and their influence on society and policy. From reasoned arguments and cultural critiques to personal and skeptical takes on interesting science news, you'll find a wide range of scientifically relevant insights here. Follow on Twitter @sciam.
  • Birthday of the First Airplane Flight: Happy 111th!

    Credit: Scientific American

    It was 111 years ago today that the world’s first piloted, powered, controllable, heavier-than-air machine built and flown by Orville and Wilbur Wright took to the air. Adding all of those qualifying adjectives had taken 120 years since the first manned flight in a balloon built by another pair of brothers, Joseph-Michel and Jacques-Étienne Montgolfier. [...]

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    Who Eats Whom under the Arctic Sea Ice [Video]

    Nereid

    San Francisco — Although polar bears and seals have become the poster children for vanishing sea ice in the Arctic, they have thrived for a long time. The bears eat the seals, but what do the seals eat? Maybe fish, although in many parts of the Arctic fish are few in number. Even then, what [...]

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    Fracking Banned in New York

    fracking-in-pennsylvania

    Fracking, as it looks across the New York State border, in Pennsylvania. Fracking has been banned in New York State since 2008. Then-Governor David Paterson imposed a moratorium on the controversial technique— which fractures shale rock using high pressure, specially treated water to release gas trapped inside—citing the need for further study of health and [...]

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    The Real Outcome of Global Warming Talks in Lima: A Future for Coal

    US-climate-change-negotiator-todd-stern

    “There will be coal burning.” Negotiators from around the world produced a four-page climate-change accord (pdf) after some sleep-deprived haggling over the weekend in Lima, Peru, but the agreement could be summed up in those five words. For the first time, all nations agreed that all nations must have a plan to curb greenhouse gases. [...]

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    Google’s Top Searches of 2014

    John Maino, radio personality in Wisconsin, performs the Ice Bucket Challenge.

    Americans looked to Google for information on Ebola, the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge and the actor Robin Williams’s suicide this year—all of which ranked among the hottest search terms of 2014. Google has announced the results of its “14th Annual Year in Search,” an inventory of the year’s most-searched-for keywords and phrases. The data gives [...]

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    Frequent Flyers Could Take a Hit of Radiation from Lightning

    Lightning

    San Francisco — The energy released by a lightning bolt is so strong that it creates an intense flash of light and usually loud thunder. But recent data taken by spacecraft and a few crazy research pilots reveals that lightning also often emits an intense burst of X-rays and gamma rays. The bursts typically radiate [...]

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    First Flexible Airplane Wing Takes Flight

    A Gulfstream III jet retrofitted with flexible wing flaps takes its first test flight while an F-18 chase plane keeping watch. Credit: FlexSys Inc

    In our May 2014 issue, Sridhar Kota, a professor of engineering at the University of Michigan and founder and president of the company FlexSys, published an article about his long-running campaign to take complex, multipart machines and redesign them as flexible, one-piece devices (subscription required). Kota has been working on morphing airplane wings since the [...]

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    What Is This “Atmospheric River” That Is Flooding California?

    Scientific American - January 2013

    The San Francisco Bay Area is getting flooded with relentless rain and strong winds, just like it did a week ago, and fears of rising water are now becoming very serious. Major news stations, weather channels, Web outlets and social media are all suddenly talking about the “atmospheric river” that is bringing deluge after deluge [...]

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    Bad Science and “Folk Psychology” Guided CIA Torture Techniques

    Yesterday the Senate Intelligence Committee released a scathing report on CIA interrogations conducted in the wake of September 11. The committee concluded that the CIA misrepresented so-called “enhanced interrogation techniques” like waterboarding as far less brutal and far more effective than they actually were. There is still no clear answer as to whether the CIA [...]

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    Tiny Fossil Is North America’s Oldest (and Cutest) Horned Dinosaur

    Aquilops americanus

    A tiny skull from southern Montana represents a new kind of horned dinosaur that had a distinctive hooked beak and was about the size of a crow. Dubbed Aquilops americanus, the specimen dates to between 104 million and 109 milllion years ago, making it the oldest known representative of the neoceratopsian group of dinosaurs in [...]

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