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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.
  • Parsing the Science of Interstellar with Physicist Kip Thorne

    A supermassive black hole

    In an earlier blog post about Christopher Nolan’s latest blockbuster movie, Interstellar, I lauded the film for its ambition, its visuals     and the strong performances of its cast. However, I also criticized it for its depiction of interstellar travel and a plot filled with details that didn’t seem to make much sense. Perhaps because I [...]

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    Dog Physics: How Your Pet Solves Its Drinking Problem [VIDEO]

    dog drinking

    Dogs are sloppy drinkers for a good reason: They splash water up because they cannot suck like people.

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    Can China Cut Coal?

    china-coal-power

    On a visit to China a few years back, I asked a local official about pollution controls after enjoying my first sour, gritty taste of the country’s air. China’s new coal-fired power plants and other industrial boilers often came equipped with expensive scrubbers to clean acid rain and smog-forming sulfur dioxide out of the hot [...]

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    New GOP Leaders Embrace Science but Don’t Hug Trees

    man hugging big tree trunk

    Congress can be…chaotic. Last Thursday night, President Obama unveiled plans for immigration reform, and literally challenged Congress to stop him. The next day, Speaker of the House John Boehner said that the GOP would be suing the White House over unconstitutional changes to the Affordable Care Act. It’s a mess. But for science—and scientific research—there’s [...]

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    The Fossil That Revolutionized the Search for Human Origins: A Q&A with Lucy Discoverer Donald Johanson

    Don Johanson and Maurice Taieb with Lucy

    Forty years ago today, a young American paleoanthropologist named Donald Johanson made the discovery of a lifetime in the arid badlands of Ethiopia’s remote Afar region: a 3.2-million-year-old skeleton of a small-brained creature that walked upright like we do. It was a primitive hominin, a member of the human family. To scientists it is known [...]

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    Ants Abound in Manhattan’s Slivers of Green

    Pavement ants (Tetramorium) on human food in a Manhattan street median

    Ants—they’re everywhere. Charging across your picnic blanket, sneaking into your sandwich and, naturally, marching one by one (hurrah! hurrah!). Throughout the temperate zone you’ll find ants swarming in almost every forest, ducking beneath blades of grass in virtually every prairie. Forests and prairies are hard to come by in New York City. But in a [...]

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    Climate Preparedness Index Reveals Rich–Poor Gap

    Alpaca (Wikimedia)

    High in the Peruvian Andes 8,000 alpacas died during a particularly harsh period of cold in the summer of 2004. For the herders who raise and shear these long-haired beasts for a living, it was a huge loss amounting to one fifth of all the alpacas living in that region of the highlands. Since then [...]

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    Acid Maps Reveal Worst of Climate Change

    global-ocean-ph-map-february-2005

    Much of the change in climate change is happening to the ocean. It’s not just the extra heat hiding within the waves. The seven seas also absorb a big share of the carbon dioxide released by burning the fossilized sunshine known as coal, natural gas and oil. All those billions and billions of CO2 molecules [...]

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    Watch the Milky Way Eat Its Neighbors [Video]

    The Milky Way has a history of devouring its neighbors, the smaller satellite galaxies that orbit it. Over time our galaxy’s gravity will tug on the near sides of these satellites more strongly than their far sides, slowly stretching them out until they tear apart and their stars assimilate into the Milky Way. A relatively [...]

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    Ratio of Workers to Retirees Will Plummet Worldwide

    ratio US, fixed

    As a nation’s population ages, more and more older people may draw from support systems such as Social Security, yet fewer workers may be around to pay into those systems. The problem is more dire than we think. The ratio of workers to retirees will drop precipitously in numerous countries worldwide this century, potentially sending [...]

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