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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.
  • Lucy Film Hinges on Brain Capacity Myth

    Scarlett Johansson as Lucy

    On July 25, French film writer/director Luc Besson’s action thriller Lucy opens in theaters nationwide. The premise is that the title character, played by Scarlett Johansson, is exposed to a drug that unlocks her mind, giving her superhuman powers of cognition.  The movie production notes [PDF] elaborate: “…It has long been hypothesized that human beings only [...]

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    Scopes Monkey Trial: Guilty

    Clarence Darrow, noted lawyer for civil liberties, working on the Scopes Monkey Trial, 1925. Image: Scientific American, Vol. 200, No. 1, January 1959

    July 21 is verdict day in the infamous Scopes “Monkey” Trial of 1925. The verdict came in from a jury in Dayton, Tenn., that John Thomas Scopes had committed the crime of teaching evolution to students at his high school, for which transgression he was fined $100. After Scopes had originally been charged with the [...]

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    First Local Case of Tropical Disease Chikungunya Debuts in the U.S.

    Remove mosquito-friendly habitat. Credit: U.S. EPA

    The day we knew would come is finally here. The first locally acquired case of the tropical disease chikungunya was reported in the U.S. today. The mosquito-borne viral disease first debuted in the Western Hemisphere last year and has since sprawled across the Caribbean, with cases in Puerto Rico and U.S. Virgin Islands. The first [...]

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    Google’s Cars Sniff Out Natural Gas Leaks to Deliver Cleaner Air

    google-street-view-car

    Of all the things to be leaking methane on Staten Island in New York City—corroded gas pipes, sewers, the Fresh Kills dump—who would have suspected the mail truck? But as I circled a Staten Island neighborhood in a specially equipped Google car, it was a parked mail truck that proved to be sending the biggest [...]

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    Biodiversity Hotspots Get Hotter (and That’s Not Good)

    Biodiversity hotspots are golden places on earth where the number and diversity of animals and plants is exceptional. Environmentalists say that hotspots are the most critical of all places to protect against the ill effects of human development and climate change. The term does not mean that hotter temperatures are helpful, however. And it turns [...]

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    A Polar Vortex in July? Not

    vortex

    Years ago on Saturday Night Live, Gilda Radner played a little old lady, Emily Litella, who came onto the Weekend Update news set to deliver an editorial about a burning issue of the day—only she didn’t quite have the correct terminology. She would begin to protest against “busting schoolchildren” when in fact the issue was [...]

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    Hard Road Ahead for Solar Freakin’ Roadways

    solar-road-panels

    Take a solar panel. Surround it with light-emitting diodes attached to a microprocessor and, in northern climes at least, some kind of heater. Sheath all of that with the 100-year-old technology known as tempered glass. Voila: the basic building block of what has been dubbed by its creators, electrical engineer Scott Brusaw and his wife [...]

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    3 Ingredients Make Good July 4th Fireworks [Video]

    How different types of chemicals combine for a holiday blast.

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    What a Ball of Wool Can Tell You about Healthy Aging [Video]

    Doctors can perform plenty of tests to tell you how sick you are. There are certain agreed-on measurements of blood pressure, glucose levels or biomarkers to define illness. But what are the objective measures that indicate how healthy a person is? For that matter, what sort of test can you do to reliably indicate that [...]

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    Could a Cow Virus Cause Colon Cancer?

    photo of a hamburger

    The remote possibility that I might develop mad cow disease as a result has never stopped me from diving into a nice juicy hamburger (preferably with a generous helping of ketchup and relish). But that was before I heard Harald zur Hausen hypothesize that a cow virus might be responsible for most cases of colon [...]

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