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Observations

Observations

Opinion, arguments & analyses from guest experts and from the editors of Scientific American

What Are the Warning Signs of Tipping Points?

Predictions of tipping points in ecology, climate change, medical outcomes and other complex systems are a primary goal for many researchers. The pursuit of insights into the timing of critical transitions is no easy way to make a living, particularly because random events can trigger such changes and warning signs are easily missed or misinterpreted.Perhaps the best approach to studying tipping points is to combine two different approaches—one that explores the architecture of systems that change drastically and another that homes in on telltale signs that a system is on the brink...

October 18, 2012 — Larry Greenemeier

Can a Burst of UV Bust Hospital-Borne Infections?

About 1.7 million Americans each year acquire new infections during hospital stays—and hospital-acquired infections are one of the top five causes of death overall, killing 44,000 to 98,000 people in the U.S...

October 18, 2012 — Katherine Harmon

Ancient Armored Fish Had First Bad Bite

The ancient ocean was a frightening place. But the emergence of the armored placoderm fish would have made it even more terrifying. These fish were no great whites—some weren't much bigger than a goldfish...

October 17, 2012 — Katherine Harmon

Space Out: NASA Faces More Budget Cuts in 2013

No matter who is elected president of the United States on November 6, there are bound to be new cuts to next year's federal budget. The question is whether they will be really really big or just sort of big...

October 12, 2012 — Christine Gorman

NASA Plans to Commercialize a Nasal Spray for Motion Sickness

A new product designed to fight motion sickness promises to put the “NASA” back in “nasal spray.”The space agency announced October 12 that it had signed an agreement with a pharmaceutical company to develop, test and bring to market a nasal gel designed to ward off queasiness from spaceflight, as well as from more mundane travel.The active ingredient, scopolamine, is about as effective as antihistamines (such as dimenhydrinate, used in Dramamine) in preventing motion sickness, but carries less risk of common side effects such as drowsiness, according to a recent Cochrane Review...

October 12, 2012 — John Matson

Cell Phone Data Could Help Clip Malaria Spread

Your cell phone location information can be used to help you find restaurants or help companies serve you targeted ads. What if all of this data could also play a role in studying and fighting deadly infectious diseases, such as malaria?...

October 11, 2012 — Katherine Harmon
“Wikithon” Honors Ada Lovelace and Other Women in Science

“Wikithon” Honors Ada Lovelace and Other Women in Science

A Wikipedia edit-a-thon seems like a fitting tribute to the woman many consider to be the first computer programmer. October 16 is Ada Lovelace Day, an annual observation designed to raise awareness of the contributions of women in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) disciplines...

October 11, 2012 — Evelyn Lamb

Complex Brains Existed 520 Million Years Ago in Cockroach Relative

Your everyday cockroach might not seem terribly intelligent. But new fossil evidence from 520 million years ago suggests that this insidious insect might have had some surprisingly smart early ancestors.Cockroaches and other insects belong to a group called the arthropods, which arose some 540 million years ago...

October 10, 2012 — Katherine Harmon

How I Spent My Summer Davos

Summer Davos—formally, the World Economic Forum’s Annual Meeting of the New Champions—is known as a gathering of captions of industry and policy leaders.

October 9, 2012 — Mariette DiChristina

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