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Observations

Observations

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

Running barefoot is better, researchers find

Mother Nature has outpaced science once again: the bare human foot is better for running than one cushioned by sneakers. What about those $125 high-tech running shoes with 648 custom combinations?...

January 27, 2010 — Katherine Harmon

What the small-brained hobbit reveals about primate evolution

Is bigger always better? When it comes to brain size, that has long been the prevailing theory—at least among big-brained humans. But a new analysis shows that in the course of primate evolution, brains and brawn haven't always been on the rise...

January 26, 2010 — Katherine Harmon

Apple's new gadget is a tablet, McGraw-Hill confirms

McGraw-Hill's CEO has answered the burning question in technology for the past several months—what exactly does Apple have up its sleeve? During an interview Tuesday afternoon on CNBC, Harold McGraw confirmed on-air that Apple will introduce its tablet computer Wednesday and that it will use the iPhone operating system...

January 26, 2010 — Larry Greenemeier

Little girls are made of sugar and spice, and learn that math is not nice

One of the first lessons that girls often learn in elementary school is that boys are better at math.

Although this incorrect lesson is certainly not part of the curriculum, first- and second-grade teachers, who are predominately female and math-averse, communicate that math is not their strong suit to some female students, according to a study published January 25 in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences ...

January 25, 2010 — Carina Storrs

Marshall Nirenberg, Forgotten Father of the Genetic Code, Dies

You can say "Watson and Crick" in one breath, but should you try squeezing in "Nirenberg"? Along with Robert W. Holley and Har Gobind Khoran, Marshall Nirenberg won the Nobel Prize in 1968 for deciphering the genetic code—a discovery that never did for Nirenberg what the double-helix did for James Watson and Francis Crick, although it probably should have.Because maybe then, people would not misattribute the work...

January 22, 2010 — Philip Yam

Environmental ills? It's consumerism, stupid

Two typical German shepherds kept as pets in Europe or the U.S. consume more in a year than the average person living in Bangladesh, according to research by sustainability experts Brenda and Robert Vale of Victoria University in Wellington, New Zealand...

January 22, 2010 — David Biello

Big Help from Big Pharma

Activists often slam large pharmaceutical companies for failing to develop drugs that are of critical importance to the developing world.Andrew Witty, GlaxoSmithKline's youthful chief executive, gave those critics pause yesterday in a speech to the Council on Foreign Relations in New York City.Witty promised to sell the company's malaria vaccine that is in late-stage clinical trials in Africa for no more than a 5 percent profit...

January 21, 2010 — Gary Stix

Slime mold validates efficiency of Tokyo rail network

What do Tokyo commuter-rail designers and the slime mold Physarum polycephalum have in common? The two will build strikingly similar networks.

A Japan-based research team found that if they placed bits of food (oat flakes) around a central Physarum in the same location as 36 outlying cities around Tokyo, the mold created a network connecting the food sources that looked rather like the existing rail system...

January 21, 2010 — Katherine Harmon

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