Tuna has been getting a lot of attention lately, but for all the wrong reasons. In January, a popular front-page article in the New York Times found frighteningly high levels of mercury in tuna from Manhattan sushi restaurants. The consumer’s response? It still tastes good (and it’s not like we’re eating thermometers). New Yorkers were wise to detect an element of sensationalist scaremongering in the Times article, but now there’s a genuine, urgent reason to avoid that succulent sushi: Tuna is facing regional extinction. Thanks to worldwide demand for “the chicken of the sea,” tuna populations have been plummeting despite efforts at sustainable fishing.
Kids in developing countries don’t drop out of school because they have to work the fields or care for their younger siblings, Nicholas Negroponte said in his plenary lecture at AAAS. They drop out because they’re bored. Just after he got laptops to all the kids at a rural schoolhouse in Cambodia–one of the inspirations for his nonprofit, One Laptop per Child–there was a 100% increase in attendance. No one dropped out. (Parents were fans, too, mainly because the laptop screens were the brightest light in the house.)
Why do some people smoke for a short time and develop lung cancer, while others who smoke for decades live to a ripe old age, cancer-free? And why do some women with BRCA mutations develop breast cancer, while others don’t? Our genes and our environment both contribute to our cancer risks, but exactly how these interactions work is a mystery.
Cheryl Walker of the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center says that clues to the puzzle can be found in the environment we were in before we were born. Her work shows that while developing in its mother’s uterus, a fetus may be exposed to estrogen, which can greatly impact the way the cells of the body respond when exposed to estrogen later in life. Read More
Biofuels have their problems, surely, (competition with agriculture, a high carbon footprint, and incompatibility with gas engines, to name a few) but maybe that’s because we aren’t focusing on the right type of fuel. The answer lies in butanol, says James Liao of the University of California at Los Angeles in order to skirt many of the issues biofuels have brought to the table. By focusing on the technical and policy perspective on “Biomass-to-Biofuels Conversion” Liao establishes butanol as the non-agricultural, fast growing alternative within the alternative fuel industry.
News about climate change has skyrocketed in recent years, but how good is the information that reaches audiences? Do newspapers, magazines, and TV accurately reflect the science behind the issue? Is reporting “balanced,” and what does that term mean for an issue where most scientists agree about the big picture, though differences on the details abound?
Scientists and journalists gathered at today’s conference to look at how global warming plays out in the media (though, as one commenter noted, the simplistic term “global warming” has fallen from favor, replaced by the all-encompassing “climate change”).
For all their mystery, we know two things about the world’s oceans pretty well: One, they’re huge, and two, they do a lot for human beings (producing food, storing carbon, allowing travel and shipping, and scads of other good stuff). But just how much is a particular patch of healthy, functioning ocean real estate worth to humanity? And how can we decide on the places that are most important to protect, and how to balance the dozens of competing demands on the waters around us? This morning’s Marine Symposium saw a line-up of top marine ecologists grappling with how to start quantifying and valuing the “ecosystem services” performed by ocean environments. Read More
Infants—to anyone other than their parents—can be a bore. Beyond cooing and crying, babies appear to be all sleep and bodily functions. But deep inside those cute, fuzzy little heads, infants are performing scores of staggering statistical feats. Bombarded with a bewildering range of sounds since birth, they possess mechanisms that scour these signals for statistical regularity, allowing them to emerge with something quite astonishing: an understanding of spoken language.
Anyone who’s frozen up during a job interview, a grade-school theater performance, or what would otherwise have been an irresistibly suave and witty pick-up line knows how paralyzing it is to truly be “at a loss for words.” Luckily, the experience is a temporary one, and before long the language that has inundated your life since you were little comes flooding back. But what if you grew up without any words at all? It’s pretty much impossible to imagine living in a world without words, but here at AAAS, “Thinking With and Without Language” took a peek at the thoughts of some people who happened to grow up without the privileges of language.
It may not be long before sharks invade Antarctic waters. Due to global warming the Antarctic seas are changing and becoming an inviting ground for sharks that will soon turn to the prey-rich southern waters, says Cheryl Wilga of the University of Rhode Island.