Last April, Matthew Bennett was lying on a white salt flat in New Mexico, uncovering fossilized footprints that had been preserved in the white rock. The print belonged to a ground sloth—a bulky animal, whose large feet and curved claws left apostrophe-shaped impressions wherever it walked. There were many such tracks around, but Bennett found one that was very different.
Inside the outline of the sloth’s 20-inch-long foot was a human footprint.
He looked at the next track in the series and found the same thing—a human footprint, perfectly nestled inside a sloth one. There were at least 10 of these, all in a row. “It slowly dawned on me what was happening,” … Read the rest
Last week, Rusty Gage and colleagues at the Salk Institute announced that they had successfully transplanted lab-grown blobs of human brain tissue into mice. Gage’s team grew the blobs, known as brain organoids, from human stem cells. Once surgically implanted into rodent brains, the organoids continued growing, and their neurons formed connections with those of the surrounding brains. It was the first time such transplants had worked: Until now, organoids had only ever been grown in dishes.
To be clear, Gage’s mice weren’t running around with human brains, nor did they have a human mind trapped inside their heads. The biggest brain organoids are lentil-sized and contain 2 to 3 million cells; a human brain is 20,000 times bigger and contains around 172 billion cells. Even … Read the rest
In one sweeping move, the Trump administration may soon not only destabilize the last three decades of clean air and water rules, but also completely overhaul how the Environmental Protection Agency uses science in its work. If EPA administrator Scott Pruitt’s recently-proposed rule gets enacted, it will spark a revolution in environmental regulation. But the question is—will it stand up in court?
Pruitt proposed the regulation on Tuesday, describing it as an effort to increase transparency. It would require the EPA to publish all the underlying scientific data used to support studies which guide clean-air and clean-water rules. It would forbid the use of studies that do not meet this standard, even if they have been peer-reviewed or replicated elsewhere.
At least no one ever put up a prominent statue to Hans Asperger, so we are spared the scene where they bring in the crane to drag another historical figure down from his pedestal. But essentially, that is what has just happened to Asperger, the Austrian pediatrician who lent his name to the syndrome that recognized autistic traits in verbally fluent individuals who demonstrate superior intelligence and creativity. As the current issue of the scholarly journal Molecular Autism makes clear in specific detail, Asperger, who lived and worked in wartime Vienna, not only went along with the Nazi project to murder disabled children—in some ways, he facilitated it, putting his expert’s signature on documents that dispatched such children to facilities where they were murdered. The new, … Read the rest
In a recent op-ed in The New York Times, “How Genetics is Changing Our Understanding of Race,” the geneticist David Reich challenged what he called an “orthodoxy” in genetics. Due to concerns of political correctness, he argued, scientists are unwilling to do research on—or, in some cases, even discuss—genetic variation between human populations, despite the fact that genetic variations do exist. “It is simply no longer possible to ignore average genetic differences among ‘races,’” he wrote.
The piece was widely circulated, drawing condemnation from some social scientists who were appalled by its implications and praise from people who believe that discussion of racial differences has become taboo. Predictably, it rang the bell for another round of an ongoing media fight over why there’s … Read the rest
For the past 18 months, many political scientists have been seized by one question: Less-educated whites were President Trump’s most enthusiastic supporters. But why, exactly?
Was their vote some sort of cri de coeur about a changing economy that had left them behind? Or was the motivating sentiment something more complex and, frankly, something harder for policy makers to address?
After analyzing in-depth survey data from 2012 and 2016, the University of Pennsylvania political scientist Diana C. Mutz argues that it’s the latter. In a new article in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, she added her conclusion to the growing body of evidence that the 2016 election was not about economic hardship.
“Instead,” she writes, “it was about dominant groups that felt … Read the rest
23andMe is best known for selling DNA test kits, but the company’s real value lies in the data of its 5 million customers. The bigger its genetic database, the more insights 23andMe can glean from DNA. That, in turn, means the more it can tell customers about their ancestry and health and the more valuable the data it shares with academic scientists and sells to pharmaceutical companies for research. About 80 percent of 23andMe customers choose to participate in such research.
As impressive as 23andMe’s genetic database is, it still has noticeable gaps—especially among Africans, Middle Easterners, Central Asians, Southeast Asians, and indigenous Americans. Almost any group that is not European, basically. In the scientific literature, in fact, nearly 80 percent of the people who … Read the rest
The Bajau people of Southeast Asia are among the most accomplished divers in the world. In the summer of 2015, Melissa Ilardo got to see how good they are firsthand. She remembers diving with Pai Bayubu, who had already gone fairly deep when he saw a giant clam, 30 to 50 feet below him. “He just dropped down,” Ilardo recalls. “He pointed at it, and then he was there. Underwater, the Bajau are as comfortable as most people are on land. They walk on the seafloor. They have complete control of their breath and body. They spear fish, no problem, first try.”
Sometimes known as “sea nomads,” the Bajau have lived at sea for more than 1,000 years, on small houseboats that float in … Read the rest
Taking a Lyft is about to be a little easier on the planet—and on the conscience.
The ride-hailing service announced that starting this week it will go carbon-neutral. Lyft will actively offset the carbon-dioxide pollution produced by its more than 10 million rides worldwide each week.
In short, this means that taking a Lyft will probably not make global warming worse. Lyft says the program will begin immediately.
Lyft is the first major ride-hailing service to promise carbon-neutrality. Uber, its main competitor and the dominant ride-hailing app worldwide, has not made a similar pledge. A spokeswoman for Uber declined to comment.
After an unprecedented wait, the nation’s space agency has a Trump-picked, Senate-approved, permanent leader at last.
Lawmakers voted 50–49 on Thursday to approve the nomination of Jim Bridenstine, a Republican congressman from Oklahoma, for NASA administrator, following months of debate over his qualifications and growing uncertainty over leadership at the agency.
The vote was split along party lines, and for a few tense moments it seemed like maybe one Republican senator, Jeff Flake of Arizona, would join Democrats in their opposition. Tammy Duckworth, the Democrat from Illinois, who has been away from the Hill after having a baby earlier this month, came to the Senate floor to cast her vote in case Flake didn’t flip, with her daughter in tow.