Selected stories

How digital media fuels moral outrage – and what to do about it
If we don’t want a handful of technology companies determining how the rest of us express morality in the public sphere, the economic model underpinning social media may have to change, researchers caution.

It’s a small world after all, say scientists warning of sand scarcity
Out of the complexity of the global sand trade has emerged something of a butterfly effect, in which an economic decision in one place can wreak social and environmental havoc on the other side of the world.

Why are there still Nazis? These eight questions can help explain.
Social dominance theory postulates that societies maintain their hierarchies by creating and promoting social beliefs that keep dominant groups on top.

Should we pay people not to cut down trees?
A two-year study in Uganda helps ease some of the biggest concerns about programs that pay landowners to leave natural resources untouched.

Scientists say ravens display foresight, a trait thought unique to apes
A series of experiments with ravens finds that the birds display the ability to think ahead and deliberately prepare for future events, adding to the growing body of evidence that intelligence has evolved more than once.

Should a self-driving car ever run people over on purpose?
In a world of self-driving cars, collisions will be rare, but occasionally unavoidable. How do we program them to ensure that they are making the most ethical decisions?

How information overload helps spread fake news
Mathematical modeling of social networks reveals how misinformation finds its way to the top – and offers clues for how to dampen the spread of false information.

Understanding why loneliness exists can help ease it, say scientists
New research that examines the vicious circle of social isolation also points to the evolutionary origins of loneliness, and a way for people to escape it.

NASA’s Parker Solar Probe: a mission six decades in the making
Named for pioneering physicist Eugene Parker and scheduled to launch next summer, the probe will plunge into the sun’s corona in hopes of revealing clues about one of our solar system’s most enduring mysteries.

What vampire bats can teach us about cooperation
New research reveals that vampire bats with wide social networks tend to better cope with the loss of a close relative.

Do humans come with a built-in sense of obligation to one another?
A study finds that children as young as three and a half years old display an understanding of shared commitments, adding to a growing body of evidence that humans are a uniquely cooperative species.

Study finds link between being easily grossed out, shunning immigrants
Politicians and pundits are adept at leveraging disgust responsiveness to sway people to support their policies, but researchers say careful thought can counter irrational aversion.

Breakthroughs arise from a precise mix of old and new knowledge, say scientists
Analysis of millions of studies and patents found that the most influential science draws a clear line to the work of previous generations of scientists, a pattern that was ‘nearly universal in all branches of science and technology.’

First-responder ants suggest helping may be widespread in nature
A species of African ant has been observed carrying their injured comrades back to the nest so that they may recover, another example of behavior once thought unique to humans.

Want to encourage cooperation? Try exchanging names.
Researchers have found that reducing anonymity in a classic social experiment promotes cooperation between participants – suggesting that even small steps toward getting to know one another could bring big benefits.

Menu miscue: Yale study prompts mammoth newspaper correction
In 1951, we reported that members of the Explorers Club dined on a 250,000-year-old extinct mammoth. Science has proven us wrong.

Why do humans have chins?
Humans are the only primate with a chin, an adaptation that reflects the emergence of complex social networks among our ancestors.

Pi Day pizza: How big would this pizza be with $85,000 in shredded mozzarella?
Over the past weekend, thieves made off with a tractor-trailer full of shredded mozzarella, presumably to bake the world’s largest pizza for Pi Day. But what will the pizza’s diameter be?

Deflategate: Can science tell us if the Patriots cheated?
Did a difference in air temperature cause the air pressure inside the Patriots’ footballs to drop below regulation? Here’s the math.

Wildebeest attack prompts calls from gnu-control advocates
A worker at a North Carolina zoo spent a week in the hospital after being thrown into the air twice by a wildebeest.

Do our languages skew toward happiness?
A study of the most commonly used words in 10 languages indicates a ‘universal positivity bias.’ Does that mean humans are inherently happy?

Thinking of getting a chimpanzee? Read this first.
Chimpanzees that have been raised by humans tend to experience isolation from their peers later in life, say scientists.

How strong is gravity? Scientists devise new way to measure.
First postulated by Isaac Newton, the gravitational constant is thought to be a fundamental feature of our cosmos. But a precise measurement has long proven elusive.

Are you smarter than an ant colony?
New research finds that ant colonies are downright brilliant when it comes to finding efficient routes between their nest and a food source.

Is it possible to reach the space station via trampoline?
In response to US sanctions aimed at Russia’s space industry, Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin suggested that US astronauts get to the space station using a trampoline. Given a big enough trampoline, could that actually work?

How many basic emotions do you have? It’s written on your face, say scientists.
Thinkers from Aristotle onward have pondered how many universal, psychologically irreducible emotions humans can express. Now, by analyzing the face, scientists might be closing in on an answer.

St. Patrick’s Day shenanigans to feature blarney, malarkey, say hooligans
Why do so many Irish names have negative connotations?

Physicists scoop information from Schrödinger’s cat box
Researchers have developed a direct method of peering into the mysterious and often counterintuitive subatomic realm.

What is it like to be Schrödinger’s cat?
In 1935 physicist Erwin Schrödinger devised a thought experiment that still makes people’s heads spin (up and down, simultaneously).

Levitating magician: How magicians use science to deceive
Levitating magician: A viral Pepsi ad shows an English magician apparently levitating alongside a double-decker bus. How are we so easily fooled by magic?

Does altitude determine the way we speak?
A University of Miami anthropologist discovered a link between languages that possess a certain consonant sound and their altitude. Does geography shape how our languages sound?

Why dark matter may not be so dark after all
A duo of physicists at Vanderbilt University have proposed a straightforward model that could explain dark matter in terms of known phenomena.

Why hasn’t everything been annihilated yet? Pear-shaped atomic nuclei could hold answer.
Why are you currently reading this on your screen, instead of having had all your atoms completely obliterated at the dawn of time? A pear-shaped nucleus might explain.

Antimatter might fall up, say physicists
A paper published this week suggests that antimatter could exhibit antigravity, potentially resolving some of physics’ biggest mysteries.

Giant snail invasion forces Floridians to walk for their lives
The African giant land snail, a notorious invasive species, is attempting to establish itself in Florida, say officials.

Cthulhu fhtagn! Indescribably terrifying microbes named for Lovecraft monsters.
Eldritch scientists at the University of British Columbia have named Cthulhu macrofasciculumque and Cthylla microfasciculumque, a pair of sightless, writhing, unfathomable horrors twisting and groping through the ensanguined interiors of half-mad termites, for the unspeakably hideous abominations of the adjective-crazed pulp writer.

Scientists examine nothing, find something
Two studies of vacuums suggest that the speed of light in a vacuum might fluctuate, pointing the way to a quantum mechanical explanation for why the speed of light and other so-called constants are what they are.

Intelligent space dinosaurs: How worried should we be?
An eminent chemist concluded an article in an academic journal with a fanciful note, positing the existence of advanced dinosaurs on other worlds. How plausible is his assertion?

Gioachino Rossini, procrastinator extraordinaire
Gioachino Rossini, whom Google honors today with a doodle on his 220th birthday, composed the William Tell Overture, whose finale has since become the official soundtrack for doing things at the last possible minute.

What Heinrich Rudolf Hertz taught us about nothingness
Heinrich Rudolf Hertz, who was honored Wednesday on his 155th birthday, helped explain how even nothing at all can be something.

Nicolas Steno: The saint who undermined creationism
Celebrated with a Google doodle on his 374th birthday, Nicolas Steno set in motion a revolution that would ultimately unseat the Bible as an accepted scientific authority on the age of the earth. Now he is on the path to Catholic sainthood.

Marie Curie: Why her papers are still radioactive
Marie Curie, whom Google is celebrating Monday with a Google Doodle in honor of her 144th birthday, lived her life awash in ionizing radiation. More than a century later, her papers are still radioactive.

Frankenstein moon: Astronomers vindicate Mary Shelley’s account
Frankenstein moon: ‘Frankenstein’ author Mary Shelley claimed that the tale came to her in a vision late one night as the moon streamed through her window. Her account was disputed, but astronomers at Texas State University have now substantiated her ‘Frankenstein moon.’

Why Pierre de Fermat is the patron saint of unfinished business
In 1637, French mathematician Pierre de Fermat jotted a cryptic conjecture in the margins of a textbook. On Fermat’s birthday Google celebrates Fermat’s Last Theorem, which managed to drive mathematicians bonkers for the next four centuries.

What will Apple think of next?
What spectacularly amazing new device will Apple come out with next? Here are our five most ridiculous predictions. Art by Jake Turcotte.

Why you should care about Gregor Mendel
Today’s Google Doodle reminds us that without the meticulous work of Gregor Mendel, evolutionary biology would make no sense.

Did a Jerusalem court really sentence a dog to death by stoning?
The BBC, Agence France Presse, and Time magazine all erroneously reported that a rabbinical court in Jerusalem had sentenced a dog to death by stoning. How did they fall for it?

U.S. citizenship test: Why Americans can’t name the original 17 colonies
U.S. citizenship test: Some 450 years after America’s founding, is civic ignorance at an all-time high? A Newsweek poll of US citizens from all 57 states reveals how misinformed we really are.

Titanic II embarks on maiden voyage, lives up to its name
Titanic II: Briton Mark Wilkinson set out from Dorset’s West Bay harbor in his inauspiciously named 16-foot cabin cruiser. You can guess what happened next.

Political misquotes: The 10 most famous things never actually said
Captain Kirk never said “Beam me up, Scotty!” Ilsa Laszlow never said, “Play it again, Sam,” andSherlock Holmes never said, “Elementary, my dear Watson.” And many political figures didn’t say what they are widely believed to have said. Here are our top 10.

How Osama bin Laden’s death sparked a fake Martin Luther King quote
A Facebook user’s message about Osama bin Laden’s death quickly mutated into a misattributed quote by Martin Luther King, showing us all how quickly the Internet can generate an urban legend.

Pepsi can redesigned to pay tribute to ‘beautiful, confident women’
Pepsi can: Pepsi has redesigned its Diet Pepsi can as a tribute to attractive women, a group of people who have been historically underrepresented by carbonated-beverage-can shapes.

The 10 weirdest political ads of 2010
 From demon sheep to witchcraft denials, this has been one crazy election season. And nowhere has the looniness been more on display than in the candidates’ carefully crafted TV spots. Here is our list of the top 10 weirdest ads of 2010.

Google Doodles you’ll never see
Google, whose motto is ‘Don’t be evil,’ has paid tribute to many events and ideas over the years with alterations to their iconic logo. Here are several that we probably will never see. Art by Jake Turcotte.

National Spelling Bee protests: Should we simplify English spelling?
The Scripps National Spelling Bee highlights what a mess the English spelling is – a hodgepodge of orthographies borrowed from German, French, Greek, and Latin. Is it time for a makeover?

Does closing roads cut delays?
A recent study has found that closing off certain streets can actually improve traffic congestion.
Scientists admit global warming is a hoax
On April 1, 2009, the Norwegian Nobel Committee rescinded the Peace Prize it awarded in 2007 to former US vice president Al Gore and the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, amid overwhelming evidence that global warming is an elaborate hoax cooked up by Mr. Gore.
Report: Illicit urban chicken movement growing in US
The Worldwatch Institute reports that a growing number of US city-dwellers are raising their own chickens, often in defiance of local ordinances.Are climate-change deniers guilty of treason?
New York Times columnist Paul Krugman asserts that  climate change deniers are guilty of treason. Is her right?

Are climate change deniers like creationists?
Both groups willfully ignore mountains of firmly established scientific evidence. Both groups falsely portray the scientific community as divided over settled science. Both groups make spurious appeals to academic freedom, arguing that “both sides” of the debate should be presented as though they possess equal merit. And both groups derive most of their funding from privately funded think tanks, having scant presence in the science departments of accredited colleges and universities.