Scientific American - Nurturing Genius 11min

As the longest-running longitudinal survey of intellectually talented children, SMPY has for 45 years tracked the careers and accomplishments of some 5,000 individuals, many of whom have gone on to become high-achieving scientists. The study's ever growing data set has generated more than 400 papers and several books and provided key insights into how to spot and develop talent in science, technology, engineering, mathematics (STEM), and beyond. ... the work to identify and support academically talented students has raised troubling questions about the risks of labeling children and the shortfalls of talent searches and standardized tests as a means of identifying high-potential students, especially in poor and rural districts.

The Outline - The Sickening Business of Wellness 10min

The wellness phenomenon isn’t new, and its strength has never been specificity. In 1950, J.I. Rodale, one of the earliest advocates of organic farming, launched Prevention magazine, giving readers a continuous outlet for information that was a few degrees short of science. He was sure that rimless glasses and saltwater caused cancer and that electricity kept it at bay. ... in our internet era, where presentation matters more than pedigree, we have about a million self-taught gurus who profit from preaching at events like the Longevity Now Conference that certain foods could let you live as long as you wanted ... The wellness industry has exploded into superfoods, detoxes, and celebrity healers selling magic crystals, and the press and the public have gobbled it all up ... are any wellness products worth your money, and is any of the advice being shilled by its gurus going to make you healthier? Evidence says… no. Here’s why.

Wired - The Young Billionaire Behind the War on Bad Science 16min

Like a number of up-and-coming researchers in his generation, Nosek was troubled by mounting evidence that science itself—through its systems of publication, funding, and advancement—had become biased toward generating a certain kind of finding: novel, attention grabbing, but ultimately unreliable. The incentives to produce positive results were so great, Nosek and others worried, that some scientists were simply locking their inconvenient data away. ... The problem even had a name: the file drawer effect. ... The aim was to redo about 50 studies from three prominent psychology journals, to establish an estimate of how often modern psychology turns up false positive results. ... He wasn’t promising novel findings, he was promising to question them. So he ran his projects on a shoestring budget, self-financing them with his own earnings from corporate speaking engagements on his research about bias. ... researchers involved in similar rounds of soul-searching and critique in their own fields, who have loosely amounted to a movement to fix science. ... The problem, they claim, isn’t that scientists don’t want to do the right thing. On the contrary, Arnold says he believes that most researchers go into their work with the best of intentions, only to be led astray by a system that rewards the wrong behaviors.

Quanta - How Life (and Death) Spring From Disorder 13min

Biological systems don’t defy physical laws, of course — but neither do they seem to be predicted by them. In contrast, they are goal-directed: survive and reproduce. We can say that they have a purpose — or what philosophers have traditionally called a teleology — that guides their behavior. ... By the same token, physics now lets us predict, starting from the state of the universe a billionth of a second after the Big Bang, what it looks like today. But no one imagines that the appearance of the first primitive cells on Earth led predictably to the human race. Laws do not, it seems, dictate the course of evolution. ... Animals are drawn to water not by some magnetic attraction, but because of their instinct, their intention, to survive. Legs serve the purpose of, among other things, taking us to the water. ... there appears to be a kind of physics of things doing stuff, and evolving to do stuff. Meaning and intention — thought to be the defining characteristics of living systems — may then emerge naturally through the laws of thermodynamics and statistical mechanics.

The Guardian - How statistics lost their power – and why we should fear what comes next 17min

Statistics were designed to give an understanding of a population in its entirety, rather than simply to pinpoint strategically valuable sources of power and wealth. In the early days, this didn’t always involve producing numbers. In Germany, for example (from where we get the term Statistik) the challenge was to map disparate customs, institutions and laws across an empire of hundreds of micro-states. What characterised this knowledge as statistical was its holistic nature: it aimed to produce a picture of the nation as a whole. Statistics would do for populations what cartography did for territory. ... the aspiration to depict a society in its entirety, and to do so in an objective fashion, has meant that various progressive ideals have been attached to statistics. The image of statistics as a dispassionate science of society is only one part of the story. The other part is about how powerful political ideals became invested in these techniques: ideals of “evidence-based policy”, rationality, progress and nationhood grounded in facts, rather than in romanticised stories.

MIT Technology Review - Google’s Long, Strange Life Span Trip 9min

The company’s mission: to build a Bell Labs of aging research. It hoped to extend the human life span by coming up with a breakthrough as important, and as useful to humanity, as the transistor has been. ... Google’s founders created an academic-biotech hybrid they call an R&D company to follow up on such clues, providing nearly unlimited funding to a group of top researchers. ... despite the hype around its launch—Time magazine asked, “Can Google Solve Death?”—Calico has remained a riddle, a super-secretive company that three years in hasn’t published anything of note, rebuffs journalists, and asks visiting scientists to sign nondisclosure agreements. ... Right now, there’s no proven test for a person’s “biological” age; finding one would be scientifically useful and possibly lucrative. ... For all these diseases, aging is the single biggest risk factor. An 80-year-old is 40 times as likely to die from cancer as someone middle-aged. The risk for Alzheimer’s rises by 600 times. But what if it were possible to postpone all these deaths by treating aging itself? … The experiment will generate millions of readings—for levels of growth hormones and glucose, among other things. Churchill wouldn’t say how much Calico is paying, but simply feeding that many mice could cost $3 million.

The Guardian - The hi-tech war on science fraud 19min

Statcheck had read some 50,000 published psychology papers and checked the maths behind every statistical result it encountered. In the space of 24 hours, virtually every academic active in the field in the past two decades had received an email from the program, informing them that their work had been reviewed. Nothing like this had ever been seen before: a massive, open, retroactive evaluation of scientific literature, conducted entirely by computer. ... Statcheck’s method was relatively simple, more like the mathematical equivalent of a spellchecker than a thoughtful review, but some scientists saw it as a new form of scrutiny and suspicion, portending a future in which the objective authority of peer review would be undermined by unaccountable and uncredentialed critics. ... When it comes to fraud – or in the more neutral terms he prefers, “scientific misconduct” ... Despite its professed commitment to self-correction, science is a discipline that relies mainly on a culture of mutual trust and good faith to stay clean. Talking about its faults can feel like a kind of heresy. ... Even in the more mundane business of day-to-day research, scientists are constantly building on past work, relying on its solidity to underpin their own theories. If misconduct really is as widespread as Hartgerink and Van Assen think, then false results are strewn across scientific literature, like unexploded mines that threaten any new structure built over them.

National Geographic - Unlocking the Healing Power of You 17min

Whether it takes the form of a touch of the Holy Spirit at a Florida revival meeting or a dip in the water of the Ganges, the healing power of belief is all around us. Studies suggest that regular religious services may improve the immune system, decrease blood pressure, add years to our lives. ... Religious faith is hardly the only kind of belief that has the ability to make us feel inexplicably better. ... just as a good performance in a theater can draw us in until we feel we’re watching something real, the theater of healing is designed to draw us in by creating powerful expectations in our brains. These expectations drive the so-called placebo effect, which can affect what happens in our bodies as well. Scientists have known about the placebo effect for decades and have used it as a control in drug trials. Now they are seeing placebos as a window into the neurochemical mechanisms that connect the mind with the body, belief with experience. ... How does a belief become so potent it can heal? ... Most astonishingly, placebos can work even when the person taking them knows they are placebos.

Aeon - Maps in the head 11min

Maps are for humans, but how do animals, which began navigating millions of years before parchment was invented, manage to find their way around? Do animal (and human) brains contain a map, and if so does it have islands and capes, North Poles and Equators, reference lines and so on? And if they do, where is it, and how does it work? How could a jelly-like blob of protoplasm contain anything as structured as a map? ... These questions have intrigued biologists for many decades, particularly because animals can perform astonishing feats such as navigating their way from the North Pole to the South and back again, like the Arctic tern; or returning home after being transported hundreds of miles away, like the homing pigeon. How animals (both human and non-human) work out their location is just beginning to be understood by brain scientists. There are maps in the brain, as it happens. The properties of these maps, which neuroscientists call ‘cognitive maps’, have turned out to be highly intriguing, and are helping us to understand not just how animals navigate, but also more general principles about how the brain forms, stores and retrieves knowledge.

The New York Times - Do You Suffer From Decision Fatigue? (2011) 18min

Decision fatigue helps explain why ordinarily sensible people get angry at colleagues and families, splurge on clothes, buy junk food at the supermarket and can’t resist the dealer’s offer to rustproof their new car. No matter how rational and high-minded you try to be, you can’t make decision after decision without paying a biological price. It’s different from ordinary physical fatigue — you’re not consciously aware of being tired — but you’re low on mental energy. The more choices you make throughout the day, the harder each one becomes for your brain, and eventually it looks for shortcuts, usually in either of two very different ways. One shortcut is to become reckless: to act impulsively instead of expending the energy to first think through the consequences. (Sure, tweet that photo! What could go wrong?) The other shortcut is the ultimate energy saver: do nothing. Instead of agonizing over decisions, avoid any choice. Ducking a decision often creates bigger problems in the long run, but for the moment, it eases the mental strain. You start to resist any change, any potentially risky move ... experiments confirmed the 19th-century notion of willpower being like a muscle that was fatigued with use, a force that could be conserved by avoiding temptation. ... Any decision, whether it’s what pants to buy or whether to start a war, can be broken down into what psychologists call the Rubicon model of action phases, in honor of the river that separated Italy from the Roman province of Gaul.

MIT Technology Review - 10 Breakthrough Technologies 2017 5-15min

Reversing Paralysis: Scientists are making remarkable progress at using brain implants to restore the freedom of movement that spinal cord injuries take away.
Self-Driving Trucks: Tractor-trailers without a human at the wheel will soon barrel onto highways near you. What will this mean for the nation’s 1.7 million truck drivers?
Paying with Your Face: Face-detecting systems in China now authorize payments, provide access to facilities, and track down criminals. Will other countries follow?
Practical Quantum Computers: Advances at Google, Intel, and several research groups indicate that computers with previously unimaginable power are finally within reach.
The 360-Degree Selfie: Inexpensive cameras that make spherical images are opening a new era in photography and changing the way people share stories.
Hot Solar Cells: By converting heat to focused beams of light, a new solar device could create cheap and continuous power.
Gene Therapy 2.0: Scientists have solved fundamental problems that were holding back cures for rare hereditary disorders. Next we’ll see if the same approach can take on cancer, heart disease, and other common illnesses.
The Cell Atlas: Biology’s next mega-project will find out what we’re really made of.
Botnets of Things: The relentless push to add connectivity to home gadgets is creating dangerous side effects that figure to get even worse.
Reinforcement Learning: By experimenting, computers are figuring out how to do things that no programmer could teach them.

The New Yorker - Why Facts Don’t Change Our Minds 9min

Thousands of subsequent experiments have confirmed (and elaborated on) this finding. As everyone who’s followed the research—or even occasionally picked up a copy of Psychology Today—knows, any graduate student with a clipboard can demonstrate that reasonable-seeming people are often totally irrational. Rarely has this insight seemed more relevant than it does right now. Still, an essential puzzle remains: How did we come to be this way? ... new book, “The Enigma of Reason” (Harvard), the cognitive scientists Hugo Mercier and Dan Sperber take a stab at answering this question. ... point out that reason is an evolved trait, like bipedalism or three-color vision. It emerged on the savannas of Africa, and has to be understood in that context. ... Stripped of a lot of what might be called cognitive-science-ese, Mercier and Sperber’s argument runs, more or less, as follows: Humans’ biggest advantage over other species is our ability to cooperate. Cooperation is difficult to establish and almost as difficult to sustain. For any individual, freeloading is always the best course of action. Reason developed not to enable us to solve abstract, logical problems or even to help us draw conclusions from unfamiliar data; rather, it developed to resolve the problems posed by living in collaborative groups. ... Presented with someone else’s argument, we’re quite adept at spotting the weaknesses. Almost invariably, the positions we’re blind about are our own.

The Economist - Here, There and Everywhere: Quantum technology is beginning to come into its own 30min

After decades of work in the laboratory, a raft of different devices and approaches relying on quantum-mechanical effects are now nearing market-readiness. It has taken so long mainly because the components that make them up had to be developed first: ever-better lasers, semiconductors, control electronics and techniques to achieve the low temperatures at which many quantum systems perform best. ... Everything in the natural world can be described by quantum mechanics. Born a century ago, this theory is the rule book for what happens at atomic scales, providing explanations for everything from the layout of the periodic table to the zoo of particles spraying out of atom-smashers. It has guided the development of everyday technologies from lasers to MRI machines and put a solid foundation under astrophysicists’ musings about unknowables such as the interiors of black holes and the dawn of the universe. Revealed by a few surprising discoveries, such as that atoms absorb and emit energy only in packets of discrete sizes (quanta), and that light and matter can act as both waves and particles, it is modern physics’ greatest triumph. ... It has a weird side, though, and it is this that has captured interest in what is now being called the second quantum revolution.

BBC - The astonishing vision and focus of Namibia’s nomads 7min

The capital of the Kunene region, Opuwo lies in the heartland of the Himba people, a semi-nomadic people who spend their days herding cattle. Long after many of the world’s other indigenous populations had begun to migrate to cities, the Himba had mostly avoided contact with modern culture, quietly continuing their traditional life. But that is slowly changing, with younger generations feeling the draw of Opuwo, where they will encounter cars, brick buildings, and writing for the first time. ... How does the human mind cope with all those novelties and new sensations? By studying people like the Himba, at the start of their journey into modernity, scientists are now hoping to understand the ways that modern life may have altered all of our minds. ... Like an irregular lens, our modern, urban brains distort the images hitting our retina, magnifying some parts of the scene and shrinking others.

The New Yorker - Silicon Valley’s Quest to Live Forever 33min

For decades, the solution to aging has seemed merely decades away. In the early nineties, research on C. elegans, a tiny nematode worm that resembles a fleck of lint, showed that a single gene mutation extended its life, and that another mutation blocked that extension. The idea that age could be manipulated by twiddling a few control knobs ignited a research boom, and soon various clinical indignities had increased the worm’s life span by a factor of ten and those of lab mice by a factor of two. The scientific consensus transformed. Age went from being a final stage (a Time cover from 1958: “Growing Old Usefully”) and a social issue (Time, 1970: “Growing Old in America: The Unwanted Generation”) to something avoidable (1996: “Forever Young”) or at least vastly deferrable (2015: “This Baby Could Live to Be 142 Years Old”). Death would no longer be a metaphysical problem, merely a technical one. ... The celebration was premature. Gordon Lithgow, a leading C. elegans researcher, told me, “At the beginning, we thought it would be simple—a clock!—but we’ve now found about five hundred and fifty genes in the worm that modulate life span. And I suspect that half of the twenty thousand genes in the worm’s genome are somehow involved.” That’s for a worm with only nine hundred and fifty-nine cells. ... For us, aging is the creeping and then catastrophic dysfunction of everything, all at once. ... The great majority of longevity scientists are healthspanners, not immortalists. They want to give us a healthier life followed by “compressed morbidity”—a quick and painless death. ... The battle between healthspanners and immortalists is essentially a contest between the power of evolution as ordained by nature and the potential power of evolution as directed by man. ... Aging doesn’t seem to be a program so much as a set of rules about how we fail. Yet the conviction that it must be a program is hard to dislodge from Silicon Valley’s algorithmic minds. If it is, then reversing aging would be a mere matter of locating and troubleshooting a recursive loop of code.

Aeon - Web of war 16min

Whatever the truth of actual brainwashing incidents, the battle for people’s minds loomed large in the late 1950s, and was the subject of serious Pentagon discussions. The US and the Soviet Union were engaged in an ideological – and psychological – battle. Eager to exploit the science of human behaviour as it had physics and chemistry, the Pentagon commissioned a high-level panel at the Smithsonian Institution to recommend the best course of action. ... Psychology during the Cold War had fast become a darling of the military. ... That recommendation was translated by Pentagon officials into two separate assignments handed down to ARPA: one in the behavioural sciences, which would include everything from the psychology of brainwashing to quantitative modelling of society, and a second in command-and-control, to focus on computers. ... Licklider envisioned the modern conception of interactive computing: a future where people worked on personal consoles at their desks, rather than having to walk into a large room and feed punch cards into machines to crunch numbers. ... Licklider wanted people to understand that, more than any specific application, what he was describing was an entire metamorphosis of man and machine interaction. Personal consoles, time-sharing, and networking – the article essentially spelled out all the underpinnings of the modern internet.

Popular Mechanics - It’ll Take An Army To Kill The Emperor 33min

The men and women who are trying to bring down cancer are starting to join forces rather than work alone. Together, they are winning a few of the battles against the world's fiercest disease. ... It's not like you don't have cancer and then one day you just do. Cancer—or, really, cancers, because cancer is not a single disease—happens when glitches in genes cause cells to grow out of control until they overtake the body, like a kudzu plant. Genes develop glitches all the time: There are roughly twenty thousand genes in the human body, any of which can get misspelled or chopped up. Bits can be inserted or deleted. Whole copies of genes can appear and disappear, or combine to form mutants. ... Cancer is not an ordinary disease. Cancer is the disease—a phenomenon that contains the whole of genetics and biology and human life in a single cell. It will take an army of researchers to defeat it.

Quanta - How Heat Kills Cells 5min

Above a certain temperature, a cell will collapse and die. One of the most straightforward explanations for this lack of heat hardiness is that the proteins essential to life — the ones that extract energy from food or sunlight, fend off invaders, destroy waste products and so on — often have beautifully precise shapes. They start as long strands, then fold into helixes, hairpins and other configurations, as dictated by the sequence of their components. These shapes play a huge role in what they do. Yet when things start to heat up, the bonds that keep protein structures together break: first the weaker ones, and then, as the temperature mounts, the stronger ones. It makes sense that a pervasive loss of protein structure would be lethal, but until recently, the details of how, or if, this kills overheated cells were unknown. ... One of the clearest observations was that in each species, the proteins did not unfold en masse with a temperature boost. Instead, “we saw that only a small subset of proteins collapses very early,” Picotti said, “and these are key proteins.” ... This paradox — that some of the most important proteins seem to be the most delicate — may reflect how evolution has shaped them to do their jobs. ... The more copies the cell made, they reported, the more heat it took to break a protein down.

National Geographic - Why We Lie: The Science Behind Our Deceptive Ways 16min

Lying, it turns out, is something that most of us are very adept at. We lie with ease, in ways big and small, to strangers, co-workers, friends, and loved ones. Our capacity for dishonesty is as fundamental to us as our need to trust others, which ironically makes us terrible at detecting lies. Being deceitful is woven into our very fabric, so much so that it would be truthful to say that to lie is human. ... The ubiquity of lying was first documented systematically by Bella DePaulo, a social psychologist at the University of California, Santa Barbara. Two decades ago DePaulo and her colleagues asked 147 adults to jot down for a week every instance they tried to mislead someone. The researchers found that the subjects lied on average one or two times a day. Most of these untruths were innocuous, intended to hide one’s inadequacies or to protect the feelings of others. Some lies were excuses—one subject blamed the failure to take out the garbage on not knowing where it needed to go. Yet other lies—such as a claim of being a diplomat’s son—were aimed at presenting a false image. ... That human beings should universally possess a talent for deceiving one another shouldn’t surprise us. Researchers speculate that lying as a behavior arose not long after the emergence of language. The ability to manipulate others without using physical force likely conferred an advantage in the competition for resources and mates, akin to the evolution of deceptive strategies in the animal kingdom, such as camouflage.

New York Magazine - How the Self-Esteem Craze Took Over America 18min

At root, this national obsession was mostly the work of a very eccentric politician: John Vasconcellos. Vasconcellos, who died in 2014, was a California state legislator for 38 years. In his obituary, the San Jose Mercury News described him as a “famously rumpled bear-of-a-man” who was “colorful, witty, brilliant, angry, intellectual and elegantly foul of mouth.” Most of all, though, he was a nonconformist — during one three-year stretch, he decided to just let his hair grow and grow and grow — and his nonconformity frequently took on a decidedly Californian hue. Vasconcellos was an idealist who was convinced that humans had untold, untapped greatness, but it was an idealism driven in part by a bevy of personal demons and a long-running battle to control his anger problems. He was quite public about his varied attempts at self-improvement, which ranged from obscure forms of therapy to the teachings of the New Age Esalen Institute in Big Sur. ... Somewhere along the way, Vasconcellos discovered what was by then a good-size body of psychological research on self-esteem. It showed that people with high versus low self-esteem reacted in different ways to various challenges and instances of adversity ... This was a career-defining find for Vasconcellos. The logic was simple: If low self-esteem is tied to so many maladaptive responses, to so many forms of underachievement and bad behavior, then surely raising kids’ (and other’s) self-esteem could bring with it untold benefits. Soon, Vasconcellos was lobbying Sacramento to launch a statewide self-esteem commission to study the public-policy implications of self-esteem. ... little published evidence supporting Vasconcellos’s ideas. In some areas, high self-esteem actually correlated with worse behavior — some criminals, it turns out, actually view themselves quite favorably.

The Atlantic - How Checkers Was Solved 14min

Marion Tinsley—math professor, minister, and the best checkers player in the world—sat across a game board from a computer, dying. ... Tinsley had been the world’s best for 40 years, a time during which he'd lost a handful of games to humans, but never a match. It's possible no single person had ever dominated a competitive pursuit the way Tinsley dominated checkers. But this was a different sort of competition, the Man-Machine World Championship. ... His opponent was Chinook, a checkers-playing program programmed by Jonathan Schaeffer, a round, frizzy-haired professor from the University of Alberta, who operated the machine. Through obsessive work, Chinook had become very good. It hadn't lost a game in its last 125—and since they’d come close to defeating Tinsley in 1992, Schaeffer’s team had spent thousands of hours perfecting his machine. ... The two men were slated to play 30 matches over the next two weeks. The year was 1994, before Garry Kasparov and Deep Blue or Lee Sedol and AlphaGo. ... With Tinsley gone, the only way to prove that Chinook could have beaten the man was to beat the game itself. The results would be published July 19, 2007, in Science with the headline: Checkers Is Solved. ... At the highest levels, checkers is a game of mental attrition. Most games are draws. In serious matches, players don’t begin with the standard initial starting position. Instead, a three-move opening is drawn from a stack of approved beginnings, which give some tiny advantage to one or the other player. They play that out, then switch colors. The primary way to lose is to make a mistake that your opponent can jump on.

Bloomberg - The Mad Cheese Scientists Fighting to Save the Dairy Industry 10min

Americans eat 35 pounds of cheese per year on average—a record amount, more than double the quantity consumed in 1975. And yet that demand doesn’t come close to meeting U.S. supply: The cheese glut is so massive (1.3 billion pounds in cold storage as of May 31) that on two separate occasions, in August and October of last year, the federal government announced it would bail out dairy farmers by purchasing $20 million worth of surplus for distribution to food pantries. Add to that a global drop in demand for dairy, plus technology that’s making cows more prolific, and you have the lowest milk prices since the Great Recession ended in 2009. Farmers poured out almost 50 million gallons of unsold milk last year—actually poured it out, into holes in the ground—according to U.S. Department of Agriculture data. In an August 2016 letter, the National Milk Producers Federation begged the USDA for a $150 million bailout. ... That Taco Bell is developing its cheesiest products ever in the midst of an historic dairy oversupply is no accident. There exists a little-known, government-sponsored marketing group called Dairy Management Inc. (DMI), whose job it is to squeeze as much milk, cheese, butter, and yogurt as it can into food sold both at home and abroad. ... the group has been the hidden hand guiding most of fast food’s dairy hits—a kind of Illuminati of cheese—including and especially the Quesalupa.

The Guardian - Is the staggeringly profitable business of scientific publishing bad for science? 22min

The way to make money from a scientific article looks very similar, except that scientific publishers manage to duck most of the actual costs. Scientists create work under their own direction – funded largely by governments – and give it to publishers for free; the publisher pays scientific editors who judge whether the work is worth publishing and check its grammar, but the bulk of the editorial burden – checking the scientific validity and evaluating the experiments, a process known as peer review – is done by working scientists on a volunteer basis. The publishers then sell the product back to government-funded institutional and university libraries, to be read by scientists – who, in a collective sense, created the product in the first place. ... Journals prize new and spectacular results – after all, they are in the business of selling subscriptions – and scientists, knowing exactly what kind of work gets published, align their submissions accordingly. This produces a steady stream of papers, the importance of which is immediately apparent. But it also means that scientists do not have an accurate map of their field of inquiry. Researchers may end up inadvertently exploring dead ends that their fellow scientists have already run up against, solely because the information about previous failures has never been given space in the pages of the relevant scientific publications. ... Today, every scientist knows that their career depends on being published, and professional success is especially determined by getting work into the most prestigious journals. The long, slow, nearly directionless work pursued by some of the most influential scientists of the 20th century is no longer a viable career option.

The Atlantic - Hunting for Antibiotics in the World’s Dirtiest Places 11min

What Roberts has just done, in an action that he and people who support him have performed hundreds of times, is to return to a practice that was abandoned more than 40 years ago. He has sampled the environment, hoping to find in the dirtiest, most germ-filled places an answer to one of the most pressing problems of our day. ... Drug resistance—the ability of bacteria to defend themselves against the compounds we use to kill them—has impaired the effectiveness of almost every antibiotic produced since the first ones were developed, in the 1940s. At least 700,000 people are estimated to die worldwide every year from infections that no longer respond to antibiotics. That toll could balloon to more than 10 million a year by 2050 if we can’t slow the spread of resistance or find new drugs; routine surgeries and minor injuries will become life-threatening. ... Yet making the necessary changes to stave off this catastrophe seems to be beyond us. We continue to take antibiotics with abandon (nearly a third of antibiotic prescriptions in the U.S. aren’t actually needed) and feed huge quantities of them to farm animals. And pharmaceutical companies—daunted by how quickly resistance can undermine drugs that may take a decade and a billion dollars to develop—are not rushing to fill the gap. ... He launched his campaign, called Swab and Send, in February 2015. For £5, participants got a sample tube, a mailing envelope, and an explanation of what Roberts wanted them to look for: a spot in the environment where bacteria were likely to be competing for nutrition and room to reproduce. He asked them to use their imagination. The less sanitary, the better.

Nautilus - How We Really Tamed the Dog 21min

Suppose you wanted to build the perfect dog from scratch. What would be the key ingredients in the recipe? Loyalty and smarts would be musts. Cuteness would be as well, perhaps with gentle eyes, and a curly, bushy tail that wags in joy in anticipation of your appearance. ... You needn’t bother trying. Lyudmila Trut and Dmitri Belyaev have already built it for you. The perfect dog. Except it’s not a dog, it’s a fox. A domesticated one. They built it quickly—mind-bogglingly fast for constructing a brand new biological creature. It took them less than 60 years, a blink of an eye compared to the time it took for wolves to become dogs. They built it in the often unbearable negative 40 degrees Fahrenheit cold of Siberia, where Lyudmila and, before her, Dmitri, have been running one of the longest, most incredible experiments on behavior and evolution ever devised. ... Except for house pets, most domesticated animals do not form close relationships with humans, and by far the most intense affection and loyalty forms between owners and dogs. What made the difference? Had that deep human-animal bond developed over a long time? Or might this affinity for people be a change that could emerge quickly, as with so many other changes Lyudmila and Belyaev had seen in the foxes already? Would living with a human come naturally to a fox that had been bred for tameness?