When the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union last month, the seaside town of Port Talbot in Wales eagerly went along with the move. Brexit was approved by some 57 percent of the town's residents.

Now some of them are wondering if they made the wrong decision.

The June 23 Brexit vote has raised questions about the fate of the troubled Port Talbot Works, Britain's largest surviving steel plant — a huge, steam-belching facility that has long been the town's biggest employer.

Solar Impulse 2 has landed in Cairo, completing the penultimate leg of its attempt to circumnavigate the globe using only the power of the sun.

The trip over the Mediterranean included a breathtaking flyover of the Pyramids. Check it out:

President Obama is challenging Americans to have an honest and open-hearted conversation about race and law enforcement. But even as he sits down at the White House with police and civil rights activists, Obama is mindful of the limits of that approach.

"I've seen how inadequate words can be in bringing about lasting change," the president said Tuesday at a memorial service for five law officers killed last week in Dallas. "I've seen how inadequate my own words have been."

Mice watching Orson Welles movies may help scientists explain human consciousness.

At least that's one premise of the Allen Brain Observatory, which launched Wednesday and lets anyone with an Internet connection study a mouse brain as it responds to visual information.

The FBI says it is giving up on the D.B. Cooper investigation, 45 years after the mysterious hijacker parachuted into the night with $200,000 in a briefcase, becoming an instant folk figure.

"Following one of the longest and most exhaustive investigations in our history," the FBI's Ayn Dietrich-Williams said in a statement, "the FBI redirected resources allocated to the D.B. Cooper case in order to focus on other investigative priorities."

This is the first in a series of essays concerning our collective future. The goal is to bring forth some of the main issues humanity faces today, as we move forward to uncertain times. In an effort to be as thorough as possible, we will consider two kinds of threats: those due to natural disasters and those that are man-made. The idea is to expose some of the dangers and possible mechanisms that have been proposed to deal with these issues. My intention is not to offer a detailed analysis for each threat — but to invite reflection and, hopefully, action.

Alabama authorities say a home burglary suspect has died after police used a stun gun on the man.  Birmingham police say he resisted officers who found him in a house wrapped in what looked like material from the air conditioner duct work.  The Lewisburg Road homeowner called police Tuesday about glass breaking and someone yelling and growling in his basement.  Police reportedly entered the dwelling and used a stun gun several times on a white suspect before handcuffing him.  Investigators say the man was "extremely irritated" throughout and didn't obey verbal commands.

It can be hard to distinguish among the men wearing grey suits and regulation haircuts on Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington. But David Margolis always brought a splash of color.

It wasn't his lovably disheveled wardrobe, or his Elvis ring, but something else: the force of his flamboyant personality. Margolis, a graduate of Harvard Law School, didn't want to fit in with the crowd. He wanted to stand out.

Montgomery Education Foundation's Brain Forest Summer Learning Academy was spotlighted Wednesday at Carver High School.  The academic-enrichment program is for rising 4th, 5th, and 6th graders in the Montgomery Public School system.  Community Program Director Dillion Nettles, says the program aims to prevent learning loss during summer months.  To find out how your child can participate in next summer's program visit Montgomery-ed.org

A police officer is free on bond after being arrested following a rash of road-sign thefts in southeast Alabama.  Brantley Police Chief Titus Averett says officer Jeremy Ray Walker of Glenwood is on paid leave following his arrest in Pike County.  The 30-year-old Walker is charged with receiving stolen property.  Lt. Troy Johnson of the Pike County Sheriff's Office says an investigation began after someone reported that Walker was selling road signs from Crenshaw County.  Investigators contacted the county engineer and learned signs had been reported stolen from several roads.

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The Year Of The Higgs, And Other Tiny Advances In Science

Jan 1, 2013
Originally published on January 1, 2013 9:44 am

It's a year-end tradition to cobble together a list of the most important advances in science. But, truth be told, many ideas that change the world don't tend to spring from these flashy moments of discovery. Our view of nature — and our technology — often evolve from a sequence of more subtle advances.

Even so, chances are good that this year's list-makers will choose the discovery of the Higgs boson as the most important discovery of 2012.

The Higgs is a long-sought building block of the universe. It finally put in an appearance at an accelerator in Europe. But though it was big news, it wasn't apparently a revolutionary discovery.

"There are certainly a number of physicists who are actually disappointed," says Sam Arbesman, a scientist and mathematician at the Kauffman Foundation. "They were hoping to find something a little different from what all the models predicted."

Instead, they got a discovery that mostly assures them the universe works pretty well the way they thought it did. So big news doesn't necessarily change the way we look at the world.

Arbesman and science historian W. Patrick McCray took a few minutes recently to talk about the nature of discoveries in science and technology. Each has just written a book about the process of science and technology. Arbesman's is The Half-Life of Facts; McCray's is The Visioneers.

McCray, at the University of California, Santa Barbara, says revolutionary discoveries don't necessarily announce themselves when they happen. Consider this story: In 1988, a French scientist and a German scientist independently discovered a basic physics phenomenon known as giant magnetoresistance.

The discovery seemed so arcane it didn't make a splash, like the Higgs boson. But, as it turns out, this phenomenon provided an extraordinarily powerful new way to get data on and off a magnetic disk, "and became the basis for a multibillion-dollar market for computer hard drives," McCray says.

That fueled a technology revolution and eventually led to a Nobel Prize for the scientists. But Arbesman says even this story distorts how science often progresses.

"It's not necessarily true that we need to find these singular big discoveries," he says. "Because the truth is, the way we make discoveries is oftentimes based on the accumulation of a lot of smaller insights and smaller ideas and discoveries. And oftentimes in the aggregate, those kinds of things — the things that we expect or the things that we don't expect — are often what drive science."

One classic example of this is the observation that the Earth's surface is always rearranging itself, as continental plates drift around the globe. This theory, now called plate tectonics, was first proposed in 1912, "but it took decades for enough evidence to be accumulated to support the theory, and also for scientists to come around to the idea that the continents were moving," McCray says.

Plate tectonics is now an indispensable way of understanding many things about our world — not just about what drives earthquakes, but how animal species came to be distributed around the planet. This kind of slow burn happens more often than you might think.

"I think the laser, initially, in terms of a technology, was one of these great examples where it was a really cool thing, but I think no one had any idea what it could be used for," Arbesman says, "and now it's ubiquitous."

There's a lesson in that for Arbesman. It's not so easy to figure out what fields of science to fund in order to get breakthroughs in return.

"The truth is, we don't really have a good track record at predicting which ones are going to be relevant in the long term," he says. "And we want to make sure that we support the creation of knowledge. And to do that, we have to really make sure that we support everything all across the board."

That means, of course, most of the time we will be supporting research that may fill in facts around the edges but won't be revolutionary.

McCray argues that one of the most notable trends in science this year wasn't a discovery at all. It has to do with how much the public accepts what scientists tell them.

"Debates over climate change, evolution, whether vaccines cause autism, things like that — all are part of a larger debate about the role and place of experts in American society," he says.

Americans still accept that science is a way to learn truths, but people are less likely to trust scientists as objective experts, McCray says. "And I think it's certainly something that a decade from now, we might look back upon and find quite curious, and indeed, quite serious."

That trend affects how we make use of the discoveries that flow from science — so it also matters a lot.

Copyright 2013 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Happy New Year. This is MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. I'm David Greene.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

And I'm Steve Inskeep.

When we review a year just past, it's a tradition to round up the year's most important advances in science. But any such list may miss a subtlety. Many ideas that change the world do not spring from one flash of discovery.

NPR's Richard Harris reports that our understanding of nature and our technology often evolve.

RICHARD HARRIS, BYLINE: Chances are, list makers will choose the discovery of the Higgs boson as the most important discovery of 2012. The Higgs is a long-sought building block of the universe. It finally put in an appearance at an accelerator in Europe. But Sam Arbesman, a scientist and mathematician at the Kauffman Foundation, says the discovery doesn't seem to be revolutionary.

SAM ARBESMAN: There are certainly a number of physicists who are actually a little disappointed. They were kind of hoping to find something a little bit different than what all the models predicted.

HARRIS: Instead, they got a discovery that mostly assures them the universe works pretty well the way they thought it did. So big news doesn't necessarily change the way we look at the world.

Arbesman and science historian Patrick McCray took a few minutes recently to talk about the nature of discoveries in science and technology. Their clean audio connections are, fittingly enough, courtesy of a recently invented iPhone app.

McCray, at the University of California Santa Barbara, says revolutionary discoveries don't necessarily announce themselves when they happen. Consider this story.

PATRICK MCCRAY: In 1988, two scientists, a Frenchman and a German, discovered a basic physics phenomenon known as giant magnetoresistance.

HARRIS: The discovery seemed so arcane, it didn't make a splash like the Higgs boson. But as it turns out, this phenomenon provided an extraordinarily powerful new way to get data on and off a magnetic disk.

MCCRAY: And became the basis for a multibillion-dollar market in computer hard drives.

HARRIS: A technology revolution, and eventually a Nobel Prize for the scientists. But Sam Arbesman says even this story distorts how science often progresses.

ARBESMAN: It's not necessarily true that we need to find these singular, big discoveries, because the truth is, the way we make discoveries is oftentimes based on the accumulation of a lot of smaller insights and smaller ideas and discoveries. And oftentimes, in the aggregate, those kinds of things - the things that we expect, or the things that we don't expect - are often what drive science.

HARRIS: One classic example of this is the observation that the Earth's surface is always rearranging itself, as continental plates drift around the globe. Patrick McCray says this theory, now called plate tectonics, was proposed in 1912.

MCCRAY: But it took decades for enough evidence to be accumulated to support the theory, and also for scientists to come around to the idea that the continents were moving.

HARRIS: That's now an indispensible way of understanding many things about our world - not just about what drives earthquakes, but how animal species came to be distributed around the planet. Arbesman says this kind of slow burn happens more often than you might think.

ARBESMAN: I think the laser, initially, in terms of a technology, was one of these great examples where it was a really cool thing, but I think no one had any idea what it could be used for. Now it's ubiquitous.

HARRIS: There's a lesson in that for Arbesman. It's not so easy to figure out what fields of science to fund in order to get breakthroughs in return.

ARBESMAN: The truth is we don't really have a good track record at predicting which ones are going to be relevant in the long term. And we want to make sure that we support the creation of knowledge. And to do that, we have to really make sure that we support everything all across the board.

HARRIS: That means, of course, most of the time, we will be supporting research that may fill in facts around the edges, but won't be revolutionary.

For Patrick McCray, one of the most notable trends in science this year wasn't a discovery at all. It has to do with how much the public accepts what scientists tell them.

MCCRAY: Debates over climate change, evolution, whether vaccines cause autism, things like that, all are part of the larger debates about the role and place of experts in American society.

HARRIS: McCray says Americans still accept that science is a way to learn truths, but people are less likely to trust scientists as objective experts.

MCCRAY: And I think it's certainly something that a decade from now, we might look back upon and find quite curious and, indeed, quite serious.

HARRIS: That trend affects how we make use of the discoveries that flow from science, so it also matters a lot.

Richard Harris, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.