Science

2:59am

Wed January 29, 2014
Shots - Health News

Ancient Plague's DNA Revived From A 1,500-Year-Old Tooth

Originally published on Thu January 30, 2014 11:11 am

Graduate student Jennifer Klunk of McMaster University examines a tooth used to decode the genome of the ancient plague.
Courtesy of McMaster University

Scientists have reconstructed the genetic code of a strain of bacteria that caused one of the most deadly pandemics in history nearly 1,500 years ago.

They did it by finding the skeletons of people killed by the plague and extracting DNA from traces of blood inside their teeth.

This plague struck in the year 541, under the reign of the Roman emperor Justinian, so it's usually called the Justinian plague. The emperor actually got sick himself but recovered. He was one of the lucky ones.

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2:54am

Wed January 29, 2014
Around the Nation

On The Plains, The Rush For Oil Has Changed Everything

Originally published on Wed January 29, 2014 12:49 pm

Diners at Lonnie's Roadhouse Cafe eat breakfast before heading to work in Williston, N.D.
Annie Flanagan for NPR

A remarkable transformation is underway in western North Dakota, where an oil boom is changing the state's fortunes and leaving once-sleepy towns bursting at the seams. In a series of stories, NPR is exploring the economic, social and environmental demands of this modern-day gold rush.

On a Sunday at dusk, Amtrak's eastbound Empire Builder train is jampacked, filled with people heading to their jobs in North Dakota towns like Minot, Williston and Watford City.

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4:22pm

Tue January 28, 2014
The Two-Way

China's Jade Rabbit Rover May Be Doomed On The Moon

Originally published on Tue January 28, 2014 6:55 pm

The Chinese flag is seen in front of a view of the moon at Beijing's Tiananmen Square in December, when China's first moon rover touched the lunar surface. That feat was widely celebrated — but observers believe the rover has now run into serious trouble.
Mark Ralston AFP/Getty Images

China's new moon rover, the Jade Rabbit, may be dead. Chinese officials recently announced the rover was experiencing mechanical difficulties, and now observers believe it's done for.

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2:17pm

Tue January 28, 2014
Author Interviews

Entrepreneurs Looking For 'Windfall' Cash In On Climate Change

Originally published on Tue January 28, 2014 2:48 pm

A boat skims through the melting ice in the Ilulissat fjord in August 2008, on the western coast of Greenland.
Steen Ulrik Johannessen AFP/Getty Images

In 2008, as scientists documented a record melt in the Arctic ice and Al Gore's film An Inconvenient Truth was in theaters, a half dozen major investment houses launched mutual funds designed to take advantage of financial opportunities offered by climate change.

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11:37am

Tue January 28, 2014
13.7: Cosmos And Culture

A Human-Driven Mass Extinction: Good Or Bad?

Originally published on Tue January 28, 2014 2:26 pm

Will the distant future give rise to exhibits of a human past long gone, much as we gawk today at representations of a dinosaur age we can only imagine?
Aamir Qureshi AFP/Getty Images

Odds are good that there's a mass extinction going on right now. It will be only one of six in the entire history of the planet. In the past these great die-offs have been caused by asteroid impacts and rapid, devastating climate change driven by volcanism.

This time it's driven by you and me.

How does that make you feel? How should that make you feel? The answer to this question depends mightily on what you think of as nature and where you think we fit into it.

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3:00pm

Mon January 27, 2014
Shots - Health News

Stricter Autism Criteria Unlikely To Reduce Services For Kids

Originally published on Tue January 28, 2014 1:55 pm

Clinical specialist Catey Funaiock took notes while observing a 5-year-old boy at the Marcus Autism Center, part of Children's Healthcare of Atlanta, in September.
David Goldman AP

The clinical definition for when a child has some form of autism has been tightened. And these narrower criteria for autism spectrum disorder probably will reduce the number of kids who meet the new standard.

But researchers say the changes, which were rolled out last May, are likely to have a bigger effect on government statistics than on the care of the nation's children.

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1:29pm

Mon January 27, 2014
Shots - Health News

You'd Think We'd Have Baby-Making All Figured Out, But No

Originally published on Tue January 28, 2014 7:41 am

"Oh, just put a pillow underneath your hips during sex, then you'll definitely get pregnant," a good friend told me. "That did the trick for us — twice."

Now, the friend is a smart woman. She has a Ph.D. in biology, for Pete's sake. So she must know what she's talking about when it comes to conception, right?

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12:07pm

Mon January 27, 2014
The Salt

Soil, Weedkillers And GMOs: When Numbers Don't Tell The Whole Story

Originally published on Mon January 27, 2014 4:12 pm

Farm statistics: usually illuminating ... occasionally misleading.
Seth Perlman AP

I love numbers. A picture may be worth a thousand words, but I think a good bar graph can be worth a thousand pictures.

But three times in the past few days, I've come across statistics in reputable-looking publications that made me stop and say, "Huh?"

I did some investigating so you don't have to. And indeed, the numbers don't quite tell the story that they purport to tell.

So here goes: My skeptical inquiry into statistics on herbicide use, soil erosion, and the production of fruits and nuts.

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10:57am

Mon January 27, 2014
13.7: Cosmos And Culture

Must Science Murder Its Darlings?

Originally published on Mon January 27, 2014 11:56 am

iStockphoto

"The great tragedy of Science," wrote Thomas Henry Huxley, is "the slaying of a beautiful hypothesis by an ugly fact."

Of course, part of what makes science so powerful is its very willingness to see its darlings go by the wayside. New facts come in, new ideas emerge and once-valued notions make their way from science texts to history books.

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3:33am

Mon January 27, 2014
Science

Grand Canyon May Be Older (And Younger) Than You Think

Originally published on Mon January 27, 2014 11:31 am

The eastern Grand Canyon was about half-carved (to the level of the red cliffs above the hiker) from 15 million to 25 million years ago, an analysis published Sunday suggests. But the inner gorge was likely scooped out by the Colorado River in just the past 6 million years.
Laura Crossey University of New Mexico

In recent years geologists have hotly debated the age of the Grand Canyon. Some think it's young (just 6 million years old), while others argue that it dates back 70 million years — to the days of dinosaurs.

Now one group says the Grand Canyon is neither young nor old. Instead, these geologists say, it's both.

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