Faye Flam (for Info only, not official)

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Faye Flam

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    ...Reuters In a recent talk about his new book, Scale, physicist Geoffrey West described climate change as a form of entropy—disorder that’s created as the price of all the order and creative energy pent up in cities. In this view, climate change is not, as some argue, just a euphemism for global warming. It’s a broader term that reflects the unpredictable, disorderly way global warming will affect the planet’s oceans and atmosphere. In other words, we won’t be so lucky as to see a regular, incremental increase in the earth’s average temperature. Instead, we’re seeing rapid, erratic changes in weather patterns that people have counted on for centuries. Consider one of the more interesting hypotheses about global warming: that it will cause the wind patterns that normally keep storms moving from place to place to slow down, causing prolonged downpours as well as droughts. ...

    Live Mint on Sept. 11, 2017, 11:23 a.m.

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    ...We’re looking at the promise of self-driving cars, according to Zak Kohane, a doctor and researcher at Harvard Medical School. On the roads, replacing drivers with computers could save lives that would otherwise be lost to human error. In medicine, replacing intuition with machine intelligence might save patients from drug side effects or otherwise incurable cancers. Consider precision medicine, which involves tailoring drugs to individual patients. And to understand its promise, look to Shirley Pepke, a physicist who migrated into computational biology. When she developed a deadly cancer, she responded like a scientist and fought it using Big Data. And she is winning. She shared her story at a recent conference organized by Kohane. In 2013, Pepke was diagnosed with advanced ovarian cancer. She was 46, and her children were nine and three years old. It was just two months after her annual gynaecological exam. ...

    Live Mint on Aug. 1, 2017, 2:03 a.m.

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    ...Preparation is essential, but you have to be ready to improvise when you encounter surprises — such as a world constantly erupting with ice volcanoes, or a system of rivers and lakes made from liquid methane, or giant dunes made from plastic. The dunes and methane lakes are on Titan and the ice volcanoes are on Enceladus — both moons of the giant ringed planet Saturn, and part of the frontier that Nasa is exploring with its epic Cassini mission. Cassini’s scientists have had to think on their feet many times over the nearly 20-year endeavor, which will end this fall when the spacecraft runs out of fuel. “We had to change plans … to make observations we didn’t know we wanted to make ’til we saw things we didn’t expect to see,” said Jeffrey Moore, planetary scientist at Nasa’s Ames Research Centre in California. And at 900 million miles from home, you can’t exactly go back to get a different camera. ...

    Live Mint on May 20, 2017, 3:27 p.m.

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    ...One way or another, facts have become a hotter commodity than coconut water and kale. But how do any of us know for sure that the facts we believe are the real ones? Should you go with what your smartest friends post on social media? What you were taught in school? What the newspapers report? Wikipedia? The pages of Scientific American? The bad news, scientists warn us, is that our brains are problematic places to seek reliable facts. In a new book titled The Enigma Of Reason, for example, the authors—two cognitive scientists—assert that humans use reason more often to bolster their existing ideas (and egos) than to find the truth. In another recent book, The Knowledge Illusion, cognitive scientists Philip Fernbach and Steven Sloman show how most people think they know much more than they actually do. ...

    Live Mint on April 26, 2017, 12:27 a.m.


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    ...From year to year, temperatures may cycle from hotter to cooler and back again. The bad news, however, is that without serious cuts in greenhouse-gas emissions, the world will get much warmer over the long term. Focusing on record-breaking years alone can be misleading. It means throwing away the bulk of your data, said statistical physicist Sidney Redner of the Santa Fe Institute, US. Looking at systematic long-term trends, he said, “is the more kosher way to do things”. It’s easy to fool yourself or others by zeroing in on a small piece of data. In the early 2000s, some people isolated the relatively cool years following big spikes in 1997 and 1998 and wrongly concluded that global warming had stopped. Unsurprisingly, claims about “the pause” were more popular among politicians than among scientists. ...

    Live Mint on Jan. 26, 2017, 2:14 a.m.

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    ...Animals in such a state would likely be the first picked off by predators, if they hadn’t already fallen out of a tree. And yet humans all over the world drink ethanol in various concoctions, or they enforce strict rules against it—rules that surely wouldn’t exist if there weren’t a desire. We have been at it for a long time: Archaeologists have found wine and beer stains on 10,000-year-old stone age pottery. Scientists are solving the paradox by studying the enzymes our bodies use to digest alcohol. Lots of animals make these enzymes, called alcohol dehydrogenases, and the way these vary from one species to another tells an evolutionary story. Then there’s the related question of whether other species imbibe. Preliminary investigations suggest the answer is yes. ...

    Live Mint on Jan. 3, 2017, 12:31 a.m.