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Seeing Stars

Building the next big telescope to extend "astronomical research beyond its practitioners' imaginations":

"Astronomy is the ultimate observational science. Humans have probably always looked skyward, noting the passage and patterns of the sun, moon, and stars. The eye is the essential instrument, and the subject of study is readily available—overhead. Astronomers cannot manipulate a star in a laboratory, or examine a black hole under a ventilating hood. They observe from afar.

"The modern science of course embraces deep theoretical astrophysics, aimed at understanding, for example, how gas and dust became stars and galaxies distributed across space; Avi Loeb directs the CfA’s Institute for Theory and Computation. Closely allied are computer simulations to emulate how those processes might unfold under enormous pressures at extreme temperatures, with unfamiliar conditions of matter and energy and scale. But the theorizing and models remain tethered to data. 'Observations are crucial for stimulating the right ideas,' as Loeb puts it. The GMT will help confirm or refute theoretical work about the first galaxies, he says. 'If we’re surprised, it’s even for the better.'"
PUBLISHED: April 19, 2013
LENGTH: 15 minutes (3954 words)

The Prison Problem

An examination of prison policies and rehabilitation programs for criminal offenders that help keep them out of prison and help them transition back into society:

"'So many pieces have to come together' to set newly released prisoners on the path to a productive, stable life, says Caroline Burke ’13, a social studies concentrator who is one of Western’s research assistants. 'If someone isn’t on the right track after the first few weeks, there’s a snowball effect.'

"The few inmates who do reintegrate without much difficulty, who are best positioned to deal with the psychological effects of the transition, have the 'big three' in place: they have a job lined up or find one quickly (e.g., through a trade union they previously worked with); they have housing (often with a relative or through a social-service program); and they have access to healthcare and treatment for substance-abuse and mental-health issues as necessary. The most effective reentry programs address these factors, and Western recommends directing more resources their way."
PUBLISHED: Feb. 15, 2013
LENGTH: 17 minutes (4439 words)

Labor, Interrupted

Getting to the root of the rising C-section rate for births in the U.S.:

"One clue may lie in what some experts call 'cascading interventions'—medical actions that lead to other medical actions that evolve into more invasive steps, including C-sections. Inducing labor, for example—in which a provider tries to stimulate a pregnant woman’s contractions through synthetic hormones or by stripping part of the membrane from her uterine wall—has been found to increase the likelihood of cesareans in first-time mothers.

"Continuous electronic fetal monitoring (CFM), which tracks a baby’s heart rate throughout labor, is also associated with higher cesarean rates. 'It was hypothesized,' Ecker explains, 'that [CFM, developed in the late 1960s] would reduce rates of cerebral palsy.' Based on this hypothesis, the technology became widely used. In the great majority of U.S. hospitals, CFM is standard care; a 2005 study found that 87 percent of laboring American women were attached to monitors most or all of the time. Meanwhile, Ecker adds, studies found that CFM had not reduced the incidence of cerebral palsy. But CFM did seem to increase C-section rates, he says: doctors were 'seeing these wiggles and squiggles'—changes in fetal heart rate—'that they weren’t seeing before.' They would get nervous and conclude, 'We’ve got to do something about it. Let’s do a C-section.'"
AUTHOR:Nell Lake
PUBLISHED: Nov. 27, 2012
LENGTH: 17 minutes (4323 words)