Why is scientific research still stuck in a model that requires that work be published in a small number of journals owned by a small number of companies?
"Companies like Elsevier developed in the 1960s and 1970s. They bought academic journals from the non-profits and academic societies that ran them, successfully betting that they could raise prices without losing customers. Today just three publishers, Elsevier, Springer and Wiley, account for roughly 42% of all articles published in the $19 billion plus academic publishing market for science, technology, engineering, and medical topics. University libraries account for 80% of their customers. Since every article is published in only one journal and researchers ideally want access to every article in their field, libraries bought subscriptions no matter the price. From 1984 to 2002, for example, the price of science journals increased nearly 600%. One estimate puts Elsevier’s prices at 642% higher than industry-wide averages."
PUBLISHED: May 12, 2013
LENGTH: 12 minutes (3246 words)
A brief history of the rock legend's style and fashions:
"Bowie’s image was as carefully contrived for album covers as for the actual musical performances: Sukita Masayoshi’s black-and-white photograph of Bowie posing like a mannequin doll on the cover of 'Heroes' (1977), or Bowie stretched out on a blue velvet sofa like a Pre-Raphaelite pinup in a long satin dress designed by Mr. Fish for The Man Who Sold the World (1971), or Guy Peellaert’s lurid drawing of Bowie as a 1920s carnival freak for Diamond Dogs (1974).
"All these images were created by Bowie himself, in collaboration with other artists. He drew his inspiration from anything that happened to catch his fancy: Christopher Isherwood’s Berlin of the 1930s, Hollywood divas of the 1940s, Kabuki theater, William Burroughs, English mummers, Jean Cocteau, Andy Warhol, French chansons, Buñuel’s surrealism, and Stanley Kubrick’s movies, especially A Clockwork Orange, whose mixture of high culture, science fiction, and lurking menace suited Bowie to the ground. Artists and filmmakers have often created interesting results by refining popular culture into high art. Bowie did the opposite: he would, as he once explained in an interview, plunder high art and take it down to the street; that was his brand of rock-and-roll theater."
PUBLISHED: May 7, 2013
LENGTH: 15 minutes (3932 words)
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 writer joins a group of scientists on a shark tagging expedition in the Bahamas:
"Hammerschlag, 34, spends nearly every weekend out on the water in South Florida, armed with hooks, lines, and tags. As a result, he is intimately acquainted with the limits of current technology; most tags, he says, are too expensive and don’t last long enough. Two years ago, he partnered with Marco Flagg, an engineer, to develop a new device. The production version of the HammerTag, he says, will last years and maybe even decades attached to a shark; it will be hundreds of dollars cheaper; and it will provide a thousand times the data.
"Data, Hammerschlag says, will lead scientists to identify nurseries and hunting grounds for the first time. It will reveal life cycles to determine when the animals are most vulnerable. And with enough of it, conservationists could influence legislators. Without effective legislation, Hammerschlag says, shark populations will surely continue to decline—and the ocean with them."
PUBLISHED: April 16, 2013
LENGTH: 18 minutes (4642 words)
A high school in Oakland, Calif. is reducing its numbers of suspensions by embracing new attempts to reach out to students:
"In the 2011-12 school year, African-Americans made up 32 percent of Oakland's students but 63 percent of the students suspended. In middle schools, principals suspended about 1 out of 3 black boys.
"The US Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights investigated whether the discipline was discriminatory. Before making a legal finding, OCR collaborated with the district last fall on a five-year voluntary resolution plan to reduce suspensions, expulsions, and the racial disparity.
"'We have been working really hard to basically move away from a zero-tolerance strategy ... [and create a] culture that is about healing from harm and restoring a sense of relationship,' said Tony Smith, OUSD superintendent, at a press conference announcing the plan. 'There have been deep and long-term structural reasons ... that have excluded and pushed out boys of color, and most often ... our African-American boys. The waste of so much human potential is not only unacceptable in Oakland, but across the country.'"
PUBLISHED: March 31, 2013
LENGTH: 9 minutes (2406 words)
Scientists have made advances in cloning procedures that would conceivably allow them to bring back extinct species. But is "de-extinction" something humans should be doing?
"Other scientists who favor de-extinction argue that there will be concrete benefits. Biological diversity is a storehouse of natural invention. Most pharmaceutical drugs, for example, were not invented from scratch—they were derived from natural compounds found in wild plant species, which are also vulnerable to extinction. Some extinct animals also performed vital services in their ecosystems, which might benefit from their return. Siberia, for example, was home 12,000 years ago to mammoths and other big grazing mammals. Back then, the landscape was not moss-dominated tundra but grassy steppes. Sergey Zimov, a Russian ecologist and director of the Northeast Science Station in Cherskiy in the Republic of Sakha, has long argued that this was no coincidence: The mammoths and numerous herbivores maintained the grassland by breaking up the soil and fertilizing it with their manure. Once they were gone, moss took over and transformed the grassland into less productive tundra."
PUBLISHED: March 17, 2013
LENGTH: 14 minutes (3657 words)
How snack-food company executives help perfect our addiction to junk food—and whether Americans can reverse course on a dangerous diet of salt, sugar and fat:
"The food technicians stopped worrying about inventing new products and instead embraced the industry’s most reliable method for getting consumers to buy more: the line extension. The classic Lay’s potato chips were joined by Salt & Vinegar, Salt & Pepper and Cheddar & Sour Cream. They put out Chili-Cheese-flavored Fritos, and Cheetos were transformed into 21 varieties. Frito-Lay had a formidable research complex near Dallas, where nearly 500 chemists, psychologists and technicians conducted research that cost up to $30 million a year, and the science corps focused intense amounts of resources on questions of crunch, mouth feel and aroma for each of these items. Their tools included a $40,000 device that simulated a chewing mouth to test and perfect the chips, discovering things like the perfect break point: people like a chip that snaps with about four pounds of pressure per square inch."
PUBLISHED: Feb. 20, 2013
LENGTH: 38 minutes (9693 words)
Brain injuries can result in "acquired savant syndrome," in which ordinary people develop remarkable skills after suffering head trauma:
"It would be weeks before the full impact of Amato’s head trauma became apparent: 35 percent hearing loss in one ear, headaches, memory loss. But the most dramatic consequence appeared just four days after his accident. Amato awoke hazy after near-continuous sleep and headed over to Sturm’s house. As the two pals sat chatting in Sturm’s makeshift music studio, Amato spotted a cheap electric keyboard.
"Without thinking, he rose from his chair and sat in front of it. He had never played the piano—never had the slightest inclination to. Now his fingers seemed to find the keys by instinct and, to his astonishment, ripple across them. His right hand started low, climbing in lyrical chains of triads, skipping across melodic intervals and arpeggios, landing on the high notes, then starting low again and building back up. His left hand followed close behind, laying down bass, picking out harmony. Amato sped up, slowed down, let pensive tones hang in the air, then resolved them into rich chords as if he had been playing for years. When Amato finally looked up, Sturm’s eyes were filled with tears."
PUBLISHED: Feb. 19, 2013
LENGTH: 16 minutes (4123 words)
Parents of children on the autism spectrum are wading through a considerable amount of information on the Internet purporting effective treatment and "cures" for autism. A majority of the treatments have been discredited:
"Almost by accident, Laidler says he and Ann, discovered the diet they’d put their son on didn’t work. 'He was gluten-free and we thought it was a miraculous cure for our son because he’d made pretty dramatic strides from the age of 3 to 4. We were starting to see real progress. But on a trip to Disneyland, he grabbed a waffle off the table and ate it before we could stop him. Doctors had told us that one drop [of gluten] would cause a dramatic relapse—we’d been told anecdotal stories that a speck of wheat bread would cause an autistic child to have weeks of bad behavior. And nothing happened.'
"The Laidlers had also tried chelating their son, and as physicians they had helped other families who wanted to try it. 'Nobody ever told me it did any good. So to regain my sense of mental balance I started asking a lot of pointed questions: Have you tried chelation? What was the result? Ninety percent of people I asked said they saw no improvement.'"
PUBLISHED: Jan. 30, 2013
LENGTH: 22 minutes (5712 words)