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Q&A

Indigenous languages are founts of environmental knowledge

Peoples who live close to nature have a rich lore of plants, animals and landscapes embedded in their mother tongues — which may hold vital clues to protecting biodiversity

How shade coffee lends conservation a hand

When managed in the right way, the farms that provide our morning brew can be a refuge for plant and animal biodiversity

The growing link between microbes, mood and mental health

New research suggests that to maintain a healthy brain, we should tend our gut microbiome. The best way to do that right now is not through pills and supplements, but better food.

Central American volcanoes offer clues to Earth’s geological evolution

Along 1,100 kilometers, from Mexico to Costa Rica, lies the Central American volcanic arc, where the variety of magma types make for a geological paradise

The race to understand polar ice sheets

As glacial cliffs break off and destabilize frozen landscapes, glaciologist Richard Alley focuses on the fractures. The work could improve predictions about future sea-level rise.

The remaining frontiers in fighting hepatitis C

A scientist whose work was key to identifying, studying and finding treatments for this life-threatening virus discusses the scientific journey and challenges that persist

Does it work to pay people not to cut the forest?

Evidence that the approach helps to save trees, preserve ecosystems and reduce carbon emissions is often hard to come by. But it can succeed if it’s done right, says an economist.

The knotty economics of student loan debt

People in the US owe a whopping $1.7 trillion for higher education. An economist weighs in on how to deal with the ballooning college tab.

The ‘least crazy’ idea: Early dark energy could solve a cosmological conundrum

Measurements of the acceleration of the universe don’t agree, stumping physicists working to understand the cosmic past and future. A new proposal seeks to better align these estimates — and is likely testable.

To help birds and insects, cultivate native gardens

Entomologist Doug Tallamy explains how filling our yards with local plants can provide our feathered friends with a caterpillar buffet

Can probiotics protect corals from problems like bleaching?

Lab experiments suggest that a dose of carefully selected microbes may boost the health of these reef-building creatures and their symbiotic algae

Natural pest control: Plants enlist their enemies’ enemies

These stealthy survival tactics could teach us how to curb the widespread use of chemical pesticides in agriculture. But first, researchers must learn how seemingly helpless flora deploy this masterful strategy.

Is this ‘age of the delta’ coming to an end?

The wet landmasses, though inherently impermanent, have been essential to both people and wildlife for thousands of years. But recent shifts have brought on some rapid losses that worry scientists.

After Covid-19, can mRNA vaccines help with cancer as well?

The pandemic put the technology, long in development, to the test. Here’s a look at the status of its application to cancer and when it might reach patients.

Like hungry locusts, humans can easily be tricked into overeating

Our bodies crave more food if we haven’t had enough protein, and this can lead to a vicious cycle — especially if we’re reaching for ultraprocessed instead of high-fiber whole foods

Understanding carjacking

Criminologist Bruce Jacobs has spoken to carjackers in detail about their crimes. Here’s what he’s learned in two decades of study.

Teens can have excellent executive function — just not all the time

Adolescents’ brains are highly capable, if inconsistent, during this critical age of exploration and development. They are also acutely tuned into rewards.

When criminals rule the land

In Latin America, tens of millions of people live in territories that are governed by outlaws — from powerful drug cartels to crime syndicates. What can be done to restore legitimate law and order?

Not enough fish in the sea

The scientist who found a way to tally up global catches is an ocean advocate and a vocal critic of industrial fisheries. Now we have a treaty for the high seas — but does it go far enough?

Controlled burns won’t save all of California from wildfire

There are two types of wildfire in the state, and they’re on the rise for different reasons. Each needs a distinct management approach, a researcher says.

What makes for a ‘great’ sex life?

Research into intimacy upends many popular notions about sexual fulfillment. One hint: It’s more about connection than technique.

Can cosmology untangle the universe’s most elusive mysteries?

From the Big Bang to dark energy, knowledge of the cosmos has sped up in the past century — but big questions linger

Navigating the ethics of ancient human DNA research

Paleogenomic research has expanded rapidly over the past two decades, igniting heated debate about handling remains. Who gives consent for study participants long gone — and who should speak for them today?

AI for better crops

The technology could transform how growers protect their harvests, by detecting plant diseases very early on. But the challenge is to develop tools that are as affordable as they are effective.

Mistletoes in a warming world

Can the famous parasitic plants help animals to survive climate change, or will they be killed off by extreme weather?

Color is in the eye, and brain, of the beholder

The way we see and describe hues varies widely for many reasons: from our individual eye structure, to how our brain processes images, to what language we speak, or even if we live near a body of water 

What can cities do to survive extreme heat?

Urban heat waves are getting worse, but better data and timely government action could make them less deadly

Our ancestors ate a Paleo diet. It had carbs.

There is no one prehistoric meal plan. A modern hunter-gatherer group known as the Hadza has taught researchers surprising things about the highly variable menu consumed by humans past.

Rethinking insurance for floods, wildfires and other catastrophes

The industry is in crisis just when disaster coverage is most needed

She saw the obesity epidemic coming. Then an unexpected finding mired her in controversy.

Katherine Flegal was a scientist who found herself crunching numbers for the government, until one day her analyses set off a firestorm. What does she make of her decades as a woman in public health research?

The science of a wandering mind

More than just a distraction, mind-wandering (and its cousin, daydreaming) may help us prepare for the future

Doing away with cash bail

In the US, people charged with a crime usually need to post a large cash bond to be released before trial — a system used barely anywhere else in the world. This doesn’t enhance public safety and causes great hardship to defendants and families. There’s a better way, researchers say.

An archaeological look at modern refugees

The techniques of archaeology, usually used to study the past, also illuminate the experiences of today’s displaced people

Inside the adolescent brain

This challenging phase of life may get a bad rap, but it’s also full of opportunity. A developmental neuroscientist shares what she’s learned from studies on young people’s risk-taking behavior, reasoning and more.

Making microbots smart

What would it take to create a truly intelligent microbot, one that can operate independently? A roboticist describes the fascinating minutiae and the medical jobs these tiny machines could do for us.

How cities can fight climate change

Urban activities — think construction, transportation, heating, cooling and more — are major sources of greenhouse-gas emissions. Today, a growing number of cities are striving to slash their emission to net zero — here’s what they need to do.

Mining museums’ genomic treasures

The world’s natural history collections hold billions of biological specimens, many of which still contain DNA. Scientists exploring these genetic repositories are gaining new, historical perspectives on how animals evolve.

Mapping the brain to understand the mind

New technology is enabling neuroscientists to make increasingly detailed wiring diagrams that could yield new insights into brain function

Vaccinating the world against Covid-19

Lower-income countries haven’t gotten an equal share of lifesaving coronavirus vaccines. Older, more familiar vaccine technologies may hold the key to more equitable use, says Maria Elena Bottazzi.

Rethinking air conditioning amid climate change

ACs and refrigerators help keep people safe — but they also further warm the planet. Scientists are working on eco-friendlier solutions as global demand for cooling grows.

The invention of incarceration

Prisons have been controversial since their beginnings in the late 1700s — why do they keep failing to live up to expectations?

To learn Klingon or Esperanto: What invented languages can teach us

NuqneH! Saluton! A linguistic anthropologist (and creator of the Kryptonian language, among others) studies the people who invent new tongues.

How to handle climate anxiety

Worry over the planet’s future is taking a toll on emotional well-being, researchers say. Here’s how to cope so we don’t lose hope for our planet and for ourselves.

Salmonella: Why it’s a chicken and egg thing

Eliminating this food-poisoning bacterium from poultry is tricky — not least because rapid, precise tests are still unavailable. Researchers are looking at vaccines, probiotics, prebiotics and even essential oils as ways to reduce contamination on the farm.

To understand airborne transmission of disease, follow the flow

Viruses and bacteria travel in fluids, such as the air we breathe. Studying exhalations, toilet flushes and rain drops, with math and modeling, can sharpen the big-picture view of how to prevent infections.

Can statistics help crack the mysterious Voynich manuscript?

The meaning of the cryptic text has eluded scholars for centuries. Their latest efforts include computational analyses seeking new insights into the medieval enigma.

Studying poverty through a child’s eyes

Research on early-life adversity should pay more attention to the perspective of children themselves

The story of families, wrested from big data

Records tell the story of the decline of the patriarchy, the rise and fall of marrying young, and pandemic fallout; digitizing the data could reveal even richer tales

A galactic archaeologist digs into the Milky Way’s history

Astrophysicists now have the data and models to uncover subtle imprints from our galaxy’s past

Emotions get better with age

As people grow older, they gain greater control of their feelings. How do they do that — and can they teach young whippersnappers a thing or two?

A healthy environment as a human right

UN recognition would strengthen legal arguments for preserving nature

The weird biology of asexual lizards

Some lizard species do without males altogether. Scientists are studying these all-female species to see what they might reveal about the pros and cons of sex.

How health insurance is faring under Covid

Millions of Americans lost employer-sponsored coverage when Covid-19 disrupted their jobs. Can America come up with a better system?

Battling arsenic pollution

Arsenic-poisoned water remains a threat to public health the world over. Scientists hope to change that.

Kids of the Covid generation: The road ahead

What will become of children growing up during the pandemic? There’s reason for concern, but the research on resilience is reassuring. A developmental psychologist explains what adults can do to protect youngsters from long-term harm.

American individualism and our collective crisis

Our national and social identity is deeply rooted in values like freedom, equality and order. A political scientist explores how these ideas affected the US response to the pandemic.

Pandemic puts all eyes on public health

Covid-19 has exposed the weak spots of the US public health system — and that presents an opportunity, says an epidemiologist, for the nation to recognize the problems and act to fix them

How the pandemic could globalize the economy even more — not less

Closed borders, trade conflicts and supply-chain problems raise the specter of nations turning inward and disconnecting from one another. But Princeton’s Harold James thinks Covid-19 may well push us all closer.

Fact or fantasy? Tales from the linguistic fringe

Paranormal claims and other pseudoscience often bedevil the study of language

What legacy lies ahead for Black Lives Matter?

Historically, the road to reform has often begun with protesters taking to the streets. A sociologist and a political scientist take stock of whether today’s activism will lead to actual change.

The pernicious contagion of misinformation

False statements — about Covid-19 and so much else — spread like a virus online. Scientists should study them like one.

How we bury our dead during a pandemic

Funerals, burials and other ways of communally commemorating those who have died have always been part of human history. The need for social distancing has upended these psychologically important rituals and fostered creative alternatives.

Why solar geoengineering should be part of the climate crisis solution

The controversial technology of reflecting sunlight away from the planet could help blunt the worst impacts of climate change

Making and breaking connections in the brain

The links between nerve cells, called synapses, allow us to learn and adapt, and hold clues to conditions such as autism, schizophrenia and more

Why jobless payments serve the public good

Amid political debate over benefits during the pandemic, a researcher explains why unemployment insurance and other government measures are crucial for the economy and employees to survive troubled times

Matching meals to metabolism

Genes, microbes and other factors govern how each person’s body processes nutrients. Understanding the connections could help optimize diets — and health.

Less toy, more workhorse: Drones get functional

Airborne autonomous vehicles could soon be dropping off your Amazon packages, delivering your food and even ensuring that the infrastructure around you is safe and sound

The trouble with medicating mental illness

Psychotropic drugs have severely narrowed how we treat psychiatric disorders — to the detriment of patients and society as a whole. A look at the past suggests a better way forward.

Speaking of pandemics: The art and science of risk communication

Public health messages should be loud and clear, so that everyone listens and stays safe. But that’s easier said than done — especially with a case as complex as Covid-19.

America the Unhealthy: Inequality kills

Smoking, poor diet, lack of exercise? Yes, but that’s not all. A researcher tells us what really hurts US life expectancy.

Corporate crime and non-punishment

The legal system makes it easy for big businesses that break the law to escape prosecution and evade reform. There is a better way — and a legal scholar tells us exactly how it could work.

Curbing implicit bias: what works and what doesn’t

Psychologists have yet to find a way to diminish hidden prejudice, but they do have strategies for thwarting discrimination 

The challenge of conducting clinical research during a pandemic

Drug treatments and vaccines for Covid-19 are needed fast. But developing them in mid-outbreak is logistically hard and ethically tricky. A veteran vaccine researcher explains.

Building a mouse squad against Covid-19

It began with an email from Wuhan, a Maine laboratory and mouse sperm from Iowa. Now that lab is on the verge of supplying a much-needed animal for SARS-CoV-2 research.

Pollution evolution: The little fish that could

Where other species succumbed, the killifish survived contaminated habitats. It’s a finding that could help researchers understand environmental risk factors for humans.

Infectious disease: Making — and breaking — the animal connection

We know pathogens from other species can endanger us. Scientists are better equipped than ever to do something about it, but political buy-in is crucial.

Chasing the genes behind pain

New treatments for chronic pain face a long road despite promising developments. Research in people with rare diseases is pointing the way to genes that influence how we experience pain — and might lead to new medications.

The complexities of a universal basic income

It’s a hot topic under political debate: providing cash grants as a social safety net. Small programs hint at how it might work — or not — on a national scale.

What makes food ‘local’?

More people are choosing what to eat based on where it was grown, made or created. An anthropologist looks at the myriad ways we link food to place — and whether it really could make a difference.

Why real-life places still matter in the age of texting and Twitter

Interactions in physical spaces, whether around the watercooler or at the neighborhood bar, are crucial to forming social ties

Out of the mouth of babes

Learning a language is child’s play, but linguists are still trying to understand how children do it so easily

Robots designed to self-construct

Robot researcher Mark Yim offers a look inside the promising field of modular reconfigurable robotics — bots that can shift form to tackle an array of tasks

Treating the growing trauma of family separation

War, disasters, trafficking and immigration are tearing millions of children from their parents all around the world. A psychologist explores how to help them recover.

Why green energy finally makes economic sense

Solar and wind generators have suddenly become just as cheap as other ways to produce electric power

The human hand in fish evolution

Fishery practices that go for the big ones may be counterproductive when mostly the small survive

Living with chronic illness: Why some cope and others don’t

What helps some people diagnosed with cancer, heart disease or diabetes stay relatively happy and healthy, while others are devastated? Psychologist Vicki Helgeson explains the traits and mindsets that can make the difference.

Getting the microbe story, straight from the mouth

A trio of researchers has mapped the living things that make the tongue, gums and palate home

Profiling the perpetrators of past plagues

The ancient pathogens in old graves are as dead as the people they once infected. Still, they tell a vivid tale.

Measuring surgical quality

Not all surgeons are equally skilled with a scalpel. Doctors are developing new ways to test — and improve — operating room performance.

Revenge is bittersweet at best

Research is starting to reveal how the urge for vengeance may have evolved, when it can be useful and what could prevent the violence it can provoke

Lessons from scorching hot weirdo-planets

Hot Jupiters were the first kind of exoplanet found. A quarter-century later, they still perplex and captivate — and their origins hold lessons about planet formation in general.

How maternal mood shapes the developing brain

Stress and anxiety during pregnancy can mean a higher risk of offspring developing ADHD, depression or other conditions. Medical psychologist Catherine Monk explains how prenatal mental care benefits mothers and babies.

Going gentle

A sociologist explains how to get the most out of the final months of life

Total recall: A brilliant memory helps chickadees survive

In winter, the birds must remember where they’ve hidden tens of thousands of seeds. Biologist Vladimir Pravosudov explains what this can teach us about how the brain evolves.

On whose green Earth?

Are we supposed to take care of the planet or should it take care of us? Willis Jenkins explains how religion shapes the conflicting views over climate change and other environmental issues.

Getting “exhausted” T cells back into action against cancer

When a malignancy or chronic infection sets in, a kind of immune combat fatigue can follow. Finding ways to recharge immune cells can restore their ability to fight deadly diseases, says immunologist John Wherry.

War and drugs: Together since forever

Alcohol-drenched medieval battlefields. Opium-laced imperialism. Modern-day narco-terrorism. There’s a lot of history between armed conflict and psychoactive substances.

Archaeology of the 99%

The vast majority of people in antiquity were too poor to leave many artifacts behind. But archaeologists have learned how to look beyond the temples and palaces.

If it pleases the Prosecution

The immense powers of prosecutors throughout the US mean that the scales are tipped against defendants — and justice itself, says a legal expert

As climate changes, so does life in the planet’s soils

To understand what might be lost, ecologist Janet K. Jansson taps molecular methods to explore Earth’s underground microbes, from the permafrost to the grasslands

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