Friday, February 17, 2012 1:51 PM
While no parent wants a petulant, argumentative teenager, cultivating a skill set for feisty debate in secondary school may be the most effective way to ensure a reasoned adulthood.
Columbia University’s Deanna Kuhn, a psychology professor whose work in cognitive science and education was recently profiled by Miller-McCune, worries argument “based on substantive claims, sound reasoning, and relevant evidence” is dying out—yet, in our ever more complex world, is ever more crucial. How, she set out to uncover, could we foster a generation of rational, well-informed citizens to meet the challenges of tomorrow?
Though a geeky staple of secondary education, debate club was not the solution Kuhn investigated. Instead, she went meta. As in, metaphysical.
Kuhn’s subjects were mostly black and Latino students from a public middle school in Harlem, and all 48 were enrolled in a twice-weekly philosophy course for three years. Alongside the class’s curriculum, they researched and debated on controversial issues like animal rights and black market organ sales. “They often debated in pairs,” explains Burns, “not face to face, but online, in a sort of Socratic inquiry via Google Chat.”
Like all new material, the students didn’t initially “get” how to argue with nuance. Their topical stances, according to the article, lacked complexity. Many showed no interest in feedback from their instructors. But, “[b]y the end of year two,” the magazine reports, “they had developed a thirst for evidence.” The young philosophers competed in a year-end showdown structured more like a debate club match, where half-cocked arguments and one-sided perspectives didn’t fly.
For a control group, Kuhn tracked 23 other students who learned philosophy like classic scribes: with their noses in books and pens scribbling essays. At the end of the third year of instruction, both groups took a written exam on yet another unfamiliar topic—a type of assessment for which the traditionally educated kids should be more prepared. But the results were surprising: “[N]early 80 percent of the students in the experimental group were writing essays that identified and weighed opposing views in an argument,” reports Miller-McCune. “Less than 30 percent of the students in the comparison group were doing so.”
In a media landscape hijacked by cable news personalities, internet trolls, and radio blowhards and an education system hijacked by standardized testing companies, these statistics are more than reassuring. They’re—dare I say it—enlightening.
Image by Jon Collier, licensed under Creative Commons.
Thursday, December 22, 2011 10:51 AM
Although it pains me to even type these words, new research from Princeton University suggests that the least informed citizens provide a crucial damper on our democratic process. Ecology professor Iain Couzin used a model animal that, on the whole, is more intelligent that about 30 percent of Americans: fish.
The experiment involved golden shiner fish, which innately are drawn to the color yellow (as many humans are drawn to the ice cream freezer at the grocery store or to cable news channels on the television). Couzin and his fellow researchers trained a number of them to swim against their nature prefer the color blue instead. “In experiments where a minority of fish was trained to swim toward a yellow target,” reports Miller-McCune, “and a majority toward a blue target, the minority swayed the whole group more than 80 percent of the time.” Think of these as the “informed” actors in a democracy who have a very specific, possibly extreme, goal for the country.
When the research team introduced “uninformed” fish—those that hadn’t been turned-on to blue—the crowd did something surprising. “Adding those individuals dramatically changes the outcome of group decision-making,” Couzin told Miller-McCune. “They inhibit the minority and support the majority view, and this allows the majority to be heard and that view to dominate.” The views of the Ron Pauls and Dennis Kuchiniches of the fish world get drowned out for something a little more moderate—and in line with the wants of the majority.
“But these are fish!” you say. That’s true, and Couzin concedes as much. But, the researchers point out, as a citizen crowd, we have much in common with Couzin’s model. Humans, Miller-McCune points out, have “the ability to influence and be influenced by each other. We also have the capacity for strong opinion.”
The implication of this study could be very transformative about how we behave in large groups. If Couzin’s experiment shows similar results on human subjects, it will have the “potential to knock down a bit of conventional wisdom about how people make group decisions — that is, that uninformed people are easily swayed by the loudest voice in the room, enabling extreme minority views to spread.”
Image by Benson Kua, licensed under Creative Commons.
Thursday, September 22, 2011 4:46 PM
Whatever you call it—“agricultural urbanism,” “new ruralism,” or one of the dozen other alternate labels—the concept of carefully planned agrarian suburbs sounds like utopia. Protecting land while permitting growth, “agriburbia” is a farm-friendly antidote to the eat-it-up philosophy of consumerist suburban sprawl.
When populations encroach into the countryside, we sacrifice more than pastoral vistas, says Jonathan Lerner in Miller-McCune.“The steady loss of farmland and natural habitat to sprawl-pattern development endangers food supplies and other resources, as well as the health, wealth and survival prospects of individuals and even whole communities,” he explains.
In Fresno County, California—where the majority of farms are small, family-run enterprises and half are minority operated—the threat to the agrarian landscape that produces everything from plums to almonds is undeniable. “The American Farmland Trust has estimated that if conventional growth patterns continue, by 2040 the county could lose another 135,000 acres of farmland, out of a total of about 2.25 million acres,” Lerner writes. He continues:
[A] new approach to regional planning could help turn that pattern around in Fresno and elsewhere. At scales ranging from a few hundred to many thousands of acres, the approach aims to protect unspoiled and working landscapes while allowing development to accommodate expanding populations….
Forget large-lot, single-family, cul-de-sac subdivisions accessed by traffic arteries lined with fast-food and big-box outlets. Future development would be densely clustered or channeled into towns and villages on sites less valuable for farming and conservation or where infrastructure already exists. Besides homes, these growth centers would include shops, workplaces, schools, pedestrian amenities and transit.
This kind of development, known as new urbanism, is already increasingly familiar. What’s new is its integration with efforts to protect working and natural landscapes.
The agriburban plan being considered for Fresno, called the Southeast Growth Area (SEGA), would combine a vibrant residential community with agriculture in a 9,000-acre belt of land at the edge of the city. Gardens and orchards would grow throughout, and small commercial farms would border the eastern perimeter.
Agriculturally oriented subdivisions are springing up in other parts of the country, too: There’s Hampstead near Montgomery, Alabama; The Farmstead, outside Charlotte, North Carolina; and Pingree Grove, less than an hour from Chicago. With amenities including elaborate community gardens, local food farmers markets, farm-to-table restaurants, and active community involvement, there are plenty of reasons to live there beyond land preservation.
“Though the particulars differ, they all share the basic approach of building compact towns or villages as a way to avoid consuming undeveloped land,” Lerner writes. “New-urbanist thinking is essential because it provides the tools for creating places for growth that are not only dense but desirable.”
Image by Thomas Hawk, licensed under Creative Commons.
Friday, September 02, 2011 4:55 PM
Of the 7,000 rich, varied languages spoken in the world today, only half will be around at the end of the century unless we make efforts to save them, reports Miller-McCune’s Emily Badger. But if people can communicate without them, why do obscure languages matter? She writes:
As the famous example says, Eskimo have numerous words to describe what Americans would just call “snow” and “ice.” This suggests language systems don’t merely translate universal ideas into different spellings; they encode different concepts. And when we lose a language, we risk losing those concepts.
Last month, a joint program of the National Science Foundation and the National Endowment for the Humanities called Documenting Endangered Languages received $3.9 million in funding to record and preserve disappearing dialects. Says Badger:
The project may sound like a punch line for another anti-science tirade from a small-government politician, but its work touches on fundamental questions about how the brain works, how people express ideas, how societies adapt, and how human history has evolved.
Some of these languages are spoken by fewer than 30 elders, and most members of the next generation are not learning them, making the need for preservation immediate. Below are ten of the unique languages that researchers are endeavoring to save, along with links to their programs.
Bangime, Northern Bali
Navajo, Southwestern U.S.
Cherokee, Southeastern U.S.
Chechen, the Caucasis
Southeastern Tepehuan, Mexico
Image by laogooli, licensed under Creative Commons.
Tuesday, August 23, 2011 2:21 PM
“Be Prepared.” That’s the motto of one of America’s longest running youth organizations, The Boy Scouts of America. The outdoor adventure and leadership club for boys turned 100 years old last year, and its longevity has piqued the interest of academics and statisticians. Miller-McCune compiled a collection of studies of the boy scouts’ first century, and some of the results may “offer guidance to program leaders for the organization’s next 100 years.”
The first obstacle the scouts face is declining membership. According to Miller-McCune’s Tom Jacobs, “[p]articipation peaked in 1973 with 4.8 million scouts and has since plunged 42 percent, to 2.8 million.” In the same timeframe, the population of America has risen by about 100 million. A number of causes have been attributed to declining membership, including scout masters’ struggle to properly teach outdoors skills to children with less and less exposure to nature and exclusionary, spirituality-based recruitment criteria (the organization bars atheists, agnostics, gays, and girls). Although the Boy Scouts are behind the times culturally, the organization is ahead of the game in regard to America’s number one preoccupation: makin’ moola.
A long established maxim is that boy scouts go on to be more successful than their Honor Badge-less peers. Jacobs points to a 2010 Gallup poll that confirms that:
Twenty-two percent of men who have been Boy Scouts graduate from college compared to 16 percent of non-Scouts; 19 percent of men who have been Boy Scouts achieve a postgraduate education, compared with 13 percent of non-Scouts. Men who have been Boy Scouts also report higher annual incomes.
You’d think that with demographics like these—coupled with our sluggish economy—the ranks of boy scouts would be swelling.
Although many of these studies show interesting trends, the results don’t offer many non-statistical takeaways. “The rap on all this research about Scouts is that little of it has been published in peer-reviewed journals and thus lacks empirical answers to the most important questions,” writes Jacobs. “Does Scouting matter? Do Eagle Scouts achieve greater success than other Scouts? Does the impact of Scouting vary from different eras?”
Image by KOMUnews, licensed under Creative Commons.
Friday, August 05, 2011 5:53 PM
I’m a recent bride. That means in the midst of our discussions of tulle, tuxes, and possible rainouts a couple of months ago, my fiancé and I applied for our marriage license, which required that we solemnly swear, under penalty of perjury, “that one of the applicants is a man and the other is a woman.” Ugh. Signing that application is an unpleasant step for those of us who strongly feel marriage is the right of everyone, gay or straight. And while the “one man, one woman” oath outright prohibits gay marriage, it can cause a tricky mess for transgender people who have had their sex changed.
Here’s the breakdown: In most states, your post-surgery gender determines who you can marry—so if a man transitions to a woman, she can use a court order to have her sex changed to female on her driver’s license and legally marry a man. In a tiny minority of states, the courts refuse to acknowledge the new gender, leaving the transitioned person in a strange no-heterosexual-marriage-allowed-for-you limbo. In one very special state (Texas), the governor (Rick Perry) has bungled the issue in a Republican debacle (wherein he accidentally signed a bill in 2009 okaying a transitioned person to marry their opposite-sex partner) and is now supporting efforts to strip away this right (which would nullify the transgender marriages that have taken place during the past two years). As the Huffington Post (4/25/11) puts it:
Gov. Rick Perry’s spokesman Mark Miner said the governor never intended to allow transgendered people to get married. He said the three-word sex change provision was sneaked through on a larger piece of legislation Perry signed.
It’s a rough world we live in where a leader can openly say, I never intended to allow you this basic human right—and now I’m trying to take it back. The rescinded rights would have real effects on Texas widow Nikki Araguz, who was born male and had her gender reassigned through surgery; she married her volunteer firefighter husband in the two-year window unwittingly opened by Governor Perry and is now battling for the right to his estate.
Which brings us back to the same-sex marriage debate and the dire need for legal recognition of life partnership, no matter who is signing the marriage license.
Source: Huffington Post, Miller-McCune
Image by virtualphotographystudio,
licensed under Creative Commons.
Thursday, May 12, 2011 1:14 PM
Our library contains 1,300 publications—a feast of magazines, journals, alt-weeklies, newsletters, and zines—and every year, we honor the stars in our Utne Independent Press Awards. We’ll announce this year’s winners on Wednesday, May 18, at the
MPA’s Independent Magazine Group conference
in San Francisco. From now until then, we’ll post the nominees in all of the categories on our blogs. Below you’ll find the nominees for the best science/technology coverage, with a short introduction to each. These magazines are literally what Utne Reader is made of. Though we celebrate the alternative press every day and with each issue, once a year we praise those who have done an exceptional job.
American environmentalists would be wise to look to Canada’s Alternatives Journal for cogent, well-informed reporting and commentary on green issues. The official publication of the Environmental Studies Association of Canada puts topics from climate change to local food into perspective.
Writing about science for a broad audience is a challenge—one that Discoverrises to each time it puts out a fact-packed issue. The magazine delves into scientific discoveries, personalities, and debates, turning biology, chemistry, physics and other disciplines into compelling stories that illuminate as they entertain.
Engineers are responsible for some of the most exciting innovations in modern science. IEEE Spectrum, the official magazine of the Institute of Electronic and Electrical Engineers, translates the advances in computers and robotics into a language that geeks can love and anyone can understand.
We wish more reporters would go to Johns Hopkins Public Health for story ideas and analysis instead of relying on oversimplified press releases. The biannual publication brings a global perspective to everything from malaria and AIDS research to sleep disorders and innovations in eyewear.
Only one magazine would teach readers how to make a steam pump electrostatic generator and a letterpress-printing machine in the same issue.Make magazine takes science away from the scientists and puts technology in the hands of garage innovators and do-it-yourself enthusiasts.
In a world besieged by a seemingly endless list of baffling challenges, Miller-McCuneis a smart, clear-eyed tonic. The monthly’s editors seek out cutting-edge research to demystify the day’s most pressing issues and highlight institutions and innovators that provide reason for hope.
is inexhaustible. Every two weeks it surveys groundbreaking research in a variety of disciplines to deliver in-depth, inviting stories. Want to know a lot more about archaeology? A little something about superstring theory? This is your go-to guide.
does much more than review the day’s coolest gadgets and mind-blowing scientific innovations. MIT’s magazine gets into the cultural and political implications of those innovations to help experts and casual readers better understand how new technology will change the wider world.
See our complete list of 2011 nominees.
Image by woodleywonderworks, licensed under Creative Commons.
Monday, April 18, 2011 12:06 PM
Here in the Utne offices we’ve been thinking a lot about ourselves lately. Not necessarily because we’re narcissistic—though if we believe what we read, we probably are—but because our latest issue tackles the whole idea of narcissism in the modern world. From Christopher Lasch’s prophetic take on the narcissism pandemic to a millennial sticking up for her generation to a look at the state of the novel in today’s narcissistic culture, the current Utne Reader looks at the issue from many different angles.
The good folks over at Miller-McCunehave chimed in on the subject, too, by way of song lyrics. Apparently the trend over the last few decades in pop music lyrics has gone from “we” to “me.”
“Vocalists often warm up by singing “Mi, mi, mi, mi, mi,” writes Tom Jacobs. “But increasingly, the songs they perform—or at least those that make the top 10 lists—are odes to ‘Me, me, me, me, me.’”
Using something called the Linguistic Inquiry and Word Count program researchers analyzed lyrics, looking for words that would imply a shift to “a focus on the self,” such as first-person singular pronouns (I, me, mine), as opposed to first-person plural pronouns (we, us, our). The researchers also found an increase in “words reflecting anger or antisocial behavior (hate, kill, damn).”
So, what does it all mean? In the spirit of all this self-love, why don’t you tell us?
To see the rest of the articles on narcissism go to the table of contents for the May-June issue.
(Related: See “Lonely Together” from the March-April issue of Utne Reader, about John Cacioppo, who argues that loneliness isn’t some personality defect or sign of weakness—it’s a survival impulse like hunger or thirst, a trigger pushing us toward the nourishment of human companionship.)
Tuesday, March 15, 2011 11:58 AM
Although we typically think of the titans of industry and leaders of the free world as products of the military or an ivy league MBA program, for an unconventional leader we might look to the fine arts. “Theater, music and the fine arts all require, undeniably, an above-average level of creativity,” writes Miller-McCune’s Ritch K. Eich. “But they also require the type of discipline, passion and commitment that can be extremely valuable in many areas of business that are now floundering.”
Eich’s favorite example—not to toot any fine art’s horn exclusively—is found at the front of a marching band:
Under [bandmaster William] Revelli’s direction, the Michigan Marching Band was the first to use original scores for their band shows and employ synchronized music and movements. They were highly praised for their precision, formations and style. Revelli was tough on his young band members and would not accept mediocrity in his organization. His exceptionally high standards called each member to a higher commitment, not only to their music, but also in all areas of their lives. He looked at the band as an antidote to juvenile delinquency.
* * *
Translating the same qualities he exhibited in rehearsals and on the field, and looking at how he made everyone in his band reach for their greatest potential, there is no doubt that he would have made an excellent corporate leader had he chosen that path.
Image by Tulane Public Relations, licensed under Creative Commons.
Friday, November 26, 2010 1:45 PM
According to a survey conducted by Austrian research psychologist Tatjana Schnell, an unexpectedly large proportion of Westerners feel that their lives have little meaning, and they don’t really care, reports Miller-McCune. Sampling more than 600 Germans, Schneller’s research found that “35 percent [of the sample] were ‘existentially indifferent,’ those who ‘neither experience their lives as meaningful nor suffer from this lack of meaning,’” and only 10 percent of that group were bothered by their own existential apathy.
Schneller identified variables that did and didn’t correlate. Gender, education level, and employment status don’t seem to be good predictors for indifference, but age does. As reported by Miller-McCune, “the indifferent skewed younger, on average five years younger, than those who found meaning in their lives.” On the other hand, if you’re looking for someone who feels that their life has meaning, look no further than the married couple down the street. The study found that 70 percent of married people find meaning in their lives.
What can replace meaning in an otherwise dispassionate soul? “Surrogates for meaningful commitment abound,” Schneller explains in the study. “They range from material possessions to pleasure seeking, from busy-ness to sexuality.” One famously reflective Westerner knows all about surrogates for meaningful commitment:
, licensed under
Wednesday, October 20, 2010 3:03 PM
It’s too late to hope for getting out of this unscathed. We’ve poisoned, destroyed, and exploited this planet to the point of no return, so now all we can do is minimize the damage. And according to some scientists, it’s the oceans that need to step up and staunch the bleeding.
In the latest issue of Miller-McCune, journalist Peter Friedrici investigates the pros and cons of carbon sequestration, the process of deliberating depositing mass amounts of carbon dioxide thousands of meters under the ocean’s surface. The theory is that this method would buy mankind some time to develop other ways to deal with greenhouse gas emissions, as CO2 causes more harm in the atmosphere than in surface waters (and even then, it would take thousands of years for the sequestered carbon to makes its way from the depths to the surface). But still, the consequences of this process would be devastating at best:
If carbon dioxide is deliberately placed in the ocean, at whatever depth, it will ultimately reach surface waters and contribute to their acidification…The larvae of sea urchins and other marine organisms with external skeletons will grow differently. Adults will grow less and have trouble surviving. Shellfish will be unable to develop shells. Corals will no longer build reefs.
Ultimately, we will have to make a choice. What organisms or ecosystems must, to some extent, be sacrificed for the greater good of global geochemical stability? Friederici writes:
Ocean sequestration may be a bad idea that will cause untold harm to deep-ocean ecosystems we barely understand—but doing it may also represent a better alternative than doing nothing. It’s like the amputation of a badly wounded leg: a terrible prospect, unless it’s the only way to save a life.
Obviously this could all be avoided if we dramatically cut down on our consumption of fossil fuels, but let’s face it, that’s just not going to happen. So which will it be: the leg, or the life?
Wednesday, June 09, 2010 10:58 AM
Are you a sports fan? Have you ever gotten super excited while attending a sporting event, risen to your feet screaming, thrown your beer into the faces of the family sitting behind you, and promptly dropped dead of a myocardial infarction? Well, it happens. Miller-McCune reports on research about soccer and its possible health consequences (for both fans and players). A sample:
A study in the International Journal of Cardiology compared incidents of sudden cardiac death in Switzerland during the 2002 World Cup compared to the same period one year earlier. It reported a 77 percent increase in such fatalities among men and a 33 percent increase among women. And a paper [PDF] published in the New England Journal of Medicine found the number of cardiac emergencies in metropolitan Munich was 2.66 times greater during the 2006 World Cup than compared to the weeks just before and after the event. Concluding that “preventative measures are urgently needed” before the next tournament, the authors offered a series of suggestions, ranging from cognitive therapy to “the administration or increase in dose of beta-adrenergic-blocking drugs.”
Sources: Miller-McCune, International Journal of Cardiology, New England Journal of Medicine
Image by Photocapy, licensed under Creative Commons.
Monday, June 07, 2010 4:40 PM
We’ve been fans of the solution-oriented research and policy magazine Miller-McCune for awhile (we even gave it the Utne Independent Press Award for best science/tech coverage in 2009), but now it’s in the mainstream spotlight of the Los Angeles Times. In his rather favorable profile of the magazine and its founder Sara Miller McCune, reporter James Rainey describes the publication as “that bright and earnest new student, full of promise but still striving to get closer to the head of the class.” Rainey feels the magazine could appeal to a broader base and bring in more “everyday characters from outside academia.” True enough, but you have to admit that Miller-McCune does a fine job of making all that wonky research highly digestible.
Source: Los Angeles Times
Monday, May 17, 2010 10:23 AM
Over at Miller-McCune, Lewis Beale looks at why U.S. students are hurting in foreign languages:
“Things cannot get worse. We are at the bottom of the barrel now” in terms of foreign language study in America’s schools, says Nancy Rhodes of the Center for Applied Linguistics, which surveys language study in the nation’s schools every 10 years.
The center’s most recent report shows a decrease in the last decade in school language programs, which Rhodes says can be attributed to “budget cuts, and foreign languages are among the first things that get cut. They are seen as something that’s not a necessity. And another reason is the No Child Left Behind legislation—about a third of our schools report they have been negatively affected because of the focus on math and reading scores.”
It's nothing short of cultural literacy that's at stake here—and for those who pollute every societal good with talk of national security interests, there is also this:
...according to a 2006 Department of Education study, 200 million Chinese schoolchildren were studying English, while only 24,000 of their American peers were learning Chinese. That number has increased over the past few years, but the gap is still huge.
That federal study was co-sponsored by U.S. Department of Defense and the director of National Intelligence, perhaps not surprising given the military and intelligence communities’ problems in the war on terror. In announcing the report’s accompanying National Security Language Initiative, President George W. Bush pictured the American language deficit as a security issue. “This initiative is a broad-gauged initiative that deals with the defense of the country, the diplomacy of the country, the intelligence to defend our country and the education of our people,” he told a collection of university presidents in 2006.
Me, I won't be making the national security argument when it comes time to talk my kids into a foreign language class. Sheesh.
Image by the Department of Defense, and paid for with your tax dollars.
Wednesday, April 21, 2010 2:53 PM
NExt time you decide to thin out your bookshelves, be sure to hang on to at least a few hundred books. There’s a fascinating piece over at Miller-McCune on the effects of home libraries on child development:
After examining statistics from 27 nations, a group of researchers found the presence of book-lined shelves in the home — and the intellectual environment those volumes reflect — gives children an enormous advantage in school.
“Home library size has a very substantial effect on educational attainment, even adjusting for parents’ education, father’s occupational status and other family background characteristics,” reports the study, recently published in the journal Research in Social Stratification and Mobility. “Growing up in a home with 500 books would propel a child 3.2 years further in education, on average, than would growing up in a similar home with few or no books."
is a 2010 Utne Independent Press Award nominee in the category of science and technology.
Thursday, April 15, 2010 11:11 AM
Our library contains 1,300 publications—a feast of magazines, journals, alt-weeklies, newsletters, and zines—and every year, we honor the stars in our Utne Independent Press Awards. We’ll announce this year’s winners on Sunday, April 25 at the MPA’s Independent Magazine Group conference in Washington, D.C. and post them online the following Monday. We’re crazy about these publications, and we’d love it for all of our readers to get to know them better, too. So, every weekday until the conference, we’ll be posting mini-introductions to our complete list of 2010 nominees.
The following eight magazines are our 2010 nominees in the category of science/technology coverage.
, published at UC Berkeley, is as eclectic as its community. The quarterly opens with sneak peeks at research in motion, such as cyborg spy beetles and the science of humor. The features that follow challenge conventional wisdom and tap iconoclastic characters to bring high-minded theories down to earth.
Engineers are responsible for some of the most exciting innovations in modern science. IEEE Spectrum, the official magazine of the Institute of Electronic and Electrical Engineers, translates the advances in computers, robotics, and other fields of science into a language that geeks can love and anyone can understand.
We wish more reporters would go to Johns Hopkins Public Health for story ideas and analysis instead of relying on oversimplified press releases. The biannual publication brings a global perspective to everything from malaria and AIDS research to sleep disorders and innovations in eyewear.
Only one magazine would teach readers how to make a steampunk electrostatic generator and a letterpress printing machine in the same issue. Make magazine takes science away from the scientists and puts technology in the hands of garage innovators and do-it-yourself enthusiasts.
In a world besieged by a seemingly endless list of baffling challenges, Miller-McCune is a smart, clear-eyed tonic. The monthly’s editors seek out cutting-edge research to demystify the day’s most pressing issues and highlight institutions and innovators that provide reason for hope.
Science News is inexhaustible. Every two weeks it surveys groundbreaking research in a variety of disciplines to deliver in-depth, inviting stories. Want to know a lot more about archaeology? A little something about superstring theory? This is your go-to guide.
Stanford reports on the awe-inspiring work done by its host university’s faculty, students, and alumni, and then produces an impeccably rendered general-interest magazine. And although its stories cut across disciplines, we’re drawn to its richly researched stories on global health, conservation, and psychology.
Technology Review does much more than review the day’s coolest gadgets and mind-blowing scientific innovations. MIT’s magazine gets into the cultural and political implications of those innovations to help experts and casual readers better understand how new technology will change the wider world.
Want more? Meet our
health and wellness
Tuesday, March 30, 2010 1:12 PM
It’s spring, and as predictably as snow melts, rivers are flooding. Newscasts are peppered with enthusiastic sandbag teams, good Samaritans boating through neighborhoods, and inevitable mentions of the remarkable number of “10-year” or even “100-year” floods in recent years.
Vermont is taking a different approach to rising waters than many states, writes Ryan Blitstein in Miller-McCune:
Vermont, a state with a smaller population than the city of San Francisco’s, has become a leader in the effort to reduce the costs of flooding through unconventional means: ripping out levees to let rivers flood naturally and providing towns with financial incentives to discourage building in floodplains. Cities from Charlotte, North Carolina, to Portland, Oregon, have taken similar actions, and comparable concepts are percolating inside federal agencies.
Despite these signs of momentum, change is slow to come, the story notes: “Once floodwaters recede, politics and the desire to live on the waterfront trump sound thinking.”
Blitstein does a good job of tracing the “channelization” approach of modern watershed management along with its failures, noting that U.S. flood damages doubled from 1995 to 2004. Moreover, no one is really in charge: “The most troubling aspect of the U.S. floodplain management system,” he writes, “is that there is no U.S. floodplain management system.”
He describes a key turning point in the thinking of river ecologist Mike Kline, who once was the state of Vermont’s lead river scientist:
He realized that Vermont’s approach — and the ideas of much of America’s river science establishment — was simply wrong. The best way to deal with erosion, flooding and all the other problems associated with out-of-control rivers wasn’t to manage the river. You just had to give the river enough room to move, change and create its own floodplain, and then get the hell out of the way. “If we leave the rivers alone, in a sense, they’ll fix themselves,” Kline says.
As I write this, heavy rains on the East Coast are threatening to take many rivers over their banks, and southern Vermont is under a flood watch. Perhaps the next few days will offer an indication of the success of Vermont’s approach.
Image by U.S. Geological Survey, licensed under Creative Commons.
Wednesday, February 17, 2010 2:59 PM
Every month, social psychologist Arie Kruglanski sends a research report to the Department of Homeland Security from his National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism (better known, mercifully, as START). In a Miller-McCune interview with Kruglanski, he talks about what he’s learned about suicide attackers and the people who support them. “Many people think of terrorists, especially suicide bombers, as not quite human,” says Tom Jacobs in his first question to Kruglanski, “presumably because they’ve set aside that basic human motivation of self-preservation. But your research suggests their motivations are quite recognizably human.” Here’s some of what Kruglanski had to say...
On the “quite recognizably human” motivations of suicide attackers:
Personal significance is a motivation that has been recognized by psychological theorists as a major driving force of human behavior. Terrorists feel that through suicide, their lives will achieve tremendous significance. They will become heroes, martyrs. In many cases, their decision is a response to a great loss of significance, which can occur through humiliation, discrimination, or personal problems that have nothing to do with the conflict in which their group is engaged.
On America’s martyrs:
Even in our country, we venerate our heroes.—our soldiers who are willing to put themselves in harm’s way for the sake of ideals we hold dear.
More on significance as a motivator:
According to terror management theory, we are alone among all species in that we are aware of our impending demise. As a consequence, we have this nightmare of ending up as an insignificant speck of dust in an uncaring universe.
Source: Miller-McCune (article not yet available online)
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Image by Jeff Severns Guntzel.
Thursday, December 17, 2009 11:22 AM
Anne Trubek didn't make any friends when she suggested that schools stop teaching handwriting in a column for Good. The online essay left a trail of 1,400 comments in its wake, many of them angry. Now she's at it again, with an essay called Handwriting is History, published in the latest issue of Miller-McCune.
"For many," she writes, "the prospect of handwriting dying out would signal the end of individualism and the entree to some robotic techno-future... But when we worry about losing our individuality, we are likely misremembering our schooling, which included rote, rigid lessons in handwriting. We have long been taught the 'right' way to form letters."
Good lord, if anything was robotic, it was learning proper handwriting. What anybody with good handwriting may be oblivious to is the shame of bad handwriting. Ridding classrooms of that shame makes room for other things, like ideas. "Typing in school has a democratizing effect," Trubek writes, "as did the typewriter. It levels the look of prose to allow expression of ideas, not the rendering of letters, to take center stage."
Want more of this? You'll find nearly 4,000 words of it at Miller-McCune. Enjoy!
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Friday, June 26, 2009 1:51 PM
Check out the fascinating natural wonder that functions as the keeper of millions of gallons of radioactive waste. Miller-McCune's Matt Palmquist journeyed underground to a salt formation in southeast New Mexico that is home to the world’s sole functioning “deep geologic nuclear waste disposal site.” The Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) has been highly effective and accident free in its decade of existence, with one researcher boasting that it’s “safer than working at Toys R Us.” Bonus: There’s a video on the WIPP site if you’re interested in a visual overview of the storage process.
Image by dsearls, licensed under Creative Commons.
Friday, June 05, 2009 4:25 PM
Hospitals are always looking for ways to save money. Here's one that might surprise you: hospitals that reach out to help homeless people before they pass through emergency room doors can save hundreds of thousands of dollars each year. That's according to two studies, one in Chicago and the other in Seattle.
The Chicago study, according to Miller-McCune, focused on 600 chronically ill homeless people, with 200 of them receiving case management and housing:
The group included people living on the street from 30 days to 30 years, in many ways mirroring the 3.5 million Americans (and growing) who face homelessness at some point during the year.
Researchers also selected those with chronic health conditions other than mental health or substance abuse, although participants with these and other conditions were not excluded.
"We wanted, in part, to show whether or not this model works, but we also wanted the literature to broaden and not portray the homeless as severely mentally ill or alcohol dependent or drug abusers because that's just a small portion of the homeless," Dr. Laura Sadowski said.
After 18 months, the group of 200 patients with housing — the intervention group — each made at least one trip to the hospital, but overall they reduced their hospitalizations on average by 2.7 days per person per year, which translates into hundreds of thousands of dollars, far more than the costs of providing the services.
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Friday, May 29, 2009 6:40 PM
Who knew Colonel Mustard and Miss Scarlet could help robots navigate mine fields? Matt Palmquist reports in Miller-McCune that the classic whodunit board game inspired engineers at Duke University to create an algorithm that combines the treasure hunt nature of the detective game with aspects of minesweeping, and it has been overwhelmingly successful at beating experienced Clue players even. The findings suggest robots might be able to use it to locate mines more quickly and efficiently because the success of the algorithm rests on “its strategy of selecting movements and optimizing its ability to incorporate new information, while minimizing the distance traveled by the pawn,” according to a lab director at Duke. Frankly I can’t quip a better conclusion than Palmquist’s summary, “In other words: It was the robot, in the library, with the minesweeper.”
Miller-McCune won an Utne Independent Press Award this year for its superb science/tech coverage.
Image by katherine lynn, licensed under Creative Commons.
Friday, May 15, 2009 5:02 PM
In a politically polarized America, the quest for common ground between liberals and conservatives can feel like a search for the lost coty of Atlantis. The work of psychologist Jonathan Haidt, highlighted in Miller-McCune, sheds light on this political division, finding there isn’t simply one moral compass, but five “moral realms” on which we place importance. For liberals, ideas of harm/care and fairness/reciprocity reign supreme, while conservatives focus more on in-group loyalty, authority/respect, and purity/sanctity.
Some issues may gain supporters on both political sides because of their appeal across different moral realms. Haidt highlights the environmental movement as one example, where liberals were likely motivated by the harm/care dimension, while conservative Evangelical Christians found it spoke to their emphasis on authority/respect. "They're driven by the idea that God gave man dominion over the Earth, and keeping the planet healthy is our sacred responsibility. If we simply rape, pillage, destroy and consume, we're abusing the power given to us by God.”
"The climate crisis and the economic crisis are interesting, because neither has a human enemy," he adds. "These are not crises that turn us against an out-group, so they're not really designed to bring us together, but they can be used for that. I hope and think we are ready, demographically and historically, for a less polarized era."
But that, says Miller-McCune's Tom Jacobs, "will require peeling off some bumper stickers. Contrary to the assertion adhered onto Volvos, dissent and patriotism are very different impulses. But Haidt persuasively argues that both are essential to a healthy democracy, and the interplay between them — when kept within respectful bounds — is a source of vitality and strength."
Wednesday, April 29, 2009 3:01 PM
For thousands of years, humans have been trading biodiversity for homogeny: Diverse forests for monoculture tree farms, grasslands for agriculture, and oceans for fish farms. This process is simply unsustainable, ecology professor Shahid Naeem writes for Miller-McCune. The drive to domesticate the earth creates an existential crisis for humans, according to Naeem, because “All aspects of human well-being and prosperity trace back to biodiversity for their foundation.”
The natural functions of the earth are based on biodiversity. Naeem writes about a study he was involved in proving that “More diversity led to greater absorption of carbon dioxide.” Even knowing this, biodiversity loss continues to be “the single most prevalent feature of our changing world.”
Species extinction is just one part of the problem, though a significant one. Rounding up wildlife into reserves and domesticating plants and animals also diminishes the earth’s diversity. “Even without the loss of a single species, with increasing homogenization biodiversity declines.”
In order to create a more sustainable ecosystem, humans need to take responsibility for creating a more equitable one, according to Naeem. Rather than the more Judeo-Christian system of human dominion over the animals, people need to think of themselves as a necessary part of the earth’s biodiversity, and they need work to keep it that way.
Cindy Sims Parr
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Monday, April 27, 2009 2:13 PM
Sometimes you need science to crack the thick skulls in the business world. “Over the past several years,” writes Pepperdine University Marketing Professor Roy Douglas Adler in Miller-McCune, “my colleagues and I have tracked the performance of Fortune 500 companies with a strong record of promoting women to the executive suite. The correlation between high-level female executives and business success has been consistent and revealing. Any action that shows a consistent correlation to high profits would probably be of interest to companies struggling to swim against the tide of these perilous times.”
Monday, March 02, 2009 4:45 PM
“Like Cheez Whiz and the atom bomb, modern think tanks are a distinctly U.S. invention that has spread all over the world.”
—Jeff Gailus, “Mind Games,” from Alberta Views (not available online)
“The country’s run itself down, drinking too many subprime-mortgage martinis and smoking too many credit-default-swap cigarettes; having ignored clear signs its lifestyle was out of control, the nation’s caught a raging, recessionary cold that just might turn into the dangerous flu-monia of economic depression.”
—John Mecklin, “Work Out Plan,” from Miller-McCune
“Every morning, I throw on one of my many pairs of faded jeans, a shirt bearing the image of a radical band or en electric guitar, and a Superman watch with silver bullets on the wristband. . . . The fact that I’m almost three bucks over 30 and a long-married mother of two kids makes my fashion sense all the more creepy.”
—Hope Gatto, “Rocker Mama,” from Mothering (not available online)
“This would have been a big year for Darwin, if he had been fit enough to survive this long.”
—Grant Bartley, “God or Nature?” from Philosophy Now
Sources: Alberta Views, Miller-McCune, Mothering, Philosophy Now
Image by Pixel Drip, licensed under Creative Commons.
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