Crash Blossoms

(January 5, 2017) Ambiguity often gives a certain piquancy — and humor, per Groucho Marx — to our lives. Cover up the text below this paragraph and let's start off with a puzzle:...

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Grow and Die

(December 22, 2016) Until now, "grow or die" has pretty much summed up capitalism. A company that only maintains its present output and profitability will be outgunned by young, flexible, hungry upstarts. Not...

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We're All Above Average

(December 8, 2016) Most of us consider ourselves better and smarter than average. According to sociologists who study "illusory superiority," 94 percent of U.S. college professors rate themselves superior to their colleagues, while...

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Life: The Long Game

(November 24, 2016) Last time, I made the case that life on Earth started on Mars. Now, 4 billion years later, that life has evolved to the point where we can start thinking...

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Kickstarting Life

(November 10, 2016) How did life start here on Earth? Ever since Darwin, scientists have been struggling with that question. (Before him, there was nothing to explain — God did it.) When Darwin...

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Halloween, Samhain and Jack o' Lantern

(October 27, 2016) The Christian celebration of Halloween (holy evening), like its predecessor, the pagan Celtic festival of Samhain, is that liminal time of year when the boundary between the worlds of the...

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Candelabra Trees

(October 13, 2016) Ten miles south of the Humboldt County line, the insanely steep cliffs of the coastal range mellow into Shady Dell, a half-mile-wide oasis set back from Usal Beach. Unless you're...

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Language: Innate or Invented?

(September 29, 2016) Is language innate to humans? Are we born "pre-wired" to spontaneously speak whichever language we hear in the first months of our lives? That is, are our brains equipped —...

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The Cooking Ape, Part 2

(September 15, 2016) Last week, I discussed how cooking morphed us from ape to human by increasing the amount of energy we obtain from food, according to anthropologist and primatologist Richard Wrangham. Before...

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The Cooking Ape, Part 1

(September 8, 2016) Ape. That's what you'd have thought if you met one of our ancestors two million years ago: short stature, low brow, massive jaw and mouth housing huge teeth, small brain,...

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Shots, Shots, Shots

The birth of vaccines

(August 25, 2016) "Every year, thousands undergo this operation, and the French Ambassador says pleasantly, that they take the small-pox here by way of diversion, as they take the waters in other countries."...

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A No-Win GMO Label Law

(August 11, 2016) An unprecedented flurry of bipartisan activity followed the July 1 implementation of Vermont's genetically modified (GM) food labeling law. Superseding individual state laws (which would have brought chaos to the...

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The Real Wheel

(July 28, 2016) Imagine a time machine has transported you back about 5,000 years to ancient Egypt, and you're watching a crew of workers wrestle with a big block of stone. They're building...

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Non-random Random Primes

(July 14, 2016) This is the story of how a curious coin-tossing paradox led a pair of Stanford University mathematicians to find an unexpected property of prime numbers, a quirk in full...

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Sunk Cost Fallacy

(June 30, 2016) "Every garage sale is a funeral for someone's sunk costs." — David McRaney How do I deceive me? Let me count the ways ... number one would be my belief...

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