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    The Best Way to Reduce Research Bias Is Hiding in Plain View

    In the late 1970s, groups of soda marketers descended on the nation’s malls. They gave shoppers two unmarked cups, one filled with Coke and one with Pepsi. Tasters were asked which they preferred. The Pepsi Challenge was a marketing gimmick, but it was based on a classic scientific tool, the blind experiment. If a person […]

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    Apple Watch Shows the Benefits of Engineering Perfection—and of Flaws

    Apple is famous for its obsessive care for design and manufacturing, and its new, much-hyped watches are no exception. But, ironically, the watch can only be created by introducing errors into exquisitely crafted materials. One familiar material used in Apple’s latest device is silicon, the bedrock of all modern electronics. Engineers first must purify silicon […]

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    Welcome to the Unpredictable Era of Editing Human Embryos

    Headlines and apocalyptic notions about designer babies proliferated last month after Chinese scientists published the results of a curious set of experiments on human embryos. The researchers were looking to understand whether gene-editing technology could correct, before birth, a malformed gene that can cause a potentially devastating blood disease. They found that the method introduced new […]

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    Why Facebook Is the Junk Food of Socializing

    Have you ever been walking in a dark alley and seen something that you thought was a crouching person, but it turned out to be a garbage bag or something similarly innocuous? Me too. Have you ever seen a person crouching in a dark alley and mistaken it for a garbage bag? Me neither. Why […]

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    The Tricks Used by Pilots, Surgeons & Engineers to Overcome Human Error

    When Germanwings Flight 4U9525 crashed into the French Alps in March it did not take investigators long to determine the likely reason: Co-pilot Andreas Lubitz had allegedly been suffering from depression and may have crashed the plane as a means to commit suicide, taking hundreds of people along with him. But that doesn’t tell the […]

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    Why Do We Love #Fail Videos?

    If the Internet has shown me one thing, it’s my own astounding capacity to waste time. The rabbit holes online are deep and rich and usually absolutely fruitless. But I’m fascinated by anything that’s addictive, and my personal black tar heroin is, without doubt, “fail” videos. You know the sort—a 10-minute compilation of six-second clips […]

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    Counting Animals Is a Sloppy Business

    In 1989, scientists at the United States Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Zoo published a study on migratory songbirds with alarming results. The study relied on 22 years of data from annual surveys of more than 60 neotropical species, birds that breed in North America and overwinter in Central and South America. And […]

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    Infected Monkeys and Other Cautionary Tales From the Biolab

    No matter how safe the lab is, humans working with deadly bioagents can make errors.

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    How Science Can Learn From Writing That Is “Not Even Wrong”

    “…when you gaze long into an abyss the abyss also gazes into you.” –Nietzsche For some people, this quote is very evocative. It feels important, and beautiful. Others feel like it doesn’t mean anything at all, because the idea of a deep hole looking at something is absurd. Many people have both reactions. What are […]

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    The Simple Logical Puzzle That Shows How Illogical People Are

    In the 1960s, the English psychologist Peter Wason devised an experiment that would revolutionize his field. This clever puzzle, known as the “Wason selection task,” is often claimedto be “the single most investigated experimental paradigm in the psychology of reasoning,” in the words of one textbook author. Wason was a funny and clever man and […]