• Quandary

    This month’s theme, “Quandary,” features articles that rebalance the fear that science is out of control, that playing God has set humanity on an inexorable path of destruction. This issue presents new essays, articles, and interviews that crack open quandaries in manifold fields of science.    

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    Why Working-Class New Yorkers Drop Their “Rs”

    William Labov took something as small as one letter and showed how a subtle detail of our language could tell who we are.Photograph by Everett Historical / Shutterstock In George Bernard Shaw’s play Pygmalion, professor Henry Higgins says: “You can spot an Irishman or a Yorkshireman by his brogue. I can place any man within […]

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    Game of Thrones and the Evolutionary Significance of Storytelling

    I told myself it was absurd to be discontented with the way Game of Thrones ended. Why should I feel anything for the fate of a fictional world? Even so, I watched with interest, on YouTube, videos of how several of the episodes—particularly “The Long Night,” “The Bells,” and “The Iron Throne”—could have been re-written […]

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    The Ancient Rites That Gave Birth to Religion

    Sacred beliefs likely arose out of prehistoric bonding and rituals.

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    The Worth of an Angry God

    How supernatural beliefs allowed societies to bond and spread.

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    This Famous Aging Researcher Doesn’t Want Us to Live Forever

    In the Netflix anime series Knights of Sidonia, humankind is marooned in a spaceship 500,000-strong, refugees constantly on the run from shapeshifting aliens who destroyed Earth over 1,000 years ago. Both the patriarchy and poverty have been smashed. Advances in genetic engineering have allowed androgynous individuals to proliferate and asexual reproduction to become commonplace. Everybody […]

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    What an Extinct Bird Re-Evolving Says About “Species”

    How could the same species evolve more than once?Photograph by Janos Rautonen / Flickr You may have heard the news of what sounds like a resurrection story on the small island of Aldabra, off the coast of Madagascar. Around 136,000 years ago, the island was submerged in water and a layer of limestone captured the […]

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    Can We Revive Empathy in Our Selfish World?

    An experiment shows how to rebuild human compassion.

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    The Problem with Using the Term “Fake News” in Medicine

    While misinformation can sway elections and threaten public institutions, medical falsehoods can threaten people’s health, or even their lives.Photograph by Ugo Cutilli / Flickr Here’s one way to rid society of “fake news”—abandon the term altogether. That’s what a U.K. committee recommended that Parliament do last fall. It argued that the concept has lost any […]

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    What Ancient Romans Used Instead of Toilet Paper

    Our ancient Roman would simply wipe him- or herself, rinse the tersorium in whatever was available (running water and/or a bucket of vinegar or salt water), and leave it for the next person to use.Photograph by Kapustin Igor / Shutterstock We’ve all been caught unawares by our digestive tract at one time or another. It […]