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Communication

120 articles
  • Youth Activists Push Schools’ Retirement Fund to Divest

    Redford Center Stories highest distinction film focuses on the financial side of fighting climate change.

  • To the Passionate Youth: Why Wait?

    Eloise Sent’s Redford Center Stories film entry says that young people can change the world right now—so don’t wait.

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    The “Lab Leak”: It’s Not Enough to Say Accidents Happen

    So far no one has come up with any clear account of how a coronavirus escaped biosafety level 4 barriers. Photograph by MihasLi / Shutterstock Disasters evoke a search for who to blame. Mishandled disasters make that search vital for anyone whose actions or inactions may have amplified the catastrophe’s damage. As the official United […]

  • “Even Little Things” Add Up to Justice

    Redford Center Stories Highest Distinction prizewinner highlights how small actions can have big impacts.

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    Celebrating Women Scientists

    The small wonders of the natural world impressed Amanda Phingbodhipakkiya early. As a girl, growing up in Atlanta, she was encouraged by her mother to draw sketches of things she could find in her backyard—a butterfly’s wing, a peanut shell—as they appeared in her microscope. “Looking back,” she said, in a 2017 TED Talk, “I […]

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    The English Word That Hasn’t Changed in Sound or Meaning in 8,000 Years

    The word lox was one of the clues that eventually led linguists to discover who the Proto-Indo-Europeans were, and where they lived.Photograph by Helen Cook / Flickr One of my favorite words is lox,” says Gregory Guy, a professor of linguistics at New York University. There is hardly a more quintessential New York food than […]

  • How to Pull Off a Socially Distanced Deep-Sea Mission

    Early in the pandemic, the ocean research vessel Falkor ended up going on an unplanned, month-long journey into the depths of the Australian sea—led by scientists who never set foot onboard.

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    Talking Is Throwing Fictional Worlds at One Another

    A linguist exposes the inner truths about language.

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    How Pseudoscientists Get Away With It

      The relentless and often unpredictable coronavirus has, among its many quirky terrors, dredged up once again the issue that will not die, science versus pseudoscience. The scientists, experts who would be the first to admit they are not infallible, are now in danger of being drowned out by the growing chorus of pseudoscientists, conspiracy […]

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    Why People Feel Misinformed, Confused, and Terrified About the Pandemic

      When I worked as a TV reporter covering health and science, I would often be recognized in public places. For the most part, the interactions were brief hellos or compliments. Two periods of time stand out when significant numbers of those who approached me were seeking detailed information: the earliest days of the pandemic […]

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    The Pandemic Is Showing Us How to Live with Uncertainty

    During the Spanish flu of 1918, it was Vick’s VapoRub. During the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, it was canned food. Now, as the number of cases of COVID-19 grows worldwide, it’s, among other things, toilet paper. In times of precarity, people often resort to hoarding resources they think are likely to become scarce—panic buying, as […]

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    The Problem with the Way Scientists Study Reason

    Psychologists studying reasoning extensively rely on logic and philosophy, and neglect psychology’s more natural ally: biology.Photograph by Magda Ehlers / Pexels Last year, I was in Paris for the International Convention of Psychological Science, one of the most prestigious gatherings in cognitive science. I listened to talks from my field, human reasoning, but I also […]

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    Should Scientists Use the Phrase “Quantum Supremacy”?

    Forget for a moment that you know the meaning of “quantum supremacy,” the idea of a quantum computer outdoing its conventional counterpart. What does the phrase instantly bring to mind? Perhaps the idea that the quantum world, with its electrons, neutrons, and quarks, is, somehow, better than ours—more dazzling and awe-inspiring. Or perhaps it’s the […]

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    Why Shouldn’t a Horsefly Be Named After Beyoncé?

    At best, names for species derived from celebrities and scientists become maps to hidden treasure, rewarding those who follow the trail of clues with stories of fascinating people and human history.Photograph by Ronald Woan / Flickr David Bowie and Beyoncé never shared a stage, but they share the distinction of having cleverly eponymous species names […]

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    Never Say Wolf

    How taboo language turned the wolf into a monster.

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    The 5 Most Popular Nautilus Blog Posts in 2019

    Readers’ favorite posts explore a Dutch cure for stress and memories you can inject.

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    Nautilus to be Acquired by Ownership Group of Super-Fans

    From the newswire: Award-winning magazine and fast-growing science brand poised for growth An investor group of super-fans has banded together as a single ownership group to acquire Nautilus, the literary science magazine with more than 10 thousand monthly paying subscribers and an online reach of more than 10 million. The proposed acquisition is subject to receipt […]

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    Celebrating Science: Co-Sign the Letter

    Gérard DuBois SCIENCE MATTERSMore than ever. Science gave us the light bulb.Science gave us the tractor.Science gave us the vaccine. Science showed us the atom.Science showed us the gene.Science showed us the brain. Science told us about the stars.Science told us about the trees.Science told us about ourselves. Science creates jobs.Science creates solutions.Science creates dreams. […]

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    Why Campaigns to Change Language Often Backfire

    Opponents of the phrase “car accident” argue that language is intertwined with accountability.Photograph by Alan Poulson Photography / Shutterstock In the first decades of the 20th century, people around the world began succumbing to an entirely new cause of mortality. These new deaths, due to the dangers of the automobile, soon became accepted as a […]

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    How to Get Evangelicals to Care About Climate Change

    It’s not that evangelicals don’t care about the environment. It’s that they care about people more.Photo Illustration by OFC Pictures / Shutterstock Last year was among the four warmest years ever recorded, 1.5 degrees Fahrenheit above the 20th century average. The three years prior were warmer (2016 the warmest). “The six warmest years on record […]

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    Talking Is Throwing Fictional Worlds at One Another

    A linguist exposes the inner truths about language.

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    What Trump’s Simplified Language Means

    “There is a predictive relationship that speeches that are expressed using very simple basic language tend to precede very authoritarian acts like the use of executive orders.”Photograph by Gage Skidmore / Flickr Acouple years ago, I was surprised that a panel called “The Press and President Trump,” held at the Columbia Journalism School, didn’t broach […]

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    This Simple Structure Unites All Human Languages

    Language builds meaning through self-similarity.

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    Language Both Enraptures and Deceives Us

    An interview with linguist and writer Julie Sedivy.

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    The Communication We Share with Apes

    Hand gestures signal the emergence of human language.

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    Does English Fulfill the Dream of a Universal Language?

    English adapts to the needs of people speaking it more than it shapes those people’s ideas or ideals.Photograph by kimberrywood / Shutterstock Hideo Kojima is the Japanese creator of the 2015 video game, Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain. He evidently chose “phantom pain” as a subtitle because he thought it captured the experience […]

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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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    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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    The English Word That Hasn’t Changed in Sound or Meaning in 8,000 Years

    The word lox was one of the clues that eventually led linguists to discover who the Proto-Indo-Europeans were, and where they lived.Photograph by Helen Cook / Flickr One of my favorite words is lox,” says Gregory Guy, a professor of linguistics at New York University. There is hardly a more quintessential New York food than […]

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    The Online Magazine You Can’t Read Online

    A software engineer tackles the distractions of online reading.

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    Should We Let English Eat the World?

    Hideo Kojima is the Japanese creator of the 2015 video game, Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain. He evidently chose “phantom pain” as a subtitle because he thought it captured the experience of being exiled, so to speak, from one’s first language. Kojima hints at its importance from the start of the game, with […]

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    Announcing a Black Hole Essay Competition from Harvard

    The $10,000 First Prize will include the opportunity to publish the winning article in Nautilus, a leading online and print magazine that blends science, culture, and philosophy. The Black Hole Initiative (BHI) at Harvard University announces the first-ever Black Hole Essay Competition, inviting submissions that explore novel connections and new perspectives on black hole research. […]

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    The Logic Puzzle You Can Only Solve with Your Brightest Friend

    You’ve been caught snooping around a spooky graveyard with your best friend. The caretaker, a bored old man fond of riddles (and not so fond of trespassers), imprisons each of you in a different room inside the storage shed, and, taking your phones, says, “Only your mind can set you free.” To you, he gestures […]

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    How to Talk About Vaccines on Television

    What one scientist has learned from years of media appearances.

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    Mumbling Isn’t a Sign of Laziness—It’s a Clever Data-Compression Trick

    Far from being a symptom of linguistic indifference or moral decay, mumbling displays an underlying logic similar to the data-compression schemes that are used to create MP3s and JPEGs.Photograph by Everett Collection / Shutterstock Many of us have been taught that pronouncing vowels indistinctly and dropping consonants are symptoms of slovenly speech, if not outright […]

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    Why Did a Major Paper Ignore Evidence About Gender Stereotypes?

    Some scientists may be motivated to support compelling narratives—social psychology has a long and checkered history that includes cherry-picking results, studies, and publications in order to advance them.Photograph by Everett Collection / Shutterstock Let’s start with a quiz. Who was more likely to vote for Donald Trump in 2016, men or women? Who is more […]

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    Searches

    Searching has a cost. It takes time and energy, and distracts us from other opportunities. It is also a quickly growing part of modern life. The world’s most-visited website is Google, suggesting that we devote more of our time to searching for content than consuming it. Exponentially growing databases create search overhead costs that grow […]

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    Announcing a New Science Magazine from Yale

    The need for specialization and caution in the scientific community is no excuse for its members to renege on the responsibility to engage with the larger community of people we serve.Image courtesy Ancient Fund of the Library of the University of Seville / Flickr Open any newspaper, on-screen or off, and you’ll find that scientific […]

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    The Case Against Lectures

    Depending on the speaker, lectures can be a joy, but, the efficacy of the lecture, as a teaching method, is in doubt.Photograph by ESB Professional / Shutterstock Getting “lectured” is rarely, if ever, a pleasant experience. You’re being told what to do and think, or even chastised. Don’t lecture me, we like to say. Having […]

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    Can a Wandering Mind Make You Neurotic?

    The connection between inner thought and neuroticism feeds the myth of the suffering creative genius.Woman with wax tablets and stylus (so-called “Sappho”) / Wikicommons I have two children, and they are a study in contrasts: My son works at a gym designing and building rock-climbing walls; In his spare time, he climbs them. My daughter […]

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    Nautilus Joins Forces with Discover and Astronomy

    You may not know it, but Nautilus and Discover go way back. Our features editor, Kevin Berger, came to us from Discover Magazine. So did our long-time (now former) blog editor, Amos Zeeberg. Discover editors have written and guest-edited for us, and we’ve been regular consumers of Discover’s great features and blog content since we […]

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    What Question Will You Be Remembered For?

    Last week, John Brockman announced this year’s Edge.org “Annual Question” to be the last, and it has an appropriately culminating feel to it: “What is the last question?”Illustration by Sascha Grusche / Wikicommons John Brockman has run out of questions, and it’s a shame. For 20 years, as a sort of homage to his late […]

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    We Should Not Accept Scientific Results That Have Not Been Repeated

    Distinguishing between replicated and un-replicated studies would change how science is reported and discussed, increase the visibility of both strong and weak papers, incentivize scientists to only publish findings they have confidence in, and discourage publishing for the sake of publishing.Photograph by Tony Buser / Flickr A few years ago, I became aware of serious […]

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    How to Get Evangelicals to Care About Climate Change

    It’s not that evangelicals don’t care about the environment. It’s that they care about people more.Wikicommons Last year was among the three warmest years ever recorded, 1.51 degrees Fahrenheit above the 20th century average, scientists from NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration recently reported. The two years prior were warmer (2016 the warmest), […]

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    The Irony of the Pope Decrying Fake News

    It’s hard to ignore the irony of the leader of the Catholic religion decrying intolerant and hypersensitive attitudes, to which Catholic dogma has contributed for centuries.Illustration by DonkeyHotey / Flickr Pope Francis may be the first pontiff in Roman Catholic history to embrace the voice of the modern pundit. In 2015, he wrote an encyclical […]

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    How to Use Blinkist Properly

    There’s a right way and a wrong way to use Blinkist. You’ll still want to do some reading, for one thing.Photograph by Jonathan Grado / Flickr The summer reading for my senior-year A.P. psych class was Malcolm Gladwell’s Blink, the bestseller all about the “power of thinking without thinking”—both its triumphs (fine “snap” judgments) and […]

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    10 Popular Nautilus Magazine Stories of 2017

    Dive in: From democracy-damaging media to willpower to the holographic universe, here are some of the most-read Nautilus stories of 2017.Illustration by Irene Rinaldi What did the unconscious part of the mind say to the conscious part? This isn’t so much the start of a science gag as a perennial scientific mystery—one that the novelist […]

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    Should Scientists Publish Their Personal Biases?

    What if scientists were more transparent about their values? Would their results and recommendations be better received and more trusted if they acknowledged any relevant personal beliefs that may have shaped their research? Nope. Transparency hurts.Photo Illustration by Francesco Izzo / Wikicommons A lot of modern science challenges us to change our behaviors. Results related […]

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    A Letter from the Publisher of Nautilus

    My name is John Steele. I am the publisher and editorial director of Nautilus. Yesterday an open letter was posted on the National Writers Union website, signed by 19 freelance writers. It stated some writers and editors are “awaiting payment from Nautilus magazine for a collective debt totaling $50,000. Some of us have been waiting […]

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    The Creator of Vsauce Wants Us to Stop Underestimating People’s Intelligence

    Michael Stevens’ videos range from 10 to 30 minutes and blend philosophy, mathematics, and science together: “Which way is down?” and “How to count past infinity” are good examples.Vsauce / YouTube Red What does the science educator of today look like? With the rise of streaming technologies, would-be educators no longer need a network deal […]

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    The Hidden Link Between Morality and Language

    Tragedy can strike us any time, but that doesn’t mean we can’t make the best of it. When Frank’s dog was struck and killed by a car in front of his house, he grew curious what Fido might taste like. So he cooked him up and ate him for dinner. It was a harmless decision, […]

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    Cormac McCarthy Returns to the Kekulé Problem

    Answers to questions and questions that cannot be answered.

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    The Rise and Fall of the English Sentence

    The surprising forces influencing the complexity of the language we speak and write.

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    The Unspoken

    The philosophers knew it first. “Silence is the element in which great things fashion themselves together,” wrote Thomas Carlyle in 1831. Since then, science has redefined the word. When we rest, our brain’s default mode network lights up. Exposure to the broken and absurd primes our learning faculties. Voiceless animals show rich, culture-like behavior. Speech […]

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    Here’s How to Make Climate Change Extra Scary

    Thirty thousand years ago, a woolly mammoth in Siberia shed a giant virus. It soon became encased in ice and, for tens of thousands of years, the virus slept. As global temperatures warm and the permafrost begins to melt, the virus stirs. It is sucked into the nostril of a researcher where it injects its […]

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    In Fermat’s Library, No Margin Is Too Narrow

      Ever asked what the Internet thought about something and immediately regretted it? The four researchers behind Fermat’s Library, a platform and online community for discussing scientific papers, have had quite a different experience. With 3.5 million monthly visitors across their website, Twitter, and other social presences, Fermat’s Library is more than an academic tool. […]

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    Yoda Is Dead but Star Wars’ Dubious Lessons Live On

      We didn’t say “break the Internet” back in 1999, but if we did we could certainly say that science-fiction author David Brin broke the Internet when he wrote in Salon that “Stars Wars belongs to our dark past. A long, tyrannical epoch of fear, illogic, despotism, and demagoguery that our ancestors struggled desperately to […]

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    When Dark Humor Stops Being Funny

    Experiencing small doses of negative emotions, elicited by an offensive joke, may make us more resilient to future, more serious set backs.Photograph by Barry Brecheisen / Getty Images In either ninth or tenth grade, my friend Dan and I found a book of “Truly Tasteless Jokes” on the cafeteria floor. Our teenage psyches were quickly […]

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    Outraged By the Google Diversity Memo? I Want You to Think About It

    Damore was fired, basically, for making a well-meant, if amateurish, attempt at institutional design, based on woefully incomplete information he picked from published research studies. But however imperfect his attempt, he was fired, in short, for thinking on his own. And what example does that set?Photograph by Verco That leaked internal memo from James Damore […]

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    How to Defuse Offensive Speech

    The claim that speech can be violence is dangerous, it is argued, because it exacerbates the emotional vulnerability that’s already rampant in the “Internet generation,” of which today’s undergraduates are a part.Image by Eduard Bezembinder / Flickr If you Google “It’s been emotional,” even without quotes, you’ll find that a clip from Guy Ritchie’s 1998 […]

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    The Pressures and Perks of Being a Thought Leader

    Barmy ideas can gain a foothold just because of the prominence of the person voicing them.Photograph by Tamaki Sono / Flickr The first time I saw the term, I was mystified. “Hey, Dr S! We’re getting a few KOLs together to give us some advice about how to develop our new compound,” began the friendly […]

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    The Unusual Language That Linguists Thought Couldn’t Exist

    In most languages, sounds can be re-arranged into any number of combinations. Not so in Al-Sayyid Bedouin Sign Language.Photograph by Brian Goodman / Shutterstock Languages, like human bodies, come in a variety of shapes—but only to a point. Just as people don’t sprout multiple heads, languages tend to veer away from certain forms that might […]

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    A Linguist Responds to Cormac McCarthy

    If language began as a virus, here’s how it spread.

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    What Trump’s Simplified Language Means

    On the last weekend in April, I was surprised that a panel called “The Press and President Trump,” held at the Columbia Journalism School, didn’t broach the subject of mental illness. Just over a week earlier, at a psychiatry conference at Yale, a group of the attendees announced that Trump has a “dangerous mental illness.” […]

  • What Living with an Eye Patch in a Big City Taught Me

    At first I was tired of telling every curious soul that cancer took my eye, but then something changed.

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    Why Doesn’t Ancient Fiction Talk About Feelings?

    Literature’s evolution has reflected and spurred the growing complexity of society.

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    The Kekulé Problem

    Where did language come from?

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    The World According to Scientists

    In Victorian England, one pastime among friends and family was to jot down your “Confessions”—answers to semi-serious questions of taste and principle. One day, in the spring of 1865, Karl Marx had a go. Several of his answers spotlight habits of the scientific mind. The quality you like best? Simplicity. The vice you hate most? Servility. […]

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    Will the March for Science Matter?

    The closer one looks, the more intractable the politics become.Photograph by Mihai Petre / Wikicommons Here’s a hypothesis worth testing: If anybody concerned with science was left on the fence about whether the April 22 March for Science was a worthwhile endeavor, a flurry of news in late March catalyzed them to action. Let’s look […]

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    It Might Be Time to Stop Touting Eco-Friendly Messages

    In this climate, you might wonder whether it’s still possible for companies to tout a “green” message at all. Maybe it’s dead.Photograph by Florida Sea Grant / Flickr In his modestly titled 2010 book Beyond Business: An Inspirational Memoir From a Visionary Leader, John Browne, the former CEO of Beyond Petroleum (BP for short), recounted […]

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    5 Languages That Could Change the Way You See the World

    I went to my neighbor’s house for something to eat yesterday. Think about this sentence. It’s pretty simple—English speakers would know precisely what it means. But what does it actually tell you—or, more to the point, what does it not tell you? It doesn’t specify facts like the subject’s gender or the neighbor’s, or what […]

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    Plants Have an “Ear” for Music

    While he was a soldier stationed in a Korean demilitarized zone in the 1960s, the late Dan Carlson, Sr. was horrified when he saw a mother intentionally cripple her child to receive food subsidies. Moved by that experience, he enrolled after returning home at the University of Minnesota under his GI Bill, and buried his […]

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    Is the Chinese Language a Superstition Machine?

    How ambiguity in language can create unique taboos.

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    Is the Chinese Language a Superstition Machine?

    How ambiguity in language can create unique taboos.

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    Why Christopher Hitchens Was a Hero to Scientists

    The writer had a reverence for science and philosophy, and a conviction that both should be the basis of personal belief and ethics in society.

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    Listening for Extraterrestrial Blah Blah

    At the cosmic dinner party, intelligence is the loudest thing in the room.

  • If ET Calls, Think Twice About Answering

    Why some say searching for ET is best done quietly.

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    Fake News Is an Old Problem

    In a presidential campaign that seemed to break rules of political decorum daily, one of the more alarming developments was the rise of a new kind of media: fake news. “Obama FURIOUS After Judge Jeanine Calls Him A Terrorist On Live TV!!!” proclaimed TrumpVision365.com, a fake-news site run by young people in Macedonia. “STOP HER […]

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    It’s Personal: Five Scientists on the Heroes Who Changed Their Lives

    Meet the inspiring people—none named Einstein—who helped these scientists find their calling.

  • How to Talk to Aliens

    A conversation with the linguist who helped Amy Adams communicate with aliens in Arrival.

  • Listening for Extraterrestrial Blah Blah

    At the cosmic dinner party, intelligence is the loudest thing in the room.

  • Responding Rapidly to Big Discoveries

    How do scientists react to major breaking science news? For astrophysicists after the big gravitational waves announcement, it was meeting for two weeks in Santa Barbara, California.

  • Science Evolves. Will Science Education?

    Science is a constantly changing, self-correcting process. Why do we teach it as a collection of old, settled facts?

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    The Scientist Who Helped Amy Adams Talk to Aliens in “Arrival”

    Earlier this year, when Amy Adams was in Montreal working on the sci-fi movie, Arrival, out today, she hung out with linguist Jessica Coon. In the film, Adams plays a linguist tasked by the United States government with deciphering a visiting aliens’ language. The film’s producers tapped Coon, an associate professor in the Department of Linguistics […]

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    The Problem With Science Writing

    Want to hear a seamy insider secret from the science communication industry? The border between journalism and public relations has more turnstiles than Grand Central. Professionals move with relative ease, and little stigma, between newspapers, websites, and magazines and what would otherwise be called propaganda centers—university communication departments, government agencies, corporate PR arms, military research […]

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    Is the Nobel Prize Good for Science?

    Yesterday, CNN Money published an article headlined, “Nobel prize winner tells Clinton: Tax fossil fuels.” The winner in question was Joseph Stiglitz, an economist at Columbia University, who received the prize 15 years ago. As you might expect, the Nobel is hardly his only accolade. He’s not only the World Bank’s former chief economist and […]

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    Why We Shouldn’t Accept Unrepeated Science—Our Author Responds to His Critics

    Last month a long thread evolved on Hacker News, a popular discussion forum, in response to my Nautilus article, “We Should Not Accept Scientific Results That Have Not Been Repeated.” Much to my delight, it generated a rich conversation involving scientists and non-scientists alike. That’s fitting, since our inability to independently replicate our results, I […]

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    We Should Not Accept Scientific Results That Have Not Been Repeated

    A few years ago, I became aware of serious problem in science: the irreproducibility crisis. A group of researchers at Amgen, an American pharmaceutical company, attempted to replicate 53 landmark cancer discoveries in close collaboration with the authors. Many of these papers were published in high-impact journals and came from prestigious academic institutions. To the […]

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    How Language Helps Erase the Tragedy of Millions of Road Deaths

    In the first decades of the 20th century, people around the world began succumbing to an entirely new cause of mortality. These new deaths, due to the dangers of the automobile, soon became accepted as a lamentable but normal part of modern life. A hundred years later, with 1.25 million people worldwide (about 30,000 in […]

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    Why Neil deGrasse Tyson Shuns Sam Harris’ Swamp of Controversy

    On The Tonight Show, in March 1978, the late astronomer Carl Sagan had lots to talk about. He had just published Dragons of Eden: Speculations on the Evolution of Human Intelligence—which would win the Pulitzer Prize—and Star Wars, released the year before, still captivated the public’s imagination. When Johnny Carson, the show’s then-host, asked Sagan […]

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    Is Multilingual Rap Eroding Canada’s French Language?

    Recently a Quebec arts foundation required the Francophone rap group Dead Obies to give back an $18,000 grant they’d been awarded to record their newest album. The problem? A word count determined that the group had stirred too much English into their distinctive multilingual lyrics, falling short of the rule that 70 percent of the […]

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    Listen to an Exclusive Excerpt from Hope Jahren’s New Book, “Lab Girl”

    Hope Jahren, a geobiologist and geochemist, wants to speak to you. For decades, she says, she’s been speaking to the same people, her scientific peers, and now it’s time for a change. “I wanted to write this book”—her memoir, Lab Girl, published today—“in order to talk to somebody new,” she told Nautilus recently. Her subject? […]

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    Why “Natural Selection” Became Darwin’s Fittest Metaphor

    Some metaphors end up forgotten by all but the most dedicated historians, while others lead long, productive lives. It’s only a select few, though, that become so entwined with how we understand the world that we barely even recognize them as metaphors, seeing them instead as something real. Of course, why some fizzle and others […]

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    The Strange Persistence of First Languages

    After my father died, my journey of rediscovery began with the Czech language.

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    Why Red Means Red in Almost Every Language

    The confounding consistency of color categories.

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    5 Languages That Could Change the Way You See the World

    I went to my neighbor’s house for something to eat yesterday. Think about this sentence. It’s pretty simple—English speakers would know precisely what it means. But what does it actually tell you—or, more to the point, what does it not tell you? It doesn’t specify facts like the subject’s gender or the neighbor’s, or what […]

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    Is DNA the Language of the Book of Life?

    Thinking of nucleobases as a long sequence of letters may contribute to the illusion that DNA is a language.Neil Palmer / CIAT via Flickr When we talk about genes, we often use expressions inherited from a few influential geneticists and evolutionary biologists, including Francis Crick, James Watson, and Richard Dawkins. These expressions depict DNA as […]

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    Mumbling Isn’t a Sign of Laziness—It’s a Clever Data-Compression Trick

    Many of us have been taught that pronouncing vowels indistinctly and dropping consonants are symptoms of slovenly speech, if not outright disregard for the English language. The Irish playwright St. John Ervine viewed such habits as evidence that some speakers are “weaklings too languid and emasculated to speak their noble language with any vigor.” If […]

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    We All Used to Be Geniuses

      To adults learning a second language, it hardly seems fair: As they stumble their way through conjugation drills, fret over grammar textbooks, and fill in worksheets on constructing subordinate clauses, their children sop up the language while finger painting at preschool. Within months, correct syntax pours itself out of the tykes’ mouths, involving no […]

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    Shakespeare’s Genius Is Nonsense

    What the Bard can teach science about language and the limits of the human mind.

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    The Unusual Language That Linguists Thought Couldn’t Exist

    In most languages, sounds can be re-arranged into any number of combinations. Not so in Al-Sayyid Bedouin Sign Language.Brian Goodman via Shutterstock Languages, like human bodies, come in a variety of shapes—but only to a point. Just as people don’t sprout multiple heads, languages tend to veer away from certain forms that might spring from […]

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    The Family That Couldn’t Say Hippopotamus

    The origins of language are not what inherited disorders seemed to suggest.

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    Can You Ever Really Know an Extraterrestrial?

    Knowledge about aliens might be as dangerous as the aliens themselves.

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    Can You Ever Really Know an Extraterrestrial?

    Knowledge about aliens might be as dangerous as the aliens themselves.

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    Cracking Avatar’s Language Codes

    A fictional language makes the jump to reality.

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    A Scientist’s Trick for Making Discoveries Outside the Lab

    The year was 1986. It was my first week at my first real job in science after finishing undergraduate work. I just had recently been hired as a scientific programmer at NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Sciences (GISS) in upper Manhattan, and was still so new that I wasn’t sure where the bathrooms were. Earlier […]

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    The Best Way Yet to Talk to Aliens (If They’re Out There)

    “None knows whence creation arose; And whether he has or has not made it; He who surveys it from the lofty skies. Only he knows—or perhaps not.” This is an edited snippet from a 3,500-year-old Vedic creation myth. I sent each of its 143 characters streaming on a beam of radio waves on June 21, […]

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    44 Years of Debating the First Words Ever Spoken on the Moon

    Perhaps no recorded phrase has been so heavily analyzed, so dredged for missing information, as Neil Armstrong’s words when he took his first step on the Moon. In case you’ve been living under a rock for the last 40-odd years, they were (drumroll), “One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” Or at […]

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    14 Words for Horse: The Linguistics of Game of Thrones

    Seven hundred people gathered at the University of California, San Diego, one day this spring to hear the creators of three fictional languages talk about how linguistics has infiltrated Hollywood, particularly when it comes to building believable make-believe worlds. When it comes to building make-believe worlds, inventing a language makes it seem that much more […]

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    A Crowdsourced Expert Interview

    Nautilus readers delve further into the idea that metaphors make us human.

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    Guide the Future of Nautilus

    Help steer where the magazine goes by sharing your feedback and ideas.

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    Collected Commenter Wisdom

    A sampling of the most lively discussions from Nautilus’ first month.