Science News

When I want to showcase my erudition, aware that too few worship George Gershwin or know all the lyrics to Cole Porter's "I Get A Kick Out of You," I tell people what a gene is. What's a gene? It's a nucleic acid that codes for a protein. What's protein? Outside of the steaks at Sammy's Roumanian on the Lower East Side, I haven't a clue. I don't know what cholesterol is either; except that at Sammy's, which keeps chicken fat on the table, it's our friend. Science is a sealed book, which is why I opened Science News.

First, science is well, big. Like Carl Sagan in "Cosmos" -- it's "billions and billions" big. It encompasses everything from the natural world to new polymers -- and all subjects in between. Biology, chemistry, physics, and all those neo- and neuro-disciplines that sound impressive, even if only 10 people on the planet know what they mean.

Science News is user-friendly, geared to general readers and scientists, alike. It explains complicated information clearly. This isn't Scientific American, which is reserved for the initiated; this is like Newsweek for the intellectually curious liberal arts grad. We like to be challenged, but we love a good teacher. Barbie isn't the only one who thought math was hard.

The issue I read opened with a blurb about the 18-year-old third-place winner of Intel's science talent search. Philip Streich won a $50,000 scholarship for demonstrating the solubility of carbon nanotubes. (The first-prize winner probably got his own lab and a lifetime contract with Intel.) Note to mothers of college-bound girls: if you're pushing, this is known as the boy to bring home. Assuming, of course, that young Streich is as socially aware and financially generous as Bill Gates, yet willing to let the Mrs. use an iPhone.

On an earthier plane, we learn that tiny crystals in Australian rocks suggest that our atmosphere held significant amounts of oxygen, presumably produced by organisms capable of photosynthesis, which probably began almost 3.5 billion years ago. Moreover, Peking Man, the homo erectus remains from China's Zhoukoudian cave system, are now thought to be 780,000 years old. The first fossils were unearthed in the 1920s, before the Radical Right gave evolution a bad name. That means life on Earth is not a measly 6,000 years ago, as the Creation Museum, located in that citadel of intellectual achievement, Petersburg, Kentucky, would have you believe. Heck, it took 2,000 years just to invent pantyhose.

That's why I like Science News; the magazine is simply laid out, well-written and educative. Most of the stories, under the umbrella "In the News" section, are concise, one or two to a page. The information is interesting, rather than intimidating, and gives readers an eclectic overview of research discoveries, insights and applications, such as new treatments for peanut allergies.

The final one-third of the pub is devoted to long-form features, such as "Urban Heat." As cities and suburban sprawl get bigger, cities get hotter; the more air-conditioning used, the more greenhouse gases emitted. Call it "climate change," "global warming" or "time to panic," but the Southwest, a lure for many retirees, may not be the Promised Land. The Greatest Generation endured The Great Depression and World War II. Their baby-boomer children may go green, but they'll crank up the cool! There is principle, and there is melted Botox in 110 degrees in the shade. My people are desert people; but when Moses, et. al., wandered in Sinai, the ozone layer was intact.

Space lovers will enjoy the cover story, which discusses what happened in the seconds after the Big Bang. The Planck mission is launching a new tool into orbit that will explore gravitational waves, dark energy and hopefully reveal the dawn of time. I'm all for exploration, and for physicists, this is the mother lode. The birth of the universe was a moment of unparalleled wonder. But my trust in man, and his love affair with all things nuclear, is a worry. I don't mind missing out on the beginning; I just don't want to be there at the end.


Publisher: Society for Science & the Public

Frequency: Biweekly

Web site:

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