There's good news and bad news about the openness of scientific information this week. The good news is that you might soon have access to more of it than ever. The bad news is that you might not know what to make of it.
First the good: a cadre of elite universities—Harvard, MIT, UC-Berkeley, Dartmouth, and Cornell—announced a commitment to expand the number of scholarly journal articles published open-access, free for anyone to read. Currently, nearly all of the top journals publish on a subscription basis. Universities pay those fees so their scientists have access to the latest research, but the information is closed off to the public unless you want to shell out a small fortune for them. Just accessing one Nature article as a non-subscriber will run you $32.
If you enjoyed watching the thunderous hits and tackles of the NFL's opening weekend, remember this: playing pro football isn't exactly the route to a long, full life. Thanks to the wear and tear of bone rattling collisions, and carrying more weight that a human frame is supposed to, America's favorite weekend warriors have a life expectancy that's more than two decades shorter than the average person's. Can we make life after football better for players?
Yesterday the AP reported that a few players took the problem into their own hand in a rather grisly manner. NFL players Matt Birk, Lofa Tatupu, and Sean Morey announced that they would donate their brains after death to science—specifically, the Boston University med school program that studies traumatic brain injuries. More than 150 former athletes have signed up, hoping the center's studies could help future players recover better from damaging hits to the head.
Late blight is back. The fungus, which spreads through its spores and caused the great Irish Potato Famine of the 1840s, emigrated to the United States back then and is hitting the potatoes and tomatoes of the eastern U.S. especially hard this year. This time, however, scientists are working to get a step ahead: they just finished sequencing the genome of this pesky organism.
The new study, done by MIT and Harvard scientists and just published in Nature, shows why the late blight is so hard to handle. Three-quarters of its genome is filled with repetitive DNA that appears able to evolve with great haste, outwitting our attempts to control it via chemical treatments or genetically-resistant crops.
Few of my pet peeves equal my distaste for conspiracy theories, whether it's that the moon landing was a hoax, that the Bush Administration had a hand in 9/11, or the anti-Obama "birther" nonsense. But are we really going to start McCarthyism 2.0 because Van Jones signed a 9/11 petition?
As you've probably seen by now, Jones, President Obama's green jobs czar, quit the administration this week. After TV blowhards like Glenn Beck found out about they 9/11 petition, and that Mr. Jones once called the Republican Party a bad name, they launched a campaign to have Jones fired that culminated in success.
I'm a science writer who currently covers the news for publications like Popular Mechanics, Discover and others. I have wide-ranging interests inside science, but especially love weird science, astronomy and energy. A Nebraska native, I'm now a Brooklynite after more than enough wandering around.