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Maggie Koerth-Baker

Maggie Koerth-Baker is the science editor at She writes a monthly column for The New York Times Magazine and is the author of Before the Lights Go Out, a book about electricity, infrastructure, and the future of energy. You can find Maggie on Twitter and Facebook.

Maggie goes places and talks to people. Find out where she'll be speaking next.

Great Moments in Pedantry: Fact-checking "Don't Fear the Reaper"

Valentine is done
Here, but now they're gone
Romeo and Juliet
Are together in eternity (Romeo and Juliet)
Forty-thousand men and women every day (Like Romeo and Juliet)
Forty-thousand men and women every day (Redefine happiness)
Another forty-thousand coming every day (We can be like they are)
Come on, baby (Don't fear the reaper)

Yesterday, on the way to the airport, I heard this on the radio and thought, "Huh. I wonder if Blue Oyster Cult actually looked up the daily global death rate when they were writing this?"

Read the rest

New mineral discovered in Australia

Putnisite is a newly discovered purple mineral that, unlike the many minerals found each year, is not closely related to already-known minerals. Maggie 14

Video series about medieval lives

Medical historian Holly Tucker recommends checking out Medieval Lives: Birth, Marriage and Death — a BBC series about personal lives in the Middle Ages. Maggie 8

Blind people's eyes sense light

They might not see it, but photoreceptors in the eyes of blind people do detect and respond to light. Maggie 6

Pre-code movies worth watching

At The Toast, Mallory Ortberg has a list of films from the 1920s and 30s — prior to the widespread adoption of the Hollywood Production Code and its morality guidelines — that are actually worth tracking down through Amazon, Netflix, and other sources.

Most of the movies made during this era have been lost, and not all of those that survived are timeless classics. Studios were still figuring out what worked in a talking picture and what didn’t, so there’s lots of problems with pacing — some movies waste several minutes on dead air in scenes that would have been cut entirely just a few years later. Serious technical issues dog the crop from 1928-1930, too; there’s one film where every time you see a character holding a piece of paper, it’s soaking wet because at the time there was no other way to keep from picking up every crackle and rustle of a dry sheet of paper with the microphones. So there are more than a few pre-Code films that have been deservedly forgotten.

That said, Ortberg offers up a nice accounting of the ones you should check out, arranged in categories such as "Worth Watching For Any Reason", "If You Want To Get Into Pre-Civil-Rights-Era Racial Dynamics", "Worth It For the Titles Alone", and "If You Want To Take A Deeply Uncomfortable Journey To Another Time" (which hits all the fun horrible things of the past not covered by the racial dynamics category).

An update on MERS

Scientists have been tracking Middle East respiratory syndrome since 2012. At New Scientist, Deborah MacKenzie looks at what's going on with the disease now — including a surge in cases and the identification of MERS patients outside the Middle East. Maggie 2

A fourth-year medical student writes about death

Med student Shara Yurkiewicz writes a heart-wrenching essay about watching a patient die during hip surgery. Maggie 2

When in ancient Rome, bring bottled water

Turns out, when your entire plumbing system and all your aqueduct pipes are made of lead, your water probably contains more lead than is strictly safe. That said, researchers don't think the locals were getting high enough doses to cause the kind of brain damage that would lead to, for instance, an increase in crime. Maggie 24

Speckles on the Sun larger than Alaska

The surface of the Sun is covered in what scientists call "granules" — upwellings of plasma, which are caused by convection currents just the same way that colder, denser water sinks in the ocean or hot goo rises to the top of a lava lamp. The tops of these upwellings are responsible for making the surface of the Sun appear all pebbled and speckley. And, as this image from Wikimedia Commons shows, they are MASSIVE.

They are also helping scientists learn more about what happens inside the Sun's boiling heart, according to a story by Tom Yulsman at the ImaGeo blog.

Open source seeds

Last week, the Open Source Seed Initiative released 29 new varieties of 14 different food crops. The new seeds cannot legally be brought under any kind of IP protection, nor can any future varieties bred or otherwise created from them. Maggie 18

Epigenetics could help explain differences between us and Neanderthals

Methylation — where a chemical compound attaches to DNA and changes the way that DNA is expressed without changing the DNA, itself — probably played a role in the difference between human body types and the bodies of Neanderthals. Maggie 10

Watch an earthquake slosh a swimming pool in Mexico City

A scary, but mostly harmless 7.2 earthquake struck Mexico City last week. Here's a fun game: Watch the earthquake slosh the water in a pool back and forth — then go compare the effects to animations of different types of earthquake waves. Maggie 4

The soil at the bottom of Greenland

Scientists have found 2.7-million-year-old soil at the bottom of the Greenland ice sheet. The discovery challenges what we thought we knew about how glaciers work and could have implications for the effects of climate change. Maggie 4

Inside the vegetative mind

The invention of the artificial respirator in Denmark in the 1950s created more than just a new technology. It created a new class of being — the vegetative state. More than half a century later, scientists are still trying to understand what happens inside the minds of vegetative patients. Maggie 5

Here is a picture of a man knighting a penguin

This photo was taken at the 2008 knighthood ceremony of Sir Nils Olav, a penguin who lives at the Edinburgh Zoo but is the official mascot of the Norwegian Royal Guard. In 1982, Nils Olav received his first Norwegian military promotion, to Corporal. As of 2005, his rank is Colonel-in-Chief. Periodically, the Norwegian Royal Guard visits Edinburgh, and Nils is called out to inspect the troops.

Of course, while national pride is forever, penguins only live so long. Most of the promotions and the knighthood have actually gone to the second Nils Olav, the first having died in the 1980s.