Maggie Koerth-Baker

Maggie Koerth-Baker is the science editor at BoingBoing.net. From August 2014-May 2015, she will be a Nieman-Berkman Fellow at Harvard University. You can follow Maggie's adventures in the Ivory Tower by subscribing to The Fellowship of Three Things newsletter.


How sandstone arches form

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It's not caused by erosion. Instead, the rock, itself, forms the arch and the erosion just washes away everything else around it.

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Giving up on saving the world

Grist has an interview with activist and writer Paul Kingsnorth, a former environmentalist who has decided that the right way to deal with the end of the world is to just accept its inevitability.

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Metalhead visits neurologist

In a rare complication of being a metalhead, a 50-year-old Motorhead fan developed a brain bleed after combining enthusiastic headbanging with a benign cyst.

The limits of animal life on Tatooine

Maggie Koerth-Baker on why the megafauna of George Lucas’ parched desert world makes no sense. It’s not the dry heat that’s the problem; it’s the food supply.

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Baby blood samples stored for research without parent permission

If you had a baby in Indiana after 1991, chances are your child's blood and DNA samples are being stored by the state. Originally meant for research, no samples have been used because consent of parents was never obtained.

After smallpox find, big questions about safety in federal research labs

Popular Science has a nice follow up to the news about the discovery of decades-old smallpox samples — including the fact that scientists found 327 vials of other forgotten disease samples in the same place.

Behind the science of stress, the hand of Big Tobacco

Stress does affect the body in numerous ways. But how we think about what stress is, what it does, and its connection to pop psychology, have all been shaped by cigarette companies.

When food has an offensive name

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The "kaffir" in "Kaffir lime" is actually a racial slur. At National Geographic, Maryn McKenna struggles with how to deal with foods that have offensive names.

I ran across a campaign, launched initially on Twitter, to rename the kaffir lime, a bumpy-skinned fruit from Southeast Asia with deeply perfumed leaves. “Kaffir” is a slur: In apartheid South Africa, whites hurled it against blacks. Writer Mark Mathabane, who was born in a Johannesburg shantytown during apartheid, used it to title his memoir, Kaffir Boy. In modern South Africa, uttering the word is scandalous hate speech, and defamation suits have been brought and won over it. Just this week, South Africa’s Supreme Court of Appeal upheld a man’s sentence (of a fine and a year in jail) for using it, saying in a unanimous opinion: “The word is racially abusive and offensive… its use is not only prohibited but is actionable as well.”

Image: Some rights reserved by robynejay.

Malaysia Airlines crash kills AIDS researchers

A particularly depressing addendum to the story of a passenger jet shot down in Ukrainian air space: Of the 298 people on board, roughly 100 were people flying to an international conference on AIDS research.

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It's only a matter of time before the chikungunya virus spreads in the U.S.

Until 2013, chikungunya was an Old World disease, writes Maggie Koerth-Baker. Not any more.

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Modern spiders related to 500-million-year-old nightmare beasts

Anomalocarids are the ancient ancestors of spiders. They look like menu items from H.P. Lovecraft's seafood restaurant.

The horrible seating configuration Airbus wants to patent

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Here's the patent application. The "good" news: It's just conceptual. Regulators wouldn't let Ryanair sell standing room tickets, so maybe this would be banned as well?

Myers-Briggs personality test isn't actually based on science

It's fun to take, but the results of a Myers-Briggs personality test are basically meaningless — inconsistent and based on unsupported, philosophical ideas about how the brain operates.

Your blood type can influence whether you get sick

Your risk of contracting norovirus — that scourge of cruise vacations — depends both on the strain of the virus and what your blood type is.

What happens in babies' brains between babbling and speech

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Most babies babble by 7 months of age. Most don't start talking real words until they're a year old. What's going on in their heads in the meantime?

This is kind of your standard hook-a-baby-up-to-a-brain-scanner-and-see-what-lights-up research. But I think it is particularly interesting in the way that it emphasizes the very hard work that goes into getting the muscle movements of face, tongue, and vocal cords coordinated in just the right way in order to say what it is that you want to say. We often talk about the "can't talk yet" stage of babyhood as though the baby isn't processing speech yet and doesn't understand words. But that's not really true. At a certain point, they get the words, but can't necessarily get their bodies to repeat the words. (And, in fact, this is exactly the sort of situation that infant sign language is meant to address.)

The study has social implications, suggesting that the slow and exaggerated parentese speech – “Hiiiii! How are youuuuu?” – may actually prompt infants to try to synthesize utterances themselves and imitate what they heard, uttering something like “Ahhh bah bah baaah.”

“Parentese is very exaggerated, and when infants hear it, their brains may find it easier to model the motor movements necessary to speak,” Kuhl said.

Bonus: More photos and video of babies attached (kind of adorably, from my perspective) to brain scan equipment.