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Maggie Koerth-Baker

Maggie Koerth-Baker is the science editor at BoingBoing.net. 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.


How to: Make a baby with no sex

Here's a Christmas season leftover that I stumbled across recently and thoroughly enjoyed: Three scientific theories that could explain a "virgin" (or, even, possibly virgin) birth. Maggie 24

The worst thing about feeding mosquitoes on your own blood

It's the fact that they eat so damn slowly, sometimes, writes Ed Yong. Seriously, mosquitoes. When a scientist offers you their arm, the least you can do is hurry it up. Maggie 5

Lightning might have a connection to outer space

It's possible that lightning wouldn't exist without cosmic rays from space. Scientists have set up one of the largest experiments in physics to figure out whether this is true. Maggie 10

The "butter is good" study has some serious flaws

You may have heard that science proves saturated fat is good for you — or, at least, that it's not the devil. That claim is based on a meta-analysis, a study of studies that reviews a wide variety of research on a given subject. Meta-analyses are a great way to get a big-picture view of what science says about a subject and the results of one of these papers means a lot more than the results of a single study, on its own.

Trouble is, this particular meta-analysis has a lot of flaws, writes James McWilliams at the Pacific Standard. Chief among them: The authors left out a couple of key studies that came the opposite conclusion and they misrepresented the results of a third. That doesn't mean butter IS the devil. But it does mean that you should pause before declaring this particular paper the final word on what is and isn't healthy to eat.

Image: "Butter" by Last Hero :: CC Attribution-ShareAlike License

Scientists capture seven particles of stardust

After a years-long mission, a NASA spacecraft captured seven particles of interstellar dust as those bits whooshed around the solar system at speeds of tens of thousands of kilometers per hour. Then, it returned the dust to Earth. Scientists are now studying those grains for clues about the birth of our solar system. Maggie 10

How personal genomics solved a family's tragic health mystery

Laura and Rob Sheppard lost three children the same way — all were born with brains that stopped developing a little less than halfway through pregnancy. The deaths might have remained a mystery, but for the power of personal genomics and connections the Sheppards were able to make between scientists in different parts of the country who were studying disorders nobody realized were really the same thing. Maggie 12

The bacteria that ate our sewers

Concrete sewers are being devoured by their microbial ecosystems and researchers at the University of Colorado are trying to find a way to stop it. (Full disclosure: My husband's cousin Ali Ling is one of the researchers who worked on this project.) Maggie 5

Science is slow, and that's good

Coincidence and fallacy are instantaneous. But science creeps along very slowly. Deep Sea News has a nice discussion of what happens when those two forces crash into each other. Maggie 2

Study calls for placebo-controlled trials of parachute effectiveness

This may be one of the best joke research papers I've ever seen. Via David Ng.

History's weirder theories about dinosaur extinction

Scientific consensus suggests that dinosaurs died out thanks to the combination of an asteroid impact, massive volcanic eruptions, and climate change. But there have been other ideas on the subject. Brian Switek has cataloged some of the odder theories, from poor eyesight to deadly farts to overactive pituitary glands. Maggie 7

Can homeschooling make you more tolerant?

A new study of students at a Christian college found that the kids who had been homeschooled were more willing to extend basic civil liberties to their political/cultural opposites than those who had gone to public school. At The Conversation, scientist Robert Kunzman critiques this study and explains how it fits into the larger context of what we know about home schooling. Maggie 49

The creeping threat of the Risk Perception Gap

Risk perception expert David Ropeik on why we fear the things we fear and the role of the media in making our perceptions of risk even more screwed up than they are naturally. Maggie 9

Return to Deepwater Horizon

For the first time since 2010, researchers are returning to the site of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, to study the long-term effects first hand. Maggie 2

How scary is Ebola?

Ebola is scary. (Hypothesis: The fewer syllables a disease has, the scarier it is at a gut/click-bait level. For example, plague compared to malaria.) And it's true that the recent outbreak of Ebola in Guinea is objectively unusual by virtue of how widespread it is throughout the country. Generally, Ebola is relatively easy to quarantine off and tends to get itself stuck in rural areas.

But Ebola is not a disease that travelers from Western countries should be particularly concerned about. Nor, for that matter, is it even a disease that people living in Guinea, and the other African countries where Ebola has popped up, should be particularly concerned about. Ebola is scary. But, relatively speaking, Ebola kills far fewer people and has far less of an impact on the lives of ordinary people than endemic diseases like tuberculosis, the aforementioned malaria, and any number of intestinal diseases that cause childhood diarrhea. The CBC has a nice story that focuses in on this perspective. You should read it.

Thanks to Tom Zeller!

You are invited to Iowa to witness the dance of the prairie chickens

Come to Kellerton, Iowa this Saturday (just off I-35, near the Missouri border) and you can watch prairie chickens engage in elaborate mating dances. The action starts just before dawn and the chickens will probably be, *ahem*, spent by 9:30 am.