social science

NMK Photography, https://tinyurl.com/y44ut8jn

You’ve heard the old Benjamin Franklin quote that nothing can be said to be certain except death and taxes.

But there is actually quite a lot that’s uncertain about both death and taxes. And about everything else.

Author Bina Venkataraman understands very well the temptation to keep doing what we’ve always done, even if we’re pretty sure it’s not the best approach. She’s done it herself.

A few years ago, she was hiking in the Hudson Valley in New York just north of New York City, a place she knew was loaded with Lyme disease. She didn’t wear tick repellent. And even when she found a rash on the back of her leg, she didn’t do anything about it.

“It didn't look like the telltale bulls eye you associate with a tick bite,” she said.

David Johnson, https://tinyurl.com/y4zyne8y

An American convicted of a federal crime is seven percent more likely to be sentenced to jail time if they are black than if they are white. That jail time is likely to be eight months longer if the person is black.

That’s a major disparity, but it’s also a major improvement over where we were 20 years ago. 

There’s an entire laboratory dedicated to the practice of discussing challenging topics.
thebarrowboy, https://tinyurl.com/y4vs6f32

Many of us steer around difficult political conversations to avoid conflict with people with whom we disagree. Among people we know, we employ the tried-and-true method of staying away from politics and religion.

But there’s an entire laboratory dedicated to the practice of discussing challenging topics. It’s the Difficult Conversations Lab at Columbia University.

'Old Town Road' by Lil Nas X has stayed at the top of the charts for longer than any other song.
Courtesy Photo

“Old Town Road,” Lil Nas X’s country/western rap hit, is now not only genre-breaking, it’s record-breaking. It has held Billboard’s number one spot for 17 weeks, breaking the record previously set by the 2017 hit "Despacito" and, back in 1995, "One Sweet Day" by Mariah Carey and Boyz to Men.

Craig Cochrane, https://tinyurl.com/y4kd2lqj

Nine out of 10 elementary schools in Europe offer children the opportunity to learn multiple languages, but only a quarter of American elementary schools offer instruction in a language other than English. And enrollment in language classes at the secondary and college levels have been falling in recent years.

But Americans may not be as language depauperate as we think. We’ve just been holding the bar too high.

Researcher Rachel Plotnick spent seven years studying why we push buttons.
pxhere, http://tinyurl.com/y6mxx48p

Buttons are everywhere in our lives. But why? We push buttons on dishwashers, car dashboards, doorbells, our phones, and, of course, those “like” buttons on social media.

Where did buttons come from, and what gives them an edge over, say, dials or switches? And why do they so often seem not to do what we think they should?

Kathy Drasky, https://tinyurl.com/ybkq6ak4

Empathy: you probably have an intuitive sense of what it is, but can you define it? The word itself is about a century old, and the meaning has actually been in almost continual flux. 

That feeling when you can't remember someone's name.
Joe Loong, https://tinyurl.com/yaor8jjg

It’s happened to all of us. You bump into someone on the street whom you know you know, but you can’t for the life of you remember their name. Worse yet, somebody walks up to you at a party, greets you by name, asks about your kids, and all you can think is – what is their name?

Luther Bottrill / unsplash

The midterm elections have dominated the news for the past few months, but a string of racist, sexist, anti-semitic, and otherwise hate-motivated violence has been the other big story. With several attacks in such a short period of time, it can feel like a major uptick in hate crimes.

captaincinema, https://tinyurl.com/yawjpx2j

We’ve often heard that Facebook and Twitter are making it too easy to encase ourselves in bubbles of like-mindedness. We’ve been told that these echo chambers are fueling political polarization and that we should be exposed to differing opinions.

New research shows that idea might be wrong.

Sydney Rae / unsplash

The idea of what it means to be American has been a central theme in our increasingly polarized political landscape -- from immigration policy to the controversy over NFL players taking a knee during the national anthem.

Of course, you can find people on both sides of any of these debates playing the “it’s un-American” card. So, what factors do Americans actually believe are important to the American identity?

Akira Hojo / unsplash

Religion has been part of the human experience for as long as anyone can figure out. Religious behavior, in general, has declined in many parts of the world, but it tends to bounce back when there is a tragedy of some sort. And recent computer models suggest that religious beliefs are unlikely to disappear anytime soon. What else could computers tell us about this deeply human phenomenon?

A new project aims to get scientists to take another look at work that can't be reproduced.
Elsa Partan

It’s not easy to admit that you’ve been wrong. But everyone makes mistakes and scientists are no different.

But when a researcher makes a poor choice in the lab or misinterprets his or her results, and that becomes part of the permanent scientific record, that can have far-reaching implications.

  

A few weeks ago, we spoke with a young ocean researcher who was struck by the lack of diversity among her colleagues and decided to dig deeper. Emily Cooperdock and a colleague got their hands on four decades worth of data and found that years of talk and diversity initiatives have done little to actually increase the representation of women and minorities in earth and ocean sciences.

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