Take a moment to remeber the last time you took a walk through nature. When I think about nature here in the Pacific Northwest, images of lush greenery, tall trees, and rushing water come to mind. Why is nature so appealing to us? One evolutionary explanation is that nature is intrinsically healthy for humans. Time spent in nature has been shown to reduce a huge variety of health issues, including obesity, anxiety disorders, and cancer rates (1).
When first received Andrea Wulf’s The Invention of Nature as a gift from a friend, I had only vague ideas about who Alexander von Humboldt was. As I delved into Wulf’s astonishingly well-researched narrative, I was impressed at every turn by both the author and the subject of the book.
My interest in wolves started early. In middle school, I remember being assigned a project in which all I had to do was pick a topic I was excited about, do some research it, and present my findings with a poster and a paper. I don’t remember how I came to this decision, but I chose wolves as my topic. The research I did for that project kicked off a lifelong fascination and respect for the Canis lupus, so naturally I was excited when I found a paper about how wolves are at the top of a trophic cascade in Yellowstone National Park. Even more exciting was the discovery that the reintroduction of wolves into Yellowstone in the 1990s has been mitigating the effects of climate change* on the entire park.
Doing science is hard, but for many, reading about science is harder. However, learning how to read and think critically about science is a valuable skill in today’s fast-growing world of information and innovation. Here are three easy steps you can take today to read science like a pro:
What if I told you that there is one simple way to clean your brain of harmful toxins, significantly improve your memory, reduce your reaction time, and increase general brain function? Some recent research has led scientists to conclude that there really is one simple trick to achieving all the above, and it’s not a pill. It’s sleep.
Mary Roach is not a scientist. However, despite (or perhaps because of?) her lack of formal scientific training, Ms. Roach writes about science better than most of the scientists I know. Each of her books looks at the science behind a single topic, digging into vast fields of research and presenting her findings to a general audience. She has a talent for finding peculiar facts, and a stomach of steel when it comes to her research. * Her third book (and my personal favorite), Bonk, is a delight to read.
Alright, it’s confession time: I’m one of those snobby Seattleites who shops at expensive, organic grocery stores. I grew up more at home in a Whole Foods than a Costco. That being said, there is one thing that drives me crazy about the “green” eating movement, and that is the shameless fear-mongering around GMO foods (GMO stands for genetically modified organism). The myth that GMOs are dangerous, or at the very least should be avoided, is both ignorant and dangerous to millions of people.
Understanding the difference between correlation and causation is essential for anyone who's interested in becoming science literate. In order to appreciate this, let me present you with a shocking fact: When ice cream sales increase, so do homicide rates (1).
The interaction between senses has always been fascinating to me. That’s why I was excited today when I stumbled across a couple papers that talked about the interaction between how we perceive the taste of food and the color of the cookware that it’s served in. For example, researchers found that the same coffee, when served in differently colored mugs, was rated differently on metrics of flavor intensity and sweetness. Coffee was rated significantly more intense and less sweet when it was served in a white mug than when it was served in a blue mug or a clear glass mug. *
“There is nothing in the world more perfect than a slide rule,” begins Hope Jahren’s first book. Even if you disagree with that statement, * Lab Girl is a delight to read, and I highly recommend it to anyone who is interested in learning more about scientific research.