The Last Word

July 24-28, 2017 This week LWON responds once again to the ludicrous alarmism of Shark Week. Our fifth annual Snark Week reveals the viciousness lurking in the most adorable of animals, if you’ll only lean in closely enough to hear their villainous scheming. Raccoons, for instance, have had it in for us since they first […]

The Last Word

July 3-7, 2017 Legendary artifact collector Forrest Fenn has hidden a bronze chest in the wilds. More than one treasure hunter has died looking for it, but Craig has seen its contents with his own eyes. “Where’s my jetpack?” is the ubiquitous complaint of disillusioned mid-century science fiction fans. “It’s right here,” says DARPA, “But […]

Tackling hunger from the root

In 2050, the global population is projected to stand at around 10 billion humans, and every one of them will need to eat. We already have more than 7 billion people on Earth, so perhaps another three seems like a step-wise challenge in global food security, but the scale of the problem turns out to […]

Redux: Ravens among us

My son and I have been reading Neil Gaiman’s new novelization of Norse Mythology, which includes glancing reference to Odin’s raven informants Huginn and Muninn. It reminded me of this post from March 2011, which featured the artwork of raven-obsessed Yukon artist Nicole Bauberger. Ten years ago I asked Bauberger why she spent years on painstaking […]

The Last Word

April 24-28, 2017 This week at the Last Word on Nothing: There is magic in the ambiguity of a number given in place of your identity, says Rose. Huge bureaucracies inadvertently set the stage for serendipitous mistakes. Cassie goes for a relaxing run only to witness a disturbing instance of littering. Plastic bags on the […]

Your Body is a Microbial Archipelago

When Charles Darwin compared the beaks of his finch specimens from the Galapagos, he saw that each had been shaped differently by evolution, depending on the natural history of the island on which that finch made its home. Many evolutionary biologists see life through this natural history lens, and while they are right to declare […]

First, AI came for our volunteer jobs

In 2007, while a researcher at Oxford, astrophysicist Kevin Schawinski co-founded what would become the largest online citizen science project to date. Galaxy Zoo involved several hundred thousand volunteers pouring over images from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey to classify galaxies. Significant discoveries were made, dozens of journal articles published the results, and another site, […]

Diary of a Human Zoo Animal

Last week I roamed the trails of the Zurich Zoo with my son. The new elephant exhibit, we heard, included an underwater window in which one could watch the elephantine legs paddling. As a tourist attraction, though, a world-class zoo is pretty much the same wherever you go, and it wasn’t exactly a thrilling day. More […]