Sharon Begley's "Science Journal"

Re: Sharon Begley's "Science Journal"

Postby admin » Tue Oct 29, 2019 2:15 am

Interrogation Methods Can Elicit Confessions From Innocent People
by Sharon Begley
April 15, 2005; Page B1

For cops, this was as good as it gets: The 14-year-old boy they arrested in the February murder of a man who found an intruder in his parked car in Rockford, Ill., didn't just confess. After the police took him from his home around midnight and isolated and interrogated him until dawn, he also re-enacted the crime for them, describing the inside of the car and relating how he had broken into it, struggled with the victim and shot him in the chest.

There was only one problem. After the boy had spent two weeks in detention, police, acting on a tip, discovered the real shooter was a 17-year-old. Scientists who study false confessions aren't surprised. During the hours-long interrogation, says Shelton Green, the boy's public defender, detectives called the boy a liar, told him he would go to prison for 10 to 15 years if he didn't admit his role, suggested he shot the man in self-defense and promised to help him if he would own up.

"This was almost a perfect storm of criminal injustice," says Rockford prosecutor Paul Logli, president-elect of the National District Attorneys Association.

Suspects confess for a number of reasons. "But the most important," says Saul M. Kassin, professor of psychology at Williams College, Williamstown, Mass., "is that standard interrogation techniques are masterfully designed to leave people with almost no rational choice but to confess."

Typically, detetives isolate the suspect, heighten his stress and let him know that denial is futile. Crucially, says Prof. Kassin, they insist "we know you did it," make him think he can go home if he confesses, and lead him to think the evidence against him is strong. "If he thinks this is what he'll face at trial, a young suspect in particular may think it's better to confess" and hope for leniency, says Prof. Kassin, who testifies for defendants "two or three times a year, in false-confession cases so egregious they break my heart."

In a review of 50 years of studies, he and Gisli H. Gudjonsson of King's College London analyze why an innocent person would confess to a heinous crime. Isolation, confrontation, offering (false) incriminating evidence and implying the crime was justified can elicit confessions from the guilty and are recommended in police manuals. The U.S. Supreme Court has upheld the use of manufactured evidence in interrogations.

"Interrogators are trained to suggest to suspects that their actions were spontaneous, accidental, provoked, peer-pressured, drug-induced or otherwise justifiable by external factors," Profs. Kassin and Gudjonsson write in the journal Psychological Science in the Public Interest.

But what Prof. Kassin calls the "social-psychological weapons" of interrogators are so powerful they also can extract confessions from the innocent. Making the suspect anxious about his denials, challenging inconsistencies (a taste of what he would face at trial) and justifying the offense all induce confessions.

Those most likely to confess to a crime they didn't commit are compliant, suggestible, young, mentally retarded, mentally ill, or afraid of confrontation and conflict.

These folks aren't confessing to jaywalking. Of 125 proven false confessions from 1971 to 2002, 81% were for murder and 8% for rape. Although it is impossible to know how many confessions are false, of the first 130 exonerations that the New York-based Innocence Project obtained via DNA evidence, 35 involved people convicted after false confessions. People have confessed to murdering someone who is still alive, and to crimes committed when they were demonstrably somewhere else.

Some innocent people even come to believe they are guilty. In one infamous case, Michael Crowe, 14, was suspected in the 1998 stabbing death of his sister in Escondido, Calif. Through hours of questioning (with neither a lawyer nor parent present), he denied any involvement.

But after detectives told Michael (falsely) that his hair was found in his dead sister's hand, that her blood was in his bedroom and that he had failed a polygraph, he came to believe he had a split personality and confessed. Last year, a drifter who was seen in the neighborhood on the night of the murder and had the girl's blood on his clothing was convicted in the killing.

Police and prosecutors are starting to express concern about false confessions. "There are interrogation techniques that can lead to this," says Mr. Logli, the Rockford prosecutor. Minnesota, Alaska, Illinois and Maine mandate videotaping interrogations so prosecutors and juries can judge whether cops used methods likely to elicit false confessions. A report from Canadian prosecutors notes "hundreds of cases where confessions have been proven false" and recommends that investigators and prosecutors receive training about "the existence, causes and psychology" of false
confessions. Earlier this year, a Chicago firm that trains detectives offered a course about permissible "trickery and deceit during an interrogation."

I have written in the past about the lack of a rigorous scientific foundation for fingerprints, eyewitness testimony, standard lineups and other forensic techniques. Add to that list the assumption that only the guilty confess.
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Re: Sharon Begley's "Science Journal"

Postby admin » Tue Oct 29, 2019 2:16 am

Religion and the Brain
by Sharon Begley
May 7, 2001

Religion And The Brain. In the new field of 'neurotheology,' scientists seek the biological basis of spirituality. Is God all in our heads?

May 7 issue - One Sunday morning in March, 19 years ago, as Dr. James Austin waited for a train in London, he glanced away from the tracks toward the river Thames. The neurologist -- who was spending a sabbatical year in England -- saw nothing out of the ordinary: the grimy Underground station, a few dingy buildings, some pale gray sky. He was thinking, a bit absent-mindedly, about the Zen Buddhist retreat he was headed toward. And then Austin suddenly felt a sense of enlightenment unlike anything he had ever experienced. His sense of individual existence, of separateness from the physical world around him, evaporated like morning mist in a bright dawn. He saw things "as they really are," he recalls. The sense of "I, me, mine" disappeared. "Time was not present," he says. "I had a sense of eternity. My old yearnings, loathings, fear of death and insinuations of selfhood vanished. I had been graced by a comprehension of the ultimate nature of things." [1]

CALL IT A MYSTICAL EXPERIENCE, a spiritual moment, even a religious epiphany, if you like——but Austin will not. Rather than interpret his instant of grace as proof of a reality beyond the comprehension of our senses, much less as proof of a deity, Austin took it as "proof of the existence of the brain." He isn't being smart-alecky. As a neurologist, he accepts that all we see, hear, feel and think is mediated or created by the brain. Austin's moment in the Underground therefore inspired him to explore the neurological underpinnings of spiritual and mystical experience. In order to feel that time, fear and self-consciousness have dissolved, he reasoned, certain brain circuits must be interrupted. [2] Which ones? Activity in the amygdala, which monitors the environment for threats and registers fear, must be damped. Parietal-lobe circuits, which orient you in space and mark the sharp distinction between self and world, must go quiet. Frontal- and temporal-lobe circuits, which mark time and generate self-awareness, must disengage. When that happens, Austin concludes in a recent paper, "what we think of as our ''higher'' functions of selfhood appear briefly to "drop out,'' "dissolve,'' or be "deleted from consciousness''." When he spun out his theories in 1998, in the 844-page "Zen and the Brain," it was published not by some flaky New Age outfit but by MIT Press. [3]

Since then, more and more scientists have flocked to "neurotheology," the study of the neurobiology of religion and spirituality. Last year the American Psychological Association published "Varieties of Anomalous Experience," covering enigmas from near-death experiences to mystical ones. At Columbia University's new Center for the Study of Science and Religion, one program investigates how spiritual experiences reflect "peculiarly recurrent events in human brains." In December, the scholarly Journal of Consciousness Studies devoted its issue to religious moments ranging from "Christic visions" to "shamanic states of consciousness." In May the book "Religion in Mind," tackling subjects such as how religious practices act back on the brain's frontal lobes to inspire optimism and even creativity, reaches stores. And in "Why God Won't Go Away," published in April, Dr. Andrew Newberg of the University of Pennsylvania and his late collaborator, Eugene d''Aquili, use brain-imaging data they collected from Tibetan Buddhists lost in meditation and from Franciscan nuns deep in prayer to ... well, what they do involves a lot of neuro-jargon about lobes and fissures. In a nutshell, though, they use the data to identify what seems to be the brain's spirituality circuit, and to explain how it is that religious rituals have the power to move believers and nonbelievers alike.


What all the new research shares is a passion for uncovering the neurological underpinnings of spiritual and mystical experiences——for discovering, in short, what happens in our brains when we sense that we "have encountered a reality different from——and, in some crucial sense, higher than——the reality of everyday experience," as psychologist David Wulff of Wheaton College in Massachusetts puts it. In neurotheology, psychologists and neurologists try to pinpoint which regions turn on, and which turn off, during experiences that seem to exist outside time and space. In this way it differs from the rudimentary research of the 1950s and 1960s that found, yeah, brain waves change when you meditate. But that research was silent on why brain waves change, or which specific regions in the brain lie behind the change. Neuroimaging of a living, working brain simply didn't exist back then. In contrast, today's studies try to identify the brain circuits that surge with activity when we think we have encountered the divine, and when we feel transported by intense prayer, an uplifting ritual or sacred music. Although the field is brand new and the answers only tentative, one thing is clear. Spiritual experiences are so consistent across cultures, across time and across faiths, says Wulff, that it "suggest[s] a common core that is likely a reflection of structures and processes in the human brain."

There was a feeling of energy centered within me ... going out to infinite space and returning ... There was a relaxing of the dualistic mind, and an intense feeling of love. I felt a profound letting go of the boundaries around me, and a connection with some kind of energy and state of being that had a quality of clarity, transparency and joy. I felt a deep and profound sense of connection to everything, recognizing that there never was a true separation at all. [4]

That is how Dr. Michael J. Baime, a colleague of Andrew Newberg's at Penn, describes what he feels at the moment of peak transcendence when he practices Tibetan Buddhist meditation, as he has since he was 14 in 1969. Baime offered his brain to Newberg, who, since childhood, had wondered about the mystery of God's existence. At Penn, Newberg's specialty is radiology, so he teamed with Eugene d'Aquili to use imaging techniques to detect which regions of the brain are active during spiritual experiences. The scientists recruited Baime and seven other Tibetan Buddhists, all skilled meditators.


In a typical run, Baime settled onto the floor of a small darkened room, lit only by a few candles and filled with jasmine incense. A string of twine lay beside him. Concentrating on a mental image, he focused and focused, quieting his conscious mind (he told the scientists afterward) until something he identifies as his true inner self emerged. It felt "timeless and infinite," Baime said afterward, "a part of everyone and everything in existence." When he reached the "peak" of spiritual intensity, he tugged on the twine. Newberg, huddled outside the room and holding the other end, felt the pull and quickly injected a radioactive tracer into an IV line that ran into Baime''s left arm. After a few moments, he whisked Baime off to a SPECT (single photon emission computed tomography) machine. By detecting the tracer, it tracks blood flow in the brain. Blood flow correlates with neuronal activity.

Attention: Linked to concentration, the frontal lobe lights up during meditation

Religious emotions: The middle temporal lobe is linked to emotional aspects of religious experience, such as joy and awe

Sacred images: The lower temporal lobe is involved in the process by which images, such as candles or crosses, facilitate prayer and meditation

Response to religious words: At the juncture of three lobes, this region governs response to language

Cosmic unity: When the parietal lobes quiet down, a person can feel at one with the universe

The SPECT images are as close as scientists have come to snapping a photo of a transcendent experience. As expected, the prefrontal cortex, seat of attention, lit up: Baime, after all, was focusing deeply. But it was a quieting of activity that stood out. A bundle of neurons in the superior parietal lobe, toward the top and back of the brain, had gone dark. This region, nicknamed the "orientation association area," processes information about space and time, and the orientation of the body in space. It determines where the body ends and the rest of the world begins. Specifically, the left orientation area creates the sensation of a physically delimited body; the right orientation area creates the sense of the physical space in which the body exists. (An injury to this area can so cripple your ability to maneuver in physical space that you cannot figure the distance and angles needed to navigate the route to a chair across the room.)


The orientation area requires sensory input to do its calculus. "If you block sensory inputs to this region, as you do during the intense concentration of meditation, you prevent the brain from forming the distinction between self and not-self," says Newberg. With no information from the senses arriving, the left orientation area cannot find any boundary between the self and the world. As a result, the brain seems to have no choice but "to perceive the self as endless and intimately interwoven with everyone and everything," Newberg and d''Aquili write in "Why God Won''t Go Away." The right orientation area, equally bereft of sensory data, defaults to a feeling of infinite space. The meditators feel that they have touched infinity.

I felt communion, peace, openness to experience ... [There was] an awareness and responsiveness to God''s presence around me, and a feeling of centering, quieting, nothingness, [as well as] moments of fullness of the presence of God. [God was] permeating my being.

This is how her 45-minute prayer made Sister Celeste, a Franciscan nun, feel, just before Newberg SPECT-scanned her. During her most intensely religious moments, when she felt a palpable sense of God''s presence and an absorption of her self into his being, her brain displayed changes like those in the Tibetan Buddhist meditators: her orientation area went dark. What Sister Celeste and the other nuns in the study felt, and what the meditators experienced, Newberg emphasizes, "were neither mistakes nor wishful thinking. They reflect real, biologically based events in the brain." The fact that spiritual contemplation affects brain activity gives the experience a reality that psychologists and neuroscientists had long denied it, and explains why people experience ineffable, transcendent events as equally real as seeing a wondrous sunset or stubbing their toes.


That a religious experience is reflected in brain activity is not too surprising, actually. Everything we experience——from the sound of thunder to the sight of a poodle, the feeling of fear and the thought of a polka-dot castle——leaves a trace on the brain. Neurotheology is stalking bigger game than simply affirming that spiritual feelings leave neural footprints, too. By pinpointing the brain areas involved in spiritual experiences and tracing how such experiences arise, the scientists hope to learn whether anyone can have such experiences, and why spiritual experiences have the qualities they do.

I could hear the singing of the planets, and wave after wave of light washed over me. But ... I was the light as well ... I no longer existed as a separate "I'' ... I saw into the structure of the universe. I had the impression of knowing beyond knowledge and being given glimpses into ALL.

That was how author Sophy Burnham described her experience at Machu Picchu, in her 1997 book "The Ecstatic Journey." Although there was no scientist around to whisk her into a SPECT machine and confirm that her orientation area was AWOL, it was almost certainly quiescent. That said, just because an experience has a neural correlate does not mean that the experience exists "only" in the brain, or that it is a figment of brain activity with no independent reality. Think of what happens when you dig into an apple pie. The brain''s olfactory region registers the aroma of the cinnamon and fruit. The somatosensory cortex processes the feel of the flaky crust on the tongue and lips. The visual cortex registers the sight of the pie. Remembrances of pies past (Grandma''s kitchen, the corner bake shop ...) activate association cortices. A neuroscientist with too much time on his hands could undoubtedly produce a PET scan of "your brain on apple pie." But that does not negate the reality of the pie. "The fact that spiritual experiences can be associated with distinct neural activity does not necessarily mean that such experiences are mere neurological illusions," Newberg insists. "It''s no safer to say that spiritual urges and sensations are caused by brain activity than it is to say that the neurological changes through which we experience the pleasure of eating an apple cause the apple to exist." The bottom line, he says, is that "there is no way to determine whether the neurological changes associated with spiritual experience mean that the brain is causing those experiences ... or is instead perceiving a spiritual reality."


In fact, some of the same brain regions involved in the pie experience create religious experiences, too. When the image of a cross, or a Torah crowned in silver, triggers a sense of religious awe, it is because the brain''s visual-association area, which interprets what the eyes see and connects images to emotions and memories, has learned to link those images to that feeling. Visions that arise during prayer or ritual are also generated in the association area: electrical stimulation of the temporal lobes (which nestle along the sides of the head and house the circuits responsible for language, conceptual thinking and associations) produces visions.

Temporal-lobe epilepsy——abnormal bursts of electrical activity in these regions——takes this to extremes. Although some studies have cast doubt on the connection between temporal-lobe epilepsy and religiosity, others find that the condition seems to trigger vivid, Joan of Arc-type religious visions and voices. In his recent book "Lying Awake," novelist Mark Salzman conjures up the story of a cloistered nun who, after years of being unable to truly feel the presence of God, begins having visions. The cause is temporal-lobe epilepsy. Sister John of the Cross must wrestle with whether to have surgery, which would probably cure her——but would also end her visions. Dostoevsky, Saint Paul, Saint Teresa of Avila, Proust and others are thought to have had temporal-lobe epilepsy, leaving them obsessed with matters of the spirit.

Although temporal-lobe epilepsy is rare, researchers suspect that focused bursts of electrical activity called "temporal-lobe transients" may yield mystical experiences. To test this idea, Michael Persinger of Laurentian University in Canada fits a helmet jury-rigged with electromagnets onto a volunteer''s head. The helmet creates a weak magnetic field, no stronger than that produced by a computer monitor. The field triggers bursts of electrical activity in the temporal lobes, Persinger finds, producing sensations that volunteers describe as supernatural or spiritual: an out-of-body experience, a sense of the divine. He suspects that religious experiences are evoked by mini electrical storms in the temporal lobes, and that such storms can be triggered by anxiety, personal crisis, lack of oxygen, low blood sugar and simple fatigue——suggesting a reason that some people "find God" in such moments. Why the temporal lobes? Persinger speculates that our left temporal lobe maintains our sense of self. When that region is stimulated but the right stays quiescent, the left interprets this as a sensed presence, as the self departing the body, or of God.

I was alone upon the seashore ... I felt that I ... return[ed] from the solitude of individuation into the consciousness of unity with all that is ... Earth, heaven, and sea resounded as in one vast world encircling harmony ... I felt myself one with them.

Is an experience like this one, described by the German philosopher Malwida von Meysenburg in 1900, within the reach of anyone? "Not everyone who meditates encounters these sorts of unitive experiences," says Robert K.C. Forman, a scholar of comparative religion at Hunter College in New York City. "This suggests that some people may be genetically or temperamentally predisposed to mystical ability." Those most open to mystical experience tend also to be open to new experiences generally. They are usually creative and innovative, with a breadth of interests and a tolerance for ambiguity (as determined by questionnaire). They also tend toward fantasy, notes David Wulff, "suggesting a capacity to suspend the judging process that distinguishes imaginings and real events." Since "we all have the brain circuits that mediate spiritual experiences, probably most people have the capacity for having such experiences," says Wulff. "But it''s possible to foreclose that possibility. If you are rational, controlled, not prone to fantasy, you will probably resist the experience."


In survey after survey since the 1960s, between 30 and 40 percent or so of those asked say they have, at least once or twice, felt "very close to a powerful, spiritual force that seemed to lift you out of yourself." Gallup polls in the 1990s found that 53 percent of American adults said they had had "a moment of sudden religious awakening or insight." Reports of mystical experience increase with education, income and age (people in their 40s and 50s are most likely to have them).

Yet many people seem no more able to have such an experience than to fly to Venus. One explanation came in 1999, when Australian researchers found that people who report mystical and spiritual experiences tend to have unusually easy access to subliminal consciousness. "In people whose unconscious thoughts tend to break through into consciousness more readily, we find some correlation with spiritual experiences," says psychologist Michael Thalbourne of the University of Adelaide. Unfortunately, scientists are pretty clueless about what allows subconscious thoughts to pop into the consciousness of some people and not others. The single strongest predictor of such experiences, however, is something called "dissociation." In this state, different regions of the brain disengage from others. "This theory, which explains hypnotizability so well, might explain mystical states, too," says Michael Shermer, director of the Skeptics Society, which debunks paranormal phenomena. "Something really seems to be going on in the brain, with some module dissociating from the rest of the cortex."


That dissociation may reflect unusual electrical crackling in one or more brain regions. In 1997, neurologist Vilayanur Ramachandran told the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience that there is "a neural basis for religious experience." His preliminary results suggested that depth of religious feeling, or religiosity, might depend on natural——not helmet-induced——enhancements in the electrical activity of the temporal lobes. Interestingly, this region of the brain also seems important for speech perception. One experience common to many spiritual states is hearing the voice of God. It seems to arise when you misattribute inner speech (the "little voice" in your head that you know you generate yourself) to something outside yourself. During such experiences, the brain''s Broca''s area (responsible for speech production) switches on. Most of us can tell this is our inner voice speaking. But when sensory information is restricted, as happens during meditation or prayer, people are "more likely to misattribute internally generated thoughts to an external source," suggests psychologist Richard Bentall of the University of Manchester in England in the book "Varieties of Anomalous Experience." Stress and emotional arousal can also interfere with the brain''s ability to find the source of a voice, Bentall adds. In a 1998 study, researchers found that one particular brain region, called the right anterior cingulate, turned on when people heard something in the environment——a voice or a sound——and also when they hallucinated hearing something. But it stayed quiet when they imagined hearing something and thus were sure it came from their own brain. This region, says Bentall, "may contain the neural circuits responsible for tagging events as originating from the external world." When it is inappropriately switched on, we are fooled into thinking the voice we hear comes from outside us.

Even people who describe themselves as nonspiritual can be moved by religious ceremonies and liturgy. Hence the power of ritual. Drumming, dancing, incantations——all rivet attention on a single, intense source of sensory stimulation, including the body''s own movements. They also evoke powerful emotional responses. That combination——focused attention that excludes other sensory stimuli, plus heightened emotion——is key. Together, they seem to send the brain''s arousal system into hyperdrive, much as intense fear does. When this happens, explains Newberg, one of the brain structures responsible for maintaining equilibrium——the hippocampus——puts on the brakes. It inhibits the flow of signals between neurons, like a traffic cop preventing any more cars from entering the on-ramp to a tied-up highway.


The result is that certain regions of the brain are deprived of neuronal input. One such deprived region seems to be the orientation area, the same spot that goes quiet during meditation and prayer. As in those states, without sensory input the orientation area cannot do its job of maintaining a sense of where the self leaves off and the world begins. That"s why ritual and liturgy can bring on what Newberg calls a "softening of the boundaries of the self"——and the sense of oneness and spiritual unity. Slow chanting, elegiac liturgical melodies and whispered ritualistic prayer all seem to work their magic in much the same way: they turn on the hippocampus directly and block neuronal traffic to some brain regions. The result again is "blurring the edges of the brain"s sense of self, opening the door to the unitary states that are the primary goal of religious ritual," says Newberg.

Researchers" newfound interest in neurotheology reflects more than the availability of cool new toys to peer inside the working brain. Psychology and neuroscience have long neglected religion. Despite its centrality to the mental lives of so many people, religion has been met by what David Wulff calls "indifference or even apathy" on the part of science. When one psychologist, a practicing Christian, tried to discuss in his introductory psych book the role of faith in people"s lives, his publisher edited out most of it——for fear of offending readers. The rise of neurotheology represents a radical shift in that attitude. And whatever light science is shedding on spirituality, spirituality is returning the favor: mystical experiences, says Forman, may tell us something about consciousness, arguably the greatest mystery in neuroscience. "In mystical experiences, the content of the mind fades, sensory awareness drops out, so you are left only with pure consciousness," says Forman. "This tells you that consciousness does not need an object, and is not a mere byproduct of sensory action."

For all the tentative successes that scientists are scoring in their search for the biological bases of religious, spiritual and mystical experience, one mystery will surely lie forever beyond their grasp. They may trace a sense of transcendence to this bulge in our gray matter. And they may trace a feeling of the divine to that one. But it is likely that they will never resolve the greatest question of all——namely, whether our brain wiring creates God, or whether God created our brain wiring. Which you believe is, in the end, a matter of faith.

With Anne Underwood ©© 2001 Newsweek, Inc.
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Re: Sharon Begley's "Science Journal"

Postby admin » Tue Oct 29, 2019 2:17 am

How Do I Love Thee? Let Me County the Ways -- And Other Bad Ideas
by Sharon Begley
September 6, 2002, p. B1.

Next time you go furniture shopping--for a sofa, say--take a look at half a dozen models, and analyze rigorously what you like and dislike about each one: the fabric...the color...the curve of the back...the arms and feet. Finally, choose one. Odds are, once you're living with the thing, you won't be nearly as happy with your purchase as if you had simply made a choice based on your intuition.

In last week's column about the unconscious, I described how the mental system operating beneath your awareness is able to size up many situations more quickly and accurately than conscious, deliberative thought.

But if you were hoping to get up-close-and-personal with your unconscious to better understand your values, beliefs, prejudices (or feelings about upholstery), forget it.

Introspection about the unconscious can be worse than useless. It "may even mislead people about how they feel," Timothy D. Wilson, professor of psychology at the University of Virginia, writes in his book "Strangers to Ourselves: Discovering the Adaptive Unconscious," which reaches stores next week.

He ran a variant of the sofa experiment, asking volunteers to look at five posters, analyze what they liked and disliked about each, and then take home their favorite. Two weeks later, those who introspected about their likes and dislikes reported that they weren't too happy with the cute kitty (or whatever) on their wall. In fact, Dr. Wilson found, they were less happy than a control group of subjects who just picked a poster based on their gut feelings.

Living with a poster you can't stand is hardly the end of the world. But introspection stumbles in more-important tests, too, such as when people analyze a romantic relationship.

When Dr. Wilson and a colleague asked college students to write down why a romance was going well or poorly, the volunteers had no trouble coming up with reasons. But that immediately made many more students change their mind about the relationship--some became happier with it, others less so--than in a control group of students who didn't analyze their feelings to death. What happened?

We don't have meaningful access to the causes of our feelings. Just as introspection can't reveal how we process sights or access memories or perform many other mental functions, so, too, is it stopped short at the door to the unconscious. Faced with this brick wall, when we try to introspect about our unconscious feelings we wing it: We come up with whatever's on our (conscious) mind.

In analyzing why we love someone, we might hit upon a "reason" because we happened to be thinking about it ("he drives a cool little red sportscar") or because it is socially accepted ("she's devoted to our children"). Once these reasons are dredged up, we assume they accurately reflect our feelings. And that can change those feelings ("I must really like a guy with a Porsche").

Dr. Wilson finds that the reasons people offer for their (unconscious) feelings--why they love their partner or feel as they do about a product or social issue--are wonderfully detailed, but often hogwash.

Maybe you tell yourself that you enjoy your job because you like your colleagues or wield power, or that you want to have kids because you love the little things. But "insights" like those, born of introspection, often misrepresent the situation, as you see when you subject them to conscious analysis: "Wait a minute, my colleagues resent me and the boss always vetoes my decisions." "I have zero patience!" If you have a gut feeling about love, work or life, it's probably best not to analyze it to death. The unexamined life has its virtues.

If you're still determined to "know thyself," at least resist navel-gazing as a route to your unconscious. Instead, research shows, you can infer the nature of your unconscious--its beliefs, personality and motives--by how you behave.

Do you avoid socializing with people from a different ethnic group? Maybe you're not without prejudice after all. Do you procrastinate on extra projects? Maybe you're not as ambitious as you tell yourself. Do you disparage colleagues to the boss? You may be more devious than you admit. Do you find excuses to work late? Maybe you're not as devoted to your spouse as you profess. And so on.

Scientists disagree about how smart the unconscious is. Can it make only snap judgments, or decisions for the long term, too? From what researchers know now, Dr. Wilson advises, "We should let our adaptive unconscious do the job of forming reliable feelings and then trust those feelings."
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Re: Sharon Begley's "Science Journal"

Postby admin » Tue Oct 29, 2019 2:18 am

Man-Made Mistakes Increase Devastation Of 'Natural' Disasters
by Sharon Begley
September 2, 2005; Page B1

While storms such as Hurricane Katrina are sometimes called an act of God or a natural disaster, the devastation they leave behind is not. Some scientists believe even the storms themselves could be at least partly man-made.

As Theodore Steinberg argues, God is getting a bum rap. "This is an unnatural disaster if ever there was one, not an act of God," says Prof. Steinberg, an environmental historian at Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland. "If the potential for mass death and destruction from extreme weather existed anywhere in the U.S., it existed in New Orleans."

In his 2000 book "Acts of God: The Unnatural History of Natural Disaster in America," Prof. Steinberg documented how much of the toll from "natural" disasters, from the 1886 Charleston earthquake to 1990s hurricanes, has been exacerbated by human actions.

The temporary lull in hurricane activity in Florida, from 1969 to 1989, spurred a reckless building boom, for example, putting billions of dollars worth of condos and hotels within reach of storm surges, notes Roger Pielke Jr., of the University of Colorado, Boulder. The Great Miami Hurricane of 1926 would have caused an estimated $90 billion damage had it occurred in 2000, he calculated. It caused just over $1 billion, in today's dollars.

It isn't only hurricanes whose destructiveness has been increased by human actions. Tornadoes turn mobile homes into matchsticks (one of Prof. Steinberg's first jobs was at a New York brokerage firm, where he followed the trailer-home industry). From 1981 to 1997, he found, more than one-third of all deaths from tornadoes occurred among people living in mobile homes; federal regulations didn't require them to withstand high winds, and a 1974 statute actually pre-empted stricter state standards with more lax federal ones.

Throughout the South and Midwest, mobile-home communities and poor neighborhoods are also much more likely to be sited in flood plains.

In New Orleans, the worst-hit parishes were the lower-income ones. But the city also ignored the power of nature. More than one million acres of Louisiana's coastal wetlands, or 1,900 square miles, have been lost since 1930, due to development and the construction of levees and canals. Barrier islands and stands of tupelo and cypress also vanished. All of them absorb some of the energy and water from storm surges, which, more than the rain falling from the sky, caused the current calamity. "If these had been in place, at least some of the energy in the storm surge would have been dissipated," says geologist Jeffrey Mount of the University of California, Davis. "This is a self-inflicted wound."

Studies estimate that for every square mile of wetlands lost, storm surges rise by one foot.

Leaving aside whether the levees that broke in New Orleans could have been better constructed, their very existence contributed to the disaster. Built to keep the city from being flooded by the Mississippi, they also keep the Big Muddy from depositing silt to replenish marshes and the river's delta, as do projects that direct the river's water and sediment out to sea to create a deep shipping channel.

The result is that much of New Orleans fell below sea level. Combined with the dredging to build canals, "the Gulf of Mexico is a lot closer to New Orleans than it was when Hurricane Betsy ripped through in 1965," says Prof. Steinberg. Now the gulf is in the city.

The ultimate question is whether Katrina's power reflects human-caused global warming, or is at minimum a harbinger of the kinds of storms we can expect in a warmer world.

No single freak storm can be attributed to global climate trends. But for hurricanes to form, the surface temperature in the tropical Atlantic must exceed about 80° Fahrenheit. That is more likely in a warmer world.

The best science to date suggests the frequency of hurricanes doesn't reflect global warming. Straightforward physics, however, says their intensity might. As the seas and air warm, there is more evaporation, which fuels storms, and more energy available to pump them up. A new analysis by atmospheric physicist Kerry Emanuel of MIT suggests the net power of tropical cyclones (hurricanes and Pacific typhoons), a combination of the energy they pack and how long they last, "has increased markedly since 1970."

The power of storms in the North Atlantic has tripled, while the power of those in the western North Pacific has more than doubled.

Similarly, a 2004 study from the Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory in Princeton, N.J., part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, found that a warmer world is likely to deepen hurricanes' central pressure (a measure of their power) and intensify the rainfall they bring. Today's storms, the scientists write, "may be upstaged by even more intense hurricanes over the next century as the earth's climate is warmed by increasing levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere."

By continuing to blame weather extremes on random events, the "stuff happens" attitude, officials and city planners are ignoring their contributions to the disasters that have pummeled the planet and promise to become only worse.
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Re: Sharon Begley's "Science Journal"

Postby admin » Tue Oct 29, 2019 2:18 am

Mission on the Cheap Will Launch Spaceship That Uses Solar Sails
by Sharon Begley
June 17, 2005; Page B1

When you have $4 million for a space mission that would cost NASA more like $60 million, accommodations must be made.

For starters, you don't look twice at Western space engineers, but hire some of the underemployed, bargain-basement Russians, who designed spacecraft that reached Venus and Mars and Halley's comet. Not only are these guys mechanical geniuses (the Russians, after all, kept the Mir space station aloft long past its planned lifetime using little more than cigarette paper and spit), but they work for 1/10th the going rate for U.S. engineers, says longtime Russia hand Jim Cantrell, president of the space consulting firm Strategic Space Development, Hyde Park, Utah. They are also veterans of a Soviet space and military culture where "if something didn't work you were shot," he says with only slight hyperbole.

You also use castoffs. For your rocket, you try an old ICBM that Russia needed to ditch anyway under an arms-reduction treaty. ("We got a helluva deal," says Mr. Cantrell.) And when your Russian engineers haul out the nuclear warhead from the sub and replace it with your spaceship but fail to make the bolts strong enough, with the result that the ship doesn't pop out during a 2001 test flight, you remain calm. You also think of the millions you saved by not testing everything umpteen times and by forgoing NASA-esque budget-busting backup systems.

And then you cross your fingers.

If all goes as planned, that ICBM will blast out of a Russian nuclear sub deep in the Barents Sea on Tuesday with a payload out of science fiction: a solar sail called Cosmos 1. A solar sail is the only kind of spaceship that interprets "ship" as they did in the 16th century. The unmanned craft will glide through space on gossamer wings propelled only by the pressure of photons, or particles of sunlight. The technology offers the possibility of a cheaper and faster route to the heavens, and the private financing -- from Cosmos Studios of Ithaca, N.Y., which produces science films and DVDs -- has renewed hopes that government agencies won't be the only ticket to the stars. Although NASA, the European Space Agency, Russia and Japan have developed solar sails, none has flown them.

Cosmos 1 will "blaze a new path into the solar system, opening the way to eventual journeys to the stars," says Lou Friedman, executive director of the Planetary Society, the private group that spearheaded the project.

Six minutes after launch, the last stage of the three-stage rocket will fall away. Soon after, a motor will begin a 70-second burn to kick the spaceship into a near-polar orbit 1,300 miles up. After 37 minutes in orbit, two solar panels (not to be confused with the solar sails: the panels produce electricity to turn the sails) will deploy and turn toward the sun like morning glories.

After four days, controllers will try to pop the ship's eight 49-foot-long, triangular sails from their folded package into a 6,500-square-foot configuration resembling a windmill. If it works, Cosmos 1 will be bright enough to see with the naked eye. (You can track it at

This will be white-knuckle time. "Will the sail material twist and wrap around itself? Will it get stuck?" Dr. Friedman asks. The Russians tested several ways of unfolding the sails. In some tests, there was too little force expelling the sails, so they got stuck; in others there was too much, so they tore. The folding method they settled on has never been tested in space.

If the sails unfurl, Cosmos 1 will ride on sunbeams. Sunshine may not feel like much, but calculations show that in the void of space it can accelerate Cosmos 1 to 195 miles an hour after one day, and to 10,000 mph after 100. The ship is unlikely to last that long, though. Built as a proof of principle, its 0.005-millimeter-thick sails will degrade, and it should fall back to Earth as a fireball after a month.

Free of expensive, heavy and inefficient rocket fuel, solar sails offer the best hope for long-distance space missions, supporters say. As maneuverable as the sails on water-borne ships, solar sails can tack, which in theory means they could make ports of call at any planet.

"Turning the reflective side of the sails toward the sun when the sun is behind it, but the less-reflective side when the sun is ahead of it, lets you control the solar sail as you do a sailboat," says Dr. Friedman, who researched solar sails at NASA in the 1970s. "If we succeed, we hope space agencies will look at this as the transportation technology that can pave the way for interplanetary missions."

A solar sail -- perhaps given an extra push with laser light from a station orbiting Earth or on the moon -- could reach Pluto in two to three years. And it is the only feasible route to the stars; standard rockets can't carry enough fuel for interstellar travel.

A launch on the summer solstice has a poignancy the Cosmos 1 team couldn't resist. "I can just imagine those first rays of the sun striking the ancient observatories of Stonehenge and Chaco Canyon," says Ann Druyan, the head of Cosmos Studios and widow of Carl Sagan. "Cosmos 1 will rise from the sea into space to take its place in the great story of exploration."
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Re: Sharon Begley's "Science Journal"

Postby admin » Tue Oct 29, 2019 2:19 am

Scientists Research Questions Few Others Would Bother to Ask
by Sharon Begley
May 27, 2005; Page B1

Not every scientist can discover the double helix, or the cellular basis of memory, or the fundamental building blocks of matter. But fear not. For those who fall short of these lofty goals, another entry in the "publications" section of the ol' c.v. is within your reach. The proliferation of scientific journals and meetings makes it possible to publish or present papers whose conclusion inspires less "Wow! Who would have guessed?" and more "For this you got a Ph.D.?" In what follows (with thanks to colleagues who passed along their favorites), names have been withheld to protect the silly.

Want job satisfaction? A "careful choice of career is the key," researchers concluded in a paper this spring in the Journal of Economic Psychology. Choosing a career based on a well-lubricated encounter at a bar, it turns out, may not be the most promising route to career satisfaction. People who choose their jobs carefully are more likely to be satisfied with them than those who take a flying leap into the great unknown.

In April, scientists reported in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research that college students tend to drink much more alcohol than they think. Or, may I suggest, than they like to think. Or than they admit to their parents. Or remember.

Want to reduce problems with medications, such as harmful side effects or drug combinations that will kill you? The solution is at hand: "Communication between primary-care physicians and patients can reduce" such problems and the chance that patients will be harmed. That is especially true if doctors encourage their patients to -- wait for it -- tell them when they experience a bad side effect, concluded a study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine in January. When patients reported an adverse effect, they were more likely to be switched to a different drug than if they never mentioned it. For this, let us be grateful.

In what its sponsors called a "landmark study," scientists found that when your fingers are numb and turning that lovely robin's-egg blue, you make more typing effors. Er, errors. "When employees get chilly," the scientists concluded, "they are not working to their full potential." Achoo!

Investigators working on that finger-in-the-chili case at Wendy's may find inspiration in a study published online in March in the Annals of Emergency Medicine. Every year some 28,000 kids and adults wind up in hospital emergency rooms because some mishap has cut off a finger; one high-risk group is men over 55. Apart from digits lost in workplace accidents, the most common cause of finger amputation in the men is -- drumroll, please -- power tools. So anyone looking suspiciously at, oh, sinks or toasters for their finger-gobbling potential can more profitably focus on chainsaws.

Taking nothing, especially not their readers' intelligence, for granted, the researchers advise men who use power tools to "avoid exposing their fingers to direct contact" with razor-sharp blades spinning at a few thousand rpm. Wise advice, to be sure, although you've got to think that anyone who didn't know this is in for more serious problems than a lost finger.

Just in case you were wondering whether it's a good idea to suck up carcinogens and respiratory poisons when your airways are already crippled, scientific proof is at hand. A study found that asthma worsens the effects of smoking, putting puffers at greater risk for the kinds of lung problems that smoking causes than people without asthma. If you do not have asthma, your airways are in somewhat better shape to withstand a toxic assault. Bottom line: Doctors should urge asthmatics to quit smoking.

Far be it from me to belittle research on forensic science, since I have written about the importance of questioning such conventional wisdom as the reliability of fingerprint evidence and the credibility of confessions. But surely we can do better than a February study in the journal Psychonomic Bulletin & Review that concluded that it's easier to identify someone close to you than someone more than a football-field-length away. At 450 feet, the scientist concludes, "the human visual system starts to lose small details."

If you had found yourself in the nation's capital earlier this month, you might have heard researchers at an American Heart Association conference proclaim that if you work full time and watch television, play videogames or surf the Internet in your off hours, then you are probably not engaging in as much heart-healthy physical activity as full-timers who spend no time with TV, videogames and the computer.

Full-time workers who spend more of their down time in front of a screen also get significantly less exercise than part-time workers who spend the same number of hours glued to one screen or another, but do other things with the rest of their time. (Memo to self: Working full-time eats up . . . time.) While the finding fails the "tell us something we didn't know" test, at least it does so with statistical significance: It was based on data from 4,500 people.
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Re: Sharon Begley's "Science Journal"

Postby admin » Tue Oct 29, 2019 2:19 am

Simulations of Attacks By Terrorists Illustrate Challenge Officials Face
by Sharon Begley
July 15, 2005; Page B1

When an explosion tore through the double-decker Steel Bridge in Portland, Ore., during the morning rush hour, officials knew they faced a potential calamity: The bridge carries trains and pedestrians on its lower level; Oregon Highway 99W, light rail and a streetcar up above; as well as a natural gas pipeline and fiber optics. As information poured in from television bulletins and first responders, the mayor, police chief, fire chief and others were bombarded with questions. Should they set up a command center, and if so, where? Evacuate downtown? Have police and bomb squads check other bridges? Close them pre-emptively?

As the hours ticked by, "what we found," says Mark Chussil, co-founder of the company Crisis Simulations International, Portland, "is -- depending how one interprets it -- overconfidence, confusion or lack of preparedness."

It was only a simulation, developed and run by CSI. Still, the exercise underlined what many public officials are discovering as they war-game terrorist attacks, an activity that is expected to increase in the wake of the London bombings. As former Polish Prime Minister Jerzy Buzek put it after he participated in the "Atlantic Storm" simulation run by the Center for Biosecurity at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center and others this year: "Nobody is ready."

In that exercise, terrorists released smallpox in six cities around the world. Officials fumbled as they confronted a series of complex issues: Should the U.S. share its smallpox vaccine with countries that didn't support the Iraq war? What international agency would coordinate the response? Should borders be closed? As officials fumbled, hundreds of thousands of simulated people died, and the global economy teetered on the brink of collapse, says Tara O'Toole, director of the biosecurity center.

Such war games differ from drills in which police, fire and emergency medical teams practice, say, disarming a bomb. "Field exercises test plans," says Greg Hendricks, commander of the East Precinct in the Portland Police Bureau during the Portland exercise. "Simulations test people."

Many are getting failing grades. In the Portland simulation, participants debated whether to tell businesses to send workers home. When a terrorist group claimed responsibility for the bombing, the police chief dispatched squads to check other bridges, but the massive deployment left traffic unsupervised and produced gridlock. With the cellular phone network approaching overload, officials fretted that telling people not to make nonemergency calls would incite panic, so they did nothing. Soon the system, which also carried police and fire communications, crashed.

"One might expect that experts would gravitate to a single answer," Mr. Chussil says. "They didn't. Not even close. Either people don't know much about others' fields, or what's obviously right to one person is obviously wrong to another. Either way, there is a real potential for worse-than-necessary loss of life and property."

Mr. Chussil played the mayor in one run of the Portland exercise. "Even though I designed the simulation and knew what could/would happen, I was swept up in my emotions," he says. "I wanted to get people out. The police and fire chiefs said I couldn't, it would cause gridlock, and I exploded at them, screaming, 'Tell me what I can do!'" When he ordered an evacuation anyway, people sat for hours in traffic -- and in the path of a toxic cloud of chlorine released by a tanker car on the bombed bridge. Hundreds died.

Sometimes there is no "right" response, except in retrospect. If, after a bombing, you dispatch scores of medical, fire and police personnel to evacuate the wounded and secure the scene, many of them will die if terrorists have set a second bomb to detonate there. If you first order the bomb squad to sweep the area, the delay may doom the wounded.

"A terrorist incident is different from an accident or natural disaster," says J. Richard Russo of Cornell University, an expert in decision making. "You're dealing with an intelligent opponent. If you prepare for A and they find that out, they'll go to B."

Even absent clearly right responses, "there are definitely wrong responses," says Col. Dave McIntyre, director of the Integrative Center for Homeland Security at Texas A&M University and former dean of the Naval War College. If both EMT and fire crews are sent to the site of an attack, for instance, authorities have no one to dispatch if there is a second attack. If officials don't close the first freeway exits out of a city, evacuees will all slow down to get off at the first opportunity (Col. McIntyre says everyone makes a beeline for the first motel), hopelessly snarling traffic all the way back to the city.

"And if you fail to tell people within 30 minutes of an attack that their kids are safe and being sheltered in place, it's too late to tell parents not to go pick them up," says Col. McIntyre. "Then the fire chief tells you he can't get his people to the attack site because the roads are jammed.

"The value of exercises like this is to bring home to leaders the magnitude of what can happen -- and therefore the magnitude of the bet they've put on the table if they refuse to prepare because they say, 'It can't happen here.'"
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Re: Sharon Begley's "Science Journal"

Postby admin » Tue Oct 29, 2019 2:20 am

So Much For Destiny: Even Thoughts Can Turn Genes 'On' and 'Off'
by Sharon Begley
Wall Street Journal, Science Journal
June, 2002

It wasn't the kind of passage you usually encounter in a strait-laced science journal: "I have had to spend periods of several weeks on a remote island in comparative isolation," Anonymous wrote in Nature. Curiously, he continued, the day before he was due for shore leave his beard grew noticeably: "I have come to the conclusion that the stimulus for this growth is related to the resumption of sexual activity."

Neither Anonymous nor his fellow scientists were surprised that the aforementioned activity would loose a flood of testosterone, which affects beards the way Miracle-Gro affects tomato plants. No, the weird part is that merely anticipating female companionship did the trick.

Just as stress in the med students I wrote about last week altered the expression of genes in their immune systems, so libidinous thoughts seem to affect gene expression, says developmental psychologist David Moore of Pitzer College in Claremont, California. Thoughts can cause the release of hormones that can bind to DNA, "turning genes 'on' or 'off.'"

If something as will-o'-the-wisp as a thought can tweak genes, it's no surprise that more substantial influences can, too. For instance, when R. Adron Harris and his team at the University of Texas, Austin, screened 10,000 genes in the frontal and motor cortexes of alcoholics, they found changes in the expression of 191, they reported in last month's Journal of Neurochemistry.

Alcohol seems to cause "a selective reprogramming" of brain genes in areas involved in judgment and decision making, says Dr. Harris. Among them, genes that code for myelin, whose loss may impair cognition and judgment.

Antidepressants may also alter genes. The conventional wisdom is that drugs such as Prozac work by blocking re-uptake by brain neurons of the neurotransmitter serotonin. But Prozac starts doing that in 24 hours. Why, then, do such drugs typically take weeks to lift depression? "The hunch is that Prozac works by altering gene expression, maybe causing sprouting of new neurons and remodeling of synapses," Dr. Harris says.

Experience, too, can affect gene expression. How much a mother rat handles and licks her offspring -- an environmental influence if ever there was one -- has an astonishing effect: It determines whether genes that code for receptors for stress hormones in the brain are expressed or not. And the level of those receptors affects how a rat reacts to stress. Rats with attentive moms were much less fearful and more curious, finds Michael Meaney of McGill University in Montreal. Rats that got less maternal handling grew up to be timid and withdrawn in novel situations.

Rats are not long-tailed people, so you can't infer that maternal affection affects gene expression and thus temperament in babies, too. But something sure does. There is no shortage of evidence that intelligence, shyness, impulsivity, risk-taking and illnesses have a genetic component.

But identical twins, who have the same genes, don't have identical traits: One twin might be schizophrenic and the other not, one might be shy and the other outgoing, one might get a "gene-based" cancer and the other not. The difference between identical twins is the experiences they have and, if I may speculate, which of their genes are expressed.

What signal from the environment keeps schizophrenia-related genes silent? What activates IQ-lifting genes? Whatever it is, even a short-lived environmental signal might turn on genes that tell neurons how, and how much, to grow. That would leave an enduring mark: Neural circuits would be complex or simple, and different brain regions would be strongly linked or not. From such neuronal differences arise differences in intelligence and personality, health and temperament.

Linking specific environmental influences to gene activity would have been a pipe dream only a few years ago. But the new technology of microarray analysis, in which "gene chips" reveal which DNA in a sample of tissue is expressed and which is quiescent, is making such discoveries possible.

This past April, in one of their coolest uses so far, gene chips showed that the difference between human brains and chimp brains is not which genes each brain has. Those are nearly identical. The difference is which genes are turned on and which are switched off.

Ironically, the recognition that genes depend on the environment follows hard on the heels of genetics' greatest triumph: sequencing the human genome. But what's now clear is that the more we learn about genetics, the more we'll see that genes are not destiny.
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Re: Sharon Begley's "Science Journal"

Postby admin » Tue Oct 29, 2019 2:21 am

Study of the Cosmos Proceeds, But Will Take New Directions
by Sharon Begley
April 11, 2003

When cosmologists unveiled the findings of the WMAP satellite two months ago, it sounded like the instrument, orbiting 2.4 million miles above Earth, had not only accomplished its tasks -- answering timeless questions like how old the universe is and how galaxies are born -- but had gone considerably further. The Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe, it seemed, had taken the eternal enigma of genesis and sucked all the mystery out of it.

The findings were exactly as predicted by Big Bang inflation, which holds that the cosmos began when a quantum fluctuation created from nothingness an infinitesimal bit of space-time (since Einstein, space and time have been viewed as a single entity). This nearly infinite-temperature, infinite-density speck then ballooned in size 10 to the 50th power-times in a quadrillionth of a quadrillionth of a second.

When WMAP's measurements fit this model, it seemed that all the interesting cosmological mysteries were solved. It was enough, one researcher told me, to plunge several of his colleagues into depression.

But like Mark Twain's demise, reports of the death of cosmology are greatly exaggerated. Now that the dust has settled after the WMAP announcement, it's clear that some profound questions are still alive and kicking.

"While WMAP is a great advance," says cosmologist Jeremiah Ostriker, a professor at the University of Cambridge, England, "it does not answer all the questions. Cosmology is not over."

WMAP certainly firmed up some long-squishy cosmic parameters. The universe is 13.4 billion years old, give or take 300 million. Space is flat (if you shine a light straight ahead it won't bend around and smack you in the back in a few billion years). Its total mass-energy (the two are equivalent, Einstein showed) is 4% ordinary matter; 23% some unidentified, like-nothing-we've-seen dark matter; and 73% dark energy, a mysterious, repulsive oomph that makes the universe expand ever faster.

Just when a science seems all settled, though, something tends to pop up to shake up the whole field. So it may be with cosmology now.

"WMAP was an experimental triumph," says Cambridge astrophysicist Ofer Lahav. "But if all the observations fit your model, then most likely it's the wrong model, because observations tend to change."

WMAP measurements, in fact, are not "uniquely consistent with the standard inflationary Big Bang picture," notes Cambridge astronomer Sarah Bridle and colleagues in a recent paper in the journal Science. "There remains room for radical alternatives."

Among them: A new proposal that the universe is eternal, that its supposed genesis in a Big Bang was the beginning of just another in an infinitude of cycles of expansion and contraction alternating for time without end. This cyclic theory "fits all our observations, including WMAP's," says cosmologist Paul Steinhardt of Princeton University, New Jersey.

Besides not knowing how the universe began, we're also in the dark about what it's made of. What is the dark matter? Massive black holes? Exotic new particles? We just know what it isn't: the electrons, protons and neutrons that make up stars, aardvarks, peonies and everything else we see.

Nor do we know what the dark energy is. An eerie, dynamic force field dubbed "quintessence," or the never-changing "vacuum energy" posited by Einstein? "How can anyone say cosmology is over when we don't know the identity of more than 95% of the stuff in the universe?" asks Prof. Ostriker.

The true mark of an unfinished science is the surprises it springs. One, surely, will be the explanation for why the dark energy has precisely the value it does. It is just right for supporting complex physical and chemical processes, and therefore life. The amount of dark energy was minuscule in the past, and is on track to be gargantuan in the future. Neither is any good for supporting the physics and chemistry that allow stars to burn, planets to exist and life to live.

Contrary to the belief that there is nothing special about our place in the universe or our moment in cosmic history, "We are living in an anti-Copernican moment," says Prof. Steinhardt. "We really do live in a special time, and are only beginning to understand why."

Another unsolved mystery verges on science fiction. A recent calculation suggests that zipping off to another universe, or to a distant point in this one, via a black hole can't be ruled out. Black holes harbor space-time singularities, regions of infinite density that rip apart any extended object foolish enough to venture near.

That makes black-hole travel fairly unappealing. But Lior Burko of the University of Utah shows that a gentler black hole might exist. It would push and pull a spaceship only a little, acting as a portal to other worlds.

Whether black holes are destructive depends on what kind of matter pours into their hearts, which in turn depends on things like the nature of dark energy. Since that's an open question, the possibility of black-hole portals is small but real, Prof. Burko calculates in Physical Review Letters.

Until astrophysicists figure out whether there's a shortcut to the Andromeda galaxy, I'm going to consider cosmology unfinished business.
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Re: Sharon Begley's "Science Journal"

Postby admin » Tue Oct 29, 2019 2:21 am

Study Says Hurricanes Are Getting Stronger
by Sharon Begley
August 1, 2005

Charley, Jeanne, Ivan and Frances caused a record-setting $20 billion in insured losses when they blew through Florida last year. But if scientists are right, that record for hurricane damage will prove short-lived.

Hurricanes have been lasting longer and hitting harder since the mid-1970s, and in the coming years global warming is likely to increase the storms' destructiveness, according to a study released yesterday.

The link between global warming and hurricanes (or cyclones, as they are known globally) has been one of the most controversial in the field of climate change. Last year, a U.S. government scientist resigned from the international panel that assesses climate change, charging that a fellow panel member had made baseless statements connecting hurricanes and human-caused global warming.

But now a consensus may be emerging on how a warmer world is affecting hurricanes. In the latest study, Kerry Emanuel of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology calculates that the storms' power -- a combination of the energy they pack and how long they last -- "has increased markedly since the mid-1970s." His report in the online edition of the journal Nature says since 1970, the power of storms in the North Atlantic has tripled, while the power of those in the western North Pacific has more than doubled.

The rise in cyclones' intensity and duration fits with both basic science and computer simulations of climate. As the temperatures at the surface of the ocean rise, so should wind speeds, since they draw their power from heat. Higher winds take longer to dissipate. But the surge in intensity has been even greater than predicted based on warmer ocean temperatures, Prof. Emanuel says.

How a warming world will affect the number of cyclones spawned each year remains unclear. There has been no clear trend in the frequency of hurricanes.

Prof. Emanuel does think human activities are behind the increasing power of storms. Natural climate changes affect the world's seas, but the recent rise in sea-surface temperatures, especially in the cyclone-forming tropics, "is unprecedented either historically or in the paleoclimatic record," Prof. Emanuel says, "and probably reflects the effect of global warming."

Other scientists are reaching the same conclusion. Sea-surface temperatures from 1995 to 2004 set records, atmospheric scientist Kevin Trenberth of the National Center for Atmospheric Research, part of the U.S. Department of Commerce, reported this spring in the journal Science, and he attributes that to "human-influenced environmental changes."

Even if human activities are intensifying hurricanes, however, there may be better solutions than reducing the emission of heat-trapping "greenhouse" gases, says environmental-policy expert Roger Pielke Jr., of the University of Colorado, Boulder. Stronger building codes and policies that keep people from building and rebuilding in hurricane-prone regions are much more cost effective, he argues.

The field of hurricanes and climate change is churning so fast that papers written only last year are obsolete. Prof. Emanuel co-authored one, accepted but not yet published by a leading meteorology journal, that concludes there is "only weak evidence of a systematic increase" in storm intensity. "We make a lot of statements in there about the unimportance of global warming [for cyclone intensity], statements I don't subscribe to anymore," says Prof. Emanuel. "I said I would have to withdraw as a co-author."
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