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The Sixth Extinction

There have been five mass extinction events in Earth’s history. In the worst one, 250 million years ago, 96 percent of marine species and 70 percent of land species died off. It took millions of years to recover. Nowadays, many scientists are predicting that we’re on track for a sixth mass extinction. The world’s species already seem to be vanishing at an unnaturally rapid rate. And humans are altering the…

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Science policy’s 11 constituencies

Red states and blue states? Flyover country and the coasts? How simplistic. Colin Woodard, a reporter at the Portland Press Herald and author of several books, says North America can be broken neatly into 11 separate nation-states, where dominant cultures explain our voting behaviors and attitudes toward everything from social issues to the role of government. “The borders of my eleven American nations are reflected in many different types of…

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Supreme Court rules human genes may not be patented

The Supreme Court ruled unanimously Thursday that human genes cannot be patented, a decision that is likely to shape the future of medical and biotech research. Those who challenged the notion that something that occurs naturally in the human body can be “owned” by a company said the decision could open a new era of expanded research and lower costs for genetic testing. At the same time, the ruling held…

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Big Bang’s afterglow reveals older universe

Cosmologists have released the most detailed “baby picture” yet of the early universe, a portrait that helps answer some of the deepest questions of science while providing enough surprises to keep scientists busy for years. The images captured by a space telescope show the universe is 13.8 billion years old, 100 million years older than previously estimated. The results also reinforce a key theory scientists have about how the universe…

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ASAP: Add asteroid detection to our science to-do list

A close encounter of the rocky kind is set for Feb. 15, when an office-building-size asteroid will speed past Earth faster than a bullet and closer than some communications satellites. It will be the nearest recorded brush with a space rock so large, NASA scientists said Thursday. The good news: There’s no chance of an impact. At its closest, asteroid 2012 DA14 will pass about 17,000 miles above Earth. The…

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New poll shows belief in global warming rising with thermometers

Photo by Gerard Van der Leun A growing majority of Americans think global warming is occurring, that it will become a serious problem and that the U.S. government should do something about it, a new Associated Press-GfK poll finds. Even most people who say they don’t trust scientists on the environment say temperatures are rising. The poll found 4 out of every 5 Americans said climate change will be a…

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Computers taking over basic math instruction

There are no professors in Virginia Tech’s largest classroom, only a sea of computers and red plastic cups. In the Math Emporium, the computer is king, and instructors are reduced to roving guides. Lessons are self-paced, and help is delivered “on demand” in a vast, windowless lab that is open 24 hours a day because computers never tire. A student in need of human aid plants a red cup atop…

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