All posts by David Wheeler


An Idea With Tentacles

Rafe Sagarin

Rafe Sagarin trained as a marine ecologist but was working as a science adviser for a member of Congress when Washington began to take on strange traits.

It was 2002, and as Sagarin walked the sidewalks and Congressional corridors in the post-9/11 city, he saw it sprout uniformed police officers, Jersey barriers, and metal detectors. Mail arrived late after being screened for bombs and anthrax, and chemical masks were stored under desks. He saw Washington as an ecosystem, not that d…


Technology to Turn Gestures Into Song

Vancouver, British Columbia—A new technology lets people control a speech synthesizer with gestures, allowing them to speak or sing with their hands. Along with opening new realms of musical expression, research with the speech-generating system may deepen understanding of how the brain drives spoken language and song.

Sidney Fels, a professor of electrical and computer engineering at the University of British Columbia, led the team of researchers that created the device. He talked about it in a…


Global Pressure on Peer Review

Vancouver, British Columbia—Peer reviewers are the dragons guarding the cave where the academic treasures of individual promotion and institutional rankings lie. But the dragons are getting weary as armies of researchers from all over the planet try to get by them.

In a popular session at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science here, one audience member complained he was “bombarded by requests to do reviews.” The task had begun to seem irrelevant to him, …


Researchers Develop Digital Tools to Save Endangered Languages

Vancouver, British Columbia — Technology is sometimes portrayed as an evil force of globalization, flattening local cultures as it sweeps around the world. But now some researchers are trying to reverse that story, using digital tools to save languages that exist only in tiny cultural pockets.

About half of the world’s 7,000 languages are considered endangered, with just elderly speakers left. At the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, in Vancouver, resear…


Fighting the Crime of Killer Species

Serial killers and giant hogweed would seem to have little in common. But new research by British scientists suggests an investigative tool that helps the police find criminals can also help locate the sources of invasive species.

The research, published last week in Ecography, may reverberate beyond conservation biology and criminology. In a week when National Science Foundation officials are pushing for more interdisciplinary research, the paper indirectly suggests the benefits of seeking coll…


Can Science Explain Everything?

Washington — There’s a new bully on the intellectual block, shoving scholars around. Lots of them are caving into the threats. The bully’s name is “scientism,” the belief that science has a monopoly on all real knowledge. All other knowledge, scientism asserts, is simply opinion, irrationality, or utter nonsense.

That was the perspective Ian Hutchinson, professor of nuclear science and engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, offered at an event titled “Can Science Explain E…