All posts by Josh Fischman


Academic Research Destroys Stock Values

Academics are often called out of touch or cloistered, and are condemned for pursuing research that’s irrelevant to daily life. New research, however, points to a powerful exception:

Simply by publishing an academic paper, a professor can demolish your investment strategy.

Buy stocks that recently did well, focus on firms that reinvest profits—it doesn’t matter. If a finance scholar writes about your strategy, over the next decade or so your returns will shrink by more than one-third.

That’s tru…


Scientists Step Closer Toward Healing Spinal-Cord Injuries

New Orleans — For the 270,000 people in the United States who live with spinal-cord injuries, the hope of walking again is never far from their minds. It has, sadly, been farther from reality, but today it seems a little bit closer. Some unusual technologies—electrodes placed in the brain, far from the injury, and a gas that most people think of as toxic rather than healing—are showing promise in early tests.

Studies of those tests, presented on Monday at the Society for Neuroscience meeting her…


Vegetarian Dinosaurs—With Fangs

The new fanged dinosaur, Pegomastax africanus.

The diets of dinosaurs have been told by their teeth. The blade-filled mouth of Tyrannosaurus rex speaks of ripping chunks of meat off prey or carrion. The blocky dentition of long-necked Apatosaurus or horned Triceratops tells of grinding up plants. In fact, for a long time paleontologists believed that each kind of dinosaur had only one kind of tooth.

But a newly found dinosaur, something its discoverer calls “a little, punk-sized critter,” sp…


College President Takes a Dive

On Thursday off the coast of Hollywood, Fla., George L. Hanbury (left), president of Nova Southeastern University, went underwater as his institution celebrated the opening of a large coral-reef research center. The center is connected to this nursery, one of many along the Florida coast.

“This is pretty cool stuff. There are several sites operated by different institutions, in which we’re growing endangered corals and repopulating denuded reefs,” says Diego Lirman, an associate professor of ma…


Why Lies Often Stick Better Than Truth

There is no good reason to believe vaccines cause autism. A 1998 paper in The Lancet that championed the link was immediately pilloried and later withdrawn as fraudulent. Its author, the British physician Andrew J. Wakefield, was found guilty of dishonesty and abuse of developmentally disabled children by the British General Medical Council. He has been stripped of his medical license. No other researcher has been able to replicate his work, and journals have retracted his other papers. The Cent…


Mystery Relative’s DNA Highlights Unique Human Traits

A replica of the Denisovan finger bone sits on a human hand.

The young woman from southern Siberia has been tantalizing scientists for about two years. They knew a few skimpy details, like that she was a she, and lived at least 50,000 years ago. Also she was not a modern human, but she or others in her group may have mated with our more direct ancestors, contributing a little DNA we still carry today.

Today we know what her DNA is—and more important, we have a better sense of what genes are un…


Blasting Rock and Hunting for Martian Life

ChemCam in action, in an artist’s view.

Early on Monday, after a tricky parachute descent, a hovering spacecraft will lower the new Mars rover, Curiosity, to the planet’s surface with long cables. If the nail-biting, never-before-tried maneuver works, the remote-controlled vehicle will begin searching for signs of water—and life. Bethany Ehlmann, an assistant professor at Caltech, will play a key role. From a control room in Pasadena, Calif., she will blow holes in rocks with a laser on the …


Mystery Human Ancestor Found in African Genes

We are not alone. An unknown group of archaic humans interbred with our more modern species in Africa thousands of years ago, contributing DNA that is still with us, according to a new scientific paper. These ghosts within our genome are revising the history of Homo sapiens, which once was thought to have crushed any humanlike competitors on its way to inheriting the earth. In reality, we had sex and had kids with these extinct groups.

In fact, this is the third population of archaic humans—gr…


Art Flows Into Science: Rivers From Space



Forty years ago today, NASA launched its first Earth-observation satellite, Landsat. Data from the program, now on its eighth orbiter, have been used in climate-change studies, in ecology, and to show the effects of population growth.

Scientists have also noticed that some images are just visually amazing. (Particularly when the researchers add color to the pixels.)

Here are two of the most popular, voted on by 14,000 members of the public. The first contrasts the graceful oxbow bends of t…


Lost, and Found, at Sea

On the bridge of the "Endeavor," crew members search the ocean for a wayward floating probe that is crucial to the ship's scientific mission.

The ecological effects of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill are still largely unknown. A senior writer at The Chronicle, Josh Fischman, is on the research vessel Endeavor in the Gulf of Mexico, with a team of university scientists seeking answers. He is filing reports from the ship.

About 120 miles southeast of Gulfport, Miss. — We all want to go hom…