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Blog Profile / Achenblog


URL :http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/achenblog
Filed Under:News / Independent News
Posts on Regator:546
Posts / Week:2.8
Archived Since:April 20, 2011

Blog Post Archive

Planck flings dust at BICEP2: No discovery of gravitational waves from the big bang

There’s bad news for the BICEP2 team: A new analysis reveals that the much-hyped discovery of “gravitational waves” from the big bang does not hold up to closer scrutiny.  That’s the result of a joint analysis of data from the ESA’s Planck satellite and BICEP2. The “signal” may have been entirely generated by dust within […]

Science’s war on two fronts

Science, writ large, has an ongoing challenge in communicating its ideas and conclusions to the general public. Separately, it has an internal, rearguard problem with irreproducible results. These are distinct battles, and shouldn’t be conflated. Show More Summary

Welcome to Science Tuesday Mid-Afternoon: Should we be worried about synthetic organisms cooked up in laboratories?

[Cross-posted from our new Energy and Environment blog.] One of the strange things about being human beings is that we are highly conscious of our surroundings, yet are oblivious to the molecular machinations within our own bodies. Sure, we monitor ourselves – we’re hungry, we’re tired, we’re squirrelly, we’ve got the sewing-machine leg, we shoulda […]

The world we make: Don’t leave it to the engineers

You might not be able to tell from my latest story, on “planetary boundaries,” but I tend to be cautiously optimistic about the future of human civilization. In some quarters this is considered insane, a sign of willful obliviousness to our certain doom. In other ideological precincts, the “cautiously” part is considered weak and whimpering, […]

The presidency: What it takes

This morning President Obama is being slammed for not attending Sunday’s huge Paris rally in response to last week’s terrorism. The White House has suggested that security issues made the participation of the president and vice president impractical (the ambassador represented the U.S.). In any case: When you’re Obama the one thing you can count […]

The good life, in theory

In the new Ian McEwan novel, “The Children Act,” the author briefly summarizes (via the mind of his protagonist, a family law judge) what’s necessary for the good life: “She listed some relevant ingredients, goals toward which a child might grow. Economic and moral freedom, virtue, compassion and altruism, satisfying work through engagement with demanding […]

The Post-Christmas Purge

[An unabridged version of a short essay that ran Dec. 26] In my house, Christmas is a secular holiday built around gifting, followed immediately on the 26th by another secular holiday built around regret. It’s the day everyone returns stuff to the store, particularly the presents that I, the Dad, bought at the last minute […]

No more Charlie Brown trees

When I was a child, we would go into the woods to find a tree that bore some resemblance to a Christmas tree, or that at the very least had the crucial characteristic of being green. This was in North Florida, where anyone looking for a green tree will invariably settle upon a pine. There […]

Methane on Mars! Maybe.

There may not actually be life on mars, but “life on Mars” is an apparently immortal concept. Every time you think you’ve killed it off, it comes springing back into your face, cackling like a lunatic. We all remember when astronomer Giovanni Schiaparelli first saw those “canali” through his telescope. He meant “channels,” but we […]

Protocols of friendship

One of the under-appreciated challenges in life is friend management, which we’re all supposed to be intuitively capable of, but which requires techniques and tricks and specialized maneuvers, and organizational skills, and the savvy use of friendship triage. This is getting more challenging over time, because technology has given us more friends than ever. In […]

NASA has a spaceship, but where will it go?

Nothing demonstrates the extreme inertia of space technology more vividly than the Orion space capsule, which NASA has been working on since 2006 and which, as my colleague Chris Davenport reports, will finally have its first test flight Thursday morning if all goes as planned. The capsule has cost something like $9 billion so far […]

Why nothing is as special as it used to be

I was staying in the French Quarter this weekend and every morning at sunrise popped down to Café du Monde for my chicory-enhanced cup of coffee. Some mornings I drank it on the levee – muddy coffee meets Big Muddy. But yesterday I sat in the café itself, which at 7 a.m. had only a […]

The world on fire again

Last night we were back in 1968, or so it seemed if you were watching the news from Ferguson. I mostly followed CNN’s coverage of the case, including the prosecutor’s drawn-out explanation for why he wasn’t going to prosecute anyone, Obama’s flat-affect commentary with the split-screen image of street protests and “tear gas” (much discussion […]

The fundamental problem with “Interstellar”

[Warning: Spoilers.] I keep meaning to blog about “Interstellar,” but it feels like I’m launching a dandelion seed in a hurricane. One’s own platform, the little digital squirt gun, seems unequal to the Death Star that is the Hollywood publicity machinery. Cover of TIME magazine, that kind of thing. Matthew McConaughey is on all the […]

John McPhee, master craftsman and Professor for Life

[Here's an essay in the Princeton Alumni Weekly about John McPhee, who has been teaching at the university for nearly 40 years. I've had a lot of lucky breaks over the years, and getting in that class is definitely on the list. The regulars here may recall the story of McPhee reading a letter from […]

Election Day 2014! But is this really all about Obama?

The day we’ve all been waiting for! Except those of us who did early voting. And those of us who do not care. And those of us who care but forgot to pay attention. And those of us distracted by Ebola. And those of us who think paying attention to politics and performing one’s civic […]

World Series still not over, scientists discover

Yesterday I went for a great hike on the Appalachian Trail, ascending the spine of South Mountain to reach a rocky promontory. Behold the ancient crumpled landscape, the hardwoods rapidly skewing toward the gold and the red, and the river below sparkling as it sliced through the ridges to reach the Piedmont. What I enjoyed […]

Ebola and the BP oil spill

Life is busy on the Ebola beat. We start at dawn and go to midnight, and fortunately there are people to pick up the slack during the hours when we grab some sleep. The Ebola story reminds me of the BP oil spill. Remember this: Allen has at various times referred to the oil spill […]

Ebola fears spread faster than the virus

Worried about Ebola? Take a deep breath. This is a terrible crisis in West Africa, but it is exceedingly unlikely that it will become a medical crisis here in the United States. Dallas has seen one tragic case. So far there have been no confirmed additional cases (cross your fingers). Our story today on the […]

Paul Farmer on Ebola: “This isn’t a natural disaster, this is the terrorism of poverty”

Africa’s Ebola problem is now America’s Ebola problem. The best way for the United States to free itself of the terror of this virus is to ensure that it is wiped out at the source, where the epidemic is currently out of control. That will happen only through a coordinated effort to provide the kind […]

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