Science and Environment

Hurricanes, oil spills, and the latest efforts to manage them.

The State Department says that production of Canadian tar-sand crude, which has a bigger greenhouse gas footprint than other types of oil, is unlikely to be increased if the Keystone XL pipeline goes ahead — and therefore would do little to contribute to climate change.

The asteroid belt, a ring of rubble between Mars and Jupiter, has sometimes been written off as discarded leftovers from the solar system's start. But new research published in the journal Nature shows that the belt actually formed during an unruly later era, when planets themselves were on the move.

In 2008, as scientists documented a record melt in the Arctic ice and Al Gore's film An Inconvenient Truth was in theaters, a half dozen major investment houses launched mutual funds designed to take advantage of financial opportunities offered by climate change.

I love numbers. A picture may be worth a thousand words, but I think a good bar graph can be worth a thousand pictures.

But three times in the past few days, I've come across statistics in reputable-looking publications that made me stop and say, "Huh?"

I did some investigating so you don't have to. And indeed, the numbers don't quite tell the story that they purport to tell.

So here goes: My skeptical inquiry into statistics on herbicide use, soil erosion, and the production of fruits and nuts.

The National Weather Service is warning, once again, that brutally cold weather is going to be spreading across much of the nation, from the upper Midwest down to the deep South and up through the mid-Atlantic, Northeast and New England.

The Weather Service even throws an exclamation point into its forecast for this week:

Couch potatoes everywhere, rejoice.

New commercial devices, using technology borrowed from the field of neuroscience, are making it possible to control objects with brain power alone. The idea is to help train users to become more focused — and relaxed.

EEG headsets, which detect electrical activity in the brain, were once found only in research labs. Today, the technology has become cheaper and easier to use. That's made it possible to connect EEG headsets to other consumer devices.

Like other animals and many living things, we humans grow when we're young and then stop growing once we mature. But trees, it turns out, are an exception to this general rule. In fact, scientists have discovered that trees grow faster the older they get.

Once trees reach a certain height, they do stop getting taller. So many foresters figured that tree growth — and girth — also slowed with age.

From cool casts for a broken arm to impressive replicas of Michelangelo's David, 3-D printing has come a long way in the past few years.

In fact, the technology is moving so fast that 3-D printers might be coming to your kitchen this year — or at least, to a bakery or bistro down the street.

In the world of music, there is no more remarkable gift than having perfect pitch. As the story goes, Ella Fitzgerald's band would use her perfect pitch to tune their instruments.

Although it has a genetic component, most believe that perfect pitch — or absolute pitch — is a primarily a function of early life exposure and training in music, says Takao Hensch, professor of molecular and cellular biology at Harvard.

Lera Boroditsky once did a simple experiment: She asked people to close their eyes and point southeast. A room of distinguished professors in the U.S. pointed in almost every possible direction, whereas 5-year-old Australian aboriginal girls always got it right.