• The New Science of Wildfire Prediction 

    Back in 2018, a research ecologist for the US Fire Service found himself suddenly on the edges of the largest fire tornado ever observed, “a whirling vortex of flame 17,000 feet tall and rotating at 143 mph, with the destructive force of an EF-3 tornado, the kind that erases entire towns in Oklahoma.” The rare phenomenon was part of the Carr Fire, which burned large swaths of land in Northern California, and behaved in dangerously anomalous ways.

    So then, if a scientist who studies organisms and their relationship to the environment wasn’t able to predict what might happen in a fire, what chance does anyone else have? And are there any tools researchers can use to help determine what comes next in the fire-prone American west?

    That’s what writer Dan Duane tried to discover while reporting his November cover story for WIRED. He joins us to share his reporting

  • Want Some Eco-Friendly Tips? A New Study Says No, You Don’t

    This story originally appeared on Grist and is part of the Climate Desk collaboration.

    Need something else for your growing to-do list? Environmentalists have about a zillion things for you, give or take.

    Chances are that you’ve heard a lot of them already: Ditch your car for a bike, take fewer flights, and go vegan. Oh, and install solar panels on your roof, dry your laundry on a clothesline, use less water when you brush your teeth, take shorter showers … hey, where are you going? We’re just getting started!

    For decades, we’ve been told that the solution to our planetary crisis starts with us. These “simple” tips are so pervasive, they usually go unquestioned. But that doesn’t mean that most people have the time or motivation to heed them. In fact, new research suggests that hearing eco-friendly tips like these actually makes people less likely to do anything about

  • Treatment and Vaccine Trials are Halted, US Cases Rise, and More Coronavirus News

    Treatment and vaccine trials are halted, the US forges ahead with its decentralized response, and new revelations about American society and institutions underscore the deadly toll of the virus. Here’s what you should know:

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    Headlines

    Once-promising treatments and vaccines hit roadblocks

    Two weeks ago, President Trump was given a dose of an experimental antibody cocktail that he later claimed “cured” him of Covid-19. Two companies that manufacture versions of the drug—Regeneron and Eli Lilly—each applied for an emergency authorization from the FDA soon after. Prior therapies authorized by the FDA were all for use by people already in the hospital, but this one is administered right after diagnosis. For this reason and others, it shows promise, but data on the drug is still limited. Then, on Tuesday, Eli Lilly halted its Phase III drug trials due

  • In the US, 50 States Could Mean 50 Vaccine Rollout Strategies

    Sometime in the next months—before the end of the year, according to optimists, or more likely early in 2021—the United States will have a vaccine for Covid-19. We don’t know which formula will be first to the finish line. We don’t know if that vaccine will be released under an emergency use authorization or a standard new-drug approval. We don’t even know how many doses will be available. But one thing is certain: The task of getting the shot into arms falls to state governments and health departments. And because each state is different—in geography, density, income, and in the trust its residents do (or don’t) have in their leaders—each state is going to have to devise its own plan.

    Our attempt to control the coronavirus, in other words, isn’t going to be one war. It’s going to be at least 50 separate battles—maybe 56, if you count

  • What Forest Floor Playgrounds Teach Us about Kids and Germs

    As dusk fell on the Finnish city of Lahti on a still chilly day in May 2016, a crew of workers let themselves into the yard of an empty daycare center. Underneath the swings and jungle gyms, they installed squares of forest floor—scruffy shrubs, shin-high berry bushes, wispy meadow grasses, and velvety mounds of moss—harvested from the woods somewhere in a less developed part of the country. Around the edges, they put in soft green sod. In the morning, when the children arrived, they found their playground—formerly a drab patchwork of asphalt, gravel, and sand—transformed overnight into micro-oases of wilderness.

    This scenario played out three more times that month at daycares in Lahti, and 500 miles to the west, in the city of Tampere. It wasn’t the work of some nature-loving guerrilla artists, but the start of an ambitious science experiment to find out if the lack of microbes in

  • This Is My Brain on Salvia

    When your attention turns inward, the communication between the brain regions in the default mode network syncs up like musicians in an orchestra. Other fMRI studies of volunteers high on better known psychedelics like LSD and psilocybin, the psychoactive molecule in mushrooms, have also shown decreases in coupling among the areas involved in this network. It’s as if the musicians in the orchestra stop following a central conductor and each start keeping time with separate metronomes. Some researchers think that the decreased activity between these network connections is part of the essence of what makes psychedelic drugs so psychedelic.

    But the Johns Hopkins researchers think this is not the whole story. “Research on classic psychedelic drugs like LSD, psilocybin, and DMT has been focusing on the default mode network because it has been hijacked by a Freudian narrative that requires a concrete ‘ego,’” says Doss, referring to the psychoanalytic