Clearing up some common misconceptions

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While most of us don’t think about evolution every day, it is important that we have a solid understanding of what this process is and how it works. Evolution is incredibly complex, and many biologists devote their entire careers to studying just one small but important aspect of it. It isn’t necessary to understand all the details of evolution, but clearing up some common misconceptions about it can help us to better understand where we come from.

1. Natural selection is just another term for evolution

I often hear the terms “evolution” and “natural selection” used interchangeably, and while these terms are certainly related…

What is a supervolcano? How do we monitor them? And could humanity survive an eruption?

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If you frequent the History or Discovery channels, you may be familiar with supervolcanoes. These volcanoes, which can measure tens of miles across, are capable of wreaking apocalyptic-level destruction, and the blast from even the smallest of these volcanoes could blanket the state of Texas in five feet of ash. Many scientists have theorized that at least one mass extinction was the result of a supervolcano eruption. While any species in the volcano’s vicinity would be immediately wiped out, the most destructive aspect of these eruptions is their ability to alter the global climate. When they erupt, these behemoths eject…

How the Ancients Knew the Earth was Round — And How Some of Us Have Forgotten

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In school, many of us were presented with a heroic image of Christopher Columbus. We were told of his persistence in obtaining funding for his expedition. We were told of his bravery in “discovering” the New World. And we were told of his wisdom in realizing that the Earth was round at a time when nearly all believed it to be flat. As we grew older, many of us came to understand that this narrative of a persistent, brave, and wise Columbus was crafted by colonialism and woven by white supremacy. Most of us now know that Columbus did not…

Yes. But this does not invalidate the presence of human-caused climate change.

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The arguments of climate-change deniers are many and varied, but one of the refrains that I hear most often is: “The Earth’s temperature has always been in flux because of natural warming and cooling cycles. Therefore, temperature changes are natural and are not caused by human activity.” Like many arguments against anthropogenic (human-caused) climate change, this one is based in truth, but applies that truth incorrectly to yield a falsehood. …

Exploring and debunking common grammar myths

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The Double Space

In my ninth-grade English class, my teacher proclaimed herself to be a stickler for grammatical rules. One particular rule of hers that stands out to me even now — a decade later — is her insistence on a double space at the end of each sentence. I distinctly remember the way my good friend cried when her first essay was returned to her with a large red “D” at the top. …

The world of science news can be murky, but there are tools you can use to evaluate what is worth reading (and what isn’t).

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America has a problem with scientific literacy. America lags behind other developed countries in academics, and most adults lack a foundational knowledge of science. But with subpar school curriculum and sensationalized scientific stories in the news, this is rarely the fault of those adults. It is not necessarily a lack of knowledge that is harming scientific literacy — it isn’t imperative for every adult to understand Maxwell’s Equations, the construction of the periodic table, or cellular respiration. Unfortunately, American curriculum at all grade levels focuses on preparing students to regurgitate these scientific facts on exams rather than giving them the…

The Cognitive Abilities That Make Us Uniquely Human

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What makes us human? If you tend to think more literally, you may give the (valid) response that specific characteristics of our genomes are what define some organisms as human and others as not. But this isn’t generally what we mean when we ask this question. Why is it that when we talk about organisms, we often refer separately to humans and animals, even though most of us know that humans are animals? We refer to humans as men and women, but to animals as male and female. We frequently use the word “it” to identify animals, but such a…

While the fact that ice floats on water may not seem important, it is absolutely crucial to life as we know it.

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It may never have struck you as unusual that ice floats on water, but this phenomenon is rather unusual (though certainly not unheard of) among chemical compounds. Other common chemicals that we use on a regular basis like ethanol and acetone are denser in their solid forms, so they sink in their respective liquids. You may never have seen these organic compounds as solids, but as a chemist, I have quite a bit of experience with using liquid nitrogen to freeze organic compounds at temperatures well below 0°. The takeaway? It’s super cool!

While there are many types of ice…

The Curious Etymology of a Problematic Word

I want you to picture a person crying on a street corner. They are completely hysterical, tears streaming down their face and hair disheveled. They are sobbing loudly, with their hands to their face in anguish, shaking their head and desperately trying to pull themself together. I’d now like to ask you a question: what gender is the woman you’re picturing?

Maybe some of you imagined a person other than a woman, but I’d be willing to wager that the majority of you did picture a woman crying on the street corner. There are many factors contributing to this, especially…

A young girl’s journey toward scientific enlightenment, and her realization of the importance of wonder.

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I can vividly remember the first time I experienced awe. I was probably about six years old and my dad had taken me to the Liberty Science Center in Jersey City. At some point during the afternoon, we attended a show at their planetarium — the largest in the Western Hemisphere. Seated halfway toward the back and near the left side, I began to feel excitement bubble through me as the lights dimmed. I don’t remember much after this point until The Moment arrived, about ten minutes later. As a scientist, I am frequently asked where my interest in science…

Taylor Knoble

A burgeoning writer with a passion for science and social justice. Find my full portfolio at

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