TIME space

Hubble Telescope Shows the Most Colorful View of the Universe Ever

A composite of separate exposures taken in 2003 to 2012 with Hubble's Advanced Camera for Surveys and Wide Field Camera 3 of the evolving universe is shown in this image released on June 3, 2014.
A composite of separate exposures taken in 2003 to 2012 with Hubble's Advanced Camera for Surveys and Wide Field Camera 3 of the evolving universe is shown in this image released on June 3, 2014. NASA/Reuters

This amazing image is a combination of frames from the Hubble Space Telescope using 11 filters to allow an unprecedented wide-spectrum view of the intermediate universe. Astronomers, rejoice.

TIME space

Window on Infinity: Pictures from Space

From Martian vistas to NASA's #GlobalSelfie, here are the month's best photographs from space

TIME weather

Hurricanes With Female Names Kill More People, Study Finds

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Kei Uesugi—Getty Images

Researchers at the University of Illinois found that people subconsciously assume storms with feminine names will be less dangerous, and therefore take fewer precautions

Hurricanes given female names tend to be more deadly than hurricanes with male names because people subconsciously assume storms with feminine names will be less dangerous, according to a new study.

Researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign looked at six decades worth of death rates from U.S. hurricanes and found that hurricanes with female names were more deadly because people think they sound less threatening and therefore take fewer precautions to protect themselves.

A hurricane’s name is unrelated to how fierce it will be, but if people are subconsciously making protective decisions based on gendered storm naming, that could be a problem. The researchers found that the more feminine a storm name, the more fatalities it caused. The report suggests that changing a severe hurricane’s name from Charley to Eloise could triple its death rate.

“In judging the intensity of a storm, people appear to be applying their beliefs about how men and women behave,” said study co-author Sharon Shavitt, a professor of marketing at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, in a statement. “This makes a female-named hurricane, especially one with a very feminine name such as Belle or Cindy, seem gentler and less violent.”

In a second part of their study, which is published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the researchers asked participants about fake hurricanes with names like Hurricane Alexandra or Hurricane Alexander. Again, the participants rated the female-named storms as less risky.

The researchers note that some clear gender stereotypes are likely at play here, although they are not necessarily negative toward women. People may just be viewing men as more aggressive.

Of course, this is one of the first studies to make this finding, and the results are only preliminary. Jeff Lazo from the National Center for Atmospheric Research has poured cold water on the study’s findings, stating that in the past hurricanes always had female names and there are many other reasons hurricanes are deadly besides whether or not people adequately protect themselves.

TIME Environment

New Obama Climate Regulations Could Help U.S. Pressure China

New regulations will only have lasting benefit if they help encourage countries like China to take similar steps

As my colleague Michael Grunwald points out, the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) proposed new rules on carbon emissions from the power sector are a big deal. (Vice President Joe Biden might use slightly different language.) The rules—which still have to go through a year of public comment and which will almost certainly face legal and Congressional challenges—would cut carbon emissions from the power sector by 30% below 2005 levels by 2030. These regulations—which will apply to existing power plants, not just new ones—are by far the biggest single step taken by the U.S. to fight climate change. With the stroke of a pen (though it was technically be EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy’s pen), President Barack Obama has done more about global warming than all of his predecessors combined.

But climate action is measured in carbon, not in political legacies. By that measurement, the U.S. carbon regulations are only a beginning, and will only have lasting benefit for the world if they help encourage the major future emitters—the big developing nations like China and India—to take similar steps to reduce their own rapidly growing carbon emissions.

The truth is that the EPA regulations are so historic largely because so little has been done to restrict carbon emissions before. As Eric Holthaus points out over at Slate, choosing 2005 as the baseline year for carbon cuts makes it that much easier for the U.S. to meet a 30% cut. (In a call with reporters, senior EPA officials made the case that 2005 is less a baseline than a point of comparison for the changes that will be made in emissions by 2030. The actual policy, which will be left to individual states, flows from the energy mix in the U.S. as of 2012. But 30% less than 2005 levels sounds a lot more impressive than a smaller percentage from 2012 levels, even though they ultimately mean the same thing.) That’s because U.S. carbon emissions have already fallen significantly since 2005, thanks to a mix of increasing natural gas (which emits around half as much carbon as coal), a growing contribution from renewables and the recession, which reduced consumption of everything, including energy. As of 2011 carbon emissions from the power plant sector alone—which accounts for a little less than 40% of total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions—had fallen 16% since 2005, which means we’re already more than halfway there. Using 1990 as a benchmark year for emissions—which is what’s done in the UN climate process—the EPA regulations only amount to a 3.5% cut by 2020.

In fact, given that U.S. power plant emissions had been dropping, the reductions mandated in the regulations are likely much smaller than they seem. The EPA itself estimates that emissions from U.S. power plants will be 730 million metric tons less by 2030 than they would have been without the rules. That’s not a negligible amount—it’s equivalent to taking two-thirds of the country’s passenger vehicles off the road for a year—but it still amounts to just about 11% of total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions in 2011. The EPA predicts that by 2030, coal and natural gas will still be the leading sources of U.S. electricity, each contributing 30% of power, with non-hydro renewables coming in at 9%, up from about 6.7% now. It’s impossible that anything tougher would have been politically feasible—witness Republican House Speak John Boehner’s two-word reaction to the news rules: “It’s nuts.” Still, if everything the EPA predicts comes true—obviously not likely—the U.S. of 2030 will be a cleaner, healthier place, but it will still be pouring a lot of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

And even that may not matter all that much to the global climate. That’s because the U.S. has already been outpaced as the world’s top emitter by China, where carbon emissions have increased an astounding 52% since 2005. Rising India isn’t too far behind—carbon emissions have grown 50% since 2005. These giants, and other rapidly growing countries in the developing world, will be putting the vast majority of the new carbon into the atmosphere in the decades to come. The amount of carbon set to be saved by the EPA rules amounts to a little over 2% of total global carbon emissions in one year: 2012. It’s still China and the other big developing nations that control the future of the climate.

But that doesn’t mean U.S. action can’t make a difference—as much by example as by actual numbers. The EPA regulations should allow the U.S. to reach the 17% reduction below 2005 that Obama promised during the doomed U.N. climate summit in Copenhagen in 2009. U.N. climate talks, which resume at the end of the year in Lima, have always been hobbled by the refusal of the U.S. to take the lead on cutting carbon, going back to the fact that Washington failed to ratify the Kyoto Protocol. Representatives from Beijing and New Delhi could—and did—argue that it was unfair to expect still poor countries to cut carbon if the world’s top historical emitter refused to take action. But U.S. diplomats will now be able to point to EPA regulations as proof that the U.S. has pledged itself to long-term carbon cuts—and cuts that come under national law, not more amorphous international promises. “American influence is always stronger when we lead by example,” Obama told graduating West Point cadets in an address last week. “We cannot exempt ourselves from the rules that apply to everyone else.”

That doesn’t mean the dream of a global climate deal has been saved. The reality is that the future of climate action will look like this—national or regional entities taking steps on their own, for their own reasons, that will hopefully add up to something real. China is already taking aggressive steps on carbon, less to deal with climate change than to counter the truly horrific air pollution the country faces. Beijing will continue on that path to save itself, but U.S. leadership can’t hurt. “I fully expect action by the United States to spur others in taking concrete action,” said Christiana Figueres, the U.N.’s top climate official.

We’ll see. But here’s my prediction: The policies put in place in Washington or Beijing or New Delhi will ultimately matter far less than the technological changes that are already sweeping the energy industry. U.S. carbon emissions have fallen over the past decade—in the absence of national action—largely because of new technologies, including the fracking revolution, which made it economical for cleaner natural gas to displace dirty coal. In the years to come, solar panels will keep getting cheaper and cheaper, which could potentially upend the utility model, much in the same way that mobile phones disrupted landline companies. Big data will change how we use and produce electricity, reducing waste. Obama’s climate regulations will help cement those changes and encourage new ones as states mix and match to meet their emissions reductions goals.

But 2030 will look very different from 2014—and will almost certainly be much cleaner in the U.S.—for reasons that go far beyond a 626-page regulatory order coming out of Washington.

TIME space

Godzilla Earth Found — and You Don’t Want to Live There

It's huge, it's Earth-like and astronomers have no idea how it got there

Before they started finding exoplanets back in the 1990s, astronomers thought alien worlds would be pretty much like the planets you see in our own solar system. But from the moment the discoveries began rolling in, it was clear how wrong they were. The first of the new planets, 51 Pegasi b, discovered in 1995, was a massive, gaseous world like Jupiter — but unlike the real Jupiter, it circles its star so closely that it’s searing hot. More recently, astronomers have been finding “mini-Neptunes” — planets not much bigger than Earth, with a rocky core, but with a much higher proportion of water than we have.

Now comes yet another surprise. Speaking at a press conference in Boston, Harvard astronomers have announced the discovery of a world they call a “mega-Earth.” Known as Kepler 10c, it’s about 18,000 miles (29,000 km) across, compared with about 8,000 (13,000 km) for our planet, and weighs about 17 times as much as Earth does. It is, says Harvard astrophysicist Dimitar Sasselov, “the Godzilla of Earths.”

It’s a bit astonishing that the planet exists at all, says Xavier Dumusque, who made the discovery. “Our first thought,” he says, “was that we couldn’t really believe it.” The reason is that when a chunk of mostly rock and iron reaches about 10 times the mass of Earth, its powerful gravity begins vacuuming up all of the gases in the neighborhood — and at the time planets are forming, you’d expect there to be lots of gas to vacuum. Close to home, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune all have rocky centers bigger than Earth, but most of their mass comes from the hydrogen, helium, H20 and other gases they sucked in pretty much as soon as they were born.

Somehow, Kepler 10c failed to manage this trick, and it isn’t at all clear why. “We really don’t have any good ideas,” says Sasselov. Jack Lissauer, a planet-formation theorist at the NASA Ames Research Center, who wasn’t involved with the new study, suggests that maybe all the gas was somehow gone by the time 10c reached its Godzilla-esque size, or maybe it formed from the collision of two smaller rocky planets, neither of which was big enough to hold on to its gas — but he doesn’t think either theory is especially compelling.

The mystery gets even thicker when you factor in the parent star’s age, which is about 11 billion years. That means the star — Kepler 10, about 560 light-years from Earth, in the constellation Draco — formed only 3 billion or so years after the Big Bang. At that time, iron and silicon, the latter a major component of rock, were in far lower abundance than they were just 4.6 billion years ago, when the sun was born. Yet Kepler 10c is full of the stuff.

The planet’s general Earthiness does not mean it could sustain life. For one thing, with an orbit of just 45 days, it’s too close to its star for water to remain liquid on its surface. It’s also not quite the same as Earth in composition: about 1% of our planet’s mass is made up of volatile substances like oxygen and water. Kepler 10c has more like 10%. “It’s definitely not an Earth twin,” says Lissauer, of the Ames Research Center, home base of the Kepler planet-hunting spacecraft.

Under the crushing pressure of gravity generated by all of Kepler 10c’s mass, most of whatever water it has may be bound up in minerals, or squeezed into solid form despite the high temperatures. “I call it a solid planet,” says Sasselov, “rather than a rocky planet.

Kepler 10c is not alone out there; it has a little sibling named, appropriately enough, Kepler 10b. This one, discovered in 2011, is also predominantly rocky, but it’s only three times Earth’s mass. It’s also much closer to the star, however, and therefore even hotter. If not for the searing temperatures that give it the nickname “lava planet,” a world like 10b might be a plausible place to look for living organisms. And the fact that this star system has two solid planets means it wouldn’t be crazy to think there could be a third planet that’s a true Mirror Earth — although there’s no evidence yet that such a world actually exists.

“Five years ago,” says Sasselov, “I was arguing that we shouldn’t bother looking for solid planets around such old stars.” After this week, he says, “I’ve changed my mind.”

TIME Environment

Meet the Solar-Powered Plane That Will Fly Around the World

A look at Solar Impulse 1 and 2 as the second aircraft makes its inaugural voyage in preparation for the aircraft's global trip in 2015.

TIME Cancer

Lessons From the Woman Who Discovered the BRCA Cancer Gene

Mary Claire King presents at World Science Festival 2014 in New York City Courtesy of the World Science Festival

The legendary researcher on work-life balance, the importance of trusting hunches, and her stunning scientific discovery

Sometimes the most stunning advances in science are based on a hunch that a dedicated investigator just can’t shake.

That was the case with Mary-Claire King, professor of genome sciences and of medicine at University of Washington. King discovered the region on the genome that eventually became known as BRCA1, the first gene linked to a higher than average chance of developing breast cancer and ovarian cancer. While it seems obvious now that genes can be tied to cancer, at the time King conducted her studies, the idea was too radical to have many supporters.

MORE: Angelina Jolie’s Double Mastectomy: What We Know About BRCA Mutations and Breast Cancer

But King was used to being unusual. As a graduate student at the University of California Berkeley, where she first studied mathematics and then switched to genetics, she petitioned the university protesting the U.S.’s invasion of Cambodia during the Vietnam War. When the National Guard removed demonstrating students, King dropped out and helped consumer rights advocate Ralph Nader to study how pesticides affected farm workers.

She returned to Berkeley and contributed to groundbreaking genetic work that showed humans and chimps shared 99% of the same DNA.

Today, BRCA1 and the related BRCA2 are responsible for about 5% of breast cancer cases in the U.S., or up to 25% of inherited breast cancer, and screening for changes in the genes can help steer women toward potentially lifesaving treatments. The Supreme Court recently ruled that BRCA1 and BRCA2 are not patentable, since they are products of nature, a decision that King supports so that more companies can now devise tests for the cancer-causing mutation.

We spoke with King when she was in New York for the World Science Festival. Here’s what we learned:

On how she discovered BRCA1, and the importance of believing in your gut instincts:

“If we cast our minds back to the 1970s, when my work [on BRCA] began, the mainstream theory was that breast cancer was viral. And some cancers are, so it wasn’t a crazy theory.

My thinking—and, believe me, this was not a theory in the field but just a notion I had—was that there was good evidence that there were some families in which breast cancer was especially common. There was no evidence of a smoking gun. That opened the possibility that there was something else. That went side by side in my mind with the logical way of thinking about cancer, that all cancer is genetic in the sense that it’s a consequence of changes in DNA. That also was not mainstream thinking at the time. But that was the basis of my own thinking, and I’m a stubborn person, so it allowed me to keep pushing my little idea in a very quiet way.”

MORE: 4 Ways The Supreme Court Gene Patent Decision Will Change Medicine

On seeing her little idea become a big one:

“I was absolutely convinced that cancer had to be genetic. I did not see any other way the relationship between a tumor and host could possibly persist. But I honestly didn’t appreciate at all how important and directly useful the inherited component would be. The idea that oncologists and medical geneticists would take that information and systematically be able to put into place screening programs that enable women to learn that they had mutations, and do something about it to save their lives, wasn’t the way I thought. If somebody had said that this was possible, I would have said, ‘Golly, maybe it was.’ But nobody said that to me.”

 

On whether every woman 30-plus should have a BRCA1 and BRCA2 screening:

“I am increasingly convinced that it is both feasible and a good idea to offer a blood test, a sequencing test for BRCA1 and BRCA2 and some of their sister genes for every woman after about age 30. Once a young woman reaches 30 or so, if she has a mutation in one of the genes, she should know about it. … These mutations are inherited from fathers half the time, and from mothers half the time. Because families in America are so small, we did a study that showed that in exactly half of women who had BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutations, there was no family history that would have led them or anyone in their family to think they carried the mutation. All of these women inherited the mutation from their father, and their fathers either didn’t have sisters or had sister who didn’t inherit the mutation.

Sequencing is now cheap, prices are coming down and the quality is going up. So there’s no reason not to do this. The point is to have a process that is benign enough to the individual—a blood draw—and inexpensive enough to identify people who are really at high genetic risk and then move them into very good screening programs to enable them to make a plan about preventive surgery or other options.”

On how being a woman in science has changed, and remained the same:

“I always assumed I would be an assistant to someone else, because there have always been women in those roles. I always assumed I would work for someone else. And I assumed implicitly that ‘someone else’ would be a man. There are obviously many more women in the field now. Acceptance in principle of women in the field is completely different and that’s absolutely fabulous; it’s just splendid.

The thing that hasn’t changed is the number of hours in a day. The coincidence of one’s child-bearing years with exactly the time one needs to build a career—that’s challenging. Science is also a very demanding child—you can’t just walk away from either. That hasn’t changed. It’s not realistic to say one can drop out of science and drop back in.

Really good child care is incredibly important. Creating a context in which young women scientists have child care they can rely on, and can afford, and that’s close enough to where they work, is enormously difficult, and institutions are working on it. One thing I try to do is run a family-friendly lab. I think it’s the responsibility of those of us whose children are now grown to remember what it was like, and to run family-friendly labs. When women in my lab get pregnant, we know they simply will not be there for a while. But you need the infrastructure in place so their experiments won’t rot when they’re not there, and so they can come back when they are ready.”

On being a mother and being a scientist:

“You never get over the guilt. My daughter would come into the lab when she was six or seven, and she had an area in my office with books, picture books and toys. She made posters that went on the door to my office. One was the First Mommy to Walk on Land. Another was the Sister of the First Mommy to Walk on Land. And there was the Brother of the First Mommy to Walk on Land. When I asked her why she was making the posters, she said, ‘They are to keep people happy while they have to wait for you.’

You have to have an environment in which it’s clear that having children is a part of life, and welcomed. You have to recognize that a scientific career can be very long, and you need to go into the business of being there for your child when you have a child. It’s possible. It’s not possible to do and get enough sleep, but it’s possible to do.”

TIME weather

El Niño Could Mean a Disaster-Free Hurricane Season

The Atlantic hurricane season officially kicks off on Sunday, which means for the next six months the East and Gulf coasts of the U.S. will be on the lookout for the next big Andrew, Hugo or Katrina. As it happens, the U.S. is in the middle of a record-breaking hurricane drought. It’s been 3,142 days since the last major hurricane — defined as Category 3 or above — made landfall in the U.S. (That was Hurricane Wilma, which hit southwest Florida in October 2005 and was the most intense cyclone ever recorded in the Atlantic basin, with sustained winds of 185 m.p.h.) That’s an unprecedented streak, going back to 1900 — the longest drought before the current one was nearly 1,000 days shorter.

Don’t expect that drought to end anytime soon. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has forecast that the Atlantic’s hurricane season will be in the normal to below-normal range, with nine named storms (the long-term average is 12) and three hurricanes (the average is six or seven). Only one of those hurricanes is expected to reach Category 3 or higher, with sustained winds of at least 111 m.p.h. (179 km/h). NOAA says there’s a 1-in-5 chance that a major hurricane could actually make landfall along the East Coast — and not a Katrina in the bunch.

One of the reasons why the Atlantic hurricane season is forecast to be so mild is because of something happening in the Pacific, thousands of miles away. Scientists are predicting that we have a better than even chance of developing an El Niño event within the next six months. El Niños occur when the waters of the equatorial Pacific undergo unusual warming, which in turn affects atmospheric circulation and weather around the world. That includes hurricanes in the Atlantic: El Niño increases the strength of westerly winds across the Atlantic, which creates a lot of wind shear. (Wind shear is the difference between speed and direction of wind over a short distance.) That high wind shear can disrupt tropical storm systems before they’re able to gather a lot of power, which makes it difficult for major hurricanes to form.

El Niño isn’t always good news for storms — hurricanes actually get stronger in the eastern Pacific during El Niño years. And the eastern Pacific hurricane season, which began on May 15, has already seen its first storm — Amanda, which attained maximum wind speeds of 155 m.p.h. (249 km/h), making it just below a Category 5 hurricane. It also makes Amanda the strongest eastern Pacific storm ever recorded in May, which doesn’t bode well for the rest of the season — and especially for the west coast of Mexico, which bears the brunt of those hurricanes.

And there’s no guarantee that the skies will stay quiet over the Atlantic either. Hurricanes don’t have to be Category 3 or above to cause major damage. Sandy was barely a Category 1 hurricane by the time it made landfall in the Northeast in October 2012, yet its sheer size and rainfall — as well as the fact it squarely hit the most populated section of the country — caused nearly $70 billion in damage. And previous El Niño years saw strong storms, including 2004, when four strong hurricanes hit Florida, and 1992, when Hurricane Andrew caused $26.5 billion in damage. After all, as NOAA Administrator Kathryn Sullivan said last month: “It only takes one destructive storm to make for a very bad season.”

TIME quantum physics

Teleportation Is Real and Here’s Why it Matters

Not this, not yet. But something similar is possible
Not this, not yet. But something similar is possible Science Photo Library/Getty Images

It ain't the stuff of Star Trek, but quantum physics can make it possible to do things that mystified even Einstein

The future has a way of becoming the past. Men on the moon? Check. Picture phones? Thank you, Skype. But teleportation? Not so much. The idea of breaking yourself down to your constituent molecules, beaming yourself across space and reassembling somewhere else sounds cool, but there are problems. For one, there’s The Fly. For another, it’s monstrously difficult.

But teleporting information is another matter. And in a new study just published in Science, researchers at the Delft Institute of Technology in The Netherlands have revealed that they’ve done just that—sort of.

What the Dutch physicists did involved something called quantum entanglement, which Einstein once described as “spooky action at a distance,” a term that pretty much describes what it is. Entangled particles are sort of the dysfunctional couples of quantum physics. You know that long-distance relationship you had in college that didn’t really work out and every time you and your significant other got on the phone or exchanged an e-mail you wound up getting into a fight and feeling a whole lot lousier than you did five minutes before? That’s action at a distance.

The same is true of entangled particles, except if quantum theory is right, the interaction can take place across infinite distances and instantaneously. That means that the spin rate and direction of one particle—which is how the behavior of these things are measured–will determine the spin rate and direction of its entangled partner on the other side of the universe, effectively simultaneously.

How does it work? Easy: First quantum stuff happens, then more quantum stuff follows and there are lots of equations that explain it all but they’d definitely give you a headache and they’d make you feel lazy for taking a gut major like political science as an undergrad—or at least that’s how they make me feel—so spare yourself that.

The point is, the Delft researchers proved the principle by isolating target entangled electrons inside two supercooled diamonds placed 10 meters—or 33 ft.—apart, creating what one of the physicists described as “miniprisons” for them. They then maniupulated their spin rate and determined that the behavior of one indeed continued to determine the spin of the other, and vice versa, even at that distance. Something similar had been achieved before, in 2009, by University of Maryland researchers, but the experiment worked only one out of every 100 million attempts. This one succeeded 100% of the time. Next, the Dutch plan to expand their work—literally—trying to see if the quantum entanglement holds at a distance of 1 kilometer, or .62 mi.

This matters for reasons that go beyond just allowing you to say things like spooky action at a distance, though that is admittedly pretty cool. Spin rate, to a quantum particle, counts as information, and information is what computers traffic in. But unlike traditional bits of information, which can have only one of two values—1 or 0—quantum bits, or qubits, can have an infinite number. Computers built of quantum particles entangled at a distance could be to contemporary computers what contemporary computers are to scratch marks on a flat stone. Don’t trade in your MacBook yet—but don’t say you weren’t warned.

TIME Opinion

Got Credibility? Then You’re Not PETA

Cereal untruths
Cereal untruths Courtesy of PETA

An anti-milk campaign plays the autism card, putting the animal rights group in some very disgraceful company

Correction appended, May 30

There are lots of ways to quit being taken seriously in America. You can deny climate change; you can pretend the Earth is only 6,000 years old. But there’s nothing that quite seals the nincompoop deal like linking something—anything really—to autism. Don’t like sugar, gluten, junk food, meat? Tell people they cause autism. It’s the go-to, check-the-box, one-stop-shopping for know-nothingism.

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), which yields to no group in its ability to be outrageous, has mostly avoided that inevitable step. But in an earlier ad campaign that’s gaining new attention—and that remains on the group’s website—the folks who love animals but apparently have a cooler relationship with facts have come through big. The ad shows a bowl of cereal making a frowny face, accompanied by the slogan “Got autism?” The tag line elaborates on that provocative question: “Studies have shown a link between cow’s milk and autism.”

So where to begin—aside from the fact that no, studies haven’t shown that? OK, to be perfectly fair, when pressed, PETA does cite two scientific papers that seem to support its claim. One, published in 2002, observed some possible improvement in autism symptoms when children were put on a diet free of gluten, gliadin and casein, proteins found either in grains or milk. Not only is the study old, it’s vague—with the researchers broadly blaming the problem on “processes with opioid effect,” whatever that means. It was also tiny—relying on a sample group of just 20 kids. Finally, the study was admittedly single-blind, which means that the experimenters knew which kids were getting the special diet and which weren’t. Got bias?

The second study came even earlier—in 1995, which is the dark ages of autism research—and it was almost as small, involving just 36 subjects. It detected no real link between dairy products and autism, instead finding only antibodies to milk proteins in the blood of autistic children. That suggests, well, who knows what? Association, as people who understand basic science will tell you, is not causation, and blood chemistry is only a broad, imprecise starting point for proving a link between any suspected cause and observed effect in research of this kind. Nineteen years after the paper was published, its authors have not moved one step closer to drawing that line between milk and autism—and neither have the thousands of other studies that have come since.

PETA has been getting justifiably blowtorched for the ad since it was resurfaced by various media outlets in the last day. But even in light of the criticism and the science that shows no such effects of milk, the group stands by its insupportable claim, saying, in a statement, “PETA’s website provides parents with the potentially valuable information that researchers have backed up many families’ findings that a dairy-free diet can help kids with autism.”

Look PETA, activism is easy; scaring people is easy; making parents feel guilty because they fed their autistic child a bowl of Cheerios and milk is easy. Science is hard—which is why not everyone gets to do it.

Oh, and while we’re on that, you know what else is hard? Autism. It’s hard for the children who have it; it’s hard for the families wrestling with it; it’s hard for the researchers knocking themselves out every day to understand it and treat it and prevent it. They don’t need agitators and fabricators making things worse. There’s nothing wrong with protecting the animals, but try to do it without hurting the kids.

Correction: The original version of this article misstated when the PETA campaign on milk and autism began.

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