TIME Science

A Sheep, a Duck and a Rooster in a Hot-Air Balloon — No Joke

Ascent in captive hot air balloon made by Pilatre de Rozier, Paris, 11 October 1783 (1887). Artist: Anon
Illustration of a Jean-Francois Pilatre de Rozier flight from 'Histoire des Ballons' by Gaston Tissandier Print Collector / Getty Images

Nov. 21, 1783: Two men take flight over Paris on the world’s first untethered hot-air balloon ride

Before subjecting humans to the unknown dangers of flight in a hot-air balloon, French inventors conducted a trial run, sending a sheep, a duck and a rooster up in the air over Versailles.

Anyone who was anyone in pre-revolution France came out for the September 1783 demonstration in the courtyard of the royal palace. According to Simon Schama, the author of Citizens: A Chronicle of the French Revolution, the spectators included King Louis XVI, his wife Marie Antoinette and 130,000 French citizens who, six years before returning to the palace to riot over the scarcity of bread, were drawn by sheer curiosity over how the animals would fare in the balloon’s basket.

The eight-minute flight, which ended in the woods a few miles from the palace, didn’t seem to do the barnyard trio any harm, Schama writes: “‘It was judged that they had not suffered,’ ran one press comment, ‘but they were, to say the least, much astonished.’”

The public was similarly astonished when, on this day, Nov. 21, two months after the sheep and fowl made their historic trip, two eminent Frenchmen went aloft themselves in the world’s first untethered hot-air balloon ride.

Jean-François Pilâtre de Rozier, a chemistry and physics teacher, and the Marquis d’Arlandes, a military officer, flew nearly six miles, from the center of Paris to the suburbs, in 25 minutes. This time, Benjamin Franklin was among the spectators, according to Space.com. He later marveled in his journal about the experience, writing, “We observed [the balloon] lift off in the most majestic manner. When it reached around 250 feet in altitude, the intrepid voyagers lowered their hats to salute the spectators. We could not help feeling a certain mixture of awe and admiration.”

It was more than a century before the Wright brothers lifted the first powered airplane off the ground in 1903, and more than two centuries before another pair — a Swiss psychiatrist and a British balloon instructor — circumnavigated the globe in an air balloon in a record-breaking 20 days. This first balloon, rather delicately constructed of paper and silk, and requiring a large supply of fuel to stoke the fire that kept it aloft (but also threatened to burn it down), likely wouldn’t have made it so far.

There were still a few bugs to work out in this novel form of flight. The inventors themselves didn’t quite grasp the physics that made the balloon rise, believing that they had discovered a new kind of gas that was lighter than air. In fact, the gas was air, just hotter and therefore lighter than the air surrounding it.

Experimenting with different gases ultimately led to the demise of one of the intrepid voyagers aboard the first balloon flight. Pilâtre de Rozier was killed two years later while attempting to cross the English Channel in a balloon powered by hydrogen and hot air, which exploded.

Read about the 1999 balloon trip around the world, here in the TIME Vault: Around the World in a Balloon in 20 Days

TIME Research

Study Suggests Banking Industry Breeds Dishonesty

Bank industry culture “seems to make [employees] more dishonest,” a study author says

Bank employees are more likely to exhibit dishonesty when discussing their jobs, a new study found.

Researchers out of Switzerland tested employees from several industries during a coin-toss game that offered money if their coins matched researcher’s. According to Reuters, there was “a considerable incentive to cheat” given the maximum pay-off of $200. One hundred and twenty-eight employees from one bank were tested and were found to be generally as honest as everyone else when asked questions about their personal lives prior to flipping the coin, the Associated Press reports. But when they were asked about work before the toss, they were more inclined toward giving false answers, the study determined.

The author of the study says bankers are not any more dishonest than other people, but that the culture of the industry “seems to make them more dishonest.”

The American Bankers Association rebuffed the study’s findings to the AP.

“While this study looks at one bank, America’s 6,000 banks set a very high bar when it comes to the honesty and integrity of their employees. Banks take the fiduciary responsibility they have for their customers very seriously,” the Association said.

[AP]

TIME Science

Sorting Fact From Fiction and What the Best Science Writing Can Teach Us

Barbara J. King is a biological anthropologist at the College of William and Mary.

The latest volume of 'The Best American Science and Nature Writing' puts today's diseases and outbreak in context

My bedside table holds a jumble of fiction and non-fiction books, since in my reading I trade off across genres. In any given week, my mood swings between a desire to lose myself in the vivid writing of novelists who create imaginary worlds and a competing wish to keep up with breaking knowledge in science. Sometimes, though, vivid writing and scientific material happily collide in a single volume, as it has done in The Best American Science and Nature Writing 2014.

Edited by the Pulitzer-Prize winning writer Deborah Blum, this book isn’t, of course, fiction. It is a work of science, not a novel. But it does contain worlds of imagination, as 26 scientists and science writers offer enticing essays spanning mutliple disciplines and topics. (I am honored to be included for a piece I wrote called “When Animals Mourn” that originally appeared in Scientific American and is based on my book How Animals Grieve.)

In her introduction, Blum promises readers “stories that range from the shimmer of deep space to the wayward nature of a wild sheep,” tales that show “the stumbles and the hopes, the the unexpected ideas and unexpected beauty” of doing science.

Several of the chapters focus on the body, health and disease. Do you know which is the most infectious microbe in the world, with a 90% rate of transmission? I didn’t, until reading Seth Mnookin‘s chapter “The Return of Measles” (originally published in The Boston Globe Magazine). “The fact that measles can live outside the human body for up to two hours,” Mnookin writes, “makes a potential outbreak all the more menacing.” Alarmingly, parents who refuse to allow their children to be vaccinated against measles and other diseases turn this theoretical public-health risk into a risk quite concrete: In 2013 an unvaccinated 17-year-old from Brooklyn caught the virus while in the UK, and once he returned home it spread rapidly through a community where many other deliberately unvaccinated children lived. Fifty-eight people came down with measles, making it, Mnookin says, “the largest outbreak in the country in more than 15 years.” The costs–health- and money-wise–were significant. Measles may be fatal, as it was during France’s recent prolonged outbreak: in 2007 only 44 measles infections were reported there; over the next four years, Mnookin notes, 20,000 people were sickened, almost 5,000 people were hospitalized, and 10 died.

By contrast, a disease that’s still greatly misunderstood–and feared–as highly contagious isn’t at all. Rebecca Solnit‘s piece “The Separating Sickness” (first published in Harper’s Magazine) profiles people who have Hansen’s Disease, also known as leprosy. Somehow I’d thought that this condition was no longer present in the U.S., but in 2011, 173 people were diagnosed with it in this country. The U.S.’s largest leprosy clinic is located in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and Solnit’s profile of what goes on there is informative and inspiring. “Contrary to long-standing belief,” Solnit writes, leprosy “is very nearly the least contagious contagious disease on earth. Ninety-five percent of us are naturally immune to the disease, and the rest have a hard time catching it.” Yet those who did catch it in past decades suffered not only physically (with skin lesions and sometimes the need for amputation of limbs owing to neuropathy) but also emotionally, because of the disease’s terrible stigma. At places like the Baton Rouge clinic, that stigma has vanished (though, sadly, it persists in other places). And, if the disease is caught early, the cure may be total.

It’s a real challenge, it seems to me, for the human brain to assess relative risks accurately. We see this also with the Ebola epidemic in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea, specifically in the fear and anxiety that regional epidemic has caused for people living in other parts of the world. This striking map of Africa without Ebola and its accompanying text puts the matter into perspective. Yet when isolated cases occur in the U.S. or European countries, panic has ensued, along with disturbing patterns of discrmination against people thought (incorrectly) to be possible sources of contamination through casual contact. (As scientists have widely reported, the virus is transmitted during the acute phase of the illness via bodily fluids.)

Mnookin’s and Solnit’s chapters intersect powerfully with one about the effect of sudden, violent and debilitating trauma on the body and the mind. In “A Life-or-Death Situation” (originally published in The New York Times Magazine), Robin Marantz Henig describes the day when a retired English professor named Brooke Hopkins goes out for a bicycle ride in Utah canyon country and collides with another cyclist. Gravely injured, with a snapped neck, Hopkins stopped breathing but is revived on the trail; his living will, a document unknown to his rescuer, had specified no heroic measures in the case of catastrophic injury or illness. In one of life’s dark ironies, his wife Peggy Battin is a well-known scholar in the bioethics of end-of-life decisions. In captivating prose, Henig recounts the twisting course over the next years as Hopkins copes–just as happens with sufferers of Hansen’s Disease–in rollercoaster ways both physical and emotional. He catapults from good to poor health, from steely determination to shaky hesitation about wanting to continue on.

Henig’s was one of the pieces in the book that affected me mostly deeply, perhaps because I know that what happened to Hopkins and Battin could happen to any of us when we begin an apparently routine day with a bicycle ride: at some subconscious level, our brains know the risk of trauma exists, but we don’t dwell on it, and surely this is the right approach. (We would do better to be alarmed daily at the rising costs of anthropogenic climate change, after all.)

Since the Paleolithic age, when we gathered in small groups in front of glorious cave images of animals or around a community fire to weave tales of the natural world, we humans have learned best through storytelling. The Best American Science And Nature Writing 2014 is a modern-day equivalent, in written form, of those conversations, this time between science writer and science-intrigued reader.

Barbara J. King is a biological anthropologist at the College of William and Mary who teaches, writes and speaks about animal studies, primate behavior, human evolution and evolutionary perspectives on gender. Her latest book is How Animals Grieve, published in 2013.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME

An Infant’s Brain Maps Language From Birth, Study Says

Rear view of baby girl
Vladimir Godnik—Getty Images

The infant's brain retains language that it hears at birth and recognizes it years later, even if the child no longer speaks that language.

A new study study reveals that an infant’s brain may remember a language, even if the child has no idea how to speak a word of it.

The finding comes from a new study performed by a team of researchers from McGill University’s Department of Psychology and Montreal’s Neurological Institute who are working to understand how the brain learns language.

As it turns out, the language that an infant hears starting at birth creates neural patterns that the unconscious brain retains years later, even if the child completely stops using the language. The study offers the first neural evidence that traces of so-called “lost” languages remain in the brain.

Because these lost languages commonly occur within the context of international adoptions—when a child is born where one language is spoken and then reared in another country with another language—the researchers recruited test subjects from the international adoption community in Montreal. They studied 48 girls between the ages of nine and 17 years old. One group was born and raised speaking only French. The second group was bilingual, speaking French and Chinese fluently. And the third was Chinese-speaking children who were adopted as infants and later became French speakers, but discontinued exposure to Chinese after the first few years of life. They had no conscious recollection of the Chinese language. “They were essentially monolingual French at this point,” explained Dr. Denise Klein, one of the researchers, in an interview with TIME. “But they had been exposed to the Chinese language during the first year or two of their life.”

The three groups were asked to perform a Chinese tonal task–”It’s simply differentiating a tone,” said Klein. “Everybody can do it equally.” Scans were taken of their brains while they performed the task and the researchers studied the images. The results of the study, published in the November 17 edition of the scientific journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), showed that the brain activation pattern of the adopted Chinese who “lost” or completely discontinued using the language, matched the brain activation patterns for those who continued speaking Chinese since birth—and was completely different from the group of monolingual French speakers.

The researchers interpret this to believe that the neural pathways for the Chinese language could only have been acquired during the first months of life. In layman’s terms, this means that the infant brain developed Chinese language patterns at birth and never forgot them, even though the child no longer speaks or understands the language.

“We looked at language that was abruptly cut off, so we could see what happens developmentally in that early period,” said Klein. “The sound of languages are acquired relatively early in life, usually within the first year. We’ve learned through a lot of seminal work that is out there that children start out as global citizens who turn their heads equally to all sounds and only later start to edit and become experts in the languages that they’re regularly exposed to.” The question for the researchers was whether the brains of the Chinese-born children who no longer spoke their native language would react like a French speaker or like a bilingual group.

To see what neural pathways might still exist in a brain and to see what a brain might remember of the mother tongue, the researchers used Chinese language tones, which infants in China would have been exposed to before coming to live in French-speaking Montreal. “If you have never been exposed to Chinese, you would just process the tones as ‘sounds,’” said Klein. However, if someone had been previously exposed to Chinese, like the bilingual Chinese-French speakers, they would process the tone linguistically, using neural pathways in the language-processing hemisphere of their brain, not just the sound-processing ones. Even though they could have completed the task without activating the language hemisphere of their brain, their brains simply couldn’t suppress the fact that the sound was a language that they recognized. Even though they did not speak or understand the language, their brains still processed it as such.

The results were that the brain patterns of the Chinese-born children who had “lost” their native tongue looked like the brains of the bilingual group, and almost nothing like the monolingual French group. This was true, even though the children didn’t actually speak any Chinese. “These templates are maintained in the brain, even though they no longer have any knowledge of Chinese,” said Klein, who was not surprised that these elements remained in the brain.

As with most scientific research, this finding opens the door to even more questions, particularly as to whether children exposed to a language early on in life, even if they don’t use the language, will have an easier time learning that language later in life. Don’t go rushing to Baby Einstein quite yet, though. “We haven’t tested whether children who are exposed to language early, re-learn the language more easily later,” said Dr. Klein, “But it is what we predict.”

What the study does suggest though is the importance of this early phase of language exposure. “What the study points out is how quite surprisingly early this all takes place,” said Klein. “There has been a lot of debate about what the optimal period for the development of language and lots of people argued for around the ages of 4 or 5 as one period, then around age 7 as another and then around adolescence as another critical period. This really highlights the importance of the first year from a neural perspective.”

“Everything about language processing follows on the early ability to do these phonological discriminations,” said Klein. “You become better readers if you do these things.”

While Klein isn’t an expert in the field of language acquisition, she does surmise that the more languages you are exposed to the better for neural pathway development, but she hasn’t fully tested that hypothesis. She mentioned other studies that show that early exposure to multiple languages can lead to more lingual “flexibility” down the road. Before you clean out Berlitz and build a Thai-Kurdish-German-Mandarin language playlist for your infant, Klein doesn’t recommend loading kids up with “thousands of languages.” She explains: “I don’t think bombarding somebody with multiple languages necessarily improves or changes anything.” Klein thought ensuring future lingual flexibility could come from exposure to just two or three languages at an early age.

To that end, Klein does think it’s important to develop these neural templates early in life, which she considers similar to wiring a room—put in the plugs, ports and outlets first and if you need to add a light later, you won’t have to start from scratch. Luckily there are no products required to develop a language template in the brain: simply talking to your baby in your native tongue is enough to develop those all-important neural pathways. If you want to invest in Baby Berlitz, well, the studies aren’t in yet, but it can’t hurt.

TIME Research

How to Survive a Spaceship Disaster

sky
Getty Images

One of the most dangerous parts of an astronaut’s journey is the very beginning

WSF logo small

Falling from ten miles up, with no spacesuit on, in air that’s 70 degrees below zero and so thin you can hardly draw breath…Conditions were not ideal for Peter Siebold, a test pilot flying on Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShip Two, to survive. But he did. Siebold told investigators that he was thrown from the plane as it broke up, and unbuckled from his seat at some point before his parachute deployed automatically. It’s unclear at this point why the same thing didn’t happen for his copilot, Michael Alsbury.

Now, as spaceflight goes commercial, the destruction of both Spaceship Two and the Antares unmanned rocket is likely to bring the eyes of federal regulators back towards an industry that has until now enjoyed minimal red tape. The Commercial Space Launch Amendments Act, first passed by Congress in 2004, was designed to encourage innovation by keeping the rules not so stringent for the fledgling private space industry. But “the moratorium [was designed to] be in place until a certain date or the event of the first death,” Joanne Irene Gabrynowicz, editor-in-chief of the Journal of Space Law, told the MIT Technology Review. “Unfortunately, the first death has now occurred, and the FAA will likely revisit the need for regulations, if any.”

A Virgin Galactic spokesperson said in an email that the company couldn’t comment too broadly about the escape mechanisms for its spacecraft, due to the pending investigation. The spokesperson did confirm there are two exits from the cabin, but said that “specific design elements of the passenger cabin and spacesuits are still being developed and have not been made public.”

Since the earliest days of the space program, researchers have tried to develop realistic ways to provide astronauts with an emergency exit. But in an emerging field of such complexity, what mechanisms are plausible…and practical? Here’s a brief history of the effort so far.

Condition One: Failure To Launch

One of the most dangerous parts of an astronaut’s journey is the very beginning. To maximize the chance of survival during a launch, most spacecraft from the Mercury project onwards have incorporated a launch escape system (LES), which can carry the module containing the human crew away from a sudden threat to the rest of the craft—either while still on the launch pad, or during the initial ascent.

The Apollo LES was powered by a solid fuel rocket. At the first sign of trouble (transmitted by the loss of signal from wires attached to the launch vehicle), the LES would fire automatically, steering the command module up and away from danger, then jettison and allow the module to open its parachute and land. A similar principle lies behind the launch escape mechanisms used for Russia’s Soyuz capsules and the Shenzhou capsule used by the Chinese space program. The Orion spacecraft, NASA’s next generation of manned craft in development, also features an LES mounted on top of the craft, called a Launch Abort System.

On the private industry side of LESs, SpaceX’s Dragon capsule incorporates the rocket motors of the escape mechanism into the sides of the capsule itself, instead of mounting the LES on top. Since the LES isn’t discarded after launch, this “pusher” method provides the capsule with emergency escape capability throughout the entire flight—something the Space Shuttle and Apollo crafts never had, the company notes. (The drawback is that, if unused, all that fuel for the escape system is extra weight to carry around). Testing Dragon’s abort system both on the launch pad and in flight is something SpaceX expects to have done by January.

Using one of these devices is no picnic. Orion’s LAS was estimated to put about 15.5 Gs of force on an astronaut—more than a fighter pilot experiences, but a little alleviated by the fact that the astronauts are lying on their backs. “They’ll feel the effects,” Orion’s launch abort systems director Roger McNamara told Space.com, but “the bottom line is they’ll be walking away.”

Condition Two: Disaster In Orbit

In the 1960s, General Electric tested an emergency inflatable device called MOOSE (Manned Orbital Operations Safety Equipment, but originally Man Out Of Space Easiest) that was basically a small rocket motor attached to a six-foot-long polyester bag equipped with a heat shield, life support system, radio equipment and parachute. After a space-suited astronaut exited his or her space vehicle and climbed into the bag, he or she would activate pressurized canisters that filled it up with polyurethane foam.

More recently, NASA explored a new escape pod design called the X-38, a 7-person lifeboat designed to provide an escape route for astronauts on the International Space Station (say in case the Soyuz space capsule were damaged, or made unavailable because of political infighting, or hijacked by Sandra Bullock). This design made it as far as test flights, but was scrapped in 2002 over budget concerns.

Condition Three: Extraterrestrial Rescue

What if a disaster trapped astronauts on the moon? To prepare for that contingency, NASA worked on designs for unmanned Gemini Lunar Rescue Vehicles that could scoop up a marooned crew of two or three astronauts from the lunar surface, or from orbit around the moon. But funding cutbacks during the Apollo program prevented the agency from fully exploring these designs.

Condition Four: Trouble With The Landing

NASA’s space shuttles had an inflight escape system to be used only when the orbiter could not land properly after reentering orbit, which used a pole that extended out from one of the side hatches. The astronauts would hook themselves to the pole with a Kevlar strap and then jump out, allowing the pole to guide them out and underneath the left wing of the spacecraft. However, for this exit system to work, the space shuttle would have to be in pretty good shape, capable of staying in controlled, gliding flight. You can see the pole being used in this test footage here:

This article originally appeared on World Science Festival.

TIME Science

You Won’t Believe the Source of the World’s Most Sustainable Salmon

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Farmed salmon Rogan Macdonald—Getty Images

Josh Schonwald is a Chicago-based journalist and author of The Taste of Tomorrow: Dispatches from the Future of Food.

Hint: it's not the open sea or a Norwegian fjord

When you hear the term “sustainable seafood,” you might envision a fisherman pulling catch from a pristine sea.

But a few weeks ago, the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch, arguably the world’s most influential arbiter of seafood sustainability, gave its highest stamp of approval to three companies that are about as far away from that fishing idyll as possible.

The Atlantic salmon deemed “Best Choice” by Seafood Watch were neither caught, nor from the sea. They spent their lives indoors in warehouses as far inland as Shepherdstown, West Virginia.

In the past, Seafood Watch has almost always advised consumers to avoid farmed salmon. But three indoor farms around the world have succeeded in eliminating the usual concerns about fish farming.

At these farms, there’s no risk of escapees mating with wild populations. There’s no risk of fish waste messing up the marine environment. There’s a vastly reduced risk of disease. Each of these farms recycles more than 95% of its water, and they use a smaller number of feed fish to grow their salmon than traditional farms.

There are other reasons to love these warehouse or “tank” farms. One of the farms, called Langsand Laks and located in Denmark, uses wind and geothermal energy for its electrical needs. The West Virginia farm, run by the Freshwater Institute, is using nutrient-laden fish waste to develop an aquaponic farm. And the British Columbia farm called KUTERRA, is touted as a an important job creator for Vancouver Island’s ‘Namgis tribe.

Seafood Watch’s stamp of approval may be the biggest yet for indoor, land-based aquaculture, but it’s not the first. During the past few years, a growing number of supporters—from environmental groups, often hostile to aquaculture, to sustainability-minded chefs to marine biologists—have been talking up the virtues of indoor aquaculture.

Critics say the indoor farms are little more than lab experiments until they prove their economic viability, and they point to several flops—most famously, Local Ocean. The New York fish farm graced the cover of TIME in 2011 under the headline “The Future of Fish,” and boasted of “zero discharge,” yet shuttered abruptly last year after spending its entire four-year existence in the red, according to Seafood Source. Alf-Helge Aarskog, CEO of Marine Harvest, the world’s largest salmon farmer, reportedly told a Norwegian paper that farming salmon on land was as foolish as raising pigs at sea and that fish should be raised in their natural habitat.

There are certainly good reasons for farming salmon in the ocean. Indoor fish farmers have to take care of so many things that nature provides: water temperature, oxygen content, pH levels, not to mention a physical environment. Even the most evangelical indoor fish farmers concede that their way is more technologically challenging and more costly than ocean farming. A 2013 study by the Freshwater Institute and Norwegian research organization SINTEF found that an indoor salmon farm was more than three times as expensive to operate as a traditional ocean pen salmon farm.

Still, despite higher costs, flops, and an industry poised to go negative on newfangled ideas, no one should count out indoor fish farming.

There have been numerous new projects announced during the last two years—from salmon farming in China’s Gobi desert to a plan to build the world’s largest indoor salmon farm in Scotland—which happens to be one of world’s major ocean salmon farms. There are now nine land-based fish farms working that produce more than 7,000 metric tons of salmon annually, according to Steve Summerfelt, who directs the Freshwater Institute’s aquaculture program. There are also dozens of smaller-scale projects cropping up, like this one in a Hong Kong high-rise and this one on a Wisconsin dairy farm.

There are some compelling pluses to indoor fish farming, even if your chief concern is profit. Fish grow faster indoors, proponents say, and fewer die. There is less need, if any, for vaccinations and antibiotics, and you can reduce feed costs. There are also collateral benefits, such as using fish waste compost to grow vegetables or generate electricity. “I’m not a tree-hugger,” Bill Martin, president of indoor fish farm Blue Ridge Aquaculture in Virginia told me. “I’m a capitalist. I’m an environmentalist because it’s good business.”

With a slew of failures to learn from, fish farmers are starting to figure out the technology and how to make money indoors.

The two big indoor fish farms that have thrived for 10-plus years, Martin’s Blue Ridge and barramundi-farming Australis, aren’t selling their haul to your Safeway. They’re selling to the “live market”—consumers who want higher quality, fresher, live fish and will pay for it. Likewise, Seafood Watch-approved salmon farms are targeting sustainability-minded foodies who are happy to pay more for a fish that is clean and green.

There’s also another argument you’ll increasingly hear from the “go indoor” crowd. It’s the patriotic thing to do.

Journalist Paul Greenberg, perhaps the closest thing to a Michael Pollan of seafood, often points out a staggering statistic: nearly 90% of American seafood is imported. In his newest book American Catch, Greenberg argues that environmentally concerned consumers should seek out sustainable American sources of wild caught seafood. He also highlights the potential of land-based, closed-containment farms, such as the Massachusetts-based Australis to provide Americans with a source of sustainable and locally sourced seafood.

The idea of Atlantic salmon harvested in a West Virginia warehouse might not strike one as appealing as salmon that hails from a Norwegian fjord. But when you start considering the state of world fisheries, the soaring seafood consumption, the ridiculousness of the global seafood chain (fish caught in Alaska, processed in China, sold in Miami), well, then that antibiotic-free, zero-discharge West Virginia warehouse-raised salmon is pretty damn appealing.

Josh Schonwald is a Chicago-based journalist and author of The Taste of Tomorrow: Dispatches from the Future of Food, but he is perhaps best-known as the guy who ate the Frankenburger.Schonwald writes and speaks frequently about the future of food and agriculture. His work has appeared in numerous publications including The New York Times, Washington Post, Slate, and The Wall Street Journal. A graduate of Macalester College and Columbia University’s journalism school, Schonwald lives in Evanston, Illinois with his wife, children, and indoor aquaponic system.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME psychology

Extraterrestrials on a Comet Are Faking Climate Change. Or Something

Just to be clear: This is a comet, not a spacecraft
Just to be clear: This is a comet, not a spacecraft ESA

Jeffrey Kluger is Editor at Large for TIME.

Conspiracy theories never die, but that doesn't mean we can't get smarter about dealing with them

You’ve surely heard the exciting news that the European Space Agency successfully landed a small spacecraft on the surface of Comet 67P—or perhaps we should say “Comet 67P.” Because what you probably haven’t heard is that the ostensible comet is actually a spacecraft, that it has a transmitting tower and other artificial structures on its surface, and that the mission was actually launched to respond to a radio greeting from aliens that NASA received 20 years ago.

Really, you can read it here in UFO Sightings Daily, and even watch a video that seals the deal if you have any doubt.

None of this should come as a surprise to you if you’ve been following the news. Area 51, for example? Crawling with extraterrestrials. The Apollo moon landings? Faked—because it makes so much more sense that aliens would travel millions of light years to visit New Mexico than that humans could go a couple hundred thousand miles to visit the moon. As for climate change, vaccines and the JFK assassination? Hoax, autism and grassy knoll—in that order.

Conspiracy theories are nothing new. If the Protocols of the Elders of Zion and the myriad libels hurled at myriad out-groups over the long course of history indicate anything, it’s that nonsense knows no era. The 21st century alone has seen the rise—but, alas, not the final fall—of the birthers and the truthers and pop-up groups that seize on any emerging disease (Bird flu! SARS! Ebola!) as an agent of destruction being sneaked across the border from, of course, Mexico, because… um, immigration.

The problem with conspiracy theories is not just that they’re often racist, foster cynicism and erode the collective intellect of any culture. It’s also that they can have real-world consequences. If you believe the fiction about vaccines causing autism, you will be less inclined to vaccinate your kids—exposing them and the community at large to disease. If you believe climate change is a hoax, you just might become the new chairman of the Senate’s Environment and Public Works Committee, as James Inhofe, Republican of Oklahoma soon will be, thanks to the GOP’s big wins on Nov. 4.

That’s the same James Inhofe who once said, It’s also important to question whether global warming is even a problem for human existence… In fact, it appears that just the opposite is true: that increases in global temperatures may have a beneficial effect on how we live our lives.” It’s the same James Inhofe too who wrote the 2012 book, The Greatest Hoax: How the Global Warming Conspiracy Threatens Your Future. So, not good.

Clinical studies of conspiracy theory psychology have proliferated along with the theories themselves, and the top-line conclusions the investigators have reached make intuitive sense: People who feel powerless are more inclined to believe in malevolent institutions manipulating the truth than people who feel more of what psychologists call “agency,” or a sense of control over their own affairs.

That’s why the CIA, the media, the government and the vaguely defined “elite” are so often pointed to as the source of all problems. That’s why the lone gunman is a far less satisfying explanation for a killing than a vast web of plotters weaving a vast web of lies. (The powerlessness explanation admittedly does not account for an Inhofe—though in his case, Oklahoma’s huge fossil fuel industry may be all the explanation you need.)

Psychologist Viren Swami of the University of Westminster in London is increasingly seen as the leader of the conspiracy psychology field, and he’s been at it for a while. As long ago as 2009, he published a study looking at the belief system of the self-styled truthers—the people who claim that the 9/11 attacks were carried out by the U.S. government as a casus belli for global war.

He found that people who subscribed to that idea also tested high for political cynicism, defiance of authority and agreeableness (one of the Big Five personality traits, which also include extraversion, openness, conscientiousness and neuroticism). Agreeableness sounds, well, pleasantly agreeable, but it can also be just a short hop to gullible.

In 2012, Swami conducted another study among Malaysians who believe in a popular national conspiracy theory about Jewish plans for world domination. Swami found that Malaysians conspiracists were likelier to hold anti-Israeli attitudes—which is no surprise—and to have racists feelings toward the Chinese, which is a little less expected, except that if there were ever a large, growing power around which to build conspiracy theories, it’s China, especially in the corner of the world in which Malaysia finds itself.

The antisemitic Malaysians also tended to score higher on measures of right-wing authoritarianism and social domination—which is a feature of almost all persecution of out-groups. More important—as other studies have shown—they were likelier to believe in conspiracy theories in general, meaning that the cause-effect sequence here may be a particular temperament looking for any appealing conspiracy, as opposed to a particular conspiracy appealing to any old temperament. People who purchased Jewish domination also liked climate change hoaxes.

Finally, as with so many things, the Internet has been both potentiator and vector for conspiracy fictions. Time was, you needed a misinformed town crier or a person-to-person whispering campaign to get a good rumor started. Now the fabrications spread instantly, and your search engine lets you set your filter for your conspiracy of choice.

None of this excuses willful numbskullery. And none of it excuses our indulgence in the sugar buzz of a sensational fib over the extra few minutes it would take find out the truth. If you don’t have those minutes, that’s why they invented Snopes.com. And if you don’t have time even for that? Well, maybe that should tell you something.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME viral

Watch Neil deGrasse Tyson Give an Adorable 6-Year-Old Excellent Life Advice

And then he proceeds to roll on the ground

The great and powerful Neil deGrasse Tyson has some excellent life advice: When the world gives you puddles, jump in them.

When the famed astrophysicist came to College of the Holy Cross in Massachusetts last week, an adorable 6-year-old girl in an Einstein T-shirt asked what first graders can do to “help the world.”

And his answer is all about exploration. Jumping in puddles, banging on pots and pans — even if your mom and dad aren’t always gung ho about the whole thing.

“Tell your parents Doctor Neil deGrasse Tyson said you should jump in the puddle,” he said before doing launching into a roll on the gymnasium floor.

“The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious,” he said, reading the Einstein quote off the girl’s shirt. “It is the source of all true art and science.”

(h/t: Nerdist)

TIME Environment

Congress May Approve the Keystone XL Pipeline, but History Shows How the Debate Has Shifted Against Energy Producers

House Passes Bill to Approve Keystone Over Obama Objections
A copy of H. R. 5682, a bill which would approve the Keystone XL Pipeline, on Nov. 14, 2014. Daniel Acker—Bloomberg / Getty Images

What can the Alaska Pipeline teach us about Keystone?

History News Network

This post is in partnership with the History News Network, the website that puts the news into historical perspective. The article below was originally published at HNN.

Congressional leaders in both the House and the Senate moved on Wednesday to vote on the Keystone XL pipeline, hoping a decision on the controversial pipeline will help decide a runoff election for a Senate seat in Louisiana. The pipeline, if approved, would transport heavy oil 1,179 miles from Canadian tar sands in Alberta to Steele City, Nebraska and then through existing pipelines to refineries in the Gulf Coast area. The proposed pipeline would serve as a major conduit bringing tar sands oil to domestic and international markets. Announced in 2008, the Keystone XL pipeline has since come under fire from environmentalists and today sits at the epicenter of larger conversations about the environmental impact of energy development and energy consumption. If both houses of Congress pass legislation to approve the pipeline, they would force President Obama to decide to either sign the bill authorizing construction or deliver an unpopular veto. The president has shown reluctance to rule on the pipeline as he waits for the courts to resolve legal challenges to the project, but a bicameral congressional action may force his hand.

While the controversy surrounding Keystone XL stems from contemporary conversations about climate change, it also echoes past conflicts between energy developers and environmental groups over pipeline construction. These pipeline debates were especially prominent in the 1970s as policymakers labored over environmental concerns and energy shortages. In 1973, for example, Congress authorized construction of the trans-Alaska pipeline, superseding ongoing legal battles and ending five years of environmental obstruction. This is the resolution that today’s pipeline supporters hope to imitate by pushing approval of the Keystone XL pipeline through Congress. But while the narrative arcs of the two pipeline controversies appear to be converging, the circumstances surrounding approval of the pipelines suggest different trajectories in the political balance between energy and environmental concerns.

Between 1969, when the project was announced, and 1973 when President Richard Nixon signed the Trans-Alaska Pipeline Authorization Act, the trans-Alaska pipeline faced similar scrutiny to the Keystone XL pipeline. Oil companies proposed the Alaska pipeline after discovering rich oil deposits along Alaska’s remote North Slope. The proposed pipeline would bisect long stretches of untouched public lands to carry petroleum 800 miles from the arctic to the port city of Valdez, where tankers would transport the oil overseas to the lower 48. President Nixon and his secretary of the Interior endorsed the route but environmentalists waged a stiff campaign against hasty construction. The pipeline, they argued, threatened local wildlife, would damage fragile permafrost, and failed to account for Alaska’s frequent earthquakes. They utilized new environmental laws to stall the pipeline until the petroleum companies adequately addressed the pipeline’s harmful environmental impacts.

The environmental obstruction of the Alaska pipeline lasted five years and only weakened as new anxieties about domestic energy supply emerged. In the early 1970s, as American energy production peaked and consumption continued to climb, informed observers noted that an energy crisis loomed. Without changes to America’s energy production or consumption, the country faced acute shortages on the horizon. In this context, the trans-Alaska pipeline seemed the necessary panacea to oncoming energy woes. While fears of energy crisis grew in Washington, so did political support for the pipeline. In the summer of 1973, both houses of Congress passed bills to override remaining legal impediments to the pipeline, an action similar to those taken in the House and Senate this week. A few months later, in the wake of an embargo imposed by the Arab petroleum exporters, President Nixon signed the new legislation authorizing the pipeline. Nixon approved the pipeline in the midst of the country’s most pronounced energy shortage since World War II, signaling a transition from an era of energy abundance to a new era governed by energy needs.

The Keystone XL pipeline debate mirrors the controversy surrounding its Alaskan predecessor. Environmental groups, as they did in the 1970s, also oppose the new pipeline. Keystone XL, they argue, represents “an environmental crime in progress” for its reliance on tar sands oil. Oil products refined from tar sands burn dirtier than conventional oil, releasing as much as 37 percent more carbon than regular gasoline according to the Sierra Club. The increased emissions from tar sands oil intensify the growing threat of climate change, a decades’ long trend of warming global temperatures caused largely by increasing levels of carbon and other greenhouse gases in the Earth’s atmosphere. By blocking the Keystone XL pipeline, environmentalists hope to prevent the consumption of this dirty fuel.

Keystone XL’s advocates disagree. They claim that impeding the pipeline will not prevent the consumption of Canadian tar sands. Instead, they say that Canada will continue to develop their energy reserves without American involvement. Blocking the pipeline, they suggest, will only exclude the United States from economic benefits of Alberta fossil fuel development. TransCanada, the consortium constructing Keystone, argues that a pipeline carrying tar sands oil from Canada to the Gulf is necessary, valuable, and inevitable.

But unlike the approval of the trans-Alaska pipeline, which followed the biggest event in the history of American energy shortage, the pending decision on the Keystone XL pipeline will occur only days after one of the country’s most significant steps to curb the harmful effects of energy consumption. On Wednesday, as congressional leaders announced their intention to vote on Keystone XL, President Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping introduced a joint agreement to cut carbon emissions. While the agreement promises only cautious steps to roll back emissions, it marks a historical first step in a joint effort between the two biggest energy consumers. The US and China agreed to mitigate the fossil fuel pollution that causes climate change and its associated global impacts. Meanwhile, Congress prepares to authorize the transportation of a fuel source that exacerbates the same problem.

So while the two pipeline decisions appear similar on the surface, they reflect very different trajectories in the political balance between energy and environmental concerns. Congress’s approval of the trans-Alaska pipeline, coming in the wake of the Arab oil embargo, portended an era that emphasized the rapid development of domestic energy reserves. By immediately following the momentous bilateral emissions agreement reached by the US and China, the Keystone decision suggests not a nation ready to embrace its high-carbon energy options, but rather the dying gasp of a partisan position that is growing more and more untenable from both a political and scientific perspective. Energy interests will win more legal battles against the environmental adversaries, but unlike the circumstances of the 1973 decision that showed a new embrace of domestic energy development, the political debate surrounding today’s decision marks a reluctance to continue along that same path.

Matthew K. Kahn is a Ph.D. student at Northwestern University. His dissertation is tentatively titled “To Conserve or Develop: The Politics of Energy Extraction and Environmental Protection, 1969-1980″

TIME Environment

The Keystone XL Pipeline: Three Stories to Help You Understand the Debate

Truth About Oil
The Apr. 9, 2012, cover of TIME PHOTOGRAPH BY KENJI AOKI FOR TIME

The House has approved a pipeline proposal; the Senate is expected to vote on the subject next week

The proposed Keystone XL pipeline has become the single most important environmental issue in the U.S.—even though its environmental impact may not even be that great. The pipeline would move some 830,000 barrels of crude a day from the Canadian oil sands in Alberta to Steele City, Nebraska and then down to the Gulf of Mexico. Keystone would make it easier for Canadian producers to sell their landlocked crude to the rest of the world—which is exactly what environmentalists fear. Oil sands crude is dirtier and has a bigger carbon footprint than conventional oil.

Landowners in Nebraska worry that a spill could contaminate the state’s vital aquifer, while environmentalists fear that the pipeline will speed the development of the oil sands and help add huge amounts of carbon into the atmosphere. But other experts argue that oil sands crude will come to the U.S. by another route—most likely through rail—or be sold elsewhere in the world if Keystone isn’t built, meaning the planet won’t be any better off.

Since it’s an international project, the President has to sign off on the Keystone pipeline before it can be built—and much to the consternation of the oil industry, President Obama has delayed his decision for years, claiming that he needs more time to study the pipeline. But with Republicans now firmly in charge of both houses of Congress—and many conservative Democrats in favor of the project—Obama may need to make a decision soon.

With a decision potentially on the horizon — the House passed legislation on Friday and the Senate is expected to vote on the topic next week — refresh your understanding of the debate with these three articles from the TIME archives:

Mar. 12, 2012: Cold Warrior

A profile of activist and author Bill McKibben explains why the pipeline extension drew environmentalists’ attention, and how they helped influence President Obama’s decision to reject a 2012 version of the application to build the pipeline:

Though Canada is already mining and selling oil-sands crude, McKibben saw the proposed Keystone XL pipeline–set to deliver up to 830,000 barrels a day to the U.S.–as a crucial accelerator. More practically, because the cross-border pipeline required State Department approval, he saw an opportunity to confront Obama, who dropped an early climate-change agenda in the face of stiff resistance. In late August, McKibben, along with major environmental groups, helped organize days of protest around the White House. Over 12,000 people showed up, and hundreds were arrested. In November, Obama said he would delay a decision until 2013. But Republicans tacked a provision onto a payroll-tax-cut bill mandating that the White House decide on the pipeline within 60 days. In response, Obama decided in January to reject Keystone XL altogether.

Apr. 9, 2012: The Truth About Oil

A broader look at new sources of oil explains why the crude that would travel through the pipeline is different from other oil:

Oil has never exactly been clean, but the new sources coming online tend to be more polluting and more dangerous than conventional crude. Producing oil from the sands in northern Alberta can be destructive to the local environment, requiring massive open-pit mines that strip forests and take years to recover from. The tailings from those mines are toxic. While some of the newer production methods eschew the open-pit mines and instead process the sands underground or in situ, which is much cleaner, they still require additional energy to turn oil sands into usable crude. As a result, a barrel of oil-sand crude usually has a 10% to 15% larger carbon footprint than conventional crude over its lifetime, from the well to the wheels of a car. Given the massive size of the oil-sand reserve–nearly 200 billion recoverable barrels–that’s potentially a lot of carbon. It’s not surprising that environmentalists have loudly opposed the Keystone XL pipeline, which would send 800,000 barrels of oil-sand crude a day to the U.S. “There’s enough carbon there to create a totally different planet,” says James Hansen, a NASA climatologist and activist.

Jan. 31, 2014: Report Raises No Major Climate Objections to Keystone Pipeline, But the Choice Is Obama’s

After the President’s initial rejection of the pipeline proposal due to insufficient information, the State Department spent the next few years putting together an assessment of its potential environmental impact. The finding, released early this year, was disappointing to environmentalists: that whether or not the pipeline was built, about the same amount of oil would be produced.

A lot has changed since Keystone was first proposed back in 2005. U.S. domestic oil production has soared, last year hitting the highest level in two decades—a fact that has weakened the case for the international pipeline. At the same, the rapid—and not always safe—growth of oil being shipped by rail in lieu of pipelines has shown just how creative the oil industry can be when it comes to moving their product. Given the overwhelming demand for oil, it’s quite possible that the State Department is right that whether or not the pipeline is built, it will have little impact on the carbon footprint of the oil sands—though that hasn’t stopped the Canadian government from lobbying hard for the project.

Read more of TIME’s science coverage in the TIME Vault

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