What Happened at Slate This Week?

Slate’s science editor on her favorite reads from Slate this week.

Illustration by Charlie Powell

Hi, Slate Plus members!

I’m Laura Helmuth, Slate’s science and health editor. Most of my work here is behind the scenes. I commission stories from scientists and freelance writers, run the Wild Things blog, encourage staff writers to write science stories, and provide reality checks when a culture or politics story has a science angle. Is there a science story we should be covering? Contact me anytime.

I’m the good-cop editor to Dan Kois’ bad cop, but when I write something myself, it’s often kind of mean. I’ve fact-checked Robert F. Kennedy Jr.’s anti-vaccine conspiracy theories and called Jonathan Franzen the world’s most annoying birdwatcher. My proudest (and least mean) achievement was a series of stories about why lifespan has doubled in the past 150 years or so. Slate readers generously shared their own stories of appendectomies, antibiotics, C-sections, and basic dental care that allowed them to survive ordeals that would have killed them in the past.

Speaking of basic, lifesaving, modern medical care, what a week! The Supreme Court ruled that companies can get religion and impose it on their employees’ health plans. (The American people disagree.) Slate’s SCOTUS dream team had fantastic Breakfast Table coverage: Emily Bazelon pointed out that corporations had an incredible year in the courts; Eric Posner explained the surprising number of unanimous decisions; and Dahlia Lithwick said it could have been a lot worse. In sports news, our World Cup coverage has been as relentless as goalkeeper Tim Howard. I’m a particular fan of our Jerk Watch series, which this week revealed that coach Jürgen Klinsmann had a Snoopy decal in his car asking how much farther it is to America. On our Outward blog, you can create your own Marriage Equality Ruling for the History Books.  

I was trying to be polite by mentioning other editors’ stories before my own. Let’s get to the good stuff.

Cassini is the greatest mission in the history of space flight (get in line, Mars rovers and Apollo), and this week was its 10th anniversary of reaching Saturn. Phil Plait, our Bad Astronomy writer, has a gorgeous photo gallery of Cassini’s best images. It’s stunning.

Also stunning was Facebook’s disregard of basic research ethics. Katy Waldman was one of the first to call it out for its laughable “informed consent” policy, and David Auerbach suggested that for Facebook’s next experiment, it divide users into “prisoners” and “guards.” Will Oremus followed up with the news that Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg apologized that “we never meant to upset you” about a study that was meant to upset you.

Other fun science stories this week: Do people discriminate against black dogs? Obama should save the whales when he protects the world’s largest marine reserve. Tibetans inherited a gene that helps them survive at high altitude from Denisovans, an extinct Homo species. We have 13 tips for making your road trip greener. And a shark biologist answered our goofiest questions about sharks.

One of the things we’re considering doing for Slate Plus is soliciting members’ questions when we’re brainstorming about what to ask an expert for these sorts of stories. (Sample from the sharks piece: What do sharks do in a hurricane?) Our internal emails here get interesting fast, and I think it’d be fun to include you in them when we brainstorm. Anybody game? Let us know in the comments.

And Jeff and Jennifer ask me to point you toward one last thing: This week, don’t miss Episode 2 of the Slate Plus Orange Is the New Black podcast. Slate TV critic Willa Paskin is joined by Dan Savage to talk sex, relationships, and love on OITNB.

Thanks for reading! And Happy Fourth!
Laura Helmuth