Latest Ideas headlines

Poultry farm (aviary) full of white laying hen


Big Data: the broiler chicken is the most numerous bird on the planet

22.7 Billion chickens — that’s how many broiler chickens are being raised for food at any given time.

Ideas | Beth Wolfensberger Singer

Three more trees for the White House this holiday season

The First Family’s home now features 57 Christmas trees celebrating “America’s Treasure.” Why not a few extra with an environmental theme?


What makes a joke funny?

For thousands of years, humans have pondered their own humor. Yet, in 2018, a good joke is still a scientific enigma.

Memphis Grizzlies forward Ivan Rabb grabs the net during player introductions before an NBA basketball game against the Portland Trail Blazers on Wednesday, Dec. 12, 2018, in Memphis, Tenn. (AP Photo/Brandon Dill)


Uncommon Knowledge: White Cities and Black Basketball Stars, Valuable Gestures

A collection of unusual insights from the social sciences.


’Tis the season . . . to be testy

No wonder more Americans are seeking escape.

LONDON, ENGLAND - AUGUST 03: The Airbnb app logo is displayed on an iPhone on August 3, 2016 in London, England. (Photo by Carl Court/Getty Images)


Uncommon Knowledge: Keeping secrets, junk-bond presidents, Airbnb photos

A collection of unusual insights from the social sciences.


On Second Thought: Comfort in the dark?

No, turning out the lights doesn’t make you less afraid of infectious disease.

robotic hand on table with parts


Big Data: 75% of amputees can ‘move’ phantom limbs

With that in mind, researchers have developed a prosthetic arm capable of picking up signals from an amputee’s stump and performing a variety of manuevers.


Innovation of the Week: Pulling over a driverless car

At 3:30 a.m. in Redwood City, Calif., one recent morning, officers in a California Highway Patrol cruiser pulled alongside a Tesla Model S traveling 70 miles per hour — only to observe that the driver was falling asleep, his car apparently set to autopilot.


50 Words

An off-key holiday crooner.

Mexicans bound for the Imperial Valley to harvest peas. Near Bakersfield, California, November 1936. Public domain


Undocumented entry wasn’t always a crime. Here’s how that changed.

Before the 1920s, immigrants who came to the United States without permission weren’t treated as criminals. A surge of nativist sentiment brought the law down on these migrants.

In this photo taken Wednesday, Nov. 7, 2018 and made available Tuesday, Dec. 4, 2018, a health worker waits to receive a new unconfirmed Ebola patient at a Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) supported Ebola treatment centre in Bunia, Congo. Congo's deadly Ebola outbreak is now the second largest in history, behind the devastating West Africa outbreak that killed thousands a few years ago, according to the World Health Organization. (John Wessels/Medecins Sans Frontieres via AP)


Caring about the Congo shouldn’t require an Ebola epidemic

Years of war killed millions of people in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. But only an Ebola epidemic prompts international assistance. Why?


Uncommon Knowledge: Republican diplomas, the pitfalls of a late-in-the-alphabet last name

A collection of usual insights from the social sciences.

This July 25, 2018 photo shows a vial of ketamine, which is normally stored in a locked cabinet, in Chicago. It was launched decades ago as an anesthetic for animals and people, became a potent battlefield pain reliever in Vietnam and morphed into the trippy club drug Special K. Now the chameleon drug ketamine is finding new life as an unapproved treatment for depression and suicidal behavior. (AP Photo/Teresa Crawford)


On Second Thought: Researchers tried using ketamine to treat bipolar. But they made a huge blunder

Three of the five studies included many of the same patients, a fact the authors failed to identify.

(FILES) This file photo taken on January 24, 2018 shows an elephant calf grazing in the Mara Triangle, the north western part of Masai Mara national reserve managed by Non profit organization Mara Conservancy, in southern Kenya. -


Humans didn’t kill Africa’s once-plentiful giant herbivores

That’s how long ago Africa’s once-plentiful giant herbivores started going extinct, according to a new study published in the journal Science.

LONDON, ENGLAND - MARCH 27: Wellcome trust employee Zoe Middleton poses behind an artwork entitled 'My Soul' by Katharine Dowson, which consists of a laser etched lead chrystal glass formation in the shape of a brain, and was created using the artists own MRI Scan, at Wellcome Collection on March 27, 2012 in London, England. The exhibit makes up part of the Wellcome Collection's major new exhibition, 'Brains' which includes slices of Einstein's brain, 3000 year old trepanned skulls, ancient Egyptian mummified brains and brains in jars, and opens to the public from March 29 June 17, 2012. (Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)


How culture shapes your mind — and your mental illness

Psychologists have spent the last 100 years trying to standardize the diagnosis of mental illness. But what if we all experience it differently?

Models of cars by luxury British sports car manufacturer Aston Martin are parked outside the London Stock Exchange on October 3, 2018 in London as the company is floated on the market. - The car brand, favoured by fictional spy James Bond 007, said in a statement that it has priced its initial public offering (IPO) at £19 per share and will begin trading at 0700 GMT. (Photo by Tolga AKMEN / AFP)TOLGA AKMEN/AFP/Getty Images


An upper-class mindset doesn’t make you classy

Common assumptions about how the working class and the upper class behave are dead wrong. Working-class Americans embrace stronger rules to guide their behavior.

Ideas | STAT

A week of football injuries, from youth to the pros, shows the damage the sport can inflict

Concussions get a lot of attention. But football inflicts all sorts of life-altering damage on players.

(FILES) In this file photo taken on March 22, 2018 United Nations Secretary-general envoy for climate action, Michael Bloomberg delivers a speech during the green finance conference at the European commission headquarters in Brussels. - Michael Bloomberg's record $1.8 billion donation for financial aid to Johns Hopkins University highlights the problem of student debt in America, which can still be a burden even years after graduation. According to the Department of Education, 42.2 million Americans were repaying a federal student loan at the end of June 2018 for a total sum of nearly $1.5 trillion, the largest volume of debt after home loans. (Photo by Ludovic MARIN / AFP)LUDOVIC MARIN/AFP/Getty Images


Michael Bloomberg gave his alma mater $1.8 billion. Does he deserve a tax break?

A political scientist asks whether we should really be subsidizing charitable giving by billionaires.


On second thought: A man of many talents — with a spotty scientific record

Richard M. Fleming may be a man of many talents, but his record as a scientist has been spotty.

Chef is stirring rice in wok


Big Data: 0.32 seconds

That is the typical length of the hand motion that expert Taiwanese chefs use — over and over again for about two minutes — while tossing fried rice in a hot wok.


Revelation: Why wombats poop in cubes

This is how far scientists are willing to go to investigate the natural world.

Milan Cathedral, Duomo di Milano, Italy, one of the largest churches in the world on sunrise


Uncommon Knowledge: Incest, politically correct hypocrisy, and time travel

A collection of usual insights from the social sciences.

A journalist watches a website offering DNA testing on October 17, 2018 in Washington DC. - Using nothing more than a simple vial of saliva, millions of people have created DNA profiles on genealogy websites. But this wealth of information is effectively inaccessible to genetics researchers, with the sites painstakingly safeguarding their databases, fearful of a leak that could cost them dearly in terms of credibility. (Photo by Eric BARADAT / AFP) (Photo credit should read ERIC BARADAT/AFP/Getty Images)

Ideas | Sharon Begley

Longevity in the family? Don’t just credit your genes

An analysis of about 54 million of the website’s public family trees finds that the heritability of life span, a hot research topic for decades, is considerably less than widely thought.


How to tickle the Ivies

Cartoonist Beth Wolfensberger Singer lists emergency strategies for standing out during this college application season.

3d render illustration DNA structure in blue background.

Ideas | Kelly Kasulis

Study suggests abused children carry trauma in their DNA

“We’ve learned that children who are abused have physical and mental health issues during their whole life. Epigenetics, or these marks on DNA, is one hypothesis for how that happens,” said one researcher.

Ideas | Bernhard Warner

Millennials are the misfits of modern capitalism. Here’s why it’s not their fault

Young adults are the misfits of modern capitalism. It isn’t their fault, and the problem isn’t going away.

Barack Obama, who once went by “Barry,” addresses a rally in Miami Nov. 2.

Ideas | Kirsten Fermaglich

What’s in a name? More than you think

The demographics of name change petitioners today suggest a complicated story of race, class, and culture.

ideas | the future of food

Three policies for the future

Food is going high-tech, and policy needs to catch up with it.

Self-styled Dutch positivity guru Emile Ratelband answers questions during an interview in Utrecht, Netherlands, Thursday, Nov. 8, 2018. For Ratelband age really is just a number. In a legal battle that is stretching the debate about just how far a person can go in changing his or her identity, the sixty-nine-year-old television personality has asked a Dutch court to officially change his biological date of birth to make him 49. (AP Photo/Peter Dejong)


Nice Try: Emile Ratelband’s lawsuit for youth

His doctor, he says, has told him that he has the body of a 40-something, and he’d like to have his whole life ahead of him.

This photo illustration shows a man watching an artificial intelligence (AI) news anchor from a state-controlled news broadcaster, on his computer in Beijing on November 9, 2018. - China's state-controlled news broadcasters have long been considered somewhat robotic in their daily recitation of pro-government propaganda, and a pair of new presenters will do little to dispel that view. (Photo by Nicolas ASFOURI / AFP)NICOLAS ASFOURI/AFP/Getty Images


Innovation of the Week: An artificially intelligent news anchor

The AI anchor looks like an actual Xinhua presenter and will read any text punched into the system. But the voice is a little robotic.

An ear of corn isolated on a white background


Uncommon Knowledge: Corn, NIMBY money, and poor health

A collection of usual insights from the social sciences.

The Supply Chain Editorial

Food is going high-tech — policy needs to catch up with it

Learn to love GMOs, and resist efforts to demonize or prohibit them. Genetically modified food sets off alarm bells for purists, but crops designed to last longer or resist disease are increasingly necessary.

BROOKLINE , MA.01/15/13:ON THE RUN BUT GOT CAUGHT Brookline Police hunting for wild turkeys that are terrorizing the citiziens around Aspinwall Hiil , Brookline High School, Tappan (St.) and Gardner(Rd.) ( David L Ryan/Globe Staff Photo ) SECTION: METRO TOPIC 16turkeyphoto

The Prey

Do you think we should eat Brookline’s turkeys?

These turkeys are the ultimate locally sourced protein. So why aren’t people eating them?

Ideas | The Meal | Sage Stossel

Predicting the future of food

Forcasting our food future isn’t easy. Nonetheless, we can attempt some predictions.

The Entrepreneurs

Leftovers can be money

Food waste may be an environmental scourge, but now it’s also big business.

The Supply Chain

How truck rules gave Massachusetts farmers a surprising boost

Crazy weather and rocky soil aren’t the only obstacles for commercial produce growers in New England.

The Seeds

Science makes bread taste better

We’ve been breeding grain for all the wrong things. A plucky team of rogue geneticists and bakers are on a quest to make your bread taste better.

29science Photo of aquafaba meringues 1 by: Nina Olofsson,

The Marketers

What would you name the food of the future?

Terms like “beef” and “chicken” evolved over centuries. When the foodstuffs of tomorrow suddenly emerge from the lab, where will they get their names?

The Traditions

Did America’s kosher revolution change the way you eat?

With kosher food as with so many other things, where there is a need, a free market will satisfy it.

Close up of tasty and fresh peanuts

The Ingredients

Have food allergies changed the way you eat?

The rapid growth of this industry has ignited criticism, consistent with a tendency to conflate food sensitivity with weight-loss fads or dismiss it as a bow to trendiness. The rapid growth of this industry has ignited criticism, consistent with a tendency to conflate food sensitivity with weight-loss fads or dismiss it as a bow to trendiness.

The kosher-industrial complex

America has undergone a kosher revolution.

The Prey

Let’s eat the Brookline turkeys

The wild turkeys roaming the streets and lawns of Brookline are nasty, even menacing. But Thanksgiving is at hand. These turkeys are the ultimate locally sourced protein. So why aren’t people eating them?

The Marketers

The future of food is here

What we call the new powders, isolates, mixes, and drinks of the future might help determine whether they become the powders, isolates, mixes, and drinks of the future.

The Ingredients

Allergies change how we all eat

We didn’t try to fix foods that caused allergies, in large part because we didn’t think we needed to. That might be changing.

The Store

Forget the expiration date

In the United States, food waste — some 40 percent of what we produce — sucks $218 billion out of the economy and $1,800 out of the average household’s annual budget.