Currently viewing the tag: "science"

Inevitably, people have turned to the relatively new science of genetics to try to explain otherwise unfathomable human behaviors, such as spree killing or murder. But the notion that there would be a deterministic, genetic component to someone who went out and shot 20 kids in a school, as Adam Lanza did, is incredibly misguided.

There is a genetic basis to human behaviors. But there is also an environmental component. We used to say nature versus nurture. But we might say nature via nurture. Almost all spree killers display similar characteristics of profound psychological problems, and Adam Lanza was typical in that regard.

Some of those problems have a heritable component. But we don’t understand the genetics of these types of behavior well enough to say that this gene is causing this behavior. It’s perfectly possible for two people to have identical genomes and one of them to be schizophrenic and the other one not.

If we sequenced Adam Lanza’s genome, we would simply find that he has a human genome and that all the variants in him would be found in other people that don’t commit spree killings. –Why Race Is Not a Thing, According to Genetics by Simon Worrall

Fiction Writing Prompt: Write the story of a genetic war.

Journaling Prompt: How curious are you about your genetic make up? Have you considered having one of the mail in tests?

Art Prompt: Genetics

Non-Fiction / Speechwriting Prompt: Tell your audience about the latest advancements in genetics.

Photo Credit: James H. on Flickr

The Bone Wars, also known as the Great Dinosaur Rush, was a period of intense and ruthlessly competitive fossil hunting and discovery during the Gilded Age of American history, marked by a heated rivalry between Edward Drinker Cope (of the Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia) and Othniel Charles Marsh (of the Peabody Museum of Natural History at Yale). Each of the two paleontologists used underhanded methods to try to outdo the other in the field, resorting to bribery, theft, and destruction of bones. Each scientist also sought to ruin his rival’s reputation and cut off his funding using attacks in scientific publications. –Wikipedia

Fiction Writing Prompt: Write a story in which scientific rivalry drives the conflict.

Journaling Prompt: How do you feel about scientists feuding? Do you feel it advances science or holds it back?

Art Prompt: Bone wars

Non-Fiction / Speechwriting Prompt: Tell your audience the story of a famous scientific rivalry.

Photo Credit: Como Bluff expedition members on Wikimedia

A Gray Goo scenario works something like this: Imagine a piece of self-replicating nanotechnology manufactured for a purely benevolent reason. Say, a micro-organism designed to clean up oil slicks by consuming them and secreting some benign by-product. So far, so good. Except the organism can’t seem to distinguish between the carbon atoms in the oil slick and the carbon atoms in the sea vegetation, ocean fauna, and human beings around it all that well. Flash forward a few thousand generations – perhaps not a very long time in our imagined micro-organism’s life cycle – and everything on Earth containing even a speck of carbon has been turned into a benign, gray, and gooey byproduct of its digestive process. –Jayar LaFontaine

Fiction Writing Prompt: Write the story of nanobots gone rogue.

Journaling Prompt: What is your biggest technology fear?

Art Prompt: Grey Goo Scenario

Non-Fiction / Speechwriting Prompt: Talk about the dangers of technology and give your audience some tips on keeping safe in their use of technology.

Photo Credit: Steve Jurvetson on Flickr

Between the last half of the nineteenth century and the first decade of the twentieth, rockets were applied to model aircraft several times. In fact, magazines were filled with ads for model rocket planes or instructions for building them…but no one thought of working on a larger scale, let alone being a pilot. During this time, however, the idea that space travel might be a real possibility was taking a strong hold on not only the public imagination but that of scientists and engineers as well. It was clear to the latter that the only realistic method of reaching space was through the use of rockets. One of the biggest problems they faced was the reputation of the rocket itself. The rocket at the beginning of the twentieth century was scarcely improved from the Hale rockets of the Civil War. Their unreliability, small size and lack of power was one of the reasons Jules Verne chose to launch his astronauts by means of a giant cannon. –Ron Miller

Fiction Writing Prompt: Write a story about rockets. You can set it in the past, present or future.

Journaling Prompt: Would you like to travel into space? Why or why not?

Art Prompt: Rocket science

Non-Fiction / Speechwriting Prompt: Tell your audience about the early days of rocket science.

Photo Credit: Steve Jurvetson on Flickr

Acetylferrocene crystals

In February 2012, the Nobel Prize-winning physicist Frank Wilczek decided to go public with a strange and, he worried, somewhat embarrassing idea. Impossible as it seemed, Wilczek had developed an apparent proof of “time crystals” — physical structures that move in a repeating pattern, like minute hands rounding clocks, without expending energy or ever winding down. Unlike clocks or any other known objects, time crystals derive their movement not from stored energy but from a break in the symmetry of time, enabling a special form of perpetual motion. –Natalie Wolchover

Fiction Writing Prompt: Write a story, scene, or poem inspired by the perpetual motion of Frank Wilczek’s time crystals.

Journaling Prompt: If you could harness perpetual motion to do one task in your life, how would you use it and why?

Art Prompt: Time Crystals

Non-Fiction / Speechwriting Prompt: Write about this or another new and inspiring scientific discovery and how you believe it could change our world.

Most Magnetized Object in the Universe (artist concept)

It came suddenly from the distant reaches of the constellation Sagittarius, some 50,000 light years away. For a brief instant, a couple of tenths of a second, on December 27, 2004, an invisible burst of energy the equivalent of half a million years of sunlight shone on Earth. Many orbiting satellites electronics were zapped and the Earth’s upper atmosphere was amazingly ionized from a massive hit of gamma ray energy. –Daily Galaxy

Writing Prompt: Write about an attack from outer space.

Journaling Prompt: How do you react when your electronic devices don’t work?

Art Prompt: It Came from Outer Space

Nonfiction / Speechwriting Prompt: Tell your audience about our culture’s vulnerability to gamma ray blasts.

Photo Credit: NASA Goddard Photo and Video on Flickr


It’s an odd fact that the biggest science story of the twenty-first century—probably the biggest ever—broke in that tabloid of tabloids, The National Bedrock. -JACK MCDEVITT, The Cassandra Project

Writing Prompt: Using the first line above as a starter or inspiration, write a story of poem.

Journaling Prompt: Write about something that happened to you that was so incredible that it could have been a tabloid story.

Art Prompt: Tabloid

Nonfiction / Speechwriting Prompt: Tell your audience a funny story about something you saw in the tabloids.

Photo Credit: PinkMoose on Flickr

seer with crystal ball

Science fiction is my favorite genre to read. For one thing, a writer can deal with ethical, moral, and culture issues that often are too touchy to take on in a standard literary form. But more interestingly, science fiction writers must study today’s science and predict the future. 

In an essay titled “Futuristics,” Isaac Asimov pointed out that the obvious prediction is not the most interesting one. It was easy to predict the automobile; what was difficult to predict was the traffic jam. It was easy to predict radio; what was difficult was the soap opera. It was easy to predict the income tax; what was difficult was the expense account. Equally, it was easy to predict the cell phone—Dick Tracy had his wrist radio back in the 1930s—but what was difficult to predict is that users would become so attached to them that they would step into traffic or allow their cars to drift out of control….
Science fiction might well be considered the literature of unanticipated consequences….In fact, to write an effective science-fiction story, all you need is something that the world thinks is an unmitigated boon and to focus on the unforeseen problems that it might create. -Science Fiction Imagines the Digital Future by James Gunn in Analog Science Fiction and Fact magazine

Writing Prompt: Go to your favorite news site, read a science story, predict an unanticipated consequence that will happen if that science is developed, and write a story about it.

Journaling Prompt: Do you read science fiction? Why or why not?

Art Prompt: Science

Nonfiction / Speech Writing Prompt: Write about an invention in your lifetime that has had unexpected consequences.

Photo Credit: Kraetzsche (busy) on Flickr


It’s human nature to look for meaning and significance in everything around us. Astrology and astronomy, for example, used to be combined into one field of scientific inquiry. Today, pure science has edged out astrology, but it is still interesting to look at how humans react to celestial events.

In 1811, still spoken of as “the year of the comet,” because of the wonderful vintage ascribed to the sky visitor, a comet shaped like a gigantic sword amazed the whole world, and, as it remained visible for seventeen months, was regarded by superstitious persons as a symbol of the fearful happenings of Napoleon’s Russian campaign. This comet, the extraordinary size of whose head, greatly exceeding that of the sun itself, has already been mentioned, was also remarkable for exhibiting so great a brilliancy without approaching even to the earth’s distance from the sun. -Garrett Putman Serviss, Curiosities of the Sky (free for your Kindle or Kindle software

Writing Prompt: Write about your character’s reaction to a major celestial event. Include his reaction to the reactions of those around him to that event.

Journaling Prompt: Write about what celestial events like comets mean to you.

Art Prompt: Comet

Nonfiction / Speechwriting Prompt: Tell your audience about how comets are discovered.

Photo Credit: chrs_snll on Flickr

two men talking

The science of hormones and their effects on human behavior is really fascinating. 

Oxytocin’s positive effects are well known. Experiments have found that, in games in which you can choose to cooperate or not, people who are given more oxytocin trust their fellow players more. Clinical trials have found that oxytocin can help people with autism, who have trouble in social situations. Studies have also found that oxytocin can increase altruism, generosity, and other behaviors that are good for social life.

But the warm fuzzy side of oxytocin isn’t the whole story… Recent studies have found that people who were given oxytocin, then played a game of chance with a fake opponent, had more envy and gloating. These are also both social emotions, but they’re negative. “It kind of rocked the research world a little bit,” Kemp says. That led some researchers to think that oxytocin promotes social emotions in general, both negative and positive.

But Kemp and Guastella think oxytocin’s role is slightly different. Rather than supporting all social emotions, they think it plays a role in promoting what psychologists call approach-related emotions. These are emotions that have to do with wanting something, as opposed to shrinking away. “If you look at the Oxford English Dictionary for envy, it says that the definition of envy is to wish oneself on a level with another, in happiness or with the possession of something desirable,” Kemp says. “It’s an approach-related emotion: I want what you have.” Gloating is also about approach, he says; people who are gloating are happy — a positive, approach-related emotion — about having more than their opponent and about that person’s misfortune.

If Kemp and Guastella are right, that could mean that oxytocin could also increase anger and other negative approach-related emotions. That could have important implications for people who are studying how to use oxytocin as a psychiatric treatment. “If you were to take a convicted criminal with a tendency towards aggression and give him oxytocin to make him more social, and if that were to enhance anger as opposed to suppressing anger, then that has very substantial implications,” Kemp says. –Science Daily

Writing Prompt: What approach-related emotions does your protagonist typically experience? What changes his behavior?

Journaling Prompt: Describe a time when you felt envious. What triggered that and how did you behave?

Art Prompt: Envy

Nonfiction / Speech Writing Prompt: Write about approach-related emotions and their function in your workplace or family relationships.

Photo Credit: pawpaw67 on Flickr