Second Helpings: Delicious Journalism

Staff picks of our favorite science, technology, and health stories from 2015

Leona, 7, poses inside a labyrinth installation made up of 250,000 books in London, 2012. (Olivia Harris / Reuters)

This was a big year for The Atlantic’s coverage of science, technology, and health. We hired new reporters and editors. We officially launched a dedicated science section. And we reported and wrote a lot—along with everybody else on the Internet.

It is a glorious, if overwhelming, time to be a reader. There’s so much out there! And so much of it is fantastic. Which is why we’re humbly suggesting some of our favorite stories from 2015 that were, perhaps, overlooked.

We like to think of this journalistic buffet as “second helpings,” rather than “leftovers.” But either way, we hope you’ll enjoy them as much as we did.

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Introducing the Supertweet

Ian Bogost  | January 28

This is what realpolitik looks like on the Internet.

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How Technicolor Changed Storytelling

Adrienne LaFrance | February 2

A century ago, people worried that color would ruin motion pictures; instead, it changed visual narratives forever.

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This Is Your Brain on Magic

Cari Romm | February 13

Psychologists and neuroscientists have an unlikely ally in their quest to understand human nature: professional magicians.

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Hard Feelings: Science’s Struggle to Define Emotions

Julie Beck | February 24

While it is possible for researchers to study facial expressions, brain patterns, behavior, and more, each of these is only part of a more elusive whole.

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Does This Cooking Show Make Me Look Fat?”    

Julie Beck | March 26

Yes. No. Maybe.

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Why Is It So Hard to Find Jobs for Disabled Workers?

Olga Khazan | March 30

Disability Insurance is providing a much-needed safety net for 9 million Americans, but basic flaws in the program’s structure mean that many never work again.

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A Master Key to the Ultimate Dumb Device”    

Ian Bogost | April 22

The future of the iPhone could be a way of tethering people to Apple products even when they don’t want them anymore.

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The Questions People Asked Advice Columnists in the 1690s

Adrienne LaFrance | May 1

If only your great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great grandmother had Google.

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The Smart Dress”    

Robinson Meyer | May 1

As technology and fashion converge, get ready for 3-D-printed shoes, special parkas for smoggy days, and maybe even jeans that fit.

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Science’s Love Affair With the Lord of the Rings”    

Julie Beck | May 3

What has it got in its academic journals, precious?

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Who Owns Your Face?

Robinson Meyer | July 2

In June, government talks about how best to regulate facial-recognition algorithms fell apart. But should a company need your permission before scanning your face? And does the technology really work?

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I Like the Bus

Julie Beck | July 24

There’s something to be said for taking the long way home.

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Why Break a World Record?

Cari Romm | August 27

To make it into Guinness World Records, people have braved extreme conditions, baked any number of jumbo-sized foods, and done extraordinary things to their facial hair. What’s the appeal of being the best at an arbitrary contest?

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When Robots Hallucinate

Adrienne LaFrance | September 3

What do Google’s trippy neural-network-generated images tell us about the human mind?

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Do Babies Know When They're Skyping?

Adrienne LaFrance | September 10

Grandparents, take heart! Research suggests your little dumplings know they're interacting with you in a way that’s more profound than watching Sesame Street.

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How Modern Furniture Endangers Firefighters

Olga Khazan | September 11

Consumer goods are increasingly made of synthetic materials and coatings. The carcinogens they give off when they burn could be driving high cancer rates among first responders.

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A Cultural History of the Fever

Adrienne LaFrance | September 16

The fever phobia that parents experience is ancient and useful.

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Rescuing Ancient Seeds From a War-Torn City

Ross Andersen | September 23, 2015

One of the world’s most important seed banks has left Syria, and it won’t be returning.

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The Car That Killed Glamour

Ian Bogost | September 9

Tesla and the end of the automobile as an object of desire

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The Life of a Professional Guinea Pig

Cari Romm | September 23

What it’s like to earn a living as a research subject in clinical trials

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When a Genetic ID Card Is the Difference Between Life and Death

Ed Yong | October 5

A simple genetic test can stop a severe drug reaction that causes people’s skin to peel off in sheets. Why isn't it more commonly used?

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The Artists Who Paint Dinosaurs

Ross Andersen | October 5, 2015

The strange beauty of paleo art

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There Will Be Blood

Cari Romm    | October 23

The backlash to the man who founded the Museum of Menstruation raises the question: Is there a right way for men to talk about periods?

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What Makes a Volcano Sacred?

Adrienne LaFrance | October 30

Astronomers and Native Hawaiian activists agree that Mauna Kea is a portal to the universe, they just can’t agree on how it should be used.

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How Cameras Have Shaped Student Protests

Robinson Meyer | November 13

The history goes back way further than Yale and Missouri.

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Out of the Mouths of Bots

Adrienne LaFrance | November 25

What building a robot in a person's image can reveal about identity and humanity

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How Dogs Make Friends for Their Humans

Julie Beck | November 30

People’s canine companions make for good icebreakers, and can overcome the barriers humans put between themselves and strangers.

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We Need a New Pronoun for Artificial Intelligence

Kaveh Waddell | December 15

Pick your favorite: “bleep” or “bloop.”