Megan Phelps-Roper grew up in the Westboro Baptist Church and was picketing with signs like "gays are worthy of death" at the age of five. She left 20 years later because strangers on Twitter changed her mind. "Initially, the people I encountered on the platform were just as hostile as I expected," she says. But slowly that changed. They started to ask about her beliefs, and she asked about theirs. Their conversations planted seeds of doubt, and slowly her entire worldview shifted -- eventually driving her to leave the church (and the beliefs that came with it) behind. In Megan's TED Talk, she urges all of us to talk and to listen to the people we disagree with. Here, in her words, are her tips for how to have effective conversations: read more
Gizmodo writer Kristen V. Brown sent her DNA to multiple genetic testing companies and found each gave very different results. Brown breaks down her results and interviews the companies about their procedures to try to make sense of the varying results. Genetics is inherently a comparative science: Data about your genes is determined by comparing them to the genes of other people," Brown writes. As Adam Rutherford, a British geneticist and author of the excellent book 'A Brief History of Everyone Who Ever Lived,' explained to me, we've got a fundamental misunderstanding of what an ancestry DNA test even does. "They're not telling you where your DNA comes from in the past," he told me, "They're telling you where on Earth your DNA is from today."
The Y chromosome may be a symbol of masculinity, but it is becoming increasingly clear that it is anything but strong and enduring. Although it carries the "master switch" gene, SRY, that determines whether an embryo will develop as male (XY) or female (XX), it contains very few other genes and is the only chromosome not necessary for life. Women, after all, manage just fine without one. What's more, the Y chromosome has degenerated rapidly, leaving females with two perfectly normal X chromosomes, but males with an X and a shrivelled Y. If the same rate of degeneration continues, the Y chromosome has just 4.6m years left before it disappears completely. This may sound like a long time, but it isn't when you consider that life has existed on Earth for 3.5 billion years. read more
For more than 50 years, the specter of "the button" has haunted conversations about American nuclear weapons. While the power to launch nuclear war has -- contrary to our imaginations -- never actually been contained within a button, historian Alex Wellerstein says the idea of it reflects the way the American public sees this presidential power. "There's no one button. There never has been. There never should be. It's a terrible idea," he says. "It's a metaphor for how we think about technology, simplicity and our lack of control." To Wellerstein, the idea that nuclear-level destruction could be accomplished by an act as simple as the pressing a button reflects the impersonal terror of nuclear weaponry that has shaped world politics since it was first introduced in August 1945. Every president since then has had the power to order the use of a nuclear weapon, although only Truman has used it. That unique ability has helped to shape the modern presidency. read more
Posing as prohibited persons or out-of-state buyers, what happened when government agents tried to purchase guns online? The short answer. Unless they went to the dark web, they were rejected. Findings in a two-year study, conducted by the Government Accountability Office (GAO), tell the tale. For clarity, the "surface web" is the regular internet you and I use every day. For the study, agents went to a variety of online destinations to attempt to purchase firearms, including retailers, auction hubs and marketplaces, classified listings, forums and social media platforms. The bottom line is that all 72 attempts "to illegally purchase firearms from private sellers on the surface web were unsuccessful," as the report stated. Translation: the majority of online gun sellers are law-abiding. read more