The board of editors at Scientific American is not simply made up of wordsmiths who assist contributors with grammar and spelling—as vital as those tasks are to a polished publication. Rather, one of our critical roles for readers is that we keep up with what’s happening in science, enabling Scientific American to be the authoritative source for the information that matters to our audience. We go to conferences and meetings, pore over other publications, and routinely confer with our researcher sources and authors. As editors, we think short-term—what’s the news that readers need to know right now, in a given issue?—and we also consider the longer view about what will come about in the months ahead.
In addition to reacting to news as it breaks, in other words, we work to anticipate what will happen. Case in point: the cover story for this issue, “12 Events That Will Change Everything.”
One day Phil Yam, the chief news editor, and I were having a routine planning discussion. So that our news team would always be in ready-to-respond mode, he told me, he was tracking the progress of a number of fascinating developments, such as the creation of life in the lab, all of which would have huge implications when they actually happened. Some of the events would unfold in surprising ways that most people didn’t currently appreciate or expect. Did I think the editors would be interested in such a list? By now you must have surmised my answer. I hope you find the stories in this special package as thought-provoking as I do.
Speaking of momentous events, what if time were to vanish? How would our lives change? Not at all. Actually, physics tells us, time may always have been an illusion anyway. In his feature article, “Is Time an Illusion?”, Craig Callender gives a helpful analogy. Time may be a kind of cosmic currency—a stand-in for other things we value, in much the same way that money is a placeholder that represents items of value in our transactions. Einstein’s general theory of relativity conceptually may have wiped away the need for time in physics decades ago, but researchers are only properly incorporating that fact now. The notion of time as illusion is somewhat controversial. Nevertheless, I think your experience of reading the article will be that it was time well spent.
While physicists debate the existence of time, eliminating something else—Alzheimer’s disease—would have a much greater impact on the lives of individuals. Its incidence has been climbing along with the graying of the population, and recent drug therapies have been disappointments, often because they were begun too long after the disease had wreaked its damage. Now new techniques that can track the disease before symptoms appear offer fresh hope for testing drugs at stages where they might be more effective, as senior writer Gary Stix tells us. There’s an event we can all look forward to.
This article was originally published with the title Think Forward.