Remember the congressional hearings some years ago on the negative effects of video games? To many parents, it made intuitive sense that zapping aliens and zombies probably was a complete waste of time in any case. I know I've sometimes chided my daughters about what they are missing “IRL” when they play games on their mobile phones while, for instance, simultaneously trying to attend to a conversation or follow the plotline of a movie.
Not so fast, say scientists, who have been studying what actually happens to our brain when we play action games. In this issue's cover story, “The Brain-Boosting Power of Video Games,” psychologists Daphne Bavelier and C. Shawn Green explain how fast-paced “shooter” games enhance certain cognitive functions, including bettering attention, reaction times and switching from one task to another. The work could lead to designs for games that could provide similar benefits without some of the disturbingly violent content of the action genre. Surprisingly, popular marketed “brain-training” games don't seem to evince the same kinds of benefits.
Once upon a time we also thought that we could not cause major effects on the environment, such as climate change. But scientists are increasingly finding that human activity writ large can elicit some profound responses from the planet. Unfortunately, regulators are not keeping up with the science. In “Drilling for Earthquakes,” contributing editor Anna Kuchment describes the strengthening link between temblors and the production of oil and gas. Rates for earthquakes in Oklahoma and Texas have risen sharply since 2008 as wastewater injection from extracting fuels has increased.
The West Africa Ebola outbreak has been declared over—or is it? Some 60 percent of the supposedly virus-free survivors have continuing distress from eye problems, muscle aches and neurological difficulties. To report her story, “Ebola's Second Coming,” writer and medical doctor Seema Yasmin traveled to Liberia in search of answers to why some 17,000 people are at risk for symptoms called post-Ebola syndrome.
“Science is what scientists do, not what nonscientists think they do or ought to be doing,” said Dennis Flanagan, who edited Scientific American for decades, starting in 1948. Elsewhere in this issue, for instance, our authors report on “Tracking Tigers” in India (conservation biologist K. Ullas Karanth) and “Our Place in the Cosmos” (cosmologist Noam I. Libeskind and astronomer R. Brent Tully). I like to think that Flanagan would approve, and I hope you do as well.