It is common for us to focus on the competitive aspects of the well-worn phrase “survival of the fittest.” As it turns out, however, we sell nature short when we do so. Fitness is not simply a cutthroat matter of outperforming others to survive and reproduce—thus passing along those successful genes. As you will learn in this issue's cover story, “Why We Help,” by Martin A. Nowak, cooperation among members of groups, from single-celled amoebas to the complex assemblages found in mammals, has helped shape the evolution of all of life on earth in profound ways. Individuals may engage in various flavors of cooperation, from discharging a beneficial duty for kin to performing selfless actions for the greater good. It may (or may not) surprise you to learn that people earn a unique place among species as the most mutually helpful of all. Nowak calls the phenomenon the “snuggle for survival.” For more, turn to page 34.
Surely science, which can involve teams of researchers from around the globe working on projects, is one of humankind's great collaborative endeavors. Yet society also enjoys shining a spotlight on those individuals whose contributions have been most worthy of our group's admiration. In our special section “Nobel Pursuits,” timed for the annual gathering in which laureates and young scientists (cooperatively) share insights at Lindau near Germany's Lake Constance, we offer a selection of excerpts from the many feature articles by Nobel Prize–winning authors who have appeared over the years in the pages of Scientific American. Beginning on page 62, associate editors John Matson and Ferris Jabr frame the section with an overview of the key questions in physics today in honor of the topic theme chosen for the 62nd annual Lindau meeting.
Last, I wanted to mention a recent travel highlight. I was a panel moderator at Neuromagic 2012, a conference that brought together neuroscientists and magicians to the Island of Thought, also called San Simón, in the bay of Vigo, Spain. In a few days this remarkable group of students of human behavior and the mind advanced discussion in several important areas—teamwork at its best.
Science in Action Science Fair Winners
Following the Scientific American-sponsored $50,000 Science in Action Award announced last month comes the rest of the Google Science Fair category winners, to be announced on July 23. This is the second year of the global online competition, which awards students in three age groups from 13 to 18, and I am delighted to be one of the judges. Look for our coverage at www.ScientificAmerican.com. —M.D.