Editor's note

Beginning on Tuesday, Jews will start the eight-day celebration of Hanukkah. A candle will be lit each night on a candelabra, or menorah, to celebrate the miracles of God. But the story of Hanukkah has evolved since the time it was instituted in 164 B.C., when it was celebrated more as a military victory.

The point, explains Holy Cross’ Alan Avery-Peck, is that each successive generation tells the story of Hanukkah as it needs to hear it, so the holiday meets the demands of the “distinctive cultural forces, ideologies and experiences” of the times.

On another note, if you’re planning to get takeout or go to a restaurant this weekend, it might be a good idea to keep track of how much you spend: A new study from Penn State found that people think they spend about half of what they actually spend on eating out.

And neuroscientist Anne Churchland describes a new virtual mega-lab that’s taking a cooperative approach to a very big question: what happens in a brain when it makes a decision?

Kalpana Jain

Religion + Ethics Editor

Top stories


Hanukkah's true meaning is about Jewish survival

Alan Avery-Peck, College of the Holy Cross

Hanukkah was instituted in 164 BC to celebrate military victory, but the meaning has changed over time with the circumstances of the Jewish people.

Diners eat at Katz’s Delicatessen in New York, New York. Seth Wenig/AP Photo

Eating out might be devouring your food budget – and you probably have no idea

Amit Sharma, Pennsylvania State University

According to a new study, there's a big gap between how much we think we spend on eating out and how much we're actually spending.

What’s going on in there when you decide? Sergey Nivens/Shutterstock.com

A new collaborative approach to investigate what happens in the brain when it makes a decision

Anne Churchland, Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory

A new initiative called the International Brain Laboratory is tackling this fundamental mystery of neuroscience in an unusual way.

Politics + Society

What will Trump's declaration on Jerusalem mean to Palestinians?

Maha Nassar, University of Arizona

Even before Trump recognized Jerusalem as Israel's capital, a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict was far-fetched. Now it's all but impossible. And that might not be a bad thing.

Honduras's election crisis is likely to end in violence

Lirio Gutiérrez Rivera, Universidad Nacional de Colombia

Nearly two weeks after its election, Honduras still does not have a president. Clashes across the country have killed a dozen protesters, and police are now refusing to enforce a national curfew.

Venezuela's elections are just a new way for Maduro to cling to power

Benigno Alarcón, Andres Bello Catholic University (UCAB)

President Nicolás Maduro has announced he will run for reelection, a sign that Venezuela's authoritarian regime now has an electoral strategy for beating the opposition.

Should lying to the FBI be a crime?

Austin Sarat, Amherst College

It hasn't always been, writes legal expert.

Ethics + Religion

Why Trump's evangelical supporters welcome his move on Jerusalem

Julie Ingersoll, University of North Florida

Many American evangelicals believe that the establishment and protection of Israel set up a chain of event for the return of Jesus. What were the origins of this narrative?

When should you unfriend someone on Facebook?

Alexis Elder, University of Minnesota Duluth

The combination of a divisive political climate and widespread use of social media networks to share controversial material has many people asking this question. Here's what Aristotle would say.

Science + Technology

DNA has gone digital – what could possibly go wrong?

Jenna E. Gallegos, Colorado State University; Jean Peccoud, Colorado State University

Biologists' growing reliance on computers advances the field – but comes with new risks. The first step toward improved cyberbiosecurity is increasing awareness of possible threats.

Will artificial intelligence become conscious?

Subhash Kak, Oklahoma State University

Researchers' views depend in part on what technology is (or will be) capable of – and in part on what consciousness actually is.

Arts + Culture

Literature has long been sounding the alarm about sexual violence in Hollywood

Billy J. Stratton, University of Denver

In their novels, Nathanael West and Bret Easton Ellis depict a world few want to admit exists, a place where 'Unless you're willing to do some pretty awful things, it's hard getting a job.'

Why aren't Hollywood films more diverse? The international box office might be to blame

Roberto Pedace, Scripps College

An analysis of more than 800 top-grossing films suggests diverse movies struggle in front of international audiences.

Economy + Business

How the tax package could sap the flow of charitable giving

Patrick Rooney, Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis

More than US$20 billion per year in giving is potentially at stake.

Two little-known ways GOP tax bill would make chasm between rich and poor even wider

Daniel Hemel, University of Chicago

While much has been written about why the GOP's tax plan would exacerbate income inequality, there are two reasons it's even worse than you think.


The constitutional right to education is long overdue

Derek W. Black, University of South Carolina

Federal courts have long declined to enshrine the right to education into federal law. A careful look at the history of the 14th Amendment shows why that may be the wrong approach.

Taking a second look at the learn-to-code craze

Kate M. Miltner, University of Southern California, Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism

Past efforts to teach American students computer skills haven't always helped workers get better-paying jobs. But spending on hardware and software for schools has certainly enriched tech companies.

Environment + Energy

Turning hurricanes into music: Can listening to storms help us understand them better?

Mark Ballora, Pennsylvania State University; Jenni Evans, Pennsylvania State University

A meteorologist and a music technologist team up to turn the data from tropical storms into musical graphs.

President Trump's national monument rollback is illegal and likely to be reversed in court

Nicholas Bryner, University of California, Los Angeles; Eric Biber, University of California, Berkeley; Mark Squillace, University of Colorado; Sean B. Hecht, University of California, Los Angeles

President Trump signed an order on Dec. 4 to drastically reduce the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments. Four legal experts explain why this action is likely to be reversed.

Health + Medicine

Why psychiatrists should not be involved in presidential politics

Arash Javanbakht, Wayne State University

Many people have criticized Donald Trump's mental health. Recently, more than two dozen psychiatrists weighed in, from afar. Here's why that might not be good.

CVS merger with Aetna: Health care cure or curse?

Sharona Hoffman, Case Western Reserve University

CVS, which operates nearly 10,000 pharmacies across the country, announced intentions to buy Aetna, the nation's third-largest provider of health insurance. Here's how consumers could be affected.