Editor's note

Your parents likely taught you how to wash your hands, but doing it right in today’s society is harder than ever. Sinks in public spaces often limit the amount of water you can use and, what’s more, the water is usually cold. Microbiology doctoral candidate Michelle Sconce Massaquoi of the University of Oregon tells us what we really need to do to keep our hands clean so we can stay healthy, especially during the holiday travel season.

Children’s author, Philip Pullman, returns to the theme of tackling religion as an oppressive institution in “La Belle Sauvage,” the first volume of the recently released “The Book of Dust” series. But, as children’s literature scholar Marek Oziewicz writes, “on another level…the novel continues Pullman’s quest for explaining human consciousness. Put simply, if we have souls, what exactly are they?”

Lynne Anderson

Health + Medicine Editor

Top stories

Not all bathrooms are clean, which poses a problem for holiday travelers trying to keep their hands clean. Seroma72/Shutterstock.com

You (and most of the millions of holiday travelers you encounter) are washing your hands wrong

Michelle Sconce Massaquoi, University of Oregon

With holiday travel in full swing and people packed together in small spaces, it's important to try to stop the spread of germs. But can we really get our hands clean with a few seconds of cold water?

British author Philip Pullman. Dylan Martinez/Reuters

What is a soul, anyway? Pullman's 'La Belle Sauvage' tackles the big questions

Marek Oziewicz, University of Minnesota

In his new book, Philip Pullman, once again tackles religion as an oppressive institution. On another level, he continues the quest for explaining human consciousness.

Environment + Energy

Why Americans will never agree on oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge

Scott L. Montgomery, University of Washington

Alaska and oil proponents are cheering a move to open up an ecologically sensitive part of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to drilling -- a position environment supporters can't abide.

The travel industry has sparked a backlash against tourists by stressing quantity over quality

Carter A. Hunt, Pennsylvania State University

At many popular destinations, residents are protesting against crowding, rowdy visitors and low wages. With some research, travelers can use their visits to enrich host areas instead of harming them.

Economy + Business

Why Trump's plan to forbid spouses of H-1B visa holders to work is a bad idea

Amy Bhatt, University of Maryland, Baltimore County

A scholar explains why the president's plan to overturn his predecessor's rule would be a big mistake and disproportionately harm women.

GOP tax plan doubles down on policies that are crushing the middle class

Steven Pressman, Colorado State University

The American middle class has been on a rocky ride during the 20th century, surging after World War II but falling since the 1980s. The Republican tax plan may be its death knell.

Untrustworthy memories make it hard to shop ethically

Rebecca Walker Reczek, The Ohio State University; Daniel Zane, The Ohio State University; Julie Irwin, University of Texas at Austin

People who see themselves as conscientious consumers often buy items made by companies that violate their values because it's hard to keep that information in mind.

Will Americans finally start fighting back against tax cuts for the rich?

Stephanie Leiser, University of Michigan

Historically, wishful thinking has blunted pushback.

Science + Technology

Skip fights about digital devices over the holidays – instead, let them bring your family together

Shelia R. Cotten, Michigan State University

Older relatives often object to younger people using their smartphones and tablets during family gatherings. But digital devices can connect distant relatives year-round.

Market bubbles and sonic attacks: Mass hysterias will never go away

Barry Markovsky, University of South Carolina

Sociologists know what conditions make it more likely a mass delusion will take hold and spread through a group – whether adherence to a fashion fad or belief in a doomsday cult.

More businesses are trying mobile apps to lure and keep consumers

Venkatesh Shankar, Texas A&M University ; Unnati Narang, Texas A&M University

As businesses' branded mobile apps become more common and popular, how are they affecting shoppers' buying habits?

H.G. Wells vs. George Orwell: Their debate whether science is humanity’s best hope continues today

Richard Gunderman, Indiana University

There's no shortage of problems facing humanity. Science's role in how to tackle them has long been debated – including memorably by two of the 20th century's greatest literary figures.

Health + Medicine

The US may be in for a tough flu season: 4 questions answered

Irena L. Kenneley, Case Western Reserve University

After Australia's tough flu season, some experts predict that the U.S. is in for a few difficult months. What does that mean for you?

Why finding new HIV targets takes so long: Some basics about basic research

Christy Gaines, University of Maryland, Baltimore County

The death toll from HIV/AIDS continues to decline, but more than 36 million people are still living with HIV. A researcher explains why the work for a cure is painstaking.

Arts + Culture

The dangerous belief that white people are under attack

Clara Wilkins, Wesleyan University

A majority of white Americans now believe that white people experience racial discrimination, and memes like #ItsOkayToBeWhite are only fanning the flames.

Disney's potential 21st Century Fox merger continues troubling trend of media consolidation

Margot Susca, American University School of Communication

Disney's veneer of innocence shouldn't distract people from recognizing the danger of giving one conglomerate the power to control so much information.


You're not going to get accepted into a top university on merit alone

Natasha Warikoo, Harvard University

Students and government officials alike hope Harvard's admission files will yield clues about who gets in and why, but a Harvard researcher says their efforts will be in vain.

Can college 'promise' programs deliver?

Laura Perna, University of Pennsylvania; Edward J. Smith, University of Pennsylvania; Elaine W. Leigh, University of Pennsylvania

As more "college promise" programs are set up in the United States, researchers will be watching to see which ones do the best job at helping students realize their college dreams.

Politics + Society

Why justice is more important than the rule of law

Klaus Mladek, Dartmouth College

America's understanding of justice may be compromised, which is a more fundamental issue than enforcing the law.

A former Israeli diplomat answers 5 questions about Jerusalem

Dan Arbell, American University

Wondering why Jerusalem matters so much? A 25-year veteran of the Israeli Foreign Service explains what you need to know.

From our international editions

Chocolate can be your dog's Christmas nightmare – here's the science

Alan Radford, University of Liverpool

Advent calendars, chocolate Santa decorations ... there are lots of tempting treats that could make your pooch very ill this Christmas.

Religion may alter your psychology, even if you're a non-believer

Brittany Cardwell; Jamin Halberstadt

If you're a non-believer, then staying away from Church may be the best thing for your psychological health this Christmas.

How blockchain technology could transform the food industry

Sylvain Charlebois, Dalhousie University

Food fraud and safety concerns are an ongoing problem in the agrifood sector— could blockchain technology be a solution?

J.R.R. Tolkien's Christmas letters to his children bring echoes of Middle-earth to the North Pole

Dimitra Fimi, Cardiff Metropolitan University

J.R.R. Tolkien wrote letters to his children from Father Christmas every year for 23 years. And they're filled with elves, goblins and playful polar bears.