Wildfires have become a distressingly common part of millions of people’s lives, including those living across large parts of the western U.S. In a provocative article, three experts in urban planning and environmental design from the University of California, Davis, say that retreating from certain areas vulnerable to wildfire is unavoidable. At the same time, they note, a number of development-related policies, such as limiting future development or stricter standards for new construction, are also part of at-risk communities’ toolkits for dealing with wildfires.

A story on the history of syphilis challenges a long-held belief that the disease originated in the New World and was another result of the so-called Columbian exchange. Historian Marylynn Salmon weighs the evidence, both from documents and artwork as well as the ongoing work of a group of paleopathologists, to explain why she thinks it’s time to drop syphilis from the “intellectual framework” the Columbian exchange provides and instead look at the ample evidence.

And in case you missed it, some of the biggest science news of the year came out this week when NASA and President Joe Biden shared the first science-quality images from the James Webb Space Telescope. UMass Lowell astronomer Silas Laycock walks us through his first impressions of the images and explains the science being done in this mission, while barely containing his excitement. “The real images are even better than anyone could have hoped for,” he writes.

Also in this week’s science news:

If there’s a subject you’d like our team of science editors to investigate, please reply to this email.

Martin La Monica

Director of Editorial Projects and Newsletters

After the 2018 wildfire in Paradise, Calif., many fire-damaged homes were razed. Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

A case for retreat in the age of fire

Emily E. Schlickman, University of California, Davis; Brett Milligan, University of California, Davis; Stephen M. Wheeler, University of California, Davis

Communities already retreat from flooding and in the face of sea level rise. Is retreat from wildfires next, and what would that look like?

Does a painting from 1400 depict one of Jesus’ torturers as suffering from ‘saddle nose,’ a common effect of syphilis? Detail of an Austrian painting c. 1400 of the Passion of Christ, The Cleveland Museum of Art

Manuscripts and art support archaeological evidence that syphilis was in Europe long before explorers could have brought it home from the Americas

Marylynn Salmon, Smith College

The idea that Europeans brought new diseases to the Americas and returned home with others has been widely accepted. But evidence is mounting that for syphilis this scenario is wrong.

This cluster of galaxies, called Stephan’s Quintet, is a composite image produced from two cameras aboard the James Webb Space Telescope. NASA/STScI

James Webb Space Telescope: An astronomer explains the stunning, newly released first images

Silas Laycock, UMass Lowell

NASA released five new images from the James Webb Space Telescope, revealing incredible details of ancient galaxies, stars and the presence of water in the atmosphere of a distant planet.