Jon Hamilton

2011 may go down as the year of the retraction in the scientific world.

Among the highly publicized discoveries that got debunked this year: a genetic basis for longevity; a new form of life; an explanation for autism; and a link between a virus and chronic fatigue syndrome.

All of these non-discoveries have something in common: They involved findings that both scientists and the public badly wanted to believe.

A wasp uses a pebble as a hammer. An octopus carries around a coconut shell to hide in. A shrike impales its prey on a sharp thorn.

A little brain stimulation seems to speed up recovery from a stroke.

This isn't the sort of brain stimulation you get from conversation. It's done using an electromagnetic coil placed against the scalp.

Researchers think the treatment encourages brain cells to form new connections, allowing the brain to rewire itself to compensate for damage caused by a stroke.

If you read the ingredient list on a can of soup, you're likely to see items like carrots, wild rice, perhaps some noodles. What you won't see listed: the industrial chemical BPA, or bisphenol A.

But a little canned soup for lunch can dramatically increase exposure to the chemical, according to a study in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

If you've been counting on your daily dose of merlot to stave off mortality, you might want to consider Plan B.

The links between red wine and longevity aren't nearly as strong as they once seemed, according to new research in the journal Nature. In fact, the research calls into question the whole mechanism used to explain wine's power to extend life.

Sorry, oenophiles.

It turns out daddies are losing more than just sleep after a child arrives. New fathers also experience a sharp decline in levels of the male sex hormone testosterone.

At least that's what scientists have concluded from a long-term study of more than 600 men in the Philippines.

The scientists found that single men who started out with relatively high testosterone levels were more likely than other men to become fathers. But once a baby arrived, testosterone levels plummeted.

Scientists say they have figured out how a very clever virus outwits a very hungry caterpillar.

The caterpillar is the gypsy moth in its larval stage, and the invasive species damages roughly a million acres of forest in the U.S. each year by devouring tree leaves.

But the damage would be greater if it weren't for something called a baculovirus that can infect these caterpillars and cause them to engage in reckless, even suicidal behavior, scientists say. The virus is so effective that the government actually sprays it on trees to help control gypsy moth outbreaks.

Forecasters don't expect Hurricane Irene to make landfall until Saturday. But for nearly a week now, big-box retailers like Walmart and Home Depot have been getting ready.

They've deployed hundreds of trucks carrying everything from plywood to Pop-Tarts to stores in the storm's path. It's all possible because these retailers have turned hurricane preparation into a science — one that government emergency agencies have begun to embrace.

Scientists say there's a link between climate and violent conflict.

A statistical analysis of civil conflicts between 1950 and 2004 found that in tropical countries, conflicts were twice as likely to occur in El Nino years. The analysis appears in the journal Nature.

El Nino occurs when there is unusually warm water in the Pacific Ocean near the equator. But it affects weather patterns in tropical countries around the globe.

NASA, the agency best known for exploring space, is trying to answer some urgent questions about air pollution right here on Earth.

For much of July, the agency flew research planes between Washington, D.C. and Baltimore as part of a mission known as DISCOVER-AQ. The planes, along with weather balloons and ground stations, were gathering data on how pollutants such as ozone and particulates behave in the atmosphere.

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