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sciencehabit writes: Speak or write in English, and the world will hear you. Speak or write in Tamil or Portuguese, and you may have a harder time getting your message out. Now, a new method for mapping how information flows around the globe (abstract) identifies the best languages to spread your ideas far and wide. One hint: If you're considering a second language, try Spanish instead of Chinese.
142 comments | 3 days ago
Geoffrey.landis writes An article about the current California drought on 538 points out that even though global climate warming may exacerbate droughts, it's nearly impossible to attribute any particular drought to climate warming: "The complex, dynamic nature of our atmosphere and oceans makes it extremely difficult to link any particular weather event to climate change. That's because of the intermingling of natural variations with human-caused ones." They also cite a Nature editorial pointing out the same thing about extreme weather.
192 comments | 3 days ago
An anonymous reader writes A research team from the University of California, Riverside and Montclair State University, New Jersey, have found that the lack of teeth in all living birds can be traced back to a common ancestor who lived about 116 million years ago. From the article: "To solve this puzzle, the researchers used a recently created genome database that catalogues the genetic history of nearly all living bird orders--48 species in total. They were looking for two specific types of genes: one responsible for dentin, the substance that (mostly) makes up teeth, and another for the enamel that protects them. Upon finding these genes, researchers then located the mutations that deactivate them, and combed the fossil record to figure out when those mutations developed. They concluded that the loss of teeth and the development of the beak was a two-stage process, though the steps basically happened simultaneously. The paper states: 'In the first stage, tooth loss and partial beak development began on the anterior portion of both the upper and lower jaws. The second stage involved concurrent progression of tooth loss and beak development from the anterior portion of both jaws to the back of the rostrum.'"
137 comments | 3 days ago
littlesparkvt writes The SpaceX manufacturing plant in McGregor, TX is set to spend $46 million on an expansion that would create 300 full-time jobs. SpaceX is proposing to invest $46.3 million in the site during the next five years. They will spend $32.4 million in real property improvements and $13.9 million in personal property improvements.
43 comments | 3 days ago
mikejuk (1801200) writes "When British astronaut Tim Peake heads off to the International Space Station in November, 2015, he will be accompanied on his 6-month mission by two augmented Raspberry Pis, aka Astro Pis. The Astro Pi board is a Raspberry Pi HAT (short for Hardware Attached on Top), and provides a gyroscope, accelerometer, and magnetometer, as well as sensors for temperature, barometric pressure, and humidity. It also has a real time clock, LED display, and some push buttons — it sounds like the sort of addon that we could do with down here on earth as well! It will also be equipped with both a camera module and an infra-red camera. UK school pupils are being challenged to write Raspberry Pi apps or experiments to run in space. During his mission, Tim Peake will deploy the Astro Pis, upload the winning code while in orbit, set them running, collect the data generated and then download it to be distributed to the winning teams.
56 comments | 4 days ago
schwit1 writes The uncertainty of science: 2014 caps the quietest three year period for tornadoes on record, and scientists really don't understand why. "Harold Brooks, a meteorologist with the National Severe Storms Laboratory in Norman, Okla., said there's no consistent reason for the three-year lull — the calmest stretch since a similar quiet period in the late 1980s — because weather patterns have varied significantly from year to year. While 2012 tornado activity was likely suppressed by the warm, dry conditions in the spring, 2013 was on the cool side for much of the prime storm season before cranking up briefly in late May, especially in Oklahoma, SPC meteorologist Greg Carbin said. Then, activity quickly quieted for the summer of 2013."
184 comments | 4 days ago
HughPickens.com writes Andrew Pollack reports at the NYT that a federal judge has blocked an attempt by the drug company Actavis to halt sales of an older form of its Alzheimer's disease drug Namenda in favor of a newer version with a longer patent life after New York's attorney general filed an antitrust lawsuit accusing the drug company of forcing patients to switch to the newer version of the widely used medicine to hinder competition from generic manufacturers. "Today's decision prevents Actavis from pursuing its scheme to block competition and maintain its high drug prices," says Eric Schneiderman, the New York attorney general. "Our lawsuit against Actavis sends a clear message: Drug companies cannot illegally prioritize profits over patients."
The case involves a practice called product hopping where brand name manufacturers make a slight alteration to their prescription drug (PDF) and engage in marketing efforts to shift consumers from the old version to the new to insulate the drug company from generic competition for several years. For its part Actavis argued that an injunction would be "unprecedented and extraordinary" and would cause the company "great financial harm, including unnecessary manufacturing and marketing costs." Namenda has been a big seller. In the last fiscal year, the drug generated $1.5 billion in sales. The drug costs about $300 a month.
263 comments | 4 days ago
schwit1 (797399) writes A French lawmaker lashed out at Airbus for daring to consider SpaceX as a possible launch option for a European communications satellite. "The senator, Alain Gournac, who is a veteran member of the French Parliamentary Space Group, said he had written French Economy and Industry Minister Emmanuel Macron to protest Airbus' negotiations with Hawthorne, California-based Space Exploration Technologies Corp. for a late 2016 launch instead of contracting for a launch on a European Ariane 5 rocket. "The negotiations are all the more unacceptable given that, at the insistence of France, Europe has decided to adopt a policy of 'European preference' for its government launches," Gournac said. "This is called playing against your team, and it smacks of a provocation. It's an incredible situation that might lead customers to think we no longer have faith in Ariane 5 — and tomorrow, Ariane 6."
166 comments | 5 days ago
Yesterday, we posted news that data from the European Space Agency's XMM-Newton spacecraft had been interpreted as a possible sign of dark matter; researchers noted that a spike in X-ray emissions from two different celestial objects, the Andromeda galaxy and the Perseus galaxy cluster, matched just what they "were expecting with dark matter — that is, concentrated and intense in the center of objects and weaker and diffuse on the edges." StartsWithABang writes with a skeptical rejoinder: There seems to be a formula for this very specific extraordinary claim: point your high-energy telescope at the center of a galaxy or cluster of galaxies, discover an X-ray or gamma ray signal that you can't account for through conventional, known astrophysics, and claim you've detected dark matter! Only, these results never pan out; they've turned out either to be due to conventional sources or simply non-detections every time. There's a claim going around the news based on this paper recently that we've really done it this time, and yet that's not even physically possible, as our astrophysical constraints already rule out a particle with this property as being the dark matter!
83 comments | 5 days ago
ErnieKey (3766427) writes Earlier this month, surgeons at Zhejiang University in China performed a surgery to remove two damaged vertebrae from a 21-year-old patient. In their place they inserted a 3D printed titanium implant which was shaped to the exact size needed for the patient's body. The surgery, which took doctors much less time and provided significantly less risk [than conventional surgery] was completely successful and the patient is expected to make a full recovery. This is said to be the first ever surgery involving 3D printing vertebrae in order to replace a patient's thoracic vertebrae.
55 comments | 5 days ago
TaleSlinger sends this news from Space.com:
Astronomers may finally have detected a signal of dark matter, the mysterious and elusive stuff thought to make up most of the material universe. While poring over data collected by the European Space Agency's XMM-Newton spacecraft, a team of researchers spotted an odd spike in X-ray emissions coming from two different celestial objects — the Andromeda galaxy and the Perseus galaxy cluster.
"The signal's distribution within the galaxy corresponds exactly to what we were expecting with dark matter — that is, concentrated and intense in the center of objects and weaker and diffuse on the edges," [assuming that dark matter consists of sterile neutrinos] study co-author Oleg Ruchayskiy, of the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) in Switzerland, said in a statement. "With the goal of verifying our findings, we then looked at data from our own galaxy, the Milky Way, and made the same observations," added lead author Alexey Boyarsky, of EPFL and Leiden University in the Netherlands. The decay of sterile neutrinos is thought to produce X-rays, so the research team suspects these may be the dark matter particles responsible for the mysterious signal coming from Andromeda and the Perseus cluster."
65 comments | about a week ago
With the holidays coming up, Bennett Haselton has updated his geek-oriented gift guide for 2014. He says: Some of my favorite gifts to give are still the ones that were listed in several different previously written posts, while a few new cool gift ideas emerged in 2014. Here are all my current best recommendations, listed in one place. Read on for the list, or to share any suggestions of your own.
113 comments | about a week ago
An anonymous reader writes: Michigan has a problem. Over the past decade, the number of unvaccinated kindergartners has spiked. "Nearly half of the state's population lives in counties with kindergarten vaccination rates below the level needed for "herd immunity," the public health concept that when at least 93 percent of people are vaccinated, their immunity protects the vulnerable and prevents the most contagious diseases from spreading." Surprise, surprise, the state is now in the midst of a whooping cough outbreak. How do these kids get into public schools without being vaccinated? Well, Michigan is among the 19 U.S. states that allow "philosophical" objections to the vaccine requirements for schoolchildren. (And one of the 46 states allowing religious exemption.) A new editorial is now calling for an end to the "philosophical" exemption.
The article says, "Those who choose not to be vaccinated and who choose not to vaccinate their children allow a breeding ground for diseases to grow and spread to others. They put healthy, vaccinated adults at risk because no vaccine is 100 percent effective. They especially put the most vulnerable at risk — infants too young to be vaccinated, the elderly, people with medical conditions that prevent vaccination, and those undergoing cancer treatments or whose immune systems have been weakened." They also encourage tightening the restrictions on religious and medical waivers so that people don't just check a different box on the exemption form to get the same result. "They are free to continue believing vaccines are harmful, even as the entire medical and scientific communities try in vain to tell them otherwise. But they should not be free to endanger the lives of everyone else with their views."
1039 comments | about a week ago
sciencehabit writes In times of trouble, multiple studies have shown, more girls are born than boys. No one knows why, but men need not worry about being overrun by women. An analysis of old church records in Finland has revealed that the boys that are born in stressful times survive better than those born during less challenging periods. The work helps explain why women may have evolved a tendency to abort certain males and could lead to a better understanding of miscarriages.
113 comments | about a week ago
Zothecula writes with news that a fat burning pill may be on the horizon. "Researchers at Harvard University say they have identified two chemical compounds that could replace "bad" fat cells in the human body with healthy fat-burning cells, in what may be the first step toward the development of an effective medical treatment – which could even take the form of a pill – to help control weight gain. Not all fat is created equal. While white fat cells store energy as lipids and contribute to obesity, heart disease and type 2 diabetes, the less common brown fat cells pack energy in iron-rich mitochondria, have been shown to lower triglyceride levels and insulin resistance in mice, and appear to be correlated with lower body weight in humans. Brown fat makes up about five percent of the body mass of healthy newborns, helping them keep warm, and is still present in lower quantities in our neck and shoulders as adults, where it helps burn the white fat cells."
153 comments | about a week ago
sciencehabit writes with this excerpt from Science Insider: New analyses of the hundreds of thousands of technical manuscripts submitted to arXiv, the repository of digital preprint articles, are offering some intriguing insights into the consequences — and geography — of scientific plagiarism. It appears that copying text from other papers is more common in some nations than others, but the outcome is generally the same for authors who copy extensively: Their papers don't get cited much. The system attempts to rule out certain kinds of innocent copying: "It's a fairly sophisticated machine learning logistic classifier," says arXiv founder Paul Ginsparg, a physicist at Cornell University. "It has special ways of detecting block quotes, italicized text, text in quotation marks, as well statements of mathematical theorems, to avoid false positives."
53 comments | about a week ago
HughPickens.com writes Maria Konnikova writes in The New Yorker that mondegreens are funny but they also give us insight into the underlying nature of linguistic processing, how our minds make meaning out of sound, and how in fractions of seconds, we translate a boundless blur of sound into sense. One of the reasons we often mishear song lyrics is that there's a lot of noise to get through, and we usually can't see the musicians' faces. Other times, the misperceptions come from the nature of the speech itself, for example when someone speaks in an unfamiliar accent or when the usual structure of stresses and inflections changes, as it does in a poem or a song. Another common cause of mondegreens is the oronym: word strings in which the sounds can be logically divided multiple ways. One version that Steven Pinker describes goes like this: Eugene O'Neill won a Pullet Surprise. The string of phonetic sounds can be plausibly broken up in multiple ways—and if you're not familiar with the requisite proper noun, you may find yourself making an error.
Other times, the culprit is the perception of the sound itself: some letters and letter combinations sound remarkably alike, and we need further cues, whether visual or contextual, to help us out. In a phenomenon known as the McGurk effect, people can be made to hear one consonant when a similar one is being spoken. "There's a bathroom on the right" standing in for "there's a bad moon on the rise" is a succession of such similarities adding up to two equally coherent alternatives.
Finally along with knowledge, we're governed by familiarity: we are more likely to select a word or phrase that we're familiar with, a phenomenon known as Zipf's law. One of the reasons that "Excuse me while I kiss this guy" substituted for Jimi Hendrix's "Excuse me while I kiss the sky" remains one of the most widely reported mondegreens of all time can be explained in part by frequency. It's much more common to hear of people kissing guys than skies.
243 comments | about a week ago
An anonymous reader writes with findings from the Rosetta mission which suggests water on Earth probably came from asteroids, and not comets."Scientists have dealt a blow to the theory that most water on Earth came from comets. Results from Europe's Rosetta mission, which made history by landing on Comet 67P in November, shows the water on the icy mass is unlike that on our planet. The results are published in the journal Science. The authors conclude it is more likely that the water came from asteroids, but other scientists say more data is needed before comets can be ruled out."
135 comments | about a week ago
sciencehabit writes For an agency regularly called 'adrift' without a mission, NASA will at least float through next year with a boatload of money for its science programs. Yesterday Congress reached agreement on a spending deal for fiscal year 2015 that boosts the budget of the agency's science mission by nearly 2% to $5.24 billion. The big winner within the division is planetary sciences, which received $160 million more than the president's 2015 request in March. Legislators also maintained support for an infrared telescope mounted on a Boeing 747, a project that the White House had proposed grounding. NASA's overall budget also rose by 2%, to $18 billion. That's an increase of $364 million over 2014 levels, and half a billion dollars beyond the agency's request.
121 comments | about a week ago
First time accepted submitter Dave Knott writes Following the recent auction of James Watson's Nobel Prize medal, the winning bidder will return the medal to Watson. The $4.7 million winning bid was made by Alisher Usmanov, Russia's wealthiest man, a metal and telecommunications tycoon worth $15.8 billion US. In remarks carried by Russian television Tuesday, Usmanov hailed Watson one of the greatest biologists in the history of mankind, and stated that when he learned that Watson was selling the medal for charity, he decided to purchase it and immediately give it back to him.
234 comments | about a week ago