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Medicine

Time To Remove 'Philosophical' Exemption From Vaccine Requirements? 1041

Posted by Soulskill
from the science-doesn't-care-about-your-opinions dept.
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."
Medicine

Study Explains Why Women Miscarry More Males During Tough Times 113

Posted by samzenpus
from the selection-process dept.
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.
Medicine

"Fat-Burning Pill" Inches Closer To Reality 153

Posted by samzenpus
from the take-the-fat-pill dept.
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."
Science

Study of Massive Preprint Archive Hints At the Geography of Plagiarism 53

Posted by timothy
from the as-ralph-waldo-emerson-once-said dept.
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."
Music

Excuse Me While I Kiss This Guy: The Science of Misheard Song Lyrics 243

Posted by samzenpus
from the dirty-dean-and-the-dunder-cheese dept.
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.
Space

Rosetta Results: Comets "Did Not Bring Water To Earth" 135

Posted by samzenpus
from the wet-of-space dept.
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."
NASA

NASA Gets 2% Boost To Science Budget 121

Posted by samzenpus
from the more-money-more-programs dept.
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.
The Almighty Buck

James Watson's Nobel Prize Medal Will Be Returned To Him 235

Posted by samzenpus
from the return-to-sender dept.
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.
It's funny.  Laugh.

A Paper By Maggie Simpson and Edna Krabappel Was Accepted By Two Journals 100

Posted by samzenpus
from the simpsons-already-did-it dept.
An anonymous reader writes "A scientific study by Maggie Simpson, Edna Krabappel, and Kim Jong Fun has been accepted by two journals. Of course, none of these fictional characters actually wrote the paper, titled "Fuzzy, Homogeneous Configurations." Rather, it's a nonsensical text, submitted by engineer Alex Smolyanitsky in an effort to expose scientific journals — the Journal of Computational Intelligence and Electronic Systems and the Aperito Journal of NanoScience Technology."
Medicine

Photoswitch Therapy Restores Vision To Blind Lab Animals 17

Posted by Soulskill
from the not-quite-as-easy-as-flipping-a-switch dept.
Zothecula writes: A new genetic therapy that helped blind mice and dogs respond to light stimulus could restore sight to people who suffer from diseases such as retinitis pigmentosa (a gradual loss of vision from periphery inwards). The therapy uses chemicals known as photoswitches, which change shape when hit with light, to open the channels that activate retinal cells. Treated mice can distinguish between steady and flashing light (abstract), while dogs with late-stage retinal degeneration also regain some sensitivity to light.
Robotics

Robots Modeled On Ancient Fish Help Researchers Study Origins of Extinct Species 29

Posted by Soulskill
from the just-stop-them-before-they-evolve-death-rays dept.
Hallie Siegel writes: Hypotheses about the evolution of traits in ancient species are difficult to test, as the animals have often been extinct for thousands or millions of years. In this article, researchers at Vassar College describe how a population of physical, free-swimming robots modeled after ancient fish evolved vertebrae under selection pressures for predator avoidance and foraging ability, showing how evolutionary robotics can be used to help biologists test hypotheses about extinct animals.
Space

Geminid Meteor Shower This Weekend 24

Posted by Soulskill
from the be-there-or-be-asleep dept.
StartsWithABang writes: Most meteor showers originate from comets well out beyond Neptune, only entering the inner Solar System periodically. In those cases, we have to wait long periods of time for the showers to develop, and suffer many years with paltry displays as we pass through the parts of the comet's orbit thin in particles. But the Geminids are special: they're formed from a short-period asteroid and only began in the mid-19th century. Ever since then they've been intensifying, and conditions are right this year for the most spectacular display of all time. Here's how to catch 2014's greatest meteor shower, including where to look, when, and where to go online in case of clouds.
Government

Feds Plan For 35 Agencies To Collect, Share, Use Health Records of Americans 209

Posted by Soulskill
from the it's-a-party-and-everyone's-invited dept.
cold fjord writes: The Weekly Standard reports, "This week, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced the release of the Federal Health IT Strategic Plan 2015-2020, which details the efforts of some 35 departments and agencies of the federal government and their roles in the plan to 'advance the collection, sharing, and use of electronic health information to improve health care, individual and community health, and research.' ... Now that HHS has publicly released the Federal Health IT Strategic Plan, the agency is seeking the input from the public before implementation. The plan is subject to two-month period of public comment before finalization. The comment period runs through February 6, 2015." Among the many agencies that will be sharing records besides Health and Human Services are: Department of Agriculture, Department of Defense, Department of Education, Department of Justice and Bureau of Prison, Department of Labor, Federal Communications Commission, Federal Trade Commission, National Aeronautics and Space Administration, Office of Personnel Management, National Institute of Standards and Technology.
Space

Titan's Dunes Took Tens of Thousands of Years To Form 12

Posted by Soulskill
from the home-projects-always-take-longer-than-you-plan-for dept.
sciencehabit writes: Massive dunes, some of them 100 meters tall and a kilometer or more wide at their base, cover about one-eighth of Titan's surface. And they take an exceptionally long time to form, according to a new study. Using radar data gleaned by the Cassini probe when it occasionally swooped past Saturn's haze-shrouded moon, researchers conclude that it would take about 3000 Saturn years (or 88,200 Earth years) to shift Titan's dunes to the extent seen in the images. A similar phenomenon has taken place on Earth, the researchers note: The overall patterns in many large dune fields in the southwestern Sahara and the southwestern United States, shaped by the winds that blew during the most recent ice age more than 10,000 years ago, remain largely unaffected by modern winds that now blow in a different direction.
Earth

Warmer Pacific Ocean Could Release Millions of Tons of Methane 329

Posted by Soulskill
from the sounds-like-a-real-gas dept.
vinces99 writes: Off the U.S. West Coast, methane gas is trapped in frozen layers below the seafloor. New research from the University of Washington shows that water at intermediate depths is warming enough to cause these carbon deposits to melt, releasing methane into the sediments and surrounding water. Researchers found that water off the coast of Washington is gradually warming at a depth of 500 meters (about a third of a mile down), the same depth where methane transforms from a solid to a gas. The research suggests that ocean warming could be triggering the release of a powerful greenhouse gas (abstract).

Scientists believe global warming will release methane from gas hydrates worldwide, but most of the focus has been on the Arctic. The new paper estimates that, from 1970 to 2013, some 4 million metric tons of methane has been released from hydrate decomposition off Washington's coast. That's an amount each year equal to the methane from natural gas released in the 2010 Deepwater Horizon blowout off the coast of Louisiana, and 500 times the rate at which methane is naturally released from the seafloor.
Science

Monochromatic Light As a Species-selective Insecticide 44

Posted by Soulskill
from the not-to-be-taken-lightly dept.
An anonymous reader writes: The harmful effects of ultraviolet light have been long known. But now researchers at Tohoku University in Japan claim that visible blue light is also lethal to many insects, possibly even more so than UV, even at reasonable daylight intensities. Moreover, they report that certain species are more sensitive to specific wavelengths: Given the same intensity (3x10^18 photons/sec/m^2), light in the 440-467nm range was far more lethal to fruit flies than light of longer or shorter wavelengths. The wavelength 417nm was three times as effective at killing mosquito larvae than the shorter 404nm light, contradicting the notion that higher-energy photons always cause more damage. The research has wide implications for modeling the effect of natural and manmade environmental changes on insect populations and for selectively controlling populations of certain species.
Science

High Temperature Superconductivity Record Smashed By Sulfur Hydride 80

Posted by timothy
from the could-have-been-taking-steroids dept.
KentuckyFC writes Physicists at the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry in Germany have measured sulfur hydride superconducting at 190 Kelvin or -83 degrees Centigrade, albeit at a pressure of 150 gigapascals, about the half that at the Earth's core. If confirmed, that's a significant improvement over the existing high pressure record of 164 kelvin. But that's not why this breakthrough is so important. Until now, all known high temperature superconductors have been ceramic mixes of materials such as copper, oxygen lithium, and so on, in which physicists do not yet understand how superconductivity works. By contrast, sulfur hydride is a conventional superconductor that is described by the BCS theory of superconductivity first proposed in 1957 and now well understood. Most physicists had thought that BCS theory somehow forbids high temperature superconductivity--the current BCS record-holder is magnesium diboride, which superconducts at just 39 Kelvin. Sulfur hydride smashes this record and will focus attention on other hydrogen-bearing materials that might superconduct at even higher temperatures. The team behind this work point to fullerenes, aromatic hydrocarbons and graphane as potential targets. And they suggest that instead of using high pressures to initiate superconductivity, other techniques such as doping, might work instead.
Biotech

Material Possiblities: A Flying Drone Built From Fungus 52

Posted by timothy
from the mushroom-treatment dept.
Nerval's Lobster writes What if you could construct an unmanned aerial vehicle out of biological material, specifically a lightweight-but-strong one known as mycelium? The vegetative part of a fungus, mycelium is already under consideration as a building material; other materials would include cellulose sheets, layered together into "leather," as well as starches worked into a "bioplastic." While a mushroom-made drone is probably years away from takeoff, a proposal for the device caught some attention at this year's International Genetically Engineered Machine competition. Designed by a team of students from Brown, Spelman, and Stanford Universities in conjunction with researchers from NASA, such a drone would (theoretically) offer a cheap and lightweight way to get a camera and other tools airborne. 'If we want to fly it over wildfires to see where it's spreading, or if there's a nuclear meltdown and we want to fly in to see what's going on with the radioactivity, we can send in the drone and it can send back data without returning,' Ian Hull, a Stanford sophomore involved in the project, told Fast Company.
Science

Berkeley Lab Builds World Record Tabletop-Size Particle Accelerator 90

Posted by timothy
from the paging-doctor-brown dept.
Zothecula writes Taking careful aim with a quadrillion watt laser, researchers at the US Department of Energy's Lawrence Berkeley National Lab claim to have managed to speed up subatomic particles to the highest energies ever recorded for a compact accelerator. By blasting plasma in their tabletop-size laser-plasma accelerator, the scientists assert that they have produced acceleration energy of around of 4.25 giga-electron volts. Acceleration of this magnitude over the short distances involved correlates to an energy rise 1,000 times greater than that of a traditional – and very much larger – particle accelerator.
Science

2 Futures Can Explain Time's Mysterious Past 107

Posted by Soulskill
from the doc-brown-was-right-all-along dept.
cyberspittle sends this excerpt from Scientific American: Tentative new work ... suggests that perhaps the arrow of time doesn't really require a fine-tuned, low-entropy initial state at all but is instead the inevitable product of the fundamental laws of physics. Barbour and his colleagues argue that it is gravity, rather than thermodynamics, that draws the bowstring to let time's arrow fly. Their findings were published in October in Physical Review Letters.

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