An anonymous reader writes "Germany's minister for science and education, Annette Schavan, faces allegations that substantial parts of her PhD thesis have been copied without proper attribution. According to the Wordpress blog that brought up the accusations(German), 56 out of 325 pages of her thesis contain instances of plagiarism. Schavan is the same minister who called an earlier instance of plagiarism by the former German defense minister to be 'embarrassing.'"
Catch up on stories from the past week (and beyond) at the Slashdot story archive
nachiketas writes "Oxford University researchers David Porter and Fujia Chen examine the structure of silkworm cocoons, which are extremely light and tough, with properties that could inspire advanced materials for use in protective helmets and light-weight armour. 'Silkworm cocoons have evolved a remarkable range of optimal structures and properties to protect moth pupae from many different natural threats,' Porter and Chen said in their paper. These structures are lightweight, strong and porous and therefore 'ideal for the development of bio-inspired composite materials.' Their research could lead to lightweight armour that dissipates rather than deflects the particular components of a blast that do the most damage to the human body — much like crumple zones in modern cars or sound-absorbing sonar tiles that make submarines harder to detect."
The Bad Astronomer writes "A star in a galaxy 2.7 billion light years away wandered too close to a supermassive black hole and suffered the ultimate fate: it was literally torn apart by the black hole's gravity. The event was seen as a flash of ultraviolet light flaring 350 times brighter than the galaxy itself, slowly fading over time. Astronomers were able to determine that some of the star's material was eaten by the black hole, and some flung off into space. Although rare, this is the second time such a thing has been seen; the other was just last year."
daveschroeder writes "After a marathon debate over a pair of studies that show how the avian H5N1 influenza virus could become transmissible in mammals, and an unprecedented recommendation by the National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity (NSABB) to block publication, and its subsequent reversal, a study by Yoshihiro Kawaoka at the University of Wisconsin–Madison was finally and fully published today. 'Experimental adaptation of an influenza H5 HA confers respiratory droplet transmission to a reassortant H5 HA/H1N1 virus in ferrets' appears in the journal Nature."
sciencehabit writes "A team of researchers has zoomed in on two spots on the body of the Iceman, a mummified, 5300-year-old hunter found frozen in the Alps in 1991: a shoulder wound found with an embedded arrowhead and a hand lesion resembling a stab wound. The scientists used atomic force microscopy, a visualization method with resolution of less than a nanometer, to scan the wounds for blood residue. They discovered red blood cells — the oldest in the world to be found intact — as well as fibrin, a protein needed for blood to clot. The presence of fibrin indicates that the Iceman, nicknamed Ötzi, didn't die immediately after being wounded."
Layzej writes "The New York Times reports: 'For decades, a small group of scientific dissenters has been trying to shoot holes in the prevailing science of climate change, offering one reason after another why the outlook simply must be wrong.' Initially they claimed that weather stations exaggerated the warming trend. This was disproven by satellite data which shows a similar warming trend. Next, solar activity was blamed for much of the warming. This looked like a promising theory until the '80s, when solar output started to diverge from global temperatures. Now, climate contrarians are convinced that changes in cloud cover will largely mitigate the warming caused by increased CO2. The New York Times examines how even this last bastion for dissenters is crumbling. Over the past few years, Several papers have shown that rather than being a mitigating factor, changes in cloud cover due to warming may actually enhance further warming."
New submitter drom writes "Google released a key part of their Street View pipeline as open source on Tuesday: Ceres Solver. It's a large-scale nonlinear least squares minimizer. What does that mean? It's a way to fit a model (like expected position of a car) to data (like GPS positions or accelerometers). The library is completely general and works for many problems. It offers state of the art performance for bundle adjustment problems typical in 3D reconstruction, among others."
New submitter wagdav writes " Open Research Computation, a peer-reviewed journal on software designed for use by researchers closes on 8th May 2012. It just started to accept manuscripts sometime last year, and had not actually launched yet. The journal was to be open access and tried to be different than others with very demanding pre-submission requirements such as: code availability, high quality documentation and testing, the availability of test input and output data, and reproducibility. Now it is planned to be launched as an ongoing series in Source Code for Biology and Medicine."
revealingheart writes with this quote from ScienceDaily: "On 5 and 6 June this year, millions of people around the world will be able to see Venus pass across the face of the Sun in what will be a once-in-a-lifetime experience. It will take Venus about six hours to complete its transit, appearing as a small black dot on the Sun's surface, in an event that will not happen again until 2117. ...Transits of Venus occur only on the very rare occasions when Venus and Earth are in a line with the Sun. At other times Venus passes below or above the Sun because the two orbits are at a slight angle to each other. Transits occur in pairs separated by eight years, with the gap between pairs of transits alternating between 105.5 and 121.5 years — the last transit was in 2004." You can check this chart to see whether it'll be visible at your location, and when you should look. You'll need a safe way to watch unless you are Vulcan. And yes, there's even a phone app to help you out.
judgecorp writes "The British Government has announced its plans to handle solar storms. The idea is to improve the resilience of infrastructure, including satellite communications — which the government says will also be useful against the future possibility of electromagnetic pulse (EMP) weapons. From the report: 'National Grid and DECC are building on the work of the Space Environment Impacts Evaluation Group and E3C to analyse the range of impacts of extreme space weather events, with the Carrington Event being adopted as the reasonable worst case. These scientific assessments have enabled National Grid to change the design requirements for its Supergrid transformers, and to increase its reserve holding of transformers. National Grid is currently developing improved monitoring tools with the British Geological Survey (BGS) and installing or reinstalling Geomagnetically Induced Currents (GIC) monitoring devices into its Strategic Asset Management program. The next steps will be for National Grid, in association with BGS and working with E3C, to develop more detailed modelling of severe space weather events including impacts on generator transformers. This will extend and strengthen its analysis on the electricity transmission system completed so far.'"
hessian sends this excerpt from Medical Xpress "Autism has a strong genetic basis, but so far efforts to identify the responsible genes have had mixed results. The reason for this is that autism is influenced by many different genes, and different genes are involved in different individuals, making it hard to find the common genetic ground between patients. Now, research conducted at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem has shown that despite this fact, the different genes involved in autism tend to be involved in specific processes in the brain. This can explain, on the one hand, similarities in the behavioral symptoms of different autistics, but also the large spectrum of behaviors observed in different autistic individuals."
New submitter Lasrick writes "Skip past the dry abstract to Jan Beyea's main article for a thorough exploration of what's wrong with current 'safe' levels of low-level radiation exposure. The Bulletin is just releasing its 'Radiation Issue,' which is available for free for two weeks. It explores how the NRC may be changing recommended safe dosages, and how the studies for prolonged exposure have, until recently, been based on one-time exposures (Hiroshima, etc.). New epidemiological studies on prolonged exposure (medical exposures, worker exposures, etc.) are more accurate and tell a different tale. This is a long article, but reads well." Here's the free, downloadable PDF version, too.
MatthewVD writes "Pluto may have been downgraded to a dwarf planet, but researchers modeling its wisp of an atmosphere continue to find that it is a surprisingly complex world, particularly when it comes to weather patterns. Howling winds that sweep clockwise around the planet at up to 225 mph — though the atmosphere is so thin, it would only feel like 1 mph on Earth. The algorithms used to model the atmosphere will be helpful in studying far more complex atmospheres, like Earth's."
Harperdog writes "Noah Schactman has a great piece on the Airborne Laser, the ray gun-equipped 747 that became a symbol of wasteful Pentagon weaponeering. Despite sixteen years and billions of dollars in development, the jet could never reliably blast a missile in trials. Now the House Armed Services Committee's Strategic Forces wants the Airborne Laser to be used to defend us against the threat of North Korea's failed missiles."
sciencehabit writes "In a world where we've tamed our environment and largely protected ourselves from the vagaries of nature, we may think we're immune to the forces of natural selection. But a new study finds that the process that drives evolution was still shaping us as recently as the 19th century (abstract). 'The finding comes from an analysis of the birth, death, and marital records of 5923 people born between 1760 and 1849 in four farming or fishing villages in Finland. ... Natural selection was alive and well in all of the villages the researchers surveyed."