The Almighty Buck

Author Joris Luyendijk: Economics Is Not a Science ( 357

The Real Dr John writes: A Nobel prize in economics, awarded this year to Angus Deaton, implies that the human world operates much like the physical world: that it can be described and understood in neutral terms, and that it lends itself to modeling, like chemical reactions or the movement of the stars. It creates the impression that economists are not in the business of constructing inherently imperfect theories, but of discovering timeless truths. In 1994 economists Myron Scholes and Robert Merton, with their work on derivatives, seemed to have hit on a formula that yielded a safe but lucrative trading strategy. In 1997 they were awarded the Nobel prize in economics. A year later, Long-Term Capital Management lost $4.6bn (£3bn) in less than four months; a bailout was required to avert the threat to the global financial system.

Will You Ever Be Able To Upload Your Brain? ( 263

An anonymous reader points out this piece in the Times by professor of neuroscience at Columbia and co-director of the Center for Theoretical Neuroscience Kenneth Miller, about what it would take to upload a human brain. "Much of the current hope of reconstructing a functioning brain rests on connectomics: the ambition to construct a complete wiring diagram, or 'connectome,' of all the synaptic connections between neurons in the mammalian brain. Unfortunately connectomics, while an important part of basic research, falls far short of the goal of reconstructing a mind, in two ways. First, we are far from constructing a connectome. The current best achievement was determining the connections in a tiny piece of brain tissue containing 1,700 synapses; the human brain has more than a hundred billion times that number of synapses. While progress is swift, no one has any realistic estimate of how long it will take to arrive at brain-size connectomes. (My wild guess: centuries.)"

How Academia Still Struggles With Sexual Harassment ( 344

New submitter Dr. Scatterplot writes: Richard Feynman is celebrated as a brilliant scientist and idiosyncratic character. He is also someone who today might be accused of sexual harassment. That is, if his students felt empowered to report him. Whether his department would have done anything back then is a different matter. How far should academic communities go to protect their intellectual capital, at the expense of further harm to their students, past and present? UC Berkeley and exoplanet astronomers are walking that line with prominent professor and exoplanet discoverer Geoff Marcy. "Four women alleged that Marcy repeatedly engaged in inappropriate physical behavior with students, including unwanted massages, kisses, and groping. As a result of the findings, the women were informed, Marcy has been given 'clear expectations concerning his future interactions with students,' which he must follow or risk 'sanctions that could include suspension or dismissal.''

A Remarkable Number of People Think 'The Martian' Is Based On a True Story ( 364

MarkWhittington writes: The Martian is a smash hit movie that made $100 million worldwide during its first weekend. The science and engineering depicted was, with certain notable exceptions, near perfect. The cinematography and special effects were so well done that one could almost imagine that Ridley Scott sent Matt Damon and a film crew to Mars to shoot the movie. In fact, perhaps the film was a little too good. Buzzfeed took a stroll through social media and discovered that many people think that The Martian is based on a true story.
The Almighty Buck

Researchers Unable To Replicate Findings of Published Economics Studies ( 210

An anonymous reader writes: Federal Reserve economists Andrew Chang and Phillip Li looked at 67 papers in 13 reputable academic journals. Their findings were shocking. Without the help of the authors, only a third of the results could be independently replicated. Even with the author's help, only about half, or 49%, could. Business Insider reports: "It's a pretty massive issue for economics, especially given the impact that the subject has on public policy. Li and Chang use a well-known paper by Carmen Reinhart and Ken Rogoff as an example. The study showed a significant growth drop-off once a country's national debts reached 90% of gross domestic product, but three years after being published the study was found to contain a significant Microsoft Excel error that changed the magnitude of the effect." With cancer studies and most recently psychology studies all having replication trouble, these economics papers have some company.

Space Travel For the 1%: Virgin Galactic's $250,000 Tickets Haunt New Mexico Town 239

The Real Dr John writes: The Guardian has an article about Virgin Galactic's proposed launch site, Spaceport America, which broke ground in southern New Mexico's high desert in 2009 with almost a quarter of a billion dollars from taxpayers, $76m of which came from the two local counties. Truth or Consequences, population 6,000 and home to the Spaceport America Visitor Center, is one of the poorest places in the state. The increased taxes, adopted across impoverished Sierra County, contributed to about $5m as of 2014. Since 2009, state school budgets have been cut and an estimated $26m in necessary repairs to the town's water system has been put on hold. There's no more money to pay for it. The average annual income of residents is just $15,000 per year, one third of residents live below the poverty line, and just 20% over the age of 25 have obtained a bachelor's degree.

Review: The Martian 241

I was both pleased and disappointed, as always, when I heard that a book I enjoyed was being made into a movie. Andy Weir's The Martian was the best new book I'd read in years. It was written for nerds, by a nerd — by somebody with an obvious love for NASA, science, and spaceflight. How could it possibly be condensed into the format of a Hollywood blockbuster? Well, director Ridley Scott and screenwriter Drew Goddard figured out how. The Martian is an excellent film, well worth watching. Read on for my review (very minor spoilers only), and feel free to share your own in the comments.

Majority of EU Nations Seek Opt-Out From Growing GM Crops 330

schwit1 writes: Nineteen EU member states have requested opt-outs for all or part of their territory from cultivation of a Monsanto genetically-modified crop, which is authorized to be grown in the European Union, the European Commission said on Sunday. Under a law signed in March, individual countries can seek exclusion from any approval request for genetically modified cultivation across the 28-nation EU. The law was introduced to end years of stalemate as genetically modified crops divide opinion in Europe. The requests are for opt-outs from the approval of Monsanto's GM maize MON 810, the only crop commercially cultivated in the European Union, or for pending applications, of which there are eight so far, the Commission said.

The Decline of 'Big Soda': Is Drinking Soda the New Smoking? 570 writes: Margot Sanger-Katz reports in the NYT that soda consumption is experiencing a serious and sustained decline as sales of full-calorie soda in the United States have plummeted by more than 25 percent over the past twenty years. Nearly two-thirds of Americans say they are actively trying to avoid the drinks that have been a mainstay of American culture but bottled water is now on track to overtake soda as the largest beverage category in two years. The changing patterns of soda drinking appear to come thanks, in part, to a loud campaign to eradicate sodas. School cafeterias and vending machines no longer contain regular sodas. Many workplaces and government offices have similarly prohibited their sale.

For many public health advocates, soda has become the new tobacco — a toxic product to be banned, taxed and stigmatized. "There will always be soda, but I think the era of it being acceptable for kids to drink soda all day long is passing, slowly," says Marion Nestle. "In some socioeconomic groups, it's over." Soda represents nearly 25% of the U.S. beverage market and its massive scale have guaranteed profit margins for decades. Historically, beverage preferences are set in adolescence, the first time that most people begin choosing and buying a favorite brand. But the declines in soda drinking appear to be sharpest among young Americans. "Kids these days are growing up with all of these other options, and there are some parents who say, 'I really want my kids to drink juice or a bottled water,' " says Gary A. Hemphill. "If kids grow up without carbonated soft drinks, the likelihood that they are going to grow up and, when they are 35, start drinking is very low."

Scientists Discover How To Get Kids To Eat Their Vegetables 257 writes: Roberto Ferdman writes in the Washington Post that researchers at Texas A&M University, looking for patterns in food consumption among elementary school children, found an interesting quirk about when and why kids choose to eat their vegetables. After analyzing plate waste data from nearly 8,500 students, it seems there's at least one variable that tends to affect whether kids eat their broccoli, spinach or green beans more than anything: what else is on the plate. Kids are much more likely to eat their vegetable portion when it's paired with a food that isn't so delicious that it gets all the attention. For example, when chicken nuggets and burgers, the most popular items among schoolchildren, are on the menu, vegetable waste tends to rise significantly. When other less-beloved foods, like deli sliders or baked potatoes, are served, the opposite seems to happen."Our research team looked at whether there is a relationship between consumption of certain entrees and vegetables that would lead to plate waste," says Dr. Oral Capps Jr. "We found that popular entrees such as burgers and chicken nuggets, contributed to greater waste of less popular vegetables."

Traci Man, who has been studying eating habits, self-control and dieting for more than 20 years, believes that food pairings are crucial in getting kids to eat vegetables. "Normally, vegetables will lose the competition that they're in — the competition with all the other delicious food on your plate. Vegetables might not lose that battle for everyone, but they do for most of us. This strategy puts vegetables in a competition they can win, by pitting vegetables against no food at all. To do that, you just eat your vegetable first, before any of the other food is there," says Mann. "We tested it with kids in school cafeterias, where it more than quadrupled the amount of vegetables eaten. It's just about making it a little harder to make the wrong choices, and a little easier to make the right ones."

Treefinder Revokes Software License For Users In Immigrant-Friendly Nations 578

dotancohen writes: The author of bioinformatics software Treefinder is revoking the license to his software for researchers working in eight European countries because he says those countries allow too many immigrants to cross their borders, effective 1 October. The author states, "Immigration to my country harms me, it harms my family, it harms my people. Whoever invites or welcomes immigrants to Europe and Germany is my enemy."

Talking Science and God With the Pope's New Chief Astronomer 269

sciencehabit writes: On 18 September, Pope Francis appointed Jesuit brother Guy Consolmagno as the new director of the Vatican Observatory, which employs a dozen astronomers to study asteroids, meteorites, extrasolar planets, stellar evolution, and cosmology. The observatory is based at the pope's summer residence south of Rome and operates a 1.8-meter telescope in Arizona, where the skies are clearer. Science Magazine chatted with Consolmagno about a variety of topics, including whether God gets in the way of doing good astronomy. Consolmagno said, "First of all, I want to provide space for other astronomers to do their work. And I also want to show the world that religion supports astronomy. It is often religious people who most need to see that; they need to know that astronomy is wonderful and that they shouldn't be afraid of it. I often quote John Paul II, when he said [of evolution] that "truth cannot contradict truth." If you think you already know everything about the world, you are not a good scientist, and if you think you know all there is to know about God, then your religious faith is at fault."

When Schools Overlook Introverts 307

Esther Schindler writes: A few years ago, Susan Cain's book, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking seemed to give the world a bit of enlightenment about getting the most out of people who don't think they should have to be social in order to succeed. For a while, at least some folks worked to respect the needs and advantages of introversion, such as careful, reflective thinking based on the solitude that idea-generation requires.

But in When Schools Overlook Introverts, Michael Godsey writes, "The way in which certain instructional trends — education buzzwords like "collaborative learning" and "project-based learning" and "flipped classrooms" — are applied often neglect the needs of introverts. In fact, these trends could mean that classroom environments that embrace extroverted behavior — through dynamic and social learning activities — are being promoted now more than ever." It's a thoughtful article, worth reading. As I think many people on slashdot will agree, Godsley observes, "This growing emphasis in classrooms on group projects and other interactive arrangements can be challenging for introverted students who tend to perform better when they're working independently and in more subdued environments."

Doctors On Edge As Healthcare Gears Up For 70,000 Ways To Classify Ailments 232 writes: Melinda Beck reports in the WSJ that doctors, hospitals and insurers are bracing for possible disruptions on October 1 when the U.S. health-care system switches to ICD-10, a massive new set of codes for describing illnesses and injuries that expands the way ailments are described from 14,000 to 70,000. Hospitals and physician practices have spent billions of dollars on training programs, boot camps, apps, flashcards and practice drills to prepare for the conversion, which has been postponed three times since the original date in 2011. With the move to ICD-10, the one code for suturing an artery will become 195 codes, designating every single artery, among other variables, according to OptumInsight, a unit of UnitedHealth Group Inc. A single code for a badly healed fracture could now translate to 2,595 different codes, the firm calculates. Each signals information including what bone was broken, as well as which side of the body it was on.

Propoenents says ICD-10 will help researchers better identify public-health problems, manage diseases and evaluate outcomes, and over time, will create a much more detailed body of data about patients' health—conveying a wealth of information in a single seven-digit code—and pave the way for changes in reimbursement as the nation moves toward value-based payment plans. "A clinician whose practice is filled with diabetic patients with multiple complications ought to get paid more for keeping them healthy than a clinician treating mostly cheerleaders," says Dr. Rogers. "ICD-10 will give us the precision to do that." As the changeover deadline approaches some fear a replay of the Affordable Care Act rollout debacle in 2013 that choked computer networks, delaying bills and claims for several months. Others recollect the end-of-century anxiety of Y2K, the Year 2000 computer bug that failed to materialize. "We're all hoping for the best and expecting the worst," says Sharon Ahearn. "I have built up what I call my war chest. That's to make sure we have enough working capital to see us through six to eight weeks of slow claims."

Scientists Have Spotted the Signs of Flowing Water On Mars 260

New submitter universe520 writes: Using neat imaging technology that allows them to determine the chemical compound of a substance by looking at the light reflected from it, scientists have spotted the traces of flowing water on Mars. By looking at the dark streaks on some photos of Mars, Lujendra Ojha from Georgia Tech has found compounds that are made in liquid water—meaning that water may be trickling down those streaks when the climate is just right. From the linked Economist piece: Details remain to be worked out, including where the water in question originates. Possibly, it derives from subsurface ice. Or it might condense out of Mars’s thin, dry atmosphere. Wherever it does come from, though, the amounts in question are modest in the extreme. But even modest amounts of water are intriguing to biologists. If Martians evolved during their planet’s earlier, wetter phase, the continued presence of water means it is just about possible that a few especially hardy types have survived until the present day—clinging on in dwindling pockets of dampness in the way that some “extremophile” bacteria on Earth are able to live in cold, salty and arid environments.