Space

Asteroid Risk Greatly Overestimated By Almost Everyone 222

Posted by Soulskill
from the but-my-asteroid-insurance-business-is-thriving dept.
StartsWithABang writes: When it comes to risk assessment, there's one type that humans are notoriously bad at: the very low-frequency but high-consequence risks and rewards. It's why so many of us are so eager to play the lottery, and simultaneously why we're catastrophically afraid of ebola and plane crashes, when we're far more likely to die from something mundane, like getting hit by a truck. One of the examples where science and this type of fear-based fallacy intersect is the science of asteroid strikes. With all we know about asteroids today, here's the actual risk to humanity, and it's much lower than anyone cares to admit.
Biotech

Genetically Engineered Yeast Makes It Possible To Brew Morphine 333

Posted by samzenpus
from the let-it-rise dept.
PvtVoid writes: The New York times reports that newly developed yeast strains will soon make it possible to create morphine from fermentation of sugar. While no one has claimed to make morphine in lab from scratch yet, concerns are already being raised about potential abuse. According to the Times article: "This rapid progress in synthetic biology has set off a debate about how — and whether — to regulate it. Dr. Oye and other experts said this week in a commentary in Nature Chemical Biology that drug-regulatory authorities are ill prepared to control a process that will benefit the heroin trade much more than the prescription painkiller industry. The world should take steps to head that off, they argue, by locking up the bioengineered yeast strains and restricting access to the DNA that would let drug cartels reproduce them.
Earth

Larson B Ice Shelf In Antarctica To Disintegrate Within 5 Years 293

Posted by Soulskill
from the grab-some-popcorn dept.
BarbaraHudson writes: A new study (abstract) from NASA scientists predicts an Antarctic ice shelf half the size of Rhode Island will disintegrate around 2020. The shelf has existed for roughly 10,000 years. "Ice shelves are the gatekeepers for glaciers flowing from Antarctica toward the ocean. Without them, glacial ice enters the ocean faster and accelerates the pace of global sea level rise." At its thickest point, the ice shelf remnant is a half kilometer tall, and spans approximately 1,600 square kilometers. "The glaciers' thicknesses and flow speeds changed only slightly in the first couple of years following the 2002 collapse, leading researchers to assume they remained stable. The new study revealed, however, that Leppard and Flask glaciers have thinned by 65-72 feet (20-22 meters) and accelerated considerably in the intervening years. The fastest-moving part of Flask Glacier had accelerated 36 percent by 2012 to a flow speed of 2,300 feet (700 meters) a year."
Science

A Plan On How To Stop Sexism In Science 604

Posted by samzenpus
from the working-it-out dept.
StartsWithABang writes: If there's nothing else that science has to offer, it's this elegant notion: that anyone, anywhere, at anytime, can investigate and uncover the mysteries and workings of the Universe simply by asking it the right questions in the right ways, listening to its answers, and putting the pieces together for themselves. Anyone can do it. Only, for various and sundry reasons, not everyone gets to do it. Some people don't have the economic ability, some don't have the sustained drive or interest, and some simply can't cut the mustard. But some people — some really, really good people — are driven from their passions for a sad, simple and completely unnecessary fact: that they were treated in unacceptable ways that they refused to just accept. And in a great many cases, that unacceptable treatment came simply because of their gender. Sexism sometimes looks like what you expect, and sometimes not. Here's one opinion on what we can all do about it to create the world we really want: where science really is for everyone.
Medicine

California Senate Approves School Vaccine Bill 544

Posted by samzenpus
from the get-your-shots dept.
mpicpp writes: California state senators have passed a controversial bill designed to increase school immunization rates. SB277 would prohibit parents from seeking vaccine exemptions for their children because of religious or personal beliefs. California would join West Virginia and Mississippi as the only states with such requirements if the bill becomes law. "SB 277 is about increasing immunization rates so no one will have to suffer from vaccine-preventable diseases," said Sen. Ben Allen (D- Santa Monica) who coauthored the bill with Sen. Richard Pan (D-Sacramento).
Music

What Happens To Our Musical Taste As We Age? 360

Posted by timothy
from the it-gets-righter-of-course dept.
An anonymous reader writes: New research from Spotify and Echo Nest reveals that people start off listening to chart-topping pop music and branch off into all kinds of territory in their teens and early 20s, before their musical tastes start to calcify and become more rigid by their mid-30s. "Men, it turns out, give up popular music much more quickly than women. Men and women have similar musical listening tendencies through their teens, but men start shunning mainstream artists much sooner than women and to a greater degree."
Earth

Greenland's Glaciers Develop Stretch Marks As They Accelerate 249

Posted by timothy
from the warp-speed-effect dept.
New submitter dywolf writes: NASA-run Operation IceBridge has been monitoring and mapping ice sheets for the past eight years. They develop these maps in 3D using laser equipped aircraft to measure ice thickness. As glaciers reach the coast, they begin to accelerate, which causes crevasses to appear, which are essentially stretchmarks in the glacial strata. While a natural part of glaciers as they travel to sea, the glaciers of Greenland have increased in speed by 30% in the past decade. Jakobshavn Isbrae is Greenland's fastest glacier, and is now moving four times faster than it did 20 years ago.
Earth

More Than 40% of US Honeybee Colonies Died In a 12-Month Period Ending In April 219

Posted by samzenpus
from the won't-somebody-please-think-of-the-flowers? dept.
walterbyrd writes: The Agriculture Department released its annual honeybee survey Wednesday and it doesn't look good. More than 40% of U.S. honeybee colonies died in a 12-month period ending in April. While the precise cause of the honeybee crisis is unknown, scientists generally blame a combination of factors, including poor diets and stress. Some bees die from infestations of the Varroa mite, a bloodsucking parasite that weakens bees and introduces diseases to the hive. Environmental groups also point to a class of pesticides known as neonicotinoids. In April, the Environmental Protection Agency said it would stop approving new outdoor uses for those types of chemicals until more studies on bee health are conducted.
Censorship

Third Bangladeshi Blogger Murdered In As Many Months 284

Posted by Soulskill
from the can't-we-all-just-get-along dept.
An anonymous reader writes: Ananta Bijoy Das blogged about science in Bangladesh, also sometimes tackling difficult issues about religion. He won an award in 2006 for "deep and courageous interest in spreading secular and humanist ideals and messages." He's now been murdered for his writings, the third Bangladeshi blogger to die in the past few months. Four masked assailants chased him down in broad daylight and attacked him with cleavers and machetes. The Committee to Protect Journalists says Das is the 20th writer to be murdered globally so far this year. Arrests have been made in Bangladesh for the murders of the previous two bloggers this year, but no convictions have yet been made. Das's murderers remain at large.
Earth

California Gets Past the Yuck Factor With "Toilet To Tap" Water Recycling 278

Posted by samzenpus
from the flush-me-a-cup dept.
HughPickens.com writes: From a marketing point of view, using treated sewage to create drinking water is a proposition that has proved difficult to sell to customers. Now John Schwartz writes in the NYT that as California scrambles for ways to cope with its crippling drought and the mandatory water restrictions imposed last month by Gov. Jerry Brown, enticing people to drink recycled water is requiring California residents to get past what experts call the "yuck" factor. Efforts in the 1990s to develop water reuse in San Diego and Los Angeles were beaten back by activists who denounced what they called, devastatingly, "toilet to tap." Orange County swung people to the idea of drinking recycled water with a special purification plant which has been operating since 2008 avoiding a backlash with a massive public relations campaign that involved more than 2,000 community presentations. The county does not run its purified water directly into drinking water treatment plants; instead, it sends the water underground to replenish the area's aquifers and to be diluted by the natural water supply. This environmental buffer seems to provide an emotional buffer for consumers as well.

In 2000, Los Angeles actually completed a sewage reclamation plant capable of providing water to 120,000 homes — the Donald C. Tillman Water Reclamation Plant in Van Nuys.The plan was abandoned after public outrage. Angelenos, it seemed, were too good to drink perfectly safe recycled water — dismissed as "toilet to tap." But Los Angeles is ready to try again, with plans to provide a quarter of the city's needs by 2024 with recycled water and captured storm water routed through aquifers. "The difference between this and 2000 is everyone wants this to happen," says Marty Adams. The inevitable squeamishness over drinking water that was once waste ignores a fundamental fact, says George Tchobanoglous: "When it comes down to it, water is water. Everyone who lives downstream on a river is drinking recycled water."
Earth

Ice Loss In West Antarctica Is Speeding Up 422

Posted by samzenpus
from the it's-getting-hot-in-here dept.
An anonymous reader writes: A new study just published on Antarctic ice loss by Christopher Harig and Frederik Simons of Princeton confirm West Antarctica is losing mass fast. The study used satellite measurements to determine the rate of mass loss. The lead author of the study told The Guardian: "It is very important that we continue long term monitoring of how mass changes in ice sheets. For West Antarctica in particular this is important because of how it is thought to be more unstable, where the feedbacks can cause more and more ice loss from the land over time. These strong regional accelerations that we see are very robustly measured and imply that Antarctica may become a major contributor to sea level rise in the near future. This increase in the mass loss rate, in ten years, accelerations like that show that things are beginning to change on human time scales."
Games

Psychologist: Porn and Video Game Addiction Are Leading To 'Masculinity Crisis' 950

Posted by Soulskill
from the suggests-going-outside-and-chopping-some-wood dept.
HughPickens.com writes: Philip Zimbardo is a prominent psychologist from Stanford, most notable for leading the notorious Stanford prison experiment. He has published new research findings based on the lives of 20,000 young men, and his conclusion is stark: there is a developing "masculinity crisis" caused by addiction to video games and pornography. "Our focus is on young men who play video games to excess, and do it in social isolation — they are alone in their room," says Zimbardo. "It begins to change brain function. It begins to change the reward center of the brain, and produces a kind of excitement and addiction. What I'm saying is — boys' brains are becoming digitally rewired."

As an example, Zimbardo uses this quote from one young man: "When I'm in class, I'll wish I was playing World of Warcraft. When I'm with a girl, I'll wish I was watching pornography, because I'll never get rejected." Zimbardo doesn't think there's a specific time threshold at which playing video games goes from being acceptable to excessive. He says it varies by individual, and is more based on a "psychological change in mindset." To fight the problem, he suggest families need to track how much time is being spent on video games compared to other activities. "He also called for better sex education in schools — which should focus not only on biology and safety, but also on emotions, physical contact and romantic relationships."
Space

Shape of the Universe Determined To Be Really, Really Flat 235

Posted by timothy
from the how-flat-was-it dept.
StartsWithABang writes: You might imagine all sorts of possibilities for how the Universe could have been shaped: positively curved like a higher-dimensional sphere, negatively curved like a higher-dimensional saddle, folded back on itself like a donut/torus, or spatially flat on the largest scales, like a giant Cartesian grid. Yet only one of these possibilities matches up with our observations, something we can probe simply by using our knowledge of how light travels in both flat and curved space, and measuring the CMB, the source of the most distant light in the Universe. The result? A Universe that's so incredibly flat, it's indistinguishable from perfection. Which means it's probably even flatter than Kansas.
Transportation

25 Percent of Cars Cause 90 Percent of Air Pollution 395

Posted by samzenpus
from the who's-to-blame dept.
HughPickens.com writes: Sara Novak reports that according to a recent study, "badly tuned" cars and trucks make up one quarter of the vehicles on the road, but cause 95 percent of black carbon, also known as soot, 93 percent of carbon monoxide, and 76 percent of volatile organic chemicals like benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene, and xylenes. "The most surprising thing we found was how broad the range of emissions was," says Greg Evans. "As we looked at the exhaust coming out of individual vehicles, we saw so many variations. How you drive, hard acceleration, age of the vehicle, how the car is maintained – these are things we can influence that can all have an effect on pollution." Researchers at the University of Toronto looked at 100,000 cars as they drove past air sampling probes on one of Toronto's major roads. An automated identification and integration method was applied to high time resolution air pollutant measurements of in-use vehicle emissions performed under real-world conditions at a near-road monitoring station in Toronto, Canada during four seasons, through month-long campaigns in 2013–2014. Based on carbon dioxide measurements, over 100 000 vehicle-related plumes were automatically identified and fuel-based emission factors for nitrogen oxides; carbon monoxide; particle number, black carbon; benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene, and xylenes (BTEX); and methanol were determined for each plume. Evans and his team found that policy changes need to better target cars that are causing the majority of the air pollution. "The ultrafine particles are particularly troubling," says Evans. "Because they are over 1,000 times smaller than the width of a human hair, they have a greater ability to penetrate deeper within the lung and travel in the body."
Math

NFL Releases Deflategate Report 225

Posted by timothy
from the now-watch-your-language dept.
_xeno_ writes: You may remember back in February that Slashdot covered the NFL asking Columbia University for help investigating Deflategate, a scandal where the New England Patriots were caught deflating their footballs in order to make them easier to catch. The Patriots claimed this was simply a result of the weather, while their opponents disagreed. Well, it's been months, but we finally have our answer: the balls were, in fact, knowingly deflated by the Patriots (to no one's surprise). And while science can explain a little deflation, it cannot explain the amount of deflation seen during the game. Which isn't stopping Boston fans from attacking the science. The report stops short of certainty, though, concluding rather that deliberate underinflation was "more likely than not." Not everyone agrees that a conspiracy is necessary to account for the measured pressure readings.