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Science

How Close Are We, Really, To Nuclear Fusion? 380

StartsWithABang writes: The ultimate dream when it comes to clean, green, safe, abundant energy is nuclear fusion. The same process that powers the core of the Sun could also power everything on Earth millions of times over, if only we could figure out how to reach that breakeven point. Right now, we have three different candidates for doing so: inertial confinement, magnetic confinement, and magnetized target fusion. Recent advances have all three looking promising in various ways, making one wonder why we don't spend more resources towards achieving the holy grail of energy.
Wireless Networking

French Woman Gets €800/month For Electromagnetic-Field 'Disability' 443

An anonymous reader writes: If you were dismayed to hear Tuesday's news that a school is being sued over Wi-Fi sickness, you might be even more disappointed in a recent verdict by the French judicial system. A court based in Toulouse has awarded a disability claim of €800 (~$898) per month for three years over a 39-year-old woman's "hypersensitivity to electromagnetic waves." Robin Des Toits, an organization that campaigns for "sufferers" of this malady, was pleased: "We can no longer say that it is a psychiatric illness." (Actually, we can and will.) The woman has been living in a remote part of France's south-west mountains with no electricity around. She claims to be affected by common gadgets like cellphones.
News

'Ingenious' Experiment Closes Loopholes In Quantum Theory 210

Annanag writes: A Bell experiment in the Netherlands has plugged loopholes in the theory of quantum mechanics using a technique called entanglement swapping to combine the benefits of using both light and matter. It's Nobel-Prize winning stuff. Quoting: "Experiments that use entangled photons are prone to the ‘detection loophole’: not all photons produced in the experiment are detected, and sometimes as many as 80% are lost. Experimenters therefore have to assume that the properties of the photons they capture are representative of the entire set. ...

[In the new work], researchers started with two unentangled electrons sitting in diamond crystals held in different labs on the Delft campus, 1.3 kilometers apart. Each electron was individually entangled with a photon, and both of those photons were then zipped to a third location. There, the two photons were entangled with each other — and this caused both their partner electrons to become entangled, too.

This did not work every time. In total, the team managed to generate 245 entangled pairs of electrons over the course of nine days. The team's measurements exceeded Bell’s bound, once again supporting the standard quantum view. Moreover, the experiment closed both loopholes at once: because the electrons were easy to monitor, the detection loophole was not an issue, and they were separated far enough apart to close the communication loophole, too."
Medicine

Study: More Than Half of Psychological Results Can't Be Reproduced 252

Bruce66423 writes: A new study trying to replicate results reported in allegedly high quality journals failed to do so in over 50% of cases. Those of us from a hard science background always had our doubts about this sort of stuff — it's interesting to see it demonstrated — or rather, as the man says: 'Psychology has nothing to be proud of when it comes to replication,' Charles Gallistel, president of the Association for Psychological Science. Back in June a crowd-sourced effort to replicate 100 psychology studies had a 39% success rate.
NASA

NASA Scientists Paint Stark Picture of Accelerating Sea Level Rise 376

A NASA panel yesterday announced widely reported finding that global sea levels have risen about three inches since 1992, and that these levels are expected to keep rising as much as several more feet over the next century -- on the upper end of model-based predictions that have been made so far. From the Sydney Morning Herald piece linked above: NASA says Greenland has lost an average of 303 gigatons [of ice] yearly for the past decade. Since it takes 360 gigatons to raise sea level by a millimetre, that would suggest Greenland has done this about eight times over just in the last 10 years or so. "People need to be prepared for sea level rise," said Joshua Willis, an oceanographer at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in La Cañada Flintridge. "It's not going to stop."
Education

The Case For Teaching Ignorance 236

HughPickens.com writes: In the mid-1980s, a University of Arizona surgery professor, Marlys H. Witte, proposed teaching a class entitled "Introduction to Medical and Other Ignorance." Far too often, she believed, teachers fail to emphasize how much about a given topic is unknown. "Textbooks spend 8 to 10 pages on pancreatic cancer," said Witte, "without ever telling the student that we just don't know very much about it." Now Jamie Holmes writes in the NY Times that many scientific facts simply aren't solid and immutable, but are instead destined to be vigorously challenged and revised by successive generations. According to Homes, presenting ignorance as less extensive than it is, knowledge as more solid and more stable, and discovery as neater also leads students to misunderstand the interplay between answers and questions.

In 2006, a Columbia University neuroscientist named Stuart J. Firestein, began teaching a course on scientific ignorance after realizing, to his horror, that many of his students might have believed that we understand nearly everything about the brain. "This crucial element in science was being left out for the students," says Firestein."The undone part of science that gets us into the lab early and keeps us there late, the thing that "turns your crank," the very driving force of science, the exhilaration of the unknown, all this is missing from our classrooms. In short, we are failing to teach the ignorance, the most critical part of the whole operation." The time has come to "view ignorance as 'regular' rather than deviant," argue sociologists Matthias Gross and Linsey McGoey. Our students will be more curious — and more intelligently so — if, in addition to facts, they were equipped with theories of ignorance as well as theories of knowledge.
Medicine

MIT Researchers Discover "Metabolic Master Switch" To Control Obesity 381

New submitter ahbond writes: The meme of the chubby nerd alone in the basement may be a thing of the past. Well, at least the chubby part, if recent work at MIT pans out and we're able to use a biological "master switch" to "dial-in" a persons metabolic rate. “Obesity has traditionally been seen as the result of an imbalance between the amount of food we eat and how much we exercise, but this view ignores the contribution of genetics to each individual’s metabolism,” said senior author Manolis Kellis, a professor of computer science and a member of MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory and of the Broad Institute.
Biotech

Researchers Grow Tiny Human Brain In Lab 244

schwit1 writes: A team of researchers from Ohio State University claim to have grown a human brain in their lab that approximates the brain of a five-week-old fetus. They say the tiny brain is not conscious, but it could be used to test drugs and study diseases, but scientific peers urge caution. "The brain, which is about the size of a pencil eraser, is engineered from adult human skin cells and is the most complete human brain model yet developed, [the researchers say]. ... Anand and his colleagues claim to have reproduced 99% of the brain’s diverse cell types and genes. They say their brain also contains a spinal cord, signalling circuitry and even a retina." The team's data has not yet been peer reviewed.
Crime

Police Training Lacks Scientific Input 277

An anonymous reader writes: Police have been under a microscope over the past year for their involvement in some high-profile shootings. We've heard over and over that police need more and better training to keep these incidents from happening, but the truth is that there's no good framework within law enforcement to base their training on actual science. Officers tend to teach from their own experience, and research into techniques for dealing with unpredictable people goes widely unnoticed. "Carl Bell, a psychologist at the University of Illinois at Chicago who has done key work on de-escalation with the mentally ill, said his attempts to introduce techniques to the Chicago police never got anywhere. 'There's no systematic incorporation of research.'" Nobody expects officers to consult an academic journal when they're facing down a hostile suspect, but science needs to be part of conversation we're having.
Mars

Donald Trump Thinks Going To Mars Would Be "Wonderful" But There Is a Catch 442

MarkWhittington writes: Donald Trump, the mercurial real estate tycoon and media personality who, much to the surprise of one and all, has become the front-runner for the Republican nomination for president opened his mind just a little about his attitude toward space exploration, according to a story in Forbes. In an answer to a question put to him about sending humans to Mars, the current focus at NASA, Trump said, "Honestly, I think it's wonderful; I want to rebuild our infrastructure first, ok? I think it's wonderful." In other words, dreams of going to Mars must take a back seat to more Earthly concerns. It is not an answer many space exploration supporters want to hear.
Earth

How California Is Winning the Drought 390

An anonymous reader writes: California is in its fifth year of drought; the past four years have been the driest four-year period in recorded history, and the hottest as well. There have been consistent worries about how it will affect California's residents and its economy — but somehow, the state still seems to be doing fine. "In 2014, the state's economy grew 27 percent faster than the country's economy as a whole — the state has grown faster than the nation every year of the drought. ... The drought has inspired no Dust Bowl-style exodus. California's population has grown faster even as the drought has deepened."

The article makes the case that California is pioneering the water preservation and governance techniques that will be helpful elsewhere in the country if the global climate continues to warm. "The Metropolitan Water District of Southern California now supplies roughly 19 million people in six counties, and it uses slightly less water than it did 25 years ago, when it supplied 15 million people. That savings — more than one billion gallons each day — is enough to supply all of New York City." The article notes, however, that this resilience won't last forever — if the drought continues for several more years, California will be in trouble despite their water-saving tactics.
Earth

Climatologists: By 2100, the Earth Will Have an Entirely Different Ocean 417

merbs writes: The ocean is in the midst of radical, manmade change. It can seem kind of crazy that one of the most immense properties on Earth—the ocean washes over 71 percent of the planet—could be completely transformed by a swarm of comparatively tiny, fleshy mammals. But humans are indeed remaking the ocean, in almost every conceivable way. The ocean we know today—that billions swim, fish, float, and surf in—that vast planetary body of water will be of an entirely different character by the end of the century: hotter, higher, trashier, and more acidic.
Earth

California Fights Drought With 96 Million "Shade Balls" 234

HughPickens.com writes: Katie Rogers writes in the NY Times that the city of Los Angeles is releasing 96 million plastic "shade balls" into the 175-acre Los Angeles Reservoir to help block sunlight and UV rays that promote algae growth, which would help keep the city's drinking water safe. Officials also say the balls will help slow the rate of evaporation, which drains the water supply of about 300 million gallons a year. The balls cost $0.36 each and are part of a $34.5 million initiative to protect the water supply. Shade balls are the brainchild of Brian White, a biologist with the utility who based the idea on "bird balls" that he observed in waterways near airport runways to prevent airfield bird strikes. The Los Angeles Reservoir, which holds 3.3 billion gallons, or enough water to supply the city for up to three weeks, joins three other reservoirs already covered in the shade balls. "In the midst of California's historic drought, it takes bold ingenuity to maximize my goals for water conservation," says Mayor Eric Garcetti who was at the Los Angeles Reservoir to mark the addition of 20,000 of the small balls to the lake. "This effort by LADWP is emblematic of the kind of the creative thinking we need to meet those challenges."
The Almighty Buck

Coca-Cola To Fund Research That Shifts Blame For Obesity Away From Bad Diets 663

An anonymous reader writes: The NY Times reports that Coca-Cola is teaming up with influential scientists to support research into fighting obesity through other means than improving diet. They've provided funding to a new nonprofit called the Global Energy Balance Network. Its president said, "Most of the focus in the popular media and in the scientific press is, 'Oh they're eating too much, eating too much, eating too much' — blaming fast food, blaming sugary drinks and so on. And there's really virtually no compelling evidence that that, in fact, is the cause." Health experts say it's an attempt by Coca-cola to deflect criticism of the sugary drinks that are the lifeblood of its business. "This clash over the science of obesity comes in a period of rising efforts to tax sugary drinks, remove them from schools and stop companies from marketing them to children. In the last two decades, consumption of full-calorie sodas by the average American has dropped by 25 percent."
Biotech

Scotland To Ban GM Crops 361

An anonymous reader writes: Scotland's rural affairs minister has announced the country will ban the growing of genetically modified crops. He said, "I am concerned that allowing GM crops to be grown in Scotland would damage our clean and green brand, thereby gambling with the future of our £14 billion food and drink sector." Many Scottish farmers disapprove of the ban, pointing out that competing farms in nearby England face no such restriction. "The hope was to have open discussion and allow science to show the pros and cons for all of us to understand either the potential benefits or potential downsides. What we have now is that our competitors will get any benefits and we have to try and compete. It is rather naïve."