Science

'Rogue Scientists' Could Exploit Gene Editing Technology, Experts Warn (theguardian.com) 82

A senior geneticist and a bioethicist warned on Friday that they fear "rogue scientists" operating outside the bounds of law, and agreed with a US intelligence chief's assertion this week that gene editing technology could have huge, and potentially dangerous, consequences. Recent advances in genetics allow scientists to edit DNA quickly and accurately, making research into diseases, such as cystic fibrosis and cancer, easier than ever before. But researchers increasingly caution that they have to work with extreme care, for fear that gene editing could be deployed as bioterrorism or, in a more likely scenario, result in an accident that could make humans more susceptible to disease rather than less.
Technology

A New Technique Makes GPS Accurate To An Inch (gizmodo.com) 93

A team from the University of California, Riverside, has developed a technique that augments the regular GPS data with on-board inertial measurements from a sensor. Actually, that's been tried before, but in the past it's required large computers to combine the two data streams, rendering it ineffective for use in cars or mobile devices. Instead what the University of California team has done is create a set of new algorithms which, it claims, reduce the complexity of the calculation by several order of magnitude. In turn, that allows GPS systems in a mobile device to calculate position with an accuracy of just an inch.
Science

Potentially Deadly Drug Interactions Found Mining FDA Complaint Bin (arstechnica.com) 50

Thousands of people are sent to the hospital each year from adverse drug-drug interactions that are difficult to predict and even trickier to track. To get around the problem, a team of researchers (working with the journalists at The Chicago Tribune) created a computer model to create side-effect profiles for prescription drugs. Then, they mined a massive database of drug-reaction complaints sent to the Food and Drug Administration, as well as 380,000 electronic health records. The results of the analysis so far suggest that four drug combinations "including the combination of the common antibiotic, ceftriaxone, with the over-the-counter heartburn medication, Prevacid (lansoprazole) may cause a potentially fatal heart rhythm.
Piracy

Sci-Hub, a Site With Open and Pirated Scientific Papers 123

lpress writes: Sci-Hub is a Russian site that seeks to remove barriers to science by providing access to pirated copies of scientific papers. It was established in 2011 by Russian neuroscientist Alexandra Elbakyan, who could not afford papers she needed for her research and it now claims to have links to 48 million pirated and open papers. I tried it out and found some papers and not others, but it provides an alternative for researchers who cannot afford access to paid journals. After visiting this site, one cannot help thinking of the case of Aaron Swartz, who committed suicide as a result of prosecution for his attempt to free scientific literature.
Math

Even Einstein Doubted His Gravitational Waves (astronomy.com) 124

Flash Modin writes: In 1936, twenty years after Albert Einstein introduced the concept, the great physicist took another look at his math and came to a surprising conclusion. 'Together with a young collaborator, I arrived at the interesting result that gravitational waves do not exist, though they had been assumed a certainty to the first approximation,' he wrote in a letter to friend Max Born. Interestingly, his research denouncing gravitational waves was rejected by Physical Review Letters, the journal that just published proof of their existence. The story shows that even when Einstein's wrong, it's because he was already right the first time.
Earth

New Metallic Glass Creates Potential For Smart Windows 37

frank249 writes: A B.C. engineering lab has created metal-coated glass that transmits up to 10 per cent more light than conventional glass and opens the door to windows that function as electronics. The most immediate use of the technology is to create windows that can be programmed to absorb or reflect heat, depending on the needs of a building's occupants. Adding electronic control to windows will allow you to change the amount of light and heat passing through to more effectively use the energy provided by the sun naturally, Lead investigator Kenneth Chau credit films like Iron Man or Star Trek with providing them inspiration. "There is a dream that we can make glass smarter," he said. "These films give us concepts to strive for; the hard work is uncovering the science to make it happen." All those hours spent watching Star Trek are now starting to look like a "pretty good investment," he said. The results were published this week in the journal Scientific Reports.
Cellphones

Smartphones May Soon Provide Earthquake Warnings (sciencemag.org) 62

sciencehabit writes: When it comes to an earthquake, just a few seconds' warning could make the difference between life and death. But many earthquake-prone countries lack the seismic networks that would give their citizens the lead time to find cover or shut down critical utilities. Now, a group of enterprising engineers is looking at a substitute network: smartphones. Using smartphones' built-in accelerometers, researchers have invented an app, released today, that they say can detect strong earthquakes seconds before the damaging seismic waves arrive. MyShake, as the app is called, could become the basis for an earthquake warning system for the world's most vulnerable regions.
Earth

Researchers Improve Efficiency of Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicles By Almost 12% (dispatchtribunal.com) 59

hypnosec writes: A new study has put forward claims that by working on and improving the energy management system (EMS) that decides when the switch from 'all-electric' mode to 'hybrid' mode in plug-in hybrid electric vehicles, efficiency of these vehicles can be improved by as much as 12 per cent. Researchers have shown in their lab tests that blended discharge strategies wherein power from the battery is used throughout the trip, have proven to be more efficient at minimizing fuel consumption and emissions.
Space

Scientists Say Goodbye to Philae Comet Lander (cnn.com) 66

Today, scientists from the German Aerospace Center (DLR) announced that they are saying goodbye to Philae, the comet lander that is currently perched on Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko as it races toward the sun. According to Stephan Ulamec, Philae's project manager, "Unfortunately, the probability of Philae re-establishing contact with our team at the DLR Lander Control Center is almost zero." Philae first made history when it successfully landed on a comet in fall of 2014, but problems soon began when commands were not able to reach the robot.
AI

Google Brain Researchers Make Significant Progress On Language Modeling (arxiv.org) 32

New submitter integralclosure writes: Using neural networks, Google Brain researchers have significantly improved a computer's ability to model English (achieving extremely low perplexity score on a large dataset). Using the model they were able to generate random sentences, such as the following: 'Yuri Zhirkov was in attendance at the Stamford Bridge at the start of the second half but neither Drogba nor Malouda was able to push on through the Barcelona defence.' The sentences are generally coherent and mostly grammatically correct. Advances seem to be a replay of neural networks' dominance in the Imagenet competition.
Biotech

Self-Propelling Microparticles Spot Ricin In Minutes (acs.org) 21

ckwu writes: Tiny rocketlike particles that move around on their own in a hydrogen peroxide solution can detect trace amounts of the lethal toxin ricin within minutes. The tube-shaped, microsized particles--made of graphene oxide lined with platinum--carry sensor molecules that glow when they bind to ricin. In a dilute hydrogen peroxide solution, the platinum catalyzes the breakdown of the peroxide into water and oxygen. The oxygen bubbles shoot out one end of the tube, propelling them in the liquid like little rockets. The swimming motors could actively seek out ricin in a sample and speed up detection, paving the way towards a quick, easy way to detect the bioterrorism agent in food and water samples (without having to bring them back to a lab).
Earth

Our Hidden Neanderthal DNA May Increase Risk of Allergies, Depression (sciencemag.org) 134

sciencehabit writes: Depressed? Your inner Neanderthal may be to blame. Modern humans met and mated with these archaic people in Europe or Asia about 50,000 years ago, and researchers have long suspected that genes picked up in these trysts might be shaping health and well-being today. Now, a study in the current issue of Science details their impact. It uses a powerful new method for scanning the electronic health records of 28,000 Americans to show that some Neanderthal gene variants today can raise the risk of depression, skin lesions, blood clots, and other disorders.
Earth

Drivers Need To Forget Their GPS 571

HughPickens.com writes: Greg Milner writes in the NYT that an American tourist in Iceland directed the GPS unit in his rental car to guide him from Keflavik International Airport to a hotel in nearby Reykjavik, and ended up 250 icy miles away in Siglufjordur, a fishing village on the outskirts of the Arctic Circle. Mr. Santillan apparently explained that he was very tired after his flight and had "put his faith in the GPS." In another incident, a woman in Belgium asked GPS to take her to a destination less than two hours away and two days later, she turned up in Croatia. Finally disastrous incidents involving drivers following disused roads and disappearing into remote areas of Death Valley in California have became so common that park rangers gave them a name: "death by GPS." "If we're being honest, it's not that hard to imagine doing something similar ourselves" says Milner. "Most of us use GPS as a crutch while driving through unfamiliar terrain, tuning out and letting that soothing voice do the dirty work of navigating."

Could society's embrace of GPS be eroding our cognitive maps? Julia Frankenstein, a psychologist at the University of Freiburg's Center for Cognitive Science, says the danger of GPS is that "we are not forced to remember or process the information — as it is permanently 'at hand,' we need not think or decide for ourselves." "Next time you're in a new place, forget the GPS device. Study a map to get your bearings, then try to focus on your memory of it to find your way around. City maps do not tell you each step, but they provide a wealth of abstract survey knowledge. Fill in these memories with your own navigational experience, and give your brain the chance to live up to its abilities."
Education

Interviews: Ask Author and Programmer Andy Nicholls About R 160

Andy Nicholls has been an R programmer and consultant for Mango Solutions since 2011 (where he currently manages the R consultancy team), after a long stint as a statistician in the pharmaceutical industry. He has a serious background in mathematics, too, with a Masters in math and another in Statistics with Applications in Medicine. Andy has taught more than 50 on-site R training courses and has been involved in the development of more than 30 R packages; he's also a regular contributor to events at LondonR, the largest R user group in the UK. But since not everyone can get to London for a user group meeting, you can get some of the insights he's gained as an R expert in Sams Teach Yourself R In 24 Hours (available in print or at Safari), of which he is the lead author. Today, though, you can ask Andy about the much-lauded statistics-oriented free software (GPL) language directly -- Why to use it, how to get started, how to get things done, and where those intriguing release names come from. (The about page is helpful, too.) As usual, please ask as many questions as you'd like, but one question at a time, please.
United States

New Air Force Satellites Launched To Improve GPS (techcrunch.com) 73

AmiMoJo writes: This morning, the United Launch Alliance (ULA) successfully launched a Boeing-built satellite into orbit as part of the U.S. Air Force's Global Positioning System (GPS). This $131 million satellite was the final addition to the Air Force's most recent 12-satellite GPS series, known as the Block IIF satellites. The GPS Block IIF satellites were launched to improve the accuracy of GPS. Before the Block IIF series, the accuracy of GPS could be off by 1 meter. With the new Block IIF satellites in place that error is down to 42 centimeters.

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