Can We Reduce Cow Methane Emissions By Breeding Low-Emission Cattle? ( 224

An anonymous reader quotes Popular Science: Raising cattle contributes to global warming in a big way. The animals expel large amounts of methane when they burp and fart, a greenhouse gas many times more potent than carbon dioxide. U.S. beef production, in fact, roughly equals the annual emissions of 24 million cars, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists. That's a lot of methane... Researchers think there may be a better way. Rather than ask people to give up beef, they are trying to design more climate-friendly cattle.

The goal is to breed animals with digestive systems that can create less methane. One approach is to tinker with the microbes that live in the rumen, the main organ in the animals' digestive tract... Scientists in the United Kingdom last year found that a cow's genes influence the makeup of these microbial communities, which include bacteria and also Archaea, the primary producers of methane. This discovery means cattle farmers potentially could selectively breed animals that end up with a lower ratio of Archaea-to-bacteria, thus leading to less methane... "The selection to reduce methane emissions would be permanent, cumulative and sustainable over generations as with any other trait, such as growth rate, milk yield, etc. used in animal breeding." This, over time, "would have a substantial impact on methane emissions from livestock," Roehe said.

Breeding low-emission cattle would also make it cheaper to raise cattle -- and improve the quality of meat.

Memorial Set For 'Pi Day' Creator ( 56

"Three-point-one-four was more than a number to museum curator Larry Shaw," writes the San Francisco Chronicle. Long-time Slashdot reader linuxwrangler writes: In 1988 at a retreat for San Francisco Exploratorium staff, Larry Shaw proposed linking the digits of pi, which begins 3.14, with the date March 14. Initially the "holiday" was only celebrated by museum staff but it didn't take long for the idea to spread and Pi Day was born.

For 38 years, Mr. Shaw donned a red cap emblazoned with the magic digits and led a parade of museum goers, each of them holding a sign bearing one of the digits of pi. Shaw died August 19 at age 78 and a memorial is planned for Sunday September 24.

The memorial will be held in Mill Valley, California, the Chronicle reports, adding that "pie will be served."

New Antibody Attacks 99% of HIV Strains ( 149

An anonymous reader quotes a report from BBC: Scientists have engineered an antibody that attacks 99% of HIV strains and can prevent infection in primates. It is built to attack three critical parts of the virus -- making it harder for HIV to resist its effects. The work is a collaboration between the US National Institutes of Health and the pharmaceutical company Sanofi. Our bodies struggle to fight HIV because of the virus' incredible ability to mutate and change its appearance. These varieties of HIV -- or strains -- in a single patient are comparable to those of influenza during a worldwide flu season. So the immune system finds itself in a fight against an insurmountable number of strains of HIV. But after years of infection, a small number of patients develop powerful weapons called "broadly neutralizing antibodies" that attack something fundamental to HIV and can kill large swathes of HIV strains. Researchers have been trying to use broadly neutralizing antibodies as a way to treat HIV, or prevent infection in the first place. The study, published in the journal Science, combines three such antibodies into an even more powerful "tri-specific antibody." The experiments conducted on 24 monkeys showed none of those given the tri-specific antibody developed an infection when they were later injected with the virus. "We're getting 99% coverage, and getting coverage at very low concentrations of the antibody," said Dr Gary Nabel, the chief scientific officer at Sanofi and one of the report authors.

Most Powerful Cosmic Rays Come From Galaxies Far, Far Away ( 97

A new study finds the highest-energy cosmic rays to bombard Earth come from galaxies far, far away. reports: The sun emits relatively low-energy cosmic rays. However, for more than 50 years, scientists have also detected ultra-high-energy cosmic rays, ones far beyond the capability of any particle accelerator on Earth to generate. One way to discover the origins of ultra-high-energy cosmic rays is to study their directions of travel. However, ultra-high-energy cosmic rays only rarely strike Earth's atmosphere, with one hitting any given area about the size of a soccer field about once per century, the researchers said. In order to detect ultra-high-energy cosmic rays, scientists look for the spray of electrons, photons and other particles that result when ultra-high-energy cosmic rays hit the top of Earth's atmosphere. Each of these showers contains more than 10 billion particles, which fly downward in a disk shaped like a giant plate miles wide, according to the statement. Scientists examined the sprays from ultra-high-energy cosmic rays using the largest cosmic-ray observatory yet: the Pierre Auger Observatory built in the western plains of Argentina in 2001. It consists of an array of 1,600 particle detectors deployed in a hexagonal grid over 1,160 square miles (3,000 square kilometers), an area comparable in size to Rhode Island. A connected set of telescopes is also used to see the dim fluorescent light the particles in the sprays emit at night.

The researchers analyzed data collected between 2004 and 2016. During these 12 years, the scientists detected more than 30,000 ultra-high-energy cosmic rays. If ultra-high-energy cosmic rays came from the Milky Way, one might perhaps expect them to come from all across the sky, or perhaps mostly from the direction of the supermassive black hole at the galaxy's center. However, the researchers saw that ultra-high-energy cosmic rays mostly came from a broad area of sky about 90 degrees away from the direction of the Milky Way's core.


Fathers Pass On Four Times As Many New Genetic Mutations As Mothers, Says Study ( 181

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Guardian: Children inherit four times as many new mutations from their fathers than their mothers, according to research that suggests faults in the men's DNA are a driver for rare childhood diseases. Researchers studied 14,000 Icelanders and found that men passed on one new mutation for every eight months of age, compared with women who passed on a new mutation for every three years of age. The figures mean that a child born to 30-year-old parents would, on average, inherit 11 new mutations from the mother, but 45 from the father. Kari Stefansson, a researcher at the Icelandic genetics company, deCODE, which led the study, said that while new mutations led to variation in the human genome, which is necessary for evolution to happen, "they are also believed to be responsible for the majority of cases of rare diseases in childhood." In the study published in Nature, the researchers analyzed the DNA of 1,500 Icelanders and their parents and, for 225 people, at least one of their children. They found that new mutations from mothers increased by 0.37 per year of age, a quarter of the rate found in men. While the vast majority of new mutations are thought to be harmless, occasionally they can disrupt the workings of genes that are important for good health.

EU Paid For Report That Said Piracy Isn't Harmful -- And Tried To Hide Findings ( 169

According to Julia Reda's blog, the only Pirate in the EU Parliament, the European Commission in 2014 paid the Dutch consulting firm Ecorys 360,000 euros (about $428,000) to research the effect piracy had on sales of copyrighted content. The final report was finished in May 2015, but was never published because the report concluded that piracy isn't harmful. The Next Web reports: The 300-page report seems to suggest that there's no evidence that supports the idea that piracy has a negative effect on sales of copyrighted content (with some exceptions for recently released blockbusters). The report states: "In general, the results do not show robust statistical evidence of displacement of sales by online copyright infringements. That does not necessarily mean that piracy has no effect but only that the statistical analysis does not prove with sufficient reliability that there is an effect. An exception is the displacement of recent top films. The results show a displacement rate of 40 per cent which means that for every ten recent top films watched illegally, four fewer films are consumed legally."

On her blog, Julia Reda says that a report like this is fundamental to discussions about copyright policies -- where the general assumption is usually that piracy has a negative effect on rightsholders' revenues. She also criticizes the Commissions reluctance to publish the report and says it probably wouldn't have released it for several more years if it wasn't for the access to documents request she filed in July.
As for why the Commission hadn't published the report earlier, Reda says: "all available evidence suggests that the Commission actively chose to ignore the study except for the part that suited their agenda: In an academic article published in 2016, two European Commission officials reported a link between lost sales for blockbusters and illegal downloads of those films. They failed to disclose, however, that the study this was based on also looked at music, ebooks and games, where it found no such connection. On the contrary, in the case of video games, the study found the opposite link, indicating a positive influence of illegal game downloads on legal sales. That demonstrates that the study wasn't forgotten by the Commission altogether..."

How Flying Seriously Messes With Your Mind and Body ( 264

dryriver writes: BBC Future has an interesting piece about how traveling in an airliner does strange things to people's minds and bodies, such as far more people starting to cry while watching even mildly emotional movies on airplanes than what is normal, some passengers experiencing decreases in acuity of sight, taste and smell (airline meals are over-seasoned to compensate for this), unusual tiredness or desire to sleep, your skin drying out by up to 37% percent and possibly becoming itchy, and some people breaking wind far more often than they normally would. Here is an excerpt form the report: "There can be no doubt that aircraft cabins are peculiar places for humans to be. They are a weird environment where the air pressure is similar to that atop an 8,000ft-high (2.4km) mountain. The humidity is lower than in some of the world's driest deserts while the air pumped into the cabin is cooled as low as 10C (50F) to whisk away the excess heat generated by all the bodies and electronics onboard. The reduced air pressure on airline flights can reduce the amount of oxygen in passengers' blood between 6 and 25%, a drop that in hospital would lead many doctors to administer supplementary oxygen. There are some studies, however, that show even relatively mild levels of hypoxia (deficiency in oxygen) can alter our ability to think clearly. At oxygen levels equivalent to altitudes above 12,000ft (3.6km), healthy adults can start to show measurable changes in their memory, their ability to perform calculations and make decisions. This is why the aviation regulations insist that pilots must wear supplementary oxygen if the cabin air pressure is greater than 12,500ft. A study in 2007 showed that after about three hours at the altitudes found in airline cabins, people start to complain about feeling uncomfortable."

Scientists Create World's First 'Molecular Robot' Capable of Building Molecules ( 86

New submitter re385 shares a report from Science Magazine: Scientists at The University of Manchester have created the world's first "molecular robot" that is capable of performing basic tasks including building other molecules. The tiny robots, which are a millionth of a millimeter in size, can be programmed to move and build molecular cargo, using a tiny robotic arm. Each individual robot is capable of manipulating a single molecule and is made up of just 150 carbon, hydrogen, oxygen and nitrogen atoms. To put that size into context, a billion billion of these robots piled on top of each other would still only be the same size as a single grain of salt. The robots operate by carrying out chemical reactions in special solutions which can then be controlled and programmed by scientists to perform the basic tasks. In the future such robots could be used for medical purposes, advanced manufacturing processes and even building molecular factories and assembly lines. The research will be published in Nature on Thursday 21st September. "All matter is made up of atoms and these are the basic building blocks that form molecules," explains Professor David Leigh, who led the research at University's School of Chemistry. "Our robot is literally a molecular robot constructed of atoms just like you can build a very simple robot out of Lego bricks. The robot then responds to a series of simple commands that are programmed with chemical inputs by a scientist. It is similar to the way robots are used on a car assembly line. Those robots pick up a panel and position it so that it can be riveted in the correct way to build the bodywork of a car. So, just like the robot in the factory, our molecular version can be programmed to position and rivet components in different ways to build different products, just on a much smaller scale at a molecular level."

E-Cigarettes With Nicotine Increase Your Risk of Heart Disease, Says Study ( 170

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Verge: Even after puffing on just one electronic cigarette with nicotine, healthy non-smokers were found to have a biological marker known to increase the risk of heart disease in tobacco users, according to a new study. The research, published in Journal of the American Heart Association, shows that nicotine is not harmless, as many people believe. It can affect a smoker's health in more than one way, and not just by triggering addiction. Another study, conducted by Middlekauff that was published earlier this year, showed that people who use e-cigs almost every day have biological markers known to increase the risk of heart disease in tobacco users. These included an increase in adrenaline levels in the heart, which can predispose smokers to bad heart rhythms, heart attacks, and sudden death, as well as increased oxidative stress, an imbalance in the body's ability to defend itself against the damaging action of free radicals. Oxidative stress can lead to changes in blood fats and lead to arteriosclerosis.

That study, however, didn't show what exactly was causing those changes. E-cigarettes can have different flavoring and solvents, as well as nicotine. So to identify the culprit, Middlekauff brought 33 healthy non-smokers and non-vapers into the lab. On three different days, one month apart, the participants were asked to puff on three different kinds of e-cigarettes for 30 minutes: one with nicotine, one without nicotine, and a sham e-cig that was empty. The researchers did blood tests and measured the subjects' heart rhythms, and found that the participants had high levels of adrenaline in their hearts after they smoked the e-cig with nicotine, but not after they puffed on the e-cigarette without nicotine or the empty e-cig.


Computer Science Degrees Aren't Returning On Investment For Coders, Research Finds ( 395

According to a new survey, coders with a bachelor's degree in computer science only earn 3,000 British Pounds (BP) more a year than those who don't have one. The survey of 4,700 developers in the UK was conducted by Stack Overflow, a community site frequented by developers for answers to technical questions. The Register reports the findings: This is despite the average degree now costing 9,000 BP a year in tuition fees alone. Average student debt is now more than 50,000 BP, according the Institute of Fiscal Studies. The research found that the median salary of those who did not have higher education was 35,000 BP per year, while those who gained a bachelor's degree earned 38,000 BP and postgraduates took home 42,000 BP. It found that 48 per cent of developers with less than four years of professional experience currently hold a Computer Science-related undergraduate degree, while 49 per cent had completed an online course instead. The research also found that JavaScript developers were most in demand, with almost 27 per cent of jobs advertised on Stack Overflow now requiring this skill, followed by Java (22 per cent), Python (16 per cent), C# (15 per cent) and ReactJS (9 per cent).

Seismologist Explains Mexico's Back-To-Back Earthquakes ( 50

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Verge: The second major earthquake to strike Mexico in less than two weeks has caused catastrophic damage in the country's capital. The magnitude 7.1 temblor started at around 1:15PM -- cracking highways, collapsing buildings, and, so far, killing more than 200 people. Less than two weeks ago on September 7th (local time), a magnitude 8.1 quake struck roughly 400 miles southeast from today's. It's not common to hear of such strong earthquakes happening back-to-back so close to one another, says John Bellini, a geophysicist with the U.S. Geological Survey. "Usually you don't have large ones in the same general region right away," Bellini says. "But in highly [seismically] active regions of the world, it can happen."

Mexico qualifies as highly active. The country sits at the boundary of three pieces of the Earth's crust that fit together like a jigsaw puzzle -- called tectonic plates. Today's quake originated on a fault within the Cocos plate, which is on Mexico's western edge. "Whether or not faults rupture depends on the kind of stress that builds up," Bellini says. The Cocos plate scoots rapidly under the continental crust of the North American plate, which "builds up the stress and strain at a faster rate," Bellini says. "So you're liable to have more frequent earthquakes because of that." Mexico City is especially prone to severe damage because of the ground it sits on -- an ancient lakebed that quivers like jello, Bellini says. When earthquake waves pass through it, it jiggles, magnifying the vibrations. "So the reason that Mexico City seems susceptible to more damage is because of this amplification effect of the lake bed," Bellini says.


Mathematical Formula Predicts Global Mass Extinction Event in 2100 ( 394

Kate Lunau, writing for Motherboard: A new paper in Science Advances finds that a mass extinction period mirroring ones from our planet's ancient past could be triggered when humanity adds a certain amount of carbon to the oceans, which are home to the majority of all plants and animals on our planet. The paper pegs that amount at 310 gigatons. According to lead author Daniel Rothman of MIT, based on projections from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, we're on course to hit that number by 2100. After that, we enter "unknown territory." [...] Previous mass extinctions have happened over the course of thousands or millions of years, but the period of change we're in right now has lasted centuries at best, making it hard to compare them. Although plenty of experts say Earth is already experiencing a sixth mass extinction, that remains "a scientific question," Rothman, who is professor of geophysics in the MIT Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences, told me. Once our planet hits the threshold he identified in this paper, he explained, it will kickstart changes that will "amplify" everything that came before. These same changes, to reiterate, have been associated with all previous mass extinctions on Earth.

Consciousness Goes Deeper Than You Think ( 288

An anonymous reader shares a post from Scientific American, written by Bernardo Kastrup: An article on the neuroscience of infant consciousness, which attracted some interest a few years ago, asked: "When does your baby become conscious?" The premise, of course, was that babies aren't born conscious but, instead, develop consciousness at some point. Yet, it is hard to think that there is nothing it feels like to be a newborn. Newborns clearly seem to experience their own bodies, environment, the presence of their parents, etcetera -- albeit in an unreflective, present-oriented manner. And if it always feels like something to be a baby, then babies don't become conscious. Instead, they are conscious from the get-go. The problem is that, somewhat alarmingly, the word "consciousness" is often used in the literature as if it entailed or implied more than just the qualities of experience. Dijksterhuis and Nordgren, for instance, insisted that "it is very important to realize that attention is the key to distinguish between unconscious thought and conscious thought. Conscious thought is thought with attention." This implies that if a thought escapes attention, then it is unconscious.

Indeed, Jonathan Schooler has established a clear distinction between conscious and meta-conscious processes. Whereas both types entail the qualities of experience, meta-conscious processes also entail what he called re-representation. "Periodically attention is directed towards explicitly assessing the contents of experience. The resulting meta-consciousness involves an explicit re-representation of consciousness in which one interprets, describes or otherwise characterizes the state of one's mind.


NASA's Hubble Captures Blistering Pitch-Black Planet ( 104

schwit1 writes: NASA's Hubble Space Telescope has observed a planet outside our solar system that looks as black as fresh asphalt because it eats light rather than reflecting it back into space. This light-eating prowess is due to the planet's unique capability to trap at least 94 percent of the visible starlight falling into its atmosphere. The oddball exoplanet, called WASP-12b, is one of a class of so-called "hot Jupiters," gigantic, gaseous planets that orbit very close to their host star and are heated to extreme temperatures. The planet's atmosphere is so hot that most molecules are unable to survive on the blistering day side of the planet, where the temperature is 4,600 degrees Fahrenheit. Therefore, clouds probably cannot form to reflect light back into space. Instead, incoming light penetrates deep into the planet's atmosphere where it is absorbed by hydrogen atoms and converted to heat energy. "We did not expect to find such a dark exoplanet," said Taylor Bell of McGill University and the Institute for Research on Exoplanets in Montreal, Quebec, Canada, lead researcher of the Hubble study. "Most hot Jupiters reflect about 40 percent of starlight."
Data Storage

Google, Bing, Yahoo Data Retention Doesn't Improve Search Quality, Study Claims ( 38

A new paper released on Monday via the National Bureau of Economic Research claims that retaining search log data doesn't do much for search quality. "Data retention has implications in the debate over Europe's right to be forgotten, the authors suggest, because retained data undermines that right," reports The Register. "It's also relevant to U.S. policy discussions about privacy regulations." From the report: To determine whether retention policies affected the accuracy of search results, Chiou and Tucker used data from metrics biz Hitwise to assess web traffic being driven by search sites. They looked at Microsoft Bing and Yahoo! Search during a period when Bing changed its search data retention period from 18 months to 6 months and when Yahoo! changed its retention period from 13 months to 3 months, as well as when Yahoo! had second thoughts and shifted to an 18-month retention period. According to Chiou and Tucker, data retention periods didn't affect the flow of traffic from search engines to downstream websites. "Our findings suggest that long periods of data storage do not confer advantages in search quality, which is an often-cited benefit of data retention by companies," their paper states. Chiou and Tucker observe that the supposed cost of privacy laws to consumers and to companies may be lower than perceived. They also contend that their findings weaken the claim that data retention affects search market dominance, which could make data retention less relevant in antitrust discussions of Google.

Bacteria In Tumors Can Inactivate Common Chemotherapy Drugs, Study Suggests ( 38

Researchers caught the bacteria Mycoplasma hyorhinis hiding out among cancer cells, thwarting chemotherapy drugs intended to treat the tumors they reside in. The findings have been published this week in Science. Ars Technica reports: Drug resistance among cancers is a "foremost challenge," according to the study's authors, led by Ravid Straussman at the Weizmann Institute of Science. Yet the new data suggest that certain types of drug-resistant cancers could be defeated with a simple dollop of antibiotics alongside a chemotherapy regimen. Dr. Straussman and his colleagues got a hunch to look for the bacteria after noticing that, when they grew certain types of human cancer cells together in lab, the cells all became more resistant to a chemotherapy drug called gemcitabine. This is a drug used to treat pancreatic, lung, breast, and bladder cancers and is often sold under the brand name Gemzar. The researchers suspected that some of the cells may secrete a drug-busting molecule. So they tried filtering the cell cultures to see if they could catch it. Instead, they found that the cell cultures lost their resistance after their liquid broth passed through a pretty large filter -- 0.45 micrometers. This would catch large particles -- like bacteria -- but not small molecules, as the researchers were expecting.

Looking closer, the researchers noticed that some of their cancer cells were contaminated with M. hyorhinis. And these bacteria could metabolize gemcitabine, rendering the drug useless. When the researchers transplanted treatable cancer cells into the flanks of mice -- some with and some without M. hyorhinis -- the bacteria-toting tumors were resistant to gemcitabine treatment.

United Kingdom

Diesel Cars Contribute To 5,000 Premature Deaths a Year In Europe, Says Study ( 215

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Phys.Org: Emissions from diesel cars rigged to appear eco-friendly may be responsible for 5,000 air pollution deaths per year in Europe alone, according to a study published on Monday. The numbers are in line with previous assessments of deaths due to the so-called "Dieselgate" scandal, which erupted when carmaker Volkswagen admitted in 2015 to cheating on vehicle emissions tests. Many other carmakers have since fallen under suspicion. The researchers from Norway, Austria, Sweden and the Netherlands calculated that about 10,000 deaths in Europe per year can be attributed to small particle pollution from light duty diesel vehicles (LDDVs). Almost half of these would have been avoided if emissions of nitrogen oxides (NOx) from diesel cars on the road had matched levels measured in the lab. If diesel cars emitted as little NOx as petrol ones, almost 4,000 of the 5,000 premature deaths would have been avoided, said the authors. The countries with the heaviest burden are Italy, Germany, and France, the team added, "resulting from their large populations and high share of diesel cars in their national fleets." Touted as less polluting, the share of diesel cars in Europe rose fast compared to petrol since the 1990s, and now comprise about half the fleet. There are more than 100 million diesel cars in Europe today, twice as many as in the rest of the world together, said the study authors. Diesel engines emit less planet-warming carbon dioxide than petrol ones, but significantly more NOx. The study has been published in the journal Environmental Research Letters.
Input Devices

Typing By Brain Arrives: No Surgery Necessary ( 93

mirandakatz writes: 2017 has been a coming-out year of sorts for the brain-machine interface. But the main barrier to adoption is the potentially invasive nature of a BMI: Not many people are going to want to get surgery to have a chip implanted in their brains. A New York company may have found a solution to that. It's created a BMI that works just by an armband -- and it works now, not in some far-off future.
Steven Levy describes a recent demo by the CEO of CTRL-Labs: After [typing] a few lines of text, he pushes the keyboard away... He resumes typing. Only this time he is typing on...nothing. Just the flat tabletop. Yet the result is the same: The words he taps out appear on the monitor... The text on the screen is being generated not by his fingertips, but rather by the signals his brain is sending to his fingers. The armband is intercepting those signals, interpreting them correctly, and relaying the output to the computer, just as a keyboard would have...

CTRL-Labs, which comes with both tech bona fides and an all-star neuroscience advisory board, bypasses the incredibly complicated tangle of connections inside the cranium and dispenses with the necessity of breaking the skin or the skull to insert a chip -- the Big Ask of BMI. Instead, the company is concentrating on the rich set of signals controlling movement that travel through the spinal column, which is the nervous system's low-hanging fruit. Reardon and his colleagues at CTRL-Labs are using these signals as a powerful API between all of our machines and the brain itself.


There's a Logic To How Squirrels Bury Their Nuts ( 93

sandbagger shares an announcement from the University of California: Like trick-or-treaters sorting their Halloween candy haul, fox squirrels apparently organize their stashes of nuts by variety, quality and possibly even preference, according to new UC Berkeley research... Fox squirrels stockpile at least 3,000 to 10,000 nuts a year and, under certain conditions, separate each cache into quasi "subfolders," one for each type of nut, researchers said... Over a two-year period, the research team tracked the caching patterns of 45 male and female fox squirrels as the reddish gray, bushy-tailed rodents buried almonds, pecans, hazelnuts and walnuts in various wooded locations on the UC Berkeley campus...

Using hand-held GPS navigators, researchers tracked the squirrels from their starting location to their caching location, then mapped the distribution of nut types and caching locations to detect patterns. They found that the squirrels who foraged at a single location frequently organized their caches by nut species, returning to, say, the almond area, if that was the type of nut they were gathering, and keeping each category of nut that they buried separate. Meanwhile, the squirrels foraging in multiple locations deliberately avoided caching in areas where they had already buried nuts, rather than organizing nuts by type.


Idaho Wants To Establish America's First 'Dark Sky Preserve' ( 136

schwit1 shares a story from the AP: Tourists heading to central Idaho will be in the dark if local officials get their way. The first International Dark Sky Reserve in the United States would fill a chunk of the state's sparsely populated region that contains night skies so pristine that interstellar dust clouds are visible in the Milky Way... Supporters say excess artificial light causes sleeping problems for people and disrupts nocturnal wildlife and that a dark sky can solve those problems, boost home values and draw tourists. Opposition to dark sky measures elsewhere in the U.S. have come from the outdoor advertising industry and those against additional government regulations.

Researchers say 80 percent of North Americans live in areas where light pollution blots out the night sky. Central Idaho contains one of the few places in the contiguous United States large enough and dark enough to attain reserve status, Barentine said. Only 11 such reserves exist in the world... The proposed Idaho reserve is mainly land managed by the U.S. Forest Service and contains the wilderness of the Sawtooth National Recreation Area... Leaders in the cities of Ketchum and Sun Valley, the tiny mountain town of Stanley, other local and federal officials, and a conservation group have been working for several years to apply this fall to designate 1,400 square miles (3,600 square kilometers) as a reserve. A final decision by the association would come about 10 weeks after the application is submitted.


Chinese Scientists Are Developing A Vaccine Against Cavities ( 120

A vaccine against tooth decay "is urgently needed" writes Nature -- and a team of Chinese scientists is getting close. hackingbear writes: Scientists at Wuhan Institute of Virology, Chinese Academy of Sciences developed low side effects and high protective efficiency using flagellin-rPAc fusion protein KFD2-rPAc, a promising vaccine candidate. In rat challenge models, KFD2-rPAc induces a robust rPAc-specific IgA response, and confers efficient prophylactic and therapeutic efficiency as does KF-rPAc, while the flagellin-specific inflammatory antibody responses are highly reduced.

Sedentary Lifestyle Study Called 'A Raging Dumpster Fire' ( 153

Ars Technica's health reporter argues that a new study suggesting sitting will kill you "is kind of a raging dumpster fire. It's funded by Big Soda and riddled with weaknesses -- including not measuring sitting." An anonymous reader quotes this report: Let's start with the money: It was funded in part by Coca-Cola... [I]t's hard to look past the fact that this is exactly the type of health and nutrition research Coke wants. In fact, Coca-Cola secretly spent $1.5 million to fund an entire network of academic researchers whose goal was to shift the national health conversation away from the harms of sugary beverages. Instead, their research focused on the benefits of exercise -- i.e., the health risks of sedentary and inactive lifestyles. The research network disbanded after The New York Times published an investigation on the network's funding in 2015...

It didn't actually measure sitting... In their words, "Our study has several limitations. First, the Actical accelerometer cannot distinguish between postures (such as sitting vs. standing); thus, we relied on an intensity-only definition of sedentary behavior." The "intensity-only" definition of sedentary behavior is based on metabolic equivalents, basically units defined by how much oxygen a person uses up doing various activities. But those definitions are also not cut and dried. There are no clear lines between lying down, sitting, standing in place, or light movement... Then there's the participant data: It's not representative -- like, at all... At the time of wearing the accelerometer, the most active group's mean age was 65. The mean age of the least active group: 75.

Groups were assigned based on just a week's worth of data -- or less. And the people placed in the least-active group were already more likely to be smokers, to have diabetes and hypertension, and to have a history of coronary heart disease and stroke.

2017 'Ig Nobel' Prizes Recognize Funny Research On Cats, Crocodiles, and Cheese ( 20

An anonymous reader writes: "The 27th First Annual Ig Nobel Prize Ceremony" happened Thursday at Harvard's Sanders theatre, recognizing real (but unusual) research papers from all over the world "that make people laugh, then think." This year's prize in the physics category went to Marc-Antoine Fardin, who used fluid dynamics to probe the question "Can a cat be both a solid and a liquid?"

Six prize-winning Swiss researchers also demonstrated that regular playing of a didgeridoo is an effective treatment for obstructive sleep apnoea and snoring, while two Australians tested how contact with a live crocodile affects a person's willingness to gamble. And five French researchers won the medicine prize for their use of advanced brain-scanning technology to investigate "the neural basis of disugst for cheese."

You can watch the ceremony online -- and Reuters got an interesting quote from the editor of the Annals of Improbable Research, who founded the awards ceremony 27 years ago. "We hope that this will get people back into the habits they probably had when they were kids of paying attention to odd things and holding out for a moment and deciding whether they are good or bad only after they have a chance to think."

Poor Diet Is a Factor In One In Five Deaths, Global Disease Study Reveals ( 110

schwit1 shares a report from The Guardian: Millions of people are eating the wrong sorts of food for good health. Eating a diet that is low in whole grains, fruit, nuts and seeds and fish oils and high in salt raises the risk of an early death, according to the huge and ongoing study Global Burden of Disease. The study, based at the Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington, compiles data from every country in the world and makes informed estimates where there are gaps. Five papers on life expectancy and the causes and risk factors of death and ill health have been published by the Lancet medical journal. Diet is the second highest risk factor for early death after smoking. Other high risks are high blood glucose which can lead to diabetes, high blood pressure, high body mass index (BMI) which is a measure of obesity, and high total cholesterol. All of these can be related to eating the wrong foods, although there are also other causes.

Elon Musk Releases Supercut of SpaceX Rocket Explosions ( 61

Eloking shares a report from HardOCP: Elon Musk is demonstrating how one should not land an orbital rocket booster: the video, currently trending on YouTube, is essentially a blooper reel of SpaceX rocket tests that went explosive. While the company has more or less perfected launching Falcon 9 rockets, it is still working hard on recovering as much of the multi-million-dollar system as possible.
The Military

Mystery of Sonic Weapon Attacks At US Embassy In Cuba Deepens ( 215

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Guardian: The blaring, grinding noise jolted the American diplomat from his bed in a Havana hotel. He moved just a few feet, and there was silence. He climbed back into bed. Inexplicably, the agonizing sound hit him again. It was as if he'd walked through some invisible wall cutting straight through his room. Soon came the hearing loss, and the speech problems, symptoms both similar and altogether different from others among at least 21 U.S. victims in an astonishing international mystery still unfolding in Cuba. The top U.S. diplomat has called them "health attacks." New details learned by the Associated Press indicate at least some of the incidents were confined to specific rooms or even parts of rooms with laser-like specificity, baffling U.S. officials who say the facts and the physics don't add up.

Suspicion initially focused on a sonic weapon, and on the Cubans. Yet the diagnosis of mild brain injury, considered unlikely to result from sound, has confounded the FBI, the state department and U.S. intelligence agencies involved in the investigation. Some victims now have problems concentrating or recalling specific words, several officials said, the latest signs of more serious damage than the U.S. government initially realized. The United States first acknowledged the attacks in August -- nine months after symptoms were first reported.


Mind-Altering Cat Parasite Linked To a Whole Lot of Neurological Disorders ( 209

schwit1 shares a report from ScienceAlert: The brain-dwelling parasite Toxoplasma gondii is estimated to be hosted by at least 2 billion people around the world, and new evidence suggests the lodger could be more dangerous than we think. While the protozoan invader poses the greatest risk to developing fetuses infected in the womb, new research suggests the parasite could alter and amplify a range of neurological disorders, including epilepsy, Alzheimer's, and Parkinson's, and also cancer. "This study is a paradigm shifter," says one of the team, neuroscientist Dennis Steindler from Tufts University. "We now have to insert infectious disease into the equation of neurodegenerative diseases, epilepsy, and neural cancers." The findings are part of an emerging field of research looking into how T. gondii, which is usually transmitted to humans via contact with cat faeces (or by eating uncooked meat), produces proteins that alter and manipulate the brain chemistry of their infected hosts.

Many Machine Learning Studies Don't Actually Show Anything Meaningful, But They Spread Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt ( 98

Michael Byrne, writing for the Outline: Here's what you need to know about every way-cool and-or way-creepy machine learning study that has ever been or will ever be published: Anything that can be represented in some fashion by patterns within data -- any abstract-able thing that exists in the objective world, from online restaurant reviews to geopolitics -- can be "predicted" by machine learning models given sufficient historical data. At the heart of nearly every foaming news article starting with the words "AI knows ..." is some machine learning paper exploiting this basic realization. "AI knows if you have skin cancer." "AI beats doctors at predicting heart attacks." "AI predicts future crime." "AI knows how many calories are in that cookie." There is no real magic behind these findings. The findings themselves are often taken as profound simply for having way-cool concepts like deep learning and artificial intelligence and neural networks attached to them, rather than because they are offering some great insight or utility -- which most of the time, they are not.

Cassini's Saturn Mission Goes Out In A Blaze Of Glory ( 74

An anonymous reader shares a report: Controllers at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory sent a final command Friday morning to the Cassini spacecraft orbiting Saturn. Not long after, accounting for the vast distance the message traveled, the order was received, putting the craft into a suicidal swan dive, plummeting into the ringed planet's atmosphere. Flight Director Julie Webster called "loss of signal" at about 7:55 a.m. ET, followed by Project Manager Earl Maize announcing "end of mission" as the spacecraft began to break up in Saturn's atmosphere. "Congratulations to you all," Maize announced to applause. "It's been an incredible mission, incredible spacecraft, and you're all an incredible team." With Cassini running on empty and no gas station for about a billion miles, NASA decided to go out Thelma & Louise-style. But rather than careen into a canyon, the plucky probe took a final plunge into the object of its obsession. Just how obsessed? Its 13-year mission to explore the strange world of Saturn went on nearly a decade longer than planned. It completed 293 orbits of the planet, snapped 400,000 photos, collected 600 gigabytes of data, discovered at least seven new moons, descending into the famed rings and sent its Huygens lander to a successful 2005 touchdown on the surface of yet another moon, Titan. Also read: Cassini's Best Discoveries of Saturn and Its Moons.

Researchers Find Antidepressants Increase Risk of Death ( 125

Artem Tashkinov shares a report from Medical Xpress: Antidepressant medications, most commonly prescribed to reduce depression and anxiety, increase the risk of death, according to new findings by a McMaster-led team of researchers. It's widely known that brain serotonin affects mood, and that most commonly used antidepressant treatment for depression blocks the absorption of serotonin by neurons. It is less widely known, though, that all the major organs of the body -- the heart, kidneys, lungs, liver -- use serotonin from the bloodstream. Antidepressants block the absorption of serotonin in these organs as well, and the researchers warn that antidepressants could increase the risk of death by preventing multiple organs from functioning properly.

Interestingly, the news about antidepressants is not all bad. The researchers found that antidepressants are not harmful for people with cardiovascular diseases such as heart disease and diabetes. This makes sense since these antidepressants have blood-thinning effects that are useful in treating such disorders. Unfortunately, this also means that for most people who are in otherwise good cardiovascular health, antidepressants tend to be harmful.
The study has been published in the journal Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics.

We're Eating Plastics From Our Own Dirty Laundry ( 172

Every time you wash your fleece jacket or other synthetic clothing, microscopic synthetic fibres are released and end up in our food supply and drinking water. From a report: These microfibres are so small -- visible only under a microscope -- that they bypass municipal filtration systems and are consumed by fish and other marine life. A team of women from Waterloo, Ontario is looking to solve that problem. They've designed something that looks a lot like a dryer sheet for your laundry machine. You'd be able to drop this reusable sheet, called PolyGone, into the laundry machine with your dirty clothes. It attracts and traps the microfibres so they can be recycled. They presented their work at the annual AquaHacking conference at the University of Waterloo on Wednesday. "With these fibres entering our food system and ending up on our plates, we are essentially eating polluted laundry," said co-founder Lauren Smith at the conference. The event saw five teams, including hers, compete for tens of thousands of dollars and entry into several local incubators and accelerator centres. Smith has a Masters degree in sustainability management from UW, specializing in water.

Cassini's Best Discoveries of Saturn and Its Moons ( 25

Loren Grush, writing for The Verge: Early tomorrow morning, NASA scientists will say goodbye to their Cassini spacecraft -- a hardy probe the size of a school bus that has been orbiting the Saturn system for the last 13 years. Launched in 1997, Cassini has spent a whopping 20 years in space, lasting through two mission extensions while going above and beyond what it was designed to do. But tomorrow, the probe will dive into Saturn's atmosphere, where it will break apart and cease operating. It's a sad time for the scientists who have worked on this mission for years, but also a triumphant one: Cassini leaves an impressive legacy of scientific discovery in its wake. Here's a nice video to go with it.

Climate Change Could Wipe Out a Third of Parasite Species, Study Finds ( 240

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The New York Times (Warning: source may be paywalled, alternative source): Recently, scientists carried out the first large-scale study of what climate change may do to the world's much-loathed parasites. The team came to a startling conclusion: as many as one in three parasite species may face extinction in the next century. As global warming raises the planet's temperature, the researchers found, many species will lose territory in which to survive. Some of their hosts will be lost, too. Researchers have begun carefully studying the roles that parasites play. They make up the majority of the biomass in some ecosystems, outweighing predators sharing their environments by a factor of 20 to 1. For decades, scientists who studied food webs drew lines between species -- between wildebeest and the grass they grazed on, for example, and between the wildebeest and the lions that ate them. In a major oversight, they didn't factor in the extent to which parasites feed on hosts. As it turns out, as much as 80 percent of the lines in a given food web are links to parasites. They are big players in the food supply.

Some researchers had already investigated the fate of a few parasite species, but Colin J. Carlson, lead author of the study and a graduate student at the University of California, Berkeley, and his colleagues wanted to get a global view of the impact of climate change. Some kinds won't lose much in a warming world, the study found. For instance, thorny-headed worms are likely to be protected because their hosts, fish and birds, are common and widespread. But other types, such as fleas and tapeworms, may not be able to tolerate much change in temperature; many others infect only hosts that are facing extinction, as well. In all, roughly 30 percent of parasitic species could disappear, Mr. Carlson concluded. The impact of climate change will be as great or greater for these species as for any others studied so far.
The study has been published in Science Advances.

Ford Disguised a Man As a Car Seat To Research Self-Driving ( 84

According to TechCrunch, Ford put a man in a car seat disguise so that a Ford Transit could masquerade as a true self-driving vehicle in order to evaluate how passers-by, other drivers on the road and cyclists reacted to sharing the road with an autonomous vehicle. From the report: The trial, conducted with the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute, also made use of a light bar mounted on the top of the windshield to provide communication about what the car was doing, including yielding, driving autonomously or accelerating from a full stop. The Transit Connect van used for the trial would indicate its behavior using signals including a slow white pulse for yielding, a rapid blinking for accelerating from a stop, and staying solid if it's actively in self-driving mode. The bar is positioned roughly where a driver's eye line would be, to try to catch the attention of those around it who would look in its direction.

Study Finds That Banning Trolls Works, To Some Degree ( 341

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Motherboard: On October 5, 2015, facing mounting criticism about the hate groups proliferating on Reddit, the site banned a slew of offensive subreddits, including r/Coontown and r/fatpeoplehate, which targeted Black people and those with weight issues. But did banning these online groups from Reddit diminish hateful behavior overall, or did the hate just spread to other places? A new study from the Georgia Institute of Technology, Emory University, and University of Michigan examines just that, and uses data collected from 100 million Reddit posts that were created before and after the aforementioned subreddits were dissolved. Published in the journal ACM Transactions on Computer-Human Interaction, the researchers conclude that the 2015 ban worked. More accounts than expected discontinued their use on the site, and accounts that stayed after the ban drastically reduced their hate speech. However, studies like this raise questions about the systemic issues facing the internet at large, and how our culture should deal with online hate speech. First, the researchers automatically extracted words from the banned subreddits to create a dataset that included hate speech and community-specific lingo. The researchers looked at the accounts of users who were active on those subreddits and compared their posting activity from before and after those offensive subreddits were banned. The team was able to monitor upticks or drops in the hate speech across Reddit and if that speech had "migrated" to other subreddits as a result.

Why Bats Crash Into Windows ( 117

According to a new report published in the journal Science, Bats slam into vertical structures such as steel and glass buildings because they appear invisible to bats' echolocation system. Nature reports: Bats rely on echolocation to navigate in the dark. They locate and identify objects by sending out shrill calls and listening to the echoes that bounce back. Greif and his colleagues tested the echolocation of 21 wild-caught greater mouse-eared bats (Myotis myotis) in the lab. The researchers placed a featureless metal plate on a side wall at the end of a flight tunnel. The bats interpreted the smooth surface -- but not the adjacent, felt-covered walls -- as a clear flight path. Over an an average of around 20 trials for each bat, 19 of them crashed into the panel at least once. The researchers also put up smooth, vertical plates near wild bat colonies, and saw similar results. The animals became confused owing to a property of smooth surfaces called "acoustic mirroring." Whereas rough objects bounce some echoes back towards the bat, says Greif, a smooth surface reflects all echolocation calls away from the source. This makes a smooth wall appear as empty space to the bats, until they are directly in front of it. Only once a bat is facing the surface are their perpendicular echoes reflected back, which alerts the bat to its mistake. This explains why some bats attempted to swerve out of harm's way at the last second -- but often too late.

Boffins Fear We Might Be Running Out of Ideas ( 356

Innovation, fetishized by Silicon Valley companies and celebrated by business boosters, no longer provides the economic jolt it once did. From a report: In order to maintain Moore's Law -- by which transistor density doubles every two years or so -- it now takes 18 times as many scientists as it did in the 1970s. That means each researcher's output today is 18 times less effective in terms of generating economic value than it was several decades ago. On an annual basis, research productivity is declining at a rate of about 6.8 percent per year in the semiconductor industry. In other words, we're running out of ideas. That's the conclusion of economic researchers from Stanford University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In a paper published this week through the National Bureau of Economic Research, "Are Ideas Getting Harder to Find?", economics professors Nicholas Bloom, Charles Jones, and John Van Reenen, and PhD candidate Michael Webb, defy Betteridge's Law of Headlines by concluding that an idea drought has indeed taken hold. "Across a broad range of case studies ... we find that ideas -- and in particular the exponential growth they imply -- are getting harder and harder to find," the authors declare in their paper.

Moving Every Half Hour Could Help Limit Effects of Sedentary Lifestyle, Says Study ( 98

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Guardian: Moving your body at least every half an hour could help to limit the harmful effects of desk jobs and other sedentary lifestyles, research has revealed. The study found that both greater overall time spent inactive in a day, and longer periods of inactivity were linked to an increased risk of death. Writing in the journal the Annals of Internal Medicine, Diaz and colleagues from seven U.S. institutions describe how they kitted out nearly 8,000 individuals aged 45 or over from across the U.S. with activity trackers between 2009 and 2013. Each participant wore the fitness tracker for at least four days during a period of one week, with deaths of participants tracked until September 2015. The results reveal that, on average, participants were inactive for 12.3 hours of a 16 hour waking day, with each period of inactivity lasting an average of 11.4 minutes. After taking into account a host of factors including age, sex, education, smoking and high blood pressure, the team found that both the overall length of daily inactivity and the length of each bout of sedentary behavior were linked to changes in the risk of death from any cause. The associations held even among participants undertaking moderate to vigorous physical activity.

Those who were inactive for 13.2 hours a day had a risk of death 2.6 times that of those spending less than 11.5 hours a day inactive, while those whose bouts of inactivity lasted on average 12.4 minutes or more had a risk of death almost twice that of those who were inactive for an average of less than 7.7 minutes at a time. The team then looked at the interaction between the two measures of inactivity, finding the risk of death was greater for those who had both high overall levels of inactivity (12.5 hours a day or more) and long average bouts of sedentary behavior (10 minutes or more), than for those who had high levels of just one of the measures.


California Bans Drones From Delivering Marijuana ( 82

In what will surely be disappointing news for a host of start-ups promising to deliver marijuana by drone like MDelivers and Eaze, California's Bureau of Cannabis Control has recently unveiled new regulatory rules that will ban drones from delivering marijuana. "The Bureau is currently developing regulation surrounding weed use and sales under the Medicinal and Adult-Use Cannabis Regulation and Safety Act (MAUCRSA) after recreational marijuana was legalized in California," reports The Verge. From the report: "Cannabis goods will be required to be transported inside commercial vehicles or trailers," the proposed program description reads. "Transportation may not be done by aircraft, watercraft, rail, drones, human powered vehicles, or unmanned vehicles." Under the rules, deliveries can only be made by licensed retailers, "in person by enclosed motor vehicle," and the vehicles used for deliveries must have a GPS that allows the seller to track the package. The Bureau also specifically states that those delivering the cannabis aren't allowed to consume the substance while out on the delivery. Further reading: Ars Technica

Neural Networks Can Auto-Generate Reviews That Fool Humans ( 67

Fake reviews used to be crowdsourced. Now they can be auto-generated by AI, according to a new research paper shared by AmiMoJo: In this paper, we identify a new class of attacks that leverage deep learning language models (Recurrent Neural Networks or RNNs) to automate the generation of fake online reviews for products and services. Not only are these attacks cheap and therefore more scalable, but they can control rate of content output to eliminate the signature burstiness that makes crowdsourced campaigns easy to detect. Using Yelp reviews as an example platform, we show how a two phased review generation and customization attack can produce reviews that are indistinguishable by state-of-the-art statistical detectors.
Humans marked these AI-generated reviews as useful at approximately the same rate as they did for real (human-authored) Yelp reviews.

Can We Surpass Moore's Law With Reversible Computing? ( 118

"It's not about an undo button," writes Slashdot reader marcle, sharing an article by a senior member of the technical staff at Sandia National Laboratories who's studying advanced technologies for computation. "Just reading this story bends my mind." From IEEE Spectrum: [F]or several decades now, we have known that it's possible in principle to carry out any desired computation without losing information -- that is, in such a way that the computation could always be reversed to recover its earlier state. This idea of reversible computing goes to the very heart of thermodynamics and information theory, and indeed it is the only possible way within the laws of physics that we might be able to keep improving the cost and energy efficiency of general-purpose computing far into the future... Today's computers rely on erasing information all the time -- so much so that every single active logic gate in conventional designs destructively overwrites its previous output on every clock cycle, wasting the associated energy. A conventional computer is, essentially, an expensive electric heater that happens to perform a small amount of computation as a side effect...

[I]t's really hard to engineer a system that does something computationally interesting without inadvertently incurring a significant amount of entropy increase with each operation. But technology has improved, and the need to minimize energy use is now acute... In 2004 Krishna Natarajan (a student I was advising at the University of Florida) and I showed in detailed simulations that a new and simplified family of circuits for reversible computing called two-level adiabatic logic, or 2LAL, could dissipate as little as 1 eV of energy per transistor per cycle -- about 0.001 percent of the energy normally used by logic signals in that generation of CMOS. Still, a practical reversible computer has yet to be built using this or other approaches.

The article predicts "if we decide to blaze this new trail of reversible computing, we may continue to find ways to keep improving computation far into the future. Physics knows no upper limit on the amount of reversible computation that can be performed using a fixed amount of energy."

But it also predicts that "conventional semiconductor technology could grind to a halt soon. And if it does, the industry could stagnate... Even a quantum-computing breakthrough would only help to significantly speed up a few highly specialized classes of computations, not computing in general."

El Nino's Absence Is Causing An Active Hurricane Season ( 148

Dan Drollette writes: Contrary to some items making the rounds of the Twitterverse, El Nino's are "Kryptonite for hurricanes." The Mercury News reports: "Irma has ripped a path of misery through the Caribbean and is aiming at Florida, but the first seed for its monster size and force was planted on the other side of the world more than six months ago. It happened innocently enough, when a widely anticipated El Nino failed to materialize over the Pacific Ocean. In time, that cleared a path for a hurricane to form in the Atlantic that grew to the size of the state of New York with winds topping 185 miles per hour. El Nino occurs when the Pacific heats up and flusters the atmosphere, setting off a chain reaction that causes wind shear across the Atlantic. Shear is wind blowing in different directions or speeds at various altitudes, and it can be Kryptonite for hurricanes. As powerful as they are, tropical cyclones have delicate structures. Shear can tear them apart. A budding storm can't get started and an established storm can't get strong."

FDA Slams EpiPen Maker For Doing Nothing While Hundreds Failed, People Died ( 80

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: The manufacturer of EpiPen devices failed to address known malfunctions in its epinephrine auto-injectors even as hundreds of customer complaints rolled in and failures were linked to deaths, according to the Food and Drug Administration. The damning allegations came to light today when the FDA posted a warning letter it sent September 5 to the manufacturer, Meridian Medical Technologies, Inc. The company (which is owned by Pfizer) produces EpiPens for Mylan, which owns the devices and is notorious for dramatically raising prices by more than 400 percent in recent years. The auto-injectors are designed to be used during life-threatening allergic reactions to provide a quick shot of epinephrine. If they fail to fire, people experiencing a reaction can die or suffer serious illnesses. According to the FDA, that's exactly what happened for hundreds of customers. In the letter, the agency wrote: "In fact, your own data show that you received hundreds of complaints that your EpiPen products failed to operate during life-threatening emergencies, including some situations in which patients subsequently died."

The agency goes on to lambast Meridian Medical for failing to investigate problems with the devices, recall bad batches, and follow-up on problems found. For instance, a customer made a complaint in April 2016 that an EpiPen failed. When Meridian disassembled the device, it found a deformed component that led to the problem -- the exact same defect it had found in February when another unit failed.


Could 'Re-Engineering' Earth Help Ease the Hurricane Threat? ( 262

As hurricanes continue to increase in frequency and intensity, a $10-billion-a-year project proposes injecting sulfate into the atmosphere to cool down the Earth and reduce the number of hurricanes by 50% for a staggering 50 years. From a report: In an attempt to combat climate change, a multinational team of scientists are working on a plan to literally re-engineer the Earth in order to cool it down and reduce the impact of storm systems. For example, a team led by John Moore, who is the head of China's geoengineering research program, is studying how shading sulfate aerosols that are dispersed into the stratosphere could help cool the planet and reduce the number of hurricane occurrences. In an interview with Popular Mechanics, outlining how the plan works, Moore asserts, "We're basically mimicking a volcano and saying we're going to put 5 billion tons of sulfates a year into the atmosphere 20 kilometers high, and we'll do that for 50 years." In their current research model, in which the scientists tested a senario where the sulfate injection is doubled over time, the team found that incidences of Katrina-level hurricanes could be maintained (they would be kept at the same rate that we currently see) and that storm surges, which is the rise in seawater level that is caused solely by a storm, could be mitigated by half. The researchers noted that the volcanic eruption in 1912 of Katmai in Alaska "loaded the Northern Hemisphere with aerosol [sulfates], and [was] followed by the least active hurricane season on record." Moore explains that warmer waters can spark and fuel hurricanes, and cooling them with shading sulfates reduces the size and intensity of these hurricanes.

Are We Being Watched? Tens of Other Worlds Could Spot the Earth ( 94

A group of scientists from Queen's University Belfast and the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research in Germany have turned exoplanet-hunting on its head, in a study that instead looks at how an alien observer might be able to detect Earth using our own methods. From a report: They find that at least nine exoplanets are ideally placed to observe transits of Earth, in a new work published in the journal Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society. Thanks to facilities and missions such as SuperWASP and Kepler, we have now discovered thousands of planets orbiting stars other than our Sun, worlds known as 'exoplanets.' The vast majority of these are found when the planets cross in front of their host stars in what are known as 'transits,' which allow astronomers to see light from the host star dim slightly at regular intervals every time the planet passes between us and the distant star. In the new study, the authors reverse this concept and ask, "How would an alien observer see the Solar System?" They identified parts of the distant sky from where various planets in our Solar System could be seen to pass in front of the Sun - so-called 'transit zones' -- concluding that the terrestrial planets (Mercury, Venus, Earth, and Mars) are actually much more likely to be spotted than the more distant 'Jovian' planets (Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune), despite their much larger size. To look for worlds where civilisations would have the best chance of spotting our Solar System, the astronomers looked for parts of the sky from which more than one planet could be seen crossing the face of the Sun. They found that three planets at most could be observed from anywhere outside of the Solar System, and that not all combinations of three planets are possible.

A Few Bad Scientists Are Threatening To Topple Taxonomy ( 79

From a report: To study life on Earth, you need a system. Ours is Linnaean taxonomy, the model started by Swedish biologist Carl Linnaeus in 1735. Linnaeus's two-part species names, often Latin-based, consist of both a genus name and a species name, i.e. Homo sapiens. Like a library's Dewey Decimal system for books, this biological classification system has allowed scientists around the world to study organisms without confusion or overlap for nearly 300 years. But, like any library, taxonomy is only as good as its librarians -- and now a few rogue taxonomists are threatening to expose the flaws within the system. Taxonomic vandals, as they're referred to within the field, are those who name scores of new taxa without presenting sufficient evidence for their finds. Like plagiarists trying to pass off others' work as their own, these glory-seeking scientists use others' original research in order to justify their so-called "discoveries." "It's unethical name creation based on other people's work," says Mark Scherz, a herpetologist who recently named a new species of fish-scaled gecko. "It's that lack of ethical sensibility that creates that problem." The goal of taxonomic vandalism is often self-aggrandizement. Even in such an unglamorous field, there is prestige and reward -- and with them, the temptation to misbehave. "If you name a new species, there's some notoriety to it," Thomson says. "You get these people that decide that they just want to name everything, so they can go down in history as having named hundreds and hundreds of species." The problem may be getting worse, thanks to the advent of online publishing and loopholes in the species naming code. With vandals at large, some researchers are less inclined to publish or present their work publicly for fear of being scooped, taxonomists told me. "Now there's a hesitation to present our data publically, and that's how scientists communicate," Thomson says. "The problem that causes is that you don't know who is working on what, and then the scientists start stepping on each other's toes."

SpaceX Rocket Launches X-37B Space Plane On Secret Mission, Aces Landing ( 93

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The fifth mystery mission of the U.S. Air Force's X-37B space plane is now underway. A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket carrying the robotic X-37B lifted off today (Sept. 7) at 10 a.m. EDT (1400 GMT) from historic Launch Complex 39A at NASA's Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida. About 2.5 minutes into the flight, the Falcon 9's two stages separated. While the second stage continued hauling the X-37B to orbit, the first stage maneuvered its way back to Earth, eventually pulling off a vertical touchdown at Landing Zone 1, a SpaceX facility at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, which is next door to KSC. The Air Force is known to possess two X-37Bs, both of which were built by Boeing. The uncrewed vehicles look like NASA's now-retired space shuttle orbiters, but are much smaller; each X-37B is 29 feet (8.8 meters) long and 9.6 feet (2.9 m) tall, with a payload bay the size of a pickup truck bed. For comparison, the space shuttles were 122 feet (37 m) long, with 78-foot (24 m) wingspans. Like the space shuttle, the X-37B launches vertically and comes to back to Earth horizontally, in a runway landing. Together, the two X-37Bs have completed four space missions, each of which has set a new duration standard for the program. Exactly what the X-37B did during those four missions, or what it will do during the newly launched OTV-5, is a mystery; most X-37B payloads and activities are classified.

Spinning Metal Sails Could Slash Fuel Consumption, Emissions On Cargo Ships ( 170

sciencehabit shares a report from Science Magazine: U.K. soccer star David Beckham was known for "bending" his free kicks over walls of defenders and around sprawling goal tenders, thanks to a physical force called the Magnus effect. Now, the physics behind such curving kicks is set to be used to propel ocean ships more efficiently. Early next year, a tanker vessel owned by Maersk, the Danish transportation conglomerate, and a passenger ship owned by Viking Line will be outfitted with spinning cylinders on their decks. Mounted vertically and up to 10 stories tall, these "rotor sails" could slash fuel consumption up to 10%, saving transportation companies hundreds of thousands of dollars and cutting soot-causing carbon emissions by thousands of tons per trip.

Rotor sails rely on a bit of aerodynamics known as the Magnus effect. In the 1850s, German physicist Heinrich Gustav Magnus noticed that when moving through air a spinning object such as a ball experiences a sideways force. The force comes about as follows. If the ball were not spinning, air would stream straight past it, creating a swirling wake that would stretch out directly behind the ball like the tail of a comet. The turning surface of a spinning ball, however, drags some air with it. The rotation deflects the wake so that it comes off the ball at an angle, closer to the side of the ball that's rotating into the oncoming air. Thanks to Isaac Newton's third law that every action must have an equal and opposite reaction, the deflected wake pushes the ball in the opposite direction, toward the side of the ball that's turning away from the oncoming air. Thus, the spinning ball gets a sideways shove.

Social Networks

67% of Americans Use Social Media To Get Some of their News 71

Shan Wang, writing for Neiman Lab: Sixty-seven percent of Americans report getting some of their news via social media at some point, according to a Pew Research survey of just under 5,000 U.S. adults conducted last month and published Thursday. That overall percentage is only up slightly from 62 percent in 2016, in the run-up to the November election. But among specific demographics, using social media for news has increased: 74 percent of non-white U.S. adults now get news from social media, up from 64 percent of that group who got news that way in 2016. Fifty-five percent of Americans 50 and older say the have gotten news from social media, up from 45 percent (older people are also driving the increasing percentage of people who get news via mobile). Facebook is still the dominant social media source for news. But when Pew looked at the percentage of users on each social media platform who were using it for news, it was Twitter, Snapchat, and YouTube that saw increases (remember that user bases are vastly different sizes, from YouTube to Facebook to Tumblr to Twitter):

'No Fire Risk' With New Lithium Batteries ( 49

Lithium-ion batteries that are resistant to exploding or catching fire have been developed by scientists. From a report: The devices produced sufficient energy for use in household electronics, but did not ignite -- even when punctured repeatedly with a nail. The batteries use a water-salt solution as their electrolyte, removing the risks carried by some non-aqueous commercial models. The research is published in the journal Joule. "In the past, if you wanted high energy, you would choose a non-aqueous lithium-ion battery, but you would have to compromise on safety. If you preferred safety, you could use an aqueous battery such as nickel/metal hydride, but you would have to settle for lower energy," said co-author Kang Xu, from the US Army Research Laboratory (ARL). "Now, we are showing that you can simultaneously have access to both high energy and high safety."

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