Earth

Sea Turtles Under Threat As Climate Change Turns Most Babies Female (futurism.com) 176

A new study published in the journal Current Biology found that as much as 99 percent of baby green sea turtles in warm equatorial regions are being born female. "The study took a look at turtle populations at nesting sites at Raine Island and Moulter Cay in the northern Great Barrier Reef, an area plagued with unprecedented levels of coral bleaching from high temperatures," reports Futurism. "The researchers compared these populations with sea turtles living at sites in the cooler south." From the report: Using a new, non-invasive hormone test, the researchers from the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Fisheries Department and the Queensland Department of Environment and Heritage Protection found that while 65 -69 percent of the turtles from the southern region were female, between 86.8 and 99.8 of turtles tested in the northern region were female, depending on age. The sex of green sea turtles, along with some other species of turtles, crocodiles, and alligators, is not regulated by the introduction of sex chromosomes at key points during early development, as seen in humans and other mammals. Their sex is actually influenced by the temperature at which the eggs are incubated, with warmer temperatures more likely to lead to females. The difference between predominately male and predominately female hatchlings is only a few degrees, such as that formerly found between the cool, damp bottom of a sandy sea turtle nest and the sun-warmed top. The ages of the female turtles in the north suggest that this population has experienced temperatures that cause this imbalance since at least the 1990s. Given that the warmer temperatures seen in northern Australia have been distributed around the globe, experts predict that other sea turtle populations in warm regions are also following the same trend.
Mars

Ice Cliffs Spotted On Mars (sciencemag.org) 83

sciencehabit writes from a report via Science Magazine: Scientists have discovered eight cliffs of nearly pure water ice on Mars, some of which stand nearly 100 meters tall. The discovery points to large stores of underground ice buried only a meter or two below the surface at surprisingly low martian latitudes, in regions where ice had not yet been detected. Each cliff seems to be the naked face of a glacier, tantalizing scientists with the promise of a layer-cake record of past martian climates and space enthusiasts with a potential resource for future human bases. Scientists discovered the cliffs with a high-resolution camera on the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, revisiting the sites to show their subsequent retreat as a result of vaporization, and their persistence in the martian summer. The hunt should now be on, scientists say, for similar sites closer to the equator. The findings have been reported in this week's issue of Science.
Medicine

Scientists Change Our Understanding of How Anaesthesia Messes With the Brain (sciencealert.com) 92

schwit1 shares a report from ScienceAlert: It's crazy to think that we still don't quite understand the mechanism behind one of the most common medical interventions -- general anaesthetic. But researchers in Australia just got a step closer by discovering that one of the most commonly used anesthetic drugs doesn't just put us to sleep; it also disrupts communication between brain cells. The team investigated the drug propofol, a super-popular option for surgeries worldwide. A potent sedative, the drug is thought to put us to sleep through its effect on the GABA neurotransmitter system, the main regulator of our sleep-and-wake cycles in the brain. But anyone who's been "put under" will know that waking up from a general anesthetic feels rather different from your usual morning grogginess. On top of that, some people can experience serious side-effects, so scientists have been trying to figure out what else the drugs might be doing in the brain.

Using live neuron cell samples from rats and fruit flies, the researchers were able to track neurotransmitter activity thanks to a super-resolution microscope, and discovered that propofol messes with a key protein that nerve cells use to communicate with each other. This protein, called syntaxin1A, isn't just found in animal models - people have it, too. And it looks like the anesthetic drug puts the brakes on this protein, making otherwise normal brain cell connections sluggish, at least for a while. The researchers think this disruption could be key to how propofol allows for pain-free surgery to take place - first it knocks us out as a normal sleeping pill would, and then takes things up a notch by disrupting brain connectivity.
The research has been published in Cell Reports.
Crime

Apple Health Data Is Being Used As Evidence In a Rape and Murder Investigation (vice.com) 185

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Motherboard: Hussein K., an Afghan refugee in Freiburg, has been on trial since September for allegedly raping and murdering a student in Freiburg, and disposing of her body in a river. But many of the details of the trial have been hazy -- no one can agree on his real age, and most notably, there's a mysterious chunk of time missing from the geodata and surveillance video analysis of his whereabouts at the time of the crime. He refused to give authorities the passcode to his iPhone, but investigators hired a Munich company (which one is not publicly known) to gain access to his device, according to German news outlet Welt. They searched through Apple's Health app, which was added to all iPhones with the release of iOS 8 in 2014, and were able to gain more data about what he was doing that day. The app records how many steps he took and what kind of activity he was doing throughout that day. The app recorded a portion of his activity as "climbing stairs," which authorities were able to correlate with the time he would have dragged his victim down the river embankment, and then climbed back up. Freiburg police sent an investigator to the scene to replicate his movements, and sure enough, his Health app activity correlated with what was recorded on the defendant's phone.
Medicine

New Ingestible Pill Can Track Your Farts In Real Time (arstechnica.com) 76

A group of Australian researchers have developed an ingestible electronic capsule to monitor gas levels in the human gut. "When it's paired with a pocket-sized receiver and a mobile phone app, the pill reports tail-wind conditions in real time as it passes from the stomach to the colon," reports Ars Technica. The invention has been reported in the journal Nature Electronics. From the report: The authors are optimistic that the capsule's gas readings can help clear the air over the inner workings of our intricate innards and the multitudes of microbes they contain. Such fume data could clarify the conditions of each section of the gut, what microbes are up to, and which foods may cause problems in the system. Until now, collecting such data has been a challenge. The capsule is 26mm in length, with a 9.8mm external diameter -- like a large vitamin. Its polymer shell surrounds sensors for temperature, CO2, H2, and O2, as well as a button-size silver oxide battery and a transmission system. One end of the capsule contains a gas-permeable membrane that allows for fast diffusion of gut gases.
Space

Astronomers May Be Closing in on Source of Mysterious Fast Radio Bursts (theguardian.com) 57

Astronomers appear to be closing in on the source of enigmatic radio pulses emanating from space that have become the subject of intense scientific speculation. From a new report: Previous candidates for the origin of the fleeting blasts of radiation -- known as fast radio bursts, or FRBs -- have included exploding stars, the reverberations of weird objects called cosmic strings or even distant beacons from interstellar alien spaceships. Now, new observations provide backing for a scenario involving a rapidly rotating neutron star cocooned by an ultra-powerful magnetic field. The explanation is more orthodox than some of the alternatives offered, but could point astronomers towards some of the most extreme magnetic environments in the known universe.

"Our preferred model is that they are coming from a neutron star ... that could be just 10 or 20 years old in an extreme magnetic environment," said Jason Hessels, a co-author of the new paper and astronomer at the Netherlands Institute for Radio Astronomy in the Dutch town of Dwingeloo. Fast radio bursts have perplexed astronomers ever since the signals were discovered in 2007 in earlier observation data from the Parkes radio telescope in Australia.
About 30 of these objects have been discovered deep in space since the first was detected, all but one burping out a cataclysmic radio pulse exactly once and then disappearing into the night. Only one burster, known as FRB121102, after the date it was discovered (Nov. 2, 2012), has repeated itself, hundreds of times now.
Space

Rumors Swirl That Secret Zuma Satellite Launched By SpaceX Was Lost (scientificamerican.com) 171

Many media outlets are reporting that the U.S. government's top-secret Zuma satellite may have run into some serious problems during or shortly after its Sunday launch. Zuma was launched atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Florida's Cape Canaveral Air Force Station Sunday evening -- a launch that also featured a successful landing back on Earth by the booster's first stage. While everything seemed fine at the time, rumors began swirling within the spaceflight community that something had happened to Zuma. "According to one source, the payload fell back to Earth along with the spent upper stage of the Falcon 9 rocket," Ars Technica's Eric Berger wrote. Scientific American reports: To be clear: There is no official word of any bad news, just some rumblings to that effect. And the rocket apparently did its job properly, SpaceX representatives said. "We do not comment on missions of this nature, but as of right now, reviews of the data indicate Falcon 9 performed nominally," company spokesman James Gleeson told Space.com via email. Space.com also reached out to representatives of aerospace company Northrop Grumman, which built Zuma for the U.S. government. "This is a classified mission. We cannot comment on classified missions," Northrop Grumman spokesman Lon Rains said via email. All we know about the satellite itself is that it was destined for a low-Earth orbit and built for the U.S. government. We will update this story if we hear anything else about Zuma's status.
Privacy

UK Backs Off From Banning Reidentification Research (theguardian.com) 10

An anonymous reader writes: The United Kingdom has recently debated banning reidentification in its new data privacy law. This proposal has quickly been identified as dangerous and criticized, as it was argued this is not only ineffective but would also put at risk legitimate security and privacy researchers. Following public outcry, the UK government amended the bill to include safe-guards allowing researchers to study anonymization weaknesses. Researchers will also gain a new channel of disclosure via the Information Commissioner Office (ICO). According to The Guardian, "Researchers will have to notify the ICO within three days of successfully deanonymizing data, and demonstrate that they had acted in the public interest and without intention to cause damage or distress in re-identifying data."
Science

Super-Black Is the New Black (theatlantic.com) 101

Feathers on birds of paradise contain light-trapping nanotechnology that makes some of the deepest blacks in the world, a new study has found. From a report: Blackbirds, it turns out, aren't actually all that black. Their feathers absorb most of the visible light that hits them, but still reflect between 3 and 5 percent of it. For really black plumage, you need to travel to Papua New Guinea and track down the birds of paradise. Although these birds are best known for their gaudy, kaleidoscopic colors, some species also have profoundly black feathers. The feathers ruthlessly swallow light and, with it, all hints of edge or contour. By analyzing museum specimens, Dakota McCoy, from Harvard University, has discovered exactly how the birds achieving such deep blacks. It's all in their feathers' microscopic structure.

A typical bird feather has a central shaft called a rachis. Thin branches, or barbs, sprout from the rachis, and even thinner branches -- barbules -- sprout from the barbs. The whole arrangement is flat, with the rachis, barbs, and barbules all lying on the same plane. The super-black feathers of birds of paradise, meanwhile, look very different. Their barbules, instead of lying flat, curve upward. And instead of being smooth cylinders, they are studded in minuscule spikes. These unique structures excel at capturing light. When light hits a normal feather, it finds a series of horizontal surfaces, and can easily bounce off. But when light hits a super-black feather, it finds a tangled mess of mostly vertical surfaces. Instead of being reflected away, it bounces repeatedly between the barbules and their spikes. With each bounce, a little more of it gets absorbed. Light loses itself within the feathers. McCoy and her colleagues, including Teresa Feo from the National Museum of Natural History, showed that this light-trapping nanotechnology can absorb up to 99.95 percent of incoming light.

Medicine

Ibuprofen Linked To Male Infertility, Study Says (theguardian.com) 131

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Guardian: Men who take high doses of ibuprofen for months at a time may be at greater risk of fertility issues and also other health problems, such as muscle wastage, erectile dysfunction and fatigue, scientists have found. Research on healthy young men who took the common painkiller for up to six weeks showed that the drug disrupted the production of male sex hormones and led to a condition normally seen in older men and smokers. The 18 to 35-year-olds who took part in the study developed a disorder called "compensated hypogonadism" within two weeks of having 600mg of ibuprofen twice a day. The condition arises when the body has to boost levels of testosterone because normal production in the testes has fallen. Doctors in Copenhagen who led the study said that while the disorder was mild and temporary in the volunteers, they feared it could become permanent in long-term ibuprofen users. This would lead to continuously low levels of testosterone, because the body could no longer compensate for the fall. Details of the study are published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Businesses

SpaceX Completes First Launch of 2018: Secretive 'Zuma' Spacecraft (cnn.com) 103

SpaceX's first launch of 2018 was "a secretive spacecraft commissioned by the U.S. government for an undisclosed mission," reports TechCrunch. An anonymous reader quotes CNN: After more than a month of delays, a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket vaulted toward the skies at 8 p.m. ET Sunday with the secretive payload. It launched from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida... The company [then] executed its signature move: guiding the first-stage rocket booster back to Earth for a safe landing. Just over two minutes after liftoff Sunday, the first-stage booster separated from the second stage and fired up its engines. The blaze allowed the rocket to safely cut back through the Earth's atmosphere and land on a pad at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station... The company completed a record-setting 18 launches last year, and SpaceX plans to do even more this year, according to spokesman James Gleeson.
Moon

John Young, Legendary Astronaut, Dies at Age 87 (cbsnews.com) 41

Legendary astronaut John Young -- who walked on the moon and piloted the first space shuttle -- died Friday at the age of 87. schwit1 shares a nice profile from CBS News: A naval aviator and test pilot, Young logged more than 15,275 hours flying time in a variety of aircraft, including 9,200 hours in T-38 jets. He spent 835 hours in space across his six NASA flights, serving as co-pilot of the first Gemini mission in 1965, commander of a second Gemini flight in 1966, lunar module pilot for Apollo 10 in 1969, commander of Apollo 16 in 1972 and commander of the first shuttle flight in 1981... Young was the first man to fly in space six times and the only astronaut to fly aboard Gemini and Apollo capsules and the space shuttle... He also brought a legendary cool nerve to an inherently dangerous job that amazed his compatriots. "I found out from the flight surgeon later on that my heartbeat was 144 at liftoff," Charlie Duke, one of Young's crewmates on the Apollo 16 moon landing mission, said of his reaction to launch atop a Saturn 5 rocket. "John's (heartbeat) was 70".
On one space shuttle flight, two of the ship's three auxiliary power units actually caught on fire, and exploded just minutes after touchdown. But Young always kept his cool. In 2010 Slashdot remembered the first manned Gemini mission in 1965. When it reached orbit, Young surprised his fellow astronaut Gus Grissom by pulling a fresh corned beef sandwich out of his pocket.

An anonymous Slashdot reader writes:
Andrew Chaikin, author of "A Man on the Moon: The Voyages of the Apollo Astronauts", remembers that Young "used to talk about how if we stay on this planet for too long, something's going to get us, whether it was a super volcano or whatever. He really was a true believer." NASA Administrator Robert Lightfoot added that Young's career "spanned three generations of spaceflight; we will stand on his shoulders as we look toward the next human frontier."

In 2012 -- when he was in his 80s -- Young published a memoir titled Forever Young: A Life of Adventure in Air and Space. "My life has been long, and it has been interesting. It's also been a lot of fun, and a lot of hard, challenging work. If I could do it over, I would do it over the very same way.

Space

NASA Tests a Drone To Explore Jupiter's Moon in Antarctica (popularmechanics.com) 65

Three months of research in Antarctica is just the beginning for one Georgia Tech researcher, according to an article shared by schwit1: The waters beneath our planet's ice sheet are fascinating, turning up species few people have ever laid eyes on. But they are not the final target of this chase. Icefin [a 10-foot-long subsea drone] is meant to search for alien life -- a "bug hunt," as some scientists cheerfully call it. It is bound for the icy waters of Jupiter's moon, Europa, possibly as soon as 2030...

The new equipment includes sensors to monitor for organics and measure environmental factors like the presence of dissolved oxygen and levels of acidity, all to see if Europa could (in theory) support life in its subterranean seas... The subsea drone is also smarter than its prototype predecessor, and that high-IQ autonomy would be needed on Europa. The probe must not only operate 400 million miles from Earth but also navigate all by itself under alien ice.

Medicine

A Popular Sugar Additive May Have Fueled the Spread of Two Superbugs (latimes.com) 125

Zorro (Slashdot reader #15,797) quotes the Los Angeles Times: Two bacterial strains that have plagued hospitals around the country may have been at least partly fueled by a sugar additive in our food products, scientists say. Trehalose, a sugar that is added to a wide range of food products, could have allowed certain strains of Clostridium difficile to become far more virulent than they were before, a new study finds. The results, described in the journal Nature, highlight the unintended consequences of introducing otherwise harmless additives to the food supply.
Nearly half a million people were sickened by C. difficile in 2011, when it was directly linked to 15,000 deaths. "The misuse and overuse of antibiotics has long been thought to be responsible for the rise of many kinds of antibiotic-resistant 'superbug'," notes the article, before citing a researcher who now believes "the circumstantial and experimental evidence points to trehalose as an unexpected culprit."
Biotech

The Orange Goo Used In Everything From Armor To Football Helmets (cnn.com) 96

dryriver writes: CNN has a story about a slimy, gooey orange gel developed by British company D3O as far back as 1999 that is very soft and fluid-like normally, but that hardens immediately when it receives an impact: It's a gel that acts as both a liquid and a solid. When handled slowly the goo is soft and flexible but the moment it receives an impact, it hardens. It's all thanks to the gel's shock-absorbing properties... Felicity Boyce, a material developer at D3O, told CNN, "if you hit it with great force, it behaves more like a solid that's absorbing the shock and none of that impact goes through my hand."

American football has become a huge market for the British company, where the gel is incorporated in padding and helmets to absorb the impact of any hits a player receives. D3O claims it can reduce blunt impact by 53% compared to materials like foam. The material can also be put inside running shoes to improve performance and reduce the risk of foot injury. Usain Bolt ran with D3O gel insoles in his shoes at the 2016 Rio Olympics.

The material is being tested in body armor. "While we don't have a material that can stop a bullet, we do have a material that can reduce the amount of trauma that your body would experience if you got shot." There are also soft smartphone casings using the gel that harden when the phone is dropped and hits a hard surface.

Earth

Ancient DNA Reveals a Completely Unknown Population of Native Americans (sciencealert.com) 111

schwit1 shares the findings of a new study of 11,500-year-old bones: Sunrise girl-child ("Xach'itee'aanenh T'eede Gaay") lived some 11,500 years ago in what is now called Alaska, and her ancient DNA reveals not only the origins of Native American society, but reminds the world of a whole population of people forgotten by history millennia ago. "We didn't know this population existed," says anthropologist Ben Potter from the University of Alaska Fairbanks. "It would be difficult to overstate the importance of this newly revealed people to our understanding of how ancient populations came to inhabit the Americas." In a new study published this week, the team reports that a genetic analysis of sunrise girl-child's DNA shows she belonged to a forgotten people called the Ancient Beringians, unknown to science until now. Before now, there were only two recognized branches of early Native Americans (referred to as Northern and Southern). But when the researchers sequenced sunrise girl-child's genome -- the earliest complete genetic profile of a New World human to date -- to their surprise it matched neither.

Given the nature of this field of research -- and the scope of the new findings -- it's unlikely the new hypotheses will remain uncontested for long. But in the light of all the new evidence researchers are uncovering, it's clear the first settlers of America carried a more diverse lineage than we ever realized. "[This is] the first direct evidence of the initial founding Native American population," Potter says. "It is markedly more complex than we thought." The findings are reported in the journal Nature.

Earth

NASA Launches a Mission To Study the Border of Earth and Space (arstechnica.com) 45

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: A new NASA mission, the first to hitch a ride on a commercial communications satellite, will examine Earth's upper atmosphere to see how the boundary between Earth and space changes over time. GOLD stands for Global-scale Observations of the Limb and Disk, and the mission will focus on the temperature and makeup of Earth's highest atmospheric layers. Along with another upcoming satellite, called ICON, GOLD will examine how weather on Earth -- and space weather caused by the sun -- affects those uppermost layers. GOLD, which will inspect the ultraviolet radiation that the upper atmosphere releases, will also be the first to take comprehensive records of that atmospheric layer's temperature. The satellite carrying GOLD will orbit 22,000 miles (35,400 kilometers) above Earth in a geostationary orbit, which means GOLD will stay fixed with respect to Earth's surface as the satellite orbits and the world turns. GOLD will pay particularly close attention to Earth's thermosphere, which is the gas that surrounds the Earth higher than 60 miles (97 km) up, and the layer called the ionosphere, which forms as radiation from the sun strips away electrons from particles to create charged ions. And although solar flares and other interactions on the sun do have a strong impact on those layers, scientists are learning that Earth's own weather has an impact on the layers, too.
Science

Arbitrary Deadlines Are the Enemy of Creativity, According to Harvard Research (qz.com) 123

Time can feel like the enemy to an employee in any role, and in any industry, but it's most acutely threatening to creative types. From a report: We may tease them for their diva-like behaviors when they feel persecuted by a deadline, but we have to admit that "develop an amazing new idea" is not something that slides into your schedule, like pick up lunch or respond to new clients. Nor can systems be tweaked and extra hands hired to help hit a goal that requires innovation, the way they can when mundane busy work is piling up. And yet deadlines are a fact of life for any company that wants to stay competitive. In a recent Harvard Business School podcast, professor Teresa Amabile, whose academic career has focused on individuals, teams, and creativity, offers some guidance for managers who struggle to support or coax their creative talent. She explains that although the creative process itself can't be controlled, certain structures can set up the conditions to move it along. When possible, managers should avoid tight deadlines for creative projects. In her work, Amabile found that creative teams can produce ideas on a deadline, and creative people may feel productive on high-pressured days, but their ideas won't be inspired.
Space

The Alien Megastructure Around Mysterious 'Tabby's Star' Is Probably Just Dust, Analysis Shows (theguardian.com) 75

An analysis by more than 200 astronomers has been published that shows the mysterious dimming of star KIC 8462852 -- nicknamed Tabby's star -- is not being produced by an alien megastructure. "The evidence points most strongly to a giant cloud of dust occasionally obscuring the star," reports The Guardian. From the report: KIC 8462852 is approximately 1,500 light years away from the Earth and hit the headlines in October 2015 when data from Nasa's Kepler space telescope showed that it was dimming by unexplainably large amounts. The star's light dropped by 20% first and then 15% making it unique. Even a large planet passing in front of the star would have blocked only about 1% of the light. For an object to block 15-20%, it would have to be approaching half the diameter of the star itself. With this realization, a few astronomers began whispering that such a signal would be the kind expected from a gigantic extraterrestrial construction orbiting in front of the star -- and the idea of the alien megastructure was born.

In the case of Tabby's star, the new observations show that it dims more at blue wavelengths than red. Thus, its light is passing through a dust cloud, not being blocked by an alien megastructure in orbit around the star. The new analysis of KIC 8462852 showing these results is to be published in The Astrophysical Journal Letters. It reinforces the conclusions reached by Huan Meng, University of Arizona, Tucson, and collaborators in October 2017. They monitored the star at multiple wavelengths using Nasa's Spitzer and Swift missions, and the Belgian AstroLAB IRIS observatory. These results were published in The Astrophysical Journal.

Space

SpaceX's Latest Advantage? Blowing Up Its Own Rocket, Automatically (qz.com) 126

SpaceX has reportedly worked with the Air Force to develop a GPS-equipped on-board computer, called the "Automatic Flight Safety System," that will safely and automatically detonate a Falcon 9 rocket in the sky if the launch threatens to go awry. Previously, an Air Force range-safety officer was required to be in place, ready to transmit a signal to detonate the rocket. Quartz reports: No other U.S. rocket has this capability yet, and it could open up new advantages for SpaceX: The U.S. Air Force is considering launches to polar orbits from Cape Canaveral, but the flight path is only viable if the rockets don't need to be tracked for range-safety reasons. That means SpaceX is the only company that could take advantage of the new corridor to space. Rockets at the Cape normally launch satellites eastward over the Atlantic into orbits roughly parallel to the equator. Launches from Florida into orbits traveling from pole to pole generally sent rockets too close to populated areas for the Air Force's liking. The new rules allow them to thread a safe path southward, past Miami and over Cuba.

SpaceX pushed for the new automated system for several reasons. One was efficacy: The on-board computer can react more quickly than human beings relying on radar data and radio transmissions to signal across miles of airspace, which gives the rocket more time to correct its course before blowing up in the event of an error. As important, the automated system means the company doesn't need to pay for the full use of the Air Force radar installations on launch day, which means SpaceX doesn't need to pay for some 160 U.S. Air Force staff to be on duty for their launches, saving the company and its customers money. Most impressively, the automated system will make it possible for SpaceX to fly multiple boosters at once in a single launch.

The Internet

How Do Americans Define Online Harassment? (theverge.com) 148

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Verge: According to a new Pew Research Center survey, defining online harassment is just as complicated for the average American user as it is for huge social media companies -- and the line gets even more fuzzy when gender or race come into the picture. The survey polled 4,151 respondents on various scenarios and asked them whether each one crossed the threshold for online harassment. In one hypothetical, a private disagreement between a man and his friend David is forwarded to a third party and posted online, which escalates to David receiving "unkind" messages, "vulgar" messages, and eventually being doxxed and threatened. When asked whether or not David was harassed, 89 percent of respondents agreed that he was. However, opinions on exactly when the harassment began varied widely: 5 percent considered it harassment when David offends his friend; 48 percent said it's when the friend forwards the conversation; 54 percent said it's when the conversation is shared publicly. Others agreed it crossed the line when David received the unkind messages (72 percent), the vulgar messages (82 percent), is doxxed (85 percent), and threatened (85 percent). There was little difference in responses by gender.

Questions regarding sexual harassment, perhaps unsurprisingly, are more divisive -- especially between men and women. In a second example, a woman named Julie receives "vulgar messages" about her looks and sexual behavior after posting on social media about a controversial issue. Women were about three times more likely than men (24 percent vs. 9 percent) to label it online harassment when Julie's post is shared by a popular blogger with thousands of followers. Fifty percent of women vs. 35 percent of men consider it harassment when Julie starts getting unkind messages. When it comes to vulgar messages, threats, or Julie's photo being edited to include sexual imagery, 8 out of 10 men consider it harassment, as opposed to 9 out of 10 women.

There's also a curious division between acknowledging something as harassment and believing that action should be taken by social media platforms. In the case of sexual harassment, for example, 43 percent of respondents considered the unkind messages harassment -- yet only 20 percent thought the social media platform should intervene. In a scenario where a woman's picture is edited to include sexual imagery, 84 percent called it harassment, but only 71 percent thought platforms should step in. The same can be said of an example involving racial harassment. Although 82 percent of respondents called messages with racial slurs and insults harassment, only 57 percent thought the platform should step in; the same goes for the person having their picture edited to include racially insensitive images (80 percent vs. 57 percent) and threats (82 percent vs. 67 percent). In both cases, respondents' gender is not provided.

Stats

The Most Productive Days and Times In 2017 (rescuetime.com) 31

In a blog post, personal analytics service RescueTime revealed exactly what days and times we were most productive in 2017, by studying the anonymized data of how people spent their time on their computers and phones over the past 12 months. From the report: Simply put, our data shows that people were the most productive on November 14th. In fact, that entire week ranked as the most productive of the year. Which makes sense. With American Thanksgiving the next week and the mad holiday rush shortly after, mid-November is a great time for people to cram in a few extra work hours and get caught up before gorging on Turkey dinner. On the other side of the spectrum, we didn't get a good start to the year. January 6th -- the first Friday of the year -- was the least productive day of 2017.

One of the biggest mistakes so many of us make when planning out our days is to assume we have 8+ hours to do productive work. This couldn't be further from the truth. What we found is that, on average, we only spend 5 hours a day working on a digital device. And with an average productivity pulse of 53% for the year, that means we only have 12.5 hours a week to do productive work. Our data showed that we do our most productive work between 10 and noon and then again from 2-5pm each day. However, breaking it down to the hour, we do our most productive work on Wednesdays at 3pm.
RescueTime has a separate blog post detailing how they calculate their productivity scores.
Math

Largest Prime Number Discovered – With More Than 23m Digits (mersenne.org) 117

chalsall writes: Persistence pays off. Jonathan Pace, a GIMPS volunteer for over 14 years, discovered the 50th known Mersenne prime, 2^77,232,917 -- 1 on December 26, 2017. The prime number is calculated by multiplying together 77,232,917 twos, and then subtracting one. It weighs in at 23,249,425 digits, becoming the largest prime number known to mankind. It bests the previous record prime, also discovered by GIMPS, by 910,807 digits. You can read a little more in the press release.
Earth

Oceans Suffocating as Huge Dead Zones Quadruple Since 1950, Scientists Warn (theguardian.com) 190

Ocean dead zones with zero oxygen have quadrupled in size since 1950, scientists have warned, while the number of very low oxygen sites near coasts have multiplied tenfold. From a report: Most sea creatures cannot survive in these zones and current trends would lead to mass extinction in the long run, risking dire consequences for the hundreds of millions of people who depend on the sea. Climate change caused by fossil fuel burning is the cause of the large-scale deoxygenation, as warmer waters hold less oxygen. The coastal dead zones result from fertiliser and sewage running off the land and into the seas. The analysis, published in the journal Science, is the first comprehensive analysis of the areas and states: "Major extinction events in Earth's history have been associated with warm climates and oxygen-deficient oceans." Denise Breitburg, at the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center in the US and who led the analysis, said: "Under the current trajectory that is where we would be headed. But the consequences to humans of staying on that trajectory are so dire that it is hard to imagine we would go quite that far down that path." "This is a problem we can solve," Breitburg said. "Halting climate change requires a global effort, but even local actions can help with nutrient-driven oxygen decline." She pointed to recoveries in Chesapeake Bay in the US and the Thames river in the UK, where better farm and sewage practices led to dead zones disappearing.
Beer

Alcohol Can Cause Irreversible Genetic Damage To Stem Cells, Says Study (theguardian.com) 145

A new study, published on Wednesday, states that drinking alcohol produces a harmful chemical in the body which can lead to permanent genetic damage in the DNA of stem cells, increasing the risk of cancer developing. From a report: The research, using genetically modified mice, provides the most compelling evidence to date that alcohol causes cancer by scrambling the DNA in cells, eventually leading to deadly mutations. During the past decade, there has been mounting evidence of the link between drinking and the risk of certain cancers. "How exactly alcohol causes damage to us is controversial," said Prof Ketan Patel, who led the work at the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge. "This paper provides very strong evidence that an alcohol metabolite causes DNA damage [including] to the all-important stem cells that go on to make tissues." The study builds on previous work that had pinpointed a breakdown product of alcohol, called acetaldehyde, as a toxin that can damage the DNA within cells. However, these earlier studies had relied on extremely high concentrations of acetaldehyde and used cells in a dish rather than tracking its effects within the body.
Medicine

Price Tag On Gene Therapy For Rare Form of Blindness: $850K (apnews.com) 218

A first-of-its kind genetic treatment for blindness will cost $850,000, less than the $1 million price tag that had been expected, but still among the most expensive medicines in the world. Several readers have shared an Associated Press report: Spark Therapeutics said Wednesday it decided on the lower price for Luxturna (Lux-turn-a) after hearing concerns from health insurers about their ability to cover the injectable treatment. Consternation over skyrocketing drug prices, especially in the U.S., has led to intense scrutiny from patients, Congress, insurers and hospitals. "We wanted to balance the value and the affordability concerns with a responsible price that would ensure access to patients," said CEO Jeffrey Marrazzo, in an interview with The Associated Press. Luxturna is still significantly more expensive than nearly every other medicine on the global market, including two other gene therapies approved earlier last year in the U.S. Approved last month, Luxturna, is the nation's first gene therapy for an inherited disease. It can improve the vision of those with a rare form of blindness that is estimated to affect just a few thousand people in the U.S. Luxturna is an injection -- one for each eye -- that replaces a defective gene in the retina, tissue at the back of the eye that converts light into electric signals that produce vision. The therapy will cost $425,000 per injection.
Earth

Scientists Can Now Blame Individual Natural Disasters On Climate Change (scientificamerican.com) 318

In 2003, the predominant view in the scientific community was that there was no way to determine the exact influence of climate change on any individual event. "There are just too many other factors affecting the weather, including all sorts of natural climate variations," reports Scientific American. But Myles Allen, a climate expert at the University of Oxford, believes scientists can blame individual natural disasters on climate change. Scientific American reports of how extreme event attribution is one of the most rapidly expanding areas of climate science: Over the last few years, dozens of studies have investigated the influence of climate change on events ranging from the Russian heat wave of 2010 to the California drought, evaluating the extent to which global warming has made them more severe or more likely to occur. The Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society now issues a special report each year assessing the impact of climate change on the previous year's extreme events. Interest in the field has grown so much that the National Academy of Sciences released an in-depth report last year evaluating the current state of the science and providing recommendations for its improvement. And as the science continues to mature, it may have ramifications for society. Legal experts suggest that attribution studies could play a major role in lawsuits brought by citizens against companies, industries or even governments. They could help reshape climate adaptation policies throughout a country or even the world. And perhaps more immediately, the young field of research could be capturing the public's attention in ways that long-term projections for the future cannot.

In 2004, Allen and Oxford colleague Daithi Stone and Peter Stott of the Met Office co-authored a report that is widely regarded as the world's first extreme event attribution study. The paper, which examined the contribution of climate change to a severe European heat wave in 2003 -- an event which may have caused tens of thousands of deaths across the continent -- concluded that "it is very likely that human influence has at least doubled the risk of a heat wave exceeding this threshold magnitude." Before this point, climate change attribution science had existed in other forms for several decades, according to Noah Diffenbaugh, a Stanford University climate scientist and attribution expert. Until 2004, much of the work had focused on investigating the relationship between human activity and long-term changes in climate elements like temperature and precipitation. More recently, scientists had been attempting to understand how these changes in long-term averages might affect weather patterns in general.

Medicine

Scientists Get Closer To Replicating Human Sperm (engadget.com) 224

Rachel England reports via Engadget: Scientists have taken an important step forward in recreating the way the human body makes sperm, which could one day mean creating artificial sperm and eggs for infertility treatment. The researchers, from the University of Cambridge's Gurdon Institute, are thought to be the first team to have reached the "halfway point" -- a significant milestone -- on the path between stem cells and immature sperm. This pathway -- which the team are attempting to track and understand -- involves embryonic cells turning into immature sperm via a series of complex steps known as meiosis. Cells follow the same journey for around eight weeks, before taking different directions depending on whether they're to be sperm or eggs. Previously, the team had managed to track this pathway to the four-week mark. Now, using new technology in the form of miniature artificial testicles (called "gonadal organoids"), it's on track to pass this point and gain new, deep insight into the process of sperm creation. Further reading: The Guardian
Power

Energy Department Permanently Closes Damaged Hanford Nuclear Reservation Tank (tri-cityherald.com) 69

The Department of Energy has decided to close the oldest double-shell tank at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation. The department says that Tank AY-102 has widespread damage and should not be repaired. The Tri-City Herald reports: DOE was required by Ecology, a regulator for Hanford's tanks storing radioactive and chemical waste, to empty enough waste from the tank to determine the cause of the leak by spring 2017. DOE confirmed in 2012 that waste from the inner shell of the tank was slowly leaking into the space between its inner and outer shells. No waste is known to have breached the outer shell to contaminate the soil beneath the tank. One of the goals of the inspection was to decide whether the tank could be repaired and returned to service, a scenario that appeared unlikely. Hanford has just 27 double-shell tanks, excluding Tank AY-102, to hold waste emptied from 149 leak-prone single shell tanks until the waste can be treated for disposal. Plans call for glassifying much of the waste at the vitrification plant under construction at Hanford. The waste is left from World War II and Cold War production of plutonium for the nation's nuclear weapons program.
Earth

It's So Cold Outside That Sharks Are Actually Freezing to Death (vice.com) 424

An anonymous reader writes: As climate change ushers in another year of extreme global temperatures -- a phenomenon President Trump seems a little confused about -- cities up and down the East Coast are facing record-breaking snowfall and subzero temperatures. But while city dwellers might be able to hide indoors and crank up the heat, some animals aren't so lucky. According to the Cape Cod-based Atlantic White Shark Conservancy, it's gotten so cold that sharks in the area have been washing up on the shore and essentially freezing to death. This week, the organization responded to three thresher sharks that likely suffered "cold shock" in the surrounding waters. Organisms suffer cold shock when they're exposed to extreme dips in temperature and can sometimes experience muscle spasms or cardiac arrest. Scientists believe the sharks swimming off the coast of Cape Cod -- where temperatures have dropped to 6 degrees -- suffered cold shock in the water, and then wound up getting stranded on the shore, where they likely suffocated. "If you've got cold air, that'll freeze their gills up very quickly," Greg Skomal, a marine scientist, told the New York Times. "Those gill filaments are very sensitive and it wouldn't take long for the shark to die."
Space

First Blue Moon Total Lunar Eclipse in 150 Years Coming This Month (space.com) 59

An anonymous reader writes, citing a report: The first eclipse of 2018 will be a lunar one that comes at the very end of the month, on Jan. 31. It will be a total eclipse that involves the second full moon of the month, popularly referred to as a Blue Moon. Such a skywatching event hasn't happened for more than 150 years. The eclipse will take place during the middle of the night, and the Pacific Ocean will be turned toward the moon at the time. Central and eastern Asia, Indonesia, New Zealand and most of Australia will get a fine view of this moon show in the evening sky. Heading farther west into western Asia, the Indian subcontinent, the Middle East and Eastern Europe, the eclipse will already be underway as the moon rises.
Science

Want to Be Happy? Think Like an Old Person (nytimes.com) 187

The New York Times: Older people report higher levels of contentment or well-being than teenagers and young adults. The six elders put faces on this statistic. If they were not always gleeful, they were resilient and not paralysed by the challenges that came their way. All had known loss and survived. None went to a job he did not like, coveted stuff she could not afford, brooded over a slight on the subway or lost sleep over events in the distant future. They set realistic goals. Only one said he was afraid to die. Gerontologists call this the paradox of old age: that as people's minds and bodies decline, instead of feeling worse about their lives, they feel better (Editor's note: the link may be paywalled; alternative source). In memory tests, they recall positive images better than negative; under functional magnetic resonance imaging, their brains respond more mildly to stressful images than the brains of younger people. John Sorensen, who liked to talk, brought cheer to every conversation, even those about wanting to die. Helen Moses and Ping Wong knew exactly what they wanted: for Ms Moses, it was her daughter and Mr Zeimer; for Ms Wong, it was mah-jongg and the camaraderie it entailed, even if the other players spoke a different dialect or followed the rules of a different home region. Mr Jones, Ms Willig and Mr Mekas all spent their energy on the things they could still do that brought them satisfaction, not on what they had lost to age.
Earth

UK 'Faces Build-up of Plastic Waste' (bbc.com) 308

The UK's recycling industry says it doesn't know how to cope with a Chinese ban on imports of plastic waste. From a report: Britain has been shipping up to 500,000 tonnes of plastic for recycling in China every year, but now the trade has been stopped. At the moment the UK cannot deal with much of that waste, says the UK Recycling Association. Its chief executive, Simon Ellin, told the BBC he had no idea how the problem would be solved in the short term. "It's a huge blow for us... a game-changer for our industry," he said. "We've relied on China so long for our waste... 55% of paper, 25% plus of plastics. "We simply don't have the markets in the UK. It's going to mean big changes in our industry." China has introduced the ban from this month on "foreign garbage" as part of a move to upgrade its industries.
Medicine

Some Hopeful Predictions for 2018 (nbcnews.com) 75

NBC asked 15 "top science and tech leaders" for their predictions for 2018. Despite arguments that technology has "created a monster," one anonymous reader sees their answers as a reason for hope: NBC notes the detection of gravitational waves in 2017 (predicted almost a century ago by Einstein) and the creation of genetically modified human embryos. And a professor of molecular medicine at The Scripps Research Institute points out that in 2018, more than 10 different medical conditions are now also moving forward in gene-editing clinical trials, including rare eye diseases, hemophilia, and sickle cell anemia. He predicts that in 2018, deep machine learning "will start to take hold in the clinic, first in ways to improve diagnostic accuracy and efficiency of doctors' workflow."

Former ICANN head Esther Dyson predicts we'll also begin using big data not only to reduce healthcare costs, but also social problems like unemployment, depression, and crime. "With big data, and more data available through everything from health records and fitness apps to public data such as high school graduation rates and population demographics, we are increasingly able to compare what happens with what would have happened without a particular intervention...with luck, some communities will lead by example, and policy-makers will take note."

The head of the atmospheric science program at the University of Georgia notes that already, "We now have technology in place to provide significant lead time for landfalling hurricanes, potentially tornadic storms, and multi-day flood events." And Dr. Seth Shostak, the senior astronomer at the SETI Institute, predicts that in 2018 "it's possible that a replacement for Pluto will be found," while an astrophysicist at the American Museum of Natural History adds that in 2018 the European Space Agency's Gaia Mission will determine "distances to over a billion stars and velocities for several million," creating "an exquisitely detailed 3D map of our home galaxy."

Medicine

America's Doctors Are Performing Expensive Procedures That Don't Work (vox.com) 233

"The proportion of medical procedures unsupported by evidence may be nearly half," writes a professor of public policy at Brown University. An anonymous reader quotes his article in Vox: The recent news that stents inserted in patients with heart disease to keep arteries open work no better than a placebo ought to be shocking. Each year, hundreds of thousands of American patients receive stents for the relief of chest pain, and the cost of the procedure ranges from $11,000 to $41,000 in US hospitals. But in fact, American doctors routinely prescribe medical treatments that are not based on sound science.

The stent controversy serves as a reminder that the United States struggles when it comes to winnowing evidence-based treatments from the ineffective chaff. As surgeon and health care researcher Atul Gawande observes, "Millions of people are receiving drugs that aren't helping them, operations that aren't going to make them better, and scans and tests that do nothing beneficial for them, and often cause harm"... Estimates vary about what fraction of the treatments provided to patients is supported by adequate evidence, but some reviews place the figure at under half.

China

Construction Workers Find 30 Perfectly Preserved Dinosaur Eggs (bgr.com) 65

An anonymous reader quotes BGR: Chinese construction workers digging on Christmas day found a gift that was wrapped 130 million years ago in the form of 30 incredibly preserved dinosaur eggs. The discovery was made in the city of Ganzhou at the future site of a new middle school, but work on the new facility had to be put on hold after the ancient eggs were discovered.

According to state media, the workers reported uncovering "oval-shaped stones" while clearing rock away using explosive blasts. The workers suspected they might be important so they alerted local law enforcement who took command of the site and contacted experts from a nearby museum who confirmed the "rocks" were actually fossilized dinosaur eggs. The eggs, which are thought to date from the Cretaceous period, are estimated to be as old as 130 million years. The location where they were discovered is believed to have once been an ancient lakeshore, which would have been a pleasant place for the dinosaurs to raise their brood.

Biotech

How Big Tech is Getting Involved in Your Health Care (bendbulletin.com) 50

Apple's financing a study to see whether irregular heart rhythms can be detected with an Apple Watch. But that's just the beginning, according to a New York Times article shared by Templer421: As consumers, medical centers and insurers increasingly embrace health-tracking apps, tech companies want a bigger share of the more than $3 trillion spent annually on health care in the United States, too... The companies are accelerating their efforts to remake health care by developing or collaborating on new tools for consumers, patients, doctors, insurers and medical researchers. And they are increasingly investing in health startups. In the first 11 months of this year, 10 of the largest tech companies in the United States were involved in health care equity deals worth $2.7 billion, up from just $277 million for all of 2012, according to data from CB Insights, a research firm that tracks venture capital and startups.

Each tech company is taking its own approach, betting that its core business strengths could ultimately improve people's health -- or at least make health care more efficient. Apple, for example, has focused on its consumer products, Microsoft on online storage and analytics services and Alphabet, Google's parent company, on data... Physicians and researchers caution that it is too soon to tell whether novel continuous-monitoring tools, like apps for watches and smartphones, will help reduce disease and prolong lives -- or just send more people to doctors for unnecessary tests. There's no shortage of hype," said Dr. Eric Topol, a digital medicine expert who directs the Scripps Translational Science Institute in San Diego. "We're in the early stages of learning these tools: Who do they help? Who do they not help? Who do they provide just angst, anxiety, false positives?"

The article notes Amazon's investment in cancer-detection startup Grail, Apple's investment in the Beddit sleep monitor, and Alphabet's acquistion of Senosis Health, "a developer of apps that use smartphone sensors to monitor certain health signals."

Alphabet also has a research unit developing tools to collect health data, and it's already financed "Project Baseline," in which 10,000 volunteers have agreed to testing of their blood, mental health, and DNA, as well as monitoring of their skin temperature, heart rate, and sleep patterns.
The Military

Neuro, Cyber, Slaughter: Emerging Technological Threats In 2017 (thebulletin.org) 38

"Wouldn't it be nice if advances in technology stopped throwing new problems at the world? No such luck," writes Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. "Several emerging technological threats could -- soon enough -- come to rival nuclear weapons and climate change in their potential to upend (or eliminate) civilization." Lasrick writes: In 2017, the cyber threat finally began to seem real to the general public. Advances in biotech in 2017 could lead to the deliberate spread of disease and a host of other dangers. And then there were the leaps forward made in AI. Here's a roundup of coverage from the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists on advances in emerging technological threats that were made in the last year.
One article even describes the possibility of malevolent brain-brain networks in the future, warning scientists (and the international community) to "remain vigilant about neurotechnologies as they become more refined -- and as the practical barriers to their malevolent use begin to lower."
Transportation

Math Says You're Driving Wrong and It's Slowing Us All Down (wired.com) 404

A new study in IEEE Transactions on Intelligent Transportation Systems mathematically suggests that if you and everyone else on the road kept an equal distance between the cars ahead and behind, traffic would move twice as quickly. From a report: Now sure, you're probably not going to convince everyone on the road to do that. Still, the finding could be a simple yet powerful way to optimize semi-autonomous cars long before the fully self-driving car of tomorrow arrives. Traffic is perhaps the world's most infuriating example of what's known as an emergent property. Meaning, lots of individual things forming together to create something more complex. Emergent properties are usually quite astounding. You've probably seen video of starlings forming a murmuration, a great shifting blob of thousands upon thousands of birds. Bats flying en masse out of a cave is another example, swarming sometimes by the millions through a small exit. And scientists are just beginning to understand how they do so.
Space

The Biggest Rocket Launches and Space Missions We're Looking Forward To in 2018 (theverge.com) 112

Loren Grush, writing for The Verge: Next year is already overflowing with exciting missions to space. NASA is launching a new lander to Mars, as well as a spacecraft that will get closer to the Sun than ever before. And two of NASA's vehicles already in space will finally arrive at their intended targets: one will rendezvous with a nearby asteroid, while another will pass by a distant space rock billions of miles from Earth. But it's not just NASA that has a busy year ahead; the commercial space industry has a number of significant test flights planned, and the launch of one of the world's most anticipated rockets, the Falcon Heavy, is slated for early 2018. And if all goes well, people may finally ride to space on private vehicles. Here's the complete list.
Programming

Russia Lost a $45 Million Satellite Because 'They Didn't Get the Coordinates Right' (gizmodo.com) 101

Last month, Russia lost contact with a 6,062-pound, $45 million satellite. Turns out, that happened because the Meteor-M weather satellite was programmed with the wrong coordinates. Gizmodo reports: On Wednesday, Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin told the Rossiya 24 state TV channel that a human error was responsible for the screw-up, according to Reuters. While the Meteor-M launched last month from the Vostochny cosmodrome in the Far East, it was reportedly programmed with take-off coordinates for the Baikonur cosmodrome, which is located in southern Kazakhstan. "The rocket was really programmed as if it was taking off from Baikonur," Rogozin said. "They didn't get the coordinates right." And the rocket had some precious cargo on board: "18 smaller satellites belonging to scientific, research and commercial companies from Russia, Norway, Sweden, the U.S., Japan, Canada and Germany," Reuters reported.
Math

How Pirates Of The Caribbean Hijacked America's Metric System (npr.org) 440

If the United States were more like the rest of the world, a McDonald's Quarter Pounder might be known as the McDonald's 113-Grammer, John Henry's 9-pound hammer would be 4.08 kilograms, and any 800-pound gorillas in the room would likely weigh 362 kilos. NPR explores: One reason this country never adopted the metric system might be pirates. Here's what happened: In 1793, the brand new United States of America needed a standard measuring system because the states were using a hodgepodge of systems. "For example, in New York, they were using Dutch systems, and in New England, they were using English systems," says Keith Martin, of the research library at the National Institute of Standards and Technology. This made interstate commerce difficult. The secretary of state at the time was Thomas Jefferson. Jefferson knew about a new French system and thought it was just what America needed. He wrote to his pals in France, and the French sent a scientist named Joseph Dombey off to Jefferson carrying a small copper cylinder with a little handle on top. It was about 3 inches tall and about the same wide. This object was intended to be a standard for weighing things, part of a weights and measure system being developed in France, now known as the metric system. The object's weight was 1 kilogram. Crossing the Atlantic, Dombey ran into a giant storm. "It blew his ship quite far south into the Caribbean Sea," says Martin. And you know who was lurking in Caribbean waters in the late 1700s? Pirates.
Government

People Who Know How the News Is Made Resist Conspiratorial Thinking (arstechnica.com) 368

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: Conspiracy theories, like the world being flat or the Moon landings faked, have proven notoriously difficult to stomp out. Add a partisan twist to the issue, and the challenge becomes even harder. Even near the end of his second term, barely a quarter of Republicans were willing to state that President Obama was born in the U.S. If we're seeking to have an informed electorate, then this poses a bit of a problem. But a recent study suggests a very simple solution helps limit the appeal of conspiracy theories: news media literacy. This isn't knowledge of the news, per se, but knowledge of the companies and processes that help create the news. While the study doesn't identify how the two are connected, its authors suggest that an understanding of the media landscape helps foster a healthy skepticism.

[...] "Despite popular conceptions," the authors point out, "[conspiratorial thinking] is not the sole province of the proverbial nut-job." When mixed in with the sort of motivated reasoning that ideology can, well, motivate, crazed ideas can become relatively mainstream. Witness the number of polls that indicated the majority of Republicans thought Obama wasn't born in the U.S., even after he shared his birth certificate. While something that induces a healthy skepticism of information sources might be expected to help with this, it's certainly not guaranteed, as motivated reasoning has been shown to be capable of overriding education and knowledge on relevant topics.

[...] As a whole, the expected connection held up: "for both conservatives and liberals, more knowledge of the news media system related to decreased endorsement of liberal conspiracies." And, conversely, the people who did agree with conspiracy theories tended to know very little about how the news media operated.

Science

Leaving the House Linked To Longevity in Older Adults (yahoo.com) 54

Researchers in Israel have found that leaving the house regularly can "contribute to a longer life" for elderly people. From a report: For study participants in their 70s, 80s and 90s, the frequency with which they left the house predicted how likely they were to make it to the next age milestone, researchers report in Journal of the American Geriatrics Society. "The simple act of getting out of the house every day propels people into engagement with the world," said lead author Dr. Jeremy Jacobs of Hadassah-Hebrew University Medical Center in Jerusalem in a phone interview. "We saw similar benefits that you'd expect from treating blood pressure or cholesterol with medicine," Jacobs said. "Social factors are important in the process of aging." Jacobs and colleagues analyzed data on 3,375 adults at ages 70, 78, 85 and 90 who were participating in the Jerusalem Longitudinal Study.
Earth

The WHO May Recognize Excessive Video Gaming As Mental Health Disorder (cbsnews.com) 125

An anonymous reader quotes a report from CBS News: The World Health Organization is poised to classify "gaming disorder" as a mental health problem in its 2018 update of the International Classification of Diseases (ICD). Gaming disorder could be diagnosed if a person's video game habit "is of sufficient severity to result in significant impairment in personal, family, social, educational, occupational or other important areas of functioning," according a tentative draft of WHO's 11th update to the ICD. Licensed marriage and family therapist Paula-Jo Husack said common symptoms for children and adults include social isolation, trouble transitioning from one thought to another, reduction in empathy, loss of appetite and loss of sensory perception. The WHO said those symptoms generally need to persist for at least a year before doctors diagnose a case of gaming disorder, but added that a diagnosis could be made sooner if symptoms are severe.
Patents

Empirical Research Reveals Three Big Problems With How Patents Are Vetted (arstechnica.com) 94

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: If you've read our coverage of the Electronic Frontier Foundation's "Stupid Patent of the Month" series, you know America has a patent quality problem. People apply for patents on ideas that are obvious, vague, or were invented years earlier. Too often, applications get approved and low-quality patents fall into the hands of patent trolls, creating headaches for real innovators. Why don't more low-quality patents get rejected? A recent paper published by the Brookings Institution offers fascinating insights into this question. Written by legal scholars Michael Frakes and Melissa Wasserman, the paper identifies three ways the patent process encourages approval of low-quality patents:

-The United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) is funded by fees -- and the agency gets more fees if it approves an application.
-Unlimited opportunities to refile rejected applications means sometimes granting a patent is the only way to get rid of a persistent applicant.
-Patent examiners are given less time to review patent applications as they gain seniority, leading to less thorough reviews.

None of these observations is entirely new. But what sets Frakes and Wasserman's work apart is that they have convincing empirical evidence for all three theories. They have data showing that these features of the patent system systematically bias it in the direction of granting more patents. Which means that if we reformed the patent process in the ways they advocate, we'd likely wind up with fewer bogus patents floating around.

Medicine

If Dogs Can Smell Cancer, Why Don't They Screen People? (scientificamerican.com) 106

An anonymous reader shares an excerpt from a Scientific American report: Dogs can be trained to be cancer-sniffing wizards, using their sensitive noses to detect cancerous fumes wafting from diseased cells. This sniffing is noninvasive and could help diagnose countless people, which begs the question: If these pups are so olfactorily astute, why aren't they screening people for cancer right now? Here's the short answer: Dogs do well in engaging situations, such as helping law enforcement track scents or guiding search-and-rescue teams in disaster areas. But sniffing thousands of samples in which only a handful may be cancerous is challenging work with little positive reinforcement. Moreover, it takes time and energy to train these pups, who, despite extensive preparation, still might miss a diagnosis if they're having a bad day, experts told Live Science.
AI

Google's Voice-Generating AI Is Now Indistinguishable From Humans (qz.com) 101

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Quartz: A research paper published by Google this month -- which has not been peer reviewed -- details a text-to-speech system called Tacotron 2, which claims near-human accuracy at imitating audio of a person speaking from text. The system is Google's second official generation of the technology, which consists of two deep neural networks. The first network translates the text into a spectrogram (pdf), a visual way to represent audio frequencies over time. That spectrogram is then fed into WaveNet, a system from Alphabet's AI research lab DeepMind, which reads the chart and generates the corresponding audio elements accordingly. The Google researchers also demonstrate that Tacotron 2 can handle hard-to-pronounce words and names, as well as alter the way it enunciates based on punctuation. For instance, capitalized words are stressed, as someone would do when indicating that specific word is an important part of a sentence. Quartz has embedded several different examples in their report that feature a sentence generated by AI along with a sentence read aloud from a human hired by Google. Can you tell which is the AI generated sample?
Science

Flying in Airplanes Exposes People To More Radiation Than Standing Next To a Nuclear Reactor (businessinsider.com) 275

Traveling the skies by jet lifts us far from the hustle and bustle of the world below. From a report: But many flyers don't know that soaring miles above Earth also takes us out of a vital protective cocoon -- and a little closer to a place where our cells can be pummeled by radiation from colliding stars, black holes, and more. You can't see these high-energy charged particles, but at any given moment, tens of thousands of them are soaring through space and slamming into Earth's atmosphere from all directions. Also called cosmic rays or cosmic ionizing radiation, the particles are the cores of atoms, such as iron and nickel, moving at nearly light-speed. They can travel for millions of years through space before randomly hitting Earth. These rays don't pose much of a risk to humans on Earth's surface, since the planet's atmosphere and magnetic field shield us from most of the threat.
NASA

NASA Begins Planning For An Interstellar Mission In 2069 (nypost.com) 143

Long-time Slashdot reader cold fjord writes: During the 2017 Geophysical Union Conference, scientists from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory revealed that they are planning an interstellar exploration mission for the year 2069. The goal is to send a probe to Alpha Centauri, some 4.3 light years away. NASA is working on technology to allow a spacecraft to reach 10% of the speed of light, which might allow them to reach Alpha Centauri in as soon as 44 years.

A number of technologies are being explored, although there are many practical hurdles. The New Scientist adds that the 2016 NASA budget directed NASA to study interstellar travel that could reach 10% of the speed of light by 2069.

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