Communications

Why People Dislike Really Smart Leaders (scientificamerican.com) 677

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Scientific American: Intelligence makes for better leaders -- from undergraduates to executives to presidents -- according to multiple studies. It certainly makes sense that handling a market shift or legislative logjam requires cognitive oomph. But new research on leadership suggests that, at a certain point, having a higher IQ stops helping and starts hurting. The researchers looked at 379 male and female business leaders in 30 countries, across fields that included banking, retail and technology. The managers took IQ tests (an imperfect but robust predictor of performance in many areas), and each was rated on leadership style and effectiveness by an average of eight co-workers. IQ positively correlated with ratings of leader effectiveness, strategy formation, vision and several other characteristics -- up to a point. The ratings peaked at an IQ of around 120, which is higher than roughly 80 percent of office workers. Beyond that, the ratings declined. The researchers suggest the "ideal" IQ could be higher or lower in various fields, depending on whether technical versus social skills are more valued in a given work culture. The study's lead author, John Antonakis, a psychologist at the University of Lausanne in Switzerland, suggests leaders should use their intelligence to generate creative metaphors that will persuade and inspire others -- the way former U.S. President Barack Obama did. "I think the only way a smart person can signal their intelligence appropriately and still connect with the people," Antonakis says, "is to speak in charismatic ways."
Communications

Ask Slashdot: How Would You Explain Einstein's Theories To a Nine-Year-Old? 293

SiggyRadiation writes: A few days ago, my 9-year-old son asked me why Albert Einstein was so famous. I decided not just to start with the famous formula E=mc^2, because that just seemed to be the easy way out. So I tried to explain what mass and energy are. Then I asked him to try to explain gravity to me. The earth pulls at you because it has a lot of mass. But how can the earth influence your body, pull your feet to the ground, without actually touching you? Why is it that one thing (the earth) can influence something else (you) without actually being connected? Isn't that weird? Einstein figured out how energy, mass and gravity work and are related to each other. This is where our conversation ended.

Afterwards I thought: this might be a nice question to ask on Slashdot; how would I continue this discussion to explain it to him further? Of course, with the goal of further feeding his interest in physics.
Science

Global Warming Predictions May Now Be a Lot Less Uncertain (wired.com) 384

An anonymous reader shares a report: Humanity must not pass a rise of 2 degrees Celsius in global temperature from pre-industrial levels, so says the Paris climate agreement. Cross that line and the global effects of climate change start looking less like a grave situation and more like a catastrophe. The frustrating bit about studying climate change is the inherent uncertainty of it all. Predicting where it's going is a matter of mashing up thousands of variables in massive, confounding systems. But today in the journal Nature, researchers claim they've reduced the uncertainty in a key metric of climate change by 60 percent, narrowing a range of potential warming from 3C to 1.2C. And that could have implications for how the international community arrives at climate goals like it did in Paris. The metric is called equilibrium climate sensitivity, but don't let the name scare you.
NASA

2017 Among Warmest Years On Record (npr.org) 187

2017 was among the warmest years on record, according to new data released by NASA and the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration. From a report: The planet's global surface temperature last year was second warmest since 1880, NASA says. NOAA calls it the third warmest year on record, due to slight variation in the ways that they analyze temperatures. Both put 2017 behind 2016's record temperatures. And "both analyses show that the five warmest years on record have all taken place since 2010," NASA said in a press release. The trend is seen most dramatically in the Arctic, NASA says, as sea ice continues to melt.
Science

No More Pancake Syrup? Climate Change Could Bring an End To Sugar Maples (sciencemag.org) 363

An anonymous reader shares a research report: Savor that sticky, slightly nutty sweetness drenching your Sunday morning pancakes now. The trees that make maple syrup will struggle to survive climate change, a new study reveals. Researchers had thought that pollution from cars, factories, and agriculture might buffer sugar maples against an increasingly warm and dry climate by supplying soils with fertilizing nitrogen. But the new analysis, which examined 20 years of tree and soil data in four Michigan locations, finds that extra boost of nitrogen won't be enough. Instead, the researchers report today in Ecology, a lack of water will stunt the trees' growth.
United States

US Doctors Plan To Treat Cancer Patients Using CRISPR (technologyreview.com) 53

An anonymous reader shares a report: The first human test in the U.S. involving the gene-editing tool CRISPR could begin at any time and will employ the DNA cutting technique in a bid to battle deadly cancers. Doctors at the University of Pennsylvania say they will use CRISPR to modify human immune cells so that they become expert cancer killers, according to plans posted this week to a directory of ongoing clinical trials. The study will enroll up to 18 patients fighting three different types of cancer -- multiple myeloma, sarcoma, and melanoma -- in what could become the first medical use of CRISPR outside China, where similar studies have been under way. An advisory group to the National Institutes of Health initially gave a green light to the Penn researchers in June 2016, but until now it was not known whether the trial would proceed.
Space

Meteor Lights Up Southern Michigan (arstechnica.com) 38

New submitter Foundryman writes: Amidst fake missile reports in Hawaii and Japan, Michigan gets hit by something real. From a report via Ars Technica: "Early last night local time, a meteor rocketed through the skies of southern Michigan, giving local residents a dramatic (if brief) light show. It also generated an imperceptible thump, as the U.S. Geological Survey confirmed that there was a coincident magnitude 2.0 earthquake. The American Meteor Society has collected more than 350 eyewitness accounts, which ranged from western Pennsylvania out to Illinois and Wisconsin. They were heavily concentrated over southern Michigan, notably around the Detroit area. A number of people have also posted videos of the fireball online. The American Meteor Society estimates that the rock was relatively slow-moving at a sedate 45,000km an hour. Combined with its production of a large fireball, the researchers conclude it was probably a big rock. NASA's meteorwatch Facebook page largely agrees and suggests that this probably means that pieces of the rock made it to Earth. If you were on the flight path, you might want to check your yard.
Businesses

Turning Soybeans Into Diesel Fuel Is Costing Us Billions (npr.org) 264

This year, trucks and other heavy-duty motors in America will burn some 3 billion gallons of diesel fuel that was made from soybean oil. They're doing it, though, not because it's cheaper or better, but because they're required to, by law. From a report: The law is the Renewable Fuel Standard, or RFS. For some, especially Midwestern farmers, it's the key to creating clean energy from American soil and sun. For others -- like many economists -- it's a wasteful misuse of resources. And the most wasteful part of the RFS, according to some, is biodiesel. It's different from ethanol, a fuel that's made from corn and mixed into gasoline, also as required by the RFS. In fact, gasoline companies probably would use ethanol even if there were no law requiring it, because ethanol is a useful fuel additive -- at least up to a point. That's not true of biodiesel. "This is an easy one, economically. Biodiesel is very expensive, relative to petroleum diesel," says Scott Irwin, an economist at the University of Illinois, who follows biofuel markets closely. He calculates that the extra cost for biodiesel comes to about $1.80 per gallon right now, meaning that the biofuel law is costing Americans about $5.4 billion a year.
Businesses

'No One Wants Your Used Clothes Anymore' (bloomberg.com) 330

An anonymous reader shares a report: For decades, the donation bin has offered consumers in rich countries a guilt-free way to unload their old clothing. In a virtuous and profitable cycle, a global network of traders would collect these garments, grade them, and transport them around the world to be recycled, worn again, or turned into rags and stuffing. Now that cycle is breaking down. Fashion trends are accelerating, new clothes are becoming as cheap as used ones, and poor countries are turning their backs on the secondhand trade. Without significant changes in the way that clothes are made and marketed, this could add up to an environmental disaster in the making. [...] The tide of secondhand clothes keeps growing even as the markets to reuse them are disappearing. From an environmental standpoint, that's a big problem. Already, the textile industry accounts for more greenhouse-gas emissions than all international flights and maritime shipping combined; as recycling markets break down, its contribution could soar. The good news is that nobody has a bigger incentive to address this problem than the industry itself.
Earth

Salmonella Probably Killed the Aztecs (theguardian.com) 131

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Guardian: In 1545 disaster struck Mexico's Aztec nation when people started coming down with high fevers, headaches and bleeding from the eyes, mouth and nose. Death generally followed in three or four days. Within five years as many as 15 million people -- an estimated 80% of the population -- were wiped out in an epidemic the locals named "cocoliztli." The word means pestilence in the Aztec Nahuatl language. Its cause, however, has been questioned for nearly 500 years. On Monday scientists swept aside smallpox, measles, mumps, and influenza as likely suspects, identifying a typhoid-like "enteric fever" for which they found DNA evidence on the teeth of long-dead victims.

Scientists now say they have probably unmasked the culprit. Analysing DNA extracted from 29 skeletons buried in a cocoliztli cemetery, they found traces of the salmonella enterica bacterium, of the Paratyphi C variety. It is known to cause enteric fever, of which typhoid is an example. The Mexican subtype rarely causes human infection today. Many salmonella strains spread via infected food or water, and may have travelled to Mexico with domesticated animals brought by the Spanish, the research team said.
The study has been published in the journal Nature Ecology and Evolution.
Medicine

New Study Claims That the 'Black Death' Was Spread By Humans, Not Rats (bbc.com) 97

dryriver shares a report from BBC: Rats were not to blame for the spread of plague during the Black Death, according to a study. The rodents and their fleas were thought to have spread a series of outbreaks in 14th-19th Century Europe. But a team from the universities of Oslo and Ferrara now says the first, the Black Death, can be "largely ascribed to human fleas and body lice." The study, in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, uses records of its pattern and scale. The Black Death claimed an estimated 25 million lives, more than a third of Europe's population, between 1347 and 1351. "We have good mortality data from outbreaks in nine cities in Europe," Prof Nils Stenseth, from the University of Oslo, told BBC News. "So we could construct models of the disease dynamics [there]." He and his colleagues then simulated disease outbreaks in each of these cities, creating three models where the disease was spread by: rats, airborne transmission, and fleas and lice that live on humans and their clothes. In seven out of the nine cities studied, the "human parasite model" was a much better match for the pattern of the outbreak. It mirrored how quickly it spread and how many people it affected. "The conclusion was very clear," said Prof Stenseth. "The lice model fits best. It would be unlikely to spread as fast as it did if it was transmitted by rats. It would have to go through this extra loop of the rats, rather than being spread from person to person." Plague is still endemic in some countries of Asia, Africa and the Americas, where it persists in "reservoirs" of infected rodents. According to the World Health Organization, from 2010 to 2015 there were 3,248 cases reported worldwide, including 584 deaths. And, in 2001, a study that decoded the plague genome used a bacterium that had come from a vet in the U.S. who had died in 1992 after a plague-infested cat sneezed on him as he had been trying to rescue it from underneath a house.
China

China Builds 'World's Biggest Air Purifier' That Actually Works (scmp.com) 138

The South China Morning Post shares an update on the status of an experimental tower in northern China, dubbed the world's biggest air purifier by its operators. According to the scientist leading the project, the tower -- which stands over 328 feet (100 meters) tall -- has brought a noticeable improvement in air quality. From the report: The head of the research, Cao Junji, said improvements in air quality had been observed over an area of 10 square kilometers (3.86 square miles) in the city over the past few months and the tower has managed to produce more than 10 million cubic meters (353 million cubic feet) of clean air a day since its launch. Cao added that on severely polluted days the tower was able to reduce smog close to moderate levels. The system works through greenhouses covering about half the size of a soccer field around the base of the tower. Polluted air is sucked into the glasshouses and heated up by solar energy. The hot air then rises through the tower and passes through multiple layers of cleaning filters. The average reduction in PM2.5 -- the fine particles in smog deemed most harmful to health -- fell 15 per cent during heavy pollution. Cao said the results were preliminary because the experiment is still ongoing. The team plans to release more detailed data in March with a full scientific assessment of the facility's overall performance.
Music

Is Pop Music Becoming Louder, Simpler and More Repetitive? (bbc.co.uk) 477

dryriver writes: The BBC has posted a very interesting article that investigates whether people claiming all over the internet that "pop music just isn't what it used to be" are simply growing old, or if there actually is objective science capable of backing up this claim of a "steady decline in music quality." The findings from five different studies are quoted; the findings from the fourth study is especially striking:


1. Pop music has become slower -- in tempo -- in recent years and also "sadder" and less "fun" to listen to.
2. Pop music has become melodically less complex, using fewer chord changes, and pop recordings are mastered to sound consistently louder (and therefore less dynamic) at a rate of around one decibel every eight years.
3. There has been a significant increase in the use of the first-person word "I" in pop song lyrics, and a decline in words that emphasize society or community. Lyrics also contain more words that can be associated with anger or anti-social sentiments.
4. 42% of people polled on which decade has produced the worst pop music since the 1970s voted for the 2010s. These people were not from a particular aging demographic at all -- all age groups polled, including 18-29 year olds, appear to feel unanimously that the 2010s are when pop music became worst. This may explain a rising trend of young millennials, for example, digging around for now 15-30 year-old music on YouTube frequently. It's not just the older people who listen to the 1980s and 1990s on YouTube and other streaming services it seems -- much younger people do it too.
5. A researcher put 15,000 Billboard Hot 100 song lyrics through the well-known Lev-Zimpel-Vogt (LZV1) data compression algorithm, which is good at finding repetitions in data. He found that songs have steadily become more repetitive over the years, and that song lyrics from today compress 22% better on average than less repetitive song lyrics from the 1960s. The most repetitive year in song lyrics was 2014 in this study.

Conclusion: There is some scientific evidence backing the widely voiced complaint -- on the internet in particular -- that pop music is getting worse and worse in the 2000s and the 2010s. The music is slower, melodically simpler, louder, more repetitive, more "I" (first-person) focused, and more angry with anti-social sentiments. The 2010s got by far the most music quality down votes with 42% from people polled on which decade has produced the worst music since the 1970s.

NASA

The James Webb Space Telescope Has Emerged From the Freezer (arstechnica.com) 72

The James Webb Space Telescope has emerged from a large vacuum chamber that was home to temperatures of just 20 degrees Celsius above absolute zero. Scientists have reviewed the data and given the instrument a clean bill of health. "We now have verified that NASA and its partners have an outstanding telescope and set of science instruments," said Bill Ochs, the Webb telescope project manager at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. "We are marching toward launch." Ars Technica reports: The $10 billion telescope underwent tests inside Chamber A at Johnson Space Center, which was built in 1965 to conduct thermal-vacuum testing on the Apollo command and service modules. Beginning in mid-July, after the telescope was cooled down to a temperature range of 20 to 40 Kelvin, engineers tested the alignment of Webb's 18 primary mirror segments to ensure they would act as a single, 6.5-meter telescope. (They did). Later, they assessed the fine guidance system of the telescope by simulating the light of a distant star. The Webb telescope was able to detect the light, and all of the optical systems were able to process it. Then, the telescope was able to track the "star" and its movement, giving scientists confidence that the Webb instrument will work once in space. Webb still has a ways to go before it launches. Now that project scientists know that the optic portion of the instrument can withstand the vacuum of space, and the low temperatures at the Earth-Sun L2 point it will orbit in deep space, they must perform additional testing before a probable launch next year.
Medicine

Why You Shouldn't Stifle Your Sneeze (theguardian.com) 179

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Guardian: In a season where colds are rife, holding your nose and closing your mouth might seem like a considerate alternative to an explosive "Achoo!" But doctors have warned of the dangers of such a move after a man was found to have ruptured the back of his throat when attempting to stifle a sneeze. Medics say the incident, which they detail in the British Medical Journal Case Reports, came to light when a 34-year old man arrived in A&E with a change to his voice, a swollen neck, pain when swallowing and a popping sensation in his neck after he pinched his nose to contain an expulsion. The team took scans of the man's neck to investigate and discovered bubbles of air in the tissues at the back of the throat, and in the neck from the base of the skull to halfway down the man's back. That, they say, suggested a tear had occurred at the back of the throat as a result of increased pressure from the stifled sneeze, leading to air collecting in his soft tissues. The authors warn that blocking the nostrils and mouth when sneezing is dangerous, noting that while tearing of the throat tissue is rare, it could result in a ruptured eardrum or even a brain aneurysm.
NASA

SpaceX and Boeing Slated For Manned Space Missions By Year's End (fortune.com) 79

schwit1 shares a report from Fortune, covering NASA's announcement last week that it expects SpaceX to conduct a crewed test flight by the end of the year: SpaceX's crewed test flight is slated for December, after an uncrewed flight in August. Boeing will also be demonstrating its CST-100 Starliner capsule, with a crewed flight in November following an uncrewed flight in August. NASA's goal is to launch crews to the ISS from U.S. soil, a task that has fallen to Russia's space program since the retirement of the U.S. Space Shuttle program in 2011. NASA began looking for private launch companies to take over starting in 2010, and contracted both SpaceX and Boeing in 2014 to pursue crewed launches. The push to restore America's crewed spaceflight capacity has been delayed in part, according to a detailed survey by Ars Technica, by Congress redirecting funds in subsequent years. The test flights could determine whether Boeing or SpaceX conducts the first U.S. commercial space launch to the ISS. Whichever company gets that honor may also claim a symbolic U.S. flag stuck to a hatch on the space station. Sources speaking to Ars describe the race between the two companies as too close to call, and say that a push to early 2019 is entirely possible. But in an apparent vote of confidence, NASA has already begun naming astronauts to helm the flights.
Earth

Renewable Energy Set To Be Cheaper Than Fossil Fuels By 2020, Says Report (independent.co.uk) 261

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Independent: Continuous technological improvements have led to a rapid fall in the cost of renewable energy in recent years, meaning some forms can already comfortably compete with fossil fuels. The report suggests this trend will continue, and that by 2020 "all the renewable power generation technologies that are now in commercial use are expected to fall within the fossil fuel-fired cost range." Of those technologies, most will either be at the lower end of the cost range or actually undercutting fossil fuels. "This new dynamic signals a significant shift in the energy paradigm," said Adnan Amin, director-general of the International Renewable Energy Agency (IREA), which published the report. "Turning to renewables for new power generation is not simply an environmentally conscious decision, it is now -- overwhelmingly -- a smart economic one." The report looked specifically at the relative cost of new energy projects being commissioned. As renewable energy becomes cheaper, consumers will benefit from investment in green infrastructure. The current cost for fossil fuel power generation ranges from around 4p to 12p per kilowatt hour across G20 countries. By 2020, IREA predicted renewables will cost between 2p and 7p, with the best onshore wind and solar photovoltaic projects expected to deliver electricity by 2p or less next year.
Medicine

FDA Approves First Drug Aimed at Women With Inherited Breast Cancer (statnews.com) 33

U.S. regulators have approved the first drug aimed at women with advanced breast cancer caused by an inherited flawed gene. From a report: The Food and Drug Administration on Friday approved AstraZeneca PLC's Lynparza for patients with inherited BRCA gene mutations who have undergone chemotherapy. The drug has been on the market since 2014 for ovarian cancer, and is the first in a new class of medicines called PARP inhibitors to be approved for breast cancer. PARP inhibitors prevent cancer cells from fixing problems in their DNA. Lynparza will cost $13,886 per month without insurance, according to AstraZeneca. The company is offering patients financial assistance.
Moon

Scientists Think They've Discovered Lava Tubes Leading To the Moon's Polar Ice (sciencealert.com) 59

schwit1 quotes ScienceAlert: Small pits in a large crater on the Moon's North Pole could be "skylights" leading down to an underground network of lava tubes -- tubes holding hidden water on Earth's nearest neighbour, according to new research. There's no lava in them now of course, though that's originally how the tubes formed in the Moon's fiery past. But they could indicate easy access to a water source if we ever decide to develop a Moon base sometime in the future.

Despite the Moon's dry and dusty appearance, scientists think it contains a lot of water trapped as frozen ice. What these new observations carried out by NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) show is that it might be much more accessible than we thought... Scientists have long been thinking about how to extract the ice reserves we think are up there -- solar power was originally out of the question, as it's the freezing shadowed areas of the Moon that have preserved the ice in the first place. Not only would natural skylights like these provide easier access to the underground ice, it would also mean solar power would be back on the table as an idea.

Earth

Sea Turtles Under Threat As Climate Change Turns Most Babies Female (futurism.com) 177

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.

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