Hugh Pickens writes writes "Suzanne Goldenberg reports that conservative billionaires used a secretive funding route to channel nearly $120 million to more than 100 groups casting doubt about the science behind climate change, helping build a vast network of think tanks and activist groups working to redefine climate change from neutral scientific fact to a highly polarizing 'wedge issue' for hardcore conservatives. 'We exist to help donors promote liberty which we understand to be limited government, personal responsibility, and free enterprise,' says Whitney Ball, chief executive of the Donors Trust. Ball's organization assured wealthy donors that their funds would never by diverted to liberal causes with a guarantee of complete anonymity for donors who wished to remain hidden. The money flowed to Washington think tanks embedded in Republican party politics, obscure policy forums in Alaska and Tennessee, contrarian scientists at Harvard and lesser institutions, even to buy up DVDs of a film attacking Al Gore. 'The funding of the denial machine is becoming increasingly invisible to public scrutiny. It's also growing. Budgets for all these different groups are growing,' says Kert Davies, research director of Greenpeace, which compiled the data on funding of the anti-climate groups using tax records. 'These groups are increasingly getting money from sources that are anonymous or untraceable.'"
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The Chabot Space and Science Center has received numerous reports of a bright object flying through the sky in over northern California Friday night, as noted by The Washington Post, NBC, and others. According to NBC's version of the story "Chabot astronomers in Oakland said the meteor was not related to the asteroid passing near Earth. Gerald McKeegan, an astronomer at Chabot Space and Science Center in Oakland, said he did not see it, but based on accounts he thinks it was a 'sporadic meteor.' Sporadic meteors bring as much as 15,000 tons of space debris to Earth each year, according to McKeegan. He said it was likely smaller than another meteor that landed in the Bay Area in October, which caused a loud sonic boom as it fell." The eyewitness accounts make it sound pretty spectacular, though; too bad we don't have quite as many dashcams going as there are in Russia.
An anonymous reader writes "Yesterday's twin events with invading rocks from outer space — the close encounter with asteroid 2012 DA14, and the killer meteorite over Russia that was more than close — have brought the topic of defending mankind against killer asteroids back into the news. The Economist summarizes some of the ideas that have been bandied about, in a story that suggests Paul Simon's seventies hit "Fifty Ways to Leave Your Lover": Just push it aside, Clyde. Show it the nuke, Luke. Gravity tug, Doug. The new proposal is an earth orbiting, solar-powered array of laser guns called DE-STAR (Directed Energy Solar Targeting of AsteRoids) from two California-based professors, physicist Philip Lubin (UCSB) and industrial statistician Gary Hughes (Cal Polytechnic State). Lubin and Hughes say their system could be developed and deployed in a range of sizes depending on the size of the target: DE-STAR 2, about the size of the International Space Station (100 meters) could nudge comets and asteroids from their orbits, while DE-STAR 4 (100 times larger than ISS) could evaporate an asteroid 500 meters in diameter (10 times larger than 2012 DA14) in a year. Of course, this assumes that the critters could be spotted early enough for the lasers to do their work."
An anonymous reader writes "In a real life Prisoner's Dilemma taking place in the French city of Marseille, twin brothers have been arrested for a string of sexual assaults. While say they are sure that one of them committed the crimes (corroborated by a standard DNA test), police were told that it would cost upwards of €1m euros (£850,000, $1.3m USD) to distinguish between them using DNA evidence."
gbrumfiel writes "A meteor that exploded over Russia's Chelyabinsk region this morning was the largest recorded object to strike the earth in more than a century, Nature reports. Infrasound data collected by a network designed to watch for nuclear weapons testing suggests that today's blast released hundreds of kilotons of energy. That would make it far more powerful than the nuclear weapon tested by North Korea just days ago, and the largest rock to strike the earth since a meteor broke up over Siberia's Tunguska river in 1908. Despite its incredible power, the rock evaded detection by astronomers. Estimates show it was likely only 15 meters across — too small to be seen by networks searching for near earth asteroids." Today's meteor event came a day after California scientists proposed a system to vaporize asteroids that threaten Earth. Of course, the process needs to be started when the asteroid is still tens of millions of kilometers away; there's no chance to shoot down something that's already arrived.
New submitter dmfinn writes "While his union address covered a wide range of topics, President Obama made sure not to skip over the U.S.'s space program. The talking point was nearly identical to the one he gave in 2009, in which he called for space R&D spending to be increased past the levels seen during the the original cold war space race. Now, 4 years after that speech, it appears things have gone the opposite way. Since 2009 NASA has seen some serious cuts. Not only has the space-shuttle program been deactivated, but the agency was forced to endure harsh funding cuts during the presidents latter term. Despite an ominous history, it now seems that Obama is back on the space objective, pushing congress to increase non-defensive R&D spending to 3% of the U.S. GDP. It's important to keep in mind that not all of this money goes directly to space related programs, though under the proposed budget the National Science Foundation, Department of Energy Office of Science, and the National Institute of Standards and Technology Laboratories will have their budgets doubled. There will also be an increase in tax credits towards companies and organizations working on these R&D projects. Should the U.S. go back to its 'Let's put a man on the moon' ideology, or is the federal government fighting an uphill battle against newly emerging private space expeditions? Either way, the question remains whether or not Obama will act on any of the propositions."
Hugh Pickens writes "Ariel Schwartz reports that researchers are working on an alcoholism vaccine that makes alcohol intolerable to anyone who drinks it. The vaccine builds on what happens naturally in certain people — about 20% of the Japanese, Chinese, and Korean population — with an alcohol intolerance mutation. Normally, the liver breaks down alcohol into an enzyme that's transformed into the compound acetaldehyde (responsible for that nasty hangover feeling), which in turn is degraded into another enzyme. The acetaldehyde doesn't usually have time to build up before it's broken down. But people with the alcohol intolerance mutation lack the ability to produce that second enzyme; acetaldehyde accumulates, and they feel terrible. Dr. Juan Asenjo and his colleagues have come up with a way to stop the synthesis of that second enzyme via a vaccine, mimicking the mutation that sometimes happens naturally. 'People have this mutation all over the world. It's like how some people can't drink milk,' says Asenjo. Addressing the physiological part of alcohol addiction is just one piece of the battle. Addictive tendencies could very well manifest in other ways; instead of alcohol, perhaps former addicts will move on to cigarettes. Asenjo admits as much: 'Addiction is a psychological disease, a social disease. Obviously this is only the biological part of it.'"
Today at about 19:25 UTC (2:25 PM EST), Asteroid 2012 DA14 will make its closest approach to Earth, passing a mere 27,650 kilometers above the surface — closer than our satellites in geosynchronous orbit. NASA is broadcasting a live-steam showing the asteroid from an Observatory, and will have coverage on NASA TV starting about a half-hour before closest approach. The Planetary Society will be broadcasting a live webcast, and Phil Plait will be hosting a Google+ Hangout. NASA has also compiled a nice post filled with information about the asteroid, including trajectory diagrams, animated videos of the path, and answers to question about 2012 DA14. You can also watch it move at 50x actual speed through a telescope. They take pains to note that there is no danger of the asteroid striking the planet today, or any time in the forseeable future. Its next notably close approach in 2046 will only bring it about a million kilometers away. What makes 2012 DA14 significant is that it's rather large — it's 45 meters across and weighs about 130,000 metric tons. It's also moving about 7.8 kilometers per second relative to Earth. "To view the asteroid, you will need a good pair of binoculars, or even better, a moderately powered telescope. During the closest approach, and dependant on local weather, the asteroid will be visible from parts of Europe, Africa and Asia. The asteroid will appear to be moving relatively quickly as it crosses the sky from the south to the north." NASA says this morning's meteor event in Russia was unrelated.
New submitter dovf writes "The Bad Astronomer analyzes incoming reports about the apparent meteoric fireball over Russia: 'Apparently, at about 09:30 local time, a very big meteor burned up over Chelyabinsk, a city in Russia just east of the Ural mountains, and about 1500 kilometers east of Moscow. The fireball was incredibly bright, rivaling the Sun! There was a pretty big sonic boom from the fireball, which set off car alarms and shattered windows. I'm seeing some reports of many people injured (by shattered glass blown out by the shock wave). I'm also seeing reports that some pieces have fallen to the ground, but again as I write this those are unconfirmed." This is the best summary I've found so far, and links to lots of videos and images. He also clarifies something I've been wondering about: 'This is almost certainly unrelated to the asteroid 2012 DA14 that will pass on Friday.'"
Bulldust writes "The Federal Court in Australia has ruled in favor of U.S. biotechnology company Myriad Genetics, enabling them to continue to hold the patent over the so-called breast cancer gene BRCA1. The same patent is also being reconsidered by the U.S. Supreme Court in the current session. From the article: 'Federal court Justice John Nicholas has ruled that a private company can continue to hold a patent over the so-called breast cancer gene BRCA1, in a decision that has devastated cancer victims.The decision is the first in Australia to rule on whether isolated genes can be patented, and will set a precedent in favor of commercial ownership of genetic material.'"
sciencehabit writes "Think potty training a child is hard? Try teaching a cow when and where to do its business. The bovines can defecate nine to 16 times daily, creating big hygiene problems on dairy and beef farms. So cueing the animals to go in the right place would be a big help for managing manure. But past techniques—including training cows to respond to mild electric shocks—have proven ineffective or impractical for wide use. To see if they could come up with a better potty prompt, scientists tested a series of stimuli on a dozen Holstein cows. The milkers stood in or walked through a footbath filled with water, for example, or had air or water sprayed on their feet. Alas, '[n]one of our tests reliably stimulated defecation,' the team reports."
coondoggie writes "The U.S. Food and Drug Administration today approved what it says is the first bionic eye, or retinal prosthesis, that can partially restore the sight of blind individuals after surgical implantation. The Argus II Retinal Prosthesis System includes a small video camera, transmitter mounted on a pair of eyeglasses, video processing unit (VPU) and an implanted artificial retina. The VPU transforms images from the video camera into electronic data that is wirelessly transmitted to the retinal prosthesis."
First time accepted submitter jscheib writes "According to Will Oremus in Slate, a report released today finds that 'New York City could slash its emissions by a whopping 90 percent by 2050 without any radical new technologies, without cutting back on creature comforts, and maybe even without breaking its budget.' The key elements are insulating buildings to cut energy needs, converting to (mostly) electric equipment, and then using carbon-free electricity to supply the small amount of energy still needed. Oremus notes that including energy savings would reduce the net price tag to something more like $20 billion."
puddingebola writes "Researchers have given lab rats the ability to sense infrared light through a brain implant. From the article, 'They taught the rats to choose the active light source by poking their noses into a port to receive a sip of water as a reward. They then implanted the microelectrodes, each about a tenth the diameter of a human hair, into the animals' brains. These electrodes were attached to the infrared detectors. The scientists then returned the animals to the test chamber. At first, the rats scratched at their faces, indicating that they were interpreting the lights as touch. But after a month, the animals learned to associate the signal in their brains with the infrared source.'"
An anonymous reader writes "Excitement and the media surrounded the Higgs boson particle for weeks when it was discovered in part by the Large Hadron Collider (LHC). But now, the collider that makes its home with CERN, the famed international organizational that operates the world's largest particle physics laboratory, is powering down. The Higgs boson particle was first discovered by the LHC in 2012. The particle, essentially, interacts with everything that has mass as the objects interact with the all-powerful Higgs field, a concept which, in theory, occupies the entire universe." We covered the repair announcement last month.
rogue-girl writes "Artist Heather Dewey-Hagborg showcases portrait sculptures from genetic material collected in public spaces. DNA extraction and processing are done in a DIYbio-compliant fashion at the DIYbio hackerspace Genspace in Brooklyn, the collected information is then given as input to a 3D printer. The software developed and used for this project is awkwardly dubbed 'friendware', that is it is neither open nor closed, but only available to friends. Reconstructing faces from DNA is not new: scientists already successfully reconstructed Neanderthal man's face from ancient DNA back in 2008. At first sight, the artist's project may seem fun and quite impressive as high-voltage science proves once more feasible at home, but all the data one can have access to from totally banal samples leaves open worrying perspectives about how easy it is to use DNA collected in public spaces for "fingerprinting" people against their will and without their consent."
ananyo writes "When influenza hit early and hard in the United States this year, it quietly claimed an unacknowledged victim: one of the cutting-edge techniques being used to monitor the outbreak. A comparison with traditional surveillance data showed that Google Flu Trends, which estimates prevalence from flu-related Internet searches, had drastically overestimated peak flu levels. The glitch is no more than a temporary setback for a promising strategy, experts say, and Google is sure to refine its algorithms. But with flu-tracking techniques based on mining of web data and on social media taking off, Nature looks at how these potentially cheaper, faster methods measure up against traditional epidemiological surveillance networks." Crowdsourcing is often useful, but it seems to have limits.
You may think that moshing and disordered 2D gases don't have much in common but Jesse Silverberg of Cornell University contends otherwise. He says that mosh pits act just like disordered gases and people in circle pits act in an ordered vortex-like state. From the article: "Silverberg and co gathered their data by examining videos of mosh pits on You Tube... These crowds contain anything from 100 to 100,000 people. After correcting for camera shake and distortions in perspective, they used particle image velicometry techniques to measure the collective motion of moshers. What they discovered was that the speed distribution of moshers closely matches that of molecules in a 2D gas at equilibrium."
judgecorp writes "Britain is considering switching off air traffic control radar systems and using "passive radar" instead. A two year feasibility study will consider using a network of ground stations which monitor broadcast TV signals and measure echoes from aircraft to determine their location and velocity. The system is not a new idea — early radar experiments used BBC shortwave transmitters as a signal source before antenna technology produced a transceiver suitable for radar — but could now be better than conventional radar thanks to new antenna designs and signal processing techniques. It will also save money and energy by eliminating transmitters — and release spectrum for 5G services."
An anonymous reader writes "Seed giant Monsanto has won more than $23 million from hundreds of small farmers accused of replanting the company's genetically engineered seeds. Now, another case is looming – and it could set a landmark precedent for the future of seed ownership. From the article: 'According to the report, Monsanto has alleged seed patent infringement in 144 lawsuits against 410 farmers and 56 small farm businesses in at least 27 U.S. states as of January of 2013. Monsanto, DuPont and Syngenta together hold 53 percent of the global commercial seed market, which the report says has led to price increases for seeds -- between 1995 and 2011, the average cost of planting one acre of soybeans rose 325 percent and corn seed prices went up 259 percent.'"