Medicine

Scientists Find Physically Demanding Jobs Are Linked To Greater Risk of Early Death (metro.co.uk) 169

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Metro: Researchers in the Netherlands claim that a "physical activity paradox" exists, where exercise may only be good for you if it's done outside of your job. Manual laborers may be physically active all day but that doesn't actually help them. In fact, the research claims that it might actually increase their risk of dying early. "While we know leisure-time physical activity is good for you, we found that occupational physical activity has an 18% increased risk of early mortality for men," says Pieter Coenen, public health researcher at UV University medical centre in Amsterdam. "These men are dying earlier than those who are not physically active in their occupation."

He says that it's all down to the type of exercise you do in your spare time, versus occupational physical activity. When you choose to exercise, you can take rest periods when you want -- something that often may not be available to you if you're working on a building site (for example). The research combined results from 17 studies, dated between 1960 and 2010 -- looking at data on almost 200,000 people.
The study has been published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine.
Earth

A Fleet of Sailing Robots Sets Out To Quantify the Oceans (bloomberg.com) 76

pacopico writes: A start-up in California called Saildrone has built a fleet of robotic sailboats that are gathering tons of data about the oceans. The saildrones rely on a hard, carbon-fiber sail to catch wind, and solar panels to power all of their electronics and sensors. "Each drone carries at least $100,000 of electronics, batteries, and related gear," reports Businessweek. "Devices near the tip of the sail measure wind speed and direction, sunlight, air temperature and pressure, and humidity. Across the top of the drone's body, other electronics track wave height and period, carbon dioxide levels, and the strength of the Earth's magnetic field. Underwater, sensors monitor currents, dissolved oxygen levels, and water temperature, acidity, and salinity. Sonars and other acoustic instruments try to identify animal life." So far they've been used to find sharks, monitor fisheries, check on climate change and provide weather forecasts. Saildrone just raised $90 million to build a fleet of 1,000 drones, which it thinks will be enough to measure all of the world's oceans.
Java

California Bypasses Science To Label Coffee a Carcinogen (undark.org) 277

travers_r writes: Superior Court Judge Elihu Berle affirmed last week that all coffee sold in California must come with a warning label stating that chemicals in coffee (acrylamide, a substance created naturally during the brewing process) are known to cause cancer and birth defects or other reproductive harm. But judges, journalists, and environmental advocates fail to recognize the critical difference between probably and certainly, which fuels the inaccurate belief that cancer is mostly caused by things in the environment. From a report at Undark: "IARC is one of the leading scientific bodies in the world, and it is also one of several expert panels on which California relies for scientific opinions in such cases. The IARC has concluded that while there is sufficient evidence to consider acrylamide carcinogenic in experimental animals, there is insufficient evidence for carcinogenicity in humans. Therefore, its overall evaluation is that 'acrylamide is probably carcinogenic to humans.'
[...]
Leading experts, in fact, believe that roughly two-thirds of all cancers are the result of mutations to DNA that are caused by natural bodily processes, not exposure to environmental chemicals. This is quite the opposite of the prevailing belief among the public that most cancers are caused by exogenous substances imposed on us by the products and technologies of the modern world. It's this belief -- this fear -- that prompted voters to pass Proposition 65 in 1986. It was a time when fear of hazardous waste and industrial chemicals was high, when chemophobia -- a blanket fear of anything having to do with the word 'chemicals' -- was being seared into the public's mind."

NASA

Moon of Jupiter Prime Candidate For Alien Life After Water Blast Found (theguardian.com) 133

A NASA probe that explored Jupiter's moon Europa flew through a giant plume of water vapour that erupted from the icy surface and reached a hundred miles high, according to a fresh analysis of the spacecraft's data. An anonymous reader shares a The Guardian report: The discovery has cemented the view among some scientists that the Jovian moon, one of four first spotted by the Italian astronomer Galileo Galilei in 1610, is the most promising place in the solar system to hunt for alien life. If such geysers are common on Europa, NASA and European Space Agency (ESA) missions that are already in the pipeline could fly through and look for signs of life in the brine, which comes from a vast subsurface ocean containing twice as much water as all the oceans on Earth.

NASA's Galileo spacecraft spent eight years in orbit around Jupiter and made its closest pass over Europa, a moon about the size of our own, on 16 December 1997. As the probe dropped beneath an altitude of 250 miles, its sensors twitched with unexpected signals that scientists were unable to explain at the time. Now, in a new study, the researchers describe how they went back to the Galileo data after grainy images beamed home from the Hubble space telescope in 2016 showed what appeared to be plumes of water blasting from Europa's surface.

Medicine

California Study To Examine the Influence of a Healthy Diet On Patients (nytimes.com) 242

"According to The New York Times, the state of California is funding an experiment through The Ceres Community Project to test the influence of a healthy diet on the recovery of state Medicaid patients with long-term serious illnesses," writes Slashdot reader MonteCarloMethod. From the report: Over the next three years, researchers from the University of California, San Francisco, and Stanford will assess whether providing 1,000 patients who have congestive heart failure or Type 2 diabetes with a healthier diet and nutrition education affects hospital readmissions and referrals to long-term care, compared with 4,000 similar Medi-Cal patients who don't get the food.

The California study will build on more modest and less rigorous earlier research. A study in Philadelphia by the Metropolitan Area Neighborhood Nutrition Alliance retroactively compared health insurance claims for 65 chronically ill Medicaid patients who received six months' of medically tailored meals with a control group. The patients who got the food racked up about $12,000 less a month in medical expenses. Another small study by researchers at U.C.S.F. tracked patients with H.I.V. and Type 2 diabetes who got special meals for six months to see if it would positively affect their health. The researchers found they were less depressed, less likely to make trade-offs between food and health care, and more likely to stick with their medications.

Science

Plastic Bag Found at the Bottom of World's Deepest Ocean Trench (nationalgeographic.com) 166

The Mariana Trench -- the deepest point in the ocean -- extends nearly 36,000 feet down in a remote part of the Pacific Ocean. But if you thought the trench could escape the global onslaught of plastics pollution, you would be wrong. From a report: A recent study revealed that a plastic bag, like the kind given away at grocery stores, is now the deepest known piece of plastic trash, found at a depth of 36,000 feet inside the Mariana Trench. Scientists found it by looking through the Deep-Sea Debris Database, a collection of photos and videos taken from 5,010 dives over the past 30 years that was recently made public.
Science

Stephen Hawking Service: Possibility of Time Travellers 'Can't Be Excluded' (bbc.com) 199

Organisers of Prof Stephen Hawking's memorial service have seemingly left the door open for time travellers to attend. From a report: Those wishing to honour the theoretical physicist, who died in March aged 76, can apply via a public ballot. Applicants need to give their birth date - which can be any day up to 31 December 2038. Prof Hawking's foundation said the possibility of time travel had not been disproven and could not be excluded. It was London travel blogger IanVisits who noticed that those born from 2019 to 2038 were theoretically permitted to attend the service at Westminster Abbey. He said: "Professor Hawking once threw a party for time travellers, to see if any would turn up if he posted the invite after the party. None did, but it seems perfect that the memorial website allows people born in the future to attend the service. Look out for time travellers at the Abbey."
Medicine

James Harrison, Who Has Helped Save Lives of More Than 2.4 Million Australian Babies, Retires (cnn.com) 97

Most people, when they retire, get a gold watch. James Harrison deserves so much more than that. From a report: Harrison, known as the "Man With the Golden Arm," has donated blood nearly every week for 60 years. After all those donations, the 81-year-old Australian man "retired" Friday. The occasion marked the end of a monumental chapter. According to the Australian Red Cross Blood Service, he has helped saved the lives of more than 2.4 million Australian babies. Harrison's blood has unique, disease-fighting antibodies that have been used to develop an injection called Anti-D, which helps fight against rhesus disease. This disease is a condition where a pregnant woman's blood actually starts attacking her unborn baby's blood cells. In the worst cases, it can result in brain damage, or death, for the babies.
Science

Reporter Shares Experience of Visiting a Flat Earth Convention (vice.com) 356

Tom Usher, reporting for Vice: I arrived at the venue -- a Jurys Inn hotel -- on a wet Saturday morning, to discover that the event was essentially a small carpeted convention room boasting a few cameras, some stalls selling merchandise, and 70 or so attendees watching PowerPoint presentations beamed onto a wall. As I entered, I was offered a gift of "fluoride-free" toothpaste. This made perfect sense, given the location. A popular conspiracy theory states that governments across the world have been putting fluoride in our water supply to tranquilize the masses, despite the fact the only piece of "evidence" for this theory -- which involves both the Nazis and the Communists -- has been widely discredited. With the tone set for the day, I sat down to watch some speeches.

The speakers all seemed well aware of how "globe-earthers" view the idea of a flat Earth, i.e. ludicrous, and their talk of the current scientific establishment felt very "us versus them" -- a nice bit of truther tribalism. One speaker talked at length about the moon, and how its orbit proved the Earth couldn't be spherical, which seemed a little counterintuitive. Another talked about how the Egyptian pyramid structure points toward clues that the Earth is a flat diamond shape, supported by pillars. Between sounding off about the Vatican and the fact that the establishment has indoctrinated us to believe all sorts of things, including that the Earth is a sphere, a third speaker suggested that cancer is caused by negative emotions and argued that dinosaurs didn't exist.
The story also explores why some people still believe these long-debunked theories. Further reading: The bizarre tale of the flat-Earth convention that fell apart (CNET).
AI

AI Systems Should Debate Each Other To Prove Themselves, Says OpenAI (fastcompany.com) 56

tedlistens shares a report from Fast Company: To make AI easier for humans to understand and trust, researchers at the [Elon Musk-backed] nonprofit research organization OpenAI have proposed training algorithms to not only classify data or make decisions, but to justify their decisions in debates with other AI programs in front of a human or AI judge. In an experiment described in their paper (PDF), the researchers set up a debate where two software agents work with a standard set of handwritten numerals, attempting to convince an automated judge that a particular image is one digit rather than another digit, by taking turns revealing one pixel of the digit at a time. One bot is programmed to tell the truth, while another is programmed to lie about what number is in the image, and they reveal pixels to support their contentions that the digit is, say, a five rather than a six.

The image classification task, where most of the image is invisible to the judge, is a sort of stand-in for complex problems where it wouldn't be possible for a human judge to analyze the entire dataset to judge bot performance. The judge would have to rely on the facets of the data highlighted by debating robots, the researchers say. "The goal here is to model situations where we have something that's beyond human scale," says Geoffrey Irving, a member of the AI safety team at OpenAI. "The best we can do there is replace something a human couldn't possibly do with something a human can't do because they're not seeing an image."

The Courts

Illinois To Sue EPA For Exempting Foxconn Plant From Pollution Controls (reuters.com) 127

Last week, Reuters reported that "Illinois' Attorney General said she plans to sue the EPA for allowing a proposed Foxconn plant in neighboring Wisconsin to operate without stringent pollution controls." From the report: On Tuesday, the EPA identified 51 areas in 22 states that do not meet federal air quality requirements for ozone, a step toward enforcing the standards issued in 2015. An exempted area was Racine County, Wisconsin, just north of the Illinois border that is known to have heavily polluted air, where Taiwan-based Foxconn is building a $10 billion liquid-crystal display plant. Pollution monitoring data show the county's ozone levels exceed the 70 parts per billion (ppb) limit. If Racine County had been designated a "non-attainment" area, it would have required Foxconn to install stringent pollution control equipment.

Attorney General Lisa Madigan said she would file a lawsuit in the District of Columbia Circuit Court of Appeals challenging the EPA's ozone designations, saying its failure to name Racine County a "non-attainment" area puts people at risk. "Despite its name, the Environmental Protection Agency now operates with total disregard for the quality of our air and water, and in this case, the U.S. EPA is putting a company's profit ahead of our natural resources and the public's health," Madigan said in a statement.

Science

Scientists To Grow 'Mini-Brains' Using Neanderthal DNA (theguardian.com) 71

Scientists will grow small amounts of tissue, known as brain organoids, from human stem cells that have been edited to contain "Neanderthalized" versions of several genes. "The lentil-sized organoids, which are incapable of thoughts or feelings, replicate some of the basic structures of an adult brain," reports The Guardian. "They could demonstrate for the first time if there were meaningful differences between human and Neanderthal brain biology." From the report: The latest work focuses on differences in three genes known to be crucial for brain development. Using the editing technique Crispr, changes have been introduced into human stem cells to make them closer to Neanderthal versions. The stem cells are coaxed using chemical triggers to become neurons, which spontaneously clump together and self-organize into miniature brain-like structures that grow to a few millimeters in diameter. The lack of any sensory input means the internal wiring is haphazard and varies from one blob to the next. The scientists will compare the Neanderthalized organoids and the fully human ones to assess the speed at which the stem cells divide, develop and organize into three-dimensional brain structures and whether the brain cells wire up differently. The work won't reveal which species is "smarter," but could hint at differences in the ability to plan, socialize and use language.
NASA

NASA Will Send Helicopter To Mars To Test Otherworldly Flight (bbc.com) 103

NASA is sending a small, autonomous rotorcraft to Mars via the agency's Mars 2020 rover mission, currently scheduled to launch in July 2020. NASA says the goal of the mission is to "demonstrate the viability and potential of heavier-than-air vehicles on the Red Planet." BBC reports: Its design team spent more than four years shrinking a working helicopter to "the size of a softball" and cutting its weight to 1.8kg (4lbs). It is specifically designed to fly in the atmosphere of Mars, which is 100 times thinner than Earth's. NASA describes the helicopter as a "heavier-than-air" aircraft because the other type -- sometimes called an aerostat -- refers to aircraft like balloons and blimps. The helicopter's two blades will spin at close to 3,000 revolutions a minute, which NASA says is about 10 times faster than a standard helicopter on Earth.
Space

SpaceX Successfully Launches Satellite With New Upgraded 'Block 5' Falcon 9 Rocket (theverge.com) 85

Thelasko shares a report from The Verge: This afternoon, SpaceX landed the most powerful version yet of its Falcon 9 rocket, after launching the vehicle from Cape Canaveral, Florida. The so-named Block 5 upgrade took off from the company's launchpad at Kennedy Space Center, sending a communications satellite into orbit for Bangladesh and then touched down on one of the company's drone ships in the Atlantic. It was the 25th successful rocket landing for SpaceX, and the 14th on one of the company's drone ships.

It also marks the first launch of the Block 5, the vehicle that will carry humans to space for NASA. The Block 5 is meant to be SpaceX's most reusable rocket yet, with many upgrades put in place that negate the need for extensive refurbishment between flights. In fact, the first Block 5 rockets will eventually be able to fly up to 10 times without the need for any maintenance after landings, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk said during a pre-launch press conference. Ideally, once one of these rocket lands, SpaceX will turn it horizontal, attach a new upper stage and nose cone on top, turn it vertical on the launchpad, fill it with propellant, and then launch it again. Musk noted that the vehicles would need some kind of moderate maintenance after the 10-flight mark, but it's possible that each rocket could fly up to 100 times in total.

Space

Earth's 'Bigger, Older Cousin' Maybe Doesn't Even Exist (npr.org) 52

Ever since astronomers started to detect planets beyond our solar system, they've been trying to find another world just like Earth. And few years ago, they announced that they'd found a planet that was the closest match yet -- Kepler-452b. Trouble is, some astronomers now say it's not possible to know for sure that this planet actually exists. From a report: "There's new information that we can now quantify which tells us something that we didn't know before," says Fergal Mullally, who used to be an astronomer on the science team for NASA's Kepler Space Telescope. In 2015, NASA declared that Kepler-452b was the first near-Earth-sized planet orbiting in the "habitable" zone around a star very similar to our sun. The space agency called it Earth's "bigger, older cousin," and scientists were so enthusiastic that one began quoting poetry at a news conference. The original science wasn't shoddy, Mullally says. It's just that, since then, researchers have learned more about the telescope's imperfections.
Software

'Father of GPS' Receives the IEEE Medal of Honor (eetimes.com) 22

"A former paperboy from Wisconsin passionate about maps led the team in the Air Force responsible for designing the navigation system we use everyday," writes Slashdot reader dkatana. IoT Times reports: At the IEEE honors ceremony today in San Francisco, Bradford Parkinson, a retired Air Force colonel who spent his life between maps and navigation systems, will be awarded the 2018 IEEE Medal of Honor, "For fundamental contributions to and leadership in developing the design and driving the early applications of the Global Positioning System." The current Global Positioning System (GPS) did not exist until 1995, just 22 years ago, and the engineer who led the project for the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) was Mr. Parkinson.

Parkinson, whose first job was delivering newspapers, had a passion for maps. He used those maps when canoeing to navigate the lakes and streams of Minnesota, aided by a hand compass. When he graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1957 with a Bachelor of Science in Engineering, he joined the Air Force to study navigation systems. In 1960, when his superiors saw his engineering potential, they sent him to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to pursue graduate studies. He became a protegee of Charles Stark (Doc) Draper, the father of inertial navigation, who was teaching at MIT at the time. Draper was the lead engineer developing the computer systems for NASA's Apollo program. [...] It was in 1972 when his path on inertial navigation collided with satellite systems. He had been recently promoted to colonel when he received a call from another colonel who was part of the Air Force inertial guidance "mafia." He moved to Los Angeles and joined the group, a bunch of Air Force engineers from MIT. Then Parkinson asked to work on the Air Force 621B program, the genesis of GPS.

AI

AI Trained To Navigate Develops Brain-Like Location Tracking (arstechnica.com) 40

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: Now that DeepMind has solved Go, the company is applying DeepMind to navigation. Navigation relies on knowing where you are in space relative to your surroundings and continually updating that knowledge as you move. DeepMind scientists trained neural networks to navigate like this in a square arena, mimicking the paths that foraging rats took as they explored the space. The networks got information about the rat's speed, head direction, distance from the walls, and other details. To researchers' surprise, the networks that learned to successfully navigate this space had developed a layer akin to grid cells. This was surprising because it is the exact same system that mammalian brains use to navigate. More DeepMind experiments showed that only the neural networks that developed layers that "resembled grid cells, exhibiting significant hexagonal periodicity (gridness)," could navigate more complicated environments than the initial square arena, like setups with multiple rooms. And only these networks could adjust their routes based on changes in the environment, recognizing and using shortcuts to get to preassigned goals after previously closed doors were opened to them. The study has been reported in the journal Science.
Government

Trump White House Quietly Cancels NASA Research Verifying Greenhouse Gas Cuts (sciencemag.org) 289

Paul Voosen, reporting for Science magazine: You can't manage what you don't measure. The adage is especially relevant for climate-warming greenhouse gases, which are crucial to manage -- and challenging to measure. In recent years, though, satellite and aircraft instruments have begun monitoring carbon dioxide and methane remotely, and NASA's Carbon Monitoring System (CMS), a $10-million-a-year research line, has helped stitch together observations of sources and sinks into high-resolution models of the planet's flows of carbon. Now, President Donald Trump's administration has quietly killed the CMS, Science has learned.

The move jeopardizes plans to verify the national emission cuts agreed to in the Paris climate accords, says Kelly Sims Gallagher, director of Tufts University's Center for International Environment and Resource Policy in Medford, Massachusetts. "If you cannot measure emissions reductions, you cannot be confident that countries are adhering to the agreement," she says. Canceling the CMS "is a grave mistake," she adds.

Earth

Large Island Declared Rat-Free in Biggest Removal Success (nationalgeographic.com) 134

An anonymous reader shares a report: A remote, freezing, salt-spray lashed paradise for wildlife has been completely cleared of rats in the largest rodent eradication of all time, the South Georgia Heritage Trust (SGHT) announced this week. Rats are smart, adaptable, and hungry. For all these reasons, they can be incredibly voracious predators when people accidentally introduce them to remote islands, where the local animals lack evolved defenses to rodents. They have flourished even on an island as harsh and cold as South Georgia, which is so far south that it hosts penguins, elephant seals, and fur seals, as well as massive permanent glaciers.

"There are no trees, there are no bushes. All nest on the ground or underground in burrows," says Mike Richardson, Chairman of the SGHT Habitat Restoration Project Steering Committee. Such nests are easy pickings for rats. The rats -- brought to the island by whalers and sealers as early as the late 18th century -- ate the eggs and vulnerable chicks of seabirds, including albatrosses, skua, terns, and petrels. They also threatened two birds with extinction that are found nowhere else in the world: the South Georgia Pipit -- a tiny speckled songbird -- and the South Georgia Pintail, a brown duck.

The rat eradication was a massive, arduous undertaking, costing more than $13 million and taking nearly a decade. More than 300 metric tons of poison bait was dropped on the island by helicopter in three separate trips during the Austral Summers of 2010-2011, 2012-2013, and 2014-2015. Poisoned rats tend to head underground to die, Richardson says, limiting the damage caused to birds like gulls that might have otherwise eaten the poison-tainted carcasses.

Space

'Yes, Pluto Is a Planet' (sfgate.com) 301

schwit1 quotes a Washington Post perspective piece by the authors of a new book about Pluto: The process for redefining planet was deeply flawed and widely criticized even by those who accepted the outcome. At the 2006 IAU conference, which was held in Prague, the few scientists remaining at the very end of the week-long meeting (less than 4 percent of the world's astronomers and even a smaller percentage of the world's planetary scientists) ratified a hastily drawn definition that contains obvious flaws. For one thing, it defines a planet as an object orbiting around our sun -- thereby disqualifying the planets around other stars, ignoring the exoplanet revolution, and decreeing that essentially all the planets in the universe are not, in fact, planets.

Even within our solar system, the IAU scientists defined "planet" in a strange way, declaring that if an orbiting world has "cleared its zone," or thrown its weight around enough to eject all other nearby objects, it is a planet. Otherwise it is not. This criterion is imprecise and leaves many borderline cases, but what's worse is that they chose a definition that discounts the actual physical properties of a potential planet, electing instead to define "planet" in terms of the other objects that are -- or are not -- orbiting nearby. This leads to many bizarre and absurd conclusions. For example, it would mean that Earth was not a planet for its first 500 million years of history, because it orbited among a swarm of debris until that time, and also that if you took Earth today and moved it somewhere else, say out to the asteroid belt, it would cease being a planet.

To add insult to injury, they amended their convoluted definition with the vindictive and linguistically paradoxical statement that "a dwarf planet is not a planet." This seemingly served no purpose but to satisfy those motivated by a desire -- for whatever reason -- to ensure that Pluto was "demoted" by the new definition. By and large, astronomers ignore the new definition of "planet" every time they discuss all of the exciting discoveries of planets orbiting other stars.

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