thomst writes "Seth Borenstein of the AP reports on a story in the April 13 edition of Science (abstract here, full article paywalled) about a study of baboons at Aix-Marseille University in France that demonstrates the primates are capable of distinguishing between short, but real English words and gibberish letter combinations of similar length with an average of 75% accuracy over the course of 300,000 trials. One particularly talented subject named Dan, a 4-year-old baboon, is capable of 80% accuracy. The study's lead scientist, Jonathan Grainger, explains that a simple change in the study's methodology — allowing the subjects to work the training machine at times of their own choosing, rather than on a schedule determined by the researchers, made all the difference. When they are shown a sequence of letters, the subjects must choose between pushing a blue 'button' on a touchscreen (for a nonsense combination), or a green one (for an actual word). If they choose correctly, they get a food reward. Borenstein writes, 'The key is that these animals not only learned by trial and error which letter combinations were correct, but they also noticed which letters tend to go together to form real words, such as SH but not FX, said Grainger. So even when new words were sprung on them, they did a better job at figuring out which were real. Grainger said a pre-existing capacity in the brain may allow them to recognize patterns and objects, and perhaps that's how we humans also first learn to read.'"
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techfun89 writes "New analysis of data, now 36 years old, from the Viking robots, suggests that NASA had found life on Mars. This conclusion was published by an international team of mathematicians and scientists this week. The Labeled Release experiment looked for signs of microbial metabolism in soil samples in 1976. The general thinking was that the experiment had found geological not biological activity. However, the new study approached things differently. Researchers broke the data into sets of numbers and analyzed the results for complexity. What they found were close correlations between the Viking results' complexity and those of terrestrial biological data sets. Based on this they concluded that the Viking results were more biological in nature than just geological processes."
scibri writes "Three months ago, China started to crack down on unlicensed stem cell treatments in the country. But it doesn't seem to have had much effect. Not one clinic has registered as required, and they continue to operate openly, offering unproven treatments for diseases such as Parkinson's and Alzheimer's."
grumpyman writes "A coalition of 49 ex-NASA employees, including seven Apollo astronauts, have accused the U.S. space agency of sullying its reputation by taking the 'extreme position' of concluding that carbon dioxide is a major cause of climate change. Is the claim in this letter opinion or fact?"
First time accepted submitter dmr001 writes "In its fortnightly Communicable Disease newsletter (PDF), Oregon Public Health officials note increasing cases of pertussis (whooping cough) in infants, with 146 hospitalizations noted in the 2 year period ending March 2011, and at least 4 deaths since 2003. Most cases are attributed to lack of vaccination, with 86% of those due to parents declining the vaccine. 'Most of our cases are occurring in under- or unvaccinated children, so getting these kids vaccinated seems to the most obvious approach to reducing illness. In principle... pertussis could be eradicated; but we have a long way to go.'"
TPIRman writes "In 1994, a physics doctoral student named Dave Ring assembled more than 100 math and puzzle enthusiasts on Usenet for what became one of the earliest online 'crowdsourcing' projects. Their goal: to determine if every hand in Windows' FreeCell solitaire game was in fact winnable, as the program's help file implied. Their efforts soon focused in on one incredibly stubborn hand: #11,982. They couldn't beat it, but in the process of trying, they proved the viability of an idea that would later be refined with crowdsourcing models like Amazon's Mechanical Turk."
MrSeb writes "German scientists at the Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics have created the first 'universal quantum network' that could be feasibly scaled up to become a quantum internet. So far their quantum network only spans two labs spaced 21 meters apart, but the scientists stress that longer distances and multiple nodes are possible. The network's construction is ingenious: Each node is represented by a single rubidium atom, trapped inside a reflective optical cavity. These atoms communicate with each other by emitting a single photon over an optical fiber. Each atom is a quantum bit — a qubit — and the polarization of the photon emitted carries the quantum state of the qubit. The receiving qubit absorbs the photon and takes on the quantum state of the transmitter. Voila: A network of qubits that can send, receive, and store quantum information. In another, probably more exciting test, the emitted photons were actually used to entangle the rubidium atoms."
Hugh Pickens writes "About 65 million years ago, Earth was struck by an asteroid some 10 km in diameter with a mass of well over a trillion tonnes that created megatsunamis, global wildfires ignited by giant clouds of superheated ash, and the mass extinction of land-based life on Earth. Now astrobiologists have begun to study a less well known consequence: the ejection of billions of tons of life-bearing rocks and water into space that has made its way not just to other planets but other solar systems as well. Calculations by Tetsuya Hara and his colleagues at Kyoto Sangyo University in Japan show that a surprisingly large amount of life-bearing material ended up not on the Moon and Mars, as might be expected, but the Jovian moon Europa and the Saturnian moon Enceladus also received tons of life-bearing rock from earth. Even more amazingly, calculations suggest that most Earth ejecta ended up in interstellar space and some has probably already arrived at Earth-like exoplanets orbiting other stars. Hara estimates that about a thousand Earth-rocks from this event would have made the trip to Gliese 581, a red dwarf some 20 light years away that is thought to have a super-Earth orbiting at the edge of the habitable zone, taking about a million years to reach its destination. Of course, nobody knows if microbes can survive that kind of journey or even the shorter trips to Europa and Enceladus. But Hara says that if microbes can survive that kind of journey, they ought to flourish on a super-Earth in the habitable zone (PDF). 'If we consider the possibility that the fragmented ejecta (smaller than 1cm) are accreted to comets and other icy bodies, then buried fertile material could make the interstellar journey throughout the Galaxy,' writes Hara. 'Under these circumstances fragments could continue the interstellar journey and Earth origin meteorites could be transferred to Gl 581 system. If we take it as viable, we should consider the panspermia theories more seriously.'"
sciencehabit writes in with a link about a group of students who have come up with an interesting idea about how to fill potholes. "Non-Newtonian fluids are the stars of high school science demonstrations. In one example, an ooey-gooey batter made from corn starch and water oozes like a liquid when moved slowly. But punch it, or run across a giant puddle of it, and it becomes stiff like a solid. Now, a group of college students has figured out a new use for the strange stuff: filler for potholes."
coondoggie writes "When it comes to stirring the brains of genius, a good competition can bring forward some really great ideas. That's the driving notion behind myriad public competitions, or challenges, as they are often labeled, that will take place in the near future sponsored by the U.S. government. The competitions are increasing by design as part of the $45 billion America Competes Act renewed by Congress last year that gave every federal department and agency the authority to conduct prize competitions, according to the White House's Office of Science and Technology Policy."
samazon writes "Ph.D. students at Trinity College in Dublin have constructed an artificial neural network model to demonstrate the Machiavellian intelligence theory — that human intelligence evolved based on the need for social teamwork and indexing a variety of social relationships and statuses. (Abstract) The experiment involved programming a base group of 50 simulated 'brains' which were required to participate one of two classical game theory dilemmas — the Prisoner's Dilemma or the Snowdrift game. Upon completion of either game, each 'brain' produced 'offspring' asexually, with 'brains' that made more advantageous choices during the games programmed to have a better chance to reproduce. A potential random mutation during each generation changed the 'brain's structure, number of neurons, or the strengths of the connections between those neurons,' simulating the evolution of the social brain. After 50,000 generations, the model showed that as cooperation increased, so did the intelligence of the programmed brains." The full paper is available.
MrKevvy writes "The Tennessee 'Teaching the Controversy' bill was passed into law today. 'A law to allow public school teachers to challenge the scientific consensus on issues like climate change and evolution will soon take effect in Tennessee. State governor Bill Haslam allowed the bill — passed by the state House and Senate — to become law without signing it, saying he did not believe the legislation "changes the scientific standards that are taught in our schools."'" The governor adds: "However, I also don’t believe that it accomplishes anything that isn’t already acceptable in our schools."
You recently got the chance to ask a group of MIT researchers questions about fusion power, and they've now finished writing some incredibly detailed answers. They discuss the things we've learned about fusion in the past decade, how long it's likely to take for fusion to power your home, the biggest problems fusion researchers are working to solve, and why it's important to continue funding fusion projects. They also delve into the specifics of tokamak operation, like dealing with disruption events and the limitations on reactor size, and provide some insight into fusion as a career. Hit the link below for a wealth of information about fusion.
gbrumfiel writes "The Square Kilometre Array will be the world's most powerful telescope, assuming the nations involved can agree on where to build it. A scientific panel recently backed South Africa over Australia to host the project, but neither side has conceded defeat. Rather than splitting the partners, project leaders are now thinking about splitting the telescope between the two countries. There's little scientific advantage, but the thinking is that a split telescope would be better than no telescope."
Hugh Pickens writes "For more than a century, it has been accepted that about 620,000 Americans died in the the bloodiest, most devastating conflict in American history. But now, BBC reports that historian J. David Hacker has used sophisticated statistical software to determine the war's death toll and found that civil war dead may have been undercounted by as many as 130,000. Hacker began by taking digitized samples from the decennial census counts taken from 1850-1880. Using statistical package SPSS, Hacker counted the number of native-born white men of military age in 1860 and determined how many of that group were still alive in 1870 and compared that survival rate with the survival rates of the men of the same ages from 1850-1860, and from 1870-1880 — the 10-year census periods before and after the Civil War. The calculations yielded the number of 'excess' deaths of military-age men between 1860-1870 — the number who died in the war or in the five subsequent years from causes related to the war. Hacker's findings, published in the December 2011 issue of Civil War History, have been endorsed by some of the leading historians of the conflict. 'The difference between the two estimates is large enough to change the way we look at the war,' writes Hacker. 'The war touched more lives and communities more deeply than we thought, and thus shaped the course of the ensuing decades of American history in ways we have not yet fully grasped. True, the war was terrible in either case. But just how terrible, and just how extensive its consequences, can only be known when we have a better count of the Civil War dead.'"
New submitter RealTime writes "SpaceX filed a notice with the FAA (PDF) that it is preparing an environmental impact study in consideration of a site in Texas for use as a commercial spaceport. 'The site in question is in the southern tip of the state of Texas, just outside Brownsville in Cameron County, overlooking the Gulf of Mexico, over which SpaceX's launches would fly.' The proposed site would handle up to 12 commercial launches per year. 'There's plenty of red tape associated with Kennedy Space Center, and the center is often reserved for large blocks of time by other launchers. If SpaceX had its own pad, it wouldn't have to share.'"
An anonymous reader sends this quote from a NASA report: "One day in the fall of 2011, Neil Sheeley, a solar scientist at the Naval Research Laboratory in Washington, D.C., did what he always does — look through the daily images of the sun from NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO). But on this day he saw something he'd never noticed before: a pattern of cells with bright centers and dark boundaries occurring in the sun's atmosphere, the corona. ... The coronal cells occur in areas between coronal holes – colder and less dense areas of the corona seen as dark regions in images -- and "filament channels" which mark the boundaries between sections of upward-pointing magnetic fields and downward-pointing ones. Understanding how these cells evolve can provide clues as to the changing magnetic fields at the boundaries of coronal holes and how they affect the steady emission of solar material known as the solar wind streaming from these holes."
judgecorp writes "Intel security subsidiary McAfee has claimed a successful wireless attack on insulin pumps that diabetics rely on to control blood sugar. While previous attempts to attack insulin pumps have met with mixed success, McAfee's Barnaby Jack says he has persuaded an insulin pump to deliver 45 days worth of insulin in one go, without triggering the pump's vibrating alert safety feature. All security experts still say that surgical implants are a benefit overall."
samazon writes "North Carolina State University researcher Jag Kasichainula has developed a 'heat spreader' to cool electronics more efficiently using a copper-graphene composite, which is attached using an indium-graphene interface film. According to Kasichainula, the technique will cool 25% faster than pure copper and will cost less to produce than the copper plate heat spreaders currently used by most electronics (abstract). Better performance at a lower cost? Let's hope so."
An anonymous reader writes with this news out of the University of Illinois: "Scientists report that they have mapped the physical architecture of intelligence in the brain. Theirs is one of the largest and most comprehensive analyses so far of the brain structures vital to general intelligence and to specific aspects of intellectual functioning, such as verbal comprehension and working memory. Their study, published in Brain: A Journal of Neurology (abstract), is unique in that it enlisted an extraordinary pool of volunteer participants: 182 Vietnam veterans with highly localized brain damage from penetrating head injuries. ... The researchers took CT scans of the participants’ brains and administered an extensive battery of cognitive tests. They pooled the CT data to produce a collective map of the cortex, which they divided into more than 3,000 three-dimensional units called voxels. By analyzing multiple patients with damage to a particular voxel or cluster of voxels and comparing their cognitive abilities with those of patients in whom the same structures were intact, the researchers were able to identify brain regions essential to specific cognitive functions, and those structures that contribute significantly to intelligence."