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Science News

Diss Information: Is There a Way to Stop Popular Falsehoods from Morphing into "Facts"?

False information is pervasive and difficult to eradicate, but scientists are developing new strategies such as "de-biasing," a method that focuses on facts, to help spread the truth
President Obama's Certificate Of Live BirthBy Carrie Arnold

A recurring red herring in the current presidential campaign is the verity of President Barack Obama's birth certificate. Although the president has made this document public, and records of his 1961 birth in Honolulu have been corroborated by newspaper announcements, a vocal segment of the population continues to insist that Obama's birth certificate proving U.S. citizenship is a fraud, making him legally ineligible to be president. A Politico survey found that a majority of voters in the 2011 Republican primary shared this clearly false belief.

Scientific issues can be just as vulnerable to misinformation campaigns. Plenty of people still believe that vaccines cause autism and that human-caused climate change is a hoax. Science has thoroughly debunked these myths, but the misinformation persists in the face of overwhelming evidence. Straightforward efforts to combat the lies may backfire as well. A paper published on September 18 in Psychological Science in the Public Interest (PSPI) says that efforts to fight the problem frequently have the opposite effect.

"You have to be careful when you correct misinformation that you don't inadvertently strengthen it," says Stephan Lewandowsky, a psychologist at the University of Western Australia in Perth and one of the paper's authors. "If the issues go to the heart of people's deeply held world views, they become more entrenched in their opinions if you try to update their thinking."

Anthropologist Finds Evidence of Hominin Meat Eating 1.5 Million Years Ago: Eating Meat May Have 'Made Us Human'

A fragment of a child's skull discovered at Olduvai Gorge, Tanzania, shows the oldest known evidence of anemia caused by a nutritional deficiency. (Credit: Dominguez-Rodrigo M, Pickering TR, Diez-Martin F, Mabulla A, Musiba C, et al. (2012) Earliest Porotic Hyperostosis on a 1.5-Million-Year-Old Hominin, Olduvai Gorge, Tanzania. PLoS ONE 7(10): e46414. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0046414)University of Colorado Denver

ScienceDaily (Oct. 3, 2012) — A skull fragment unearthed by anthropologists in Tanzania shows that our ancient ancestors were eating meat at least 1.5 million years ago, shedding new light into the evolution of human physiology and brain development.

"Meat eating has always been considered one of the things that made us human, with the protein contributing to the growth of our brains," said Charles Musiba, Ph.D., associate professor of anthropology at the University of Colorado Denver, who helped make the discovery. "Our work shows that 1.5 million years ago we were not opportunistic meat eaters, we were actively hunting and eating meat."

The study was published October 3 in the peer-reviewed journal PLOS ONE.

The two-inch skull fragment was found at the famed Olduvai Gorge in northern Tanzania, a site that for decades has yielded numerous clues into the evolution of modern humans and is sometimes called `the cradle of mankind.'

More Certainty On Uncertainty's Quantum Mechanical Role

University of Toronto quantum optics graduate students Dylan Mahler (l) and Lee Rozema (r) prepare pairs of entangled photons to study the disturbance the photons experience after they are measured. The pair are part of a team that demonstrated the degree of precision that can be achieved with weak-measurement techniques, causing a re-evaulation of Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle. (Credit: Dylan Mahler, University of Toronto)Optical Society of America

ScienceDaily (Oct. 4, 2012) — Researchers are presenting findings at the Frontiers in Optics 2012 meeting that observation need not disturb systems as much as once thought, severing the act of measurement from the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle.

Scientists who study the ultra-small world of atoms know it is impossible to make certain simultaneous measurements -- for example, finding out both the location and momentum of an electron -- with an arbitrarily high level of precision. Because measurements disturb the system, increased certainty in the first measurement leads to increased uncertainty in the second. The mathematics of this unintuitive concept -- a hallmark of quantum mechanics -- were first formulated by the famous physicist Werner Heisenberg at the beginning of the 20th century and became known as the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle.

Heisenberg and other scientists later generalized the equations to capture an intrinsic uncertainty in the properties of quantum systems, regardless of measurements, but the uncertainty principle is sometimes still loosely applied to Heisenberg's original measurement-disturbance relationship. Now researchers from the University of Toronto have gathered the most direct experimental evidence that Heisenberg's original formulation is wrong.

Misconduct Is the Main Cause of Retractions in Life-Sciences Journals

Opaque retraction notices in journals can hide fraud while saving face or avoiding libel charges
Journals with the most retractions attributable to fraud or suspected fraud, as recorded in PubMed.By Zoë Corbyn

Conventional wisdom says that most retractions of papers in scientific journals are triggered by unintentional errors. Not so, according to one of the largest-ever studies of retractions. A survey published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences has found that two-thirds of retracted life-sciences papers were stricken from the scientific record because of misconduct such as fraud or suspected fraud — and that journals sometimes soft-pedal the reason.

The survey examined all 2,047 articles in the PubMed database that had been marked as retracted by 3 May this year. But rather than taking journals’ retraction notices at face value, as previous analyses have done, the study used secondary sources to pin down the reasons for retraction if the notices were incomplete or vague. These sources included investigations by the US Office of Research Integrity, and evidence reported by the blog Retraction Watch.

The analysis revealed that fraud or suspected fraud was responsible for 43% of the retractions. Other types of misconduct — duplicate publication and plagiarism — accounted for 14% and 10% of retractions, respectively. Only 21% of the papers were retracted because of error.

Technology News

Unforgeable Quantum Credit Cards in Sight

Illustration of a quantum bill. (Credit: (c) background by vektorportal.com, collage by F. Pastwaski)Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics

ScienceDaily (Oct. 4, 2012) — A team of physicists at Max-Planck-Institute of Quantum Optics, Harvard University, and California Institute of Technology develops a scheme for noise tolerant and yet safely encrypted quantum tokens.

Whoever has paid a hotel bill by credit card knows about the pending danger: given away the numbers of the card, the bank account and so on, an adversary might be able to forge a duplicate, take all the money from the account and ruin the person. On the other hand, as first acknowledged by Stephen Wiesner in 1983, nature provides ways to prevent forging: it is, for example, impossible to clone quantum information which is stored on a qubit. So why not use these features for the safe verification of quantum money? While the digits printed on a credit card are quite robust to the usual wear and tear of normal use in a wallet, its quantum information counterparts are generally quite challenged by noise, decoherence and operational imperfections. Therefore it is necessary to lower the requirements on the authentication process. A team of physicists at Max-Planck-Institute of Quantum Optics (Garching), Harvard University (Cambridge, USA), and California Institute of Technology (Pasadena, USA) has demonstrated that such protocols can be made tolerant to noise while ensuring rigorous security at the same time.

Information Nation: Digital Social Experiment to Put a Human Face on Big Data

Photographer Rick Smolan has launched a two-month social project to connect large volumes of information with the people producing it
HUMAN FACE, BIG DATA: Rick Smolan's Human Face of Big Data project seeks to highlight big data's potential by culling information directly from mobile gadget users worldwide.By Larry Greenemeier

Imagine seeing life through one eyeball but then being given the ability to view the world through two or even three eyeballs at once. You would be greeted with not just more data about your surroundings but a better perspective of how all of that data fit together.

This is the explanation that photographer Rick Smolan gave to his 10-year-old son when asked the meaning of "big data," according to a story he recounted Tuesday at an event he organized in New York City to announce his latest social experiment: The Human Face of Big Data.

For years researchers and technology companies have talked up the notion that extracting meaning from massive amounts of sensor data—produced everywhere from the oceans' depths to city streets to satellites circling the planet—will have a profound impact on the quality of our lives. Smolan's project—launched through his production company Against All Odds and sponsored primarily by EMC Corp.—seeks to highlight big data's potential by culling information directly from mobile gadget users worldwide.

Toyota Concept Uses Face Detection, Arm-Flapping to Open Doors

Photo: Yoshikazu Tsuno/AFP/GettyImagesBy Alexander GeorgeEmail Author

Toyota has revealed their newest concept, the Smart INSECT, which inexplicably stands for: Information Network Social Electricity City Transporter. The INSECT is no relation to Daimler’s Smart line of vehicles, but is an update of Toyota’s COMS (“Chotto Odekake Machimade Suisui,” or “a little smooth driving around town”) concept, a doorless EV with a 31-mile range and a top speed of 37 mph. Both acronym vehicles have the same performance stats, but the INSECT features new body styling and more elaborate — and slightly confounding — technology.

Besides a trim, urban-friendly physique, the INSECT comes with facial recognition technology. As you approach the car, cameras analyze your face to verify the driver’s identity. Once authenticated, the car flashes its headlights and says, “Hello.” If the car’s cordial tone isn’t strange enough, the door functions are possibly the weirdest we’ve seen. According to the product demonstration, the driver approaches the car and flaps her arms like a bird. The car recognizes the motion, and opens the gull-wing doors. When they’re closed, the doors only reach part-way down, leaving the legs exposed. So it’s both weird and dysfunctional.

Can you be jailed for a Facebook 'Like' in the Philippines?

The country's new Cybercrime Prevention Act, which went into effect yesterday, has some very interesting provisions that might lead to very interesting results.
(Credit: ABSCBN News/YouTube Screenshot: Chris Matyszczyk/CNET )by Chris Matyszczyk

I once dated a Filipina.

On her fridge were the words: "Believe in the miracle of the Blessed Virgin."

I mention this because what was written there was not quite what I experienced. There was a certain recondite, draconian, and rather unforgiving aspect to the miracle of meeting her, which undercut my initially blessed beliefs.

Naturally, not for a moment would I suggest she is representative of everyone -- or even anyone else -- in the Philippines. However, some citizens there are worried that there might be one or two difficult revelations in a miraculous new law that was enacted in the country yesterday. It is entitled the Cybercrime Prevention Act 2012.

This law has apparently fine intentions. We are all familiar with those.

However, some fear that the reality might mean that anything you happen to say online, should someone deem it "critical," might put you in jail -- even if you said it anonymously.

Environmental News

Lowered Thyroid Hormones Found in Baby Boys Exposed to Bisphenol A

A new study is the first to link the ubiquitous chemical--found in hard plastics, canned foods and paper receipts--with altered thyroid hormones in babies
A new study is the first to link the ubiquitous chemical with altered thyroid hormones in babiesBy Brian Bienkowski and Environmental Health News

Pregnant women exposed to higher levels of the chemical bisphenol A gave birth to baby boys with lower thyroid hormones, according to a new study published today.

The study by University of California, Berkeley, scientists is the first to link the ubiquitous chemical – used in hard plastics, canned food liners and some paper receipts – to altered thyroid hormones in babies, and it adds to evidence that BPA may have some effects on fetuses.

For every doubling of the mothers’ BPA levels, there was 9.9 percent less thyroid-stimulating hormone in their baby boys. No significant effect was detected in the girls; animal studies suggest females may be able to metabolize the chemical better.

“Most work up to this point has focused on [BPA’s] estrogen properties. The fact that it’s also messing up thyroid function is very surprising,” said Laura Vandenberg, a postdoctoral fellow at Tufts University who studies BPA but was not involved in the new study.

World Animal Day Celebrates 81st Year Today

Image Credit: Photos.comMichael Harper for redOrbit.com

If today feels a little bananas to you, if it’s raining cats and dogs, or if your office is operating more like a zoo, then no need to panic. It’s the 81st annual World Animal Day! According to WorldAnimalDay.co.uk, this day of celebration began in 1931 at a convention of ecologists in Florence, Italy. The very first World Animal Day was celebrated as an extension of the Feast Day of St Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of all animals.

Today is also meant as a way to heighten awareness of endangered species all around the world as well as pay tribute to those who dedicate their lives to protecting these animals. Just like American Thanksgiving, World Animal Day can be celebrated by all races, creeds, colors and religions. The only requirement is a love (or at least a sincere respect) for all animals, even the frightening ones.

The introduction and subsequent global embrace of the Internet has cast World Animal Day on a much larger stage as people and organizations all over the world have chosen different ways in which to celebrate the occasion. The directors of World Animal Day support these celebrations and encourage us to keep the spirit of the day alive all year long.

Fall Leaves: "Ideal Conditions" Seen for Foliage in U.S.

Summer drought boosted colorful leaf pigments, expert says.
Sugar maples (such as this one in Baxter State Park, Maine) offer some of the most brilliant fall foliage.Brian Handwerk

There may be one upside to the United States' dry summer—a brilliant fall leaves season, especially in the Northeast.

Moderate drought can increase concentrations of anthocyanins, the natural pigments that produce the reds and purples in tree species including ash, black gum, sumac, and some maples, according to Donald J. Leopold, a dendrologist—or tree scientist—at the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry in Syracuse.

"From what we've seen so far, the trees that have the potential for producing lots of anthocyanins look as good as they've ever been this year," Leopold said.

Weather in the coming weeks, including temperatures and rainfall, will determine just how brilliant this year's leaves will be in the Northeast and across the country.

And how long they last may depend on storms, like 2011's Halloween surprise snowfall, which abruptly ended the fall foliage season in much of the U.S. East.

Climate skepticism highest in U.S., Britain

A survey of 13,492 adults in 13 countries found that 88 percent believed the climate had changed over the past 20 years.
On the question whether climate change had been scientifically proven, agreement was highest in Indonesia, Hong Kong and Turkey. (Photo: APF)By Agence France-Presse

Awareness of climate change is high in many countries, especially the tropics, but in Britain, Japan and the United States many are doubtful about the cause, a poll published on Thursday said.

A survey of 13,492 adults in 13 countries who were questioned by Internet found that 88 percent believed the climate had changed over the past 20 years.

The figures ranged from 98 percent in Mexico and Hong Kong and 97 percent in Indonesia to 80 percent in Belgium and 72 percent in the United States.

Rising average temperatures, drought and extreme rainfall were the phenomena that people most cited.

On the question whether climate change had been scientifically proven, agreement was highest in Indonesia, Hong Kong and Turkey (95, 89 and 86 percent respectively).

Medical News

SARS Veterans Tackle Coronavirus

A recently completed genome sequence of the new virus has sped up efforts to come up with a diagnostic test to screen for it
 The research legacy of the SARS virus (pictured) is helping scientists to move quickly against a new threat.By Declan Butler and Nature magazine

Scientists who helped to fight the 2003 epidemic of SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) have sprung into action again to investigate the latest threat: a new SARS-related virus that has killed one man and left another seriously ill. Last week, the researchers reported the genome sequence of the new coronavirus and the first diagnostic tests to screen for it — two major advances that will help in efforts to control the pathogen if it turns into a wider menace.

The SARS virus was identified in March 2003 as the cause of an epidemic that had emerged in China several months before, and which had spread rapidly around the world. It caused nearly 8,500 cases and 916 deaths before it was finally contained in July 2003. At the time, scientists knew almost nothing about the virus — coronaviruses had received scant attention until then because they had previously caused little more than colds.

Cellular Calls: Listening in on Body's Protein "Chatter" May Lead to New Therapies

Observing signaling molecules before they leave a cell could give researchers insights into how cells in our bodies influence one another
CROWD OF CELLS: Mouse fibroblasts stained for lamina (green), tubulin (red) and DNA (blue)By Marissa Fessenden

Chemical communication between cells keeps tissues functioning and systems coordinated, but eavesdropping on the conversation is challenging. Now, researchers have developed a technique to identify signaling proteins before they leave the cell. The method could help determine which cells are sending which messages—a useful tool for analyzing the interactions occurring in the mixed populations in tissues. One possible application could reveal the cues that control stem cells—an insight that researchers hope could be applied to healing damaged tissues.

The proteins targeted by the method are secreted from one cell and orchestrate the activities of nearby cells. Some signals instruct cells to grow and multiply; others "say" it is time to die. And some signals encourage stem cells—which can mature into a variety of cell types—to differentiate into specific lineages. Understanding cellular signaling is key for biologists hoping to discover how cells respond to one another and their environment. For stem cells in particular, researchers are still puzzling out exactly how they work—for example, molecules from stem cells can heal surrounding tissue. These chemical signals may prompt regeneration of missing cells, recruit other cells to the site or activate some other mechanism.

For All Its Goodness, New Report Says Coffee Can Cause Blindness

Image Credit: Yuri Arcurs / ShutterstockMichael Harper for redOrbit.com

Like any addictive substance, coffee has a knack of drawing a distinct line in the sand between those in favor of the beverage and those who whine and complain during every family holiday when someone begins to brew a pot.

Medical science also seems evenly split on the effects of coffee, with some reports calling it a detriment and others calling it delight. For instance, a May report in the New England Journal of Medicine claims those who drink 2 or 3 cups of joe a day have a better chance at outliving their anti-coffee peers.

However, according to a new paper published in Investigative Ophthalmology & Visual Science, coffee drinkers could have an increased risk of developing exfoliation glaucoma. So, heavy coffee drinkers might very well live longer, but they might also spend the last years of their lives blind.

This study, entitled: “The Relation between Caffeine and Coffee Consumption and Exfoliation Glaucoma or Glaucoma Suspect: A Prospective Study in Two Cohorts,” is the first of its kind to draw a link between caffeinated coffee and exfoliation glaucoma in American coffee fans. According to the study’s author, Jae Hee Kang, the high levels of this coffee consumption in other countries spurred their desire to study these effects on Americans.

Deadly Meningitis Outbreak Tied To Injections

SyringeMike Stobbe and Travis Loller, Associated Press

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) -- An outbreak of a rare form of meningitis is likely to grow after sickening 26 people in five states, including four who died, health officials warned.

All received steroid injections, mostly for back pain, a fairly typical treatment. The drug was made by a specialty pharmacy in Massachusetts that issued a recall last week and has shut down operations.

The type of meningitis involved is not contagious like the more common forms. This type is caused by a fungus often found in leaf mold and which health officials suspect may have been in the steroid.

Eighteen of the cases are in Tennessee, where a Nashville clinic received the largest shipment of the steroid.. Investigators, though, say they are still trying to confirm the source of the infection.

Three cases have been reported in Virginia, two in Maryland, two in Florida and one in North Carolina. Two of the deaths were in Tennessee, and Virginia and Maryland had one each, said officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Space News

Well-behaved Curiosity Ready To Scoop Its First Soil Samples

Image Caption: NASA's Mars rover Curiosity cut a wheel scuff mark into a wind-formed ripple at the 'Rocknest' site to give researchers a better opportunity to examine the particle-size distribution of the material forming the ripple. The rover's right Navigation camera took this image of the scuff mark on the mission's 57th Martian day, or sol (Oct. 3, 2012), the same sol that a wheel created the mark. For scale, the width of the wheel track is about 16 inches (40 centimeters). Image Credit: NASA/JPL-CaltechLee Rannals for redOrbit.com

NASA announced today that its Curiosity rover is at a place on the Red Planet where it can scoop up its first soil for analysis.

The rover is gearing up to show off its ability to put soil samples into analytical instruments, which is a crucial part of its mission to search for whether Mars has ever had conditions favorable for life.

A mineral analysis could reveal past environmental conditions, and a chemical analysis can check for ingredients necessary for life.

“We now have reached an important phase that will get the first solid samples into the analytical instruments in about two weeks,” said Mission Manager Michael Watkins of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. “Curiosity has been so well-behaved that we have made great progress during the first two months of the mission.”

Curiosity will begin testing its robotic scooping abilities to collect and process soil samples, according to NASA. Afterwards, it will begin using a hammering drill to collect powdered samples from rocks.

In order to begin preparations for its first scoop, the rover used one of its wheels on Wednesday to expose some fresh material.

Curiosity Checks In On Mars With Foursquare

Image Credit: Photos.comLee Rannals for redOrbit.com

Some use the popular Foursquare mobile application to gloat about places they may be, whether on vacation or just eating lunch, but one location check-in puts all the others to shame.

NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover checked in on Mars Wednesday using Foursquare, setting a new bar for cool places to check in.

This is the first time there has been a check-in on another planet, and Curiosity has joined Foursquare to allow users to check all the rover’s locations, as well as see photos and tips while on the Red Planet.

“NASA is using Foursquare as a tool to share the rover’s new locations while exploring Mars,” David Weaver, associate administrator for communications at NASA Headquarters in Washington, said in a statement. “This will help to involve the public with the mission and give them a sense of the rover’s travels through Gale Crater.”

Curiosity is making its way towards Mount Sharp, which is a mountain that stands at about three miles tall. The rover will be conducting experiments along the way, seeking clues in rocks and soil that would show whether the planet was ever capable of supporting microbial life.

US Air Force Launches GPS Satellite Into Space Aboard Delta IV Rocket

Artist's impression of a Block IIF GPS satellite in orbit. Credit: Wikipedia (public domain)Lawrence LeBlond for redOrbit.com

The US Air Force launched a GPS satellite aboard a Boeing Delta IV rocket at 8:10 a.m. this morning from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station‘s Launch Complex 37. The GPS is designed to join an existing suite of navigational tools in use by the military.

Boeing, which developed the USAF satellite, said it will provide highly accurate time, location and velocity information. Called GPS IIF-3, it is the third of 12 GPS satellites Boeing has built for the USAF. The satellite is more advanced than any other GPS put into space and will help guide troops on land, sea and in the air. It will also direct bombs and other weapons toward a target. The satellite is expected to maintain high-quality output  for 12 years.

The USAF manages the navigation system to ensure there are at least 24 operational satellites in orbit at all times. The newly-launched satellite includes an improved military signal that is more resistant to signal jamming in hostile environments.

Asteroid Fragments Could Hint at the Origin of the Solar System

Tiny fragments are being analysed at The University of Manchester. (Credit: The University of Manchester)University of Manchester

ScienceDaily (Oct. 4, 2012) — The tiny pieces of rock -- at 50-100 micrometers smaller than a human hair -- have been captured from asteroid Itokawa by the Japanese mission Hayabusa. They were carefully unpacked by experts at the University's School of Earth, Atmospheric and Environmental Sciences.

It is the first time samples from an asteroid have been returned to Earth. Only about 70 samples have been released for international analysis -- seven of these are being studied at the University.

The Hayabusa mission is part of a continuing effort to understand how asteroids, which are leftovers from the formation of planets like Earth, formed and evolved. It recovered fragments from the 500 metre-long asteroid Itokawa in 2005 and returned them to Earth in 2010.

Odd News

Marathon Runners May Be at Risk for Incontinence

It's over, manLoyola University Health System

ScienceDaily (Oct. 4, 2012) — While many marathon runners may be preoccupied with shin splints, chafing and blisters come race day, one thing they may not consider is their bladder health.

"The added stress on the body that comes with running a marathon can cause urinary stress incontinence problems during the race or down the road," said Melinda Abernethy, MD, fellow, Division of Female Pelvic Medicine and Reconstructive Surgery, Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine. "People who already suffer from incontinence also are at risk for bladder-control issues while running."

Urinary stress incontinence is the loss of urine from physical activity such as coughing, sneezing and running. It is the most common form of incontinence, which impacts women more often than men.

Researchers from Loyola University Health System will partner with the Chicago Area Runners Association to study the relationship between long-distance running and pelvic floor disorders.

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