Welcome to Science Saturday, where the Overnight News Digest crew, consisting of founder Magnifico, regular editors jlms qkw, maggiejean, wader, Oke, rfall, and JML9999, alumni editors palantir, Bentliberal, and ScottyUrb, guest editor annetteboardman, and current editor-in-chief Neon Vincent, along with anyone else who reads and comments, informs and entertains you with this week's news about science, space, and the environment.
This week's featured story comes from Nature (UK)
Human stem cells created by cloning
Breakthrough sets up showdown with induced adult lines.
15 May 2013
It was hailed some 15 years ago as the great hope for a biomedical revolution: the use of cloning techniques to create perfectly matched tissues that would someday cure ailments ranging from diabetes to Parkinson’s disease. Since then, the approach has been enveloped in ethical debate, tainted by fraud and, in recent years, overshadowed by a competing technology. Most groups gave up long ago on the finicky core method — production of patient-specific embryonic stem cells (ESCs) from cloning. A quieter debate followed: do we still need ‘therapeutic’ cloning?
A paper published this week by Shoukhrat Mitalipov, a reproductive biology specialist at the Oregon Health and Science University in Beaverton, and his colleagues is sure to rekindle that debate. Mitalipov and his team have finally created patient-specific ESCs through cloning, and they are keen to prove that the technology is worth pursuing.
More stories after the jump.
Recent Science Diaries and Stories
Watch this space!
Astronaut Chris Hadfield covers Bowie's 'Space Oddity' in space (VIDEO)
by Jen Hayden
Green diary rescue: Pedal power, electric cars, OFA on climate change
by Meteor Blades
Getting to Know Your Solar System (33): Dione
War on Science Rages On.
Game Changer for Health Care On The Way?
This week in science: Common census
Women in Science: Marie Victoire Labour 1876-1971
by Desert Scientist
Time Magazine: How Natural Disasters Changed the World in 2012
Last year, an estimated 32.4 million people worldwide were forced from their homes due to natural disasters. Here, 10 countries that suffered some of the worst displacements, according to the Norwegian Refugee Council.
Discovery News on YouTube: Why All The Bees Are Dying
Bee population around the world have collapsed. Now scientists are scrambling to find out why. Anthony has a list of the possible causes, and the threat this poses to food supplies worldwide.
Russia Today on YouTube: Monsanto wins landmark case in Supreme Court
On Monday, the US Supreme Court ruled in favor of the bio-tech giant Monsanto. In the case, Indiana farmer Vernon Bowman was being accused of seed infringement after he allegedly planted soybean seed without the company's permission. RT's Liz Wahl brings us more on the landmark case and how the 75 year-old man violated Monsanto's patent.
NASA Television on YouTube: Kepler Update on This Week @NASA
This week, the Kepler science team announced the spacecraft was in a Thruster-Controlled Safe Mode. The root cause was undetermined but the proximate cause appears to be an attitude error caused by a malfunction in Kepler's reaction wheel 4, one of the telescope's pointing mechanisms. The team has since put the telescope in what's known as a Point Rest State, to minimize fuel usage while the investigation continues. Though no decisions have been made about the fate of the mission, the team notes that even if data collection were to end, Kepler has collected substantial quantities of data that should yield a string of scientific discoveries for years to come. Also, Living Off Earth, Future of Human Space Exploration, Garver briefed on Future Technologies, J-2X prepared for gimbal tests, Bolden checks out Aero Tech, Dreamchaser's arrival, Hangout with Star Trek cast and more!
NASA Television on YouTube: Expedition 35 Back Home Safely on This Week @NASA
The Expedition 35 crew safely returned from the International Space Station with a parachute-assisted landing of its Soyuz spacecraft in Kazakhstan on May 14, local time. Commander Chris Hadfield of the Canadian Space Agency, Soyuz Commander Roman Romanenko of the Russian Federal Space Agency and NASA Flight Engineer Tom Marshburn capped off 146-days in space full of activity -- for Marshburn -- some of it just hours before the crew departed. On May 11, he and fellow NASA Astronaut Chris Cassidy completed a 5-hour, 30-minute spacewalk to replace a faulty coolant pump on the station's P6 truss and during a NASA TV in-flight event on May 7, Marshburn discussed the work being done on the International Space Station with members of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation Subcommittee on Science and Space. Also, Next ISS Crew Focused on Launch, Humans 2 Mars, 40th Anniversary of Skylab, Curiosity Rover Update, Landsat's Vegas Time-Lapse, Fruit Flies Improving Flight, Student Launch Projects and more!
NASA Television on YouTube: ScienceCasts: Bright Explosion on the Moon
NASA researchers who monitor the Moon for meteoroid impacts have detected the brightest explosion in the history of their program.
Nature (UK): Magnetar found at giant black hole
Magnetized neutron star could test Einstein’s theory.
Eugenie Samuel Reich
14 May 2013
Dale Frail couldn’t resist the prospect of watching a black hole swallow its prey. Frail, who is in charge of the Very Large Array (VLA) of radio telescopes near Socorro in New Mexico, had seen a report last month about a long-lived X-ray flare emanating from the centre of the Milky Way, home to a supermassive black hole called Sagittarius A* (Sgr A*). Astronomers were speculating that the flare might be a sign that a gas cloud they had been tracking had begun its death spiral into the black hole.
Frail was sceptical. The cloud’s death was not expected until between September this year and March 2014. But Frail did not want to risk missing the action. Within hours of seeing the report, he had trained the VLA’s radio dishes on the scene, only to find nothing remarkable. Frail was puzzled. If the flare wasn’t the arrival of the gas cloud, what was it?
An answer soon came from other telescopes watching the drama at the centre of the Galaxy: the flare was coming from a magnetar, a highly magnetized kind of pulsar, or rotating neutron star. Its position near Sgr A* makes it a precious find. The magnetar’s regular radio pulses could be used to measure the warping of space-time near the monster black hole and to test predictions of Einstein’s general theory of relativity.
Time Magazine: Trouble in Deep Space: Wheel Malfunction Threatens Kepler Telescope’s Future
By Michael D. Lemonick
May 16, 2013
At this time last year, the scientists working on Kepler, NASA’s fantastically successful planet-hunting space telescope, were ecstatic. The probe, launched in 2009, had originally been given just three and a half years’ worth of funding, but in April, 2012, the space agency decided to extend the mission by another 3.5 years. With nearly 3,000 candidate planets in the bag already, astronomers were anticipating a boatload of even more exciting discoveries.
Not so much anymore. Last Sunday, the spacecraft’s aim began to drift, sending Kepler into “safe mode” while engineers tried to figure out why. The potentially fatal diagnosis: one of the probe’s reaction wheels, crucial for holding Kepler on target, had stopped working. And if the telescope can’t stay on target, the mission is effectively over. “Unfortunately,” said John Grunsfeld, the scientist- astronaut who helped refurbish the Hubble Space Telescope during a 2009 spacewalk, during a NASA press conference, “Kepler is not in a place where I can go up and repair it.”
That doesn’t mean engineers are quite ready to give up.
Nature (UK): Polar wander linked to climate change
Melting ice in Greenland may have helped to shift the location of the North Pole.
Richard A. Lovett
14 May 2013
Global warming is changing the location of Earth’s geographic poles, according to a study in Geophysical Research Letters1.
Researchers at the University of Texas, Austin, report that increased melting of the Greenland ice sheet — and to a lesser extent, ice loss in other parts of the globe — have helped to shift the North Pole several centimetres east each year since 2005.
“There was a big change,” says geophysicist and lead author Jianli Chen.
Nature (UK): Scientists ask public to hunt for power plantsnitiative will use crowdsourced data to inform global carbon modelling.
13 May 2013
Big, ugly and emanating an incessant industrial hum, power plants belch clouds of steam and pollution as they generate electricity, the life-blood of modern society. You might think that it would be easy enough for a scientist to work out where they are and what they are doing.
You would be wrong. A team of researchers is now appealing to the public to rectify that situation.
“It turns out that we know far less about fossil fuels than we thought we did,” says Kevin Gurney, an emissions modeller at Arizona State University in Tempe, and leader of the Ventus citizen-science project. “We could use some help.”
Time Magazine: Why a Hotter World Will Mean More Extinctions
By Bryan Walsh
May 13, 2013
The end of last week saw the carbon concentrations in the atmosphere finally pass the 400-part-per-million threshold. That means carbon levels are higher now than they’ve been for at least 800,000 years, and most likely far longer. There’s nothing special per se about 400 parts per million — other than giving all of us a change to note it in article like this one — but it’s a reminder that we are headed very fast into a very uncertain future.
Parts per million and global temperature change, though, are just numbers. What matters is the effect they will have on life — ours, of course, but also everything else that lives on the planet earth. I’ve written before that while I certainly worry and fear the impact that unchecked climate change will have on humanity, I also feel relatively — relatively — confident that we will, in some ways, muddle through. Human beings have already proved that they are extremely adaptable, living — with various degrees of success — from the hottest desert to the coldest corner of the Arctic. I don’t think a future where temperatures are 4?F or 5?F or 6?F warmer on average will be an optimal one for humanity, to say the least. But I don’t think it will be the end of our species either. (I’ve always favored asteroids for that.)
But the plants and animals that share this planet with us are a different story.
Time Magazine: Why Warming Oceans Could Mean Dwindling Fish
By Bryan Walsh
May 16, 2013
It’s easy to forget that global warming doesn’t just refer to the rising temperature of the air. Climate change is having an enormous, if less understood, impact on the oceans, which already absorb far more carbon dioxide than the atmosphere. Like so much of what goes on in the vast depths that cover more than two-thirds of our planet’s surface, the effect of climate change on the oceans remains a black box, albeit one that scientists are working to illuminate.
Here’s one way: fisheries. Wild fish remain a major source of protein for humanity — as well as a major source of reality-TV shows — and for some coastal communities, fish mean even more. Scientists aren’t clear about what effect climate change, including the warming of the oceans, will have on wild fisheries. As Mark Payne of the National Institute of Aquatic Resources writes in a new piece in Nature, ocean researchers “tend to view climate change as a dark cloud on the horizon: potentially problematic in the future, but not of immediate concern” — especially compared with the much more pressing threat of simple overfishing.
But now a new study in Nature makes the case that climate change — including the warming of the oceans — is already having a direct impact on global fisheries.
Science Magazine: Rising Numbers May Not Be Enough to Save Tigers and Kiwis
by Traci Watson
15 May 2013, 1:10 PM
The little spotted kiwi is a shy worm-eater so small it can be cradled in a child's arms. The Bengal tiger is a 220-kilogram predator that shouldn't be cradled in anyone's arms. But new research shows the cuddly bird and the powerful feline share an unfortunate fate: Though their numbers have stabilized or are even rising, some populations are suffering from profound genetic isolation or loss of genetic diversity—enough in some cases to leave them deeply vulnerable to new diseases and other threats.
Taken together, the findings demonstrate that "just because population sizes of threatened species have recovered doesn't mean that they are okay," writes Richard Frankham, a professor emeritus at Macquarie University in Australia and an author of several conservation-genetics textbooks who was not involved with the work, in an e-mail. "Genetic management of fragmented animal and plant populations is one of the most important, largely ignored issues in conservation biology."
Nature (UK): Invasive species: The 18-km2 rat trap
Ecuador has successfully eradicated invasive pigs and goats from most of the Galapagos archipelago. Now it is taking on the rats.
15 May 2013
Five years ago, most of the major islands and smaller rocky outcrops in the Galapagos were home to a plague of invasive mice and rats. The rodents feed on the eggs and young of seabirds, land birds and reptiles, and have brought several species — including the rare Pinzón giant tortoise (Chelonoidis duncanensis) — to the brink of extinction. In 2007, the Galapagos National Park Service (GNP) and the Charles Darwin Foundation (CDF) developed an initiative code-named Project Pinzón, a military-style plan-of-action to kill invasive rodents on three islands — starting with North Seymour (1.8 square kilometres), then moving on to Rábida (5 square kilometres) and, finally, Pinzón (18 square kilometres) — plus around a dozen smaller outcrops and islets (see ‘Rat race’).
The effort, costing some US$3 million so far, is not the biggest rat eradication ever attempted. But it is one of the most high-profile and challenging. Before conservationists and scientists could start attacking the rodents, they had to ensure that their poison would not take out some of the unique — and endangered — mockingbirds, finches, rails, iguanas and tortoises famously described by Charles Darwin. And whereas most rat eradications so far have targeted remote, uninhabited islands, the Galapagos is home to some 30,000 people and receives around 180,000 visitors each year. With so much boat traffic, the risk of reinvasion will be very high, says James Russell, an ecologist at the University of Auckland in New Zealand who has a special interest in rat invasions. “Their real challenge is going to be that biosecurity,” he says.
For those involved, the anti-rat campaign is worth the trouble and the risks. It promises to allow unique species to flourish again and, building on the prior removal of feral pigs and goats from much of the archipelago, to make Ecuador a world leader in the eradication of invasive species. “Galapagos is up there in the front line looking to make the next big leap in multi-species pest management,” Russell says.
Nature (UK): Pregnancy test helped to bring frog-killing fungus to the US
Imported African animals released into the wild spread chytridiomycosis.
17 May 2013
When improved pregnancy tests were developed in the 1960s, the advance came with an unexpected side effect: a role in the spread of chytridiomycosis, a lethal fungal disease that has wiped out hundreds of species of frogs.
A study published in PLoS ONE this week tracks the amphibian fungus that causes the disease, Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis, to an important reservoir in the Americas — African clawed frogs (Xenopus laevis). The frogs were used in pregnancy tests until the early 1970s, as it was known that the animals ovulated when exposed to a pregnant woman’s urine. “My Mom told me she did the frog test,” says Vance Vredenburg, an amphibian ecologist at San Francisco State University in California who led the latest study. When the test became obsolete, hospitals released the frogs, many of which probably carried the fungus, into the wild.
Science Magazine: 'MERS' Makes Its Debut in a Scientific Journal
by Martin Enserink
15 May 2013, 3:15 PM
A group of coronavirus experts has published its proposal to name a new, deadly virus after the Middle East, the region where it originates. In a short paper published online today by the Journal of Virology, the Coronavirus Study Group (CSG), along with several other scientists, recommends calling the pathogen Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus (MERS-Cov).
As ScienceInsider reported last week, the group, part of the International Committee on Taxonomy of Viruses, hopes to end confusion about the name of the virus.
Geographical names are often controversial because they can be seen as stigmatizing, but CSG chair Raoul de Groot of Utrecht University in the Netherlands says that the reference to the Middle East was eventually acceptable to all. He hopes that the paper will end the debate.
World Health Organization: Novel coronavirus infection - update
15 May 2013
The Ministry of Health in Saudi Arabia has informed WHO of an additional two laboratory-confirmed cases with infection of the novel coronavirus (nCoV).
The two patients are health care workers who were exposed to patients with confirmed nCoV. The first patient is a 45-year-old man who became ill on 2 May 2013 and is currently in a critical condition. The second patient is a 43-year-old woman with a coexisting health condition, who became ill on 8 May 2013 and is in a stable condition.
Although health care associated transmission has been observed before with nCoV (in Jordan in April 2012), this is the first time health care workers have been diagnosed with nCoV infection after exposure to patients. Health care facilities that provide care for patients with suspected nCoV infection should take appropriate measures to decrease the risk of transmission of the virus to other patients and health care workers. Health care facilities are reminded of the importance of systematic implementation of infection prevention and control (IPC).
Since the beginning of May 2013 to date, a total of 21 patients, including nine deaths, have been reported from the outbreak primarily linked to a health care facility in the Eastern part of Saudi Arabia. The government is conducting ongoing investigation into the outbreak.
Nature (UK): Chinese project probes the genetics of genius
Bid to unravel the secrets of brainpower faces scepticism.
14 May 2013
The US adolescents who signed up for the Study of Mathematically Precocious Youth (SMPY) in the 1970s were the smartest of the smart, with mathematical and verbal-reasoning skills within the top 1% of the population. Now, researchers at BGI (formerly the Beijing Genomics Institute) in Shenzhen, China, the largest gene-sequencing facility in the world, are searching for the quirks of DNA that may contribute to such gifts. Plunging into an area that is littered with failures and riven with controversy, the researchers are scouring the genomes of 1,600 of these high-fliers in an ambitious project to find the first common genetic variants associated with human intelligence.
The project, which was launched in August 2012 and is slated to begin data analysis in the next few months, has spawned wild accusations of eugenics plots, as well as more measured objections by social scientists who view such research as a distraction from pressing societal issues. Some geneticists, however, take issue with the study for a different reason. They say that it is highly unlikely to find anything of interest — because the sample size is too small and intelligence is too complex.
Earlier large studies with the same goal have failed. But scientists from BGI’s Cognitive Genomics group hope that their super-smart sample will give them an edge, because it should be enriched with bits of DNA that confer effects on intelligence. “An exceptional person gets you an order of magnitude more statistical power than if you took random people from the population — I’d say we have a fighting chance,” says Stephen Hsu, a theoretical physicist from Michigan State University in East Lansing, who acts as a scientific adviser to BGI and is one of the project’s leaders.
Science Magazine: Trouble With Math? Maybe You Should Get Your Brain Zapped
by Emily Underwood
16 May 2013, 2:35 PM
If you are one of the 20% of healthy adults who struggle with basic arithmetic, simple tasks like splitting the dinner bill can be excruciating. Now, a new study suggests that a gentle, painless electrical current applied to the brain can boost math performance for up to 6 months. Researchers don't fully understand how it works, however, and there could be side effects.
The idea of using electrical current to alter brain activity is nothing new—electroshock therapy, which induces seizures for therapeutic effect, is probably the best known and most dramatic example. In recent years, however, a slew of studies has shown that much milder electrical stimulation applied to targeted regions of the brain can dramatically accelerate learning in a wide range of tasks, from marksmanship to speech rehabilitation after stroke.
Nature (UK): Neanderthal culture: Old masters
The earliest known cave paintings fuel arguments about whether Neanderthals were the mental equals of modern humans.
In a damp Spanish cave, Alistair Pike applies a small grinder to the world's oldest known paintings. Every few minutes, the dentist-drill sound stops and Pike, an archaeologist from the University of Southampton, UK, stands aside so that a party of tourists can admire the simple artwork — hazy red disks, stencilled handprints, the outlines of bison — daubed on the cave wall tens of thousands of years ago. He hopes that the visitors won't notice the small scuff marks he has left.
In fact, Pike's grinder — and the scalpel that he wields to scrape off tiny samples — is doing no harm to the actual paintings, and he is working with the full approval of the Spanish authorities. Pike is after the crust of calcite that has built up over the millennia from groundwater dripping down the wall. The white flecks that he dislodges hold a smattering of uranium atoms, whose decay acts as a radioactive clock. A clock that has been ticking ever since the calcite formed on top of the art.
The results of an earlier round of sampling in El Castillo cave, published last June, showed that the oldest of the paintings, a simple red spot, dates to at least 40,800 years ago, roughly when the first modern humans reached western Europe. Pike and his colleagues think that when they analyse the latest samples, the paintings may turn out to be older still, perhaps by thousands of years — too old to have been made by modern humans. If so, the artists must have been Neanderthals, the brawny, archaic people who were already living in Europe.
Science Blog: Ancient diet find could shatter ideas of how agriculture emerged
May 17, 2013
Archaeologists have made a discovery in southern subtropical China which could revolutionise thinking about how ancient humans lived in the region.
They have uncovered evidence for the first time that people living in Xincun 5,000 years ago may have practised agriculture –before the arrival of domesticated rice in the region.
The Herald (UK): Archaeologist claims to have located site of Roman battle
Saturday 18 May 2013
A HISTORIAN is claiming to have found the site of one of Scotland's most significant battles.
Archaeologist Mike Haseler believes he has evidence to suggest that the battle of Mons Graupius took place in Moray.
Mons Graupius was a key battle for British independence against the repressive hand of Rome almost 2000 years ago.
According to the Romans, 10,000 Britons died that day at the hands of this first European super-state, while many others fled the scene.
Despite stringent efforts by experts, the site of the battle between the Romans and the Caledonians – in either 83AD or 84AD – has never been conclusively identified.
Al Ahram (Egypt): Head of Ramses II in Akhmim removed and stored
Egypt's antiquities ministry has moved to protect the site of a possible temple to Ramses II in Akhmim in Upper Egypt
Sunday 12 May 2013
A lack of security across Egypt's archaeological sites has taken a toll in the town of Akhmim, near Sohag governorate. The area where a huge limestone head of Pharaoh King Ramses II was discovered six years ago was rendered a garbage dump. According to prior surveys, the area may house a vast temple to Ramses II, and more larger than life statues of the pharaoh could be unearthed.
Because the head of the pharaoh king was uncovered within a modern cemetery in the town, residents were ordered not to bury their dead there for a few months until the cemetery could be relocated. The area was then proclaimed an archaeological site under the jurisdiction of Egypt’s antiquities law. The government, as well as the Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA) at the time (now the Ministry of State of Antiquities), provided the required funds to relocate a group of modern tombs to another area. As the relocation of the cemetery continued, archaeological excavation discovered more items belonging to the temple beneath.
LiveScience: Cemetery Reveals Baby-Making Season in Ancient Egypt
Owen Jarus, LiveScience Contributor
Date: 16 May 2013 Time: 04:52 PM ET
The peak period for baby-making sex in ancient Egypt was in July and August, when the weather was at its hottest.
Researchers made this discovery at a cemetery in the Dakhleh Oasis in Egypt whose burials date back around 1,800 years. The oasis is located about 450 miles (720 kilometers) southwest of Cairo. The people buried in the cemetery lived in the ancient town of Kellis, with a population of at least several thousand. These people lived at a time when the Roman Empire controlled Egypt, when Christianity was spreading but also when traditional Egyptian religious beliefs were still strong.
Oxford Mail (UK): Skeleton find reveals long-lost church site
By Andrew Ffrench
12:00pm Thursday 16th May 2013 in News
THE discovery of a skeleton in the back garden of a home in Wallingford has revealed the location of a lost Saxon church.
Detectives were called to Sue Roberts’ home in Reading Road after builders dug up the bones as part of work to make her house more eco-friendly.
Mrs Roberts, 55, had started work to insulate the home’s foundations.
She was out when the builders called to say detectives had swooped on her home and were checking the discovery of the dead body.
But officers quickly found they were dealing with old bones and called in archaeologists.
BBC: New survey on Iona hints at undiscovered burial sites
Evidence of previously undiscovered historic burial sites may have been found on the Scottish island of Iona.
A geophysical survey - used for archaeological imaging or mapping - discovered signs of burial to the south of the village and at Martyr's Bay.
Both of these will be excavated at a later date.
The Independent (UK): Have archaeologists discovered the mysterious lost city of gold, Ciudad Blanca?
Honduras's ancient metropolis ‘found’ using revolutionary 3D mapping technique
Tuesday 14 May 2013
The Google Map of eastern Honduras is almost blank. A vast and virtually unexplored rainforest region known as the Mosquitia covers around 32,000 square miles, home to dense jungle, hostile terrain and the terrifying-sounding jumping viper. Legend has it that somewhere beneath the forest canopy lies the ancient city of Ciudad Blanca – and now archaeologists think they may have found it.
Tomorrow in Cancun, Mexico, an interdisciplinary group of scientists from fields including archaeology, anthropology and geology will appear at the American Geophysical Union’s annual conference to present the technology that has allowed them to discover a “lost world” in the Honduran interior. The team photographed the ground using new technology known as airborne light detection and ranging (LiDAR). They found what appears to be a network of plazas and pyramids, hidden for hundreds of years.
University of Otago (New Zealand): Light cast on lifestyle and diet of first New Zealanders
Thursday, 16 May 2013
A University of Otago-led multidisciplinary team of scientists have shed new light on the diet, lifestyles and movements of the first New Zealanders by analysing isotopes from their bones and teeth.
In research published today in the prestigious international journal PLOS ONE, the team are able to identify what is likely to be the first group of people to colonise Marlborough’s Wairau Bar possibly from Polynesia around 700 years ago. They also present evidence suggesting that individuals from two other groups buried at the site had likely lived in different regions of New Zealand before being buried at Wairau Bar.
National Geographic News: Boys Killed Pets to Become Warriors in Early Russia
In Russia, dismembered dogs point to ancient initiation rite.
for National Geographic
Published May 14, 2013
At first, archaeologists Dorcas Brown and David Anthony were deeply puzzled. While excavating the Bronze Age site of Krasnosamarkskoe in Russia's Volga region, they unearthed the bones of at least 51 dogs and 7 wolves. All the animals had died during the winter months, judging from the telltale banding pattern on their teeth, and all were subsequently skinned, dismembered, burned, and chopped with an ax.
Moreover, the butcher had worked in a precise, standardized way, chopping the dogs' snouts into three pieces and their skulls into geometrically shaped fragments just an inch or so in size. "It was very strange," says Anthony.
To him and Brown, both of whom teach at Hartwick College in Oneonta, New York, the skilled and standardized method of butchering the dogs pointed to some sort of ritual. Pam Crabtree, an archaeozoologist at New York University, who was not a member of the team, agrees. She notes that the butchery pattern was entirely different from those used in prehistoric Europe and other parts of the world for slicing off dog meat to eat.
Irish Times: Ancient wooden boat found in the Boyne river
Find made as shopping trolleys removed from river
First published: Mon, May 13, 2013, 11:17
An ancient log-boat, possibly thousands of years old, has been discovered partly embedded in the banks of the River Boyne in Drogheda, possibly where it originally sank.
An initial examination by specialist archaeologist Karl Brady, suggests it could be unique because, unlike other dug-outs or log boats found in the Republic, it has a pair of oval shaped blisters on the upper edge.
Such features were “very rare”.
“I have seen them on some boats found in Northern Ireland and Britain but not in Ireland. They could have been used for holding oars,” said Mr Brady, who is an underwater archaeologist with the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht.
The boat was found by members of the Boyne Fishermen’s Rescue and Recovery Service (BFRRS) as they were carrying out one of their regular operations to remove shopping trolleys from the Boyne. The find indicates that Drogheda could have other hidden treasures.
A shopping trolley is a shopping cart.
Cape Breton Post via The News (Canada): Underwater archeologists helping tell story of Louisbourg siege
CAPE BRETON POST
May 9, 2013
LOUISBOURG — A team of underwater archeologists is diving to the remains of 18th-century French warships that were sunk during the second siege of Louisbourg in 1758.
Parks Canada’s underwater archeologists have been studying what remains of the ships in the waters off Fortress of Louisbourg National Historic Site since the early 1960s. For this dive, they are also gathering fresh, high-quality video and pictures for new exhibits and for a festival of all of Parks Canada’s archeologists to be held during Louisbourg 300 celebrations this summer.
Jonathan Moore of Parks Canada’s underwater archeology service said that after so many years on the ocean floor, what is left of the warships is mainly the remains of the lower hulls, which are embedded into the harbour bottom.
The Casper Star-Tribune: Archaeologists begin salvage operation at historic fort site in Wyoming
By KELLY BYER Star-Tribune staff writer
May 16, 2013 6:00 am
Kerry Lippincott shook the wood-framed screen back and forth, sifting dirt from pieces of the past.
“Carolyn, Carolyn, Carolyn!” the Casper archaeologist shouted, bringing forth a cream-colored stone no bigger than a quarter.
Carolyn Buff, the executive secretary/treasurer for the Wyoming Archaeological Society, inspected the find Wednesday morning. Unremarkable to the untrained eye, the piece of stone was identified as an Indian “flake,” a rock piece that resulted from striking one stone against another to make tools.
It was the first Indian artifact of the renewed excavation to join a growing collection of military and period items such as metal, nails and buttons. Volunteers have until Sunday to collect what they can before the former military site in Evansville becomes a housing addition.
Hat/Tip to annetteboardman for these stories.
Science Magazine: When Did Humans Begin Hurling Spears?
by Heather Pringle
17 May 2013, 5:55 PM
Archaeologists have long debated when early humans began hurling stone-tipped spears and darts at large prey. By throwing a spear, instead of thrusting it, humans could hunt buffalo and other dangerous game from a safe distance, with less risk of a goring or mauling. But direct evidence of this hunting technique in early sites has been lacking. A new study of impact marks on the bones of ancient prey shows that such sophisticated killing techniques go back at least 90,000 years ago in Africa and offers a new method of determining how prehistoric hunters made their kills.
Other researchers have used indirect methods to study the use of projectiles, such as analyzing impact fractures on ancient stone points or identifying traces left by hafting on the points. Such evidence suggests that early humans created throwing spears as early as 500,000 years ago in Africa. But that kind of evidence leaves room for doubt and is frequently disputed.
LiveScience: Dogs and Humans Evolved Together, Study Suggests
Tia Ghose, LiveScience Staff Writer
Date: 14 May 2013 Time: 01:30 PM ET
Dogs are more than man's best friend : They may be partners in humans' evolutionary journey, according to a new study.
The study shows that dogs split from gray wolves about 32,000 years ago, and that since then, domestic dogs' brains and digestive organs have evolved in ways very similar to the brains and organs of humans.
The findings suggest a more ancient origin for dog domestication than previously suggested. They also hint that a common environment drove both dog and human evolution for thousands of years.
Hat/Tip to annetteboardman for this story.
Science Magazine: Fossils May Pinpoint Critical Split Between Apes and Monkeys
by Michael Balter
15 May 2013, 1:20 PM
From the human perspective, few events in evolution were more momentous than the split among primates that led to apes (large, tailless primates such as today's gorillas, chimpanzees, and humans) and Old World monkeys (which today include baboons and macaques). DNA studies of living primates have estimated that the rift took place between 25 million and 30 million years ago, but the earliest known fossils of both groups date no earlier than 20 million years ago. Now, a team working in Tanzania has found teeth and partial jaws from what it thinks are 25-million-year-old ancestors of both groups. If the interpretations hold up, the finds would reconcile the molecular and fossil evidence and possibly provide insights into what led to the split in the first place.
Researchers have long been frustrated by a paucity of fossils from this key period in evolution, which sits at the borderline between two major geological epochs: the Miocene (about 23 million to 5 million years ago) and the Oligocene (about 34 million to 23 million years ago). The earliest known fossils of early apes and Old World monkeys date from the early Miocene and have been found in just a handful of sites in Kenya, Uganda, and North Africa. Meanwhile, molecular studies of existing primates consistently suggest that these two groups arose during the Oligocene, leading scientists to wonder whether the molecular dates are wrong or if paleontologists have been looking in the wrong places.
Science Magazine: Atlantic Coast Warping Like a 'Magic Carpet'
by Paul Gabrielsen
16 May 2013, 2:20 PM
Compared with western North America—mountainous, volcanic, and earthquake-prone—the geologically quiescent East Coast has earned the appellation "passive continental margin." But new geologic models show that Earth's churning interior warps and bends this and many other so-called stable areas.
Three million years ago, Earth was several degrees warmer than it is today—about the same global temperature that we may see by the year 2100. Geologists want to know what continental shorelines looked like during this ancient era, known as the Pliocene, in order to forecast future sea-level change. Scientists assumed that passive continental margins, like the Atlantic coastal plain and offshore sea floor, have no geologic forces pushing them up. The coast instead slowly and relentlessly sinks as the rock beneath it cools and sand and mud washed off the land fill the space created by the sinking continental margin. Without anything pushing the rocks up, the ancient coastlines studied by geologists should remain flat and horizontal, marking the level that the sea once came to. But one of these old beaches, the Pliocene-era Orangeburg Scarp, warps and bends along its course from Florida to North Carolina.
What if something is pushing the land up? David Rowley, a geologist at the University of Chicago in Illinois, and a team of geodynamical modelers simulated the lava lamp-like movement of hot material in Earth's mantle, which is a highly viscous though solid layer of rock between the crust and the molten core. Hot mantle plumes rising up from the core can affect Earth's surface, creating Yellowstone's steaming geysers and Hawaii's spectacular volcanoes.
Nature (UK): Reservoir deep under Ontario holds billion-year-old water
Search is on for signs of microbial activity isolated in Earth's crust.
15 May 2013
Scientists working 2.4 kilometres below Earth's surface in a Canadian mine have tapped a source of water that has remained isolated for at least a billion years. The researchers say they do not yet know whether anything has been living in it all this time, but the water contains high levels of methane and hydrogen — the right stuff to support life.
Micrometre-scale pockets in minerals billions of years old can hold water that was trapped during the minerals’ formation. But no source of free-flowing water passing through interconnected cracks or pores in Earth’s crust has previously been shown to have stayed isolated for more than tens of millions of years.
“We were expecting these fluids to be possibly tens, perhaps even hundreds of millions of years of age,” says Chris Ballentine, a geochemist at the University of Manchester, UK. He and his team carefully captured water flowing through fractures in the 2.7-billion-year-old sulphide deposits in a copper and zinc mine near Timmins, Ontario, ensuring that the water did not come into contact with mine air.
Time Magazine: The IEA Says Peak Oil Is Dead. That’s Bad News for Climate Policy
By Bryan Walsh
May 15, 2013
No one—aside maybe from survivalists who’d stocked up on MREs and assault rifles—was really looking forward to a peak-oil world. Read this 2007 GQ piece by Benjamin Kunkel—while we’re discussing topics from the mid-2000s—that imagines what a world without oil would really be like. Think uncomfortable and violent. Oil is in nearly every modern product we use, and it’s still what gets us from point A to point B—especially if you need to get from A to B in a plane. If we were really to see the global oil supply peak and decline sharply, even as demand continued to go up, well, apocalyptic might not be too large a word. And for several years in the middle of the last decade, as oil prices climbed past $100 a barrel and analysts were betting it would break $200, that scenario seemed entirely plausible.
But there was an upside to peak oil. Crude oil was responsible for a significant chunk of global carbon emissions, second only to coal. Only the shock of being severed from the main fuel of modernity would be enough to make us get serious about tackling climate change and shifting to an economy powered by renewable energy and efficiency. We’d have to because we’d have no other choice, save a future that might look something like Mad Max. We’d lose oil but save the world.
Increasingly, though, that doesn’t seem likely to happen.
TechNewsDaily via LiveScience: Teenager Designs Safer Nuclear Power Plants
Elizabeth Palermo, TechNewsDaily Contributor
Date: 14 May 2013 Time: 01:51 PM ET
Do nuclear power plants need a redesign? Critics of nuclear energy seem to think so, and so does nuclear energy advocate, Taylor Wilson. A physics wunderkind, Wilson became the youngest person to ever create fusion at age 14. And since graduating from high school last year, he's devoted himself to finding innovative solutions to the world's biggest problems.
The now nineteen-year-old Wilson recently spoke to a TED audience about his design for a small, modular fission reactor that is both less expensive and much safer to operate than today's nuclear reactors.
Its assembly-line construction, 30-year fuel life and low usage cost make Wilson's reactor an ideal source of electricity for both developing nations and space explorers, according to the young scientist.
Time Magazine: Revealed! The Mysteries of Bubbles — and Clouds Too
By Veronique Greenwood
May 14, 2013
It bears repeating: the world is complicated.
Oh, it looks simple enough: your coffee pours from pot to cup, round things roll but square things don’t, stuff that goes up will come back down (usually). But a little physics can peel back the skin of the world and give you a glimpse of fascinating stuff going on beneath the surface, driving the simplest of processes. It can make you into the kind of person who can stand in the shower shrouded in a too friendly plastic curtain for a good 15 minutes, pondering whether the thing is drawn inward thanks to the same phenomenon that helps keep planes in the air — Bernoulli’s Principle, as you know if you’re indeed one of those people.
Two new papers in the most recent Science take us to this deconstructionist place: they explore the knotty math behind bubbles and the secret lives of cirrus clouds, a pair of things that owe their existence to some very complex science even if you’ve never thought about them too hard.
LiveScience: Crystal 'Flowers' Bloom in Harvard Nanotech Lab
Date: 18 May 2013 Time: 02:11 AM ET
Imagine peering into a microscope and finding yourself in a garden.
That's the case at Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, where researchers have found a way to shape microscopic crystals into complex and often beautiful structures.
Inspired by coral reefs, seashells and other naturally occurring complex mineral structures, postdoctoral fellow Wim L. Noorduin and Harvard colleagues have been researching ways to manually recreate similar designs.
Science Crime Scenes
The Daily Mail (UK): The mysterious Dr Glidden: Callous actions of archaeologist who raided hundreds of Native American graves to set up macabre museum remembered in California
A Santa Catalina Island museum has opened an exhibit on a self-styled archaeologist who dug up hundreds of local American Indian graves and made a tourist trap out of their bones
By James Nye
PUBLISHED: 20:50 EST, 14 May 2013 | UPDATED: 23:56 EST, 14 May 2013
The Catalina Island Museum has opened an exhibit dedicated to a notorious Native American grave robber who presided over an 'Indian museum' built out of the bones he recovered from the burial grounds.
'The Strange and Mysterious Case of Dr. Glidden' delves into the colorful and mysterious past of amateur archaeologist Ralph Glidden - hoping to shed light on a gruesome period in the Californian islands history.
The no-holds-barred exhibit features an introduction that says he, through his unscientific plundering, disregarded 'the sanctity of human remains' and inflicted 'near-permanent damage' on research into local Native American life.
The Associated Press via the National Post (Canada): Landowner OK’d destruction of ancient Mayan pyramid, says builder who broke it down for road fill
Patrick E. Jones, Associated Press
BELIZE CITY – The owner of a road-building company in Belize that has been blamed for the near destruction of one of the country’s biggest Mayan pyramids said Thursday that the landowner gave permission to extract the material.
Businessman Denny Grijalva said the landowner had allowed excavations on his property for more than a decade.
In 1998, then businessmen Alfredo Martinez extracted stones from the same area also to build a road. Martinez is now Belize’s ambassador in neighbouring Guatemala
Hat/Tip to annetteboardman for these stories.
Nature (UK): Meeting targets lab lapses
Attendees search for ways to tackle misconduct and sloppy science.
Richard Van Noorden
14 May 2013
Every conference has its own brand of comedy, and the humour is deliciously dark when the subject is misconduct. James Kroll, who investigates misconduct allegations at the US National Science Foundation, knew he would get a laugh with his classic “excuses for plagiarism” slide, which included one scientist who blamed acid reflux, and another who was “distracted by bird vocalizations”.
But any ‘would-you-believe-that?’ jocularity at the 3rd World Conference on Research Integrity, held last week in Montreal, Canada, was light relief from the serious concerns that attendees had come to tackle. Allegations of misconduct are rising, retractions are on the up and concern is growing that sloppy lab practices are leading to unreliable research.
Experts debate whether the trends represent real increases or simply growing awareness. But attendees at the meeting were brimming with plans to combat problems ranging from out-and-out fraud to selective publication of experiments. Among the potential solutions are spot audits of research data; independent replication of results; requirements for data-sharing; ethics codes and training; forced accountability for institutions; and greater protection for whistle-blowers. Still, the attendees acknowledged that it is hard to measure whether these strategies work — and hardest of all to provide incentives for change in a system in which scientists are rewarded for speedy success.
Science, Space, Environment, and Energy Policy
Time Magazine: The Ancient Burmese City of Bagan Struggles for International Recognition
By Brendan Brady
May 15, 2013
Propped up on bamboo scaffolding, two artisans are gently applying a dissolving solution to an arched ceiling inside Ananda, a signature temple of the ancient Burmese city of Bagan. They are removing layers of a white coating that served as a rudimentary protective barrier against abrasive rain and insect infestations but also concealed pictorial details. To one of the workers, a pious Buddhist, removing this veneer to expose the original 12th century fresco is spiritually fulfilling. “Each time I uncover an image of Buddha on the wall, I feel delighted,” he says. The care given to restore Ananda to its original form is the exception, however. Hundreds of other monuments in the area have been subjected to what conservationists regard as historical treason.
The Daily Express (UK): Walking with dinosaurs? Archaeologist says its wrong to bring extinct animals back to life
A WORLD-RENOWNED archaeologist has warned that people should be concerned about the issue of resurrecting extinct species.
By: Charlotte Meredith
Published: Tue, May 14, 2013
TV presenter and professor Alice Roberts has argued people should "grapple with" the issue of bringing Ice Age animals back from the dead.
"We are, quite seriously, on the brink of being able to do this, so it's quite an important question for people to start grappling with," she told the Radio Times.
Japanese scientists have already extracted the bone marrow from woolly mammoth remains found in Siberia to look at the DNA with a view to resurrecting a mammoth, she said.
"It is within our grasp, which is such an extraordinary thing to think about."
Hat/Tip to annetteboardman for these stories.
Science Magazine: U.S. Senate Confirms Ernest Moniz as Secretary of Energy
by Adrian Cho
16 May 2013, 4:35 PM
In a vote of 97-0, the U.S. Senate today confirmed Ernest Moniz as secretary of energy. A theoretical nuclear physicist from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Cambridge, Moniz succeeds Steven Chu, the only other physicist to hold the post since the Department of Energy (DOE) was established in 1977. Moniz, 69, had previously served as undersecretary of energy from 1997 to 2001 and as associate director for science in the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy from 1995 to 1997.
President Barack Obama nominated Moniz on 4 March. But despite receiving bipartisan support, Moniz had to wait 2 months for Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) to lift a "hold" on his candidacy.
Science Magazine: NSF Says No to Congressman's Request for Reviewer Comments
by Jeffrey Mervis
15 May 2013, 5:55 PM
The National Science Foundation (NSF) today rebuffed a request from the chairman of the House of Representatives science committee to obtain reviewer comments on five social science research projects it is funding. The refusal is the latest twist in an increasingly edgy battle between the agency and Republicans in Congress over the agency's grants-making process and, in particular, its support for the social and behavioral sciences.
In a letter to Representative Lamar Smith (R-TX), NSF defended the need to preserve the confidentiality of the peer-review process, according to sources with knowledge of the letter's contents. The letter explains how NSF's process works and that the independent reviewers recruited by the agency are promised anonymity in return for offering their candid comments on the quality of the proposal. After taking that hard line, however, acting NSF Director Cora Marrett proposed to brief the committee on how NSF selects from among some 40,000 research proposals that it receives each year. NSF also offered to provide general information on how the five grants satisfy NSF's mission to expand the frontiers of science.
In a statement, Smith tells ScienceInsider, "I am disappointed the NSF declined to provide Congress with additional information that would show why they are spending taxpayer dollars on specific research grants." A committee aide says that, earlier this year, NSF officials told the committee to submit a letter describing the information it was seeking and that today's NSF response "is at variance with that conversation."
Time Magazine: Modifying the Endless Debate Over Genetically Modified Crops
By Bryan Walsh
May 14, 2013
I’ll admit—I’ve never quite understood the obsession surrounding genetically modified (GM) crops. To environmentalist opponents, GM foods are simply evil, an understudied, possibly harmful tool used by big agribusiness to control global seed markets and crush local farmers. They argue that GM foods have never delivered on their supposed promise, that money spent on GM crops would be better funneled to organic farming and that consumers should be protected with warning labels on any products that contain genetically modified ingredients. To supporters, GM crops are a key part of the effort to sustainably provide food to meet a global population that is growing by the billions. But more than that, supporters see the knee-jerk GM opposition of many environmentalists as fundamentally anti-science, no different than the deniers on the other side of the political spectrum who question the basics of man-made climate change.
For both sides, GM foods seem to act as a symbol: you’re pro-agribusiness or anti-science. But science is exactly what we need more of when it comes to GM foods, which is why I was happy to see the venerable journal Nature devote a special series of articles to the GM food controversy. You can download most of them for free here, and they’re well worth reading. The upshot: while GM crops haven’t yet realized their initial promise and have been dominated by agribusiness, there is reason to continue to use and develop them to help meet the enormous challenge of sustainably feeding a growing planet.
That doesn’t mean GM crops are perfect, or a one sizes fits all solution to global agriculture woes. Nature points out that most of the benefit of GM technology so far has indeed gone to big agribusiness, much of it in the form of herbicide-resistant crops like Monsanto’s Roundup Ready soybeans or cotton.
Science Magazine: Corporations, NSF Team Up to Improve STEM Retention Rates
by Jeffrey Mervis
13 May 2013, 2:45 PM
A new program to train more U.S. college students in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) fields is hardly a novelty. And nobody would be surprised to learn that the National Science Foundation (NSF) is involved.
But heads still turned last week when NSF held a glitzy Washington, D.C., press event to announce $10 million in grants to nine university-based projects designed to lower dropout rates among minorities, women, and low-income students in computer science and engineering. The twist is that the "Graduate 10K+" initiative is being funded not by taxpayers but by two high-tech companies: Intel and GE.
The new effort is part of a broader push by the Obama administration for the private sector to supplement federal activities on many fronts. Specifically, it's an outgrowth of a now-defunct task force created by President Barack Obama in 2011 to improve U.S. competitiveness. (The Graduate 10K+ name is a nod to the president's goal of producing 1 million more STEM graduates by 2020.)
Science Writing and Reporting
Yahoo! News New Zealand: Moa subject of award-winning popular science book
New Zealand Royal Society, Fuseworks
May 18, 2013, 6:38 pm
New Zealand’s extinct moa and the historical characters who strove to solve the mysteries of this flightless giant are the engaging subjects of the winning book for the Royal Society of New Zealand’s 2013 Science Book Prize, announced tonight in Auckland.
The book, ‘Moa - the Life and Death of New Zealand’s Legendary Bird’, is the first book by documentary film-maker and photographer Quinn Berentson, published by Nelson-based Craig Potton Publishing.
The judges, Professor Michael Corballis, The University of Auckland, Professor Shaun Hendy, Victoria University of Wellington and Alison Ballance, Radio New Zealand, describe it as a "big book about a giant bird and larger-than-life historical characters".
"Berentson has a flair for story-telling, and he’s crafted dramatic tales of professional jealousy and rivalry that bring two centuries of scientific discovery, tales of Ma-ori exploration and settlement, and even an extinct bird, to life on the page.
Hat/Tip to annetteboardman for this story.
Science Magazine: In 'Insurrection,' Scientists, Editors Call for Abandoning Journal Impact Factors
by Jocelyn Kaiser
16 May 2013, 2:00 PM
More than 150 prominent scientists and 75 scientific groups from around the world today took a stand against using impact factors, a measure of how often a journal is cited, to gauge the quality of an individual's work. They say researchers should be judged by the content of their papers, not where the studies are published.
Journal impact factors, calculated by the company Thomson Reuters, were first developed in the 1950s to help libraries decide which journals to order. Yet, impact factors are now widely used to assess the performance of individuals and research institutions. The metric "has become an obsession" that "warp[s] the way that research is conducted, reported, and funded," said a group of scientists organized by the American Society for Cell Biology (ASCB) in a press release. Particularly in China and India, they say, postdocs think that they should try to publish their work in only journals with high impact factors.
The problem, the scientists say, is that the impact factor is flawed. For example, it doesn't distinguish primary research from reviews; it can be skewed by a few highly cited papers; and it dissuades journals from publishing papers in fields such as ecology that are cited less often than, say, biomedical studies.
Science is Cool
Cracked: 5 Horrifying Implications of the 'Star Trek' Universe
By: J.F. Sargent, Kier Harris
May 17, 2013
Star Trek presents us with a glittering, hopeful future full of worldwide peace and cooperation, scientific achievement, and universal discovery. It's a utopian society wherein all races (black, white, human, or alien) and genders (male, female, or alien-with-boobs) are considered equal. However, there are some horrible implications behind all the awesome technology and progressive ideology that are never addressed, probably because they make everyone in Star Trek look like incompetent goofs, closeted racists, or burgeoning sociopaths.