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Submission + - Amnesty International seeks explanation for 'absolutely shocking' surveillance->

Mark Wilson writes: A court recently revealed via email that the UK government had been spying on Amnesty International. GCHQ had put Amnesty under surveillance — despite this having previously been denied — and now the human rights organization wants answers.

In a letter to the UK Prime Minister David Cameron, Amnesty International asks for an explanation for the surveillance. The Investigatory Powers Tribunal's (IPT) email made it clear that GCHQ had been intercepting, accessing and storing communications, something that Amnesty International's Secretary General, Salil Shetty believes "makes it vividly clear that mass surveillance has gone too far".

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Submission + - The college majors most likely to marry each other

schnell writes: The blog Priceonomics has published an analysis showing students in which college majors end up marrying another student with that same major. Religious studies (with 21% of students marrying another studying the same field) tops the list among all students, followed by general science. Perhaps unsurprising is that some majors with gender disparities show a high in-major marriage rate among the less represented group — for example, 39% of women engineering majors marry a fellow student in their field, while among men 43% studying nursing and 38% studying elementary education do likewise. The blog concludes that your choice of major may unwittingly decide your choice of spouse, and depending on how well that field is paid, your economic future.

Submission + - The Multiverse may not be science after all

StartsWithABang writes: A scientific theory needs to meet three criteria: it needs to explain all the successes of the previous leading theory, it needs to explain any failures or shortcomings that its predecessor couldn't, and it needs to make new, testable predictions that can either be falsified or verified. If the Multiverse doesn't meet that third criterion, can it be considered science? A fascinating exploration leads us to conclude that no, perhaps it isn't science after all.

Submission + - SPAM: ielts preparation

ielts preparation writes: IELTS preparation practices raises theoretical questions about language learning and
development. IELTS Tests are designed as language proficiency tests. Preparation practices are
essentially concerned with both test-wiseness and with language development. IELTS Test scoring
assumes language development.

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Submission + - Linux Mint Will Continue to Provide Both Systemd and Upstart->

jones_supa writes: After Debian had adopted systemd, many of the Linux distributions based on that operating system made the switch as well. Ubuntu has already rolled out systemd in 15.04, but Linux Mint is providing dual options for users. The Ubuntu transition was surprisingly painless, and no one really put up a fight, but the Linux Mint team chose the middle ground. The Mint developers consider that the project needs to still wait for systemd to become more stable and mature, before it will be the default and only option.
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Submission + - Mutation, not Natural Selection, which led to the rise of new species-> 1 1

Taco Cowboy writes: Blair Hedges, a biologist at Temple University in Philadelphia, has proposed a provocative alternative to the natural selection view of evolution

According to Mr. Hedges, Adaptation had little to do with it. It was simply a matter of chance and time

No matter what the life form — plant or animal, insect or mammal — it takes about 2 million years for a new species to form. Random genetic events, not natural selection, play the main role in speciation

This controversial proposal stems from efforts by Hedges and collaborators to build the world’s most comprehensive tree of life — a chart plotting the connections among 50,000 species of Earth’s vast menagerie. Their analysis suggests that speciation is essentially random

Evolutionary biologists find the research effort intriguing, particularly in its size and scope, but they are also somewhat skeptical of the provocative ideas that have emerged. “It’s a huge tour de force” said Arne Mooers, a biologist at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia. “There are lots of interesting claims — the devil will be in the details”

To build the tree, Hedges, his Temple colleague Sudhir Kumar, and their collaborators compiled data from nearly 2,300 published studies, gleaning from each the time when two species diverged from a common ancestor. They used those data to construct a map of relationships among different species, known as a “timetree.” To form a branch, the researchers started with the two species within a closely related taxonomic group that have the most recent common ancestor. Then they added the next closest species, and so on

In a family tree for example, it is akin to starting with siblings, then adding in first cousins and second cousins

Bringing all those branches together results in a comprehensive timetree of life

It will take some time for scientists to sort through the technical details of the paper, which was published in April in the journal Molecular Biology and Evolution. And while some scientists have been complimentary, others immediately challenged the results, questioning both the accuracy of the tree and the conclusions that Hedges has drawn. “I am very skeptical about inferring patterns of speciation from such a broad overview of the tree of life,” said Chris Jiggins, a biologist at the University of Cambridge in England

“The classic view of evolution is that it happens in fits and starts,” said Michael Benton, a paleontologist at the University of Bristol in England

A change in the environment, such as a rise in temperatures after an ice age, might spark a burst of speciation as organisms adapt to their new surroundings. Alternatively, a single remarkable adaptation such as flight in the ancestors of birds or hair in mammals might trigger a massive expansion of animals with those characteristics

Hedges argues that while such bursts do occur, the vast majority of speciation is more prosaic and evenly timed

To start, two populations become separated, driven apart by geography or other factors. New species emerge every 2 million years, on average, in a metronomic rhythm tapped out by the random nature of genetic mutations. He likens the process to radioactive decay. It’s impossible to predict when an individual radioactive nucleus will decay, but a clump of many atoms will decay at a highly predictable rate known as the material’s half-life

Similarly, mutations strike the genome randomly, but over a long enough time the accumulation of mutations follows a pattern. “There is a kind of speciation clock ticking along” Hedges said

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Submission + - Scientists Find Alarming Deterioration In DNA of the Urban Poor

HughPickens.com writes: Nico Pitney reports that the urban poor in the United States are experiencing accelerated aging at the cellular level, and that chronic stress linked both to income level and racial-ethnic identity is driving this physiological deterioration. Researchers analyzed telomeres, tiny caps at the ends of DNA strands that protect cells from aging prematurely, of poor and lower middle-class black, white, and Mexican residents of Detroit and found that low-income residents of Detroit, regardless of race, have significantly shorter telomeres than the national average. "There are effects of living in high-poverty, racially segregated neighborhoods — the life experiences people have, the physical exposures, a whole range of things — that are just not good for your health," says Nobel laureate. Dr. Arline Geronimus, the lead author of the study, described as the most rigorous research of its kind examining how "structurally rooted social processes work through biological mechanisms to impact health." White Detroit residents who were lower-middle-class had the longest telomeres in the study. But the shortest telomeres belonged to poor whites. Black residents had about the same telomere lengths regardless of whether they were poor or lower-middle-class. And poor Mexicans actually had longer telomeres than Mexicans with higher incomes. Geronimus says these findings demonstrate the limitations of standard measures — like race, income and education level — typically used to examine health disparities. "We've relied on them too much to be the signifiers of everything that varies in the life experiences of difference racial or ethnic groups in different geographic locations and circumstances."

One co-author of this new study is Dr. Elizabeth Blackburn who helped to discover telomeres, an achievement that won her the Nobel Prize in physiology in 2009. Blackburn ticked off a list of studies in which people's experiences and perceptions directly correlated with their telomere lengths: whether people say they feel stressed or pessimistic; whether they feel racial discrimination towards others or feel discriminated against; whether they have experienced severely negative experiences in childhood, and so on. "These are all really adding up in this quantitative way," says Blackburn. "Once you get a quantitative relationship, then this is science, right?"

Submission + - How 'Virtual Water' Can Help Ease California's Drought

HughPickens.com writes: Bill Davidow And Michael S. Malone write in the WSJ that recent rains have barely made a dent in California's enduring drought, now in its fourth year so it's time to solve the state’s water problem with radical solutions, and they can begin with “virtual water.” This concept describes water that is used to produce food or other commodities, such as cotton. According to Davidow and Malone, when those commodities are shipped out of state, virtual water is exported. Today California exports about six trillion gallons of virtual water, or about 500 gallons per resident a day. How can this happen amid drought? The problem is mispricing. If water were priced properly, it is a safe bet that farmers would waste far less of it, and the effects of California’s drought—its worst in recorded history—would not be so severe. "A free market would raise the price of water, reflecting its scarcity, and lead to a reduction in the export of virtual water," say Davidow and Malone. "A long history of local politics, complicated regulation and seemingly arbitrary controls on distribution have led to gross inefficiency."

For example, producing almonds is highly profitable when water is cheap but almond trees are thirsty, and almond production uses about 10% of California’s total water supply. The thing is, nuts use a whole lot of water: it takes about a gallon of water to grow one almond, and nearly five gallons to produce a walnut. "Suppose an almond farmer could sell real water to any buyer, regardless of county boundaries, at market prices—many hundreds of dollars per acre-foot—if he agreed to cut his usage in half, say, by drawing only two acre-feet, instead of four, from his wells," say the authors. "He might have to curtail all or part of his almond orchard and grow more water-efficient crops. But he also might make enough money selling his water to make that decision worthwhile." Using a similar strategy across its agricultural industry, California might be able to reverse the economic logic that has driven farmers to plant more water-intensive crops. "This would take creative thinking, something California is known for, and trust in the power of free markets," conclude the authors adding that "almost anything would be better, and fairer, than the current contradictory and self-defeating regulations."

Submission + - Russia abandons super-rocket designed to compete with SLS

schwit1 writes: Russia has decided to abandon an expensive attempt to build an SLS-like super-rocket and will instead focus on incremental development of its smaller but less costly Angara rocket.

Facing significant budgetary pressures, the Russian space agency, Roscosmos, has indefinitely postponed its ambitious effort to develop a super-heavy rocket to rival NASA's next-generation Space Launch System, SLS. Instead, Russia will focus on radical upgrades of its brand-new but smaller Angara-5 rocket which had its inaugural flight in Dec. 2014, the agency's Scientific and Technical Council, NTS, decided on Thursday, Mar. 12.

For Russia's space industry, it appears that these budgetary pressures have been a blessing in disguise. Rather than waste billions on an inefficient rocket for which there is no commercial demand — as NASA is doing with SLS (under orders from a wasteful Congress) — they will instead work on further upgrades of Angara, much like SpaceX has done with its Falcon family of rockets. This will cost far less, is very efficient, and provides them a better chance to compete for commercial launches that can help pay for it all. And best of all, it offers them the least costly path to future interplanetary missions, which means they might actually be able to make those missions happen. To quote the article again:

By switching upper stages of the existing Angara from kerosene to the more potent hydrogen fuel, engineers might be able to boost the rocket's payload from current 25 tons to 35 tons for missions to the low Earth orbit. According to Roscosmos, Angara-A5V could be used for piloted missions to the vicinity of the Moon and to its surface.

In a sense, the race is now on between Angara-A5V and Falcon Heavy.

"There is nothing new under the sun, but there are lots of old things we don't know yet." -Ambrose Bierce

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