sciencehabit writes: In 2014, a poll showed that just 49% of Americans agreed with the statement: “Human beings, as we know them today, developed from earlier species of animals.” But it’s difficult to tell whether those numbers measure ignorance about science, because belief in human evolution is closely tied to religious belief, especially in the United States. Yesterday, researchers at the annual meeting of AAAS, previewed data from a recent poll showing that when the word “human” is replaced with "elephant” in the evolution question, 75% of Americans agree—about 25 percentage points higher than before. Plus, the new elephant question does a better job of predicting general science knowledge than the human question, especially among those who say they don’t believe in evolution. So it seems that America’s dismal performance on past evolution polls can be blamed at least partially on this disbelief, rather than a lack of knowledge.
sciencehabit writes: Earlier this week, as dozens of journalists, scientists, and government officials crammed into a press conference in Washington, D.C., to hear the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory’s (LIGO’s) official announcement of the discovery of gravitational waves, organizers reserved a place in the front row of the audience for astronomer Virginia Trimble. Her husband, the late Joseph Weber, had been the first physicist to search for the gravitational waves that Albert Einstein originally predicted in 1916. In fact, Weber, who spent his career at the University of Maryland, College Park, claimed in 1969 to see them. And he stuck to that claim even after others failed to reproduce his result. For Trimble, strong emotions well up as the LIGO team announced a detection that, at least for the moment, physicists appear to agree on.
sciencehabit writes: When it comes to an earthquake, just a few seconds’ warning could make the difference between life and death. But many earthquake-prone countries lack the seismic networks that would give their citizens the lead time to find cover or shut down critical utilities. Now, a group of enterprising engineers is looking at a substitute network: smartphones. Using smartphones’ built-in accelerometers, researchers have invented an app—released today—that they say can detect strong earthquakes seconds before the damaging seismic waves arrive. MyShake, as the app is called, could become the basis for an earthquake warning system for the world’s most vulnerable regions.
sciencehabit writes: Depressed? Your inner Neandertal may be to blame. Modern humans met and mated with these archaic people in Europe or Asia about 50,000 years ago, and researchers have long suspected that genes picked up in these trysts might be shaping health and well-being today. Now, a study in the current issue of Science details their impact. It uses a powerful new method for scanning the electronic health records of 28,000 Americans to show that some Neandertal gene variants today can raise the risk of depression, skin lesions, blood clots, and other disorders.
sciencehabit writes: Today, LIGO physicists announced they had detected gravitational waves—ripples in spacetime itself—set off by the explosive collision of two massive black holes. But which of the 1000 scientists who work on LIGO, a pair of gargantuan instruments in Livingston, Louisiana, and Hanford, Washington, was the first to see the long-awaited signal? The honor fell to a soft-spoken postdoc who plays classical piano and has published two fantasy novels. His tale shows how elaborate plans devised to keep LIGO team members guessing whether a signal is real or a purposefully planted fake broke down, leaving one lucky physicist and, soon, the entire LIGO collaboration sitting on a thrilling secret.
sciencehabit writes: Lingering atmospheric pollutants and a blast of frigid air have carved an unusually deep hole in Earth’s protective ozone layer over the Arctic, and it threatens to get deeper. Atmospheric scientists are analyzing data from weather balloons and satellites for clues to how the ozone will fare when sunlight—a third factor in ozone loss—returns to the Arctic in the spring. But they are already worrying about how extra ultraviolet light might affect humans and ecosystems below and wondering whether climate change will make such Arctic holes more common or severe.
sciencehabit writes: An investigative report Science’s describes allegations of sexual misconduct against noted paleoanthropologist Brian Richmond, as well as the field’s response. The story highlights a major shift in how academic communities deal with sexual misconduct, going beyond delineating rules on paper to striving to change the culture of the field at the institutional level. This shift – “a long time coming,” according to many researchers – was spurred in part by recent high-profile cases in astronomy and biology. Now, as Balter notes, “paleoanthropology is responding to its own complex case.” The first public allegation against Richmond, the curator of human origins at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City, inspired a cascade of other allegations about him. This in turn motivated several senior paleoanthropologists, including one of Richmond’s key mentors, Bernard Wood, to explore the allegations with peers. “As I talked to more and more current and former students at [George Washington University],” Wood said, “I became more concerned and alarmed about what I heard.” In light of their findings, Wood and others in the field of anthropology are now tackling sexual misconduct head-on. The article details additional institutional efforts to stop sexual misconduct in science while trying to balance the rights of victims and accused, and provides the latest update on investigations into Richmond.
sciencehabit writes: The Obama administration has requested a $500-million increase for the National Science Foundation (NSF). But $400 million comes from a funding source that the Republican Congress is unlikely to even recognize, much less embrace. Such is the budgetary legerdemain of a presidency in its last year in office.
The requested 6.7% increase for NSF, to $7.964 billion, includes money from both discretionary and mandatory spending streams. The first is the pot that Congress appropriates each year, and a budget agreement struck last December puts a cap on that amount. Only $100 million, or 1.3%, of NSF’s requested increase draws from that discretionary source. The rest of NSF’s increase rests on tapping revenues from the sale of various federal assets, a dubious prospect given pledges by conservative legislators to shrink rather than grow overall government spending.
sciencehabit writes: t's just a rumor, but if specificity is any measure of credibility, it might just be right. For weeks, gossip has spread around the Internet that researchers with the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) have spotted gravitational waves—ripples in space itself set off by violent astrophysical events. In particular, rumor has it that LIGO physicists have seen two black holes spiraling into each other and merging. But now, an email message that ended up on Twitter adds some specific numbers to those rumors. The author says he got the details from people who have seen the manuscript of the LIGO paper that will describe the discovery.
sciencehabit writes: Why one man died and four others fell ill during a drug safety study in France last month is still very unclear. But a preliminary inspection report lashes out at Biotrial, the company that conducted the study, for how it responded after the first volunteer in the clinical trial was hospitalized. Three major errors by Biotrial put other volunteers at risk, says the report, published yesterday by France's General Inspectorate of Social Affairs.
sciencehabit writes: Researchers have engineered tiny gold particles that can assemble into a variety of crystalline structures simply by adding a bit of DNA to the solution that surrounds them. Down the road, such reprogrammable particles could be used to make materials that reshape themselves in response to light, or to create novel catalysts that reshape themselves as reactions proceed.
sciencehabit writes: Retractions of scientific papers are common. But not this one. The retraction by Science of a 12-year-old paper based on research funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) breaks new ground in what a federal agency can require scientists to do to set the record straight—and the role that journals play in weeding out flawed papers.
sciencehabit writes: When a cyclone named Klaus tore across southwestern France in January 2009, it highlighted a strange phenomenon: Trees, regardless of their diameter, height, or elastic properties, don’t tend to break until wind speeds reach about 42 m/s (94 mph). This seemingly odd convergence has actually been observed by several historical scientists, including Galileo and Leonardo de Vinci, both of whom suggested that a mathematical law could explain the resistance of wooden beams under stress. Now, using data from a new experiment, scientists say they have found that law.
sciencehabit writes: An experimental assisted reproduction technique that could allow some families to avoid having children with certain types of heritable disease should be allowed to go forward in the United States, provided it proceeds slowly and cautiously. That is the conclusion of a report released today from a panel organized by the U.S. National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NAS), which assesses the ethics questions surrounding the controversial technique called mitochondrial DNA replacement therapy.
More controversially, however, the panel recommended that only altered male embryos should be used to attempt a pregnancy, to limit the possible risks to future generations. (Males can’t pass along the mitochondrial DNA that is altered in the procedure.)
sciencehabit writes: They are lurking in your heart, your liver, your kidneys, and maybe even your brain: run-down cells that could be making you age. A new study of mice shows that spurring these so-called senescent cells to self-destruct extends the animals’ lives and delays some aspects of aging. When researchers gave mice a drug that selectively targeted these elderly cells, the animals lived 20% longer and displayed more youthful behaviors (risk taking, etc.) than their non-treated counterparts.