ananyo writes: For decades, Europe and the United States have led the way when it comes to high-energy particle colliders. But a proposal by China that is quietly gathering momentum has raised the possibility that the country could soon position itself at the forefront of particle physics. Scientists at the Institute of High Energy Physics (IHEP) in Beijing, working with international collaborators, are planning to build a ‘Higgs factory’ by 2028 — a 52-kilometre underground ring that would smash together electrons and positrons. Collisions of these fundamental particles would allow the Higgs boson to be studied with greater precision than at the much smaller Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at CERN, Europe’s particle-physics laboratory near Geneva, Switzerland. Physicists say that the proposed US$3-billion machine is within technological grasp and is considered conservative in scope and cost. But China hopes that it would also be a stepping stone to a next-generation collider — a super proton–proton collider — in the same tunnel. The machine would be a big leap for China. The country’s biggest current collider is just 240 metres in circumference.
ananyo writes: A crowd-funded team led by Keith Cowing, the editor of NASA Watch, has taken control of a NASA satellite launched in August 1978. But this was no act of space piracy. Mr Cowing, Dennis Wingo of Skycorp and several other experts had received permission from NASA to take control of a satellite for which the space agency has no further purpose nor funding. With the help of nearly $160,000, raised through crowdfunding, the team hopes to start a new mission and release the raw data that emerge.
ananyo writes: People are living longer, which is good. But old age often brings a decline in mental faculties and many researchers are looking for ways to slow or halt such decline. One group doing so is led by Dena Dubal of the University of California, San Francisco, and Lennart Mucke of the Gladstone Institutes, also in San Francisco. Dr Dubal and Dr Mucke have been studying the role in ageing of klotho, a protein encoded by a gene called KL. A particular version of this gene, KL-VS, promotes longevity. One way it does so is by reducing age-related heart disease. Dr Dubal and Dr Mucke wondered if it might have similar powers over age-related cognitive decline. What they found was startling. KL-VS did not curb decline, but it did boost cognitive faculties regardless of a person’s age by the equivalent of about six IQ points. If this result, just published in Cell Reports, is confirmed, KL-VS will be the most important genetic agent of non-pathological variation in intelligence yet discovered.
ananyo writes: Robert Grosseteste, an English scholar who lived from about 1175 to 1253, was the first thinker in northern Europe to try to develop unified physical laws to explain the origin and form of the geocentric medieval universe of heavens and Earth. Tom McLeish, professor of physics and pro-vice-chancellor for research at Britain’s Durham University, and a multinational team of researchers found that Grosseteste’s physical laws were so rigorously defined that they could be re-expressed using modern mathematical and computing techniques—as the medieval scholar might have done if he had been able to use such methods. The thinking went that the translated equations could then be solved and the solutions explored. The 'Ordered Universe Project' started six years ago and has now reported some of its findings. Only a small set of Grosseteste's parameters resulted in the “ordered” medieval universe he sought to explain, the researchers found; most resulted either in no spheres being created or a “disordered” cosmos of numerous spheres. Grosseteste, then, had created a medieval “multiverse”. De Luce suggests that the scholar realized his theories could result in universes with all manner of spheres, although he did not appear to realize the significance of this. A century later, philosophers Albert of Saxony and Nicole Oresme both considered the idea of multiple worlds and how they might exist simultaneously or in sequence.
ananyo writes: Until 1890 China was the world’s largest economy, before America surpassed it. By the end of 2014 China is on track to reclaim its crown. Comparing economic output is tricky: exchange rates get in the way. Simply converting GDP from renminbi to dollars at market rates may not reflect the true cost of living. Bread and beer may be cheaper in one country than another, for example. To account for these differences, economists make adjustments based on a comparable basket of goods and services across the globe, so-called purchasing-power parity (PPP). New data released on April 30th from the International Comparison Programme, a part of the UN, calculated the cost of living in 199 countries in 2011. On this basis, China’s PPP exchange rate is now higher than economists had previously estimated using data from the previous survey in 2005: a whopping 20% higher. So China, which had been forecast to overtake America in 2019 by the IMF, will be crowned the world's pre-eminent country by the end of this year. The American Century ends, and the Pacific Century begins.
ananyo writes: Overall working hours have fallen over the past century. But the rich have begun to work longer hours than the poor. In 1965 men with a college degree, who tend to be richer, had a bit more leisure time than men who had only completed high school. But by 2005 the college-educated had eight hours less of it a week than the high-school grads. Figures from the American Time Use Survey, released last year, show that Americans with a bachelor’s degree or above work two hours more each day than those without a high-school diploma. Other research shows that the share of college-educated American men regularly working more than 50 hours a week rose from 24% in 1979 to 28% in 2006, but fell for high-school dropouts. The rich, it seems, are no longer the class of leisure. The reasons are complex but include rising income inequality but also the availability of more intellectually stimulating, well-remunerated work.
ananyo writes: In a paper just published in Science, Elisa Quintada, an astronomer at NASA, and her colleagues, describe the detection of a particularly special exoplanet. Kepler 186f appears to be the closest relative to Earth yet discovered. Located about 500 light-years away, in the direction of the constellation Cygnus, Kepler-186f has a radius between 0.97 and 1.25 that of Earth. And it orbits its parent star firmly inside the "habitable zone", in which temperatures are just right for liquid water.
ananyo writes: If ever a technology were ripe for disruption, it is the microscope. Microscopes are expensive and need to be serviced and maintained. Unfortunately, one important use of them is in poor-world laboratories and clinics, for identifying pathogens, and such places often have small budgets and lack suitably trained technicians. Now Manu Prakash, a bioengineer at Stanford University, has designed a microscope made almost entirely of paper, which is so cheap that the question of servicing it goes out of the window. Individual Foldscopes are printed on A4 sheets of paper (ideally polymer-coated for durability). A pattern of perforations on the sheet marks out the ’scope’s components, which are colour-coded in a way intended to assist the user in the task of assembly. The Foldscope’s non-paper components, a poppy-seed-sized spherical lens made of borosilicate or corundum, a light-emitting diode (LED), a watch battery, a switch and some copper tape to complete the electrical circuit, are pressed into or bonded onto the paper. (The lenses are actually bits of abrasive grit intended to roll around in tumblers that smooth-off metal parts.) A high-resolution version of this costs less than a dollar, and offers a magnification of up to 2,100 times and a resolving power of less than a micron. A lower-spec version (up to 400x magnification) costs less than 60 cents.
ananyo writes: A new UN report (link to data) details comprehensive country-by-country murder rates. Safest is Singapore, with just one killing per 480,000 people in 2012. In the world’s most violent country, Honduras, a man has a 1 in 9 chance of being murdered during his lifetime. The Economist includes an intriguing 'print only interactive' (see the PDF) and has some tongue-in-cheek tips on how to avoid being slain: >First, don’t live in the Americas or Africa, where murder rates (one in 6,100 and one in 8,000 respectively) are more than four times as high as the rest of the world. Next, be a woman. Your chance of being murdered will be barely a quarter what it would be were you a man. In fact, steer clear of men altogether: nearly half of all female murder-victims are killed by their partner or another (usually male) family member. But note that the gender imbalance is less pronounced in the rich world, probably because there is less banditry, a mainly male pursuit. In Japan and South Korea slightly over half of all murder victims are female. Then, sit back and grow older. From the age of 30 onwards, murder rates fall steadily in most places.
ananyo writes: Scientists at Edinburgh University have successfully persuaded an organ to regenerate inside an animal. As they report in the journal Development, they have treated, in mice, an organ called the thymus, which is a part of the immune system that runs down in old age. Instead of adding stem cells they have stimulated their animals’ thymuses to make more of a protein called FOXN1. This is a transcription factor (a molecular switch that activates genes). The scientists knew from earlier experiments that FOXN1 is important for the embryonic development of the thymus, and speculated that it might also rejuvenate the organ in older animals. They bred a special strain of mice whose FOXN1 production could be stimulated specifically in the thymus by tamoxifen, a drug more familiar as a treatment for breast cancer. In one-year-olds, stimulating FOXN1 production in the thymus caused it to become 2.7 times bigger within a month. In two-year-olds the increase was 2.6 times. Moreover, when the researchers studied the enlarged thymuses microscopically, and compared them with those from untreated control animals of the same ages, they found that the organs’ internal structures had reverted to their youthful nature.
ananyo writes: Economists—most famously the Freakonomics duo, Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner—have long worried that having the “wrong” name could set you back in the labour market. A number of studies show that having an “ethnic-sounding” name tends to disadvantage job applicants (though others suggest that names matter little). Waves of migrants to America did not need economists to tell them that their name could be a disadvantage. Many changed their names to fit in. Almost a third of naturalising immigrants abandoned their first names by 1930 and acquired popular American names such as William, John or Charles. What was the impact? The authors draw on a sample of 3,400 male migrants who naturalised in New York in 1930. The authors found that changing from a purely foreign name to a very common American name was associated with a 14% hike in earnings.
ananyo writes: The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has recalled homeopathic remedies made by a company called Terra-Medica because they may contain actual medicine — possibly penicillin or derivatives of the antibiotic.
ananyo writes: In an age of big data—when our cellphones track our location and American spooks know what we ate for breakfast—it seems bizarre that a huge airliner with 239 people on board could vanish with barely a trace.The incident reveals numerous security lapses that are relatively easy to fix—and must be, to maintain public confidence in air travel. The first is the continual tracking of commercial airliners. Prior to MH370’s disappearance, most people would have presumed that aeroplanes are in constant communication with ground stations for security reasons if not navigational ones. But there is no requirement that they maintain continuous contact. The aviation industry plans to upgrade its radar to a GPS-based system that would accomplish this, but the process has faced delays. It should be implemented immediately. Second, MH370 “went dark” about 40 minutes after takeoff because two communications systems were mysteriously deactivated: the secondary radar (which identifies the aircraft, among other data, to radar screens) and ACARS, a system for sending status updates and messages. There are good reasons why pilots should be able to disable equipment on board, the threat of fires being one of them. But in such cases, the aeroplane should automatically send out an alert that the system is being shut off, so that authorities are immediately aware of this, and know to track the aircraft with conventional radar (where it appears as a blip on a screen without the identifying information).
ananyo writes: John Ioannidis, the epidemiologist who published an infamous paper entitled 'Why most published research findings are false', has co-founded an institute dedicated to combating sloppy medical studies. The new institute is to focus on irreproducibility, waste in science and publication bias. The institute, called the Meta-Research Innovation Centre or METRICS, will, the Economist reports, 'create a “journal watch” to monitor scientific publishers’ work and to shame laggards into better behaviour. And they will spread the message to policymakers, governments and other interested parties, in an effort to stop them making decisions on the basis of flaky studies. All this in the name of the centre’s nerdishly valiant mission statement: “Identifying and minimising persistent threats to medical-research quality.”'
ananyo writes: P values, the 'gold standard' of statistical validity, are not as reliable as many scientists assume. Critically, they cannot tell you the odds that a hypothesis is correct. A feature in Nature looks at why, if a result looks too good to be true, it probably is, despite an impressive-seeming P value.