sciencehabit writes: In 1908, the last time the Chicago Cubs won the World Series, humans were far from ignorant. People already crossed continents and oceans on trains and ships, and they sent and received messages over vast distances using the telegraph. Yet, scientifically, people had only begun to systematically decipher nature's mysteries. Indeed, a quick look at the state of the sciences shows how shockingly far humans have comes since the Cubs last won baseball's championship. Astronomers knew of only one galaxy (our own), DNA was unknown, and the terms "big bang", "black hole", and "antimatter" had not been invented. Science has the full list of what we did--and didn't--know 100 years ago.
sciencehabit writes: Every year, Science asks researchers around the world to interpret their PhDs in dance form. The results are often quite impressive, and frequently hilarious. This year's winner incorporated tap dance, salsa, circus, and what can only be described as a cow doing the worm. The final scene depicts the ugly truth about Ph.D. research: Sometimes it just doesn’t work. A dancing scientist laments “Whyyyyy ?” as the experiment—and the entire dance—falls apart.
sciencehabit writes: Last summer, scientists reported on something called the search engine manipulation effect. Companies like Google have gotten so good at providing the best links first, biased search results could influence how undecided voters choose a candidate, sometimes by 12% or more. Now researchers say they have more evidence for this effect, as well as similar influence wielded by Facebook and Twitter. Although there is no evidence that these companies are trying to bias the U.S. presidential election, lawmakers and internet experts are already proposing ways--including plugins and taking search out of private hands--to curb the influence of these tech giants.
sciencehabit writes: Even short exposures to high elevation can unleash a complex cascade of changes within red blood cells that make it easier for them to cope with low-oxygen conditions. What’s more, these changes persist for weeks and possibly months, even after descending to lower elevations. That finding may be a boon for medical researchers and also for hikers, skiers, and distance runners who don’t have time for extended altitude training.
sciencehabit writes: One of scientists’ favorite singer-songwriters has just won the Nobel Prize for Literature. Bob Dylan, whose lyrics have been quoted, paraphrased or cited in hundreds of papers and letters in the biomedical research literature alone, was awarded the prize today for “having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition.” Even for researchers born decades after the 75-year-old musician, Dylan’s lines seem to stay forever young. A 2015 analysis published in the BMJ found 727 potential references to Dylan songs in a search of the Medline biomedical journals database; the authors ultimately concluded that 213 of the references could be “classified as unequivocally citing Dylan.” The earliest article the authors identified appeared in 1970 in Journal of Practical Nursing. The title? “The times they are a’changin’” – a line the study found to be the single most commonly used Dylan lyric, appearing in dozens of article titles.
sciencehabit writes: In an unprecedented move, U.S. intelligence agencies are teaming up with the nation's most prestigious scientific body in a bid to make better use of findings from the country's leading social and behavioral scientists. The partnership between the Office of the Director of National Intelligence in Tysons Corner, Virginia, and the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine aims to build bridges between communities that historically have either ignored one another or butted heads. The effort includes the creation of a permanent Intelligence Community Studies Board at the academies, which will meet for the first time next week, as well as a first-ever study of how social and behavioral science research might strengthen national security.
sciencehabit writes: Welcome to Asgardia! Today, an international group of researchers, engineers, lawyers, and entrepreneurs announced the creation of a nation in space, named after the city of the skies ruled over by Odin in Norse mythology. Although Asgardia does not yet have any land, it is attracting citizens. Anyone can sign up on the nation’s website. The idea behind the initiative, organizers say, is to create a new legal framework for the peaceful exploitation of space free of the control of earthbound nations (governance by Norse deities being preferable, obviously). The nation-building effort is led by Igor Ashurbeyli, a Russian space scientist and engineer who in 2013 founded the Aerospace International Research Center (AIRC) in Vienna, known mostly for publishing the space journal Room. Ashurbeyli told a press conference in Paris today: “The scientific and technological component of the project can be explained in just three words—peace, access, and protection.”
sciencehabit writes: On 19 May, EgyptAir Flight 804 crashed into the Mediterranean Sea, killing all 56 passengers and 10 crew members aboard. The Wikipedia entry documenting the disaster went up within hours, and it will likely remain online into perpetuity. Human readers, however, lost interest after about a week. A pair of new studies reveals that’s common whether an aircraft crash kills 50 people or 500—a finding that reveals some surprises about our online attention spans.
sciencehabit writes: Fragmentary fossils found in southwestern Texas 3 decades ago belong to a strange group of extinct animals known as “bear dogs,” according to a new study. Though only about the size of a Chihuahua when they first appeared, some creatures in this group of carnivorous mammals evolved to become top predators in their ecosystems tens of millions of years ago. The study also suggests that bear dogs could have originated in this part of North America, which may have been a hot spot of evolution for the group.
sciencehabit writes: A bizarre microbe found deep in a gold mine in South Africa could provide a model for how life might survive in seemingly uninhabitable environments through the cosmos. Known as Desulforudis audaxviator, the rod-shaped bacterium thrives 2.8 kilometers underground in a habitat devoid of the things that power the vast majority of life on Earth—light, oxygen, and carbon. Instead, this “gold mine bug” gets energy from radioactive uranium in the depths of the mine. Now, scientists predict that life elsewhere in the universe might also feed off of radiation, especially radiation raining down from space.
sciencehabit writes: Researchers have shown that bumble bees can not only learn to pull a string to retrieve a reward, but they can also learn this trick from other bees, even though they have no experience with such a task in nature. The study suggests that the insects employ a rudimentary form of tool use, and that--by passing this skill to others--they also show signs of culture, once thought to be the domain of only much more complex animals.
sciencehabit writes: A caustic debate over whether there’s a limit to how long people can live erupted again this week, with scientists writing in Nature that we’re close to hitting a wall. It has been almost 20 years since the death of the world’s oldest person, 122-year-old French woman Jeanne Calment (above). The new study adds fuel to the fire: Jan Vijg, the senior author and chair of the genetics department at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City, and his colleagues used a large database to argue that historic gains in human longevity are slowing to a crawl, perhaps because of inherent life span limits buried in our genome.
sciencehabit writes: Crowdfunding has taken off in recent years for everything from making movies to building water-saving faucets. Scientists have tried to tap internet donors, too, with mixed success. Scientists raising funds for the world’s first imaging study of the brain on LSD raised more than $65,000 earlier this year, more than twice their goal. But other teams have fallen short of reaching more modest targets. To tease out what separates science crowdfunding triumphs from flops, researchers examined the content of the webpages for 371 recent campaigns. Four traits stood out for those that achieved their goals, the researchers report in Public Understanding of Science. Successful campaigns tended to: Think small, be engaging, and have a sense of humor.
sciencehabit writes: in a new study, researchers watched YouTube videos of 29 different yawning mammals, including mice, kittens, foxes, hedgehogs, walruses, elephants, and humans. They discovered a pattern: Small-brained animals with fewer neurons in the wrinkly outer layer of the brain, called the cortex, had shorter yawns than large-brained animals with more cortical neurons. Primates tended to yawn longer than nonprimates, and humans, with about 12,000 million cortical neurons, had the longest average yawn, lasting a little more than 6 seconds. The study lends support to a long-held hypothesis that yawning has an important physiological effect, such as increasing blood flood to the brain and cooling it down.
sciencehabit writes: It was an unusual grand finale. The crowded European Space Agency (ESA) operations center in Darmstadt, Germany, waited in silence and then the signal from the descending Rosetta mission simply stopped at 1.19 pm local time showing that the spacecraft had, presumably, landed on comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko some 40 minutes earlier, due to the time the signal takes to reach Earth. Mission controllers hugged each other; there was gentle applause from onlookers; and that was it.
There were no last minute crises. Seven of Rosetta’s instruments kept gathering data until the end. Holger Sierks, principal investigator of the 12-year mission’s main camera, showed the gathered staff, officials, and journalists Rosetta’s final picture: a rough gravelly surface with a few larger rocks covering an area 10 meters across. Earlier, it had snapped the interior of deep pits on the comet (shown above, from an altitude of 5.8 kilometers) that may show the building blocks it is made of. “It’s very crude raw data but this will keep us busy,” Sierks said. It is hoped that this last close-up data grab will help to clarify the many scientific questions raised by Rosetta.