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Science and Technology News, Science Articles | Discover Magazine

Science news, articles, current events and future views on technology, space, environment, health, and medicine.

Uber's Self-Driving Car Involved in Fatal Pedestrian Accident  

Uber's self-driving car hit and killed a pedestrian in Tempe, Arizona, overnight, according to the Tempe Police Department. The car was in autonomous mode with a human operator behind the wheel with no passengers, police told Discover in an email. The pedestrian, a 49-year-old woman, was walking her bicycle near a crosswalk, but not within the lines, at about 10 p.m. Sunday when she was struck by the vehicle, according to Tempe police officers. She died of her injuries at a local ho...

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2018-03-19 20:36:16

Are Airplanes Really a Microbial Playground?  

Crying babies, chronic snorers — they're the usual targets of our displeasure when we fly. But, the real villains of the sky might be germs. Flyers are packed into a cramped metal tube for hours on end where movement is limited. It seems like a microbe's playground. But research on the topic is a bit inconclusive, despite worrying cases involving SARS and an aggressive type of influenza. Studies suggest that caution is warranted, but researchers have so far had trouble saying exactly...

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2018-03-19 15:02:01

Rediscovered US Carrier Sank in Historic WWII Duel  

When the aircraft carrier USS Lexington sank beneath the surface of the Coral Sea, it represented a significant casualty of history's first clash between carriers during World War II. 76 years later, an expedition led by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen announced that it had rediscovered wreckage from the carrier known as "Lady Lex" lying on the seafloor about 500 miles off the eastern coast of Australia. The loss of the USS Lexington took place during the Battle of Coral Sea: a battle...

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2018-03-19 03:34:08

The Selective Skepticism of Lynne McTaggart  

Lynne McTaggart is an author and leading alternative health proponent who was the foil for my first ever Neuroskeptic post, nearly 10 years ago. Ever since then I have occasionally been following McTaggart's output. McTaggart is believer in things like a "Zero Point Field (ZPF), a sea of energy that reconciles mind with matter", an opponent of vaccines, and someone who thinks that spiritual and psychological change can cure advanced cancer. Since my first post, I haven't written mo

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2018-03-17 11:58:18

Your Weekly Attenborough: Blakea attenboroughii  

Plants, they're just like us. We begin our lives as, really, parasites. A baby may bring some joy into the world, but it's not contributing much beyond that. It takes feeding, cleaning, protecting, teaching and money to polish a human being into something approaching societal worth. After all, David Attenborough wouldn't have been Sir David Attenborough without Frederick and Mary.Blakea attenboroughi shares at least one thing with its namesake — they both needed a bit of help to get off...

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2018-03-16 08:18:26

Worn-Down Tusks Show Most African Elephants Are Righties  

You don't need hands to be right- or left-handed. Many kinds of animals have shown a preference for using one side of their body or the other. They include apes, whales, dogs, cats, cows, toads, fish and even honeybees. Now, with data from a rather unsavory source, researchers have found evidence for "tuskedness" in elephants. Although humans aren't alone in having handedness, we do seem to have the most extreme bias as a species. Other animals seem more evenly divided between righties ...

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2018-03-16 07:08:45

Radical Revision To Timeline Of Human Behavior Evolution  

Three papers, published together in Science today, add up to a paradigm-shoving conclusion: Key aspects of what we think of as modern human behavior evolved more than 300,000 years ago, a radical revision to the evolutionary timeline. To understand the significance of the trio of studies, let's take a brisk walk through recent changes in our understanding of human evolution. For decades, the consensus was that Homo sapiens evolved around 200,000 years ago in Africa, with anatomically ...

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2018-03-15 19:51:37

Scientists Record Volcanic Thunder For the First Time  

When a volcano erupts, it can spew a cloud of ash miles into the stratosphere. It makes for an impressive sight, and an even more impressive amount of sheer material — large eruptions can loft cubic miles of rock and ash skyward. And, to add to the wow factor, the clouds sometimes spawn their own lightning. As the cloud swirls chaotically in its journey skyward, the jagged ash particles are rubbed against one another, causing static electricity to accumulate. Static electricity in na...

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2018-03-15 06:23:43

This Optical Illusion Could Help to Diagnose Autism  

You probably see a cylinder when you look at the illusion above. But how our brains translate two intersecting sheets of moving dots into a 3D image reveals telling differences in visual perception that could perhaps help diagnose autism spectrum disorder. It's been shown that people with autism are better at picking out the details of complex images, at the cost of understanding what all those details mean when put together. This can mean seeing the trees, but not the forest, or the str...

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2018-03-15 05:23:12

Is Human Adult Neurogenesis Dead? And Does It Matter?  

Does the human brain continue creating new neurons throughout adult life? The idea that neurogenesis exists in the adult human hippocampus has generated a huge amount of excitement and stimulated much research. It's been proposed that disruptions to neurogenesis could help to explain stress, depression, and other disorders. But a new study, published in Nature, has just poured cold water on the whole idea. Researchers Shawn F. Sorrells and colleagues report that neurogenesis ends in humans so

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2018-03-15 04:38:04

Drones Get Grabby With an Origami Arm  

We all know drones offer unique views from above, but give 'em a hand and they can do a whole lot more. With a functioning arm they could better enter tight areas or lend a hand in gathering samples. Taking inspiration from origami, a team of researchers from Seoul National University in Korea created a deployable arm that easily attaches to a drone and unfurls when needed. In the past, origami-inspired designs were limited because they aren't exactly structurally sound. Researchers,...

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2018-03-15 04:07:36

Finding Stephen Hawking's Star—And Finding Your Own  

When I look at the night sky, I often view the stars not just in space but also in terms of their places in time. Light moves at a finite speed (299,792 kilometers per second, to be precise), so the journey from star to star is a very long one even for a beam of light. When astronomers talk about light years of distance, they are literally describing the number of years it takes for light to travel from those distant stars to your eyeball. And so when I heard about the death of Stephen Ha

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2018-03-15 03:03:52

Avoiding Pitfalls in Paleontology: A Couple Case Studies  

In 2015, astrophysicist and science commentary go-to guy Neil Degrasse Tyson, flubbing an answer on a quiz show, quipped: "I love being wrong because that means...I learned something new that day." That's my favorite of Tyson's many memorable lines, and it's one that I wish I heard other researchers express more often. Science at its best is about constant refinement and being willing to learn new things — even when the new evidence or hypotheses contradict what some researchers, out ...

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2018-03-15 02:35:14

Interbreeding Surprise! More Denisovans In Our Family Tree  

Hey, sex happens. And apparently, whenever our ancestors met up with other members of the genus Homo, it happened a lot. New genetic analysis published today reveals previously unidentified evidence of interbreeding between Homo sapiens and Denisovans, a branch of our family tree not even known to science until a decade ago. You remember the Denisovans, right? Researchers uncovered a piece of pinky finger and a few other fossil fragments in Denisova Cave, in the Altai Mountains of Sibe...

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2018-03-15 01:44:31

Goodbye, Professor Hawking  

Well, if you're on the internet today, you've probably already heard: Stephen Hawking died this morning at the age of 76. Almost every single news and science-based website (are there any others?) have stories on the physicist and his amazing life and achievements — chief among them, perhaps, being famous enough to deserve all those headlines. He was almost certainly the world's most recognizable living scientist, and one of the most famous of all time. If people know him for anyt...

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2018-03-14 03:07:05

A Brilliant Life: Stephen Hawking Defied All Odds  

Soon after I enrolled as a graduate student at Cambridge University in 1964, I encountered a fellow student, two years ahead of me in his studies, who was unsteady on his feet and spoke with great difficulty. This was Stephen Hawking. He had recently been diagnosed with a degenerative disease, and it was thought that he might not survive long enough even to finish his PhD. But he lived to the age of 76, passing away on March 14, 2018. It really was astonishing. Astronomers are used to

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2018-03-14 01:06:18

Scientists Link Arctic Heat and Northeast Blizzards  

In late February, an invasion of warm, southern air sent temperatures surging above freezing across the Arctic and toward the North Pole. In the two weeks since then, three nor'easters have smacked New England and the surrounding areas. As the Arctic warms, this trend has become common in recent winters, and it's drawn new attention to links between the polar vortex — a constant mass of cold, dense air rotating over the north pole — and weather patterns farther south. When the ...

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2018-03-13 19:56:04

The Glorious Twilight of Pterosaurs  

While dinosaurs have a healthy hold on our imagination, their sky-sailing relatives the pterosaurs don't get nearly as much attention as they should. Maybe that's because researchers thought the flying reptiles were already declining in numbers and diversity well before the infamous End-Cretaceous mass extinction. New research out today says hold on: It appears pterosaurs were actually enjoying a heyday 66 million or so years ago, when a space rock and massive volcanic activity created a

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2018-03-13 14:35:57

NASA's Next Stop: A Space Station Orbiting The Moon  

The International Space Station is entering its twilight years. As such, NASA is making plans for the space station of the future — one that would orbit the moon. This new lunar outpost will be smaller and more remote than the ISS — orbing beyond Earth's protective magnetic field. And the station's goal would be to serve as a transit hub for deep space missions and exploration past low-Earth orbit, while continuing all the science that can be done in zero gravity. It would also be...

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2018-03-13 11:17:53

Is Earth's Magnetic Field Heading for a 'Big Flip'? Probably Not (Right Now)  

Before we get started, let's have a cheer for Earth's magnetic field! I would guess most of you never give it a second thought, unless you're watching the Northern Lights or maybe using a compass. However, things would be very different on Earth if we didn't have a magnetic field. But some people fear that the Earth's magnetic field might be headed for a big change that could bring chaos to modern society, but are their fears well-founded? To tackle that question we need to start with a d

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2018-03-13 07:36:39

Dogs Prefer You Talk to Them in 'Dog Talk'  

Do you talk to your dog differently than you would to a person? Have you ever wondered why? Maybe it's because he or she seem to prefer that kind of "dog baby talk". These researchers found that dogs prefer this "dog-directed speech" - both because of its sound and also because of the "dog-relevant content words." See, you're such a good boy. Such a good boy! Does Fido want a bone? Does he? Does he?!? 'Who's a good boy?!' Dogs prefer naturalistic dog-directed speech "Infant-dire...

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2018-03-13 06:19:14

Come Hell or Supervolcano, Humanity Will Be Alright  

Every year or so, a fresh rash of concern about the Yellowstone supervolcano spreads across the internet. While the likelihood of an eruption there remains remote, if the caldera were to blow, it could be devastating. Previous eruptions there covered much of North America in choking ash, and likely caused sharp drops in temperature that would decimate crops today. Living through a supervolcano eruption certainly qualifies as a doomsday scenario. But, humanity might fare better than we thi

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2018-03-12 17:23:39

Empathy: Part Choice, Part Genetics  

Empathy is widely agreed upon to be one of the most human emotions that we possess. Seriously, no one's ever complained about too much empathy. It facilitates human relationships by allowing us to examine, understand and process the feelings and emotions of others. The absence of empathy is often linked to disruptive behavioral problems. Given its import in society, a group of scientists from the University of Cambridge and Institut Pasteur analyzed the results from 46,000 23andMe custome

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2018-03-12 08:46:49

Here's what real science says about the role of CO2 as Earth's preeminent climatic thermostat  

Whenever I post something here at ImaGeo involving climate change, it's a good bet that I'll get a spectrum of critical responses in the comments section. These range from skepticism about the urgency of the problem to outright dismissal of humankind's influence on climate through our emissions of greenhouse gases. A recent post here about thawing permafrost releasing climate-warming carbon dioxide into the atmosphere was no exception. For the story, I reviewed dozens scientific researc...

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2018-03-12 02:21:36

Daylight Saving Time Has a Dark Side  

A train hurtled around a corner at 82 mph, eventually coming off the rails and killing four passengers. Decades earlier, faulty decision-making resulted in the deaths of the seven-person crew of the Space Shuttle Challenger. Years before these events, a stuck valve regulating the supply of coolant to a nuclear reactor nearly resulted in the meltdown of a nuclear plant in Pennsylvania. In each of these cases, poor or inadequate sleep was one of the factors that contributed to the f

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2018-03-09 07:14:10

Say what? This is the storm-tossed north pole of Jupiter?  

NASA's Juno mission to Jupiter has produced some wild imagery of the giant planet, showing massive swirling cyclones with a 3D effect When I first glanced at the image above, I thought I was looking at the surface of the Sun. But no, these really are mega cyclones swirling with winds up to 220 miles per hour around Jupiter's north and south poles, as seen by NASA's Juno spacecraft. According to new research, they are long-lasting features unlike anything else seen before in our sola...

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2018-03-09 04:18:59

What Does Any Part of the Brain Do?  

How can we know the function of a region of the brain? Have we been approaching the problem in the wrong way? An interesting new paper from German neuroscientists Sarah Genon and colleagues explores these questions. According to Genon et al., neuroscientists have generally approached the brain from the standpoint of behavior. We ask: what is the neural basis of this behavioral or psychological function? Traditionally, assigning functions to brain regions has mainly been based on conc

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2018-03-09 03:31:18

Your Weekly Attenborough: Acisoma attenboroughi  

Klaas-Douwe Dijkstra is no stranger to new insects. The prolific odonatologist has dozens to his name, thanks in large part to a sweeping 2015 paper cataloguing the results of 15 years of work in Africa. That effort added 60 dragonflies and damselflies to the scientific record, and was met with general acclaim from critics. Most people would be content to coast on the success of a mainstream breakthrough, but Dijkstra returned just months later, dropping a brand new, albeit smaller, col...

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2018-03-09 01:26:08

Permafrost in coldest Arctic areas will melt faster than thought, releasing large amounts of greenhouse gases  

No, calamity is not imminent. But new findings offer worrisome insights into the ongoing transformation of the Arctic—and our planet. The coldest reaches of the Arctic on land were once thought to be at least temporarily shielded from a major — and worrisome — effect of a warming climate: widespread melting of permafrost. But a recent study suggests these northernmost Arctic areas are likely to thaw much sooner than expected. That's concerning because melting permafrost re...

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2018-03-08 08:39:13

Amelia Earhart's Final Resting Place  

Where in the world is Amelia Earhart? It's a question that has captivated the public ever since the famed aviator went missing in 1937 over the Pacific Ocean. Theories and conspiracies abound, but most of the detective work has focused on a collection of bones unearthed on Nikumaroro, one of a spray of remote atolls scattered like freckles in the Pacific between Hawaii and Australia. Mystery Bones In 1940, a skull and several other bones, bearing signs of having been nibbled by coconu...

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2018-03-08 05:03:22

Tomorrow's Satellites Could Run on Air  

Breathe in. Breathe out. Take a second and just let the air flow naturally through you. When you're having a tough time — you're feeling an awful lot of resistance, maybe, or just running out of energy — remembering to breathe is important. It's a mantra for a reason. And now it's not just good advice for people. The European Space Agency announced this week they'd developed a satellite thruster that breathes too, solving a host of problems and establishing a possible new...

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2018-03-08 04:22:47

On Twitter, Truths Are Continually Trounced by Falsehoods  

Thomas Jefferson was quite clear in his belief that an informed citizenry formed the very foundation of a functioning democracy. If that's the case, then the hive mind of Twitter is an indication that our democratic foundation may be crumbling. It's impossible engage in rational, productive discussions about the current state of affairs if people can't sip from a mutual fount of objective truth—the sky is blue, the Earth is round. When we diverge from the truth, we can pay a high ...

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2018-03-08 03:57:24

Beneath an Outhouse, a 19th Century Brothel's Secrets Are Revealed  

For Jade Luiz, a graduate student in archaeology at Boston University, historical archaeology is all about detective work. Through piecing together historical documents and archaeological finds from the outdoor toilet, or privy, of a former brothel near Boston's North End, she's been reconstructing the lives of women who participated in sex work in the mid-1800s. Louisa Cowen, for example, who in 1856 took over as the madam of 27-29 Endicott Street—the brothel behind which stood t...

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2018-03-07 12:39:37

Coffee: A Most Enigmatic, Ubiquitous Beverage  

Legend has it that coffee was discovered by a goat herder around 850 AD in what is now Ethiopia. It soon spread around the globe and is currently consumed by billions of people every day. But as the drink gained in popularity, it also gained a bad rap. From claims that coffee led to illegal sex in the 1500s, or that it caused impotence in the 1600s, to the more recent belief that it stunted your growth, history has not been kind to coffee. In recent years, rumors have been replaced by sco

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2018-03-07 04:53:01

Blind Mice See Again With Gold and Titanium  

Returning sight to those for whom it's slipped away has been a goal of scientists for decades. But repairing or replacing the delicate internal machinery of the human eye has proven difficult so far. A few experimental devices have managed to grant low-resolution sight to the blind, but most require the use of bulky electronics and external power sources. But researchers from Fudan University and the University of Science and Technology of China say that they've come up with a more elegan

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2018-03-06 16:06:16

Drones Aid in Penguin Mega-Colony Discovery  

What's black, white and always dressed to impress? A penguin! And scientists, with the help of drones and poop stains, recently discovered a mega-colony of these dapper animals. The Adelie penguin population in the Antarctic continues to decline, particularly on the west side of the Antarctic Peninsula, which some studies link to climate change. However, little is known about the population residing on the east side of the continent. After analyzing old satellite images, researchers sa...

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2018-03-06 02:56:30

A Nanotech Device Harvests Water in the Driest Places  

Chile's Atacama is Earth's driest desert. You could sit for decades in some places and never feel a raindrop. And yet, life survives here. Well-adapted plants can catch Pacific Ocean fog; then they provide that hydration to other animals. Indeed, our planet's atmosphere holds more water than all its rivers combined, and these organisms are tapping into this water supply that humans are only beginning to appreciate. It's not just in fog and clouds either. The air itself is f...

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2018-03-06 02:36:45

Success Comes Down to Skill — And a Lot of Luck  

Is it better to be lucky or good? Well, it's a trick question — you actually need both if you want to be successful. In an admittedly simplistic model, researchers from Italy's University of Catania, looked at whether talented individuals or those blessed with luck rose to the top. Though they found it took a bit of both, the distribution wasn't even. The most successful people weren't the most talented — they were simply the luckiest. Keep That Rabbit's Foot Their work was inspired...

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2018-03-05 15:52:18

eARTh: A portrait of our planet painted with photons  

When I first saw this beautiful remote sensing image, I couldn't help but feel that I was looking at a painting by an abstract expressionist. Starting in the 1940s, abstract expressionists like Jackson Pollack and Clyfford Still "valued spontaneity and improvisation, and they accorded the highest importance to process," writes Stella Paul of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. These artists placed "an emphasis on dynamic, energetic gesture," she notes. Their works also were primari...

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2018-03-05 10:58:32

Taking a Dim View  

Astronomers learned to see beyond the Milky Way's glare into a hidden realm of faint galaxies.

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2018-03-05 04:05:03

Scientific Salami Slicing: 33 Papers from 1 Study  

"Salami slicing" refers to the practice of breaking scientific studies down into small chunks and publishing each part as a seperate paper. Given that scientists are judged in large part by the number of peer-reviewed papers they produce, it's easy to understand the temptation to engage in salami publication. It's officialy discouraged, but it's still very common to see researchers writing perhaps 3 or 4 papers based on a single project that could, realistically, have been one big paper.

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2018-03-03 03:14:31

Snowpack declines in the western U.S. are comparable to all of the water stored the West's largest reservoir  

Thanks in large measure to warming temperatures, the average snowpack in U.S. western states has dropped by 15 to 30 percent since 1915. The water in that lost snowpack is comparable in volume to Lake Mead. With a maximum capacity of 9.3 trillion gallons, Mead is the West's largest manmade reservoir. The new data on snowpack declines are among the striking results of a study led by Philip Mote, director of the Oregon Climate Change Research Institute at Oregon State University....

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2018-03-03 02:18:20

We'll Be Chowing Down Electronics in No Time  

With the growing encroachment of Big Data and the Internet of Things and other digital buzzwords on our daily lives, it should be no shock that we're now on the verge of literally eating the latest advance in electronics. It's actually pretty neat. According to a study this week in ACS Nano, chemists have learned how to imbue a laser-branded conductive pattern onto anything containing carbon, including your dinner. Certified Organic Chemistry It's all thanks to graphene, a pretty ...

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2018-03-02 21:57:56

What's It Look Like on the Doorstep of a Supermassive Black Hole?  

Supermassive black holes sit in the centers of all massive galaxies. Many of these giants are actively accreting material, earning them the name active galactic nuclei or AGN. As material falls in toward the black hole, it creates a disk that shines brightly and can even generate huge outbursts and jets. Compared with a galaxy hundreds of thousands of light-years across, the accretion disk around a supermassive black hole and the dusty structure that surrounds it are extremely small — on t...

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2018-03-02 20:48:16

Scientists Gave Monkeys Ayahuasca and It Helped Their Depression  

In a 1973 study, scientists at the University of Chicago fitted cocaine-dependent rhesus monkeys with stainless steel catheter harnesses, allowing them to self-administer PCP to until they were "highly intoxicated." This type of research isn't exactly unusual — for decades, humans have been pumping primates full of psychedelics like LSD and DMT to study the effects of hallucinogenic drugs. But in a recent first, researchers at the Federal University of Rio Grande do Norte in Br...

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2018-03-02 13:26:21

Fasting and Exercise: A Perfect Pair?  

Athletes training for endurance competitions tend to eat a lot, especially carbohydrates, which produce glucose to fuel the muscles. Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps took in 12,000 calories a day during the 2008 Summer Olympics, for example. Regimented nutrition diets are also popular among athletes. The top Mixed Martial Arts fighters employ full-time nutritionists who prepare each meal for them. But fasting? More bodybuilders, professional cyclists and other athletes are turning up the

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2018-03-02 06:57:36

In satellite imagery, the dangerous nor'easter battering the U.S. East Coast is a beastly beauty of a storm  

A nor'easter with winds ranging up to hurricane strength is causing misery along much of the U.S. East Coast today. But from space, it's a strangely beautiful sight to behold. The fierce storm is causing flooding, power outages, suspension of Amtrak rail service, and hundreds of delayed or cancelled flights in and out of area airports. New York's LaGuardia airport has closed down completely due to high winds. The storm may even turn out to be more damaging than the "Bomb Cyclone...

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2018-03-02 04:53:54

Your Weekly Attenborough: Polioptila attenboroughi  

Bro, what even is a species? I've been writing about various species for a while now, and this latest Attenborough is really throwing me for a loop. It's a kind of small bird from the Amazon called a gnatcatcher. They're a kind of small songbird related to wrens, and they feast on insects with small, sharp beaks—in between warbling out their songs, I imagine. And it's most likely a new species. But the researchers in charge of deciding weren't all that sure. Because we don't have e...

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2018-03-02 03:09:19

We Still Don't Know How to Deal With Moon Dust  

If we're going back to the moon, we're going to need to learn how to deal with the dust. U.S. President Donald Trump has made returning to the moon a priority, and China and India both have lunar landers in the works. The endeavor is difficult for myriad reasons, but one borders on the prosaic — moon dust. Dust Bowl The moon is a dirty place. Apollo astronauts reported returning to their lander covered in dust that smelled of spent gunpowder — astronaut Alan Bean even worried that ...

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2018-03-02 02:56:14

WATCH: Heavy flooding stretching from Indiana to Mississippi, as seen in satellite imagery  

As February was drawing to a close, heavy rains and melting snow led to extensive flooding in the central and southern United States that was easily visible to orbiting satellites. The before-and-after animation above is a noteworthy example. The river running from top to bottom is the Mississippi, with Arkansa to the left and Tennessee to the right. Small portions of Missouri, Kentucky and Mississippi are visible as well. Click on the thumbnail at right to see the area covered by ...

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2018-03-01 11:49:39

Where the Wild Things Aren't   

Writer Ceri Levy and legendary artist Ralph Steadman go gonzo with animals on the brink.

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2018-03-01 10:37:58

The Secret History of the Vikings  

New DNA-driven research reveals untold stories—and stirs controversy.

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2018-03-01 05:08:10

Standing on the Shore, Grasping for the Stars  

This month marks the 45th anniversary of Pioneer 10's passage through the asteroid belt. It was a key rite of passage in humanity's journey from this blue planet into the deep reaches of outer space. Unlike the crowded swarms of science-fiction movies, the real asteroid belt is overwhelmingly empty space. Still, nobody knew exactly what to expect. Would Pioneer 10 be pelted with dust-speck micrometeoroids? Was the asteroid belt a serious barrier to exploration? As it turned out, the dust

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2018-03-01 04:40:01

Ride-Hailing Congestion Dims Promise of Robot Taxis  

It's still too early to give a definite thumbs up or thumbs down to promises of future driverless cars reducing private car ownership by acting as robot chauffeurs. But evidence from today's ride-hailing services suggests that Uber, Lyft and Waymo may only worsen traffic congestion by crowding roads with robot taxis in the near future. The latest study from the Metropolitan Area Planning Council Research in Boston found that about 42 percent of ride-hailing passengers in the survey...

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2018-03-01 03:45:24

Computers Learn to Imagine the Future  

In many ways, the human brain is still the best computer around. For one, it's highly efficient. Our largest supercomputers require millions of watts, enough to power a small town, but the human brain uses approximately the same energy as a 20-watt bulb. While teenagers may seem to take forever to learn what their parents regard as basic life skills, humans and other animals are also capable of learning very quickly. Most of all, the brain is truly great at sorting through torrents of data...

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2018-02-28 19:15:39

Fever of the Rat  

Back in the 1980s, S.O.S. calls after midnight were common in the field of infectious disease. And as soon as my pager started to trill, I turned on my bedside lamp and dialed—often within thirty seconds. One night, I connected to an intern I'll call Paddy. The background din quickly spelled "E.R." "Sorry to disturb you, Dr. P, but a woman woke with a rat on her face. Then the rat bit her lip." First, I expelled a disgusted "yecchh," then I asked a question. "Was she ...

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2018-02-28 18:57:21

Barbra Streisand Loved Her Dog So Much... She Cloned It  

It's rough when a pet passes away. For those that can't bear to be apart, they can clone their beloved animal. That's what Barbra Streisand did — not once, but twice. She recently revealed to Variety that two of her three Coton de Tulear dogs are cloned.  "They have different personalities," Streisand told Variety. "I'm waiting for them to get older so I can see if they have her brown eyes and her seriousness." Cells were taken from the mouth and stomach of her favori...

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2018-02-28 09:35:43

World's Largest Airplane Readies For Flight  

The world's largest airplane is taking to the runway. The massive Stratolaunch aircraft developed by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen conducted a taxi test over the weekend in Mojave, California where the aircraft reached a speed of 46 miles per hour. With a wingspan of 385 feet, and powered by six Pratt & Whitney turbofan engines, the ungainly craft is meant to give rockets a ride to the stratosphere, where they will launch into orbit. Gearing Up For Flight The test follows earlie...

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2018-02-28 09:20:29

Three Years Later, Coauthor of "Blinded with Science" Paper Has Made Some Ironic Retractions  

Earlier this week, BuzzFeed published a detailed investigation of a prominent food psychologist who massaged and manipulated data to produce media-friendly results. You've probably heard of some of Cornell University professor Brian Wansink's studies. There was the one with the "bottomless" soup bowl that refilled itself while subjects ate, to study portion control; the one about characters on cereal boxes making eye contact with kids from grocery-store shelves; and so on. Several of Wan...

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2018-02-28 01:59:52

Why Did Magic Mushrooms Evolve 'Magic'?  

By now, it's pretty clear that psilocybin, the active compound in "magic mushrooms" has a potent effect on human beings. But psychedelic visions obviously weren't the evolutionary force that caused some fungi to make the compound — it's an unforeseen side effect. With a new genetic analysis, researchers think they've identified why magic mushrooms started producing "magic" in the first place. The culprit, they say, is insects. Psychedelic Genetics By sequencing the genomes of three s...

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2018-02-27 09:09:29

Freakishly warm air has again surged over the North Pole, and sea ice is breaking up north of Greenland — in winter  

Meanwhile, frigid polar air has spilled south into Eurasia and western North America. Is there a connection to human-caused warming? It's happening again: In the dead of winter, warm air from the south is surging across the Arctic toward the North Pole. Today, weather models suggest that temperatures there have indeed soared to above freezing. Meanwhile, cold polar air has spilled south into Eurasia and western North America. It's almost as if someone left the Arctic's refrigerator do

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2018-02-27 03:35:25

What Can Stop a Speeding Bullet? A Whipple Shield, Of Course  

What happens when you're hit by something going 15,000 miles per hour? Total obliteration, more or less. That's a very real scenario that spacecraft engineers must keep in mind every time they put something in space. Collisions with objects in orbit are rare, but they do happen. In the past, paint chips have left craters in the space shuttle and a French satellite was disabled in 1996 after its gravity-gradient boom was severed by a chunk from an exploded rocket. Shields Up! To protec...

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2018-02-27 03:31:31

Sponsored: Forget Where Your Keys Are Again?  

It seems simple right, leave your keys in the key bowl on the kitchen counter and you won't lose them? Simple? Yes. Do we keep to this routine daily? On occasion. Keys these days seem to grow a pair of legs and find themselves their own "safe spot", and on a regular basis. According to the "Lost & Found Survey" by Pixie, 28 percent of Americans lose their key at least once a week. That's a substantial amount of time that could be spent actually getting to work or school on tim...

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2018-02-27 02:41:31

If Bacteria Can Survive the Atacama, Maybe They Can Survive Mars  

Life finds a way, even in the most inhospitable conditions. In extreme environments such as that present in the hyper-arid center of the Atacama Desert, there are still signs of life. In the most Mars-like location on Earth, a microbial community survives, showing episodic biological activity in the near absence of any moisture. In dry areas at of the desert's core, where everything is bombarded by intense ultraviolet radiation, Dr. Dirk Schulze-Makuch and his colleagues detected microbes

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2018-02-27 01:41:16

Urine Could Help Determine How Old You   

For doctors, looking at a person's birth date doesn't tell them much. Sure, a person might be 75 on paper, but genes, lifestyle and environment all play into health. So it's important to get a good understanding of our how old our bodies really are — a biological age rather than chronological age. A new study, published Monday in Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience, found that a simple urine test could deliver valuable information about our biological age. Age is Just a Number In the ...

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2018-02-27 01:22:51

Fishing activities take up four times as much area as agriculture—and can now be monitored in real time  

The global footprint of fishing is even bigger than expected. But a novel monitoring tool could help put it on a more sustainable path. To satisfy our hunger, we humans catch something on the order of one trillion fish ever year — a yield that amounts to more than 90 million tons of animal flesh. We're clearly the top predator of the seas. But just how much of the oceans are being fished at an industrial scale, what are the patterns, and how are they changing over time? Answering...

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2018-02-25 08:32:34

About that New Antidepressant Study  

A new Lancet paper about antidepressants caused quite a stir this week. Headlines proclaimed that "It's official - antidepressants work", "Study proves anti-depressants are effective", and "Antidepressants work. Period." Wew. The truth is that while the Lancet paper is a nice piece of work, it tells us very little that we didn't already know, and it has a number of limitations. The media reaction to the paper is frankly bananas, as we'll see below. Here's why the new study doesn't t

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2018-02-24 10:50:01

Making the Case Against Plastic Straws  

Walk the remote shores of the Great Lakes, far outside the city, and you'll find miles of sandy beaches and quiet tranquility. You'll also find plastic straws. Pink ones, white ones, clear ones. They're everywhere. In fact, visit any coastline around the world and you're likely to find plastic straws. Conservation groups highlight them as one of the items most frequently collected during beach clean ups. The reason isn't hard to grasp. Whether you order an iced coffee or a Co...

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2018-02-23 12:53:50

Chemists Forge Custom Molecules Upon 'Diamond Anvils'  

Chemistry, Walter White once said, is the study of change. Apply the right combination of materials and heat, electricity, or light — some kind of energy — and the results can literally be explosive. In their quest to manipulate matter, scientists have explored different ways of poking molecules to see how they react. According to a paper that appeared in the journal Nature this week, they've found a new one, and possibly the most cartoonish one yet: using tiny anvils to literally b...

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2018-02-23 11:58:24

Watch: Not just one but TWO hurricane-force storms swirling in the North Atlantic Ocean  

In recent days, two powerful storms packing hurricane-force winds have spun up in the North Atlantic. You can watch them in the animation above of GOES-16 satellite imagery. It was posted to the awesome GOES-16 Loop of the Day website. The storm closer to North America was so strong that it churned the waters up into stupendous waves higher than 60 feet tall: That would be almost high enough to inundate the White House. Here...

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2018-02-23 05:55:43

Your Weekly Attenborough: Palaina attenboroughi  

It should have been their big break. By all rights, the crown was theirs, won with years of blood, sweat and slime. Maybe, in some far-distant astral plane where justice matters, they're the rightful victors. But the history books are closed now. Palaina attenboroughi, the second snail to be named after David Attenborough in 2017, was a murmur that never became a shout. The fame, the media frenzy, the glamour shots — the spoils of victory are all too obvious. And Attenborougharion...

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2018-02-23 05:44:56

From Painters to Potters, Scientists Stage an Online Art Show  

On January 24, University of British Columbia geneticist Dave Ng tweeted, "It's always interesting to me how kids react when they find out I'm a scientist who also does artistic things (like they can't co-exist or something). Would love to start a thread where other scientists share their artistic tendencies. #scienceartmix." Ng posted some of his own visual art and writing, and invited others to chime in. Musicians, painters, dancers and more eagerly joined the dataset. Aqua...

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2018-02-23 05:41:19

First Video of DNA Organization Settles Scientific Debate  

For all its precise helical structure, the DNA inside our cells is a mess. When a cell isn't preparing for the process of splitting itself in two, our DNA lies in a massive tangle inside the cell nucleus; a strand more than six feet in length jumbled like an earbud cord. But when it comes time to undergo cellular division, this disorderly strand must be packaged neatly into chromosomes to be passed onto daughter cells — stuffed into a space much tighter than before. Around and Around ...

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2018-02-23 04:46:55

How To Make a Monkey an Adidas Fan? Sex and Celebrity  

We're no better than monkeys when it comes to advertising. Or, perhaps it's better said that they're no better than us. In a clever study, researchers showed rhesus macaques brand logos (which were just random images to them) paired with a picture of either a high-status male monkey, a low-status male monkey, or female monkey genitals to see if they could elicit preferences in them. In short, they were trying out one of the oldest tricks in the advertising world — selling products wi...

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2018-02-23 01:58:45

A Drone Crashed into Apple Park ... Oops  

It turns out more than just Apple employees are crashing into the Apple campus. (Seriously, they're running into its glass walls) A drone pilot recently crashed a drone at Apple Park — Apple's spaceship-like headquarters in Cupertino, California. Unfortunately, the pilot didn't know where the precious drone crash-landed, so he recruited a fellow drone operator to help. Matthew Roberts, known for his drone videos documenting the development of Apple Park, and his DJI Phantom 4 Pro ca...

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2018-02-22 19:40:41

Grocers Get Robotic Help to Compete Against Amazon  

"What happens if grocery retailers can help you put a fresh dinner on the table faster than pizza delivery and cheaper than restaurant delivery?" That vision comes from CommonSense Robotics, an Israeli startup with plans to open its first AI-run fulfillment centers staffed by both robots and human workers in Israel, the United States, and the United Kingdom before the end of 2018. Such a service could help local grocery stores survive the coming onslaught from Amazon's aggressive expansi...

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2018-02-22 02:04:55

Human Chains: "Prayer Camp" Psychiatry Study Raises Ethical Questions  

A new medical paper raises complex questions over ethics and human rights, as it reports on a study that took place in a religious camp where mentally ill patients were chained up for long periods. The paper's called Joining psychiatric care and faith healing in a prayer camp in Ghana and it's out now in the British Journal of Psychiatry. The authors are a Ghanian-British-American team led by Dr Angela Ofori-Atta. In Ghana, the authors explain, there are just 25 psychiatrists to cater

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2018-02-21 13:55:47

Study Adds Weight to Benefits of Genetically Engineered Crops  

A review of the research on genetically engineered corn concludes that the benefits appear to outweigh the drawbacks. In a meta-analysis, where researchers synthesize the findings of many studies, researchers from the University of Pisa and the Sant'Anna School of Advanced Studies look at papers on genetically engineered (GE) corn from between 1996 and 2016. They were looking for research on crop yields, grain quality, impacts on other organisms and how well the corn degraded in fields a...

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2018-02-21 07:46:54

Red Wine Could Yield a Better Toothpaste  

Red wine colors your tongue, but your teeth may not mind a little juice of the vine. Sipping moderate—keyword, moderate—amounts of wine on a regular basis can be good for your colon, heart, immune system and mental health. Wine, after all, was at the core of the so-called "French paradox," or the observation in 1980 that cardiovascular disease was far less prevalent among the French, despite their penchant for saturated fats, low activity levels and cigarettes. The outlier: The Fr...

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2018-02-21 06:32:54

Is It Possible to Forecast Evolution?  

Can we predict the course evolution will take? That's the question an international team of researchers decided to tackle, using a quarter-century of stick insect observations. Comparing the first half of the data set to the latter half, they set out to see if they could forecast the path of natural selection. Take A Guess As it turns out, it's really hard. The researchers were able to predict some simple evolutionary changes, but the rest were subject to forces they couldn't account fo

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2018-02-21 03:20:16

An Adorable Dumbo Octopus Stretches Its 'Wings'  

See this little guy? He's just emerged into the world, but the appropriately-named Dumbo octopus is already taking his first flaps. Resemblance to a certain flying elephant notwithstanding, Dumbo octopuses actually live far below the ocean's surface. They're some of the deepest-living octopuses, and are so rare that this is the first hatchling that was caught on camera. The "ears" are actually fins that help them to swan about the seafloor. Stretch Your Wings They belong to a sub-order

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2018-02-20 21:17:32

Jellyfish Chips: A Delicious Oxymoron  

Ah, nothing beats the crispy crunch of a jellyfish chip. Wait, what? Forget "Lady Doritos," jellyfish chips are a future snack for the masses. It turns out that the swimming gelatinous invertebrates can be leached of water to leave behind a thin, crispy wafer. It tastes of sea salt, apparently. Crispy, Crunchy News of the delicacy first appeared last summer, when Mie Pedersen, a gastrophysicist from the University of Southern Denmark announced that she and her team had found a new way...

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2018-02-20 11:17:03

Mr. Steven, a Netted Claw-Boat, Could Save SpaceX Millions  

Mr. Steven is expected to save SpaceX millions of dollars. Mr. Steven, by the way, is a giant boat with a net. Building and launching reliable rockets into space is a costly endeavor, and SpaceX has been hellbent on bringing those costs down since the rocket company...launched. Until recently, spent rockets could only be used once. But Elon Musk, CEO and founder of SpaceX, has proven rockets are reusable, and can coordinate a simultaneous landing. But the cost-cutting can go even further...

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2018-02-20 11:12:30

Why Partisanship Is Such a Worthy Foe of Objective Truth  

The truth is out there, but if it doesn't come from "my side" who cares? In an era of "fake news" our relationship status with factual knowledge, and a shared reality has changed to "it's complicated". Democracies depend on informed populations, but objective truth has of late taken a back seat to partisanship. In an essay published in Cell Press Reviews, New York University psychologists Jay Van Bavel and Andrea Pereira attempt to demystify how partisan bias has skewed th...

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2018-02-20 09:24:44

So Unfair! How the Brain Responds to Injustice  

In this cruel world, it's impossible to navigate from cradle to grave without experiencing the bitter fruits of injustice. But bitter fruits, it turns out, are better shared. According to findings from a study published Monday in the journal JNeurosci, punishing the wrongdoer seems to be more rewarding than helping out the victim. The participants, 53 males (a bit skewed, I'd say), all played a two-player game designed to analyze how people perceive and respond to a thief. Each player —...

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2018-02-20 03:35:27

10 Ways Space Changes the Body  

Scott and Mark Kelly are identical twin brothers. Though that alone does not make them unique, what does is the fact that they are also both astronauts. In order to take advantage of the Kellys' unique situation, NASA scientists decided to conduct a detailed study on the twins, aimed at unraveling how nature versus nurture plays out in space. As part of NASA's Twins Study, researchers collected biological samples from each of the Kellys before sending Scott to the International Space S...

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2018-02-20 03:08:11

Let's End the Debate About Video Games and Violence  

In the wake of the Valentine's Day shooting at a Broward County, Florida high school, a familiar trope has reemerged: Often, when a young man is the shooter, people try to blame the tragedy on violent video games and other forms of media. Florida lawmaker Jared Moskowitz made the connection the day after the shooting, saying the gunman "was prepared to pick off students like it's a video game." In January, after two students were killed and many others wounded by a 15-year-old sho...

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2018-02-19 10:23:49

Rather than growing like it should in winter, sea ice off Alaska has been shrinking dramatically  

Meanwhile, ice losses elsewhere allowed a Russian tanker to make the first ever independent winter crossing of the Arctic The Bering Sea off Alaska's west coast has just experienced a shocking loss of ice over a 10-day period — in winter. See the graph below for the details. To my eye it looks like sea ice extent declined from about 420,000 square kilometers on Feb. 6 to about 260,000 square kilometers on the 16th. That's a drop of 38 percent (and an area of lost ice a littl...

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2018-02-18 20:41:41

Disability Bias in Peer Review?  

Writing in the journal Medical Care, researcher Lisa I. Iezzoni says that a peer reviewer on a paper she previously submitted to that journal displayed "explicitly disparaging language and erroneous derogatory assumptions" about disabled people. Iezzoni's paper, which was eventually rejected, was about a survey of Massachusetts Medicaid recipients with either serious mental illness or significant physical disability. The survey involved a questionnaire asking about their experiences w

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2018-02-18 07:17:50

How Did Hurricane Maria Affect Wildlife? Just Listen  

Hurricane Maria, it's safe to say, was devastating to Puerto Rico. More than five months ago, on September 20th, the Category 4 storm ravaged the U.S. territory, causing $90 billion worth of damage in some estimates and scores of deaths. Much of the island is still without power. As someone born and raised on the island (despite my gringo name), it's been hard to watch, and keeping in touch with family still there has been difficult, especially right after the storm. But part of what ...

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2018-02-16 16:03:05

Your Weekly Attenborough: Materpiscis attenboroughi  

I mean, really. No matter how you feel about the man, surely his mother is off-limits? Translated from the Latin, the full name of this species comes out to be "Attenborough's mother fish." Attenborough's mother — a fish! Where I come from, them's fightin' words. But the name is quite accurate. Hot takes aside, the fossil of Materpiscis attenboroughi actually turns out to contain the oldest vertebrate pregnancy we've ever found. It sets in stone the ancient roots of live birth, and t...

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2018-02-16 11:53:01

If We Discover Alien Life, Will Humanity Keep Its Cool?  

For well over 1,500 years, humanity accepted that Earth was the center of the solar system. After all, the Bible—which was the scientific authority at the time—said this was so. Then along came Nicolaus Copernicus, who in the 16th century dared to challenge the church and mathematically described a solar system with the sun at its center. After his death, Galileo Galilei's observations of heavenly bodies further supported the Copernican model. The Catholic Church, fearing such a fin...

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2018-02-16 09:55:26

So That's Why the Gate to Hell Is So Deadly  

If there's a highway to hell, there's probably a gate to hell—well, there is. It's located in what was the ancient Greco-Roman city of Hierapolis, which is now in modern-day Turkey. Called Plutonium after Pluto, the gate was thought to be an opening to the underworld. It was first described by the ancient Greek geographer Strabo and Roman author Plinius. When Strabo visited, he described a thick vapor that would overtake the gate. During religious ceremonies, the castrated priests...

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2018-02-16 05:54:50

What a Fossil Revolution Reveals About the History of 'Big Data'  

In 1981, when I was nine years old, my father took me to see Raiders of the Lost Ark. Although I had to squint my eyes during some of the scary scenes, I loved it - in particular because I was fairly sure that Harrison Ford's character was based on my dad. My father was a paleontologist at the University of Chicago, and I'd gone on several field trips with him to the Rocky Mountains, where he seemed to transform into a rock-hammer-wielding superhero. That illusion was shattered some...

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2018-02-16 03:33:14

As Trump seeks climate funding cuts, new findings and the U.S. intelligence community highlight serious climate risks  

New research suggests that large parts of the world are headed for record-breaking extreme weather events. At the same time, the U.S. intelligence community has broken with President Trump on the threats posed by climate change and other environmental challenges. Meanwhile, the president is proposing to slash climate science and renewable energy research while boosting investments in oil, gas and coal — the fuels driving global warming. According to the new research, even if nati...

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2018-02-15 09:46:01

How Big Is the Andromeda Galaxy?  

Both the Milky Way and the Andromeda galaxy (M31) are giant spiral galaxies in our local universe. And in about 4 billion years, the Milky Way and Andromeda will collide in a gravitational sumo match that will ultimately bind them forever. Because astronomers previously thought that Andromeda was up to three times as massive as the Milky Way, they expected that our galaxy would be easily overpowered and absorbed into our larger neighbor. But now, new research suggests we've overestima...

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2018-02-15 09:21:45

A NASA satellite spotted this strangely prominent pattern of long, sinuous clouds over the Pacific  

The conspiracy-minded will shout "chemtrails." Of course that's nonsense. But just what is creating these clouds? I have to admit that I was a little taken aback when I saw these long, sinuous cloud shapes snaking across the northeast Pacific Ocean. The image, captured by NASA's Terra satellite on Feb. 12, 2018, covers a huge amount of territory — as is evident if you look to the extreme right, where a good portion of the west coast of North America is visible. Before I get into ...

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2018-02-14 21:29:34

Cryptocurrency Mining Is Hampering the Search for E.T.  

Mining for cryptocurrencies isn't just gobbling up capacity on electrical grids around the world, it might also be slowing the search for extraterrestrial life. Mining cryptos like Bitcoin require miners to solve wickedly complex mathematical puzzles to validate each transaction. For their efforts, miners receive a small payment for each puzzle they solve, but the process requires a crapload of computing power. To reap profits, miners rely on graphics processing units (GPUs) that are hi...

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2018-02-14 09:57:37

What's the Deal With Pulsating Auroras?  

Auroras, known to many as the northern lights, are a beautiful and mysterious phenomenon. To the casual observer the streaks of colored light across the sky can seem miraculous and inexplicable. And one kind in particular, called a pulsating aurora, has indeed been mysterious to scientists, who have never been able to directly prove their hypothesis about how it's formed. Now, armed with better technology, researchers from Japan say they've finally caught the aurora in the act. Sky L...

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2018-02-14 08:01:01

Before Planning an Exotic Summer Vacation...Read This  

Are you planning an adventure vacation packed with new experiences? Thinking about doing something that few people have ever done, like climbing Mt Everest? Well, according to this study, these experiences may not be all they're cracked up to be. These researchers found that "participants thoroughly enjoyed having experiences that were superior to those had by their peers, but that having had such experiences spoiled their subsequent social interactions and ultimately left them feeling wors...

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2018-02-14 06:28:32

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