April 16, 2014

Scientists Name 200th Caecilian Species

Scientists at the Natural History Museum, London have named the 200th caecilian species. Caecilians are amphibians that resemble a cross between a worm and a snake.

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No more primal soup: Creating life without water

The last thing the first life needed was a wet environment – so did it even start here on Earth? (full text available to subscribers)






Will an anti-viral drug put paid to measles?

A new drug promises to stop the measles virus in its tracks after people have been infected. Will it help us eradicate measles?






How ancient needs still drive our weird ways

In Snakes, Sunrises, and Shakespeare, evolutionary psychology pioneer Gordon H. Orians traces the roots of today's human quirks in the minds of our ancestors






Fish Exposed to Antidepressants Exhibit Altered Behavioural Changes

Fish exposed to the antidepressant Fluoxetine, an active ingredient in […]

Today on New Scientist

All the latest on newscientist.com: quantum-coded texts, digital mirrors, a polypill for heart disease and more






Criminal gang connections mapped via phone metadata

Information about who suspects call and when is helping police work out who is linked to which crimes and even their place in the criminal hierarchy






Swirling red nebula is part of angry chicken in the sky

A crucible of bright stars illuminates a nebula in glowing red hydrogen that would normally be too faint for the human eye to see






Molybdenum, With Atomic Number 42, May Have Helped Life Begin on Earth

Scientists say the Molybdenum, the Douglas Adams element, may have been crucial in helping life begin on Earth.

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Future Nokia phones could send quantum-coded texts

A new system allows you to carry a quantum cryptographical key generator in your cellphone – and has already been patented by phone-maker Nokia






Quick off the market: what's fair in flash trading?

Keeping up with algorithmic traders is tough – getting everyone off the starting line at the same time will help






Slow-motion tremors make Tokyo megaquake more likely

Increasingly frequent slow-slip earthquakes, coupled with the after-effects of the 2011 Tōhoku megaquake, may be pushing the Tokyo area towards disaster






We can't be too fussy when it comes to green energy

Germany is the greenest of industrialised nations when it comes to power generation, but its current struggle shows how difficult such choices can be






Speed demons


They're back! Rocketing about like teenage hot-rodders, One can almost imagine the squeal and screech of tires as they stitch the meadow with their shenanigans. Zip! Zoom! Skimming the grass. Then, up, up, and away, pausing at the top of the sky, diving with the speed of a falling rock. Swish! Swish! Stop on a dime.

White-bellied. Backs of iridescent blue. Sleek as a bullet. All muscle and feather. As aerodynamic as a dart.

Tree swallows. Once upon a time they nested in trees. A century ago when Neltje Blanchan wrote her classic bird guides, she was already aware of the tree swallows' preference for ready-made habitations, that is to say, the bird boxes humans provided for martins, bluebirds and wrens. She foresaw the day when tree swallows no longer deserved their name.

That day has come. The tree swallows in the meadow have commandeered the bluebird boxes. When the bluebirds arrive soon they'll find the obstreperous squatters have taken over.

OK. We'll call them white-bellied swallows. And forgive their squatter ways because we love their high-jinks, their youthful devil-may-care carousing, their air-show acrobatics. Yes, we love the bluebirds too, but they'll have to hurry their spring migration, or stay the winter, if they want to find a place to nest.

Digital mirror reveals what lies under your skin

Step in front of a mirror and see your skin and flesh stripped away, revealing your organs below






Atomic time lord to battle sneaky high-speed trades

Hyper-accurate time will soon get pumped into London's financial heart to prevent traders from exploiting tiny time differences for profit






What is Protomyxzoa Rheumatica?

A contact on Twitter mentioned an apparently newly discovered parasitic disease which goes by the name of Protomyxzoa Rheumatica or the “Fry bug”, named for its apparent discoverer Fry Laboratories of Scottsdale, Arizona. The discoverers have published no scientific papers about this organism as far as I can tell. Although protomyxzoa.org (registered in September 2012) says Fry has a PCR test for the pathogen and the person running the site says they were diagnosed by the labs in February of that year.

No reference to Protomyxzoa Rheumatica comes up with a search of the Fry website nor of PubMed, the US CDC, WHO, WebMD or generally anywhere else other than on what appear to be a few patient blogs and such. There is a brief reference to Protomyxzoa Rheumatica on the website of Fry Labs’ founder http://drstephenfry.com/ where it is described as a: novel protozoan but nothing else is said. Dr Fry himself is described as specialising in the cause and treatment of chronic inflammatory disease such as chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) and fibromyalgia. There is also discussion of diet and lifestyle being associated with the “symptoms” of this infection. A “Mary C Kline” appears in a patent search having invented a treatment for treating the biofilms and plaques purportedly associated with the infection, her other patents seem to be for treatments for what would be described as related pathogens.

There is one slightly more detailed page – http://www.personalconsult.com/posts/FL1953.html – that uses another name (an earlier name, in fact) for Protomyxzoa Rheumatica, FL1953, and discusses it in terms of its similarity to babesia (nutallia) or immature malaria but apparently unique DNA sequence. (FL1953 does not come up in a PubMed search either). The page also discusses how Fry showed the page’s author stained red blood cells apparently infected with Protomyxzoa Rheumatica in which the organism was on the edge or inside the rbc. Misdiagnosis of this novel infection is why treatment of Lyme disease and Babesia sometimes fail allegedly. Another patient-written site discusses a talk/interview given by Fry where FL1953 is described as “a new, unique protozoan organism that is found in people with CFS, fibromyalgia, multiple sclerosis, ALS, and rheumatoid arthritis”. There is a lot of debate on LymeNet Europe that suggests that FL1953 has been controversial to say the least for several years.

One particular claim draws me to an almost inevitable conclusion regarding this pathogen. There are references to Morgellons syndrome in connection with FL1953. Morgellons, however, is apparently nothing more than a psychosomatic illness in which the patient believes that they are infested with disease-causing agents described as things like insects, parasites, hairs or fibres. While it may be a real condition it is not, it seems, caused by an actual pathogen, unless of course, that pathogen has corrupted the patient’s thoughts to create these beliefs (some parasites certainly can affect the brain).

I asked an expert in Lyme disease and related infections who had this to say: The owner of a private lab has claimed to have identified a new organism which causes many disorders including autoimmune. He apparently planned to conduct studies on this, but there have been no updates nor any peer-reviewed journal publications about it…in the meantime lots of people are being diagnosed with an illness no one knows for sure even exists…

What is Protomyxzoa Rheumatica? is a post from the science blog of David Bradley, author of Deceived Wisdom Subscribe to our Email Newsletter

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April 15, 2014

Popping a polypill makes treating heart disease easier

The largest review yet of polypills, all-in-one pills for the different facets of heart disease, suggests they work as well as taking the drugs individually






Scans can be vital in judging severity of brain damage

Doctors use beside observation to gauge consciousness in people with brain damage, but PET scans may be more accurate at predicting recovery






Possible Moon Named Peggy Forming in One of Saturn's Rings

A possible moon, named Peggy, appears to be forming in one of Saturn's rings.

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What climate change has done to Walden's woods

A hymn to citizen science, Walden Warming by Richard Primack seeks the reality of climate change in the effects that ordinary people have recorded






Star dust casts doubt on recent big bang wave result

Dust left over from an exploding star could mimic the effect that primordial gravitational waves would have had on ancient cosmic light






Drama helps kids with autism communicate better

Improvised drama sessions may help develop communication, interaction, and imagination skills – the "triad of impairments" seen in autism






Four New Species of Carnivorous Sponges Discovered

MBARI scientists have announced the discovery of four new species of carnivorous sponges.

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T. rex didn't need proper arms thanks to its neck

Tyrannosaurus rex was terrifying, apart from its silly little arms – but now it turns out that it didn't need proper arms because its neck was so powerful






Oh great, something else to worry about


Tom and I watched the movie Gravity this past weekend. He'd seen it before and wanted me to view it.

Spectacular special effects, but I can't say I was taken by the film. Just a lot of non-stop smashing and not much human drama other than the usual pop fare. For my taste, I much preferred director Alfonso Cuarón's previous film, the Mexican coming-of-age road movie Y Tu Mamá También.

What I liked best about Gravity was learning afterwards from Tom about the Kessler syndrome, the cascading collisions of satellites and space debris that provides the driving plot of the movie.

Low Earth orbits are now so crowded with active and defunct satellites and other junk that one catastrophic shattering collision could set off a chain reaction that would wrap the Earth in a shroud of fine debris that could render space inaccessible for generations.
Not to mention the devastating disruptions of life on the ground if all active low-orbiting satellites were lost.

I suppose I had heard about this before as part of the background noise, but it never firmly registered on my consciousness. What is the critical density of orbiting objects that makes the Kessler effect likely? Are we there yet?

But think of the spectacular nights of "shooting stars" as bits and pieces of all those pulverized objects rain to Earth.

The white walker: Longest horse trek crosses icy lake

See a re-enactment of a 17-year-old Cossack officer's ride across frozen Lake Baikal in 1889 – part of a 9000-kilometre journey through a Siberian winter






April 14, 2014

Bacteria Turns Plants Into Zombies

Scientists have discovered how a bacteria turns plants into zombies. The bacteria is spread from plant to plant by leafhoppers.

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Genetic risk of Alzheimer's has gender bias

Carrying a variant of the APOE gene increases Alzheimer's risk – but comparing men's and women's genetic risk suggests it's not that simple






SpaceX to test landing legs for future reusable rocket

As part of its next cargo delivery run, commercial spaceflight's darling will try out rocket legs that may help lower spacecraft costs by a factor of 100






Today on New Scientist

All the latest on newscientist.com: the submarine drone hunting for missing flight MH370, 'Big Bird' space neutrinos, and the IPCC says we must do carbon capture






Syria chemical weapons deadline needs fair seas

Syria needs to get its remaining chemical weapons out of the country by the end of April to have any hope of meeting the June destruction deadline






Killing with kindness: Conservation's cautionary tale

What looked like a classic conservation success story nearly ended in disaster. The Chatham Island black robin reveals the hidden perils of intervention (full text available to subscribers)






Cuts and red tape are gagging US and Canadian science

Politicians in the US and Canada are undermining scientific freedom through cuts, shutdowns and media policies, says Index on Censorship editor Rachael Jolley






Japanese Researchers Create Wearable Eyes to Help You Appear More Social and Alert

Japanese researchers have developed wearable eyes to help reduce emotional labor and make you appear to be more social even when you are annoyed, distracted or asleep.

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April 13, 2014

NASA Begins Construction on Spacecraft That Will Take Sample From Asteroid in 2018

NASA has started building the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft that will viisit the asteroid Bennu in 2018 and return with a sample.

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Yellow Sac Spider Blamed for Mazda Recall

The yellow sac spider has been linked to a Mazda recall. The spider, which is attracted to petrol, is fond of building webs in the engines of the cars.

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Scientists Scan Rare Leafcutter Bee Fossils Found in La Brea Tar Pits

Rare leafcutter bee fossils were excavated from the La Brea Tar Pits in 1970. The fossils have now been examined closely with a micro CT scan.

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Lab-Grown Vaginas Implanted in Humans for the First Time

Lab-grown vaginas were implanted in patients for the first time report scientists at the Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center�s Institute for Regenerative Medicine.

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April 12, 2014

Scientists Say Coughs and Sneezes Stay Airborne for Long Distances

MIT researchers has found that coughs and sneezes have gas clouds that keep them airborne for long distances.

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Fruit Flies Can Manuever Like Fighter Jets to Evade Predators

University of Washington researchers have determined that fruit flies can manuever like fighter jets to evade predators.

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Chimps Use Tree Branch to Escape Enclosure at Kansas City Zoo

Chimps used a tree branch to escape up the wall of their enclosure at Kansas City Zoo. The chimps were led by a ringleader who encouraged six other chips to escape.

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April 11, 2014

NASA Researchers May Have Found Possible Exomoon

NASA researchers may have found a possible exomoon. NASA says it could also be a small, faint star.

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305-Million-Year-Old Fossil of Four-Eyed Daddy Longlegs Found in France

Scientists found a 305-million-year-old fossil of a harvestmen in France that shows the ancient arachnids had an extra pair of eyes.

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April 01, 2014

Planetary cakes

Who wouldn’t want a spongy Jupiter or a vanilla Earth with tectonic icing? I do wish they’d not misspelled concentric, but never mind. Can I have a slice of Jupiter with the spot?

Planetary cakes is a post from the science blog of David Bradley, author of Deceived Wisdom Subscribe to our Email Newsletter

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May 06, 2010

A More Reality-Based Poll

Remember that strikingly inept poll analysis about the Tea Party movement from The New York Times last month? Well, the new Washington Post-ABC News poll addresses the same topic, and the Post’s analysis seems to actually be rooted in reality:

The conservative “tea party” movement appeals almost exclusively to supporters of the Republican Party, bolstering the view that the tea party divides the GOP even as it has energized its base.

That conclusion, backed by numbers from a new Washington Post-ABC News poll, also suggests that the tea party may have little room for growth. Most Americans — including large majorities of those who don’t already count themselves as supporters — say they’re not interested in learning more about the movement. A sizable share of those not already sympathetic to the tea party also say that the more they hear, the less they like the movement.

Overall, the tea party remains divisive, with 27 percent of those polled saying they’re supportive but about as many, 24 percent, opposed. Supporters overwhelmingly identify themselves as Republicans or GOP-leaning independents; opponents are even more heavily Democratic. The new movement is also relatively small, with 8 percent of supporters claiming to be “active participants” — about 2 percent of the total population.

(Emphasis added by me.)

These numbers are somewhat similar to last month’s New York Times-CBS News poll, which found that 18% of Americans support the Tea Party movement. Despite the Times doing as much as it could to hype these results, I pointed out that this wasn’t very meaningful, since that poll found that 78% of these “supporters” had never attended a Tea Party rally or meeting or donated money to the Tea Party cause. So, doing a little math, we find that about 4% of people could be labeled as active Tea Partiers based on that poll (compared with 2% in the current Washington Post poll).

The difference in both of these numbers (27% vs. 18% for supporters, 4% vs. 2% for active participants) could be due to a real drop in support for and participation in the Tea Party movement, or just a difference between the two polls. My point in bringing it up is that The Washington Post’s analysis actually makes sense.

On the side, it is also of note that there’s some good news in the poll for the Democratic Party:

The percentage of people who say the Democratic Party represents their personal values and is in tune with the problems of people like themselves hasn’t changed since November. The percentage siding with the GOP, however, has dropped by almost precisely the numbers now siding with the tea party.

Some 14 percent of Americans say the tea party is most in sync with their values, nearly matching the 15 percentage-point drop-off for the GOP over the past five months.

For more, check out a graphic on the poll results here and the full poll results here.

April 14, 2010

This Is a Very Dumb Poll

Actually, I should say that this is a very dumb analysis of a poll. The New York Times is really promoting its new NYT/CBS poll right now; as I write this, the top headline on the Times’ homepage reads “Poll Finds Tea Party Backers Wealthier and More Educated.”

When I first saw that headline and read the email news alert that the Times sent out, I did agree that these appeared to be interesting and surprising findings. And, as I read the article, my interest–and then skepticism–continued to grow. According to the article, these “Tea Party supporters” are “wealthier and more well-educated than the general public”, and they make up “18 percent of Americans”. Hmmm… interesting. Also, they “do not think Sarah Palin is qualified to be president”, and are “more likely than the general public to have returned their census forms.” Well, that’s quite a surprise.

The article goes on and on, but one thing should become clear: these “Tea Party supporters” sound almost indistinguishable from your run-of-the-mill establishment fiscal-conservative Republican. How could this be?

Well, if you look at the actual the survey results and methods, you’ll see that these “Tea Party supporters” are just people who answered affirmatively to the question “Do you consider yourself to be a supporter of the Tea Party movement, or not?” In fact, 78% (!!!) of these “supporters” have never attended a Tea Party rally or meeting or donated money to the Tea Party cause.

It’s no wonder that these “Tea Party supporters” sound nothing like the Tea Party activists we’ve grown so familiar with… because they’re not! Now, I’ll grant that the Times’ analysis never explicitly equates these two. But, especially by making statements like “Speculation and anecdotal evidence have often taken the place of concrete data about who supports the Tea Party movement, and the poll offers some surprising findings”, they’re really insinuating a lot.

In the end, these results are pretty uninteresting, since this poll just describes a large bloc of the Republican Party that has been in existence for a long time. (For a much more reasonable analysis of the poll, check out CBS’s take.)

For a more relevant picture of what the Tea Party movement actually looks like, just take this recent sampling from the Times’ own pages:

Let’s not mince words here: the Tea Party movement has been fueled by misinformation, bigotry, and irrational violent anger at the government. If this new poll shows us anything, it’s just to what a large degree the Republican establishment has accepted and embraced this radical fringe.

September 17, 2008

This blog is changing!

After more than two years and 769 posts, the Short Sharp Science blog is changing.

All the blogs are merging to become one super-blog, a blog for everything New Scientist covers in the world of science, technology, environment, and ideas.

The changes also incorporate a new URL, so visit the new, Short Sharp Science blog here.

For those of you viewing in RSS, please update your readers to subscribe to this new feed.

Tom Simonite, online technology editor

September 15, 2008

Are happy kids dumb kids?

Did you live a coddled childhood filled with unbridled playtime and few reminders of the harsh real world? You might have been dumber as a result.

Children coaxed into a jovial mood performed worse on a simple test of geometric shape recognition than kids put in a dourer mood, report Simone Schnall, of the University of Plymouth, UK and colleagues in a recent issue of Developmental Science.

You may wonder whether these psychologists hate happy kids or just fun, but their conclusion is supported by other research. For instance, adults in good spirits do worse than sad adults on similar tests.

To uncover the same effect in children, the researchers, thankfully, didn't resort to insults or mind-altering drugs.

Instead they played one of two classical tunes to 10- and 11-year olds. Fifteen kids heard Mozart's jolly ditty Eine Kleine Nachtmusik, while the other 15 had to suffer through Mahler's doleful Adagietto. Previous research suggested these songs put kids in happy and sad moods, respectively, and Schnall's team confirmed that by surveying the kids.

While listening to the tunes the children played a game where they hunted for a specific geometric shape – a triangle joined to a rectangle, for instance – within a picture. The merry Mozart kids took noticeably longer finding the shapes than the children who were forced to listen to Mahler.

Not content with proving that happy pre-teens are daft, the researchers aimed their hypothesis at 61 six and seven-year olds. Instead of hearing classical music, the kids watched three movie scenes.

One, from Disney's Jungle Book, features the singing and dancing of an ebullient bear. A neutral scene from The Last Unicorn shows a knight reaching a castle. The sad scene comes from The Lion King, another Disney cartoon. Even this reporter, who watched the movie as a teen, shed a tear when Simba mourns his father's death.

In the same shape recognition test administered after the movie scene, the happy kids proved slower at picking out shapes than those who watched the neutral Last Unicorn or the lugubrious Lion King scenes.

Schnall's team offers several explanations for their results. Mood could directly alter cognitive thinking, and in a happy state people have little desire to question what they see, while "sadness indicates something is amiss, triggering detail-oriented analytical processing," they write.

Alternatively, happy people could be so caught up in their personal high that they ignore details or they distract themselves from the task at hand.

This could be hand-waving - it seems just as likely that Mozart and The Jungle Book are more distracting than Mahler and The Lion King. Because the kids tended to ignore the music played before the test, the researchers dismiss this possibility, but anyone who's taken a six-year old to a Disney film knows that the catchy songs don't vanish from their brains in just a few minutes.

But there's some encouraging news, at least, for cheerful kids and their parents. Children in a good mood perform better on tasks that demand creative and flexible thinking, previous studies show.

So the take-home message may be - contrary to popular opinion - that happy kids end up as artists and poets, while sad and angry children become accountants.

The paper's last sentence seems directed toward parents of these future artists: "Artificially inflating a child's mood may have unintended and possibly undesirable cognitive consequences."

Ewen Callaway, online reporter
(Image: Kaeli/Photobucket)