SHANGHAI (Reuters) - Hundreds of flights were delayed or cancelled on Friday in China's commercial hub of Shanghai as record levels of air pollution shrouded the city in smog, prompting authorities to issue the highest level of health warning.
The incident is especially embarrassing at a time when China seeks to build Shanghai into a global business hub on par with the likes of London, New York and Hong Kong by 2020.
On Friday afternoon, the Shanghai government issued its severest health warning as the city's pollution index ranged between 23 times and 31 times the levels recommended by international health officials.
In the first such advice since a new health warning system was launched in April, authorities urged residents to stay indoors and asked factories to either cut or halt production.
"I don't think it's fit for people to live in this kind of environment," said Shanghai resident Fan Jianjun, 34, who wore a face mask as he walked through the opaque air in the Lujiazui financial district.
"But I have no choice. [More]
More than half of all Americans carry smartphones. Smartwatches and smartglasses may not be far behind. What's not all that smart are the rigid batteries that power our gadgets. But some may soon be replaced by ultra-thin, flexible batteries, sewn right into your clothes.[More]
I read a post at Nature yesterday about the severe cutbacks the Planetary Sciences Division at NASA (headed by Jim Green) has had to make recently due to reduced funding. This hardly seems acceptable to me, and certainly not to Bill Nye, CEO at The Planetary Society . So he wrote a letter to Barack Obama, and then read it aloud in this video.
By Cezary Podkul
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Supporters of the renewable fuels industry turned out en masse on Thursday, desperate for the U.S. [More]
By Erik Kirschbaum and Belinda Goldsmith
BERLIN/LONDON (Reuters) - Hurricane-force Storm Xaver blasted towards mainland Europe on Thursday after cutting transport and power in northern Britain and killing three people in what meteorologists warned could be the worst storm to hit the continent in years.
British authorities said the Thames Barrier, designed to protect London from flooding during exceptional tides, would shut on Thursday night and warned of "the most serious coastal tidal surge for over 60 years in England". [More]
By Jane Sutton
MIAMI (Reuters) - Most of the pilot whales that were stranded in the Florida Everglades swam into deeper water on Thursday while rescuers tried to chase the rest out to sea by banging on pipes and revving their boat engines.
Wildlife workers had hoped the cacophony would encourage the whales to leave the shallow water where dozens of short-finned pilot whales were first sighted on Tuesday afternoon in a remote part of the Everglades National Park.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or NOAA, said via Twitter that of the 51 whales originally stranded, 11 had died and five went missing overnight Wednesday.
NOAA said the 35 swimming away were about 9 miles from shore, in about 18 feet of water, with about 10 or 15 miles to go before they reach deeper waters.
Biologists were collecting samples from some of the carcasses in hopes of learning how they died. [More]
Doses of a human gut microbe helped to reverse behavioral problems in mice with autism-like symptoms, researchers report today in Cell . The treatment also reduced gastrointestinal problems in the animals that were similar to those that often accompany autism in humans.[More]
Dyslexia may be caused by impaired connections between auditory and speech centers of the brain, according to a study published today in Science . The research could help to resolve conflicting theories about the root causes of the disorder, and lead to targeted interventions.[More]
Scientists have known for more than 150 years that sharks get cancer. And yet the belief persists that the animals don't suffer from the disease.[More]
To reach space, Sir Richard Branson’s Spaceship Two must eventually pass Mach 3.5. This year, it exceeded Mach 1, making it the first commercial spacecraft—an all-carbon-composite one, no less—to do so. Branson himself says he’ll be on the next test flight in December. After that, you can go.
Wingspan: 27 feet
Length: 60 feet
Speed: 2,500 mph
Ceiling: 361,000 feetArray
We’re number two! The United States is home to 1,278 species at risk of extinction — the second-highest count worldwide — according to the latest update of the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List of Threatened Species . The update, released last week , brings the total number of species that have been assessed for their extinction risk up to 71,576. Of course, that’s just a fraction of the total world biodiversity, but digging into the IUCN’s numbers reveals some interesting data points, as well as some of the areas where our scientific knowledge still has room for improvement.
So let’s look at those numbers. According to IUCN counts, the countries with the highest numbers of species at risk of extinction are Ecuador (2,301), the U.S., Malaysia (1,226), Indonesia (1,206) and Mexico (1,074). India, China, Brazil, Tanzania and Australia round out the top ten; each of those nations has more than 900 species at risk of extinction on the IUCN Red List.[More]
The latest neuroscience study of sex differences to hit the popular press has inspired some familiar headlines. The Independent, for example, proclaims that:
The hardwired difference between male and female brains could explain why men are “better at map reading” (And why women are “better at remembering a conversation”).
The study in question, published in PNAS, used a technology called diffusion tensor imaging to model the structural connectivity of the brains of nearly a thousand young people, ranging in age from eight to 22.
It reports greater connectivity within the hemispheres in males, but greater connnectivity between the hemispheres in females. These findings, the authors conclude in their scientific paper,
suggest that male brains are structured to facilitate connectivity between perception and coordinated action, whereas female brains are designed to facilitate communication between analytical and intuitive processing modes.
One important possibility the authors don’t consider is that their results have more to do with brain size than brain sex. Male brains are, on average, larger than females and a large brain is not simply a smaller brain scaled up.
Larger brains create different sorts of engineering problems and so – to minimise energy demands, wiring costs, and communication times – there may physical reasons for different arrangements in differently sized brains. The results may reflect the different wiring solutions of larger versus smaller brains, rather than sex differences per se.
But also, popular references to women’s brains being designed for social skills and remembering conversations, or male brains for map reading, are utterly misleading.
In an larger earlier study (from which the participants of the PNAS study were a subset), the same research team compellingly demonstrated that the sex differences in the psychological skills they measured – executive control, memory, reasoning, spatial processing, sensorimotor skills, and social cognition – are almost all trivially small.
To give a sense of the huge overlap in behaviour between males and females, of the twenty-six possible comparisons, eleven sex differences were either non-existent, or so small that if you were to select a boy and girl at random and compare their scores on a task, the “right” sex would be superior less than 53% of the time.
Even the much-vaunted female advantage in social cognition, and male advantage in spatial processing, was so modest that a randomly chosen boy would outscore a randomly chosen girl on social cognition – and the girl would outscore the boy on spatial processing – over 40% of the time.
As for map-reading and remembering conversations, these weren’t measured at all.
Yet the authors describe these differences as “pronounced” and as reflecting “behavioural complementarity” – scientific jargon-speak for “men are from Mars, women are from Venus”. Rather than drawing on their impressively rich data-set to empirically test questions about how brain connectivity characteristics relate to behaviour, the authors instead offer untested stereotype-based speculation. Even though, with such considerable overlap in male/female distributions, biological sex is a dismal guide to psychological ability.
Also missing from the study is any mention of experience-dependent brain plasticity. Why?
As prominent feminist neuroscientists have noted, the social phenomenon of gender means that a person’s biological sex has a significant impact on the experiences (including social, material, physical, and mental) she or he encounters which will, in turn, leave neurological traces.
Yet the researchers do not pay any attention to the gendered experiences (such as hobbies, subjects studied at school or higher education, or participation in sporting activities) of the young males and females in their sample.
This absence has two consequences. First, the researchers miss an opportunity to investigate whether gendered experiences might influence brain development and enhance the acquisition of important skills valuable to all. The second consequence is that, by failing to look at gendered social influences, the authors guarantee that no data will be produced that challenge the notion of “hardwired” male/female neural signatures.
These characteristics of the PNAS study are very common in neuroscientific investigations of male/female sex differences, and represent two important ways in which scientific research can be subtly “neurosexist”, reinforcing and legitimating gender stereotypes in ways that are not scientifically justified. And, when researchers are “blinded” by sex, they can overlook potentially informative research strategies.
Returning to the popular representations, we can now see a striking disconnect with the actual data. The research provides strong evidence for behavioural similarities between the sexes. It provides no evidence that those modest behavioural sex differences are associated with brain connectivity differences. And, it offers no information about the developmental origins of either behavioural or brain differences.
Yet, the popular press presents it as evidence that “hardwired” sex differences explain why men are from Mars and women are from Venus. While this is tediously predictable, what is more surprising is for a study author to push along such misinterpretations, claiming to have found evidence for “hardwired” sex differences, and suggesting that this might explain behavioural sex differences not actually measured in the study, such as in “intuition” skills “linked with being good mothers”.
In the latest issue of Trends in Cognitive Sciences, co-authors Rebecca Jordan-Young, Anelis Kaiser and Gina Rippon and I argued that scientists investigating sex differences have a responsibility to realise “how social assumptions influence their research and, indeed, public understanding of it.” We then called on scientists working in this area to:
recognise that there are important and exciting opportunities to change these social assumptions through rigorous, reflective scientific inquiry and debate.
The continuing importance of this message is only reinforced by this latest case study in how easily scientific “neurosexism” can, with a little stereotype-inspired imagination, contribute to inaccurate and harmful lay misunderstanding of what neuroscience tells us about the sexes.
Cordelia Fine receives funding from an ARC Future Fellowship.
"You can ban drugs, but you can't ban chemistry," Mike Power, author of Drugs 2.0, explains in this talk at the HIT Hot Topics Conference. And he gives a personal, investigative story to prove it.
Governments can legislate chemicals--ban a drug, say, a stimulant or a psychedelic--but what happens when chemists make a slightly different version by mixing in a new molecule? The drug becomes, legally, something different, and for as long as it takes the government to catch up on the new substance, the drug can be sold. Power went on a quest to discover just how easy that process was, out-sourcing a version of the stimulant phenmetrazine to a Chinese lab, and in a few weeks, getting the legal version delivered to his door in the United Kingdom. The lab never even learned his name.
What's the answer to that loophole? Power offers one, but it's a slow build to how he gets there, and the video is worth watching in its entirety.
Mosquitoes prowling for a blood meal are drawn to the plumes of carbon dioxide exhaled with each human breath. But they also buzz around dirty socks and worn clothes--gravitating toward skin odor even in the absence of a panting human--leaving scientists to puzzle over what internal guide drives mosquitoes to dinner.[More]
Traces of 18 unregulated chemicals were found in drinking water from more than one-third of U.S. water utilities in a nationwide sampling, according to new, unpublished research by federal scientists.[More]
Last summer, the National Institutes of Health announced that it’s phasing out experiments on chimpanzees. All but 50 of its 451 chimps will go to sanctuaries, and it won’t breed the remainder. The change is based on its 2011 study that determined that advancements have rendered human trials, computer-based research, and genetically modified mice more scientifically useful than chimps. The U.S. is late to this. Australia, Japan, and the E.U. have already banned or limited experiments on great apes in medical research. But the science community should take it further. We should work to end all animal testing for good.
Ninety percent of drugs that pass animal testing then fail in human trials.It’s not just a moral question. Ethics aside, there are plenty of scientific reasons to push away from animal testing. The most important is that animal-based methods are being equaled or surpassed by other means. And the result is better science overall. Over the last 10 years, we’ve started replacing rodents with human cells in drug toxicity tests. But the biggest hurdle is probably testing efficacy: how well a drug treats a medical condition. A common tack is to genetically manipulate mice to imitate human diseases, but human and mouse genes still behave differently. In part because of this, 90 percent of drugs that pass animal testing then fail in human trials.
Organs on a chip are one alternative. The thumb- size devices combine a thin layer of human cells with microchips that pump bloodlike fluid through them. At Harvard’s Wyss Institute, researchers have built a human gut-on-a-chip that replicates intestinal muscular contractions and a lung-on-a-chip with air-sac and capillary cells that exchange oxygen for carbon dioxide. The pseudo-lung can get infected and mimic complicated diseases such as chemotherapy-induced pulmonary edema. The institute is also working on chips for bone marrow, heart, and even brain tissue.
Computer models can help replace animals too. In the relatively new field of systems biology, scientists are making digital maps that simulate entire systems of the human body, down to the molecule. The Center for Systems Biology at the University of Iceland recently finished modeling all the chemical interactions of human metabolism and is starting on the blood. Last year, researchers at the University of California at San Francisco used a computer to predict negative side effects in on-market drugs with about 50 percent accuracy. That accuracy will only get better.
Human studies are also getting stronger. Lab animals are usually genetically identical clones, but people have lots of DNA differences that can affect how a drug works. For example, in 2010 it was discovered that the popular heart-attack-prevention drug Plavix is less effective for nearly one in three patients because of variances in their metabolisms. Now, gene tests can help doctors choose whether or not to prescribe it, and similar tests could do the same for other drugs. By relying on cloned animals and cells, we’ve probably been screening out helpful medicines before they even get to human trials.
Some animal testing will remain scientifically necessary for a long time. Studying visual perception, for example, requires a working eyeball connected to a brain (until a computer perfectly mimics it). But the more research options we create, the better science we’ll have.
This article originally appeared in the December 2013 issue of Popular Science.
In a little corner of the Great Plains, corn growers are using proven methods to cut their carbon footprint.[More]
When members of the U.S. military and other federal government agencies need to discuss the big secrets, they go into secure, soundproof rooms called "Sensitive Compartmented Information Facilities," or SCIFs (pronounced "skiffs"). Except, according to initial research by acoustics engineer Marlund Hale, the rooms might not be all that soundproof.The door and frame systems often don't seal well, letting noise escape
The problem, Hale says, is that the whole of a SCIF is less secure than the sum of its parts. The requirements for making a site secure are elaborate; the unclassified version of the technical specifications runs at 158 pages. Acoustic insulation standards cover all sides of the room, including the floor and ceiling. Despite these standards for individual sections, the door and frame systems often don't seal as well as intended, letting noise escape, Hale says. He suggests the flaws arise when contractors neglect specific design details during construction. As a result, SCIFs are no more soundproof than a typical California apartment, according to Hale, who presented his findings yesterday at a meeting of the Acoustical Society of America.
Current Department of Defense design standards "only require sufficient acoustical isolation to prevent a casual passerby from understanding classified information, but do not need to be adequate to prevent a deliberate effort by someone to understand that information," Hale says.
Next week, Hale will conduct 13 more tests on another military installation. Among his early recommendations are special airlock-like, two-part entrances, which would prevent sound from traveling down the hall when a door opens. Until new improvements are adopted for acoustic insulation, it's probably a good idea for people with secret information to use their inside voices when inside a SCIF.
Farmers have always depended on both honeybees and native bees to pollinate crops. As honeybees die en masse, wild bees are needed more than ever--but they, too, are disappearing. In the late 1800s naturalist Charles Robertson traveled around Carlinville, Ill., by horse and buggy, meticulously recording which bees visited which flowers. In 2009 and 2010 ecologist Laura A. Burkle, now at Montana State University, and her colleagues repeated some of Robertson's studies. The dense network of plant-pollinator relationships Robertson originally documented had deteriorated. Less than half as many interactions occurred in 2009 and 2010 as in the 1800s. Ironically, ever expanding croplands have most likely killed off local populations of native bees by depriving them of natural habitat and exposing them to toxic pesticides. And climate change has thrown off the bees' timing by shifting bloom cycles. But life is resilient: in 121 instances, Burkle observed bees attending flowers they had not pollinated in the past.[More]