What are creative people like? As we saw in my prior post , various creativity researchers tend to converge on the same conclusion: creative people are complex . Creative people have a great deal of physical energy, but often need their rest. They tend to be both introverted and extroverted at the same darn time. And perhaps most strikingly, their high levels of openness to experience and sensitivity expose them to great suffering and pain as well as intense joy and euphoria. [More]
Each year hundreds of the best and brightest researchers gather in Lindau, Germany, for the Nobel Laureate Meeting . There, the newest generation of scientists mingles with Nobel Prize winners and discusses their work and ideas. The 2013 meeting is dedicated to chemistry and will involve young researchers from 78 different countries. In anticipation of the event, which will take place from June 30 through July 5, we are highlighting a group of attendees under 30 who represent the future of chemistry. The following profile is the 15th in a series of 30.[More]
Dear EarthTalk : The three-year anniversary of the 2010 BP oil spill just passed. What do green groups think of the progress since in restoring the region? --Mary Johannson, New York City[More]
On its way from flight to fossil, an ancient beetle's wings lost their color and then their form. Slow-baked and squished by sand, the glittering green wings darkened and turned blue, then indigo, then black.[More]
Rats don't usually come out into daylight, especially not on a busy morning in New York City. But there it was, head awkwardly jutting out in front of its body, swinging from side to side. What injured the creature, I have no idea, but its hind legs could no longer support its weight. The rat dragged them like a kid drags a garbage bag that parents have asked be taken out–reluctantly. The muscles in the front legs rippled as they propelled the body forward along the sidewalk. The rodent was surprisingly quick considering the injury. But its aimlessness suggested distress.[More]
Stem cells are prized for their ability to give rise to a variety of specialized cell types, including heart, liver, nerve and bone. Unfortunately, it’s the stem cells from embryos that have shown the biggest potential, for generating both a range of tissues and a ton of controversy.[More]
A father Barbary macaque with infant in tow.
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Icy Dione in front of Saturn. The horizontal stripes near the bottom of the image are Saturn's rings. Images taken on Oct. 11, 2005, with blue, green and infrared spectral filters were used to create this color view, which approximates the scene as it would appear to the human eye.
NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute
700 miles: the diameter of Dione, an icy moon of Saturn that may be home to a subterranean ocean-and "astrobiological potential"
13 million light-years: the distance from Earth to this perplexing black hole, which appears to have recently gone quiet at the center of the Sculptor galaxy
1975: the year Lego added human figures to its toy sets. Since then, the figures have featured increasingly angry facial expressions, according to a new study
75: the average number of Lego bricks for every person on Earth
95 percent: the portion of people who fail to wash their hands properly after using a public restroom, a new bathroom-spying study has found
70,000 metric tons: the amount of commercial spent fuel stored in U.S. nuclear reactors. A start-up called Transatomic Power says it has designed a reactor that could use this fuel stockpile to power the U.S. for 70 years.
15 microns: the thickness of a newly discovered human body part (can you guess where it is?)
$399: the price of the just-announced PlayStation 4, which will feature streaming gaming, new titles, and no restrictions on on used games
30,000: the population of Songdo, South Korea, one of the world's most successful eco-cities. A pneumatic waste-collection system transports garbage by tube instead of by truck, and Songdo's parking garages come with charging stations for electric cars.
40 percent: the portion of Americans between the ages of 18 and 29 that have at least one tattoo. Ever wonder what makes tattoos permanent?
New York City DOTThe New York Times looks at studies of urban bicycling.
Want to make your city safer for bicyclists? Perhaps you should think about asking for a public bike-share program.
Bike shares, such as the new system in New York City, improve accident rates for all bicyclists. What probably happens is that the increased numbers of bikers make motorists more aware of bikers, David Vlahov, the dean of nursing at the University of California, San Francisco, told the New York Times.
According to the Times, biking accounts for 800 deaths and more than 500,000 emergency room visits a year in the U.S. The vast majority of visits and deaths result from head injury.
A personal injury lawyer told the Times that most of his cases involved "dooring"-when a person in a car opens his door suddenly into a bike lane. In a demonstration of the effect more bikers are able to have on bicycle safety, drivers in the Netherlands, where many citizens bike in the cities, are trained to reach across their bodies and open their doors with their right hands. The move forces them to check for bikers behind them.
There's also a science to distracted biking-which is dangerous, just like distracted driving-and to the design of bike lanes. One scientist talked with the New York Times about studies that show that drivers unfairly give male bikers less room than female bikers.
By Keith Coffman
COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. [More]
Stones: they can't be hacked.
Wikimedia CommonsForget PRISM, this is real super-villain stuff.
Buggy software isn't just annoying-the right compromised code can leave private information vulnerable to clever hackers for as long as the problem is unnoticed. The only thing that could make bugs worse? Government agencies gaining access to the vulnerabilities before everyone else, and using spies to exploit them.
Before Microsoft releases a public patch of to a software bug, it passes along that information to U.S. intelligence agencies, say two sources familiar with the program.
Best case scenario, this information is used to protect critical government online infrastructure first, making sure that vital functions are the most secure. The official line from Microsoft is that this gives government "an early start" in stopping risks. But it also gives government agencies a window to exploit these gaps for intelligence collection purposes.
Microsoft software is both widely used and infamous for its bugs. Just this week, Microsoft released a patch designed to cover an image file exploit that let hackers look at special information. Disclosed in May, there's an exploit in Microsoft Office that could give an attacker a foot in the door to gaining full access to the attacked computer.
Microsoft is a huge company; that there are constantly new bugs being discovered isn't that surprising. Sometimes major software is released with "day-zero" bugs, like Internet Explorer 8, or Windows 8, or every version of Windows ever. It's a problem for all of the online world that uses Windows, and leaves an insecure ecosystem of software.
It's one thing to struggle with a product full of security vulnerabilities and potential for exploits. Handing that information over to the government first? Forget PRISM, this is real super-villain stuff.
BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The world will have enough wind turbines to generate more than 300 gigawatts of power - the equivalent of 114 nuclear power plants - by the end of the year, industry figures show.
As Brazil, China, Mexico and South Africa add turbines, the figure represents modest growth compared with a year ago, when the overall total capacity was just over 280 gigawatts.
"Worldwide installed wind power will exceed 300 gigawatts of power capacity this year," Peter Sennekamp, media officer for the European Wind Energy Association (EWEA), said, citing figures compiled by EWEA and the Global Wind Energy Council.
Europe, which has led the world on wind, still represents around a third of all capacity, with more than 100 gigawatts, but its growth has been stalled by uncertainty as financial crisis has meant abrupt changes to subsidy regimes.
The European Commission, the European Union's executive, has supported the idea of harmonization of subsidies across the European Union and said it will publish guidelines before the summer break in August.
However, EU authorities cannot dictate to member states what kind of energy sources they use and how they are financed.
The most heated debate has been in Germany, ahead of elections in September, where the cost of energy and progress of implementing the nation's Energiewende - or transition to green energy and away from nuclear fuel - are election issues.
Heavy industry has attacked renewable subsidies, arguing they add to costs and damage competitiveness, especially when the United States benefits from cheap shale gas.
Representatives of the renewable industry say they are working to produce energy that can compete economically with traditional sources, which would lower political risk.
They say they have made progress on onshore wind and solar, but for the huge scale of offshore wind, a technology still in its infancy, subsidies are essential, probably for the rest of the decade.
"We see six to seven (offshore) projects under way and then there's nothing. [More]
Wikimedia CommonsNew research suggests that ordinary shoes work just fine for runners with under- and over-pronating feet.
For decades, running shoes have been manufactured in different styles to affect "pronation": rotational movement of the foot. If you tend to rotate either too far (over-pronate) or not enough (under-pronate) then you need corrective (and often expensive) shoes, so you won't get injured. At least that's what the running commentariat tells you.
Turns out, you might be wasting your money. A new study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine has found that ordinary shoes work fine for runners regardless of how they pronate.
Researchers from Aarhus University in Denmark gave 927 novice runners with different pronation types the same pair of "neutral"--non-corrective--running shoes. (From the study: "A total of 927 novice runners equivalent to 1,854 feet...") After one year and a combined 100,000-plus miles of running, 252 of the new runners suffered injuries.
Which group had a higher rate of injury? Believe it or not, the over/under pronators actually had significantly fewer injuries on average than the people with neutral pronation.
It isn't the first study to arrive at such a counterintuitive conclusion. For a study published in 2010, researchers took a group of runners, measured their pronation rates, then randomly assigned them shoes that were designed either for over-pronated, under-pronated, or neutral feet. The runners with the "correct" shoes on actually had the highest rate of injuries. All five of the over-pronated runners given "motion-control" shoes--big shoes actually designed for over-pronators--ended up with injuries.
So what do we know about the relationship between pronation and injury? The researchers behind the latest study are careful to say "[m]ore work is needed to ascertain if highly pronated feet face a higher risk of injury than neutral feet." I, for one, will be sticking with the cheap non-corrective shoes.
The Official Blog of the U.S. Department of EducationJust having an iPad for every kid isn't enough.
U.S. schools are spending money on laptops and tablets for their students, but they aren't checking what kinds of returns on investment they're getting, according to a new report from the Center for American Progress.
In addition, many schools end up using their expensive equipment for simple stuff, instead of trying more radical new ways of teaching, the report found. The problem is apparently worse in schools with lower-income students, who were more likely to say they use devices at school for basic drills, such as math facts, instead of learning higher-order skills, such as analyzing numbers in a spreadsheet or statistical software.
New techy devices are among the most expensive physical equipment a school can buy, so it'd be a shame and a great waste if schools aren't using them well.
What are some better ways of using these newfangled devices? The Center for American Progress-which was founded by a former staff member of the Obama and Clinton Administrations, but says it is nonpartisan-has some suggestions. One is to use Internet-enabled devices to beam in teachers known to be extra effective at a subject. This will give more students a chance to study with the super-effective teacher. Software programs may also let different students learn at their own pace and with slightly different types of lessons, giving the kind of individualized instruction that single teachers aren't able to.
Slate's Future Tense blog recently had another cool idea. A blogger visited a private Swiss school (Caveat: the school had way more money than American public schools do) where teachers had kids use iPads to make multimedia presentations about stuff they've learned. This contrasts with American classrooms, which often focus on the iPad's learning apps and games.
To explain what a "system" is, for example, one Swiss second-grader used her iPad to draw pictures and make a flowchart showing how books are checked out, read, returned and re-shelved at a library. She then recorded a little video of herself explaining her flowchart. The videos are an especial boon for getting into the heads of shy students, one teacher told Future Tense.
It seems that American schools need to be more creative in how they use technology. The Center for American Progress also suggests schools need to be held more accountable through return-on-investment measures, instead of just saying, as many schools do, that X number of classrooms have Internet access or devices. Just having those things around isn't enough.
With more than two-thirds of Americans now overweight or obese, finding the best way to help improve diet and exercise is key for the nation's health. So who do you trust to help you lose weight? A svelte celebrity on a magazine cover? Your buffest friend? What about a super-fit physician?[More]
Oak Ridge National LaboratoryWe take a look at how yesterday's Supreme Court ruling affects risk testing for breast cancer. Plus, this isn't the last word for gene patenting.
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled yesterday on a landmark genetics case, involving the company that previously offered the only test in the world for two major genetic mutations that affect women's risk of getting hereditary breast cancer.
The ruling found a middle ground, saying that Myriad Genetics, which is based in Utah, can't actually patent the naturally occurring genes BRCA1 and BRCA2. At the same time, Myriad can keep its patents on synthetic versions of the genes that it's created.
Will this make genetic testing for breast cancer cheaper?
Yes, it probably will. Before this ruling, Myriad Genetics said it had the exclusive right to offer testing for BRCA1 and BRCA2. Without insurance, the tests could cost more than $3,000.
It's barely been 24 hours, and at least three companies and two university labs now say they'll offer genetic testing for breast cancer, the New York Times reported. Such competition should lower testing costs, perhaps dramatically. "Many academic labs, including our own, will soon be offering panel tests for dozens, or even hundreds of genes, for the same price Myriad historically charged for just two genes," Kenneth Offit, chief of the clinical genetics service at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, told the New York Times.
Would-be competitors have some catching up to do, however. Myriad should have tons of data it's collected from two decades of providing the testing almost exclusively. Others will be starting nearly from scratch. Myriad also says it still has valid patents on other portions of its test. Competitors will have to find their own workarounds. (See the next question.)
Opening up testing to more companies was one of the major reasons Myriad Genetics' opponents had sued the company in the first place. One of the complainants in the case was a doctor who used to send his patients' DNA for testing to a University of Pennsylvania lab. The lab and the doctor both received letters from Myriad telling them they were infringing upon Myriad's patents. The lab stopped performing BRCA1 and BRCA2 testing. The doctor joined this lawsuit.
How does the Supreme Court's ruling on synthetic genes affect breast cancer risk testing?
While the Supreme Court ruled that naturally occurring genes aren't patentable, it nevertheless upheld Myriad Genetics' patents on synthetic versions of BRCA1 and BRCA2 that are chemically different from how they appear in human cells. This may make the development of competing tests more difficult, but not impossible.
The Supreme Court decision describes synthetic BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes, made of something called cDNA, that have had the parts of their sequence removed that don't code for proteins. When I first read and posted about the decision yesterday, I didn't know for what Myriad used those synthetic genes. It turns out that they're part of Myriad's breast cancer gene test. Because they have had their non-protein-coding portions removed, you can think of them as "cleaned-up" versions of the genes.
While genetic tests do often use cDNA instead of DNA, using naturally occurring DNA is becoming more common, Nature's News Blog reported.
Will this stifle innovation in private companies?
It's not clear yet what will happen in the biotech world. At this point, it's just he-said, she-said when it comes to predicting that future.
Some lawyers the Washington Post talked with said the ruling helps companies by telling them exactly what they can expect to patent.
The Biotechnology Industry Organization doesn't seem pleased, however, calling the decision "restrictive" and saying it threatens the U.S.' "global economic and scientific leadership in the life sciences." Myriad Genetics is not a part of the organization.
What other gene patents are out there?
The New York Times has a couple examples. Private companies hold patents on naturally occurring human genes related to spinal muscular atrophy and one inherited form of deafness, the Times reported. Like Myriad Genetics, those companies had the exclusive right to offer tests for those genes. They may not have that right anymore, depending on whether they hold other patents that would preclude a competing company from making its own forms of those tests.
Companies, universities and others hold more than 4,000 U.S.-granted patents on genes, representing some 40 percent of human DNA, Reuters reported. But the new ruling won't affect all of them as profoundly as Myriad has been affected. For one thing, many gene patents are close to expiring, anyway, the New York Times reported.
In addition, many of those patents are actually for cDNA, Nature reported. The cDNA patents may or may not be protected under this new ruling. The court ruled that Myriad Genetics' BRCA1 and BRCA2 cDNA products are patentable, but some cDNA patents may be invalid if they're too obvious to others in the field, Justice Clarence Thomas wrote in the court's opinion.
There's a lot of science here. Did the Supreme Court get everything right?
Not quite. One major error was Thomas' definition of "cDNA" as "composite DNA" instead of the correct "complementary DNA." Thomas' decision also emphasizes cDNA as a human-made product, but viruses also make it.
However, Thomas' description of cDNA is generally correct. It's a piece of DNA that only has the parts that code for a protein. It's made from the mRNA that human cells already make from regular DNA. It's called complementary because its code is "complementary" to the mRNA's sequence. You can think of mRNA as a photo and cDNA as its negative.
Geneticist Ricki Lewis has more details on her blog about the science inaccuracies in the ruling. Unlike Lewis, however, I believe that if the ruling is generally scientifically correct, it's not particularly harmful if there are minor mistakes. Supreme Court justices must consider so much more than the science when making decisions like this and it's difficult to find people who have all the expertise they need. It's not ideal, but it's understandable if they get a few scientific details wrong.
What does Obama think?
This is just about how President Barack Obama said he wanted the Supreme Court to rule, the New York Times reported.
Is this the last word on gene patenting?
Stanford University lawyers apparently don't think so. The human body doesn't naturally make cDNA like the synthetic BRCA1 and BRCA2 that Myriad makes-but viruses are able to make cDNA. The Supreme Court ruling addressed this by saying that it's a rare phenomenon. But how rare is rare enough? This issue may make its way to courts in the future, Stanford law fellow Jake Sherkow wrote in a blog post.
In addition, cDNA may not hold up to patent challenges in the future because the methods for making cDNA are well known and commonly used, Mark Lemley, another Stanford lawyer, told Nature.
Each year hundreds of the best and brightest researchers gather in Lindau, Germany, for the Nobel Laureate Meeting . There, the newest generation of scientists mingles with Nobel Prize winners and discusses their work and ideas. The 2013 meeting is dedicated to chemistry and will involve young researchers from 78 different countries. In anticipation of the event, which will take place from June 30 through July 5, we are highlighting a group of attendees under 30 who represent the future of chemistry. The following profile is the 14th in a series of 30.[More]
Find a needle in this, but with more hay constantly being added to the pile.
Sebastian Ballard, via Wikimedia CommonsDoes PRISM solve the wrong problem?
The National Security Agency spying program known as PRISM is a huge deal. Accessing private information from nine major internet companies, PRISM gives intelligence agencies a veritable sea of information to sort through in their attempts to discover the next threat. Meanwhile, the NSA collected phone records for millions of Verizon customers following the Boston Marathon bombing, assembling a vast pool of data to mine in the hopes of uncovering accomplices of the bombers.
To figure out what all this means, I chatted with David Gomez, a former assistant special agent-in-charge and counterterrorism program manager with the FBI. Gomez now runs HLS Global Consultants, a risk-mitigation consulting firm.
As I understand it, "intelligence" involves gathering information before a crime has been committed, while "investigation" involves collecting that same information as evidence afterward. Is that accurate?
Sort of. Criminal intelligence and evidence are sometimes collected at the same time. All evidence is intelligence, but not all intelligence is evidence. However, in the national security world, intelligence often precedes evidence. Intelligence is often the marker that will lead to a domestic criminal investigation.
Is open-source intelligence used by the FBI? If so, how?
Of course. Both the FBI and local law enforcement use reporter's stories to develop intelligence about non-national security crimes, or, as in the Snowden case, possible espionage. With the advent of the internet, law enforcement intelligence analysts the world over review open-source databases for information and intelligence of "lead" value.
A common criticism regarding pre-9/11 intelligence is that the U.S. had the information, it just failed to put it all together. Do you think a data-mining suite, with the kind of access PRISM grants, would help combat this problem?
FBI Director Robert Mueller has made that argument in testimony before Congress. But I think that is probably overstating the value of large-scope database mining for intelligence. All the dots and data in the world become a puzzle to put together, where you don't know the picture and you are not sure how many pieces are in the puzzle. Plus, you have to put it together upside-down.
Is too much information ever a problem in a case?
In a case? No. But too much information can be a problem in trying to determine what is significant in a national security problem, which is meant to inform policymakers, rather than convict someone in court. Too much data can confuse the issue for analysts.
Is the problem facing U.S. intelligence more a dearth of information or a lack of adequate analysis?
The problem facing U.S. intelligence is too much information, along with the question of how to utilize the wealth of information that is being generated daily about our private lives. That information is being collected and saved, not by the government, but by private industry, with our consent. The essential and controversial problem is how to get access to and how to then use the information legally.
In your experience, are there ever incentives to gather and report unnecessary information, perhaps as a bureaucratic face-saving strategy?
In my experience, new analysts often produce unnecessary reports that are often the regurgitation of information that is already reported elsewhere, out of a need to produce intelligence reports. These are time consuming for a manager to read and review, only to realize that there is nothing really new in the report. But the opposite is also sometimes true. Often information is not reported as intelligence because there is already open-source reporting. But often the open-source reporting will miss the intelligence and law enforcement significance of the data. It is the analyst's job, in my opinion, to make the data relevant to the reader.
Phone records? Probably in here.
Wikimedia CommonsTech types are outraged by the media's misinterpretation of some of the aspects of the (very technical) PRISM story--but the mistakes, if they are even mistakes, don't detract from the seriousness of the scandal.
There are some rumblings amongst tech types that Glenn Greenwald, in his reporting of the PRISM story, misinterpreted one of the alleged PowerPoint slides. Karl Fogel, a pro-open-source blogger tech type, calls it an "epic botch." So what happened?
Greenwald's original article over at the Guardian revealed that the government has been using a secret court order to force Verizon into handing over an extensive amount of user data on a regular basis. But Fogel, among others, points to this slide:
That slide has been interpreted as the government directly tapping into company servers to retrieve whatever information the government wants. The Washington Post, which also filed an extensive expose of the program (perhaps more extensive), said the agencies were "tapping directly into the central servers." Fogel has a problem with this language; his analysis of the slide indicates that what's actually going on isn't so much companies handing over keys to their servers, but companies creating a private digital locked box in which the government can access data they've requested through legal means.
Fogel writes: "The crucial question is: Are online service companies giving the government fully automated access to their data, without any opportunity for review or intervention by company lawyers?"
The New York Times, in their own investigation, found that this locked box concept is probably what's going on here. The government uses FISA, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (the statute that specifies how and in what manner the government can obtain data), to demand information, and instead of the companies handing it over in individual chunks, the government requested these locked boxes so the handoff of information could be efficient and secure. It's sort of the internet-age equivalent of a source meeting a handler on back-to-back park benches and exchanging manila file folders while never looking at each other. These requests, by the way, are legally binding and also come with a gag order preventing the companies from discussing them.
Fogel, and many other tech types I've talked to, are outraged about the media handling of this story. In their mind, the media is bungling all of the intricate technical aspects of the story due to a lack of expertise in the field. And that's a fair point! Journalists, even tech journalists, are trained to report and write stories, not to have the same command of tech that an IT person has.
Fogel is being kind of ridiculous by calling Greenwald's discussion of "direct access" an "epic botch," though. I do think Greenwald misinterpreted the use of the word "servers" and in turn may have misunderstood how this program actually works--not a small thing, and in a case as sensitive as PRISM, we need to make sure we have as many of the facts as possible. (I don't blame Greenwald for this, by the way; this was a brand-new story and nobody quite knew the scope or effect of it, and he did a hell of a job exposing the surface of the program.)
This post, from Mark Jaquith, another tech type, hammers home that "this is not a pedantic point" and insists that Greenwald's misinterpretation could be "the difference between a bombshell and a yawn of a story." I completely disagree; I think it is a worthy point, one that should be discussed and cleaned up, but there's much more at stake here than whether the government had direct access to a company's data. I'm glad these guys are on the case; before we decide how to respond as a country to this program, we need to know exactly what's going on. But I don't think that if the answer turns out to be "no, the government did not have direct access to this data" that we can just brush off our hands and say "well, okay then."