Mar 26, 2011

Chinese baby born with two faces

Kangkang, from China’s Hunan province, is being dubbed as “mask face” baby. Kangkang, 14 months old, was born with a double face, a congenital deformity called transverse facial cleft, also known as face horizontal cleft.

Full pictures and story at Rockingfacts

38% of Americans believe God caused Japanese earthquake

Mar 25, 2011

At the Edge of Invasion, Possible New Rules for Evolution

Just as Galapagos finches are icons of evolution by natural selection, Australia’s cane toads may someday be icons of “spatial sorting” — a dynamic that seems to exist at the edges of invasion, altering the standard rules of evolution.

Cane toads have evolved in odd ways Down Under. Adaptations that drove their dramatic spread made individual toads less reproductively fit. Evolution through natural selection of hereditary mutations still exists, but no longer appears driven by reproductive imperatives alone. It’s also shaped by speed.
“The possibility that some traits have evolved by ‘mating betwixt the quickest’ rather than ’survival of the fittest’ warrants further attention,” wrote biologists led by the University of Sydney’s Richard Shine in the March 21 Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Introduced to northeast Australia 75 years ago in an ill-advised attempt at beetle control, cane toads spread like fire, their range expanding at rates that grew daily. As they first arrived at his study area, Shine noticed something strange: As expected, the toads displayed myriad adaptations — longer legs, greater endurance, a tendency to move faster and farther and straighter — that affected their ability to disperse, but dispersal’s benefits were unclear.

The fastest-spreading cane toads also had the highest mortality rates. Longer, stronger toad legs led to spinal injuries. “Most obviously, why did the toads just sprint through our magnificent, food-rich flood plain in a frenetic rush to keep on going?” said Shine. After all, if the toads’ evolution is driven solely by a drive to reproduce, they would have stopped to enjoy the spoils of invasion.

“Much of what they did seemed hard to reconcile with the idea of natural selection enhancing individual fitness,” said Shine. “We started thinking about what other kinds of processes could have caused them to become such driven little robotic dispersal machines.”

In the new study, Shine describes those processes, which fall under the rubric of “spatial sorting” and are most easily understood by analogy: Imagine a race between rowboats crewed by randomly distributed oarsmen. If the race is stopped intermittently, and oarsmen randomly redistributed between boats nearest each other, boats in the lead will accumulate ever-higher proportions of skilled rowers.

Those are the dynamics of spatial sorting. Boats are organisms, rowers are genes and the crew swap is reproduction. Each newly-crewed boat is offspring. Generation by generation, organisms in the lead get faster and faster. Classical natural selection still operates — if a mutation causes an organism’s offspring to go sterile, the lineage soon ends — but it’s no longer the only driver of evolution.

Now space matters, too. Physical proximity produced by dispersal continue to shape that dispersal. Whatever drives creatures to spread farther and faster clusters at the front. If an adaptation improves dispersal but hurts survival, it matters less than usual, because the pool of potential mates is determined by their ability to cover ground.

Read more at Wired Science

'Proof of Creation' Dino Drawing Just a Mud Stain

Dinosaur or mud stain? An ancient cave drawing high on a rock formation in southeastern Utah has stirred a skirmish of sorts between creationists who believe it's proof that humans and dinosaurs lived together, and scientists who say no way.

A new research paper out on the subject probably won't change too many minds, but it is giving food for thought to those who wonder what the fuss is about.

The petroglyph at the Kachina Bridge formation in Natural Bridges Natural Monument has drawn curious visitors for years. By many accounts, it appears to be a hand-drawn plant-eating dino, like the happy green diplodocus that was the old Sinclair oil logo.

Phil Senter, a biology professor at Fayetteville State University, hiked the region with his fiancé two summers ago. "We got there and I couldn't believe it," Senter said. "It looked just like a sauropod."

Petroglyphs are common throughout parts of Colorado, Utah and New Mexico, drawn several thousand years ago by early Native Americans. The drawings represent deer and many other animals, but this was one of a few depicting prehistoric animals.

Senter found that the petroglyph had been adopted by creationist groups as proof that the human artist coexisted with dinosaurs. The image can be found on several creationist websites and is part of an exhibit at the Creation Museum in Petersburg, Ky.

Intrigued by the drawing, Senter contacted Sally J. Cole, a Basalt, Colo., based author and archaeologist who has written extensively on petroglyphs of the west. Cole examined the drawing and declared that it was actually a composite of two separate petroglyphs, one being a snake or serpent. The dinosaur "legs" were actually natural mineral or mud stains.

Senter and Cole published their findings in Palaeontologia Electronica, a peer-reviewed online journal. But that's not likely the end of the story.

Contacted by Discovery News, officials at the Creationist Museum criticized the report. They noted that Cole examined the drawing with binoculars rather than getting close up.

"I'm prepared to accept that the petroglyph as being a dinosaur," said David Menton, a biologist at the Creation Museum. "I'm prepared that it is some other creature. What I'm not prepared to accept is that the artist climbed up there but the authors didn't climb up. They came to the conclusion that it was nothing."

Cole was not available for comment and her email is not listed on the paper. The paper states that the area is too rugged to bring in a ladder. Senter and Cole say the dinosaur drawing is a form of "paraeidolia, the psychological phenomenon of perceiving significance in vague or random stimuli, e.g., seeing animals in clouds or the face of a religious figure in a food item."

Read more at Discovery News

Science: How To Fake It

MAD ART LAB: “So you want to publish a fake science paper. Of course you do. Who doesn’t? But how do you go about it? Well, it’s a lot easier than you think. Just follow these simple steps…

Step 1: Pick a Subject
This is important. You’ll need to choose something that’s both popular and wrong. Things like “sticking needles in your skin cures disease” or “pets can telepathically detect when their owners are coming home” are pretty good. For this tutorial, though, we’ll use “common objects can bring you good luck” as an example.

Step 2: Prepare Your Experiment
Your experimental setup, of course, depends on the subject you’ve chosen. For this one, we’ll need a pair of dice and a bunch of objects to serve as good luck charms. The more the better. We want to run lots of trials, so gather up everything you can find: four leaf clovers, horse shoes, that pebble you found last week, Gerald your pet hamster, whatever happens to be lying around.”

“Step 3: Run Your Trials
Here’s where the magic starts. What you want to do is run lots and lots of trials, each with a small sample size. This will increase your chances of a false positive.

Step 4: Hunting The Wily Anomaly
Taken as a whole, your data will look pretty mundane. The chances of rolling, say, double sixes are 1 in 36, so you’re going to get about 2 or 3 per 100 rolls, give or take. Your results probably fit fairly well onto a bell curve, with most of the data points clustered in the middle and a few outliers on either side. But wait! If you rename some of those outliers “anomalies”, you’ve suddenly got a phenomenon!”

Continue reading the rest over at Mad Art Lab

Mar 24, 2011

Saber-Toothed Vegetarian Had Threatening Mouthful

Think "saber-toothed" and meat-eating predators like cats probably come to mind. But Brazil was once home to a saber-toothed vegetarian with teeth so scary that rivals probably backed away after seeing them.

Paleontologists also believe the 260-million-year-old animal, described in the latest issue of Science, was one of the first of its kind to sport upper and lower teeth that fit together when it bit down, a handy feature called "dental occlusion" that we humans and many other animals today enjoy.

The new species, named Tiarajudens eccentricus, was part of a group of ancient animals called therapsids, many of which are relatives of today's mammals.

"Tiarajudens was an animal the size of a large dog," project leader Juan Carlos Cisneros told Discovery News. Its general appearance was bizarre: a slightly robust animal with a short snout from which large saber teeth came out."

Cisneros, a Federal University of Piaui paleontologist, and his team analyzed the animal's remains, which consist of a smashed-up skull and some teeth. They calculate it had a total of 21 teeth on just one side of its skull. In addition to the long, pointy sabers, these included spoon-shaped incisors associated with modern herbivores, as well as large crowned teeth linked to animals like today's grass-eating cows.

"Grasses are rich in fiber and modern ruminants eat them, but in the Permian grasses didn't exist so this new therapsid probably ate stems or leaves rich in fiber that existed at the time," Cisneros said.

While the saber teeth might have helped to move or pull soft branches, the researchers suspect this "eccentric" plant eater was very territorial, showing its impressive teeth to rivals while defending land and protecting itself from predators.

Dinosaurs did not live in this animal's realm, but other large predators were around, such as 13 to 20-foot-long dinocephalians (meaning "terrible heads"), biarmosuchians and the gorgonopsians -- named after the Gorgons of Greek mythology. Each was formidable in its own right.

As human boxers today often attest, teeth can fall out after battles and for other reasons, so Tiarajudens "was constantly replacing its molar-like teeth," Cisneros said. He explained that it did this as crocodiles and most modern reptiles do today. For every three teeth, a new one popped out behind, ready to serve as a replacement.

"The process happens in waves that may take a few days," he continued. "During each wave of replacement, the animal replaces several teeth at once. Because the animal replaces every three teeth, it manages to have at least two thirds of its set of molar-like teeth always fully operational."

Read more at Discovery News

Earliest Americans Arrived Even Earlier

Everything's bigger in Texas, even the piles of debris and tools left alongside a stream some 15,000 years ago by some of the earliest known inhabitants of North America.

The newly discovered trove of 56 stone tools and thousands of flaky rock bits at an archeological site north of Austin is the largest and oldest artifact assemblage of its vintage discovered to date, says Michael Waters of Texas A&M University in College Station. Waters and a large team of colleagues describe the collection of artifacts, dubbed the Buttermilk Creek Complex, in the March 25 Science.

All across North America, a distinctive type of two-faced fluted blade shows up in layers of dirt dating to between 13,100 and 12,800 years ago. This "Clovis point" has been called the first great American invention, a technology that spread quickly among people living on the continent. Scientists used to think that the inventors and users of this particular point, which was probably fastened to wooden spears, were the first inhabitants of North America, arriving via an ancient land bridge with Siberia.

But a number of sites in North America and one in southern Chile known as Monte Verde established that people were making a living in the Americas earlier than 13,000 years ago, and in the last decade the "Clovis First" hypothesis has gone the way of the woolly mammoth. The Buttermilk creek complex, which dates to between 13,200 and 15,500 years ago, adds to this scant but growing roster of pre-Clovis sites.

"So from Oregon to Pennsylvania to Florida to Texas, 15,000 years ago we've got people all over North America that were doing a lot of things," Waters says.

This isn't news to most of his colleagues, who have convinced themselves over the last decade that Clovis-point–carrying hunters were not the first people to reach the Americas, and that in fact the technology may have been invented in the New World. "What's the big fuss?" says archaeologist Tom Dillehay of Vanderbilt University in Nashville. "The Clovis First thing has been dead for a good 10 years. This is just another site that confirms what's been known about other areas of the new world."

Read more at Discovery News

The Aurora, as You've Never Seen It Before : Video

The Aurora from Terje Sorgjerd on Vimeo.

Take 22,000 high-definition photographs, a geomagnetic storm and some incredible talent and what do you get? A two-minute video of the Aurora Borealis as you've never seen it before.

Photographer Terje Sorgjerd braved -25 degree Celsius (-15 F) temperatures to capture this mesmerizing collection of photographs. Then, by assembling the 22,000 photos, he created a time-lapse video of the rich color and dynamic shapes of the Northern Lights that would normally be difficult to see. Adding the atmospheric Hans Zimmer/Lisa Gerrard song "Now We Are Free" from the movie Gladiator to the mix, and Sorgjerd has created a masterpiece.

Having lived on the Norwegian archipelago of Svalbard (high in the Arctic circle) for 5 months, I had first-hand knowledge of trying to photograph the aurora erHaving lived on the Norwegian archipelago of Svalbard (high in the Arctic circle) for 5 months, I had first-hand knowledge of trying to photograph the aurora erupting above my head, with limited results. Mild frostbite and many blurred photos later, I returned to my research rather than taking up sub-zero photography professionally. I have the utmost respect for what Sorgjerd has achieved here.

Read more at Discovery News

Best-ever quantum measurement breaks Heisenberg limit

PHYSICISTS have made the most accurate quantum measurement yet, breaking a theoretical limit named for Werner Heisenberg.

The most accurate quantum measurements possible are made using an interferometer, which exploits the wave nature of matter and light. In this method, two identical beams of particles are sent along different paths to a detector, with one interacting with an object of interest along the way. Recombining the beams afterwards creates an interference pattern that reflects how much the interacting beam was disturbed – providing details about the object’s properties.

Assuming that the particles interact with the object, but not with one another, the accuracy of such measurements grows in proportion to the number of particles in the beams, N. By allowing such particle interactions, Mario Napolitano of the Institute of Photonic Sciences in Barcelona, Spain, and colleagues have now demonstrated a way to break this so-called Heisenberg limit.

They used a beam of photons to measure the small magnetic field produced by a gas made up of a million ultra-cold rubidium atoms. Normally, the spin of each photon would rotate by a certain amount, thanks to its interactions with the magnetic field of the atoms. But the frequency of the photons was chosen so that the photons also interacted with each other when they were in the gas, so that the presence of one photon altered the way a second behaved. These interactions led to a measurement accuracy that grew in proportion to N3/2 – greater than Heisenberg’s limit

Full article at New Scientist

If you don’t understand his article try this ;-)

Mar 23, 2011

Wart Detected on Egyptian Queen Beauty

King Tut's grandmother, the powerful and beautiful Queen Tiye, might have had an unattractive flat wart on her forehead, according to a mummy expert.

Located between the eyes, the small protuberance was found on the mummy of the so-called Elder Lady (KV35EL). Boasting long reddish hair falling across her shoulders, the mummy was identified in February 2010 by DNA testing as Queen Tiye, the daughter of Yuya and Thuya, wife of Amenhotep III, and mother of Akhenaten.

The skin growth had gone unnoticed until Mercedes González, director of the Instituto de Estudios Científicos en Momias in Madrid, spotted it looking at the mummy during a visit to the Cairo Museum.

"I got a high-resolution image of the mummy’s face from the Egyptian museum. From the enlargement, the small growth appears compatible with a flat wart or verruca plana," González told Discovery News
Slightly raised, flat and smooth, these harmless bumps of various colors are hyperplastic epidermal lesions produced by papilloma viruses (HPV). They usually occur on the face, neck and back of hands.

However, flat warts are not commonly found on the face of ancient Egyptian mummies.

"Until now I haven't seen anything similar," González said.

The wife of the 18th dynasty King Amenhotep III, the mother of the heretic pharaoh Akhenaten and grandmother of King Tut, Tiye (who lived from 1415 to 1340 B.C.), is one of the most intriguing women in Egyptian history.

Described by her husband as "the lady of grace, sweet in her love, who fills the palace with her beauty, the Regent of the North and South, the Great Wife of the King who loves her," she was the most influential woman of Amenhotep III's 38-year reign.

Tiye sat by the king as an equal when portrayed in statues -- an achievement unparalleled in that time -- and appeared to be much loved by her husband.

The wealthy Amenhotep III erected a number of shrines for his queen, built her a palace, a white sandstone temple in Nubia, land of her ancestors, and even a monumental artificial lake, Lake Tiye, for her excursions in the royal barge.

"It has been quite a surprise to find a flat wart between the eyes of such an Egyptian queen," González said.

Read more at Discovery News

Prehistoric Skin Holds Building Blocks of Life

We mostly know of dinosaurs and other prehistoric animals by their now lifeless fossils. But the remains of a 50-million-year-old reptile from Utah have just yielded organic compounds that scientists have imaged in vivid detail, according to new research.

These compounds, or protein residues, originate from the ancient unidentified reptile's skin, and once served as this animal's building blocks of life, conclude the authors of the study, published in the latest issue of the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biology.

The research was conducted by some of the same scientists who investigated the famous "dinosaur mummy," a 66-million-year-old hadrosaur believed to retain organic molecules and soft tissue skin structures.

"The hadrosaur 'mummy' was poorly consolidated and therefore we could not map organic components within the skin," co-author Roy Wogelius told Discovery News. "Here, the rock is well consolidated, and this allowed us to produce the first ever infrared maps of organic residue in fossil skin tissue. In doing this, we reveal that protein residue, most likely derived from the original skin, still maintains a reptilian scale pattern with exceptional fidelity."

Wogelius, a scientist in the University of Manchester's School of Earth, Atmospheric, and Environmental Sciences, added that the new study also presents "the first ever X-ray maps of organic sulfur in a fossil of any type, which correlate with, and confirm, the infrared maps."

Infrared light allowed Wogelius and his colleagues to "see" the internal details of the reptile, which was unearthed at Utah's Green River Formation. Based on its remains, the scientists believe the animal was bitten in half, leaving behind its lower half.

The high-tech light causes vibrations in the reptile's fossilized skin. If organic compounds are present, they absorb portions of the beam and alter the reflected signal. That's exactly what happened, according to the study, permitting the researchers to view the protein residue and its chemical details.

"Organic" refers to the fact "that these compounds are degraded, but not completely destroyed, and thereby reveal some of their original character," Wogelius explained. "Rather like salvaging a scorched photograph from a fire, much of the detail might be missing, but you might still be able to identify strong features, such as faces or unique buildings."

In this case, the features reveal the prehistoric reptile's skin, which resembles that of modern lizards. Trace metals associated with color are present, but the scientists aren't certain what hues this animal sported.

The researchers believe these trace metals, along with the protein residue, are not due to contamination. They point out that the skin contains no evidence of modern microbial activity, the organic compound inventory in the skin is completely different from plant matter also present in the Green River Formation, and the only other fossil where they found these type of compounds was in a second fossilized reptile skin sample.

Read more at Discovery News

Yeti institute planned for Siberia

The Russian coal-mining region of Kemerovo in western Siberia will announce its final decision after hosting an international conference on yetis later this year, according to the regional government's education and science department.

"The town of Tashtagol will host an international conference with leading experts into hominids. Based on its results, we will take a decision on opening a scientific research institute to study the yeti."

Yetis, or Abominable Snowmen, are hairy apelike creatures of popular myth, that are generally believed to inhabit the Himalayas.

But some believe Russia also holds a population of yetis, which it calls Snow Men, in remote areas of Siberia such as the mountains in the southern part of Kemerovo around Tashtagol.

Kemerovo officials cited yeti researcher Igor Burtsev as saying that around 30 Russian scientists are studying yetis and could work together at the planned institute.

Read more at The Telegraph

Mar 22, 2011

The truth about our not so selfish genes

In the game of life, we are all driven by the struggle to succeed. Whether it’s animal vs animal, human vs human, or even gene vs gene, competition is at the heart of evolution. From bacteria struggling to survive in hostile environments to supermarkets vying to put each other out of business, the result is the same: the fittest win, and all others perish.

Yet despite the importance of what Darwin called the “struggle for life most severe”, it does not tell the whole story. Something profound is missing – and as we argue in our new book, that something is co-operation. Creatures of every persuasion and level of complexity co-operate to live. Some of the earliest bacteria formed strings, in which certain cells in each living filament died to nourish their neighbours. Today, ants form societies of millions of individuals that can solve complex problems; bees tirelessly harvest pollen for the good of the hive; and mole rats generously allow peers to dine on their droppings.

Human society, too, fizzes with co-operation. Stopping for coffee could draw on the labours of a small army of people: beans grown in Colombia, sugar from Brazil, milk from a local farm, heated by electricity from a nuclear plant in a neighbouring state. And the drink’s existence depended on a vast number of ideas, shared and disseminated across the generations, from the initial one of drinking a beverage based on roasted seeds, to the invention of the light bulb illuminating the coffee shop, to the patenting of the first espresso machine.

The modern world is an extraordinary collective enterprise, dependent on a breadth of collaboration that makes us the supreme co-operators in the known universe. Put 400 chimpanzees in economy class on a seven-hour flight, and they would stumble off the plane with bitten ears, missing fur and bleeding limbs. Yet millions of us tolerate being crammed together in this way so we can roam about the planet. Our breathtaking ability to co-operate is one of the main reasons humanity has managed to survive in every ecosystem, from scorched, sun-baked deserts to the frozen wastes of Antarctica. But by co-operation, we mean more than working toward a common aim. We mean that would-be competitors decide to aid each other instead.

Vewed from a traditional Darwinian perspective, this does not seem to make sense. By helping another, a competitor hurts its rate of reproduction or blunts its competitive edge. Yet it is easy to think of examples: a friend drives you to the dentist, though it makes her late for work. The cells in your body, rather than reproduce willy-nilly to selfishly expand their numbers, respect the greater needs of the body and multiply in an orderly fashion to create the kidney, liver and heart.

Once co-operation is expressed in this way, it seems amazing. Why weaken your fitness to increase that of a competitor? Why bother to look after anyone besides number one? Yet there is evidence that such practices occur among even the lowliest creatures. When one bacterium goes to the trouble of making an enzyme to digest its food, it is helping to feed neighbouring cells, too – rivals in the struggle to survive.

In the great scheme of life, this looks like a fatal anomaly. Natural selection should lead animals to behave in ways that increase their own chances of survival and reproduction, not improve the fortunes of others. So, for more than a century, scientists from a wide range of disciplines have attempted to explain how co-operation, altruism, and self-sacrifice arose in our dog-eat-dog world. Darwin was troubled by selfless behaviour – yet in his great works, the problem was a sideshow, a detail that had to be explained away. That attitude prevails among many biologists even today.

In stark contrast, we believe that our ability to co-operate goes hand in hand with succeeding in the struggle to survive, as surmised more than a century ago by Peter Kropotkin, the Russian prince and anarchist. In Mutual Aid (1902), Kropotkin wrote: “Besides the law of Mutual Struggle there is in Nature the law of Mutual Aid, which, for the success of the struggle for life, and especially for the progressive evolution of the species, is far more important than the law of mutual contest.”

One of our pair of co-operating writers, Martin Nowak, has spent more than two decades co-operating with many great minds to solve the mystery of how natural selection can lead to mutual aid. His studies, which blend biology and mathematics, show that co-operation is entirely compatible with the hard-boiled arithmetic of survival. Based on mathematical insights, he has used computers to create idealised communities, and charted the conditions in which co-operation can take hold and bloom.

Our confidence in what he has found has been bolstered by research on a wide range of species, from bugs to people. The result is the discovery of five basic mechanisms of co-operation: direct reciprocity (you scratch my back, and I’ll scratch yours); indirect reciprocity (the power of reputation); spatial games (the idea that it pays to be nicer to those who live closer to you); group selection (the power of the tribe); and kin selection (we help our relatives because blood is thicker than water).

Taken together, these five mechanisms tell us much about the way the world works. They reveal that your big brain evolved to cope with gossip, not the other way around. They explain why your guts have cone-like glands, to fend off that potentially deadly breakdown of cellular co-operation that we know as cancer; that you are more generous if you sense that you are being watched (even if you are not); that the fewer friends you have, the more strongly your fate is bound to theirs. They show that our genes may not be that selfish, after all; that no matter what we do, empires will always decline and fall; that if you are a co-operator, you will find yourself surrounded by other co-operators; and that to succeed in life, you need to work together.

Read more at The Telegraph

Apple ‘gay-cure’ app severely slapped

THE REGISTER: “Apple is today accused of anti-gay discrimination, following the release of an iPhone app that aims to help people find “freedom from homosexuality”.

A petition has been launched by Truth Wins Out, which describes itself as a non-profit organisation that fights anti-gay religious extremism on the website, asking Steve Jobs to intervene to remove the app. The app is the work of the Exodus International ministry.

In a letter which those supporting their petition sign up to receive, they write: “Apple has long been a friend of the LGBT community, opposing California’s Proposition 8, removing the anti-gay Manhattan Declaration iPhone app, and earning a 100% score from the Human Rights Campaign’s Corporate Equality Index.

“I am shocked that this same company has given the green light to an app from a notoriously anti-gay organization like Exodus International that uses scare tactics, misinformation, stereotypes and distortions of LGBT life to recruit clients, endorses the use of so-called ‘reparative therapy’ to ‘change’ the sexual orientation of their clients.”

According to TWO, “reparative therapy” has been roundly condemned by every major professional medical organisation. The petition launched last week and has already attracted some 17,000 signatures: however, as word of the app spreads, the rate at which individuals are signing up appears to be snowballing.

Exodus International claims to be “the world’s largest ministry to individuals and families impacted by homosexuality”. On its site, Exodus states that it “upholds heterosexuality as God’s creative intent for humanity, and subsequently views homosexual expression as outside of God’s will”.

Their new smartphone app was released last week and is “now available through iTunes”. According to Exodus, this app has received a 4+ rating from Apple and “applications in this category contain no objectionable material”. They conclude: “This application is designed to be a useful resource for men, women, parents, students, and ministry leaders.”

TWO are unimpressed. Describing the app as “unacceptable”, and requesting its immediate removal, they warn Apple: “Your company would never allow a racist or anti-Semitic app to be sold in the iTunes store, and for good reason. Apple’s approval of the anti-gay Exodus International app represents a double standard for the LGBT community with potentially devastating consequences for our youth.”

We have asked Apple whether it intends to take any action in respect of this app, but so far have received no response.”

Read more at The Register
Further reading at Truth Wins Out
And you can sign a petition to remove the app here

Mar 21, 2011

Over a fifth of adults believe light sabres exist

BIRMINGHAM SCIENCE CITY: “Perhaps inspired by TV favourites such as Doctor Who and Ashes to Ashes, nearly a third of Britons (30%) believe that time travel is actually possible. The results were revealed in a survey, launched at the start of National Science and Engineering Week (11-20 March) by Birmingham Science City (, which aimed to see just how blurred the lines between science and fiction really are.

Other findings included:
1. Over a fifth of adults incorrectly believe light sabres exist.
2. Nearly a quarter (24%) of people are wrong in their belief that humans can be teleported.
3. Nearly 50% of adults wrongly believe that memory-erasing technology exists.
4. More than 40% of people incorrectly believe that hover boards exist.
5. Nearly one fifth (18%) of adults have the incorrect view that they can see gravity.

However, when you consider some of the scientific advances being made across the world today, it is not surprising that sometimes people get their science fiction and science fact confused.

For example, over three quarters (78%) of Britons believe that invisibility cloaks exist only in the realms of fiction, and yet a team at the University of Birmingham, led by Prof Shuang Zhang, has developed a method for making objects appear invisible.

Almost 90% of people think it would be impossible to grow an extra pair of eyes, even though scientists, led by Professors Nick Dale and Elizabeth Jones, at the University of Warwick have found this is possible in frogs. The team believes they will be able to use the technology to explore eye development in humans and grow an ‘eye in a dish’.

Seven out of ten adults questioned thought it was impossible to move objects with their mind, yet researchers at Coventry University’s Serious Games Institute have collaborated with California-based company, NeuroSky, to develop a headset which can read analogue electrical brainwaves and turn them into digital signals. This allows the user to manipulate images on a screen and power user-interfaces in games, education and medical applications using only their minds.

Dr Pam Waddell, Director of Birmingham Science City comments: “We commissioned the survey to see how blurred the lines between science fact and fiction have become. While films and TV can be acknowledged as creating confusion, it is also worth highlighting how advanced science has now become and many things deemed only possible in fiction have now become reality or are nearing creation due to the advancements of science.”

“What’s clear from this research is that science captures everyone’s imagination, so we must continue to invest in it and strive to develop the latest ‘stranger than fiction’ creations!”

The survey also asked people what inventions they would most like to see created. Men opted for time machines or teleportation, each receiving 19% and 21% of the male votes respectively, whereas over a quarter (26%) of women instead favoured a universal cure for all diseases.”

Via Birmingham Science City

Placebos may help us but they don’t have the same effect as medicine

GUARDIAN: “You report on a new study in Germany which finds that half the nation’s doctors prescribe placebos (Mind-altering? Report endorses German GPs’ use of placebos, 7 March). But the article risks causing confusion. It’s wrong to say that, “Used to treat depression, placebos have the same effect as antidepressants in about a third of cases.”

Placebo is used in medicine in two quite distinct ways. The first, the one we are all familiar with, is the “sugar” pill given by doctors to patients to instil hope. These keep them happy while time and nature get on with healing. As reported, it is “a question of trust”. How long will that trust last if the doctor routinely deceives his patients? Realistic information, honest advice and genuine encouragement are surely better.

Believing that “something is being done” does, however, obviously raise the spirits. It raises them in patients but just as much in doctors. We are both more likely to interpret the random variations in symptoms that occur in all illnesses as improvement if we have a strong faith in the medicine. Placebos are used in drug trials to equalise this effect.

Random controlled double-blind trials are our most powerful tool in proving whether or not a new drug works. In these, neither the doctor nor the patient knows who is getting the active chemical. The placebo (the “control” medicine) is there to reduce any bias from faith in the treatment. It is not there to influence the symptoms. This is the second meaning of placebo – a neutral dummy pill.

When your article says “placebos had helped 59% of patients who had been suffering from an upset stomach”, it tells us precisely nothing. Compared to what? Virtually all stomach upsets get better over time.
When researchers write, for example, that 20% of the placebo group recovered in a trial and 60% of the active treatment group did, they are not saying that placebos “have the same effect” in a third as many of the patients. They mean that (for the patients with this condition) 20% will recover in the natural course of events, but with the added treatment 60% will recover. It is this added 40% that matters. The placebo has had no effect on recovery.

Most people with depression recover (thank heavens), and many recover without treatment. Many more, however, recover, and much quicker, with antidepressants. Your article states: “The efficacy of a placebo depends on many factors … including the size and colour of a pill.” But the “placebo effect” from a brightly coloured pill is frankly minimal. Depression is a serious disorder which doesn’t just evaporate with sugar pills. The placebo effect referred to in drug trials is just shorthand for that proportion of patients who recover naturally over time.

We must keep distinct these two uses (the inert dummy pill with an explicit scientific function versus the time-honoured but ultimately ineffective distraction) if we are to understand medical trials.”

Via The Guardian

Mar 20, 2011

Mechanical Insect Hovers With Printed Wings

So-called 3D printers are capable of printing objects out of metal, glass, plastic, even sugar and mashed potatoes. And now they're being used to print delicate, transluscent wings for mechanical insects.

Roboticists Charles Richter and Hod Lipson, along with their colleagues at Cornell University made recent breakthroughs utilizing 3D printing technology to develop a flapping-wing aircraft, or ornithopter, that weighs just 3.89 grams and can hover for 85 seconds, the lightest and longest 'flying' model thus far. They published their results in the recent issue of Artificial Life.

According to the research article, these advancements will help scientists understand key mechanical principles central to insect flight and control. Eventually, that knowledge could lead to the development of low-power micro air vehicles that perform functions such as mapping, surveillance and search-and-rescue operations.

In the past, technical challenges have hindered the team's ability to fully experiment with ornithopter aerodynamics. For one, the batteries available until recently have weighed too much and have not been powerful enough to keep the craft aflight. So the team switched to smaller and lighter lithium-based batteries.

Additionally, manufacturing the wings was typically a delicate and time-consuming process, often taking days to complete. And, previous designs called for a dedicated hinge in the wing's central support beam --a complex a heavy assembly.

By switching to 3D printing, the researchers were able to produce the wings -- made from a thin polyester film stretched over a carbon fiber frame -- and all of the complex components in just minutes.

Read more at Discovery News