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Science News

Better Safe Than Sorry: Why We Believe In Tempting Fate [Excerpt]

Switching grocery lines, carrying an umbrella, talking out loud about a possible no-hitter in baseball—a sense of jinxing things arises because when negative possibilities come to mind, they seem more likely
Image: Courtesy of Hudson Stree PressBy Matthew Hutson

The following is an excerpt from The 7 Laws of Magical Thinking: How Irrational Beliefs Keep Us Happy, Healthy and Sane, by Matthew Hutson (Hudson Street Press, 2012).

There are certain laws of nature everyone accepts. The surest way to bring about rain on an overcast day is to leave your umbrella at home. Is your line at the grocery store moving too slowly? Switch lines. That will definitely speed it up (minus you). And if you’ve hit a series of green traffic lights that just might get you to the post office before it closes, comment on your string of success. Ah, there’s the red.

Do people really believe such actions can change their fortunes?

In recent years Jane Risen of the University of Chicago and Thomas Gilovich of Cornell have shed more light than anyone on the phenomenon of tempting fate. When they asked people to answer rationally whether exchanging a lottery ticket for another ticket would increase the chances of their old ticket winning, 90 percent said no. But when asked to answer the same question using their gut, 46 percent said yes. (Subjects thought selling the ticket to an enemy gave it the best chance of winning.) In another experiment, people said wearing a Stanford shirt after applying to the school would reduce the probability of admission.


Stonehenge Had Lecture Hall Acoustics

Rather than search for an acoustic motivation behind its structure, new research aims to better understand how ancient people might have used Stonehenge
Image: Pete Strasser | nasa.gov By Wynne Parry and LiveScience

The stone slabs of England's Stonehenge may have been more than just a spectacular sight to the ancient people who built the structure; they likely created an acoustic environment unlike anything they normally experienced, new research hints.

"As they walk inside they would have perceived the sound environment around them had changed in some way,"said researcher Bruno Fazenda, a professor at the University of Salford in the United Kingdom. "They would have been stricken by it, they would say, 'This is different.'"

These Neolithic people might have felt as modern people do upon entering a cathedral, Fazenda told LiveScience.

Fazenda and colleagues have been studying the roughly 5,000-year-old-structure's acoustic properties. Their work at the Stonehenge site in Wiltshire, England, and at a concrete replica built as a memorial to soldiers in World War I in Maryhill, Wash., indicates Stonehenge had the sort of acoustics desirable in a lecture hall.


No Child Left Behind Act Improved Test Scores for Language but Not for Reading, Math in Rural Alabama, US

StudentRTI International

ScienceDaily (May 10, 2012) — The No Child Left Behind Act has bolstered language test scores but done little to improve math and reading scores for students in rural Alabama schools, according to a new study by Auburn University and RTI International.

The study, published in the June issue of Regional and Sectoral Economic Studies, used eight years of county-level data to assess the effects of No Child Left Behind on student performance in Alabama's rural schools.

Reading and math proficiency for all students is one of the primary goals of the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, which requires states to measure student progress by conducting annual assessments. Based on the results, schools are held accountable for making adequate yearly progress toward the act's goals and receive rewards or sanctions based on their status.


Stone-Throwing Chimp Thinks Ahead

SantinoBy Michael Balter, ScienceNOW

Three years ago, a stone-throwing chimpanzee named Santino jolted the research community by providing some of the strongest evidence yet that nonhumans could plan ahead. Santino, a resident of the Furuvik Zoo in Gävle, Sweden, calmly gathered stones in the mornings and put them into neat piles, apparently saving them to hurl at visitors when the zoo opened as part of angry and aggressive “dominance displays.”

But some researchers were skeptical that Santino really was planning for a future emotional outburst. Perhaps he was just repeating previously learned responses to the zoo visitors, via a cognitively simpler process called associative learning. And it is normal behavior for dominant male chimps to throw things at visitors, such as sticks, branches, rocks, and even feces. Now Santino is back in the scientific literature, the subject of new claims that he has begun to conceal the stones so he can get a closer aim at his targets—further evidence that he is thinking ahead like humans do.



Technology News

Report: FBI Wants to Wiretap Facebook, Twitter, Google

FBI hatBy Sara Yin

The Federal Bureau of Investigation is pushing for a law that would force social networks, email providers, and other peer-to-peer services to become "wiretap-friendly" according to a CNET report.

Such legislation would expand an existing federal law that applies to cell phone operators and broadband networks. Under 1994's Communications Assistance to Law Enforcement Act (CALEA), carriers and broadband networks must have built-in backdoors giving law enforcement agencies direct access to user data during warranted investigations. CALEA began with carriers in 1994 and expanded to broadband providers in 2004. At the moment, Internet companies use their own slurping methods to provide user data to law enforcement during search warrants.

But now that the means of communications are shifting once again, the FBI wants to extend CALEA to Internet companies like Twitter, Microsoft, Yahoo, Facebook, and Google. The FBI is also seeking to expand CALEA to cover instant messaging services like Apple iChat, AOL Instant Messanger, Gmail Chat—even Xbox Live’s in-game chat. Most companies were unavailable for comment, but a spokesperson at Microsoft-owned Skype told Security Watch it hadn't heard of such murmurings on Capitol Hill: “To our knowledge, we have not seen a legislative proposal this session from either the Administration or on the Hill that would change the scope of the existing law."


Latest iPad mini rumor puts price at $200 with 8GB storage

A smaller iPad would bring a smaller price tag, but a new report suggests it might shrink down the built-in storage too.
A mockup of what a smaller iPad might look like from the back.by Josh Lowensohn

A smaller version of the iPad will be less expensive and offer less storage than Apple's full-sized model, but will have the same resolution, according to a new report.

Citing a previously reliable source, iMore today adds to the handful of existing iPad mini rumors, with something a little different.

The outlet says such a device is very much in the works and will come in around the $200 to $250 price range. On the lower end, that's less than half the price of Apple's current entry-level iPad model, and $150 to $200 less than the 16GB second-generation model that Apple still sells. That would also overlap with the pricing of Apple's iPod Touch line, which starts out at $199 and tops out at $399 for the 64GB model.


Etcher Turns Your iPad Into an Etch A Sketch

The Etcher iPad case turns your iPad into a classic Etch A Sketch toy.By Christina Bonnington

One of the best things about the iPad is its ability to become an entirely new gadget every time you open a new app, or even connect it to an accessory. We’ve seen arcade-style cabinet docks that turn the iPad into a platform for playing Atari classics. There’s also the Padcaster case, which turns your iPad into a full-service video production system.

And now one of our favorite childhood toys is getting an iPad transformation of its own.

Meet Etcher, an iPad case styled after the iconic children’s toy Etch A Sketch. The bright-red plastic case comes with two very familiar-looking knobs used for drawing horizontal and vertical lines, and the system interfaces with an iOS app that replicates the toy’s drawing experience.

And how’s this for cool: Unlike the original, the iPad version will let you save creations and share them with friends and family. But, of course, you still erase the screen by shaking it.


FTC probing Facebook’s Instagram buy, IPO date threatened?

FTC logoBy Emil Protalinski

Remember the rumor saying Facebook’s initial public offering (IPO) could be delayed? Well, the Federal Trade Commision (FTC) has announced a routine investigation into Facebook’s planned acquisition of Instagram, which could take anywhere from six to 12 months, so a delay could still be possible.

At least, that’s what The Financial Times is reporting, noting that FTC probes are common for most deals over $66 million:

Facebook said in its IPO documents last month that it expected the deal to close in the second quarter. “That’s terrifically optimistic,” said David Balto, a former policy director at the FTC who now works as an anti-trust lawyer….Competition experts expect that the Instagram merger will ultimately be approved, but they believe regulators will apply close scrutiny to the deal because of the steep price that Facebook paid and the high profile of the companies.
Last month, Facebook announced plans to acquire Instagram for approximately $1 billion in cash and stock, although Instagram reportedly wanted $2 billion from Facebook. The price ended up being much more flexible: Facebook paid $300 million in cash and 23 million shares for Instagram, and there’s a $200 million break-up fee if the deal doesn’t go through.


Environmental News

Was Little Ice Age Caused By Increased Volcanism In The Middle Ages?

Image Credit: Photos.comRedOrbit Staff & Wire Reports

A large part of the Northern Hemisphere was in the midst of an unusual cold snap for nearly 500 years, from the Middle Ages through the early 19th century, in what scientists now call the “Little Ice Age.”

A new study, published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, has probed the longstanding mystery of when this event actually began, what caused it and how it was sustained for such a long period.

Gifford Miller, a climatologist at the University of Colorado at Boulder and lead author of the study, said there has been a vague consensus by experts on when this period of cooling actually began, with estimates ranging from the 13th century to the 16th century.

EARTH Magazine reports that, to narrow the date of onset, Miller and colleagues used radiocarbon dating on dead vegetation emerging from the ice caps on Baffin Island in the Canadian Arctic to get a clearer understanding on when the cooling may have begun. Their dating methods revealed a number of dates that clustered around two distinct periods of time: 1275 and 1450.


'The real Hunger Games': a million children at risk as Sahel region suffers punishing drought

Drought imageJeremy Hance, MONGABAY.COM

The UN warns that a million children in Africa's Sahel region face malnutrition due to drought in region. In all 15 million people face food insecurity in eight nations across the Sahel, a region that is still recovering from drought and a food crisis of 2010. Un some countries the situation is worsened by conflict.

"We estimate that in 2012 there will be over a million children suffering from severe acute malnutrition—what’s important to know is that malnutrition can kill," UNICEF’s Director of Emergency Programs, Louis-Georges Arsenault, said in a press release. "We need more resources to really scale up our response before it becomes too late and too many lives are lost."

UNICEF is asking for $120 million in the region to stave off the crisis, but has received only half to date. Experts repeatedly stress that the time to act in these situations is before the hunger crisis grows acute.


New Weak Point Discovered in the Antarctic Ice Sheet

Edge of the Filchner-Ronne Ice Shelf in the Weddell Sea. (Credit: Ralph Timmermann, Alfred Wegener Institute)Helmholtz Association of German Research Centres

ScienceDaily (May 9, 2012) — The Filchner-Ronne Ice Shelf fringing the Weddell Sea, Antarctica, may start to melt rapidly in this century and no longer act as a barrier for ice streams draining the Antarctic Ice Sheet. These predictions are made by climate researchers of the Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research in the Helmholtz Association in the journal Nature. They refute the widespread assumption that ice shelves in the Weddell Sea would not be affected by the direct influences of global warming due to the peripheral location of the Sea.

The results of the climate modelers from the Alfred Wegener Institute will come as a surprise to the professional world with the majority of experts assuming that the consequences of global warming for Antarctica would be noticeable primarily in the Amundsen Sea and therefore in the western part of Antarctica. "The Weddell Sea was not really on the screen because we all thought that unlike the Amundsen Sea its warm waters would not be able to reach the ice shelves. But we found a mechanism which drives warm water towards the coast with an enormous impact on the Fichner-Ronne Ice Shelf in the coming decades," says Dr. Hartmut Hellmer, oceanographer at the Alfred Wegener Institute and lead author of the study.


Secrets of the First Practical Artificial Leaf

The new self-contained units are inexpensive and attractive for making fuel for electricity in remote places and the developing world. (Credit: ACS)American Chemical Society

ScienceDaily (May 9, 2012) — A detailed description of development of the first practical artificial leaf -- a milestone in the drive for sustainable energy that mimics the process, photosynthesis, that green plants use to convert water and sunlight into energy -- appears in the ACS journal Accounts of Chemical Research. The article notes that unlike earlier devices, which used costly ingredients, the new device is made from inexpensive materials and employs low-cost engineering and manufacturing processes.

Daniel G. Nocera points out that the artificial leaf responds to the vision of a famous Italian chemist who, in 1912, predicted that scientists one day would uncover the "guarded secret of plants." The most important of those, Nocera says, is the process that splits water into hydrogen and oxygen. The artificial leaf has a sunlight collector sandwiched between two films that generate oxygen and hydrogen gas. When dropped into a jar of water in the sunlight, it bubbles away, releasing hydrogen that can be used in fuel cells to make electricity. These self-contained units are attractive for making fuel for electricity in remote places and the developing world, but designs demonstrated thus far rely on metals like platinum and manufacturing processes that make them cost-prohibitive.



Medical News

Psychiatry's "Bible" Gets an Overhaul

Psychiatry's diagnostic guidebook gets its first major update in 30 years. The changes may surprise you
Image: Illustration by Patrick GeorgeBy Ferris Jabr

In February 1969 David L. Rosenhan showed up in the admissions office of a psychiatric hospital in Pennsylvania. He complained of unfamiliar voices inside his head that repeated the words “empty,” “thud” and “hollow.” Otherwise, Rosenhan had nothing unusual to report. He was immediately admitted to the hospital with a diagnosis of schizophrenia.

Between 1969 and 1972 seven friends and students of Rosenhan, a psychology professor then at Swarthmore College, ended up in 11 other U.S. hospitals after claiming that they, too, heard voices—their sole complaint. Psychiatrists slapped them all with a diagnosis of schizophrenia or bipolar disorder and stuck them in psychiatric wards for between eight and 52 days. Doctors forced them to accept antipsychotic medication—2,100 pills in all, the vast majority of which they pocketed or tucked into their cheeks. Although the voices vanished once Rosenhan and the others entered the hospitals, no one realized that these individuals were healthy—and had been from the start. The voices had been a ruse.

The eight pseudopatients became the subject of a landmark 1973 paper in Science, “On Being Sane in Insane Places.” The conclusion: psychiatrists did not have a valid way to diagnose mental illness.


Return of the Clap

Gonorrhea, once a minor illness, is developing resistance to the last category of drugs that still works against it and could become untreatable
Gonorrhea colony, as seen under a microscopeBy Maryn McKenna

Mark Pandori was worried. It was 2008, and he had just read the latest in a string of reports from Japan. The articles all described patients infected with a particular strain of gonorrhea that was less susceptible than usual to an important class of antibiotics. Pandori, director of the laboratory at the San Francisco Department of Public Health, knew that gonorrhea had become resistant to other antibiotics in past decades. Each time, the resistance seemed to arise in Asia and spread to California. He wondered if something new was heading across the Pacific.

The latest report from Japan described a test that could identify resistant strains of bacteria by isolating and amplifying the culprit gene. Pandori tried the procedure on 54 samples of gonorrhea bacteria collected that year from men in San Francisco. Five samples, or 9 percent, contained the altered gene. When he analyzed the bacteria in the lab, he found that they—like the Japanese strains—possessed partial resistance to cephalosporins, the only antibiotics that still work reliably and inexpensively against gonorrhea.


Tiny Electronic Chips Restore Sight to 2 Blind British Men

Retinal implantBy Ferris Jabr

Chris James and Robin Millar of the United Kingdom both lost their vision after birth because of a genetic condition known as retinitis pigmentosa, in which light-sensitive cells in the eye stop working. Now, surgeons have partially restored vision to both men with tiny electronic chips that promise to help the blind see the same way cochlear implants have helped the deaf hear. Teams of doctors at the Oxford Eye Hospital and King’s College Hospital in London embedded the small square chips—0.12 by 0.12 inches—in a thin sheet of tissue at the backs of the men’s eyes. As soon as they were switched on, the chips began performing the duties of defunct photoreceptors—also called rods and cones—converting light into electrical impulses that travel to the brain. A thin cable threaded beneath the skin connects the chip to a battery pack, which also sits under the skin near the ear.

Chris James told the BBC that “there was a ‘magic moment’ when the implant was switched on for the first time and he saw flashing lights.” James and Millar must now learn to interpret the patchwork of bright and dark spots they see in order to recognize people and objects in the world around them. So far, James says he distinguish the outlines of nearby objects.


Why We Get A Kick Out Of Talking About Ourselves

Image Credit: Photos.comJohn Neumann for RedOrbit.com

Why do we, when given the chance, tend to share the most intimate details of our day with just about anyone? From snapping pics of our lunch and tweeting it to friends, to the details of our arguments with loved ones, in general, we love to share, some would say overshare.

New research out of Harvard University shows us it is highly rewarding, reports Diane Mapes of MSNBC. Our brains responds to self-disclosure the same way they respond to pleasure triggers like food, money or sex.

Psychologists have long known that sharing aspects of oneself with other people is a crucial part of human social life, writes Carolyn Y. Johnson for Boston.com. However it’s the escalation from small talk to more personal details that often forms the foundation of friendship and romantic intimacy.

“The internet has drastically expanded the number of mediums through which we can talk about ourselves to other people,” Diana Tamir, a graduate student in the Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience Lab at Harvard and lead author of a study published today in the journal PNAS, told Mapes.



Space News

Dawn Mission Reveals Ateroid Vesta’s Secrets

Image Caption: South pole of Vesta, showing the extent of Rheasilvia crater. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDALee Rannals for RedOrbit.com

NASA unleashed a new analysis of the giant asteroid Vesta on Thursday based on data taken by its Dawn spacecraft.

Carol Raymond, Dawn deputy principal investigator at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, said that Dawn’s success has transformed scientists’ perspective of Vesta from a fuzzy form, into a planetary body.

She said that the asteroid formed within 2 million years after the first solids formed in the solar system.

“We know now that Vesta is the only intact planetary building block surviving from the early days in the solar system,” she said during a NASA news conference about the findings.

The findings confirm a theory that Vesta was the parent asteroid of Howardite–Eucrite–Diogenite (HED) meteorites that have been found on Earth.


ESA Declares End of Mission for Envisat

Just weeks after celebrating its tenth year in orbit, communication with the Envisat satellite was suddenly lost on 8 April 2012. (Credit: ESA)European Space Agency (ESA)

ScienceDaily (May 9, 2012) — Just weeks after celebrating its tenth year in orbit, communication with the Envisat satellite was suddenly lost on 8 April. Following rigorous attempts to re-establish contact and the investigation of failure scenarios, the end of the mission is being declared.

A team of engineers has spent the last month attempting to regain control of Envisat, investigating possible reasons for the problem.

Despite continuous commands sent from a widespread network of ground stations, there has been no reaction yet from the satellite.

As there were no signs of degradation before the loss of contact, the team has been collecting other information to help understand the satellite's condition. These include images from ground radar and the French Pleiades satellite.


Arizona Man Wins Free Trip to Space

An artist's depiction of a suborbital spaceflight offered by Space Adventures aboard an Armadillo Aerospace Vehicle. Seattle's Space Needle is offering a free trip on the spaceship as part of its Space Race 2012 contest.Mike Wall, SPACE.com Senior Writer

An Arizona man earned a free trip to suborbital space today (May 9), claiming the prize after winning a harrowing, high-altitude race around the outside of Seattle's Space Needle.

In a ceremony held at the Space Needle today, famed moonwalker Buzz Aldrin announced that Gregory Schneider had won the suborbital spaceflight, an award valued at $110,000.

The free rocket ride is the grand prize of a months-long competition called Space Race 2012, which is sponsored by the Space Needle and space tourism company Space Adventures.  


NASA questions sale of Apollo 13 checklist

Apollo 13By Mark K. Matthews, Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON — A famous NASA artifact is again at the center of a national drama, although this time the stakes aren't life-or-death.

A systems checklist from the Apollo 13 mission — which helped save the three-man crew from disaster in 1970 — sold at auction late last year for nearly $390,000 after Dallas-based Heritage Auctions acquired it from mission commander Jim Lovell.

Now NASA wants it back — unless Lovell or the auction house can provide the right paperwork.

NASA lawyers wrote Heritage Auctions last month and demanded the company provide prove Lovell owned the 70-page checklist. The agency also sought proof of title to items in the Heritage catalog, including a "training" glove used by astronaut Alan Shepard.

Or else.

"Please be advised that this matter is being turned over to the NASA Office of Inspector General and that there is potential risk of the items being seized by the government until title issues have been resolved," NASA wrote.



Odd News

Mural Found On Walls a First for a Maya Dwelling; Painted Numbers Reflect Calendar Reaching Well Beyond 2012

'Younger Brother Obsidian,' as labeled on the north wall of the Maya city’s house by an unknown hand, was painted in the 9th century A.D. Archaeologist William Saturno of Boston University excavates the house in the ruins of the Maya city of Xultun. Younger Brother Obsidian may have been the town scribe. Excavation and preservation of the site were supported by the National Geographic Society. (Credit: Photo by Tyrone Turner (c) 2012 National Geographic)National Geographic Society

ScienceDaily (May 10, 2012) — A vast city built by the ancient Maya and discovered nearly a century ago is finally starting to yield its secrets.

Excavating for the first time in the sprawling complex of Xultún in Guatemala's Petén region, archaeologists have uncovered a structure that contains what appears to be a work space for the town's scribe, its walls adorned with unique paintings -- one depicting a lineup of men in black uniforms -- and hundreds of scrawled numbers. Many are calculations relating to the Maya calendar.

One wall of the structure, thought to be a house, is covered with tiny, millimeter-thick, red and black glyphs unlike any seen before at other Maya sites. Some appear to represent the various calendrical cycles charted by the Maya -- the 260-day ceremonial calendar, the 365-day solar calendar, the 584-day cycle of the planet Venus and the 780-day cycle of Mars, reports archaeologist William Saturno of Boston University, who led the exploration and excavation.

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