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Duke University researchers implanted lab rats with a device enabling them to perceive invisible infrared light. Miguel Nicolelis and his colleagues jacked a head-mounted infrared sensor into the rat's brain. It's wired into a region of the brain that processes touch, providing the rodents with a "sixth sense" for infrared. They published their research in the science journal Nature Communications. The possibilities aren't limited to infrared spectrum either. "We could create devices sensitive to any physical energy," Nicolelis says. "It could be magnetic fields, radio waves, or ultrasound. We chose infrared initially because it didn't interfere with our electrophysiological recordings." The technology could someday lead to improved neuroprosthetics to help blind people see.
"Neuroprosthesis Gives Rats the Ability to 'Touch' Infrared Light" (Nicolelis Lab)
"Lab rats 'acquire sixth sense'" (BBC News)
At the Farm and Trade School on Thompson's Island, where the boy pupils are taught to kill rats, as all boys should be, there is a henhouse built with a cement foundation, but it has an earth floor and no foundation wall on the south side; therefore it is not rat-proof. The wooden floor of the main house is raised about three feet above the earth, leaving a space below it for a shelter for geese. Here the rats have burrowed in the earth, and as it was considered unsafe to use carbon bisulphide there on account of the fire danger, water was suggested. Two lines of common garden hose were attached to a near-by hydrant, the ends inserted into rat holes and the water turned on. All rat holes leading from the henpens to the outer world were closed with earth, and several boys were provided with sticks, to the end of each of which a piece of hose two feet long had been attached. A fox terrier was introduced into the henpens, and in about half an hour the rat war began. As the half-drowned rats came out of their holes somewhat dazed they were struck by side swings of the hose sticks, which knocked them off their feet, to be killed by other blows. If one escaped into the henpens, boy or dog killed it. This operation was repeated later from time to time. Four successive battles several weeks apart yielded 152 rats from under and about this henhouse, and no doubt many young rats were drowned in their nests."Rats And Rat Riddance" (Google Books, via Weird Universe)
UPDATE: After you read this story, make sure you check out the follow up piece. Editors at Embargo Watch have found evidence that The Sustainable Food Trust manipulated the media to prevent public criticism of this paper.
Yesterday, in an aside to a post criticizing an astroturf political campaign in California, Mark mentioned a new study that supposedly found GM corn causes tumors in rats. As Mark said in an update to that post, this study is severely flawed, but I wanted to follow-up on that with some discussion about why it's flawed.
After all, the study was peer-reviewed, right? Doesn't that mean we can trust it?
Here's the thing. Peer review is not perfect. It's not a panacea. It's simply the basic level of due diligence. By submitting work for peer review, a scientist has allowed people outside her own team to critique her work. And the journal might require some changes to the paper based on the critique — anything from edits for clarity to requesting that the scientist perform another experiment in a different way. If a paper hasn't gone through peer review, you should be more skeptical of it. Avoiding peer review means that the researcher decided to show the public her results before allowing those results to be critiqued by independent experts.
But, at the same time, just because something has gone through peer review doesn't mean it's been certified to be accurate. It just means that roughly three other experts have looked at the paper before publication. There's still a lot of room for things to go wrong. Peer review is like the bouncer at the door. The bouncer doesn't guarantee that every person in the bar would be a good person for you to date. Even if a paper gets through, you still have to think about it critically and evaluate it on its own merits. This recent paper on GM corn and rat tumors is an excellent example of that ...
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