A deep dive into kratom, the herb that helps with opioid withdrawal

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Kratom (previously) is a widely used herb that has been very effective in treating opioid withdrawal and other chronic, hard-to-treat conditions -- it also became very controversial this year because the DEA decided, without evidence, to class it as a dangerous drug, and then changed its mind (unprecedented!) after a mass-scale petition that included interventions from members of Congress. Read the rest

Zapping the brain with magnetic pulses boosts libido

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In a curious study, researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles showed that transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) -- altering brain activity by zapping specific regions with magnetic pulses -- can apparently increase people's libido, at least briefly. Neuroscientist Nicole Prause and her colleagues targeted the left dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (at the left temple), a region involved in reward-seeking. New Scientist explains the curious protocol used by the researchers:

...A vibrator was either connected to a sheath that the penis goes in or a small hood that fits over the clitoris. Electrodes on each participant’s head measured the strength of their brain’s alpha waves, which are weaker when people are more sexually aroused.

During the experiment, 20 people were given TMS for about two minutes, designed to either excite or inhibit the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex. Next, each volunteer was taken to a room where the EEG electrodes were placed on their head. They were then left to attach the vibrator themselves.

Finally, each participant carried out a task that involved pressing a button as fast as possible when shapes appeared on a screen. Depending on how quick they were, they were given a genital buzz lasting between half a second and five seconds – but only after a pause.

Their brainwaves were recorded during this waiting period. “They know they’re about to be sexually stimulated, but it hasn’t actually happened yet,” says Prause. It is the closest analogue for measuring desire in the lab, she adds.

As predicted, after excitatory TMS, participants’ alpha waves were weaker – suggesting they were more sexually aroused – than after inhibitory TMS.

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Bat embryos with the skeletons dyed are kinda creepycute

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Ever wonder what an embryonic bat's skeleton would look like if the cartilage were dyed with alcian blue stain? Wonder no more. Read the rest

Altruistic people have more sexual partners

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Research suggests that people who do nice things for others, often at a cost for themselves, are more sexually attractive. From an evolutionary perspective, this might be because altruism indicates that a potential mate is more cooperative and caring. Evolutionary psychologists Steven Arnocky, at Nipissing University, and Pat Barclay, at the University of Guelph, conducted a fascinating study to explore whether altruistic people really do have more sexual partners. From Scientific American:

This theory suggests that altruism may serve, in part, to convey one’s value as a mating partner, including one’s concern for others and likelihood of cooperating with future mates. Research has shown that we prefer altruistic partners, all else being equal; especially for long-term mating (the evidence for altruism being preferred in short-term mates is mixed). Not surprisingly, then, the pull to demonstrate one’s altruism can be strong. Some research has shown that men will actively compete with one another (termed competitive altruism) by making charitable donations to women. Interestingly, these charitable donations increase when the target of one’s altruism is physically attractive...

Previous findings from hunter-gatherer populations have shown that men who hunt and share meat often enjoy greater reproductive access to women. But do these links hold up in other cultural and contextual arenas, such as in contemporary North American society? To find out, we conducted a set of two studies. In our first study, undergraduate men and women completed an altruism questionnaire (involving questions like “I have donated blood”), along with a sexual history survey. Participants also completed a personality inventory, given the possibility that those with certain personality characteristics (such as being extroverted) might happen to engage in both more altruism and more sexual activity.

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Yes, humans are capable of creating a happy and successful liberal society: The Netherlands

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As U.S. headlines bombard us with proof of how low humanity can go, here's a look at a happy, peaceful, and prosperous country -- The Netherlands -- to remind us that it is actually possible for the human race to get it right. If people want to change present circumstances through liberal ideals, it's helpful to look at a liberal, politically stable country with a strong and open economy. Also known as Holland, the country does not have the same history and culture that creates the inherent social and economic problems in the U.S., but it is clearly moving in the right direction -- forward.

It's a great destination for liberal ex-patriates looking for a place to live and work -- especially in the tech sector -- that already has its shit together, in case you really are now considering moving out of the country. Staying or going, it makes sense to see what a liberal society looks like and how it works. 

We've compiled a list of facts about The Netherlands to show you what humans can do when they're not fighting en masse on Twitter:

The Dutch government plans to ban the sales of petrol and diesel-powered cars in 2025Healthiest country in the world for dietKeeps closing prisons due to a lack of prisonersFirst to legalize same-sex marriageHighest concentration of museums in the worldHighest English-proficiency in the world where it is not first languageHighest population density in EuropeHome to more bikes than peopleCycling in the Netherlands is the safest in the worldAmsterdam’s Schiphol airport offers more direct flights than any airport in the world83 percent of the population live in urban areas but there are few high risesLargely secular country: up to 40 percent of Dutch say they have no religion, 30 percent are Catholic, and 20 percent are Protestant. Read the rest

What people with "calendar synesthesia" reveal about how our minds deal with time

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Synesthesia is the fascinating neurological phenomenon whereby stimulation of one sense involuntarily triggers another sensory pathway. A synesthete might taste sounds or hear colors. Now, leading synesthesia researcher VS Rakmachandran at the University of California, San Diego is studying "calendar synesthetes" who see very clear images of calendars in their mind's eye when they think about months that have passed or are in the future. For example, according to New Scientist, one participant in the research "sees her months as occupying an asymmetrical “V” shape. Along this V, she sees each month written in Helvetica font." From New Scientist:

The idea that calendars are literally laid out in space for some people suggests that we are all hardwired to some extent to map time in space.

The concepts of time and numbers are something we acquired relatively recently in our evolutionary history, says Ramachandran, but the brain wouldn’t have had time to evolve a specific area to deal with it.

“Given the opportunistic nature of evolution, perhaps the most convenient way to represent the abstract idea of sequences of numbers and time might have been to map them onto a preexisting map of visual space, already present in the brain,” he says.

Indeed, imaging scans show connections between areas of the brain involved in numbers and those involved with mapping the world, memories and our sense of self. The team suggest that when these areas act together, they enable us to navigate mentally through space and time, while being firmly anchored in the present.

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Statcheck: a data-fakery algorithm that flagged 50,000 articles

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Michèle B. Nuijten and co's statcheck program re-examines the datasets in peer-reviewed science and flags anomalies that are associated with fakery, from duplication of data to internal inconsistencies. Read the rest

Documenting Trump's war on science

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During Canada's nightmarish Stephen Harper years -- when an Arctic country with two oceanic coastlines and major freshwater reserves was ruled by a ruthless climate-denier -- science librarian John Dupuis did yeoman service documenting and rounding up the assault on science that was an essential part of Harper's payback to the oil interests he represented. Read the rest

How to see the extraordinary "supermoon" on Monday

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On Monday November 14, we'll have the opportunity to see the full moon closer to Earth than its been since 1948, and won't be again until 2034. It will be a spectacular sight. From NASA:

The moon’s orbit around Earth is slightly elliptical so sometimes it is closer and sometimes it’s farther away. When the moon is full as it makes its closest pass to Earth it is known as a supermoon. At perigree — the point at which the moon is closest to Earth — the moon can be as much as 14 percent closer to Earth than at apogee, when the moon is farthest from our planet. The full moon appears that much larger in diameter and because it is larger shines 30 percent more moonlight onto the Earth....

The biggest and brightest moon for observers in the United States will be on Monday morning just before dawn. On Monday, Nov. 14, the moon is at perigee at 6:22 a.m. EST and “opposite” the sun for the full moon at 8:52 a.m. EST (after moonset for most of the US).

If you’re not an early riser, no worries. “I’ve been telling people to go out at night on either Sunday or Monday night to see the supermoon,” said Noah Petro, deputy project scientist for NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) mission. “The difference in distance from one night to the next will be very subtle, so if it’s cloudy on Sunday, go out on Monday. Any time after sunset should be fine.

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Brain implant allows paralyzed monkey to walk

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Researchers at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne have developed a neuroprosthetic interface that creates a wireless link between the brain and the spine. In a recent experiment, they used it to enable a paralyzed monkey to walk.

Via Healthglu:

The brain-spine interface overcomes a damaged connection by bridging the spinal cord injury — and it does so in real-time and via wireless technology. The neuroprosthetic device implanted in the monkey’s brain correctly interprets activity generated by the motor cortex, and relays this information to a system of electrodes placed over the surface of the spinal cord, just below the injury. A burst of just a few volts, delivered at the right location, triggers specific muscles in the legs. Monkeys implanted with the device were able to walk within six days of the spinal cord injury.

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Johns Hopkins psychedelics research keeps finding medical uses

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Johns Hopkins is among several institutions challenging a key tenet of outlawing psychedelics: that they have "no medicinal use." Baltimore Magazine examines the progress made by key researchers Roland Griffiths and Bill Richards. Read the rest

This googly eyed stubby squid might make your day

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E/V Nautilus explores the ocean, sharing highlights of their video captures, like this adorable googly-eyed stubby squid seen off the coast of California. Read the rest

A quick primer on dark matter and dark energy

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British YouTuber Charlie McDonnell breaks down the elusive scientific concepts in terms even kids can understand. Read the rest

Ballistic gel "farts" after a bullet passes through it

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This Imgur video shows a bullet of unknown caliber passing through a block of ballistic gelatin, "a testing medium scientifically correlated to swine muscle tissue") followed by a mysterious explosion within the gelatin (one Imgur commenter says it's just "the fire tetrahedron of, oxygen, fuel & heat" trapped in the gel) which produces the most satisfying little fart when it's done. (via JWZ) Read the rest

Anti-vaxx conspiracy leaders back Donald Trump, claim it's mutual

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Donald Trump has a long history of promulgating anti-vaccine conspiracy theories (contrary to received wisdom, the anti-vaxx movement draws most of its support from the political right, not hippie liberals), and the tireless leaders of the anti-vaccine movement now claim to have met with Trump and received his promise to ban the most efficient and effective vaccination techniques (nevermind that the president doesn't have the authority to do this). Read the rest

Science behind sleeping while you're awake

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You may think you're awake but there's a good chance that part of your brain is asleep. And that can cause real problems, especially since you may not even be aware of it. In fact, indivisual neurons and groups of neurons in the cerebral cortex can be independently offline while others are awake. In Scientific American, Christof Koch, president of the Allen Institute for Brain Science, explores the counter-intuitive reality of "Sleeping While Awake:"

A case in point for sleep intruding into wakefulness involves brief episodes of sleep known as microsleep. These intervals can occur during any monotonous task, whether driving long distances across the country, listening to a speaker droning on or attending yet another never-ending departmental meeting. You're drowsy, your eyes get droopy, the eyelids close, your head repeatedly nods up and down and then snaps up: your consciousness lapses....

Perniciously, subjects typically believe themselves to be alert all the time during microsleep without recalling any period of unconsciousness. This misapprehension can be perilous to someone in the driver's seat. Microsleep can be fatal when driving or operating machinery such as trains or airplanes, hour after tedious hour. During a microsleep episode, the entire brain briefly falls asleep, raising the question of whether bits and pieces of the brain can go to sleep by themselves, without the entire organ succumbing to slumber.

Indeed, Italian-born neuroscientists Chiara Cirelli and Giulio Tononi, who study sleep and consciousness at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, discovered “sleepy neurons” in experimental animals that showed no behavioral manifestation of sleep...

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300 Million Children Breathe Highly Toxic Air, reports UNICEF

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“Almost one in seven of the world’s children, 300 million, live in areas with the most toxic levels of outdoor air pollution – six or more times higher than international guidelines” UNICEF said today, in releasing a new report on how air pollution around the world affects our most vulnerable.

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