Why all scientific diet research turns out to be bullshit

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The gold standard for researching the effects of diet on health is the self-reported food-diary, which is prone to lots of error, underreporting of "bad" food, and changes in diet that result from simply keeping track of what you're eating. The standard tool for correcting these errors comparisons with more self-reported tests. Read the rest

Weird and wonderful medical and scientific museum

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We've posted previously about Steve Erenbgerg (Radio Guy)'s online collection of wonderful and strange antique scientific instruments, medical devices, anatomical models, and, of course, radios. SciFri took a video tour, above, of Erenberg's delightful real world cabinet of curiosities!

"Things of Beauty: Scientific Instruments of Yore" (YouTube)

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Petition to name a new element in Terry Pratchett's honour

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Now that the International Union of Applied Chemistry has recognised four new elements, the race is on to decide what to call them. Read the rest

Transvaginal foetal sonic bombardment: woo-tunes for your hoo-hah

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Babypod is a wireless speaker designed to be worn by pregnant women in their vaginas so as to bombard their foetuses with music with minimal distortion. Read the rest

What is the most interesting scientific news? Very, VERY smart people respond.

It is time once again for the Edge Annual Question, a mind-bending and boundary-busting online convening of scientists, technologists, and other big thinkers all responding to a single question at the intersection of science and culture. From physicists to artists, cognitive psychologists to journalists, evolutionary biologists to maverick anthropologists, these are people who Edge founder, famed literary agent, and BB pal John Brockman describes as the "third culture (consisting) of those scientists and other thinkers in the empirical world who, through their work and expository writing, are taking the place of the traditional intellectual in rendering visible the deeper meanings of our lives, redefining who and what we are."

This year, John asked: What do you consider the most interesting (scientific) news? What makes it important?" Nearly two hundred really smart people responded, including Steven Pinker, Nina Jablonski, Freeman Dyson, Stewart Brand, Marti Hearst, Philip Tetlock, Kevin Kelly, Lisa Feldman Barrett, Douglas Rushkoff, Lisa Randall, Alan Alda, Jared Diamond, Pamela McCorduck, and on and on.

"Science is the only news," writes Stewart Brand in the introduction. "When you scan through a newspaper or magazine, all the human interest stuff is the same old he-said-she-said, the politics and economics the same sorry cyclic dramas, the fashions a pathetic illusion of newness, and even the technology is predictable if you know the science. Human nature doesn't change much; science does, and the change accrues, altering the world irreversibly.' We now live in a world in which the rate of change is the biggest change." Science has thus become a big story, if not the big story: news that will stay news."

2016 : WHAT DO YOU CONSIDER THE MOST INTERESTING RECENT [SCIENTIFIC] NEWS? Read the rest

Hangovers aren't caused by dehydration, low blood sugar, or acetaldehyde

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The nascent science of hangovers -- launched in earnest in 2009 with the Alcohol Hangover Research Group -- has ruled out all the traditional culprits for your misery. A promising new culprit is inflammatory response to elevated levels of cytokines, molecules that transmit messages through the immune system. Read the rest

3D printed model of cellular division

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D. Allan Drummond, assistant professor of biochemistry, molecular biology and human genetics from the University of Chicago's The Drummond Lab 3D printed this model of a yeast cell dividing in solid bronze: "Late-anaphase budding yeast, mother & daughter." Read the rest

See this giant squid caught on video!

A majestic giant squid (Architeuthis) made the scene at Toyama Bay in central Japan. At an estimated 3.7 meters (12.1 feet), researchers think this was a juvenile.

"My curiosity was way bigger than fear, so I jumped into the water and go close to it," Diving Shop Kaiyu proprietor Akinobu Kimura told CNN.

"This squid was not damaged and looked lively, spurting ink and trying to entangle his tentacles around me. I guided the squid toward to the ocean, several hundred meters from the area it was found in, and it disappeared into the deep sea."

For more on the mystery and science of the giant squid, don't miss Mark Dery's classic Boing Boing feature: "The Kraken Wakes: What Architeuthis is Trying to Tell Us"

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Why do smart people live longer?

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Numerous research studies have correlated higher IQs with longer lifespans. Why? One reason could be that smarter people apparently don't do as many dumb things that could kill them early. In Scientific American, Michigan State University psychologist David Z. Hambrick looks at the latest research in cognitive epidemiology:

One possibility is that a higher IQ contributes to optimal health behaviors, such as exercising, wearing a seatbelt, and not smoking. Consistent with this hypothesis, in the Scottish data, there was no relationship between IQ and smoking behavior in the 1930s and 1940s, when the health risks of smoking were unknown, but after that, people with higher IQs were more likely to quit smoking. Alternatively, it could be that some of the same genetic factors contribute to variation in both IQ and in the propensity to engage in these sorts of behaviors.

Another possibility is that IQ is an index of bodily integrity, and particularly the efficiency of the nervous system.

"Research Confirms a Link between Intelligence and Life Expectancy" Read the rest

The curious effect of 457 mph wind on a man's face

"Test conducted in 1946 where a human subject was exposed to blasts of air. The test was performed at (the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics' Langley Memorial Aeronautical Laboratory, now the) NASA Langley Research Center's 8 ft High Speed Tunnel."

(from the Library of Congress Prelinger Archives, cleaned up by Quickfound)

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Anti-PUA: Fascinating profile of the data-driven "love science" pioneers

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John and Julie Gottman are a husband and wife psychologist team who run a hugely successful couples therapy practice that encompasses books, seminars, research, and one-on-one sessions. In a massive, engaging essay, Eve Fairbanks describes how their love inspired their work, and what she learned when she followed their teaching. Read the rest

These incredible trees can "walk"

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These are the "walking palm trees" of Ecuador. Each year, they could walk as much as 20 meters. Slower than the Ents from Lord of the Rings but, well, real.

“As the soil erodes, the tree grows new, long roots that find new and more solid ground, sometimes up to 20m,” Peter Vrsansky, a palaeobiologist from the Earth Science Institute of the Slovak Academy of Sciences Bratislava, tells the BBC. “Then, slowly, as the roots settle in the new soil and the tree bends patiently toward the new roots, the old roots slowly lift into the air. The whole process for the tree to relocate to a new place with better sunlight and more solid ground can take a couple of years.”

Tragically, the incredible Sumaco Biosphere Reserve where they live is being chopped down.

“This [cutting] is a shame, as Ecuador is one of the world countries with the highest partition of protected areas," Vransky says, But the trees can’t walk fast enough to escape the chainsaw and the machetes backed by current legislation." Read the rest

Steven Johnson in conversation with Brian Eno

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Two of our happy mutants: the science writer Stephen Johnson and the oblique strategist Brian Eno on the nature of art, literature, and science. Read the rest

Exponential population growth and other unkillable science myths

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There's a widespread understanding that the vaccine-autism link and climate denial are bullshit, but there are plenty of widespread science myths that are repeated by people who should know better, from the idea that early screening lowers cancer mortality to the idea that the human population is growing exponentially. Read the rest

The pigeons that could discriminate between a Monet and a Picasso

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In The Guardian, psychologist Tom "Mind Hacks" Stafford outlines five classic scientific studies that underpin much of today's thinking about how we learn things. One of Stafford's favorites is BF Skinner's 1930s claims that "with the right practice conditions – meaning that correct behaviour is appropriately rewarded – any task can be learned using simple associations." In 1995, Keio University researchers took Skinner's efforts further by training pigeons to discriminate between paintings by Monet and Picasso.

Like (Skinner), they believed that we underestimate the power of practice and reward in shaping behaviour. After just a few weeks’ training, their pigeons could not only tell a Picasso from a Monet – indicated by pecks on a designated button – but could generalise their learning to discriminate cubist from impressionist works in general.

For a behaviourist, the moral is that even complex learning is supported by fundamental principles of association, practice and reward. It also shows that you can train a pigeon to tell a Renoir from a Matisse, but that doesn’t mean it knows a lot about art.

"The science of learning: five classic studies" (The Guardian)

And here's a PDF of the 1995 paper: "Pigeons' Discrimination of Paintings by Monet and Picasso" Read the rest

The truth about Ada Lovelace

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Stephen Wolfram set out to find the truth about Ada Lovelace, the 19th century mathematician hailed as the first computer programmer, and who died young. In "untangling the tale," he found a mystery much harder to unravel than he expected.

Historians disagree. The personalities in the story are hard to read. The technology is difficult to understand. The whole story is entwined with the customs of 19th-century British high society. And there’s a surprising amount of misinformation and misinterpretation out there. But after quite a bit of research—including going to see many original documents—I feel like I’ve finally gotten to know Ada Lovelace, and gotten a grasp on her story. In some ways it’s an ennobling and inspiring story; in some ways it’s frustrating and tragic.

Little-known until recent decades, her star rose with that of Charles Babbage and the mechanical computers he designed but was unable to construct. Which is to say that our understanding of her is clouded by his successes and shortcomings.

Indeed, her death cheated us of the profound likelihood that Babbage's mechanical computers would have been constructed as a result of her efforts … and improved.

What If…?

What if Ada’s health hadn’t failed—and she had successfully taken over the Analytical Engine project? What might have happened then?

I don’t doubt that the Analytical Engine would have been built. Maybe Babbage would have had to revise his plans a bit, but I’m sure he would have made it work. The thing would have been the size of a train locomotive, with maybe 50,000 moving parts.

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North Carolina town rejects solar because it'll suck up sunlight and kill the plants

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A town meeting in Woodland, North Carolina heard public comments on a proposed solar farm in which citizens, including a retired science teacher called Jane Mann spoke out against the proposal. Read the rest

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