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

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

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

“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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3D print a baby universe at home!

Dave from Imperial College sez, "We've taken observations of the Cosmic Microwave Background from the Planck mission and turned them into a 3D printed map of the temperature of the universe when it was just a few hundred thousand years old. Download the files and print your own baby universe!" Read the rest

Honest mimicry vs. dishonest mimicry

I learned that there are two forms of mimicry in nature -- honest mimicry (e.g., bees and wasps look similar and advertise that they can sting) and dishonest mimicry (e.g., some flies look like bees and wasps to trick predators into thinking they can sting).

Inés Dawson, a graduate and PhD student at the University of Oxford, is the creator of this video, which is part of a science series on YouTube called Draw Curiosity. Read the rest

Haunting an X-rated movie screening... for science!

In 1960, parapsychologist Anthony Donald Cornell donned a bed sheet and attempted to scare an audience watching an X-rated film in a movie theater. Why? Cornell, a believer in ghosts himself, wanted to understand how people reacted during "apparitional experiences." Today at the BBC, University of Oxford experimental psychologist Matthew Tompkins explores Cornell's strange experiments and considers how his methods may have contributed to the study of "inattentional blindness." Indeed, the ghost in the movie theater experiment is not unlike Daniel Simons and Christopher Chablis's classic "Selective Attention Test" from 1999. If you're not aware of that experiment, the video below is a must-see. From the BBC:

For Cornell, the experiment was another failure. None of the audience reported anything remotely paranormal. Many saw nothing unusual at all: 46% of the respondents had failed to notice the Experimental Apparition when Cornell first passed in front of the screen, and 32% remained completely unaware of it. Even the projectionist, whose job was to watch for anything unusual, reported that he had completely failed to notice the apparition. Those that did see ’something’ were not particularly accurate in their descriptions....

For me, these failures to see are by far the most exciting part of the experimental series. The pleasure of reading Cornell’s original reports, which were published in 1959 and 1960 in the Journal of the Society for Psychical Research, is that he writes in matter-of-fact academic prose. He dutifully reports numbers and exact quotes from participants, and walks the reader through the details of his experimental designs without a glimmer of apparent irony.

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Tell us about your Halloween candy preferences, and other things besides

With so many costumes adorning this election season, you might think the Halloween get-ups are overkill. Think again, because David Ng and B.R. Cohen are here to present the official universal survey about your candy favorites for the 2016 hierarchical delineation of candy virtue.

"Self-control" can be switched off with electromagnetic brain stimulation

University of Zurich researchers used transcranial magnetic stimulation, a noninvasive method of inhibiting activity in parts of the brain, to "turn off" people's ability to control their impulses. They focused on the temporoparietal junction, an area of the brain thought to play an important role in moral decisions, empathy, and other social interactions. They hope their research could help inform our understanding of addiction and self-discipline. From Scientific American:

In their study, subjects underwent 40 seconds of disruptive transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS)—in which a magnetic coil placed near the skull produced small electric currents in the brain that inhibited activity of the posterior TPJ—then spent 30 minutes completing a task. To rule out a placebo effect, a control group received TMS in a different area of the brain. In one task, subjects made a choice between a reward (ranging between 75 and 155 Swiss francs) for themselves or one that was shared equally between themselves and another person, who ranged from their closest confidante to a stranger on the street. In another task subjects were offered an immediate reward of between zero and 160 Swiss francs or a guarantee of 160 Swiss francs after waiting three to 18 months. In a final task, subjects were instructed to take the perspective of an avatar and indicate the number of red dots on a ball that the avatar would see.

Subjects with an inhibited TPJ were less likely to share the money and were more likely to take the money up front rather than delay gratification and wait for a larger prize.

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Last call for the Voyager Golden Record: 40th Anniversary Edition!

Are you jonesing for a dose of optimism and possibility? In the mood to contemplate the cosmos? Want to experience a musical message for extraterrestrials the way it was meant to be played? The Voyager Golden Record: 40th Anniversary Edition, a project I launched with Timothy Daly and Lawrence Azerrad, is a lavish vinyl box set containing the contents of the phonograph record launched into space in 1977 and now 13 billion miles from Earth.

Our Kickstarter ends at 8pm PDT tonight (Thursday). Once we fulfill the rewards from this campaign, we'll never produce this deluxe 40th Anniversary Edition again.

We are so thankful enthusiasm and excitement about our project and the incredible Voyager interstellar mission. The curiosity and support is infectious. We're deeply grateful that a project that has been on our minds for so long has resonated with so many people around the world. Ad astra!

For more on the Voyager Golden Record: 40th Anniversary Edition, please visit our Kickstarter page here.

And here's an excerpt from an interview with me about the project, from The Vinyl Factory:

Ultimately it was a utopian vision for Earth as much as an actual attempt to communicate with extra terrestrials… Wasn’t it?

Yeah I think the idea is that if there is a civilisation that is intelligent enough to actually intercept it, they’ll be able to follow the instructions on how to play it. And I think that’s true. In some ways though, it doesn’t even really matter if it’s ever played or not by an extra-terrestrial civilisation.

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Rich people can afford to buy more sleep than poor people

In Rich do not rise early: spatio-temporal patterns in the mobility networks of different socio-economic classes, a group of transportation engineers analyze an open data-set about the commutes of people in the Colombian cities of Medellín and Manizales, concluding that the rich and the poor commute the furthest distances, but that the rich have much shorter commutes, thanks to private transport and superior routing, which translates to substantially more sleep for the wealthy. Read the rest

Everything Belongs to the Future: a tale of pharmadystopian, immortal gerontocrats

Laurie Penny's first science fiction book, Everything Belongs to the Future, is available to the public as of today: if you've followed her work, you're probably expecting something scathing, feminist, woke, and smart as hell, and you won't be disappointed -- but you're going to get a lot more, besides.

Make: "Mad scientist test-tube rack"

John Park, the maker's maker, explains in detail how to make this glowing mad scientist test-tube rack that you can use as a Hallowe'en decoration and/or household mood light. Read the rest

Daniel Martin Diaz's new art show inspired by science and magic opens in San Francisco tonight

My friend Daniel Martin Diaz's exquisite paintings lie at the intersection of science, art, and magic to provoke questions about technology, physics, theories of mind, and the nature of reality. He has an exhibition of spectacular new works opening in San Francisco today at the wonderful science/nature/curiosity shop Paxton Gate. The show is titled titled "Atomic Enlightenment." Indeed. Get illuminated.

Daniel writes:

Over the past few years, I have become immersed in scientific and philosophical concepts, such as Anatomy, Computer Science, Math, Cosmology, Biology, Quantum Physics, and Consciousness. I have been particularly fascinated with scientific diagrams, which explain theories and properties through imagery. Although these rudimentary images are without any leanings towards aesthetics, I find them to be beautiful, though that is not the intention. All of the projects I have created begin as drawings, which I feel has a beauty and intimacy that painting cannot capture. The subtle lines that graphite creates, and the quickness in which one can capture an idea makes this medium alluring.

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Over 170 nations agree to cut global-warming chemical used in refrigerators and air conditioners

A global agreement to cut a heat-trapping chemical used in air conditioning units and refrigerators was announced today, with participation from over 170 nations.

“The deal could have a greater impact on global warming than the Paris pact of 2015,” reports the New York Times.

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Academic paper about 4chan's /pol/ forum

"A Longitudinal Measurement Study of 4chan’s Politically Incorrect Forum and its Effect on the Web" [PDF] is the first UN-sponsored study of one of the internet's worst places: /pol/. Read the rest

AI's blind spot: garbage in, garbage out

Social scientist Kate Crawford (previously) and legal scholar Ryan Calo (previously) helped organize the interdisciplinary White House AI Now summits on how AI could increase inequality, erode accountability, and lead us into temptation and what to do about it. Read the rest

The coming fight over "nonlethal neuroweapons"

The Chemical Weapons Convention has a giant loophole in that it allows for the stockpiling and use of chemical agents in law-enforcement; with the Eighth Review Conference of the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention (BTWC) coming up next month, there's an urgent question about whether "neuroweapons" (chemical agents intended to pacify or disperse people) will become tools of law-enforcement and "defensive warfare." Read the rest

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