Heathrow security insists that ice is a liquid

Simon Perry froze a can of Diet Coke solid and took it through security at London's Heathrow Airport to see whether he could find a loophole in the "no liquids" rule. Read the rest

New neuroscience-based platform to get to know your mind


My friend Stanford neuroscientist Melina Uncapher and her colleagues are piloting a new public project called mymntr meant to create a "user guide for your brain" through brain tests for self-knowledge, interviews with fascinating creative folks to get a sense of the minds behind the madness, and lots of other cool stuff at the intersection of science and culture. Read the rest

Meet Homo naledi, the distant ancestor you never knew


In South Africa, scientists have unearthed a humanoid species from what appears to be a burial chamber hidden deep inside a system of caves. They discovered 15 partial skeletons, with evidence leading researchers to believe the hominids had enough intelligence to conduct rituals. This is the single largest discovery of its kind ever in Africa, and scientists claim it will change our ideas about our human ancestors. More on the findings in the journal Elife.

BBC News:

The species, which has been named naledi, has been classified in the grouping, or genus, Homo, to which modern humans belong. The researchers who made the find have not been able to find out how long ago these creatures lived - but the scientist who led the team, Prof Lee Berger, told BBC News that he believed they could be among the first of our kind (genus Homo) and could have lived in Africa up to three million years ago.

The team of scientists who discovered the Homo naledi remains pose for a picture

Here's the abstract:

Homo naledi is a previously-unknown species of extinct hominin discovered within the Dinaledi Chamber of the Rising Star cave system, Cradle of Humankind, South Africa. This species is characterized by body mass and stature similar to small-bodied human populations but a small endocranial volume similar to australopiths. Cranial morphology of H. naledi is unique, but most similar to early Homo species including Homo erectus, Homo habilis or Homo rudolfensis. While primitive, the dentition is generally small and simple in occlusal morphology.

Read the rest

Climate change denier Rupert Murdoch just bought National Geographic, which gives grants to scientists

Rupert Murdoch, the new boss of National Geographic.

Rupert Murdoch, the new boss of National Geographic.

The National Geographic magazine has been a nonprofit publication since inception in 1888, but that ends today. The long-running American publication becomes very much for-profit under a $725 million dollar deal announced today with 21st Century Fox, the entertainment company controlled by the family of Rupert Murdoch.

Murdoch is a notorious climate change denier, and his family's Fox media empire is the world's primary source of global warming misinformation. Which would be no big deal here, I guess, were it not for the fact that the National Geographic Society's mission includes giving grants to scientists.

Read the rest

Nanotechnology coming of age (finally)?


For more than two decades, nonscientists and engineers have made molecular-scale motor, switches, propellers, ratchets, and even the "nanocar" above that rolls when its metal "road" is heated. But what can we actually do with these things? The journal Nature looks at today's efforts to develop useful applications for molecular machines, from drug delivery systems inside the body to a new kind of high-density molecular memory for computers. Read the rest

Watch: Add butane to a bottle of Coke, get a totally unsafe high-powered bottle rocket


It's always the Russians, beating us in the never-ending arms race of Totally Unsafe Things That Are Fun to Watch. Read the rest

This is how blue the skies were when Beijing banned 2.5 million cars for two weeks


In Beijing, China banned 2.5 million cars from driving for 2 weeks to get this beautiful blue sky for a World War II commemorative parade. As soon as the parade was over, the ban was lifted, and the blue vanished within 24 hours. Read the rest

Traffic noise annoys songbirds to the point of harming them


New research suggests that traffic noise (apart from pollution and general hectic motion) degrades the natural habitat of songbirds, and perhaps other animals. Boise State University biologists created a "phantom road" using speakers to create traffic noise in a natural, roadless songbird habitat. Read the rest

BBC TV host is very excited about this Blue Whale that just showed up

“I can see it now!”

Psychological disorder causes you to hallucinate your doppelgänger


In the book The Man Who Wasn't There, Anil Ananthaswamy explores mysteries of self, including the weirdness of autoscopic phenomena, a kind of hallucination in which you are convinced that you are having an out-of-body experience or face to face with your non-existent twin. Read the rest

New species of Crayfish named after Edward Snowden


Scientists named this newly-identified species of Indonesian crayfish Cherax snowden, after Edward Snowden. Read the rest

Health's unkillable urban legend: "You must drink 8 glasses of water/day"

In 1945, the Food and Nutrition board advised that most people needed 2.5l of water/day, noting that most of this would come from your prepared foods. Read the rest

110-year-old message in a bottle gets returned to sender

A few months back, Marianne Winkler found a bottle on a German beach with a message inside requesting its return to the Marine Biological Association (MBA) that had dropped more than 1,000 bottles into the North Sea as part of a study of currents. Thing is, that experiment took place more than a century ago. From National Geographic:

"We haven't had [a bottle] returned in living memory," says Guy Baker, an MBA spokesperson.

(Former MBA president and lead researcher on the bottle study George Parker) Bidder got about half of his messages back, says Baker. And the longest it took for one of his bottles to come home—before this current one—was about four years....

Bidder's bottle has also been submitted to the Guinness World Records for consideration as the oldest message in a bottle ever recovered. The current record-holder is a 99-year-old bottle discovered in a fishing net off the Shetland Islands in 2013.

"Century-Old Message in a Bottle Returned to Sender" Read the rest

Deep-voiced politicians have an edge

Two recent University of Miami research studies suggest that politicians with deep voices are more likely to win an election than candidates with higher-pitched voices. "With one exception: when running against a female opponent, candidates with higher voices were more popular, especially if they were men," according to Scientific American. Read the rest

Psychopaths are more immune to "contagious" yawns


When you see someone yawn and then feel the urge to yawn yourself, it's a sign of social traits like empathy. According to new research from Baylor University, people who scored higher on the Psychopathic Personality Inventory test were less likely to "catch" a yawn. From Baylor University:

Based on the psychological test results, the frequency of yawns and the amount of physiological response of muscle, nerve and skin, the study showed that the less empathy a person had, the less likely he or she was to "catch" a yawn.

"The take-home lesson is not that if you yawn and someone else doesn't, the other person is a psychopath," (lead researcher Brian) Rundle cautions. "A lot of people didn't yawn, and we know that we're not very likely to yawn in response to a stranger we don't have empathetic connections with.

"But what we found tells us there is a neurological connection -- some overlap -- between psychopathy and contagious yawning. This is a good starting point to ask more questions."

And if you'd like to learn more about what makes a psychopath, I highly recommend Jon Ronson's excellent book "The Psychopath Test: A Journey Through the Madness Industry."

photo: Daisuke Tashiro - Flickr Read the rest

Science is really f*cking hard

The rash of high-profile journal retractions, revelations of systematic frauds in peer-review, and journals publishing deliberately bogus papers (e.g. "Get Me Off Your Fucking Mailing List") -- are we experiencing a crisis in science? Read the rest

Planthopper nymphs

These amazing guys look like living snowflakes! Read the rest

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