The coded gaze: biased and understudied facial recognition technology

Rod McCullom at Undark has a terrific overview of the perpetual "virtual lineup," where half of all American adults "are enrolled in unregulated facial recognition networks used by state and local law enforcement agencies." Read the rest

How do you know the Earth isn't flat?

It sure feels flat, right? (Life Noggin)

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Super-slow-mo video reveals how ladybug wings unfold

Because ladybug hindwings are covered by an opaque outer shell called an elytra, scientists were not sure how the wings' folding mechanism worked until Kazuya Saito created a clear replacement shell that allowed them to film the process in super slow-motion. Read the rest

Scientists think they are more rational and objective than others think they are

Apparently scientists tend to think of themselves as more rational, objective, and intelligent than non-scientists. Makes sense. And laypeople tend to think that of scientists too. But the scientists surveyed in a new study from Tilburg University in the Netherlands apparently see themselves as much more rational, objective, and intelligent than non-scientists. Are they overconfident or, well, right? From Scientific American:

The team surveyed both scientists and highly educated nonscientists and asked them to rate the two categories of people in terms of objectivity, rationality, integrity, open-mindedness, intelligence and cooperativeness.

Both groups rated scientists higher on every one of these measures, yet scientists perceived bigger differences between the two groups than laypeople did. “That surprised us,” says psychologist Coosje Veldkamp, the study's lead author. “We expected scientists to have a more realistic picture, but they see a larger difference,” she says. (Some of these perceptions may be accurate, of course, but other research would be needed to determine that.)

The scientists' positive self-ratings may be partly explained by the human tendency to judge members of groups we belong to more favorably than others. Further investigation showed that established scientists judged their established peers more positively than those at earlier career stages, and female scientists rated researchers of their own gender more highly. “People who identify more strongly with their group display more in-group bias,” Veldkamp explains. “Women are still a minority in science, and minority-group members have been found to identify more strongly with their group.”

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Stephen Wolfram's "A New Kind of Science" goes open-access

It's been 15 years since the publication of Steven Wolfram's A New Kind of Science, a mindblowing, back-breaking 1,200-page book that (sort of) says the whole universe is made up of recursive fractals, also noteworthy for the frequent repetition of the phrase "A new kind of science" in its early chapters. Read the rest

Stunning short film about the Apollo moon landing made from astronauts' photos

Motion designer Christian Stangl and composer Wolfgang Stangl created this gorgeous short film, titled LUNAR, from thousands of NASA photographs taken by astronauts. From the film description:

In the year 1957 the cold war expands to space. The Soviet-Union sends Sputnik as the first manmade object into earth-orbit.

2 years later Yuri Gagarin enters space as the first man in space. The so called "Space Race" seems to be decided.

But in 1961 President Kennedy promised to send American Astronauts to the moon. The Apollo Project was born. A space ship had to be built that is strong enough to escape earth's gravitation, land on the moon and bring the crew safely back to earth.

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Photovoltaic venetian blinds

These SolarGaps prototypes are interesting ways to harness sunlight as it's being blocked. Note: the video is heavy on the promotion and light on the tech specs, but it's a neat idea. Read the rest

THC in marijuana reverses learning and memory problems in elderly mice

While THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana, seems to cause memory and learning impairment in young mice, surprising new research suggests that it actually reverses cognitive decline in elderly mice. From Scientific American:

Researchers led by Andreas Zimmer of the University of Bonn in Germany gave low doses of delta 9-tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, marijuana’s main active ingredient, to young, mature and aged mice. As expected, young mice treated with THC performed slightly worse on behavioral tests of memory and learning. For example, after THC young mice took longer to learn where a safe platform was hidden in a water maze, and they had a harder time recognizing another mouse to which they had previously been exposed. Without the drug, mature and aged mice performed worse on the tests than young ones did. But after receiving THC the elderly animals’ performances improved to the point that they resembled those of young, untreated mice. “The effects were very robust, very profound,” Zimmer says...

When the researchers examined the brains of the treated, elderly mice for an explanation, they noticed neurons in the hippocampus—a brain area critical for learning and memory—had sprouted more synaptic spines, the points of contact for communication between neurons. Even more striking, the gene expression pattern in the hippocampi of THC-treated aged mice was radically different from that of untreated elderly mice. “That is something we absolutely did not expect: the old animals [that received] THC looked most similar to the young, untreated control mice,” Zimmer says.

The findings raise the intriguing possibility THC and other “cannabinoids” might act as anti-aging molecules in the brain.

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Crowdfunding controlled experiments with long-neglected, promising psychedelics

The War on Drugs hasn't just destroyed cities and families by imprisoning millions while enriching organized crime syndicates: it's also denied millions more access to promising therapies for crippling psychological and physiological ailments. Read the rest

The physics of fidget spinners

Wired's Rhett Allain built a rig with a laser and light sensor to study fidget spinner physics and determine how long it will spin based on the starting angular velocity. Allain's article will make a great teachable moment for my kids, as in I'll ask them to read it and explain it to me. From Wired:

If I know the starting angular speed and I assume a final angular speed of zero radians per second, I can calculate the spin time:

All I need is the angular acceleration—assuming it remains constant as the spinner slows. I could calculate the angular acceleration based on the change in angular velocity, but this isn’t so simple to measure. The spinner moves too quickly to get a good video of its motion, so I will use a laser in a rig I built to measure the change in the angular velocity.

Basically, the laser shines down onto a light sensor. As the spinner spins, it occasionally blocks the sensor, interrupting the laser. By measuring the values from the light sensor, I determine the spin rate. But this creates a couple of problems. First, the light change rate and the rotation rate differ because the three “lobes” in the spinner create multiple openings during each rotation. Second, the spinner will spin for a significant amount of time such that it would be difficult to analyze it all at once...

Now for the fun trick. Instead of looking at a giant plot of light vs. time (the full data is over 2 minutes), I will plot the Fourier transform of this data.

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Entrancing avant-garde music video generated by algorithm

Damien Henry, co-inventor of Google Cardboard, trained a machine learning algorithm using footage shot from a moving vehicle and then had the machine generate this beautiful video.

"Graphics are 100% generated by an algorithm in one shot. No edit or post-processing," Henry writes. "Except the first one, all frames are calculated one by one by a prediction algorithm that tries to predict the next frame from the previous one."

The soundtrack is the Steve Reich masterpiece "Music for 18 Musicians."

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Remember ebola? Media-inflamed health scares, quantified

Just how overblown was the media panic over ebola? This interactive chart compares media coverage of a dozen health scares, from mad cow disease to zika. Read the rest

Mushrooms may help in the fight against bee colony collapse

It's mushrooms to the rescue in a major study to stop bee colony collapse disorder. One culprit, parasitic varroa mites, stood out as a major threat because they were developing tolerance for many pesticides. Read the rest

Swearing associated with honesty, say scientists

Impoliteness and vulgarity are, according to recent recearch, a sign of honesty. Moreover, "the more an individual swears, the more honest they are likely to be."

They first asked a group of 276 participants about their swearing habits, as well as how honest they were in different situations, and found the most honest people were also the heaviest swearers.

They also found that people were much more likely to use swearing as a way to express themselves and their emotions, rather than in an anti-social or harmful way towards others.

In a second study the researchers tested these findings in a more real-life setting, by analysing the status updates of more than 73,000 Facebook users.

They measured for honesty (previous research shows liars prefer to use third-person pronouns than first-person ones and more negative words) and profanity.

Again, they found that honest people were more likely to use profane language.

They ranked swearing and integrity by U.S. state. The sweariest state, Connecticut (52%), was also the second-most most honest (86%). Polite Utah (26%) scored a relatively untrustworthy 65%.

Most-honest Iowa (87%), though, could only maintain a middling swear rate of 40%. Still, the habitual liars of Georgia (49% integrity) sure talk sweet (36% swears). Read the rest

Horrifying footage of a hippo, nature's top human-killer, savaging woman in shallow water

Nature, red in toot and boop.

Here's more video of this terrifying monster:

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Why people don't return shopping carts

Why do so many people just leave their shopping carts in the parking lot after unloading groceries instead of rolling them to the receptacles? Sure, one answer is laziness. But it's actually more interesting than that, involving what kind of cart user you are and how your motivation aligns with two general categories of social norms. You may be someone who always returns the cart, never returns it, only does so if it's convenience, feels pressure to return it from either a cart attendant or someone waiting to park in the spot where your cart is parked, you have children and they get a kick out of returning it. From Krystal D'Costa's "Anthropology in Practice" column in Scientific American:

Social norms fall into two general categories. There are injunctive norms, which drive our responses based on our perception of how others will interpret our actions. This means that we're inclined to act in certain ways if we think people will think well or think poorly of us. And there are descriptive norms, where our responses are driven by contextual clues. This means we're apt to mimic behaviors of others—so what we see or hear or smell suggests the appropriate/accepted response or behavior that we should display.

Supermarkets can try and guide our behavior with receptacles or cart attendants, but they’re competing with our own self-serving goals, which in this case may be staying dry, keeping an eye on our children, or simply getting home as quickly as possible, and we’re being guided by the ways others behave on top of that.

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Watch a crushed Life Saver emit light at 28,000 frames per second

Destin from Smarter Every Day just polted a cool video on his alt channel: a demonstration of triboluminescence that occurs when a Wint-O-Green Life Saver candy is crushed. Read the rest

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