The art (and science) of lying

Now seems like a fine time to read this Scientific American article titled The Art of Lying by Theodor Schaarschmidt. According to a study conducted by UC Santa Barbara psychologist Bella M. DePaulo and referenced in the article, people make up around two stories every day. Apparently, children "initially have difficulty formulating believable lies, but proficiency improves with age. Young adults between 18 and 29 do it best. After about the age of 45, we begin to lose this ability." From Scientific American:

Current thinking about the psychological processes involved in deception holds that people typically tell the truth more easily than they tell a lie and that lying requires far more cognitive resources. First, we must become aware of the truth; then we have to invent a plausible scenario that is consistent and does not contradict the observable facts. At the same time, we must suppress the truth so that we do not spill the beans—that is, we must engage in response inhibition. What is more, we must be able to assess accurately the reactions of the listener so that, if necessary, we can deftly produce adaptations to our original story line. And there is the ethical dimension, whereby we have to make a conscious decision to transgress a social norm. All this deciding and self-control implies that lying is managed by the prefrontal cortex—the region at the front of the brain responsible for executive control, which includes such processes as planning and regulating emotions and behavior.

"The Art of Lying" (Scientific American)

image: screenshot of Pinocchio film trailer, public domain Read the rest

Drinking more water may help women avoid UTIs, new study says

If you are a woman who struggles with the pain of recurring urinary tract infections, a new study suggests that drinking more water could help. Read the rest

Johns Hopkins researchers recommend reclassifying magic mushrooms from schedule I to IV drug

Based on a new study of the safety and abuse potential of psilocybin, the hallucinogenic drug in magic mushrooms, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine researchers recommend that "psilocybin should be re-categorized from a schedule I drug—one with no known medical potential—to a schedule IV drug such as prescription sleep aids, but with tighter control." Read the rest

Why haven't we heard from any extraterrestrials yet?

In 1960, my friend Frank Drake launched Project Ozma, the first modern scientific search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI). Frank used the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (image above) in Green Bank, West Virginia to listen for interstellar radio transmissions that might be a signature of ETs. Nearly 60 years and countless scans later, we still haven't heard anything. Why? Space is big. Massive. In a 2010 paper, the SETI Institute's Jill Tarter and her colleagues described their ongoing calculations of a “cosmic haystack" where we're searching for an extraterrestrial needle.

"If you build a mathematical model, the amount of searching that we've done in 50 years (as of 2008) is equivalent to scooping one 8-ounce glass out of the Earth's ocean, looking and seeing if you caught a fish," Tarter told NPR. "No, no fish in that glass? Well, I don't think you're going to conclude that there are no fish in the ocean. You just haven't searched very well yet. That's where we are."

Now, Penn State astronomer Jason Wright and colleagues have refined the "cosmic haystack" model to include additional factors involving likely frequencies and bandwidth along with the latest large SETI searches. Even still, they "conclude that the fraction of it searched to date is also very small: similar to the ratio of the volume of a large hot tub or small swimming pool to that of the Earth's ocean."

From Science News:

Converting the volume to liters for the sake of analogy, the researchers concluded that SETI has covered the equivalent of 7,700 liters out of 1.335 billion trillion liters of water in Earth’s oceans.

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An astronomer's beautiful pastel drawings of the cosmos from the 19th century

In the late 19th century, artist/astronomer Étienne Léopold Trouvelot (1827-1895) painted thousands of stunning works illustrating the beauty and science of the known planets, comets, and celestial phenomena. The Huntington Library near Los Angeles holds 15 of Trouvelot's chromolithographs that were published in 1882 in two portfolios, the Trouvelot Astronomical Drawings:

Initially, the Astronomical Drawings portfolios were sold to astronomy libraries and observatories as reference tools, but as early 20th-century advances in photographic technology allowed for more accurate and detailed depictions of the stars, planets, and phenomena, Trouvelot’s prints were discarded or sold to collectors.

Radiant Beauty: E. L. Trouvelot’s Astronomical Drawings (The Huntington)

See more at Graphicine: "ETIENNE TROUVELOT – ASTRONOMICAL DRAWINGS" (Thanks Anotherone!)

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Incredible images from the rovers on asteroid Ryugu

Last week, the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency landed two tiny rovers on the asteroid Ryugu where they'll "hop" across the rock as part of a mission to collect samples that the Hayabusa2 mothership will return to Earth. Here are new images from the asteroid that's 289 million kilometers (180 million miles) away from Earth. Far fucking out.

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Wondrous winners of Nikon's "Small World in Motion" microscopic video contest

Above is a "Zebrafish embryo growing its elaborate sensory nervous system (visualized over 16 hours of development)" captured by Elizabeth Haynes of the University of Wisconsin - Madison, and colleagues. This wondrous clip is the winning entry of Nikon's "Small World in Motion" microscopic video contest revealing dynamic weirdness and beauty at the tiniest scales. Below, second place, Dr. Miguel Bandres and Anatoly Patsyk (Technion - Israel Institute of Technology), "Laser propagating inside a soap membrane;" and third place, "Polychaete worm of the Syllidae family," by Rafael Martín-Ledo of the Conserjería Educación Gobierno de Cantabria.

See more: Small World 2018 World In Motion Competition

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This crazy dinosaur was Earth's largest land animal

This recently-discovered dinosaur weighed 26,000 pounds when it stomped around South Africa's Free State Province 200 million years ago. The University of the Witwatersrand researchers who found the animal's fossils dubbed it Ledumahadi mafube which in the South African language of Sesotho means "a giant thunderclap at dawn." Like the brontosaurus, it walked on four legs and ate plants. From CNN:

Apart from its massive size, there are other evolutionary details about the new species that make it entirely unique, according to a new study published Thursday in the journal Current Biology. "It shows us that even as far back as 200 million years ago, these animals had already become the largest vertebrates to ever walk the Earth," Choiniere said.

The researchers believe that Ledumahadi was a transitional dinosaur, an evolutionary experiment itself during the Early Jurassic period. The forelimbs of this dinosaur are more "crouched," while being very thick to support its giant body.

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Comedy/documentary explains quantum computing for a "confused general audience"

Jim Mortleman & Stuart Houghton write, "We're two UK tech journalists who also write comedy. This is our (UK-based) scripted comi-documentary podcast explaining the weird, wacky and potentially world-changing field of quantum computing to a curious but confused general audience. With laughs. In episode one we answer the question 'What the photonic muck is a quantum computer?' with the help of some of the world's leading quantum physicists and, er, Al Murray The Pub Landlord." Read the rest

A CRISPR-based hack could eradicate malaria-carrying mosquitoes

A research team from Imperial College London have published promising results of an experiment in which Anopheles gambiae mosquitoes -- responsible for the spread of malaria -- were genetically modified with a stable, gene-drive-based CRISPR modification that caused them to go extinct in the lab. Read the rest

DNA ancestry tests are bullshit

Adam Rutherford's amazing book A Brief History of Everyone Who Ever Lived is on shelves in the USA now; debunking the absurd claims made by genetics testing companies -- claims about your distant relationship to ancient kings or the percentage of your genes that came from Vikings. Read the rest

ARPA-E, a sustainable energy moonshot agency of the US government, is absolutely kicking ass

The Department of Energy's Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy [ARPA-E] was set up by bipartisan action in 2007, funded by Obama in 2009; expanded by Congress in 2009; and survived attempts by Trump to kill it in both 2017 and 2018. Read the rest

Nature's greatest con-artists: the parasitic beetles that trick ants into barfing into their mouths

Myrmecophiles are parasitic beetles that use chemical cues to fool ants into bringing them into their nests and regurgitating food into their mouths, diverting the colony's bounty of semi-digested ant-chow from the queen and her babies to their own hungry guts. Ant Lab shows us how a Xenodusa beetle can con Camponotus ants into a lifetime of free meals and cuddles. For further reading, check out Behavior and exocrine glands in the myrmecophilous beetle Lomechusoides strumosus (Fabricius, 1775) (formerly called Lomechusa strumosa) (Coleoptera: Staphylinidae: Aleocharinae) in PLOS One. (Thanks, Adrian!) Read the rest

What is dubnium and why is it interesting?

Before I watched this video and you had asked me if dubnium was a real element or not, I would have had to guess. Read the rest

Save The Elephants: How DNA revealed the 3 cartels behind most of Africa’s ivory smuggling

Science writer Ed Yong has an amazing whodunit at The Atlantic on how genetic science can help stop elephant poaching. Read the rest

Myers-Briggs too complicated? Scientists identify four personality clusters

People are so boring! A new study shows there are only four clusters of personality. Why bother talking to folks?

Via Ars Technica:

People love taking online quizzes; just ask Buzzfeed and Facebook. A new study has sifted through some of the largest online data sets of personality quizzes and identified four distinct "types" therein. The new methodology used for this study—described in detail in a new paper in Nature Human Behavior—is rigorous and replicable, which could help move personality typing analysis out of the dubious self-help section in your local bookstore and into serious scientific journals.

Frankly, personality "type" is not the ideal nomenclature here; personality "clusters" might be more accurate. Paper co-author William Revelle (Northwestern University) bristles a bit at the very notion of distinct personality types, like those espoused by the hugely popular Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. Revelle is an adamant "anti-fan" of the Myers-Briggs, and he is not alone. Most scientists who study personality prefer to think of it as a set of continuous dimensions, in which people shift where they fall on the spectrum of various traits as they mature.

What's new here is the identification of four dominant clusters in the overall distribution of traits. Revelle prefers to think of them as "lumps in the batter" and suggests that a good analogy would be how people tend to concentrate in cities in the United States.

I have always felt four letters were three too many. Read the rest

Mysterious "shark lair" turns out to be epic buffet

Great Whites travel months to visit what The San Francsico Chronicle describes as a "shark lair" in the Pacific Ocean. Mystified scientists took a deeper look. Read the rest

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