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Science Archive

Sunday, June 08, 2003

Deadly spread of cancer halted - New Scientist: The spread of cancers through the body could be halted by targeting a protein that helps cells latch on to each other, reveals a new study. The spreading of cancer from an initial tumour to other parts of the body - called metastasis - frequently means there is little hope a person can be saved. But scientists have now modified a naturally occurring human protein to disrupt this deadly process in mouse models of human breast cancer.

Thursday, March 13, 2003

Nationwide Inquiry at Veterans' Hospitals: "The Bush administration has ordered a nationwide review of medical research at 115 veterans' hospitals and has halted some studies after investigators found serious violations of federal rules, including some that may have contributed to the deaths of patients. The Department of Veterans Affairs said it was investigating the deaths of patients in research projects at hospitals in Detroit, Albany and Fargo, N.D. The department also said it had found "serious noncompliance" with federal rules at its hospitals in Pittsburgh; Providence, R.I.; Martinez, Calif.; and Long Beach, Calif, and detected problems at hospitals in Northampton, Mass., and Portland, Ore."

In homage to sleep renowned researcher tucks in his teaching career  Professor William Dement, the noted authority on sleep disorders and founder of the world-renowned Stanford Sleep Disorders Clinic, who was delivering the final lecture of his 40-year teaching career.

New Scientist - artificial hippocampus: "The world's first brain prosthesis - an artificial hippocampus - is about to be tested in California. Unlike devices like cochlear implants, which merely stimulate brain activity, this silicon chip implant will perform the same processes as the damaged part of the brain it is replacing."

Saturday, December 21, 2002

Gene Study Identifies 5 Main Human Populations: "Scientists studying the DNA of 52 human groups from around the world have concluded that people belong to five principal groups corresponding to the major geographical regions of the world: Africa, Europe, Asia, Melanesia and the Americas. The study, based on scans of the whole human genome, is the most thorough to look for patterns corresponding to major geographical regions. These regions broadly correspond with popular notions of race, the researchers said in interviews."

Thursday, December 19, 2002

Harvard Advertises for People Abducted by Aliens "... Dr. Clancy, whose main interest is not outer space but the more mysterious question of whether children who are sexually molested can bury knowledge of their abuse, and yet later, as adults, recover true memories. Dr. Clancy says the answer to that question, one of the most fiercely disputed issues in psychology today, is no. Many psychiatrists, psychologists and victims of child sex abuse dispute her view. "

Military Seeking Ways to Skip Sleep: "To strive toward creating the no-sleep soldier, DARPA has funded a multi-tiered program from tinkering with a soldier's brain using magnetic resonance to analyzing the neural circuits of birds that stay awake for days during migration. The hope is to stump the body's need for sleep -- at least temporarily."

Tuesday, December 17, 2002

New Premise in Science: Get the Word Out Quickly, Online: "A group of prominent scientists is mounting an electronic challenge to the leading scientific journals, accusing them of holding back the progress of science by restricting online access to their articles so they can reap higher profits. Supported by a $9 million grant from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, the scientists say that this week they will announce the creation of two peer-reviewed online journals on biology and medicine, with the goal of cornering the best scientific papers and immediately depositing them in the public domain. "

Tuesday, December 10, 2002

Venomous and Sublime: The Viper Tells Its Tale: ""Snakes turn out to be very complicated creatures," he said. "But they have few ways to express what they know. It's easy to underestimate a tube." "We're becoming more like primatologists in our thinking," said Dr. Gordon W. Schuett of Georgia State University and Zoo Atlanta, an editor of the new book. "We're tracking individual snakes for long periods of time to see who they hang out with and whom they might even form pair bonds with.""

Seeking Perfection in Shoe Lacing, With 43,200 Choices: "Dr. Polster also offered advice for tying shoelace knots that do not unravel 10 steps later. Most people tie their shoes in two steps, essentially layering two half-knots on top of each other (for example, wrapping the left piece of the lace over and around the right one and pulling it through, then wrapping the left piece over and around a loop of the right piece of shoelace and pulling a second loop through). That produces a granny knot, which is unstable. Reversing the orientation of the first half-knot (by passing the left piece of the lace under the right one and pulling it through) produces a knot that will hold much longer."

Monday, December 09, 2002

Don't Blame Columbus for All the Indians' Ills: "the general health of Native Americans had apparently been deteriorating for centuries before 1492. That is the conclusion of a team of anthropologists, economists and paleopathologists who have completed a wide-ranging study of the health of people living in the Western Hemisphere in the last 7,000 years. The researchers, whose work is regarded as the most comprehensive yet, say their findings in no way diminish the dreadful impact Old World diseases had on the people of the New World. But it suggests that the New World was hardly a healthful Eden....
  researchers attributed the widespread decline in health in large part to the rise of agriculture and urban living. People in South and Central America began domesticating crops more than 5,000 years ago, and the rise of cities there began more than 2,000 years ago.
  These were mixed blessings. Farming tended to limit the diversity of diets, and the congestion of towns and cities contributed to the rapid spread of disease. In the widening inequalities of urban societies, hard work on low-protein diets left most people vulnerable to illness and early death."

Thursday, December 05, 2002

Eating less for longevity: "Reduce an animal's intake of calories by 30% and it will live 30% longer than those on an ordinary diet. Now scientists want to know if the same severely restricted diet that has produced dramatic results in laboratory experiments in animals will work in humans. In September, the National Institute on Aging began scientific trials involving about 200 people at three locations in Louisiana, Massachusetts and Missouri. "

Tuesday, December 03, 2002

Can Global Warming Be Studied Too Much?: "Bush administration convenes a three-day meeting here to set its new agenda for research on climate change. But many climate experts who will attend say talking about more research will simply delay decisions that need to be made now to avert serious harm from global warming. President Bush has called for a decade of research before anything beyond voluntary measures is used to stem tailpipe and smokestack emissions of heat-trapping gases that scientists say are contributing to global warming.... But many climate experts say the perennial need for more study can no longer justify further delays in emission cuts. "

Sunday, December 01, 2002

Eating meat 'may still pose CJD risk': "Muscle and flesh of cattle and sheep may harbour deadly levels of prions that cause variant CJD. This stark prospect, raised by the Nobel Prize winner who first discovered that these infective particles can cause brain illnesses, suggests eating meat may still pose a serious health risk. The prospect that a timebomb may still be ticking in our kitchens was raised by Stanley Prusiner, who revealed yesterday that experiments at the University of California in San Francisco had shown that scrapie-infected mice have unexpectedly high concentrations of prions in their muscles. "

Saturday, November 30, 2002

'Lost Discoveries': The Non-Western Roots of Science: "LOST DISCOVERIES The Ancient Roots of Modern Science -- From the Babylonians to the Maya. By Dick Teresi."

Wednesday, November 27, 2002

What Did Poe Know About Cosmology? Nothing. But He Was Right.: "Departing from conventional wisdom of the day, which saw the universe as static and eternal, Poe insisted that it had exploded into being from a single "primordial particle" in "one instantaneous flash." "From the one particle, as a center," he wrote, "let us suppose to be irradiated spherically -- in all directions -- to immeasurable but still to definite distances in the previously vacant space -- a certain inexpressibly great yet limited number of unimaginably yet not infinitely minute atoms.""

Critics Say Government Deleted Web Site Material to Push Abstinence: " Information on condom use, the relation between abortion and breast cancer and ways to reduce sex among teenagers has been removed from government Web sites, prompting critics to accuse the Department of Health and Human Services of censoring medical information in order to promote a philosophy of sexual abstinence."

Saturday, November 23, 2002

Madison Ave. Plays Growing Role in Drug Research: "The three largest advertising companies -- Omnicom, Interpublic and WPP -- have spent tens of millions of dollars to buy or invest in companies like Scirex that perform clinical trials of experimental drugs. One advertising executive calls it "getting closer to the test tube." Ad agency executives say they do nothing to distort the research process. But critics worry that science is being sacrificed for the sake of promotion.... Dr. Thomas Bodenheimer of the University of California at San Francisco has been critical of drug company involvement in clinical trials."

From Wolf to Dog, Yes, but When?: "Three studies in today's issue of Science shed light on the questions of when, where and how dogs were first domesticated from wolves. One suggests that a few wolves, perhaps from the same population somewhere in east Asia, are the mothers of almost all dogs alive today. "

Tuesday, November 19, 2002

Celestial Light Show Tonight as Earth Clips Comet's Wake: "Temple-Tuttle orbits the Sun every 33 years, and during its closest approach the heat of the Sun causes some of the comet's ice to bubble off, taking some dusty debris with it. This year, which some experts believe may feature the most intense meteor storm until the end of the 21st century, the early peak will be caused by a dust stream from Temple-Tuttle's approach in 1767. The late peak involves a cloud from 1866. A later cloud generally has had less time to spread, so it has a higher concentration of dust particles, which should make for more meteors. Earth will also hit this stream more head-on than the 1767 one. These factors mean that the later peak should have more activity than the earlier. Estimates of the rate of meteors during the late peak are as high as 5,000 per hour, although Mr. Kronk notes that, because the moon will be nearly full, a peak of about 3,000 is more likely."

[Between 4:25 and 4:52 a.m. (just after the "late peak"), we counted 100 meteors, from the playing field at Jackson Park Elementary School, University City, Missouri, with a light haze and nearby street lights interfering. (Stars in Leo visible to about 4.5 magnitude.) Magnificent!]

Wednesday, November 13, 2002

Government Outlines Plan for Research on Warming: "Bush administration, saying there are still many uncertainties about threats posed by human-caused climate change, has outlined a broad, years-long research agenda on global warming. Among many other goals, the draft plan calls for new work to be completed in the next four years to clarify how much of the warming since 1950 has been caused by human actions like emissions of heat-trapping carbon dioxide or soot; to explain differing temperature trends in the upper and lower atmosphere; and to improve computer models that simulate climate and monitoring systems for tracking the real thing. Advertisement The proposal was lauded yesterday by industry officials and some scientists who have long questioned the mainstream view that global warming is mainly caused by people and poses big risks....Dr. Michael Oppenheimer, a professor of geosciences at Princeton who has long advocated acting promptly to reduce emissions, said: "The plan veers off into emphasizing what we don't know at the expense of a thorough description of what we do know. If you strip away the rhetoric, there's a valuable agenda of research here to pursue. The danger is that while they're continuing to do the research, the window of opportunity to avoid dangerous global warming is closing." "

Monday, November 11, 2002

The Not-So-Crackpot Autism Theory: "Halsey attended a meeting to discuss thimerosal, a mercury-containing preservative that at the time was being used in several vaccines -- including the hepatitis B shot that Halsey had fought so hard to have administered to American babies. By the time the dust kicked up in that meeting had settled, Halsey would be forced to reckon with the hypothesis that thimerosal had damaged the brains of immunized infants and may have contributed to the unexplained explosion in the number of cases of autism being diagnosed in children. That Halsey was willing even to entertain this possibility enraged some of his fellow vaccinologists, who couldn't fathom how a doctor who had spent so much energy dismantling the arguments of people who attacked vaccines could now be changing sides. But to Halsey's mind, his actions were perfectly consistent: he was simply working from the data. And the numbers deeply troubled him. ''From the beginning, I saw thimerosal as something different,'' he says. ''It was the first strong evidence of a causal association with neurological impairment. I was very concerned.'' "

Wednesday, October 30, 2002

The New York Review of Books: The Religious Success Story: Jared Diamond "But once a state invokes religion to require peaceful behavior toward fellow citizens with whom one has no relationship, how can a state convince its citizens not to apply those same precepts during wartime? States permit, indeed they command, their citizens to steal from and kill citizens of other states against which war has been declared. After a state has spent eighteen years teaching a boy "Thou shalt not kill," how can the state turn around and say "Thou must kill, under the following circumstances," without getting its soldiers hopelessly confused and prone to kill the wrong people (e.g., fellow citizens)? Again, in recent as in ancient history, religion comes to the rescue.... Wilson explains that fanatical religious sects, such as expansionist Islam and Christianity, spread as a result of group selection operating at the level of human societies: those early state societies whose religions were especially effective at motivating their citizens to sacrifice themselves succeeded in defeating societies with less motivating religions. Fictitious beliefs —such as the belief that a heaven populated by beautiful virgins awaits those who die for the cause—can contribute powerfully to effective motivation.

Saturday, October 05, 2002

The New York Review of Books: Is the Universe a Computer?: review by Steven Weinberg "Usually I put books that make claims like these on the crackpot shelf of my office bookcase. In the case of Wolfram's book, that would be a mistake. Wolfram is smart, winner of a MacArthur Fellowship at age twenty-two, and the progenitor of the invaluable Mathematica, and he has lots of stimulating things to say about computers and science. I don't think that his book comes close to meeting his goals or justifying his claims, but if it is a failure it is an interesting one... ...Wolfram's classification of the patterns produced by cellular automata dates from the early 1980s, and the discovery that the rule 110 elementary cellular automaton is a universal computer was made in the early 1990s. Since then, none of this work has had much of an impact on the research of other scientists, aside from Wolfram's employees. The strongest reaction I have seen by scientists to this new book has been outrage at Wolfram's exaggeration of the importance of his own contributions to the study of complexity. Wolfram's survey of the complex patterns produced by automata may yet attract the attention of other scientists if it leads to some clear and simple mathematical statement about complexity. I doubt if even Wolfram cares what picture is produced by the rule 110 cellular automaton after a billion steps. But if Wolfram can give a precise statement of his conjecture about the computational equivalence of almost all automata that produce complex patterns and prove that it is true, then he will have found a simple common feature of complexity, which would be of real interest. In the study of anything outside human affairs, including the study of complexity, it is only simplicity that can be interesting"

As Trees Die, Biologists Battle Back the fast-spreading new disease known as sudden oak death syndrome. .... The disease has already killed tens of thousands of trees in California and spread to 17 different species, including huckleberry, big leaf maples, rhododendrons and bay trees. Scientists have found it can also infect the northern red oak and pin oak, species that are widespread in the East and Midwest. Recently, the United States Forest Service declared large regions of the East, including the southern Appalachian Mountains, whose climate would probably suit the disease, as areas of high risk. In September, scientists reported that the disease was attacking the beloved redwood and the Douglas fir....... bay trees appear to be infected in leaves and nowhere else. More surprisingly, these leaves, whose only symptoms are small discolorations, are so full of spores that the laboratory machinery cannot detect the total number. ... The finding revealed bay trees, not oak trees, to be the unexpected, key disperser of the disease....

Wednesday, August 21, 2002

Primality Proving 4.3: A polynomial-time algorithm: "Agrawal, Kayal and Saxena [AKS2002] found a relatively simple deterministic algorithm which relies on no unproved assumptions. We present this algorithm below."

Blueberries and Huckleberries: "Whortleberry from the Anglo-Saxon and Bilberry from the Danish are European names for Blueberries, Fifteen or 20 species of them are found in North America. Most kinds bear fruit in clusters. There are also about 40 species of Huckleberries, all native to North America, but in some parts of the United States the name "huckleberry" is improperly used for both blueberries and true huckleberries. Other people mistakenly believe that blueberries always have blue or bluish fruit, and that all huckleberries are black or purplish black. However, there are dark-colored blueberries, and huckleberries that are distinctly blue, but there is a sure way to tell one from the other: blueberries have a large number of tiny soft seeds, whereas the huckleberries have 10 rather large, bony seeds."

Friday, July 26, 2002

Why We're So Nice: We're Wired to Cooperate: "scientists have discovered that the small, brave act of cooperating with another person, of choosing trust over cynicism, generosity over selfishness, makes the brain light up with quiet joy. Studying neural activity in young women who were playing a classic laboratory game called the Prisoner's Dilemma, in which participants can select from a number of greedy or cooperative strategies as they pursue financial gain, researchers found that when the women chose mutualism over "me-ism," the mental circuitry normally associated with reward-seeking behavior swelled to life."

Network of Waterways Traced to Ancient Florida Culture: "Around A.D. 250, Indians inhabiting this area began digging the canals by hand, using wooden and shell tools to create waterways 20 feet wide and 3 to 4 feet deep, said Robert Carr, the Florida archaeologist who directs excavations at the site. Their goal was not to drain or irrigate land, Mr. Carr said, but to create a waterway to bring dugout canoes to their village, a mile north of the Caloosahatchee. The canals also allowed paddlers to bypass rapids roiling the river. The two-square-mile village at the center of this watery network was a planner's dream, with sculptured earthworks (one of them resembling a crescent moon holding a star) and mounds, ponds and geometric causeways. Eventually, the people, known today as the Ortona, added a 450-foot-long pond, shaped like a ceremonial baton and surrounded by a beach they made with white sand. "In adapting to their wetland world, the people of South Florida achieved a level of cultural sophistication and social organization much earlier than previously believed,""

Wednesday, July 03, 2002

143-Year-Old Problem Still Has Mathematicians Guessing: "Riemann showed that if he knew where the value of his zeta function went to zero he would be able to predict the distribution of the primes. He was able to prove that aside from some "trivial" zeros â014 located at -2, -4, -6, and so on and thus easily included in his equations â014 the zeros of the zeta function all lay within a strip one unit wide running along the imaginary axis. Somehow the distribution of these zeros mirrored or encoded the distribution of the prime numbers. Riemann guessed that all of the zeros ran along the middle of the critical strip like the dotted line on a highway. Nobody is sure why he made this guess, but it has proven to be inspired. Over the past few decades billions of zeros of the zeta function have been calculated by computer, and every one of them obeys Riemann's hypothesis. "

Wednesday, June 19, 2002

St. Louis Post-Dispatch: Moderate earthquake leaves impression -- but little damage: "The Evansville earthquake struck a fault about 6 to 10 miles deep and a half-mile long in the Wabash Valley Fault System.... Both fault systems were created about 600 million years ago.... The middle part of the United States was stretched too thin, and a tear called the Reelfoot Rift opened. The ripping ran out of steam around Cape Girardeau, Mo., giving rise to the New Madrid fault system... The same event produced a series of small cracks in the Wabash Valley region - at the junction of Indiana, Illinois and Kentucky. It is considered by many to be the northern extension of the New Madrid fault system... Significant recent tremors on the Wabash Valley and New Madrid fault systems:
Nov. 9, 1968: Broughton, Ill.; magnitude 5.5
June 11, 1987: Lawrenceville, Ill.; magnitude 5.0
Sept. 26, 1990: New Hamburg, Mo.; magnitude 5.0"

Tuesday, June 18, 2002

Physically Abused Children Recognize the Face of Anger: "Being attuned to the emotions of others is a way to adapt to the dangerous environment of an abused child's home... But when the children move on to other settings, where the people around them behave more rationally, their perceptual systems fail to make the shift. Instead, Dr. Pollak said, they may see anger when it is not there, or spend so much time scanning for the signs of impending rage that they miss other important social clues. "This could be a reason why these children end up developing interpersonal difficulties," he added.... it may be possible to modify the tendency of abuse survivors to overinterpret anger."

There was a 5.0 quake in SW Indiana today, the first quake I've felt in Missouri. It felt like it lasted for about 10 seconds, but the seismograph showed the strongest activity lasting for about 30 seconds. Here are some seismograph plots. Unsurprisingly, but interestingly, they show it starting in St Louis at about 12:38:20 pm CDT (11:38:20 CST), but 40 seconds earlier in Bloomington:
St. Louis:
Bloomington Indiana:
NW Alabama:
Little Rock Arkansas:
Event summary page (slow):
List of recent quakes:

Monday, June 17, 2002

Deep Vision: Science News: "CAVE, which stands for Cave Automatic Virtual Environment -- a cubic room of screens onto which rear-screen projectors throw computer-generated views of a virtual scene. A visitor to a CAVE sees -- and, these days, sometimes hears, feels, and even smells -- a three-dimensional world that seems to engulf him or her. That virtual world can include anything a computer can simulate, from the inside of an atom to an ancient Greek temple or the heart of the Milky Way. What's more, the CAVE dweller can move around the objects and experience them from all sides, just as he or she might in the real world.... Astrophysicist Michael M. Shara of the American Museum of Natural History in New York describes the museum's Hayden Planetarium as "the CAVE gone wild."  "

Friday, June 14, 2002

When Peer Review Yields Unsound Science: "editors began their own primary research into the way the peer review system worked, what was wrong and how it could be fixed. A leader has been The Journal of the American Medical Association, which has held four meetings on research on peer review since 1989 under the direction of Dr. Drummond Rennie, a deputy editor. Last week, the journal published 34 articles from the latest meeting. And the news was grim."

Tuesday, May 28, 2002

Scientists Measuring Martian Ice Detect Oceans' Worth: "In the polar regions of Mars, the surface is covered by a foot or two of dry soil. Below that, pores in the soil and rocky debris appear to be encrusted with ice. The concentration of ice is surprisingly high -- one-fifth to one-third by weight, and up to 60 percent by volume, the scientists report. In the equatorial regions, there was little water near the surface."

What Makes a Glacier Go? Scientists Look Inside: "Enter a hole in the mountain resembling a sewer pipe. Don a hard hat, miner's light and rubber boots, and walk a mile as the tunnel slowly widens until it is big enough for a truck and is lighted by dim electric bulbs. Pass through a vast cement wall that in summer holds back a subterranean torrent. Find and climb the 79 wood steps that lead up through the tunnel roof. You are now at the bottom of the glacier. There are 700 feet of ice above you, and it all seems to be dripping down your neck. Fumble your way up 15 feet of slippery rock, gripping the ice walls for balance. At the top is a flat spot inside a shimmering wonderland. Long blades of ice â014 some glowing white in the work lamp, some filthy with gray glacial sediment â014 are coming at you from every direction. They are literally coming at you. This cave, just big enough for 10 people to stand in, did not exist two days before, and it will not exist in two more. It was carved out with a warm-water jet, and the ice, flowing like toothpaste at these depths, began pressing back in as soon as it was shut off."

Monday, May 27, 2002

Earth punctured by tiny cosmic missiles "Scientists have come to the conclusion that two mysterious explosions in the 1990s were caused by bizarre cosmic missiles. The two objects were picked up by earthquake detectors as they tore through Earth at up to 900,000 mph. According to scientists, the most plausible explanation is that they were "strangelets", clumps of matter that have so far defied detection but whose existence was posited 20 years ago. Formed in the Big Bang and inside extremely dense stars, strangelets are thought to be made from quarks - the subatomic particles found inside protons and neutrons."

Stephen Wolfram - "A New Kind of Science" " Wolfram posits that virtually everything--the patterns on seashells, the ticks of financial markets, even the universe itself--is the result of instructions as simple as an eight-step software program (table). Unearthing all these rules, he declares, could lead to a new scientific renaissance. Biologists, for instance, could pinpoint the code governing the complex shapes and folding patterns of proteins. Within a generation or two, Wolfram predicts, his new kind of science will be taught in schools along with chemistry and math. He says his theory may even supplant today's physics; because it doesn't require calculus, it will attract smart researchers who don't want to learn advanced math. Wolfram also foresees a day, perhaps in his lifetime, when his name will be enshrined alongside those of Isaac Newton, Charles Darwin, and Albert Einstein."

Monday, May 20, 2002

Stephen Jay Gould, Biologist and Theorist on Evolution, Dies at 60: "Whether eloquently and forcefully championing new or forgotten ideas or dismantling what he saw as misconceptions, Dr. Gould spent a career trying to shed light on an impossibly wide variety of subjects."

In DNA, New Clues to Jewish Roots: "The finding suggested that Jewish men who founded the communities traced their lineage back to the ancestral Mideastern population of 4,000 years ago from which Arabs, Jews and other people are descended. ... A new study now shows that the women in nine Jewish communities from Georgia, the former Soviet republic, to Morocco have vastly different genetic histories from the men.  .... Dr. Goldstein said it was up to historians to interpret the genetic evidence. His own speculation, he said, is that most Jewish communities were formed by unions between Jewish men and local women, though he notes that the women's origins cannot be genetically determined. "The men came from the Near East, perhaps as traders," he said. "They established local populations, probably with local women...  It is possible, Dr. Goldstein said, that the Ashkenazic community is a mosaic of separate populations formed the same way as the others."

Tuesday, May 07, 2002

Molecular Expressions: Science, Optics and You - Powers Of 10: Interactive Java Tutorial - similar to the one on March 14, but nicer in the "small" direction.

Monday, May 06, 2002

New Details Emerge From the Einstein Files: "The Einstein File: J. Edgar Hoover's Secret War Against the World's Most Famous Scientist," by Fred Jerome, who sued the government with the help of the Public Citizen Litigation Group to obtain a less censored version of the file.... The new material spells out how the bureau spied on Einstein and his associates and identifies some of the informants who said he was a spy."

Collected by Jonathan March with Radio Userland software