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Science News

Climate Deniers Intimidate Journal into Retracting Paper that Finds They Believe Conspiracy Theories

The paper was sound but a libel threat apparently exerted pressure on management at Frontiers in Psychology, suggesting a blow to academic freedom
The threat of legal action can have a 'chilling effect' on academic freedom.By Elaine McKewon and The Conversation

In February 2013, the journal Frontiers in Psychology published a peer-reviewed paper which found that people who reject climate science are more likely to believe in conspiracy theories. Predictably enough, those people didn’t like it.The Conversation

The paper, which I helped to peer-review, is called “Recursive fury: Conspiracist ideation in the blogosphere in response to research on conspiracist ideation”. In it, cognitive scientist Stephan Lewandowsky and his colleagues survey and analyze the outcry generated on climate skeptic blogs to their earlier work on climate denial.

The earlier study had also linked climate denial with conspiracist thinking. And so by reacting with yet more conspiracy theorizing, the bloggers rather proved the researchers' point.

Yet soon after Recursive Fury was published, threats of litigation started to roll in, and the journal took the paper down (it survives on the website of the University of Western Australia, where Lewandowsky carried out the study).


Evolution of river systems

RUNNING WATERS  When a value called χ varies across watershed boundaries, as it does along the crest of the Blue Ridge Mountains (thick white line), the river networks are still evolving and the ridge is shifting, a new study shows.by Sid Perkins

A river’s erosion downward and across a landscape is based on a variety of factors, including terrain steepness and the arrangement of tributaries.

In the March 7 Science, geophysicist Sean Willett of ETH Zurich and colleagues boiled down these factors into a single parameter called χ (the Greek letter chi), which typically becomes larger as distance from a river’s mouth increases. The scientists then calculated values for and mapped it for various river networks, including the southeastern United States.

If values on either side of a watershed boundary (white lines) are similar, the ridge that divides the neighboring networks is probably stable. But if the values differ substantially, as they do across watershed boundaries along the crest of the Blue Ridge Mountains (thick white line), that’s a sign that the river networks are still evolving and that the ridge is shifting. The divide along the Blue Ridge Mountains has been migrating inland since rifting first formed the Atlantic Ocean more than 200 million years ago, the researchers note.



Technology News

Wanna Build a Rocket? NASA’s About to Give Away a Mountain of Its Code

Inside the Launch Control Center, personnel watch as the Saturn V rocket carrying the Apollo 11 astronauts lifts off the launch pad on July 16, 1969. Image: NASABy Robert McMillan

Forty years after Apollo 11 landed on the moon, NASA open sourced the software code that ran the guidance systems on the lunar module.

By that time, the code was little more than a novelty. But in recent years, the space agency has built all sorts of other software that is still on the cutting edge. And as it turns out, like the Apollo 11 code, much of this NASA software is available for public use, meaning anyone can download it and run it and adapt it for free. You can even use it in commercial products.

But don’t take our word for it. Next Thursday, NASA will release a master list of software projects it has cooked up over the years. This is more than just stuff than runs on a personal computer. Think robots and cryogenic systems and climate simulators. There’s even code for running rocket guidance systems.

This NASA software catalog will list more than 1,000 projects, and it will show you how to actually obtain the code you want. The idea to help hackers and entrepreneurs push these ideas in new directions — and help them dream up new ideas. Some code is only available to certain people — the rocket guidance system, for instance — but if you can get it, you can use it without paying royalties or copyright fees. Within a few weeks of publishing the list, NASA says, it will also offer a searchable database of projects, and then, by next year, it will host the actual software code in its own online repository, a kind of GitHub for astronauts.


Robo-tattoo machine fashioned from 3D printer

Automated tattoos are now a reality with a 3D printer that was hacked to become an robot tattoo artist.
This machine started life as a 3D printer.by Amanda Kooser

I got tattooed recently. By a human. Antoine Goupille also got tattooed recently. By a 3D printer modified to do tattoos. He may be the first person to receive a machine tattoo. Goupille's tattoo is just a simple circle; the machine isn't ready yet to do a full back piece with a unicorn jumping over a Care Bear.

The 3D printer tattoo machine came about during a workshop in Paris organized by the French Ministry of Culture and held at a design school. It all started with a desktop MakerBot 3D printer modified to trace designs onto skin using a pen.

The design students responsible for the mod, who call themselves "appropriate audiences," took it to the next step and mounted a tattoo gun into the machine. After tests on artificial skin, they sought a volunteer to receive an actual tattoo. One of the challenges was sorting out how to make the skin taut enough to receive the tattoo. They settled on using an innertube with a hole cut into it where the tattoo would go.



Environmental News

Computer models soybean crop with 8.5 percent more productivity, using 13 percent less water

Professors Praveen Kumar, right, and Stephen Long developed a computer modeling system to help plant scientists breed soybean crops that produce more and use less water.University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Crops that produce more while using less water seem like a dream for a world with a burgeoning population and already strained food and water resources. This dream is coming closer to reality for University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign researchers who have developed a new computer model that can help plant scientists breed better soybean crops.

Under current climate conditions, the model predicts a design for a soybean crop with 8.5 percent more productivity, but using 13 percent less water, and reflecting 34 percent more radiation back into space, by breeding for slightly different leaf distribution, angles and reflectivity. This work appears in the journal Global Change Biology.

"The model lets you look at one of those goals individually or all of them simultaneously," said Praveen Kumar, a co-author of the study who is the Lovell Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Illinois. "There might be some areas where you look at only one aspect -- if you're in an arid zone, you can structure things to maximize the water efficiency. In other areas you may want to concentrate on food productivity."


Sage grouse losing habitat to fire as endangered species decision looms

A sea of non-native crested wheatgrass (left) fills the path of the Poison Creek fire, which burned on the remote Owyhee High Plateau, tucked into the southwest corner of Idaho, in 1996. Nearly two decades later, an abrupt transition to healthy sagebrush marks the edge of the fire. The Jarbidge Mountains sit on the horizon.Ecological Society of America

As fires sweep more frequently across the American Great Basin, the US Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has been tasked with reseeding the burned landscapes to stabilize soils. BLM's interventions have not helped to restore habitat for the greater sage grouse (Centrocercus urophasianus) reported scientists from the US Geological Survey (USGS) and US Forest Service in the Ecological Society of America's journal Ecosphere last week, but outlier project sites with good grouse habitat may yield clues to successful management scenarios.

Their report arrives in the shadow of a pending decision by the US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) to protect the sage grouse under the Endangered Species Act, and efforts by BLM and FWS to establish voluntary conservation and restoration management plans in lieu of endangered species listing mandates.

Protection of sage grouse under the Endangered Species Act could affect the management of 250,000 square miles of land in the western US. FWS must decide on the grouse's protection status by the end of FY 2015.



Medical News

Good Day Sunshine: Could Morning Light Help Keep Us Lean?

iStockphotoby Allison Aubrey

Exposure to morning light, whether it's pure sunlight or bright indoor lighting, is associated with leaner body weights, researchers say.

The findings fit with a growing body of evidence that suggests keeping our internal body clocks synchronized with the natural light-dark cycle is beneficial to our health and our waistlines.

To better understand this relationship, researchers at Northwestern University recruited 54 adults (average age 30) from the Chicago area and had them wear wrist monitors that tracked their exposure to light and sleep patterns for a week. The participants recorded what they were eating in daily logs so the researchers could estimate caloric intake.

"We found that the earlier this light exposure occurred during the day, the lower individuals' body mass index," says study author Kathyrn Reid, a research associate professor at the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.


Statins may improve erectile function

Common cholesterol drugs had been feared to hinder it
Sometimes it's just a cigarby Nathan Seppa

WASHINGTON — Cholesterol-lowering drugs called statins seem to lessen erectile dysfunction, an analysis of 14 studies finds.

Scores on a five-item questionnaire that doctors use to assess erectile dysfunction in men improved or were unchanged in all but one of the studies, which included 11 randomized trials and three other studies. John Kostis, a cardiologist at the Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School in New Brunswick, N.J., and colleague Jeanne Dobrzynski analyzed the data, which Kostis reported March 29 at a meeting of the American College of Cardiology.

Doctors have been concerned that taking statins could worsen the condition. “Some people call statins a two-edged sword,” Kostis said, because they enhance availability of nitric oxide, a vessel dilator, and improve blood vessel function – but also lower cholesterol. While lower levels of LDL, the bad cholesterol, are beneficial for cardiovascular health, cholesterol is also a building block of testosterone, and loss of testosterone hurts sex drive.



Space News

Subsurface sea hides below ice of Saturn moon

Gravity maps of Enceladus reveal liquid water ocean beneath satellite’s south pole
FROZEN  Enceladus, a 500-kilometer-wide moon of Saturn, is blanketed in a thick sheet of ice. Salty water erupts through a network of fissures (blue) in the southern hemisphere. New measurements of the moon’s gravity reveal a subsurface ocean 30 to 40 kilometers beneath the south pole.by Christopher Crockett

Scuba divers take note: an underground ocean awaits on a moon of Saturn. Astronomers have, for the first time, measured the depth and extent of a subsurface sea on the ice-covered moon Enceladus. The findings shore up the notion that an underground reservoir feeds the moon’s ice geysers and raise questions about Enceladus’ habitability.

For a long time, astronomers thought the 500-kilometer-wide Enceladus was an unchanging, dead world. But the Cassini spacecraft, which arrived in 2004, found an active moon. Geysers shoot particles of salty water ice through fissures that dot the southern hemisphere. The fissures expand and contract in rhythm with the tides of Saturn (SN Online: 7/31/13). Heat wells up from the moon’s interior through the cracks. Putting these characteristics together, many astronomers suspected that a sea of liquid water lurked beneath the ice. But those suspicions were based on observations of the moon’s surface.

To peek inside Enceladus, Luciano Iess, an aerospace engineer at Sapienza University of Rome, and colleagues looked at Doppler shifts in Cassini’s Earth-bound radio signal during three flybys of the moon. The Doppler shifts, tiny changes in the frequency of the radio waves, track the spacecraft’s speed. Whenever Cassini passed over a part of the moon with slightly more mass, the increased gravity accelerated the probe. Iess and his colleagues used the changes in Cassini’s speed to map Enceladus’ interior structure.


Cosmic question mark

The Planck mission’s data put a kink in precision cosmology
STAR TRACK  The Gaia spacecraft (illustrated above) is collecting data on position and motion for about 1 billion stars in the galaxy. The data may help resolve controversy over the pace of the universe’s expansion.by Tom Siegfried

For as long as humans have wondered about it, the universe has concealed its vital statistics — its age, its weight, its size, its composition. By the opening of the 21st century, though, experts began trumpeting a new era of precision cosmology. No longer do cosmologists argue about whether the universe is 10 billion or 20 billion years old — it was born 13.8 billion years ago. Pie charts now depict a precise recipe for the different relative amounts of matter and energy in the cosmos. And astronomers recently reached agreement over just how fast the universe is growing, settling a controversy born back in 1929 when Edwin Hubble discovered that expansion.


Odd News

'Homo' is the only primate whose tooth size decreases as its brain size increases

This image shows upper and lower views of cranium OH5 (Paranthropus boisei). Right: Same views of Homo sapiens cranium.Biology & Nature

Andalusian researchers, led by the University of Granada, have discovered a curious characteristic of the members of the human lineage, classed as the genus Homo: they are the only primates where, throughout their 2.5-million year history, the size of their teeth has decreased in tandem with the increase in their brain size. The key to this phenomenon, which scientists call "evolutionary paradox," could be in how Homo's diet has evolved. Digestion starts first in the mouth and, so, teeth are essential in breaking food down into smaller pieces. Therefore, the normal scenario would be that, if the brain grows in size, and, hence, the body's metabolic needs, so should teeth.

However, in the case of Homo, this has not been the case, according to scientists in an article recently published in the journal BioMed Research International. The main author of the study, researcher Juan Manuel Jimenez Arenas, from the University of Granada's Department of Pre-History and Archaeology, points out that, "This means that significant changes must have occurred in order to maintain this trend."

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