Daily Bulletin for 05/24/2017

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Did Humans Evolve in Europe?

Darren Curnoe, The Conversation

Charles Darwin believed that humans evolved in Africa, because that’s where our closest ape relatives the chimpanzees and gorillas live. And during the twentieth century he was vindicated through a combination of fossil and genetic discoveries.While our place in the tree of life is now well established – chimpanzees being our closest relatives – the beginning of the human line millions of years ago continues to be shrouded in mystery.

Will the EPA Abandon the Science of Risk?

Jeff Stier, RealClearPolicy

A prevailing take-away message from last month’s March for Science was that President Trump and his Environmental Protection (EPA) Administrator, Scott Pruitt, are in the process of dismantling critical science-based rules that were put in place to protect nature. With nature left unprotected, they argued or, rather, chanted we’ll be exposed to dangerously contaminated air and water, and the environment will be devastated.

Researchers Report Improvement to Ion Drive

Andrew Masterson, Cosmos

Plasma propulsion or an ion drive is common in science fiction, where it can represent a clean, futuristic alternative to the mess and blast of crudely burning rocket fuel. Though it is the most efficient space propulsion method yet devised, it is still rare in reality, where ion drives are weighed down by the bulky engineering currently required to manage the ionised gas propellant.

Top 100 Journals Contain Little Social Science

Alex B. Berezow, ACSH

Last week, a funny and clever hoax was perpetrated against a social sciences journal. The hoaxers wrote an absurd paper on how the penis is merely a social construct. And for good measure, they claimed it made climate change worse. Somehow, the paper passed peer review, and the predictable result was widespread mockery of the social sciences — and gender studies, in particular — across the Internet.

Scientific Consensus Is Worth Taking Seriously

Faye Flam, Bloomberg

Following the pack is not part of the scientific method. The point is to follow the evidence. And that leaves room for ambiguity in interpreting the survey results showing that 97 percent of climate scientists agree that global warming is real and that human-generated greenhouse gases are a major cause. The National Academy of Sciences, American Physical Society, American Chemical Society and other relevant scientific organizations all agree, too.

Book Tells Inside Story of Alternative Medicine

Harriet Hall, Sci-Based Med

In the SBM comments section, someone (thanks, whoever you are) mentioned a book about Holistic Harry and I tracked it down and read it. The title is Confessions of a Quack. It is fiction but is apparently semi-autobiographical; the author is Steven Bratman, MD, who coined the term orthorexia to denote an unhealthy obsession with eating healthy food. Holistic Harry is an MD who practices alternative medicine under the guise of integrative medicine.

A Whale of a Tale: How Did They Get so Big?

Madeline Sofia, NPR

Whales are the largest animals on the planet, but they haven’t always been giants. Fossil records show that ancient whales were much smaller than the currently living behemoths.So when did whales get so big, and how?A new study suggests it might be due to changes in climate that affected the food that some whales eat: krill and small fish. Instead of being spread throughout the ocean, lots of krill started being packed into a small area. Bigger whales were simply more efficient at eating the dense pockets of krill, and they beat out their smaller cousins.

Narwhals Stun Prey With Their Tusks

Kacey Deamer, Live Sci

Narwhals are sometimes known as the “unicorns" of the ocean because of the long “tusks" that protrude from the animals’ heads, but scientists have long been stumped about the function of this mysterious appendage until now.Drone footage of wild narwhals has revealed that the whales use their tusks to hunt fish. The tusk is actually a tooth that spirals out of the upper jaw on male narwhals, and can extend to about 10 feet (3 meters) long, according to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) Canada. While scientists think the tusk’s primary function relates to selecting a mate, these new…

Second Black Hole Spotted in Cygnus A Galaxy

Alison Klesman, Astronomy

Cygnus A is an elliptical galaxy nearly 800 million light-years from Earth. In its center is a supermassive black hole at least a billion times the mass of our Sun, which appears to have recently gained a companion. New observations of this galaxy with the National Science Foundation’s Very Large Array (VLA) have unveiled a second bright object located near its central supermassive black hole an object that radio astronomers think is a second supermassive black hole, destined to merge with the first.Based on radio observations taken with the VLA in 2015 and 2016, astronomers have spotted…

Physicist and Literature Professor Talk Time Travel

Bower & James, Conv

Literature professor Simon John James and physicist Richard Bower were both involved in the curating the exhibition, Time Machines the past, the future, and how stories take us there. Their conversations quickly revealed to them the many, wildly various, meanings of time travel. Here, they discuss how time travelling in literary and scientific terms might, one day, coincide.

Ocean-Fertilization Experiment Incites Controversy

Jeff Tollefson, Nature

Marine scientists are raising the alarm about a proposal to drop tonnes of iron into the Pacific Ocean to stimulate the growth of phytoplankton, the base of the food web. The non-profit group behind the plan says that it wants to revive Chilean fisheries. It also has ties to a controversial 2012 project in Canada that was accused of violating an international moratorium on commercial ocean fertilization.The Oceaneos Marine Research Foundation of Vancouver, Canada, says that it is seeking permits from the Chilean government to release up to 10 tonnes of iron particles 130 kilometres off the…

Link Between Air Pollution and Insomnia Debunked

Science 2.0

Tablet and phone marketing executives can sleep well tonight. While those devices are commonly blamed for recent sleep problems, beams of pure digital energy shot straight into the eyeballs will do that, a new paper seeks to shore up the failing claim that tiny particulate matter, PM 2.5 (2.5 microns per cubic meter of air), is impacting human health and should be the source of new regulations by the Environmental Protection Agency.The authors claim such particulate matter, 1/40th the width of even a human hair, can damage sleep. Larger particles are of course a problem. PM 10 is what is…

WHO Elects First African Director

Cumming-Bruce & McNeil, Jr., NYT

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus of Ethiopia was voted director general of the World Health Organization on Tuesday, the first African ever to head the agency.The election was the first conducted by the W.H.O. under more open and democratic rules. After nearly two years of public campaigning, originally by six candidates, the voting took place in a closed-door session in which the health ministers of 186 countries cast their ballots in secret.

Bioelectric Hacking Creates Two-Headed Flatworms

Anthea Batsakis, Cosmos

Chop a planarian flatworm in half and you’ll get two new fully functioning worms. Now, scientists from the US have rewired the Dugesia japonica flatworm’s bioelectricity, the electric currents that run through its living tissues, so a dismembered worm can grow back with two heads one at each end.The researchers, led by Michael Levin from Tuft University, found that bioelectric patterns rather than stem cells or tissues determine what planarian flatworms will look like when they have regenerated.

LHC Begins New Research Season

John Timmer, Ars Technica

Believe it or not, particle physics has a season, just like baseball. Running a massive particle collider takes a lot of energy, so operators schedule downtime for periods when local energy demand tends to be high. For Brookhaven’s Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider, located on Long Island, that means summer air-conditioning season is to be avoided. For CERN’s Large Hadron Collider, demand for winter heating is what sets the seasons.And, as those in the Northern Hemisphere may have noted, the winter is now over. It’s particle season again, and today marks the first stable proton beams of 2017 in…

Floating Nuclear Power Plant Concept Revisited

Timothy Puko, WSJ

Imagine, off the coast of New Jersey, man-made islands of steel, moored in the ocean, housing miniature nuclear reactors.It’s something that Public Service Enterprise Group Inc. and Westinghouse Electric tried to pull off nearly 50 years ago.Confronted with rising costs and limited land to build on, the companies planned to build nuclear power plants at a shipyard in Florida and then float them up to the New Jersey coast. The project failed primarily because the 1970s energy crisis weakened local demand for power.

‘Out of Africa’ Theory Disputed by New Evidence


The common lineage of great apes and humans split several hundred thousand earlier than hitherto assumed, according to an international research team headed by Professor Madelaine Bhme from the Senckenberg Centre for Human Evolution and Palaeoenvironment at the University of Tbingen and Professor Nikolai Spassov from the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences. The researchers investigated two fossils of Graecopithecus freybergi with state-of-the-art methods and came to the conclusion that they belong to pre-humans. Their findings, published today in two papers in the journal PLOS ONE, further…

Baking Soda Shortage Hits Hospitals Hard

Beth Mole, Ars Technica

Amid a national shortage of a critical medicine, US hospitals are hoarding vials, delaying surgeries, and turning away patients, The New York Times reports. The medicine in short supply: solutions of sodium bicarbonateaka, baking soda.The simple drug is used in all sorts of treatments, from chemotherapies to those for organ failure. It can help correct the pH of blood and ease the pain of stitches. It is used in open-heart surgery, can help reverse poisonings, and is kept on emergency crash carts. But, however basic and life-saving, the drug has been in short supply since around February.

‘Flying Bum’ Completes Successful Test Flight

Kacey Deamer, Live Sci

It’s a plane, it’s a blimp it’s the world’s largest aircraft.A massive airship dubbed the Airlander 10 recently completed a successful test flight, bringing the helium-filled behemoth one step closer to commercial use.Though it looks like a massive blimp, the Airlander 10 combines technology from airplanes, helicopters and airships.

Caffeine’s Effect on Spider Webs

Julianna LeMieux, ACSH

Recently, a teenager died from ingesting too much caffeine in too short a time period. At first, this may sound shocking.But, caffeine is known to be toxic in very high quantities. An old, fascinating, science experiment tested, in a very unique way, just how toxic certain chemicals are – including caffeine. The results show the effect of caffeine (and other drugs) on our brains by using an uncommon scientific assay — spider web spinning.This idea was first proposed by Peter Witt and Charles Reed, in an article published in Science in 1965 called “Spider-web building".

Unlocking the Power Potential of Sound

Kendra Redmond, Physics Central

Whether it’s the neighbor’s barking dogs, pounding rain, the din of traffic, or the music of your own choosing, most of us are constantly surrounded by noise. Noise is energy, so that means most of us are constantly surrounded by a relatively safe, renewable, and clean form of energy. What if we could harvest this energy?It seems like a match made in heavenunwanted noise is everywhere and its levels are rapidly rising, as is our demand for power. Crunch the numbers on how long you’d have to yell to heat up a cup of coffee, though, and it’s clear that sound isn’t an optimal source of…

Nanofiber Measures Force of Swimming Bacteria

Tim Wogan, Physics World

A tiny “force probe" that can measure sub-piconewton forces when inserted directly into liquid media has been created by researchers in the US. The team says that it used the probe to detect the tiny forces associated with swimming bacteria and heart-muscle cells. The researchers suggest that the technique could be used to create miniature stethoscopes. A leading biophysicist, however, says more work must be done on characterizing the device before he is convinced of its efficacy.

Meteors Made Mars’ Atmospheric Metals

Charles Q. Choi, Space.com

Metal detected in the sky of Mars may come from meteors streaking through the Red Planet atmosphere, a new study finds.Interplanetary dust motes and chunks of rock often plunge at high speeds into the atmospheres of Earth and other worlds, blazing to form meteors as friction with air particles heats the objects. On Earth, the resulting smoke generates a persistent layer of metallic atoms in the atmosphere. However, until now, such layers were not directly seen elsewhere in the solar system.

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