Archive for November, 2011

Ravens Appear to Communicate Using Gestures–A First for Non-Primates

By Valerie Ross | November 30, 2011 1:42 pm

Before they can talk, babies use gestures to communicate: sentiments such as “take this away,” “look over there,” and “put me down” can be made abundantly clear without words. Chimps gesture to each other, as well, pointing out particular spots where they’d like to be scratched or groomed. These symbolic gestures are believed to be an important precursor to language. Now, researchers have observed ravens using gestures in the wild—the only non-primates seen doing so.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Living World

Hundreds of Web Sites Seized on Court Order; No SOPA Bill Required

By Veronique Greenwood | November 30, 2011 11:58 am

chanel

Corporations don’t have to wait for the SOPA bill to pass to start censoring the Internet, it turns out. Under a ruling just handed down by a federal judge in Nevada, hundreds of websites accused by Chanel of selling counterfeit goods are having their domains confiscated and their names removed from search engine results, with scanty evidence of the accusation’s validity. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Technology

Atmospheric Remnants of Nuclear Tests Reveal Antarctica's Tiny "Old-Growth Forests"

By Douglas Main | November 30, 2011 8:47 am

Ceratodon purpureusHardy Antarctic moss.

Ah, Antarctica. A vast expanse of ice, interrupted by mountains, ice… and more ice (with the occasional penguin). But in the East of the continent and on the Windmill Islands near Australia’s Casey research station, bare ground can actually be seen during summer months. Here Antarctica’s endemic plants dwell: lichens, terrestrial algae, and mosses. These smatterings of bryophytes are amongst the hardiest flora in the world, providing a home for a variety of minute life. They survive being covered in snow most of the year, only growing briefly during the summer months, watered by snowmelt. Except for in-person observations made over the last two decades, little definitive was known about these oases of diversity, like their age or how they might respond to changes in climate.

But now, some of the moss’s secrets are out. A recent study in the journal Global Change Biology found that some of these plants must be more than a century old, and a few may even be thousands of years old, said researcher  and study author Sharon Robinson via email. On average these mosses grow at the glacial speed of 1 millimeter per year—and some of the turfs are meters thick. That means many of these unassuming mossy carpets were there when humans first made it to the continent a century ago—and likely well before. “These mosses are effectively the old growth forests of Antarctica—in miniature,” Robinson said.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Environment, Living World

New Tool Detects Photoshop Shenanigans in Fashion Photos

By Veronique Greenwood | November 29, 2011 2:28 pm


An image analyzed by the researchers, before retouching, after retouching, with an overlay that shows the strongest retouching in red, and with two facial overlays showing other measures of retouching.

What’s the News: It’s not news that in the age of Photoshop, celebrities and models in magazines have started to look like perfect aliens crash-landed among we ugly Earthlings. But though sometimes it’s obvious when a photo editor has gone too far (witness the Ralph Lauren her-head’s-bigger-than-her-pelvis debacle), the gap between what real people look like and what magazines and other media regularly show has grown distressingly wide without most people consciously noticing it, creating a sea of misinformation that may contribute to body-image disorders.

An analytical tool developed by Dartmouth scientists, though, picks up and quantifies those alterations, potentially providing a useful metric for policymakers looking to set boundaries on how much limb-stretching, torso-trimming, face-smoothing alteration is appropriate.

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Americans Heavier Than Ever, But Most Still Say Their Weight Is "About Right"

By Douglas Main | November 29, 2011 9:54 am

A Gallup poll reports that on average Americans weigh almost 20 pounds more than they did in 1990, based on the self-reports of more than 1,000 people. The average man weighs 196 pounds while the  average woman is 160 pounds. And most of us—62 percent—are already overweight or obese.

But that doesn’t mean we’re ready to come right out and admit it, at least not to a telephone pollster. When asked how they would describe their own weight, only 39 percent of Americans described themselves as “overweight,” while 56 percent reported their weight was “about right.” Neither of these metrics have changed very much since the poll was first given 21 years ago.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Health & Medicine, Top Posts

What Did Australopithecines Sound Like? More "Duh" Than "Ugg"

By Valerie Ross | November 28, 2011 5:31 pm


Artist’s rendering of an Australopithecus afarensis

When archaeologists hear whispers of humanity’s past, it’s through the painstaking work of piecing together a story from artifacts and fossilized remains: The actual calls, grunts, and other sounds made by our evolutionary ancestors didn’t fossilize. But working backward from clues in ancient skeletons, Dutch researcher Bart de Boer has built plastic models of an early hominin‘s vocal tract—and, by running air through the models, recreated the sounds our ancestors may have made millions of years ago.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Human Origins, Physics & Math

Study: Over Time, Even a Little Too Much Tylenol Can Kill

By Douglas Main | November 24, 2011 8:47 am

When it comes to acetaminophen (aka Tylenol or paracetamol), taking slightly too much for a few days may be more deadly than taking way too much all at once. A study in the British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology found that a quarter of the 663 patients admitted to the Scottish Liver Transplant Unit since 1992 suffered liver failure after a “staggered overdose,” in which people took a couple extra doses of acetaminophen for several days. 37 percent of patients with staggered overdoses died or required a liver transplant, compared to 28 percent of those with single overdoses.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Health & Medicine

Study: Switch to Farming Shortened Jaws, Giving Us Crowded & Crooked Teeth

By Douglas Main | November 23, 2011 11:15 am

What’s the News: Parents going broke to pay for their offspring’s braces and orthodontistry can finally blame somebody besides their mildly malformed children: our farmer ancestors. A study published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that people living in subsistence farming communities around the world have shorter, wider jaws than those in hunting and gathering societies. This leaves less room for teeth, which have changed little in size or abundance over human history—and may help explain why crooked choppers and a need for orthodontia are so common, study author Noreen von Cramon-Taubadel tells the BBC. “I have had four of my pre-molars pulled and that is the only reason that my teeth fit in my mouth,” she says.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Environment, Human Origins, Top Posts

Rabbits Wear 1st Augmented Reality-Style Contact Lenses. Resolution: 1 Pixel

By Valerie Ross | November 22, 2011 1:22 pm

Bionic contact lenses—which would display navigation data, personal emails, or any other sort of info superimposed on the world before your eyes—have long been mainstays of science fiction. Over the past several years, researchers have been working to make the tech real-world ready, striving to find solutions to the energy, size, safety, and image-quality problems that come up when you’re trying to fit a tiny integrated circuit into something transparent that sits on an eyeball.

Now, University of Washington researchers and their Finnish colleagues have made the first functioning bionic lens: a prototype with a single LED pixel, which could be safely worn by rabbits in the lab. (The image at right shows a rabbit wearing an earlier version of the lens, which contained a circuit but no light-emitting components.) Radio frequency energy emitted from a nearby transmitter and picked up by a circular antenna a fifth of an inch in diameter, printed on the lens, powered the electronics. The transmitter supplied adequate energy from three feet away when the lens was sitting in a dish, but had to be less than an inch away when the lens was placed on a rabbit’s eye, since tissues and fluids in the body interfered with reception. Since light from such a lens would be too close for the human eye to focus, the researchers made a separate contact composed of an array of smaller, flatter lenses, which would sit on top of the bionic contact and focus the light.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Health & Medicine, Technology

DARPA: Let's Get Rid of Antibiotics, Since They'll Be Obsolete Anyway

By Valerie Ross | November 22, 2011 11:50 am

For the better part of a century, antibiotics have given doctors great powers to cure all sorts of bacterial infections. But due to bacteria’s nasty habit of evolving, along with widespread overuse of these drugs, disease-causing bacteria are evolving antibiotic resistance at an alarming rate, making it much harder, and at times impossible, to wipe them out. DARPA, the military’s research agency, is eyeing an innovative solution to the problem: Rather than struggling to make better antibiotics, ditch them altogether. It may be time to start killing bacteria a whole new way.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Health & Medicine
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