The Frog Tongue’s Sticky Secrets Revealed

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(Credit: Shutterstock)

How does one get stuck studying frog tongues? Our study into the sticky, slimy world of frogs all began with a humorous video of a real African bullfrog lunging at fake insects in a mobile game. This frog was clearly an expert at gaming; the speed and accuracy of its tongue could rival the thumbs of texting teenagers. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Living World, Top Posts
MORE ABOUT: animals

You Might Be in a Medical Experiment and Not Even Know It

By Alice Dreger | January 31, 2017 12:34 pm

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In the long view, modern history is the story of increasing rights of control over your body – for instance, in matters of reproduction, sex, where you live and whom you marry. Medical experimentation is supposed to be following the same historical trend – increasing rights of autonomy for those whose bodies are used for research.

Indeed, the Nuremberg Code, the founding document of modern medical research ethics developed after the Second World War in response to Nazi medical experiments, stated unequivocally that the voluntary, informed consent of the human subject is essential. Every research ethics code since then has incorporated this most fundamental principle. Exceptions to this rule are supposed to be truly exceptional. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Health & Medicine, Top Posts

Archivists Want AI to Help Save, Analyze Everything Trump Says

By Carl Engelking | January 26, 2017 1:20 pm
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(Credit: Joseph Sohm/Shutterstock)

A week hasn’t even passed since the inauguration, but television news is saturated with the flurry of activity from President Donald Trump’s administration. Trump, via Twitter, promised to launch an investigation into illegal voting and threatened to “send in the Feds” if Chicago police can’t fix the “carnage.” And that was just between Tuesday and Wednesday.

This heightened scrutiny compelled the Internet Archive, a repository of everything posted on the web, to launch its Trump Archive in early January. You, perhaps, digitally time-traveled with the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine, or checked out free books, movies and software. The Trump Archive, which draws content from The Internet Archive’s TV News Archive, includes more than 520 hours of televised Trump speeches, interviews, debates and other broadcasts tracing back to 2009. It will continue to grow. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Technology, Top Posts

The Underrated Genius of Neanderthals

By Stephen E. Nash | January 24, 2017 4:43 pm
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Geico’s “so easy a caveman can do it” advertising campaign incorrectly minimized the intelligence of Neanderthals. (Credit: Shutterstock)

(This post originally appeared in the online anthropology magazine SAPIENS. Follow @SAPIENS_org on Twitter to discover more of their work.) 

For the last dozen years or so, Geico Insurance has run commercials featuring Neanderthals in modern contexts. The story line varies, but the take-home point does not: Switching to Geico is so easy that “even a caveman can do it,” says the tag line. The Neanderthal’s feelings are invariably hurt, and a stereotype gets perpetuated. Do Neanderthals really deserve such derision?

Popularly known as “cavemen,” Neanderthals were ancestral humans who lived in Western Europe, on the eastern shores of the Mediterranean, and in southwestern and central Asia from about 400,000 to 40,000 years ago. They lived in glacial environments during the Ice Age as well as in warmer time periods. Their foreheads were low and receding in contrast to the high, almost vertical foreheads of modern humans. They also had protruding faces and heavy brow ridges above their eyes. While it’s an open question whether you’d recognize a Neanderthal if you saw one on the street, groomed and dressed in modern clothes, I like to think they’d blend in at my museum’s holiday party. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Living World, Top Posts
MORE ABOUT: archaeology

Is Cloud Seeding Worth the Bet?

By Ian Graber-Stiehl | January 24, 2017 1:10 pm
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Pilots from Weather Modification, Inc., prepare the cloud seeding aircraft with seeding flares. (Credit: Derek Blestrud, Idaho Power Company)

“Make mud, not war.” That was the slogan of the American 54th Weather Reconnaissance Squad, the first military force to engage in weather warfare.

Throughout the Vietnam War, they flew 2,602 missions, releasing silver iodide, a compound that seeded clouds and exacerbated monsoons—or so the thinking went. Dubbed “Operation Popeye”, this rainy warfare would last from 1966-72, until banned under the 1977 Enmod Treaty on weather warfare. Popeye wasn’t the only attempt to weaponize seasonal events, but it was the most infamous. There was also, for example, an “exercise” aiming to make the Hồ Chí Minh trail muddier, named “Commando Lava”. The problem with infamy, however, is that the subjects of it rarely live up to the legend. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Living World, Top Posts
MORE ABOUT: earth science, weather

Chromosomes Aren’t the Only Determiners of a Baby’s Sex

By Kristien Boelaert, University of Birmingham | January 18, 2017 12:10 pm
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(Credit: Shutterstock)

The concept of being able to predict the sex of a baby during early pregnancy or even influence it by eating or doing certain things when trying to conceive has been the subject of public fascination and debate for many centuries. But surely the sex of a fetus is exclusively determined by the father’s sperm, carrying an X chromosome for girls and a Y chromosome for boys?

It turns out this is not the full story. Since the 17th century, it has been recognized that slightly more boys are born than girls. This is strange – if the sex were determined solely by chromosomes, the probability of either should be 50 percent and not variable. This must mean that, although the same number of boys and girls are conceived initially, more female fetuses than male ones are lost during the pregnancy. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Health & Medicine, Top Posts
MORE ABOUT: sex & reproduction

In Search of a Universal Flu Vaccine

By Ian Setliff and Amyn Murji, Vanderbilt University | January 12, 2017 10:45 am
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(Credit: Shutterstock)

No one wants to catch the flu, and the best line of defense is the seasonal influenza vaccine. But producing an effective annual flu shot relies on accurately predicting which flu strains are most likely to infect the population in any given season. It requires the coordination of multiple health centers around the globe as the virus travels from region to region. Once epidemiologists settle on target flu strains, vaccine production shifts into high gear; it takes approximately six months to generate the more than 150 million injectable doses necessary for the American population. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Health & Medicine, Top Posts

We Got The Mesentery News All Wrong

By Carl Engelking | January 6, 2017 4:29 pm
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The kale-like structure you see here in this 1839 illustration is the mesentery. (Credit: Wellcome Trust)

Earlier this week, a story begging to go viral fell onto writers’ laps: We have a new organ called the mesentery, which is a broad, fan-shaped fold that lines the guts. Here at Discover we pounced on the story, and so did CNN, the Washington Post, LiveScience, Smithsonian, Vice News Tonight, Jimmy Kimmel and many, many more.

We got it all wrong, and it’s time for us to spill our guts.

In our reporting, one burning question we wanted answered was who, or what, determines when a hunk of tissue “officially” becomes an organ. So we posed the question to J. Calvin Coffey, the Limerick University Hospital researcher who presented evidence in The Lancet Gastroenterology and Hepatology to “justify designation of the mesentery as an organ.”

“That’s a fascinating question. I actually don’t know who the final arbiter of that is,” he told us. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Health & Medicine, Top Posts
MORE ABOUT: personal health

When Astronauts ‘Saved’ the Worst Year in American History (Not 2016)

By Eric Betz | December 21, 2016 3:46 pm
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The Apollo 8 crew, from left, Jim Lovell, Bill Anders and Frank Borman. (Credit: NASA)

You know it’s been tough times when a Dumpster fire is the meme of the year. Indeed, 2016 has been rough: pop culture icons died, police and activists squared off in major cities, we survived a cutthroat presidential election, Syria burned, terrorists attacked around the globe.

And, like today, most people were eager to tack a new calendar on the wall by the time Bill Anders, Frank Borman and Jim Lovell launched for the moon on December 21, 1968 — the unofficial worst year ever in the U.S. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Top Posts, Uncategorized
MORE ABOUT: space exploration

Welcome to the Hotel Automata

By Bobbie van der List | December 21, 2016 12:22 pm
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At Henn-na, you can check in with a dinosaur. (Credit: Bobbie van der List)

The train ride from Nagasaki to the Huis Ten Bosch theme park in Japan takes about two hours. Along the way, I pass rice paddies and sleepy towns; this is not the place you’d expect to find the country’s first hotel staffed by robots.

When I arrive at the Huis Ten Bosch station, I’m surrounded by iconic Dutch architecture and buildings. The theme park was designed to give people in Japan a taste of Europe.

I take a shuttle bus to robot hotel Henn-na, located minutes from the theme park gates. Beside the hotel entrance, stands a Transformers-like robot, twice my size, which doesn’t seem to have any practical purpose whatsoever. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Technology, Top Posts
MORE ABOUT: robots
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