Archive for July, 2008

Rare Shark Fish-Napped in Britain

By Andrew Moseman | July 31, 2008 3:10 pm

catsharkBritish police are on the lookout for aquatic abductors who stole a female marble catshark from a private aquarium in Hampshire earlier this week.

The two-foot-long shark and its male partner are the only known breeding partners or marble catsharks in Britain. The police think this may have been a targeted burglary, but one that took a plenty of planning. The fish thieves would have needed a net to catch the shark, a bag to put it in, a box to carry it in, and knowledge of the building’s layout—meaning there was either an inside man, or the burglars liked to visit the aquarium.

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Privacy-Protecting Software Could Make Your Face a Hybrid

By Andrew Moseman | July 31, 2008 11:37 am

FacesSince its launch last year, Google Street View has raised privacy concerns and ruffled feathers (or fur, in the case of a reader whose cat was captured on camera.) Because of complaints, Google has begun to blur the faces of people who were captured by the all-seeing eye of Google Street View and broadcast to the world.

But blurred faces are just aesthetically displeasing—not to mention that they throw off the idea of reality, since most of us go around without our mugs being artificially obscured. So Columbia University researchers came up with a solution: hybrid faces.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Technology Attacks!
MORE ABOUT: computers

To Maintain Your Misbehaving Memory, Try Alliteration

By Andrew Moseman | July 30, 2008 4:52 pm

Where are my keys?Peter Piper picked a peck of….what was it again?

It’s hard to forget Peter and his pickled peppers, even if you wanted to. But besides helping you memorize ridiculous nursery rhymes, could alliteration, like the long string of “P’s” in Peter’s famous phrase, actually help readers remember the tone and events contained in a larger written work?

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: What’s Inside Your Brain?
MORE ABOUT: memory

Furry Forest Critters Get Boozed, Bombed, Hammered, Inebriated…

By Andrew Moseman | July 29, 2008 5:03 pm

tree shrewIt’s a tough life as a science writer: Often the stories coming down the line demand totally straight-faced reporting. And then one day brings sweet relief—scientists find beer-swilling tree shrews living in the rain forests of Malaysia.

As such, it was no surprise that nearly every major science news source jumped on this one. DISCOVER’s 80beats picked up the details of the story, so we thought we’d rate some publication’s efforts at wisecracking one-liners.

The grades:

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MORE ABOUT: unusual organisms

Russians Reach the Bottom of Lake Baikal, Fail to Set World Record

By Andrew Moseman | July 29, 2008 4:13 pm

MIR 1According to Peter Rona from Rutgers University, there might be something unusual going on a mile beneath the surface of Lake Baikal—An ocean being born.

To take a peek, Russian scientists have gone all the way to the bottom of Baikal. Anatoly Sagalevich, Artur Chilingarov, and others boarded MIR 1 and MIR 2, submersible vessels that could carry them a mile below the surface. (Director James Cameron used the same vehicles to film the wreckage of the Titanic for his film; last year MIR 1 and 2 carried Russian scientists to the sea floor beneath the North Pole.)

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Hurricane Silver Lining? Dolly Diminishes the Gulf Dead Zone

By Andrew Moseman | July 29, 2008 2:38 pm

HurricaneHurricane Dolly caused plenty of misfortune, as downpours and flooding forced hundreds of people from their homes in Texas and New Mexico. But if there’s any kind of positive side to a natural disaster, it could be that Dolly might have decreased the size of the Gulf of Mexico’s dead zone.

The dead zone starts near the Mississippi River delta and extends toward the Texas coast. Nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorus wash into the river via runoff and are carried to the gulf, where their decomposition uses up oxygen. Also, the river’s freshwater and the gulf’s saltwater don’t mix well and tend to form layers, which can keep oxygen from getting to the bottom of the gulf. That creates the dead zone—an area of low-oxygen water where most marine creatures can’t live.

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MORE ABOUT: Ocean, pollution

Only You Can Prevent Forest Fires—But Maybe You Shouldn't

By Andrew Moseman | July 28, 2008 6:24 pm

wildfireIt seems like a fairly simple calculation—trees absorb carbon dioxide, so fighting forest fires and thereby saving trees helps to combat global warming. But University of California, Irvine researcher Michael Goulden says that fighting fires may have actually decreased the amount of carbon stored by some of the forests in the Western United States.

Measuring 1990s forest data against readings taken in the same areas in the 1930s, Goulden found that, altogether, the forests contained about 4 percent more trees per hectare in the 1990s than they had 60 years before. But despite that increase in the density of trees, which Goulden credited to government policies of fire suppression, those trees stored 34 percent less carbon in the 1990s.

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MORE ABOUT: global warming

The Possible Solution to Disappearing Bees: Foot Baths

By Andrew Moseman | July 28, 2008 2:58 pm

Bees, fungi, and mitesHoping to fight off “colony collapse disorder,” the mysterious affliction that has devastated honeybee colonies, some British scientists want to get bees to start washing their feet—but with the intention of getting them dirty, not clean.

A team of University of Warwick researchers led by Dave Chandler believes that parasitic Varroa mites might be behind the honeybee’s decline; the mites can feed on young or old bees, and their presence usually spells doom for the entire colony. Varroas develop resistance to chemical pesticides, too, so the scientists turned to a more natural threat—fungi.

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Plastic Raft Sails to Plastic Dump in the Pacific Ocean

By Andrew Moseman | July 28, 2008 12:30 pm

trashEarlier this month, DISCOVER covered the North Pacific Gyre, a vast dump of plastic and garbage in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, and the researchers who sailed to the middle of the ocean aboard the Alguita to study it. Now, to further publicize this eco-disaster, three scientists are sailing back to the gyre, but this time aboard a slightly less luxurious boat—a raft built of 15,000 plastic bottles, and part of a Cessna.

The JUNK raft set sail from Southern California on June 1, bound for Hawaii, carrying Marcus Eriksen and two colleagues. You can watch their progress here or read about it on their blog. Making a pace of about 50 miles a day, they hope to reach Hawaii by mid-to-late August.

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MORE ABOUT: Ocean, pollution

Smokers' Immune Systems Just Don't Know When to Quit, Study Suggests

By Andrew Moseman | July 25, 2008 11:50 am

ashSmokers are more likely to die or become seriously ill from a flu or other viral infection than non-smokers are. According to researchers at the Yale School of Medicine, that might be because smokers’ immune systems don’t understand the value of proportional response.

Most scientists believed that viral infections hit smokers harder because smoking suppresses the immune system, making it less able to respond to the threat. But while working with mice exposed to cigarette smoke, the Yale scientists found the opposite—the rodents’ immune systems overreacted.

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