Tag Archives: science

A Prehistoric Hunt Preserved In Incredible Fossilized Tracks

Last April, Matthew Bennett was lying on a white salt flat in New Mexico, uncovering fossilized footprints that had been preserved in the white rock. The print belonged to a ground sloth—a bulky animal, whose large feet and curved claws left apostrophe-shaped impressions wherever it walked. There were many such tracks around, but Bennett found one that was very different.

Inside the outline of the sloth’s 20-inch-long foot was a human footprint.

Human footprint inside a sloth track. (Matthew Bennett / Bournemouth University)

He looked at the next track in the series and found the same thing—a human footprint, perfectly nestled inside a sloth one. There were at least 10 of these, all in a row. “It slowly dawned on me what was happening,” … Read the rest

What’s Wrong With Growing Blobs of Brain Tissue?

Last week, Rusty Gage and colleagues at the Salk Institute announced that they had successfully transplanted lab-grown blobs of human brain tissue into mice. Gage’s team grew the blobs, known as brain organoids, from human stem cells. Once surgically implanted into rodent brains, the organoids continued growing, and their neurons formed connections with those of the surrounding brains. It was the first time such transplants had worked: Until now, organoids had only ever been grown in dishes.

To be clear, Gage’s mice weren’t running around with human brains, nor did they have a human mind trapped inside their heads. The biggest brain organoids are lentil-sized and contain 2 to 3 million cells; a human brain is 20,000 times bigger and contains around 172 billion cells. Even … Read the rest

Scott Pruitt’s New Rule Could Completely Transform the EPA

In one sweeping move, the Trump administration may soon not only destabilize the last three decades of clean air and water rules, but also completely overhaul how the Environmental Protection Agency uses science in its work. If EPA administrator Scott Pruitt’s recently-proposed rule gets enacted, it will spark a revolution in environmental regulation. But the question is—will it stand up in court?

Pruitt proposed the regulation on Tuesday, describing it as an effort to increase transparency. It would require the EPA to publish all the underlying scientific data used to support studies which guide clean-air and clean-water rules. It would forbid the use of studies that do not meet this standard, even if they have been peer-reviewed or replicated elsewhere.

Crucially, the proposed rule does not … Read the rest

Why Did It Take So Long to Expose Hans Asperger’s Nazi Ties?

At least no one ever put up a prominent statue to Hans Asperger, so we are spared the scene where they bring in the crane to drag another historical figure down from his pedestal. But essentially, that is what has just happened to Asperger, the Austrian pediatrician who lent his name to the syndrome that recognized autistic traits in verbally fluent individuals who demonstrate superior intelligence and creativity. As the current issue of the scholarly journal Molecular Autism makes clear in specific detail, Asperger, who lived and worked in wartime Vienna, not only went along with the Nazi project to murder disabled children—in some ways, he facilitated it, putting his expert’s signature on documents that dispatched such children to facilities where they were murdered. The new, Read the rest

Researchers edit coral genes, hope to understand how to save them

Enlarge (credit: NOAA)

Coral reefs are the poster-organisms for ecosystem services, aiding fisheries, promoting biodiversity, and protecting land from heavy waves. Unfortunately, we seem to be repaying them by killing them. Our warming oceans are causing coral bleaching and death, rising sea levels will force them to move, and the acidification of our oceans will make it harder for them to form reefs. It would be nice if we could help them, but interventions are difficult to design when you don’t know enough about coral biology.

Now scientists have announced a new tool is available to study corals: genetic editing provided by the CRISPR/Cas9 system. The ability to selectively eliminate genes could help us understand how corals function normally and could eventually provide a tool

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What Happens When Geneticists Talk Sloppily About Race

In a recent op-ed in The New York Times, “How Genetics is Changing Our Understanding of Race,” the geneticist David Reich challenged what he called an “orthodoxy” in genetics. Due to concerns of political correctness, he argued, scientists are unwilling to do research on—or, in some cases, even discuss—genetic variation between human populations, despite the fact that genetic variations do exist. “It is simply no longer possible to ignore average genetic differences among ‘races,’” he wrote.

The piece was widely circulated, drawing condemnation from some social scientists who were appalled by its implications and praise from people who believe that discussion of racial differences has become taboo. Predictably, it rang the bell for another round of an ongoing media fight over why there’s … Read the rest

A short new movie of a comet’s surface is pretty incredible

Enlarge / False-color image showing the smooth Hapi region connecting the head and body of comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. (credit: ESA)

The European Space Agency’s Rosetta spacecraft arrived at Comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko in 2014 and subsequently became the first mission to ever orbit around a comet. Additionally, its small Philae lander became the first to touch down on a comet’s surface—although it was subsequently lost after it was unable to deploy its solar panels in a proper configuration to capture enough energy to continue operations.

During its two years in varying orbits around the comet, which is about 4km on its longest side, Rosetta captured some unprecedented imagery of these Solar System interlopers. Now, a Twitter user named landru79 has combed through the Rosetta image archives and found a

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On his first day, NASA’s new administrator sets an inclusive tone

Enlarge / Jim Bridenstine, standing with his family, takes the oath of office from Vice President Mike Pence. (credit: NASA)

During his lengthy confirmation process to become NASA’s new administrator, Oklahoma conservative Jim Bridenstine got pilloried for being a divider rather than a uniter. Noting Bridenstine’s attacks on Marco Rubio during the 2016 presidential election, Florida Senator Bill Nelson characterized Bridenstine’s politics as “divisive and extreme.” Given that the space agency was apolitical, Nelson asked, “How do you keep NASA from being dragged down in a divisive political background?”

Nelson, a Democrat, was never satisfied with Bridenstine’s answers and opposed his nomination to become administrator until the end. As a result, so did the entire Democratic party, and this forced a tense, party-line vote on

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Interest in science, not ability, builds trust in climate science

Enlarge (credit: Carrie Martin/LLNL)

Studies of how people perceive climate science paint a depressing picture—one in which ideology overwhelms evidence. Not only does opinion about the science break down along ideological lines, but knowledge of science seems to make matters worse, accentuating the partisan divide.

Those studies have always been somewhat dissatisfying, though, as they leave little room for anyone to dispassionately evaluate the evidence or voice trust in the researchers who have. And, in fact, they don’t explain how exceptions come to exist—the significant conservative voices that are calling for action on climate change.

A study done by Matthew Motta of the University of Minnesota delves into how people might escape ideological blinders. Motta found that people with a long-term interest in science tend

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People Voted for Trump Because They Were Anxious, Not Poor

For the past 18 months, many political scientists have been seized by one question: Less-educated whites were President Trump’s most enthusiastic supporters. But why, exactly?

Was their vote some sort of cri de coeur about a changing economy that had left them behind? Or was the motivating sentiment something more complex and, frankly, something harder for policy makers to address?

After analyzing in-depth survey data from 2012 and 2016, the University of Pennsylvania political scientist Diana C. Mutz argues that it’s the latter. In a new article in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, she added her conclusion to the growing body of evidence that the 2016 election was not about economic hardship.

“Instead,” she writes, “it was about dominant groups that felt … Read the rest