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Earth

92% of the World's Population Exposed To Unsafe Levels of Air Pollution: WHO (sciencedaily.com) 114

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Science Daily: A new World Health Organization (WHO) air quality model confirms that 92% of the world's population lives in places where air quality levels exceed WHO limits. "The new WHO model shows countries where the air pollution danger spots are, and provides a baseline for monitoring progress in combatting it," says Dr Flavia Bustreo, Assistant Director General at WHO. It also represents the most detailed outdoor (or ambient) air pollution-related health data, by country, ever reported by WHO. The model is based on data derived from satellite measurements, air transport models and ground station monitors for more than 3000 locations, both rural and urban. It was developed by WHO in collaboration with the University of Bath, United Kingdom. Some 3 million deaths a year are linked to exposure to outdoor air pollution. Indoor air pollution can be just as deadly. In 2012, an estimated 6.5 million deaths (11.6% of all global deaths) were associated with indoor and outdoor air pollution together. Nearly 90% of air-pollution-related deaths occur in low- and middle-income countries, with nearly 2 out of 3 occurring in WHO's South-East Asia and Western Pacific regions. Ninety-four per cent are due to noncommunicable diseases -- notably cardiovascular diseases, stroke, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and lung cancer. Air pollution also increases the risks for acute respiratory infections. Major sources of air pollution include inefficient modes of transport, household fuel and waste burning, coal-fired power plants, and industrial activities. However, not all air pollution originates from human activity. For example, air quality can also be influenced by dust storms, particularly in regions close to deserts. The model has carefully calibrated data from satellite and ground stations to maximize reliability. National air pollution exposures were analyzed against population and air pollution levels at a grid resolution of about 10 km x 10 km. The interactive maps provide information on population-weighted exposure to particulate matter of an aerodynamic diameter of less than 2.5 micrometers (PM2.5) for all countries. The map also indicates data on monitoring stations for PM10 and PM2.5 values for about 3000 cities and towns. Quartz's report features a table that highlights the countries with the world's worst air pollution. The table "shows all the median levels of particulate matter in each country where the WHO collected data."
Science

World's First Baby Born With New '3 Parent' Technique (newscientist.com) 198

A five-month-old baby boy has been revealed as the first kid in the world with three biological parents, reports New Scientist. The baby boy was apparently conceived by a technique that has been legally approved in the UK, and lets parents with genetic disorders have healthy babies. Though, the method used in this particular cases was slightly different from one legalized in the UK. From the report: Zhang (a doctor) took a different approach, called spindle nuclear transfer. He removed the nucleus from one of the mother's eggs and inserted it into a donor egg that had had its own nucleus removed. The resulting egg -- with nuclear DNA from the mother and mitochondrial DNA from a donor -- was then fertilised with the father's sperm. Zhang's team used this approach to create five embryos, only one of which developed normally. This embryo was implanted in the mother and the child was born nine months later. "It's exciting news," says Bert Smeets at Maastricht University in the Netherlands. The team will describe the findings at the American Society for Reproductive Medicine's Scientific Congress in Salt Lake City in October.
Education

The Ig Nobel Awards Celebrate Their 26th First Annual Awards Ceremony (improbable.com) 35

Thursday Harvard's Sanders Theatre hosted the 26th edition of the humorous research awards "that make people laugh, then think...intended to celebrate the unusual, honor the imaginative -- and spur people's interest in science, medicine, and technology." One of this year's winners actually lived as a goat, wearing prosthetic extensions on his arms and legs so he could travel the countryside with other goats. Long-time Slashdot reader tomhath writes: The Journal of Improbable announced these winners:

REPRODUCTION PRIZE [EGYPT] -- The late Ahmed Shafik, for studying the effects of wearing polyester, cotton, or wool trousers on the sex life of rats, and for conducting similar tests with human males.

ECONOMICS PRIZE [NEW ZEALAND, UK] -- Mark Avis, Sarah Forbes, and Shelagh Ferguson, for assessing the perceived personalities of rocks, from a sales and marketing perspective...

PEACE PRIZE [CANADA, USA] -- Gordon Pennycook, James Allan Cheyne, Nathaniel Barr, Derek Koehler, and Jonathan Fugelsang for their scholarly study called 'On the Reception and Detection of Pseudo-Profound Bullshit'...

PERCEPTION PRIZE [JAPAN] -- Atsuki Higashiyama and Kohei Adachi, for investigating whether things look different when you bend over and view them between your legs.

The Improable Research site lists the rest of this year's 10 winners, as well as every winner for the previous 25 years.
Education

Poor Scientific Research Is Disproportionately Rewarded (economist.com) 81

A new study calculates a low probability that real effects are actually being detected in psychology, neuroscience and medicine research paper -- and then explains why. Slashdot reader ananyo writes: The average statistical power of papers culled from 44 reviews published between 1960 and 2011 was about 24%. The authors built an evolutionary computer model to suggest why and show that poor methods that get "results" will inevitably prosper. They also show that replication efforts cannot stop the degradation of the scientific record as long as science continues to reward the volume of a researcher's publications -- rather than their quality.
The article notes that in a 2015 sample of 100 psychological studies, only 36% of the results could actually be reproduced. Yet the researchers conclude that in the Darwin-esque hunt for funding, "top-performing laboratories will always be those who are able to cut corners." And the article's larger argument is until universities stop rewarding bad science, even subsequent attempts to invalidate those bogus results will be "incapable of correcting the situation no matter how rigorously it is pursued."
Medicine

UPS Is Starting To Test Drone Deliveries In the US (qz.com) 44

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Quartz: UPS announced Sept. 23 that it has begun testing drone deliveries in the U.S. with drone manufacturer CyPhy Works. The two companies yesterday completed a test of delivering medicine from the coastal town of Beverly, Massachusetts, to Children's Island, a small island about three miles into the Atlantic Ocean. CyPhy's drone has night-vision capabilities, according to a release shared with Quartz. The test yesterday involved a trial situation where an asthmatic child urgently needed an inhaler, which was dispatched from the mainland to the island, arriving far more quickly than it would've taken a boat to get there. CyPhy's drone autonomously flew supplies over the ocean to a group waiting to receive them on the other end, although there was no actual child with asthma in danger. In May, UPS had announced that it was partnering with the drone company Zipline to deliver medical supplies to rural Rwanda, having invested nearly $1 million into the company. UPS has also invested an undisclosed amount in CyPhy. UPS told Quartz that the FAA was aware of its test, and Houston Mills, a commercial pilot with UPS for over a decade and the company's director of airline safety, was recently announced as a member of the FAA's Drone Advisory Committee. The committee is working with industry experts and companies to figure out how to safely integrate a network of commercial drones into U.S. airspace. You can watch the heroic footage of the trial run here.
Medicine

Vanity Fair Blames The Failure of Theranos On Silicon Valley (vanityfair.com) 128

"I was only a day or two behind FBI agents who were trying to put together a time line of what Elizabeh Holmes knew and when she knew it," writes Vanity Fair, in what Slashdot reader PvtVoid describes as "a compelling story of hubris, glamour and secrecy about the unicorn Silicon Valley company that turned out to be founded on bullshit." Another anonymous Slashdot reader writes: Holmes raised $700 million "on the condition that she would not divulge to investors how her technology actually worked," according to an article detailing how Silicon Valley can "replicate one big confidence game in which entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, and the tech media pretend to vet one another while, in reality, functioning as cogs in a machine that is designed to not question anything -- and buoy one another all along the way... In the end, it isn't in anyone's interest to call bullshit."

Theranos employed "hundreds of marketers, salespeople, communications specialists, and even the Oscar-winning filmmaker Errol Morris," as well as a chief scientist who eventually became suicidal. But then the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services "discovered that some of the tests Theranos was performing were so inaccurate that they could leave patients at risk of internal bleeding, or of stroke among those prone to blood clots." A reporter at the Wall Street Journal says "It's O.K. if you've got a smartphone app or a social network, and you go live with it before it's ready; people aren't going to die. But with medicine, it's different."

He became suspicious after reading the answer that the company's CEO, a Stanford dropout, supplied for a question about their technology. "A chemistry is performed so that a chemical reaction occurs and generates a signal from the chemical interaction with the sample, which is translated into a result, which is then reviewed by certified laboratory personnel."
Medicine

Sugar Industry Bought Off Scientists, Skewed Dietary Guidelines For Decades (arstechnica.com) 527

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: Back in the 1960s, a sugar industry executive wrote fat checks to a group of Harvard researchers so that they'd downplay the links between sugar and heart disease in a prominent medical journal -- and the researchers did it, according to historical documents reported Monday in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine. One of those Harvard researchers went on to become the head of nutrition at the United States Department of Agriculture, where he set the stage for the federal government's current dietary guidelines. All in all, the corrupted researchers and skewed scientific literature successfully helped draw attention away from the health risks of sweets and shift the blame to solely to fats -- for nearly five decades. The low-fat, high-sugar diets that health experts subsequently encouraged are now seen as a main driver of the current obesity epidemic. The bitter revelations come from archived documents from the Sugar Research Foundation (now the Sugar Association), dug up by researchers at the University of California, San Francisco. Their dive into the old, sour affair highlights both the perils of trusting industry-sponsored research to inform policy and the importance of requiring scientists to disclose conflicts of interest -- something that didn't become the norm until years later. Perhaps most strikingly, it spotlights the concerning power of the sugar industry. In a statement also issued today, the Sugar Association acknowledged that it "should have exercised greater transparency in all of its research activities." However, the trade-group went on to question the UCSF researchers' motives in digging up the issue and reframing the past events to "conveniently align with the currently trending anti-sugar narrative." The association also chastised the journal for publishing the historical analysis, which it implied was insignificant and sensationalist. "Most concerning is the growing use of headline-baiting articles to trump quality scientific research -- we're disappointed to see a journal of JAMA's stature being drawn into this trend," the association wrote. But scientists disagree with that take. In an accompanying editorial, nutrition professor Marion Nestle of New York University argued that "this 50-year-old incident may seem like ancient history, but it is quite relevant, not least because it answers some questions germane to our current era."
Bitcoin

CureCoin Cryptocurrency Enters Third Year of Helping Disease Researchers (curecoin.net) 21

Millions of people have donated their unused computer power as part of "a global movement of teams and individuals committed to Protein Folding research," according to a special anniversary update at CureCoin.net. And after two years, CureCoin is now the fourth-largest contributor to Stanford's massively distributed computing project for disease research. An anonymous Slashdot reader writes: CureCoin rewards citizen scientists participating in life science research through Stanford's Folding@home... It's actually very easy to participate -- basic account setup can take as little as 20 minutes, and you're contributing computing power with a PC or Mac while earning the tokens...

CureCoin uses a blockchain token called CURE as the means of reward. There is a growing market and exchange network for the coin. Occasional market volatility puts penny stocks to shame -- which if you are risk averse, makes it fun to watch nonetheless.

Sounds more useful than that cryptocurrency which rewards its users for participating in denial-of-service attacks.
Wireless Networking

Why Sys-Admins Are Disabling The Lights on WiFi Access Points (networkworld.com) 294

More than a dozen IT professionals said they've disabled the LEDs on wireless access points, according to a Network World article shared by Slashdot reader alphadogg: Some users don't want a beacon shining in their eyes as they try to get to sleep and others worry about the health effects of a blue light glowing all night. Some even resort to unplugging the gear when they're not using it.... "It seems when you are sick and laying in a hospital bed and have trouble sleeping, the single LED shining in your eyes is an issue," [says the wireless network staff specialist for Penn State College of Medicine]. "I get it and understand it..."

Network pros say they have begun asking vendors such as Cisco if they can provide an easier way to dim, rather than turn off the lights on the access points entirely, via wireless controllers. And some would like to see more granular control, such that the power light could be left on to comfort end users that the device is working, but blinking lights could be turned off or dimmed to avoid bothering them.

End users have tried "all sorts of makeshift fixes -- from Post-it notes to bandages to condom wrappers," but one network architect complains that when they disable the LEDs altogether, "I invariably get a ticket (or more) that the access point is offline and wireless is broken because there are no lights on..." On the plus side, when they then re-enable the LED lghts, "magically the wireless performance and coverage is perfect!"
Biotech

Should We Kill All The Mosquitoes? (bbc.com) 470

If scientists could send Zika-carrying mosquitoes into extinction, should they do it? Several science and business journals are now exploring the question, and Slashdot reader retroworks asks if scientists will ultimately target "not just the most deadly species of the animal, but all 12 species of human-biting mosquitoes in the world, responsible for 500,000 deaths per year." The headline on today's [paywalled] Wall Street Journal article begs the question, "Why Not Kill Them All...?" [M]ore business journals are exploring private sector investments to eradicate the species of mosquito entirely, [and] most articles seem to find extinction of the indoors-attacking, dengue fever- and malaria-spreading Aedes aegypti a tantalizing prospect...

The BBC weighed the approach more carefully, noting that mosquitoes make rain forests uninhabitable (and consequences of human populations in rain forests are usually disastrous)... Will capitalism make the itch of mosquito bites be forgotten... Forever?

Biotech

Brain-Zapping Gadgets Need Regulation, Say Scientists (ieee.org) 51

the_newsbeagle writes: You can now buy gadgets online that send electric current through your scalp to stimulate your brain. Why would you want to do that? Because the easy technique, called transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS), is being investigated as a treatment for depression, a rehab aid for stroke patients, a learning enhancer for healthy people, and for many other neuropsychiatric applications.

However, the technique is so new that companies selling brain-zapping gadgets aren't bound by any regulations, and experts are worried that consumers will end up buying devices that aren't safe or simply aren't effective. So scientists and some manufacturers recently got together to discuss the scope of the problem, and what can be done about it.

Earlier IEEE reported that "Professional basketball, baseball, and American football teams are also experimenting with it," adding that some Olympic athletes, including sprinters and swimmers, even used a premarket version of one brain-zapping device to prepare for the Olympics in Rio.
Biotech

'Longest Living Human' Says He Is Ready For Death At 145 (telegraph.co.uk) 314

Slashdot reader schwit1 quotes an article from The Telegraph: An Indonesian man who claims to be the longest living human in recorded history has described how he "just wants to die". Mbah Gotho, from Sragen in central Java, was born on December 31, 1870, according to the date of birth on his identity card. Now officials at the local record office say they have finally been able to confirm that remarkable date as genuine. If independently confirmed, the findings would make Mr Gotho a staggering 145 years old -- and the longest lived human in recorded history.
"One of Mr Gotho's grandsons said his grandfather has been preparing for his death ever since he was 122," according to the article. Though he lived long enough to meet his great-great grandchildren, he's already outlived four wives, all 10 of his brothers and sisters, and all of his children.
China

China To Crackdown On Unauthorised Radio Broadcasts (www.bgr.in) 44

An anonymous reader writes: Reportedly, in a national campaign aided by more than 30,000 airwave monitors, in over past six months, more than 500 sets of equipment for making unauthorised radio broadcasts were seized in China. The campaign, launched on February 15 by the State Council, resulted in 1,796 cases related to illegal radio stations, after 301,840 hours of monitoring from February to July, according to an online statement by the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology. The number of incidents was down by 50 per cent from April to August, the China Daily quoted the statement as saying. So-called pirate radios have appeared in most parts of China since 2015 and this "has been a channel for criminals to defraud and promote aphrodisiacs, along with counterfeit and poor-quality medicine," according to the Ministry of Public Security's Criminal Investigation Department. The operating cost of a pirate radio is low, but profit can be high. A pirate radio station that broadcasts advertisements for aphrodisiacs can pocket more than 70,000 yuan ($10,500) a month, with an overhead cost of no more than 10,000 yuan, investigators said in a post on Sina Weibo. It said most spare parts for broadcasting equipment can be bought on the internet.
Bitcoin

Eleven Reasons To Be Excited About The Future of Technology (medium.com) 282

Chris Dixon, an American internet entrepreneur and investor in a range of tech and media companies including Kickstarter and Foursquare has written an essay on Medium highlighting some of the reasons why we should be excited about the future of technology. The reasons he has listed are as follows: 1. Self-Driving Cars: Self-driving cars exist today that are safer than human-driven cars in most driving conditions. Over the next 3-5 years they'll get even safer, and will begin to go mainstream.
2. Clean Energy: Attempts to fight climate change by reducing the demand for energy haven't worked. Fortunately, scientists, engineers, and entrepreneurs have been working hard on the supply side to make clean energy convenient and cost-effective.
3. Virtual and Augmented Reality: Computer processors only recently became fast enough to power comfortable and convincing virtual and augmented reality experiences. Companies like Facebook, Google, Apple, and Microsoft are investing billions of dollars to make VR and AR more immersive, comfortable, and affordable.
4. Drones and Flying Cars: GPS started out as a military technology but is now used to hail taxis, get mapping directions, and hunt Pokemon. Likewise, drones started out as a military technology, but are increasingly being used for a wide range of consumer and commercial applications.
5. Artificial Intelligence: Artificial intelligence has made rapid advances in the last decade, due to new algorithms and massive increases in data collection and computing power.
6. Pocket Supercomputers for Everyone: By 2020, 80% of adults on earth will have an internet-connected smartphone. An iPhone 6 has about 2 billion transistors, roughly 625 times more transistors than a 1995 Intel Pentium computer. Today's smartphones are what used to be considered supercomputers.
7. Cryptocurrencies and Blockchains: Protocols are the plumbing of the internet. Most of the protocols we use today were developed decades ago by academia and government. Since then, protocol development mostly stopped as energy shifted to developing proprietary systems like social networks and messaging apps. Cryptocurrency and blockchain technologies are changing this by providing a new business model for internet protocols. This year alone, hundreds of millions of dollars were raised for a broad range of innovative blockchain-based protocols.
8. High-Quality Online Education: While college tuition skyrockets, anyone with a smartphone can study almost any topic online, accessing educational content that is mostly free and increasingly high-quality.
9. Better Food through Science: Earth is running out of farmable land and fresh water. This is partly because our food production systems are incredibly inefficient. It takes an astounding 1799 gallons of water to produce 1 pound of beef. Fortunately, a variety of new technologies are being developed to improve our food system.
10. Computerized Medicine: Until recently, computers have only been at the periphery of medicine, used primarily for research and record keeping. Today, the combination of computer science and medicine is leading to a variety of breakthroughs.
11. A New Space Age: Since the beginning of the space age in the 1950s, the vast majority of space funding has come from governments. But that funding has been in decline: for example, NASA's budget dropped from about 4.5% of the federal budget in the 1960s to about 0.5% of the federal budget today.

Medicine

Stem Cell Researchers Can Now Combine Animal and Human Embryos In The US (sciencemag.org) 92

Slashdot reader sciencehabit quotes an article from Science magazine: The National Institutes of Health announced that the agency soon expects to lift a moratorium on funding for controversial experiments that add human stem cells to animal embryos, creating an organism that is part animal, part human. Instead, these so-called chimera studies will undergo an extra layer of ethical review but may ultimately be allowed to proceed.

Although scientists who support such research welcomed the move, some were left trying to parse exactly what the draft policy will mean. It is "a step in the right direction," says Sean Wu, a stem cell researcher at Stanford University in Palo Alto, California, who co-authored a letter to Science last year opposing the moratorium. But "we still don't know what the outcome will be case by case," he adds. However, some see the proposal as opening up research in some areas that had been potentially off-limits.

Experiments could include using animals to grow human organs for transplants, although according to the article, some scientists "worry that the experiments could produce, say, a supersmart mouse."
Biotech

Google's Alphabet and GSK Forge $715 Million Bioelectronic Firm To Fight Diseases Without Meds (reuters.com) 27

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Reuters: GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) and Google parent Alphabet's life sciences unit are creating a new company focused on fighting diseases by targeting electrical signals in the body, jump-starting a novel field of medicine called bioelectronics. Verily Life Sciences -- known as Google's life sciences unit until last year -- and Britain's biggest drugmaker will together contribute 540 million pounds ($715 million) over seven years to Galvani Bioelectronics, they said on Monday. The new company, owned 55 percent by GSK and 45 percent by Verily, will be based at GSK's Stevenage research center north of London, with a second research hub in South San Francisco. Galvani will develop miniaturized, implantable devices that can modify electrical nerve signals. The aim is to modulate irregular or altered impulses that occur in many illnesses. GSK believes chronic conditions such as diabetes, arthritis and asthma could be treated using these tiny devices, which consist of a electronic collar that wraps around nerves. Kris Famm, GSK's head of bioelectronics research and president of Galvani, said the first bioelectronic medicines using these implants to stimulate nerves could be submitted for regulatory approval by around 2023. GSK first unveiled its ambitions in bioelectronics in a paper in the journal Nature three years ago and believes it is ahead of Big Pharma rivals in developing medicines that use electrical impulses rather than traditional chemicals or proteins.
Medicine

Can Blocking Blue Light Help Bipolar Disorder As Well as Sleep Issues? (sciencealert.com) 230

A new experiment suggests sleeping with amber-tinted glasses can reduce the manic symptoms of bipolar disorder within three days. Slashdot reader schwit1 quotes a report from Science Alert: The benefits of amber-tinted glasses are that they block blue light -- a major component of sunlight and the light beamed at us from our computer and phone screens. In the mornings, it's this blue light that helps reset our body clock each day. But a growing body of evidence is linking too much blue-light exposure in the evenings to problems including insomnia, obesity, depression, and other mental illnesses.
I wonder how many Slashdot readers are already trying to improve their sleep patterns by avoiding exposure to blue light?
Medicine

Can Computerized Brain Training Prevent Dementia? (newyorker.com) 49

"Researchers believe they have found a link between speed-of-processing training and a reduction in cognitive decline among the elderly," reports the New Yorker. An anonymous Slashdot reader quotes an article about how this new long-term study actually contradicts much of the previous science. In October of 2014 a group of more than seventy academics published what they called a consensus statement, asserting that playing brain games had been shown to improve little more than the ability to play brain games... no brain game, nor any drug, dietary supplement, or lifestyle intervention, had ever been shown in a large, randomized trial to prevent dementia...until today, when surprising new results were announced at the Alzheimer's Association annual meeting, in Toronto.
Nearly 3,000 participants with an average age of 73.6 participated in the study, with some receiving "speed of processing" training -- and some later receiving four hours of additional training. "The researchers calculated those who completed at least some of these booster sessions were 48% less likely to be diagnosed with dementia after ten years than their peers in the control group." Signatories of the 2014 consensus statement panning brain games are now calling these new results "remarkable" and "spectacular".
Government

New Study Shows Why Big Pharma Hates Medical Marijuana (washingtonpost.com) 416

HughPickens.com writes: Christopher Ingraham writes in the Washington Post that a new study shows that painkiller abuse and overdose are significantly lower in states with medical marijuana laws and that when medical marijuana is available, pain patients are increasingly choosing pot over powerful and deadly prescription narcotics. The researchers "found that, in the 17 states with a medical-marijuana law in place by 2013, prescriptions for painkillers and other classes of drugs fell sharply compared with states that did not have a medical-marijuana law... In medical-marijuana states, the average doctor prescribed 265 fewer doses of antidepressants each year, 486 fewer doses of seizure medication, 541 fewer anti-nausea doses and 562 fewer doses of anti-anxiety medication. But most strikingly, the typical physician in a medical-marijuana state prescribed 1,826 fewer doses of painkillers in a given year."

[P]ainkiller drug companies "have long been at the forefront of opposition to marijuana reform, funding research by anti-pot academics and funneling dollars to groups, such as the Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of America, that oppose marijuana legalization..."

Medicine

A Medical Mystery of the Best Kind: Major Diseases Are In Decline (nytimes.com) 321

Slashdot reader schwit1 quotes an article from the New York Times: Something strange is going on in medicine. Major diseases, like colon cancer, dementia and heart disease, are waning in wealthy countries, and improved diagnosis and treatment cannot fully explain it...it looks as if people in the United States and some other wealthy countries are, unexpectedly, starting to beat back the diseases of aging. The leading killers are still the leading killers -- cancer, heart disease, stroke -- but they are occurring later in life, and people in general are living longer in good health.
The Times cites one researcher's pet theory that the cellular process of aging itself may be gradually changing in humans' favor.

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