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Zothecula writes: If you're a smoker who's trying to quit, you may recall hearing about vaccines designed to cause the body's immune system to treat nicotine like a foreign invader, producing antibodies that trap and remove it before it's able to reach receptors in the brain. It's a fascinating idea, but according to scientists at California's Scripps Research Institute, a recent high-profile attempt had a major flaw. They claim to have overcome that problem (abstract), and are now developing a vaccine of their own that they believe should be more effective.
177 comments | 3 days ago
An anonymous reader writes with news of a breakthrough in brain imaging thanks to a compound found in diapers. "A team of researchers has discovered that a compound used in baby diapers to absorb the liquids can help enlarge the size of the brain cells for a better imaging. The scientists work at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and were experimenting with new ways that could help them enlarge the brain cells for a better resolution photos. They discovered by accident that sodium polyacrylate, a compound in baby diapers can enlarge brain cells and can be used in their research. The scientists termed the new technique of enlarging the brain cells 'expansion microscopy.' This new technique will help the scientists increase the brain cells tissue samples and see it in a better image resolution."
75 comments | about a week ago
HughPickens.com writes Everyone who is part of an organization — a company, a nonprofit, a condo board — has experienced the pathologies that can occur when human beings try to work together in groups. Now the NYT reports on recent research on why some groups, like some people, are reliably smarter than others. In one study, researchers grouped 697 volunteer participants into teams of two to five members. Each team worked together to complete a series of short tasks, which were selected to represent the varied kinds of problems that groups are called upon to solve in the real world. One task involved logical analysis, another brainstorming; others emphasized coordination, planning and moral reasoning. Teams with higher average I.Q.s didn't score much higher on collective intelligence tasks than did teams with lower average I.Q.s. Nor did teams with more extroverted people, or teams whose members reported feeling more motivated to contribute to their group's success. Instead, the smartest teams were distinguished by three characteristics (PDF). First, their members contributed more equally to the team's discussions, rather than letting one or two people dominate the group. Second, their members scored higher on a test called Reading the Mind in the Eyes, which measures how well people can read complex emotional states from images of faces with only the eyes visible. Finally, teams with more women outperformed teams with more men. It appeared that it was not "diversity" (having equal numbers of men and women) that mattered for a team's intelligence, but simply having more women. This last effect, however, was partly explained by the fact that women, on average, were better at "mindreading" than men.
Interestingly enough, a second study has now replicated the these findings for teams that worked together online communicating purely by typing messages into a browser . "Emotion-reading mattered just as much for the online teams whose members could not see one another as for the teams that worked face to face. What makes teams smart must be not just the ability to read facial expressions, but a more general ability, known as "Theory of Mind," to consider and keep track of what other people feel, know and believe."
219 comments | about a week ago
BarbaraHudson writes The BBC is reporting that tests show a protein called RBM3, involved in hibernation, may hold the key to regenerating synapses. In the early stages of Alzheimer's, and other neurodegenerative disorders, synapses are lost. This inevitably progresses to whole brain cells dying. But during hibernation, 20-30% of the connections in the brain — synapses — are culled as the body preserves resources over winter, and are reformed in the spring, with no loss of memory. Memories can be restored after hibernation as only the receiving end of the synapse shuts down. In a further set of tests, the team showed the brain cell deaths from prion disease and Alzheimer's could be prevented by artificially boosting RBM3 levels. Prof Mallucci was asked if memories could be restored in people if their synapses could be restored: "Absolutely, because a lot of memory decline is correlated with synapse loss, which is the early stage of dementia, so you might get back some of the synapse you've lost."
Further reading: here, here, and here"
79 comments | about a week ago
HughPickens.com writes Nicola Davis writes at The Guardian that a new exhibition at London's Science Museum tiitled Churchill's Scientists aims to explore how a climate that mingled necessity with ambition spurred British scientists to forge ahead in fields as diverse as drug-discovery and operational research, paving the way for a further flurry of postwar progress in disciplines from neurology to radio astronomy. Churchill "was very unusual in that he was a politician from a grand Victorian family who was also interested in new technology and science," says Andrew Nahum. "That was quite remarkable at the time." An avid reader of Charles Darwin and HG Wells, Churchill also wrote science-inspired articles himself and fostered an environment where the brightest scientists could build ground-breaking machines, such as the Bernard Lovell telescope, and make world-changing discoveries, in molecular genetics, radio astronomy, nuclear power, nerve and brain function and robotics. "During the war the question was never, 'How much will it cost?' It was, 'Can we do it and how soon can we have it?' This left a heritage of extreme ambition and a lot of talented people who were keen to see what it could provide." (More, below.)
75 comments | about a week ago
binarstu (720435) writes "Research recently published [link is to abstract only; full text requires subscription] in Psychological Science quantifies how easy it is to convince innocent, "normal" adults that they committed a crime. The Association for Psychological Science (APS) has posted a nice summary of the research. From the APS summary: "Evidence from some wrongful-conviction cases suggests that suspects can be questioned in ways that lead them to falsely believe in and confess to committing crimes they didn't actually commit. New research provides lab-based evidence for this phenomenon, showing that innocent adult participants can be convinced, over the course of a few hours, that they had perpetrated crimes as serious as assault with a weapon in their teenage years."
291 comments | about a week ago
New submitter Steven Levy writes with "a deep dive into Google's AI effort," part of a multi-part series at Medium. In 2006, Geoffrey Hinton made a breakthrough in neural nets that launched Deep Learning. Google is all-in, hiring Hinton, having its ace scientist Jeff Dean build the Google Brain, and buying the neuroscience-based general AI company DeepMind for $400 million. Here's how the push for scary-smart search worked, from mouths of the key subjects. The other parts of the series are worth reading, too.
45 comments | about two weeks ago
jfruh writes Since the middle of December, visitors to sites that run Google AdSense ads have intermittently found themselves redirected to other sites featuring spammy offerings for anti-aging and brain-enhancing products. While webmasters who have managed to figure out which advertisers are responsible could quash the attacks on their AdSense consoles, only now has Google itself managed to track down the villains and ban them from the service.
56 comments | about two weeks ago
schwit1 writes A carnivorous pitcher plant is changing its behavior in response to natural weather fluctuations, allowing it to give up its prey in order to capture more. The pitcher plant, which has liquid-filled leaves shaped like funnels, has the ability to allow some of its prey, such as ants, to escape by "switching off" its trap." The first ant reports back to the other ants that it found a large batch of sweet nectar, causing a large contingent of ants to descend upon it. If the trap captures the first ant, it won't be able to capture many more ants later.
111 comments | about two weeks ago
sciencehabit writes: If there's one thing that distinguishes humans from other animals, it's our ability to use language. But when and why did this trait evolve? A new study concludes that the art of conversation may have arisen early in human evolution, because it made it easier for our ancestors to teach each other how to make stone tools — a skill that was crucial for the spectacular success of our lineage. The study involved getting a number of college students to try to make their own primitive stone tools, some using language, others not. The team discovered that only those that used language were able to make effective tools.
154 comments | about two weeks ago
giulioprisco writes: A new study from Lund University in Sweden (abstract) indicates inherited viruses that are millions of years old play an important role in building up the complex networks that characterize the human brain. The Lund study shows that retroviruses seem to play a central role in the basic functions of the brain — over the course of evolution, the viruses took an increasingly firm hold on the steering wheel in our cellular machinery. In particular, the retroviruses seem to play an important role in the regulation of which genes are to be expressed, and when."
110 comments | about two weeks ago
sciencehabit writes: A new study of Facebook data shows that machines are now better at sussing out our true personalities than our friends. One of the standard methods for assessing personality is to analyze people's answers to a 100-item questionnaire with a statistical technique called factor analysis. There are five main factors that divide people by personality—openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism—which is why personality researchers call this test the Big Five. People can accurately predict how their friends will answer the Big Five questions. ... Compared with humans predicting their friends' personalities by filling out the Big Five questionnaire, the computer's prediction based on Facebook likes was almost 15% more accurate on average, the team reports online today in PNAS (abstract). Only people's spouses were better than the computer at judging personality.
80 comments | about two weeks ago
HughPickens.com writes Anna North writes in the NYT that self-control, curiosity, and "grit" may seem more personal than academic, but at some schools, they're now part of the regular curriculum. Some researchers say personality could be even more important than intelligence when it comes to students' success in school. "We probably need to start rethinking our emphasis on intelligence," says Arthur E. Poropat citing research that shows that both conscientiousness and openness are more highly correlated with student performance than intelligence. "This isn't to say that we should throw intelligence out, but we need to pull back on thinking that this is the only game in town." The KIPP network of charter schools emphasizes grit along with six other "character strengths," including self-control and curiosity. "We talk a lot about them as being skills or strengths, not necessarily traits, because it's not innate," says Leyla Bravo-Willey. "If a child happens to be very gritty but has trouble participating in class, we still want them to develop that part of themselves."
But the focus on character has encountered criticism. "To begin with, not everything is worth doing, let alone doing for extended periods, and not everyone who works hard is pursuing something worthwhile" says Alfie Kohn. "On closer inspection, the concept of grit turns out to be dubious, as does the evidence cited to support it. Persistence can actually backfire and distract from more important goals." There's other evidence that grit isn't always desirable. Gritty people sometimes exhibit what psychologists call "nonproductive persistence": They try, try again, says Dean MacFarlin though the result may be either unremitting failure or "a costly or inefficient success that could have been easily surpassed by alternative courses of action."
249 comments | about two weeks ago
BarbaraHudson writes: Johns Hopkins University President Ronald J. Daniels has written about the decline of research grants to younger researchers. "For more than a generation, grants for young scientists have declined. The number of principal investigators with a leading National Institutes of Health grant who are 36 years old or younger dropped from 18 percent in 1983 to 3 percent in 2010. Meanwhile, the average age when a scientist with a medical degree gets her first of these grants has risen from just under 38 years old in 1980 to more than 45 in 2013. The implications of these data for our young scientists are arresting. Without their own funding, young researchers are prevented from starting their own laboratories, pursuing their own research, and advancing their own careers in academic science. It is not surprising that many of our youngest minds are choosing to leave their positions."
153 comments | about two weeks ago
An anonymous reader writes A team from EPFL and NCCR Robotics led by Profs Stéphanie Lacour, Grégoire Courtine and Silvestro Micera published an article in Science today describing their e-dura implant that could revolutionize how we think about and treat paralysis. Until now, implants placed beneath the dura mater of the spinal cord have caused significant tissue damage when used over long periods. Research shows that the new e-dura implant is viable for months at a time in animal subjects. The team is now moving on to clinical trials in human subjects and is developing their prototype to take to market.
35 comments | about two weeks ago
blottsie sends this first-hand report on how it felt to use a wearable device called Thync, which sends small amounts of electricity into your brain for the purpose of either calming you down or making you feel energized. While the unit I used isn't the finalized physical version, the best way to describe it is as a two-part device, one of which is fasted to the front of the right side of your temple, and one behind your right ear. It's not a helmet, which is what I absolutely assumed it would be. It's relatively discreet sort of dual patch system ... It didn't... hurt. Hurt isn't the right way to describe it. It felt like a tightness; it felt like the patch was trying to crawl across my skin. But — if you can believe this — in a good way. And while Thync was attached to the right side of my head, occasionally I felt 'tingles' pulling and hitting my brain on the left side and in the middle. I was feeling progressively awake and aware. Granted, I had patches stuck to my head sending gentle vibrations to my brain, so that might have been part of my sudden alertness. But still, after 20 minutes of Thync I just felt... better.
154 comments | about three weeks ago
BarbaraHudson writes: Many news organizations ran stories last fall extolling certain health benefits of chocolate. But it turns out the studies that the articles were based on didn't go quite so far. The CBC is running a pair of stories debunking chocolate's benefits to the average consumer: "Scientists have zeroed in on a family of fragile molecules known as cocoa flavanols. Research suggests they can relax blood vessels, improve blood flow and, as Small found in his study, even increase activity in a part of the brain involved with age related memory loss. But those flavanols largely disappear once the cocoa bean is heated, fermented and processed into chocolate. In other words, making chocolate destroys the very ingredient that is supposed to make it healthy.
That’s why Small’s memory study used a highly concentrated powder prepared exclusively for research by Mars Inc., the chocolate company, which also partially funded the study. ... There are lots of foods that contain potentially healthy flavanols, along with other bioactive compounds in complex combinations. So the question is: Would academic scientists in publicly funded institutions be so interested in the cocoa bean if the chocolate industry wasn't supporting so much of the research?"
224 comments | about three weeks ago
BarbaraHudson writes The Wall Street Journal and the CBC are reporting that about two-thirds of cancers are caused by random chance. From the WSJ: "The researchers, from the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore, analyzed published scientific papers to identify the number of stem cells, and the rate of stem-cell division, among 31 tissue types, though not for breast and prostate tissue, which they excluded from the analysis. Then they compared the total number of lifetime stem-cell divisions in each tissue against a person's lifetime risk of developing cancer in that tissue in the U.S." The correlation between these parameters suggests that two-thirds of the difference in cancer risk among various tissue types can be blamed on random, or 'stochastic,' mutations in DNA occurring during stem-cell division, and only one-third on hereditary or environmental factors like smoking, the researchers conclude. 'Thus, the stochastic effects of DNA replication appear to be the major contributor to cancer in humans.'" The CBC reports: "The researchers said on Thursday random DNA mutations accumulating in various parts of the body during ordinary cell division are the prime culprits behind many cancer types. They looked at 31 cancer types and found that 22 of them, including leukemia and pancreatic, bone, testicular, ovarian and brain cancer, could be explained largely by these random mutations — essentially biological bad luck. The other nine types, including colorectal cancer, skin cancer known as basal cell carcinoma and smoking-related lung cancer, were more heavily influenced by heredity and environmental factors like risky behavior or exposure to carcinogens. Overall, they attributed 65 percent of cancer incidence to random mutations in genes that can drive cancer growth."
180 comments | about three weeks ago
It's been a long time since Slashdot has awarded the Beanies -- nearly 15 years, in fact. But there's no time like the present, especially since tomorrow edges on the new year, and in early 2015 we'd like to offer a Beanie once again, to recognize and honor your favorite person, people (or project; keep reading) of the past year. Rather than a fine-grained list of categories like in 2000, though, this time around we're keeping it simple: we can always complicate things later, if warranted. So, please nominate below whoever you think most deserves kudos for the last twelve months. Is it ...
Read on below to see how you can take part, and then nominate your favorite in the comments below.
299 comments | about a month ago
Facebook this year showed users a compilation of photos drawn from their own gallery of uploaded images, but the automatic nature of the collation and display of those photos inspired the need for an apology on Facebook's part to at least one reader who was upset by the compiled pictures. That may sound silly, but even innocent data-mashing can touch real nerves. "Eric Meyer, a web design consultant and writer, is one of those people. Earlier this year, he lost his daughter to brain cancer on her sixth birthday. For that reason, Meyer wrote in a blog post, he had actively avoided looking at previews of his own automatically generated summary post. But Facebook put a personalized prompt advertising the feature in his newsfeed, he wrote, prominently featuring the face of his dead daughter -- surrounded by what appears to be clip art figures having a party."
218 comments | about a month ago