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Triple-Decker Weekly, 130


Films with a female presence earn less at the box office

Research shows more sex does not mean more happiness

The relation between sexual orientation and penile dimensions in a large sample of men was studied. […] Penile dimensions were assessed using five measures of penile length and circumference from Kinsey’s original protocol. On all five measures, homosexual men reported larger penises than did heterosexual men. Explanations for these differences are discussed, including the possibility that these findings provide additional evidence that variations in prenatal hormonal levels (or other biological mechanisms affecting reproductive structures)affect sexual orientation development. [Archives of Sexual Behavior]

Worker fired for disabling GPS app that tracked her 24 hours a day

New Zealand-based company is building a very, very angry robot to help companies deal with angry customers

Big brands said to want models with at least 10,000 Instagram followers

A statistical analysis of birth month and celebrity finds that individuals born under certain astrological signs are more likely to become famous

Dog poo DNA tests to catch owners who fail to clean up their pet’s mess are to be launched in an east London borough

DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) is the main component of our genetic material. It is formed by combining four parts: A, C, G and T (adenine, cytosine, guanine and thymine), called bases of DNA combine in thousands of possible sequences to provide the genetic variability that enables the wealth of aspects and functions of living beings. In the early 80s, to these four “classic” bases of DNA was added a fifth: the methyl-cytosine (mC) derived from cytosine. And it was in the late 90’s when mC was recognized as the main cause of epigenetic mechanisms: it is able to switch genes on or off depending on the physiological needs of each tissue. In recent years, interest in this fifth DNA base has increased by showing that alterations in the methyl-cytosine contribute to the development of many human diseases, including cancer. Today, an article published in Cell describes the possible existence of a sixth DNA base, the methyl-adenine (mA), which also help determine the epigenome and would therefore be key in the life of the cells. [ScienceDaily]

3D X-ray technique detects 40% more breast cancers than traditional mammography does

Ageing causes changes to the brain size, vasculature, and cognition. The brain shrinks with increasing age and there are changes at all levels from molecules to morphology. Incidence of stroke, white matter lesions, and dementia also rise with age, as does level of memory impairment and there are changes in levels of neurotransmitters and hormones. Protective factors that reduce cardiovascular risk, namely regular exercise, a healthy diet, and low to moderate alcohol intake, seem to aid the ageing brain as does increased cognitive effort in the form of education or occupational attainment. A healthy life both physically and mentally may be the best defence against the changes of an ageing brain. Additional measures to prevent cardiovascular disease may also be important. […] It has been widely found that the volume of the brain and/or its weight declines with age at a rate of around 5% per decade after age 40 with the actual rate of decline possibly increasing with age particularly over age 70. […] The most widely seen cognitive change associated with ageing is that of memory. Memory function can be broadly divided into four sections, episodic memory, semantic memory, procedural memory, and working memory.18 The first two of these are most important with regard to ageing. Episodic memory is defined as “a form of memory in which information is stored with ‘mental tags’, about where, when and how the information was picked up”. An example of an episodic memory would be a memory of your first day at school, the important meeting you attended last week, or the lesson where you learnt that Paris is the capital of France. Episodic memory performance is thought to decline from middle age onwards. This is particularly true for recall in normal ageing and less so for recognition. It is also a characteristic of the memory loss seen in Alzheimer’s disease (AD). […] Semantic memory is defined as “memory for meanings”, for example, knowing that Paris is the capital of France, that 10 millimetres make up a centimetre, or that Mozart composed the Magic Flute. Semantic memory increases gradually from middle age to the young elderly but then declines in the very elderly. [Postgraduate Medical Journal | Thanks Tim]

This is what happens after you die

Physical activity has a multitude of health benefits — it reduces the risk of heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and possibly even cancer — but weight loss is not one of them. A growing body of scientific evidence shows that exercise alone has almost no effect on weight loss, as two sports scientists and I described in a recent editorial in the British Journal of Sports Medicine. For one, researchers who reviewed surveys of millions of American adults found that physical activity increased between 2001 and 2009, particularly in counties in Kentucky, Georgia and Florida. But the rise in exercise was matched by an increase in obesity in almost every county studied. There were even more striking results in a 2011 study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, which found that people who simply dieted experienced greater weight loss than those who combined diet and exercise. […] It’s calorie intake that is really fueling the obesity epidemic. But it’s not just the number of calories we’re eating as how we’re getting them. The sugar calories are particularly bad. […] The World Health Organization now recommends no more than six teaspoons of sugar a day for the average adult. […] The food and beverage industry is most guilty of perpetuating the false belief that the obesity epidemic is simply due to lack of exercise, spending billions to market nutritionally poor products as “sports drinks” while simultaneously promoting the benefits of physical activity. […] None of this means you should turn in your gym membership card. Working out will make you healthier and less susceptible to disease. No matter what your size, even 20 to 30 minutes of physical activity that breaks you into a sweat five times per week will substantially improve your health and well-being. Do what you enjoy, whether it’s dancing, cycling, sex or all three. If it’s longevity you’re after, note that elite athletes in high-intensity sports don’t live any longer than top golfers. But if weight loss is your goal, your diet is what really needs to change. An analysis by professor Simon Capewell at the University of Liverpool revealed that poor diet (for example, eating too much junk food without enough nuts, whole grains, fruit and vegetables) now contributes to more disease and death than smoking, alcohol and physical inactivity combined. [Washington Post]

Organic milk ‘is less healthy than regular milk and could harm child IQ,’ say researchers

Meat eaters who justify their eating habits feel less guilty and are more tolerant of social inequality say researchers.

In study, skipping meals is linked to abdominal weight gain

More than 40 percent of US honeybees died this past year

Traffic noise blocks fish sex

New study suggests that flying may be greener than driving

The future is always stranger than we expect: mobile phones and the Internet, not flying cars. […] “We’re not funding Mother Teresa. We’re funding imperial, will-to-power people who want to crush their competition. Companies can only have a big impact on the world if they get big.” […] The dirty secret of the trade is that the bottom three-quarters of venture firms didn’t beat the Nasdaq for the past five years. […] The truth is that most V.C.s subsist entirely on fees, which they compound by raising a new fund every three years. Returns are kept hidden by nondisclosure agreements, and so V.C.s routinely overstate them, both to encourage investment and to attract entrepreneurs. […] “We live in a financial age, not a technological age.” [New Yorker]

If you sold every share of every company in the U.S. and used the money to buy up all the factories, machines and inventory, you’d have some cash left over. That, in a nutshell, is the math behind a bear case on equities that says prices have outrun reality. The concept is embodied in a measure known as the Q ratio developed by James Tobin, a Nobel Prize-winning economist at Yale University who died in 2002. According to Tobin’s Q, equities in the U.S. are valued about 10 percent above the cost of replacing their underlying assets — higher than any time other than the Internet bubble and the 1929 peak. [Bloomberg]

Most real decisions, unlike those of economics texts, have a status quo alternative—that is, doing nothing or maintaining one’s current or previous decision. A series of decision-making experiments shows that individuals disproportionately stick with the status quo. [Journal of Risk and Uncertainty | PDF]

Would you Pay for Transparently Useless Advice?

The secret to overturning negative first impressions

Researchers have discovered a virus that infects our brains and “makes us more stupid.”

Frequent earbud headphone use increases your risk for “hidden hearing loss”: study

Pop music shows a pattern from biological evolution known as punctuated equilibrium, in which periods of gradual change are separated by explosions of complexity

The shortest scientific paper ever published

Physics paper with 5,154 authors has broken the record for the largest number of contributors to a single research article.

How to choose a price that will maximize your profit

Why is the number 2,147,483,647 important?Anything larger confuses many computers.

The Predecessors of Bitcoin and Their Implications for the Prospect of Virtual Currencies

Slot machines perfected addictive gaming. Now, tech wants their tricks.

Labyrinths have made their way into prisons, spas, wellness centers, and hospitals in recent years

Before leaving his girlfriend’s apartment in Crown Heights, on the morning of his nineteenth arrest for impersonating and performing the functions of New York City Transit Authority employees, Darius McCollum put on an NYCTA subway conductor’s uniform and reflector vest. […] Six weeks earlier, Darius had been paroled from the Elmira Correctional Facility, near Binghamton, New York, where he had served two years for attempted grand larceny—”attempted” because he had signed out NYCTA vehicles for surface use (extinguishing track fires, supervising maintenance projects) and then signed them back in according to procedure. Darius has never worked for the NYCTA; he has never held a steady job. He is thirty-seven and has spent a third of his adult life in prison for victim-less offenses related to transit systems. […] His obsession with the subway manifested itself as soon as he began riding trains with his mother, at age three. [Harper’s/Long Reads]

Water-skipping stones and spheres

Why Is the Heart Symbol so Anatomically Incorrect?

Japanese hotel launches ‘crying rooms’

Chinese Restaurant Gives Discounts to Customers with Short Skirts

Beard Hair Net Sales Are Booming Thanks to Hipster Chef Bros

Anti-NSA pranksters planted tape recorders across New York and published your conversations


Triple-Decker Weekly, 129


Algorithm recovers speech from vibrations of potato-chip bag filmed through soundproof glass. [ | Thanks Tim]

Back in 2009, researchers at the University of California, Santa Barbara performed a curious experiment. In many ways, it was routine — they placed a subject in the brain scanner, displayed some images, and monitored how the subject’s brain responded. The measured brain activity showed up on the scans as red hot spots, like many other neuroimaging studies. Except that this time, the subject was an Atlantic salmon, and it was dead. Dead fish do not normally exhibit any kind of brain activity, of course. The study was a tongue-in-cheek reminder of the problems with brain scanning studies. Those colorful images of the human brain found in virtually all news media may have captivated the imagination of the public, but they have also been subject of controversy among scientists over the past decade or so. In fact, neuro-imagers are now debating how reliable brain scanning studies actually are, and are still mostly in the dark about exactly what it means when they see some part of the brain “light up.” [Neurophilosophy]

What happens to people when they think they’re invisible? Using a 3D virtual reality headset, neuroscientists at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm gave participants the sensation that they were invisible, and then examined the psychological effects of apparent invisibility. […] “Having an invisible body seems to have a stress-reducing effect when experiencing socially challenging situations.” […] “Follow-up studies should also investigate whether the feeling of invisibility affects moral decision-making, to ensure that future invisibility cloaking does not make us lose our sense of right and wrong, which Plato asserted over two millennia ago,” said the report’s co-author, Henrik Ehrsson. […] In Book II of Plato’s Republic, one of Socrates’s interlocutors tells a story of a shepherd, an ancestor of the ancient Lydian king Gyges, who finds a magic ring that makes the wearer invisible. The power quickly corrupts him, and he becomes a tyrant. The premise behind the story of the Ring of Gyges, which inspired HG Wells’s seminal 1897 science fiction novel, The Invisible Man, is that we behave morally so that we can be seen doing so. [CS Monitor]

Participants were 152 students (88 women, 64 men; average age 19.7) at a “mid-sized university in the northeastern US.” […] Texting during class was not acceptable, but 84.7% had done this. Texting in the shower is unacceptable and 34% have done this. Texting during the Pledge of Allegiance is unacceptable and 11.3% have done it. Texting while having sex is unacceptable and 7.4% have done it. Talking to a friend and texting another at the same time is unacceptable and between 79% and 84% have done it. Texting one person in whom you are romantically interested while on a date with someone else is unacceptable and 21.5% have done it. Breaking up by text is unacceptable and 26% have done it. Sending text messages while at a funeral is unacceptable and 10.1% have done it. Texting during a job interview is unacceptable and 2.7% have done it. Fighting with some via text is unacceptable and 66% have done it. Sexting is unacceptable and 42% have done it. [The Jury Room]

Ladies take and delete five photos before settling on one they feel comfortable posting online

An ambitious effort to replicate 100 research findings in psychology ended last week — and the data look worrying. Results posted online on 24 April, which have not yet been peer-reviewed, suggest that key findings from only 39 of the published studies could be reproduced. […] The results should convince everyone that psychology has a replicability problem, says Hal Pashler, a cognitive psychologist at the University of California, San Diego, and an author of one of the papers whose findings were successfully repeated.  “A lot of working scientists assume that if it’s published, it’s right,” he says. [Nature]

A paper on gender bias in academia was recently rejected by an academic journal, whose reviewer told the two female authors to “find one or two male biologists to work with” if they wanted to get their work published. That work was a scientific survey of how and why men in academia tend to publish more papers, and in more prestigious academic journals, than women.

Embryonic Twin Sister Discovered in Woman’s Brain

Prosecution is often dropped in cases largely reliant on DNA evidence when the suspect is an identical twin. The risk of convicting the wrong twin is too great. The chance of a DNA match between two unrelated individuals is extraordinarily small — one in a billion. For siblings, the chance is 1 in 10,000. But identical twins have essentially the same DNA sequence, making the identification of the forensic evidence they leave behind extremely difficult. But researchers at the University of Huddersfield recently developed a cost-effective and accurate method for differentiating between the genetic profiles of identical twins. The method looks at DNA methylation, a biochemical process that helps manage gene expression — turning genes on and off. As identical twins age, different environmental factors affect their genomes, or the ways in which their genetic material is expressed. These differences can be seen in their corresponding DNA methylation. […] The process isn’t perfect. Young twins with similar environments may not have developed significant differences in their DNA methylation. The technique also requires a large genetic sample, which may not be recoverable at every crime scene. [UPI]

Optimism and pessimism are separate systems influenced by different genes

37-year nationwide study reports strong evidence of familial clustering of sexual offending, primarily accounted for by genes rather than shared environmental influences.

Eight studies explored the antecedents and consequences of whether people locate their sense of self in the brain or the heart. [Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes]

In the UK, the number of labial reduction procedures has risen five-fold over the past 10 years

Resistance to antibiotics found in isolated Amazonian tribe. The find suggests that microbes have long evolved the capability to fight toxins, including antibiotics, and that preventing drug resistance may be harder than scientists thought.

Scientists Figure Out Why Your Knuckles Crack

Psychologists can influence people’s moral choices by tracking their gaze [more]

Kids can’t tell the difference between journalism and advertising

Marketers often seek to minimize or eliminate interruptions when they deliver persuasive messages in an attempt to increase consumers’ attention and processing of those messages. However, in five studies conducted across different experimental contexts and different content domains, the current research reveals that interruptions that temporarily disrupt a persuasive message can increase consumers’ processing of that message. As a result, consumers can be more persuaded by interrupted messages than they would be by the exact same messages delivered uninterrupted. [Journal of Consumer Research/Stanford Business]

Scientists develop algorithm that can identify and auto-ban internet trolls

Study shows that the growth rate in industrial electricity usage negatively predicts next one-year stock market returns

The car that knows when you’ll get in an accident before you do

Inventing a 2-D liquid

Organic milk ‘is less healthy than regular milk and could harm child IQ,’ say researchers

Mystery of why the Earth hums solved

Baboon bone found in famous Lucy skeleton

This paper argues that there are at least five reasons why the claim that the Bible is to be taken literally defies logic or otherwise makes no sense, and why literalists are in no position to claim that they have the only correct view of biblical teachings. First, many words are imprecise and therefore require interpretation, especially to fill in gaps between general words and their appli- cation to specific situations. Second, if you are reading an English version of the Bible you are al- ready dealing with the interpretations of the translator since the earliest Bibles were written in other languages. Third, biblical rules have exceptions, and those exceptions are often not explicitly set forth. Fourth, many of the Bible’s stories defy logic and our experiences of the world. Fifth, there are sometimes two contrary versions of the same event, so if we take one literally then we cannot take the second one literally. In each of these five cases, there is no literal reading to be found. Furthermore, this paper sets forth three additional reasons why such a literalist claim probably should not be made even if it did not defy logic to make such a claim. These include The Scientific Argument: the Bible contradicts modern science; The Historical Argument: the Bible is historically inaccurate; and The Moral Argument: the Bible violates contemporary moral standards. [Open Journal of Philosophy | PDF]

The Shortest-Known Paper Published in a Serious Math Journal

Would you Pay for Transparently Useless Advice?

Shakespeare’s plays reveal his psychological signature

Using TV anachronisms to learn about changes

We took a tourist guide to New York City from 1997 and tried to use it in 2015

In 1992, Diaconis famously proved — along with the mathematician Dave Bayer of Columbia University — that it takes just seven ordinary shuffles to mix a deck of cards. [Quanta | NY Times]

Hacked Sony emails reveal that Sony had pirated books about hacking

German student makes a freedom of information request to see test papers before exams

In 1872, Woodhull was the first female candidate for President of the United States. [Thanks GG]

Report of a female jogging in the area

Gillian Wearing has redefined portraiture by photographing herself in rubber masks she’s cast from other people’s faces

How to grow your own furniture

At a multicourse dinner party in San Francisco, marijuana is paired like wine. But you’ll need a doctor’s note. [NY Times]

Remember your loved one – by putting their ashes in a dildo


Triple-Decker Weekly, 128


US researchers are investigating ways to extract the gold and precious metals from human faeces.

It’s hard to read the old-fashioned way, slowly and deliberately. Few of us have the patience, the concentration, or the time. When we do read, we skim, trying to get a quick “take” on the topics of the day, often conveniently served up as prepackaged excerpts by our modern media machine. We flit from one thing to the next, never pausing to think about what we’ve just read, because in our media-saturated, technology-obsessed age we just don’t have time. Worse, our bad reading habits are symptomatic of a deeper malaise. Real learning, real knowledge, and real culture have been supplanted by the shallow, utilitarian instrumentalism of modern life. The evidence is mounting. Humanities departments are losing students to the sciences and other more useful majors, where they are stuffed with facts and outfitted with skills, better to serve the state as productive citizens; our cultural models are the average heroes of a popular culture. Our culture is in decline. And we read only the headlines. That may sound like the latest jeremiad in The New Criterion or The New Republic, but it’s actually a paraphrase of Friedrich Nietzsche’s preface to a series of lectures he delivered in the winter of 1872. […] Nietzsche saw this image of modern print culture embodied in modern journalism’s endless pursuit of the news. In the face of the modern media machine, he longed for timelessness, but one not simply stripped of its time and place. Instead, it was an ethos of active resistance to the “idolatrous” need for the new, the latest headline, the latest commentary, the latest feuilleton. It was intended to enlist those few who were not, as he put it in the Basel lectures, “caught up in the dizzying haste of our hurtling era” and dependent on its short-lived pleasures. It was a call for calm readers. [The Hedgehog Review]

Previously: DNA-based prediction of Nietzsche’s voice

People prescribe optimism when they believe it has the opportunity to improve the chance of success—unfortunately, people may be overly optimistic about just how much optimism can do. [APA/PsycNET]

The effects of being in a “new relationship” on levels of testosterone in men [PDF]

Narcissism levels have been increasing among Western youth, and contribute to societal problems such as aggression and violence. The origins of narcissism, however, are not well understood. Here, we report, to our knowledge, the first prospective longitudinal evidence on the origins of narcissism in children. We compared two perspectives: social learning theory (positing that narcissism is cultivated by parental overvaluation) and psychoanalytic theory (positing that narcissism is cultivated by lack of parental warmth). We timed the study in late childhood (ages 7–12), when individual differences in narcissism first emerge. In four 6-mo waves, 565 children and their parents reported child narcissism, child self-esteem, parental overvaluation, and parental warmth. Four-wave cross-lagged panel models were conducted. Results support social learning theory and contradict psychoanalytic theory: Narcissism was predicted by parental overvaluation, not by lack of parental warmth. Thus, children seem to acquire narcissism, in part, by internalizing parents’ inflated views of them (e.g., “I am superior to others” and “I am entitled to privileges”). Attesting to the specificity of this finding, self-esteem was predicted by parental warmth, not by parental overvaluation. [PNAS]

Even Women Who Should Know Better Are Attracted to Narcissists

If a woman overestimates her romantic partner’s commitment, the cost to her fitness—reproduction without an investing partner—can be considerable. Error Management Theory predicts that women have an evolved bias to be skeptical of men’s commitment in a relationship, which reduces the likelihood of making a costly false positive error. [Evolutionary Psychology | PDF]

The sexual selection concept arises from the observation that many animals had evolved features whose function is not to help individuals survive, but help them to maximize their reproductive success. This can be realized in two different ways: by making themselves attractive to the opposite sex (intersexual selection, between the sexes); or by intimidating, deterring or defeating same-sex rivals (intrasexual selection, within a given sex). Thus, sexual selection takes two major forms: intersexual selection (also known as ‘mate choice’ or ‘female choice’) in which males compete with each other to be chosen by females; and intrasexual selection (also known as ‘male–male competition’) in which members of the less limited sex (typically males) compete aggressively among themselves for access to the limiting sex. The limiting sex is the sex which has the higher parental investment, which therefore faces the most pressure to make a good mate decision. For intersexual selection to work, one sex must evolve a feature alluring to the opposite sex, sometimes resulting in a “fashion fad” of intense selection in an arbitrary direction. Or, in the second case, while natural selection can help animals develop ways of killing or escaping from other species, intrasexual selection drives the selection of attributes that allow alpha males to dominate their own breeding partners and rivals. [Wikipedia]

Canine teeth, horns, claws, and the sheer size and strength of certain male animals provide strong examples of physical weapons, and aggression is a behavioral weapon among humans and other animals. A peacock’s tail, which is useless and costly to sustain, is the most famous example of an ornament. Showing off and creativity may be the human equivalents of this ornamentation. Certain polygynous species, such as the elephant seal, become weapon specialists, relying primarily on intrasexual combat to achieve reproductive success. Other species, such as the peacock and numerous birds of paradise, specialize in intersexual selection to produce extravagant male ornaments. Humans are versatile animals who rely on a large brain to facilitate amassing and facultatively employing a large repertoire of survival and reproductive strategies, including weapons and ornaments. Even though ancestral men may have used intrasexual combat more than intersexual ornaments in acquiring mates and much human female choice may also have derived from male contests, modern men use both intrasexual and intersexual mating strategies as evidenced by much research showing a clear association between mating motivation and various behaviors that constitute weapons and ornaments in men. Specific weapon-like behaviors under mating investigation include physical or direct aggression in response to provocation, social dominance and status, endorsing warring attitudes, and producing a low voice pitch. The studied ornament-like behaviors include conspicuous material consumption, risk taking, humor, being unique and non-conforming, becoming loss averse, making generous financial donations, and exhibiting heroic altruism, all of which are preferred by women. These studies suggest that, similar to other male animals, men can exhibit weapon-like and ornament-like behaviors, but, unlike many male animals that specialize in either weapons or ornaments nearly to the exclusion of the other, men seem to have developed the versatility to acquire and apply both strategies to facultatively respond to intrasexual and intersexual competition. Men may use weapons and ornaments facultatively as situational responses to intersexual and intrasexual conditions and, over time, may also develop behavioral tendencies in using one strategy more frequently over the other, adding to the vast individual differences along a weapon-ornament dimension. [Evolutionary Psychology | PDF]

8,000 Years Ago, 17 Women Reproduced for Every One Man

Fear of spiders became part of our DNA during evolution, say scientists

One thousand genes you could live without

Cigarette Smoke Makes Superbugs More Aggressive

Can We Interpret Smoking Habits in Historic Skeletal Remains?

Chimps and Humans are Less Similar than We Thought

Psychopathic tendencies in chimpanzees

DNA can’t explain all inherited biological traits, research shows

A group of leading biologists called for a worldwide moratorium on use of a new genome-editing technique that would alter human DNA in a way that can be inherited. The biologists fear that the new technique is so effective and easy to use that some physicians may push ahead before its safety can be assessed. They also want the public to understand the ethical issues surrounding the technique, [which holds the power to repair or enhance any human gene, and] could be used to cure genetic diseases, but also to enhance qualities like beauty or intelligence. [NY Times]

Genome-editing technologies may offer a powerful approach to treat many human diseases, including HIV/AIDS, haemophilia, sickle-cell anaemia and several forms of cancer. All techniques currently in various stages of clinical development focus on modifying the genetic material of somatic cells, such as T cells (a type of white blood cell). These are not designed to affect sperm or eggs. […] The newest addition to the genome-editing arsenal is CRISPR/Cas9, a bacteria-derived system that uses RNA molecules that recognize specific human DNA sequences. The RNAs act as guides, matching the nuclease to corresponding locations in the human genome. [Nature]

New Discovery Moves Gene Editing Closer to Use in Humans

Genetic Origins of Economic Development

A power nap of under an hour can improve memory performance by five times, a new study finds.

New Alzheimer’s treatment fully restores memory function

Recalling one memory actually leads to the forgetting of other competing memories, a new study confirms. It is one of the single most surprising facts about memory, now isolated by neuroscience research. Although many scientists believed the brain must work this way, this is the first time it has been demonstrated. [PsyBlog | Nature]

When attention is a deficit

15 years ago, the neurosciences defined the main function of brains in terms of processing input to compute output: “brain function is ultimately best understood in terms of input/output transformations and how they are produced” wrote Mike Mauk in 2000. Since then, a lot of things have been discovered that make this stimulus-response concept untenable and potentially based largely on laboratory artifacts. For instance, it was discovered that the likely ancestral state of behavioral organization is one of probing the environment with ongoing, variable actions first and evaluating sensory feedback later (i.e., the inverse of stimulus response). […] In humans, functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) studies over the last decade and a half revealed that the human brain is far from passively waiting for stimuli, but rather constantly produces ongoing, variable activity, and just shifts this activity over to other networks when we move from rest to task or switch between tasks. [Björn Brembs]

People in the study were more likely to disclose something personal about themselves after laughing together, although they didn’t realize it.

The ability to express empathy — the capacity to share and feel another’s emotions — is limited by the stress of being around strangers, according to a new study.

Why do so many people so often say “so”?

Excess Time Indoors May Explain Rising Myopia Rates

Too Many Scientific Studies, Study Finds

Homeopathy not effective for treating any condition

Researchers may have solved origin-of-life conundrum

Can Space Expand Faster Than the Speed of Light?

Observations by two powerful space telescopes have revealed that dark matter is weirder than previously thought. It is invisible, even to itself.

How solar eclipses cause problems for countries that rely on solar power

Glowing Tampons Help Detect Sewage Leaks

Radioactive sanitary pads from China seized by authorities in Lebanon [Thanks Tim]

Using a Foreskin to Repair Eyelids

Can you really catch a disease from bad bathroom smells?

Biohackers develop eyedrops that provide night vision

A pair of engineering students created a fire extinguisher that operates using sound waves.

Governor Jerry Brown: Californians to be heavily fined for long showers [Thanks GG]

New adhesive could work underwater, in wet conditions for medicine and industry

Plastics designed to degrade don’t break down any faster than their conventional counterparts, according to research

Build a Phased-Array Radar in Your Garage that Sees Through Walls

A robo-car just drove across the country

There are only four people/organizations in the world who know my location at all times: my wife (because I tell her), Apple (because Siri), the NSA (because NSA), and now Uber.

Hertz puts cameras in its rental cars, says it has no plans to use them

Here I indulge in wide-ranging speculations on the shape of physics, and technology closely related to physics, over the next one hundred years [PDF]

Japan’s House Foods Group Inc. said it has developed onions that release extremely low amount of tear-inducing compounds. […] [T]he resulting onions have the added benefit of not leaving a strong smell on the cook’s hands or the breath of those who eat them. [WSJ]

This cure known as “Bald’s eye salve,” a mixture of onion, garlic, leek, wine, cow’s bile and cow’s stomach, actually works for wiping out methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus, known as MRSA. MSRA is a bacteria that is resistant to many antibiotics, and can cause anything from skin infections to widespread infection and pneumonia. […] Because cow stomach was part of the MRSA remedy, there have been questions about whether corpse medicine may have actually had some effect on health and whether it actually cured anything. Corpse medicine, or medical cannibalism, is the act of using parts of deceased humans for medicinal reasons. This persists today in such acts as organ transplant and blood transfusions. However, in the past, corpses were used for a wide variety of medical purposes and were thought to be able to cure anything from bleeding to aging to epilepsy.  [Bones Don’t Lie]

Things Bodies Can Do After Death [Thanks Nathan]

Anthropodermic bibliopegy is the practice of binding books in human skin. Though extremely uncommon in modern times, the technique dates back to at least the 17th century. The practice is inextricably connected with the practice of tanning human skin, often done in certain circumstances after a corpse has been dissected. Surviving historical examples of this technique include anatomy texts bound with the skin of dissected cadavers, volumes created as a bequest and bound with the skin of the testator, and copies of judicial proceedings bound in the skin of the murderer convicted in those proceedings, such as in the case of John Horwood in 1821 and the Red Barn Murder in 1828. [Wikipedia]

Anthropologists have shown that the practice of cannibalism is very often linked to magic, as the provider of the most potent ingredients to make ‘medicine’ to make a person bullet-proof, able to fly, all-powerful, and many more wondrous things.

Scientists have discovered a simple way to cook rice that reduces its calories by as much as 50 percent

A psychedelic drink used for centuries in healing ceremonies is now attracting the attention of biomedical scientists as a possible treatment for depression

A few people become inebriated simply by eating carbohydrates

On further questioning, the patient admitted to drinking sixteen 8-oz glasses of iced tea daily

Buying human breast milk online poses serious health risk, say experts

Furans are coffee’s dirty little secret. Although we can thank them for the pleasant aroma and delicious flavour of freshly brewed coffee, furans have been labelled as a possible human carcinogen (cause of cancer) in disguise by food safety agencies including the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA). Furans enter our food chain through canned, bottled and jarred processed foods, but 85% of furan exposure in adults is from coffee consumption. All these products undergo ultra-high temperature (UHT) treatment and furans are one of the carcinogenic compounds produced. The canned, bottled and jarred foods are sterilized this way to eradicate disease-causing micro-organisms and to increase their shelf-life. Coffee beans are heated to even higher temperatures during roasting. Furans are volatile and not very water-soluble so how you like your coffee, roasted, ground, stored and brewed, will determine how much furan is left in your cup of Joe. […] Arisseto and colleagues (2011) […] found that furan content was higher in Robusta samples. […] Altaki and colleagues (2011) found regular decaffeinated or caffeinated brews made with an espresso machine had higher furan content than a drip coffee maker, and instant coffee brews had relatively low levels whilst coffee capsules contained the most. […] Leaving your cup of coffee to stand at room temperature for 30 minutes before drinking will reduce furan amounts by 25% according to Guenther and colleagues (2010). [United Academics]

Denis Vrain-Lucas was trained as a law clerk, but by 1854 he had begun to forge historical documents, especially letters. Lucas began by using writing material and self-made inks from the appropriate period and forged mainly documents from French authors. He collected historical details from the Imperial library. As his forgeries were more readily accepted, he began to produce letters from historical figures. Over 16 years Vrain-Lucas forged total of 27,000 autographs, letters, and other documents from such luminaries as Mary Magdalene, Cleopatra, Judas Iscariot, Pontius Pilate, Joan of Arc, Cicero and Dante Alighieri – written in contemporary French and on watermarked paper. The most prominent French collectors bought them, helping Lucas accumulate a significant wealth of hundreds of thousands of francs. In 1861 Vrain-Lucas approached French mathematician and collector Michel Chasles and sold him forged letters for Robert Boyle, Isaac Newton and Blaise Pascal. In one of them Pascal supposedly claimed that he had discovered the laws of gravity before Newton. Since this would have meant that a Frenchman would have discovered gravity before an Englishman, Chasles accepted the letter and asked for more. Lucas proceeded to sell him hundreds of letters from historical and biblical figures. In 1867 Chasles approached the French Academy of Science, claiming to have proof that Pascal had discovered gravity before Newton. When he showed them the letters, scholars of the Academy noticed that the handwriting was very different compared to letters that were definitely by Pascal. Chasles defended the letters’ authenticity but was eventually forced to reveal that Vrain-Lucas had sold them to him. […] In February 1870, the Correctional Tribunal of Paris sentenced Vrain-Lucas to two years in prison for forgery. He also had pay a fine for 500 francs and all legal costs. Chasles received no restitution for all the money he had wasted on the Vrain-Lucas forgeries. [Wikipedia]

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