Posts Tagged ‘Science’

Zap of electricity makes you a brighter spark [via The Daily Telegraph]

A team of Oxford University scientists has found that pulsing low-level current from right to left through the parietal lobe, an area of the brain related to mathematical skill, doubled their performance on math tests. Subjects receiving left-to-right currents, however, dropped to the math skills of a six-year-old. “We’ve shown before that we can induce dyscalculia, and now it seems we might be able to make someone better at maths, so we really want to see if we can help people with dyscalculia, with a possible benefit to the general public,” psychologist Cohen Kadosh said. “Electrical stimulation is unlikely to turn you into the next Einstein, but if we’re lucky it might be able to help some people cope better with maths.”

Bacon-flavored soda sizzles onto shelves [via AOL News]

Bacon tastes great for breakfast, wrapped around steak, wrapped around shrimp, wrapped around vegetables and even in cookies—but what about in a can? Bacon products company J&D Foods is betting the concept will sell after introducing its newest product, bacon-flavored soda, developed in conjunction with Jones Soda. “They know soda. We know bacon. We were destined to merge our technologies for something big,” Esch said. “We’ve already made bacon beauty products, bacon stationery and edible bacon products, so something drinkable was next.”

Free diver smashes cave world record [via The Daily Telegraph]

Venezuelan Carlos Coste, 34, swam 492 feet through an underwater cave without a breathing apparatus in just two and a half minutes, more than doubling the previous world record. The Yucatan stunt took three years of planning; Coste worked to build up how long he can hold his breath to a shocking seven minutes. “I was not scared about it. We have planned this for a long time and I was fully prepared for what I had to do,” he said.


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Scientists in the United Kingdom are celebrating today as government cuts to research funds have been frozen rather than slashed dramatically, as they previously feared. A comprehensive review of government spending, released today, promised that science funding would be kept at £4.6 billion annually, amounting to only around a 10 percent loss due to inflation.

“Britain is a world leader in scientific research, and that is vital to our economic success,” Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osbourne said while announcing the review’s conclusions.

Nevertheless, that effective 10 percent loss has sparked fears of a “brain drain” as Britain’s top scientists flee for nations with better science funding, including Germany, France, Singapore and the United States.

“This is still a significant cut when other countries have recognised that if you want to go for growth, you have to invest in science,” Campaign for Science and Engineering director Imran Khan told the Guardian. “Flat cash means a 10 percent cut over the four-year period and the people who will feel that cut soonest are the young scientists, who we will struggle to retain in this country.”

Not everyone was thankful for the government’s concessions. Mark Downs, the CEO of the Society of Biology, a biology advocacy group, was critical of even the 10 percent loss.

“The government has failed to recognise what all charities know – an economic downturn is the time to invest in fundraising to ensure future prosperity,” he told the BBC. “It is research and development, coupled with skilled people that will deliver growth. Our international competitors have recognised that: the coalition government has yet to fully accept that reality.”

While the government review did largely protect science spending, other programs weren’t so lucky. In trying to close a £156 billion deficit, Osbourne identified £81 billion of public spending that can be cut. Among other measures, Britain will raise the pension age to 66 in 2018; local council budgets will be sliced by 7.1 percent; the Ministry of Defence will lose 8 percent of its budget and 42,000 jobs; a further 490,000 public sector jobs are to be cut; the BBC must freeze its license fee and absorb the Foreign Office-run World Service, amounting to 16 percent cuts; national museums face 15 percent cuts; and Arts Council England has been slashed almost 30 percent.

“Tackling this budget deficit is unavoidable. The decisions about how we do it are not. There are choices. And today we make them. Investment in the future rather than the bills of past failure. That is our choice,” Osbourne said. Along with science research, education and health care were also protected from serious cuts.


Ironically, at the same time as government science spending has been spared, the U.K.’s only book award for popular science, the Royal Society Prize for Science Books, is also under threat. The 22-year-old award has yet to find a replacement funding partner for the Royal Society, which has announced it can no longer pay for the £10,000 prize. French pharmaceutical company Aventis had sponsored the award until 2007.

“Science is an integral part of our culture and it is immensely important that the joy, wonder and excitement of scientific discovery is effectively communicated to all,” Royal Society President Lord Rees said. “The [prize] has celebrated the very best science writing since 1988 and helped to encourage engagement with science. The Royal Society greatly values the prizes, however, in these tough economic times we have to secure a sponsor to ensure they can continue in future years.”

Previous winners have included physicist Stephen Hawking, anthropologist Jared Diamond, zoologist Stephen Jay Gould and travel writer Bill Bryson.

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“Mad Men” is on tonight (and make sure to check back tomorrow for analysis from ACG Blog contributors). You are almost certain to see someone have a drink at the office. Probably not a good idea, researchers from the University of Pennsylvania and the University of Michigan say.

Scott Rick and Maurice Schweitzer conducted six experiments in which observers

  • “judged the intelligence of targets photographed consuming or merely holding an alcoholic beverage, a non-alcoholic beverage, or nothing”
  • “watched a video clip of a speaker making a persuasive argument, while holding and consuming either an alcoholic or a non-alcoholic beverage”
  • “judged the intelligence of a target photographed without a beverage” after being exposed to alcohol-related advertisements
  • were job managers watching dinner job interviews where the only difference was whether the interviewee, the interviewer, both or neither order a drink
  • were “mildly intoxicated MBA students” giving mock interviews to actors who drank either alcohol or a non-alcoholic beverage
  • “viewed a hypothetical job interview that manipulated the boss’s drink choice.  Participants were then asked what they would order if they were in the job candidate’s position.”

They identified an over-generalized link between alcohol and cognitive impairment—one that exists, but which produces a bias in the observers brought on by just seeing someone holding a drink, or the implication that person has had a drink, despite whether the observer herself has had a drink. Rick and Schweitzer call this the imbibing idiot bias.

The researchers found that

Consuming, or merely holding, an alcoholic beverage reduced perceived intelligence, in the absence of any actual reduction in cognitive performance. We observed this bias even when the person consuming alcohol had his beverage selected for him, suggesting that the bias does not reflect a belief that less intelligent people are most likely to choose to consume alcohol, but rather an implicit association between alcohol and cognitive impairment. We even found that implicitly priming the concept of alcohol caused observers to view targets, holding no beverage at all, as less intelligent. These findings are consistent with an implicit association in memory between alcohol and cognitive impairment.

We also found that alcohol selectively reduced perceived intelligence: Targets were consistently rated as less intelligent, but no less likeable, honest, or genuine, when consuming alcohol.

In interview settings, candidates who consumed alcohol were judged to be less intelligent and less hireable. We document the imbibing idiot bias in informal interview settings with both experienced managers and mildly intoxicated MBA students who assumed the role of a boss in a mock interview.

Prospective job candidates largely fail to anticipate the imbibing idiot bias. Candidates in informal interview settings follow the boss’s lead, even when the boss chooses to consume alcohol. Our demonstration of a robust imbibing idiot bias suggests that this form of mimicry is a mistake.

Their conclusion:

Although people often choose whether to consume alcohol based on its anticipated pharmacological effects (e.g., Capell, 2008), we identify a very different factor that decision-makers should consider. Our work reveals that consuming alcohol can diminish perceived intelligence even when it has no influence on actual performance. Unfortunately, people in a position to be judged largely fail to anticipate the bias. Taken together, the results suggest that what we drink may say more about us than we think.

Essentially, seeing someone drink alcohol makes you think less of their intelligence. It’s not something you consciously decide, and it’s not something you apply to yourself, either, as evidenced by bosses drinking at interviews but thinking less of the candidates who drank. The bottom line, apparently, is don’t drink during any sort of job interview or situation where you’re to be judged, even if the interviewer is enjoying a nice chardonnay.

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In elementary school, during astronomy class, we were taught all about the Big Bang and how scientists roughly agreed how the universe began. How it was to end, though, that was up for grabs. There were two possibilities: either the universe would eventually begin contracting in on itself, ultimately collapsing into a fiery point; or it would continue expanding, forever, with galaxies growing so far apart they would no longer be visible to each other. It was a powerful and, apparently, memorable lesson; the universe would end either in heat or cold.

But now, at least according to the BBC, we know how the universe’s final fate: cold.

A paper published in Science reports that scientists used the Hubble Space Telescope to observe how light from distant stars was distorted by a large galactic cluster. From this they were able to work out the distribution of the universe’s dark energy, “a mysterious force that speeds up the expansion of the Universe” (I smell a new Dan Brown thriller).

How does that work, exactly? That’s above my pay grade — but not PhysOrg.com’s. They have a thorough yet accessible description, including:

As dark energy pushes the Universe to expand ever faster, the precise path that the light beams follow as they travel through space and are bent by the lens is subtly altered. This means that the distorted images from the lens encapsulate information about the underlying cosmology, as well as about the lens itself.

So why is the geometry of the Universe such a big issue?

“The geometry, the content and the fate of the Universe are all intricately linked,” says Natarajan. “If you know two, you can deduce the third. We already have a pretty good knowledge of the Universe’s mass-energy content, so if we can get a handle on its geometry then we will be able to work out exactly what the fate of the Universe will be.”

I don’t know about you, but I don’t plan on sticking around that long.

[Side note: When did we start capitalizing Universe?]

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