Category Archives: Science News

The lead sentences of science news stories of the day based on links in Knight Science Journalism Tracker posts.

January 31

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Every day, we are reminded of a mental disorder that affects our society. The schizophrenic brain is hobbled by three problems — delusions, hallucinations and thinking difficulties. This month, President Barack Obama said it again. Fact checking keeps getting more interesting.

This ends the experimental Science News uncreative writing project.

January 30

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A rare peek into drug company documents reveals troubling differences between publicly available information and materials the company holds close to its chest. Pfizer Inc. has agreed to plead guilty and pay $430 million in fines to settle charges that its Warner-Lambert unit flouted federal law by promoting non-approved uses for one of its drugs. One of the hidden secrets of the medical literature is that the named authors on a paper’s byline, particularly in the case of clinical trials, are not necessarily the individuals who wrote the paper. New estimates from a Norwegian research project show meeting targets for minimizing global warming may be more achievable than previously thought. Policymakers are attempting to contain global warming at less than 2°C. At least in America, CO2 emissions have dropped dramatically. New research produced by a Norwegian government project, described as “truly sensational” by independent experts, indicates that humanity’s carbon emissions produce far less global warming than had been thought: so much so that there is no danger of producing warming beyond the IPCC upper safe limit of 2°C for many decades. Purveyors of climate doubt have seized on a news release from the Research Council of Norway with this provocative title: “Global warming less extreme than feared?” Last year, after opponents of hydraulic fracturing made much of an unpublished paper by a doctoral candidate in economics who reported finding health impacts in infants from nearby gas drilling operations, I wrote a piece titled “When Publicity Precedes Peer Review in the Fight Over Gas Impacts.” A press release last week appeared to present the results of new research suggesting earth’s climate is not as sensitive to carbon dioxide as scientists previously thought. A press release from a Norwegian project attempting to estimate the Earth’s climate sensitivity (generally measured as how much the planet’s surface will warm in response to the energy imbalance caused by the increased greenhouse effect from a doubling of atmospheric CO2) has drawn quite a bit of attention in the media as suggesting that global warming may be “less extreme than feared.” A just-completed evaluation reveals that many of Norway’s independent regional research institutes are too small.

January 29

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In the wake of a Ministry of Health announcement of two fatalities among the three confirmed human cases of avian flu in the new year, authorities this weekend increased efforts to eradicate affected birds, even as some officials reported a fourth case. Bird flu experts on Wednesday ended a voluntary halt on research into how to make the deadly H5N1 avian influenza capable of spreading to mammals, and perhaps rapidly to people. Experiments with a deadly flu virus, suspended last year after a fierce global debate over safety, will start up again in some laboratories, probably within the next few weeks, scientists say. One year after public uproar forced them to pause, researchers who study H5N1 avian influenza by designing new, extra-virulent strains are set to resume their work. Controversial experiments on bird flu could resume within weeks because leading influenza researchers around the world have finally called a halt to an unusual moratorium that has lasted more than a year.

January 28

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A couple of weeks ago, an article was published in Science about online science communication (nothing new there, really, that we have not known for a decade, but academia is slow to catch up). Over time I’ve grown more and more suspicious of stories about breakthrough technologies. Quite frankly, if the company’s numbers are correct, this could be the biggest solar news of the decade. Here’s an interesting solar technology I recently ran across — Solarphasec’s 3D Spin Cell Generators (or, as I call them, solar cones). For the vast majority of those looking to harvest energy from the sun to satisfy domestic or business electricity needs, the photovoltaic world is a static and flat one. Anyone knows to get the most out of a solar cell it needs to be angled at the sun. As our expanding economies continue to demand more and more energy, things are getting more expensive. A solar venture says it has developed a “spin cell” technology using specialized lensing and a rotating conical shape that could generate five times more electricity from a given amount of land than conventional solar methods. Hey, Kids!

January 25

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Giant squid – also known also by their scientific name Architeuthis – have been the stuff of both legend and science for hundreds of years. Many willl be surprised as it dawns that the biggest catastrophic event likely to happen today in California is a flood caused by a rainstorm. We all know about the deal you make with earthquakes to live in California. The intense rainstorms sweeping in from the Pacific Ocean began to pound central California on Christmas Eve in 1861 and continued virtually unabated for 43 days. Geologic evidence shows that truly massive floods, caused by rainfall alone, have occurred in California every 100 to 200 years. The U.S. Geological Survey, Multi Hazards Demonstration Project (MHDP) uses hazards science to improve resiliency of communities to natural disasters including earthquakes, tsunamis, wildfires, landslides, floods and coastal erosion. A massive California rain event — one expected to occur once every 200 years — would far surpass destruction caused by a “Big One” earthquake, causing more than $700 billion in damage and hobbling the state’s economy for decades, federal scientists are warning. For thirty days and thirty nights the rain fell in unending torrents.

January 24

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“Punditry is fundamentally useless,” Nate Silver said repeatedly, in one form or another, after the election. Thursday morning, Politico announced that it was joining with Facebook to “measure GOP candidate buzz” and give its readers an “exclusive look at the conversation taking place on the social networking site” ahead of the January 21 South Carolina primary. One to two inches of snow fell Tuesday night over Shippingport, Pa., as a result of an unusual cause: steam from a nearby nuclear power plant. Sometimes, you don’t need a lake to get lake-effect snow. Just when I think I’ve seen everything. Need proof that human activities can influence the environment? A blast of snow came down last night on Interstate 79 on Tuesday evening. You’ve probably heard of lake-effect snow and ocean-effect snow, but now you should add “nuclear snow” to the list of strange winter weather phenomena. You could even say it glows? First things first: It wasn’t nuclear snow. Pittsburgh was coated in a layer of snow last night – but not from Mother Nature.

January 23

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There’s been a sudden burst in articles about science and science news communication websites – and the comments left on such sites. Because of a number of heated exchanges in the comments over the past few weeks here at Retraction Watch — mostly in response to our coverage of the shutdown of the Science Fraud site — we’ve added this to our FAQ: In late 2011, in a nearly 6,000-word article in The New York Times Magazine, health writer Tara Parker-Pope laid out the scientific evidence that maintaining weight loss is a nearly impossible task—something that, in the words of one obesity scientist she quotes, only “rare individuals” can accomplish. George Church, 58, is a pioneer in synthetic biology, a field whose aim is to create synthetic DNA and organisms in the laboratory. They’re usually thought of as a brutish, primitive species. Where’s Fred Flintstone when you need him? In a controversial interview that has ignited commentary across the world, a respected Harvard professor of genetics has suggested an “extremely adventurous female human” might someday serve as surrogate mother for a cloned Neanderthal baby. A prominent genetics expert from Harvard Medical School wants to make one thing perfectly clear: He is NOT looking for a woman to bear a Neanderthal baby. The headline flying across the Internet yesterday seemed too outlandish to be true: A prominent genetics expert from Harvard Medical School wants to make one thing perfectly clear: He is not looking for a woman to bear a Neanderthal baby. A Harvard geneticist has raised eyebrows by declaring that scientists could make a Neanderthal clone baby if they had an “extremely adventurous female human” as a surrogate. As 21st century technology strains to become ever faster, cleaner and cheaper, an invention from more than 200 years ago keeps holding it back. Lithium-ion batteries became crucial to the design of Boeing Co.’s new Dreamliner jet because they offered a combination of high power and low weight. A scale model of a Reaper drone rumbled down the runway and lifted into the gray Canadian sky, powered by a plastic propeller and a lithium-ion battery. Two major safety incidents involving Boeing 787 Dreamliners have caused two Japanese airlines to ground their fleets of the aircraft. Talk about whisky on ice: Three bottles of rare, 19th century Scotch found beneath the floor boards of Antarctic explorer Ernest Shackelton’s abandoned expedition base were returned to the polar continent Saturday after a distiller flew them to Scotland to recreate the long-lost recipe. Three bottles of rare 19th century Scotch whisky left behind by Antarctic explorer Ernest Shackleton have finally been returned to his desolate snowbound base. Two crates of Scotch whisky which belonged to the polar explorer Ernest Shackleton are to be recovered after a century buried in the Antarctic ice. A road tunnel in Norway has been closed – by a lorry-load of burning cheese. Minerals found underground on Mars are the “strongest evidence yet” that the planet may have supported life, according to new research.

January 22

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“Science,” a colleague once said at a meeting, “is a mighty enterprise, which is really rather quite topical.” A few years ago, Google’s human resources department noticed a problem: A lot of women were leaving the company.

January 18

When the United States started requiring background checks in 1994 for people buying handguns from dealers, it was a rare chance to see whether a gun-control measure really worked. Are you an editor or a writer? Writers and editors work together all the time, but the two clans are somewhat mysterious to one another. The treatment may sound appalling, but it works. A new study has found that an infusion of feces from a healthy person into an ailing patient’s gut was significantly more effective than a traditional antibiotic treatment — raising hopes that the unconventional approach could one day help combat obesity, food allergies and a host of other maladies. A little more than a year ago, I wrote a piece in Scientific American about fecal transplants — replacing the stool in someone’s colon with stool donated by someone else — as a treatment for the pernicious, recurrent diarrhea caused by Clostridium difficile infection. So it’s 2013 everybody.

January 17

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Every year, thousands of fresh-faced young aspiring journalists flood our nation’s college classrooms, in order to learn how to practice their craft. ABC News is in the midst of a major promotion of Dr. David Agus’ book, “The End of Illness.” Radiation, like alcohol, is a double-edged sword. I’m 61. My mother turned 65 this summer, an event Medicare marketers ensured she would not overlook. Notre Dame’s Manti Te’o, the stories said, played this season under a terrible burden. Notre Dame says a story about Manti Te’o’s girlfriend dying, which he said inspired him to play better as he helped the Fighting Irish get to the BCS National Championship, turned out to be a hoax apparently perpetrated against the linebacker. Deadspin Editor-in-Chief Tommy Craggs says Timothy Burke and Jack Dickey were faced with a tough question when reporting their now famous Manti Te’o story: “What lengths do we go to to try and prove a negative?” Every week, our panel of sports fans discusses a topic of the moment. I don’t know anything. Her name is Lizzy Seeberg. Less than a day into the Manti Te’o revelations, we’ve heard more about a fake dead girlfriend of a Notre Dame football player than a real dead girl. Well, since you asked — and many of my friends have, some more than once — no, I will not be cheering for my alma mater, the University of Notre Dame, to win big-time college football’s championship on Jan. 7. NASA is teaming up with the European Space Agency to get astronauts beyond Earth’s orbit. NASA and the European Space Agency have signed an agreement calling for the Europeans to provide the service module for the Orion space capsule, the U.S. space agency’s crew vehicle for exploration beyond Earth orbit. Plans for Europe to provide a key component for NASA’s 2017 test flight of a new spacecraft represent the start of the international collaboration needed to send humans on deep space destinations, officials said Wednesday. The US and Europe have cemented their plan to work together on the Americans’ next-generation capsule system to take humans beyond Earth. The Orion spacecraft has gotten a new look for its first launch atop the inaugural flight of NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) booster on the Exploration Mission-1 flight around the Moon in 2017 as seen in this new animation. The European Space Agency will supply the service module that will power an initial unmanned test flight of NASA’s Orion deep space exploration capsule in 2017 and provide components for a second, manned mission in 2021 under an agreement discussed Wednesday at the Johnson Space Center. It is now more than 40 years since a human ventured beyond Earth orbit. NASA’s proposed Orion spacecraft has taken another step closer to its planned 2017 launch with NASA announcing an agreement with the European Space Agency covering the craft’s service module. A new deal between NASA and a commercial spaceflight company to add a privately built module to the International Space Station could lead to future uses of the novel space technology beyond low-Earth orbit, space agency and company officials say. The international space station is getting a new, inflatable room that resembles a giant spare tire, NASA announced Wednesday. NASA is expected to announce today the terms of a landmark deal that will allow Bigelow Aerospace, a private company based in North Las Vegas, to attach one of its inflatable habitats to the International Space Station. An inflatable space pod to be attached to the International Space Station in a couple of years will be like no other piece of the station. A low-cost space dwelling that inflates like a balloon in orbit will be tested aboard the International Space Station, opening the door for commercial leases of future free-flying outposts and deep-space astronaut habitats for NASA. NASA is partnering with a commercial space company in a bid to replace the cumbersome “metal cans” that now serve as astronauts’ homes in space with inflatable bounce-house-like habitats that can be deployed on the cheap. A COUPLE of evolutionary psychologists recently published a book about human sexual behavior in prehistory called “Sex at Dawn.” It turns out you can deny evolution and still get published on the New York Times op-ed page.