Science & Technology


Babies have logical reasoning before age one

Deductive problem solving was previously thought to be beyond the reach of infants

© Emory Health Sciences
A screen shot of a video from one of the experiments shows a subject watching the puppets interact.
Human infants are capable of deductive problem solving as early as 10 months of age, a new study by psychologists at Emory University and Bucknell finds. The journal Developmental Science is publishing the research, showing that babies can make transitive inferences about a social hierarchy of dominance.

"We found that within the first year of life, children can engage in this type of logical reasoning, which was previously thought to be beyond their reach until the age of about four or five years," says Stella Lourenco, the Emory University psychologist who led the study.

Comment: Babies have an eye for statistics
Babies And Beethoven: Infants Can Tell Happy Songs From Sad


Conficker virus resurfaces: 'Mysterious' malware found in new police body cams

© Rick Wilking/Reuters
A pre-installed virus has been found on two body camera models used by police departments around the country. Risks of the virus spreading or discrediting video evidence in court are now getting a closer look.

Network managing company iPower Technologies was testing the connection between a computer and two police body cameras when the computer's anti-virus software was alerted, according to a November 12 report. The software discovered a notorious worm known as Conficker that came pre-installed on the two Frontline cameras made by Martel Electronics.

"Ultimately, the public has to understand that pretty much any device we use today that connects to the internet or a computer, has the potential to be compromised," iPower President Jarrett Pavao wrote on the company's website. He went on to stress the importance of manufacturers using "stringent security protocols. If products are being produced in offshore locations, what responsibilities lie with the manufacturer to guarantee our safety?" Pavao asked.

iPower says the manufacturer of the virus-ridden cameras, Martel, was contacted the day of the discovery on November 11, but didn't respond. Pavao went public because of "the huge security implications of these cameras being shipped to government agencies and police departments all over the country," the company website explained.

Conficker was first discovered in 2008, when it exploited a vulnerability in Microsoft's Windows software to ultimately reach 15 million computers worldwide. Efforts to contain it were hindered by the worm's multi-faceted ability to spread. What made it even more noteworthy was its lack of a general purpose. Conficker was not grabbing bank account information or other data to be used for profit or other crimes, though some variations could disable Windows updates.

Comment: See below for more on the Conflicker virus:

2 + 2 = 4

Ear and tongue sensors combine to understand "silent speech"

© Ryan McVay/Getty
Read my lips. A new invention can recognise "silent speech" by keeping tabs on your tongue and ears.

By training it to recognise useful phrases, it could allow people who are disabled or work in loud environments to quietly control wearable devices.

The new device relies in part on a magnetic tongue control system, previously designed to help people with paralysis drive a power wheelchair via tongue movements.

But the researchers were concerned that the technology - which relies on a magnetic tongue piercing or a sensor affixed to the tongue - might be too invasive for some users.

2 + 2 = 4

Unrealistic expectations can harm child's academic performance

© Igor Mojzes / Fotolia
Unrealistically high aspiration may hinder academic performance.
When parents have high hopes for their children's academic achievement, the children tend to do better in school, unless those hopes are unrealistic, in which case the children may not perform well in school, according to research published by the American Psychological Association.

"Our research revealed both positive and negative aspects of parents' aspiration for their children's academic performance. Although parental aspiration can help improve children's academic performance, excessive parental aspiration can be poisonous," said lead author Kou Murayama, PhD, of the University of Reading. The study was published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.



Human gene prevents regeneration in zebrafish

© University of California
Normally, a zebra fish’s amputated tail fin completely regrows within 15 days (left) but the human tumor suppressor ARF largely blocks this regenerative ability (right).
Regenerative medicine could one day allow physicians to correct congenital deformities, regrow damaged fingers, or even mend a broken heart. But to do it, they will have to reckon with the body's own anti-cancer security system. Now UCSF researchers have found a human gene that may be a key mediator of this tradeoff, blocking both tumors and healthy regeneration.

As a child, UCSF's Jason Pomerantz, MD, was amazed by the fact that salamanders can regenerate limbs. Now, as a plastic surgeon and stem cell researcher, he believes that insights from creatures like zebrafish and salamanders, which routinely regrow damaged tails, limbs, jaws and even hearts, may one day endow humans with heightened regenerative abilities.

"In the last 10 to 15 years, as regenerative organisms like zebrafish have become genetically tractable to study in the lab, I became convinced that these animals might be able to teach us what is possible for human regeneration," Pomerantz said. "Why can these vertebrates regenerate highly complex structures, while we can't?"

In a study published Nov. 17, 2015, in the journal eLife, Pomerantz and his team showed new evidence suggesting that mammals may have given up the ability to regenerate limbs partly in exchange for advanced cancer-fighting genes.


Skin must develop tolerance to "good" bacteria early in life, says new study

© Wikipedia
Human skin structure.
A wave of specialized immune cells entering the skin in early life may induce tolerance to the hundreds of species of so-called friendly bacteria that live on the surface of the body, according to a new study led by scientists from UC San Francisco.

In addition to offering a new view of the shaping of the skin microbiome - the term for communities of microbes that reside in or on different parts of the body - the new research may shed light on the development of chronic inflammatory skin conditions.

"There's an early developmental window during which you can be exposed to bacteria and they're seen as friendly - the immune system incorporates them and says, 'Yes this is good, this is 'self,' and it will not mount an immune response," said Michael D. Rosenblum, MD, PhD, assistant professor of dermatology at UCSF and senior author of a new paper on the research. "But if you introduce the same bacteria for the first time later in life, the response is completely different. The immune system says, 'This is bad, and we need to get rid of it.'"


Wind and waves composing music in Croatia

© linssimato
The Sea Organ, or the Morske Orgulje, is an incredible feat of architecture designed to bring life back to one of the world's oldest cities
In 2005, a Croatian architect designed a 230-foot-long organ that turns the rhythm of the waves into actual music.

Nope, not nonsensical bellows or chaotic tones. Real, actual, music.

Most of us have never seen, or heard, anything like it.

Imagine walking along the picturesque Adriatic Sea, treading lightly on a set of white stone steps as a cool breeze rolls past.

Carved into the steps are narrow channels that connect to 35 organ pipes, each tuned to different meticulously arranged musical chords.

As the waves lap against the steps, they push air through the pipes and out whistle-holes in the surface above, making a harmonious and completely random musical arrangement.

But you don't see what's happening below the surface. You close your eyes and all you hear is a song like you've never heard before, one completely unique to the movement of the sea at that exact moment.


Recognizing the basic structure of language is not unique to the human brain

A team led at Newcastle University, UK, has shed light on the evolutionary roots of language in the brain.

© giadophoto / Fotolia
Monkey. Scanning the brains of humans and monkeys, the research team has identified the area at the front of the brain which in both humans and monkeys recognizes when sequences of sounds occur in a legal order or in an unexpected, illegal order.
Publishing in Nature Communications, the team led by Dr Ben Wilson and Professor Chris Petkov explain how using an imaging technique to explore the brain activity in humans and monkeys has identified the evolutionary origins of cognitive functions in the brain that underpin language and allow us to evaluate orderliness in sequences of sounds.

This new knowledge will help our understanding of how we learn -- and lose -- language such as in aphasia after a stroke or in dementia.



NASA 'Curiosity' rover finds Mars could have held water at different points in time

© NASA / Reuters
NASA's Curiosity Mars rover is seen at the site from which it reached down to drill into a rock target called 'Buckskin' on lower Mount Sharp in this low-angle self-portrait taken August 5, 2015 and released August 19, 2015
NASA's Curiosity Mars rover has examined mineral veins in the Red Planet's so-called "Garden City," thanks to a new observation tool. Chemical analysis of the site may indicate water made repeated appearance on Mars, scientists say.

The Curiosity team deployed a tool called laser-firing Chemistry and Camera (ChemCam) to analyze bright and dark mineral veins, first discovered in March, at Garden City. It allows reading different veins by means of laser targeting while comparing them with mineral alteration seen at other places on the planet's surface.

"At Garden City, because there's such good preservation and we get the cross-cutting, we're able to start pulling out some chemical signatures that we saw at different places into distinct fluids," Curiosity scientist Diana Blaney, with NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, told Discovery News. "And by looking at the cross-cutting relationships and the difference in chemistries, I think we have really strong evidence that they're distinct fluid events."

"We don't know how far apart in time these different events occurred, or what was driving them," she said. "Veins have a good potential — because it's a fluid and there is crystallization — to include things as inclusions, but the organic preservation has a lot of factors."

2 + 2 = 4

Confirmation bias or why being wrong feels so right

People are reluctant to change their minds, even when facts don't match what they believe

© David McRaney
A new study from the University of Iowa finds that once people reach a conclusion, they aren't likely to change their minds, even when new information shows their initial belief is likely wrong and clinging to that belief costs real money.

The study, co-authored by Tom Gruca, professor of marketing in the Tippie College of Business, has implications for understanding financial markets. He says equity analysts who issue written forecasts about stocks may be subject to this confirmation bias and do not let new data significantly revise their initial analyses.

Gruca found this confirmation bias in student traders participating in the Iowa Electronic Markets over a 10-year period during which they bought and sold real-money contracts to predict the four-week opening box office receipts for a new movie. The students analyzed markets for a total of 18 movies released between 1998 and 2008.

The research shows that even as the key first weekend box office receipts were reported, prices stayed remarkably stable as traders ignored new value-relevant information and continued to rely on their initial estimates.