Science & Technology


Lie detectors are a hocus-pocus tool for our authoritarian state

© Illustration by Belle Mellor
'Does it matter if a purportedly ­'scientific' process is actually closer to astrology? Well, not really, no – unless they’re spending public money on what is basically a superstitious instrument.'
Buying voice risk analysis tools to root out benefit fraud is merely an authoritarian creation of suspicion for its own sake

Humankind has for centuries been trying to establish how to spot a liar without having to rely on language. The Chinese used to fill a man's mouth with dry rice, on the basis that the pressure of the untruth would interrupt his production of saliva, making the grains attach helpfully to his cheeks and tongue, to announce his mendacity. More recently we've had the polygraph test and, more recently still, voice risk analysis - they're a tiny bit more reliable than the rice, but really, there's not much in it.

They don't work for a number of reasons, but the main one is that they measure stress (on the basis that lying is more stressful than telling the truth). There's a huge variation in how we experience stress. A lot of people find any contact with a stranger stressful, whether they're lying or not; a lot of liars find it really difficult to become stressed, which is how they became delinquent in the first place, just chasing a thrill.

Overall, then, you have built a system in which the most dishonest actually perform pretty well, the least dishonest sometimes perform badly, and in the middle, there might be some whom you assess correctly on a good day.
2 + 2 = 4

Bacteria 'talk' to each other to thrive suggests Edinburgh study

A new study has suggested bacteria use a form of communication similar to human language.

Language allows bacteria to thrive, the researchers say
The process, which involves chemical signals instead of words, allows the bacteria to thrive, according to Edinburgh University researchers.

They said insights into how bacteria "talk" to each other may help experts halt their growing resistance to antibiotics.

By interpreting the language they hope to find new drugs to fight infections.

Ouroboros: Cyber Snake infects Ukraine computer networks

© BarracudaBrigade.blogspot
An aggressive cyber weapon called Snake has infected dozens of Ukrainian computer networks including government systems in one of the most sophisticated attacks of recent years.

Also known as Ouroboros, after the serpent of Greek mythology that swallowed its own tail, experts say it is comparable in its complexity with Stuxnet, the malware that was found to have disrupted Iran's uranium enrichment programme in 2010.

The cyber weapon has been deployed most aggressively since the start of last year ahead of protests that climaxed two weeks ago with the overthrow of Viktor Yanukovich's government.

Ouroboros gives its operators unfettered access to networks for surveillance purposes. But it can also act as a highly advanced "digital beachhead" that could destroy computer networks with wide-ranging repercussions for the public.

Cyber warfare experts have long warned that digital weapons could shut off civilian power or water supplies, cripple banks or even blow up industrial sites that depend on computer-controlled safety programmes.

Comment: More baseless accusations and wild speculation about Russia from the MSM.

Israeli General Claims Stuxnet Attacks as One of His Successes
Stuxnet Weapon Has at Least 4 Cousins: Researchers


Making crystals ripple with light

© Siyuan Dai
This image shows surface phonon polaritons launched by infrared light propagate across layers of hexagonal boron nitride, a van der Waals crystal.
A beam of light can make waves in crystals, and those waves can be "tuned" - a phenomenon that might open up new technological possibilities, researchers say.

At the University of California, San Diego, physicists led by Dimitri Basov and Siyuan Dai fired a beam of infrared light at a tiny crystal of boron nitride. They focused the beam on the tip of an atomic force microscope. An atomic force microscope probes surfaces at the scale of atoms and molecules with a needle at the end of an arm, like that on a vinyl record player. The microscope transferred the momentum from the light to the crystal.

The light generated ripples - waves - in the boron nitride. The waves, called phonon polaritons, had wavelengths as short as those of ultraviolet light, about 300-400 nanometers, or billionths of a meter.

"A wave on the surface of water is the closest analogy," Basov said in a statement. "You throw a stone and you launch concentric waves that move outward. This is similar. Atoms are moving. The triggering event is illumination with light."

A chemical used in cosmetics, boron nitride (BN) is a van der Waals crystal, which means its atoms form layers, stacked on top of one another and held together by forces between molecules. By adjusting the wavelength of the light and the number of layers of boron nitride, the researchers were able to adjust the shape and size of the polaritons.

"The key novelty is that the wave properties can be tuned by altering the number of atomic layers in a [boron nitride] specimen," Basov told Live Science.

Researchers crowd-source funds to back Ouija board science project

Ouija Board Experiment
© Darryl Dyck/The Globe and Mail
UBC Cognitive Systems student Mahtab Borhani, left, and Simon Garret are photographed with a Ouija board being used in an experiment to explore how the boards can be used to unlock subconscious memories.
Scientists at a University of British Columbia lab examining human unconsciousness using Ouija boards are taking to the Internet to look for research funds.

Docky Duncan, a research assistant with UBC's Visual Cognition Lab, said in an interview Tuesday that the project is "off the beaten track" and there has been "incredible difficulty" getting even the modest $2,000 in funding it needs.

"The research methodology is so strange, using the Ouija board and all, that it might be a little too controversial for most grant organizations," he said.

Without an obvious organization to back the project, Mr. Duncan said researchers had to look to crowd-sourcing as an alternative.

"Grant organizations do great things for a lot of projects, but they definitely have a certain view of what a psychology project should be, and you throw Ouija boards into the mix and a lot of people either think they're possessed or they're a total sham and that they have no place in science," Mr. Duncan said.

Using crowd funding for an academic endeavour isn't unique: There are websites dedicated specifically to crowd funding science research, such as Experiment (formerly known as Microryza). And UBC is currently working on a UBC-specific crowd-funding tool.

The Ouija project previously launched a six-week funding campaign on Microryza that fell short of its goal. This time, though, Mr. Duncan is hoping the campaign, to be launched at the end of this month, will achieve its desired $2,000 mark.

New diet, sexual attraction may have spurred Europeans' lighter skin

Light Skin
© Alla V. Nikolova
Skin and bones. This 5000-year-old individual found in Ukraine was part of a population caught in the act of evolving lighter skin.
Why do some humans have lighter skin than others? Researchers have longed chalked up the difference to tens of thousands of years of evolution, with darker skin protecting those who live nearer to the equator from the sun's intense radiation. But a new study of ancient DNA concludes that European skin color has continued to change over the past 5000 years, suggesting that additional factors, including diet and sexual attraction, may also be at play.

Our species, Homo sapiens, first arose in Africa about 200,000 years ago, and researchers assume that its first members were as dark-skinned as Africans are today, because dark skin is advantageous in Africa. Dark skin stems from higher levels of the pigment melanin, which blocks UV light and protects against its dangers, such as DNA damage - which can lead to skin cancer - and the breakdown of vitamin B. On the other hand, skin cells need exposure to a certain amount of UV light in order to produce vitamin D. These competing pressures mean that as early humans moved away from the equator, it makes sense that their skin lightened.

Recent research, however, has suggested that the picture is not so simple. For one thing, a number of genes control the synthesis of melanin (which itself comes in two different forms in humans), and each gene appears to have a different evolutionary history. Moreover, humans apparently did not begin to lighten up immediately after they migrated from Africa to Europe beginning about 40,000 years ago. In 2012, for example, a team led by Jorge Rocha, a geneticist at the University of Porto in Portugal, looked at variants of four pigmentation genes in modern Portuguese and African populations and calculated that at least three of them had only been strongly favored by evolution tens of thousands of years after humans left Africa. In January, another team, led by geneticist Carles Lalueza-Fox of the University of Barcelona in Spain, sequenced the genome of an 8000-year-old male hunter-gatherer skeleton from the site of La Braña-Arintero in Spain and found that he was dark rather than light-skinned - again suggesting that natural selection for light skin acted relatively late in prehistory.

Documentary: The world's first Cosmonaut, Yuri Gagarin‏

The world's first Cosmonaut; everyone knows his name, but few people ever knew the man. Some say Yuri Gagarin's iconic first spaceflight was the product of immense good fortune. Others believe he was destined for greatness. With the 80th anniversary of his birth drawing near, RT meets some of Gagarin's friends and family, who tell the more personal and untold story of the first man ever to venture into space.

Space Junk: Australian scientists to zap debris with lasers

© European Space Agency/Rex Feat
Space junk orbiting the Earth. Scientists estimate there are some 300,000 piece of debris circling the planet.
It may sound like science fiction but an Australian team is working on a project to zap orbital debris with lasers from Earth to reduce the growing amount of space junk that threatens to knock out satellites with a "cascade of collisions".

The project is very realistic and likely to be working in the next 10 years, Matthew Colless, director of Australian National University's Research School of Astronomy and Astrophysics, told Reuters.

"It's important that it's possible on that scale because there's so much space junk up there," he said. "We're perhaps only a couple of decades away from a catastrophic cascade of collisions ... that takes out all the satellites in low orbit."
Fireball 4

Massive new asteroid 2014 CU13 to pass Earth tonight

2014 CU13
© Slooh Community Observatory
This graphic depicts the path of asteroid 2014 CU13 during its distant flyby of Earth on March 9, 2014. The Slooh online community observatory hopes to track the asteroid to help astronomers better refine the newfound asteroid's orbit.
An asteroid at least the size of a 60-story building will make a distant flyby of Earth this week, and you watch astronomers track the space rock tonight (March 9) in a live webcast, weather permitting. The asteroid poses no threat to Earth.

The online Slooh community observatory will host the free webcast at 10 p.m. EDT (0200 GMT) to track asteroid 2014 CU13, a space rock about 623 feet (190 meters) wide discovered on Feb. 11 that will pass Earth at a range of about eight times the distance between Earth and the moon on Tuesday (March 11). The average Earth-moon distance is about 239,000 miles (385,000 kilometers), so eight lunar distances is about 1.9 million miles (3 million km).

You can watch the asteroid webcast live on the Slooh website, with streaming views from Slooh's remotely operated telescope in the Canary Islands, off the west coast of Africa. You can watch the asteroid webcast live on here.
Fireball 5

Dinosaur-killing asteroid triggered lethal acid rain

Impact Event
Artist's illustration of an asteroid hitting Earth 65 million years ago.
The oceans soured into a deadly sulfuric-acid stew after the huge asteroid impact that wiped out the dinosaurs, a new study suggests.

Eighty percent of the planet's species died off at the end of the Cretaceous Period 65.5 million years ago, including most marine life in the upper ocean, as well as swimmers and drifters in lakes and rivers. Scientists blame this mass extinction on the asteroid or comet impact that created the Chicxulub crater in the Gulf of Mexico.

A new model of the disaster finds that the impact would have inundated Earth's atmosphere with sulfur trioxide, from sulfate-rich marine rocks called anhydrite vaporized by the blast. Once in the air, the sulfur would have rapidly transformed into sulfuric acid, generating massive amounts of acid rain within a few days of the impact, according to the study, published today (March 9) in the journal Nature Geoscience.

The model helps explain why most deep-sea marine life survived the mass extinction while surface dwellers disappeared from the fossil record, the researchers said. The intense acid rainfall only spiked the upper surface of the ocean with sulfuric acid, leaving the deeper waters as a refuge. The model could also account for another extinction mystery: the so-called fern spike, revealed by a massive increase in fossil fern pollen just after the impact. Ferns are one of the few plants that tolerate ground saturated in acidic water, the researchers said.