Science & Technology


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.


Fireball 4

Leonid meteor shower of fireballs and shooting stars expected to light up sky tonight

© Jali Jarekji / Reuters
Stars outnumber Leonid meteors lighting up the night sky of the desert near Amman.
A stunning fireworks show will be thrown by Mother Nature overnight on Tuesday, as the Leonid meteor shower sends out a series of spectacular fireballs and shooting stars. The annual lights show contains some of the fastest meteors in existence.

"Leonids travel at speeds of 71 km (44 miles) per second, and are considered to be some of the fastest meteors out there," NASA said in a statement.

Skywatchers hoping to see the light show with their own eyes are in luck, according to NASA, which says that a "waxing-crescent moon will set before midnight, leaving dark skies to view these bright and colorful meteors."

Those who want a front-row seat should head outdoors at around midnight, local time, says NASA.


What's in a name? More than you think...

What's in a name? In the case of the usernames of video gamers, a remarkable amount of information about their real world personalities, according to research by psychologists at the University of York.

Analysis of anonymised data from one of the world's most popular computer games by scientists in the Department of Psychology at York also revealed information about their ages.

Professor Alex Wade and PhD student Athanasios Kokkinakis, a PhD student on the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council-funded Intelligent Games and Game Intelligence(IGGI) project, analysed data from League of Legends, a game played by around 70 million people worldwide..

2 + 2 = 4

Corruption of science and data fraud: Stanford researchers uncover patterns in how scientists falsify research

When scientists falsify data, they try to cover it up by writing differently in their published works. A pair of Stanford researchers have devised a way of identifying these written clues.

© Andrey Popov/Shutterstock
Stanford communication scholars have devised an 'obfuscation index' that can help catch falsified scientific research before it is published.
Even the best poker players have "tells" that give away when they're bluffing with a weak hand. Scientists who commit fraud have similar, but even more subtle, tells, and a pair of Stanford researchers have cracked the writing patterns of scientists who attempt to pass along falsified data.

The work, published in the Journal of Language and Social Psychology, could eventually help scientists identify falsified research before it is published.



Information is contagious among social connections

© Win Nondakowit / Fotolia
A shared neighbor acts as a go-between, transmitting information to the individuals on either side, allowing them to indirectly influence each other. The researchers found that this indirect influence waned as the distance between two individuals grew, leveling off after six degrees of separation.
New research using advanced computer modeling sheds light on how behaviors may become "contagious" in large groups, showing that the memory of one individual can indirectly influence that of another via shared social connections.

The findings are published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.

"In large social networks, our model demonstrated that information is 'contagious' in much the same way that behavior seems to be contagious," say researchers Christian Luhmann and Suparna Rajaram of Stony Brook University. "These results suggest that information transmission is a critical mechanism underlying the social transmission of behavior."

While research has shown that various behaviors, including smoking, seem to spread throughout social networks, the mechanisms driving this behavioral contagion remain mysterious. To shed light on these contagious phenomena, Luhmann and Rajaram decided to incorporate well-established cognitive processes into computer models capable of simulating groups much larger than those typically seen in laboratory research. In doing so, they would be able to see how individuals interact, and how information flows, within groups that ranged from two to 500 people.


Researchers sequence genomes of parasite that is actually a "micro jellyfish"

Researchers have revealed how a jellyfish -- those commonplace sea pests with stinging tentacles -- have evolved over time into 'really weird' microscopic organisms, made of only a few cells, that live inside other animals.

© A. Diamant / P, Cartwright
Left, myxozoan spores from Kudoa iwatai. Each spore is approximately 10 micrometers in width. Right, the jellyfish Aurelia aurita (moon jelly). The bell is approximately 25 centimeters wide or 2,500 times larger than a myxozoan spore.
It's a shocking discovery that may redefine how scientists interpret what it means to be an animal.

This week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, researchers at the University of Kansas will reveal how a jellyfish -- those commonplace sea pests with stinging tentacles -- have evolved over time into "really weird" microscopic organisms, made of only a few cells, that live inside other animals.

Genome sequencing confirms that myxozoans, a diverse group of microscopic parasites that infect invertebrate and vertebrate hosts, are actually are "highly reduced" cnidarians -- the phylum that includes jellyfish, corals and sea anemones.

"This is a remarkable case of extreme degeneration of an animal body plan," said Paulyn Cartwright, associate professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at KU and principal investigator on the research project. "First, we confirmed they're cnidarians. Now we need to investigate how they got to be that way."


Animal magnetic sense comes from protein that acts as a compass

© Donna Apsey/EyeEm/Getty
Quick - can you tell where north is? Animals as diverse as sea turtles, birds, worms, butterflies and wolves can, thanks to sensing Earth's magnetic field.

But the magnet-sensing structures inside their cells that allow them to do this have evaded scientists - until now.



New dwarf planet most distant object observed in our solar system

© Scott Sheppard, Chad Trujillo, and David Tholen
A newly found object named V774104 was found using the Subaru Telescope.
It has been estimated that there may be hundreds of dwarf planets in the Kuiper belt and Oort Cloud of the outer Solar System. So far we've found - and actually seen - just a few. This past week, one more dwarf planet was added to the list and comes in at the most distant object ever seen in the Solar System.

This newly found world, initially named V774104, is about 15.4 billion kilometers from the Sun. At 103 AU, it is three times further from the Sun than Pluto, and is more distant than the previous record holder, Eris, which lies at 97 AU.

The discovery of V774104 was announced by one of the astronomers who found the object, Scott Sheppard, from the Carnegie Institution for Science, at the American Astronomical Society's Division for Planetary Sciences fall meeting last week. Sheppard, along with Chad Trujillo and David Tholen used Japan's 8-meter Subaru Telescope in Hawaii to make the find.

Astronomers say this newly spotted dwarf planet shows the depths of our Solar System.

"The discovery of V774104 is more proof that the Solar System is bigger than we thought," said astronomer Joseph Burns from Cornell University, who was not associated with the discovery. "We need a little more time to pin down the orbit and determine the object's exact size, but it must be big to see it at this distance."