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Fri, 22 Feb 2019
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Crusader

First Knights Templar are discovered

London: The first bodies of the Knights Templar, the mysterious religious order at the heart of The Da Vinci Code, have been found by archaeologists near the River Jordan in northern Israel.

Butterfly

Birdsong Sounds Sweeter Because Throats Filter Out Messy Overtones

Bloomington, IN - The purity of birdsong is owed in large part to rapid, controlled changes in the shape of the birds' upper vocal tracts, according to a new study of Northern Cardinals by scientists at Indiana University Bloomington, Purdue University and Australian National University. Their report will appear in next week's (April 4) Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

"We show that songbirds adjust the size and shape of their vocal tract to 'fit' the changing frequency of their song," IU neurobiologist Roderick Suthers said. "This enables the bird to produce a more whistle-like, pure-tone song."

Meteor

Europe Sets Next Phase In Asteroid Deflection Project

Paris - The European Space Agency (ESA) said it had shortlisted three European consortia to submit proposals for its Don Quijote project, which seeks to deflect any future asteroid on a collision course with Earth.

Comment: Comment:
"The risk of an asteroid collision with Earth is extremely remote."
If the risk is so remote, why all the running around and preparing for asteroid deflecting missions? Why bother?


Light Saber

What's Behind the Solar System's Biggest Light Shows

New studies of auroras on Jupiter and Saturn are changing how scientists think the biggest light shows in the solar system are formed. Like auroras on Earth, the Sun plays an important role.

Family

Smart Kids' Brains May Mature Later

NEW YORK - Very smart children may seem advanced in many ways, but a new study shows they actually lag behind other kids in development of the "thinking" part of the brain.

The brain's outer mantle, or cortex, gets thicker and then thins during childhood and the teen years. The study found that in kids with superior intelligence, the cortex reaches its thickest stage a few years later than in other children.

Nobody knows what causes that or how it relates to superior intelligence. But researchers said the finding does not rule out a role for environment - such as intellectual stimulation - in affecting a child's level of intelligence.

Laptop

When computers do the news, hoaxes slip in

When a New Jersey teenager decided to create a fictional story about being hired by one of the Internet's largest companies, he knew just where to spread the news - with the unwitting help of the company itself.

Earlier this month, Thomas Vendetta submitted his fake press release about being hired by Google to Google News, a popular site that automatically trolls 4,500 sources for their latest posts. Sure enough, the release appeared on the world's most popular website for news.

Light Saber

Cool Nanotechnology

Leeds, UK - Huge reductions in heating bills, safer surgery and the next generation of miniaturised computers are among the potential benefits of new nanotechnology developed at Leeds.

By suspending nanoparticles in water or other liquids, Professor Richard Williams and Dr Yulong Ding have created 'nanofluids' which can transfer heat up to 400% faster than other liquids. In a central heating system, nanofluids could increase efficiency without the need to use a more powerful pump, so saving energy and providing major environmental benefits.

Cloud Lightning

World Prepares for Total Solar Eclipse

ACCRA, Ghana -- Tourists and scientists were gathering at spots around the world for the first total eclipse in years, a solar show that will sweep northeast from Brazil to Mongolia and blot out the sun across swathes of the world's poorest lands.

The last such eclipse in November 2003 was most visible from Antarctica, said Alex Young, a NASA scientist involved in solar research.

Wednesday's eclipse will block the sun in highly populated areas, including West Africa. NASA said it won't be visible from the United States.

Recycle

Nature mag cooked Wikipedia study

Nature magazine has some tough questions to answer after it let its Wikipedia fetish get the better of its responsibilities to reporting science. The Encyclopedia Britannica has published a devastating response to Nature's December comparison of Wikipedia and Britannica, and accuses the journal of misrepresenting its own evidence.

Where the evidence didn't fit, says Britannica, Nature's news team just made it up. Britannica has called on the journal to repudiate the report, which was put together by its news team.

Comment: When Nature published the news story in December, it followed weeks of bad publicity for Wikipedia, and was a gift for the project's beleaguered supporters.

In October, a co-founder had agreed that several entries were "horrific crap". A former newspaper editor and Kennedy aide John Siegenthaler Snr then wrote an article explaining how libellous modifications had lain unchecked for months. By early December, Wikipedia's Jimmy Wales was becoming a regular feature on CNN cable news, explaining away the site's deficiencies.

"Nature's investigation suggests that Britannica's advantage may not be great," wrote news editor Jim Giles.

Nature accompanied this favorable news report with a cheerful, spin-heavy editorial that owed more to an evangelical recruitment drive than it did a rational analysis of empirical evidence. It urged readers to "push forward the grand experiment that is Wikipedia."

(Former Britannica editor Robert McHenry dubbed Wikipedia the "Faith based encyclopedia", and the project certainly reflects the religious zeal of some of its keenest supporters. Regular Register readers will be familiar with the rhetoric. See "Wikipedia 'to make universities obsolete').

Hundreds of publications pounced on the Nature story, and echoed the spin that Wikipedia was as good as Britannica - downplaying or omitting to mention the quality gap. The press loves an upbeat story, and what can be more uplifting than the utopian idea that we're all experts - at whatever subject we choose?

The journal didn't, however, disclose the evidence for these conclusions until some days later, when journalists had retired for their annual Christmas holiday break.

And this evidence raised troubling questions, as Nicholas Carr noted last month. Many publications had assumed Nature's Wikipedia story was objectively reporting the work of scientists - Nature's staple - rather than a news report assembled by journalists pretending to be scientists.

And now we know it was anything but scientific.

Carr noted that Nature's reviewers considered trivial errors and serious mistakes as roughly equal.

So why did Nature risk its reputation in such a way?

Perhaps the clue lies not in the news report, but in the evangelism of the accompanying editorial. Nature's news and features editor Jim Giles, who was responsible for the Wikipedia story, has a fondness for "collective intelligence", one critical website suggets.

"As long as enough scientists with relevant knowledge played the market, the price should reflect the latest developments in climate research," Giles concluded of one market experiment in 2002.

The idea became notorious two years ago when DARPA, under retired Admiral Poindexter, invested in an online "terror casino" to predict world events such as assassinations. The public didn't quite share the sunny view of this utopian experiment, and Poindexter was invited to resign.

What do these seemingly disparate projects have in common? The idea that you can vote for the truth.

We thought it pretty odd, back in December, to discover a popular science journal recommending readers support less accurate information. It's even stranger to find this institution apparently violating fundamental principles of empiricism.

But these are strange times - and high summer for supporters of junk science.


Bug

Earth may have 'infected' Titan with life

The various meteoric slappings sustained by Earth over the millenia may have seeded other parts of the solar system with life, if calculations by Canadian scientists are to be believed.

Planetary scientist Brett Gladman and colleagues at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver worked out that for material to be thrown up with enough force to exit Earth's atmosphere, it would take an impact from a meteor 10 to 50km across. They reckon such impacts, which include the famous 'dinosaur-killer' that formed the Chicxulub crater, send about 600m potenitally life-bearing rock fragments into solar orbit.