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Bora’s Picks (December 14th, 2012)

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.


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How fake images change our memory and behaviour by Rose Eveleth:

The year was a memorable one – looking back at the unforgettable images over the past 12 months, you might think of apocalyptic-looking clouds over Manhattan during Hurricane Sandy, or Mitt Romney’s children mistakenly standing in a line spelling out the word “MONEY”, or even the winning US Powerball lottery ticket that became the most shared picture on Facebook. There’s only one problem. All these images are fake…

Jaws for Thought: the negative portrayal of sharks in the media by Olivia Emms:

Nothing is more likely to get people thinking about the need to focus on conservation than a cute red panda or a beautiful Iberian lynx. When it comes to general appeal you can’t beat the poster creatures of conservation, but what about a great white shark?…

How stores trick our senses to make us buy more (Part 1 of 5: Taste) by Jordan Gaines:

On the first day of Christmas my true love gave to me……a bunch of crap I really didn’t need. With just sixteen shopping days until Christmas, it’s easy to get roped into buying things we might not actually have on our gift list….

Once-Extinct Toads Reintroduced to Wild by Douglas Main:

A tiny, vanished toad has returned home. About 2,000 Kihansi spray toads have been reintroduced into the Kihansi Gorge in Tanzania after the animal was declared extinct in the wild. This is the first example of an amphibian species that had been declared extinct in the wild being repatriated to its native habitat, according to a release from the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), an environmental group which has led the effort to return the toads to their home….

Curiosity’s Cousins: Autonomous Polar Robots Explore Earth’s Extremes by Nadia Drake:

Earth’s poles are the wheeling grounds for two polar rovers: solar-powered Cool Robot and its younger cousin Yeti. The pair, designed by a team led by engineer Laura Ray at Dartmouth College, are among the first autonomous polar robots to go to work. Now, knee-high Yeti is on an expedition to Antarctica, peering beneath the ice and snow on Mt. Erebus, in search of steam-carved caves hiding in the volcano’s ice cap….

Making the most of citizen scientists by Penny Sarchet:

Citizen science—the practice of involving the general public in research projects—is a growing trend in the UK, but what are the practical implications for a researcher hoping to reach out beyond academia? Citizen science is booming like never before, with more than 230 projects counted in a recent report commissioned by the UK Environmental Observation Framework, a partnership of funders including the Natural Environment Research Council. Asking the public to make observations can unlock valuable information, as long as you do it effectively, EOF says….

Nate Silver & Technology in Mass Communication by Paige Brown:

For one of my final exams this semester, we had to answer the question of whether technology is changing the role and function of media from the perspective of twelve different authors. More than a tedious final exam, I found this topic intriguing and thought-provoking. I’ve shared my final paper below, and would love blog responses from fellow science and mass comm-ers!…

Different escape plan for city birds by Becky Summers:

Rural birds will pick a fight but city birds play dead, a recent study suggests. Researchers studied how birds of the same species, living either in the city or country, responded to being caught by a human. They found that those from urban areas have developed very different escape mechanisms to their country cousins. City birds will play dead when attacked, but rural birds will peck aggressively and attempt to escape….

A scientific history of shopping by Jacob Ward:

If you joined me on an amble I had through central London last week, you would have seen – as I did – some curious pieces of scientific and commercial history. The first stop on my walking tour was Burlington Arcade – some of you might be familiar with this location, as it’s right round the corner from the Royal Academy on Piccadilly and neighboured by the famous Courtyard Societies – The Geological Society, Linnean Society, Royal Astronomical Society, Society of Antiquaries, and the Royal Society of Chemistry. In an area so rich with scientific history, it would be easy to overlook some fascinating examples of the unique effects technology have had on the history of the shopping centre – and Burlington Arcade just happens to be one such example….

Boredom Didn’t Exist as an Emotion in Darwin’s Days by Rachel Nuwer:

In 1868, Darwin set out to quantify human emotion in a series of novel experiments. He took advantage of a new technology, photography, to capture people whose faces were artificially contracted by harmless electrical probes into expressions resembling those of emotions running from deep sadness to elation. Then, he showed those photos to viewers who interpreted the emotions so Darwin could assess their universality. The Scientist quotes Darwin’s conclusion, published in The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals: “The young and the old of widely different races, both with man and animals, express the same state of mind by the same movements.”…

Seeing double: How do 3D movies really work? by Rachel Feltman:

Movies are great, movies with explosions are better and movie explosions three inches from your face are the best. Three-dimensional technology brings us there, and it seems like lately everything is being released in 3D. What does that mean, beyond higher ticket prices and lots of dorky glasses?…

A brush with sound: Dorit Chrysler, virtuoso of the theremin by Arielle Duhaime-Ross and Rachel Feltman:

Dorit Chrysler is an Austrian born, New York based musician who plays the theremin. Difficult to play and almost impossible to master, the theremin is unique in that it generates sound without any direct touch by the musician. When played well, it’s a feat of both physics and art….

The Evolution of “Hack” by Hannah Cheng:

To ease freshman into the intensive world of MIT, Stephen C. Ehrmann, class president of 1971, completely rewrote the student handbook, formerly known as The Social Beaver. Originally an impersonal list of local services and conveniences, the revised “How to Get Around MIT” was a casual, easy-to-read record, “a survival guide written by students, for students.” …

Anatomical Mashups by Sabrina Richards:

Anyone with arachnophobia is all too aware of how a spider moves. And we’re all accustomed to the rhythm of human ambulation. So it’s a little disconcerting to see a human pouncing like a spider. The creature—a woman’s body carried by long spidery legs—is part of artist Brian Andrews’ animation “Hominid,” a tale of predator and prey inspired by x-ray films of human and animal skeletons….

Pretty, sluggish by Eliot Barford:

On land, “slug” means slow, slimy, green and fond of cabbage, but it doesn’t have to be that way. From today, “slug” should make you think of beauty, carnivorous appetites and the surprising ingenuity of evolution. My first Seabeast of the Week is the nudibranch, a type of sea slug….

Feces study gets the poop on gorillas’ diet by Tanya Lewis:

Chemical signatures in a gorilla’s feces reveal a lot about short-term changes in its diet, a new study finds….

Battle Brews Over a Small, Vital Fish by Emma Bryce:

The fate of a nondescript fish called the menhaden will be the focus of debate on Friday when the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission meets in Baltimore to consider whether a catch limit should be imposed to end what many groups see as the outright exploitation of the species. So far, environmental groups, recreational and commercial fishermen, birders and others have generated over 100,000 comments in favor of protecting the fish….

New Microscopy Technique Gets Close Enough To See The Lengths Of Atomic Bonds by Amber Williams:

For the first time, scientists have used an imaging technique that’s so precise that it’s possible to see the different lengths of individual atomic bonds. Using a method called non-contact atomic force microscopy, IBM researchers scanned a microscopic probe with a tip only an atom wide over a nanographene molecule and measured the forces between the probe and the sample. In this colored image, the bonds with more electrons—which are also shorter—are a brighter green.

Hormone helps keep men faithful by Rachael Stubbins:

The hormone oxytocin plays a significant role in keeping men faithful to their partners, according to a new study. Men in relationships who have been exposed to the hormone are less comfortable in close proximity to other women. This is the first study to look at the role of oxytocin in male-female monogamy among humans and it is also the first to look at how the hormone influences the social distance between men and women….

Engler’s Ornithopter: Useless Research or an Idea Waiting to Take Flight? by Danya Rumore:

Some inventions take hold and change the world. Many—such as automobiles, computers, and iPhones—fundamentally alter the way we work, play, travel, and even think. Others flop and end up forgotten or, perhaps even more ignominiously, sequestered in the “Archives of Useless Research,” a collection of books and pamphlets stored in the gold mine of knowledge that is the MIT Archives. …





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