Category Archives: Science

Quote of the day: The very, very creepy Ted Cruz


And a physician is concerned.

From Richard E. Cytowic M.D., Clinical Associate Professor of Neurology at George Washington University Medical Center, writing in Psychology Today [where esnl once served as an associate editor]:

I have rarely, if ever, seen a conventional smile from Senator Cruz. In a natural smile the corners of the mouth go up; these muscles we can control voluntarily as well. But muscles circling the eyes are involuntary only; they make the eyes narrow, forming crow’s feet at the outside corners. Even the Mona Lisa’s smile shows this. The eyes give away one’s game and let us tell forged from genuine smiles. Grandma may have told you to put on a happy face, but you can’t if it isn’t heartfelt.

No matter the emotional coloring of Senator Cruz’s outward rhetoric, his mouth typically tightens into the same straight line. If it deviates from this, the corners of his mouth bend down, not upwards. The outside of his eyebrows bend down, too, when he emotes, something so atypical that it disturbs me. Typically a person’s eyebrows arch up, as does the corrugator muscle that furrow the forehead. What is such a downturned face signaling?

Downturned expressions usually signal disagreeableness or disgust. But I honestly don’t know because such an expression is rare in the context of public presentations that are meant to win people over. He may well be unaware that the message of his body language is incongruent with his words.

And then there is that open “O” of the Senator’s mouth that photos capture over and over. I don’t know what to make of it. But he makes it when he overtly emotes—shows us as well as tells us that he is determined, irritated, or above it all—whereas speakers who are angry, indignant, or rhetorically displeased push their mouth forward in a pout. He doesn’t. Google “Ted Cruz smiling,” and judge for yourself. For the record I am not a Democrat. I’m at a loss to verbalize what unsettles me so when I watch the freshman senator. But it leaves me cold.

Sleep deprivation, tasers lead to false confessions?


Two new studies cast doubt on police-obtained confessions of criminal suspects, the first in case of those deprived of sleep before or during the interrogation process, and the second in the case of those who have been subjected to taser shocks.

First, from the  Michigan State University newsroom:

Sleep deprivation linked to false confessions

Sleep-deprived people are much more likely to sign false confessions than rested individuals, according to a groundbreaking study that has important implications for police interrogation practices.

The odds of signing a false confession were 4.5 times higher for participants who had been awake for 24 hours than for those who had slept eight hours the night before.

Led by Kimberly M. Fenn, associate professor of psychology at Michigan State University, the study is published in this week’s Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

“This is the first direct evidence that sleep deprivation increases the likelihood that a person will falsely confess to wrongdoing that never occurred,” said Fenn. “It’s a crucial first step toward understanding the role of sleep deprivation in false confessions and, in turn, raises complex questions about the use of sleep deprivation in the interrogation of innocent and guilty suspects.”

False confessions in the United States are thought to account for 15 percent-25 percent of wrongful convictions. And past research has indicated that the interrogation of unrested, possibly sleep-deprived suspects is commonplace.

For the study, conducted in Fenn’s Sleep and Learning Lab, 88 participants completed various computer activities and a cognitive test during several laboratory sessions over a weeklong period. Participants were given several warnings not to hit the “escape” key because “this could cause the computer to lose valuable data.” Participants were monitored during the tasks.

On the final day of the experiment, half of the participants slept for eight hours while the other half stayed awake overnight. The next morning before leaving the lab, each participant was shown a statement summarizing his or her activities and falsely alleging the participant had pressed the escape key. Participants were asked to sign the statement, check a box confirming its accuracy and sign their name.

The results were striking: 50 percent of sleep-deprived participants signed the false confession, while only 18 percent of rested participants signed it.

Further, sleep deprivation had a significant effect on participants who scored lower on the Cognitive Reflection Test, which is related to intelligence. Those participants were much more likely to sign the false confession.

To protect against the harmful effects of false confessions, Fenn and her co-authors recommend interrogations be videotaped, giving judges, attorneys and jurors added insight into a suspect’s psychological state.

Suspects also can be given a quick and easy test to determine sleepiness prior to an interrogation. Participants in the MSU-led study were given the publicly available Stanford Sleepiness Scale; those who indicated a higher level of sleepiness were significantly more likely to sign the false confession.

“A false admission of wrongdoing can have disastrous consequences in a legal system already fraught with miscarriages of justice,” the authors conclude. “We are hopeful that our study is the first of many to uncover the sleep-related factors that influence processes related to false confession.”

Fenn’s co-authors are Steven Frenda of the New School for Social Research, Shari Berkowitz of California State University, Dominguez Hills; and Elizabeth Loftus of the University of California, Irvine.

The second comes from the Drexel University newsroom:

Taser Shock Disrupts Brain Function, Has Implications for Police Interrogations

More than two million citizens have been Tased by police as Taser stun guns have become one of the preferred less-lethal weapons by police departments across the United States during the past decade. But what does that 50,000-volt shock do to a person’s brain?

Despite widespread adoption by law enforcement – stun guns are now used in 17,000 police departments – little is known about exactly how the shocks affect individuals’ cognitive functioning, or, more specifically, how receiving an electric shock from a Taser might affect the ability of a suspect to understand and waive their Miranda rights.

New research from a first-of-its-kind human study by Drexel University and Arizona State University reveals that the burst of electricity from a stun gun can impair a person’s ability to remember and process information. In a randomized control trial, participants were subjected to Taser shocks and tested for cognitive impairment. Some showed short-term declines in cognitive functioning comparable to dementia, raising serious questions about the ability of police suspects to understand their rights at the point of arrest.

Read the rest, after the jump. . .

Continue reading

Amyris, after fueling around, heads to the HSN


Lo, how the mighty have fallen.

Amyris, the company founded by UC Berkeley’s Jay Keasling and his students with the promise to bring competitive clean-burning cellulose-based fuels to a gas pump near you, is heading the Home Shopping Network.

As we’ve noted endless time before, Amyris failed in in basic promise, despite many millions from Bill Gates, Arab oil royalty, and an Asian government, and has abandoned all plans to make fuel from bacterial excrement.

Instead, the microbes are secreting chemicals to smear on your skin.

From a company press release:

Biossance™, the consumer beauty brand from Amyris, Inc. (AMRS), today announced its anticipated launch on leading live content retailer HSN on February 18th, 2016 during the Beauty Report with Amy Morrison.  The first product to be featured from the exciting new skincare collection will be Biossance™ The Revitalizer, a breakthrough moisturizer that helps skin by using one of the emollients already found naturally within the body. Amyris plans to feature an expanded line of several other Biossance products during 2016, which will also be available for sale across HSN’s platforms, including TV, mobile and online via HSN’s website (www.HSN.com).

“We are delighted to welcome the Biossance brand to HSN,” said Alicia Valencia, Senior Vice President of Beauty at HSN. “Our customers are always searching for innovative new products that are environmentally friendly and will enhance their current beauty regime. Biossance is a perfect addition to our growing portfolio of top beauty brands and I look forward to debuting it for our customers this month.”

“As a leading industrial bioscience company, we are pleased to join with HSN, a leader in showcasing innovative new products, to celebrate the on-air launch of Biossance The Revitalizer,” said Caroline Hadfield, Senior Vice President, Personal Care, at Amyris. “This marks the next step in our plans to bring the Biossance brand to cosmetics consumers both on- and offline.”

Ah, Berkeley.

And, yes, the Amyris founders, aided by Gates, originally promised to bring the world a bacteria-created version of the world’s leading anti-malarial drug at a price much cheaper than the natural version.

They failed at that, too.

Headline of the day III: Lethally spaced out


From ars technica:

Indian man could be first recorded human fatality due to a meteorite

Indian officials say bus driver was killed by a meteorite, pending confirmation

Zika outbreak spreads, with high anxiety in Asia


We begin with the latest map, issued Friday by the  Pan American Health Organization showing the countries of Latin America where Zika virus has been contracted locally:

BLOG Zika regional map

Next, from euronews, a report on the latest news from the nation at the epicenter of the crisis:

Brazil in crisis as Zika fears mount

Program notes:

In exactly six months, the summer Olympic Games will open in Rio de Janeiro. Even though some 500 millions de dollars have been axed to balance the budget, the installations are between 80 and 90 percent complete.

But there are other dangers, beyond financial, are threatening the first South American city to host the event.

Since May last year the Zika epidemic has spread from Brazil’s north-east bringing fear in almost equal measure because of the number of microcephaly cases.

From RT, more news from Brazil:

Olympic organizers deny Games under threat due to Zika virus

Brazil’s Sports Minister George Hilton issued a statement on Thursday in which he criticized the press for suggesting South America’s first-ever Olympics may be called off.

UPDATE: And there’s reason for that anxiety, as the Independent reports:

Zika: Pregnant British holidaymakers with bookings to Caribbean and US face uncertainty amid risk of virus spreading

Airlines and holiday companies allowing pregnant women to switch destinations, but only if they are booked to one of the affected countries

From the San Francisco Chronicle, would-be U.S. travelers are having second thoughts:

Zika fears spur rash of calls to clinics about travel safety

Medical experts in the Bay Area say they’ve been fielding calls from residents inquiring about the safety of traveling to countries primarily in South and Central America and the Caribbean, where Zika is widespread.

VOA News covers the latest warning from the Centers for Disease Control:

New Warning From CDC on Zika Virus Transmission

Program notes:

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has issued a new warning for men about transmitting the Zika virus, which is spreading rapidly in Latin America and the Caribbean, creating a crisis for pregnant women. VOA’s Carol Pearson reports very little is actually known about the virus.

More from Agence France Presse:

US urges condoms or abstinence to avoid Zika virus

US health authorities on Friday urged people to use condoms or refrain from sex if they live in or have travelled to areas where the Zika virus is circulating

From Reuters, troubling news from another country:

More than 3,100 pregnant women in Colombia have Zika virus: government

 More than 3,100 pregnant Colombian women are infected with the mosquito-borne Zika virus, President Juan Manuel Santos said on Saturday, as the disease continues its rapid spread across the Americas.

UPDATE: The latest from Colombia via teleSUR English:

First Abortion in Colombia Possibly as Result of Zika

A woman struggled to find a doctor willing to provide an abortion after it was discovered her fetus suffered from microcephaly

Channel NewsAsia covers Aussie angst:

Australia to step up Zika testing as two new cases reported

Australia will intensify testing for the Zika virus in Queensland state where Aedes mosquitoes are found, authorities said on Saturday, adding that two new cases among local residents were the result of travel to affected countries.

Kiwi worries from the New Zealand Herald:

Kiwi teen may have Zika virus after holiday

Zika is a mosquito-borne virus that is suspected of causing serious birth defects in unborn babies. The World Health Organisation has declared the latest outbreak a public health emergency and there have been 10 confirmed cases – all contracted overseas – in New Zealand this year.

And here in the U.S., the Centers for Disease Control maps states where Zika cases have been reported:

Laboratory-confirmed Zika virus disease cases reported to ArboNET by state or territory — United States, 2015–2016 [as of February 3, 2016]

Laboratory-confirmed Zika virus disease cases reported to ArboNET by state or territory — United States, 2015–2016 [as of February 3, 2016]

Next, Zika concerns in Arkansas, via KATV ABC 7 in Little Rock:

CDC testing two new possible Zika cases from Arkansas

  • The Arkansas Department of Health reports it has sent two additional samples to the Centers for Disease Control to test for the Zika virus.
  • One case of the Zika virus has already been confirmed in Arkansas.
  • In Florida, a fifth county has been added the state of emergency list after 12 confirmed cases.

On to Illinois with ABC7 Chicago:

Zika virus cases expected to rise in IL after spring break

Three cases of the Zika virus have been reported in Illinois, and doctors expect more as people travel to the Caribbean on spring break.

WPDH radio in Poughkeepsie, NY, covers cases in the Empire State:

Breaking: Another Zika Virus Case Discovered in Hudson Valley

The Zika Virus was reported in another Hudson Valley individual today. This brings the total number of New Yorkers with the virus up to 11, with two of them right here in our area.

Finally, from CCTV English, another development:

Indian firm developing two possible Zika vaccines

Heavens above: Super suns far, far away


From NASA’s Astronomy Picture of the Day:

BLOG Stella

Massive Stars in NGC 6357
Image Credit & Copyright: CHART32 Team, Processing – Johannes Schedler

Explanation: Massive stars lie within NGC 6357, an expansive emission nebula complex some 6,500 light-years away toward the tail of the constellation Scorpius. In fact, positioned near center in this ground-based close-up of NGC 6357, star cluster Pismis 24 includes some of the most massive stars known in the galaxy, stars with nearly 100 times the mass of the Sun. The nebula’s bright central region also contains dusty pillars of molecular gas, likely hiding massive protostars from the prying eyes of optical instruments. Intricate shapes in the nebula are carved as interstellar winds and energetic radiation from the young and newly forming massive stars clear out the natal gas and dust and power the nebular glow. Enhancing the nebula’s cavernous appearance, narrowband image data was included in this composite color image in a Hubble palette scheme. Emission from sulfur, hydrogen, and oxygen atoms is shown in red green and blue hues. The alluring telescopic view spans about 50 light-years at the estimated distance of NGC 6357.

Facebook: Stay away for a good night’s sleep


And since we’re on an academic and media jag today, another scientific study of note, from the University of California at Irvine newsroom:

UCI researchers link compulsive Facebook checking to lack of sleep

Study correlates tiredness, bad mood, distractibility and social media browsing

If you find yourself toggling over to look at Facebook several dozen times a day, it’s not necessarily because the experience of being on social media is so wonderful. It may be a sign that you’re not getting enough sleep.

In a recently completed study, researchers at the University of California, Irvine demonstrated that lack of sleep – in addition to affecting people’s moods and productivity – leads to more frequent online activities such as browsing Facebook.

“When you get less sleep, you’re more prone to distraction,” said lead researcher Gloria Mark, a UCI informatics professor. “If you’re being distracted, what do you do? You go to Facebook. It’s lightweight, it’s easy, and you’re tired.”

Sleep deprivation can lead to loss of productivity throughout the economy. It can cause workplace mishaps and make drivers fall asleep at the wheel. Experts in the field of human-computer interaction want to know how sleep loss impacts people so they can design better technologies and products.

“There have been lots of studies on how information technology affects sleep. We did the opposite: We looked at how sleep duration influences IT usage,” said Mark, who will present the findings at a leading computer-human interaction conference in May.

She and her colleagues collected data from 76 UCI undergraduates – 34 males and 42 females – for seven days during the spring 2014 quarter. The study controlled for students’ gender, age, course load and deadlines and relied on sensors to objectively gauge their behavior, activities and stress levels.

Students’ computers and smartphones were equipped with logging software, and time stamps recorded when subjects switched from one application window to another and when they spoke on the phone or texted. They were asked to fill out a sleep survey each morning and an end-of-day survey at night.

Participants also filled out a general questionnaire and sat for an exit interview. Periodically throughout the week, they received probing questions from researchers regarding their mood, the perceived difficulty of whatever task was at hand, and their level of engagement in their work.

Central to the study was a concept known as “sleep debt,” the accumulated difference between the amount of sleep needed and the amount experienced.

Mark said the study’s findings show a direct connection among chronic lack of sleep, worsening mood and greater reliance on Facebook browsing. She also found that the less sleep people have, the more frequently their attention shifts among different computer screens, suggesting heightened distractibility.

Mark’s UCI collaborators on the study, funded by the National Science Foundation, were Yiran Wang from the Department of Informatics and Melissa Niiya and Stephanie Reich from the School of Education.

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