Brain infections may spark Alzheimer’s, new study suggests

‘While still speculative, new hypothesis offers some sensible explanations to the disease… The findings, published in the journal Science Translational Medicine, suggest that Alzheimer’s may result from the brain’s effort to fight off infections. While that hypothesis is controversial and highly speculative at this point, it could dramatically alter the way researchers and doctors work to treat and prevent the degenerative disease…’

Source: Ars Technica

Octopuses may indeed be your new overlords

‘Over the past 60 years, the population of cephalopods—octopuses, squids, and cuttlefish—has been steadily growing. This is particularly remarkable because many types of marine life have been dying out as carbon levels in the oceans rise, making the water more acidic. So even as numbers of crabs, sea stars, and coral reefs are shrinking, the tentacled creatures of the deep are thriving.

Writing in Current Biology, a large group of marine biologists describe how they discovered this trend. Looking at the past 61 years of fisheries data from all major oceans, they examined numbers of cephalopods that are bycatch, or accidentally caught along with target fish. Using these numbers as a proxy for cephalopod populations as a whole, they discovered a steady increase over the decades, across all cephalopod species. The question is why.

The researchers say it’s likely a function of a cephalopod’s ability to adapt quickly. “These ecologically and commercially important invertebrates may have benefited from a changing ocean environment,” they write. Most cephalopods have very short lifespans and are able to change their behavior very quickly during their lifespans. Indeed, octopuses are tool-users who can learn quickly, leading to many daring escapes from tanks in labs as well as brilliant forms of camouflage at the bottom of the ocean. All these characteristics add up to a set of species who can change on the fly, as their environments are transformed.

If trends continue, cephalopods may be among the species who are poised to survive a mass extinction in the oceans, leading to a future marine ecosystem ruled by tentacles…’

Source: Ars Technica

A different way to die: the story of a natural burial

‘…Jake had spent his life respecting the Earth, and he didn’t want his final act to harm it. He was also opposed to the death care industry — a $20 billion-a-year business notorious for preying on people at the lowest points in their lives. It’s an industry increasingly controlled by a single entity called Service Corporation International (SCI), a company with 20,000 employees and a market capitalization of $4 billion.

Jake decided on something different: a natural burial. He wanted to go back to the burial traditions humans embraced for thousands of years, before the development of chemical embalming and steel-lined caskets. There would be no formaldehyde, no coffin, just a simple shroud and a hole in ground.”

…Natural burial is perfectly legal in the United States, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy. Jake’s friends and family couldn’t just dig a hole on his land in Port Angeles and leave him there to rest — although they did think about it, Tristan says. Natural burial requires a cemetery willing to take the body, which can be difficult to find. Because so many cemeteries are owned by SCI, a company that pushes clients to take the full package — embalming, concrete-lined vaults, etc. — there are only a handful of natural cemeteries in all of Washington state…’

Source: Vox

Why You Will Marry the Wrong Person

‘IT’S one of the things we are most afraid might happen to us. We go to great lengths to avoid it. And yet we do it all the same: We marry the wrong person.

Partly, it’s because we have a bewildering array of problems that emerge when we try to get close to others. We seem normal only to those who don’t know us very well. In a wiser, more self-aware society than our own, a standard question on any early dinner date would be: “And how are you crazy?”

Perhaps we have a latent tendency to get furious when someone disagrees with us or can relax only when we are working; perhaps we’re tricky about intimacy after sex or clam up in response to humiliation. Nobody’s perfect. The problem is that before marriage, we rarely delve into our complexities. Whenever casual relationships threaten to reveal our flaws, we blame our partners and call it a day. As for our friends, they don’t care enough to do the hard work of enlightening us. One of the privileges of being on our own is therefore the sincere impression that we are really quite easy to live with.

Our partners are no more self-aware. Naturally, we make a stab at trying to understand them. We visit their families. We look at their photos, we meet their college friends. All this contributes to a sense that we’ve done our homework. We haven’t. Marriage ends up as a hopeful, generous, infinitely kind gamble taken by two people who don’t know yet who they are or who the other might be, binding themselves to a future they cannot conceive of and have carefully avoided investigating…’

Source: Alain de Botton, The New York Times

How To Tell If You Are Possessed by a Demon, Reveals Exorcist

‘Certainly, you likely don’t believe in the possibility of demonic possession and think it’s the stuff of Hollywood movies. But it may also be that you don’t really know how to recognize being possessed. To remedy this, one of the world’s leading exorcist’s just shared some of his knowledge.Father Cipriano de Meo, who has been an exorcist since 1952, revealed to the Italian Catholic News Agency that the key to telling whether you’re possessed or suffer from some other (possibly mental) illness is in your reaction to the exorcist himself and the prayers being offered…’

Source: Big Think

Optography: retrieving a dead person’s last sight from their retina

‘Could you recover a murder victim’s last sight of their killer by extracting it from the retina? Little more than a century ago, forensic scientists thought it might be possible. After all, in 1877 physiologist Wilhelm Friedrich Kühne was able to develop a simple image from an albino rabbit’s dissected eyeball. (Above, the two images on the right come from rabbits who stared at two different windows. The left shows just nerves and blood vessels.) …’

Source: Boing Boing

The fundamentalist Christian preacher who became an atheist

‘Few atheists know the Bible as intimately as Dan Barker. Few, after all, can profess to have begun their careers as fundamentalist Christian preachers. Currently co-president of the Freedom from Religion Foundation, an American non-profit organisation, Barker was a self-proclaimed “extremist” for 19 years, until he renounced the faith.

Given how vehemently the 66-year-old now defends a life free of any supernatural authority, I ask him if he regrets the consequences that his Christian ministry may have had on people he would now describe as vulnerable. “Yes, I do regret a lot of it,” he says with candour. “I would counsel people to pray for healing. That’s dangerous. That’s harmful. People die from that. And I acted irresponsibly with my health, because I knew that God was going to take care of me.” This is a window that, once opened, is difficult to close. Barker reels off multiple instances in which he believes that he seriously damaged the lives of his parishioners.

In Arizona, a woman approached him, looking for faith healing to cure her of an illness. The two prayed together and when, inevitably, it did nothing, he said, “Let it be unto you according to your faith” (a reference to a line originally found in Matthew 8:13). “In other words,” Barker says, “it was her fault. She walked out of that meeting not only not healed but feeling chastised. It’s not a kind way to treat another human being.”

In his mid-twenties, he counselled a woman who was struggling with an abusive husband. Barker told her to persevere with him because, as the Bible says, he would eventually see the light. “So I counselled a woman to stay in an abusive relationship, because the Bible says that you are married for life.” What would he say if she approached him with the same problem now? “I would tell her to run for the nearest shelter and get out of there.”

Barker may have left religion behind but he is still a preacher of sorts. His latest book, God: the Most Unpleasant Character in All Fiction, draws on his knowledge of scripture to attack the Bible’s claim to moral authority. If the title sounds familiar, that’s because it’s a phrase that Richard Dawkins uses to introduce the second chapter of The God Delusion. There, he accuses the God of the Old Testament of 19 character flaws, among them jealousy, sadomasochism, caprice and ethnic cleansing. In a foreword to Barker’s book, Dawkins writes that The God Delusion’s reputation for stridency owes much to this one sentence…’

Source: New Humanist

Demon Core: The Strange Death of Louis Slotin

‘The demonstration began on the afternoon of May 21, 1946, at a secret laboratory tucked into a canyon some three miles from Los Alamos, New Mexico, the birthplace of the atom bomb. Louis Slotin, a Canadian physicist, was showing his colleagues how to bring the exposed core of a nuclear weapon nearly to the point of criticality, a tricky operation known as “tickling the dragon’s tail.” The core, sitting by itself on a squat table, looked unremarkable—a hemisphere of dull metal with a nub of plutonium sticking out of its center, the whole thing warm to the touch because of its radioactivity. It had been quickly molded into shape after the bombing of Nagasaki, to be used in another attack on Japan, then reallocated when it turned out not to be needed for the war effort. At that time, Slotin was perhaps the world’s foremost expert on handling dangerous quantities of plutonium. He had helped assemble the first atomic weapon, barely a year earlier…

Slotin’s procedure was simple. He would lower a half-shell of beryllium, called the tamper, over the core, stopping just before it was snugly seated. The tamper would reflect back the neutrons that were shooting off the plutonium, jump-starting a weak and short-lived nuclear chain reaction, on which the physicists could then gather data. Slotin held the tamper in his left hand. In his right hand, he held a long screwdriver, which he planned to wedge between the two components, keeping them apart. As he began the slow and painstaking process of lowering the tamper, one of his colleagues, Raemer Schreiber, turned away to focus on other work, expecting that the experiment would be uninteresting until several more moments had passed. But suddenly he heard a sound behind him: Slotin’s screwdriver had slipped, and the tamper had dropped fully over the core. When Schreiber turned around, he saw a flash of blue light and felt a wave of heat on his face…’

Source: The New Yorker

Absurd Creatures: Three-Foot-Wide Crab Will Eat Your Soul and Maybe Also Kittens


‘YOU KNOW THAT hermit crab you had in elementary school? The one you so rudely neglected? Well, it told its cousin on you—its 9-pound, three-foot-wide cousin the coconut crab. This thing has everything: wildly powerful claws, the ability to invade your nightmares, and a penchant for coconuts and sometimes kittens…’

Source: WIRED

Why Does the Letter Q Almost Always Go with U?

‘The history of why Q is almost always followed by U is fascinating, and dates back to when the Normans invaded England in 1066. Before that, English didn’t even have a Q; it used “cw” to replicate the sound. After the invasion, though, the spelling of English was changed to match the French ways: “cw” was replaced with “qu.”So can we blame it on the French? Not exactly, because they got that spelling from the Romans … who actually got it from the Etruscans, who actually got it from the Phoenicians…’

Source: Sploid

Go outside tonight to view Mars without a telescope

‘Tonight (05/22/16), Mars will be the brightest that it has been in the past 10 years. The red planet will be so bright that you’ll be able to see it in tonight’s sky without needing a telescope.Mars now resides opposite the sun in Earth’s sky, because on this date we are passing between it and the sun in our smaller, faster orbit.Now opposite the sun, Mars rises in the east around sunset, climbs to its highest point in the sky at midnight, and sets in the west around sunrise.Set a reminder on your phone so you won’t forget to go outside after dark tonight and look towards the East for your chance to see Mars…’

Source: Gadgeteer


I know this was about last night but you still have a chance…

A Beard Tax is Being Proposed in England, and It’s Not the First

Via Atlas Obscura: ‘Beards—once associated strictly with hermits and wizards—have become one of the hottest fashion accessories for men in the past few years, with celebrities, athletes, and style-conscious men around the globe growing, grooming, and styling their facial hair to match the latest trends. But despite their current popularity, beards remain deeply divisive and this week, one British barber and businessman has floated a radical proposal to discourage hirsute faces, or at least make some money off the men who refuse to renounce them.’

The Neural Basis of Seeing God

‘A remarkable case report describes the brain activity in a man at the moment that he underwent a revelatory experience.According to the authors, Israeli researchers Arzy and Schurr, the man was 46 years old. He was Jewish, but he had never been especially religious. His supernatural experience occured in hospital where he was undergoing tests to help treat his right temporal lobe epilepsy (TLE), a condition which he had suffered from for forty years. As part of the testing procedure, the patient stopped taking his anticonvulsant medication. Here’s how the authors describe what happened…’

Source: Neuroskeptic

When the Government Kills Wolves, the Public May Follow Suit

‘…[The] argument that legal killing helps stop illegal killing continues to be made around the world. The United States still asserts it when it comes to grizzly bears. Both Sweden and Finland use it as a justification for controlled wolf hunting. “The philosophy that underpins wolf management is that hunting them makes them more socially acceptable to people,” says Doug Smith, senior wildlife biologist at Yellowstone National Park.But now a new study examining wolf population growth rates in Michigan and Wisconsin shows that the opposite is true. Government-sanctioned culling actually results in more illegal killings, scientists report this week in the journal Proceedings Royal Society B…’

Source: National Geographic

Most Popular Analgesic Found To Reduce Empathy

‘Acetaminophen, the most common drug ingredient in the United States, found in over 600 medicines like Tylenol, has been found to reduce empathy in those who take it. According to a new study, the painkiller reduces the ability to relate to the physical and social pains experienced by others. “We don’t know why acetaminophen is having these effects, but it is concerning,” said Baldwin Way, the study’s senior co-author. “Empathy is important. If you are having an argument with your spouse and you just took acetaminophen, this research suggests you might be less understanding of what you did to hurt your spouse’s feelings.” …’

Source: Big Think

“Scarface,” The Beloved Bear Of Yellowstone Park, Has Been Killed

‘One of Yellowstone National Park’s most famous residents has been killed.Officials from Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks announced last week that “Scarface” the grizzly bear was shot by a hunter last fall, just outside of the park’s boundary near Gardiner, Montana.The species is covered by federal protection in 48 states in the U.S. under the Endangered Species Act. As such, wildlife officials and federal police have begun an investigation into who killed the bear…’

Source: IFLScience

How Chris McCandless Died

‘The debate over what killed Chris McCandless, and the related question of whether he is worthy of admiration, has been smoldering and occasionally flaring for more than two decades now. Shortly after the first edition of Into the Wild was published in January 1996, University of Alaska chemists Edward Treadwell and Thomas Clausen shot down my theory that the cause of McCandless’s death was a toxic alkaloid contained in the seeds of the Eskimo potato plant, Hedysarum alpine, also known as wild potato…’

Writer Jon Krakauer becomes an organic chemist to pin down a new theory.

Source: Medium

Why self-esteem is failing us

‘…[T]he quest for inflated egos… is misguided and largely pointless. There’s nothing wrong with being confident… The trouble is how we try to achieve high self-regard. Often, it’s by undermining others or comparing our achievements to those around us. That’s not just unsustainable… it can also lead to narcissism or depressive bouts during hard times…’

Source: Business Insider

US House Speaker Paul Ryan ‘can’t back Trump’

‘US House Speaker Paul Ryan has said he cannot currently support Donald Trump as Republican presidential nominee… Mr Trump, he said, will get the nomination because “he earned it, he deserved it. He won the vote”. Former presidents George W Bush and George H W Bush also said Thursday that they will not endorse the controversial presumptive nominee…’

Source: BBC News


…uncharacteristically sound judgment from Dubya!

Blanket ban on ‘legal highs’ in England and Wales to begin

‘The introduction of the Psychoactive Substances Act was originally due to come into force on 6 April, but was delayed following claims its definition of “psychoactivity” was not practically enforceable by the police and prosecutors. The legislation is designed to outlaw the trade in legal highs, synthetic chemicals that imitate the effects of traditional illicit drugs such as cannabis and ecstasy, but does not make their possession outside a prison a criminal offence.

The introduction of similar legislation in Ireland triggered a wave of closures of shops and online outlets, although few prosecutions have followed due to difficulties proving in Irish law whether a substance is psychoactive.When the Home Office confirmed the delay in March, it said it was in the final stages of putting in place a programme of testing to demonstrate a substance’s psychoactivity before implementing the ban…’

Source: The Guardian

Planet Nine Just Got Weirder

‘If Planet 9 exists, it’s been through one hell of an ordeal. That’s the takeaway from a series of new studies that ask how in the name of Uranus a planet could have gotten itself into such a whacked-out orbit. This in turn might help explain the unlikely orbits of half a dozen Kuiper Belt objects.

Planet 9 is a hypothetical world roughly the mass of Neptune that orbits our Sun in a giant ellipse, at a distance of 40 to over 100 billion miles. Although astronomers have proposed hidden ninth planets for years, this latest version—the brainchild of Caltech’s Mike Brown and Konstantin Batygin—has gained quite a bit of traction since it was announced in January. The potential planet is so compelling that many astronomers have penned follow-up papers describing how we might find it and what it could look like…’

Source: Gizmodo

Medical error—the third leading cause of death in the US

You will never see it listed on a death certificate as the cause of death, however.

‘Abstract: The annual list of the most common causes of death in the United States, compiled by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), informs public awareness and national research priorities each year. The list is created using death certificates filled out by physicians, funeral directors, medical examiners, and coroners. However, a major limitation of the death certificate is that it relies on assigning an International Classification of Disease (ICD) code to the cause of death.1 As a result, causes of death not associated with an ICD code, such as human and system factors, are not captured. The science of safety has matured to describe how communication breakdowns, diagnostic errors, poor judgment, and inadequate skill can directly result in patient harm and death. We analyzed the scientific literature on medical error to identify its contribution to US deaths in relation to causes listed by the CDC…’

Source: Martin Makary and Michael Daniel, BMJ

Elizabeth Warren’s brutal call to action against Donald Trump

‘It’s a sentiment that many Americans are feeling today, but it also came from a brutal Facebook post by Sen. Elizabeth Warren on Tuesday following Trump’s victory in the Indiana primary and Ted Cruz’s decision to drop out.In the post, Warren called out Trump for his “racism, sexism, and xenophobia” and went on to call on Republicans, Democrats, and Independents to unite against Trump’s “toxic stew of hatred and insecurity” …’

Source: Vox

New Drug Reported To Be 10,000 Times Stronger Than Morphine

Are We Headed for Thousands of Times the Number of Overdose Deaths?

‘Global media outlets have recently been reporting the appearance of a terrifying new drug, known as W-18, on the streets of Canada, with many suggesting that the substance could be as much as 10,000 times stronger than morphine. However, the truth is that such comparisons are somewhat tenuous, since very little is actually known about how this alarming drug works – a fact that could potentially make it more dangerous than even these sensational reports imply.

Originally developed by scientists at the University of Alberta back in the mid-1980s, W-18 was intended to be a synthetic painkiller that could outperform existing opioid medications such as morphine and oxycodone. The substance was only ever tested on mice, and proved to be so strong that it sent some of the rodents into a five-day coma. However, research on W-18 was never taken any further, so instead of being used to develop new pharmaceuticals for human consumption, the compound went the way of so many other rejected research chemicals and simply disappeared into the abyss of forgotten science – until now.

The first sign of W-18 rearing its ugly head in the guise of a street drug came in August 2015, when police in Calgary busted a shipment of 110 pills thought to contain the prohibited substance fentanyl – itself a synthetic opioid purported to be around 10 times stronger than heroin. Chemical analysis revealed that a small number of these pills actually contained traces of W-18, thought to have been produced in Chinese laboratories. Since then, larger stashes of the substance have been found in other locations across Canada and the U.S., although because W-18 is so rare and unheard of, it has never actually been scheduled as an illegal compound…’

Source: IFLScience

It’s Illegal to Possess or Distribute This Huge Number

‘There are ways to get in trouble with the law for just about everything: smoking weed, theft, horse theft, stealing a horse and teaching it to smoke weed, and even shouting “fire” in a crowded not-on-fire stable full of stoned horses. But numbers are pure and theoretical and definitely exempt from legal action, right?

Wrong, buddo. And the reason is that in the digital age, huge prime numbers are really, really important for encryption, as pointed out by YouTuber Wendoverproductions. So important, in fact, that having or sharing some of them could get you prosecuted under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, which prohibits people from subverting copyright-prevention measures…’

Source: Gizmodo

How to Pick Music for People on LSD… 

…From a Scientist Whose Job That Is

‘Since its 60s counterculture heyday, LSD has been closely associated with music. But it’s not just artistic proclivities that link them: Researchers have found that listening to music can actually affect the LSD experience on a neurological level—and they have brain scans to back it. Mendel Kaelen, a PhD student in neuroscience at Imperial College, has led several studies investigating the combined influence of music and psychedelic drugs in human trials. One of the challenges? Choosing the music…’

Source: Motherboard

Death by GPS

Why do we follow digital maps into dodgy places?


‘ “Death by GPS.” It describes what happens when your GPS fails you, not by being wrong, exactly, but often by being too right. It does such a good job of computing the most direct route from Point A to Point B that it takes you down roads which barely exist, or were used at one time and abandoned, or are not suitable for your car, or which require all kinds of local knowledge that would make you aware that making that turn is bad news…’

Source: Ars Technica

My wife and I experienced a lesser version of this just last weekend in the wilds of central Massachusetts. We were navigating scenic back roads by GPS, as is our wont, when we came over a rise to see our road peter out into a grassy meadow. A sign said: “Private Property. Your GPS Is Wrong.”

New Data Suggests You Only Have Five Close Friends 

‘You might not have as many close friends as you think. Researchers have provided new evidence that lends weight to a theory that says you can only maintain five close friendships. You’ve probably heard of Dunbar’s Number which suggests that human beings can only maintain meaningful relationships with between 100 to 230 other people, and that number is typically 150. It’s been demonstrated to hold true in all kinds of situations—from ancient armies to big business. But you might not know that Robin Dunbar, the anthropologist behind the number, has since also suggested that those relationships are layered, like an onion. He argues that people typically have five ultra-close relationships, then 10 slightly less cozy companions, 35 at more distance, and then 100 in an outer circle. Now he and follow researchers have published data that appears to lend weight to the theory…’

Source: Gizmodo

How First Class Passengers Are Ruining Air Travel

‘The ever-growing threat of aggrieved and vengeful passengers was what prompted a new study, published today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, that investigated the impacts of cabin segregation on air rage. As it turns out, the hatred you might feel for first-class flyers is a common symptom of airline classism, and a primary cause for air rage…’

Source: Motherboard