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    ‘Sneezing’ plants may spread pathogens to their neighbors

    A “surface tension catapult” can fling dewdrops carrying fungal spores from water-repellent leaves.

    in Science News on June 18, 2019 11:01 PM.

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    Fintech Unicorn Brex Partners with Science Exchange to Offer Incentives for Biotechs

    PALO ALTO, CA — June 18, 2019 — Science Exchange, whose technology platform is used by research organizations to order and manage outsourced R&D services, announced a strategic partnership with Brex, the corporate card built for scaling businesses. Through the partnership, Science Exchange and Brex can provide their mutual biotech and pharma clients with streamlined access to payments and innovative R&D services, thereby accelerating drug discovery research.

    Having attained a $2.6B valuation in just over 2 years, Brex has demonstrated a market need by solving a major challenge for entrepreneurs — simple, high quality payments products that allow them access to their credit. This week, Brex launched its corporate credit card for life sciences, freeing R&D leaders from the personal liability embedded within existing credit card offerings. The Brex for Life Science Card provides up to 20x higher credit limits, tailored rewards (such as points multipliers on lab supplies and conference fees), and discounts on outsourced R&D services ordered through Science Exchange.

    “We are excited to help increase our clients’ buying power by offering them access to the Brex for Life Science Card,” said Elizabeth Iorns, PhD, CEO & Co-Founder of Science Exchange. A former cancer researcher, Dr. Iorns once had to use her own credit card to fund a study and personally understands the potential impact of the Brex card on scientific research.

    “With Science Exchange, we will continue to explore ways to jointly serve our clients through integration of new payment technologies,” said Orion Despo, Head of Growth and GM Life Sciences at Brex. “Combining Science Exchange’s project tracking capabilities with the Brex platform’s automated expense management, life science entrepreneurs can spend less time on audit trails and more time on research.”

    About Brex

    Brex is transforming B2B payments by creating corporate cards, rewards, and travel programs that are tailored to specific industries. In 2018 Brex launched the first corporate card and rewards program specifically designed for startups. By rebuilding the credit card tech stack from the ground up, Brex is able to reimagine every aspect of corporate cards, including underwriting, transparency and approvals, to create a radically better experience for customers. Brex is backed by Y Combinator Continuity, Max Levchin, and more and has raised $315M in equity and $100M in debt capital. The company’s headquarters are in San Francisco.

    in The Science Exchange Blog on June 18, 2019 09:34 PM.

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    'I Do Not Exist' - Pathological Loss of Self after a Buddhist Retreat

    Eve is plagued by a waking nightmare.

    ‘I do not exist. All you see is a shell with no being inside, a mask covering nothingness. I am no one and no thing. I am the unborn, the non-existent.’

    – from Pickering (2019).

    Dr. Judith Pickering is a psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst in Sydney, Australia. Her patient ‘Eve’ is an “anonymous, fictionalised amalgam of patients suffering disorders of self.”   Eve had a psychotic episode while attending a Tibetan Buddhist retreat.
    “She felt that she was no more than an amoeba-like semblance of pre-life with no form, no substance, no past, no future, no sense of on-going being.”

    Eve's fractured sense of self preceded the retreat. In fact, she was drawn to Buddhist philosophy precisely because of its negation of self. In the doctrine of non-being (anātman), “there is no unchanging, permanent self, soul, or essence in living beings.” The tenet of emptiness (śūnyatā) that “all things are empty [or void] of intrinsic existence” was problematic as well. When applied and interpreted incorrectly, śūnyatā and anātman can resemble or precipitate disorders of the self.

    Dr. Pickering noted:
    ‘Eve’ is representative of a number of patients suffering both derealisation and depersonalisation. They doubt the existence of the outer world (derealisation) and fear that they do not exist. In place of a sense of self, they have but an empty core inside (depersonalisation).

    How do you find your way back to your self after that? Will the psychotic episode respond to neuroleptics or mood stabilizers?

    The current article takes a decidedly different approach from this blog's usual themes of neuroimaging, cognitive neuroscience, and psychopharmacology. Spirituality, dreams, and the unconscious play an important role in Jungian psychology. Pickering mentions the Object Relations School, Attachment Theory, Field Theory, The Relational School, the Conversational Model, Intersubjectivity Theory and Infant Research. She cites Winnicott, Bowlby, and Bion (not Blanke & Arzy 2005, Kas et al. 2014, or Seth et al. 2012).

    Why did I read this paper? Sometimes it's useful to consider the value of alternate perspectives. Now we can examine the potential hazards of teaching overly Westernized conceptions of Buddhist philosophy.1 

    When Westerners Attend Large Buddhist Retreats

    Eve’s existential predicament exemplifies a more general area of concern found in situations involving Western practitioners of Buddhism, whether in traditional settings in Asia, or Western settings ostensibly adapted to the Western mind. Have there been problems of translation in regard to Buddhist teachings on anātman (non-self) as implying the self is completely non-existent, and interpretations of śūnyatā (emptiness) as meaning all reality is non-existent, or void?
    . . .

    This relates to another issue concerning situations where Westerners attend large Buddhist retreats in which personalised psycho-spiritual care may be lacking. Traditionally, a Buddhist master would know the student well and carefully select appropriate teachings and practices according to a disciple’s psychological, physical and spiritual predispositions, proficiency and maturity. For example, teaching emptiness or śūnyatā to someone who is not ready can be extremely harmful. As well as being detrimental for the student, it puts the teacher at risk of a major ethical infringement...

    I found Dr. Pickering's discussion of Nameless Dread to be especially compelling.

    Nameless Dread

    I open the door to a white, frozen mask. I know immediately that Eve has disappeared again into what she calls ‘the void’. She sits down like an automaton, stares in stony silence at the wall as if staring into space. I do not exist for her, she is totally isolated in her own realm of non-existence.

    The sense of deadly despair pervades the room. I feel myself fading into nothingness, this realm of absence, unmitigated, bleakness and blankness.We sit in silence, sometimes for session after session. I wonder what on earth do I have to offer her? Nothing, it seems.

    ADDENDUM (June 18 2019): A reader alerted me to a tragic story two years ago in Pennsylvania, where a young woman ultimately died by suicide after experiencing a psychotic episode during an intensive 10-day meditation retreat. The article noted:
    "One of the documented but rare adverse side effects from intense meditation retreats can be depersonalization disorder. People need to have an especially strong ego, or sense of self, to be able to withstand the strictness and severity of the retreats."

    Case reports of extreme adverse events are rare, but a 2017 study documented "meditation-related challenges" in Western Buddhists. The authors conducted detailed qualitative interviews in 60 people who engaged in a variety of Buddhist meditation practices (Lindahl et al., 2017). Thematic analysis revealed a taxonomy of 59 experiences across seven domains (I've appended a table at the end of the post). The authors found a wide range of responses: "The associated valence ranged from very positive to very negative, and the associated level of distress and functional impairment ranged from minimal and transient to severe and enduring." The paper is open access, and Brown University issued an excellent press release.


    1 This is especially important given the appropriation of semi-spiritual versions of yoga and mindfulness, culminating in inanities such as tech bro eating disorders.


    Blanke O, Arzy S. (2005). The out-of-body experience: disturbed self-processing at the temporo-parietal junction. Neuroscientist 11:16-24.

    Kas A, Lavault S, Habert MO, Arnulf I. (2014) Feeling unreal: a functional imaging study in patients with Kleine-Levin syndrome. Brain 137: 2077-2087.

    Lindahl JR, Fisher NE, Cooper DJ, Rosen RK, Britton WB. (2017). The varieties of contemplative experience: A mixed-methods study of meditation-related challenges  in Western Buddhists. PLoS One 12(5):e0176239.

    Pickering J. (2019). 'I Do Not Exist': Pathologies of Self Among Western Buddhists. J Relig Health 58(3):748-769.

    Seth AK, Suzuki K, Critchley HD. (2012). An interoceptive predictive coding model of conscious presence. Front Psychol. 2:395.

    Further Reading

    Derealization / Dying

    Feeling Mighty Unreal: Derealization in Kleine-Levin Syndrome

    A Detached Sense of Self Associated with Altered Neural Responses to Mirror Touch

    Phenomenology coding structure (Table 4, Lindahl et al., 2017).

    - click table for a larger view -

    in The Neurocritic on June 18, 2019 08:17 PM.

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    Rotavirus vaccines may lower kids’ chances of getting type 1 diabetes

    Vaccination against rotavirus is associated with a reduced incidence of type 1 diabetes in children, according to an analysis of U.S. insurance data.

    in Science News on June 18, 2019 02:45 PM.

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    Female rats face sex bias too

    In neurobiological studies, male lab animals tend to outnumber females, which are considered too hormonal. Scientists say it’s time for that myth to go.

    in Science News on June 18, 2019 12:00 PM.

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    Hyenas roamed the Arctic during the last ice age

    Two teeth confirm the idea that hyenas crossed the Bering land bridge into North America, a study finds.

    in Science News on June 18, 2019 10:00 AM.

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    Preliminary Evidence That Lonely People Lose The Reflex To Mimic Other People’s Smiles, Potentially Sustaining Their Isolation

    GettyImages-586707418.jpgBy Emma Young

    Loneliness is a “disease”, associated with an increased risk of death equivalent to smoking 15 cigarettes a day. Strides have been made in understanding what form of loneliness is damaging (a lack of close relationships with other people, rather than a lack of relationships per se), but ways to tackle loneliness are badly needed. Now a new study, available as a preprint on PsyArXiv, reveals a way in which loneliness seems to be maintained and, therefore, a potential route to an intervention. 

    A popular model of loneliness holds that it is maintained by abnormal processing of the social signals – such as smiles and eye contact – that underlie positive social interactions. One consequence of this abnormal processing could be a failure to automatically mimic other people’s facial expressions – a phenomenon that occurs naturally during most social interactions. To investigate for the first time whether this is the case, Andrew Arnold and Piotr Winkielman at the University of California, San Diego conducted a small, preliminary study on 35 student volunteers. 

    The students first completed three scales that measured their loneliness, depression and personality. Based on the loneliness results, they were classed as either lonely or not lonely. Next they had electrodes attached to two pairs of their own facial muscles important for generating emotional expressions – regions of the zygomaticus major (smiling) muscles in the cheeks, and also the corrugator supercilii (frowning) muscles in the brow. They were then shown video clips of men and women making facial expressions of anger, fear, joy and sadness. 

    Scales that they were given to complete showed that the lonely and non-lonely students were equally good at distinguishing between facial expressions, and there were no group differences in the strength of “negative emotion” ratings to anger, fear and sadness or “positive” ratings to joy. So the lonely people could recognise and understand emotional expressions just as well as the non-lonely group. However, there were important differences in how their own faces responded spontaneously to the video clips. 

    When members of both groups saw videos of people displaying anger, for example, their own brows moved to automatically mimic this expression. But when the expression in the video was of joy, only the “non-lonely” group automatically smiled in response. The participants’ scores on depression and on extraversion bore no relation to this finding. It was loneliness that made the difference. 

    The researchers checked that the lonely group could deliberately mimic smiles, as well as frowns (which they could). They also found that the lonely group smiled automatically while viewing “non-social” positive images (such as nature scenes) that also made the other group smile. These images didn’t include people (or if they did, their facial expressions weren’t obvious.) 

    The findings suggest that a failure to mimic other people’s smiles automatically could be playing a role in loneliness. A failure to mimic a smile might send an antisocial signal to others, the researchers note, undermining social connections, and leading to social disconnect. “Indeed, this could be one behavioural mechanism that maintains chronic loneliness,” they add. 

    This is a small study, and it can’t speak to the causal direction: does loneliness lead to a problem with smile mimicry or is it the other way around? But it does suggest a new target for addressing loneliness, and for further research into the role it might potentially play in real-world encounters. 

    “Given the serious problem of loneliness in society and its danger to health, more research on how it presents in everyday social interactions is useful for greater understanding of and treatment of the condition, ourselves and each other,” the researchers write. 

    Smile (but only deliberately) though your heart is aching: Loneliness is associated with impaired spontaneous smile mimicry [this study is a preprint meaning that it has yet to be subjected to peer review and the final published version may differ from the version on which this report was based]

    Emma Young (@EmmaELYoung) is Staff Writer at BPS Research Digest

    in The British Psychological Society - Research Digest on June 18, 2019 08:36 AM.

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    Manchester: “research misconduct concerned only one member of the research group”

    The University of Manchester found out that someone has secretly manipulated data in the papers of their star cancer researcher, Richard Marais. Who might that be?

    in For Better Science on June 18, 2019 05:00 AM.

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    We get happier as we get older. (Part 2 of Your Brain at 100)

    This is part 2 of a series of lessons in brain health from our elders — those folk who lived the longest and healthiest.

    Click here to download the entire series as a PDF

    My mother often says to me there’s no way she’d want to live to 100. And she may have a point.

    It’s all well and good following longevity principles in an attempt to add years to your life, but what about the life in those years?

    Are the exceptionally old also exceptionally healthy?

    “There is certainly a myth out there that the older you get the sicker you become,” says Charlene Levitan who used to head up the Sydney Centenarian Sutdy.

    The study has found centenarians usually remain in remarkably good health until extreme old age with their ill health compressed into the very end of life. Similarly, Blue Zones residents are unique not only because of their extended lifespan, but their long years lived free of disease and disability, what’s known as a long ‘health-span’.

    A British Journal of Psychiatry report of Jeanne Louise Calment’s health at age 118 is another example.

    “The subject’s performance on tests of verbal memory and language fluency is comparable to that of persons with the same level of education in their eighties and nineties. Frontal lobe functions are relatively spared and there is no evidence of depressive symptomatology or other functional illness.” wrote Karen Ritchie, a neurologist who examined Calment. “…It may be unreasonable to generalise from a single case study”, and Calment may be a “statistical outlier”, however, Calment is actually the norm.

    As a group centenarians have a remarkable ability to sidestep the usual diseases and maladies of old age.

    The oldest people are Escapers, Delayers or Survivors of Disease

    Levitan explained to me that researcher have now identified three broad groups of centenarians:  Escapers, Delayers, and Survivors, so named because of the routes they’ve taken to avoid the major age-related diseases that kill off their peers.

    Escapers are those very lucky people who have managed to escape illness altogether, and are living till 100 with remarkably strong mental and physical capabilities.Then there are the Delayers who tend to delay any age-related illness until their late 80s. Finally, the Survivors are those people who have been diagnosed with an age-related disease such as cancer, stroke, heart attack, diabetes, and so on. And yet, remarkably, they’ve survived.

    Another longevity project, the New England Centenarian Study (NECS) found that for every five centenarians, one was an Escaper, two were Survivors and two were Delayers.

    Even though men were far less likely reach 100 they were twice as likely to be Escapers than women. Men and women were equally likely to be Survivors or Delayers.

    Male centenarians to be healthier than their female counterparts.

    Whereas older women appear to be better able to cope and live with illness, older men appear to be more likely than women to die from potentially lethal illnesses.

    It is likely that the men who are able to achieve very old age must be especially fit and delay or escape potentially lethal illnesses practically until their 100s.

    Regardless of their age, the research indicates men experience a swifter decline to death with their poor health compressed into a very short space of time. For women, the trajectory from good health to death is often slower and filled with more doctor’s visits and frailty.

    Are the exceptionally old also exceptionally happy?

    In one sense, the extremely old become orphans of time. Extreme old age brings costs of survivorship and a thinned social landscape with the death of life partners and friends.

    Physical health and strength typically decline and its harder o remember. This picture sounds depressing, yet, there is a paradox.

    The older you get the happier you are.

    Compared to middle age, extremely old folk’s emotional well-being, happiness and optimism is, on average, higher!

    In a paper titled The emotion paradox in the aging brain, Mara Mather a gerontologist at USC Davis explains older adults are less physically and emotionally reactive to interpersonal stressors than younger adults.

    When older adults experience interpersonal tensions, they engage less in destructive conflict strategies, such as yelling, arguing, or name calling, and generally find tense interpersonal situations less stressful than younger adults do.

    Healthy older adults’ ability to roll with the punches is likely due to a number of factors, including wisdom, judgement, and experience, and age-related changes in the brain.

    This is an excerpt from my book The Women’s Brain Book.

    The 100-year-old brain series can be read as a PDF. Click here to download.

    The post We get happier as we get older. (Part 2 of Your Brain at 100) appeared first on Your Brain Health.

    in Yourbrainhealth on June 18, 2019 03:14 AM.

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    Security breaches at major CROs: drugmakers need greater visibility into outsourced R&D

    Within a month, security breaches have been reported at 5 major contract research and diagnostic testing organizations. The “highly sophisticated and resourced” nature of the attacks and their timing suggest that contract research and testing companies are recognized as both data-rich and vulnerable.

    In response, pharma and biotech companies that partner with these organizations must evolve in their approach to cybersecurity. The massive investment in digital health and digital innovation means that all stakeholders from investigators, sponsors and CROs must work together to take ownership of securing the vast amounts of data generated.

    In addition to maintaining their own infrastructure with IT and data security, R&D organizations must gain visibility into the security measures taken by outsourced R&D service providers, the data transferred between them, and a plan for mitigating future risk. This responsibility, once the domain of a company’s IT function, must be shared by all teams within organizations; scientific leadership, operations, legal and finance teams can all help mitigate risks of outsourced R&D services management.

    Five key factors make the shared responsibility necessary:

    • Distributed, networked R&D. R&D studies are increasingly distributed across geographies, across multiple third party providers and subcontractors.
    • Large, electronically shared data sets. Data are being stored on multiple cloud-based platforms and transmitted electronically.
    • Public awareness. While data disclosure events receive the most attention (because companies must publicly disclose data breaches), there is increased public awareness around other cyberattacks, such as ransomware attacks, phishing, and intellectual property theft.
    • High dollar amounts of losses incurred following cyberattacks, with increasingly sophisticated and destructive attacks. The NotPetya malware attack of 2018, which affected at least one major pharma company, cost companies over $10 billion.
    • More oversight. Given the 2013 HIPAA Omnibus Rule, Congress has asked that companies who have suffered data breaches share details around which third-party providers they use and what security measures are in place. Likewise, in Europe, 91 companies have been fined for lapses in data privacy since the GDPR data privacy regulation took effect in May 2018.

    Barriers to visibility

    Despite the need for increased visibility, managing external R&D projects has traditionally been manual, complex, and opaque. The process often lacks a clear audit trail and a centralized location for information, let alone integration with an organization’s internal systems. In one survey of R&D leaders, 78% of respondents felt at least somewhat challenged to confirm a provider’s commitment to data security and privacy. 79% surveyed said they were concerned about protecting IP when working with external R&D providers.

    Barriers to visibility survey

    Technology platforms mitigate risk

    Given that outsourced R&D comprises nearly half of R&D budgets, most major biopharmas, as well as an increasing number of emerging biotechs, have adopted the use of R&D services marketplaces, recognizing that failing to do so would put them at a competitive disadvantage. Marketplace platforms make it easier for organizations to assess provider quality, centralize data storage, maintain audit trails, and ensure security and privacy compliance.

    One example of a digitized outsourced R&D platform is Science Exchange’s enterprise solution, the only HIPAA-certified R&D services platform. This platform also provides integration with purchasing systems, data warehouse integration, customizable reporting of key metrics, and other offerings tailored to help organizations conduct networked R&D, with transparency, at scale.

    For a demonstration of Science Exchange’s enterprise solution and other features of the platform, contact Science Exchange.


    1. Fassbender, M. 2019 May 8. Third-party vendors a cybersecurity risk for big pharma? Outsourcing Pharma. Retrieved June 11 2019 from https://www.outsourcing-pharma.com/Article/2019/05/08/Third-party-vendors-a-cybersecurity-risk-for-big-pharma.
    2. Kunert, P. 2019 June 3. Pharma-testing biz Eurofins Scientific says it fell victim to ‘new version’ of malware. The Register. Retrieved June 11 2019 from https://www.theregister.co.uk/2019/06/03/eurofins_scientific_malware_breach/.
    3. Landi, H. 2019 June 3. Quest Diagnostics breach may have exposed data of 11.9M patients. Fierce Healthcare. Retrieved June 11 2019 from https://www.fiercehealthcare.com/tech/quest-diagnostics-breach-may-have-exposed-data-11-9m-patients.
    4. Landi, H. 2019 June 5. AMCA breach may have exposed data on 7.7M LabCorp patients. Fierce Healthcare. Retrieved June 11 2019 from https://www.fiercehealthcare.com/tech/amca-breach-may-have-exposed-data-7-7m-labcorp-patients.
    5. Landi, H. 2019 June 7. Third medical testing company impacted by AMCA breach as Congress seeks answers. Fierce Healthcare. Retrieved June 11 2019 from https://www.fiercehealthcare.com/tech/third-medical-testing-company-impacted-by-amca-breach-as-congress-seeks-answers.
    6. Brettler, D. 2019 May 1. Hidden Cyber Security Risks in Clinical Trials. Retrieved June 17 2019 from https://www.connerstrong.com/blog/insights-detail/hidden-cyber-security-risks-in-clinical-trials/.

    in The Science Exchange Blog on June 17, 2019 04:11 PM.

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    Catholic medical journal pulls paper on conversion therapy over statistical problems

    The journal for a religious medical group is retracting a paper that supported the discredited practice of conversion therapy for homosexuals over concerns about the statistical analyses — or lack thereof — in the research. The paper, “Effects of therapy on religious men who have unwanted same-sex attraction,” was published last year in The Lincare … Continue reading Catholic medical journal pulls paper on conversion therapy over statistical problems

    in Retraction watch on June 17, 2019 03:53 PM.

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    Highlights of the BMC Series: May 2019

    BMC Oral HealthBig toenail and hair samples as biomarkers for fluoride exposure

    These days, we are exposed to a number of sources of fluoride, including water (naturally occurring or added artificially), food that has been exposed to fluoride (particularly through the use of pesticides) and dental products (toothpaste, mouthwash etc). High levels of fluoride exposure can lead to a number of health problems, for example, skin conditions, such as acne; heart problems; high blood pressure and osteoarthritis.

    The degree of fluoride exposure can be measured using biomarkers, substances that can be used to examine changes in the body that may lead to health conditions or disease.

    Here, Elekdag-Turk et al, have used toenail and hair samples as biomarkers for fluoride exposure. Toenails and hair are considered to be particularly suitable as they are collected in a non-invasive way and the concentration of the fluoride is believed to represent the average level of fluoride intake and concentration of the trace element on the blood over an extended period of time.

    Samples from big toenails and hair were taken from participants living in a region with a high concentration of fluoride in drinking water (endemic fluorosis region) and participants living in a region where there Is a low level of fluoride in the drinking water (non-endemic fluorosis region).

    Results showed that the mean fluoride concentrations found in both biomarkers were significantly higher in the endemic fluorosis region compared to the endemic fluorosis region. The fluoride assay for big toenails were found to be more accurate than that for hair, leading the authors to conclude that both nail and hair samples can serve as biomarkers for fluoride exposure but bog toenails are better.

    BMC Medical EthicsExistential suffering and assisted suicide in Switzerland

    The question of whether someone should be assisted in committing suicide due to existential suffering has been brought into sharp relief by the case of Noa Pothoven, who after a number of years suffering mental illness, ended her own life after a request for assisted suicide at a clinic in the Netherlands had been refused. In Switzerland, people can be granted access to assisted suicide as long as they perform the act themselves, are able to make their own decision and they do not have a selfish motivation for doing so.

    In Switzerland, people can be granted access to assisted suicide as long as they perform the act themselves, are able to make their own decision and they do not have a selfish motivation for doing so.

    However, existential suffering as a reason for assisted suicide is seen as somewhat controversial, difficult to define and, as yet, there is no consensus on how evaluate and manage it.

    Gaignard and Hurt have recently published an article in BMC Medical Ethics on how care professionals and volunteers from a “right-to-die organization” think about existential suffering being used as a reason for assisted suicide requests. They conducted face-to-face interviews with 26 care professionals. The participants described existential suffering in a number of different ways, sharing stories on physical decline, loneliness, loss of hope and fears of being a financial burden. A common topic was how older and vulnerable people are perceived in society.

    Interestingly, only four of the 63 stories discussed referred to a “pure” existential suffering, where the sufferer just felt that life had naturally come to an end. Gaignard and Hurt concluded that a better understanding of existential suffering is needed so to provide a “toolbox” to others so that they can better help those in existential suffering.

    BMC Pharmacology and ToxicologyNear fatal Intoxication by nicotine and propylene glycol injection

    Electronic (e) cigarettes are generally perceived to be better for you than conventional cigarettes and have been used by many as a tool when trying to give up smoking. However, there have been a number of cases of nicotine intoxication, a few with fatal consequences.

    BMC Pharmacology and Toxicology reports a case study describing a near fatal intoxication of an e-liquid including follow-up of the patient once they had recovered.

    The patient in question was a 51 year old man who was admitted to the Emergency Department after injecting himself intravenously with e-liquid in a suicide attempt. He was initially very agitated but then fell into a coma, after which he needed mechanical ventilation. The patient then went on to show neurological symptoms, including tetraparesis (muscle weakness) and Myoclonus (involuntary muscle twitches) due to nicotinic syndrome, a condition that develops when the nicotinic receptors in the brain are over-stimulated.

    Seven hours after he had injected himself with the e-liquid, the patient began to recover, being able to breath on his own again and gradually regaining consciousness. The patient was subsequently discharged after a psychiatric evaluation and was followed up at an out-patient clinic.

    The take home message from this case study is that even a small amount of intravenous e-liquid can lead to acute intoxication and death due to the toxic effects of nicotine. It is hoped that this case may help emergency doctors treat similar cases in the future.

    BMC Evolutionary Biology: Image of the month

    The image of the month is taken from an article by Bright et al titled “The multifactorial nature of beak and skull shape evolution in parrots and cockatoos”, and shows shape data for a number of different bird skulls.

    Figure 4, Bright et al, https://doi.org/10.1186/s12862-019-1432-1

    BMC EnergyPublication of first articles

    BMC Energy is excited to announce the publication of its first clutch of articles. The journal is the latest in the family of physical science journals launched recently as part of the BMC series. An editorial accompanying the launch describes the scope of the journal and how it plans to serve the energy research community.

    The post Highlights of the BMC Series: May 2019 appeared first on BMC Series blog.

    in BMC Series blog on June 17, 2019 02:25 PM.

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    Norovirus close-ups might help fight stomach flu

    Detailed views of a common stomach virus that causes vomiting and diarrhea could aid vaccine and disinfectant development.

    in Science News on June 17, 2019 02:00 PM.

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    Diamond detectors could aid the search for dark matter

    Elusive dark matter particles could be spotted when they slam into electrons or atomic nuclei within diamond, scientists say.

    in Science News on June 17, 2019 12:00 PM.

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    An author told a journal their institution had no one who handled allegations. Turns out that wasn’t true.

    Should journals always take authors at their word? Take the case of a recent expression of concern in the Journal of Cell Science following concerns about image manipulation in a 2006 paper, “Inhibition of TPO-induced MEK or mTOR activity induces opposite effects on the ploidy of human differentiating megakaryocytes.” Here’s the notice: Journal of Cell … Continue reading An author told a journal their institution had no one who handled allegations. Turns out that wasn’t true.

    in Retraction watch on June 17, 2019 10:00 AM.

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    Is a long-dormant Russian volcano waking up? It’s complicated

    Scientists debate how to interpret seismic activity near Bolshaya Udina on the remote Kamchatka Peninsula.

    in Science News on June 17, 2019 10:00 AM.

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    Psychologists Show It’s Possible To Fix Misleading Press Releases – Without Harming Their News Value

    Screenshot 2019-06-17 at 09.37.46.pngCorrected press releases led to more accurate news, without any dip in quantity of coverage; via Adams et al, 2019

    By Jesse Singal

    There are many reasons why media outlets report scientifically misleading information. But one key site at which this sort of misunderstanding takes root is in the press releases that universities issue when one of their researchers has published something that has a chance of garnering some attention. A new open-access study in BMC Medicine attempts to change this by intervening in the process directly.

    Press releases are often misleading in many different ways, but a common flaw is their tendency to confuse causal and correlational claims. That is, an observational study will find that (to take a hypothetical), the more wine people drink, the more likely they are to be diagnosed with cancer over a given period. A study like this, reported accurately, doesn’t show that drinking wine causes cancer – it shows that wine consumption is associated with cancer diagnoses. It could be some other factor or factors is/are responsible for the link, like maybe people who drink more wine engage in other behaviours that themselves increase the risk of cancer. 

    Experimental studies, on the other hand, allow for the more confident drawing of causal inferences. If (again hypothetically) you took two otherwise equivalent groups, assigned one to make no lifestyle changes other than beginning to drink more wine, and then tracked differences in long-term cancer diagnoses, it’s more likely any observed group differences were caused by the experimental intervention.

    The way that health press releases often present purely correlational evidence as though it is causal is, to an extent, understandable: “Wine Causes Cancer” is more eye-catching than “Researchers Uncover A Correlation Between Wine Consumption And Cancer That May Or May Not Be Causal.” And because journalists often write stories based entirely on press releases, the end result is that news coverage often lacks nuance.

    For the new research, a team of psychologists led by Rachel Adams at Cardiff University and including her colleague Christopher Chambers, the author of “The Seven Deadly Sins of Psychology: A Manifesto for Reforming the Culture of Scientific Practice”, asked a bunch of university press offices to participate. The press offices sent the team hundreds of their biomedical and health-related press releases before they went out to the public, and Chambers and his colleagues randomly assigned them to different conditions: some they didn’t touch regardless of their contents or accuracy (the control group), whereas for the others they proposed edits that “aligned” the press release’s headline and content with the nature of the evidence (with experimental evidence allowing for stronger causal claims, and purely correlational evidence presented with cautious language). Then they watched the press releases go into the wild, evaluating how often their more careful approach was carried over into any ensuing national and international press stories – and whether the toned down releases led to less media coverage.

    The most important takeaways are that news headlines were more accurate when they were written off more accurate press releases (which shows that journalists really are relying heavily on press releases rather than reading the studies themselves). And as judged by the amount of media coverage each press release generated, there was “no evidence of reduced news uptake for press releases whose headlines and main claims aligned to evidence.” Now, press releases should be accurate for accuracy’s own sake, but this does offer some evidence that honest press-release writers won’t be punished, in terms of reduced media coverage, by doing the right thing. This suggests, as Chambers and his team write in their abstract, that “[c]autious claims and explicit caveats about correlational findings may penetrate into news without harming news interest.”

    As the research team further point out, what this study can’t answer is the actual effect of misleading versus appropriately hedged media coverage on news consumers themselves – that is, will their behaviour change on the basis of whether or not they are reading accurate health coverage? That’s a question for future research.

    It would be fascinating and important to conduct a study like this on press releases related to psychological findings – another area where it’s been fairly standard for a while for weak or conflicting findings to be presented in a much stronger, more attention-getting manner in press releases, potentially causing harm to readers.

    Claims of causality in health news: a randomised trial

    Post written by Jesse Singal (@JesseSingal) for the BPS Research Digest. Jesse is a contributing writer at BPS Research Digest and New York Magazine, and he publishes his own newsletter featuring behavioral-science-talk. He is also working on a book about why shoddy behavioral-science claims sometimes go viral for Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

    in The British Psychological Society - Research Digest on June 17, 2019 08:42 AM.

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    When does old age begin? (Part 1 of Your Brain at 100 series)

    This is part 1 of a series of lessons in brain health from our elders — those folk who lived the longest and healthiest.

    We’re living longer, but how do our aging brains fare? 

    To answer this question, I’ve looked to two sources — those exceptionally old folks who remain in robust physical and mental health till the very end of their lives, and our evolutionary past.

    Over millennia, Mother Nature equipped us to survive and thrive in the wild. Our brains evolved such that from womb to the tomb we’re required to move, eat well, sleep, immerse ourselves in nature, avoid stress, love and befriend, and seek meaning. These requirements neatly map onto the principles of everyday life followed by the world’s longest living people.

    Click here to download the entire series as a PDF


    When does old age begin?

    We can’t seem to make up our minds, and the older we get, the further we move the goalposts marking the last season of our lives.

    A 2009 survey of Americans asked participants when they believed someone grew ‘old’.

    Young folks in their twenties believed said old age began at 60. Those under 50 put the threshold closer to 70, whereas those 65 and above said that the average person does not become old until turning 74.

    Getting old wasn’t nearly as bad as people think it will be. Nor was it quite as good.

    On the downside, one in four adults ages 65 surveyed reported memory loss. One in five had a serious illness, are no longer sexually active, or often feel sad or depressed, lonely or have trouble paying bills. One in ten felt like a burden.

    On the upside, the same group said they have more time for hobbies, travel, volunteer work, and more financial security. Of all the good things about getting old, the best by far, according to older adults, is being able to spend more time with family members.

    “Am I Old? Certainly not!”

    One of my boys said to me recently he couldn’t imagine me as a little girl and how did it feel to finally be “old”. I told him I feel the same now as I did when I was 10.

    “Am I Old? Certainly not!” This was the answer survey respondents gave too.

    In fact, the older they got, the younger they said they feel. About half of those under 30 said they felt their age. But those who were 75 and older? Just 35% say they feel “old”.

    It seems we remain on intimate terms with our much younger selves — I sometimes wonder how ten-year old me suddenly became forty-three?

    We enter the end of our lifespan with our past woven intimately into our biology.

    From birth, our neural architecture is shaped by life’s ups and downs, the decisions we made, the places where we lived, worked and learned, the meaning we’ve derived, and who we loved, gave life to, and travelled with through time. How we spend our early years will determine how we age.

    More and more of us are living to into old age, and there has never been a better time in which to do so. Our large clever human brains have bequeathed us with modern medicine and tools with which we manage our reproductive health, avoid maternal and neonatal death, vaccinate against disease, prevent pain, treat infection and some cancers, and perform surgery if required.

    One hundred years ago, women lived barely long enough to see out their 50s. A baby girl born today can expect to live to see out the first decades of the 22nd century.

    Uncovering the secrets of exceptional longevity

    On February 21, 1875, one year before the Alexander Graham Bell filed his patent for the telephone, a baby girl, Jeanne Louise Calment was born in Arles, France. She was alive to witness the invention of the aeroplane, cinema, and on a trip to Paris saw the Eiffel tower being built. When she was 13, Jeanne met Vincent Van Gogh; although apparently, she was less than impressed saying he was ”…very ugly, ungracious, impolite, sick…”.

    In 1997, the same year Princess Diana died, Calment finally passed away. She was 122 years and 164 days old. Although blind, almost deaf, and confined to a wheelchair, Calment reportedly remained spirited and “alert as a hummingbird” till the end. The French called her “la doyenne de l’humanitè” (the elder of humankind) and she still holds the record for the world’s longest ever living human (although this has been recently challenged).

    In April 2017, the latest longevity record holder, Emma Martina Luigia Morano of Vercelli, Italy, died aged 117. Born in November 1899, Morano was the last known living person who was born in the 1800s. According to the Guinness Book of Records, Morano followed the same extraordinary diet for around 90 years: three eggs per day (two raw, one cooked), fresh Italian pasta, and a dish of raw meat. The current longevity crown belongs to Polish Holocaust survivor Israel Kristal, who celebrated his 113th birthday in September 2017.

    Once rare as diamonds, the oldest of the old are the fastest growing sector of our global population.

    If you were born in 1900, the odds of living till age 100 were less than 1 in a million, and few people lived long enough see out the 1950s. For girls born into wealthy countries today, the odds of blowing out 100 candles on a cake are roughly 1 in 50.

    Israel Kristal claims he doesn’t know the secret of his long life.

    I believe that everything is determined from above and we shall never know the reasons why. There have been smarter, stronger and better-looking men then me who are no longer alive. All that is left for us to do is to keep on working as hard as we can and rebuild what is lost.

    When asked her secrets, Jeanne Calment attributed her longevity to immunity to stress and a good attitude,

    I wasn’t afraid of anything. I was often reproached for that … I took pleasure when I could, I acted clearly and morally and without regret. I’m very lucky.

    Calment reportedly ate more than two pounds of chocolate a week, treated her skin with olive oil, rode a bicycle until she was 100, and only quit smoking when she was 117 because she became too proud to ask someone else to light her cigarettes. Known for her wit, she is widely reported as saying,

    I’ve never had but one wrinkle, and I’m sitting on it.

    Hard work, raw eggs, biking, and no regrets. We clamour to learn their secrets, and typically the oldest of the old love to share their long-won wisdom. Calment once quipped.

    I wait. For death and journalists.

    Blue Zones lessons for longevity

    In another longevity project, National Geographic writer Dan Buettner together Professor Michel Poulain famously described five ‘Blue Zones’ around the globe where the residents live to exceptional old age. Despite being very different parts of the world, there are commonalities to the resident’s lifestyles.

    Their longevity has nothing to do with brute discipline, diets, exercise programs or supplements… In Blue Zones areas around the world, longevity happens to people. It’s the result of the right environment that constantly nudges them into moving more, eating more plants and beans while eating less meat and sugar, socializing with the right people and living out their values. It’s that simple, really.

    • Residents of the Nicoya Peninsula in Costa Rica, prioritise friendship and family, and they almost never work extra hours if it means they have to forego a good party. They also foster ‘plan de vida’ or ‘a reason to live’.
    • In Loma Linda, California, the strong sense of purpose, day of rest, no-smoking policy, and healthy diet practices of the local Seventh Day Adventist community has rubbed off on the health of the whole town.
    • Residents of the mountainous villages of Sardinia, Italy and the Greek island of Ikaria, nap, fast, grow their own food, and drink wine daily with friends. It’s thought the clean air, warm breezes and rugged terrain of the Mediterranean islands draw locals outdoors to move naturally.
    • The residents of the Japanese islands of Okinawa, home to the world’s longest living women, are dedicated to family. Okinawans practice ‘Hara hachi bu’, a reminder to stop eating when they’re 80% full, ‘Ikigai’, which roughly translates to “Why I wake up in the morning,” and form ‘Moais’, groups of five friends that remain committed to each other for live.

    Buettner has distilled the lifestyle practices of Blue Zones into lessons for longevity. As he says, to make it to 100 you may have to “win the genetic lottery”, but the average person’s life expectancy can be increased by moving move, prioritising friends, family and social gatherings, eating less, drinking wine, and fostering a sense of purpose.

    Sydney Centenarian Study lessons for longevity

    Due to the rarity of extremely old folks, the Sydney Centenarian Study has partnered with a consortium of centenarian research teams from around the globe to pool their resources and data to enable more powerful conclusions to be drawn. Their data support the Blue Zones observations.

    Charlene Levitan, who once headed up the Sydney Centenarian Study says,

    What is emerging from the global research is that around 30% of longevity is contributed by genetics. The remaining 70% is to do with our lifestyle, which includes a healthy diet, exercise, and remaining socially integrated.

    One of the strongest themes to emerge is related to the personality traits of resilience, adaptability and optimism.

    Most of our centenarians will report optimism as a life-long personality characteristic.

    Click here to download the entire series as a PDF

    This is an excerpt from my book The Women’s Brain Book.


    The post When does old age begin? (Part 1 of Your Brain at 100 series) appeared first on Your Brain Health.

    in Yourbrainhealth on June 17, 2019 02:03 AM.

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    Weekend reads: How much is integrity worth?; killing the science poster; future of megajournals in doubt?

    Before we present this week’s Weekend Reads, a question: Do you enjoy our weekly roundup? If so, we could really use your help. Would you consider a tax-deductible donation to support Weekend Reads, and our daily work? Thanks in advance. The week at Retraction Watch featured a big announcement: You can now receive alerts about retractions … Continue reading Weekend reads: How much is integrity worth?; killing the science poster; future of megajournals in doubt?

    in Retraction watch on June 15, 2019 01:31 PM.

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    Table salt may be hiding in Europa’s underground sea

    Observations of Europa by the Hubble Space Telescope suggest that the moon’s ice-covered ocean may hold sodium chloride, or common table salt.

    in Science News on June 14, 2019 03:02 PM.

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    Many of the world’s rivers are flush with dangerous levels of antibiotics

    Antibiotic pollution can fuel drug resistance in microbes. A global survey of rivers finds unsafe levels of antibiotics in 16 percent of sites.

    in Science News on June 14, 2019 01:00 PM.

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    Massive superflares have been seen erupting from stars like the sun

    Older stars, like the sun, can still send out massive bursts of energy that can be seen from light-years away.

    in Science News on June 14, 2019 11:00 AM.

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    Forensics Friday: Notice anything odd about this figure?

    Ever wanted to hone your skills as a scientific sleuth? Now’s your chance. Thanks to the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology (ASBMB), which is committed to educating authors on best practices in publishing, figure preparation, and reproducibility, we’re presenting the sixth in a series, Forensics Friday. Take a look at the image below, and then take our … Continue reading Forensics Friday: Notice anything odd about this figure?

    in Retraction watch on June 14, 2019 10:00 AM.

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    Adults Who Played Pokémon Extensively In Childhood Have A Pokémon-Sensitive Region In Their Visual Cortex

    GettyImages-89053808.jpgBy Emma Young

    If you have healthy vision, there will be a specific region of your brain (in the visual cortex) that responds most strongly whenever you look at faces, and similar regions that are especially responsive to the sight of words or natural scenes. What’s more, in any two people, these face, word and scene regions are located in pretty much the same spot in the brain. However, there is not a specific region for every possible category of visible stimulus – there are no “car” or “shoe” regions, for example (at least, not that have been identified to date). Is that because childhood experience is critical for training the visual cortex – we spend a lot of time looking at faces, say, but not cars? And, if so, in theory, could a lot of childhood time spent looking at a different type of object generate its own dedicated, individual category region? 

    The answer is “yes”, at least according to an ingenious study, published in Nature Human Behaviour, of people who played a Pokémon game for years of their childhood. 

    Jesse Gomez led the new study while a graduate student at Stanford University. He was looking for a way to test whether there’s a critical developmental window for the formation of dedicated category regions in the human visual cortex, just as there is in macaque monkeys. He needed a kind of visual stimulus that some adults had been exposed to intensively in childhood but others had not. He thought of how, from about the age of six, he, like many other kids he knew, used to spend countless hours playing a game on his Nintendo Game Boy called Pokémon Red and Blue. It involved identifying hundreds of different Pokémon characters, which look a bit like animals or mythical beasts. 

    Gomez realised that if he could find other people who had also started playing the game intensively at about the same age, using the same device, he could explore whether this had influenced the organisation of their visual cortex. 

    He managed to recruit 11 such adults (including himself), and scanned their brains while they were shown images of Pokémon characters, as well as other things, such as faces, corridors and cartoons. Gomez and his colleagues found that within the visual cortex (in the ventral temporal region) of the Pokémon experts, there was a discrete area that was most active when looking at the Pokémon characters. There was no such region in a control group of non-players. 

    Other work has found that the brains of people who become experts at recognising a type of object (like cars) as an adult respond differently to those objects than the brains of novices. But these differences are not in the visual cortex; they’re more often in the prefrontal cortex, which is involved in attention and decision-making rather than basic visual processing. 

    Building on the work showing the plasticity of the visual cortex in young macaques, “the current finding of a Pokémon-preferring brain region really drives home just how amazing the plasticity of our developing visual system is,” write Daniel Janini and Talia Konkle of Harvard University in a news comment on the paper, published in the same issue. 

    Gomez and his colleagues also found that – as with face-processing or word-processing regions – the “Pokemon region” shared a similar location in all of the experts’ brains. They think that the physical size of an object’s image on the retina is important in determining where, in the brain, the category region forms. The image size of a Pokémon character viewed on an old Game Boy screen by children is consistently smaller than that of someone’s face – and a lot smaller than that of a landscape, for instance – which could have a lasting effect on the way visual representations are handled in the adult brain, the researchers think.

    As well as being fascinating, the study has potentially important practical implications. “Our data raise the possibility that if people do not share common visual experiences of a stimulus during childhood, either from disease, as is the case in cataracts, or cultural differences in viewing patterns, then an atypical or unique representation of that stimulus may result in adulthood, which has important implications for learning disabilities and social disabilities,” the researchers write.  

    Consider autism, for example, which is associated with difficulties recognising faces and an aversion to eye contact. If kids with autism grow up looking at faces differently from how most children do, perhaps this explains the observed deficits in the function of the face-sensitive region of their visual cortex, and in turn this could contribute to the social difficulties that autistic children experience. If this account is correct, then finding out how long the window of visual cortical plasticity lasts will be critical for designing effective interventions for autism and other neurodevelopmental conditions. 

    Extensive childhood experience with Pokémon suggests eccentricity drives organization of visual cortex

    Image: Pokemon’s figures are on display during the International Tokyo Toy Show 2009 (Photo by Junko Kimura/Getty Images)

    Emma Young (@EmmaELYoung) is Staff Writer at BPS Research Digest

    in The British Psychological Society - Research Digest on June 14, 2019 08:41 AM.

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    Better care through technology? Carers’ experience of assistive technology use in dementia

    Assistive Technology (AT) includes devices such as electronic medication dispensers, robotic devices, GPS trackers, motion detectors, tablet computers, and wearable sensors. These devices benefit both people living with dementia and their carers:  they allow people living with dementia to remain independent, feel safe, socialize, and do things they enjoy and their carers to provide support, stay in touch, and monitor the welfare of the person with dementia.

    What we did

    As part of our systematic review, we completed a comprehensive search to identify research studies on carers of persons with dementia using AT. We found 56 publications, covering 50 studies, that looked at research from 19 countries. The studies were carried out predominantly in Europe and the USA, with some studies from Australia, Canada, Israel, Japan, Mexico, and Taiwan. Data was collected within these studies by a variety of methods including interviews and focus groups, surveys, video recording, and blog reviews.

    The studies involved 2,016 carers, with 1,165 women and 660 men where gender was reported. Carers’ ages ranged from 19-91 years. The carers were from predominantly White backgrounds followed by Hispanic, African American, Asian, and ‘other’ backgrounds. Most of the carers were spouses followed by children and close family members.

    What we found

    There were large differences in the uses of AT, the outcome measures used, and quality of the studies.

    84 types of AT were described within the studies. There is so far no agreed way of describing or classifying AT and this makes it difficult to find the right AT for use by persons with dementia.

    The AT were mainly used for leisure and social interaction, supporting memory and orientation, and for improving safety and security of the person with dementia.

    The most commonly used AT was for safety and security. Passage and door sensors, cameras, and electronic GPS trackers were the most commonly used AT by carers to keep a person with dementia safe at home. The most widely used AT for leisure and social interaction were simple remote controls for TV and picture button telephones. Electronic clocks and calendars that oriented a person to the date, day, and time were also widely used along with electronic medicine dispensers.

    AT developers and industry partners should focus on technology that matches the needs of the person requiring the AT.

    None of the AT in these studies addressed behavioral issues such as aggression or disinhibition, which is quite common in someone who has dementia. The studies also surprisingly did not report on adverse events.

    Carers’ experiences

    When AT is used, carers generally appreciated using AT, but their experience of use varied. Carers’ knowledge and acceptance of AT, competence of the carer to use AT, and ethical issues when using AT were major themes that emerged from the studies.

    Carers viewed a person with dementia’s ability to stay at home and their physical safety as more important than their privacy and autonomy. This raises some important ethical issues as carers generally purchase and make installation decisions without consulting the person with dementia.

    AT in some instances provided carers with additional personal time which was highly valued and there was a consensus among carers that people with dementia must be involved as much as possible to select and use AT.

    Considerations and recommendations

    Installation of AT for use by someone who has dementia is not a one-off event and is an ongoing process. Carers as users of AT often struggle to understand and engage with the AT because of poor understanding, a lack of knowledge of available AT, and lack of on-going support from professionals as well as design flaws in the AT itself.

    Carers must be involved when designing, testing, and selecting AT for use by persons with dementia. Consideration should also be given to integrating multiple AT devices to work together.

    We recommend the use of a standard person-centered system of classifying and naming AT devices. Healthcare professionals should consider the ability of a carer to ‘problem solve’ before AT prescription and use. AT developers and industry partners should focus on technology that matches the needs of the person requiring the AT, rather than the person being ‘molded’ to match what technology is available, and future research efforts in AT should incorporate a family/carer-centered model.

    The post Better care through technology? Carers’ experience of assistive technology use in dementia appeared first on BMC Series blog.

    in BMC Series blog on June 14, 2019 08:18 AM.

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    Spreading the Word: PLOS Advances Research Through Media Partnerships

    Last year, PLOS helped more than 2,300 articles receive media coverage in high-profile outlets including The New York Times, the BBC, National Geographic, Scientific American and The Washington Post. How do we do it? For starters, our press team sends out on average one press release per day, garnering the attention of the 1200 journalists on our press list, plus members of the media who haven’t heard of us yet.

    But for us to make sure your research gets the recognition it deserves from other researchers, potential funders, and policy makers, our dedicated media team also leverages a robust network of partnerships to connect science and the media.

    Science for non-scientists

    Though all PLOS research is Open and accessible to everyone, many readers depend on journalists to distill complex scientific concepts for broader consumption. An important link in the transformation of Research Article to NY Times cover story are Science Media Centers (SMCs) which work with journalists to get the public access to the best scientific evidence and expertise.

    Through SMCs, journalists can find “sources” or vetted experts in a given field to help add context to the research they’re reporting on. Some SMCs, such as SciLine, also offer fact sheets summarizing popular topics that have been reviewed and verified by experts.

    We have been working with SMCs in the UK, US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Germany for over a year, for example by providing information that helps SMCs spread the word about PLOS work even further. In Europe, we also collaborate with the European Science Media Hub, part of the European Parliament, whose work helps facilitate the transfer of knowledge and training between the European Parliament, the scientific community, and the media.

    Our partnership with these organizations is also helping us to shape best practice for communicating research, especially for new scholarly outputs like preprints.

    Leveraging your network and your expertise

    Perhaps the best place to seek promotion and recognition for your work is your own institution. Already, we work with top-tier institutions such as MIT, Harvard University, University of Cambridge, University of Oxford, the National Institutes of Health and more to help them promote the amazing research being done by their affiliated PLOS authors. We’re hoping to expand this program further, but even without formal partnership, we encourage all authors to contact their institution’s press office when their research is accepted for publication – your colleagues’ networks can be a huge asset to your career.

    For authors who are keen to be hands-on in disseminating research, we also recommend contacting our partner Science Trends. This free platform allows authors to write their own “self-directed press release” in under 500 words which is then published on Science Trends and on social media to an audience of 500,000 followers. You can find more information on our website.

    We’re dedicated to providing the best experience for our authors, pre and post-publication. We’ll continue innovating and promoting your work and we want you to feel empowered to do so as well. Check out our media toolkit for tips on publicizing your work, speaking to the media, and stepping up your social media game. Of course, our media relations team, Beth Baker and Charlotte Bhaskar, are always happy to help – contact them at onepress@plos.org.


    Bethany Baker, Sr. Media Relations Manager
    Charlotte Bhaskar, Media Relations Manager

    in The Official PLOS Blog on June 13, 2019 03:58 PM.

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    Requesters: Requests with Upfront Payments and Milestones

    Orders with Upfront Payments and Milestones

    Providers are able to add upfront payments and milestones during the quoting phase of a request. Milestones allow providers to fulfill and bill throughout the duration of a project, rather than entirely upon completion.

    Where applicable, check with your organization regarding their upfront payments and milestones policy prior to accepting an order.

    Upfront payment and milestones are viewable on the quote.

    When a provider marks a milestone complete, you will receive an email directing you to the order page. In order for Science Exchange to pay the provider in a timely manner, Requesters are required to mark the milestone complete. If the completion of the milestone is not declined in 14 days, the milestone will be completed automatically and payment issued to the provider on the agreed payment term.

    If the deliverables are incomplete or have not yet been received, you may click the blue Review & Confirm button and select “Decline Completion.” Taking this action will move the milestone back to “In Progress” and the milestone will not auto-complete.

    Your quote will indicate if an upfront payment is required in order to start work. A justification for the upfront payment, such as “Purchase of animals” or “Obtaining required reagents” is required for the Provider to submit the payment schedule.

    If an upfront payment is required, requesters will receive an invoice for this payment and it will be clear whether the payment must be received prior to the initiation of work.

    Once the payment is received and work can begin, the Provider will indicate on the “Order Progress” section of the order page that work has started.

    in The Science Exchange Blog on June 13, 2019 02:54 PM.

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    Passing the (FDA) test: how data can make clinical trials more effective

    The future of pharma and healthcare hinges on how successfully we manage big data

    in Elsevier Connect on June 13, 2019 01:10 PM.

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    Thoughts on a medical mystery

    How brains learn diseases, and their cures

    My father is a pediatric neurologist, with a speciality in epilepsy. He’s always loved the kids he worked with, and treated them like family. Whenever one of his patients died, he’d bring me and my sisters to their funeral. Some I’d known for years from tagging along on rounds, or having watched them grow up through the quanta of Christmas cards and back-to-school photos. I remember the funeral of a girl my age, who had been far more outgoing and lively than me, her now-dark face caked in yellow makeup. Though they’d never found a drug that could control her seizures, she’d seemed otherwise healthy and normal, and her death had come as a total surprise. This was my first brush with Sudden Unexpected Death in Epilepsy (SUDEP). SUDEP is the most common cause of death in patients with refractory seizures, and remains one of the most devastating mysteries in the field of epilepsy. There are currently no known biomarkers to identify patients at risk for SUDEP — hence the Sudden, hence the Unexpected.

    Having come to neuroscience by way of physics, I confess I often forget a crucial point: neurons are cells, not just immutable contact points on a circuit board over which voltage plays in prescribed patterns. Not only is the circuit board layout shifting, always rewiring itself in learning, but activity sets off internal programs within cells, making them more or less active, or plastic, tuning their metabolism and protein production. Furthermore, at the gross level, the brain isn’t a black box sealed in the skull, but exerts its influence on every conceivable bodily process. Neurological disorders are rarely, if ever, confined to the brain. This may seem obvious, but it bears consideration. When brain areas are over or under-active, this can reverberate through other somatic systems, causing plastic changes in all manner of body parts: neurons love to learn. In fact, non-neuronal cells learn too: signals like oxygen or nutrition levels can alter a cell’s transcriptional landscape, resulting in tissue remodelling, for example.

    Epilepsy is particularly interesting, as it’s a prime example of a learned disease. “Kindling” is a common idea in the literature: once someone has had one or more seizures, they’re much more likely to become epileptic, as the brain learns this problematic activity pattern. Some epileptic patients report that they’ve discovered certain thought patterns that help them control or minimize an oncoming seizure (these patients feel a pre-ictal ‘aura’ that clues them in), so we know there may be conscious strategies which certain patients can use to volitionally control their disease. But I’d argue that neural circuits may have evolved or learned other, less helpful ways of suppressing disease-related activity—in the case of uncontrollable epilepsy, through depriving the brain of oxygen, thereby quenching activity. I posit we might use this framing of brains and bodies ‘learning’ their own cures to better understand common comorbidities of neurological disorders.

    SUDEP is a big clue in this. It’s increasingly evident that cardio-pulmonary issues underlie a majority of SUDEP cases. While most SUDEP events go unwitnessed, in a retrospective study of observed SUDEP cases caught while patients were in the hospital, researchers found that patient breathing ceased before heart failure in all 16 observed events (Rivlin et al., 2013). There is no doubt that SUDEP involves a complex network of effects, but the effect of repeated exposure to low oxygen levels (chronic intermittent hypoxia) is consistent with many of the known abnormalities of SUDEP patients (Giaccia, Simon, & Johnson, 2004). Hypoxia has a profound effect on tissues, from altering the physiology of certain ion channels in the heart and lungs to long-term changes in genetic transcription and vascular remodeling (Kemp & Peers, 2007; Ling et al., 2001; Nei, 2009; Richerson, 2010). Up to 40% of SUDEP cases present cardiac fibrosis in autopsy, which can be a result of chronic intermittent hypoxia (Ling et al., 2001; P-Codrea, et al., 2005), and damage was most commonly found in the heart structure most vulnerable to ischemic damage (the subendocardial myocardium, for the keen). SUDEP patients also tend to have had post-seizure cerebral depression, which is also strongly linked with hypoxia (Takano et al., 2007). All of this suggests that recurring low oxygen levels might be the cause of the myriad tissue and neural remodeling events that ultimately result in patient death.

    The link between epilepsy and breathing problems is well documented, but not well understood. In some patients, epileptic activity may simply affect brain stem circuits controlling breathing. Every patient has a different locus of seizure activity — the part of the brain a seizure plays out on. But SUDEP doesn’t only happen in patients whose seizures originate in the part of the brain that controls breathing. There may be a more fundamental physiological link underlying seizures and breathing: blood acidification, as happens in hypoxic conditions, is anti-convulsive. Thus, the hypoxic response may not simply be a direct effect of a seizure on the brain stem, but an evolved mechanism, or one learned by neural circuits, to shut down epileptic activity during otherwise intractable seizures [1]. This then leads to a vicious cycle: breathing circuits are plastic throughout life, and strongly shaped by hypoxia (So, 2008), so even if a patient’s seizures never directly reach the brain stem, their chronic seizures could still cause a gradual degradation of the neural circuits controlling breathing through repeated hypoxia [2]. The brain, then, might be learning activity patterns that help control a particular disease state, which is adaptive in the short term but ultimately deleterious: a drastic stop-gap to manage otherwise intractable epilepsy.

    The brain is sometimes too good at doing its job. Many neurological diseases involve some component of being ‘learned’ by neural circuits: chronic pain, neuropathy/neuralgia, and migraine all come to mind. When considering how to find predictive biomarkers for neurological conditions, or how to address their symptoms, it’s crucial to remember that neurological diseases don’t live in the brain alone. They can affect all body systems, and some of the most deleterious symptoms might result from the brain attempting to ‘medicate’ itself with whatever other systems it has control over. Studies with this framing in mind might help lead to the discovery of simple interventions, and further refine our understanding to identify functional and molecular biomarkers of medical mysteries such as SUDEP [3].


    1. Interestingly, SUDEP is more prevalent among males, and males tend to be more sensitive to hypoxia, suffering worse outcomes. This has been found true both in clinical studies and in studies involving multiple animal models (Hill & Fitch, 2012; Mayoral, Omar, & Penn, 2009; Mirza, 2015; Pérez-Crespo et al., 2005). This sexual dimorphism may be due, in part, to the gene G6PD, an X-linked gene related to oxidative stress, which has been implicated in hypoxia-induced damage (Chettimada et al., 2014; Gao, L., et al., 2004). It’s also worth noting that in a rodent model, sleep apnea-induced plasticity of the breathing circuit was normalized with antioxidant treatment, which may similarly show a protective effect in high SUDEP risk patients. Therefore, markers of oxidative stress may play an important role in detecting and preventing SUDEP.
    2. Some researchers believe that SUDEP is related to another medical mystery, Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). One of the best known risk factors for SIDS is prenatal nicotine exposure, and nicotine exposure is known to alter receptor expression in oxygen-sensing neural circuits; therefore both diseases may result from plasticity of the brain areas responsible for controlling breathing.
    3. SUDEP has also been associated with a variety of genes implicated in cardiac arrhythmias, as well as several anti-convulsive drugs that also make patients prone to arrhythmias (Klassen et al., 2013; Glasscock, 2014; So, 2008). However, genes do not deterministically dictate SUDEP risk. Given that genetic tests are costly, and only suggestive of susceptibility, a functional measurement such as apnea would likely be a more effective biomarker.

    Thoughts on a medical mystery was originally published in The Spike on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

    in The Spike on June 13, 2019 12:26 PM.

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    When fighting lice, focus on kids’ heads, not hats or toys

    Learning a little about lice makes for a more efficient battle against the bugs.

    in Science News on June 13, 2019 12:00 PM.

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    Some Canadian lakes still store DDT in their mud

    Yesterday’s DDT pollution crisis is still today’s problem in some of Canada’s lakes.

    in Science News on June 13, 2019 10:01 AM.

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    Public health journal retracts paper on austerity for “inaccurate and misleading results”

    The American Journal of Public Health has retracted a controversial 2018 paper on the effects of economic austerity in Spain because it contained “inaccurate and misleading” results linking  those policies to a massive spike in premature deaths. The journal also has published a second piece, by a different group of authors, refuting the central claim … Continue reading Public health journal retracts paper on austerity for “inaccurate and misleading results”

    in Retraction watch on June 13, 2019 10:00 AM.

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    Most Comprehensive Review To Date Finds The Average Person’s Reading Speed Is Slower Than Previously Thought

    giphyBy Matthew Warren

    You should take just under two-and-a-half minutes to finish reading this blog post. That’s going by the findings of a new review, which has looked at almost 200 studies of reading rates published over the past century to come up with an overall estimate for how quickly we read. And it turns out that that rate is considerably slower than commonly thought.

    Of the various estimates of average reading speed bandied around over the years, one of the most commonly cited is 300 words per minute (wpm). However, a number of findings of slower reading rates challenge that statistic, notes Marc Brysbaert from Ghent University in Belgium in his new paper released as a preprint on PsyArxiv. 

    Brysbaert searched for all studies measuring reading rates in participants aged between 17 and 60 and in languages that use the Latin alphabet. The exact nature of the studies varied a lot: for example, in some, participants had to read a long passage before answering multiple choice questions about the text, while in others they read single sentences while their eye movements were measured. But Brysbaert included only those studies in which participants read for fun or comprehension, and excluded others that require memorization or other challenges. Altogether, he found 190 suitable studies conducted between 1901 and 2019, collectively involving 17,887 participants. 

    The average reading rate across all these studies turned out to be just 238 wpm – much slower than the popular 300 wpm estimate. However, there was quite a lot of variability between studies, particularly those that used very short passages, where the slowest rate was just over 100 wpm and the fastest nearly 400 wpm. With longer texts, the rates fell more closely around the average, suggesting that longer reading tasks might be a more reliable measure.

    Although the number of studies involving non-English languages was too small to draw any firm conclusions, there seemed to be a hint of differences between languages. For example, reading rate in the five Spanish studies was considerably faster than the average, at 278 wpm, while the average rate for the 144 English-only studies was 236 wpm. And while the meta-analysis only included participants under the age of 60, Brysbaert notes that other studies have found that reading rate declines in older age groups. 

    Knowing that reading rates are closer to 240 than 300 wpm might seem fairly inconsequential. But it does have real-world implications. These kinds of thresholds are used by educators to determine whether someone is a slow reader and in need of remedial help – so honing in on a precise number is important. “Setting the target reading rate at 300 wpm is unrealistic for the majority of people and likely to result in disappointment of what can be achieved,” writes Brysbaert.

    The meta-analysis of past reading-rate estimates is arguably the most interesting part of the new preprint – but in fact the manuscript encompasses a lot more. If you want to find out more about the long history of reading research  or what the fastest possible reading speed is, go and have a look at the paper. But set aside some time: at more than 19,000 words long, it will take you about 80 minutes to get through. 

    How many words do we read per minute? A review and meta-analysis of reading rate [this paper is a preprint meaning that it has not yet been subjected to peer review and the final published version may differ from the version this report was based on]

    Image: via giphy.com

    Matthew Warren (@MattbWarren) is Staff Writer at BPS Research Digest

    in The British Psychological Society - Research Digest on June 13, 2019 08:58 AM.

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    Li Jia, the Research Fraud Olympian

    Li Jia is Chinese cancer researcher apparently training for Fraud Olympics. She fabricates data at speed and excess, and in several disciplines.

    in For Better Science on June 13, 2019 08:26 AM.

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    The National Weather Service has launched its new U.S. forecasting model

    The United States has finally unveiled its new, highly touted weather prediction model, but some scientists worry that it’s not ready for prime time.

    in Science News on June 12, 2019 07:11 PM.

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    People may have smoked marijuana in rituals 2,500 years ago in western China

    Cannabis may have been altering minds at an ancient high-altitude cemetery, researchers say

    in Science News on June 12, 2019 06:01 PM.

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    Bats are the main cause of rare rabies deaths in the U.S.

    In the United States, bats are mostly to blame for rabies deaths, while rabies transmitted by overseas dogs comes in second.

    in Science News on June 12, 2019 05:14 PM.

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    Astronomers may have spotted the ghost galaxy that hit the Milky Way long ago

    Astronomers think they’ve identified a galaxy that hit the Milky Way and ruffled its edges millions of years ago.

    in Science News on June 12, 2019 04:00 PM.

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    Breakthrough Investigation Of People With A Sixth Finger Has Implications For Infant Medicine And Cyborgs

    Screenshot 2019-06-12 at 11.55.25.pngThe anatomy of the right hand of one of the polydactyl volunteers, via Mehring et al, 2019

    By Christian Jarrett

    Picture in your mind a futuristic, technologically enhanced human. Perhaps you imagined them with a subcutaneous device in their arm for phone calls and browsing the internet. Maybe they are wearing smart glasses for augmented reality. What I’d wager you didn’t think of is the presence of an artificial sixth digit attached to each hand. However, a breakthrough open-access study in Nature Communications – the first to study the physiology and sensorimotor mechanics of polydactyly volunteers (people born with extra fingers) – shows the feasibility and practical advantages that would be gained from such an extra appendage. The results also have implications for the medical treatment of polydactyl people, who often have their extra finger removed at birth on the presumption that it will be of no benefit to them.

    Carsten Mehring and his colleagues conducted various tests with two polydactyly volunteers, a 17-year-old boy and his mother, both born with an extra fully formed finger between their thumb and index finger (known as preaxial polydactyly). The researchers note that polydactyly is “not rare”, with an incidence of around 0.2 per cent in the population. However, fully formed preaxial polydactyly is a rarer subset of that group.

    Using MRI of the volunteers’ hands, the researchers established that the extra finger has a saddle joint, similar to a typical thumb, and that it is innervated by its own dedicated nerves. Further tests established that the volunteers had independent control of their extra finger and that they were able to use it to perform a pinch grip with each of their other fingers.

    An MRI of the volunteers’ brains further showed that the extra finger was represented in the brain independently of the other fingers. Another test, that involved concealing the extra finger and asking the volunteers’ to identify landmarks on it, showed that they had an accurate mental representation of their extra digit.

    Next, the researchers used video motion capture to observe the volunteers manipulating various objects. This showed that the volunteers engaged in a “rich ensemble of movement patterns” and that they frequently used their extra finger in coordination with both their thumb and index finger (it was not simply used as a substitute for these digits). “Taken together these results demonstrate that the movements of the six fingers of our two subjects had increased complexity relative to common five-fingered hands,” the researchers said.

    But do these extra movement capabilities provide any functional advantage? Mehring and his team devised a video game that required coordinating key presses to respond to six boxes oscillating progressively faster up and down onscreen. A different key press was required to respond to each of the six boxes, so people with normal five-fingered hands would need two hands to succeed at the task, the researchers note. Critically, the polydactyl volunteers were able to achieve the same impressive game performance with one hand as with two.

    Neuroscience and psychology have studied extensively the profound neural consequences for humans of losing a limb or other appendage, including documenting the pain caused by the phantom limb effect (usually explained as due to reorganisation of the brain’s representation of missing part). However, this new study represents the first neuroscientific exploration of having an extra body part, finding “… that the human nervous system is able to develop, embody and control multiple extra degrees of freedom and integrate them into coordinated movements with the other limbs, without any apparent deficits or conflicts in the sensorimotor or mental representations.”

    This has immediate implications for the medical response to polydactyl, suggesting the need to “…thoroughly evaluate the functionality of [the extra digit] in polydactyl infants before deciding whether to remove it.” Also, from a cyborg perspective, the results “…suggest that it may be of value to augment normal five-fingered hands with an artificial supernumerary finger,” the researchers said. In fact this new research paves the wave for an entire new research endeavor. “Polydactyl individuals with functional [extra fingers] offer a unique opportunity to investigate the neural control of supernumerary limbs, analyse internal representations of body and the limits of sensorimotor capabilities in humans.”

    Augmented manipulation ability in humans with six-fingered hands

    Christian Jarrett (@Psych_Writer) is Editor of BPS Research Digest

    in The British Psychological Society - Research Digest on June 12, 2019 11:04 AM.

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    Extra fingers, often seen as useless, can offer major dexterity advantages

    Two people born with six fingers on each hand can control the extra digit, using it to do tasks better than five-fingered hands, a study finds.

    in Science News on June 12, 2019 11:00 AM.

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    Want to check for retractions in your personal library — and get alerts — for free? Now you can

    We’re thrilled to announce a collaboration with Zotero,  the free and open-source research platform, that will allow its users to be alerted to retractions of any papers in their personal libraries. As Retraction Watch readers know, making that kind of functionality possible has been our goal since we announced plans to create a comprehensive database … Continue reading Want to check for retractions in your personal library — and get alerts — for free? Now you can

    in Retraction watch on June 12, 2019 10:00 AM.

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    A tiny crater on viruses behind the common cold may be their Achilles’ heel

    Researchers have discovered a potential new drug target in a family of viruses responsible for the common cold and more serious infections.

    in Science News on June 11, 2019 06:00 PM.

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    Harvard and Elsevier are using data science to improve gender equality in academia

    Colleagues from Harvard, Elsevier and the NSF are developing data science projects to address the challenges faced by women in academia

    in Elsevier Connect on June 11, 2019 11:28 AM.

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    These knotted cords may hide the first evidence that the Incas collected taxes

    Some knotted string devices point to crop levies imposed by the Incan empire, researchers say. But other khipus continue to evade description.

    in Science News on June 11, 2019 11:00 AM.

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    Researchers reject APC-based OA publishing as promoted by Plan S

    Lynn Kamerlin, Bas de Bruin and their colleagues have been the most vocal critics of Plan S from the very beginning, braving continuous opposition from certain OA leaders. Now that final Plan S guidelines were released, the chemists publish this Open Letter expressing their worry about a possible dystopian OA future.

    in For Better Science on June 11, 2019 10:33 AM.

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    “Permeable to bad science:” Journal retracts paper hailed by proponents of homeopathy

    Eight months after publishing a paper claiming that homeopathy can treat pain in rats, a Springer Nature journal is retracting the work. The move follows swift criticism of the paper in Scientific Reports, which was written by researchers from India and the United Arab Emirates about the use of Toxicodendron pubescens, “popularly known as Rhus … Continue reading “Permeable to bad science:” Journal retracts paper hailed by proponents of homeopathy

    in Retraction watch on June 11, 2019 09:00 AM.

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    Testing An Evo Psych Theory Outside Of The Lab: Prestige And Dominance-Based Social Hierarchies Emerge Even Amongst Cornish Choirs And Chess Clubs

    GettyImages-176917918.jpgBy Matthew Warren

    Psychologists have noticed that aspiring leaders generally pursue one of two different approaches for getting to the top of the social food-chain. Some people exert influence by building up skills or knowledge that command respect and deference from their peers – known as the prestige strategy. Others prefer to rule by fear instead, forcing others to fall into line – the dominance strategy. This dichotomy has even been suggested to account for the vastly different leadership styles of Barack Obama and Donald Trump. 

    But many of the studies that have looked at the dynamics of prestige and dominance have done so in artificial social situations, examining groups of strangers brought together for a short time in the lab. So in a new study published open-access in Royal Society Open Science, Charlotte Brand and Alex Mesoudi went out into the world and looked at how hierarchies based on prestige and dominance affected the behaviour of real social groups. 

    The researchers recruited 30 community groups from Cornwall, each made up of 5 individuals and ranging from choirs to chess clubs (my favourites include a band known as Falmouth Fish Sea Shanty Collective, and a group of board game creators called Pirates of Penryn).

    Each participant completed a 40-item quiz covering topics like art and geography, first individually and then together with their group. The groups were told they had to come to an agreement on each answer, and the group that scored the highest overall would win £500. Finally, each individual cast an anonymous vote for the group member they wanted to represent them in a set of bonus quiz questions which could win them even more money.

    Participants also rated each member of their group on prestige (e.g. “Members of your group respect and admire them”), dominance (e.g. “They are willing to use aggressive tactics to get their way”), their likability, and how much influence they had during the quiz and in the group generally. Thankfully for the enduring survival of the groups, these ratings were all anonymous.

    Within groups, individuals who had more influence were more likely to be rated as highly prestigious or highly dominant, consistent with previous research suggesting that both strategies can be used to gain status in social groups. Dominance and prestige ratings were not related to each other, again in-line with findings that the two strategies are quite distinct.

    But intriguingly, neither dominance nor prestige ratings determined whether someone would be elected to take the bonus quiz – even though prestige in particular is thought to be closely tied to having superior knowledge. Instead, elected representatives tended to be those who had scored highly during the individual quiz, suggesting that the other group members had picked upon their expertise in this specific context, and made a pragmatic decision based on this, rather than being swayed by people’s status in the group more broadly.

    These findings contrast with previous studies that suggested prestige has a greater influence over group behaviour. They perhaps illustrate the pitfalls of performing social psychology studies solely in the lab: in natural groups, where individuals have had the chance to interact and establish hierarchies over long periods of time, group dynamics may be quite different to those among strangers who have just met. Of course, a selection of community groups from Cornwall is still not necessarily representative of the wider population, and it would be interesting to explore the dynamics of prestige and dominance in more diverse groups.

    Nevertheless, when it comes to groups in the real world, the authors say, “prestige and dominance may be more domain-specific, or more fixed, than we had anticipated”. For example, group members may have gained their prestige because of a specific skillset – perhaps they were particularly good at singing or making board games – which was less useful for the general knowledge quiz. 

    Prestige and dominance-based hierarchies exist in naturally occurring human groups, but are unrelated to task-specific knowledge

    Image: Members of a Cornish male voice choir entertain the crowds near the harbour on August 19, 2013 in Padstow, England (Photo by Matt Cardy/Getty Images).

    Matthew Warren (@MattbWarren) is Staff Writer at BPS Research Digest

    in The British Psychological Society - Research Digest on June 11, 2019 07:31 AM.

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    The origins of avian flight, thermostat battles heating up, and other PLOS research making headlines in May!

    New research from PLOS Computational Biology uses robots, reconstructed model dinosaur feathered forelimbs, and juvenile ostriches to simulate the first potential avian flight stroke in dinosaurs. This study shows that running on the ground naturally stimulates a flapping motion in feathered forelimbs, and suggests that this flap may be the origin of avian flight.

    Author Zhao explains: “Our work shows that the motion of flapping feathered wings was developed passively and naturally as the dinosaur ran on the ground…although this flapping motion could not lift the dinosaur into the air at that time, the motion of flapping wings may have developed earlier than gliding.”

    See videos of the robots and young ostriches strutting their stuff, and read more on CNN and Gizmodo.


    A new study from PLOS ONE found that that in a test room set to temperatures ranging from 16.19 C/61.14 F -32.57 C/90.63 F, female study participants performed best on math and verbal tests at the higher end of the temperature range, while male participants performed most strongly on the same tests at lower temperatures. This is the first experimental research supporting anecdotal and survey responses indicating women tend to prefer warmer room temperatures than men, by showing that temperatures can affect both comfort and performance.

    Authors Kajackaite and Chang summarize: “In a large laboratory experiment, over 500 individuals performed a set of cognitive tasks at randomly manipulated indoor temperatures. Consistent with their preferences for temperature, for both math and verbal tasks, women perform better at higher temperatures while men perform better at lower temperatures.”

    Check out more of this hot topic as featured on the Guardian, the New York Times, Fox 5 News (with a video featuring author Tom Chang), and the Atlantic.


    Along a similar vein(!), new research from PLOS Medicine shows that the medical care received by heart failure patients in the UK may have important gaps around diagnoses, insufficient follow-up after hospitalisation, and improperly-prescribed dosages, among other issues; these problems significantly affected women and older people.  

    Read more on the Daily Mail and the Telegraph.


    A 2016 mass die-off of puffins and other seabirds in the Bering Sea is reported in a new PLOS ONE study by Timothy Jones of the citizen science program COASST at University of Washington, Lauren Divine from the Aleut Community of St Paul Island Ecosystem Conservation Office, and colleagues. Up to 8,500 puffins and auklets may have died in this event, which appeared to be due to starvation; the authors suggest that climate shifts may have resulted in a lack of prey. Read more about this story on Vice, Discover Magazine, and Scientific American.


    Finally, in lighter news, a new study from PLOS ONE showed that wolves behave more prosocially towards their fellow pack mates than do pack dogs during a touchscreen-based task that allowed individual animals to provide food to others–though the study did not look at the behavior of pet dogs.

    Author Rachel Dale notes: “This study shows that domestication did not necessarily make dogs more prosocial. Rather, it seems that tolerance and generosity towards group members help to produce high levels of cooperation, as seen in wolves.”

    Check out further coverage on PBS News and Motherboard by Vice.


    Image captions and credits

    1. Seven-rigid-body system of Caudipteryx. The simplified rigid body system illustrates the mechanism of moving parts, main body, wings, legs, neck and head, and the tail of the Caudipteryx. The masses of all parts are represented by lumped mass points and the muscles at the joints are replaced with springs (As damping coefficient does not significantly affect the natural frequency, we simplified the joints which are composed of tendons, muscles, ligaments and soft tissues as purely elastic springs with no damping). Different effective masses of these seven primary modes of the simplified Caudipteryx show different possibilities to be excited. (Talori et al, 2019,  PLOS Computational Biology)
    2. Video: Observation on the juvenile ostrich. The forced vibrations of the wings of the young ostriches are easily found when they run on the ground. (Talori et al, 2019,  PLOS Computational Biology)
    3. Carcasses of tufted puffins, October 2016. (Aleut Community of St Paul Island Ecosystem Conservation Office)
    4. Touchscreen test (Dale et al., 2019, PLOS ONE)


    in The Official PLOS Blog on June 10, 2019 04:00 PM.

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    Genealogy companies could struggle to keep clients’ data from police

    Police probably won’t stop searching DNA family trees to find crime suspects. New restrictions on database searches could spur more fights over privacy.

    in Science News on June 10, 2019 04:00 PM.

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    The OA interviews: Arianna Becerril-García, Chair of AmeliCA

    A professor in the School of Political and Social Sciences at the Autonomous University of the State of Mexico (UAEM), Arianna Becerril-García is also the Executive Director of Redalyc, the Network of Scientific Journals from Latin America and the Caribbean, Spain and Portugal. Redalyc is a regional open access portal for the social sciences and humanities that indexes 1,305 local journals and hosts the full texts of more than 650,000 articles. 

    In addition, Becerril-García is the Chair of a new project called AmeliCA (Open Knowledge for Latin America and the Global South). AmeliCA’s goal is to propagate the Redalyc model to the more than 15,000 journals in the region and elsewhere in the Global South.

    As Chair of AmeliCA, Becerril-García has become a vocal critic of Plan S – the European OA initiative announced last year by a group of funders that call themselves cOAlition S. While AmeliCA shares cOAlition S’s goal of achieving universal open access, says Becerril-García, it fears that, as currently conceived, Plan S would disadvantage researchers in the Global South and exclude them further from the international scholarly publishing system.

    Historically, research institutions in the South have struggled to afford the fees necessary to buy access to international subscription journals. But a move to an OA system almost exclusively based on pay-to-publish (which Plan S seems likely to lead to), says Becerril-García, would see researchers in the South struggling to find the money to pay the article-processing charges (APCs) needed to publish their work in international journals. One problem would be replaced by another. 

    Plan S would also further increase the control that for-profit publishers have over the scholarly communication system, which Becerril-García believes is undesirable.

    What is needed, she says, is to build a “collaborative, non-commercial, sustainable and non-subordinated” system in which control is removed from commercial publishers and handed back to the academy.

    The role that AmeliCA and Becerril-García have played in the discussion over Plan S has been important and influential. Interestingly, as the debate has played out, it is not only OA advocates in the South that have been reaching the conclusion that AmeliCA has.

    Heeded and acted upon?

    We will have to wait and see exactly how influential AmeliCA has been. Following a consultation process, cOAlition S is due shortly to publish an updated set of implementation guidelines for Plan S. For her part, Becerril-García hopes that the feedback that she and others have provided has been heeded and will be acted upon.

    Amongst other things, Becerril-García believes that cOAlition S should commit some of its funding to help build the infrastructure and technology needed to allow the academy to regain control of science communication. So, for instance, she would like to see the funders provide money for “non-APC journals, academic open access platforms, technologies to support scholarly publishing, repositories and other scholarly communication tools.”

    To support her argument, Becerril-García points out that Latin America currently publishes between 13% and 20% of the articles produced by European researchers. “If Plan S intends to pay APCs to for-profit journals then why are the costs of publishing European papers in Latin America not worthy of being funded by Plan S too?”, she asks.

    The rumour on Twitter is that the new Plan S guidelines will be “less controversial” than initially proposed. Whether there will be sufficient changes to satisfy Becerril-García’s aspirations, or the needs of the Global South, remains to be seen. While cOAlition S has made sympathetic noises about helping the Global South, we must wonder if European funders will really prove willing to subsidise open platforms and OA journals in the Global South, or to create much in the way of a new scholarly infrastructure – not least because they have set themselves an extremely tight timetable to achieve 100% open access (2020).

    And are they really committed to wresting back control from for-profit publishers?

    What is surely also important, however, is that AmeliCA has independently set itself the goal of propagating the APC-free OA model that Redalyc has been developing since 2003. Amongst other things, this saw it partner recently with UNESCO and a group of other national and regional open access platforms to launch the Global Alliance of Open Access Scholarly Communication Platforms (GLOALL). The aim is to “democratise scientific knowledge following a multicultural, multi-thematic and multi-lingual approach”.

    Interestingly, just weeks after the launch of GLOALL, AmeliCA joined with the Plan S funders to sign the São Paulo Statement on open access. Becerril-García stresses, however, that “our signature on the São Paulo Statement must be understood as a commitment to an agreement between diverse platforms that all have open access as a common goal”. She adds, “It would be wrong, or mere innocence, to believe that we have changed our mind about our goals and objectives.”

    Whatever one’s views on Plan S, it has surely played a valuable role in focusing minds on the likely implications of moving to a pay-to-play publishing regime and the invidious position that researchers in the Global South find themselves in vis-à-vis the international scholarly publishing system.

    All of which leaves us with what Becerril-García calls the “million-dollar question”: is it possible to build a global system of scholarly communication able to meet the needs of everyone, and on a fair and equitable basis? My suspicion is that this is unlikely to prove possible for so long as the Global North remains so deeply wedded to the principles of neoliberalism.  

    To get a fuller view of AmeliCA’s hopes and ambitions please read the answers Becerril-García gives below to a number of questions I emailed her.

    The interview begins …

    RP: Can you say something about yourself, your institution and your research interests/specialism?

    AB-G: I am a professor-researcher and computer engineer in the Science Communication and Dissemination Research Group of the School of Political and Social Sciences at the Autonomous University of the State of Mexico (UAEM).

    I hold a master’s degree and a PhD in computer sciences and my research interests are semantic technologies, information retrieval, artificial intelligence, technologies for science communication and open access, and data visualisation.

    UAEM is a Mexican public university and a leading and pioneering institution with regard to open access. It is the primary funder of Redalyc and I am part of Redalyc’s founding team and currently its Executive Director.

    RP: You are also Chair of AmeliCA. Can you say something about both Redalyc and AmeliCA?

    AB-G: Redalyc is an open-access scholarly project, founded and ran by Eduardo Aguado (General Director) and me. Redalyc has developed technology to strengthen and provide visibility to journals in the region. Currently, there are 1,305 journals and upwards of 650,000 full-text articles available on the platform from which more than 100 million texts are downloaded per year.

    Redalyc provides an indexing system. To be accepted for inclusion in the index, journals first have to go through a rigorous quality evaluation process. We also offer services to complement what journals provide on their own websites – e.g. tools to enable journals to generate XML that is compliant with ANSI/NISO JATS standards and to provide PDF, HTML and ePUB reading formats, as well as an article interactive reader for reading articles on desktop computers as well as on mobile devices.

    We also provide interoperability and search engine optimisation services to enable the journals to be transparently integrated with the Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ), Google Scholar and hundreds of content aggregators and libraries all around the world. The metadata are exported automatically to help maximize the visibility and impact of the content.

    In addition, Redalyc has developed a set of metrics for regional scholarly publications, institutions and countries to indicate levels of collaboration, internationalisation and usage of scholarly content.

    AmeliCA is a project launched by Redalyc with the support of CLACSO and UNESCO that aims to create a communication system – not an indexing system like Redalyc – for the more than 15,000 current journals from the region.

    So, we offer the technology developed by Redalyc as part of a cooperative strategy in which dozens of institutions with various decentralised and coordinated projects at different universities and research groups from the region are able to participate. We all share the same goal: a collaborative, non-commercial, sustainable and non-subordinated open access system.

    In control of the academy

    RP: Should I conclude from what you say that AmeliCA does not believe commercial publishers ought to play a role in scholarly communication? If it does see a role for them, what role should that be?

    AB-G: It seems to me that the way in which the question is posed suggests that the only alternative model to the one AmeliCA proposes is one that involves commercial publishers. From where I stand the situation is more complex, and even more complex when we observe the different regional contexts.

    We know that before the Second World War the participation of commercial publishers was limited, and journals depended mostly on professional associations. In the late decades of the last century, however, and even in this one, we have seen an excessive concentration of scholarly publishing in a few publishing houses – the oligopoly.

    Beyond the damage these publishers cause to the system of scholarly communication by their monopolistic activities (which is no small thing) we now face a situation where we are having to rely on a legitimation system based on metrics provided by two databases (Web of Science and Scopus) that belong to private enterprises and whose entire focus is on making a commercial return. These companies’ interests lie in making governments and institutions believe (through their various “advisory groups”) that only research that is indexed by them is of sufficient quality to be worthy of being supported with resources. This is the system of evaluation used today for researchers, for projects and for journals.

    And this is a system from which Latin American scientific publications are largely excluded, especially those from the Social Sciences and Humanities. Consequently, researchers are forced to publish in journals owned by commercial publishers who are mainly based outside the region, and in order to make their work open access they now have to pay an APC.

    The goal of AmeliCA is to support and consolidate a native model that has operated in Latin America for more than 30 years, a model in which the publishing process is financed in a structured and rooted manner with public resources provided via local universities. This is the starting point and our aim is to demonstrate that different models of scholarly publishing have developed than one controlled by commercial publishers.

    What has also been happening in our region recently is that journals that have been locally founded and developed – with public resources – and then internationalised, are being acquired by commercial publishers; there are several examples where the publisher is not an academic publisher anymore. These are journals that were created and consolidated with public resources, and then supported by Redalyc for years in order to attain international visibility.

    Our view is that this kind of appropriation, and the considerable restrictions researchers now face in order to share, process and publish their work open access, among many other characteristics of the models used by big commercial publishers, are unacceptable for the development of science.

    The commercial strategies that for-profit publishers have adopted for open access are ravenous, exclusionary and unsustainable. This is entirely contrary to the vision of open access that AmeliCA supports.

    I believe that developing a scholarly communication system that is in control of the academy is a much healthier strategy for science and society.

    Why is it that commercial publishers are a pivotal actor in science communication – in many parts of the world – if most of the activities needed to generate knowledge are undertaken by the academy?

    Why did commercial publishers shift from being the providers of publishing services to the owners of content, and now owners of the tools needed in all stages of the scientific communication process?

    Which of these various roles is truly beneficial to science?

    Free from paywalls

    RP: In January, AmeliCA published a video directly contrasting the approach being taken by the new European OA initiative Plan S with what AmeliCA aims to achieve. The video argues that some of Plan S’s goals are “counterposed” with those of AmeliCA. For instance, it says, where Plan S simply aims to regulate commercial agreements, AmeliCA is focused on “building an infrastructure from and for the academy.” Can you say something more about how AmeliCA aims to achieve this and why it is concerned about Plan S?

    AB-G: AmeliCA’s goal is that all knowledge should be free from paywalls and in that respect, its view coincides with Plan S, and with the BBB definition” of open access. It also agrees with Plan S that authors should retain the copyright in their works.

    Where we would diverge is if Plan S seeks to replace the pay-for-reading model of subscription publishing with a pay-for-publishing one, and to do so in a way that leaves publishing in the control of commercial publishers (as discussed in the previous question). Currently, it seems likely that Plan S will lead to the near-universal use of APCs.

    The Latin American model demonstrates that this need not be the outcome. For this reason, we are convinced that the strategies of Plan S, and of those countries with the economic power to change the current situation, should be focused on supporting a system in which open access journals are controlled by the academy – and without the payment of APCs. They should also be investing in the infrastructure and technology needed for science communication to be in the hands of academic institutions. This investment should aim to return resources to the institutions that generate knowledge.

    So, AmeliCA seeks the same goal as Plan S but wants to achieve it by means of cooperation between multiple academic institutions. In other words, a strategy that emerges from the academy itself, not one devised by financiers or governments. And it should be one in which there are tangible developments in favour of open access – e.g. platforms, scholarly journals, repositories, technical infrastructure, books, groups of people such as editorial teams, policies, mandates, and so on, all working together, joining forces and sharing in order to build a sustainable model.

    A clear example of this can be seen at the National University of La Plata in Argentina. There you can see a very strong, determined, and prepared group already using AmeliCA’s technology to sustain its journals and prevent the implementation of APCs, or the intervention of commercial publishers.

    This group is composed of researchers and students and they are being trained in publishing matters in order to sustain the work in the future. Everything is financed with resources from the university and supported by the infrastructure and technology that AmeliCA offers and that Redalyc developed over many years.

    RP: AmeliCA is focused primarily on Latin America. More recently, UNESCO announced the launch of the Global Alliance of Open Access Scholarly Communication Platforms (GLOALL). This brings together the coordinators of six platforms: AmeliCA, AJOLÉrudit, J-STAGE, OpenEdition, and SciELO, with the aim “to democratize scientific knowledge following a multicultural, multi-thematic and multi-lingual approach”. Aside from the geographical spread of the participants, and the emphasis on language diversity of GLOALL, what distinguishes its aims from those of AmeliCA and Plan S? Is GLOALL more about articulating an alternative vision to Plan S or are there real-life practical initiatives planned? If so, what kind of initiatives?

    AB-G: GLOALL, in my view, offers the potential for great platforms to work together to create a non-commercial open access future. This need not explicitly oppose commercial publishers but could work from another point of view, one that conceives knowledge as a public common good.

    But I should stress that this is my personal view. GLOALL is a new initiative and the scope has yet to be defined. We know that we share common goals and that these need to be realised in the form of policies, projects and strategies, and to be focused on achieving open access aligned with the Sustainable Development Goals established in the United Nations 2030 Agenda.

    AmeliCA will willingly share its technology and experience with GLOALL members, and with any region that wishes to strengthen the model we believe in.

    São Paulo Statement

    RP: Three weeks after the launch of GLOALL, AmeliCA and the African Open Science Platform joined with cOAlition S (the group of funders behind Plan S) and OA2020 (a European initiative with the same goals as Plan Sto sign the São Paulo Statement on Open Access. This was done at the annual meetinof the Global Research Council (GRC). Can you say how this statement came about (i.e. who approached whom?) and how the statement fits with the goals of AmeliCA and GLOALL? How difficult was it to arrive at wording that all sides could agree on? What are the next steps if any?

    AB-G: The question is wrongly posed: AmeliCA didn’t join with either cOAlition S or with OA2020. AmeliCA was invited by Science Europe to participate in an event. Several other platforms were invited and together we signed a statement reaffirming the common goal we all share of freeing knowledge from paywalls. This is the goal of dozens and hundreds of platforms. The São Paulo Statement does no more than state that.

    Our concern is not over the goals of Plan S but how they are implemented. The purpose of the meeting we had with the Plan S architects was to discuss that. And at that meeting, I explained our stance (as discussed in the previous questions). I also presented our stance publicly in a panel held at the GRC event.

    Aside from stating that we reject the APC model, I mentioned in that meeting the risk of disrupting the Latin American system by implementing a Eurocentric model, and I resolutely asked why institutions and governments in Latin America would be motivated to continue subsidising scholarly publishing if strategies are put in place that will end up driving more public money to commercial enterprises.

    I pointed out that Latin America currently publishes between 13% and 20% of the articles produced by European researchers. And I asked: “If Plan S intends to pay APCs to for-profit journals then why are the costs of publishing European papers in Latin America not worthy of being funded by Plan S too?”

    We have repeatedly expressed our concerns about Plan S. Now we are waiting for cOAlition S to announce its final implementation plans. We hope that the feedback phase has been useful, and that cOAlition S will adjust their strategy to enable an inclusive, participative open access model to be developed, one in which non-profit scholarly communication is taken into account when financial resources are distributed.

    If they don’t, Plan S will only further weaken those publishing activities that are still in the control of the academy, and strengthen commercial publishers – to the point perhaps where the former will disappear altogether. 

    AmeliCA’s goals are crystal clear: we want scholarly publishing to be in the hands of the academy – universities and professional associations. In other words, to continue working in the way that Redalyc has been working for decades.

    RP: The wording of the São Paulo Statement is very general and does not specify much in the way of practical action. As you will know, cOAlition S has been struggling to get global buy-in for Plan S, and has attracted criticism in the Global South for attempting to foist a one-size-fits-all Eurocentric model (as you call it) of scholarly publishing on the world. I assume therefore that cOAlition S would see real PR benefit in getting the São Paulo Statement agreed, if only as a way of suggesting that there is no fundamental conflict of interest between Plan S and research communities in the Global South. From what you say, I assume you do still see conflicts of interest. Either way, from the perspective of AmeliCA what was the logic of signing the statement? What benefits do you think signing it might bring to the Global South?

    AB-G: Scholarly publishing is a global ecosystem that already exists. Consequently, for a proposal to be established as global, and for everyone’s benefit, all countries and institutions need to participate in the discussion.

    I would highlight several points about which I believe there is agreement in the South, although with some nuances: the present model is unsustainable, and knowledge must be freed from paywalls. Every stakeholder agrees with this other than those who benefit from the way things currently are. The only point of disagreement, as I said, is over how open access is achieved.

    In the South, Redalyc, AmeliCA, CLACSO, Latindex, and LaReferencia (amongst others) have expressed their strong objection to the APC model. And I expressed this clearly and vehemently at São Paolo, so I hope that the final implementation guidelines will demonstrate that cOAlition S has listened to the feedback it has received and is prepared to provide resources for non-profit players. Here I am thinking of non-APC journals, academic open access platforms, technologies to support scholarly publishing, repositories and other scholarly communication tools. If this happens then our engaging with cOAlition S will have led to something positive.

    And if Plan S ends up dismantling the current harmful system for evaluating research and researchers based on the false prestige bestowed on publications by the Impact Factor – as called for by the San Francisco Declaration on Research Assessment (DORA) – there is no doubt that the South would benefit.

    As to any PR benefits the São Paulo Statement may have: I wouldn’t like to think the meeting was only undertaken for media purposes. In signing the statement, we wanted to give a vote of confidence to the notion that communication and feedback between the North and South is a good thing. Plan S and the general public know AmeliCA’s principles and values. We unwaveringly affirm them and will keep working towards them.

    RP: I believe AmeliCA plans to publish a public response to the São Paulo Statement. What will be the aim and purpose of that public response and when do you expect to publish it?

    AB-G: We signed the declaration and we shared it. However, I would stress that several platforms signed it, some of which AmeliCA and Redalyc distance themselves from completely. It would be wrong, or mere innocence, to believe that we have changed our mind about our goals and objectives.

    Together with other institutions AmeliCA and Redalyc are working towards, and hope to further, non-commercial open access (as I have explained) and we resolutely support DORA.

    So, our signature on the São Paulo Statement must be understood as a commitment to an agreement between diverse platforms that all have open access as a common goal. I would, however, note that SciELO – another regional initiative in Latin America – has signed an agreement with Clarivate Analytics. In doing so they have chosen a different route, one that legitimises the Impact Factor as a way of ranking the importance of journals. They have also chosen ScholarOne (which is a proprietary Clarivate Analytics product) as their publishing platform in Brazil, rather than the open source software Open Journal Systems (OJS) developed by Public Knowledge Project (PKP). And they are encouraging the publishing of journals in English over local languages.

    This interview allows us to take a deeper look at the complexities of these issues, which we’ll also share in a publication on the AmeliCA web site and via other means and forums in the coming days.

    Plan S may sign general declarations with dozens or hundreds of actors, but it is clear that the real detail and discussion must be found in the “small print” – that is, in the implementation guidelines. We are all waiting for news from Plan S about that. Let’s see how they’ve enriched their understanding and stance after the multiple conversations they have had.

    Terribly alarming

    RP: I sometimes think that OA advocates in the global North have spent 17-odd years working towards a solution that (as AmeliCA puts it) “simply aims to regulate commercial agreements” and are now realising that this approach is creating a system no more financially sustainable than the subscription system. Would you agree? If so, how can this be resolved at this point in time? Might it be too late?

    AB-G: If the focus of any new initiative is on replacing the model of paying-to-read with one based on paying-to-publish, it will inevitably create an unsustainable and non-inclusive system.

    What is clear is that at this point in time the control of scholarly publishing is in the hands of commercial publishers, and so any planned change must necessarily include them. However, in the process of change control needs to be transferred to academia – to academic institutions, to universities, to academic associations, and to other stakeholders whose focus is on the development of science rather than promoting private commercial interests. And if this is done in a collective manner and in a distributed and fair way the value and power of scholarly communication can be maintained and enhanced.

    This means building infrastructure, taking advantage of the great benefits that communication and information technologies now offer, professionalising institutions so that they can create a publishing tradition, and anything else that can further the task of taking back control of scholarly communication which is currently dominated by private interests.

    As things stand, the South cannot escape the perversion of the system. It saddens us to see how more and more national systems of journal assessment disqualify local journals if they don’t rank in the first quartiles of Scopus or Web of Science, no matter how much they have contributed to the history and problem solving of the discipline or region concerned.

    As a consequence, local journals are now receiving fewer direct resources. And they are receiving fewer contributions because researchers are discouraged from publishing in them. Researchers are discouraged because local journals do not fulfil the requirements needed to be considered “mainstream”, and researchers’ salaries and incentives depend on being published in mainstream journals.

    This has happened in Colombia, in Mexico and in many other countries. The agreements between SciELO and Clarivate Analytics, the appropriation of journals by commercial publishers, the hiring of SpringerOpen by public universities to dictate how and where to publish, the list of such examples is vast. Right now, we are looking at an ecosystem at risk of total collapse. And that is terribly alarming. 

    Million-dollar question

    RP: Is it in your view possible to build a global system of scholarly communication (and an open-access infrastructure) able to meet the needs of all countries in a fair and equitable way, both countries in the Global South and those in the Global North? If so, what might it look like?

    AB-G: That is the million-dollar question. Thank you for asking, and for thinking that I could provide even the draft of an answer. Undoubtedly, that is what we all want, and because of that we gather together and debate the issue. But let me share my viewpoint on that with you.

    We need to start by asking: what science communication model or paradigm can be considered a suitable one for humanity?

    This is not necessarily a matter of South or North. We must go back to basics and recover the essence of what science communication is and should be. Is it to communicate research, and to do so to the limit of what is possible in order to attain the greatest efficacy and efficiency in putting scientific and technological advances at society’s disposal?

    We must remind ourselves that the goal of publishing is to make our research available for the public, to submit findings to public scrutiny, and to do so in a way that allows everyone to access knowledge without restriction.

    We need to facilitate a global conversation that focuses on both the large and small problems humanity faces and to ensure that all researchers are able to participate in that conversation, not only those who can pay to take part in it.

    Current information technologies enable us to rethink what is now taken for granted. We can deconstruct what we know does not work and we can decide what engine is needed to further the agendas and work of researchers. And we can be more creative in planning how to distribute resources.

    While many efforts have been made to do this around the world, there hasn’t yet been enough determination and resources put into uniting these isolated and disparate efforts. Open access and scholarly communication find themselves at a key historical moment and we are now in a position, and have a great opportunity, to redraw the system of scholarly communication.

    I imagine a web of data for science, a knowledge cloud – sustainable and open – that promotes a participatory and inclusive science communication system, one in which every institution that is generating knowledge is able to connect it into a giant graph of knowledge.

    In order to do that I strongly believe that academic institutions must not only be the generators – as it were – of this asset, but also the owners and transmitters of it.

    RP: Thank you very much for answering my questions. I look forward to seeing how the various initiatives you are involved in develop going forward.

    in Open and Shut? on June 10, 2019 03:33 PM.

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    Some fungi trade phosphorus with plants like savvy stockbrokers

    New views show how fungi shift their stores of phosphorus toward more favorable markets where the nutrient is scarce.

    in Science News on June 10, 2019 02:00 PM.

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    The U.S. is still using many pesticides that are banned in other countries

    In 2016, the United States used millions of kilograms of pesticides that are banned or being phased out in the European Union, Brazil and China.

    in Science News on June 10, 2019 12:00 PM.

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    People Agree It’s Harder To Conjure A Frog With Magic Than Change Its Colour – Suggesting We Use Our Intuitive Physics To Make Sense Of Imaginary Worlds

    journal.pone.0217513.g001.PNGvia McCoy and Ullman (2019)

    By Christian Jarrett

    In a world with magic, how much effort do you think it would take to cast a spell to make a frog appear out of nowhere? What about to turn a frog invisible? Or make it levitate? And would it be easier to levitate a frog than a cow?

    The researchers John McCoy and Tomer Ullman recently put such questions to hundreds of participants across three studies and found they were in remarkable agreement. The findings, published in PLOS One, suggest that we invoke our intuitive understanding of the physical world – our “folk physics” – to make sense of imaginary worlds. And they help explain why fantasy TV shows and books can lose their magic as soon as it feels like anything goes. “Superman leaps tall buildings in a single bound, but a building takes more sweat than an ant-hill,” the researchers said. “And even for Superman, leaping to Alpha Centauri is simply silly.”

    In the first of three studies, McCoy and Ullman asked over 200 online participants (aged 18 to 83) to imagine a world in which wizards cast spells and to rank 10 spells in order of how much effort they would require. There was striking agreement across the participants that the easiest spell would be one that changed a frog’s colour and the hardest would be to conjure a frog into existence. In between, from easiest to hardest, the participants ranked the other spells as follows: levitate; teleport; make bigger; turn invisible; turn to stone; split into two frogs; transform to a mouse; and make cease to exist.

    A second study with nearly 400 participants was similar but this time some of the participants considered the same spells but applied to a cow, or involving a greater distance than before (for instance, levitating a frog 100 feet off the ground rather than one foot). Also, this time the participants specified how many magic points would be required for each spell (providing a continuous measure of perceived effort), and the researchers converted their estimates to rank the different spells in order of difficulty.

    Once again, there was striking agreement among participants in the relative effort required for the different spell types. For instance, the conjure spell was seen as about four times more taxing than the levitate spell. And there was agreement that the same spell type would require more effort when applied to a cow than a frog, and when greater distances were involved.

    Across these two studies and a third (a direct replication of the second involving 600 participants), the researchers also assessed the participants’ familiarity with fantasy and magic in books, TV, movies and games. There was no evidence that exposure to fantasy and magic made any difference to participants’ estimates of the difficulty of the spells, ruling out “cultural learning” as an influence on the judgments. “We suggest that the  media does not primarily affect what spells are seen as more difficult, but rather than people bring their intuitive physics to bear when they engage with fiction,” McCoy and Ullman said.

    Indeed, the pair note that the spells that were consistently judged most effortful – conjure, and cause to cease to exist – “… violate object permanence and cohesion, which are the earliest developing principles at the core of object understanding.” That is, even babies would have the intuition to recognise that something magical was going on if a frog suddenly appeared or disappeared out of nowhere. At the other extreme, the spells judged easiest, such as changing a frog’s colour or levitating it, “…change only accidental object properties such as location and colour.”

    This research was conducted with US participants – it will be interesting to see if and how these findings differ in other cultures. For now, though, the results help explain why fantasy is most enjoyable when it is rooted in reality. The researchers conclude by citing the novelist George Macdonald: “The natural world has its laws, and no man must interfere with them … but they themselves may suggest laws of other kinds, and man may,  if he pleases, invent a little world of his own” – to which McCoy and Ullman add “It seems people’s little worlds do not stray far from home.”

    Judgments of effort for magical violations of intuitive physics

    Christian Jarrett (@Psych_Writer) is Editor of BPS Research Digest

    in The British Psychological Society - Research Digest on June 10, 2019 11:44 AM.

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    Study of a “nudge” to use hand sanitizer retracted

    A group of researchers in the United States and China have retracted their 2018 paper on hand hygiene, admitting that they can’t account for “data anomalies” in their work. The article in question, “The decoy effect as a nudge: Boosting hand hygiene with a worse option,” appeared in Psychological Science last May. Led by Meng … Continue reading Study of a “nudge” to use hand sanitizer retracted

    in Retraction watch on June 10, 2019 10:00 AM.

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    Carbon plays a starring role in the new book ‘Symphony in C’

    In Symphony in C, geophysicist Robert Hazen explores carbon’s ancient origins, its role in life and its importance in the modern world.

    in Science News on June 10, 2019 10:00 AM.

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    Lapses in perceptual judgments reflect exploration

    In lab meeting this week, we discussed Lapses in perceptual judgments reflect exploration by Pisupati*, Chartarifsky-Lynn*, Khanal and Churchland. This paper proposes that, rather than corresponding to inattention (Wichmann and Hill, 2001), motor error, or -greedy exploration as has previously … Continue reading

    in Pillow Lab on June 10, 2019 04:19 AM.

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    Weekend reads: Dean withdraws from post after retraction of Lancet book review; star researcher committed misconduct; a new way to game peer review?

    Before we present this week’s Weekend Reads, a question: Do you enjoy our weekly roundup? If so, we could really use your help. Would you consider a tax-deductible donation to support Weekend Reads, and our daily work? Thanks in advance. The week at Retraction Watch featured a reminder that sometimes science just needs more bullshit; a … Continue reading Weekend reads: Dean withdraws from post after retraction of Lancet book review; star researcher committed misconduct; a new way to game peer review?

    in Retraction watch on June 08, 2019 01:00 PM.

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    Medicaid-expanding states had fewer cardiovascular deaths than other states

    Counties in states with expanded Medicaid eligibility had 4.3 fewer cardiovascular deaths per 100,000 residents, on average, than if they hadn’t expanded.

    in Science News on June 07, 2019 05:00 PM.

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    DNA reveals ancient Siberians who set the stage for the first Americans

    A previously unknown population of Ice Age people who traveled across Beringia was discovered in Russia.

    in Science News on June 07, 2019 04:00 PM.

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    50 years ago, scientists wanted to build solar panels on the moon

    In 1969, scientists proposed building solar panels on the moon to convert the sun’s energy into electricity that can be used on Earth.

    in Science News on June 07, 2019 12:00 PM.

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    Forensics Friday: What’s the best way to present these findings in a figure?

    Ever wanted to hone your skills as a scientific sleuth? Now’s your chance. Thanks to the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology (ASBMB), which is committed to educating authors on best practices in publishing, figure preparation, and reproducibility, we’re presenting the fifth in a series, Forensics Friday. Take a look at the image below, and then take our … Continue reading Forensics Friday: What’s the best way to present these findings in a figure?

    in Retraction watch on June 07, 2019 10:00 AM.

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    Physicists have finally figured out how pentaquarks are built

    The particles are made of up two smaller particles, stuck together like atoms in a molecule.

    in Science News on June 07, 2019 10:00 AM.

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    Psychology Has Been Greatly Enriched By Concepts From Non-English Languages (And Why It Should Engage Cross-Culturally Even More)

    GettyImages-155395164.jpg“My project proposes that the field can engage with non-English ideas and practices in a much more inclusive and systematic way”

    By guest blogger Tim Lomas

    The novelist David Foster Wallace famously told a story of two young fish swimming in the sea, whereby an older fish glides by and asks, “how’s the water?”, to which they look at each other in puzzlement and say, “What’s water?” The central point of the parable is that we are constantly immersed in contexts to which we give little thought or consideration, but which nevertheless influence us profoundly. Among the most powerful of such contexts is language. A century of research on the linguistic relativity hypothesis (LHR; also known as the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis) has shown that the language we speak profoundly affects our experience and understanding of life, impacting everything from our perception of time and space to the construction of our self-identity.

    What might the implications of the LHR be for psychology itself? As a science, the field generally aims to be neutral and objective, and to discover universal truths about the human mind. Yet it is surely consequential that the field mostly conducts its business in English, this being the default language in international journals and conferences. For instance, if a phenomenon has not been identified in English – even if it has in other languages – it is unlikely to be a topic of concern, and may not even “exist” for English-speaking scholars at all.

    One way that the field has sought to address this limitation is by “borrowing” words from other languages and cultures.  To ascertain the extent of this cross-cultural borrowing, I analysed a sample of words in psychology and recently published my results in the Journal of Positive Psychology. 

    I focused on my own specialism of wellbeing and in particular on a seminal article from positive psychology, published in American Psychologist in 2000 by Martin Seligman and Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, which inaugurated this emergent field. My approach was to identify the etymology of every word in the main text of the article using the online etymology dictionary www.etymonline.com. 

    My findings reveal the diverse etymological roots of psychology, and of English more broadly. Of the 1333 distinct lexemes (words and their variants) in the article, ‘native’ English words – belonging either to the Germanic languages from which English emerged, or originating as neologisms in English itself – comprise only 39.4 per cent of the sample. Thus, over 60 per cent of the article’s words are loanwords, borrowed from other languages at some point in the development of English. This is higher than analyses of the percentage of borrowed words in English for other categories of phenomena, such as religion and belief (41 per cent), clothing and grooming (39), the body (14), spatial relations (14) and sense perception (11), and in English as a whole (estimated at between 32 and 41 per cent).

    In the American Psychologist text, the largest contributor of loan words is Latin (44.5 per cent) – which frequently arrived via French following the Norman conquest of 1066 – followed by French itself (7 per cent) and Greek (7 per cent), with the remainder provided by modern German (0.7 per cent), Old Norse (0.5 per cent), Italian (0.4 per cent), and Arabic, Dutch, and Scottish (all 0.1 per cent). Moreover, of the words treated as English in origin, 52.1 per cent are neologisms created from other languages (mainly Latin and Greek). If such words were also deemed loanwords (or at least, loan adaptations), the number of borrowed words rises to 70 per cent.

    One may wonder why psychology has borrowed so many words. Sometimes borrowing reflects the importation of new psychological theories and practices. One example is “psychoanalysis” (coined by Freud as psychische analyse, before being rendered in French as psychoanalyse then Anglicised in 1906). Other borrowed words articulate phenomena of which English speakers may already have known but not yet named or conceptualised, hence the ready adoption of terms to allow such vocalisation. For instance, behaviours we would identify as altruistic presumably occurred throughout the centuries. However, the term “altruism” was not coined until the 1830s – in French as altruisme by the philosopher August Comte, based on autrui, meaning of or to others – and soon after entered English. 

    By borrowing words from other languages, psychology and our understanding of life become more nuanced and enriched. In that respect, psychology would surely do well to go further, and more consciously and actively engage with non-English languages and cultures. Indeed, this is one aim of my own lexicographic project, which involves collecting “untranslatable” words relating to wellbeing (i.e., words without an exact equivalent in English). This is an evolving and collaborative work-in-progress, which currently includes nearly 1200 words, around half of which are crowd-sourced suggestions to my website.

    A key premise of the project is that the augmentation of English over the centuries has been a haphazard and arbitrary process – shaped especially by conceptual innovation in the “classical” world (particularly Greece around the 5th and 4th centuries BCE, and the Roman empire between the 1st and 5th centuries), and by the vicissitudes of geopolitical power (notably the invasion by Germanic tribes in the 5th century, and the Norman conquest in the 11th century). By contrast, English – and psychology too therefore – has largely overlooked the conceptual and lexical innovations made in more distant cultures. There are exceptions though, such as the fruitful engagement by psychology with mindfulness, derived from a Buddhist concept and practice known in Pāli as sati, which illustrates the great value of this kind of cross-cultural engagement. 

    My project therefore proposes that the field can engage with non-English ideas and practices in a much more inclusive and systematic way (including, of course, through collaboration and co-production with scholars from the cultures in question). Through this and other such endeavours, we can continue to add to the melting pot of ideas, helping the field to continue to develop over the years ahead.

    Etymologies of well-being: Exploring the non-English roots of English words used in positive psychology

    Post written by Dr Tim Lomas (@drtimlomas) for the BPS Research Digest. Tim is a lecturer in positive psychology, at the University of East London, trying to drive the field forward into new, uncharted territory … His previous books include Translating Happiness, A Cross-Cultural Lexicon Of Wellbeing, and The Happiness Dictionary, Words From Around The World To Help Us Live a Richer Life.

    in The British Psychological Society - Research Digest on June 07, 2019 08:49 AM.

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    In a first, magnetic fields have been spotted between two galaxy clusters

    The discovery of magnetic fields in the gaseous filament between two galaxy clusters suggests that some large cosmic structures are magnetized.

    in Science News on June 06, 2019 06:00 PM.

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    Almost all healthy people harbor patches of mutated cells

    Even healthy tissues can build up mutations, some of which have been tied to cancer.

    in Science News on June 06, 2019 06:00 PM.

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    Chaos as Chaos retracts paper it apparently never should have published in the first place

    Apologies in advance for the headache that might come your way after reading this post, but the journal Chaos has a mindbending retraction. The editors have pulled an article they published in January 2019 over concerns about contaminated peer review and other problems. The paper, “Neglecting nonlocality leads to unrealistic numerical scheme for fractional differential … Continue reading Chaos as Chaos retracts paper it apparently never should have published in the first place

    in Retraction watch on June 06, 2019 02:22 PM.

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    Worms lure two new species of hopping rats out of obscurity

    In the Philippines, scientists have identified two new species of shrew-rat, an animal whose limited habitat plays host to remarkable biodiversity.

    in Science News on June 06, 2019 02:00 PM.

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    Open access – reflecting on our journey 15 years on

    Our infographic highlights 10 ways we support open access

    in Elsevier Connect on June 06, 2019 01:12 PM.

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    Tiny plastic debris is accumulating far beneath the ocean surface

    Floating trash patches scratch only the surface of the ocean microplastic pollution problem.

    in Science News on June 06, 2019 01:00 PM.

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    Keeping software in NeuroFedora up to date

    Given the large number of software updates we published recently, we thought this is a good chance to explain how the NeuroFedora team (and the Fedora package maintainers team in general) stays on top of all of this software that is constantly being updated and improved.

    Simplified schematic of the package maintenance workflow in Fedora

    As the (simplified) figure shows, there is a well defined process to ensure that we keep our software in good shape---updating it all in a timely manner. The Fedora Infrastructure team maintains lots of tools to enable the community in this aspect too, and all of these tools continuously evolve as the community moves to newer directions.

    In the sections below, we go over the process step by step.

    1. Upstream releases a new version

    Screenshot: upstream releases a new version of indexed-gzip on Github

    It all starts with upstream releasing a new version.

    Upstream are the developers of the software. We at NeuroFedora (and most Linux distributions) are downstream: we take developed software, build and integrate it all, and provide it in easily installable packages to users.

    On Fedora, these packages are provided as rpm archives via the repositories. Other distributions may use other formats.

    2. Anitya notifies us maintainers via Bugzilla

    Screenshot: Anitya detects the new version.

    Anitya runs at https://release-monitoring.org and monitors upstream for new versions. Anitya is able to monitor different upstream release methods such as Github, PyPi, Sourceforge, Gitlab, and so on. When Anitya detects a new version it first checks to see what version of this software we are currently providing in Fedora. If it sees that the Fedora version is older than the new upstream version that it has detected, it files a bug on our community bug tracker at https://bugzilla.redhat.com notifying the maintainers.

    TIP: you can use the Fedora packages application at https://apps.fedoraproject.org/packages to search the full list of software that is currently included in Fedora. If you already know the name of the package, you can use https://bugz.fedoraproject.org/<package name> (replace <package name> with the name of the package, such as nest) to go straight to a package's summary page.

    3. Maintainers test and update the Fedora package

    Screenshot: Anitya files a bug notifying the maintainers

    Once the bug has been filed, the next steps require manual work. There are tools to make it all easier, but this is where we humans come in.

    One of the NeuroFedora package maintainers notices the bug and begins to work on it. All notifications from bugzilla are sent to the neuro-sig mailing list, so the team is usually always aware of these.

    First, we fetch the new source code and test it to see how it has changed in the new release. Is it a minor release with bug-fixes and enhancements, or is it a major release where lots of functionality has changed?

    Sometimes, especially with development libraries, there are API/ABI changes that make the new version incompatible with the older ones. In such cases, we have to see how all other software that depends on these is affected. This is documented in the community policy on updating software. The idea is that when new versions of software are released, as package maintainers, one of our duties is to ensure that the new versions do not break existing systems for our users.

    If there is software that does not work with the latest versions, we maintainers try to help developers update their code. Here are some examples where we've notified maintainers:

    When possible, we do try to provide patches and open pull requests. However, this depends on how much time we maintainers have and of course, it also depends on the complexity of the codebase.

    In general, we try to stay as close to upstream as possible. This page lists the advantages of doing so: https://fedoraproject.org/wiki/Staying_close_to_upstream_projects

    3a. Maintainers update the spec file and build new rpms

    Screenshot: A package maintainer updates the *spec* file.

    If everything seems to work fine after we've managed to fix any issues, we begin to update the Fedora package. The first step here is to update the spec file. The spec file resides in the package's dist-git repository on https://src.fedoraproject.org/rpms/ where other Fedora tools can access it. When this has been updated to build the newest release, we queue up a new build on the Koji build system.

    spec files provide instructions that tell the rpmbuild tool how to build the software, and where all its files should go in the rpm package. More information on the process can be found here. You can see a relatively simple spec file for python-indexed_gzip here. This one for the nest simulator, however, is a lot more complex since we must build it with MPI support also. If you want to see a real scary spec file, though, look at this one for the texlive package. It is auto generated from the texlive sources, but you can imagine how hard it must be to debug.

    Screenshot: A package maintainer queues up a new build.

    The build system handles all our supported arches unless told not to do so. Currently, the Fedora community supports: x86_64, i686, armv7hl, aarch64, ppc64le, s390x. More information on these architectures can be found here.

    4. Quality assurance: the community tests the updated packages

    Once the builds have completed successfully, we push the builds to our Quality Assurance pipeline for testing.

    Screenshot: The Bodhi QA system manages our updates and their testing.

    It isn't enough to get the software to build correctly. We must also ensure that it works correctly. The pipeline lets community members (including users) test these updated packages in a staging repository.

    You can help test these updates. All you need to do is install them, and provide feedback. This is all explained here.

    Screenshot: An update on Bodhi that has been pushed to stable.

    If the packages pass the community's battery of automated checks, and testers provide positive feedback on their functioning, they are then moved from the staging repositories to the stable repositories where they are available to all users.

    These general steps are not limited to the NeuroFedora team. They are followed by all Fedora community. package maintainers

    5. The community uses/develops/extends/shares their work

    When all this is done and the packages available to install via the different package management tools (dnf/Gnome-software/DNFDragora/Discover), other community members are able to use, develop, extend, share and do more with these tools.

    I don't like to use the word "users" because unlike let's say Nvidia who is a "vendor" and provides software to its "users", Fedora is a community with a large portion of people using our software also helping maintain and develop it. Everyone who uses Fedora is already a community member, for they help us achieve our goal---to spread Free/Open source software and awareness about it. This is perhaps worth a whole post in itself, though.

    Join the community!

    Since community projects aren't profit focussed, instead of money, the resource we most need is man-power. Each new contributor increases the sum total man-power possessed by the community and this enables us to work with more software, help more developers, improve all of this software in general---get more work done.

    If you've gotten this far, you would have probably realised that there is quite a bit of work to be done, and there are ample opportunities where you can help in this area of NeuroFedora/Fedora. You can:

    • suggest software for inclusion
    • package and maintain software
    • test packaged software
    • file bugs and report issues
    • help maintain the tools that are required to keep the community ticking

    More information on all of this is included in our documentation here. The easiest way, though, is probably just to have a chat with the team. Catch us anytime on our communication channels.

    NeuroFedora is volunteer driven initiative and contributions in any form always welcome. You can get in touch with us here. We are happy to help you learn the skills needed to contribute to the project. In fact, that is one of the major goals of the initiative---to spread technical knowledge that is necessary to develop software for Neuroscience.

    in NeuroFedora blog on June 06, 2019 10:55 AM.

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    First Systematic Study Of The Advice People Would Give To Their Younger Selves

    By Christian Jarrett

    The question is an old favourite – if you could travel back in time, what advice would you give to your younger self? Yet despite the popularity of this thought experiment, no one has, until now, actually studied what people would tell themselves.

    Reporting their findings in The Journal of Social Psychology Robin Kowalski and Annie McCord at Clemson University have done just that in two surveys of hundreds of participants on Amazon’s Mechanical Turk website. Their findings show that people’s advice to their younger selves is overwhelmingly focused on prior relationships, educational opportunities and personal worth, echoing similar results derived from research into people’s most common regrets in life. Moreover, participants who said they had followed the advice they would give to their younger selves were more likely to say that they had become the kind of person that their younger self would admire. “…[W]e should consult ourselves for advice we would offer to our younger selves,” the researchers said. “The data indicate that there is much to be learned that can facilitate wellbeing and bring us more in line with the person that we would like to be should we follow that advice.”

    The two studies followed a similar format with the participants (selected to be aged at least 30 years) asked to provide either three pieces or one piece of advice to their younger selves; to reflect on whether following this advice would help them become more like the person they aspire to be or ought to be; whether they had actually followed the advice later in life; to consider a pivotal event that had shaped them in life, especially in light of the advice they’d chosen to give their younger selves; and to reflect on what their younger self would make of their current self.

    Participants mostly gave themselves advice around relationships (“Don’t marry her. Do. Not. Marry. Her.”), education (“Go to college”), selfhood (“Be yourself”), direction and goals (“Keep moving, keep taking chances, and keep bettering yourself”), and money (“Save more, spend less”). These topics closely match the most common topics mentioned in research on people’s regrets.

    Most participants said that the advice they offered was tied to a pivotal event in their past, such as a time they were bullied, a relationship breakup, or an incident involving drink or drugs, and about half the time they had regret for what had happened. The timing of these pivotal events was most commonly between age 10 and 30 (consistent with research into the reminiscence bump – the way that we tend to recall more autobiographical memories from our teens and early adulthood).

    Well over half the participants in both studies said that they had since followed the advice that they would offer to their younger selves. The majority of participants also said that following the advice would have brought their younger self closer to the kind of person they aspired to be, rather than making them more like their “ought self” (that is, the kind of person that other people or society said they should be). Finally, as mentioned, participants who said they’d followed their own advice (to their younger selves) were more likely to say that their younger high-school self would have respect for the person they had now grown into.

    This is preliminary research on an unexplored topic and it’s possible the results might differ in other cultures and using other methods of collecting people’s reflections. However, the work lays the foundation for further questions, such as: how the advice we give our past selves might vary in quantity and kind as we get older; and how following the advice might affect our emotions and hope for the future. “This initial foray into advice to one’s younger self clearly raises so many interesting research questions, many of which will hopefully be examined in months and years to come,” the researchers said.

    If I knew then what I know now: Advice to my younger self

    Christian Jarrett (@Psych_Writer) is Editor of BPS Research Digest

    in The British Psychological Society - Research Digest on June 06, 2019 09:02 AM.

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    Why did Riksbankens Jubileumsfond decide to leave cOAlition S?

    Last September a group of (mainly) European funders (cOAlition S) launched a new open access initiative called Plan S. The goal was to make all publicly funded research open access by 2020. And to that end, a month later (November) a set of draft implementation guidelines for the plan were published.
    Image Simeon87 CC BY-SA

    Plan S proved controversial and, amongst other things, led to a petition of protest being launched.   

    To help ease the way and encourage buy-in, therefore, cOAlition S opened the guidelines up for public consultation. This attracted more than 600 responses and saw the publication of revised guidelines last week (31st May).

    The updated guidelines have been better received, even by publishers. Elsevier, for instance, has “welcomed” them, as have open access advocates.

    Nevertheless, Plan S appears to still be struggling to sign up new funders. When it launched, there were 10 funders; today there are still only 19. Many believe this is too few to trigger the change to scholarly communication that cOAlition S members want. Importantly, the two largest producers of research papers in the world – China and the US – are notable by their absence from the coalition.

    Perhaps unsurprisingly, while cOAlition S is quick to tell the world when it signs up a new funder, it is silent when a funder leaves the coalition. It has not, for instance, publicly commented on the decision by the Swedish Foundation for Humanities and Social Sciences (Riksbankens Jubileumsfond, or RJ) to leave the coalition. RJs name just disappeared from the Plan S web page sometime during the week beginning 20th May.

    How, when and why did RJ leave?

    On 6th March RJ published an open letter addressed to cOAlition S in which it expressed some concerns about the initiative and said, “RJ remains in the Coalition S, but cannot support Plan S in its current form.”

    It added that it believed Plan S needed to be “more flexible and discussed more openly with the research community.”

    Leave or remain?

    The next day (7th March) RJ posted a tweet saying that it could no longer support the timetable for Plan S and linked to a note on its web site. This note stressed RJ’s support for open science but repeated that it could not support the Plan S schedule. It added, however, that it had emphasised to cOAlition S that it wanted to remain in the group.

    Yet three days before cOAlition S published its revised guidance (May 28th) RJ announced that it had left the coalition.

    The announcement added: “After consultation with researchers and discussions within the Board, Jubileumsfond decided on March 6, 2019 to step away from Plan S. Our assessment is that the process is too fast to suit humanities and social sciences. This also means that we have left cOAlition S, but we continue to support their ambitions.”

    Confusingly, although the May 28thannouncement says that the decision to leave the coalition had been taken on March 6th, RJ’s letter of that date emphasised that RJ was remaining in the Coalition S. Its continuing commitment to the coalition was repeated in the note of 7th March.

    In the hope of better understanding what had happened and why RJ appeared to be making contradictory statements I emailed the CEO of RJ, Marika Hedin. (Hedin took over as CEO on 1st February. The decision to sign up to Plan S had therefore been taken by the former CEO.)

    I asked Hedin if perhaps the problem was that the former CEO had signed up to Plan S before RJ’s Board had had an opportunity to discuss and approve the decision. She replied, “No, I think that you have misunderstood the situation. Our CEO is authorised to make decisions like this, and in the early talks of Plan S, the aims seemed completely aligned with the already far-reaching Open Access policies that Riksbankens Jubileumsfond has had since 2010.”


    Hedin added, “However, when Plan S was published in November it had evolved. There were thorough discussions and consultations about this in our Board during our former CEO, and during his last and my first board meeting in late February, it was jointly decided to step away from Plan S. We were all in complete agreement on this, he, I and our Board of Directors. He and I then wrote a letter jointly to the COAlition declaring this, which was published on our website March 6.”

    Again, this does not seem entirely consonant with what was said in the March 6thletter. It is also not clear in what way Plan S had evolved such that it had now become unacceptable to RJ. The 10 Plan S Principles– which surely make clear to signatories what they are being asked to sign up to – had been published in September and presumably funders would have been asked to agree to the 10 principles before signing up. Either way, we might wonder why it took six months for RJ to become concerned over what it had signed up to, and eight months before it eventually left cOAlition S.

    More puzzling perhaps, the May 28thannouncement came just three days before cOAlition S published its updated guidelines. These might seem to have addressed RJ’s concerns. That is, the start date has been delayed, and greater flexibility has been provided for implementation. In other words, cOAlition S might seem to have heard and addressed the concerns of RJ. But RJ left anyway.

    When I asked the interim coordinator of cOAlition S (and Head of Open Researchat the Wellcome Trust) Robert Kiley whether Plan S had evolved over time he said “no changes were made to Plan S other than the changes we announced on Friday.” (I.e. in the updated guidelines published on 31st May).

    So what went wrong? Was cOAlition S so keen to sign up funders that it failed to outline exactly what they were being asked to commit to? “I wasn’t involved in Plan S until after the Principles had been published (September 2018)”, Kiley told me, “so have no knowledge of what might have been discussed prior to their publication (or whether RJ were part of these discussions or not).”

    Or was it rather that when Plan S came up for discussion at the RJ Board, members rejected the CEO’s decision to sign up?

    Still confused, I invited Hedin to do a full Q&A. She replied, “Thank you, but I have no further comments.After making that decision our Board of Directors have also decided to not participate in the current debate but rather continue discussing this issue within our own organisation.”

    She added, “Our relationship with cOAlition S is good and we support their efforts even though we have stepped out of the process of Plan S.

    “At this point we do not plan to make a statement about RJ leaving the cOAlition,” Kiley told me. “I hope in time that RJ may reconsider their position and once again align themselves with Plan S.”

    Openness and transparency

    But does any of this matter? Is it important to anyone but RJ (and cOAlition S) that it decided to sign up to Plan S and then later changed its mind? Does it matter if the reason for leaving is not clear? Perhaps it doesn’t. The incident reminds us, however, that the Plan S project underlines the way in which the open access movement has morphed from a bottom-up to a top-down movement, and transparency has increasingly been sacrificed in the process.

    Above all, open access was meant to be about openness, clarity and transparency. This is not what we see today. Rather opaqueness and opacity have become the norm. And this change appears to date from the point at which funders began to take up the cause and started introducing ever more oppressive OA mandates. Increasingly, decisions are taken behind closed doors and new rules are imposed on unwilling and hapless researchers.

    And is there not a hint of hypocrisy here? Principle 5 of Plan S insists that publishers must be transparent about their pricing and processes, including their editorial policies, their decision-making, their acceptance rates and their review times. Researchers, meanwhile, face ever more bureaucratic scrutiny in order to ensure compliance and are threatened with sanctions if they fail to comply.

    Should we not expect cOAlition S members to live by the same rules of responsibility and transparency that they seek to force on publishers and researchers?

    Is it not therefore incumbent on RJ to explain in more detail what it thought it was signing up to, why it signed up if it did not understand the implications of doing so, and why it subsequently chose to leave, despite apparently having had its demands met – that is, both the timetable and the implementation of Plan S were adjusted to become more flexible?

    Should we not also expect decisions about open access to be decided in a democratic and open manner? How, for instance, did signatory funders make their decisions about joining Plan S and how open to scrutiny is that decision-making process?

    On 27th February I invited all members of cOAlition S to send me a link to, or copy of, the minutes of the meetings of the board (or similar) where it was agreed to join the coalition.

    Only three funders responded and not one pointed me to any minutes. Of those who responed, two were private funders – the Wellcome Trust and the Gates Foundation – and one a public funder, Formas.

    In responding for Wellcome, Kiley said that the decision to sign up to Plan S had been taken by the Executive Leadership Team. This might seem to suggest that the Wellcome Board (which has ultimate responsibility for Wellcome’s activities) had not been consulted.

    Formas replied that the decision to sign up to Plan S had been made by the Director General, with no mention of the Formas Scientific Council having been asked to give approval.

    And the minutes of the Board meetings of the Research Council of Norway posted on the Web suggested that the funder did not discuss Plan S until three months after it had signed up. (The minutes of the meeting appear now to have been taken down).

    Apart from the embarrassment of signing up to an initiative like Plan S only to have the decision later overturned by the Board, this kind of executive power grab is out of tune with the open, transparent and democratic principles that the OA movement was built on.

    In its letter of March 6th RJ makes an important point: it says that by seeking to force Plan S on researchers without adequate consultation the modus operandi of Plan S, “has succeeded to turn researchers who have been in favour of Open Science and Robert Merton’s CUDOS principles against these positions. This is an unfortunate development.”

    That perhaps is the key issue: forcing oppressive OA mandates on researchers may turn out to be counterproductive. Perhaps that is the real reason why RJ left cOAlition S: the failure to get researcher buy-in before announcing the initiative. But then why did RJ’s CEO sign up in the first place? Why did RJ not express concern until six months later? And why is it not willing to talk openly and publicly about what happened?

    After all, if RJ’s concerns about the dangers of seeking to force open access on researchers are valid then the issue is of wider significance than Plan S alone. It is of relevance to the very future of open access and how it is (or is not) achieved.

    in Open and Shut? on June 06, 2019 07:09 AM.

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    Limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees C could prevent thousands of deaths in the U.S.

    A study projecting heat-related mortality in 15 U.S. cities illustrates urban risk from global warming.

    in Science News on June 05, 2019 06:00 PM.

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    Soil eroded by glaciers may have kick-started plate tectonics

    How plate tectonics got going is a mystery. Now scientists say they’ve found a key part of the story: massive piles of sediment dumped in the ocean.

    in Science News on June 05, 2019 05:36 PM.

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    The accretion disk around our galaxy’s black hole has been spotted at last

    The Milky Way's central black hole has a disk of gas and dust orbiting it, astronomers can finally say with confidence.

    in Science News on June 05, 2019 05:02 PM.

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    Tiny structures in dragonfish teeth turn them into invisible daggers

    The teeth of deep-sea dragonfish are transparent because of nanoscale crystals and rods that let light pass through without being scattered.

    in Science News on June 05, 2019 03:00 PM.

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    Researchers Were Surprised To Find Bungee Jumpers’ Cognition Was Enhanced After A Jump

    GettyImages-157561029.jpgBy Christian Jarrett

    It’s well-established in psychology that intense emotion and physiological arousal interfere with people’s ability to think straight. Most theories explain this in terms of anxiety consuming mental resources and focusing attention on potential threats. Although it’s tricky to study this topic in the psych lab, a handful of field studies involving parachutists and emergency simulations have largely supported this picture. However, a team at the Autonomous University of Barcelona believe that not enough consideration has so far been given to what they call the “valence” of intense situations – whether or not the person sees the intense experience as positive or negative. To find out whether this makes a difference, Judit Castellà and her colleagues tested dozens of bungee jumpers (most of them first-timers) three times: 30 minutes before a 15M free fall jump; immediately afterwards; and again eight minutes after that. 

    The surprising findings, reported in Cognition and Emotion, suggest that when an intensely arousing experience is perceived positively, it may actually enhance cognition rather than be impairing. “Although we expected some degree of moderation, that is, an attenuation of the negative impact of high arousal reported in the literature, we did not predict an actual improvement or a total lack of impairment,” the researchers said. 

    At the three testing stages conducted on a 30M high bridge in Catalonia, the bungee jumpers rated how positive or negative they were feeling, and the intensity of those feelings. They also completed tests of their working memory (the ability to recall strings of digits); their ability to concentrate and pay attention (using what’s known as the Go/No Go Task); and their decision making (their ability to identify which of four packs of cards was the most financially rewarding over time). Their performance was compared with an age-matched group of control participants who completed all the same tests in a similar environment but who were not performing a jump. 

    As expected, the jumpers reported far more intense emotions than the control group. Importantly, the jumpers rated these feelings as highly positive before and especially after the jump. However the main finding is that working memory actually improved in the jumpers after their jump (but not in the controls), and there was a hint that the jumpers’ decision making might have improved too. Meanwhile, the jumpers’ attention performance was unaffected. In short, bungee jumping, although perceived as an intense emotional experience, was not found to impair cognition, and in fact enhanced aspects of it. 

    Castellà and her colleagues interpreted their findings in terms of the “Broaden and Build Theory” – the idea that positive emotions can make cognitive functions more flexible and can counteract the narrowing influence of negative emotions. This is just one small study and, as always, the results need replicating and extending. However, the researchers added that their findings could have practical relevance for the training of emergency responders or any professionals who need to make rapid decisions in intensely arousing situations. “Training these professionals to cope with emergency situations by enhancing and focusing on the positive emotions derived from their actions could improve – or at least not impair – their cognitive performance when facing threats.”

    Jump and free fall! Memory, attention, and decision-making processes in an extreme sport

    Christian Jarrett (@Psych_Writer) is Editor of BPS Research Digest

    in The British Psychological Society - Research Digest on June 05, 2019 10:36 AM.

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    3 journal editors on why collaboration is crucial to solving global issues

    A new multidisciplinary open access journal, Global Transitions, publishes findings in health and energy and technology

    in Elsevier Connect on June 05, 2019 10:15 AM.

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    Why did all of these retractions take more than three years?

    In December 2015, a U.S. government watchdog said a researcher named Girija Dasmahapatra had faked data in 11 papers. Two of those papers were retracted by October 2016. And then, until this year, nothing happened. Since February, four journals have retracted seven of Dasmahapatra’s papers, and two journals have corrected two others. That completes the … Continue reading Why did all of these retractions take more than three years?

    in Retraction watch on June 05, 2019 10:00 AM.

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    What is computational neuroscience? (XXXVI) Codes and processes

    There are two classes of problems with the concept of neural codes. Initially, while working on my critique of the neural coding metaphor, I focused mostly on the epistemic problem (the first two parts of the paper). The epistemic problem is that when we say that Y is a neural code for X and that Y is metaphorically decoded by the brain, we imply that Y is informative about X by simple virtue of being in lawful relation with X. But this is a kind of information that is only available to an external observer who can see both X and Y, knows the two domains and the correspondence. If not X but X’ caused the neural activity Y, the organism would never know from just observing Y. Therefore Y cannot be a primary representation of X for the organism. Of course it could be a secondary representation of X, if the organism could observe that Y is in lawful relation with Z, a primary representation of X. But then we need to account for the existence of that primary representation, which cannot be based on an encoding. A number of other authors have made similar criticisms, in particular Mark Bickhard.

    The epistemic problem is, I would say, the “easy problem” of neural codes. Addressing it gives rise to alternative notions of information based on internal relations, such as O’Regan’s sensorimotor contingencies, Gibson’s invariance structure, and my subjective physics.

    But there is a deeper, more fundamental problem. It has to do with substance vs. process metaphysics and the way time is conceived (or in this case, disregarded). I address it in the third part of the neural coding essay, and in my response to commentaries (especially the third part). To explain it, I will compare the neural code with the genetic code. There are some problematic aspects with the idea of a “genetic code”, but in its most unproblematic form, there is a lawful correspondence between triplets of nucleotides and amino acids, which we can call a code. Nucleotides and amino acids are two types of substances, that is, some stable entities (molecules). Nucleotides are transformed into amino acids by some process that unfolds through time (translation). A process is not a substance; it may involve some substance, for sure (e.g. enzymes), but it is the activity that defines the process. The code refers to some lawful relation between two types of substances, disregarding the process.

    With this analysis in mind, “neural codes” now look very peculiar. The neural end of the code is not a substance at all. It is a particular measurement of the activity of neurons done at a particular time, for example the number of spikes during a particular time window. We then consider that this number is the output of some process, some kind of stable entity that can be further manipulated and transformed by some other processes. Of course this is exactly what it is for the experimenter, who manipulates those measurements, makes calculations etc. But from the organism’s perspective this view is very puzzling: the activity of neurons is the process, not the result of a process (what other process?). Neurons do not produce stable entities like amino acids which can participate in various processes. A spike is not a stable entity, it is a timed event in the process of neural interaction (like, say, the binding of an enzyme on RNA), and measurements like spike counts are simply “snapshots” of that process. It is not coherent to treat signatures of processes as if they were substances.

    in Romain Brette on June 05, 2019 09:17 AM.

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    The unintended health consequence of Trump’s push for immigration reform

    Since taking office in 2017, the Trump administration has pursued restrictive immigration reform as a top priority. Building on campaign promises, President Trump has declared a national emergency to fund a wall on the US-Mexico border, tried to end the DACA program that allows undocumented children to remain in the US, and threatened to change public charge rules. Last month, President Trump doubled down by announcing an immigration reform proposal that would increase border security and limit visas given to relatives of US residents.

    In the wake of a statement by President Trump on immigration, health clinics were deserted.

    While a well-regulated immigration system is certainly important, recent reports suggest that the Trump administration’s efforts could lead to an unintended consequence: reducing health access and outcomes for immigrants already in the US. Scholarly research into this possibility however, is just starting to emerge.

    Given the large Hispanic immigrant population here in Texas, our research team decided to explore the relationship ourselves, investigating if and how the Trump administration’s immigration efforts have affected Hispanic immigrant health in newly published research in BMC Health Services Research.

    To study this relationship, we conducted focus groups with health advocates and Community Health Workers across the state of Texas. These health workers serve as bridge figures between vulnerable populations like immigrant communities and the health system. In detailed discussions held in major cities (Houston and Dallas), border regions (El Paso and McAllen), and more rural parts of Texas, these experienced health workers provided insight into the barriers faced by documented and undocumented Hispanics across the state. Our research identified several key changes in Hispanic health that the Trump administration’s efforts have brought about.

    Fear is on the rise

    Across our discussions with these health workers, perhaps the most common theme was that fear is on the rise among Hispanic populations. While fear is ever-present in daily life for undocumented immigrants, our participants noted growing fear in the current political environment. For example, one health worker noted that “when he (President Trump) became president, it was noticeable the fear was rising” and another noted that it is “immobilizing people” and that “fear has become a factor of life.” Interestingly, health workers in Houston noted that this fear was particularly problematic during Hurricane Harvey – as many Hispanics avoided the help they needed because in some cases, Customs and Border Patrol boats were being used for water rescues.

    The policies and rhetoric of the Trump administration have been particularly impactful for children

    Policies and rhetoric matter for health

    This fear, which health workers attributed to the Trump administration’s policy efforts as well as the President’s rhetoric, is decreasing access to needed health services for Hispanics across Texas. For example, one health worker noted that in the wake of a statement by President Trump on immigration, health clinics were deserted: “It was like a Friday… he [Trump] was threatening to deport people left and right. That next Monday and almost the entire week, our clinics, everybody didn’t even cancel, they didn’t show up. They were terrified.” Our participants have suggested that this trend is pervasive across Texas. As the President and his administration continue to emphasize immigration, people are avoiding engaging in many of the activities typical in daily life, including visits to health care providers.

    Children’s nutrition is at risk

    Fearful parents may withdraw their children from nutritional support programs. © FatCamera / Getty Images / iStock

    According to health workers in Texas, the policies and rhetoric of the Trump administration have been particularly impactful for children. Our research suggests that children who are eligible for food assistance through the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) are not getting the nutritional services they need. Some immigrant parents, fearful of their enrollment information being shared with Immigration and Customs Enforcement, are dis-enrolling their families in these programs that provide important nutritional services. As one health worker noted, many clients “say I’m not renewing because if I renew I’m going to get deported. So we lost a lot of people… their kids are the ones that were suffering.”

    Looking ahead

    Together, our research suggests that as the Trump administration continues to pursue a hard line on immigration, Hispanic health access could continue to decline. As fear rises, many are not seeking out the social services that they need, affecting documented and undocumented immigrants in Texas, as well as their children. With additional immigration reforms under consideration, health officials in Texas and beyond need to be aware that vulnerable populations may be facing additional barriers to getting the care they need.

    The post The unintended health consequence of Trump’s push for immigration reform appeared first on BMC Series blog.

    in BMC Series blog on June 05, 2019 09:00 AM.

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    Neuroscience's Shoe Saga

    If you delve into the wildest depths of the scientific literature, you will find a trilogy of papers so weird, that they have become legendary. In these articles, spanning a 12 year period, author Jarl Flensmark says that heeled shoes cause mental illness, while flat footwear promotes brain health: Is there an association between the use of heeled footwear and schizophrenia? (2004)Physical activity, eccentric contractions of plantar flexors, and neurogenesis: therapeutic potential of fla

    in Discovery magazine - Neuroskeptic on June 04, 2019 09:04 PM.

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    The Lottery Ticket Hypothesis

    Deep learning is black magic. For some reason, a neural network with millions of parameters is not cursed to overfit. Somewhere, either in the architecture or the training or the weights themselves, exists a magic that allows deep neural networks … Continue reading

    in Pillow Lab on June 04, 2019 07:16 PM.

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    Chemicals in biodegradable food containers can leach into compost

    PFAS compounds from compostable food containers could end being absorbed by plants and later eaten by people, though the health effects are unclear.

    in Science News on June 04, 2019 06:00 PM.

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    Looking Good: Tips for creating your PLOS figures graphics

    Enhance your research with tips and tools from the experts on the PLOS Production Team. This post is part of our new Format for Success series where we’ll share advice for generating figures and graphics that make submitting a breeze. Stay tuned for more. 

    We know that preparing graphics files can be one of the most challenging parts of submitting your hard work to a publisher, when you would rather be observing in the field, experimenting in the lab, or conversing with the community. Like you, we want your research to shine and be noticed by your peers, adding to the scientific discourse and fostering collaboration in and across disciplines.

    To help you create the best images possible and ensure a smooth article production experience, we’ve put together our top tips, distilled to a few major areas, for assessing your graphics files during submission:

    • Consider raster images vs vector imagesRaster images are made of pixels. A pixel is a single point or the smallest single element in a display device. Vector images are mathematical calculations from one point to another that form lines and shapes, which adjust to fit a monitor display and zoom.

    Our journal article pages use raster graphics for in-article figure display, the lightbox figure viewer, and carousel thumbnails.  Raster graphics are easier to create, store, and transfer across platforms, but limit resolution to 600 dpi. Alternatively, vector graphics are only available in the article PDF accessed online, but will result in a more detailed image at high zoom.

    • Choose a resolution between 300 and 600 dpi – Effective resolutions below 300 dpi (dots/pixels per inch) often result in a blurry, jagged or pixelated image that is not optimal to publish, and resolutions above 600 dpi frequently must be resized or rescaled. We are required by the PLOS publishing platform, and community indexes like PubMed Central, to ensure content adheres to these resolutions.
    • Combine multi-panel images – Often, it’s useful to exhibit a Part A, Part B, and Part C, all within one figure image. To create a multi-paneled figure from individual images, we suggest using a presentation program like PowerPoint, Word or GIMP to arrange your panels, create labels, and scale or size your figures. Multi-paneled figures need to fit into a single page or be broken apart into separate figures in order to publish clearly and accurately.
    • Flatten image layers – Unflattened images can incorporate alpha channels, which include a transparent layer potentially containing “junk”, “artifacts”. Sometimes, an unflattened image can also render a figure into a complete black or white rectangle, obscuring all your content. We recommend that you flatten your graphics to combine all the layers into a single background layer, so we can ensure the quality of the output equals your intent.
    • Compress file size with LZW compression – Data compression helps to reduce file size and also decreases time required to download and upload content. With compressed files, we can help you reduce the size of your article PDF, improving a researcher’s ability to access your work and send it to colleagues.

    Using PACE

    To help you assess your figure images, PLOS also offers authors a free, web-based imaging review tool, PACE, that evaluates figures against our platform requirements and fixes the most-common image issues, detailing any changes made, or informs the user what outstanding issues may exist.  PACE compiles two, online review options in the form of typeset page mockups to give users an idea of how the uploaded image would appear in the final article. To use PACE, simply register with your email address: https://pacev2.apexcovantage.com.

    Similar to undertaking a scientific protocol, PLOS’s production team follows specific rules to ensure that the accepted content is correctly transformed to XML and PDF in order to publish accurately in our journal sites and syndication targets. In short, graphic images must generally conform to the following:

    • File format – TIFF or EPS
    • Dimensions – Width: 789 – 2250 pixels (at 300 dpi). Height maximum: 2625 pixels (at 300 dpi).
    • Resolution – 300 – 600 dpi
    • File size – 10MB or under
    • Figure files naming – Fig1.tif, Fig2.eps, and so on. Match file name to caption label and citation.
    • Caption – Place within the manuscript as simple text, not within the figure file

    We’ve posted additional graphics recommendations, as well as instructions for exporting graphics from specialized software, here: https://journals.plos.org/plosone/s/figures.

    We hope these suggestions make figure preparation even easier so you can spend more time advancing your field and we can publish your work faster than ever.  We encourage you to email us at figures@plos.org with further questions.

    in The Official PLOS Blog on June 04, 2019 04:23 PM.

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    The Smithsonian’s ‘Deep Time’ exhibit gives dinosaurs new life

    The Smithsonian’s renovated fossil hall puts ancient dinosaurs and other creatures in context.

    in Science News on June 04, 2019 04:17 PM.

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    “Our current approaches are not working:” Time to make misconduct investigation reports public, says integrity expert

    With the 6th World Conference on Research Integrity (WCRI) underway in Hong Kong, C.K. Gunsalus, who has served as a research integrity officer, expert witness in scientific integrity cases, and consultant, argues in Nature this week that universities should “Make reports of research misconduct public.” We asked her a few questions about why she has … Continue reading “Our current approaches are not working:” Time to make misconduct investigation reports public, says integrity expert

    in Retraction watch on June 04, 2019 03:41 PM.

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    How one fern hoards toxic arsenic in its fronds and doesn’t die

    To survive high levels of arsenic, a fern sequesters the heavy metal in its shoots with the help of three proteins.

    in Science News on June 04, 2019 01:00 PM.

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    This researcher is cultivating indigenous bacteria to clean the environment

    Environmental biotechnologist Dr. Tabassum Mumtaz is developing methods to disintegrate plastic waste and make biodegradable plastics from bacteria

    in Elsevier Connect on June 04, 2019 11:32 AM.

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    A new experiment didn’t find signs of dreaming in brain waves

    Brain activity that powers dreams may reveal crucial insight into consciousness, but a new study failed to spot evidence of the neural flickers.

    in Science News on June 04, 2019 11:00 AM.

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    Winning researchers find unique ways to recycle wastewater and increase crop pollination

    “Chemistry can play a key role in finding practical solutions to urgent challenges” – juror in Elsevier Foundation-ISC3 Green & Sustainable Chemistry Challenge

    in Elsevier Connect on June 04, 2019 10:54 AM.

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    Springer secretly ashamed, Elsevier lets it all hang out

    In this guest post by Smut Clyde and Tiger BB8 you will witness a publication practice you would never have thought possible. Even from China. Even at Elsevier.

    in For Better Science on June 04, 2019 10:39 AM.

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    Largest Observational Study Of Its Kind Finds Talkative Parents Have Kids With Better Cognitive Skills – But It’s Not Clear Why

    GettyImages-644959968.jpgBy Matthew Warren

    The idea that more talkative parents have children with superior language or cognitive skills has a long – and sometimes controversial – history. An influential study from the early 1990s claimed that American children from lower socioeconomic backgrounds have poorer language development because they hear fewer words from their parents. But scientists have pointed out several issues with this early research – including that it involved researchers going into people’s homes to record them, potentially affecting the language they used. 

    Since then, other researchers in the United States have researched families’ use of language in a less intrusive way – and found that any effects may be more subtle than originally claimed. Now, in what they say is the “largest naturalistic observation study of early life home environments to date”, scientists have brought these methods across the pond. A study of more than 100 London families, published recently in Developmental Psychology, has found that the quantity of language used by parents is related to children’s cognitive skills – but exactly why remains unclear.

    Katrina d’Apice from the University of York and her colleagues equipped 107 children aged between two and four with wearable devices that recorded all language spoken by them or their family for three days. Software then automatically processed the recordings, which averaged 15 hours per day, to calculate how many words were spoken by the adults in the family. The children also completed a series of cognitive tests, which involved tasks like copying and drawing.

    The researchers found that adults spoke an average of 17,800 words per day – but this varied considerably. Even within families, the number of words spoken by adults across different days was only moderately correlated. “Our findings emphasize that early life experiences, especially with regard to language, are dynamic processes that change and evolve over time, rather than static environmental determinants,” the researchers said. 

    Nevertheless, the team found that, overall, adult word counts were related to children’s cognitive skills: children whose parents used more words tended to do better in the cognitive tests.

    The team also looked at the richness of parents’ and children’s vocabulary, finding that children had a greater lexical diversity when adults’ vocabulary was also more diverse.

    The correlational design of the study means it’s impossible to tease apart cause and effect, so there are a number of possible explanations for the findings. It could be that more exposure to language fosters children’s intelligence, for example. Or parents could simply be stimulated to talk more when their children are smarter. There could also be shared genetic effects influencing both the parents’ language and children’s cognitive abilities. 

    Whether these results generalise to other groups remains to be seen – more than 80 per cent of parents in this study held a university degree; almost all of them were married; and they were mostly high socio-economic status. Nevertheless, the use of discreet recording devices and automatic language processing software would seem to open up the field to many more naturalistic studies like this in the future. 

    — A naturalistic home observational approach to children’s language, cognition, and behavior

    Matthew Warren (@MattbWarren) is Staff Writer at BPS Research Digest

    in The British Psychological Society - Research Digest on June 04, 2019 08:07 AM.

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    Hominids may have been cutting-edge tool makers 2.6 million years ago

    Contested finds point to a sharp shift in toolmaking by early members of the Homo genus.

    in Science News on June 03, 2019 07:00 PM.

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    Gut bacteria may change the way many drugs work in the body

    A new survey of interactions between microbes and medications suggests that gut bacteria play a crucial role in how the body processes drugs.

    in Science News on June 03, 2019 03:00 PM.

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    What Should Systems Neuroscience Do Next? Voltage Imaging

    The firing and the wiring at the same time

    in The Spike on June 03, 2019 12:56 PM.

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    This tabletop device turns the quantum definition of a kilogram into a real mass

    The mini Kibble balance will measure 10 grams to an accuracy of a few ten-thousandths of a percent.

    in Science News on June 03, 2019 11:00 AM.

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    Researchers retract a paper because it turns out not to be about bullshit

    Sometimes what science really needs is more bullshit. Just ask a group of environmental scientists in China, who lost their 2019 article on soil contamination because what they thought was manure was in fact something else. The article, titled “Immobilization of heavy metals in e-waste contaminated soils by combined application of biochar and phosphate fertilizer,” … Continue reading Researchers retract a paper because it turns out not to be about bullshit

    in Retraction watch on June 03, 2019 10:00 AM.

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    CiteScore metrics updated with 2018 annual values

    New functionality allows users to calculate CiteScore including user-set document types

    in Elsevier Connect on June 03, 2019 09:02 AM.

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    Researchers Have Investigated “Derailment” (Feeling Disconnected From Your Past Self) As A Cause And Consequence Of Depression

    GettyImages-1009629756.jpgBy Christian Jarrett

    We move house, change jobs, begin new relationships, yet most of the time, most of us still experience a thread of inner continuity – a constant feeling of me-ness that transcends the various chapters of our lives. Indeed, there’s evidence that having a stable, constant sense of self and identity is important for psychological wellbeing. However, this thread can rupture, leading to an uncomfortable disconnect between who we feel we are today, and the person that we believe we used to be – a state that psychologists recently labelled “derailment”.

    Now in a paper in Clinical Psychological Science a group led by Kaylin Ratner at Cornell University has explored the possibility that derailment both precipitates, and is a consequence of, depression. After all, people with depression often struggle with motivation, losing the will to pursue goals they previously held dear. They also frequently withdraw from their relationships and social roles. All of these changes could trigger sensations of derailment. Or perhaps derailment comes first, with the inner disorientation leaving one vulnerable to depression. Surprisingly these questions have been little studied before now. “We nominate derailment as a new feature of the depressive landscape and underscore the need for greater empirical and practical attention at the crossroads of mental health and human development,” Ratner and her team write.

    The researchers recruited nearly a thousand undergraduate students and asked them to complete measures of depression and derailment four times over the course of an academic year. The recently developed 10-item derailment measure was based on the students’ agreement or not with statements like “My life has been headed in the same direction for a long time,” and “I did not anticipate becoming the person that I currently am.”

    The team found that the students’ scores on depression and derailment were relatively stable across the course of the year. Also, students’ derailment and depression symptoms tended to correlate at each of the measurement time points – implying there may well be an association between the two. In terms of cause and effect, and as the researchers predicted in advance, higher depression scores at an earlier time point tended to presage increases in derailment scores later on. However, in what they described as a “curious finding”, higher derailment scores earlier in the year actually tended to herald a decline in depression symptoms later in the year.

    Ratner and her team propose a number of explanations for this last finding – including that while derailment may be uncomfortable at first, it may catalyze people to withdraw from relationships and/or goals that are unfulfilling, thus leading to wellbeing gains in the longer term. The researchers also pondered whether there might be moderating factors that alter whether derailment leads to increases or reductions in depression – such as whether people find meaning in their feelings of derailment, and/or how much they end up ruminating over the feelings. Such questions remain for future research, as do many other outstanding issues, such as how derailment and depression might be related in other non-student groups and over longer time periods.

    “Although derailment is a novel construct and one that is still in the process of being mapped, researchers and practitioners would be keen to take note of derailment being a feature of depression’s landscape and continue to observe how such perceived changes in identity and self-direction could take shape and act within clinical presentations,” the researchers said.

    Depression and Derailment: A Cyclical Model of Mental Illness and Perceived Identity Change

    Christian Jarrett (@Psych_Writer) is Editor of BPS Research Digest

    in The British Psychological Society - Research Digest on June 03, 2019 08:56 AM.