Daily Archives: February 17, 2017

The story behind human growth hormone

Along the centuries, numerous explorers and scientists have searched for the fabled fountain of youth. Nowadays, most people don’t believe in magic fountains, but they’re striving for eternal youth through other ways — plastic surgeries, special diets, or hormones. Motivated by the “anti-aging” movement, people are placing their faith into all sorts of alleged cures, but does the science back things up?

As the Smithsonian eloquently puts it, genetically modified bacteria, brain-eating diseases, and short kids are all part of the history of human growth hormones (HGH) in the US. HGH is a peptide hormone that stimulates growth, cell reproduction, and cell regeneration in humans and other animals. It’s a tiny protein secreted by the pituitary gland, a pea-sized organ located near your brain, and sent to the bloodstream where it serves the functions mentioned above. Scientists have known about this hormone since the 1920s, but it wasn’t really used until the 1960s — mostly because acquiring it was so hard. The only source was humans, and gathering it from cadavers didn’t really seem like an attractive proposition.

Source: The story behind human growth hormone

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How algorithms (secretly) run the world

When you browse online for a new pair of shoes, pick a movie to stream on Netflix or apply for a car loan, an algorithm likely has its word to say on the outcome.The complex mathematical formulas are playing a growing role in all walks of life: from detecting skin cancers to suggesting new Facebook friends, deciding who gets a job, how police resources are deployed, who gets insurance at what cost, or who is on a “no fly” list.

Algorithms are being used—experimentally—to write news articles from raw data, while Donald Trump’s presidential campaign was helped by behavioral marketers who used an algorithm to locate the highest concentrations of “persuadable voters.”But while such automated tools can inject a measure of objectivity into erstwhile subjective decisions, fears are rising over the lack of transparency algorithms can entail, with pressure growing to apply standards of ethics or “accountability.”Data scientist Cathy O’Neil cautions about “blindly trusting” formulas to determine a fair outcome.

“Algorithms are not inherently fair, because the person who builds the model defines success,” she said.Amplifying disadvantagesO’Neil argues that while some algorithms may be helpful, others can be nefarious. In her 2016 book, “Weapons of Math Destruction,” she cites some troubling examples in the United States:- Public schools in Washington DC in 2010 fired more than 200 teachers—including several well-respected instructors—based on scores in an algorithmic formula which evaluated performance.-

A man diagnosed with bipolar disorder was rejected for employment at seven major retailers after a third-party “personality” test deemed him a high risk based on its algorithmic classification.- Many jurisdictions are using “predictive policing” to shift resources to likely “hot spots.” O’Neill says that depending on how data is fed into the system, this could lead to discovery of more minor crimes and a “feedback loop” which stigmatizes poor communities.- Some courts rely on computer-ranked formulas to determine jail sentences and parole, which may discriminate against minorities by taking into account “risk” factors such as their neighborhoods and friend or family links to crime.

Source: How algorithms (secretly) run the world

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Scientists Create Graphene From Soybeans

A breakthrough by CSIRO-led scientists has made the world’s strongest material more commercially viable, thanks to the humble soybean.Graphene is a carbon material that is one atom thick.Its thin composition and high conductivity means it is used in applications ranging from miniaturised electronics to biomedical devices.These properties also enable thinner wire connections; providing extensive benefits for computers, solar panels, batteries, sensors and other devices.Until now, the high cost of graphene production has been the major roadblock in its commercialisation.Previously, graphene was grown in a highly-controlled environment with explosive compressed gases, requiring long hours of operation at high temperatures and extensive vacuum processing.CSIRO scientists have developed a novel “GraphAir” technology which eliminates the need for such a highly-controlled environment.The technology grows graphene film in ambient air with a natural precursor, making its production faster and simpler.

Source: Scientists Create Graphene From Soybeans

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Biometric Checkpoints in Trump’s America

President Donald Trump’s controversial travel ban called for, among other things, the speedy completion of a “biometric entry-exit tracking system” for all travelers to the United States.If this sounds familiar, it’s because the idea has been debated in Washington for more than a decade. The implementation of such a system was one of the recommendations from the sprawling document known as the 9/11 Report, published 13 years ago by the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States.In fact, members of Congress mandated the creation of an enhanced entry-exit database before the attacks of 2001, as part of immigration reform in 1996. After the September 11 attacks, Congress set a 2006 deadline for the implementation the system, and specified that agencies government-wide—not just “scattered units at Homeland Security and the State Department”— should be able to access it. When the federal government missed that deadline, Congress issued a new target for 2009.

Source: Biometric Checkpoints in Trump’s America – The Atlantic

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Tiny 3D-printed camera lens could give drones vision like ours 

3D printing will help create eagle-eyed dronesFreder/GettyBy Matt ReynoldsOne lens is good, four lenses are better. A tiny camera combines four 3D-printed lenses to mimic natural vision – with super-sharp focus in a central area and wider peripheral vision.The miniaturised camera could be used in insect-sized surveillance drones, to hone in on details without losing track of what’s happening elsewhere.A spot at the back of our eyes called the fovea is crammed with a higher concentration of light-sensitive cells than the surrounding regions, giving us sharp vision in the centre of our field of view while objects closer to the edges of our vision are less well-defined.Harald Giessen and his team at the University of Stuttgart, Germany, recreated this kind of vision by 3D printing four plastic lenses of different focal lengths onto a single image sensor.

The lenses with longer focal lengths capture high detail over a narrow field of view, while the lenses with short focal lengths capture low detail over a wider field of view.By using software to stitch together the images captured by each lens, Giessen created a circular photo that was highly detailed in the centre of the image, but got less detailed towards its edges. The entire system measures less than 300 micrometres square – about as wide as three human hairs lined up side by side. Without 3D printing, Giessen says, it would have been impossible to create such a small camera.

Source: Tiny 3D-printed camera lens could give drones vision like ours | New Scientist

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Scientists discover massive reservoir of greenhouse gases | Daily Mail Online

A huge well of molten carbon that would spell disaster for the planet if released has been found under the US.Scientists using the world’s largest array of seismic sensors have mapped a deep-Earth area, covering 700,000 sq miles (1.8 million sq km).This is around the size of Mexico, and researchers say it has the potential to cause untold environmental damage.The discovery could change our understanding of how much carbon the Earth contains, suggesting it is much more than we previously believed.

It would be impossible to drill far enough down to physically ‘see’ the Earth’s mantle, so a team of researchers used a massive group of sensors to paint a picture of it, using mathematical equations to interpret their results.

The study, conducted by geologists at Royal Holloway University in London, used a huge network of 583 seismic sensors that measure the Earth’s vibrations, to create a picture of the area’s deep sub surface.

Source: Scientists discover massive reservoir of greenhouse gases | Daily Mail Online

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Breakthrough chemistry can make tires from renewable sources like corn or trees

Long range electric vehicles hold the key to ridding the transport sector of petroleum liquid fuels, as long as the energy stored in the batteries comes from renewable energy sources. But even a Tesla charged from solar panels isn’t completely free of fossil fuels. Even ignoring the fossil fuel-derived energy that went in the manufacturing process, there are still plastic finishings inside the car that likely come petroleum. And even if you’d be extremely careful not to include anything fossil fuel related, you’d still hit a brick wall — the car’s tires.

Wheels of progress Car tires are some of the most environmentally unfriendly parts in any car. These are made from natural rubber, which literally grows on trees,  but also isoprene — a key molecule in any tire which is derived from petroleum through a chemical process called ‘cracking’. Developing tires from renewable materials has always been a lofty goal for scientists but despite their best efforts, this has proven extremely challenging until recently. Now, a team from the University of Minnesota claims it has perfected a three-step chemical process that can produce isoprene from renewable biomass such as trees or grasses.

Source: Breakthrough chemistry can make tires from renewable sources like corn or trees

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Schools Cut Meat/Cheese From Lunch To Fight Global Warming

California Schools Cut Meat, Cheese From Lunches To Fight Global Warming Oakland schools partnered with the environmental group Friends of the Earth (FOE) to fight global warming by making student lunches climate-friendly.

FOE gave kids a lunch menu designed to eliminate foods it says are “unsustainable for our planet.” The new menu features far less meat and more plant-based food. Any meat or cheese the school did use came from “pastured, organic dairy cows.” The student’s lunch menu went from beef hot dogs and pepperoni pizza to vegan stir fry tofu and vegan tostadas.

The new FOE-approved menu served meat and cheese-less frequently and reduced the portion sizes.“This is a landmark moment for school food,” Jennifer LeBarre, head of nutrition services for Oakland Unified School District, said in a FOE press statement. “We were so excited to see how the data showed that we could reduce our carbon and water footprint by serving healthy, delicious food –– like the vegetarian tostadas with fresh made in-house salsa, that kids absolutely love –– all while saving money.”

Source: Schools Cut Meat/Cheese From Lunch To Fight Global Warming | The Daily Caller

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FBI Arresting More Americans For Targeting Muslims, Than Muslims For Targeting Americans

We’ve been pretty damn clear that we think the Trump administration’s targeting of people from a few countries by banning them from entering the US is both inhumane and misguided. We were proud to sign on to an amicus brief opposing it and happy that the 9th Circuit agreed — though the case is far from over. As I’ve noted repeatedly, to me it’s an issue of basic humanity and decency, but some have insisted on making arguments about how certain people are somehow out to get us and we need to protect ourselves from them. I know that, these days, it’s considered silly to rely on things like facts for an argument, but it seemed worthwhile to actually explore some facts on this particular topic.

We’ll start with a post at Lawfare, by Nora Ellingsen. And we should start out by noting that Techdirt and Lawfare have a pretty long history of… well… not agreeing on much. The site is generally supportive of the intelligence community and supportive of actions taken to protect “national security.” We tend to be more skeptical. Ellingsen worked in the FBI’s Counterterrorism Division for five years, specifically working on international terrorism investigations inside the US. Since leaving the FBI to go to law school, she’s been tracking counterterrorism cases in the US, using DOJ data. And she’s gone through that data to try to determine if there’s any truth to the idea that people from those countries represent a big ongoing threat. And the answer is that it’s just not true. In fact, the real “terrorism” threat in America appears to be… from Americans.:

Source: FBI Arresting More Americans For Targeting Muslims, Than Muslims For Targeting Americans | Techdirt

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Taxing junk food and subsidizing healthy items will make us live longer and save billions in the health system

Australia could save billions of dollars and increase the life expectancy of its inhabitants in one easy sweep — by employing a two-pronged approach and taxing junk food while subsidizing healthy options. This stick-and-carrot approach should yield better results than the sum of its parts alone, a new study concludes.We all share that special love-hate relationship with junk food — it’s probably the common denominator of the modern man. Nobody’s ever said “let’s have a healthy bag of bacon-wrapped bacon snacks with a side-dish of cheesy puffs to start our diet along”. But junk food is accessible, tasty, and cheap, so it often wiggles into our diet — pushing rates of obesity, heart disease, diabetes, and a host of other health issues.In a bid to lower their popularity, many countries are considering adding a tax on such products. France, Mexico, and some US cities already tax sugary drinks. Hungary has a “chips tax” in place for packaged foods with a high sugar and salt content. Other countries such as India have gone the other way and toyed with making healthy options more accessible through government subsidy programs.

Source: Taxing junk food and subsidizing healthy items will make us live longer and save billions in the health system

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We’re One Step Closer to Test Predicting Baldness

(NEWSER) – Guys, if you’ve ever wished you could look into a crystal ball and see if hair plugs are in your future, scientists have good news. Using data from 53,000 men in the UK, they’ve come up with a DNA-based algorithm that could someday predict whether one is likely to go bald—one that’s more reliable than family history. More to the point for those worried about it is the second half of this sentence: “The results of this study might help identify those at greatest risk of hair loss, and also potential genetic targets for intervention,” says a study co-author, per NBC News. In the study, the largest such one of male-pattern baldness to date, University of Edinburgh researchers identified 287 genetic markers linked to hair loss, per a release. That’s quite a step up, given that only eight such markers had been previously identified, reports Live Science.

Source: We’re One Step Closer to Test Predicting Baldness

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Memo offers a look into the CIA’s private press pool

A version of this article appeared on Glomar DisclosureWhile most people with an interest in the history of CIA will have heard of “Operation Mockingbird,” which weaponized the press for propaganda purposes through the “Office of Policy Coordination,” there is another side to program that’s much less well-known. A declassified memo from 1965 reveals a network of journalists that regularly received intelligence from Ray S. Cline, one of CIA’s senior analysts and at that time the Deputy Director of the Directorate of Intelligence. Several of these journalists were former intelligence officers and were not only involved in information and propaganda dissemination, but other ongoing CIA operations.Joseph Alsop, for instance, agreed to report on the 1953 Philippine elections for the Agency as cover for gathering information for the Agency. According to Mr. Cline, he met with Alsop whenever the reporter requested it “to discuss international events of interest to him for the purpose of writing his columns, giving him guidance as to my thinking on these subjects whenever it was possible.” These meetings were also held at the request of the Director of Central Intelligence, who preferred for Alsop “to write reasonable columns [rather] than to have misinformation published.”

Source: Memo offers a look into the CIA’s private press pool

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