November 26, 2008

Caution: These are synopses of scientific press releases whose findings might not hold up. Also, I might have skipped the ones you would consider most important.


Public Release: 25-Nov-2008
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
Understanding donor-recipient genetics could decrease early kidney transplant complications
Researchers have found an association between the genetics of donor-recipient matches in kidney transplants and complications during the first week after transplantation. The team has shown that small differences in the building blocks of cell-surface proteins used to match donors and recipients for deceased-donor kidney transplantation was associated with an increased risk for delayed allograft function.
NIH/National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases

Public Release: 25-Nov-2008
Nature Neuroscience
Carnegie Mellon scientists offer explanation for ‘face blindness’
For the first time, scientists have been able to map the disruption in neural circuitry of people suffering from congenital prosopagnosia, sometimes known as face blindness, and have been able to offer a biological explanation for this intriguing disorder. Currently thought to affect roughly two percent of the population, congenital prosopagnosia manifests as the lifelong failure to recognize faces in the absence of obvious neurological damage, and in individuals with intact vision and intelligence.

Public Release: 25-Nov-2008
Astrophysical Journal Letters
Sweet molecule could lead us to alien life
Scientists have detected an organic sugar molecule that is directly linked to the origin of life, in a region of our galaxy where habitable planets could exist.
Science and Technology Facilities Council

Public Release: 24-Nov-2008
Journal of Evolutionary Biology
Flies may reveal evolutionary step to live birth
A species of fruit fly from the Seychelles Islands often lays larvae instead of eggs, UC San Diego biologists have discovered. Clues to how animals switch from laying eggs to live birth may be found in the well-studied species’ ecology and genes.
UC San Diego

Public Release: 25-Nov-2008
Psychological Science
In sickness and health: Caring for ailing spouse may prolong your life
Older people who spent at least 14 hours a week taking care of a disabled spouse lived longer than others. That is the unexpected finding of a University of Michigan study forthcoming in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.
NIH/National Institute on Aging


November 24, 2008

These are synopses of scientific press releases. They are not yet established as scientific fact, and may turn out to be wrong.


Public Release: 24-Nov-2008
Chinese forest project could reduce number of environmental disasters
A study published in Journal of the American Water Resources Association states that the “Green Great Wall,” a forest shelterbelt project in northern China running nearly parallel to the Great Wall, is likely to improve climatic and hydrological conditions in the area when completed.

Public Release: 24-Nov-2008
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
Mammals can be stimulated to regrow damaged inner retina nerve cells
For the first time the mammalian retina has now shown the capacity to regenerate new neurons after damage. This research in mice shows that at least some types of retinal damage can be repaired. The loss of neurons in the retina in people in conditions like glaucoma or macular degeneration leads to visual loss and blindness. This new research shows there might someday be a way to restore vision in people with these conditions.
NIH/National Eye Institute, National Institutes of Health, National Research Service Award, German Research Foundation, ProRetina Travel Grant

Public Release: 24-Nov-2008
76 percent of American middle-class households not financially secure
As the economy continues to reel, a new report finds that 4 million American households lost economic security between 2000 and 2006 and that a majority of America’s middle class households are either borderline or at high risk of falling out of the middle class altogether. The new report, “From Middle to Shaky Ground: The Economic Decline of America’s Middle Class, 2000-2006” was published by the policy center Demos and the Institute for Assets and Social Policy at Brandeis University.

Public Release: 24-Nov-2008
British Journal of Sociology
Race bigotry falling in Britain
Racial prejudice in Britain has been declining sharply in Britain since the 1980s thanks to the greater tolerance of younger generations, according to a new study. Dr. Rob Ford from the University of Manchester says that social contact with black or Asian Britons is becoming increasingly unremarkable to white people in their 20s and 30s.

Public Release: 23-Nov-2008
Nature Chemical Biology
Scripps research team defines new painkilling chemical pathway
Marijuana can be an effective painkiller, but social issues and unhealthy smoke inhalation complicate its use. As a result, researchers have focused great attention on understanding the biochemical system involved so they might manipulate it by other means. Toward that end, a Scripps Research Institute group has definitively identified a chemical pathway that, in mice, imitates marijuana’s painkilling effect. The work could enable the development of new pain treatments.
National Institutes of Health, Helen L. Dorris Child and Adolescent Neuro-Psychiatric Disorder Institute, Skaggs Institute for Chemical Biology

Public Release: 23-Nov-2008
Nature Neuroscience
‘Wiring’ in the brain influences personality
Some people are constantly seeking a new kick; some prefer to stick to tried and tested things. Which group you belong to seems to be connected, inter alia, with the ‘wiring’ of specific centers of the brain. This was discovered by scientists at the University of Bonn using a new method. Even how much acceptance people seek is apparently also determined by nerve fibers in the brain. The study will appear in the next issue of the journal Nature Neuroscience.

November 21, 2008


Public Release: 20-Nov-2008
Two from one: Pitt research maps out evolution of genders from hermaphroditic ancestors
Research from the University of Pittsburgh published in the Nov. 20 edition of Heredity could finally provide evidence of the first stages of the evolution of separate sexes, a theory that holds that males and females developed from hermaphroditic ancestors. These early stages are not completely understood because the majority of animal species developed into the arguably less titillating separate-sex state too long ago for scientists to observe the transition.

Public Release: 20-Nov-2008
Journal of Head Trauma Rehabilitation
Oh, what a feeling!
People who have lost the ability to interpret emotion after a severe brain injury can regain this vital social skill by being re-educated to read body language, facial expressions and voice tone in others, according to a new study.

Public Release: 20-Nov-2008
Scientists discover concealed glaciers on Mars at mid-latitudes
Vast Martian glaciers of water ice under protective blankets of rocky debris persist today at much lower latitudes than any ice previously identified on Mars, says new research using ground-penetrating radar on NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. The discovery is an encouraging sign for scientists searching for life beyond Earth. The water ice might also provide a useful resource for human explorers visiting the red planet.

Public Release: 19-Nov-2008
Psychology and Health
Study suggests attending religious services sharply cuts risk of death
A study published by researchers at Yeshiva University and its medical school, Albert Einstein College of Medicine, strongly suggests that regular attendance at religious services reduces the risk of death by approximately 20 percent.

Public Release: 19-Nov-2008
Journal of Regional Science
K-State economist’s research on low-income homeowners
Programs that help low-income and minority individuals and families purchase a home may be doing more harm than good, according to a Kansas State University economist.

Public Release: 19-Nov-2008
Neuroscience 2008
Scientists are high on idea that marijuana reduces memory impairment
The more research they do, the more evidence scientists find that specific elements of marijuana can be good for the aging brain by reducing inflammation there and possibly even stimulating the formation of new brain cells. It suggests that developing a legal drug that contains certain properties similar to those in marijuana might help prevent or delay the onset of Alzheimer’s disease. Though the exact cause of Alzheimer’s remains unknown, chronic inflammation in the brain is believed to contribute to memory impairment.
National Institutes of Health

November 18, 2008


Public Release: 18-Nov-2008
New tool trains athlete brains to react 53 percent faster
Two researchers from the School of Optometry of the Universite de Montreal have discovered how to train the brain of athletes to improve their overall athletic performance.

Public Release: 18-Nov-2008
Kids from juvenile justice system 7 times more likely to commit criminal acts
The study showed that kids who went through the system were seven times more likely to commit criminal acts as adults that correlated with the severity of their sentence. For instance, for the least severe sentence (community service) the risk of relapse is 2.3 percent. However, for the most severe sentence (juvenile retreat) the risk of relapse is 38 percent.

Public Release: 17-Nov-2008
Billions of particles of anti-matter created in laboratory
Take a gold sample the size of the head of a push pin, shoot a laser through it, and suddenly more than 100 billion particles of anti-matter appear. The anti-matter, also known as positrons, shoots out of the target in a cone-shaped plasma “jet.”

Public Release: 17-Nov-2008
Canadian Medical Association Journal
Study finds Canada’s supervised injection facility cost-effective
Canada’s only supervised injection facility is extending lives and saving the health-care system millions of dollars, a new study from the University of Western Ontario and University of Toronto shows. In analyzing the cost-effectiveness of Vancouver-based Insite, a safe injection facility in a downtown neighborhood where about 5,000 injection drug users live, researchers found $14 million in savings and health gains of 920 life-years over 10 years.

Public Release: 17-Nov-2008
Medical Teacher
Non-white med students reject therapies associated with their culture
Non-white medical students are more likely to embrace orthodox medicine and reject therapies traditionally associated with their cultures. That is one finding from an international study that measures the attitudes of medical students toward complementary and alternative medicine (CAM). While seemingly counter-intuitive, white students view CAM more favorably than their non-white counterparts, the study authors say.
NIH/National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine

Public Release: 17-Nov-2008
Minnesota Law Review
Democratic Party control could ban mandatory arbitration, expert says
Democratic Party control in Washington could restore lawsuits as an option for workers and consumers now forced to settle disputes through mandatory arbitration that gives employers and businesses an unfair edge, a University of Illinois labor law expert says.

Public Release: 17-Nov-2008
American Journal of Psychiatry
Novel imaging technique reveals brain abnormalities that may play key role in ADHD
A new study in the advance edition of the American Journal of Psychiatry reveals shape differences in the brains of children with ADHD. Researchers from the Kennedy Krieger Institute and the Johns Hopkins Center for Imaging Science used a new tool, large deformation diffeomorphic mapping, allowing them to examine the shape of the basal ganglia. Boys with ADHD had shape differences and decreased volume of the basal ganglia compared to typically developing children.

November 12, 2008


Physical Review Letters
Evolution’s new wrinkle
A team of Princeton University scientists has discovered that chains of proteins found in most living organisms act like adaptive machines, possessing the ability to control their own evolution. The research, which appears to offer evidence of a hidden mechanism guiding the way biological organisms respond to the forces of natural selection, provides a new perspective on evolution, the scientists said.
National Science Foundation

Public Release: 11-Nov-2008
Quarterly Review of Biology
The miseries of allergies just may help prevent some cancers, study finds
There may be a silver — and healthy — lining to the miserable cloud of allergy symptoms: Sneezing, coughing, tearing and itching just may help prevent cancer — particularly colon, skin, bladder, mouth, throat, uterus and cervix, lung and gastrointestinal tract cancer, according to a new Cornell study.

Public Release: 11-Nov-2008
Lab on a Chip
New laser method reproduces art masterworks to protein patterns
To illustrate the precision of their protein patterning technique, the research team reproduced a masterwork of Dutch painter Johannes Vermeer, specifically Girl with a Pearl Earring, in the miniature dimension of 200 microns wide or about the thickness of two hairs. The researchers also used their novel technology to replicate the brain’s complex cellular environment.
Natural Science and Engineering Council of Canada, Fonds quebecois de la recherche sur la nature et les technologies, Canadian Institutes of Health Research, Fonds de la recherche en sante du Quebec

Public Release: 11-Nov-2008
Proceedings of the National Academy of Science
Without enzyme, biological reaction essential to life takes 2.3 billion years
All biological reactions within human cells depend on enzymes. Their power as catalysts enables biological reactions to occur usually in milliseconds. But how slowly would these reactions proceed spontaneously, in the absence of enzymes — minutes, hours, days? And why even pose the question?
NIH/National Institute of General Medicine

Public Release: 11-Nov-2008
Journal of Neuroscience
Fatty diet during pregnancy makes new cells in fetal brain that cause early onset obesity
A study in rats shows that exposure to a high-fat diet during pregnancy produces permanent changes in the offspring’s brain that lead to overeating and obesity early in life. This surprising finding provides a key step toward understanding mechanisms of fetal programming involving the production of new brain cells that may help explain the increased prevalence of childhood obesity during the last 30 years.
National Institutes of Health

Public Release: 11-Nov-2008
Miniaturizing memory: Taking data storage to the molecular level
Researchers at The University of Nottingham are now exploring ways of exploiting the unique properties of carbon nanotubes to create a cheap and compact memory cell that uses little power and writes information at high speeds.
Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council

November 11, 2008


Public Release: 10-Nov-2008
Mayo Clinic Proceedings
Eye conditions linked with obstructive sleep apnea
Numerous studies have shown a connection between sleep disorders and medical conditions such as cardiovascular disease, cerebrovascular disease, and metabolic disorders, including the risk of obesity and diabetes mellitus.

Public Release: 10-Nov-2008
Physical Review E
Forced evolution: Can we mutate viruses to death?
Can scientists create a designer drug that forces viruses to mutate themselves out of existence? A new study by Rice University bioengineers could help make it happen. The study, which will appear in Physical Review E, offers the most comprehensive mathematical analysis to date of the mechanisms that drive evolution in viruses and bacteria, and it could help scientists who are looking to add “lethal mutagenesis” to medicine’s disease-fighting arsenal.
Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, Korea Research Foundation

Public Release: 10-Nov-2008
Ethanol will curb farm income until economy rebounds, economist says
Ethanol helped drive two years of record profits for grain farmers, but also will hold income down during a looming recession that has already sliced crop prices in half, a University of Illinois economist says.

Public Release: 10-Nov-2008
A perfect bond
A new laser technique from Tel Aviv University seals and heals wounds.

Public Release: 10-Nov-2008
Maastricht University researchers produce ‘neural fingerprint’ of speech recognition
Scientists from Maastricht University have developed a method to look into the brain of a person and read out who has spoken to him or her and what was said. With the help of neuroimaging and data mining techniques the researchers mapped the brain activity associated with the recognition of speech sounds and voices.
Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research

Public Release: 10-Nov-2008
Current Biology
Study doubles species diversity of enigmatic ‘flying lemurs’
Colugos, the closest living relatives of primates most notable for their ability to glide from tree to tree over considerable distances, are more diverse than had previously been believed, according to a new report published in the Nov. 11 issue of Current Biology, a Cell Press publication.

Public Release: 10-Nov-2008
American Heart Association’s Scientific Sessions 2008
Circulation: Journal of the American Heart Association
Heart’s surplus energy may help power pacemakers, defibrillators
In an experimental study researchers show a beating heart may produce enough energy to power a pacemaker or defibrillator. An experimental microgenerator captured enough surplus heart energy to provide 17 percent of the power needed to run an implantable pacemaker. Generator refinements could yield smaller, longer-lasting, and more sophisticated implantable devices.
United Kingdom Technology Strategy Board

November 9, 2008


Public Release: 9-Nov-2008
Nature Neuroscience
Simple brain mechanisms explain arbitrary human visual decisions
Scientists report in Nature Neuroscience that a simple decision-making task does not involve the frontal lobes, where many of the higher aspects of human cognition, including self-awareness, are thought to originate. Instead, the regions that decide are the same brain regions that receive stimuli relevant to the decision and control the body’s response to it.
European Union, NIH/National Institutes of Mental Health, Italian Ministry of University and Research
“Tosoni and Corbetta plan next to probe whether more complicated decisions are carried out by this relatively simple sensory-motor mechanism and how decisions are affected by the amount of reward the subject expects when performing simple and complex decisions.”

Public Release: 9-Nov-2008
Nature Nanotechnology
New small-scale generator produces alternating current by stretching zinc oxide wires
Researchers have developed a new type of small-scale electric power generator able to produce alternating current through the cyclical stretching and releasing of zinc oxide wires encapsulated in a flexible plastic substrate with two ends bonded.
National Science Foundation, US Department of Energy, Air Force Office of Scientific Research

From via

MMOGs as Social Experiments: the Case of Environmental Laws
Authors: Joost Broekens
(Submitted on 5 Nov 2008)

Abstract: In this paper we argue that Massively Multiplayer Online Games (MMOGs), also known as Large Games are an interesting research tool for policy experimentation. One of the major problems with lawmaking is that testing the laws is a difficult enterprise. Here we show that the concept of an MMOG can be used to experiment with environmental laws on a large scale, provided that the MMOG is a real game, i.e., it is fun, addictive, presents challenges that last, etc.. We present a detailed game concept as an initial step.

Subjects: Computers and Society (cs.CY)
Cite as: arXiv:0811.0709v1 [cs.CY]

Full paper:

Science Press Releases

November 8, 2008


Public Release: 7-Nov-2008
Open Atmospheric Science Journal
Revised theory suggests carbon dioxide levels already in danger zone
If climate disasters are to be averted, atmospheric carbon dioxide must be reduced below the levels that already exist today, according to a study published in Open Atmospheric Science Journal by a group of 10 scientists from the United States, the United Kingdom and France.

Public Release: 7-Nov-2008
U of Minnesota researchers uncover surprising effects of climate patterns in ancient China
University of Minnesota geology and geophysics researchers, along with their colleagues from China, have uncovered surprising effects of climate patterns on social upheaval and the fall of dynasties in ancient China. Their research identifies a natural phenomenon that may have been the last straw for some Chinese dynasties: a weakening of the summer Asian Monsoons. Such weakening accompanied the fall of three dynasties and now could be lessening precipitation in northern China.
National Science Foundation, National Science Foundation of China, Gary Comer Science and Education Foundation
“The study also showed that the ample summer rains of the Northern Song Dynasty coincided with the beginning of the well-known Medieval Warm Period in Europe and Greenland. During this time–the late 10th century–Vikings colonized southern Greenland. Centuries later, a series of weak monsoons prevailed as Europe and Greenland shivered through what geologists call the Little Ice Age. In the 14th and early 15th centuries, as the cold of the Little Ice Age settled into Greenland, the Vikings disappeared from there. At the same time, on the other side of the world, the weak monsoons of the 14th century coincided with the end of the Yuan Dynasty.”

Public Release: 7-Nov-2008
Physics Review Letters
Physicists create BlackMax to search for dimensions in space at the Large Hadron Collider
A team of theoretical and experimental physicists, with participants from Case Western Reserve University, have designed a new black hole simulator called BlackMax to search for evidence that extra dimensions might exist in the universe.

Public Release: 6-Nov-2008
Growing problem for veterans: Domestic violence
The increasing number of veterans with posttraumatic stress disorder raises the risk of domestic violence and its consequences on families and children in communities across the United States,” says Monica Matthieu, an expert on veteran mental health at Washington University in St. Louis. Matthieu and Peter Hovmand, domestic violence expert at the University, are merging their research interests and are working to design community prevention strategies to address this emerging public health problem.

Hundred Percent Chance of Winning?

October 2, 2008

Election 08 gives Obama one hundred percent probability of winning the election. A strong Republican surge could reduce this to ninety-nine percent, and raise McCain’s chances of winning to…zero percent.

Assuming, of course, that the state polls used are accurate. And it’s what would happen if the election were held today. (Or a bit earlier; the data is from polls up through September 30.)

“The results presented are a direct function of the quality of the state poll data being used. Any biases in this data can lead to misleading and false results, and hence, invalid conclusions. The results of this analysis have been obtained as part of an academic, educational exercise to demonstrate the power of statistics and operations research to analyze data of significant importance and practical interest.”

I believe both operations research and statistics have produced inaccurate results at times.

This degree of certainty reminds me of Michael Flynn’s sf novel In the Country of the Blind (Analog Science Fiction and Fact October 1987 and November 1987; Baen Books, 1990; Tor 2001), and the nonfiction essay which followed: “An Introduction to Psychohistory,” (April and May 1988; appendixed to the 2001 version of the novel.) (“Psychohistory” in this context refers to Isaac Asimov’s Foundation trilogy — in which it was the name of a predictive science. I understand historians use the name for something rather different.)

Basic idea: In the 19th Century, a group began making extremely accurate predictions. They were able to do this using Babbage Engines and 19th Century statistics. They moved on to shaping the future rather than only observing it.

In the original serial and in the 1990 book version, Flynn rather overestimated the Soviet Union’s health during the 21st Century. He also did this, in greater detail, in the original serialized version of the essay.

This error was corrected in the 2001 versions of the novel and the essay. Flynn did not acknowledge that this had been changed.

Crossposted to

New (to me) Electoral College Site

September 18, 2008

This isn’t as gloomy for Democrats as it sounds:

Public Release: 17-Sep-2008
INFORMS Annual Meeting
Latest Electoral College forecast shows McCain ahead by as many as 27 votes
A new approach to determining who will win the most electoral votes in the US Presidential race factors in lessons learned from the 2004 election and uses sophisticated math modeling. The research will be presented at the annual meeting of the Institute for Operations Research and the Management Sciences (INFORMS). As of Sept. 16, the margin in electoral votes could be as high as 282.8 votes for McCain against 255.2 for Obama.

Go to, and you’ll see a range of forecasts. To begin with, the website shows 60% probability of McCain winning — rather lower than 100%.

And results will differ if any of these happen:

More undecided voters than expected vote for Obama or for McCain. Or many more undecided candidates go for one candidate. You can adjust the model for any of these alternate assumptions.

A higher than expected number of registered voters show up to vote, and vote differently from likely voters.

Maine, Nebraska, or both split their Electoral College votes. These states allocate EC votes by Congressional District, but the model doesn’t take that into account.

Oh — and the polls whose data they’re using could be wrong.

Is this election website worth following? I don’t know yet. I say it’s worth a look.

crossposted to

July 24, 2008


Public Release: 24-Jul-2008
Journal of Behavioral Decision Making
Why play a losing game? Study uncovers why low-income people buy lottery tickets
Although state lotteries, on average, return just 53 cents for every dollar spent on a ticket, people continue to pour money into them — especially low-income people, who spend a greater percentage of their incomes on lottery tickets than the wealthier segments of society. A new Carnegie Mellon University study points to income as an influential factor in the decision to invest in a product that provides poor returns.
“In the study, the researchers note that lotteries set off a vicious cycle that not only exploits low-income individuals’ desires to escape poverty but also directly prevents them from improving upon their financial situations. They recommend that state lottery administrators explore strategies that balance the economic burdens faced by low-income households with the need to maintain important funding streams for state governments.

“‘State lotteries are popular revenue sources that are unlikely to go away anytime soon,’ said George Loewenstein, a study co-author and Herbert A. Simon professor of economics and psychology at Carnegie Mellon. ‘However, it is possible to implement measures that can actually benefit low-income lottery players and lead to fairer outcomes.’ Loewenstein noted that one such potential method for addressing income inequality, which has shown promise in other countries, is tying lottery tickets to savings accounts.”

Public Release: 23-Jul-2008
Study suggests human visual system could make powerful computer
Rensselaer professor Mark Changizi has begun to develop a technique to turn our eyes and visual system into a programmable computer. His findings are reported in the latest issue of the journal Perception.

Public Release: 23-Jul-2008
Sex and lifespan linked in worms
In findings published in Nature, scientists have discovered that smaller, but more structurally diverse chemicals are a significant part of a living thing’s biology. When food is scarce or colonies become crowded, young worms stop developing normally and enter the dauer stage. In this form they can live, without eating or reproducing, for months — about ten times longer than the worm’s normal lifespan. When the dauer finds greener pastures, it finally develops into an adult and resumes its normal aging process.
National Institutes of Health

Public Release: 23-Jul-2008
FASEB Journal
Licking your wounds: Scientists isolate compound in human saliva that speeds wound healing
A report by scientists from the Netherlands published online in rhe FASEB Journal identifies a compound in human saliva that greatly speeds wound healing. This research may offer hope to people suffering from chronic wounds related to diabetes and other disorders, as well as traumatic injuries and burns. In addition, because the compounds can be mass produced, they have the potential to become as common as antibiotic creams and rubbing alcohol.

Public Release: 23-Jul-2008
‘Nanonet’ circuits closer to making flexible electronics reality
Researchers have overcome a major obstacle in producing transistors from networks of carbon nanotubes, a technology that could make it possible to print circuits on plastic sheets for applications including flexible displays and an electronic skin to cover an entire aircraft to monitor crack formation.
National Science Foundation

Building Futures Which Last

July 16, 2008

World War III failed to happen in 1958. That event was important to Poul Anderson’s Psychotechnic League future history.

After the Soviet Union broke up, there were still new books about the USSR invading the US. And there were sf writers whose series and/or future histories had the Soviets as one of two superpowers well into the future. Jack Chalker had an easy solution for his Well of Souls series — Nathan Brazil pushed the universe’s reset button. Other writers became rather less explicit about history, or declared their failed futures to be alternate history.

Lesson One: Be prepared to abandon your lovely future.

Lesson Two: If you want to continue using the same future, be vague as possible about what will last beyond this week.

Or you can decide not to care. Use the same future everyone else writing future-set fiction does: aircars will completely replace ground cars, videophones will rule, etc. Modify to the taste of a particular editor (North America becomes Arabic-speaking, the Middle East turns Southern Baptist, whatever.)

But suppose you want to get the future right, as much as possible. There are ways to do it.

Learn what predictions have consistently been wrong: Ground cars were supposed to be completely gone shortly after WW II. (Probably earlier, actually.) Voice-only phones were to be extinct by 2000 CE. (Yes, we have videophones — but they’re not the only phones around.)

In economics, there’s “This bull market will continue forever.” In the past, all such markets have gone diving among the sharks; but this one is different because [new technology/right party in office/….]. In politics, “My party will rule forever” and “We’re going to simplify the tax code.”

Study cycles: There are “moral panic” cycles; times when drunk driving or gambling is considered a major problem, and others when it’s shrugged off. There are economic cycles; as I write, we’re on the downslope of one. And political cycles; in the US, one swings between parties and another between ideologies. The two political cycles have gone together recently; but don’t count on this continuing.

Look at the future which has already happened: An elementary school teacher looked out at my class, and said we were the largest class she’d ever taught. After us came the Baby Boomers.

When the Boomers overfilled elementary schools, it should have been easy to predict there were going to be a lot of college students not far in the future. Colleges didn’t prepare for the overflow.

Find indicators which work: During the next fifty years, some countries will fall apart. Others will merely undergo revolutions or go bankrupt.

I use male life expectancy at birth as a sign of a country’s stability. The US doesn’t top the list. (This is apparently partly because babies who would be considered dead at birth elsewhere are counted as alive for the few hours they survive. But that’s not the whole story.)


There are things you can’t predict completely. (Or maybe you can — in which case I recommend investing as your fulltime job. Sexual morality will be different fifty years from now — but different how? Vatican III will probably make changes in the Roman Catholic Church — but when will it be held, and what will those changes be? (My guess: Around 2060. About the changes, I can make one confident prediction — some of them will cause schisms.)

What can you do about these?

Have fun: Pick changes you find interesting.

Decide what works best with your story and characters: If it’s useful for your heroine to be a Roman Catholic priest, change church law so this can happen. (I don’t expect Vatican III to allow female priests; but perhaps Vatican VI or Marsport I will.)

Science Press Releases

June 8, 2008


First superheavy element found in nature Evidence for a Long-lived superheavy Nucleus with Atomic Mass Number A = 292 and Atomic Number Z @ 122 in Natural Th

Public Release: 8-Jun-2008
Nature Neuroscience
Origins of the brain
One of the great scientific challenges is to understand the design principles and origins of the human brain. New research has shed light on the evolutionary origins of the brain and how it evolved into the remarkably complex structure found in humans. The research suggests that it is not size alone that gives more brain power, but that, during evolution, increasingly sophisticated molecular processing of nerve impulses allowed development of animals with more complex behaviours.
Wellcome Trust, Medical Research Council, GSK, Edinburgh University, EMBO

Public Release: 7-Jun-2008
Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology
Scientists find 245 million-year-old burrows of land vertebrates in Antarctica
Scientists find evidence of tetrapods living in Antarctica during the early Triassic epoch, about 245 million years ago.
National Science Foundation

Public Release: 6-Jun-2008
Serotonin may affect our sense of fairness, scientists report
The neurotransmitter serotonin, which acts as a chemical messenger between nerve cells, plays a critical role in regulating emotions such as aggression during social decision-making. The findings highlight why some of us may become combative or aggressive when we have not eaten. The research also provides insight into clinical disorders characterized by low serotonin levels, such as depression and obsessive compulsive disorder.–sma060608.php

Public Release: 6-Jun-2008
International Journal of Public Opinion
Scientific information largely ignored when forming opinions about stem cell research
When forming attitudes about embryonic stem cell research, people are influenced by a number of things. But understanding science plays a negligible role for many people.

Public Release: 6-Jun-2008
Goodbye to batteries and power sockets
A broken cable or a soiled connector? If a machine in a factory goes on strike, it could be for any of a thousand reasons. Self-sufficient sensors that provide their own power supply will soon make these machines more robust.

Public Release: 6-Jun-2008
Cheltenham Science Festival
Militant jihadists are inspired by night dreams, suggests research
The inspirational night dream, or ruya, is a fundamental, inspirational and even strategic part of the militant jihadist movement in the Middle East and elsewhere. This is the conclusion of a study of the reported dreams of many of the best-known al-Qaeda and Taliban leaders carried out by Dr. Iain Edgar a social anthropologist at Durham University.

Scientific press releases

May 27, 2008


Public Release: 27-May-2008
June 2008 Geology and GSA Today media highlights
GEOLOGY topics include Samoa on the hotspot trail, South Carolina’s offshore iceberg scours; Yellowstone’s climate-induced geyser periodicity; coralline red algae as a high-resolution climate recorder; the effects of extreme storm events on landscape and carbon dioxide; the iron isotope record and the first emergence of atmospheric and oceanic oxygen; and eastern California’s shear zone earthquakes. GSA Today’s science article discusses the Canadian Shield, Earth’s oldest continental crust, where rocks may have originated under primordial seas.

Public Release: 27-May-2008
Scripta Materialia
NC State breakthrough results in super-hard nanocrystalline iron that can take the heat
Researchers at North Carolina State University have created a substance far stronger and harder than conventional iron, and which retains these properties under extremely high temperatures — opening the door to a wide variety of potential applications, such as engine components that are exposed to high stress and high temperatures.
National Science Foundation

Public Release: 27-May-2008
Molecular Systems Biology
Weizmann Institute scientists build a better DNA molecule
Scientists at the Weizmann Institute of Science demonstrate that a mathematical concept called recursion can be applied to constructing flawless synthetic DNA molecules. The ideal molecules are created in successive rounds in which faultless segments are lifted from longer, error-containing DNA strands and assembled anew.

Public Release: 27-May-2008
Prevalence of obesity among US children and teens does not increase
There was no significant increase in the prevalence of obese children and teens in the US between 1999 and 2006, in contrast to the increase that had been reported in prior years, according to a study in the May 28 issue of JAMA.

Public Release: 25-May-2008
Research suggests parts of UK could be too hot for wine making by 2080
Increasing summer temperatures could mean some parts of southern England are too hot to grow vines for making wine by 2080, according to a new book launched today.
“The author, Emeritus Professor Richard Selley from Imperial College London, claims that if average summer temperatures in the UK continue to rise as predicted, the Thames Valley, parts of Hampshire and the Severn valley, which currently contain many vineyards, will be too hot to support wine production within the next 75 years.

“Instead, Professor Selley says, this land could be suitable for growing raisins, currents and sultanas, currently only cultivated in hot climates such as North Africa and the Middle East.”

May 22, 2008


Public Release: 21-May-2008
Earth may hide a lethal carbon cache
Carbon locked away deep within the Earth’s crust could have profound implications on our climate, according to a meeting in the US last week. It has long been assumed that this “deep carbon,” buried in old carbonate rocks, fossil fuels and ice lattices, could be safely ignored when it came to analyzing the effect of greenhouse gases on climate. But now it is emerging there is much more deep carbon ready to spew out than previously thought.

Public Release: 21-May-2008
Why do astronauts suffer from space sickness?
Centrifuging astronauts for a lengthy period provided Dutch researcher Suzanne Nooij with better insight into how space sickness develops, the nausea and disorientation experienced by many astronauts. Nooij defended her PhD theses on this subject at Delft University of Technology (TU Delft, The Netherlands) on Tuesday May, 20.

Public Release: 21-May-2008
A missing link settles debate over the origin of frogs and salamanders
The description of an ancient amphibian that millions of years ago swam in quiet pools and caught mayflies on the surrounding land in Texas has set to rest one of the greatest current controversies in vertebrate evolution. The discovery was made by a research team led by scientists at the University of Calgary.
Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council

Public Release: 21-May-2008
New England Journal of Medicine
Smokers flock together, quit together
When smokers kick the habit, odds are they are not alone in making the move. Instead, the decision to quit smoking often cascades through social networks, with entire clusters of spouses, friends, siblings and co-workers giving up the habit roughly in tandem, according to a new study supported in part by the National Institutes of Health.
NIH/National Institute on Aging, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation

Public Release: 21-May-2008
Brain’s ‘trust machinery’ identified
The brain centers triggered by a betrayal of trust have been identified by researchers, who found they could suppress such triggering and maintain trust by administering the brain chemical oxytocin. The researchers said their findings not only offer basic insights into the neural machinery underlying trust; the results may also help in understanding the neural basis of social disorders such as phobias and autism.

Public Release: 20-May-2008
Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology
Study reveals link among childhood allergies, asthma symptoms, and early life exposure to cats
A study released by researchers at the Columbia Center for Children’s Environmental Health at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, shows that cat ownership may have a protective effect against the development of asthma symptoms in young children at age five. The study found that children with cats in the home were more likely to have made allergy-related antibodies to cats.
National Institutes of Health

May 21, 2008

Thanks to Erik Mark Francis, on

A Universe Without Weak Interactions
Authors: Roni Harnik, Graham D. Kribs, Gilad Perez
(Submitted on 4 Apr 2006)

Abstract: A universe without weak interactions is constructed that undergoes big-bang nucleosynthesis, matter domination, structure formation, and star formation. The stars in this universe are able to burn for billions of years, synthesize elements up to iron, and undergo supernova explosions, dispersing heavy elements into the interstellar medium. These definitive claims are supported by a detailed analysis where this hypothetical “Weakless Universe” is matched to our Universe by simultaneously adjusting Standard Model and cosmological parameters. For instance, chemistry and nuclear physics are essentially unchanged. The apparent habitability of the Weakless Universe suggests that the anthropic principle does not determine the scale of electroweak breaking, or even require that it be smaller than the Planck scale, so long as technically natural parameters may be suitably adjusted. Whether the multi-parameter adjustment is realized or probable is dependent on the ultraviolet completion, such as the string landscape. Considering a similar analysis for the cosmological constant, however, we argue that no adjustments of other parameters are able to allow the cosmological constant to raise up even remotely close to the Planck scale while obtaining macroscopic structure. The fine-tuning problems associated with the electroweak breaking scale and the cosmological constant therefore appear to be qualitatively different from the perspective of obtaining a habitable universe.

Comments: 27 pages; 4 figures
Subjects: High Energy Physics – Phenomenology (hep-ph); Astrophysics (astro-ph); High Energy Physics – Theory (hep-th)
Journal reference: Phys.Rev. D74 (2006) 035006
Cite as: arXiv:hep-ph/0604027v1
Submission history
From: Graham D. Kribs [view email]
[v1] Tue, 4 Apr 2006 06:47:37 GMT (54kb)

What I Expect to do Here.

March 20, 2008

What is a clerk futurist? A professional futurist has at least a BA degree, preferably a PhD; and good knowledge of statistics and various other branches of mathematics. This enables her [him, them, it, __] to build computer models of the future, or use other abstruse forecasting methods.

A clerk futurist might only have a high school or two-year degree.

Last year, I put this ad on Craigslist:

Clerk Futurist for hire. Services include:

Basic trend and cycle extrapolation over the next four centuries. (Caution: While these methods can produce accurate predictions, they gave several science fiction writers confidence that the Soviet Union would be a superpower through the 21st Century and beyond.)

Light scenarios.

Summaries of electronic betting on future events.

Predicting whether your science fiction idea has already been used. (I’ll give this one away free — it was used at least twenty years before you think it possibly could have been.)

And, in another area:

Proofreading/copyediting. Spellings which make sense changed to what the rules call for. (Note: I may need to learn the house rules — the way a particular publication does things.) Phrases like “the Soviet Union in the 19th Century” flagged.

How many takers did I get? None; not even an offer to give me exposure. Those who can sell their services do (and sometimes perform those services.) Those who can’t sell, blog.