Saturday, January 28, 2012

Sustainability news from commercial sources for the week ending January 21, 2012


Yes, I know this is from last week. However, I haven't started compiling this week's news for Daily Kos, so I'm reposting the relevant links and excerpts from Overnight News Digest: Science Saturday (South Carolina Primary edition) before I do. Besides, science, unlike most news, has a relatively long shelf life.

General Sustainability

This week in science: He who controls the spin controls the universe!
By DarkSyde
Our good friends at the National Center for Science Education are branching out to confront misinformation on climate change. The NCSE has a lifetime record of unbeaten on the legal battles over creationism, as in they've never lost. NCSE evolution education specialist Joshua Roseneua explains the new effort:
In our time on those front lines, we keep hearing from teachers facing similar pressure about climate change. We hear it from teachers in workshops. We see it in newspaper stories. We track legislation lumping evolution and climate change together as "controversial" issues in science class, even though both are supported by over a century of unchallenged scientific research. And as we looked around, we realized that, while lots of groups exist to encourage good climate change education and provide positive content for classrooms, no one else was focused exclusively on blocking bad science from climate change lessons.
I wish them luck in fighting both forms of denial in the classroom.

More stories over the jump.

Environment, including science

LiveScience: Ocean's 8, a Golden Eye, Count Dracula Primates and more ...
A brilliant figure-8 glowing on the sea, a golden eye nebula in space and a gory, yet stunning, image of a boa constrictor strangling its prey. These are just some of the dazzling science images from the past week. Take a look.
The "Count Dracula Primates" are the stars of the next story.

LiveScience: Monkey Feared Extinct Rediscovered
Stephanie Pappas, LiveScience Senior Writer
Date: 20 January 2012 Time: 07:07 AM ET
An elusive monkey feared extinct has shown up in the remote forests of Borneo, posing for the first good pictures of the animal ever taken.

The mug shots reveal a furry Count Dracula of sorts, with the monkey's black head, face tipped with white whiskers and a pointy collar made of fluffy white fur.

The Miller's grizzled langur, an extremely rare primate that has suffered from habitat loss over the last 30 years, popped up unexpectedly in the protected Wehea Forest in east Kalimantan, Borneo.

"We knew we had found this primate that some people had speculated was potentially extinct," said study researcher Stephanie Spehar, a primatologist at the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh. "It was really exciting."
MSNBC: Cougars extinct in East? No way, say those who claim sightings
By Jim Gold,
Cougar sightings persist in the East nearly a year after the big predators were declared extinct in the region, a determination that some don't believe. Others want to make cougars' presence a big reality.

Just this month Gary Sanderson, sports editor at the Greenfield, Mass.-based Recorder newspaper, reported cougar sightings on a farm near the Vermont border, by an Amtrak engineer who claimed his train's video captured images of the creatures near Leverett, and from readers in the region who claim to have pictures of cougars.
Our Amazing Planet via MSNBC: Rare sea creature climbs onto woman's dock
Surprise was a ribbon seal, an Arctic species that spends most of its life at sea
By Andrea Mustain
A Seattle resident recently got a big surprise when she discovered a strange-looking furry visitor on her property.

"She woke up and it was lying on her dock, hanging out and sleeping — just chilling," said Matthew Cleland, district supervisor in western Washington for the USDA's Wildlife Services, and the recipient of a photo of the bizarre intruder.

"I thought, 'That's an interesting-looking creature,'" Cleland told OurAmazingPlanet. "I had no idea what it was."

A quick glance through a book in his office soon revealed it was a ribbon seal, an Arctic species that spends most of its life at sea, swimming the frigid waters off Alaska and Russia.
LiveScience: Bowerbird Bachelor Pads With Best Illusion Snag Mates
Joseph Castro, LiveScience Staff Writer
Date: 19 January 2012 Time: 02:01 PM ET
Everyone likes a good optical illusion, and that includes at least one animal. Male bowerbirds woo females by constructing a bachelor pad that creates an illusion of uniform d├ęcor (and the illusion that their owners are much more robust lads than they really are).

And a new study suggests the females tend to choose mates from those who produce the best illusion.

Male great bowerbirds —pigeon-size birds native to Australia — spend the majority of their time building and maintaining their courtship sites, called bowers. A bower consists of a tunnel-like avenue made of densely woven sticks that leads to a court of gray stones, shells and bones. Previous research suggested the birds arrange items in such a way that the court appears uniform and small to a female viewing it from within the avenue, which makes the male appear much larger and more impressive than he really is.

Bowerbirds are the only animals so far that have been shown to use illusions for mating.
BBC: La Nina 'linked' to flu pandemics
By Richard Black Environment correspondent, BBC News
La Nina events may make flu pandemics more likely, research suggests.

US-based scientists found that the last four pandemics all occurred after La Nina events, which bring cool waters to the surface of the eastern Pacific.

In Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), they say that flu-carrying birds may change migratory patterns during La Nina conditions.

However, many other La Nina events have not seen novel flu strains spread around the world, they caution.
Society, including culture and politics

Wired: The Best Fictional Scientists From TV and Movies
By Wired Staff
January 19, 2012
There is a great argument to be made for Star Trek's Spock, as a real-life scientist eloquently does in an op-ed today for our From the Fields series. But he got us thinking about all the other smart, scary, sexy, silly and sinister scientists we love to watch, so we've compiled a list (in no particular order) of our favorites.

As always, we trust you'll let us know where we went wrong and whose absence offended you most.
LiveScience via MSNBC: Belief in evolution boils down to a gut feeling
How we feel may trump facts as well as religious beliefs, research suggests
January 20, 2012
Gut feelings may trump good old-fashioned facts, and even religious beliefs, when it comes to accepting the theory of evolution, new research suggests.

"The whole idea behind acceptance of evolution has been the assumption that if people understood it, if they really knew it, they would see the logic and accept it," study co-author David Haury, an associate professor of education at Ohio State University, said in a statement.

But, he noted, research on the matter has been inconsistent. While one study would find a strong relationship between knowledge level and acceptance, another would not. Likewise, studies have contradicted each other on the relationship between religious identity and acceptance of evolution, he said.
N.Y. Times: New Definition of Autism Will Exclude Many, Study Suggests
Published: January 19, 2012
Proposed changes in the definition of autism would sharply reduce the skyrocketing rate at which the disorder is diagnosed and might make it harder for many people who would no longer meet the criteria to get health, educational and social services, a new analysis suggests.

The definition is now being reassessed by an expert panel appointed by the American Psychiatric Association, which is completing work on the fifth edition of its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, the first major revision in 17 years. The D.S.M., as the manual is known, is the standard reference for mental disorders, driving research, treatment and insurance decisions. Most experts expect that the new manual will narrow the criteria for autism; the question is how sharply.

The results of the new analysis are preliminary, but they offer the most drastic estimate of how tightening the criteria for autism could affect the rate of diagnosis. For years, many experts have privately contended that the vagueness of the current criteria for autism and related disorders like Asperger syndrome was contributing to the increase in the rate of diagnoses — which has ballooned to one child in 100, according to some estimates.
Commentary in Experts Consider Changing the Definition of Autism.

LiveScience: New US Wildlife Refuge Established in Florida
Remy Melina, LiveScience Staff Writer
Date: 19 January 2012 Time: 11:05 AM ET
The first parcel of land has been put aside for a new wildlife refuge to protect one of the last remaining grassland and savanna landscapes in eastern North America.

Government officials accepted a donation of land in south-central Florida as part of the Everglades Headwaters National Wildlife Refuge and Conservation Area effort.

Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar accepted the 10-acre (4-hectare) donation, which will make up the 556th unit of the National Wildlife Refuge System. The new addition to the system comes as part of the Obama administration's America’s Great Outdoors initiative.
LiveScience: Mutant Bird Flu Researchers Offer to Suspend Work
Wynne Parry, LiveScience Senior Writer
Date: 20 January 2012 Time: 02:04 PM ET
Controversy surrounding research on highly transmissible bird flu has prompted scientists, including those who altered bird flu viruses so they could spread between mammals, to call for a 60-day hiatus on the work to allow for discussion.

"We recognize that we and the rest of the scientific community need to clearly explain the benefits of this important research and the measures taken to minimize its possible risks," write about 40 scientists.

"We propose to do so in an international forum in which the scientific community comes together to discuss and debate these issues," they write in a letter released by the journals Science and Nature today, Jan. 20.

Economy, including technology

Brigham Young University via Hydrogen peroxide goes green in undergrad's published paper on renewable energy
January 20, 2012
Most of us know hydrogen peroxide as a way to bleach hair, but MacKenzie Mayo is using it to help turn yard waste into renewable energy.

A chemistry major, MacKenzie applies hydrogen peroxide to algae, sawdust and grass clippings so that they can be more easily converted to biofuels like natural gas. She’s the lead author of an academic journal article on the topic.

What’s more, the hydrogen peroxide changes to water in the process.
LiveScience: Could the Internet Ever Be Destroyed?
Natalie Wolchover, Life's Little Mysteries Staff Writer
Date: 20 January 2012 Time: 09:09 AM ET
The raging battle over SOPA and PIPA, the proposed anti-piracy laws, is looking more and more likely to end in favor of Internet freedom — but it won't be the last battle of its kind. Although, ethereal as it is, the Internet seems destined to survive in some form or another, experts warn that there are many threats to its status quo existence, and there is much about it that could be ruined or lost.
And that's it for last week's news!

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