Our final frontier is also our final dumping grounds
By Matt RansfordPosted 04.21.2008 at 6:24 am 1 Comment
There is a scene in Dances with Wolves after Costner's character has arrived at the deserted Dakota base in which he discovers the company's garbage pile. He gives it a disappointing, scrutinizing look as he recognizes it's another harbinger of what is to come for the plains and its people. Fast forward 150 years to a different kind of frontier: space, in near-Earth orbit. There, we find a similar garbage pile, only this one is traveling at 30,000 miles per hour and threatens all the satellites and telescopes and space stations floating about.
Do the tons of human-provided feed available warp birds' ecosystems
By Matt RansfordPosted 04.21.2008 at 6:02 am 2 Comments
If you feed the neighborhood stray cat, he'll keep coming back. He'll remember your house as an easy source of food and won't have to scavenge for as much garbage or chase down as many field mice. The same thing obviously applies to birds and bird feeders, just on a much larger scale. At that point—when hundreds of thousands, even millions of feeders are involved—what kind of effect does the feeding have on the animals' natural ecosystem? That's the question Gillian Robb and her team at Queen's University Belfast in the U.K. set out to answer through an experiment of their own and a review of the existing literature.
A new type of plastic made from corn starch could solve some of the material's most egregious crimes
By Matt RansfordPosted 04.18.2008 at 12:41 am 10 Comments
On the heels of our reporting about Canada's probable move to ban BPA plastics comes a story about researchers working at Missouri University of Science and Technology to develop hybrid plastics that would biodegrade in landfills within four months. As our editor Nicole Dyer pointed out in a comment to the BPA post, the larger and more important issue facing plastics is their propensity to stick around forever.
A new theory assigns values to our scant chance of existing. So what does this mean in the search for alien life?
By Matt RansfordPosted 04.18.2008 at 12:06 am 13 Comments
We've talked in this space in the past few months about detecting the existence of Earth-like planets in other solar systems, and on the educated guesswork which goes into putting a number on the probability of intelligent life existing out there as well. You may remember that the discovery of terrestrial planets is well on its way as technology improves; and that the Drake equation—with all its assumptions—has proved to be remarkably accurate.
A rapidly executed reversal of one man's wrongful imprisonment demonstrates the the power of a wide net
By Matt RansfordPosted 04.17.2008 at 10:28 am 1 Comment
Twitter has had its share of bad press lately, namely that it was all but unusable for weeks last year due to an overwhelming server load. This week, however, things are looking up for the messaging service. Not only have their tubes been clog-free, but something happened to one of its members that illuminated just what it is Twitter may be good for (something more than a few people have been trying to figure out): letting people know when youre headed to jail.
A new study suggests fat itself breeds a well-known appetite-stimulating hormone
By Matt RansfordPosted 04.17.2008 at 9:47 am 3 Comments
As if fast food and TV werent enough to make and keep us fat, a new study from the University of Western Ontario has found that our fat may also be making us fat. Neuropeptide Y (NPY) is an appetite-stimulating hormone produced by our brains, which is responsible for a lot of our drive to eat. Scientists had previously thought that overweight people simply had more NPY flowing from their heads than they needed. As it turns out, the UWO study found that not only do our brains produce NPY, but our abdominal fat makes it as well.
The Canadian government is poised to declare everyone's favorite water bottle a health threat
By Matt RansfordPosted 04.17.2008 at 9:34 am 3 Comments
Theres been a lot of talk recently about bisphenol A, or BPA, which is most commonly found in polycarbonate plastics. These are the plastics used in baby bottles and Nalgenes, the kind that are rigid and unlikely to break when dropped. BPA has been found to disrupt the processes of the endocrine system in animals, but it is still unclear what, if any, the effect on humans is. Still, the news today is that the Canadian government is poised to declare the chemical as toxic when used in food and water containers because it leeches out into its containers contents.
Scientists gain new understanding of how plants' self-defending toxins could become humans' substances of choice
By Matt RansfordPosted 04.17.2008 at 9:10 am 6 Comments
Our most popular and addictive drugs come from plant toxins; caffeine, tobacco, cannabis, cocaine, heroin, are all derived from what are supposed to be poisons. These toxins were developed by plants to ward off herbivores who would otherwise eat them. So why is it that we not only tolerate them, but have found ourselves in a position of craving them, sometimes desperately? It is a paradox at which researchers are taking a fresh look.
Scientists find the sex-for-resources trade so well documented in other animals is no less prevalent amongst our species
By Matt RansfordPosted 04.16.2008 at 11:19 am 2 Comments
Advertising agencies live by the aphorism that sex sells because it's one of the most basic, driving forces in our lives. Getting it, however, is a different matter altogether. In the animal kingdom, males and females of many species are known to trade resources for sex. Humans are no different. In the most basic terms, men can be said to offer protection to females, while females offer the promise of offspring to the males (we're talking caveman mentality here; let's leave the modern societal norms aside for a moment).
Scientists discover entirely disparate regions of the brain cause dyslexia in different languages
By Matt RansfordPosted 04.16.2008 at 10:58 am 2 Comments
Last month, we looked at the ways in which language is tied to our perception of color. As it turns out, our understanding of color varies depending on which language we use to represent it. Now, new research from the University of Hong Kong is demonstrating a similar principle with dyslexia. It is not a disorder which manifests itself in the same way in every child. Instead, the research has shown that it appears in a different region of the brain depending on whether someone is a native English or Chinese speaker.