Roundup of missed stories – August 26, 2015

Too many things to do at work this last week, so much so that I missed writing/blogging on a bunch of articles and papers that in other circumstances I’d have loved to discuss. Here they are, rounded up in the chance that you might find one of them interesting and consider taking the debate surrounding it to a larger audience.

  1. Something at the Milky Way’s centre survived an encounter with a black hole – “The G2 cloud in our Galaxy’s core has survived an encounter with the central black hole and failed to trigger a major flare-up in the black hole’s activity. A promising theory endeavours to explain the cloud’s nature.”
  2. What does the way Amazon supposedly treats its employees speak about the future of employment in the tech. industry? – “Bezos’s statement was promptly satirized in a hilarious piece by Andy Borowitz, which you really must read. Borowitz’s conceit is that Amazon mandates that anyone who is not acting compassionately to their fellow employees will be fired the next day. And then there is a thoughtful piece at Pando, which insists that we will soon be forced to choose between the hard-charging culture of the tech industry and the more humanistic values that we may privately prefer. I don’t know if we have to choose — I don’t know if we have a choice — but the point is well taken: At what point do we stand up and say, We don’t want to live this way?”
  3. Following criticism, PLOS removes blog defending scrutiny of science -Although the tools we use to ensure transparency can be abused, that’s a necessary risk, note Seife and Thacker:

    “To be sure, the same mechanisms that watchdogs use to uncover scientific wrongdoing have been abused in the past. Climate scientist Michael Mann, for instance, was subject to invasive and harassing requests for information via freedom of information laws, via judicial-branch powers, and via congressional requests. No doubt they will be abused in the future.

    But transparency laws remain a fundamental tool for monitoring possible scientific misbehavior. And it would be a mistake to believe that scientists should not be subject to a high level of outside scrutiny. So long as scientists receive government money, they are subject to government oversight; so long as their work affects the public, journalists and other watchdogs are simply doing their jobs when they seek out possible misconduct and questionable practices that could threaten the public interest.”

  4. A double-blind randomized clinical trial on the efficacy of magnetic sacral root stimulation for the treatment of Monosymptomatic Nocturnal Enuresis [bed-wetting] – “Both treatment and control groups were comparable for baseline measures of frequency of enuresis, and VAS. The mean number of wet nights/week was significantly reduced in patients who received real rSMS. This improvement was maintained 1 month after the end of treatment. Patients receiving real-rSMS also reported an improvement in VAS ratings and quality of life. A significant reduction of resting motor threshold was recorded after rSMS in the real group while no such changes were observed in the sham group.”
  5. Death metal in ancient oceans – “About 420 million years ago, near the end of the so-called Silurian period, the last of a series of mass extinctions struck the world’s oceans. Some scientists have suggested these die-offs were caused by worldwide cold spells. But a new study hints that the extinctions—which mostly affected corals, colonymaking creatures called graptolites, and eel-like creatures called conodonts—may have instead been caused by changes in ocean chemistry, including reduced oxygen and elevated concentrations of toxic metals dissolved in the seawater.”
  6. A new player in the well-contested field of atomic microscopy – “We introduce a scanning probe technique that enables three-dimensional imaging of local electrostatic potential fields with subnanometer resolution. Registering single electron charging events of a molecular quantum dot attached to the tip of an atomic force microscope operated at 5 K, equipped with a qPlus tuning fork, we image the quadrupole field of a single molecule. To demonstrate quantitative measurements, we investigate the dipole field of a single metal atom adsorbed on a metal surface.”
  7. Do we have the fusion reactor we need? Or is this another one of those premature promises? – “A privately funded company called Tri Alpha Energy has built a machine that forms a ball of superheated gas—at about 10 million degrees Celsius—and holds it steady for 5 milliseconds without decaying away. That may seem a mere blink of an eye, but it is far longer than other efforts with the technique and shows for the first time that it is possible to hold the gas in a steady state—the researchers stopped only when their machine ran out of juice.”
  8. Is it better to stay in the dark about our own genetic secrets? – “If you have a terminal illness that’s completely untreatable, you might genuinely be happier living your last months in ignorance. A diagnosis might allow you to seek treatment giving you an extra month of life, but if that extra month is riddled with fear and sadness, it might not be worth it. In these cases, it seems like ignorance really might be preferable.”

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