China

China's Scientists Set New International Record -- For Faked Peer Reviews (nytimes.com) 73

China now has more laboratory scientists than any other country in the world, reports Amy Qin in the New York Times, and spends more on research than the entire European Union. But in its rush to dominance, China has stood out in another, less boastful way. Since 2012, the country has retracted more scientific papers because of faked peer reviews than all other countries and territories put together, according to Retraction Watch, a blog that tracks and seeks to publicize retractions of research papers... In April, a scientific journal retracted 107 biology research papers, the vast majority of them written by Chinese authors, after evidence emerged that they had faked glowing reviews of their articles. Then, this summer, a Chinese gene scientist who had won celebrity status for breakthroughs once trumpeted as Nobel Prize-worthy was forced to retract his research when other scientists failed to replicate his results. At the same time, a government investigation highlighted the existence of a thriving online black market that sells everything from positive peer reviews to entire research articles...

In part, these numbers may simply reflect the enormous scale of the world's most populous nation. But Chinese scientists also blame what they call the skewed incentives they say are embedded within their nation's academic system.

Biotech

Scientists Selectively Trigger Suicide In Cancer Cells (scitechdaily.com) 47

Long-time Slashdot reader Baron_Yam quotes SciTechDaily: A team of researchers at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine reveals the first compound that directly makes cancer cells commit suicide while sparing healthy cells. The new treatment approach was directed against acute myeloid leukemia (AML) cells but may also have potential for attacking other types of cancers.... AML accounts for nearly one-third of all new leukemia cases and kills more than 10,000 Americans each year. The survival rate for patients has remained at about 30 percent for several decades, so better treatments are urgently needed.
The team's computer screened a million compounds to determine the 500 most likely to bind to the "executioner protein" in cells. They then synthesized them all in their lab and evaluated their effectiveness.
Medicine

Magic Mushrooms 'Reboot' Brain In Depressed People, Study Suggests (theguardian.com) 133

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Guardian: Magic mushrooms may effectively "reset" the activity of key brain circuits known to play a role in depression, the latest study to highlight the therapeutic benefits of psychedelics suggests. Psychedelics have shown promising results in the treatment of depression and addictions in a number of clinical trials over the last decade. Imperial College London researchers used psilocybin -- the psychoactive compound that occurs naturally in magic mushrooms -- to treat a small number of patients with depression, monitoring their brain function, before and after. Images of patients' brains revealed changes in brain activity that were associated with marked and lasting reductions in depressive symptoms and participants in the trial reported benefits lasting up to five weeks after treatment.

Dr Robin Carhart-Harris, head of psychedelic research at Imperial, who led the study, said: "We have shown for the first time clear changes in brain activity in depressed people treated with psilocybin after failing to respond to conventional treatments. Several of our patients described feeling 'reset' after the treatment and often used computer analogies. For example, one said he felt like his brain had been 'defragged' like a computer hard drive, and another said he felt 'rebooted.' Psilocybin may be giving these individuals the temporary 'kick start' they need to break out of their depressive states and these imaging results do tentatively support a 'reset' analogy. Similar brain effects to these have been seen with electroconvulsive therapy." The study has been published in Scientific Reports.

Government

FDA Advisers Endorse Gene Therapy To Treat Form of Blindness (cbsnews.com) 14

An anonymous reader quotes a report from CBS News: A panel of U.S. health advisers has endorsed an experimental approach to treating inherited blindness, setting the stage for the likely approval of an innovative new genetic medicine. A panel of experts to the Food and Drug Administration voted unanimously in favor of Spark Therapeutics' injectable therapy, which aims to improve vision in patients with a rare mutation that gradually destroys normal vision. The vote amounts to a recommendation to approve the therapy. According to Spark Therapeutics' website, inherited retinal diseases are a group of rare blinding conditions caused by one of more than 220 genes. Some living with these diseases experience a gradual loss of vision, while others may be born without the ability to see or lose their vision in infancy or early childhood. Genetic testing is the only way to verify the exact gene mutation that is the underlying cause of the disease.
Sci-Fi

Why Is 'Blade Runner' the Title of 'Blade Runner'? (vulture.com) 220

Why is Blade Runner called Blade Runner? Though the viewer is told in the opening text of Ridley Scott's 1982 original that "special Blade Runner units" hunt renegade replicants -- and though the term "Blade Runner" is applied to Harrison Ford's Rick Deckard a few times in the film -- we're never given an explanation of where the proper noun comes from. The novel upon which Blade Runner was based, Philip K. Dick's Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, offers no clues either.
Advertising

Ask Slashdot: Is Deliberately Misleading People On the Internet Free Speech? 503

Slashdot reader dryriver writes: Before anyone cries "free speech must always be free," let me qualify the question. Under a myriad of different internet sites and blogs are these click-through adverts that promise quick "miracle cures" for everything from toenail fungus to hair loss to tinnitus to age-related skin wrinkles to cancer. A lot of the ads begin with copy that reads "This one weird trick cures....." Most of the "cures" on offer are complete and utter crap designed to lift a few dollars from the credit cards of hundreds of thousands of gullible internet users. The IQ boosting pills that supposedly give you "amazing mental focus after just 2 weeks" don't work at all. Neither do any of the anti-ageing or anti-wrinkle creams, regardless of which "miracle berry" extract they put in them this year. And if you try to cure your cancer with an Internet remedy rather than seeing a doctor, you may actually wind up dead.

So the question -- is peddling this stuff online really "free speech"? You are promising something grandiose in exchange for hard cash that you know doesn't deliver any benefits at all.

Long-time Slashdot reader apraetor counters, "But how do you determine what is 'true'?" And Slashdot reader ToTheStars argues "It's already established that making claims about medicine is subject to scrutiny by the FDA (or the relevant authority in your jurisdiction)." But are other things the equivalent of yelling "fire" in a crowded movie theatre? Leave your best thoughts in the comments. Is deliberately misleading people on the internet free speech?
Science

Why Is There No Nobel Prize In Technology? (qz.com) 148

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Quartz: As the world focuses its attention on this year's recipients of the planet's most prestigious prize, the Nobel, it feels like something's missing from the list: technology. Swedish inventor Alfred Nobel established the prizes more than century ago with the instruction that his entire estate be used to endow "prizes to those who, during the preceding year, shall have conferred the greatest benefit to mankind." The categories laid out in his will -- physics, chemistry, physiology or medicine, and peace -- have remained the basis of the awards, and a prize for economics was added in 1968. So, what gives? Why only those five original fields? Nobel didn't say, revealing only that he made his choices "after mature deliberation."

One way of looking at it is that when he was designing his categories, he wanted the prizes to only reflect advances in fundamental science. In this view, "lesser" sciences such as biology, geology, or computer science -- or technology-driven fields such as engineering or robotics -- don't qualify. As genome-sequencing pioneer Eric Lander once said, "You don't get a Nobel Prize for turning a crank." But what then of literature and peace, or the newer prize for economics (an applied science at best, and a pseudoscience at worst)? Technology isn't the only field to get the cold shoulder. Mathematics -- the international language, the foundation of so many scientific pursuits, and arguably the most fundamental theoretical discipline of all -- doesn't have a Nobel Prize, either. Mathematicians have complained about this for decades. One story suggests that Nobel disliked the Finnish mathematician Rolf Nevanlinna, and assumed that he would be the first winner of the mathematics prize, if he decided to award one. Alternatively, math undergraduates are often told that Nobel was jealous of a Swedish mathematician who had an affair with his wife (though this story is ruined by the fact that Nobel didn't actually have a wife).

Medicine

Over Half of New Cancer Drugs 'Show No Benefits' For Survival Or Wellbeing (theguardian.com) 123

New research published in the British Medical Journal finds that most cancer drugs that have recently arrived on the market have come with little evidence that they boost the survival or wellbeing of patients. The Guardian reports: Forty-eight cancer drugs were approved by the European Medicines Agency between 2009 and 2013 for use as treatments in 68 different situations. But the study, which looked at the clinical trials associated with the drugs, reveals that at the time the therapies became available there was no conclusive evidence that they improved survival in almost two-thirds of the situations for which they were approved. In only 10% of the uses did the drugs improve quality of life. Overall 57% of uses showed no benefits for either survival or quality of life. The team then looked to see whether the picture improved over time. The team found that after a follow-up period of between three to eight years, 49% of approved uses were linked to no clear sign of improvement in survival or quality of life. Where survival benefits were shown, the team said these were clinically meaningless in almost half of the cases.
Medicine

Expert Says You're Deluding Yourself If You Think You're Productive On Six Hours of Sleep (chicagotribune.com) 223

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Chicago Tribune: Getting through the workday on little sleep is a point of pride for some. But skimping on shuteye could be shortening your life and making you a less than stellar employee, according to Matthew Walker, founder and director of the Center for Human Sleep Science at the University of California, Berkeley. "Underslept employees tend to create fewer novel solutions to problems, they're less productive in their work and they take on easier challenges at work," said Walker, author of "Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams," out Tuesday. Operating on short sleep -- anything less than seven hours -- impairs a host of brain and bodily functions, said Walker, who is also a professor of neuroscience and psychology. It increases your risk for heart attack, cancer and stroke, compromises your immune system and makes you emotionally irrational, less charismatic and more prone to lying. When asked, "What do you say to people who sacrifice sleep to work?" Walker said: "I often ask the question in return, 'Is the reason you've still got so much to do because you haven't gotten enough sleep and so you're inefficient while you're working?' We know that efficiency and effectiveness are increased when you're getting sufficient sleep and it will take you longer to do the same thing on an under-slept brain, which means you end up having to stay awake longer. So goes the vicious cycle."
Science

The Absurdity of the Nobel Prizes in Science (theatlantic.com) 186

An anonymous reader shares an article: Every year, when Nobel Prizes are awarded in physics, chemistry, and physiology or medicine, critics note that they are an absurd and anachronistic way of recognizing scientists for their work. Instead of honoring science, they distort its nature, rewrite its history, and overlook many of its important contributors. There are assuredly good things about the prizes. Scientific discoveries should be recognized for the vital part they play in the human enterprise. The Nobel Prize website is an educational treasure trove, full of rich historical details that are largely missing from published papers. And it is churlish to be overly cynical about any event that, year after year, offers science the same kind of whetted anticipation that's usually reserved for Oscar or Emmy nominees. But the fact that the scientific Nobels have drawn controversy since their very inception hints at deep-rooted problems. [...] The wider problem, beyond who should have received the prize and who should not, is that the Nobels reward individuals -- three at most, for each of the scientific prizes, in any given year. And modern science, as Ivan Oransky and Adam Marcus write in Stat, is "the teamiest of team sports." Yes, researchers sometimes make solo breakthroughs, but that's increasingly rare. Even within a single research group, a platoon of postdocs, students, and technicians will typically be involved in a discovery that gets hitched to a single investigator's name. And more often than not, many groups collaborate on a single project. The paper in which the LIGO team announced their discovery has an author list that runs to three pages. Another recent paper, which precisely estimated the mass of the elusive Higgs boson, has 5,154 authors.
Science

When You Split the Brain, Do You Split the Person? (aeon.co) 124

An anonymous reader shares an article: The brain is perhaps the most complex machine in the Universe. It consists of two cerebral hemispheres, each with many different modules. Fortunately, all these separate parts are not autonomous agents. They are highly interconnected, all working in harmony to create one unique being: you. But what would happen if we destroyed this harmony? What if some modules start operating independently from the rest? Interestingly, this is not just a thought experiment; for some people, it is reality. In so-called 'split-brain' patients, the corpus callosum -- the highway for communication between the left and the right cerebral hemispheres -- is surgically severed to halt otherwise intractable epilepsy. [...] What, then, happens to the person? If the parts are no longer synchronised, does the brain still produce one person? The neuroscientists Roger Sperry and Michael Gazzaniga set out to investigate this issue in the 1960s and '70s, and found astonishing data suggesting that when you split the brain, you split the person as well. Sperry won the Nobel prize in medicine for his split-brain work in 1981. [...] Case closed? Not to me. [...] To try to get to the bottom of things, my team at the University of Amsterdam re-visited this fundamental issue by testing two split-brain patients, evaluating whether they could respond accurately to objects in the left visual field (perceived by the right brain) while also responding verbally or with the right hand (controlled by the left brain). Astonishingly, in these two patients, we found something completely different than Sperry and Gazzaniga before us. Both patients showed full awareness of presence and location of stimuli throughout the entire visual field -- right and left, both.
Medicine

Nobel Prize For Medicine Awarded For Insights Into Internal Biological Clock 36

Dave Knott quotes a report from The Guardian: The Nobel prize in physiology or medicine has been awarded to a trio of American scientists for their discoveries on the molecular mechanisms controlling circadian rhythms -- in other words, the 24-hour body clock. According to the Nobel committee's citation, the researchers were recognized for their discoveries explaining "how plants, animals and humans adapt their biological rhythm so that it is synchronized with the Earth's revolutions." The team identified a gene within fruit flies that controls the creatures' daily rhythm, known as the "period" gene. This gene encodes a protein within the cell during the night which then degrades during the day. When there is a mismatch between this internal "clock" and the external surroundings, it can affect the organism's wellbeing -- for example, in humans, when we experience jet lag. All three winners are from the U.S. Jeffrey C Hall, 72, has retired but spent the majority of his career at Brandeis University in Waltham, Massachusetts, where fellow laureate Michael Rosbash, 73, is still a faculty member. Michael W Young, 68, works at Rockefeller University in New York.

Hall and Rosbash then went on to unpick how the body clock actually works, revealing that the levels of protein encoded by the period gene rise and fall throughout the day in a negative feedback loop. Young, meanwhile, discovered a second gene involved in the system, dubbed "timeless," that was critical to this process. Only when the proteins produced from the period gene combined with those from the timeless gene could they enter the cell's nucleus and halt further activity of the period gene. Young also discovered the gene that controlled the frequency of this cycle.
Cellphones

Can An Individual Still Resist The Spread of Technology? (chicagotribune.com) 383

schwit1 shares a column from the Chicago Tribune: When cellphones first appeared, they gave people one more means of communication, which they could accept or reject. But before long, most of us began to feel naked and panicky anytime we left home without one. To do without a cellphone -- and soon, if not already, a smartphone -- means estranging oneself from normal society. We went from "you can have a portable communication device" to "you must have a portable communication device" practically overnight... Today most people are expected to be instantly reachable at all times. These devices have gone from servants to masters...

Few of us would be willing to give up modern shelter, food, clothing, medicine, entertainment or transportation. Most of us would say the trade-offs are more than worth it. But they happen whether they are worth it or not, and the individual has little power to resist. Technological innovation is a one-way street. Once you enter it, you are obligated to proceed, even if it leads someplace you would not have chosen to go.

The column argues "the iPhone X proves the Unabomber was right," citing this passage from the 1996 manifesto of the anti-technology terrorist. "Once a technical innovation has been introduced, people usually become dependent on it, so that they can never again do without it, unless it is replaced by some still more advanced innovation. Not only do people become dependent as individuals on a new item of technology, but, even more, the system as a whole becomes dependent on it."
Education

2017 'Ig Nobel' Prizes Recognize Funny Research On Cats, Crocodiles, and Cheese (improbable.com) 20

An anonymous reader writes: "The 27th First Annual Ig Nobel Prize Ceremony" happened Thursday at Harvard's Sanders theatre, recognizing real (but unusual) research papers from all over the world "that make people laugh, then think." This year's prize in the physics category went to Marc-Antoine Fardin, who used fluid dynamics to probe the question "Can a cat be both a solid and a liquid?"

Six prize-winning Swiss researchers also demonstrated that regular playing of a didgeridoo is an effective treatment for obstructive sleep apnoea and snoring, while two Australians tested how contact with a live crocodile affects a person's willingness to gamble. And five French researchers won the medicine prize for their use of advanced brain-scanning technology to investigate "the neural basis of disugst for cheese."

You can watch the ceremony online -- and Reuters got an interesting quote from the editor of the Annals of Improbable Research, who founded the awards ceremony 27 years ago. "We hope that this will get people back into the habits they probably had when they were kids of paying attention to odd things and holding out for a moment and deciding whether they are good or bad only after they have a chance to think."
Medicine

Moving Every Half Hour Could Help Limit Effects of Sedentary Lifestyle, Says Study (theguardian.com) 98

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Guardian: Moving your body at least every half an hour could help to limit the harmful effects of desk jobs and other sedentary lifestyles, research has revealed. The study found that both greater overall time spent inactive in a day, and longer periods of inactivity were linked to an increased risk of death. Writing in the journal the Annals of Internal Medicine, Diaz and colleagues from seven U.S. institutions describe how they kitted out nearly 8,000 individuals aged 45 or over from across the U.S. with activity trackers between 2009 and 2013. Each participant wore the fitness tracker for at least four days during a period of one week, with deaths of participants tracked until September 2015. The results reveal that, on average, participants were inactive for 12.3 hours of a 16 hour waking day, with each period of inactivity lasting an average of 11.4 minutes. After taking into account a host of factors including age, sex, education, smoking and high blood pressure, the team found that both the overall length of daily inactivity and the length of each bout of sedentary behavior were linked to changes in the risk of death from any cause. The associations held even among participants undertaking moderate to vigorous physical activity.

Those who were inactive for 13.2 hours a day had a risk of death 2.6 times that of those spending less than 11.5 hours a day inactive, while those whose bouts of inactivity lasted on average 12.4 minutes or more had a risk of death almost twice that of those who were inactive for an average of less than 7.7 minutes at a time. The team then looked at the interaction between the two measures of inactivity, finding the risk of death was greater for those who had both high overall levels of inactivity (12.5 hours a day or more) and long average bouts of sedentary behavior (10 minutes or more), than for those who had high levels of just one of the measures.

United States

Stanford Study Finds New Dads In US Are Older Than Ever (mercurynews.com) 191

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Mercury News: American fathers keep getting older, raising the prospect of increased birth defects but also greater economic and emotional security for U.S. families, according to new research from Stanford University's School of Medicine. The average age of the fathers of newborns in the United States has climbed by 3.5 years over the past four decades, growing from 27.4 years in 1972 to 30.9 years in 2015, said the study -- the nation's most detailed analysis ever of paternal age. The number of newborns whose fathers were over age 40 has more than doubled over the past four decades. Those births now make up nearly 9 percent of births in the U.S., Dr. Michael Eisenberg and Yash Khandwala reported in the journal Human Reproduction. The share of fathers who were over age 50 rose from 0.5 percent to 0.9 percent. Asian-American fathers -- men of Japanese and Vietnamese descent, in particular -- are the oldest, becoming fathers at the average age of 36 years, the study said. Black and Hispanic men are the youngest fathers -- age 30.4 and 30, respectively. White men, on average, have children at age 31. Paternal age rose with educational attainment. The typical newborn's father with a college degree is 33.3 years old -- compared with 29.8 years for high school graduates.
Medicine

FDA Approves First Cell-Based Therapy For Cancer (npr.org) 63

An anonymous reader quotes a report from NPR: The Food and Drug Administration on Wednesday announced what the agency calls a "historic action" -- the first approval of a cell-based gene therapy in the United States. The FDA approved Kymriah, which scientists refer to as a "living drug" because it involves using genetically modified immune cells from patients to attack their cancer. The drug was approved to treat children and young adults suffering from acute lymphoblastic leukemia, a cancer of blood and bone marrow that is the most common childhood cancer in the United States. About 3,100 patients who are 20 and younger are diagnosed with ALL each year. The treatment involves removing immune system cells known as T cells from each patient and genetically modifying the cells in the laboratory to attack and kill leukemia cells. The genetically modified cells are then infused back into patients. It's also known as CAR-T cell therapy.

The treatment, which is also called CTL109, produced remission within three months in 83 percent of 63 pediatric and young adult patients. The patients had failed to respond to standard treatments or had suffered relapses. Based on those results, an FDA advisory panel recommended the approval in July. The treatment does carry risks, however, including a dangerous overreaction by the immune system known as cytokine-release syndrome. As a result, the FDA is requiring strong warnings.

Science

Tiny Robots Crawl Through Mouse's Stomach To Release Antibiotics (newscientist.com) 15

Tiny robotic drug deliveries could soon be treating diseases inside your body. For the first time, micromotors -- autonomous vehicles the width of a human hair -- have cured bacterial infections in the stomachs of mice, using bubbles to power the transport of antibiotics. From a report: "The movement itself improves the retention of antibiotics on the stomach lining where the bacteria are concentrated," says Joseph Wang at the University of California San Diego, who led the research with Liangfang Zhang. In mice with bacterial stomach infections, the team used the micromotors to administer a dose of antibiotics daily for five days. At the end of the treatment, they found their approach was more effective than regular doses of medicine. The tiny vehicles consist of a spherical magnesium core coated with several different layers that offer protection, treatment, and the ability to stick to stomach walls. After they are swallowed, the magnesium cores react with gastric acid to produce a stream of hydrogen bubbles that propel the motors around. This process briefly reduces acidity in the stomach. The antibiotic layer of the micromotor is sensitive to the surrounding acidity, and when this is lowered, the antibiotics are released.
Medicine

Vitamin B3 Supplement Can Prevent Miscarriages and Birth Defects, Says Study (news.com.au) 39

brindafella writes: The landmark finding about vitamin B3, made by the Victor Chang Institute in Sydney, Australia, has been described as "the most important discovery for pregnant women since folate." The study has been published in the New England Journal of Medicine. From News.com.au: "The historic discovery, believed to be among Australia's greatest ever medical achievements, is expected to forever change the way pregnant women are cared for around the globe. Every year 7.9 million babies are born with a birth defect worldwide and one in four pregnant women suffer a miscarriage in Australia. In the vast majority of cases the cause of these problems has remained a mystery. Until now. Professor Sally Dunwoodie from the Victor Chang Institute has identified a major cause of miscarriages as well as heart, spinal, kidney and cleft palate problems in newborn babies. The landmark study found that a deficiency in a vital molecule, known as NAD, prevents a baby's organs from developing correctly in the womb. Nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide (NAD) is one of the most important molecules in all living cells. NAD synthesis is essential for energy production, DNA repair and cell communication. Disrupting its production causes a NAD deficiency. The Victor Chang researchers have found this deficiency is particularly harmful during a pregnancy as it cripples an embryo when it is forming. At the heart of the paramount discovery is the dietary supplement vitamin B3, also known as niacin. Scientists at the Victor Chang Institute have discovered how to prevent miscarriages and birth defects by simply boosting levels of the nutrient during pregnancy."
Education

Vermont Medical School Says Goodbye To Lectures (npr.org) 116

The University of Vermont's Larner College of Medicine has begun phasing out lectures in favor of what's known as "active learning" and plans to be done with lectures altogether by 2019. NPR spoke with William Jeffries, a dean at the school who's leading the effort, about the thinking behind this move. From the report: Why are lectures bad? Well, I wouldn't say that they're bad. The issue is that there is a lot of evidence that lectures are not the best way to accumulate the skills needed to become a scientist or a physician. We've seen much evidence in the literature, accumulated in the last decade, that shows that when you do a comparison between lectures and other methods of learning -- typically called "active learning" methods -- that lectures are not as efficient or not as successful in allowing students to accumulate knowledge in the same amount of time.

Give us an example of a topic taught in a traditional lecture versus an "active learning" setting. A good example would be the teaching of what we would call pharmacokinetics -- the science of drug delivery. So, how does a drug get to the target organ or targeted receptor? A lot of the science of pharmacokinetics is simply mathematical equations. If you have a lecture, it's simply presenting those equations and maybe giving examples of how they work. In an active learning setting, you expect the students to learn about the equations before they get there. And when you get into the classroom setting, the students work in groups solving pharmacokinetic problems. Cases are presented where the patient gets a drug in a certain dose at a certain time, and you're looking at the action of that over time and the concentration of the drug in the blood. So, those are the types of things where you're expecting the student to know the knowledge in order to use the knowledge. And then they don't forget it.

Slashdot Top Deals