Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Did Earth once have multiple moons?

The Moon may once have had siblings (Image: NASA)
The Moon may once have had siblings (Image: NASA)

The ancient catastrophe that gave birth to the Moon may have produced additional satellites that lingered in Earth's skies for tens of millions of years.

A new model suggests moonlets may have once occupied the two Earth-Moon Lagrangian points, regions in space where the gravitational tug of the Earth and the Moon exactly cancel each other out. Objects trapped in these points are called Trojans and can remain stationary forever if left undisturbed.

Scientists think the Moon was created when Earth was struck by a Mars-sized object some 4.5 billion years ago.

"The giant impact that likely led to the formation of the Moon launched a lot of material into Earth orbit, and some could well have been caught in the Lagrangian points," says study team member Jack Lissauer of NASA Ames Research Center in California, US.

Once captured, the Trojan satellites likely remained in their orbits for up to 100 million years, Lissauer and co-author John Chambers of the Carnegie Institution of Washington say. Then, gravitational tugs from the planets would have triggered changes in the Earth's orbit, ultimately causing the moons to become unmoored and drift away or crash into the Moon or Earth.

"The perturbations from the other planets are very, very tiny," Lissauer said. But they change the shape of Earth's orbit, which changes the effect that the Sun's gravity has on the moons. "[That] is what ultimately destabilises the Trojans," Lissauer told New Scientist.

Separate modelling work by Matija Cuk, an astrophysicist at the University of British Columbia in Canada, suggests small, asteroid-sized objects a few tens of kilometres across would have lasted the longest as Trojan satellites. Cuk estimates these 'lost moons' might have circled Earth for a billion years or more after the Moon's formation.

"They would have looked more like Jupiter or Venus in the sky than a satellite," Cuk told New Scientist. "They would have resembled very bright stars."
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Atomic Extremeophiles Thrive Where the Life-Giving Energy of the Sun Never Reaches

Trans_mars_dust_storm_2_2 "Life finds a way." Thanks to a research time involving Princeton, Indiana University, and others, that isn't just a sappy Disney quote - it's an incredible fact. They found extremophile bacteria buried over two miles into solid rock, where the life-giving energy of the sun never reaches - the energy every other species on Earth depends on. Instead they found their own power source - radiation!

The hardy organisms have a unique biology with a very refined palate, consuming the by-products of radioactive breakdown to stay alive. Uranium decay cracks water molecules apart, recombining into peroxide (which you might know as bleach). This combines with fool's gold (pyrite) to release ions, which the cells' specialized metabolism can derive energy from. To summarize: these things sit on uranium, drink bleach and eat solid rock, thereby making every single "Iron Stomach" contest in human history look like a day at the buffet. Hell, these things make Batman look like a daycare attendant.

Don't worry though: monster movies may have taught us that atomic-animals immediately grow to fifty times their normal size and begin eating humans, but these bacteria barely grow to regular size. Their nuclear processes aren't the fountains of energy that our nuclear reactors are, and the subterranean cells grow and divide over a hundred thousand times slower than their surface-borne cousins, dividing only once every three hundred years. It's a pure and simple testament to the power of life, the ability to hang on by the very atomic skin of figurative fingernails for no better reason than just "to be", that they exist at all. Think about that next time you feel hungry.

The discovery of organisms like this has wider implications beyond sheer awesomeness: in the search for extraterrestrial life, is increases the number of possible locations for lifeforms, as well as reminding us not to assume that they'll need what we need. Because if life can exist in perpetually-disinfected nuclear pile, it can exist anywhere.

Posted by Luke McKinney.

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Earth 'noise' could attract alien invaders

The Arecibo telescope in Puerto Rico bounces radio waves off of asteroids (Image: NAIC/Arecibo/NSF) The Arecibo telescope in Puerto Rico bounces radio waves off of asteroids (Image:

No matter how quiet we try to be now it's too late to prevent alien invaders. So says Alexander Zaitsev of the Institute of Radio Engineering and Electronics in Moscow, Russia, who points the finger at astronomers.

For 40 years, astronomers have fired microwaves off objects to chart near-Earth space and track the movement of close asteroids - and these signals are traceable back to us.

By comparison, Zaitsev says, dedicated transmissions - often described as "shouting into an unknown jungle" - are a mere whisper. He calculates the astronomy signals have filled an area of the sky 2000 times greater than dedicated broadcasts have managed to date (

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Plan To Send A Probe To The Sun

Artist's concept of NASA's Solar Probe spacecraft making its daring pass toward the sun, where it will study the forces that create solar wind. The Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Md., will design and build the spacecraft, on a schedule to launch in 2015. Preliminary designs include a 9-foot-diameter, 6-inch-thick, carbon-foam-filled solar shield atop the spacecraft body, and two sets of solar arrays that would retract or extend as the spacecraft swings toward or away from the sun -- making sure the panels stay at proper temperatures and power levels. (Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory)

The Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory is sending a spacecraft closer to the sun than any probe has ever gone – and what it finds could revolutionize what we know about our star and the solar wind that influences everything in our solar system.

NASA has tapped APL to develop the ambitious Solar Probe mission, which will study the streams of charged particles the sun hurls into space from a vantage point within the sun’s corona – its outer atmosphere – where the processes that heat the corona and produce solar wind occur. At closest approach Solar Probe would zip past the sun at 125 miles per second, protected by a carbon-composite heat shield that must withstand up to 2,600 degrees Fahrenheit and survive blasts of radiation and energized dust at levels not experienced by any previous spacecraft.

Experts in the U.S. and abroad have grappled with this mission concept for more than 30 years, running into seemingly insurmountable technology and budgetary limitations. But in February an APL-led team completed a Solar Probe engineering and mission design study at NASA’s request, detailing just how the robotic mission could be accomplished. The study team used an APL-led 2005 study as its baseline, but then significantly altered the concept to meet challenging cost and technical conditions provided by NASA.

“We knew we were on the right track,” says Andrew Dantzler, Solar Probe project manager at APL. “Now we’ve put it all together in an innovative package; the technology is within reach, the concept is feasible and the entire mission can be done for less than $750 million [in fiscal 2007 dollars], or about the cost of a medium-class planetary mission. NASA decided it was time.”

APL will design and build the spacecraft, on a schedule to launch in 2015. The compact, solar-powered probe would weigh about 1,000 pounds; preliminary designs include a 9-foot-diameter, 6-inch-thick, carbon-foam-filled solar shield atop the spacecraft body. Two sets of solar arrays would retract or extend as the spacecraft swings toward or away from the sun during several loops around the inner solar system, making sure the panels stay at proper temperatures and power levels. At its closest passes the spacecraft must survive solar intensity more than 500 times what spacecraft experience while orbiting Earth.

Solar Probe will use seven Venus flybys over nearly seven years to gradually shrink its orbit around the sun, coming as close as 4.1 million miles (6.6 million kilometers) to the sun, well within the orbit of Mercury and about eight times closer than any spacecraft has come before.

Solar Probe will employ a combination of in-place and remote measurements to achieve the mission’s primary scientific goals: determine the structure and dynamics of the magnetic fields at the sources of solar wind; trace the flow of energy that heats the corona and accelerates the solar wind; determine what mechanisms accelerate and transport energetic particles; and explore dusty plasma near the sun and its influence on solar wind and energetic particle formation. Details will be spelled out in a Solar Probe Science and Technology Definition Team study that NASA will release later this year. NASA will also release a separate Announcement of Opportunity for the spacecraft’s science payload.

“Solar Probe is a true mission of exploration,” says Dr. Robert Decker, Solar Probe project scientist at APL. “For example, the spacecraft will go close enough to the sun to watch the solar wind speed up from subsonic to supersonic, and it will fly though the birthplace of the highest energy solar particles. And, as with all missions of discovery, Solar Probe is likely to raise more questions than it answers.”

APL’s experience in developing spacecraft to study the sun-Earth relationship – or to work near the sun – includes ACE, which recently marked its 10th year of sampling energetic particles between Earth and the sun; TIMED, currently examining solar effects on Earth's upper atmosphere; the twin STEREO probes, which have snapped the first 3-D images of explosive solar events called coronal mass ejections; and the Radiation Belt Storm Probes, which will examine the regions of energetic particles trapped by Earth’s magnetic field.

Solar Probe will be fortified with heat-resistant technologies developed for APL’s MESSENGER spacecraft, which completed its first flyby of Mercury in January and will begin orbiting that planet in 2011. Solar Probe’s solar shield concept was partially influenced by designs of MESSENGER’s sunshade.

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5 Psychological Experiments That Prove Humanity is Doomed

Psychologists know you have to be careful when you go poking around the human mind because you're never sure what you'll find there. A number of psychological experiments over the years have yielded terrifying conclusions about the subjects.

Oh, we're not talking about the occasional psychopath who turns up. No, we're talking about you. The experiments speak for themselves:

The Asch Conformity Experiment (1953)

The Setup:
Solomon Asch wanted to run a series of studies that would document the power of conformity, for the purpose of depressing everyone who would ever read the results.

Subjects were told that they would be taking part in a vision test, along with a handful of people. The participants were then shown pictures, and individually asked to answer very simple and obvious questions. The catch was that everybody else in the room other than the subject was in on it, and they were were told to give obviously wrong answers. So would the subject go against the crowd, even when the crowd was clearly and retardedly wrong?

The Result:
Questions the subjects were asked were like the puzzle shown here:

All they had to do was say which line on the right matched the one on the left. As you can see, Asch wasn't exactly asking these people to design the next space station. Really, the only way you could get the line questions honestly wrong is if you took two doses of LSD that morning and rubbed them directly on your eyeballs (which would have made for an even more awesome experiment, but we're getting off the point).

Yet, sadly, 32 percent of subjects would answer incorrectly if they saw that three others in the classroom gave the same wrong answer. Even when the line was plainly off by a few inches, it didn't matter. One in three would follow the group right off the proverbial cliff.

What This Says About You:
Imagine how much that 32 percent figure inflates when the answers are less black and white. We all tend to laugh with the group even when we didn't get the joke, or doubt our opinion we realize ours is unpopular among our group. So much for those lectures you got in elementary school about peer pressure and "being brave enough to be yourself."

"Well, it's a good thing I'm a rebellious non-conformist," many of you are saying. Of course, for virtually all of you, the next step is to find out what the other non-conformists are doing ...

... and make sure you conform to it perfectly.

"Wait, you're right! Surely we must rebel against this mindless herd mentality! Let's all take to the streets!"

The Good Samaritan Experiment (1973)

The Good Samaritan Experiment (1973)

The Setup:
The Biblical story of the Good Samaritan, if you hadn't heard, is about a passing Samaritan helping an injured man in need, while other, self-righteous types walk right on by. Psychologists John Darley and C. Daniel Batson wanted to test if religion has any effect on helpful behavior.

Their subjects were a group of seminary students. Half of the students were given the story of the Good Samaritan and asked to perform a sermon about it in another building. The other half were told to give a sermon about job opportunities in a seminary.

As an extra twist, subjects were given different times that they had to deliver the sermon so that some would be in a hurry and others not.

Then, on the way to the building, subjects would pass a person slumped in an alleyway, who looked to be in need of help. We like to think Darley and Batson beat the crap out of some random dude to make it more realistic, but sources say otherwise.

C. Daniel Batson probably did not beat a homeless dude

The Result:
The people who had been studying the Good Samaritan story did not stop any more often than the ones preparing for a speech on job opportunities. The factor that really seemed to make a difference was how much of a hurry the students were in.

In fact, if pressed for time, only 10 percent would stop to give any aid, even when they were on their way to give a sermon about how awesome it is for people to stop and give aid. Though to be fair, if you were late for a class, did your professor ever accept, "I had to stop and help a wounded traveler" as an excuse? Probably not unless you could produce the guy's blood-stained shirt as evidence.

What This Says About You:
As much as we like to make fun of, say, anti-gay congressmen who get caught gaying it up in a men's bathroom and pointing out Al Gore's resource-hogging mansion ...

... the truth is us common folk are just as likely to be hypocrites as the politicians. After all, it's much easier to talk to a room full of people about helping strangers than, say, actually touching a smelly and bleeding homeless man. So even pointing out their hypocrisy becomes a form of hypocrisy.

And in case you thought these results were just restricted to hypocritical seminary students, turn on the news. Remember a few years ago when cameras captured at least a dozen cars refusing to stop for an injured woman laying in the road?

Just like the students, they all had to be somewhere. The drivers were presumably proud enough of themselves just for swerving to miss her, rather than squishing her like roadkill.

Which brings us to ...

Bystander Apathy Experiment (1968)

The Setup:
When a woman was murdered in 1964, newspapers printed that 38 people had heard and seen the attack, but did nothing. John Darley and Bibb Latane wanted to know if the fact that these people were in a large group played any role in the reluctance to come to aid.

The two psychologists invited volunteers to take part in a discussion. They claimed that because the discussion would be extremely personal (probably asking about the size of their genitals or something) individuals would be separated in different rooms and talk to each other using an intercom.

During the conversation, one of the members would fake an epileptic seizure, which could be heard on the speakers. We're not completely sure how they conveyed over the intercom that what was happening was a seizure, but we're assuming the words "Wow this is quite an epileptic seizure I'm having" were uttered.

The Result:
When subjects believed that they were the only other person in the discussion, 85 percent were heroic enough to leave the room and seek help once the other began the fake seizure. This makes sense. Having an extremely personal conversation (again, presumably about tiny genitalia) with another person is difficult enough, but being forced to continue to carry on the conversation by yourself is just sad. But either way, 85 percent helped. So that's good, right?

Well, they weren't done. When the experiment was altered so that subjects believed four other people were in the discussion, only 31 percent went to look for help once the seizure began. The rest assumed someone else would take care of it. So the phrase, "The more, the merrier" somehow got lost in translation because the correct expression should be, "The more, the higher probability that you will die if you have a seizure."

Anyone can have epilepsy, according to this child's drawing

What This Says About You:
Obviously if there's an emergency and you're the only one around, the pressure to help out increases massively. You feel 100 percent responsible for what happens. But, when you're with 10 other people, you're only 10 percent as responsible. The problem is everybody else only feels 10 percent responsible too.

This sheds some light on our previous examples. Maybe the drivers who swerved around the injured woman in the road would have stopped if they'd been alone on a deserted highway. Then again, maybe they'd be even more likely to abandon her since they know nobody is watching (unlike the people in the experiment, who at least knew there were others around to judge their actions).

Or maybe it comes down to just how plausible an excuse we can make for ourselves. "Surely someone will come along and save the lady in the road," we say. Or, "Surely someone else will do something about the environment," or "Surely the shark will get full and stop eating that dude at some point." We just need the slightest excuse to do nothing.

The Stanford Prison Experiment (1971)

The Setup:
Psychologist Philip Zimbardo wanted to find out how captivity affects authorities and inmates in prison. Sounds innocent enough. Seriously, what could go wrong?

Zimbardo transformed the Stanford Psychology Department's basement into a mock prison. Subjects volunteered by simply responding to a newspaper ad ...

Not the actual ad

... and then passing a test proving good health and high-quality mental stability, which are very important factors in deciding who goes to prison. These volunteers were all male college students who were then divided arbitrarily into 12 guards and 12 prisoners. Zimbardo himself decided that he wanted to play too, and elected himself Prison Superintendent. The simulation was planned to run for two weeks.

Yep, nothing at all can go wrong with this.

The Result:
It took about one day for every subject to suddenly go as insane as a shit-house rat. On only the second day, prisoners staged a riot in the faux detention center, with prisoners barricading their cells with their beds and taunting the guards. The guards saw this as a pretty good excuse to start squirting fire extinguishers at the insurgents because, hey, why the hell not?

From that point on, the Stanford Prison that had already gone to hell, just continued to ricochet around in hell for day after day. Some guards began forcing inmates to sleep naked on the concrete, restricting the bathroom as a privilege (one that was often denied). They forced prisoners to do humiliating exercises and had them clean toilets with their bare hands.

Incredibly, when "prisoners" were told they had a chance at parole, and then the parole was denied, it didn't occur to them to simply ask out of the damned experiment. Remember they had absolutely no legal reason to be imprisoned, it was just a damned role-playing exercise. This fact continued to escape them as they sat naked in their own filth, with bags on their heads.

Over 50 outsiders had stopped to observe the prison, but the morality of the trial was never questioned until Zimbardo's girlfriend, Christina Maslach, strongly objected. After only six days, Zimbardo put a halt to the experiment (several of the "guards" expressed disappointment at this). If you were about to applaud Maslach as the only sane person involved in this clusterfuck, you should know that she went on to marry Zimbardo, the guy who orchestrated the whole thing.

What This Says About You:
Ever been harassed by a cop who acted like a major douchebag, pushing you around for no reason? Science says that if the roles were reversed, you'd likely act the same way.

As it turns out, it's usually fear of repercussion that keeps us from torturing our fellow human beings. Give us absolute power over somebody and a blank check from our superiors, and Abu Ghraib-esque naked pyramids are sure to follow. Hey, if it can happen to a bunch of Vietnam-era hippie college students, it sure as hell could happen to you.

The Milgram Experiment (1961)

The Setup:
When the prosecution of the Nazis got underway at the Nuremberg Trials, many of the defendants' excuse seemed to revolve around the ideas of, "I'm not really a prick" and, "Hey man, I was just following orders." Yale University psychologist Stanley Milgram wanted to test willingness of subjects to obey an authority figure. Maybe he could just, you know, ask people? Oh, hell no. That would not be nearly horrifying enough.

Instead he ran an experiment where the subject was told he was a "teacher" and that his job was to give a memory test to another subject, located in another room. The whole thing was fake and the other subject was an actor.

The subject was told that whenever the other guy gave an incorrect answer, he was to press a button that would give him an electric shock. A guy in a lab coat was there to make sure he did it (again no real shock was being delivered, but the subject of course did not know this).

The subject was told that the shocks started at 45 volts and would increase with every wrong answer. Each time they pushed the button, the actor on the other end would scream and beg for the subject to stop.

So, can you guess how this went?

The Result:
Many subjects began to feel uncomfortable after a certain point, and questioned continuing the experiment. However, each time the guy in the lab coat encouraged them to continue. Most of them did, upping the voltage, delivering shock after shock while the victim screamed. Many subjects would laugh nervously, because laughter is the best medicine when pumping electrical currents through another person's body.

Eventually the actor would start banging on the wall that separated him from the subject, pleading about his heart condition. After further shocks, all sounds from victim's room would cease, indicating he was dead or unconscious. If you had to guess, what percentage of the subjects kept delivering shocks after that point?

Five percent? Ten?

Between 61 and 66 percent of subjects would continue the experiment until it reached the maximum voltage of 450, continuing to deliver shocks after the victim had been zapped into unconsciousness or the afterlife. Repeated studies have shown the same result: Subjects will mindlessly deliver pain to an innocent stranger as long as a dude in a lab coat says it's OK.

Most subjects wouldn't begin to object until after 300-volt shocks. Zero of them asked to stop the experiment before that point (keep in mind 100 volts is enough to kill a man, in some cases).

What This Says About You:
You might like to think of yourself as a free-thinking marauder, but when it comes down to it, odds are you won't stick it to The Man because of the fear The Man will stick it right back up your ass. And this was just a guy in a lab coat--imagine if he'd had a uniform, or a badge.

Charles Sheridan and Richard King took this experiment one step further, but asked subjects to shock a puppy for every incorrect action it made. Unlike Milgram's experiment, this shock was real. Exactly 20 out of 26 subjects went to the highest voltage.

Almost 80 percent. Think about that when you're walking around the mall: Eight out of ten of those people you see would torture the shit out of a puppy if a dude in a lab coat asked them to.

If you enjoyed that, you might like our rundown of 5 Mental Disorders That Can Get You Laid. Or check out the T Shirt designs you'll be wearing tomorrow and submit your own in the Photoshop contest in the forum. If you're out of ideas, head over to eHow for Editor Jack O'Brien's handy guide on How to Design a Funny T-Shirt. And if you're tired of finding the best Cracked has to offer on your own sign up for the Cracked Newsletter and receive the choicest articles in your inbox every Thursday morning.

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10 Mind-Myths: Do Any of These Catch You Out?

Think our attitudes predict our behaviours? Think we only use 10% of our brains? Think blind people's other senses are more acute? Think again.

[Click the titles for the full posts]
  1. Seriously, Would You Admit to Only Using 10% of Your Brain?
    It's a nice thought that we might have spare capacity, but there's no evidence for it.
  2. Blind People's Other Senses Not More Acute
    Blind people might learn to use their other senses better, but they are no more acute.
  3. Why Psychology is Not Just Common Sense
    If you want to see a psychologist's head explode, tell them psychology is just common sense.
  4. The Attitude-Behaviour Gap: Why We Say One Thing But Do The Opposite
    Even when people are doing their best to tell the truth, there's still only a small relationship between people's attitudes and their behaviours.
  5. Newborns Don't Bond Immediately with their Mothers
    Infants don't care who looks after them for the first three months, so long as someone does.
  6. 50% of College Students Think We See Like Superman, Despite Perception Course
    Our eyes are only receptors, we don't see by sending out rays. But even after being told the truth, people still revert almost immediately to the myth that we see like Superman.
  7. Two Brains for the Price of One?
    The famous left-brain/right-brain split in functioning isn't nearly as dramatic as you've been led to believe.
  8. Graphology: Connections Between Handwriting and Personality are Illusory
    It really seems like handwriting should tell us something about personality - but it doesn't.
  9. The Mind Cannot Beat Cancer
    If only it could. Psychological interventions can, however, help people deal with the disease.
  10. Is a Bigger Brain Really Better?
    It's the old, old story: it's not how big it is, it's what you do with it.
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Scientists discover why plague is so lethal

Bacteria that cause the bubonic plague may be more virulent than their close relatives because of a single genetic mutation, according to research published in the May issue of the journal Microbiology.

“The plague bacterium Yersinia pestis needs calcium in order to grow at body temperature. When there is no calcium available, it produces a large amount of an amino acid called aspartic acid,” said Professor Brubaker from the University of Chicago, USA. “We found that this is because Y. pestis is missing an important enzyme.”

Bubonic plague has killed over 200 million people during the course of history and is thus the most devastating acute infectious disease known to man. Despite this, we are still uncertain about the molecular basis of its extraordinary virulence.

“Y. pestis evolved from its ancestor Y. pseudotuberculosis within the last 20,000 years, suggesting its high lethality reflects only a few genetic changes. We discovered that a single mutation in the genome of Y. pestis means the enzyme aspartase is not produced,” said Professor Brubaker.

Aspartase is present in almost all bacteria but it is curiously absent in many pathogenic types. These include mycobacteria that are pathogenic to man, Francisella tularensis and rickettsiae (both of which cause diseases transmitted to humans via insects). “This suggests that the absence of aspartase may contribute to serious disease,” said Professor Brubaker.

Aspartase digests aspartic acid. Because Y. pestis doesn’t have the enzyme, it produces much more aspartic acid than is required by the person infected. This may cause an imbalance to the host amino acid pools. “If this is the case then we might be able to reduce the death rates of these diseases by developing a treatment that removes some of the extra aspartic acid,” said Professor Brubaker.

Original here

Folding your arms can help your brain: study

The mere act of folding your arms increases perseverance and activates an unconscious desire to succeed, new research shows.

University students randomly assigned to sit with their arms crossed spent more time on an impossible-to-solve anagram, or word scramble, in one experiment, and came up with more correct solutions to solvable anagrams in another than those told to sit with their hands on their thighs.

The study is the first to show that arm crossing affects people's thinking without them being consciously aware of it.

Normally, it's thought that it's a psychological state that leads to a body movement. The study suggests it goes both ways, that a body movement also can trigger a psychological state.

Lead author Ron Friedman says the idea for the study came from watching former Miami Heat head coach Pat Riley pacing the sidelines, arms folded tightly across his chest, chin jutting forward, a "non-verbal signal," Friedman and co-author Andrew Elliot write, that could not be clearer: "I am going to persevere."

"(Riley's) got this book called, The Winner Within, and on the cover is him standing there with his arms crossed," Friedman, a professor at Hobart and William Smith Colleges in Geneva, N.Y., said in an interview.

The researchers wondered, is Riley's posture more than just an outward sign of persistence? Their study appears in the most recent issue of the European Journal of Social Psychology.

"We were interested in determining if body movement doesn't just convey our thoughts and feelings to others, but that they also inform us, ourselves, about our own psychological states," Friedman says.

They looked at one specific body movement - arm crossing - because it is a behaviour widely associated with perseverance. Friedman calls it a kind of battery recharge, "a feeling of tightening, something you do when you settle in and try to get yourself energized."

In the first experiment, 41 University of Rochester undergraduates (five men and 36 women) were told either to cross their arms or to put their arms on their laps. Next, they were asked to solve three anagrams, two of which were easy, ("WODN" and "TOBOR"), the third unsolvable. It was the word "Rochester," scrambled but with one letter missing. ("OCHERSTE")

The researchers weren't looking at performance but rather straight-out persistence.
The arms-crossed participants persisted longer (80 seconds on average) than the arms-on-thighs group (less than 60 seconds).

In a second study, volunteers were given a series of solvable anagrams. Those in the arms-cross group did better, because they worked at it longer.

Friedman says that certain body positions over time become associated with specific psychological states of mind and become linked in memory, so that doing one automatically triggers the other.

"If you continue crossing your arms when you're feeling persistent, that association is going to trigger persistence just by arm crossing alone."

But crossing your arms can make people seem defensive, or, in a romantic relationship, emotionally distant. It also may mean different things across different cultures. "What we have here is a westernized culture. We didn't look to see if the same effect is happening in China and Japan."

As well, the study was done in a lab setting, and not the "real world."

Still, when later asked, "What do you think this study was trying to test?" not a single participant guessed it was about the role of arm position on persistence.

As for Riley, though he's no longer head coach after stepping down last week following a league-worst 15-67 season, he's still "persisting" as team president, Friedman says.

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Who should MDs let die in a pandemic? Report offers answers

Now, an influential group of physicians has drafted a grimly specific list of recommendations for which patients wouldn't be treated. They include the very elderly, seriously hurt trauma victims, severely burned patients and those with severe dementia. The suggested list was compiled by a task force whose members come from prestigious universities, medical groups, the military and government agencies. They include the Department of Homeland Security, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Department of Health and Human Services.

The proposed guidelines are designed to be a blueprint for hospitals "so that everybody will be thinking in the same way" when pandemic flu or another widespread health care disaster hits, said Dr. Asha Devereaux. She is a critical care specialist in San Diego and lead writer of the task force report.

The idea is to try to make sure that scarce resources - including ventilators, medicine and doctors and nurses - are used in a uniform, objective way, task force members said.

Their recommendations appear in a report appearing Monday in the May edition of Chest, the medical journal of the American College of Chest Physicians.

"If a mass casualty critical care event were to occur tomorrow, many people with clinical conditions that are survivable under usual health care system conditions may have to forgo life-sustaining interventions owing to deficiencies in supply or staffing," the report states.

To prepare, hospitals should designate a triage team with the Godlike task of deciding who will and who won't get lifesaving care, the task force wrote. Those out of luck are the people at high risk of death and a slim chance of long-term survival. But the recommendations get much more specific, and include:
-People older than 85.

-Those with severe trauma, which could include critical injuries from car crashes and shootings.

-Severely burned patients older than 60.

-Those with severe mental impairment, which could include advanced Alzheimer's disease.

-Those with a severe chronic disease, such as advanced heart failure, lung disease or poorly controlled diabetes.

Dr. Kevin Yeskey, director of the preparedness and emergency operations office at the Department of Health and Human Services, was on the task force. He said the report would be among many the agency reviews as part of preparedness efforts.

Public health law expert Lawrence Gostin of Georgetown University called the report an important initiative but also "a political minefield and a legal minefield."

The recommendations would probably violate federal laws against age discrimination and disability discrimination, said Gostin, who was not on the task force.

If followed to a tee, such rules could exclude care for the poorest, most disadvantaged citizens who suffer disproportionately from chronic disease and disability, he said. While health care rationing will be necessary in a mass disaster, "there are some real ethical concerns here."

James Bentley, a senior vice president at American Hospital Association, said the report will give guidance to hospitals in shaping their own preparedness plans even if they don't follow all the suggestions.

He said the proposals resemble a battlefield approach in which limited health care resources are reserved for those most likely to survive.

Bentley said it's not the first time this type of approach has been recommended for a catastrophic pandemic, but that "this is the most detailed one I have seen from a professional group."

While the notion of rationing health care is unpleasant, the report could help the public understand that it will be necessary, Bentley said.

Devereaux said compiling the list "was emotionally difficult for everyone."

That's partly because members believe it's just a matter of time before such a health care disaster hits, she said.

"You never know," Devereaux said. "SARS took a lot of folks by surprise. We didn't even know it existed."
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DNA Jigsaw Puzzle

A new mathematical and statistical method allows the virus population in a diseased organism to be determined quickly and economically. Using this method, medicines and vaccines against diseases caused by viral infections could be developed and deployed in a more targeted way in the future.

Through their diversity resulting from continuous mutation, viruses easily develop drug resistance. This is also why the manufacture of a vaccine against HIV has been unsuccessful up to now. To bring both under control, the strains of virus present in the host must be known. A new method developed by researchers from Switzerland and America now promises help in identifying diverse virus populations.

The method is based on a next generation, high throughput DNA sequencing technique called pyrosequencing. Niko Beerenwinkel, Assistant Professor at the Department of Biosystems of ETH Zurich, explains that this involves a technique that has been in use since 2003, with which the sequencing can be carried out efficiently and economically. He is a co-author of a study published recently in the scientific journal PLoS Computational Biology, in which the researchers successfully identified the virus strains of four patients infected with the HIV virus.

Light signals identify structural elements

In their study, the scientists used the pyrosequencing technique to examine the DNA of HIV/AIDS viruses. As Beerenwinkel explains: “This involves determining the sequence of the DNA modules by synthesising the complementary DNA strand. Each newly incorporated base is recognised by a light signal. This method is reliable only for short DNA segments, but at the same time it can be highly parallelised, which ultimately leads to a very large number of short segments.”

The scientists now used a computer-assisted method which they had developed to combine together the DNA segments from the HIV samples to form virus strains. This involves piecing together matching DNA segments like a jigsaw puzzle to form the complete sequences of the various strains. Beerenwinkel explains that one does not know beforehand either how many or which strains the sample contains, or which DNA segments belong to the same strain.

Error rate minimized

But, according to Beerenwinkel, the disadvantage would be that the segments are very short and may conceal a high error rate. However, by using the mathematical and statistical error correction tools developed by the researchers, they were able to reduce the error rate with their method by a factor of 30, thus determining reliably the virus strains belonging to the DNA segments. This is shown by a comparison with conventional methods in which long DNA segments can be determined with high precision.

For this purpose they chose individual viruses at random from the population and used traditional methods to determine the sequence of the individual DNA structural elements. According to Beerenwinkel, this revealed that the results were very similar, but the pyrosequencing method works faster and more economically and – in contrast to conventional methods – enables entire virus populations to be identified more easily.

The method that has been developed allows the efficient use of new sequencing techniques with which the genetic diversity of the whole virus population of an infected patient can be determined. This can mean a big step forward for use of medicines to treat virus diseases and for vaccine development. This is because it could enable medicines to be used in a more targeted way, thus preventing the development of resistance. It could also facilitate the development of vaccines.

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