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Science: People finds robots just as cheering as dogs

Study finds dogs, robots cheer elderly - Yahoo! News

ST. LOUIS - Dogs may have a hard time wrapping their paws around this one: Robotic competition is nipping at their heels in the man's-best-friend department. A study by Saint Louis University found that a lovable pooch named Sparky and a robotic dog, AIBO, were about equally effective at relieving the loneliness of nursing home residents and fostering attachments.

The study, which appears in the March issue of the Journal of The American Medical Directors Association, builds on previous findings by the researchers that frequent dog visits decreased loneliness of nursing home residents.

Andrew Ng, who leads Stanford University's team in building a home-assistance robot and was not involved in the study, said the strength of the research is very encouraging.

February 29, 2008

Evidence Of 'Rain-making' Bacteria Discovered In Atmosphere And Snow

Evidence Of 'Rain-making' Bacteria Discovered In Atmosphere And Snow

Christner's team examined precipitation from global locations and demonstrated that the most active ice nuclei -- a substrate that enhances the formation of ice -- are biological in origin. This is important because the formation of ice in clouds is required for snow and most rainfall. Dust and soot particles can serve as ice nuclei, but biological ice nuclei are capable of catalyzing freezing at much warmer temperatures. If present in clouds, biological ice nuclei may affect the processes that trigger precipitation.

Biological precipitation, or the "bio-precipitation" cycle, as David Sands, Montana State University professor of plant sciences and plant pathology calls it, basically is this: bacteria form little groups on the surface of plants. Wind then sweeps the bacteria into the atmosphere, and ice crystals form around them. Water clumps on to the crystals, making them bigger and bigger. The ice crystals turn into rain and fall to the ground. When precipitation occurs, then, the bacteria have the opportunity to make it back down to the ground. If even one bacterium lands on a plant, it can multiply and form groups, thus causing the cycle to repeat itself.

"We think if (the bacteria) couldn't cause ice to form, they couldn't get back down to the ground," Sands said. "As long as it rains, the bacteria grow."

February 28, 2008

Cannibalism (and cannibalism-related diseases) may have wiped out the Neanderthals

Discovery News : Discovery Channel

Feb. 27, 2008 -- A Neanderthal-eat-Neanderthal world may have spread a mad cow-like disease that weakened and reduced populations of the large Eurasian human, thereby contributing to its extinction, according to a new theory based on cannibalism that took place in more recent history.

Aside from illustrating that consumption of one's own species isn't exactly a healthy way to eat, the new theoretical model could resolve the longstanding mystery as to what caused Neanderthals, which emerged around 250,000 years ago, to disappear off the face of the Earth about 30,000 years ago.

"The story of Neanderthal extinction is one of the most intriguing in all of human evolution," author Simon Underdown told Discovery News. "Why did a large-brained, intelligent hominid that shared so many traits with us disappear?"

To resolve that question, Underdown, a lecturer in the Department of Anthropology at Oxford Brookes University, studied a well-documented tribal group, the Fore of Papua New Guinea, who practiced ritualistic cannibalism.

February 27, 2008

Prozac does not work in majority of depressed patients

Prozac does not work in majority of depressed patients - health - 26 February 2008 - New Scientist

They did detect some benefits in the most severely depressed patients. But conclude that in this group the small effect is "due to decreased responsiveness to placebo, rather than increased responsiveness to medication". Given these results, they say that there is little reason to prescribe SSRI medications to any but the most severely depressed patients.

David Healy, a psychiatrist at Cardiff University, UK, specialising in the use of SSRI drugs, says the latest study confirms suspicions that the drugs' effectiveness had been dramatically overstated.

"Most importantly this new study shows that the people who did respond to the drugs would have responded to placebo, anyway.

February 23, 2008

The Great Lakes are poison

Great Lakes Danger Zones? | The Center For Public Integrity | Investigative Journalism in the Public Interest

The 400-plus-page study, Public Health Implications of Hazardous Substances in the Twenty-Six U.S. Great Lakes Areas of Concern, was undertaken by a division of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention at the request of the International Joint Commission, an independent bilateral organization that advises the U.S. and Canadian governments on the use and quality of boundary waters between the two countries. The study was originally scheduled for release in July 2007 by the IJC and the CDC’s Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR).

The Center for Public Integrity has obtained the study, which warns that more than nine million people who live in the more than two dozen “areas of concern”—including such major metropolitan areas as Chicago, Cleveland, Detroit, and Milwaukee—may face elevated health risks from being exposed to dioxin, PCBs, pesticides, lead, mercury, or six other hazardous pollutants.

In many of the geographic areas studied, researchers found low birth weights, elevated rates of infant mortality and premature births, and elevated death rates from breast cancer, colon cancer, and lung cancer.

February 20, 2008

Total Lunar Eclipse

From the LA Times Website (click to play):...