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Many scientific studies have been so embraced by the media, they’ve become facts we often regard with, “Well, duh.” Consider bilingualism: It’s the full-proof edge! Hire a Spanish-speaking nanny! Pop in Rosetta Stone and double your salary!

Despite it being an invaluable skill, it’d be wise to hold off on the “duh.” A new metastudy suggests that there’s a publication bias to what scientific journals choose to headline—ones that eventually make their way through the mainstream media and into the public’s bank of “common sense” facts. That’s because there’s more meat to a headline that claims there’s a link between two things (*blank* causes cancer, for example) than a study that finds the same research inconclusive or that denies the connection entirely.

One research team from Edinburgh University looked at 104 papers on bilingualism that were presented at academic conferences (typical venues for researchers to receive edits before attempting to get published in peer-reviewed journals). Despite there being an even split between research that either supported or questioned the advantages to bilingualism, only 36 percent of papers that challenged the popular notion got published, compared to 63 percent that supported it.

But publications are not the only ones to blame; another study looked at how often researchers reported their null results. One Stanford team analyzed projects run through the National Science Foundation’s Timeshare Experiments in the Social Sciences (TESS), which keeps records of all experiments it’s conducted. The team could then figure out what has yielded positive or negative results and if those findings have been published, written but never published, or never written at all. While they found that publication bias is, indeed, real, they found that researchers aren’t submitting their null results, either. Of the 47 negative outcomes in the TESS data, only 38 percent were even written. Of the 170 positive results, roughly 93 percent were reported. 

Neil Malhotra, co-author of a new study on publication bias and a professor at Stanford’s Graduate School of Business, said it’s important for researchers to at least write down their null results so that other scientists can be aware of them. But it’ll take institutional changes, he said, such as new journals dedicated to negative findings so scientists feel encouraged to report these results.

Although inconclusive studies lack drama, they provide science with context, Malhotra said. The Edinburgh research team summed it up in their press release: “All data, not just selected data that supports a particular theory, should be shared, and this is especially true when it comes to data regarding issues that have enormous societal relevance and implications, such as bilingualism.”

Image by Sebastian Wiertz, licensed under Creative Commons.


The human head weighs about 12 pounds … unless you add a Smartphone to that equation. The more the neck bends downward, the more weight is added to the cervical spine: at a 15-degree angle, the head weighs 27 pounds; at 30 degrees, 40 pounds; at 45 degrees, 49 pounds; at 60 degrees, 60 pounds (the equivalent to carrying an 8-year-old around your neck). The result: “text-neck.”

On average, Smartphone users (58 percent of American adults) look down at their phones two to four hours a day—about 700 to 1,400 hours a year of added spinal stress. High schoolers, on the other hand, could spend up to an additional 5,000 hours hunched over in this position.

Physical therapists say that as the tissue stretches for long periods of time, it gets sore and inflamed, also causing muscle strain, pinched nerves, herniated disks and, over time, can potentially remove the neck’s natural curve. Poor posture can also contribute to headaches and neurological issues, depression and heart disease, and can reduce the lung capacity by as much as 30 percent.

One expert gave TODAY some tips to avoid this pain, such as using your eyes to look down at your phone instead of bending your neck. Be sure to move your head from left to right several times, as well, or try standing in a doorway with both arms extended while pushing your chest forward to strengthen the muscles activated during good posture.

Image by Kamyar Adl, licensed under Creative Commons.


A Georgia appellate court recently reached a decision that holds parents liable for their kids’ online activity—an unprecedented legal ruling, lawyers said. The parents of a 7th grader were deemed “negligent” after failing to get their son to delete a defamatory Facebook profile of a female classmate in 2011.

According to court documents, the boy and a friend of his created a fake Facebook account posing as the girl, which included altered photos of her, racist and promiscuous comments and photos, and claims that she was on medication and doing illegal drugs. They sent friend-requests to her classmates, teachers and family members, reaching 70 Facebook friends in two days.

When the girl and her parents discovered this profile, they complained to the school principal, who gave the boy two days of in-school suspension and informed his parents, who grounded him for a week. The profile, however, remained active for another 11 months until the girl’s parents urged Facebook to deactivate it. Her lawyer said that the school protected the boy’s confidentiality, preventing her parents from confronting his.

The courts held that the key question regarding negligence lies in the parent’s ability to anticipate harm as a result of the unsupervised activity.

“Given that the false and offensive statements remained on display, and continued to reach readers, for an additional 11 months, we conclude that a jury could find that the [parents’] negligence proximately caused some part of the injury [the girl] sustained from [the boy’s] actions (and inactions),” wrote Judge John J. Ellington in the opinion, handed down Oct. 10. Another part of the lawsuit sought to hold the parents responsible for allowing the page to be posted in the first place, which the appeals court dismissed.

Atlanta litigator Edgar S. Mangiafico, Jr., who represented the boy, said he will appeal the ruling to the Georgia Supreme Court, noting that he couldn’t find a previous case where the parents were held responsible for failing to supervise their kid’s computer use regarding cyberbullying.

Atlanta attorney Natalie Woodward, who represented the girl, agreed that this was a novel outcome, saying that the ruling shows that in certain circumstances, parental knowledge triggers liability.

Good luck to high-schoolers ignoring their mom’s friend request now.

Image by Marco Packöeningrat, licensed under Creative Commons


Telepathic communication is no longer exclusive to the Jedis: scientists successfully conducted one of the first instances of brain-to-brain communication on record, transmitting “hola” and “ciao” from one person in India to three people in France. Team members included Barcelona-based research institute Starlab, French firm Axilum Robotics, and Harvard Medical School, whose findings were published in PLOS One.

“We want to improve the ways people can communicate in the face of limitations—those who might not be able to speak or have sensory impairments,” said study co-author Alvaro Pascual-Leone, director of the Berenson-Allen Center for Non-Invasive Brain Stimulation at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and professor of neurology at Harvard Medical Center. “Can we work around those limitations and communicate with another person or computer?”

The experiment proved it’s possible, indeed. The subjects didn’t speak, type, or look at each other throughout the exercise. Pascual-Leone said that while the technique still has a long way to go, this breakthrough serves as a proof of concept. “It’s still very, very early. [But] we can show that this is even possible with technology that’s available. It’s the difference between talking on the phone and Morse code. To get where you’re going, you need certain steps to be taken first.”

The process included turning letters into binary code, hand and feet movements conveying the code through electroencephalography sensors, transmitting it to email, and converting it into quick flashes through a transcranial magnetic stimulation system (attached to the blind-folded recipient’s head). The flashes would then be translated back into binary, and then finally to text. The one-word message took approximately 70 minutes to relay.

The ultimate goal is to remove the computer as a middleman and allow brain-to-brain communication between people. “We’re still a long way from that,” Pascual-Leone told Smithsonian magazine, “but in the end, I think it’s a pursuit worthy of the effort.”

For more on the history of telepathic communication studies and how it works, watch this video, courtesy of BrainCraft:

Image by Joan M. Maes, licensed under Creative Commons



LEGO makes strides and faces scrutiny over its toys.

Children’s toys are an arena for play and learning – and they have also become a reflection of society. That’s both good and bad news for LEGO. On a positive note, the company is becoming more gender aware. While a past attempt at marketing the product to girls caught flak for its overuse of pink and purple, the company is now developing a series of mini-figures that feature a female astronomer, paleontologist, and chemist. The sets were designed by Alatariel Elensar who says, “As a geochemist I started with designs close to my own profession, a geologist and a chemist, and then expanded the series to include other sciences and other professions. The motto of these Scientists is clear: explore the world and beyond.” Elensar submitted her concept through LEGO CUUSOO which allows anyone to create LEGO ideas which are then considered by the company for possible production. The female scientist series is slated to hit shelves by August.

On the flipside, LEGO is coming under scrutiny for its partnership with the oil company Shell. The toy company has been producing Shell-branded sets and is selling them in 33 countries. Greenpeace is leading the campaign with a short video and petition that urges LEGO to drop Shell, citing the detriment that the  company could cause to the Arctic region as well as concerns related to branding aimed at children. Despite the fact that LEGO’s Brand Framework states the company has, “an opportunity to make a difference to the environment in the future by engaging with children on sustainability and responsibility issues as they will be the builders of tomorrow,” the company is not budging on the partnership, releasing a statement that read, “We expect that Shell lives up to their responsibilities wherever they operate and take appropriate action to any potential claims should this not be the case. I would like to clarify that we intend to live up to the long term contract with Shell.”

Photo by Michele Mazzoli, licensed under Creative Commons.



New and updated maps reflect global issues.

In How Maps Change Things author Ward Kaiser explains, “We all use maps as tool of exploration. But the most basic—and most surprising—discovery we can make with maps goes far beyond any factual information; it comes in that ‘Aha!’ moment when we perceive that maps are loaded not just with data but with meaning.” That meaning can range from the highly political to a personal understanding of our place in the global scheme of things, and can interpret everything from history to languages to population. In fact, ODT Maps just released their 2015 population map in which each country’s size is represented by its population. Whereas Canada appears as a tiny yellow sliver atop the purple mid-sized U.S., India is a hulking blue mass.

The cartographers charged with updating the map from its 2005 version were surprised at the changes that were visualized. They found that the Middle East is growing rapidly with Qatar, Bahrain, and Cyprus all surpassing the one million mark, and that the only countries with decreasing populations were in Eastern Europe. The map itself also features information charting population growth in the past 100,000 years and the percentages of countries with children under the age of 15, a strong indicator of what future maps may look like.

As the world rapidly changes, geographers and researchers are striving to map out a variety of issues. New maps have been developed to chart recent problems such as plastic in the ocean while older maps like the National Geographic Atlas of the World are being updated to show the affect of the dramatically decreasing Arctic ice sheet. In doing so, information can be tracked and communicated. However, maps, like most media that undergoes editorial decisions, must be looked at critically. In updating the population map, publisher Bob Abramms explains, “The challenge as a publishing company, was that the map had grown in size so much that it couldn't fit onto any reasonable size of paper … So in the end we needed to crop off all the map explanation material from our 2005 map.” And on the updated National Geographic atlas, there was debate on what portion of ice to show since it shifts throughout the seasons. You’ll be able to see the final outcome when it’s released this September.

Image by Nicolas Raymond, licensed under Creative Commons.



Cell phone services are being developed to feel a bit safer.

Many people, especially women, have felt unease while coming home late after work or walking in an unfamiliar neighborhood. Kitestring is a new web-based and text messaging service that may help you feel a bit more secure. After signing up, you can ask the service to check up on you after a certain amount of time (via their website or a text message). If you don’t reply, then it will automatically alert your emergency contact. The more practical aspect of Kitestring as opposed to similar apps, is that it’s your inaction that prompts it to act, since in many emergency situations access to your phone may be impossible. The other advantage is that it will work on any phone with SMS capabilities, not just smart phones which makes it more accessible for those in developing countries.

Creator Stephan Boyer says, “The idea for Kitestring came to me in late January. My girlfriend, who lives in a dangerous neighborhood in San Francisco, called to ask me to check up on her as she was walking home from work one day. I wondered if there might be an app or service that could offer a little extra safety for her when she goes out at night." The service Boyer developed is free and each month you get 8 trips. An upgraded version is also available for an unlimited number of trip and additional emergency contacts.

Another resource is the so-called feminist phone intervention which allows women to give out a special phone number to someone she doesn’t want to give her real number to. This may seem unnecessary or cheeky, but unfortunately there are situations when turning down someone can turn into an overly-aggressive confrontation. When the recipient calls the number they are greeted with a quote from feminist bell hooks. The phone number has proven to be popular and is now available in every U.S. time zone, and other countries such as Mexico and Israel. The original number is (669) 221-6251, so put that in your address book and hope that you don’t have to use it.

Photo by Question Everything, licensed under Creative Commons.

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