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Science Reporting

Alternatives To Smoking

These days there’s been a lot of coverage about alternatives to smoking, and fortunately, there’s a lot of substitutes for tobacco that are vastly healthier. Many of us have already heard of cigarettes and vaping, for example. While there is still research to be done on this area, it’s generally accepted that ecigarettes are much better for people than regular cigarettes, and you may be doing yourself a favor by looking into them.

For a rundown of why smoking is so harmful and the benefits of electronic cigarettes, we recommend taking a look at this article from etc-expo.com titled “Features and negative effects of Tobacco, cigarettes, and Nicotine”. There’s an excellent list there of all the many different health problems you can have from smoking, and of course, why electronic cigarettes are awesome. 🙂

Speaking of etc-expo.com, the website also has articles on a wide range of topics well beyond smoking.

For more information on smoking and how to quit, see also Smokefree.gov and these stories on quitting smoking.

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Science Reporting

The brightness of Betelgeuse has dropped like never before: is it going to explode?

According to various observations since October last year, the brightness level of Betelgeuse, one of the most characteristic and brightest stars in our sky, has dropped considerably and this has led some people to fear that it may explode soon. Betelgeuse, in fact, will die with the most classic of explosions, a supernova, but before this final explosive phase will tend to darken and then collapse on itself and perform the explosive “bounce”.

The star, only 8.5 million years old, is 642.5 light years away from us. If a star of this size (it is a red supergiant with a mass equivalent to at least 20 suns) exploded it would be clearly visible in the sky. It would result in the closest supernova ever observed and recorded by humans and would exceed, in terms of brightness in our sky, even the supernova of 1054 AD that led to the formation of the Crab Nebula whose star, however, was 6523 light years away.

Of course, it’s always worth talking about objects so far away: Betelgeuse could have already exploded but we would only know in hundreds of years since the star’s light takes 642 years to reach us. As Edward Guinan, professor of astronomy and astrophysics at Villanova University who speaks on Space.com, explains, the supernova would be extremely bright in our skies.

However, astronomers tend to contain the excitement for such an event since we are still facing a variable star, a star whose brightness increases and decreases over time by definition. However, it should also be noted that the last level of darkening has gone beyond what was previously predicted, which is why some astronomers have thought that we might be facing pre-explosive phases.

The problem also lies in the fact that the direct observations of stars just before exploding in a supernova were very few and we basically don’t know what really happens and this is also reflected in the lack of consensus of astronomers regarding the possibility that Betelgeuse is really going to explode. It could be a false alarm and the explosion could happen, for example, in 100,000 or a million years.

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Science Reporting

Algorithm created that recognizes harassment, including sexual harassment, in emails and corporate chats

Artificial intelligence-based software that recognizes digital bullying and even sexual harassment, for example in the language of an email, was developed by Chicago-based NexLP. According to the manufacturers themselves, it was not an easy task given the linguistic subtleties and huge grey areas that can exist between a non-violent or offensive approach and another that can fall into the category of harassment and bullying.

The software was created especially for those companies that want to monitor all communication between employees so that harassment actions of a communicative nature can be more easily identified. The algorithm used by the software identifies potential bullying, including sexual harassment, in emails and company documents as well as in service chat. The data is analyzed by software and suspicious communications are then set aside, with probability levels, so that they can be evaluated by a human operator, such as the human resources manager, to investigate.

What the software does is search for specific language anomalies, anomalies that can be based not only on the words used but also on their frequency. For example, it can analyze real communication patterns through days or weeks of messages. Of course, the software looks for specific “triggers” and cannot go beyond certain parameters, let alone analyze and evaluate complex interpersonal dynamics that can develop between two or more people on a communicative level. However, the software could be very useful to make an initial skim in order to eliminate all those communications that, according to the algorithm, do not contain anything offensive.

Of course, with such a software also comes into play the problem of data confidentiality and privacy in general: what happens if the software makes a mistake and the data itself is disclosed? Software itself, by its very nature, could promote abuse by human resources operators and managers and could lead to inappropriate decisions.

The creators of the software, which is not the only one analyzing messages to detect harassment, especially sexual harassment, so much so that we are already talking about #MeTooBot, defend themselves by warning that the software itself has no discriminatory value and can only label a certain communication that must be evaluated and interpreted by human beings anyway.

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Science Reporting

Coffee consumption does not interfere with insulin sensitivity according to a new study

Coffee would not interfere with insulin sensitivity according to a new study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition and taken from HealthDay. The research was carried out by Derrick Johnston Alperet, researcher at the National University of Singapore who, together with his team, carried out a 24-week experiment on 126 overweight non-insulin-sensitive adults aged between 35 and 69 years.

One group took four cups of instant coffee a day, another group, the control group, took four cups of a placebo drink.
The researchers then measured the amount of glucose that was metabolized in their bodies per kilogram of weight per minute. The results showed that there was no substantial change in insulin sensitivity in the coffee-drinking group compared to the placebo group.

Those in the real coffee group experienced a loss of fat mass and a lower concentration of creatinine in their urine compared to the placebo group.

The study was entitled “The effect of coffee consumption on sensitivity to insulin and other biological risk factors for type 2 diabetes: a randomised placebo-controlled trial.”

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Science Reporting

Cranberry juice helps to lower blood pressure

A further study on the positive qualities of blueberry juice confirms its positive action also with regard to the contrast to high blood pressure. According to the researchers, consuming cranberry juice in the long term can in fact help to lower high blood pressure and can also help with the various functionalities of blood vessels.

High blood pressure is a fairly common disorder and many people suffer from it, especially after a certain age. Too high a blood pressure can in turn lead to hypertension and various functional disorders of the blood vessels, naturally at various levels of severity.

Nutrition still plays a key role in the fight against blood pressure. The latest studies have increasingly shown that it is those foods rich in polyphenols that can help combat high blood pressure, and this study, on the other hand, is no less so.

Researcher Anne Kivimäki has in fact analysed the effects of cranberry juice on rats. Specifically, she made three different groups of rats drink cold-pressed cranberry juice, cranberry juice and blackcurrant juice. The experiment lasted 8-10 weeks and all rats were genetically hypertensive.

The results showed that cold-pressed cranberry juice significantly lowered the level of hypertension. The cranberry juice itself seemed to prevent the action of genes associated with low-grade inflammation in the aorta, an effect that was less marked for other juices.

“These experimental results need to demonstrate from comparative clinical studies on healthy individuals with slightly elevated blood pressure that they received nutritional and lifestyle indications instead of drug therapy at this point. Cranberry juice is not a substitute for medication, but it is a good supplement diet,” reports Kivimäki.

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Science Reporting

New small feathered dinosaur that lived 120 million years ago discovered in China

The study that announced the discovery of a new species of a small feathered dinosaur, which lived about 120 million years ago, was published in the Anatomical Record. It was carried out through the analysis of a fossil that provided several important details regarding bones and feathers. Fossils of feathered dinosaurs have always been among the most important to understand the evolutionary transition phase that took place between the dinosaurs themselves and the advent of birds.

This is also the case of this study, as Ashley Poust, a researcher at the Museum of Natural History in San Diego who has been studying these finds for several years. The study of the feathers and the body of this new small dinosaur could be very useful, among other things, to understand how flight developed in the distant past of the first birds.

The new species of feathered dinosaur has been named Wulong bohaiensis: the first term is a Chinese word for “dancing dragon.” The fossil, in the form of an imprinted trace, was found more than 10 years ago by a Chinese farmer in the province of Jehol, an area known for its fossil findings.

The dinosaur was slightly larger than a modern-day crow and had a characteristic bony tail that more than doubled in length. The mouth was full of sharp teeth and the bones were quite thin and relatively small. It was a feathered animal and had two long plumes right at the end of its tail.

According to the researchers, it was one of the first ancestors of the Velociraptor, the well-known teropod dinosaur that lived 75 million years ago. However, the closest relative of the Wulong is the Microraptor, a kind of four-winged bird that lived in about the same era as the Wulong. Researchers have used the technique of bone histology, a technique that is increasingly used by paleontologists to analyze fossils of this kind but which requires the removal and a much more direct study of the findings, something that museums and those responsible for the fossils themselves do not always allow.

The researchers have discovered that it was a young specimen, something which has partly surprised researchers as this specimen showed a remarkable amount of feathers, even of the showy ones, something unusual, at least for what the young birds of today are concerned, where the showiest feathers grow up only in old age, when the animal is ready for the mating.

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The kookaburras are conquering Tasmania and decimating native species

The kookaburra, medium sized birds of the genus Dacelo, are allegedly conquering Tasmania according to new reports. As the researchers note, probably the drier conditions, longer periods of drought and reduced rainfall are contributing to an abnormal spread of this bird that was once considered very rare in this area.

These birds with their characteristic, and for many of them annoying, squeaky noise resembling to a human laughter, were in fact introduced in Tasmania from the mainland by the beginning of the twentieth century, after they had relatively spread in Australia. According to what Australian ABC researcher Sally Bryant of the Tasmania Land Conservancy explains on the Australian ABC website, the proliferation of kookaburras is raising concerns about their potential impact on other native Tasmanian species.

The fact is that this bird seems not to be afraid of anything and is proving to be more and more of a formidable predator. They form very close-knit colonies occupying any natural cavity and this means that there is less and less chance of nesting for other bird species. They prove to be very adaptable, even in semi-urban landscapes, and do not seem to achieve much damage even when forest fires or serious disturbances of nature occur. Very often they are the first species to return to an area that has been deforested by fire.

At present, very little research has determined the exact rate of increase and spread of this species of bird in Tasmania, but researchers already seem to be sure that it has had a strong impact on their main prey, frogs, lizards, small rodents and small snakes. They don’t disdain, however, eating chicks from other species of birds that literally kidnap from their nests. And they are not afraid of human beings either, since they are used to steal food, such as raw or cooked meat, left in the open air.

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Science Reporting

Rare solar superblasts could upset the world according to a new study

In a new study presented at the 234th meeting of the American Astronomical Society, a research group from the University of Colorado Boulder took into consideration the so-called “superflare,” i.e. particularly large and violent star flares that can prove to be a problem for any nearby planets. Fortunately, the Sun, from this point of view, is quite stable and the problem relating to solar superblasts has never really been taken into account by experts in relation to a possible “end of the world.”

At least until now. The new study focuses precisely on this possibility: these huge bursts of energy, so powerful that they can be seen (as far as the other stars are concerned) even from hundreds of light-years away, can actually occur even in older and “quieter” stars like our sun. Although such events may occur on this type of star more rarely, experts say that the danger is real and much more concrete than you think. The results of this research should be a wake-up call for life on our planet, as reported by Yuta Notsu, the lead author of the study.

If the Earth were to be on the trajectory of a radiation wave of a solar superflare, very serious events could happen: depending on the intensity of the blast and the position of the Earth at that time, ranging from the upheaval of electronics around the world, a situation that alone could lead us to a unique global crisis to much more serious events, probably unimaginable.

Notsu and his team used the data from the European Space Agency’s Gaia space probe and those from the Apache Point observatory in New Mexico. The data concerned superflare from 43 stars quite similar to our sun. Submitting this data to a rigorous statistical analysis, the researchers realized that “age matters”: younger stars tend to produce more superflare but older stars, like our sun, are not completely exempt from this behavior.

If for young stars we talk about superflare once a week on average, for stars like the Sun we talk about one superflare every thousand years. This means that most likely in the near future a superflare could hit the Earth. A classic superflare of average power that occurred 1000 years ago would not have been such a big problem but since today’s civilization relies on electronics and electricity just to survive, a superflare today or in the future would be a good problem.

In any case, according to the results of this study, it is the classic situation in which it is not a question of whether, but of when.