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Neuroscientists uncover a surprising similarity between diehard liberals and conservatives

More than 60 years ago, President Dwight Eisenhower took a break from his busy schedule to answer a letter from a terminally ill World War II veteran. The ailing man, Robert Biggs, had respectfully criticized Eisenhower's recent speeches for projecting a sense of uncertainty, explaining that "we wait for someone to speak for us and back him completely if the statement is made in truth." The 34th president felt that people in democracies should be wary of needing to feel certain about important issues.

This article was originally published at Salon

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Mammals can breathe through anus in emergencies: study

A team of Japanese scientists has shown it is possible for mammals to absorb oxygen via the anus.

Intrigued by how certain sea creatures breathe through their intestines in emergencies, researchers at Tokyo Medical and Dental University were able to prove the same was true under experimental circumstances for mice, rats and pigs, publishing their findings in the journal Med on Friday.

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Long-lost letter from Albert Einstein discusses a link between physics and biology -- 7 decades before evidence emerges

Since the dawn of the electronic age, it has never been easier for researchers to engage with the general public — gaining access to precious resources otherwise unavailable.

This is illustrated perfectly in our latest publication, in which we introduce a previously unknown letter written in 1949 by none other than Albert Einstein. In it, the German-born mathematician and physicist discusses bees, birds and whether new physics principles could come from studying animal senses.

We first came across it in 2019, after Judith Davys — a retiree living in the United Kingdom — read an article we'd published on the mathematical abilities of bees. She reached out to us to share the 72-year-old letter, which Einstein had addressed to her late husband Glyn Davys. We spent a year investigating the precious document.

Letter by Albert Einstein, validated by The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, where Einstein bequeathed his notes, letters and records. Dyer et al. 2021, J Comp Physiol A / The Hebrew University of Jerusalem (Fair use)


A key encounter

Einstein was one of the greatest thinkers of the twentieth century, as well as an excellent communicator. His imagination helped shape many technologies that define the information age today. For example, Einstein's theory of general relativity governs the large-scale structure of the universe, which in turn enables corrections for the GPS system used on our smartphones.

In 1921, Einstein was awarded a Nobel Prize for his study of the “photoelectric effect". This effect describes how light can remove electrons from atoms — a principle that underpins the operation of today's solar cells.

In 1933, Einstein left Germany to work at Princeton University in the United States. It was here, in April 1949, he met scientist Karl von Frisch at a lecture.


Von Frisch was visiting Princeton to present his new research on how honeybees navigate more effectively using the polarisation patterns of light scattered from the sky. He used this information to help translate bees' now famous dance language, for which he eventually received his own Nobel Prize.

The day after Einstein attended von Frisch's lecture the two researchers shared a private meeting. Although this meeting wasn't formally documented, the recently discovered letter from Einstein provides some insight into what may have been discussed.

Animal behaviour from a physicist's lens

We suspect Einstein's letter is a response to a query he received from Glyn Davys. In 1942, as WWII raged, Davys had joined the British Royal Navy. He trained as an engineer and researched topics including the budding use of radar to detect ships and aircraft. This nascent technology was kept top secret at the time.

By complete coincidence, bio-Sonar sensing had been discovered in bats at the same time, alerting people to the idea that animals may have different senses from humans. While any previous correspondence from Davys to Einstein appears lost, we were interested in what may have prompted him to write to the famous physicist.

So we set out to trawl through online archives of news published in England in 1949. From our search we found von Frisch's findings of bee navigation were already big news by July of that year, and he had even been covered in The Guardian newspaper in London.

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Billions of bugs are about to take to the skies -- here's what to expect

Doug Yanega studies insects for a living, yet he has repeatedly missed out on one of North America's most awe-inspiring entomological events: the septdecennial (meaning once every 17 years) emergence of a swarms of cicadas known as Brood X.

Part of the reason for this is that Yanega, who works as senior scientist at the University of California Riverside's Entomology Research Museum, grew up in Long Island. This is one of the few areas in the Northeast that does not experience billions of Brood X cicadas dramatically arise from the ground for a mass aerial orgy once every 17 years. Brood X cicadas have been gradually going extinct there — perhaps because mass suburbanization has thoroughly destroyed any habitat where they could survive, Yanega theorizes — and that is where he lived in 1970 and 1987. (He missed the 2004 event for unrelated reasons and won't be on the East Coast in 2021.)

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Mind over matter: brain chip allows paralyzed man to write

Paralyzed from the neck down, the man stares intently at a screen. As he imagines handwriting letters, they appear before him as typed text thanks to a new brain implant.

The 65-year-old is "typing" at a speed similar to his peers tapping on a smartphone, using a device that could one day help paralyzed people communicate quickly and easily.

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Nearly a fifth of Earth's surface transformed since 1960

Whether it's turning forests into cropland or savannah into pastures, humanity has repurposed land over the last 60 years equivalent in area to Africa and Europe combined, researchers said Tuesday.

If you count all such transitions since 1960, it adds up to about 43 million square kilometres (16.5 square miles), four times more than previous estimates, according to a study in Nature Communications.

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The Voyager 1 probe is now so far away that it can hear the background 'hum' of interstellar space

The Voyager 1 spacecraft holds the record for the most distant human-made object to ever exist. Though it was launched 44 years ago and is over 14 billion miles away from Earth, this space probe continues to send critical information and data back to Earth even as it floats through the void between our solar system and the next.

This article was originally published at Salon

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US space probe Osiris-Rex heads home with asteroid dust

The US space probe Osiris-Rex on Monday left the orbit of the asteroid Bennu, from which it collected dust samples last year, to begin its long journey back to Earth.

The probe still has a vast distance to cover before it lands in the Utah desert on September 24, 2023.

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Florida experiencing massive surge in COVID-variant cases tied to spring break invasion: report

According to a report from ABC, Florida is reporting a massive surge in COVID-variant cases that appear to be tied to the massive surge of young people who flooded the beaches during spring break.

With Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) moving quickly to open the state up during the pandemic despite warnings from the CDC, the state is now seeing the after-effects of his decisions with a startlingly large 10,000 variant cases.

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COVID-19 deaths in US are 57% higher than official reports, study suggests

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has had the unenviable task of announcing, each and every week, just how many Americans have died of COVID-19. As of Wednesday, the official tabulation was that almost 562,000 Americans had passed away with COVID-19 being cited as the cause on their death certificates. This includes more than 178,000 deaths in the first four months of 2021.

Yet one group of researchers believe that these numbers, tragic enough as they are, may actually be lower than reality.

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The airline industry says planes are pandemic-proof. Public health experts disagree

The COVID-19 pandemic changed everything for the airline industry. Besides the obvious need for safety measures to counter an airborne virus, the industry suffered "the largest drop in air travel in history," according to the International Air Transport Association (IATA), a 290-member trade association for the global airline industry. This drop in traffic was not entirely consumer-driven, as governments throughout the world limited travel to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus.

This article first appeared in Salon.

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'This is wrong': Ron Johnson's anti-vaccination lies ripped apart by CNN

Following Wisconsin Sen. Ron Johnson's misinformation-ridden vaccine comments on the radio, CNN published a lengthy fact-check taking down all of the false claims he made.

"Johnson ... said he was 'sticking up for people who choose not to get vaccinated,'" reported Holmes Lybrand and Tara Subramaniam. "In Thursday's interview with conservative radio host Vicki McKenna, Johnson suggested there have been thousands of deaths connected to Covid-19 vaccinations and that receiving a vaccine could be particularly dangerous for those who had previously been infected."

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