Christian Science Monitor


Scientists say ravens display foresight, a trait thought unique to apes

Christian Science Monitor

After all, compared to mammals, birds have small brains relative to their bodies, and bird brains lack a neocortex, which in mammals is thought to be the seat of higher-order thinking such as reasoning, problem-solving, language, and delaying gratification. In one version of the experiment, Osvath and Mr. Kabadayi trained ravens to use a tool to open a box containing a piece of dog kibble, a popular treat among ravens. When presented with the box containing the kibble fifteen minutes later, the ravens passed on the smaller reward 86 percent of the time, ignoring the distractors, and picking the correct tool to open the box. The last common ancestor of humans and birds lived some 320 million years ago, suggesting that these advanced cognitive traits emerged independently in hominids and corvids, using very different brains.


Through citizen science projects, anyone can be a scientist

Christian Science Monitor

"This is a collaborative endeavor that anyone could get involved in," says Chris Lintott, an Oxford University astrophysicist and cofounder of Zooniverse, a platform that hosts dozens of citizen science projects. As long as pattern recognition is involved, there are no limits to what can become a citizen science project, Dr. Lintott says. For centuries before science became professionalized, regular people looked for patterns in the world around them. As a professional scientist himself, Lintott says, "people think that we're intelligent, but science is easy and we need your help."


How information overload helps spread fake news

Christian Science Monitor

A new study reveals the mathematics underlying this phenomenon, modeling how information overload can erode an individual's ability to distinguish high-quality information from its opposite, causing falsehoods to propagate. "It was the first paper I've seen in this area that quantifies what many people thought was happening, and that's basically with limited attention we're unable to see the full range of potential arguments or sides of the story," says Dr. Uzzi, who has studied how social media users isolate themselves into echo chambers. The researchers suggest that social networks could curb information overload by aggressively limiting content shared by so-called bot accounts, software agents that flood social networks with low-quality information. The research reveals some of the math that drives what psychologists have long known: Information overload makes it harder to make decisions.


Understanding why loneliness exists can help ease it, say scientists

Christian Science Monitor

It pushes people who find themselves isolated back into the social fold. And those who scored higher on self-centeredness one year would report greater feelings of loneliness the following year. "People sort of step back, falling in with an old American tradition of kind of admiring self-sufficiency too much," she says. Previous analysis by Cacioppo and his colleagues suggests that targeting social cognition – that is, re-training the way lonely people think about others – can be more effective at combating loneliness than targeting shyness, building social skills, or increasing opportunities for social contact.


Where are all the space hotels? Why smart people make terrible forecasts.

Christian Science Monitor

Such optimism often leads to underestimating the chance of unknown unknowns derailing your project, so planning experts suggest a technique called reference class forecasting, where project planners learn from past risk by predicting overruns based on how similarly complex projects fared before. Virgin Galactic doesn't release public estimates, but according to the US Government Accountability Office's annual review, NASA's large project costs have overrun budget by between 10 percent and 50 percent in each of the last nine years, a figure dominated by the ballooning costs of the JWST. Not one to back down from a challenge, NASA in 2013 and 2014 developed the Technology Cost and Schedule Estimating (TCASE) software, which uses reference class forecasting tenets to predict the most uncertain of undertakings: creating new technology. But to make matters worse, even if reference class forecasting could roughly estimate the chance of unknown unknowns cropping up, it's hard to get advance funding for what-if scenarios.


Why predicting the future is more than just horseplay

Christian Science Monitor

When the odds posted by the track are different from the odds determined using insider information, Kelly's formula explains how to take those differences and place the best bets possible, mathematically speaking. There may be simple patterns that organize seemingly chaotic events, but complicated limits to prediction in rather simple systems. And while predicting what an individual might do is sometimes next to impossible, as we've seen throughout this series in The Christian Science Monitor, complex social systems can exhibit highly predictable behavior at large scales. Finding predictable patterns that emerge from the complicated interactions of many individual parts is the norm when studying complex systems.


Breakthroughs arise from a precise mix of old and new knowledge, say scientists

Christian Science Monitor

Now, a study of nearly 30 million research papers and more than 5 million patents offers clues as to where more of these giants might be lurking. A paper published by researchers at Northwestern University's Institute on Complex Systems in the journal Science Advances on Wednesday reveals that the most-cited papers rely on a specific mix of old and new research that the authors say is "nearly universal in all branches of science and technology." The findings may point to ways to improve the technology that scientists and other scholars use to search for information, an increasingly pressing need amid what Uzzi calls the "absolute explosion in the amount of information that's created every single day." Professor Woolley mentions Google Scholar, a free search engine for academic publishing whose slogan is: "Stand on the shoulders of giants."


British kid finds NASA mistake: when too many cooks don't spoil anything

Christian Science Monitor

His findings add to a long history of amateurs making real contributions to science, a phenomenon many researchers are eager to encourage. Players compete to find top scoring folds, which experts analyze later. The results in this week's paper show that gaming, science and computation can be combined to make advances that were not possible before." In addition to ISS sensor checking and protein folding, scientists are turning to citizens for help with star searching, bird counting, eclipse recording, and even quantum computing.


How origami machines might unlock secrets of Mars and the universe

Christian Science Monitor

March 23, 2017 --If some NASA researchers have their way, Mars exploration technology of the future may rely on an art form from the past. NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) has developed a Pop-Up Flat Folding Explorer Robot (PUFFER) prototype that could change how we explore Mars. More than just origami-inspired, the solar panel's design relied directly on a classic technique called the flasher pattern. The National Science Foundation has distributed millions of dollars in grants to origami-inspired design, and the PUFFER program received support from JPL's Game Changing Development Program, a NASA funding source that purposely tries to foster what Karras calls "out-there ideas."


Why origami machines may unlock secrets of Mars and the universe

Christian Science Monitor

March 23, 2017 --If some NASA researchers have their way, Mars exploration technology of the future may rely on an art form from the past. NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) has developed a Pop-Up Flat Folding Explorer Robot (PUFFER) prototype that could change how we explore Mars. More than just origami-inspired, the solar panel's design relied directly on a classic technique called the flasher pattern. The National Science Foundation has distributed millions of dollars in grants to origami-inspired design, and the PUFFER program received support from JPL's Game Changing Development Program, a NASA funding source that purposely tries to foster what Karras calls "out-there ideas."