Monday, 28 September 2015

Gravity waves missing in action in latest test

The Parkes radio telescope, used in these observations. (credit: SCIRO)

The Universe should be teeming with gravity waves. As near as we can tell, just about every galaxy has at least one supermassive black hole at its core. Most large galaxies were formed by multiple mergers, which would put more than one of these supermassive black holes in close proximity. As they get close enough to start spiraling in towards a merger, their orbital interactions should produce gravity waves. As long as this process doesn't end in a merger too quickly, the Universe's population of merging black holes should fill space with a gravity wave background.

Our Earth-bound detectors aren't sensitive enough to pick this background up. Conveniently, however, nature has provided us with its own detector: pulsars. Unfortunately, a detailed study of a handful of pulsars has failed to turn up any sign of gravity waves, suggesting it might be time to revisit some of our models.

A pulsar is a rapidly spinning neutron star. Each revolution, it sends flashes of light towards Earth, often separated by a handful of milliseconds. The timing of these pulses can sometimes be tracked with a precision of 20 nanoseconds, providing an extremely tight constraint on their expected behavior. If a gravity wave happened to ripple through the right patch of space-time as the light pulse was on its way to Earth, it could distort the timing enough to be detectable.

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Erin Fetherston From Wildwood Fall 2015

erin fetherston fall 2015
erin fetherston fall 2015

 A small-town girl grows up. Erin Fetherston's fall 2015 collection could have been her biography on the runway. The show was named "Wildwood" after the street she grew up on in a small California town. She left the West Coast to study fashion in Paris.

The looks on the catwalk had sweet floral prints, schoolgirl collars and simple dresses that evoked a naive, rural sensibility. The dresses quickly lengthened into more luxurious fabrics, longer sophisticated silhouettes and closely tailored ensembles. The floral prints graduated to embellished guipure lace. Was this the story of a wide-eyed girl who follows her dreams the City of Lights and succeeds as a top fashion designer in New York City?

Perhaps this was just a collection that mixes elegant options for the evening mixed with  relaxed chic for daytime. Perhaps Erin Fetherston just understands what a woman who has worked hard to make it to the top wants to wear when they know they haven't lost touch with their roots?

photos by David TW Leung
The designer has described her fall offerings as "She's a polished pixie with a downtown edge." The makeup was clean and classic. The hair was smoothed down and pulled back. This woman was showing her confidence without feeling like she has to be over-the-top.

Even the handbags juxtapose the rural and the cosmopolitan. They were dainty, but made in a rustic polished wood, paired with an elegant chain detail that looked like jewelry.

Erin Fetherston is the woman she dresses. That's always a great thing to see in a fashion label. You trust the designer because you know she gets you.

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Microchannel systems could boost future of solar thermal electricity

Microchannel technology pioneered at Oregon State University has demonstrated in laboratory experiments that it can significantly improve the

The post Microchannel systems could boost future of solar thermal electricity has been published on Technology Org.

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A light in the dark: The MiniCLEAN dark matter experiment prepares for its debut

Getting to an experimental cavern 6800 feet below the surface in Sudbury, Ontario, requires an unusual commute. The

The post A light in the dark: The MiniCLEAN dark matter experiment prepares for its debut has been published on Technology Org.

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How science can improve interrogation

The release of the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence report on the CIA's detention and interrogation program documents the use of so-called enhanced interrogation techniques (EITs) against terrorism suspects detained by the agency.

The report concludes that the CIA program was more widespread and egregious than the American public — and Congressional oversight committees — had been led to believe. Not surprisingly, key findings in the report also call into question the claimed efficacy of EITs in eliciting reliable intelligence information.

As a research psychologist who has spent more than a decade assessing the effectiveness of various interview and interrogation methods, I regard release of the Senate report as a uniquely important event. It should encourage us to critically assess the ethical, legal, and scientific basis upon which the EIT program was based. Just as important, it should prompt us to consider how we devise our future interrogation practices.

An absence of scientific scrutiny

The report offers an opportunity for us to reflect upon the events that led to the use of EITs by the CIA, as well as the debate over their purported effectiveness.

While proponents claim these methods are necessary to compel uncooperative subjects to divulge critical information, critical analysis fails to justify their use.

From my perspective, EITs are ethically indefensible. Their use appears to violate both domestic and international law. Furthermore, no scientific assessment of the techniques can be offered to demonstrate their effectiveness in practice.

The report's first finding agreed — the "CIA's use of its enhanced interrogation techniques was not an effective means of acquiring intelligence or gaining cooperation from detainees." However, the debate between critics and proponents of the program continues, with both sides offering anecdotal evidence to support their claims.

The absence of (and need for) scientific scrutiny on this issue is obvious. Unfortunately, ethical issues once again pervade any such discussion. The ethical conduct of experimental research would preclude any responsible scientist from systematically assessing the CIA's "enhanced interrogation techniques".

How should one conduct interrogation?

A 2006 Intelligence Science Board concluded that the U.S. government's interrogation practices were largely devoid of any scientific validity.

In fact, existing research into current practices in the U.S. indicates that the use of an accusatorial approach — characterized by accusation, confrontation, and psychological manipulation — can produce false confessions if applied against innocent subjects.

In 2009, the Obama administration created the High-Value Detainee Interrogation Group (HIG), an inter-agency group comprising personnel from the FBI, CIA, and (Defense Intelligence Agency) DIA. The operational mission of the HIG was to conduct interrogations of high-value terrorism suspects. In addition, the HIG was also tasked with developing a research program to assess the effectiveness of current interrogation practices and to develop novel, science-based methods.

Since 2010, I have led a group of internationally renowned psychologists from the U.S., UK, Sweden, Australia, Southeast Asia, South Africa, and the Middle East to do just that. For the past four years, we have worked to develop new methods of intelligence interviewing and interrogation. This research is unclassified and is conducted with the oversight of Human Subjects Review Committees that protect the rights and welfare of study participants. Our group has produced more than 60 studies — from experimental research to interviews and surveys of interrogation professionals and systematic analysis of specific criminal and counterterrorist interrogation interviews.

These studies assess the importance of social relationships, active listening, and personal rapport in extracting information. They have developed methods that enhance memory recall and evaluate what kind of questioning can help an interrogator judge whether a suspect is telling the truth or not. They look at the impact of the interrogation context (how should we set up the interrogation room?), and the role of culture and language (including the influence of interpreters).

We are working with U.S. military, intelligence, and law enforcement agencies to introduce science-based methods into their formal training programs. The good news is that these methods are now being taught to U.S. government personnel.

Our findings clearly show that interrogation strategies that are based on building rapport and seek to understand a suspect's motivation to cooperate are more effective than accusatory practices that look to raise anxiety levels, fabricate evidence, and minimize a suspect's perception of their own culpability. This conclusion is confirmed by the experiences of many highly skilled interrogators. Further, the "information gathering approach," as it is known, preserves the ethical principles of fairness and justice and is legally permissible.

A complete description of the implications of this research is too detailed to be included here. However, the results of our efforts are available to both the scientific and professional communities. Studies conducted by our researchers are being published in peer-reviewed journals and presented at both academic and professional meetings. A new publication, Interrogation: Expanding the Frontiers of Research and Practice, shares our findings with interrogation professionals, U.S. government trainers, and the public.

Our research program represents only the beginning of what is possible. Medicine and education have turned to researchers for the development of evidence-based approaches. It is time that the practice of interrogation be similarly informed by scientific scrutiny.

The Conversation

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No sign of safety risks with longterm pot use for chronic pain

While the medical use of cannabis has expanded, there's little data available regarding its safety. Although the drug has been used (recreationally and medically) by humans going back far into prehistory, it was criminalized by the time researchers began conducting rigorous clinical trials. Consequently, almost every news story one reads about the use of cannabis as a medical therapy contains some variation of disclaimer saying "more research is needed" into the longterm safety of medical cannabis use.

Now a tiny bit of that "more research" has been published in the Journal of Pain. The headline result was that there was no increase in the number of serious adverse events in a group that used cannabis for chronic pain when compared to a group that did not. As the authors point out in the paper, the "lack of data on the safety and efficacy of cannabis is a major barrier to physicians' involvement [in prescribing medical cannabis]."

The study was conducted in Canada between 2004 and 2008. It followed 431 chronic pain patients for a year in order to assess the rates of adverse events, pulmonary effects, and neurocognitive function. The patients were divided into a group that used cannabis to treat that chronic pain (n=215) as well a control group that didn't (n=216). A key strength of the work is that it was a prospective study; the participants were chosen before they started the treatment plan.

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Hitting the neutrino floor

The scientist who first detected the neutrino called the strange new particle "the most tiny quantity of reality

The post Hitting the neutrino floor has been published on Technology Org.

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Upgrade Your Laundry With Tide Pods

This site reports on tons of fashion. I realized I never addressed the care of such fashion. I was introduced to Tide PODs with Febreze back in NY Fashion Week last February. The squishy little pouches were cute to look at but the pods seemed like a novelty to use.

I won't lie, I hate laundry. As a Manhattanite, I don't have a washer and dryer directly in my apartment and have to use commercial machines. Anything that makes this process easier is fabulous in my book. The pods are a 4-in-1 combo of detergent, softener, fabric freshener and agent to brighten colors. I have a cat and don't do laundry nearly as much as most people should. Popping in the little pods into the machine with my clothes without worrying about multiple bottles, boxes and measuring does streamline the process.

I have sensitive skin, prone to allergies, so I was worried about a switch to a product with scent. I am happy to say that I felt absolutely no irritation from my laundered clothes. It was also a bonus that everything smelled fresh. While the advertising says the scent lasts 24 hours, I found that my linens and towels maintained the lovely notes for over a week in my closet.

As a fashion industry vet, I wash more clothes in the machine than recommended. Clothing labels err on the side of caution and asking customers to dry clean everything is just easier from a legal standpoint. While silk crepe and charmeuse tend to shrink after the wash (which is fine for my nightgowns), I wouldn't bother with fitted blouses. Knits and even cashmere can be washed in the machines, just make sure you use cold water and lay them flat to drive (do NOT put them in the dryer). For cotton knits, many are treated to a silicone wash at retail to pop the colors, so no matter what, they will fade. Your best bet is always to turn any intense color or dark colored clothing inside out.

Between running around from show to show next week, Tide PODS with Febreze will be my MVP for NYFW. Save your clothes save the world. Follow them on Tide Facebook for discounts, coupons, tips.

Sponsored by InStyle on behalf of Tide
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Artist Stan Herd Plants a 1.2-Acre Field Inspired by Van Gogh’s 1889 Painting “Olive Trees”


We've seen a number of interesting projects lately that attempt to bring art from inside museums into the outdoors. Artist Stan Herd has been doing just that for years by using fields as his canvas for both original compositions and interpretations of historical art. His latest work is a monumental 1.2-acre interpretation of Van Gogh's 1889 Painting "Olive Trees" planted in Minneapolis. The piece was commissioned by the Minneapolis Institute of Art and involved weeks of mowing, digging, planting, and earthscaping to create the piece viewable from the air near the Minneapolis airport. If you happen to see the piece when flying into the city, you can head to the museum to see the real thing.

Herd's first outdoor land art piece (he refers to them as "earthworks") was an ambitions 160-acre portrait of Kiowa Indian chief Satanta, that he physically carved into a Kansas prairie in 1981. He's since created dozens of works around the world, and notably inspired Japanese artists in Inakadate province north of Tokyo to plant a series of incredible rice paddy artworks.

The Van Gogh field will be on view through the fall in Minneapolis, after which Herd plans to mow it down in concentric circles similar to the Dutch artists's iconic painting style. You can read more about the piece in the StarTribune. (thnx, Randy!)





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Using ultrasound to clean medical instruments

Researchers from the University of Southampton have demonstrated how a pioneering ultrasonic device can significantly improve the cleaning

The post Using ultrasound to clean medical instruments has been published on Technology Org.

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