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April 27 2017


Resource availability drives person-to-person variations in microbes living in the body

The collection of microbial species found in the human body varies from person to person, and new research suggests that a significant part of this variation can be explained by variability in shared resources available to the microbes.

Tibetan people have multiple adaptations for life at high altitudes

The Tibetan people have inherited variants of five different genes that help them live at high altitudes, with one gene originating in the extinct human subspecies, the Denisovans.

Sponsor bias

Alison McCook at Retraction Watch:

First, an occupational health journal appointed a new editor with industry ties without consulting the editorial board. Then, with no explanation, it withdrew a paper by the previous editor that was critical of corporate-sponsored research — again, without consulting the editorial board.

At that point, they’d had enough.

Yesterday, the editorial board of the International Journal of Occupational and Environmental Health sent a letter to the publisher, Taylor & Francis, expressing their “grave concerns” over the future of the journal, and its recent actions.

As part of the letter — signed by 30 past and present editorial members and the founding editor — they write:

IJOEH has stood in a class by itself in publishing critical analyses and challenges of improper corporate influence on the standards of practice and scientific literature in our field.

Originally, we raised serious concern that the Editorial Board was never consulted or informed by T&F about the change of editors, replacing Dr. David Egilman with corporate consultant Dr. Andrew Maier.  We wrote to the publisher on February 11 requesting to know the process and justification for changing editors of a scientific journal without involving the Editorial Board.

As an illustration of their concerns, the board members note that Maier — chair of the fellows program at Toxicology Excellence for Risk Assessment (TERA), which the letter-writers dub a “corporate consulting firm” — recommends a significantly higher safe limit for diacetyl, a flavoring chemical used in microwave popcorn, than did former editor Egilman.

This month, the journal withdrew a 2016 paper by Egilman, “The production of corporate research to manufacture doubt about the health hazards of products: an overview of the Exponent Bakelite simulation study,” with a curt statement:

This content has been removed by the publishers.

The board members conclude their letter (which you can see here, with contact information redacted) with four demands ...

It is difficult to fully trust research that has been conducted for a business firm, government agency, non-profit, or whatever, that has clear organizational goals that may deviate from discover of facts or the truth. Business firms that seek to maximize profits tend to sponsor research that leads to higher profits. Non-profit organizations and government agencies tend to sponsor research that expands and/or protects the organization/agency. The degree to which you can trust the research can only be judged on a case-by-case basis considering context, the degree to which the research seems biased towards the sponsor's goals, etc. The problem is much worse when the researchers are not required to reveal their funding sources, but this problem seems to be going away as researchers are required to disclose funding and conflicts of interest

This journal sounds like it is going downhill.


Another good year for Chesapeake Bay's underwater grasses

An annual survey shows the abundance of underwater grasses in Chesapeake Bay increased 8 percent between 2015 and 2016, continuing an upward trend initiated in 2012.

Winemakers lose billions of dollars every year due to natural disasters

Every year, worldwide wine industry suffers losses of more than ten billion US dollars from damaged assets, production losses, and lost profits due to extreme weather events and natural disasters. A multidisciplinary team examined the extent to which regions are affected by the risks and how climate change influences wine industry.

Cold-water corals: Acidification harms, warming promotes growth

The cold-water coral Lophelia pertusa is able to counteract negative effects of ocean acidification under controlled laboratory conditions when water temperature rises by a few degrees at the same time. Whether this will also be possible in the natural habitat depends on the degree of change in environmental conditions, researchers argue.

Fukomys livingstoni, I presume?

Two new species of African mole-rat have been discovered by researchers. The species, formally described as Fukomys hanangensis and Fukomys livingstoni, were found around Mount Hanang and at Ujiji on the shores of Lake Tanganyika, both in Tanzania.

Ocean warming to cancel increased carbon dioxide-driven productivity

Researchers have constructed a marine food web to show how climate change could affect our future fish supplies and marine biodiversity.

Discovery in northern lakes may be key to understanding early life on Earth

Many Canadian lakes can provide new insights into ancient oceans, a team of researchers has discovered, and these findings could advance research about greenhouse gas emissions, harmful algal blooms, and early life forms.

Rising US maize yields due to skewed gains

Precision agriculture on the best soils has reaped rewards, researchers say

Rising US maize yields due to skewed gains

Precision agriculture on the best soils has reaped rewards, researchers say

April 26 2017


Engineers shine light on deadly landslide

Late in the morning of March 22, 2014, a huge chunk of land cut loose and roared down a hillside in the Stillaguamish River Valley just east of Oso, Washington, about 60 miles northeast of Seattle. In a matter of minutes, 43 people lost their lives as a wall of mud, sand, clay, water. A new report details the factors leading to the disaster, the hazards that accompany landslides and steps that can be taken to mitigate landslide consequences and risk in the Pacific Northwest, with the aim of preventing future tragedies.

Tsunami formation: Study challenges long-held theory

A new study is challenging a long-held theory that tsunamis form and acquire their energy mostly from vertical movement of the seafloor.

Researchers quantify the changes that lightning inspires in rock

New research has identified the minimum temperature of a bolt of lightning as it strikes rock. The study discovered that, based on the crystalline material in the sample, the minimum temperature at which the fulgurite formed was roughly 1,700 degrees Celsius.

Light can improve perovskite solar cell performance

Scientists show how light affects perovskite film formation in solar cells, which is a critical factor in using them for cost-effective and energy-efficient photovoltaics.

Paleontologists identify new 507-million-year-old sea creature with can opener-like pincers

Paleontologists have uncovered a new fossil species that sheds light on the origin of mandibulates, the most abundant and diverse group of organisms on Earth, to which belong familiar animals such as flies, ants, crayfish and centipedes. Named Tokummia katalepsis by the researchers, the creature documents for the first time the anatomy of early mandibulates, a sub-group of arthropods with specialized appendages known as mandibles, used to grasp, crush and cut their food.

Global warming accounts for tripling of extreme West African Sahel storms

Global warming is responsible for a tripling in the frequency of extreme West African Sahel storms observed in just the last 35 years, an international team of experts has reported.

Hard rocks from Himalaya raise flood risk for millions

Scientists have shown how earthquakes and storms in the Himalaya can increase the impact of deadly floods in one of Earth's most densely populated areas.

Stringent exhaust gas tests for cars in Europe

As of October 2017, newly launched car models will have to pass more stringent exhaust gas tests in the EU and in Switzerland. The new test method includes measuring drives in actual traffic. Researchers have already tested currently available cars with the new method – with alarming results.

Wind, rain play key role in breeding patterns of migratory tree swallows

Wind and precipitation play a crucial role in advancing or delaying the breeding cycles of North American tree swallows, according to the results of a new study.
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