Weekly Roundup

Which diet is best? According to new research, none of them.

Cosmos continues to attract controversy as Creationists demand equal time for their theories on the program.

Cancer care in hospitals should not include unproven treatments like reflexology and reiki, argues Brian Palmer at Slate. And nearly half of Americans believe at least one medical conspiracy theory, according to a BMJ survey.

Users of the new Spreadsheets app have gamified their sexual encounters. Here’s a map showing the average duration of intercourse in each American state. And here’s a series of (PG-rated) sketches of animal mating rituals, if they were performed by humans.

As a nice change from contemporary parenting debates, here’s a look into the way parents dealt with teenagers during the Middle Ages.

A paper on climate change deniers’ belief in conspiracy theories has been pulled from Frontiers in Psychology due to the “legal context” created by allegations of defamation.

A postdoc was sabotaged by one of her peers, reports Science (paywall-protected), and claims in a lawsuit that she received inadequate response from the school and her supervisor.

A buzzword-induced fetish for innovation is not the same as a robust technology policy, argues Evgeny Morozov at the New Republic.

Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales responds to a petition criticizing the representation of holistic medicine: “What we won’t do is pretend that the work of lunatic charlatans is the equivalent of ‘true scientific discourse’. It isn’t.”…

Could Prediction Markets Help to Find MH370?

Like everyone else, I have become obsessed with the disappearance of Malaysian Airlines flight MH370. When I read that the flight lost contact on March 8, I assumed that it would be found crashed into the ocean in a matter of days if not hours. Nearly two weeks later, people are starting to wonder whether it will ever be found.

There is no shortage of theories about what happened to the flight. Pilot suicide seems to be the most likely answer, but there is scant evidence of motive. Terrorist hijacking is an obvious possibility, perhaps by the Taliban or Uighurs seeking to strike back at China, but no groups have claimed responsibility. Piracy is a possibility; the list price of a Boeing 777 is over $200 million. Pilot Chris Goodfellow claims that an electrical fire is the most likely cause, and many believe this explanation is the most likely, but it has difficulty explaining the several course and altitude changes made by the flight. Similarly, Australian Pilot Desmond Ross argues that the flight could have depressurized, explaining why the plane first rapidly descended. He then argues that errors induced by the depressurization could explain the plane’s other maneuvers. Any, or none, of these could be true.

As theories have proliferated and the official search area has widened to a significant portion of the Earth’s surface, I have started to wonder whether prediction markets might help to locate the missing flight. Prediction markets are similar to stock markets, but the traded contracts are predictions rather than shares of a corporation. Contracts in prediction markets have a payoff (say $1) if the associated prediction is correct, and no payoff if it is incorrect. Such markets have proven remarkably powerful in predicting the outcomes of certain types of events, such as political elections.

Thinking about MH370, I was reminded of this passage from James Surowiecki’s The Wisdom of Crowds:

In May 1968, the U.S. submarine Scorpion disappeared on its way back to Newport News after a tour of duty in the North Atlantic. Although the navy knew the sub’s last reported location, it had no idea what happened to the Scorpion, and only the vaguest sense of how far it might have traveled after it had last made radio contact. As a result, the area where the navy began searching for the Scorpion was a circle twenty miles wide and many thousands of feet deep. You could not imagine a more hopeless task(xx).

Weekly Roundup

Conflicting with previous results, a new study supports the 5-second food rule.

The end may be nigh, according to a NASA-funded study of past complex civilizations employing both natural and social scientists. The paper, which will eventually be published in Ecological Economics, points to resource overexploitation and economic inequalities as the harbingers of doom, but offers a silver lining: structural changes or policy initiatives could stave off societal collapse.

Should parents ban handheld device use in children? Maybe not.

Rebekah Higgitt examines the many reactions, mostly negative, to the rebooted TV science program Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey‘s portrayal of Giordano Bruno from the history of science community.

Migraines and hangovers may now be curable, for about $300 each.

When high schools roll back their start times, results include better grades and fewer car crashes.

Following the recent removal of Asperger’s as a diagnostic category, a behavioural neurologist believes the ADHD label should be next to disappear.

Say goodbye to dessert: the WHO proposes limiting added sugars to 5% of caloric intake, or around 6 teaspoons of added sugar per day for the average person, halving their previous recommendation. But not to worry; if Virginia Tech professor Y.H. Percival Zhang’s research can scale up, we’ll all be eating starch from wood chips and other currently-inedible plant parts.

Gravitational waves have been discovered in the cosmic background radiation, which would confirm cosmic inflation theory. Here’s Ethan Siegel’s great breakdown, with diagrams.…

Weekly Roundup

Powerpoint presentations are the bane of higher education and the corporate world, claims this Powerpoint presentation.

A 43% reduction in American childhood obesity has been reported across multiple news outlets, but some question such striking results. Mark Liberman at Language Log has done some digging and suspects both the statistical treatment of reference population growth charts, as well as changes to the sampling method which result in a more racially-inclusive population.

We eat too much of everything… except yogourt: the FDA has proposed new serving sizes for several types of food to better reflect actual consumption habits.

Here is the first x-ray image of individual living cells, preserved without chemical fixation, from Physical Review Letters. This research illustrates the nanoscale damage to cell structures caused by traditional techniques [via Gizmodo].

What do women want while ovulating? Positional goods that improve their status compared to that of other women, according to a new paper in the Journal of Marketing Research. “Overall, women’s monthly hormonal fluctuations seem to have a substantial effect on consumer behavior by systematically altering their positional concerns, a finding that has important implications for marketers, consumers, and researchers” [via Marginal Revolution].

A new Pew survey of millennials, a demographic who confuse their parents, teachers, therapists, and bosses, shows that they are also pretty confused.

Men who act sexually aggressive in a barroom setting don’t drink more alcohol, but they target women who do, claims a new study in Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research [via Jezebel].

Insert a reference to your thawed-virus horror film of choice: a thirty thousand-year-old giant virus was discovered in the Siberian permafrost. But don’t worry; it only infects amoebas [via io9].

If you’ve got the time to scroll through mostly darkness, check out this scale representation of the solar system where the moon = one pixel.