Fossils show ancient flying reptiles called pterosaurs likely had feathers

  • The specimens are of two small, flying reptiles discovered recently in China.
  • In recent decades, multiple discoveries have led scientists to believe virtually all dinosaurs were covered in feathers.
  • This recent discovery suggests that feathers were an adaptation that evolved before the dinosaurs, from a common ancestor.

None

During the 1990s and 2000s, paleontologists in China discovered a set of exceptionally well-preserved fossils that suggested theropods, a suborder of dinosaurs to which the velociraptor belonged, were covered in feathers. In 2014, paleontologists in Siberia came across another feather-covered dinosaur specimen. It wasn’t, however, a theropod.

These recent discoveries, along with past findings, have shown that at least four ancestrally distinct dinosaur groups had feathers. The implication is clear: It’s likely that almost all dinosaurs were covered in feathers. Now, two specimens of ancient reptiles recently discovered in China suggest that feathers evolved from a common ancestor to dinosaurs that dates back farther than scientists previously thought.

The fossils were of two anurognathids, which belonged to a group of flying reptiles called pterosaurs that existed during the Mesozoic era, some 228 to 66 million years ago. Pterosaurs, which came before the dinosaurs, are thought to be among the first vertebrates to evolve the ability to fly, and since the 19th century scientists have thought these creatures were likely covered in fur.

The researchers, who described their findings a study published December 17 in Nature, used four different methods to analyze the specimens, including traditional microscopes, scanning electron microscopes, fluorescence microscopy and laser-stimulated fluorescence imaging. Their results seemed to confirm the existence of hair-like filaments on pterosaurs and also, more surprisingly, three types of branched filaments similar to the kinds found on feathered dinosaurs. Although pterosaurs could fly, their feathers weren’t for flight but possibly for tactile sensing or camouflage.

As Gizmodo reports, the team also found in the feathers a cellular organelle called melanosomes, which synthesize melanin pigment, suggesting the reptiles had a ginger-brown color.

One of two possibilities

The study implies one of two things occurred millions of years ago: either ancestrally distinct groups of reptiles evolved feathers independently of one another, or they all share a feather-covered common ancestor that evolved feathers far earlier than previously thought. As scientists continue to discover that more groups of dinosaurs were covered in feathers, the common-ancestor theory becomes increasingly plausible.

“The most logical conclusion is that feathers go all the way back, beyond even dinosaurs, to a more distant ancestor,” paleontologist Steve Brusatte of the University of Edinburgh in the UK, who wasn’t involved in the study, told New Scientist. “The next step out on the family tree is crocodiles, so maybe, just maybe, a paleontologist will one day find a fossil croc with feathers.”

Paleontologist Armita Manafzadeh from Brown University, who wasn’t involved in the new study, told Gizmodo that the researchers’ analysis methods mark a “gold standard” for this kind of work.

“They used four complementary methods to analyze not only the shape but also the cellular and chemical composition of pycnofibers, giving us a much more thorough understanding of pterosaur integumentary [skin] structures than ever before,” Manafzadeh told Gizmodo. “This work goes to show us that synthesizing different methods can help us extract previously inaccessible data from fossils—and also that we still have a lot left to learn about pterosaurs,” she said.

Studies suggest parenthood makes people unhappy

  • Folk knowledge assumes having children is the key to living a happy, meaningful life; however, empirical evidence suggests nonparents are the more cheery bunch.
  • The difference is most pronounced in countries like the United States. In countries that support pro-family policies, parents can be just as happy as their child-free peers.
  • These findings suggest that we can’t rely on folk knowledge to make decisions about parenting, on either the individual or societal levels.

None

How does one live a happy, meaningful life? For many the answer is, at least in part, raising children. Watching a child grow and learn about the world is a joyous experience, and the time spent providing unconditional love and care offers spiritual dividends. Then in our golden years, children can be a source of palliative comfort.

This view is so entrenched in our culture that many people, especially women, are pressured by friends and family into having children and feel they must justify their reason not to.

As is often the case, social reality proves more complicated than the worldview learned at mother’s knee. Decades of research has compared the happiness and well-being of parents to nonparents, and the verdict is in: a lot of parents are less happy than their childless peers. But not all of them.

The parent trap

Headlines claiming parents to be more dejected than nonparents certainly grab our attention, but such stories are hardly news. Empirical studies have been tracing out this pattern since the 1970s. Here are three sample papers demonstrating the trend:

A 2011 review by Thomas Hansen, a researcher at Norwegian Social Research, compared our folk understanding on the relationship between parenthood and happiness to the evidence. It found that people believe “the lives of childless people are emptier, less rewarding, and lonelier than the lives of parents,” but that the opposite proved true. Children living at home interfered with their parents’ well-being.

A meta-analysis by the National Council on Family Relations looked at a more specific metric of happiness: marital satisfaction. It found that couples without children reported more romantic bliss. The difference was most pronounced among mothers of infants, while fathers disclose less satisfaction regardless of the child’s age. The authors noted the discrepancy likely resulted from role conflicts and restrictions on freedom.

Finally, a study published in the American Journal of Sociology looked at 22 Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries and compared the association between parenthood and happiness. Researchers Jennifer Glass (University of Texas, Austin) and Robin Simon (Wake Forest University) found that nonparents reveal higher levels of well-being in most advanced industrialized societies.

The happiness gap was widest in the United States, where parents were 12 percent less cheerful than childless adults. Fourteen other countries—among them Ireland, Greece, Britain, New Zealand, Switzerland, and Australia—also showed a less-than-sunny outlook for parents, but not to as large a degree as in the U.S.

Are the kids alright?

Based on a glance at this research, one could posit that children are a predominant source of unhappiness—and yes, we all know that one kid who is Exhibit A for this statement. But these researchers were careful to note that these effects are correlative, not causative, and there are many factors in the mix beyond progeny.

Hansen’s review points out that the parents most susceptible to unhappiness were women, singles, those in lower socioeconomic strata, and those living in less pro-birth societies. Meanwhile, the National Council on Family Relations saw the largest decrease in martial satisfaction among the higher socioeconomic groups, likely because their status afforded them greater freedoms before having children.

Glass and Simon found eight countries where parents reported higher levels of happiness than nonparents, including Spain, Norway, and Portugal. Their analysis indicated that countries offering “more generous family policies, particularly paid time off and childcare subsidies, are associated with smaller disparities in happiness between parents and nonparents.”

A potential reason? Parents in countries supporting pro-family policies contend with fewer stressors. They can take more parental leave, enjoy expansive subsidized care, and aren’t as financially burdened by educational expenses. This is especially true when compared to the U.S., which provides little support for parents compared to the other countries in the study.

Importantly, Glass and Simon also found that such policies had no detrimental effect on the happiness of nonparents. In fact, the presence of strong pro-family policies led to greater happiness for women of all statuses.

Parental unhappiness is… complicated

Taken together, these three studies suggest a major cause of parental despondency is scarcity. Lower-class parents find it difficult to patch together the money, resources, and social networks necessary to succeed in their own lives while also supporting their children. Even upper-class parents can grow weary if a resource in short supply is traded off, such as time or the freedom to self-actualize.

Countries with pro-family policies can offset these scarcities to help balance the happiness gap between parents and nonparents.

But research in this field casts a wide net. As studies shift their focus, they draw different conclusions to give us a fuller, if more complicated, picture of parenthood’s many pitfalls. Taken together with scarcity, all of the following factors likely have some pull on parental happiness, though it is difficult to say to what degree.

Culture of extended families. Countries like Spain and Portugal, where parents report being 3.1 and 8 percent happier than nonparents respectively, culturally center on extended families. The Spanish manage personal problems through family, an approach that extends to child rearing where many hands make light work.

In sharp contrast, the United States culturally centers on a sense of individualism and mobility. Its nuclear family model consists of small family units where parents take near sole responsibility for raising children while the extended family lives in separate domiciles, sometimes hundreds of miles away.

Who becomes a parent. Glass and Robin note that their results could be tempered by parental selectivity. They propose that countries like Spain and Italy, which have low fertility rates, may select toward people who truly desire to have children. The United States, with its much higher fertility rate, could have people not strongly predisposed to parenthood having children nonetheless.

Children in the home. An analysis from the Institute for Family Studies found that men aged 50-70 are happier than their childless peers if their children have left home. However, men who still had children at home reported being less happy than either nonparents or empty nesters. For women of the same age, being an empty nester resulted in a slight decrease in happiness compared to nonparents, but a steep decline if the children lived at home.

Number of children. The same analysis showed that women with only one child were seven percentage points less likely to report being happy than nonparents, while women with three or four children showed no discernible difference. No significant variance emerged for men.

Nicholas H. Wolfinger, the analysis’ author, admits these results are counterintuitive and posits two possible explanations. The first is unmet family size preference redounding unhappiness, as many people settle for fewer children than they’d like. The second is a strong sense of familism offsetting parenthood’s more negative effects. It is unlikely that family size in-and-of-itself causes a decline in happiness.

Parenting style. The way a parent approaches parenting may have substantial effects on their happiness. Developmental psychologist Alison Gopnik argues in her book The Gardener and the Carpenter that our modern parenting model, in which we view children as material to be molded into a particular type of adult, is not only wrongheaded but also a source of stress and misery for many parents.

“It isn’t just that the [current] parenting model isn’t the natural model, it’s also just not a very productive model,” developmental psychologist Alison Gopnik told Big Think. “It hasn’t helped parents or children to thrive. It’s led to a great deal of anxiety and guilt on a part of parents and a great deal of hovering expectations for children that really aren’t necessary and in fact may even be counterproductive if we still want children to innovate and create.”

Self-perception. A Pew Research Center survey found that parents who reported being very happy with life also believed they were doing an excellent job as a parent.

We still have much to learn about parenthood, and the results of so much variegated research can sometimes feel in contention. Even so, it should be clear that our folk assumptions about family are in need of a major update, and we must reconsider our views on parenthood, both from an individual perspective and with regard to social policy.

With that said, there are two strong conclusions we can draw from what we do know. For nonparents, your choice to be childfree will not doom you to a sullen, meaningless existence where you’ll spend your final days contemplating a life wasted, like some inverse It’s a Wonderful Life.

Nor are parents doomed to immolate their happiness on the altar of their child’s future. Parenthood can be a source of exuberance, but simply raising a child will not magically bring contentment to your life. If anything, you’ll have to work harder for that contentment as many factors, some in your control, some not, dictate parental happiness. Anyone considering parenthood should weight them judiciously before making a decision.

None

The decentralized web will be as big a game changer as the internet was in the ’90s

  • The internet has witnessed many big developments since it was created. The next big one will be decentralization.
  • Right now, the internet is centralized, which cause many issues, not the least of which is big companies having power over vast amounts of data.
  • Over the past few years there has been a major increase in the number of decentralized projects working on making the decentralized web a reality in the near future.

None

We’ve come a long way since Tim Berners-Lee created the internet back in 1990.

What was once nothing more than a mere twinkle in his eye has become the center-point of the lives of millions of people all around the world.

From giving us instant access to information and helping us stay in touch with our friends and family members who live on the other side of the globe to helping us to do our weekly shopping without having to get out of bed and enabling us to collect and breed digital cats, the internet has enabled many changes — for better and for worse.

However, now that we seem to have understood more or less how and when to use the web, communication is about to change all over again.

‘Decentralization’ is the new big buzzword

We’ve made some rapid developments in technology over the past few years.

Artificial intelligence, virtual reality, and of course, cryptocurrencies, have been all over the headlines and have attracted a huge amount of attention as a result.

Now, the next step for the web is decentralization — and it’s kind of a big deal.

Why do we need a decentralized web?

With all our data in the hands of a small number of huge centralized corporations, we are at the mercy of hackers, increased surveillance, and increased censorship.

Since the recent reports of Google — a company that has always prided itself on bringing the fairest, most accurate search results in the world to its users — working on a censored search engine for China, there have been mounting concerns by human rights groups about the future of the web.

In an interview, Patrick Poon, a China researcher for Amnesty International, stated, “In putting profits before human rights, Google would be setting a chilling precedent and handing the Chinese government a victory.”

Considering how much of a monopoly Google currently has on the web (think YouTube, Google News, Google Maps, Google Drive and Google AdWords), such news is quite startling — and a little scary.

The big question many people are finding themselves asking is: What’s the alternative?

It turns out, an encrypted, blockchain-operated decentralized web could be the answer.

Who are the major companies involved?

Over the past couple of years, there has been a significant rise in the number of companies dedicating their time, money, and resources to creating decentralized alternatives for some of the most popular centralized products.

TRON is one of the projects dedicated to establishing a decentralized web.

As one of the largest blockchain-based operating systems in the world, it has high throughput and can currently support approximately 2,000 transactions per second, drastically surpassing the likes of Bitcoin and Ethereum, which can support only 3-6 transactions and 25 transactions per second respectively.

It also has high scalability and availability options which can support a huge number of users. The team’s overall long-term goal is to make decentralized software more versatile in order to, ultimately, expand the industry.

The TRON team is made up of over 100 experienced international blockchain enthusiasts, who have a significant amount of experience and have been employed by internet giants such as Alibaba, Tencent, and Baidu.

Earlier this year, TRON announced Project Atlas, in which they acquired file-sharing giant BitTorrent. The move marks the first major crossover between file sharing and decentralized technology, and has helped increase TRON’s profile.

Meanwhile, companies like Graphite Docs have made a decentralized alternative to Google Docs that encrypts all your work, files, and messages, while still making them shareable.

Unlike a centralized service where your private information is at the hands of the provider, the files stored on Graphite Docs are completely owned by the user.

Similarly, projects like Skycoin are developing the backbone of a new decentralized internet, with a mesh network that pays users for supporting it. The Skycoin project and specifically its leading product Skywire has over 9,500 nodes online. One of the project’s community members even built a dedicated page with a regularly updated map of all active nodes around the world.

Skywire’s current testnet has functions similar to TOR but is actually much faster. Community members can build and operate their own simple DIY nodes called ‘Skyminers’ to access and expand the mesh network. Soon, they will also be able to purchase officially sanctioned Skyminers from Skycoin’s website. During the testnet phase, running an approved Skyminer on the network earns Skycoin currency on a monthly basis. When mainnet launches these Skyminers will earn currency based on how much bandwidth they forward and process. This project, like many others with net-neutrality values at their core, is aiming to bring freedom and power back to the users and away from centralized, controlling ISPs and governments.

The future of the internet

We’re still a long way off complete decentralization, but the popularity of the concept is becoming increasingly apparent.

As the problems of centralization become more obvious, it’s likely that we’ll continue to see a huge push towards a decentralized future as we move further into 2019.

Cryptocurrencies have had their time in the spotlight but now it’s time to focus on solving bigger problems.

11 Esther Perel quotes that set the record straight on love and sex

  • The idea of the “one” sets us up for unrealistic expectations.
  • Communication relies on honest conversation and plenty of listening.
  • Change yourself, Perel writes, don’t try to change your partner.

None

I discovered Belgian psychotherapist Esther Perel when she was featured in the NY Times in 2014. Only then did I backtrack and read her 2006 bestseller, Mating in Captivity. The book resonated at time when I was just meeting the woman who would become my wife. Perel’s frankness was a refreshing break from the normal Angeleno fabrications passing for romance I was accustomed to.

Perel never minces words, such as when she writes:

Love rests on two pillars: surrender and autonomy. Our need for togetherness exists alongside our need for separateness.

This is no paradox, but part of our biological inheritance. Perel recognizes that romance is possible inside of marriage, even after decades of wedlock, but we have to work at it at every turn. It requires emotional intelligence and intellectual maturity, the ability to be honest about your desires and faults, and constant communication with your partner, should you choose monogamy.

Below are 11 quotes from this incredible woman’s career. Fortunately for us, her star has only grown brighter, for it is a guide we can surely use in a time when communication systems seem to fail us more often than not.

None

A working definition of love

“It’s a verb. That’s the first thing. It’s an active engagement with all kinds of feelings—positive ones and primitive ones and loathsome ones. But it’s a very active verb. And it’s often surprising how it can kind of ebb and flow. It’s like the moon. We think it’s disappeared, and suddenly it shows up again. It’s not a permanent state of enthusiasm.” [New Yorker]

There is no “one”

“There is never ‘the one.’ There is a one that you choose and with whom you decide that you want to build something. But in my opinion, there could also have been others. There is no one and only. There is the one you pick and what you choose to build with that person.” [Business Insider]

Communication is key

“Listen. Just listen. You don’t have to agree. Just see if you can understand that there’s another person who has a completely different experience of the same reality.” [Well and Good]

How to argue smarter

“It’s natural that people argue. It’s part of intimacy. But you have to have a good system of repair. You need to be able to go back, if you’ve lost it, which happens, and say ‘I bought in my dirty tricks, I’m sorry’, or ‘You know what, I realized I didn’t hear a single word you said because I was so upset, can we talk about it again?'” [Elle]

Sex…in the right room

“I worked with so many couples that improved dramatically in the kitchen, and it did nothing for the bedroom. But if you fix the sex, the relationship transforms.” [The Guardian]

None

The psychology of cheating

“One of the great discoveries and surprises in my research for The State of Affairs was to notice that people would come and say, “I love my partner; I’m having an affair.” That sometimes people even in satisfying relationships also stray—and they don’t stray because they are rejecting their relationship or because they are reacting to their relationship. They often stray not because they want to find another person but because they want to reconnect with a different version of themselves. It isn’t so much that they want to leave the person that they are with as much as sometimes they want to leave the person that they have themselves become.” [Big Think]

Male sexuality

“Sexually powerful men don’t harass, they seduce. It’s the insecure men who need to use power in order to leverage the insecurity and the inaccessibility or the unavailability of the women. Women fear rape, and men fear humiliation.” [Recode]

Male vulnerability

“I have never really participated in the notion that men don’t talk, men can’t talk about their pains. I mean, they have a different way of going about it. Sometimes they need more time, and you just have to shut up and wait—be quiet. And if you don’t interrupt, it will come.” [The New Yorker]

Sustaining desire in a committed relationship

“At the heart of sustaining desire in a committed relationship is the reconciliation of two fundamental human needs. On the one hand, our need for security, for predictability, for safety, for dependability, for reliability, for permanence. On the other hand, for adventure, for novelty, for mystery, for risk, for danger, for the unknown, for the unexpected. Rather than viewing this tension between the erotic and the domestic as a problem to solve, I suggest you view it as a paradox to manage.” [TED]

The problem with frankness

“Ours is a culture that reveres the ethos of absolute frankness and elevates truth-telling to moral perfection. Other cultures believe that when everything is out in the open and ambiguity is done away with, it may not increase intimacy, but compromise it.” [The Fullest]

Abandon Instagram

“If all else fails, get off social media for a few days…or weeks. The time away will help you realize that striving to be someone else is a frustrating experience. Instead, focus on being the very best version of you and staying grounded in the here and now of your own life.” [Cosmopolitan]

Stay in touch with Derek on Twitter and Facebook.

A guide to making better decisions

  • Willingness to roll with the punches is an essential component of good mental health.
  • An inability to foresee a range of consequences adversely affects emotional responses.
  • A good contingency plan makes all the differences, argues neuroscience professor Kelly Lambert.

None

When planning for the future, what degree of certainty do you have in the plans you’ve mentally constructed? If these plans do not manifest as envisioned, what is your strategy for dealing with an unforeseen reality? Do you rebel against the circumstances or adjust along the way? Are you willing to scrap everything as new opportunities (or roadblocks) present themselves? How strong are your contingency plans?

Contingency: A future event or circumstance that is possible but cannot be predicted with certainty.

The very noun University of Richmond professor of behavioral neuroscience, Kelly Lambert, uses as the foundation of her latest book. In Well Grounded: The Neurobiology of Rational Decisions, she investigates the neurological distance between healthy contingency calculations and poor decision-making, whether due to mental illness, drug addiction, poverty, privilege, or reduced attentional capacities.

We all rely on personal history to make decisions, whether or not that works out well for us. Well Grounded is a lesson plan for better decision-making.

Lambert travels through the last century of psychology and neuroscience, diving deep into behaviorism, in putting forward her case. Dualism is an often-cited error in many neuroscience books; Lambert sets the stage by reminding us that our environment is an essential component of our mindset. While our mind is not separate from our bodies, our surroundings are an integral aspect in decision-making. Modern cities and suburbs are not conducive to creating positive contingency calculations.

Our view of prosperity in contemporary Western societies with creature comforts such as lush surroundings and various personal services to avoid physical effort may suffocate our neural functions.

None

I’m currently reading a history of Luddism in preparation for my next book, Anatomy of Distraction, which investigates the physiological and anatomical consequences of distraction technologies. Since the Industrial Revolution we’ve programmed devices with a disturbing amount of agency (better put, stealing away our agency) by offloading memory, critical thinking, and too many physical activities to count in an attempt to automate every task. Refusing to stand to change the channel was one thing; avoiding a simple click with voice command is entirely new, and potentially dangerous, terrain.

Critical thinking, a phenomenon that was, for most of history, intricately tied into the environment, is disappearing as we give our environment less notice. With no predators to run from and predominantly flat surfaces spaced symmetrically to walk through, we can safely spend more time staring at a screen then reality—only such safety is an illusion. As Lambert writes,

The minute we let our evaluative guard down, we become more vulnerable to the inevitable curve balls life throws our way.

This could be the other texting driver swerving into our lane, but long-term consequences hang by equally precarious threads. An inability to emotionally handle the challenges of life has led to an uptick in suicide, depression, anxiety, nationalism; the list is exhaustive because we’re exhausted. And we’re exhausted because we’re paying closer attention to augmented reality than the organic reality we’re forced to, as animals, grapple with at some point.

None

Automation is stripping away an essential component of our biology: the meaning derived from challenges. Lambert points to healthy dopamine systems, which tolerate work that pushes us to our edge, as well as those inevitable delays and twist and turns we all face. With a healthy contingency plan, one that is flexible and responsive to adverse situation, our neurochemistry invigorates us. Impatience, one result of tech addiction, has the opposite effect.

What to do about this modern malaise? Well Grounded is, thankfully, not a self-help book. There are no “seven steps” offered, nor should they be. The point of contingency planning is preparing for the inevitable and all the divergent shades it can mutate into. A pre-determined plan misses the point. Mindsets that remain open to various possibilities and constantly build “contingency repertoires” are “the best source of mental vitamins for maintaining healthy brains.”

The constant drive toward the “Western view of prosperity”—the toys, the tech, the leisure—”increases susceptibility to emotional crashes.” Poor affective output results in cognitive dissonance. We come to believe the world owes us something simply because we were born. The planet, filled with life-affirming challenges and existential terror at every turn, is treated as a subservient toddler that’s just misbehaving, when really that definition better reflects us.

Which is why mindset matters. As Lambert concludes, we weren’t programmed to “respond specifically to running water or colorful shells,” but the incredible malleability of our brains allows us to engage in philosophy and incorporate beauty at every turn. Symbiosis with our environment is severed by poor attentional capacities. We can’t plan ahead for what we’re not bothering to look at.

When this environmental interaction is compromised, our brain may also become compromised, resulting in conditions such as depression or anxiety, as mastery over the world around us appears to be slipping from our grasp.

What higher could we aspire to in this life than mastery? Anything less is software desperately in need of an update. Well Grounded is a roadmap for installing this update.

Stay in touch with Derek on Twitter and Facebook.

Psychological gym experiment proves the power of mind over matter

  • A new Stanford study finds believing you have genetic predispositions for obesity and low exercise endurance changes your physiology.
  • Participants told they had a protective obesity gene had a better response than those told they did not, even if they did not actually have the gene.
  • Runners performed poorly after learning they did not have the gene for endurance, even if they actually have the gene.

None

Shortly after the genetic testing service, 23andMe, launched, I signed up. A recent podcast ad mentioned one condition the company tests for that I had missed: misophonia. Having suffered from this psychological phenomenon my entire life, I didn’t realize 23andme had pinpointed a predisposition.

Turns out I’m at average risk for misophonia, reminding me once again that while genes are destiny, as Siddhartha Mukherjee noted, they are not the only factor in your future (as Mukherjee also noticed). Yet this raises an interesting question: If I knew I was genetically predisposed for misophonia, would this increase the likelihood I’d suffer from it?

Mind over matter is a longtime expression suggesting that the power of thought can override physical processes. This sentiment is misguided. “Mind and matter” or “mind with matter” might be more appropriate considering that “mind” relies on a body to set it in motion. The “over” part places too much emphasis on mental activity. We’re not trying to bend spoons, but align our mental and physical worlds.

We already know mind influences matter: mindset is the catalyst for action, which sets into motion subsequent reaction. Viewing it as a battle is not the healthiest affective attitude to cultivate. A new study at Stanford, published in Nature Human Behavior, has discovered that mind indeed has a profound effect on how our body’s chemistry operates:

In a study examining what may be a novel form of the placebo response, psychologists have found that just telling a person they have a high or low genetic risk for certain physical traits can influence how their body functions when exercising or eating, regardless of what genetic variant they actually have.

None

Assistant professor of psychology, Alia Crum, and her team found that physiological responses changed when participants were informed they had an increased genetic risk for obesity or low exercise capacity. This information changed their mindset, thus affecting their chemistry.

Two groups were measured: 116 participants in the exercise study, 107 in the eating segment. A week after their initial test (treadmill endurance for the exercise set, eating a small meal for the other), they performed the same tests, only this time genetic information was disclosed—sometimes falsely.

Those who were told they had a version of the gene that made them less prone to obesity, FTO, actually performed better after the second meal. They produced two-and-a-half times more of the fullness hormone, even though the meal was identical to the one they’d eaten the week before. Whether or not they are actually genetically predisposed didn’t matter. What did was whether or not they thought they were.

The same occurred in the exercise group and their levels of CREB1.

People told they had a gene that made them respond poorly to exercise then went on to do much worse on a challenging treadmill test. Their lung capacity was reduced, they were less efficient at removing carbon dioxide, and they quit the treadmill test sooner.

None

Participants informed they were predisposed to a lower exercise threshold performed worse on the treadmill test even if they were not actually predisposed, while those who believed they have the protective obesity gene performed better on the eating tests even if they did not have that gene.

Crum believes this fact has to be taken into consideration when delivering genetic information by companies such as 23andMe. She continues,

The take-home message here is that the mindset that you put people in when you deliver genetic risk information is not irrelevant. The mindset of being genetically at risk or protected can alter how we feel, what we do and – as this study shows – how our bodies respond.

When I recently logged back into 23andMe, I noticed layers of security—emotional protection, really—required before I was allowed to receive new information. I was asked a few times whether or not I really wanted to know if I was predisposed to a varying range of problems. Inquisitive creature I am, I always click “yes.”

Yet as Crum’s study shows, that might not be the best decision. Information is powerful. What we think matters. Not knowing has its own power, as does believing false information. This might not be what we want in our politics, but in our bodies it might prove a powerful antidote to the destiny genetics had initially planned.

Mind and matter are part of the same package. Treating them any other way leads to confusion and frustration. Approach a situation with the proper mindset—even a false one, it turns out—and the tension between the two immediately fades.

Stay in touch with Derek on Twitter and Facebook.

How one black man convinced 200 KKK members to quit the Klan… by listening

  • Sarah Ruger, Director of Free Speech Initiatives at the Charles Koch Institute, tells us about Daryl Davis, a jazz and blues musician who has convinced over 200 KKK members to turn in their robes.
  • He didn’t do it by by heated debate. He managed to accomplish this feat by having dialogue and listening to the other side. This way, quite simply, he was able to understand where they were coming from. That made it far easier to show them the error of their ways.
  • The Charles Koch Foundation is committed to understanding what drives intolerance and the best ways to cure it. The foundation supports interdisciplinary research to overcome intolerance, new models for peaceful interactions, and experiments that can heal fractured communities. For more information, visit charleskochfoundation.org/courageous-collaborations.
  • The opinions expressed in this video do not necessarily reflect the views of the Charles Koch Foundation, which encourages the expression of diverse viewpoints within a culture of civil discourse and mutual respect.

Why climate change skeptics love this NASA study

  • A 2015 NASA study caused major controversy by claiming that Antarctica was gaining more ice than it was losing.
  • The study said that ice gains East Antarctica were effectively canceling out ice losses in the western region of the continent.
  • Since 2015, multiple studies have shown that Antarctica is losing more ice than it’s gaining, though the 2015 study remains a favorite of climate change doubters to this day.

None

Climate change deniers don’t usually reference NASA research when trying to argue against the fact that human activity has caused global temperatures to rise. The space agency has, after all, been a leading voice in advancing climate change research and awareness in recent years, and it maintains a number of programs designed to study the changing nature of the earth’s climate.

There is one exception, however. In 2015, a team of scientists led by Jay Zwally, a glaciologist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, published a study in the Journal of Glaciology under the title ‘Mass gains of the Antarctic ice sheet exceed losses’.

In short, the idea was that ice gains in East Antarctica were canceling out ice losses in the western part of the continent, resulting in a net gain. Conservative media ran with the story,

What does the study say?

Zwally and his team argued that Antarctica saw a major increase of snowfall starting about 10,000 years ago in East Antarctica and the interior of West Antarctica. As the snow fell, it compacted and thickened the continent’s ice with each passing year. This thickening process continues to this day, the team said, and it’s caused Antarctica to gain more ice than it lost to melting glaciers from 2003 to 2008.

Scientists generally agree that East Antarctica is gaining mass in the form of ice or snow. The question is how much, and in what form? It’s on these points that Zwally’s team strayed away from the scientific consensus: They argued that the ice gains were much higher than previously thought, and that those gains came in the form of ice.

Why the controversy?

Many scientists took issue with the way the 2015 study was conducted.

To measure the changes, Zwally and his colleagues used NASA and European Space Agency satellites that fired lasers at specific spots on Antarctica’s ice. Those beams would then reflect back to the satellites at slightly differing times, indicating the altitude of various points on the ice sheet. This process required calibrating the satellites by firing lasers at a flat “reference surface”; Zwally’s team chose the still waters of the Southern Ocean.

But some scientists said this measuring method isn’t exactly reliable. For one, those waters aren’t always still, and they could’ve been covered in ice. Also, the 2015 study yielded results that flew in the face of past measurements made by another NASA tool, the GRACE satellites, which records the changing mass of ice based on differential tugs of gravity on the spacecraft as they pass over the planet.

Further, even if scientists accept the study’s findings regarding altitude changes in the ice sheet, it’s still unclear what’s causing the rise: ice or snow? Zwally’s team claimed it was ice, an assumption that necessarily meant their estimates for the continent’s total ice gains were going to significantly higher, because ice is denser than snow.

Zwally never disputed climate change

Suffice it to say that recording precise measurements of ice changes in Antarctica is a difficult pursuit. But whether Zwally’s study missed the mark is, in a way, irrelevant, because his team agrees with the broader scientific community on the main issue: Antarctica is melting.

Zwally said he said hoped his study wouldn’t detract from other research highlighting the scope and dangers of climate change.

“When our paper came out, I was very careful to emphasize that this is in no way contradictory to the findings of the IPCC report or conclusions that climate change is a serious problem that we need to do something about,” he told Scientific American.

He also seemed aware some people would weaponize the study for political purposes.

“I know some of the climate deniers will jump on this, and say this means we don’t have to worry as much as some people have been making out,” he said. “It should not take away from the concern about climate warming.”

Where does the scientific community stand on Antarctic ice loss?

The bulk of scientific research since 2015 suggests that Antarctica is losing more ice than it’s gaining, including:

In December, NASA scientists described how increased snowfall helped to offset ice loss in East Antarctica. That’s not to suggest that climate change isn’t occurring, but rather that global warming has enabled the atmosphere to retain more water, which has led to increased precipitation in Antarctica.

“Our findings don’t mean that Antarctica is growing; it’s still losing mass, even with the extra snowfall,” said Brooke Medley, a glaciologist with NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, and lead author of the study, which was published in Nature Climate Change on Dec. 10. “What it means, however, is that without these gains, we would have experienced even more sea level rise in the 20th century.”

How the Big Rip could end the world

  • A cosmological model predicts that the expanding Universe could rip itself apart.
  • The Big Rip theory holds that too much dark energy may tear apart matter.
  • The disaster could happen in about 22 billion years.

None

Perhaps it’s not the most cheerful thought, but people have preoccupied themselves with how the world around them could end for millennia. Now in the scientific age, one such prediction comes from math and physics. The theory of the Big Rip says that at some point in the distant future, the universe could rip itself apart, with everything in existence from animals to atoms becoming shredded.

”In some ways it sounds more like science fiction than fact,” said physicist Dr. Robert Caldwell of Dartmouth, who first proposed this dramatic idea in a 2003 paper he wrote with Dr. Marc Kamionkowski and Dr. Nevin Weinberg from the California Institute of Technology.

The cosmological model of the Big Rip is predicated on the notion that if the universe continues to accelerate in its expansion, it will eventually reach the point where all the forces that hold it together are overcome by dark energy. Dark energy is the rather mysterious force that is predicted to make up 68% of the energy of the observable universe. If it overcomes gravitational, electromagnetic and weak nuclear forces, the universe would literally come apart.

A new model of the Big Rip theory published in 2015 actually came up with a number of when the Universe would meet its demise – about 22 billion years from now. The 2015 model was developed by professor Marcelo Disconzi of Vanderbilt University in collaboration with physics professors Thomas Kephart and Robert Scherrer.

None

None

Disconzi’s hypothesis says that a Big Rip can occur when dark energy will overcome gravity, reaching a point when it can rip apart single atoms. The professor’s model shows that as its expansion becomes infinite, the viscosity of the universe will be responsible for its destruction. Cosmological viscosity measures how the stickiness or the resistance of the universe is to expanding or contracting.

If the Big Rip theory is correct, one day we could reach a moment when planets and everything on them will be split apart. Then the atomic and molecular forces will be ripped open, electrons splitting from atoms, all the way down to the quarks and anything smaller. And then everything may start over in another Big Bang. But until then, check out his video for more on the Big Rip:

None

Organisms living inside the Earth far outnumber all the humans, reveals study

  • Scientists found a rich ecosystem deep inside the planet.
  • The “deep biosphere” contains mostly bacteria and microbes.
  • The amount of life below the surface is hundreds of times greater than the combined weight of all the humans.

None

Much more life exists below the Earth than above it, concluded an international team of researchers from the Deep Carbon Observatory (DCO). In fact, about 16.5 to 25 billion tons of microorganisms dwell under the planet’s surface. That’s hundreds of times more than the combined weight of all the humans on Earth.

The scientists got their results by looking at a multitude of locations around the world, from exploring boreholes as much as 5km (3.1mi) deep, drilling 2.5 km (1.6mi) into the seafloor and getting samples from continental mines. The researchers estimate that the overall size of the underground ecosystem is twice the volume of all of the planet’s oceans (measuring 2 to 2.3 billion cubic km).

Who are the inhabitants of the so-called “deep biosphere” or “Deep Earth”? Tons of barely living “zombie” bacteria, microbes called “archaea” and other (often weird) forms of life. We are talking about creatures like barbed Altiarchaeales that prefer to reside in sulphuric springs or the single-celled Geogemma barossii that make home inside 121°C hydrothermal vents on the seafloor.

None

None

“These organisms have likely been on Earth operating for billions of years and driving many of Earth’s geochemical systems that have led to the habitable world we now enjoy,” explained one of the researchers Karen Lloyd, an associate professor at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, to Inverse.

These tiny forms of life often subsist on very little, like the energy from nearby rocks or gases like hydrogen and methane. Yet, some can live for thousands of years, existing in near-stasis except for being moved during major shifts like earthquakes or eruptions.

The study was led by Cara Magnabosco of the Flatiron Institute Center for Computational Biology, New York and included other researchers from the DCO. The Deep Carbon Observatory is a collective of 1,200 scientists from 52 countries, working in a wide range of disciplines from geology and physics to chemistry and microbiology. The 10-year initiative concludes next year, while the current study was presented at the annual meeting of the American Geophysical Union.

“It’s like finding a whole new reservoir of life on Earth,” said Karen Lloyd,”We are discovering new types of life all the time. So much of life is within the Earth rather than on top of it.”

None

None

The sheer amount of life below can be compared to studying rich ecosystems like the Galapagos Islands or the Amazon rainforest, stated the scientists.

You can read their new study published by the American Society for Microbiology here.