How dating technology could be ruining your life in the bedroom.

phone couple bed

You may not have noticed yet but you are most likely in a committed relationship with technology. You spend most hours of your day together, and when you’re apart its regularly on your mind. First thing in the morning, last thing at night and throughout the day you are staring into its bright and beautiful face.

Your phone, your iPad, your computer or whatever the device you use is. You are probably even using it now to read this article.

Studies have shown that Australians spend over 10 hours each day on electronic media. That’s more hours than we sleep!

And unsurprisingly this is negatively affecting us.

It’s the news no one wants to hear.

It hits our fomo and our nomophobia. As who wants to part from technology and be missing out?

Scientists are finding more and more ways in which this excessive use is negatively affecting us. And recently they have found one that greatly affects us all.

Sleep.

We all do it. We all love it. But using electronic devices that emit light before bed has been proven to greatly affect the quality or our sleep.

The study focused on electronic e-readers and books, comparing the effects on sleep and tiredness after reading both before bed.

reading book and tablet

Twelve people participated in the study, which lasted two weeks.

During this time they monitored their time to fall asleep, total sleep time, sleep efficiency, time spent in sleep stages, sleepiness before and after sleep, and the concentration of the sleep-promoting hormone melatonin in their blood.

The results showed that these factors which promote good sleep where all reduced after reading an e-book.

It was displayed that they had suppressed levels of melatonin, reduced and delayed timing of the REM sleep stage, reduced alertness the following morning and increased alertness before bed.

These findings show that the reading of e-books was directly effecting sleep by making it worse, and the scientists linked it to the light emitted from the e-books. The type of light which is also given off by all those other devices we are so in love with using.

Lead researcher Dr. Charles Czeisler explained his concern towards the findings saying that,

“Sleep deficiency has been shown to increase the risk of cardiovascular disease, metabolic diseases like obesity and diabetes, and cancer…Thus, the melatonin suppression that we saw in this study among participants when they were reading from the light-emitting e-reader concerns us.”

So what actually can we do?

This study isn’t suggesting that we should stop completely using technology. It’s such an integral part of our society that it would be near impossible.

But reduce the use before bed.

It’s that simple.

We can change. Reduce the use of electronic devices before going to bed. Charge them away from the bedroom. Wait and don’t immediately check when there is a notification.

Your beloved device won’t even notice the change but your sleep definitely will.

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Born to Drink: The Genetic Link to Alcoholism

Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD) is one of the most commonly occurring mental health issues in the world. The disease is define by the constant desire to consume alcohol. Resultantly, this causes the development of a negative emotional state and leads to the lack of control over consumption.

Research has now shown that the causation of AUD is in fact approximately 50% genetic. Contradicting common misconceptions of a 100% environmental origin.

Photo: © Europen Parliament/P.Naj-Oleari pietro.naj-oleari@europarl.europa.eu

Previous Research

Continuous research has been conducted in order to determine the cause of AUD, however most of this research appears to be inconclusive. This is due to the small number of participants previously available to individual researchers.

To combat this issue, a group of scientists from the Virginia Commonwealth University School of Medicine collated previous studies on the genetic link of AUD to finally reach a solid conclusion.

Evidence Too Hard To Dispute

The collected data utilised twin and adoption studies. The purpose of these studies is to determine the underlying cause of AUD – whether it is the environment a child is raised in or their genetic material.

The collation of twin and adoption studies resulted in massive participant involvement of 96982 and 6548 participants respectively. A total of 103 530 participants. Further, this massive number of participants originated from a total of 6 countries across 3 different continents.

The participants underwent extensive analysis as part of their original study. Thus the necessary data was already present. This data was then collated and tabulated to complete a thorough analysis of the entire data pool.

The analysis of all twin studies, adoption studies and combined twin and adoption studies all resulted in consistent results. A 50% heritability with 95% confidence.

Considering the extensive number of participants and the diversity of their geographical locations, the results of this research are certainly hard to dispute.

Where Next?

With AUD being substantially shown to have a genetic link, scientists must next determine the exact genetic cause.

Scientists at the University of Illinois, Chicago have begun just that. Their research into the epigenetics of AUD suggests that there may be multiple genetic sources.

Genetic factors, such as the sequence of DNA as passed from parent to their child, provide a predisposition to this disease. In contrast, epigenetics relate to chemical tags on DNA that switch genes on/off. It is suggested that environmental exposure can turn on genes associated with AUD through these tags, leading to the development of Alcoholism.

So Why Are We Still Victim Shaming?

Worldwide, acceptance rates of AUD as a legitimate disease are high. Despite this, the vast majority of people still refuse to accept it as a hereditary condition. People instead perceive AUD as a moral weakness and a self-inflicted circumstance.

It is clear that Alcohol Use Disorder is a genetic disorder. So why does society continues to place the burden on those affected? Instead, should we not be spending this time and energy to further investigate the exact genetic cause?

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Facts in fiction: what are you learning?

How accurate should the science in fiction be?

This is a question that has been debated since the dawn of sci-fi. Does it matter if an explosion in space makes a sound? Should we get angry when spaceships travel faster than the speed of light? Should we care if a superhero can warp reality with her mind?

In some instances these scientific inaccuracies may seem harmless, but in some cases they can have serious consequences. Inaccurate science may impact the public’s judgement in response to real world science issues, and can affect the flow of attention and funding for scientific advancements. Inaccurate health information presented in medical dramas even has the potential to endanger lives.

the-martian

Few methods of communication can reach as wide an audience with as little resistance as fictional books, television and film. The field of narrative persuasion explores how fiction can affect an audience’s perception of the real world. It is important to understand what types of scientific information audiences learn from fiction, and new research is exploring just that.

A recent study at the Australian National University (ANU) has developed a new classification system which could be used to understand the types of science information audiences learn from fiction. The research has given an exciting insight into…

Categorising science in fiction

Previous studies into facts in fiction have shown that audiences are most likely to remember science facts which are important to the plot, presented in a realistic context and presented slowly and repeatedly.

The recent ANU study incorporated these variables into a new system which classifies the science in fiction based on its purpose in the story. This new system classifies fictional facts as establishing, speculative, aesthetic or enabling.

Establishing facts are the “accurate” scientific details in stories used to add plausibility to the fictional world. They are often realistic and widely accepted as “real science”. Examples include the speech on diseases spreading at the beginning of Contagion and the explanation of black holes in Interstellar.

Speculative facts are the scientific details used to imagine futuristic advancements in scientific or technological progress. They are the examples of science and technology used to encourage audiences to consider the benefits or consequences of progress. Examples include the Mars exploration in The Martian and the “precog” crime detection unit in The Minority Report.

Aesthetic facts are examples of science used solely for description or imagery, to enhance atmosphere or add to the narrative landscape. Examples include the distinctive cityscape in Blade Runner and the portrayals of space travel in 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Enabling facts are those used solely for the purpose of ‘enabling’ plot progression. They are generally not scientifically accurate, but they serve to fiction make the impossible possible. Examples include the time-travelling ‘TARDIS’ in Doctor Who and the abilities of superheroes in The Avengers.

Plot - Recall

The types of facts that audiences most readily remember from fiction.

Which facts do audiences believe?

To investigate how audiences respond to these different categories of science facts-in-fiction, a study was conducted to analyse responses to a range of these different facts presented in two fictional texts.

The results found that audiences believed establishing and aesthetic facts the most readily out of all the categories. Although these fact categories were not as immediately memorable as speculative facts, they were much more readily assimilated with real-world knowledge. In contrast, enabling facts were almost never believed.

It was found that speculative facts were the most memorable category by a long margin, remembered by 61% of participants and found to be the most interesting category by 87%. Their believability sparked fierce debate, with strong arguments from both sides.

Of all of the categories, audiences found enabling and aesthetic facts the least interesting. This is primarily because these facts are the least “surprising” – they exist entirely within the realm of plausibility, so they do not surprise audiences like speculative and enabling facts do.

Surprisingly, it was found that audiences assimilate establishing, aesthetic and speculative facts on a subconscious level as well as on a conscious one. Audiences learn these facts, even if they didn’t realise it.

The results of this study are exciting because they show that not only do audiences learn science from fiction, but they’re extremely fastidious about which facts they believe – even if not always on a conscious level.

This is good news for science communicators and science fiction authors everywhere. This research provides a solid foundation for science communicators to use narratives as a communication tool, and it means that fiction authors can be as creative as they like with speculative and establishing facts without worrying about damaging the public’s understanding of science.

So it turns out that it’s okay if facts in fiction aren’t correct. It just matters how they’re presented.

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3 Ways Universities Need to Lift Their Game When it comes to Solving Poor Mobility with Industry

At the end of 2015, Malcolm Turnbull and Wyatt Roy launched the government’s new National Innovation & Science Agenda, calling for greater collaboration between Australian scientists in academia and industry and encouraging university scientists to be more open to moving in and out of industry.

But new research has found that university researchers may already be set up to fail at achieving the aims of this ambitious new policy due to a vicious cycle plaguing academia.
Low job security, universities’ high expectations and poor training are cited as the reasons why significantly fewer researchers consider a job in industry when than in academia. This casts doubt on whether Turnbull’s “ideas boom” will be able to succeed in a country where academics are so focused on producing publications that they aren’t willing to take risks and make this ‘innovation’ thing happen with industry.
Despite the policy’s focus on the issue of poor intersectoral mobility of university researchers, few explorations have been conducted in Australia, and no theory has been developed to explain the overarching reasons for why academics don’t feel like they can transition to industry. This vicious cycle is attributed to 3 main factors:

Continue reading

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Your Eyes are Lovely, but they Startle my Amygdala…

Eye-contact for most people is a normal part of everyday life; something which is not given conscious thought, something which usually elicits connection between people. However, for people with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, eye-contact can mark the beginning of a destructive neurological and emotional process.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, PTSD, is an often severe and debilitating mental illness triggered by a traumatic life event (eg. witnessing death, having a near death experience, being violently assaulted or sexually abused). Symptoms include; intrusive and disturbing flashbacks (and thoughts), nightmares, anxiety, trouble sleeping, suicidal ideation, dramatically increased and sensitive fear responses, having an abnormally increased resting heart and breathing rate.

People with PTSD often avoid and have difficulty with establishing and maintaining eye contact with people. I, the author of this blog, have been diagnosed with PTSD and have often been accused of being rude or uninterested, or showing a lack of respect when, instead of holding eye contact when talking with someone, I look at the ground or into the distance or notice my eyes are darting around the room at a million miles an hour looking at everything in the space apart from the other person’s eyes. But I can tell you now that those of us with PTSD are not rude or uninterested or disrespectful. Why believe me? Well, now I can prove it with hard biological evidence. Yay for science!

A study was undertaken last year (2014) which measured functional brain activity during direct eye contact. This was measured through neuroimaging. Women with PTSD were compared to women without the mental illness. Both groups were shown several manipulations of faces and eyes. The way the faces were positioned, the emotion they were exhibiting and whether they were holding a direct gaze or not, were all manipulated.
photo for sandpaw

A clear difference was found between the brains in both groups of participants. In fact, several areas of the human brain reacted far differently in the PTSD brains, compared to the ‘healthy’ brains. For the brains with PTSD, the study showed that during (perceived) direct eye-contact there was an increased activation of brain regions involved in emotion processing. This was specifically associated with the fast subcortical pathway. One of the emotion regulation areas of the brain shown to be activated by eye-contact is called the Amygdala. The Amygdala is the fear centre of the brain. It deals with switching on our ‘fight or flight’ responses in an emergency situation, which also directly relates to the arousal of our sympathetic nervous system.

In short, this study concluded that PTSD brains perceive direct eye-contact as a threat which begins a neurological and emotional fear response, causing people with PTSD to avoid eye-contact. For people without PTSD, direct eye contact elicits the opposite; positive emotional connection.

Interesting, huh?
So next time someone avoids eye contact with you, please remember there may be a heck of lot more happening behind their eyes than you think.

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I, for one, welcome our new cyborg overlords

The time is coming for us to make a choice, and we need to make this choice before it is too late.

An international team of scientists has, for the first time, successfully created a brain to brain interface, allowing humans to communicate with each other using nothing more than their thoughts. The experiment involved successfully transmitting the words “hola” and “ciao” from a person in India to another in France, with neither of them needing to move a muscle. One participant wore a device which measures brain activity, known as an EEG. They imagined performing an action, and the brain activity associated with this thought was picked up by the EEG and sent to a computer. The participant translated the alphabet into binary code, using either zeros or ones, and had a specific thought represent each value. The computer ‘heard’ these thoughts, and sent the values via email to another user. This person interpreted these zeros and ones as flashes of light, but instead of the signal arriving in the brain from the eyes, they used another device to plant the signal directly into their brain via magnetic stimulation.

The experimental set-up. Source: PLOS One.

The experimental set-up.
Source: PLOS One.

This may seem like a horribly inefficient process, it would be much easier to pull out your phone and type the message. But it’s the first big step down a troublesome path. No more will we suffer attempting conversation with someone glued to their smartphone. Soon, they will be able to instantly message someone without ever taking their eyes off you.

But the issues get much more serious than an inattentive conversation partner. These technologies open a whole new world of possibility, allowing those with access to the technology to be able to access a wealth of information, directly into their brains. This technology will allow those who are wealthy enough, or privileged enough, to become ‘plugged in’ cyborgs, able to store memories, send and receive massive amounts of information, and augment their thoughts. Those who resist these technologies, those who cannot afford them, or those who aren’t chosen to receive them will be left behind. People will be divided, the augmented will gain intelligence, become people with the highest employment prospect, allowing them more access to these technologies, driving the wedge deeper into the divide between the augmented, and those who remain unplugged.

But if you can’t afford to gain access to this technology, never fear. There will be corporations looking to profit, so why not get the free model, with pay-to-remove advertisements subliminally pushed straight into your mind? But at what risk? When companies are able to place information directly in your mind, they will do it cleverly, subtly, so you don’t even realise that you are being manipulated. What is to stop governments demanding access to your thoughts, to surveil all connected to the network for ‘security’ reasons? When we can’t even effectively protect our computers from hackers, we would be connecting our brains to the same networks, where the risks are far more severe.

Is this the world we want, the path we wish to tread down? A divided world, where the privileged become augmented, at the cost of their own thoughts, while those that resist giving up their freedom of mind be left behind as unemployable, slow, uninformed. The technology may currently be in its infant stages, but we need to move, and stop it taking the wrong direction, before it’s too late.

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Climate Change, 365 Sunny Days a Year

Before you see the words climate change, heave a heavy sigh and scroll onward ask yourself, aside from all the political hype and doomsday prophesies you’ve heard, what do you actually know about global warming?Well, the world’s definitely getting warmer (Duh, it’s in the name) and you probably know something about the sea level’s rising, but what else do you actually know?

The answer’s probably not much, and that’s understandable. It’s because you’re bored of hearing it, right? In that case, let me try and educate you on some of the effects climate change will have on our weather and try to give you a slightly different perspective on global warming.Hopefully you won’t be as bored by my post on climate change than the hundreds you’ve already scrolled past.

In the tropics,where I come, we only have two seasons, the dry and the wet, where throughout the wet we have torrential rains along with storms and cyclones. But what people have noticed is the severe storms and cyclones that affect us every year are becoming far less frequent, and the length of our wet season is decreasing. So why is that? Just some statistical fluke? Well actually, no. Almost every credible climate model (with the effects of climate change thrown in) predicts this, storms and cyclones are becoming fewer and fewer! But hang on, isn’t this a good thing? Fewer cyclones,they’re bad aren’t they? Well,yes and no.ImageCyclones, yes,are phenomenal displays of nature’s strength and can be devastating, but on the other hand our ecosystems depend on and have adapted to them.Cyclone’s clear out forests,change river courses and irrigate the land. So the occasional cyclone is necessary, but we’re not just talking about cyclones, these trends hold true for rainfall and the length of our wet seasons.

But cyclones are no longer the same big issue they were 30 years ago,trends show over these years damages due to cyclones, even freakishly severe ones, is decreasing due to huge improvements in our infrastructure and preparation.The real concern lies in whether future cyclones will become far worse than any we’ve seen before.

The truth is, no one really knows whether cyclones will become worse.Almost every climate model disagrees, some predict storms to decrease in their intensity by up to 95%, while others predict the same increase.This is a scary thought, we don’t even understand this potentially catastrophic issue enough to know whether we need to prepare for storms of Hollywood proportions or prepare to say goodbye to our wet season.

So we do know storms are becoming fewer (not good) and the severity of storms is becoming wildly unpredictable(also, not good), however, these aren’t doomsday prophecies. I’m not here to tell you some inspirational message, to sell your car and grow a veggie garden, but what I am telling you is climate change is effecting our world in all sorts of mysterious ways.If we don’t take any action now, then we may need to prepare to adapt rapidly to the new world we’re creating.

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The Mother of my robot.


RepRap
  a company founded in 2005 released its first 3D printer named Darwin in 2007 followed by the second Mendel in 2009 and Prusa Mendel and Huxley in 2010.

As you may have noticed they all are named after famous evolutionary biologists, this is due to the printers philosophy for creation: “the point of RepRap is replication and evolution”.

This means as reprap was released totally open source, anyone, anywhere can change it creating different kinds printers based on the original design resulting in “evolutions” of the same printer.

Furthermore the printer is to be able to copy itself by printing its own parts anytime and anywhere in the world from antarctica to africa, a machine that can create itself.

Check out the close up video of a reprap in action.

Taking this a step further scientists from the university of Denmark and Trento have customized a reprap to print liquids, then giving it computer vision and a artificial intelligence program it is the first machine of its kind that can be used to create, control and nurture chemical life without any human interaction.

In order to print liquids the printers plastic printing device known as a extruder is replaced with a cartridge with 6 computer controlled syringes and pipettes, these can move up and down interacting with a platform bed that sits below them typically holding a petri dish with a experiment on it.

Under the bed sits a camera that can watch the behaviors (velocity, ) of chemicals printed on the bed, using the data gathered from the camera a self organising map a method to sort big amounts of data  organises it into different categories.

The learning program can make decisions like whether to add more droplets or to divide, remove or inject more chemicals based on the information.

By using an approach that uses machines instead of humans, research time and cost are significantly decreased which means faster and better data to other fields that rely on this information like genetics and cancer research.

“In theory, any kind of system from the very big, to the very small can be created and used with these kind of methods”

With further improvements researchers state it would be interesting to see what would happen if the created chemical life and the 3D printer “co-evolved” adapting as a result of a change in the other..

In the future the team hopes that the printer can create lifelike systems like the formation of cancer fighting proteins much more quickly and efficiently than current methods, opening many new pathways for products that rely the chemical reactions that can be produced.

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Social media and the Fear of Missing Out: Why are you reading this? Shouldn’t you be doing something cool?

We’re all aware of the existence of the black sorcery that is social media.
We all use it and we’ve all read the disparaging articles, heard the misinformed talking heads going on about its corruptive influence and then seen it all replayed again on TV – so it’s to our credit that we’re unaffected by this supposedly insidious force.

Mostly.

The thing is that whilst most forms of social media do not directly harm anyone, its extensive use has been seen to correlate with a high dissatisfaction of several fundamental psychological needs – the result of which is the phenomenon referred to as “The Fear of Missing Out”, or FoMO for short.

A psychological research study conducted by Andrew K. Przybylski, Kou Marayama, Cody R. DeHaan and Valerie Gladwell in 2013 defined the term and aimed to discover it’s social, mental and emotional correlates amongst those most heavily affected by it – social media users. The results of the study were predictable for those of you that have gleaned the onus of this blog post already; amongst users of social media, those individuals who felt they were lacking in autonomy (self-authorship), relatedness (closeness with others) and competence (ability to affect the world) were extremely likely to exhibit FoMO, defined in the study as: “the uneasy or sometimes all-consuming feeling that you’re missing out – that your peers are doing, in the know about, or in the possession of more or something better than you”.

Now ignoring how much of a pain in the ass that definition is to say, this has dire implications that users of social media should be aware of. The first of which is its potential impact on those individuals already suffering from depression or other depressive mental illnesses. For those fitting the above criteria for dissatisfaction of basic psychological needs (well over half of social media users, according to Przybylski et al.), use of social media can feel like you’re looking through a two way mirror: you can see everyone else getting on with their lives, seemingly unaffected by need-deprivation and un-afflicted with the all-too-common Fear of Missing Out, whilst you’re stuck on the other side, unable to be seen or interacted with. For an individual in a depressive state this could be damaging, and according to the study, FoMO is heavily correlated with pre-existing negative mental states.

Unfortunately, there is no foolproof way this can be combatted. The purpose of this post is to bring awareness of the phenomenon, and awareness of the fact that someone close to you is likely affected by it – on its own FoMO is unlikely to provoke any negative mental effects that aren’t already there, but hey, nothing bad ever came from caring for your fellow man.

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Abortion: A public battleground???

Did you know that the Catholic Church wasn’t always pro-life like it is now? Until 1869, the Catholic Church considered the fetus to have a soul at around 19 weeks, and supported legal abortion until that time.

The legal status of abortion has always turned on this weird notion of whether and at what point a fetus becomes person, but science has never been able to truly quantify this point. Some think it’s when the fetus has a heartbeat: others think it’s when the sperm and egg form the unique DNA that a future baby will have for life.

Even today, the UK and USA have questionable abortion laws. The UK hasn’t seen any abortion reform since way back in 1967. In America the abortion situation is a little more crazy: recently, pro-lifers bombed a Planned Parenthood clinic in Wisconsin. Violent anti-abortion rhetoric is endangering both the rights of women and the physical safety of citizens.

This kind of anti-abortion activism is easy to spot. However, the more enduring kind is the sort that flies under the radar: abortion rights are being stifled in other ways.

An interactive map of the world abortion laws can be found at: http://worldabortionlaws.com/map/

In Nepal, all abortions were illegal until 2002 and women found to have undergone abortion were jailed for infanticide. The abortion pill is legal in Nepal, but the process is highly supervised, which can be kind of confronting given the history of abortion in Nepal. However, a recent study in Nepal has conclusively proven you can take the pill at home. 98.4 and 97.8% of providers and recipients involved recommended the choice to take the pill at home.

So why haven’t women already been given this option? I think it is reflective of something greater. Laws require women to jump through hoops to get an abortion so that women are reminded their right to abortion isn’t really theirs.

The abortion pill induces a miscarriage. Until invention of this pill, pregnant women had to wait until approx 8 weeks after conception to get an abortion. This pill reduces the rate of late term abortions, yet the pro-life opinion on the pill is still summed up with this quote: “Approving chemical abortion will further numb our consciences to the violence of abortion and the taking of innocent human life.”

…WTF?!

But lets take it back to the beginning for a moment: Abortion is a matter of a woman’s personal choice and her own body. When the very basis of the abortion debate is so clearly down to personal opinion, why is it so hard to leave women free to make their own decisions?

 

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