The wages of scientific fraud.


With the Supreme Court of South Korea upholding its 2010 ruling, Hwang Woo Suk, the notorious stem cell researcher from the Seoul National University in South Korea, will serve a suspended jail term of one-and-a-half years for embezzlement and violation of the country’s bioethics law that came into effect in January 2005. This brings to an end a sordid tale that shocked the scientific community across the world. Hwang shot into international fame for two “landmark” papers published in February 2004 and May 2005 in the journalScience. If the first one was for “cloning” 30 human embryos and for “deriving” a human embryonic stem-cell line from one of them, the second was for “creating” 11 human embryonic stem-cell lines from the skin cells of individual patients. But less than three months after the first paper was published, the past caught up with him and questions about unethical practices started cropping up. It soon became evident that Hwang had committed one of the biggest scientific frauds in recent times by indulging in all kinds of unethical measures. He did not resort to relatively lesser evils like plagiarism but instead settled for the bigger ones — image manipulation, rampant data falsification and fabrication, gross misrepresentation of facts, purchasing eggs for research, and forcing junior members in the same lab to donate eggs. There were acts of outright fraud as well — embezzlement of nearly $3 million and making applications for research funds based on fabricated data. Though South Korea did well by investigating the fraud and punishing him, it is surprising that a variety of unacceptable acts committed by him are by themselves not punishable. South Korea has to quickly correct the anomaly.

Hwang epitomises and exemplifies the case of a brilliant researcher who allowed his moral compass to go completely haywire, all for instantaneous, though ephemeral, glory and fame. In the process, he self- destructed. The simple yet vital message that any scientific study carried out through unethical means is nothing but a castle built on sand got completely lost on him. The truth is that science places a high premium on ethical conduct and the scientific community is extremely intolerant of people indulging in unacceptable acts. With thousands of keen eyes scrutinising even the minutest details of most papers, the high-visibility ones in particular, and trying to replicate the results, the chances of cheats getting exposed in double-quick time are real. It pays to remember that there are no short-cuts, and that doing good science ethically brings lasting benefits.

 

The five-second rule is real, say scientists


Which is probably a good thing, considering nearly nine out of ten people said they would eat food dropped on the floor regardless

The ‘five-second rule’ that many of us secretly adhere is an actual scientific measure of how long your food is safe to eat for, according to a group of biologists.
Final-year students at Birmingham’s Aston University found there is a “significant time factor” on the transfer of bacteria from the floor to food – basically, you have five second window to pick it up before it stops being safe to eat. 

The students placed toast, pasta, biscuits and a sweet on the floor to determine that food picked-up straight after being dropped is less likely to contain common bacteria such as E. coli.

They also determined that bacteria is least likely to transfer from carpeted surfaces, and most likely to transfer from laminate or tiled surfaces to moist foods which made contact with the floor for more than five seconds.

Meanwhile, 87 per cent of people said they would eat food they dropped on the floor regardless, a survey by the same researchers discovered. Women are the biggest believers in the five-second rule, with 81 per cent admitting to following it.

“Consuming food dropped on the floor still carries an infection risk as it very much depends on which bacteria are present on the floor at the time; however the findings of this study will bring some light relief to those who have been employing the “five-second rule” for years, despite a general consensus that it is purely a myth,” Professor Anthony, who led the study, said.

“We have found evidence that transfer from indoor flooring surfaces is incredibly poor with carpet actually posing the lowest risk of bacterial transfer onto dropped food.”

How Apple’s iOS 7.1 finally quelled users’ motion sickness


Animations introduced in Apple’s new look for its iPhone and iPad interface in September made some feel physically sick. Now, it’s fixed them

  • iOS 7
iOS 7. Photograph: /Apple

Apple recently updated its iPhone and iPad software to version 7.1,adding and improving a number of features. In the release notes, CarPlay, Siri and iTunes Radio took centre stage, but there were also new accessibility options, showcasing how Apple is still getting to grips with making its mobile OS more usable for the widest range of people.

When iOS 7 first appeared, it seemed a dynamic, stark, minimal response to iOS 6’s oft-criticised texture-heavy and taste-light trappings. But frequent use of parallax effects, zooms and slide animations — far more aggressive than those on rival systems — resulted in a number of users feeling physically sick. TidePool mobile app developer Jenni Lederwas far from alone in having to close her eyes during transitions, something she considered a ridiculous situation when using a smartphone.

A month later, Apple’s 7.0.3 upgrade helped many of those who’d been adversely affected, a revamped Reduce Motion control (activated in the Accessibility section of the Settings app) replacing most zoom effects with crossfades. At the time, Leder remarked: “I’m utterly shocked and extremely thankful this happened so quickly. The update was exactly what I needed. I can finally use the phone like a normal person again!”

iOS 7.1's app switcher can be calmed
iOS 7.1’s app switching can be calmed through Accessibility. Photograph: /Public domain

With iOS 7.1, it appears Apple is further thrashing out the details. With Reduce Motion active, the app-switcher — which had previously retained a lurching zoom and slide when opened and closed — is tamed with the same crossfade effects folders use. Weather’s parallax backgrounds are gone. And in Messages, the entire scrolling area moves as one, rather than before where each message playfully slid around as if on ice but also had the potential to trigger motion sickness and vertigo.

iOS 7.1: Weather app doesn't have to animate
iOS 7.1’s Accessibility setting can calm the Weather app – though the weather’s the same. Photograph: /Public domain
iOS 7.1 Messages can be calmed
iOS 7.1’s Accessibility settings can stop Messages sliding up. Photograph: /Public domain

With Apple’s initial fixes working well for so many, it could have been easy to consider the problem solved, but Marissa Christina, a podcaster and writer about hidden disabilities said she was pleased Apple hadn’t rested on its laurels: “These latest adjustments are exciting… emotional. It’s acceptance that balance disorders are being validated, and encouraging to know Apple will not leave people behind.” Christina added she’d “never been so excited to use a weather app” and was thrilled that accidental use of the app-switcher (by double-clicking the home button) would no longer result in potentially triggering severe vertigo symptoms.

However, Apple’s other major accessibility update in iOS 7.1 is a stranger addition, in the sense it perhaps shouldn’t be an option at all. Called “button shapes”, it displays the hit area of toolbar buttons in grey; elsewhere, some dialogue and menu buttons gain hypertext-like underlines, to further clarify their purpose and interactive properties.

liOS 7.1: buttons can have a background
iOS 7.1 brings the opportunity to give ‘shape’ to navigation buttons – as with the “General” one in the top line. Photograph: /Public domain

User experience expert Aral Balkan has previously been critical of the design of iOS 7’s buttons and usability: “Critics get caught up in aesthetics — the flatter look — but that oversimplified analysis misses both the greatest achievements of iOS 7 and its bigger problems. Respectively, these are removing chrome to make the content central to the experience, and certain elements having weaker affordances when compared to iOS 6.”

iOS 7.1 emphasis 'action' words
iOS 7.1’s Accessibility setting adds hints to ‘action’ words, distinguishing them from explanatory text Photograph: /Public domain

Affordances” are clues an object gives regarding how it wants to be used, based on how it looks; those with strong affordances are considered more intuitive. (An example is pull handles on doors that are intended to be pulled open.) By default, iOS 7’s buttons don’t look like buttons, and are therefore not intuitively recognised as such; Balkan considers this a “core usability issue”.

He said the new accessibility option was a “welcome addition,” but thought it should be the default: “It’s unbelievable such a core control can have such a weak affordance on a platform that prides itself on its ease of use and heralds its user experience as its main differentiator. I do hope this is something Apple will address in a future update. Sacrificing usability for aesthetics is not a good long-term strategy.”

If iOS 7 has proved anything, though, it’s that Apple is willing to take risks and also to iterate; version 7.1’s interface has been refined over that of 7.0 in various other areas, such as redesigned call-screen buttons. But while Apple’s willingness to perfect and polish features for users with disabilities is to be lauded, “hiding” features potentially useful to all within the accessibility settings is still questionable.

Green light for GM? First official report into genetically modified crops in five years recommends ‘safe and sustainable’ roll-out in Britain.


Britain

There is no compelling evidence to suggest that GM crops are any more dangerous to humans, animals or the environment than conventionally farmed food and the time has come for Europe to be stripped of its obstructive control of the technology, senior scientists have advised the Prime Minister.

The case to press ahead with introducing GM crops both here and overseas has become overwhelming given the scale of the potential food shortages facing humanity in the coming decades – despite the British public being largely unaware of the impending crisis, they said.

Government science advisers have warned that European rules blocking GM crops are no longer fit for purpose and Britain should be allowed to decide for itself whether genetically modified crops should be grown in the UK given the many benefits that they could bring in terms of sustainable food production.

“We take it for granted that because our supermarket shelves are heaving with food that there are no problems with food security, but there are problems with food security around the world,” Sir Mark Walport, the government’s chief scientist, said yesterday.

“We have limited agricultural land for growing food in the UK, yet we are part of a global food market and there is competition for limited resources and that is likely to increase,” he said

“So the challenge is to get more from existing land in a sustainable way or face the alternative which is that people will go unfed, or we’ll have to bring more wilderness land into cultivation,” he added.

GM technology is one of the tools that could help farmers around the world produce food sustainably for a growing population, but in Europe the technology has been effectively blocked by the EU’s inappropriate regulatory process, Sir Mark said.

“We’re asking for regulations to be fit for purpose – we need appropriate regulation,” he said.

Only one GM plant is currently grown commercially in Europe – a type of GM maize grown mostly in Spain. EU red tape has hampered the introduction of many other GM crops carrying beneficial traits not seen in conventionally-bred varieties, the scientists said.

A report to the Council for Science and Technology, which advises David Cameron on scientific developments, warned that Britain and Europe are falling behind other parts of the world where GM crops have been embraced. It calls for the wholesale reorganisation of the way that the crops are assessed by the EU.

In a letter to the Prime Minster, Sir Mark Walport and Professor Dame Nancy Rothwell, who co-chairs the council with Sir Mark, urge the government to seek the reform of EU rules governing the acceptance of GM crops, or risk seeing the UK being left behind by non-Europeans.

“Debate and decision-making within Europe present a particular challenge. Current EU regulatory and market access problems are hampering the development of crops for EU markets and farmers,” the scientists write.

“The longer the EU continues to oppose GM whilst the rest of the world adopts it, the greater the risk that EU agriculture will become uncompetitive, especially as more GM crops and traits are commercialised successfully elsewhere,” they said.

Professor Sir David Baulcombe of Cambridge University, one of the five leading plant scientists who co-authored the report, called for research and development of GM crops to be stepped up so that they could be grown both in the UK and oversees, notably Africa where increased food production is needed most.

“Most concerns about GM crops have nothing to do with the technology which is as safe as conventional breeding. They are more often related to the way that the technology is applied and whether it is beneficial for small-scale farmers of for the environment,” Sir David said.

“To address these concerns we need to have an evidence-based regulatory process that focuses on traits, independent of the technology that has been used to develop them,” he said.

The Council for Science and Technology’s report said that the current regulatory set-up, which is based on restricting GM technology as a process, should be scrapped in favour of regulations based on the safety of individual products. This could be done by setting up an expert body based in the UK, similar to the National Institute for Health and Clinical Evidence, which governs the use of new drugs within the NHS.

“As there is no evidence for intrinsic environmental or toxicity risks associated with GM crops, it is not appropriate to have a regulatory framework that is based on the premise that GM crops are more hazardous than crop varieties produced by conventional breeding,” the report says.

“We therefore endorse [the European science academies’] proposal that a future regulatory framework should be product- rather than process-based.

“We propose that approval for commercial cultivation of new GM crops is made at a national level, as happens at present with pharmaceuticals,” it says.

Professor Jim Dunwell of Reading University likened the current EU regulations governing GM crops to the red flags that had to be in front of cars a century ago when they were driven on public highways.

“The regulation of the technology is not proportionate. It’s time to remove the red flags. We’re not calling for no regulation at all… we know what the unknowns are, we know which ones to be concerned about and we know what to do to ensure that bad unknowns don’t end up in any varieties that farmers plant. There’s too much regulation,” Professor Dunwell said.

25 things you may have forgotten about the internet


Happy belated birthday to the world wide web. To celebrate, here are 25 things you may have forgotten from your first forays online, as suggested by our readers.

Screen-grab of www.hampsterdance.com, one of the 25 things you may have forgotten about the internet.
Screen-grab of http://www.hampsterdance.com, one of the 25 things you may have forgotten about the internet. Photograph: PA

The open web was 25-years-young on Wednesday – and it’s amazing just how much has changed in the last quarter of a century.

To celebrate the web’s birthday we asked you to tell us about your first impressions of the internet. From dial up to the thrill of logging in to your first chatroom, some of your memories from the web’s infant years are very different from what we expect from it today. Here are 25 things you may have forgotten about the internet:

1. The screech of the modem

Remember when you had to listen to this before you could check your email?

Video suggested by benthom99. There were few things more terrifying than picking up your phone and hearing SKREEEEEEEEEE down the receiver. Speaking of…

2. Having to disconnect so your mum/dad/cat could make a phonecall

Hell hath no fury like parents who just found out you sneaked on to the computer to play some 8-bit game. We certainly don’t miss arguing with siblings about whose turn it is to go on the computer next.

3. Websites looked a bit rubbish

AdaminTurkey submitted this old-school screenshot of Google from around 1997.

Google, circa 1997

Google, circa 1997

Google as it looked in 1997, two years before I heard of this strange and wonderful website that would help you find anything that you were looking for on the internet. I still remember how wonderful it was back in 1999 and 2000 when it seemingly returned exactly what you wanted, i.e. before commercial interests took over.

We feel this may be the time to remind you the website for the film Space Jam still exists, should you fancy another trip down internet’s memory lane.

Space Jam: your new favourite website
Space Jam: your new favourite website.

4. First venturing into chat rooms

Remember when being able to speak to anyone in the world via the click of a mouse and the tap of the keyboard completely blew your mind? Plenty of our readers did.

Live Chat Rooms

After messing around with email (with no-one to send them to) and writing über-basic HTML pages back in 1995, my classmates and I finally discovered the Virtual Irish Pub. I’m assuming it was one of the first chat rooms and at the time definitely one of the slickest.

Eventually though, as with all good things, it became a paid membership site and after using it for 3-4 years we drifted off towards Blogger and eventually WordPress sites.

Five exercises for the 30% who never exercise


Man on sofa
About 30% of Britons never exercise, according to research by Mintel. But what can people do to get slightly fitter without incurring costs, inconvenience or embarrassment, asks Lucy Townsend.

1. Jog up and down the stairs five times. Exercise doesn’t have to take an hour, short quick bursts of activity can be beneficial. Fitness guru Rosemary Conley suggests jogging up and down the stairs at home. “It’s free, it’s easy, it doesn’t take very long and it gets you out of breath,” she says.

2. Do the plank. Face to the floor, arms locked in an L-shape, legs straight and bottom firmly in line with the rest of your body and not under any circumstances sticking up into the air. The plank, loathed by many, is the best exercise for improving core strength, according to Elliot Lake, general manager of Bootcamp Pilates. “Aim for 30 seconds, three times a week and that would be a huge help,” he says. The core comprises all the deep muscles that connect the upper and lower body, including stomach, back, hips and buttocks. Benefits include a flatter stomach and a better posture, as well as strength around the spine. “The idea is that you work up to a minute three times a week,” Lake adds.

The plank

3. Start hoovering more. “It’s really hard work and you can get quite a sweat on,” says Conley, who runs a daily 20:00 GMT fitness session from her Twitter account. “Washing the car is also a good one, as is gardening and mowing the lawn.” The benefit, Conley says, is that these are activities that will raise the heart rate – the NHS advocates at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity every week.

A woman stretching her arms
  • 4. Write the alphabet with your leg. Another of Conley’s methods. “Sit on the front half of the sofa, lift one leg and draw the alphabet in the air with your toe, then do it with the other leg,” she says. “It’s easy to do while you’re sat down watching television.”

5. Set an alarm. “A regular reminder to stand up or walk can be helpful,” says Dr Lauren Sherar, senior lecturer in physical activity and public health at Loughborough University. “Put a reminder in your phone to regularly get up and stand for five minutes. Or go for a five-minute walk.” Doctors have warned that sitting down for too long can shorten lives, and regularly standing can improve health. “Standing for five minutes every 30 minutes is an achievable goal,” adds Sherar.

Patient has pioneering 3D face operative.


Stephen Power says the operation was “totally life-changing”

A survivor of a serious motorbike accident has had pioneering surgery to reconstruct his face using a series of 3D printed parts.

Stephen Power, from Cardiff, is thought to be one of the first trauma patients in the world to have 3D printing used at every stage of the procedure.

Doctors at Morriston Hospital, Swansea, had to break his cheekbones again before rebuilding his face.

Mr Power said the operation had been “life-changing”.

The UK has become one of the world’s pioneers in using 3D technology in surgery, with advances also being made by teams in London and Newcastle.

“Start Quote

I can’t remember the accident – I remember five minutes before and then waking up in the hospital a few months later”

Stephen Power

While printed implants have previously been used to help correct congenital conditions, this operation used custom-printed models, guides, plates and implants to repair impact injuries months after they were sustained.

Despite wearing a crash helmet Mr Power, 29, suffered multiple trauma injuries in the accident in 2012, which left him in hospital for four months.

“I broke both cheekbones, top jaw, my nose and fractured my skull,” he said.

“I can’t remember the accident – I remember five minutes before and then waking up in the hospital a few months later.”

Before and after: Stephen PowerStephen Power was photographed before the operation, left, and afterwards, right
Two views of Stephen Power's skull with temporary staples after the operationTwo views of Stephen Power’s skull after the operation with temporary staples
A model and implant produced using 3D printing
A skull model and implants produced using 3D printing

In order to try to restore the symmetry of his face, the surgical team used CT scans to create and print a symmetrical 3D model of Mr Power’s skull, followed by cutting guides and plates printed to match.

Maxillofacial surgeon Adrian Sugar says the 3D printing took away the guesswork that can be problematic in reconstructive work.

“I think it’s incomparable – the results are in a different league from anything we’ve done before,” he said.

“What this does is it allows us to be much more precise. Everybody now is starting to think in this way – guesswork is not good enough.”

The procedure took eight hours to complete, with the team first having to refracture the cheekbones with the cutting guides before remodelling the face.

‘Life changing’

A medical-grade titanium implant, printed in Belgium, was then used to hold the bones in their new shape.

Looking at the results of the surgery, Mr Power says he feels transformed – with his face now much closer in shape to how it was before the accident.

“It is totally life-changing,” he said.

“I could see the difference straightaway the day I woke up from the surgery.”

Having used a hat and glasses to mask his injuries before the operation, Mr Power has said he already feels more confident.

“I’m hoping I won’t have to disguise myself – I won’t have to hide away,” he said.

Surgeons operating
The procedure took eight hours

“I’ll be able to do day-to-day things, go and see people, walk in the street, even go to any public areas.”

The project was the work of the Centre for Applied Reconstructive Technologies in Surgery (Cartis), which is a collaboration between the team in Swansea and scientists at Cardiff Metropolitan University.

Design engineer Sean Peel has said the latest advance should encourage greater use of 3D printing in the NHS.

“It tends to be used for individual really complicated cases as it stands, in quite a convoluted, long-winded design process,” he said.

“The next victory will be to get this process and technique used more widely as the costs fall and as the design tools improve.”

Facebook spreads mood virally.


 

Facebook screen“What people feel and say in one place may spread to many parts of the globe,” wrote the authors
A study by researchers at the University of California, Yale, and Facebook has found that moods can spread virally through social media sites such as Facebook.

Using data from millions of Facebook users, the researchers examined the impact of rainy days.

They found that for every one person directly affected by rain, one to two others would also feel the impact.

The study was published in online scientific journal Plos One.

“What people feel and say in one place may spread to many parts of the globe on the very same day,” wrote the report’s authors.

They added the data suggests that “online social networks may magnify the intensity of global emotional synchrony”.

Positive spreads faster

Researchers have long known that emotions can be spread through people via face-to-face interaction, but the new frontier is to examine whether the effect translates to social media interactions.

Continue reading the main story

“Start Quote

We may see greater spikes in global emotion that could generate increased volatility”

The researchers – some of whom were Facebook employees at the time the research was carried out – analysed the emotional content of billions of updates posted to Facebook between January 2009 and March 2012.

To test whether emotions spread, they looked at how updates changed when it rained.

They found that negative Facebook posts increased by 1.16% and positive posts decreased by 1.19% in response to gloomy weather.

They then looked at the posts of people who were friends with those impacted by rain, but who lived in cities where the weather was not necessarily as bad.

The result? Every sad post generated an extra 1.29 more negative posts than normal among people’s friends.

Surprisingly, every happy post had an even stronger impact: if a user posted an upbeat statement, an extra 1.75 positive posts were generated.

“These results imply that emotions themselves might ripple through social networks to generate large-scale synchrony that gives rise to clusters of happy and unhappy individuals,” wrote the authors of the report.

“New technologies online may be increasing this synchrony by giving people more avenues to express themselves to a wider range of social contacts,” they said.

“As a result, we may see greater spikes in global emotion that could generate increased volatility in everything from political systems to financial markets.”

Statin side-effects questioned.


 

Statins

Drugs taken to lower the risk of heart attacks and strokes may have fewer side-effects than claimed, researchers say.

Their review of 83,880 patients, published in the European Journal of Preventative Cardiology, indicated an increased risk of type-2 diabetes.

But it suggested reports of increases in nausea, muscle ache, insomnia and fatigue were actually inaccurate.

It is a controversial area as the NHS in England is considering offering the drugs to millions more people.

The cholesterol-lowering drugs are already offered to about seven million people in the UK who have a one-in-five chance of heart disease in the next decade.

The NHS is considering offering the drugs to even healthier people who have only a one-in-10 chance of heart problems.

A team at the National Heart and Lung Institute in London analysed data from 29 clinical trials.

They suggested statins did reduce deaths, but contributed to a high rate of type-2 diabetes. One in five new cases of diabetes in people on statins were a direct result of taking the drugs.

obese man
Being obese, having high cholesterol, diabetes or high blood pressure all increase your cardiovascular risk

Their analysis suggested other side-effects appeared at a similar rate in people taking statins and those given dummy (placebo) pills.

One of the researchers, Dr Judith Finegold, said: “We clearly found that many patients in these trials – whose patients are usually well-motivated volunteers who didn’t know if they were getting a real or placebo tablet – that many did report side-effects while taking placebo.

“In the general population, where patients are being prescribed a statin for an asymptomatic condition, why would it be surprising that even higher rates of side-effects are reported?

“Most people in the general population, if you repeatedly ask them a detailed questionnaire, will not feel perfectly well in every way on every day.

“Why should they suddenly feel well when taking a tablet after being warned of possible adverse effects?”

Commenting on the study, Doireann Maddock, from the British Heart Foundation, said: “Previous research has demonstrated the safety and effectiveness of statins.

“While all medications have the potential for side-effects, this research may offer further reassurance to the many people in the UK who are prescribed statins.”