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Without swift influx of substantial aid, Ebola epidemic in Africa poised to explode

October 24, 2014 Singularity Comments Off

The Ebola virus disease epidemic already devastating swaths of West Africa will likely get far worse in the coming weeks and months unless international commitments are significantly and immediately increased, new research led by Yale researchers predicts.

The findings are published online first in The Lancet Infectious Diseases.

A team of seven scientists from Yale’s Schools of Public Health and Medicine and the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare in Liberia developed a mathematical transmission model of the viral disease and applied it to Liberia’s most populous county, Montserrado, an area already hard hit. The researchers determined that tens of thousands of new Ebola cases — and deaths — are likely by Dec. 15 if the epidemic continues on its present course.

“Our predictions highlight the rapidly closing window of opportunity for controlling the outbreak and averting a catastrophic toll of new Ebola cases and deaths in the coming months,” said Alison Galvani, professor of epidemiology at the School of Public Health and the paper’s senior author. “Although we might still be within the midst of what will ultimately be viewed as the early phase of the current outbreak, the possibility of averting calamitous repercussions from an initially delayed and insufficient response is quickly eroding.”

The model developed by Galvani and colleagues projects as many as 170,996 total reported and unreported cases of the disease, representing 12% of the overall population of some 1.38 million people, and 90,122 deaths in Montserrado alone by Dec. 15. Of these, the authors estimate 42,669 cases and 27,175 deaths will have been reported by that time.

Much of this suffering — some 97,940 cases of the disease — could be averted if the international community steps up control measures immediately, starting Oct. 31, the model predicts. This would require additional Ebola treatment center beds, a fivefold increase in the speed with which cases are detected, and allocation of protective kits to households of patients awaiting treatment center admission. The study predicts that, at best, just over half as many cases (53,957) can be averted if the interventions are delayed to Nov. 15. Had all of these measures been in place by Oct. 15, the model calculates that 137,432 cases in Montserrado could have been avoided.

There have been approximately 9,000 reported cases and 4,500 deaths from the disease in Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea since the latest outbreak began with a case in a toddler in rural Guinea in December 2013. For the first time cases have been confirmed among health-care workers treating patients in the United States and parts of Europe.

“The current global health strategy is woefully inadequate to stop the current volatile Ebola epidemic,” co-author Frederick Altice, M.D., professor of internal medicine and public health added. “At a minimum, capable logisticians are needed to construct a sufficient number of Ebola treatment units in order to avoid the unnecessary deaths of tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of people.”

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The above story is based on materials provided by Yale University. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

Latest Science News — ScienceDaily

Here’s What Actually Scares Americans About the Future

October 24, 2014 Tech Comments Off

Right now, the average American is apparently more afraid of walking home alone at night than anything else. That’s according to a study that is being billed as “the most comprehensive survey of what strikes fear in Americans.” A bit down the line, however, we worry about slightly bigger things—the researchers found huge majorities worry about societal collapse and World War III.

Researchers from Chapman University asked 1,500 random Americans dozens of questions about their concerns as part of what they say will become an annual study on American fear. The inaugural survey is making headlines for pinpointing our irrational fear of after-dark strolls—the researchers themselves note that our fear of crime has held steady despite a precipitous decline in actual crimes committed over the last couple of decades. But it also maps our fears of the near-and-far future, too.

Essentially, we’re afraid of everything. From sensible, scientifically documented threats like climate change, to centuries-old faith-based worries about the End Times; you name the dystopian scenario, and millions of Americans are afraid of it coming to pass.

For starters, 35.9 percent of Americans find it either ‘Very Likely’ or ‘Fairly Likely’ that the biblical Armageddon will come to pass. That’s far fewer than the number of people who fear that we’re going to run out of oil—56.9 percent of us think we’re going to “exhaust the Earth’s oil supply.” 

Meanwhile, 74.2 percent fear the US will “be involved in another World War” in the next 25 years. Nearly 67 percent worry about mass civil unrest, and 59.8 percent of Americans worry the government will use drones for ill inside the US. Just shy of 66 percent fear the US will “decline” and no longer be a superpower, and 73 percent worry we’ll see a “pandemic or major epidemic” sweep the nation by 2040—and this survey was conducted largely before the Ebola scare.

Eighty-three percent worry we’ll soon see another economic collapse. And, in a finding that reflects the public’s growing understanding of climate change—and the discrediting and decline of the climate denial movement—over 80 percent of Americans report being worried about climate change. It also confirmed that a majority of Americans believed it was our fault: over 59 percent agreed that “Global climate change is occurring and is significantly accelerated by human activities and pollution.” 

Unsurprisingly, they’re also concerned about natural disasters, many of which are exacerbated by climate change. Today, America’s most feared natural disasters are as follows: hurricanes and tornadoes (40 percent worry about them), earthquakes (36 percent), and floods (34 percent). 

Now contrast all of the above with what we’re most afraid of on a daily basis: 

  1. Walking alone at night
  2. Becoming the victim of identity theft
  3. Safety on the internet
  4. Being the victim of a mass/random shooting
  5. Public speaking

Compared to our present-day fears, the future looks downright hellish. And we’ve reason to be concerned; income inequality continues to climb, Congress is making no serious effort to draw down carbon emissions, and the world is filled with worrisome conflicts that the US has shown a willingness to intervene in.

Generally the findings aren’t much of a surprise—our end times-happy culture has been reflecting our gloom and disempowerment for years. There’s a reason that, in America, the apocalypse is bigger than football

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Whoa: A Black Hole Took a Bite Out of a Star

October 23, 2014 Tech Comments Off

Black holes have been observed swallowing stars, or getting into tumultuous orbital relationships with them. But today, astronomers based out of the University of Ohio announced their discovery of a star that was clipped by the jaws of a black hole, and escaped to shine on another day. Their observations of the so-called tidal disruption event will be published in The Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

These are very rare, co-author Krzysztof Stanek told me. Ours is the nearest and the best observed ever because it was relatively close.

Close in this case means about 650 million light years away, at the center of a galaxy located in the Big Dipper. The team estimates that the black hole tore a Jupiter-sized chunk off the passing star, representing about one percent of the stars total mass. The chunk lit up the black holes accretion disc, which is a ring of spiraling gas, dust, and other trapped material surrounding the hole. The sudden flash was what tipped the astronomers off to the event.

We dont see the mass, explained Stanek. What we see is the light. The stuff doesn’t fall directly into the black hole, but spirals in slowly, and becomes hotter and hotter. That is the light we see. We look at how much energy was produced, and how the mass translates to energy. From there, an estimate of the stars total mass can be calculated.

A stars first encounter with a black hole is usually its last, but in this case, the star may have been massive enough to carry on. Take a star which is strongly stratified, like a red giant, co-author Christopher Kochanek told me. The core is very tightly bound—essentially a white dwarf—and the hydrogen envelope is very loosely bound. There will be a range of approach distances where the envelope can be strongly affected by the tidal gravity of the black hole while the core barely even notices the tides because it is so much smaller and denser.

This can then let you rip the envelope off, while leaving the core alone, he added. Basically, the core just keeps going along the original orbit of the star. 

Artists representation of Cygnus X-1 pulling material off of HDE 226868. Image: NASA/CXC/M.Weiss.

If the star is lucky, its orbit wont take it near the black hole again. But it might just be gravitationally doomed to circle the hole over and over, losing piece after piece with each successive orbit like some kind of stellar Prometheus. While that sounds like a torturous fate even for an inanimate object like a star, it would be great news for astronomers.

That’s actually a super exciting possibility, said Stanek, because every time it passes close to the black hole there will be another event.

Indeed, tidal disruption events are not just rare, they are also very useful for understanding how the supermassive black holes perched in the centers of galaxies evolve. They are probably the only case where you can see a black hole turning on (and off) on a human time scale, said Kochanek.

One of the longstanding problems in astrophysics right now is actually how [supermassive] black holes grow, added Stanek. One of the things we want to do in the future is find more of these, to understand the physics better but also to understand the rate—how often do these things happen?

Stanek, Kochanek, and his team will be delving into that question using the same telescopic survey that caught this particular tidal disruption event: the All-Sky Automated Survey for Supernovae (ASAS-SN, pronounced assassin). The survey is just over a year old, and has telescopes based in Hawaii and Chile. The long-term plan is to set up 16 telescopes over four sites that would monitor the entire sky every night.

“Either we got very lucky… or we are doing something right, which is surveying the whole sky looking for very rare events”

We want to take a movie of the sky every night so when things like this happen we will find them no matter where they are on the sky, as long as they are bright enough, said Stanek. We are the only project right now using 14-cm telescopes that are surveying the whole sky for things like this.

Currently, the tidal disruption event has moved behind the Sun, but the team is eager to get another look at it when it becomes visible again in a few months. In the meantime, the astronomers remain optimistic that ASAS-SN will continue to catch brilliant celestial face-offs and explosions.

I think the most exciting part is that this is not serendipitous, Stanek said of the discovery. Either we got very lucky, which is always possible, or we are doing something right, which is surveying the whole sky looking for very rare events.

Maybe it will turn out that these events are not nearly as rare as people thought, he added. I was very surprised to see one so quickly.

There you have it: black holes have to settle for crummy Jupiter-sized morsels sometimes, perhaps even often. Even supermassive galactic predators have off days.

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Yet Another Mammal Is Shrinking Thanks to Climate Change

October 22, 2014 Tech Comments Off

For at least the third time, we’re witnessing species of mammals growing smaller in response to climate change. The same thing the fossil record shows happened to the Diacodexis is happening to its descendants, the ungulates, today. Alpine Chamois mountain goats, in other words, are shrinking.

Since the 1980s, the Alps have grown warmer by 3-4 degrees Celsius. This warming has already had one of the strangest effects of climate change observed thus far: thawing out corpses from a battle that happened back in World War I. The shrinking goats, in spite of how that sounds, aren’t nearly as unprecedented.

“Body size declines attributed to climate change are widespread in the animal kingdom, with many fish, bird and mammal species getting smaller, the study’s lead author Tom Mason, said in a statement.

The Durham University researchers tracked Chamois populations in three different hunting districts, and also consulted hunting records, and found that much like our cell phones, young Chamois now weigh a quarter less than the Chamois of the 1980s. The smaller Chamois appeared across sexes and across sites.

Incredible shrinking goats.

While researchers are not totally sure why, they have theories for how the warmer weather may be responsible. They considered whether warmer weather was reducing the availability of nutritious spring plants, or was otherwise affecting the availability of food in the (presumably picturesque) Alpine meadows where the wild goats do play. But that didn’t seem to be a problem.

The population was growing in numbers, somewhat, in response to a longer growing season, which leads to more competition and has in the past resulted in shrinking mammals.

But the study states that goats are known to rest when it’s very warm. Perhaps juvenile goats are spending less time foraging and more time resting in the shade, the researchers speculate.

It’s a problem for the goats, because they need some energy reserves stored up for the lean winter months, and no goat needs that more than a young goat.

Lonely goatherds, who presumably are now primed to grow even lonelier, released this statement in response:

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Robots recognize humans in disaster environments

October 22, 2014 Robots Comments Off

Through a computational algorithm, a team of researchers from the University of Guadalajara (UDG) in Mexico, developed a neural network that allows a small robot to detect different patterns, such as images, fingerprints, handwriting, faces, bodies, voice frequencies and DNA sequences.

Nancy Guadalupe Arana Daniel, researcher at the University Center of Exact and Engineering Sciences (CUCEI) at the UDG, focused on the recognition of human silhouettes in disaster situations. To that end she devised a system in which a robot, equipped with a flashlight and a stereoscopic camera, obtains images of the environment and, after a series of mathematical operations, distinguishes between people and debris.

During the imaging process HD cameras are used to scan the environment, then the image is cleaned and the patterns of interest are segmented, in this case human silhouettes from the rubble.

Due to its complexity, this interdisciplinary project required the support of Alma Yolanda Alanis García, Carlos Alberto López Franco and Gehová Lopez all from the CUCEI, who handled the visual and motion control of the robot, which has a similar appearance to that of animated films, with a friction crawler-based drive system (such as the one in war tanks), ideal for all types of terrain.

These features are necessary to break into irregular ground; it also has motion sensors, cameras, a laser and an infrared system, allowing to rebuild the environment, and thereby find paths or create 2D maps.

Initially the whole system is integrated in the robot, but when this model is too fragile to carry a computer, the algorithm runs on a separate laptop, and the robot is controlled wirelessly. In that way the human recognition images obtained by the cameras of the robot are transmitted to the computer, said Arana Daniel.

Once the robot obtains silhouettes, it uses the descriptor system that obtains the visual characteristics (3D points) to segment (wrapping objects in circles) and then builds the human external silhouettes. These silhouettes will serve as descriptors to train a neural network called CSVM, developed by Arana Daniel, to recognize patterns

After that, it transforms the captured images into numerical values ​​representing the shape, color and density. When merged, these figures give rise to a new image, which passes through a filter to detect whether it is a human silhouette or not.

“Pattern recognition allows the descriptors to automatically distinguish objects containing information about the features that represent a human figure; this involves developing algorithms to solve problems of the descriptor and assign features to an object,” explained the pattern recognition specialist at the UDG.

Finally, the purpose is to continue working with the robot and train it to automatically classify human shapes from previous experience. The idea is to mimic the learning process of intelligent beings, allowing it to automatically relate elements.

Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Investigación y Desarrollo. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

Robotics Research News — ScienceDaily

All the Reasons Your Toy Drone Is a Threat to British Security

October 22, 2014 Tech Comments Off

A UK report on drones out today takes a long hard look at all the ways drones could be used for security—and how they could be used to threaten it. From terrorists and smugglers to burglars and poachers, it presents a future where drones are every bad guys surprisingly versatile weapon of choice.

The Security Impact of Drones: Challenges and Opportunities for the UK was published by the Birmingham Policy Commission and chaired by Sir David Omand, a former director of GCHQ. The document outlines all manner of issues facing drone usage by and within the UK, which has recently come under the spotlight in ongoing discussions over regulation.

This week, the UK announced it would deploy drones over Syria to gather intelligence on IS terrorists, and military use of drones for counter-terrorism is covered in-depth in this new report as a potential opportunity for the technology. But it also highlights how UAVs could be turned against the country. And terrorists are just the start of it.

Under the potential misuses of UK airspace,the report suggests that RPA (or “remotely piloted aircraft, another term for UAVs) present a potentially new and useful tool to those of criminal, including terrorist, intent.


Commercial drones, it suggests, could be used by gangs to monitor the movement of police, security guards, or anti-smuggling patrols so as to better plot their criminal mischief. Burglars, train robbers, and poachers could use them as lookouts. And drones wont necessarily be just eyes in the sky—they could get in on the action too.

Larger models might be used to carry smuggled goods; something we’ve already seen in Mexican cartels reportedly flying drugs across the border. Alternatively, they could be weaponized. Armed with rudimentary explosives or firearms, they could also be used to delay pursuers or as the instruments of attack, murder, and assassination, the report states. 

Aside from these more violent offences, the report also forecasts drones as the weapon of choice for paparazzi trying to sneak pictures of privacy-seeking celebs.

And all thats before we even get started on the opportunities for terrorists.

In their hands, drones could, the authors muse, fly IEDs through the air to a target, or disperse a biological or chemical agent while its pilot remains safely distanced from contamination. 

Lest you think this too fanciful, or perhaps suspiciously close to the plot of a recent 24 season, the authors note that, While such a scenario has so far not posed a real danger to UK citizens… it is a threat that the UK authorities took seriously during the 2012 Olympics.

Things perhaps get a little more farfetched at the suggestion that even a recreational drone without a payload could be feared as a weapon. Researcher David Dunn is quoted as suggesting that UAVs could be swarmed against a target.

By virtue of either their kinetic energy alone or their ability to function as mechanical bird strikes, drones pose a significant threat to commercial airliners, he says. 

And even the good guys drones arent safe—because, after all, they could be hacked.

But of course, drones in general present a lot of opportunity, too—just as criminals might try to use them for reconnaissance or monitoring purposes, so could police or security workers. 

And while the report distances the use of drones by the British military from that of the US military—in his introduction, Omand pointedly notes that drones are a technology that some nations might want to extend in directions incompatible with international law—it does concur that UAVs could be of great benefit to protecting national security interests.

In any case, the authors realistically conclude, chances of a complete international ban on either drones or drone warfare are next to zero. The technologys here; weve just got to figure out how to use it. And, hopefully, how to stop others misusing it.

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