Saturday, 18 September 2010

Johnald's Fantastical Daily Link Splurge

Johnald's Fantastical Daily Link Splurge

Why Cellphone Talkers Are So Grating

Posted: 17 Sep 2010 11:06 AM PDT

They're everywhere — yammering on the subway, yukking it up on sidewalks, yakking away in restaurants. It's the invasion of the cellphone-slinging, super-annoying attention snatchers!

sciencenewsCellphone users irritate so mightily because their background chatter forcibly yanks listeners' attention away from whatever they're doing, says psychology graduate student Lauren Emberson of Cornell University. Overhearing someone spewing intermittent exclamations into a handheld gadget lacks the predictability of hearing a two-way exchange and thus proves inherently unsettling, Emberson and her colleagues report in an upcoming Psychological Science.

That makes it harder to focus on one's own immediate business, be it reading a book, contemplating a work presentation or driving a car, the researchers propose.

These new results raise the unsettling possibility that drivers operate vehicles poorly not only while talking on cellphones (SN: 3/13/10, p. 16) but also when passengers gab on the devices. Further research will look for such an effect in people operating driving simulators.

"Drivers should be aware that one's attention is drawn away from current tasks by overhearing someone on a cellphone, at least in our attention-demanding lab tasks, and that this effect is beyond conscious control," Emberson says.

Overhearing a whole conversation while focusing on something else does not drain listeners' attention, the investigators assert.

Their new findings appear relevant to real-world behaviors such as driving, remarks psycholinguist Benjamin Bergen of the University of California, San Diego. Individuals who overhear cellphone chatterers often try to guess what the unheard talker has just said or thought, contributing to distraction, Bergen proposes.

"I bet people are often trying to fill in the blanks when they hear half of a conversation," he says.

Cellphone talkers' louder-than-usual voices may also divert others' attention, suggests psychologist David Strayer of the University of Utah in Salt Lake City. People speaking in person give each other nonverbal cues that modulate voice volume, but that's missing in cellphone conversations, he says.

Emberson's team had 24 college students perform two attention tasks both in silence and while hearing each of three types of speech played through headphones — two women talking to each other on cellphones in a dialogue, a woman talking on a cellphone to an unheard person in a "halfalogue," and a woman recapping a cellphone conversation in a monologue.

One attention task involved keeping a mouse-controlled cursor as close as possible to a moving dot on a computer screen. Volunteers tried to maintain focus on specific visual cues, a skill needed for driving a car, Emberson says.

The average distance participants kept the cursor from the moving dot spiked for a fraction of a second after they heard each utterance in a halfalogue. No corresponding increases appeared after speaker changes in a dialogue or in any parts of the other two conditions.

A second task required participants to remember four letters and hit a computer key as fast as possible every time one of those letters appeared on a computer screen, while ignoring other letters. Volunteers had to deploy attention selectively and respond quickly when necessary, much as occurs when drivers react to traffic signals, Emberson says.

Accurate identification of the specified letters declined slightly but to a statistically significant extent during halfalogues relative to the other three conditions. Given the speed at which people perceive what others say, subtle disturbances of this type of attention could undermine speech comprehension, Emberson hypothesizes.

Image: Lulu Vision/Flickr

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Baby Lion Cubs Get First Vet Exam

Posted: 17 Sep 2010 10:14 AM PDT

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The four baby lion cubs that we have been following on the lion cub webcam since they were born at the Smithsonian National Zoo August 31 got their first physical exam today, and their first mug shots.

All four cubs appear to be female, although it is hard to tell at such a young age. They all weigh between 7 and 8 pounds right now.

"They were great first-time patients and all four cubs appear to be healthy at this time," veterinarian Katharine Hope at the National Zoo said in a press release. "Their eyes are starting to focus on things, their hearts and lungs sound clear, they are all strong and in good body condition and it looks like some of their lower teeth will start erupting soon."

In 2009 the mortality rate for cubs younger than 1 year old in captivity was about 30 percent, compared to 67 mortality rate for cubs in the wild, so the animal care staff are cautiously optimistic that all of them will remain healthy.

Images: Smithsonian National Zoo

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6 Surprising New Tyrannosaurs Discovered This Year

Posted: 17 Sep 2010 09:46 AM PDT

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For more than a century, Tyrannosaurus rex has been the King of Dinosaurs, the carnivorous symbol of an entire age in the history of life on Earth. That image no longer holds.

Over the last decade, a series of discoveries have radically expanded our knowledge of the Tyrannosauroidea. T. rex now seems less like the taxonomical superfamily's patriarch than an odd cousin.

"T. rex is so iconic. Everybody has that image of it," said American Museum of Natural History paleontologist Stephen Brusatte. "T. rex in many ways were very unusual tyrannosaurs. They're not the norm for the group now."

As described in a September 17 Science article co-authored by Brusatte, tyrannosaurs came in a wide range of sizes, shapes and habits over their 100 million year history. Most were small and overshadowed by other, larger predators. Only at the end did T. rex and its Asian counterpart, Tarbosaurus, cast their tyrant shadows.

"A lot of this work is new. It's as contemporary as paleontology gets," said Brusatte. "We wrote this review to pay homage to these discoveries, and to change perception of tyrannosaurs."

To meet some of the other notable members of T. rex's family, click on.

Image: Rich Middleditch, Flickr.

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Citation: "Tyrannosaur Paleobiology: New Research on Ancient Exemplar Organisms." By Stephen L. Brusatte, Mark A. Norell, Thomas D. Carr, Gregory M. Erickson, John R. Hutchinson, Amy M. Balanoff, Gabe S. Bever, Jonah N. Choiniere, Peter J. Makovicky, Xing Xu. Science, Vol. 329 No. 5998, September 17, 2010.

Brandon Keim's Twitter stream and reportorial outtakes; Wired Science on Twitter. Brandon is currently working on an ecological tipping point project.

Rare ‘Asian Unicorn’ Caught in Laos

Posted: 17 Sep 2010 09:28 AM PDT

One of the rarest creatures on the planet has been sighted in Laos. The saola, which has been dubbed the 'Asian unicorn' despite being double horned, hasn't been photographed since 1999. The individual pictured above was captured and taken back to a small village, where it unfortunately died in captivity several days later.

The saola first became known to science in 1992 in Vietnam's Vu Quang Nature Reserve, near the country's border with Laos. It lives in very dense forest, and has been rarely seen since. The International Union for the Conservation of Nature lists the species as critically endangered.

"It's clear that further awareness-raising efforts about the special status of saola are needed," biologist William Robichaud, who coordinates the IUCN Saola Working Group, said in a press release Sept. 16. "But saola doesn't have much time left — at best a few hundred survive, but it may be only a few dozen. The situation is critical."

The saola pictured above was captured in late August. When the news of the capture reached Lao authorities, a technical team advised by the Wildlife Conservation Society and IUCN Saola Working Group, was dispatched to examine the animal and release it. But the saola had been weakened by the whole ordeal and died shortly after the team arrived.

A statement issued by the Provincial Conservation Unit of Bolikhamxay Province, where the saola was captured, said, "The death of this saola is unfortunate. But at least it confirms an area where it still occurs, and the government will immediately move to strengthen conservation efforts there."

The carcass of the captured saola was preserved, providing the first complete specimen for study and reference.

"Study of the carcass can yield some good from this unfortunate incident," veterinarian Pierre Comizzoli with the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute said in a press release. "Our lack of knowledge of saola biology is a major constraint to efforts to conserve it, and this can be a major step forward in understanding this remarkable and mysterious species."

Image: Bolikhamxay Provincial Conservation Unit

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