Category: News Article

Neanderthals Weren’t Humans’ Only Mating Partners. Meet the Denisovans.

By Charles Q. Choi

The mysterious extinct human lineage known as the Denisovans may have interbred with modern humans in at least two separate waves, a new study finds.

The discovery suggests a more diverse evolutionary history than previously thought between Denisovans and modern humans.

Although modern humans are now the only human lineage left alive, others not only lived alongside modern humans, but even interbred with them, leaving behind DNA in the modern human genome. Such lineages not only included the Neanderthals, the closest extinct relatives of modern humans, but also the mysterious Denisovans, known only from molars and a finger bone unearthed in the Denisova Cave in the Altai Mountains in Siberia.

Previous research found that while Denisovans shared a common origin with Neanderthals, they were nearly as genetically distinct from Neanderthals as Neanderthals were from modern humans. Prior work also found Denisovans contributed DNA to several modern human groups — about 5 percent of their DNA to the genomes of people in Oceania, and about 0.2 percent to the genomes of mainland Asians and Native Americans.

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Advances in human behaviour came surprisingly early in Stone Age

By Jeff Tollefson

Early humans in eastern Africa crafted advanced tools and displayed other complex behaviours tens of thousands of years earlier than previously thought, according to a trio of papers published on 15 March in Science1,2,3. Those advances coincided with — and may have been driven by — major climate and landscape changes.

The latest evidence comes from the Olorgesailie Basin in Southern Kenya, where researchers have previously found traces of ancient relatives of modern human as far back as 1.2 million years ago. Evidence collected at sites in the basin suggests that early humans underwent a series of profound changes at some point before roughly 320,000 years ago. They abandoned simple hand axes in favour of smaller and more advanced blades made from obsidian and other materials obtained from distant sources. That shift suggests the early people living there had developed a trade network — evidence of growing sophistication in behaviour. The researchers also found gouges on black and red rocks and minerals, which indicate that early Olorgesailie residents used those materials to create pigments and possibly communicate ideas.

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Setting the record straight on charities and political speech

By Tim Delaney

There’s a core American belief that just about everyone agrees with regardless of political stripes: People employed to serve the public good should not, in their official capacity, endorse or oppose candidates for public office. That core belief, long codified in federal and state laws, holds true for all public servants, whether they are government employees or representatives of charitable nonprofits, houses of worship, or foundations. Yet, some in Congress are seeking to repeal or weaken this important taxpayer protection in the omnibus spending bill.

We all received a reminder of this core value when news broke that presidential adviser Kellyanne Conway allegedly violated the Hatch Act by taking sides in the Alabama Senate race. How the White House responded has undeniable implications for the generations-old Johnson Amendment that similarly curbs partisan endorsements by charitable, religious and philanthropic organizations.

Last week, the U.S. Office of Special Counsel announced its determination that Conway violated the Hatch Act when she engaged in partisan, election-related speech on two television interviews last year. The White House responded that Conway “did not advocate for or against the election of any particular candidate,” which is the legal standard under the Hatch Act. The response stressed, “In fact, Kellyanne’s statements actually show her intention and desire to comply with the Hatch Act, as she twice declined to respond to the host’s specific invitation to encourage Alabamians to vote for the Republican.”

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Tony Perkins: Liberals Are Using Trump’s Affair to “Shame” Evangelical Voters

By Hemant Mehta

Why do so many people point out the hypocrisy of conservative Christians who support Donald Trump? Why do liberals keep mentioning that the people who have long claimed the moral high ground due to their “family values” are currently frolicking in the bottom of the barrel? Why are even fellow Christians quick to shake their heads at white evangelicals who cling to Trump for short term judicial victories?

Religious Right leader Tony Perkins, head of the Family Research Council, knows why: It’s because liberals are trying to “shame evangelicals for their political participation.”

“The intensity of this is growing and this is an effort to shame evangelicals for their political participation. And since I’ve spent the last 25 years, since I left the law enforcement realm and entered into the political realm both in activism and in public office, is to bring Christians to an understanding of what our role is, and our role is to be salt in the light,” Perkins said. “Now, first and foremost, that is to take the gospel to people — living it out.”

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Stephen Hawking, Famed Physicist Who Defied ALS Odds, Dies at 76

By Tia Ghose

Stephen Hawking, one of the brightest minds of modern physics, has died at the age of 76 at his home in Cambridge, England, The Guardian reported today (March 14). He was perhaps the best-known physicist in the world, despite having to communicate via a computerized voice that recorded the minute motion of his cheek muscle.

“We are deeply saddened that our beloved father passed away today,” Lucy, Robert and Tim Hawking, the children of the physicist, said in a statement announcing his death. “He was a great scientist and an extraordinary man whose work and legacy will live on for many years.”

Hawking was a brilliant student of physics at the University of Cambridge when he was diagnosed with the degenerative nerve disease amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, at the age of 21. ALS affects the neurons that help us move our muscles, so Hawking used a wheelchair for decades and communicated via a computerized “voice.” He nevertheless continued working and soon developed a series of groundbreaking theories that would remake the world of physics. In 1966, the cosmologist published his doctoral thesis, which argued that the entire universe began as a singularity.

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Supervolcano Goes Boom. Humans Go Meh?

By Ed Yong

Around 74,000 years ago, the Toba supervolcano erupted on the Indonesian island of Sumatra. It was the biggest volcanic eruption of the last 2 million years, unleashing 2,800 cubic kilometers of magma. That’s enough to bury the entire United States in a foot-thick layer of ash and rock.

In the 1990s, several scientists argued that Toba’s unprecedented outburst radically changed the world’s climate, blocking out sunlight and lowering global temperatures by several degrees for many decades. This “volcanic winter,” it is said, almost drove humans to extinction, leaving behind a measly group of a few thousand survivors, from whom we today are descended. The “Toba catastrophe theory” is highly controversial, and other researchers have argued that it greatly overestimates both the degree of climate change that the volcano inflicted, and its effect on our ancestors.

Now, into the fray comes a new study from an unlikely location. In a cliff near Mossel Bay, a town on South Africa’s south coast, scientists have discovered a layer of microscopic glass shards. Known as cryptotephra, these shards are the products of Toba’s wrath, created when the volcano superheated the silica within its expunged rock. They drifted in the air over 5,500 miles and fell on southern Africa as the sparsest of drizzles. And they settled among bones, tools, and other signs of human occupation.

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FDA warns of fraudulent and unapproved flu products


As part of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s ongoing efforts to protect consumers from health fraud, the agency is reminding consumers to be wary of unapproved products claiming to prevent, treat or cure influenza, or flu. This year’s severe flu season raises new concerns about the potential for consumers to be lured into buying unproven flu treatments, and even worse, buying counterfeit antivirals online from websites that appear to be legitimate online pharmacies.

“This year the flu has been widespread, impacting millions of patients across the country, and leading to a new record number of flu-related hospitalizations,” said FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, M.D. “We understand the toll this year’s flu season has taken on peoples’ lives. As the flu continues to make people sick — and even cause deaths — unscrupulous actors may also be taking advantage of unsuspecting consumers by promoting their fraudulent products that have not been reviewed by the FDA to be safe and effective. The FDA is warning consumers to be alert, and try and steer clear of fraudulent flu products, which may be found online or in retail stores. We’re advising consumers on some of the telltale signs to look for when trying to spot flu products that may be fraudulent. All of us must also continue to be diligent in doing our part to prevent the spread of flu however possible. People who are sick with flu-like symptoms and those who are at high risk of serious flu complications should see a health care professional as soon as possible to see if they should be treated with antiviral drugs.”

Consumers should be aware that there are no legally marketed over-the-counter (OTC) drugs to prevent or cure the flu. However, there are legal OTC products to reduce fever and to relieve muscle aches, congestion and other symptoms typically associated with the flu. Products sold online are fraudulent if they claim to prevent, treat or cure the flu, and have not been evaluated by the FDA for that intended use.

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Pruitt tapes revealed: Evolution’s a ‘theory,’ ‘majority’ religions under attack

By Emily Holden and Alex Guillén

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt dismissed evolution as an unproven theory, lamented that “minority religions” were pushing Christianity out of “the public square” and advocated amending the Constitution to ban abortion, prohibit same-sex marriage and protect the Pledge of Allegiance and the Ten Commandments, according to a newly unearthed series of Oklahoma talk radio shows from 2005.

Pruitt, who at the time was a state senator, also described the Second Amendment as divinely granted and condemned federal judges as a “judicial monarchy” that is “the most grievous threat that we have today.” And he did not object when the program’s host described Islam as “not so much a religion as it is a terrorist organization in many instances.”

The six hours of civics class-style conversations on Tulsa-based KFAQ-AM were recently rediscovered by a firm researching Pruitt’s past remarks, which provided them to POLITICO on condition of anonymity so as not to identify its client. They reveal Pruitt’s unfiltered views on a variety of political and social issues, more than a decade before the ambitious Oklahoman would lead President Donald Trump’s EPA.

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I’m a scholar of the “prosperity gospel.” It took cancer to show me I was in its grip.

By Kate Bowler

There’s a branch of Christianity that promises a direct path to the good life. It is called by many names, but most often it is nicknamed the “prosperity gospel” for its bold central claim that God will give you your heart’s desires: money in the bank, a healthy body, a thriving family, and boundless happiness.

This was not the faith I grew up with on the prairies of Manitoba, Canada, surrounded by communities of Mennonites. I learned at my Anabaptist Bible camp about a poor carpenter from Galilee who taught that a good life was a simple one.

But when I was 18 or so, I started hearing stories about a different kind of faith with a formula for success. At first, I followed my interest in the prosperity gospel like a storm chaser, finding any megachurch within driving distance of a family vacation. I started at Yale Divinity School for my master’s ready to devote myself to analyzing this unusual theology.

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What This Optical Illusion Reveals About the Human Brain

By Jasmin Malik Chua

You may be familiar with a 19th-century optical illusion — or, more precisely, “ambiguous image” — of a rabbit that looks like a duck that looks like a rabbit. First published in 1892 by a German humor magazine, the figure was made popular after the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein used it to illustrate two different ways of seeing. You can interpret the image as either a duck or a rabbit, but not both animals at the same time.

It gets trickier if you place two copies of the illusion side by side. You’re likely to see two ducks. Or perhaps two rabbits. In fact, about half of people can’t see a rabbit and a duck at first glance, according to Kyle Mathewson, a neuroscientist at the University of Alberta, in Canada. To picture one of each species simultaneously, you have to give your brain more information to work with — for example, telling yourself to imagine a duck eating a rabbit.

See it now? Turns out, when it comes to distinguishing between two ways of seeing identical images, context is vital, according to Mathewson’s new study. 

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