Today's news

  • BioweaponsPentagon accidentally ship live anthrax from Utah to labs in nine states

    The U.S. Department of Defense yesterday admitted it had accidentally shipped samples of a live anthrax spores – a potential bioweapon — across nine states and to a U.S. air base in South Korea. The Pentagon revealed what it described as an “inadvertent transfer of samples containing live Bacillus anthracis” from a DoD laboratory in Dugway Proving Ground, Utah to labs in nine states. The mishap alarmed biosafety experts. “These events shouldn’t happen,” said one.

  • GridWeak regulation of grid soundness limits efforts to improve system reliability

    Electricity systems in the United States are so haphazardly regulated for reliability, it is nearly impossible for customers to know their true risk of losing service in a major storm, a new analysis found. Though weather-related outages have risen over the last decade, and research shows extreme weather events will occur with more intensity and frequency in the future, power providers do not necessarily have to report storm-related outages, leaving customers with an incomplete picture of the system’s reliability and potentially limiting efforts to improve system reliability, the researchers concluded.

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  • EnergyTesting wave energy generation in rough sea conditions

    Oceans, which cover some 71 percent of the earth’s surface, represent an untapped source of clean, renewable energy. Early demonstrations have already shown that the energy stored in waves can be captured by floating energy converters. Now scientists want to rigorously test this technology on a much larger scale, to see whether the concept is truly viable and whether hardware is capable of surviving rough sea conditions over a period of several years. EU-funded researchers with the CEFOW project are about to put cutting edge wave power technology to the test in real ocean conditions.

  • WaterHimalayas glaciers volume to decline dramatically, affecting region’s water supply

    Glaciers in High Mountain Asia, a region that includes the Himalayas, contain the largest volume of ice outside the polar regions. If greenhouse-gas emissions continue to rise, glaciers in the Everest region of the Himalayas could experience dramatic change in the decades to come – and may decline by between 70 percent and 99 percent by 2100. Changes in glacier volume can impact the availability of water, with consequences for agriculture and hydropower generation. While increased glacier melt initially increases water flows, ongoing retreat leads to reduced meltwater from the glaciers during the warmer months. “The signal of future glacier change in the region is clear: continued and possibly accelerated mass loss from glaciers is likely given the projected increase in temperatures,” says a researcher.

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  • ForensicsIowa State to be home to a new, $20 million national center for forensic science

    NIST has awarded a five-year, up to $20 million grant to establish a Forensic Science Center of Excellence to be based at Iowa State University. The new center will be the third NIST Center of Excellence and the only one focused on forensic sciences. Its primary goal will be to build a statistically sound and scientifically solid foundation under two branches of forensics, pattern evidence (including fingerprints and bullet marks) and digital evidence (including data from cell phones and computers).

  • Public safety comm.NIST publishes first “roadmap” for public safety communications research

    NIST has published the first “roadmap” for the next twenty years of research needed to establish seamless, broadband public safety communications networks across the United States. The new roadmap, the first of a planned series on relevant technologies, focuses on location-based services to improve situational awareness for police, firefighters, emergency medical services, and other first responders. The roadmap was commissioned by NIST’s Public Safety Communications Research (PSCR) program, which has been performing research, development, testing and evaluation, and creating standards to support first responder communications since 2002.

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  • ResilienceAssessing climate change vulnerability in Georgia

    New research from the University of Georgia assesses the communities in the state most vulnerable to changes in temperature and precipitation. The study examines not only the sensitivity and susceptibility of populations that are vulnerable to flooding along the coast, but also the social vulnerability of inland populations in Georgia. The research presents a vulnerability assessment of Georgia based on county-level statistics from 1975 to 2012.

  • ImmigrationDivided court denies emergency stay of injunction stopping Obama's immigration executive order

    In a disappointing decision for immigration advocates, a divided panel of the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals yesterday denied the federal government’s request for an emergency stay of a preliminary injunction which has temporarily stopped President Obama’s deferred action initiatives from being implemented. The court’s order keeps in place the hold on implementation of these initiatives while the Fifth Circuit considers the appeal of the preliminary injunction itself. The Fifth Circuit will hear argument on the appeal in early July.

  • ImmigrationCalifornia group blames immigrants for state’s historic drought

    Californians for Population Stabilization (CAPS), an anti-immigration environmentalist group, has made a splash with provocative advertisements which feature a young child asking, “If Californians are having fewer children, why isn’t there enough water?” The ad is part of a broader media campaign by the organization which blames immigrant populations for the historic drought in the state. CAPS is calling for stricter enforcement of immigration laws on environmental grounds: it argues that the state’s natural resources cannot sustain the high levels immigration-driven population growth of recent decades. Drought experts and climatologists dismiss CAPS’s claims about the connection between immigration and drought as laughable.

  • IraqExplicitly Shi’a name for Iraqi military operation in Anbar province “unhelpful”: U.S.

    The United States said it was disappointed with the decision by Iraqi militias to use an explicitly Shi’a name for a military operation in Anbar province, Iraq’s Sunni heartland. The Pentagon said it could only exacerbate sectarian tensions in the country. A coalition group of Iran-trained Iraqi Shi’a militias said it had decided to use the name “Operation Labaik ya Hussein,” which translates as “We are at your service, Hussein,” for a military campaign to drive Islamic State out of Ramadi – and, later, out of Anbar province. The name refers to one of the most revered imams in Shi’a Islam.

  • Nuclear warT. K. Jones, Pentagon official who argued U.S. could survive an all-out nuclear war, dies

    Thomas K. Jones (he preferred to be called “T. K.”), the deputy under-secretary of defense for research and engineering, strategic and theater nuclear forces, died at 82. He became famous in 1982, when, in an interview with the LA Times, he argued that if the United States had a more robust civil defense, most Americans would survive an all-out Soviet nuclear attack. “You can make very good sheltering by taking the doors off your house, digging a trench, stacking the doors about two deep over that, covering it with plastic so that rainwater or something doesn’t screw up the glue in the door, then pile dirt over it.” He added: “It’s the dirt that does it.” He concluded the interview by saying:  “Turns out with the Russian approach, if there are enough shovels to go around, everybody’s going to make it.”

  • Terrorism & mediaExposure to media coverage of terrorist acts, disasters may cause long-term negative health effects

    The city of Boston endured one of the worst terrorist attacks on U.S. soil in April of 2013, when two pressure-cooker bombs exploded near the finish line of the Boston Marathon. While emergency workers responded to the chaos and law enforcement agencies began a manhunt for the perpetrators, Americans fixed their attention to television screens, Internet news sites and forums, and Twitter, Facebook, and other social media. In doing so, some of those people may have been raising their acute stress levels which, in some cases, have been linked with long-term negative health effects. For some individuals, intense exposure to the Boston Marathon bombing through media coverage could be associated with more stress symptoms than those who had direct exposure to the attack.

  • Decision makingSocial circles explain why members of Congress vote the way they do

    The standard model of voting behavior basically assumes there is only one factor that matters: where a legislator lives on the liberal-conservative axis. That position, derived from their roll call votes, serves as an ideological marker that presumably summarizes the various forces that can influence the legislators’ votes, including personal preferences, party preferences, and constituent opinion. Researchers developed a new model called “social identity voting” based on social identity theory, which says our identity is partially created and reinforced by the various circles within which we move and the various ideologies with which we identify. In other words, it is not just friends and friends of friends, but also potentially something more subtle — you can identify with a movement without necessarily being part of an explicit “social circle.” The researchers conclude that U.S. Congress members’ social circles are more important in how they vote than their liberal or conservative beliefs or constituents’ opinions.

  • Decision making“Echo chambers” fuel climate change debate: Study

    A new study demonstrates that the highly contentious debate on climate change is fueled in part by how information flows throughout policy networks. The researchers found that “echo chambers” — social network structures in which individuals with the same viewpoint share information with each other — play a significant role in climate policy communication. The researchers point out that the debate on climate change is not indicative of inconclusive science. Rather, the debate is illustrative of how echo chambers influence information flows in policy networks. “Our research underscores how important it is for people on both sides of the climate debate to be careful about where they get their information. If their sources are limited to those that repeat and amplify a single perspective, they can’t be certain about the reliability or objectivity of their information,” says one of the authors.

  • EarthquakesEarthquake preparations in the Pacific Northwest need to start now: Experts

    Developing the resilience to withstand a massive earthquake along the Pacific Northwest’s Cascadia Subduction Zone is the responsibility of public agencies, private businesses, and individuals, and that work should be under way now, an OSU expert advised Congressional leaders last week in Washington, D.C.“It will take fifty years for us to prepare for this impending earthquake. The time to act is before you have the earthquake. Everybody needs to take some responsibility and start preparing now.” Earthquake preparation, or lack thereof, is not an issue unique to Oregon: Forty-two U.S. states have significant earthquake faults.

  • Food safetyNew biosensor can detect listeria contamination in two minutes

    Engineers have developed a biosensor that can detect listeria bacterial contamination within two or three minutes. The same technology can be developed to detect other pathogens such as E. coli O157:H7, but listeria was chosen as the first target pathogen because it can survive even at freezing temperatures. It is also one of the most common foodborne pathogens in the world and the third-leading cause of death from food poisoning in the United States.

  • WaterRemote project a proof of concept for eco-friendly desalination

    In the past water desalination has been identified with industrial-scale, energy hungry plants, but researchers working at a remote indigenous community in Western Australia have proved portable, solar-powered desalination can provide cost-effective water security for a small community.

  • IraqU.S. tries to calm Iraq’s anger over Ash Carter’s “will to fight” comment

    Vice-President Joe Biden yesterday (Monday) called the Iraqi prime minister, Haider al-Abadi, to reassure him of continuing U.S. support, a day after bunt comments by U.S. defense secretary Ashton Carter. Carter told CNN on Saturday Iraqi forces had shown “no will to fight” ISIS and had fled in Ramadi despite outnumbering the Islamist militants by a wide margin. Abadi’s spokesman subsequently said that Carter had been given “incorrect information,” adding: “We should not judge the whole army based on one incident.” The debate over the fall of Ramadi highlights the deep disagreements among the United States, Iraq, and Iran over how to fight ISIS most effectively.

  • Analysis // IraqIraqi army lacks “moral cohesion,” “will to fight” ISIS: U.K., U.S. defense officials

    Maj. Gen. Tim Cross, the most senior British officer to be involved in postwar planning in Iraq, pointedly said that although the Iraqi military outnumbered ISIS by a wide margin, this military lacks “moral cohesion” and effective leadership required to fight and defeat Islamic State forces. Cross’s words echo comments made over the weekend by Ashton Carter, the U.S. defense secretary that, recent gains by ISIS fighters in Iraq were the result of the Iraqi army not having the “will to fight.” Military analysts say that the unexpected collapse of Iraqi forces in Ramadi, forces which included elite counterterrorism troops from Iraq’s Golden Division, indicate that the Iraqi forces may be weaker than many in the U.S. government had assumed. There is a deeper issue here, though, as the Obama administration is facing a broader challenge in the war against the Islamic State in the Middle East: Finding reliable and dedicated partners. This is especially difficult when it comes to recruiting Sunni partners. Few, if any, Sunnis would agree to fight ISIS if such a fight would mean the strengthening of Shi’a groups. Thus, in Iraq, Sunni tribesmen have been unwilling to fight the Islamic State on behalf of a Shi’a-dominated government in Baghdad, and in Syria, moderate Syrian rebel groups, both secular and Islamist, are reluctant to fight ISIS if such fighting means strengthening the Alawite Assad regime.

  • African securityIsraeli military technology sales to Africa increase by 40%

    Israeli weapons exports declined by nearly $1 billion in 214 compared to 2013, but export of Israel-made weapons to African countries increased by 40 percent in 2014 compared with 2013. Israeli armaments industries signed deals worth $318 million in Africa, compared with $223 million in 2013, which itself was an all-time record. Asian and Pacific countries were much larger customers of Israeli arms, though, buying $3 billion worth of Israeli military technology in 2014.

  • HackingA growing threat: Car hacking

    A string of high-profile hacks — the most recent on President Obama’s personal email account — have made cybercrime an ever-growing concern in the United States. Despite the publicity, most people still think of hacking as something which is done only to information systems like computers and mobile devices. In reality, hacking is no longer confined to the information world. The level of automation in modern physical systems means that even everyday automobiles are now vulnerable to hacking. Researchers are now looking into the growing threat of automotive hacking. “More and more in your everyday life you see that we’re automating physical systems,” one researcher says. “And unlike an information system, a physical system could kill you by accident.”

  • EncryptionTech companies urge rejection of push by FBI, DOJ for electronic devices “backdoors”

    In a 19 May letter to President Barack Obama, a group of Silicon Valley tech companies, cyber-security experts, and privacy advocacy groups urged the president to reject the implementation of “backdoors” in smartphone and computer encryption. The letter offered evidence of the  strong objection of the tech industry to demands from the Justice Department and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) to allow secret backdoor passages into consumer electronics, which would make it possible for law enforcement to read encrypted private communications and data.