Why We See the Colors of Faces Differently Than Other Things

As setups go for studying how people see colors, this one isn’t even the weirdest: a room full of assorted objects, like Lego bricks, strawberries, and ping-pong balls. Bring people into the room and give them a computer. Tell them to use a mouse to adjust the color of a big spot on the screen, like a color-picker tool in reverse. Then a researcher would point at one of the objects and say, basically, make that spot on the computer be the same color. Easy, right? The yellow Lego, the red strawberry, the white ping-pong ball. That’s what color vision is for after all. It uses the photoreceptors at the back of your eyeballs and a lot of computational neurocircuitry …

The Strange Saga of the Butt Plug Turned Research Device

Take it from sex researcher Nicole Prause: Cobbling together an orgasm detector that works on both men and women ain’t easy. You at least know that it has to go in the anus to detect the muscle contractions that the sexes share, so you begin with a butt plug. Many butt plugs, actually. “We ordered like 20 of these butt plugs off Amazon, and it messed up my recommendation engine for all time,” Prause says. To the butt plugs Prause added piezoelectric discs, which detect deformation. In the anus the device goes, and voilà: You’ve got a way to uniformly measure the physiology of orgasms. Alas, a complication: “The device was made for sexual stimulation, so it was sloped both …

A Deadly Tick Virus, Extreme Seasonal Weirdness, and More News

A deadly tick can make you allergic to bacon and carries a mystery virus, cities are turning to Waze for help with car accidents, and you might be paying too much for your PlayStation 4. Here's the news you need to know, in two minutes or less. Want to receive this two-minute roundup as an email every weekday? Sign up here! Today's Headlines This meat-allergy tick also carries a mysterious killer virus. The Lone Star tick, famous for making people suddenly allergic to red meat, has a new weapon: the Bourbon virus. Scientists know little about how the Bourbon virus behaves, but they do know it can kill you, and they worry that it could be silently spreading through human …

Wide Sargasso seaweed: 5,500-mile algae belt keeps on growing

Great Atlantic Sargassum Belt now appears almost every year, forming largest record bloom It weighs 20m tonnes, stretches from west Africa to the Gulf of Mexico, and washes up on beaches creating a malodorous stench. Now scientists say a vast swathe of brown seaweed could be becoming an annual occurrence. Researchers say the explosion in sargassum seaweed first materialised in 2011. But new research shows it has appeared almost every year since then, forming the largest bloom of macroalgae ever recorded. Whats more, the seaweed band dubbed the Great Atlantic Sargassum Belt seems to be getting bigger. The scientists say the seaweed can be a boon for marine wildlife, providing habitat for creatures including fish and birds. But it also …

How Extreme Heat Overwhelms Your Body and Becomes Deadly

The heat wave that scorched Europe last week felt like a red alert of climate change. Death Valley was cooler than southern France, where temperatures reached a record-breaking 114.6 degrees Fahrenheit. But as the heat broke and returned to the relatively temperate 80s, another forewarning emerged. Civilizations need to adapt and protect themselves from extreme heat. More than anyone, the French are aware of just how deadly extreme heat can be. In 2003, a heat wave lasting two weeks killed an estimated 15,000 people in France—and 70,000 throughout Europe. By comparison, this June heat wave lasted just four days. It will take time for authorities to determine the “excess mortality” it caused, but the precautions, including cooling centers and misting …

A New Approach to Treat Mental Illness: Electrical Engineering

Brain disorders impact more than 25 percent of Americans, and such disorders are projected to cost more than one trillion dollars annually by 2050. In response, the federal government launched the Brain Research Through Advancing Innovative Nanotechnologies (BRAIN) initiative in 2013 to uncover how the human brain works as an electrical machine. This group of researchers has been tasked with answering the following question: What if mental illness could be treated with electrical engineering? While the human brain contains nearly 100 billion cells that create and process electricity, human brain augmentation has largely been limited to drugs that target brain chemicals. By discovering how the brain computes, we hope scientists will be able to develop new treatments and bend the projected …

Want Your Kid to Play Pro Soccer? Sign Her Up for Basketball

The Women’s World Cup is in full swing, and today the Americans will face off against France in a battle to advance to the semifinals. This year’s American team is a strong one, both in personality (they are currently engaged in an equal-pay dispute with the US Soccer Federation) and in style—they started the tournament with a 13-0 rout over Thailand. This year’s squad is also unique because it’s the first US women’s soccer team with women who chose to skip college soccer and go straight to the pros. Mallory Pugh and Lindsey Horan were the first American women soccer players to make that decision, but they are hardly the last. This year, Olivia Moultrie became the youngest American woman …

Man Found Guilty in a Murder Mystery Cracked By Cousins DNA

The word pierced a momentary hush that had settled over the packed courtroom, where a line of people stretched out into the hall. The word that the families of Jay Cook and Tanya Van Cuylenborg had been waiting for more than three decades to hear: “guilty.” After a day and a half of deliberations, a Snohomish County jury found William Earl Talbott II guilty on two counts of aggravated murder in the first degree for the deaths of the young Canadian couple. They disappeared during an overnight trip to Seattle on November 18, 1987—their bodies recovered in rural western Washington a few days later, each bearing the marks of the violent ends they met. The decision, delivered late Friday morning, …

Lawyers in a Murder Trial Clash Over a DNA Forensics Method

On a large screen inside a packed Snohomish County courtroom, in Washington state, a young Canadian couple smiled out at the dimmed room from the relaxed, faded scene of a party. It was the last known picture taken of Tanya Van Cuylenberg and Jay Cook together before they disappeared in November 1987. Their bodies were discovered days after they went missing, more than 60 miles apart. Thirty-one years later, William Talbott II is now standing trial as the first person to be accused of the double murder. In their opening statements on Friday, attorneys on both sides traced the teenagers’ last-known movements through ferry ticket stubs, deli receipts, and forgotten travelers’ checks. They catalogued the many dead ends pursued by …

YouTube Testimonials Lure Patients to Shady Stem-Cell Clinics

Punch “stem cells” into YouTube and your first hit looks like something from a seventh-grade biology textbook. Number two features a Duke sports medicine doc injecting a syringe of bright red liquid into a heavily tattooed shoulder. Number three, with more than 2.5 million views, is a miked-up Mel Gibson regaling Joe Rogan with tales about his 92-year-old father’s “miraculous recovery” following a trip to Panama to get umbilical cord stem cells. In the more than 11,000 comments on the video, many tout their own experiences with stem-cell injections. Others leave their emails and phone numbers, hoping for a last-ditch shot at survival for themselves or their family members with leaky hearts and stage four cancer diagnoses. Since the mid-2000s, …

Ancient Potheads, a Russian Troll Controversy, and More News

Researchers have discovered the existence of ancient potheads, an Alphabet-owned company conducted a controversial Russian troll experiment, and local politicians could save us from the crypto-pocalypse. Here's the news you need to know, in two minutes or less. Want to receive this two-minute round up as an email every week day? Sign up here! Today's Headlines Ancient peoples smoked the chronic at funerals New evidence suggests that 2,500 years ago, ancient people in what is now western China smoked marijuana while playing ritualistic music. Researchers analyzed ancient incense burners from funerals that tested positive for cannabis—and the stuff was relatively high in THC content, by ancient standards. It's a glimpse into how cannabis spread around the world and how humans …

Remembering Gabriele Grunewald, Who Ran For Herself and Others

The image is hard to look at now without crying: a thick red scar, carved across Gabriele Grunewald’s midriff as she flies around the track. At first it looks like it shouldn’t be there; perhaps it’s just an out-of-place shadow. But soon it becomes obvious what it truly is: a symbol of perseverance and pain. A signifier that a disease that would end the life of one of America’s finest runners was working its wretched ways inside a body that was moving as fast as few others had moved before. Grunewald first learned that she was sick in 2009, when she was a good, but not yet transcendent, runner at the University of Minnesota. She found a lump under her …

Why Kevin Durant’s Achilles Tendon Was His Achilles’ Heel

You can watch Kevin Durant tear up his Achilles tendon in gif form if you want. It’s all over the internet—the Golden State Warriors’ scoring machine bouncing the ball between his legs in an attempt to get past Serge Ibaka of the Toronto Raptors, pushing off his right leg and pivoting on his left, showing Ibaka his back. Then when Durant puts his weight back down after the turn, something’s wrong. He has felt a pop, like getting hit in the back of the leg. Durant limps off the court. He’d later report on Instagram that, yes, his right Achilles tendon had ruptured, that he had gotten surgery to repair it, and that he wouldn’t be playing basketball for a …

Telemedicine Makes It Safe to Get Abortion Drugs in the Mail

Every restriction on access to abortion draws the metaphoric walls closer. On who can dispense drugs, on what clinical tests are required first, on how far along the pregnancy can be—the rules are all designed to delay, deter, and delegitimize. It’s a Death Star Trash Compactor. The box around abortion gets smaller and smaller. That’s policymaking; technology, meanwhile, tends to see boxes as something to think outside of. A long-awaited study published this week in the journal Contraception offers a way around tightening regulations: telemedicine. Abortion medication provided by mail, administered by a practitioner working via videoconference, could safely enlarge the geographic footprint of clinics and providers. “Many clinics already use telemedicine for other services,” says Elizabeth Raymond, a researcher …

A Study Exposes the Health Risks of Gene-Editing Human Embryos

A missing chunk of DNA, 32 base pairs long and smack in the middle of the CCR5 gene, might be the most studied mutation in human history. The spontaneous deletion, which arose thousands of years ago, has a striking relationship with one of the worst human diseases: HIV/AIDS. People who inherit this mutation from both of their parents are naturally immune. The only two people to have ever been cured both received bone marrow transplants from people who carry the Δ32 mutation. The pharmaceutical industry has invested heavily in trying to recreate the benefits of this naturally evolved anomaly using drugs and genetic engineering. And last year, a Chinese scientist named He Jiankui used Crispr to try to endow two …

Why Tracking Your Symptoms Can Make You Feel Worse

Katie Golden began a symptom diary when she was first diagnosed with chronic migraines eight years ago. She recorded her pain score, what she ate, where she went, the weather and barometric pressure—anything that would unlock the possible triggers of her recurring headaches and help ease the pain. But here’s the problem with meticulous tracking of symptoms: It can make you feel worse. Fifteen percent of adults in the US use an app regularly or occasionally to track symptoms of a disease. About as many use a sleep-tracking app to figure out whether they get enough shut-eye. Thinking (or worrying!) about symptoms, including insomnia, will make them more likely to occur. That is the nocebo effect, the dark sibling of …