Making Unique Observations in a Very Cluttered World

Thursday, 25 July 2013

Inception? Scientists produce false memories in mice -

Inception? Scientists produce false memories in mice - 

“Memory is deceptive because it is colored by today’s events,” said Albert Einstein. It is also deceptive because it is frequently wrong, sometimes dangerously so.
Scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have developed the ability to implant mice with false memories. The memories can be easily induced and are just as strong as real memories, physiological proof of something psychologists and lawyers have known for years.
The findings are a serious matter. According to the Innocence Project, eyewitness testimony played a role in 75 percent of guilty verdicts eventually overturned by DNA testing after people spent years in prison. Some prisoners may even have been executed due to false eyewitness testimony. It was not because the witnesses were lying. They were just wrong, said Susumu Tonegawa, a molecular biologist and the lead author in the MIT study.

In the longest criminal trial in American history, the McMartin family, who operated a preschool in California, was charged with multiple incidents of child abuse. After seven years and $15 million in prosecution expenses, some charges were dropped and the defendants were acquitted of others when it became clear some of the accusations were based on false memories, some possibly planted by children's therapists.
There is now a False Memory Syndrome in scientific literature and a False Memory Syndrome Foundation.
Last year, Tonegawa and his team published a study in Nature showing how false memories could be implanted in mice. They first put mice in a chamber -- the scientists called it the Red Room -- and let the animals roam around exploring so they could build up a contextual memory of it.
After a while, they gave the mice mild electric shocks to their feet and a blue light flashed in their brains delivered by a fiber-optic cable, implanting the memory that the Red Room was a dangerous place.
The next day researchers put the mice in an entirely different chamber – the Black Room – and let them explore peacefully. The mice were not afraid until the light flashed. The mice froze again although they were not in the chamber where they had received a shock. Why?
Memory is largely in the hippocampus, Tonegawa said, in a section called the dentate gyrus. Tonegawa, Steve Ramirez, a graduate student, and their colleagues identified the neurons there that were associated with experiential learning.
Events stimulate neurons when a memory is stored. Scientists discovered earlier that shining a blue light at the cells had the same result, activating the cells through a light-sensitive protein called ChR2. It’s calledoptogenetic manipulation because genes are involved in setting off the neurons.
Shining a blue light into the brains of the mice in the Black Room triggered the fear of being shocked as they had been in the Red Room.
"It demonstrated for the first time that activation of the neurons during formation of memory is sufficient for an animal to do everything needed to recall their memory,” Tonegawa said.
In a paper published this week in Science, the team went further.
Mice were let into the first chamber, and nothing happened. They acquired the memory of the environment and that it was safe. Then the scientists put the mice in a second chamber and flashed the light which would have triggered memories of the first chamber. Then came a mild shock.
The mice were placed back in the first chamber, where they had roamed safely before. The scientists flashed the blue light, and the mice immediately ran to a corner and crouched. Knowledge of the context -- the environment of the box -- was overpowered by the memory of the shock in the other chamber.
When the mice were put in a third chamber unlike the first two and were not given the light flash, they were unafraid. They were not reminded of their previous experiences, real or imagined.
The scientists had planted a false memory, and the mice believed it.
Tonegawa said people who remember falsely are not lying; they completely believe what they say. People with false memories are among those who can beat polygraph machines. Even when confronted by facts, such as DNA evidence, they refuse to believe their memories are wrong.
Elizabeth Loftus a cognitive psychologist at the University of California, Irvine, who has done more than almost anyone in attacking false and implanted memories in courtrooms and who has appeared as an expert witness in many trials, including the McMartin trial, said the finding was “very exciting.”
“It converges well with human data showing you can plant emotional memories into people’s minds,” she said.
Tonegawa, who won the Nobel Prize for Physiology in 1987, said there is a bright side to all this. Only humans have false memories; animals do not unless, like the mice at MIT, false memories are forced on them, he said.
“Humans are the most amazing, imaginative animals,” he said. “We are thinking. Lots of things are going on. Humans are recording what happens and passing it on.”
An imperfect memory, Tonegawa said, may be the price we pay for the imagination and creativity that makes us human.

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Sen. John McCain @SenJohnMcCain hopes $1 coin leads to bigger tips for strippers - stay classy .... -

Sen. John McCain @SenJohnMcCain hopes $1 coin leads to bigger tips for strippers - stay classy .... - 

If Congress passes the COINS Act replacing the $1 paper bill for a coin, the U.S. government may be able to save billions in printing costs at the expense of a little more jangle in the average consumers' pockets. But what about the strippers?

That's what The Hill newspaper asked one of the bill's co-sponsors, Sen. John McCain, in a piece published Thursday. The question came from a separate 2011 story where the publication suggested strippers could suffer in a bill-less economy, with G-strings and garter belts far less accommodating of cold metal.

For his part, the Arizona Republican responded in stride in a Capitol Hill hallway.

"Then I hope that they could obtain larger denominations," McCain reportedly told The Hill.

According to The Hill, the 76 year-old McCain started answering questions from another reporter before a smile spread across his face and he shouted down the hallway to The Hill, "Fives, tens, one hundreds!"

McCain's office did not respond to a request for comment.

Officially called the Currency Optimization, Innovation, and National Savings Act, the COINS Act has been put before Congress multiple times in recent years. In the Senate it was most recently introduced in June as S.1105 by Tom Harkin, D-Iowa. McCain's fellow co-sponsors in the Senate are Michael Enzi, R-Wyoming, and Mark Udall, D-Colorado.

If passed, the bill would require Federal Reserve banks to stop circulating paper $1 bills within five years of the COIN Act going into effect.


Warning to tourists in France after attack by cats... -

Warning to tourists in France after attack by cats... - 

Visitors to one of France’s most beautiful tourist areas were today warned to be on their guard after a pack of feral cats launched an attack on a young woman.

About six cats pounced on the unnamed dog owner as she walked her poodle in the city of Belfort, in the popular Franche-Comte region, on the Swiss border, dragging her to the ground and mauling her.
She was bitten repeatedly and left with a torn artery which could have proved fatal, while the dog was also badly hurt.
It is thought that particularly high summer temperatures may have made the cats far more aggressive than usual.
Josette Galliot, the mother of the 31-year-old victim, said: "They jumped on her and managed to knock her over.
"The feral cats bit her on the leg and on her arms. They even pierced an artery," Mrs Galliot told l’Est Republicain newspaper, adding that her daughter had been "living a nightmare" since Sunday’s attack.
The woman was rushed to hospital where she received treatment for her wounds, and a number of injections including one against Rabies. The poodle was treated at a nearby veterinary clinic.
A local police spokesman meanwhile suggested that the attack was "very unusual" and therefore "a cause of great concern".
He added: "Tourists from countries like Britain should certainly be wary – they should certainly not approach these cats, or try to feed them."
There are an estimated 8,000 feral cats born in France every day but they are generally considered relatively harmless.
Colonies of feral cats usually begin with people dumping unwanted, unsterilised pets.


Plastic bag ban leads to nationwide increase in shoplifting rates -

Plastic bag ban leads to nationwide increase in shoplifting rates - 

On Friday, New Jersey Democratic operative James Devine was arrested for attempting to snatch $22 worth of merchandise from a local ShopRite pharmacy. Devine tried to smuggle lettuce, shampoo and protein powder out of the store, perhaps trying to hide the fact that he was about to make the world’s most disgusting salad.  To avoid detection, he stashed the goods in a reusable grocery bag.

What seems to be just another edition of Democrats doing dumb deeds actually represents a nationwide problem.  Thanks to laws in several major cities banning the use of plastic carryout bags in retail stores, there has been a spike in shoplifting incidents over the past couple years, a trend that business owners, law enforcement officials and customers have duly noted.

In 2011, Washington D.C. enforced a reusable bag tax and officials became steadily more suspicious of shoppers’ activities.

“Since the fee was established last year, we have noticed customers using traditional bags, along with less traditional pieces such as backpacks, to not only transport items from the store, but to carry items throughout the store,” spokesman of the Advisory Neighborhood Commission of Washington D.C. Craig Muckle said in an interview with Washington City Paper.

This suspicion solidified into disturbing data a year later on the other side of the country. When a Seattle ordinance banning plastic bags took effect on July 2012, 21.1 percent of surveyed Seattle business owners said that the plastic bag ban led to an increase in shoplifting problems. Seattle’s Lake City Grocery Outlet, for instance, had thousands of dollars worth of goods stolen that year.

Austin, Texas instituted a plastic bag ban in March of this year and officials have noticed that shoplifters are trying to take advantage of the new law, though no conclusive data exists on the subject.

“We are getting a new type of offender that is taking advantage of the system,” Austin police officer David Silva said in an interview with the Leader-Telegram. Owners have also noted that the ban could make it easier for people to steal, and though theft rates have not substantially increased, it is difficult for store employees to differentiate between customers and shoplifters.

Many cities have instituted plastic ban bans or taxes amid environmental concerns, though many policy experts are not convinced of the productivity of these laws.


Another reason to avoid the water: Cougars -

Another reason to avoid the water: Cougars - 

If you visit Vancouver Island and someone invites you to any place called Cougar Beach, do not go.

Video taken near Tahsis, B.C., earlier in July shows something rather peculiar: a cougar happily swimming between islands. Aren’t cats supposed to hate water?

Todd Culos and three friends went on a fishing trip July 15 off the west coast of Vancouver Island, and at first thought they were seeing an otter. The boat operator, however, doubted it.

“We got a bit closer and saw it was a cougar — not full grown, but big. Probably 10 feet, nose to tail,” Graham Nielsen told the Times Colonist. “It was moving real fast, too. It swam nearly halfway across — about a quarter mile. I didn’t know they could swim like that.”

While rare, swimming cougars are actually not that weird. They sometimes run into the water after deer, which can also swim, and are generally not a threat to humans if given a wide berth.

But if faced with cougars, it’s best not to run into the water in an effort to out-swim them, according to a Parks Canada spokesperson Danielle Thompson.

“I’ve seen deer do this and it didn’t go well,” she told the Times Colonist.

First whales, now cougars. Is it ever safe to go in the water? (No.)


German police seize car with a pool -

German police seize car with a pool - 

A car caught cruising the streets of a sleepy east German village on a sweltering summer's day sported a decidedly unorthodox feature: a pool filled to the brim with water.

German police say a motorcycle cop couldn't believe his eyes when he saw four men, including the driver, splashing about in the open-top BMW as they passed him Sunday afternoon near Blauenthal, about 155 miles (250 kilometers) south of Berlin.

Chemnitz police spokesman Frank Fischer says the men pulled over and jumped into a nearby river as soon as they saw the officer, but one later returned to claim his clothes.

Fischer said Thursday that police were still investigating which of the men drove and whether he was drunk. He said the vehicle itself "probably didn't have a road permit."

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Cop Fired for Speaking Out Against Ticket and Arrest Quotas -

Cop Fired for Speaking Out Against Ticket and Arrest Quotas - 

Auburn, Alabama is home to sprawling plains, Auburn University, and a troubling police force. After the arrival of a new police chief in 2010, the department entered an era of ticket quotas and worse.

“When I first heard about the quotas I was appalled,” says former Auburn police officer Justin Hanners, who claims he and other cops were given directives to hassle, ticket, or arrest specific numbers of residents per shift. “I got into law enforcement to serve and protect, not be a bully.”

Hanners blew the whistle on the department’s tactics and was eventually fired for refusing to comply and keep quiet. He says that each officer was required to make 100 contacts each month, which included tickets, arrests, field interviews, and warnings. This equates to 72,000 contacts a year in a 50,000 person town. His claims are backed up by audio recordings of his superiors he made. The Auburn police department declined requests to be interviewed for this story.

“There are not that many speeders, there are not that many people running red lights to get those numbers, so what [the police] do is they lower their standards,” says Hanners. That led to the department encouraging officers to arrest people that Hanners “didn’t feel like had broken the law.”

Former Reason staffer Radley Balko, now an investigative reporter for the Huffington Post and author of the new book, Rise of the Warrior Cop, says that this isn’t just a nuisance, it infringes on public safety.

“You have a policy that encourages police to create petty crimes and ignore serious crimes, and that’s clearly the opposite of what we want our police to be doing,” says Balko.

Hanners repeatedly voiced his concerns through his chain of command, and the department responded that these requirements are necessary for increasing productivity.

Yet Hanners firmly believes that the quotas are entirely revenue driven.

“I had no intention of dropping it,” says Hanners, “This is a problem in more places than Auburn, and I think once the people know that they can hold their public officials accountable, it’ll change.”

The police chief singled out by Hanners retired this July, citing medical reasons.

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Most popular boys name in UK today: Mohammed... -

Most popular boys name in UK today: Mohammed... - 

Mohammed reclaimed its place as the most popular name for baby boys born in England and Wales in 2011 - convincingly ahead of Harry, in second place, according to data released by the government this week.

The government declared that Harry was the most popular boy's name, but if you add up the five most popular different spellings of Mohammed, that name comes top.

Mohammed is also the most popular boy's name of the past five years for England and Wales, ahead of Oliver and Jack. It came first or second every year since 2007, the only name to do so.

And it could become even more popular in 2012, given the adulation around long-distance runner Mo Farah, who won two gold medals for Britain at the Olympics.

The popularity of the name comes as Britain's Muslim population is expected to double in the next 20 years.

The country, which was about 2% Muslim in 1990, grew to 4.6% Muslim in 2010, with nearly 2.9 million followers of the faith, according to analysis by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life.

By 2030, the United Kingdom will be just over 8% Muslim, with more than 5.5 million adherents, the Washington-based think tank projected in a 2011 report, "The Future of the Global Muslim Population."

Mohammed first became the most popular boy's name in England in 2009, then was knocked back into second place the next year as Oliver enjoyed a huge surge in popularity.

Harry, the name of Prince William's younger brother and J.K. Rowling's boy wizard, leaped into second place in 2011, with 7,523 boys given the moniker, topping the 7,007 Olivers.

But the name of the Muslim prophet was given to 7,907 baby boys, according to CNN analysis of Office of National Statistics data. Mohammed, Muhammad and Mohammad were all among the top 100 most popular names, with Muhammed and Mohamed also coming in the top 200.

A total of 37,564 babies have been given a variation of the name in the past five years. Some 36,653 Olivers and 36,581 Jacks were born in England and Wales since 2007. The British government keeps separate statistics for Scotland and for Northern Ireland, the other two nations that make up the United Kingdom.

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