Science Now
Discoveries from the world of science and medicine
Intervention lowers drug, crime and behavior problems, but not by much

Violence prone children who went through a decadelong intervention program grew up to have fewer psychiatric, drug-related and legal problems, according to a new study.

In 1990, George H.W. Bush was in office, the crack epidemic was in full swing, and Congress wanted the National Institute of Mental Health to do something about youth violence.

Child psychologist Kenneth Dodge at Duke University eventually persuaded the institute to fund a 10-year study that would compare how children would fare under prolonged therapy and tutoring aimed at improving social and cognitive skills, and whether their adult fates would differ from similar children who did not participate.

No study of its breadth and kind had been done before.

Dodge's team, which included researchers from Penn State University, the University of Alabama, Simon Fraser University and Tufts University, screened nearly 10,000 children to identify 891 kindergartners who displayed aggressive behavioral problems in school and at...

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Risks of twins, triplets may prompt IVF patients to opt for singletons

A new study bolsters the argument that fertility doctors should transfer just one embryo at a time when they are trying to help women give birth.

Data on 233,850 infants born over a 10-year period show that twins, triplets and other “higher order multiples” are more likely to die prematurely and to require costly medical care compared to babies born as singletons.

In a study published Monday in the journal JAMA Pediatrics, researchers reviewed birth, hospital and death records for infants born in Western Australia between 1993 and 2003, following each child for at least five years.

Compared with the infants born solo, twins were 3.4 times more likely to be stillborn and 6.4 times more likely to die within 28 days of birth. Those risks were far greater for the higher-order multiples: 9.6 times and 36.7 times respectively.

The average hospital costs in the first five years of life rose dramatically with the size of the delivery: $2,730 for singletons, $8,993 for twins and $24,411 for...

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Rate of fatal overdoses involving pain medications slows, CDC says

Fatal overdoses involving prescription painkillers have increased every year for more than a decade, but a government study has found for the first time that the rate is slowing.

Before 2006, the age-adjusted rate of painkiller-involved deaths grew by 18% per year, according to a report issued Tuesday by the National Center for Health Statistics. Since then, however, the death rate increased by 3% per year, the study found.



12:29 p.m.: An earlier version of this story said that deaths involving the prescription pain medications OxyContin and Vicodin climbed sharply through 2011. The steady and steep climb was seen for the category of drugs called natural and semisynthetic opioid analgesics, which includes oxycodone, hydrocodone and morphine medications.


But the encouraging trend was not uniform. The number of deaths involving the category of drugs that includes OxyContin, Vicodin and other widely prescribed opioid painkillers continued their...

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Brains of kidney donors seem built for generosity

As if giving a perfectly good kidney to a total stranger wasn’t enough of a distinction, it turns out that extreme altruists have bigger brains and are better than the rest of us at reading signs of distress in facial expressions.

That’s what neuroscientists at Georgetown University found when they rounded up 39 kidney donors and scanned their brains, according to a study published online Monday in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Psychologist Abigail Marsh thought it would be tough to round up a significant number of people who had donated kidneys to strangers. She was pleasantly surprised. They were easy to find because many now advocate for organ donation. And they really want to do good things.

“What was amazing about them – and I guess it shouldn’t have surprised me, in retrospect – was how incredibly easy they were to work with,” Marsh said. “They could not have been more delightful study participants.”

Many donors didn’t even want to accept...

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Rosetta team picks best landing site on surface of speeding comet

Ladies and gentlemen, we have a winner!

Early Monday morning the European Space Agency announced it had selected Site J on Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko as the target landing spot for the Rosetta mission's Philae lander.

The selection of the site brings the Rosetta team one step closer to being the first to land a spacecraft directly on the surface of a speeding comet. 

The site is not ideal, according to the team of scientists and engineers on the ESA's Landing Site Selection Group. However, after a meeting at CNES (the French space agency) in Toulouse, France, over the weekend, they decided unanimously that Site J is their best option.

"I'm just gratified that we found a site that everyone can agree on that is safe," said the Jet Propulsion Laboratory's Claudia Alexander, Project Manager and Project Scientist for NASA's supporting role in the mission. "The most important thing is to find somewhere safe."

Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko is a rubber-duck shaped body about 2.5 miles...

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Cuba to send doctors to fight Ebola outbreak as death toll rises

The Cuban government will send 165 medical personnel to West Africa as health officials continue to struggle with a furious Ebola outbreak that has left thousands dead since March, officials said during a Friday news briefing.

Dr. Roberto Morales Ojeda, Cuba's minister of public health, told reporters in Geneva that 62 doctors and 103 nurses will enter Sierra Leone later this year. 

"The Cuban government, as it always has done in its 55 years of revolution, has decided to participate in this global effort and coordination with the World Health Organization to face this dramatic situation in West Africa," he said.

Ojeda was joined by Dr. Margaret Chan, director-general of the WHO. As in past weeks, Chan described the threadbare resources available to doctors in Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia and called for additional aid from the international community.

"Our response is running short on nearly everything, from personal protective equipment to body bags, to mobile laboratories, to...

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Food expert suggests changes to lose weight -- willpower not required

Need to lose weight? Instead of changing yourself, you might consider changing your environment.

Making changes – big and small – to the world around you is much easier than mustering the willpower to refrain from eating high-calorie foods, says Brian Wansink, who has for years studied our eating habits, currently as director of the Food and Brand Lab at Cornell University.

And those changes can mean that your diet is more healthful without working so hard.

Wansink dismisses the popular idea that mindful eating is the way to eat what we need without overeating junk food. “For 90% of us, the solution to mindless eating is not mindful eating – our lives are just too crazy and our willpower’s too wimpy,” he writes in his new book, “Slim by Design: Mindless Eating Solutions for Everyday Life.”

The book includes ways restaurants, schools and other institutions can offer more healthful food, and provides scorecards for readers to figure out whether their homes and workplaces, the restaurants...

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At last! NASA's Mars rover Curiosity finally arrives at Mt. Sharp

They’re here! After wandering in the Martian desert for 25 months, NASA’s Curiosity rover has finally arrived at its promised land: the base of Mt. Sharp, the 3-mile-high mound in in the middle of Gale Crater.

The arrival marks the beginning of the Mars Science Laboratory rover’s original mission: to read the mountain’s clay-rich lower layers like pages in a history book, pages that could reveal an array of life-friendly environments on the Red Planet.

“We have finally arrived at the far frontier that we have sought for so long,” said project scientist and Caltech geologist John Grotzinger.

Getting to Mt. Sharp has been a long time coming. The trip was delayed in part by a detour the rover took to look at a promising spot called Yellowknife Bay. Though it cost the team at Jet Propulsion Laboratory about half a year, the gamble paid off; rocks drilled there revealed a smorgasbord of chemical elements that would have been suitable for microbial life, if it ever existed.

Now that the...

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Sun throws 2 CMEs toward Earth; GPS could be affected, but you're fine

The sun is throwing stuff at us again.

A sunspot erupted Wednesday morning with a large, X-class solar flare that caused a wave of plasma called a Coronal Mass Ejection to shoot off the sun and come zooming toward Earth at the speed of 800 to 900 miles per second. 

This material follows on the heels of another CME on Tuesday, so there are actually two waves of charged solar stuff heading our way. 

If both these waves of solar material hit the Earth, scientists say you can expect to see some good auroras on Sept. 12 and 13.

And NASA scientists report another, smaller flare from the left corner of the sun Thursday morning.

"Hopefully that is a sign that some more interesting activity will come into view," said Alex Young, a heliophysicist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md.

In the video above, you can see some cool images of Wednesday's flare taken by the Solar Dynamic Observatory in a few different wavelengths of light. Note how the light follows loops out of the...

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Spinosaurus: A huge predatory dinosaur, built to swim

Dinosaurs ruled the land for millions of years. Now scientists have discovered a fearsome species that could have wreaked havoc in its prehistoric waters.

An unusual fossil whose parts were flung across two continents appears to be the first known semi-aquatic dinosaur, according to a report published Thursday by the journal Science.

Measuring 9 feet longer than a Tyrannosaurus rex, the 95-million-year-old Spinosaurus aegyptiacus would have been the largest predatory dinosaur to walk the Earth. But it had several features that strongly suggest a life spent largely submerged in the water, including nostrils pushed toward the top of its skull and diagonally jutted teeth ideal for snapping up fish.

“It was not a balancing, two-legged animal on land,” said study coauthor Paul Sereno, a paleontologist at the University of Chicago. “It would have been something very peculiar.”

The differences between this Spinosaurus and other theropods are apparent from head to toe. Most theropods, like T....

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Fracking workers exposed to dangerous amounts of benzene, study says

Some workers at oil and gas sites where fracking occurs are routinely exposed to high levels of benzene, a colorless gas that can cause cancer, according to a study by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.

The agency, which is part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, recommends that people limit their benzene exposure to an average of 0.1 of a part per million during their shift. But when NIOSH researchers measured the amount of airborne benzene that oil and gas workers were exposed to when they opened hatches atop tanks at well sites, 15 out of 17 samples were over that amount.

Workers must open these hatches to inspect the contents of these tanks, which could include oil, waste water or chemicals used in high-volume hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. The real-time readings taken by researchers show that benzene levels at the wells “reached concentrations that, depending on the length of exposure, potentially pose health risks for workers,” the...

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Enterovirus: What does wheezing sound like? When should you seek help?

The enterovirus infections that have sprung up in the Midwest have brought the words "wheezing" and "respiratory distress" into the mainstream. But how, as a parent, do you know if your child is wheezing? And when is it bad enough to contact a doctor or seek care?

Parents of asthmatics become adept at recognizing breathing difficulties. But enterovirus D68 is also affecting children who have never before experienced respiratory distress. In serious cases, it's landing them in intensive care.

Parents are finding themselves in a tough position, trying to evaluate their child's symptoms in light of a serious health threat while wondering if they're overreacting to a common cold.  Doctors, too, are still finding their feet amid the recent influx of cases.

As time goes on and more cases are treated, "we probably will come to a better understanding of those children at greatest risk," said Dr. Paul Krogstad, a professor of pediatrics in the infectious diseases division at Mattel Children’s...

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