migrant scientist image www.sciencearticlesonline.com

From 2003 to 2013, the number of scientists and engineers residing in the United States rose from 21.6 million to 29 million. This 10-year increase included significant growth in the number of immigrant scientists and engineers, from 3.4 million to 5.2 million.

Immigrants went from making up 16 percent of the science and engineering workforce to 18 percent, according to a report from the National Science Foundation’s National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics (NCSES). In 2013, the latest year for which numbers are available, 63 percent of U.S. immigrant scientists and engineers were naturalized citizens, while 22 percent were permanent residents and 15 percent were temporary visa holders.

Of the immigrant scientists and engineers in the United States in 2013:

  • 57 percent were born in Asia.
  • 20 percent were born in North America (excluding the United States), Central America, the Caribbean, or South America.
  • 16 percent were born in Europe.
  • 6 percent were born in Africa.
  • And less than 1 percent were born in Oceania.

Among Asian countries, India continued its trend of being the top country of birth for immigrant scientists and engineers, with 950,000 out of Asia’s total 2.96 million. India’s 2013 figure represented an 85 percent increase from 2003.

Also since 2003, the number of scientists and engineers from the Philippines increased 53 percent and the number from China, including Hong Kong and Macau, increased 34 percent.

The NCSES report found that immigrant scientists and engineers were more likely to have earned post-baccalaureate degrees than their U.S.-born counterparts. In 2013, 32 percent of immigrant scientists reported their highest degree was a master’s (compared to 29 percent of U.S.-born counterparts) and 9 percent reported it was a doctorate (compared to 4 percent of U.S.-born counterparts). The most common fields of study for immigrant scientist and engineers in 2013 were engineering, computer and mathematical sciences and social and related sciences.

Over 80 percent of immigrant scientists and engineers were employed in 2013, the same percentage as their U.S.-born counterparts. Among the immigrants in the science and engineering workforce, the largest share (18 percent) worked in computer and mathematical sciences, while the second-largest share (8 percent) worked in engineering. Three occupations — life scientist, computer and mathematics scientist and social and related scientist — saw substantial immigrant employment growth from 2003 to 2013.

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Henry Sapiecha

Albert-Einstein-at blackboard image www.sciencearticlesonline.com

Rumors are rippling through the science world that physicists may have detected gravitational waves, a key element of Einstein’s theory which if confirmed would be one of the biggest discoveries of our time.

There has been no announcement, no peer review or publication of the findings—all typically important steps in the process of releasing reliable and verifiable scientific research.

Instead, a message on Twitter from an Arizona State University cosmologist, Lawrence Krauss, has sparked a firestorm of speculation and excitement.

Krauss does not work with the Advanced Laser Interferometer Gravitational Wave Observatory, or LIGO, which is searching for ripples in the fabric of space and .

But he tweeted on Monday about the apparent shoring up of rumor he’d heard some months ago, that LIGO scientists were writing up a paper on gravitational waves they had discovered using US-based detectors.

“My earlier rumor about LIGO has been confirmed by independent sources. Stay tuned! Gravitational waves may have been discovered!! Exciting,” Krauss tweeted.

His message has since between retweeted 1,800 times.

If gravitational waves have been spotted, it would confirm a final missing piece in what Albert Einstein predicted a century ago in his theory of general relativity.

The discovery would open a new window on the universe by showing scientists for the first time that  exist, in places such as the edge of black holes at the beginning of time, filling in a major gap in our understanding of how the universe was born.

A team of scientists on a project called BICEP2 (Background Imaging of Cosmic Extragalactic Polarization) announced in 2014 that they had discovered these very ripples in space time, but soon admitted that their findings may have been just galactic dust.

A spokeswoman for the LIGO collaboration, Gabriela Gonzalez, was quoted in The Guardian as saying there is no announcement for now.

“The LIGO instruments are still taking data today, and it takes us time to analyze, interpret and review results, so we don’t have any results to share yet,” said Gonzalez, professor of physics and astronomy at Louisiana State University.

“We take pride in reviewing our results carefully before submitting them for publication—and for important results, we plan to ask for our papers to be peer-reviewed before we announce the results—that takes time too!”

Other observers pointed out that any supposed detection may be a simple practice run for the science teams, not a real discovery.

“Caveat earlier mentioned: they have engineering runs with blind signals inserted that mimic discoveries. Am told this isn’t one,” Krauss tweeted.

But science enthusiasts may have to wait awhile longer to get all the details.

The LIGO team’s first run of data ends Tuesday, January 12.

“We expect to have news on the run results in the next few months,” Gonzalez was quoted as saying by New Scientist magazine.

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Henry Sapiecha

2015 was an amazing year for science, but it was also a year for some amazingly overhyped science.

We put our hearts ahead of our data when speculating about advanced extraterrestrial civilisations. We so wanted to believe that a looming ice age would save us from global warming. And we were horrified to learn that the internet’s favourite meat product might cause cancer, along with everything else in the goddamn universe. Here are the most overhyped scientific discoveries of 2015, in all their glory.

The so-called alien megastructure

The so-called alien megastructure globe image www.sciencearticlesonline.com

www.intelagencies.com

It isn’t an overhyped scientific discoveries list without some wild speculation about extraterrestrials, and 2015 did not disappoint. If you weren’t familiar with the term “alien megastructure” before, you certainly are now.

The alien hullabaloo started in early October, when astronomers announced the discovery of KIC 8462852, a weird star in the Kepler database that flickers aperiodically, its brightness sometimes dropping by as much as 20 per cent. It’s certainly not a transiting planet, but it doesn’t look like anything else we’ve seen, either. Still, nobody outside of the astro community would have given a rat’s arse about the cosmic oddity if SETI researchers hadn’t made this humble suggestion: Perhaps the star was being occluded by a giant, alien construction project, a la Dyson sphere.

The citizens of planet Earth worked themselves into a rabid frenzy over the idea, to the point that Neil deGrasse Tyson had to go on late night TV and tell us all to calm the hell down. SETI astronomers capitalised on the momentum, mobilising state-of-the-art observatories to scour KIC 8462852’s cosmic neighbourhood for the radio signals and laser pulses that would lend credence to the wild idea. They found not a single fingerprint.

The latest thinking is that KIC 8462852 is probably being occluded by a swarm of comets — BORING — but I’m personally holding out hope that somebody follows up on the giant space walrus idea.

[Image: Artist’s representation of a Dyson sphere, crumbling like the alien megastructure hypothesis, via Danielle Futselaar/SETI International]

Bacon cancer

fried bacon image www.sciencearticlesonline.com

www.newcures.info

In October, the world was confronted with some rather unsettling news: bacon, along with other processed meats including hot dogs and ham, is carcinogenic, according to a new scientific paper which evaluated over 800 studies for links between processed or red meat intake and cancer. Unfortunately, many media reports took the “bacon cancer” soundbite and ran with it, leaving readers to imagine that consuming bacon is similar to touching nuclear waste. It’s not.

There are a few reasons we shouldn’t panic about this revelation, as Gizmodo’s George Dvorsky lays out in detail. First and foremost, while the new study did find a real statistical correlation between processed meat consumption and bowel cancer, many subsequent reports failed to identify the magnitude of risk. That turns out to be fairly small. As you might expect, it increases slightly with the amount of processed meat consumed.

To make matters even more confusing, because processed meat is now classified as a Group 1 carcinogen, some articles suggested eating bacon is as bad as smoking cigarettes or asbestos exposure — other Group 1 carcinogens. But again, the Group 1 label has nothing to do with risk magnitude, only the strength of scientific evidence linking a substance to cancer. About 34,000 cancer deaths each year are associated with a diet high in processed meat. Smoking, on the other hand, leads to about a million deaths a year.

If there’s a takeaway in all of this, it’s that it’s probably a good idea to limit your consumption of processed meat — health professionals have been suggesting this for years anyway — and to always be sceptical when reading about new linkages between certain foods and cancer. Because really, when you get down to it, pretty much anything can cause cancer.

Warp drive?!?!?!

Warp drive!!!image www.sciencearticlesonline.com

www.spy-drones.com

It was in 2014 that we first heard whispers of NASA’s EM Drive, an “impossible” engine that could (in theory) accelerate objects (our future spacecraft) to near relativistic speeds without the use of any propellant, simply by bouncing microwaves around a waveguide. The laboratory “evidence” for the physics-defying engine might have been nothing more than analytical error — or, as one expert put it, bullshit — but that didn’t stop people from continuing to scour NASA engineering forums for additional affirmation of the science fictional technology in 2015.

em drive motor image www.sciencearticlesonline.com

Lo and behold, the sleuths of the internet found some. Apparently, the engineers working on the EM Drive decided to address some of the sceptic’s concerns head-on this year, by re-running their experiments in a closed vacuum to ensure the thrust they were measuring wasn’t caused by environmental noise. And it so happens, new EM Drive tests in noise-free conditions failed to falsify the original results. That is, the researchers had apparently produced a minuscule amount of thrust without any propellant.

Once again, media reports made it sound like NASA was on the brink of unveiling an intergalactic transport system.

www.energy-options.info

The real problem with the EM drive isn’t the scientists. It isn’t even the science. The problem is that a) NASA hasn’t claimed that the system works; b) there have been no peer-reviewed papers on the subject; and c) as far as we can tell, all evidence for the physics-defying machine comes from a handful of short-term experiments. This is a story of scientists caught in the act of tinkering by people who want Star Trek to happen now.

[Top image via Star Trek Wiki. EM Drive prototype image via NASA Spaceflight Forum]

An ice age in 2030?

cops on ice skates image www.sciencearticlesonline.com

www.crimefiles.net

You know what would really save us from this global warming mess we’ve gotten ourselves into? An ice age! And earlier this year, it seemed like our prayers were answered, when a new astronomy study suggested that the sun is heading for a period of extremely low solar output — a so called ‘Maunder minimum.’ A press release accompanying the study explained that predictions from the astronomers’ new models “suggest that solar activity will fall by 60 per cent during the 2030s to conditions last seen during the ‘mini ice age’ that began in 1645.”

This led to some confusion.

Even if it’s true that the sun’s output is on the verge of declining to levels not seen in over 350 years — and the likelihood of that varies greatly from study to study — it’s misleading to say we’re on the brink of an ice age. The Little Ice Age saw temperatures drop by about 1º C, whereas real ice ages are characterised by global average temperatures 5º C cooler than today.

It’s also misleading to insinuate that the 17th century Maunder minimum even caused the Little Ice Age. As astronomer Jim Wild explained earlier this year, the Little Ice Age began over a century before the start of the Maunder minimum and continued long after it was over. People still aren’t sure what led to the cold snap — the leading suspect is currently volcanic activity — or if it was even a global phenomenon.

Finally, the overwhelming consensus of the world’s climate scientists is that the influence of solar variability on climate is dwarfed by the impact of increased CO2 in the atmosphere. Indeed, many calculations suggest that a “grand solar minimum” would at best offset a few years’ worth of the warming that’s being caused by human carbon emissions.

Simply put, we cannot bank on the vagaries of the sun to save our collective arses this century.

[Image: London policemen on ice skates on the frozen River Thames circa 1900, via Getty]

The tardigrade’s seriously weird genome

Tardigrades — those weird, wonderful, microscopic poncho bears that're virtually indestructible image www.sciencearticlesonline.com

www.pythonjungle.com

Tardigrades — those weird, wonderful, microscopic poncho bears that’re virtually indestructible — got even weirder this year, when researchers at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill decided to sequence the tardigrade genome. Astonishingly, the team discovered that a full sixth of the animal’s DNA was not animal DNA at all: it was from plants, fungi, bacteria, and viruses. Nobody had ever seen anything like it before, which in hindsight, maybe should have been a red flag.

As Annalee Newitz explained last month, the authors suggested the tardigrade’s patchwork genetic code was acquired via horizontal gene transfer, and that this could be related to the animal’s unique stress response:

“When tardigrades are desiccated, their DNA breaks into pieces. Any organisms around them will also suffer the same fate. But when water returns to the tardigrade’s environment, they re-hydrate and return to life. As they re-hydrate, their cell walls become porous and leaky, and fragments of DNA from the desiccated organisms around them can flow inside and merge with the animal’s rejuvenating DNA.”

Furthermore, the UNC authors speculated that the tardigrade’s borrowed genes may help the animal withstand everything from boiling water to the vacuum of space. It’s a fascinating story about an amazing organism, so it’s no surprise the paper got a lot of pickup. But it’s not at all clear that the conclusions are sound.

Indeed, less than one week after the UNC Chapel Hill version of the tardigrade genome was published in PNAS, another lab at the University of Edinburgh posted a pre-print of their tardigrade genome analysis, which painted an entirely different picture. Edinburgh researchers found very little evidence for horizontal gene transfer — as few as 36 genes, compared with the 6600 reported by UNC Chapel Hill.

How could this be? One possibility is that many of the sequences the UNC team called bonafide tardigrade genes were, in fact, microbial contamination. As science journalist Ed Yong explains over at The Atlantic, the Edinburgh team carefully cleaned up their data to remove many sequences that were only present in trace quantities, which the scientists presumed to be contaminants. “I want to believe that massive HGT happened, because it would be an awesome story,” Mark Baltrus, lead author of the Edinburgh study told The Atlantic. “But the problem is that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.”

On the bright side, what could have become a bitter dispute between rival labs turned into a fruitful collaboration: the two teams are now sharing their data in an attempt to reconcile their disparate findings.

Science is a messy, error-fraught business — and if we think we’re doing it all right the first time, chances are we’re wrong.

[Image via Sinclair Stammers]

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Henry Sapiecha