Infants using known verbs to learn new nouns: Before infants begin to talk in sentences, they are paying careful attention to conversations

There is a lot that 19-month-old children can’t do: They can’t tie their shoes or get their mittens on the correct hands. But they can use words they do know to learn new ones.New research from Northwestern University demonstrates that even before infants begin to talk in sentences, they are paying careful attention to the way a new word is used in conversations, and they learn new words from this information in sentences.For example, if you take an infant to the zoo and say, “Look at the gorilla” while pointing at the cage, the infant may not know what exactly is being referred to. However, if you say, “Look! The gorilla is eating,” the infant can use the word that they do know — “eating” — to conclude that “gorilla” must refer to the animal and not, for example, the swing she is sitting on.The zoo scenario mirrors the method the researchers used for their experiment. First, infants at ages 15 and 19 months were shown several pairs of pictures on a large screen. Each pair included one new kind of animal and a non-living object. Next, the objects disappeared from view and infants overheard a conversation that included a new word, “blick.” Finally, the two objects re-appeared, and infants heard, for example, “Look at the blick.””After overhearing this new word in conversation, infants who hear a helpful sentence such as ‘the blick is eating’ should look more towards the animal than the other, non-living object,” said Brock Ferguson, a doctoral candidate in psychology at Northwestern and lead author of the study. “We show that by 19 months, they do just that. In contrast, if infants heard the new word in an unhelpful sentence such as ‘the blick is over here’ during the conversation, they don’t focus specifically on the animal because, after all, in this kind of sentence, ‘blick’ could mean anything.”The researchers said many people believe that word learning occurs only in clear teaching conditions — for example, when someone picks up an object, brings it to the baby, points to it and says its name. In fact, infants usually hear a new word for the first time under much more natural and complex circumstances such as the zoo example described.”What’s remarkable is that infants learned so much from hearing the conversation alone,” said Sandra Waxman, senior author of the study, the Louis W. …

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Flowing water on Mars appears likely but hard to prove: Studies examine puzzling summertime streaks

Martian experts have known since 2011 that mysterious, possibly water-related streaks appear and disappear on the planet’s surface. Georgia Institute of Technology Ph.D. candidate Lujendra Ojha discovered them while an undergraduate at the University of Arizona. These features were given the descriptive name of recurring slope lineae (RSL) because of their shape, annual reappearance and occurrence generally on steep slopes such as crater walls. Ojha has been taking a closer look at this phenomenon, searching for minerals that RSL might leave in their wake, to try to understand the nature of these features: water-related or not?Ojha and Georgia Tech Assistant Professor James Wray looked at 13 confirmed RSL sites using Compact Reconnaissance Imaging Spectrometer for Mars (CRISM) images. They didn’t find any spectral signature tied to water or salts. But they did find distinct and consistent spectral signatures of ferric and ferrous minerals at most of the sites. The minerals were more abundant or featured distinct grain sizes in RSL-related materials as compared to non-RSL slopes.”We still don’t have a smoking gun for existence of water in RSL, although we’re not sure how this process would take place without water,” said Ojha. “Just like the RSL themselves, the strength of the spectral signatures varies according to the seasons. The signatures are stronger when it’s warmer and less significant when it’s colder.”The research team also notes that the lack of water-related absorptions rules out hydrated salts as a spectrally dominant phase on RSL slopes. …

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Abolition of fixed retirement age called for by new UK report

A report led by a professor at the University of Southampton recommends the worldwide removal of the fixed or default retirement age (DRA). Professor Yehuda Baruch from the Southampton Management School, in collaboration with Dr Susan Sayce from the University of East Anglia and Professor Andros Gregoriou from the University of Hull, has found that, on a global scale, current pension systems are unsustainable.Professor Baruch comments: “We have a global problem with funding pensions, which assume people will retire around their mid-60s. Young people are tending to start work later and in-turn start paying tax and pension contributions later. Older people are living longer, often in to their 90s, creating, in some cases, up to 30 years of retirement to provide for with their cover. This creates a funding gap.”Our study advocates the abolition of the default retirement age worldwide by governments and private companies — allowing people to consider a range of options on how and when to stop work, as well as greater flexibility over their pension plans. This would help ease funding problems.”The UK abolished the default retirement age in 2011, although a small number of organizations can fix their own DRA if they can justify reasons for doing so. However, other countries still have fixed retirement ages. The report authors have used the UK as a case study to examine the benefits and pitfalls of a more flexible approach to retirement.The researchers conducted financial analysis based on Monte Carlo simulation methodology to interrogate pension and other financial data. Their results suggest that where DRA is in place the pensions system is not sustainable in the long-run and recommend ending its use in other countries, in line with the UK approach.Professor Baruch says: “We would like to see a situation where people globally can be much more in control of when they retire. For example, they may want to work into their 70s or even 80s, but perhaps want to change the type or volume of work they take on.”Our study suggests that old age can be seen as holding the prospect of long-term stable contributions to society, rather than a decline or preparation for giving up work altogether — which can lead to pressure on the public purse.”The researchers conclude that if the default retirement age is to be successfully abolished worldwide, there needs to be a shift in cultural attitudes towards older workers and the perception of their value and productivity — as well as a change in the labour market to help older workers step into jobs, as well as out of jobs. …

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Public divided on genetic testing to predict cancer risk: American national poll

A national poll from the University of Utah’s Huntsman Cancer Institute shows 34 percent of respondents would not seek genetic testing to predict their likelihood of developing a hereditary cancer — even if the cost of the testing was not an issue. Concerns about employment and insurability were cited as the primary reason, even though current laws prohibit such discrimination.The poll also shows only 35 percent of respondents would be extremely or very likely to seek aggressive prophylactic or preventive treatment, such as a mastectomy, if they had a family history of cancer and genetic testing indicated a genetic pre-disposition to cancer.”I see patients every week who could have taken steps to reduce their risk if they’d known they’d had a predisposition for a certain type of cancer. The best treatment for cancer is prevention, of which genetic testing plays an integral role,” said Saundra Buys, M.D., co-director of the Family Cancer Assessment Clinic and medical director of the High Risk Cancer Research at Huntsman Cancer Institute (HCI), and professor of medicine at the University of Utah. “In addition to educating the public about the important role genetic testing plays in both prevention and treatment of cancer, we must also work to eliminate perceived false barriers to testing, such as concerns about insurability and employment.”Nearly 40 percent of those who said they wouldn’t seek testing reported being somewhat or extremely concerned that the results would impact opportunities for employment, while 69 percent of that same group reported being somewhat or extremely concerned that the results would have an adverse impact on their ability to get insurance.Inherited mutations play a major role in the development of approximately 5 percent of all cancers. Genetic mutations associated with more than 50 hereditary cancer syndromes — including those discovered at the University of Utah for melanoma, colon and breast cancer — have been identified.Buys says the survey demonstrates that even with increased media attention to genetic testing in recent months more work is needed to educate the public about the type of information genetic testing provides and who should seek it. She says family and personal health history are the most important factors in determining whether a person should consider genetic testing.She warns, however, that genetic testing is only as good as the genetic counseling that accompanies it. “There are many genetic tests being ordered in physician offices around the country without the benefit of genetic counseling. The results of these tests are complex, and without appropriate counseling, can cause confusion and unneeded anxiety for patients,” said Buys.Other findings from the poll:Following recommended screenings: 63 percent of respondents reported being extremely or very likely to follow all recommended screenings if they knew there was a history of cancer in their family.Testing to help identify best course of treatment: 85 percent of respondents stated that if diagnosed with cancer they would be willing to undergo genetic testing if it could help determine the most effective course of treatment.Sharing of genetic information: Of the 85 percent of respondents who said they would seek testing to determine best course of treatment, 72 percent reported their willingness to provide scientists with their genetic information for research purposes. Of that group, 64 percent reported they would be most comfortable sharing their genetic information with a medical center associated with a university or dedicated cancer hospital.Overall rates of genetic testing: Only 8 percent of respondents reported having ever had a genetic test.The online poll was conducted in October 2013 for the University of Utah’s Huntsman Cancer Institute by Harris Interactive who surveyed 1,202 men and women nationwide between the ages of 25-70 with either commercial or government insurance.Story Source:The above story is based on materials provided by Huntsman Cancer Institute at the University of Utah. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

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Black hole naps amidst stellar chaos

June 11, 2013 — Nearly a decade ago, NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory caught signs of what appeared to be a black hole snacking on gas at the middle of the nearby Sculptor galaxy. Now, NASA’s Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array (NuSTAR), which sees higher-energy X-ray light, has taken a peek and found the black hole asleep.”Our results imply that the black hole went dormant in the past 10 years,” said Bret Lehmer of the Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, and NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md. “Periodic observations with both Chandra and NuSTAR should tell us unambiguously if the black hole wakes up again. If this happens in the next few years, we hope to be watching.” Lehmer is lead author of a new study detailing the findings in the Astrophysical Journal.The slumbering black hole is about 5 million times the mass of our sun. It lies at the center of the Sculptor galaxy, also known as NGC 253, a so-called starburst galaxy actively giving birth to new stars. At 13 million light-years away, this is one of the closest starbursts to our own galaxy, the Milky Way.The Milky Way is all around more quiet than the Sculptor galaxy. It makes far fewer new stars, and its behemoth black hole, about 4 million times the mass of our sun, is also snoozing.”Black holes feed off surrounding accretion disks of material. When they run out of this fuel, they go dormant,” said co-author Ann Hornschemeier of Goddard. “NGC 253 is somewhat unusual because the giant black hole is asleep in the midst of tremendous star-forming activity all around it.”The findings are teaching astronomers how galaxies grow over time. Nearly all galaxies are suspected to harbor supermassive black holes at their hearts. …

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