At Least the Auto Industry Is Doing Well

The economic forecast looked bleak at the end of September, as markets closed for the worst month in three years on Friday. But at least one industry is faring well: The once-dying then-rescued auto industry. Ford, Chrystler and GM all posted increased sales. Meanwhile, Japanese automakers Honda and Toyota showed declines while still recovering from the March earthquake. Reuters reports:


Among the Detroit automakers, GM sales rose 20 percent, while Ford Motor Co sales rose 9 percent and Chrysler Group was up 27 percent.

Sales for Toyota Motor Corp dropped almost 18 percent for September, its first month at normal production levels since the March earthquake in Japan. Honda Motor Co sales declined by 8 percent.

The strong sales for expensive purchases has given hope about the broader economy. “Major automakers posted double-digit percentage U.S. sales gains for September in a rebound that General Motors Co said showed the economy was likely to steer clear of a double-dip recession,” reports Reuters.


Today’s Research: The Nobel Winners Reactions

Today in research: other Nobel winners, the usefulness of nose things, an “alternative” vaccination schedule and the odd sounds captured during a meteor shower..

How the other Nobel winners reacted to the news today. Thebittersweet report of scientist Ralph Steinman dying only three days before being awarded with the Nobel prize in medicine–and its status (it will still be awarded posthumously)–dominated the headlines about the Nobel announcement. But Steinman was only one of three scientists honored for immune system advances. Bloomberg News caught up with honoree Dr. Bruce A. Beutler of the Scripps Research Institute, who reacted this way: “I woke up in the middle of the night, and glanced at my cell phone, and the first thing I saw was a message line that just said the words ‘Nobel Prize,'” he said. ‘Needless to say, I grabbed it and started looking at messages. Wow.”  French scientist Dr. Jules Hoffman was quite humbled in a conversation with the AP saying, “I wasn’t sure this domain merited a Nobel.” [Bloomberg NewsAssociated Press]

Tiny nose things may prove to be helpful in autopsies. This is a bit of morbid research news, but scientists appear to have figured out another way to accurately assess when a person has died. Curiously, it’s because “tiny finger-like projections lining the nose continue to beat after death,”New Scientist reported, parsing the findings of a researcher from the University of Bari in Italy. What are deemed “nasal cilia” are said to “provide an additional tool to help decide time of death, especially if it was within the previous 24 hours.” [New Scientist]

Sometimes an ‘alternative’ vaccination schedule means no vaccination schedule. Another example of just how pervasive the now-retracted 1998 Lancet study purporting an autism-vaccine link may still be. About 1 in 10 parents cited in a new study relayed by Reuters refused “some vaccines or delaying vaccines until kids were older–mostly because parents thought that ‘seemed safer.'” The researchers “worry that more parents may be refusing vaccines in the future, raising the risk that diseases like measles and whooping cough will spread in schools and communities.” [Reuters]

A lot of new galaxies will be presumably named in 2013. That’s when the newly-opened €1 billion internationally operated Atacama Large Millimetre/Sub-millimetre Array (ALMA) observatory situated in the clear-skyed mountains above the Chilean Andes will be fully up and running, The Guardian reports (a pretty impressive, and very dramatically scored video of the construction of the site is available here). And when it gets going, look out: “when it is fully operational in 2013, the observatory will find a previously unseen galaxy every three minutes.” [The Guardian]

The odd whistles and whirrs of a meteor shower.Bad Astronomy blogger Phil Plait points to this video posted by astronaut Ron Garan and explains what things we’re hearing in the meteor shower audio below from the “U.S. Air Force Space Surveillance Radar in Texas during the Perseid meteor shower.” The little scrapes and soft noises accompany photos of the shower, which are described by Plait this way: “The initial ‘whoosh’ is from the meteor itself, and the dying whistling sound is from the ionized gas it leaves behind, which slowly recombines and fades.” [Bad Astronomy]

Today In Academia: A Ban on Toasty Dorm Fireplace Fires

Today in academia: $100 for a decent AP score, the ban on toasty dorm fires, rethinking the school calendar in Japan and an anthropological look at stereotypical college signs.

University of Virginia students will no longer be able to have toasty fires in their dorm rooms. There’s some very sensible safety reasoning behind the university’s decision to ban fireplaces in dorm facilities. But, as The Washington Post reminds, what about tradition? You know, the long-ago envisioned “place where learning was not limited to the classroom, where students and faculty lived side by side, where people would gather for philosophical debates over dinner or discuss books by the fireside”? Sure. But it’s still probably for the best the to ban the fireplace fires. [The Washington Post]

Paying students who get good grades in AP courses can help students get good grades in AP courses. A bit of cash goes a long way for students enrolled in high school Advanced Placement courses that actually pay for decent grades. And while The New York Times overview article on a student paying initiative cites research that cautions that paying students isn’t a cure-all, a $100 bonus for a student who gets a passing grade on an Advanced Placement course exam probably won’t hurt performance. For teachers either: “Because 43 of his students passed the exam this year, far above his target, Mr. Nystrom will add a $7,300 check to his $72,000 salary.” [The New York Times]

The University of Tokyo wants to sync up its academic calendar with the West. The long-debated idea is revived by a new Chronicle of Higher Education report which says that the University of Tokyo wants to synchronize its schedule with a Western calendar year in order to attract more foreign students (currently less than 3 percent of students at Japan’s institutions are from out of the country). “An in­ter­nal pan­el is ex­pect­ed to re­port by the end the year” on the potential move at the University of Tokyo. “Sources in­side the uni­ver­si­ty say the pan­el dis­cus­sion is currently bal­anced 50-50 for and against the change.” [Chronicle of Higher Education]

This is a cartoon version of what an Ivy League student looks like.  Without the bloggers atIvygate, we would’ve missed this weekend’s James Atlas New York Times op-ed about the celebration of the smart Ivy League applicant of which he deems the “Super Person.” Super People (who he later clarifies aren’t as Super as he first says) are flooding the elite schools and seem to possess every single skill (Ivygate has curated a full list) known to man. But some of his praises ring hollow: “REMEMBER the Dumb Kid in your math class who couldn’t understand what a square root was? Gone. Vanished from the earth like the stegosaurus. If your child is at an elite school, there are no dumb kids in his or her math class–only smart and smarter.”  Every Ivy Leaguer is amazing at math? [The New York TimesIvygate blog]

An anthropological investigation into stereotypical college signs.  Ever want to know where signs like “Hangover Here,” “Stagger Inn,” and “TK∆: Tappa Kegga Day” originated? Well, one Hamilton College anthropology professor and his students found such signs so interesting at Ohio’s Miami University that they began to investigate them, which ended up turning into a book. In a Q&A with Inside Higher Ed, the professor, Chaise LaDousa, recounts what it was like questioning the undergrads at such houses: “We started to interview residents and were shocked. When we mentioned the categories we had identified, residents claimed that we were taking matters too seriously.” [Inside Higher Ed]

Five Best Tuesday Columns

Nina Burleigh on Amanda Knox “Amanda Knox is nothing if not a good story,” writes Nina Burleigh, who wrote a book on the Knox case, in theLos Angeles Times. Burleigh went to Italy unsure whether Knox had really murdered her roommate, but aware that the case revealed a cultural obsession with the “femme fatale.” But after several weeks observing the case, Burleigh decided there was almost nothing linking Knox to the murder, while most evidence actually pointed to another man. “It became clear that it wasn’t facts but Knox — her femaleness, her Americaness, her beauty — that was driving the case.” There was much misogyny surrounding it. A prison doctor told her she had HIV, prompting her to list every man she’d ever had sex with. After authorities gave the list to tabloids, the prison said it was mistaken and she was HIV-negative. The prosecution called her a “she-devil.” In fact, Knox had only grown into her beauty in college. She remained conflict-averse and unsure of her effect on men. She was an avid diarist. Police used the upbeat tone she took in her “prison diary” to argue that she was psychopathic. Reporters focused on the few instances she talked about sex, and ignored the times she mentioned her jailer sexually harassing her. “The focus on her sexuality suggests that civilization can easily tip backward to the primeval era when the feminine was classified, worshiped and feared in the form of powerful archetypes: Madonnas and Dianas, virgins and whores.” People assigned her a personality of self-possession that in the end she did not have and would have helped her defend herself. “The gaunt, tense woman defending herself on appeal bore barely any resemblance to the fresh, pretty girl photographed kissing her boyfriend outside the murder scene. Only now, having lost the power to bewitch and beguile, has she been revealed as human.”

Michael Gerson on Romney’s Mormonism Mitt Romney’s Mormonism continues to be a challenge to his primary odds, writes Michael Gerson. “About 20 percent of Republicans and 23 percent of Protestants tell Gallup they would not support a Mormon for president,” he says in The Washington Post. Gerson says the right’s opposition to him based on his religion is likely to fade. The Mormon church is “America’s fourth-largest denomination; Mormons are one of the nation’s strongest conservative voting blocks. A serious Republican candidate simply can’t run an anti-Mormon campaign.” Furthermore, as choices between candidates become specific, voters may change their minds. Conservative evangelicals have never been a majority and so they have always reached out politically to other groups from Catholics to Jews. On the other hand, “criticism by secular liberals is likely to blossom,” Gerson argues. The Mormon Church became a main supporter of California’s Proposition 8, and liberals will couple this with the church’s traditional “offenses against women and minorities” and will even raise “the specter of theocracy.” “Damon Linker has warned that Mormon leaders, claiming prophetic authority, might dictate to an American president. Jacob Weisberg has insisted, ‘I wouldn’t vote for someone who truly believed in the founding whoppers of Mormonism.” “On much of the right, politics will eventually trump theology. On at least some of the left, secularism will trump tolerance,” Gerson says.

Bill McKibben on Obama’s cronyism Last month, Obama’s administration debuted a system where any petition with 5,000 signatures would get some sort of response from the White House. The move probably will not “stop people from trying to occupy Wall Street,” though, because in other ways, the administration has shown itself to be less than transparent, writes author and environmental activist Bill McKibben in The New York Times. E-mails released through the Freedom of Information Act show cronyism like that of the Bush administration remains alive. The e-mails reveal the State Department worked with lobbyists to advance the interests of TransCanada, “the company trying to build the Keystone XL pipeline from the tar sands of Canada across the center of the continent. Even as the State Department was supposedly carrying out a neutral evaluation of the pipeline’s environmental impact, key players were undermining the process.” Paul Elliott, TransCanada’s chief Washington lobbyist, worked for Hillary Clinton’s campaign. A member of the U.S. embassy in Canada, the e-mails show, reassured Elliott that “it’s precisely because you have connections that you’re sought after and hired.” A WikiLeaks cable revealed a State Department official coaching Canadian diplomats on how best to spin their cause in the media. The State Department hired the same consulting firm that works for TransCanada to evaluate the environmental impact of the pipeline. The firm concluded the pipeline will have no real impact, which contradicts the advice of twenty of the country’s top scientists, McKibben says. If this is happening in State, it could be happening elsewhere in government, too. Obama promised to “end the tyranny of oil” as well as cronyism, McKibben says, and with his upcoming decision on the pipeline, he has a final chance to reverse course and keep his promises.

Frank Bruni on the road to Romney Frank Bruni opens his column with a series of exaggerations. “The Iowa caucuses have been moved up significantly… They will be held on Wednesday.” Florida moved their primary to October 31st, and South Carolina moved theirs to October 17th, he jokes. “Far-fetched? Only a little,” Bruni writes in The New York Times. The states are “playing leap frog” with primary dates. The media continues to obsess over, then reject, the candidate of the moment, showing that “an epically silly primary contest” has “only just begun.” And yet, after all this, Bruni says, the victor will almost certainly be Mitt Romney, the man nearly everyone predicted would win from the outset. “The arc of Republican history bends toward the foregone conclusion. But while it’s bending, what fun we have!” The news media needs to fill time focusing on different candidates and different straw poll results. “Down the line [Michele Bachmann] and Cain and Rick Santorum will be in competition for the kinds of speaking gigs and television slots enjoyed by Sarah Palin,” Bruni says. “All four now enjoy a currency well beyond their actual political offices or professional accomplishments,” proving that just running for president can be a profitable endeavor. Bruni has long been frustrated with the “outsize” influence given primary voters in socially conservative Iowa and South Carolina. He wonders, if Chris Christie supported either abortion rights or same-sex marriage, would Republicans be courting him as they are now? Meanwhile, the states continue to wrangle over primary dates, and even Florida, a state that captures the attention of presidential news media, is complaining that it doesn’t get enough say.

Richard Cohen on Christie’s temper The media spent last week examining Chris Christie. “He was found to be too fat, too aggressive, too undisciplined, too angry and — not insignificantly — too late into the race,” writes Richard Cohen in The Washington Post. Columnists and talk show hosts decided that his weight was disqualifying. “They raised health issues. They raised willpower issues. They raised self-discipline issues — all of which are real, because, among other things, in a presidential campaign anything is an issue.” (Cohen cites the birther debate.) And yet while the weight debate raged, campaigns were likely preparing manuals on how to defeat Christie in a debate. “The purpose is to have him lose his temper… He operates a lot on instinct, but that instinct can come off as bullying. So in New Jersey debates, he has dialed back his personality and comes off as flat.” Christie is backed by many businessmen, who see in him values they hold, namely the ability to speak tough truths. But these backers might not have the keenest political senses when they support someone like them. “Chris Christie is a keenly intelligent man who has the smarts and confidence to attract really good people as aides. But he’s been governor for less than two years — one inexperienced politician per decade in the White House is enough.” Washington is already too full of politicians who think they know what’s right, and this is one of Christie’s main qualities. “American politics now is a china shop. The last thing it needs is a bull like Christie.”

Watch Researchers Show Off an Underwater ‘Invisibility Cloak’

For obvious reasons, we’ve been fascinated with researchers various attempts at creating a working invisibility cloak. But whenever we see enthusiastic headlines, progress seems mostly theoretical. Not today. Thanks to University of Dallas researchers that filmed their findings, we actually get a glimpse (underwater) of how the science works in real-life using carbon nanotube sheets. From their press release, we’re told that these nanotubes have the handy ability of “the density of air but the strength of steel,” which seems useful:

Through electrical stimulation, the transparent sheet of highly aligned CNTs [carbon nanotubes] can be easily heated to high temperatures. They then have the ability to transfer that heat to its surrounding areas, causing a steep temperature gradient. Just like a mirage, this steep temperature gradient causes the light rays to bend away from the object concealed behind the device, making it appear invisible.

Practically speaking, the video below shows an unpictured researcher presumably toggling an “on/off” switch that clicks, triggering the tube sheets to perform the cloaking mirage effect. Not quite magic, but still pretty interesting (the full study is here):