Curating the Internet: Science and technology digest for March 24, 2020

in STEMGeekslast year

A TED talk gives the research history of the so-called "sex chromosomes"; Scientific theories behind the deja vu experience; A new attack tricks artificial intelligence systems into mischaracterizing images; Cancer research retracted after 14 years and more than 900 citations; and a Steem essay describes a doctor's efforts to prepare for coronavirus in Bangladesh


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First posted on my Steem blog: StemGeeks, SteemIt, SteemPeak*, SteemSTEM.


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  1. The weird history of the "sex chromosomes" - This TED talk by Molly Webster from November, 2019, came across the site's RSS feed on March 23. In the talk, Webster talks about the X and Y chromosomes, widely known as the "sex chromosomes". She notes that the complicated history of the chromosomes begins with the 1891 discovery of an X chromosome and the subsequent discovery of the Y chromosome a decade later, both in insect microscopy. Early researchers concluded that the Y chromosome is a marker for male biology and that the X chromosome is a marker for female biology. However, walking us through the history of research on the topic, Webster goes on to inform us that the whole topic is much more complicated than that. In fact, she says that people can have more than one Y chromosome, and more than two X chromosomes, and that people with XY chromosomes can be female or people with XX chromosomes can be biologically male. A couple interesting factoids from the talk are that everyone needs one X chromosome in order to survive, and that we now know that only 4% of the function of this chromosome has anything at all to do with our reproductive systems. A final point is that when the term, sex chromosome was coined, it was meant to be a short-hand label, not an explanatory term.

  2. Can Science Explain Deja Vu? - Deja vu, the sudden and fleeting phenomonen that has been explained by mysticists as links back to past lives or by fiction writers as glitches in a sort of matrix that separates us from reality. Because of the fleeting nature of the phenomenon, however, it has been difficult for researchers to study. Nonetheless, efforts to do so have been undertaken using hypnosis and virtual reality, and this work leads researchers to believe that deja vu may be a memory phenomenon, where the brain is reminded of a similar memory, but cannot fully recall the details. Beyond this general explanation, there are at least a dozen more specific theories including the idea that it might stem from false memories or else some sort of conflict resolution process within the brain. In addition to theories involving faulty or incomplete memories, another theory suggests that it might be a temporal lobe issue. One thing that many researchers seem to agree on is that it's probably not an an actual instance of recognition, and it does not correspond to a premonition - or ability to predict the future. -h/t Scientific American

  3. FYI: You can trick image-recog AI into, say, mixing up cats and dogs – by abusing scaling code to poison training data - In two papers titled "'Machine Learning' [PDF] and 'Backdooring and Poisoning Neural Networks with Image-Scaling Attacks' [PDF]," researchers describe a way to trick AI systems in a way that is difficult to detect by poisoning the training data that the systems use. Attacks to trick AI systems are not new, but the authors say that previous attacks were easier to detect. The reason that the authors were able to implement this hidden image-scaling attack is explained in this excerpt:
    Their key insight is that algorithms used by AI frameworks for image scaling – a common preprocessing step to resize images in a dataset so they all have the same dimensions – do not treat every pixel equally. Instead, these algorithms, in the imaging libraries of Caffe's OpenCV, TensorFlow's tf.image, and PyTorch's Pillow, specifically, consider only a third of the pixels to compute scaling.
    This explanatory website contains a number of images that demonstrate the attack. One of the example images demonstrates an attack against a stop sign, that could conceivably interfere with autonomous driving.

  4. Nature paper on cancer retracted after years of scrutiny - A 2006 paper, Lysyl oxidase is essential for hypoxia-induced metastasis, came under criticism in 2015, when an ex-spouse of one of the authors commissioned an independent image analysis and found evidence of possible duplication and splicing. In March, 2018, Nature reported that the paper was still undergoing a formal review process, and it has now been retracted by the authors. In the meantime, the paper received 960 citations, with 134 coming after March of 2018.

  5. Steem @simplifylife: My COVID-19 Announcement : I'm jumping into Battlefield. Updating myself to Provide Better Patient Management. - This post by @simplylife describes the author's efforts to get ready for efforts to manage the spread of the coronavirus in Bangladesh - a city which only recently began fighting the pandemic. After 34 cases and 3 deaths, the author - a doctor - is concerned that the government cannot provide safe working conditions for doctors and other medical professionals. Apparently, the government cannot afford basic necessities like medical masks. In order to be as effective as possible against the virus, the author has enrolled in a course to learn the state of the art on Management of Coronavirus. (A 10% beneficiary setting has been applied to this post for @simplifylife.)

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