The most intriguing science news from 2010

Do we have depression all wrong? Is there actually some truth to astrology? Could your antique collection be making you sick? Why are scientists teaching robots to lie? Do country boys have more packed into their trousers than their city cousins? Find out all this and more in our selection of 2010’s most interesting science news items.

21 December 2010
Scientists manipulate immune system to produce “anti-Prozac”
Lending more weight to the theory that depression is linked to an inflammatory response in the brain; scientists have triggered the immune systems of mice to produce “despair-like” behavior that has similarities to depression in humans…

10 December 2010
Country boys boast bigger junk
A European study involving more than 6,000 white males has found significant differences in penis size when comparing urban and rural populations…

8 December 2010
Hygiene Hypothesis linked to depression
Rates of depression in younger people have steadily grown to outnumber rates of depression in older populations and researchers think it may be because of a loss of healthy bacteria contributing to an inflammatory response in the brain…

6 December 2010
Season of birth defines personality, but it’s “not astrology,” say researchers
The season in which babies are born can have a dramatic effect on their future propensity to neurological disorders as well as their overall personality and general mood…

2 December 2010
Vintage goods a toxic threat to hipsters
Toys, home décor items, crockery, architectural salvage, kitchen utensils and jewelry purchased through antique stores, junk shops and thrift sales have been found to contain surface lead concentrations more than 700 times higher than the federal limit…

24 November 2010
Cloud confusion vexes global warming predictions
Estimates of global warming vary widely in large part due to the difficulty of modeling clouds and their effects. Now, as climatologists race to compile better cloud atlases, new research shows that current predictions of global temperature rise may be dramatically under-estimated…

16 November 2010
Consumers’ brains muddled by zero
Why does a one percent credit card interest rate appear more attractive to consumers than a zero percent rate? A new study finds that consumers are often flummoxed when it comes to the concept of zero…

20 October 2010
One-way Mars missions mooted
Fancy watching the sun rise over Olympus Mons? Or perhaps taking a stroll across the vast plains of the Vastitas Borealis? The only catch is you can never return to Earth…

19 October 2010
Uh-oh, placebo
In clinical trials for new drugs, the contents of the placebo are disclosed in only about 10 percent of cases, leading one researcher to question the lack of standards in placebo formulation and the appropriateness of drug companies providing their own placebos for trials…

1 October 2010
Sex, Lies and Pharmaceuticals
Female sexual dysfunction is a construct of the pharmaceutical industry, asserts a new book that claims “drug marketing is merging with medical science in a frightening way…”

10 September 2010
Robots taught to deceive
Researchers have developed algorithms that allow a robot to determine whether it should deceive a human or other intelligent machine and which techniques to use for the best deceptive strategy…

9 September 2010
Is irrigation masking our warming climate?
Irrigation has made it possible to feed the world’s population, and it may also be temporarily counteracting the effects of climate change in some regions, say scientists in a new study…

2 September 2010
Intriguing evidence of charitable behavior in bacteria
Scientists have observed that in certain populations of bacteria, antibiotic resistant strains will release chemicals to assist weaker bacteria to survive, a finding that provides important insights into bacterial complexity and antibiotic resistance…

26 August 2010
Solar flares spookily linked to radioactive decay on Earth
Researchers have found that the radioactive decay of some elements sitting in laboratories on Earth seems to be influenced by activities inside the sun, 93 million miles away. This surprising finding, they speculate, may indicate a previously unknown particle emitted by the sun…

5 August 2010
Ovulating women buy sexier clothes
Ovulating women unconsciously buy sexier clothes, doing so not to impress men, say the researchers, but to outdo rival women during the handful of days each month when they are ovulating…

27 July 2010
Mad cow disease… sans cow!
In a startling new study, scientists have shown for the first time that abnormal prions – fragments of infectious protein that can cause fatal neurodegenerative diseases such as Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease – can erupt from healthy brain tissue…

8 July 2010
Cougar sex drive an evolutionary adaptation
As a woman’s fertility begins to wane, the brain ramps up the libido in what researchers call “reproduction expediting,” an adaptive response that makes women more willing to engage in one-night stands and adventurous sexual behavior in an effort capitalize on their remaining childbearing years…

25 June 2010
Tactile sensations have profound effect on decision making
A comfortable chair makes a person more amenable to negotiation and a heavy clipboard makes a resume more substantive. Fascinating new research shows that we are heavily influenced by our sense of touch…

21 June 2010
Male menopause mostly mythical
Although there has been a 400 percent surge in testosterone therapy prescriptions, European researchers say that the so-called male menopause is relatively rare, affecting only 2 percent of men, and that most symptomatic men are simply in poor health…

16 June 2010
Study suggests the war on drugs might really be a war on sex
Why is there so much heated argument about whether the use of recreational drugs is morally wrong? A new study suggests that the debate about drugs might really be about sex…

21 May 2010
Synthetic genome successfully transplanted into cell
Scientists have created the first cell controlled by a synthetic genome, a feat that will allow researchers to probe the basic machinery of life and to engineer custom-designed bacteria…

19 May 2010
Ball lightning all in the mind, say physicists
Physicists have shown that the magnetic fields produced by lightning discharges have the same properties as transcranial magnetic stimulation, a technique used in psychiatry that can produce images of luminous shapes in the brain…

26 April 2010
International team claim organic computing breakthrough
A research team from Japan and the US has replicated the problem-solving actions of neurons in an organic molecular layer that they say is massively parallel and self-healing – the first time such a brain-like circuit has been created…

15 April 2010
Cheap-and-cheerful memristor tech set to spur AI research
The recent demonstration of mass-produced memristors performing stateful logic operations and their likely application in an artificially rendered memory and learning process known as “spike timing dependent plasticity” will make memristors the must-have tinkertoy for AI researchers…

30 March 2010
Magnetic field alters moral judgments
US neuroscientists have shown they can influence people’s moral judgments by temporarily disrupting the right temporo-parietal junction of the brain, a finding that helps reveal how the brain constructs morality…

2 March 2010
SETI needs to get real, urges new book
For the last 50 years, the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) has been dominated by a hunt for tell-tale radio signals. But a new book suggests bold new innovations are required if we are ever to hear from our cosmic neighbors…

17 February 2010
Size does matter, say condom boffins
Nearly half the men who took part in a survey on condom use said they had recently experienced a badly fitting condom that resulted in breakage, slippage or penile irritation. The answer, say medicos, is to sell smaller condoms but label them as “large”…

5 February 2010
Samoan study reveals possible evolutionary role for homosexuality
Male homosexuality doesn’t make complete sense from an evolutionary point of view but a new study suggests that it may convey an indirect benefit by enhancing the survival prospects of close relatives. The study hypothesizes that homosexual men enhance their own genetic prospects by acting altruistically toward their nieces and nephews, thereby perpetuating some of their genes indirectly through the family line…

12 January 2010
Evolution to blame for modern-day health problems?
The ongoing pressures of human evolution could explain the rise of disorders such as autism, autoimmune diseases and reproductive disorders, say scientists who believe that evolutionary perspectives should be part of medical school curricula…

7 January 2010
Cell phones reverse Alzheimer’s in mice
A startling new study in mice provides the first evidence that long-term exposure to the electromagnetic emissions from cell phone use may actually protect against – and even reverse – Alzheimer’s disease…

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