“Science Times” synthesis

Can you believe that summer is almost here? Before you dust off your flip flops and head for the beach, be sure to check out this week’s installment of the “Science Times” synthesis!

Week of 5/21

Troves of personal data forbidden to researchers: “Big data” describes data collected by companies such as Facebook and Google from individuals’ use of social media and communication technology, and is stirring controversy in research circles. Scientists believe that studies conducted using big data should be required to make their datasets public. Opponents believe that this practice would infringe on the privacy of companies and their customers.

A tidal wave of data on elephant seals: Researchers from the University of California, Santa Cruz tagged and monitored elephant seals that winter off the coast of Northern California. Their efforts have resulted in a bevy of new information on the health and migration patterns of the species in what is being deemed the largest dataset on any marine animal to date.

Panel issues final guidance against prostate screenings: In a controversial decision, a government task force has concluded that the harm caused by a simple blood test used regularly to screen men for prostate cancer far outweighs any potential benefit. As a result, the task force has recommended that the prostate-specific antigen (PSA) blood test not be given annually.

Week of 5/28

How the scent of fear may be picked up by others: Scientists have long noted that fish tend to scatter when one of their schoolmates is injured. Scientists in Singapore believe they have identified the molecule which is responsible for this behavior. Chondroitin, which is found in the outer mucus of zebrafish, arouses a sense of alarm when it is released into the water.

Stubborn infection, spread by insects, is called ‘the new AIDS of the Americas’: Chagas disease is caused by single-celled parasites that are transmitted to humans by blood-sucking insects. The long incubation period of the disease and the expense and difficulty of treatment have led to comparisons between Chagas and AIDS.