Our pick of the week’s science and technology stories, including the battle of Hoth scrutunised, a life-changing blood test and the end of food as we know it.
Welcome to the malware-industrial complex
Tom Simonite | MIT Technology Review | 13 February 2013
On the growing international market for "zero-day exploits" – flaws in software that nobody else knows about yet, not even the manufacturer. "Zero-day exploits are valuable because they can be used to sneak software onto a computer system without detection by conventional computer security measures". Spy agencies will pay handsomely for them. Remember Stuxnet?
Daniel Engber | Slate | 13 February 2013
Why do life scientists do so much of their laboratory research on mice, when mice are such a poor proxy for the human body? It's not just that mistakes are made; that whole fields of research go astray. Take severe inflammation research: out of 150 potential drugs successfully trialled on mice, not one passed a human trial.
Inside the battle of Hoth
Spencer Ackerman | Wired | 12 February 2013
Reconstructing the decisive battle at the beginning of The Empire Strikes Back. It should have been a total debacle for the Rebel Alliance. But Vader and the Empire forgot two rules: "Don’t place unaccountable religious fanatics in wartime command, and never underestimate a hegemonic power’s ability to miscalculate against an insurgency."
What if a simple blood test could tell you when you’ll die?
Ariel Schwartz | Fast Company | 12 February 2013
Would you take it? Companies are developing such a test, which measures telomeres, structures that protect chromosomes. Proponents claim that when your telomeres get too short, you're at heightened risk of death from practically every bodily cause. When your telomeres are long, you're lifespan has every chance of being long too. The research has its sceptics, but supporters predict that by 2015, telomere length will be looked at as a solid risk factor for disease, much like cholesterol.
To a future woman in tech
Stacey Mulcahy | Future Woman In Tech | 11 February 2013
Tech developer's open letter to her 8-year-old niece, who says she wants to be a video game designer when she grows up. "I hope that when you ask for what you want and work hard to get it, ambition won’t be misplaced for aggression. I hope that when you say what you think, you will be considered a contributor, and not a bitch."
Five ways to make progress in evolutionary psychology
Kate Clancy | Scientific American | 11 February 2013
Evolutionary psychology is potentially a very rich field, but it's a young field. The methodologies are still being worked out. You can bake your prejudices and expectations into the structure of an experiment, to return the results you want it to return, without even noticing. Here's how to avoid some of the traps.
Horsemeat, 3D printing and the end of food as we know it
Chris Baraniuk | The Machine Starts | 10 February 2013
Horsemeat-for-beef scandal is best seen as a systems problem. Humans built a food-chain they couldn't control. "The appearance of horsemeat, indeed, could be described as an expression of entropy in this system". What next? Locavorism? No. Technology moves forward, not backward. 3D printing of food is on the horizon. How safe will that be?