A Controversial Sex Research App; Humans Encroach on Desert Ecosystems

Discovered: Uncertainties about the uncertainty principle; seals hunt for glowing fish; Kinsey Institute app concerns lawyers; deserts in danger. 

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Discovered: Uncertainties about the uncertainty principle; seals hunt for glowing fish; Kinsey Institute app concerns lawyers; deserts in danger. 

A sex research app is called into question. The Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender and Reproduction is always looking for new ways to study sexual behavior, so they decided to reach people where they increasingly live: on their smartphones. They teamed up with Indiana University to release a free app that lets users report sexual activity anonymously. The researchers drooled over all that useful data coming their way, but university legal teams weren't such huge fans of the app. Yesterday, the app was pulled over privacy concerns. The team behind the project released a statement saying that they planned to "thoroughly vet the protocols," for privacy encryption. "We sincerely apologize for the interruption, and hope to have Kinsey Reporter up again very soon," they write. Smartphones might hold exciting new research potential, but privacy will always be a hot-button topic on the devices. [Los Angeles Times]

Seals go after glowing prey. The glow that makes bioluminescent fish so mesmerizing to look at is the same one that attracts predatory seals, researchers from the Chizé Centre for Biological Studies in Villiers-en-Bois, France, have found. Seals don't find their food through echolocation, as many sea mammals do. To find out how exactly they hunt down their prey, researchers strapped four southern elephant seals with light recorders to capture what happened on more than 3,300 dives. They found that seals typically found food in areas with lots of low-intensity blue light, the same emission that bioluminescent fish give off. [New Scientist]

Deserts are being threatened by humans. Where ever we go, it seems like we humans have a way of messing up nature. It's easier to measure our decimation of abundant, fertile places like the rainforest, but what about more arid and sparse ecosystems? Research from the Biodiversity Research Group at the Argentinian Institute of Arid Lands Research shows that human meddling may be disrupting desert ecosystems around the globe. "We report for the first time that in drylands, the effect of human-induced disturbances on mammal functional diversity is negative," says Maria Veronica Chillo, lead researcher of a new study published in the Journal of Arid Environments. Letting livestock overgraze desert regions is thought to be a big part of the problem. [BBC]

Revisiting the Heisenberg uncertainty principle. In 1927, Werner Heisenberg theorized that measuring anything ends up inevitably disturbing it. His insights became the Heisenberg uncertainty principle, one of the most fundamental concepts in modern quantum physics. But researchers at the University of Toronto are revisiting the uncertainty principle, and they believe they're now able to measure the polarization of a photon in a way that accounts for how much disturbance the measurement caused. "Each shot only gave us a tiny bit of information about the disturbance, but by repeating the experiment many times we were able to get a very good idea about how much the photon was disturbed," says lead researcher Lee Rozema. This study adds to the growing uncertainty about Heisenberg's uncertainty principle; in 2003 Japanese researcher Masanao Ozawa suggested that the principle doesn't apply to measurement, and in 2010, Griffith University researchers demonstrated weak measurements could be useful in quantum systems. Rozema says, "The quantum world is still full of uncertainty, but at least our attempts to look at it don't have to add as much uncertainty as we used to think!" [University of Toronto]

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.