'Ghost Cloaks' May Be the Next Best Thing to Going Invisible

Discovered: It's not quite an invisibility cloak, but it's a start; men are more likely to commit scientific fraud; multitasking causes more mistakes; Davos looks for "X factors" of the future.

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Discovered: It's not quite an invisibility cloak, but it's a start; men are more likely to commit research fraud; multitasking causes more mistakes; the risks scientists are considering in Davos.

Ghost cloaks can make objects spectral. The new invention from a team of physicists at Southeast University in Nanjing, China won't give you the ability to sneak around entirely unseen, but it's almost as good as an invisibility cloak. Tie Jun Cui and colleagues were able to build a device that scatters light in such a way that objects appear to have ghost doubles on either side of them. Their self-described "ghost cloak" could be useful for "security enhancement," the researchers write. Or just spooking the bejeezus out of trick-or-treating neighborhood children during Halloween.  [MIT Technology Review]

Men are more likely to cheat at science. A small contingent of scientists aren't rigorously searching for the truth—they're fabricating data and skewing studies to boost their careers. And after studying those who commit scientific fraud, Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University microbiologist Arturo Casadevall noticed that men were proportionally much more likely to put out phony papers than their female colleagues. A review of 228 cases of scientific misconduct found that the gender disparity between fraudulent researchers was greatest amongst college faculty members. Out of 72 cases, only nine deceptive studies were led by female faculty members. "The fact that misconduct occurs across all stages of career development suggests that attention to ethical aspects of scientific conduct should not be limited to those in training, as is the current practice," Casadevall writes. [Albert Einstein College of Medicine]

Little distractions cause lots of error. You can totally catch up on the latest episodes of Homeland while writing cover letters, right? And it's no big deal to check out a text message while you're behind the wheel? New research published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology says you'd be wrong to think you're just as effective while multitasking. Michigan State University psychologist Erik Altmann and his colleagues asked 300 undergraduates to complete a few steps on a computer. Some of the subjects were allowed to finish this work uninterrupted, while others had to respond to flashing letters during the experiment. The distractions were minor—only three-second prompts. But they made the undergraduates commit twice the amount of error as the control group. The study has obvious implications in the workplace, but Altmann says it could also tell us a thing or two about social interaction. "When people are stealing glances at their cellphones, they're not quite with you in the same way as when they're looking you in the eye," he says. [Scientific American]

What will befall the world, according to scientists at Davos? The World Economic Forum's annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland, is usually short on science and long on elite economic prognostication. But this year, a panel of professors and science journalists will gather to discuss "X factors," the kinds of existential risks facing our planet in 2013. Familiar foes like climate change make an appearance. But stranger scenarios could also pose a threat to Earth—such as the "Discovery of Alien Life" and the counterintuitive threat of prolonged life, which could speed overpopulation and incur unsustainable healthcare costs. [Motherboard]

Inset image: Wei Xiang Jiang, Cheng-Wei Qiu, Tiancheng Han, Shuang Zhang, and Tie Jun Cui — "Creation of Ghost Illusions Using Metamaterials in Wave Dynamics"

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