No one likes a con artist. People avoid dealing with characters who have swindled them in the past, and—according to new research—birds avoid those people, too. Ravens, known for their intelligence, were trained by researchers to trade a crust of bread for a morsel of cheese with human partners. When the birds then tried to broker a trade with “fair” and “unfair” partners, the ravens avoided the tricksters in separate trials a month later. For people, the moral of the story is simple: Be nice to ravens.
For decades, researchers seeking the origin of our species have scoured the Great Rift Valley of East Africa. Now, their quest has taken an unexpected detour to Morocco: Researchers have redated a long-overlooked skull from a cave called Jebel Irhoud to a startling 300,000 years ago, and unearthed new fossils and stone tools. The result is the oldest well-dated evidence of Homo sapiens, pushing back the appearance of our kind by 100,000 years.
Scientists have long dreamed of mimicking photosynthesis, by using the energy in sunlight to knit together hydrocarbon fuels from carbon dioxide (CO2) and water. Now, a cheap new chemical catalyst has carried out part of that process with record efficiency, using electricity from a solar cell to split CO2 into energy-rich carbon monoxide and oxygen. It’s not efficient enough to compete with fossil fuels like gasoline yet, but it could eventually lead to methods for making unlimited amounts of liquid fuels from sunlight, water, and CO2.
New Zealand’s weta are hard to overlook. In size and lifestyle, the giant weta is a mouse in cricket’s clothing. Weta, from a word meaning “god of ugly things,” diversified in a New Zealand free of almost all mammals. But some weta species have had brushes with extinction since the arrival of rats and other mammalian predators. Efforts are underway in New Zealand to provide mammal-free habitats, where offspring of some of the few remaining individuals of several species now seem to be thriving.
Who says teaching about conflicts of interest, reporting bias, and research fraud needs to be dull? Fenneke Blom, the coordinator of the Netherlands Research Integrity Network, has developed a course that teaches scientific integrity by using fragments of Hollywood movies like Awakenings, Dallas Buyers Club, Kinsey, and Extreme Measures. Blom, who teaches at the Free University in Amsterdam, shared her experiences at last week’s World Conference on Research Integrity.