TIME Research

Study Suggests Banking Industry Breeds Dishonesty

Bank industry culture “seems to make [employees] more dishonest,” a study author says

Bank employees are more likely to exhibit dishonesty when discussing their jobs, a new study found.

Researchers out of Switzerland tested employees from several industries during a coin-toss game that offered money if their coins matched researcher’s. According to Reuters, there was “a considerable incentive to cheat” given the maximum pay-off of $200. One hundred and twenty-eight employees from one bank were tested and were found to be generally as honest as everyone else when asked questions about their personal lives prior to flipping the coin, the Associated Press reports. But when they were asked about work before the toss, they were more inclined toward giving false answers, the study determined.

The author of the study says bankers are not any more dishonest than other people, but that the culture of the industry “seems to make them more dishonest.”

The American Bankers Association rebuffed the study’s findings to the AP.

“While this study looks at one bank, America’s 6,000 banks set a very high bar when it comes to the honesty and integrity of their employees. Banks take the fiduciary responsibility they have for their customers very seriously,” the Association said.

[AP]

TIME Research

Firefighter Deaths Could be Linked to Poor Sleep

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Almost 40% of firefighters suffer from at least one sleep disorder

Sleep problems could be a major factor in explaining why more than 60 percent of firefighter deaths are caused by heart attacks and traffic accidents, a new study published in The Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine has found.

Researchers sampled almost 7,000 firefighters across the U.S. and examined how many tested positive for sleep disorders such as obstructive sleep apnea, insomnia, shift-work disorder and restless leg syndrome, the New York Times reports.

They found that 37 percent of firefighters suffered from at least one type of sleep disorder.

“Our findings demonstrate the impact of common sleep disorders on firefighter health and safety, and their connection to the two leading causes of death among firefighters,” said lead author Laura K. Barger. “Unfortunately, more than 80% of firefighters who screened positive for a common sleep disorder were undiagnosed and untreated.”

Barber’s team found that when compared with those who had a good night’s sleep, firefighters who had a sleep disorder were more likely to crash their car or fall asleep at the wheel.

They are also more likely to report serious health problems such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, depression and anxiety.

[NYT]

TIME medicine

Science Says These Are the Best Ways to Swallow Pills

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Yasser Chalid—Moment Open/Getty Images

Lean forward or lean back?

For anyone who has ever choked or spit water out while trying to swallow a pill (which, let’s face it, we all have), a new study finally has answers for you.

The study published in the Annals of Family Medicine sought to determine the effectiveness of swallowing pills with what it called the “pop-bottle method” and the “lean forward technique.” The pop-bottle method had participants place the pill on their tongue and swallow it in one motion with a drink from a plastic bottle, and the lean forward technique had subjects swallow the capsule in an upright position with their heads bent forward.

The study found that both techniques “substantially facilitated” swallowing pills, even in subjects who had previously reported difficulty. Between the two methods, people preferred the lean forward technique—88.5% of participants reported improvement with the pop-bottle technique, and 96.9% did with lean forward.

So next time you face the daunting task of swallowing a pill, try tipping your head forward.

TIME animals

You Always Knew Your Cat Was Half Wild But Now There’s Genetic Proof

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Paula Daniëlse—Getty Images/Flickr RM

That kitty curled up on your lap is only one genetic step away from jungle killer

A new study on house cats has found that our feline companions are actually only semi-domesticated.

People began domesticating cats around 9,000 years ago but DNA researchers from Washington University in St. Louis found that house cats still have many of the same traits as their wild cousins. The fact that cats have retained the ability to hunt and survive effortlessly in the wild just underscores how little impact we humans have had on them.

Wes Warren, an associate professor of genomics at the university, told the Los Angeles Times, “We believe we have created the first preliminary evidence that depicts domestic cats as not that far removed from wildcat populations.”

That’s not to say humans haven’t had any influence on cats. We originally took them into our homes to hunt rodents and rewarded that behavior with food. According to researchers, this lead to eventual changes in a group of stem cells that resulted in more docile (but not fully domesticated) felines and produced colors and fur patterns that humans liked.

“Our results suggest that selection for docility, as a result of becoming accustomed to humans for food rewards, was most likely the major force that altered the first domesticated cat genomes,” researchers wrote.

Read more at the Los Angeles Times.

Read next: Celebrate National Cat Day With the Most Ridiculous Cover in TIME History

TIME Archaeology

DNA Study Dates Eurasian Split From East Asians

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The skull of the fossil of Kostenki XIV that was found in 1954 near Kostenki-Borshchevo, in what is now western Russia AP

The study concludes that Kostenki man shared genetic sequences with contemporary Europeans, but not East Asians

(BERLIN) — The human populations now predominant in Eurasia and East Asia probably split between 36,200 and 45,000 years ago, according to a study released Thursday.

Researchers used new techniques to analyze genetic samples from the shin bone of a young man who died at least 36,200 years ago near Kostenki-Borshchevo in what is now western Russia. The study, published in the journal Science, concludes that Kostenki man shared genetic sequences with contemporary Europeans, but not East Asians.

A separate study published last month in the journal Nature determined that a 45,000-year old sample found in Siberia contained sequences ancestral to both modern East Asians and Europeans.

Taken together, these two studies suggest a time frame of about 9,000 years in which the two genetic populations could have diverged, said Eske Willerslev, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Copenhagen, Denmark, one of the authors of the Science paper.

Even on its own the Kostenki sample challenges previous theories that modern Europeans emerged only when hunter-gatherers mixed with a farming population that moved in from the Middle East after Ice Age glaciers receded from Europe about 10,000 years ago, the start of a period known as the Neolithic.

“People had largely tended to think that Europeans today were mostly influenced by the Neolithic expansion from the Middle East,” said Sarah Tishkoff, a professor of genetics at the University of Pennsylvania who wasn’t involved in the latest study. “But if they’re correct they are suggesting that this person 36,000 years ago already had some similarity to the people who contributed to this Neolithic expansion from the Middle East.”

Although Kostenki man — who had dark skin, brown eyes and was relatively short — belonged to a group of humans that ultimately died out, the DNA fragments he left are enough to draw a line in European genetic history going back at least 36,000 years, said evolutionary biologist Marta Mirazon Lahr of the University of Cambridge, another author of the Science study.

TIME animals

Study Shows Bats Jam Each Other’s Sonar to Snatch the Best Prey

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Yves Adams—Getty Images

The bats reportedly block each other's frequencies to hinder their hunting ability

The use of sonar by bats for hunting has been well-documented over the years, with the nocturnal winged mammals using ultrasonic clicks to target their prey in a phenomenon called echo-location.

But a new study, published on Friday in the journal Science, reveals that bats also sabotage rivals by jamming each other’s sonar frequencies so that they can grab the most appetizing prey.

“This jamming signal covers all the frequencies used by the other bat, so there’s no available frequency to shift to,” Johns Hopkins University researcher Aaron Corcoran, who co-authored the study, told the New Scientist.

Read more at New Scientist

TIME neuroscience

Why We’re Falling Behind On Brain Innovation

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PASIEKA—Getty Images/Brand X

A series of reports explains the decline

Brain science is taking a hit, according to a recent series of papers published in a special issue of the Cell Press journal Neuron.

“While the disease burden and economic impacts are on the rise, progress in the development of new therapeutics and treatment approaches has appeared to have stalled,” reads an editorial introducing the issue. “Approval for new therapeutics (whether drugs, devices, or other treatment approaches) for nervous system disorders have been declining and most of the treatments we currently have are not disease modifying.”

Large pharmaceutical companies like GlaxoSmithKline, AstraZeneca, Merck, Pfizer and Sanofi-Aventis have closed or downsized their brain research divisions, according to one paper, a move the study authors believe reflects a growing view that developing drugs for the brain is too difficult and time-consuming. In another report, researchers argue that there are not enough opportunities for various stakeholders to meet and collaborate on the latest research.

Still, researchers of a third paper focusing on Alzheimer’s disease argue that even though stopping neurodegeneration progression “seems daunting at the moment,” the brain and Alzheimer’s community should be encouraged by other fields that have successfully stopped disease onset with prevention efforts—like lowering cholesterol for cardiovascular disease.

The prognosis isn’t entirely dire, because the same researchers also offer their own solutions. To re-gain Big Pharma’s interest, perhaps the incentive model for brain research should change. “One way to do this that would not require upfront funding is to change the policies that regulate market returns for the most-needed breakthrough drugs,” the authors write. “The broader neuroscience community including clinicians and patients should convene to develop and advocate for such policy changes.” Others say they’ve had success in forming their own meetings of minds by pulling a variety of experts together.

There’s also the U.S. government’s BRAIN Initiative, a massive research project to map out the brain and gain a better understanding of disorders that can plague it. It’s unclear what the ambitious project, which is a little more than a year old, will end up contributing to the field. Some researchers have argued it might allocate funding away from labs not involved in the project.

Reisa Sperling, a Harvard neurologist and the lead study author of the new Alzheimer paper, tells TIME the project is a good thing for the disease, but with some caveats. “It is important to note that the BRAIN Initiative is really focused on studying basic mechanisms of how the brain works, rather than identifying disease-specific alterations that are more directly translatable into [Alzheimer’s disease] clinical research,” she says. “So I hope that there will be additional investment that will help us translate mechanistic research on normal brain function into understanding what goes wrong in the brain in early Alzheimer’s disease…to help us find an effective treatment more more quickly.”

The bottom line is that despite lack of funding for the field, the are still reasons to be optimistic. “The pace of research progress in neuroscience over recent years has been nothing short of amazing,” the journal authors write. As long as drug companies can be attracted again to the brain, the vast time spent on trying to unlock it will be well worth it.

TIME Research

Aluminum May Reduce Sperm Count According to a New Study

The study, conducted jointly by researchers from France and the U.K., analyzed semen samples from 62 donors

Aluminum may be a major contributor to male infertility and reduced sperm counts, according to a new study released on Monday.

The study, published in the journal Reproductive Toxicology and conducted jointly by researchers at Keele University in the U.K. and the universities of Lyon and St.-Étienne in France, analyzed the sperm of 62 donors at a French clinic using fluorescence microscopy with an aluminum-specific stain. The researchers not only confirmed that semen does contain aluminum, but found that the sperm count is lowered as its aluminum content increases.

Professor Christopher Exley, an expert on human exposure to aluminum and the lead researcher in the study, said that endocrine disruptors and other environmental factors are generally blamed for the decline in male fertility that has been taking place over the past several decades.

“Human exposure to aluminum has increased significantly over the same time period and our observation of significant contamination of male semen by aluminum must implicate aluminum as a potential contributor to these changes in reproductive fertility,” he said.

TIME weather

1934 Dust Bowl Drought Was North America’s Worst in a Millennium

More than 70% of western North America was affected

The 1934 drought that helped kick off the Dust Bowl era was the worst to hit North America for the past 1,000 years, according to a new study.

Scientists from NASA and Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory reconstructed the history of droughts in the U.S. using modern practices and tree-ring records from the years 1000 to 2005.

They found that the 1934 drought covered more than 70% of western North America and was 30% severer than the next worst, which struck in 1580.

“It was the worst by a large margin, falling pretty far outside the normal range of variability that we see in the record,” said Ben Cook, a climate scientist at NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York and the study’s lead author.

Cook says a high-pressure system during the west coast’s winter that kept rains at bay, combined with poor land management practices, led to dust storms in the spring.

The study is due to be published in the Oct. 17 edition of Geophysical Research Letters.

TIME Research

How Your Sense of Smell Is Linked to Your Lifespan

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Getty Images

Older adults who suffer an impaired olfactory sense are more likely to die within five years, say researchers

The loss or erosion of an individual’s sense of smell may signal impending death, according to a new study.

Researchers at the University of Chicago found 39% of subjects who failed olfactory sense tests died within a five-year period, compared with 19% of subjects with moderate smell loss and just 10% who retained a healthy sense of smell.

This mean the loss or degradation of the olfactory sense may serve effectively as an “early warning” signal that something has gone very wrong inside the body, says the study published in the journal PLOS One on Wednesday.

“We think loss of the sense of smell is like the canary in the coal mine,” said the study’s lead author Dr. Jayant Pinto. “Our findings could provide a useful clinical test, a quick and inexpensive way to identify patients most at risk.”

The research was conducted in two waves over the course of more than five years and surveyed approximately 3,000 adults.

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