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This week's SciShow news has Hank bringing us a primer on the science behind various illegal and illicit ways in which athletes "improve" their bodies, proof of general relativity that we can actually see, and a new way to measure how prejudiced you are (just in time for the U.S. presidential election). Let's get this smarty started!

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Project Implicit website: https://implicit.harvard.edu/implicit/

References for this episode can be found in the Google document here: http://dft.ba/-3y8h

 Introduction


Welcome to my inner sanctum, where I spend my days searching for the best news from the world of science, picked at the peak of freshness.

This week: a primer on the stupid ways that athletes damage their bodies, proof of general relativity that we can actually see, and the new way to measure how prejudiced you are, just in time for the election. Lets get this smarty started!

(Intro music)

 Athletes Doping


First, let's talk about a couple of things that I don't usually spend a lot of time and neurons thinking about: drugs and sports. Not really my things, but when you put them together, there's actually some tasty science in that sandwich.

You've already heard by now that famed cyclist, Lance Armstrong, recently forfeited all seven of his Tour de France titles after declining to fight allegations that he had boosted his performance by doping. Meanwhile, the London Olympics have been plagued by rumours, and in a few cases outright accusations about the use of performance enhancing drugs. At least one Olympian, woman's shot put gold medalist, Nadzeya Ostapchuk of Belarus, was stripped of her title after testing positive for a substance called metenolone.

So, what happens when athletes dope? Well, it depends on what you mean. Because "doping" describes a hole slew of practices that are biologically very different. The substance Ostapchuk tested positive for was an anabolic steroid, and I'm sure you've heard of those. Steroids are just a kind of lipid, or fat molecule, and they include all kinds of things from cholesterol to sex hormones.

The kind we're talking about here are synthetic steroids that imitate your body's natural hormones, especially hormones that help your cells build new material. When your cells build this new material it's call anabolism, which is why these compounds are called anabolic steroids.

Now that kind of doping is much different than what Lance Armstrong has been accused of doing, which is blood doping. This can be done is a bunch of different ways, but generally the aim is always the same: to artificially increase the amount of red blood cells, and therefore oxygen available to your muscles. One way of doing this is kind of messed-up sounding, but apparently it's becoming more common. A few weeks before a competition, an athlete withdraws a few ounces of their own blood and freezes it. Then, just like after you donate blood at a blood bank, your body makes new blood to replace what's missing. Before the competition, the athlete transfuses their original blood back into their body giving them more blood, and therefore more red blood cells.

Another trick is to take injections of a hormone called erythropoietin, or EPO. Instead of simulating muscle cell development though, EPO regulates the creation of red blood cells. EPO doping can push an athletes blood oxygen about 25% above normal. But trust me here, you do not want to be messing with your blood. Excessive red blood cell levels can cause heart attacks, strokes, embolisms, and steroids, of course can practically cause anything from mood swings to shrunken testicles and impotence. You might be winning, but you're not winning.

 Data Points



Next, two new revelations that reinforce things we already know, but are worth remembering. One, men and women are different and two, Einstein is always right.

First, new research shows that when it comes to color and motion at least, men and women see things differently, literally. Scientists at City University of New York gave various vision tests to a group of men and women, all with 20-20 eyesight, and found that men had a harder time telling the difference between colors. In many cases men actually needed slightly longer wavelengths, that is shades closer to the red end of the spectrum, to see the same color that women said that they saw. This may explain why it is so difficult to agree on what color to paint the kitchen.

But when the same test subjects were shown images of flashing light in dark bars, sometimes vertical, sometimes horizontal, the women had a harder time determining which way the bars were pointing and when they changed direction.

The researchers suspect that these differences might stem from the fact that during embryonic development it's male sex hormones that drive the formation of the brain's visual cortex. So this might affect how you detect color and motion depending on your sex.

And as for Einstein, for the first time astronomers have observed one of his theories in action with their own eyes. First, some background here. Einstein's theory of general relativity predicts that massive accelerated objects create what's called gravitational waves, kind of like wrinkles in the fabric of space-time. They are thought to be created most commonly by huge pairs of objects that orbit each other, like galaxies, black holes, or stars, and as these objects spin around each other, the gravitational waves carry away some of the objects momentum, making their orbits get smaller and smaller.

This month, astronomers from the University of Texas, Harvard, and the Smithsonian Institution say that they have observed the effects of these waves for the first time in visible light. The subject was a weird little pair of binary white dwarfs known together as J0561, which move so incredibly fast that they normally orbit each other in less than 13 minutes. But what the astronomers found after more than a year of observation was that their orbit time had shrunk by 6 seconds, the exact amount predicted by Einstein's formula. So while the astronomers couldn't see the waves themselves, the fact that the orbits are speeding up is proof that the waves are there. I've said it before, I'll say it again, Einstein for the win.

 DIY Science


Finally, the US presidential election is in it's final stretch at last, with Mitt Romney and Barack Obama each having accepted their parties nominations. It's just a matter of who can kiss the most babies, tell the most prevarications, and avoid the most gaffes until election day in November. But for some social scientists the question has become which of the voter's prejudices will win out: their prejudice against the first African-American president or their prejudice against the first Mormon to be nominated for president. Or maybe it's the prejudice against the rich guy as opposed to the impossibly rich guy.

To answer these and other questions like them, psychologists at Harvard University, the University of Washington, and the University of Virginia created Project Implicit, a web based tool designed to measure subjects biases, whether they're aware of them or not. Subjects answer a series of questions that size up their opinions on a given topic, a religious group, say, or a gender or sexual orientation. Then they're given an exercise to determine what other, perhaps less conscious, associations they have towards the subject.

The project's featured topic these days is Decision 2012 and it's open to everyone around the world. You'll be asked for your opinions about African-Americans, Mormons, Republicans, Democrats as well as what country you live in and other demographic data. Then depending on your answers to those questions you'll be assigned a task that will measure not just how often, but also how quickly, you associate a candidate with certain terms and images. You might be given words like success and horrible, or pictures that you will associate with either candidate. You are then given a report detailing what a bigoted bastard you are. Some of our staff took the test and didn't really see any surprises, but they already know that they are jerks, what's your excuse? Links to Project Implicit are below.

Thank you for watching this episode of SciShow News, if you have any questions, comments, or ideas for us you can put them in the comments below of course or on Facebook or Twitter and we'll see you next time.

(End music)