Gervais will run jokes past attorneys

Comedian Ricky Gervais is speaking out again, after receiving word he will be hosting the Oscars yet again.

The comedian, known for his witty and controversial sense of humor, said this year’s jokes will be run past his lawyers first.

“’I never do anything that terrible as it’s on network television, but I do have to show my script to a lawyer at the last minute,” he said, via The Daily Mail.

“They don’t change anything because I know the law and what I can get away with. I’ve never libeled anyone, and I’ve never had a complaint upheld,” he added.

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Prince Harry engaged to American actress Meghan Markle

Britain’s Prince Harry and American actress Meghan Markle are engaged, according to an announcement Monday.

Markle is best known for her role as Rachel Zane on USA Network’s “Suits.”

Set up on a blind date in July 2016, Markle knew little about the prince, she said, during a joint engagement interview, and he had never watched “Suits.” But they hit it off right away.

Not long after their second date, Prince Harry and Markle left for a trip to Botswana, where they roughed it together in a tent for five days.

“We were really by ourselves, which was crucial to me to make sure that we had a chance to get to know each other,” Harry said, as reported by the Los Angeles Times.

It was not long before the prince began introducing Markle to the royal family and she has had several teas and meetings with Harry’s father, Prince Charles, and his grandmother, Queen Elizabeth II.

Markle is the only child of Thomas Markle and Doria Ragland, who divorced when she was a child. Her father, an Emmy-winning lighting director, has Dutch-Irish roots, while her mother, a Yoga instructor, is African-American.

Markle and Prince Harry downplay her mixed-race heritage — a topic being hotly discussed in the tabloids.

“It’s a shame that that is the climate in this world today,” Markle said. “At the end of the day, I’m just really proud of who I am and where I come from. [Harry and I] have never put any focus on that. We’ve just focused on who we are as a couple.”


Incredible spider discovery will blow your mind

A huge discovery by scientists could explain why arachnophobia is a big fear in western, industrialized nations, despite the fact that there aren’t any deadly poisonous spiders there for the most part. Researchers determined that we may actually be pre-programmed to be afraid of snakes and spiders, and in evolutionary terms this may have stretched back 40 to 60 million years ago.

The study tested babies by determining if they were able to spot pictures of spiders and snakes faster compared to other non-threatening animals or objects. They found that yes, they could indeed spot them more quickly, which would suggest that the fear isn’t learned but rather embedded in our DNA.

This is the first study of its kind to test babies as opposed to older children or adults, which makes this finding such a big deal.

“When we showed pictures of a snake or a spider to the babies instead of a flower or a fish of the same size and colour, they reacted with significantly bigger pupils”, says Stefanie Hoehl, lead investigator of the underlying study and neuroscientist at MPI CBS and the University of Vienna. “In constant light conditions this change in size of the pupils is an important signal for the activation of the noradrenergic system in the brain, which is responsible for stress reactions. Accordingly, even the youngest babies seem to be stressed by these groups of animals.”

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Twitter admits user verification process broken

Twitter, Inc. has put the brakes on its system of verifying users’ identities, admitting that it is “broken,” according to a report by Bloomberg.

The move comes following a storm of criticism after Twitter verified the account of Jason Kessler, the alleged mastermind behind the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, in August where one protester, Heather Heyer, was purposefully run over by a truck and killed.

“Verification was meant to authenticate identity & voice but it is interpreted as an endorsement,” said Twitter’s user support division in a tweet Thursday. “We recognize that we have created this confusion and need to resolve it.”

Any Twitter user can apply for verification and get a blue check mark on their account. Occasionally, the company has withdrawn or denied verification status. For example, Twitter removed the blue check mark from Milo Yiannopoulos’ account after it was reported he worked closely with white nationalists. And the founder of Wikileaks, Julian Assange, had his verification request denied.

But Twitter’s verification policies have been erratic and confusing.

“They’ve always said from the beginning that verification is not an endorsement, but a check mark in our culture does seem to convey that to many people,” said Stephen Balkam, founder of the Family Online Safety Institute, a nonprofit connected to Twitter’s Trust and Safety Council, in the Bloomberg report. “I can understand people’s outrage over verifying someone like Jason Kessler, with a confederate flag behind him.”


EPA approves genetically-modified mosquitoes

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has given MosquitoMate permission to use male mosquitoes infected with the bacteria Wolbachia pipientis to keep Asian tiger mosquito populations in check.

The agency first gave approval to the biotech company last Friday to release mosquitoes into the environment.

For the process, researchers first infect male mosquitoes — which do bit humans — with the bacteria. Then, when those males mate with wild female mosquitoes, the fertilized eggs to not hatch.

“It’s a non-chemical way of dealing with mosquitoes, so from that perspective, you’d think it would have a lot of appeal,” said David O’Brochta, an entomologist at the University of Maryland, according to Newsweek. “I’m glad to see it pushed forward, as I think it could be potentially really important.”

The new approval last five years and will go into effect for Washington, D.C., California, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Maine, Maryland, Missouri, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Nevada, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Vermont, and West Virginia.

Scientists hope that, as more bacteria-infected males are released into the wild, the population of Asian tiger mosquitoes will decrease. Other insects and species of mosquitoes will not be harmed.

If the new method proves to be successful at fighting populations, there is a chance the company could begin to sell bacteria-infected mosquitoes next summer to both homeowners and larger municipalities. However, in order to do that, MosquitoMate would need to register in each individual state where the bugs are used.

This is the first time genetically modified mosquitoes will be distributed over such a large area. However, MosquitoMate has already tested the process on a different species of mosquito — known as Aedes aegypti — in the both the Florida Keys and Fresno, California. 

This technology is important because, if it proves to be successful on widespread levels, it could be a big step toward preventing mosquito-borne diseases across the world. The newest product targets insects that can spread a many different illnesses, including Zika, yellow fever, chikungunya, and dengue. While those issues are not prevalent in America, diseases like dengue affect 96 million people across the world.

“Over a very short period of time, the Wolbachia was able to invade the wild mosquito population until close to 100 percent of all mosquitoes had the Wolbachia infection — and so we presume, greatly reduced ability to transmit dengue between people,” Australian researcher Scott O’Neill told NPR.

These findings come from a report in the journal Nature.


Mumps cases on the rise, despite vaccines

Mumps is making a comeback — even among people who were vaccinated in childhood, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Last year, reported mumps cases in the United States totaled 6,000, the highest number in a decade. By comparison, in 2010, total annual cases numbered only in the hundreds.

The recent cases tend to occur in localized outbreaks among people between 18-22 years old.

“Mumps outbreaks are on the rise,” said Dr. Janell Routh, a pediatrician and medical officer on the CDC’s mumps team, as reported by The New York Times. “We’re seeing it in a young and highly vaccinated population.”

Mumps is a virus that causes painful swelling of the salivary glands under the ears, along with fever and fatigue. It can be spread by coughing and sneezing, sharing eating utensils, and living in close contact with a carrier.

While the mumps vaccine can weaken over time in some people, it still offers significant protection against serious complications, such as orchitis, an inflammation of the testicles in young males that can result in low sperm counts and decreased fertility.

During an outbreak of more than 450 cases of mumps at the University of Iowa and the surrounding area in 2015-16, the state health department decided to offer people a third dose of the vaccine.

“Should this situation occur again, we would give third dose,” said Dr. Patricia Quinlisk, the medical director and state epidemiologist of the Iowa Department of Public Health, in a recent article in The New England Journal of Medicine. “In our outbreak it did substantially decrease the risk of other students getting mumps, and was instrumental in stopping the outbreak.”


Hydrothermal conditions on Enceladus spark hope for presence of alien life

Saturn’s icy moon Enceladus has a warm liquid ocean that makes it especially intriguing to scientists looking for extraterrestrial life.

Now, a new study suggests that the moon’s wet gravelly core creates enough tidal friction to keep the ocean liquid for billions of years.

The study appears Nov. 6 in the journal Nature Astronomy.

Scientists from the University of Nantes looked at observations from the now-defunct Cassini spacecraft, which studied Saturn and its moons for 13 years.

“What we have in mind is not a sponge like porosity, it’s more like a pile of sand or gravel,” said co-author Gaël Choblet, in a report by Popular Mechanics.

When Cassini detected giant geysers shooting hundreds of miles into space from Enceladus’ south pole, scientists eventually concluded that a massive liquid ocean lurked beneath the moon’s surface.

While the north pole shows some indication of geologic activity, the south pole is much more active, according to Choblet. This is partly because the ice is much thicker at the north pole. In addition, the south pole has enough cracks in the ice to let water seep out into interstellar space.

“Where Enceladus gets the sustained power to remain active has always been a bit of a mystery, but we’ve now considered in greater detail how the structure and composition of the moon’s rocky core could play a key role in generating the necessary energy,” Choblet said, in a statement by the European Space Agency.

It will take future missions to analyze the organic molecules present in Enceladus’ water plumes before scientists know if the hydrothermal conditions on the moon have allowed life to take hold, according to Nicolas Altobelli, ESA’s Cassini project scientist.


Hidden structure found inside the Great Pyramid of Giza

Modern particle physics have allowed scientists to discover what they believe to be a large, secret space hidden within the Great Pyramid of Giza, a new study in the journal Nature reports.

The chamber — which measures roughly 100 feet long — sits above a tall, cathedral-like room known as the Grand Gallery. As a result, it could be the first significant internal structure found within the Great Pyramid since the 19th century. However, despite its size and importance, the room has remained a secret until now.

A team of international scientists uncovered the areas with an imaging technique that uses tiny particles known as muons to look inside enclosed spaces. Such molecules are created when cosmic rays from deep space hit atoms in the upper atmosphere. From there, they rain down to Earth and begin to decay as they pass through various materials.

Scientists can analyze that process to count the number of muons coming through space and see if the material inside of an object is solid or empty. In the recent study, the team used sheets of muon-detecting film to look into two rooms known as the the King’s Chamber and the Grand Gallery. However, to their surprise, they stumbled upon the empty area as well.

The discovery was such a shock that they double checked the finding with two other muon-detection techniques.

“The good news is the void is there,” study co-author Mehdi Tayoubi, a researcher at the HIP Institute in Paris, told NPR. “ Now we are sure that there is a void. We know that this void is big. I don’t know what it could be. I think it’s now time for Egyptologists and specialists in ancient Egypt architecture to collaborate with us, to provide us with some hypotheses.”

Now that the team has confirmed the space, they next want to find a way inside the hidden room without damaging the pyramid. Some have proposed the use of small robots to slip in through cracks or holes, but more study needs to be done before any such steps can be taken. Scientists state they will eventually find a way in, but until that happens the contents of the room will remain a mystery.

“All we know is that we have a void, we have a cavity, and it’s huge, which means possibly intentional and certainly worthy of further exploration,” said Peter Der Manuelian, an Egyptologist at Harvard University who was not involved in the study, in a statement.


Nearly intact ichthyosaur skeleton discovered in India

A team of researchers from both the University of Delhi and the University of Erlangen-Nuremberg have uncovered a series of bones in northwest India that belong to one of the best preserved ichthyosaur specimens ever found, a new study in PLOS One reports.

Ichthyosaurs were an ancient a group of marine reptiles that existed some 150 million years ago. The predators had huge eyes, narrow jaws, and cone-shaped teeth.

The one uncovered in the recent study lived between 152 and 157 million years ago and is the most complete fossil ever found in the region.

“This is a fantastic discovery, and is by far the best ichthyosaur skeleton ever found in India,” said Steve Brusatte, a paleontologist at the University of Edinburgh who was not involved with the study, according to National Geographic Australia. “Ichthyosaur fossils are well known from the northern continents but are very rare down south.”

Researchers found the skeleton just south of the village of Lodai — which sits in India’s Gujarat province — during an excavation in 2016. The bones were embedded in hard sedimentary rock, making the remains hard to recover. After more than 1,500 hours of digging, the team finally managed to retrieve the beautifully preserved bones.

Not only is the fossil the most complete Indian ichthyosaur ever found, it is also the first Jurassic-era specimen recovered in the country. All previous fossils are roughly 50 million years younger and only consist of isolated teeth or poorly preserved vertebrae.

While the ichthyosaur was alive, its environment would have been covered by a tropical sea. It ate tough prey like armored fish and is closely related to species that have been found much farther north.

That information, compiled with invertebrate fossil evidence, suggests the species must have spread across the globe through a massive seaway that once crossed the ancient continent of Gondwanaland. As a result, the new discovery could help paleontologists better understand how marine life spread throughout Jurassic oceans. The bones could also reveal many secrets about ichthyosaur evolution and shed light on the biogeography of the ancient species.

“This find helps to show how globally widespread ichthyosaurs were during the time of dinosaurs,” added Brusatte. “They seem to have lived everywhere in the oceans, all over the world, at the same time dinosaurs were thundering across the land.”


Dinosaurs were much more social than previously thought

The fossils of three young dinosaurs found in the Gobi desert show that the ancient reptiles engaged in communal roosting, new research published in the journal Nature reports.

The younglings were covered in a thick layer of ash or soil — which probably came from a volcanic eruption or sand storm — that poured over and killed them. Their fossils then remained in that spot for 70 million years until a team of U.S. scientists discovered the bones earlier this year.

The team analyzed the samples and found they are the first known example of dinosaur roosting on record. That is important because communal roosting — where animals sleep together in groups — is observed in many modern animal species.

“This is a spectacular discovery for it shows these were animals that were living together in flocks like birds do today,” said Stephen Brusatte, a researcher at Edinburgh University, according to The Guardian. “They probably had feathers, although they could not fly. However, they were undoubtedly social creatures.”

The creatures uncovered in the study have not yet been named. However, they had domed crests on their heads and likely walked on two legs. 

Many new dinosaur characteristics have been uncovered recently, including the fact that they were warm-blooded and used their feathers to attract mates. Some studies have also shown that certain species had striped feathered coats, while others had patches or crests.

Though there is a chance the remains found in the study were compressed by a flood that occurred far after the animals’ deaths, the scientists believe the rock kept the younglings’ shape. Two of the babies were crouched belly down with their necks curled back towards their bodies and their forelimbs cradled up on their heads. That is a pose similar to sleeping ostriches and emus, giving more information on the connection between the reptiles and today’s birds.

This is the first time dinosaurs have been recorded as group sleepers. Researchers now plan to look at other ancient species to better understand the behavior and see if they nested in the same way.

“The origins of communal roosting in birds are still debated, so this specimen will provide valuable information on roosting habits in bird-line theropods,” said Gregory Funston, a Ph.D. Candidate at the University of Alberta, according to