Excerpts from science, technology, environment and health reports from around the web.

Want to read minds? Read good books.

Fifty Shades of Grey may be a fun read, but it’s not going to help you probe the minds of others the way War and Peace might. That’s the conclusion of a new study, which finds that, compared with mainstream fiction, high-brow literary works do more to improve our ability to understand the thoughts, emotions, and motivations of those around us.

‘Important for scientists to publish work globally’

Dispelling the perception that Indian scientists are averse to advertising their work, recipient of this year's Shanti Swarup Bhatnagar prize, Dr Eknath Ghate and Dr Amol Dighe, said that in science, it is important to publish and publicise one's work globally. While Dighe has won the award for his contribution in high energy physics, Ghate clinched the prize in mathematical sciences category. Both are scientists at Mumbai's Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR).

"Young Indian scientists are not reclusive today. We compete globally and are interested in showing the world that we have come up with something new. We do advertise our work and believe in getting proper credit for it," said Dighe. The 42-year-old works in the Department of Theoretical Physics at TIFR. He completed his PhD from the University of Chicago.

Research disrupted as lawmakers spar over funding

The US government entered a state of suspended animation on 1 October after Congress failed to agree on a budget for the next fiscal year, causing federal agencies — including those overseeing science policy and research — to shut down indefinitely.

Most government scientists were ordered to stay at home, their offices and labs closed or run by a skeleton staff of ‘essential’ workers. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the National Science Foundation (NSF) stopped processing grants, some government websites were made inaccessible and many important research programmes were left hanging, potentially putting lives at risk in the case of some disease studies. Use of government telephones and e-mail was also suspended. The restrictions were still in place as Nature went to press.

Google tweaks search to challenge Apple’s Siri

Google announced a series of upgrades to its search engine and mobile search apps today that strengthen its ability to understand queries in the form of natural sentences like those used in conversation. The changes are particularly focused on enabling more complex spoken interactions with Google’s mobile apps, boosting the company’s challenge to Apple’s Siri personal assistant.

“We are making your conversation with Google more natural,” said Amit Singhal, who leads search technology at Google. He spoke at a press conference held in the Menlo Park garage that Google cofounders Larry Page and Sergey Brin made their first office space in 1998.

It's still our fault

IT HAS been a long time coming. But then the fifth assessment of the state of the global climate by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a United Nations body, was a behemoth of an undertaking. It runs to thousands of pages, involved hundreds of scientists and was exhaustively checked and triple-checked by hundredds of other boffins and government officials to whom they report—and whose policies are often based on what they read. The first tranche of the multi-volume report—an executive summary of the physical science—was released in Stockholm on September 27th. And it is categorical in its conclusion: climate change has not stopped and man is the main cause.

Startup shows off its cheaper grid battery

Startup Sun Catalytix is designing a flow battery for grid energy storage that uses custom materials derived from inexpensive commodity chemicals. It joins dozens of other companies seeking to make a device that can cheaply and reliably provide multiple hours of power to back up intermittent wind and solar power.

The MIT spinoff, which hopes to differentiate itself with a novel chemistry and inexpensive mechanical systems, is testing a small-scale five-kilowatt prototype. It projects that a full-scale system, which it expects to make in 2015 or 2016, will cost under $300 per kilowatt-hour, or less than half as much as the sodium-sulfur batteries now used for multihour grid storage.

Flawed sting operation singles out open access journals

In a sting operation, John Bohannon, a correspondent of Science, claims to have exposed dodgy open access journals. His argument seems to be that, because of their business model, some journals are biased towards accepting scientific articles, regardless of their quality. Sadly, Bohannon’s operation adds little to what we already know.

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This Week in ScienceAugust 21, 2013

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