Highlighting science news you may have missed, and telling you why it matters in about a minute.

Sight dominates sound in music competition judging

What it is: A study concluded that a classical musician’s performance is judged more based on his/her stage presence than the music itself.

The study involved 1,000 participants who were given a set of either audio-only, audio & video, or video-only recordings, and asked to rate the top three finalists from ten different international classical music competitions.

The participants who identified the winners correctly were the ones who were given the silent videos. The success rates of those who guessed the winners after watching the video+audio samples as well as the audio-only samples were both much lower.

While the dominance of our visual sense has always been discussed, this finding is quite surprising because expert judges at these competitions have always maintained that sound was the most important criteria for them.

Why it matters: This study highlights the importance for stage performers to develop a good stage presence. It also raises the question of how different shortlisting strategies (whether audio-only or not) employed by music competitions may affect the chances of participants. Moreover this finding may have implications for other social activities like job interviews where visual cues may play a bigger-than-expected role.

Germany acknowledges Bitcoin as ‘private money’

What it is: Germany has recognized the digital currency Bitcoin. These virtual coins (1 bitcoin= $110), which can be purchased online, are now approved legally and fiscally and can be permitted as units of ‘account’.

State regulatory authorities and central banks usually view Internet currencies very critically and for good reason, as currencies like the Bitcoin aren’t subject to governmental supervision. Indeed, Bitcoins are often used for in illegal monetary transactions on the Internet.

Bitcoins are not generated by a central bank, but instead created by Internet users through complicated computing calculations.

What the German Government has done now is to declare the virtual currency as a sort of ‘private money’, or ‘unit of account’—which means it can be used in multilateral clearing circles or more simply, in private transactions.

In addition to this, German citizens using Bitcoins will now be liable to pay capital gains tax if they profit from their Bitcoin transactions.

Why it matters: This move by the German government is a landmark decision that will go a long way to legitimizing digital currencies. This has the ability to encourage other countries to legalise the Bitcoin, increase Bitcoin adoption, and bringing in regulation into a sector that sorely needs it.

Big horns clash with longevity in sheep

What it is: Scientists have discovered that a gene that determines horn size in sheep is also linked to its lifespan.

Sheep, like nearly all mammals are diploid organisms, meaning they have two copies each of a gene, one inherited from each parent.These two copies may be identical (homozygous) or not (heterozygous).

It was already known that big-horned rams father twice as many lambs as their short-horned peers. However, the new study found out that rams with shorter horns live longer.

A gene called RXFP2 determines how big a sheep’s horns will grow to be. One variant of RXFP2 is linked to large horns while the other to short horns. Among the large-horned rams, those homozygous for the large-horned variant of the RXFP2 gene were found to have shorter lifespans than the heterozygous ones (ones which inherited one copy of each variant).

Why it matters: Evolutionary scientists often wonder why some unfavourable genes which render a reproductive disadvantage to the organism have not been wiped out in the course of natural selection. By finding out that large-horned sheep with a 50/50 mix of the gene variants had the best deal -- they were both fertile and tended to live longer -- they have managed to explain why the short-horned gene variant has persisted through the years.

World-first pilot plant to turn carbon dioxide into rock

What it is: Researchers from Newcastle are trying out new technology that will turn carbon emissions into building materials for the construction industry.

As the world’s emissions increase by the day, the million-dollar question has been how to channel the harmful carbon dioxide into something constructive.

The University of Newcastle believes it has found a perfect solution. The mineral carbonation technology that is used in the researchers’ pilot plant copies and hastens the earth’s own way of sinking carbon.

What every power station in the world could essentially do, with this technology, is capture carbon dioxide emissions and turn them into rock.

Why it matters: In one blow, this technique could help rid the world of some of its carbon dioxide emissions. In addition to that, the solid product at the end of the process could be transformed into building materials. This could be useful for the construction industry, thus providing a financial incentive for this process to work.

Compiled by Nandita Jayaraj & Anuj Srivas

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Why It MattersAugust 21, 2013

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