panda-monium
July 29, 2014

Imagine you're a newspaper editor, and you get a phone call. From the president. And he wants to talk about pandas having sex.

That's what happened to Crosby Noyes, the foreign editor of the Washington Star in 1972, when President Richard Nixon called him to leak the news that pandas Ling-Ling and Hsing-Hsing — given as gifts after First Lady Pat Nixon spoke about admiring the adorable animals — were going to go to the National Zoo once they arrived from China.

Nixon made some more small talk about the pandas, but things got really interesting when he started discussing their mating habits. "The problem, however, with pandas is that they don't know how to mate," Nixon said. "The only way they learn how is to watch other pandas mate. You see?" Noyes did see, and Nixon continued, "And so, they're keeping them there for a little while — these are younger ones — to sort of learn, you know, how it's done."

Then came the big offer. "Now, if they don't learn it they'll get over here and nothing will happen, so I just thought you should just have your best reporter out there to see whether these pandas have learned," Nixon said. Noyes laughed, but didn't make any promises to send a crack reporter out to watch pandas possibly (and likely awkwardly) attempt to mate. Listen to the conversation, which is recounted by Douglas Brinkley and Luke A. Nichter in their new book The Nixon Tapes: 1971-1972, below. --Catherine Garcia

surveillance nation
June 2, 2015
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More than 36 hours after key provisions of the Patriot Act expired during a congressional stalemate, the Senate voted, 67 to 32, to curtail the bulk collection of Americans' phone records in what is being called a "remarkable reversal" of national security policy. Under the USA Freedom Act, which now heads to President Obama's desk, phone data would stay private, but the government could search records under court orders.

UPDATE: Obama signed the bill Tuesday night, saying the "legislation will strengthen civil liberty safeguards and provide greater public confidence in these programs." He also chided the Senate for "a needless delay and inexcusable lapse in important national security authorities." Samantha Rollins

Evidence-based medicine
June 2, 2015

If you get a test for something at the doctor and it comes back positive, chances are you're going to be very anxious. Does that mean you have the disease? Maybe. But as Aaron Carroll explains below, this can be a misleading way to think.

The prevalence of the disease — that is, the number of people in the general population who have it — can sharply effect one's chances with such a test. One study of mammograms, for example, found that over 95 percent of people with a positive test for breast cancer did not actually have it.

That's only the first part of a complex topic, but it's really worth understanding. Check it out. Ryan Cooper

This just in
June 2, 2015
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Walmart announced Tuesday that it is raising the starting wage for more than 100,000 of its U.S. workers, including department managers and workers in specialized divisions. The wage increases will go into effect next month.

Workers in Walmart's deli and wireless product divisions, for example, will now earn between $9.90 and $18.81 an hour, compared with a range from $9.20 to $18.53 an hour before the increase, The Associated Press reports. Meanwhile, department managers in electronics and automotive care will earn between $13 and $24.70 an hour, compared with $10.30 to $20.09 before the increase.

In February, Walmart announced that it would raise its minimum wage for all workers to $9 an hour in April and to $10 next February. Walmart is America's largest private-sector employer, with 1.3 million employees nationwide. The company said it is spending $1 billion to raise its workers' wages. Meghan DeMaria

This just in
June 2, 2015
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Sens. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and Cory Booker (D-N.J.) introduced a bill Tuesday that would require states to report all police shootings to the Department of Justice.

In a statement to announce the legislation, the senators cited reporting from The Washington Post published Sunday, which found that 2015 has seen at least 385 police killings nationwide so far.

"Too many members of the public and police officers are being killed, and we don't have reliable statistics to track these tragic incidents," Boxer said in a statement. "This bill will ensure that we know the full extent of the problem so we can save lives on all sides."

The Post notes that the new bill would differ from the Death in Custody Reporting Act, which Congress approved last year, because it would require reporting non-fatal shootings, in addition to fatal ones, to the DOJ. The new legislation would require reporting details about the shooting victims including age, gender, race, and whether or not the victims were armed. Meghan DeMaria

survey says
June 2, 2015
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A new poll from The New York Times and CBS News found that both Republicans and Democrats don't approve of the ways political campaigns are funded.

Forty-six percent of respondents said the U.S. should "completely rebuild" how campaigns are financed. Another 39 percent agreed that the campaign finance system needs "fundamental changes."

Among Republicans, 80 percent of the poll respondents said money has too much influence on U.S. politics, and 76 percent of Republicans supported requiring outside spending organizations to disclose their donors. Meanwhile, 90 percent of Democratic respondents believed money had too much influence, and 76 percent of Democrats supported more disclosure about political donors. Across the political spectrum, many respondents expressed support for new measures that would restrict the wealthy's influence, such as limiting spending by super PACs.

The 1,022 adults polled weren't optimistic that things would change anytime soon, though. Fifty-eight percent of respondents were "pessimistic" that the U.S. will change the way campaigns are financed. Meghan DeMaria

Discoveries!
June 2, 2015

It was under our very noses! Researchers at the University of Virginia School of Medicine have discovered what's being called the missing link between the brain and the immune system: vessels of the lymphatic system that escaped notice by "hiding" among major blood cells traveling through sinuses. The full study was published in this month's issue of Nature.

It's being called a "stunning discovery" because up until now, no one had completely understood how the brain connects to the immune system. The answer, Gizmag aptly says, is "just like every other tissue in the body."

For the layperson, its effect on our understanding of the human body is best summed up by this image:

Explains Neuroscience News:

That such vessels could have escaped detection when the lymphatic system has been so thoroughly mapped throughout the body is surprising on its own, but the true significance of the discovery lies in the effects it could have on the study and treatment of neurological diseases ranging from autism to Alzheimer's disease to multiple sclerosis. [Neuroscience News]

As the chairman of the UVA Department of Neuroscience told Neuroscience News, "They'll have to change the textbooks." Nico Lauricella

This just in
June 2, 2015
Mark Wilson/Getty Images

The Senate on Tuesday voted 83-14 to advance the USA Freedom Act, a bill that would revise the U.S. government's surveillance powers. The cloture vote came after key provisions of the USA Patriot Act temporarily expired at midnight on Sunday.

The USA Freedom Act has already passed in the House, and it would end the National Security Agency's bulk data collection from phone calls. Under the new bill, phone data would stay private, but the government could search records under court orders.

The Senate's final passage of the bill is expected later Tuesday, and it could be signed into law as early as Tuesday evening. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), however, wants to propose amendments to the House-passed bill, which would delay its passage. McConnell's proposed amendments would "give further assurances" that the government could still search private phone data when necessary. Meghan DeMaria

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