That Infamous Dress: It’s Definitely Gold and White

https___www_scimex_org_newsfeed_explaining-the-colour-of-the-dress_Perspectives-on-The-Dress_Current-Biology_correspondence-3_pdfWith thanks to Michael Webster and Bevil Conway at the University of Nevada, we now have a solid explanation on why some people saw the dress as white and gold and others perceived it as black and blue:

Three Perspectives on “The Dress”

When you look at this photograph, what colors are the dress? Some see blue and black stripes, others see white and gold stripes. This striking variation took the internet by storm in February; now Current Biology on May 14 is publishing three short papers on why the image is seen differently by different observers, and what this tells us about the complicated workings of color perception.

Individual differences in color perception uncovered by “The Dress”

For neuroscientists like Bevil Conway, “The Dress” phenomenon marked the greatest extent of individual differences in color perception ever documented. It’s long been known that certain optical illusions can cause us to see two different shapes in the same image (e.g., a face or a vase), but what makes “The Dress” photograph so mind-blowing is that it’s the first time a single image could be seen by different people as wholly different colors.

“It caught fire because it was a case in which color wasn’t doing what we expect,” says Conway, who teaches at Wellesley College and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. However, the #whiteandgold versus #blackandblue debate on social media wasn’t scientific proof as to how different we each perceived “The Dress.” To find out, Conway and his team designed an experiment in which they asked people to identify the colors they saw on “The Dress” from a full palette.

In a survey of 1,400 individuals, with over 300 who had never seen “The Dress” before, Conway and his team found impressive individual differences in color perception; they also found, surprisingly, that people fall into one of three camps corresponding to the main groups identified by social media: a blue/black camp, a white/gold camp, and a smaller blue/brown contingent.

“It could have been the case that you had a continuum of perceived colors, but if you plot the colors people picked, you see two main clumps falling into the two categories for what words people used to describe the colors of ‘The Dress,'” says Conway. “This shows that the perception of the dress is variously stable. By studying the pair of colors in ‘The Dress,’ we can answer the age-old question: do you see colors the way that I see them? And the answer is sometimes ‘no.'”

Another finding from the survey was that perception differed by age and sex. Older people and women were more likely to report seeing “The Dress” as white and gold, while younger people were more likely to say that it was black and blue.

Conway believes that these differences in perception may correspond to the type of light that individuals’ brains expect to be in their environment. For example, people who perceive “The Dress” as white and gold may have just been exposed to natural daylight, while those who saw a black and blue garment may spend most of their time surrounded by artificial light sources. The brains of those who saw a brown and blue dress are likely used to something in between.

“The big open question is what causes these differences in the population,” Conway says. “One framework for understanding why you get these variations is to consider how light is contaminated by outside illumination, such as a blue sky or incandescent light. Your visual system has to decide whether it gets rid of shorter, bluer wavelengths of light or the longer, redder wavelengths, and that decision may change how you see ‘The Dress.'”

The many colors of “The Dress”

In the days after “The Dress” was posted online, a group led by psychologist Karl Gegenfurtner at Giessen University in Germany asked 15 people to view the photograph on a well-calibrated color screen under controlled lighting. The participants then had to adjust the color of a disc to correspond to the colors they saw in the photograph. For the lighter stripe, participants reported seeing a continuous range of shades from light blue to dark blue, rather than white and blue, the two dominant colors reported so far.

“The question should thus not be whether the dress is blue or white, but whether it is light blue or dark blue,” write Gegenfurtner and his co-authors. “Despite the continuous choice of matching colors, observers are consistent in calling the dress ‘white’ when their match lies above a certain brightness and ‘blue’ when it lies below.”

Gegenfurtner’s team also found that all of the colors observed in “The Dress” correspond very closely to those found in daylight, adding support to the theory that how the eye interprets natural sunlight is what triggered #Dressgate 2015.

The special ambiguity of blue

Would “The Dress” have gone viral had it been #greenandblack or #orangeandblack? Not likely, argues cognitive scientist Michael Webster at the University of Nevada, Reno. He believes that the photograph is part of a growing body of evidence showing that the human eye is more likely to confuse blue objects with blue lighting.

For example, if you stare at a gray object and make the gray increasingly yellow or blue, then you’re more likely to see the object as yellow than as blue. This difference likely comes from how the eye evolved in the presence of natural lighting from the sun and the sky.

To test this, Webster and his research team surveyed 87 college students on what color they found the light-blue stripes of “The Dress” to be. The participants were split about fifty-fifty between white and blue. The researchers then inverted the image of the dress so that the black stripes appeared blue and the blue stripes appeared gold. Of those surveyed, nearly 95% said that the stripes were yellow or gold.

“We discovered a novel property of color perception and constancy, involving how we experience shades of blue versus yellow,” write the authors. “We found that surfaces are much more likely to be perceived as white or gray when their color is varied along bluish directions, compared to equivalent variations along yellowish (or reddish or greenish) directions.”

So how we perceive colour can vary due to a range of factors. Not exactly news but there it is.

Australia: You Can Patent Breast Cancer Genes

Isn't this the sort of stuff patents should apply to?

Isn’t this the sort of stuff patents should apply to?

A fascinating decision by the Federal Court of Australia this week, that will have some significant implications for research in coming years.

The full bench of the Federal Court of Australia has ruled that private companies do have the right to control human genes. The court upheld a decision from February 2013 that ruled patents on breast cancer genes were valid, because the method of isolating the gene created something new and could therefore be patented.

The reaction has been fairly swift from both the legal and scientific sectors.

Dr Luigi Palombia patent lawyer and Adjunct Professor in the School of Law at Murdoch University: “The decision ignores the bedrock principle of 400 years of patent law. Only an invention can be the subject of a patent. The decision ignores the scientific facts. It ignores good policy. And it ignores common sense. Australian ingenuity in the biological sciences is now handcuffed by this decision.”

Dr Palombi also questioned the inconsistencies at an international level:

“How is it possible that the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously came to the exact opposite result in only three months? Despite the attempt by the Full Federal Court to try and differentiate the precise claims between the Australian and U.S. patents that Myriad has over the BRCA 1 genetic mutations, the so-called invention is the same.”

This inconsistency has ramifications for local researchers as well :

“At the end of the day, the Australian patent claims pieces of genetic material (BRCA 1 gene mutations) extracted from the human body are an ‘invention’. How is that something anyone invented? American scientists, universities and companies now have the freedom to ignore patents over isolated biological materials that are not ‘markedly different to any found in nature’, but Australian scientists, universities and companies cannot. This decision reinforces the need for the Australian parliament to change patent law in Australia.”

Paul GroganDirector of Advocacy at Cancer Council Australia, sees legislative change as being required:

“Given the unanimous Federal Court ruling is an interpretation of Australian law, the law itself needs to change to protect healthcare consumers from gene monopolies … The patents system should reward innovation and help deliver affordable healthcare, not stymie research and increase costs by allowing commercial entities to control the use of human genetic materials.”

I find it hard to disagree with either men – what’s your take?

[Release originally via Australian Science Media Centre]

Controlled Quantum Levitation: with some fun added

Cutting edge science plus some fun, equals this:

I give it ten years before we’re all riding around in nitrogen fuelled land-speeders. You heard it here first.

Throwable camera ball

As the months go on I get more and more excited by the whole 3D printer thing. If you’re not aware of them, 3D printers actually allow you to create objects directly. Once they hit consumer affordability levels, watch for some of the super cool things that emerge alongside the endless pile of crap most of us will create.

One such example on the cool side of the equation is this ball that contains 36 cameras. Have a look for yourself:

So imagine: in five years time, most of us will be ‘printing’ out products, possibly as advanced as these (though that may take a little longer). Do you believe it or not?

[via Extreme Tech]

Radiation dose: sanity checking matrix

The folks over at XKCD have created a brilliant comparative chart showing examples of key activities generating radiation and the levels to which humans can cope with them. The format provides an excellent sanity check for a lot of the hysteria around at the moment, whilst also showing some casuses of radiation that you’ll be less aware off.

Have a more detailed look for yourself.

Cocaine: coming to a bank note near you

For those you thought the portrayal of the cocaine user snorting their stash through bank-notes was a stereotype, then think again. A paper published in the British Royal Society of Chemistry’s journal has revealed every single one of 45 bank notes randomly tested for cocaine came back with a positive result. That compares to a US study previously showing a 65 percent hit rate.

Where’s Miami Vice when you need them?

via [Cosmos]

eLegs: the future of supported walking

As a nurse, I’m an absolute sucker for devices that help people. The loss of the ability to walk is obviously one of the bigger life changes someone can experience, and it has huge impacts on both the person and the extended family and friends.

Entities like Berkeley Bionics are working flat out to develop options that assist walking, and currently it doesn’t get much better than their eLegs, which allow, with practice, the ability to walk without being reliant on a wheelchair or someone else.

Have a look:

Like any new tech, it’s cost is likely to be out of the reach of most people who need it. Here’s hoping it’s not too long before it’s a common option for everyone who wants it.

via [Dave Everhart]

Launch your own craft into space

There’s nothing like home-made science, and the video below shows just that taken to an incredibly impressive degree. Luke Geissbuhler and his family and friends spent eight months testing a ‘space capsule’ made up of a foam container, video camera and an iPhone.

The results are amazing – and it was educational to boot for all involved. It’s obviously not a low-budget home project but it’s certainly one that delivered some great results. It sort of beats playing Wii Sports as a family!

Have a look:

Homemade Spacecraft from Luke Geissbuhler on Vimeo.

via [Dave Everhart]

Texting while driving: now a proven deadly habit

Photo courtesy

A study by the University of North Texas Health Center has shown what may be unsurprising to a lot of people: texting while driving has killed a lot of people.

The study looked at United States drivers between 1999 and 2008, and amongst other things found:

  • After declining from 1999 to 2005, fatalities from distracted driving increased 28% after 2005, rising from 4572 fatalities to 5870 in 2008
  • Crashes increasingly involved male drivers driving alone in collisions with roadside obstructions in urban areas.
  • Increasing texting volumes resulted in more than 16000 additional road fatalities from 2001 to 2007.

Of course, the challenge will be somehow convincing the huge number of driving texters out there that they in fact aren’t better drivers than the sixteen thousand people who have died already. There are already sites devoted to the issue, such as this one.

It’d be interesting to know what the gender breakdown of the fatalities were i.e. are males the primary offenders like they are with accidents more widely? Or is it something that females dominate?

Would love to get your thoughts / close call stories.

via [LA Times]

Run! Robot learns to use bow and arrow

Like monkeys, everyone loves a robot, and they continue to evolve in complexity at an impressive rate. The ramifications for society more broadly are obviously huge and although I doubt we’ll be facing a Dalek / Terminator scenario in the near-future, there’s still plenty to ponder. Take the iCub for example: it’s the result of a five-year project funded by the European Commission through Unit E5 “Cognitive Systems, Interaction & Robotics”.

The purpose of the iCub project is:

to study cognition through the implementation of a humanoid robot the size of a 3.5 year old child: the iCub. This is an open project in many different ways: we distribute the platform openly, we develop software open-source, and we are open to including new partners and form collaboration worldwide.

Said iCub nailed a bulls-eye on its eighth attempt at Archery. How long can it be before it has a death ray and an attitude to match?

via [Technabob]

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