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On the horizon: News from the frontiers of science

Spud sabotage

Activists in the Netherlands have destroyed a field of genetically modified potato plants in an attempt to discourage farming of GM crops, a Dutch company said Tuesday.

Avebe LLC spokesman Gunther Abet said he couldn't estimate the cost of the damage to the plants, which were part of a government-licensed test.

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The plants were poisoned in a field near the city of Groningen, 180 kilometers (112 miles) northeast of Amsterdam.

An unknown group identifying itself as "Future World" claimed responsibility. "They're dead and no longer form a danger for humans and the environment," the group said in a message published by local media. "We hope that this makes clear Avebe's attempts to play God are pointless. Stop the gen-tech madness!"

Avebe said the plants were harmless. The potatoes were being developed for their starch, which is used in paper and textile products, Mr. Abet said.

No laughing matter

Psychologists at Bremen University in Germany found that blond jokes appeared to make blond people perform poorly in tests, reports ananova.com.

The researchers submitted 80 students, half of whom were blond, to a test of speed and accuracy. Before the test, half of the blond test-takers were confronted with a negative stereotype about blonds - and they were unable to answer as many questions as the non-blonds in the allotted amount of time.

The scientists got similar results when giving girls and boys a math test, first telling some of the female students that girls generally don't do well in math. Those girls promptly scored lower.

People confronted with a negative stereotype tend to be more careful about what answers they gave, the study also found, while the more confident ones were faster, but sloppier.

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The team now wants to examine how stereotypes affect school performance.

"Maybe we can develop entirely practical training strategies to help people fight against negative influences," says Jens Foerster, one of the test's psychologists.