Self-driving trucks

charting the route to an autonomous future.



Posted, but not written by, Louis Sheehan

Trucks will someday drive themselves out of warehouses and cruise down freeways without the aid of humans or even a driver’s cab — about that there seems little disagreement. The question is how soon that day gets here.

And while the answers vary — technologists, not surprisingly, are more bullish than truckers — billions of dollars and a growing parade of companies, from tiny start-ups to the country’s biggest trucking operations, are betting it will be here sooner than most people think.

This year, companies and investors are on pace to put just over $1 billion into self-driving and other trucking technologies, 10 times the level of three years ago, according to CB Insights, which tracks the venture capital industry.

Tesla is widely expected this week to showcase an electric truck that will have some self-driving capabilities. And Embark, a Silicon Valley start-up, is set to announce on Monday that it has been testing its self-driving technology as part of a three-way partnership with the truck-leasing company Ryder and the appliance giant Electrolux.

“We are trying to get self-driving technology out on the road as fast as possible,” said Alex Rodrigues, Embark’s chief executive. “Trucking needs self-driving and self-driving needs trucking.”


Unlike autonomous cars, which face questions about navigating chaotic urban streets, trucks spend a lot of time heading straight on desolate highways. And while the advent of the self-driving car will rest on the decisions of individual consumers, logistics companies are unemotional operators that will upgrade their fleets the moment it makes financial sense.

Trucking is a $700 billion industry that touches every corner of the economy. Trucks haul natural resources from mines and forests. They transport industrial building blocks from manufacturers and deliver goods to stores and homes. Virtually every physical product from food to paper towels and furniture has touched a truck several times by the time it gets to a consumer’s hands.

The industry’s size makes it a fat target for automation. Autonomous technology will help trucking companies reduce labor costs in the long run, first by extending the number of hours trucks are in operation, and later, by reducing the number of drivers. The industry spends billions of dollars a year on accidents that are largely caused by human error, and billions more on insurance premiums that should go down if and when self-driving technology is proven to be safer than human drivers.

The result is a furious race not just to develop self-driving trucks, but to get them on the road and making money. The chief executive of Waymo, the self-driving car unit owned by Google’s parent company, has said that self-driving trucks may emerge before self-driving taxis. Uber has a self-driving unit — which was founded by a former Google engineer who is now at the center of a patent-infringement suit between the companies.

Even companies not explicitly chasing the goal of self-driving trucks are moving steadily toward a more automated future. The 7,000-plus trucks owned by US Xpress, one of the nation’s largest trucking companies, have been updated with autonomous braking and collision-avoidance systems. Max Fuller, the company’s co-founder and executive chairman, plans to upgrade them to have automated lane steering in three years.

“I’m putting building blocks into my trucks that each year gets us closer and closer,” he said.

Companies have a lot to get through before they can start legally operating trucks without drivers. Beyond technical and regulatory hurdles, the industry is sure to be challenged by wild cards like how human drivers react to seeing a unmanned truck gliding down the highway and how regulators respond when the inevitable first deadly autonomous-trucking accident occurs. If such a backlash were to happen before the technology has been widely adopted, it could slow things for years.

But whenever self-driving trucks arrive, there will be economic ripples, affecting insurance premiums, truck stops, vocational schools and the roads themselves. “This is the most powerful thing to hit us since the building of the superhighways in the 1950s,” said Noël Perry, an economist at FTR Research, which tracks the logistics industry.

Jeff Runions, a career truck driver now working for Starsky Robotics, a San Francisco start-up, behind the wheel of a truck in Florida as Rebecca Feeney Barry monitored how the vehicle’s sensors interpreted the road.CreditAngel Valentin for The New York Times

Drivers Training Trucks

One afternoon in Florida, a 59-year-old career truck driver named Jeff Runions sat alertly in the cab of an 18-wheeler watching the road while his 11-ton cargo of stone tile made its way up the Ronald Reagan Turnpike. He was watching his steering wheel, too, but his hands were at his side: A computer was in control.

Mr. Runions works for Starsky Robotics, a San Francisco start-up that for the past two years has been testing its self-driving technology by running freight up and down Florida. The runs help collect data and hone the technology, in hopes of convincing regulators and the company itself that self-driving trucks are ready for business.

There are still plenty of kinks. Sitting next to Mr. Runions was an Irish engineer named Rebecca Feeney Barry. As the vehicle spent hours driving past swamps and billboards for accident lawyers, Ms. Feeney Barry balanced a laptop on her knees and watched how the truck’s sensors interpreted the road and nearby cars.

At one point the computer’s “vision” briefly lost sight of the freeway because an overpass shaded the road. Later, the truck didn’t take a turn hard enough, prompting Mr. Runions to grab the wheel. Ms. Feeney Barry logged all of it. Later, after some computer code had been altered to tell the truck to tug the wheel a bit harder, it made a similar turn more smoothly.

“Sometimes it kind of messes me up when I go back to driving because now I’m used to the truck driving,” Mr. Runions said.

Starsky’s ultimate plan, of course, is to eliminate Mr. Runions’s job. But they do not want him to be out of one. Stefan Seltz-Axmacher, Starsky’s 27-year-old chief executive, foresees using self-driving technology to replace long-haul drivers on freeways, but having people like Mr. Runions navigate at either end of the trip with remote control consoles that look like an arcade racing game.

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Drivers would go off to work in offices and might spend their day driving trucks through the last few miles of several different routes in several different cities before heading home for dinner.

“One driver can drive 10 to 30 trucks per day,” Mr. Seltz-Axmacher said.

The March of Automation

Starsky’s vision of a remote operation is unique. But the basic idea — having trucks drive themselves on highways and letting human drivers take over in complicated city environments — is something of an industry consensus.

“One of the big misconceptions about self-driving technology is that it is going to emerge and be able to drive all the time in all circumstances,” said Alden Woodrow, the product manager for Uber’s self-driving truck unit.

As part of their partnership, Embark, Ryder and Electrolux are conducting what amounts to elaborate dry runs to imagine what self-driving-truck routes will look like. The runs start with human drivers leaving an Electrolux warehouse in El Paso and driving to the edge of the city, where they hitch the trailer to one of Embark’s autonomous trucks.

From there the truck drives itself for 650 highway miles (with a safety driver in tow) to Ontario, Calif., where the Embark drivers transfer their trailer to another Ryder driver, who drives the final few miles to one of Electrolux’s California warehouses.

“It’s a mirror of what we would do if there weren’t a driver inside,” said Mr. Rodrigues, the Embark chief.

A few miles from Google’s headquarters in Mountain View, Calif., a company called Peloton Technology is betting that there is a business to be built in a less radical version of automation. Peloton is on the cusp of rolling out a system that will make it easier and safer for trucks to travel one after the other on the highway, in a formation called platooning, helping them save gas by reducing wind drag.

Trucks with drivers already do this. But Peloton’s technology aims to make platooning safer with a mix of cameras, sensors and networking equipment, allowing the trucks to talk to each other and helping to prevent the second driver from ramming into the first truck after a sudden stop.

Josh Switkes, the company’s chief executive, said that because Peloton’s technology helps drivers get better at doing something they are familiar with, he thinks it can be quickly commercialized.

“Our basic approach is let’s bring real value to the fleet and society now,” Mr. Switkes said.

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“I’m putting building blocks into my trucks that each year gets us closer and closer” to autonomous driving, said Max Fuller, co-founder and chief executive of US Xpress. CreditKevin D. Liles for The New York Times

Pitch to Drivers

Given that trucks are likely to need drivers for some time, it’s no wonder that self-driving companies are almost universally pitching themselves as a friendly partner instead of a job killer. “You increase productivity, but also make the job more attractive,” Mr. Rodrigues said.

And it’s true: Trucking is a brutal job. Drivers endure long, tedious stretches where they are inactive but have to stay focused, and they spend weeks at a time away from home. For those and other reasons, the industry’s biggest problem has been the scarcity and turnover of drivers, making it hard to keep up with shipping demand.

“We see this as a solution to the driver shortage and being able to redeploy them to the jobs they actually want,” said Chris Nordh, senior director of advanced vehicle technologies at Ryder.

Goldman Sachs economists estimate that trucking will shed about 300,000 jobs per year — starting in 25 years. Clearly, that estimate is based on so many ifs that the precise number is not worth fretting over. The bigger point is that as technology gets better, it will start replacing jobs.

When Amazon went public in 1997, there wasn’t much worry about huge job losses. Today, online retail companies require about one employee per $1 million of annual sales, versus 3.5 employees per $1 million at physical stores — a big reason that retail employment is falling by about 100,000 jobs per year, according to the Goldman report.

As the saying goes, predictions are hard — especially about the future. But you can learn a lot by looking at today’s bets. Mr. Fuller, from US Xpress, has a 38-year-old son named Craig.


Craig Fuller, founder of TransRisk, has placed a bet that artificial-intelligence systems will be increasingly vital as trucking becomes more automated. His company compiles data to help predict prices and demand.CreditKevin D. Liles for The New York Times

Last year Craig Fuller founded a company called TransRisk, which recently announced a $3.4 million venture capital investment. TransRisk logs millions of transactions and other market data to help trucking companies predict prices along with future supply and demand. Craig Fuller’s bet is that as trucking becomes more automated, trucks will be in motion longer and routed by artificial-intelligence systems.

As that happens, he said, the business will be reshuffled. Companies like his father’s — which exist, more or less, to manage armies of drivers — will compete with data companies that specialize in managing computers.

“When you take away the driver and have a business that is completely based on analytics, very few fleets will be able to survive that,” he said. “I’m betting on data and information services. He’s betting on owning equipment.”

A version of this article appears in print on November 13, 2017, on Page B1 of the New York edition with the headline: When the CB Radios All Go Quiet.

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Why does bright light cause some people to sneeze?


Why does bright light cause some people to sneeze?

Roberta A. Pagon, a professor of pediatrics at the University of Washington, explains.Reflexive sneezing induced by light, and sunlight in particular, is estimated to occur in 18 to 35 percent of the population and is known as the photic sneeze reflex (PSR) or the ACHOO (autosomal dominant compulsive helio-ophthalmic outbursts of sneezing) syndrome. Its genetic nature has been known for at least the last 25 years; it is periodically discussed in the medical literature and lay press. Observations that emerging from dim light into sunlight or turning to face directly into the sun commonly triggers the reflex prompted early inquiries into the trait. The number of induced sneezes–which seems to be genetically mediated and can be predicted within a family–is constant from episode to episode and typically numbers two or three.

Some consequences of the PSR include danger to automobile drivers when emerging from dim light, such as a tunnel, into full sunlight, and disruption of outdoor group photos. More recently, reports in publications oriented to military medicine have noted the potential danger to pilots experiencing the PSR. In fact, studies conducted by the military revealed that the PSR is not mediated by specific wavelengths of light and thus cannot be mitigated by the use of filtering lenses; rather the investigators concluded that the PSR is induced by changes in light intensity. Others have not found flickering light to precipitate the PSR. Exactly how sunlight causes some people to sneeze remains unknown.



Posted, but not written by, Louis Sheehan

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Fossil of ‘our earliest ancestors’ found in Dorset

posted but not written by louis sheehan

Fossil of ‘our earliest ancestors’ found in Dorset

MammalImage copyrightMARK WITTON
Image captionThe mammals ventured out at night to hunt insects

Fossils of the oldest-known ancestors of most living mammals, including human beings, have been unearthed in southern England.

Teeth belonging to the extinct shrew-like creatures, which scampered at the feet of dinosaurs, were discovered in cliffs on the Dorset coast.

Scientists who identified the specimens say they are the earliest undisputed fossils of mammals belonging to the line that led to humans.

They date back 145 million years.

”Here we have discovered from the Jurassic coast a couple of shrew-like things that are to date unequivocally our earliest ancestors,” said Dr Steve Sweetman of Portsmouth University, who examined the ancient teeth.

The mammals were tiny, furry creatures that probably emerged under the cover of night.

One, a possible burrower, dined on insects, while the larger may have eaten plants as well.

Their teeth were highly advanced, of a type that can pierce, cut and crush food.

”They are also very worn which suggests the animals to which they belonged lived to a good age for their species,” said Dr Sweetman.

”No mean feat when you’re sharing your habitat with predatory dinosaurs.”

The fossils were discovered by Grant Smith, then an undergraduate student. He was sifting through rock samples collected at Durlston Bay near Swanage for his dissertation when he found teeth of a type never before seen in rocks of this age.

ResearchersImage copyrightSTEVE SWEETMAN
Image captionResearchers from the University of Portsmouth made the discovery

”The Jurassic Coast is always unveiling fresh secrets and I’d like to think that similar discoveries will continue to be made right on our doorstep,” said Prof Dave Martill of Portsmouth University, who supervised the project.

One of the new species has been named Durlstotherium newmani after Charlie Newman, who is the landlord of a pub close to where the fossils were discovered, and is also a keen fossil collector.

The second has been named Dulstodon ensomi, after Paul Ensom, a local palaeontologist.

The findings, published in the Journal, Acta Palaeontologica Polonica, add new evidence to a hotly-debated field.

Recent fossil discoveries from China pushed back the date of the earliest mammals to 160 million years ago.

However, this has been disputed, based on data from molecular studies.

A separate study revealed this week suggests that the earliest mammals were night creatures that only switched to daytime living after the demise of the dinosaurs.

The research, published in the journal, Nature Ecology and Evolution, could explain why many mammals living today are nocturnal.

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posted, but not written by, Louis Sheehan

The Subatomic Discovery That Physicists Considered Keeping Secret

The Subatomic Discovery That Physicists Considered Keeping Secret

Credit: Shutterstock

A pair of physicists announced the discovery of a subatomic event so powerful that the researchers wondered if it was too dangerous to make public.

The explosive event? The duo showed that two tiny particles known as bottom quarks could theoretically fuse together in a powerful flash. The result: a larger subatomic particle, a second, spare particle known as a nucleon, and a whole mess of energy spilling out into the universe. This “quarksplosion” would be an even more powerful subatomic analog of the individual nuclear fusion reactions that take place in the cores of hydrogen bombs.

Quarks are tiny particles that are usually found clinging together to make up the neutrons and protons inside atoms. They come in six versions or “flavors”: up, down, top, bottom, strange and charm.

Live Science: The Strangest News This Week (Sept. 1, 2017)

Energetic events at the subatomic level are measured in megaelectronvolts (MeV), and when two bottom quarks fuse, the physicists found, they produce a whopping 138 MeV. That’s about eight times more powerful than one of the individual nuclear fusion events thattakes place in hydrogen bombs (a full-scale bomb blast consists of billions of these events). H-bombs fuse together tiny hydrogen nuclei known as deuterons and tritons to create helium nuclei, along with the most powerful explosions in the human arsenal. But each of those individual reactions inside the bombs releases only about 18 MeV, according to theNuclear Weapon Archive, a website devoted to collecting research and data about nuclear weapons. That’s far less than the fusing bottom quarks’ 138 MeV. [Beyond Higgs: 5 Elusive Particles That May Lurk in the Universe]

“I must admit that when I first realized that such a reaction was possible, I was scared,” co-researcher Marek Karliner of Tel Aviv University in Israel told Live Science. “But, luckily, it is a one-trick pony.”

As powerful as fusion reactions are, a single instance of fusion on its own isn’t at all dangerous. Hydrogen bombs derive their enormous power from chain reactions — the cascading fusion of lots and lots of nuclei all at once.

Karliner and Jonathan Rosner, of the University of Chicago, determined that such a chain reaction wouldn’t be possible with bottom quarks, and, before publishing, privately shared their insight with colleagues, who agreed.

“If I thought for a microsecond that this had any military applications, I would not have published it,” Karliner said.

To spark a chain reaction, nuclear bomb makers need large stockpiles of particles. And an important property of bottom quarks makes them impossible to stockpile: They wink out of existence just 1 picosecond after they’re created, or in about the time it takes light to travel half the length of a single grain of salt. After that time span, they decay into a far more common and less energetic kind of subatomic particle, known as the up quark.

It might be possible to generate single fusion reactions of bottom quarks inside miles-long particle accelerators, the scientists said. But even inside an accelerator, one couldn’t assemble a large enough mass of quarks to do any damage out in the world, the researchers said. So there’s no need to worry about bottom quark bombs. [7 Strange Facts About Quarks]

The discovery is exciting, though, because it’s the first theoretical proof that it’s possible to fuse subatomic particles together in ways that release energy, Karliner said. That’s brand-new territory in the physics of very tiny particles, made possible by an experiment in the Large Hadron Collider at CERN, the massive particle-physics laboratory near Geneva.

Here’s how the physicists made this discovery.

At CERN, particles zip around a 17-mile-long (27 kilometers) underground ring at near light speed before smashing into one another. The scientists then use powerful computers to sift through the data from those collisions, and strange particles sometimes emerge from that research. In June, something especially strange turned up in the data from one of those collisions: a “doubly charmed” baryon, or a bulky cousin of the neutron and proton, itself made up of two cousins of the “bottom” and “top” quarks known as “charm” quarks.

Now, charm quarks are very heavy compared to the more common top quarks that make up protons and neutrons. And when heavy particles bind together, they convert a large chunk of their mass into binding energy, and in some cases, produce a bunch of leftover energy that escapes into the universe. [Wacky Physics: The Coolest Little Particles in Nature]

When two charm quarks fuse, Karliner and Rosner found, the particles bind with an energy of about 130 MeV and spit out 12 MeV in leftover energy (about two-thirds of the energy of deuteron-triton fusion). That charmed fusion was the first reaction of particles on this scale ever found to emit energy in this way, and is the headline result of the new study, published yesterday (Nov. 1) in the journal Nature.

The even more energetic fusion of two bottom quarks, which bind with an energy of 280 MeV and spit out 138 MeV when they fuse, is the second, and more powerful of the two reactions discovered.

So far, these reactions are entirely theoretical and haven’t been demonstrated in a lab. That next step should come soon though. Karliner said he expects to see the first experiments showing this reaction at CERN within the next couple years.

Originally published on Live Science.

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How to Be a Smart Obamacare Shopper

The Trump administration’s actions to scale back Obamacarehave made it harder and more complicated to find the best health plan. But the pricing chaos has also created great deals for some consumers, who can sign up during open enrollment beginning today. Here’s our advice on how to shop — the best strategy depends on how much you earn.

If you qualify for big discounts on deductibles and co-payments, it’s probably best to stick to the cheapest silver plan.

If you earn below 200 percent of the federal poverty level, or about $24,000 for a single person, you can get lower out-of-pocket medical costs because the government pays insurers to give you discounts.

The Trump administration ended these subsidies, but the law requires that insurers still give the discounts to consumers. That means a silver plan is still going to be the best deal, since you will be able to get a rich set of benefits for a fraction of your income.

While premiums have risen over all, there are still many places where the cost of the least expensive silver plan will cost less for people like you, according to data from the Kaiser Family Foundation.

Change in price of lowest-cost silver plan after subsidies for a 40-year-old earning $20,000, 2017 to 2018

Less expensive

than 2017

More expensive









































Source: Kaiser Family Foundation | Note: Map looks at states that sell health plans through the federal website. Information about the remaining states will be made public in November.

It’s worth looking at the different silver options to see which ones cover the doctors and hospitals you care about.

If you get premium subsidies but not big discounts, you may be better off with a gold or bronze plan.

If you earn between 200 percent and 400 percent of the poverty level, about $24,000 to $48,000 for a single person, you qualify for help paying your premiums from the federal government.

Because most states are increasing prices on silver plans, which are used to calculate your subsidy, you are likely to have more buying power this year if you want to buy a gold plan, with a lower deductible. In the past, the cheapest gold plans have always cost more than the cheapest silvers.

Where gold is cheaper than silver for a 40-year-old earning $30,000, after premium subsidies










Source: Kaiser Family Foundation | Note: Map looks at states that sell health plans through the federal website. Information about the remaining states will be made public in November.

You may also be able to use your enhanced subsidy to buy a free high-deductible bronze plan. (If you do, you may want to sock away some of your savings, so you can pay that deductible if you have a big medical emergency.)

Where a bronze plan is free for a 40-year-old earning $30,000, after premium subsidies




















Source: Kaiser Family Foundation | Note: Map looks at states that sell health plans through the federal website. Information about the remaining states will be made public in November.

If you are older than 40 or earn less than $30,000, there may be even more places where you can find a free bronze plan.

Even if you are not in a place where you can benefit from a cheaper gold or free bronze plan, the law’s subsidy structure still protects you from price increases. Indeed, many people who buy the least expensive silver plans for 2018 will pay less out of pocket than they did this year.

If you don’t get any government subsidies, you are probably better off looking outside the Obamacare marketplace.

If you make over 400 percent of the federal poverty level, or about $48,000 for a single person, you can’t collect a subsidy, and you’re on the hook for the whole price of your coverage.

But in many states, though not all, there will be silver plans you can buy directly from an insurer that will cost less than the plans that are sold on the Obamacare marketplace. A human or online broker can help you explore all those options.

Look at the example below, to get a sense of the better deals you may be able to find outside the state exchange.

Average monthly premium for a 40-year-old in Scranton, Pa., without subsidies





On and off exchange


Off exchange only








Source: Pennsylvania Insurance Department

If you have Obamacare coverage this year, don’t just renew your coverage without exploring all your options.

This is such an odd year for price increases that switching may get you better coverage for less money. Even if you like your plan, you should make sure it remains the best choice for you.

The last day to enroll for coverage is Dec. 15 in most states.

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Ancient Fossil Offers a New European Ancestor to Giraffes

Scientists in Spain discovered fossils of a new species of giraffid, Decennatherium rex, that had two sets of bony bumps on its head. CreditRíos et al (2017)

A near-perfect fossil unearthed close to Madrid appears to be an ancient European ancestor of giraffes, representing a new species in the family and one that had two sets of bony bumps on its head rather than the single set of modern giraffes. .

Older fossils in the family known as giraffids have been found before, but none in such pristine condition, said Ari Grossman, an associate professor of anatomy at Midwestern University in Glendale, Ariz., who was not involved in the finding but said the whole field would benefit from it.

“It’s something most paleontologists dream of and very rarely find,” Dr. Grossman said. “The discovery in and of itself was breathtaking.”

Fossils of three other animals of the same species named Decennatherium rex by the researchers were also found, according to a new study in the journal PLOS One. They were not as complete, but all are about nine million years old and provide evidence that ancestors in the giraffe family lived deep inside Europe much earlier than had been suspected. The fossils also suggest that there were physical differences between males and females.

“It fills a lot of gaps in what we knew about giraffes,” said Dr. María Ríos, the study’s lead author and a researcher with the Museo Nacional de Ciencias Naturales-CSIC in Madrid.

Everyone thinks of a giraffe’s long neck as its distinguishing feature. But its biological family members are defined by two characteristics unrelated to necks: they all have double-lobed canine teeth, and ossicones, the bony outcroppings on the top of their heads. Modern giraffes have two small to medium ossicones. The new species had a double set, with the back pair larger than the front.

Decennatherium rex looked more like a giant moose than either of its living family members, said Nikos Solounias, a giraffe evolution expert and professor of anatomy at the New York Institute of Technology, College of Osteopathic Medicine.


The male Decennatherium rex stood about 9 feet tall and weighed about 2 tons. CreditRíos et al (2017)

The male animal stood about nine feet tall to the top of its head, 6.5 feet across and weighed about two tonnes – smaller than a modern giraffe, but much larger than an okapi, said Dr. Ríos, who received her Ph.D. based on her work with the fossils. In the female Decennatherium rex fossils, the ossicones measure only about two inches, but in the male the large set extends a full 16 inches. “The specimen we found is like a giant and bulky okapi with huge posterior horns,” she said.

Because both the male and female Decennatherium rex had ossicones, Dr. Grossman said that may push scientists to reconsider their assumption that ossicones evolved to help males compete with one other for female attention.

Today, there are only two living members of the giraffid family: the modern giraffe, familiar from zoos and African safaris, and the okapi, which has zebra-striped back legs and lives in the rain forests of central Africa. Some scientists have recently argued that modern giraffes are in fact four distinct species. But there have been about 30 giraffid species over time, ranging from the Indian subcontinent and China to the Mediterranean coast, said Dr. Solounias, who is also a research associate of the American Museum of Natural History in New York.

Giraffids began appearing around the beginning of the Miocene, 23 million years ago, he said, probably in what is now Pakistan and India.

The greatest diversity was found on the Greek Island of Samos, near Turkey, he said, where there were probably eight to nine different species at about the time Decennatherium rex was roaming Spain alongside one or two related species.

The site where the fossil was found, Cerro de los Batallones (Batallones butte), about an hour south of Madrid’s city center, was first discovered in 1991, Dr. Ríos said. The finds in the clay-like soil have included a rich collection of carnivores, including big cats and bears, as well as giant tortoises, rhinoceroses and a giant elephant-like creature, she said. “It’s really cool.” The giraffe fossils were found in an area that has been the site of digging since about 2007.

Dr. Ríos and her colleagues used information from the new fossil find to redraw the giraffid family tree. The new tree puts giraffes and okapis relatively far away from each other evolutionarily, Dr. Grossman said, adding to the understanding of these animals and their relationship. “We’re preserving relics of two very distinct groups of giraffes that were morphologically very different,” he said.

The new family tree, Dr. Ríos said, “is a first step to unravel where they really come from.”

The quality of the fossils and others at the site suggest that there will be many more research findings there, said Dr. Ríos, adding that this past summer she and the team found a complete fossilized rhinoceros

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What Experts Know About Men Who Rape

In 1976, a Ph.D. candidate at Claremont Graduate University placed a rather unusual personal ad in newspapers throughout Los Angeles:


CreditSamuel D. Smithyman

He sat by his phone, skeptical that it would ring. “I didn’t think that anyone would want to respond,” said Samuel D. Smithyman, now 72 and a clinical psychologist in South Carolina.

But the phone did ring. Nearly 200 times.

At the other end of the line were a computer programmer who had raped his “sort of girlfriend,” a painter who had raped his acquaintance’s wife, and a school custodian who described 10 to 15 rapes as a means of getting even with “rich bastards” in Beverly Hills.

By the end of the summer, Dr. Smithyman had completed 50 interviews, which became the foundation for his dissertation: “The Undetected Rapist.” What was particularly surprising to him was how normal these men sounded and how diverse their backgrounds were. He concluded that few generalizations could be made.

Over the past few weeks, women across the world have recounted tales of harassment and sexual assault by posting anecdotes to social media with the hashtag #MeToo. Even just focusing on the second category, the biographies of the accused are so varied that they seem to support Dr. Smithyman’s observation.

But more recent research suggests that there are some commonalities. In the decades since his paper, scientists have been gradually filling out a picture of men who commit sexual assaults.

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The most pronounced similarities have little to do with the traditional demographic categories, like race, class and marital status. Rather, other kinds of patterns have emerged: these men begin early, studies find. They may associate with others who also commit sexual violence. They usually deny that they have raped women even as they admit to non-consensual sex.

Clarifying these and other patterns, many researchers say, is the most realistic path toward curtailing behaviors that cause so much pain.

“If you don’t really understand perpetrators, you’re never going to understand sexual violence,” said Sherry Hamby, editor of the journal Psychology of Violence. That may seem obvious, but she said she receives “10 papers on victims” for every one on perpetrators.

This may be partly connected to a tendency to consider sexual assault a women’s issue even though men usually commit the crime. But finding the right subjects also has complicated the research.

Early studies relied heavily on convicted rapists. This skewed the data, saidNeil Malamuth, a psychologist at the University of California, Los Angeles, who has been studying sexual aggression for decades.

Men in prison are often “generalists,” he said: “They would steal your television, your watch, your car. And sometimes they steal sex.”

But men who commit sexual assault, and are not imprisoned because they got away with it, are often “specialists.” There is a strong chance that this is their primary criminal transgression.

More recent studies tend to rely on anonymous surveys of college students and other communities, which come with legal language assuring subjects their answers cannot be used against them. The studies avoid using terms such as “rape” and “sexual assault.”

Instead, they ask subjects highly specific questions about their actions and tactics. The focus of most sexual aggression research is acknowledged non-consensual sexual behavior. In questionnaires and in follow-up interviews, subjects are surprisingly open about ignoring consent.

Men who rape tend to start young, in high school or the first couple years of college, likely crossing a line with someone they know, the research suggests.

Some of these men commit one or two sexual assaults and then stop. Others — no one can yet say what portion — maintain this behavior or even pick up the pace.

Antonia Abbey, a social psychologist at Wayne State University, has found that young men who expressed remorse were less likely to offend the following year, while those who blamed their victim were more likely to do it again.

One repeat offender put it this way: “I felt I was repaying her for sexually arousing me.”

There is a heated debate among experts about whether there is a point at which sexual assault becomes an entrenched behavior and what percentage of assaults are committed by serial predators.

Most researchers agree that the line between the occasional and frequent offender is not so clear. The recent work of Kevin Swartout, a professor of psychology and public health at Georgia State University, suggests that low-frequency offenders are more common on college campuses than previously thought.

“It’s a matter of degree, more like dosage,” said Mary P. Koss, a professor of public health at the University of Arizona, who is credited with coining the term “date rape.”

Dosage of what? Certain factors — researchers call them “risk factors” while acknowledging that these men are nonetheless responsible for their actions — have an outsize presence among those who commit sexual assaults.

Heavy drinking, perceived pressure to have sex, a belief in “rape myths” — such as the idea that no means yes — are all risk factors among men who have committed sexual assault. A peer group that uses hostile language to describe women is another one.

Yet there also seem to be personal attributes that have mediating effect on these factors. Men who are highly aroused by rape porn — another risk factor — are less likely to attempt sexual assault if they score highly on measures of empathy, Dr. Malamuth has found.

Narcissism seems to work in the other direction, magnifying odds that men will commit sexual assault and rape.

What about the idea that rape is about power over women? Some experts feel that research into hostile attitudes toward women supports this idea.

In general, however, researchers say motives are varied and difficult to quantify.

Dr. Malamuth has noticed that repeat offenders often tell similar stories of rejection in high school and of looking on as “jocks and the football players got all the attractive women.”

As these once-unpopular, often narcissistic men become more successful, he suspects that “getting back at these women, having power over them, seems to have become a source of arousal.”

Most subjects in these studies freely acknowledge non-consensual sex — but that does not mean they consider it real rape. Researchers encounter this contradiction again and again.

Asked “if they had penetrated against their consent,” said Dr. Koss, the subject will say yes. Asked if he did “something like rape,” the answer is almost always no.

Studies of incarcerated rapists — even men who admit to keeping sex slaves in conflict zones — find a similar disconnect. It’s not that they deny sexual assault happens; it’s just that the crime is committed by the monster over there.

And this is not a sign that the respondents are psychopaths, said Dr. Hamby, the journal editor. It’s a sign that they are human. “No one thinks they are a bad guy,” she said.

Indeed, experts note one last trait shared by men who have raped: they do not believe they are the problem.

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