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Environmentally-sound agriculture can support farmers and consumers, by Andrea Basche and Marcia DeLonge
Agroecology can help fix the food, water and energy challenges that conventional agriculture has created.
Is Your T-Shirt Clean of Slavery? Science Will Tell, by Liz Mermin
Shoppers lured by a bargain-priced T-shirt but concerned about whether the item is free of slave labour could soon have the answer – from DNA forensic technology.
Toxic Indian lake is cost of cheap drugs, by Zeba Siddiqui
Centuries ago, Indian princes would bathe in the cool Kazhipally lake in Medak. Now, critics say, hundreds of drug firms, lax oversight and inadequate water treatment has created a giant Petri dish for anti-microbial resistance in the storied waterway.
Rosetta completes space mission with a bang, by Victoria Bryan
The Rosetta spacecraft ended its historic mission, crashing on the surface of the dusty, icy comet it has spent 12 years chasing in a hunt that has provided insight into the early days of the solar system and captured the public’s imagination.
Rio Olympics should be delayed or moved — health experts, by Toni Clarke and William Schomberg
More than 100 medical experts, academia and scientists called for the Rio Olympic Games to be postponed or moved because of fears that the event could speed up the spread of the Zika virus around the world.
Pharmaceuticals in pregnancy are untested. How safe are they? by Nina Martin Report
A healthy baby is the universal goal of pregnancy, shared by women and doctors, researchers and regulators alike. But the same desire to protect each fetus deters scientists and drug makers from studying expectant mothers. When it comes to drug safety, pregnancy is a largely research-free zone, women’s health experts say. The consequence? Treatment that often is based on informed guesswork rather than solid evidence, in which medications that have never been approved for use during pregnancy, and whose long-term dangers may not be known, become the standard of care.
Dead man’s sperm, by Jenny Morber
When the partners of men who have died to try and have their babies, they enter the legally and ethically fraught world of post-mortem sperm donation. Some countries have laws in place. Some don’t. Some are permissive. Some aren’t. It’s a global mess.
Focus on Artificial Intelligence:
AI: The chilling significance of AlphaGo. By Sheldon Fernandez
In March, a computer named AlphaGo played the human world champion in a five-game match of Go, the ancient board game often described as the ‘Far East cousin’ of chess. That AlphaGo triumphed provoked curiosity and bemusement in the public — but is seen as hugely significant in the artificial intelligence and computer science communities. Computer engineer Sheldon Fernandez explains why.
AI: A one-armed robot will look after me until I die. By Geoff Watts
I am persuaded by the rational argument for why machine care in my old age should be acceptable, but find the prospect distasteful – for reasons I cannot, rationally, account for. But that’s humanity in a nutshell: irrational. And who will care for the irrational human when they’re old? Care-O-bot, for one; it probably doesn’t discriminate.
Building a humanoid Hollywood Star. By Bobby Yip
The rise of robots and artificial intelligence are among disruptive labor market changes that the World Economic Forum projects will lead to a net loss of 5.1 million jobs over the next five years. Where will they come from? Like innumerable children with imaginations fired by animated films, Hong Kong product and graphic designer Ricky Ma grew up watching cartoons featuring the adventures of robots, and dreamt of building his own one day. Unlike most, Ma realized his childhood dream, by successfully constructing a life-sized robot from scratch on the balcony of his home.
How aspirin does more than kill pain. By Emma Young
Inflammation in our bodies is being linked with more diseases. Can a simple anti-inflammatory drug like aspirin really help keep us healthier?
Undersea Mining: scientists race to the bottom first, by Brooke Jarvis, OnEarth
Ask oceanographer Craig Smith what the Clarion-Clipperton Zone of the Pacific is like beneath all that water, and he’ll describe a strange undulating world far beyond the reach of sunlight, populated by an enormous array of bizarre-looking creatures, both huge and tiny, known and unknown. And he’ trying to get to them before the underwater miners.
Beyond silicon: the search for new semiconductors, by Thomas Vandervelde
Our modern world is based on semiconductors. But silicon – used in all manner of computers and electronic gadgets – has its technical limits, particularly as engineers look to use electronic devices for producing or processing light. The search for new semiconductors is on.
CRAIG VENTER: Biotech’s biggest entrepreneur on a quest to delay ageing. By Roger Highfield
Craig Venter wants HLI to create the world’s most important database for interpreting the genetic code, so he can make healthcare more proactive, preventative and predictive. Such data marks the start of a decisive shift in medicine, from treatment to prevention. Venter believes we have entered the digital age of biology. And he is the first to embark on this ultimate journey of self-discovery.
The animals that sniff out TB, cancer and landmines. By Emma Young
Rats can smell tuberculosis. Dogs can smell cancer. Now they’re being trained to save your life.
Einstein’s gravitational waves detected in landmark discovery. By Will Dunham and Scott Malone
Scientists for the first time have detected gravitational waves, ripples in space and time hypothesised by Albert Einstein a century ago, in a landmark discovery announced Feb. 11 that opens a new window for studying the cosmos.
Why the gravitational wave discovery matters. By Gren Ireson
The theory of general relativity tied together that what we commonly consider to be separate entities – space and time – into what is now called “space-time”. Space-time can be considered to be the fabric of the universe.
Honeybees being killed by a manmade pandemic. By Stephen John Martin
A lethal combination of the Varroa mite and the deformed wing virus has resulted in the death of billions of bees over the past half century. In a study published in the journal Science, colleagues from the Universities of Exeter, Sheffield and I report how the virus has spread across the globe.
Why don’t we wipe mosquitoes off the face of the Earth? By Mike Jeffries
Mosquitoes are credited with causing more misery and loss to humanity than any other organism (with the obvious exception of ourselves). Mosquitoes are unlovely creatures, all twitchy legged and whining, their larvae infesting miasmas and dismal swamps. And under the right conditions they are mobile and expansionist pioneers, perfectly at home in the disrupted habitats we create. Which begs the question: what good do they do – and if we could wipe them from the face of the Earth should we?
Did health agencies fumble Zika response? By Paulo Prada
It took months for Brazil’s health ministry to recognize the Zika virus had arrived. And so far, the World Health Organization’s hesitant response to the outbreak –which has created the worst global health scare since Ebola –says much about the difficulties that the WHO and other health authorities face in combating unexpected public health threats.
Where did Zika virus come from, and why is it in Brazil? Bt Amy Y Vittor
Urbanization, changing climate, air travel and transportation, and waxing and waning control efforts that are at the mercy of economic and political factors have led to these mosquitoes spreading to new areas and coming back in areas where they had previously been eradicated.
Love in the time of Zika. By Beverley Paterson
Love, sex and babies are the foundation of human existence. Without them the human race ceases to exist. Zika, a virus that few people had heard of a month ago, has suddenly disrupted this normal course of events.
Six science mysteries to be solved in 2016. By Gavin Hesketh, Louise Gentle, and Simon Cotton
From the origin of life to the fate of the universe, scientists simply don’t know everything — but we are making progress.
To Protect Monarch Butterfly, A Plan to Save the Sacred Firs. By By Janet Marinelli
Mexican scientists are striving to plant oyamel fir trees at higher altitudes in an effort to save the species, as well as its fluttering iconic winter visitor — the migrating monarch butterfly — from the devastating effects of climate change
Denmark dumped malpractice, and improved patient safety. By Olga Pierce and Marshall Allen
Medical malpractice lawsuits effectively shuts out patients when the potential damages are small. Proving negligence, the usual standard for winning compensation, is difficult. There are scant incentives for doctors and hospitals to apologize, reveal details about what happened, or report errors that might unveil a pattern. Denmark offers a radically different alternative.
Fireworks: our prettiest pollutant. By Gary Fuller
Fireworks are great fun. We all enjoy guessing the colours of the rockets before they ignite in the sky, hearing the explosions echo off nearby buildings, or writing our names in light with hand sparklers. But there is an environmental price to pay.
Why cats are fussy, and dogs will eat most anything. By Hannah Rowland
New research suggests that cats possess the genes that protect vegetarian animals from ingesting poisonous plants by giving them the ability to taste bitter.
Daylight savings linked to injuries, heart attacks. By David A. Ellis
More than 1.5 billion people worldwide are exposed to risks linked to Daylight Savings Time. New research shows a link with risks, from a spike in heart attacks and road traffic and workplace injuries and negative changes in mood and productivity.
Fishing subsidies are emptying oceans. By Rashid Sumaila
Fish numbers are rapidly dwindling globally, and fishery subsidies are one of the key drivers behind this decline. In 2009, these subsidies totalled about US$35 billion, creating incentives for fishers around the world to increase their catch. But this short-term “race to fish” is jeopardising the long-term environmental, social, and economic security that fisheries offer us all.
Can orange peel could replace crude oil in plastics? By Marc Hutchby
New research indicates orange juice could have potential far beyond the breakfast table. The chemicals in orange peel could be used as new building blocks in products ranging from plastics to paracetamol – helping to break our reliance on crude oil.
Can we use genetic engineering to save species? Should we? By Greg Breining
To some, GMOs are the antithesis of green. Greenpeace calls them “genetic pollution,” warning on its website that “GMOs should not be released into the environment since there is not an adequate scientific understanding of their impact on the environment and human health.” But scientists — still a minority — are beginning to wonder if genetic engineering can be used to help organisms adapt to change and actually increase the biodiversity of the planet.
Science seeks solutions for drug-tainted waterways. By Elizabeth Grossman
The reports are disturbing: of fish and birds responding with altered behavior and reproductive systems to antidepressants, diabetes medication, and other psychoactive or hormonally active drugs at concentrations found in the environment. Of on opiods, amphetamines and other pharmaceuticals found in treated drinking water; antibiotics in groundwater capable of altering naturally occurring bacterial communities; and over-the-counter and prescription drugs found in water leaching from municipal landfills. Countless pharmaceuticals are now found just about everywhere.
Ebola vaccine holds hope for end of scourge. By Reuters
The world is on the verge of being able to protect humans against Ebola, the World Health Organization said, as a trial in Guinea found a vaccine to have been 100 percent effective. Initial results from the trial, which tested Merck and NewLink Genetics’ VSV-ZEBOV vaccine on some 4,000 people who had been in close contact with a confirmed Ebola case, showed complete protection after 10 days.
The search for sustainable plastics. By Phil McKenna
The fate of the world’s oceans may rest inside a stainless steel tank not quite the size of a small beer keg. Inside, genetically modified bacteria turn corn syrup into a churning mass of polymers that can be used to produce a wide variety of common plastics.
The march of the king crabs: a warning from Antarctica. By Kathryn Smith
- Hundreds of metres below the surface of the freezing ocean surrounding Antarctica, the seafloor is teeming with life. The animals living there have no idea that an army is on the brink of invading their tranquil environment. The army is composed of king crabs. Until 2003, there were no crabs in this fragile Antarctic ecosystem. Now, driven by warming waters, their arrival heralds a major upset.
Up close with Pluto. By Monica Grady
NASA’s New Horizon spacecraft, launched in January 2006, travelled for nine and a half years for a flyby lasting only about 15 minutes. It doesn’t sound much of a reward for all the effort of designing and building the spacecraft – but for planetary scientists, the data coming back from the mission is pure gold.
Early humans had to feminize to dominate the planet. By Mark Maslin
Two recent papers throw some light on how the revolutionary development of smaller and more fine-boned humans influenced the growth of cooperative culture, the birth of agriculture and human dominance of the planet.
What is needed to create a real Jurassic World? By Anthony J. Martin
Like many moviegoers this summer, I plan to watch Jurassic World. And because I’m a paleontologist, I’ll cheer for the movie’s protagonists (the dinosaurs) and jeer at the villains (the humans). But no matter how thrilling this movie may be, one question will plague me throughout: where are the dung beetles?
Left in the Brain: Potentially Toxic Residue from MRI Drugs. By Jeff Gerth
Patients and radiology experts are calling for more research into the possible health risks of gadolinium, a potentially toxic metal, that has been found in the brain tissue of MRI patients given different contrast agents.
Drunken monkeys? Only humans go overboard. By Robert John Young
Some chimpanzees are teetotallers; others are frequent drinkers given the opportunity. These findings, in a scientific study, support the “drunken monkey” hypothesis: that humans and primate relatives are attracted to the smell of alcohol due toenergy rich, albeit fermenting fruits. It could also help explain addiction to alcohol.
The science behind the Nepal earthquake. By Mike Sandiford, CP Rajendran, and Kristin Morell
Nepal is particularly prone to earthquakes. It sits on the boundary of two massive tectonic plates – the Indo-Australian and Asian plates. It is the collision of these plates that has produced the Himalaya mountains, and with them, earthquakes. The April 25 quake measured 7.8 on the moment magnitude scale, the largest since the 1934 Bihar quake, which measured 8.2 and killed around 10,000 people. Another quake in Kashmir in 2005, measuring 7.6, killed around 80,000 people. These quakes are a dramatic manifestation of the ongoing convergence between the Indo-Australian and Asian tectonic plates that has progressively built the Himalayas over the last 50 million years.
Pi Day: a once-in-a-century celebration. By Jonathan Borwein and David H. Bailey
Pi Day – on March 14 – is particularly memorable this year: the date can be written 3/14 by those who opt for the month then day format, which is Pi to two decimal places, 3.14. If you include the year this year then that gives 3/14/15, which is Pi to four decimal places, 3.1415. This happens only once a century, and the Museum of Mathematics in New York City, among others, is taking Pi Day 2015 one step further, by celebrating at 9:26pm, adding three more digits to Pi, 3.1415926.
RAJENDRA PACHAURI: Defended climate science, resigned amid sex scandal. By Marianne Lavelle
Rajendra Pachauri, who resigned Tuesday from chairmanship of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change amid charges of sexual harassment, presided over the international effort to forge consensus on climate change during eight years in which the science grew stronger, but so did the attacks.
WHO report takes aim at Grim Reaper of “lifestyle.” By Alessandro R Demaio
Some 16 million people die prematurely every year from non-communicable diseases. Of little public health concern as recently as a couple of decades ago, their burden has since skyrocketed. Sometimes called “lifestyle” or “chronic diseases,” they are caused by common risk factors. The good news is that they can also be prevented. Tobacco control, for example, helps reduce cancers, heart disease, stroke and lung diseases – all of which are non-communicable diseases. Improving the diet of populations will help avoid obesity, cancer, diabetes and heart attacks – also all non-communicable disease.
Human survival in danger zone, study confirms. By James Dyke
The Earth’s climate has always changed. All species eventually become extinct. But a new study has brought into sharp relief the fact that humans have, in the context of geological timescales, produced near instantaneous planetary-scale disruption. We are sowing the seeds of havoc on the Earth, it suggests, and the time is fast approaching when we will reap this harvest. The research paper, published in the journal Science, concludes that our industrialised civilisation is driving a number of key planetary processes into areas of high risk.
Richard III – case closed, 529 years later. By Deborah Jones
A cold case more than five centuries old was closed this month, by researchers who announced they’d identified the remains of England’s King Richard III — with 99.999 per cent certainty. But the findings opened deeper mysteries, and a social conundrum that could only have been conjured by molecular science. The male lineage of man known as King Richard does not match with Britain’s royals, they said, raising the possibility of a cuckold in the pasts of the Plantagenet and Tudor clans, and even of Britain’s current royal family.
Libyan bands of brothers show how deeply humans bond in adversity. By Harvey Whitehouse
It’s often said that blood is thicker than water – that family ties trump all others. But research with groups of men fighting in Libya has suggested that the bonds they formed in times of great adversity were as strong as those they had with their own kin. During the 2011 conflict in Libya, we surveyed the civilians who had taken up arms to topple the Gaddafi-led regime and found extremely strong relationships: these men had bonded to one another as strongly as if they were brothers.
Evolutionary insights underscore need for new natural-world taxonomy. By Ben Holt and Knud Andreas Jønsson
A cat is, of course, a cat. Lions are cats too, as are leopards, lynxes and so on – the “Felidae” family contains 41 species in total. But what about other closely related species such as hyenas or mongooses? These animals are not in the cat family: they are cat-like “Feliformia”, but are in their own separate families. So why are some species grouped together in the same families and others separated into different families? It might surprise you to learn that there is no general answer to this question, despite the fact that we now know a lot about evolutionary relationships for groups like mammals. Science has moved on and so should the way we classify life on earth.
Will electric ink and aromapoetry revive the physical book? By Andrew Prescott
Discussion of the “death of the book” has been going on for many years. We have got used to the idea that the physical artefact of the book may be replaced by e-readers or other forms of access to information. The speed and nature of these changes and the extent to which will the book will survive have been extensively and hotly debated. But given advances in technology, this debate may well prove to have been misconceived in ways we didn’t expect. If paper and ink are being transformed so that they become interactive digital media, surely the same can happen with the physical book.
Climate change caused by humans will result in food shortages, mass extinctions and flooding, warns the world body of climate experts in its most comprehensive report yet, signed in Bonn on November 2, 2014. It says the science is now 95 per cent conclusive, that today’s climate change is unprecedented, and warns that the world must act, together and immediately, on adaptation and mitigation. It says some changes are already inevitable and the risk of not acting is extreme: “Without additional mitigation efforts beyond those in place today, and even with adaptation, warming by the end of the 21st century will lead to high to very high risk of severe, widespread and irreversible impacts, globally.”
Big Data is changing sports. By Bruce Dyer
In sport we don’t just want to know who won. We now want to know how to replicate success and then improve on it. And to do this, we’re using data – and lots of it. The field of “big data” analytics has come to sport and athletics, with massive implications for sport as we know it. The Women’s Tennis Association recently approved real-time data capture, which means that court-side coaches can now advise their players during a match on best shot placement or serve direction using little more than a smartphone or tablet. It could be argued that this detracts from a player using their instincts to make their own decisions. But it means that to tennis fans watching, it’s easier to understand what makes a good player great and why their opponent lost, while players have an even keener competitive edge. Perhaps the most famous example of performance analysis was illustrated in the 2003 book Moneyball …
Gut bacteria linked to depression and brain health. By Clio Korn
One of medicine’s greatest innovations in the 20th century was the development of antibiotics. It transformed our ability to combat disease. But medicine in the 21st century is rethinking its relationship with bacteria and concluding that, far from being uniformly bad for us, many of these organisms are actually essential for our health. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the human gut, where the microbiome – the collection of bacteria living in the gastrointestinal tract – plays a complex and critical role in the health of its host. The microbiome interacts with and influences organ systems throughout the body, including, as research is revealing, the brain.
The microbiome you (and your pets) share. By Emma Saville and Penny Orbell
Microbial communities vary greatly between different households but are similar among members of the same household – including pets – according to new research. Microbes are everywhere. They live on and inside us, and cover most things we come into contact with, including our personal belongings. We also know that microbes play a role in human health, and the destruction of our personal microbial community (known as our microbiome) is thought to be contributing to the rapid rise of certain diseases.
Ignore the IQ test. By Bryan Roche
We’re getting more stupid. That’s one point made in a recent article, reporting on a gradual decline in IQs in developed countries such as the UK, Australia and the Netherlands. Such research feeds into a long-held fascination with testing human intelligence. Yet such debates are too focused on IQ as a life-long trait that can’t be changed. Other research is beginning to show the opposite.
Humans are now entering something called the third epidemiological transition, a period characterised by a delay in the age at which we develop chronic diseases. Looking at world incidence studies (the number of new cases each year), this is most apparent in developed countries, while developing countries, such as China, have been catching up.
Does deep Atlantic heating account for global warming hiatus? By Richard Allan
There seem to have been a dozen or so explanations for why the Earth’s surface has warmed at a slower rate over the past 15 years compared to earlier decades. This is perhaps not so surprising given the complexity of the climate system – the world’s best detectives will inevitably struggle to disentangle the factors which influence every lump and bump in the surface temperature record. However, recent research implicates natural changes in the Pacific and Atlantic oceans as the prime culprits.
Toxins in everyday products affect fetuses. By Jake Jacobs
After decades of use in some of the most well-known hygiene and cleaning products in our bathrooms and kitchens, concerns about the safety of triclosan – an anti-germ chemical used in products including Colgate Total toothpaste – means it is being phased out by some manufacturers and in some countries. But it is still widely used, despite research that suggests it – and some other antibacterial and antifungal products – could pose a serious risk to our health and potentially to unborn foetuses.
Why so many domesticated mammals have floppy ears. By Don Newgreen and Jeffrey Craig, The Conversation
The famous naturalist and evolutionary theorist Charles Darwin even observed in the first chapter of his On the Origin of Species that, “Not a single domestic animal can be named which has not in some country drooping ears …” And it’s not just the ears. Domesticated animals share a fairly consistent set of differences from their wild ancestors such as smaller brains, smaller teeth, shorter curly tails and lighter and blotchy coats: a phenomenon called the “domestication syndrome”.
Anting — Science brief. By Deborah Jones
In summer it’s common to find a bird flattened on the ground, wings splayed. It may seem injured, but will roust if approached — and when the interruption is over, return with the determination of a junkie seeking a fix, to sprawl on the same spot. Look closely — a telephoto lens helps — and you’ll likely see it swarming with ants.
Deadly Danger in Feminine Hurricane Names. By Deborah Jones (Subscription)
Men are physically faster and stronger than women – but scientists say women are far more deadly when hurricanes are named after them. There is, of course, no gender-based difference in the storms. It’s the perception that kills, according to a new study that measured death tolls over six decades resulting from 94 Atlantic Ocean hurricanes that made landfall in the United States. “Severe hurricanes with feminine names caused more fatalities than severe hurricanes with masculine names,” said the report.
Universities as corporate vassals? Not so fast. By Deborah Jones (Subscription)
A startling report seems to contradict the nostrum that government or non-profit-funded research is always more “useful” than corporate-funded research. A Comment in the peer-reviewed journal Nature found that greater benefits flowed from projects with at least some private funding, than from other sources: Inventions using corporate funds yielded more patents and licences, the corporations benefited only half the time, and the research was used more often in other, spin-off research.
Drilling for Certainty: The Latest in Fracking Health Studies, by Naveena Sadasivam, ProPublica (Public access)
For years environmentalists and the gas drilling industry have been in a pitched battle over the possible health implications of hydro fracking. But to a great extent, the debate has been hampered by a shortage of science. The science is far from settled — but there is a growing body of research to consider. ProPublica offers a survey of some of that work, in air quality, birth outcomes, and other health risks.
Wild Bees Catch Honeybee Infections. By Deborah Jones (Subscription)
Agricultural crops from almonds to zucchini are necessarily pollinated by bees, both managed and wild — but colonies of all bees have been collapsing, for reasons that are likely complex and but dimly understood. That’s why it matters, and not least to human food security, that researchers have now found that two infections common in domestic bees can spread to wild bees. Global trade may be worsening infection rates, suggests the study published in the February 20 edition of the science journal Nature.
Are humans too selfish to fix climate change? By Deborah Jones (Subscription)
In the perpetual debate about whether humans are good, greed scored another point. Researchers in Europe and North America invented a game in which players had to cooperate to receive both individual cash and a reward for achieving a public-good (the example used was avoiding climate change). The longer players were willing to wait for their pay-off, the bigger the reward. Each player could defect at any time and claim at least some cash.
Liberation Treatment for MS debunked. By Deborah Jones (Subscription)
New medical research struck a “death knell” for hopes a magic bullet could aid multiple sclerosis, a devastating disease with some 2.3 million sufferers globally. A study this week debunked the theory behind Liberation Treatment, a controversial medical procedure which became a social-media phenomenon. It also left two conundrums unsolved: why some patients reported benefits from it, and how online social media newly affects medical treatments and scientific research.
Honey? Honey? Where are you? Where did the bees go? By Greg Locke
On a sunny spring afternoon in Beaverlodge, Alberta a diverse and eclectic group of bee keepers and scientists from across western Canada and the United States have come together in a classic, peaceful farm setting at the Agriculture Canada government research facility to talk about bees. It’s the annual Beekeepers Field Day, but the subjects of the presentations and talk around the picnic tables in this pastoral scene are less peaceful than the serene vision of a field of bee hives.
Humans naturally nasty? Research suggests not. By Deborah Jones (Subscription)
Biological research increasingly debunks the view of humanity as competitive, aggressive and brutish, says biologist and author Frans de Waal. “Humans have a lot of pro-social tendencies,” said de Waal in a plenary speech at the American Association for the Advancement of Science’s annual meeting.
Oceans sickened by domestic disease, climate change. By Deborah Jones (Subscription)
Scientists draw a bleak picture of the state of the world’s oceans, which are increasingly acidic, warming in some areas, being inundated with melting ice, and experiencing other climate change effects. Sea mammals are washing ashore, killed by domestic animal diseases, while increasing ocean acidity caused by CO2 is killing the young of shellfish – called spat –worldwide.
Ignorance of science worsens global crises, warn researchers. By Deborah Jones (Subscription)
Science is “under siege,” the world’s top scientists and educators heard repeatedly at a major science conference of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Scientific solutions are needed to help solve global crises – including food and water shortages, disease and environmental destruction – “but the public now does not understand science,”American scientist and climate-change activist James Hansen told the annual meeting in Vancouver of the prestigious organization.
Greenpeace at 40. By Deborah Jones (Subscription)
A simple phone call about dead sea otters washing up on the shores of Alaska after United States nuclear tests led to the birth of environmental organization Greenpeace four decades ago. Irving Stowe and his wife, Dorothy, were so outraged by the news that they launched a petition from their home in Vancouver, on the Canadian west coast, and set up a group called “Don’t Make A Wave.”
Grunting tennis players hinder opponents: researchers. By Deborah Jones (Subscription)
Scientists say they’ve been able to measure the negative effects on professional tennis players of loud grunts made by players such as Maria Sharapova and Rafael Nadal make when hitting the ball.And an empirical study that measures how much grunting slows down and distracts opponents in tracking the direction of a tennis ball will provide tennis authorities with an objective way to regulate grunting, said Scott Sinnett, lead author of the report.
Better-managed fisheries could feed extra 20 million. By Deborah Jones (Subscription)
A landmark study by scientists and economists has estimated that better management of the world’s wild fisheries could feed 20 million more people, especially in impoverished countries. Researchers at the Fisheries Centre in Vancouver released the first global estimate of the value of the industry, set at 240 billion dollars, but warned that government subsidies encourage over-fishing that is destroying the resource.
Humans vs Machine: Artificial Intelligence milestone. By Deborah Jones (Subscription)
Humans prevailed after two of the world’s top poker players pitted their wiles and math ability against a computer, in a grueling two-day match scientists called the world’s first man-machine poker championship. A computer program called Polaris played four games of Texas Hold Em against Phil Laak and Ali Eslami, two gamblers from Los Angeles who are among the top players in the global high-stakes cash poker circuit.
Daniel Pauly: Soon there will be no fish. By Deborah Jones (Subscription)
From his separation from his mother as a toddler in postwar France, to his deprived childhood as a live-in servant in Switzerland, to his recent winning of a prestigious Japanese award, Daniel Pauly’s life is like a Dickensian tale writ large. For years, the Vancouver-based marine biologist has worked on the devastation of the world’s oceans and their inhabitants, helping to bring the issue into the spotlight. His efforts were honoured this month in Osaka, Japan, where he was awarded that country’s Cosmos Prize, sometimes called the Nobel Prize for environmentalism.
Bill Rees’s big shoes: scientist invented the Ecological Footprint By Deborah Jones (Subscription)
The epiphany that has driven William Rees’ life, and led to the creation of a scientific term that would make him famous, struck him at age 8. As Rees tucked into a hearty lunch on the family farm in southern Ontario, “I realized that I had a hand in growing every single thing on my plate,” he says. “I had an overwhelming sense of being connected to the earth, that we are, literally, what we eat.” That meal of roast beef, chicken, vegetables and apple pie launched Rees, now 61, on his life’s mission: to study humans as integral parts of the natural environment. Rees, an ecological economist at the University of B.C., is acclaimed as the inventor of the Ecological Footprint, a tool used by the United Nations, the European Parliament, the World Wildlife Fund and countless urban planners to assess the environmental impact of human communities.
Germ Warfare: Antibiotic resistance. By Deborah Jones (Subscription)
n the war between germs and antibiotics, this much is no longer in doubt: eventually, bacteria win every battle. The only question is: how long can the cavalry keep arriving with new drugs? Forget plague. Forget, if you can, so-called flesh-eating streptococcus. Worry, instead, about evolution. It’s not just a neat shape-shifting game played by amoebas, monkeys and humans. Bacteria evolve too. Routed two generations ago by the discovery of antibiotics, bacteria found ways to survive. Today, time-tested and inexpensive drugs like penicillin no longer kill the bugs that cause ear and throat infections, sexually transmitted diseases, even meningitis. These bacteria have evolved and are becoming immune to our miracle medicines faster than scientists thought possible. Meanwhile our hospitals, with high levels of antibiotics and large populations of a bacteria, have become breeding grounds for resistant strains.
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