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Science | The Guardian



Latest Science news, comment and analysis from the Guardian, the world's leading liberal voice



Published: Sat, 29 Apr 2017 01:51:16 GMT2017-04-29T01:51:16Z

Copyright: Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. 2017
 



UTI test used by GPs gives wrong results in at least a fifth of cases, study claims

Fri, 28 Apr 2017 05:30:03 GMT2017-04-28T05:30:03Z

A large proportion of patients seeking help for urinary tract infections are being misdiagnosed – and even told their problem is psychological, say researchers

A test that is routinely used by doctors to diagnose urinary tract infections wrongly gives a negative result in a fifth of cases, scientists have found.

The findings imply that a large proportion of women who seek medical help for UTIs such as cystitis are being misdiagnosed, with some being told their problem is psychological. Many women with severe symptoms are also likely to have been refused antibiotics.

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Could history of humans in North America be rewritten by broken bones?

Wed, 26 Apr 2017 17:00:42 GMT2017-04-26T17:00:42Z

Smashed mastodon bones show humans arrived over 100,000 years earlier than previously thought say researchers, although other experts are sceptical

The history of the people of America, a story that dates back to the last ice age, has been upended by the battered bones of a mastodon found under a freeway construction site in California.

Archaeological sites in North America have led most researchers to believe that the continent was first reached by humans like us, Homo sapiens, about 15,000 years ago. But inspection of the broken mastodon bones, and large stones lying with them, point to a radical new date for the arrival of ancient humans. If the claim stands up, humans arrived in the New World 130,000 years ago.

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Cancer Drugs Fund condemned as expensive and ineffective

Fri, 28 Apr 2017 05:30:03 GMT2017-04-28T05:30:03Z

Treatments approved by David Cameron’s scheme were not worth money, extended life very little and often had adverse side-effects, study finds

The Cancer Drugs Fund, set up by the government to pay for expensive medicines that the NHS would not normally finance, failed to benefit patients and may have resulted in some of them suffering unnecessarily from toxic side-effects, experts say.

An analysis in a leading cancer journal has found that the fund paid out £1.27bn from 2010 to 2016 – an amount that would have paid for an entire year of mainstream cancer drugs for the NHS.

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Pincer-wielding 507m-year-old fossil sheds light on evolution of crabs

Wed, 26 Apr 2017 17:00:42 GMT2017-04-26T17:00:42Z

Mandibulates, a group that includes crustaceans and insects, show huge diversity – Tokummia katalepsis could be the missing link that explains why

A fossilised ancient creature boasting huge pincers resembling can-openers, a hinged two-piece shell and more than 50 pairs of legs has been discovered, shedding light on the evolutionary past of a huge and diverse group of animals.

Researchers say the creature, thought to have lived about 507 million years ago during the Cambrian period, offers insights into the early body plan of mandibulates – a group that encompasses creatures including millipedes, crabs and ants. The group takes its name from the presence of mouth parts known as mandibles, which the animals use to help hold or eat food.

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Standardised cigarette packaging is on its way, will it reduce smoking?

Thu, 27 Apr 2017 06:45:00 GMT2017-04-27T06:45:00Z

A new systematic review of existing studies suggests it will reduce smoking, but long-term impacts of standardised cigarette packaging are still unknown

Standardised packaging for cigarettes was first introduced in the UK in May last year. Tobacco companies were forced to stop producing branded packs, but were still allowed to sell off existing stock. From 21 May 2017, that must stop too. Fancy, colourful, unique branding on cigarette packets will be completely replaced by uniform olive green boxes, larger health warnings, and brand names written in the same size and font, regardless of make.

These changes are the latest in a long line of regulations designed to make smoking less appealing, particularly to teenagers – two-thirds of long-term smokers will start before they’re 18 years old. But is there evidence to support the effectiveness of such packaging?

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Lab notes: a womb with a view of the future for premature babies

Fri, 28 Apr 2017 12:59:36 GMT2017-04-28T12:59:36Z

It’s a sensational claim, but a group of researchers believe that they may have found evidence that will rewrite the history of human arrival in North America. The scientists believe that smashed mastodon bones found under a freeway construction site in California indicate that humans arrived over 100,000 years earlier than previously thought. To say that other experts are sceptical, however, would be to understate the situation somewhat. “They are going to face a shitstorm,” said one scientist who preferred not to be named. For my (admittedly limited) money, however, the two biggest stories this week were advances in cancer screening and care for premature babies. The first is a ‘liquid biopsy’, a DNA-based test that in a major lung cancer trial was able to spot cancer recurrence up to a year before conventional scans. But to me, the most impressive breakthrough this week is the artificial womb intended to help premature babies. It has been shown to keep that premature lambs alive and growing for four weeks. Doctors are hoping that this could act as a bridge between the womb and the outside world for the the most fragile newborns – those born between 23 and 28 weeks’ gestation.

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DNA-based test can spot cancer recurrence a year before conventional scans

Wed, 26 Apr 2017 17:00:42 GMT2017-04-26T17:00:42Z

‘Liquid biopsy’ diagnosed cancer recurrence up to a year before CT scans are able to in major lung cancer trial, and could buy crucial time for doctors

A revolutionary blood test has been shown to diagnose the recurrence of cancer up to a year in advance of conventional scans in a major lung cancer trial.

The test, known as a liquid biopsy, could buy crucial time for doctors by indicating that cancer is growing in the body when tumours are not yet detectable on CT scans and long before the patient becomes aware of physical symptoms.

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How Artificial Intelligence will change the world: a live event - Science Weekly podcast

Thu, 27 Apr 2017 14:32:32 GMT2017-04-27T14:32:32Z

Recorded in front of a live audience as part of our Brainwaves series, Ian Sample asks a group of experts how AI will change our social landscape - for better or worse

Subscribe & Review on iTunes, Soundcloud, Audioboom, Mixcloud & Acast, and join the discussion on Facebook and Twitter

On Monday 20 April, a crowd gathered in Kings Place to hear a discussion on the future of Artificial Intelligence - or AI - as part of our Brainwaves Series, supported by SEAT. How do we define human intelligence? How close are we to reaching it with machines? And what happens when these machines start taking our jobs?

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Artificial womb for premature babies successful in animal trials

Tue, 25 Apr 2017 15:11:39 GMT2017-04-25T15:11:39Z

Lambs born at equivalent of 23 weeks human gestation kept alive and developing in advance could transform outlook for very premature babies

An artificial womb designed to support critically premature babies has been demonstrated successfully in animals for the first time, in an advance that could transform the lives of the most fragile newborns.

Lambs born at the equivalent of 23 weeks in a human pregnancy were kept alive and appeared to develop normally while floating inside the transparent, womb-like vessel for four weeks after birth. Doctors said that the pioneering approach could radically improve outcomes for babies born so early that they cannot breathe, feed or fight infection without medical help.

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Cheap, widely available drug could stop thousands of mothers bleeding to death

Wed, 26 Apr 2017 22:38:12 GMT2017-04-26T22:38:12Z

Tranexamic acid could save the lives of a third of women who die in childbirth from excessive bleeding, which kills 100,000 a year

A cheap and widely available drug could save the lives of thousands of women who die in childbirth from excessive bleeding, one of the main killers of women worldwide.

The drug, tranexamic acid, is available over the counter in the UK to women suffering from heavy periods. In Japan and the far east, it is used as a skin whitener. But now a very large study of 20,000 women in 21 countries has shown it can stop a third of cases of bleeding to death after giving birth.

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New human rights to protect against 'mind hacking' and brain data theft proposed

Wed, 26 Apr 2017 10:26:48 GMT2017-04-26T10:26:48Z

A response to advances in neurotechnology that can read or alter brain activity, new human rights would protect people from theft, abuse and hacking

New human rights that would protect people from having their thoughts and other brain information stolen, abused or hacked have been proposed by researchers.

The move is a response to the rapid advances being made with technologies that read or alter brain activity and which many expect to bring enormous benefits to people’s lives in the coming years.

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Baby whales 'whisper' to mothers to avoid predators, study finds

Wed, 26 Apr 2017 02:41:33 GMT2017-04-26T02:41:33Z

Scientists reveal unique, intimate form of communication between humpback mothers and calves as well as silent method to initiate suckling

Newborn humpback whales and their mothers whisper to each other to escape potential predators, scientists reported Wednesday, revealing the existence of a previously unknown survival technique.

“They don’t want any unwanted listeners,” researcher Simone Videsen, lead author of a study published in Functional Ecology, said.

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'Granny style' is best way to take a basketball free throw, study shows

Tue, 25 Apr 2017 23:01:18 GMT2017-04-25T23:01:18Z

Mathematical analysis reveals that for players with good control, using an unorthodox underarm technique gives better odds of scoring

It might invite ridicule, but it gets results. A scientific analysis has concluded that using a “granny style” underarm technique is the optimal way to take a free throw in basketball.

Adopting the unorthodox strategy could result in marginal gains for professional players, the research suggests. And, as sporting doctrine goes, marginal gains can lead to remarkable results.

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Bow wow: scientists create definitive canine family tree

Tue, 25 Apr 2017 16:12:11 GMT2017-04-25T16:12:11Z

Study sheds light on breed evolution and why certain types of dog are prone to the same diseases despite appearing to be very different

It sounds like the ultimate shaggy dog story, but scientists say they have created the definitive canine family tree.

The study not only sheds light on the evolution of different breeds, but also reveals why certain breeds are prone to the same diseases even though they appear to be very different.

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Plastic-eating worms could help wage war on waste

Tue, 25 Apr 2017 00:09:07 GMT2017-04-25T00:09:07Z

Wax moth larvae are usually bred as fish bait, but a chance discovery has revealed their taste for plastic – which could be used to beat polluting plastic

For caterpillars that are bred as premium fish bait, it must rank as a better life. Rather than dangling on the end of a hook and wondering what comes next, the grubs are set to join the war on plastic waste.

The larvae of wax moths are sold as delicious snacks for chub, carp and catfish, but in the wild the worms live on beeswax, making them the scourge of beekeepers across Europe.

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Artificial intelligence survey finds UK public broadly optimistic

Mon, 24 Apr 2017 23:01:32 GMT2017-04-24T23:01:32Z

Support for ‘machine learning’ depended on what it would be used for, with mass unemployment among main fears

Apart from fears of mass unemployment, accidents with machinery, restrictions on freedom, increased economic inequality and a devalued human experience, the public are broadly optimistic about the arrival of artificial intelligence, according to one of the first surveys of British opinions about the technology.

Research by the polling firm Ipsos Mori found nearly a third of people believe the risks of “machine learning” outweigh the benefits, while 36% believe the risks and benefits are balanced.

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Trump tells Nasa to 'speed up' Mars landing in call to congratulate astronaut

Mon, 24 Apr 2017 16:58:25 GMT2017-04-24T16:58:25Z

Peggy Whitson, who broke the US record for most time spent in space, received praise from president, who plans to cut Nasa’s budget and certain programs

Astronaut Peggy Whitson broke the US record for most time spent in space on Monday, and received a phone call from Donald Trump in which the president congratulated her and urged Nasa to reach Mars ahead of his own proposed schedule.

Whitson, 57, reached her 534th day in space early on Monday morning. The president called her from the Oval Office, where he sat flanked by his daughter and senior adviser, Ivanka Trump, and Dr Kate Rubins, another Nasa astronaut.

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First world war training tunnels and trenches discovered in Wiltshire

Mon, 24 Apr 2017 15:51:53 GMT2017-04-24T15:51:53Z

Live grenades, graffiti, Australian toffees and a 1930s red sports car among finds at site being cleared for housing

A vast battlefield landscape of tunnels and trenches dug to train troops for the first world war has been discovered on army land being cleared for housing.

Archaeologists who worked on the site at Larkhill, in Wiltshire, said the century-old complex was a valuable discovery – although it posed hazards.

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Mexico's ancient city guards its secrets but excavation reveals new mysteries

Mon, 24 Apr 2017 09:00:07 GMT2017-04-24T09:00:07Z

An eight-year project at Teotihuacán, once the western hemisphere’s largest city, failed to locate its rulers’ tomb but findings offered tantalising clues to its origins

For decades, the hunt for a royal tomb at the ancient Mexican city of Teotihuacán has gripped archaeologists trying to unravel the secrets of the kingdom’s extraordinary political power.

It is a mystery investigators thought they were on the verge of solving in 2015, when large quantities of liquid mercury were found amid a treasure trove of precious artefacts in a secret tunnel.

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Lab notes: emerging from the week’s science like a naked mole rat from a burrow

Fri, 21 Apr 2017 12:11:02 GMT2017-04-21T12:11:02Z

In a week in which we discovered that a rather large river has disappeared (hat tip to anthropogenic climate change, you old rogue!) and that aliens so far seem to desire no encounters with us, let alone close ones, it might seem tempting to turn on, tune in and drop out. Certainly the brain scans showing the first evidence of a ‘heightened state of consciousness’ from psychedelic drugs might make this seem a reasonable alternative to facing the tactical voting and alternative fact awfulness currently everywhere. You could always go on a healthy March for Science this weekend instead, though (coming to a city in a country near you!). Or – and this is my my preferred option – you could spend your time marvelling at the incredible adaptability of naked mole rats, whose ability to survive without oxygen was revealed this week. If your weird threshold is particularly high you could give yourself a further treat and spend time looking with revolted fascination at the first living giant shipworm, discovered in the Philippines. It’s very, um. Yes. Um. You’re welcome.

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Cassini: the 17th-century astronomer who shrank France and inspired a spacecraft | Rebekah Higgitt

Thu, 27 Apr 2017 13:36:23 GMT2017-04-27T13:36:23Z

The Cassini spacecraft and its dramatic dive towards Saturn have been in the news this week, but the human Cassini is no less memorable

As a historian of science, when I scroll through my Twitter timeline and see mentions of Cassini, my thoughts tend to go not to the spacecraft that is, at the time of writing, somewhere between Saturn’s rings and the planet itself. Rather, they turn to Cassini I, II, III and IV, the 17th and 18th-century dynasty of Paris Observatory directors. With the word Saturn appearing alongside, I fix on Cassini I, Giovanni Domenico (or, after he moved to France, Jean-Dominique) Cassini.

Giovanni Domenico Cassini was the first director of the observatory founded by Louis XIV and, among much else, he discovered two of Saturn’s moons, the planet’s equatorial belt and a division in its rings. This last has been named the Cassini Division in his honour. Thus the Cassini Spacecraft has imaged the Cassini Division that was first depicted by Cassini I. It can just be seen in the image at the top, which was published in 1676 in the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society.

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The perfect memory: does it even exist? | Dean Burnett

Thu, 27 Apr 2017 13:02:27 GMT2017-04-27T13:02:27Z

Despite sensational news reports and pop-culture portrayals, the notion that any human has, or even could have, a 100% reliable memory is far from certain

Every now and then, you see news reports of people with incredible memories, able to recall every single thing from their life at a moment’s notice. Initially, it may sound like an incredibly useful ability. No more searching for your car keys that you had in your hand minutes ago, no more desperately stalling for time as you flounder to remember the name of the casual acquaintance who’s just said hello to you, no more taking notes at all. Why would you need to? It’s no wonder it pops up often in pop culture.

Indeed, there are many people who can demonstrate incredible memory prowess, having trained their memories to be as efficient and thorough as possible via useful and approved techniques, in order to compete in memory sports, which are an actual thing. Clearly, for some people at least, there is potential to greatly boost the brain’s ability to store and recall information to well above average levels. Ben Carson even claimed to be able to induce this with a simple bit of surgery (which is utterly wrong)

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Lib Dems shouldn't count on Remain votes - the data looks bleak

Thu, 27 Apr 2017 11:38:14 GMT2017-04-27T11:38:14Z

Conventional wisdom suggests the Tories could bleed Remain votes to the Lib Dems. Our detailed data analysis suggests this idea could be very wrong indeed

This post was written in collaboration with Martin Baxter of Electoral Calculus.

The Thames Valley constituency I live in voted for Remain in the EU Referendum, which is a little bit awkward because our MP is Theresa May. Surrounded by miles of natural beauty, Maidenhead is a concrete wart on the landscape – fashionable in its day, but now something of an embarrassment.

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Get moving, grandad! Exercise improves brain health in the over 50s | Dean Burnett

Wed, 26 Apr 2017 10:15:28 GMT2017-04-26T10:15:28Z

A recent meta-study suggests that regular exercise improves the functioning of the brain in people aged 50 and over. How does that work, and is it even surprising?

A recently-published study has provided strong evidence that regular exercise is very beneficial for the health and functioning of the brain in the over 50s. To many scientists, this is just confirming what we already knew. But for others, this may come as a surprise to hear.

Who can blame them? Crude portrayals and stereotypes from mainstream entertainment, most obviously bawdy American comedies of the 80s, give the impression there is some sort clear divide between enjoying physical or intellectual activities, as if these things are incompatible. They present a world where you can either be a big, lumbering, strong-but-monosyllabic sports star, or a feeble, pasty, asthmatic book-and-gadget-loving genius.

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Dinosaur click-bait: is getting your attention more important than getting it right? | Elsa Panciroli

Wed, 26 Apr 2017 07:00:30 GMT2017-04-26T07:00:30Z

Scientists can’t turn their backs on the engagement of mass-media, but when it comes to inaccurate and sensational headlines, do the ends justify the means?

“The public is mostly made of people who just don’t care. The media know they don’t understand the science and they don’t want to learn about it either.” An established scientist bitterly confesses to me his experiences with public outreach, via news media. He is red-faced and his voice is getting louder. “I know you have good intentions, but when you’ve been in the field for as long as me you’ll realise that we can’t win – the media will always take your words and turn them against you. All they care about is public entertainment. Accuracy? Forget it!”

We’ve been talking for ten minutes, and it has become increasingly tense. The frustration is obvious: here is someone who loves his work and really wants to tell people about it. Yet he no longer engages with the press office at his institution, not if he can avoid it. He has learnt the hard way that if you speak to the media, what you say is too often misquoted and misunderstood. The science, the real message, is lost to sensationalism.

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The first Brexit: Submerged landscapes of the North Sea and Channel

Wed, 26 Apr 2017 06:00:29 GMT2017-04-26T06:00:29Z

The British Isles split from Europe several thousand years ago. Now, maritime archaeology is revealing a lost landscape on the seafloor

The British Isles separated from the European continent approximately 8,000 years ago. For this Brexit there was no referendum or bus, no Leavers or Remainers, nor was it hard or soft. This was a watery Brexit as rising sea levels filled the Channel and created the North Sea. Maritime archaeology is revealing this submerged landscape that once connected the continent to Britain.

Earth is a dynamic planet that is constantly changing. Going back far enough in time, Britain has been separated from the continent several times as sea levels changed. However, for the study of Homo sapiens it is the change at end of the Pleistocene and the start of the Holocene epoch 11,700 years ago that is most interesting.

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Why are we reluctant to trust robots?

Mon, 24 Apr 2017 16:51:27 GMT2017-04-24T16:51:27Z

Psychology research shows people mistrust those who make moral decisions by calculating costs and benefits – like computers do

Technologies built on artificial intelligence are revolutionising human life. As these machines become increasingly integrated in our daily lives, the decisions they face will go beyond the merely pragmatic, and extend into the ethical. When faced with an unavoidable accident, should a self-driving car protect its passengers or seek to minimise overall lives lost? Should a drone strike a group of terrorists planning an attack, even if civilian casualties will occur? As artificially intelligent machines become more autonomous, these questions are impossible to ignore.

There are good arguments for why some ethical decisions ought to be left to computers—unlike human beings, machines are not led astray by cognitive biases, do not experience fatigue, and do not feel hatred toward an enemy. An ethical AI could, in principle, be programmed to reflect the values and rules of an ideal moral agent. And free from human limitations, such machines could even be said to make better moral decisions than us. Yet the notion that a machine might be given free reign over moral decision-making seems distressing to many—so much so that, for some, their use poses a fundamental threat to human dignity. Why are we so reluctant to trust machines when it comes to making moral decisions? Psychology research provides a clue: we seem to have a fundamental mistrust of individuals who make moral decisions by calculating costs and benefits – like computers do.

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Did you solve it? The wrestler, the wind-up clock and the pickle jar

Mon, 24 Apr 2017 16:00:23 GMT2017-04-24T16:00:23Z

The solutions to today’s puzzles

Earlier today I set you the following riddles:

1. A retired professional wrestler boards a crowded train in Chicago when a young man stands up to offer his seat. The wrestler is not injured and is only 36 years old. All week, riders on the train offer to give up their seat so that the famous wrestler can sit down instead. Why do people keep offering their seat to this muscular former athlete?

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Can you solve it? The wrestler, the wind-up clock and the pickle jar

Mon, 24 Apr 2017 06:15:04 GMT2017-04-24T06:15:04Z

Three riddles that will wrestle you to the ground

UPDATE: Read the solutions here

Hi guzzlers,

I have a different type of puzzle for you today: three riddles suggested by Adam Rubin, a magician, bestselling-writer and puzzle designer. Read the following stories and answer the questions.

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Temperature-boosting El Niño set for early return this year

Fri, 28 Apr 2017 12:19:34 GMT2017-04-28T12:19:34Z

The climate event that helped supercharge global warming to record levels in 2015 and 2016 is 50-60% likely in 2017, says World Meteorological Organization

The El Niño climate event that helped supercharge global warming to record levels in 2015 and 2016 is set for an early return, according to a forecast from the World Meteorological Organization.

Related: What is El Niño?

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Manchester cancer hospital fire 'may have destroyed vital research'

Fri, 28 Apr 2017 11:34:14 GMT2017-04-28T11:34:14Z

Cancer Research UK institute likely to have lost millions of pounds of life-saving equipment in blaze, says its director

Years of research and millions of pounds of life-saving equipment are feared to have been destroyed in a devastating fire at a cancer hospital in Manchester, its director has said.

Prof Richard Marais, the head of the Cancer Research UK Manchester Institute, said researchers had been able to save 25 years of clinical samples, but that other vital work was lost in the “heartrending” blaze at Christie hospital.

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Plain cigarette packaging could drive 300,000 Britons to quit smoking

Wed, 26 Apr 2017 23:01:01 GMT2017-04-26T23:01:01Z

Review by research organisation Cochrane suggests impact of UK’s ban on branded packs could echo results seen in Australia

Plain cigarette cartons featuring large, graphic health warnings could persuade 300,000 people in the UK to quit smoking if the measure has the effect it had in Australia, scientists say.

Standardised cigarette packaging will be compulsory in the UK from 20 May. A new review from the independent health research organisation Cochrane on the impact of plain packaging around the world has found that it does affect the behaviour of smokers.

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Cassini spacecraft finds possibility of alien life, then runs out of fuel

Wed, 26 Apr 2017 17:03:12 GMT2017-04-26T17:03:12Z

Scientists say discovery of ingredients for life on Saturn’s moon Enceladus is bittersweet as spacecraft prepares to end 20-year mission

Could there be life in our own solar system?

This is the question posed by the discovery of hydrogen gas erupting in plumes from Saturn’s moon Enceladus, indicating the likely existence of an energy supply for microbial life.

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People whose 'brain age' is older than their real age more likely to die early

Tue, 25 Apr 2017 23:02:52 GMT2017-04-25T23:02:52Z

Scientists at Imperial College London used MRI scans and algorithms to produce computer-generated brain age and spot risk of dying young

Doctors may be able to warn patients if they are at risk of early death by analysing their brains, British scientists have discovered.

Those whose brains appeared older than their true age were more likely to die early and to be in worse physical and mental health, a study by Imperial College London found.

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Q&A: saturated fat, your health and what the experts say

Tue, 25 Apr 2017 22:38:37 GMT2017-04-25T22:38:37Z

The key points in a debate between cardiology experts over the link between fat, cholesterol and coronary disease

What’s the fuss about?

A furore has blown up over whether eating saturated fat increases the risk of coronary heart disease after three cardiologists said that “the conceptual model of dietary saturated fat clogging a pipe is just plain wrong”. They also dismissed the drive for foods with lower cholesterol and the use of medications as “misguided”.

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US should get to Mars during my presidency, Trump tells astronaut – video

Tue, 25 Apr 2017 08:49:59 GMT2017-04-25T08:49:59Z

Astronaut Peggy Whitson, who broke the US record for the most time in space, has received a congratulatory call from Donald Trump. The US president has urged Nasa to ‘speed up’ its Mars mission despite announcing plans to cut the space agency’s spending by about $200m

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Cassini dives between Saturn and its rings

Thu, 27 Apr 2017 20:30:28 GMT2017-04-27T20:30:28Z

First in a sequence of dramatic manoeuvres that will end with the spacecraft burning up in the planet’s atmosphere

Nasa’s Cassini spacecraft has plunged between Saturn and its rings. This is the first pass in a sequence of 22 weekly dives that will result in the destruction of the spacecraft on 15 September.

The mission has been orbiting Saturn since 2004, studying the planet, its rings and moons in unprecedented detail. Recently, it discovered that the ocean inside the moon Enceladus has the conditions necessary for life.

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Food security: the gene banks future-proofing Australian agriculture | The future of farming

Thu, 27 Apr 2017 00:01:51 GMT2017-04-27T00:01:51Z

At the start of our Future of farming series on sustainable agribusiness we show how two gene banks, living libraries of all the seeds and grains in Australia, are designed to safeguard the species

The invisible farmers: the young women injecting new ideas into agriculture
Water-smart farming: how hydroponics and drip irrigation are feeding Australia

In February 2018 the Svalbard Global Seed Vault in the remote Norwegian Arctic will celebrate its 10th anniversary. Among the gifts it will receive are two collections of precious seeds and grains from the Australian Pastures Genebank and the Australian Grains Genebank, to be deposited into the vault as an insurance policy for an uncertain future.

Between them, the Australian Pastures Genebank and the Australian Grains Genebank are a record of Australia’s agricultural past, a resource for its present, and an insurance policy for its future.

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Do bigots just lack imagination? | Oliver Burkeman

Fri, 28 Apr 2017 14:00:42 GMT2017-04-28T14:00:42Z

Empathy requires mental gymnastics at the best of times. Empathy for whole categories of people requires Olympic-level skills

It is usually seen as a depressing paradox about human beings that we find it easier to sympathise with one person’s suffering than with that of thousands: Stalin probably never really said “one death is a tragedy, a million deaths is a statistic” – but he was right all the same. It’s not much of a paradox, though. It makes sense: each of us has access to only one set of thoughts and emotions – our own – so we’re obliged to relate to others by analogy, working on the assumption that they feel pain and joy like we do. (As philosophers enjoy pointing out, you can’t truly know that your family and friends aren’t just meaty robots, with no inner life at all.) And it’s obviously easier to draw an analogy between yourself and one other person, as opposed to “the population of Somalia” or “all victims of domestic violence”, let alone those killed in the future by global warming, who aren’t necessarily even born yet. Empathy requires mental gymnastics at the best of times. Empathy for whole categories of people requires Olympic-level skills, and most of us aren’t up to it.

But there’s an intriguingly easy way to induce compassion for groups, according to a new study by the psychologist Kurt Gray and colleagues, published in the Journal Of Experimental Psychology and reported by Vox. It makes a difference, they found, whether you say “a group of 50 refugees” (for example) versus “50 refugees in a group”. The first phrasing focuses on the group, not its members, with the result that we think of those members as less capable of rich inner experience – and less human, if we’re honest – than ourselves. The latter phrasing focuses on the members, rather than the group. That linguistic switch proved sufficient for participants in the study to treat them as fully human, and fully deserving of compassion.

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Why I marched for science

Sun, 23 Apr 2017 06:24:48 GMT2017-04-23T06:24:48Z

Science will not make moral and political choices for us, or tell us what our goals should be. But it will help delineate the possibilities for achieving them

Like many others, I marched for science on Saturday 22nd April. I also spoke at the rally in Parliament Square, London, along with several excellent and varied speakers. We all had our own take on what we were there for, and why it was important, as did our fellow marchers and speakers around the world. This is the gist of what I said.

I am a particle physicist, so I think it is ok to start by paraphrasing one of our heroes, Richard Feynman. Science is a way of trying not to fool ourselves.

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How the modern weather map was born

Tue, 25 Apr 2017 20:30:15 GMT2017-04-25T20:30:15Z

Francis Galton’s synoptic chart described conditions of the previous day and sidestepped the pitfalls of prediction

The first newspaper weather map was published in the Times on 1 April 1875, the work of polymath Francis Galton, an explorer and anthropologist who was also a statistician and meteorologist.

The map was not a forecast, but a representation of the conditions of the previous day. This is known as a synoptic chart, meaning that it shows a summary of the weather situation. Readers could make their own predictions based on the information it provided.

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Are left-handers more likely to crash their cars?

Mon, 24 Apr 2017 05:30:03 GMT2017-04-24T05:30:03Z

New research suggests southpaws are more likely to have traffic incidents than right-handers. But perhaps our roads are simply rigged against the left

Name: Left-handed people.

Also known as: Lefties, southpaws.

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Can slag heaps help save the planet?

Sun, 23 Apr 2017 06:00:05 GMT2017-04-23T06:00:05Z

British scientists are exploring ways to use the steel industry’s waste to capture carbon dioxide in the atmosphere

The Industrial Revolution left a deep mark on our world. Its dawning saw the start of the widespread burning of coal for factories and steam engines and, as a result, the beginning of significant outputs of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Our climate is now warming noticeably as these emissions have accumulated across the planet.

The British landscape has also been changed dramatically. In particular, the countryside is now peppered with piles of slag left over from old steel mills. Landscaping these piles of industrial waste has required major efforts by local authorities in recent decades.

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Do you pronounce 'scone' to rhyme with 'cone' or 'gone'? It depends where you're from

Sat, 22 Apr 2017 23:05:27 GMT2017-04-22T23:05:27Z

As linguists celebrate English Language Day and Shakespeare’s birthday, what does the ever-changing way we speak reveal about us?

It is a division as entrenched and as bitter as the split between Brexit backers and EU Remainers – though in this case, the issue is truly personal. Do you pronounce the word “scone” to rhyme with “cone”, or to rhyme with “gone”?

To those in the latter group, it is a posh affectation to use a long vowel for this staple item of afternoon tea. By contrast, those in the former group believe they are merely following a logical extension of the pronunciation of the word cone by adding an s as a prefix.

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Scientists prepare for protest: 'the march should be a starting point'

Fri, 21 Apr 2017 17:10:52 GMT2017-04-21T17:10:52Z

March for Science organisers hope the mobilising thousands around the world can help restore science to its rightful place. But marching may not be enough

The placards are made, the speeches prepared. On Saturday, crowds in their thousands are expected at 500 marches in more than 35 countries to remind the world, and its many politicians, that society cannot thrive without science. It will be the largest show of solidarity for science the globe has ever seen.

Arranged to coincide with Earth Day, the anniversary of the modern environmental movement, organisers hope that the mobilisation of so many can help restore science to what they consider to be its rightful place. But despite healthy support for the events – more than 100 professional societies and organisations have endorsed them – marches alone will not be enough, according to researchers who study protest movements.

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David French obituary

Thu, 20 Apr 2017 14:44:50 GMT2017-04-20T14:44:50Z

Archaeologist who was an expert on all aspects of the Roman roads of Asia Minor

In the early 1970s, a short article by a little-known US scholar reported the discovery of an ancient road near the site of Gordion, the capital city of the ancient kingdom of Phrygia. This article, and his own chance encounter on a family picnic with a batch of undocumented Roman milestones next to a stretch of Roman road west of the modern Turkish capital, Ankara, inspired the archaeologist David French, who has died aged 83, to start the project that occupied him for the rest of his life. This was a comprehensive study, based on field work which took him to every corner of Turkey, of all aspects of the Roman roads of Asia Minor: milestones, road surfaces, bridges, the imperial road stations, and military installations.

He combined classical training with archaeological experience and an intimate knowledge of Turkey to acquire a more profound understanding of the topographical history of Anatolia – Asiatic Turkey – than any other scholar past or present. His passion for roads and routes extended from the Roman empire back to its Hittite and Persian predecessors and forward to the Ottoman period. At the start of his project, about 450 milestones were known from Asia Minor; by 2016, his discoveries had raised this number to more than 1,200. The research, carried out single-handed in the company of a series of Turkish government representatives, was a perfect match for his skills and character.

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What does an LSD-style drug-induced 'higher state of consciousness' feel like?

Thu, 20 Apr 2017 14:15:04 GMT2017-04-20T14:15:04Z

The effects of psychedelic drugs can lead to colours seeming more vivid and things seeming more beautiful, finds Rosalind Stone

My favourite trip was in Richmond Park in 2014. I took 100 micrograms of 1P-LSD, a designer LSD analogue which was legal in the UK until May 2016. The acid come-up starts in your throat: warmth spreads through you like syrup. Words will be more fun to say. Dust, sunbeams and the lint on your sleeves take on a faint, bluish fizz, or is it a whizz?

Related: Psychedelic drugs induce 'heightened state of consciousness', brain scans show

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We owe our planet this climate march. But we also owe it – very faint – hope | Bill McKibben

Fri, 28 Apr 2017 15:17:01 GMT2017-04-28T15:17:01Z

Trump is the worst thing that could have happened to the planet. That’s all the more reason to fight on - and celebrate even the smallest successes

There is no upside to the Trump presidency. To be in DC – I’ve come for Saturday’s giant climate march – is to be reminded up close what all Americans have known for months: we’ve put the country in the hands of a man completely unequal to the task. A man so cluelessly over his head that he keeps telling reporters he’s in over his head.

But if you want a few grayish linings to the dark-orange cloud, you can find them. In fact, the last few days have given those of us in the climate fight a few glimmers of light.

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Spice ruins lives and costs taxpayers a fortune. It doesn’t have to be this way | David Nutt

Fri, 28 Apr 2017 12:15:56 GMT2017-04-28T12:15:56Z

Antidotes to these dangerous, destructive synthetic drugs are desperately needed. But the government is standing in the way of their development

Last year I wrote to the health and home secretaries with suggestions on how antidotes for spice could be developed. Their replies revealed a complete lack of appreciation of the magnitude of the synthetic cannabinoid problem and lack of interest in the idea of an antidote.

Spice-induced “zombie” outbreaks in New York and in Manchester have hit the headlines in the past year. Use of these new damaging and powerful forms of synthetic cannabinoids is rife in our prisons and by homeless people, with estimates of up to 50 deaths last year. They can produce extremely strong psychotic states often with very violent behaviour. Sometimes a frozen unconscious state results. Either of these outcomes are health emergencies that consume vast amounts of police, prison officer and health professionals time, and so waste a huge amount of public money.

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The discovery of alien life may be close. How will religion survive it? | Santhosh Mathew

Wed, 26 Apr 2017 08:00:31 GMT2017-04-26T08:00:31Z

Encounters with new worlds and new life will present religions with the ultimate theological conundrum. But they will adapt, as they have done before

About two decades ago, it was quite uncertain whether stars other than our own sun even hosted their own planets. However, according to Nasa, the latest count of confirmed exoplanets stands at around 3,500 – and at least six of them are potential Earths. This count will definitely go up and many researchers believe that the advancement of technology will enable humans to discover some form of life on another planet in the coming years.

Related: Exoplanet discovery: seven Earth-sized planets found orbiting nearby star

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LGBTIQ rights: 'Being gay in Stem workplaces can be difficult'

Wed, 26 Apr 2017 00:03:15 GMT2017-04-26T00:03:15Z

Nearly half of LGBTIQ Australians hide their sexual identity at work, with many experiencing homophobic abuse. It’s time to do better

In 2015 a US survey found that LGBTIQ scientists felt more accepted in their workplaces than their peers in other professions did. The Queer in Stem survey, published in the Journal of Homosexuality, surveyed 1,400 LGBTIQ workers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. They found respondents in scientific fields that had a high proportion of women were more likely to be out to their colleagues than those who worked in male-intensive disciplines.

This is heartening news as it’s not necessarily that way in most Australian workplaces. Last year a report found that nearly half of LGBTIQ Australians hide their sexual identity at work. The report also found six in 10 LGBTIQ people have experienced verbal homophobic abuse in the workplace, while two in 10 have experienced physical violence.

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Plastic-eating bugs? It’s a great story – but there’s a sting in the tail | Philip Ball

Tue, 25 Apr 2017 18:41:37 GMT2017-04-25T18:41:37Z

Breeding wax moth caterpillars to devour our waste sounds good. But they would attack bee colonies too, and ultimately put crops at risk

Caterpillars that can munch up plastic bags have just been identified, fuelling excited speculation that this could one day eliminate global pollution from plastic waste. The chance discovery, initially made by a scientist and amateur beekeeper whose plastic bag had been eaten through by the moth caterpillars, was reported this week by researchers at Cambridge University and the Spanish National Research Council.

Related: Plastic-eating worms could help wage war on waste

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Scientists are armed with the truth. But to win this culture war, they’ll need more than that | Anne Perkins

Sun, 23 Apr 2017 14:04:31 GMT2017-04-23T14:04:31Z

We all love science when it’s making life better, longer and easier. It’s a much harder sell when it points to inconvenient truths about our way of life

There is an old joke about being able to tell an extroverted scientist: instead of staring at their shoes when they talk to you, they stare at yours. This is no longer true. Scientists are the new rock stars. Tonight Einstein gets the full soft-focus Crown-style treatment as National Geographic launches a 10-part series about the man described by the actor Geoffrey Rush, who portrays him in Genius, as a “stud-muffin theoretical physicist”.

Related: Why I marched for science

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Hello? ET? Just wait until you see the phone bill… | Barbara Ellen

Sat, 22 Apr 2017 23:08:26 GMT2017-04-22T23:08:26Z

$100m spent and still there is no sign of extraterrestrials

Very sad news for fans of aliens (should they exist). After more than a year of listening for signals, astronomers working on the $100m Breakthrough Listen project, funded by Silicon Valley billionaire Yuri Milner, have found no evidence of extraterrestrials. The only “intelligent signals” came via satellites, mobile phones and other “earthly devices”.

The good news is that the “ET phone home” scene packs an even greater punch now that we know about all those strong mobile signals. A tiny negative: $100m is rather a lot for what sounds like the equivalent of holding your phone in the air and yelling: “No UFOs as yet, but I’ve got three bars.”

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Science's role in society is threatened. Protest is the right response | John P Holdren

Sat, 22 Apr 2017 14:56:42 GMT2017-04-22T14:56:42Z

Some say that the March for Science risks making science political. But it already is – and not addressing that is a problem

Tens of thousands of scientists and supporters of science are pouring into the streets of Washington DC and other cities around the world on Saturday in a massive March for Science, aimed at highlighting the importance of science to society and the need for basing government policies on evidence.

But some thoughtful people, including some very distinguished scientists, have argued that the March is a mistake – that, by marching, scientists will create the impression that they are just one more interest group and, worse, will be seen as “politicizing science”.  I beg to differ.  Those criticisms will surely continue to be hurled at the March, but I believe they are off the mark.  

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Why March for Science? Because when it is attacked, only the elite benefit | Lucky Tran

Sat, 22 Apr 2017 09:00:10 GMT2017-04-22T09:00:10Z

When politicians smear science, real people get hurt. I’m marching because we must fight for communities who are harmed by bad science policy

I’m marching for science today because I’m mad. Yes, I’m a mad scientist. I became a scientist because I wanted to help people. In my career I’ve researched gene therapy, how to engineer new antibiotics and how to make better cancer drugs. But now what I do and care about has come under attack. I’m mad at politicians for hijacking science for their own selfish interests.

I know that many people just love debating whether science should be political or not. But personally I’m not really too interested in spinning my wheels in this pyrrhic war. Science has always been political ever since we first used it to show that the Earth orbits the sun. And right now, we haven’t any time to waste.

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Lyrid meteor shower illuminates sky over China – timelapse video

Mon, 24 Apr 2017 08:34:18 GMT2017-04-24T08:34:18Z

Stargazers were treated to a spectacle when the Lyrid meteor shower lit up the night sky over the north-eastern province of Jilin at the weekend. The annual event usually occurs between 19 and 23 April when the Earth passes through the dusty tail of comet Thatcher

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Thousands rally around the world for ‘March for Science’ – video

Sat, 22 Apr 2017 16:05:35 GMT2017-04-22T16:05:35Z

Thousands of people gathered in demonstrations across the globe for the ‘March for Science’ on Saturday, in a rebuke of Donald Trump’s dismissal of climate science and his attempts to cut large areas of scientific research. People congregated in cities such as London, Sydney and Berlin, with more than 600 marches planned across the US, Europe, South America and Australia

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People march for science around the UK - in pictures

Sat, 22 Apr 2017 10:29:41 GMT2017-04-22T10:29:41Z

People around the world are taking to the streets to stand up for science on Earth Day. We’ll be updating this gallery with photos from the UK marches throughout the day

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'The truth needs an advocate': why scientists will be marching on Saturday

Tue, 18 Apr 2017 14:57:27 GMT2017-04-18T14:57:27Z

The hands of the Doomsday Clock currently stand at two-and-a-half-minutes to midnight. Professor Ray Pierrehumbert of Oxford University and the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists explains why support for science and the global March for Science on 22 April is crucial

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Saturn moon has ‘almost all the ingredients to support life as we know it’, says Nasa – video

Thu, 13 Apr 2017 20:33:16 GMT2017-04-13T20:33:16Z

Saturn’s moon Enceladus has ‘almost all of the ingredients you would need to support life as we know it on earth’, says Nasa project scientist, Linda Spilker, on Thursday. Beneath its frozen surface, Enceladus has a saltwater ocean, and the hydrogen – produced in a reaction between heated water and rocks – indicates that the moon has active energy sources

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Dive into the twilight zone off Easter Island reveals new species

Thu, 06 Apr 2017 06:45:34 GMT2017-04-06T06:45:34Z

A diving expedition off Easter Island (or Rapa Nui) in the Pacific pushes the boundaries of both technology and the human body to reveal a world of unique species just waiting to be discovered

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Images that show another side of science – in pictures

Mon, 03 Apr 2017 13:30:06 GMT2017-04-03T13:30:06Z

These are the winning entries from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council photo competition 2017, which allows researchers and doctoral students to share another side of their work

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SpaceX successfuly launches first recycled rocket – video

Fri, 31 Mar 2017 05:25:24 GMT2017-03-31T05:25:24Z

A recycled SpaceX rocket recovered at sea from its first flight nearly a year ago blasted off again on Thursday from Florida on a satellite-delivery mission. The launch was another key step in founder Elon Musk’s plan to slash costs by reusing his rockets. The success is a step toward vastly less expensive spaceflight, which some hope can revolutionize travel in the solar system and take humans to Mars

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'Peggy I don't have a shield': ISS astronauts lose key piece of equipment – video

Fri, 31 Mar 2017 00:58:13 GMT2017-03-31T00:58:13Z

Cameras on the International Space Station have tracked a bag containing a debris shield as it sailed away and into the distance after it somehow became untethered from the station during a spacewalk. Nasa engineers determined it posed no safety threat to the astronauts or to the facility, a $100bn research laboratory that flies about 250m (402 km) above Earth.

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If nuclear war broke out where's the safest place on Earth?

Fri, 16 Dec 2016 11:52:49 GMT2016-12-16T11:52:49Z

Nuclear tensions appear to be mounting again amidst political upheaval. So if the event of nuclear war, where should you head?

The recent death of Fidel Castro – a man synonymous with the threat of nuclear war and the Cuban Missile Crisis – has reminded us how much the world has changed since the end of the Cold War.

We are safer now than perhaps any time in our history. Let’s take the cheery topic of violent death, for example. In most of the world, murder rates are falling along with other violent crimes. A recent UN study reported that homicide rates in North America, Europe and Asia have been declining for last 15 years, and wars have also become less deadly when compared to conflicts in the 20th century. Even contemporary atrocities in the Middle East do not compare to the industrial genocide of Stalin, Mao, or Hitler. Research by the Early Warning Project for example, has shown a clear decline in mass killings in wars and conflicts since 1992.

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Alien ‘Wow!’ signal could be explained after almost 40 years

Thu, 14 Apr 2016 16:59:53 GMT2016-04-14T16:59:53Z

A former analyst with the US Department of Defence is on the trail of an astronomical ‘cold case’ – an unexplained signal that some believe could have come from extraterrestrials

Way back in 1977 something amazing happened (apart from the release of Star Wars obviously). Astronomer Jerry Ehman was using the Ohio State University’s Big Ear radio telescope to sweep the sky for possible signals from extraterrestrial civilisations. He found something.

While pointing towards a grouping of stars called Chi Sagittarii on 15 August, he received a powerful blast of radio waves that lasted for 72 seconds. He circled it on the readout and wrote: “Wow!”

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‘Poor little snowflake’ – the defining insult of 2016

Mon, 28 Nov 2016 15:02:20 GMT2016-11-28T15:02:20Z

The term ‘snowflake’ has been thrown around with abandon in the wake of Brexit and the US election, usually to express generic disdain for young people. How can we neutralise its power – and is it a bad metaphor anyway?Between the immediate aftermath of Brexit and the US presidential election, one insult began to seem inescapable, mostly lobbed from the right to the left: “snowflake.” Independent MEP Janice Atkinson, who was expelled from Ukip over allegations of expenses fraud, wrote a piece for the Huffington Post decrying the “wet, teary and quite frankly ludicrous outpouring of grief emails” she had received post-referendum as “snowflake nonsense”. The far-right news site Breitbart, whose executive chairman Stephen Bannon is now Donald Trump’s chief strategist, threw it around with abandon, using it as a scattershot insult against journalists, celebrities and millennials who objected to Trump’s inflammatory rhetoric; its UK site used it last week to criticise a proposed “class liberation officer” at an Oxford college who would provide more support for working-class students.On an episode of his long-running podcast in August, Bret Easton Ellis discussed the criticism of a lascivious LA Weekly story about the pop star Sky Ferreira with a furious riposte to what he calls “little snowflake justice warriors”: “Oh, little snowflakes, when did you all become grandmothers and society matrons, clutching your pearls in horror at someone who has an opinion about something, a way of expressing themselves that’s not the mirror image of yours, you snivelling little weak-ass narcissists?” Continue reading...[...]


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Stephen Hawking: I may not be welcome in Trump’s America – video

Mon, 20 Mar 2017 08:17:01 GMT2017-03-20T08:17:01Z

Stephen Hawking says he fears he may not be welcome in the United States since the election of Donald Trump as president. Speaking on ITV’s Good Morning Britain on Monday, the eminent physicist says a hard Brexit would leave the UK isolated and inward–looking

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Receding glacier causes immense Canadian river to vanish in four days

Mon, 17 Apr 2017 15:00:03 GMT2017-04-17T15:00:03Z

First ever observed case of ‘river piracy’ saw the Slims river disappear as intense glacier melt suddenly diverted its flow into another watercourse

An immense river that flowed from one of Canada’s largest glaciers vanished over the course of four days last year, scientists have reported, in an unsettling illustration of how global warming dramatically changes the world’s geography.

The abrupt and unexpected disappearance of the Slims river, which spanned up to 150 metres at its widest points, is the first observed case of “river piracy”, in which the flow of one river is suddenly diverted into another.

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Psychedelic drugs induce 'heightened state of consciousness', brain scans show

Wed, 19 Apr 2017 09:00:17 GMT2017-04-19T09:00:17Z

Study records what appears to be the first evidence for mind-opening state experienced by users of LSD, ketamine and psilocybin

Brain scans have revealed the first evidence for what appears to be a heightened state of consciousness in people who took psychedelic drugs in the name of science.

Healthy volunteers who received LSD, ketamine or psilocybin, a compound found in magic mushrooms, were found to have more random brain activity than normal while under the influence, according to a study into the effects of the drugs.

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