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Science | The Guardian

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

Published: Mon, 27 Mar 2017 22:30:00 GMT2017-03-27T22:30:00Z

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

High fibre diet 'could prevent type 1 diabetes'

Mon, 27 Mar 2017 15:00:02 GMT2017-03-27T15:00:02Z

Animal trials hint that short-chain fatty acids produced by a fibre-rich diet could protect against early-onset diabetes

Scientists have raised hope for the prevention of early-onset diabetes in children after a fibre-rich diet was found to protect animals from the disease.

More than 20 million people worldwide are affected by juvenile, or type 1, diabetes, which takes hold when the immune system turns on the body and destroys pancreatic cells that make the hormone insulin.

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Fruit foraging in primates may be key to large brain evolution

Mon, 27 Mar 2017 15:18:35 GMT2017-03-27T15:18:35Z

Findings support view that big brains have evolved from diet rather than long-held theory it is due to social interaction

Foraging for fruit may have driven the evolution of large brains in primates, according to research attempting to unpick the mystery of our cerebral heftiness.

The finding appears to be a blow to a long-held theory that humans and other primates evolved big brains largely as a result of social pressures, with extra brain power needed to navigate and engage in complex social interactions. Instead the researchers say it supports the view that the evolution of larger brains is driven by diet.

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Purging the body of 'retired' cells could reverse ageing, study shows

Thu, 23 Mar 2017 16:16:31 GMT2017-03-23T16:16:31Z

Findings raise possibility that a future therapy that rids the body of senescent cells might protect against the ravages of old age

Purging retired cells from the body has been shown to undo the ravages of old age in a study that raises the prospect of new life-extending treatments .

When mice were treated with a substance designed to sweep away cells that have entered a dormant state due to DNA damage their fur regrew, kidney function improved and they were able to run twice as far as untreated elderly animals.

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US scientists launch world's biggest solar geoengineering study

Fri, 24 Mar 2017 12:39:33 GMT2017-03-24T12:39:33Z

Research programme will send aerosol injections into the earth’s upper atmosphere to study the risks and benefits of a future solar tech-fix for climate change

US scientists are set to send aerosol injections 20km up into the earth’s stratosphere in the world’s biggest solar geoengineering programme to date, to study the potential of a future tech-fix for global warming.

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‘Your animal life is over. Machine life has begun.’ The road to immortality

Sat, 25 Mar 2017 18:00:08 GMT2017-03-25T18:00:08Z

In California, radical scientists and billionaire backers think the technology to extend life – by uploading minds to exist separately from the body – is only a few years away

Here’s what happens. You are lying on an operating table, fully conscious, but rendered otherwise insensible, otherwise incapable of movement. A humanoid machine appears at your side, bowing to its task with ceremonial formality. With a brisk sequence of motions, the machine removes a large panel of bone from the rear of your cranium, before carefully laying its fingers, fine and delicate as a spider’s legs, on the viscid surface of your brain. You may be experiencing some misgivings about the procedure at this point. Put them aside, if you can.

You’re in pretty deep with this thing; there’s no backing out now. With their high-resolution microscopic receptors, the machine fingers scan the chemical structure of your brain, transferring the data to a powerful computer on the other side of the operating table. They are sinking further into your cerebral matter now, these fingers, scanning deeper and deeper layers of neurons, building a three-dimensional map of their endlessly complex interrelations, all the while creating code to model this activity in the computer’s hardware. As the work proceeds, another mechanical appendage – less delicate, less careful – removes the scanned material to a biological waste container for later disposal. This is material you will no longer be needing.

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Passengers in awe of Aurora Australis on first charter flight to see southern lights

Fri, 24 Mar 2017 03:14:08 GMT2017-03-24T03:14:08Z

‘We’ve travelled two-thirds of the way to the south pole, seen an incredible display and were home for breakfast,’ says organiser

The first commercial flight to view the Aurora Australis landed in New Zealand early on Friday, with 130 star-struck passengers sharing the experience on social media.

The eight-hour charter flight took off from the South Island on Thursday and flew to a latitude of 62 degrees south, where organisers said passengers were guaranteed a view of the aurora.

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Pigs' teeth and hippo poo: behind the scenes at London zoo

Fri, 24 Mar 2017 11:30:31 GMT2017-03-24T11:30:31Z

The Zoological Society of London zoo is home to more than 650 animal species. Photographer Linda Nylind was given exclusive access to spend time with the keepers and find out more about their daily routines

London zoo was established in 1828 and is the world’s oldest scientific zoo. Created as a collection for the Zoological Society of London (ZSL), the animals from the Tower of London’s menagerie were transferred there in 1832 and it opened to the public in 1847. Today it houses more than 20,000 animals and almost 700 species.

ZSL is not funded by the state – it relies on memberships and fellowships, entrance fees and sponsorship to generate income.

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Couple donates bug collection worth $10m, a goldmine for researchers

Fri, 24 Mar 2017 10:00:30 GMT2017-03-24T10:00:30Z

Collection will help scientists piece together a large branch of insects’ family tree and be a resource for scientists who study natural controls on the environment

In two rooms of Charles and Lois O’Brien’s modest home in Tucson, Arizona, more than a million insects – a collection worth an estimated $10m – rest in tombs of glass and homemade shelving. They come from every continent and corner of the world, gathered over almost six decades; a bug story that began as a love story.

This week, the O’Briens, both octogenarians, announced that they would donate their collection, one of the world’s largest private holdings, to Arizona State University.

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Lab notes: is tartan T. rex about to enter the textbooks?

Fri, 24 Mar 2017 13:11:14 GMT2017-03-24T13:11:14Z

The potential for a massive shakeup of the dinosaur family tree (including a possible common ancestor from Scotland) was mooted this week – will a new classification come in and overturn over a century of evolutionary assumptions? Stay tuned, dino-lovers. In the meanwhile, I may have to reverse my personal policy on our eight-legged friends with the news that and ingredient in funnel web spider venom can protect cells from being destroyed by a stroke. Alongside this is the news that a new test can predict age when Alzheimer’s disease will appear. It’s based on 31 genetic markers could be used to calculate any individual’s yearly risk for onset of disease. So all this is great news, but I’ve saved the best ‘til last: we might even be en route to understanding how to undo the ravages of time, as a new study has show that purging the body of ‘retired’, or senescent, cells could reverse ageing. Mice today, me tomorrow? I don’t know how long we could expect to live if they perfect the technique, but chances are that none of us will look as good after 700 years as the Cambridge man whose face has been brought to life in a detailed reconstruction. It’s part of a research project aimed at gaining insights into the anonymous poor of the medieval city. And finally, a low-cost but high-tech breakthrough could mean that fertility testing for men could become as simple and affordable as home pregnancy testing. A gadget designed to clip onto a smartphone has been shown to detect abnormal sperm samples with 98% accuracy in trials. Great news for those struggling to conceive but nervous or embarrassed by clinics.

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Let there be light: Germans switch on 'largest artificial sun'

Thu, 23 Mar 2017 12:19:55 GMT2017-03-23T12:19:55Z

Scientists hope experiment, which can generate temperatures of around 3,500C, will help to develop carbon-neutral fuel

German scientists are switching on “the world’s largest artificial sun” in the hope that intense light sources can be used to generate climate-friendly fuel.

The Synlight experiment in Jülich, about 19 miles west of Cologne, consists 149 souped-up film projector spotlights and produces light about 10,000 times the intensity of natural sunlight on Earth.

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Decades of TB progress threatened by drug-resistant bacteria, warn experts

Thu, 23 Mar 2017 11:27:35 GMT2017-03-23T11:27:35Z

Rise of multi-drug resistant strains of tuberculosis could derail global efforts to eradicate the disease, according to a new report

The rise of multi-drug resistant bacteria threatens to overturn decades of progress on tuberculosis (TB), experts are warning.

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Radical shakeup of dinosaur family tree points to unexpected Scottish origins

Wed, 22 Mar 2017 18:02:08 GMT2017-03-22T18:02:08Z

Cat-sized Scottish fossil proposed as candidate for common dinosaur ancestor in controversial study that could overthrow a century of dinosaur classification

The most radical shakeup of the dinosaur family tree in a century has led scientists to propose an unlikely origin for the prehistoric beasts: an obscure cat-sized creature found in Scotland.

The analysis, which has already sparked controversy in the academic world, suggests that the two basic groups into which dinosaurs have been classified for more than a century need a fundamental rethink. If proved correct, the revised version of the family tree would overthrow some of the most basic assumptions about this chapter of evolutionary history, including what the common ancestor of all dinosaurs looked like and where it came from.

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New Alzheimer's test can predict age when disease will appear

Wed, 22 Mar 2017 06:00:27 GMT2017-03-22T06:00:27Z

Test based on 31 genetic markers could be used to calculate any individual’s yearly risk for onset of disease

Scientists have developed a new genetic test for Alzheimer’s risk that can be used to predict the age at which a person will develop the disease.

A high score on the test, which is based on 31 genetic markers, can translate to being diagnosed many years earlier than those with a low-risk genetic profile, the study found. Those ranked in the top 10% in terms of risk were more than three times as likely to develop Alzheimer’s during the course of the study, and did so more than a decade before those who ranked in the lowest 10%.

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Smartphone app could allow men to test their fertility at home

Wed, 22 Mar 2017 19:07:16 GMT2017-03-22T19:07:16Z

Gadget designed to clip onto a smartphone able to detect abnormal sperm samples with 98% accuracy in trials

Men may soon be able to measure their own sperm count and quality at home, using a smartphone app developed by scientists.

In early tests the gadget, designed to clip onto a smartphone, detected abnormal sperm samples with an accuracy of 98%.

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Cryogenic preservation: from single cells to whole organs – Science Weekly podcast

Wed, 22 Mar 2017 12:59:15 GMT2017-03-22T12:59:15Z

Hannah Devlin looks at recent advances in the field of cryopreservation and asks how close we are to applying these technologies to whole organs

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

Last year, around 3,500 organs were transplanted into patients in the UK alone. That said, a large number of organs were also discarded because the moment a donor dies, doctors have only eight or so hours to find a patient on the organ register who is a match and can be almost immediately ready for surgery. One recent estimate suggested that as many as 60% of the hearts and lungs donated for transplantation are discarded each year. But a new technology could be about to change this: whole-organ cryopreservation.

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Face of Cambridge man brought to life 700 years after his death

Wed, 22 Mar 2017 12:10:53 GMT2017-03-22T12:10:53Z

Reconstruction is part of research project aimed at gaining insights into the anonymous poor of the medieval city

The face of a Cambridge man who died more than 700 years ago has been reconstructed as part of a project to gain insights into the anonymous poor of the medieval city.

The 13th-century man, known as Context 958 by researchers, was among hundreds whose remains were found in a graveyard under what is now the Old Divinity School of St John’s College.

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Is a Jägerbomb more dangerous than a gin and tonic?

Mon, 27 Mar 2017 10:39:10 GMT2017-03-27T10:39:10Z

Research seems to link energy drink cocktails with higher alcohol consumption and an increase in negative consequences. How bad can a vodka Red Bull be?

The majority of research suggests that people who drink alcohol mixed with energy drinks (AmED) consume higher quantities of alcohol than non-AmED drinkers. This is then associated with an increase in behaviours with potentially very serious negative consequences, such as drink driving and unplanned unprotected sex.

The general assumption behind this link is that energy drinks might mask the intoxicating and impairing effects of alcohol. It’s very easy to say we would never have unprotected sex or drink and drive when we’re sober, but after a few drinks our inhibitions fall away, and we may feel carefree and invincible. If you also reduce the sedative effects of alcohol by consuming energy drinks, you’re going to feel more awake and perhaps less impaired (although you will still be impaired).

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Bad language: why being bilingual makes swearing easier

Mon, 27 Mar 2017 10:07:03 GMT2017-03-27T10:07:03Z

Bilingual reduced emotional resonance is fairly well-established, but why does it happen? And does that have a knock-on effect for different communities?

My dad had a liberal philosophy of childrearing, but he would always tell us off for swearing. As a result, I grew up feeling very uncomfortable using swearwords. Or, at least, so I thought – when I first moved to Scotland, I noticed that it was actually very easy to swear in English. Interestingly enough, I also found it easy to talk to my flatmates about topics that felt too intimate to discuss in my native tongue. In a flat of seven girls from all over Europe, we discussed the full magnitude of emotions and topics; the fears of living abroad, falling in and out of love, death, sex – everything. Swearing and talking about these emotions was not easy just because of the inherent rowdiness of the student community, or because we felt liberated being away from home for the first time. The effect I was observing is something that goes deeper and touches a huge amount of people who live in multilingual settings.

Related: From smugglers to supermarkets: the 'informal economy' touches us all

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Can you solve it? Take the Ada Lovelace challenge

Mon, 27 Mar 2017 06:10:01 GMT2017-03-27T06:10:01Z

We’ve channelled the spirit of the mathematician, writer and daughter of Byron in order to set a riddle for Guardian readers

Hello guzzlers,

I have a special treat for you today: a letter from the nineteenth century mathematician, Countess Ada Lovelace. The letter comes through the medium of Pavel Curtis, who every month for the last few years has been releasing similar puzzles from Ada that he calls Adalogical AEnigmas. Pavel, who has a day job as a software architect at Microsoft, is a legend in the puzzle community. He composed - I mean channelled - today’s puzzle for Guardian readers. Enjoy!

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From gravity to the Higgs we're still waiting for new physics

Fri, 24 Mar 2017 13:11:42 GMT2017-03-24T13:11:42Z

Annual physics jamboree Rencontres de Moriond has a history of revealing exciting results from colliders, and this year new theories and evidence abound

I’m here again at the Rencontres de Moriond conference in Italy. Some of you might remember an update from last year from the same conference on a signal in data taken during 2015 at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), hinting at a new particle that weighed as much as 750 protons and decayed into two particles of light. This signal wasn’t present in fresh data last year, so it was dismissed - we suppose that it was just a chance fluctuation.

This conference has a history of releasing some exciting experimental results from colliders, so I’ve been eagerly awaiting the experimental analyses of the searches for new physics. While there are – disappointingly – no significant direct signals of new particles from the collisions, evidence is mounting in the decays of some composite particles that have bottom quarks stuck together with another quark (or anti-quark): “bottom mesons”.

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From smugglers to supermarkets: the 'informal economy' touches us all

Fri, 24 Mar 2017 11:13:18 GMT2017-03-24T11:13:18Z

You may think that a smuggler in the Tunisian desert has nothing to do with your trip to the supermarket. You’re wrong

As I talk to him, Ahmed pulls his chair into his store to escape the hot Tunisian sun. He is a retired teacher – the years of screaming children can be counted in the rings framing his eyes. Behind him is his merchandise. To make up for a small pension, Ahmed is selling kitchenware in a market near the Libyan border, over four hundred tiny concrete garages surround him, goods piled high: clothes, bags, microwaves. It looks like any other market, but note an invisible detail: everything sold here is illegal. Every good in this market has been smuggled into Tunisia. Ahmed, though he may not look the part, is a smuggler.

Related: Supply chain audits fail to detect abuses, says report

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How the media warp science: the case of the sensationalised satnav

Thu, 23 Mar 2017 13:14:41 GMT2017-03-23T13:14:41Z

Reports of research that shows that satnavs “switch off” parts of the brain are a perfect example of how the media distorts science, often unintentionally

There’s a famous cliché which says “If you like sausage, you should never see one being made”. Well, earlier this week I saw how a science news story occurred, from experiment to media coverage, and I think the same applies here.

A UCL study titled “Hippocampal and prefrontal processing of network topology to simulate the future” was published in Nature Communications earlier this week. The human brain’s capacity for spatial navigation is fairly formidable, even if we’re not aware of it (riders of the beer taxi will appreciate this). But how does it do this? The study investigated this by presenting subjects undergoing fMRI with simulated versions of London streets and locations, and having them navigate their way around. Some subjects were guided, others were made to work out routes to their destinations. Corresponding brain activity was recorded.

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Living and looking for lavatories – why researching relief is so relevant

Thu, 23 Mar 2017 11:00:02 GMT2017-03-23T11:00:02Z

Toilets are a source of interaction, social structures, organisation, norms and values. So why aren’t sociologists discussing them more?

It may be a turn of the stomach, a nervous flutter, a morning coffee or a sudden, unpredictable rush. You may look for a sign, if you are lucky enough to live in a society where they are readily available. There may or may not be a queue, often depending on the room of your gender. You may look for disabled access, whether you are in a wheelchair or have an invisible illness. You may select a space based on who is there, or your perception of its cleanliness. For some, it is an unwritten rule that one cannot go next to another person relieving themselves. What are you looking for?

A lavatory.

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Why virtual reality could be a mental health gamechanger

Wed, 22 Mar 2017 12:42:00 GMT2017-03-22T12:42:00Z

We’re still a long way from from being able to provide timely treatment to everyone who needs it, but we could be on the brink of change thanks to VR

Few tech topics are hotter right now than virtual reality (VR). Though it’s been around for decades, VR has at last entered the world of consumer electronics via devices like the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive and, increasingly, headsets that can be used in conjunction with our mobile phones. But VR isn’t just a technological game-changer: it could transform the way we tackle mental health problems.

Not so long ago, talking about psychological problems was taboo. Now the scale of these disorders is no longer a secret. We know, for example, that one in four people will experience mental health issues at some point in their life. The ramifications from this ocean of distress aren’t merely personal; the socio-economic consequences are profound. Nearly half of all ill health in working age adults in the UK is psychological. Mental illness costs the UK economy £28 billion every year — and that’s excluding NHS costs.

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Drug scandals and the media – the unresolved case of Primodos

Wed, 22 Mar 2017 08:00:29 GMT2017-03-22T08:00:29Z

Primodos: The Secret Drug Scandal, airs on Sky this week. Will this media intervention repeat history by helping campaigners get compensation?

If the history of drug scandals teaches us anything, it is that fair compensation is typically achieved only through lengthy media campaigns and legal battles. Though lacking the direct powers of judges or policymakers, interventions by investigative journalists and broadcasters have sometimes proved decisive.

Take thalidomide: between 1957 and 1961 the widely prescribed morning-sickness treatment caused miscarriages, and many thousands of babies around the world were born with severe limb malformations. In the UK, an adequate settlement was negotiated with the British distributor, Distillers Company (now part of Diageo), only after the Sunday Times took up the cause in 1972.

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Walking in the footsteps of giants – and gerbils | Elsa Panciroli

Wed, 22 Mar 2017 07:30:29 GMT2017-03-22T07:30:29Z

From hopping Cretaceous desert mammals, to muddy Scottish sauropods, fossil footprints reveal more than you might expect about extinct life

Trekking through damp woodlands in the Scottish Highlands, I pause and look down at my feet. On a thread-like deer trail on a steep hillside, animal footprints have been pressed into a hollow of mud. I reach into my backpack and take out a battered field guide. I identify the imprints as those of a pine marten; an elusive UK carnivore that I’m told is partial to eating small rodents, eggs, insects… and peanut butter if there are generous humans around. With luck, I may see the trackmaker itself. I tread quietly onward through the forest.

For palaeontologists, identifying the makers of a fossil footprint is not so simple. There are no handy laminated field guides matching dinosaur species to their tracks, or ancient insects to their burrows. The only way to link a fossil animal directly to its imprints is to find it, literally, dead in its tracks.

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Climate change: ‘human fingerprint’ found on global extreme weather

Mon, 27 Mar 2017 10:01:35 GMT2017-03-27T10:01:35Z

Global warming makes temperature patterns that cause heatwaves, droughts and floods across Europe, north America and Asia more likely, scientists find

The fingerprint of human-caused climate change has been found on heatwaves, droughts and floods across the world, according to scientists.

The discovery indicates that the impacts of global warming are already being felt by society and adds further urgency to the need to cut carbon emissions. A key factor is the fast-melting Arctic, which is now strongly linked to extreme weather across Europe, Asia and north America.

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Australian stargazers invited to join hunt for mysterious Planet 9

Sun, 26 Mar 2017 19:58:24 GMT2017-03-26T19:58:24Z

‘It really is Where’s Wally,’ says Australian National University’s Brad Tucker, but the twist is you get a say in the official name of anything you find

Everyday stargazers will have a shot at naming a new planet by joining Australian astronomers in the hunt for a mysterious large orb believed to be circling the fringe of the solar system.

Australian National University researchers have invited the public to join them in the hunt for so called “Planet 9” by combing through a massive array of new pictures mapping the southern sky.

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Hopping rockets and flying washing machines in Google's wacky race to moon

Sun, 26 Mar 2017 14:09:40 GMT2017-03-26T14:09:40Z

Five competitors remain in a $20m Google contest to land a probe on the lunar surface by the end of the year, but all their craft are untested, rudimentary, or look like R2-D2

By the end of the year, space engineers hope to fulfil one of their greatest dreams. They plan to land a privately funded probe on the moon and send a small robot craft trundling over the lunar surface. If they succeed they will open up the exploitation of the moon for mining and ultimately human colonisation – and earn $20m prize money as winners of the Google Lunar XPrize.

Out of the 29 companies that originally entered the competition, only five remain in contention. Each has until the end of 2017, the XPrize deadline, to launch its robot mission.

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‘Who knows what we’ll find next?’ Journey to the heart of Mozambique’s hidden forest

Sat, 25 Mar 2017 21:00:12 GMT2017-03-25T21:00:12Z

Since it was identified on Google Earth in 2005, the forest of Mount Mabu has amazed scientists with its unique wildlife. Jeffrey Barbee joins explorer Professor Julian Bayliss on the first trip to its green heart

The soggy boots of the team slide backwards in the black mud as they struggle up towards the ridge line separating the forest edge from one of the last unexplored places on Earth.

The rain is an incessant barrage of watery bullets firing down through the tree canopy. Thunder crashes. Tangles of vines and spider webs make for a Hollywood movie scene of truly impenetrable jungle.

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Stem cells help some men with erectile dysfunction after prostate surgery

Sat, 25 Mar 2017 05:08:37 GMT2017-03-25T05:08:37Z

In clinical trials, eight out of 15 men suffering from erectile dysfunction had sex six months after one-time treatment

Men unable to have an erection after prostate surgery enjoyed normal intercourse thanks to stem cell therapy, scientists are to report on Saturday at a medical conference in London.

In first-phase clinical trials, eight out of 15 continent men suffering from erectile dysfunction had sex six months after the one-time treatment, without recourse to drugs or penile implants.

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‘Moore’s law’ for carbon would defeat global warming

Thu, 23 Mar 2017 18:00:10 GMT2017-03-23T18:00:10Z

A plan to halve carbon emissions every decade, while green energy continues to double every five years, provides a simple but rigorous roadmap to tackle climate change, scientists say

A new “carbon law”, modelled on Moore’s law in computing, has been proposed as a roadmap for beating climate change. It sees carbon emissions halving every decade, while green energy continues to double every five years.

The carbon law’s proponents are senior climate-change scientists and they argue it provides a simple, broad but quantitative plan that could drive governments and businesses to make urgently needed carbon cuts, particularly at a time when global warming is falling off the global political agenda.

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Moderate drinking can lower risk of heart attack, says study

Wed, 22 Mar 2017 23:30:48 GMT2017-03-22T23:30:48Z

Drinking in moderation helps protect heart, with study finding it lowers risk of many conditions compared with not drinking

Moderate drinking can lower the risk of several heart conditions, according to a study that will further fuel the debate about the health implications of alcohol consumption.

The study of 1.93 million people in the UK aged over 30 found that drinking in moderation – defined as consuming no more than 14 units of alcohol a week for women and 21 units for men – had a protective effect on the heart compared with not drinking.

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Rotavirus vaccine could save lives of almost 500,000 children a year

Wed, 22 Mar 2017 21:01:45 GMT2017-03-22T21:01:45Z

Positive outcome of trials in Niger fuels hope that vaccine can protect children in sub-Saharan Africa and beyond from infection that causes often fatal diarrhoea

A vaccine capable of enduring scorching temperatures for months at a time could strike a decisive blow in the fight against rotavirus, preventing nearly half a million children around the world from dying of diarrhoea each year.

Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) has hailed successful trials of the BRV-PV vaccine in Niger as a “game changer” in tackling rotavirus infection, which is the leading cause of severe diarrhoea globally and claims the lives of an estimated 1,300 children daily, most of them in sub-Saharan Africa.

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Princess Anne backs GM crops and livestock – unlike Prince Charles

Wed, 22 Mar 2017 06:03:27 GMT2017-03-22T06:03:27Z

Anne says she would farm GM food and GM livestock a ‘bonus’, while Charles says GM crops will cause ‘biggest disaster environmentally of all time’

Princess Anne has strongly backed genetically modified crops, saying she would grow them on her own land and that GM livestock would be a “bonus”.

Her stance puts her sharply at odds with her brother Prince Charles, who has long opposed GM food and has said it will cause the “biggest disaster environmentally of all time”.

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The April night sky

Sun, 26 Mar 2017 20:30:40 GMT2017-03-26T20:30:40Z

Jupiter rules the sky, but also watch out for comet 41P/Tuttle–Giacobini–Kresák and for the Lyrids meteor shower

Jupiter comes to opposition in April and now rules our night sky. Also at its best is Mercury, while comet 41P/Tuttle–Giacobini–Kresák appears as an inflated greenish hazy blob as it sweeps between the Plough and Polaris – our previous Starwatch carried details and a chart.

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Are Devon’s road-wrecking badgers a match for the German cows who blew up a barn?

Mon, 27 Mar 2017 14:21:56 GMT2017-03-27T14:21:56Z

Badger tunnels under a road in Braunton have been blamed for a road collapsing. They’ve got some work to do before they belong in this rogue’s gallery of chaos-causing creatures

We are destroying their homes and their kin so it was, perhaps, only a matter of time before the animals started fighting back. Until evolution gives them opposable thumbs, they have to use whatever nature has equipped them with. In the case of badgers, this means digging. Perhaps sickened by the numbers killed on Britain’s roads (an estimated 50,000 badgers are hit by vehicles every year), badgers have tunnelled under a road in Braunton, north Devon, causing it to collapse. It has been closed by the council “for the safety of the travelling public”. It is far from the first incidence of animals attacking the human world. Here are some others:

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'We've left junk everywhere': why space pollution could be humanity's next big problem

Sat, 25 Mar 2017 20:57:40 GMT2017-03-25T20:57:40Z

With satellites under threat from collisions, a former lieutenant is now focused on technology that can remove space debris

Jason Held rekindled his love for space while lying in a ditch in Bosnia in 1996, where he was one of 16,500 US troops deployed on a peacekeeping mission at the end of the Bosnian War.

Then a lieutenant, he says he had “nothing to do but to watch the two armies put their guns away”. So he signed up for a class in undergraduate biology through an army education program, taking the books to the ditch and passing the hours by studying.

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Weaponise! ​The meaning of 2017’s political buzzword

Mon, 27 Mar 2017 17:48:27 GMT2017-03-27T17:48:27Z

Sex, the NHS, Brexit, loose tal​k – all have been ​described as ​‘weaponised’​. But what is the effect on the public when ​language is constantly on a war footing?

In our embattled age, it seems everything can be turned into a weapon. The Scottish Tory leader, Ruth Davidson, has frequently accused Nicola Sturgeon of “weaponising Brexit” to break up the union. Donald Trump’s “loose talk about Muslims”, the Washington Post reported, was “weaponised” in the courtroom battles over his travel ban. The Greenham Common protesters, Suzanne Moore wrote in this newspaper the other day, “weaponised traditional notions of femininity”. A recent New Yorker article on the jurisprudence of sexual questions was entitled Weaponising the Past. Ed Miliband, it was reported back in 2015, even planned to “weaponise the NHS” in the general election, a characteristically tin-eared piece of forlorn machismo. Other things that may be weaponised, according to the internet, include autism, Twitter, campus safe spaces, memes and the humble lentil.

To weaponise something means, straightforwardly, to turn it into a weapon, but what sort of thing originally counted as weaponisable? Surprisingly, the earliest use (predating the Oxford English Dictionary entry by nearly 20 years) that comes up in a Google books search is a metaphorical one: in 1938, one William John Grant wrote in The Spirit of India of a certain group who were unable to “weaponise their strength” by advancing compelling political arguments. But subsequent uses of “weaponise” in the 40s and 50s were exclusively military: in this context, “weaponising” meant not turning non-weapons into weapons, but bringing new military technology to practical fruition in one way or another.

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Changes to flight paths could reduce aircraft effect on climate

Thu, 23 Mar 2017 21:30:14 GMT2017-03-23T21:30:14Z

Small alterations to routing, which would add about 1% to airlines’ operating costs, could have significant results

Small tweaks to flight paths could reduce the effects that aircraft have on climate by as much as 10%, a new study shows. For a roughly 1% increase in operating costs, airlines could make significant climate change cuts by optimising their routes according to the weather, time of day and time of year.

Aircraft affect Earth’s climate by emitting greenhouse gases, and creating contrails, which alter the way radiation is reflected back to space. An estimated 5% of manmade climate change is caused by global aviation, and this number is expected to rise. But Keith Shine, a meteorologist at the University of Reading, and his colleagues show this could be reduced if flights were routed to avoid the regions where their emissions have the greatest effect on climate.

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The woman who hunts asteroids for a living: ‘I owe my job to a Bruce Willis film’

Sun, 19 Mar 2017 10:30:05 GMT2017-03-19T10:30:05Z

Space physicist Dr Carrie Nugent talks about the chances of Earth being hit by a giant asteroid – and why she owes her job to a Bruce Willis movie

Dr Carrie Nugent is a 32-year-old geo- and space physicist who specialises in asteroids. Her new book Asteroid Hunters – published by TED Books and accompanied by a talk – answers all our questions on these small, mysterious objects that travel between the planets. Her day job is spotting and tracking asteroids as part of a Nasa-funded research team at the Infrared Processing and Analysis Center at Caltech in Pasadena. She is also the host of a weekly podcast called Spacepod, in which she interviews a space explorer about our universe.

Our team has named a couple of asteroids: one after Malala Yousafzai and one after Rosa Parks

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The climate change battle dividing Trump’s America

Sat, 18 Mar 2017 18:00:45 GMT2017-03-18T18:00:45Z

Climate change denial and energy conspiracy are high on the president’s agenda, but US scientists are fighting back

Ever since Donald Trump became US president, certain sectors of American society have felt particularly embattled. His statements on Mexicans and Muslims are notorious, but there is another community, less heard about, that has also been sent reeling: scientists.

If politics has never been a world that is overly respectful to empirical research, Trump’s victory exploited a growing popular suspicion of expertise, and a tendency to seek out alternative narratives to fact-based analysis. Conspiracy theories, anti-vaccination campaigns and climate change deniers have all traded on this rejection of science, and their voices have all been heard, to differing degrees, in the new administration. But for the science community perhaps the most provocative act so far of Trump’s short time in office was the appointment of Scott Pruitt, a Republican lawyer and climate change sceptic, as head of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

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Arctic expeditions and stars collide to create 'quietly powerful' show

Fri, 17 Mar 2017 11:42:45 GMT2017-03-17T11:42:45Z

Artist Siobhan McDonald named UN Climate Action Programme’s first artist of the week with ‘beautiful and intelligent’ mixed media exhibition Crystalline

Barely 24 hours after the word had got out, Siobhan McDonald was sitting at a sunny Paris café terrace last Saturday still coming to grips with having just been named the UN Climate Action Programme’s first artist of the week in its new #Art4Climate series.

“The first I knew about it was when I opened my computer and saw the news had gone viral on Twitter and Facebook,” she says. “I am thrilled, of course, but also a bit humbled – my work strives to get the message across about the evolution of nature and the cosmos.”

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How to survive gaslighting: when manipulation erases your reality

Thu, 16 Mar 2017 10:00:05 GMT2017-03-16T10:00:05Z

Ariel Leve offers strategies to stay resilient in the face of psychological abuse that distorts the truth – much like what’s coming from Trump’s administration

Right now, many Americans listening to their president are experiencing what I experienced frequently a child. Nothing means anything, and reality is being canceled. There is confusion, there is chaos, everything is upside down and inside out. When facts and truth are being discredited, how is it possible to know what to believe, especially when it comes from someone we expect to embody both ethics and etiquette?

Related: Ariel Leve: 'I was the parent and my mother was the child'

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Breitbart's James Delingpole says reef bleaching is 'fake news', hits peak denial | Graham Readfearn

Fri, 24 Mar 2017 01:50:25 GMT2017-03-24T01:50:25Z

A claim like this takes lashings of chutzpah, blinkers the size of Trump’s hairspray bill and more hubris than you can shake a branch of dead coral at

It takes a very special person to label the photographed, documented, filmed and studied phenomenon of mass coral bleaching on the Great Barrier Reef “fake news”.

You need lashings of chutzpah, blinkers the size of Donald Trump’s hairspray bill and more hubris than you can shake a branch of dead coral at.

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The Guardian view on biotechnologies: rewriting our future | Editorial

Thu, 23 Mar 2017 20:21:21 GMT2017-03-23T20:21:21Z

The creation of synthetic yeast chromosomes is a breathtaking feat by scientists – but the whole of society needs to engage with the implications of such research

DNA is often described as a long string of letters, each representing a particular chemical. The metaphor is about to become much more powerful: scientists are reaching the point where they can arrange these chemical letters with as much precision as ordinary letters in a word processor. They will be able to spell out any protein that they might want a cell to build, a power which will change the world profoundly.

Researchers say they have designed and built six completely synthetic chromosomes for brewers’ yeast, an organism with 16 natural ones. There are now strains in which artificial and natural chromosomes work together; in a few years, there will be yeasts whose genome has been entirely designed and built. This work is breathtaking in both ambition and bioengineering achievement. Not content to sequence naturally occurring DNA and reconstruct it artificially, the scientists have cleaned up and reordered it as if it were merely a complex and shoddily maintained computer program. They hope in time to rewrite chromosomes so that their physical structure and logical functions correspond and the chains of different proteins that act together are all made from adjacent stretches of DNA. Software and genetic engineering are coming together to design living organisms the way that the God of creationists is imagined to work.

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Did I make the right decision? You asked Google – here’s the answer | Anouchka Grose

Wed, 22 Mar 2017 08:00:29 GMT2017-03-22T08:00:29Z

Every day millions of internet users ask Google life’s most difficult questions, big and small. Our writers answer some of the commonest queries

This has to be at the more abstract end of “things to ask the internet”. If you wanted a standard, hippy-humanist answer such as: “It’s right if it feels right, and wrong if it feels wrong”, you’d probably just ask a reasonably kind and thoughtful person. The fact that this question is addressed to a giant information network that knows absolutely nothing about you or your circumstances surely means it’s serious. That it’s also asked post factum suggests a mischievous approach to time and reality. Perhaps you’re hoping to be reminded that string theory argues for the idea of a multiverse in which parallel realities can co-exist.

While you may fear that you married the wrong person, bought the wrong car, or shouldn’t have committed a crime, don’t worry because some physicists may argue that there are infinite versions of you out there in polyamorous, ambisexual relationships, driving very cheap or expensive vehicles while sometimes obeying the law. Meanwhile you can screw up as much as you like in the happy knowledge that one of you is bound to be getting everything right.

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Climate change is happening now – here’s eight things we can do to adapt to it | Missy Stults

Tue, 21 Mar 2017 13:23:07 GMT2017-03-21T13:23:07Z

Donald Trump has rejected global leadership on the issue, so now it’s down to us as individuals to plan, and push through new policies change where we can

A little girl sits outside on her front stoop, watching the cars go by and the people trot to work in the early hours of the morning. She wears a long-sleeved shirt, pants, and sneakers. Nothing is particularly shocking about this image, except the fact that it’s December in New York City (or Detroit, or London). In a “traditional” year, this girl would be wearing her winter coat, a hat that covers nearly her entire head, and potentially snow boots. But not in 2016. Or 2015. Or 2014. It’s simply too warm for all those clothes.

Related: Record-breaking climate change pushes world into ‘uncharted territory’

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'Workshy' Wills is getting flak – I hear Russia's in need of cosmonauts | John Crace

Fri, 17 Mar 2017 16:22:28 GMT2017-03-17T16:22:28Z

From prince being under fire for having no proper job to George Osborne fitting yet another job in with his MP’s duties

Prince William is getting a lot of flak for going on a lads’ ski trip to Verbier, though the headlines of “Don’t you have a proper job to go to?” appear to have been mainly an excuse for newspapers to print pictures of the prince drinking and dancing in nightclubs. Not least because the simple fact is that he doesn’t have a proper job to go to. That’s the whole point of him. Most of us encounter a sense of existential futility at some point, but few have it embedded in our job description. He’s basically twiddling his thumbs waiting for his granny and his father to die. It’s almost enough to make a member of the royal family turn republican.

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AI is getting brainier: when will the machines leave us in the dust? | Ian Sample

Wed, 15 Mar 2017 15:43:07 GMT2017-03-15T15:43:07Z

To usher in the ‘Singularity’ – when computers match human intelligence – superintelligent one trick ponies like DeepMind must become jacks of all trades

The road to human-level artificial intelligence is long and wildly uncertain. Most AI programs today are one-trick ponies. They can recognise faces, the sound of your voice, translate foreign languages, trade stocks and play chess. They may well have got the trick down pat, but one-trick ponies they remain. Google’s DeepMind program, AlphaGo, can beat the best human players at Go, but it hasn’t a clue how to play tiddlywinks, shove ha’penny, or tell one end of a horse from the other.

Related: Google’s DeepMind makes AI program that can learn like a human

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Culls aren't the way to balance the needs of sharks and surfers

Tue, 14 Mar 2017 08:30:17 GMT2017-03-14T08:30:17Z

Following the shark bite death of a body boarder in February, there have been calls for a cull of bull sharks. But it isn’t the answer – and it won’t work

I’m a shark biologist and I also love to surf. One of my favourite surfing memories isn’t one of my rides, however, but of being a spectator. I remember standing on the Waimea shoreline in 2009, feeling the beach shake as enormous waves thundered to a close. Moments before, my favourite surfer had just scored a 98 point ride in the prestigious “Eddie” competition, named in honour of Hawaiian surfing legend Eddie Aikau. That surfer was Kelly Slater.

Slater’s name is currently synonymous with sharks because of comments he made following the tragic death of body boarder Alexandre Naussac on 21 February 2017 in the waters of Reunion Island. Naussac was killed by a bite by a bull shark, and in the shock that followed, Slater spoke out, backing the long-held views of Reunion Island local and pro surfer Jeremy Flores, and called for a cull on the sharks around Reunion. This quickly led to a barrage of online attacks and misinformation from people on both sides of the argument.

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Stunning 'new' cloud formations captured in updated atlas – in pictures

Thu, 23 Mar 2017 12:35:04 GMT2017-03-23T12:35:04Z

Roll clouds and wave-like asperitas are among the additions to the new digital International Cloud Atlas, that dates back to the 19th century. It features hundreds of images captured by meteorologists and cloud lovers from around the world

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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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Stunning science: Wellcome Image Awards 2017 winners - in pictures

Wed, 15 Mar 2017 21:00:07 GMT2017-03-15T21:00:07Z

Established in 1997, the Wellcome Image Awards reward and showcase the best in science image making – and this year’s 22 winning images represent a broad spectrum of techniques and specialisms

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Pharaoh Ramses II statue unearthed in Cairo – video

Fri, 10 Mar 2017 09:07:50 GMT2017-03-10T09:07:50Z

Archaeologists in Cairo believe they have uncovered parts of a temple of Pharaoh Ramses II, including an eight-metre-high statue. The statue could not be identified from its engravings, but since it was found at the entrance to the temple, it was likely to represent Ramses II, who ruled Egypt in the 13th century BC

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16th century 'zoological goldmine' discovered – in pictures

Thu, 09 Mar 2017 12:38:33 GMT2017-03-09T12:38:33Z

It was one of those moments historians dream of. In 2012, Florike Egmond discovered an enthralling collection of 16th-century drawings and watercolours of animals collected by the founding father of zoology Conrad Gessner and his fellow Swiss successor Felix Platter hidden away in the Amsterdam University Library. These and many more illustrations feature in her new book on early modern natural history illustration, Eye For Detail (Reaktion Books, 2017)

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Iron age jewellery found in Staffordshire field – video report

Tue, 28 Feb 2017 11:40:26 GMT2017-02-28T11:40:26Z

Two metal-detecting friends tell how they unearthed a hoard of iron age gold jewellery in a Staffordshire field. The four pieces of gold, which have been named the Leekfrith Iron Age Torcs, were found in December 2016 by Mark Hambleton and Joe Kania. The jewellery is some of the oldest examples of Iron Age gold, and of Celtic ornament, ever found in Britain

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Open wide: a fascinating look at teeth – in pictures

Mon, 27 Feb 2017 15:24:00 GMT2017-02-27T15:24:00Z

The Teeth of Non-Mammalian Vertebrates by Barry Berkovitz and Peter Shellis offers a unique look at the teeth of fish, reptiles and amphibians teeth, from the hardened skin rasps of the lamprey to the fangs of the rattlesnake

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Nasa announces discovery of seven Earth-sized planets – video report

Wed, 22 Feb 2017 20:00:52 GMT2017-02-22T20:00:52Z

Nasa announced the discovery of seven Earth-like planets orbiting a star called Trappist-1, about 39 light years away, on Wednesday. The find has widely excited the astronomy community because of its implications in the hunt for alien life beyond the solar system. Three of the planets in the Trappist-1 system are in the habitable zone near the star and so could have water on their surfaces

Thrilling discovery of seven Earth-sized planets orbiting nearby star

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SpaceX rocket blasts off from historic NASA launchpad – video

Sun, 19 Feb 2017 16:07:06 GMT2017-02-19T16:07:06Z

SpaceX successfully launches a Falcon 9 rocket in Florida on Sunday on a resupply mission to the International Space Station. The rocket takes off from a launchpad at the Kennedy Space Center that has seen off some of Nasa’s most famous missions, but has gone unused since the agency retired its space shuttle fleet in 2011

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Time passes more slowly for flies, study finds

Mon, 16 Sep 2013 08:53:17 GMT2013-09-16T08:53:17Z

Research suggests perception of time is linked to size, explaining why insects find it easy to avoid being swatted

Flies avoid being swatted in just the same way Keanu Reeves dodges flying bullets in the movie The Matrix – by watching time pass slowly.

To the insect, that rolled-up newspaper moving at lightning speed might as well be inching through thick treacle.

Continue reading...Scientists found flies could detect light flickering up to four times faster than humans can. Photograph: Juniors Bildarchiv GmbH/AlamyScientists found flies could detect light flickering up to four times faster than humans can. Photograph: Juniors Bildarchiv GmbH/Alamy

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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?”

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How good is your mathematical sense of humour? Quiz | Simon Singh

Mon, 21 Oct 2013 08:51:32 GMT2013-10-21T08:51:32Z

Several writers on The Simpsons have advanced degrees in mathematics in addition to their unparalleled sense of humour. Can you match their combination of nerdiness and comic skills?For the correct answers, and explanations, click hereWhy did 5 eat 6?Because 1, 2, 3Because 7, 8, 9Because 5 predates 6What are the 10 kinds of people in the world?Set 0, Set 1, Set 2, … Set 9α, β, γ, δ, ε, ζ, η, θ, ι, κThose who understand binary, and those who don’tWhat does the “B” in Benoit B Mandelbrot stand for?Benoit B MandelbrotBinomialBreviationHow hard is counting in binary?It's as easy as 1, 11, 111It's as easy as 01, 10, 11It's as easy as x, y, zWhat do you get when you cross a parrot and a banana?| parrot | x | banana | x sin θA yellow polyhedronParrot x bananaWhy did the chicken cross the Möbius strip?To get to the other…. er…?To reach a finite conclusionTo integrate itself into the tarmacWhat’s purple and commutes?A cyclic grapeAn abelian grapeA Galois grapeWhat is the world’s longest song?ℵ1 Green Bottles Hanging on the WallA Million Green Bottles Hanging on the Wall∞ Green Bottles Hanging on the WallWhat goes “Pieces of seven! Pieces of seven!”? A polynomialA polygon A parroty errorWhat did Bertrand Russell say to Alfred North Whitehead? “A Freud egg for breakfast please.”“My Gödel is killing me!”“Goethe wrote Faust and Joyce wrote Ulysses!”0 and above.Either your mathematical knowledge is zero or your sense of humour is an empty set.1 and above.Either your mathematical knowledge is zero or your sense of humour is an empty set2 and above.Either your mathematical knowledge is zero or your sense of humour is an empty set.3 and above.You deserve an A level in arithmetickle.4 and above.You deserve an A level in arithmetickle.5 and above.You deserve an A level in arithmetickle.6 and above.Well done, you have earned a degree in geometeeheehee7 and above.Well done, you have earned a degree in geometeeheehee.8 and above.Well done, you have earned a degree in geometeeheehee.9 and above.One day, you might join the writing team behind The Simpsons, which includes nerds who have degrees and PhDs in mathematics. One of them, Jeff Westbrook, even held a senior research post at Yale University.10 and above.One day, you might join the writing team behind The Simpsons, which[...]

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Why zoos are good

Tue, 19 Aug 2014 10:57:37 GMT2014-08-19T10:57:37Z

The days of the Victorian menagerie are over, but modern zoos are much more than a collection of animals and more important than ever

I am a lifelong fan of good zoos (note the adjective) and have visited dozens of zoos, safari parks and aquaria around the world. I also spent a number of years working as a volunteer keeper at two zoos in the U.K. and my own interests now span to the history of zoological collections and their design, architecture and research so it is probably fair to say I’m firmly in the pro-zoo camp.

However, I am perfectly willing to recognise that there are bad zoos and bad individual exhibits. Not all animals are kept perfectly, much as I wish it were otherwise, and even in the best examples, there is still be room for improvement. But just as the fact that some police are corrupt does not mean we should not have people to enforce the law, although bad zoos or exhibits persist does not mean they are not worthwhile institutes. It merely means we need to pay more attention to the bad and improve them or close them. In either case, zoos (at least in the U.K. and most of the western world) are generally a poor target for criticism in terms of animal welfare – they have to keep the public onside or go bust and they have to stand up to rigorous inspections or be closed down. While a bad collection should not be ignored, if you are worried the care and treatment of animals in captivity I can point to a great many farms, breeders, dealers and private owners who are in far greater need or inspection, improvement or both.

Continue reading...The rare tuatara was once common across New Zealand but was reduced to surviving only on some small islands. Captive breeding programs are restoring this unusual animal back to former numbers and distributions. Photograph: /Dave HoneThe rare tuatara was once common across New Zealand but was reduced to surviving only on some small islands. Captive breeding programs are restoring this unusual animal back to former numbers and distributions. Photograph: /Dave Hone

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Did you solve it? Complete the equation 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1 = 2016

Mon, 04 Jan 2016 17:00:16 GMT2016-01-04T17:00:16Z

The countdown conundrum cracked: how to solve it and my pick of your best solutions

Earlier today I set you the following puzzles. Fill in the blanks so that these equations make arithmetical sense:

10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1 = 2016, and

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