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Science | The Guardian

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

Published: Fri, 22 Sep 2017 06:31:31 GMT2017-09-22T06:31:31Z

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

DNA editing in human embryos reveals role of fertility 'master gene'

Wed, 20 Sep 2017 17:02:36 GMT2017-09-20T17:02:36Z

In a first for the UK, genome editing has been used to understand embryo development, and could help uncover the causes of recurrent miscarriages

Scientists in Britain have revealed the role of a fertility “master gene” in one of the world’s first demonstrations of DNA editing in human embryos.

The study, which marks a first for the UK, could help uncover the cause of recurrent miscarriages and lead to more effective fertility treatments. It also raises ethical questions about the prospect of controversial gene editing techniques being used clinically to correct defects in, or even enhance, human embryos in the future.

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Rupture within tectonic plate is probable cause of Mexico earthquakes

Thu, 21 Sep 2017 10:53:21 GMT2017-09-21T10:53:21Z

Mexico’s most recent earthquakes did not directly involve two tectonic plates clashing, as is commonly the case. Seismologist Dr Stephen Hicks explains

We are often reminded about the force and devastation from earthquakes that occur around the Pacific Ring of Fire. The titanic collision of two tectonic plates, which firmly lock together and accrue strain over tens to hundreds of years, eventually releases this pent-up energy as a large earthquake. We have seen such quakes striking Indonesia, Chile and Japan over the past 15 years. Mexico, too, lies on the Ring of Fire and is no stranger to such quakes: the 1985 8.0 magnitude earthquake that devastated Mexico City was a fairly typical “thrust” earthquake that ruptured the shallow portion of the tectonic plate boundary.

The two earthquakes that struck Mexico this month were different.

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Fathers pass on four times as many new genetic mutations as mothers – study

Wed, 20 Sep 2017 17:00:10 GMT2017-09-20T17:00:10Z

Faults in male DNA are a driver for rare childhood diseases, research suggests, with men passing on one new mutation for every eight months of age

Children inherit four times as many new mutations from their fathers than their mothers, according to research that suggests faults in the men’s DNA are a driver for rare childhood diseases.

Researchers studied 14,000 Icelanders and found that men passed on one new mutation for every eight months of age, compared with women who passed on a new mutation for every three years of age.

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Scientists discover unique Brazilian frogs that are deaf to their own mating calls

Thu, 21 Sep 2017 09:07:14 GMT2017-09-21T09:07:14Z

Pumpkin toadlet frogs are only known case of an animal that continues to make a communication signal even after the target audience has lost the ability to hear it

Humans trying to chat each other up in a noisy nightclub may find verbal communication futile. But it appears even more pointless for pumpkin toadlets after scientists discovered that females have lost the ability to hear the sound of male mating calls.

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Controversial Lightning Process 'helps children with chronic fatigue syndrome'

Wed, 20 Sep 2017 22:30:17 GMT2017-09-20T22:30:17Z

Trial unexpectedly shows combination of osteopathy, life coaching and neuro-linguistic programming helps children with CFS/ME get better

A controversial treatment for chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) called the Lightning Process can help children get better, a trial has shown, much to the surprise of the doctor who put it to the test.

One in every 100 children of secondary school age has CFS, also known as ME, and it can wreck their lives. Those affected miss a year of school on average, many of them getting to classes on just two days a week. Half are bedbound at some stage.

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Too few antibiotics in pipeline to tackle global drug-resistance crisis, WHO warns

Tue, 19 Sep 2017 22:00:29 GMT2017-09-19T22:00:29Z

Nowhere near enough new drugs are currently in development says report, which calls for urgent investment and responsible use of existing antibiotics

Too few antibiotics are in the pipeline to tackle the global crisis of drug resistance, which is responsible for the rise of almost untreatable infections around the world, the World Health Organisation (WHO) warns.

Among the alarming diseases that are increasing and spreading is multi-drug resistant tuberculosis (TB), which requires treatment lasting between nine and 20 months. There are 250,000 deaths a year from drug-resistant TB and only 52% of patients globally are successfully treated. But only two new antibiotics for the disease have reached the market in 70 years.

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Are the two Mexican earthquakes connected – and are more on the way?

Thu, 21 Sep 2017 07:57:40 GMT2017-09-21T07:57:40Z

Two earthquakes have hit Mexico within two weeks, both occurring on the Cocos tectonic plate. But are they related, and could Mexico face more tremors?

Mexico has been hit by its second deadly earthquake in less than two weeks. Are the two seismic events in Mexico related, and could they indicate more tremors are on the way?

Two days after the second earthquake in Mexico, large quakes struck the Pacific island of Vanuatu and off the north-east coast of Japan.

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Children are straitjacketed into gender roles in early adolescence, says study

Wed, 20 Sep 2017 13:00:19 GMT2017-09-20T13:00:19Z

Global study finds girls are considered vulnerable and protected, while boys are set free to roam and explore, with lifelong consequences

Across the world, from Beijing to Baltimore, children are straitjacketed into gender roles in early adolescence, with the world expanding for boys and closing in for girls, according to new research.

The Global Early Adolescent Study breaks new ground by talking to children and their parents in 15 countries around the world and finding a remarkably similar story. Girls approaching adolescence are considered vulnerable and protected, while boys are set free to roam and explore. That has consequences for their behaviour and expectations throughout their life.

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Testosterone Rex triumphs as Royal Society science book of the year

Tue, 19 Sep 2017 18:40:25 GMT2017-09-19T18:40:25Z

Psychologist Cordelia Fine’s dissection of the myths that sustain assumptions about sexual difference acclaimed by judges as ‘a cracking critique’

A book that rubbishes the idea of “fundamental” differences between men and women has become the 30th winner of the prestigious Royal Society prize for science book of the year.

Related: Testosterone Rex by Cordelia Fine review – the question of men’s and women’s brains

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Ambitious neuroscience project to probe how the brain makes decisions

Tue, 19 Sep 2017 05:30:09 GMT2017-09-19T05:30:09Z

Combining expertise from 21 labs in Europe and the US, the International Brain Laboratory will attempt to answer one of the greatest mysteries of all time

World-leading neuroscientists have launched an ambitious project to answer one of the greatest mysteries of all time: how the brain decides what to do.

The international effort will draw on expertise from 21 labs in the US and Europe to uncover for the first time where, when, and how neurons in the brain take information from the outside world, make sense of it, and work out how to respond.

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Channel Islands' buried porpoise is not the first such mysterious find

Wed, 20 Sep 2017 13:23:17 GMT2017-09-20T13:23:17Z

A porpoise jawbone, discovered in the Shetlands by a 1950s schoolboy as part of an ancient treasure hoard, raises similar questions about the significance these animals held for earlier people

The strange discovery of a porpoise skeleton interred in a medieval religious grave in the Channel Islands is evocative of a deep cultural connection between humans and cetaceans which we are only just beginning to understand.

It speaks to a different, historical relationship to the natural world – one which now appears to be coming full circle.

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The cybercrime arms race: fighting back against the hackers - Science Weekly podcast

Wed, 20 Sep 2017 06:30:39 GMT2017-09-20T06:30:39Z

Nicola Davis speaks with two experts on the frontline of cybercrime to find out how the changing digital landscape is leaving us all vulnerable to cyber attacks

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

On Friday 12 May, a ransomware cyber-attack casued havoc among computer systems in nearly 100 countries. Of the reported 45,000 or so attacks, one of the worst left English hospitals struggling to function, with the malware demanding payment in exchange for unlocking encrypted data on NHS systems. But just how much of a threat does cybercrime pose? What are the hackers after? And, with a society that’s becoming more digital by the day, what can we do to ensure the ‘good’ guys win?

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Medieval porpoise 'grave' on Channel island puzzles archaeologists

Tue, 19 Sep 2017 14:08:40 GMT2017-09-19T14:08:40Z

Animal may have been placed in carefully cut hole to preserve its meat or have had some sort of religious significance

Archaeologists digging at an island religious retreat have unearthed the remains of a porpoise that, mystifyingly, appears to have been carefully buried in its own medieval grave.

The team believe the marine animal found on the island of Chapelle Dom Hue, off the west coast of Guernsey, was buried in the 14th century.

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It's time to take the 'great' white men of science off their pedestals | Yarden Katz

Tue, 19 Sep 2017 05:00:08 GMT2017-09-19T05:00:08Z

Yes, the Oxford statue of Rhodes should fall but why not novelist HG Wells, a eugenics enthusiast, and J Marion Sim, the ‘father of gynaecology’ who experimented on slaves, too

Science’s most elite magazine, Nature, published an editorial recently arguing that calling for monuments to figures such as J Marion Sims – often called the “father of gynaecology” – to be removed amounts to “whitewashing” history. Sims is widely praised for developing techniques in gynaecological surgery and founding a women’s hospital in New York in the mid-1800s. But Sims experimented on enslaved black women and infants, operating up to 30 times on one woman to perfect his method. Last month, women wearing bloodied hospital gowns staged a protest by Sims’s statue outside the New York Academy of Medicine.

Related: A battle with prejudice: why we overlook the warrior women of ancient times | Natalie Haynes

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Body's 'bad fat' could be altered to combat obesity, say scientists

Tue, 19 Sep 2017 16:00:22 GMT2017-09-19T16:00:22Z

By blocking a particular protein, unhealthy ‘white’ fat could be transformed into calorie-burning ‘beige’ fat, experiments show

“Bad fat” could be made to turn over a new leaf and combat obesity by blocking a specific protein, scientists have discovered.

Most fat in the body is unhealthy “white” tissue deposited around the waist, hips and thighs. But smaller amounts of energy-hungry “brown” fat are also found around the neck and shoulders. Brown fat generates heat by burning up excess calories.

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Octlantis: the underwater city built by octopuses

Mon, 18 Sep 2017 13:53:52 GMT2017-09-18T13:53:52Z

The discovery of aquatic architecture has led scientists to compare the behaviour of cephalopods to humans – but octopus city life is no utopia

If animals are our other, there is nothing quite so other as the octopus. It is the alien with whom we share our planet, a coeval evolutionary life form whose slithery slipperiness and more than the requisite number of limbs (each of which contains its own “brain”) symbolise the dark mystery and fear of the deep.

Now comes news that octopuses have been building their own cities down there. In a story straight out of James Cameron’s The Abyss, scientists have discovered that the wonderfully named “gloomy octopus”, octopus tetricus, are not the loners we once thought them to be.

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Women of childbearing age around world suffering toxic levels of mercury

Mon, 18 Sep 2017 10:53:55 GMT2017-09-18T10:53:55Z

Study finds excessive levels of the metal, which can seriously harm unborn children, in women from Alaska to Indonesia, due to gold mining, industrial pollution and fish-rich diets

Women of childbearing age from around the world have been found to have high levels of mercury, a potent neurotoxin which can seriously harm unborn children.

The new study, the largest to date, covered 25 of the countries with the highest risk and found excessive levels of the toxic metal in women from Alaska to Chile and Indonesia to Kenya. Women in the Pacific islands were the most pervasively contaminated. This results from their reliance on eating fish, which concentrate the mercury pollution found across the world’s oceans and much of which originates from coal burning.

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Lab notes: from ancient zero to space hero – this week's science goes down in a blaze of glory

Fri, 15 Sep 2017 16:41:56 GMT2017-09-15T16:41:56Z

And so farewell to Cassini, whose incredibly rewarding mission to Saturn has reached a fiery and dramatic end after 20 years, eight billion miles, a ton of stunning images and masses of extremely intriguing data. The plucky spacecraft has now become one with the planet it so faithfully observed, which is a nice way of saying it’s burned away to nothing – or zero, the expression of which has caused excitement this week. The origin symbol we use today has been traced to the Bakhshali manuscript, dating from the 3rd or 4th century - which makes it about 500 years older than scholars previously believed. And although one is more than none (which will still be too many for some) there’s a good possibility that a new technology breakthrough will allow multiple time-delayed vaccines or drug doses to be delivered in single jab. This could see and end to booster jabs, and allow an improvement in vaccination rates in developing world countries. The practicality of this could be said to stand in sharp contrast to the weird and wonderful pieces of research celebrated by this year’s Ig Nobel prizes. Among the rich variety of winners, the judges rewarded work arguing that cats can be considered both solid and liquid, a study which pinpointed cheese disgust in the brain and another which proved that playing the didgeridoo is a cure for snoring. Hurrah for science.

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No, a standing desk isn't as unhealthy as smoking

Thu, 21 Sep 2017 11:57:22 GMT2017-09-21T11:57:22Z

Does a new study really claim that standing at work is as unhealthy as a cigarette a day? Closer inspection suggests probably not

A headline in the Independent today has proclaimed that standing at work is “as unhealthy as a cigarette a day”, citing a new study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology. Illustrated with a picture of a woman bent over her standing desk clutching at her back, we’re instructed to “sit back down”.

But a closer look at the research in question reveals very little to do with standing desks. In fact, the study did not look at standing desks at all. The research was conducted on a sample of 7,320 residents of Ontario, Canada, followed up for over a decade. And its findings are striking – people whose job requires them to stand for long periods of time were twice as likely to contract heart disease compared to those who do jobs that predominantly involve being seated.

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Why religious belief isn't a delusion – in psychological terms, at least

Thu, 21 Sep 2017 07:00:27 GMT2017-09-21T07:00:27Z

Religious beliefs are typically incompatible with scientific evidence and observable reality, but aren’t considered to be delusions. Why not?

If someone told you, in all seriousness, that they talk to invisible beings who control the universe, you’d probably back away slowly, nodding and smiling, while desperately looking for the nearest exit or escape route. If this person then said they wanted to be in charge of your life, you’d probably do the same, but more urgently, and with a view to finding the nearest police officer.

And yet, this happens all the time. Arch Brexiter, unlikely Tory leadership candidate and human Pez-dispenser Jacob Rees-Mogg recently blamed his extreme and unpleasant views on his Catholicisim, which was seen as a valid excuse by many. Current placeholder prime minister Theresa May has made a big deal about how her Christian upbringing makes her suitable for the role. And despite the lawful separation of church and state, every official and wannabe US president has had to emphasise their religious inclinations. Even Trump, whose enthusiasm for maintaining the noble traditions of the presidency can be described as limited at best.

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How biomolecules from deep time can help to reconstruct the tree of life

Wed, 20 Sep 2017 12:34:30 GMT2017-09-20T12:34:30Z

Applying spectroscopy techniques to tricky fossil leaves enables researchers to work out their evolutionary relationships

The tree of life is almost entirely composed of dead branches. The species which exist on the Earth today are the tips of a very exclusive set of branches – the ones which happen to have representatives alive now, at the same time as human beings with the technology to divine their gene sequence. By comparing how similar their gene sequences are, we can classify living organisms according to their shared ancestry.

This doesn’t help us one little bit in classifying the long dead branches with no modern survivors. Actually, that’s not completely fair, because we can combine the modern way of working out shared ancestry using molecular data with the way we did it before sequencing became commonplace: comparative morphology. If you have discovered an extinct organism, but have good evidence from fossils that its physical characteristics are sufficiently well understood for it to be placed within an established group, then all well and good. That’s basically our current best method for building a tree of life that incorporates both extinct and living organisms. But what if there was a third way?

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In the shadow of Fat Man and Little Boy: how the stigma of nuclear war was unravelled

Fri, 15 Sep 2017 11:36:31 GMT2017-09-15T11:36:31Z

Atomic bombs ‘Fat Man’ and ‘Little Boy’ exploded over Nagasaki and Hiroshima 72 years ago creating a lasting nuclear taboo – until now. What has changed?

Until recently, a significant taboo has existed around the use of nuclear weapons in war. However, we are now in a position where that taboo is being flagrantly disregarded by the leaders of the most powerful nation in the world, and a totalitarian dictatorship.

Taboos offer a way for us to create overarching rules of societal acceptability that transcend our social and cultural norms. Taboos prohibit behaviours that are not appropriate within and beyond the moral or ethical framework of an individual community – scenarios that are so dangerous or perverse that they are almost unspeakable. Traditionally, those who engage in taboo activities, such as incest, are stigmatised and ostracised by their society, as their breach or defiance of taboo could have significant and unacceptable repercussions. We had a taboo surrounding deploying nuclear weapons – out of respect for the devastation they can wreak – but it seems more and more fragile.

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How the female Viking warrior was written out of history

Fri, 15 Sep 2017 10:21:18 GMT2017-09-15T10:21:18Z

What Bj 581, the ‘female Viking warrior’ tells us about assumed gender roles in archaeological inquiry

In the 1880s Scandinavian archaeologists unearthed a grave containing all the implements required for battle, including shields, an axe, a spear, a sword, and a bow with a set of heavy arrows, along with two horses, a mare and a stallion. A set of game pieces has long lead researchers to believe that this person was interested in strategy, and may have used the pieces to plan battle tactics. It was the grave of a Viking warrior and naturally was assumed to be a male. It was designated, and continues to be referred to, as Bj 581.

Related: Does new DNA evidence prove that there were female viking warlords?

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Diving for Dakuwaqa: giving Fiji's shark god a helping hand

Thu, 14 Sep 2017 11:50:51 GMT2017-09-14T11:50:51Z

Dakuwaqa reputedly protects those at sea. But with almost 70% Fiji’s shark species threatened with extinction, it’s time for humans to return the favour

The Fijian shark culture and mythology is one which deeply appeals to me. The shark is revered by many Fijians, and legend has it that Dakuwaqa, the ancient shark god, provides protection for the people when at sea.

But the tables are turned, and Dakuwaqa now urgently needs the help of his people: almost 70% of the 75 recorded elasmobranch species inhabiting Fijian waters are considered to be globally threatened with extinction.

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How a newly-discovered mastodon jaw became a mammoth mystery

Wed, 13 Sep 2017 13:49:24 GMT2017-09-13T13:49:24Z

Dr Chris Widga and his team thought the remains they were excavating were ‘just another mastodon’. But when the jaw appeared, it was unlike anything the team had ever seen. What exactly could it be?

He’d been offering tantalising hints throughout his presentation: an ulna here; a large femur there; a calculated weight of 16 tons for this animal. But it wasn’t until he showed an image of the excavated jaw that some of us became really excited.

This wasn’t a typical mastodon.

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With its lack of diversity, the Science and Technology Committee scores an own goal

Wed, 13 Sep 2017 10:22:53 GMT2017-09-13T10:22:53Z

It is a disgrace that the latest iteration of a key Commons group is composed entirely of men

Ask a group of people to nominate candidates for an important role and the chances are they’ll come up with a bunch of men. The evidence shows this time and time again. Think of the much-mocked Northern Powerhouse event earlier this year, with its dearth of female speakers, or the all-male panel – now colloquially known as a manel – which too many conferences showcase.

Many men are sufficiently annoyed by this to sign up to pledges, refusing to talk on platforms in which there is insufficient gender diversity. This is progress, but it’s depressingly slow. In STEM fields the problem is probably more acute than in, say, humanities. We are long way from seeing a transformation in scientific leadership despite the numbers of women rising through the hierarchy growing steadily.

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E-cigarette science – is scaremongering hampering research opportunities?

Wed, 13 Sep 2017 08:05:13 GMT2017-09-13T08:05:13Z

We need more trials into the long-term impacts of e-cigarettes, but is disagreement between scientists over their effects putting people off taking part?

Whenever I tell anyone I research e-cigarettes, they almost always have an opinion about them. Some will be vapers themselves, and those who are will almost without fail sing the praises of the device that finally helped them quit smoking. But often people who’ve never tried e-cigarettes will focus on the potential risks from using them, and in particular whether they’re likely to reintroduce smoking to a young generation who have been steadily shunning it in larger and larger numbers over recent decades. A particular fear is that young people will experiment with e-cigarettes and that this will be a gateway in to smoking, as well as fears around the harms from e-cigarettes themselves.

Related: Fears over e-cigarettes leading to smoking for young people unfounded – study

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Vegetarian dinosaurs sometimes strayed for a shellfish snack – study

Fri, 22 Sep 2017 02:33:36 GMT2017-09-22T02:33:36Z

Analysis of fossilised dinosaur dung suggests some herbivorous dinosaurs may have also eaten crustaceans

Some dinosaurs may not have been the strict vegetarians that palaeontologists thought they were.

New analysis of fossilised dinosaur dung suggests some herbivorous dinosaurs may have also eaten crustaceans, according to a new study published Thursday in the Nature journal Scientific Reports.

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Get up, stand up: including exercise in everyday life healthier than gym, says study

Thu, 21 Sep 2017 22:30:30 GMT2017-09-21T22:30:30Z

Taking the stairs and getting off the bus a stop early are more likely to protect against heart disease and early death than working out, research shows

Incorporating physical activity into our everyday lives, from taking the stairs to holding “walkaround” meetings in the office, is more likely to protect us from heart disease and an early death than buying a gym membership, according to the author of a major new global study.

The study, published in the Lancet medical journal, found that one in 20 cases of heart disease and one in 12 premature deaths around the globe could be prevented if people were more physically active. It compared 130,000 people in 17 countries, from affluent countries like Canada and Sweden to some of the least affluent, including Bangladesh and Zimbabwe.

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Caught napping: snoozing jellyfish prove a brain isn't necessary for sleep

Thu, 21 Sep 2017 16:31:58 GMT2017-09-21T16:31:58Z

Scientists made the discovery by observing the primitive jellyfish Cassiopea, which has no central nervous system

Snoozing jellyfish have confirmed that a brain is not necessary for sleep.

Scientists made the discovery after observing a primitive jellyfish called Cassiopea that lives upside down on the sea floor and lacks any kind of central nervous system.

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Pills prescribed for alcoholism might not work, study finds

Thu, 21 Sep 2017 04:00:24 GMT2017-09-21T04:00:24Z

Review of five drugs – including one linked to deaths – says there is no body of reliable evidence behind any of them

There is no magic pill to cure alcoholism, according to a scientific review of the evidence of five drugs being prescribed by doctors.

None of the five drugs has a body of reliable evidence behind it, say the scientists, even though one of the drugs, nalmefene, has been approved for use in the NHS by Nice, the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence. Another, baclofen, has generated huge excitement, especially in France, but has been linked to deaths.

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Barn owls don't lose their hearing with age, scientists find

Wed, 20 Sep 2017 05:01:37 GMT2017-09-20T05:01:37Z

Findings leave researchers hopeful that understanding hearing preservation in birds could lead to new treatment possibilities for deaf humans

If ageing humans had ears like those of barn owls they would never need hearing aids, scientists have shown.

The birds, whose sensitivity to sound helps them locate prey, suffer no hearing loss as they get older. Like other birds – but unlike mammals, including humans – they are able to regenerate cells in their inner ears.

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Russian helicopter accidentally fires rocket at onlookers

Tue, 19 Sep 2017 13:52:00 GMT2017-09-19T13:52:00Z

Three people injured after rocket from passing rotorcraft explodes near group of men during Zapad war games in Luzhsky

A Russian attack helicopter accidentally fired at least one rocket into a group of people during large-scale military exercises close to Nato’s borders, Russian media has reported.

Three people were injured in the incident at the Zapad 2017 drills, a source close to the Russian Ministry of Defence told RBC news agency. “They weren’t civilians,” the source said.

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Robots 'could take 4m UK private sector jobs within 10 years'

Tue, 19 Sep 2017 10:34:36 GMT2017-09-19T10:34:36Z

Royal Society of Arts survey suggests technology could phase out mundane roles, raise productivity and bolster wages

Four million jobs in the British private sector could be replaced by robots in the next decade, according to business leaders asked about the future of automation and artificial intelligence.

The potential impact amounts to 15% of the current workforce in the sector and emerged in a poll conducted by YouGov for the Royal Society of Arts, whose chief executive, Matthew Taylor, has been advising Downing Street on the future of modern work.

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Ambitious 1.5C Paris climate target is still possible, new analysis shows

Mon, 18 Sep 2017 15:00:28 GMT2017-09-18T15:00:28Z

Goal to limit warming to 1.5C to avoid the worst impacts of climate change was seen as unreachable, but updated research suggests it could be met if strong action is taken

The highly ambitious aim of limiting global warming to less than 1.5C remains in reach, a new scientific analysis shows.

The 1.5C target was set as an aspiration by the global Paris climate change deal in 2015 to limit the damage wreaked by extreme weather and sea level rise.

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CSIRO breeds spotted handfish to save species from extinction

Mon, 18 Sep 2017 02:19:49 GMT2017-09-18T02:19:49Z

Fish, which is endemic to Tasmania, was the first Australian marine animal to be listed as critically endangered

Scientists have begun a captive breeding program for the spotted handfish, 11 years after it became the first Australian marine animal to be listed as critically endangered.

Endemic to Tasmania, the spotted handfish or Brachionichthys hirsutus looks like a tadpole in the late stages of development, with a fin atop its head to lure unsuspecting prey and the sour expression of a British bulldog.

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Leon Mestel obituary

Wed, 20 Sep 2017 11:40:58 GMT2017-09-20T11:40:58Z

Astronomer and astrophysicist who inspired generations of students and discovered the cooling law for white dwarf stars

Leon Mestel, who has died aged 90, taught generations of astronomers the importance of magnetic fields inside stars and, on the larger scale, across galaxies. He discovered the cooling law for white dwarf stars, showed how magnetic fields in forming stars allowed them to dispose of excess spin, and how a star such as the sun slows down its rotation through an interaction between the star’s magnetic field and the wind of hot gas blowing from its surface.

He was associated with the universities of Cambridge, Manchester and especially Sussex, and played a major role in helping to develop the Astronomy Centre at Sussex.

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From sex to alcohol, American teenagers are in no rush to grow up | Jean Hannah Edelstein

Thu, 21 Sep 2017 10:00:31 GMT2017-09-21T10:00:31Z

On average, American teens today are not growing up as fast as previous generations. Is that a good thing?

Kids today: they just don’t drink and have sex like they used to. According to a new study, young people are defying the expectations of adults yet again by failing to accelerate themselves towards adulthood with the characteristic speed of their teenage predecessors.

A new study published in Child Development, drawing on longitudinal data from millions of American teens between 1976 and 2016, finds that “in terms of adult activities, 18-year-olds now look like 15-year-olds once did”.

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Dame Margaret Turner-Warwick obituary

Mon, 18 Sep 2017 11:50:23 GMT2017-09-18T11:50:23Z

Pioneering physician who played a fundamental role in the development of modern respiratory medicine

When Margaret Turner-Warwick, who has died aged 92, entered the field of respiratory medicine in the 1950s, it was a time of great change. Effective treatment for tuberculosis had recently been introduced, and the adverse effects of cigarette smoking on the lung were beginning to be appreciated.

The focus of academic research had been limited to understanding and measuring lung function, but with her colleagues Jack Pepys and Deborah Doniach, Margaret expanded it to include the immunology of the lung, and particularly of the fibrosing lung diseases. She showed that they were associated with autoimmune diseases, rheumatoid arthritis, systemic sclerosis and the severe form of lupus known as systemic lupus erythematosus, and she demonstrated the presence of relevant auto-antibodies in the blood.

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Letters: Sir Patrick Bateson obituary

Sun, 17 Sep 2017 13:54:12 GMT2017-09-17T13:54:12Z

Steven Rose writes: I first met Pat Bateson in the late 60s, as we shared a mutual interest in the brain mechanisms involved in learning and memory. We became firm friends, and it was the start of a decade-long, and I believe unique, collaboration between Pat, a behavioural biologist, Gabriel Horn, an anatomist, and me as a biochemist. Pat’s favoured model was the day-old chick, primed to learn to recognise its mother – imprinting. Together, we identified the brain regions required for such learning to take place, and the cellular and molecular mechanisms that encoded the memory.

Years later, we made a memorable trip to the Galápagos (on, appropriately, a boat called Beagle), with Pat and his daughter Melissa, a biologist, impressing us with their capacity to identify birds by the merest flicker of feathers as they flew past.

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Tracing Cassini's fiery death was like seeing a heart monitor flatline

Sat, 16 Sep 2017 02:17:03 GMT2017-09-16T02:17:03Z

At a Nasa site nestled in a valley not far from Australia’s capital city, a lucky few get a closer view of the end of the spacecraft’s 20-year odyssey

Deep Space Station 43 is an imposing piece of hardware. It’s a 70-metre diameter radio telescope, the largest in the southern hemisphere, and on this cold Canberra Friday night, red lights were flashing to signify it was sending data to one of the space missions it monitored. It was the Cassini probe – for the final time.

DSS43 is located at the Canberra Deep Space Communications Complex (CDSCC). It’s a Nasa site run by Australia’s scientific research organisation, the CSIRO, nestled in a valley in Tidbinbilla, a treacherously kangaroo-filled 45-minute drive from the nation’s capital. The public are rarely permitted beyond the cafe and visitor’s centre, but this was a very special night.

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Can lost words like ‘rouzy-bouzy’ and ‘wlonk’ be revived? Spare me the ear-rent

Fri, 15 Sep 2017 14:51:54 GMT2017-09-15T14:51:54Z

Researchers have unearthed 30 expressions that they suggest could be brought back to modern conversation – but they wouldn’t be the first words to experience a revival

Look, I’ll be honest. I’m struggling to write this as I got rouzy-bouzy1 last night and the deadline I’ve been given is tremblable2. I’m sure the momists3 among you won’t miss the opportunity to point out my mistakes, but I’d be grateful if you could spare me the ear-rent4 just this once.

I’m going to persevere, though, because of an exciting batch of “lost words” unearthed by Dominic Watt and his team at the University of York. They reckon these 30 obsolete pieces of vocabulary are due for a revival. And they do read a bit like gifts from the past to our troubled age. Been hate-scanning your enemy’s Twitter feed? That’s “stomaching”, or cherishing anger or resentment. The mixture of glee and sorrow you feel when a minor maniac gets fired from the White House but the major one clings on? “Merry-go-sorry”. Need a word for the people who repost conspiracy theories on Facebook? They’re “roukers”, those who spread tales or rumours.

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What did the Cassini mission tell us about Saturn and its moons?

Fri, 15 Sep 2017 12:33:13 GMT2017-09-15T12:33:13Z

Cassini revealed Saturn and its moons in stunning detail, but its observations of the moon Enceladus are potential game-changers in the hunt for life

And so Cassini has met its end. One of the most successful space missions ever launched, it revealed Saturn and its moons in glorious detail. Images beamed home from the probe showed raging hurricanes that enveloped the planet, and millions of rings that surround it. The spacecraft dropped a lander on Titan, the largest of Saturn’s 62 known moons, marking the first touchdown on a heavenly body on the other side of the asteroid belt. But it was observations of the tiny, icy moon Enceladus that stunned astronomers most, and transformed their views on the potential for life elsewhere in the solar system.

Related: Spectacular Saturn: Cassini's epic pictures using a one megapixel camera

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Does new DNA evidence prove that there were female viking warlords?

Tue, 12 Sep 2017 16:42:27 GMT2017-09-12T16:42:27Z

A viking grave in the Swedish town of Birka has been found to contain a woman’s bones. How many more warriors’ remains have been incorrectly presumed male?

A well-furnished warrior grave in the Viking age town of Birka, Sweden, has been found to contain female bones. So, a female Viking warrior. And not just any warrior, but a senior one: she was buried alongside a sword, an axe, a spear, armour-piercing arrows, a battle knife, two shields and two horses. Gaming pieces – perhaps from hnefatafl, a sort of precursor to chess – suggest the female warrior from grave Bj581 was a battle strategist. Was she unique, or were the Viking ranks full of women?

“It is exciting because the traditional images of Vikings are masculine and war hungry – with the women at home baking, or looking after the kids,” says Becky Gowland, a lecturer in archaeology at Durham University. “This burial is clearly of a high-status woman. The fact that she’s buried with weapons indiciate this. It doesn’t indicate that she’s a warrior, but if we interpret [male graves] in that way, why not women as well?”

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The Dolphin and the Foal

Sun, 10 Sep 2017 20:30:46 GMT2017-09-10T20:30:46Z

A couple of minor constellations, in a relatively dim region of sky, are worth the trouble of finding and observing, with their neighbouring globular cluster M15

In the week when Cassini ends its explorations at Saturn, and when the waning earthlit Moon meets Venus, Regulus, Mars and Mercury in our E morning twilight, it may seem incongruous to focus on a relatively dim region of sky, albeit one that is ideally placed in the S as the night begins.

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Climate deniers want to protect the status quo that made them rich

Fri, 22 Sep 2017 05:30:39 GMT2017-09-22T05:30:39Z

Sceptics prefer to reject regulations to combat global warming and remain indifferent to the havoc it will wreak on future generations

From my vantage point outside the glass doors, the sea of grey hair and balding pates had the appearance of a golf society event or an active retirement group. Instead, it was the inaugural meeting of Ireland’s first climate denial group, the self-styled Irish Climate Science Forum (ICSF) in Dublin in May. All media were barred from attending.

Its guest speaker was the retired physicist and noted US climate contrarian, Richard Lindzen. His jeremiad against the “narrative of hysteria” on climate change was lapped up by an audience largely composed of male engineers and meteorologists – mostly retired. This demographic profile of attendees at climate denier meetings has been replicated in London, Washington and elsewhere.

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When media sceptics misrepresent our climate research we must speak out

Thu, 21 Sep 2017 13:09:32 GMT2017-09-21T13:09:32Z

Our climate paper underlined that strong action towards the 1.5C Paris goal is perhaps more valid than ever, but reading some of the media coverage you might think the opposite was true

On Monday, we published a paper in the scientific journal Nature Geoscience that re-evaluated how much carbon dioxide we can still afford, collectively, to emit into the atmosphere and still retain some hope of achieving the ambitious goals of the Paris climate agreement to “pursue efforts” to keep global temperatures to 1.5C above pre-industrial levels. The carbon budget we found, to yield a two-in-three chance of meeting this goal, was equivalent to starting CO2 emission reductions immediately and continuing in a straight line to zero in less than 40 years: a formidable challenge.

Formidable, but not inconceivable. The distinction matters, because if it were already completely impossible to achieve the Paris ambition, many might argue there was no point in pursuing those efforts in the first place – or that the only option left is immediately starting to cool the planet with artificial volcanoes.

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Bureau of Meteorology attacks pushed by 'fever swamp' of climate denial | Graham Readfearn

Thu, 21 Sep 2017 04:19:37 GMT2017-09-21T04:19:37Z

Rob Vertessy, who retired as the BOM’s director in 2016, has hit back at ‘time wasters’ and ‘amateurs’ who are given a forum by the Australian

For Rob Vertessy, the attacks on his government agency became tedious and time-consuming and no less irritating because they were coming from a motivated group of “amateurs”.

Vertessy spent a decade at Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology. He retired in April 2016 after five years as the agency’s director.

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Our hurricane-hit islands deserve aid. The rules that block it are wrong | Guy Hewitt

Tue, 19 Sep 2017 19:07:38 GMT2017-09-19T19:07:38Z

Hurricane Maria has wrought terrible destruction in the Caribbean, yet OECD guidelines say that the islands are ineligible for assistance
Hurricane Maria – live updates

In a manner reminiscent of Stephen King’s Bazaar of Bad Dreams, dark clouds of despair and destruction hover yet again over the Caribbean with the passage of Hurricane Maria.

The most recent version of our recurring ecological nightmare included Hurricane Harvey followed by Hurricane Irma, the latter setting a new record of three consecutive days as a category 5 storm with maximum wind speeds of 185mph, and leaving a trail of devastation British foreign secretary Boris Johnson described as “absolutely hellish”.

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They erased nature from our dictionaries. The fightback starts here | Patrick Barkham

Mon, 18 Sep 2017 15:56:48 GMT2017-09-18T15:56:48Z

Conkers, along with wrens and adders, were deemed outdated. What were the editors thinking?

It is hazardous to stand in my garden. Thwack. Thud. Every five minutes, the tree above slings a conker to the ground as if by catapult.

Some open their spiny cases on impact. Others can be gently crushed to reveal their gleaming treasure: cool to touch, encased in cream memory foam, and decorated with whorls that resemble a chestnut map of the world.

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How many more warrior women are missing from the history books? | Natalie Haynes

Mon, 18 Sep 2017 08:00:04 GMT2017-09-18T08:00:04Z

The recent discovery of female bones in a Viking warrior grave is yet another indication that we’ve only scratched the surface of female history

Warrior women have fascinated us for millennia. In ancient Greece, Amazons were the second most popular characters to feature in vase paintings. Only the exploits of Hercules (one of which involved Hippolyta, an Amazon queen) appeared on more pieces of pottery. In the images that survive, Amazons are always shown racing towards danger, never away from it.

Related: Harridans, harlots and heroines: women of the classical world

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The idea that climate scientists are in it for the cash has deep ideological roots

Fri, 15 Sep 2017 08:43:53 GMT2017-09-15T08:43:53Z

Author and academic Nancy MacLean says cynicism about the motives of public servants, including government-backed climate scientists, can be traced to a group of neoliberals and their ‘toxic’ ideas

You’ll have heard that line of argument about cancer scientists, right?

The one where they’re just in it for the government grant money and that they don’t really want to find a cure, because if they did they’d be out of a job?

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From Africa to the US to Haiti, climate change is a race issue | Patrisse Cullors and Nyeusi Nguvu

Thu, 14 Sep 2017 15:52:39 GMT2017-09-14T15:52:39Z

Racism is endemic to global inequality. This means that those most affected – and killed – by climate change are black and poor people

  • Patrisse Cullors and Nyeusi Nguvu are members of the Black Lives Matter movement

Just over a year ago, Black Lives Matter UK successfully shut down London City airport. Our aims were to call attention to three things: Britain’s historical responsibility for global temperature changes, while the UK remains among the least vulnerable countries to the direct effects of climate change; second, that black people and poor people globally suffer the most from environmental impacts; and third, that safe freedom of movement is a reality only for the privileged, wealthy and mostly white.

Many people are increasingly being forced to flee their homes owing to environmentally driven conflicts, such as those in Sudan, whose plight was named by the UN as the tip of a melting iceberg when it came to increased forced climate-related migration and conflict. Ten years on, we are witnessing another year in which hundreds do not survive their attempts to reach British and European shores.

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Insight Astronomy Photographer of the Year 2017 winners – in pictures

Fri, 15 Sep 2017 11:53:33 GMT2017-09-15T11:53:33Z

Awe-inspiring views of the universe were celebrated at the Insight Astronomy Photographer of the Year 2017 awards ceremony, held at the Royal Greenwich Observatory

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Cassini's final mission: death plunge into Saturn's rings – video

Thu, 14 Sep 2017 16:41:16 GMT2017-09-14T16:41:16Z

During its 20-year mission to Saturn, Nasa’s Cassini spacecraft revolutionised our understanding of the ringed planet and its moons, and captured some breathtaking images. Now it has undertaken its final mission, to steer to its destruction through the planet's rings, capturing data until the very last moment

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Spectacular Saturn: Cassini's epic pictures using a one megapixel camera

Thu, 14 Sep 2017 12:04:53 GMT2017-09-14T12:04:53Z

During its 20-year mission to Saturn, Nasa’s Cassini spacecraft has captured some breathtaking images of the ringed planet and its moons, revealing many unexpected secrets. Here are some of the best

Read our photo essay – Space whisperers: the Aussies guiding Cassini’s suicide mission to Saturn

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Record-breaking astronaut touches back down on Earth – video

Sun, 03 Sep 2017 09:21:15 GMT2017-09-03T09:21:15Z

Astronauts Peggy Whitson, Fyodor Yurchikhin and Jack Fischer return to Earth after checking out of the International Space Station. Whitson wrapped up a record-breaking flight after spending 665 days off the planet – 288 days on this mission alone

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Total solar eclipse across the United States – in pictures

Tue, 22 Aug 2017 05:08:15 GMT2017-08-22T05:08:15Z

Sky-gazers stood transfixed across North America on Monday as the sun vanished behind the moon in total eclipse for the first time in nearly a century

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Reflected glory: solar eclipse shadows – in pictures

Tue, 22 Aug 2017 05:01:16 GMT2017-08-22T05:01:16Z

While millions across America looked skyward during the eclipse, others looked down to see the event projected onto the ground and other surfaces

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'Most impressive thing any president's ever done': Tucker Carlson on Trump's eclipse viewing – video

Tue, 22 Aug 2017 02:05:32 GMT2017-08-22T02:05:32Z

Fox News anchor Tucker Carlson has described Donald Trump’s actions during Monday’s eclipse – when he watched the sun without protective glasses, prompting a reminder from an aide – as ‘perhaps the most impressive thing any president’s ever done’. Sarcasm or genuine praise? You decide.

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The total eclipse watched across America – video

Mon, 21 Aug 2017 23:47:19 GMT2017-08-21T23:47:19Z

The US mainland has experienced its first total solar eclipse since 1979. The moon blocked out the sun on Monday as the first coast-to-coast total solar eclipse in the US in nearly a century began over the west coast.

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RPS International Images for Science competition shortlist – in pictures

Mon, 21 Aug 2017 08:00:06 GMT2017-08-21T08:00:06Z

Here’s just a small selection of the 100 images shortlisted for the Royal Photographic Society’s International Images for Science competition. The competition is supported by Siemens as part of the Curiosity Project, which aims to engage young people with science and engineering. The five winners will be announced in an award ceremony in London on 12 September.

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Can women get sex whenever they want? | Girl on the Net

Tue, 10 Dec 2013 12:00:15 GMT2013-12-10T12:00:15Z

In a guest post, Girl on the Net ponders the supposed inequality of sexual opportunity. A man walks into a bar and offers sex to anyone who's interested and is laughed out of the room. A woman walks into a bar and does the same and she's inundated with horny suitors. Is this really how it works?

It's Christmas – the season for making merry, going out and, if you're single, trying to snog people under the mistletoe before the pubs close. So I thought it would be a good time to look at one of the oldest assumptions in the Men vs Women book: can women get sex whenever they want, while men are doomed to wait on the sidelines until our sexual fancy falls upon them?

I don't like the bar example. First, and most obviously, it is not universally true. There are women (and I am one of them) who have walked up to guys in bars, asked them for sex, and been flat-out refused. Likewise I've known men who have been able to get quick and easy sex with very little effort.

Continue reading...Being constantly chatted up by strange men in a bar would probably drive anyone to drink. Photograph: Andres Rodriguez/AlamyBeing constantly chatted up by strange men in a bar would probably drive anyone to drink. Photograph: Andres Rodriguez/Alamy

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Fossil of pregnant sea creature changes understanding of how reproductive system evolved

Wed, 15 Feb 2017 03:29:06 GMT2017-02-15T03:29:06Z

Fish-eating reptile Dinocephalosaurus, which lived about 245m years ago, gave birth to live babies rather than laying eggs

An extraordinary fossil unearthed in southwestern China shows a pregnant long-necked marine reptile that lived millions of years before the dinosaurs with its developing embryo, indicating the creature gave birth to live babies rather than laying eggs.

Scientists on Tuesday said the fossil of the unusual fish-eating reptile called Dinocephalosaurus, which lived about 245m years ago during the Triassic Period, changes the understanding of the evolution of vertebrate reproductive systems.

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The 20 big questions in science

Sat, 31 Aug 2013 23:05:00 GMT2013-08-31T23:05:00Z

From the nature of the universe (that's if there is only one) to the purpose of dreams, there are lots of things we still don't know – but we might do soon. A new book seeks some answers

Astronomers face an embarrassing conundrum: they don't know what 95% of the universe is made of. Atoms, which form everything we see around us, only account for a measly 5%. Over the past 80 years it has become clear that the substantial remainder is comprised of two shadowy entities – dark matter and dark energy. The former, first discovered in 1933, acts as an invisible glue, binding galaxies and galaxy clusters together. Unveiled in 1998, the latter is pushing the universe's expansion to ever greater speeds. Astronomers are closing in on the true identities of these unseen interlopers.

Continue reading...What's at the bottom of a black hole? See question 17. Photograph: AlamyWhat's at the bottom of a black hole? See question 17. Photograph: Alamy

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Green belt is more likely to be wasteland than a slice of countryside

Wed, 22 Feb 2017 21:30:44 GMT2017-02-22T21:30:44Z

Almost a fifth of land with the designation is neglected, but there are examples of rehabilitation with industrial sites being transformed into nature reserves

Green belts are coming under intense pressure from government plans to build thousands of homes. It conjures up an image of a tide of concrete being poured over beautiful rolling fields of wild flowers, but the original idea of the green belts was to prevent urban sprawl, not for nature conservation or even beautiful landscapes.

Much of the green belt is not even green – 18% is classed as “neglected” with derelict buildings, rubbish, electricity pylons and other blots on the landscape. Only 45% is green and much of that is monoculture farmland too harsh for most wild plants to survive.

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Weekend workouts can benefit health as much as regular exercise, say researchers

Mon, 09 Jan 2017 16:00:21 GMT2017-01-09T16:00:21Z

Risk of early death is as low for those who meet recommended activity targets in one or two sessions a week as it is for daily exercisers, study shows

People who cram all their exercise into one or two sessions at the weekend benefit nearly as much as those who work out more frequently, researchers say.

A study of more than 60,000 adults in England and Scotland found that “weekend warriors” lowered their risk of death by a similar margin to those who spread the same amount of exercise over the whole week.

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10 grammar rules you can forget: how to stop worrying and write proper

Mon, 30 Sep 2013 16:44:00 GMT2013-09-30T16:44:00Z

Guardian Style Guide author David Marsh set out to master perfect grammatical English – but discovered that 'correct' isn't always best. Here are the 10 grammar laws you no longer need to check

Plus: five rules you should remember
What pop music can teach you about building sentences
A few words on punctuation

Every situation in which language is used – texting your mates, asking for a pay rise, composing a small ad, making a speech, drafting a will, writing up an experiment, praying, rapping, or any other – has its own conventions. You wouldn't expect a politician being interviewed by Kirsty Wark about the economy to start quoting Ludacris: "I keep my mind on my money, money on my mind; but you'se a hell of a distraction when you shake your behind." Although it might make Newsnight more entertaining.

This renders the concept of what is "correct" more than a simple matter of right and wrong. What is correct in a tweet might not be in an essay; no single register of English is right for every occasion. Updating your status on Facebook is instinctive for anyone who can read and write to a basic level; for more formal communication, the conventions are harder to grasp and this is why so many people fret about the "rules" of grammar.

Continue reading...'To go boldly?' 'Negative, Captain, it's fine to split an infinitive.' Photograph: Cine Text/Sportsphoto Ltd/Allstar'To go boldly?' 'Negative, Captain, it's fine to split an infinitive.' Photograph: Cine Text/Sportsphoto Ltd/Allstar

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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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The BBC needs to accept that Nigel Lawson doesn’t exist

Fri, 11 Aug 2017 10:14:39 GMT2017-08-11T10:14:39Z

Climate change is serious: the BBC needs to stop this obsession with ‘balance’ and reject the scientifically-discredited argument that Nigel Lawson exists

The BBC has recently come under fire for a Radio 4 programme which featured Nigel Lawson criticising the concept of climate change. This has drawn the ire of many scientists, and rightly so. The science on this matter is settled, there is no meaningful debate to be had, and the evidence is there for all to see should they choose to go and look for it. Basically, Nigel Lawson isn’t real.

It’s all very well putting forward opposing views in the name of “balance”, although it’s worth noting that the importance of “balance” at the BBC seems to differ wildly depending on the subject matter. You seldom get Flat Earth proponents giving contrasting weather forecasts to combat the globular bias in meteorology, and it seems the BBC is perfectly happy broadcasting debates about whether the Welsh language deserves to exist which feature, you know, NOBODY WHO ACTUALLY SPEAKS IT. Balance isn’t a priority in these instances, clearly. But the increasingly-unhinged and militant types who insist that Nigel Lawson exists, they must be given airtime apparently. It boggles the mind.

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The Strangest Man: A biography of Paul Dirac by Graham Farmelo

Fri, 03 Apr 2009 07:21:50 GMT2009-04-03T07:21:50Z

A fellow quantum physicist has said his discoveries were like 'exquisitely carved statues falling out of the sky, one after another'. In The Strangest Man, Graham Farmelo gets under the skin of one of the most baffling geniuses the world has seen

The Strangest Man has won the 2009 Costa Biography Award

Here's a puzzle. Bristol boy – slightly older contemporary of Bristol's other boy Cary Grant – has an unhappy childhood, but doesn't mention it for 50 years; learns to speak French, German and Russian, but becomes famous for his long silences; embarks on the wrong career; gets interested in mathematics and ends up at Cambridge, where he becomes famous for his even longer silences; hears about Einstein and gets into advanced physics; and then goes to Copenhagen to meet Niels Bohr, who grumbles to Ernest Rutherford, "This Dirac, he seems to know a lot of physics, but he never says anything."

Somehow this silent, solemn, young beanpole earns the enthusiastic friendship and admiration of vibrant and merrymaking geniuses such as Bohr himself, Robert Oppenheimer, Werner Heisenberg, George Gamow, Peter Kapitza and so on, without, apparently, initiating reciprocal entertainment or conversation. His discoveries are in quantum mechanics, a subject that remains opaque even after 80 years of continuous exposition.

Continue reading...Asked to explain his discoveries in quantum mechanics, Dirac responded that they 'cannot be explained in words at all'. Photograph: AIP Emilio Segrè Visual ArchivesAsked to explain his discoveries in quantum mechanics, Dirac responded that they 'cannot be explained in words at all'. Photograph: AIP Emilio Segrè Visual Archives

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