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



Published: Fri, 19 Jan 2018 12:12:53 GMT2018-01-19T12:12:53Z

Copyright: Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. 2018
 



Falling forensic science standards 'making miscarriages of justice inevitable'

Fri, 19 Jan 2018 00:01:08 GMT2018-01-19T00:01:08Z

Regulator says UK forces failing to meet standards, with routine outsourcing of great concern

Police forces are failing to meet the official standards for forensic science, making miscarriages of justice inevitable, the government’s forensic regulator has said.

In her annual report, Gillian Tully highlighted her growing concerns about the failure of some forensic firms used by the police to meet basic quality standards. It means innocent people could be wrongly convicted and offenders escaping justice.

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Does dry January work? We ask the experts

Fri, 19 Jan 2018 11:00:21 GMT2018-01-19T11:00:21Z

Millions pledge to start the new year alcohol-free, but how much difference can a month off booze make to our health or drinking behaviour in the long term?

Millions of people pledge to ditch the booze every January, but experts are divided over whether going dry for a month is the answer to the UK’s troubled relationship with alcohol.

According to recent figures, around four-fifths of adults drink in England, with 31% of all men and 16% of all women consuming more than the recommended limit of 14 units in a usual week. As well as increasing the risk of injuries, damage to unborn babies, heart disease, liver disease and stroke, alcohol is also known to increase the risk of a number of cancers, among other effects.

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Blood test could use DNA to spot eight of the most common cancers, study shows

Fri, 19 Jan 2018 08:35:22 GMT2018-01-19T08:35:22Z

DNA and biomarkers could be used to detect and identify cancers, including five types for which there is currently no screening test

Scientists have made a major advance towards developing a blood test for cancer that could identify tumours long before a person becomes aware of symptoms.

The new test, which is sensitive to both mutated DNA that floats freely in the blood and cancer-related proteins, gave a positive result approximately 70% of the time across eight of the most common cancers when tested in more than 1,000 patients.

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Hot or not? Bikram no more beneficial than any other yoga, says vascular study

Fri, 19 Jan 2018 01:00:09 GMT2018-01-19T01:00:09Z

Yoga could help to improve function of artery linings regardless of room temperature, researchers conclude

While the popularity of practising yoga in sweltering rooms is booming around the world, researchers say benefits to blood vessels are the same whether the moves are performed in the heat or not.

Bikram yoga was founded by controversial instructor Bikram Choudhury and involves 26 poses and two breathing exercises, performed in a room heated to just over 40C (104F).

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Complex engineering and metal-work discovered beneath ancient Greek 'pyramid'

Thu, 18 Jan 2018 09:21:06 GMT2018-01-18T09:21:06Z

Latest find on Cyclades’ Keros includes evidence of metal-working and suggests the beginnings of an urban centre, say archaeologists

More than 4,000 years ago builders carved out the entire surface of a naturally pyramid-shaped promontory on the Greek island of Keros. They shaped it into terraces covered with 1,000 tonnes of specially imported gleaming white stone to give it the appearance of a giant stepped pyramid rising from the Aegean: the most imposing manmade structure in all the Cyclades archipelago.

But beneath the surface of the terraces lay undiscovered feats of engineering and craftsmanship to rival the structure’s impressive exterior. Archaeologists from three different countries involved in an ongoing excavation have found evidence of a complex of drainage tunnels – constructed 1,000 years before the famous indoor plumbing of the Minoan palace of Knossos on Crete – and traces of sophisticated metalworking.

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World's longest underwater cave system discovered in Mexico by divers

Wed, 17 Jan 2018 05:39:07 GMT2018-01-17T05:39:07Z

Discovery of 347km-long cave by the Gran Acuifero Maya project could shed light on Mayan history

Related: Unique underwater caves link Mexico's Caribbean coast to the jungle – in pictures

A group of divers has connected two underwater caverns in eastern Mexico to reveal what is believed to be the biggest flooded cave on the planet.

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Why 'bird-brained' may not be such an insult after all

Thu, 18 Jan 2018 10:22:27 GMT2018-01-18T10:22:27Z

Birds show remarkable levels of intelligence, something that may have given them the edge following the K-T extinction event

Even though I am better with dead birds than with living ones, I do enjoy watching them. Their behaviour is fascinating, and as Jennifer Ackerman points out in her book, birds are a lot more intelligent than we often give them credit for. But what do we know about the evolution of bird intelligence? How did the bird brain evolve, and when did it take on its “birdiness”?

The fossil record isn’t particularly well-suited for the preservation of soft tissue such as brains – and behaviour doesn’t fossilise at all. However, some inferences regarding behaviour can be made based on anatomy, something the fossil record is rife with. When we look at the anatomical evidence of bird behaviour in the fossil record (Naish, 2014), it becomes clear that certain types of behaviour we see in modern birds – such as colonial nesting, parental care and plumage display – evolved a long time ago, and are likely dinosaurian in origin.

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Tetrodotoxin: the poison behind the Japanese pufferfish scare

Wed, 17 Jan 2018 13:28:19 GMT2018-01-17T13:28:19Z

The accidental sale of potentially deadly fugu in Japan has sparked a health scare – and the same poison is now found in European species

Gamagori city in Japan was put on alert this week after toxic fish went on sale in a local supermarket. Pufferfish are considered a delicacy in Japan, often eaten raw as sashimi or cooked in soups. But if the fish are not carefully prepared they can be deadly.

The supermarket in Gamagori failed to remove the liver from the fish before putting them on sale, and unfortunately the liver is one of the organs that can harbour the potent neurotoxin tetrodotoxin. In an effort to recall the potentially poisonous fish sold, loudspeakers across the city have been warning citizens of the danger; at the time of writing, three of the five packs of fish sold had been traced.

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Strangest things: fossils reveal how fungus shaped life on Earth

Tue, 16 Jan 2018 06:00:16 GMT2018-01-16T06:00:16Z

Fossil fungi from over 400m years ago have altered our understanding of early life on land and climate change over deep time

Much of the weirdness depicted in the TV show Stranger Things is distinctly fungal. The massive organic underground network, the floating spores, and even the rotting pumpkin fields all capture the “otherness” of fungi: neither plants nor animals, often bizarre-looking, and associated with decay. As weird as they may seem to us, fungi are integral to the story of the evolution of our landscapes and climate.

Molecular studies show us that animals and fungi share a more recent common ancestor than either group does with plants, and that these groups had all diverged over a billion years ago. A sparse fossil record for fungi is not entirely surprising, given the low preservation potential of soft, microscopic threads, but we still have tantalising glimpses of their history. Recent work on the Rhynie Chert, a deposit formed in hydrothermal wetlands 407m years ago, preserving an early land ecosystem in exquisite detail, has helped to reveal the hidden history of fungi. All modern groups of fungi are abundant in Rhynie chert samples apart from the basidiomycota, the group which includes those most familiar of fungi: mushrooms. New findings have been published in a special volume of the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B.

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Don't knock the flu jab – it’s a modern miracle

Mon, 15 Jan 2018 12:03:59 GMT2018-01-15T12:03:59Z

As the flu season begins to ramp up, so too do the annual complaints about the vaccine

The flu jab DOESN’T work, officials admit,” scolded a recent headline from the Daily Mail.

Meanwhile, in the comments under that article, and in shadier regions of the internet, conspiracy theorists are having their usual annual field day: the flu vaccine actually makes people sick; the World Health Organisation is in cahoots with Big Pharma; the vaccine is being deliberately sabotaged by its manufacturers to drum up business for more expensive anti-viral therapies.

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Can you solve it? Le Sudoku français est arrivé!

Mon, 15 Jan 2018 07:10:49 GMT2018-01-15T07:10:49Z

Savour a new puzzle from across the Channel

Bonjour guzzleurs!

Today’s puzzle comes from France. It is called Garam, and provides some spice for the brain....

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Will we be ready to put a human footprint on Mars in 15 years?

Thu, 11 Jan 2018 06:30:13 GMT2018-01-11T06:30:13Z

The countdown has begun to send humans to Mars. But what will it take, what have we already planned for – and is it really possible that we’ll be ready?

If you ever wanted to visit Mars, 2018 would be a really great time to go.

In July this year, the Earth and Mars will come closer than at any other point in the last 15 years. They will be in perihelic opposition, meaning Mars will reach the nearest point in its elliptical orbit while the Earth simultaneously passes directly between Mars and the sun.

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Is everything Johann Hari knows about depression wrong?

Mon, 08 Jan 2018 16:54:58 GMT2018-01-08T16:54:58Z

The Observer has published an excerpt from Johann Hari’s new book challenging what we know about depression. But do his own claims and arguments stack up?

I do not know Johann Hari. We’ve never crossed paths, he’s done me no wrong that I’m aware of, I have no axe to grind with him or his work. And, in fairness, writing about mental health and how it’s treated or perceived is always a risk. It’s a major and often-debilitating issue facing a huge swathe of the population, and with many unpleasant and unhelpful stigmas attached. In recent years there have been signs that the tide is perhaps turning the right way, but a lot of work remains to be done. However, if you’re going to allow an extract from your book to be published as a standalone article for mainstream media with a title as provocative as “Is everything you know about depression wrong?”, you’d best make sure you have impeccable credentials and standards to back it up.

Let’s address the elephant in the room: Johann Hari does not have a flawless reputation. He has been absent from the spotlight for many years following a plagiarism scandal, compounded by less-than-dignified behaviour towards his critics. Admittedly, he has since shown remorse and contrition over the whole affair, but even a cursory glance online reveals he’s a long way from universal forgiveness. Logically, someone with a reputation for making false claims should be the last person making high-profile, controversial, sweeping statements about something as sensitive as mental health. And yet, here we are. It’s 2018 after all.

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The theatre company putting Victorian sci-fi centre stage

Fri, 05 Jan 2018 19:04:07 GMT2018-01-05T19:04:07Z

As an adaptation of HG Wells’s The Crystal Egg prepares to open in London, its creators explain how they turned a short story from 1897 into a play for our alien-obsessed times

HG Wells hold a special place in the hearts of many sci-fi enthusiasts and scientists alike. Best known for his novels The War of the Worlds, The Island of Doctor Moreau, and The Invisible Man, Wells’s work is renowned for its prescience and has been revisited and adapted many times, so modern do some of his fears and preoccupations seem.

The Crystal Egg is a short story written 1897. Set in a grimily familiar depiction of Victorian London, it is a disturbing piece combining an almost Dickensian family-run curiosity shop, a pleasing account of scientific method and altogether more eerie references to portals into other worlds and alien beings.

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Georgetown in northern Queensland once part of North America – geologists

Fri, 19 Jan 2018 07:54:56 GMT2018-01-19T07:54:56Z

Researchers found rocks in the area 412km west of Cairns were unlike any others in Australia, but similar to those in Canada

Geologists in northern Australia have made a discovery that suggests the area around Georgetown in northern Queensland was once part of North America, more than a billion years ago.

Researchers from Curtin University discovered that rocks in the area, 412km west of Cairns, were unlike any other rock deposits in Australia, but similar to those found in Canada.

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How do we smell? Terrible! Food sources might affect how we describe scent

Thu, 18 Jan 2018 17:25:13 GMT2018-01-18T17:25:13Z

Humans have long been considered poor at describing smells, but research on hunter-gatherers shows this is not the case for everyone

If describing a smell leaves you struggling to find the right words, it might be down to how you put food on the table.

Researchers studying two communities living in tropical rainforests have found that while a hunter-gatherer group could easily describe different odours, their plant-growing neighbours floundered – suggesting different ways of finding food could be behind humans’ proficiency, or lack of it, when it comes to putting a name to a scent.

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Gene edited crops should be exempted from GM food laws, says EU lawyer

Thu, 18 Jan 2018 16:05:33 GMT2018-01-18T16:05:33Z

Technology can help foster specific positive traits in plants but can also have potentially dangerous ‘off-target’ effects, say critics

Gene editing technologies should be largely exempted from EU laws on GM food, although individual states can regulate them if they choose, the European court’s advocate general has said.

The opinion may have far-reaching consequences for new breeding techniques that can remove specific parts of a plant’s genetic code and foster herbicide-resistant traits.

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2017 was the hottest year on record without El Niño boost

Thu, 18 Jan 2018 15:30:02 GMT2018-01-18T15:30:02Z

Data shows the year was also one of the hottest three ever recorded, with scientists warning that the ‘climate tide is rising fast’

2017 was the hottest year since global records began that was not given an additional boost by the natural climate cycle El Niño, according to new data. Even without an El Niño, the year was still exceptionally hot, being one of the top three ever recorded.

The three main global temperature records show the global surface temperature in 2017 was 1C above levels seen in pre-industrial times, with scientists certain that humanity’s fossil fuel-burning is to blame.

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Stuart Wenham: scientists pay tribute to 'Einstein of solar world'

Thu, 18 Jan 2018 06:12:29 GMT2018-01-18T06:12:29Z

University of New South Wales colleagues pay tribute to pioneer with ‘Crocodile Dundee persona’ who died age 60 from malignant melanoma

Australia’s scientific community has paid tribute to Prof Stuart Wenham, a solar energy pioneer described as the “Einstein of the solar industry”, whose research increased the efficiency of solar cells a hundredfold.

Wenham passed away on 23 December, age 60, after suffering from malignant melanoma. He was the director of the Centre of Excellence for Advanced Photovoltaics and Photonics at the University of New South Wales.

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Software 'no more accurate than untrained humans' at judging reoffending risk

Wed, 17 Jan 2018 19:00:28 GMT2018-01-17T19:00:28Z

Program used to assess more than a million US defendants may not be accurate enough for potentially life-changing decisions, say experts

The credibility of a computer program used for bail and sentencing decisions has been called into question after it was found to be no more accurate at predicting the risk of reoffending than people with no criminal justice experience provided with only the defendant’s age, sex and criminal history.

The algorithm, called Compas (Correctional Offender Management Profiling for Alternative Sanctions), is used throughout the US to weigh up whether defendants awaiting trial or sentencing are at too much risk of reoffending to be released on bail.

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Flash of light and loud bang in Michigan was meteor, experts say

Wed, 17 Jan 2018 14:09:16 GMT2018-01-17T14:09:16Z

  • Hundreds of people said they say fireball light up the sky
  • US Geological Service says it registered as 2.0 magnitude earthquake

Experts say a bright light and what sounded like thunder in the sky above Michigan was a meteor.

The American Meteor Society says it received hundreds of reports of a fireball Tuesday night over the state, including many in the Detroit area. Reports also came in from several other states and Canada.

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Obesity surgery 'halves risk of death' compared with lifestyle changes

Tue, 16 Jan 2018 16:00:28 GMT2018-01-16T16:00:28Z

Latest study lends support to experts who say more operations should be carried out in UK

Obese patients undergoing stomach-shrinking surgery have half the risk of death in the years that follow compared with those tackling their weight through diet and behaviour alone, new research suggests.

Experts say obesity surgery is cost-effective, leads to substantial weight loss and can help tackle type 2 diabetes. But surgeons say not enough of the stomach-shrinking surgeries are carried out in the UK, with figures currently lagging behind other European countries, including France and Belgium – despite the latter having a smaller population.

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Japan breakthrough could improve weather forecasts and save lives

Thu, 18 Jan 2018 01:48:29 GMT2018-01-18T01:48:29Z

Data collected by Himawari-8 weather satellite paired with supercomputer programme

A project harnessing data from a Japanese satellite could improve weather forecasting and allow officials to issue life-saving warnings before natural disasters, researchers say.

The project is the first time “infrared radiation luminance data” has been used to model weather patterns in areas under heavy cloud cover that would usually stymie such modelling.

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The truth about why we don't use all our annual holiday leave

Tue, 16 Jan 2018 15:33:30 GMT2018-01-16T15:33:30Z

No one is really too busy to take a break – so why do a third of Brits fail to take four days’ leave a year?

It turns out the good people of British Airways are extremely concerned about the wellbeing of the nation’s employees, and have commissioned a study to raise awareness of the fact that we are working too hard. More specifically, the fact that we aren’t taking enough two-week holidays. Let us all take a moment to appreciate their noble altruism.

Their survey of 2,000 people found that one-third of working Brits did not use up their annual leave in 2017, losing an average of four days each, and 69% of Brits did not take a two-week holiday.

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Astronomers may be closing in on source of mysterious fast radio bursts

Wed, 10 Jan 2018 18:00:19 GMT2018-01-10T18:00:19Z

Pulses may be from a neutron star cocooned by a strong magnetic field – though experts are not ruling out more unorthodox explanations such as alien ships

Astronomers appear to be closing in on the source of enigmatic radio pulses emanating from space that have become the subject of intense scientific speculation.

Previous candidates for the origin of the fleeting blasts of radiation – known as fast radio bursts, or FRBs – have included exploding stars, the reverberations of weird objects called cosmic strings or even distant beacons from interstellar alien spaceships.

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John Young obituary

Wed, 17 Jan 2018 16:58:18 GMT2018-01-17T16:58:18Z

American astronaut who led the first US space shuttle mission and was the ninth man to walk on the moon

The astronaut John Young, who has died aged 87, was the ninth man to walk on the moon, as commander of Nasa’s Apollo 16 mission in 1972, and landed the first US space shuttle in 1981. Young epitomised the indomitable spirit of his era; after the space shuttle landing, he said: “We’re really not too far from going to the stars.” He was described by Lee Silver, the California Institute of Technology professor who trained many Apollo astronauts, as the “archetypical extraterrestrial”.

Young’s career as an astronaut began in the early 1960s. The first astronauts had been recruited in 1959, with the Mercury Seven, a group that included the first American in space, Alan Shepard, and the first American in orbit, John Glenn. In 1962 came the New Nine, also known as Astronaut Group 2, among them the first man to walk on the moon, Neil Armstrong, and Young.

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Plantwatch: from snowdrops to rare orchids – plant theft is a crime

Tue, 16 Jan 2018 21:30:35 GMT2018-01-16T21:30:35Z

Some of our favourite wildflowers are threatened by thieves digging up the bulbs, and thieves have made at least one orchid extinct in Britain

Snowdrops are appearing, but in recent years they have become so popular it’s led to snowdrop bulbs being stolen from the wild and from gardens to sell on the black market. This is part of a much wider trend. From the theft of snowdrops and bluebells to rare orchids and ferns, stealing plants is a problem that goes largely unreported, but it’s a crime that can have disastrous impacts on plant populations.

In Victorian days, a mania for ferns saw huge numbers of the plants stripped from the wild, and the numbers of killarney and woodsia ferns have never recovered. The exquisite lady’s slipper orchid was once widely seen across northern England, but collectors wiped it out until only one solitary specimen was left, guarded 24 hours a day when in flower. The summer lady’s tresses orchid went extinct in Britain when the last remaining plants were stolen from the New Forest in 1956. Even widespread thefts of native bluebells have a devastating impact.

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Gene editing – and what it really means to rewrite the code of life

Mon, 15 Jan 2018 06:00:48 GMT2018-01-15T06:00:48Z

We now have a precise way to correct, replace or even delete faulty DNA. Ian Sample explains the science, the risks and what the future may hold

So what is gene editing?
Scientists liken it to the find and replace feature used to correct misspellings in documents written on a computer. Instead of fixing words, gene editing rewrites DNA, the biological code that makes up the instruction manuals of living organisms. With gene editing, researchers can disable target genes, correct harmful mutations, and change the activity of specific genes in plants and animals, including humans.

What’s the point?
Much of the excitement around gene editing is fuelled by its potential to treat or prevent human diseases. There are thousands of genetic disorders that can be passed on from one generation to the next; many are serious and debilitating. They are not rare: one in 25 children is born with a genetic disease. Among the most common are cystic fibrosis, sickle cell anaemia and muscular dystrophy. Gene editing holds the promise of treating these disorders by rewriting the corrupt DNA in patients’ cells. But it can do far more than mend faulty genes. Gene editing has already been used to modify people’s immune cells to fight cancer or be resistant to HIV infection. It could also be used to fix defective genes in human embryos and so prevent babies from inheriting serious diseases. This is controversial because the genetic changes would affect their sperm or egg cells, meaning the genetic edits and any bad side effects could be passed on to future generations.

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Starwatch: Mars and Jupiter reward early risers

Sun, 14 Jan 2018 21:30:37 GMT2018-01-14T21:30:37Z

The two planets appear close together this week and are conspicuous in the pre-dawn sky in the constellation Libra

A pair of bright planets reward early risers this week. Mars and Jupiter are close together in the constellation Libra. Despite being more than three times closer to Earth, Mars will appear dimmer than Jupiter. This is because Jupiter is 21 times the diameter of Mars, and possesses brightly reflective clouds. Mars’s frozen deserts give the planet a conspicuous red colour to the naked eye, while Jupiter appears bright white. The chart shows the positions for 06:00 GMT on 16 January. To find the planetary pair, look SSE in the pre-dawn sky. The planets were at their closest on 6 January but remain a nice pairing this week. They will continue to be visible through to the end of the month and into early February, although they will be drawing ever further away from one another.

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Starwatch: Farewell and thanks for 43 years of guiding us through the night sky

Thu, 11 Jan 2018 21:30:11 GMT2018-01-11T21:30:11Z

It’s the end of an era. Having written the Guardian’s astronomy column since 1974, Alan Pickup has decided to move on … at a timely moment in the newspaper’s history

As readers of Starwatch already know, after supplying the monthly star notes to the Guardian for 43 years, Alan Pickup is standing down. We bid him a fond farewell.

It all started with a trip to hospital back in 1974. Alan Pickup was visiting the astronomer Norman Matthew, the Guardian’s Night Sky columnist, and found Norman fretting about the column’s rapidly approaching deadline. He volunteered to step in.

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Tomayto or tomahto? That is the question I wrestle with | Emma Brockes

Thu, 18 Jan 2018 18:00:05 GMT2018-01-18T18:00:05Z

Working on UK and US versions of my book made me realise how much living in New York has affected my pronunciation

I have lived in the US for 10 years, and although I take the elevator down to the lobby from my apartment, when I go outside I walk on the pavement. My children wear diapers but, by and large, I fill the tank with petrol, not gas, and throw out the rubbish not the trash. I wish I still ate sweets, but I don’t; “sweets” to my ears sound childish and wilfully obscure and, while I may cringe when I say it, there’s no question that if I ask someone to pass me the Skittles, what I’m referring to in that instance is candy.

These differences, which have been on my mind as I go through copy edits for the UK and US editions of my book, are something I am probably in control of 70% of the time. It is a peculiarity of being in a foreign country in which the language is ostensibly the same, that it makes one’s pre-immigration self actually seem further away. If I had moved to France, my English would have remained unchanged. As it is, I fear the word “chemist” is lost to me for ever, or at least for the years it would take me to reprogram from “pharmacy”.

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Dementia is too big a problem to walk away from – for Pfizer or any of us | Bart De Strooper

Thu, 11 Jan 2018 12:06:04 GMT2018-01-11T12:06:04Z

The financial and social costs of neurological diseases such as Alzheimer’s are devastating. It’s essential that big pharma be part of the effort to end them

If you were to go out on the street today and run a straw poll on big pharma, I doubt that it would come back very positive. More often than not, these companies are seen by the public as corporate behemoths committed only to the bottom line, and not particularly patient-focused. This week’s news that Pfizer is pulling out of neuroscience research will likely bolster that impression. It’s a tragedy for the millions suffering from Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s and the many more who are at risk of developing one of these devastating diseases.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. Pharmaceutical companies are absolutely crucial in our war against Alzheimer’s and other dementias, and their input, financial muscle and insight hold the key to better treatments and prevention. Dementia, a general term that describes forgetfulness and a decreasing ability to think about and manage everyday mental functions, is one of the toughest medical and economic challenges facing not just the UK but the global population.

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Will 2018 be a year of scientific breakthroughs – or frustrations? | Philip Ball

Fri, 05 Jan 2018 11:30:11 GMT2018-01-05T11:30:11Z

From quantum computers that’ll make conventional machines redundant to a map of the brain, these are some of the key issues for science in the coming year

This will be the year when we see a quantum computer solve a computational problem that conventional computers can’t, using the rules of quantum mechanics to manipulate data, potentially making them much more powerful than classical devices. Many researchers think that the prototype devices built during the past year will soon be able to achieve “quantum supremacy” – the solution of a task that would take a classical computer an impractical length of time. This doesn’t mean that quantum computers are yet ready to take over the computer industry, but this will be the year that they start to become a genuine commercial proposition.

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Why scientists need to do more about research fraud

Thu, 04 Jan 2018 07:54:08 GMT2018-01-04T07:54:08Z

Scientific misconduct is more than just an academic problem – it has repercussions for real people

About 10 years ago, in my lab rat days, I moved to a large structural biology lab. As a cell biologist I had a different skillset to my new colleagues, and my new boss asked to me tackle a problem that had been eluding the rest of the lab. This was to replicate the result of an experiment performed by our cell-biological collaborators across the road.

I approached the challenge with the enthusiasm of a new starter. I was soon able to show results proving I had the system up and running, with positive and negative controls all doing the right thing.

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The government has promised more R&D. Where will the money come from?

Thu, 04 Jan 2018 07:00:07 GMT2018-01-04T07:00:07Z

The UK government has ambitious plans to boost research and development. Most funding will come from business – but universities must be at the heart of the strategy

After decades of lobbying, the government has promised to raise UK investment in research and development (R&D) to 2.4% of gross domestic product over the next ten years. Brexit is the big catalyst. The government is using R&D investment to combat stubbornly low productivity and persistent regional inequalities before new economic challenges appear.

Governments have set out vague ambitions before but this time it’s more than just talk. An extra £2.3bn per year has already been added to government R&D budgets. The funding system is being restructured, tax incentives are increasing, a review of private sector investment is nearing completion and research and innovation are being woven into both the UK’s negotiating position on Brexit and the new industrial strategy. Richard Jones addressed many aspects of the industrial strategy in an earlier post on this blog. Here, I focus on money.

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Meteor flashes across the sky in Michigan – video

Wed, 17 Jan 2018 15:31:15 GMT2018-01-17T15:31:15Z

A meteor swept over parts of the US midwest and Canada on Tuesday, weather and geology agencies said. It then caused a powerful explosion that rattled homes, according to several residents


Flash of light and loud bang in Michigan was meteor, experts say

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Kew Gardens' Temperate House restoration - in pictures

Tue, 16 Jan 2018 09:43:02 GMT2018-01-16T09:43:02Z

Temperate House, the Grade I listed building at Kew Gardens, is due to reopen in May after a five-year restoration project. It is home to some of the rarest and most threatened temperate zone plants from around the world

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Starstruck: the best space images of 2017

Fri, 05 Jan 2018 13:18:21 GMT2018-01-05T13:18:21Z

With space missions in 2018 set to boldly go further than ever before, here is a look back at some of biggest breakthroughs and most breathtaking views offered by 2017

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Social media videos capture SpaceX streaking across California skies - video

Sat, 23 Dec 2017 12:49:15 GMT2017-12-23T12:49:15Z

A reused SpaceX rocket carried 10 satellites into orbit from California on Friday, leaving behind a spectacular trail as it soared into space. It lifted off from Vandenberg air force base, carrying the latest batch of satellites for Iridium Communications. The trail was widely seen throughout southern California and as far away as Phoenix, Arizona.  SpaceX has made four launches so far and expects to make several more by mid-2018

SpaceX rocket dazzles in California sky as it transports 10 satellites into space

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Supermoon trilogy begins – in pictures

Sun, 03 Dec 2017 23:16:33 GMT2017-12-03T23:16:33Z

A series of three supermoons will start on the 3rd December 2017, continuing on the 1st and 31st of January 2018. The lunar phenomenon occurs when a full moon is at its closest point to earth so it appears larger than usual

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'It's a delicate place': Nasa captures 20 years of Earth's seasonal changes – video

Sat, 18 Nov 2017 02:50:26 GMT2017-11-18T02:50:26Z

A Nasa oceanographer explains how the US space agency successfully captured 20 years of changing seasons to form a striking new global map. The projection of the Earth and its biosphere is derived from two decades of satellite data from September 1997 to September 2017

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Climate sensitivity study suggests narrower range of potential outcomes

Thu, 18 Jan 2018 03:08:22 GMT2018-01-18T03:08:22Z

Findings should not be seen as taking pressure off need to tackle climate change, authors warn

Earth’s surface will almost certainly not warm up four or five degrees Celsius by 2100, according to a study which, if correct, voids worst-case UN climate change predictions.

A revised calculation of how greenhouse gases drive up the planet’s temperature reduces the range of possible end-of-century outcomes by more than half, researchers said in the report, published in the journal Nature.

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Creative thought has a pattern of its own, brain activity scans reveal

Mon, 15 Jan 2018 20:00:04 GMT2018-01-15T20:00:04Z

People who are flexible, original thinkers show signature forms of connectivity in their brains, study shows

Donatella Versace finds it in the conflict of ideas, Jack White under pressure of deadlines. For William S Burroughs, an old Dadaist trick helped: cutting pages into pieces and rearranging the words.

Every artist has their own way of generating original ideas, but what is happening inside the brain might not be so individual. In new research, scientists report signature patterns of neural activity that mark out those who are most creative.

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'Is Ian cured? Maybe': the astonishing cancer treatment of Australia's chief scientist

Mon, 01 Jan 2018 18:00:05 GMT2018-01-01T18:00:05Z

Ian Chubb was diagnosed with metastatic kidney cancer and his prognosis was grim. But now, as far as his oncologist can tell, he is cancer-free

“One of my kids said to me it was the first time in their life they saw me scared,” says Ian Chubb, recalling a time he found himself almost unable to breathe after walking for just a few dozen metres.

Perhaps more than any other living Australian, Chubb has dedicated his life to championing science.

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Mystery bird: black-and-red broadbill, Cymbirhynchus macrorhynchos | @GrrlScientist

Tue, 07 Aug 2012 16:30:00 GMT2012-08-07T16:30:00Z

This lovely southeast Asian mystery bird is a distant relative of another mystery bird that I shared this week.

Black-and-red broadbill, Cymbirhynchus macrorhynchos (protonym, Todus macrorhynchos), Gmelin, 1788, also known as the black-red broadbill, common rouge-et-noir bird, Arakan black-and-red broadbill or as the allied broadbill, photographed along the Menanggul River, Sabah, Malaysian Borneo. this

Image: Alex Vargas, 16 November 2010 (with permission, for GrrlScientist/Guardian use only) [velociraptorise].
Nikon D5000, Nikkor 300mm f/2.8G ED-IF AF-S VR 1/160s f/4.0 at 420.0mm iso500 with a Nikon 1.4X Teleconverter on.

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Antikythera shipwreck yields bronze arm – and hints at spectacular haul of statues

Wed, 04 Oct 2017 11:56:49 GMT2017-10-04T11:56:49Z

Arm points to existence of at least seven statues from Greek shipwreck, already the source of most extensive and exciting ancient cargo ever found

Marine archaeologists have recovered a bronze arm from an ancient shipwreck off the Greek island of Antikythera, where the remains of at least seven more priceless statues from the classical world are believed to lie buried.

Divers found the right arm, encrusted and stained green, under half a metre of sediment on the boulder-strewn slope where the ship and its cargo now rest. The huge vessel, perhaps 50m from bow to stern, was sailing from Asia Minor to Rome in 1BC when it foundered near the tiny island between Crete and the Peloponnese.

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Going booze-free? The effects of a month without alcohol

Tue, 05 Jan 2016 11:59:54 GMT2016-01-05T11:59:54Z

With the start of another new year, people are once again swearing off alcohol for at least a month, often for charity. What are the potential effects of suddenly cutting all alcohol from your system?

Alcohol. It’s a popular social lubricant, provides pleasure, and often tastes nice. It also has long term health consequences, and imposes a heavy burden on our society. Overall, it’s a mixed blessing.

At present it’s becoming ever-more fashionable, even charitable, to abstain from alcohol for the month of January. After the indulgence of the Christmas period, it’s hardly surprising people will want to do something healthy, and what could be healthier than giving up alcohol?

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I’ll say it again: E-cigarettes are still far safer than smoking

Mon, 02 Jan 2017 11:14:12 GMT2017-01-02T11:14:12Z

Despite evidence suggesting e-cigarettes are far less harmful than smoking, more people than ever believe them to be just as harmful. Professor Linda Bauld discusses the evidence

January is a time for New Year’s resolutions and if you’re one of the world’s one billion smokers, your resolution may be to stop smoking. For some people, this year’s quit attempt might involve an electronic cigarette, and a recent study in England, published in the BMJ, suggested that these devices helped at least 18,000 smokers to stop in 2015 who would not otherwise have done so. That’s very good news, but will there be as many quit attempts in 2017 as there have been in the past with e-cigarettes? I’m not so sure.

Since I last wrote about e-cigarettes in this column one year ago, headlines about the dangers of these devices have continued to appear and show no sign of abating. The result is clear. More people believe today, compared with a year ago, that e-cigarettes are as harmful as smoking. In fact these incorrect perceptions have risen year on year, from fewer than one in ten adults in Great Britain in 2013 to one in four this past summer. Surveys of smokers show similar patterns, with an increasing proportion believing that e-cigarettes are more or equally harmful than tobacco.

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Rome if you want to: university offers free virtual tour of ancient city

Tue, 07 Mar 2017 15:38:17 GMT2017-03-07T15:38:17Z

University of Reading launches online course allowing students to explore the Rome of 315AD using an immersive 3D panoramic model

Students from all over the world who sign up to a new free online course on ancient Rome from the University of Reading will be invited to explore its temples, monuments, shops and back streets, through the most detailed digital model of the ancient city ever created.

Matthew Nicholls, a lecturer in the university’s classics department who has been working on the model for more than ten years, will lead the five week Rome: A Virtual Tour of the Ancient City programme starting on March 13. The course, Nicholls said, is for anyone interested in the city, from holidaymakers to prospective archaeology or history students. “We are offering an immersive and unique virtual tour of the Eternal City without even leaving your living room, and everyone is invited.”

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Alcohol can cause irreversible genetic damage to stem cells, says study

Wed, 03 Jan 2018 18:00:08 GMT2018-01-03T18:00:08Z

Link between drinking and cancer clarified by study which indicates alcohol causes cancer by scrambling DNA in cells, eventually leading to mutations

Alcohol can cause irreversible genetic damage to the body’s reserve of stem cells, according to a study that helps explain the link between drinking and cancer.

The research, using genetically modified mice, provides the most compelling evidence to date that alcohol causes cancer by scrambling the DNA in cells, eventually leading to deadly mutations.

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