Science | The Guardian

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

'Smoke and mirror' tactics of drink-drive defence teams criticised

Forensic science regulator launches investigation into a number of expert witnesses

The “smoke and mirror” tactics of defence lawyers in drink-driving cases have been criticised by the government’s forensic science regulator, who has launched an investigation into the work of a number of expert witnesses.

The review was triggered by a recent high court judgment that raised concerns about defence teams requesting the disclosure of vast amounts of “irrelevant” technical information in order to challenge the reliability of breathalyser and blood alcohol test results.

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06/18/2018 06:00 AM
Cambridge zoology museum to reopen

Sir David Attenborough to tour new premises that showcase the extinct moa bird’s feathers

When Sir David Attenborough opens the University of Cambridge’s zoology museum this week, the proud curators will show him their fabulous discovery.

It’s fair to say the casual visitor might wonder why they are so excited by the scruffy frame containing a few cobwebby grey-brown wisps, discovered during a £4.1m redevelopment of the museum.

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06/17/2018 11:01 PM
The most likely cradles for life inside our solar system

Scientists still believe it possible that extraterrestrial life could flourish in our own neighbourhood

This week, Nasa’s veteran Curiosity rover discovered complex organic matter that had been buried and preserved for more than 3bn years in sediments forming a lake bed. This means that if microbial life did land on Mars, it would be nourished.

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06/17/2018 06:00 AM
Stephen Hawking's ashes interred at Westminster Abbey

Luminaries from academia and science pay tribute to the late physicist’s incredible legacy

“We remember Isaac Newton for answers,” said Prof Kip Thorne. “We remember Hawking for questions.”

For 40 years, physicists have pondered the questions raised by Prof Stephen Hawking’s work, and perhaps his greatest legacy is not his remarkable discoveries, but the impact of his work on future theories of physics. Thorne, a Nobel prize-winning physicist, paid tribute to his friend Hawking by saying that future scientists would not stand on the shoulders of giants, as Newton had it, but “on the shoulders of Hawking”.

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06/15/2018 04:30 PM
£720m Large Hadron Collider upgrade 'could upend particle physics'

Collider will be far more sensitive to anomalies that could lead to entirely new theories of the universe

A massive project to supercharge the world’s largest particle collider launched on Friday in the hope that the beefed-up machine will reveal fresh insights into the nature of the universe.

The 950m Swiss franc (£720m) mission will see heavy equipment, new buildings, access shafts and service tunnels installed, constructed and excavated at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at Cern, the particle physics laboratory on the edge of Geneva.

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06/15/2018 10:33 AM
Human activity making mammals more nocturnal, study finds

Research involving 62 species found mammals spent relatively less time being active during the day when humans were nearby

Human disturbance is turning mammals into night owls, with species becoming more nocturnal when people are around, research has revealed.

The study, encompassing 62 species from around the globe, found that when humans were nearby, mammals spent relatively less time being active during the day and were more active at night - even among those already classed as nocturnal.

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06/14/2018 06:00 PM
Can you solve it? Mirror, mirror on the wall

A puzzle to reflect on

Hi guzzlers

Here’s a puzzle about something we do every day: gaze at ourselves in the mirror. Who says maths is not relevant to the real world? In fact, You may have often pondered this question without realising it when trying on clothes.

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06/18/2018 06:10 AM
Did dinosaurs get dandruff?

Palaeontologists studying the evolution of dinosaurs’ skin and feathers think they did

As a regular reader of this blog, you are well aware that dinosaurs had feathers (unless you are a certain film franchise). Dinosaurs were covered in patches of fuzz, proto-floof, shook their tail feathers, and in some cases displayed full-fledged plumage. Over the last decade, exceptionally preserved fossils and intense genetic study have taught us a lot about feather evolution. But what do we know about the evolution of the skin of dinosaurs and early birds?

Vertebrate skin consists of several layers of cells making up the epidermis (the outer skin), the dermis (containing connective tissues, hair follicles and sweat glands) and the hypodermis (consisting of fat and connective tissues). As we grow, our skin continually renews itself. The inner layers generate new cells, which then slowly migrate to the outer layers to replace those tired, worn-out outer skin cells. This is called desquamation.

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06/15/2018 01:05 PM
How can climate policy stay on top of a growing mountain of data?

Tracking all the relevant publications on climate change has become impossible. Climate science and policy need a new approach for an age of big literature

When the lines between scientific facts, legitimate disagreements and uncertainties about climate change are being deliberately blurred – not least by world leaders like Donald Trump and Recep Tayyip Erdoğan – the work of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has never been more important. It is the IPCC’s task to make sense of the landscape of scientific findings, where they agree, and why they may differ. The authors of the IPCC’s sixth assessment report – hundreds of scientists across many disciplines – have a massive task on their hands, ahead of its publication in 2021.

When the volume of scientific information continues to grow exponentially, so does the difficulty of maintaining a clear overview. Tracking and reading all of the relevant publications on climate change has become impossible, as more emerge in a single year than was previously the case over an entire, or multiple, assessment periods. Even if there was no further growth over the next three years, the relevant literature to be reviewed for the IPCC’s sixth assessment will be somewhere between 270,000 and 330,000 publications. This is larger than the entire climate change literature before 2014. So conducting a scientific assessment is increasingly a “big literature” challenge.

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06/12/2018 05:30 AM
When a dinosaur fossil is gone it's gone forever

Palaeontologists and museum curators try to keep their objects safe, but sometimes there are forces outside of their control

Periodically palaeontologists will announce a new candidate for the largest dinosaur to have ever walked the Earth with the finding of a new specimen or species. There are multiple credible candidates for this title on display in various museums though sadly each is inevitably represented by less than complete remains. Most recently a new giant from Argentina has been on show in the US that might top the lot, but even this may not have beaten a near mythical animal:a giant that was known from a single and incomplete top part of a vertebra from the middle of the spine.

‘Was’ is critical here because the specimen is no longer in existence. It was extremely fragile and at some point shortly after its discovery it apparently crumbled and fell apart. Such a fate is not uncommon for some kinds of fossils where exposure to the air or being freed from the supporting matrix can lead to specimens disintegrating but this was before the development of glues that could help consolidate and preserve fragile specimens, and it is also likely that no one immediately realised this was a risk.

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06/06/2018 06:00 AM
Did you solve it? World Cup arithmetic

The solutions to today’s puzzles

On my puzzle blog earlier today I set you three football table challenges:

1) England, Tunisia, Belgium and Panama make up Group G in the 2018 World Cup. Imagine that once they have all played each other the table looks like this.

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06/04/2018 04:00 PM
Can you solve it? World Cup arithmetic

The puzzle that shoots and scores

UPDATE: Read the solutions here

Hi guzzlers,

The World Cup is almost upon us, so here’s a puzzle to get you in the mood.

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06/04/2018 06:10 AM
Speculative biology: understanding the past and predicting our future

A new edition of After Man by Dougal Dixon, a landmark piece of speculative biology which influenced a generation of palaeontologists, has been released

In 1981, a remarkable book was published: After Man: A Zoology of the Future, by Dougal Dixon. As a child of the eighties, growing up in a science fiction bubble where daleks, vogons and the fighting machines of the War of the Worlds were at least as concrete to me as anything happening in the real world, After Man presented a biologically-themed alternative world to lose myself in.

The premise of the book is simple: take the Earth today, remove the humans, and let evolution take its course for 50 million years. What new animals evolve? Of course, in other hands this approach could have resulted in a throwaway romp. In Dixon’s, it produced an incredibly detailed, thoughtful book, in which the principles of evolutionary theory and ecology are rigorously applied. Crypsis (adaptations to avoid being seen by either predators or prey) is a common theme, as is mimicry. And convergent evolution (the idea that unrelated organisms in similar ecological niches evolve similar adaptations) is everywhere. Each species has a scientific name which follows the conventions that taxonomists use, and the text describes their behaviours and inter-species interactions. The striking illustrations, with copious annotations, resemble a naturalist’s field notes.

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05/30/2018 12:59 PM
Scientists are human too, so why are we shocked when they fall short?

When our heroes – like Richard Feynman – turn out to be less than perfect, it’s an open question as to whether we should write off their work as well

Another week, another social media tar-and-feathering of a prominent male scientist.

A few weeks ago was physicist Richard Feynman, every scientist’s beloved old uncle: he of the charm, the bongo-playing, the practical jokes, the breathtaking clarity of thought.I can still remember him standing up in front of the US Congress on television as an elderly man, razor sharp as he demonstrated, using ice water, what would have happened to the O-rings within the doomed shuttle Challenger when they came into contact with the cold air temperature during launch.”

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05/30/2018 09:43 AM
Why thousands of AI researchers are boycotting the new Nature journal

Academics share machine-learning research freely. Taxpayers should not have to pay twice to read our findings

Budding authors face a minefield when it comes to publishing their work. For a large fee, as much as $3,000, they can make their work available to anyone who wants to read it. Or they can avoid the fee and have readers pay the publisher instead. Often it is libraries that foot this bill through expensive annual subscriptions. This is not the lot of wannabe fiction writers, it’s the business of academic publishing.

More than 200 years ago, Giuseppe Piazzi, an isolated astronomer in Palermo, Sicily, discovered a dwarf planet. For him, publishing meant writing a letter to his friend Franz von Zach. Each month von Zach collated letters from astronomers across Europe and redistributed them. No internet for these guys: they found out about the latest discoveries from leatherbound volumes of letters called Monatliche Correspondenz. The time it took to disseminate research threw up its own problems: by the time Piazzi’s data were published, the planet had vanished in the sun’s glare.

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05/29/2018 05:30 AM
Leave those kids alone: 'helicopter parenting' linked to behavioural problems

Children with over-controlling parents aged two struggled to manage their emotions later in life, study finds

Children whose parents are over-controlling “helicopter parents” when they are toddlers, are less able to control their emotions and impulses as they get older and have more problems with school, new research suggests.

The study looked at to what degree mothers of toddlers dominated playtime and showed their child what to do, and then studied how their children behaved over the following eight years, revealing that controlling parenting is linked to a number of problems as a child grows up.

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06/18/2018 01:00 PM
Hunt wants swift review of cannabis oil law after Billy Caldwell case

Health secretary defends speed of government’s action in granting boy with epilepsy a temporary licence

The health secretary, Jeremy Hunt, has said he backs the use of medicinal cannabis oil and called for a swift legal review after an emergency licence was provided to Billy Caldwell, a boy with severe epilepsy whose medication had been confiscated.

In response to Hunt’s remarks, Labour announced it would legalise cannabis oil for medical purposes if it was in government.

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06/18/2018 12:34 PM
High risk of food shortages without pesticides, says chemical giant

Head of Syngenta, world’s biggest pesticide maker, says rejecting farming tech could have serious consequences within 20 years

The world is likely to face food shortages within 20 years if pesticides and genetically modified crops are shunned, according to the head of the world’s biggest pesticide manufacturer.

J Erik Fyrwald, CEO of Syngenta, also said the technologies to produce more food from less land are vital in halting climate change, but that better targeting will mean farmers around the world will use less pesticide in future.

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06/17/2018 11:00 AM
Faecal transplants ‘could save endangered koala’

Team of researchers changes microbes in koalas’ guts in order to improve type of food they consume

Scientists believe they have found a new weapon in the battle to save endangered species: faecal transplants. They say that by transferring faeces from the gut of one animal to another they could boost the health and viability of endangered creatures. In particular, they believe the prospects of saving the koala could be boosted this way.

The idea of using faecal transplants as conservation weapons was highlighted this month at the American Society for Microbiology meeting in Atlanta, where scientists outlined experiments in which they used the technique to change microbes in the guts of koalas.

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06/16/2018 06:26 PM
Home Office looks at allowing cannabis oil for boy with epilepsy

Prescriptions consideration comes after Billy Caldwell, 12, has ‘life-threatening’ seizures

The Home Office has said it will “carefully consider” allowing a 12-year-old boy to be prescribed cannabis oil after he was admitted to hospital with “life-threatening” seizures following the confiscation of his supply.

Billy Caldwell had his anti-epileptic medicine confiscated at Heathrow airport on Monday. If the decision is made to permit him to have the treatment, it would be the first time that cannabis oil containing THC was legally prescribed in the UK since it was made illegal in 1971.

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06/15/2018 11:01 PM
Stephen Hawking's voice to be beamed into space at final sendoff

Message of peace will be broadcast into nearest black hole as physicist is laid to rest

The voice of Stephen Hawking will be beamed into space in a message of peace and hope, his daughter said, as the British physicist is laid to rest on Friday during a service at Westminster Abbey.

The scientist died in March, aged 76, after a lifetime spent investigating the origins of the universe, the mysteries of black holes and the nature of time itself.

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06/15/2018 09:33 AM
Inscribed seventh-century window ledge unearthed at Tintagel

Find adds to view that Cornish site was home to thriving trade port in early middle ages

A seventh-century slate window ledge inscribed with an intriguing mix of Latin, Greek and Celtic words, names and symbols has been unearthed at Tintagel Castle in north Cornwall.

The discovery adds weight to the view that the rugged coastal site, which is most often associated with the legend of King Arthur, was home in the early middle ages to a sophisticated and multicultural port community.

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06/14/2018 11:01 PM
Sex-change mice research could help humans, say scientists

Removal of enhancer 13 DNA strands caused males to grow ovaries and female genitalia, helping research on human sexual development disorders

Scientists have turned male mice into females by snipping out strands of their DNA in work that could shed light on sexual development disorders which arise in humans.

The male mice grew ovaries and female genitalia instead of the more conventional male anatomy after researchers removed small chunks of DNA from the animals’ genetic code.

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06/14/2018 06:01 PM
Evil spirit that haunts scary movie Hereditary is the gene genie

Ari Aster’s horror triumph feeds off suppressed fear that we cannot escape our biological fate – leaving audiences unnerved

  • Warning: contains spoilers

On the face of it, Hereditary is a slice of silly supernatural hokum replete with the threadbare tropes of the genre. However, Ari Aster’s debut scarer has nonetheless struck a nerve: it seems to linger in the minds of those who see it. Why?

Many horror films (Blair Witch, The Babadook, It Follows) jog the Jungian subconscious to tickle merely fanciful fears. Others (Carrie, Don’t Look Now, Get Out) dare to touch upon real-world terrors. Often, it’s the latter whose spectres persist.

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06/18/2018 12:43 PM
Soundscape ecology with Bernie Krause – Science Weekly podcast

Do you know what noise a hungry sea anemone makes? Soundscape ecologist Bernie Krause does. Armed with over 5,000 hours of recordings, he takes Ian Sample on a journey through the natural world and demonstrates why sound is such a powerful tool for conservation

Subscribe and review on Acast, Apple Podcasts, Soundcloud, Audioboom and Mixcloud. Join the discussion on Facebook and Twitter

Do you know what noise a hungry sea anemone makes? This is one of the 15,000 species that soundscape ecologist Dr Bernie Krause has recorded. For half a century, Bernie has travelled the world, recording the noise of nature. His collection is now one of the oldest we have and as a result, it is a hugely valuable tool in documenting how we’ve changed our planet. For example, when Bernie returned to some sites, the environment has changed so dramatically, it is now silent.

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06/15/2018 05:00 AM
Starwatch: time to look for noctilucent clouds at the edge of space

The highest known clouds in Earth’s atmosphere can be seen soon after sunset in late spring and early summer

The late spring/early summer is a good time to look for noctilucent clouds. These are the highest known clouds that form in Earth’s atmosphere. They exist at a height of about 80km; to all intents and purposes this is the edge of space. The clouds glow as white or pale blue tendrils across a dark sky. This allows you to distinguish them from cirrus clouds, which are visible only in daytime because they do not glow.

Related: Weatherwatch: beyond the ordinary – noctilucent or 'night' clouds

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06/17/2018 08:30 PM
Spacewatch: Japan's new 'spy cam' cuts through the clouds

Tanegashima space centre sends into orbit all-weather IGS radar satellite in 16th mission to keep eye on the neighbours

This month Japan launched the 16th mission in its spy satellites programme, using the IGS Radar 6 spacecraft, part of the information gathering satellite scheme run by the country’s intelligence agency.

This programme consists of optical and radar spacecraft, and supports civilian disaster management services as well as supplying information to the Japanese military. The radar aspect allows surveillance images to be taken through clouds.

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06/14/2018 08:30 PM
John Rowan obituary

My colleague John Rowan, who has died aged 93, was known as the father of British humanistic psychology – a field to which he made vital literary and theoretical contributions.

Humanistic psychology, which emphasises human existential values and radical therapy approaches, reached Britain from the US during the countercultural years of the 1950s and 60s. John joined the Association for Humanistic Psychology (AHP) in 1969 and soon became its chair.

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06/14/2018 04:41 PM
When size does matter – Big Beasts: Last of the Giants – in pictures

Patrick Aryee’s gets up close and personal with some of the world’s biggest creatures in his new three-part series. Episode one airs on Sky1, Wednesday 13 June, 9pm

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06/11/2018 06:00 AM
Starwatch: all lined up – the Moon, Venus and Pollux

Venus and the waxing crescent Moon are visible in the constellation Cancer this week, pointing towards the brightest star in Gemini

For the whole of this week, Venus continues to be the most noticeable object in the western evening sky, despite its low altitude. On the evening of 16 June, it is joined by a thin crescent moon. Only 13.1% of the moon’s surface will be illuminated by the sun. The chart shows the positions at 22.00 BST on 16 June. The moon and Venus sit within the confines of Cancer, the Crab, but form an almost horizontal line with Pollux, the brightest star in the constellation Gemini, the twins. Despite it still being a thin crescent, the moon is already three days into the current lunar month with new moon having taken place on 13 June. Earth’s natural satellite will now brighten rapidly until, in four days time, it will be at first quarter (half moon). A week later, on 27 June, it will be full. The two weeks after that will see the moon progress through its waning phase, reaching its last quarter on 5 July.

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06/10/2018 08:30 PM
Britain’s drug laws are in the dark ages. Billy Caldwell’s case proves it | Simon Jenkins
How can Sajid Javid deny long-term access to the cannabis oil that would control this boy’s epilepsy? This cruelty must end

What kind of country gets a politician rather than a doctor to prescribe medicine for a sick child? When the home secretary, Sajid Javid, decided at the weekend to allow 12-year-old Billy Caldwell “one bottle” of cannabis oil, his spokeswoman said it was an exceptional case to meet “a short-term emergency”. The only emergency was to the home secretary’s reputation. Britain is like a banana republic, in which politicians, not judges, decide who goes to jail.

Related: Legalising cannabis ‘could earn Treasury £3.5bn’

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06/18/2018 10:44 AM
If we were really smart, we’d get over our fixation on the IQ test | David Olusoga

Scores are falling across the world, provoking headlines of ‘dumbing down’. But what does it measure anyway?

IQ tests have a troubled history. Although their inventor, the intellectually cautious Frenchman Alfred Binet, understood and acknowledged their limitations, many of those who went on to deploy and develop his ideas did not. Within years of their emergence, IQ tests were being used by US eugenicists to weed out the “feebleminded”, and by politicians keen to cloak their calls for greater racial segregation and changes to American immigration laws with a degree of scientific legitimacy.

From the start, Binet’s tests were also drawn into the debate over whether human intelligence is predominantly hereditary or better understood as a reflection of environmental factors such as education – one part of the sprawling nature v nurture debate.

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06/17/2018 05:00 AM
Is competition driving innovation or damaging scientific research? | Anonymous academic

When a colleague with shaky data raced a competitor to be first to publish, I saw how the perverse incentives in research work

There’s an oft-repeated phrase in the scientific world that “competition drives innovation”. This can definitely sometimes be true, but in my experience the reality most of the time is that competition can be hugely wasteful and damaging to research.

Take our lab, where we work in several high-profile areas. We’re aware that we have several major competitors around the world. We want to be first, we need to be first and we must keep it secret. Doing this can make or break a career, or decide a grant application outcome. It can even shape the future direction of the field.

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06/15/2018 06:30 AM
Inside the AEF, the climate denial group hosting Tony Abbott as guest speaker

The Australian Environment Foundation has secured a former prime minister to speak. But what does it actually do?

Securing a former prime minister to speak at your organisation is no doubt a coup for many groups.

Singapore’s Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy recently got Kevin Rudd. Australia’s Nelson Mandela Day committee has snaffled Julia Gillard for their next annual lecture.

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06/14/2018 06:00 PM
Mars discovery: how did the organic matter end up there? – video

Nasa’s Curiosity rover has found complex organic matter buried and preserved in ancient sediments that formed a vast lake bed on Mars more than 3bn years ago. Nasa expert Jennifer Eigenbrode explains how that matter might have ended up there and what the source could be: biological processes in the lake itself, meteorites or a natural rock-forming process. But, as Eigenbrode explains, there is not yet enough information to tell what the source is and how it got in there.

 


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06/07/2018 11:56 PM
Nasa launches InSight lander on mission to Mars - video

The Mars InSight lander will take more than six months to travel the 300m miles to Mars where it will start geological excavations. It will dig deeper into Mars than ever before – about 5 metres – to record the planet’s temperature. It will also place a hi-tech seismometer on the surface of the planet to try to measure quakes

• Nasa launches InSight spacecraft to explore the insides of Mars

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05/05/2018 12:15 PM
Kew Gardens' Temperate House restored - in pictures

After five years, 10,000 plants uprooted and replanted, 15,000 panes of glass replaced, 69,000 sections of metal, stone and timber repaired or replaced, enough scaffolding to stretch the length of the M25, and £41m spent, the largest Victorian glasshouse in the world is ready to open its doors again. The Temperate House in Kew Gardens is once again, as Sir David Attenborough describes it, ‘a breathtakingly beautiful space’

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05/03/2018 01:18 PM
Stephen Hawking: crowds line streets of Cambridge for physicist's funeral – video

The funeral service of Prof Stephen Hawking took place at the University Church of St Mary the Great in Cambridge. Hundreds of people lined the streets before the service, and a round of applause broke out as six porters from the physicist’s former college, Gonville and Caius, carried his coffin from the hearse into the church.

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03/31/2018 04:10 PM
Elephant seen 'smoking' in southern India – video

Footage of an elephant blowing ash has baffled wildlife experts, who say they've never seen behaviour like it before. The video released by the Wildlife Conservation Society may be an example of zoopharmacognosy, animal self-medication

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03/27/2018 10:44 AM
Cosmology's brightest star Stephen Hawking dies aged 76 – video

Stephen Hawking, the brightest star in the firmament of science, whose insights shaped modern cosmology and inspired global audiences in the millions, has died aged 76.

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03/14/2018 06:38 AM
The life of Stephen Hawking – in pictures

The world-renowned British physicist has died aged 76. Here are images from his extraordinary life and times

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03/14/2018 04:08 AM
Mystery bird: black-and-red broadbill, Cymbirhynchus macrorhynchos | @GrrlScientist

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 broad bill, 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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08/07/2012 04:30 PM
How dangerous is Jordan B Peterson, the rightwing professor who 'hit a hornets' nest'?

Since his confrontation with Cathy Newman, the Canadian academic’s book has become a bestseller. But his arguments are riddled with ‘pseudo-facts’ and conspiracy theories

The Canadian psychology professor and culture warrior Jordan B Peterson could not have hoped for better publicity than his recent encounter with Cathy Newman on Channel 4 News. The more Newman inaccurately paraphrased his beliefs and betrayed her irritation, the better Peterson came across. The whole performance, which has since been viewed more than 6m times on YouTube and was described by excitable Fox News host Tucker Carlson as “one of the great interviews of all time”, bolstered Peterson’s preferred image as the coolly rational man of science facing down the hysteria of political correctness. As he told Newman in his distinctive, constricted voice, which he has compared to that of Kermit the Frog: “I choose my words very, very carefully.”

The confrontation has worked wonders for Peterson. His new book 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos has become a runaway bestseller in the UK, US, Canada, Australia, Germany and France, making him the public intellectual du jour. Peterson is not just another troll, narcissist or blowhard whose arguments are fatally compromised by bad faith, petulance, intellectual laziness and blatant bigotry. It is harder to argue with someone who believes what he says and knows what he is talking about – or at least conveys that impression. No wonder every scourge of political correctness, from the Spectator to InfoWars, is aflutter over the 55-year-old professor who appears to bring heavyweight intellectual armature to standard complaints about “social-justice warriors” and “snowflakes”. They think he could be the culture war’s Weapon X.

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02/07/2018 03:20 PM
10 grammar rules you can forget: how to stop worrying and write proper
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.

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09/30/2013 04:44 PM
Owning a dog cuts risk of heart attacks and other fatal diseases, study shows

Health benefits of a pet dog are greatest for those who live alone, lowering the risk of dying from cardiovascular disease by 36%, say scientists

Never mind the chewed slippers, the hair on the sofa, and the inexplicable barking at 3am. Having a dog in the home substantially reduces the risk of heart attacks and other fatal conditions, a major study has shown.

Researchers found that dog ownership had a dramatic effect on people who live alone, cutting the risk of death from cardiovascular disease by 36%. In households with more people under the same roof, dogs had less of a positive impact, but still lowered deaths from heart disease by 15%, the work reveals.

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11/17/2017 10:20 AM
The 20 big questions in science
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.

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08/31/2013 11:05 PM
Doctors hail world first as woman’s advanced breast cancer is eradicated

Immune cells from the woman’s own body used to wipe out tumours

A woman with advanced breast cancer which had spread around her body has been completely cleared of the disease by a groundbreaking therapy that harnessed the power of her immune system to fight the tumours.

It is the first time that a patient with late-stage breast cancer has been successfully treated by a form of immunotherapy that uses the patient’s own immune cells to find and destroy cancer cells that have formed in the body.

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06/04/2018 03:00 PM
How our colonial past altered the ecobalance of an entire planet

Researchers suggest effects of the colonial era can be detected in rocks or even air

It brought riches to Britain and many other European nations; played a major role in enslaving more than 10 million Africans; and created the first global markets in cotton, tobacco and sugar. But now colonialism has been accused of having an even greater influence. It is claimed that it changed the Earth’s very makeup.

This is the view of two UK scientists who believe the impact of colonialism was so profound it can be detected in Earth’s air and rocks, an idea revealed in The Human Planet: How We Created the Anthropocene, by Simon Lewis and Mark Maslin, published last week.

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06/10/2018 06:00 AM
3,000-year-old sculpture leaves researchers scratching their heads

Exquisite Old Testament-era head of a king found in Israel but subject’s identity a mystery

An enigmatic sculpture of a king’s head dating back nearly 3,000 years has left researchers guessing at whose face it depicts.

The 5cm (two-inch) sculpture is an exceedingly rare example of figurative art from the region during the ninth century BC – a period associated with biblical kings. It is exquisitely preserved but for a bit of missing beard, and nothing quite like it has been found before.

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06/10/2018 04:52 AM
Nasa Mars rover finds organic matter in ancient lake bed

Curiosity digs up carbon compounds that could be food for life in sediments that formed 3bn years ago

Nasa’s veteran Curiosity rover has found complex organic matter buried and preserved in ancient sediments that formed a vast lake bed on Mars more than 3bn years ago.

The discovery is the most compelling evidence yet that long before the planet became the parched world it is today, Martian lakes were a rich soup of carbon-based compounds that are necessary for life, at least as we know it.

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06/07/2018 06:00 PM