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

Why do left-handers excel at certain elite sports but not others?

Data suggests being left-handed is a particular advantage in sports where time pressures are particularly severe, such as baseball, cricket and table tennis

From cricketer Wasim Akram to baseball pitcher Clayton Kershaw and table tennis star Ding Ning, the world of sport has no shortage of left-handed players. But now researchers say they’ve worked out why lefties are overrepresented in some elite sports but not others.

The study, published in the journal Biology Letters, suggests that being left-handed is a particular advantage in interactive sports where time pressures are particularly severe, such as table tennis and cricket – possibly because their moves are less familiar to their mostly right-handed opponents, who do not have time to adjust.

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11/22/2017 05:30 AM
Type of alcohol determines whether you become merry or maudlin – study

Spirits are associated with confidence and red wine is linked to relaxation – and researchers hope findings will help people consider alcohol’s emotional effects

While indulging in booze can inspire cheerful merrymaking in some, for others it can lead to a tearful journey to the bottom of the glass. Now researchers say the emotions people feel when drinking could be linked to their tipple of choice.

An international survey has revealed that spirits are often associated with feelings of energy, confidence and sexiness – but on the flip-side anger and tearfulness – while red wine is the drink most commonly linked to relaxation, but also tiredness.

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11/22/2017 06:30 AM
Sugar industry withheld research effects of sucrose 50 years ago, study claims

Researchers say negative health impacts of sucrose could have been combated sooner had research been released – but industry bodies dispute the findings

Sugar’s demise from childhood staple to public enemy can be seen everywhere. Chocolate bars are shrinking, sugary drinks are set to be taxed and our recommended daily sugar intake has been slashed in half. But the battle against sugar might have begun sooner if the industry hadn’t kept secrets to protect its commercial interests, according to new findings.

In 1967, when scientists were arguing over the link between sugar consumption and increased risk of heart disease, researchers now claim that the International Sugar Research Foundation (ISRF) withheld findings that rats that were fed a high-sugar diet had higher levels of triglycerides (a fat found in the blood) than those fed starch. In a move researchers from the University of California at San Francisco have compared to the tobacco industry’s self-preservation tactics, the foundation stopped funding the project.

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11/21/2017 07:41 PM
Poor sperm quality linked to air pollution

Study finds ‘strong association’ between high levels of fine particulate matter and abnormal sperm shape – but impact on wider fertility remains unclear

High levels of air pollution are associated with poor sperm quality and could be partly responsible for the sharp drop in male fertility, according to a new study.

A team of scientists, led by researchers from the Chinese University of Hong Kong, studied the sperm of nearly 6,500 men and found a “strong association” between high levels of fine particulate air pollution and “abnormal sperm shape.”

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11/22/2017 07:00 AM
Horse-eating birds and Demon Ducks of Doom: untangling the fowl family tree

Chickens and ducks may not fill you with awe. But their early cousins were the largest birds on Earth – and a new study reveals how the bird groups are linked

We don’t generally think of chickens and ducks as particularly awe-inspiring birds. Kept across the world as pets or as a food source, chickens (Galliformes) and ducks and geese (Anseriformes) are ubiquitous and seen as docile and unintimidating. The comparative anatomist Thomas Huxley noted in 1867 that Galliformes and Anseriformes shared a number of anatomical features, suggesting that the two groups of birds must be related. Later morphological and molecular studies confirmed their close relationship, and all fowl are now grouped in Galloanserae. Galloanserae are considered one of the most primitive groups of modern birds, and their ancestry can be traced back to the time of the dinosaurs. In contrast to their cuddly modern cousins, early fowl were truly giants by avian measures, and included the largest birds on Earth during the Paleogene.

There are several groups of enormous, extinct terrestrial birds that are considered part of Galloanserae. One of them is the Dromornithidae, or Thunderbirds, from Australia. These giant flightless birds lived from the Oligocene until the Pleistocene and formed part of Australia’s megafauna (Worthy & Holdaway, 2002). Some dromornithids reached colossal size, such as Bullockornis, nicknamed the Demon Duck of Doom, which likely stood 2.5 metres tall.

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11/22/2017 08:00 AM
Healthy body, healthy mind: a new approach for mental disorders - Science Weekly podcast

What role might the immune system play in mental illness? And how might this challenge long-held beliefs about the divide between body and brain?

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Earlier this month, a clinical trial began to test a radical new approach for treating schizophrenia. The trial comes from a team of scientists based in London who have discovered intriguing evidence that schizophrenia could be a disease of the immune system. But how could disruptions in the immune system lead to the kind of symptoms seen in schizophrenia? And might the immune system play a role in other mental disorders?

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11/22/2017 06:30 AM
Russian radiation leak: everything you need to know

‘Extremely high’ levels of a radioactive isotope were discovered in parts of Russia in September. But where did it come from? And is it dangerous?

Russia’s meteorological service has confirmed that “extremely high” concentrations of a radioactive isotope, ruthenium-106, were found in several parts of the country in late September. Ru-106 is a decay product from nuclear reactions: the initial fuel is typically uranium or plutonium, and this splits into smaller nucleii, which decay through a series of different radioactive elements. Most of the isotopes in the sequence have very short half-lives, meaning they exist for only a few seconds or minutes, but Ru-106 has a half-life of just over a year. That means if it leaks, it sticks around long enough to be detected.

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11/21/2017 01:12 PM
Babies may be able to link certain words and concepts, research suggests

Study indicates infants as young as six months old may realise certain words are related – and that interaction with adults boosts understanding

Babies as young as six months old may have an inkling that certain words and concepts are related to each other, say scientists in research that sheds new light on how infants learn.

The study also found that babies who were more often exposed to adults talking to them about items in their vicinity did better at identifying a picture of an object when the item was said out loud.

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11/20/2017 08:00 PM
The vinyl frontier: why do we keep sending music to outer space?

Sónar festival is beaming cutting-edge dance music to an exoplanet 12 light years from Earth. But can such experiments ever be more than hubris?

What item would you choose to sum up humanity if you were, like Captain James T Kirk of the Starship Enterprise, seeking out new life and new civilisations? A “five items or less” sign from a supermarket, with a note explaining why it should be “fewer”? Maybe a selection of press cuttings about the Greggs sausage roll Jesus controversy, summing up both humanity’s silliness and its capacity for overreaction?

Of course you wouldn’t. You’d do what the Barcelona electronic music festival Sónar has done to mark its 25th anniversary: send out 33 separate 10-second clips of music by electronic artists such as Autechre, Richie Hawtin and Holly Herndon.

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11/21/2017 09:30 AM
How a DNA revolution has decoded the origins of our humanity

Mapping the genomes of our ancestors has allowed scientists to uncover secrets and discover new mysteries in our evolution

Scientists made a remarkable discovery at Trou Al’Wesse in Belgium earlier this year. Inside a cave that overlooks the Hoyoux river they found clear evidence it had been occupied by Neanderthals tens of thousands of years ago. Yet the cave contained no skull fragments, no teeth – nor any other skeletal remains of this extinct species of human being.

The team, from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, were sure of their ground, however. Their genetic analysis of soil samples, scraped from the cave floor, had pinpointed the presence of Neanderthals through that most definitive of biological markers: their DNA.

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11/19/2017 12:05 AM
Trade in Dead Sea Scrolls awash with suspected forgeries, experts warn

Two experts say a significant number of fragments bought in multimillion-dollar trade are suspected fakes

A multimillion-dollar trade in fragments of the Dead Sea Scrolls fuelled by a surge in interest from wealthy evangelicals in the US includes a significant number of suspected forgeries, two prominent experts have said.

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11/21/2017 06:00 AM
On a roll: blue whales switch 'handedness' when rolling to scoop food

Blue whales show ‘lateralisation’ – like handedness in humans – when rolling, choosing left or right depending on depth and type of roll

They are the largest animals on Earth, can live to around 90 years old and have a tongue that weighs as much as an elephant. Now scientists have revealed another insight into blue whales: how they roll.

A study has found that blue whales have a tendency to roll to one side or the other when lunging for prey, with the preference apparently down to the depth of the water and the type of roll they execute.

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11/20/2017 05:00 PM
Nasa map of Earth's seasons over 20 years highlights climate change

The visualization shows spring coming earlier and the Arctic ice caps receding over time

Nasa has captured 20 years of changing seasons in a striking new global map of planet Earth​.

The data visualization, released this week, shows Earth’s fluctuations as seen from space.

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11/18/2017 03:12 AM
Blue Planet II: what have we learned so far?

The documentary’s marvels are not just new to television – many are new to science as well. From hyper-intelligent fish to the origin of life itself, we round up the series’s biggest discoveries

It is testament to the number of spectacles packed into Blue Planet II that a giant wrasse’s strategetic change of gender is – scientifically speaking, at least – one of the least remarkable. Changing gender, or sequential hermaphroditism, is a fact of life for more than 400 species of fish, and has already been widely studied.

But many of the programme’s marvels are new not just to television but to science itself. Some have only been published within the past half-decade; others existed only anecdotally until now. Here we track some of the most astonishing findings of the series so far – to be updated after each new episode.

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11/20/2017 03:50 PM
Upsurge in big earthquakes predicted for 2018 as Earth rotation slows
Scientists say number of severe quakes is likely to rise strongly next year because of a periodic slowing of the Earth’s rotation

Scientists have warned there could be a big increase in numbers of devastating earthquakes around the world next year. They believe variations in the speed of Earth’s rotation could trigger intense seismic activity, particularly in heavily populated tropical regions.

Although such fluctuations in rotation are small – changing the length of the day by a millisecond – they could still be implicated in the release of vast amounts of underground energy, it is argued.

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11/18/2017 10:00 PM
'Robots are not taking over,' says head of UN body on autonomous weapons
  • Campaigners warn that a ‘killer robots’ arms race is already under way
  • Amandeep Gill warns against ‘emotionalising or dramatising this issue’

“Robots are not taking over the world,” the diplomat leading the first official talks on autonomous weapons assured on Friday, seeking to head off criticism over slow progress towards restricting the use of so-called “killer robots”.

The United Nations was wrapping up an initial five days of discussions on weapons systems that can identify and destroy targets without human control, which experts say will soon be battle ready.

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11/17/2017 05:03 PM
What's the difference between explorers, anthropologists and tourists?

Criticism of explorer Benedict Allen, rescued in Papua New Guinea, raises an important question: when is it legitimate to travel to remote communities?

An anthropologist, an explorer and a tourist walk into a bar. They’re each clutching a spear. The anthropologist describes how it was presented to her on her seventh fieldwork season by the elders of the tribe. The explorer regales them with the tale of how he won the spear upon completing an initiation challenge the tribe had set for him, filmed for a documentary. The tourist explains that he paid $10 for his at the market, and needs to get back now otherwise the cruise ship will leave without him …

The media attention about the misadventure and recent rescue of British explorer Benedict Allen from Papua New Guinea, and the debate over whether his exploits are culturally appropriate in a post-colonial world, raise a question that’s at the heart of anthropology itself. Why do we travel to other cultures? Who, if anyone, gives permission? Are only some reasons for travel valid? And once you’re there, what understanding do you hope to achieve?

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11/23/2017 11:33 AM
How soon will the 'ice apocalypse' come?

An emotive article on the ‘ice apocalypse’ by Eric Holthaus describes a terrifying vision of catastrophic sea level rise this century caused by climate change and the collapse of the Antarctic ice sheet. But how likely is this – and how soon could such a future be here?

I’ve been gripped by the story of Antarctic ‘ice cliff instability’ ever since Rob DeConto and Dave Pollard published their controversial predictions last year. They suggested disintegration of ice shelves caused by global warming could leave behind coastal ice cliffs so tall they would be unstable, crumbling endlessly into the ocean and causing rapid, sustained sea level rise.

I’m glad Eric Holthaus is writing about an impact of climate change that is both certain (seas will rise around the world, no matter what we do) and incredibly important (we must adapt). I’m sympathetic to his concerns about the future. But I think his article is too pessimistic: that it overstates the possibility of disaster. Too soon, too certain.

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11/23/2017 10:33 AM
On the Iraq border archaeological digs are a minefield – in every sense

At the ancient site of Charax Spasinou, military activity has left an indelible mark. Should it be viewed as modern damage – or as an important record of historical events?

Modern conflict archaeology, the study of 20th and 21st century conflicts, is a new and slightly uncomfortable discipline in the world of archaeology. It’s problematic in a number of ways. Firstly, very little of it involves what most people would recognise as archaeology – digging up cultural material from the ground for study. Most of the material legacies of modern conflicts remain above ground and embedded in current society, necessitating a more anthropological, interdisciplinary approach. Secondly, the time periods under study are often within living memory, and often remain highly contentious within the affected regions. This means that modern conflict archaeology can be a political minefield – as well as an actual minefield.

I’m currently working in Iraq down in Basra province at the two thousand-year-old city of Charax Spasinou, founded by Alexander the Great in 324 BC. Thirty years ago, however, the site was home to thousands of Iraqi soldiers. The Iran-Iraq war was dragging towards its end, both sides exhausted by the waves of offensives which had made 1987 the war’s bloodiest year. That spring the Siege of Basra had cost the lives of at least 60,000 Iranian and 20,000 Iraqi soldiers.

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11/22/2017 03:27 PM
Divine intervention: yes, water companies using dowsing really is that bad

It turns out that water companies have been using dowsing to find damaged pipes, and this is an extremely common practice. But is it a big deal? Yes, it is.

OK, so most UK water companies have people who use divining rods to find leaks and burst pipes, although many have since back-pedalled on these admissions since the story broke, thanks to the sterling work of science writer Sally Le Page, who deserves all credit for it. Understandable perhaps; if you were a major utility provider earning millions by providing an essential resource to large populations, you’d probably be a bit embarrassed if people found out your highly-trained and expensive technicians were essentially using witchcraft to fix problems.

But, the expense and professionalism aspects aside, is it really that bad? Aren’t people overreacting a bit? It’s not like they’re claiming they can cure cancer or speak to the dead or anything like that, effectively taking money from the grieving and desperate. So some technicians wander around a field waving twigs about in an effort to find a leak? Bit weird, but where’s the harm? There must be something to it, surely? So what’s the harm?

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11/22/2017 01:44 PM
The media has a problem with alcoholism – and it's stopping people getting help

Alcoholism as a term has long expired, so why do common narratives around alcohol problems still rely on it so much?

The term alcoholism has long been retired from official alcohol clinical and policy guidance, abandoned as a reductionist and stigmatising label for problem drinking. Instead, alcohol use disorders, some including varying degrees of dependency, reflect the wider continuum nature of alcohol problems. Despite this, inappropriate references to “alcoholics” are ubiquitous in everyday narratives including mainstream media, undermining opportunities to reduce alcohol harms in a number of subtle ways.

One reason for over use of the alcoholism concept may be a lack of a common language to describe the nuances of heavy drinking behaviours. Alcoholism may be assumed to be synonymous with alcohol dependence, but it is inherently bound to stereotypes of hitting rock bottom and beliefs in its nature as a lifelong disease. The media rarely offers alternative problem drinking accounts other than the equally flawed spectacle of binge drinking, and in turn perpetuates an overly simplistic framework for the public to reference their own beliefs and attitudes against.

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11/22/2017 12:32 PM
Megafauna mega-find: the extraordinary discoveries at Diamond Valley Lake

Construction of a huge Californian reservoir had just begun when bones started to emerge – and turned out to be a vast treasure trove of Pleistocene fossils

In the early 1990s, the Eastside Reservoir project – eventually simply referred to as Diamond Valley Lake – was announced. Planners intended to create an enormous reservoir to act as Southern California’s emergency water supply. It would require a huge excavation, and accordingly, an Environmental Impact Report (EIR), a requisite before construction could commence, was commissioned.

When complete, the EIR indicated there would be few fossils of any significant scientific value; should any fossils be found, they would be fragmentary at best. Construction was therefore given the green light, and the heavy machinery moved in.

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11/21/2017 07:45 AM
The consensus is clear: there is no upside to a nuclear Brexit | Clare Moody

This government must heed the warnings – leaving the treaty on nuclear energy, safety and research is complicated and the potential consequences disastrous

Cabinet resignations, a government with no majority in the Commons, a make-or break-budget for the chancellor and a fast-approaching Brexit negotiating deadline means it is easy for issues to slip out of the public consciousness. Against this backdrop, Euratom and the UK’s future nuclear safeguarding regime risk being forgotten.

As the nuclear safeguards bill - one of the “Brexit bills” announced in the Queen’s speech – makes its way through the parliamentary process, nuclear experts were called to present evidence to MPs. The message from experts is unequivocal – there is no upside to the UK leaving the Euratom treaty.

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11/21/2017 07:00 AM
Mysterious object confirmed to be from another solar system

Astronomers have named interstellar object ’Oumuamua and its red colour suggests it carries organic molecules that are building blocks of life

Astronomers are now certain that the mysterious object detected hurtling past our sun last month is indeed from another solar system. They have named it 1I/2017 U1(’Oumuamua) and believe it could be one of 10,000 others lurking undetected in our cosmic neighbourhood.

The certainty of its interstellar origin comes from an analysis that shows its orbit is almost impossible to achieve from within our solar system.

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11/20/2017 07:59 PM
Welcome to the (possible) future: V&A shows tech's hottest ideas

Museum plans 2018 exhibition, called The Future Starts Here, exploring how groundbreaking technologies could change the world

New technology could allow us to clean up devastating damage to the environment, charge a phone with our clothes and create vast factories in space. But it appears to have its limits: the tedium of laundry, a new exhibition suggests, will still be down to us.

An exhibition next year at the V&A on possibly revolutionary design will include some less successful ideas besides the triumphs – the robot, for instance, programmed to fold towels and taking 15 minutes to do each one. “The robots are coming but they’re not coming that quickly,” admitted the curator, Rory Hyde.

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11/23/2017 06:18 PM
Gove says UK law will specifically recognise animal sentience

Environment secretary moves to end social media campaign against Conservative MPs who voted against EU withdrawal bill amendment

Michael Gove has promised to make “any necessary changes” to UK law to recognise that animals can feel pain, after a social media campaign accused Conservative MPs of voting down proposals to accept they are sentient beings.

The environment secretary issued a statement to the House of Commons insisting that it was a misconception to say Tory MPs voted against the idea that animals are sentient and feel pain.

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11/23/2017 12:08 PM
Why the nights are getting brighter – but not in a good way

Spread of light pollution is bad for the environment, animal life and humans, five-year study concludes

The world’s nights are getting alarmingly brighter – bad news for all sorts of creatures, humans included – as light pollution encroaches on darkness almost everywhere.

Satellite observations made by researchers during five consecutive Octobers show Earth’s artificially lit outdoor area grew by 2% a year from 2012 to 2016. So did nighttime brightness.

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11/23/2017 02:16 AM
Grenfell Tower death toll of 71 unlikely to rise as last inquests open

All bereaved families have had loved ones released back to them and most funerals have taken place, says coroner

The last two of the 70 inquests for victims of the Grenfell Tower fire were opened and adjourned on Wednesday with the coroner paying tribute to bereaved families and the “unrelenting work of dedicated professionals” who recovered and identified remains.

The Westminster coroner, Fiona Wilcox, who has presided over 19 hearings in the past five months, said the final inquests marked an important milestone.

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11/22/2017 06:52 PM
Self-taught rocket scientist plans launch to test flat Earth theory

‘Mad’ Mike Hughes, 61, plans to reach an altitude of 1,800ft over California in his home-made steam-powered rocket

Science is littered with tales of visionaries who paid for pioneering research to prove their theories, and this weekend “Mad” Mike Hughes is hoping to join them. He plans to launch a homemade rocket in California as part of a bid to eventually prove that the Earth is flat.

Hughes has spent $20,000 (£15,000) building the steam-powered rocket in his spare time, and will be livestreaming the launch over the internet. The self-described daredevil says he switched his focus to rockets after twice breaking his back doing stunt jumps in cars.

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11/22/2017 11:20 AM
Francis Crick Institute's £700m building 'too noisy to concentrate'

Some of the 1,250 people working at the year-old laboratory say its open plan layout, designed to produce collaboration, makes it hard to focus on work

It is a £700m cathedral to biomedical science, where scientists work together to make breakthroughs in cancer, neuroscience, pandemics and genetics. But the Francis Crick Institute is not proving to be the easiest place to concentrate.

A year after opening, some of the 1,250 people working at the Crick Institute, in its central London laboratory, have complained that the open plan design, intended to assist informal collaboration, means some areas set aside for thinking and writing up research are too noisy.

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11/21/2017 06:18 PM
Nasa to be hit by CSIRO engineers' stop-work action over pay

CSIRO is limiting pay rises for Australians whose work supports Nasa despite the fact they are paid out of Nasa’s budget

​A group of Australian engineers whose work supports the Nasa deep space network are targeting the space agency with industrial action at a communication centre in Canberra.

The employees of the Canberra deep space communication complex in Tidbinbilla are employed by Australia’s science agency the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), which is limiting their pay rises despite the fact they are paid out of Nasa’s budget.

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11/21/2017 05:00 PM
No more middots: French PM clamps down on gender-neutral language

Édouard Philippe issues ban on inclusive writing in official texts after outcry by traditionalists over punctuated ‘aberration’

The French prime minister, Édouard Philippe, has clamped down on attempts to make the French language more female-friendly, issuing a ban on “inclusive writing” in official texts.

Moves to end the linguistic dominance of the masculine over the feminine have sparked impassioned debate in France, coming as a flurry of revelations about sexual harassment and assault continue to dominate global headlines.

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11/21/2017 04:32 PM
Robert Winston wins fourth Royal Society young people's book prize

TV academic’s Home Lab, a collection of scientific experiments that can be carried out at home, won over jury of young readers

TV professor Robert Winston has proved he has the winning formula as a science writer for children by scooping the prestigious Royal Society young people’s book prize for the fourth time with Home Lab, a collection of scientific experiments that can be done at home.

Voted for by young readers, the book was described as “really cool” by six-year-old judge Mohammed, and “brilliant” by eight-year-old judge Faith. It was given the ultimate stamp of approval by 10-year-old judge Ella: “I liked it so much that I went out and bought a copy of my own with my pocket money,” she said.

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11/21/2017 12:04 PM
Illegal building 'played central role' in floods that killed 20 in Athens

Uncontrolled construction in Greek capital has led to many streams being concreted over, leaving rivers no outlet to the sea

Chaotic urban planning and illegal construction in Athens played a central role in the deadly flash floods that killed 20 people last week, experts in Greece have claimed as authorities pledged emergency funding for victimsmade homeless by the disaster.

About 1,000 owners of homes and businesses are eligible for the assistance, according to government engineers dispatched to inspect the buildings.

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11/21/2017 05:00 AM
Vitamin D may help prevent rheumatoid arthritis, suggests study

Higher doses may be needed, or possibly new treatment that bypasses or corrects vitamin D insensitivity, authors say

Maintaining sufficient vitamin D levels may help to prevent rheumatoid arthritis, according to researchers.

A study led by the University of Birmingham compared the ability of immune cells in blood from inflamed joints in people with rheumatoid arthritis to respond to the so-called sunshine vitamin.

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11/21/2017 12:01 AM
'It's a delicate place': Nasa captures 20 years of Earth's seasonal changes – video

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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11/18/2017 02:50 AM
Alan Dickinson obituary
Geneticist who carried out groundbreaking research into the behaviour of diseases including scrapie and CJD

The geneticist Alan Dickinson, who has died aged 87, was aware even as a young man that he might not live to answer the question that dominated his career: what causes mind-rotting diseases such as scrapie in sheep and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD) in people? Such was the risk faced by a scientist who in the 1950s chose to specialise in a field then known as “slow viruses”.

As these disorders, joined in the 1980s by mad cow disease, were reclassified over the years as transmissible spongiform encephalopathies and, latterly, “prion” diseases, the research group that Dickinson founded in Edinburgh trod a unique path. Whereas rival labs elsewhere in the UK and abroad attempted to reduce diseased brains until all that was left was the pathogen, and then routinely failed, Dickinson preferred to study clinical symptoms and patterns of brain damage caused by scrapie in generations of specially inbred mice, then gradually deduce what kind of infectious agent might be causing it.

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11/23/2017 02:36 PM
Water divining is bunk. So why do myths continue to trump science? | Philip Ball
The use of dowsing by major water companies shows that the appeal of natural magic needs to be understood – and, where needed, confronted

The news that many water companies use dowsing to locate underground water has prompted outraged demands from scientists that they desist at once from wasting time and money on “medieval witchcraft”. They are right to call this practice deluded. But it reveals how complicated the relationship is between scientific evidence and public belief.

When the science blogger Sally Le Page highlighted the issue after her parents spotted an engineer dowsing for Severn Trent Water, the company responded to her query by claiming that “we’ve found some of the older methods are just as effective than [sic] the new ones” (such as the use of drones and satellite imaging). The engineer concerned told her parents that dowsing works for him eight times in 10.

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11/22/2017 04:01 PM
Weatherwatch: rescuing weather records from Ben Nevis

More than 3,000 ‘citizen-scientists’ have transcribed into digital form the 1.5m observations made at the Ben Nevis weather observatory from 1883 to 1904

In 1883 a weather observatory was opened on Britain’s highest peak, Ben Nevis. For the next 21 years the summit observatory was manned continuously by three meteorologists, with detailed measurements taken every hour, day and night, throughout the year. This week around 3,600 “citizen-scientists” finished transcribing the 1.5m observations into digital form. “We will be able to better examine particular storms and unusual weather events during the time the observatory was open,” says Ed Hawkins from the University of Reading. The records will also help scientists to understand how wind strength and sunshine have varied over the past century, which could be useful to renewable energy providers.

Related: Weatherwatch: The Victorian who climbed Ben Nevis every day

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11/23/2017 09:30 PM
Frederick Kurzer obituary

My friend Frederick Kurzer, who has died aged 95, was reader in chemistry at the Royal Free hospital school of medicine and a fellow of the Royal Society of Chemistry for more than 70 years.

The son of Jacques Kurzer, a dealer in oriental rugs, and his wife, Rosa (nee Löwy), Frederick was born in the spa town of Carlsbad (now Karlovy Vary) in the German-speaking area of what was then Czechoslovakia. With one sister, Dorothy, he lived in Carlsbad and went to the local school until 1939, when the family fled to London to escape the Nazis. He attended Clark’s college, Cricklewood, and from there went to Regent Street Polytechnic (now part of the University of Westminster), where he studied for a chemistry degree. In 1940, like many German-speaking Jewish men, he was interned by the British government on the Isle of Man.

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11/16/2017 06:03 PM
Orcas vs great white sharks: in a battle of the apex predators who wins?

It’s difficult to imagine the voracious and predatory great white shark as prey. Could orcas really be overpowering them and removing their livers?

The great white shark, Carcharodon carcharias, is considered the most voracious apex predator in temperate marine ecosystems worldwide, playing a key role in controlling ecosystem dynamics.

As a result, it is difficult to imagine a great white as prey. And yet, earlier this year the carcasses of five great whites washed ashore along South Africa’s Western Cape province. Ranging in size from 2.7 metres (9ft) to 4.9 metres (16ft), the two females and three males all had one thing in common: holes puncturing the muscle wall between the pectoral fins. Strangest of all, their livers were missing.

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11/16/2017 11:12 AM
No 'lost tribes' or aliens: what ancient DNA reveals about American prehistory

New genetics research settles questions about the peoples of Newfoundland and Labrador – and helps highlight what genetics can’t tell us

Genetics research has transformed our understanding of human history, particularly in the Americas. The focus of the majority of high profile ancient DNA papers in recent years has been on addressing early events in the initial peopling of the Americas. This research has provided details of this early history that we couldn’t access though the archeological record.

Collectively, genetics studies have shown us that the indigenous inhabitants of the Americas are descended from a group that diverged from its Siberian ancestors beginning sometime around 23,000 years before present and remained isolated in Beringia (the region of land that once connected Siberia and North America) for an extended period of time. When the glaciers covering North America melted enough to make the Pacific coast navigable, southward travel became possible, and patterned genetic diversity across North and South America reflects these early movements.

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11/15/2017 07:00 AM
Is the British art of understatement ever so slightly dying out?

Gradable adverbs such as ‘rather’, ‘quite’ and ‘awfully’ are disappearing from our speech, according to linguistics professor Paul Baker. Is it a frightful shame – or are we just getting better at saying what we mean?

Name: understatement.

Age: not all that new.

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11/13/2017 01:15 PM
Starwatch: First interstellar visitor's name is nod to Hawaiian sighting

Astronomers using the Pan-STARRS 1 telescope on Maui identified 1I/‘Oumuamua as it passed 24m km from Earth

Astronomers finally have a name for the first known object from interstellar space to visit our solar system. The International Astronomical Union announced last week that it is to be called 1I/‘Oumuamua where “1I” designates it as the first interstellar object and ‘Oumuamua is a Hawaiian word that is said to reflect the way that this is akin to a scout or messenger reaching out to us from the past.

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11/12/2017 09:30 PM
Could octopus DNA reveal the secrets of west Antarctica’s ice sheet collapse?

Understanding what happened to the ice sheet will be key to knowing what the future holds for global sea levels

There are a lot of scientific eyes on west Antarctica right now, for some pretty obvious reasons.

The West Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS) holds a lot of water – enough to push up sea levels around the world by 3m or so.

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11/23/2017 05:00 PM
Finance trumps patients at every level – UK healthcare needs an inquiry | Aseem Malhotra

The healthcare system faces a crisis of trust; ill-informed doctors and poor research are harming patients

The healthcare system is facing failure, rooted in an epidemic of misinformed doctors and patients.

During a recent keynote lecture at the British Association for Cardiovascular Prevention and Rehabilitation annual conference, I gave the example of a man who had had a heart attack and been given statins and whose months of disabling muscle pain resolved within a week of stopping taking them. His elation was cut short when his GP told him he must never stop his statin or he could die. When the audience was asked to guess what his risk of death was from stopping the pill for two weeks, the first response was 25%. There were gasps when I revealed it was actually between zero and one in 10,000.

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11/21/2017 09:25 AM
A gold star for the nurseries that have stopped being glitter bugs | Jules Howard
As well as polluting our seas with microplastics, the devilish dandruff turns up all over my house and about my person – I applaud those schools banning it

What will the rocks record about the lives we lead? What might a future palaeontologist, human or otherwise, make of the structures that will come to signify these moments in which you and I live our lives? They will notice extinctions, of course. Fossils of mammals’ tusks and horns will abound in the rocks, only to disappear when we humans turn up. They will come across our mines – enormous trace fossils, perhaps the largest ever to have existed. They will see, by studying fossil pollen, that the climate changed. They will find our discarded KFC bones and they will wonder how the world supported so many chickens. And there, among it all, they will probably find that most awful of human inventions: glitter. Oodles of it – purples, pinks and reds – crushed into rocks the world over. Mineralised madness. Our lowest ebb. What will those future palaeontologists make of it? What will glitter say about us?

Perhaps this is our mark in the geological strata. A post-glitter epoch that all started with a handful of nurseries

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11/20/2017 10:00 AM
By knowing how abusers like Kevin Spacey work, we can root them out | Deborah Orr
Predators hunt out their victims, like pigs sniffing out truffles. Knowing what narcissistic behaviour to look out for can preempt danger

Twenty people have now made allegations of inappropriate behaviour against Kevin Spacey, the majority from his time as the Old Vic’s artistic director. Fourteen of the allegations are so serious that complainants have been advised to go to the police.

Managers at the Old Vic say they are sorry they did not create an environment in which people felt they could speak out if they were receiving unwanted attention. This failure has been put down to a “cult of personality” around the actor.

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11/18/2017 05:59 AM
A moment that changed me: seeing my first moth fish | Fiona Gell
I was 22 and fascinated by fish behaviour. But when scientist Amanda Vincent showed me this strange creature I became convinced that my future lay in conservation — not in the lab

Like many of the most important occasions in my life, the moment that changed me involved fish. Holding the desiccated carcass of a sea moth while talking to my heroine, the fish biologist and conservationist Dr Amanda Vincent, altered the course of my life.

I was 22, and had just finished my biology degree. For my dissertation research I had spent a couple of months following butterflyfish in the Ras Mohammed national park in the Egyptian Red Sea. I had grown to recognise them by their individual markings and, by snorkelling at a discreet distance, I had mapped their territories and recorded their daily routine.

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11/17/2017 10:33 AM
We're in a post-truth world with eroding trust and accountability. It can't end well | Nick Enfield

In our new normal, experts are dismissed and alternative facts flagrantly offered. This suspicion of specialists is part of a bigger problem

We often defer to others’ expertise, and for good reason. The entire edifice of modern society only exists thanks to the division of labour, from construction to machine operation to medical treatment. The system works as long as we have trust in others’ knowledge, skills and intentions.

This trust is often tested, most notably of late in relation to those who specialise in politics. People-powered movements from anarchism to populism want to see equality of participation in political decision-making. Indeed, this is at the heart of all versions of democracy. It raises the question of whether we should trust political insiders.

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11/16/2017 05:00 PM
The deferred promise of Islamic-world science

Ten years ago, there was excitement about the prospects for science and innovation across the Islamic world. Was this optimism misplaced?

Last week, almost 3,000 scientists and policymakers from 120 countries gathered on the shores of the Dead Sea in Jordan for the 2017 World Science Forum. It was a landmark moment for Jordanian science, and a tribute to the vision of Princess Sumaya bint El Hassan, president of Jordan’s Royal Scientific Society, who is in the vanguard of a new generation of leaders championing science and innovation in the region. Jordan is also home to the Middle East’s first advanced light source facility – the Synchrotron-Light for Experimental Science and Applications, or Sesame – which was inaugurated earlier this year as a shared resource for researchers from Cyprus, Egypt, Iran, Israel, Jordan, Pakistan, the Palestinian Authority and Turkey.

In its final declaration, the World Science Forum called for more scientific cooperation to promote peace and address regional challenges. But the meeting also provided an opportunity to take stock of the state of science across the Middle East and wider Islamic world. And while the symbolism of the Sesame project was rightly celebrated, there was little of the outright optimism that characterised these debates ten or fifteen years ago.

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11/16/2017 07:00 AM
Delving into a hidden world – in pictures

The winning and shortlisted entries for the the Royal Society of Biology’s 2017 Photographer of the Year and Young Photographer of the Year competitions. This gorgeous and intriguing series of images features species from across the globe, and ranges from microscopic insights into the development of frogspawn, to the incredible emerald hues of an Indian lake photographed from 30,000 feet

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10/13/2017 11:37 AM
SpaceX successfully launches reused Falcon 9 rocket – video

SpaceX launched a partially used Falcon 9 rocket from the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida.  Billionaire SpaceX founder Elon Musk has hailed the twin achievement of salvaging a used rocket and re-launching it yet again as a revolutionary step in his quest to slash launch costs and shorten intervals between space shots

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10/12/2017 05:43 AM
Our Restless Earth: photography competition winners 2017 – in pictures

The Geological Society of London has announced the 12 winners of its photography competition. The chosen images represent the dynamic processes which have shaped the UK and Ireland over its tectonic history, from ancient volcanic activity to ice age glaciers. The pictures will feature in a free exhibition at the Geological Society to mark Earth Science Week, 7-15 October.

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10/09/2017 10:51 AM
Month-old meerkat triplets make their way in the world – video

Staff at Symbio wildlife park, located on the southern outskirts of Sydney, have announced the arrival of meerkat triplets. Born on 31 August to first-time parents Aya and Penfold, and weighing in at an estimated 25g and just 8cm, the pups have now emerged from the comfort of their den and are beginning to discover the world beyond. Still finding their feet, they are shadowing their parents’ every move and will continue to do so for up to 12 weeks, as they learn the ropes of being a meerkat

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10/05/2017 05:27 AM
Why discovering gravitational waves was a big deal – video

Gravitational waves are ripples in the fabric of spacetime and were anticipated by Albert Einstein a century ago.  Three American physicists have won the Nobel prize in physics for the discovery. We explain why it is so important

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10/03/2017 02:14 PM
The universe, as seen by art and science – in pictures

A new Phaidon photobook, Universe, compiles visions of space from across history, as seen by astronomers, astronauts, painters and propagandists

• Read astronomer and author Dr Stuart Clark’s review of Universe

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09/30/2017 06:00 PM
Elon Musk: we can launch a manned mission to Mars by 2024 – video

Elon Musk gives an update on the progress SpaceX, his commercial space agency, is making on interplanetary space travel. Musk tells the audience that he believes a cargo mission to Mars will be possible by 2022, with a manned mission following in 2024. He envisages the creation of an inhabited city on the planet, with up to 100 people able to travel to the base per trip

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09/29/2017 10:48 AM
Work in progress: from ants to zika, scientists photograph their research – in pictures

Researchers from around the world submitted photos of the various forms of life they study to the BMC Research in Progress Photo Competition; the winners and their weird and wonderful subjects have now been revealed

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09/29/2017 10:00 AM
Modern Toss – cartoon

Wanna live like comma people? Well, it’s National Punctuation Day in the US on 24 September!

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09/23/2017 11:00 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 broadbill, photographed along the Menanggul River, Sabah, Malaysian Borneo.

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
Castle of the Sealand kings: Discovering ancient Iraq’s rebel rulers

British and Iraqi archaeologists identify the first known settlement built under the enigmatic Sealand kings

The Kings of the Sealand sound like they come straight out of a fantasy novel but it’s the name given to a royal dynasty who ruled a swathe of Bronze Age Iraq for almost three centuries (ca. 1730-1460 BCE). Archaeologists know almost nothing about the Sealand Kings or their kingdom; all we have to go on are a tiny number of ancient texts, mostly written about them by other rulers. We know they controlled the swampy land around the head of the Persian Gulf, including several of the great ancient cities of southern Babylonia, and we know that they thoroughly annoyed the Kings of Babylon from whom they’d wrestled their kingdom.

In some ways, the Sealand kingdom is a distant ancestor to the many independently minded communities to have thrived in the Iraqi marshes which, like the English Fens, have always resisted external control and provided a refuge for rebels.

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09/01/2017 08:30 AM
Can you solve it? This apple teaser is hard core!

The logic puzzle that has a peel

UPDATE: The solution can be seen here

Hi guzzlers,

What’s the similarity between a logic puzzle and an apple? Deduce! Sorry ... let’s begin.

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11/20/2017 07:10 AM
Narwhals: new footage reveals possible purpose for mysterious tusk – video

Drone footage in Canada captures the behaviour of rarely-seen narwhals which appear to use their long tusks to tap and stun fish, making them easier to catch. Narwhals, a type of whale, live in remote locations, meaning very little is known about them. WWF and Fisheries and Oceans Canada have been working together to monitor the creature to better protect it from industrial development

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05/12/2017 11:55 AM
No, there hasn’t been a human 'head transplant', and there may never be

Neurosurgeon Sergio Canavero is in the news again, claiming to have performed the first successful human head transplant. But even cursory analysis reveals that he hasn’t. And scientific logic suggests he never will

In February 2015, Sergio Canavero appeared in this very publication claiming a live human head will be successfully transplanted onto a donor human body within two years. He’s popped up in the media a lot since then, but two years and nine months later, how are things looking?

Well, he’s only gone and done it! As we can see in this Telegraph story from today, the world’s first human head transplant has been successfully carried out. Guess all those more timid neurobods who said it couldn’t be done (myself included) are feeling pretty foolish right now, eh?

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11/17/2017 02:20 PM
First world war training tunnels and trenches discovered in Wiltshire

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

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

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

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04/24/2017 03:51 PM
What I learned from home DNA testing
They promise to reveal everything from our ancestry to our chances of serious illness. But are DNA tests accurate and do they tell us anything worthwhile?

There may come a time in everyone’s life when they find themselves sitting at the kitchen table on an otherwise unexceptional weekday morning, drooling saliva into a test tube in the spirit of scientific inquiry.

The spit is for one of the home genetic-testing kits I’m sampling. A growing number of these kits (brands such as 23andMe, DNAFit, Thriva, MyHeritage DNA, and Orig3n) promise to unlock the mystery of your genomes, variously explaining everything from ancestry, residual Neanderthal variants, “bioinformatics” for fitness, weight loss and skincare, to more random genetic predispositions, denoting, say, the dimensions of your earlobes or the consistency of your earwax.

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07/23/2017 09:00 AM