Science | The Guardian

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

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

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

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

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

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09/21/2017 10:30 PM
Neanderthal boy's skull reveals they grew like modern boys

Rare discovery of child’s partial skeleton at 49,000-year-old site in Spain suggests extinct ancestors had similar pattern of growth to modern humans

The first analysis of a Neanderthal boy’s skull uncovered in Spain suggests that he grew much like a modern boy would, in another sign that our extinct ancestors were similar to us, researchers have said.

The rare discovery of a child’s partial skeleton was found among the remains of seven adults and five other youths at the 49,000-year-old archeological site of El Sidron.

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09/22/2017 11:01 AM
'Not one insult': Briton tells of eight months in simulated Mars base

Lack of internet was bigger problem than personality clashes among six ‘astronauts’ confined in remote hideaway on Hawaiian volcano

Losing internet access was a bigger problem than personality clashes for six “astronauts” confined for eight months on a remote simulated Mars base, a British member of the team has said.

Not a single personal insult was uttered by any member of the crew during the whole of the “mission”, which ended on 17 September, claimed the astrobiologist Sam Payler, 28, a PhD student at the University of Edinburgh.

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09/22/2017 08:22 AM
DNA editing in human embryos reveals role of fertility 'master gene'

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

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

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

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09/20/2017 05:02 PM
Long-lost Congo notebooks may shed light on how trees react to climate change

Decaying notebooks discovered in an abandoned research station contain a treasure trove of tree growth data dating from 1930s

A cache of decaying notebooks found in a crumbling Congo research station has provided unexpected evidence with which to help solve a crucial puzzle – predicting how vegetation will respond to climate change.

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09/22/2017 11:05 AM
Lab notes: DNA editing, dearth of new antibiotics and knowing your mind

This week’s top story brings hope for millions of those who are unable to conceive. British scientists have revealed the role of ‘master gene’ in human embryo development. The study marks a first for the UK and could help uncover the cause of recurrent miscarriages and improve fertility treatments. Scientists used Crispr/Cas9 gene-editing tool to make precise cuts in DNA and deactivate a gene called OCT4. The study showed this gene is critical for the embryo to develop and the results could help produce more effective IVF treatment. Meanwhile, the WHO has warned over the paucity of new antibiotics. In a report it said the world was facing a global crisis of drug resistance as too few antibiotics were being made leading to too many infections becoming untreatable around the world. It cites the spread of multi-drug resistant tuberculosis (TB) that kills 250,000 people a year. The report calls for urgent investment and responsible use of existing antibiotics. Elsewhere, world’s top neuroscientists have launched an ambitious project to unravel the mysteries of brain. Experts from 21 labs in the US and Europe are to uncover how the brain makes decision: where, when, and how neurons take information from the outside world, make sense of it, and work out how to respond. Mind boggling stuff!

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09/22/2017 03:31 PM
Vegetarian dinosaurs sometimes strayed for a shellfish snack – study

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

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

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

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09/22/2017 02:33 AM
Rupture within tectonic plate is probable cause of Mexico earthquakes

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

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

The two earthquakes that struck Mexico this month were different.

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09/21/2017 10:53 AM
Fathers pass on four times as many new genetic mutations as mothers – study

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

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

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

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09/20/2017 05:00 PM
Scientists discover unique Brazilian frogs deaf to their own mating calls

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

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

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09/22/2017 11:15 AM
Controversial Lightning Process 'helps children with chronic fatigue syndrome'

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

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

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

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09/20/2017 10:30 PM
Too few antibiotics in pipeline to tackle global drug-resistance crisis, WHO warns

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

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

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

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09/19/2017 10:00 PM
Are the two Mexican earthquakes connected – and are more on the way?

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

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

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

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09/21/2017 07:57 AM
Children are straitjacketed into gender roles in early adolescence, says study

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

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

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

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09/20/2017 01:00 PM
Testosterone Rex triumphs as Royal Society science book of the year

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

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

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

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09/19/2017 06:40 PM
Ambitious neuroscience project to probe how the brain makes decisions

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

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

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

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09/19/2017 05:30 AM
Channel Islands' buried porpoise is not the first such mysterious find

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

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

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

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09/20/2017 01:23 PM
The cybercrime arms race: fighting back against the hackers - Science Weekly podcast

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

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

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

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09/20/2017 06:30 AM
Medieval porpoise 'grave' on Channel island puzzles archaeologists

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

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

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

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09/19/2017 02:08 PM
UK invests £65M in Deep Underground Neutrino Experiment in US

There were a lot of happy neutrino physicists around the UK and the US on Wednesday, as the long-standing partnership between the two countries in particle physics was bolstered by a new agreement

DUNE is one of the better particle physics acronyms. The Deep Underground Neutrino Experiment involves a large, sensitive detector which will indeed be deep underground - in the Sanford Lab at the Homestake goldmine in South Dakota – and will study neutrinos produced from a high-intensity beam of protons at Fermilab in Illinois. UK scientists from several universities are already deeply involved in the experiment, and Cambridge’s Prof. Mark Thomson is one of the two spokespeople who lead the experiment internationally.

The science of neutrinos is fascinating, with wide implications for our understanding of the universe and how it operates. Neutrinos are produced copiously in the Sun, and are the second most abundant particle in the universe. In the original conception of the “Standard Model” of particle physics, they were taken to be massless. The discovery that they actually have a - very tiny but non-zero - mass remains the only major modification forced upon the Standard Model since it was established. Fittingly, the first measurement leading to that discovery took place in the Homestake mine, which will now be reoccupied by one of the DUNE detectors. A goldmine in more than one sense.

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09/24/2017 11:37 AM
Developmental Language Disorder: The most common childhood condition you've never heard of

Professor Courtenay Norbury debunks some myths about children with this common but poorly understood condition

Developmental Language Disorder (DLD) is diagnosed when children fail to acquire their own language for no obvious reason. This results in children who have difficulty understanding what people say to them, and struggle to articulate their ideas and feelings. Recent research has shown that, on average, 2 children in every class of 30 will experience DLD severe enough to hinder academic progress.

In a previous post for Head Quarters about DLD, some of the reader comments reflected commonly held misconceptions about children with the condition. It is one of the most poorly recognized and understood disorders of childhood despite its prevalence. Here Prof Courtenay Norbury debunks some of the most common myths.

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09/22/2017 01:32 PM
Why rejecting the modern world is a privileged fantasy

Mark Boyle argues that a primitive life away from the modern world is healthier, but the evidence strongly suggests that this is a privileged fantasy

Romanticising the past is a common human compulsion, and may well have psychological benefits. But some people take it rather far, embracing millennia-old practices and lifestyles, like “paleo diets”, or alternative medicines based on “ancient wisdom”, and so on.

Some even eschew as many of the trappings of modern life as possible. One such person is Mark Boyle, a man who rejects things like money, technology, electricity, etc, and is a much better person for it. Better than us, at any rate, judging by his books and regular Guardian columns. You might argue adopting an extreme back-to-nature lifestyle then crowing about it via a major website is slightly massively-hypocritical? You wouldn’t be alone.

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09/22/2017 11:45 AM
No, a standing desk isn't as unhealthy as smoking

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

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

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

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09/21/2017 11:57 AM
Why religious belief isn't a delusion – in psychological terms, at least

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

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

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

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09/21/2017 07:00 AM
How biomolecules from deep time can help to reconstruct the tree of life

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

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

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

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09/20/2017 12:34 PM
In the shadow of Fat Man and Little Boy: how the stigma of nuclear war was unravelled

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

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

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

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09/15/2017 11:36 AM
How the female Viking warrior was written out of history

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

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

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

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09/15/2017 10:21 AM
Diving for Dakuwaqa: giving Fiji's shark god a helping hand

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

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

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

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09/14/2017 11:50 AM
Red admiral butterfly sightings at their highest UK level since 2010

Numbers soar to 73,000 during three-week survey after mild winter and warm spring

The number of red admirals in Britain soared over the summer despite the soggy conditions, according to conservationists who said public sightings of the butterflies had risen to their highest since 2010.

Results from the Big Butterfly Count show that sightings of red admirals reached 73,000 over the three-week survey, a rise of 75% on 2016, and as many as were counted in the past three years put together.

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09/24/2017 11:01 PM
How did that get there? Plastic chunks on Arctic ice show how far pollution has spread
Discovery by UK scientists prompts fear that melting ice will allow more plastic to be released into the central Arctic Ocean – with huge effects on wildlife

A British-led expedition has discovered sizeable chunks of polystyrene lying on remote frozen ice floes in the middle of the Arctic Ocean.

The depressing find, only 1,000 miles from the north pole, is the first made in an area that was previously inaccessible to scientists because of sea ice. It is one of the most northerly sightings of such detritus in the world’s oceans, which are increasingly polluted by plastics.

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09/23/2017 11:01 PM
Nasa facility honors African American woman who plotted key space missions

Research center named after Katherine Johnson, 99, whose story was told in the film Hidden Figures: ‘I liked work. I liked the stars and the stories we were telling’

Katherine Johnson, the mathematician whose calculations influenced some of the most important missions of the space age, on Friday helped Nasa open a new research and development facility that bears her name.

Related: Hidden figures: the history of Nasa’s black female scientists

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09/22/2017 08:10 PM
Caught napping: snoozing jellyfish prove a brain isn't necessary for sleep

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

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

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

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09/21/2017 04:31 PM
Pills prescribed for alcoholism might not work, study finds

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

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

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

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09/21/2017 04:00 AM
Barn owls don't lose their hearing with age, scientists find

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

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

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

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09/20/2017 05:01 AM
Body's 'bad fat' could be altered to combat obesity, say scientists

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

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

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

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09/19/2017 04:00 PM
Starwatch: the October night sky

What to look out for during the coming weeks, including the Orionids meteor shower during the second half of October

With Jupiter now lost in the Sun’s glare, our one remaining naked-eye evening planet sets around one hour before our map times. Saturn, shining at mag 0.5 and now incorporating the ashes of Cassini, is the brightest object low in the SW at nightfall.

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09/24/2017 08:30 PM
Unpalatable truths about laboratory-grown food | Letters
Synthetic meat and fish can’t, on their own, provide an answer to climate change, argues Iain Climie, while David Ridge envisages technical problems in taking the technology out of the lab, and onto people’s plates

Synthetic meat and fish (Is ‘Frankenfish’ the start of a food revolution?, G2, 21 September) could have huge benefits – although there are cheaper and simpler ways to improve food supplies, including better livestock practices, conservation plus careful use, integrated methods, silviculture and using different animals fed more sensibly. These ideas, technology and cutting waste could massively reduce livestock’s impact, but nobody wants the bill while benefits could still be lost.

Even dramatic reductions in human emissions may not stop the climate change trend. Those most at risk won’t benefit from technological advances, and the response to climate refugees approaching richer countries can be imagined. More food from less space doesn’t guarantee more room for wildlife; environmentalists often estimate western lifestyles for all would require at least three fully exploited planets. And it isn’t just burgers: biofuels, other cash crops, mineral extraction, suburban sprawl, dams and other developments could outweigh potential gains.  Underlying these concerns are free market idiocies. Resources are looted for short-term gain, having enough is an alien concept and “make more money, buy more stuff” rules. Maybe the world needs to chill in more ways than one.
Iain Climie
Whitchurch, Hampshire

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09/24/2017 05:46 PM
Fighting the flu can be a matter of life and death – so what more can we do?

Australia is coming out of its most deadly influenza season for more than 10 years and experts say increased vaccination alone will not help enough

As Australia endures one of its worst flu seasons in more than a decade, questions are being raised about how the public can be better prepared and what can be done to protect the most vulnerable.

At least 170,000 influenza cases have been confirmed this season, almost two-and-a-half times more than in 2016. The federal health department logged 72 flu-related deaths by Thursday, including that of eight-year-old Rosie Andersen in Melbourne. Experts say Australia is on track for a record number of confirmed cases.

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09/24/2017 06:00 PM
Why it’s never too late for humans to change

With an almost boundless capacity to learn, people are more able to change than we think

Panta rhei. Everything flows. This aphorism was supposedly coined by Heraclitus nearly 3,000 years ago. It was his belief that nothing remains as it is; the only constant is change. Most of us would agree unreservedly with this idea. After all, we see the world changing every day as we go about our lives – and that’s not only true of everything, but of everyone, too.

Children become adults, eloquent professors turn into care-dependent dementia patients, high-school dropouts transform into dotcom billionaires and wallflowers grow into showstopping stars. But we have a tendency to “freeze-frame” our fellow human beings in certain situations. We speak of born orators, artists, or thinkers, but also born losers and born criminals.

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09/24/2017 05:00 AM
The Naked Ape at 50: ‘Its central claim has surely stood the test of time ‘

In October 1967, Desmond Morris published his landmark study of human behaviour and evolution. Here four experts assess what he got right – and wrong

Professor of evolutionary psychology at the University of Oxford

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09/24/2017 06:30 AM
'Some days I think I was molested and others I'm sure it didn't happen': a controversial case of repressed memory

At 17, Nicole Kluemper recovered memories of being abused by her mother – and sparked one of the fiercest debates in modern psychology. She tells her story for the first time

Nicole Kluemper’s home is filled with mementoes: navy medals, a collage of photographs, a portrait of her old dog. Every wedding anniversary has been carefully celebrated, most recently with a small bronzed statue, for eight years. From her bedroom window, she can see the hill where she and her husband married, and can recite every moment of the day. There is a reason for this careful archive. “My memory,” she says, “is a matter of some debate.”

In precise tones, Kluemper, 39, explains how she came to be part of one of the most controversial cases in modern psychology. This is the first time she has talked to the media about her story. For years, she was known only as Jane Doe.

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09/23/2017 09:00 AM
Leon Mestel obituary

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

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

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

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09/20/2017 11:40 AM
Dame Margaret Turner-Warwick obituary
Pioneering physician who played a fundamental role in the development of modern respiratory medicine

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

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

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09/18/2017 11:50 AM
Letters: Sir Patrick Bateson obituary

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

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

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09/17/2017 01:54 PM
Tracing Cassini's fiery death was like seeing a heart monitor flatline

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

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

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

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09/16/2017 02:17 AM
Can lost words like ‘rouzy-bouzy’ and ‘wlonk’ be revived? Spare me the ear-rent

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

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

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

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09/15/2017 02:51 PM
What did the Cassini mission tell us about Saturn and its moons?

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

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

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

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09/15/2017 12:33 PM
Climate deniers want to protect the status quo that made them rich

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

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

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

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09/22/2017 05:30 AM
When media sceptics misrepresent our climate research we must speak out

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

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

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

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09/21/2017 01:09 PM
Bureau of Meteorology attacks pushed by 'fever swamp' of climate denial | Graham Readfearn

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

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

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

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09/21/2017 04:19 AM
Our hurricane-hit islands deserve aid. The rules that block it are wrong | Guy Hewitt
Hurricane Maria has wrought terrible destruction in the Caribbean, yet OECD guidelines say that the islands are ineligible for assistance
Hurricane Maria – live updates

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

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

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09/19/2017 07:07 PM
It's time to take the 'great' white men of science off their pedestals | Yarden Katz

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

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

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

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09/19/2017 05:00 AM
They erased nature from our dictionaries. The fightback starts here | Patrick Barkham
Conkers, along with wrens and adders, were deemed outdated. What were the editors thinking?

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

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

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09/18/2017 03:56 PM
How many more warrior women are missing from the history books? | Natalie Haynes
The recent discovery of female bones in a Viking warrior grave is yet another indication that we’ve only scratched the surface of female history

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

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

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09/18/2017 08:00 AM
The idea that climate scientists are in it for the cash has deep ideological roots

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

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

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

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09/15/2017 08:43 AM
From Africa to the US to Haiti, climate change is a race issue | Patrisse Cullors and Nyeusi Nguvu

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

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

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

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

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09/14/2017 03:52 PM
With its lack of diversity, the Science and Technology Committee scores an own goal

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

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

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

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09/13/2017 10:22 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
Insight Astronomy Photographer of the Year 2017 winners – in pictures

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

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09/15/2017 11:53 AM
Cassini's final mission: death plunge into Saturn's rings – video

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

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09/14/2017 04:41 PM
Spectacular Saturn: Cassini's epic pictures using a one megapixel camera

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

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

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09/14/2017 12:04 PM
Record-breaking astronaut touches back down on Earth – video

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

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09/03/2017 09:21 AM
Total solar eclipse across the United States – in pictures

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

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08/22/2017 05:08 AM
Reflected glory: solar eclipse shadows – in pictures

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

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08/22/2017 05:01 AM
'Most impressive thing any president's ever done': Tucker Carlson on Trump's eclipse viewing – video

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

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08/22/2017 02:05 AM
The total eclipse watched across America – video

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

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08/21/2017 11:47 PM
RPS International Images for Science competition shortlist – in pictures

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

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08/21/2017 08:00 AM
Black death skeletons reveal pitiful life of 14th-century Londoners
DNA from emaciated London Black Death skeletons matches modern plague bacteria and supports airborne theory of spread

The 25 skeletons unearthed in the Clerkenwell area of London a year ago may hold the key to the truth about the nature of the Black Death that ravaged Britain and Europe in the mid-14th century.

A Channel 4 documentary on Sunday will claim that analysis of the bodies and of wills registered in London at the time has cast doubt on "facts" that every schoolchild has learned for decades: that the epidemic was caused by a highly contagious strain spread by the fleas on rats.

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03/29/2014 10:01 PM
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
Mexico's ancient city guards its secrets but excavation reveals new mysteries

An eight-year project at Teotihuacán, once the western hemisphere’s largest city, failed to locate its rulers’ tomb but findings offered tantalising clues to its origins

For decades, the hunt for a royal tomb at the ancient Mexican city of Teotihuacán has gripped archaeologists trying to unravel the secrets of the kingdom’s extraordinary political power.

It is a mystery investigators thought they were on the verge of solving in 2015, when large quantities of liquid mercury were found amid a treasure trove of precious artefacts in a secret tunnel.

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04/24/2017 09:00 AM
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
Daily dose of cannabis extract could reverse brain's decline in old age, study suggests

Regular low doses of THC dramatically boosted memory and learning in older mice, say scientists, who plan a clinical trial in humans later this year

Researchers have come up with an unusual proposal to slow, or even reverse, the cognitive decline that comes with old age: small, daily doses of cannabis extract.

The idea emerged from tests on mice which found that regular, low doses of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) – the main psychoactive ingredient in cannabis – impaired memory and learning in young animals, but boosted the performance of old ones.

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05/08/2017 03:00 PM