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ATHEISM and HUMANISM

11-12-19 Millions in U.S. Lost Someone Who Couldn't Afford Treatment
More than 13% of American adults -- or about 34 million people -- report knowing of at least one friend or family member in the past five years who died after not receiving needed medical treatment because they were unable to pay for it, based on a new study by Gallup and West Health. Nonwhites, those in lower-income households, those younger than 45, and political independents and Democrats are all more likely to know someone who has died under these circumstances.

  • 34 million adults know someone who died after not getting treatment
  • 58 million adults report inability to pay for needed drugs in past year
  • Little progress seen by Trump administration in limiting rising drug costs

11-12-19 DACA is doomed
No matter how the Supreme Court rules, the program remains in danger. The Supreme Court is scheduled today to hear arguments about the future of DACA. That it has to address this issue at all is bizarre. The Court, after all, is where the country goes to resolve its biggest and most intractable disagreements. But the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program — which protects many young migrants from deportation — is something Americans of all stripes actually support. As many as nine in 10 poll respondents say the so-called "DREAMers" should have a path to citizenship. Crucially, that is a view shared by most Republicans, even though President Trump announced the end of the program in 2017. DACA is popular. So it shouldn't be that difficult to save the program, right? Bipartisan majorities of Congress — the Democratic House and the Republican Senate — could vote to make DACA permanent. In the face of such popular majorities, the president might sign it. (He has occasionally signaled a willingness to do so in exchange for border security guarantees.) The DREAMers could stop worrying about their future and settle down, secure in their American-ness, to helping build this country that they claim as their own. That hasn't happened. And while it would be nice if the Supreme Court could just step in and fix that issue for everyone — assuming that the newly conservative majority on the Court is inclined to do so — the truth is that DACA will probably remain an endangered program no matter what happens today. Why? The case before the Court turns on a pretty narrow question of law. The debate isn't whether Trump had the right to bring DACA to an end, but whether his administration gave the wrong reason for doing so. The administration said that former President Obama overstepped his authority when he created DACA by executive order in 2012, and that the White House had no legal choice but to end the program. The Supreme Court might agree. Or it could decide — as lower courts have — that Obama had the authority to create DACA, and that the Trump administration's reasoning for ending the program was based "on an erroneous view of what the law required." If that happens, the Trump administration would probably be given the chance to go back to the drawing board and come up with a proper reason for ending the program. Still, if Obama had the discretion to create the program, there is little question that Trump has the authority to pull the plug — what a president can make, a president can unmake — even if he didn't quite go about it properly the first time around.

11-12-19 Daca: Dreamers take fight with Trump to Supreme Court
The US Supreme Court is to hear arguments in the case of an Obama-era immigration programme the White House has sought to end since 2017. The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (Daca) policy protects 700,000 undocumented youths from deportation. The top court took up the case after lower courts ruled the administration did not adequately explain why it was ending the programme. A decision is expected in 2020, months before the presidential election. The lower court rulings do not contest the administration's right to end Daca, but they have criticised its "capricious" explanations for why it was doing so. However, the case could lead the Supreme Court to issue a key ruling on a president's power regarding immigration policy. Immigration has been one of President Donald Trump's signature campaign issues. The Daca programme affects an estimated 700,000 young people who entered the US without documents as children. Another million people were eligible but did not apply for the scheme. Most of them are from Mexico and other Latin American countries. A 2012 executive order created by former President Barack Obama shields these so-called "Dreamers" from deportation and provides work and study permits. President Obama signed the order following failed negotiations for immigration reform on Capitol Hill. In order to qualify for Daca, applicants under the age of 30 are required to submit personal information to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), including addresses and phone numbers. They must go through an FBI background check and have a clean criminal background, and either be in school, recently graduated or have been honourably discharged from the military. In exchange, the US government agrees to "defer" any action on their immigration status for a period of two years. It is only available to individuals residing in the US since 2007. (Webmaster's comment: Since the Republicans and Trump control the Supreme Court the People will lose.)

11-12-19 'I was detained for speaking Spanish in the US'
Ana Suda and a friend were stopped by police in Montana for speaking Spanish. The video of the incident in May 2018 went viral and Ana's life has since been turned upside down.

11-12-19 Poland nationalists hold huge Warsaw march
Far-right groups turned out in force to mark Polish Independence Day. They and other nationalists took over the centre of the capital Warsaw. Speakers praised Catholic, conservative traditions and some attacked the EU. Poland won independence in November 1918, but lost it when Nazi Germany invaded in 1939. (Webmaster's comment: The Nazis are back by the tens of thousands!)

11-10-19 People with more empathy may actually increase political divisions
You might think that a little more empathy would help to heal the divisions in US politics, but it could actually worsen the situation by increasing polarisation. Elizabeth Simas at the University of Houston, Texas, and her colleagues surveyed 1000 people in the US. The team found that those with a disposition for “empathic concern”, one of several traits that make up general empathy, seem to be more politically polarised. They hold a more favourable opinion of their own preferred party, whether Republican or Democrat, along with a more unfavourable opinion of the opposing one. To explore this further, Simas surveyed around 1200 students, randomly splitting them into two groups. Each participant was shown a different version of an article about a protest on a university campus. The article told the story of a public event with either a Democrat or a Republican speaker, which is halted by protests from the other side. When the police try to move in, a bystander is struck by a protester. In a series of questions afterwards, students with low empathic concern took the same view on whether the speech should have been stopped, irrespective of the speaker’s party. Students who were more empathic, however, were happier to censor speakers they disagreed with. They did care more overall about the bystander’s welfare, but that concern showed a partisan bias too, being less sympathetic if the bystander wanted to hear a speaker from the side the student disagreed with. “It’s like an emotional contagion to a certain degree,” says Simas. “I’m sharing the pain with somebody I connect with, so I don’t like the cause of the pain… We’re certainly not claiming that empathy is horrible and bad. Our presentation is saying, ‘Look, this is a complex thing’.” “Moral emotions evolved to help us navigate a world where tribal solidarity likely offered a huge advantage in survival. Thus, it makes good sense that empathy might be in-group oriented,” says Eric Groenendyk at the University of Memphis, Tennessee.

11-8-19 Trump wants whistleblower named despite 'physical danger'
US President Donald Trump has called for the whistleblower who triggered the impeachment inquiry to be unmasked, ignoring a cease-and-desist warning. On Thursday a lawyer for a whistleblower told the White House that Mr Trump's rhetoric was placing his client and family in physical danger. Undeterred by the letter, Mr Trump renewed his attacks on the whistleblower and lawyer on Friday. The individual's identity has so far been fiercely guarded by Democrats. In August the whistleblower filed a report that eventually triggered impeachment proceeding against Mr Trump. The report expressed concern over a phone call a month earlier in which Mr Trump asked his Ukrainian counterpart Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate Joe Biden, a Democratic front-runner for the 2020 US presidential election. In Thursday's letter, sent to White House counsel Pat Cipollone, the whistleblower's lawyer Andrew Bakaj cites many examples of the president's "fixation" on the identity of his client in his comments to the media, at rallies and on Twitter. "Such statements seek to intimidate my client - and they have," Mr Bakaj writes. He continued: "Should any harm befall any suspected named whistleblower or their family, the blame will rest squarely with your client." (Webmaster's comment: The bottom line is that Trump is all but issuing a "License To Kill!" How is that possible in a nation that supports rights to life like America?)

11-8-19 Subpoena upheld
A federal court rejected President Trump’s effort to block his accounting firm from turning over eight years of personal and corporate tax returns to Manhattan prosecutors this week. Trump attorney Jay Sekulow said the Supreme Court should hear an appeal, noting, “The issue raised in this case goes to the heart of our republic.” Trump’s lawyers have argued he has absolute immunity from state and federal criminal investigation—an immunity his lawyers say would extend even to shooting someone on Manhattan’s Fifth Avenue. Judges, though, said they were not convinced that this case differs from the Supreme Court precedent ordering President Nixon to supply a grand jury with White House tapes. However, in its decision the court sidestepped the question of presidential immunity, saying that since the subpoena was served not on Trump but on his accountants, “compliance does not require the president to do anything at all.”

11-8-19 The economy: Has Trump helped or hurt?
Welcome to “‘The Greatest Economy in American History!’” said Catherine Rampell in The Washington Post. That, at least, is how President Trump tweet-greeted last week’s news that the U.S. economy grew at an annualized rate of 1.9 percent in the third quarter. Once upon a time, under President Obama, Trump tweeted that a 1.9 percent growth rate portended “deep trouble for the economy!”…so was he right then or is he right now? The truth is that most economists think 2 percent growth will now be typical for the U.S., but it’s “way lower than you’d expect given the massive fiscal stimulus policymakers have been pumping into the economy.” Government spending has surged under Trump, with the annual deficit now nearing $1 trillion. Trump promised that the GOP’s $2 trillion tax cut in 2017 would boost growth to “4 percent, 5 percent, and even 6 percent.” Instead, corporations have largely used the windfall they got from having their tax rate cut from 35 percent to 21 percent to buy back shares, rather than investing it in equipment and workers. The numbers don’t lie, said Greg Ip in The Wall Street Journal. Trump’s “tax cut has underdelivered,” which can only be good news for the Democratic candidates seeking to replace him and reverse it. “Unemployment isn’t falling for everybody,” said Andrew Van Dam in The Washington Post. Thanks to Trump’s reckless trade war with China, which was supposed to help American workers, the U.S. manufacturing sector actually shrank over two straight quarters this year, putting it technically in recession. Investment in new factories and offices plunged by an alarming 15.3 percent in the third quarter, and unemployment is actually rising in manufacturing-dependent states like Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania—which of course are vital to Trump’s reelection chances. Mining jobs are down, and so are exports. Trade-war uncertainty is making even nonmanufacturing companies skittish about new investment, said Robert Samuelson, also in The Washington Post. Yet the only policy proposal we hear from the White House is the “monstrously bad idea” of more tax cuts.

11-8-19 Barr backlash
British officials were taken aback by the Trump administration’s request that they help it investigate American intelligence agencies, British media reported last week. Attorney General William Barr is overseeing a criminal investigation into the origins of the FBI’s investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. U.S. intelligence concluded unequivocally that Russian hacks and covert social media campaigns were aimed at helping President Trump win the election; some commentators have speculated that Barr wants to discredit that conclusion. “They are basically asking, in quite robust terms, for help in doing a hatchet job on their own intelligence services,” one diplomat told Independent?.co.uk. Barr has also asked Italy and Australia to investigate. (Webmaster's comment: The second most evil man in America!)

11-8-19 Preaching the gospel of Trump
President Trump has appointed a “shameless religious grifter” as the White House’s adviser to faith-based groups, said Bonnie Kristian. Televangelist Paula White belongs to the “prosperity gospel” movement, which teaches that God will reward those who demonstrate their faith with worldly success, money, health, and happiness. Conveniently, this often means sending a check to preachers like White, who’s been married three times and lives in an opulent mansion. An “offering” of $75 or more, White’s website says, “WILL release you from your past and align your future for [God’s] blessing!” Prosperity gospel is a perversion of basic Christian teachings, in which God becomes “a divine vending machine.” It also preys on the desperate and vulnerable. Polling has shown those making $10,000 a year or less are twice as likely to believe in prosperity gospel than those making $35,000 to $50,000. Trump has borrowed from the same fraudulent playbook. “He promises his base a newly great America bristling with strong farms and reliable factory jobs.” But both sectors have gone into decline as a result of his disastrous policies. White “is a perfect fit for this presidency”: Like Trump, she is a grifter who specializes in “giving desperate people false hope for personal gain.”

11-8-19 Faith-based organizations?
The Department of Health and Human Services says it is ending an Obama-era rule prohibiting organizations receiving federal grants from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation and gender. The rule change, affecting organizations collectively receiving about $500 billion annually in grant money, will enable any faith-based organization to refuse to hire gay or transgender people or to work with people who don’t share its religion.

11-8-19 Acid attack
A white man told a Latino U.S. citizen to “go back to your country” before throwing battery acid in his face outside a Mexican restaurant this week. Mahud Villalaz, 42, who left Peru 19 years ago, says a stranger asked him, “Why did you come here and invade my country?” before splashing him with a container of acid, causing second-degree burns on his face and third-degree burns on his neck. Police arrested Clifton Blackwell, 61, who’s under investigation for a possible hate crime after a surveillance camera captured the assault. Villalaz says Blackwell confronted him for parking too close to a bus stop, and after Villalaz moved his truck, Blackwell continued to berate him on the sidewalk in the heavily Latino neighborhood. “This anger toward people from other countries is being fed by our president,” Democratic Mayor Tom Barrett said.

11-8-19 War crimes
Afghan paramilitary forces trained and backed by the CIA have committed war crimes, Human Rights Watch said last week. In a 53-page report that followed a two-year investigation, the group said the units carried out executions of civilians, launched bloody attacks on medical facilities, and ordered indiscriminate airstrikes—all violations of international law. The CIA said that unlike the Taliban, it conducts its operations “under a robust system of oversight.” The U.S. military provides the paramilitaries with intelligence and air support, and CIA contractors and Army Rangers often patrol with them. Since President Trump loosened the rules of engagement for U.S. forces in Afghanistan two years ago, civilian deaths from airstrikes have soared, from 142 in 2016 to at least 579 so far this year.

11-8-19 American racist deported
An American white supremacist was detained in Norway this week just hours before he was to speak at an international far-right conference in Oslo. Greg Johnson, who promotes a “white genocide” conspiracy theory through his Counter-Currents Publishing group, was to address the Scandza Forum, a network that promotes anti-Semitic and racist views. “He stands for and communicates an extreme right-wing ideology,” police spokesman Martin Bernsen said. “There’s a danger that it can result in violence.” In a 2012 blog post, Johnson wrote that he had “respect” for Anders Breivik, the Norwegian far-right terrorist who killed 77 people—most of them teenagers—in 2011. Johnson said authorities had misrepresented his views on Breivik and that he does not condone violence. Johnson was deported to Hungary, where he has a residence permit.

11-8-19 Far-right protests greet Georgia gay film premiere
Protests have been taking place in Tbilisi over the premiere of Georgia's first LGBTQ film, And Then We Danced. Directed by Levan Akin, the film tells the story of how Merab, a traditional Georgian dancer, discovers his sexuality while training in the National Georgian Ensemble. In an interview with Variety magazine, the award-winning Georgian-Swedish director said he wanted to show "the challenges of dealing with homosexuality in a conservative society, the hope in a new generation and the roles of art and tradition". And Then We Danced has already won several awards, including at the Chicago International Film Festival and the Sarajevo Film Festival. It has also been screened at other film festivals, including in Cannes and London. Sweden has selected the film as its entry for the best international feature film award for the Oscars. However, it has attracted controversy with protests from both church-goers and conservative groups. Mr Akin has already condemned nationalist groups calling on people to fight against "dark forces" in Georgia. A Georgian LGBTQ rights group, the Equality Movement, asked the police to provide security at the premiere. Georgia's Orthodox Church criticised the film's premiere, calling the screening "an attack against the church". Social media users have been quick to enter the debate. Nationalist group Alt-Info posted a video in which a man "Zurab Makharadze" calls on everyone who shares the same ideology to join the protest. Zurab also mentions "an informational and ideological war between conservatism and liberalism" and says the film premiere is only a part of the war.

11-8-19 Four-day workweek
Microsoft tested a four-day workweek in Japan and saw sales per employee rise 40 percent compared with a year earlier. The number of pages printed out fell by 59 percent, electricity consumption dropped 23 percent, and 94 percent of employees were satisfied with the program.The Washington Post

11-8-19 The 1950s were not really great
People on both sides of the political aisle are “waxing nostalgic for the 1950s,” said Noah Smith. “Many on the right wish for a return to the country’s conservative mores and nationalist attitudes, while some on the left pine for the era’s high tax rates, strong unions, and lower inequality.” But most objective measures show that things are much better now. At the end of the 1950s, “more than half of black Americans lived below the poverty line.” Many people now remember the decade as a time when a single breadwinner could provide for a family. But “a third of women worked in the ’50s, showing that many families needed a second income even if it defied the gender roles of the day”—and the women who did work had little chance for fulfilling careers. The “good old factory jobs” were often hard and dangerous. And Americans spent more time working: 2,264 hours a year in 1952, compared with 1,707 today. And what did workers call home? The average floor area of a single-family house in 1950 was 983 square feet, the size of a one-bedroom apartment today. Yes, the 1950s were a decade of progress and hope, but “the point of progress and hope is that things get better later.” And they did.

11-8-19 How Many Americans Believe in God?
Though a 2018 Gallup poll found that U.S. church membership has reached an all-time low of 50%, and one in five Americans does not identify with any religion, most of the country still expresses belief in God. Exactly how large that majority is, however, depends on how nuanced the response options are. Gallup has asked this question three different ways in recent years, with belief varying across them from 87% to 64%. The highest level of belief (87%) comes from a simple yes/no question, "Do you believe in God?" which Gallup last asked in 2017. Belief drops to 79% when respondents are given three options, one being God is something they believe in. The rest are either not sure whether they believe in God or firmly say they do not believe in God. Belief in God appears even lower when isolating just those from the five-part question who say they are "convinced" God exists, 64%. While all three measures of belief have exhibited declines, this group's drop has been the steepest. The array of Gallup results leads to the conclusion that putting a percentage on Americans' belief in God depends on how you define "belief." If the standard is absolute certainty -- no hedging and no doubts -- it's somewhere around two-thirds. If the standard is a propensity to believe rather than not to believe, then the figure is somewhere north of three-quarters.

11-8-19 The medieval Catholic Church may have helped spark Western individualism
Early religious decrees transformed families and, in turn, whole societies, a new study says. During the Middles Ages, decrees from the early Catholic Church triggered a massive transformation in family structure. That shift explains, at least in part, why Western societies today tend to be more individualistic, nonconformist and trusting of strangers compared with other societies, a new study suggests. The roots of that Western mind-set go back roughly 1,500 years when a branch of Christianity that later evolved into the Roman Catholic Church swept across Europe and beyond, report human evolutionary biologist Joseph Henrich and colleagues in the Nov. 8 Science. Leaders of that branch became obsessed with what they saw as incest, the researchers say, and launched a “marriage and family program” that eventually banned marriages between even distant cousins, step-relatives and in-laws. Church policies also encouraged marriage by choice instead of arranged marriages, and small, nuclear households, with couples living separately from extended family members. Using historical, anthropological and psychological data, Henrich and his colleagues show that the Church’s policies helped unravel the tight, cohesive kin networks that had existed. In places under the Church’s influence, a Western-style mind-set has come to dominate, the team says. “Human psychology and human brains are shaped by the institutions that we experience and the most fundamental of human institutions are our kinships [and] the organization of our families,” says Henrich, of Harvard University. “One particular strand of Christianity … got obsessed with this and altered the direction of European history.”

11-8-19 Judge orders Trump to pay $2m for misusing Trump Foundation funds
A New York judge has ordered President Donald Trump to pay $2m (£1.6m) for misusing funds from his charity to finance his 2016 political campaign. The Donald J Trump Foundation closed down in 2018. Prosecutors had accused it of working as "little more than a chequebook" for Mr Trump's interests. Charities such as the one Mr Trump and his three eldest children headed cannot engage in politics, the judge ruled. Mr Trump hit out at the ruling, saying "every penny" went to charity. "I am the only person I know, perhaps the only person in history, who can give major money to charity ($19m), charge no expense, and be attacked by the political hacks in New York State," he wrote in a statement posted to Twitter. He accused New York's attorney general, Letitia James, who brought the civil lawsuit, of "deliberately mischaracterising this settlement for political purposes". Judge Saliann Scarpulla said Mr Trump had "breached his fiduciary duty" by allowing funds raised for US veterans to be used for the Iowa primary election in 2016. "I direct Mr Trump to pay the $2,000,000, which would have gone to the Foundation if it were still in existence," she wrote, saying it must be paid by Mr Trump himself and should go to eight charities he has no relationship to. Mr Trump said the case had been resolved and that he was "happy to donate" $2m to the Army Emergency Relief, Children's Aid Society, City Meals-on-Wheels, Give an Hour, Martha's Table, United Negro College Fund, United Way of Capital Area and the US Holocaust Memorial Museum. Ms James said Mr Trump had admitted to "personally misusing funds at the Trump Foundation". She had asked Judge Scarpulla to ban Mr Trump from ever running a charity again. However, this was not imposed. Donald Trump Jr, Eric Trump and Ivanka Trump - who were also directors of the Trump Foundation - are required to undergo mandatory training "on the duties of officers and directors of charities", Ms James said. The case was opened following an investigation into the Trump Foundation by the Washington Post in 2016.

11-7-19 Megan Rapinoe on racism, equal pay and LGBT rights
Megan Rapinoe is one of the biggest names in sport after leading the USA to victory at the Women's Football World Cup this year. Don’t be fooled by the pink hair and big smile though, Rapinoe is using her platform to lead the fight for equality in sport. In a wide ranging interview with Radio 1 Newsbeat’s sports reporter Eleanor Roper she chats about racism in football, equal pay, LGBTQ+ rights and the possibility of a career in politics.

11-7-19 Italy Holocaust survivor Liliana Segre under guard amid death threats
An 89-year-old Holocaust survivor in Italy has been assigned police guards for protection after receiving hundreds of threats on social media. Liliana Segre, who was sent to the notorious Auschwitz death camp at 13, has been subjected to a barrage of anti-Semitic messages in recent days. It comes after Ms Segre, an Italian life senator, called for parliament to establish a committee to combat hate. The motion passed despite a lack of support by Italy's right-wing parties. Members of the nationalist League party, led by Matteo Salvini, the centre-right Forza Italia and the far-right Brothers of Italy all abstained from the vote in Milan last week. The motion called for the establishment of an extraordinary commission in Italy to combat all forms of racism, anti-Semitism, incitement to hatred and violence on ethnic and religious grounds. Ms Segre said after the vote that the abstentions made her feel "like a Martian in the Senate". "I appealed to the conscience of everyone and thought that a commission against hatred as a principle would be accepted by all," she said at the time, Italy's La Repubblica reported (in Italian). Since then, she has reported receiving as many as 200 hate messages a day. Some of the threats have been so serious that the prefect of Milan, Renato Saccone, held a meeting on Wednesday with the committee for security and public order, where it was agreed that Ms Segre needed police protection. The measures that were approved include Ms Segre being accompanied in public by two paramilitary carabinieri officers. Meanwhile, the Milan public prosecutor's office said it had opened an investigation into the hate messages targeting the senator and had requested the assistance of Italy's anti-terror police. (Webmaster's comment: The Nazis are back and a threat to all of mankind!)

11-7-19 Milwaukee man charged with hate crime over parking spot acid attack
Police in Wisconsin have charged a man with a hate crime after a Peru-born US citizen had acid thrown in his face and was told to go back to his country. Mahud Villalaz, 42, suffered second-degree burns to his face on Friday in a dispute over a parking spot in Milwaukee, says a criminal complaint. Clifton Blackwell, 61, is charged with first-degree reckless injury in a hate crime using a dangerous weapon. Mr Villalaz became a US citizen in 2013. Mr Villalaz told BBC's US affiliate CBS News: "He just approached me with those hated words, 'Go back to your country.'" He added that the liquid, which he believes was battery acid, burned through two layers of his clothing. Three days after the attack, authorities searched Mr Blackwell's residence and found "muriatic acid, four bottles of brand name Kleen-Out sulfuric acid, two bottles of Kleen-Out drain opener (100% lye), and Parkerizing cleaner", the criminal complaint says. If convicted on all three counts, Mr Blackwell could face up to 35 years in jail. The charge of first-degree reckless injury carries a maximum sentence of 25 years, with an additional five years each for using a dangerous weapon and committing a hate crime. Speaking to reporters on Wednesday, Mr Villalaz said he was feeling better and would like to move on from the incident. "It has been wonderful to see that there are many people who worry about others, not only Latinos but white people... everybody," the welder said in Spanish, according to CNN. "Let's unite and live in peace with our neighbours." Milwaukee Alderman Jose Perez condemned the attack as "heinous".

11-7-19 Martin Luther King's name removed from Kansas city street
Voters in Kansas City, Missouri, overwhelmingly approved the removal of Martin Luther King's name from a major road, months after it was renamed. The proposal to remove Dr King's name claimed almost 70% of a public vote, preliminary results show. The council voted in January to rename The Paseo, a 10 mile (16km) boulevard in the city's mostly black east side. But the change sparked a battle, with opponents arguing that residents had not been properly consulted. Some residents said they felt their neighbourhood was losing its identity. Opponents of the name change set up the Save The Paseo group earlier this year. In April, it gathered enough signatures to put the removal to a vote. More than 1,000 streets worldwide are said to bear the name of Dr King, with at least 955 found in the US. Kansas City is one of the only major US cities without a street named after the civil rights icon. Those who wanted Dr King's name removed said they respect his legacy, but criticised the council's decision to push the change through by waiving a requirement that 75% of property owners on the boulevard should approve it. "I overwhelmingly heard from my constituents that they did not want it," Alissia Canady, who served as councilwoman for the district that encompasses The Paseo, told the BBC. "There were African American property owners that did not agree with this way of honouring Dr King." Ms Canady, who is black, said the council had been aware that "the political will was not there". "They rushed to put the signs up with the hope that once the signs were up people would be afraid to take them down. That was the rhetoric: Kansas City can't be the city that takes Dr King's name down," Ms Canady says. The Kansas City Chapter of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) - an organisation founded by Dr King - led efforts to keep the street's name in his honour. They did not respond to a request for comment.

11-6-19 Tucson: Voters in liberal US city reject sanctuary city status
Voters in Tucson have overwhelmingly rejected a move to become a "sanctuary city" - a city with policies to aid undocumented immigrants. The measure would have put more restrictions on how police enforce immigration laws. Activists pushed the bill to give a voice to the Latino community in Arizona state's second-largest city. But opponents argued Tucson was already immigrant-friendly and that the measure would do more harm than good. In an interview before the vote on Tuesday, Mayor Jonathan Rothschild was quoted by AP news agency as saying: "The city of Tucson, in all respects except being labelled as such, operates as a sanctuary city." The mayor and city council members - who are all Democrats - were worried about unintended consequences of becoming an official sanctuary city, like losing millions of dollars in state and federal funding. President Donald Trump has repeatedly criticised sanctuary cities and has threatened to withhold their access to funding. A federal court ruled in June that the administration could consider a city's enforcement of immigration laws when deciding how to distribute federal funds. Mr Rothschild also said the initiative would have placed unnecessary burdens on officers even on issues unrelated to immigration. The ballot measure was intended to counter a 2010 Arizona immigration law known as SB1070, which sparked mass protests and boycotts of the state. After revisions to the bill, courts upheld the requirement for police officers to check immigration status of people they suspected to be in the US illegally. While Tucson voters rejected the sanctuary city measure, they also elected the city's first Latina mayor, Regino Romero.

11-6-19 Buffalo Wild Wings customers speak after racist incident
Players, coaches, and parents of two youth basketball teams demanded further action at an emotional press conference on Tuesday, after being asked to move seats at a restaurant in Naperville, Illinois. A customer had complained about sitting next to the party because of their race. Buffalo Wild Wings said they fired two managers involved and banned the customers who made the complaint permanently from all of the restaurant's locations nationwide.

11-6-19 Virginia elects woman who gave president the finger
A woman who was fired for raising her middle finger at US President Donald Trump's motorcade has been elected to local office in Virginia. Juli Briskman's hand gesture went viral in 2017, leading to her losing a job with a government contractor. The single mother won more than 52% of the vote to be elected district representative in Loudoun county. At the state level, US Democrats have seized full control of the Virginia legislature. A picture of Ms Briskman cycling and "flipping off" President Trump's motorcade as it passed her spread across the internet in October 2017. Shortly after, Ms Briskman used the image as a profile picture on her social media accounts. Her employer, Akima LLC, said the image was "lewd" and "obscene" and fired her for violating its social media policies, she told the Huffington Post. The company did not respond to the BBC's request for comment at the time. Ms Briskman had reportedly been working as a marketing analyst for the government contractor for six months, but said she didn't regret making the gesture. On Tuesday night, Ms Briskman celebrated her election in a tweet linking to the offending image. Ms Briskman told AFP she ran on a platform prioritising education, woman's rights and environmental issues. She added her campaign showed she was more than "just the person that rode my bike one day and flipped off the president". The results of the state elections mean the Democrats have full control of both legislative chambers in Virginia for the first time in more than 20 years.

11-6-19 Naomi Oreskes asks "why trust science" in an age of denialism
In Why Trust Science?, Naomi Oreskes's asks bold questions but knows there are no clear answers – and critiques herself as the book unfolds. “I DON’T want you to listen to me. I want you to listen to the scientists.” That is what climate activist Greta Thunberg told the US Congress in September when she offered a report by the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) rather than her own words as testimony. But why would anyone choose to listen to carefully dehumanised, committee-speak science over the impassioned, but not impartial, rhetoric of real human beings? Because facts outweigh opinions, say science insiders. The trouble is, as Naomi Oreskes points out in her fascinating new book, Why Trust Science?, that is because we have faith in science. In the end, none of us can actually come up with a convincing answer to the question at the heart of this discussion: why trust science? Maybe because it works. Surely the results of social experiments like vaccination speak for themselves? Death and damage from diseases such as measles and smallpox have been radically reduced by inoculation. Or we could cite the laws of physics: if you blanket Earth in a gas that absorbs infrared radiation, trapping heat, it has to experience significant warming. Ah, but how do outsiders know this is true? Frustrating as it seems, Oreskes argues that this is a valid question. Scientists, she says, “need to explain not just what they know, but how they know it”. But attempts to do this can confound the problem. Take IPCC reports. They are the voice of scientific consensus on climate change: thousands of scientists contribute, and their findings, researched over decades, are distilled into a digest of objective facts by teams of scientist-writers. These reports aren’t designed to be page-turners, nor to convey scientists’ anguish at the dire situation. They are cool presentations of the scientific conclusions and how they were reached. “In suppressing their values and insisting on science’s neutrality, scientists have gone down a wrong road” Perhaps, Oreskes suggests, that is why they have made so little impact on global policy-makers. “The dominant style in scientific writing is not only to hide the values of the authors, but to hide their humanity altogether,” she says. “The ideal paper is written… as if there were no human author.”

11-6-19 The many benefits of a 4-day work week
Why even companies might want their employees to work less. An old idea might be slowly creeping back into the economic mainstream: A four-day work week. The latest flirtation happened in Japan, where Microsoft's local division tried giving its employees five consecutive Fridays off over the summer — and found sales per employee jumped 40 percent during the period. Meeting times were cut, the office consumed fewer resources, and nearly everyone said they were satisfied with the program. Nor is Microsoft the first company to find that experiments with shorter work weeks actually improve the bottom line. In fact, a four-day work week could come with all sorts of benefits: In productivity, in lower stress, in happier lives, and in more economic justice. Back in the 1930s, the economist John Maynard Keynes famously predicted that work weeks would eventually fall to 15 hours — or roughly two-day weeks — as technology advanced and economies became more productive. The logic for this is pretty simple: If a society increases the amount of wealth an hour of labor can produce, people can take the benefits of that in one of two ways: They can work more and take home more income, or they can take the same income home and work less. Of course, it hasn't worked out that way. Advanced economies have cut the amount of hours their workers put in each year by all sorts of amounts. At the cutting edge, the Netherlands has roughly a four-day work week already. But most advanced countries fall well short of that mark, never mind two-day weeks. And none fall shorter than America. As my colleague Ryan Cooper lays out in a new paper, America barely reduced hours for its average employee at all over the last five decades. As much as news stories paint Japan as overworked, the U.S. is even worse: In 2016, the average American put in 1,781 hours on the job — more than any other advanced nation. The amount of GDP we produce per hour is greater than just about any other developed Western economy. But the total hours we work is much higher. We haven't translated more productivity into more leisure at all.


FEMINISM

11-9-19 Lebanon protests: Confronting the ‘sexualisation’ of women demonstrators
Protesters from across Lebanon have taken to the streets to demand an end to government corruption. And women once again have been at the forefront of the demonstrations, which began in mid-October. But attitudes towards women from some in the region have revealed persisting stereotypes and objectification of women.

11-8-19 Alberto Salazar weight-shaming affected athletes' mental health - Steve Magness
Banned coach Alberto Salazar's "obsession" with controlling weight led to mental health problems in athletes, his former assistant has claimed. Steve Magness was reacting to American athlete Mary Cain's account of ill effects she suffered under Salazar, who received a four-year ban for doping violations. "I've witnessed the harm and damage that such a culture creates," Magness posted on social media on Thursday. "It's lasting mental health issues." In an interview with the New York Times, Cain claimed Salazar's methods at the Nike Oregon Project (NOP) training set-up resulted in her losing her period for three years and broken bones. She also stated she had "suicidal thoughts" and began to cut herself. Salazar told the publication he "denied many of Cain's claims and had supported her health and welfare". The BBC has also approached the 61-year-old American about Cain's allegations and those made by Magness. Nike told BBC Sport that Cain's allegations are "completely inconsistent" with its values. However, it added that it previously had not been made aware of the issues and that the athlete was "seeking to rejoin the Oregon Project and Alberto's team as recently as April of this year". It also said it would launch an investigation to hear from former NOP athletes. Earlier in November, the World Anti-Doping Agency (Wada) announced it would investigate those who trained with Salazar. He was found guilty of doping violations after a four-year investigation by the US Anti-Doping Agency (Usada) and has said he will appeal against the ruling.

11-8-19 Gang rapists acquitted
Protests broke out in Spain this week after five men were acquitted of raping an unconscious 14-year-old girl at a party in an abandoned warehouse. The court said the attack did not meet Spain’s legal definition of rape, which requires that a perpetrator use violence or intimidation. That didn’t occur in this case, because the victim was unconscious from drugs and alcohol. The five were convicted instead on the lesser charge of sexual abuse and received sentences of 10 to 12 years in prison. The ruling recalled a 2016 case, in which five men were convicted of abuse rather than rape because the victim could not prove that the gang that surrounded her in Pamplona had used violence. The Supreme Court overruled that verdict this summer and found the men guilty of rape.

11-8-19 Hounding women out of Parliament
Abusive constituents are chasing female lawmakers out of Parliament, said Frances Perraudin and Simon Murphy. So far, 18 women legislators—including current and former cabinet members—have chosen not to run in next month’s election. They say that the Brexit debate and Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s rhetoric have created a toxic and dangerous work environment. One of those leaving, Amber Rudd, who quit her post as secretary of state for work and pensions in September, said Johnson’s use of terms such as “surrender” and “betrayal” over Brexit could incite violence. One opposition Labour Party lawmaker was targeted by a neo-Nazi who planned to kill her; another has seen six people convicted over threats to her family. “Politics has become a hostile environment for women, in which we are harassed, demeaned, and threatened,” said Mandu Reid of the Women’s Equality Party. The ruling Conservative Party’s lurch to the right has also alienated its moderate female members, while anti-Semitism turns off moderate Labour women. Women are leaving the House of Commons far faster than men, typically having “spent a decade less in Parliament than retiring male MPs.” Sarah Wollaston, a Conservative turned Liberal Democrat, said, “Why would you put up with all that abuse, if at the same time you’re unhappy about the direction of travel?” For many women, it’s just not worth it.

11-8-19 #MeToo: McDonald’s CEO ousted over affair
McDonald’s fired its chief executive, Steve Easterbrook, this week after the board learned he had been having a relationship with an employee, said David Yaffe-Bellany in The New York Times. Though the relationship was consensual, “the #MeToo era has brought new scrutiny to a wide range of workplace misconduct,” and the board said Easterbrook, who is divorced, had violated company policy. The move could have been motivated by “pressure facing McDonald’s” over its handling of sexual harassment cases at its franchises, which are the subjects of 23 complaints filed by the American Civil Liberties Union. But “changing attitudes about romance in the workplace” have also led more companies to enact strict “nonfraternization” rules for executives. “Easterbrook had to go,” said the Chicago Tribune in an editorial. It doesn’t matter that the relationship was consensual. As CEO, Easterbrook was the boss to every McDonald’s employee. “The reason nonfraternization policies exist” is because any workplace romance between a supervisor and a subordinate is “susceptible to abuse.” It’s tough enough for someone to have a relationship “with the person responsible for his or her paycheck.” It also raises the question of fairness toward other employees. McDonald’s did the right thing in immediately replacing Easterbrook with another senior executive, Chris Kempczinski. Bosses should “have the power to enforce their organizations’ priorities,” not to violate them.

11-8-19 Five things everyone with a vagina should know
There are many false myths on social media about vaginas, and one woman has made it her mission to correct them. Dr Jen Gunter has been a practising obstetrician-gynaecologist in the US and Canada for 25 years. She is a fierce advocate for women's health and has been described as Twitter's resident gynaecologist. Recently she took up arms against claims that putting jade eggs into vaginas supported "hormonal balance, menstrual regulation, and bladder control". Gunter showed that they were not part of any ancient Chinese tradition nor did they have any scientific backing. The claims were taken down. Gunter's latest book, The Vagina Bible, is a best-seller in several countries. It's full of practical advice, designed to empower women and help them to look after their health. Here are some facts she feels everyone with a vagina should know.

  1. It's important to know your vagina from your vulva: The vagina is inside the body - it's the muscular canal which connects the uterus to the outside world. What you can see from the outside, the part that touches your clothes, is the vulva.
  2. The vagina cleans itself: Gunter has noticed a real shift in women's attitudes over the last 10 years, with many believing they need to use products to modify the smell of their vagina. In North America, up to 57% of women have cleaned vaginally in the past year, with many reporting that they are encouraged to do so by their sexual partner. But Gunter says there is no need to use anything to clean inside the vagina.
  3. Your vagina is like a garden: The vagina contains an army of "good" bacteria which help to keep it healthy. "The vaginal microbiome is like a garden of all different kinds of bacteria that function together to keep the vaginal ecosystem healthy," says Gunter.
  4. Pubic hair is there for a reason: Gunter has noticed a growing trend for women to remove all of their pubic hair. This is helping to make pubic lice homeless, but there are also risks to genital depilation. "When you wax or shave or sugar, you are causing microscopic trauma to the skin," says Gunter. "We see cuts, abrasions, infections from pubic hair removal as well."
  5. Getting older can affect the vagina: After years of having periods and maybe children, the ovaries stop producing eggs and menstruation stops. The amount of hormones in the body which keep women fertile drops dramatically - and low levels of oestrogen, in particular, affect the vagina and vulva. These tissues, which were once kept moist with mucus, can atrophy, and the resulting dryness can cause pain during sex because of a lack of lubrication.

11-7-19 The Tenth Muse review: A story in which the women count
In her new historical novel, Catherine Chung celebrates the women who shaped modern mathematics - and wonders why they weren't paid. “A mathematical proof is absolute once it has been written and verified,” says Katherine, the narrator of Catherine Chung’s novel The Tenth Muse. “If the internal logic of a proof holds, it is considered unassailable and true.” The book contrasts the axioms of mathematics with the mutability and complexities of life. This is historical rather than speculative fiction, reaching from the present back to World War II and the mid-20th century. As a child in 1950s America, Katherine is intrigued by nature and space. She annoys a primary school teacher by doing sums in her head, using a time-saving technique used by the German mathematician Carl Friedrich Gauss as a child. (What is the sum of the numbers 1 through 9? 45, Katherine answers quickly, having added up pairs of numbers on opposite sides to give four sets of 10 – 1+9, 2+8 and so on – and the unpaired 5 in the middle.) She becomes a mathematician, working on the Riemann hypothesis. Proposed by Bernhard Riemann in 1859, it is one of the most significant unsolved problems in pure mathematics – one of seven millennium problems with a $1 million prize on offer from the Clay Mathematics Institute. The problem, as Katherine puts it, “predicts a meaningful pattern hidden deep within the seemingly chaotic distribution of prime numbers”. It also becomes inextricable from the unravelling mystery of Katherine’s own family history. The search takes her to the University of Göttingen in Germany, once a powerhouse of maths at the turn of the 20th century, and later, less salubriously, known for its “great purge” of Jewish researchers in the 1930s. The novel is extensively researched, replete with the lives and work of luminaries such as Srinivasa Ramanujan, Alan Turing, and David Hilbert; the maths and physics it comprises range from the accessible to the esoteric. The characters’ dialogue tends towards the novelistic: on occasion, their style of recounting stories is implausibly similar to that of the book’s narration.

11-6-19 'I do my engineering in high heels not a hard hat'
The clichéd image of an engineer is of a man in a hard hat, but one female engineer says she is more likely to wear high heels to work. Pavlina Akritas is a lighting designer at multinational firm Arup, and she has been helping to highlight the lack of women in engineering. The Royal Academy of Engineering says many young people think of the work as technical and boring. It says that has left a skills shortage of about 50,000 people a year. At present just 12% of engineers are women, and 9% from an ethnic minority background. That is why the academy launched its This is Engineering Day to change stereotypes. "If you google 'engineer' you only see these hard hats, but personally if I was asked how many times I wear a hard hat, it's probably two weeks per year," says Ms Akritas. "On other occasions, I wear my heels - I like my heels - and my dresses." The globetrotter, who grew up in Cyprus before studying in the US and UK, says her job "gives me an opportunity to work in many different countries". She has also featured in the 100 Influential Women in Engineering list, drawn up by Inclusive Boards. The academy is now working with lots of big brands in the media, in advertising and recruitment to encourage "more representative" images of engineers. Hayaatun Sillem, chief executive of the academy, says the role is varied and that it is a "well-paid profession". "Engineering is a great foundation," she says. "You're really employable if you're an engineer, so it's not surprising that people who study engineering go on to work in other areas. "That's great, we need people with those skills right across our economy," she adds. "We also need enough of them going into engineering." One of the main barriers to young people pursuing a career in engineering is a deeply-rooted cultural perception of the profession as mechanical, too technical and boring, an outdated view that is being reinforced online. But Michelle Hicks, a rollercoaster designer at Chessington World of Adventures in Surrey, said the industry's grimy reputation was undeserved. "That's one of the biggest misconceptions. The role of an engineer is so varied," she said. "For me, it can be from going to design team meetings, complex problem-solving, to being out on site. "But when you're on site as an engineer, it's very much looking at what's going on, is it built to specification. It's not [about] getting dirty at all."

11-6-19 Would you use a patch of 100 tiny needles over the contraceptive pill?
A patch filled with tiny needles can inject up to 60 days’ worth of hormonal contraceptives. Women could apply the patch at home, making it a potentially hassle and pain-free alternative to injections or implants. Mark Prausnitz at the Georgia Institute of Technology and his colleagues created the patch, which contains 100 microneedles, each around half a millimetre long and 0.01 millimetres wide at the tip. When the patch is applied, the needles come off the patch, break the skin and sit under the surface. Each needle contains a small dose of the hormonal contraceptive levonorgestrel, which is slowly released as the microneedle degrades over a period of up to 60 days. Normally, long-acting contraceptives need to be administered by professionals, but this could be self-administered, says Prausnitz. The patch could be used once a month, rather than every day like with the pill. The team tested the patch on rats and found that more than 90 per cent of the microneedles detached after 50 seconds on average. To see how well the patch would work with people, the team tested it on 10 women using a placebo patch that didn’t contain any levonorgestrel. The microneedles detached from the patch to enter the body just as well as they did in rats. All the women said they would opt for the patch over a monthly injection of hormones, while only one would stick with a daily pill. Chenjie Xu at Nanyang Technological University, Singapore, says the next step should be to test a version of the patch with a hormonal contraceptive in people. It is important to know if the work in rats translates to humans, he says.

11-6-19 What would a city designed by women be like?
Cities are supposed to be built for all of us, but they aren't built by all of us. Every city in the world has been designed and built by men. But what if the other half had a go? Barcelona might be able to give us that answer. For the past four years the city has had a female mayor with a profoundly feminist agenda. We spoke to feminists working in urban planning in the city to find out what they think needs to change to make cities better for women.


SCIENCE - GLOBAL WARMING and ENVIRONMENT

11-12-19 Worsening bushfires cause Australia to declare state of emergency
A state of emergency has been declared in Australia over escalating wildfires. David Elliott, the New South Wales minister for police and emergency services said the country faced what “could be the most dangerous bushfire week this nation has ever seen”. So far, at least three people have died, 100 people have been injured and 150 homes and buildings have been destroyed by the blazes devastating swathes of the eastern coast. The situation looks set to worsen as hot and dry winds pick up in strength. These latest fires come after Australia’s hottest summer on record, and an unusually hot and dry winter. “In south-east Queensland and northern New South Wales, the last three years have been drier and warmer than usual,” says Richard Thornton at the Bushfire and Natural Hazards Cooperative Research Centre. “When preceding conditions have been like this, and the bush and grass is so dry, it doesn’t take much for a fire to get going once the wind is up.” People living in and around Sydney, one of the most populous parts of the country, have been warned of “catastrophic” fire conditions for the first time since the classification was introduced in 2009. More than 100,000 homes in the area are within 100 metres of the bush and are at risk, according to consultancy firm Risk Frontiers. A week-long state of emergency has been declared in New South Wales, giving emergency services the power to shut off electricity and evacuate people from their homes. Some 600 schools have been shut down over safety concerns. Bushfires are a normal part of the Australian ecology, but experts have warned that climate change is exacerbating temperatures and lengthening droughts, prompting calls to better prepare for more extreme events to come.

11-12-19 Australia bushfires: New South Wales battles 'catastrophic' conditions
A vast area of Australia's east coast - including parts of the Sydney suburbs - is facing one of the nation's worst-ever bushfire threats. More than 85 fires are burning across the state of New South Wales (NSW), 46 of which are not contained. Authorities had predicted "catastrophic" conditions for Tuesday, amid fears a southerly wind could cause the flames to change direction. About six million people live in the region. Crews are battling a front spanning 1,000km (620 miles) along the north coast of NSW, with several blazes "exceeding 100,000 hectares alone", officials said. On Sydney's north shore, firefighting planes dropped flame retardant over trees and homes in the suburb of South Turramurra, as the bushfires came within 15km (nine miles) of the city centre. "Next thing I know the fire was opposite our house and it was massive and the police came and grabbed our kids and took them away," resident Julia Gretton-Roberts told AFP news agency. "My daughter is pretty freaked out." Authorities said the Turramurra fire had been brought under control, but one firefighter had suffered a broken arm and suspected fractured ribs. Australia's conservative government has refused to be drawn on whether climate change could have contributed to the fires, in a response that has drawn criticism. "My only thoughts today are with those who have lost their lives and their families," Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Sunday. People in vulnerable NSW communities have been urged to stay away from bushland, and to flee their homes before the fires escalate. More than 600 schools are closed across the state. Three people have died and more than 150 properties have been destroyed since the fire emergency intensified in NSW on Friday. But authorities said they were now facing what could be "the most dangerous bushfire week this nation has ever seen".

11-12-19 Australia bushfires: 'It's like fireballs exploding in the air'
Australia's bushfires are still raging out of control, sweeping into towns and prompting thousands to flee from their homes. At least five people have died this fire season and authorities are bracing for possible further tragedies. Carol Sparks, the mayor of Glen Innes in New South Wales, spoke to the BBC about the horrific scenes she witnessed as fires consumed her town.

11-12-19 How binge-watching your favourite TV show is fuelling climate change
Streaming video services like Netflix, Apple TV+ and Disney+ are on the rise - but so are their carbon emissions. ONCE, we had to wait to watch television programmes when they were broadcast. Now, video on demand is taking over. Globally, more than 600 million people subscribe to streaming services like Netflix, and so many services exist that it is hard to keep track. This month alone has seen the launch of Apple TV+ and Disney+. This is great if you are excited about Jennifer Aniston’s return to the small screen, or the prospect of a Star Wars TV show, but it isn’t so great when it comes to climate change. According to one estimate, online videos generate 300 million tonnes of carbon dioxide a year, or nearly 1 per cent of global emissions, and this is forecast to soar. This puts streaming in the same league as flying, which produces around 2.5 per cent of global emissions. Can it be true? And if it is, can’t streaming be made green by using renewable energy? With broadcast TV, each transmitter uses lots of power to deliver TV signals directly to a huge number of people. But downloading or streaming video requires more equipment and energy because it is one to one, not one to many. When you hit play on the next episode of your latest binge-watch, the request goes out to a vast data centre full of computers, which sends the video file in return. The video typically goes to a Wi-Fi router in your home that may send the signal to yet another box before it reaches the TV. Or, if you are watching on a phone, the video may be sent over the cellular network. Totting up the resulting greenhouse gas emissions from all this is far from simple, but there have been a few attempts to do it. One, by Chris Preist and Daniel Schien at the University of Bristol, UK, looked at YouTube.

11-12-19 Where plastic outnumbers fish by seven to one
Plastic is building up in the areas of the ocean where fish feed and grow, according to research. A study found bits of plastic outnumber baby fish by seven to one in nursery waters off Hawaii. It appears that the same ocean processes that concentrate prey for juvenile fish also accumulate floating plastics. There is growing evidence that plastic is being ingested by marine life, but the health implications are unclear. "We don't have the data to say whether or not this has a negative effect on fish populations," Dr Gareth Williams of Bangor University, UK, told BBC News. "But the fact that they're eating these non-nutritious particles at the point when eating is so critical for their survival in those first few days, it can only be a bad thing." The researchers set out to investigate the roles of "slicks" as nursery habitats for tiny larval fish. Slicks are naturally occurring, ribbon-like, smooth water features of the oceans are full of plankton, which is an important food resource. When the researchers started surveys for plankton off the coast of Hawaii, they were surprised to find lots of plastic in the nets. "It was completely unexpected," said Dr Williams. "The fact that the plastics outnumber the larval fish was astonishing." Plastic densities in surface slicks off Hawaii were, on average, eight times higher than the plastic densities recently found in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. Inside the slicks there were seven times more plastics than there were larval fish. "We were shocked to find that so many of our samples were dominated by plastics," said Dr Jonathan Whitney, a marine ecologist for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). After dissecting hundreds of larval fish, the researchers discovered that many fish species ingested plastic particles. "We found tiny plastic pieces in the stomachs of commercially targeted pelagic (open sea) species, including swordfish and mahi-mahi, as well as in coral reef species like triggerfish," said Dr Whitney. Plastics were also found in flying fish, which are eaten by top predators such as tunas and most Hawaiian seabirds.

11-11-19 Ice loss causing Arctic to reflect less heat
A loss of snow and ice cover are the main reasons for a reduction in the Arctic's ability to reflect heat, not soot as had been previously thought. The capacity of the Arctic to reflect heat is determined by something known as the albedo effect. This is a measurement of how well a surface, such as snow or ice, bounces sunlight back into space. Scientists say soot is not the major contributor, as levels have dropped recently, while warming has continued. The findings have been published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The Arctic region has warmed significantly since the 1980s, up to three times as much as the average seen elsewhere across the globe. Much of this warming has been attributed to the reduction of the surface albedo effect. When sunlight hits a white surface such as snow and ice, more of it is reflected back into space without warming its surroundings than when light hits a darker surface. Thus, darker surfaces tend to absorb more heat. As the albedo effect in the Arctic is reduced, there is a positive feedback effect because, as the region warms, more and more ice and snow cover is lost. As a result, more dark areas are left exposed to sunlight. This results in an amplification in the cycle of warming, a phenomenon that has been described as the Arctic Amplification. The team of scientists from the US used satellite data, which stretches back to the early 1980s, to determine the level of the albedo effect in the Arctic. They found that sea-ice, snow on top of sea-ice and ice on land contributed equally to the region's albedo effect. "These three factors contributed almost equally to the reduction of the surface albedo," explained co-author Hailong Wang, an earth scientist from Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in the US. Within the scientific community, there had been a considerable level of debate over the role of soot blowing up from urban areas to the Arctic. One view was that it played a significant role in the reduction of the albedo effect in the Arctic because the dark soot would absorb more sunlight, thus increasing warming. Dr Wang and his team considered this in their study: "We tried to quantify that impact as well," he said. "Soot absorption in snow and ice have had a minimal impact on the reduction of the albedo effect." He told BBC News that the study was able to calculate for the first time the impact of snow cover on sea ice - considered to be equal to the albedo effect of sea-ice and terrestrial ice - as a result of the study's modelling.

11-11-19 Climate change: Bigger hurricanes are now more damaging
The biggest and most damaging hurricanes are now three times more frequent than they were 100 years ago, say researchers. Using a new method of calculating the destruction, the scientists say the increase in frequency is "unequivocal". Previous attempts to isolate the impact of climate change on hurricanes have often came up with conflicting results. But the new study says the increase in damage caused by these big cyclones is linked by global warming. One of the big questions that scientists have wrestled with is how to compare storm events from different eras. Is the increase in financial damages recorded over the last century simply down to the fact there are now more people living in the paths of hurricanes, who are generally wealthier? Previous research has concluded that the rise in damages was related to wealth, and not to any statistically significant change in frequency. However this new paper challenges that view. Instead of looking at economic damage, the authors looked at the amount of land that was totally destroyed by more than 240 storms between 1900 and 2018, based on insurance industry databases. As an example, the researchers examined Hurricane Irma that hit Florida in 2017. Around 1.1 million people were living inside the 10,000 sq km closest to the storm's landfall. With the wealth per capita estimated to be $194,000, the scientists concluded that the overall wealth in this 10,000 sq km region was $215bn. As the storm caused $50bn worth of damage, this was 23% of the wealth in the region. Taking 23% of the 10,000 sq km gave an area of total destruction of 2,300 sq km. mBy working out similar figures for events across the last century, the researchers were able to make what they say are more realistic comparisons in terms of damage over the decades. The authors found that the frequency of the most damaging hurricanes had increased by a rate of 330% per century. And they believe that is mainly due to rising temperatures.

11-11-19 Climate change: Speed limits for ships can have 'massive' benefits
Cutting the speed of ships has huge benefits for humans, nature and the climate, according to a new report. A 20% reduction would cut greenhouse gases but also curb pollutants that damage human health such as black carbon and nitrogen oxides. This speed limit would cut underwater noise by 66% and reduce the chances of whale collisions by 78%. UN negotiators will meet in London this week to consider proposals to curb maritime speeds. Ships, of all sorts and sizes, transport around 80% of the world's goods by volume. However they are also responsible for a significant portion of global greenhouse emissions thanks to the burning of fuel. Shipping generates roughly 3% of the global total of warming gases - that's roughly the same quantity as emitted by Germany. While shipping wasn't covered by the Paris climate agreement, last year the industry agreed to cut emissions by 50% by 2050 compared to 2008 levels. This new study, carried out for campaign groups Seas at Risk and Transport & Environment builds on existing research that suggests that slowing down ships is a good idea if you want to curb greenhouse gases. The report though also considers a range of other impacts of a speed cut such as on air pollution and marine noise. As ships travel more slowly they burn less fuel, which means there are also savings in black carbon, sulphur and nitrogen oxides. The last two in particular have serious impacts on human health, particularly in cities and coastal areas close to shipping lanes. The report found that cutting ship speed by 20% would cut sulphur and nitrogen oxides by around 24%. There are also significant reductions in black carbon, which are tiny black particles contained in the smoke from ship exhausts. Cutting black carbon helps limit climate warming in the Arctic region because when ships burn fuel in the icy northern waters, the particles often fall on snow, and restrict its ability to reflect back sunlight, which accelerates heating in the Arctic region.

11-11-19 Durwood Zaelke: How your air conditioning could help to save the planet
Durwood Zaelke’s eye for an environmental “quick fix” has arguably saved the world half a degree Celsius of warming. The environmental lawyer is the little-known driving force behind a key amendment to what's been called the most successful climate treaty ever. The BBC's Hannah Long-Higgins meets him and finds that there are deeply personal reasons driving him.

11-11-19 Is climate change to blame for Australia's bushfires?
Australia is enduring a bushfire crisis that has left three people dead, razed more than 150 homes, and prompted warnings of "catastrophic" danger. Bushfires are a regular feature in the Australian calendar, but the blazes in New South Wales and Queensland have not previously occurred on such a scale and so early in the fire season, officials say. This has led many Australians to ask how closely the fires can be linked to climate change. The science around climate change is complex - it's not the cause of bushfires but scientists have long warned that a hotter, drier climate would contribute to Australia's fires becoming more frequent and more intense. But the nation's political leaders are facing a backlash for batting away questions on the subject. On Sunday, Prime Minister Scott Morrison refused to answer a question about climate change, saying: "My only thoughts today are with those who have lost their lives and their families." When asked the same question, New South Wales Premier Gladys Berejiklian told reporters: "Honestly, not today." Some Australians agreed, but others were furious the question was being ignored. Mr Morrison later tweeted to offer "thoughts and prayers" to those affected, but critics compared that to rhetoric used by US lawmakers who have opposed gun reforms after mass shootings. Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack stoked the most anger, when on Monday he dismissed climate change as the concerns of "raving inner-city lefties" who were ignoring the needs of rural Australians. "We've had fires in Australia since time began," he said. The nation's target under the Paris Agreement - the global deal to tackle rising global temperatures - is a 26-28% reduction in emissions by 2030. Some have criticised that as inadequate for a G20 country. Last year, the UN reported that Australia - the world's largest coal exporter - was not on track to meet its commitment.

11-10-19 Australia bushfires: Sydney facing 'catastrophic' threat
Australia is warning of a "catastrophic" bushfire threat to its largest city Sydney and surrounding areas on Tuesday. Residents in vulnerable communities are being urged to leave and seek shelter in shopping centres. At least three people are dead and thousands have been displaced by a weekend of bushfires in Australia. On Sunday more than 100 blazes were still burning across New South Wales (NSW) and Queensland. Prime Minister Scott Morrison - who was heckled by a climate change protester as he briefed reporters - refused to be drawn on whether climate change could have contributed to the fires. "My only thoughts today are with those who have lost their lives and their families," he said. Sydney is facing potentially catastrophic conditions for the first time since new fire warnings were introduced a decade ago. The Hunter region to the north is also at risk. Temperatures are expected to reach 37C in the city on Tuesday. Conditions are expected to be worse than on Friday, when the firestorms began tearing through parts of eastern Australia. "Under these conditions, these fires will spread quickly and threaten homes and lives," NSW Rural Fire Service said in a statement. Schools in vulnerable areas will be closed and firefighters from New Zealand have been flown in to help as weary emergency crews prepare for a fresh onslaught. Mr Morrison says the military could also be called upon to support the 1,300 firefighters working in the two states. Hundreds of civilians have also volunteered to help in affected areas. In Queensland, thousands of people spent the night in evacuation centres while officials assessed whether it was safe for them to return home. Fire officials in NSW have confirmed that more than 150 homes have been destroyed.

11-10-19 Iran oil: New field with 53bn barrels found - Rouhani
A new oil field that would increase Iran's proven reserves by about a third has been discovered, President Hassan Rouhani has said. The field, in the south-western province of Khuzestan and about 2,400 sq km (926 sq miles) in area, contains 53 billion barrels of crude, he said. Iran has been struggling to sell oil abroad because of tough US sanctions. They were imposed after the US pulled out of a nuclear deal with world powers last year. "We have found an oil field with 53 billion barrels of oil in place, 53 billion barrels. This is in a big oil field that stretches 2,400 sq km from Bostan to Omidiyeh. The oil layer has a depth of 80m (262ft)," he said during a speech in the central city of Yazd. Iran's oil revenues will increase by $32bn (£25bn) "if extraction rate from the oil field increases only 1%", he added. "I am telling the White House that in the days when you sanctioned the sale of Iranian oil, the country's workers and engineers were able to discover 53 billion barrels of oil," he is quoted as saying by the semi-official Fars news agency. The new oil field could become Iran's second largest field after the one containing 65 billion barrels in Ahvaz, says the AP news agency. Iran is one of the world's largest oil producers, with exports worth billions of dollars each year. Its existing proven reserves are of some 150 billion barrels, Mr Rouhani said. It has the world's fourth-biggest oil reserves and second-largest gas reserves, and shares a massive offshore field in the Persian Gulf with Qatar. (Webmaster's comment: More fuel for the global warming fire.)

11-9-19 Australia bushfires: Two dead in New South Wales blazes
At least two people are dead and seven others missing in "unprecedented" bushfires in Australia. As the fire emergency continued into its second day on Saturday, officials confirmed that more than 150 homes in New South Wales had burned down. Thousands of people were forced to leave their homes, while bridges, schools and power lines were destroyed. NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian warned the number of casualties would continue to rise throughout the day. The two known victims were killed by a fire near Glen Innes, about 550 km (340 miles) north of Sydney. About 1,000 firefighters are attempting to tackle the blazes in New South Wales, supported by water-bombing aircraft. There are reports of people trapped in their homes in several places, with crew unable to reach them due to the strength of the fires. Gusty winds and up to 35C heat have exacerbated the fires, many of which are in drought-affected areas. In Queensland, thousands of people spent the night in evacuation centres while officials assessed whether it was safe for them to return home. And NSW Rural Fire Service Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons said there would be little reprieve in fire conditions over the next week, or throughout the summer months of December, January and February. "The forecast for the balance of the season continues to be driven by above-normal temperatures (and) below-average rainfall to dominate over the coming months," he told Reuters news agency. At one point on Friday, 17 emergency-level fires were burning simultaneously across NSW.

11-9-19 Geology, not CO2, controlled monsoon intensity in Asia’s ancient past
Over millions of years, tectonic shifts modified the strength of the seasonal rains. Shifting tectonic plates, not atmospheric carbon dioxide levels, controlled the strength of the powerful East Asian monsoon throughout its history, scientists say. The monsoon is a seasonal system of winds that brings heavy rains to a vast swath of Asia, from India to Taiwan, each summer. The rains are a vitally important source of water for agriculture. Some previous research has suggested that past eras known to have had high atmospheric CO2 levels and warmer temperatures might also have been times of fluctuating monsoon intensity. The implication that monsoons are far more sensitive to climate change than once thought is alarming in a warming world: Dramatic change in monsoon intensity in the near future would threaten food security for over a billion people. Yet the new study offers some potentially good news on that front: Even during very warm periods in Earth’s past, such as the Eocene Epoch that lasted from 56 million to 34 million years ago, the monsoon’s intensity wasn’t much different than it is today. Alexander Farnsworth, a paleoclimatologist at the University of Bristol in England, and colleagues combined plate tectonic reconstructions with paleotemperature “proxies” that provide clues to past climatic conditions. Such proxies, found in and near the Tibetan Plateau, include ancient fossils and pollen, as well as sedimentary deposits. Using these data, the team reconstructed the evolution of the monsoon going back 150 million years. What really exerted control over changes in the monsoon’s intensity were Earth’s slowly but constantly shifting landmasses, the team reports October 30 in Science Advances.

11-8-19 Skeptics
Skeptics, after new data revealed that last month was the hottest October globally ever recorded. Temperatures were 1.24 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than the average from 1981 to 2010.

11-8-19 Global cities could be wiped out by rising seas
Rising seas will leave some of the world’s great cities uninhabitable by 2050 and affect three times more people than previously thought, a new study has found. Researchers at U.S. science organization Climate Central say that unless carbon emissions are significantly cut, land areas where 150 million people now live will be below the high-tide mark by the middle of the century. And if climate change and sea level rise accelerate, up to 340 million people could be threatened by tidal flooding at least once a year—more than triple previous estimates. Asia would be hit especially hard. Under the more modest prediction, southern Vietnam would all but disappear into the sea. Mumbai, India’s financial capital and home to some 20 million people, and Shanghai, one of the world’s economic engines, could be wiped out. The reason behind the sharp upward revision is that previous research used data from satellites not equipped to differentiate between the actual ground level and the tops of trees and buildings, so land elevation estimates worldwide were off by about 6½ feet. The new research used artificial intelligence to compensate for those misreadings. “We’ve had a huge blind spot as to the degree of danger,” study co-author Benjamin Strauss tells The Washington Post, “and that’s what we’ve been striving to improve.”

11-8-19 U.S. to exit Paris climate deal
The Trump administration formally notified the United Nations this week that it will withdraw from the Paris climate agreement, making the U.S. the first of nearly 200 countries to leave it. The 2015 agreement outlines steps to limit global warming to 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, and the Obama administration set a target of cutting U.S. emissions 13 to 15 percent below 2005 levels by 2025. The White House gave notice on the first day that the accord’s complicated rules allow the U.S. to begin a withdrawal; it would take effect the day after the 2020 presidential election. Every Democratic presidential candidate has pledged to rejoin the accord if elected, and 24 states plus Puerto Rico said they would continue honoring the deal’s goals.

11-8-19 Toxic air
Authorities in India’s capital declared a public health emergency this week as thick smog choked residents and flights were canceled because of low visibility. Schools were shuttered and parents told to keep children indoors. Pollution in New Delhi is literally off the charts, with the air quality index at the upper limit of 999; the normal range is 0 to 50. Breathing that air has the same health effect as smoking 50 cigarettes a day, said medical experts. “Delhi has turned into a gas chamber,” said the city’s chief minister, Arvind Kejriwal. Scientists say the haze is caused by a combination of harvest-time crop burning, car exhaust, smoke from Diwali fireworks, and stagnant weather conditions that have trapped those airborne pollutants over the city.

11-8-19 Climate change: Sea ice loss linked to spread of deadly virus
The decline in sea ice seen in the Arctic in recent decades has been linked by scientists to the spread of a deadly virus in marine mammals. Researchers found that Phocine distemper virus (PDV) had spread from animals in the North Atlantic to populations in the North Pacific. The scientists say the spread of pathogens could become more common as ice declines further. The 15-year study tracked seals, sea lions and otters via satellite. The loss of sea ice in the Arctic has been one of the most visible signs of climate change on the planet over the past four decades. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the ice has been retreating by around 12% per decade between 1979 and 2018. "These sea ice changes in September are likely unprecedented for at least 1,000 years. Arctic sea ice has thinned, concurrent with a transition to younger ice. Between 1979 and 2018, the real proportion of multi-year ice that is at least five years old has declined by approximately 90%," the IPCC said in their report on the oceans and the cryosphere published in September. Against this changing background, researchers have investigated the likely spread of the PDV infection, which caused a large number of deaths among harbour seals in the North Atlantic in 2002. But outbreaks of the virus had not been seen in marine creatures in the North Pacific until 2004 when PDV was found in northern sea otters in Alaska. Samples were collected from 2,500 marine mammals in a variety of locations over the course of the study. Satellite data from tagged animals recorded locations. This was correlated with data on sea ice loss. The scientists say that the record melt in August 2002 was followed by widespread exposure and infection with PDV in Steller sea lions in the North Pacific in 2003 and 2004 with over 30% of animals testing positive. PDV prevalence then declined until it peaked again in 2009, following on from the presence of open water routes in 2008.

11-8-19 Emperor penguins could go extinct by 2100 if we fail on climate change
Unchecked climate change could drive emperor penguins to extinction by the end of the century as sea ice vanishes. But if the world delivers on the toughest target of the Paris climate agreement, of limiting global temperature rises to 1.5°C, then numbers of the iconic species will decline by less than a third. Stephanie Jenouvrier at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts found that the future of emperor penguins hinges on international climate efforts rather than their ability to adapt and move to new homes. “Penguins are this indicator species, this canary in the coal mine, they are warning us of the future effect of climate. The big message is we need to listen to the penguins, and implement policies to meet the Paris agreement’s objective, and we need to do that now,” she says. Disappearing sea ice affects emperor penguins directly because they rely on it for their nine-month breeding season, as well as a place to moult and escape from predators. But the ice is also crucial for the species because it influences the food they rely on, including krill. Sea ice changes are already affecting emperor penguins, with breeding failures for three years in a row at their second biggest colony in the Antarctic pinned on early break-up of ice used for breeding. To examine the fate of the world’s estimated 595,000 emperors as the planet warms, Jenouvrier and her colleagues modelled future colonies and populations under three different scenarios: hitting the Paris deal’s top target of 1.5°C, its minimum goal of no more than 2°C, and what would happen if emissions keep rising as they are today. They combined a global climate model, sea ice projections and different scenarios of how the penguins might disperse, something most studies don’t look at. The result was an 81 to 86 per cent fall in population by 2100 under the business-as-usual scenario, depending on how the animals disperse to new homes.

11-8-19 Australia bushfires: Record number of emergencies in New South Wales
Australian authorities say an "unprecedented" number of emergency-level bushfires are threatening the state of New South Wales (NSW). More than 80 blazes were raging across the state on Friday. Gusty winds and up to 35C heat have exacerbated the fires, many of which are in drought-affected areas. There are reports of people trapped in their homes in several places, with crew unable to reach them due to the strength of the fires. "We are in uncharted territory," said Rural Fire Service Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons. "We have never seen this many fires concurrently at emergency warning level." At one point, 17 emergency-level fires were burning simultaneously across NSW. But fire authorities said that falling temperatures, increases in humidity and helicopter assistance were helping with efforts to tackle the blazes. Authorities have deployed more than 1,000 firefighters and 70 aircraft to save "as many people as possible", Mr Fitzsimmons said. The Rural Fire Service tweeted on Friday that "due to the size and speed of the fires we couldn't get to everyone, even by road or helicopter". The blazes are spread across about 1,000 km (621 miles) of Australia's coast, stretching the emergency response. Some people were warned to seek shelter from fires rather than flee, as it was now too late to leave. Emergency warnings were also issued on Friday for bushfires burning in Queensland and Western Australia. In NSW, the worst-hit state, crews have fought hundreds of fires since September. Last month, two people died while trying to protect their home. Last week, one blaze burned though 2,000 hectares of bush which contained a koala sanctuary. Hundreds of the animals were feared to have died. More than half the koalas living at another sanctuary may have also been killed by wildfires, according to charity Koala Conservation Australia.

11-7-19 Does Andy Beshear's win mean Kentucky is ready to move off coal?
Tuesday's election results brought some upsets, perhaps none more dramatic than Kentucky's gubernatorial race: In that deep red state, where President Trump's commitment to defending the coal industry helped him win by 30 points in 2016, a Democrat nonetheless just eked out a win for governor. Kentuckians' understandable desire for economic prosperity, their association of that prosperity with coal, and the resulting perception that they must support Republicans to defend coal, have all formed a tightly-mortared political brick wall — one that's been nearly impossible for Democrats to break through. Tuesday's results certainly don't portend a collapse of that wall. But they do suggest some cracks are growing. First, let's set this event in its proper context, so no one gets too excited. Democrat Andy Beshear, up until now Kentucky's Attorney General, and the son of the state's last Democratic governor, appears to have won by the thinnest of margins. His opponent and the current governor, Republican Matt Bevin, has yet to concede. Bevin is known for an exceedingly abrasive style, and has won no favors in Kentucky by picking fights with everyone from state public employees to journalists to judges. In particular, Bevin got into battles with the state's teachers, a popular constituency that Beshear eagerly embraced. Basically, Bevin went out of his way to make himself toxic despite the popularity of the GOP's national brand in the state, and Beshear still just squeaked by. Nor did Beshear exactly go out of his way to yoke himself to the Democratic Party's climate warriors or the idea of a Green New Deal. When Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) a presidential candidate and one of the GND's biggest boosters, campaigned in Kentucky, Beshear notably didn't join him. When asked about climate change and the Democrats' enthusiasm for a GND, Beshear largely ignored that specific program and responded in more general terms about the need to diversify the state's energy portfolio with "as many renewables as possible."

11-7-19 A deadly seal virus may be spreading faster due to melting Arctic ice
The spread of a deadly virus in seals may be connected to loss of Arctic sea ice due to global warming. The virus, called phocine distemper virus or PDV, is the seal equivalent of measles and causes a disease affecting the brain and lungs. Many harbour seals die from the disease, says Tracey Goldstein at the University of California, Davis. “In other seals we see sporadic deaths but not a large mass mortality like what we see in harbour seals,” she says. Goldstein and her team collected blood and nasal swab samples from over 2500 sea otters, sea lions and various species of seal, in the north of the Pacific Ocean between 2001 and 2016 and tested them for PDV. Using satellite images, they assessed the presence of routes through the Arctic Ocean, due to melting sea ice, over the same period. The researchers detected major peaks in virus infection in north of the Pacific Ocean otters, sea lions and seals in 2003 and 2009, which were associated with the presence of a route through melted Arctic sea ice in the preceding years. This was the first time the virus had been detected in sea otters, which, along with sea lions, can spread the infection to seals. In 2002, an outbreak in the north of the Atlantic Ocean killed 30,000 seals. A year later, the team detected PDV in the north of the Pacific Ocean for the first time. That year, over 30 per cent of sea mammals they tested in the north of the Pacific Ocean were infected with PDV, suggesting the virus crossed the Arctic. James Wellahan at the University of Florida says that if we fail to tackle climate change, the spread of PDV could lead to the loss of entire species. “When you have a planet that is undergoing massive change like this, and we’re damaging their food sources with over fishing, all of this just adds up to more pressure against the species,” says Wellehan.

11-6-19 11 years remain to fight climate change – what progress have we made?
No planet B | In 2018, we were told we had 12 years to save the planet. One year on, Graham Lawton finds reasons to be hopeful, despite ever-rising carbon emission. “WE HAVE to do everything, and we have to do it immediately.” That quote, from climate scientist Piers Forster at the University of Leeds, UK, has haunted me ever since I wrote it down almost a year ago. I was interviewing Forster for a piece on limiting global warming to 1.5°C. Like many senior scientists from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), he remains institutionally optimistic that we can pull off a rescue. But he didn’t mince his words. That was just after an IPCC report spelled out the scale and speed of the changes needed to avoid catastrophic warming of more than 1.5°C. It was widely reported as giving us “12 years to save the planet” – not entirely accurate, but not entirely wrong either, and a useful rallying cry for action. We now have 11 years. So it’s a good time to ask, with another year over, what have we done? I put this question to another titan in the climate ecosystem, Petteri Taalas, secretary-general of the World Meteorological Organization. I asked him what had actually happened since the 1.5°C report came out. His answer can be summarised in two words: not much. Carbon emissions and consumption of fossil fuels are still rising, he admitted. But, he said, “the mental attitude has changed… sentiment has moved in the right direction”. Really? Is that all we have? Sure, sentiment matters, but Greta Thunberg alone can’t achieve the hard yards of getting emissions down. I felt like Talaas was putting a brave face on an increasingly hopeless situation. A few weeks on from our conversation, however, my gloom has lifted a little. I’m not about to do a U-turn: we are still in deep trouble. But if you look behind the headline figures on greenhouse gas emissions and fossil fuel consumption, there are glimmers of light.

11-6-19 Here's how we can stop a mountain of electric car batteries piling up
More than a million electric cars were bought globally in the first half of this year, the same number sold across the whole of 2017. In the UK, sales of pure electric cars were up 151 per cent last month. Such signs of rapid growth are good news for air quality and climate change, but research out today warns of a potential sting in the tail. There is no such thing as an electric car battery waste mountain, yet. However, the number of cars set to be sold globally this year could one day lead to more than 500,000 tonnes of battery waste, five times that of all the portable batteries recycled in the European Union annually. Those lithium-ion car batteries will need to be recycled or pose an environmental and safety risk, according to Laura Driscoll at the University of Birmingham, UK, and her colleagues. Whether that translates into a challenge or opportunity depends on what carmakers and governments do next. “It’s a challenge because most current generation batteries aren’t designed for recycling,” says Driscoll. For example, Tesla’s high-end cars use packs of cylindrical battery cells, which in some cases are bonded into a battery module, making them hard to remove and recycle – though the company says it is working to improve this. Nissan’s Leaf model, by contrast, uses a pouch of rectangular cells which are easier to open and separate for recycling. There is no standardisation among car makers on battery packs, and little sign of any coming soon. “If the battery packs were more of a standard design, it would make the process at end-of-life much easier,” says Driscoll. Most electric car batteries should have a lifetime of around 15 to 20 years. While their first decade will probably be in a car, some have already gone on to a second life as Tesla Powerwall-style batteries in homes, and more will follow. Still, eventually they will need to be recycled.

11-6-19 General election 2019: Greens call for £100bn a year for climate action
The Green Party have launched their general election campaign with a call for £100bn a year to be spent on tackling the climate "emergency". Co-leader Sian Berry said: "Some things are even bigger than Brexit. This must be the climate election. The future won't get another chance." The party says it would fund the pledge by borrowing £91.2bn a year, with an extra £9bn from "tax changes". The party also set out plans to make Britain carbon neutral by 2030. The government has already committed to cut carbon emissions to net zero by 2050, a move announced by former Prime Minister Theresa May before she left office earlier this year. At the Green Party for England and Wales election campaign launch in Bristol, Ms Berry said: "Let's be honest about the situation we're in. We know these are dark times. It's easy to fear the future. "The threat of Brexit hangs over our heads, the climate emergency rages from the Amazon to the Arctic, and our fragile democracy is under attack. "But despite all this, Greens don't fear the future. "We welcome the future. Because we know that we stand at the threshold of what could be the most exciting and prosperous period of British history." The Green Party supports another EU referendum and is in talks with the Liberal Democrats and Plaid Cymru about forming a "Remain alliance" to stop Brexit. The deal would see candidates stand aside for each other to increase the chances of a Remain-supporting MP being elected. Green Party co-leader Jonathan Bartley said the alliance hoped to target "around 50 seats", telling BBC Politics Live: "The idea is to get the biggest Remain party bloc in the Parliament." He admitted some local Green Party branches were against the idea of standing aside for a Lib Dem or Plaid Cymru candidate. "Some want to, some are not so keen," he said, but he hoped a deal would "go through" and would be announced "quite soon".

11-6-19 Extinction Rebellion: High Court rules London protest ban unlawful
A police ban on Extinction Rebellion protests in London last month was unlawful, High Court judges have ruled. The Metropolitan Police imposed the ban, which prevented two or more people from the group taking part in protests, under the Public Order Act. But judges have ruled that police had no power to do this because the law did not cover "separate assemblies". Activists say the police could now face claims for false imprisonment from "potentially hundreds" of protesters. The Met said it would "carefully consider" the ruling. The protests cost £24m to police and led to 1,828 arrests, with 165 people charged with offences, the Met says. During the court hearing, the force had argued that the ban was the only way to tackle widespread disruption. Announcing their judgement, however, Lord Justice Dingemans and Mr Justice Chamberlain ruled in favour of Extinction Rebellion. Lord Justice Dingemans said: "Separate gatherings, separated both in time and by many miles, even if co-ordinated under the umbrella of one body, are not a public assembly within the meaning of... the Act. "The XR [Extinction Rebellion] autumn uprising intended to be held from October 14 to 19 was not therefore a public assembly... therefore the decision to impose the condition was unlawful because there was no power to impose it under... the Act." The judges noted that there are powers within that act which may be used lawfully to "control future protests which are deliberately designed to 'take police resources to breaking point"'. During 10 days of climate change protests last month, activists shut down areas around Parliament and the Bank of England, and targeted London City Airport. Police had previously warned protesters to keep demonstrations in Trafalgar Square, or risk arrest - before issuing a city-wide ban on 14 October, under Section 14 of the Public Order Act.

11-6-19 Why is India's pollution much worse than China's?
As India's north continues to struggle with extreme pollution levels, the story has put a fresh spotlight on air quality in cities across Asia. Beijing has long been notorious for its smog - but statistics show that India, Pakistan and Bangladesh have worse air by far. So why is South Asia so much more polluted? Of the world's most polluted 30 cities, 22 are in India, according to research by IQ AirVisual, a Swiss-based group that gathers air-quality data globally, and Greenpeace. The remaining eight cities are all in Pakistan, Bangladesh and China - but the list doesn't include Beijing, which comes in at number 122. Just looking at global capitals, it's also Asian cities that top the ranking. Looking at overall countries, it's Bangladesh that has the worst air, followed by Pakistan and then India. All these rankings are based on average air quality per year. As these countries have very different densities of measuring stations and transparency of data, the statistics have to be read with a degree of caution. But they certainly indicate an overall trend. Pollution in urban areas is usually a mix of different factors - mostly traffic, fossil fuel burning power plants and heavy industries. What differentiates China from India is that in the latter, there is still a lot of burning of agricultural stubble when farmers want to clear their fields. The burning usually takes place in autumn. "In this episode, the big problem really seems to have been the agricultural burning," assistant professor Thomas Smith of the London School of Economics told the BBC. "That's one thing that China has tackled. All agricultural burning has been banned, full stop." A global overview for fires and thermal abnormalities is made available by Nasa, and allows users to track developments over past days and weeks. The area north-west of Delhi shows a highly unusual concentration of fires, Prof Smith points out.

11-6-19 Delhi air pollution 'killing our children'
Air pollution in India's capital Delhi has reached more than 20 times the World Health Organization's safe limit. It is causing respiratory illnesses in people, and children are worst affected, reports the BBC's Rajini Vaidyanathan.

11-6-19 Teabags: Is there plastic in yours?
You've poured the kettle. The tea has brewed. Now how should you dispose of the teabag? The bin? The food waste? The compost heap? Other recycling? Landfill, up until recently, would have been the correct answer because teabags have traditionally been sealed with a very small amount of plastic - made from oil. That is now changing, with many companies looking to find a more eco-friendly alternative. But have some gone too far with their claims? Clipper, the UK's sixth biggest tea brand, declares its bags "plastic free". But when you look at the small print it says the company uses a bio-plastic to seal the bags - made from plant material rather than oil. When the BBC pointed out that some experts consider bio-plastic to still be a type of plastic, Clipper said it would update its website to make the information clearer. It now says the material it uses, known as PLA (polylactic acid), is "not a plastic in the way we believe people most commonly think of plastics". Clipper boxes are still labelled "plastic-free". Prof Mark Miodownik, a materials specialist at University College London, says most plastics are made from petrochemicals, but some - known as bio-plastics - are created using plant-based materials, such as corn or potato. According to him, PLA - the sealant used by Clipper - is a plastic and "in this case it is still a single-use plastic". Clipper says the material is "entirely natural, biodegradable and much more environmentally friendly". A spokeswoman added: "Although a bio-polymer could technically be described as a bio-plastic, it is very different to the oil-based plastics which people are rightly concerned about." Yorkshire Tea announced last month that it was hoping to release new renewable and biodegradable teabags by the end of November. Its first attempt last year was "a bit of a disaster" - its own words, and the view of social media - with bags falling apart in people's cups.

11-6-19 Huge amounts of abandoned fishing gear litter the world's oceans
Hundreds of thousands of tonnes of lost, abandoned and discarded fishing gear litter the world’s oceans. In some areas, this gear accounts for 30 per cent of the catch, trapping turtles, seabirds and whales as well as commercially fished species. Kelsey Richardson at CSIRO, Australia’s national science research agency, and her colleagues combined 68 studies from 32 countries and territories to assess the scale of the problem. The team found that 6 per cent of nets, 9 per cent of traps and 29 per cent of lines are lost to the ocean each year from commercial fishing. While the line losses are highest in percentage terms, these were often just a section of line, whereas when a trawl net was lost this frequently meant the entire trawling gear. The researchers found that the most common causes of loss were bad weather, gear getting caught on the sea floor and “gear conflict”, where pieces of equipment get tangled up with each other. Types of nets that drag along the sea bed are the most likely to be lost. Previous studies have revealed that “ghost fishing” by abandoned gear can catch vast quantities of fish. This includes up to 5 per cent of the catch in the Baltic Sea and up to 30 per cent of Norway’s Greenland halibut. Studies tend to focus on the waters around Europe and the US and little is known about the African, Asian, South American and Oceania regions. Abandoned gear makes up much of the plastic waste in the world’s oceans, including 46 per cent of the plastic in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. “When plastic fishing gear pollutes our global ocean, it can persist for hundreds of years. We haven’t been using synthetics long enough to see plastic fishing gear disappear or entirely break down,” says Richardson.

11-6-19 Nuclear fusion is 'a question of when, not if'
The prospects for developing nuclear fusion as a feasible source of energy have significantly improved, say experts. The UK government has recently announced an investment of £200m to deliver electricity from a fusion reactor by 2040. Private companies and governments have told the BBC they aim to have demonstration models working within five years. But huge hurdles remain, say critics. With the price of wind and solar continuing to drop, experts say these existing renewables might offer a more economical and timely method of tackling climate change and generating energy than an unproven technology like fusion. Nuclear fusion is an attempt to replicate the processes of the Sun on Earth. It differs significantly from nuclear fission, which has been our only way of getting electricity from atoms since the 1950s. Fission has proven to be hugely expensive. It generates large amounts of radioactive waste and raises serious concerns about safety and the proliferation of weapons. Fusion is the process that drives our Sun. Every single second, millions of tonnes of hydrogen atoms crash together in the tremendous temperatures and pressures of our parent star. This forces them to break their atomic bonds and fuse to make the heavier element, helium. Natural, solar fusion generates enormous quantities of heat and light. For decades, researchers have been trying to replicate this process on Earth, or "build the Sun in a box" as one physicist dubbed it. The basic idea is to take a type of hydrogen gas, heat it to more than 100 million degrees until it forms a thin, fragile cloud called a plasma, and then control it with powerful magnets until the atoms fuse and release energy. Potentially, it can generate power that is low carbon, with much smaller amounts of waste. It also comes without the danger of explosions. To deliver the fusion concept, countries have focused their energies on a major international co-operative effort called Iter.


SCIENCE - EVOLUTION and GENETICS

11-12-19 Millions in U.S. Lost Someone Who Couldn't Afford Treatment
More than 13% of American adults -- or about 34 million people -- report knowing of at least one friend or family member in the past five years who died after not receiving needed medical treatment because they were unable to pay for it, based on a new study by Gallup and West Health. Nonwhites, those in lower-income households, those younger than 45, and political independents and Democrats are all more likely to know someone who has died under these circumstances.

  • 34 million adults know someone who died after not getting treatment
  • 58 million adults report inability to pay for needed drugs in past year
  • Little progress seen by Trump administration in limiting rising drug costs

11-12-19 Some people 'genetically wired' to avoid some vegetables
Hate eating certain vegetables? It could be down to your genes, say US scientists who have done some new research. Inheriting two copies of the unpleasant taste gene provides a "ruin-your-day level of bitterness" to foods like broccoli and sprouts, they say. It could explain why some people find it difficult to include enough vegetables in their diet, they suggest. The gene may also make beer, coffee and dark chocolate taste unpleasant. In evolutionary terms, being sensitive to bitter taste may be beneficial - protecting humans from eating things that could be poisonous. But Dr Jennifer Smith and colleagues from the University of Kentucky School of Medicine say it can also mean some people struggle to eat their recommended five-a-day of fresh fruit and veg. Everyone inherits two copies of a taste gene called TAS2R38. It encodes for a protein in the taste receptors on the tongue which allows us to taste bitterness. People who inherit two copies of a variant of the gene TAS2R38, called AVI, are not sensitive to bitter tastes from certain chemicals. Those with one copy of AVI and another called PAV perceive bitter tastes of these chemicals, but not to such an extreme degree as individuals with two copies of PAV, often called "super-tasters", who find the same foods exceptionally bitter. The scientists studied 175 people and found those with two copies of the bitter taste PAV version of the gene ate only small amounts of leafy green vegetables, which are good for the heart. Dr Smith told medics at a meeting of the American Heart Association: "You have to consider how things taste if you really want your patient to follow nutrition guidelines." The researchers hope to explore whether using spices could help mask the bitter taste and make vegetables more appealing for people who are hard-wired to dislike certain varieties.

11-12-19 A will to survive might take AI to the next level
Researchers argue that the biological principle of homeostasis would make for smarter robots. Like that emotional kid David, played by Haley Joel Osment, in the movie A.I. Or WALL•E, who obviously had feelings for EVE-uh. Robby the Robot sounded pretty emotional whenever warning Will Robinson of danger. Not to mention all those emotional train-wreck, wackadoodle robots on Westworld. But in real life robots have no more feelings than a rock submerged in novocaine. There might be a way, though, to give robots feelings, say neuroscientists Kingson Man and Antonio Damasio. Simply build the robot with the ability to sense peril to its own existence. It would then have to develop feelings to guide the behaviors needed to ensure its own survival. “Today’s robots lack feelings,” Man and Damasio write in a new paper (subscription required) in Nature Machine Intelligence. “They are not designed to represent the internal state of their operations in a way that would permit them to experience that state in a mental space.” So Man and Damasio propose a strategy for imbuing machines (such as robots or humanlike androids) with the “artificial equivalent of feeling.” At its core, this proposal calls for machines designed to observe the biological principle of homeostasis. That’s the idea that life must regulate itself to remain within a narrow range of suitable conditions — like keeping temperature and chemical balances within the limits of viability. An intelligent machine’s awareness of analogous features of its internal state would amount to the robotic version of feelings. Such feelings would not only motivate self-preserving behavior, Man and Damasio believe, but also inspire artificial intelligence to more closely emulate the real thing. (Webmaster's comment: Human's drive to survive has made humans the most brutal and dominate creature on earth. We don't want that drive built into robots!)

11-11-19 UK teen almost died from severe lung failure linked to vaping
Doctors have issued a warning over vaping after a teenager in the UK almost died from serious respiratory failure linked to e-cigarettes. Ewan Fisher, who turns 19 on Tuesday, ended up on life support. He was under age when he purchased vaping equipment over the counter from a shop and had been vaping for four to five months before he was taken ill aged 16. Ewan was treated for hypersensitivity pneumonitis – a type of allergic reaction to something breathed in which results in inflammation of the lung tissue. He became so ill that an exterior artificial lung was used to put oxygen into his blood and pump it around his body. Jayesh Mahendra Bhatt at Nottingham University Hospitals NHS Trust, who treated Ewan, said: “The evidence we gathered showed that it was [vaping] that was to blame.” Ewan, a previous smoker, was admitted to hospital following a week of fever, a persistent cough and increasing difficulty with breathing. His condition deteriorated rapidly and he developed respiratory failure and was put on life support plus intravenous antibiotics and steroids. Ten days later, his condition became critical and he developed severe muscle weakness, requiring a long period of rehabilitation. The teenager told medics “he had recently started to use e-cigarettes fairly frequently, using two different liquids, purchased over the counter”. The listed ingredients for both vaping liquids were the same apart from the unnamed flavourings. After two months, he was still suffering and underwent skin tests with vaping fluid, which made his symptoms worse. Blood samples also showed that he had more antibodies to one of the two liquids, raising the possibility this might have been the source of his reaction. After 14 months, Ewan eventually recovered.

11-11-19 AI can predict if you'll die soon – but we've no idea how it works
rtificial intelligence can predict a person’s chances of dying within a year by looking at heart test results – even when they look normal to doctors. How it does so is a mystery. Brandon Fornwalt at healthcare provider Geisinger in Pennsylvania, US and colleagues tasked an AI with examining 1.77 million electrocardiogram (ECG) results from nearly 400,000 people to predict who was at a higher risk of dying within the next year. An ECG records the electrical activity of the heart. Its pattern changes in cardiac conditions including heart attacks and atrial fibrillation. The team trained two versions of the AI: in one, the algorithm was only given the raw ECG data, which measures voltage over time. In the other, it was fed ECG data in combination with patient age and sex. They measured the AI’s performance using a metric known as AUC, which measures how well a model distinguishes between two groups of people – in this case, patients who died within a year and those who survived. The AI consistently scored above 0.85, where a perfect score is 1 and a score of 0.5 indicates no distinction between the two groups. The AUCs for risk scoring models currently used by doctors range between 0.65 and 0.8, says Fornwalt. For comparison, the researchers also created an algorithm based on ECG features that doctors currently measure, such as certain patterns from the recordings. “No matter what, the voltage-based model was always better than any model you could build out of things that we already measure from an ECG,” says Fornwalt. The AI accurately predicted risk of death even in people deemed by cardiologists to have a normal ECG. Three cardiologists who separately reviewed normal-looking ECGs weren’t able to pick up the risk patterns that the AI detected.

11-9-19 Vitamin E acetate is a culprit in the deadly vaping outbreak, the CDC says
An ingredient often used as a dietary supplement was found in all tested lung fluid samples. For the first time, a chemical potentially responsible for widespread vaping-related lung injuries and deaths in the United States has been found in lung fluid from patients. Researchers detected vitamin E acetate, widely used as a dietary supplement, in every sample of lung fluid collected from 29 patients suffering from the severe illness, health officials announced November 8 in a news briefing and a report. Vitamin E acetate is also an ingredient in some skin care products but could be toxic when inhaled. “We are in a better place than we were two weeks ago, in terms of having one very strong culprit of concern,” said Anne Schuchat, principal deputy director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta. “We still have more to learn.” CDC researchers obtained bronchoalveolar lavage fluid, a sample that contains fluid from the lining of the lungs, from health care workers caring for patients with the injuries, called e-cigarette or vaping-associated lung injury, or EVALI. Twenty-nine patients from 10 states provided the specimens. Vitamin E acetate was the only chemical detected in all of the fluid samples, CDC researchers reported online November 8 in Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. Vitamin E acetate was previously identified by health officials in some vaping products used by patients (SN: 9/6/19). Vitamin E acetate is used as a diluting and thickening ingredient in vaping products that contain tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana. Most EVALI patients have reported using vaping products containing THC; some also used nicotine-containing products. Although vitamin E acetate is considered safe when used in skin creams and as a dietary supplement, research indicates that it could be harmful when inhaled.

11-8-19 Brain implants used to fight drug addiction in US
Patients with severe opioid addiction are being given brain implants to help reduce their cravings, in the first trial of its kind in the US. Gerod Buckhalter, 33, who has struggled with substance abuse for more than a decade with many relapses and overdoses, has already had the surgery. Lead doctor Ali Rezai described the device as a "pacemaker for the brain". But he added it was not a consumer technology and should not be used for "augmenting humans". Mr Buckhalter had his operation on 1 November at the West Virginia University Medicine Hospital. Three more volunteers will also have the procedure. It starts with a series of brain scans. Surgery follows with doctors making a small hole in the skull in order to insert a tiny 1mm electrode in the specific area of the brain that regulate impulses such as addiction and self-control. A battery is inserted under the collarbone, and brain activity will then be remotely monitored by the team of physicians, psychologists and addiction experts to see if the cravings recede. So-called deep brain stimulation (DBS) has been approved by the US Food and Drug Administration for treating a range of conditions including Parkinson's disease, epilepsy and obsessive compulsive disorder. Some 180,000 people around the world have brain implants. This is the first time DBS has been approved for drug addiction and it has been a complex trial, involving many teams, including ethicists, psychologists and many regulators. Over the next two years the patients will be closely monitored. Dr Rezai told the BBC: "Addiction is complex, there are a range of social dynamics at play and genetic elements and some individuals will have a lack of access to treatments so their brains will slowly change and they will have more cravings." "This treatment is for those who have failed every other treatment, whether that is medicine, behavioural therapy, social interventions. It is a very rigorous trial with oversight from ethicists and regulators and many other governing bodies." He points to figures which suggest overdoses are the main cause of death for under-50s in the US.

11-8-19 Trans fats and dementia
Researchers have known for years about the link between trans-fatty acids and heart disease, stroke, and diabetes. Now they’ve found that high levels of trans fats are also tied to a heightened risk of dementia, reports The New York Times. Cheap, industrially produced trans fats are used as taste and texture enhancers in many processed foods, including margarine, cakes, and frozen pizzas. To examine this glop’s connection to dementia, researchers in Japan followed 1,628 men and women, all age 60 or older and with no sign of the disease, for 10 years. They measured the participants’ blood levels of the most common trans fat, elaidic acid, and analyzed their diets. After controlling for factors such as high blood pressure and diabetes, the researchers found that the quarter of the group with the highest levels of trans fats were 50 percent more likely to develop dementia than the quarter with the lowest. Senior author Toshiharu Ninomiya, from Kyushu University, says the observational study cannot prove cause and effect. But he adds that given what we know about trans fats, “it would be better to try to avoid them as much as possible.”

11-8-19 An in-body brewery
A North Carolina man has been diagnosed with a rare condition that causes his body to brew alcohol. The unnamed man, 46, began experiencing strange symptoms after taking antibiotics in 2011. He became depressed and suffered memory loss; on one occasion, despite not having drunk a drop, he was pulled over by police and found to have a blood alcohol level 2.5 times the legal limit. Eventually, researchers concluded he had auto-brewery syndrome, which occurs when fungi or bacteria in the gut convert carbohydrates from food into ethanol. The condition usually affects people with diabetes, obesity, or Crohn’s disease, but can occur in otherwise healthy people. “These patients have the exact same implications of alcoholism: the smell, the breath, drowsiness, gait changes,” lead author Fahad Malik, from the University of Alabama, tells CNN.com. “The only difference here is [they] can be treated by antifungal medications.” Malik and his team believe the man’s antibiotics likely changed his gut biome, allowing fungi to grow in the gastrointestinal tract. Following treatment, he is now symptom-free.

11-8-19 Cradle of humanity found?
Researchers claim to have traced the “homeland” of modern humanity to Botswana. “We have known for a long time that modern humans originated in Africa,” senior author Vanessa Hayes, from the Garvan Institute of Medical Research in Sydney, tells The Guardian. “What we hadn’t known until this study was where exactly.” Hayes’ team based their conclusion on an analysis of 1,217 samples of mitochondrial DNA from people living in southern Africa today, along with geological, archaeological, and fossil evidence. They posit that about 200,000 years ago, our ancestors settled near a huge lake system—now sprawling salt flats—in northern Botswana that was starting to break apart. That would have created a vast wetland brimming with life. After 70,000 years, changes in rainfall opened up corridors of vegetation in the surrounding desert, enabling humans to migrate, first to the northeast and later to the southwest. The analysis has been criticized by some geneticists. They say mitochondrial DNA cannot be used to pinpoint geographical origins in this way, and that lineages in other regions should have been included in the study.

11-8-19 Babies are less afraid when they can smell their mothers
Babies are reassured by the presence of their mother’s scent, according to research that looked at how their brains respond to fear. The idea that a familiar scent can soothe infants is not a new one. “Some midwives tell new mums to put a worn t-shirt or scarf in the crib with their baby,” says Sarah Jessen at the University of Lübeck in Germany. To investigate why this works, Jessen presented photos of happy and fearful face expressions to 7-month-old babies – she says this is the age by which the fear response has developed. Each of the 76 infants viewed the photos while being exposed to either the familiar smell of their mother, a stranger’s odour or no specific odour at all. Jessen also measured electrical signals in the babies’ brains using an EEG cap. Before the experiment, all the babies’ mothers were given a cotton t-shirt, which they slept in for three consecutive nights. The mothers were told to use their normal shampoo, soap and deodorant but to refrain from using any new products. Seeing photographs of fearful face expressions usually induces a fear response in babies, which produces a specific pattern of electrical activity in their brains, but the babies who could smell their mother didn’t have this pattern. These results suggest a baby’s experiences, including of smell, can influence fear processing in their brain. Jessen says she is interested to investigate whether babies have a similar response to their father’s scent or to the scent of other people who they frequently spend time with. “There isn’t much research done on odour in infancy,” says Karla Holmboe at the University of Oxford. She says that work like this helps us understand how babies perceive the world and what influences their development “Infancy is really the foundation of everything, all the skills we learn later in life.”

11-8-19 Mom’s immune system and microbiome may help predict premature birth
How to find and interpret markers of early labor. Every Monday, Jennifer Degl leads a group through the halls of the neonatal intensive care unit at Maria Fareri Children’s Hospital in Valhalla, N.Y. The volunteers offer support to the parents of babies born early and struggling to survive. Seven years ago, Degl, a high school science teacher in Putnam County, was one of those anxious parents. Her daughter, Joy, was born at 23 weeks gestation, weighing just over a pound. The baby spent her first four months in that NICU. Degl wasn’t allowed to hold Joy or change her diaper for a month. Although already a mom to three boys, Degl was completely unprepared for the experience. “People call [the NICU] a roller coaster for a reason,” she says. Joy would gain half an ounce and do well enough for Degl to start the 45-minute drive home to spend time with her sons, only to be called back because the baby was having trouble breathing and needed a breathing tube. “There is no smooth NICU ride,” Degl says. Like Joy, roughly 10 percent of children worldwide — an estimated 15 million babies — are born prematurely, or before 37 weeks gestation, each year. In developed countries, surviving an early birth has become more likely, thanks to the availability of intensive medical care. More than 98 percent of U.S. preemies survive infancy, according to a study published in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology in 2016, though as many as 44 percent of the youngest preemies don’t make it. Survival is least likely in nations with the fewest resources. Worldwide, complications associated with preterm birth are the leading cause of death in children younger than 5 years old.

11-8-19 Neanderthals' cave art skills questioned in dispute over age of images
A row has broken out about the artistic capabilities of our Neanderthal cousins. Last year, a research team announced that cave paintings found in Spain were at least 64,800 years old, implying that the artists were Neanderthals, as modern humans aren’t thought to have arrived in western Europe by that time. Now, a group of 44 researchers has written a strongly worded critique of the dating of these paintings, claiming that “there is still no convincing evidence that Neanderthals created Iberian cave art.” But the team that carried out the dating of the prehistoric paintings is standing firm. “None of the criticisms hold,” says Dirk Hoffmann at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany. “They seem to be driven by the belief that Neanderthals were not able to paint in caves.” Hoffmann is part of a team led by Alistair Pike from the University of Southampton, UK, that has been studying prehistoric cave art in Spain for more than a decade. Last year, the team reported a remarkable analysis of three paintings in the Monte Castillo region of Spain: a rectangular sign, a hand stencil and red traces on stalagmites. These are covered with a mineral called calcite, which precipitates out of water trickling down the cave walls. This calcite contains radioactive uranium, which decays into thorium at a known rate. By comparing the amount of uranium and thorium, the age of the calcite can be deduced and hence so can the age of paintings underneath. Using this technique, Pike and his colleagues determined the calcite to be 64,800 years old, so the paintings underneath must be at least that old. If so, this art dates back to before the arrival of modern humans in western Europe, and it is therefore likely that it was created by Neanderthals instead. It was a ground-breaking discovery, suggesting that the capacity of Neanderthals for symbolic thought was similar to ours and that the ability to make art may have been inherited from the common ancestor we share with Neanderthals, which lived 500,000 years ago.

11-7-19 DNA sites propose security plans to address genetic privacy fears
The two biggest genetic genealogy sites are hoping to introduce major new security measures to protect the DNA of millions of people, following recent concerns over risks to genetic privacy. Anyone who takes a direct-to-consumer DNA test with a company such as 23andme can download the raw data and upload it to third parties, often to help them find relatives. Researchers last week showed attackers could upload faked DNA profiles to create family matches for users of one leading genetic genealogy site, GEDmatch. Another study raised wider concerns about genetic privacy being compromised on similar services. Now two of the biggest third party sites – MyHeritage, which 3 million users, and FamilyTreeDNA, which has 2 million – have told New Scientist they want to address the issue. Paul Maier at FamilyTreeDNA says both services are willing to use encryption keys and cryptographic signing of customer’s raw data files, which would mark them as genuine and prevent the above attacks. But he says that for the measures to be effective it would require the DNA testing firms such as AncestryDNA to also adopt them. “If there’s agreement on their end, this solves the [privacy] concern,” he says. In a paper in the journal Science last year, Yaniv Erlich at MyHeritage called for the establishment of cryptographic signatures by DNA testing firms, with a unique encrypted key created and applied to each test. Genetic genealogy sites could then reject any DNA test results without a signature. He is working with other academic groups on the creation of an open source code for the approach, but says they are a few months off having a working solution. If it was adopted across direct-to-consumer DNA firms and third party sites, he says it would be a “very strong step forward”.

11-7-19 Self-destructing mitochondria may leave some brain cells vulnerable to ALS
In upper motor nerve cells in mice, the cell organelles formed loops that then disintegrated. A newly discovered type of mitochondrial self-destruction may make some brain cells vulnerable to ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. In mice genetically engineered to develop some forms of a degenerative nerve disease similar to amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, energy-generating organelles called mitochondria appear to dismantle themselves without help from usual cell demolition crews. This type of power plant self-destruction was spotted in upper motor neurons, brain nerve cells that help initiate and control movements, but not in neighboring cells, researchers report November 7 in Frontiers in Cellular Neuroscience. Death of those upper motor neurons is a hallmark of ALS, and the self-destructing mitochondria may be an early step that sets those cells up to die later. Pembe Hande Özdinler, a cellular neuroscientist at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago, and her colleagues have dubbed the mitochondrial dissolution “mitoautophagy.” It is a distinct process from mitophagy, the usual way that cellular structures called autophagosomes and lysosomes remove damaged mitochondria from the cell, Özdinler says. Usually, clearing out old or damaged mitochondria is important for cells to stay healthy. When mitochondria sustain too much damage, they may trigger the programmed death of the entire cell, known as apoptosis (SN: 8/9/18). Özdinler’s team spotted what she describes as “awkward” mitochondria in electron microscope images of upper motor neurons from 15-day-old mice. These unweaned mice are equivalent to human teenagers, Özdinler says. ALS typically doesn’t strike until people are 40 to 70 years old. But by the time symptoms appear, motor neurons are already damaged, so Özdinler’s group looked at the young mice to capture the earliest signs of the disease.

11-7-19 A human liver-on-a-chip may catch drug reactions that animal testing can’t
The artificial organ, which mimics a real liver, can help predict drug toxicity or safety. A lab-grown liver stand-in may better predict bad responses to drugs than animal testing does. A human “liver chip” — liver cells grown on a membrane along with several types of supporting cells — formed structures reminiscent of bile ducts and reacted to drugs similarly to intact livers, researchers report November 6 in Science Translational Medicine. Similar rat and dog liver chips also processed drugs like normal livers in those species, allowing scientists to compare human liver cells’ reactions to drugs to those of the other species. Rats, dogs and other animals are often used to test whether drugs are toxic to humans before the drugs are given to people. But a previous study found that the animal tests correctly identified only 71 percent of drug toxicities. The liver chip is designed to catch bad drug reactions that animal tests might miss. For instance, bosentan, an experimental high blood pressure drug, doesn’t harm rats’ livers, but causes bile salts to build in humans’ livers, damaging the organ. Those effects were mimicked by the chips, Kyung-Jin Jang of the Boston-based company Emulate Inc., which makes the chips, and her colleagues found. Some drugs that were toxic to dogs and rats might not harm people, the human liver chip tests also suggest. Development of one experimental compound called JNJ-2 was discontinued because it caused liver fibrosis, or scarring in rats. But the human liver chip didn’t show any bad reactions, suggesting it might be safe for people.

11-7-19 People who lack olfactory bulbs shouldn’t be able to smell. But some women can
The structures are the parts of the brain known to receive sensations of smell from the nose. Some people may be able to smell even without key structures that relay odor information from the nose to the brain. Researchers used brain scans to identify two women who appear to be missing their olfactory bulbs, the only parts of the brain known to receive signals about smell sensations from the nose and send them to other parts of the brain for processing. Both individuals performed similarly to other women with olfactory bulbs on several tests to identify and differentiate odors, the scientists report November 6 in Neuron. The findings challenge conventional views of the olfactory system, and may lead to treatments for people with no sense of smell (SN: 7/2/07). “I’m not sure that our textbook view of how the [olfactory] system works is right,” says Noam Sobel, a neuroscientist at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot, Israel. MRI scans of the women’s brains revealed that where most people have two olfactory bulbs, these two appeared to have cerebrospinal fluid instead. To the researchers, this indicated that the women didn’t have olfactory bulbs. But Jay Gottfried, a neuroscientist at the University of Pennsylvania who was not involved in the study, says “I am not convinced that the women are indeed missing their bulbs.” Some evidence for olfactory bulbs may be undetectable with MRI, like microscopic structures or olfactory tissue that could be found with antibodies, he says. A typical olfactory bulb has about 5,500 nerve clusters called glomeruli. With the MRI resolution used, the researchers calculate that they should be able to see olfactory bulbs with at least 10 glomeruli — about 0.18 percent the size of a normal bulb. But it’s possible the women could have even smaller olfactory bulbs, Sobel acknowledges.

11-7-19 A new dengue vaccine shows promise — at least for now
Further study is needed to ensure people aren’t left vulnerable to future infections. The latest dengue vaccine reduced the occurrence of the disease by about 80 percent in children vaccinated compared with unvaccinated children, researchers report. But the full picture of the vaccine’s safety and effectiveness is still under study, and won’t emerge for several more years. Dengue is responsible for an estimated 390 million infections each year. There’s no cure for the viral disease, which can cause fever, aches, pain and — in severe cases — bleeding, vomiting and rapid loss of blood pressure, which can be fatal. Young children and the elderly are especially vulnerable to developing severe disease. The new vaccine, under development by Takeda Vaccines, is called TAK-003. Among 12,700 children ages 4 to 16 who were given two doses of TAK-003 three months apart, 61 infections occurred, compared with 149 cases among 6,316 children not given the vaccine. TAK-003 also reduced the occurrence of dengue cases that lead to hospitalization by 95 percent: Of the 210 cases of dengue, there were five hospitalizations among the vaccinated children compared with 53 in the unvaccinated ones, researchers report online November 6 in the New England Journal of Medicine. The results describe how the vaccine performed in the year after the second dose; the children, from Asia and Latin America, will continue to be followed another 3½ years. Dengue, one of the world’s most rapidly spreading mosquito-borne diseases, is gaining footholds in new areas thanks to global travel, urbanization and climate change (SN: 10/7/19). Along with measures to control mosquito populations, developing a vaccine is seen as key to fighting dengue, says Derek Wallace, a physician who heads the dengue vaccine development program at Takeda Vaccines in Cambridge, Mass.

11-6-19 Experimental dengue vaccine cuts infection rates in real-world trials
An experimental vaccine for dengue fever is 80 per cent effective at preventing infections, according to preliminary results from a large clinical trial. Dengue fever is a mosquito-borne illness that affects around 390 million people each year. If untreated, it has a mortality rate of 20 per cent. The first vaccine against dengue, called Dengvaxia, began to be rolled out in the Philippines in 2016, but the campaign was halted the following year when safety concerns came to light. Trials showed that the vaccine increases the risk of serious illness in people who have never had a dengue infection. Earlier this year, US regulators approved Dengvaxia, but said it should only be given to people if tests show they have previously been infected with the virus. The new vaccine, developed by Japanese pharmaceutical firm Takeda, is based on a weakened live virus. It has been compared with a placebo in a trial involving more than 20,000 children aged 4 to 16 at 26 sites in Asia and Latin America. Each child received two doses of the vaccine, three months apart. The current results are based on one year of follow-up after the second dose, but a further three years are planned. Unlike Dengvaxia, the new vaccine appears to work well both for people with previous exposure to the virus and for those without. There are four versions of the dengue virus circulating. The vaccine seems to offer good protection against one type and partial protection against at least two of the others. Based on what happened with Dengvaxia, we must wait for more time to find out if these protective results are stable, says Scott Halstead, a retired dengue researcher. Duane Gubler at Duke-NUS Medical School, Singapore, who is a patent holder of the new vaccine, says the results look promising. “If these results hold during long-term follow-up and if the vaccine shows a significant reduction in severe disease, this vaccine, if used properly, could have a major impact on our ability to prevent and control the pandemic of dengue currently ravaging the world,” he says.

11-7-19 Fossils suggest tree-dwelling apes walked upright long before hominids did
The 11.6-million-year-old bones still don’t tell us how members of the genus Homo became bipeds. Tree-dwelling apes in Europe strode upright around 5 million years before members of the human evolutionary family hit the ground walking in Africa. That’s the implication of fossils from a previously unknown ape that lived in what’s now Germany about 11.6 million years ago, say paleontologist Madelaine Böhme of the University of Tübingen in Germany and her colleagues. But the relation, if any, of these finds to the evolution of a two-legged stride in hominids by perhaps 6 million years ago is hazy (SN: 9/11/04). Excavations in a section of a Bavarian clay pit produced 37 fossils from the ancient ape, dubbed Danuvius guggenmosi by the investigators. Bones from the most complete of four individuals represented by the new finds cover about 15 percent of that creature’s skeleton, including nearly complete specimens from the forearm and lower leg, Böhme’s team reports online November 6 in Nature. Earlier research had generated age estimates for fossil-bearing sediment in the German pit. Danuvius’ limbs, spine and body proportions indicate that it could hang from branches, like present-day orangutans and gibbons, as well as walk on two legs slowly, somewhat like hominids that originated in Africa roughly 6 million to 7 million years ago, the researchers say. No other fossil or living ape has moved in trees and on the ground precisely as Danuvius did, they conclude. An ape built like Danuvius likely served as a common ancestor of great apes and hominids that emerged roughly 7 million years ago or more, Böhme contends. If true, Danuvius’ body design would upend the long-standing idea that hominids evolved an upright stance after splitting from a common knuckle-walking, chimplike ancestor in Africa. The new finds also challenge an argument that hominids evolved from ancient apes built much like modern orangutans, which walk upright on tree branches while grasping other branches for support (SN: 7/30/07).

11-6-19 Return of hypnosis: Time to see if it really has a place in medicine
Signs are growing that hypnosis, once the preserve of charlatans, has real medical benefits. We need robust research to find out for sure. DO YOU know what they call alternative medicine that’s been proved to work? Medicine. So says Tim Minchin in his poem “Storm”, in which he makes the case for evidence-led treatment. We have a long history of therapies that first seemed bananas, only to be proved marvellous medicine. In the 1980s, two Australian scientists showed that stomach ulcers were caused by bacteria, not stress. As a result, simple antibiotics could treat a problem once considered incurable. But the medical establishment took some persuading. The pair won a Nobel prize, for having the “tenacity to challenge the prevailing dogma”. Tenacity is just what is needed now, in identifying the place of hypnosis in mainstream medicine (see “What hypnosis does to your brain, and how it can improve your health“). People are right to be sceptical, given its fantastical origins, but evidence is accumulating that hypnosis has real promise as a medical therapy – helping doctors perform surgery with fewer side effects and at lower cost, minimising chronic pain, improving weight loss techniques and potentially aiding an international addiction crisis. But no establishment should accept any alternative medicine until we have solid evidence of what works, and what doesn’t. Tenacity only gets you so far. We also need investment and rigorous studies. When it comes to hypnosis, these are still in short supply. For instance, despite its popularity as a means to quit smoking, a recent review found no good evidence that hypnosis helps. But this doesn’t mean it doesn’t, says Jamie Hartmann-Boyce at the University of Oxford, because relevant research has been so poorly designed it makes it impossible to say for sure either way. “It’s such an important issue that we need… bigger, better trials,” she says.

11-6-19 Why embracing failure, mistakes and forgetfulness is key to success
Making mistakes helps us learn and get better at stuff, says neuroscientist Henning Beck, but be wary of thinking what works for humans will work for AI. Consider the alternative: if we never made any mistakes and followed the rules perfectly, we would never visit anywhere new. Breaking rules and making mistakes push the boundary of human knowledge. The brain is the last and greatest mystery in science. No other thing has been studied so deeply and is so poorly understood. When you look at a brain from the outside, you just see a wet mass full of densely packed nerve cells. How can this be the origin of game-changing ideas, great symphonies, language, love and art? We have no idea. Is there a greater enigma on Earth? When I started, neuroscience was dominated by biochemistry and molecular biology. But it turns out that biology alone cannot explain how the brain works. We need support from mathematics and information science to understand how the brain actually creates thoughts and organises information. We know that there are mathematical principles and rules that guide its processing, but we have no clue what they are. When I was 17, my teacher said: “It’s the mistakes we make that distinguish us from unimaginative computers.” Since then, I’ve remembered that learning from failures is more important than avoiding them. Done is better than perfect. In a thousand years, no one will remember anything about life today because our electronic storage devices are non-durable. We’re a lost generation. People will look back to the present–day dark ages and wonder what we fools were up to.

11-6-19 Did apes first walk upright on two legs in Europe, not Africa?
The discovery of 11.6-million-year-old fossils in Europe suggests that the first apes to walk upright may have evolved there, not Africa. “These findings may revolutionise our view on human evolution,” says Madelaine Böhme at the University of Tübingen, Germany. Böhme and her colleagues discovered the fossils in a clay pit in Bavaria in southern Germany. They found 37 bones belonging to four individuals: an adult male, two adult females and a juvenile. They named the new species Danuvius guggenmosi. It was a small ape, weighing between 17 and 31 kilograms, and probably ate hard foods like nuts. Surprisingly, its legs resemble those of humans. We can fully extend our knees, so our legs act like pillars directly under our bodies. Chimps can’t do this: when they stand on two legs, their knees stay bent. D. guggenmosi’s leg bones suggest it could stand like a human, prompting Böhme’s team to argue that the ape stood and walked upright in trees, unlike all known apes. This is startling because D. guggenmosi is much older than the oldest known hominins that may have been bipedal: Sahelanthropus tchadensis and Orrorin tugenensis. Both lived around 6 million years ago, meaning the newly discovered species may push back the origin of bipedality about 5 million years. Furthermore, the known bipedal hominins are all African, leading scientists to believe that bipedality evolved there. Böhme’s team argues that this trait arose among European apes. Her colleague David Begun at the University of Toronto, Canada, has long argued that hominins first evolved in Europe before moving into Africa. He has presented evidence that another European ape, Rudapithecus, could walk on two legs; that some European apes had small teeth like hominins; and that a little-studied ape called Graecopithecus, from the eastern Mediterranean, may have been a hominin.

11-6-19 'Astonishing' fossil ape discovery revealed
Fossils of a newly-discovered ancient ape could give clues to how and when walking on two legs evolved. The ability to walk upright is considered a key characteristic of being human. The ape had arms suited to hanging in the trees, but human-like legs. It may have walked along branches and even on the ground some 12 million years ago, pushing back the timeline for bipedal walking, say researchers. Until now the earliest fossil evidence for walking upright dates back to six million years ago. The four fossils - of a male, two females and a juvenile - were unearthed in a clay pit in Bavaria between 2015 and 2018. "The finds in southern Germany are a milestone in palaeoanthropology, because they raise fundamental questions about our previous understanding of the evolution of the great apes and humans," said Prof Madelaine Böhme from the University of Tübingen, Germany. She said the ape could be the best model we have for the "missing link" between humans and apes. Ever since Charles Darwin's day, there has been intense debate about how and when our early ancestors began to walk on two legs. Did this key characteristic of humans arise from an ape, much like the orangutan, that lived in the trees, or from a knuckle-walking ancestor, which spent most of the time on the ground, similar to a gorilla? The new research, published in the journal Nature, suggests our upright posture may have originated in a common ancestor of humans and great apes who lived in Europe - and not in Africa, as previously thought. The fossils of Danuvius guggenmosi, which lived 11.62 million years ago, suggest that it was well adapted to both walking upright on two legs as well as using all four limbs while climbing like an ape. These findings suggest that bipedal walking evolved in the trees over 12 million years ago, the researchers said. "Danuvius combines the hindlimb-dominated bipedality of humans with the forelimb-dominated climbing typical of living apes," explained Prof David Begun, a researcher from the University of Toronto.

11-6-19 The weird creatures that might be the very first complex animals
The Cambrian explosion is feted as evolution's big bang, but the enigmatic Ediacaran creatures that came first are rewriting the history of life on Earth. LIFE appeared on our planet more than 3.5 billion years ago and consisted exclusively of microbes for the next 3 billion years. Then, about 539 million years ago, everything changed. In the geological blink of an eye, the seas were filled with large and complex animals, including worms with legs and fearsome spikes, creatures with a trunk-like nose and five eyes, and giant shrimp-like predators with mouths like pineapple rings. This evolutionary starburst is known as the Cambrian explosion. It is one of the most significant moments in life’s history on Earth because it is the point at which species that are clearly related to today’s animals first appeared. It is seen as evolution’s big bang. But over the past few years, geologists have begun to have second thoughts. Newly discovered fossils and careful analysis of ones found decades ago suggest that animals were thriving in the period before the Cambrian. As a result, some people are now arguing that the explosion of animal life started about 12 million years earlier. Others are questioning whether it is possible to define a distinct explosion at all. You could be forgiven for thinking that shifting the dawn of the animal revolution from 539 to 551 million years ago isn’t that big a deal. But evolution can do a lot in that length of time: the entire span of human evolution probably fits within 12 million years, the length of time since our lineage separated from that of chimpanzees. What’s more, shifting life’s big bang back could have important implications for the quest to figure out what sparked evolution’s most spectacular spell of invention. Scholars first worked out how to read the geological record in the 19th century, and they quickly noticed something puzzling. The oldest rocks they could find seemed devoid of fossils. Biologically complex marine animals, including woodlouse-like trilobites, suddenly appeared in abundance in the rocks assigned to the Cambrian period.

11-6-19 Who owns life? The world is about to decide, with huge ramifications
A debate between countries over who can access and exploit the planet’s genetic resources will have ramifications for all of us, says Laura Spinney. NEXT week, delegates will gather in Rome to discuss a question that could have profound implications for global biodiversity, food security and public health. Stripped of technical language, it boils down to this: who owns life? The Rome meeting convenes the governing body of the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture. It is also known as the “seed treaty” because it mostly deals with seed collections. It will address arrangements for accessing these genetic resources, and how to share any benefits resulting from their exploitation. Central to that discussion will be “digital sequence information”. The seed treaty covers only samples of the physical material that constitutes plants. But as more species are sequenced and their molecular blueprints digitised, they can be exploited – for creating a drought-resistant crop plant, say – without accessing a physical sample. It is not just plants at stake. The outcome of the Rome meeting is likely to influence a meeting for the Convention on Biological Diversity next October. This treaty covers all life, and also neglects digital sequences. Given that an organism’s DNA, RNA or protein sequence is merely information stored in a molecule, you might think that extending these treaties to cover digital sequence information would be uncontentious. Far from it. So far, all attempts to reach a consensus have failed, and some have called the issue “the monster in the closet“. Part of the problem is that digital sequence information isn’t clearly defined: should it include only DNA and RNA sequence data, for example, or also amino acid sequences and epigenetic data?

11-6-19 Most people give up on using mental health apps within a few weeks
From breathing exercises to guided meditation, millions of people have downloaded mental health apps. But an analysis suggests that almost everyone gives up on such apps within just two weeks of downloading them, raising questions about how useful they really are. Amit Baumel at the University of Haifa in Israel and his colleagues used data analytics software to study the use of 93 popular mental health apps. The software wasn’t able to determine when individual users stopped using an app, but did count the number of people who used the apps each day. From this, the team was able to calculate how quickly people stop using mental health apps. The data showed that after 15 days, more than 94 per cent of users had stopped opening their apps. Baumel says that he expected to see a decline in app use but was surprised by how steep it was. There are thousands of mental health apps available, so the team focused on only those available in English that have been installed at least 10,000 times via the Google Play store. App use also differed depending on the kind of support the products provide. On any given day, just over 4 per cent of people who have downloaded mindfulness and meditation apps will use them. But this figure is 17 per cent among those who had installed peer-support apps, which enable you to talk to someone who may be experiencing similar issues. The team hasn’t revealed which 93 apps were included in the analysis, but the findings raise questions over how useful mental health apps are. Baumel says we don’t yet know how often one needs to use such apps for them to be effective. He also suggests that the future of these apps lies in them becoming more personalised to users and their specific needs. The relatively higher engagement rate of peer-support apps imply that a personal connection can keep people coming back.

11-6-19 What hypnosis does to your brain, and how it can improve your health
The history of hypnotherapy is riddled with hucksters, but it can provide real benefits – from weight loss to managing pain. Why modern medicine is starting to take it seriously. “HONESTLY, I wondered whether I was actually in labour, because surely it was meant to be more painful than this.” That’s Shona, describing the recent birth of her daughter. Her secret? Hypnosis. During pregnancy, she learned how to hypnotise herself into a state of mind that allowed her to minimise the pain of labour and, in her own words, “quite enjoy the whole thing”. The word hypnosis may call to mind a swinging watch or an entertainer getting people to believe they are naked on stage for an audience’s amusement. Its history is one of sorcery and magic, tales of the occult and exploitative charlatans. Practitioners are rarely doctors or counsellors, clinical trials struggle to get funded and there is still no regulatory authority that monitors the practice. Yet despite these issues, people are turning to the technique to help with everything from labour to hot flushes, anxiety and chronic pain, and a growing body of research is starting to confirm its benefits. We are also beginning to get a handle on how it actually works and what happens in the brain during hypnosis. The result is that how we define hypnosis is changing, and its use in mainstream medicine is increasing. The UK’s Royal College of Midwives now accredits hypnobirthing courses and funds training in the technique. Some anaesthetists now include hypnosis in their toolkit, and it is even being touted as a solution for the opioid addiction crisis. Hypnosis is certainly no cure-all, but learning what works, why it works and how to do it ourselves may help us harness the power of the mind for some of life’s toughest battles.

11-6-19 Some women lack odour-detecting brain cells but can still sense smells
The olfactory bulb, a structure at the very front of the brain, plays a vital role in our ability to smell. Or, at least, so we thought. A research team has now discovered a handful of women who have a perfectly normal sense of smell but who seem to lack olfactory bulbs – completely altering our long-held views about smell. The team, including Tali Weiss and Noam Sobel at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel, were looking for a connection between the ability to smell and reproduction. Their investigations suggested one of the female volunteers in their experiments did not possess olfactory bulbs. This is unusual but not remarkable: one in 10,000 people don’t have olfactory bulbs, and these people cannot smell. This woman was different. Sobel says the 29-year-old woman was adamant: I have a very good sense of smell, she claimed. Every test they threw at her suggested she did indeed have a good ability to distinguish odours, despite lacking the neurons typically believed necessary to do so. Then, as the researchers continued to investigate, they found another woman with the same curious condition. “We were blown away,” says Sobel. The researchers then turned to the Human Connectome Project, which gathers olfaction scores for all participants. They looked at information from about 600 women and 500 men, and found another three women who can smell without olfaction bulbs. None of the men had the condition. Using this data, they were able to estimate the odds of being a woman who can smell normally without olfactory bulbs to be around 0.6 per cent. Mysteriously, the odds are raised dramatically in left-handed women. Among the subset of the general population who are left-handed, women who lack olfactory bulbs have a roughly four per cent chance of still being able to smell normally.

11-6-19 We remember the act of eating better than other things we do
Out of everything you do today, eating a chocolate bar might be what you will remember best. It seems that eating sticks in our mind far more than other activities, prompting a rethink of how our memory prioritises different experiences. We already know that memory can influence how much we eat. Thinking about food, for example, can make us feel fuller so we eat less during our next meal. Benjamin Seitz and his colleagues at the University of California, Los Angeles responded to this concept and looked at whether eating is better remembered than other behaviour. To test this, the team asked 159 men and women to each eat 30 sweets from a bowl while watching a video on a screen that was surrounded by different symbols. They then had to repeat the task, but this time move 30 sweets from a bowl to an opaque jar to mimic eating movements, rather than actually eating them. Finally, they had to move 30 plastic beads rather than sweets while watching the video. In all cases, the participants weren’t told how many sweets or beads were in the bowl to begin with. Afterwards, the team quizzed participants on how many items they ate or moved, what was in the video and how the symbols were arranged. The team found that, on average, people guessed they ate 20 sweets, but thought they had only moved 15 sweets and 15 beads. How well they remembered the video or symbols didn’t differ across all three tasks, suggesting that eating was responsible for the more accurate guessing. “Eating is important for evolutionary fitness and survival and that’s a reason why we expected memory for eating to be really active and strong,” says Seitz. Why we remember eating better than other activities is still unknown, but it could simply be that our normal memory machinery is kicked up a notch when we eat. Or it might be because extra brain regions are recruited for more evolutionarily important tasks. If so, current models of memory that don’t consider the biological significance of different behaviours may be missing something, says Seitz.


ANIMAL INTELLIGENCE and ZOOLOGY

11-12-19 Power lines may mess with honeybees’ behavior and ability to learn
The insects might suffer neurological effects from exposure to electromagnetic fields. Power lines could be messing with honeybees by emitting electromagnetic fields that can alter the insects’ behavior and ability to learn. In the lab, honeybees (Apis mellifera) were more aggressive toward other bees after being exposed to electromagnetic fields, or EMFs, at strengths similar to what they might experience at ground level under electricity transmission lines, researchers report October 10 in PLOS One. Those exposed bees also were slower to learn to respond to a new threat than unexposed bees were. “The reductions in learning are pretty concerning,” says Sebastian Shepherd. The entomologist worked on the new study at the University of Southampton in England before moving to Purdue University in West Lafayette, Ind. “These were bees that were very happy and healthy” before being exposed to EMFs in the study. The finding may be one clue to help explain the recent and mysterious decline in managed U.S. honeybee colonies. The insects provide an estimated $15 billion in annual agricultural value by pollinating U.S. crops. But beekeepers reported that colonies last year experienced their worst winter die-off in more than a decade (SN: 6/20/19). And in preceding years, some colonies’ worker bees simply vanished (SN: 1/17/18). Researchers believe the problem isn’t due to a single cause, but instead multiple stressors including getting jostled during a cross-country move to new farm fields or flying through fields laced with pesticides. Power lines, it turns out, might also be stressing bees out. Altogether, stressors could be weakening bees so they’re less capable of surviving disease or extreme weather, Shepherd says.

11-12-19 Silver-backed chevrotains have been ‘rediscovered’ by science after 29 years
With help from Vietnamese villagers, researchers captured photos of the deerlike ungulate. Amidst the dry, thorny underbrush of a coastal Vietnamese forest, a silver-backed chevrotain stepped into view of a camera trap — and back into the scientific record after almost three decades. The deerlike ungulate, no bigger than a toy poodle, had only ever been studied from dead specimens, four obtained in 1907 and one in 1990. Scientists feared the animal might have gone extinct due to hunting and habitat loss. But local residents knew better, and in late 2017 directed researchers to forest areas where the the silver-backed chevrotain (Tragulus versicolor) might be living. Cameras triggered by motion or heat then snapped the first photographic evidence that the elusive animal still exists, according to a study published online November 11 in Nature Ecology and Evolution. “We were really excited” by the find, says An Nguyen, a biologist at the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research in Berlin. The region’s forests are home to many mammals found nowhere else, but an increase in animal traps and encroaching human development in recent decades have put that diversity under threat. “Indiscriminate snaring has taken a tremendous toll on mammal communities across Vietnam,” says Andrew Tilker, also a biologist at the Leibniz Institute. Snaring has left “a lot more forest than animals to inhabit it in Vietnam,” he says. But a species lost to science is not necessarily extinct. So Nguyen and colleagues visited towns and villages near the southeast city of Nha Trang in the fall of 2017 to ask people about the animal. “‘Had they seen chevrotain with silver backs? How many? Where?’” Nguyen says in recalling the researchers’ questions to locals. People referred to both the silver-backed chevrotain and its more common cousin, the lesser chevrotain, by the same name, “cheo cheo.” But many reported seeing the distinctive silver-haired chevrotain.

11-11-19 We thought this tiny deer-like animal was extinct for almost 30 years
A species of small deer-like animal feared to have gone extinct has been spotted in Vietnam for the first time in almost 30 years. The rediscovery of the silver-backed chevrotain (Tragulus versicolor) – or Vietnam mouse-deer – near the city of Nha Trang is reassuring, given previous suspicions that it might have died out as a result of poaching and habitat loss. “There was a question mark hanging over its current status,” says Andrew Tilker at Global Wildlife Conservation (GWC), a US charity. “Erasing that question mark was a huge deal for us.” Mouse-deer aren’t actually deer (or mice, as it happens) but ungulates, a group that includes deer along with other herbivorous, hoofed animals. Out of the 10 types of mouse-deer that exist today, the silver-backed species is by far the most elusive. Until now there had been no record of it in Vietnam since 1990, possibly due to snaring in the lowland forests thought to be the chevrotain’s home. It is also tricky to physically distinguish these mouse-deer from their cousins – they bear a striking resemblance to the lesser chevrotain that populates much of Vietnam. To probe the silver-backed chevrotain’s whereabouts, Tilker and his colleagues set up camera traps near the country’s southern coast, in blocks of forest where locals had reported seeing the animals before. The traps are equipped with motion and heat sensors so they snap pictures of anything that passes by, and they captured something interesting: a rabbit-sized deer with tiny fangs tiptoeing on its hoofs – traits characteristic of all chevrotains. But this one was special. The team identified it as the chevrotain they’d been searching for thanks to its signature reddish-brown front and silvery-grey back.

11-11-19 People are using mosquito nets for fishing – and it works too well
Mosquito nets designed to help stop the transmission of malaria are finding a new use – fishing. However, the way they are used could have destructive consequences for both food security and coastal ecosystems. Although it was known that mosquito nets are repurposed this way in many countries, little was known about the amount and type of fish they caught. So Benjamin Jones at Stockholm University in Sweden and Richard Unsworth at Swansea University in the UK decided to investigate the practice at 10 sites in northern Mozambique. The pair found that the nets are extremely effective. A single sweep can bring in almost half of the daily average catch by weight of a traditional net. They also scoop up everything in their path. The researchers recorded dozens of species being caught – and many were juveniles. “Some were no bigger than my fingernail,” he says. That could be a problem, both for the people and the local seagrass ecosystem, says Jones. Removing so many juveniles means there could be fewer fish to catch in the future. And the seagrass meadows, which bind the sediment along the coast together and are an important carbon sink, rely on the fish to stay healthy. Remove too many fish and they could collapse, he says. The fishers use everything they catch, either drying the fish or fermenting them in jars, and the catch provides their main source of protein. For many, the nets are their only choice to provide food for their families. “The people using the nets are the poorest in society,” says Jones. “They are using nets that could be saving them from malaria because they have nothing else.” Daniel Mungai Ndegwa at Kisii University in Kenya frequently saw mosquito nets used for fishing while doing research on Lake Victoria, which straddles Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania. “In every village I saw the nets being used for fishing or for drying fish,” he says.

11-9-19 Birds are stealing boozy palm wine when people aren't looking
Three species of African birds are slurping alcoholic palm wine from trees that have been tapped by local people. The behaviour may be socially learned and therefore evidence that the birds have their own unique cultures. The birds all live on islands in the Bijago´s archipelago, off the coast of Guinea-Bissau in West Africa. There, as in other parts of Africa, one of the the most popular alcoholic drinks is palm wine, which is the partially fermented sap of oil palm trees (Elaeis guineensis). To obtain it, people climb into the trees and cut into the central part, causing sugary sap to dribble out. They then use a folded leaf as a funnel to channel it into a container such as a plastic bottle. In early 2019, researchers led by Jorge Gutiérrez, now at the University of Extremadura in Spain, noticed that birds were visiting the sap holes. They identified three species: village weavers (Ploceus cucullatus), common bulbuls (Pycnonotus barbatus) and mouse-brown sunbirds (Anthreptes gabonicus). The bulbuls were the most frequent visitors and also spent the most time: 103 seconds on average. The sap is rich in sugars and is also a source of water in the dry season. However, it is also alcoholic because it partially ferments. “There is about 4 per cent alcohol by volume, which is something like a beer,” says Gutiérrez. It is unclear if the birds actually get drunk. “We don’t really know how much they drink,” says Gutiérrez, and the team saw no evidence of the birds being inebriated. All three species eat nectar and ripe fruit, which are prone to ferment and become alcoholic. “From an evolutionary standpoint, they should be adapted to deal with alcohol,” says Gutiérrez. In contrast, chimpanzees elsewhere in Africa are known to guzzle an entire litre of palm wine in one sitting, and there is tentative evidence that this affects their behaviour.

11-8-19 Rats behind the wheel
Scientists have taught rats how to drive—an experiment that could improve our understanding of mental illness in humans. A team at the University of Richmond in Virginia created makeshift ratmobiles by fitting plastic containers onto electrified sets of wheels. The rats steered the vehicles by touching different parts of a copper wire, and were rewarded with Froot Loops when they drove forward. After months of training, the rats became relatively adept drivers and seemed to enjoy the experience: Tests of their feces showed increased levels of a hormone that combats stress. Notably, rats that were merely passengers in remote-controlled cars had lower levels of the hormone, suggesting that it was the learning and driving that they enjoyed. The research may sound like a stunt, but it’s part of a wider exploration of how complex tasks such as driving affect the brain, with the ultimate aim of devising better treatments for depression and anxiety. The rat brain “is an appropriate model for the human brain, since it has all the same areas and neurochemicals,” co-author Kelly Lambert tells NBCNews.com, “just smaller, of course.”

11-8-19 America’s annual elk migration
“Animal migrations are the most epic form of travel,” said Andrea Sachs in The Washington Post. Whatever your own grandest journey, it can’t compare with the spectacle tens of thousands of elk are creating right now in Wyoming, Colorado, and New Mexico as they descend from mountains to lowlands. Mating season makes fall a dramatic time for onlookers, because the bulls guard their harems by bugling loudly and wrestling one another with their massive antlers. The best place to see northwestern Wyoming’s 11,000-head herd is the National Elk Refuge, which stretches between Jackson and Kelly. Try the scenic pullouts along Highway 89, or the viewing platform at the visitor center in Jackson Hole. Some elk settle farther north, in Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks, while more than 30,000 Rocky Mountain elk spread out in several herds across the Upper Rio Grande area of southern Colorado and northern New Mexico.

11-8-19 Emperor penguins could go extinct by 2100 if we fail on climate change
Unchecked climate change could drive emperor penguins to extinction by the end of the century as sea ice vanishes. But if the world delivers on the toughest target of the Paris climate agreement, of limiting global temperature rises to 1.5°C, then numbers of the iconic species will decline by less than a third. Stephanie Jenouvrier at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts found that the future of emperor penguins hinges on international climate efforts rather than their ability to adapt and move to new homes. “Penguins are this indicator species, this canary in the coal mine, they are warning us of the future effect of climate. The big message is we need to listen to the penguins, and implement policies to meet the Paris agreement’s objective, and we need to do that now,” she says. Disappearing sea ice affects emperor penguins directly because they rely on it for their nine-month breeding season, as well as a place to moult and escape from predators. But the ice is also crucial for the species because it influences the food they rely on, including krill. Sea ice changes are already affecting emperor penguins, with breeding failures for three years in a row at their second biggest colony in the Antarctic pinned on early break-up of ice used for breeding. To examine the fate of the world’s estimated 595,000 emperors as the planet warms, Jenouvrier and her colleagues modelled future colonies and populations under three different scenarios: hitting the Paris deal’s top target of 1.5°C, its minimum goal of no more than 2°C, and what would happen if emissions keep rising as they are today. They combined a global climate model, sea ice projections and different scenarios of how the penguins might disperse, something most studies don’t look at. The result was an 81 to 86 per cent fall in population by 2100 under the business-as-usual scenario, depending on how the animals disperse to new homes.

11-7-19 A deadly seal virus may be spreading faster due to melting Arctic ice
The spread of a deadly virus in seals may be connected to loss of Arctic sea ice due to global warming. The virus, called phocine distemper virus or PDV, is the seal equivalent of measles and causes a disease affecting the brain and lungs. Many harbour seals die from the disease, says Tracey Goldstein at the University of California, Davis. “In other seals we see sporadic deaths but not a large mass mortality like what we see in harbour seals,” she says. Goldstein and her team collected blood and nasal swab samples from over 2500 sea otters, sea lions and various species of seal, in the north of the Pacific Ocean between 2001 and 2016 and tested them for PDV. Using satellite images, they assessed the presence of routes through the Arctic Ocean, due to melting sea ice, over the same period. The researchers detected major peaks in virus infection in north of the Pacific Ocean otters, sea lions and seals in 2003 and 2009, which were associated with the presence of a route through melted Arctic sea ice in the preceding years. This was the first time the virus had been detected in sea otters, which, along with sea lions, can spread the infection to seals. In 2002, an outbreak in the north of the Atlantic Ocean killed 30,000 seals. A year later, the team detected PDV in the north of the Pacific Ocean for the first time. That year, over 30 per cent of sea mammals they tested in the north of the Pacific Ocean were infected with PDV, suggesting the virus crossed the Arctic. James Wellahan at the University of Florida says that if we fail to tackle climate change, the spread of PDV could lead to the loss of entire species. “When you have a planet that is undergoing massive change like this, and we’re damaging their food sources with over fishing, all of this just adds up to more pressure against the species,” says Wellehan.

11-6-19 Who owns life? The world is about to decide, with huge ramifications
A debate between countries over who can access and exploit the planet’s genetic resources will have ramifications for all of us, says Laura Spinney. NEXT week, delegates will gather in Rome to discuss a question that could have profound implications for global biodiversity, food security and public health. Stripped of technical language, it boils down to this: who owns life? The Rome meeting convenes the governing body of the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture. It is also known as the “seed treaty” because it mostly deals with seed collections. It will address arrangements for accessing these genetic resources, and how to share any benefits resulting from their exploitation. Central to that discussion will be “digital sequence information”. The seed treaty covers only samples of the physical material that constitutes plants. But as more species are sequenced and their molecular blueprints digitised, they can be exploited – for creating a drought-resistant crop plant, say – without accessing a physical sample. It is not just plants at stake. The outcome of the Rome meeting is likely to influence a meeting for the Convention on Biological Diversity next October. This treaty covers all life, and also neglects digital sequences. Given that an organism’s DNA, RNA or protein sequence is merely information stored in a molecule, you might think that extending these treaties to cover digital sequence information would be uncontentious. Far from it. So far, all attempts to reach a consensus have failed, and some have called the issue “the monster in the closet“. Part of the problem is that digital sequence information isn’t clearly defined: should it include only DNA and RNA sequence data, for example, or also amino acid sequences and epigenetic data?

11-6-19 Hunters of rare Swiss ibex stir Alps wildlife row
The long, curved horns of the Alpine ibex and its love of high altitude make it a symbol of the Alps and a highly prized trophy for hunters. Centuries of intensive hunting reduced Alpine ibex numbers to just a few hundred in one area of northern Italy. But in the late 20th Century the numbers recovered - especially in Switzerland - through controlled reintroductions of ibex from Italy. Controversially, trophy hunters can now shoot ibex again in one Swiss region. The Swiss ibex live mainly in the high mountains of two southern regions (cantons) - Valais and Graubünden. Valais (also called Wallis) now includes foreigners in its strict quota of ibex hunting licences. But Graubünden (Grisons) only allows locals to hunt ibex. The European Environment Agency classes the ibex's status in those regions as "unfavourable-inadequate" - meaning the numbers are not critical, but significant long-term conservation measures are needed. Swiss public broadcaster RTS reports that foreign trophy hunters are now drawn to Valais, where a licence to shoot a male ibex with one-metre-long (3.3ft) horns - the biggest prize - costs 13,000 Swiss francs (£10,170; $13,113). RTS interviewed an American big game hunter, Olivia Nalos Opre, who showed off her prize from a Valais "safari"- a pair of long ibex horns. The three-day trip cost her about SFr 20,000. The former Miss Nebraska said she had shot a big, powerful male ibex, and her friend Denise had "shot two, including one trophy more than a metre long". Every year Valais issues up to 120 one-day licences to shoot ibex - a business that brings SFr 650,000 (£509,000; $655,000) into the region's budget. Today more than 40,000 ibex are estimated to be roaming in the Alps - usually above 2,000m (6,562ft) - and Switzerland hosts the largest population: about 16,000. A spokesman for the conservation group WWF Switzerland, Jonas Schmid, criticised trophy hunting in Valais, questioning its legality. "Protection of species cannot be regarded as an argument to support trophy hunting in Switzerland," he told the BBC.