Category Archives: Science

UK Millennials Suffer Worst Fall In Income Next To Greece

By: Ben Chu of The Independent

UK millennials have suffered the second-worst falls in their incomes of any of the dozen advanced economies surveyed by a think tank over the past decade.

In a new report, the Resolution Foundation calculates that average real hourly earnings for under-30s in Britain fell 13 per cent between 2007 and 2014.

Only Greece, where real earnings slumped by 25 per cent over the same period as the eurozone country plunged into depression, saw a worst performance for this age group among the dozen advanced economies Resolution analysed in the latest research from its Intergenerational Commission.

British millennials experienced bigger income falls than other crisis-hit southern eurozone states such as Portugal and Italy, where earnings fell 12 per cent and 6 per cent respectively.

Average incomes for Spanish millennials fell by only around 2 per cent.

Resolution also found that the gap between the pay performance of UK millennials and workers aged between 50 and 59 was particularly pronounced, with older UK workers seeing their pay fall by around half the extent of the younger group.

In Italy and France the declines were roughly in line. In Germany, Spain and Italy the older group of workers saw larger pay declines than millennials.

“The pay squeeze has been deeper in the UK than in most other places, and more focused on young people in particular,” said Resolution.

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To Give Or Not To Give 50% of Earth to Wildlife

By : Robin Mckie

The orangutan is one of our planet’s most distinctive and intelligent creatures. It has been observed using primitive tools, such as the branch of a tree, to hunt food, and is capable of complex social behaviour. Orangutans also played a special role in humanity’s own intellectual history when, in the 19th century, Charles Darwin and Alfred Russel Wallace, co-developers of the theory of natural selection, used observations of them to hone their ideas about evolution.

But humanity has not repaid orangutans with kindness. The numbers of these distinctive, red-maned primates are now plummeting thanks to our destruction of their habitats and illegal hunting of the species. Last week, an international study revealed that its population in Borneo, the animal’s last main stronghold, now stands at between 70,000 and 100,000, less than half of what it was in 1995. “I expected to see a fairly steep decline, but I did not anticipate it would be this large,” said one of the study’s co-authors, Serge Wich of Liverpool John Moores University.

For good measure, conservationists say numbers are likely to fall by at least another 45,000 by 2050, thanks to the expansion of palm oil plantations, which are replacing their forest homes. One of Earth’s most spectacular creatures is heading towards oblivion, along with the vaquita dolphin, the Javan rhinoceros, the western lowland gorilla, the Amur leopard and many other species whose numbers are today declining dramatically. All of these are threatened with the fate that has already befallen the Tasmanian tiger, the dodo, the ivory-billed woodpecker and the baiji dolphin – victims of humanity’s urge to kill, exploit and cultivate.

As a result, scientists warn that humanity could soon be left increasingly isolated on a planet bereft of wildlife and inhabited only by ourselves plus domesticated animals and their parasites. This grim scenario will form the background to a key conference – Safeguarding Space for Nature and Securing Our Future – to be held in London on 27-28 February.

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A.I Recognizes Terrorist Propaganda With 99% Accuracy

By: Kevin Litman-Navarro

The UK-based company ASI Data Science unveiled a machine learning algorithm Wednesday that can identify terrorist propaganda videos with 99 percent accuracy

This development marks one of the first instances of a company successfully using A.I. to flag extremist propaganda. The Islamic State group is notorious for its social media recruiting efforts, and this algorithm could help curtail them.

While the researchers at ASI wouldn’t discuss any technical specifics of the algorithm, it appears to work like other kinds of A.I. recognition software. The algorithm can examine any video and determine the probability that the video is a piece of extremist propaganda. According to the BBC, the algorithm was trained on thousands of hours of terrorist recruiting videos, and it uses characteristics from these videos to assign probability scores.

If a video is marked as very high probability, it is tagged for review by a human content moderator. Because the videos aren’t automatically taken down, any false positive should be caught before the video is wrongfully removed. ASI said that the algorithm could detect up to 94 percent of Islamic State uploads.

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Falcon Heavy Makes History

By: The BBC

The mammoth vehicle – the most powerful since the shuttle system – lifted clear of its pad without incident to soar high over the Atlantic Ocean.

It was billed as a risky test flight in advance of the lift-off.

The SpaceX CEO said the challenges of developing the new rocket meant the chances of a successful first outing might be only 50-50.

“I had this image of just a giant explosion on the pad, a wheel bouncing down the road. But fortunately that’s not what happened,” he told reporters after the event.

With this debut, the Falcon Heavy aims to become the most capable launch vehicle available.

It is designed to deliver a maximum payload to low-Earth orbit of 64 tonnes – the equivalent of putting five London double-decker buses in space.

Such performance is slightly more than double that of the world’s next most powerful rocket, the Delta IV Heavy – but at one third of the cost, says Mr Musk.

For this experimental and uncertain mission, however, he decided on a much smaller and whimsical payload – his old cherry-red Tesla sports car.

A space-suited mannequin was strapped in the driver’s seat, and the radio set to play David Bowie’s classic hit Space Oddity on a loop.

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Thwarting Climate Change Denial Will Require More Involvement From The People

By: Dana Nuccitelli of The Guardian

Climate myths are often contradictory – it’s not warming, though it’s warming because of the sun, and really it’s all just an ocean cycle – but they all seem to share one thing in common: logical fallacies and reasoning errors.

John Cook, Peter Ellerton, and David Kinkead have just published a paper in Environmental Research Letters in which they examined 42 common climate myths and found that every single one demonstrates fallacious reasoning. For example, the authors made a video breaking down the logical flaws in the myth ‘climate changed naturally in the past so current climate change is natural.’

Beating myths with critical thinking

Cook has previously published research on using ‘misconception-based learning’ to dislodge climate myths from peoples’ brains and replace them with facts, and beating denial by inoculating people against misinformers’ tricks. The idea is that when people are faced with a myth and a competing fact, the fact will more easily win out if the fallacy underpinning the myth is revealed. In fact, these concepts of misconception-based learning and inoculation against myths were the basis of the free online Denial101x course developed by Cook and colleagues.

The new paper published today suggests an even more proactive approach to defeating myths. If people can learn to implement a simple six-step critical thinking process, they’ll be able to evaluate whether climate-related claims are valid.

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Lead Investigator of The Illegal Ivory Trade Found Dead

By: The BBC

Esmond Bradley Martin, 75, was found in his Nairobi home on Sunday with a stab wound to his neck.

The former UN special envoy for rhino conservation was known for his undercover work investigating the black market.

The US citizen had recently returned from a research trip to Myanmar.

Bradley Martin was in the process of writing up his findings when he died, reports the BBC’s Alastair Leithead from Nairobi.

His wife found him in their house in Langata. Police are investigating the circumstances but suspect it was a botched robbery.

Our correspondent says Bradley Martin had spent decades risking his life to secretly photograph and document illegal sales of ivory and rhino horn, travelling to China, Vietnam, and Laos to pose as a buyer and establish the details of black market prices.

He first went to Kenya from the US in the 1970s when there was a surge in the number of elephants being killed for their ivory.

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Scientist Figure Solar Panel Problem Winning Another Battle Over Coal

By: CleanTechnica

Remember back when plastic was a new and exciting thing? That’s more or less where we are with that other p-word, perovskites. Legions of scientists around the world have been trying to tease a durable solar cell out of this optically-promising but fussy material, and it looks like a team from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory has put its finger on the solution.

Did we mention that perovskites are cheap and could be manufactured at high volume, too? Until recently natural gas was the main driver pushing coal out of the power generation business, but renewable energy is also becoming a force to be reckoned with, and its influence will grow stronger as the cost of photovoltaic modules continues to drop.

Another Perovskite Solar Cell Breakthrough

Perovskite is a natural occurring mineral with good optical properties, and its crystalline structure can be replicated with relative ease. NREL, for one, is a huge fan of synthetic perovskites for the low cost solar cells of the future, but the problem is that they deteriorate quickly when exposed to ambient air.

That’s quite an Achilles heel, right?

In the latest perovskite development, the NREL team seems to have solved that little thing about air. Here’s the teaser from the lab:

Researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) created an environmentally stable, high-efficiency perovskite solar cell, bringing the emerging technology a step closer to commercial deployment.

Do tell! The research team successfully tested a perovskite solar cell in ambient conditions without protection for 1,000 hours, and it retained 94% of its conversion efficiency.

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New Cancer Vaccine Has 100% Cure Rate In Mice

By: Stanford Medical Center

Injecting minute amounts of two immune-stimulating agents directly into solid tumors in mice can eliminate all traces of cancer in the animals, including distant, untreated metastases, according to a study by researchers at the Stanford University School of Medicine

The approach works for many different types of cancers, including those that arise spontaneously, the study found.

The researchers believe the local application of very small amounts of the agents could serve as a rapid and relatively inexpensive cancer therapy that is unlikely to cause the adverse side effects often seen with bodywide immune stimulation.

“When we use these two agents together, we see the elimination of tumors all over the body,” said Ronald Levy, MD, professor of oncology. “This approach bypasses the need to identify tumor-specific immune targets and doesn’t require wholesale activation of the immune system or customization of a patient’s immune cells.”

One agent is currently already approved for use in humans; the other has been tested for human use in several unrelated clinical trials. A clinical trial was launched in January to test the effect of the treatment in patients with lymphoma.

Levy, who holds the Robert K. and Helen K. Summy Professorship in the School of Medicine, is the senior author of the study, which was published Jan. 31 in Science Translational Medicine. Instructor of medicine Idit Sagiv-Barfi, PhD, is the lead author.

‘Amazing, bodywide effects’

Levy is a pioneer in the field of cancer immunotherapy, in which researchers try to harness the immune system to combat cancer. Research in his laboratory led to the development of rituximab, one of the first monoclonal antibodies approved for use as an anticancer treatment in humans.

Some immunotherapy approaches rely on stimulating the immune system throughout the body. Others target naturally occurring checkpoints that limit the anti-cancer activity of immune cells. Still others, like the CAR T-cell therapy recently approved to treat some types of leukemia and lymphomas, require a patient’s immune cells to be removed from the body and genetically engineered to attack the tumor cells. Many of these approaches have been successful, but they each have downsides — from difficult-to-handle side effects to high-cost and lengthy preparation or treatment times.

“All of these immunotherapy advances are changing medical practice,” Levy said. “Our approach uses a one-time application of very small amounts of two agents to stimulate the immune cells only within the tumor itself. In the mice, we saw amazing, bodywide effects, including the elimination of tumors all over the animal.”

Cancers often exist in a strange kind of limbo with regard to the immune system. Immune cells like T cells recognize the abnormal proteins often present on cancer cells and infiltrate to attack the tumor. However, as the tumor grows, it often devises ways to suppress the activity of the T cells.

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France To Do Away With Coal By 2021

By: Jeremy White of The Independent

French President Emmanuel Macron has pledged to shut all of his country’s coal-fired power plants by 2021.

“We’ve also decided to make France a model in the fight against climate change”, Mr Macron said at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

In a speech stressing the economic benefits of innovation, Mr Macron called the commitment “a huge advantage in terms of attractiveness and competitiveness”.

“We should stop opposing on one side productivity, on the other side climate change issues,” he said.

The 2021 goal sets a more aggressive target than the timeline advanced by Mr Macron’s predecessor, Francois Hollande, who sought to shut down the country’s coal-powered plants by 2023.

France only produces around 1 per cent of its energy from coal-fired stations, but the commitment is a signal that the country is determined to lead on climate issues.

As Mr Macron has embraced moving France away from coal, the Trump administration has committed to going in the opposite direction.

Donald Trump made reviving the ailing coal industry a central campaign promise. Since taking office, he has reversed a series of his predecessor Barack Obama’s landmark environmental policies.

He pulled America from the Paris Climate agreement and signing an executive order aimed at dismantling Mr Obama’s Clean Power Plan, which sought to curtail greenhouse gas emissions — like those produced by burning coal — from power plants.

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Science Shows People Believe Disaster Movies Are More Realistic If Caused By Humans & Greed

By: Kaitlyn Tiffany of The Verge

Nothing’s older than a fear of the apocalypse. Popular stories about the apocalypse date back until at least The Epic of Gilgamesh, a Mesopotamian poem featuring a world-ending flood and a vengeful god, written around 2100 BC.

But how have our visions of the end of the world changed through popular media like movies, and what can that tell us about staving it off?

Scientists at UCLA’s Institute of the Environment and Sustainability — including director Peter Kareiva and undergraduate researcher Valerie Carranza — surveyed disaster blockbusters released between 1956 and 2016 to get an idea. These films didn’t feature God-ordained destruction, and they had diverse malefactors, including alien invasions, genetically-engineered viruses, evil AI, global war, and “technology run amok.” But their survey found that only 10 of the films — or 17 percent — dealt with environmental catastrophe.

The most common villain was corporate greed, with four of the 10 (The China Syndrome, Silkwood, Erin Brokovich, and The Lorax) featuring “corporations knowingly polluting the environment or shirking environmental precautions for the sake of profit.” The other six disaster films, they write, are about a future in which the Earth has become unlivable because of “a myopic society that could not take action to avert environmental catastrophe.” The catastrophes in these films are generally understood by the characters, but not properly avoided.

Never, they argue, was the most likely real-life culprit solely to blame for the end of the world: ignorance about the ecological risk factors that could cause global catastrophes. “In Hollywood, environmental disasters are the consequence of human failings, and not the consequence of ignorance or major gaps in scientific understanding.” Crucially, none of those films predicate their possible futures on real environmental science or understanding of ecology.

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