Episode ii: 14th-20th August 2011
There has been much debate all over the place about the causes of the recent riots in the UK . Similar discussion and analyses occurred following the ‘Arab spring’ uprisings earlier in the year. In this post I look at signals and trends that are being used to forecast social disorder in various parts of the world. Conflicts over resources (food, water, oil, minerals) are regarded as underlying causes for some local or regional unrest. Poverty, corruption, and social inequality (among other issues) have been cited as factors in the Arab spring uprisings, as well as in the UK. One researcher considers that riots can develop and spread in ways similar to epidemics (and aspects of the spread of the uprisings in the Middle East did seem to have elements of a contagion).
Even in important moments, our brains are not as good at creating accurate memories as we think they are. This clip from the World Science Festival features two stories that show how easily the brain can be manipulated. In the first, writer Jonah Lehrer describes how he remembers his cousin ruining his 8th birthday party (except, that, he later found out, this incident never happened).
It’s time to revisit that grand old parasite, the brain-infecting Toxoplasma .
I went to a fantastic departmental seminar yesterday by Associate Professor Mark Thomas about how parasites are able to manipulate the behaviour of their unfortunate host, usually as a means of enhancing transmission or to enable the parasite to reach the next phase of its life cycle. I wanted to share some of the fantastic examples Mark talked about, starting with suicidal crickets. A few years ago, FrÃ©dÃ©ric Thomas and colleagues described (1) how crickets infected with hairworms ( Nematomorpha ) commit suicide by jumping into water. This is necessary behaviour on the part of the hairworm as the parasites spend their adult lives free-living in aquatic environments where they mate and produce eggs. During a field study, the authors collected crickets either from the forest or around a swimming pool, and found very different rates of infection: 15% (5/33) for forest-caught crickets compared with 95% (36/38) for those collected around the swimming pool.
Before It's News NASA and the European Space Agency have been warning the world for two years about the approaching catastrophes that may unfold during late 2011 through 2012. Few have been listening. Calling it a "once in a lifetime super solar storm event," NASA warns that killer solar flares can slam the Earth knocking out the Northern Hemisphere's technological infrastructure and kicking everything back to the level of the late 1800s. Russia too has voiced concern.
There always seems to be some new ‘fashionable’ way for people to predict the end of the world doesn’t there? Last year it was the supposed black holes created by the LHC, then there was the whole “planetary alignment” thing promoted by films like 2012. The one that poked it’s head up this week is the idea that in 2012 a massive solar flare from our sun will engulf the earth, disrupt electrical grids and communications and just generally cause chaos and pandemonium. A more indepth discussion of how terrified we should all be can be found here . So, should we all be hiding under our beds, scared that the sky will fall? Well, like all the best horror stories, this idea takes elements of truth and weaves them together into a compelling narrative to attempt to give the theory credence.
A small sample of human skin has been bio-engineered to include spider's silk between its layers. The Netherlands Forensics Institute has test-fired low-speed rifle bullets at it, and shown that it halts them.
Aug 18, Chemistry/Materials Science Oil extracted from alligator fat meets nearly all of the official standards for high-quality biodiesel. Image credit: US Fish and Wildlife Service
Gerald Haigh visits his alma mater to learn that a good attitude to technology correlates with good learning habits Is there a digital native? Not according to new Open University research A new research project by the Open University explores the much-debated concept of “the digital native”. The university does this by making full use of the rich resource which is its own highly diverse student body.
By chewing on the bark of a poisonous tree, the African crested rat acquires a toxin that it delivers if bitten by predators — the first placental mammal found to combat predation in this way. When threatened, the rat ( Lophiomys imhausi ) parts its grey fur to expose a pattern of specialized black and white hairs on its flanks ( pictured ), daring its attacker to bite the target. The creature picks up the toxin with its saliva by gnawing on the Acokanthera schimperi tree, then drools on the hairs. Read the full article <p style="text-align:right;color:#A8A8A8"></p>
“Why don’t scientists and people who contribute something to the community get the same amount of admiration as sportspeople?” Mia Freedman asked herself that question last week as she tried to understand the hatred unleashed upon her when she suggested others might be as worthy of the term “hero” as Tour de France winner Cadel Evans. The answer is strange - it’s precisely because they are heroes, that they aren’t hailed as heroes.