Sunday, 26 May 2013

Detection of the cosmic gamma ray horizon: Measures all the light in the universe since the Big Bang.....

How much light has been emitted by all galaxies since the cosmos began? After all, almost every photon (particle of light) from ultraviolet to far infrared wavelengths ever radiated by all galaxies that ever existed throughout cosmic history is still speeding through the Universe today. If we could carefully measure the number and energy (wavelength) of all those photons -- not only at the present time, but also back in time -- we might learn important secrets about the nature and evolution of the Universe, including how similar or different ancient galaxies were compared to the galaxies we see today. That bath of ancient and young photons suffusing the Universe today is called the extragalactic background light (EBL). An accurate measurement of the EBL is as fundamental to cosmology as measuring the heat radiation left over from the Big Bang (the cosmic microwave background) at radio wavelengths. A new paper, called "Detection of the Cosmic γ-Ray Horizon from Multiwavelength Observations of Blazars," by Alberto Dominguez and six coauthors, just published today by the Astrophysical Journal -- based on observations spanning wavelengths from radio waves to very energetic gamma rays, obtained from several NASA spacecraft and several ground-based telescopes -- describes the best measurement yet of the evolution of the EBL over the past 5 billion years.

Directly measuring the EBL by collecting its photons with a telescope, however, poses towering technical challenges -- harder than trying to see the dim band of the Milky Way spanning the heavens at night from midtown Manhattan. Earth is inside a very bright galaxy with billions of stars and glowing gas. Indeed, Earth is inside a very bright solar system: sunlight scattered by all the dust in the plane of Earth's orbit creates the zodiacal light radiating across the optical spectrum down to long-wavelength infrared. Therefore ground-based and space-based telescopes have not succeeded in reliably measuring the EBL directly.

So, astrophysicists developed an ingenious work-around method: measuring the EBL indirectly through measuring the attenuation of -- that is, the absorption of -- very high energy gamma rays from distant blazars. Blazars are supermassive black holes in the centers of galaxies with brilliant jets directly pointed at us like a flashlight beam. Not all the high-energy gamma rays emitted by a blazar, however, make it all the way across billions of light-years to Earth; some strike a hapless EBL photon along the way. When a high-energy gamma ray photon from a blazar hits a much lower energy EBL photon, both are annihilated and produce two different particles: an electron and its antiparticle, a positron, which fly off into space and are never heard from again. Different energies of the highest-energy gamma rays are waylaid by different energies of EBL photons. Thus, measuring how much gamma rays of different energies are attenuated or weakened from blazars at different distances from Earth indirectly gives a measurement of how many EBL photons of different wavelengths exist along the line of sight from blazar to Earth over those different distances.

Observations of blazars by NASA's Fermi Gamma Ray Telescope spacecraft for the first time detected that gamma rays from distant blazars are indeed attenuated more than gamma rays from nearby blazars, a result announced on November 30, 2012, in a paper published in Science, as theoretically predicted.

Now, the big news -- announced in today's Astrophysical Journal paper -- is that the evolution of the EBL over the past 5 billion years has been measured for the first time. That's because looking farther out into the Universe corresponds to looking back in time. Thus, the gamma ray attenuation spectrum from farther distant blazars reveals how the EBL looked at earlier eras.

This was a multistep process. First, the coauthors compared the Fermi findings to intensity of X-rays from the same blazars measured by X-ray satellites Chandra, Swift, Rossi X-ray Timing Explorer, and XMM/Newton and lower-energy radiation measured by other spacecraft and ground-based observatories. From these measurements, Dominguez et al. were able to calculate the blazars' original emitted, unattenuated gamma-ray brightnesses at different energies.

The coauthors then compared those calculations of unattenuated gamma-ray flux at different energies with direct measurements from special ground-based telescopes of the actual gamma-ray flux received at Earth from those same blazars. When a high-energy gamma ray from a blazar strikes air molecules in the upper regions of Earth's atmosphere, it produces a cascade of charged subatomic particles. This cascade of particles travels faster than the speed of light in air (which is slower than the speed of light in a vacuum). This causes a visual analogue to a "sonic boom": bursts of a special light called Čerenkov radiation. This Čerenkov radiation was detected by imaging atmospheric Čerenkov telescopes (IACTs), such as HESS (High Energy Stereoscopic System) in Namibia, MAGIC (Major Atmospheric Gamma Imaging Čerenkov) in the Canary Islands, and VERITAS (Very Energetic Radiation Imaging Telescope Array Systems) in Arizona.

Comparing the calculations of the unattenuated gamma rays to actual measurements of the attenuation of gamma rays and X-rays from blazars at different distances allowed Dominquez et al. to quantify the evolution of the EBL -- that is, to measure how the EBL changed over time as the Universe aged -- out to about 5 billion years ago (corresponding to a redshift of about z = 0.5). "Five billion years ago is the maximum distance we are able to probe with our current technology,"

Domínguez said. "Sure, there are blazars farther away, but we are not able to detect them because the high-energy gamma rays they are emitting are too attenuated by EBL when they get to us -- so weakened that our instruments are not sensitive enough to detect them." This measurement is the first statistically significant detection of the so-called "Cosmic Gamma Ray Horizon" as a function of gamma-ray energy. The Cosmic Gamma Ray Horizon is defined as the distance at which roughly one-third (or, more precisely, 1/e -- that is, 1/2.718 -- where e is the base of the natural logarithms) of the gamma rays of a particular energy have been attenuated.

This latest result confirms that the kinds of galaxies observed today are responsible for most of the EBL over all time. Moreover, it sets limits on possible contributions from many galaxies too faint to have been included in the galaxy surveys, or on possible contributions from hypothetical additional sources (such as the decay of hypothetical unknown elementary particles).

Understanding the past and predicting the future by looking across space and time.....

Studying complex systems like ecosystems can get messy, especially when trying to predict how they interact with other big unknowns like climate change. In a new paper published this week (May 20) in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, researchers from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and elsewhere validate a fundamental assumption at the very heart of a popular way to predict relationships between complex variables.

To model how climate changes may impact biodiversity, researchers like Jessica Blois and John W. (Jack) Williams routinely use an approach called "space-for-time substitution." The idea behind this method is to use the information in current geographic distributions of species to build a model that can predict climate-driven ecological changes in the past or future. But does it really work?

"It's a necessary assumption, but it's generally untested," says lead study author Blois, a former postdoctoral fellow with Williams at UW-Madison. She is now an assistant professor at the University of California, Merced. "Yet we're using this every day when we make predictions about biodiversity going into the future with climate change."

Their results should give other ecologists -- and potentially others such as economists who use similar models -- more confidence in their methods.

"At these spatial and temporal scales, the space-for-time assumption does work well," says Williams, professor of geography and director of the Center for Climatic Research at the UW-Madison Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies. "Our fossil data did support the idea that you can use spatial relationships as a source of information for making these predictions for the future."

Their research focus is paleoecology, the study of ancient ecosystems. By looking at fossilized pollen trapped in cores of sediment from the bottoms of lakes, the scientists reconstructed information about the plant communities present at locations across eastern North America during the past 21,000 years.

If climate has influenced communities the same way across space and through time, Blois explains, then a model based on the spatial data should make the same predictions as a model based on their temporal data. And in fact, they did.

The space-for-time model explained about 72 percent of the variation seen in their time data, and the remainder is likely due to other biological and environmental factors that the simplified model does not include, Blois says.

Though the testing does not capture all the ways space-for-time substitutions are used in other predictive fields, she says that the results are very encouraging for questions spanning large geographic and time scales -- scales at which collecting good temporal data can be very challenging.

"We found that at these broad time scales we're looking at, that space does substitute for time relatively well," Blois says. "It makes me more confident in my analyses going forward."

HSBC could be prosecuted after judge threatens to scrap money laundering deal.....

A judge is considering rejecting a deal that would open HSBC up to criminal prosecution in court, prison for executives, massive fines and no freedom to operate in the US.
The bank was fined £1.2 billion in December over claims that it was laundering money for terrorists and drug lords in Mexico, and entered into a deferred prosecution agreement (DPA) in order to avoid prosecution.

However, the judge presiding over the case has threatened to throw out the deal, which would force the bank to face criminal charges similar to those faced by BP in relation to the Deepwater Horizon disaster.

Campaign groups had said the US justice department’s fine would not work, and that top executives needed to be imprisoned instead.

If you get caught with your hand in the till you go to jail, but if you’re a big bank and you’re caught breaking the law, it seems that all that happens is you’re fined and told you’ll go to jail if you do it again”, said Global Witness campaigner Rosie Sharpe in December.

The US Senate defined HSBC’s money laundering culture as “pervasively polluted”, especially with regards to its links with Mexican drug lords who managed to move billion of dollars in the US.

Stuart Gulliver, CEO at HSBC, said he was “sorry” and told the banking commission, “We bought a bank in Mexico, we bought cheaply because it was in distress.

“We ourselves were too slow to put in place anti-money-laundering systems that were up to the standards required today.”

The money laundering scandal is not the only one that HSBC has become embroiled in. Global Witness, and previously Greenpeace, denounced the involvement of the bank in deforestation activities in south-east Asia. Meanwhile, Friends of the Earth recently claimed that along with Barclays and investment firm Schroders, HSBC was funding a palm oil company in Uganda that was involved in land grabbing.

Saturday, 25 May 2013

EU ban on bee-harmful pesticides to begin in December....

The European commission has confirmed that an EU-wide ban on three neonicotinoid pesticides, that research shows are harmful to bees, will come into place on December 1.
Fifteen of the 27 member states voted to impose the ban in April, but eight – including the UK – were against such a decision.

Tonio Borg, EU commissioner for health and consumer policy, said, “Today’s adoption delivers on [my pledge to protect our honeybee population] and marks another milestone towards ensuring a healthier future for our honeybees, as bees have two important roles to play: not only that of producing honey but primarily to be a pollinator.

About 80 % of all pollination is due to the activity of bees – this is natural and free of costs.”
The decision – which campaigners described as a “victory for common sense” – means that from December 1, chemical companies are prohibited from using the three streams of neonicotinoids.

The European commission says member states are able to use existing stocks until November 30, but must “withdraw or amend existing authorisations” by September 30.

The decision, which was based on research by the European Food Standards Agency (EFSA) among other scientific bodies, serves as a win for environmental groups who have called on governments to act on declining bee populations for months.

Meanwhile, a study by staff at the University of Reading earlier this month said that intensive farming and urban development had driven many bee species to near-extinction.

Arctic ice melt forces Russian scientists to abandon research station....

Rapid ice melt in the Arctic has forced a Russian crew to evacuate their research station, according to the country’s natural resources and environment ministry.
North Pole 40 is what’s called a drifting station, in that it floats naturally on top of the ice floe. But its 16 staff have been ordered to abandon their posts because the ice was beginning to melt.

Research by the National Snow and Ice Data Centre in the US last year said that sea ice in the Arctic had reached its lowest ever level since satellite observations began in 1979. It claimed that just 1.58m square miles was covered by ice – 27,000 square miles less than the previous record, set in September 2007.

Further research by NASA and the European Space Agency concluded that the remaining ice declined 36% in volume between 2003 and 2012.

The Russians have sent in an excavator to collect the stranded researchers from the station. Vladimir Sokolov of the Arctic and Antarctic Research Institute in Saint Petersburg attributed the rapid loss to climate change.

This has made the Arctic research significantly harder – the ice has become thinner and the weather conditions more difficult”, he told Agence France-Presse.

The Arctic Ocean, just like the Antarctic, is the refrigerator of the Earth. It significantly affects the climate of our planet.

If this refrigerator has a glitch and we do not know about it, it leads to mistakes in forecasts and affects the quality of decision-making on entire territories.”

Russia, which is one of only eight members of the Arctic Council, has a long history of Arctic research and exploration, having set up over 40 drifting stations since 1937. North Pole 40 begun operation in October 2012 following the closure of North Pole 39 the previous month.

Oil giants including BP and Exxon Mobil were this week accused of playing ‘Russian roulette’ with investors’ money because of their links with poor performing Russian energy firms that were drilling in the Arctic.

Recycled 18-foot bee sculpture to stand among festivalgoers at Glastonbury....

As well as playing host to the Arctic Monkeys, the Rolling Stones and countless other internationally-renowned performers, Glastonbury 2013 will include a recycled sculpture of a giant bee, designed to spread the environmental message at this year’s festival.

Eco-cleaning products firm Ecover, which featured in Blue & Green Tomorrow’s Guide to Ethical Shopping 2012, is behind the 18-foot high artwork, which is being made by prominent artist and designer Ptolemy Elrington.

The sculpture, assembled from recycled materials including plastics collected from the sea, forms part of Ecover’s Message in our Bottle campaign. This has already seen the firm pledge to develop a new kind of sustainable packing, made from 100% sugarcane and plastic from the sea.

Elrington’s design, a giant bee, will be located at William’s Green – a central meeting point at Glastonbury. Its instalment will act as a symbol of hope and inspiration in tackling environmental threats.

“Glastonbury festival has worked with Ecover for many years because of our shared values and commitment to sustainability”, said Robert Richards, Glastonbury’s commercial director.

“Having the artist Ptolemy Elrington create something beautiful from recycled materials can be an inspiration to us all.”

Bees have been in the news recently, with the European commission confirming today that the use of three neonicotinoid pesticides, which have been scientifically proven to harm bees, will be prohibited across the EU from December 1.

Ecover’s sculpture follows an announcement from Thatchers Cider, which revealed it was working with the Bumblebee Conservation Trust to develop ways to make its orchards more attractive to bees.

Friday, 24 May 2013

Bacterium from Canadian High Arctic Offers Clues to Possible Life On Mars....

The temperature in the permafrost on Ellesmere Island in the Canadian high Arctic is nearly as cold as that of the surface of Mars. So the recent discovery by a McGill University led team of scientists of a bacterium that is able to thrive at -15ºC, the coldest temperature ever reported for bacterial growth, is exciting. The bacterium offers clues about some of the necessary preconditions for microbial life on both the Saturn moon Enceladus and Mars, where similar briny subzero conditions are thought to exist.

The team of researchers, led by Prof. Lyle Whyte and postdoctoral fellow Nadia Mykytczuk, both from the Dept. of Natural Resource Sciences at McGill University, discovered Planococcus halocryophilus OR1 after screening about 200 separate High Arctic microbes looking for the microorganism best adapted to the harsh conditions of the Arctic permafrost.

"We believe that this bacterium lives in very thin veins of very salty water found within the frozen permafrost on Ellesmere Island," explains Whyte. "The salt in the permafrost brine veins keeps the water from freezing at the ambient permafrost temperature (~-16ºC), creating a habitable but very harsh environment. It's not the easiest place to survive but this organism is capable of remaining active (i.e. breathing) to at least -25ºC in permafrost."

In order to understand what it takes to be able to do so, Mykytczuk, Whyte and their colleagues studied the genomic sequence and other molecular traits of P. halocryophilus OR1. The researchers found that the bacterium adapts to the extremely cold, salty conditions in which it is found thanks to significant modifications in its cell structure and function and increased amounts of cold-adapted proteins. These include changes to the membranes that envelop the bacterium and protect it from the hostile environment in which it lives.

The genome sequence also revealed that this permafrost microbe is unusual in other ways. It appears to maintain high levels of compounds inside the bacterial cell that act as a sort of molecular antifreeze, keeping the microbe from freezing solid, while at the same time protecting the cell from the very salty exterior environment.

The researchers believe however, that such microbes may potentially play a harmful role in extremely cold environments such as the High Arctic by increasing carbon dioxide emissions from the melting permafrost, one of the results of global warming.

Whyte is delighted with the discovery and says with a laugh, "I'm kind of proud of this bug. It comes from the Canadian High Arctic and is our cold temperature champion, but what we can learn from this microbe may tell us a lot about how similar microbial life may exist elsewhere in the solar system."

This research was funded by: Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada CREATE Canadian Astrobiology Training Program, Canadian Space Agency, the Polar Continental Shelf Program, Canada Research Chairs Program, and the Canada Foundation for Innovation.

Biggest Burmese Python Ever Caught In Florida.....

The 18ft 8in specimen - captured and killed by one man using just a knife - sets a new record for a python caught in the wild.
A Burmese python measuring nearly 19ft has been captured in South Florida.

About 3ft of the 18ft 8in (569cm) snake was spotted sticking out of some roadside brush on May 11 by Jason Leon and some friends, as they drove late at night through a rural area of southeast Miami-Dade County.

The 23-year-old got out of his car, grabbed the snake behind its head and dragged it into the open.

When the snake tried to wrap itself around his leg, he called to his friends for help and then used a knife to decapitate the 128lb (58kg) specimen.

"I was pretty exhausted and I didn't want to get bit," he said.

He once owned Burmese pythons as pets and knew how to handle the snake, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

The previous record was a 17ft 7in python caught in August in the Everglades National Park.

The female snake was not carrying any eggs, University of Florida scientists said.

Mr Leon has agreed to donate the skeleton but has been promised the skin, which he plans to tan and put on his living room wall.
Florida Trains Hunters In Python Eradication catch a Burmese python
A more moderately sized Burmese Python caught in January
Pythons are an invasive species in Florida, where researchers believe they are eating their way through populations of native mammals in the Everglades.

A public snake hunt earlier this year yielded 68 of the snakes - the longest measuring more than 14ft.

Roughly 1,600 people - mainly amateur hunters - signed up for the state-sponsored Python Challenge.

No one knows exactly how many pythons there are, but the population likely developed from pets released into the wild.

Florida now prohibits owning or selling pythons for use as pets, and federal law bans importation and interstate sale of the species.

Daft tweet by Speaker Bercow's loquacious wife DID libel lord: Why is Sally feeling so very sorry? *innocent face*...

Sally Bercow, the wife of Commons Speaker John Bercow, libelled a peer in her infamous "innocent face" tweet, a judge ruled today.

At a hearing in London's High Court, Mr Justice Tugendhat said she wrongly identified Lord McAlpine as a paedophile through innuendo.
The ruling prompted Mrs Bercow to issue a public apology and warn others to think before they tweet. She also insisted that her offending tweet was "conversational and mischievous".

Bercow controversially wrote "Why is Lord McAlpine trending? *Innocent face*" in a tweet just a few days after the BBC's Newsnight screened a report compiled by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism. The programme wrongly linked "a leading Conservative politician from the Thatcher years" to a child sex abuse scandal at a children's home in Wales during the 1970s and 1980s.

Although Newsnight did not name the accused politician, the report kickstarted a flurry of denigratory speculation on and offline.

And after ITV's This Morning presenter Phillip Schofield handed the Prime Minister a list of supposedly alleged paedophiles with Lord McAlpine's name clearly visible, live on telly, the Tory peer's identity began trending on Twitter - leading to Bercow's ill-judged tweet.

There is no suggestion of any wrongdoing by Lord McAlpine, who subsequently won a six-figure libel payout from the BBC and ITV.

The peer then took Bercow to the High Court, claiming her tweet was defamatory. She contested the allegation, but will now accept an offer to settle out of court following today's judgment against her.
In his full ruling, Mr Justice Tugendhat stated:
The applicable law is well established and not in dispute. As a matter of law, words are defamatory of a claimant if (1) they refer to that claimant and (2) they substantially affect in an adverse manner the attitude of other people towards the claimant, or have a tendency so to do.
It follows that, for these reasons, I find that the Tweet meant, in its natural and ordinary defamatory meaning, that the Claimant was a paedophile who was guilty of sexually abusing boys living in care.

If I were wrong about that, I would find that the Tweet bore an innuendo meaning to the same effect. But if it is an innuendo meaning it is one that was understood by that small number of readers who, before reading the Tweet on 4 November, either remembered, or had learnt, that the Claimant had been a prominent Conservative politician in the Thatcher years.
Lord McAlpine's solicitor Andrew Reid said the ruling "is one of great public interest and provides a warning to, and guidance for, people who use social media".

According to Press Gazette, Reid said: "The failure of Mrs Bercow to admit that her tweet was defamatory caused considerable unnecessary pain and suffering to Lord McAlpine and his family over the past six months. With knowledge of the judgment I am pleased to be able to say that Mrs Bercow has finally seen sense and has accept an offer of settlement which Lord McAlpine made back in January."

After the defamatory rumours began swirling on social networks, Lord McAlpine threatened to sue hundreds of Twitter users who had libelled him, before focussing his attention on those with more than 500 followers. He then zeroed in on Bercow.

Her defence claimed the phrase "innocent face" was intended to help netizens imagine a deadpan expression on her fizog. She also claimed it infered she was "asking it in a neutral and straightforward manner".

In a statement issued after the ruling, Sally Bercow said:
In November 2012 I tweeted the question 'why is Lord McAlpine trending? *innocent face*'. I did not tweet this with malice, and I did not intend to libel Lord McAlpine.I was being conversational and mischievous, as was so often my style on Twitter. Today the High Court found that my tweet constituted a serious libel, both in its natural meaning and as an innuendo. To say I am surprised and disappointed by this is an understatement. However, I will accept the ruling as the end of the matter.
I remain sorry for the distress I have caused Lord McAlpine and I repeat my apologies. I have accepted an earlier offer his lawyers made to settle this matter. 
"Today's ruling should be seen as a warning to all social media users," she added. "Things can be held to be seriously defamatory, even when you do not intend them to be defamatory and do not make any express accusation. On this I have learned my lesson the hard way."

BBC suspends CTO after spaffing £100m on failed IT project: The digital monster that ate Shepherd's Bush....

The BBC has suspended its Chief Technology Officer on full pay - after it spunked almost £100m on a "tapeless" digital content management system that didn't deliver.

The £98.4m figure attributed to the failed Digital Media Initiative (DMI) may be a conservative estimate, and the BBC Trust has commissioned an external technical enquiry into the fiasco into how it happened, and how much it cost licence-fee payers.

The BBC confirmed that CTO John Linwood, who was paid £287,800 last year, has been suspended on full wages. “Technology controller” Peter Coles will take over as acting chief technology officer.

Coles will report to BBC operations director Dominic Coles.

BBC Director General Tony Hall said that DMI had "wasted a huge amount of Licence Fee payers’ money and I saw no reason to allow that to continue". Continuing DMI, wrote BBC Trustee Anthony Fry in a letter to Parliament's influential Public Accounts Committee, would be "throwing good money after bad".

"The industry has developed standardised off-the-shelf digital production tools that did not exist five years ago," explained Coles in a blog post. "The cost is so great because much of the software and hardware which has been developed would only have a value if the project was completed and we cannot continue to sanction any additional spending on this initiative."

In an internal email seen by The Register announcing the management change, Coles added:

"It’s important that we make sure that a project failure of this scale never happens again and I will continue to work with the TD&A Senior Management Group, together with and all our key stakeholders across the BBC through the Operations Board, to ensure that we have appropriate safeguards in place to avoid a similar situation in the future."

The BBC has an IT budget of £400m a year.

The DMI project has already been the subject of a critical National Audit Office report. The project began in 2004 and was then outsourced to Siemens - without an open procurement competition.

Siemens was subsequently acquired by Atos, which continues to work for the corporation under contract. In 2009 DMI was then "reinsourced", or brought back in house in other words.

In 2011 the government's National Audit Office reported that DMI was "not good value for money" and failed to deliver the promised £26m. The auditors added:

“The BBC did not revisit the investment case at this point or test delivery options, such as finding a new contractor…. It told us this was largely because of the time a full EU public procurement would take and the potential impact of further delay on other time-critical BBC projects.”

But here we are. One question the BBC Trust should explore is why it took so long to kill DMI. Parts of the system have gone live, but the costs continued to escalate.

One source familiar with the project told the The Register that DMI was regarded as the “next big thing”:

"All of these grandiose schemes fail to account for the diverse cultures/requirements, in their original concepts. Eventually they realise this and become massive and unwieldy as they try to stretch the concepts into operations which have their own traditions as to how to deliver."

The BBC can deliver IT projects competitively. Before content management systems really existed, it developed one at a fraction of the cost of comparable private sector systems. At other times, IT projects resemble an open-ended job creation scheme.

Linwood's future is unclear - but senior editorial staff who found themselves sidelined have been simply been reassigned to new jobs.

The plane truth about flying revealed...

"PLEASE ensure your seatbelt is securely fastened, your seat is fully upright and all electronic devices are switched off."
Have you ever wondered why airlines tell you to do these things?
There's no doubt some aspects of flying are shrouded in mystery, but never fear, we've got the answers to 10 things you've just got to know about air travel.
1. Does the brace position really work?
There are numerous - and some quite ridiculous - theories about why airlines push the brace position, including that it's only useful for preserving teeth and thus allowing for easier identification.
The Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) says more than 70 per cent of airline accidents are survivable. But how many lives are saved by using the brace position? Well CASA cited an incident where a plane carrying 16 passengers crashed. While the rest slept or were reading, one passenger woke up and saw the plane was about to hit trees so he adopted the brace position. He was the only survivor. The absence of fatalities when US Airways Flight 1549 landed in the Hudson River has also been attributed to the position.
The deliberate crash landing of a Boeing 727 into the Mexican desert last year by team of scientists, pilots and safety experts for the documentary The Plane Crash provided more answers. There were three dummies on board: one was seated in the classic brace position with seatbelt fastened, the second had just the seatbelt fastened, and a third had neither. Experts found the first dummy would have survived, the second would have suffered severe head injuries and the third would have died.
Here's a tip: If you need to brace for impact put your hands on your head, your weaker one over the other stronger one. That way, if something falls on you the stronger hand is likely to be OK as it's been protected – and you'll need it to unbuckle your seat belt when the time comes.
2. Is it true that diet cola is harder to pour in the skies?
It's true, the fizz and the high altitude make diet cola the most difficult drink to pour. Flight attendant and author
Heather Poole says: "Of all the drinks we serve, Diet Coke takes the most time to pour - the fizz takes forever to settle at 35,000 feet. In the time it takes me to pour a single cup of Diet Coke, I can serve three passengers a different beverage."
3. Why do window shutters have to be raised and seats upright upon take-off and landing?
Window shutters are required to be open and seats in the upright position so that cabin crew and passengers can easily identify what is happening outside the plane in the event of an issue during take-off and landing e.g. fire, according to a major Australia airline.
Having the shutters up also allows rescuers to see inside the cabin more easily and locate trapped passengers in the event of an emergency, and lets light in.
And you should obey the crew when they tell you to put your seat upright for take-off and landing - it's for your own safety. Brian Manning, a flight attendant for US Mesa Airlines explains: "When the seat is up, it is locked. When the seat is back, it's not locked. In the event of an emergency, an unlocked seat has more force during impact, and the thrusting forward of that seat can cause passenger injury."
Having seats upright also provides more room to escape and is beneficial for fellow passengers – those seated behind reclined or unlocked seats may not be able to brace themselves properly on impact.
4. Is it true that you're more likely to survive a plane crash if you're sitting towards the back?
There's a one in 90 million chance of being killed in a plane crash, according to the US National Transportation Safety Bureau.
And it's good news for the masses: It's safer to sit towards the back of the plane than the front, according to The Plane Crash documentary. When they crashed the plane they found anyone sitting in seat 7A would have been killed - that chair was catapulted 152m from the wreckage in the program.
Anne Evans, a former investigator at the UK's Air Accidents Investigation Branch, inspected the 727's black-box data recorder after the crash and said: "It's safer to sit at the back of the aircraft where the flight recorder is. The front is more vulnerable because that often sees higher impact forces."
5. Why do they dim the lights during some landings?
Lights are dimmed upon landing so that passengers eyes can adjust to the natural light and in the event of an incident makes identifying sparks or flames easy, according to a major Australian airline.
6. Is alcohol more potent at higher altitudes?
Not true, according to studies. Dr. Bhushan Kapur from the University of Toronto said passengers' blood alcohol level doesn't increase in the air. However, people do tend to drink more in a shorter time frame in the skies, which can leave them more impaired. So where does the misconception come from? The onboard effects of hypoxia – less oxygenated conditions due to the low-pressure environment and high altitude – can cause passengers to experience symptoms similar to intoxication.
7. Can plane air make you sick?
Cabin air is a mix of fresh and recirculated air. Air is sucked in through the jet engines, then into a bleed pipe that enters the cabin unfiltered. A study by CASA that ended last year
didn't rule out the possibility that toxicity could occur on flights. According to the study, oils, fluids, fumes and gases could mix with the heated air intended for the air conditioning system due to poor maintenance practices, worn engine oil seals or exhaust fumes from aircraft taxiing or engine start.
While rare, it does happen. In February a British Airways flight made an emergency landing after a pilot because nauseous and incapacitated after smelling toxic oil fumes. The captain and first officer were able to land the plane with the help of oxygen masks. Earlier this year questions were asked over the deaths of two British Airways pilots who died within four days of each other after complaining of being exposed to toxic oil fumes.
Following the incidents the UK Civil Aviation Authority records revealed pilots were putting on oxygen masks at least five times a week to combat suspected "fume events".
There's a name for such cases: Aerotoxic syndrome.
8. How much radiation are passengers exposed to during a flight?
People travelling in aircraft may be exposed to more ionising radiation than they would be exposed to on the ground. That’s because when you're flying between 7000 and 12,000 metres (the typical cruising altitude of a commercial aircraft), the Earth's atmosphere provides less protection from cosmic radiation.

To put this into perspective, during a seven-hour flight from New York to London travellers receive about the same dose of radiation as a chest X-ray; and from New York to Tokyo, two chest X-rays, according to the US Federal Aviation Administration.
9. What are the best ways to beat jetlag?
What you need to do is reset your internal clock. These tips can help:
1. Try to shift your sleep pattern - go to bed one hour earlier or later depending on which direction you are flying.
2. If you're going on a really long flight (for instance, from Australia to Europe) take melatonin pills for 2-3 days before the trip.
3. Drink ginger tea.
4. When on the plane go to sleep as soon as possible, don't take sleeping pills on board and avoid alcohol and coffee.
5. When you arrive stay up until it's bedtime wherever you are, walk around in the sun and if you must nap keep it under an hour. If you flew eastward, take a low dose of melatonin for three nights before bed. If you flew westward, and find yourself waking up early the first morning there, take a low dose of melatonin.
10. Can your mobile phone cause a plane crash?
The jury's still out on this issue, but airlines are erring on the side of caution. Current regulations give crew the power to ban the use of any device that could threaten the safety of an aircraft. Experts say that electromagnetic waves emitted by mobiles can interfere with a plane's electronics and cause a crash, concerns that were outlined in
an investigation by the New York Times.

Tiger has surgery to remove 1.8kg furball...

It's not unusual for a cat to get a hairball, but a 180-kilogram tiger has needed help from veterinary surgeons when he couldn't hack up a soccer ball-sized furball by himself.

The 17-year-old tiger named Ty underwent the procedure on Wednesday at a veterinary center in the Tampa Bay area of Florida.

Doctors said in a statement that they safely removed the 1.8-kilogram obstruction from Ty's stomach.

The tiger, which is cared for by Wildlife Rescue and Rehabilitation in Florida, was brought to veterinarians after not eating for nearly two weeks.

Doctors said they detected the hairball using a scope with a camera.

Ty is said to be doing fine after the operation.

UK pension funds to look at social impact investment.....

Five local government pension funds are considering investments that can provide both financial returns and positive impacts for society and the environment.
Those that have pledged to take part in the initiative are the Greater Manchester, West Yorkshire, West Midlands, South Yorkshire and Merseyside pension funds.

The group of five published an expression of interest advert in the Financial Times recently, stating that they were looking for opportunities that satisfy both financial and societal needs.

Councillor Kieran Quinn, chair of Greater Manchester Pension Fund, said, “A pension fund has an overriding responsibility to make a financial return that will assist it in meeting its pension liabilities without taking unreasonable risks, but it is clear that in meeting these criteria there are investment opportunities that will also deliver an impact on local communities that improves their economic wellbeing, including social and environmental outcomes.”

There are many sectors in which the funds can invest to create a positive impact, such as infrastructure, resource management and business development. The funds have agreed to set an initial investment of £50m

Quinn added, Funds have taken a number of such investment opportunities and this initiative is not only to establish the depth and breadth of the current market, but to challenge asset managers to bring opportunities forward on sufficient scale to match the investment allocations pension funds are prepared to commit.”

Local government pension funds have come under scrutiny in the past over their investment in tobacco – which they undertake despite fighting smoking addiction. Croydon councillor Dudley Mead, who chairs the council’s pensions committee, told Your Local Guardian in April that he would “absolutely not” change the investment policy and that his duty was “to get the best possible return” for investors.

This week, the National Association of Pension Funds (NAPF) launched a guide that promotes responsible investment, encouraging members to take factors other than economic returns into account when investing.

Investing in energy efficiency delivers a ‘potent one-two punch’....

Improved policies are essential in unlocking multi-billion dollar investment opportunities in the US energy efficiency sector, according to a new report by Ceres and the Investor Network on Climate Risk (INCR).
The study, entitled, Power Factor: Institutional Investors’ Policy Priorities Can Bring Energy Efficiency to Scale, says improving utility regulation, demand-generating policies and encouraging innovation would boost institutional investment into energy efficiency.

“Energy efficiency offers investors a potent one-two punch: stable returns and an important strategy for mitigating climate-related risks”, said Mindy Lubber, president of Ceres and director of the INCR.

“Policymakers and regulators should work to unlock capital from institutional investors for energy efficiency by promoting the policies identified in this report.

“Many of these policies do not require public funds, and they can put money back into the pockets of homeowners and business leaders around the country.”

Based on the input of around 30 large institutional investors and experts on energy, policy and finance, respondents cited several areas of policy that would help grow investment within the energy efficiency market.

The report cited that improving financing policies, offering Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) bonds (local government entities that offer sustainable energy project loans to property owners) and improving stronger contractor and performance standards, would all boost investment opportunities.

In the UK, almost 19,000 households have had assessments through the government’s flagship energy efficiency policy, the green deal since January 2013. However, research from consumer group Which? recently revealed that taking out a loan through the scheme could hinder property sales in the future.

Thursday, 23 May 2013

Small, Speedy Plant-Eater Extends Knowledge of Dinosaur Ecosystems.....

This is a life reconstruction of the new small-bodied, plant-eating dinosaur Albertadromeus syntarsus.
Dinosaurs are often thought of as large, fierce animals, but new research highlights a previously overlooked diversity of small dinosaurs. In the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology, a team of paleontologists from the University of Toronto, Royal Ontario Museum, Cleveland Museum of Natural History and University of Calgary have described a new dinosaur, the smallest plant-eating dinosaur species known from Canada. Albertadromeus syntarsus was identified from a partial hind leg, and other skeletal elements, that indicate it was a speedy runner. Approximately 1.6 m (5 ft) long, it weighed about 16 kg (30 lbs), comparable to a large turkey.

Albertadromeus lived in what is now southern Alberta in the Late Cretaceous, about 77 million years ago. Albertadromeus syntarsus means "Alberta runner with fused foot bones." Unlike its much larger ornithopod cousins, the duckbilled dinosaurs, its two fused lower leg bones would have made it a fast, agile two-legged runner. This animal is the smallest known plant-eating dinosaur in its ecosystem, and researchers hypothesize that it used its speed to avoid predation by the many species of meat-eating dinosaurs that lived at the same time.

Albertadromeus was discovered in 2009 by study co-author David Evans of the Royal Ontario Museum as part an on-going collaboration with Michael Ryan of the Cleveland Museum of Natural History to investigate the evolution of dinosaurs in the Late Cretaceous of North America. The known dinosaur diversity of this time period is dominated by large bodied plant-eating dinosaurs.

Why are so few small-bodied dinosaurs known from North America some 77 million years ago? Smaller animals are less likely to be preserved than larger ones, because their bones are more delicate and are often destroyed before being fossilized. "We know from our previous research that there are preservational biases against the bones of these small dinosaurs," said Caleb Brown of the University of Toronto, lead author of the study. "We are now starting to uncover this hidden diversity, and although skeletons of these small ornithopods are both rare and fragmentary, our study shows that these dinosaurs were more abundant in their ecosystems than previously thought."

The reason for our relatively poor understanding of these small dinosaurs is a combination of the taphonomic processes (those related to decay and preservation) described above, and biases in the way that material has been collected. Small skeletons are more prone to destruction by carnivores, scavengers and weathering processes, so fewer small animals are available to become fossils and smaller animals are often more difficult to find and identify than those of larger animals.

"Albertadromeus may have been close to the bottom of the dinosaur food chain but without dinosaurs like it you'd not have giants like T. rex," said Michael Ryan. "Our understanding of the structure of dinosaur ecosystems is dependent on the fossils that have been preserved. Fragmentary, but important, specimens like that of Albertadromeus suggest that we are only beginning to understand the shape of dinosaur diversity and the structure of their communities."

"You can imagine such small dinosaurs filling the niche of animals such as rabbits and being major, but relatively inconspicuous, members of their ecological community" said Anthony Russell of the
University of Calgary.

Largest Genetic Sequencing Study of Human Disease......

Researchers have completed the largest sequencing study of human disease to date, investigating the genetic basis of six autoimmune diseases.

Researchers from Queen Mary, University of London have led the largest sequencing study of human disease to date, investigating the genetic basis of six autoimmune diseases.

The exact cause of these diseases -- autoimmune thyroid disease, celiac disease, Crohn's disease, psoriasis, multiple sclerosis and type 1 diabetes- is unknown, but is believed to be a complex combination of genetic and environmental factors. In each disease only a proportion of the heritability is explained by the identified genetic variants. The techniques used to date, have generally identified common (in the population) variants of weak effect.

In this study, using high-throughput sequencing techniques, a global team of scientists sought to identify new variants, including rare and potentially high risk ones, in 25 previously identified risk genes in a sample of nearly 42,000 individuals (24,892 with autoimmune disease and 17,019 controls).

It has been suggested -- in the 'rare-variant synthetic genome-wide association hypothesis' -- that a small number of rare variants in risk genes are likely to be a major cause of the heritability of these conditions. However, the study published today in the journal Nature, suggests that the genetic risk of these diseases more likely involves a complex combination of hundreds of weak-effect variants which are each common in the population.

The authors estimate that rare variants in these risk genes account for only around three per cent of the heritability of these conditions that can be explained by common variants.

David van Heel, Professor of Gastrointestinal Genetics at Barts and The London School of Medicine and Dentistry at Queen Mary and director of the Barts and The London Genome Centre, led the study. He said: "These results suggests that risk for these autoimmune diseases is not due to a few high-risk genetic variations but seems rather due to a random selection from many common genetic variants which each have a weak effect.

"For each disease there are probably hundreds such variants and the genetic risk is likely to come from inheriting a large number of these variants from both parents. If this is the case then it may never be possible to accurately predict an individual's genetic risk of these common autoimmune diseases. However, the results do provide important information about the biological basis of these conditions and the pathways involved, which could lead to the identification new drug targets."

The research utilised high-throughput sequencing techniques performed at the Barts and The London Genome Centre and demonstrated for the first time that the sequencing can call genotypes as accurately as 'gold standard techniques' such as genotyping array platforms. Additional laboratory work was carried out at the Blizard institute at Queen Mary.

Professor Richard Trembath, Vice Principal and Executive Dean for Health at Barts and The London School of Medicine and Dentistry, Queen Mary, and a co-author on the paper said: "The results prompt a re-assessment of the genetic architecture that determines risk for development of common auto-immune disorders and will fuel future careful assessment of regions of the human genome beyond those presently known to confer susceptibility to these important medical conditions."

This study was primarily funded by the Medical Research Council with additional funding from Coeliac UK.

The Mammoth's Lament: How Cosmic Impact Sparked Devastating Climate Change....

Herds of wooly mammoths once shook Earth beneath their feet, sending humans scurrying across the landscape of prehistoric Ohio. But then something much larger shook Earth itself, and at that point these mega mammals' days were numbered.

Something -- global-scale combustion caused by a comet scraping our planet's atmosphere or a meteorite slamming into its surface -- scorched the air, melted bedrock and altered the course of Earth's history. Exactly what it was is unclear, but this event jump-started what Kenneth Tankersley, an assistant professor of anthropology and geology at the University of Cincinnati, calls the last gasp of the last ice age.

"Imagine living in a time when you look outside and there are elephants walking around in Cincinnati," Tankersley says. "But by the time you're at the end of your years, there are no more elephants. It happens within your lifetime."

Tankersley explains what he and a team of international researchers found may have caused this catastrophic event in Earth's history in their research, "Evidence for Deposition of 10 Million Tonnes of Impact Spherules Across Four Continents 12,800 Years Ago," which was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

This research might indicate that it wasn't the cosmic collision that extinguished the mammoths and other species, Tankersley says, but the drastic change to their environment.

"The climate changed rapidly and profoundly. And coinciding with this very rapid global climate change was mass extinctions."

Putting a Finger On the End of the Ice Age

Tankersley is an archaeological geologist. He uses geological techniques, in the field and laboratory, to solve archaeological questions. He's found a treasure trove of answers to some of those questions in Sheriden Cave in Wyandot County, Ohio. It's in that spot, 100 feet below the surface, where Tankersley has been studying geological layers that date to the Younger Dryas time period, about 13,000 years ago.

About 12,000 years before the Younger Dryas, Earth was at the Last Glacial Maximum -- the peak of the Ice Age. Millennia passed, and the climate began to warm. Then something happened that caused temperatures to suddenly reverse course, bringing about a century's worth of near-glacial climate that marked the start of the geologically brief Younger Dryas.

There are only about 20 archaeological sites in the world that date to this time period and only 12 in the United States -- including Sheriden Cave.

"There aren't many places on the planet where you can actually put your finger on the end of the last ice age, and Sheriden Cave is one of those rare places where you can do that," Tankersley says.

Rock-Solid Evidence of Cosmic Calamity

In studying this layer, Tankersley found ample evidence to support the theory that something came close enough to Earth to melt rock and produce other interesting geological phenomena. Foremost among the findings were carbon spherules. These tiny bits of carbon are formed when substances are burned at very high temperatures. The spherules exhibit characteristics that indicate their origin, whether that's from burning coal, lightning strikes, forest fires or something more extreme.

Tankersley says the ones in his study could only have been formed from the combustion of rock.

The spherules also were found at 17 other sites across four continents -- an estimated 10 million metric tons' worth -- further supporting the idea that whatever changed Earth did so on a massive scale. It's unlikely that a wildfire or thunderstorm would leave a geological calling card that immense -- covering about 50 million square kilometers.

"We know something came close enough to Earth and it was hot enough that it melted rock -- that's what these carbon spherules are. In order to create this type of evidence that we see around the world, it was big," Tankersley says, contrasting the effects of an event so massive with the 1883 volcanic explosion on Krakatoa in Indonesia. "When Krakatoa blew its stack, Cincinnati had no summer.

Imagine winter all year-round. That's just one little volcano blowing its top."

Other important findings include:
  • Micrometeorites: smaller pieces of meteorites or particles of cosmic dust that have made contact with Earth's surface.
  • Nanodiamonds: microscopic diamonds formed when a carbon source is subjected to an extreme impact, often found in meteorite craters.
  • Lonsdaleite: a rare type of diamond, also called a hexagonal diamond, only found in non-terrestrial areas such as meteorite craters.
Three Choices at the Crossroads of Oblivion

Tankersley says while the cosmic strike had an immediate and deadly effect, the long-term side effects were far more devastating -- similar to Krakatoa's aftermath but many times worse -- making it unique in modern human history.

In the cataclysm's wake, toxic gas poisoned the air and clouded the sky, causing temperatures to plummet. The roiling climate challenged the existence of plant and animal populations, and it produced what Tankersley has classified as "winners" and "losers" of the Younger Dryas. He says inhabitants of this time period had three choices: relocate to another environment where they could make a similar living; downsize or adjust their way of living to fit the current surroundings; or swiftly go extinct. "Winners" chose one of the first two options while "losers," such as the wooly mammoth, took the last.

"Whatever this was, it did not cause the extinctions," Tankersley says. "Rather, this likely caused climate change. And climate change forced this scenario: You can move, downsize or you can go extinct."

Humans at the time were just as resourceful and intelligent as we are today. If you transported a teenager from 13,000 years ago into the 21st century and gave her jeans, a T-shirt and a Facebook account, she'd blend right in on any college campus. Back in the Younger Dryas, with mammoth off the dinner table, humans were forced to adapt -- which they did to great success.

Weather Report: Cloudy With a Chance of Extinction

That lesson in survivability is one that Tankersley applies to humankind today.

"Whether we want to admit it or not, we're living right now in a period of very rapid and profound global climate change. We're also living in a time of mass extinction," Tankersley says. "So I would argue that a lot of the lessons for surviving climate change are actually in the past."

He says it's important to consider a sustainable livelihood. Humans of the Younger Dryas were hunter-gatherers. When catastrophe struck, these humans found news ways and new places to hunt game and gather wild plants. Evidence found in Sheriden Cave shows that most of the plants and animals living there also endured. Of the 70 species known to have lived there before the Younger Dryas, 68 were found there afterward. The two that didn't make it were the giant beaver and the flat-headed peccary, a sharp-toothed pig the size of a black bear.

Tankersley also cautions that the possibility of another massive cosmic event should not be ignored. Like earthquakes, tsunamis and volcanoes, these types of natural disasters do happen, and as history has shown, it can be to devastating effect.

"One additional catastrophic change that we often fail to think about -- and it's beyond our control -- is something from outer space," Tankersley says. "It's a reminder of how fragile we are. Imagine an explosion that happened today that went across four continents. The human species would go on. But it would be different. It would be a game changer."
An environmental scanning electron microscope image of a carbon spherule from Sheriden Cave.

Imagine a pharmaceutical prevention, treatment or even cure for Alzheimer's disease......

It is almost impossible to overstate how monumental a development that would be and how it would answer the prayers of millions.

Though science isn't there yet, a new study published in The Journal of Neuroscience spearheaded by USC Davis School of Gerontology researchers offers a tantalizing glimpse of potential solutions.

"Our data suggests the possibility of drugs that can prevent and treat Alzheimer's," said lead author, professor and lab principal Christian Pike of USC Davis. "It's just mouse data but extremely encouraging mouse data."

The team studied the effects of a class of drugs called TSPO ligands on male mice that were genetically engineered to develop Alzheimer's disease, known as 3xTg-AD mice. Because a key mechanism of TSPO ligands is to increase production of steroid hormones, it was important to ensure that the mice had low levels of testosterone and related hormones before treatment. Younger mice were castrated while, in older mice, the decrease occurred as a normal consequence of aging.

"We looked at the effects of TSPO ligands in young adult mice when pathology was at an early stage and in aged mice when pathology was quite severe," Pike said. "TSPO ligands reduced measures of pathology and improved behavior at both ages."

The most surprising finding for Pike and his team was the effect of TSPO ligands in the aged mice.

Four treatments -- one per week over four weeks -- in aged 3xTg-AD mice resulted in significant lowering of Alzheimer's-related pathology and improvements in memory behavior. This finding suggested the possibility that TSPO ligands can reverse components of Alzheimer's and thus have the potential to be useful in treatment.

For humans, these findings may indeed be quite significant.

"TSPO ligands are currently used in humans in certain types of neuroimaging. Newer TSPO ligands are at the clinical trials stage of development for treatment of anxiety and other conditions," Pike said. "There is a strong possibility that TSPO ligands similar to the ones used in our study could be evaluated for therapeutic efficacy in Alzheimer's patients within the next few years."

In light of the findings, the team will next focus on understanding how TSPO ligands reduce Alzheimer's pathology. Building on the established knowledge that TSPO ligands can act protectively by reducing inflammation, shielding nerve cells from injury and increasing the production of neuroactive hormones in the brain, the team will study which of these actions is the most significant in fighting Alzheimer's so it can develop newer TSPO ligands accordingly.

While Pike and his team acknowledged that the findings represent an exciting possibility, the researchers also stressed that it is by no means a given.

"From the optimistic perspective, our data provide very promising findings with tangible potential benefits for both the prevention and treatment of Alzheimer's," Pike said. "On the pessimistic side, research scientists have developed many interventions that cured Alzheimer's in mice but have failed to show significant benefits in humans. A critical direction we are currently pursuing is successfully translating these findings into humans."

Co-authors of the study were Anna Barron (former USC Davis postdoctoral student and Molecular Imaging Center, National Institute of Radiological Sciences, Japan); Luis Garcia Segura (Instituto Cajal, Spain); Donatella Caruso and Roberto Melcangi (Department of Pharmacological and Biomolecular Sciences, Centre of Excellence on Neurodegenerative Diseases, University of Milan); and Anusha Jayaraman and Joo Lee (USC Davis).

The research was funded by the National Institutes of Health in support of the USC Alzheimer's Disease Research Center, directed by Helena Chui, professor of neurology and gerontology at USC.

Wednesday, 22 May 2013

Friends of the Earth study links UK banks with land grabbing....

Friends of the Earth has claimed that two high street banks are funding a palm oil company involved in land grabbing activities in Uganda, violating environmental regulations and affecting the local community’s lives.
According to campaign group’s research, Barclays and HSBC, together with investment firm Schroders, are helping fund a large palm oil plantation owner and refiner named Wilmar International.

A subsidiary of the company owns plantations in Uganda and has been found to have violated land laws, Friends of the Earth says.

HSBC is accused of lending £777m to Wilmar since 2009, while Barclays and other two European banks, BNP Paribas and Deutsche Bank, are also involved. Schroders, meanwhile, holds £14m worth of shares in the company.

Friends of the Earth adds that communities in Uganda have been displaced from their land without receiving compensation or assistance. Large parts of the forest have been cleared for palm plantations, affecting the environment and the lives of local people, who are also experiencing food insecurity as crops have been replaced by palm plants.

Campaigners have called on investors to put pressure on Wilmar or divest from the firm.

Friends of the Earth Uganda campaigner David Kureeba said, “Investors must push Wilmar to clean up its act or put their money elsewhere. Wilmar and its subsidiaries, backed by European money, are forcing communities from their land in Uganda.”

Meanwhile, international food campaigner Kirtana Chandrasekaran said, “The financial sector must take responsibility for its activities and ensure the companies they invest in respect human rights and abide by local environmental regulations.”

Land grabbing is the contentious issue of large-scale land acquisitions: the buying or leasing of large pieces of land in developing countries, by domestic and transnational companies, governments, and individuals. While used broadly throughout history, land grabbing as used today primarily refers to large-scale land acquisitions following the 2007-2008 world food price crisis. Obtaining water resources is usually critical to the land acquisitions, so it has also led to an associated trend of water grabbing. By prompting food security fears within the developed world and newfound economic opportunities for agricultural investors, the food price crisis caused a dramatic spike in large-scale agricultural investments, primarily foreign, in the Global South for the purposes of food and biofuels production. Initially hailed by investors and some developing countries as a new pathway towards agricultural development, investment in land has recently been criticized by a number of civil society, governmental, and multinational actors who argue that it has had negative impacts on local communities.

Phobia Of The Day - Dromophobia: Fear Of Crossing Streets or Wandering (Roaming)....

What is Dromophobia?

Dromophobia is the fear of crossing streets or wandering (roaming). The origin of the word dromo is Greek (meaning race course) and phobia is Greek (meaning fear). Dromophobia is considered to be a specific phobia, which is discussed on the home page. Dromophobia is also related Agyrophobia (fear of streets or crossing the street) and Agyiophobia (fear of busy streets or crossing a busy street).
What are the causes?

It is generally accepted that phobias arise from a combination of external events (i.e. traumatic events) and internal predispositions (i.e. heredity or genetics). Many specific phobias can be traced back to a specific triggering event, usually a traumatic experience at an early age. Social phobias and agoraphobia have more complex causes that are not entirely known at this time. It is believed that heredity, genetics, and brain chemistry combine with life-experiences to play a major role in the development of phobias.

What are the symptoms?

As with any phobia, the symptoms vary by person depending on their level of fear. The symptoms typically include extreme anxiety, dread and anything associated with panic such as shortness of breath, rapid breathing, irregular heartbeat, sweating, excessive sweating, nausea, dry mouth, nausea, inability to articulate words or sentences, dry mouth and shaking.
Can I take medicine?

Medicine can be prescribed, but please note that these medications can have side effects and/or withdrawal systems that can be severe. It is also important to note that medicines do not cure phobias, at best they only temporarily suppress the systems. However, there are treatments for phobias, which include counselling, hypnotherapy, psychotherapy, and Neuro-Linguistic programming.

Treatments For Dromophobia

Generally, dromophobiac are treated with combination of hypnotherapy and anti-anxiety drugs.

Learning More About The Mind & Brain: Schizophrenia....

Schizophrenia is a long-term mental health condition that causes a range of different psychological symptoms, including:
  • hallucinations - hearing or seeing things that do not exist
  • delusions - unusual beliefs not based on reality which often contradict the evidence
  • muddled thoughts based on the hallucinations or delusions
  • changes in behaviour
Doctors often describe schizophrenia as a psychotic illness. This means sometimes a person may not be able to distinguish their own thoughts and ideas from reality.Why does schizophrenia happen?
The exact cause of schizophrenia is unknown. However, most experts believe the condition is caused by a combination of genetic and environmental factors.
It is thought certain things make you more vulnerable to developing schizophrenia, and certain situations can trigger the condition.
Who is affected?
Schizophrenia is one of the most common serious mental health conditions. About 1 in 100 people will experience schizophrenia in their lifetime, with many continuing to lead normal lives.
Schizophrenia is most often diagnosed between the ages of 15 and 35. Men and women are equally affected.
There is no single test for schizophrenia. It is most often diagnosed after an assessment by a mental health care professional, such as a psychiatrist.
It is important that schizophrenia is diagnosed as early as possible, as the chances of recovery improve the earlier it is treated.
How is schizophrenia treated?

Schizophrenia is usually treated with a combination of medication and therapy appropriate to each individual. In most cases, this will be antipsychotic medicines and cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT).

People with schizophrenia will usually receive help from a community mental health team (CMHT), which will offer day-to-day support and treatment.

Many people recover from schizophrenia, although they may have periods when symptoms return (relapses). Support and treatment can help reduce the impact of the condition on your life.

Living with schizophrenia

If schizophrenia is well managed, it is possible to reduce the chances of severe relapses. This can include:

  • recognising signs of an acute episode
  • taking medication as prescribed
  • talking to others about the condition

There are many charities and support groups offering help and advice on living with schizophrenia. Most people find it comforting to talk to others with a similar condition.
Misconceptions about schizophrenia
Split personality
It is commonly thought that people with schizophrenia have a split personality, acting perfectly normally one minute and irrationally or bizarrely the next - this is not true.
Violent crime
While there is a link between violence and schizophrenia, the media tend to exaggerate this, with acts of violence committed by people with schizophrenia getting high-profile coverage. This gives the false impression that such acts happen frequently.

Flu in Pregnancy May Quadruple Child's Risk for Bipolar Disorder....

This colorized transmission electron micrograph shows H1N1 influenza virus particles. Surface proteins on the virus particles are shown in black
Pregnant mothers' exposure to the flu was associated with a nearly fourfold increased risk that their child would develop bipolar disorder in adulthood, in a study funded by the National Institutes of Health. The findings add to mounting evidence of possible shared underlying causes and illness processes with schizophrenia, which some studies have also linked to prenatal exposure to influenza.

"Prospective mothers should take common sense preventive measures, such as getting flu shots prior to and in the early stages of pregnancy and avoiding contact with people who are symptomatic," said Alan Brown, M.D., M.P.H, of Columbia University and New York State Psychiatric Institute, a grantee of the NIH's National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). "In spite of public health recommendations, only a relatively small fraction of such women get immunized. The weight of evidence now suggests that benefits of the vaccine likely outweigh any possible risk to the mother or newborn."

Brown and colleagues reported their findings online May 8, 2013 in JAMA Psychiatry.

Although there have been hints of a maternal influenza/bipolar disorder connection, the new study is the first to prospectively follow families in the same HMO, using physician-based diagnoses and structured standardized psychiatric measures. Access to unique Kaiser-Permanente, county and Child Health and Development Study databases made it possible to include more cases with detailed maternal flu exposure information than in previous studies.

Among nearly a third of all children born in a northern California county during 1959-1966, researchers followed, 92 who developed bipolar disorder, comparing rates of maternal flu diagnoses during pregnancy with 722 matched controls.

The nearly fourfold increased risk implicated influenza infection at any time during pregnancy, but there was evidence suggesting slightly higher risk if the flu occurred during the second or third trimesters. Moreover, the researchers linked flu exposure to a nearly sixfold increase in a subtype of bipolar disorder with psychotic features.

A previous study, by Brown and colleagues, in a related northern California sample, found a threefold increased risk for schizophrenia associated with maternal influenza during the first half of pregnancy. Autism has similarly been linked to first trimester maternal viral infections and to possibly related increases in inflammatory molecules.

"Future research might investigate whether this same environmental risk factor might give rise to different disorders, depending on how the timing of the prenatal insult affects the developing fetal brain," suggested Brown.

Bipolar disorder shares with schizophrenia a number of other suspected causes and illness features, the researchers note. For example, both share onset of symptoms in early adulthood, susceptibility genes, run in the same families, affect nearly one percent of the population, show psychotic behaviors and respond to antipsychotic medications.

Increasing evidence of such overlap between traditional diagnostic categories has led to the NIMH Research Domain Criteria (RDoC) project, which is laying the foundation for a new mental disorders classification system based on brain circuits and dimensional mechanisms that cut across traditional diagnostic categories.

The research was also funded by NIH's Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD).

Study Reveals How Fishing Gear Can Cause Slow Death of Whales.....

North Atlantic right whale Eg 3911, seen swimming entangled in fishing gear before entanglement response teams arrived. The teams suction-cupped a cell-phone sized device called a Dtag to study how fishing lines changed the whale's diving and swimming behavior

Using a "patient monitoring" device attached to a whale entangled in fishing gear, scientists showed for the first time how fishing lines changed a whale's diving and swimming behavior. The monitoring revealed how fishing gear hinders whales' ability to eat and migrate, depletes their energy as they drag gear for months or years, and can result in a slow death.

The scientists in this entanglement response suction-cupped a cellphone-size device called a Dtag to a two-year-old female North Atlantic right whale called Eg 3911. The Dtag, developed at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI), recorded Eg 3911's movements before, during, and after at-sea disentanglement operations.

Immediately after Eg 3911 was disentangled from most of the fishing gear, she swam faster, dove twice as deep, and for longer periods. The study, by scientists at WHOI, the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, and NOAA Fisheries, was published online May 21 in the journal Marine Mammal Science.

"The Dtag opened up a whole new world of Eg 3911's life under water that otherwise we weren't able to see," said Julie van der Hoop, lead author of the study and a graduate student in the MIT/WHOI Joint Program in Oceanography.

North Atlantic right whales were nearly eradicated by whaling and remain endangered today, with a population of 450 to 500. About 75 percent bear scars of fishing lines that cut into their flesh.

Born in 2009, Eg 3911 was first sighted entangled and emaciated by an aerial survey team on Christmas Day 2010, near Jacksonville, Florida. Fishing gear was entangled around her mouth, wrapped around both pectoral fins, and trailed about 100 feet behind her tail.

Teams aboard boats attempted to cut away the fishing gear on Dec. 29 and 30, 2010, but were not successful because the whale was evasive. A multiagency team tried again on Jan. 15, 2011. First, they applied a Dtag. Then they administered a carefully calculated sedative with a dart gun developed for large whale drug delivery by Paxarms NZ in collaboration with Dr. Michael Moore, director of the Marine Mammal Center at WHOI and a marine mammal veterinarian. The becalmed whale allowed the team to approach and remove nearly all the fishing gear.

The Dtag measured 152 dives that Eg 3911 took over six hours. There were no significant differences in depth or duration of dives after sedation, but "the whale altered its behavior immediately following disentanglement," the scientists reported. "The near-complete disentanglement of Eg 3911 resulted in significant increases in dive duration and depth."

"Together, the effects of added buoyancy, added drag, and reduced swimming speed due to towing accessory gear pose many threats to entangled whales," the scientists wrote. Buoyant gear may overwhelm animals' ability to descend to depths to forage on preferred prey. Increased drag can reduce swimming speeds, delaying whales' timely arrival to feeding or breeding grounds. "Most significant, however, is the energy drain associated with added drag," they said.

To calculate that drain, the scientists, in a separate experiment, towed three types of fishing gear from a skiff, using tensiometers to measure the drag forces acting on Eg 3911. They then calculated how much more energy whales would require to compensate for the drag. The results: Entangled whales have significantly higher energy demands, requiring 70 to 102 percent more power to swim at the same speed unentangled; or alternatively, they need to slow down their swimming speed by 16 to 20.5 percent.

The study provides the first data on the behavioral impacts of sedation and disentanglement and the energetic cost of entanglement in fishing gear due to drag.

On Feb. 1, 2011, an aerial survey observed Eg 3911 dead at sea.

"She didn't make it," van der Hoop said. The whale was towed ashore for a necropsy. "We showed up on the beach that night. I remember walking out there and seeing this huge whale, or what I thought was huge. She was only 10 meters long. She was only two years old. And all these people who had been involved in her life at some point, were there to learn from her what entanglement had caused."

The necropsy showed that effects of the chronic entanglement were the cause of death.

"No fisherman wants to catch a whale, and I wish no fisherman a hungry day," said Moore. "There needs to be a targeted assessment of how the fishery can still be profitable while deploying less gear so we can reduce the risk of marine mammals encountering fishing gear in the first place. At WHOI, we have hosted workshops talking with fisheries managers and fishermen about what might change so that they can continue to catch fish and stop catching whales."