Sunday, 30 September 2018

Nobel: Seconds Out!

It has been suggested that the Nobel prize (both highly prestigious and financially well rewarded) is somewhat out-dated in its approach to current Science (https://www.theguardian.com/science/2018/sep/30/nobel-prize-fails-modern-science). Firstly, it only gives prizes for Chemistry, Physics and Physiology (generally ignoring the Behavioural Sciences, Environmental Studies and Mathematics) and, secondly, it fails (although many recent prizes have been shared) to recognize that much of science is currently accomplished by teams of workers rather than a lone genius. Some people are concerned about the secretive nature of both nominations and voting on the list by the Nobel committee (even suggesting that 'cronyism' may be involved in the process). The time does seem ripe to update the process to more overtly reward ground-breaking science.

Badgering the Badger Hunters

It is not only the case that the 'culling' of badgers in the UK to 'protect dairy cattle from bovine TB' is unsupported by science (there's a clue in the name of the disease) but it seems that the cull is a) expensive and b) may involve considerable animal cruelty (https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/sep/30/covert-footage-reveals-cruelty-of-badger-culls). One can't help but feel that the cull is largely carried out because farmers are a powerful lobby group in many rural areas?

Poisoning the Next Generation in the UK?


The UN has suggested that the failure of the UK government to protect its children from the negative effects of illegally high (on EU measures) air pollution is infringing their human rights (https://www.express.co.uk/news/uk/761226/UK-air-pollution-London-clean-air-UN ). Children are especially susceptible to both particulates and nitrous oxides- influencing, it is claimed, their longevity, proneness to respiratory problems and even their intellectual development. In spite of this, very little appears to has been done to reduce this type of pollution (particularly around schools in major cities like London).

Friday, 28 September 2018

Junking Yourself?

A multinational study has suggested a link between eating junk food ands depression (https://www.theguardian.com/society/2018/sep/26/eating-junk-food-raises-risk-of-depression-says-multi-country-study). Although this could simply be a consequence of not taking in sufficient quantities of the necessary nutrients (and, perhaps, too much of the wrong foods), there are other possibilities. At the most basic, some people who eat junk food are just basically poor and a strong link between poverty and depression has been known for some time. It could also be the case that some regular consumers of junk food do so in a way that curtails their social interactions and that could have a detrimental effect on mental health. People who eat junk foods may also develop obesity, a condition that damages physical health, having a positive body image and a willingness to do exercise (all factors that might predispose individuals to depression). I suspect that different combinations of factors account for the link in different cases.

Thursday, 27 September 2018

Transport of Delight?

A group operating in Southampton (not here) have reportedly developed a prototype bus with filters that suck up the particulates released from other vehicles (notably from diesel exhausts but also from activating brakes in all cars). These are air-associated contaminants that cause serious health problems in people. The developers note that employing such buses would not only clean the air on their routes (hopefully not exposing their passengers to high emissions when idling at stops) but might well reduce car usage (https://www.shropshirestar.com/news/motors/2018/09/27/air-cleaning-bus-hits-the-streets-of-southampton/). I have also heard that other people are developing bas stops that remove air pollution.

Sucking Away the Greenhouse Gases?

Experts have claimed that we only have a very limited time (less than 5 years?) to curb the effects of 'greenhouse gas' emissions to an extent that limits the average global temperature increase to the 1.5 degrees Centigrade rise agreed at the Paris summit (and this was very much a 'guesstimate'). After that, our fate could well be sealed by the effectiveness of as yet unproven technologies such as carbon capture (https://www.seeker.com/earth/climate/humanity-shouldnt-rely-on-negative-emissions-technology-to-curb-climate-change).

Exercise the Brain

I seem to be exceeding what is absolutely necessary! It has been claimed that you need only 10 minutes per day of light exercise to improve your memory (https://www.theguardian.com/science/2018/sep/24/10-minutes-of-exercise-a-day-improves-memory). But then again, you can't be too careful. Use it or lose it!

Blooding

Is there no end to the versatility of stem cells? It has recently been found that some blood-borne stem cells can be programmed to repair or even grow new blood vessels (https://www.genengnews.com/gen-news-highlights/stem-cells-in-blood-might-be-used-to-grow-new-blood-vessels/81256279). This might well be a source of medical interventions, especially in areas that are poorly vascularised.

Wednesday, 26 September 2018

The Fracking Four

It is somewhat remarkable, given the local antipathy to fracking, that four men who blocked the entry of trucks containing drilling equipment to sites near Blackpool are likely to become the first environmental protestors to receive custodial sentences for their actions in the UK since 1932 (https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/sep/25/four-anti-fracking-activists-face-prison-over-protest). The earlier example involved the mass 'trespass' on Kinder Scout (part of the campaign to allow rambling) and we all know how that turned out. I still don't understand why the government is so keen to force fracking on local communities. 

More 'Watering Down(under)' of Science?

It has been claimed that Australian Scientists allocated government funding to carry out studies of the Great Barrier Reef have been told to concentrate on studies that 'make the government look good' (https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/sep/26/great-barrier-reef-scientists-told-to-focus-on-projects-to-make-government-look-good). It's hardly unique for a government to want to benefit by getting 'pats on the back' for their use of public funds (bangs for the buck?) but this is not, in my view, the correct way to operate in Science. The environmental credibility of the Australian government has been damaged by some of their recent decisions and I would hope that scientists working on the reef should be free consider any detrimental effects of current practices (otherwise, it's just PR). 

Cruising and Fuming?

I does seem strange that, in London, the authorities can be planning to restrict diesel car access to certain locations to reduce the currently illegal (and health damaging) levels of air pollution at the same time that other bodies are planning to build a cruiser ship terminus on the Thames (https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/sep/26/air-pollution-fears-fuel-fight-against-huge-new-london-cruise-ship-terminal-river-thames). These large ships (there could be up to 50 per year), not only produced masses of carbon dioxide and nitrous oxides when they are in motion but, when docked, they continuously run their engines to power all the services onboard the vessel. I know that cruising is a popular activity but the locals must be fuming.

Monday, 24 September 2018

Enfeeblement Science?

I am not sure whether science should ever 'pull its punches' to keep deniers onboard. This seems especially problematical when the topic is climate change and the deniers are people with vested political or commercial interests (https://www.theguardian.com/science/2018/sep/23/scientists-changing-global-warming-report-please-polluters). Science stands or falls by making a testable hypothesis and making predictions on this basis that are experimentally examined (hopefully, in a way that is unbiased). When the predictions are not supported, the scientist has to change the hypothesis (either by tweaking it or coming up with something new).There are no such constraints on 'belief systems'. So you can't be a little bit scientific and the fact that scientists often differ in their views should not be seen as a weakness (especially when a contentious area is developing). I do think you have to tell it how it is!

Sunday, 23 September 2018

Turning Their Back on Black?

Lidl is reportedly going to stop packaging fruit and vegetables in black plastic containers 'by the end of the month' (https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/sep/21/lidl-to-stop-using-black-plastic-fruit-and-vegetable-packaging). This is claimed to be because such plastic cannot be recycled (it could, of course, be because the sorting devices used by some waste treatment centres don't respond to it?). There is a confusing enormous variation in what plastic items can and cannot be recycled in parts of the UK and it would help enormously if a greater degree of conformity could be legislated.

War on Drugs?

I have always found it a bit illogical that alcohol is treated as a legal 'high' (it's actually a depressant), whereas most non-medical psychoactive drugs have attracted (at least until recently) the full ire of the legal systems of most countries. This oddity can only be accounted for on the basis of the longevity of alcohol's use. A WHO (World Health Organisation) report has now linked alcohol to 1 in 20 deaths on a world-wide basis but I don't suppose that this will change anything.

Saturday, 22 September 2018

Brainwash the Young?

Young children in the UK don't watch TV as much as they once did, being more hooked currently on apps and YouTube. It is hardly surprising, then that the Kindernauts site has been banned by the Advertising Standards Authority (https://www.theguardian.com/media/2018/sep/19/websites-of-kinder-chocolate-banned-over-ads-targeting-children) for breaking its rules on encouraging the ingestion of products high in fats, salt or sugar by toddlers (i.e. the under 16's). The convention has been devised as a contribution to the 'war on obesity' that is damaging the health of UK children and costing the NHS millions. The reason why (kinder)surprise is in short supply is that the aims of the sweet producer (to sell as much product to as many people as possible) and the health professions (to encourage individuals to adopt a healthy diet) are completely at variance. This is one reason why self-regulation by producers rarely has much impact.

Thursday, 20 September 2018

Foxed

You can't fool Scotland Yard! After three years of intense investigation, police have deduced that 'the Croydon Cat Killer' (who removed the heads and tails of hundreds of London felines was probably a fox or another scavenging animal (https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/sep/20/croydon-cat-killer-unmasked-after-three-year-investigation).

Wednesday, 19 September 2018

Microplastics Get to Surprising Places

A study, using fluorescent microplastic beads, has shown that the larval forms of mosquito that live in freshwater and filter feed on algae take up these now almost ubiquitous pollutants and retain them in their bodies when they become blood-sucking (the females) or juice drinkers (the males) adults (https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/sep/19/microplastics-can-spread-via-flying-insects-research-shows). As the adults are fed up by larger organisms such as dragonflies as well as insectivorous birds and bats, this means that the microplastics are reaching areas that other environmental contaminants cannot reach!

Stinger!

There was an interesting discussion on breakfast time BBC about why people tend to hate wasps (actually, the Common wasp Vespula vulgaris, as there are lots of other wasp species, sometimes with very different lifestyles) whilst feeling positive about bees (https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-45566304). It's pretty obviously because the strictly herbivorous bee's role in pollination is well understood as well as this insect being less likely to sting (it's fatal for this insect with its harpoon-like sting). In contrast, it's not generally appreciated that social wasps being omnivorous are also active pollinators as well as being effective predators on a range of plant-devouring caterpillars. Also the wasp, having a syringe needle-like sting, is more likely to use its defence mechanism repeatedly (you really shouldn't take it personally!). Perhaps people can be convinced (with better PR) that wasps are useful insects and not just pointless pests?

Tuesday, 18 September 2018

Seeing the Changes 1371

Lots of Sulphur tuft (Hypholoma fasciculare) on dead wood at Swansea Singleton Campus.

Monday, 17 September 2018

Pregnant Pause?

Yet another health link to diesel emissions appears to have been established with the finding of soot-like carbon particles in the placentae of pregnant women (http://nohealthproblemsnews.com/health-news/scientists-find-toxic-soot-particles-inside-the-placenta/). It has long been known that toxic air pollution has detrimental effects on the health of neonates but, how it has this action, has been unclear. I am not certain, however, that advising pregnant women (and anyone else?) to avoid, where possible, areas with high air pollution (as some have done) is terribly helpful.

Aspirin a Day?


A large,detailed study using healthy people over 70 in a daily aspirin versus placebo trial appears to have shown no benefits in terms of increasing health and longevity (https://www.theguardian.com/science/2018/sep/16/daily-aspirin-unlikely-to-help-older-people-live-longer-study-finds). In fact, some studies appear to suggest that this pain-relieving, anticoagulant actually increases conditions such as stroke.

Saturday, 15 September 2018

Waiting for it to Blow Over?

Apparently, the warming seas might well lead to the creation of (as yet off the scale) category 6 hurricanes and tropical storms (https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2018/sep/15/hurricane-category-6-this-is-how-world-ends-book-climate-change). They would make the damage currently being seen, in relation to Florence, pale into insignificance. And yet, climate change denial seems to be in the ascendancy, especially in Australia and the USA?

Friday, 14 September 2018

To GM or Not to GM?

I have often thought that the dangers of actually eating Genetically Modified (GM) crops have been greatly exaggerated, after all we regularly take in mixtures of DNA when we eat (a tomato with a gene from a sardine would give you a similar genetic 'cocktail' of DNA bases as eating sardines with tomato). One must always remember that we don't actually absorb complete DNA molecules, as they are broken down into their constituents by our digestive systems, before these are taken up. The potential problems associated with 'rogue' GM weeds may be a more realistic concern. It is consequently interesting to read that farmers in the UK may get greater opportunities to grow GM crops after Brexit (https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2016/10/26/british-farmers-could-grow-gm-crops-after-brexit-reveals-ministe/). Although this would stimulate an area of UK scientific expertise, there are 2 potential problems with this aim.  Firstly, agitation against GM (crops but not medical applications) has always been intense in the UK, certainly contributing to the initial EU ban and secondly changing UK policy in this respect might well make trading prepared foods with the EU even more difficult. It would also be unfortunate if a relaxation of the GM ban in the UK resulted in an influx of such  materials from the USA (along with hormone-treated beef and chlorine-washed chicken).

Thursday, 13 September 2018

What an Atmosphere!

It has been claimed that air pollution is now the biggest health hazard across the EU, with around 400,000 people per year dying from conditions exacerbated by (largely) transport-associated fumes (https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/sep/11/air-pollution-is-biggest-environmental-health-risk-in-europe). Even more scarily, a tenth of those deaths occur in the UK, a country with a large population, a relatively small area and a strongly-entrenched car habit. 

Muddying the Waters?

There is a continuing fuss about the plan to 'dump' around 300,000 tons of mud from around the old ands newer nuclear power stations at Hinckley Point, in Somerset, into the sea near Penarth close to Cardiff (https://www.walesonline.co.uk/news/wales-news/radioactive-mud-dumped-coast-cardiff-14464416). Apparently, tests have shown that the mud is not (as was feared) radioactive but one has to ask why the mud has to be dumped in this location (and the benefit to Wales of receiving Somerset mud)?

Bottling It?

It's only 30m long but the Dutch have produced the first cycle track largely constructed using waste plastic bottles (https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/sep/13/a-road-full-of-bottlenecks-dutch-cycle-path-is-made-of-plastic-waste). The material is apparently three times more durable than tar macadam and the section is loaded with sensors to detect numbers of cycles using the route, the temperature of the track et cetera. This seems a fine way of using plastic waste. I commend it!

Wednesday, 12 September 2018

Seeing the Changes 1370

A Fox moth (Macrothylacia rubi) larva, in Bynea, rushing off to hibernate?

Just Say 'Cheese'?

A recent study suggests that eating dairy products 'in moderation' is likely to be beneficial to the health of the human heart (https://www.theguardian.com/society/2018/sep/11/dairy-in-moderation-is-good-for-heart-health-study-finds). Although arteriosclerosis (blocking of the blood supply to the heart by plaque) can be increased by consuming substantial amounts of fatty foods, the dairy products contain many factors that appear help the heart keep ticking along. The study was carried out with populations where there was a relatively modest intake of dairy products.

Tuesday, 11 September 2018

Bully Off?

There has recently been a repeat of the 'news' that bird feeders encourage bullies amongst our avian friends (https://www.telegraph.co.uk/science/2018/09/05/bird-feeders-favour-pushy-big-birds-little-species-go-hungry/). This is hardly novel (there are actually commercial devices that are claimed to facilitate access by smaller species and to make it more difficult for the 'big brutes'). Having said that, foraging for food is a competitive business (even within members of the same species) and smaller birds can still benefit from food items dropped or scattered in the feeding frenzy. Feeders do, at least, enable people to provision the birds in a fairly simple way. I would not like to see the bully claim being used as an excuse not to provide feeders (although they do need to be occasionally disinfected!).

Pro(Biotic)s and Anti(Bacterial)s

Another piece of foodie mantra that turns out to be overhyping? It has now been claimed that so-called 'probiotics' may, in some cases, have negative effects on our gut (large intestine) bacterial flora (https://www.theguardian.com/science/2018/sep/06/probiotics-not-as-beneficial-for-gut-health-as-previously-thought). This appears to be especially the case when they are taken in conjunction with antibiotics (which will attack our flora as well as the bacterial infection they are prescribed for). The combination can produce profound gastro-intestinal disturbances.

Ratty's Return?

It's interesting to note that there will be an attempt to reintroduce Ratty (the Water vole) to the Holnicote Estate on Exmoor some 30 years after it was eradicated from the park (https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/sep/11/water-voles-returning-to-national-park-in-west-country-after-30-years). The reintroduction, at 6 locations, will involve about 150 animals and is intended to be carefully monitored. It is, however, difficult to preclude Water vole killers such as mink and domestic cats from such an area, so it remains to be seen whether the attempt will or will not turn out to be successful (especially as it is reportedly the UKs most rapidly declining Mammal).

Friday, 7 September 2018

Beeb Makes Boo-Boos

The BBC, after criticism from the body that looks after accuracy in broadcasting, has admitted that it often gets the coverage of climate change wrong and has only been too keen to involve climate change deniers for 'balance' (https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/sep/07/bbc-we-get-climate-change-coverage-wrong-too-often). There, apparently,will be seminars provided for programme makers (there is no mention about whether attendance will be compulsory) as it is admitted that very few such individuals have a science background.

Wednesday, 5 September 2018

For the Birds?

It's not just the Dodo. Apparently, at least 8 species of birds, mainly located in the rainforests of the Amazon, have become extinct (largely following deforestation) this decade (https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/sep/04/first-eight-bird-extinctions-of-the-21st-century-confirmed). Just imagine how many species of bacteria, fungi, plants and insects have been lost in the same period.

Food for Thought

It is somewhat scandalous that some 4 million children in the UK, according to a study by the Food Foundation, live in households too poor to buy the foods specified on the Public Health England's 'Eatwell Guide' for a healthy diet (https://www.theguardian.com/society/2018/sep/05/four-million-uk-children-too-poor-to-have-a-healthy-diet-study-finds)! As developing children are particularly likely to develop health problems such as obesity and type 2 diabetes, it is not unreasonable to focus on them. It might also be worth pointing out, however, that there must be considerable numbers of lone adults who cannot pay the circa £35 per week needed to buy healthy food (cooking it also costs money). This is all without taking into account other issues (e.g. rents; travel costs;  interest payments; pressures to purchase TV packages; holidays et cetera) that make it less likely that, even people who could afford a healthy, balanced diet, will allocate enough of their income to buy the ingredients.

It's a Heart Ache

The reported claim that one can find the current 'age' of one's heart by answering 16 questions on an app has intrigued many people (https://www.theguardian.com/society/2018/sep/04/how-do-i-find-out-my-heart-age). It was newsworthy that many respondents reportedly had heart ages considerably older than their chronological age. As the questions concern items relating to ethnicity, postcode; height/weight and whether the individual smokes, one has to take the app estimations with a pinch of salt. As they used to say in the early days of computing "garbage in: garbage out". People are not very good about answering any such questions honestly or accurately. The actual situation vis-a-vis heart health of the UK population is likely to be (much?) worse.

Monday, 3 September 2018

One Step at a Time!

It seems worth reiterating that the apparently simple claim that you need to complete 10,000 steps per day to have an active healthy life-style is completely arbitrary (https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2018/sep/03/watch-your-step-why-the-10000-daily-goal-is-built-on-bad-science). The figure is essentially a comparatively ancient number plucked out for marketing purposes by developers of Japanese technology. As is pointed out in the article, even subsequent 'scientific' studies fail to look at categories of subjects with a range of daily numbers (they do things like assess weight loss in people completing 10k steps and those doing considerably less) as well as failing to consider that the optimal number of steps may depend on the subject's age and health status.

Democracy and Fracking

I must admit that I share many of the reservations expressed by John Ashton (https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/sep/03/fracking-england-tories-lancashire-council-government) about the imposition of fracking on areas of England (Scotland and Wales have declined the technology) against the expressed wishes of the local populations. I personally cannot see fracking as any kind of answer to the problem of climate change and find it extraordinary that local democratic mechanisms are being dismantled to facilitate its take-up.

Sunday, 2 September 2018

Parking the Problem?

A report has suggested that the parks, historically created in London and other major UK cities (often by benefactors), are currently undergoing an insidious change in their use (https://www.theguardian.com/cities/2018/aug/31/londons-parks-accused-of-creeping-privatisation-of-public-spaces). The parks were originally a source of civic pride and were viewed as locations where the general population could freely seek calm and relaxation. It appears now that the financial pressures being felt throughout local government, has resulted in councils dramatically increasing their hiring out of such locations to music festivals and other activities. This, of course, results in the local population being excluded from the parks whilst the event in underway (as well as exposing them to increases in light and noise pollution, along with littering). One could add (although not considered in the report) that many of the animals that live in the parks are also subject to disturbance and some might well be driven from the area. It is understood that councils feel compelled to maximise the revenue that 'their' parks generate but it does change the entire relationship of parks to people.

Better Fed on the Med?

It has been reported that it is not too late to switch to a Mediterranean diet, even for old fogeys (https://www.theguardian.com/science/2018/aug/31/mediterranean-diet-old-age-longer-life-study). Trading up, as a mature adult, to a diet rich in fresh vegetables and fruit along with fish and olive oil as a cooking agent, reportedly results in people living longer (but, pretty obviously, going easy on the alcohol and certainly not smoking). Perhaps, in some geographical areas nearer the poles, you would still have to supplement vitamin D?

Seeing the Changes 1354

Not much change at Crymlyn burrows but Heather ( Calluna vulgaris ) was displaying well and spotted a first Speckled wood ( Pararge ae...