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27,653 articles from Guardian Unlimited Science

Dave Morris on the collective power of research and Alastair Leake on the decline in moth populations

The efforts of campaigners to highlight important issues can often be overlooked by a historical approach that focuses on individuals, often academics or politicians. An example is in the obituary of the biologist Victoria Braithwaite (Obituary, 9 November), which asserts that “until the early 2000s everyone knew that fish do not feel pain”. But almost 20 years earlier, we had produced and started to widely distribute a leaflet called Fish Feel Pain. And of course hundreds of thousands of people were already refusing to eat fish on those very grounds.

In that same era, our group and others were campaigning on a range of other matters – such as traffic pollution, junk food, the arms trade, non-renewable energy, single-use plastics, environmental destruction – which may have seemed marginal at the time but are now acknowledged as mainstream concerns.

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Boarding schools | Wellington college fees | Steve McQueen’s Year 3 project | Spike Milligan’s election advice | Shared ancestry | Parliamentary disillusion

George Monbiot’s article on boarding schools (Journal, 7 November) will have been a painful read for many, and may well have been painful for him to write. As a director for Boarding School Survivors Support (BSSS), I read of experience after experience of suffering. I applaud Mr Monbiot for having the courage to bring his story into the public eye. For those who suffer, there is help: visit the BSSS website as a first step.
Margaret Laughton
London

• Mike Hoskin (Letters, 11 November) says the current fees for Wellington college (my alma mater) are about £30,000. In fact it charges about £42,000 a year for boarders. His point nonetheless remains entirely valid.
Chris Entwistle
Tiptree, Essex

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Big floods likely to become more frequent because of climate breakdown

Poor management of the rural landscape along with global heating and building on floodplains are the main factors that led to the floods that have engulfed towns in northern England, according to experts.

Sheffield, Rotherham and Doncaster are among the places flooded, 12 years after they were badly hit when the River Don burst its banks in 2007. Many affected areas, including Meadowhall shopping centre, where customers were stranded overnight, lie within the river’s floodplain – low-lying land next to the river that naturally floods during high flow.

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Pentagon officials view climate breakdown as an existential threat to human society – and are already taking action

We have heard from the scientists on climate change, with their meticulous data on ecosystem degradation and species loss. We have heard from the climate deniers, with their desperate attempts to deploy countervailing arguments. Both groups have mobilized substantial blocs of voters in pivotal countries, producing gridlock in global efforts to slow the pace of global warming. It is time, then, to hear from another group of informed and influential professionals: senior military officers.

Military leaders have not said much in public about global warming, in part because they’re reluctant to become involved in partisan political issues (as climate has become) and partly because top government officials—in the United States, at least—have actively discouraged such involvement. Nevertheless, senior officers are fully aware of warming’s deleterious effects and have devised a thorough analysis of its strategic implications. As I demonstrate in my new book, All Hell Breaking Loose: The Pentagon’s Perspective on Climate Change, senior American officers believe that global warming is already threatening the survival of many poor, resource-deprived countries and poses a significant risk to even the wealthiest of nations.

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Many of us crave historical connections – but ultimately, everybody now is descended from everybody then

After watching Ant & Dec’s DNA Journey on ITV, I can confidently say that one thing it failed to do for me – and which genetics could definitively answer – is clarify which one is Ant and which one is Dec. Alas, this mystery remains unsolved.

Aside from that, the documentary is entertaining enough. In the first episode, Ant and Dec travel around, talking to genealogists and distant relatives who have been identified by having similar bits of DNA to them – like Who Do You Think You Are? but with bonus genetics. We are introduced to Dixie Carter, who is described as a “genetic cousin” to Dec, though I couldn’t tell precisely what relation she is. The two shared an ancestor from around 150 years ago, and her presence provides light relief as she is a Texan wrestling promoter.

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MONDAY 11. NOVEMBER 2019


Infection found in patient who required quadruple amputation after developing rare condition

Doctors have discovered an aggressive flesh-eating infection that spreads around the body when two strains of microbe combine to overcome the host’s defences.

The infection was found in a patient who required a quadruple amputation after they developed necrotising fasciitis, a rare bacterial condition that is lethal in nearly a third of cases, even when treatment is on hand.

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Silver-backed chevrotain caught on camera after it was feared lost to science

A distinctly two-tone mouse deer that was feared lost to science has been captured on film foraging for food by camera traps set up in a Vietnamese forest.

The pictures of the rabbit-sized animal, also known as the silver-backed chevrotain, are the first to be taken in the wild and come nearly 30 years after the last confirmed sighting.

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Politicians running scared of big pharma and the taboo around cannabis are blocking access to these vital drugs

That the government will allow a few serious epilepsy and multiple sclerosis sufferers to get cannabidiol medicine to relieve their symptoms is good news. That is all that can be said. Once more a decision emerges from the caverns of Britain’s NHS that reveals the evils of a politicised, centralised, deadened health service.

Related: Legalisation of cannabis in the UK would help protect its users from harm | James Nicholls

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SUNDAY 10. NOVEMBER 2019


Meteor showers originated from comet 55P/Tempel–Tuttle will be preceded by Taurids six days before

One of the year’s most dependable meteor showers is set to take place at the end of the week. The Leonids will peak in the hours between midnight and dawn on 18 November. They are so-called because they herald from a point in the constellation Leo – the lion. Known as the radiant, this point is located just below Leo’s head, a grouping of stars sometimes referred to as the sickle. Somewhere between 10 and 15 bright meteors an hour can be expected in a typical year.

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A new survey of England’s dialects is instead likely to shine a light on social tribes and generational differences

Are you a blatherskite? Do you have murfles? Are you frightened of Old Harry? In the 1950s, the Survey of English Dialects sent fieldworkers across England to track regional variations in everyday words. Blatherskites were gossips, murfles were freckles and Old Harry was a bogeyman.

Now the survey is being repeated. The research will undoubtedly provide a fascinating update on the changing contours of the English language. Not only have regional dialects shifted, but immigration has introduced many new accents and dialects.

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Research scientists have largely gone unnoticed as major users of unrecyclable material. Now some universities are helping them kick the habit

Scientific research is a largely ignored consumer of single-use plastics, with the biomedical sciences a particularly high-volume offender. Plastic petri dishes, bottles of various shapes and sizes, several types of glove, a dizzying array of pipettes and pipette tips, a hoard of sample tubes and vials: they have all become an everyday part of scientific research. Most of us will never use such equipment, but without it, we wouldn’t have the knowledge, technologies, products and medicines we all rely on. It is vital to 21st-century lives, but it is also extremely polluting.

In 2015, researchers at the University of Exeter weighed up their bioscience department’s annual plastic waste, and extrapolated that biomedical and agricultural laboratories worldwide could be responsible for 5.5m tonnes of plastic waste a year. To put that in context, they pointed out that this was equal to 83% of the plastic recycled worldwide in 2012.

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The Trump administration is putting profits before people by pressuring the country not to ban harmful chemicals

You know it’s a dark day for America when foreign leaders have to lecture US officials about the importance of prioritizing public health over corporate profits.

Yet that is what is happening now, as the Trump administration pressures Thailand not to ban three pesticides that scientific research has shown to be particularly dangerous to children and other vulnerable populations.

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SATURDAY 9. NOVEMBER 2019


‘Pernicious’ campaign is unfair on well-meaning people who want to help – expert

The battle between climate change deniers and the environment movement has entered a new, pernicious phase. That is the stark warning of one of the world’s leading climate experts, Michael Mann, director of the Earth System Science Center at Pennsylvania State University.

Mann told the Observer that although flat rejection of global warming was becoming increasingly hard to maintain in the face of mounting evidence, this did not mean climate change deniers were giving up the fight.

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Over the past decade I’ve watched a young boy grow up and become a daily reminder to me of just how proud his mother would have been

I remember there was an aquarium in the hospice where my cousin Billie spent the last few weeks of her life. Luis, her son, liked going to visit her there more than to the hospital, not realising what her move to a palliative care centre really meant. He liked watching the big guppy in the fish tank kiss the glass when he pressed his face up against it. He’d kick a football down the corridors; seven years old and often straight from school in his too-big uniform, polished black shoes loudly slapping the lino as he ran to her room.

I call Luis my nephew because Billie was always more of a sister to me. Throughout her six-year illness – she was diagnosed with a brain tumour at 26 and died at 31 – I helped look after Luis. He was just two when Billie had the first operation and although she did her best to carry on as a young working mother (she was a really in-demand makeup artist), I know she appreciated that family and friends babysat when we could.

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Clinic hopes to help those at risk of losing ability to speak maintain sense of identity

A pioneering centre aimed at preserving and re-creating people’s voices using artificial intelligence has opened in the US, with researchers hoping it will change the lives of people who face losing their ability to speak.

Researchers say the venture – a joint effort between Northeastern University in Boston and the company VocaliD – could play an important role in maintaining a sense of identity among those with conditions ranging from throat cancer to motor neurone disease, by offering them the chance to sound like themselves even after self-generated speech has become impossible.

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University of Leeds researchers to update groundbreaking 1950s language survey

Are you terrified by “harvest men” or “long-legged tailors”? Do you have “ferntickles” or “brunny-spots” on your face? If someone called you “gibble-fisted” would you be affronted or amused?

The words for daddy long-legs, freckles and left-handed are all examples of English regional dialect discovered in the 1950s by a team of fieldworkers in what was the most comprehensive survey of its kind ever undertaken.

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FRIDAY 8. NOVEMBER 2019


In 1992, Anthony Pelosi voiced concerns in the British Medical Journal about controversial findings from Hans Eysenck – one of the most influential British psychologists of all time – and German researcher Ronald Grossarth-Maticek. Those findings claimed personality played a bigger part in people’s chances of dying from cancer or heart disease than smoking. Almost three decades later, Eysenck’s institution have recommended these studies be retracted from academic journals. Hannah Devlin speaks to Pelosi about the twists and turns in his ultimately successful journey. And to the Guardian’s health editor, Sarah Boseley, about how revelations from tobacco industry documents played a crucial role

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THURSDAY 7. NOVEMBER 2019


FoI release shows how embassy and FCO staff sought to make sense of mystery illnesses

Official emails and diplomatic telegrams marked as sensitive reveal for the first time how the British government scrambled to understand a series of alleged “sonic attacks” on US diplomats who became ill in mysterious circumstances while on duty in Cuba.

The US government ordered all non-essential staff at its embassy in Havana to return home after dozens of diplomats and family members developed headaches, dizziness and problems with balance, concentration and sleeping in a wave of illness that struck between 2016 and 2018.

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Anti-vaxxers keep telling the same obvious lies without shame, despite being debunked and factchecked

Yet again a popular show is giving an anti-vaxxer a high-profile platform to spread lies and cause harm to an audience of millions. This time it’s Bill Maher who last week hosted Jay Gordon, a controversial doctor who peddles misinformation about vaccines and is best known for providing hundreds of personal belief exemptions for families to forgo school vaccine requirements.

The 14-minute interview on Real Time with Bill Maher doubled down on all the dangerous views we’ve heard before: highlighting discredited work on vaccines and autism, disingenuously labelling measles a benign illness, and questioning a vaccine schedule that has been proven safe and effective by decades of research.

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WEDNESDAY 6. NOVEMBER 2019


Bavarian fossils of likely common ancestor of humans and apes ‘put back start of bipedalism by millions of years’

The distinctive human habit of walking upright may have evolved millions of years earlier than thought, according to researchers who uncovered the remains of an ancient ape in southern Germany.

Excavations from the Hammerschmiede clay pit in Bavaria turned up fossilised bones belonging to a previously unknown baboon-sized ape that lived nearly 12m years ago, long before humans split from their modern-day cousins, the chimpanzees and bonobos.

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My brother Dan Lobb, who has died aged 80, was a designer of optical instruments for spacecraft, working at the Scientific Instrument Research Association (Sira) in Chislehurst, Kent, from the 1960s onwards.

Early on in his career, he became a designer of laser projector-based flight simulators, and spent a year in the US working at the Naval Research Laboratory, in Washington. Then, in the 80s Sira began developing optical instruments for space satellites, mainly for the European Space Agency (ESA). As an inventor of uniquely clever designs, a driver of computer analyses to optimise the shapes of the lenses and mirrors, and a very good physicist and mathematician, Dan was central to the work.

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Generations yet unborn will face rising oceans and coastal inundations into the 2300s even if governments meet climate commitments, researchers find

Sea level rise is set to challenge human civilization for centuries to come, even if internationally agreed climate goals are met and planet-warming emissions are then immediately eliminated, researchers have found.

The lag time between rising global temperatures and the knock-on impact of coastal inundation means that the world will be dealing with ever-rising sea levels into the 2300s, regardless of prompt action to address the climate crisis, according to the new study.

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Researchers find link between tobacco cigarettes and depression and schizophrenia

Smoking tobacco cigarettes could increase the risk of mental health problems such as depression and schizophrenia, research suggests.

It has long been known that smoking is more common among people with mental health conditions. However, it has been unclear whether smoking could be a factor in causing such problems or is simply a form of self-medication among those already living with poor mental health.

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TUESDAY 5. NOVEMBER 2019


Study reveals which conditions can render basaltic volcanoes highly destructive

More than half of the world’s volcanoes are basaltic. Most basaltic eruptions tend to ooze their magma out in a relatively benign way, producing a thick, sticky flow. But occasionally they go off with a big bang, like the eruption of Mount Etna in 122BC, which destroyed the Roman town of Catania. Now a study reveals what makes some basaltic eruptions so explosive.

By cooking up miniature volcanoes in the lab, analysing rock samples flung from explosive basaltic eruptions and numerically modelling the eruption process, Dr Fabio Arzilli, from the University of Manchester, and colleagues showed that low temperature magma and fast ascent up the pipes are key conditions for an explosive basaltic eruption.

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