Entirely possible

An Indian minister has claimed that Indian scholars discovered gravity centuries before Issac Newton’s famous encounter with an apple, and called on the country’s scientists to promote more homegrown theories.

Sure*, why not? Wouldn’t surprise if some very clever people had worked out reality.

Charaka was a scholar who developed the concept of Ayurvedic medicine and learning around 300 BC, while Aryabhata was a 5th century mathematician and astronomer.

Show us the texts and we can have a look, eh?

*Telegraph apparently has this story on the wrong URL…..

George Monbiot is against evolution now

And almost nothing has been learned. Our disease prevention rules, whose scope is restricted by the European Union and the World Trade Organization, and whose enforcement is restricted by the British government’s austerity, do little to prevent similar plagues afflicting our remaining trees. Several deadly pathogens are marching across Europe. While it is hard to prevent some of these plagues from spreading across land, there is a simple measure that would stop most of them from spreading across water: a ban on the import of all live plants except those grown from tissue cultures, in sterile conditions.

Natural selection – this must be stopped!

Standard variation

It was during a competition for junior firefighters that somebody first noticed something unusual about the small Polish village of Miejsce Odrzanskie. Every single one of the uniformed children showing off their skills was a girl.

The reason is as simple as it is surprising. No boys have been born in Miejsce Odrzanskie for almost a decade, while the village’s women in the rural backwater of 300 souls have given birth to 12 girls.

The boy shortage is so acute that the mayor has offered a cash reward for the first family to produce a son. The world’s media have descended on the village in the fields of south-west Poland not far from the Czech border to investigate the phenomenom.

We can work it out can’t we? Chance of – not accurate but what the hell – girl is 0.5, assuming a birth takes place. Chance of 12 on the trot in one series of 12 is 0.5×0.5×0.5 a total of 12 times.

Or, across an entire country of many series of 12 births the chance approaches 1 again, doesn’t it?

Unless of course they’re all Israeli fighter pilots in which case….

Is it really 50/50 or better that he’s saved the life of every reader?

This little-known inventor has probably saved your life

The headline question being asked by Mr McKay:

David knew his idea for a cockpit recorder was a good one. Without official support, there was little he could do about it – but he couldn’t get it out of his mind.

When his boss was promoted, David pitched his invention again. His new superior was intrigued, and so was Dr Laurie Coombes, ARL’s chief superintendent. They urged him to keep working on it – but discreetly. Since it wasn’t a government-approved venture or a war-winning weapon, it couldn’t be seen to take up lab time or money.

Black box recorder 50/50 break on saving the life of the modal BBC reader?

Think it unlikely, don’t you?

Interesting thought

But geneticist Veronica van Heyningen, president of the Galton Institute, sounded a note of caution. Her institute is independent of UCL but she has given evidence to its eugenics inquiry. “I fully acknowledge that Galton was a terrible racist,” Van Heyningen told the Observer. “But he also played an extremely important role in developing the science of genetics,

How much did his racism drive on the development?

Actual scientists might know the answer here

The British astrophysicist was a PhD student when she discovered repeating pulses of radio waves after studying months of radio telescope data. These became known as pulsars – spinning neutron stars which weigh more than the sun. Burnell’s supervisor, Antony Hewish, was credited with the discovery and awarded a Nobel in 1974.

It is normal, or not, that the PhD supervisor is credited with the student’s discovery?

No, not really then

An ancient barrage of exploding stars close to Earth is the main reason early humans learnt to walk on two feet rather than all fours, according to new research.

Scientists believe the intense period of supernovae, which peaked approximately 2.6 million years ago, caused a surge in lightning strikes which incinerated much of the heavily forested Earth.

Early humans then had to adapt from living in and around trees to surviving in open savannas, meaning the ability to cross exposed grassland at speed and spot predators above the vegetation became crucial.

Such general change in the environment won’t explain why just the one species became bipedal. Not really…..

Mother Nature’s a bitch

In the past, our ancestors were subjected to full-strength, undiluted, CFC-free, pure-organic, additive-free natural selection. The biggest recipients were young children, for which evolution had the greatest appetite of all. Those with the least useful mutations could look forward to a horrific death by starvation, predators, cannibalism, disease, drought, flash floods, drowning and much more besides. During an average 30 to 40 year human life span, mothers would produce eight to ten children only to see four to five of them die before reaching the age where they might pass their genes to the next generation.

How long have donkeys been in England?

Donkeys hate the British weather and would rather be inside, study finds

The research looks sensible in its results. But how long have we had donkeys in England? So, don’t we know this? Did anyone, for example, go talk to a few donkey handlers?

Sorry, not putting this well. I’d rather assume that this is local knowledge of that Hayekian type, among those who keep donkeys and horses. What I’m wondering is whether the scientists bothered to go and ask them?

Researchers studied 208 healthy, semi-free ranging donkeys and horses in Somerset and Devon, over 16 months where temperatures ranged between 33f (1C) and 91F (33C).

The temperature, wind speed, rainfall, light and density of and degree of harassment by flying insects at each site were measured and the behaviour of the donkeys and horses recorded as the weather changed.

Overall, unless it was hot and dry, donkeys spent a great deal less time outdoors than horses, preferring the sanctuary of a shelter. When it rained, donkeys were three times more likely than horses to stay indoors, and they tended to seek shelter when the temperatures dropped below 57F (14C), which is higher than the average annual temperature in Britain 46F – 51F (8C to 11C).

Or was that temptation to do Science! such that they didn’t bother to ask first?

Calling BiG – does this work?

So additive to stop bread going mouldy fingered for causing diabetes.

In a small trial involving humans, people who consumed propionate experienced temporary increases in insulin resistance, over the space of a few hours, compared with those who didn’t consume the additive.

However, this early research cannot prove that propionate causes diabetes. Larger studies conducted over longer periods are needed to better understand whether propionate contributes to diabetes in people, the authors said. [9 Disgusting Things That the FDA Allows in Your Food]

Still, the findings are concerning given how widely propionate is used, the authors wrote in their paper, published today (April 24) in the journal Science Translational Medicine. They called for more research into the potential metabolic effects of food components like propionate.

“Understanding how ingredients in food affect the body’s metabolism at the molecular and cellular level could help us develop simple but effective measures to tackle the dual epidemics of obesity and diabetes,” study senior author Dr. Gökhan Hotamisligil, a professor of genetics and metabolism at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, said in a statement.

Entirely happy with the idea that more research should be done. Just wondering whether the idea has nay legs at all is all:

Propionate is “generally recognized as safe” (GRAS) by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), meaning the ingredient doesn’t need to be approved by the FDA to be added to food. It’s also a naturally occuring fatty acid, produced by our gut bacteria when it breaks down fiber. But no one had investigated the metabolic effects of propionate when it’s consumed as a food additive, the authors said.

If you eat fibre your gut produces it. Eating fibre has effects upon insulin etc.

So, what’s the difference here between the effect of eating fibre and eating the substance? Is there something about digestion that I’m missing here?

So here’s a question

Sperm whale found dead in Sardinia was pregnant and had 22 kilos of plastic in stomach

As we’re told plastic pollution of the oceans is at terrible levels.

We’ve also seen in recent decades and explosion of the number of cetaceans. Obvs, partly because they’re no longer hunted.

But, then, plastics in the ocean can’t be killing off the whales, can it? Can kill some, sure, anything can kill some but….

Honeybuns, do try to think

Even if you can’t have kids naturally, that doesn’t mean you don’t deserve to be a parent, writes Sharyn Graham Davies.

Fair enough.

Other reactions I get though stem from a place of hate and fear. Some people think that if you can’t have kids naturally then that’s social Darwinism in practice. In other words, only the best, brightest and fittest should reproduce, moving humanity generation after generation to a higher form of evolution.

That’s not social anything you dimwit. That’s Darwinism, evolution itself. That’s how we got here – we’re descended from those who were able to reproduce.

Perfectly happy with the idea that we don’t have to continue that way, that we don’t have to entirely rely upon that evolutionary fitness as our definition of who does and does not have kids. But I do insist that you understand the underlying idea at the same time.


That’s something I think many cisgender people don’t realise, or think about. We’re all born with the same template, and our hormones then decide what particular bits of the recipe our bodies should follow – so for example in the womb a rush of hormones tells us whether we should grow male or female gonads; in puberty hormones tell us whether to grow breasts or beards. But the template for both sexes remains, so if you take somebody born male, suppress their testosterone and increase their estrogen then their body (and their emotions; jeez, the emotions…) will change.

Reproductive systems aside, men and women aren’t that different: the idea that there are huge biological differences between the sexes is largely based on status preservation.

Hormones aren’t biological now?

This is cool

With their enormous shaggy torsos and long curved tusks, the imposing creatures last walked on earth during the Ice Age.

Fast forward thousands of years and the woolly mammoth may once again make an appearance on this planet – after Japanese scientists claim to have taken a “significant step” towards bringing the long-extinct animals back to life.

Researchers extracted bone marrow and muscle tissue from the remains of a mammoth named Yuka, who has lain frozen in Siberian permafrost for more than 28,000 years.

No idea whether the sciencey bit here is accurate. But it would be cool, wouldn’t it?

And wouldn’t it be even better if they were able to do it with the pygmy types of elephant, rhino and so on? Sadly, they won’t, as they tended to be on islands that were rather warmer, like Malta etc. But, still, would be fun.

A slightly different questions. Mammoths are more closely related to Asian elephants than African elephants are to Asian. And something I don’t know, can Asian and African cross breed? So, are we really talking about different species?

So here’s a stupid question

Obviously, geographical separation is what – OK one of the things – that leads to speciation. The oceans are a lot less geographically separated than the land masses. So, we get rather wider distribution of sea species than we do land ones.

Sorta, at least.

I can imagine that a barrier in the sea is the Equator. Not so much currents and stuff but heat. Down deep even that doesn’t matter of course. But I could imagine at least that we get N Hemisphere fishies and S Hemisphere ones.

At which point, how true is this?

Take, say, cod. I know there’s a Pacific cod as well as an Atlantic one. And they’re both up in northern waters as they don’t like it hot. But, and here’s the thing, do we have closely related species which are S hemisphere? Or other, cognate species? Or something entirely different occupying the niche? Or does the niche not exist?

No particular reason, just a question that crossed the synapses.

There’s me told then

The mystery of eel migration which has puzzled ecologists since Aristotle is about to be solved, the Environment Agency has said as it announced plans to locate their origin.

The critically endangered species travel some 3,700 miles from Europe across the Atlantic Ocean to spawn – but where exactly remains completely unknown.

Researchers claim the eels spawn and die somewhere in the Sargasso Sea, a vast area off the east coast of the United States and north of the Caribbean.

So yes, I know about the migration, and elvers. Catch them in the rivers you do.

And yet I’ve always vaguely – for I’ve not tried very hard at this – thought that the elvers are coming downstream.


Is South Asian right here?

You all know more than I do:

Marriage between cousins leading to fatal genetic conditions remain a factor in a significant proportion of child deaths in Bradford, according to a safeguarding report.

The report by the West Yorkshire city’s child death overview panel found that consanguineous relationships led to deaths from genetic and congenital abnormalities.

The report, published annually by Bradford children’s safeguarding board, reviewed 69 child deaths. These included 29 that occurred in 2017-18, 33 in 2016-17, and seven that took place in previous years.

More than two-thirds of these deaths, 67%, involved children under the age of one, most of whom died within 28 days.

Children of south Asian heritage were overrepresented in the figures

South Asian? Or Pakistani? Is cousin marriage common among “South Asians” or is it more restricted than that?

Such an amusement

Matthew Bishop was told there was no treatment that could save his vision. But now scientific breakthroughs in gene therapy have given him, and others, hope

There’s an argument against genetic manipulation. I understand it even if disagree with it. There’s one in favour as well. But how do we construct an argument that’s in favour of doing it to humans and not to rice?

How lovely – and how rare

Someone getting a science article right. Even, someone getting evolution right – nearly.

It’s a development that would have delighted Darwin.

African elephants are losing their tusks in an astonishing example of evolution by natural selection which protects them against ivory poachers.

Until the 1990s, around 2,500 elephants lived in Gorongosa National Park in Mozambique,

but 90 per cent were killed during the 15-year civil war which raged from 1977 to 1992 – with their ivory used to finance weapons.

Now scientists have noticed that nearly one third of the female elephants born since the war have lost their tusks.

Normally fewer than four per cent of a population are born without tusks, but because tuskless animals were ignored by poachers, they gained a biological advantage and…

The decision isn’t tusk, no tusk, for the infant, It’s that the tuskless are still there to pass on their genes. But it is nice to see someone getting much of it right, isn’t it?