When the world gets closer.

We help you see farther.

Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter.

TOPIC: research

Ideas

Joshimath, The Sinking Indian City Has Also Become A Hotbed Of Government Censorship

The Indian authorities' decision to hide factual reports on the land subsidence in Joshimath only furthers a sense of paranoia.

MUMBAI — Midway through the movie Don’t Look Up (2021), the outspoken PhD candidate Kate Dibiasky (Jennifer Lawrence) is bundled into a car, a bag over her head. The White House, we are told, wants her “off the grid”. She is taken to a warehouse – the sort of place where CIA and FBI agents seem to spend an inordinate amount of time in Hollywood movies – and charged with violating national security secrets.

The Hobson’s choice offered to her is to either face prosecution or suspend “all public media appearances and incendiary language relating to Comet Dibiasky”, an interstellar object on a collision course with earth. Exasperated, she acquiesces to the gag order.

Don’t Look Up is a satirical take on the collective apathy towards climate change; only, the slow burn of fossil fuel is replaced by the more imminent threat of a comet crashing into our planet. As a couple of scientists try to warn humanity about its potential extinction, they discover a media, an administration, and indeed, a society that is not just unwilling to face the truth but would even deny it.

This premise and the caricatured characters border on the farcical, with plot devices designed to produce absurd scenarios that would be inconceivable in the real world we inhabit. After all, would any government dealing with a natural disaster, issue an edict prohibiting researchers and scientists from talking about the event? Surely not. Right?

On January 11, the National Remote Sensing Centre (NRSC), one of the centers of the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), issued a preliminary report on the land subsidence issue occurring in Joshimath, the mountainside city in the Himalayas.

The word ‘subsidence’ entered the public lexicon at the turn of the year as disturbing images of cracked roads and tilted buildings began to emanate from Joshimath.

Watch Video Show less

Listening For Illness: Your Voice May Soon Help Detect Health Problems

Applying Artificial intelligence to vocal cues is increasingly being used to detect a range of illnesses from COVID-19 to asthma and even depression. But such technology also comes with serious ethical concerns.

PARIS — Thanks to artificial intelligence (AI), your voice can already be used to dictate messages to your smartphone, give commands to your Bluetooth speakers, or chat with your car's dashboard. But soon, it may be able to evaluate the state of your health by detecting respiratory (asthma, COVID-19) or neurodegenerative illnesses. It could even pick up mental health struggles, such as depression or anxiety.

The concept is simple: every pathology that affects the lungs, the heart, the brain, the muscles, or the vocal cords can lead to voice modifications. By using digital tools to analyze a recording, it must be possible to detect vocal biomarkers, the same way vocal recognition algorithms learned to understand a spoken language based on millions of sound samples.

Keep reading... Show less

Russia's Turning The Small Dark World Of Ukrainian Bat Rescue A Whole Lot Darker

Struggling to save trapped and injured bats, scientists endure Russian shelling and accusations of spreading bioweapons.

As Russian forces advanced this summer on Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, the façade of an eight-story apartment building in the Saltivka district suffered heavy damages from shelling, as did many other multi-family structures. Dozens of bullets scarred the gray front wall, and most of the upper windows were shattered.

By August, only a few families remained. Some noticed dozens of bats trapped in the lower windows. The animals had flown through broken panes of glass, then got stuck, unable to find an exit. Soon they were dying of dehydration and starvation.

Keep reading... Show less

Holocaust Survivor Fertility And The Importance Of History's Most Intimate Questions

Perpetuating the silence around sex and body issues can lead to misinterpreting historical events, and prevent us from taking action to right wrongs.

-Analysis-

Recently, a group of Auschwitz survivors was asked a basic question: How did the Holocaust affect your period?

Although many had previously been interviewed by the Shoah Foundation, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, and the Montreal Holocaust Museum, nobody had ever conducted in-depth interviews with them about their menstrual cycles in the more than seven decades since they survived the concentration camp — that is, until researchers from the University of Ottawa and Oxford Brookes University sought to learn more about women’s infertility after the Holocaust.

While scholars have studied the medical experiments that Nazis conducted on some concentration camp prisoners, these victims were a relatively small subset of that population. Researchers had not examined whether treatments inhibiting fertility were routinely applied to the general population of female prisoners, as some researchers now suspect.

Keep reading... Show less
Future
Charles Barbour

The Laugh Frontier: Can AI Understand Irony?

Bot did you get it?

What was your first reaction when you heard about Blake Lemoine, the Google engineer who announced last month the AI program he was working on had developed consciousness?

If, like me, you’re instinctively suspicious, it might have been something like: Is this guy serious? Does he honestly believe what he is saying? Or is this an elaborate hoax?

Put the answers to those questions to one side. Focus instead on the questions themselves. Is it not true that even to ask them is to presuppose something crucial about Blake Lemoine: specifically, he is conscious?

Watch Video Show less
Future
Katarina Zimmer*

Less Than A Rat? The Case For Treating Insects More Humanely In Lab Research

Opening bee skulls. Electric shocks for cockroaches. Some researchers want to grant more invertebrates ethical consideration, questioning long-held assumptions on consciousness.

-Analysis-

Bees have long impressed behavioral scientist Lars Chittka. In his lab at Queen Mary University of London, the pollinators have proven themselves capable of counting, using simple tools, and learning from nestmates. What really surprised Chittka, however, were the nuances of the insects’ behavior.

Watch Video Show less
Society
Stefano Lupieri

How Altered Consciousness Is Changing Psychiatry

From self-induced trance to psychedelics, altered states of consciousness are experiencing a renewed interest in the scientific community for their therapeutic value.

GENEVA — Swiss psychiatrist Valérie Picard describes her weekly trance practice as being plunged into a feeling of intense happiness: “I often find myself parachuted into magnificent natural landscapes. With a feeling of weightlessness all my perceptions are amplified, in a kind of ecstasy of the senses”

Working at the Belmont Clinic in Geneva, she does not, however, have the sort of profile of someone traditionally interested in these techniques. These explorations of states of consciousness are still considered by many to be controversial.

Watch Video Show less
Society
Manon Laplace

An Epic Mission, Preserving The Ancient Books Of Timbuktu

Mali's "mysterious city" welcomes a new class of students trained in looking after ancient books. From conservation to digitization of these works, a colossal task awaits them to preserve this endangered heritage and the secrets they contain.

TIMBUKTU — In the workroom of the Ahmed-Baba Institute of Higher Studies and Islamic Research, time seems to have slowed down. As the dust and the sound of brushes on paper float by, six students hold in their hands one of the most precious heritages of the region.

Ceremoniously, they repeat the same gestures: lifting the pages, one by one, with the tip of a thin wooden spatula, then, with the flat of the brush, ridding the inks and the centuries-old papers of dust.

Watch Video Show less
Future
Gado Alzouma

Why Africa Has So Few Nobel Prizes In The Sciences

Even as it celebrates this year's literature prize going to Tanzanian author Abdulrazak Gurnah, Africa is again completely absent from the list of Nobel winners in science. In research as elsewhere, money is the key.

Nobel Prize recipients from around the world have been celebrating their achievements this month at their respective award ceremonies. But besides Tanzanian Abdulrazak Gurnah, winner in the literature category, the African continent was largely absent from the awards — most notably in the science categories. But this is nothing new.

With the notable exception of Egypt, which boasts a Nobel Prize in chemistry, and South Africa, which has five in chemistry, physiology and medicine, over the years Africa only has obtained Nobel Prizes for literature or peace. By comparison, the United States leads the way with 296 laureates, followed by Germany and Japan, with 94 and 25 awards respectively.

Many would be tempted to find the explanation for this poor African performance in a lack of "predisposition for science" or "scientific spirit" among our people. This is not the case: The capacity to produce scientific breakthroughs and to make discoveries does not lie in any "superior intelligence," in a supposed "genius," in alleged "genetic predispositions," or in the culture of the people.

Watch Video Show less
Geopolitics

Report: Russia Hacked Dutch Police Systems During MH17 Probe

Police in the Netherlands were working at the time of the cyber attack on the investigation into the downing of flight MH17 from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur that was shot down on July 17, 2014 over eastern Ukraine.

AMSTERDAM — Russian hackers penetrated deep into the Dutch national police's digital system in 2017, during a period that Russian separatists were being investigated for the downing of a Malaysia Airlines flight that had departed from the Netherlands, Dutch daily De Volkskrant reports in an exclusive investigation.

The cyber attack, reportedly carried out by hackers belonging to the Russian security service SVR, was particularly troubling, De Volkskrant reports, because the police were working on the criminal investigation into the downing of flight MH17 from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur that was shot down on July 17, 2014 over eastern Ukraine.

Watch Video Show less
Spain
Jorge Alcalde

Covidization Of Healthcare Leaves Other Diseases Untreated

'Covidization' of healthcare systems worldwide has led to rising mortality rates in pathologies like cancer, and more births in the Third World.

MADRID — COVID-19 is killing people even without the virus.

Spain's Lung Cancer Group, a research body, believes lung cancer will have killed 1,300 people more in the country in 2020 than predictive models had anticipated before the pandemic struck. Between January and April this year, lockdowns and diverted healthcare resources meant 30% fewer initial oncology consultations than during those months in 2019.

Watch Video Show less
EL ESPECTADOR
Liliana Hernández

After Coca And Coffee, Legal Cannabis Can Take Colombia Higher

Local investors and entrepreneurs should learn from past mistakes to harvest the best results from the country's decision to authorize marijuana production.

-OpEd-

BOGOTÁ — The era of legal cannabis cultivation has begun in Colombia, but there's nothing new about the production model.

Watch Video Show less