SCIENCE • HISTORY • NATURE • FOR THE CURIOUS MIND ASIA EDITION
Vol.3 Issue 1
THE FUTURE’S RED Is China ready to reign supreme? p28 PLUS: Why the West rules the world... for now p36
MUSSOLINI EXPOSED Secret diary revelations p60 LIVING WITH A MAN-EATER On the prowl in Bangladesh p70 NEUTRINOS The mysterious ghost particle p44 PLUS
PPS1745/09/2011 (020150) (P) 097/11/2010 ISSN 1793-9836
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Q&A: Why are rain clouds dark? Are toeprints unique, like fingerprints? Why do we get migraines? p82
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SCIENCE • HISTORY • NATURE • FOR THE CURIOUS MIND ASIA EDITION
60 Mussolini: The Lover And The Lout The publication of Il Duce’s mistress’s diaries scandalised Italy by giving a new insight into the life of a brutally racist, thuggish dictator and passionate lover in what proves to be a devastating portrait
Vol.3 Issue 1
THE FUTURE’S RED Is China ready to reign supreme? p28
PLUS: Why the West rules the world... for now p36
MUSSOLINI EXPOSED Secret diary revelations p60
In the Sundarbans mangrove forest of southern India and Bangladesh, one person is killed by tigers every week. Meet the extraordinary people striving to help preserve both human and beast
ON THE COVER: ALAMY, CORBIS, GETTY, MATTHEW MARAN/NATUREPL.COM
70 Protecting The Killers
PPS1745/09/2011 (020150) ISSN 1793-9836
LIVING WITH A MAN-EATER On the prowl in Bangladesh p70 NEUTRINOS The mysterious ghost particle p44 PLUS
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Q&A: Why are rain clouds dark? Are toeprints unique, like fingerprints? Why do we get migraines? p82
28 The Future’s Red China seems set to become the world’s scientiﬁc superpower, but does quantity beat quality?
36 Why The West Rules... For Now The map of historical global power is drawn by a few key geographical conditions
44 Neutrino Hunting On Ice An experiment is under way at the foot of the Earth to hunt for the mysterious ‘ghost particle’. Perhaps the most common thing in the Universe, neutrinos are so small they pass right through the Earth
82 Q&A Why do some smells cause disgust? And why do girls prefer the colour pink?
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ALEX MUSTARD, GETTY, DREAMSTIME, ESA, SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY X2, ZOO/ATLANTIC PRODUCTIONS, REX
28 China: The Future’s Red COVER STORY With the Eastern giant set to put out more science papers than any other nation, Dan Cossins examines the evidence to ﬁnd out if China is sacriﬁcing quality for quantity
36 Why The West Rules... For Now COVER STORY To understand why the global political and economic map is drawn the way it is, we need to look back to the emergence of humans from Africa around 60,000 years ago
42 New Year’s Resolutions – And How To Break Them... Don’t feel too bad if you fail to stick to your resolutions this year – sometimes selfimprovement is the worst thing you can do
44 Neutrino Hunting On Ice COVER STORY Neutrinos are tiny particles – so small, in fact, that they pass right through the Earth, hence a new experiment at the South Pole to ﬁnd them by using the ice as a ﬁlter
50 Portfolio: Coral Reefs This issue’s glorious photo story takes us underwater to visit some of the planet’s most beautiful and fascinating ecosystems, and meet just a few of the countless colourful residents
60 Mussolini: The Lover And The Lout COVER STORY Find out why, when Il Duce’s mistress’s diaries were published in Italy, they became the publishing sensation of the year
Pictures like this make you wonder why Nemo wondered off in the ﬁrst place
90 Resource The latest history, science and nature books reviewed
66 Prehistoric Pioneers These days, many species take for granted such talents as walking, looking around and holding things. Meet the evolutionary revolutionaries who took the all-important ﬁrst steps
70 Protecting The Killers COVER STORY Life in the Sundarbans mangrove forest of southern India and Bangladesh is hard enough, without losing on average one inhabitant every week to endangered tigers
76 The Big Idea: The Anthropic Principle Some scientists have begun to argue whether the Universe must be the way it is in order for it to support life Vol.3 Issue 1
Prehistoric Pioneers One small step for Anomalocaris, one giant leap for species-kind
The Anthropic Principle Is our Universe naturally disposed to support life?
REGULARS 7 Inbox Read what your fellow readers have been musing over since last issue
10 Snapshot The smallest sculpture in the world and other extraordinary pictures
UPDATE 16 The Latest Intelligence
Bringing you bang up to date on the latest research from around the world
World News In Context
21 Worlds Apart
The Aboriginal people of Australia face a bleak future
Mark Mardell ﬁnds that it’s all a matter of perspective when it comes to dining
22 Comment & Analysis
Should nations come together to combat the threat of asteroid collision?
What’s the difference between a cyclone and a hurricane?
24 World News In Context A recent UN report says that Australia’s Aborigines suffer the second worst quality of life of any people in the world
Bringing the good ship of questions safely in to dock at the harbour of answers
New Year’s Resolutions ...and how to break them without feeling guilty
Comment & Analysis Should we do more to prevent the risk of an asteroid crashing to Earth?
RESOURCE 90 Reviews Our experts cast their eyes over the latest publications to hit the book stores
96 Time Out Time to give the old grey cells a work out at the cerebral gymnasium
98 The Last Word John Horgan wonders whether the discoveries of science were inevitable or simply ﬂukes of history
SCIENCE • HISTORY • NATURE
• FOR THE CURIOUS MIND
ASIA EDITION Vol.3 Issue 1
26 SUBSCRIBE TODAY Give the gift of knowledge with a magazine subscription
THE FUTURE’S RED
Is China ready to reign supreme? p28 PLUS: Why the West rules the world... for now p36
MUSSOLINI EXPOSED Secret diary revelations p60 LIVING WITH A MAN-EATER On the prowl in Banglades h p70 NEUTRINOS The mysterious ghost particle
Q&A: Why are rain clouds
dark? Are toeprints unique, like fingerprints?
Why do we get migraines?
inbox The NexT Superpower
Ben Poon firstname.lastname@example.org
It has one of the fastest growing economies in the World, second only to the US in terms of scale, it is the most populated country on Earth, is again ranked second only to the US in the number of billionaires it has and is ruled by a communist regime. The future looks Red, not Soviet Communism but Chinese and vastly different. During the Cold War era, the Soviets and the US were expanding resources and intensifying the arms race in a bid to become the world’s leading Superpower. The fear of a communist regime with a commanding military might taking over the world was very real, but years later no one would have expected China to emerge as the country that would have a greater influence over the global economy as well as the scientific world in the near future. But would
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the eagerness to profit derail the path to discovery and innovation? Dan Cossins investigates the rise of China in the scientific world and would quality reign supreme over the country’s rise in quantity of published scientific papers (p28). Ian Morris examines why the West dominated the world for the past 200 years and argues that history and geography can show us clearly that China is looking set to take over that dominant position before the century is out (p36). Recently, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin hosted an international tiger summit with other world leaders to discuss how to deal with the rapidly declining numbers of this great beast. In the Sundurbans mangrove forest of India and Bangladesh, the relationship between humans and tigers is a delicate balance
of life and death, as Christina Greenwood reports (p70). We dive into the world’s coral reefs and through the lens of Alexander Mustard discover fascinating species that call this unique yet fragile ecosystem home (p50). The publication in Italy of the diaries of Claretta Petacci, mistress and confidante of Benito Mussolini, has caused a sensation. While it won’t come as a shock to anyone that the Italian dictator was something of a brute, the insight these diaries give reveals an astonishing man in a quite unique place in history (p60). Here’s a piece of great news to start the new year, beginning in Jan 2011 the Asian edition of BBC Knowledge Magazine will be available monthly, with more great features and images that will continue to amaze your curious mind.
BBC Knowledge Magazine, MICA (P) 097/11/2010, ISSN 1793-9836, PPS 1745/09/2010(028273), is published by Regent Media Pte Ltd under license from BBC Bristol Magazines Ltd, a wholly owned subsidiary of BBC Worldwide Ltd. © Bristol Magazine Ltd 2009 and printed by KHL Printing Co Pte Ltd. BBC Knowledge and the BBC logo are trademarks of the British Broadcasting Corporation and are used under license.
The BBC Magazines promise BBC Knowledge Magazine provides trusted, independent advice and information that has been gathered without fear or favour. When receiving assistance or sample products from suppliers, we ensure our editorial integrity and independence are not compromised by never offering anything in return, such as positive coverage, and by including a brief credit where appropriate.
Here’s How to get in toucH Among the experts this issue Frank Close is Professor of Physics at the University of Oxford and a noted particle physicist. As well as the recipient of a Kelvin Medal and Prize from the Institute of Physics, he is Chairman of the British team at the annual International Physics Olympiad. His report on the IceCube Neutrino Observatory at the South Pole explores the mystery of the ‘ghost particle’. See page 44
Ian Morris is a British historian who is currently Willard Professor of Classics and Professor of History at Stanford University in California. Ian specialises in the history and archaeology of the ancient world, and in this issue he brings clarity to the ways in which the geography of the world has shaped its political history since the advent of humankind. See page 36
Christina Greenwood was born and educated in England before first encountering tigers during conservation work in Nepal on her gap year. She now lives and works in Bangladesh where, as an employee of the Zoological Society of London, she is working alongside the Bangladeshi government to help them develop their long-term tiger action plan. See page 72
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ASIA TEAM Publisher: Cecilia Woo Managing Editor: Ben Poon Art Director: Desmond Teo Graphic Designer: Diyan Julia Marketing Manager: Tasmin Chua Senior Marketing Executive: Stefanie Yuan Circulation Marketing Manager: Joyln Lim Finance Manager: Julie Khong Production Executive: Veronica Teo Customer Service Executive: Beth Kwok Business Manager: Lo Wing Tong UK TEAM Acting Editor: Paul McGuinness Acting Managing Editor: Cavan Scott Art Editor: Sheu-Kuie Ho Picture Editor: Sarah Kennett Editorial Consultant: John Horgan ‘Update’ Editor: Andy Ridgway Contributing Editor – History: Dave Musgrove Contributing Editor – Nature: Sophie Stafford Contributing Editor – Science: Jheni Osman CONTRIBUTORS Mark Mardell, Julian Savulescu, David Keys, Chris Bowlby, Robert Matthews, Julie Flavell, James Fair, Karen Partridge, Steve Backshall, Daniel Bennett, Dan Cossins, Jad Adams, Susan Blackmore, Dave Brian Butvill, Gareth Mitchell, Nick Rennison, Luis Villazon, Yan Wong, Dan Stone, Gwilym Dodd, Malcolm Crook, Paul Parsons, Frank Close, Phil Gates, Michael McCarthy, John Horgan DISTRIBUTORS Singapore - Region Periodicals Distributor Pte Ltd Malaysia - MPH Distributors Sdn Bhd Indonesia - PT Javabooks Indonesia Thailand - Asia Books Co., Ltd. Philippines - Asia/Pacific Circulation Exponents, Inc. Taiwan - Formosan Magazine Press Inc Hong Kong/China/Macau - Times Publishing (HK) Ltd THANKS Thanks to BBC America and the BBC Knowledge channel
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Alice through the microscope SCULPTURE IN MINIATURE
Vol.3 Issue 1
Alice may have shrunk to get into Wonderland, but not enough to fit through the eye of a needle. This is the work of British artist Willard Wigan, who created the miniscule Mad Hatterâ€™s tea party by hand, using a sharpened needle for a knife, tweezers made from a hair clip, and paintbrushes made out of a single hair from a dead fly. Wigan carved the figures from a nylon clothes tag and used gold shavings for the teacups, sculpting only between heartbeats to minimise tremors. There was another risk to working at this scale, however â€“ he inhaled the first figure of Alice he made.
Giant gypsum CAVE OF CRYSTALS, MEXICO
SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY
Gypsum crystals up to 11m (36ft) long decorate the Cueva de los Cristales – the Cave of Crystals – in the northern Mexican state of Chihuahua. Workers at the Naica Mine found the glittering chamber in 2000 while excavating a new tunnel. Until pumping operations cleared it, the 290m (950ft)-deep cave was full of mineral-rich water kept at an even 58ºC (136ºF) by magma chambers deep below. Over 500,000 years in these stable conditions, microscopic deposits of gypsum built up into massive crystal blocks. The beauty of the cave is tempered by its hostile conditions, though: extreme temperatures and near-100 per cent humidity mean visitors lose consciousness after about 10 minutes.
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Gulf War gusher CAPPING KUWAITI OIL FIRES
February marks the 20th anniversary of the end of the First Gulf War, when Iraqi military forces were driven from Kuwait. As they were retreating, they blew up over 700 crude oil wells. Blowout specialists from the US and Canadian oil industries, like the Canadian firefighters here, took on the dirty, dangerous work of extinguishing the fires and capping the high-pressure torrents. It wasnâ€™t until November 1991 that the last of the flaming wells was brought under control, having released up to six million barrels of oil each day.
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THE LATEST INTELLIGENCE
E Extinct animals can be rediscovered p18 E Brain scans could diagnose autism p19 E Is alcoholism in our genes? p20 E Tyrannosaurus rex was a cannibal p21 E Cancer is largely man-made p23
Ring of Fire mystery solved New study explains locations of world’s deadliest volcanoes
T devastation and have
hey cause widespread
taken thousands of lives, yet the reason the world’s deadliest volcanoes are located where they are has never been fully explained – until now. The most explosive volcanoes appear in narrow bands – or arcs – across the globe. Perhaps the most famous of these is the Pacific ‘Ring of Fire’, which stretches around the Pacific Ocean in a horseshoe shape. We’ve known for almost 50 years that these arcs form where one of the huge oceanic plates that make up part of the outermost shell of the Earth sinks beneath another. But the arcs are 16
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incredibly narrow – just a few tens of kilometres wide – and scientists have been unable to explain why there is such a precise pattern. “The conventional wisdom is that when one plate sinks beneath the other, it releases
But this would take place over a broad area. So the key question is: why are volcanoes in such narrow chains?” Geologists at Oxford discovered a crucial pattern in the geological processes being recorded – a pattern
“It’s the temperature that matters, not the presence of water” water into the wedge of mantle above,” says Philip England, Professor of Geology at the University of Oxford. “And because water lowers the melting point of most things, this is where you get rock melting, producing a volcano.
that could only be explained if the temperature in the wedge of mantle above the sinking tectonic plates was the same beneath all volcanoes. And they now know that the ‘goldilocks’ temperature for volcano formation is 1250oC (2282oF).
At this temperature, volcanoes have a ready supply of molten rock – magma. It’s the optimum temperature for rock to melt when water is present and it’s also hot enough for rock to melt without water. “So it’s the temperature that matters, not the presence of water,” says England. “And the rate at which one tectonic plate is slipping beneath the next determines when you find this temperature and therefore where you find volcanoes.” But given how long we’ve known the basic geology of volcanoes, why has this taken so long to pin down? “It’s very difficult to look inside the Earth,” says England. “Here I am talking about it as if I can see it, but obviously I can’t. To make this progress, we needed precise geophysical measurements, which have only recently become available.”
Chile’s Llaima volcano is one of 452 volcanoes in the Pacific ‘Ring of Fire’
THE LATEST INTELLIGENCE
Ex-extinction Lost mammals can be rediscovered
I but one third of
DAVE WATTS/NATUREPL.COM, GETTY, PHOTOLIBRARY.COM, UNIVERSITY OF UTAH, REINHARD DIRSCHERL/FLPA, AVIATION-IMAGES.COM, AMELIA CAROLINA SPARAVIGNA
t may sound unlikely,
extinct mammals are eventually rediscovered, and new research has found a better way for conservation to target the most likely candidates for rediscovery. Currently, searches for hidden pockets of survivors include species with little or no chance of success, squandering money that could be better spent elsewhere. That’s the opinion of Diana Fisher of the University of Queensland, who has examined the reasons for extinction and rediscovery among mammals. “Looking at rates of rediscovery versus rates of extinction, we found that animals who had been threatened by a loss of habitat or climate change are more likely to turn up again than animals eliminated by introduced predators or disease,” she explains.
Reports of one-off rediscoveries capture the imagination, but until Fisher’s report, nobody had looked at the overall patterns. “I thought it probably wasn’t random,” she says. “The most important factors we’ve found for rediscovery are body size and geographic range. Animals with a large range and small body size are more likely to still be around. “If you think that an animal became extinct due to habitat loss, there’s a good chance it will be more flexible than you think. It might be that its range was bigger than was thought.” Fisher points to the fruitless but frequent searches for enigmatic creatures such as the thylacine, or ‘Tasmanian tiger’, as examples of how money should not be spent. She calls it “a pointless waste” when the investment could be targeted on species who fit the
Is it a bird..? An Italian physicist has spotted what appear to be a series of animals carved into the landscape in Peru. Amelia Carolina Sparavigna, who is based at Turin’s Polytechnic University, spotted the ‘geoglyphs’ using Google satellite images and an imageprocessing program that would normally be used to study astronomical features. The earthworks seem to represent birds, snakes and other animals in the land around Lake Titicaca and may have been carved out by Andean communities centuries ago. The Andeans weren’t alone in their creation of geoglyphs – Amazonian societies used to make patterns in the Earth too. Elsewhere in Peru are the Nazca Lines, a series of geoglyphs declared a World Heritage Site.
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It is unlikely that efforts to ﬁnd surviving thylacines will prove worthwhile
rediscovery profi le. Thylacines were large, predator marsupials that had become extinct by 1936 after being hunted down across Tasmania. Field research should look at recent rediscoveries and follow the pattern, according to Fisher. An example is the Philippine bare-back fruit bat. Fisher explains that this fruit-loving flying mammal was formerly widespread in the Filipino forests but
Enhanced images show the outline of a bird, with a round pond marking its eye
was thought to be extinct by about 1970 due to loss of habitat to farming. After being searched for strenuously by experts, it turned up in 2001 on another island. “It was in quite a different habitat – not at all the kind of place that had previously been its stronghold,” she emphasises. By taking a step back from our expectations of extinction, it appears we can actually bring many species back from the brink too.
IN BRIEF MILESTONES
Posthumous executions were all the rage in England
350 years ago � 30 January 1661: Oliver Cromwell is formally executed two years after his death. The corpse is dug up from Westminster Abbey on the 20th anniversary of the execution of Charles I and hanged in chains in what is now central London. To add to the indignity, his severed head is exhibited on a 6m (20ft) spike outside the Houses of Parliament for over 20 years, eventually to be buried in the grounds of the University of Cambridge. As a political leader, Cromwell had been instrumental in turning England into a short-lived republic.
100 years ago � 18 February 1911: the world’s ﬁrst airmail flight takes off from Allahabad in northern India. The service is developed partly to provide a means of communication for the town, but also to raise funds for a students’ hostel run by a local church. In fact, anyone who wants to have a parcel flown has to send it to the chaplain of Holy Trinity Church.
Henri Péquet piloted the world’s ﬁrst ever airmail delivery
Sunscreen allergen found
Can fMRI scanning quickly diagnose autism?
Autism unmasked Scans may soon be a diagnostic tool
A characterised by a complex mix of behaviours that
utism is notoriously difficult to diagnose. It’s a condition
different individuals display to varying degrees. But a new study has provided the clearest picture yet of what’s happening in the autistic brain. It could mean that a single brain scan will replace the interviews and behavioural studies currently required for a diagnosis. In this latest study, volunteers with and without autism were placed in an fMRI scanner at the University of Utah. The scanner monitors blood flow in different parts of the brain – a high flow rate indicating high brain activity. The researchers discovered that the left and right hemispheres of the autistic brain do not communicate properly. Interestingly, this poor communication was between areas involved with facial recognition, social interaction, attention and movement control – a close reflection of autism’s classic symptoms. “We were expecting to see brain differences, but we weren’t expecting them to be so focused on areas of behavioural abnormalities,” says Jeffrey Anderson, Assistant Professor of Radiology at Utah. Other studies have found poor connections within the autistic brain, but this is the fi rst to fi nd such widespread problems. “People are coming to the realisation that autism is a disorder of brain connectivity,” says Anderson. And now his and other research groups are looking at other connections. The new fi ndings will also allow us to get a deeper understanding of the condition. “For many years we didn’t have anything to grab hold of,” he says. “Once we have an objective fi nding that’s repeatable, then we can start unravelling the thread, asking what causes these connectivity abnormalities and looking at individual neurons.” Anderson says we could also investigate the genes behind these abnormalities, opening up the possibility of prenatal screening. Drugs that target the neurological problems directly would also be on the agenda.
Sunscreens protect our skin from UV light, but the same sunshine can turn them into a highly allergenic compound. Research by Isabella Karlsson of the University of Gothenberg, Sweden, has examined how sun creams degrade in the light. She discovered that creams containing the UVA-absorbing ingredient dibenzoylmethanes break down to create a chemical many find irritating.
Urine dating is key to climate change
Accumulations of ancient urine hold the key to dating climate changes in southern Africa. Andy Carr, from the University of Leicester, UK, is analysing the strata of middens created by thousands of generations of rock hyrax, a large guinea pig-like creature. The composition of their urine changes with diet, which provides a reliable marker of their environment going back 30,000 years.
Shark smell a myth
Despite reputation, the shark’s sense of smell is only as good as that of most fish. Tricia Meredith, a biologist at Florida Atlantic University, released amino acid molecules into the noses of five different shark species and recorded the electrical impulses they generated. The sharks were roughly equal in their smelling ability, detecting one part in a billion – about the same as a teaspoon in two Olympic swimming pools.
THE LATEST INTELLIGENCE
��� ROUND UP KEEPING ABREAST OF THE TOP SCIENCE, HISTORY AND NATURE RESEARCH FROM AROUND THE WORLD
UNIVERSITY OF ARIZONA, REX, NICHOLAS LONGRICH/YALE UNIVERSITY, ALAMY, PHOTOLIBRARY.COM, DREAMSTIME X2, CORBIS, VANCE HOLLIDAY, DAVID FLEETHAM/NATUREPL.COM
ASTRONOMY A new lens is able to block dazzling light from distant stars and reveal images of planets in close orbits for the first time. The Apodizing Phase Plate (APP) is the size of a throat lozenge and etched with lines that cancel out the halo of starlight. Developed by the University of Arizona, it has already shown us a planet between 7-10 times the mass of Jupiter, in an orbit seven times further from its parent star than the Earth is to the Sun. Previously, planets this close to their stars have never been imaged directly.z� http://bit.ly/ apodizing The Astrophysical Journal
The Apodizing Phase Plate causes light waves to interfere with each other
Fish can identify each other by using ultraviolet vision to pick out markings invisible to the human eye. Researcher Ulrike Siebeck from Australia’s University of Queensland studied two species of damselfish, introducing them to each other under both normal light and light with a UV filter to block this spectrum of their vision. As expected, the fish normally attacked members of their own species first – but when the UV was blocked, they found it far more difficult to distinguish between species.
There is no evidence to suggest that a comet devastated the Clovis people of North America 13,000 years ago. That’s the opinion of archaeologists Vance T Holliday and David J Meltzer, who have analysed data from 44 sites and argue that this ancient race didn’t disappear, they just moved elsewhere to hunt new prey with different weapons. The comet theory links the disappearance of the continent’s large mammals with the disappearance of distinctive spear points made by the Clovis people.
An article has examined the reasons for the popularity of twin beds for married couples. The study by Hilary Hinds of Lancaster University in the UK reveals that the prospect of two people lying in such close proximity horrified several Victorian writers. They suspected the “transmission of foul air” and that “electrical changes” to their bodies overnight would cause quarrelling. Hygiene reasons were soon forgotten as it became fashionable – even modern – for middle-class couples to have twin beds.
� http://bit.ly/dqH03m Current Biology, University of Queensland
� http://bit.ly/cloviscomet Chicago Current Anthropology
� http://bit.ly/victorianbeds Journal of Design History
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GENETICS A tendency to alcohol addiction may begin in your genes. A study of mice has linked the dopamineregulating D2 gene to a specific problem with alcohol. Mice without this gene that were given an ethanol solution were found to have a reduced level of dopamine response. For humans, it means that those lacking the gene may seek a greater frequency and quantity of alcohol to achieve the feeling of satisfaction that normal drinkers take for granted. � http://bit.ly/alcoholismd2 Alcoholism
A new sensor has been developed that’s capable of detecting minute quantities of triacetone triperoxide (TATP), the substance suspected of being used in the 7 July 2005 London bombings. TATP defies most detectors, but chemists at the University of Illinois have developed a sensor in which a catalyst breaks the chemical down and the resulting components cause a series of pigments to change colour – the pattern of change indicating the TATP concentration. A handheld detector is now being developed.
The undisputed king of the dinosaurs, Tyrannosaurus rex, was a cannibal. Palaeontologists at Yale and other US universities spotted T. rex bones with deep gouges in them that are clearly tooth marks from a large carnivore. And as T. rex was the only large carnivore in western North America 65 million years ago – the location and time the bones came from – it was the only possible culprit. Only one other species of dinosaur, Majungatholus atopus, is known to be a cannibal.
� http://bit.ly/TATPdetector Journal of the American Chemical Society
� http://bit.ly/rexcannibal PLoS ONE
Most of today’s air fresheners merely mask a bad smell, while other materials used to absorb odours, such as activated carbon, only tend to have a weak ability to draw in the chemicals responsible. But now particle engineers in the US have developed a material made up of silica nanoparticles – each just 1/50,000th the width of a human hair – coated with copper. The metal has well-known antibacterial and anti-odour properties, while the tiny particles give the copper a greater surface area to exert its effects. � http://bit.ly/odour Langmuir
Stodgy puddings will seem thinner to some and thicker to others thanks to differences in the amount of a digestive enzyme they produce. Scientists at the Monell Center in Philadelphia found that the consistency of starchy foods is influenced by the level of salivary amylase in different people’s mouths. Not only that, but the amount of enzyme each person produces is linked to the number of AMY1 genes they have. Salivary amylase helps break starches into simpler sugars that can be absorbed into the blood.
One man’s meat... There is, I must admit, a certain sort of Brit who may sneer at American food. But for most of us, and in particular our children, American food is a familiar treat: burgers, which may or may not hail from Hamburg, Germany; pizza, with a crust so deep and toppings so varied they would offend Italian sensibilities; and French fries that may never have seen a pomme de terre. In every British high street, you’ll see the same fast-food chains as the malls that line the American highway. But there are other American foods that aren’t so recognisable and turn out to be both familiar and culturally confusing. I’m thinking of the Southern breakfast of grits, biscuits and gravy. We Brits wouldn’t expect gravy at breakfast – mind you, what Americans serve is not what we’d call gravy anyway. Gravy is an essential component of the British roast dinner – brown, delicious and deeply savoury, thickened meat juices to be poured over roasted meat and two veg. On the Southern breakfast plate, gravy is equally thick, but it’s a white sauce, flavoured with bits of sausage. The gravy goes on a biscuit, which to us should be round, flat and often sweet – a cookie, in other words. But this biscuit is what we would call a scone. And scones are pretty posh, to be served spread thick with butter, strawberry jam (or jelly) for afternoon tea in an altogether better class of household. And here’s where it starts to get confusing. Because the typical Southern breakfast is, how shall we say, down home, unrefined country food that sticks to your guts and builds you up for driving your pick-up truck or hunting with your bird dog – not something to be delicately nibbled while sipping tea from thin china cups at the vicarage. Then we come to grits. Grits are a sort of porridge made from ground cornmeal. However far north you’ve travelled in the US of A, if you like your grits, it’s a sign that you haven’t forgotten your roots. But hang on, this is exactly the same stuff as polenta. In England, a liking for this rustic Italian delicacy has been seen by some as the ultimate symbol of an urban elite’s quest for ever more obscure fancy foreign food, pretentious and out of touch with the ‘real’ people. But I have a confession: while I love both biscuits and gravy and scones and jam, to me polenta and grits are tasteless – and that’s not a metaphor. British journalist Mark Mardell, formerly the BBC’s Europe Editor, moved from Belgium to Maryland to become the BBC’s North America Editor. Read his blogs at www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/thereporters/markmardell
� http://bit.ly/amylase PLoS ONE Vol.3 Issue 1
Comment & Analysis Alan Fitzsimmons asks if we’re doing enough to protect ourselves from an asteroid strike
“We do not have anything in place to deflect an asteroid – we’ve never even tried ” The Pan-STARRS telescope in Hawaii sweeps the skies in the hunt for NEOs
A during the past 24 hours a
ROB RATKOWSKI, ESA, ADRIANO MIGLIORATI/CATERS NEWS
s you read this, in all likelihood
telescope has spotted a faint point of light moving against the starry background of the night sky. Within the next 24 hours, this newly discovered asteroid will be identified as a small NearEarth Object (NEO). Computer software in the US and Europe will calculate its future position for the next 100 years and whether there is a small probability that it will hit the Earth. This information will then be put on public websites by the following day. It sounds cosy – we obviously have the ability to spot these space rocks near our planet and have developed the means of evaluating the danger they pose. But is it enough? Ever since the discovery that dinosaurs were likely to have been made extinct by a 10km (six mile)-wide object impacting the Gulf of Mexico, the concern has not been that it will happen again, but that it will happen soon. Since then, astronomers have 22
Vol.3 Issue 1
made great strides in surveying our Solar System for objects that might hit us. We’re pretty certain that all the dinosaur killers that currently exist have been found. And most of the smaller, 1km (0.6 mile)wide asteroids that impact roughly once every million years have also been catalogued. But the smaller an asteroid, the more of them there are and the more likely one of them will hit us. So astronomers have now turned their attention to the NEOs under a kilometre wide. The latest facility designed to tackle this problem is Pan-STARRS, located at the summit of the volcano Haleakala on the Hawaiian island of Maui and equipped with the world’s largest digital camera. Each clear night, this telescope and others in North America and Australia sweep the skies, looking for the needle that may one day lodge itself in our haystack. Altogether, 60-70 new NEOs are discovered each month. There’s no need to panic: the vast majority of these won’t hit the Earth in the
next few centuries and many are too small to cause anything other than local damage even if they were to strike. Funding the telescopes Up to now, the cost of protecting Earth has been shouldered by one nation – the US. Funded by NASA, through scientific interest and Congressional mandates over the past decade and longer, North America built or funded the survey telescopes now sweeping the skies, as well as launching the first space mission to an NEO in the 1990s. It was US telescopes and astronomers that found the only asteroid ever predicted to definitely hit us – the unmemorably named 2008 TC3. Luckily it was so small it exploded harmlessly high up in our atmosphere, 37km (23 miles) above the North African plains. That’s not to say that other countries have stood idly by. A prime example is Japan with its moderately successful Hayabusa mission, which travelled to the half-kilometre-long asteroid Itokawa. And it was the European Space Agency that pulled together a team to work on designing a space mission called Don Quijote, to see if it would be possible to deflect a small asteroid if we needed to by crashing a spacecraft into it.
ESA’s Don Quijote project may be put to the test in the next three or four years
DOWN An asteroid strike is a threat that’s being taken seriously. This coming May, scientists, engineers and policy-makers from all over the world will gather in Bucharest, Romania, for the 2011 International Academy of Astronautics Planetary Defense Conference. Representatives from across the globe will meet and discuss what’s known about asteroids, what could be done and what should be done. Yet herein lies the problem. Hard science and engineering cost bucks. The Don Quijote mission design lies on a shelf, gathering dust, wanted but unfunded. Other plans to mitigate an asteroid strike range from exploding a nuclear device near the Earth-bound rock to the wonderfully named gravity tug, where a spacecraft would use gravity as a towline. Yet they too only exist on paper at the moment. By the end of the decade, we’ll be able to detect and track most NEOs larger than 140m (460ft) wide, but what do we do if we discover a 200m (650ft)-diameter rock that may impact a decade after its discovery? Not only do we not have anything in place to deflect it, we don’t even know if we can – we’ve never tried. There are many problems in the world that deserve our attention – disease, global warming, tsunamis. Yet an NEO strike is a potential disaster different to many others in two ways. Firstly, we will know exactly when it would happen. And secondly, we could stop it happening in the fi rst place. But surely we should have a practice run to see if we can safely move an asteroid. The dinosaurs didn’t try anything either. Alan Fitzsimmons is a journalist and TV producer, and has presented several series, including The Story of Science for BBC TV
WHAT DO YOU THINK? Should we be doing more to safeguard our future from asteroid attack? email: firstname.lastname@example.org
800 trillion suns make up a huge galaxy cluster recently discovered using the South Pole Telescope. This monstrous collection of galaxies is seven billion light-years away.
2,281,250 pounds (US$3.6m) was paid for a Roman helmet dug up by a metal detector enthusiast in Cumbria, UK. The helmet, thought to have been worn by soldiers at sports events, went under the hammer at Christie’s in London and was sold to an anonymous UK collector.
30,000 years ago our ancient ancestors were grinding flour – that’s 10,000 years earlier than we once thought. Starch grains have been found on grinding stones across Europe and disprove the idea the Stone Age diet was predominantly meat.
� BADNEWS Cancer spreads Cancer is a largely manmade disease, a study tracking its history concludes. Researchers looked at nearly 1000 Egyptian and South American mummies and found only five tumours, most of which were benign. It wasn’t until the 17th century that the first descriptions of cancers were made and, tellingly, the cancer rate has risen rapidly since the Industrial Revolution, say scientists at the University of Manchester, UK. Childhood cancer has shown a particularly steep rise, proving that the rise wasn’t simply down to people living longer.
Age of enlightenment Ultra-thin arrays of lightemitting diodes (LED) could light the way for surgeons and provide a new wave of body art – glowing tattoos. The arrays developed at the University of Illinois are so tiny and flexible that they could be added to everything from sheets of paper to surgeon’s gloves. Funded partly by the Ford Motor Company, the researchers are investigating uses for the technology in cars as well as military applications. But, with uses ranging from surgery to activating photosensitive drugs, it’s likely that medicine will be the greatest beneficiary.
PICTURE THIS: That’s dam high
7.2km (4.5 miles) beneath the surface of the South East Paciﬁc Ocean, a new species of ﬁsh – a snailﬁsh – has been spotted. This depth in the Peru-Chile trench had previously been thought to be ﬁsh-free.
2 species of malariacarrying mosquito are developing from one – Anopheles gambiae. The two lineages inhabit different environments, expanding the areas where this mosquito can survive and therefore where unlucky humans can catch malaria.
Clinging to the almost vertical face of an Italian dam, these Alpine ibex goats are showing off their climbing skills. Their death-defying antics were photographed by a hiker at the Cingino Dam in northern Italy. Ibex spend their lives climbing mountains to graze – they can eat better grass at higher altitudes in the summer. But here it’s thought that they are licking the stone wall of the dam to get minerals and salts, supplementing their vegetarian diets.
Vol.3 Issue 1
SCIENCE • HISTORY • NATURE • FOR THE CURIOUS MIND 7I?7;:?J?ED
I have no special talent What makes a genius – and where have they all gone? p26
THE KOREAN WAR How it shaped the Cold War p34 FFI'-*+%&/%(&''&(&'+& ?IID'-/)#/.),
iSPY Espionage in the 21st century p50 THE SUMATRAN RHINO The beast that sings p60
FBKI Did dinosaurs lie down? Why are sunsets red? Will we ever ﬁnd a cure for the ﬂu? p84
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“Chinese research culture can be said to run contrary to the spirit of innovation”
CHINA: THE FUTURE’S RED
China The future’s RED
China will pump out more scientiﬁc papers than the US by 2020, but Dan Cossins asks whether the country’s 25 million students are too focused on proﬁt and quantity to innovate
T was a prize-winning
wo years ago, Shi Yigong
professor at Princeton University in the leafy suburbs of New Jersey. His studies had opened up a new line of research into cancer treatment and his reputation was soaring. With an annual budget of $2 million and labs occupying an entire floor, the 41-year-old looked set for a dazzling academic career in the US. But Shi shocked the scientific community when, just months after being awarded a $10 million grant by the prestigious Howard Hughes Medical Institute, he announced that he was returning to work in his homeland of China. He declined the grant, resigned from Princeton and took up a new position as
Dean of Life Sciences at Tsinghua University in Beijing. “Many people still don’t understand it,” says Shi, speaking on the phone from his office at Tsinghua. “Everything was set up in the US, but I came back because I wanted to have an impact beyond my own lab. I couldn’t have much influence on the state of science as a whole there, but here I can help shape the future. It’s a vital time for science in China so, naturally, I want to be involved.” The West remains a more attractive place for many of China’s brightest minds to pursue research. But the return of Shi, a worldclass talent tempted back to lead ambitious plans at Tsinghua, is emblematic of the phenomenal rise
of scientific endeavour in China. Shi embodies a confidence that his country, so long resigned to losing its best scientists, can establish itself as the global science superpower. And that achievement is starting to look inevitable. Last year, following a decade of staggering growth, China became the secondbiggest producer of scientific knowledge in the world. Figures compiled by Thomson Reuters show that Chinese scientists published around 120,000 articles in peer-reviewed scientific journals in 2009, up from just 20,000 in 1990. If it continues on the same trajectory, China will overtake the US as the most prolific nation by 2020. In short, within a decade or so, we could be looking east for E Vol.3 Issue 1
CHINA: THE FUTURE’S RED
GETTY X2, PRESS ASSOCIATION, EYEVINE
E the innovations that solve the world’s problems. “China is clearly the key dynamic element on the global science scene,” says Jonathan Adams, Director of Research Evaluation at Thomson Reuters and lead author of a 2009 report into China’s scientific research. “The growth in research activity is phenomenal. But quantity is not necessarily quality of course, and China has to reform its research culture to progress, but a transformation on this scale is unprecedented. It will redraw the international map of science and Western countries will have to adjust.” Perhaps better known in the West as a land of cheaply manufactured goods, China has grand ambitions to transform itself into an innovation nation. “By the end of 2020, China will achieve more science and technological breakthroughs of world influence, qualifying it to join the ranks of the world’s most innovative countries,”
declared President Hu Jintao at the launch of the ‘Medium- and Long-Term Plan for Science and Technology’ in 2006. Prestige is one motivation, but zizhu chuangxin (indigenous innovation) will also drive economic growth. To speed that transition, Government spending on research and development (R&D) has already increased to 1.5 per cent of China’s gross domestic product – behind only America and Japan
China produces more papers on nanotechnology than any other nation and has around 5000 scientists currently engaged in nanoscience research
Shi Yigong at Tsinghua University, Beijing. He declined a $10 million US research grant to return to China 30
Vol.3 Issue 1
Graduation celebrations in southwestern China. There are now five times as many students as there were nine years ago
– and plans set out a rise to 2.5 per cent by 2020. Universities are experiencing similar growth. At present there are 25 million students in China – that’s up from five million just nine years ago. “With the growth of the university system and the expansion of the research base, China will have a phenomenal capacity to produce knowledge,” says Adams. “The question is whether they can also improve the quality of what they produce.” Developing a world lead To that end, the Chinese Government is developing over 100 elite institutions to compete with the best in the West. In priority fields like space exploration, biomedical science and nanotechnology, China is very deliberately seeking to lead the world into the 21st century. Among the four priority areas outlined in Government plans is biological science – the whitehot field that promises to support countless biotech applications. If China can build a world-class life sciences base, it reasons, its research could solve global problems like pollution, food supply and disease. It may even boast a Nobel Prize for work carried out on Chinese soil for the first time. Shi is not thinking about accolades. He’s too busy meeting Government officials and working in his lab, hoping to find novel
THE FUTURE’S GREEN Where China’s already a world leader
‘Taikonauts’ destined for Earth orbit on China’s third manned space mission in 2008
ways to treat diseases like cancer. At Tsinghua, his researchers unravel the physical structures of proteins involved with apoptosis – the natural death of a cell – a process that helps, for instance, fi ngers and toes to split apart in human embryos. It’s of interest to Shi because it’s a process cancer cells are highly resistant to. “If we understand what these proteins look like on a microscopic level, in three dimensions, we can better understand how they function,” he says. “So you can get a good understanding of how cancer arises.” Elsewhere, on campuses and in gleaming new science parks across the country, Chinese scientists are breaking fresh ground in gene therapy, stem-cell research and regenerative medicine. “China wants to become a leading player in life sciences and that’s largely because of its importance to biopharmaceuticals,” says Shi. “In the future, if handled properly, I think China should be among the best places in the world to do life-science research.” Similar confidence is evident in other fields too. China’s space programme, for example, is beginning to take off. The Chinese National Space Association
celebrated its fi rst manned space mission in 2003. Since then, investment has continued apace. The China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technologies is currently working on spacecraft with inorbit docking facilities, and the fi rst module for China’s space station will be launched next year. Looking ahead, the country is in pole position to win the race to put the next man on the Moon. Big impact on a small scale But China is likely to make biggest impact in a field that’s conducted on a far smaller scale – nanotechnology, the manipulation of matter at an atomic, molecular and macromolecular level. It’s expected to be a global industry worth nearly £1.5 trillion by 2012 and China is determined to corner it. “Nanoscience is one of the key areas for targeted investment outlined in the Medium- to LongTerm Plan because it offers so many opportunities for creating commercial products,” says Cong Cao, Director of the Centre for Science, Technology and Innovation in China at the State University of New York and co-author of China’s Emerging Technological Edge E (Cambridge University Press,
It’s no secret that China is one of the most polluted countries on Earth. An air-quality monitoring station atop the US Embassy in Beijing regularly reports readings ranging from ‘very unhealthy’ to ‘hazardous’. But beneath the hazy grey skies that tickle throats and irritate eyes, Chinese companies are making ground in the race to turn the country into the world number one in green technology. And, in some respects, they have already succeeded. “There can now be no doubt that China is aggressively making the necessary investments and laying the policy foundations to become the world’s leader in inventing producing and deploying cleanenergy technologies,” says Julian Wong, an analyst at the US Department of Energy’s Office of Policy and International Affairs. “This comprehensive approach consists of three main strategies – creating a market, financing R&D and building infrastructure.” The statistics are already promising. Last year, China leapfrogged Denmark, Germany and the US to become the world’s largest manufacturer of wind turbines. And the Government has put forward ambitious plans to build enough turbines to produce 100 gigawatts of power every year by 2020, doubling the global capacity with a series of vast wind farms across Inner Mongolia. It has also taken a lead role in the production of solar power technologies. Last year Suntech Power, a company based in Wuxi, in the Jiangsu province of eastern China, broke the world record for capturing photovoltaic solar energy. It achieved a 15.6 per cent conversion rate with a commercial-grade module. Trina Solar, also headquartered in Jiangsu province, has broken the significant solar-power cost barrier of $1 per watt, using a thin photovoltaic film constructed with the semiconductor cadmium telluride. China even boasts the largest ﬂeet of hydropower stations in the world and is currently building more new nuclear power plants than any other country. The push to dominate renewable energy technologies has raised the prospect that the West may soon trade its dependence on oil from the Middle East for a reliance on solar panels, wind turbines and other gear manufactured in China. President Obama was concerned enough to use his 2010 State of the Union speech to warn Congress that the US is in danger of falling behind. So while China remains on course to be the world’s leading emitter of carbon dioxide, it also looks set to become a leader in renewable energy.
Blades stored for the next stage in the production of wind turbines, in which China now leads the world Jan/Feb 2009
NURTURING A NEUROLOGICAL GIFT Why the Chinese rule when it comes to mathematics China needs the brightest minds in the world in order to become a global science superpower. That means attracting top scientists back from Western universities, but it also means fostering a new generation of high achievers to maintain the momentum. On that score, it may already have an advantage. High school students in China consistently out-score those in the West in maths – the discipline that underpins much modern science. Chinese teams are always the top performers at the annual International Mathematical Olympiad. This year, every member of the country’s six-person team won gold. So why are the Chinese better at maths? The answer lies partly in the education they receive and partly in the way their brains work. China dominated the Mathematical Olympiads in 2010 and 2009 (pictured)
E NURTURE One reason that Chinese students outperform their Western
CORBIS X2, SHOUSHAN FAN
counterparts in maths is simple – they study it for longer. Maths is compulsory for school pupils until the age of 18 and prospective undergraduates in China have to pass tests in advanced trigonometry and algebra before they can study science at most universities. British students, on the other hand, often embark on science degrees having not studied maths beyond the age of 16, when many drop it in favour of less demanding subjects. The UK’s Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC) was so concerned about the quality of the maths skills of incoming undergraduates that, in 2007, it published a sample question from a national pre-entry test for Chinese science students alongside the equivalent for first-year English students. The idea was to highlight how much more mathematically advanced Chinese students are compared to those from Britain – and to warn that Britain’s future prospects in science could suffer as a result. But Chinese pupils educated in the UK also perform remarkably well in maths. In fact, Chinese students are three times more likely to get an A-grade in the subject than their white British counterparts, which may point to something beyond education alone.
E NATURE Neuro-imaging research suggests that the Chinese language may make all the difference when it comes to mathematical prowess – your native language helps determine how your brain solves mathematical puzzles. In a study at Dalian University of Technology in northeastern China, where the locals speak Mandarin, brain scans revealed interesting differences in the brain regions used by native Chinese and English speakers when doing sums. Volunteer students from China and a selection of Western nations, all the same age and educated to the same level, lay in an MRI scanner while solving maths problems. The scans showed similar activity in the parietal cortex of both groups’ brains – a region thought to be related to sensing quantity. But while native English speakers showed more activity in the brain regions involved in evaluating the meaning of words, Chinese speakers relied more on regions assessing the visual appearance and physical manipulation of numbers. It appears that Chinese speakers ‘see’ the numbers more readily. They’re less reliant on language processing when doing maths, perhaps because the Chinese language describes numbers in a simpler way than English – 11 is ‘10, 1’, for example, and 21 is ‘2, 10, 1’. Whatever the cause, it seems that Chinese speakers approach arithmetic problems in a different way to English speakers and this may give them a crucial edge when it comes to succeeding in maths and science disciplines.
E 2009). “Right now the Chinese Government is playing the role of venture capitalist, but there is still a real Valley of Death between research and commercialised product.” China already produces more papers on nanotechnology than any other nation and, with around 5000 Chinese scientists currently engaged in nanoscience research, the volume of patents they fi le is rising. Nanotech ventures are springing up across the country – from Beijing in the north to Shenzhen in the far south – working on novel products including exhaust gas-absorbing tarmac and clothing that can monitor your health. Last year, researchers at Nanjing University in eastern China unveiled a two-armed nanorobot that can alter genetic code. Back in Beijing, at the Tsinghua-Foxconn Nanotechnology Research Centre, Shoushan Fan has produced the sort of nanotech application that begs to be commercialised: a wafer-thin nano-speaker. The millimetre-thin, transparent strip is constructed from carbon nanotubes, which, when heated, make the surrounding air vibrate to produce sound. It won’t cure cancer, but it could change the way we listen to music – and it could be worth a fortune.
The question of quality Even so, in nanotech, as in other fields, the quantity of papers published does not necessarily equate to quality. For all the eye-catching growth in publications, China still lags behind in citations, the accepted measure for quality of research. And there remain serious questions about whether China has the right environment to foster genuine innovation. One problem is pervasive – academic and scientific misconduct. “With heavy investment in R&D, the
Investment in nanotech research has produced inventions like this cylindrical nano-speaker, supported here by metal rods
CHINA: THE FUTURE’S RED
Places like Zhongguancun in Beijing, where academic institutions and computing firms sit side by side, mimic Silicon Valley
China will have to change its research culture to one where quality is cherished above volume pressure on Chinese scientists to produce visible outcomes has mounted,” says Cao. “The push for more international publications, especially in journals included in the Science Citation Index [a record of how many times papers are mentioned in other papers], means that scientists are assessed and rewarded according to the number of papers they publish. That provides fertile ground for falsification and plagiarism.” The science journal Nature reported in August last year that Fang Shimin, a former biochemist who has spent the last decade exposing scientific fraudsters in China, was attacked with a hammer by two men while he was returning home from a Beijing tea house. “I believe they planned to kill me,” he told the journal after escaping with cuts and bruises. In June, journalist Fang Xuanchang was left badly beaten after reporting on science corruption. The pressure to publish at all costs – coupled with a notoriously
relaxed attitude to intellectual property rights – has already led to some high-profile cases of fraud. In December 2009, the international chemistry journal Acta Crystallographa had to retract 70 papers by Chinese authors after they were discovered to be riddled with falsified data. And Cao describes that case as “the tip of the iceberg”. The issue is so serious that The Lancet medical journal recently called on the Chinese Government to “assume stronger leadership in scientific integrity”. A culture of reticence This pressure to publish, it’s fair to say, does not promote scientific breakthroughs. Chinese culture is also a problem because it encourages the search for harmony, in the spirit of philosopher Confucius, rather than adversarial debate. “Chinese research culture can be said to run contrary to the spirit of innovation,” admits Shi, who has courted controversy with his willingness to expose
misconduct and to demand reform. “It emphasises connections with powerful scientists and relationships with government research agencies. Chinese students are educated to obey rules and to respect rather than challenge scientific authority. This is at odds with innovation and the pursuit of new knowledge.” It will take more than just money to achieve scientific supremacy. If China is serious about conquering the world of science, it will have to change its research culture to one where quality and innovation are cherished above volume. Increasing collaboration with countries known for high-quality research indicates that this is starting to happen. Meanwhile, the return of worldclass scientists like Shi will help transform China into a place where scientists are free to take risks and break new ground. “Things are changing, but it’s still a daily fight,” admits Shi. “There’s still a lack of transparency and fairness, in terms of grant allocation, that slows progress. If I sound cautious it’s because that’s my natural state but, yes, I think China has huge potential for becoming a leader in science if we can handle the reform well. I’m incredibly enthusiastic about the future. I wouldn’t have left Princeton to come back otherwise.” [ This article is taken from BBC Focus Magazine ]
Dan Cossins is a freelance journalist based in London and a regular contributor to BBC Knowledge Magazine
FIND OUT MORE E China’s Emerging Technological Edge: assessing the role of high-end talent by Denis Fred Simon and Cong Cao (Cambridge University Press, 2009) E China: the next science superpower? by James Wilsdon and James Keeley (Demos, 2007)
WHAT DO YOU THINK? Will Chinese scientific research cast off its lack of quality? email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Vol.3 Issue 1
New world order The changing map of scientific strength The international landscape of science is changing. Although traditional powerhouses in the West will continue to set the benchmark for some years yet, the rapid growth of scientific output from emerging economic powers – especially China – could re-draw the map. This map shows two crude measures of scientific excellence: the number of academic papers published by each country; and how each nation’s universities are ranked – a reflection of the quality of scientific research. To compile the global league table of the top 500 institutions, several indicators of research performance are evaluated: the number of highly cited researchers; the prevalence of articles published in respected journals Science and Nature; and the number of Nobel laureates produced.
USA (134) 2009: 332,000 2000: 255,000
KEY ITALIC NUMBERS IN BRACKETS SHOW NUMBER OF UNIVERSITIES RANKED IN TOP 500
PAPERS PUBLISHED IN... 2009
With eight of the world’s top 10 universities – and more than half of the top 100 – the US remains the global leader when it comes to science and innovation. It continues to produce pioneering research in almost every field of science, though it is particularly strong in medicine, biochemistry, genetics and molecular biology, all of which supports a thriving biotechnology scene.
With two universities – Oxford and Cambridge – in the top 10, and 11 in the top 100, Britain punches well above its weight. Recent figures show that the average number of citations gained by British research papers – a good measure of quality – is now almost as high as the United States. Continued international collaboration will help the UK maintain its position for some years yet.
As one of the emerging economic powers to have identified science as crucial to future prosperity, Brazil is investing heavily in research. Although it is known to be strong in agricultural and biological sciences, such as biofuel production, it needs to persuade more private companies to invest in science.
THE REIGNING CHAMP
LUCKY S LATITUDE
Vol.3 Issue 1
THE SURPRISE PACKAGE
BRAZIL (6) 2009: 31,000 2000: 10,000
2009: 89,000 2000: 71,000
2009: 29,000 2000: 28,000
LUCKY LATITUDES Turn the page to read Ian Morris’s article explaining how inhabitants of the so-called ‘Lucky Latitudes’ would come to rule the world
JAPAN (25) 2009: 78,000 2000: 72,000
INDIA (2) 2009: 40,000 2000: 16,000
CHINA (34) 2009: 120,000 2000: 24,000
Political turmoil, a brain drain and diminishing interest have transformed Russia from a science superpower – the nation that launched the first satellite and the first man into space – into an increasingly minor player. Russia has struggled to maintain its output and has slipped in areas like physics and space science, historically its core strengths.
Once tipped as the most likely threat to US dominance, India has failed to keep pace with China. It contributes less than three per cent of global research output, lagging behind many less populous countries. Having said that, India’s is still a dramatic rise and many experts expect the country to be more influential in the scientific work of the future.
China’s scientific output has grown at a phenomenal rate in the last decade. It’s now second only to the US in terms of quantity of publications, although there’s still a gulf in terms of quality – it has no universities in the top 100. Strong in chemistry, physics, engineering and materials, China is seeing growth in molecular biology and nanoscience.
Japan’s output has stayed largely flat over the last decade, though it does boast some highranking institutions and enjoys a reputation for excellence in physics. Experts generally agree that Japan needs to collaborate more with neighbouring countries in the Far East in order to progress and improve its research performance.
THE FADING VETERAN
THE ONE-TIME CONTENDER
THE RISING FORCE
THE STEADY CAMPAIGNER
Number of papers published taken from index produced in 2009 by Thomson Reuters. University rankings taken from 2009 report by Shanghai Jiao Tong University’s Institute of Higher Education in China.
“There is nothing intrinsically special about Western culture”
WHY THE WEST RULES… FOR NOW
For 200 years, the West has held the globe ﬁrmly in its grasp. But in examining how this dominance came about, Ian Morris discovers that world power may soon be moving east
I United States of America n the last 100 years, the
– and in the preceding 100, the United Kingdom – bestrode the world like a colossus, and the small group of nations around the shores of the North Atlantic that we conventionally call ‘the West’ exercised a global dominance without parallel in history. For two centuries Westerners have shipped armies to Africa and Asia to impose their will, yet Africans and Asians have not sent armies back to invade Europe or the USA. African and Asian governments have struggled with Western capitalist and Communist theories, but no Western governments have tried to rule on Ashanti or Confucian lines. Africans
and Asians often communicate across linguistic barriers in English, yet Europeans rarely do so in Swahili or Mandarin. A Malaysian lawyer summed it up bluntly in 1994 for the British journalist Martin Jacques: “I am wearing your clothes, I speak your language, I watch your fi lms, and today is whatever date it is because you say so.” But how did the West come to rule the world? And, perhaps more importantly, how long will it last? Westerners simply better than everyone else? Q Are No. As recently as the 17th century, those Europeans who A visited China, India or the Ottoman Empire tended to be overawed by
the wealth and sophistication they saw there. However, in the 18th century, European thinking shifted. Europeans found that they had a problem – although as problems go, it was not a bad one. They appeared to be taking over the world, but they didn’t know why. Some Europeans concluded that Westerners were simply superior to other people. “There reigns in Asia a servile spirit, which they have never been able to shake off,” the French social commentator Baron de Montesquieu concluded in 1748. According to the Baron, Europeans – particularly Frenchmen – had “a certain vigour of body and mind, which renders them patient and intrepid, and qualifies them for E arduous exercises.” Vol.3 Issue 1
WHY THE WEST RULES… FOR NOW
The Chinese polymath Shen Kua refined knowledge of numerous branches of the sciences – 400 years before da Vinci
SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY, HANS A ROSBACH, BRIDGEMAN ART LIBRARY
Artist and inventor Leonardo da Vinci made many breakthroughs, from civil engineering to aeronautics
E For 200 years this thought cheered Western imperialists as they battled malaria, mosquitoes and ungrateful natives on their expansionist quests – it still has a few champions today. But thanks to the sciences of archaeology and genetics we now know that it is clearly, unambiguously wrong. Our kind, Homo sapiens, evolved in Africa between 200,000 and 70,000 years ago, spreading across the world in the last 60,000 years. Thirty thousand years ago, nearly all the older versions of humanity, such as the Neanderthals, were extinct. Ten thousand years ago, a single kind of human had colonised virtually every niche on the planet – us. This dispersal allowed humanity’s genes to diverge once again, but most of the consequences of this deviation – the colour of skin, eyes or hair – are superficial. Those mutations that do go deeper – such as skull shape or lactose tolerance – have little obvious connection to why the West rules. The real answer to the question of whether the Caucasian branch 38
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of our species is superior must start from the fact that, wherever we go, people are all very much the same. culture better other cultures? Q IsthanWestern No. When 18th-century Europeans asked themselves A why they were superior to everyone else, they often concluded that it was because culture made them so. Just look, they argued, at the philosophy of Socrates, the wisdom of the Bible, or the triumphs of Leonardo da Vinci. Since antiquity, the West had outshone the rest. This cultural theory remains popular today, enshrined in Western Civilisation courses at colleges all over the United States. These tend to trace rationality, democracy and freedom back to classical Athens – mocked by critics as the ‘Plato to NATO’ model. Indeed, when we start looking at the details, this idea seems almost as shaky as the racial theories of Western rule. Take Socrates, for instance. He was certainly a great thinker but
the fifth century BC – the years he was active – were also the age of the Hebrew prophets in Israel, the Buddha and the early Jainists in India, and Confucius and the first Daoists in China. All these sages wrestled with much the same questions as Socrates: can I know reality? What is the good life? How do we perfect society? And the thoughts of each became ‘the classics’ – timeless masterpieces that have defined the meanings of life for millions of people ever since. So strong are the similarities between the Greco-Roman, Jewish, Indian and Chinese classics, that scholars often call the first millennium BC the Axial Age. The ideas developed at this time formed an axis around which the whole history of thought turned. From the Mediterranean to the Yellow Sea, larger, more complex societies were facing similar challenges in the first millennium BC – and finding similar answers. Socrates was part of a huge pattern, not a unique giant who sent the West down a superior path. Christianity, too, looks much more like a local version of a broader trend than something that set the West apart from the rest. As the Roman Empire disintegrated in the mid-first millennium AD, new questions gained urgency: is there anything beyond this life? How can
WHY THE WEST RULES… FOR NOW
I be saved? Providing answers won the new faith perhaps 40 million converts. But in just the same years, in the wake of the Han Dynasty’s collapse in China, Mahayana and Theravada Buddhism were offering their own answers to the same questions and winning their own 40 million devotees. Soon enough, Islam repeated the feat in Africa, the Middle East and southern Asia. Even such an astonishing Renaissance man as Leonardo da
Some 400 years earlier, China had produced its own Renaissance men who also refined ancient wisdom to revolutionise everything. Shen Kua (1031-95), for example, published ground-breaking work on agriculture, archaeology, cartography, climate change, the classics, ethnography, geology, mathematics, medicine, metallurgy, meteorology, music, painting and zoology. Da Vinci would no doubt have been impressed.
Humans may all be much the same wherever we find them, but the places in which we find them are not all the same Vinci, who refined the wisdom of the Ancient West to revolutionise everything from aeronautics to art, is best seen as Europe’s version of a new kind of intellectual, one that societies needed as they emerged from the Middle Ages.
The triumphs of Western culture have been extraordinary, but time and again they turn out to have been local versions of broader trends and not lonely beacons in a general darkness. If we think about culture in the broader, more anthropological
The Khoikhoi people of South Africa were hunter-gatherers when Europeans first encountered them in 1647
sense of ways of life rather than the achievements of geniuses, the West’s history again seems to be one example of a larger pattern rather than a unique story. For most of their 200,000-year history, humans lived in small, egalitarian, hunter-gatherer bands. After the last Ice Age, some hunter-gatherers settled down in villages and domesticated plants and animals. Some villages grew into cities with ruling elites. Some cities became states, empires and, eventually, industrialised nations. No society has ever leapt from hunting and gathering to high tech – except under the influence of outsiders. Humans are all much the same wherever we find them, and because of this, human societies have all followed much the same sequence of cultural development. There is nothing intrinsically special about Western culture. Western global dominance an accident? Q Ismerely No. Humans may all be much the same wherever we find A them, but the places in which we find them are not all the same. All the examples discussed here – Italy, Greece, Israel, India, China – came from the same slice of the world, a band of latitudes running across Eurasia from the Mediterranean to the Yellow Sea. Geography is unfair – human societies have all followed the same sequence of cultural development, but physical location has dictated that they have not all done so at the same speed. “The farther backward you can look,” the politician and historian Winston Churchill insisted, “the farther forward you are likely to see.” If we look back nearly 12,000 years to the end of the last Ice Age, what we see is that climate, topography and ecology conspired in these ‘Lucky Latitudes’ between China and the Mediterranean – and a similar band stretching from Peru to Mexico in the New World – to E Vol.3 Issue 1
WHY THE WEST RULES… FOR NOW
E allow the evolution of unusually large numbers of plants and animals that could be domesticated, vastly increasing humans’ food supply. Because people are all much the same, it was in these Lucky Latitudes that humans first domesticated plants and animals. Fuelled by these resources, it was also in the Lucky Latitudes that people went on over the next 10,000 years to create the world’s first cities, states and empires. People in Australia, Siberia and sub-Saharan Africa stuck with hunting and gathering not because they were lazier, stupider or better attuned to nature than people in the Lucky Latitudes, but because geography had simply endowed their homelands with fewer
resources, and domestication therefore took longer. Nor was geography fair even within the Lucky Latitudes. The area that archaeologists call the Hilly Flanks, curling around the Euphrates, Tigris and Jordan valleys in southwest Asia, had especially dense concentrations of plants and animals that could be domesticated. Therefore this was the part of the Lucky Latitudes where people turned into the world’s first farmers c.9500 BC, then urbanites 600 years later and imperialists around 750 BC. As its population grew, the original agricultural core in western Eurasia expanded, carrying farming, cities, states and empires across Europe, ultimately becoming the civilisation we know as the West.
China, Pakistan’s Indus valley, Mexico and Peru all came out of the Ice Age with rather less dense concentrations of plants and animals that could be domesticated than the Hilly Flanks. In each case, farming took off a couple of millennia later, with cities, states and empires following after further time-lags. By 2000 years ago, a continuous band of agrarian empires ran across the Lucky Latitudes from Rome to Han Dynasty China, and it was here that all the Platos, Confuciuses and Buddhas thought great things and created the classics. In the New World, Teotihuacan, the Maya and the Moche were moving down the same path. But Rome, at the western end of Eurasia and heir to the oldest agricultural core, remained the biggest, richest and strongest civilisation of all.
Five thousand years ago, geography placed Does geography explain why the West rules? Q Western Europe at a huge disadvantage, far from Yes. Up to a point, anyway. Geography dictates the speed the centres of action in Mesopotamia and Egypt A at which different parts of the
When geographic isolation became an advantage: European ships on the American coast in the 17th century 40
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world develop, but the speed of development simultaneously dictates what geography means. The fact that agriculture, cities, states and empires all began earlier toward the western end of Eurasia than anywhere else on Earth is not the whole story. Let’s look at the case of western Europe, sticking out into the cold waters of the North Atlantic. Five thousand years ago, geography placed western Europe at a huge disadvantage. It was far from the centres of action in Mesopotamia and Egypt, where people were building the world’s first cities, writing down humanity’s first epics and waging its first organised wars. At the very beginning of recorded history, geography made western Europe backward. But if we fast-forward to 500 years ago, the same geography now gave western Europe wealth and power. Western Europe had been drawn into a vastly expanded and more developed core, which now
The Industrial Revolution saw the British export their innovations around the globe
had ships that could cross oceans and guns that could shoot people on the other side. Sticking out into the Atlantic, which had been such a disadvantage 4500 years earlier, had become a plus. Geography explains why it was western Europeans, rather than the 15th century’s greatest sailors – the Chinese – who discovered, colonised and plundered the Americas. Chinese sailors were just as daring as Spaniards, and Chinese settlers just as intrepid as Britons, but geography had put China twice as far from the American continent as Europe. And so, because people are all much the same, it was Europeans who got there fi rst. Consequently, it was Europeans rather than the Chinese who created a new kind of maritime market economy in the 17th century, designed to exploit the comparative advantages between continents. And it was European thinkers rather than their Chinese counterparts who saw what benefits would come from explaining how the winds and tides worked, from measuring and counting in better ways and cracking the codes of physics, chemistry and biology. Europeans, not the Chinese, hurled themselves into this task. Europe, not China, had a scientific
revolution. And it was Europeans, not the Chinese, who applied science’s insights to society itself in the 18th century and set off what we now call the Enlightenment. By 1800, the combination of science and the Atlantic market economy created incentives and opportunities for western European entrepreneurs to mechanise production and tap the awesome power of fossil fuels. And so Britain, not China or Japan, underwent an industrial revolution and learned to project power globally. will Western dominance last? Q But No. The back-and-forth dynamic between geography A and social development keeps on working. By 1900, the Britishdominated global economy had drawn in the vast resources of North America, converting the USA from a rather backward periphery into the new ‘top nation’. Nor did the process stop in the 20th century. The Americandominated global economy followed the same logic as the older Pax Britannica. The resources of Asia were drawn in, and fi rst Japan, then South Korea and Taiwan, and eventually China and India were
turned into even newer global cores. If the processes of change continue across the 21st century at the same pace as in the 20th, we can expect the East to overtake the West by 2100. If, on the other hand, the rate of change keeps accelerating – as it has been doing since the 15th century – we can expect Eastern global dominance as soon as 2050. It all seems very clear – except for one niggling detail. The past shows that while geography shapes the development of societies, development also shapes what geography means. And all the signs are that, in the 21st century, the meanings of geography are changing faster than ever. Geography, we might even say, is losing its meaning altogether. The world is shrinking, and the greatest challenges we face – nuclear weapons, climate change, mass migration, epidemics, food and water supply – are now global. The 21st century is going to be a race between worldwide transformation and worldwide catastrophe, each on an unimaginable scale. Whichever wins out, the next 100 years are likely to bring more change than the previous 100,000. [ This article is taken from BBC History Magazine ]
Ian Morris is Professor of Classics and History at Stanford University, California, and the author of 11 books on history and archaeology
FIND OUT MORE E Why the West Rules – For Now: the patterns of history and what they reveal about the future by Ian Morris (Proﬁle/Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2010) E Guns, Germs and Steel: the fates of human societies by Jared Diamond (Norton, 1999) E When China Rules the World by Martin Jacques (Allen Lane, 2009)
WHAT DO YOU THINK? What will be the result if the East overtakes the West? email: email@example.com
New Year’s resolutions...
…and how to break them without guilt The ancient Babylonians were the first to make New Year’s resolutions 4000 years ago, so they were probably the first to break them too. If your resolutions have vanished in the face of weakness, don’t feel guilty. There are ways to look on the bright side, as we show with the 10 most popular pledges:
GIVE UP SMOKING �
Is there a bright side to failing to kick cigarettes? At a push. Nicotine can calm, boost performance in certain tasks and relieve fatigue. Also, studies show that moderate smokers tend to be slimmer – but how come? As well as inhibiting insulin’s role to remove excess sugar, nicotine triggers adrenaline, which dumps excess glucose into the bloodstream. This high blood-sugar lever suppresses appetite. Of course, these potential benefits are far out-weighed by the health risks.
REDUCE DEBT �
The economic theories of left-leaning British economist John Maynard Keynes can help ease the guilt of an unbalanced ledger. He recommended continued spending as a way of keeping a country’s economy healthy – after all, if we all started saving most of our earnings, the economy would grind to a halt. And as US financial expert and author Rick Kahler says, “not all debt is bad. It can be a useful tool for building wealth – like buying real estate, for example.”
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VOLUNTEERING AND CHARITY WORK
Volunteering to help others is a noble intention, but if it remains as that, remember that in the long term the best way to help someone is to get them to help themselves. The UK’s Department for International Development is increasingly focusing on self-help projects that provide more long-term aid. “Helping communities tackle the risk of disasters like famine gives them the dignity of building on their assets, abilities and practices,” says an Oxfam report into aid to Ethiopia.
DRINK LESS ALCOHOL �
Don’t fancy tee total? Fine. Alcohol consumption is good – in moderation. It has been linked to various benefits, including a reduced risk of dementia. Wine seems best, possibly because it contains more beneficial compounds. Danish scientist Morten Grønbaek found that “only wine drinking clearly reduces both the risk of dying from cardiovascular disease and the risk of dying from other causes”.
TRAVEL MORE �
REDUCE STRESS �
There is an upside to the lack of pins in that world map on your wall. For a start, you’re at less risk from economy-class syndrome – developing a blood clot from long periods of inactivity. You’ve also avoided the stress of travel. Government figures show air rage incidents on UK flights were up 30 per cent between 2008 and 2009. You’ve also helped the environment – Dutch researchers calculated that a return flight from the UK to Florida produces the same carbon dioxide as a year’s motoring in the UK.
You may vow to live a quieter life, but by March you’ll catch yourself driving to work like an F1 driver and pining for a faster pace. At least there’s an upside to your recklessness. Noradrenalin – which gets your heart thumping faster, improving muscular readiness and reactions – brings on a subsequent rush of endorphins to calm you, say researchers at the University of British Columbia, Canada. These reduce stress, ease pain, enhance the immune system and even postpone the aging process.
FIND A BETTER JOB �
FIND ROMANCE �
GIVE UP CHOCOLATE �
So what if you end up re-negotiating your zero-choc rule? If you don’t over-do it, chocolate might even be good for you. University of California researchers indicate that small daily doses of dark chocolate, high in flavonoids, can help blood vessels expand. Narrowed vessels increase the risk of heart attacks, strokes and circulatory ills. True, flavonoids are in fruit and veg too, but they’re not as much fun!
Reckon earning more will make you happier? Think again. Beyond being able to keep oneself fed, clothed and generally well, money doesn’t make us happier. In the US, average income more than doubled from 1957 to 2002, yet the amount of ‘very happy’ people remained around 30 per cent. And a bigger wage doesn’t help. “If we use an increased income to buy bigger houses, then we do not end up any happier than before,” says US economist Robert Frank.
If the dating game isn’t playing out, don’t worry – relationships have a dark, unhealthy side and can carry the risk of depression, anxiety and mood changes. Long-term romances can lead to relationship-contingent self-esteem, a condition that US psychologist C Raymond Knee describes as “when self-regard is directly invested in one’s romantic relationship and events affecting it directly affect the ‘goodness’ or ‘badness’ of the self”. Even a short spat over the dirty dishes can trigger deep depression and self-loathing.
SPEND MORE 10 TIME WITH FAMILY AND FRIENDS Think you’re spending too much time on your own? “Time alone is a basic need,” says New York University psychologist Ester Buchholz. And when we don’t get enough of it, it causes “many manifestations of psychological and physiological stress,” says psychiatrist and editor of the American Journal of Psychotherapy T Byram Karasu. From birth, solitude is essential in all ages – it helps to develop confidence and resilience, and is a chance to exercise intelligence and creativity.
FOREST BANKS/ICE CUBE/NSF
IceCube Neutrino Observatory lies at the Geographic South Pole
hunting on ice
If you’re searching for the neutrino – a particle so small it can pass through ordinary matter undisturbed, yet so plentiful it may outweigh everything else in the Universe – the frozen wastes of Antarctica are the perfect place to look. Frank Close explains why…
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NEUTRINO HUNTING ON ICE
O up the Universe, the
f all the things that make
commonest – and weirdest – are neutrinos. Able to travel through the Earth like a bullet through a bank of fog, they are so shy that, half a century since their discovery, we still know less about them than we do about any of the other varieties of matter that have ever been seen. In just a few seconds, the Sun emits more neutrinos than there are grains of sand in all the deserts and beaches of the world – greater even than the number of atoms in all the humans that have ever lived. If we could see with neutrino eyes, night would be as bright as day: solar neutrinos shine down on our heads by day and up through our beds by night. And it’s not just the Sun: every star we can see, and the countless ones visible to the most powerful telescopes, is fi lling outer space with neutrinos.
Neutrinos are such tiny particles that they pass silently through matter without colliding with any molecules. It’s because of this that they’re often called ghost particles. Each second, trillions of these ghosts are passing through your body. And it’s this ghostly nature that makes them so interesting to physicists – they can travel from deep inside the Universe without interference, potentially providing valuable information about distant cosmic events. But this property also creates its own challenge. How do you detect something that won’t be stopped by anything, including a detector? Scientists have had to come up with some pretty ingenious solutions. The latest of these is IceCube, an experiment just beginning at the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station in the Antarctic, the southernmost place on Earth. It’s not the easiest location in which to build a
US physicists Fred Reines (left) and Clyde Cowan (in hat) lower a colleague into one of Project Poltergeist’s water tanks in 1953
Pauli wagered a crate of champagne that a neutrino would never be discovered
CORBIS X2. ILLUSTRATION BY PAUL WOOTTON
An IceCube scientist checks some of the 4800 sensors before they go into the ice
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physics experiment – the highest temperature ever recorded here was -13°C (8ºF). But it’s the special characteristics of the Antarctic – its ice, to be specific – that mean IceCube will be able to look further into space and into areas that we’ve never been able to see before, like the core of our galaxy, the Milky Way. A new form of science, neutrino astronomy, is only just beginning. Odds against detection It was back in 1930 that Austrian physicist Wolfgang Pauli proposed that nuclear radiation includes electrically neutral particles, which are possibly massless. They became known as neutrino – Italian for ‘little neutral’. Pauli quickly realised that the chances of detecting a neutrino are minuscule and wagered a crate of champagne that one would never be discovered. But minuscule is not the same as nothing; when enough people enter a lottery, one lucky individual may beat the odds. The same is true for neutrinos. An individual neutrino may travel the extent of the known Universe without interruption, but if you were near an intense source producing billions of them each second, you might be able to catch one or two of them. In 1951, US physicists Clyde Cowan and Fred Reines used a nuclear reactor – emitting about 10 trillion neutrinos per square centimetre per second – as their source. They named their experiment Project Poltergeist because of their � target’s ghostly nature.
HOW ICECUBE WORKS Capturing neutrinos deep in the ice It’s the coldest, windiest, driest place on Earth, but the Antarctic is the ideal spot for a neutrino observatory. What makes it so useful are the huge volumes of clear ice there. Sensors sunk into the ice at IceCube detect the brief flashes of light when a neutrino strikes an ice molecule. These sensors are 1.45-2.45km
(1-1.5 miles) under the ice surface, attached to ‘strings’. Building IceCube was an international project led by the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Work was only possible during the Antarctic summer – from November to February – when permanent sunlight allowed for 24-hour drilling through the ice
to sink the sensors. The construction team used a special drill that sprays out hot water to melt its way through the ice to create holes for the 89 strings, each carrying 60 basketball-sized sensors, or digital optical modules. Once the sensors have been lowered, the hole freezes over, fixing them in place.
A neutrino hits an atom in the ice and is converted into an electrically charged ‘muon’, which leaves a trail of blue light, spreading out in a cone.
The 33cm (13 inch)diameter sensors detect the light. By comparing the data from several of these, the scientists can follow the path of the muon, and therefore the neutrino that created it.
The sensors send signals to computer systems, which record the events. About 1000 events a day are expected.
Many muons detected by IceCube will be produced by cosmic rays colliding with atmospheric atoms. But the muons coming up from below will have been created by neutrinos that have travelled through the Earth and are most likely to have an astronomical origin. So this will be the direction of IceCube’s gaze.
NEUTRINO HUNTING ON ICE
� To catch a neutrino, the physicists placed sophisticated electronics a short distance away from the nuclear reactor and 12m (40ft) underground to partially shield them from cosmic rays – energetic particles from space that would have fogged the results. In the summer of 1956 at the Savannah River Reactor in the southeast of the US, the fi rst neutrino was ‘captured’. Cowan and Reines sent Pauli a telegram and he sent them the crate of champagne. About 25 years ago, experiments began that involved huge tanks of water, deep underground, seeking neutrinos that come from the Sun. When a neutrino hit an electron in the water, it was like billiard balls colliding and creating a flash of light, which was picked up by special electronics surrounding the tank. Scientists could discover a lot about the neutrino: its energy, when it hit and where it came from – of particular use as this could confi rm if it was coming from the direction of the Sun. What had been built was a neutrino telescope – a new window on the Universe.
NASA/HUBBLE SPACE TELESCOPE, ICRR/UNIVERSITY OF TOKYO, CORBIS, NASA/SOHO
A burst of information Just how informative this new window could be was revealed on
23 February 1987 when, utterly without warning, a supernova was seen to have erupted in the Large Magellanic Cloud, a satellite galaxy of the Milky Way in the southern skies. A blast of neutrinos from this explosion passed right through the Earth that day, taking about 15 seconds – experiments deep underground in the US and Japan detected a handful of them. Astrophysicists had long believed that the gravitational collapse of a supernova is a copious source of neutrinos. But they hadn’t been able to prove their suspicions that the traditional manifestation of a supernova, as a brilliant flash of light that can briefly outshine an entire galaxy, is only a minor part of the drama – until now. From the number of neutrinos captured that day in 1987 and the distance the supernova was from us, it was possible to calculate the number that had set off when the star collapsed, letting off most of its mass. And by working out their energies, it was possible to work out the total energy released in neutrinos by the supernova. The calculations proved the astrophysicists’ hunches right. When stars collapse, they throw off a vast number of neutrinos, up to 1059
Remnants of supernova 1987A, which let off trillions of neutrinos
IceCube will be detecting particles that have travelled across space for billions of years – that’s one followed by 59 zeros – a hundred billion trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion of them. And these make up the vast proportion of the energy released. A 15-second surge of neutrinos had shown scientists the true energy of supernovas. But while underground detectors with giant tanks of water are an effective way to capture neutrinos,
SOLAR PUZZLE The confusing neutrino view of the Sun
Light takes thousands of years to escape from the Sun
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It takes 100,000 years for the heat produced in the heart of the Sun to reach its surface and escape as light, but the neutrinos it produces escape within minutes. So by detecting solar neutrinos, we are looking directly into the heart of the Sun. But this direct line can be a challenge to interpret. US astrophysicist Ray Davis began chasing solar neutrinos in 1960 and first found evidence for them in a tank with 380,000 litres (100,000 gal) of cleaning fluid, situated 1.4km (1 mile) underground. But far fewer neutrinos showed up in his detector at the Homesake Gold Mine, South Dakota, than had been predicted. One theory was that the centre of the Sun had already burned out and that the reduction
of neutrinos was the first signal of impending disaster. This cataclysmic possibility prompted more neutrino detectors to be built in Japan, Russia, Italy and Canada in an attempt to find the missing neutrinos. Finally, in 2001, the Sudbury Neutrino Observatory, Ontario, proved that the Sun is fine. It was able to detect neutrino ‘oscillation’ – these near-weightless particles could change form so that some became invisible to Davis’s study. And since neutrinos could change, they weren’t massless, as was thought. Instead they have tiny, unmeasurable masses. Even so, they may outweigh all other matter in the Universe put together.
the bigger the net, the more you’ll catch. And, supernovas aside, to spot the relatively few neutrinos that reach Earth from the most distant of cosmic events takes a very big net. Casting a wider net The biggest neutrino net ever built – IceCube – is now nearing completion. Rather than using water to detect cosmic ghosts, it uses ice. Now, ice in the Antarctic isn’t like the stuff we’re used to on a cold winter’s day at home. In the Antarctic, snow has fallen on ice for longer than recorded history. Deep down, the pressure is so great that all the air bubbles have been squeezed out. It’s deep into this super-clear ice that thousands of basketball-sized sensors have been sunk for IceCube – the fi nal set was lowered on 21 December. In the extremely rare event that a neutrino crashes into an atom of ice, the collision produces another particle, called a muon. These muons produce blue light that’s picked up by IceCube’s optical sensors. Because the ice is so pure, these light flashes can travel undimmed for hundreds of metres. The trouble is that, as well as being produced by neutrinos from distant astronomical events, muons are created when cosmic rays collide with atmospheric atoms. But as neutrinos are the only particles known to pass through the Earth, IceCube can use our planet as a fi lter – looking to the northern skies to
This subatomic-scale image taken in a nanosecond captured a neutrino track
ensure the particles studied are those produced by far-off events (see How IceCube Works, p47). The intensity of neutrinos from the stars relative to those from the Sun is like the brightness of a starry night compared to daylight. It has proved hard enough to capture solar neutrinos, so to capture those from distant stars, or even remote galaxies, requires a huge net – that’s where the IceCube observatory will prove to be useful. IceCube will help us discover what there is in the Universe that we cannot see in ordinary light – or electromagnetic waves of any wavelength. Even relatively close to home, the core of our galaxy – the Milky Way – is completely obscured by dense gas and numerous bright objects. However, it is possible that neutrinos produced there will be measurable by Earthbased neutrino telescopes, such as IceCube, within the next decade. A view on the unknown The icy neutrino detector will also be invaluable in investigating gamma-ray bursts. For a few seconds these high-energy blasts light up a sky that’s otherwise fairly dark in the gamma-ray part of the electromagnetic spectrum, even outshining the Sun. They happen about once a day on average, but little else is known about them. Some may even have travelled for billions of years from galaxies deep in space. If they can be seen in neutrinos, we may discover how they happen. Just as the 10-minute travel time of solar neutrinos is vast on the scale of the nanoseconds in the laboratory, so are the journey times of cosmic neutrinos correspondingly greater again. To capture neutrinos from a gamma-ray burst, for instance, scientists will be detecting particles that have travelled across space for billions of years. In covering such great distances over such immense timescales, exotic properties of neutrinos might be revealed. It’s even possible that neutrinos will tell us more about the event that got everything started – the
FLAVOUR FINDERS Investigating the three neutrino varieties We may know that neutrinos change from one variety – or ‘flavour’ – to another in flight, but the current challenge is to discover how they do it. Knowing this may eventually reveal the masses of the three known varieties – electron neutrinos, muon neutrinos and tau neutrinos. Analysing neutrinos produced here on Earth seems the best way of furthering the investigation. Particle accelerators, such as the ones located at CERN on the Franco-Swiss border, can produce beams of neutrinos with very high energies – so they are easy to detect. These accelerators produce neutrinos of a specific variety, with a known intensity and energy, which are detected in the Gran Sasso Laboratory, near Rome. Similarly, neutrinos from the accelerator at Fermilab, near Chicago, are detected 724km (450 miles) away in the Soudan mine in Minnesota. In Japan, underground detectors in the Kamioka mine (above), which detected neutrinos from the supernova in 1987 and from collisions of cosmic rays in the atmosphere, are involved in similar experiments. Here, the neutrinos are generated by Japan’s network of 55 nuclear power plants. When a neutrino is detected, it’s relatively simple to determine its direction and, from that, the source that generated it. And by having the detectors at different distances from their sources, it’s revealing a lot of information about how rapidly neutrinos shift between flavours.
Big Bang. Astrophysicists hope that they may one day identify some interaction between neutrinos and the background radiation produced by the Big Bang. So while they may be only tiny, neutrinos could end up providing us with the answers to some of the biggest questions. And they may reveal surprises even more sensational than anything we can currently imagine. [ This article is taken from BBC Focus Magazine ]
Frank Close is Professor of Physics at the University of Oxford. A noted particle physicist, he has written widely on cosmology and subatomic particles. His latest book, Neutrino, looks at the history of the ghostly particle
FIND OUT MORE � Neutrino by Frank Close (Oxford University Press, 2010) � www.icecube.wisc.edu The official IceCube Neutrino Observatory site Vol.3 Issue 1
Coral reefs They are among the worldâ€™s most fascinating and beautiful ecosystems, home to countless species, each with a unique way of making its living GONE FISHING A large humphead wrasse (Cheilinus undulatus) searches for food among the corals in Egypt. Its slightly comical, large, rubbery lips conceal the powerful jaws of a formidable predator, which grows to around 1.5m (5ft) in length. The jacks in the background have joined the wrasse in its hunt, hoping to benefit from the disturbance it causes. This species, officially listed as endangered, is heavily exploited for the live fish trade, and the global population is now half of what it was 30 years ago. Fisheries are a big threat to reefs. They donâ€™t just remove fish, they often use highly destructive techniques that damage the ecosystem in doing so.
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TEARS OF A CLOWN E The clown triggerfish (Balistoides conspicillum) in Indonesia is one of the most bizarrely painted reef fish. It is thought that the white blobs on its belly help to break up its silhouette when viewed from beneath and that the yellow pattern on its back does the same when viewed from above. Coral reefs are probably the most colourful places on Earth and, in these clear, sunlit waters, bright colours serve many purposes. As well as providing camouflage and warning of toxicity, colours can differentiate between species, sexes, adults and youngsters.
SNAP HAPPY E Much of the life on coral reefs is divided into day and night shifts. Schoolmaster snappers (Lutjanus apodus) work the night shift, when they rove around the reef hunting small fish. In areas that are popular for night diving, this species has learned to use the diverâ€™s torch beams to help them feed. The snappers lurk in the shadows until a small fish is dazzled by the light, they then race in and snatch it. During the day they live a much more peaceful life â€“ these fish are resting up beneath a coral ledge in the Cayman Islands.
THE HUNTER BECOMES THE HUNTED E Sharks, like this Caribbean reef shark (Carcharhinus perezi), are often the top link in the coral reef food chain and help to maintain the health of the ecosystem by preying on old, injured or diseased fish. However, sharks are becoming a rare sight on reefs. This is because in many areas they have been fished out, primarily for the lucrative shark fin soup trade. Sharks do not make good fisheries stock because they take a relatively long time to reach maturity and reproduce. Pregnancy for this species actually lasts longer than for humans, at around 12 months.
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FEELING IN THE PINK One of the smallest fish on the reef is the miniscule Denise’s pygmy seahorse (Hippocampus denise) at only 1cm (0.4in) in length. Many reef species fill very narrow niches, which promotes diversity but also makes those species vulnerable to change. This tiny seahorse is superbly camouflaged – its body is covered with markings that resemble the pores in the coral – but as a result can only live on certain species of seafans.
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HITCHING A RIDE
G Reefs are unrivalled reserves of marine biodiversity. Estimates for the total number of species living on coral reefs vary widely from 618,000 to just under 10 million. But species numbers donâ€™t tell the whole story. What makes the coral kingdom unique is the variety of animals that live there. Coral reefs are home to members of 32 of the 34 animal phyla. By comparison, rainforests support animals from nine phyla. This species (Reticulidia suzanneae) is a type of mollusc known as a nudibranch or seaslug, and is found in the Indian Ocean.
E A parasitic cymothoid isopod, a bit like a marine woodlouse, sinks its claws into the head of a blackbar soldierfish (Myripristis jacobus). Cymothoid isopods live as mated pairs on soldierfish. The first isopod to attach develops rapidly as a large female and emits pheromones that keep subsequent individuals as males, which are small and hard to see. The females nurture their young in a marsupium pouch underneath their bodies.
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HAPPY TOGETHER These pink anemonefish (Amphiprion perideraion) live in a magnificent anemone in Indonesia. Anemonefish are probably the classic reef resident and their relationship with the host anemone is a textbook example of symbiosis. The reef exists because corals have zooxanthellae (single-celled algae) living within their tissues, which provide them with nutrition and quicken reef-building. Anemones have zooxanthellae too, which provide them with food.
CAVE MAN F A diver explores a cavern on a coral reef in Indonesia. Reefs are important to humankind as resources of biodiversity, food, coastal protection and tourism. They directly influence the lives of 500 million people in over 100 countries who live close to them. Economists calculate that, globally, reefs provide a net annual benefit of $30 billion, although figures ten times higher are also quoted.
THE PHOTOGRAPHER Alexander Mustard completed a PhD and worked as a marine biologist before becoming a full-time underwater photographer. Today, the stories he tries to tell with his images draw on this background. His 2007 book Reefs Revealed (Constable, 2007) won an International Grand Prize at the World Festival of Underwater Photography the same year. Some images in this Portfolio are from that collection, others are more recent. These days, Alex’s underwater photography doesn’t focus solely on coral reefs. He is currently involved in the 2020VISION project, which uses visual imagery to highlight the need to preserve Britain’s ecosystems.
FIND OUT MORE E www.amustard.com Alexander Mustard’s official website
MEET YOUR PLANET:
www.bbcearth.com Vol.3 Issue 1
ALAMY, GETTY, DREAMSTIME
Revelations about Mussolini in his loverâ€™s recently published diary reveal Il Duce as a violent and self-obsessed womaniser
Mussolini: the lover and the lout The release of the diary of Mussolini’s mistress Claretta Petacci scandalised Italy with the most intimate secrets of the country’s fascist dictator. RJB Bosworth examines these memoirs and discovers a leader smarting at the paradoxes of power
C doctor, featured only marginally
laretta Petacci, the daughter of a papal
in the story of Mussolini’s fascist dictatorship in interwar Italy. But from 1936, she was Il Duce’s ‘last lover’ right up to April 1945, when she died at his side. The recent publication of the fi rst volume of a massive and obsessive diary that Petacci kept every day throughout her affair has been the publishing phenomenon of recent years in Italy. A devoted secretary and lover, she gives an intentionally full – and unintentionally devastating – portrait of the dictator. The diary was seized by the Italian police in 1950, who thereafter stuck to a 70-year rule in permitting access. Thousands more pages of Petacci’s record, covering the years from 1939-45, will only be publishable in 2015. But there is enough of significance in the current volume to suggest that it will challenge the celebrated diary of Mussolini’s son-in-law, Galeazzo Ciano, as a prime source on the dictator. Petacci’s diary is peppered with Il Duce’s curt summaries of Europe’s nationalities, in the manner of today’s ‘shock-jocks’ – perhaps � Vol.3 Issue 1
MUSSOLINI: THE LOVER AND THE LOUT
� the product of the decade he spent as a journalist before he became dictator. The English, he muttered, were a “bunch of pigs” who only thought “with their bums” (Claretta decorously wrote down ‘c..o’ for ‘culo’). “As a principle, they detest anyone who rises from the ranks and imposes himself, anyone exceptional,” Mussolini urged. Their only great man was Disraeli, who Il Duce believed to be an Italian and the lover of Queen Victoria. The Spanish were useless too, indolent and inert, as might be expected of a people infected with Arab blood. Their leader,
by preference and like to sleep without a chink of light coming through the lowered shutters? Yet he worried whether he was as yet, or ever would be, as great as the Emperor. Of course you are already greater, his obliging mistress assured him. But what of Hitler and the Germans, to whom Italy was ever more tightly bound as the 1930s progressed? No doubt, Mussolini allowed, the Führer had to rule everyone “just as I do. I command everyone and do everything,” he declared, making the political personal. But weren’t the Germans “formidable, dangerous”,
The story of Benito and Claretta is not the high romance of Romeo and Juliet
GETTY X2, TOPFOTO, CORBIS
Franco, was an idiot who kept messing up what should have been easy victory in his civil war. The French were worse, Mussolini warned. They were corrupt and degenerate, riddled with syphilis and cursed with a free press, “completely fi nished, simply nauseating as a people”. They were unworthy of Napoleon – really another Italian, of course. He, not they, was the son of Napoleon – did not both eat vegetables
all “100 million” of them? Doubtless they knew that Italy had beaten them in World War I and even if there were eventually to be “800 million” Germans, they still knew that Italians would always outmatch them. Furthermore, he decided, after hosting Hitler’s state visit in May 1938, the Führer had a real sense of humour and was “always a little in awe of me” and “respectful”. However, Claretta’s faithful record of her lover’s racist outbursts frequently
“She’s completely uninterested in everything that I do.” Mussolini with his wife Rachele and five children 62
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sounds less like the fundamentalist executive’s detailed plan for action and more like a club bore’s bravado at the bar. “Arabs,” in Mussolini’s orientalist mind, were incorrigibly incapable of positive activity, while Romanians were an unpredictable lot, given that they were composed of the mixed blood of Roman legionaries and “Slav whores”. Italians had their limitations too, he avowed as his anger grew against polite opposition to racial legislation and the Axis with the Nazis. His countrymen were split into those who represented a positive patrician inheritance and a negative one from freedmen and slaves – men unprepared for a restored, fascist Roman Empire. Here there was evidence of racial degeneracy across the centuries. Over “50 generations”, bad blood had lingered. It contaminated “four million” Italians. When the time came, he would “destroy them all, exterminate them”. Perhaps half remembering his Marxist training and the ‘locomotive of history’, he now burst out: “I am like an engine. Once I get started, nobody can stop me.” The unfailing lover Claretta leaves us in little doubt that Mussolini was equally unfailing when it came to ‘love’ or, rather, sex. Those who track current Italian Prime Minister Silvio
“Her body odour. After a while I got used to it”. Margherita Sarfatti, one-time lover and sponsor
“She came on to me”. Mussolini alleged that Crown Princess Maria José tried to seduce him
Berlusconi’s libido may wonder about national tradition when they read of the Duce’s love-making. On Christmas Day 1937, for example, the bored dictator – who hated holidays among his family – rang Petacci, as he did a dozen times daily, to assert his passion with a curious mixture of euphemism and salaciousness. There were times when the older man bit his lover on the shoulder or kissed her foot, assuring her that the abnegation involved was proof that he loved her most. Sometimes, she found him slack and tired – an ageing man who snored when he napped between or after their coituses. At other times, he was almost a teenager again, asking her whether he had the most beautiful body in Italy. The insecure doubter Il Duce needed to be reassured of his physical prowess – he could remember fretfully that Margherita Sarfatti, the Jewish intellectual who had been his lover and political sponsor from 1911, had told him that he had ugly, short, fat legs. When their relationship began, Sarfatti was older and wealthier than he and had many more contacts in high places. But by 1937-8, amid enveloping anti-Semitism, Mussolini recalled being repelled by Sarfatti’s body odour. However, given that the three rooms off his grandiose office in the Palazzo Venezia – where Petacci was to be found most afternoons – were equipped with a bidet but not a bath (Mussolini preferred eau de cologne as a cleansing fluid), it might be surmised that the lovers smelt too. Mussolini added crassly that he had only failed to get an erection three times, once on an unnamed occasion, once when
“He really, really likes me.” Mussolini receives a warm handshake from Hitler at the Munich Conference in 1938
fi rst sleeping with Sarfatti and once when the Crown Princess of Italy, Maria José, allegedly tried to seduce him. Accompanying these crude confessions were the more predictable ones of a lover in his 50s. He maintained his wife, Rachele, was not fun to have sex with – and, moreover, Rachele had had her own extramarital affair. She never understood how great he really was and never read anything that mattered. Perhaps in his soul, Mussolini might concede that there was scant evidence that Claretta was an intellectual either, but she could be relied on to worship her lover. As she blurted out: “I have adored you since I was a child. Today and for ever, you are my reason for living.” In reward, he reassured her that he had given up his earlier habit of running 14 lovers simultaneously. So, in 1938-9, he only ‘betrayed’ her seriously with two familiar and older women. What’s more, one such promiscuous visit he timed as taking just 12 minutes from entering the apartment to leaving, although Claretta, who had been obsessively watching, complained pettishly that he had been inside for twice that long.
In sum, the story of Benito and Claretta is not the high romance of Romeo and Juliet. Rather, intimate relations with this dictator were nasty, brutish and short. After all, one of Mussolini’s reiterated boasts about himself was that he was an “animal” – a “wild man”. The epitaph writer Even as he mouthed such vainglorious bluster, Mussolini was having intimations of mortality, wondering about what he had done with power and how history would judge him. His mother had died at 46, while his father lasted 10 years longer. As he approached his 55th birthday on 29 July 1938, he remarked that Claretta was so young compared with him – sooner or later she must ‘betray’ him. Maybe he only had a short time to live – it could be a year or less. Had not Julius Caesar and Napoleon both died relatively young? Was it worse than that? Just look at his favourite child, Edda, for example. Despite his best efforts, she led a feckless, bourgeois life – gossiping, playing bridge and evading her responsibilities as a mother. If Edda did not obey Il Duce, what of the rest? As he burst out in disgust in � Vol.3 Issue 1
THE RISE AND FALL OF A DUCE From a political power to a sawdust Caesar
29 July 1883: Benito Mussolini is born at Predappio, a rural town in the Apennine foothills of north-central Italy. 1 December 1912: Mussolini becomes Editor of Avanti!, an Italian socialist newspaper published nationally from Milan. October 1914-24 May 1915: Championing Italy’s entry into World War I gets Mussolini expelled from the Italian Socialist Party. He edits his own pro-war paper, Il Popolo d’Italia, with money from French and British secret services. 23 March 1919: After fighting in World War I, Mussolini founds the Fasci di Combattimento at a meeting of 200 members in Milan. These first ‘fascists’ are a motley group, but they all promote nationalism over socialism. 28 October 1922: In the March on Rome, Mussolini’s National Fascist Party seizes power. Mussolini is appointed Prime Minister. 3 January 1925: In a speech to the Italian parliament, Mussolini announces the creation of a one-party ‘regime’, moving towards his goal of creating a totalitarian state with himself as the supreme leader – Il Duce. 11 February 1929: The Lateran Pacts, signed by Pope Pius XI and Mussolini, end almost 70 years of disputes between Church and government and establish the Vatican City.
� May 1938: “I am not a dictator. I am a slave. I am not even master in my own house… I’ve had it up to here with it all, with home… with this whole old world. I need a new world that I can make.” Did these dragging frustrations signal that, by the late 1930s, Mussolini was hell-bent on radicalising his dictatorship, rendering it ever more totalitarian? Or was he expressing semi-comprehension of the limits of dictatorial power?
The supreme leader But dictator he was and, as CEO of his nation and regime, that – on occasion – meant work. Then, either Petacci was by his side or he would ring to tell her what he had been doing. Speed was of the essence in government, Mussolini advised as he fl icked through the newspapers, informing his lover on one occasion – with a provincial’s naïve optimism – that their pages allowed him to tour the world. More often, his scanning brought on sulky rages, especially when French newspapers failed to praise him enough. Similarly, he might rapidly survey official papers, railing against the bureaucrats who spent years preparing memoranda when his keen mind could see what mattered in “five minutes or less”. More of Mussolini the national leader is revealed by Petacci’s account of the autumn days of 1938, following the Munich conference, which was organised
to discuss Nazi demands for the annexation of Czechoslovakia’s Sudentenland. Mussolini came back to his lover’s arms euphoric. His reception had been “fantastic”. Hitler, who he described as being a teddy bear at heart, had welcomed him with tears in his eyes. “He really, really likes me,” Mussolini emphasised ingenuously. The treatying had gone well. French Prime Minister Daladier was a “nice man”, while Chamberlain, the British Prime Minister, was really “admirable” – almost 70, yet zealously working into the wee hours. Of course, they relied on the Italian dictator for all that mattered. “I had prepared everything; they would not have known where to begin,” he bragged. He alone could speak the requisite foreign languages and it was thus proper that Chamberlain and Daladier addressed Mussolini as Il Duce throughout proceedings. Admittedly, Hitler would sometimes get threateningly cross, but he would let Mussolini calm him. So, they had found Nazi-fascist peace and victory. “Now the democracies must yield the pass to the dictatorships,” boasted Il Duce. “We were a single force, we meant something, we represented an idea and a people. He with his brown shirt, I with the black. Them humiliated and alone.” If only young Claretta could have witnessed it all. And throughout the business, he tactfully remembered to add, thoughts about her had kept popping into his mind.
3 October 1935: Italy invades Ethiopia, in spite of the League of Nations. By May 1936, it has brutally conquered a ‘new Roman empire’. 10 June 1940: After hesitating for nine months, Italy enters World War II on the side of Nazi Germany. In 1941, it follows the Germans into conflict with the USSR and the USA.
DREAMSTIME, ALAMY, GETTY
25 July 1943: With the Italian army near collapse and the Allies invading Sicily, Mussolini is dismissed by the King and arrested. The new leadership signs an armistice with the Allies two months later. 8 September 1943: German paratroopers rescue Mussolini from imprisonment in the Apennine Mountains. Hitler orders him to become the puppet dictator of the Italian Social Republic, ruling northern Italy. 27-28 April 1945: Mussolini and Claretta Petacci are arrested by partisans and shot near Lake Como. Their bodies are taken to Milan and hung up by the feet for public mockery.
“I imprisoned 70,000 Arabs.” Mussolini tours Libya in 1937, having brutally put down Bedouin revolts
MUSSOLINI: THE LOVER AND THE LOUT
True, he acknowledged uneasily, Germany was now the greatest power – an inevitable result of the errors of the Versailles peacemaking at the end of World War I. But “we have nothing to fear. And it’s better to have the Germans as friends anyway, since they are better than the rest and more loyal.” After all, he concluded with the emphasis on himself, Hitler and his whole people loved and admired him. He, Benito Mussolini, was the “real peacemaker”. The enraged egotist Alas, despite such self-praise, scarcely a day passed before the contradiction of Italy’s role became apparent. No lasting peace had been made and the Munich Agreement, which gave the Sudentenland to Germany, had not resolved the European crisis. Small wonder then, that in a trice, Mussolini’s pleasure turned to anger. First to arouse Il Duce’s wrath was the King of Italy, Victor Emmanuel III, the monarch with whom his relationship had always been excellent, he had told Petacci months before. Now the King greeted his triumph coldly. As payback for this perceived snub, Mussolini would have no trouble eliminating Italy’s royal house.
A “calamity”. Pope Pius XI and Mussolini sign the Lateran Pacts in 1929, establishing the Vatican City
one. I’ll make a massacre, as the Turks did,” he declared two days later. “Just as I imprisoned 70,000 Arabs [in the brutal pacification of Libya in the early 1930s], I can jail 50,000 Jews.” In the initial commentaries that have appeared about the diaries, there has been an emphasis on the anti-Semitism. This was certainly a frequent theme in Petacci’s diary while the regime was pushing through a raft of racist legislation.
“I am not a dictator. I am a slave. I am not even master in my own house… I need a new world that I can make” After all, hadn’t the Germans, in 1919, eliminated 22 princely dynasties from the Second Reich at one stroke? Even more disobliging was Pope Pius XI. In July, the dictator had complained that German attacks on Christ as a Jew were “disgusting, really disgusting”. Now, however, the Pope was the “calamity”, ludicrous in his expressions of sympathy for blacks and Jews, head of a religion that was “dying”. When necessary, Mussolini would break all dealings with the Vatican’s “miserable hypocrites”. As he contemplated an ungrateful world, Mussolini deepened his own racism. “These Jews,” he boasted on 9 October 1938, “I’ll destroy them all”. He had been good to them, but now “I shall kill them all, every
So, in 1937, Mussolini told Petacci that Sarfatti displayed “a Jewish intelligence” – how else could she approve of him having sex with another Jewish-Italian woman in front of her? Beethoven, whom Mussolini had once declared his favourite composer, was now written off as “Jewish”. On Easter Monday 1938, the dictator thundered: “These pigs of Jews [are] a people who must be cut to pieces.” Natural “traitors”, they could only betray those among whom they lived. “Puah! I detest them.” The fascist killer What is to be made of these prejudices? Do they confi rm the view that the regime ‘inevitably’ became racist and that Il Duce was always bent on eliminating the
Jews? Perhaps. Certainly, these diaries are evidence, if needed, to counter the nostalgia for the interwar dictator that is too often given sustenance in Berlusconian Italy. The Benito that Claretta loved so blindly was a violent, fascist killer. Should his rumbling threats be read literally? Probably not – whatever may have been Mussolini’s immediate intention in uttering them. Here, after all, was a regime dependent on charisma politics. And it is hard to tell how the dictator’s will translated into action. He might tell Petacci that he had instructed his chief of police, Arturo Bocchini, to prepare a list of opponents whom he wanted dead. But when? And could Bocchini, who did not refrain from tapping his leader’s phone, be trusted? Not even the dictator knew that. For all its totalitarianism, the regime never developed a clear structure of decision-making. Mussolini was left both with power and – frustratingly – without it. No wonder he had so much time for his lover – even if she, too, could not fully satisfy her Duce. [ This article is taken from BBC History Magazine ]
RJB Bosworth is a professor of history at Reading University, UK, and the University of Western Australia, Perth, specialising in modern Italian history
FIND OUT MORE � Mussolini by RJB Bosworth (Hodder, 2002) � My Rise And Fall by Benito Mussolini (Da Capo Press, 1998). First published in English as My Autobiography, 1928 and The Fall of Mussolini, 1948 Vol.3 Issue 1
From the first top predator to the first animal to have sex, Paul Chambers introduces pioneering creatures from the very roots of the tree of life
F consisted of microscopic single-celled or three billion years, life on Earth
bacteria and simple organisms like algae. It was not until about 570 million years ago that the first organisms appeared with features that could – just possibly – represent
a head, tail, mouth or other recognisably modern organ. By around 490 million years ago, the earliest, barely discernible animals had evolved into hundreds of new species. This rapid diversification is called the ‘Cambrian
� FIRST APEX PREDATOR NAME Anomalocaris LIVED 535-520 million years ago (mya) SIZE Up to 2m (6.5ft) DIET Predator ZOO/ATLANTIC PRODUCTIONS
Anomalocaris was the great white shark of its day, cruising the shallow Cambrian seas in search of prey. It could grow to the length of a modern human, was fast, had good eyesight and possessed a large, circular mouth made from razor-sharp plates. We know from its fossilised faeces that Anomalocaris hunted trilobites and primitive shrimp-like animals. It would probably have held its victims in its two large front appendages and then crushed them, passing the pieces to its mouth. As the first top predator, Anomalocaris may have been responsible for an early evolutionary ‘arms race’, forcing other animals to develop hard shells for protection.
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Explosion’ and it’s preserved at a handful of exceptional fossil sites. Cambrian animals look strange, but possess vital biological innovations: the first eye, the first backbone and the first head. In fact, most living animals have their oldest ancestor in this brief geological window.
� FIRST TO SET FOOT ON LAND NAME Pterygotus LIVED 420-410 mya SIZE 2.8m (9.2ft) DIET Predator Pterygotus was the largest known member of the eurypterid – or sea scorpion – group whose members lived between 480 and 210 million years ago and were the evolutionary cousins of today’s horseshoe crabs. Pterygotus was large, swift and armed with powerful claws, making it the top predator of its time. Like other eurypterids, it would have hunted a range of animals, including trilobites and primitive fish. Pterygotus was an entirely marine animal, but 440 million-year-old fossil footprints suggest that other, smaller eurypterids may have been the first big creatures to venture onto land.
� FIRST TRUE LAND ANIMAL
NAME Arthropleura LIVED 340-280 mya SIZE 2.6m (8.5ft) DIET Probable plant-eater The dense Carboniferous forests carpeting Earth’s landmasses 300 million years ago were home to the largest arthropod of all time. Arthropleura was a giant centipede-like creature with thick armour plates and 30 pairs of legs. It belonged to the arthropleurids, an extinct animal group related to centipedes and millipedes, which evolved in the sea but moved onto land about 410 million years ago. These pioneers – the oldest known terrestrial animals – were plant-eaters, but arthropleurids with predatory lifestyles may have emerged later. Arthropleura itself is thought by some people to have been a predator, though most experts now believe it was probably a herbivore.
� FIRST SPINY ANIMAL
NAME Hallucigenia LIVED 535-520 mya SIZE 3cm (1.2in) DIET Detritus Hallucigenia’s dream-like name reflects the fact that its fossils were unlike anything seen before. They suggested that it was a small, worm-like animal with no obvious head and a body covered in spines and tentacles. The first reconstruction showed the animal walking on its spines but nowadays it’s thought that Hallucigenia’s tentacles were walking structures, its spines providing protection against predators such as Anomalocaris. True to its name, Hallucigenia remains an enigma – its lifestyle, biology and evolutionary status are all uncertain, � though it could be an ancestor of today’s tropical velvet worms.
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� FIRST TO MOVE
NAME Kimberella LIVED 560-550 mya SIZE 15cm (6in) DIET Algae Once thought to have been a jellyfish, Kimberella is now interpreted as a slug-like creature that grazed algae on the seabed. Fossils of its feeding tracks suggest that Kimberella was one of the first animals to move in search of food. This was a major advance, since other species attached themselves to the seabed or floated with the current. Similarities between Kimberella and living molluscs could mean that it is the ancestor of many modern animal groups, including mammals.
� FIRST WITH A GRASPING APPENDAGE
NAME Opabinia LIVED 535-520 mya SIZE 10cm (4in), including proboscis DIET Predator
Opabinia was the first animal to have a prehensile proboscis, which it used to dig about for worms, lifting them directly into its mouth like an elephant picking up a peanut. This feature, together with a jawless, backward-facing mouth and five eyes, makes Opabinia a real oddity. Since the animal resembles nothing on Earth today, some scientists claim that it was an evolutionary dead end. Others believe that it may be related to modern groups such as arthropods. Opabinia was a slow swimmer and may have hovered just above the seabed.
� FIRST TO HAVE AN EYE NAME Trilobite LIVED 520-248 mya SIZE 0.5-80cm (0.2-30in) DIET Scavenger
The trilobites were one of the most abundant animals in ancient seas – more than 15,000 species are known from fossils. Besides being the oldest arthropods, they also had the first complex eyes, made from dozens of small crystals. Eyes – and a tough exoskeleton – were a major evolutionary innovation, giving trilobites some protection, but they were still eaten by many predators, including Anomalocaris and Pterygotus. Most trilobites were scavengers that burrowed through sediment on the sea bed, eating food particles and small animals. The evolution of large predatory fish, such as sharks, probably contributed to their extinction.
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� FIRST TO HAVE A HEAD AND TAIL NAME Spriggina LIVED 550 mya SIZE 4cm (1.6in) DIET Not known Discovered in the Ediacara Hills of Australia, Spriggina fossils show what are probably the oldest examples of a head and a tail. Many earlier animals had a circular profile resembling modern anemones and jellyfish, but the body of Spriggina was covered in rugged, plate-like structures. The creature has variously been described as a primitive worm, a sort of sea anemone and the ancestor of the trilobites. Some palaeontologists think that they have found evidence of spines on its head and believe that it may have been the oldest known predator. Others argue that it couldn’t move at all or that it crawled slowly across the seabed. Much about Spriggina remains a mystery.
� FIRST VERTEBRATE
NAME Pikaia LIVED 535-520 mya SIZE 6cm (2.3in) DIET Detritus/filter-feeder Named after Mount Pika in Canada, this small, worm-like animal was the most advanced in Cambrian seas. It is one of several primitive fish species from the period with advanced features such as gills, eyes, nostrils, a tail and possibly even a primitive brain. Pikaia also had a notochord – a forerunner of the modern backbone – making it the ancestor of all later vertebrates, including humans. It was jawless, probably feeding on small food particles while swimming near the seabed, and is thought to be biologically similar to living lancelet fish.
� FIRST TO REPRODUCE SEXUALLY
NAME Funisia dorothea LIVED 550 mya SIZE 30cm (12in) DIET Probable filter-feeder Discovered in 2005, Funisia was probably a long, tubular animal that attached itself to the seabed and may have looked a bit like a sponge. Palaeontologists noticed that Funisia fossils were often found in groups of a dozen or so individuals of the same length. In living ecosystems, this arrangement is often a reproductive strategy and it has therefore been claimed that Funisia was the oldest sexually active animal. This suggests that the ecosystems of half a billion years ago were far more complex than previously imagined.
Paul Chambers is a science and natural history writer and was an advisor on the BBC TV series about Cambrian animals, First Life
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Fewer than 3200 Bengal tigers still live in the wild
Someone is killed by a tiger every week in the Sundarbans mangrove forest of India and Bangladesh. Christina Greenwood reports on efforts to protect the local human population and conserve the endangered felinesâ€Ś
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PROTECTING THE KILLERS
“S craft round and rams her prow
top the boat!” Montu swings the
TIM LAMAN X3
up the bank. Grabbing my stout stick and pepper spray, I jump down into the knee-deep tidal mud. A flurry of red fiddler crabs dart into their holes. I peer through the trees ahead for any sign of movement, betraying the presence of my carnivorous quarry. Adrenalin surges through my veins as images of outstretched claws and sharp fangs flash through my mind. My stick feels more like a twig. If there was a tiger in there, would I even know before it pounced? Could I pull the safety cap off my pepper spray in time or would panicked fumbling be the death of me? And would it even work against 120kg (265lb) of rippling muscle? The Bengal tigers that live here in the Sundarbans forest of India and Bangladesh kill about 50 people a year – and I’m no less edible. The difference is that I’ve chosen to enter this mangrove forest, whereas poor Bangladeshi villagers who rely on the forest for firewood, fish and honey have no other option. Tigers have attacked people in this region for as long as the locals can remember. Records over the past 100 years or so show an overall decrease in tiger-related deaths, though the underlying reason for this trend is unclear. Even so, Bangladesh remains one of the world’s hotspots for humancarnivore conflict and the issue is at the forefront of tiger conservation here.
The author heads ashore, armed with her stout stick
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My legs pull hard against the sucking sludge as I stagger awkwardly towards my target. It’s a set of what appear to be tiger tracks – or ‘pugmarks’ – leading up the muddy bank and disappearing among the spiky mangrove roots jutting from the forest floor. I’m with a team from the Bangladesh Forest Department, the Zoological Society of London and the Wildlife Trust of Bangladesh, and we’re undertaking our biennial survey of the area’s tigers.
in his early 20s, he looks no more than 16. But four years ago he lost his older brother to a tiger, and his slight frame now shoulders the responsibility of providing for his sibling’s widow and child, as well as the rest of his family. Nevertheless, he is still determined to help conserve these dangerous cats. Like most victims, Alam’s brother was killed while working within the mangroves. The majority of attacks occur when fishermen leave their boats and step onto
The Bengal tigers that live in the Sundarbans kill about 50 people a year – and I’m no less edible Tigers are almost impossible to see in the dense undergrowth, but they need to swim between the mangrove islands to patrol their territories and so can’t avoid leaving pugmarks in the muddy banks. We count these to measure how the population is faring across the forest. “Tiger tracks!” I yell to Alam, who is sitting in the boat. Beaming broadly, he notes down the precise GPS location. Alam has been with the Sundarbans Tiger Project since its inception in 2005. Though
the canal bank at the forest edge. This thought lingers as I stand here – on the canal bank, at the forest edge. Health and safety guidance For what seems like the thousandth time, I run through the health and safety guidance for walking in tiger country. If a tiger appears, don’t turn and run – that will just make its pursuit instinct kick in and it will be on you in a millisecond. Always face the tiger. Stand firm. Make E
A camera-trap records a tiger as it patrols the forest
The tigerâ€™s striped coat is the ideal camouďŹ‚age for the dense foliage of the Sundarbans
PROTECTING THE KILLERS
E lots of noise before slowly backing away. And don’t ever turn your back on the cat. If you follow these simple rules, the tiger will hopefully decide that it’s not worth its while to attack. Hopefully. But why do some tigers hunt people anyway? What makes a big cat become a man-eater? I comfort myself with the knowledge that several thousand workers are in this huge forest at any one time, so given the number of fatalities each year, the odds on me meeting my maker are slim. In fact, with unpublished research putting the number of tigers in the Sundarbans at 335–500, you might expect many more attacks. But, like most other animals, the vast majority of tigers have a well-deserved fear of the world’s top predator – us. Tigers generally melt into the forest when they hear people approaching, although if pushed they will defend themselves – a case in point being when a
cornered tigress protects her cubs. But this is very much the exception and it seems harsh to label a tigress doing her maternal duty a man-eater. Yet in the Sundarbans there are also cases of unprovoked attacks, instances where fishermen have been noisily chopping wood for 20 minutes when, out of the blue, a tiger turns up and attacks someone. If this wasn’t bad enough, the cat might then go on to eat the body. This is the nightmare scenario – a tiger actively hunting people. The making of a man-eater Nobody knows for sure why this happens, though there is a lot of speculation. Some believe it is due to a shortage of natural prey, although there are enough deer in the forest and too few people are killed for these cats to be living on human flesh alone. Others think that the troublemakers are old or injured individuals that
I make it back to the boat, feeling relief as I pull myself up on deck. I look over my shoulder... THE TIGER RESPONSE TEAM
TIM LAMAN X3, GETTY, MATTHEW MARAN/NATUREPL.COM
A job with the Sundarbans tiger response team could be one of the most dangerous in conservation. Team members are tasked with retrieving people’s bodies from the jaws of tigers. The cats usually drag their victims into the forest, so the group is at hand to help relatives recover the remains so that a proper burial can take place. Tigers kill one person every 7-10 days in the Sundarbans, so the team is constantly on call. It regularly patrols high-risk areas, warning forest workers to stay away in order to avoid incidents in the ﬁrst place. Members also provide ﬁrst aid and transport injured survivors to hospital, a trip that might otherwise take several days in the villagers’ small, hand-paddled boats.
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A spotted deer, a favourite prey of the tigers, grazes among the spiky mangrove roots
are unable to catch their normal quarry, but young and fit animals can also display this behaviour. Another, more chilling, idea pervades – that some tigers acquire a taste for human flesh. We could spend a lot of time and money attempting to work out what causes a tiger to hunt people, but there’s a high chance that any fi ndings would be inconclusive. Also, some of the necessary experiments would be unethical, to put it mildly. After all, how do you go about testing whether a tiger prefers human flesh? Meanwhile, the people of the Sundarbans don’t have the luxury of time. As each week passes, someone else dies. So, to begin with, the project’s aim is simply to alleviate the immediate human misery. The tiger response team investigates ‘pugmarks’ and (inset) team leader Goni on duty
FACTSHEET PANTHERA TIGRIS TIGRIS Royal Bengal tiger
A radio-collared tigress is released back to the mangroves after being caught close to a village
The project has an established boatbased tiger response team led by Goni, a small but extremely brave local villager. One of his unit’s more harrowing tasks is to help relatives recover the bodies of tiger victims – literally to take food from wild tigers that no longer fear humans. The Bangladeshi religion requires that a burial ritual is held within 24 hours of death, which is what drives mourners to take the serious risk of searching the dense forest for their loved ones. At least Goni’s team can make that task less dangerous. Project members also collect as much information about every incident as possible in order to help piece together patterns of tiger behaviour that might produce a solution to the problem. For instance, if many attacks occur in the same area, they could be the work of a single individual. In such a situation, we might be able to save lives by restricting access to the tiger’s territory and fitting the cat with a tracking collar to monitor its location. Fresh tiger prints As I follow my tiger prints, there is no mistake: they are defi nitely fresh. I squelch backwards to the waiting boat, facing the forest so as not to let my guard down. I strain my eyes and ears for signs of company, my heart leaping when a branch snaps. The mudskippers blink up at me nervously and a startled brahminy kite launches itself, screaming, into the air. I make it back to the boat, feeling relief as I pull myself up on deck. Soon we are chugging off up the canal. I look over my shoulder, hoping to glimpse a magnificent
orange and black-striped creature looking back at me. No luck this time. As we motor along, I look down at the clouds of sediment churned up by the current. I fi nd myself wondering if people and tigers might one day live in harmony in this wild and beautiful place. Incidents where a tiger is acting in self-defence are difficult to prevent and the project only becomes aware of a maneater after it has made at least one kill. Moreover, there’s no way of stopping locals visiting the forest since their livelihoods depend on it. So there will always be confl ict – the project’s mission is to minimise it as much as possible. My thoughts are interrupted by a shout from Alam. He has spotted what looks like another set of tiger tracks. “It’s my turn!” he calls, and leaps onto the bank to investigate. While this article was being written, Goni pulled his brother-in-law’s body from the forest after he, too, was killed by a tiger. [ This article is taken from BBC Wildlife Magazine ]
Christina Greenwood works for the Zoological Society of London and Wildlife Trust of Bangladesh, and runs the Sundarbans Tiger Project.
FIND OUT MORE E www.sundarbantigerproject.info Ofﬁcial website of the Sundarbans Tiger Project
MEET YOUR PLANET:
LATIN NAME: Panthera tigris tigris COMMON NAMES: Royal Bengal tiger; Bengal tiger; Indian tiger SPECIES INFORMATION : There is only one species of tiger, which is split into nine sub species. LENGTH: 2.4-3.1m (7.9-10.2ft) SHOULDER HEIGHT: 0.9-1.1m (2.9-3.6ft) WEIGHT: 140-300kg (309-661lb) COLOURATION: Orange coat with bold black stripes. White underside, lower ﬂanks and jowls. Conspicuous white spot on the back of each ear. DIET: Mainly deer and wild boar. LIFE CYCLE: Age at maturity is 3-4 years in females and 4-5 years in males. Females give birth to two or three cubs every 2 years, after a gestation of around 3.5 months and following the departure of the preceding young. HABITAT: Forests, swamps, scrubland, savanna and rocky landscapes as high as 4000m (13,000ft). LIFESPAN: About 14 years in the wild. STATUS: The Bengal tiger is endangered. Three of the 9 sub species of tiger are already extinct. There were around 100,000 tigers in the wild 100 years ago; today there are fewer than 3200.
THE SUNDARBANS BANGLADESH Calcutta
S U N D A R B A N S
Bay of Bengal
Is humanityâ€™s place in the Universe an accident or part of a bigger plan?
THE BIG IDEA EXPLORING LIFE’S GREAT MYSTERIES
ROBERT MATTHEWS INVESTIGATES
THE ANTHROPIC PRINCIPLE Our Universe shows signs of having just the right properties for the existence of life. While scientists and religious leaders argue over the significance of this discovery, some researchers are wielding the so-called anthropic principle to turn the existence of life into predictions of what our cosmos must be like lbert Einstein called it
wanted to answer – the ultimate ‘why’ question: why is the Universe like it is? Many insist the answer is already clear – our Universe is like it is because God wanted it that way. Small wonder, then, that Stephen Hawking sparked a furore with the claim in his latest bestseller, The Grand Design, that science can explain the nature of the Universe without invoking a creator. It’s a claim that also appears to fly in the face of evidence that our Universe really is tailor-made for the existence of life. Scientists have discovered a wealth of strange ‘coincidences’ in the basic features of our Universe, even tiny deviations from which would render life impossible. Can such amazing coincidences really be nothing more than flukes or do they point to the existence of a grand designer, determined to make a cosmos fit for us? Some scientists believe the answer lies in the latest theories of how the Universe is put together, along with one of the most controversial ideas in modern science – the anthropic principle, which at its core claims that the very fact we exist is enough to reveal the grand design of the Universe. It’s an idea with very deep roots. As early as 1691, the English scientist Robert Boyle
argued that the natural world appeared to be specifically designed to support and benefit living organisms. But by the start of the 20th century, such claims were regarded with suspicion by scientists who saw them as tantamount to arguing that the Universe was created by an omniscient designer. Scientific coincidences By 1930, astronomers had found that the Universe is utterly unlike the simple, static infinite void envisaged by earlier scientists. It proved to be dynamic, teeming with galaxies racing away from each other as a result of an explosive event that seemed to have taken place billions of years ago.
Yet as observations accumulated, some scientists pointed to a curious coincidence. According to the astronomical data, the visible Universe was around 1040 (10,000 billion billion billion billion) times bigger than an electron. And this wasn’t just a huge number, it seemed. The electrostatic force between electrons and protons in hydrogen atoms happened to be stronger than the gravitational force between the particles by the same amount. Was the similarity of these two large numbers just an accident or was it evidence of a link between the cosmic and subatomic worlds? While many scientists gave this idea very short shrift, it E US astronomer Edwin Hubble was first to identify galaxies outside our own
ALAMY, SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY
A the question he most
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THE BIG IDEA EXPLORING LIFE’S GREAT MYSTERIES
CORBIS X4, SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY X2
Why your height is ﬁxed by the cosmos The American physicist William Press has used a form of the anthropic principle to work out the maximum height to which human-like creatures can grow. His ingenious argument is based on the fact that if two-legged creatures are too tall, they risk toppling and hitting the ground with lethal force. The maximum safe height is thus set by the relative strengths of two cosmic forces – gravity, which dictates how hard we hit the ground; and the electromagnetic force, which sets the strength of the atomic bonds forming our bones. This argument leads to a formula for the maximum safe height for humans, and gives a figure of around 3m (10ft). And sure enough, no human has ever been taller than the American Robert Wadlow (19181940) who stood a towering 2.72m (8ft 11.1in) high.
E attracted the attention of one of the founders of quantum theory, the Nobel Prize-winning British physicist Paul Dirac. In 1937, Dirac published a paper in the influential journal Nature putting forward what became known as the large numbers hypothesis. According to this, the similarity between the huge numbers was no coincidence – it reflected a fundamental law of physics. As such, the similarity must always hold true, which led Dirac to make an astonishing prediction. Because of the expansion of the cosmos, the large number based on the size of the Universe would change over time and, to maintain the coincidence, the second large number had to change at the same rate. Dirac decided the strength of gravity must be weakening over time to maintain the coincidence forever. Dirac’s daring proposal provoked relatively little immediate response – not least because the predicted decline in the strength of gravity was incredibly slow, amounting to less than one per cent over 10 million years. In the absence of any obvious test of this prediction, the large numbers hypothesis fell into relative obscurity.
Renewed interest The possibility of a link between the physics of the very large and very small burst back onto the scientific scene in 1953, when Dirac’s Cambridge colleague Fred
Robert Wadlow was close to the maximum safe height for a human
TIMELINE THE ANTHROPIC PRINCIPLE
Hoyle uncovered a far more impressive ‘coincidence’ – one that seemed to demonstrate a clear link between the cosmos and the existence of life. Since the mid-1940s, Hoyle had been wrestling with one of the major challenges confronting science – explaining the origin of the chemical elements. The simplest and most common of these – hydrogen and helium – could be accounted for by reactions in the unimaginable heat of the Big Bang. The problem was to explain the origin of all the others. Hoyle found that the answer lay in nuclear reactions taking place deep inside stars, but only if carbon atoms possessed a very specific property. If they lacked this chemical ‘resonance’ – when electrons in a molecule are not bonded to specific atoms but orbit between several – the stars would create virtually no carbon and thus no life. Yet try as he might, Hoyle could fi nd no experimental evidence that such a resonance existed. Instead, he resorted to a characteristically ingenious argument. The experts must have missed something, he said, because if they hadn’t, the experts wouldn’t exist. Hoyle’s pioneering use of an argument based on the anthropic principle inevitably provoked scepticism – even today it is regarded with suspicion by those who believe the link with life is pushed too far E. Yet barely a week after he made his prediction, a team of experimentalists came back with the news that they had found the resonance – right where Hoyle said it would be. The anthropic principle received a further boost shortly afterwards, when the American physicist
Nobel Prizewinning British physicist Paul Dirac reveals the existence of mysterious large number coincidences, which suggest that the force of gravity is linked to the age of the Universe
British astrophysicist Fred Hoyle uses the fact that life exists to predict the existence of an energy level in an isotope of carbon subsequently found by experimentalists
University of Cambridge astrophysicist Brandon Carter ﬁrst coins the term anthropic principle for the idea that the properties of the Universe can be deduced from the existence of life
E Nobel Prizewinning American physicist Steven Weinberg uses an anthropic principle argument to investigate the properties of dark energy. A decade later, astronomers found evidence for this hypothetical energy permeating the Universe
1957 Princeton University physicist Robert Dicke shows that Dirac’s large number coincidences may reﬂect the fact that today’s Universe has features consistent with the existence of life
Do universes develop like living organisms? Many scientists are sceptical about the anthropic principle, insisting that it puts far too much emphasis on the existence of life in our Universe. Among the sceptics is Lee Smolin of the Perimeter Institute of Theoretical Physics in Waterloo, Canada. He argues that the successes claimed by the anthropic principle – such as Hoyle’s prediction of a special property of carbon atoms – are an illusion. They make no specific use of the actual existence of life, but merely of certain properties of the Universe that might lead to life. Even so, Smolin accepts that the apparently improbable set of properties of our Universe does demand an explanation. He has tabled a daring idea – that our Universe is the product of cosmic evolution. According to Smolin, evolution is the only known way in which highly unlikely possibilities come together to produce complex, yet stable, systems. He proposes that our Universe may
Robert Dicke used it to fi nd a loophole in Dirac’s claim about the large numbers coincidences. In an argument similar to the one used by Hoyle, Dicke pointed out that the very fact anyone exists to observe the coincidences means that the Universe must have existed long enough for stars to create the elements needed for human life.
therefore be just the latest generation in an endless series of universes, each generation spawned inside black holes that existed in their ‘parent’ universe. Black holes are objects so dense that nothing can escape from them. But according to some theories, space and time may become so contorted at their cores that fresh universes can ‘bud off’ from them. Smolin’s idea is that while each fresh universe will be slightly different, those able to produce the most black holes themselves will also produce the most offspring – and so become the most common form of universe. That, in turn, leads to a testable prediction – that our Universe must be compatible with the existence of many
On the other hand, the Universe cannot be much older than this, he said, otherwise the raw materials needed to create stars would have all been used up. Using a simple model of stellar nuclear reactions, Dicke showed that these two constraints meant that humans were more or less bound to live
American physicist Lee Smolin publishes a theory suggesting universes undergo Darwinian-style evolution that makes them suitable for the existence of life
American theorist Ed Witten unveils M-theory. The idea appears to point to the existence of many different universes making up a multiverse, only part of which supports life
Stephen Hawking’s The Grand Design rekindles arguments over the role of the anthropic principle in the design of the Universe, claiming that it does away with the need for a creator
2000 Theorists Joe Polchinski and Raphael Bousso show that M-theory implies a huge number of possible universes – 10 to the power 500 – in line with the multiverse concept
Is our Universe just the latest incarnation of a never-ending cosmic cycle?
black holes. So far, observational evidence suggest it is – but this hasn’t stopped many cosmologists regarding Smolin’s daring proposal for forming universes capable of harbouring life as barely less outrageous than the anthropic principle.
at a time when Dirac’s two large numbers were roughly similar. In other words, Dirac was right that their similarity is not just a coincidence, but wrong to think it must therefore persist forever. Dicke’s anthropic argument also undermined Dirac’s claim that gravity must be getting weaker to keep the coincidence intact. Doubts about Dirac’s prediction had already surfaced in the 1940s, however. The Hungarian-American theorist Edward Teller had shown that weakening gravity implied a brighter Sun and smaller Earth orbit in the past, making the primordial Earth impossibly hot. The coup de grâce for the large numbers hypothesis was delivered by the Apollo 11 astronauts, who in 1969 left special laser-reflecting mirrors on the Moon. These allowed astronomers to measure the distance to the Moon to an accuracy of just a few centimetres and thus detect any signs of it drifting away as gravity loosened its grip. By the 1990s, the conclusion was clear: if gravity is weakening at all, it does so far more slowly E than predicted by Dirac’s theory. Vol.3 Issue 1
THE BIG IDEA EXPLORING LIFE’S GREAT MYSTERIES
E Despite the growing interest in the anthropic principle, it was not until 1973 that it was finally given a name. The University of Cambridge astrophysicist Brandon Carter coined the term from the Greek word anthropos, meaning mankind. Carter also identified two varieties of the basic idea. The ‘weak’ anthropic principle – the variety used by Hoyle and Dicke – is relatively uncontroversial and states that the fact we exist puts limits on certain properties of the Universe and its contents. The ‘strong’ anthropic principle, in contrast, asserts that the Universe is actually compelled to have properties compatible with intelligent life.
JARGON BUSTER WEAK ANTHROPIC PRINCIPLE A relatively modest version of the anthropic principle, first identified by the Cambridge physicist Brandon Carter and the one most scientists are willing to accept. According to the WAP, the fact that at least part of the Universe contains observers puts constraints on what the whole Universe can be like.
NASA/HUBBLE SPACE TELESCOPE, JOHN C ZELKO
STRONG ANTHROPIC PRINCIPLE A far more controversial version of the anthropic principle, which states that the Universe must have properties that allow the emergence of life at some time during its history. To many scientists, this comes perilously close to being a statement of religious belief.
While few scientists accept the strong version of the anthropic principle, some leading physicists take the weak version seriously. They include the likes of Steven Weinberg of the University of Texas at Austin who, in the late 1980s, used an anthropic principle to solve the problem of the cosmological constant. Ever since Einstein devised his equations for describing the Universe, theorists have had to wrestle with the cosmological constant. It suggests that empty space generates a kind of anti-gravity push that drives the cosmic expansion. For years theorists strived to rule out this bizarre possibility – only to find their calculations insisting that it was not only present, but was a very strong effect. Solving a cosmic mystery Weinberg used an anthropic argument to cut the cosmological constant down to size by showing that if it were too big, it would tear apart structures like galaxies and stars needed for life. A decade later, astronomers showed that the cosmological constant was indeed real, manifesting itself as ‘dark energy’, and its strength is relatively close to the value calculated using the anthropic argument. Some theorists regard Weinberg’s prediction as one of the great successes of the anthropic principle. But critics, like Lee Smolin of the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics in Canada, insist the anthropic principle has yet to make a prediction genuinely based on the existence of life. Yet others – including
Lord Rees, the current British Astronomer Royal – believe the anthropic principle may have a key role to play in one of the most mind-boggling concepts in modern science: the multiverse. A theory of everything The idea that our Universe is part of a far larger multiverse goes back many decades, but it has now taken centre stage as part of the quest to find the ‘theory of everything’, describing all the particles and forces in nature in a single set of equations. Many theorists believe that the key to the theory of everything is ‘superstrings’ – incredibly tiny, multidimensional entities whose vibrations are linked to the different particles and forces. But one major problem with this idea is the fact that superstrings are multidimensional, while our Universe has just four dimensions – three of space and one of time. So where are all the missing dimensions? In the mid-1990s, physicists developed ‘M-theory’, which they hoped would provide some answers. Calculations suggested that the missing dimensions were curled up so tightly that they could never be observed, while their precise form dictated the kind of universe we live in. Yet not even M-theory could reveal which of the estimated 10500 different ways of curling up applied to our Universe. They all seemed equally likely. At first, theorists believed this was a failing of M-theory. But now they believe it’s actually a prediction – the theory is telling them that our Universe is just one
M-THEORY Widely regarded as the leading candidate for the so-called theory of everything, which may one day sum up the properties of all the particles and forces in the Universe in a single set of equations. M-theory leads to the possibility that our Universe is merely part of a much larger multiverse, whose properties just happen to be suitable for the existence of life. COSMOLOGICAL CONSTANT A property of the Universe that manifests itself as a kind of anti-gravity force, which emerges literally from nowhere and drives the expansion of the Universe. According to some theorists, its strength can be roughly estimated from the existence of life in the Universe. An illustration of superstrings, the subatomic basis for M-theory, which predicts we live in a multiverse 80
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The most distant galaxies in the Universe, where physics as we know it may not apply
QUESTION TIME BEN FREIVOGEL is a theoretical physicist researching particle physics at the University of California, Berkeley
What attracted you to take the anthropic principle seriously? My first reaction to it was disgust. I wanted everything to be explained by beautiful equations. But the beautiful equations that make up string theory predict the multiverse and the anthropic principle is essential in predicting where in the multiverse we might be living.
Are the laws of physics changing? According to the anthropic principle, the laws of physics are linked to the existence of life in the Universe. But over the years there have been persistent reports that some of these laws may vary even within our own Universe. Most have centred on apparent changes in the value of the so-called fine structure constant, dubbed ‘alpha’, which measures the strength of the electromagnetic force. The existence of life is strongly dependent on the value of alpha, with just a four per cent change either way preventing stars making carbon and oxygen – essential for life as we know it. However, studies of the light from distant galaxies have hinted that alpha may change across both space and time. Last September, astronomers claimed to have detected tiny changes in the value of alpha in different parts of the Universe. These suggest even our own Universe contains regions unable to support life as we know it.
of around 10500 universes, which together make up the multiverse. Some theorists even claim they can use the anthropic principle to discover which of these myriad possible universes we inhabit, deducing its properties from the fact that they must be consistent with the existence of life. Some apparent successes are already starting to emerge, with claims that the anthropic principle has been used to work out the mix of matter and energy in our Universe . Others remain unconvinced, insisting that the defi nition of life is being twisted to make the predictions work. Either way, many scientists – including Hawking – believe that the multiverse solves the mystery of why our Universe appears tailor-made for life. For them, the cosmic coincidences that make life possible in our Universe are no more amazing than tossing a coin trillions of times and getting 100 heads on the trot. But in the same way that it’s impossible to disprove that the coin has been tampered
with, it’s far from disproving the existence of a creator. And not even Hawking claims to have done that – at least, not yet. Robert Matthews is a science journalist and Visiting Reader in Science at Aston University, UK. www.robertmatthews.org
FIND OUT MORE E The Grand Design by Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow (Bantam, 2010) E The Life of the Cosmos by Lee Smolin (Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1997) E Just Six Numbers: the deep forces that shape the Universe by Sir Martin Rees (Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1999)
How have you used the anthropic principle in your work? Superstring theory predicts an enormous multiverse with different ‘constants’ of nature in different regions. In predicting what constants we should see, the anthropic principle says we can ignore parts of the multiverse where no intelligent life can form. Then, by focusing on regions where life does form, we can see what are likely values for the constants that superstring theory predicts. One example that I have worked on where this programme is successful is dark matter. One particular dark-matter candidate – a hypothetical particle called an axion – is extremely attractive theoretically, but the conventional analysis predicts far more dark matter than we observe. A combination of the anthropic principle and the statistics of the multiverse changes this, and predicts that the amount of dark matter should be similar to the amount of ordinary matter, which sits in good agreement with current observations.
What for you is the anthropic principle’s most impressive prediction to date? That has to be Steven Weinberg’s prediction of the cosmological constant. He made the prediction at a time when this set of ideas was not at all popular and his prediction was dramatically confirmed a decade later. Nobody has explained the cosmological constant in any other way.
Why do you think so many physicists still dislike the anthropic principle? I think the main reason is simply a gut reaction, similar to how I felt when I first encountered it. I suspect these physicists are hoping someone will come along and explain why they can forget all about the multiverse.
YOUR QUESTIONS ANSWERED
HIGHLIGHTS � Why do girls prefer the colour pink? p84 � Is it possible to escape from a sunken submarine? p85 � Why do cats and snakes have slits for pupils? p86 � What’s the difference between a cyclone and a hurricane? p88 � When was woven cloth invented? p89
EXPERT PANEL Why do some smells cause disgust? Susan Blackmore
A visiting professor at the University of Plymouth, UK, Susan is an expert on psychology and evolution. Her books include The Meme Machine (OUP, 2000)
Dave Brian Butvill
Based in Costa Rica, Dave is a freelance writer who specialises in the natural world as well as environmental and scientific research
Scents provoke strong responses – and not everyone responds in the same way. Some people love the smell of geraniums, but the strong aroma makes others feel nauseous. Research at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine has found that some things
provoke universal disgust, including smelly items like rotting meat and bodily excretions. According to Valerie Curtis, who led the study, this supports the theory that our disgust at certain smells is an evolved
response that protects us against sources of infection. Not all researchers agree that disgust is hard-wired into our genes, though – some think we acquire the strong reactions during early childhood. RM
Robert runs dual careers as a writer and researcher. He is a Visiting Reader in Science at Aston University, UK, and proud winner of an Ig Nobel Prize
As well as lecturing at Imperial College London, Gareth is a broadcaster, writer and presenter of Digital Planet on the BBC World Service
Luis has an MSc in zoology from the University of Oxford. He is a freelance science journalist based in England and is also a long-serving coastguard
Yan studied under Richard Dawkins and has a PhD in evolutionary biology. He is a popular science TV presenter on the BBC
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the n um a per ber of tim son es in a y blinks ear
Email your queries to firstname.lastname@example.org. We’re sorry, but we cannot answer questions individually.
Vol.3 Issue 1
ASK THE EXPERTS
Ideas That Changed the World
Saturdays at 6:40pm (JKT), 7:40pm (SIN/HK/MAL) and 8:40pm (KOR). Premieres 15th January. Throughout history, remarkable men and women have used the extraordinary power of their minds to shape the world we live in. In Ideas that Changed the World, BBC Knowledge talks to leading scientists, architects, economists and historians about the inventions that have inspired them and changed our lives forever. visit www.ideasthatchangedtheworld.com BBC Knowledge is available in Indonesia, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Singapore and South Korea. For more information, please contact your operator for more details.
YOUR QUESTIONS ANSWERED
Why do many girls prefer the colour pink?
ALAMY, DREAMSTIME X3, GETTY. ILLUSTRATION BY JONTY CLARK
The obvious explanation is that it’s just a cultural quirk – baby girls happen to be dressed in pink and the preference develops from there. But recent research hints at a deeper reason. Anya Hurlbert of Newcastle University, UK, asked adults from different cultures to choose their preferred colour from pairs of coloured rectangles. This revealed that females do have a natural preference for redder colours – prompting Hurlbert to speculate that evolution may have led females to prefer reddish colours. This would give advantages in many areas of life, from selecting riper reddish fruits when gathering food, to finding healthy pink faces more attractive when choosing a mate. RM
Are toeprints unique, like ﬁngerprints? Yes they are. The whorls and ridges that make up a footprint develop uniquely in each person and are not genetically determined. There are a few famous cases in which criminals have been caught by using toeprints, such as at a Scottish bakery in 1952 when a safe-cracker was identified by the footprints he left in flour. Toeprints were even suggested as biometric data to be included in the now-abandoned UK identity card scheme. SB
Why are people less likely to enter an art gallery if nobody else is there?
KNOW SPOT The oldest message in a bottle was released on 25 April 1914 from Aberdeen, Scotland, and recovered in the Shetland Islands 92 years later, on 10 December 2006.
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There are probably two factors at work. It may be that a gallery is initially empty because it’s a quiet time of day. As each potential visitor stands outside and considers whether to enter or not, he uses the same criteria as every other visitor. Whatever it was that made the gallery empty up to that point continues to hold true and it stays empty. But we are social animals and an additional discouragement comes simply from the fact that the gallery is empty, which creates an alarm signal. What’s wrong with it? Is there a danger we can’t see? This primitive unease evolved as a predator avoidance tactic – the deserted waterhole may have a leopard hiding nearby, whereas the crowded one is presumably safe. Leopard attacks in art galleries are fairly rare, but primitive fears are replaced with more complex ones – perhaps we will be pressured into buying something, or maybe the art isn’t critically acclaimed. LV
DID YOU KNOW
KNOW SPOT The Large Hadron Collider (LHC) is not only the largest and most complex machine ever built, it is also the largest fridge. The 27km (17 mile)long particle accelerator, located 150m (490ft) underground near Geneva, Switzerland, has 9300 magnets that accelerate beams of particles before they are smashed together. To operate, the magnets need to be chilled to -217.3ºC (-456.34ºF) using liquid nitrogen and liquid helium.
LATE LAST RITES In 1868 a woman was buried at the age of 180. Hannah Beswick, a wealthy eccentric from Hollinwood near Oldham, UK, had such a terror of premature burial that she stipulated in her will that her body should be kept above ground and periodically checked for signs of life. Her doctor, who had been charged with the duty, followed the instructions in the will but he also had her embalmed and kept in the case of a grandfather clock. When he died, he bequeathed her mummified body to a Manchester museum where she was put on display. Eventually it was decided that poor Hannah deserved a burial and she was laid to rest in Harpurhey Cemetery, Manchester, 110 years after she died.
Why does the Moon look white and the Sun look yellow? The Moon is actually quite black – it reflects the same amount of light as coal. Even a full Moon is 400,000 times less bright than the Sun. Your retina processes light with cone and rod receptors. The cones are the only ones that sense colour, but they need higher light intensities to work. The Moon is only bright enough to power the rods and appears light grey against a black sky. LV
Are we the only species to have a menopause? No. For example, female mice, parakeets and some beetle species stop being able to reproduce in later life. However, a very extended lifespan after menopause is rare – apart from humans, the best examples are certain whales and dolphins. Killer whales stop reproducing between the ages of 40 and 50, but over half of them live longer – up to 90 years in some cases. The reasons for this are the subject of ongoing research. YW
le etectab ber of d e the num akes that tak earthqu ss the globe cro place a ry year eve
Is it possible to escape from a sunken submarine? It is, but the odds aren’t great. The best chance is to send a smaller sub down to dock with the stranded sub so that crew can be rescued. This requires that the hatches are accessible and undamaged and it takes a long time to organise, so the crew need to survive flooding, fire, toxic gases and radiation hazards until then. When there isn’t time for that, the crew can try to escape through ‘escape trunk’ airlocks using survival suits that protect against drowning, hypothermia and decompression sickness. Both the Royal Navy and the US Navy have submarine rescue units on active standby, trained to airdrop to the site of a sinking sub and recover surfacing survivors. LV
Why are rain clouds dark? As a cloud gets closer to releasing its water as rain, droplets merge and the average droplet size increases. When light strikes a droplet, some is reflected at the air-water boundary and some passes through. The larger the droplet, the longer the path through to the other side and so the more light will be absorbed, making the droplet – and the cloud that it is part of – darker. LV
YOUR QUESTIONS ANSWERED
KNOW SPOT Female Queen Alexandra’s Birdwing butterflies (Ornithoptera alexandrae), native to Papua New Guinea, have a wingspan in excess of 28cm (11in). They’re so big that the first specimen was brought down with a shotgun.
Why do we get migraines? Migraines may be triggered by alcohol, foods, hormones or stress, but really they are a disease of the brain. The immediate cause sets off a chain reaction of neural and hormonal changes, causing blood vessels to expand and contract inappropriately, in turn causing inflammation and irritating nerves. Seventy-five per cent of sufferers are women and the condition can, in part, be inherited. LV
DREAMSTIME X3. ILLUSTRATION BY THE WHITE BALANCE
Why are names harder to remember than faces? Long-term memory is handled by parts of the brain that are evolutionarily quite ancient. The more primitive a sensory impulse is, the more readily it transfers to long-term memory. Faces are a much older form of identity than names. Our brains have evolved a particular sensitivity to the subtle variations in the human face because it’s a very useful marker point – high up, forward facing, unobstructed by limbs and nearly always unclothed. Remembering shoulders or belly buttons would be much harder. Names are harder still – the languageprocessing part of the brain is a very recent addition. LV
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Why do cats and snakes have slits for pupils?
Not all of them do. The pupils of domestic cats contract to slits in bright light, but large cats like lions and tigers have round pupils like ours. Similarly, snakes like pythons and boas have pupils that close as slits, but many others – like grass snakes – don’t. Slit pupils close more tightly, so they can handle a broader range of light conditions. Comparisons between snakes support this idea: species active purely in the daytime don’t have slits. In bright light, slits also produce more depth-of-field horizontally than vertically. That could explain why they’re typical of ambush hunters, which need to detect prey moving across their field of vision. Additionally, slit pupils are seen in vertebrates that have ‘multifocal’ lenses, with different areas focussing different colours. Slits mean that more colours can be seen in bright light. YW
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HOW IT WORKS HOW DO WIRELESS CHARGING MATS WORK? Wireless charging mats allow you to power up multiple devices at the same time by simply resting them on the surface, eliminating the need for tangled wires and device-specific adaptors. They work thanks to a process known as magnetic induction, the same method used to charge electric toothbrushes,
which employs an electromagnetic field to transfer energy between two objects. According to Faradayâ€™s law of induction, a current is produced when a conductive substance passes through a magnetic field. So the electromagnetic force created in the mat induces a current in the device youâ€™re charging.
In future, manufacturers plan to integrate the technology into devices, as well as domestic surfaces and furniture, so, for example, you can just put your phone down on the kitchen table and leave it to charge. For now, though, devices have to be slipped into special cases that will enable wireless charging.
The electromagnetic force created in the mat induces a current in a secondary coil in the receiver fitted onto the back of the phone. In effect, the current in the mat jolts the electrons in the receiver into motion. Circuitry in the receiver then manages that current and converts it into usable electricity, which charges the battery.
A magnetic attraction between each receiver and each access point on the mat holds the two surfaces together, ensuring alignment is precise for the most efficient charging.
The mat itself is plugged into the mains. As electrical current moves through the wire coil embedded in the charging mat, it creates an electromagnetic field.
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STRANGE BUT TRUE BEETLE JUICE You’re stuck in one of the hottest, driest places on Earth, parched. There are no streams or lakes, and little rain. How do you find water to drink? If you are a Namib desert beetle (Stenocara gracilipes), you drink fog. The beetle lives in the Namib Desert on the southwest tip of Africa, an area that gets about 1cm (0.3 inches) of rain a year. But the beetle has a clever way to quench its thirst – its body harvests water from the air. It’s a simple design. The beetle’s shell-like armour is covered in tiny bumps with water-attracting tips. But the slopes and troughs between the peaks are made of a super-repellent microstructure coated with a slick, waxy substance. As wet fog blows by, the ‘sticky’ tops of the bumps snag minute water droplets, which grow and then roll down the beetle’s back, into its mouth. Even with this remarkable piece of evolutionary engineering, the insect rarely has a drink, as morning fog forms only once or twice a week. So the beetle faces into the AL VIT TS wind, raises its rear and lowers its head to maximise the harvest and STA ensure that the water ends up in the right place. s laxie of ga in Scientists are looking to copy the r e b ist um the n ught to ex le design for a host of uses, from b o a v th bser rain-collecting roof tiles to better the o iverse Un air-conditioning systems. DBB
JOUAN & RUIS/NATUREPL.COM, DREAMSTIME, CORBIS X2
KNOW SPOT The closest approach of a spacecraft to the Sun was made by the unmanned Helios 2 craft on 16 April 1976. It came within 43.5 million km (27 million miles) of our nearest star.
What’s the difference between a cyclone and a hurricane? The short answer is that there isn’t one. They are different names for a rotating, low-pressure weather system with inward-spiralling winds, which spins clockwise in the southern hemisphere and anticlockwise in the northern hemisphere. Cyclones are referred to by several names, including cyclonic storm, tropical depression, hurricane and typhoon, according to their severity and location. Cyclones with winds above Force 11 (104 km/h; 65 mph) are referred to as hurricanes in the Atlantic and as typhoons in the Pacific. LV
YOUR QUESTIONS ANSWERED
When was woven cloth invented?
It’s thought that weaving did not develop until after humans had abandoned the nomadic hunter-gatherer lifestyle of the Paleolithic era for the more settled farming lifestyle of the Neolithic – around 10,000 years ago. The looms needed to produce good cloth would have been too big and heavy to carry around. The oldest fragment of woven fabric yet found was discovered in the waterlogged site of a Neolithic stilt house in Switzerland that dated to around 6500BC. The oldest sizeable piece of fabric is a piece of linen from Egypt, dating to c.5000 BC. Since fabric rots away to nothing in the ground, the chances of finding cloth any older than this during an archaeological dig are very small. RM
The eruption of a supervolcano – such as the one believed to be simmering below Wyoming’s Yellowstone National Park – would undoubtedly be incredibly violent. Past explosions are estimated to have lofted thousands of billions of tonnes of debris into the atmosphere. Even so, the energy unleashed is far too small to shift the Earth as it orbits within the titanic gravitational field of the Sun. RM
How does Stephen Hawking’s voice synthesiser work? The celebrated British physicist Stephen Hawking is restricted to communicating via small movements of his hand. His hand controller halts a cursor as it scans across letters on a screen. As he selects letters, the system forms words and sentences through an auto-complete algorithm. These are converted to speech via the voice synthesiser. GM
The highest denomination banknote is a $100-billion-dollar note with 11 zeros. It was issued in Zimbabwe on 22 July 2008 and at the time it was enough to buy just three eggs.
ASK THE EXPERTS
Could a supervolcano affect Earth’s orbit?
Do animals suffer from mental illness? If you include reactions to stress or loss, then yes. But they probably don’t suffer from mental illnesses like schizophrenia or bipolar disorder. When rats are repeatedly shocked, they eat less and become less adventurous, while animals kept in zoos sometimes show repetitive, abnormal behaviours. Farm animals exhibit signs of distress too, such as when calves are taken from their mothers, or when sheep or cattle see others being slaughtered. Hormones such as adrenaline and corticosteroids are released, the animals’ emotions and behaviour become disturbed and their immune systems weakened. SB
Is it possible to live healthily on only a few types of food? Yes, but it gets harder the fewer foods you allow. To stay healthy you need carbohydrates, fats and proteins – and not just any proteins, but a mix containing all 22 amino acids from which your own proteins are built. You need trace elements, vitamins and minerals as well. Avocados reputedly include all these, but not in the right proportions, so you’d need to choose additional foods carefully. SB
Vol.3 Issue 1
A FEAST FOR THE MIND Could World War II have been avoided had the European powers taken this more seriously?
Why we fought The Triumph of the Dark: European international history, 1933-1939 By Zara Steiner Oxford University Press, 1104 pages, US$65
K In Zara Steiner’s magnificent interpretation of European international history between the wars, the blame for World War II is laid firmly at the feet of the statesmen of the Depression era and their complex interplay of motives, beliefs, decisions and actions. Steiner does not look back to the peacemakers of 1919 for the coming of another great war. As she argued in her companion to this book, The 90
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Lights that Failed: European international history, 1919-1933 they had established a fragile peace in the 1920s. What changed the direction of European international relations from peace towards war was the onset of the Great Depression from 1929 onwards. No other single event did more to divide the victors of 1919 – especially Britain and France – and to energise the expansionist impulses of aggressive regimes than the collapse of the global economy. Hitler’s arrival on the international scene in 1933 marked a sharp change in the nature of European politics. The Führer was not interested in merely regaining sovereignty
and territory lost in 1919. His ambition was to found an Aryan world order through the conquest of Eurasia. That ideological goal was behind the attack on Poland in 1939 and the mass murder of European Jews in the Holocaust. As Steiner points out, the real mystery of the 1930s is how such a banal and crude politician could have seized power in Germany and then out-manoeuvred Europe’s statesmen. The answer is that, time and again, Hitler’s domestic allies and foreign opponents underestimated and misunderstood him. The liberal-minded men who held high office in London and Paris did not grasp
what made an ideologue such as Hitler tick. To them, international relations was a game driven by cost-benefit analysis – and the cost of war almost always outweighed any potential gain. The result of this dangerous misunderstanding was a series of missed opportunities to confront the Nazi regime early – and on better strategic terms than Britain and France eventually found themselves. The biggest missed opportunity passed in September 1938. In sparking a crisis over Czechoslovakia, Hitler had overreached himself, as his nervous generals and E
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Resource � diplomats warned him. A European war beginning that month would have ended in Germany’s early defeat. Britain and France, however, did not push the diplomatic crisis to the brink. British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain was convinced that he could establish a lasting European peace by flying to Germany and negotiating face-to-face with Hitler. By doing so, he offered Hitler a way out of a perilous situation. As Steiner tells us, the Munich Pact of 1938 should stand as a warning against the sort of excessive conviction and pride that Chamberlain displayed in his pursuit of peace. The failure of British and French politicians to
comprehend Hitler’s motives was compounded by their failure to form a military alliance against him. The blame for this lies in London. Until 1939, the British blindly refused to back France and its eastern allies to contain Germany. Much the same can be said for the attitude of London and Paris towards Moscow. We may never know whether Stalin would have joined the Western powers against Germany, but their lack of interest in a triple alliance did nothing to entice him. Steiner’s main arguments can be summarised, but it is impossible to do justice to the scale of her scholarship. The tragedy of the Spanish Civil War and the plight of German
Rather than establish peace, did Chamberlain’s visit to Germany in 1938 give Hitler a route to war?
Jews are treated with great skill and conviction, and Steiner pays as much attention to the diplomacy of the small nations as she does to that of the great powers. And Mussolini’s contribution to the breakdown of peace is carefully woven into
her beautifully crafted narrative. Authoritative and absorbing, Steiner’s volume will stand the test of time. Joseph Maiolo is Senior Lecturer in International History at King’s College London
Snap happy Lessons in life behind the lens Full Frame
CORBIS, SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY, GETTY, DAVID NOTON
By David Noton David & Charles, 192 pages, US26.99
� When it comes to photographic genius, there’s often less perspiration than inspiration required. But, as any professional will assert, there’s a lot more to capturing great shots than merely having a good eye or even a clear creative vision. Investing time and effort is as important as imagination, equipment or even serendipity. Full Frame lifts the lid on how one photographer plans and processes his shoots. 92
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David Noton’s novel format is part photography masterclass, part coffee-table travelogue. He recounts his travels and travails in 10 locations – from Dorset and Snowdonia in his British homeland to Morocco and Bali – and uses each place to highlight the elements that contribute to fi ne photography – colour, persistence, passion and adventure. Each picture in the book has a ‘before’, ‘during’ and ‘after’ section. Noton fi rst describes how he found and chose a shot’s location, then describes how he dealt with composition and technical details, before giving a broad-strokes description of how he adds fi nishing touches to a digital
Full Frame aims to help you take photographs like this shot of Bali
image with photo-editing software. This fi nal section is mixed with the memories that each picture evokes – Italian breakfasts leave a lot to be desired, apparently. This book has a fresh approach. It combines a successful mix of consistently beautiful images – Moroccan tanneries, South African
animal portraits and orangerobed monks in Luang Prabang, Laos, stand out – with technical techniques and tips. The blend is sure to help other budding photographers to improve their own results in diverse scenarios. Paul Bloomfield is Deputy Editor of BBC Wildlife Magazine
Synesthetes associate colours with various sensory activities
Sweet storytelling The rise and fall of a chocolate pioneer Chocolate Wars: from Cadbury to Kraft, 200 years of sweet success and bitter rivalry By Deborah Cadbury HarperPress/PublicAffairs, 352/384 pages, US27.95
� Deborah Cadbury has a family connection to her sweet subject, a journey of historical storytelling that charts the small-scale rise and global demise of Cadbury – Britain’s most enduring chocolate manufacturer. From uncertain beginnings in 1824 with John Cadbury’s health drink, the author relates the race to refi ne cocoa and introduce innovative product lines. We are introduced to the international chocolatier competition, Lindt and Nestlé of Switzerland, Hershey of America and the growing threat of Dutch cocoa. Cadbury also examines the company’s uncomfortable battles against cocoa plantation slavery, the impact of World War I and the disappearance of the pioneer British confectioners – Fry, Terry, Rowntree, Mackintosh and fi nally Cadbury – absorbed into two giant corporations, Nestlé and Kraft. There’s a lot of detail, yet more could have been written about the company’s use – invention almost – of sentimental advertising. This powerful tool was used to great effect; by playing on consumers’ fears of food contamination, it elevated Cadbury to a chocolate dynasty. But the author conveys with conviction the discipline and drive of Quaker capitalism and the central importance of wealth creation as a benefit for workers, local community and society at large – a lost business ethic. Generously illustrated, Chocolate Wars is both a family and a business biography, encased in a palatable story-wrapper for historians and general readers alike. Alison C Kay is the author of The Foundations of Female Entrepreneurship (Routledge, 2009)
‘Cadbury’s cocoa as a substitute for milk’, ran this 1886 advertisement
I think, therefore I am How our brains make us human The Tell-Tale Brain: unlocking the mystery of human nature By VS Ramachandran William Heinemann, 368 pages, US26.95
� Vilayanur Ramachandran is a world-renowned neuroscientist and Director of the Center for Brain and Cognition at the University of California at San Diego. He’s also a gifted science communicator. In 2003 he gave the BBC Reith Lectures and his previous book, Phantoms in the Brain became a UK TV series. In his latest work he turns his attention to human evolution, explaining how research in neurology and cognitive neuroscience can help us understand how the human mind has evolved. Ramachandran deftly links together topics such as phantom limbs, synesthesia – a condition where people associate colours with numbers, sounds or smells – and the great questions of psychology like language evolution, aesthetic appreciation and human consciousness. A theme that runs throughout is the importance of ‘mirror neurones’. These brain cells activate not only when we carry out a particular action but also when we see someone else carrying out the same action, and are therefore probably important in behaviour that involves imitation. The Indian neurologist is an enthusiastic theoriser and a gifted storyteller who draws together threads from diverse academic disciplines. Perhaps his greatest strength is his ability to turn neurological case studies into revealing experiments. In a memorable example, people with synesthesia were shown a series of numbers, in which some – like the fives – formed a pattern against a sea of other numbers – like the sevens. People without the condition can’t see the patterns, but synesthetes can because for them the numbers are in different colours. The Tell-tale Brain is a thought-provoking and accessible account of the features of mental life that seem most uniquely human and their origins. These hard-to-explain areas have been illuminated by Ramachandran’s compelling storytelling. Richard Bentall is a clinical psychologist and author of Doctoring the Mind Vol.3 Issue 1
Resource Instant messaging The changing world of how we communicate Texture: human expression in the age of communications overload By Richard HR Harper MIT Press, 384 pages, US29.95
� At a time when society is both enjoying the merits and advocating the potential harm of new ways of communicating – like social networks and geo-positioning systems – this timely book puts our fears in context and delves much deeper into the reasons why we communicate in the first place. Harper has written an engaging narrative, captivating us with vignettes of studies in communication behaviour and in concept technologies such as Glancephones and the Whereabouts Clocks. In Texture, he walks us through technologies that were developed for a perceived need and provokes us to look more closely at how arenas like microblogging invariably address a deeper, more complicated human need that is answered by the very act of communicating. The stories move from explaining the prosaic to the philosophical. Harper reminds us that communication is a complex act of expression, through which we don’t merely pass information like machines but weave a rich tapestry of interconnected relationships. He urges sociologists not to spend their time searching for metrics that prove existing ideas, but instead to look for the unexpected. This is a fascinating book – an easy, enjoyable read that is refreshingly backed by an academic rigour so often missing from sociology studies on this subject. A must-read for all those looking to the future of communications. Lesley Gavin is a futurologist at British Telecom’s Chief Technology Office
What does the modern world of communication say about us?
King James I of England is presented with his new Bible
An authorised account The story of the most famous story of all Bible: the story of the King James Version, 1611-2011 By Gordon Campbell Oxford University Press, 256 pages, US24.95
� Gordon Campbell’s affectionate biography of the 1611 English language edition of the Bible commemorates the 400th anniversary of the King James Version. This fi ne book explores the fashioning, reception and long afterlife of the King James Version from a historical and material perspective. We learn that the ambition of those men who translated the Bible for King James was not to make a new version, “nor yet to make of a bad one a good one, but to make a good one better”. Allowing the laity access to the word of God in printed English was a turning point in the history of religion in the West – for individual Christians, the Church and the State – but it presented challenges to the Protestant rulers. Politically, scripture had to reinforce the Protestant monarchy – often with the Royal Coat of Arms prominently on the title page. The King James Version also had to ensure that theological complexity was managed by institutions with a contemporary take on religious doctrine who could deal with any possible misunderstandings from uneducated readings. The 1611 edition’s text was revised under very strict rules, but it was also printed with careful typographical and editorial presentation. Campbell explores with clarity and insight the complexities of translating ‘original’ manuscripts from Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek – a process rendered worse by the vagaries of textual transmission. With an extension of the story into the 18th and 19th century and onto a global stage, Campbell’s book is an extensive, reliable and intelligent orientation on a version of that Bible that wasn’t fully revised until 1885. Justin Champion is Professor of the History of Early Modern Ideas at Royal Holloway University of London.
Vol.3 Issue 1
Get your clicks � WEBSITE
Join the planet-hunters
Window on the past
Big game safari
Once, we didn’t know if there were any planets beyond our Solar System. But astronomers have now found 490 since the first exoplanet was discovered in 1992. And with techniques and equipment constantly improving, the number of finds is increasing year on year. NASA’s PlanetQuest website will keep you up-to-date on this rapidly progressing area of astronomy, with 3D maps of the nearest exoplanets in our neighbourhood and in-depth info on when we’ll find every planethunter’s holy grail: an Earth-like world.
Visiting this vintage photo blog is like uncovering long-forgotten photographs in your grandmother’s attic. Its thousands of images are added to daily to create a fascinating register of everyday life in the US from 1850 to 1950. The range is enthralling – everything from crowds leaving the opera in 19th-century New York to the train yards of 1950s San Francisco. And since most are high-resolution scans, the size they can be viewed at on screen gives the past an immediacy that Grandma’s three-by-two snaps can’t match.
A safari expedition through the savannah of South Africa’s Sabi Sands Game Reserve travels through the natural habitat of lion, leopard, rhino, buffalo and elephant. At WildEarth, two three-hour safaris are streamed live over the website daily – the professionally produced broadcasts feature commentary from an experienced ranger. The channel also has, among other treats, webcams covering bald eagle nests on Vancouver Island, Canada, woodland wildlife in Appalachian Pennsylvania and crane migrations across the US.
For an insider’s view of what the weather is up to around the globe, the blog community at Weather Underground is hard to beat. There are expert meteorologists (with tales of life-threatening research flights through hurricanes), weather historians and enthusiasts aplenty. The site also features full global forecasts and a massive picture gallery. www.wunderground.com/blog
The world’s largest museum has an equally extensive online offering. Its English-language website features a staggering array of multimedia coverage of the 35,000 objects within its walls – from 3D tours of Egyptian artefacts and the Venus de Milo to commentary on the Mona Lisa. There’s also an entertaining animated guide to the massive website for children. www.louvremuseum.fr
With expert contributors covering a wide range of historical fields – including everything from pirates to fashion – the History Blog is the place to get an in-depth insight into the actions and intentions of the ancients. Recent posts include Pompeii’s mystery villa, the birth of Sherlock Holmes and the ghostly apparition of St George and a band of armed angels at the Battle of Mons. http://blog.aurorahistoryboutique.com
There are between six and 10 million different species of insect on the planet, many of them covered on this nicely designed site. From ants and bees to stink bugs and bark nymphs, there’s a wealth of information and images to be found here on these fascinating life forms. www.insects.org
The New York Academy of Sciences has been advancing the understanding of science and technology since 1817 and for the past few years has put out fascinating and edifying podcasts. There are now over 100 to choose from, covering everything from personalised medicine to planetary exploration. http://bit.ly/nyaspodcast
Get into insects
Science and the City
Introspective into the past
Wildlife protection The illegal trade in wildlife is a global problem driven by the demand for exotic pets and traditional remedies. It is being tackled by national police forces and international bodies like the
WWF. Traffic is the wildlife trade monitoring network and their website brings news on the latest smuggler arrests and awareness campaigns from around the globe together on one site, organising them into searchable categories. There’s also a comprehensive video section. www.traffic.org
Video diagnosis This great resource is the place to look for advice and education on all matters medical. Its well-curated catalogue of short videos has been created by doctors in every branch of medicine, covering back pain, cholesterol, infectious diseases and more. Its video blog features case-study stories of recovery from everyday people. www.videomd.com
If you have a favourite website, blog or podcast that you’d like to share with other readers please email email@example.com
Vol.3 Issue 1
Time out IN THE KNOw Q1 If a company used letterhead paper that is one fifth shorter, but one quarter wider, how much paper would they save in percentage terms? Q2 In which type of window is it possible to find this series of letters (or something similar) on a strip?
Set by DaviD j BoDycomBe www.qwertyiop.co.uk
Q5 In 1975, which hit single with a palindromic title was released by a band with a palindromic name? Q6 For what mathematical reason do bees make honeycombs using hexagon-shaped cells?
matches or repositioning any of the existing ones, what is the least amount of matches you need to remove from this diagram so that a valid equation is formed?
Q8 Complete the grid so that every row and column contains the digits 1 through 7. The numbers in each ‘shape’, when multiplied together, must equal the number shown in the top-left of that shape. 8
Q3 In five-card poker, a royal flush is the best possible hand. However, in lowball poker the aim is to get the worst possible hand. What would be the best ‘winning’ hand in that case?
“They couldn’t hit an elephant at this distance...” Union General John Sedgwick, shortly before being shot by a sniper at Spotsylvania, Virginia, during the American Civil War, May 1864
F A L L S
IN THE KNOw
4 1 7 6 5 2 3
Jay Norse tin – Jane Austin
HIDDEN HISTORICaLS Q6 Hexagons give the most volume for the least amount of wax, so the bees are being efficient. Q7 Half a match. Remove the top half of the V’s left-hand match, so that it reads, ‘Three equals the square root of nine’. q8 See illustration.
2 7 5 1 4 3 6
3 5 2 7 6 4 1
1 3 6 4 7 5 2
IN THE KNOw q8
5 6 1 2 3 7 4
6 4 3 5 2 1 7
7 2 4 3 1 6 5
B A B Y L O N
A C H U F O F
P I C C H U
P I S A M A H C H I N A L
O S S E U M
T A J
EMSBRIDGE CROSSwORD NO.15 Vol.3 Issue 1
Q1 0 per cent (or none at all), because 0.8 x 1.25 = 1. Q2 The moveable card displays ‘OPEN!’ or ‘CLOSED’ through alternate holes depending on its position. You can find this sign in many shop windows. Q3 Holding 2, 3, 4, 5, and 7 in different suits (high card 7). If you had a 6 instead of a 7, that would be a straight. Same suit would give a flush. Q4 One way is: a 3 x 3 square in the four corners, then a 2 x 2 square in two opposite corners. Q5 SOS by ABBA.
G R E A C T H O R T H E C O L P I D Y S G R E A T WA L L T R C P A G I M E T O T R Y E L C H I C H E N I T Z A D R E D D L E A N I N G T O W E R O R O S N F E G F E R D G J A E G A A E N E R I T M Z D E U E A S R C B A A N A R L N I E G D E Y M O G L H A N G I N G G A R D E N S
ILLuSTRaTION By jONTy CLaRK
Jericho stands on a hill beside an oasis overlooking the Jordan River. The site has good access to water and is easily defended. It first attracted settlers in around 9000 BC. By 7000 BC the city was surrounded by strong walls. Jericho probably reached its greatest extent in Roman times, after which it declined in importance and today has a population of around 15,000.
I wish I hadn’t said that
Q4 What is the least number of squares needed to draw this grid? Your squares can overlap.
Jericho, West Bank
Q7 Without adding any new
EMSBRIDGE CROSSwORD N .15 O
E aCROSS 5 Constructed between 70 and 72AD for gladiatorial contests and public spectacles
Compiled by iReNe L.eTay the Director of Emsbridge Education Centre in Singapore who produces Education Programs for BBC Knowledge Magazine (Asia).
6 Series of fortifications built to protect against intrusions by various nomadic groups 10 Large pre-Columbian archaeological site built by the Maya Civilization 11 A design constructed in 3 stages but flawed from the beginning 14 Referred to as “The Lost City of the Incas” 15 Multi-leveled gardens reaching 22 metres high
H DOwN 1 100,000 men worked on this for at least 20 years dragging blocks of stone average 2.5 tons each 13
ANGEL FALLS CHICHEN ITZA CHRIST THE REDEEMER GOLDEN GATE BRIDGE GRAND CANYON GREAT PYRAMID OF GIZA GREAT WALL OF CHINA HANGING GARDENS OF BABYLON LEANING TOWER OF PISA MACHU PICCHU OLD CITY OF JERUSALEM PETRA RED SEA TAJ MAHAL THE COLOSSEUM
2 A fine architectural style that combines elements from Persian, Islamic and Indian cultures 3 Statue made of reinforced concrete and soapstone located at the peak of the 700m Corcovado Mountain 4 Added to the List of World Heritage in Danger 7 Chosen by BBC as one of the 40 places you have to see before you die 8 Project which Joseph Baerman Strauss had built his reputation 9 An inlet of the Indian Ocean with a habitat of over 1000 invertebrate species 12 The Colorado River established its course through it 17 million years ago 13 Plunges off the edge of a table-top mountain in Guayana Highlands ©
Can you find the English novelist? Which 19th-century romantic writer does this pictogram represent? Vol.3 Issue 1
How probable was modern science? asks John Horgan
“Greece produced intellectual titans who valued knowledge for its own sake” I of science. I get to
SKYE HORGAN. ILLUSTRATION BY CHRIS MADDEN
love teaching history
torment my students with questions such as ‘Which historical events are improbable and which are probable?’ and ‘Was modern science inevitable, or could it have unfolded in some totally different way?’ A term from biology comes in handy here. ‘Convergent evolution’ refers to functionally equivalent biological features that emerge in separate lineages. Two classic examples are eyes and wings. Eyes are so useful that natural selection invented them many different times, for species as diverse as squid, squirrels and housefl ies. So too with wings on wasps, bats and swallows. There is also convergent cultural evolution, in which separate human societies evolve in similar directions. Consider the fi rst great civilizations that emerged in Mesopotamia, Egypt, India, China and Mesoamerica many millennia ago. Each independently invented irrigation-based agriculture, writing, mathematics, armies, monarchies and calendars. Most erected gigantic pyramid-shaped structures out of stone. But where did that compulsion come from? Is there a ziggurat gene? A textbook I use in my class offers a more plausible explanation. Titled Science and Technology in 98
Vol.3 Issue 1
World History, it was written by two historians at the school where I teach – James McClellan and Harold Dorn, or McDorn, as I refer to them. They speculate that ancient tyrants created public-works projects to maintain social order, and stone pyramids are relatively easy to construct on a monumental scale. It makes sense to me. Science, however, does not seem to exemplify convergent evolution. Like many historians, McDorn trace the roots of modern science back to one ancient culture: Hellenic Greece. Greece produced intellectual titans, such as Socrates, Plato and Aristotle, who asked questions about the world and sought answers through reason and empirical
inquiry. They also valued knowledge, not as a means to an end but for its own sake. Over the next two millennia, great philosophers, mathematicians and inventors emerged in the Middle East, Arabia, China and elsewhere. But the scientific revolution unfolded in just one place: western Europe. The experiments and epiphanies of pioneers like Galileo, Newton, Descartes and Lavoisier laid the foundation for all the glories of modern science. If modern science emerged primarily in just one branch of human cultural evolution, does that mean that there was nothing probable about it? A postmodernist might say so. Postmodernists hold that all knowledge is just a projection,
or construction, of particular cultures. The implication is that if Socrates or Newton had never been born – or if Mesoamericans or Asians had colonized Europe rather than vice versa – science might have evolved in totally different ways. We might have Chinese or Aztec science rather than western European science, or no science at all. Balderdash. Once humans started asking questions about how the world works, sooner or later they were going to converge on the same basic answers, because our commonalities are more profound than our differences. As the historian Ian Morris says elsewhere in this issue: “Humans are all much the same, wherever we fi nd them.” We not only share the same basic biology, we also all live in the same basic world, a world of atoms, elements, genes, species, gravity and the nuclear forces. Far from being flukes, modern physics, astronomy, chemistry and biology were inevitable – even more than ziggurats. John Horgan is Director of the Center for Science Writings at Stevens Institute of Technology, New Jersey
WHAT DO YOU THINK? Were all of humankind’s discoveries inevitable? email: firstname.lastname@example.org
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A monthly publication containing a feast of information for the curious mind. Every issue is packed with fascinating images, thought provoki...
Published on Jan 5, 2011
A monthly publication containing a feast of information for the curious mind. Every issue is packed with fascinating images, thought provoki...