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New scientist 4 july 2009

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    New scientist 4 july 2009 New scientist 4 july 2009 Document Transcript

    • EDITORIAL New York, Sydney and Tokyo, to mentionNow is the time just a few cities. Unless something can be Time to declareto prepare for done, great swathes of urban sprawl will vanish beneath the waves. It will take a war on war itself massive engineering effort to protectthe great floods these cities – an effort that may be beyond economies that have been brought to their COULD war ever become history? Even asking that question seems like starry-eyed idealism,Building in at-risk coastal areas knees by climate change. yet this is to misunderstand the nature of None of this means we should despair, and warfare. The urge to wage war is not a fixedshould stop if we want to leave stop trying to curb emissions; the more we aspect of human nature but actually a rationalour children a lasting legacy pump into the atmosphere, the higher and response to certain environmental conditions, faster the seas will rise. But alongside these based on a cost-benefit analysis (see page 38).THREE key facts about rising sea levels need to efforts, we need to start acting now to Over the past century the balance of thatbe hammered home to the world’s politicians minimise the impact of future sea-level equation has shifted. Technological and socialand planners: sea-level rise is now inevitable, rise. That means we must stop building change – not least the spread of democracy andit will happen faster than most of us thought, in the danger zone. education – have made wars between nationand it will go on for a very long time. states increasingly irrational. Warfare is on the Even if greenhouse gas emissions stopped “In a few hundred years, large parts wane worldwide; modern conflicts are largelytomorrow, the oceans will continue to swell as of London, New York and Sydney insurgencies, terrorism and guerrilla activity.they warm, and as glaciers and ice sheets melt will vanish beneath the waves” It is within our power as a species to shift theor slide into the sea (see page 28). The growing balance of the equation even further. We’veconsensus among climate scientists is that the Countless billions are being spent on had a war on cancer, a war on drugs and“official” estimate of sea-level rise in the last constructing homes, offices, factories and a war on terror. Why not a war on war? ■report of the Intergovernmental Panel on roads in vulnerable coastal areas. For instance,Climate Change – 0.2 to 0.6 metres by 2100 – the glittering skyscrapers of Shanghai, China’sis misleading. It could well be in the region economic powerhouse, are being built on land The end of magic?of 1 to 2 metres, with a small risk of an even that is a mere 4 metres above sea level ongreater rise. And barring a megaproject to cool average, and which is sinking under the weight SCIENCE sometimes has an air of magicthe planet, it could take several thousand years of its buildings and as water is extracted from about it, while magicians in their turn exploitfor it to reach equilibrium – by which time the rocks beneath them. science to fool our senses. As Arthur C. Clarkesea level will be somewhere between 10 and In cities that have been around for hundreds once remarked, any sufficiently advanced25 metres higher than it is today. of years, this sort of development may be technology is indistinguishable from magic, For many islands and low-lying regions, understandable. But planning for new coastal and the same can be said for technology that isincluding much of the Netherlands, Florida developments is to fly in the face of reality. barely off the drawing board. Metamaterials areand Bangladesh, even small rises will spell If we want to build a lasting legacy for our raising the possibility of making one object lookcatastrophe. Most countries, however, will descendants, we should do so on the plentiful like another (see page 20), and while turningonly lose a tiny percentage of their land, even land that is in no danger from the sea. It is one the concept into reality will take decades, thewith a very big rise. The problem is what has of the easiest ways to mitigate climate change, knowledge that it is even conceivable puts thebeen built on that land: large parts of London, and we should be acting on it now. ■ magician’s art of illusion in the shade. ■ What’s hot on NewScientist.com SPACE Gluttonous black holes HEALTH Magnet and sticky TRANSPORT Bailout to ENVIRONMENT Financial power ancient cosmic blobs tape turn tongue into joystick jump-start electric cars The crisis may have helped climate Glowing blobs of gas dotting the A tongue-tracking system that can Department of Energy in the US has The banking crisis and high oil prices early universe seem to be lit by be used to control a wheelchair or pledged $8 billion to make the next caused the growth of greenhouse gas giant black holes that are devouring computer could give people with generation of cars more efficient than emissions to slow by half in 2008 their surroundings spinal injuries more ways to interact ever before. See the new electric cars with the world, as our video shows that will receive most of the money EARTH Best ever hiking TECH ‘Dark flash’ photography map revealed See images may end red-eye Fed up with ROBOTS Domestic robots FOOD Sweet tooth may have from the most comprehensive digital flash photography that dazzles and with a taste for flesh been survival trait Europeans topographic map ever made of our disturbs those in the picture? Now Watch robotic furniture that earns are among the world’s most planet, now accessible for free online there’s a solution – photography using its place in the home by eating pests sugar-sensitive people – a trait a “dark” infrared and ultraviolet flash and digesting them to generate its that could have helped ancient For breaking news, video and online to invisibly illuminate the scene own power populations spot energy-rich foods debate, visit www.NewScientist.com 4 July 2009 | NewScientist | 5
    • UPFRONTMIKE THEISS/ULTIMATE CHASE/CORBIS Blast clues in rare clouds WHAT do the space shuttle and a giant Europe in less than 24 hours. explosion in 1908 have in common? Michael Kelley of Cornell Both have been followed by strange, University in Ithaca, New York, glowing clouds, and these may point now believes the water was to what caused the Tunguska blast a carried by high-speed winds in the century ago. thermosphere, a region between The blast destroyed a swathe 90 and 500 kilometres up, about of Siberian forest near the Tunguska which little is known. Although such river, and a day later people across eddies have never been measured, Europe saw strange clouds that Kelley believes these winds would lit up the night sky. These were explain why observers near the probably noctilucent clouds: poles have seen noctilucent clouds rare clouds of ice crystals high a few days after shuttles have enough to reflect sunlight long launched from distant locations after sunset (see image). (Geophysical Research Letters, The fact that the clouds were seen DOI: 10.1029/2009GL038362). just a day later suggests the explosion Kelley thinks the clouds mean that somehow injected water vapour into the explosion was caused by a wet, the normally dry upper atmosphere. icy comet, which shed some of its But no one could explain how vapour moisture up in the thermosphere, travelled to the western edge of rather than by a dry, stony asteroid. –Day and night combined– Doubt in fashion huge interest because they Drug-resistant flu She has now recovered after identify links between genes taking the antiviral Relenza, and SHOULD fashionable scientific and their function. THE first case of swine flu resistant the drug-resistant strain appears findings be subject to a higher Pfeiffer scoured the literature to Tamiflu raises questions about not to have spread. The State burden of proof? Yes, says a study for reports that one yeast protein a policy in some countries of Serum Institute in Copenhagen that found links between the interacts with another, and giving low, “prophylactic” doses assumes resistance emerged research popularity of certain compared these to systematic of drugs to those who have come during treatment with Tamiflu, proteins and the accuracy of measurements of these into contact with infected people. as low doses can favour the reports about their behaviour. interactions. Claims involving On 29 June, Denmark’s National emergence of resistant strains. Researchers have previously extremely popular proteins were Board of Health announced the If health authorities continue to suspected that trendy fields only half as likely to be confirmed first known case of H1N1 swine hand out prophylactic treatments, may attract spurious results, for as ones involving less glamorous flu resistant to the most popular further resistant cases are likely to two reasons. First, because there ones. “For some research fields, antiviral drug. The woman was in emerge. As many countries have are greater rewards for getting a higher burden of proof would contact with an infected person stockpiled Tamiflu, and a specific positive results, so there is a certainly be appropriate,” says and was put on low-dose Tamiflu vaccine is unlikely to be available stronger incentive to massage Pfeiffer (PLoS ONE, DOI: 10.1371/ as a precaution, but she developed in time for the next wave of swine data or ignore outliers. Second, journal pone.0005996). flu anyway. flu, this could prove disastrous. because more groups test trendy FLIP NUKKLIN/MINDEN/NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC STOCK hypotheses. This would lead to Preservation pays more negative results, too, but the positive ones get reported more. WATCHING whales is far more Now biologist Thomas Pfeiffer profitable than eating them, concludes a report published “Claims involving extremely last week by the International popular proteins were half Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW). as likely to be confirmed as It found that revenues from less trendy ones ” whale watching in 2008 reached $2.1 billion – double the amount at Harvard University has found earned a decade ago. that “popular” results are indeed “It’s clearly the most sustainable less reliable – at least those use of whales,” says Patrick Ramage regarding protein interactions of the IFAW. “You can watch the in yeast. Such interactions are of –Look but don’t kill– same whales dozens of times, but 6 | NewScientist | 4 July 2009
    • For daily news stories, visit www.NewScientist.com/news 60 SECONDSyou can only kill a whale once.” Stem cell tourism attempts to treat patients should Worldwide creationism Globally, whale watching has not be condemned, provided a A British Council poll of 10,000grown by 3.7 per cent each year in THE internet may be awash with new treatment has a clear clinical people in 10 countries has revealedthe last decade. Last year, 13 million bogus or untested stem cell-based rationale, along with evidence that creationism is strongest in thepeople observed whales in 119 treatments targeted at unwary that it should not cause serious US, South Africa and India, withcountries, supporting 13,000 jobs. patients, but that is no reason to side effects. 43 per cent in each country agreeing The report was launched at the condemn all “unofficial” therapies. “What patients care about is that God created life in its presentannual meeting of the International So say researchers who last year getting better and surviving, and form. Almost a quarter of LondonersWhaling Commission in Madeira, drafted a set of international are creationists, according to the pollPortugal. The IWC edged closer guidelines designed to crack “Companies making presented at the World Conferenceto a conservation role by backing down on “stem cell tourism”. justifiable attempts to of Science Journalists in Londona pioneering US$1.2 million The team insist their new treat patients should on Tuesday.Australian programme to study plea for more tolerance of not be condemned”live whales in the Southern Ocean. unsanctioned trials andBut it postponed a decision on treatments is no U-turn (Science, demonising stem cell tourism will Shotgun stunnerwhether to allow Japan to resume DOI: 10.1126/science.1171749). never squelch this vital instinct,” The stun gun maker Tasercommercial whaling in its They argue that companies says Olle Lindvall of Lund International this week tripled thecoastal waters. making scientifically justifiable University Hospital, Sweden. range of its weapons – a shotgun cartridge delivers an electric shock to people up to 30 metres away instead of tethered barbs. CriticsFarewell, Ulysses Reprieve for Amazonian land worry the new weapons could killUNLIKE Odysseus, who found SQUATTERS hoping to gain legal who can own land. They say the if the cartridge hits the eye.his way home 10 years after the ownership of tracts of Brazil’s law still allows land to be donated orTrojan war, the solar probe called Amazon rainforest were thwarted sold at a quick profit for less than it Schizophrenia genesUlysses is destined to “sail beyond last week by the country’s president, is worth, and that it legitimises all Schizophrenia arises from thethe sunset” until death. Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva. At the last land grabs before December 2004. combined effect of thousands of Ground controllers are now minute, Lula used his powers to veto They also claim that uncertainties genes, concludes the Internationalpulling the plug on the probe, parts of a controversial bill that would in the law remain, and that this Schizophrenia Consortium in threewhich was launched in 1990 by have allowed the land grab. encourages squatters who hope papers published in Nature. Some ofNASA and the European Space The original purpose of the bill had they may eventually be rewarded. the variants have also been linked toAgency. In its 18-year epic journey, been to grant land rights to indigenous “The veto was positive,” says bipolar disorder, which is surprisingthe probe has flown through inhabitants, but amendments as it Brenda Brito, executive director as psychiatrists had assumed thethree comet tails, studied passed through Congress would of Imazon, which campaigns for two conditions had different causes.magnetic fields around the sun have given legal backing to a ploy by sustainable use of Amazonia’sand Jupiter, and found interstellar companies and landowners to acquire resources. But to avoid another race No more side effectsdust blowing through the solar ownership of plots of forest by putting for property, the government should Malaria patients on quinine might besystem. It is the only craft to fly squatters on them. Once acquired, pre-empt land grabs by creating new able to avoid serious side effects byby the sun’s poles three times – such land is often deforested. protected areas for conservation, and taking supplements of the aminocapturing snapshots of its 11-year Despite the veto, campaigners for by recognising indigenous people’s acid tryptophan. So say researcherssolar cycle. the rights of indigenous Amazonian land before issuing title deeds to at the University of Nottingham, UK, In 2008, low power threatened people say more clarity is needed on private parties, Brito says. who found that quinine blocks theto freeze the probe’s remaining uptake of tryptophan by brain cells, AP PHOTO/ALBERTO CESARfuel, but the team managed to reducing their ability to produce akeep it going. Now fuel is running vital neurotransmitter (Journal oflow, plus it is sending back little Biological Chemistry, DOI: 10.1074/data, so NASA and ESA have opted jbc.M109.005843).to turn off its transmitter, whichsends data back to Earth. “We’d already gone a year more Ares I grounded?than we thought we could, so we Safety concerns may prompt the USthought it would be a good time air force to veto the first test flightto get out,” says Ed Massey, NASA of NASA’s next-generation launcher,project manager for Ulysses. After the Ares I rocket, due in August.its death, Ulysses will continue to The air force is worried that Ares I’sorbit the sun on a path that takes tendency to vibrate violently in flightit outside the orbits of the planets, could make it careen out of controlwhere it will effectively become and crash in a populated area.an artificial comet. –Squatters arrive, then forest goes– 4 July 2009 | NewScientist | 7
    • THIS WEEKA premium planfor the neediestCould insurance giants save the world’s poorfrom the effects of climate change?Catherine Brahic insurance” protects farmers against the vagaries of the weather.AS WESTERN governments dither For example, if rain gauges atat the negotiating table over how local weather stations drop belowto help the world’s poorest people a certain level, insurancecope with climate change, some companies can automaticallyunlikely saviours have stepped transfer a payout to farmersup to the plate: the giants of the without having to visit them.global insurance industry. Cover is tailored to each region. As well as providing protection In Adi Ha, where farmers need the DIETER TELEMANS/PANOSfrom the increasingly rains to start before a certain date,unpredictable weather, the those who are insured will receivepremiums could also be a a payment if rains fail to comepowerful way to get poor people before an agreed cut-off date. Into adapt to climate change by the hurricane-prone Caribbean,encouraging them to invest in hotel owners can buy insurancemeasures like drought-resistant that pays out if winds exceed a went through a big soul-searching climate change held in Marchcrops. Is this profit-driven certain speed. The premiums can process before climbing on board in Copenhagen, Pablo Suarez,endeavour too good to be true? cost as little as a few dollars a year. microinsurance projects, and a researcher who has consulted Each year, people in the small The scheme in Ethiopia is backed ultimately decided it made sense,” on insurance projects for OxfamEthiopian village of Adi Ha by Swiss Re, but like others of its says Marjorie Victor of Oxfam and the UN Developmentdepend on the precise timing kind, it only got off the ground America. “Insurance companies Programme, confessed that heof the rain to grow teff, a sour- because of the firm’s collaborators, have surprisingly aligned initially approached the idea withtasting grain they turn into the in this case Oxfam and the interests with NGOs when it a degree of scepticism, but nowtraditional injera flatbread. If the International Research Institute comes to reducing risk.” calls himself a “convert”.rains fail, so do their livelihoods. for Climate and Society (IRI) at According to Molly Hellmuth of Heavyweight humanitarians Climate models forecast that Columbia University, New York. IRI, “the trick is to balance the are also backing the idea. Kofidroughts, floods, heatwaves and Alliances between NGOs, needs of companies to make a Annan, former secretary-generalsevere storms are destined to charities and insurance firms may profit with the needs of farmers”. of the UN and head of the Globalbecome more frequent, so what seem an unlikely match. “Oxfam At a session on insurance and Humanitarian Forum, has saidcan poor farmers do? US andEuropean farmers buy cropinsurance to cope with extreme WHEN IT PAYS TO CUT EMISSIONSweather. But the cost of checking Insurance companies are putting ■ UK insurer Fortis offers preferential However, some policies haveclaims from smallholder farmers increasing pressure on governments mortgage rates for energy-efficient made people take more risks. Underin developing countries is to cut emissions, and are giving their home upgrades the US National Flood Insuranceprohibitive, and so insurance customers incentives to do the same. ■ Several companies offer premium Program, the government subsidisescompanies have tended to steer The industry has a vested interest, discounts to hybrid car drivers private homeowner policies, so theclear of them. because climate change worsens ■ Hurricane-resistant homes built in price that homeowners pay doesn’t Now a different type of weather-related disasters, leading to Florida are automatically eligible for reflect the full scale of flood risk.insurance scheme is being rolled mounting risk and payouts. In 2008, insurance discounts Many have criticised the schemeout in Adi Ha and many other a high number of tropical cyclones ■ UK insurers pressed their for encouraging people to build onplaces in Africa, Latin America helped drive overall natural disaster government to manage the growing high-risk flood plains and there isand Asia, backed by corporate losses to the third highest on record, flood risk; in exchange they agreed to evidence that the number of repeatgiants such as Swiss Re and according to Munich Re figures. continue to provide flood insurance to claims from frequently floodedMunich Re. Instead of insuring Examples include: households and small businesses properties is growing.against lost crops, “index8 | NewScientist | 4 July 2009
    • In this section■ Hippy monkey murders, page 10■ Cosmic beads, page 11■ 16-year-old baby, page 12 Police crackdowns may encourage drug use TOUGH policing of the illegal drugs In one example, the model is used market may have the perverse effect to simulate what happens when the of making drugs more affordable and number of police is increased. The thereby encouraging people to use researchers assume this would make them, according to a new model of it even more difficult than usual for the dynamics of this market. buyers to find a new seller. Its creators, a team of economists When they add this effect into led by Manolis Galenianos of the model, some dealers respond Pennsylvania State University in by lowering the quality of the drugs University Park, stop short of calling they sell; they can get away with for police to soften their approach because this would also have adverse “Buyers became unwilling consequences. But for law enforcers to switch supplier, so whose aim is to discourage drug use, sellers lure them in by the findings hint that tough policing offering purer drugs” alone may not be the most effective way to tackle the problem. this because their customers become The model is based on the especially reluctant to look interactions of a hypothetical elsewhere. But more dealers react population of buyers and sellers. by working harder to build a good Unlike other models of the market in relationship with customers, because –If the rains fail, they’re covered– illicit drugs, it takes into account two finding new ones has become harder factors that are crucial to the way than before. They do this by raisingthat “index insurance may hold interpret insurance as a “silver sellers and buyers act that tend not to the purity of their drugs, making itanswers for some of the more bullet”, say Koko Warner of the be present in conventional markets. cheaper for users to get the same hit.obstinate problems faced by the UN University, Tokyo, Japan, and One concerns the way consumers The team, which has submittedpoor and the vulnerable”. colleagues. They point out there is judge quality. In the market for its results for publication, concludesInsurance is being considered as no evidence yet that the schemes electronic goods, say, consumers that rigorous policing may encouragepart of the successor to the Kyoto leave poor people less vulnerable, generally have access to reliable drug use, and suggests thatprotocol, to be hammered out at nor help them cope with the information about the quality of the discouraging dealers from sellingUN negotiations in December. long-term effects of climate product. In contrast, heroin users often stronger drugs may be a better way As in the west, insurance can change such as sea-level rise and have no way of gauging the quality of of restricting drug use.also act as a powerful incentive for desertification. Premiums are a purchase before they use it. One strategy for achieving thispeople to adapt their behaviour to renewed annually, so can only The second concerns what is known might be to hand out longer sentencesclimate change (see “When it pays protect farmers from events in as “search cost”. While buyers of for selling stronger drugs – thoughto cut emissions”) .“If I am a farmer a coming year. As climate change TVs can easily switch shops if they team member Rosalie Liccardo Pacula,and the insurance company tells renders some regions increasingly don’t like a seller, drug users face an economist at the RAND Corporationme my premium will be cheaper an increased risk of arrest every time in Santa Monica, California, points outif I plant sorghum which is “Oxfam went through a big they search out a new dealer. So in that care would need to be taken indrought-resistant, then that gives soul-searching process Galenianos’s model, buyers make following this route. Weaker drugs canme an incentive,” says Suarez. before climbing on board purchasing decisions without be more dangerous than pure ones if Some schemes are being microinsurance projects” considering whether they could the substance used to dilute them isbundled up with bank loans, get higher-quality drugs at a lower toxic. Before the model can drive policyallowing farmers to invest in inhospitable, insurance may price from somewhere other than it needs to incorporate more details,drought-resistant seed or become unaffordable. their usual supplier. such as differences in behaviour ofirrigation systems. Farmers in “Some people are going to be The model produces results that individual buyers, Pacula says.India who bought insurance with excluded,” says Suarez. He points resemble some of what is seen in real Will politicians take notice ofloans for better quality seed saw out that this is already true, for drug markets, suggesting that it such a model? Will Brownsberger,their yields increase up to four- instance, in shanty towns in provides a useful reflection of the a drug policy specialist who sits as afold in one growing season, and Dhaka, Bangladesh, which are real world. It also throws up fresh Democrat in the Massachusetts Housesome of them use their profit to flooded every year. “In those cases ways in which dealers and addicts of Representatives, is sceptical. Evenbuy health insurance. promoting insurance is not the may relate to each other, and some if more detail is added, economists will Despite the promise of projects right move,” he says. “Insurers will unexpected ways in which these ties struggle to get the attention of drugso far, it would be a mistake to not deliberately lose money.” ■ can impact the price of drugs. policy-makers, he says. Jim Giles ■ 4 July 2009 | NewScientist | 9
    • THIS WEEK SOUNDBITESTYLER LYSON/NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC and a tendon. They found “Yes, it’s a little bit dangerous. cell-like structures comparable Normally, people avoid the to those of living vertebrates. monsoon clouds.” Further analysis of the skin J. R. Kulkarni of the Indian Institute of and claw revealed the presence of Tropical Meteorology, which has begun amino acids – the building blocks an experiment to seed storm clouds of proteins – suggesting that the with rain-inducing chemicals to try cell-like structures were indeed to control the timing of the annual cells and that organic material monsoon. Its late arrival is causing havoc may have been preserved this year (The Times, London, 30 June) (Proceedings of the Royal Society B, DOI: 10.1098/rspb.2009.0812). “If you want to have a baby, Previous studies claim to have found whole proteins inside our advice is to do it often.” fossilised bones. Yet researchers David Greening of Sydney IVF, often argue that such proteins a private fertility clinic, on his study may originate not from the of 118 men that found sperm damage dinosaur, but from soil bacteria, was 12 per cent lower in men who handling of fossils, and the had sex daily. He presented the results preparation of samples. at a fertility meeting in Amsterdam –Even some skin survived– Manning says the presence of (Associated Press, 30 June) amino acids, rather than whole “Light bulbs may not seem Dinosaur ‘cells’ shed light proteins, is a good sign. After 66 million years, proteins in soft sexy but this simple action holds enormous promise.” on life 66 million years ago tissue should have broken down into amino acids, so finding large US President Barack Obama proteins would likely be a sign announcing new, tougher energy A MUMMIFIED dinosaur down soft tissue quickly. However, of contamination. The high efficiency requirements for certain unearthed in North Dakota may the rapid burial of Dakota in a concentrations of amino acids types of fluorescent and incandescent contain traces of 66-million-year waterlogged, low-oxygen in the fossil, compared with only lighting, scheduled to take effect in old organic material, which could environment allowed fossilisation traces found in the surrounding 2012. The measures should cut the provide vital information about to outpace the normal processes sediment, support the idea that electricity used by these lights by 15 to its evolution. of microbial decay, preserving they came from the fossil. 25 per cent and save up to $4 billion The well-preserved fossil of a areas of soft tissue. The authors hope that further (The New York Times, 29 June) plant-eating hadrosaur, complete Phil Manning and Roy Wogelius analysis will confirm the presence with skin and tendons, was at the University of Manchester, of organic material and provide “It’s a big and voracious discovered in 1999. Named UK, used electron microscopy and fundamental information about predator, it will eat lots of “Dakota”, it was a rare find as X-ray imaging to study Dakota’s the evolution of this species and different insects, soft fruit bacteria in the soil usually break fossilised skin, as well as a claw its descendants. Jeff Hecht ■ and all kinds of things.” Helen Roy of the UK Centre for Ecology and Hydrology warning that When peaceful (DOI: 10.1002/ajp.20713), show how lifestyles may dramatically alter the Federal University of São Paulo- Diadema, Brazil, who led the research. an anticipated warm summer would provide the perfect conditions for monkeys turn the behaviour of a species. The muriqui’s peaceful reputation Because fruit is widely dispersed, females detach from the main group the Asian harlequin ladybird to to murder stems mainly from northern to locate it, making them less breed, creating ecological havoc for hundreds of native species (The populations that feed on abundant available for sex with the males than DEEP in the Atlantic forests of Brazil leaves, and where males patiently in the north where everyone stays Guardian, London, 30 June) lives the muriqui – the world’s most queue to mate with females. together to eat leaves. peaceful and egalitarian primate. Or But in the southern population Lacking ready mates, males may “Fish do very well in the is it? The cuddly reputation of the where the attack took place, fruit is become frustrated, creating mutual seas without eating cows.” “hippy monkey” has taken a battering more widely available than in the tension and aggression. Also, muriqui Robert Friedland at the University after a gang of six were spotted north, and this may provide a clue to males bond closely for life with male of Louisville in Kentucky, who is attacking and killing an adult male. the assault, says Mauricio Talebi of siblings and relatives. Filippo Aureli concerned about the possibility of The victim, an old male, died an of Liverpool John Moores University, people contracting Creutzfeldt-Jakob hour after receiving savage bites to “The victim was an UK, says that this facilitates “gang” disease from eating farmed fish that his face, body and genitals. The old male who received attacks, as closely bonded males are are fed by-products rendered from observations, published this week in savage bites to his face, in a strong position to victimise an cows (Reuters, 26 June) the American Journal of Primatology body and genitals” individual. Mairi McCleod ■ 10 | NewScientist | 4 July 2009
    • For daily news stories, visit www.NewScientist.com/newsDoes your brain schizophrenia switched between in the brain. Lloyd also identified low and high activity more sounds and rhythms in the erratically than healthy brains, brains of people with dementiamake sweet music? allowing the two types of brain to be distinguished by sound alone. While this difference is also that distinguished them from healthy volunteers. Could identifying such aural clear from looking at the images, differences ever be useful? DanielNora Schultz When Lloyd fed the software a Lloyd’s collaborator Vince Calhoun Levitin, a neuroscientist at McGill set of scans of his own brain taken at the University of New Mexico University in Montreal, Canada,WHAT does the human brain as he switched between driving a in Albuquerque, says there are thinks they might. He says brainsound like? Now you can find out virtual-reality car and resting, he variations in the music from music’s killer application mightthanks to a technique for turning found that he could detect the people with schizophrenia that be in allowing researchers toits flickering activity into music. switch-over in the sounds. are not visually obvious. “It home in on patterns that suggestListening to scans may also give Lloyd then gave the software almost sounds like there is more a particular region is interestingnew insights into the differences scans taken from volunteers background warbling,” he says. and that wouldn’t be detectableand similarities between normal with dementia and schizophrenia, He suggests that these using the eye alone. They couldand dysfunctional brains. and from healthy volunteers. “unsteady rhythms and cadences” analyse these regions more closely Brain scans created using The brains of people with may be indicative of dysfunction using conventional imaging.functional MRI consist of a series His colleague Didier Grandjeanof images in which different areas at the University of Geneva in Turning brain activity into musiclight up with varying intensity at How brain activity from scans can be turned into a symphony Switzerland says that brain musicdifferent times. These can be used might help identify temporal 1: Areas of the brain that 2: A series of brain scans 3: The notes are combined,to determine which parts of the activate at the same time are fed into software that with volumes varying with patterns in particular. “Melodiesbrain are active during a are assigned a particular plots their activity levels brain activity are a much better way to build note on a scale against time (below)particular task. complex mental representations To turn such scans into music, over time than anything the eye SOFTWARE PLOT OF ACTIVITY IN ONE GROUP OF BRAIN AREAS ACTIVITY SCALEphilosopher Dan Lloyd at Trinity can do,” he says.College in Hartford, Connecticut, Lloyd is also keen to explore the Low Highidentified regions that become Time aesthetic aspects of brain music.active together and assigned each “It’s not quite like composedof these groups a different pitch. sound but it’s not random either,He then created software that it’s ‘almost music’. My studentsanalyses a series of scans and are putting it on their playlists.” ■generates the notes at thesepitches as the corresponding brain MORE ONLINE SOURCE: DAN LLOYDareas light up. Each note is played To hear the brain music, go toat a volume that corresponds to www.newscientist.com/video SNAPSHOT 1 SNAPSHOT 2the intensity of activity.Split ends left should have formed as the cosmos cooled from its hot beginnings. The monopoles – analogous to a magnet’s north or south pole without its partner. gravitational waves, which could still be travelling through space-time. “It’stheir mark on imprint of their extremely high gravity was expected to be seen in the As the strings broke, the team’s analysis shows that their split ends possible that if you wait long enough, one of those highly focused burststhe universe cosmic microwave background – the would have been capped off by more would hit the Earth, and that would radiation left over from the big bang – monopoles, eventually leading to a cause one of our gravitational waveSPACE-TIME should have universe- or as gravitational lenses that bend detectors to chirp,” says Shlaer (www.sized snags called cosmic strings distant light towards us. But no “The first cosmic strings arxiv.org/abs/0903.4686).running across it, but none have convincing evidence has been seen. were unstable and split Those detectors include theyet been found. That could be According to Ben Shlaer of Tufts into small pieces capped Laser Interferometer Gravitationalbecause they broke into a tangle of University in Medford, Massachusetts, by monopoles” Observatory, which is currently beingsmaller strings and beads soon after and colleagues, that could be because upgraded, and the upcoming Laserthe big bang. The good news is that the strings were unstable and split universe filled with fragmented Interferometer Space Antenna. Thethis would have created gravitational into smaller and smaller pieces soon strings with beads at their ends. In an possible frequency range of the waveswaves that could be detected on Earth. after they formed. The first strings infant universe, these high-tension is exceptionally large, “raising the Many theories predict the existence could have been gigantic closed strings would have been whipping hope of detection” of cosmic strings,of cosmic strings. These topological loops or extremely large fragments around, accelerating the massive says theoretical physicist Henrydefects in space-time, which can be that terminated in “beads”. These beads to relativistic speeds. These Tye at Cornell University in Ithaca,larger than the observable universe, beads would have been so-called would have generated tight beams of New York. Anil Ananthaswamy ■ 4 July 2009 | NewScientist | 11
    • THIS WEEKTeen baby may hold infant, for example, whereas her sustained youth and vitality,” bones are as mature as those in says Walker. a 10-year-old (though still small), While rejuvenation wouldanti-ageing secrets and she still has the milk teeth of an 8-year-old. She is fed through a tube in her stomach because her not be possible, Walker stresses, ageing could potentially be stopped. “What you’re doing respiratory and gastrointestinal is arresting physiologicalAndy Coghlan forever young as did Oscar Wilde’s systems are maturing out of degradation, and if it’s true character Dorian Gray. sync so she can’t swallow easily that ageing is stoppable, thenBY investigating the extraordinary Despite being 16, Brooke is or safely. hypothetically we may be ablecase of a 16-year-old girl locked equivalent in size and mental Walker thinks that Brooke is to sustain life indefinitely.”perpetually in the mind and body development to an 11-month-old the first recorded case of what he Walker says that Brooke’sof a baby, it may be possible to baby. But the first full scientific describes as “developmental haphazard development isidentify the master switch that investigation of her case has disorganisation”. He suspects she probably the closest manifestationcontrols ageing. revealed that she is not simply yet of what happens when the Richard Walker of the frozen in time. Instead, her “Brooke’s body is not hypothetical regulator is disrupted.University of South Florida condition has been traced to growing as a unified Gene scans so far have shownCollege of Medicine in Tampa and different parts of her body organism but in that she has no abnormalities inhis team are comparing the DNA maturing at different rates, fragmented parts” genes linked to any knownof “teen baby” Brooke Greenberg, instead of in synchrony. disorder that causes prematurefrom Baltimore, Maryland, with “I think she has differential has mutations in a hypothetical ageing, such as progeria orthat of her three healthy sisters, growth of her body. It’s not “regulator” gene – or group of Werner’s syndrome. If theher parents and standard human growing as a unified organism, genes – thought to orchestrate project uncovers any promisingDNA sequences in the human but in fragmented parts,” says development up to adulthood and mutations the relevant genesgenome database. The idea is to team leader Walker (Mechanisms reproductive age, but as it carries will be transferred to mice totrack down the gene, or group of of Ageing and Development, DOI: on working ageing is the result. look for alterations in theirgenes responsible for ageing. 10.1016/j.mad.2009.02.003). “If you could halt that in young longevity or the timing of If such a gene can be found, it Brooke’s brain is scarcely more adulthood, the effects should be different body phases suchmay one day allow people to stay mature than that of a newborn stopped and we should enjoy as reproduction. ■ GERRY ELLIS/MINDEN PICTURESDisease runs limited by biodiversity. It is spread by ticks, and the more mammal speciesriot as animal there are, the more often ticks bite species that don’t transmit Lyme.species are lost Unlike Lyme disease, hantaviruses spread directly between the animalsCOULD biodiversity protect humans they affect. “This is the first timefrom disease? Conservationists have anyone has shown anything like thislong suspected it might, and now they in a directly transmitted disease,”have the evidence to back this up. says Daszak. Dizney suspects that Keeping complex ecosystems the more mammal species there are,intact is thought to pay big dividends, the closer mice stick to their homeby preserving natural balances territories, as many of the mammalsamong species that keep animal are predators, so mice encounterdiseases in check. These includes and infect each other less often.zoonoses – animal diseases that The team hopes this link betweenaffect humans. human health and biodiversity could Rodents in the Americas carry –Deer mice spell danger– boost public support for conservinghantaviruses, which can be lethal to diverse ecosystems.people who inhale them from dried four years. In each park, they found “This is a landmark paper,” says Daszak cautions that the effectdroppings. Some 500 people a year in variation in both the number of Peter Daszak, head of the Wildlife may not hold true for other zoonoses.the US die after being infected with mammal species and the proportion of Trust in New York, which investigates “Losing biodiversity may promotethe “sin nombre” hantavirus (SNV) deer mice with SNV. The less mammal biodiversity and disease. It is hard to this virus because deer mice are afrom the common deer mouse. diversity there was, the more deer test how the two affect each other, ‘weed’ species that thrives in Laurie Dizney and colleagues at mice were infected (PLoS ONE, DOI: he says, partly because of the huge depleted environments,” he says.Portland State University in Oregon 10.3201/eid1507.081083). In the amount of fieldwork involved. “But it is also true that the moreput four different kinds of live traps park with the lowest diversity, As a result, Lyme disease is the only species there are, the more zoonosesin five parks around Portland over infection levels were sky-high. zoonosis that has been shown to be there may be.” Debora MacKenzie ■12 | NewScientist | 4 July 2009
    • For daily news stories, visit www.NewScientist.com/news Double whammy to kill cancer cells‘Trojan’ cells take on CANCER CELLdrug-resistant tumours STAGE 1: DISRUPT DRUG RESISTANCE Using minicells loaded with smallJUST one imitation horse was wave of minicells containing interfering RNAenough to conquer Troy, but high doses of the cancer drugit takes two waves of “Trojan” doxorubicin was then injected, cell fragments to destroy drug- and the tumours shrank,resistant tumours in mice. The indicating that the first batch hadfirst wave releases RNA to disrupt indeed blocked MDR1 (Nature Messenger RNAdrug resistance, making the Biotechnology, DOI: 10.1038/ needed for drug-resistancetumours vulnerable, and the nbt.1547). All of the treated mice siRNA blocks messenger RNAsecond delivers a fatal dose of were still alive 110 days after beingchemotherapy. implanted with the tumours, DYING CANCER Himanshu Brahmbhatt and while a group of untreated mice STAGE 2: KILL CELL CELLJennifer MacDiarmid of the had died by then. Using minicells loaded Drug kills cellcompany Engeneic in Sydney, Brahmblatt says that the cancer with cancer drugAustralia, had already coaxed cells engulf the minicells in theirbacteria such as E. coli into cell membranes – a process calleddividing at their ends, rather endocytosis. Many different cellsthan in the middle. This way they take in foreign cells or proteinsproduce tiny buds of cytoplasm this way, but it wasn’t clear that Deactivateddevoid of chromosomes and other cancer cells would be capable of messenger RNAorganelles. After washing these absorbing two rounds of“minicells” clear of bacterial minicells. “The first Trojan horsetoxins, the team loaded them up goes in and the cancer cell openswith chemotherapy drugs and its door,” says Brahmbhatt. “Thetagged them with antibodies cell then regenerates its entirethat bind only to tumours. When machinery for the next Trojaninjected, the minicells destroyed horse to come in and release atumours in animals. different payload.” However, because many Brahmbhatt adds that thetumours eventually become minicells could be loaded withresistant to chemotherapy, the different drugs depending on thenext step is to find ways toovercome drug resistance. “The first Trojan horse goes One way cancer cells develop in and the cancer cell opensresistance is by overproducing a its door. Then one comes inprotein called MDR1, which helps with a different payload”pump the drugs out of the cell,reducing their toxicity. type of cancer and with differentBrahmblatt’s team wondered if siRNAs to block the production ofthey could also use the minicells proteins responsible for otherto block production of this forms of drug resistance.protein. To find out, they created They could also be used tostrands of small interfering RNA treat other diseases. siRNAs have(siRNA) with a sequence designed been touted as a way to block ato block the expression of the range of disease-causing genesgene for MDR1, and loaded these but researchers have struggled tointo the minicells. get them across cell membranes Next they injected these efficiently. “This is an exciting,minicells into mice with a range novel technology with potentialof drug-resistant human cancers, applicability to a number ofincluding breast, colon and different delivery problems,”uterine tumours. The minicells agrees Daniel Anderson, whowere engulfed by the cancer cells, researches drugs delivery at thewhere they released the strands of Massachusetts Institute ofsiRNA (see diagram). The second Technology. Linda Geddes ■ 4 July 2009 | NewScientist | 13
    • IN BRIEFADAM SEWARD/ALAMY American seniors beat the Brits SENIOR citizens in the US are sharper than their British counterparts, according to a transatlantic study of how ageing affects memory. Kenneth Langa at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor and colleagues compared the results of a memory test taken by 8299 American and 5276 British over-65s. The Americans outscored the British on average by 1.4 points out of a maximum of 24, with the largest gap in those over 85, where average scores were 10.1 and 8.3, respectively (BMC Geriatrics, DOI: 10.1186/1471-2318-9-23). The test involved recalling a list of nouns and stating the current day and date. Americans had higher levels of education, which might explain their higher performance to some extent. Surprisingly, drinking An hour after the female opened the box, the alcohol – which was more Ok, five minutes’ grooming researchers noted that she was rewarded by being common among British seniors – in exchange for that banana groomed more often and for longer by other group correlated with better scores. members, and that she could afford to groom dominant MONKEYS might not deal in stocks and shares, but they group members less often. do trade commodities, and now it seems that monkey Next, the team halved the importance of the female’s Pigeons navigate exchange rates are influenced by supply and demand. ability to provide food, by introducing a second lunch Grooming acts as a common currency among box that only a second female could open. The first using landmarks non-human primates, says Ronald Noë at the University female’s grooming “stock value” decreased, while the of Strasbourg, France. It is exchanged for food or greater second monkey’s rose, until both arrived at roughly the A TYPE of “black-box” for pigeons tolerance from dominant members of the group. same value and were groomed for the same amount of suggests that the birds navigate To see the exchange in action, Noë’s team created an time (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, using prominent landmarks. artificial market in groups of wild vervet monkeys by DOI: 10.1073/pnas.0812280106. Alexei Vyssotski and his team at introducing a plastic box filled with food that only one “One can say that the second provider was groomed the Institute of Neuroinformatics subordinate female was trained to open. at a cost of the first provider,” says Noë. in Zurich, Switzerland, fitted homing pigeons with an EEG device and a GPS sensor. They The big and tall don’t win ’em all Out of 46 women questioned, then recorded the pigeons’ only one said she preferred brain activity as they flew over WHO says bigger is better? are based on western data. “big” men, and neither sex was familiar terrain. Traditional hunter-gatherers in Not convinced that these influenced by size in their choice They identified several bands Tanzania don’t consider height preferences are universal, Rebecca of partner (Biology Letters, DOI: of increased brain activity when to be important when choosing Sear of the London School of 10.1098/rsbl.2009.0342). the birds passed significant a partner, in contrast to western Economics and Frank Marlowe In forager populations where landmarks, such as coastlines, women, who favour tall men. of Florida State University in food is scarce, being big might highways and farmhouses, Previous studies have shown Tallahassee studied partner not be beneficial, says Sear. She suggesting these are important to that tall men are at an advantage choice in the Hazda forager tribe suggests that height preferences navigation (Current Biology, DOI: when finding a mate: they are in Tanzania. They looked at the are context-specific and while 10.1016/j.cub.2009.05.070). more likely to marry, and produce height and weight of married some mate preferences might be The team say the next step will more offspring on average. couples, as well the number universal, it is “time to reassess be to measure brain activity over However, most of these findings of marriages per person. our ‘bigger is better’ view of size”. unfamiliar territory. 14 | NewScientist | 4 July 2009
    • For new stories every day, visit www.NewScientist.com/news Ozone hole cuts Meet the latest member of the black hole family ocean carbon sink THE black hole family has a France, have stumbled across a focused at Earth, but the middle child, if an otherwise source of variable X-rays they characteristics of the X-ray THE Southern Ocean has lost its unexplained source of fluctuating think is a black hole of around spectrum did not suggest this, appetite for carbon dioxide, and it X-rays is anything to go by. 500 solar masses. They were says Farrell. A blazar, a galaxy that appears the ozone hole is to blame. Small black holes the size of cataloguing various sources of kicks out fluctuating X-rays, In theory, oceans should absorb stars and the supermassive X-rays from 2000 onwards, when might also have been responsible, more CO2 as levels of the gas in the variety are familiar, but until now they found an object 400 times as but blazars are easily identified by atmosphere rise, but this is not there have only been tentative bright as the maximum value for their strong radio emissions, happening in the Southern Ocean, signs of intermediate-mass black a stellar black hole. And the X-rays something not apparent in this where absorption has flattened off holes. For example, in 2008 a did not come from the centre of a source (Nature, DOI: 10.1038/ in recent decades. To figure out source of X-rays seemed to be a galaxy, the usual home of a nature08083). why, Andrew Lenton of the Pierre middleweight black hole, but only supermassive black hole. The existence of middleweights and Marie Curie University in Paris, one measurement was made and Other celestial phenomena could explain how black holes France, and colleagues built a the finding was not confirmed. were also ruled out. A jet from a grow from small to supermassive. climate model that included the Now Sean Farrell’s team at the small black hole could have made “We are progressively filling the interactions between the ocean and CESR astrophysics lab in Toulouse, that object seem bigger if directly gap,” says Farrell. atmosphere. Running it with and without the stratospheric ozone lost BENOIT DECUT/REA since 1975 revealed that the ozone Blood test may hole must be partly responsible (Geophysical Research Letters, predict IVF success DOI: 10.1029/2009gl038227). Decreasing stratospheric ozone PATTERNS of gene expression in and rising greenhouse gases are a woman’s blood may give a clue altering the radiation balance of the as to whether she is likely to get Earth’s atmosphere. This is thought pregnant using IVF. This could to be strengthening westerly winds help couples decide whether to over the Southern Ocean. As these go through with the fertility winds enhance ocean circulation, treatment, which is expensive they may be encouraging and raises hopes, but often fails. carbon-rich waters to rise from the Cathy Allen of the Rotunda deep, say the team, meaning that Hospital in Dublin, Ireland, surface water is less able to absorb and colleagues analysed the CO2 from the atmosphere. expression of thousands of genes “No one would ever have in blood taken from eight women predicted from first principles that before they were implanted with increasing CFCs would have the an IVF embryo. Five got pregnant, effect of decreasing uptake of but three did not. The team found ocean CO2,” says Andrew Watson that expression levels of 200 genes Fellow students smell your exam fear of the University of East Anglia, UK. seemed linked to whether implantation was successful. STUDENTS facing exams this month, effect on brain activity, lightingNASA Allen was due to present the result take heart: your companions can up areas that process social and this week at the European Society smell your fear, and they empathise. emotional signals, as well as several of Human Reproduction and That’s the implication of a study areas thought to be involved in Embryology meeting in by Bettina Pause at the University of empathy (PLoS One, DOI: 10.1371/ Amsterdam, the Netherlands. Dusseldorf, Germany, and colleagues. journal.pone.0005987). She suggests that giving a blood They put absorbent pads under the The researchers conclude that test to women considering IVF armpits of 49 university students an anxiety prompts the release of a could help them decide whether hour before they took their final oral chemical that bypasses conscious to go through with it. Prior to exam and again as the same students experience, automatically triggering implantation, eggs can be exercised. Another set of students similar feelings in anyone who sniffs screened for the likelihood that then sniffed the sweat samples while it. This may allow fear to spread they will implant properly, but having their brains scanned. quickly and speed our ability to flee this would be the first non- None perceived a difference danger. A previous experiment found invasive test to help predict between the two types of sweat, but that sweat from skydivers activated whether a particular woman the pre-exam sweat had a different anxiety circuits in sniffers’ brains. is a good candidate for IVF. 4 July 2009 | NewScientist | 15
    • For daily technology stories, visit www.NewScientist.com/technology TECHNOLOGYSTEPHEN BRASHEAR/GETTY Metal to rescue plastic plane THE midst of the deepest recession either side of the fuselage just above the aviation industry has ever seen is the area where the wing attaches. not the best time to discover that your Titanium or aluminium stiffeners are revolutionary aircraft design has yet being developed to strengthen those another serious structural weakness. “side-of-body” points. But that’s the predicament Boeing “Data from the test did not match found itself in last week. our computer model,” says Boeing The company hopes its 787 airliner vice-president Scott Fancher. That will be the first with a pressurised fuselage made from lightweight, “The plane needs fuel-saving carbon-fibre reinforced strengthening at 18 points plastic (CFRP) composite materials, just above the area where rather than aluminium. the wing attaches” But in 2008, the firm found that the 787’s carbon-fibre “wingbox”, the highlights the difficulty of predicting internal fuselage structure the wings the behaviour of advanced CFRP attach to, was not strong enough and materials being used in very large needed stiffening with metal spars. structures for the first time. That redesign helped put back the Boeing says its computer model plane’s first flight by 15 months. will now be modified in the light of Then last week, other stress tests the new data to help its engineers on an airframe showed that the plane design the stiffeners. A new date for needs strengthening at 18 points on the 787’s first flight has not been set. –Not quite ready for take-off– Several teams have been First steps for an Your taste in closing in on the target. In optical computer movies revealed December 2008, Netflix awarded a $50,000 “progress prize” to a AN OPTICAL transistor that THREE years after online team called BellKor in BigChaos switches a laser beam on and off, DVD rental firm Netflix offered for achieving a 9.44 per cent rather than an electric current, a $1 million prize to anyone who improvement over the could form the building block of could improve its movie Cinematch system Netflix has future light-based computers. recommendation system by been using till now. 400% Vahid Sandoghdar and 10 per cent, an international That group recently joined colleagues at the Swiss Federal team of computer scientists has forces with four others. On 26 June Institute of Technology in Zurich made the grade. the combined team, which calls suspended a hydrocarbon dye To take part in the competition, itself BellKor’s Pragmatic Chaos, molecule in a crystalline matrix dozens of teams have been announced it had achieved a cooled by liquid helium. They The increase in training their algorithms using 10.05 per cent improvement. then aimed a weak orange laser records of the way some 480,000 The prize money isn’t uploads to YouTube beam at the molecule, which customers rated 18,000 films. guaranteed yet. The rules of soaks up most of its energy. from cellphones The algorithms are then tested the competition give other When they zapped the after the launch of on another data set of customer competitors 30 days to beat the hydrocarbon molecule with a Apple’s iPhone 3GS ratings which are known only to new figure before the winner weak green beam it re-radiated on 19 June Source: Google the Netflix judges. can be officially named. orange light (Nature, DOI: 10.1038/ nature08134). “That light then constructively interferes with the orange beam and makes it “The spike was so big Google mistook it for an attack” brighter, effectively amplifying it,” R. J. Pittman of Google explains how a huge increase in the number of searches for the says researcher Jaesuk Hwang. The term “Michael Jackson” after the singer’s death was announced led Google News to display team hopes to use its transistor to an error message (Official Google Blog, 26 June) build an optical circuit. 4 July 2009 | NewScientist | 17
    • TECHNOLOGYTurning microchipsinto time bombsFirewalls and antivirus software will be useless against“hardware trojans” that could target the very fabric of microchipsPaul Marks Wisconsin, revealed how 2005, a report from the Defense microchips could be effectively Science Board, an advisoryMICROCHIPS are vulnerable turned into time bombs in two committee for the US military,to a host of attacks during their papers published on the physics warned that the inexorablemanufacture that could quietly preprint server (arXiv:0906.3832 migration of silicon chiprender them useless shortly after and 0906.3834). There is currently manufacturing from the US tobeing put to use in crucial no way to test for chips adulterated countries employing cheaperapplications. The possibility is in this way, says electronics labour meant the US was noraising fears that critical systems engineer Frank Wolff of the Case longer in complete control ofsuch as air traffic control, power Western team, although he and the technology it relies upon.grids and military systems could others are exploring detection How would anyone know, thebe hacked more easily than had techniques (see “Tripping up board asked, if a chip-industrybeen thought. trojans”, below). engineer in Taiwan, Singapore Last week, engineers from Another kind of chip doctoring or China, say, had introducedCase Western Reserve University is exercising the minds of a malicious circuit – a remotelyin Cleveland, Ohio, and the engineers at the Pentagon’s controllable kill switch, forelectronics firm Rockwell Defense Advanced Research example – in a chip containingAutomation of Milwaukee, Projects Agency (DARPA). In many millions of transistors? As a result of that report, AP/PA DARPA, based in Arlington, Tripping up trojans Box here Headline Picture Virginia, established a research programme called Trust in wear out naturally some time A SABOTEUR involved in the design multiple processors, or “cores”, Integrated Circuits. Its research, after their 10-year guaranteed of a microchip could include extra rather than older chips with a single carried out largely in secret, is to lifetime. The mechanism that most circuitry in a chip that distorts core. The idea is to run each logical work out how memory chips, concerns them is called “hot carrier calculations only after it is triggered task on at least two cores and logic circuit designs and the like injection” (HCI) because it works by a predetermined set of compare the outputs. If one of the can be adulterated – and how to by gradually – but undetectably – instructions. This kind of skulduggery cores is compromised, the outputs detect those that have been. degrading the function of some of is tricky to spot because such a will differ after the trojan is To sabotage a chip, a culprit the transistors in a chip. “hardware trojan” would not reveal triggered. This allows the core would have to be an expert chip itself until it is activated. An ordinary with a trojan to be identified and designer with access to the “How would anyone know chip test would not find it, and excluded from use. computer-aided design systems if a malicious, remotely spotting the extra circuits among The penalty is the need to run containing a chip’s blueprints. controlled circuit had been the billions of legitimate ones is an ultrafast software algorithm The latest fear, however, is that introduced into a chip?” practically impossible. that can carry out this comparison it’s not only designs that can be But at an IEEE conference on process behind the scenes – but sabotaged – the manufacturing So how would an HCI-based hardware security in San Francisco at least the chip can continue in process itself is also vulnerable. attack work? A transistor is an in July, engineers at Case Western operation despite any adulteration. The Case Western and Rockwell on-off switch with three terminals: Reserve University in Cleveland, “This addresses the ‘time bomb’ team says there are four ways in a source and a drain through Ohio, and Rockwell Automation of issue by using multicore processors which the properties of which the current flows, and Milwaukee, Wisconsin, will reveal to learn where the trojans are over semiconductors might allow a gate that sits above these a smart way to detect such time. It’s currently the most hidden defects – which they terminals, linking them together. compromised circuits. attractive solution,” says Frank call hardware trojans – to be Applying a voltage to the gate sets Their idea is to run critical Wolff, a computer security specialist introduced into microchips. They up an electric field that allows a applications only on chips with on the Case Western team. are all based on the mechanisms current to flow. The speed at that eventually cause chips to which this happens is crucial18 | NewScientist | 4 July 2009
    • For daily technology stories, visit www.NewScientist.com/technology Forget invisible ink, meet the self-erasing film THIS article will self-erase in they found they could print a 10 seconds. At least it would if it had range of images or write words onto been written on a film that exploits the film in just a few seconds the colour-changing ability of (Angewandte Chemie, DOI: 10.1002/ nanoparticles. The technology could anie.200901119). make it possible to create documents The colour change is not that wipe themselves clean after permanent, however. In the absence they’ve been read. of UV light, the MUA gradually reverts A team at Northwestern to its original shape, allowing the University in Evanston, Illinois, nanoparticles to disperse and the coated gold nanoparticles with a images to disappear. layer of hair-like molecules called The image’s lifetime depends 4-(11-mercaptoundecanoxy) on the amount of MUA coated onto azobenzene or MUA. When zapped each nanoparticle. By varying this with ultraviolet light, these concentration, the chemists found filaments change their shape and they could control how long the charge distribution, causing the nanoparticles to congregate “In the absence of UV together and change colour (see light, the nanoparticles diagram, below). disperse and the images “The colour of the nanoparticles gradually disappear” depends on how close they are to one another,” says lead researcher images stayed visible, from hours Bartosz Grzybowski. “For instance, to days. Exposing the films to gold nanoparticles are red when intense visible light or mild heat separated, but become violet, then erased the images even faster, blue, then colourless as they in a matter of seconds. –The next battle ground? – cluster together.” Masahiro Irie, an expert on To put this colour-changing ability light-responsive materials at Rikkyoas it helps to determine the clock the gate’s insulation breaks to good use, the team dispersed University in Tokyo, Japan, says thespeed of a microprocessor, or the down completely – at which the nanoparticles in a gel and work is interesting but points to aaccess time of a memory. point the chip fails. sandwiched it between plastic sheets number of problems that still need The gate terminal has a layer of Measuring the thickness of to produce a thin, red film. When to be overcome. Developingsilicon dioxide insulation beneath this layer in a chip is almost Grzybowski and his colleagues shone higher-resolution films that areit which is constantly bombarded impossible so victims are initially UV light at the film, either through colourless in their unwritten stateby electrons (hot carriers) unaware they’ve been targeted. a patterned mask or using a UV pen, is a priority, he says. Jon Evans ■whizzing through the channel A further problem is that thebetween the source and drain. process of deterioration can vary Now you see itTo prevent that insulation from hugely. “That would cause some Messages written on a film embedded with modified nanoparticlesdeteriorating, engineers dope it devices on a wafer to wear out will disappear after a predetermined timewith nitric oxide or nitrous oxide in months to a few years, thus UV LIGHT GOLD NANOPARTICLEduring manufacturing to create creating a reliability-based MOLECULAR FILAMENTSa resilient nitrate layer. trojan,” say the team. So without the need to know Earlier this year, Colonel Glennanything about the circuit design, Zimmerman of the Pentagon’s Molecular filament become polar filaments comean engineer in a chip-making Cyber Command for computer when zapped by u olet ultraviolet light,facility could modify the nitrate warfare said the need to verify Single nanoparticles causing the nanop nanoparticles to cluster es Nanoparticle clusters together and their colour to change urconcentration, or the temperature critical microchips is crucial. t from red to blue or violetof the nitrate layering process, to “We now import most of ourcreate a chip wafer with a thinner semiconductor devices so thereprotective layer that is more is no question that they, and thevulnerable to hot carriers. The chip fabrication foundries they Turn off the UV lig and the light dupshot is that the switching time come from, need authenticating,” clusters break up a return and turnbecomes gradually slower until he says. ■ to their original colour 4 July 2009 | NewScientist | 19
    • TECHNOLOGY a complementary material to observer looking at the cupIllusion device makes eliminate these distortions. through the metamaterial would The new illusion device uses see a spoon (Physical Reviewa cup look like a spoon these two ideas together. To Letters, vol 102, p 253902). make a cup look like a spoon, for The idea has some surprisingAN ILLUSION device that makes in the same way as a spoon would. example, light first strikes the applications. Chan says theone object look like another could So the light hitting the material cup and is distorted. It then technique could be used toone day be used to camouflage would be distorted to make it look passes through a complementary change the optical properties ofmilitary planes or create “holes” as if a spoon were there. metamaterial which cancels out an opaque material, allowing lightin solid walls. It is also possible to design a the distortions to make the cup to tunnel from one side to the The idea builds on the complementary material that has seem invisible. The light then other. That could lead to a deviceoptical properties of so-called the opposite effect – to exactly moves into a region of the that when attached to a wall,metamaterials, which can bend cancel out the effect that an object metamaterial that creates a creates a “hole” through whichlight in almost any direction. In has on light. So light distorted by distortion as if a spoon were viewers could see the other side.2006, researchers used this idea a spoon could be passed through present. The result is that an But although illusion cloaksto create an “invisibility cloak” are theoretically sound, there arethat bent microwaves around a numerous engineering challenges MULLER 3D ART/REXcentral cavity, like water flowing to overcome before they mightaround a stone. Any object in this become practical.cavity is effectively invisible. Metamaterials are difficult Now a group of researchers has to build. Their components needgone a step further. “Invisibility to be much smaller than theis just an illusion of free space, wavelength of the light theyof air,” says Che Ting Chan, a distort, which for visible light isphysicist at the Hong Kong less than a micrometre. It wouldUniversity of Science and also be challenging to design bothTechnology and a co-author of parts of the device so that theythe study. “We are extending that don’t interfere with each other.concept. We can make it look like John Pendry, the physicist atnot just air but anything we want.” Imperial College London who Instead of bending light around devised the theory behinda central cavity, the team has invisibility cloaking in the 1990s,worked out the mathematical thinks these difficulties can berules for bending light in other overcome. “I don’t see anyways. For example, a material obstacles to this device beingcould be designed to bend light –Don’t believe everything you see built,” he says. Lisa Grossman ■ researchers mixed white phosphorus readily push the white phosphorusChemical trap takes the sting with a solution of these cages, they out of the cage and takes its place. found that a single molecule of white Kenneth Raymond, a chemistryout of white phosphorus phosphorus fitted snugly inside each cage (Science, DOI: 10.1126/ professor at the University of California, Berkeley, points out thatA CHEMICAL cage that safely traps bombs and mortar rounds. science.1175313). tetrahedron structures for housingwhite phosphorus could one day help Nitschke and his colleagues did So snug is this fit that there is molecules have been producedclean up areas contaminated with not set out to produce a cage for no room for oxygen atoms, meaning before, by his own group and others.the highly unstable substance. “This phosphorus; they were investigating no reaction can take place. Nitschke “What I think is really exciting is thecage could potentially be used in an ways to get complex molecular found he could safely leave a solution inclusion of [white phosphorus] as aindustrial spill or a war zone,” says structures to self-assemble. As part of caged white phosphorus open guest,” he says. “Here we have Greeklead researcher Jonathan Nitschke of this work, they created a cage to the air for months. fire put in a bottle.”at the University of Cambridge. made of four iron atoms linked The white phosphorus can be Nitschke is now looking to use White phosphorus, a highly together by rigid organic molecules removed from its cage by adding the the same approach to trap otherreactive form of the element, is to form a large tetrahedron with organic solvent benzene to the molecules. “We have recentlymade of four phosphorus atoms a central cavity. solution. The benzene molecules succeeded in making bigger cages,”linked together in the shape of a “After measuring the size of this he says. “Many interesting molecules,tetrahedron. It reacts violently with cavity, we thought about what kinds “The iron cage could be such as pharmaceuticals, are too bigoxygen and is the active ingredient of molecules would fit within,” says used to clean up white to fit in our phosphorus-binding cage,in numerous explosive devices, Nitschke. “White phosphorus seemed phosphorus in an industrial but could fit nicely in our next-including incendiary bombs, smoke to fit the bill.” Sure enough, when the spill or a war zone” generation cages.” Jon Evans ■20 | NewScientist | 4 July 2009
    • OPINIONReturn of the race mythGenetic technologies may give new life to the troublesome idea that what wecall “race” has anything to do with human biology, warns Osagie K. ObasogieAS THE 20th-century world mounted to demonstrate thatrecoiled from the horrors of Bidil was race-specific onlyNazi Germany and the eugenics included individuals who self-movement, we learned how identified as black, so the resultseconomic, political and social of this trial tell us nothing aboutcircumstances produced the racial whether it works better in onedifferences that science had once group than another.claimed to be “natural”. Race Lastly, no genetic data wascame to be recognised as a social submitted to the regulatorsconstruct – an aspect of social to support the idea that Bidil’schoices rather than a reflection purportedly unique benefit forof biological differences between blacks stemmed from some typeracial groups. of genetic tailoring. The notion The constructionist thesis that race can be used as agained popularity after the surrogate for genomics is farsecond world war and encouraged from evidence-based medicine.advances in civil and human Similar problems plaguerights for racial minorities. genetic tests for ancestry. WhileAnd with the Human Genome many companies make big claims,Project finding in 2000 that all the techniques used are limited.humans are more than 99 per Mitochondrial DNA andcent alike, many thought Y-chromosome tests can identify togenomics would put the final a high degree of certainty whethernail in the race coffin. two individuals are related; they But a funny thing happened are less useful when used to tellon the way to the funeral. Shortly consumers their relationship toafter the HGP’s finding, several various populations, because theresearch projects began focusing provide a richer sense of ancestry, group took self-identified race tests examine less than 1 per centon mapping this less than 1 per cent and aid law enforcement. in the drug’s clinical trial “as a of anyone’s DNA.of human genetic variation onto Take the drug Bidil, the first surrogate for genomic-based It is important to emphasisesocial categories of race. drug in the US to be marketed, medicine”. that there are no genetic This small variation reflects and approved by regulators, for Bidil is a key example of how, variations exclusive to any racialmillions of SNPs (single a specific racial group: blacks as in past eras, the presumption group. Some are more commonnucleotide polymorphisms), suffering from heart failure, that race reflects inherent in certain populations, but theirsome of which may loosely a group thought to be differences can shape the very distribution does not align withcorrelate with geography. Yet disproportionately affected by differences researchers seek. social categories of race.the resilience of linking such the condition. This allowed its First, Bidil was not designed as Moreover, the geneticdifferences and disparities to supporters to make claims about a race-specific drug. Rather, its databases held by companies thatbiological mechanisms is striking, the regulatory, legal and makers found a race-specific attempt to connect customers tosince most analysis of the data economic relevance of race and effect after it failed to win specific populations contain suchcautions otherwise. genetics, reinvigorating the idea approval as a non-race-specific small samples that what initially Some uses of new technologies that biological mechanisms are drug. Moreover, the clinical trial looks like a unique marker foralso reflect this renewed effort. primarily responsible for racial a group may, after broaderThough they explicitly reject the disparities in health. “The distribution of sampling, turn out not to be. Thisscientific racism of the past, race Indeed, the chair of the genetic variations between partially explains why individualsis given genetic significance in an committee that recommended populations does not align taking multiple tests often receiveeffort to resolve health disparities, Bidil’s approval noted that his with categories of race“ conflicting results.22 | NewScientist | 4 July 2009
    • Comment on these stories at www.NewScientist.com/opinion In criminal investigations,DNA evidence has helped exonerate In the pollsthousands falsely accused. Yet 1there remain troubling questions Who is the most inspirationalfor racial minorities whose woman scientist of all time?disproportionate contact withthe police means they are morelikely to find their DNA on policedatabases. In the US, for example,blacks make up about 40 per cent Marie Curieof the federal offender databasewhile constituting only about 1854-1923 25.1% HULTON/GETTY12 per cent of the population. Physicist. First European woman to bePolicies such as including people awarded a doctorate in science. Won a share ofmerely arrested for certain two Nobel prizes for her work on radioactivityfelonies will only exacerbate this. 2 Rosalind Franklin 1920-1958 14.2% Other applications, such asmolecular photofitting, where Chemist who did much of the groundwork for James Watson and Francisscientists attempt to create a Crick’s Nobel-prizewinning discovery of the structure of DNAphysical profile of a suspect by 3examining biological materials at acrime scene, also fuel the idea that Hypatia of Alexandria 370-415 9.4%racial difference presents itself Wrote treatises on geometry, algebra and astronomy in Roman Alexandria.discretely at the molecular level. A staunch critic of religion, she was murdered by a Christian mob 4 The presumed infallibilityof DNA technologies can lead Jocelyn Bell Burnell 1943- 4.7%prosecutors, judges and juries Astrophysicist who co-discovered pulsars as a research student.to not fully appreciate these Her male colleagues won the Nobel prize for the discoverytechnologies’ potential for 5 Ada, Countess Lovelace 1815-1852 4.5%injustice, which bodes poorlyfor racial minorities. Without due care, some uses Made major theoretical contributions to Charles Babbage’sof commercial and forensic early work on computing 6biotechnology may revive themyth that social categories of race Lise Meitner 1878-1968 4.4%reflect genetic boundaries of Co-discoverer of nuclear fission, for which her colleaguehuman difference, and that the Otto Hahn won the Nobel prizesocial and health outcomes of 7 Dorothy Hodgkin 1910-1994 3.8%groups are determined by geneticpredispositions rather than social Chemist who perfected the technique of X-ray diffraction.forces and institutional practices. Won the Nobel prize in 1964 Given our unfortunate history 8of linking biologicalunderstandings of race to racial Sophie Germain 1776-1831 3.7%hierarchy, we cannot afford to Mathematician who made great progress on Fermat’s last theorem,ignore how new technologies may then unsolvedrevive old theories of race. The 9 Rachel Carson 1907-1964 3.3%future of our concepts of race andequality may be at stake. ■ Biologist and writer, best known for Silent Spring, the book that launched the modern environmental movementOsagie K. Obasogie is an associate 10professor of law at Hastings College ofthe Law, University of California, a Jane Goodall 1934- 2.7%visiting scholar at the University of Primatologist, passionate advocate of animal rights and global leaderCalifornia, San Francisco, and senior of efforts to protect wild apesfellow at the Center for Genetics andSociety. He is author of Playing the From an online poll carried out by NewScientist.com on behalf of L’Oréal to celebrate 10 years of theGene Card? A report on race and human L’Oréal-UNESCO For Women In Science programme. The poll was supported by the UK Resource Centrebiotechnology (www.thegenecard.org) for Women in Science, Engineering and Technology 4 July 2009 | NewScientist | 23
    • OPINION LETTERSSugar cane drain Cyberwars Female prostate been used as a marker for bowel cancer. If women have a prostateFrom Cristina Banks-Leite From Bill Coppock From Elaine Morgan then you might expect rare casesMarcos Buckeridge supports the Jim Giles’s report on the Conficker Sharon Moalem’s article on of prostate cancer, just as menuse of biofuels as a sustainable worm (13 June, p 36) reminded female ejaculation raises many occasionally develop breastalternative to fossil fuel, stating me that I have always thought questions (30 May, p 31). Moalem cancer. A search of the PubMedthat because sugar cane does antivirus software, and indeed wonders whether the female database revealed no such cases,not grow in Amazonian climate Microsoft Windows, shares prostate ever performed an so I can only conclude that theconditions its plantations have many of the characteristics of antibacterial or any other useful case for a female prostate remainsno impact on pristine forests a computer virus. After all, it function, but if it had it is unlikely conjectural.(23 May, p 26). distributes and updates itself to have become vestigial. Indooroopilly, Queensland, However, he does not consider on a population of PCs. That the The fact that the female Australiathe indirect impact of biofuels vector of distribution is retail prostate varies so much in sizeon the forest. Since biofuels were outlets is merely incidental. and shape, and is so frequently Clare Wilson writes:discovered as an alternative to absent, suggests a comparison ■ Prostate cancer in womenpetrol, sugar cane plantations either with features whose seems to be extremely rare, buthave been replacing cattle ranches original function has changed or there are at least six known caseand soybean plantations in south- disappeared, like the appendix or reports. In one the woman hadeast Brazil. These in turn are the skin’s pilo-erectile muscles, or raised blood levels of PSA, justbeing pushed into the Amazonian functionless analogues of features as with male prostate cancerborders, where they are a factor in from the other sex, like nipples in (International Journal ofcontinued and rapid deforestation. men. Is the amount of fluid Gynecological Pathology, Buckeridge also suggests that discharged by these atypical vol 23, p 71).forest areas can be conserved females any more significantwithin sugar cane plantations. than that from the nipples ofYet the overspill effects of such atypical males? And why is the Perceived realityplantations are extremely ability to mess up the sheets indeleterious to the surrounding I use one of the antivirus this way regarded as a desirable From Les Hearnforest and legislation promoting packages mentioned in the article, female accomplishment? Are James Le Fanu is disconcerted byconservation is poorly enforced. which is Russian in origin. Others there also “sex-educators” the similarity between his genesConsequently, the Atlantic are American or based in other claiming to teach men how to and those of a nematode worm orForest, one of the world’s most countries. In the event of a decay lactate, and if not why not? a fruit fly (23 May, p 45).threatened biodiversity hotspots, in international relations, what Moalem also points out that He is perplexed when thestill loses 34,000 hectares of is to prevent the use of these the existence of the G spot is still simplest mental process activatesforest each year. platforms to launch a cyberattack considered controversial. Surely many areas of the brain. He It is clear that alternatives to into another nation’s cyberspace? it is possible to find out whether doesn’t understand how myriadpetrol are needed, but this fuel It is surely on someone’s agenda: it exists. If the G spot is sensory impulses are integratedis not yet the “greenest” solution. Conficker your enemies. characterised by an unusually into his “single coherent streamSão Paulo, Brazil Edinburgh, UK dense cluster of nerve endings at of conscious awareness”. a particular location, it should be How this leads to the need to possible to count them. presuppose some hypothetical Mountain Ash, entity to produce the mind Enigma Number 1552 Rhondda Cynon Taf, UK defeats me. Unlike the postulation of the atom, which explained From Ralph Cobcroft much and predicted more, the Prime products Your article about female purpose of Le Fanu’s entity RICHARD ENGLAND ejaculation made claims for the seems only to be to satisfy his What are the three different digits that, whichever order you write existence of a female prostate. personal incredulity. them down in, form a three-digit integer that is not itself prime but While there is no doubt that Genetics and neuroscience is the product of two primes? glands adjacent to the female were never going to answer the urethra may become enlarged question of what it means to be a WIN £15 will be awarded to the sender of the first correct answer and secrete significant volumes human. As a doctor, Le Fanu could opened on Wednesday 5 August. The Editor’s decision is final. of ejaculate-like fluid, the answer this question by talking Please send entries to Enigma 1552, New Scientist, Lacon House, presence of prostate-specific to his patients. 84 Theobald’s Road, London WC1X 8NS, or to enigma@newscientist.com antigen (PSA) in this fluid is not London, UK (please include your postal address). proof of a prostatic origin. Answer to 1546 Mini-tangram: The area is 38.5 square centimetres PSA is produced in small From Matthew Willey The winner Narayan Ramanathan of Ahmadi, Kuwait amounts in females from a James Le Fanu calls for the number of tissues, and has even creation of some hypothetical24 | NewScientist | 4 July 2009
    • For more letters and to join the debate, visit www.NewScientist.com/lettersentity to unite the gap between Surely science can adapt our unquestioning pronouncements native language, Rapanui,the detail of science and his grasp economy to cope with the changes about climate change is I would suggest that the tabletof the metaphysical truth. that will be needed. equivalent to watching a sea is instead meant to be read by In calling for such a creation he Mount Waverley, Victoria, captain step into the cockpit of an two individuals facing eachholds up the postulation of atoms Australia aircraft and decide to fly the next other in a “call and response”and quarks as an equivalent. He leg of the trip. Competence in manner, as used in manyis missing the point that these physics does not make someone religious ceremonies.entities, though invisible like his New model army automatically credible in his Bristol, UKsuggested one, were the logical opinions on any other science,extrapolation of current science From James McNeill whether it is biology, chemistryand are testable by other means. I was very interested in your or climate. Ad hominin He finalises his piece by noting articles on how advances in Mooney’s approval of Obama’sthat science needs to find “a space neuroscience may reduce decision to use government From David Parlettto live and breathe again”, which confusion and post-traumatic funding for stem cell research I was intrigued to see (30 May, p 7)suggests to me that he hasn’t been stress disorder (PTSD) in soldiers, seems more political than that “Tafforeau and colleaguesreading New Scientist recently. and help create future armies of scientific: Bush never prohibited recently showed thatMilson, Palmerston North, super-soldiers (9 May, p 40, and any stem cell research, he just did Neanderthals grow up onlyNew Zealand 23 May, p 6). not give it government money. slightly faster than humans and However, soldiers in modern As for Obama’s academic armies are already subjected to background, his two books are theMade to last extensive conditioning. After equivalent of any young person’s the second world war it was musings about their own feelings,From Valerie Yule discovered that only 10 per background and relationship toPerry Bebbington asserts that cent of combatants were firing their world. Academics areold technology will inevitably their weapons. Moreover, 8 per supposed to contribute to thebe thrown away rather than cent were “firing for effect”, with world’s knowledge. I do not thinkrepaired, but we still need to only 2 per cent actually aiming at anything President Obama hassalvage components to reduce the enemy. Due to improvements yet done meets this criterion.landfill (13 June, p 25). in battle simulation, notably the Science is the one area where Houses, furniture, kitchenware, switch from “bullseye” targets to opinions and theories areeveryday clothes, tools, leisure the “charging silhouette” and expected to be challenged;equipment and books can all be even more realistic targets, most brooking no opposing discussion are now studying otherdurable, repairable and reusable. soldiers are able to fire at human is clearly unscientific. hominins”. Is there any chanceMy 100-year-old bread knife is figures during training without Pseudoscientists denigrate of these Neanderthal researchersbetter than kitchen knives you compunction. opposition as “vacuous, dollar- sharing their findings with us?can buy today. In fact, most of The current high toll of PTSD driven mass media”, taking London, UKmy possessions are over 50 may partly be the result of their ivory-tower positionsyears old and still of high quality. men who would otherwise be with the belief that anyone incapable of killing, being pushed unable to appreciate their beyond their moral horizon inherent importance just doesn’t For the record by conditioning. understand. Perhaps instead ■ The experimental reruns involved Glasgow, UK their critics do “get it”. in the discovery of element 112 Westcliffe, Colorado, US occurred three years earlier than we stated, in 2000 (20 June, p 10). Obama’s intellect Also, we confused celsius with Ancient chants kelvin when giving its boiling point. From William Wahl It is in fact around 80 °C not “around In his article on Barack Obama’s From Ed Macfarlane 300 °C” as we said. new era of intellectualism, Chris When discussing the rongo-rongo Mooney derides what he sees as script of Easter Island, Andrew Letters should be sent to: a long-standing antipathy Robinson states that the direction Letters to the Editor, New Scientist,In addition to maintaining towards intellectuals in the US of reading is unusual, though 84 Theobald’s Road, London WC1X 8NSconsumables, 70 per cent of our (9 May, p 22). However, what he not unique, with lines being Fax: +44 (0) 20 7611 1280food wastage is preventable. actually observes is a justified read from alternating sides of the Email: letters@newscientist.com Stopping our production dislike of the arrogance of tablet (30 May, p 24). Include your full postal address and telephoneof excessive waste saves more pseudo-intellectualism. Given the awkwardness of this number, and a reference (issue, page number, title)resources and carbon emissions To see Obama’s new cabinet reading style for an individual, to articles. We reserve the right to edit letters. Reed Business Information reserves the right tomore certainly and quickly than member Steven Chu, with his and the fact that “rongo-rongo” use any submissions sent to the letters column ofcarbon trading or sequestration. Nobel prize for physics, making means “chants” in the islanders’ New Scientist magazine, in any other format. 4 July 2009 | NewScientist | 25
    • OPINION INTERVIEWThe elephant whispererFrom rescuing a herd of rogue elephants destined to be shot, to saving the animals inBaghdad Zoo during the Iraq war, maybe it is no surprise that Hollywood is planning a filmabout maverick conservationist Lawrence Anthony. When Liz Else tracked him down shetalked to him about reconnecting with nature and communicating with elephantsHow did you end up being called and a naturalness in the bush I missed “When I’ve been“the elephant whisperer”? when I lived in the city, plus I was becomingElephants communicate with me at least as more and more concerned about the bush. away, the elephantsmuch as I do with them. It takes a lot of time come up to the houseand you need to be alone with them. After a What was happening that worried you?few days of benign presence they stop what Before I bought Thula, I was working with and say hello”they are doing and take an interest in you. Zulu tribes to try to rebuild their historicalThey are generally interested in humans relationship with the bush. They’d been badlybecause they are intelligent enough to gauge affected by apartheid and colonialism. Forthat their predicament is brought about example, Zulu villagers who had long sinceby humans, who shoot them, dart them, shot what little game lived around them hadmove them – something is always going on South Africa’s huge Hluhluwe-Imfolozi gameinvolving humans. I think they value good reserve on their doorstep – but villagersrelations with us, but they don’t know what weren’t allowed in. Part of my work at thatit is that would make us stop abusing them. time was to take them into the park. The children had never seen a giraffe, which is veryDo elephants communicate with us? shocking. Their cultural and traditional ties toThere is scientific work on communication the bush had disappeared. This is the core ofbetween elephants via infrasound. But what I do – help rebuild the relationshipscommunicating with humans is another between remote African people and the bush,matter, it hasn’t really been studied. These and the plant and animal kingdoms.animals are doing something, or maybethere’s something going on both ways – we So how did you end up with a rogue herd?somehow get into contact with each other and In 1999, someone called from the Elephantyou certainly know when it is happening. Managers and Owners Association, a private group, and said she had a herd of nineSurely it wouldn’t be difficult to investigate? troubled elephants. They were on anotherThe trouble is that there isn’t the money. game reserve, creating trouble by raidingStudying elephant communication is a kind buildings, charging staff and vehicles. Theyof luxury. Maybe we need an Elephant were going to be shot. The only thing thatFoundation with our own Bill Gates? restrains an elephant is an electric wire, and it’s a maxim in the industry that if an elephantHow did you end up observing this first handsince you are not a scientist? PROFILEI have no formal training but I grew up in Lawrence Anthony founded the internationalZambia, Malawi and Zimbabwe and came to conservation body The Earth Organization,Zululand, South Africa, when I was young. I’m affiliated to the South African Association for thea bush child of the 1950s. Once you’ve got it in Advancement of Science. He is a member of theyour blood it’s difficult to get it out. Eventually, Explorers Club of New York, and was presentedafter selling insurance and working in property with the Earth Day medal at the UN for his rescuedevelopment, I sold up and bought Thula of Baghdad Zoo. His latest book, The ElephantThula, a game reserve in Zululand which was Whisperer, is published by Sidgwick & Jackson.then 5000 acres. There’s a sensibility, a sanity26 | NewScientist | 4 July 2009
    • For more interviews and to add your comments, visit www.NewScientist.com/opinionPhotography: Suki Dhandadoesn’t respect a wire, you’ll end up shooting the problem. I managed to get the herd soldiers machine-gunned the zoo animals.it because you can’t control it. Now these ones back and decided to get into some sort of I contacted the Americans aboutdidn’t respect it any more – they’d got clever. contact with the matriarch. I placed myself their contingency plans for Baghdad Zoo outside the boma and ignored her when she but they didn’t have any – neither did theHow do elephants learn to beat electric fences? charged at me and went on talking to her. British. I couldn’t stand the thought of theseI’ve seen it zillions of times. They’ve got I kept doing that and got closer and closer. magnificent animals dying of hunger andvoltage metres in their trunks it seems! They’ll She didn’t break out of the boma and slowly thirst in their cages so far from home.put their trunk under the wire and walk along settled into a routine. Then one day, after a I thought, let me just go, maybe I could doit checking the power. If the power drops few weeks she came up to the fence with her something. The Americans wouldn’t letenough, they’ll push through. The elephants ears down. She seemed relaxed and put her me in formally. I hired a car at Kuwait airportdo all sorts of things to explore the wire. trunk through the fence and touched me. because on TV it looked like the war was overSometimes they realise that their tusks don’t Then I let the herd out into the reserve. There there, with people waving at the US troops.conduct electricity very well, so they can twist are now 16 of them. I just drove to Baghdad. I was very naïve.the wire and break it. They also learn that ifthey go through quickly the pain is very short. Do they keep in touch? What did you find when you got to the zoo? When I’ve been away they come up to the It was a horror story. Many of the 630 animalsBut you took on this troubled herd? house and say hello! were starving or had been shot and killed.Yes. They immediately broke out of the boma, Some of the lions had escaped and thethe enclosure we put them in, and then out of What happened to take you away from Thula? Americans shot two of them. A bear alsothe whole game reserve. We tracked them and In 2003 I heard about the terrible state of escaped and killed some looters. I gotfound they’d broken into an adjacent reserve Baghdad Zoo – the biggest zoo in the Middle separated from my money. I had no food orwhere they distinguished themselves by East – after the invasion by US and UK troops. water. It was nuts. Then one of the zoocharging the senior ranger, nearly killing him. This brought back childhood memories of directors came through the war-torn streets to reading about German zoos during the second help. I got a bed with the US tank troops. TheyHow did you finally get through to the herd? world war, when thousands of animals died thought I was bananas. But after just a fewAt that point I got really interested and and many of them were eaten. During the first weeks I had US and Iraqi soldiers putting downthought there had to be another way around Gulf war when the Iraqis invaded Kuwait, Iraqi their weapons and picking up a shovel to help. Mullahs in the mosques were calling out to tell everyone to leave me alone. I was there six months. Now the US has put $2.5 million into the zoo and it has been rebuilt. Sounds like this would make a good film? I wrote about my time at the zoo in Babylon’s Ark, and a Hollywood company is going to make a big budget film of the book. They asked me who should play me. I said Brad Pitt because a good likeness is necessary and they didn’t laugh! How will you spend the money from the film? I’d like to spend it on my work with rural communities and on fighting the elephant cull in South Africa. The park authorities want to cull 7000 elephants in the Kruger National Park because they say they are destroying the biodiversity. I disagree. So do the presidents of the Royal Society of South Africa and the South African Society for the Advancement of Science. Top scientists such as John Skinner, former head of mammal research at the University of Pretoria, say there is not a shred of evidence in the primary literature to show elephants GUARDIAN NEWS & MEDIA adversely affect the biodiversity. The Kruger people say we’re greenies and being emotional and we should look at the damage. We say they’re being emotional and should get some science in there. ■ 4 July 2009 | NewScientist | 27
    • As more and more ice slides into the ocean, sea level is rising faster and faster. Just how high will it get? Anil Ananthaswamy investigates Going, going...NICK COBBING 28 | NewScientist | 4 July 2009
    • COVER STORY F OR a few minutes David Holland forgets about his work and screams like a kid on a roller coaster. The small helicopter he’s riding in is slaloming between towering cliffs of ice – the sheer sides of gigantic icebergs that had calved off Greenland’s Jakobshavn glacier. “It was like in a James Bond movie,” Holland says afterwards. “It’s the most exciting thing I have ever done.” Jakobshavn has doubled its speed in the past 15 years, draining increasing amounts of ice from the Greenland ice sheet into the ocean, and Holland, an oceanographer at New York University, has been trying to find out why. Scientists like him are more than a little astonished at the rate at which our planet’s frozen frontiers seem to be responding to global warming. The crucial question, though, is what will happen over the next few decades and centuries. That’s because the fate of the planet’s ice, from relatively small ice caps in places like the Canadian Arctic, the Andes and the Himalayas, to the immense ice sheets of Greenland and Antarctica, will largely determine the speed and extent of sea level rise. At stake are the lives and livelihoods of hundreds of millions of people, not to mention millions of square kilometres of cities and coastal land, and trillions of dollars in economic terms. In its 2007 report, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) forecast a sea level rise of between 19 and 59 centimetres by 2100, but this excluded “future rapid dynamical changes in ice flow”. Crudely speaking, these estimates assume ice sheets are a bit like vast ice cubes sitting on a flat surface, which will stay in place as they slowly melt. But what if some ice sheets are more like ice cubes sitting on an upside-down bowl, which could suddenly slide off into the sea as conditions get slippery? “Larger rises cannot be excluded but understanding of these effects is too limited to assess their likelihood,” the IPCC report stated. Even before it was released, the report was outdated. Researchers now know far more. And while we still don’t understand the dynamics of ice sheets and glaciers well enough to make precise predictions, we are narrowing down the possibilities. The good news is that some of the scarier scenarios, such as a sudden collapse of the Greenland ice sheet, now appear less likely. The bad Greenland is already losing news is that there is a growing consensusenough ice to raise sea level that the IPCC estimates are wildly optimistic. by 0.8 millimetres per year The oceans are already rising. Global average sea level rose about 17 centimetres in the 20th century, and the rate of rise is > 4 July 2009 | NewScientist | 29
    • increasing. The biggest uncertainty for thosetrying to predict future changes is how How high, how soon?humanity will behave. Will we start to curb Future sea level riseour emissions of greenhouse gases sometime Some recent estimates of sea level rise relative to the 1990 level, compiled by Stefan Rahmstorf of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Research in Germanysoon, or will we continue to pump ever more 500into the atmosphere? German Advisory Council on Even if all emissions stopped today, sea Global Change 2006level would continue to rise. “The current rate 400of rise would continue for centuries iftemperatures are constant, and that would Sea level change (cm) Delta Committeeadd about 30 centimetres per century to 300 2008 (Netherlands)global sea level,” says Stefan Rahmstorf ofthe Potsdam Institute for Climate ImpactResearch in Germany. “If we burn all fossil 200fuels, we are likely to end up with many Rahmstorf 2007metres of sea level rise in the long run, very 100likely more than 10 metres in my view.” Church and This might sound dramatic, but we know White (2006)sea level has swung from 120 metres lower 0than today during ice ages to more than70 metres higher during hot periods. There 1900 1950 2000 2050 2100 2150 2200 2250 2300is no doubt at all that if the planet warms, the The contributors to sea level rise so farsea will rise. The key questions are, by how Global average sea level rose about 17 centimetres in the 20th century, mainlymuch and how soon? due to losses from glaciers and ice caps outside of Greenland and Antarctica To pin down the possibilities, researchers Glaciers and ice capshave to look at what will happen to all the 2 Thermal expansion in the upper 700m Contribution (cm)different contributors to sea level undervarious emissions scenarios. The single 1 Thermal expansion in deep oceanbiggest contributor to sea level rise over the Ice sheets of Antarctica and Greenland SOURCE: NATURE 2008past century has been the melting of glaciers 0 Liquid water on landand ice caps outside of Greenland andAntarctica, from Alaska to the Himalayas. -1 1960 1970 1980 1990 2000According to one recent estimate, thecontinued loss of this ice will add another Further sea level rise is inevitable Even if greenhouse gas emissions stop completely after peaking at the levels shown (below left), thermal10 to 20 centimetres to sea level by 2100. expansion of the oceans alone will cause sea level to keep rising for many centuries afterwardsIt cannot get much worse than this: even if 1200 2.0all this ice melted, sea level would only rise Atmospheric CO2 (ppmv) expansion of ocean (m) 1000 Rise due to thermalby about 33 centimetres. 1.5 800 1.0Expanding waters 600The second biggest contributor has been 0.5thermal expansion of the oceans. Its future 400 SOURCE: PNAS 2009contribution is relatively simple to predict, 0 1800 2000 2200 2400 2600 2800 3000 1800 2000 2200 2400 2600 2800 3000as we know exactly how much water expands Year Yearfor a given increase in temperature. A studypublished earlier this year found that evenif all emissions stopped once carbon dioxide water to raise sea level by about 70 metres. have combined satellite-based radarlevels hit 450 parts per million (ppm) – an Until recently, their contribution to sea level surveys, aircraft altimetry and gravityunrealistically optimistic scenario – thermal rise was negligible, and the IPCC predicted that measurements using NASA’s GRACE satellite.expansion alone would cause sea level to rise Greenland would contribute 12 centimetres They found that ice loss is increasing fast.by 20 centimetres by 2100, and by another at most to sea level rise by 2100, while Greenland is now losing about 300 gigatonnes10 centimetres by 3000. At the other extreme, Antarctica would actually gain ice overall of ice per year, enough to raise sea level byif emissions peak at 1200 ppm, thermal due to increased snowfall. “A lot of new results 0.83 millimetres. Antarctica is losing aboutexpansion alone would lead to a 0.5-metre have been published since then to show 200 gigatonnes per year, almost all of itrise by 2100, and another 1.4 metres by 3000 that this very conservative conclusion does from West Antarctica and the Antarctic(see “How high, how soon?”). not hold,” says Eric Rignot of the University Peninsula, raising levels by 0.55 millimetres. Then there are the great ice sheets of of California, Irvine. “The mass loss is increasing faster thanGreenland and Antarctica, which hold enough To study the ice sheets, Rignot and colleagues in Greenland,” Rignot says. “It’ll overtake30 | NewScientist | 4 July 2009
    • GIDEON MENDEL/CORBIS affect sea level, though. Meltwater fills any crevasses, widening and deepening the cracks until they reach all the way down to the base of the ice. This can have a dramatic effect on floating ice shelves. “Essentially, you are chopping up an ice shelf into a bunch of tall thin icebergs, like dominoes standing on their ends,” says Bindschadler. “And they are not very stable standing that way.” They fall over, and push their neighbours out to sea. The most famous break-up in recent times – that of the Larsen B ice shelf on the Antarctic Peninsula in 2002 – likely happened this way. While the break-up of floating ice shelves does not raise sea level directly, the disintegration of Larsen B had consequences that models at the time failed to predict. With little to resist their advance, glaciers behind Larsen B immediately began to move up to eight times faster. Five smaller ice shelves in the rapidly warming Antarctic Peninsula have also broken up and many others are disintegrating. As floods displace ever more people, unrest could become a major issue What lies beneath Surface melt poses little threat in West Antarctica, as it is so much colder. Here the danger comes from below. Take the ice shelf WHAT IT ALL MEANS holding back the massive Pine Island glacier, If a 1 metre rise in sea level doesn’t affected. In the UK, existing defences which is thinning in a strange pattern. Radar sound like much, consider this: about 60 are insufficient to protect parts of scans have revealed giant “ripples” up to million people live within 1 metre of the east and south coast, including 100 metres deep on its underside. mean sea level, a number expected to the cities of Hull and Portsmouth. Bindschadler thinks that the currents grow to about 130 million by 2100. Besides inundation, higher seas raise created by winter winds raise relatively warm Much of this population lives in the the risk of severe storm surges and water from a few hundred metres down in the nine major river deltas in south and dangerous flooding. The entire Atlantic Amundsen Sea off West Antarctica. This melts southeast Asia. Parts of countries such seaboard of North America, including the underside of the ice shelf and gets trapped as Bangladesh, along with some island New York, Boston and Washington DC, in the space it carves out, thus continuing to nations like the Maldives, will simply be and the Gulf coast will become more melt the ice from below over a few seasons. submerged. vulnerable to hurricanes. Today’s As the ice shelf thins, the Pine Island glacier According to a 2005 report, a 1-metre 100-year storm floods might occur behind it is speeding up, from 3 kilometres rise in sea level will affect 13 million as often as every four years – in which per year three years ago to over 4 kilometres people in five European countries and case it will make more sense to abandon per year according to the latest unpublished destroy property worth $600 billion, devastated regions and towns than measurements by Ian Joughin of the with the Netherlands the worst to keep rebuilding them. University of Washington in Seattle. What does this have to do with global warming? Climate change, aided and abetted Greenland in years to come.” to the base of glaciers, lubricating their by the loss of ozone, has strengthened the If this trend continues, Rignot thinks sea descent into the sea. Fears about the impact winds that circle Antarctica. This is speeding level rise will exceed 1 metre by 2100. So of this phenomenon have receded somewhat, up the Antarctic circumpolar current and understanding why Greenland and Antarctica though: Antarctica is thought to be too cold pushing surface waters away from the coast, are already losing ice faster than predicted for it to be a big factor, and even in Greenland causing deeper, warmer water to well up. is crucial to improving our predictions. it is only a summertime effect. “It’s significant, Along with the Thwaites glacier and some The main reason for the increase is the but I don’t think it’s the primary mechanism smaller ones, Pine Island glacier drains a third speeding up of glaciers that drain the ice that would be responsible for dramatic of the West Antarctic ice sheet. This ice sheet is sheets into the sea. One cause is the knock-on increases in sea level,” says glaciologist Robert particularly vulnerable to ocean heat because effect of warmer air melting the surface of Bindschadler at the NASA Goddard Space much of it rests on the seabed, a kilometre or the ice: when the surface ice melts, the water Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. more below sea level. This submarine ice will pours down through crevasses and moulins There is another way for surface melt to not raise sea level if it melts, but if it goes a > 4 July 2009 | NewScientist | 31
    • lot of higher-level ice will end up in the ocean. lubrication by meltwater, but Holland’s team says Rignot. “And what we are seeing todayThe vulnerable parts contain enough ice to recently stumbled across data from local is that this is not only a big missing piece,raise sea level 3.3 metres – less than the fishing boats, which deploy thermometers this could be the dominant piece. We can’t5 metres that was once estimated but more in bottom-trawling nets. One fact stood out: really afford to wait 10 to 20 years to havethan enough to have catastrophic effects. the temperature of the subsurface waters good ice sheet models to tell people, ‘Well, Bindschadler has calculated that a change around West Greenland jumped in 1997, prior sea level is actually going to rise 2 metres andin ocean currents could potentially deliver to the massive calving of Jakobshavn. not 50 centimetres’, because the consequencesup to 1019 joules of heat per year to the As the team reported last year, though, are very significant, and things will be prettycontinental shelf off West Antarctica – and the real trigger lay in what happened in 1996. much locked in at that point.”only about 109 joules per year would be That year, the winds across the North Atlantic So climate scientists are looking for otherrequired to melt the ice shelves that hold weakened, slowing down the warm Gulf ways to predict sea level rise. Rahmstorf, forback the Pine Island and Thwaites glaciers. Stream. The weakened current meandered instance, is treating the Earth as one big black“The ocean has an enormous amount of heat aimlessly and hit west Greenland. “A modest box. His starting point is the simple idea thatcompared to the atmosphere,” he says. change in wind gives you a big bang in terms the rate of sea level rise is proportional to the Even in Greenland, where the ice sheet of ice sheet dynamic response,” says Holland. increase in temperature: the warmer Earthrests on land above sea level, ocean heat still Findings like these suggest that predicting gets, the faster ice melts and the oceansmatters. When not dodging giant icebergs, sea level rise is even trickier than previously expand. This held true for the last 120 yearsHolland has been trying to find out why thought. If relatively small changes in winds at least. “There is a very close and statisticallyGreenland’s Jakobshavn glacier started and currents could have a big impact on ice highly significant correlation between themoving faster in 1997, speeding up from sheets, we need extremely good models of rate of sea level rise and the temperaturearound 6 kilometres per year to more than regional climate as well as of ice sheets. At the increase above the pre-industrial background9 kilometres per year by 2000 and moment we have neither – and while regional level,” says Rahmstorf.13 kilometres per year by 2003. The glacier climate models are improving, ice sheet models Extrapolating this to the future, based oncontinues to drain ice from the Greenland are still too crude to make accurate predictions. IPCC emissions scenarios, suggests sea levelice sheet at a higher rate than before. “They are coarse models that don’t include will rise by between 0.5 and 1.4 metres – and The increase had been attributed to mechanisms that allow glaciers to speed up,” the higher estimate is more likely because The great unknown While the vast East Antarctic ice sheet is stable and unlikely to lose much ice for centuries, substantial amounts of ice are already being lost from the Antarctic Peninsula and the West Antarctic ice sheet. Large parts of the West Antarctic ice sheet are vulnerable to collapse (red areas), which would add 3 metres to global average sea level 3000 1000 km 2000 ANTARCTIC 1000 Elevation (m) PENINSULA LARSEN C ICE 0 SHELF RONNE ICE -1000 SHELF -2000 SOURCE: J.BAMBER AMERY ICE SHELF -3000 WILKINS ICE EAST 0 500 1000 1500 2000 2500 3000 SHELF ANTARCTICA Distance (km) South Pole The West Antarctic ice sheet is especially vulnerable because much of it is below sea level. Warm water can melt ice much TR N faster than warm air A WEST SA NT ANTARCTICA AR CT IC Pine Island Loss of this ice will M M glacier OU raise sea level ROSS N NT R REMAINING ICE SHELF NEW SEA LEVEL AIN IC ICE SHEET I S Thwaites AREAS VULNERABLE TO COLLAPSE glacier ORIGINAL ORIGINAL SOURCE: SCIENCE 2009 SOURCE: SCIENCE 2009 SEA LEVEL ICE SHELF The ice sheet is protected by floating ice shelves. If warmer seawater melts the ice shelves, the grounded ice could Floating ice shelves retreat rapidly, raising sea level32 | NewScientist | 4 July 2009
    • ”Most glaciologists who study Greenland ice shelf,” says Pfeffer. “Those two ice shelves are very big, and very thick, and very cold. and Antarctica are expecting at least a metre We don’t see a way to get rid of those in the rise by the end of the century” next century.” Holland is not so sure. He has been studying computer models of ocean currents around Antarctica, and he doesn’t like what he sees. The subsurface current of warm water near the frozen continent, known as the circumpolar deep water, branches near the coast, and one branch hits Pine Island – which is probably why the ice there is thinning and speeding up. “Another branch of it comes ever so close to the Ross ice shelf,” says Holland. “In some computer simulations of the future, the warm branch actually goes and hits Ross.” While it is impossible to predict exactly what will cause this, the lessons from Jakobshavn show that a small change in the wind patterns over Antarctica might be enough to shift the warm current towards and eventually underneath the Ross ice shelf. Then even this gigantic mass of ice – about the sizePAUL BLANCHON of France – becomes vulnerable, regardless of how cold the air above it is. Pfeffer agrees that the Ross and Ronne ice shelves are the wild cards. “If we pull the plug on those two, then emissions have been rising faster than the Ancient reefs in Mexico suggest the we create a very different world.” IPCC’s worst-case scenario. Rahmstorf’s study sea rose 3 metres within 100 years Is there really a danger of a collapse, which got a mixed reception when it first appeared, would cause a sudden jump in sea levels? Paul but he can feel the winds of change. “I sense to rise by these amounts? Pfeffer found that Blanchon’s team at the National Autonomous that now a majority of sea level experts would glaciers in Greenland would need to move University of Mexico in Cancun has been agree with me that the IPCC projections are at 70 kilometres per year, and Pine Island studying 121,000-year-old coral reefs (pictured much too low,” he says. and Thwaites glaciers at 50 kilometres per above) in the Yucatan Peninsula, formed Could even Rahmstorf’s estimate be year, from now until 2100. Since most glaciers during the last interglacial period when sea too low? It assumes the relation between are moving at just a few kilometres per year, level peaked at around 6 metres higher than temperature and sea level is linear, but some to Pfeffer and many others, these numbers today. His findings suggest that at one point experts, most prominently James Hansen seem highly unrealistic. the sea rose 3 metres within 50 to 100 years. of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies We just don’t know if this could happen in New York, argue that because there are again in the 21st century. What is clear, though, multiple positive feedbacks, such as the Worst case is that even the lowest, most conservative lubrication of glaciers by meltwater, higher So what is possible? For scenarios based on estimates are now higher than the IPCC’s temperatures will lead to accelerating ice conservative assumptions, such as a doubling highest estimate. “Most of my community is loss. “Why do I think a sea level rise of metres of glacier speeds, Pfeffer found sea level comfortable expecting at least a metre by the would be a near certainty if greenhouse gas will rise by around 80 centimetres by 2100, end of this century,” says Bindschadler. emissions keep increasing?” Hansen wrote including thermal expansion. “For the high And it will not stop at a metre. “When we in New Scientist (28 July 2007, p 30). “Because end, we took all of the values we could change talk of sea level rising by 1 or 2 metres by 2100, while the growth of great ice sheets takes and we pushed them forward to the largest remember that it is still going to be rising after millennia, the disintegration of ice sheets numbers we imagined would be reasonable,” 2100,” Rignot warns. is a wet process that can proceed rapidly.” says Pfeffer. The answer: 2 metres. All of which suggests we might want to start Hansen has made no specific prediction, These estimates fit well with recent studies preparing. “People who are trying to downplay however. So just how bad could it get? of comparable periods in the past, which have the significance say, ‘Oh, the Earth has gone Tad Pfeffer of the University of Colorado found that sea level rise averaged up to through changes much greater than this, you in Boulder decided to work backwards from 1.6 metres per century at times. There is a know, in the geological past’,” says Pfeffer. some of the worst-case scenarios: 2 metres huge caveat in Pfeffer’s number crunching, “That’s true, but it’s completely irrelevant. We by 2100 from Greenland, and 1.5 metres from though. “An important assumption we made weren’t there then.” ■ West Antarctica, via the Pine Island and is that the rest of West Antarctica stays put. Thwaites glaciers. Just how fast would the And this is the part of West Antarctica that is Anil Ananthaswamy is a contributing editor glaciers have to be moving for the sea level held behind the Ross ice shelf and the Ronne for New Scientist 4 July 2009 | NewScientist | 33
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    • EmotiondetectorsGadgets that sense our feelings are coming, but willwe like them more for it, wonders Hazel MuirS UNDAY, 1 February 2009, and 100 that sense our frustration in a traffic jam people identify their stress triggers or million Americans have got only one and offer alternative routes, and monitors that communicate how they are feeling to others. thing on their minds – the Super Bowl. diagnose depression from body language are The most established way to analyse aThe Pittsburgh Steelers are poised to battle the all in the pipeline. Prepare for the era of person’s feelings is through the tone of theirArizona Cardinals in the most popular emotionally aware gadgets. voice. For several years, companies havetelevised sporting event in the US. In a hotel Outside of science fiction, the idea of been using “speech analytics” softwareroom in New York, 46 supporters gather to technology that reads emotions has a brief, that automatically monitors conversationswatch the game, munching burgers and and chequered, past. Back in the mid-1990s, between call-centre agents and customers.downing beers. Nothing strange about that, computer scientist Rosalind Picard at the One supplier is NICE Systems, based inof course, aside from the machines that are Massachusetts Institute of Technology Ra’anana, Israel. It specialises in emotion-monitoring these sports fans’ every move and suggested pursuing this sort of research. She sensitive software and call-monitoringevery breath they take. was greeted with scepticism. “It was such systems for companies and security The viewers are wearing vests with sensors a taboo topic back then – it was seen as very organisations, and claims to have more thanthat monitor their heart rate, movement, undesirable, soft and irrelevant,” she says. 24,000 customers worldwide, including thebreathing and sweat. A market research Picard persevered, and in 1997 published New York Police Department and Vodafone.company has kitted out the party-goers with a book called Affective Computing, which laid As well as scanning audio files forthese sensors to measure their emotional out the case that many technologies would key words and phrases, such as aengagement with adverts during commercial work better if they were aware of their user’s competitor’s name, the software measuresbreaks. Advertisers pay $3 million for a feelings. For instance, a computerised tutor stress levels, as indicated by voice pitch and30-second slot during the Super Bowl, so they could slow down its pace or give helpful talking speed. Computers flag up calls inwant to be as confident as they can be that suggestions if it sensed a student looking which customers appear to get angry ortheir ads are hitting home. And they are frustrated, just as a human teacher would. stressed out, perhaps because they are makingwilling to pay for the knowledge. “It’s a rapidly She also suggested that wearable computers a fraudulent insurance claim, or simplygrowing market – our revenues this year are could sense emotion in a very direct way, by receiving poor service.four times what they were last year,” says Carl measuring your heart and breathing rate, or Voice works well when the person whoseMarci, CEO and chief scientist for the company the changes in the skin’s electrical feelings you are trying to gauge is expressingrunning the experiment, Innerscope Research conductance that signal emotional arousal. themselves verbally, but that’s not alwaysbased in Boston, Massachusetts. Wearable “mood detectors” could help the case, so several research teams are now Innerscope’s approach is the latest in a wave figuring out ways of reading a person’sof ever more sophisticated emotion-sensing feelings by analysing their posture and facialtechnologies. For years, computers in some ”Viewers are wearing expressions alone.call centres have monitored our voices so thatmanagers can home in on what makes us fly vests with sensors Many groups have made impressive progress in the field, first by traininginto a wild rage. The latest technologies could that monitor their computers to identify a face as such. Systemssoon be built into everyday gadgets tosmooth our interactions with them. In-car heart rate, movement, do this by searching for skin tone and using algorithms to locate features like the cornersalarms that jolt sleepy drivers awake, satnavs breathing and sweat” of the eyes and eyebrows, the nostrils and > 4 July 2009 | NewScientist | 35
    • ”Computers can corners of the mouth (see diagram, opposite). The computer can then keep track of these three-quarters of the time, but they cannot reliably spot spontaneous displays of the six recognise emotions such features as they move, often classifying the specific emotions – yet. To accurately interpret as disgust, happiness, movements according to a commonly used emotion encoding system. That system complex, realistic emotions, computers will need extra cues, such as upper body posture sadness, anger, fear and recognises 44 “action units” representing and head motion. surprise more than nine facial movements. For instance, one might That’s because facial expressions alone represent a smile – the mouth stretches are ambiguous. A smile on your face might times out of ten” horizontally and its corners go up. Add to actually signal embarrassment if it’s also that an eye-region movement that raises the accompanied by a downward pitch of the cheeks and gives you crow’s feet and now you head, for instance. A backward head motion is have a beaming, genuinely happy smile rather one part of an expression of disgust. But if than a stiff, polite one. someone combines that with a downward Using these techniques, computer movement of the mouth and one raised programs can correctly recognise six basic shoulder, they’re conveying indifference. emotions – disgust, happiness, sadness, anger, “If I just looked at the face and saw the mouth fear and surprise – more than 9 times out of going down, I would score it as sadness. But 10, but only if the target face uses an the combination with the shoulder and head exaggerated expression. Software can motion is ‘I don’t care’,” says Maja Pantic, who accurately judge more subtle, spontaneous studies computer recognition of expressions facial expressions as “negative” or “positive” at Imperial College London. Pantic’s team eventually hopes to find ways of fusing information from body gestures and I know how you feel facial expressions together in real time to read emotions accurately, although she concedes DO YOU reckon you’re a master of DO THEY HAVE RHYTHM? it may be an impossibly complex challenge. reading another’s true feelings? Many Clues in the voice include unusually “This research is still so very new,” she notes. people think they are, but only about 1 long or frequent pauses. People who in 100 of us are naturally gifted at are having trouble deciding exactly recognising emotions in someone what to say usually use fewer hand Basic emotions who’s trying to conceal them, says Paul gestures to reinforce their speech – In the meantime, they are studying the Ekman, a psychologist formerly at the they’re less likely to “conduct” their dynamics of how expressions change, to see University of California, San Francisco. speech by waving their hands. if this can help computers identify emotions Ekman made his name when he more accurately. Intuitively, most people identified the facial expressions of the LOOK OUT FOR FLICKERS know that a faked smile is more exaggerated seven key emotions that are universal, People can’t help showing their true than a real one, and switches on and off more regardless of nationality or culture – feelings for a fraction of a second. For abruptly. Facial-tracking technology has happiness, sadness, fear, anger, example, a person might try to conceal confirmed that, and also revealed some more disgust, contempt and surprise. their feelings of contempt, but give it subtle differences (you can see a video He also acts as a consultant to away with a fleeting raised lip on one comparing fake and real smiles at www. law-enforcement agencies, advising side, so look out for these micro- newscientist.com/issue/2715). them on how to spot liars from clues expressions. (Test your ability to These subtleties came to light in a 2004 in their facial expressions, speech interpret micro-expressions at www. study of 81 adults by Jeffrey Cohn and Karen and body movements. facetest.notlong.com) Schmidt at the University of Pittsburgh in It takes considerable effort to be Pennsylvania (International Journal of a good human lie detector. To begin SPOT THE GESTURAL SLIPS Wavelets, Multiresolution and Information with, it is essential to know your Some gestures, called “emblems”, Processing, vol 2, p 1). They used tracking subject’s “baseline” behaviour when have a precise meaning within a technology to compare forced smiles with they’re not stressed. Then look for cultural group. Examples include a spontaneous smiles provoked by comedy deviations from this when they’re shoulder shrug with upward palms, videos. This showed that spontaneous smiles under interrogation. Ekman points communicating “who cares” or “I’m are surprisingly complex, with multiple rises out that not everyone is the same. For helpless”. Usually people make them of the mouth corners. example, some people look fearful obvious, but when lying, they may Other teams have been highly successful at regardless of their emotions. display an incomplete emblem. They the opposite end of the emotional spectrum: So there are no absolute signs that might rotate their hands upwards on pain detection. Computers are surprisingly people are definitely lying, but here their lap – a subconscious fragment of good at distinguishing fake pain from the real are some of Ekman’s top tips for the shrug that betrays their feeling of thing, according to a study published this year spotting a fraud: helplessness at not lying well. by Gwen Littlewort of the University of California, San Diego, and colleagues.36 | NewScientist | 4 July 2009
    • measurement,” says Gaver. “Then it popsRead my lips, eyebrows, nose...By tracking the movement of key facial features, computers can identify some common expressions up on your screen and says: ‘Oh I’m sorry you’re unhappy, would you like me to help you with that?’” Emotion sensors could undermine personal relationships, he adds. Monitors that track elderly people in their homes, for instance, could leave them isolated. “Imagine being in a hurry to get home and wondering whether to visit an older friend on the way,” says Gaver. “Wouldn’t this be less likely if you had a device to reassure you not only that they were active and safe, but showing all the physiological and expressive signs of happiness as well?” Picard raises another concern – that emotion-sensing technologies might be used covertly. Security services could use face and URCE: SAMHSA, VERISPAN posture-reading systems to sense stress in Expressionless face Surprise Smile people from a distance (a common indicator Used to calibrate the location Eyebrows move up, eyes widen Eyebrows down, eyes narrow, a person may be lying), even when they’re of key features corners of mouth widen upwards unaware of it. Imagine if an unsavoury regime got hold of such technology and used it to Her team investigated whether facial interested and confused. identify citizens who opposed it, says Picard.expression software could distinguish people Then a laptop-sized screen displays six There has already been progress towardsin real pain (because their hands were in iced labelled bubbles that grow or shrink stress detectors. For instance, researchwater) from others asked to fake pain. The accordingly. If someone’s nodding and smiling by Ioannis Pavlidis at the University ofcomputer correctly classified real or fake pain during the conversation, the agreeing bubble Houston, Texas, has shown that thermal88 per cent of the time. When the team grows. If the listener looks away, a growing red imaging of people’s faces can senseasked 170 untrained volunteers to make the bubble signals disagreement or disinterest. stress-induced increases in blood flowjudgement, they were right only 49 per cent of The team will began randomised trials of the around the eyes.the time – no better than complete guesswork. technology this month. For 15 weeks, one His team analysed thermal videos of This year, Pantic and her colleagues hope to group of five autistic children will use the iSET, 39 political activists given the opportunity tofind out whether computers can accurately while two control groups will use either an commit a mock crime – stealing a cheque leftrecognise the signs of lower back pain interactive DVD that teaches emotional in an empty corridor, made payable to anfrom facial expressions and body posture. awareness or have only standard classroom organisation they strongly opposed.They hope that computers might be able to training. Before and afterwards, the They had to deny it during subsequentdistinguish between real physiological pain researchers will test how well the children interrogation, and were threatened withand the pain someone might perceive, quite identify emotional expressions unaided by financial penalties and punishments of loudgenuinely, if they expect to feel pain or are the iSET to see if the technology helps them noise if the interrogator caught them lyingdepressed, but have no physiological cause learn to identify emotions for themselves. (empty threats at it turned out, for ethicalfor it. It could lead to more reliable ways of reasons). Computer analysis of the videosassessing whether painkillers are effective. correctly distinguished the 15 innocent and“If you get a prescribed medication for acute Patronising paperclips 24 guilty “suspects” 82 per cent of the time.pain, we would be able to monitor whether Not everyone welcomes these developments. Another fledgeling technique, called laserthese medicines are actually working just by William Gaver, a designer at Goldsmiths, Doppler vibrometry, measures tiny stress-observing a person’s behaviour,” says Pantic. University of London, concedes some of the related changes in respiration and heartbeat One group of researchers has developed applications may be beneficial, but fears from afar – indicators that are sometimesemotion-reading technology for a particularly emotion-sensing computers will be used used to gauge whether a person is stressed,vulnerable group of people. Picard and Rana el in patronising ways. Who could forget and hence possibly lying.Kaliouby of MIT have built an “Interactive Microsoft’s cringe-making “paperclip” that Picard says that anyone utilising emotion-Social-Emotional Toolkit” (iSET), designed to offered help with writing letters: Microsoft sensing systems should be obliged to gainhelp children with disorders linked to sensory wisely killed it off because people found it so informed consent from the people they planprocessing, such as autism, to understand irritating. But what if some emotion-triggered to “read”. At least that way, whether you findemotions in other people. A camera monitors reincarnated “Mr Clippy” started popping up it patronising, creepy or just plain annoying,the face of someone the child is talking to, and everywhere? you can hit the big “off” button and it will, oridentifies 31 facial and head movements. “The nightmare scenario is that the at least should, leave you and your emotionsSoftware interprets the combination of Microsoft paperclip starts to be associated in peace. ■movements in terms of six states: agreeing, with anything from the force with whichdisagreeing, concentrating, thinking, you’re typing to some sort of physiological Hazel Muir is a freelance writer based in the UK 4 July 2009 | NewScientist | 37
    • The end O PTIMISTS called the first world war “the war to end all wars”. Philosopher George Santayana demurred. In its aftermath he declared: “Only the dead have seen the end of war”. History has proved him right, of course.of war What’s more, today virtually nobody believes that humankind will ever transcend the violence and bloodshed of warfare. I know this because for years I have conducted numerous surveys asking people if they think war is inevitable. Whether male or female, liberalCan humans transcend warfare or is it an immutable or conservative, old or young, most people believe it is. For example, when I askedpart of our nature, asks John Horgan students at my university “Will humans38 | NewScientist | 4 July 2009
    • ever stop fighting wars?” more than 90 per professional armies. Meanwhile, the discoverycent answered “No”. Many justified their that male chimpanzees from one troopassertion by adding that war is “part of human sometimes beat to death those from anothernature” or “in our genes”. But is it really? has encouraged popular perceptions that Such views certainly seem to chime with warfare is part of our biological heritage.recent research on the roots of warfare. Just These findings about violence among oura few decades ago, many scholars believed ancestors and primate cousins (see “Whenthat prior to civilisation, humans were “noble apes attack”, page 41 ) have perpetuated US SIGNAL CORPS/AP PHOTOsavages” living in harmony with each other what anthropologist Robert Sussman fromand with nature. Not any more. Ethnographic Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri,studies, together with some archaeological calls the “5 o’clock news” view of humanevidence, suggest that tribal societies engaged nature. Just as evening news shows follow thein lethal group conflict, at least occasionally, dictum “if it bleeds, it leads”, so many accountslong before the emergence of states with of human behaviour emphasise conflict. However, Sussman believes the popular focus In a world where there are nuclear weapons the on violence and warfare is disproportionate. costs and benefits of war are changed forever “Statistically, it is more common for humans to be cooperative and to attempt to get along Fry does not deny that lethal violence than it is for them to be uncooperative and probably occurred among our nomadic aggressive towards one another,” he says. And hunter-gatherers’ forebears, but he asserts he is not alone in this view. A growing number that hunter-gatherers in the modern era of experts are now arguing that the urge to show little or no genuine warfare – organised wage war is not innate, and that humanity is fighting between rival groups. Instead, he already moving in a direction that could make says, most violence consists of individual war a thing of the past. aggression, often between two men fighting Among the revisionists are anthropologists over a woman. These fights might occasionally Carolyn and Melvin Ember from Yale precipitate feuds between groups of friends University, who argue that biology alone and relatives of the antagonists, but such cannot explain documented patterns of rivalry is costly and so rarely lasts long. warfare. They oversee the Human Relations Humans “have a substantial capacity for Area Files, a database of information on some dealing with conflicts non-violently”, he says. 360 cultures, past and present. More than One group might simply “vote with its feet” nine-tenths of these societies have engaged and walk away from the other. Alternatively, in warfare, but some fight constantly, others a third party might mediate a resolution. Or rarely, and a few have never been observed in rare cases, a man might be so compulsively fighting. “There is variation in the frequency aggressive and violent that others in the band of warfare when you look around the world at would banish or even kill him. “In band any given time,” says Melvin Ember. “That society, no one likes a bully,” says Fry. suggests to me that we are not dealing with genes or a biological propensity.” Anthropologist Douglas Fry of Åbo Akademi When battle begins University in Turku, Finland, agrees. In his Brian Ferguson of Rutgers University in Newark, book, Beyond War, he identified 74 “non- New Jersey, also believes that there is nothing warring cultures” that contradict the idea in the fossil or archaeological record supporting that war is universal. His list includes nomadic the claim that our ancestors have been waging hunter-gatherers such as the !Kung of Africa, war against each other for hundreds of Australian Aborigines and Inuit. These thousands, let alone millions, of years. The examples are crucial, Fry says, because first clear-cut evidence of violence against our ancestors are thought to have lived groups as opposed to individuals appears as nomadic hunter-gatherers from the about 14,000 years ago, he says. The evidence emergence of the Homo lineage around takes the form of mass graves of skeletons 2 million years ago until the appearance of with crushed skulls, hack marks and projectile BETTMANN/CORBIS permanent settlements and agriculture less points embedded in them; rock art in Australia, than 20,000 years ago. That time span Europe and elsewhere depicting battles with constitutes more than 99 per cent of the spears, clubs and bows and arrows; and evolutionary history of Homo. settlements clearly fortified for protection against attacks (see “The birth of war”, page 40). Fighting for peace: the empowerment of women War emerged when humans shifted from is likely to bring a reduction in violence a nomadic existence to a settled one and was > 4 July 2009 | NewScientist | 39
    • commonly tied to agriculture, Ferguson says.The birth of war “With a vested interest in their lands, foodArchaeological evidence suggests warfare emerged only stores and especially rich fishing sites, peopleafter our ancestors began farming, built settlements and could no longer walk away from trouble.”started to accumulate resources What’s more, with settlement came the production of surplus crops and the acquisition of precious and symbolic objects through trade. All of a sudden, people had far14,000–12,000 more to lose, and to fight over, than theiryears ago hunter-gatherer forebears.A graveyard on the Nile So rather than being a product of our genes,in Sudan containing24 skeletons buried it looks as if warfare emerged in response toalong with stone a changing lifestyle. Even then it was far fromprojectiles is possible inevitable, as the variability in warmongeringevidence of battle between cultures and across time attests. The However, aside from Embers have found links between rates of this only around a RAMA RAGHAVA/MILLENNIUM warfare and environmental factors, notably dozen of the hundreds of human skeletons droughts, floods and other natural disasters dating to more than that impact upon resources and provoke fears 10,000 years ago of famine. Likewise, Patricia Lambert of Utah show clear signs of interpersonal violence State University in Logan found a connection between drought and warfare among the Chumash, who inhabited the coast of southern California for millennia before the consist only of clubs, spears and arrows10,000 years ago arrival of Europeans (Antiquity, vol 65, p 963). rather than machine guns and bombs. 10,000 years agoFarming begins in the Archaeologist Steven LeBlanc of Harvard There have been relatively few internationalFertile Crescent, east of Maces, skeletonsthe Mediterranean Sea with arrowheads and University says that war is not a biological wars since the second world war, and no wars defensive walls in Iraq compulsion but a rational response to between developed nations. Most conflicts provide the first environmental conditions such as swelling now consist of guerilla wars, insurgencies and incontrovertible evidence of warfare populations and dwindling food supplies. terrorism – or what the political scientist John He points out that some North American Mueller of Ohio State University in Columbus8300 years ago tribes fought savagely over land and other calls the “remnants of war”. He notes thatMaces found in the Nile 8000 years ago resources before the arrival of Europeans. democracies rarely, if ever, vote to wage warvalley near Khartoumhint at warmongering People living along But warfare also “stops on a dime”, he says, as against each other, and attributes the decline trade routes in a result of ecological or cultural changes. In his of warfare over the past 50 years, at least in southern Turkey begin to build fortifications book Constant Battles: Why we fight, LeBlanc part, to a surge in the number of democracies describes how warlike Native American tribes around the world – from 20 to almost 100. such as the Hopi embraced peace when it was “A continuing decline in war seems to be an 7000 years ago imposed on them by outsiders. “We are entirely reasonable prospect,” he says.6500 years ago First evidence of definitely malleable and susceptible to “Violence has been in decline over long fortifications in China cultural influence,” he says. Warfare is stretches of history,” agrees psychologistFortifications, weaponpoints embedded in “not so hard-wired that it can’t stop”. Steven Pinker of Harvard University. Homicideskeletons and signs of rates in modern Europe, for example, arevillage slaughter become 6300 years ago more than 10 times lower than they werecommon in Europe First specialised fort Warfare on the wane in the Middle Ages. Decreases in the rate of unearthed at a site in Indeed, perhaps the best and most warfare and homicide, Pinker notes, cannot be6000 years ago southern Anatolia, Turkey surprising news to emerge from research on explained by changes in human nature overRock art in northernAustralia depicts warfare is that humanity as a whole is much such a relatively short period. Culturalgroup conflict less violent than it used to be. People in changes and changes in attitude must be 5000 years ago modern societies are far less likely to die in responsible, he says. Rock painting in4600 years ago south-east Algeria battle than those in traditional cultures. For Pinker gives several reasons for the modernDefensive “rammed earth” shows two clans battling example, the first and second world wars and decline of violence in general. First, thewalls throughout China with bows and arrows all the other horrific conflicts of the 20th creation of stable nations with effective legalsuggest warfare hasbecome common century resulted in the deaths of fewer than 3 systems and police forces. Second, increased 4400 years ago per cent of the global population. According to life expectancies that make us less willing to4200 years ago Mass grave in a well Lawrence Keeley of the University of Illinois in risk our lives through violence. Third, 400 km south-west ofSkeletal trauma and other Chicago, that is an order of magnitude less increasing globalisation and improvements Beijing with skeletonssigns of conflict begin to indicating violent death than the proportion of violent death for males in communications technology, which haveshow up in North America in typical pre-state societies, whose weapons increased our interdependence with, and40 | NewScientist | 4 July 2009
    • ”Most conflicts now consist of guerilla wars, insurgencies and terrorism – the remnants of war” empathy towards, those outside of our immediate “tribes”. “The forces of modernity are making things better and better,” he says. However, while war might not be inevitable, neither is peace. Nations around the world still maintain huge arsenals, including weapons of mass destruction, and armed conflicts still ravage many regions. Major obstacles to peace include the lack of tolerance inherent in religious fundamentalism, which not only triggers conflicts but often contributes to the suppression of women; global warming, which will produce ecological crises that may spark social unrest and violence; overpopulation, particularly when it produces a surplus of unmarried, unemployed young men, and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. “Humans can easily backslide into war,” Pinker warns. Despite two world wars, Fortunately, understanding the fewer people now die in environmental conditions that promote war battle than in the past also suggests ways to limit it. LeBlanc points out that the modern focus of human competition – and the warfare that canWhen apes attack accompany it – has shifted somewhat from food, water and land to energy. Two keys toMany people think the vol 5, e 190). He points to the peace, he suggests, are population controldiscovery of warlike behaviour myriad interdependencies and cheap, clean, reliable alternatives to fossilamong chimps supports the between nations and groups fuels. Promoting the spread of participatoryview that war among humans of people, and believes that democracy clearly wouldn’t hurt, either.is inevitable. In fact, the work by fostering ever more Richard Wrangham of Harvard Universityof some primatologists economic cooperation takes another line, and makes a case for thesuggests ways to reduce through alliances such as empowerment of women. It is well knownhuman conflict. the European Union we can that as female education and economic “We and all the primates promote peace. opportunities rise, birth rates fall. A stabilisedhave a tendency to be hostile Primate violence is not population decreases demands onto non-group members,” says blind and compulsive but governmental and medical services and onFrans de Waal of Emory calculating and responsive natural resources and, by extension, lessensUniversity in Atlanta, Georgia. to circumstance, says Richard the likelihood of social unrest and conflict.But the level of aggression Wrangham from Harvard Since women are less prone to violence thendisplayed by individuals University. Chimps only fight men, Wrangham hopes that these educationaldepends on their when they think they can get and economic trends will propel more womenenvironment. He found, away with it. “That’s the into government.for example, that rhesus lesson that I draw for Is this all just idealistic pie-in-the-sky? Well,monkeys, which are ordinarily humans.” Wrangham says there is no doubt that any announcement ofincorrigibly aggressive, grow that although we are much the end of warfare would be premature. At theup to become kinder and less risk-averse than chimps, very least, though, we can confidently rejectgentler when raised by human societies – from the fatalistic belief that it is innate. Thatmild-mannered stump-tail hunter-gatherers to modern assumes “we’re some kind of automata wheremonkeys. nations – also behave much aggressive genes force us to pick up knives and De Waal has also reduced more aggressively toward guns like zombies and attack each otherconflicts among monkeys and rival groups if they are without any thoughts going through ourapes by increasing their confident they can prevail. heads”, says Pinker. War is not in our DNA.interdependence – making He reckons that reducing And if warfare is not innate then, surely,them cooperate to obtain imbalances of power between neither is it inevitable. ■food, for example – and nations should reduce the riskensuring they had equal of war (Yearbook of Physical John Horgan is director of the Center for Scienceaccess to food (PLoS Biology, Anthropology, vol 42, p 1). Writings at Stevens Institute of Technology, Hoboken, New Jersey 4 July 2009 | NewScientist | 41
    • Memristor mindsWhat connects our own E VER had the feeling something is of years, memristors have morphed from missing? If so, you’re in good company. obscure jargon into one of the hottesthuman intelligence to the Dmitri Mendeleev did in 1869 when properties in physics. They’ve not only been he noticed four gaps in his periodic table. made, but their unique capabilities mightunsung cunning of slime They turned out to be the undiscovered revolutionise consumer electronics. More elements scandium, gallium, technetium and than that, though, along with completing themoulds? An electronic germanium. Paul Dirac did in 1929 when he jigsaw of electronics, they might solve thecomponent that no one looked deep into the quantum-mechanical equation he had formulated to describe puzzle of how nature makes that most delicate and powerful of computers – the brain.thought existed, as the electron. Besides the electron, he saw That would be a fitting pay-off for a story something else that looked rather like it, which, in its beginnings, is a triumph of pureJustin Mullins explains but different. It was only in 1932, when the logic. Back in 1971, Chua was examining the electron’s antimatter sibling, the positron, four basic quantities that define an electronic was sighted in cosmic rays that such a thing circuit. First, there is electric charge. Then was found to exist. there is the change in that charge over time, In 1971, Leon Chua had that feeling. A young better known as current. Currents create electronics engineer with a penchant for magnetic fields, leading to a third variable, mathematics at the University of California, magnetic flux, which characterises the field’s Berkeley, he was fascinated by the fact that strength. Finally, magnetic flux varies with electronics had no rigorous mathematical time, leading to the quantity we call voltage. foundation. So like any diligent scientist, he Four interconnected things, mathematics set about trying to derive one. says, can be related in six ways. Charge and And he found something missing: a fourth current, and magnetic flux and voltage, are basic circuit element besides the standard trio connected through their definitions. That’s of resistor, capacitor and inductor. Chua two. Three more associations correspond to dubbed it the “memristor”. The only problem the three traditional circuit elements. A was that as far as Chua or anyone else could resistor is any device that, when you pass see, memristors did not actually exist. current through it, creates a voltage. For a Except that they do. Within the past couple given voltage a capacitor will store a certain42 | NewScientist | 4 July 2009
    • amount of charge. Pass a current through an Laboratories in Palo Alto, California. In the inductor, and you create a magnetic flux. That early 2000s, Williams and his team were makes five. Something missing? wondering whether you could create a fast, Indeed. Where was the device that low-power switch by placing two tiny resistors connected charge and magnetic flux? The made of titanium dioxide over one another, short answer was there wasn’t one. But there using the current in one to somehow toggle should have been. the resistance in the other on and off. Chua set about exploring what this device would do. It was something that no combination of resistors, capacitors and Nanoscale novelty inductors would do. Because moving charges They found that they could, but the resistance make currents, and changing magnetic fluxes in different switches behaved in a way that was breed voltages, the new device would generate impossible to predict using any conventional a voltage from a current rather like a resistor, model. Williams was stumped. It took three but in a complex, dynamic way. In fact, Chua years and a chance tip-off from a colleague”Though memristors were calculated, it would behave like a resistor that about Chua’s work before the revelation came. welcome in theory, no could “remember” what current had flowed “I realised suddenly that the equations I was through it before (see diagram, page 44). Thus writing down to describe our device were very physical device seemed the memristor was born. similar to Chua’s,” says Williams. “Then capable of the effect” And promptly abandoned. Though it was everything fell into place.” welcome in theory, no physical device or What was happening was this: in its pure material seemed capable of the resistance- state of repeating units of one titanium and with-memory effect. The fundamentals of two oxygen atoms, titanium dioxide is a electronics have kept Chua busy ever since, semiconductor. Heat the material, though, but even he had low expectations for his baby. and some of the oxygen is driven out of the “I never thought I’d see one of these devices structure, leaving electrically charged bubbles in my lifetime,” he says. that make the material behave like a metal. He had reckoned without Stan Williams, In Williams’s switches, the upper resistor senior fellow at the Hewlett-Packard was made of pure semiconductor, and the > 4 July 2009 | NewScientist | 43
    • lower of the oxygen-deficient metal. Applyinga voltage to the device pushes charged bubbles A memristor never forgetsup from the metal, radically reducing the The “resistor with memory” that Leon Chua described behaves like a pipe whose diameter varies accordingsemiconductor’s resistance and making it into to the amount and direction of the current passing through ita full-blown conductor. A voltage appliedin the other direction starts the merry-go- HIGHERround revolving the other way: the bubbles CURRENTdrain back down into the lower layer, and the FORWARDS CURRENT REVERSEDupper layer reverts to a high-resistance, CURRENTsemiconducting state. The crucial thing is that, every time thevoltage is switched off, the merry-go-roundstops and the resistance is frozen. When thevoltage is switched on again, the system“remembers” where it was, waking up in thesame resistance state (Nature, vol 453, p 80). MODERATE LOW HIGHWilliams had accidentally made a memristor RESISTANCE RESISTANCE RESISTANCEjust as Chua had described it. Williams could also show why a memristor IF THE CURRENT IS TURNED OFF, THE PIPE’S DIAMETER STAYS THE SAME UNTIL IT IS SWITCHED ON AGAIN –had never been seen before. Because the effect IT “REMEMBERS” WHAT CURRENT HAS FLOWED THROUGH ITdepends on atomic-scale movements, it onlypopped up on the nanoscale of Williams’sdevices. “On the millimetre scale, it is computers use to store data on the fly, and Japan: it can anticipate periodic events.essentially unobservable,” he says. ultimately even for hard drives. Here’s how we know. P. polycephalum can Nanoscale or no, it rapidly became clear just Were this an article about a conventional move around by passing a watery substancehow useful memristors might be. Information breakthrough in electronics, that would be known as sol through its viscous, gelatinouscan be written into the material as the the end of the story. Better memory materials interior, allowing it to extend itself in aresistance state of the memristor in a few alone do not set the pulse racing. We have particular direction. At room temperature, thenanoseconds using just a few picojoules of come to regard ever zippier consumer slime mould moves at a slothful rate of aboutenergy – “as good as anything needs to be”, electronics as a basic right, and are notoriously a centimetre per hour, but you can speed thisaccording to Williams. And once written, insouciant about the improvements in basic movement up by giving the mould a blast ofmemristive memory stays written even when physics that make them possible. What’s warm, moist air.the power is switched off. different about memristors? You can also slow it down with a cool, dry Explaining that requires a dramatic change breeze, which is what the Japanese researchers of scene – to the world of the slime mould did. They exposed the gloop to 10 minutesMemory mould Physarum polycephalum. In an understated of cold air, allowed it to warm up again for aThis was a revelation. For 50 years, electronics way, this large, gloopy, single-celled organism set period of time, and repeated the sequenceengineers had been building networks of is a beast of surprising intelligence. It can three times. Sure enough, the mould sloweddozens of transistors – the building blocks of sense and react to its environment, and down and sped up in time with thememory chips – to store single bits of can even solve simple puzzles. Perhaps its temperature changes.information without knowing it was most remarkable skill, though, was reported But then they changed the rules. Insteadmemristance they were attempting to last year by Tetsu Saisuga and his colleagues of giving P. polycephalum a fourth blast ofsimulate. Now Williams, standing on the at Hokkaido University in Sapporo, cold air, they did nothing. The slime mould’sshoulders of Chua, had showed that a single reaction was remarkable: it slowed downtiny component was all they needed. again, in anticipation of a blast that never The most immediate potential use is as a came (Physical Review Letters, vol 100,powerful replacement for flash memory – the ”Somehow, an organism p 018101).kind used in applications that require quick without a neuron to call It’s worth taking a moment to think aboutwriting and rewriting capabilities, such as in its own had memorised what this means. Somehow, this single-celledcameras and USB memory sticks. Like flash organism had memorised the pattern ofmemory, memristive memory can only be a pattern of events” events it was faced with and changed itswritten 10,000 times or so before the constant behaviour to anticipate a future event. That’satomic movements within the device cause it something we humans have trouble enoughto break down. That makes it unsuitable for with, let alone a single-celled organismcomputer memories. Still, Williams believes without a neuron to call its own.it will be possible to improve the durability of The Japanese paper rang a bell with Maxmemristors. Then, he says, they could be just Di Ventra, a physicist at the University ofthe thing for a superfast random access California, San Diego. He was one of the fewmemory (RAM), the working memory that who had followed Chua’s work, and recognised44 | NewScientist | 4 July 2009
    • that the slime mould was behaving like a and flow of potassium and sodium ions ”The behaviour ofmemristive circuit. To prove his contention, across the membranes of each cell, whichhe and his colleagues set about building a allow the synapses to alter their response synapses lookedcircuit that would, like the slime mould, learn according to the frequency and strength of maddeningly similar toand predict future signals. signals. It looked maddeningly similar to The analogous circuit proved simple to the response a memristor would produce. a memristor’s response”derive. Changes in an external voltage applied “I realised then that synapses wereto the circuit simulated changes in the memristors,” he says. “The ion channel wastemperature and humidity of the slime the missing circuit element I was lookingmould’s environment, and the voltage across for, and it already existed in nature.”a memristive element represented the slime To Chua, this all points to a home truth.mould’s speed. Wired up the right way, the Despite years of effort, attempts to build anmemristor’s voltage would vary in tempo with electronic intelligence that can mimic thean arbitrary series of external voltage pulses. awesome power of a brain have seen littleWhen “trained” through a series of three success. And that might be simply becauseequally spaced voltage pulses, the memristor we were lacking the crucial electronicvoltage repeated the response even when components – memristors. University, who are pioneers in reducingsubsequent pulses did not appear (www.arxiv. So now we’ve found them, might a new era neural behaviours to systems of differentialorg/abs/0810.4179). in artificial intelligence be at hand? The equations, to create hybrid transitor- Di Ventra speculates that the viscosities of Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency memristor chips designed to reproduce somethe sol and gel components of the slime certainly thinks so. DARPA is a US Department of the brain’s thought processes. Di Ventra andmould make for a mechanical analogue of of Defense outfit with a strong record in his colleague Yuriy Pershin have gone furthermemristance. When the external temperature backing high-risk, high-pay-off projects – and built a memristive synapse that theyrises, the gel component starts to break down things like the internet. In April last year, it claim behaves like the real thing( www.arxiv.and become less viscous, creating new announced the Systems of Neuromorphic org/abs/0905.2935).pathways through which the sol can flow and Adaptive Plastic Scalable Electronics Program, The electronic brain will be a time coming.speeding up the cell’s movement. A lowered SyNAPSE for short, to create “electronic “We’re still getting to grips with this chip,”temperature reverses that process, but how neuromorphic machine technology that is says Williams. Part of the problem is that thethe initial state is regained depends on where scalable to biological levels”. chip is just too intelligent – rather than athe pathways were formed, and therefore on standard digital pulse it produces an analoguethe cell’s internal history. output that flummoxes the standard software In true memristive fashion, Chua had I, memristor used to test chips. So Williams and hisanticipated the idea that memristors might Williams’s team from Hewlett-Packard is colleagues have had to develop their own testhave something to say about how biological heavily involved. Late last year, in an obscure software. “All that takes time,” he says.organisms learn. While completing his first US Department of Energy publication called Chua, meanwhile, is not resting on hispaper on memristors, he became fascinated SciDAC Review, his colleague Greg Snider set laurels. He has been busy extending his theoryby synapses – the gaps between nerve cells in out how a memristor-based chip might be of fundamental circuit elements, asking whathigher organisms across which nerve wired up to test more complex models of happens if you combine the properties ofimpulses must pass. In particular, he noticed synapses. He points out that in the human memristors with those of capacitors andtheir complex electrical response to the ebb cortex synapses are packed at a density of inductors to produce compound devices about 1010 per square centimetre, whereas called memcapacitors and meminductors, andThey might not look much, but slime moulds can today’s microprocessors only manage then what happens if you combine thosebe surprisingly quick-witted beasts densities 10 times less. “That is one important devices, and so on. reason intelligent machines are not yet “Memcapacitors may be even more useful walking around on the street,” he says. than memristors,” says Chua, “because they Snider’s dream is of a field he calls “cortical don’t have any resistance.” In theory at least, computing” that harnesses the possibilities of a memcapacitor could store data without memristors to mimic how the brain’s neurons dissipating any energy at all. Mighty handy – interact. It’s an entirely new idea. “People whatever you want to do with them. Williams confuse these kinds of networks with neural agrees. In fact, his team is already on the case, networks,” says Williams. But neural producing a first prototype memcapacitor networks – the previous best hope for creating earlier this year, a result that he aims to an artificial brain – are software working on publish soon. “We haven’t characterised it standard computing hardware. “What we’re yet,” he says. With so many fundamental aiming for is actually a change in breakthroughs to work on, he says, it’s hard to EYE OF SCIENCE/SPL architecture,” he says. decide what to do next. Maybe a memristor The first steps are already being taken. could help. ■ Williams and Snider have teamed up with Gail Carpenter and Stephen Grossberg at Boston Justin Mullins is a consultant editor for New Scientist 4 July 2009 | NewScientist | 45
    • BOOKS & ARTSSex in shades of greyThe line between men and women has never looked so blurred A tangled messy thingBetween XX and XY: Intersexuality is human sexualityand the myth of two sexesby Gerald N. Callahan, Chicago neuroendocrinologists. He alsoReview Press, $24.95 weaves in the stories of peopleReviewed by Deborah Blum who live in the stretch between “I AM satisfied the classic male and female with a wild free endpoints. “Truthfully, I think the Nature,” the most important thing I would like psychologist- people to understand about me is philosopher that I am a person,” Kailana, who William James is hermaphrodite, tells him in a once wrote to a diatribe of anger, grief and courage. quarrelsome Callahan, an associatecolleague. “You seem to me to professor of immunology andcherish and pursue an Italian the public understanding ofGarden, where all things are kept in science at Colorado Stateseparate compartments, and one University, is an accomplishedmust follow straight-ruled walks.” and versatile writer. His work has I’ve always admired the way appeared in everything fromJames challenged what he Nature to the Southern Poetryperceived as scientific dogma. In Review. As a result, the book hasthis case, he raised a conundrum an appealingly literary flair, evenwe still wrestle with today. Science, in the descriptions of complicatedwith its love of classification, biology. Sometimes it verges WHITE IMAGES/SCALA/FLORENCEseeks to impose a strict order on on purple prose, as when hethe world around us. Yet life on describes Los Angeles as a placeEarth is (forgive the pun) by nature of “limp palm trees curdling in thetangled, messy and, in James’s oily light”, but for the most partwords, “everywhere gothic”. the language is nicely polished. This Jamesian perspective Do I think the result is smoothpervades Gerald Callahan’s enough to change the minds ofsmart and compassionate book. Jane and all the variations that and father and in the cell division those who prefer the standardCallahan’s argument arises from lie in between. “In truth, we are that follows can all stir the genetic model of sexuality? Not really.the fact that human sexuality all intersex,” he concludes. soup into alternative outcomes. Such attitudes are grounded inspans a slippery biological The standard model of The possibilities, Callahan writes, habit and faith more thanspectrum. The stereotypical view human development is built on “are as grand and as varietal as the scientific logic. I hope, however,of two sexes – me Tarzan, you 46 chromosomes, including fragrances of flowers: 45X; 47XXX; that it adds to the forces movingJane – is not only cartoonish, 48XXXX; 49XXXXX; 47XYY; us toward a more generousit limits our understanding and “The stereotypical view of 47XXY; 48XXXY; 49XXXXY; and perspective. We are all better offappreciation of our own biology. two sexes – me Tarzan, you 49XXXYY.” These variations are for appreciating, as James wrote “We still see a gap where Jane – limits understanding familiar to geneticists – the first long ago, that real life never doesnone exists,” Callahan writes, of our own biology” on the list, for instance, is known follow that straight-ruled path. ■“a mirage that shimmers over as Turner’s syndrome – but thethe hot land of sex.” He argues two that determine sex: XX general public is still stuck in a Deborah Blum is a professor ofinstead that there is a range of for female, XY for male. But, as black and white, XX/XY world. science journalism at the Universitysexual characteristics that Callahan points out, not everyone Much of Callahan’s book is spent of Wisconsin-Madison and author ofstretches from the testosterone- ends up 46XX or 46XY. exploring our understanding of Sex on the Brain: The biologicalinflated Tarzan to the womanly Variations in sperm or egg, in intersexuality, from the physicians differences between men and“perfection” of a stereotypical the mixing of cells from mother of ancient Greece to today’s women (Penguin, 1998)46 | NewScientist | 4 July 2009
    • For more reviews and to add your comments, visit www.NewScientist.com/books-art “A couple of years ago, as part of is his ultimately unconvincing a spectacular air-guitar leap off suggestion that we can avoid It ain’t worth the risk a desk during a triumphant routine for my high school’s debating the science altogether. As Craven himself realised after lip-synch contest…”) his first video, which he now Feeling exhausted by the global warming Freed from the 10-minute advises people not to watch, we debate? Here’s something to pep you up limitation of a YouTube video, cannot manage every conceivable Craven now goes far beyond risk risk. First, we need to know the management. He also explains probability the risk might actually the meantime, Craven believes we how to evaluate the credibility of be realised, which brings us What’s the Worst That Could Happen? should analyse the situation using sources, how to avoid the all-too- inevitably back into a scientific A rational response to the climate the tools of risk management. human trap of confirmation bias debate. That is precisely the point change debate by Greg Craven, Here, the answer is indisputable. in determining which arguments of Craven’s “mutant space Perigee, $14.95/£10.99 If we take strong action and global to trust, and how to think about hamsters” scenario: we don’t Reviewed by Chris Mooney warming turns out to be no big the nature of science – always defend the Earth against their TWO years ago, deal, we have needlessly incurred tentative, never certain. genocidal invasion because, well, Greg Craven was a serious economic cost. If we Craven’s schtick is “don’t just it’s a ridiculous threat. just a Red Bull- fail to take strong action and trust me, think for yourself”. Or This small flaw doesn’t make slamming high global warming turns out to be as he puts it: “I’m really just a Joe Craven’s book any less valuable. school science catastrophic, we have sacrificed Schmo science teacher.” His book teacher from the entire planet and everybody’s provides pages where the reader “This author really is an Independence, future. Clearly, inaction carries is supposed to jot down his or expert – one of a new Oregon, who the greater risk. her own thinking, and has two breed that didn’t exist wanted to do something about Such is the core argument that separate “conclusion” chapters, before the internet” global warming. Aiming to shake took Craven’s video viral on the one for the author’s conclusions, us out of our intellectual torpor, web in 2007. Now, 52 videos later, one for the reader’s. The truth, Indeed, I learned something from Craven made a YouTube flick he has used it as the basis for though, is that Craven really is it – an achievement I might have called “The Most Terrifying Video a book, which is essentially a an expert, just of a new breed that thought impossible given my You’ll Ever See”. It was watched by toolkit for thinking about global didn’t exist before the internet. In lengthy immersion in the climate millions, including you perhaps. warming – or rather, for avoiding the climate debate, I would rather debate. At the beginning of the Craven’s ingenious argument thinking wrongly about global trust Craven than industrial first chapter, Craven asks readers was that when it comes to global warming – enlivened by the same lobbyists or environmental to write down what it would take warming, the facts we fight over everyman charm and humour groups, and I doubt I am alone. to convince them they are wrong don’t actually matter. Far more that made Craven such a popular If his book has a weakness, it about climate change. My own important is that the experiment guide. (Who else would open a answer: I would change my mind is already running. We will see section about confirmation bias The results of letting climate change if there were a sudden reversal soon enough who is right, but in with an anecdote that begins: run riot are too awful to contemplate of opinion in the scientific community. If Craven could get everybody who has weighed in on this debate to go through a similar exercise, Al Gore should share his Nobel peace prize. In the end, that is Craven’s real lesson. Before we can be confident about anything, we need to understand our own failings. Or in his words: “Being humble about my understanding makes it less likely for the laws of physics to end up spanking me hard.” For anyone planning to enter the global warming shouting match, Craven’s book is an essential spanking-avoidance device. ■ERNST HAAS/GETTY Chris Mooney is co-author of Unscientific America: How scientific illiteracy threatens our future (Basic Books, 2009) 4 July 2009 | NewScientist | 47
    • For more reviews and to add your comments, visit www.NewScientist.com/books-art BOOKS & ARTS the secrets of the technique so that Otherworldly tales it can be used to determine the Smart companions Sum: Forty tales from the afterlives by David Eagleman, Canongate/ best dates for the D-Day landings. In Turbulence, Giles Foden Pantheon, £9.99/$20 keeps the pages turning through For your holiday reading, get stuck into some a character-driven though rather Reviewed by Liz Else compelling fiction inspired by science clunky plot for which the weather, FORTY afterlives: of course, forms a sympathetic the thought of one backdrop. Part of the fascinationVINCENT MIGEAT/AGENCE VU is quite enough, is Foden’s fictionalisation of Lewis yet as a literary Fry Richardson, on whom Ryman conceit it is is based. Years ahead of his time, beguiling. In Richardson tried to calculate the this collection of weather using a mathematical supershort tales, model of the atmosphere in an David Eagleman – neuroscientist era when forecasts were made by by day, dark chronicler by night – comparing the data with historical has turned himself into a David weather patterns. A feat, albeit Deutsch figure of the hereafter, with flaws, of fact-fuelled fiction. but with a multi-afterverse rather than a multiverse. Try the title story, where all Transcending biology your earthly experiences are The Embalmer’s Book of Recipes reshuffled into category order: by Ann Lingard, Indepenpress, £8.99 think 27 hours of continuous intense pain or six days clipping Reviewed by Michael Brooks your nails. My favourite, though, ANN LINGARD is “Mirrors” – the process of death skilfully weaves will never seem the same again. a handful of lives Icy dystopia Greek thriller Sum has been so well received, together into a from Philip Pullman’s “terrific” story that shows Far North by Marcel Theroux, Pythagoras’ Revenge by Arturo to Alan Lightman’s “provocative”, how people grow Farrar, Straus, and Giroux/Faber, Sangalli, Princeton University Press, you can smell a cult forming. to become much $25/£12.99 $24.95/£16.95 There was even a staging at the more than the sum Reviewed by Liz Else Reviewed by Sam Kean Sydney Opera House last month, of their biological parts. Lisa the 70,000 settlers DAN BROWN’s with an original score by Brian mathematician spends her life from the US and nerdier copycats Eno. Eagleman will find Sum helping others deal with her elsewhere have will be kicking a hard act to follow. achondroplasia. Madeleine, travelled to Siberia themselves. a sheep farmer, is coping with to make that most Pythagoras a facial disfigurement. Ruth has inhospitable of believed in the D-Day forecast given up nursing after being places their home. transmigration turned on to taxidermy by a Turbulence by Giles Foden, As climate change of the soul across mischievous elderly neighbour Faber, £16.99 had made the summers longer millennia, so why not let him who has secretly captured and and the winters milder, it seemed come back? He spoke in near Reviewed by Justin Mullins stuffed all the local cats. a smart alternative to the old, riddles and may have been IN WAR-TORN This engrossing and unusual crowded, decaying cities. assassinated, so there are plenty Britain of 1944, tale is a scientific window on the Yet this new dawn is more like of false leads to run down. Add an meteorologist soul. We are nothing more than a throwback sunset: in the face enigmatic, neo-Pythagorean cult Henry Meadows anatomy, but somehow living of disaster, civilisation’s fragile that is scouring the world for the is sent to a remote our life transcends the bounds attempts to build cities collapse reincarnation of The Master, his Scottish outpost of this biology. Occasionally, into slave camps, frontier-style identity revealed only in an to befriend Wallace though, life’s tragedies expose lawlessness and brutality. ancient document now in pieces, Ryman, a brilliant our flaws and limitations, and Far North is that unusual thing, and voila, you have a mathematical but reclusive scientist who is force us to think about what it a work of literary science fiction. thriller. Arturo Sangalli crams in thought to have developed a means to pass them on to the next It is The Handmaid’s Tale meets too many characters and almost weather forecasting technique generation. This novel highlights Huckleberry Finn and High Plains puts every clue in italics, but it is more accurate than anything something no embalmer can Drifter. This new twist on dystopia a catchy plot if you don’t mind known to Allied scientists. preserve: what it means to be is compellingly icy. diversions into number theory. Meadows’s mission is to glean an ordinary human being. 48 | NewScientist | 4 July 2009
    • For more feedback, visit www.NewScientist.com/feedback FEEDBACK operated by the company BAA, only come across a stash that a prehistoric to be confronted by a sign even more mammoth hunter had buried in the explicit than Durham’s “No Smoking Siberian tundra? outside these doors” (25 April). Greatly puzzled, we dug around “No smoking,” it proclaimed, before on the Bully Sticks pet food site, and clarifying: “It is against the law found to our disappointment that the to smoke either within or outside “mammoth bones” are merely “meaty this building.” beef femurs” for large dogs to gnaw. The colleague, a nicotinist of a In the process, however, we learned logical bent, went out anyway, in that the company’s namesake search of an exception to the Law product is something more exotic. of the Excluded Middle, the The home page states: “Bully Sticks philosophical principle that describes are 100 per cent bull penises. Not a how propositions that are not true tendon, and not processed meat must be false, with no wriggle-room. strips. Bully Sticks are dried, lightly And, indeed, amid a wasteland of smoked or natural flavor and slip roads and overhead walkways, delivered to your door. We never beneath a bleak “bus stop 5” sign, try to hide what they are by giving the colleague found a forlorn patch them little cute names.”PAUL MCDEVITT of pavement which could plausibly Though “Bully Sticks” isn’t exactly be claimed to be neither within nor a cute name, it hardly explains what outside the building – but was he they are, does it? defying BAA, Durham University, or another Authority? FEEDBACK is delighted to discover with tar. If the sailor missed a a product that we never knew we spot, the wood would rot and, needed: the “holiday detector”. the site says, it was said that “the A SURPRISINGLY large number You may well ask, as we initially sailor must have taken a holiday of Feedback readers have passed did, why anyone would need at that point”. The term was through Adelaide airport in such a device. The symptoms extended to paint on steel South Australia. How do we of a holiday were, we naively masts and on pipelines, and know this? Because of the signs thought, fairly readily observed: then to cable insulation. in the airport toilets. Each time the computer is turned off, the Elsewhere on the same site, a Feedback reader sees one, they shovels are in the shed, the eternal Trevor Harley tells us, is the even send us an email about it – and we flame on the lab bench has gone more wonderfully named “Wet have now had more emails about out – and there may well be Sponge Holiday Detector”. them than about any other signs unaccustomed sand and/or The Concise Oxford English in the world. scenery nearby. Dictionary knoweth this not, nor Jack Gilding was the first. We FINALLY, an offer that National Unless you are an engineer, the online dictionaries we’ve published a note about his email Geographic sent to Andris pipeline or power grid worker, checked. We look forward to its on 24 June 2006. Since then there Veilands told him that in return that is. If you are, you will know inclusion, and we’re obtaining have been many more. The latest for a subscription he would receive how valuable a holiday detector a holiday detector detector to arrived last week from Catherine a digital camera and a “full size can be. tell us when that happens. Bone, who sent us a photo of the world map”. One of the many manufacturers sign in the ladies toilet, a printed “Best of all,” the offer went provides an explanation, at www. version of which now adorns on, in daft wording typical of this holidaydetector.notlong.com. DURHAM University in the UK is Feedback’s desk. In line with all type of marketing, “both of these The term, it says, “dates back to not the only institution to claim the previous descriptions of the fantastic items are FREE when the days of the great wooden jurisdiction over the entire cosmos. signs, it says: “Adelaide Airport we receive your payment.” sailing ships”. One of the most A colleague of Feedback’s arrived at Limited uses recycled water for However, Andris has decided important among sailors’ duties that very lovely gateway to London, toilet flushing – DO NOT DRINK.” to decline the offer because he was to seal the mast of the ship Heathrow Airport’s Terminal 1, doesn’t think his house is big enough to display the map. FEEDBACK doesn’t often click on ads, but a Google ad for “Mammoth Eliot Attridge wants to know why the London bones” on the Science Daily site did You can send stories to Feedback by Grid for Learning web portal won’t let him view pique our curiosity: “Our mammoth email at feedback@newscientist.com. bones average 14-16 in. Covered Please include your home address. the Amateur Entomologist Society’s web page with meat, smoked, natural. www. This week’s and past Feedbacks can on moths and butterflies, labelling it “occult” bullysticks.com.” Had somebody be seen on our website. 68 | NewScientist | 4 July 2009
    • Last words past and present, plus questions, atTHE LAST WORD www.last-word.comThinking person’s the internal pressure of the ■ A common misconception Baron Pierre de Coubertin, the package. As long as the seals are about the origin of the modern founder of the modern Olympics,crumpet intact, the differential in pressure elliptical running track is that fancied himself as a classicalA little while ago we froze a packet means the packaging contracts. it was based on the running track scholar and it is possible thatof those pancake-like products that The lack of spoilage in the product at the original ancient Olympic he was influenced by ancientin these parts we call crumpets. At is an indication that the seals are games. In fact, the running track pictorial evidence into assumingthe time, the sealed plastic packet intact and the integrity of the for the prestige foot race (the that there was some aesthetic orseemed to contain a lot of air, but product remains unaffected. stade) in the main ancient traditional reason why racesafter four months in our freezer it Claire Minzey Panhellenic athletic festivals was should be run anticlockwise.had contracted tightly against the Clarion Communications almost invariably straight. Maya Daviscrumpets, which had also shrunk. London, UK What was more or less elliptical, Brighton, UKAfter two more months at room however, was the hippodromos,temperature, the whole package Round and round or chariot-racing track, and the ■ I’m a runner (of no greatappeared to have shrunk still shape of this was copied by the talent) whose body is slightlyfurther, though with no sign of Athletics races are always run Romans for the main racetrack larger on the left side. My leftmould or decay. The ingredients are anticlockwise. Does this favour in Rome, the circus maximus. leg is, therefore, slightly longerlisted as flour, water, yeast, raising particular runners? Races could This was roughly rectangular – it than my right, so I wouldagents, E450, E500, salt, sugar, surely be run either way, so why had two long straight sides with appreciate it if running trackspreservative, calcium propionate. never clockwise? semicircular ends. were reversed. They could evenWhat’s going on? Illustrations of four-horse alternate, say every 10 years. I’m ■ A race is like an unfolding drama chariot races from the Roman sure that I would be faster in aOur thanks to Warburtons, and, as the Olympic tradition was period show that races were run clockwise direction. By the way,the company that made these begun by people who read from anticlockwise. The most likely horse racetracks in Melbourne,crumpets, for the following – Ed left to right, it would have been reason for this was the way in Australia, are anticlockwise but more natural for spectators to see which the horses were controlled. in Sydney they’re clockwise.■ Warburtons crumpets are a athletes passing in the same The charioteer needed to control Terry Lshort shelf-life, high-moisture direction. Given that dignitaries the reins of the two outer horses By email, no address suppliedproduct and as such, are would have been sitting close to of the four. It was very importantparticularly susceptible to food the finish line, it appears that the to ensure that the length of the rein ■ Motor races tend to be ancient Greek hippodrome was of the outer horse in particular clockwise, except in the US where“The crumpets are packed designed for anticlockwise racing. was controlled as effectively as oval racing is prevalent and then in carbon dioxide to stop The convention was sustained possible when the chariot rounded they are anticlockwise. What this spoilage, and over time it is by the Romans, but clockwise the turning post. Evidence from tells us, however, I have no idea. absorbed by the product” racing has had its devotees too. the ancient world suggests that Thomas Keaton Races at the University of Oxford there was a bias in favour of São Paulo, Brazilspoilage organisms. The product were run clockwise until 1948 and right-handedness, just as today,is packaged in a carbon dioxide ceased even more recently at the and an anticlockwise race This week’s questionenvironment to extend the shelf University of Cambridge. Races at direction would obviously favourlife and to protect the crumpets the modern Olympic games were the right-handed charioteer. EAR WIGGLINGagainst microbial spoilage, run clockwise until 1906, when When the modern Olympic I am fortunate enough to be ableparticularly aerobic organisms. some countries complained that games were devised, longer to wiggle my ears. However, I can Over time, the carbon dioxide they had already adopted the races were introduced. The most only wiggle both at once, not onegas is absorbed by the liquid in the anticlockwise convention. economical way of creating a track at a time. Why?product, and as it takes up less Mike Follows suitable for a range of distances is Peter Slessengerspace in liquid form this reduces Willenhall, West Midlands, UK to have a circular or elliptical one. Reading, Berkshire, UK Questions and answers should be concise. New Scientist retains total editorial control We reserve the right to edit items for clarity and style. Include a daytime telephone over the content of The Last Word. Send questions and answers to The Last Word, Do Polar Bears number and email address if you have one. Restrict questions to scientific New Scientist, Lacon House, 84 Theobald’s Road, London WC1X 8NS, UK, by email to Get Lonely? enquiries about everyday phenomena. lastword@newscientist.com or visit A brand new collection - The writers of published answers will www.last-word.com (please include a ight serious enquiry, brilliant insight receive a cheque for £25 (or US$ postal address in order to receive payment cted and the hilariously unexpected equivalent). Reed Business Information Ltd for answers). reserves all rights to reuse question and For a list of all unanswered questions Available from booksellers answer material submitted by readers in send an SAE to LWQlist at the above m/ and at www.newscientist.com/ any medium or format. address. polarbears