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  • 20th June, 2011

    Open Source Water Clarification Technology

    by guest at 4:43 pm    

    This is a guest post by Jeremy Fordham. Jeremy is an engineer and advocate of process optimization and renewable energy.

    The developing world occupies an often- misunderstood and scary place in the grand scheme of global progress. It harbours connotations of rampant disease, economic stagnation, even death. If we strip this term of its comparative fabric and Western bias, however, we can see that “developing countries” aren’t that different from developed ones. For instance, in a developing country people have the same basic human needs as in a developed country, needs like access to clean water and a consistent supply of food. Despite the combined efforts of many organizations to promote education and technological development in these underrepresented places, progress has been slow. Millions of children still die every year from diarrhea induced by contaminated drinking water. To anyone who has ever had filtered tap water from their kitchen sink, this is—and should be—quite an absurd statistic.

    Open source sustainability is a philosophy that relies on promoting organic growth in regions with insufficient resources. The idea here is that if a community is given a system that affordably increases its standard of living, support for that system will grow internally and ultimately spark widespread proliferation.. Many engineers across the world have taken this concept and given it new life, especially in the realm of water clarification. And while it isn’t mass scale, every major ideology germinates from proud and successful examples.

    The Abundant Water project planted its roots back in 2007, when an Australian engineer named Sunny Forsyth realized the water clarity crisis while touring Laos. He eventually came up with the brilliant idea of working with local potters to create low-cost clay pot filters that eliminate up to 95 percent of pathogenic microorganisms from clean drinking water. By teaching local potters in Laos how to create these filters, the Abundant Water project simultaneously improves the region’s quality of life while also giving that region the ability to sustain the concept.

    Continue Reading...
    Filed under: Science
    16th June, 2011

    Nice work if you can get it

    by Rumbold at 9:23 am    

    Glad to see that neurosurgeons and researchers are being kept busy in Germany:

    Academics have carried out a detailed analysis of the 700 head injuries suffered by characters in the Asterix comic books, in a paper published by a respected medical journal…

    The researchers, led by Marcel Kamp at Heinrich Heine University in Düsseldorf, conclude: “The favourable outcome is astonishing, since outcome of traumatic brain injury in the ancient world is believed to have been worse than today and also since no diagnostic or therapeutic procedures were performed.”

    Their paper, published in the official journal of the European Association of Neurosurgical Socities, known as Acta Neurochirurgica, sets out with no apparent irony their aim to “analyse the epidemiology and specific risk factors of traumatic brain injury in the Asterix illustrated comic books”.

    Filed under: Humour,Science
    7th June, 2011

    Reducing demand for abortion

    by Rumbold at 12:59 pm    

    Yesterday, a meeting was held to oppose Nadine Dorries’ agenda, which includes female-only abstinence classes and further restrictions on abortion. Campaigners also wanted to further liberalise abortion services in Britain, particularly in Northern Ireland. A number of interesting points emerged from the debates (I didn’t attend), but what it is notable is that debate on abortion tends to focus almost exclusively on the supply side; at what point can a woman have an abortion, what she needs to go through to get it, and so forth. This is understandable, but it does polarise the debate, since on one side you have people who believe you are killing a human being and on the other people who feel you are interfering with a woman’s right to choose.

    These positions are unlikely to change, but there is a way to please both sides, and that is reducing demand for abortion. To do this you first have to work out why women have abortions. Though there can be a number of reasons, two of the most common are not using contraception and women being pressured into sex. Therefore the way to deal with this, as Cath Elliot pointed out a while ago, is to increase contraceptive use amongst men and help women escape domestically violent situations. Thus you have less unwanted pregnancies and so less demand for abortions.

    Who could object to this? Campaigners for liberalising access to abortion don’t actually enjoying the thought of abortions, so a reduction in demand wouldn’t be seen as a bad thing, as well as rescuing more women from abusive relationships. For those who genuinely think it murder, they should also support a plan that would see a reduction in the number of abortions. The only people who would object are the misogynists, who see abortion as a way to control women, and view sex education and promoting contraceptive use amongst men as immoral, but they wouldn’t be able to hide behind the excuse of protecting the unborn anymore.

    30th May, 2011

    Geneticist warns of dangers of cousin marriage

    by Rumbold at 11:59 am    

    Professor Steve Jones, a highly respected geneticist, has warned about the dangers of inbreeding. Using Bradford as an example, he pointed out that 75% of Pakistanis in Bradford marry their cousins:

    ‘There may be some evidence that cousins marrying one another can be harmful,’ he told an audience at the Hay Festival.

    ‘We should be concerned about that as there can be a lot of hidden genetic damage. Children are much more likely to get two copies of a damaged gene. ‘Bradford is very inbred. There is a huge amount of cousins marrying each other there.’

    The problem occurs not as a result of a one off marriage between cousins, but rather through persistent inbreeding.

    He was criticised by Mohammed Shafiq of the Ramadhan Foundation:

    ‘I know many Muslims who have married their cousins and none of them have had a problem with their children. ‘Obviously, we don’t want any children to be born disabled who don’t need to be born disabled, so I would advise genetic screening before first cousins marry.

    ‘But I find Steve Jones’s comments unworthy of a professor. Using language like “inbreeding” to describe cousins marrying is completely inappropriate and further demonises Muslims.’

    Continue Reading...
    23rd August, 2010

    Dispatches: when cousins marry

    by Rumbold at 9:24 pm    

    Dispatches today broadcast an investigation into first cousin marriages in the UK. The focus was on the British Pakistani community, where first cousin marriages are most prevalent. British Pakistanis make up around 1.5% of the population, but children born in this country to British Pakistanis account for around 33% of rare recessive genetic disorders. British Pakistani children are three times more likely to have learning difficulties. First cousin marriages in isolation don’t have a massive effect, but when they happen more than once the consequences can be severe, and this is the issue facing many British Pakistanis today.

    Tazeen Ahmad, the presenter, was of British Pakistani stock and has a history of genetic disorder in her family; her grandparents were first cousins, three of her uncles were born deaf and five of her aunties died in their first few years. Ms. Ahmad focused on attitudes to first cousin marriage, why it was happening and what could be done about it.

    There are a number of reasons for first cousin marriages continuing, despite the research into the genetic impact. Standard cultural ones include keeping property within the family, familiarity with one’s intended spouse and strengthening bonds between different branches. Younger British Pakistanis confessed to pressure and emotional blackmail when it came to cousin marriage, with the izzat (‘honour’) of the family being stressed.

    Yet the interviews also revealed a high level of denial and ignorance. First cousins who married (somewhat understandably) refused to accept that this could have been the reason for their children’s disability, blaming instead fate or Western medicine. Others pointed to non-disabled children as the result of cousin marriages as evidence that there was no link, and kept insisting that there was no information available on the subject. One religious ‘scholar’ refused point blank to consider any medical evidence, then repeatedly claimed he was not aware of any evidence. One man said simply: “why wouldn’t you want to marry your cousin?”

    Continue Reading...
    23rd February, 2010

    Autism in girls

    by Rumbold at 8:18 pm    

    The Independent reports that autism, traditonally seen as a much more male condition, might be more common in girls than previously realised:

    Autism is an overwhelmingly male diagnosis – it has been described as the “extreme male brain”. Boys with the diagnosis outnumber girls by between 10 and 15 to one…

    But in the developing story of autism – interest in which has increased hugely in the last decade – girls have been neglected. That omission will be remedied this week with the first conference on autistic spectrum disorders in women and girls. One aim will be to examine whether the condition has been underdiagnosed in females – and what links there may be with eating disorders.

    According to Janet Treasure, professor of psychiatry at the Institute of Psychiatry, King’s College, London, around a fifth of girls diagnosed with anorexia have autistic spectrum features and 20 to 30 per cent may have exhibited rigidity and perfectionism in childhood. Anorexia has been called the female Asperger’s (the mild version of autism).

    8th November, 2009

    Should Baby RB Live or Die?

    by guest at 11:55 am    

    This is a guest post by Sarah Ismail. Sarah blogs here.

    A one year old baby boy, who can be known only as Baby RB for legal reasons, was born with a rare genetic condition called congenital myasthenic syndrome and has been in hospital since birth.

    Now, the hospital wants to withdraw Baby RB’s life support, because they claim that his quality of life is so low that it would not be in his best interests to try to save him. So his parents are going to the High Court- with his mother reported to be supporting the hospital’s bid. The parents are ‘amicably separated’ but both are reported to have spent long periods of time at their son’s bedside.

    The father’s lawyers argue that Baby RB’s brain is not affected. He can see, hear and interact, and enjoys listening to music and being read to. They are submitting footage to the court, which they say show’s Baby RB playing with his toys. Christopher Cuddihee, a solicitor acting for the father, told The Sunday Telegraph: “This is a tragic case. The father feels very strongly that Baby RB has a quality of life that demands the trust should continue to provide life-sustaining treatment. “The father clearly adores his son and hopes to demonstrate to the court that the trust’s application should be rejected.”

    Now for my reactions to this case. I just can’t believe that the hospital would even consider withdrawing the life support, especially when you consider that people with Baby RB’s condition ‘can expect to live a relatively normal life with medication,’ according to BBC News. Yes, Baby RB appears to be severely affected by his condition, but the most important thing to remember is that this is not his fault. He did not ask to be born with his condition, and I certainly don’t think he deserves to die as a result of it.

    Continue Reading...
    Filed under: Disability,Science
    2nd November, 2009

    Mixed-race genetics

    by Rumbold at 1:16 pm    

    Dr. Aarathi Prasad’s programme, Is It Better to be Mixed Race?, airs tonight at 8:00pm on Channel 4. In a preview article for the Sunday Telegraph, Dr. Prasad, a geneticist, writes about the science behind mixed-race people and asks whether or not their genetic diversity is beneficial:

    So are these differences significant and, more to the point, are they significant enough so that when they are brought together, there might be tangible benefits for people who are mixed-race? The answer from some scientists who still do what could be called “racial science” appears to be yes on both counts. Dr Mark Shriver, who studies human origins at Penn State University, is interested in ancestry, variations in skin and hair colour, facial features and height….

    Shriver’s work has uncovered something else that is very interesting. He finds that mixed-race people are more symmetrical than the rest of us, and being more symmetrical translates into being more attractive, having less infection, being less stressed, and having greater genetic diversity. Professor Bill Amos at Cambridge University has also been studying the genetic basis of human disease. He finds that in humans, an individual’s level of genetic diversity can predict with astonishing accuracy how likely they are to survive parasites and infectious disease. In a recent study in Kenya, he found that low levels of diversity were strongly associated with death before the age of five.

    Continue Reading...
    Filed under: Science
    24th August, 2009

    Shisha could be as dangerous as cigarettes

    by Rumbold at 11:56 am    

    Although this is only one study, it is interesting:

    “Shisha is an Arabic water-pipe in which fruit-scented tobacco is burnt using coal, passed through an ornate water vessel and inhaled through a hose.

    The Centre for Tobacco Control Research said it was difficult to know exactly how much carbon monoxide one cigarette produced, due to the differences in smokers’ inhalations.

    But measuring carbon monoxide in exhaled breath showed a normal non-smoker’s level to be three parts CO per million parts of air (ppm) (3% of blood not working properly), a light smoker to have 10-20% of blood not working properly, and a heavy smoker 30-40%.”

    I suppose it will give the anti-smoking people something to do. Designing new posters, calling for film scenes with shisha to be rated 18+, and walking around the streets badgering people about their habits.

    Filed under: Science
    13th August, 2009

    A new wave of malaria?

    by Rumbold at 9:13 pm    

    Johann Hari highlights a worrying development in Cambodia:

    “Up until this year, the world was making remarkable progress in whittling down this disease. Since the year 2000, seven of the worst-afflicted countries in sub-Saharan Africa have slashed malaria-deaths by 50 percent. It has a great knock0on effect too: for every £1 spent on malaria prevention, Africa gains £12 in economic growth, because people can work instead of lying sick and dying. It was a sign that aid, matched by good African government, can produce inspirational results.

    But then something began to change – at first imperceptibly – in the forgotten forests of Western Cambodia, where the Khmer Rouge held their last stand-off. The drug that is most effective at treating malaria is called artemisinin: it shocks the parasite out of your system and saves your life. But in South-East Asia, horrified doctors have discovered that the malaria parasite is becoming resistant to it. In a Darwinian arms race, it has begun to evolve a way to beat the treatment. It is taking twice as long to work – and soon it will have defeated the medicine altogether.”

    Filed under: Science
    28th June, 2009

    Going to atheist camp

    by Rumbold at 12:59 pm    


    “GIVE Richard Dawkins a child for a week’s summer camp and he will try to give you an atheist for life…

    The five-day camp in Somerset (motto: “It’s beyond belief”) is for children aged eight to 17 and will rival traditional faith-based breaks run by the Scouts and church groups.

    Budding atheists will be given lessons to arm themselves in the ways of rational scepticism. There will be sessions in moral philosophy and evolutionary biology along with more conventional pursuits such as trekking and tug-of-war.”

    This doesn’t seem particularly problematic to me. We already have camps with religious themes, while the children are just there to have fun and marshmallows, so won’t really care what they are being told. However, it will give more ammunition to those who accuse Richard Dawkins (and others) of turning atheism into a religion.

    Filed under: Religion,Science
    15th June, 2009

    Can Obama use ‘science diplomacy’ to promote peace in the Middle East?

    by guest at 9:01 am    

    this is a guest post by Yasmin Khan

    In a recent blog entry I alluded to the prospect of utilizing science diplomacy to help promote world peace. Following President Barack Obama’s ground-breaking speech in Cairo, it now seems that dormant rhetoric will soon be put into imminent action.

    Intentions to support scientific initiatives in the Islamic world as part of Obama’s vision for promoting peaceful relations between the United States and countries with a Muslim majority were revealed, as highlighted in David Bruggeman’s recent blog entry on Science Diplomacy and the Cairo Address.

    It seemed too good to be true a couple of months ago when Dr. Vaughan Turekian, Chief International Officer for AAAS and Director for the Center for Science Diplomacy, foretold in his talk at Harvard how a new era of science diplomacy might be afoot.

    Continue Reading...
    25th April, 2009

    Science and skin colour

    by Rumbold at 9:08 am    

    Most people don’t believe that others are biologically inferior because of the colour of their skin. However, you do get a few racists, like Charles Murray, who try and claim some link between (for example), intelligence and skin colour. In a neat article, Gracchi highlights these misconceptions and lies, and explains why they are scientifically unsound:

    “The heart of this is an argument that scientifically the concept of large races- based on geographical units and imagined cultural communities- make about as much sense as the sun circling the earth does, and it is based on the same kind of data- not scientific proof or experiment but the supposition that an apparant distinction (skin colour in this case) is a real one. What goes on above the skin, as Stephen Jones argues, doesn’t tell you much about what goes on below.”

    Filed under: Race politics,Science
    21st October, 2008

    Taking tissue samples without consent

    by Rumbold at 2:50 pm    

    There has been much written about the upcoming vote on the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill, especially about the proposal to liberalise abortion further in Northern Ireland. Sarah however has spotted a little-discussed government amendment, which, if passed, raises a serious issue of medical ethics (ironically a restriction of same right that the government wishes to defend; namely the right of a person to decide what happens to their own body).

    If the amendment is passed, tissue samples for creating human/animal embroys can be taken from people who are not considered mentally capable of making their own decisions. Now, obviously there are some areas (such as financial ones), in which it is right for carers/relatives to have a degree of control, as that might be the only practical situation. I cannot, however, see any rationale for this. As Sarah points out:

    Leading learning disability charities said they knew little about this amendment to the Bill, which has, not surprisingly, received very little publicity… if this amendment to the Bill is passed on Wednesday, it will not only sweep away 25 years of progress in medical ethics. It will also sweep away too many years of hard work by Disability Rights campaigners to convince the mainstream world that we are human, too, and that they should do Nothing About Us, Without Us.

    22nd September, 2008

    Barack Obama on Race & IQ (From 1994)

    by Shariq at 3:00 pm    

    Via Andrew Sullivan, Razib at Gene Expression has posted this speech which Obama gave in 1994. Its not that long so I’m posting the whole thing after the jump because it sums up my views on this. I will say though that I think Obama is being unfair when he accuses Charles Murray of racism.

    I think that Murray is one of those rare thinkers who put forward these opinions because he was genuinely searching for the truth. For instance Obama argues against welfare reform which Murray also propagated, but which according to a lot of serious people has played a big role in getting black people in the inner cities out of poverty. The fact it hasn’t been accompanied with health care reform is another matter.

    Also in Murray’s favour is the fact that he was one of the few right-wing thinkers/pundits who saw the brilliance# in Obama’s post Rev. Wright speech on Race.

    My review of John McWhorter’s book, ‘Losing the Race’ is also relevant. Anyways, the speech is after the jump.

    Continue Reading...
    10th September, 2008

    Why scientists shouldn’t rap…

    by Sunny at 10:03 am    

    Today is the big day people!!! If the scientists in Switzerland at CERN get anything right, we won’t get sucked by a massive black hole. It’s a funny video though… that’s something I suppose.

    Filed under: Humour,Science
    8th September, 2008

    Will we all die on Wednesday?

    by Sunny at 5:24 am    

    Ok, so its a bit of a tablody headline… *cough*… but you never know?
    On Wednesday:

    The most powerful physics experiment ever built, the Large Hadron Collider will re-create the conditions just after the Big Bang in an attempt to answer fundamental questions of science and the universe itself.

    Tabloidy headlines aside, the scientists say that nothing big can theoretically be destroyed. But who belives in scientists eh? Certainly not Sarah Palin and she may be the American Vice President soon.
    Look out for a flurry of similar headlines in tomorrow’s papers. Let’s hope they know what they’re doing. A good BBC piece on the whole experiment is here.

    Filed under: Humour,Science
    4th August, 2008

    Reasons why China will be a superpower (pt 20345)

    by Sunny at 12:50 am    

    Angela Saini points out that:

    Physics World has reported that physics in China is booming. Chinese scientists now publish more papers than the UK and Germany. In fact, at the current rate, by 2012 it will be churning out more physics articles than the entire number of science articles published by US researchers.

    Werner Marx, an information scientist from the Max Planck Institute in Germany, said, “Usually scientific development in nations does not show such a strong acceleration as we have seen in China, so it will be interesting to see how it responds and develops in the future.”

    Well, it won’t take a rocket scientist to figure out what the impact of that strong acceleration will be. By the way, Angela is a friend and a new blogger, writing mostly about science. Go check out her blog.

    30th July, 2008

    So, who wants nuclear power then?

    by Sunny at 4:55 am    

    Justin has started blogging for a new blog by Greenpace about nuclear power, called Nuclear Reaction. I contribute monthly to Greenpeace anyway, so happy to give it a plug. But his introductory post states this:

    With nuclear, not a day goes by without a jaw-dropping news item. The industry news is chock full of ‘NO WAY!’ moments. Much of it is darkly, surreally comedic. If you were to write a sitcom that involved some of the nuclear incidents I’ve blogged in the last few weeks, the show would bomb as too far-fetched.

    Continue Reading...
    27th May, 2008

    Know your limits

    by Rumbold at 12:19 pm    

    By now some of you might have seen the government’s new £10 million campaign highlighting the number of alcoholic units in drinks, which was launched because it was felt that people were underestimating the level of alcohol that they were consuming. Larger glasses and stronger beers and wines have become increasingly common, and this was an attempt to get people to estimate their consumption correctly.

    There are two problems with this campaign.

    Continue Reading...
    19th January, 2008

    You’ve got to be kidneying me

    by Rohin at 3:17 am    

    A straw poll on your views about this tricky ethical issue please.

    Gordon Brown recently brought the subject of transplants back into the news by supporting a similar system to the Spanish, who have the highest organ transplant rate in the world. The system is effectively an ‘opt-out’ arrangement and deceased patients with no specific instructions are ‘presumed’ to have given consent for their organs to be used.

    The argument for:

    More and more patients are dying on transplant waiting lists. Many of these people are young, with congenital conditions like cystic fibrosis, primary liver cancer or autoimmune kidney disease meaning they need new hearts, lungs, livers and kidneys. Less people are dying in road traffic accidents due to improved road safety, but this results in a decreasing source of healthy organs.

    Continue Reading...
    Filed under: Culture,Science
    6th November, 2007

    A nuclear Britain

    by Rumbold at 8:14 pm    

    Gordon Brown seems to be heading for a big increase in nuclear power:

    “The plans, part of Gordon Brown’s first programme as PM, are said to be aimed at cutting carbon emissions and getting the best energy mix for the UK.

    It would be for the private sector to initiate, fund, construct and operate new nuclear plants and cover costs of decommissioning and waste management.”

    What do people think about this? Is this our only option if we want to cut down on oil and gas, or is it too dangerous?

    25th October, 2007

    Progressives on population

    by Rumbold at 3:02 pm    

    Boris Johnson has an article in today’s Daily Telegraph on overpopulation in the world and how policy makers are ignoring the potential consequences:

    Continue Reading...
    18th October, 2007

    Reverse transcriptplease? (updated)

    by Rohin at 2:47 am    

    Science legend, James Watson, who won the Nobel for discovering DNA along with Francis Crick and Maurice Wilkins, has put his double helix in his mouth:

    The 79-year-old geneticist said he was “inherently gloomy about the prospect of Africa” because “all our social policies are based on the fact that their intelligence is the same as ours - whereas all the testing says not really.”. He said he hoped that everyone was equal, but countered that “people who have to deal with black employees find this not true”. [Link]

    Yikes. The Science Museum has cancelled his forthcoming sell-out speech. I can’t disagree with their decision, they explained they do not shy away from controversy but in this regard he had “gone beyond the point of acceptable debate”. Let’s take a closer look.

    Continue Reading...
    30th October, 2006

    Talking To God…

    by Leon at 4:50 pm    

    This has been around for some time and it’s a real favourite of mine. It’s a conversation with God. It’s not real (or could be depending on your point of view) but it’s always food for thought and a good conversation starter. It’s a touch long but worth a read, enjoy.

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