Today's news

July 16, 2004

Academia gangs up on Griff Rhys Jones
Griff Rhys Jones is the victim of what can only be described as a smear campaign from within the academic community. Various literary worthies are upset that the chirpy comedian has been chosen to open Cambridge University's new English faculty in September.

10-year plan poses threat to autonomy
Universities will have to give the Government a year's notice before closing struggling departments, the Treasury announced this week as part of its long-awaited ten-year investment plan for science. The move suggests a more interventionist role for higher education funding chiefs and the first steps towards a national plan for subject provision - prompting accusations that the Government is encroaching on university autonomy.
Times Higher  

Merton scores a hat-trick
Merton College has scored an academic hat-trick by retaining its position as Oxford University's top college for the third successive year. It finished well ahead of the rest of the pack in the annual Norrington table of students’ degree awards, with more first-class degrees than any other college in the university.

National consultation on designer babies
An unprecedented nationwide consultation on the genetic testing of embryos and babies in the womb is to be launched today by the Human Genetics Commission. The three-month consultation seeks to draw out public views on new developments in genetic science, such as the screening of embryos for genetic disorders and the prospect of "designer babies". To mark the launch, the HGC has produced a discussion document outlining what it sees as the major issues at stake and associated societal and ethical implications.

The weather can really be a headache
Many migraine sufferers believe their headaches are brought on by the weather, but the scientific evidence is contradictory. Research from the New England Centre for Headache in Connecticut, published this week in the journal Headache , suggests that about half of migraine patients really are affected by the weather - although not usually in the way they think. Although the study does not solve the puzzle of the relationship between headaches and weather, it is a step towards identifying migraine triggers.
Financial Times

Crash mission to deflect asteroid announced
Europe's space chiefs have backed a suicide mission which will end in a head-on collision with an approaching asteroid. The European Space Agency's near-Earth object advisory panel has recommended high priority for a Spanish mission to smash into a distant asteroid. With international cooperation, the first mission to attempt deflecting an asteroid could be launched between 2010 and 2015.

Birds can wing it without sleep
Results of a US study, published in the journal PLoS Biology , suggest that migratory birds have a seasonal sleep cycle that enables them to survive on brief but intense periods of sleep while resting during migrations. Understanding the mechanism may eventually help to treat human sleep disorders.
Financial Times

British men have sweeter tooth than women
Men are the big consumers of chocolate as women turn to healthier snacks, according to research by Mintel. Three in five men snack on chocolate, compared with half of women. Women replace crisps, biscuits, and chocolate with fruit, nuts and vegetables.
Daily Telegraph

Obituary : Agatha Ramm, the diplomatic historian and tutor whose books on Gladstone illuminated the understanding of 19th-century politics, died on July 13, 2004, aged 90. Times

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