Today's news

October 27, 2004

Gene tests prove we are all the same under the skin
The notion that skin colour can indicate physical or mental differences between groups of people has been demolished by analysis of the human genome, which declares race to be a biologically meaningless concept. Every human being shares more than 99.9 per cent of their DNA with everybody else, and the tiny variations that remain differ more within ethnic groups than between them, a major review of the evidence organised by Howard University in Washington DC, says.

Computer games can help children learn
Far from being an obesity-inducing, violence-promoting threat to society, the computer games being played in bedrooms across the country during half-term can be used in the classroom to help children learn concepts such as critical appreciation of narrative structure or character development that they might otherwise study in a novel, say academics at London University's Institute of Education.

Researchers target natural speech
The development of a new "language" to describe the way we talk could help overseas students develop a more natural command of English, according to a booklet published by the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority this week. Ronald Carter of Nottingham University whose work provided the foundation for the project, said the development of a "grammar of talk" was necessary because spoken language is often very different from written language.

Minority subjects face cull in Scotland
More than a third of Scottish Advanced Highers, in addition to dozens of Highers, including Italian, Russian, politics and even Gaelic, could be scrapped within the next three years after a review of their low take-up. The Scottish Executive and the SQA insisted that the aim was to broaden and not reduce choice for pupils, by providing more subjects that were relevant to young people. John Usher, professor of Italian at Edinburgh University, said that he was sad about the demise of modern languages in Scottish schools but admitted that universities had given up on schools teaching Italian.

Monkey uses brain to control false arm
A monkey has learned to feed itself using an artificial arm controlled by thought alone. The research, by scientists at the University of Pittsburgh, was announced yesterday at the Society of Neuroscience conference in San Diego. The findings suggest that similar technology could give amputees and people paralysed by spinal cord injuries false arms controlled directly by their brains as if they were part of the body. Times

Stress makes your pet fret, says vet study
Scientists at Edinburgh University have found that the pressures of shared living bring sensitive felines down with stress-related illness. The biggest source of anxiety is a rival cat in the house, but moving home, the arrival of a baby and not venturing outside were stressful. One cat was made ill by the constant noise from low-flying aircraft.
Guardian, Times, Independent

Amateur archaeologists unearth 47,000 treasures
The Portable Antiquities Scheme, the nation's largest community archaeological project created two years ago, published a report of finds yesterday. The items found range from prehistoric axes to a Roman gold lamella plaque bearing a magical inscription, and a precious coin that the Roman emperor Nero had inscribed with Jupiter's name after surviving an assassination attempt. While treasure items account for less than 1 per cent of the total number of objects found, Mark Wood, chairman of the Museums, Libraries and Archives council, which manages the PAS, said the hobby provided great emotional dividends for those who got lucky.
Independent, Guardian

Don't sell our lost treasure on eBay, BM begs
The British Museum pleaded yesterday with the internet auction company eBay to stop selling ancient artefacts unearthed by people who have apparently failed to report their discoveries under the Treasure Act. The plea coincides with news of an explosion of interest in archaeology, with more than 47,000 ancient artefacts being dug up by members of the public last year. eBay has told the British Museum that it will not remove an object from its website unless it can be proved to fall within the criteria of the Treasure Act, primarily that the objects are gold or silver and older than 300 years, that it was dug up after the Treasure Act came into effect in September 1997, and that it comes from this country.

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