Today's news

November 8, 2004

Historians fear crank calls over freedom act
Fears are growing that a flood of requests from cranks and obsessives seeking information will prevent civil servants from dealing with normal inquiries from historians and other academics trying to pursue their studies. The Government has made no extra money available for the introduction of the Freedom of Information Act's full measures on January 1. Richard Aldrich of Nottingham University told a meeting of historians and civil servants last week: "There is a real concern among historians that insufficient resources are being made available, especially to deal with requests for information that does not exist. Freedom of information is open to everybody, of course, which means it is open to use or misuse by lobby groups such as those who are interested in UFOs or the Royal Household or suchlike."
Daily Telegraph

73,000 students stranded without loans
More than 70,000 students have not received their statutory loans and are in danger of failing their degrees as they neglect their studies to try to earn some money. Ministers are now demanding daily progress reports in an attempt to see if the payments will speed up. Nearly one in ten undergraduates has not been paid by the Student Loans Company since the start of the term about three months ago. But the Glasgow-based company has insisted that everyone who applied on time has been paid and that over the past week alone it received 1,000 new applications.

Plundered treasures of ancient world end up on London market
Ninety per cent of the major archaeological sites in Pakistan and Iran have been looted and the spoils are flooding into London, a leading British archaeologist said yesterday. Robin Coningham, professor of archaeology at the University of Bradford, conducted a six-year survey of the ancient sites in the region. There are up to 100 London dealers specialising in Asian material. Although Professor Coningham acknowledges the responsible individuals who sell objects from bona fide collections, he is alarmed by the amount of new material without any excavation details.

Promiscuous women have men by the balls
Scientists claim to have discovered the reason that men's testicles are the size that they are: it's all to do with the infidelity of our female ancestors. A study of the evolution of sperm in primates by a team at the University of Chicago has revealed that the average human female does anything but stand by her man. Llike many other primates, she is not at all averse to promiscuity if she can get away with it. The study, published today in the journal Nature Genetics , examined the evolution of male sperm among 12 species of primate, including human beings.

Almost half of all Europe's bird species at risk
Nearly half of the species of birds that nest in or routinely visit Europe are in peril, with some so threatened that they may disappear altogether, according to two studies published today by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds and Birdlife International. The experts say the changes in farming practices resulting from the European Common Agricultural Policy are to blame. Altogether, 226 species (43 per cent of Europe's birds) face an uncertain future.
Guardian, Independent, Daily Telegraph

Feathers fly as academics row over pigeons
The discovery that homing pigeons do not travel "as the crow flies" but navigate with the help of roads and motorways could result in a legal battle between the universities of Oxford and Zurich. Initial media reports on the find so ruffled the feathers of Professor Hans-Peter Lipp of Zurich that he accused his former colleague, Dr Tim Guilford, of Oxford, of not properly acknowledging his contribution to the discovery.
Dailty Telegraph, Times Higher: Feathers fly...

France's dying cockerel given fighting chance of survival
Scientists have taken action to save France's feathered national emblem, le coq gaulois , by cryogenically preserving the endangered cockerel's sperm. Panic set in when it was disclosed that only 200 individuals remained, mostly owned by amateur breeders. Scientists at the national agronomic research institute, Inra, have spent two years on a bird hunt for the last surviving individuals from the dying breed.
Daily Telegraph

Spanish take English to book
Academics infuriated by the supremacy of the English language have written a definitive dictionary for the world's 400 million Spanish-speakers. The Spanish experts hope that the Pan-Hispanic Dictionary of Doubts , which is to be published this week and took scholars from 22 linguistic academies five years to compile, will establish norms in Spanish and act as a bulwark against the inexorable spread of English. The final draft was decided last month at a monastery in the medieval town of San Millán de la Cogolla, about 60 miles (100km) south of Bilbao, which is considered to be the cradle of the Spanish tongue.

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