Today's news

September 7, 2006

No end in sight to university money worries, warns report
Universities are predicted to have about £1.5 billion more in their coffers over the next decade, although the extra money will do little to improve the staff-to-student ratio, a new report reveals today. The report from the Higher Education Policy Institute shows that universities are likely, in most cases, to have more available spending money, but even with increased tuition fees, institutions are still unlikely to be flush with cash. Hepi predicts a 39 per cent - or £5.4 billion - increase in the income of English universities and colleges between 2003-04 and 2010-11, but the report says the extra money is already earmarked for specific purposes or will be absorbed by "exceptional cost increases".
The Guardian

Russian monastery's delight as bells head home from Harvard
Seventeen Russian bells that hang in a Harvard University tower are destined to return to their spiritual home near Moscow after nearly 80 years in exile. The bells were saved from destruction at the Danilovsky monastery - seen as the spiritual home of the Orthodox church - during Stalin's attacks on religion in the 1920s. The homecoming is seen as a deeply significant event in Russia, where bells are considered "singing icons" that act as a spiritual intermediary between God and the faithful. After years of negotiations, the return of the bells was only finalised in recent weeks when metals tycoon Viktor Vekselberg, who bought $90 million (£47 million) worth of Tsarist Fabergé eggs at auction two years ago, stepped in to pay for it.
The Guardian

Scientists condemn Health Minister as 'embarrassment to South Africa'
More than 80 international scientists and academics have condemned South Africa's Aids policies as ineffective and immoral and called for the dismissal of the country's Health Minister, Manto Tshabalala-Msimang, in a letter to President Thabo Mbeki. The scientists called Dr Tshabalala-Msimang an embarrassment to South Africa and said her activities undermined science. Signatories included the American scientist David Baltimore, a biologist and Nobel Prize-winner, and Robert Gallo, a co-discoverer of the HIV virus that causes Aids.
The Independent

The mousetrap myth
Contrary to the impression given in scores of Tom and Jerry cartoons, putting cheese in a mousetrap is a waste of good cheddar. David Holmes, an animal behaviourist at Manchester Metropolitan University, has found that mice are totally uninterested in cheese. "Mice respond to the smell, texture and taste of food, and cheese is something that would not be available to them in their natural environment and therefore not something that they would respond to," he said. They prefer grains, fruit and cereals. Dr Holmes, whose work was supported by the Stilton Cheesemakers' Association, said it was remarkable the myth had persisted. "I haven't been able to pin down the exact origin, but it filters out in terms of imagery, particularly cartoon imagery."
The Daily Telegraph, The Times, The Independent

Britons claim breakthrough in forecasting force of volcanic eruptions
British scientists believe they have made a breakthrough in being able to predict the effect of volcanic eruptions after studying Mount St Helens in the United States. The mountain, which exploded dramatically in 1980, became active again two years ago. But using a new technique, scientists believe it is unlikely to result in another major catastrophe. They have found by studying rocks coming out of a volcano that it is possible to gauge how much pressure the magma under the ground is experiencing. Low pressure and a thick, sticky magma means that a sudden and violent explosion is unlikely, while high pressure suggests that there is greater risk.
The Scotsman, The Independent

New bird flu vaccine could save millions
A Chinese vaccine against H5N1 bird flu has raised hopes of swift protection if the virus mutates into a pandemic form. Trials of the vaccine in 120 volunteers showed that it produced a good immune response at low doses. In an emergency, enough could be produced for 675 million people. The Chinese vaccine consists of the H5N1 avian flu virus inactivated so that it cannot cause disease, combined with an additive (adjuvant) that enhances the immune response. A group of 120 volunteers aged between 18 and 60 were given either a dummy formula or the vaccine at doses of 1.25, 2.5, 5 and 10 micrograms with aluminium hydroxide as the adjuvant.
The Times

Gristhorpe Man 'was Bronze Age warrior chieftain'
Gristhorpe Man, who was found buried in a tree trunk in the 19th century, has been identified as a Bronze Age warrior chieftain by archaeologists. Although a few examples of burial in a scooped-out oak tree have been found in Scotland and East Anglia, it was an unusual method and the example found near Scarborough, North Yorks, was the best preserved. The remains were discovered in 1834 by William Beswick, a local landowner, in an ancient burial mound near Gristhorpe and excavated under the gaze of members of the Scarborough Philosophical Society.
The Daily Telegraph

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