Today's news

December 21, 2006

Holocaust denier Irving freed early from prison
The discredited British historian and Holocaust denier David Irving was expected to fly back to Britain today after Austria's supreme court unexpectedly agreed to release him from prison early. The court in Vienna ruled that Irving, who has spent more than 13 months in jail, could serve the rest of his three-year sentence on probation. The ruling did not quash his conviction for Holocaust denial but means he is free to leave Austria. Last night, Irving, 68, was being held in a remand centre. A closed court session this morning will decide whether he should be deported back to Britain or can make his own way home. After yesterday's verdict, Irving thanked the judge in German, addressing him as "your honour".
The Guardian

Academics call for unfettered free speech
An influential group of academics is demanding a change in the law to ensure scholars are given complete freedom of speech in universities, it emerged today. More than 60 UK academics from Academics for Academic Freedom are calling for laws to be extended to ensure that academics are free to "question and test received wisdom, and to put forward unpopular opinions". If adopted as law, it would give all academics the unfettered right to speak out on any issue, "both inside and outside the classroom", whether or not it was part of their area of academic expertise and "whether or not these [issues] were deemed offensive".
The Guardian, The Times Higher Education Supplement (Dec 22)

Professor spared jail over buried illegal gun
The wife of a world expert in criminal psychology reported him to police when he buried an illegally held gun in his garden as he prepared to leave her to join his lover in Paris, a court was told yesterday. Douglas Bernstein, 63, feared his wife Lindsay might use his revolver to carry out a threat to kill herself if he left her. He buried the .357 Ruger and 20 bullets under a heavy stone sundial at his home in the village of Dunsfold, Surrey. His wife discovered what he had done when she found a list of things to do before he left, on which he had written "bury the gun".
The Daily Telegraph

An Oxford student, a nightclub in St Tropez - and now jail
The Oxford University student at the centre of a nightclub bottle attack on a wealthy businessman is facing Christmas behind bars. John Washington, a direct descendant of the first US president, triggered an international manhunt after allegedly smashing a vodka bottle over the head of Colin Hall in St Tropez in July. He was arrested in the US earlier this week after federal police were tipped off about his whereabouts, and is due in court later today. Mr Hall, 36, underwent emergency brain surgery and spent five days in a coma after being attacked at the Caves du Roy club as he chatted to Laura Clegg, a student friend of Washington who is described as the “fittest girl at Oxford University”.
The Daily Mail

Wise men testify to dragon's virgin birth
A clutch of four Komodo dragons that hatched at London Zoo this year were all the result of virgin births, according to research that could help scientific efforts to protect the world’s largest lizards. Genetic tests conducted at the University of Liverpool have proved that all four born to a female called Sungai were conceived by parthenogenesis, a form of asexual reproduction that is known to take place in lizards but has never been documented in this species before. Sungai, who has died since her eggs hatched, is also about to be joined as a virgin mother by a second Komodo dragon from Britain. Flora, at Chester Zoo, has laid eight viable eggs that are expected to hatch next month, even though she has never so much as met a male Komodo dragon.
The Times, Nature, The Daily Telegraph

Gut bacteria levels may contribute to obesity
Body weight could be down to more than simply what you eat according to a new study, how you digest your food is also an important factor. Scientists have found that the bacteria in human guts, which help to break down food, differ in lean and obese people. "Our findings suggest that obesity has a microbial component, which might have potential therapeutic implications," wrote the researchers, led by Jeffrey Gordon of Washington University in Missouri, in today's issue of Nature .
The Guardian, Nature

Science's crystal ball: A look into the future
A permanently manned base on the Moon, memory implants in the brain, the rise of a Chinese scientific superpower and unlimited, pollution-free energy. They sound like science fiction, but could they come true in the 21st century? Predicting the future is a notoriously risky business, yet teams of experts have given their considered opinion on what to expect in the next 50 years in fields ranging from brain chemistry to space travel. Yesterday, the Government published a series of 246 insights or "scans" into the future based on the knowledge of hundreds of specialists drawn from industry and academia known to be at the cutting edge of new developments.
The Independent

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