Today's papers

August 9, 2002

Scientists find flaw in Einstein’s theory
Scientists in Australia say that the speed of light, far from being the universal constant that allowed Einstein to predict that E=mc2, is in fact slowing down. The claim, if proven, would force a rethink of almost everything that cosmologists now believe about the way the universe works, opening a new era of theoretical physics. The Australian study, published in Nature , also opens up the possibility of travelling faster than light, and so the ability to go back in time.
( Times) ­

Exam board sends A-level scripts to wrong address
Britain’s biggest exam board sent 140 unmarked A-level scripts to the wrong address only days before the deadline to have the papers returned. The Assessment and Qualifications Alliance sent the information technology scripts to the home of Marc Patterson in Pittington, Co Durham, rather than to the examiner designated to mark them. The latest blunder infuriated teacher’s leaders, who said the continuing errors highlighted the enormous pressure on the exam system and the lack of quality control.
( Independent, Daily Telegraph )

How Betty the crow is bending the rules of animal behaviour
A team of Oxford University scientists says it has demonstrated for the first time, with Betty the New Caledonian crow, that an animal can understand cause and effect and make a tool for a specific task. Not even chimpanzees have shown this level of sophisticated problem solving. Professor Alex Kacelnik, an expert in behavioural ecology at Oxford, said he was surprised by the bird’s intelligence.
( Daily Telegraph, Independent, Guardian, Daily Mail, Daily Mirror, Financial Times )

US study links autism to MMR
One of the scientists who believes there may be a connection between autism and the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine has published new research suggesting a link. Dr Vijendra Singh of Utah State University found that many children with the developmental disorder had an ‘inappropriate immune response’ to the measles component of the vaccine. His findings are reported in the Journal of Biomedical Science . But Peter Lachmann, emeritus professor of immunology at Cambridge University, said that the conclusions drawn by Singh and his team did not make for a direct link between MMR and autism. ‘His hypothesis does not show causality; he is drawing unjustifiable conclusions from the antibody data he has collected,’ Professor Lachmann said.
( Daily Telegraph, Independent, Guardian, Times, Daily Mail, Daily Mirror )

£20m to save minority languages
Lisbet Rausing, heir of Britain’s richest family, has given £20m to fund a research project run from London to record languages around the world that are at risk of extinction. The donation is thought to be one of the biggest gifts for research in the humanities.
( Guardian )

Free entry sparks huge rise in museum visits
England’s museums and galleries have seen visits rise by almost 3 million since they offered free entry in December.
( Independent, Guardian, Times, Financial Times )

Economists expose myth of costly conservation
Communities are financially better off in the long term if they leave nature alone, according to a rare collaboration between economists and scientists that shows preserving the environment pays dividends. Andrew Balmford, a Cambridge University biologist and lead author of the study published in Science , said the scale of economic losses of land conversion had surprised the Anglo-American team of 19 researchers. ‘The economics are absolutely stark. We thought that the numbers would favour conservation, but not by this much.’
( Independent, Guardian, Daily Mirror )

Grants may be restored for poorer students
The limited restoration of grants of up to £40 a week for poorer students and higher fees in some universities have emerged as the most likely outcomes of the government’s long-running review of student finance in England.
( Guardian, Daily Mail, Daily Mirror )

Archaeologists fight to save medieval vessel
A storm of protest is rising over the probable fate of a medieval ship found preserved in the muddy bank of the river Usk in Newport, South Wales. The next month could be more dangerous for the ship than the past 500 years. The local museum has neither the resources nor the space to excavate, preserve and display the ship and no other museum has expressed an interest it.
( Guardian )

Trawl nets destroy UK’s coral reefs
Cold water coral reefs off the coast of Britain that are up to 8,500 years old are being destroyed by the nets of trawlers, scientists have told the European Commission.
( Guardian )

Methane-eating life form may halt global warming
Scientists have discovered an organism believed to be the world’s oldest life form that lives on methane and could be harnessed to help combat global warming. The organism lives at the bottom of the Black Sea, an area previously believed to be without life. Researchers from the Max Planck Society in Germany were surprised to find corals, made by microorganisms, processing methane and sulphates in what is the largest oxygen-free area of the planet.
( Guardian )

Heavier babies become better at maths
The weight of babies at birth has been shown to have a direct bearing on their mathematical ability in later life. Research by scientists at the Institute of Child Health, in London, found that every extra kilogram equated to an average 4.7 per cent improvement in maths test scores. Females showed more improvement per kilogram – 5.2 per cent – than males, who scored 4.2 per cent.
( Times, Guardian, Independent )

‘We’re taking first steps towards blending people with machines’
Kevin Warwick, head of cybernetics at the University of Reading, is confident that one day we could download other people’s thoughts and experiences. The professor, who in June turned himself into a semi-robot, believes that by the year 2050 students will be able to buy programs allowing them to become experts on any subject.
( Daily Mirror ) 

Drugs cache Oxford student gets ‘a chance’
An Oxford student caught with cocaine and ecstasy worth more than £1,000 escaped jail yesterday after a judge decided to give him ‘a chance’. Nicholas David, a classics student at Balliol College, received an 80-hour community punishment.
( Daily Mail )

Anti-establishment statistician concerned with quality control dies
George Barnard, emeritus professor of mathematics at the University of Essex, has died aged 86.
( Guardian )

Intelligence officer who abolished compulsory gowns at Oxford dies
Ralph Bennett, one of the select band of dons recruited to work at Bletchley Park during the second world war, has died aged 90.
( Guardian )

Freelance thinker who helped discipline computer programming dies
The work of the computer scientist Edsger Dijkstra, who has died aged 72, shaped the way that programming is practised and provided a mathematical foundation for understanding how programs can be constructed.
( Times )


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