The world examined

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(This series will scan the latest research and developments in the realms of science, academia, technology and geopolitics, providing a glance at the ever changing world)

GEOPOLITICS

Iran and the US: A possible catastrophe

With Iran and the United States rolling dangerous dice, the possibility of war increases, even if both sides want to avoid it.

A Foreign Affairs article written earlier this year by Ilan Goldenberg, Director of the Middle East Security Program at the Center for a New American Security, panned out the capacities of Iran and the US in an all-out war that could result from miscalculations. The results would be apocalyptic and a huge blow to our civilisation.

Ilan Goldenberg described the strategic US bases around Iran that would post an imminent threat, referring to previous use of the “air and naval assets already stationed in the Middle East” by the US in Syria.

On the other hand, Iran could use its “proxy” forces in “Afghanistan, Iraq, Lebanon, Syria, and Yemen to attack the United States and its partners.”

Goldenberg spoke of the “Arsenal of ballistic missiles that can target U.S. bases in Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE.” Further, he referred to the ability of Iran to cause havoc in the Strait of Hormuz and drive up global oil prices.

Goldenberg described how America could possibly attack “Conventional Iranian targets and much of Iran’s nuclear infrastructure in Natanz, Fordow, Arak, and Esfahan.”

The Director of the Middle East Security Program explained how “What began as a U.S.-Iranian skirmish” would engulf the entire region, “imposing not only devastating losses on Iran’s leadership and people but serious costs in blood and treasure for the United States, Israel, Lebanon, the Gulf States, and other regional players.”

He cautioned that a possible war would be catastrophic and that the Trump administration and Iran should “Tread much more carefully”, “Lest they send their countries down a dangerous and costly spiral that will quickly spin out of control.” (foreignaffairs.com, June 4 2019)

Surprisingly, Ilan Goldenberg did not speak much about the use of nuclear weapons. However, Hazrat Mirza Masroor Ahmadaa, the leader of Islam Ahmadiyyat, has continuously stressed the danger and (very real) threat of nuclear weapons in modern-day warfare. It should be taken as a very serious matter that would destroy generations to come and send us back to the “dark ages”.

HEALTH

To eat, or not to eat

In a new study published in Current Biology, researchers at the University of Virginia found a link between the brain’s pleasure centre and its biological clock. Further, they found that high calorie foods (that initiate pleasure) disrupt standard eating schedules, resulting in overeating. Using mice, they found that anytime snacking eventually results in obesity and related health problems. The mice with fat and sugar laden diets would also go on to eat more, no matter the time.

“This lights-on-all-the-time, eat-at-any-time lifestyle recasts eating patterns and affects how the body utilizes energy,” said the researcher Guler.

“It alters metabolism – as our study shows – and leads to obesity, which causes disease.” (sciencedaily.com, 3 Jan 2020)

SCIENCE

Earth at its closest approach to the Sun

On 5 January, the Earth was at its closest approach to the sun – the orbit is known as “perihelion”. It is now more than three million miles closer to the sun as compared to the middle of summer. However, those experiencing winter (in the northern hemisphere) will not feel much change as the distance is still immense. The alteration occurs because “our planet’s orbit is stretched into an ellipse — so Earth snuggles up to the Sun every January and dips farther out into the outer solar system every July, at a point known as aphelion”.

Interestingly, (if ever) at its closest approach to the sun, Earth’s oceans would evaporate and experience catastrophic changes.

“This incredible seesaw of extreme conditions would devastate the planet, and I expect that it would not take very long for the planet to become a desiccated, barren rock,” said Stephen Kane, an astronomer at the University of California. (New York Times, 2 Jan 2020)

NASA robots underwater

NASA scientists have finished field tests of a floating rover they wish one day will travel to Europa, the frozen ocean moon of Jupiter. The rover is named “Bruie” and is made for freezing, underwater environments, its tests were completed in eastern Antarctica. The trials on Earth have a “Long-term goal of one day seeking evidence of life beneath the thick frozen shell covering Jupiter’s ocean moon of Europa.”

The ice beneath that ocean is three times more liquid water than any of Earth’s oceans. However, “Getting a vehicle like the buoyant rover and other submersibles in the ocean of Europa is the longterm vision for what we hope to one day accomplish,” said Kevin Peter Hand, from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. A number of other missions will foresee “Bruie’s” ventures. (New York Times, 5 Jan 2020)

PSYCHOLOGY

Evolution and modern-day depression

Researchers at Tohoku University found how neurochemicals such as serotonin and dopamine (pleasure chemicals) have essential roles in cognitive and emotional functions of the brain. VMATI is one of the genes that transports neurotransmitters and regulates neuronal signaling, however the variant of VMATI our ancestors possessed (130Glu/136Asn) showed an increased uptake of neurotransmitters compared to a derived (130Gly/136Thr) (modern) genotype. The uptake of neurotransmitters is linked to decreased levels of depression and/ or anxiety and the modern 130Gly/136Thr variant of VMATI is presented to be associated with depression and/or anxiety in modern human populations.

“This results of our study reveal that our ancestors may have been able to withstand higher levels of anxiety or depression,” the researchers said. (sciencedaily.com, 23 December 2019)

GOOD TO KNOW

“Deepfakes”

Facebook has said it will get rid of videos modified by artificial intelligence (AI), known as deepfakes. Deepfakes are computer generated clips that are intended to appear as real. AI software generates these videos, usually of politicians or celebrities, by “merging, replacing, or superimposing content on to a video in a way that makes it look real.”

The increasing amount of deepfakes are posing a challenge to the tech industry. However, some are concerned about the “standards” of Facebook’s policy as it’s only concerned with “videos generated by artificial intelligence to depict people saying fictional things”, not all altered videos. (bbc.com, 7 Jan 2020)

LISTEN IN

When the body says no: the costs of hidden stress

Looking at scientific research and his decades of experience as a practicing physician, Dr Gabor Mate is joined with journalist Hannah MacInnes to “explore the role that stress and emotions play in an array of common diseases, including arthritis, cancer, diabetes, heart disease and multiple sclerosis.” Listen free at: www.howtoacademy.com/podcasts

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