The world examined – Saving giants, Gandhi’s killer and 1g of alcohol

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

GEOPOLITICS

Gandhi’s killer celebrated

The extreme right of the political spectrum has seen support within Europe and America over recent years. Analysis shows how populist movements are also gaining support in the Eastern hemisphere of the world.

A recent New York Times article entitled “Ghandi’s Killer Evokes Admiration as Never Before” discussed how Nathuram Vinayak Godse, the Hindu extremist who murdered Gandhi, is being celebrated by nationalists across India. The article noted how “across the country, more than a dozen statues of Gandhi’s killer have been erected. Several Hindu temples are being converted into Godse temples.”

The issue of nationalism in India has been a great concern for both Indians and outsiders alike. Gandhi, who is more commonly known as a non-violent figure of resistance, has been championed and revered within India and abroad, however, “the rise of a Hindu nationalist government … has uncorked many extremist beliefs, and admiration for Gandhi’s killer…” wrote Sameer Yasir of the New York Times.

“Indians consider Gandhi as one of the fathers of their nation.” But this is changing with the rise of nationalist ideology. According to the piece, Ramchandra Guha, a biographer of Gandhi, said that “fans of Gandhi’s killer were no longer a fringe group. Instead, he said, God’s admiration has found a place among what he considers a worryingly large segment of the population. It is foul, despicable, but it is real and widespread…” (nytimes.com, 4 February 2020)

Whether in the West or the East, the rise of the alt-Right and populist movements uncovers the sad reality of our world systems; governments are distrusted, the economy is failing, justice is absent and tolerance has disappeared.

GOOD TO KNOW

“Spin” found in scientific journals

Much of the news today is orientated towards “clickbait” and diverting our attention towards a particular “positive” or “interesting” element of a story, while ignoring the realities that surround them, this is called spin. A study investigated “spin” found in research papers, the results “found spin in more than half of the abstracts they analysed.” The authors published their findings in BMJ Evidence Based Medicine and defined “spin” as: “[T]he use of specific reporting strategies, from whatever motive, to highlight that the experimental treatment is beneficial, despite a statistically nonsignificant difference for the primary outcome, or to distract the reader from statistically nonsignificant results.” Looking at the top six psychiatry and psychology journals from 2012-17 and the abstracts of 116 papers, they found that “…of these, 56% showed evidence of spin. This included spin in 2% of titles, 21% of the results sections of the abstract, and 49% in the conclusion sections of the abstract. In 15% of the papers, spin was present in both the results and conclusion sections of the abstracts.” Surprisingly, the researchers found no positive correlations towards the funding of industry towards research and spin (medicalnewstoday. com, 10 August 2019). The ethical concern of using spin in research papers hovers around doctors reading and relying on these papers and using them for their medical practices. If scientists are not straightforward and black-and-white when publishing their findings, negative consequences may follow.

HEALTH

Every gram of alcohol leads to brain ageing

New research published by Scientific Reports panned out how even the smallest amounts of alcohol has detrimental effects on the brain. The study took place in the UK and included 11,651 participants. The study found that “those who consumed alcohol every day or on most days of the week had around 0.4 years or 5 months of additional brain ageing compared to those who did not. This meant that drinking regularly led to an accelerated brain ageing”, explained the researchers. The study concluded that for every gram of alcohol consumed per day, the brain aged (approximately) a week! The researchers explained that (the rather obvious) way to stop this would be to shun alcohol altogether, something that Islam has preached since its birth. (news-medical.net, 2 February 2020)

PLANTS AND ANIMALS

The importance of “giants”

Research carried out by the University of Arizona has found that the loss of larger plants and animals (already at risk of extinction) would damage life on earth. Nature Communications published the study on 5 February 2020 and through computer stimulations “compared the state of the natural world during the Pleistocene (a past epoch long before human-caused extinctions began), the present day and a future world, in which all large plants and animals go extinct. The results revealed that “continued loss of large animals alone would lead to a 44% reduction in the total amount of wild animal biomass on the planet.” Further, a 92% loss in soil fertility would follow suit; undermining the earth’s ability to “grow plants and sustain life”. Brian Enquist, professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of Arizona noted how “protecting big, charismatic species does have an umbrella effect to protect the wider ecosystem.” The reason for this is because large entities transport huge amounts of nutrients, “When large animals eat in one location and defecate or urinate in another, they transport nutrients, often moving them from nutrient-rich areas to other, less fertile parts of the land and oceans. Similarly, the largest trees are the most productive, and contain and stir more nutrients and carbon.” (phys.org, 5 February 2020)

TECH

World streaming up 58%

2019 saw a huge surge in video streaming across the world, an increase by more than a half (58%) according to the firm Conviva. In the US and Europe, streaming time saw the greatest growth, the US was up 61% and Europe saw an increase of 65%. The study found that two-thirds of video streaming happens on television (across America), 21% on phones and 7% on computers. “On-demand content remained the preference of streamers, accounting for 66% of global viewing time, up from 59% a year ago”, the report detailed. (techexplore.com, 3 February 2020)

ECOLOGY

Low-fat diets and the bumblebee

Bees provide foundation of diversity on earth; without them, plants cannot reproduce. There are more than 20,000 species of bees across the world, the bumblebee being one of them. New research into what bumblebees prefer in their diet shows a dislike for fat. “Small amounts of fatty acids were added to pollen to increase its fat content. The researchers found that bumblebees could clearly differentiate between normal pollen and pollen with increased fat content and did show a clear preference for normal pollen.” Professor Sara Leonhardt, a specialist in plant-insect interaction, concluded, “The more fat the pollen contained, the less the bumblebees consumed that pollen,” Bumblebees actually preferred death over having to eat the high-fat pollen. (phys.org, 5 February 2020)

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