By the Gazette Editorial Board
LAST week, a news story that went viral had it that a team of Beijing University researchers concluded, after studying the cases of as many as 500,000 people between 2004 and 2008, that egg consumption at a certain rate may reduce cardiovascular risks. The media fanfare played high the deduction that finding fully contradicts the established and decades-long medical knowledge that egg consumption is a major cardiovascular risk factor since it elevates cholesterol levels. On the face of it, the story as splashed in some global media outlets may suggest that medical knowledge could at least partially be inconclusive. That, however, is too simplistic an understanding to build on the study.
The fact is that human knowledge is characteristically both cumulative and testable; and as such, its components should be perceived of as reflecting the status of the mass of data and explanations as it exists at the time of calling any part of knowledge for use or for re-appraisal. Elementary reasoning demands that knowledge, as so is best exemplified by medicine, be understood as a continuum of hypotheses and theories in the sense that a theory-based medical procedure today would in due course evolve into a hypothetical onset for further or future scientific research and investigation. In other words, it is a sequence of ideas and conceptions. The issue of the relation between egg cholesterol and cardiovascular diseases is a case in point. The media fanfare apart, an insight into the seeming contradiction requires a plausible understanding of how the link between medicine and scientific research evolved as well as of the dynamics of this link.
Four centuries ago, science and natural philosophy parted. The great intellectual divorce emancipated science from the authority and domination of natural philosophy, in effect making it possible for science to tread freely onto lands which had until then remained invisible. A great, watershed consequence of that parting has been the departmentalisation of science as an inevitable outcome of the large, sustained and characteristically unstoppable accumulation of scientific knowledge. So, it was only after that separation that allusions began to be extensively made to physicists, chemists, mathematicians, astronomers, geologists and so on.
In the process, medicine evolved into an independent discipline; but never has it ever let loose its ties with science and scientific research. Fortunately, today’s medicine looks virtually like a hub of almost all other disciplines, no matter how pure or empirical they are. In turn and in due course, medicine has had to splinter under the impact of the expansion of medical knowledge as so is proven by our reference in common conversations to the cardiologist, the internists, the surgeon, the ophthalmologist and so on.
In an historical perspective, the strong, organic and built-in link between medicine and science has had a marvellous influence on our inherent tendency to keep improving the quality of life. Until the 17th Century, physical illnesses had predominantly been studied and treated only on the basis of pressing symptoms and manifestations but a ‘scientific’ definition of disease and causes was almost untraceable. Today, it has become almost common knowledge to define what hypertension is and which measurements should be rated normal. Quantitative knowledge is now available for common access with very many other diseases, including in the foremost blood glucose levels, kidney and liver functions – an explicit proof of the value of the link between medicine and scientific research. And it is exactly this link that bestows worthiness on investigative research to unveil the actual interaction between eggs and cardiovascular diseases.
BERLIN, May 8, 2018 (AFP) — Domestic and international tourism account for eight per cent of greenhouse gas emissions, four times more than previously estimated, according to a study published on Monday.
The multi-trillion dollar industry’s carbon footprint is expanding rapidly, driven in large part by demand for energy-intensive air travel, researchers reported in the journal Nature Climate Change.
“Tourism is set to grow faster than many other economic sectors,” with revenue projected to swell by four per cent annually through 2025, noted lead-author Arunima Malik, a researcher at The University of Sydney’s business school.
Holding the sector’s carbon pollution in check will likely require carbon taxes or CO2 trading schemes for aviation, the researchers concluded.
As in past decades, the United States is the single largest emitter of tourism-related carbon emissions, with other wealthy nations — Germany, Canada and Britain — also in the top ten.
But burgeoning middle classes have moved emerging economies up the ranking, with China in second place and India, Mexico and Brazil 4th, 5th and 6th, respectively.
International travel involving long-haul flights is among the fastest growing sectors, and could threaten efforts to reign in planet-warming carbon pollution.
The total number of air passengers is expected to almost double by 2036 to 7.8 billion per year, according to the International Air Transport Association (IATA).
The aviation industry accounts for two per cent of all human-generated C02 emissions, and would rank 12th if it were a country.
“We see very fast tourism demand growth from China and India over the past few years, and also expect this trend will continue in the next decade or so,” Ya-Sen Sun, a professor at The University of Queensland Business School in Australia, and co-author of the study, told AFP.
“Besides the sheer population number, what’s worrying is that people with a rising income tend to travel further, more frequently, and with a higher reliance on aviation.”
VIENNA, April 12, 2018 (AFP) — Throughout most of World War II, Allied bombers tried repeatedly to sink the Tirpitz, Germany’s biggest battleship and a bete noir of Britain’s wartime leader Winston Churchill, who took to calling it “the beast”.
On Wednesday, tree experts at the annual meeting of the European Geosciences Union showed why they failed to do so until late 1944
“The story was in the tree rings,” said Claudia Hartl, a researcher at Johannes Gutenberg University in Mainz, Germany.
The unlikely evidence of WWII battles was uncovered during the summer of 2016, when Hartl led students on a routine survey of forests around Kafjord, one of dozens of fjords along the northern coast of Norway.
“We got back to the lab and measured the tree rings, and saw that they were very narrow — in some cases nearly absent — for 1945,” she told AFP.
The forests, in other words, had been hit by an environmental cataclysm.
“Of course we wondered, why is that?”
The first suspect was insect infestation, which can come suddenly and have severe impacts, especially in high-latitude boreal forests.
Driven north of their historic range by climate change, mountain pine beetles, for example, have recently devastated large swathes of forests in Canada, sometimes in a single year.
But there were no known insect in northern Scandinavia that could have delivered that kind of environmental shock in the middle of the 20th century.
“It wasn’t until we spoke to a local scientist based in Tromso that we made the connection to the Tirpitz,” said Scott St George, a geographer at The University of Minnesota’s Institute on the Environment who took part in the research.
The Tirpitz and its crew of 2500, it turned out, had retreated into northern Norway’s watery labyrinth to escape detection. In the pre-satellite era, even a 250-metre behemoth wasn’t that easy to spot.
But Allied aerial scouts finally found it, and the attacks began.
The Germans, however, had a counter-plan: Producing vast quantities of artificial fog, enough to hide the ship and surrounding area from aerial view.
And that’s where the tree rings come in.
“The smoke drifted into the forests surrounding the fjord and damaged nearby pine and birch trees, leaving behind a distinctive and unusual ‘fingerprint’,” St George told AFP.
The study of tree rings — called dendrochronology, literally, “timeline of trees” — is used by climate scientists to trace changes in temperature, rainfall or river flows reaching back hundreds, even thousands, of years.
The concentric circles found in temperate zone tree trunks can also date the age of buildings, shipwrecks, musical instruments, painting frames or anything else made from temperate-zone wood.
Because trees in the tropics grow continually, they generally do not produce rings, which show growth spurts during spring and summer.
SINGAPORE, April 11, 2018 (AFP) — New research from Singapore has found that starting school times later in the morning really can improve the sleep and well-being of teenagers.
US researchers have previously suggested that starting school later could improve the quantity of shut-eye for the country’s sleep-deprived teenagers, which in turn can also help boost health, behaviour, and academic performance.
However, sleep deprivation among teens is also a huge problem in Singapore, where the school day typically starts at around 7.30am, one hour earlier than the 8.30am or later start time recommended by the American Academy of Paediatrics, the American Medical Association, and the American Academy of Sleep Medicine.
Average time in bed on school nights for Singaporean school children is also estimated to be just six and a half hours.
To look at the effect of starting school 45 minutes later, researchers at Duke-NUS Medical School, Singapore, recruited 375 students in grades 7-10 from an all-girls’ secondary school that delayed its start time from 7.3am to 8.15am.
The team looked at students’ self-reports of sleep timing, sleepiness, and well-being (depressive symptoms and mood) before the school made the change, and re-evaluated the measures again at both one month and nine months after the delay was implemented.
Total sleep time was also measured.
The researchers found that after one month, the students’ bedtimes on school nights were delayed by nine minutes, while the time they got up was delayed by about 32 minutes, resulting in an increase in time in bed of 23 minutes.
The participants also reported feeling less sleepy and an improved level of well-being at both follow-ups, with a greater increase in sleep duration on school nights also associated with a greater improvement in alertness and well-being.
In addition, those who reported getting at least eight hours sleep on school nights — the amount generally considered appropriate for adolescents — increased from 6.9 per cent to 16 per cent after the later school time was implemented.
East Asian countries can often push students to trade sleep for academic success noted the researchers, however lead author Michael Chee commented on the findings saying, “Starting school later in East Asia is feasible and can have sustained benefits.”
“Our work extends the empirical evidence collected by colleagues in the West and argues strongly for disruption in practice and attitudes surrounding sleep and well-being in societies where these are believed to hinder rather than enhance societal advancement.”
UARINI (Brazil), April 5, 2018 — Brazilian jaguars, imperilled by hunters, ranchers and destruction of their habitat, have learned to survive at least one menace — flooding in the Amazon. They take to the trees!
Although they can be six feet long and 200 pounds, the largest South American cats nimbly navigate treetops where they stay from April to July when the rainforest floor is under meters-deep water.
“It shows that even as a large animal, the jaguar can withstand the flooding — feeding, breeding and raising its young in the treetops for three to four months,” says Emiliano Ramalho, the lead researcher for Project Iauarete, which is administered by the Instituto Mamirauá.
“This had never been documented before we began researching the jaguars here.”
The Iauaretê Project monitors jaguars in Mamirauá, studies their relationship with local residents and undertakes conservation for the species, which lives deep in the rainforest.
Documenting jaguar behaviour during the rainy season is rare, with their long-term stays in the treetops first recorded by the researchers in 2013 after nine years of monitoring in the region. But from 2016 to 2018 in several visits to the Mamirauá Sustainable Development Reserve, 600 kilometres west of Amazonas state capital Manaus, we photographed jaguars perched high on branches.
Called “painted jaguars” in Brazil because of their intricately spotted fur, jaguars are difficult to see in the dense jungle canopy.
Researchers discovered their behaviour after nearly a decade of studying them from floating bases, braving the same conditions that put flood waters at the doorsteps of more than 10,000 people living in the Mamirauá reserve.
On one expedition last month, researchers with headlamps tracked down and tranquilised a black male jaguar at night, placed his limp body on a blue tarp and wrapped his head in a towel as they fitted him with a black tracking collar, measured his teeth and checked his vitals.
So many jaguars have been fitted with trackers that researchers can now pinpoint them by holding up pronged radio receivers as they pilot small boats through the flooded forest.
Ramalho says that understanding this behaviour is further evidence supporting the need to preserve the Amazon floodplain.
The Iauaretê Project has teamed up with the Uakari Lodge in the reserve, which is operated by an association of local residents, to offer ecotourism trips that take advantage of the trackers to allow tourists to catch a glimpse of the animals.
The goal is to raise awareness for conservation and generate income for residents. A trip to see jaguars living in trees costs $3,000 per person.
Ecotourism fosters better relations between jaguars and residents, who are sometimes fearful or angry because jaguars can eat livestock and pets.
Local resident Railgler dos Santos, a field assistant on the project, says seeing the intense black eyes of a jaguar staring out from the jungle has stayed with him.
“There’s definitely a connection there, having the fortune of seeing the animal face to face,” he said.
MONTREAL, March 29 (AFP) — Human footprints found on an island off the coast of western Canada date back to around 13,000 years ago, making them the oldest discovered in North America, according to a study published on Wednesday.
The footprints are likely those of two adults and one child walking barefoot on clay on what is today a beach on Calvert Island, northeast of Vancouver Island, according to the authors of the study published in the PLOS ONE journal.
A total of 29 footprints were found during excavation work from 2014 to 2016, said lead author Duncan McLaren, a professor of anthropology at the Hakai Institute and the University of Victoria.
The study suggests that humans were present on the Pacific coast of British Columbia about 13,000 years ago and that the area was ice-free well before the end of the last ice age on the continent some 11,700 years ago.
The discovery further strengthens the hypothesis that the first humans to arrive in North America migrated from Asia via an ice-free land corridor along the coast to finally arrive in what is now British Columbia.
But supporting the hypothesis has not been easy for researchers, as that area of Canada is very rugged — covered by dense forest and only accessible by boat.
Therefore, the researchers concentrated their excavation in a tidal zone on Calvert Island, where the water level was two to three metres lower at the end of the ice age than it is today.
The study’s authors hold that further excavation with more elaborate methods would uncover more footprints, shedding further light on the history of the first human settlements along the western coast of North America.