Shortly before sunset, especially in winter from October to February, flocks of tens of thousands of European starlings (Sturnus vulgaris) fly in aerobatic displays called murmurations. The flocks swirl and morph, transforming from, for example, a teardrop shape into a vortex, and then into a long rope. The spontaneous synchronised flock turns as if of one mind.
Fast forward to 2017: with a few possible exceptions, Congress hasn’t addressed any significant environmental problems for over a quarter century and has blocked important environmental legislation; President Trump has promised to gut the EPA; and its new administrator, Scott Pruitt, as Attorney General of Oklahoma, sued the Agency over and over again to kill major environmental regulations.
From time immemorial, humans have yearned to know what lies ahead. Setting the context is a three-thousand-year romp through the ‘history of the future’ illustrating how our forebears tried to influence, foretell or predict it. Examples extend from the prophets and sibyls to Plato and Cicero, from the Renaissance to the European Enlightenment.
CNN’s Don Lemon recently pushed back when Paris Dennard, a conservative pundit, insisted on calling a story they were covering (the cost to the taxpayer of President Trump’s frequent visits to Florida) “fake news.” As Lemon said, “Fake news is when you put out a story to intentionally deceive someone and you know that it is wrong.” Lemon provided an excellent definition for fake news, but it’s also a great definition for “propaganda”.
A finger on a touch pad can glide us across the globe; we can casually sweep from the view that an albatross apparently gets as it flies to its nest site in South Georgia, to what a vulture apparently sees when looking for carrion in Tanzania’s Ngorongoro Crater. The notion that these really are bird’s eye views is deeply engrained. When we use the term “bird’s eye view”, we actually think that this is how the world looks to a bird.
After oxygen, fresh, clean water is the most basic requirement for the majority of life on Earth in order to survive. However, this is a true luxury that isn’t accessible for many millions of people around the world. Today hundreds of thousands of people die every year from these types of waterborne diseases, and even though these numbers are declining there is still work to be done.
We share with the other great apes a long history, a largely common genetic heritage, a similar physiology, advanced cognitive abilities that permit cultural learning and exchange, and a gathering and hunting way of life. And yet we are not just great apes. There are some radical differences. The least interesting of these, although the ones that almost everyone has focused on, are the anatomical differences, and in particular our upright bipedal stance.
We now know that the Earth is many billions of years old, and that it has changed an unimaginably number of times over millennia. But before the mid-eighteenth century we believed that the Earth was only a few thousand years old. Then scientists (who we now call geologists) began to explore the Earth’s layers and found fossils, suggesting it was much, much older than they first thought.
The public is turning out to be, whether knowingly or not, animal ethnographers. The diversity of pets, farm animals, and wild animals they track with lens is exposing the rarest of behaviors. These behaviors not only make intriguing viewing but serve to widen our thinking about the animal world and perhaps diminish our iron-gripped hold on cleverness. Might we be less willing to destroy creatures whom we believe are ‘smart’?
The existence of gravitational waves, or ripples in the space-time, is no more just a speculation but a firm truth, after the recent direct detection of such waves from at least two pairs of merging black holes by the LIGO gravitational-wave detector. In such a binary system, two black holes orbit each other at a close separation, nearly at the speed of light, whirling the spacetime in their neighbourhood.
Many factors influence the outcome of war. But what has soil got to do with war? I suspect few have given much thought to the influence of soil on war, or, conversely, how war influences the soil. But the role of soil in warfare can be considerable, as can the impact of war on soil, which can often leave it unusable. The most dramatic and emotive examples of the role of soil in war comes from the First World War.
From tornadoes and typhoons to deciding the best day for a picnic, the weather impacts our lives on a daily basis. Despite new techniques and technologies that allow us to forecast the weather with increasing accuracy, most of us do not realise the vast global movements and forces which result in their day-to-day weather. Storm Dunlop tells us ten things we should know about weather in its most dramatic and ordinary forms.
of the extraordinary things about our modern world is just how closely we are brought into contact with rock in everyday life. Now this might seem a little counter-intuitive. As I child, I grew up with cartoons such as The Flintstones and, a little later, sat goggle-eyed through films such as One Million Years BC. There the Stone Age protagonists acted out derring-do amid caves, craggy landscapes and erupting volcanoes.
Prey animals must constantly stay alert and rely on publicly available information to avoid being eaten, find suitable foraging and mating opportunities, and to assess local competition for resources. Reliable information allows prey to make behavioural decisions in order to ensure sufficient foraging and mating gains while reducing predation risks. However, complete information is rarely available to prey.
Humans love flowers! We admire their varied colors and shapes, enjoy the way they smell, and (especially on a day like today) give them to those we love. But why has this affection for flowers evolved in us – given that flowers have certainly not evolved to impress us? In fact, we gain very little benefit (apart from joy) from them. It is true that some flowers are edible, and that flowers may indicate where an edible part of a plant can be found
Can magicians (illusionists) really levitate themselves and others or bend spoons using only the power of their mind? No. Emphatically no. But they surely make it seem as if they can. Enjoy being fooled? Then you’ll love watching really good magic shows that allow people the opportunity to suspend their disbelief momentarily. But don’t let this suspension become permanent.