New Scientist

New Scientist 5-oct-19

New Scientist covers the latest developments in science and technology that will impact your world. New Scientist employs and commissions the best writers in their fields from all over the world. Our editorial team provide cutting-edge news, award-winning features and reports, written in concise and clear language that puts discoveries and advances in the context of everyday life today and in the future.

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51 Issues

in this issue

2 min.
potential for misuse

“ARE we the baddies?” That punchline from a Mitchell and Webb comedy sketch about two Nazi soldiers is something that scientists ought to ask themselves more frequently. Even if the knowledge that people create is neutral, its applications often aren’t. The potential for misuse often goes unnoticed until it is too late. Consider a Facebook app called This Is Your Digital Life, which gathered information about users’ personalities. What looked like an innocuous, even fun, research project was later used by Cambridge Analytica to harvest personal data and manipulate people’s exposure to political messaging without their knowledge or consent. Even though the effectiveness of Cambridge Analytica’s manipulations has been questioned, this demonstrates how well-intentioned research can be hijacked by bad actors. We can now simulate in detail how changes will affect complex societies…

2 min.
mars ship almost ready

ELON MUSK has said that his Starship spacecraft – which is designed to carry people to the moon and Mars – will begin test flights in less than two months. The SpaceX CEO made the comments during a presentation at the firm’s test facility in Boca Chica, Texas, with the spacecraft looming in the background. Musk first revealed plans for a rocket to get to the moon and Mars in 2016, updating them and naming the craft the Big Falcon Rocket (BFR) in 2017. Last year, he revised the design again and changed the rocket’s name to Starship. The prototype will stand 118 metres tall when on a separate booster rocket required to get it into orbit and will apparently be capable of carrying about 100 people to the moon or Mars. SpaceX has…

2 min.
repurposing cancer drugs

IF STANDARD treatments for cancers fail, doctors sometimes prescribe drugs that haven’t been approved for that particular cancer type. In the Netherlands, this is now being done as part of a new kind of trial, so we can get a better idea of which drugs work for what cancers – and which don’t. The results from the first 215 people show that a third of them saw some benefit from the “off-label” use of drugs. One or two had a complete remission, says Emile Voest at the Netherlands Cancer Institute in Amsterdam. Knowing about failures is just as important, because then we can prevent people who may not have long to live from being given drugs that won’t help them and could have nasty side effects. A new drug goes through an…

1 min.
whatsapp limits slow, but don’t stop, spread of fake news

LIMITS on the number of times a WhatsApp message can be forwarded to other people slow the spread of fake news, but the restrictions don’t seem to curtail the most shareable content. More than 60 billion messages are sent on WhatsApp daily, and in recent years false rumours have spread at an alarming speed. These have included conspiracy theories, anti-vaccination misinformation and rumours about child abductors. Fabrício Benevenuto at the Federal University of Minas Gerais, Brazil, and his colleagues looked at the spread of information in public groups in Brazil, India and Indonesia dedicated to political discussions. The researchers tracked how 784,000 unique images were shared by users in the 60 days before and 15 days after the recent general elections in each of the three countries. They found that 80 per cent…

1 min.
almost all of earth’s carbon is locked underground

AN EPIC project has totted up all Earth’s carbon and the result is in: our planet contains 1.85 billion billion tonnes of it. The estimate comes from the Deep Carbon Observatory (DCO), established in 2009. Its goal has been to estimate the scale of the carbon cycle. This involves everything from measuring the release of carbon dioxide from volcanoes to studying diamonds – a solid form of carbon – in the mantle. Carbon’s movements around the planet are well understood, but estimating the amounts in each bit of the world is a monumental job. “All the work the DCO has been doing in the past 10 years has been trying to document actual numbers of where this carbon is stored,” says Celina Suarez at the University of Arkansas. “The majority of carbon is…

3 min.
world’s largest untapped coal reserve to be mined

THE last great undeveloped coal deposit on the planet is about to go up in smoke. Botswana is sitting on vast amounts of coal and is ramping up efforts to mine and export it. But climate scientists warn that to meet the world’s climate goals most of it has to stay in the ground. Botswana’s coal was discovered in the 1960s, yet has remained virtually untouched, largely due to the country’s small population and lack of infrastructure for exports. However, several firms are now developing the coalfields and the country’s first commercial consignment has just been exported to South Africa. Estimating coal deposits is tricky, but Botswana’s are large. “Everyone agrees that it has the biggest coal reserves in Africa, though the extent and quality are far from understood,” says Nicola Wagner…