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New Scientist 23-feb-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.

United Kingdom
New Scientist Ltd
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51 Issues


access_time1 min.
the kids are alright

THOUSANDS of children stayed away from school to join a protest about climate change on UK prime minister Theresa May’s doorstep last week. Soon after, she put out a statement that seemed to miss the point. “Everybody wants young people to be engaged in the issues that affect them most so that we can build a brighter future for all of us,” it said, before going on to criticise children for missing out on lessons crucial for them to become “the top scientists, engineers and advocates that we need to help tackle this problem”. The prime minister appeared not to understand that the protest was precisely about grown-ups doing almost nothing to secure that “brighter future”. Evidence of that inaction was made plain last week, when the Committee on Climate Change revealed just…

access_time1 min.
the truth on fake news

LAST week, the OpenAI research group announced it had created an artificial intelligence capable of generating hundreds of words of convincing text on almost any topic (see page 7). But the group said it wouldn’t be releasing the AI, because of its potential to be used as a fake news generator. Fear over the power of fake news is widespread. Damian Collins, who heads a committee of UK MPs looking into the matter, this week proclaimed that “democracy is at risk from the malicious and relentless targeting of citizens with disinformation and personalised ‘dark adverts’ from unidentifiable sources”. While the rise in poor-quality news sources and outright lies in recent years is regrettable, the panic over “fake news” – a term with multiple and sometimes contradictory meanings – isn’t yet wholly warranted. Researchers…

access_time2 min.
uk flunks climate targets

THE UK is failing to tackle climate change on almost all key measures of success, according to the Committee on Climate Change. This organisation advises the UK government on how to meet its legally binding target of cutting carbon emissions by 80 per cent by 2050. As schoolchildren took to the streets to protest the UK’s lack of climate action on 15 February, the committee set out a dire picture of the country’s climate policies in a letter to Claire Perry, UK minister for energy and clean growth. Although the UK did reduce its official emissions by 14 per cent more than the target for the period from 2013 to 2017, it can’t claim credit, says the letter. “The surplus is not due to policy but very largely due to accounting changes…

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gene therapy for sight loss tested

A WOMAN has become the first person to receive gene therapy for one of the most common causes of sight loss. Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) involves the deterioration of cells in the eye’s retina. Robert MacLaren at the University of Oxford and his team have been developing gene therapy to halt this, and preserve what remains of a person’s vision. The therapy is delivered in an engineered virus, which is injected under the retina. Last month, Janet Osborne, who has AMD, became the first person to receive this treatment as part of a safety trial. Her vision will be monitored regularly in coming months to gauge the operation’s success. “A genetic treatment administered early on to preserve the vision in patients who would otherwise lose their sight would be a tremendous breakthrough,” says…

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meat in a dish could be bad for planet

LAB-GROWN meat may be worse for the environment than farming cattle for food in the long run. John Lynch and Raymond Pierrehumbert at the University of Oxford compared the emissions from cattle-farming and lab-grown meat, and modelled their climate impact over 1000 years (Frontiers in Sustainable Food Systems, doi.org/c2vs). Livestock farming produces about 18 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions, but lab-grown meat could have a bigger impact, thanks to its high energy requirements, which would mean high carbon dioxide emissions. While methane has a greater warming effect than CO2, it remains in the atmosphere for only 12 years, whereas CO2 accumulates over millennia. If meat consumption declined, the warming effect of methane from cattle farming would decrease while the effect of CO2 from lab-grown meat would persist.…

access_time4 min.
should we fear an ai super-troll?

Recycling is NOT good for the world. It is bad for the environment, it is bad for our health, and it is bad for our economy. I’m not kidding. These are the words of GPT-2, an artificially intelligent super-troll. It needs a prompt of just a few words to spark a rant hundreds of words long on almost any topic. Its creators say it may be too dangerous to release to the public because of the potential to misuse it as a fake news generator – a claim repeated in dozens of news stories around the world. However, these fears are overblown. GPT-2 is no more dangerous than the fakery that has existed online for years. GPT-2 was built by OpenAI, a San Francisco-based AI research lab co-founded by Elon Musk. The firm…