Referees favor the home team, E.O Wilson will have his wish granted, and a British company will mine the Amazon for new cures.

Climate Change of Story

NASA and the U.S. Department of Commerce began investigations into the Bush Administration’s alleged suppression of global warming research, officials at the agencies confirmed Nov. 1. This fall, Democratic senators requested an examination into whether the Administration tried to prevent some researchers from sharing their work with the public. Scientists, including NASA climate scientist James Hansen, have complained that politically appointed officials tried to keep them from talking to the media about climate change. A report in the October issue of the journal Nature said administration officials at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, part of the Commerce Department, prevented the release of a report that linked global warming to hurricane strength.  The Bush administration denies any wrongdoing.

In May, China fined Chinese director Chen Kaige and others behind the film
“The Promise” for causing environmental damage. Now, Chen has been nominated for a “Green Chinese” award for raising environmental awareness. During the course of making his movie, Chen and his crew built roads without permission, destroying a lakeside in the southwest province of Yunnan.  The awards committee, composed of members from several government departments, explained that because Chen’s environmental carelessness caused a media flurry, he encouraged conversation on environmental protection. More than 200 online voters nominated Chen.

Home Inequity

Poor people living in high-income neighborhoods have higher death rates than those who live in lower income areas, according to a Stanford University report. Researchers analyzed data from an earlier study, and examined at death rates and socioeconomic characteristics of more than 8,000 people living in California. One possible explanation for the finding is that the cost of living in a high-income neighborhood could leave little money for buying healthy food or receiving quality healthcare. The psychological toll of being poor in a wealthy neighborhood could also be a factor, the researchers suggested.

The home-team advantage has now been statistically proven. A British economist has released the results of his analysis of more than 2,500 English Premiership soccer matches: referees—regardless of how big the crowds were, or how well the teams played—were more likely to award yellow or red cards to the away team than the home team. The results are important, the economist says, because decisions made by referees can influence the final result of a game—and thus the financial success of the club.

Bedtime Dangers

Innate abnormalities in the brain stem may be the cause of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), a study from the Journal of the American Medical Association reported Nov. 1. SIDS is defined as the sudden and mysterious death of an infant less than a year old. The new study shows that the brains of infants who died of SIDS were unable to use and recycle serotonin, a brain chemical involved in, among a host of other things, regulating breathing and blood pressure. Researchers say that this bolsters the theory that SIDS occurs when an underlying genetic predisposition is paired with an environmental risk, such as sleeping face down.
When older adults go to bed lonely, their cortisol levels are elevated the next morning, researchers at Northwestern University found. Cortisol, also known as the stress hormone, is produced when people feel stressed, lonely, sad, or angry.  Chronically elevated levels are associated with depression, obesity, and other health problems. The researchers say that a boost of cortisol in the morning could help these adults better handle daily stresses.

Wish Granted

Harvard biologist E.O. Wilson has been named one of the three new recipients of the “world-changing” TED Prize. TED (Technology Entertainment Design)—a group of scientists, actors, and business leaders run by the nonprofit Sapling Foundation—awards an annual prize to people “who have shown that they can, in some way, positively impact life on this planet,” according to TED’s website. The 2007 winners, announced Oct. 31, are Wilson, president Bill Clinton, and Time photojournalist James Nachtwey. Each winner will be granted “one wish to change the world” and $100,000 to be spent in support of that wish.

Wilson, who’s studied animal social behavior for five decades, recently published The Creation, a book that attempts to bridge the cultural divide between science and faith. The book is part of an effort to protect the vanishing habitats and species on Earth. Since leaving office in 2000, president Bill Clinton started the William J. Clinton Foundation, which aims to develop leadership and civil service, and promote ethnic and religious reconciliation around the world. In 2002, President Clinton began the Clinton Foundation HIV/AIDS Initiative (CHAI) to help fund large-scale treatment and prevention programs for HIV/AIDS. James Nachtwey has been taking photographs of war and social strife across the world since 1981, when he was assigned to cover the IRA hunger strike in Northern Ireland. He’s since taken photos of soldiers in Israel’s West Bank, orphans in Romania, and starving children in Somalia.

The winners now have until the annual TED conference in March to decide upon their wishes, which come with no restrictions. One of last year’s winners, epidemiologist and activist Larry Brilliant, asked TED to help build a global system to detect new diseases when they emerge; a 2005 winner, U2 band leader Bono, asked TED to help build a social movement of more than a million American activists for Africa.

Tropical Motherlode

More than 50 sites were surveyed to reveal the existence of more than 100 new species in the Hawaiian Islands, scientists said after conducting a three-week expedition to examine Hawaii’s French Frigate Shoals. The expedition, part of the Census of Marine Life’s “Census of Coral Reef Ecosystems,” turned up many new species of crabs, corals, sea cucumbers, sea quirts, worms, sea stars, snails, and clams. 

British drug company e-Therapeutics announced Wednesday that it will work with companies in Brazil to start screening millions of new rainforest plants for drug compounds that might treat tropical diseases, such as hepatitis C, Chagas disease and Leishmaniasis. Though other drug companies are also searching the extremely biodiverse rainforests for similar compounds, e-Therapeutics uses a screening system that takes about two weeks—as opposed to two years.

If It Is Broke

NASA Administrator Michael Griffin announced plans for a fifth servicing mission to Hubble Space Telescope, an international cooperative project between NASA and the European Space Agency.  Despite the risks of sending a space shuttle on a flight to do the repair work, the repairs will mean that the powerful telescope remains in good condition until 2013, experts say. Planned work includes installing two new instruments, the Cosmic Origins Spectrograph (COS) and the Wide Field Camera 3 (WFC3).  The COS is the most sensitive ultraviolet spectrograph to probe the components of dark matter, and the WFC3 is a new camera that will be sensitive to enough different wavelengths of light to probe near and far galaxies.  The 11-day mission is tentatively scheduled for 2008.

North Korea announced Nov. 1 that it will return to six-party talks on nuclear weapons. The announcement comes three weeks after the country’s successful nuclear test. North Korea says it will rejoin the talks with the United States, Russia, Japan, China, and South Korea because the United States agreed to talk about lifting economic sanctions. The last set of talks ended in Nov. 2005 when a U.S. attempt to cut off North Korea’s access to foreign banks led North Korea to boycott.

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Originally published November 7, 2006


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