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Enigmas of Science: How did the Brain evolve?

6 hours 51 min ago

Tracing back the evolutionary history of something is much like a detective sifting through the crime scene trying to make sense of it all; following the leads and joining the dots. The human evolution project – as far as studying it is concerned – is undoubtedly down to tons of fossil records that experts have accumulated and analysed over the last couple of hundred years.

However, the evolutionary history of perhaps one of the most ‘miraculous’ products of natural ingenuity the ‘Brain‘, is still somewhat of an enigma for science and is likely to stay that way unless we develop a method of tracing the evolution through a method other than fossil learning. The trouble with brains is that they consist of a very soft tissue, and soft tissue does not have the strength to survive millions or even hundreds of years of fossilisation.

Evolution of the brain has mostly been what is commonly known as ‘guess work’. Although soft tissue in the brain cannot survive fossilisation, the chamber that contains these soft tissues ‘the skull’ can however survive and is studied in order to expand our knowledge about the evolution of the brain. One aspect of the skull structure that widely contributes towards understanding a primitive brain is the size of the skull. This aspect has been studied widely; both palaeontologists and biologists agree upon the fact that the size of the skull directly relates to the size of the brain, which in turns relates to the cognitive abilities of the primitive animals.

Humans pride themselves for sporting big brains packed with some of the most complex cognitive abilities, that enabled us to walk on the moon and peak into the origin of our universe. Spread it across seven million years, and you will find that human brain has almost tripled in size, and most of this tremendous growth took place only in the last two million years. This much can be determined with an almost agreeable scientific precision, however getting to the nitty-gritty of the changes that the human brain underwent over the last couple of million years, is extremely tricky, to say the least.

Considering the significance of brains as the centre of our ‘being’ – not a philosophical standpoint as philosophers differ greatly about the precise location of the ‘mind’ which is the considered the software to the hardware called the brain – knowing the evolutionary journey of the brain is of paramount importance. Over the last 10,000 years, Human brains, in particular, have seen a sort of shrink which is considered an evolutionary enigma in and of itself. Experts point towards the shifting trends towards a more agricultural lifestyle that may have decreased the nutritional intake in humans, which may have contributed towards the shrinking of the brain.

In the last century or so, thanks to the industrial revolution the brain size has seen a significant rebound, another evolutionary enigma so to speak, courtesy of better childhood nutrition and a tremendous decrease in disease. When it comes to brains, and human brains, in particular, it is safe to suggest that learning about the past doesn’t predict the future of evolution. The integration of the brain with modern technology, which is increasing on a daily basis and the prospects of genetic engineering has the potential to essentially catapult the human brain into an unknown realm of evolution, and we have no way to predict it accurately.

The post Enigmas of Science: How did the Brain evolve? appeared first on Exposing The Truth.

Space Travel Could Become Impossible In The Future – Unless We Clean It Up

Sat, 2017-04-29 00:13

A few weeks ago, I was simply browsing through my daily science briefing, my news feed and multiple messengers instantly started buzzing with news articles regarding a new world record. India had launched a total of 104 satellites onboard a single rocket into space, breaking the previous record of Russia of launching 37 satellites in 2014. I took a deep, long breath and inadvertently uttered ‘No! not again!’ Don’t get me wrong, I am a great space enthusiast and every single space discovery leaves me with awe and elation, however launching satellites into earth’s orbit carries a whole different emotional value for me – and for planet earth’s future for that matter.

Listening to the countdown and then seeing a rocket spewing out those thick milky clouds of rocket fuel, burning and pushing this marvel of human engineering and ingenuity up, cutting through the clouds and our atmosphere, straight into space; has been mesmerising generations since the Russian launch of Sputnik. However, somewhere between hundreds of rocket launches and ever evolving technological advancement – courtesy of the satellites that we so proudly shoot out into space – we have stopped looking into the inevitable consequence of ‘Space Junk’.

Our planet has now turned into a ‘beehive’ of countless satellites, some performing service (or surveillance depending on your preference) to humanity, while others obscured and abandoned, orbiting around the Earth and have now become a real cause of concern for space engineers and even astronauts. The problem has become such a colossal issue that NASA has a dedicated page where you can actually witness for yourself, the extent of the space litter engulfing earth; which is truly shocking, to say the least.

According to NASA, the space around the earth is littered with all kinds of space debris ranging from ‘flecks of paints’ to full-size satellites that are no longer functional and are abandoned by the host country. Most of the space junk is orbiting around the earth at a staggering speed of almost seven times the speed of a bullet. These rogue objects reach the speed of approximately 18,000 miles per hour, posing an ever-present threat to astronauts and vital space equipment onboard the International Space Station.To have an idea of the extent of damage that a half an inch piece of debris could cause moving at six miles per second, imagine getting smashed in the head by a bowling ball moving at 300 miles per hour; which is 100 miles more than the average speed of a Boeing 737 taking off.

To have an idea of the extent of damage that a half an inch piece of debris could cause moving at six miles per second, imagine getting smashed in the head by a bowling ball moving at 300 miles per hour; which is 100 miles more than the average speed of a Boeing 737 taking off.

According to the renowned American astrophysicist and director of the Hayden Planetarium, Neil deGrasse Tyson, the future of space travel is in great jeopardy due to the space debris. Tyson propounded in an interview that it will become increasingly challenging for launching successful space probes and other missions if we keep on littering our space with satellites and other junk. While speaking to comedian Joe Rogen in his podcast Joe Rogen Experience, Tyson carefully criticised humanity’s ambition to colonise other planets citing that our behaviour about our earth is enough to predict what we are capable of in terms of destroying our planet and its immediate vicinity.

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Solving Hunger With Food Waste – The Robin Hood Army

Tue, 2017-04-04 17:48

The Robin Hood Army is a New Delhi, India, based organisation that works to get surplus food from restaurants and distribute it to hungry and less fortunate people of society. The organisation has over 9000 volunteers in 13 countries, in 41 cities, so far. The organisation tries to reach various less fortunate groups such as the homeless, orphanages, night shelters, people/children on the streets, etc.

In August 2014, a group of 5 friends, came out to the streets of Delhi to feed the homeless. The idea was basic yet effective, they drove to various restaurants around the city, collected unsold food, re-packaged it and gave it the people who were sleeping by the road.

The organisation has many ties with restaurants and food chains across the 41 around the globe. The organisation’s Facebook page states: “The RHA is a very decentralised organisation and does not accept monetary contributions- we just need your time”

The idea is to spread awareness about wastage of food and how large the problem hunger is and motivating the people to come together to eradicate this problem in every part of the globe.

Recently I got a chance to talk with the Co-founder of Robin Hood Army, Neel Ghose. Neel is currently Vice President (International Operations) of Zomato.

Robin Hood Army is continuously doing great work, and receiving an overwhelming response from all around the world.

Where did you get the idea?
“It was not an original idea – I was living and working in Portugal, where I came across an organisation Refood International (founded by Hunter Halder) which redistributes excess food to the less fortunate through volunteers. I spent some time with the team and founder to understand the process – I was excited by the simplicity of it and thought this makes sense in our country where the need is so much more.”

What are the major problems you faced?
“We have been lucky with a great, motivated team across cities and a solid support system – so I would not say there have been major existential problems. One fundamental challenge is time. Almost every person in the Robin Hood Army including myself, have full-time occupations and do this in our free time. With more time devoted to the cause, our impact would definitely be more.”

How many supporters were there in the beginning?
“In our first night of distribution, we had 5 Robins – these were basically our immediate friends who were motivated by the idea and wanted to create impact.”

How do you choose where to go and who to help? From the level of poverty in the area, wastage of food or availability of restaurants?
“This depends from city to city – we have a basic process called scouting where we identify people who require help. These folks could range from homeless families to HIV homes to orphanages. The idea is to adopt a hyperlocal nature and connect the residents of an area to the underprivileged through the means of food provided by restaurants in the locality.”

Have you ever felt like giving up/quitting?
“Not one single minute. There are almost 200 million people in our country who do not have two square meals a day – we are barely scratching the surface.If anything – the milestones give us perspective that there is so much more to do and we sincerely hope we are just getting started. There is one line which we constantly use in the team – we are just “1% Done”.”

In a country like India, where around 1.5 billion tonnes of food goes to wastage every year, how do you suggest we stop it?
“I believe the first step is awareness. When we were in school – we never learnt how large a problem hunger still is, in fact before we started working in the Robin Hood Army we were still oblivious to this. The truth is hunger is not likely to be a problem you and I will face – hence the media finds more “relatable” issues to raise like politics, terrorism, and pollution. If every citizen across India was aware that there are 7000 deaths from hunger-related diseases every single day, I think there would be a drastic mindset shift in waste.Some countries like France have also made it compulsory for supermarkets and other organisations to donate their excess food – this would be a great first step towards reducing wastage and ending hunger.”

Are you receiving any help from the government?
“Not directly – but we have had our fair share of support from different representatives of the government in cities. I honestly think it’s unfair to expect the government to have a solution to everything – public-minded citizens should roll up their sleeves and start acting on problems they see around them.”

What are your upcoming plans? Do you have any plans of extension in rural areas?
“There are two major focus areas – we are currently in 41 cities across the world and serve roughly 100,000 people a month – by the end of this calendar year, we want to at least double our impact. We have recently started the Robin Hood Academy – which serves as a bridge to teach and enable street children with an aim of enrolling them in local government schools. Currently, we are teaching 1200 children out of which 203 have enrolled in full-time schools, we want to drive up that number significantly. Enabling education a major step in nation building. Rural areas is a challenge at this point honestly. Since we have a stringent no-funds approach, we spread the word and enlist new volunteers and cities through social media. So to a certain extent, we are restricted to areas where social media is widespread. However, we can help rural areas by mobilising support for projects. Last year, there was a severe drought in the Latur district of Maharashtra – several farmers had committed suicide. Our Robins across Pune and Mumbai mobilised water from their companies, residences, colleges etc. and actually transferred 75,000 litres of water through a special train every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday to Latur.”

Any message for people out there who want to help but still struggle?
“Honestly, don’t over-think stuff, think less and do more. We are all blessed with the privilege of education and opportunity – use the skills you have developed to people who need it most. There are very few things which are as fulfilling.”

The post Solving Hunger With Food Waste – The Robin Hood Army appeared first on Exposing The Truth.

1.7 Million Children Dead In Environmental Disaster

Thu, 2017-03-23 16:40

1.7 million children have tragically died in one of the world’s most recent disasters. The disaster? Pollution. In the last year, at least 1.7 million children have died from pollution-related diseases, and we are to blame…

A quarter of all child deaths

Recent research by the World Health Organisation (WHO) revealed that toxic air, polluted water and a dire lack of sanitation were directly responsible for the deaths of 1.7 million children under the age of five in 2016. The report, Inheriting a sustainable world: Atlas on children’s health and the environment also indicated that most of these deaths were highly avoidable, mainly by providing cleaner cooking fuels to prevent indoor intoxication.

Dr Margaret Chan, director-general of the WHO said “A polluted environment is a deadly one, particularly for young children. Their developing organs and immune systems – and smaller bodies and airways – make them especially vulnerable to dirty air and water”.

As we reported recently with the air pollution crisis in London, air pollution can be held responsible for miscarriages, premature births, and other birth defects. Essentially, air pollution starts its damage in the womb. After birth, pneumonia, heart disease, lung disease, asthma, and cancer are also all linked to heavy air pollution.

How many?

Pneumonia is the biggest threat to children under five, with the respiratory illness killing 570,000 children a year on average. The second most dangerous illness is diarrhoea, which kills around 361,000, and comes about through unsanitary living conditions and a lack of access to clean water. The figures for children dying from indoor air poisonings, such as from burning coal or dung to cook food, are unknown.

270,000 children die during their first month of life, some through prematurity, and others through various environmental factors. As well as this, 200,000 children die from injuries related to their direct environment, such as drowning, falls and poisoning. Another 200,000 die from avoidable malaria.

As many as 14% of children globally can claim to have asthma, a shocking reflection of our air quality levels as a planet. UNICEF even reported that 90% of the world’s children live in places which exceed healthy air guidelines; that’s around 2 billion children. 300 million of these are made to suffer in areas with more than 6 times international guidelines.

Where?

It would be the natural assumption that poorer countries are the biggest culprits, which has some truth in it, though more than 50% of first world countries exceed healthy air limits, and the number is growing steadily. Air pollution around the globe kills more than three million people annually, with more than half of those children under five.

The truth is that the third world, with less infrastructure, is higher at risk, though cities brimming with life, transport and business are also incredibly dangerous. Maria Neira, a WHO public health expert suggests a long-term strategy. “Investing in the removal of environmental risks to health, such as improving water quality or using cleaner fuels, will result in massive health benefits,” she is quoted as saying.

Youngsters who live in large cities, close to municipal waste sites, industrial factories or energy facilities are at a greater risk of death.

What can we do for future children?

With increasing global CO2 levels and temperatures, the issue could get a lot worse before it gets any better. All we can do for now is increase awareness, education and begin providing alternatives to those who need them the most. A huge push for clean energy is vital.

The post 1.7 Million Children Dead In Environmental Disaster appeared first on Exposing The Truth.

Highest Ranking Child Protection Officer Says People Watching Child Porn Shouldn’t Be Charged

Thu, 2017-03-09 15:02

Simon Bailey, who is the highest ranking child protection officer in the UK says that pedophiles shouldn’t be jailed for viewing child pornography.

Chief Constable Bailey of Norfolk Constabulary sparked outrage and shocked many people when he said that pedophiles who view pornographic images of children should not be criminally charged unless they pose a real physical threat to children.

Bailey justified his opinion by saying that the judicial system has reached ‘saturation point’ due to increasing reports of this behaviour.

“The police service has to deal with an unprecedented volume of reports of non-recent abuse, ongoing abuse, online abuse, peer-to-peer abuse. The numbers are continuing to rise. We have reached saturation point. The police service has responded to the threat but it has now reached that point whereby we have to try and turn the tide. We have to look at alternatives.” – Simon Bailey

Because the police are too busy and government cuts to police funding he considers the lower-level offenders should be merely dealt with through counselling and rehabilitation. That way the police can then concentrate their ‘limited resources’ on catching and arresting the most dangerous pedophiles who fund abuse and who have access to children.

“Let’s be really clear. Somebody going online and using their credit card to direct the abuse of a child in the Philippines should be locked up, categorically. That individual who is not in contact with children and doesn’t pose a threat to children and is looking at low-level images.

When you look at everything else that’s going on, and the threat that’s posed by contact abuse to children, we have to look at doing something different with those individuals. Do the Crown Prosecution Service, the courts, and the police have the capacity to put them into the justice system?” – Simon Bailey

Operation Hydrant – the nationwide inquiry into historical child sexual abuse – said they are overwhelmed by the staggering number of abusers out there. Child abuse reports have risen by 78% in the last 4 years (2013-2016), an average of over 22 per day according to Barnardo’s. Every year the police received over 70,000 complaints regarding child sexual abuse and over 400 pedophiles are arrested. One can only imagine how many victims there have been that haven’t been reported.

Based on a German study The NSPCC (The National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children) estimates that 450,000 to 590,000 men in the UK may have viewed child sexual abuse images on the internet. Peter Wanless, chief executive of the NSPCC, said: “The sheer numbers of people viewing child sexual abuse images online must be addressed as a social emergency.”

An NSPCC spokesman said: “Prison sentences serve a vital purpose in reflecting the severity of the crime, protecting the public, acting as a deterrent, and helping a victim see their offender deservedly brought to justice. But we cannot arrest our way out of the situation if we are to stem this tide and protect more children we must make prevention and rehabilitation a priority. With the right support, we can prevent offenders from abusing and help those who do harm children change their behaviour.”

But, not everyone agrees with Bailey’s notion. “Any kind of message that gives potential abusers or abusers the opportunity to think they may get away with it is extremely unhelpful to child protection.” says Peter Saunders, founder and spokesman for the National Association for People Abused in Childhood.

Bailey acknowledged that many people would be quite nervous about his proposal, but he was “we have to find a balanced and proportional response” he said in an interview on BBC Radio 4 Today on February 28th.

“I have had conversations with colleagues across the justice system and of course, there is some general nervousness. I can understand this is going to create and draw out some really difficult headlines but I think I would be failing in my duty if I didn’t raise the fact that as a service we are doing more than we ever have done before.” – Simon Bailey.

He tweeted that we should judge him based on the facts, and made a series of tweets to defend his statements.

[<a href=”//storify.com/AaronJackson/simon-bailey-tweets” target=”_blank”>View the story “Simon Bailey tweets” on Storify</a>]

Do you think that people viewing child pornography should be arrested and charged, or are we better off focusing on ‘more serious’ crimes?

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