Author: Daniella

The Third Revolution

“One of the great paradoxes of China today,” writes eminent China scholar Elizabeth C. Economy, “is Xi Jinping’s effort to position himself as a champion of globalization, while at the same time restricting the free flow of capital, information, and goods between China and the rest of the world.” In her new book, The Third Revolution: Xi Jinping and the New Chinese State, Economy explains that “the ultimate objective of Xi’s revolution is his Chinese Dream—the rejuvenation of the great Chinese nation.” Characterized by “a reassertion of the state in Chinese political and economic life at home, and a more ambitious and expansive role for China abroad,” Xi’s China is exercising “new levers of influence and power that others will have to learn to exploit and counter to protect and advance their own interests,” warns Economy, C. V. Starr senior fellow and director of Asia Studies at CFR. Xi has reversed the thirty years of reform and opening initiated by former Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping’s Second Revolution and replaced it with his own Third Revolution, she writes. “What makes Xi’s revolution distinctive is the …

Discovering gravitational waves from neutron stars

Discovering gravitational waves from neutron stars

Rumours have been swirling for weeks that scientists have detected gravitational waves – tiny ripples in space and time – from a source other than colliding black holes. Now we can finally confirm that we’ve observed such waves produced by the violent collision of two massive, ultra-dense stars more than 100m light years from the Earth. The discovery was made on August 17 by the global network of advanced gravitational-wave interferometers – comprising the twin LIGO detectors in the US and their European cousin, Virgo, in Italy. It is hugely important, not least because it helps solve some big mysteries in astrophysics – including the cause of bright flashes of light known as “gamma ray bursts” and perhaps even the origins of heavy elements such as gold. As a member of the LIGO scientific collaboration, I was immediately in raptures as soon as I saw the initial data. And the period that followed was definitely the most intense and sleep deprived, but also incredibly exciting, two months of my career. The announcement comes just weeks after three scientists were awarded the Nobel …

Why believe the “ten-percent myth” Human Brain usage?

Why believe the “ten-percent myth” Human Brain usage?

You may have heard that humans only use ten percent of their brain, and that if you could unlock the rest of your brainpower, you could do so much more. You could become a super genius, or acquire psychic powers like mind reading and telekinesis. This “ten-percent myth” has inspired many references in the cultural imagination. In the 2014 movie Lucy, for example, a woman develops godlike powers thanks to drugs that unleash the previously inaccessible 90 percent of her brain. Many people believe the myth, too: about 65 percent of Americans, according to a 2013 survey conducted by the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research. In another study that asked students what percentage of the brain people used, about one third of the psychology majors answered “10 percent.” Contrary to the ten-percent myth, however, scientists have shown that humans use their entire brain throughout each day. There are several threads of evidence debunking the ten-percent myth. Neuropsychology Neuropsychology studies how the anatomy of the brain affects someone’s behavior, emotion, and cognition. Over the years, brain …

It is science alone that can solve the problems of hunger and poverty?

It is science alone that can solve the problems of hunger and poverty?

In the early days of independent India, Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru said, “It is science alone that can solve the problems of hunger and poverty … of a rich country inhabited by starving people.” Would any head of state today voice this view? A 2013 poll recorded that only 36% of Americans had “a lot” of trust that the information they get from scientists is accurate and reliable. High-profile leaders, especially on the political right, have increasingly chosen to undermine conclusions of scientific consensus. The flash-points tend to be the “troubled technologies” – those that seem to threaten our delicate relationship with nature – climate change, genetically modified organisms (GMOs), genetic therapy and geo-engineering. The polarisation in these public debates constitutes an implicit threat to the quality of decisions that we must make if we are to ensure the future well-being of our planet and our species. When political colour trumps evidence-based science, we are in trouble. Could it be that this increasingly dangerous ambivalence towards science in politics is related to our continued misgivings over its cultural …

Religion means different things to different people

A lot of arguments about religion treat it like going to school: a religion is a set of lessons to be learned, tests to pass and rules to follow, all watched over by the great headmaster in the sky. That assumption shapes the sorts of questions we ask of religions and religious people: are your teachers telling the truth? Have they trained you to behave properly? And why do you think it’s a good idea to go to school anyway? But there’s an increasing body of evidence to suggest that we need to think about religion in a different way: not as a process of training or indoctrination, but as arising from some deep-seated instincts, hardwired into our brains and then shaped by our cultures. This is more like the way we think about sex, emotions and relationships. The shift in thinking arises from a field of study known as the cognitive science of religion, where cognitive psychologists and evolutionary theorists have joined forces to address a puzzling question. In the words of Jeffrey Schloss: Why, despite …

Disadvantaged family living in the United Kingdom

Disadvantaged family living in the United Kingdom

The UK has one of the widest attainment gaps in education within the developed world. This effectively means that if you are born in the UK to a family living in disadvantaged circumstances, you are much less likely to achieve your potential than your peers. And research shows it may take another 50 years to close this gap. Many young people who grow up in an area that is considered a “cold spot” of social mobility – like many of the UK’s seaside towns and former coal mining communities – are caught up in cycles of deprivation. This affects their aspirations, academic self-confidence and adult life choices. My recently published research looks at the realities of what it’s like to grow up in one of these areas. I spoke to 89 schoolgirls living in a former mining community – designated by the government to be within the UK’s worst 10% in terms of deprivation. In the community I looked at in my study, most men work locally, while women marry local men young, have children …

Alzheimer’s,-insulin-is-a-new-suspect-1200x800

Alzheimer’s, insulin is a new suspect

Johnson and Johnson recently announced that it was halting a clinical trial for a new Alzheimer’s drug after safety issues emerged. This latest failure adds to the dozens of large, costly clinical trials that have shown no effect in treating this devastating disease. The growing list of failures should give us pause for thought – have we got the causes of Alzheimer’s all wrong? In the first analysis of the disease, the German physician, Alois Alzheimer, noted odd changes in the brain of a patient who died of the condition. Alzheimer identified two kinds of protein aggregates that are not found in younger brains: plaques that are found between brain cells and tangles that are found inside brain cells. Later research identified the proteins that made up the plaques as amyloid and those that form the tangles as tau. What these structures actually do is still under debate. Unheeded warning Alzheimer advised scientists not to jump to the conclusion that these proteins caused the disease. Unfortunately, his caution was ignored, and over the years it has become gospel …

A Likely Dictatorship

Term limits for the leadership are not usually found in dictatorships. The Chinese Communist Party’s proposed abolition of China’s presidential term limit means that it has forgotten one of the main lessons of Mao’s long despotism. The two-term limit was inserted into the People’s Republic of China Constitution after the Cultural Revolution ended and reflected a widespread desire to prevent the return of one-man dictatorship. Its abolition signals the likelihood of another long period of severe repression. This should prompt us to think of Chiang Kaishek as well as Mao and Yuan Shikai and, in a comparative Asian vein, of Marcos and Park among others. Of course, some recognize that Putin’s example may also have significantly influenced Xi Jinping. Xi’s move will have a profound effect on world order. It will enable him to move more boldly and increases the risk of his acting arbitrarily and perhaps mistakenly in international relations. It will surely hinder China’s efforts to be respected for “soft power” as well as military and economic prowess. Xi decided to strike while the iron is hot …

Should Atheism Be Taught?

Louis J. Appignani, an 84-year-old living in Florida, tells a compelling story about his conversion to atheism. Despite attending Catholic schools from a young age and through his teens, he didn’t really question belief in God growing up; people in his world, he said, sort of took faith for granted. Then he got to college and started reading the philosopher Bertrand Russell, who argued against traditional defenses of God’s existence and justified, as Appignani put it, “what I deep down believe.” Now, the proud atheist holds nothing back when it comes to his personal views on religion. The study of atheism, he said, “gave me strength to believe that faith is stupid … [that] mythology is not true.” Appignani started his career as a businessman, serving as the president and chairman of the famous Barbizon International modeling and acting school, among other endeavors. In 2001 he turned his focus to atheism, establishing the Appignani Foundation, which supports “critical thinking” and “humanistic values” and has given grants to organizations such as the American Humanist Association and the Secular Coalition for America. Then, …

Black Panther box office hit?

Marvel Studios’ Black Panther, opening tonight in theatres across Canada and the United States, is pretty much guaranteed to be a hit. It set records for advance ticket sales on Fandango, its soundtrack album debuted in the No. 1 spot on the Billboard charts and industry estimates point to opening-weekend revenues as high as US$170 million. Director Ryan Coogler and star Chadwick Boseman appeared on the cover of the industry trade magazine Variety, while British GQ styled actor Michael B. Jordan to recall Black Panther Party activists. The red-carpet premiere made a splash on celebrity and fashion blogs, and it’s the most-tweeted-about film of the year. Marvel’s had big hits before. But this feels like something different. Ahead of its time The Black Panther, also known as King T’Challa of Wakanda, was created as a comic book hereo in 1966 by artist Jack Kirby and writer/editor Stan Lee. Although considered the first Black superhero in American comics, this is not the first time we’ve seen a Black superhero in the cinema. Comedian Robert Townsend gave …