November 29, 2013 1:00 pm
In the forests of central Africa, the Elephant Listening Project uses specialized microphones to eavesdrop on forest elephants, a bid to unlock the elephants’ language and understand how they communicate. Part of the listening projects’ goal is to help conservation efforts by providing a non-intrusive way to track elephant behavior. But poachers hunt the elephants of central Africa—for ivory or for meat—and this gruesome reality came to the fore last week when the listening projects’ microphones captured the actual sounds of poachers hunting a forest elephant.
The listening projects’ director, Peter Wrege, talked to Nature about the plight of forest elephants:
Because the enforcement [against poachers] in savannah areas is better, we think that forest elephants are taking the brunt of ivory poaching more and more. Rainforests are difficult places to patrol and protect. I would say that all populations of forest elephants are in deep trouble, and the ones most at risk are those at the edges of their current range — in Cameroon and the Central African Republic. They are almost gone now from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where once more than 60% of all forest elephants lived.
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November 26, 2013 2:22 pm
Here’s the stereotypical trope about dating: Men, the indiscriminate pursuer, will go for anyone with a heartbeat. Women are aloof selectors—the romantic gatekeepers who thrive on saying “no.” This stereotypical behavior carries over to the online dating world, too: men blast out messages, while women are told to sit back, to pick-and-choose their perfect mate.
Evolutionary psychologists will tell you that this is all just part of our natural heritage: eggs are expensive, sperm is not, so it makes sense for girls to be more picky than guys. These built-in limits create a lop-sided dating game.
But two researchers, psychologists Eli Finkel and Paul Eastwick, have shown that guys’ scattershot approach to dating has a lot less to do with evolutionary pressures and more to do with socially defined gender roles. In a study, they found that women take the same approach to dating as men traditionally do—eschewing selectivity and remaining open to a wider range of romantic possibilities—when they are the ones who have to make the first move.
The scientists showed the breakdown of gender roles in a relatively simple way: They held a series of speed dating event, where a few hundred men and women mingled. In half of their speed dating trials, the women stayed seated while the men rotated from table to table, mimicking the “normal” approach to dating where men pursue women. In the other half, the women did the rotating.
Here’s the interesting part: whoever was doing the rotating was less particular than the people being approached—the rotators ended up being interested in more of the people they had met than the stationary participants. That held true for men and for women. Writing for The Conversation, psychologist Gary Lewandowski Jr explains what this means for all of you romantics out there:
These findings show how a widely assumed gender difference – women are picky about who they date, men aren’t – could largely be an artifact of social situations. Men may be less picky not because they are men, but because societal norms require them to do the majority of the approaching in dating scenarios. Women’s selectivity, meanwhile, might arise from their essentially arbitrary role as “selectors”. In other words, when lots of potential suitors are approaching you, it makes sense to be picky.
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November 25, 2013 10:46 am
Iran has the technological ability to produce nuclear weapons. Yet, so far as we know, they have not done so. In a deal worked out over the weekend Iran has agreed to temporarily honor sanctions on its nuclear program in exchange for roughly $7 billion in relief. The deal is the first big step in efforts to curb Iranian nuclear proliferation in years, but the restrictions are a temporary deal—the sanctions will last just six months, hopefully giving politicians time to work out a longer-term agreement.
First off, here’s what Iran didn’t agree to do: Iran did not agree to stop enriching uranium from uranium-238—the type of uranium primarily found in raw uranium ore—into uranium-235, the kind used in most nuclear reactors and bombs. This is seen, by some countries, as a failure to fully curb Iran’s nuclear potential.
Here’s what Iran did agree to do: Iran agreed to not build any more centrifuges, the equipment used for enriching uranium. Iran also agreed to limit the scope of its enrichment program. Natural uranium is around 0.7 percent uranium-235, and Iran still going to enrich uranium to around 3.5 to 5 percent uranium-235, the level used for nuclear reactors. But it’s going to stop making 20 percent enriched uranium-235, and it’s going to cut down on the stocks of 20 percent enriched uranium it already has.
The deal is sort of complicated, and doesn’t really make much sense unless you know a little bit about nuclear enrichment. This graph from the World Nuclear Association is actually super useful for understanding what the U.S. is trying to do with the nuclear deal, once you know how to read it.
Along the left axis of this graph is the amount of work that you need to do to enrich uranium, from the natural level around 0.7 percent up to 90 percent, the enrichment level needed for nuclear weapons. That effort is measured in SWUs, or separative work units, the amount of work it takes to separate uranium-235 out from uranium-238. From low levels of enrichment, on the left, up to high levels on the right, you can see the slope taper off. This means that once your uranium is already enriched a little bit, it takes less work to enrich it even more.
So, since enriching uranium gets easier the more you do it, the U.S. is worried about something called a “nuclear breakout.” That is, if Iran has a lot of uranium enrichment capability, in the form of centrifuges, and big stockpiles of 5 percent- and 20 percent-enriched uranium, it wouldn’t take them long at all to to push for a nuclear weapons-caliber 90%-enriched uranium, if they did decide to develop a weapon.
Here’s what the deal really does: By limiting the number of centrifuges the country has, and making it knock down its stockpiles of 20 percent enriched uranium, the nuclear deal adds time to Iran’s nuclear breakout potential. The country could still push for a weapon, but with its handicapped supplies and production facilities, it would take it longer to do so—giving the rest of the world more time to notice and react.
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November 25, 2013 10:36 am
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change‘s Fifth Assessment Report, the latest in a series of comprehensive reviews of climate science, will be completed in 2014. These reports are dense and packed with science, so the IPCC put together this video, which boils down the highlights of the panel’s work in language anyone can understand. The aim: get people up to speed on what’s happening with the world’s climate.
If watching the nine minute video is too big an ask, however, here are the highlights:
- Humans are driving climate change.
- Many of the observed recent changes to the climate and planet are unprecedented, on the order of decades to millennia.
- Each of the past three decades has been warmer than all other decades since 1850, and the last 10 years have been the warmest on record.
- Carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere have increased by 40 percent since the Industrial Revolution.
- CO2 levels are higher now than they’ve been for the past 800,000 years.
- Sea level has risen by more than 7 inches between 1900 and 2010.
- Climate models are becoming ever more sophisticated and now can project future impacts on a regional rather than just global scale.
- Choices we make today will determine whether the climate warms by just 2 degrees Celsius or more than 4 degrees.
- The changes currently underway represent a “multi-century” commitment to a very different planet.
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November 21, 2013 3:23 pm
There’s a persistent idea, which comes up often in debates over social services, that a too-generous social assistance program could make life so cushy that people would be happy to be unemployed. (This is despite the well-known psychological, health, and economic hazards of un- or under-employement, although not all of these issues stem specifically from financial shortfalls). Now, a new study by Jan Eichhorn took that idea head on, looking at rates of life satisfaction from unemployed people across the European Union. And Eichhorn found that there is no connection between how happy people are and the quality of their country’s unemployment assistance.
There is notable variation, from country to country, on how much being unemployed hurts people’s life satisfaction. And large-scale economic disparities between the countries—in GDP or the amount of income inequality—make a difference. But one factor that didn’t matter was how robust unemployment assistance programs are.
Not only does the strength of an unemployment program not affect people’s happiness, it also doesn’t affect how hard people look for new jobs when they are unemployed.
It is imperative to understand that this does not disqualify welfare state payments, as there are forms of well-being not comprehensively captured in the subjective evaluations (such as material well-being or health), although there are connections between the different domains of well-being. It does mean however that claims about unemployment beneﬁts helping to reduce the negative impact of unemployment in terms of the feeling and the subjective evaluations could not be upheld uncritically. In turn this means that claims about unemployment beneﬁts resulting in complacent unemployed people who chose the situation and would be satisﬁed with it cannot be retained uncritically either.
Arguments to increase or decrease unemployment beneﬁts therefore should not be based on discussions which use these claims as their foundation as they could not be supported empirically by this study. Other reasons need to be presented in order to justify decisions regarding unemployment beneﬁt levels, not arguments based on discussions of systematic effects on motivation, satisfaction and complacency.
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