Monday, October 13, 2008

FIRST PHOTO: "Lost" Deer Species Rediscovered in Trap

October 12, 2008—In the first ever photograph of a live Sumatran muntjac, the dog-size deer awaits release from a poacher's snare on the Indonesian island of Sumatra.

The photo, released Friday, is the first record of the "lost muntjac of Sumatra" in 80 years, says U.K. conservation group Flora & Fauna International.

An anti-poaching patrol had photographed the mountain deer at 6,400 feet (1,950 meters) in 2002.

It was only recently, however, that muntjac expert Robert Timmins recognized the rain forest deer in the photo as the first documented Sumatran muntjac since 1930.

The species closely resembles the red muntjac. But Timmins was able to identify the Sumatran in the photo because he had earlier rediscovered another "lost" specimen—a stuffed Sumatran muntjac collected in 1914—in London's Natural History Museum.

Until the British biologist's museum discovery, the second muntjac species had been largely forgotten by science for some 60 years.

"This deer might well be relatively common in Sumatra above a certain altitude," said Timmins, speaking from his base in Madison, Wisconsin. "I always suspected it still survived in the region."

Now been confirmed as a distinct species, the Sumatran muntjac has been placed on the global Red List of Threatened Species. (See photos of 2008 Red list animals.)

James Owen in London

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Distractions at work could help problem-solving

By Aislinn Simpson

A moment spent working on something else or taking a break altogether allows the brain's unconscious thought process to take over, American psychologists believe. When the brain kicks back into gear, the conscious thought process will pick up on the solution, they found.

The discovery was made by a team of scientists who asked 130 volunteers to conduct a word association experiment.

Half the group were told to break off from their test to concentrate on something entirely different for five minutes.

The results showed that those who spent time focusing on a different task were much quicker at solving the first task when they returned to it than the group that had stuck with it.

The research, which is led by a team at Northwestern University in Illinois and published in the September issue of the journal Psychological Science, appears to contradict previous evidence that the distraction of emails and text messages can lower the IQ more than twice as much as smoking marijuana.

Professor Adam Galinsky, who led the study, said: "Conscious thought is better at making linear, analytic decisions, but unconscious thought is especially effective at solving complex problems. Unconscious activation may provide inspirational sparks underlying the 'Aha!' moment that eventually leads to important discoveries."

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Break out the bubbly: White wine may be good for you

  • news service
  • Ewen Callaway

White wine lovers can feel a little less guilty about their habit. New research suggests that white varieties may offer similar heart benefits to red wines.

Rats that were fed white wine as part of their diet suffered less heart damage during cardiac arrest, compared to animals fed only water or grain alcohol. These benefits were similar to animals that ingested a red wine or its wonder ingredient found only in grape skin, resveratrol.

White wine, made from the pulp of the grape but not the skin, contains no resveratrol, which led many to pin the so-called "French paradox" – high fat intake but low rates of heart disease – on moderate consumption of red wines.

Not just reds, says Dipak Das, a molecular biologist at the University of Connecticut School of Medicine in Farmington. "The flesh of the grape can do the same job as the skin."

Chemical protection

He and colleagues gave lab rats measured doses – roughly equivalent to one or two glasses a day – of red or white Italian wines, while others received comparable doses of different chemical ingredients thought to underlie the health benefits of wine, called polyphenols.

In lab rats that suffered heart attacks, the animals that received wine or polyphenols experienced less heart damage, compared to rats fed water or straight liquor. Their blood pressure and aortic blood flow plummeted less drastically as well.

Molecular tests of heart cells suggest that white wine protects the cell's powerhouses – mitochondria. Damage to these structures caused by lack of oxygen and nutrients can send cells down one-way path to suicide, or apoptosis.

The mitochondria from wine-drinking rats looked to be in better shape and fewer of their cardiac cells entered apoptosis. This was also the case for rats that got polyphenols, including resveratrol from red wine, and tyrosol and hydroxytyrosol from whites.

A look at the structure of the three chemicals' offers one possible reason why, Das says. While not identical, the trio have enough similarities that they could activate some of the same cellular reactions.

English paradox?

Das's data provide compelling evidence that white wine protects laboratory rats from the effects of a heart attack, says Lionel Opie, director of Hatter Institute for Cardiology Research in Cape Town, South Africa.

However, he points out that human heart attacks occur due to blood clots in diseased arteries and not necessarily because of mitochondrial failure. More relevant experiments in dogs showed a benefit for red wine, but not white, Opie adds.

But Das expects similar studies to soon prove white wine's worth. "We can safely say that one to two glasses of white wine per day works exactly like red wine," he says.

Das blames white wine's late inclusion to the French paradox on the phenomenon's original medical report in 1992, as well as researcher's single-minded focus on resveratrol.

And while the evidence is still scant, an "English paradox" may yet emerge. "Beer is also cardioprotective," Das says.

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Compressed air cars coming to NZ

Buzzing about in a compressed air-powered car will be an option for environmentally conscious Kiwis later this year.

The revolutionary new vehicle powered by compressed air can be driven at a speed of up to 70kmh, travel 100km for $2 and will save energy and help the environment, the New Zealand Herald reported today.

The small Airpod was likely to be imported into New Zealand by the end of the year by New Zealand company IndraNet Technologies from its European manufacturer, MDI.

"The Airpod is great fun. There is no steering wheel and you run it with a joy stick," said IndraNet managing director Dr Louis Arnoux, who was in France for the vehicle's unveiling yesterday.

The Airpod has a very small compressed air-powered engine on each of the rear wheels and is steered by controlling the flow of air from each engine.

However, the editor of the New Zealand car-buying reference manual The Dog and Lemon Guide, Clive Matthew-Wilson, said it was important to remember that the Airpod was ultimately not powered by air, but by whatever form of energy was used to compress the air.

"It's a slightly more efficient way of wasting energy on inefficient trips.

He also doubted the car's fuel economy, saying one of the reasons the cars were so efficient was because they were small and light.

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UK accused of 'sabotaging' Europe's green energy plans

John Vidal, environment editor

Britain has been accused of trying to wreck Europe's plan to tackle climate change by lobbying to remove aviation from renewable energy targets.

Leaked documents from the council of the European Union show that the UK is exerting strong pressure on other EU governments. The argument being used is that biofuels made from plants or algae will not be ready for use as commercial aviation fuel until after 2020.

EU leaders pledged last year to generate 20% of all energy from renewable sources but if aviation, which contributes up to 9% of all greenhouse emissions in Europe, is omitted from the EU calculations at a meeting of energy ministers next week, it will significantly reduce the overall target and make it harder to tackle climate change.

Last night, in an unusual move, an adviser to the EU Industry Committee openly stated that British civil servants were leading the attempt by several countries including Cyprus, Italy and Malta to undermine the EU's renewable energy commitments.

Luxembourg MEP Claude Turmes, who denied that the leaked documents came from his office, said: "Britain is leading the attempt to undermine the climate change directive. Gordon Brown promised that the UK would not attempt to cut the EU 20% renewables target.

"Now UK civil servants from the Department of Business, enterprise and regulatory reform have a different strategy and are pushing for cuts. A government that is supposedly committed to tackle climate change must not try to kill the essence of this directive."

The document, seen by the Guardian, states that "member states want the aviation sector to be excluded from the denominator used to calculate the overall target. They consider that in the present state of technology we cannot expect it to be possible for biofuels that can replace kerosene to be certified for commercial aviation by 2020".

This was disputed by Virgin Atlantic. "We expect to run 5% of our fleet on biofuels, and 10% by 2020," said a spokesman. On Thursday, other aviation companies joined Virgin in committing to a similar shift to biofuels by 2020.

Britain has the largest aviation industry in Europe. If it succeeds in having it exempted, it stands to reduce by nearly 12% the amount of renewable energy it will need to generate by 2020.

Earlier this year the government set out what is considered to be an ambitious but achievable £100 billion commitment to renewables by 2020. An energy white paper, now passing through parliament, seeks to make Britain the first country in the world committed to 60% cuts in emissions.

Environment groups said that if Britain removed aviation from Europe's commitments it would open the door for other countries to plead special cases for their most polluting industries and render the directive nearly meaningless.

Robin Webster, Friends of the Earth's energy campaigner accused business minister John Hutton of trying to wreck the EU renewables deal: "His special pleading for the aviation industry could unravel this priceless agreement. It's time Brown stepped in and saved Britain's reputation in Brussels."

He added: "The government is working behind the scenes to sabotage Europe's renewable energy plans. This short sighted approach will leave families facing spiralling fuel prices and saddle the country with a multi-billion pound bill for dealing with the consequences of climate change."

This is the third time that Dberr officials have been exposed by the Guardian trying to undermine EU renewables energy targets. Last year Gordon Brown reacted angrily to other leaked documents showing that Britain was trying to persuade EU countries to set lower renewable targets.

The latest papers seen by the Guardian also show Britain trying to water down a series of renewable energy proposals in other areas. DBerr officials want to change a pledge that all new and refurbished buildings should be fitted with renewable energy sources like solar or wind power. Instead, countries would only have to increase "gradually" the minimum level of energy from renewable sources.

In addition, the UK is pressing for countries to be allowed to choose the speed at which they introduce renewable energy and is eager to allow large projects started before 2020 to be included.

These proposals would allow governments pass on the necessity to switch to renewables to future administrations and could allow them to start major projects as late as 2019 and claim credit for them even if they were not finished for a decade or more.

It further wants to change the rules that would give renewable electricity projects priority access to national grids.

Last week other leaked papers showed that Britain wanted Brussels to offset more domestic carbon savings through investment in clean projects in the developing world.

The move would let firms and countries import more carbon credits to count against their pollution targets. It would allow Europe to make less effort to cut its pollution, while keeping it on course to meet its target of reducing carbon emissions by 20% by 2020.

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2008 ozone hole larger than last year

Ozone hole during 7 October 2008
Ozone hole during 7 October 2008 as measured by Envisat

The 2008 ozone hole – a thinning in the ozone layer over Antarctica – is larger both in size and ozone loss than 2007 but is not as large as 2006.

Ozone is a protective atmospheric layer found in about 25 kilometres altitude that acts as a sunlight filter shielding life on Earth from harmful ultraviolet rays, which can increase the risk of skin cancer and cataracts and harm marine life.

This year the area of the thinned ozone layer over the South Pole reached about 27 million square kilometres, compared to 25 million square kilometres in 2007 and a record ozone hole extension of 29 million square kilometres in 2006, which is about the size of the North American continent.

The depletion of ozone is caused by extreme cold temperatures at high altitude and the presence of ozone-destructing gases in the atmosphere such as chlorine and bromine, originating from man-made products like chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), which were phased out under the 1987 Montreal Protocol but continue to linger in the atmosphere.

Ozone hole extension

Ozone hole extension during the last 10 years
Depending on the weather conditions, the size the Antarctic ozone hole varies every year. During the southern hemisphere winter, the atmosphere above the Antarctic continent is kept cut off from exchanges with mid-latitude air by prevailing winds known as the polar vortex – the area in which the main chemical ozone destruction occurs. The polar vortex is characterized by very low temperatures leading to the presence of so-called stratospheric clouds (PSCs).

As the polar spring arrives in September or October, the combination of returning sunlight and the presence of PSCs leads to a release of highly ozone-reactive chlorine radicals that break ozone down into individual oxygen molecules. A single molecule of chlorine has the potential to break down thousands of molecules of ozone.

Julian Meyer-Arnek of the German Aerospace Centre (DLR), which monitors the hole annually, explained the impact of regional meteorological conditions on the time and range of the ozone hole by comparing 2007 with 2008.

"In 2007 a less concentric and larger polar vortex led to an early onset of the ozone destruction in the sunlit parts of the polar vortex," Meyer-Arnek said. "Therefore, we saw an ozone hole formation in the beginning of September 2007 which corresponded to the average behaviour of the years 1995-2006."

"In 2008 a more concentric polar vortex led to a delay of the onset of the ozone destruction of about one week. The preconditioning of the polar chemistry was about the same for both years, although in 2008 the temperatures were slightly below the 2007 temperatures leading to slightly improved formation of PSCs," he continued.

Chlorine activation and ozone hole extension
Chlorine activation early September 2008

"Since the polar vortex remained undisturbed for a long period, the 2008 ozone hole became one of the largest ever observed."

Minimum values of the ozone layer of about 120 Dobson Units are observed this year compared to around 100 Dobson Units in 2006. A Dobson Unit is a unit of measurement that describes the thickness of the ozone layer in a column directly above the location of measurement.

DLR’s analysis is based upon the Scanning Imaging Absorption Spectrometer for Atmospheric Cartography (SCIAMACHY) atmospheric sensor onboard ESA’s Envisat, the Global Ozone Monitoring Experiment (GOME) aboard ESA’s ERS-2 and its follow-on instrument GOME-2 aboard EUMETSAT’s MetOp.

Scientists say that since the size and precise time of the ozone hole is dependent on the year-to-year variability in temperature and atmospheric dynamics, the detection of signs of ozone recovery is difficult.

"In order to detect these signs of recovery, a continuous monitoring of the global ozone layer and in particular of the Antarctic ozone hole is crucial," Meyer-Arnek said.

Monthly averages of total ozone values

Average of total ozone values for September 2008
In order to train the next generation of atmospheric scientists to continue the monitoring, students at ESA’s Advanced Atmospheric Training Course, held 15–20 September at University of Oxford, UK, were given the task of analysing this year’s ozone hole with Envisat sensors.

Studying the Envisat data, the students’ findings were in line with atmospheric scientists that the south polar vortex was more concentric in 2008 than in 2007, leading to a relatively late onset of ozone depletion, and that the size of this year’s hole is similar to previous years.

"This exercise led us to realise that although many questions have been answered and much has been learned about the stratospheric chemistry and atmospheric dynamics driving ozone hole behaviour, many new questions must be raised especially concerning ozone hole recovery," said Deborah C Stein Zweers, a post-doc satellite researcher from the Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institute (KNMI) who attended the course.

"We want to know when the ozone hole will recover, how its recovery will be complicated by an environment with increasing greenhouse gases and how atmospheric dynamics will shape future ozone holes. These and many other questions will attract the attention of our generation of scientists for the next several decades."

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Efforts on Global Warming Chilled by Economic Woes

By Dina Cappiello, Associated Press Writer

WASHINGTON (AP) The economic free fall gripping the nation may bring down one of the main environmental objectives: capping the greenhouse gases that are blamed for global warming.

Democratic leaders in the House and the Senate, and both presidential candidates, continue to rank tackling global warming as a chief goal next year. But the focus on stabilizing the economy probably will make it more difficult to pass a law to reduce carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. At the very least, it will push back when the reductions would have to start.

As one Republican senator put it, the green bubble has burst.

"Clearly it is somewhere down the totem pole given the economic realities we are facing," said Tom Williams, a spokesman for Duke Energy Corp., an electricity producer that has supported federal mandates on greenhouse gases. Duke is a member of the U.S. Climate Action Partnership, an association of businesses and nonprofit groups that has lobbied Congress to act.

Just months ago, chances for legislation passing in the next Congress and becoming law looked promising. The presidential candidates support mandatory cuts and a Democratic majority is ready to act on the problem after years of the Bush administration's resisting federal controls.

But the most popular remedy for slowing global warming, a mechanism know as cap-and-trade, could put further stress on a teetering economy.

Under such a system, the government would establish a market for carbon dioxide by giving or selling credits to companies with operations that emit greenhouse gases. The companies can then choose whether to invest in technologies to reduce emissions to meet targets or instead buy credits from other companies who have already met them.

In an interview with The Associated Press, Rep. Rick Boucher, D-Va., said that in light of the economic downturn, a bill that would give polluters permits free of charge would be preferable.

"The first way we can control program costs is by not charging industrial emitters," said Boucher, who released a first draft of a bill this past week with the chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, Rep. John Dingell, D-Mich. Giving away right-to-pollute permits was one of the options.

Other Democrats, however, see a cap-and-trade bill — and the government revenues it would generate from selling permits — as an engine for economic growth. Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama supports auctioning off all permits, using the money to help fund alternative energy.

"If you see this as a job creation opportunity for the U.S. to develop the products that are then sold around the world, then you should be optimistic about what the impact of passage would mean for the American economy," said Rep. Edward Markey, D-Mass.

Conservative Republicans who were never fans of a law to curb greenhouse gases have used the economic downturn as a rallying cry.

Oklahoma Sen. James Inhofe, the senior Republican on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, in a blog entry this month criticized 152 House members for releasing a set of principles to tackle global warming in the midst of the economic turmoil.

"The current economic crisis only reinforces the public's wariness about any climate bill that attempts to increase the costs of energy and jeopardizes jobs," Inhofe said.

Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas, took the argument a step further when he said the Boucher-Dingell bill could lead the country "off the economic cliff."

But even supporters of federal regulation of greenhouse gases acknowledge that something has to give given the state of the economy.

Sen. John Warner, R-Va., a lead sponsor of a Senate bill to curb greenhouse gases that failed this year, acknowledged that the economy could delay when reductions in carbon dioxide would start.

Warner told the AP that any bill should allow the president to decide.

"We must continue to think and devise a piece of legislation that will enable the president of the United States to control timing ... dependent on the president's analysis for the ability of the economy to assume the financial burdens," he said.

The U.S. is not alone. As the economic crisis has spread to markets across the globe, work to curb greenhouse gases elsewhere has stalled.

Earlier this past week, Rajendra Pachauri, head of the U.N. climate panel, said discussions about global warming solutions were "on the back burner." Pachauri shared the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize with former Vice President Al Gore for their work on climate change.

"I'm absolutely sure that climate change will be the last thing people will think about at this point in time," he said. "Sooner or later, they will come back to it."

The upside is that in hard economic times, and with high energy prices, the amount of pollution in the air tends to decline.

That will slow global warming somewhat, but there are already enough heat-trapping gases in the atmosphere to cause the temperature to rise.

"I really wish that the science of global warming would look at the newspaper, and say we have an economic crisis so the Earth will stop warming," said Dave Hamilton, director of the Sierra Club's global warming and energy program. "But that is not going to happen."

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Astronaut's son blasts off to space station

US video game magnate Richard Garriott launched into space aboard a Russian rocket on Sunday watched by his father, a NASA astronaut who went into space at the height of the Cold War.

The Russian Soyuz TMA-13 spacecraft lifted off in clear weather from the Baikonur Cosmodrome on the Kazakh steppes just after 0700 GMT.

A video game developer from Texas, Garriott paid $35 million to fly into space alongside US astronaut Michael Fincke and Russian cosmonaut Yury Lonchakov.

Garriott's father, Owen, watched the blast off through binoculars on an observation platform and Garriott's girlfriend, Kelly Miller, burst into tears. "I am very happy for him. It is one of the things he really wanted to do," Miller said as others opened Champagne to celebrate the successful launch.

"I can see he is really enjoying it like a little kid in a candy shop," Miller said.

Space officials said the Soyuz rocket had reached orbit safely and would dock with the International Space Station in about two days.

"He made it, he made it into orbit. It is marvellous," said Owen Garriott, a physicist who was selected as an astronaut by NASA for his scientific background. He spent 60 days in space in 1973 and another 10 days in 1983.

After 10 days in space, Garriott will return to Earth with the space station's former crew aboard a Soyuz re-entry vehicle, a three-person capsule that has malfunctioned on its last two flights.

In April, a Soyuz capsule landed 420 kilometres off course after explosive bolts failed to detonate before re-entry, sending the craft into a steep descent. Last year, a Soyuz capsule carrying Malaysia's first astronaut also made a so-called "ballistic" landing, similarly blamed on faulty bolts.

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Plot of the Innermost Solar System

The plot below shows the current location of the major planets (Mercury through Mars) and the minor planets that are in the innermost region of the solar system.

Also available is a view of the inner region of the solar system. The plot is of the same form as the plot on this page.

An animated version of this plot is available from our Animations page.

This plot must not be reproduced without the express written consent of the Minor Planet Center.

The orbits of the major planets are shown in light blue: the current location of the major planets is indicated by large colored dots. The locations of the minor planets, including numbered and multiple-apparition/long-arc unnumbered objects, are indicated by green circles. Objects with perihelia within 1.3 AU are shown by red circles. Objects observed at more than one opposition are indicated by filled circles, objects seen at only one opposition are indicated by outline circles. Numbered periodic comets are shown as filled light-blue squares. Other comets are shown as unfilled light-blue squares.

In this view, objects in direct orbits (most of the objects in this plot) move counterclockwise and the vernal equinox is towards the right. (The equinox directions are the direction of the sun as seen from the earth.) The plot is correct for the date given at the bottom of the plot.

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'Brain fingerprinting' could be breakthrough in law enforcement

By KOMO Staff

SEATTLE -- Science is becoming a more important part of catching a killer or terrorist and keeping the innocent out of jail.

A Seattle neuroscientist is leading the way with technology based on a simple fact: your brain can't lie.

An odd looking headband, flashing words on a computer screen, and a couple clicks of a mouse could be the secret to putting a murderer behind bars.

"It's a game changer in the field of global security," said Dr. Larry Farwell, Chairman of Brain Fingerprinting Labs who developed "brain fingerprinting" - a lie detector test for the 21st century.

While polygraph tests rely on emotional responses, brain fingerprinting records how your brain reacts to words and images related to a crime -- ones only the killer would recognize.

"If the person was there, they get 'ah ha!' response in the brain waves," he said. "The brain says 'Ah ha!' "

And that "ah ha" moment can't be covered up.

"This is an involuntary response that happens very quickly; it's not something you can control," he said.

Dr. Farwell has worked with the CIA, FBI and law enforcement agencies around the country. His cases include an innocent Iowa man finally freed after 23 years, and a serial killer in Missouri who eventually confessed.

It's technology Farwell says is fool proof. And unlike polygraphs, these can be admitted in court.

There's still resistance from some law enforcement agencies.

"It took some time, it always takes time," Farwell said. "It took time for fingerprints, for DNA and now for brain fingerprinting."

But Dr. Farwell says his guarantee will help more people accept it.

"I can't beat it, and I invented it."

He has even offered $100,000 to anyone who can fool the system, and so far nobody has.

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How to fight a rumor

By Jesse Singal

FOR ANYONE WHO has ever worried about the power of a vicious rumor, Barack Obama's strategy over the summer must have seemed almost bizarre. Buffeted by rumors about his religion, his upbringing, and controversial statements made by his wife, Obama launched Fight the Smears, a website that lists every well-traveled false rumor about the candidate, alongside rebuttals and explanations for how the rumors arose.

Fighting rumors by publicizing them in vivid, high-profile locations is, to say the least, a surprising tactic. It's hard to imagine someone victimized by workplace rumors summarizing them and posting them on the lunchroom wall. The conventional wisdom about rumors is to take the high road and not respond. When John McCain, during the 2000 Republican primaries, was plagued with rumors that he had fathered an illegitimate child, for the most part he opted not to engage with them at all. Why would anyone want to broadcast negative claims about themselves?

And yet new research into the science of rumors suggests Obama's approach may be a sounder strategy - and the reasons why it makes sense suggest that we misunderstand both how rumors work and why they exist.

By using the tools of evolutionary theory and new approaches to mathematical modeling, researchers are drawing a clearer picture of how and why rumors spread. As they do, they are finding that far from being merely idle or malicious gossip, rumor is deeply entwined with our history as a species. It serves some basic social purposes and provides a valuable window on not just what people talk to each other about, but why.

Rumors, it turns out, are driven by real curiosity and the desire to know more information. Even negative rumors aren't just scurrilous or prurient - they often serve as glue for people's social networks. And although it seems counterintuitive, these facts about rumor suggest that, often, the best way to help stem a rumor is to spread it. The idea of "not dignifying a rumor with a response" reflects a deep misunderstanding of what rumors are, how they are fueled, and what purposes they serve in society.

McCain's approach in this election seems more in tune with this theory. With rumors circulating in the blogosphere that Sarah Palin's youngest baby might actually have been her daughter's child, the campaign didn't turn the other cheek: It released a statement from the Palin family that Bristol really was pregnant. The strategy worked. The other rumor was squelched.

Rumor has been around as long as human civilization, and for much of that time has been frowned upon. The Bible has some stern words for those who spread rumors: "A man who lacks judgment derides his neighbor," the Book of Proverbs reads, "but a man of understanding holds his tongue." Rumors have long been seen as at best trivial, and at worst vicious and immoral.

Experts began to look at rumors more analytically in the 1940s and 1950s, in a wave of research fueled by concern about how rumors could be managed during wartime. Though interest waned during the following decades, rumor studies have seen a resurgence in the last decade or so - partly because researchers are now more able to tackle complex, dynamic phenomena, and partly because they're newly armed with the biggest ongoing social psychology experiment in human history, the Internet, which provides them with terabytes of recorded rumors and a way to track them.

In 2004, the Rochester Institute of Technology psychologist Nicholas DiFonzo and another rumor researcher, Prashant Bordia, analyzed more than 280 Internet discussion group postings that contained rumors. They found that a good chunk of the discourse consisted of the participants sharing and evaluating information about the rumors and discussing whether they seemed likely. They realized, in other words, that people on the sites weren't swapping rumors just to gossip; they were using rumors as a vehicle to get to the truth, the same way people read news.

"Lots of times people will share a rumor not for their benefit or for the other person's benefit, but simply because they're trying to figure out the facts," says DiFonzo, one of the leading figures in the resurgence of rumor research. He published a book on the topic this fall: "The Watercooler Effect: A Psychologist Explores the Extraordinary Power of Rumors."

Some types of facts seem to be more urgent triggers than others. Rumors that involve negative outcomes tend to start and spread more easily than ones that involve positive outcomes. Researchers sort rumors into "dread rumors," driven by fear ("I heard the company is downsizing"), and "wish rumors," driven by hope ("I heard our Christmas bonus will be bigger this year"). Dread rumors, it turns out, are far more contagious. In a study involving a large public hospital in Australia that was in the midst of a restructuring, Bordia and his colleagues collected 510 rumors that could be classified as dread rumors or wish rumors. Four hundred and seventy-nine of them were dread rumors.

Perhaps even more than negative stories dominate the news, negative rumors dominate the grapevine. In the absence of other sources of information, people turn to rumors to answer their most urgent concerns - suggesting that rumors play a vital role, not a peripheral or idle one, in times of worry, and can have a profound impact on how a town, city, or society reacts to a negative event.

This is a much more neutral view of rumors than the Bible, or traditional etiquette, might take. And indeed, rumor researchers tend to see them nonjudgmentally, as inherent to human nature - naturally occurring, inevitable human social phenomena, rather than pesky distractions from more civilized discourse.

Aside from their use as a news grapevine, rumors serve a second purpose as well, researchers have found: People spread them to shore up their social networks, and boost their own importance within them. To the extent people do have an agenda in spreading rumors, it's directed more at the people they're spreading them to, rather than at the subject of the rumor.

People are rather specific about which rumors they share, and with whom, researchers have found: They tend to spread rumors to warn friends of potential trouble, or otherwise help them, while remaining mum if it would be harmful to spread a given rumor in a certain context or to a certain person.

It's not just altruism: Rumors can build status for the person who spreads them. The psychologists John L. Shelton and Raymond S. Sanders, in documenting the impact of a murder of an undergraduate on the Ohio State University campus in 1972 on the student body, found that those with access to "inside information" about the crime and the administration's response were instantly granted higher social status. So simply possessing - or being seen as possessing - potentially useful information can serve in and of itself as a motivation to spread rumors.

When it comes to rumors about people rather than events, psychologists have found that we pay especially close attention to rumors about powerful people and their moral failings. Frank McAndrew, a professor of psychology at Knox College who studies the evolutionary roots of gossip, has found that we're particularly likely to spread negative rumors about "high-status" individuals, whether they're our bosses, professors, or celebrities.

Our behavior, McAndrew suggests, evolved in an environment in which information about others was crucially important. Back when humans lived in small groups, he theorizes, information about those higher than us on the totem pole - especially information about their weaknesses - would have been hugely valuable, and the only source we had for such information was other people. (McAndrew's work, much of which focuses on our obsession with celebrity culture, suggests our brains aren't terribly adept at distinguishing people who are "actually" important from people who simply receive a lot of attention.)

If the fundamental dynamics of rumor have roots that run deep into history, the means of transmission have been changing a great deal recently. Unlike previous forms of media, the Internet has created a two-way street - a way to quickly connect with like-minded people - that greatly multiplies the power of rumors.

"In the course of a single day, people across the country might hear the same rumor spoken in almost exactly the same words," says Eric Foster, a psychologist at Temple University who studies gossip and social networks.

Given what we know about which rumors thrive and persist, the particular rumors that have dominated this campaign season seem almost custom-crafted to replicate themselves and spread to a wide audience: They're negative rumors about high-status individuals that hint at moral failings.

Conservatives spreading the Obama rumors worry he may be lying about his faith to further his political career, or that his wife, Michelle, is cloaking radicalism in a moderate veneer.

The same applies to the Palin rumors: For liberals, the people most likely to spread them, they deal with severe moral failings - the hypocrisy of being a "family-values" politician with a pregnant, unwed daughter, or the whiff of authoritarian tendencies seen in her alleged attempts to ban books when she was mayor of Wasilla, Alaska.

So are such rumors impossible to stop? Not at all, says DiFonzo, who has counseled businesses, organizations, and academic institutions on how to fight rumors.

The first and perhaps most obvious point is that it's futile to attempt to rebut a rumor that's true, says DiFonzo. Even if it works initially, "people who are interested in ferreting out the facts are really very good at it over time if they have the proper motivation and they work together."

The recent John Edwards scandal is a perfect example: Rumors had swirled about Edwards and a possible extramarital affair for a long time. Edwards quickly and vociferously denied the rumor, but by August of this year - after persistent reporting by the National Enquirer - he was forced to admit to it. There was little Edwards could do to forestall the inevitable.

Other than denying a rumor that's true, perhaps the biggest mistake one can make, DiFonzo and other researchers say, is to adopt a "no comment" policy: Numerous studies have shown that rumors thrive in environments of uncertainty. Considering that rumors often represent a real attempt to get at the truth, the best way to fight them is to address them in as comprehensive a manner as possible.

Anthony Pratkanis, a psychologist at the University of California, Santa Cruz, who studies persuasion and propaganda, says that an effective rebuttal will be more than a denial - it will create a new truth, including an explanation of why the rumor exists and who is benefiting from it.

"The more vivid that replacement is, the better," says Pratkanis. He and other rumor specialists refer to this tactic as "stealing thunder." When done correctly and early enough in a rumor's lifetime, it can shift the subsequent conversation in beneficial ways.

So how have the campaigns done so far? Obama gets relatively high marks, says DiFonzo: The candidate's website,, succeeds by "denying [the rumors] aggressively" and providing "a context for his denial." Obama could, however, create even more credible rebuttals by having them backed up by trusted third-party sources, such as religious leaders.

Pratkanis says the McCain campaign has handled the Palin rumors well, too. In the wake of the story about Palin's child, "McCain did the stealing thunder," he says. By coming out and immediately laying the facts on the table, he was able to short-circuit the coverup theories, and reroute the conversation to the more easily managed topic of Bristol's pregnancy.

There are dangers in rebutting rumors by recounting them, of course, the foremost being the inevitability that some people will remember the rumor as true. The University of Michigan psychologist Norbert Schwarz and his colleagues found that listing a rumor first and then rebutting it (the format followed by can backfire, causing some people to remember the rumor but forget the rebuttal.

But in the case of a powerful rumor that looks like it will spread widely, DiFonzo and other experts say it makes sense to assume it will get out, and preemptively target those who are likely to hear it. When thousands of years of human experience are driving something forward, it doesn't make much sense to try to push the other way.

Jesse Singal is an associate editor of and at the Center for American Progress.

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Test explores if robots can think

One of the machines in the Turing Test
No computer has passed the test by fooling 30% of its human interrogators

An experiment has been taking place in Berkshire to see if robots are capable of intelligent thought.

Scientists at the University of Reading tested five machines to see if they could pass themselves off as humans in text-based conversations with people.

The test was devised in 1950 by British Mathematician Alan Turing, who said that if a machine was indistinguishable from a human, then it was "thinking".

One robot, Elbot, came close on Sunday by reaching 5% below the pass mark.

No robot has ever passed the Turing Test, which requires the robot to fool 30% of its human interrogators.

During the experiment, five artificial conversational entities (ACEs) competed in a series of five-minute long, unrestricted conversational tests.

Artificial intelligence

The ACEs tried to pass themselves off as humans to the judges.

"During the tests, all of the ACEs managed to fool at least one of their human interrogators," a University of Reading spokesman said.

The tests took place as part of the 18th Loebner Prize for artificial intelligence.

The annual competition awards prizes for the most human-like machine of those entered.

Top machines from around the world were "whittled down" to the five taking part in Sunday's final, the university spokesman added.

Machines taking part in the Turing Test
The machines "speak" to humans using text-based conversation
Prof Kevin Warwick, who organised the tests, said: "Today's results actually show a more complex story than a straight pass or fail by one machine.

"Where the machines were identified correctly by the human interrogators as machines, the conversational abilities of each machine was scored at 80% and 90%.

"This demonstrates how close machines are getting to reaching the milestone of communicating with us in a way in which we are comfortable.

"That eventual day will herald a new phase in our relationship with machines, bringing closer the time in which robots start to play an active role in our daily lives."

This year's winner was Elbot, despite failing the Turing Test. The programme's developers were awarded a $3,000 (£1,760) prize.

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Turning carbon dioxide into fuel

By Matthew Knight

LONDON, England (CNN) -- You might have thought that recycling is limited to paper, plastics and glass. Well, think again. A Californian company is developing a new technique for recycling carbon dioxide, or CO2, and turning it back into fuel.

Carbon Sciences are developing a "breakthrough technology" to make fuel out of waste CO2.

Carbon Sciences are developing a "breakthrough technology" to make fuel out of waste CO2.

Carbon Sciences believe they have made a breakthrough with their technology, which they say can transform CO2 back into basic fuel building blocks efficiently.

Their biocatalytic process converts CO2 into basic hydrocarbons - C1 (methane) C2 (ethane) and C3 (propane) -- which can then be utilized to make higher-grade fuels like gasoline and jet fuel.

"We are very excited by what we've seen in the lab. We've had some promising results," Derek McLeish, President and CEO of the Santa Barbara-based company, told CNN.

By employing biocatalysis -- using natural catalysts to perform chemical reactions -- Carbon Sciences hope to bypass the problem of inefficient energy ratios which can render many CO2 recycling projects pointless.

"We don't use high temperatures or high pressures, which is a huge advantage in terms of scaling the project up," McLeish said.

In the future, McLeish envisages Carbon Sciences setting up shop next door to large CO2 emitters -- coal, gas-fired plants and oil refineries -- recycling concentrated streams of CO2 discharged from fossil fuel plants. Trying to take CO2 out of natural air just wouldn't be worth it.

"The beauty of this system is the whole infrastructure to distribute, to market and to use it is already in place," he said.

The recycling process has five main stages. After rudimentary purification and regeneration of the biocatalysts, the CO2 is transferred to a Biocatalytic Reactor Matrix where mass quantities of biocatalysts function in a matrix of liquid reaction chambers breaking down CO2 and turning it into hydrocarbons.

Liquids are then filtered and gases are extracted through condensers ready for conversion to higher grade fuel.

Carbon Sciences are just one of many companies all over the world who are beavering away trying to find effective methods of renewing CO2. The science is well known, but practical energy effective devices are in short supply.

Scientists at Sandia National Laboratories in New Mexico are exploring the idea of using concentrated solar energy to turn CO2 into fuel. The Sunshine to Petrol project is testing a prototype device called the Counter Rotating Ring Receiver Reactor Recuperator (called CR5 for short) which turns CO2 into carbon monoxide which could then form part of a liquid fuel.

Others, like Michael North, Professor of Organic Chemistry at Newcastle University in the UK, are looking at transforming CO2 into useful chemical compounds called cyclic carbonates for industrial use.

Professor North says recycling CO2 may be more vital for the chemical industries than for fuel production.

"People don't seem to realize that ten percent of everything that comes out of an oil well doesn't go to the fuel industry, it drives the chemical industry. So not only are we facing a fuel crisis but the entire chemical industry is likely to cease to exist. So we desperately need to find ways of making basic chemical materials out of CO2 to keep the chemical industries ticking over.

Professor North and his team are currently in discussions with some potential investors. He believes that Carbon Sciences' program sounds feasible.

"They will need to address issues about how long the biocatalysts are active for before they need replacing. If they only work for a day then you are going to be getting through tons and tons of biocatalyst for each ton of CO2.

"Biocatalyst life span and poisoning -- by things like nitrous oxide, sulfur dioxide and other impurities - will be the issues determining how feasible it is and how cost effective it is," he said.

While McLeish doesn't envisage his biocatalytic technology being able to service the fuel needs of all motorists, he is confident that it can perform profitably on a smaller scale.

"Transportation uses transportable fuels. We need renewables -- wind, tidal -- but these are not useable in the transport sector. One of the challenges in the future will be transportation," he said. "The grand vision here is to take waste, build it into a portable fuel and make it useful."

McLeish recently presented his ideas to a climate conference at Cambridge University in the UK where they were warmly received. And if all goes to plan the company will start a pilot project in 2009.

The conference also gave him the opportunity to promote another Carbon Sciences venture: turning CO2 into precipitated calcium carbonate. Like Professor North, his target is the industrial sector; in particular the paper, plastics and pharmaceutical manufacturers.

Another potential benefit of recycling CO2 will be the reduction of large scale geosequestration.

The problem of rising CO2 emissions was highlighted again recently with the publication of the Global Carbon Project's Carbon Budget 2007. Concentrations of atmospheric CO2 have risen to 383 parts per million. A rise of 2.2 ppm on 2006 figures.

Of 28 billion metric tons of CO2 released into the atmosphere, fossil fuel emissions accounted for almost a third.

Although some climate critics might scoff at the idea of recycling CO2 arguing that we should be emitting less rather than recycling a pollutant, reusing it may well prove effective in kick-starting a new carbon market, as well as helping clean up our increasingly polluted planet.

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The lurker bomb that can hover for ten hours... and then strike its target in the space of a minute

By Peter Almond

A revolutionary missile that can stalk a target until the perfect moment to strike is being developed by the Ministry of Defence for use against the Taliban in Afghanistan.

The so-called lurker bomb will also be able to shadow British troops for up to ten hours or 100 miles, ready to take out enemy targets with surgical precision at a minute’s notice.

The 12ft weapon – officially named Fire Shadow and made in Britain by leading missile manufacturer MBDA – will be operated by the Royal Artillery.

It made its first test flight in Wales earlier this year and is expected to be operational by 2010.

One of the biggest problems facing British troops in Afghanistan is Taliban ambushes. The insurgents often escape before a counter-attack can be launched because they know the Afghan terrain well, it takes time for air support to arrive, and the British are reluctant to use existing powerful missiles for fear of causing collateral damage such as killing civilians or flattening homes.

Fire Shadow’s ability to ‘stooge’ above the troops means it can be guided to a target within seconds. And its deadly precision requires only a small warhead of 50lb, compared with the RAF’s smallest bomb of 500lb.

The Army wants to be able to fire salvos of Fire Shadows, having several in the air at once to hit multiple targets. The missiles, also known as ‘loitering munitions’, are expected to replace some RAF patrols.

Fire Shadow can be guided to its target by troops on the ground with lasers, by operators in aircraft or helicopters, or by the Army’s new Watchkeeper surveillance drone.


Lurker bomb: The 12ft Fire Shadow missile can be launched up to 100 miles away from its target

Once airborne, however, Fire Shadow is unable to return to base. If it is not used in action, it is brought down in a controlled crash after it runs out of fuel.

Akram Ghulam, head of loitering munitions at MBDA in Stevenage, Hertfordshire, said: ‘I can see these being used where small, surgically precise effects will have greater utility than an artillery shell or a bomb.’

MBDA leads the Fire Shadow development team, which cost the MoD £74million in its first year. It includes British firms Qinetiq, Thales and Roxcel, and several smaller and academic organisations.

The concept of a lurker bomb is the cornerstone of the MoD’s Indirect-Fire Precision Attack project. Fire Shadow is one of six projects that include an artillery shell that can electronically ‘sense’ its target, a new anti-aircraft missile for the Royal Navy, and advanced guidance for the new Guided Multiple Launch Rocket System (GMLRS).

The first GMLRS batteries have already been in action in Afghanistan’s Helmand area where British troops are operating. Nicknamed the 70km sniper – the rocket’s maximum range – about 250 precision-guided rockets have been fired so far this year, according to an MoD spokesman. At £60,000 a rocket that works out at £15million, a cost that the MoD is well aware of as it seeks to develop Fire Shadow.

‘We need to get Fire Shadow’s price to around that, which is a big challenge,’ said an industry source.

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Sticky Substance Could Turn You Into Spider-Man

Peter Parker needed a radioactive spider bite to be able to climb walls. And Mohinder Suresh joined the wall-climber club after downing his superpower formula, and we all know that doesn’t end well. So, rather than have us expose ourselves to unpredictable mutations, a pair of researchers have developed a material that will let you let you stick to the ceiling without the unfortunate side effects.

Liming Dai of the University of Dayton and Zhong Lin Wang of the Georgia Institute of Technology reported that they have developed a super Post-It material that can come unstuck with a deliberate tug, but is 10 times stickier than the feet of some geckos and lizards:

Liming Dai and Zhong Lin Wang said that they developed their artificial setae by growing nested carbon nanotubes on a silicon wafer. The researchers controlled the growth process to make a forest of vertical nanotube trunks turning into a canopy of tangled ends on top. The curly entangled mess acted like natural spatulae: when pressed against a surface, they had a large contact area and hence a strong hold.

The group tested the new material for stickiness on surfaces ranging from Teflon to sandpaper. It was found that when attached to a glass surface, a single square centimetre of it could support 1600g when pulled roughly parallel to the surface, three times better than the best artificial competitor.

No word yet as to whether the researchers have tested it by attempting to scale a skyscraper.

Spider-Man's sticky suit gets real [The Times of India]

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Navy charters kite-powered cargo ship to deliver equipment

Posted by Mark Rutherford

For the first time, the US Navy is using a new breed of sailing ship to deliver military equipment, a move that can potentially reduce fuel costs by 20 to 30 percent, or roughly $1,600 a day per ship, according to the ship's owners.

The Navy's Military Sealift Command (MSC) has chartered the "kite-assisted", fuel-saving 400 foot, MV Beluga to deliver Air Force and Army cargo to from Europe to the US.

The MV Beluga uses a paraglider-shaped, SkySails-System, which supplements its conventional, internal combustion engines. The sail is basically a huge, computer-controlled kite that soars 100 to 300 yards into the air, using the wind to tow the ship at the end of a long tear-proof, synthetic rope.

The SkySails System is operated by the crew from a workstation on the bridge. All the steering and flight path adjustments are done automatically. "Emergency actions" are taken care of with a "push of a button." But the SkySail is only deployed offshore, outside the three-mile zone and traffic separation areas--just in case.

Unlike conventional sails, the kite has no superstructures that can get in the way of loading and unloading dockside, or scrape the bottom side of bridges as it sails under. The kite folds up, and can be stowed in an area the size of a telephone booth, according to developer SkySails GmbH & Co. KG of Hamburg, Germany. And, the SkySail can "generate two to three times more power per square meter sail area than conventional sails," according to the company. The environmental benefits have yet to calculated.

Though wind power was not a factor in awarding the contract, the shipping company was likely "able to capitalize on fuel savings to make its offer more competitive," according to MSC. "MSC values innovation that leads to cost savings," said Captain Nick Holman, of Sealift Logistics Command Europe.

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Scientist warns: Financial crisis will be 'devastating' to science

By Jon Gambrell, Associated Press Writer

Richard Leakey speaks in Nairobi, Kenya in 2007. Leakey warned that the worldwide credit crisis will be "just devastating" to scientific research in coming years, as endowment interest income drops and companies cut donations.

Richard Leakey speaks in Nairobi, Kenya in 2007. Leakey warned that the worldwide credit crisis will be "just devastating" to scientific research in coming years, as endowment interest income drops and companies cut donations.

LITTLE ROCK, Arkansas — Famed scientist Richard Leakey warned that the worldwide credit crisis will be "just devastating" to scientific research in coming years, as endowment interest income drops and companies cut donations.

Leakey, who once served on a government economic team in his native Kenya, said much of the support for science comes from wealthy philanthropists, foundations and companies. All those groups likely will be affected by lowered interest rates and the squeeze of credit not being available to fund their operations, he said.

"With the investment portfolios being hit as hard as they've been hit in the last few weeks, particularly the last few days, I would have thought there would be a very dramatic reduction in available funds for research in all sorts of countries," Leakey told reporters Wednesday. "Unless they bring it under control, I think it's going to spread. I think it's extremely worrying for science."

Leakey became famous after making a number of fossil discoveries in East Africa. His team unearthed the bones of the most complete skeleton of a prehistoric human ever found in the desolate, far northern reaches of Kenya in 1984.

The effect of the credit crisis on science likely will begin to be felt as organizations begin planning their budgets for 2009, Leakey said. The paleontologist said donations will be "hugely hit," affecting what research and exploration can be done next year and into the future.

"This has spread right across the world and there's quite a lot of science to be supported," Leakey said. "I think it is just devastating.

"It's more worryful for people who are losing their homes, it's more worryful for people who are losing investments for their children's futures, but we're also very worried as scientists," he said.

Leakey was in Little Rock to speak at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock.

In a new book, Leakey offers a stark warning for the planet, saying global warming could wipe out endangered species living in national parks and refuges throughout the world. He said the extinction of a few species could destroy food chains supporting many other animals — including humans.

"I think the end of the Ice Age was a quite a massive change and I think this will be ... almost as big of a change in the way we live," Leakey said.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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A baaa-d idea? Aussie sheep made to wear gas masks so scientists can see how their breath can affect climate

By Richard Shears

sheep in gas mask

Shear madness: Sheep in Australia are to be fitted with gas masks to monitor their methane emissions

It sounds like a woolly idea, but Australian sheep are to be fitted with gas masks to find out how much they are affecting the climate.

Researchers will fit the masks over the sheep for a short time to obtain a reading from their breath so it can be established how much methane gas they are emitting.

'Operation Gas Mask' will soon swing into action following a report by Australian climate adviser Ross Garnaut who said sheep helped create greenhouse gases and it would be better if farmers turned to kangaroos as a source of meat.

Sheep and cattle have been blamed for emitting the potent greenhouse gas methane from the mouth and the rear and while researchers in the past have even fitted plastic trousers on a handful of sheep to gather gas, it has been agreed that using masks is a better alternative.

Professor James Rowe, of the Sheep Co-operative Research Centre, said that in any case 98 per cent of methane emissions came from a sheep's mouth.

He explained that during the campaign selected sheep among the country's population of 90million animals would be rounded up at research stations and staff would hold a mask in place over their mouths for about a minute to collect their breath.

'It's a mask over the nostril-mouth area as the animal breathes out,' he said. 'That air is then captured into a bladder, not too different from a football bladder. The animal is not in any distress - they don't really object to it.'

In any case, he pointed out, "putting plastic trousers onto sheep is a much more difficult task than holding a mask in place for a minute or so."

It is hoped the research, with the collected gas being analysed in laboratories, will establish which breeds of sheep are genetically predisposed to emit less methane.

Scientists also believe they will be able to learn about the diet of sheep so that changes can be made to their eating habits to lessen methane emissions.

In his recent report, Professor Garnaut said greenhouse gases over Australia would be cut if people ate less beef and lamb and more kangaroo meat, as kangaroos do not belch methane.

He has suggested that while cattle and sheep numbers could be reduced, the kangaroo population could be increased to 240million.

But Professor Rowe says the kangaroo idea probably would not work, asking: 'Have you tried to muster (round up) kangaroos?'

Kangaroo meat is on sale in Australian supermarkets but few households eat it. The meat is usually purchased for pets.

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Mexican marijuana cartels sully US forests, parks

By TRACIE CONE, Associated Press Writer

PORTERVILLE, Calif. - National forests and parks — long popular with Mexican marijuana-growing cartels — have become home to some of the most polluted pockets of wilderness in America because of the toxic chemicals needed to eke lucrative harvests from rocky mountainsides, federal officials said.

The grow sites have taken hold from the West Coast's Cascade Mountains, as well as on federal lands in Kentucky, Tennessee and West Virginia.

Seven hundred grow sites were discovered on U.S. Forest Service land in California alone in 2007 and 2008 — and authorities say the 1,800-square-mile Sequoia National Forest is the hardest hit.

Weed and bug sprays, some long banned in the U.S., have been smuggled to the marijuana farms. Plant growth hormones have been dumped into streams, and the water has then been diverted for miles in PVC pipes.

Rat poison has been sprinkled over the landscape to keep animals away from tender plants. And many sites are strewn with the carcasses of deer and bears poached by workers during the five-month growing season that is now ending.

"What's going on on public lands is a crisis at every level," said Forest Service agent Ron Pugh. "These are America's most precious resources, and they are being devastated by an unprecedented commercial enterprise conducted by armed foreign nationals. It is a huge mess."

The first documented marijuana cartels were discovered in Sequoia National Park in 1998. Then, officials say, tighter border controls after Sept. 11, 2001, forced industrial-scale growers to move their operations into the United States.

Millions of dollars are spent every year to find and uproot marijuana-growing operations on state and federal lands, but federal officials say no money is budgeted to clean up the environmental mess left behind after helicopters carry off the plants. They are encouraged that Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., who last year secured funding for eradication, has inquired about the pollution problems.

In the meantime, the only cleanup is done by volunteers. On Tuesday, the nonprofit High Sierra Trail Crew, founded to improve access to public lands, plans to take 30 people deep into the Sequoia National Forest to carry out miles of drip irrigation pipe, tons of human garbage, volatile propane canisters, and bags and bottles of herbicides and pesticides.

"If the people of California knew what was going on out there, they'd be up in arms about this," said Shane Krogen, the nonprofit's executive director. "Helicopters full of dope are like body counts in the Vietnam War. What does it really mean?"

Last year, law enforcement agents uprooted nearly five million plants in California, nearly a half million in Kentucky and 276,000 in Washington state as the development of hybrid plants has expanded the range of climates marijuana can tolerate.

"People light up a joint, and they have no idea the amount of environmental damage associated with it," said Cicely Muldoon, deputy regional director of the Pacific West Region of the National Park Service.

As of Sept. 2, more than 2.2 million plants had been uprooted statewide. The largest single bust in the nation this year netted 482,000 plants in the remote Sierra of Tulare County, the forest service said.

Some popular parks also have suffered damage. In 2007, rangers found more than 20,000 plants in Yosemite National Park and 43,000 plants in Sequoia Kings Canyon National Park, where 159 grow sites have been discovered over the past 10 years.

Agent Patrick Foy of the California Department of Fish and Game estimated that 1.5 pounds of fertilizers and pesticides is used for every 11.5 plants.

"I've seen the pesticide residue on the plants," Foy said. "You ain't just smoking pot, bud. You're smoking some heavy-duty pesticides from Mexico."

Scott Wanek, the western regional chief ranger for the National Park Service, said he believes the eradication efforts have touched only a small portion of the marijuana farms and that the environmental impact is much greater than anyone knows.

"Think about Sequoia," Wanek said. "The impact goes well beyond the acreage planted. They create huge networks of trail systems, and the chemicals that get into watersheds are potentially very far-reaching — all the way to drinking water for the downstream communities. We are trying to study that now."

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