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New Scientist - May 23 2009

New Scientist - May 23 2009



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Published by Hassan Taha Wasti
One of the best weekly science magazine. I love it.
One of the best weekly science magazine. I love it.

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Published by: Hassan Taha Wasti on Jun 19, 2009
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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THE news that the US army is studyinghow neuroscience can “improve” its soldierswill once again raise the spectre of amoralscientists using any means at their disposal drugs, genetic profiling, brain stimulation,cybernetic implants, brainwashing – tovault ethical boundaries in the pursuit of military aims.The army-backed report from the USNational Academies of Sciences anticipates aday when troops will be monitored bybiosensors, selected by gene tests, stimulatedwith magnetic tweaks to the brain andenhanced with pills (see page 6). This willinevitably spark discussions about the rise of cold-eyed super-soldiers who kill withoutemotion, and we should certainly be vigilantabout the potential for “enhancement” todehumanise troops, let alone the widerimplications of this work for civilian life.But by the same token, “improving” soldiersis about more than making them efficient andlethal. The depressingly routine atrocitiescommitted by servicemen are the result of confusion, exhaustion, and the trauma of seeing comrades killed by bullet, booby trapand bloody dismemberment. These are
Is this thedawn of thesuper-soldier?
soldiers in extreme circumstances equippedwith extreme weaponry and driven toviolence by violence. Or they may be veteransreturning from duty to hurt their family ortake their own lives. How much better if science could ensure that recruits think clearlyand calmly under extraordinary pressure.After all, modern armies exist because of a need to prevent and control violence:soldiers are trained to use force only in well-prescribed situations, and are subject to therules of war and military law.That doesn’t mean there is no dangerof neurotechnologies being abused by themilitary. There is a tradition of drivingwarriors berserk with drugs, alcohol andmagic mushrooms. Governments shouldthink long and hard about the ethics of engaging in such research. A
-stylesoldier would be a liability, not an asset.But let’s not lose sight of the potential forscience to rid armies of the trigger-happy, thevengeful and the deranged. Remember thatthe greatest challenge that forces face todayis avoiding the use of violence unlessabsolutely necessary.Nor should we forget how research canintervene in the war that rages off thebattlefield. Veterans there are crippled bymental health problems, from stress disordersto depression to self-medication with drugsand alcohol. It would be a crime not to useneuroscience to cut this toll of suffering, if we possibly can.
What if science could ensurethat recruits always think clearlyand calmly under pressure
What’s hot on NewScientist.com
flu is still spreading. In North America,the number of cases may have passed the100,000 mark; and cases in Japan may tip usinto a pandemic. Yet Europe claims it doesn’thave evidence of “sustained transmission”of the virus.That’s hardly surprising, as Europe isn’tdoing the relevant tests (see page 10). Dogovernments fear that if they discover thevirus is spreading, people with sniffles willswallow antivirals unnecessarily and spawna drug-resistant strain? Whatever the reason,mad cows taught the UK that refusing to see –and tell – the truth about disease is unwise.If H1N1 is spreading elsewhere, it is unlikelyto peter out in Europe. The authorities havehad years to draw up pandemic plans. Yet theyappear as ill-prepared to track the spread of this virus as they are to make a vaccine for it.
Ignoring swine fluwon’t make it go awayHoley grail
AT A time when financial black holes loomon all sides, it will be a relief to get a glimpseof the genuine article. Astronomers hope soonto have an image of the giant black hole at theheart of the galaxy (see page 28), so anyone stillsceptical of the existence of these gravitationalmonsters should make the most of the next fewmonths. It may be your last chance to doubt.Unless, of course, the thing fails to show up.To find that the only real black holes are of thefinancial kind would be doubly depressing.
“‘Improving’ soldiers is aboutmuch more than making themefficient and lethal”
23 May 2009 | NewScientist |
When Scientology metpsychiatry
What happened whenScientologists protesting theAmerican Psychiatric Association’sannual meeting ran into a counter-demo organised by the anti-Scientology group called Anonymous
Stealth solar storm erupts
Images of the sun have revealed aburp of ionised gas that blasted intospace without warning, confirmingthat the sun can spew out mattereven when its surface looks tranquil
Dedicationturns pathological
Elite athletessometimes believe they must followstrict rituals – and these superstitionscan keep them training after otherscall it a day. But when does suchbehaviour tip over into pathology?We report on the athletes sufferingfrom obsessive-compulsive disorder
Nine games atwhich computers can outplayhumans
Computers can nowdefeat the rest of us at a widerange of games, from chess torock-paper-scissors.
New Scientist 
 is honoured to salute our electronicgame-playing masters
A new sonic alarmcould warn off whales and manateesthreatened by approaching ships. Ourvideo shows what happens
How phones can alter reality
Smartphones are taking virtualreality to the streets – making itpossible, for example, for us to seethe world with relevant informationpulled from online data sources laidon top of objects nearby
Oil road turnsAmazon Indians into meat traders
A new road and free bus rides forlocal people have created anunwelcome new trade in bushmeat,conservationists claimFor breaking news, video and onlinedebate, visit
 |NewScientist|23 May 2009
DOES NASA’s probable new bosshave the right stuff to put theagency back on track?Former space shuttle pilotCharles Bolden was this weekexpected to be nominated asNASA administrator, with aresumé that combines advocacyfor the agency’s scientific workwith experience as an astronaut.He will take over anorganisation in trouble on twofronts. Future US human spaceexploration will rely on the Ares 1rocket, which is meant to replacethe shuttle, but Ares is dogged bytechnical problems. MeanwhileNASA’s science programme issuffering from cuts made twoyears ago to pay for Ares.NASA is trying to do too muchwith a budget so tight that “littleor nothing can be done well”,warns Eugene Levy, a spacescientist at Rice University in
NASA’s new boss
Houston, Texas. Bolden seemsto agree. Three years ago, he tolda Senate subcommittee thatworking within NASA’s budgetwas “like trying to fit 15 pounds of stuff into a 5-pound sack”.He called for more money toavoid proposed cuts in sciencespending. “Human explorationand science research arenecessarily parallel endeavours,”he said. Bolden also served on apanel that in 2004 urged NASAto send a repair mission to theHubble telescope (see right).Bolden is well connected withthe aerospace establishmentand has held various posts inindustry. Yet these ties might be ahindrance when deciding whetherto ditch Ares 1 in favour of privately developed launchers,suggests aerospace analystCharles Lurio.Bolden has also served briefly asassistant deputy administrator of NASA. “Charlie Bolden is a goodguy – friendly, outgoing, well-liked and respected,” says JohnLogsdon of the National Air andSpace Museum in Washington DC.“He will do well on Capitol Hilland with the public.”
Going for green
THE first serious attempt to reinin US greenhouse gas emissionsis taking shape.A House of Representativescommittee is expected to passa bill this week that will requireUS emissions to fall to 17 per centbelow 2005 levels by 2020. The billwill make companies pay for atleast some of their emissions, with5 per cent of the money going toreforestation projects worldwide.Henry Waxman, the bill’sauthor and a Democrat fromCalifornia, has faced oppositionfrom Republicans and some inhis own party. Representativesfrom coal-exporting states havefought particularly hard, leadingWaxman and his allies to retreatfrom attempts to impose a 20 percent cut by 2020.That the bill is even beingdebated is a huge step forward,as George W. Bush opposed allemissions controls and suchmeasures stood no chance of being passed. US industry hadbetter start thinking hard abouthow it will limit emissions.
Looks great, sounds awful
Fight for a quiet canyon
YOU might think the depths of theGrand Canyon would be a place ofrestful quiet. But with well over 100helicopter and light-plane flightspassing low overhead every day,calm is often in short supply. Nowthe Sierra Club, a US environmentalorganisation, is calling on Congressto end a two-decade fight over theArizona landmark’s airspace and tocurb the flights.The issue was meant to beresolved by a 1987 act that requiredthe Federal Aviation Administration(FAA) and other agencies to restorequiet to the canyon, so that visitorscould contemplate its wonders inpeace. Yet sightseeing aircraft nowmake around 50,000 flights everyyear. For walkers on the canyon rims,the noise can be deafening, saysDick Hingson of the Sierra Club.“The Grand Canyon may look thesame, but it surely doesn’t sound thesame any more,” he says.Implementation of the law hasbeen stalled by protests from flightoperators and debate over how tomeasure the noise from planes andhelicopters. A 1994 National ParksService “road map” intended tosmooth the process called for theact’s aims to be realised by the endof 2009.At the annual meeting of theAcoustical Society of America, heldin Portland, Oregon, this week,Hingson will be calling on the new USadministration to push the FAA andothers to meet the parks servicedeadline and ensure that the canyon’snatural soundscape is restored.
“Human explorationand science researchare necessarily parallelendeavours”
IF YOU’VE ever been frustrated byhome repairs and were tempted to“just whack it”, you’re not alone. Theastronauts sprucing up the Hubblespace telescope had to resort to bruteforce in repairs that ended this week.On 14 May, installation of WideField Camera 3 almost failed whena bolt holding the existing camerarefused to budge. When none of theirtools could shift it, the spacewalkerswere authorised to use as much forceas possible. After a tense wait,
It takes more than rocket science
    I    A    N    D    A    G    N    A    L    L    /    A    L    A    M    Y
astronaut Drew Feustel cheered:“Woo-hoo, it’s moving out!”Then on 17 May, a handle blockingaccess to the Space TelescopeImaging Spectrograph wouldn’t comeloose. This camera has lain idle since1990, when one of its two powerconverters failed. The astronautsstruggled with it for 90 minutes, butMike Massimino eventually had toyank the handle until it broke off.The telescope was released intospace once more on 19 May.

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