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From centre-stage in Davos last year, President Donald Trump told the world's corporate bosses that America is a great place to invest. Foreign direct investment to the United States fell in 2018, and companies gathered at the World Economic Forum in the Swiss Alps this year say they are worried Trump's trade war with China will dampen the global economy and business investments even further. One key complaint here this week: Companies increasingly reliant on consumers in China have had to lower their earnings outlooks as the world's second-largest economy cools.
A French public health watchdog warned Wednesday about the risks of several chemicals found in disposable nappies, leading the government to demand that manufacturers withdraw them from their products. The Anses health body stressed there was no medical study which had proved health problems caused by disposable diapers. The chemicals identified in the study -- described as the first of its kind -- include two artificial perfumes as well as other complex aromatic products that are refined from oil, and potentially dangerous dioxins.
Amazon billionaire Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin space venture sent eight NASA-funded scientific payloads to the edge of space and back on its New Shepard suborbital spaceship, marking another step toward putting people on board. The rocket lifted off into clear, chilly skies from Blue Origin’s launch site in West Texas at 9:08 a.m. CT (7:08 a.m. PT). Minutes after launch, New Shepard’s gumdrop-shaped capsule separated from the hydrogen-fueled booster and headed to a maximum unofficial altitude of 350,775 feet (66 miles or 107 kilometers). That’s well above the 100-kilometer Karman Line that currently serves as the internationally accepted boundary of… Read More
Initial flights will be unmanned as Airbus seeks to establish the four-seat model’s capabilities for full autonomy and focuses on tests that don’t require a pilot. Flight testing will begin with brief takeoffs, building up to longer missions, Airbus Helicopter spokesman Guillaume Steuer said. Airbus’s single-seat, self-piloting Vahana air taxi, developed by its A3 think tank in Silicon Valley, first flew last year.
The rise of fake news and “vaccine fatigue” could seriously harm the response to a global flu pandemic on the scale of the 2009 swine flu outbreak, experts have warned. Flu experts told a conference on pandemic preparedness at Chatham House in London that falling public trust in vaccines and short memories meant that the world would struggle to fight a deadly outbreak of flu. Marc van Ranst, a virologist at Leuven University in Belgium and the man who led his country’s response to the 2009 swine flu outbreak, told the conference that anyone trying to fight a flu pandemic in the modern era would have to contend with rumours flying around on social media. Dr van Ranst described the idea of fake news during a flu pandemic as scary. “Social media wasn’t really around in 2009 and people had respect for authority. Now everyone has graduated from the university of Google and respect for knowledge has gone. Why do you need [knowledge] when you can get the information you want from typing keywords into Google?” he said. There are significant regional disparities in attitudes to vaccines Swine flu – or H1N1 – was first identified in Mexico in April 2009 before quickly spreading throughout the rest of the world and is estimated to have killed nearly 300,000 people. Last week the World Health Organization identified “vaccine hesitancy” as one of its priorities for the year ahead, alongside tackling obesity and air pollution. Reluctance or refusal to vaccinate is seen as one of the reasons for a 30 per cent increase in the number of cases of measles globally. "Anti vaxx" attitudes and social media bots spreading misinformation have encouraged vaccine scepticism, WHO warns. Gulsah Gabriel, a virologist at Leibniz University in Germany, told the conference: “We are in the middle of an epidemic of vaccine fatigue. No one cares about influenza any more. People think it’s not dangerous.” She said that influenza vaccination rates across Europe were poor, particularly among health workers. A recent review of vaccination rates in Europe by the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control found that just 30 per cent of health workers across the continent had the flu vaccination in the 2016-17 season, despite WHO recommendations that workers should receive the jab each autumn. The highest rates were reported by Belgium and England where around 60 per cent of health workers received the vaccination. The UK also has a better track record on ensuring that older people get the vaccination – Scotland, Northern Ireland and England were all close to the European Union’s vaccination target of 75 per cent or over. Scotland came closest to reaching EU flu jab targets among the elderly Some speakers at the conference suggested that mandatory vaccination of health workers might the answer. Susanne Herold, professor of pulmonary infections at Giessen University in Germany told the conference of an intensive care nurse in her hospital who did not have the vaccination and who she believes picked up the infection from a patient in his care. “We are at a point where we need to to discuss mandatory vaccination. This would cause a lot of debate but it’s worth thinking about,” she said. Prof. Herold warned that European countries would find it harder to fight an outbreak of pandemic flu because there were more people at a high risk of developing complications from flu. “We have a constantly ageing population. In industrialised countries more and more people are obese and have diabetes. We also have more people on immuno-suppressive therapies who cannot be vaccinated,” she said. But the conference heard that the current flu vaccine is not a panacea – experts have to predict what strain of flu will be circulating the following year and do not always manage to get it right. Dr Gabriel said: "What is predictable in influenza is that nothing is predictable. We might concentrate on one subtype [strain] of flu but then another subtype could surprise us and cause a large outbreak." Scientists are working on a universal flu vaccine, although they are yet to agree on what it would look like. One that would protect against all strains of flu and would only be administered once is seen as the holy grail. Florian Krammer, a virologist at Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai University in New York, told the conference the research was promising but called for a reality check. "The only problem is that this will take many years. We don't have enough production capacity at the moment, even for high income countries," he said. Newsletter promotion - global health security - end of article Protect yourself and your family by learning more about Global Health Security
Buzz Aldrin, the legendary NASA astronaut, is calling on President Donald Trump to rename the Space Force to something less antagonistic. Mr Aldrin, however, is not pleased with the branding. “I have thought for some while that a better name would be ‘Space Guard,’ because it is more deterrent,” Mr Aldrin, who was the second man to step on the moon, told the Daily Mail.
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The German government will fund a research facility to offer firms in Germany know-how to develop battery cells for electric vehicles (EVs), the science minister said on Wednesday, seeking to compete with Asian producers which dominate the industry. Anja Karliczek said her ministry would invest 500 million euros ($568 million) to support research into both existing and next-generation EV battery cell technology. "The German car industry shouldn't depend on Asian suppliers," Karliczek told a business conference in Berlin.
On Sunday, as much of the country plunged into polar temperatures, President Donald Trump took the opportunity to make a dig at climate science on Twitter. "Be careful and try staying in your house," he tweeted. "Large parts of the Country are suffering from tremendous amounts of snow and near record setting cold. Amazing how big this system is. Wouldn't be bad to have a little of that good old fashioned Global Warming right now!" Perhaps unsurprisingly for a president who has flirted with the idea that climate change is a hoax, Trump doesn't have global warming's effects quite right. Indeed, even as the globe gets hotter on average, some localities could see bigger winter storms. [The Reality of Climate Change: 10 Myths Busted] ## Climate versus weather The first problem is mixing up climate and weather. This is a perennial issue in his rhetoric; in 2016, he pointed to an unusually warm day in 1898 as evidence that the globe isn't overall getting hotter. That weather record was set in only two spots, Oregon and Maryland, making it pretty meaningless to the question of climate, which deals in long-term trends the globe over. And the long-term trend isn't pretty. According to the U.S. National Climatic Data Center, there has not been a single month in which the average surface temperature on Earth has dipped below the 1901 to 2000 average since … 1985\. (The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's repository of this data is offline due to the government shutdown, but The Conversation has more detail on the numbers.) A warming globe doesn't mean that winter will cease to exist, though scientists are already noting trends toward fairly mild winter temperatures. The Climate Science Special Report (CSSR), spearheaded by federal scientists, found that between 1986 and 2016 alone, average annual temperatures over the contiguous United States increased by 1.2 degrees Fahrenheit (0.7 degrees Celsius). Meanwhile, cold waves have become less prevalent, while heat waves have become more common. And high-temperature records are far outstripping record lows. ## The future of cold So what about winter storms? They certainly still exist, but climate scientists predict that Americans will experience even fewer cold waves in the future, with "cold waves" defined as six-day periods in which the temperatures are below the 10th percentile of the temperature range for that area. Alaska will see the greatest decline in cold waves, according to the CSSR, while the Northeast will see the least extreme decline. Snow cover, snow depth and extreme snowfall are also on the decline across the southern and western United States, according to the CSSR. The Northeast is something of an anomaly: Extreme snowfall has increased in parts of the northern United States. Interestingly, the warming climate can sometimes actually trigger extreme snowfall events, because warmer air can carry more moisture. Meanders in the jet stream that channel frigid air down from the Arctic can then create the conditions for monster blizzards. Unfortunately, as climate change alters the polar regions, these jet stream changes may become more common. The result could be a sort of "feast or famine" situation for winter storms: As overall snowfall declines (and parches the already-arid West), some areas -- particularly the Northeast -- could see more individual extreme precipitation events. It's worth noting that all of the trends caused by climate change are also overlaid on top of shorter-scale atmospheric patterns. For example, the famous ocean atmosphere pattern El Niño, which involves a warmer-than-usual central or eastern Pacific, alters winter weather across the United States. Typically, it brings wet, chilly weather to the southern half of the country and warmer, drier weather to much of the northern half. As of Jan. 10, the U.S. Climate Prediction Center forecasted that El Niño has a 65 percent chance of forming by the early spring. * In Photos: Frozen Lakes in Winter * 8 Ways Global Warming Is Already Changing the World * Earth from Above: 101 Stunning Images from Orbit Originally published on Live Science.
Scientists recently discovered a rare and important hagfish fossil that includes traces of preserved slime dating to 100 million years ago. Eyeless, jawless hagfish -- still around today -- are bizarre, eel-like, carrion-eating fishes that lick the flesh off dead animals using their spiky tongue-like structures. But their most well-known feature is the sticky slime that they expel for protection. And now, scientists know that hagfish slime is robust enough to leave traces in the fossil record, finding remarkable evidence in a fossilized hagfish skeleton excavated in Lebanon. This new discovery is also prompting researchers to redefine the hagfish's relationship to other ancient fish and to all animals with backbones. [Photos: The Freakiest Looking Fish] Hagfish fossils are scarce, and this specimen -- an "unequivocal fossil hagfish" -- is exceptionally detailed with lots of soft tissue preserved, scientists reported in a study published online today (Jan. 21) in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS). The fossil dates to the late Cretaceous period (145.5 million to 65 million years ago), and measures 12 inches (31 centimeters) in length. Researchers dubbed it Tethymyxine tapirostrum: Tethymyxine comes from "Tethys" (referencing the Tethys Sea) and the Latinized Greek word "myxnios," which means "slimy fish." Tapirostrom translates as "snout of a tapir," and refers to the fish's elongated nose, the study authors wrote. ## "A swimming sausage" Hagfish have been around for about 500 million years, yet there is next to no trace of them as fossils, primarily because their long, sinuous bodies lack hard skeletons, said lead study author Tetsuto Miyashita, a postdoctoral fellow with the Department of Organismal Biology and Anatomy at the University of Chicago. "Basically, it's like a swimming sausage," Miyashita told Live Science. "It's a bag of skin with a lot of muscles in it. They don't have any bones or hard teeth inside them, so it's really difficult for them to get preserved into the fossil record." Tethymyxine tapirostrum is a 100-million-year-old, 12-inch-long fish embedded in a slab of Cretaceous period limestone from Lebanon, and is believed to be the first detailed fossil of a hagfish. Tetsuto Miyashita, University of Chicago When threatened, modern hagfish produce a type of mucus from special slime glands distributed along their bodies. As keratin fibers -- the stuff that makes up our fingernails and hair -- in the mucus encounter water, they tangle and expand the slime glob to about 10,000 times its original size in just a few tenths of a second, researchers reported in another study, published Jan. 16 in the journal Royal Society Interface. Hagfish slime is a sticky mess that deters predators by clogging their gills, and this slimy defense is even effective on land, as a number of unlucky motorists learned in 2017. Copious, gooey hagfish slime temporarily shut down part of a highway in Oregon, after a truck overturned and dumped its payload of hagfish -- 7,500 pounds (3,400 kilograms) -- onto the road. And now, scientists know that this slimy defense was in place 100 million years ago, perhaps used to deter Cretaceous marine carnivores such as ichthyosaurs, plesiosaurs and ancient sharks, Miyashita said. Hagfish that lived 100 million years ago had the same slime-producing abilities as modern hagfish. Tetsuto Miyashita, University of Chicago/Vincent Zintzen (New Zealand Department of Conservation) and Carl Struthers (Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa) ## Slime scans The PNAS study authors examined the hagfish fossil using synchrotron scanning -- a type of imaging technology that bombards objects with highly energized and polarized particles -- and they detected chemical signatures of keratin fibers concentrated in more than 100 places. Its presence in the fossil suggested that ancient hagfish during this period had already evolved their slimy superpower, according to the study. Detail from a synchrotron scanning (bottom) of the Tethymyxine tapirostrum hagfish fossil (top) revealed traces of chemical left behind when the soft tissues fossilized, including signs of keratin that indicate a series of slime-producing glands along the body. Tetsuto Miyashita, University of Chicago This rare find also provides a clearer picture of where these oddball, slime-producing fish belong on the tree of life, perhaps helping to settle a scientific debate spanning centuries, Miyashita said. Hagfish are so weird that they have long been seen as "the odd ones out" on the fish family tree, the sole occupants of a lonely branch, Miyashita said. Because their fossils are so scarce, it's unclear how long ago hagfish diverged from the common ancestor they shared with all other fishes (and subsequently, all vertebrates). But the new fossil shows that hagfish 100 million years ago were remarkably similar to hagfish today, suggesting that their specialized features accumulated gradually over time. If so, rather than being a more primitive "cousin" to other fish, hagfish should be grouped together with long-bodied lampreys, the study authors reported. In clarifying these relationships, scientists develop a more detailed picture of how creatures with backbones evolved, Miyashita said. "Where we place hagfish makes a difference to how we think about our own ancestors, more than 500 million years ago," he added. * Extreme Life on Earth: 8 Bizarre Creatures * Goopy Science: How to Make Slime with Glue * Biomimicry: 7 Clever Technologies Inspired by Nature Originally published on Live Science.
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