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16 February 2019 | NewScientist | 31

happening. In the UK at least, people who don’t eat meat consume more cheese than average. In 2017, a team at the University of Oxford sliced and diced the data from a dietary survey of nearly 200,000 people. Participants were classified by diet – meat eaters, poultry eaters, fish eaters, vegetarians or vegans – and their food intake was monitored. The group who ate the most cheese per person were the vegetarians – that is, people who don’t eat meat or fish but do eat dairy products.

Their average cheese intake is nearly 30 grams a day, almost twice as much as that of meat eaters. Team member Kathryn Bradbury, now at the University of Auckland in New Zealand, says this suggests some dietary switching. “There is definitely some compensation with cheese,” she says. If people really are shifting from meat to cheese, that is a potential unreported problem for the environment. Animal farming is a major source of greenhouse gas emissions. According to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the livestock sector produces 14.5 per cent of all human-made greenhouse gas emissions. Cattle alone contribute two-thirds of this. Add in sheep, goats and buffaloes – the source of almost all the cheese not made from cow’s milk – and that goes up to 81 per cent. Unsurprisingly, the environmental impact of food derived from cattle is huge. In terms of carbon footprint, beef is about as bad as it gets. Figures collected by researchers at the University of Michigan show that producing a kilogram of beef emits an average of 26.5 kilograms of “carbon dioxide equivalent”. This means it causes the same amount of warming over 100 years as 26.5 kilograms of pure carbon dioxide. About half of that comes from methane, produced by cows as an unavoidable byproduct of digestion, which is equivalent to the emissions from a 100-kilometre trip in a typical car. Lamb – also produced by a belching ruminant – isn’t far behind (see “Guilty pleasure”, right). Other meats, such as pork and chicken, result in lower carbon emissions, as do fish. But all of these are still carbon intensive compared with vegetables. Milk is quite low, at 1.3 kilograms of CO2 equivalent to produce a kilogram of the stuff. But cheese is many times higher, mainly because 10 litres of milk go into making each 32 | NewScientist | 16 February 2019


The compensations of cheese

kilogram of cheese. The actual footprint varies a lot depending on the variety of cheese, but the mean is 9.8 kilograms of CO2 (see “Choose your cheese”, page 34). The worst offender is cheddar produced in the US using milk from Holstein-Friesian cows, which comes in at more than 16 kilograms of CO2. On this basis, a quick calculation suggests that substituting cheese for some meats – say, halloumi for chicken – can double a meal’s carbon footprint. That isn’t what I set out to achieve. But this is only a rough estimate. “The problems with that comparison are that people might not eat the same amount of cheese as they would meat, and there are more environmental impact categories than just carbon footprint,” says Helen Breewood

13% per cow Rise in US milk production between 2007 and 2016

of the Food Climate Research Network at the University of Oxford. Another way to look at this issue is the carbon footprint per calorie. By this measure, dairy products as a whole have a lower carbon footprint than any meat, so a straight caloriefor-calorie swap may mean cheese is no worse than chicken. Unfortunately, the studies published so far don’t look at cheese on its own, but bundle it into a general dairy category along with milk, cream, butter and yogurt. And we don’t know whether people really swap calorie for calorie as they tuck into the cheese board (gram for gram, cheese tends to contain more calories than meat), so it is impossible to be sure. More clearly on the plus side, each calorie of dairy gobbles up less land and less energy than a calorie of meat. That is potentially good news for those who substitute cheese for meat, although, again, it isn’t considered separately from other dairy products. But even if we set aside the question of swapping meat for cheese, the environmental impact of dairy farming is a growing issue. “We are facing a lot of criticism,” says Juha Nousiainen, a senior vice president of Valio, Finland’s largest dairy company. Finland is a world leader in developing a carbon-neutral economy and the dairy industry is trying to


SOURCE: www.fao.org/docrep/018/i3437e/i3437e00.htm






M ilk Be an s

do its bit. “We cannot hide from this question any more,” says Nousiainen. The industry has already halved its emissions since 1970, largely by breeding less burpy cows and improving their feed. Intensification has also helped. But, says Nousiainen, “the current means to reduce methane have been exhausted”. Valio’s solution is the “zero carbon cow” project. This is an extremely challenging goal as methane production is inevitable and it can’t be captured from cows in fields. The answer is to offset it: manage the pasture better so the grass becomes a carbon sink rather than a carbon source. That isn’t as piddling as it may sound. According to the FAO, improved management of grazing land can sequester up to 3 tonnes of carbon per hectare per year – more than an equivalent area of boreal forest. “It is a hell of a lot of carbon,” says Nousiainen. Even that, however, will only solve about half the problem. The rest will have to come from many small interventions such as using manure as a biofuel and capturing the methane emitted inside barns. As yet, these are just plans on the drawing board. But if they work “we can get very near to zero”, says Nousiainen. The environmental impacts are one thing. What about animal rights? If you are concerned about the welfare implications of meat but don’t think too much about cheese, you might want to look away now. “Dairy farming is hideous,” says Marc Bekoff at the University of Colorado, Boulder, a pioneer of research into animal emotions. “The ethical issues surrounding dairy are just as egregious as those surrounding meat.” For researchers, getting access to dairy farms to document how they operate isn’t easy. In 2010, Kathryn Gillespie, a geographer now at the University of Washington, embarked on an investigation of the US dairy industry. It took her four years to gather enough material to publish, but what she found is shocking. Her peer-reviewed book The Cow With Ear Tag #1389 – named after a


Be ef La m b Ch ee se Po r Ch k ic ke Fr es n h fis h

Dairy cows in the US

Cheese has a higher carbon footprint than some kinds of meat

Kilograms of “CO2 equivalent” per kg produced


Guilty pleasure



wretched animal she encountered at a cattle auction – describes the highly industrialised process of milk production and the toll it exacts on cows. Most dairy cows are born on large dairy farms to adult dairy cows. They are separated from their mothers straight after birth, raised until they are about 18 months old, then artificially inseminated. In the meantime, they are dehorned, ear-tagged and, in some countries, have their tails docked – in which most of the tail is removed. These procedures are usually done without anaesthetic. Nine months later they give birth. Their calves are taken off them immediately and they are then milked several times a day. To continue producing milk, they must be inseminated once a year, meaning they are pregnant most of the time. They aren’t allowed to bond with their calves – the US Bovine Alliance on Management and Nutrition recommends that separation takes place no more than an hour after birth, to minimise trauma for both calf and cow. Female calves go into the dairy herd. Male calves are usually killed right away or reared for meat and slaughtered within six months. A dairy cow typically goes through this cycle of insemination, birth, separation and lactation at least twice, but often multiple times. Somewhere between the ages of 3 and 7 their productivity or fertility, or both, declines to a point where they are no longer profitable. They are now considered spent, and sent to the slaughterhouse.

The US has about 9.3 million dairy cows at any one time. Around 3 million of those are slaughtered every year, along with half a million of their male calves. The dairy industry is thus intimately intertwined with meat production. “People don’t know that,” says Bekoff. Gillespie also describes visiting a “cull auction” where the spent cows on sale are visibly knackered. That is where she saw cow #1389, which was in such poor condition that nobody bought her. She collapsed in the auction ring and died later that day. Bekoff says these practices are likely to cause great distress. “Cows are mammals. They have rich and deep emotional lives, including pain and suffering. I always say that their emotions may be different from human emotions, but there’s no doubt that having a calf ripped away from its mother is a horrific experience for both of them. They’re stressed and traumatised.” Arguably, dairy has bigger welfare issues than meat because individual cows endure years of misery before being slaughtered, he says. The research literature on cow-calf separation is quite mixed. Some studies find little to no evidence of distress, based on behaviour, heart rate and levels of the stress hormone cortisol. Others find the opposite. The evidence does support the claim that > 16 February 2019 | NewScientist | 33


earlier separation reduces the distress felt by cows and calves. But this is implicit acknowledgement that the process causes distress whenever it happens. Many of the welfare issues are exacerbated by intensification. Gillespie reports that, in the US, milk production per cow increased 13 per cent between 2007 and 2016. “Everybody wants cows to produce more milk,” says Helen Lambert, an independent animal welfare consultant with a string of peer-reviewed scientific publications to her name. “Putting that pressure on cows causes health and welfare problems.” The three main ones are the udder infection mastitis, lameness from carrying large amounts of milk, and hunger. “Some herds are milked three times a day. Many dairy cows cannot eat enough to sustain that,” she says. “There isn’t enough pasture, so they’re often housed indoors all year round and fed high-energy feed. They’re constantly starving and, as a consequence of that, have very short lives.” The natural lifespan of a cow is about 20 years, she says. Most dairy cows are slaughtered at 5. The dairy industry is well aware of these issues. The European Dairy Association says it fully endorses the internationally recognised, science-based “five freedoms” set out by the World Organisation for Animal Health. These are: freedom from hunger, malnutrition and thirst; freedom from fear and distress; freedom from physical and thermal

discomfort; freedom from pain, injury and disease; and freedom to express normal patterns of behaviour. However, there is ample research showing that these freedoms are routinely violated. For example, many dairy farms in Canada, the US and parts of Europe use “tie stalls”, where cattle are restricted to a single pen for most of their life. “Tethering is a huge problem,” says Lambert. That isn’t freedom to express normal patterns of behaviour. It is unlikely that calf

Choose your cheese Although not all cheeses have had their carbon footprints worked out, we know some are worse than others. So if you can't resist, pick yours wisely to avoid the worst offenders

Cheddar 12 Mozzarella 9

Emmental Camembert

Swiss semi-hard Goat

6 Cream


Cottage cheese Milk

Cream cheese Yogurt

0 34 | NewScientist | 16 February 2019

SOURCES: doi.org/czzx; doi.org/f7grm9

Kilograms of “CO2 equivalent” per kg produced


Baa: the carbon footprint of cheese from sheep is even higher than from cows

separation constitutes being free from distress; being starved isn’t freedom from hunger; a cow with mastitis or lameness isn’t free from physical discomfort. On environmental issues, the industry reluctantly acknowledges that there are areas for improvement. “I think you’ll actually find that the dairy sector globally is doing an awful lot in terms of its environmental impact and we have a good handle on our environmental impact,” says Judith Bryans, president of the International Dairy Federation. “Which you can’t actually say for a lot of the other sectors.” But when I pressed her for specifics and put it to her that cattle farming still has a long way to go, she disputed my figures, accused me of bias and put the phone down on me. She later emailed me with figures showing that dairy accounts for 2.7 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions.


Natural life span of a cow


Lifespan of a dairy cow

Graham Lawton is a staff writer for New Scientist


So what to do? Switching to sheep’s or goat’s cheese isn’t the answer. They also belch out lots of methane. And, due to less intensive management, the carbon footprint of their milk is higher than that from cows: about 5 kilograms of CO2-equivalent per kilogram. Goat farming also has welfare issues. “There is an image of goat’s cheese automatically being higher welfare,” says animal behaviour researcher Alan McElligott at the University of Roehampton in London. “But goats are farmed intensively as well. So I don’t think that’s an answer in terms of animal welfare.” There are now plenty of plant-based cheese substitutes, but in my (limited) experience, the taste and texture mean these vegan varieties are unconvincing (see “Alternative cheese put to the test”, right). They are mostly made from water, starch, coconut oil, salt, flavourings and various other additives, and they bring environmental concerns of their own. “A problem with plant-based cheese alternatives, quite apart from their questionable nutritional value – many are high in fat with little protein – is that they often use palm oil, which has been associated with deforestation,” says Breewood. Some dairy farms are experimenting with “calf-at-foot” farming, where calves stay with their mothers until weaned. This is better for welfare, but is almost certain to be more carbon-intensive because a portion of the milk goes to their calves. Extensive dairy farming, where cows can graze freely, is more damaging to the environment because it requires more land than intensive farming. There simply isn’t enough land to supply global demand in this way, says Lambert. For purists, these alternative systems smack of what Bekoff calls “humane washing”: the animal-welfare equivalent of greenwashing. The cows are still turned into milk machines and male calves are still surplus to requirements. Ultimately, says Lambert, there is no win-win solution. The only easy way to reduce the environmental impact of dairy is to intensify the farms, but that intensifies the welfare problems. If you are concerned about the environmental and animal welfare impacts of dairy, you have to cut down or renounce it entirely. Bekoff acknowledges that this can be a sacrifice. “I think cheese is the hardest thing for people to give up,” he says. “I have never heard anyone say, ‘I miss milk or yogurt’. But people miss cheese.” I will miss it terribly. But hard cheese. Q


Ethical cheese Most dairy farms separate cows and their calves, raising animal welfare concerns (see main story). But some allow them to stay together until the calf is weaned. One such farm is the Ethical Dairy in Galloway, UK. I bought a box of four cheeses for £40 including delivery. That got me four 400-gram wedges: a cheddar-style cheese, an alpine, a semi-hard farmhouse and a blue. The alpine was disappointing, but the others were delicious.

NAME: Mediterranean-Style Block (Violife) APPEARANCE: Like a block of creamed coconut TEXTURE: Chalk and jelly FLAVOUR: Tangy, salty and cheesy MELT TEST: We grilled it, and it turned into something resembling overcooked cheddar left to congeal VERDICT: Divisive. Some thought it was the best, others the worst. But nothing like halloumi

Vegan cheese

NAME: Smoked Gouda-Style Slices (Follow Your Heart)

We convened a panel of New Scientist staff to sample five vegan cheeses.

APPEARANCE: Light yellow and glossy TEXTURE: Like gouda

NAME: Prosociano Wedge (Violife) APPEARANCE: Like grana padano

FLAVOUR: Smoky and cheesy, like heavily processed, smoked cheese

TEXTURE: Glossy and firm FLAVOUR: Sweet, nutty and very salty,

MELT TEST: Good, even melt and nice bubbling. Doesn’t lose its flavour, but

not unlike nutty salted caramel MELT TEST: Flakes fuse together but don’t really melt VERDICT: Not good on its own but probably quite authentic grated onto a pasta dish

claggy on the teeth VERDICT: In general, the best of a bad bunch. Quite like gouda, but not exactly a gourmet cheese

NAME: Original Flavour Slices (Violife) APPEARANCE: Nice yellow colour with authentic-looking air holes TEXTURE: Glossy and firm FLAVOUR: “Like very, very mild cheddar” MELT TEST: Grills nicely on toast, but ends up gooey and tasteless like budget burger cheese VERDICT: Unlikely to fool anyone, but inoffensive

NAME: Mozzarella Flavours (Violife) APPEARANCE: Cheap pizza mozzarella TEXTURE: Firm and springy FLAVOUR: “I’d prefer to eat the packaging,” said one panellist MELT TEST: Packaging says “melts great”. Panel retorts, does not! Melts into something resembling half-set PVA glue. Stringy, but not like mozzarella VERDICT: Nothing like mozzarella


36 | NewScientist | 16 February 2019

Hidden in plain sight We could be sitting on proof of revolutionary new physics, says Justin Eure, if we only knew how to look for it

T’S an old joke. A woman returning home finds a neighbour searching for his keys beneath a street lamp. “Is that where you dropped them?” she asks. “No,” he replies, “but it’s where the light is.” Change a few details and you could be describing the current state of particle physics. Except nobody’s laughing. For over a decade, the most expensive experiment on Earth has been flinging protons at one another at a hair’s breadth shy of the speed of light. These trillions of collisions at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) – part of the CERN particle physics laboratory near Geneva, Switzerland – have helped confirm our existing picture of reality. But many fundamental problems that the LHC was built to answer remain infuriatingly open. For a rising generation of physicists, the threat of stagnation means it is time to rethink our search. Instead of building ever more powerful experiments, they have a radical proposal. They believe experiments like the LHC may have already found the signature of exciting new physics – we just didn’t know they were there. Combing through millions of gigabytes of data for those missed clues is complicated and time-consuming, and will require powerful new algorithms. That is why some want a shortcut. They are zeroing in on the blind spots that plagued our previous searches, hot on the trail of a promising new idea lurking in the shadows. Their proposal of a nest of particles whose interactions kept them hidden could hold the key to the most


perplexing problems in physics. Alternatively, it could amount to nothing. Either way, it is time we ventured into the darkness. As street lamps go, the LHC shines a remarkably powerful beam. Its proton collisions rattle off at a rate of 30 million per second, generating a continuous stream of data that is impossible to store in its entirety. Instead, the debris is instantly filtered to isolate interesting events, with some 1000 per second chosen for further analysis and the rest discarded. This still leaves more than 80 million events being recorded each day, and even the filtered results remain so complex that they need selective analysis, says Nathaniel Craig, a theoretical physicist at the University of California, Santa Barbara. “You can only explore a finite number of possibilities.” That means relying on hunches to prioritise where to search. Sometimes these theoretical preferences can pay off. Take the case of the Higgs boson, the particle dreamed up in the early 1960s to explain how fundamental particles acquire mass. Theorists predicted that when two protons collide with sufficiently high energy, this elusive particle could burst into existence and then decay into two telltale photons. When the LHC was first switched on in 2009, much of the analysis was designed to pick that distinctive death rattle out of the deafening background noise. “You know what a particle should look like,” says Noam Tal Hod at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel, “but the analysis is very, very complex.” On 4 July 2012, all that

hard work paid off. The LHC data revealed that a suspiciously high number of photon pairs were coming into existence with an energy of 125 gigaelectronvolts, corresponding to a likely value for the mass of the Higgs. Such a spike in the data, colloquially known as a bump, was exactly the signal physicists had been hunting for.

Cracks in the picture The Higgs was the final piece of a puzzle called the standard model of particle physics, which paints a comprehensive picture of the known particles and forces in the universe. Its completion marked the end of a decades-long hunt, but not everyone was celebrating. All sorts of fundamental mysteries remained unsolved, suggesting that something beyond the standard model had yet to be found. Many of these remaining problems boil down to one. Crudely phrased, some things are exceptionally small while related things are exceptionally big. This is known as the hierarchy problem, and once you spot it, you start seeing it everywhere. Take the four fundamental forces of nature. The weakest two are gravity and the weak nuclear force, which only operates on the tiniest of scales and is responsible for certain types of radioactive decay. The weak force is weak, but compared with it, gravity is some 25 orders of magnitude weaker – a bizarre state of affairs that, as yet, has no good explanation. The asymmetry reappears elsewhere. Dark energy, the mysterious force that is > 16 February 2019 | NewScientist | 37

“Nature doesn’t care about our aesthetics. It doesn’t need to be beautiful”

California, Santa Barbara, searching under the convenient street light to the detriment of the field. But the story of the LHC is far from over. The collider has recorded only 3 per cent of the data we expect it to collect in its lifetime, and an upgrade to higher energies in 2020 will further raise its chances of seeing something surprising. But the LHC’s failure to break any new ground has emboldened a new generation to question the hunches that motivated previous searches. “This optimism is most widespread amongst the youth,” says Matthew McCullough, a theoretical physicist at CERN. “We’ve shaken off the cobwebs of the theories handed down by our PhD advisers.”

Buried treasure


The Higgs boson was found by sifting through the debris of proton collisions

causing the universe’s expansion to accelerate, is 120 orders of magnitude weaker than we would expect. Dark matter, which is the dominant form of matter in the universe, interacts very weakly with regular matter. Neutrinos, the lightest particles in the standard model, are thousands of times lighter than anything else. These disparities are profoundly vexing to physicists, who prefer to see related parameters in a theory take broadly consistent values. This preference for “naturalness” drives much theoretical speculation – some would say to a fault. “Nature doesn’t care about our aesthetics,” says Craig, and reality does not need to be beautiful. Still, in the lead-up to the LHC’s first collisions, natural solutions were in demand. Because the Higgs was supposed to endow all fundamental particles with mass, some calculations predicted that each of those particles would, in turn, increase the mass of the Higgs. That resulted in a particle 17 orders of magnitude more massive than physicists thought was likely, a hierarchy problem that desperately needed to be fixed. The most popular solution was to imagine that each particle had a heavier “supersymmetric” twin, whose interactions with the Higgs would perfectly cancel out all that excess mass. But bumps corresponding to supersymmetric particles never showed up at the LHC, at least not in the form we sought. Ten years on, nothing has changed. We were fixated on supersymmetry for too long, says Isabel Garcia Garcia at the University of

38 | NewScientist | 16 February 2019

Instead of waiting for a new collider to be built to their specifications, they want to exploit an unparalleled resource at their disposal: more than 300 million gigabytes of archived data. So far, analysis of these collisions has focused almost exclusively on comparing it with the narrow predictions of the standard model or specific extensions, like supersymmetry. But there are other ways to look at the data. In an ideal world, physicists could free themselves from preconceptions and then try to compare every aspect of every collision with perfect simulations based on the standard model. Any discrepancy, no matter how slight, would sound an alarm. Such complete, unfiltered comparisons exceed our current computational abilities. What’s more, many of the predictions made by the standard model are not precise values, but approximations produced by simplifying complex calculations. That means the alarm could ring just because our maths was slightly off, leading to a potentially limitless sequence of false positives. A practical way forward may come from the growing field of machine learning. While CERN has used it to some degree for decades, the field is rapidly expanding as computers become exponentially more powerful and algorithms evolve. Maurizio Pierini, an experimentalist at CERN, envisions new automated searches that would flag unexpected events. The anomalies would probably number in the hundreds per month – a minuscule amount of data by comparison with the primary collection. Once humans had reviewed them, the algorithm would be taught to ignore the ones deemed to be false positives, limiting future detections of those types, while learning to seek more of

experimental predictions: if a clockwork mechanism exists, then the LHC would have failed to notice it. The Higgs was easy to spot because it offered a clear bump in the data. Clockwork, however, predicts a series of new, very closely connected particles that appear “like a hair comb of bumps”, says McCullough. That is precisely the kind of pattern physicists usually filter out as background noise.


Closer inspection

The Large Hadron Collider has collected more than 300 million gigabytes of data

the ones that had physicists genuinely baffled. “Machine learning is both promising and necessary,” says Craig, but any full-blown attempt to sift through the data already collected is likely to take time. Rather than hunting for missing keys on every square inch of the street, some suggest we find a better light to search under. Whichever theoretical hunch we follow next, it needs to be chosen with care. With particle physics only just breaking free of its decades-long obsession with supersymmetry, the last thing we need is to replace that set of blinkers with another. But one new candidate seems too tempting not to investigate. For increasingly many physicists, it ticks all the boxes, making sense of the mysteries that plague the standard model while leaving a signature that could be hiding in plain sight in the LHC data. The work has its origins in research done in 2015 by two independent groups of physicists. They were trying to solve one of the hierarchy problems: why gravity is so much weaker than the other fundamental forces of nature. The way to bridge this gap, they decided, was to summon the particle equivalent of a mechanical clock. Thanks to the gears nestled within every old-fashioned timepiece, each tick of the second hand yields a corresponding movement in the hour hand, allowing two very different timescales to be effortlessly connected. Replace the gears with particles, each capable of interacting with its nearest

neighbours, and a bridge can be created between two areas of physics operating on vastly different scales. “In and of itself, it’s very pretty,” says McCullough. “There’s an inherent beauty in the way the original clockwork arrived at an exponentially weak force.” But McCullough realised the idea could do more. With his colleague Gian Giudice, head of CERN’s theory department, he extended the clockwork analogy across the universe, with infinite chains of gears connecting the puny force of gravity to the other fundamental forces. Christophe Grojean, a theorist at DESY,

“A bridge can be created between two vastly different areas of physics” an accelerator laboratory in Germany, is one of many impressed by the work’s power. “Clockwork could reveal a new hidden face of matter,” he says. Since then, the clockwork mechanism has taken off, with a spate of papers suggesting ways to apply it to many of the most frustrating problems in physics, from the identity of dark matter to the masses of neutrinos and beyond. Each iteration is a unique contraption tailor-made for the problem at hand. “There’s a bit of a Rube Goldberg element to it,” says Craig. Clockwork isn’t the only mathematically sound and compelling way to answer the questions left unanswered by the standard model. What sets it apart, however, are its

Teasing out those signatures calls for a radical shift in perspective: rather than picking out the tallest peaks in a distant mountain range, we need to pay more attention to the landscape as a whole. Such a shift would be truly valuable, says Garcia, potentially unearthing new results beyond the clockwork mechanism itself. Performing the necessary searches would be easy, says Pierini. Indeed, Tal Hod has been sifting through LHC simulations – more tractable and closer to hand than the real data – testing whether distinctive clockwork-like signatures could have escaped our attention all this time. He says this is the first time anyone has hunted for something that seems to fluctuate, although such proposals have been floating around since 2012. And he has already found something in line with the clockwork idea, raising hopes that fuller analyses could have results to show sometime this year. Put to the test, of course, the idea may not survive. But even a failing hypothesis can be inspiring – just ask the theorists who grew up in the long shadow of supersymmetry. “Nobody knows where the new physics is going to be discovered,” says McCullough. After all, we may be blind to more than just wiggles in our current search. Other theories posit long-lived particles that we cannot see directly and that do not decay into things we can see until long after they have passed through the LHC detectors. Complementary, small-scale experiments are under way, intended to expand the search for new physics in some of these alternative ways that the bigger colliders cannot. But many eyes ultimately remain on the LHC. “The LHC is a giant battleship,” says Craig. “Every time you go into battle, many of these small ships may have the first skirmish, but the battleship wins the war.” ■ Justin Eure is a writer based in Chapel Hill, North Carolina 16 February 2019 | NewScientist | 39

RE humans, by nature, good or evil? The question has split opinions since people began philosophising. Some, like the followers of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, say we are a naturally peaceful species corrupted by society. Others side with Thomas Hobbes and see us as a naturally violent species civilised by society. Both perspectives make sense. To say that we are both “naturally peaceful” and “naturally violent” seems contradictory, however. This is the paradox at the heart of my new book. The paradox is resolved if we recognise that human nature is a chimera. The chimera, in classical mythology, was a creature with the body of a goat and the head of a lion. It was neither one thing nor the other: it was both. I argue that, with respect to aggression, a human is both a goat and a lion. We have a low propensity for impulsive aggression, and a high propensity for premeditated aggression. This solution makes both Rousseauians and Hobbesians partially right, but it raises a deeper question: why did such an unusual combination of virtue and violence evolve?


The story of how our species came to possess this unique mixture hasn’t been told before, and offers a rich and fresh perspective on the evolution of our behavioural and moral tendencies. It also addresses the fascinating but surprisingly neglected question of how and why our species, Homo sapiens, came into existence at all. Since the 1960s, efforts to understand the biology of aggression have converged on an important idea. Aggression – meaning behaviour intended to cause physical or mental harm – falls into two major types, so distinct in their function and biology that from an evolutionary viewpoint they need to be considered separately. I use the terms “proactive” and “reactive” aggression, but many other word pairs describe the same dichotomy, including cold and hot, offensive and defensive, premeditated and impulsive. To judge from other relevant animals, a high level of proactive aggression is normally associated with high reactive aggression. The common chimpanzee is the primate species that most often uses proactive aggression to

ANGELS and DEMONS Humans are both the best of species and the worst. Richard Wrangham knows why

40 | NewScientist | 16 February 2019


“This addresses the fascinating question of why our species came into existence at all”

kill its own kind, and it also has a high rate of reactive aggression within communities. The wolf’s proactive aggression against members of its own species is often lethal. As with chimpanzees, although relationships within wolf groups are generally benign and cooperative, they are far more emotionally reactive than dogs are. Lions and hyenas are also wolf-like in these respects. Something different happened in the human lineage. While proactive aggression stayed high, reactive aggression became suppressed. The evidence, I argue, points to self-domestication being the “something different” that made humans special. An animal is domesticated if it becomes tame as a result of genetic adaptation, as opposed to being tamed within its lifetime. The idea of self-domestication as a way to understand human docility goes back at least 2000 years to the ancient Greeks and has been repeatedly reinvented. Until recently, the term was used only as a description to emphasise special behavioural qualities that we share with domesticated animals, such as social

tolerance and low emotional reactivity to provocation. But now we can add the fact that anatomical changes found in H. sapiens compared with earlier hominins show a strong similarity to the anatomical changes that occur in domestication. “Domesticates” mostly have smaller bodies than their wild ancestors. Their faces tend to be shorter, projecting relatively less forward. Differences between males and females are less developed. And domesticates usually have smaller brains. The differences between modern humans and our earlier ancestors look like the differences between a dog and a wolf. So, how did humans become selfdomesticated? Evidence from fossils reveals the process started certainly by 200,000 years ago, and possibly with the first glimmerings of H. sapiens a little more than 300,000 years ago. Language-based conspiracy was the key, because it gave whispering subordinates the power to join forces to kill bullies – presumably, alpha males, since men tend to be more violent than women. As happens in small-scale, traditional societies today, language allowed underdogs to agree on a plan and thereby to make predictably safe murders out of confrontations with intended victims that would otherwise have been dangerous. Genetic selection against the alpha males’ propensity for reactive aggression was an unforeseen result of eliminating the would-be despots. The selection against alpha-male behaviour led to an increasingly calm tenor of life within social communities of H. sapiens. Our species is now more Rousseauian than it has ever been.

Conform or die The same ability to perform capital punishment that led to self-domestication also created the moral senses, as Christopher Boehm at the University of South California has argued. In the past, to be a nonconformist, to offend community standards or to gain a reputation for being mean were dangerous adventures; to some extent this is still true today. Rule breakers threatened the interests of the elders – the coalition of males holding power – so they risked being ostracised as outsiders or sorcerers. Nonconformists who refused to change their behaviour were executed. Selection accordingly favoured the evolution of emotional responses that led individuals to feel and display unity with the group. Conformity was vital. The moral senses of individuals thus evolved to be self-protective to a degree not shown by other primates. The strongly > 16 February 2019 | NewScientist | 41


Homo sapiens became more angelic by killing bullies and despots

conformist behaviours produced by the new tendencies provided a safe passage through life, and they had a second effect as well. By reducing competition and selfishness, they promoted behaviour that benefited the group as a whole. The idea that the moral senses evolved to protect individuals from the socially powerful suggests that group selection may be unnecessary for explaining why we are such a group-oriented species. So what about proactive aggression? A predisposition for premeditated violence was in place in our Homo ancestors by at least 300,000 years ago, and perhaps as much as 2 million years ago. How much earlier it was present isn’t marked by anything so concrete as domestication, which comes with a syndrome of behavioural and physical characteristics. Based on inferring the behaviour of our ancestors, however, a high propensity for coalitionary proactive aggression probably operated at least through the 2 million or more years of the Pleistocene. The reason for this claim is the antiquity of hunting. Homo erectus, the first ancestor of H. sapiens that was committed, like us, to living on the ground, evolved around 2 million years ago. Cut marks that H. erectus left on meat-bearing bones show that they butchered animals the size of large antelope. By 1 million years ago, ambush hunting is suggested (humans repeatedly reused a site of that age at Olorgesailie, Kenya, a place where animal 42 | NewScientist | 16 February 2019

prey were limited to narrow travel routes and could therefore be killed easily); this implies cooperation and planning too. However, only with H. sapiens and Neanderthals, in the past few hundred thousand years, have we found sufficient evidence that hunting had clearly become premeditated: using spears, catching small animals apparently by setting snares, and hunting from elevated positions. So a conservative interpretation might limit proactive hunting to the Mid-Pleistocene. After our ancestors became good hunters, they could have killed strangers; hunting is a transferable skill. Hunting and simple war

“The moral senses of individuals evolved to be self-protective” both require searching and safe dispatching, and both benefit from long-distance travel and well-honed coordination. Wolves, lions and spotted hyenas use coalitionary proactive aggression not only to get food but also to kill rivals in other groups. Chimpanzees are also social hunters and killers of their own species. Bonobos, by contrast, aren’t known to be social hunters (despite their liking of meat) and, to date, haven’t shown clear evidence of planned aggression. Among humans still living in small-scale societies, there is a similar association: societies relying more

on hunting tend to have more frequent war. For all these reasons, human hunting of prey seems likely to have been associated with the ability to kill rivals in neighbouring groups 2 million years ago. The origins of proactive violence may be far deeper, however. In our 1996 book, Demonic Males, Dale Peterson and I argued that the killing of strangers probably went back 7 million years or more to our common lineage with chimpanzees and bonobos, when our Central African ape ancestor was probably a chimpanzee-like hunter and killer. Much as chimpanzees and wolves attack strangers, once our ancestors had achieved the ability to kill safely, a motivation to kill strangers would probably have been present too. There seems no reason to excuse our ancestors from the links between hunting and violence found in other animals. Regardless of when coalitionary proactive aggression began against strangers, killing within groups was limited until humans developed a superior language ability. Much changed after individuals became able to share complex ideas with one another. People could then form alliances based on shared interests that they could articulate. With the arrival of planned and communally approved executions, the bullying by an alpha male was exchanged for the subtler tyranny of the previous underdogs. The newly powerful coalitions of males became the set of elders who would rule society – a system that largely continues today, albeit more with laws, threats and imprisonment than with execution. Both our “angelic” and “demonic” tendencies, therefore, depended for their evolution on the sophisticated forms of shared intentionality made possible by high-level language – an ability that undoubtedly also contributed to much pro-social behaviour. A chimpanzee-style form of shared intentionality launched the process at least 7 million years ago. It took the mysterious dawning of an improved language facility, sometime between 500,000 and 300,000 years ago, to shake us into a new world. Language created the chimeric aspects of our personality, high killing power lying alongside reduced emotional reactivity. A unique cognitive ability gave us a uniquely contradictory psychology – a predisposition for both virtue and violence. ■ Richard Wrangham is Ruth B. Moore professor of biological anthropology at Harvard University. This is an edited extract from his new book, The Goodness Paradox, published in January 2019 by Pantheon (US) and Profile Books (UK)

Where did we come from? How did it all begin?

And where does belly-button fluff come from? Find the answers in our latest book. On sale now. Introduction by Professor Stephen Hawking


Saving Earth by changing us Boldly altering human behaviour may be our best shot at saving Earth, finds Adrian Barnett

There is No Planet B: A handbook for the make or break years by Mike Berners-Lee, Cambridge University Press


WE don’t need telling that the world is in a horrible mess. What we need are solutions and, better still, pragmatic prescriptions based on sound psychology and effective economics, precepts that can ease society through the transitions we have no choice but to make. As a senior fellow of the Institute for Social Futures at Lancaster University, UK, Mike could always treat flying as a “very Berners-Lee is no stranger to special occasion extravagance”. the difficult questions of how we The book is as jargon-free as go about changing our lives to become more commensal and less possible to ensure maximum reach, while endnotes hold the parasitic as a species. But in his details for the technically minded. latest book, There Is No Planet B, he sets out to provide a set of lifestyle Amazingly, it manages to make the complexities of planet-scale alternatives, both individually economic and environmental and societally: it is intended as a sort of Alexa to tell you how to live interconnectivity fun: a platter in a more planet-friendly fashion. of potential doom, served with a The book spans the essentials of food, climate, energy and so on “It is the age in which we have become big people on by responding to key questions. a small planet rather than These range from “Given the the other way round” global surplus, why are some people malnourished?” to smiley face and sparkler. And to “Should I go veggie or vegan?”, underline the take-homes, every via “What are the fourteen things section has a summary to read that every politician needs to before embarking on the rest. know about climate change?”, There is also an alphabetical and “Energy: What can I do?”. tour of concepts, exposing a dash He works hard to avoid the simplistic. Take his “Should I fly?” of humour. Try his definition of answer. It covers everything from Anthropocene: “The age in which we have become big people on a possible electric planes for short small planet rather than the other flights to using solar electricity to way round.” Or Greed: “A simple create aviation fuel from CO2 in the air for long flights. Or you term for individualism.” 44 | NewScientist | 16 February 2019

But for me, the conclusion is the part to reread because it concentrates on how to acquire what he calls the “thinking skills and habits that fit the twenty-first century context of enormous human power and technology on a now-fragile planet”. This is the only mindset needed by planet-dominating primates whose approach to resource exploitation is still largely predicated by our Palaeolithic past. To get there, Berners-Lee outlines eight dimensions, from global empathy to self-reflection, from future thinking to appreciating the simple, small and local. Of course, the list can’t be exhaustive. Nor is his book as a whole. But it is a bold, long-overdue try, and one bound to have great resonance, given that the slogan of its title is seen on banners and strips of cloth tied round the heads of Europe’s schoolkids as they protest the inability of powerful adults to deal effectively with our

Should we fly? The answer may be to see it as a special extravagance

environmental crises. “There is no Planet B’’ is a rallying cry for a generation worried that they will inherit a world shorn of nature’s wonders and of the freedoms and opportunities we take for granted. Buying the book and adopting its key guidelines and mindset will go a long way to ensuring the planet we hand on may just be liveable. Despite the visions of people such as Stephen Hawking, leaving Earth is not an option given the huge amounts of energy needed to propel us to an off-world colony. We will also lack the right technology for several hundred years to come. As Berners-Lee writes: “Whatever we make it into, Earth will be our only home for a very long time to come. There is no Planet B.” ■ Adrian Barnett is a rainforest ecologist at Brazil’s National Institute of Amazonian Research in Manaus

For more books and arts coverage, visit newscientist.com/culture


After the flood


Rowan Hooper encounters a compelling British dystopia The Wall by John Lanchester, Faber & Faber

been built not so much to keep the ocean out, as to repel climate migrants who are trying to enter the country. The migrants are known only by the dehumanising label The Others. If this sounds like a satire of Brexit and nationalism – or Trump’s border wall – it is more than that. It offers a richer take on the world, one that evokes Kazuo


AT THE start of John Lanchester’s new novel, we find ourselves on a wall amid freezing temperatures. This barrier has been built to repel a terrifying foe. For many, the first thing this will bring to mind is the Night’s Watch, the guards who patrol the great ice wall in HBO’s fantasy “The idea that the series Game of Thrones. young should respect In fact, we are in a future Britain, at a time when it is ringed the old has forever by 10,000 kilometres of concrete. been destroyed” This structure marks the country’s new coastline, reshaped by the Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go or great floods that came with The even George Orwell’s Nineteen Change. Welcome, then, to Eighty-Four. another dystopian future (as if In Lanchester’s story, The the present wasn’t bad enough). Change has brought catastrophe Kavanagh, the narrator, is a to the world. The conveyor of young man conscripted to do Atlantic currents that bring warm his mandatory two years keeping Gulf Stream waters and milder the coastline secure. The Wall, weather to parts of the northern officially designated the National hemisphere has broken down Coastal Defence Structure, has as a result of climate change. Britain now experiences bitter, In John Lanchester’s The Wall, Arctic winters. But farther south, Britain is a fortress the world has been rendered

uninhabitable by heat or flood, and thousands of migrants risk their lives to escape north. This isn’t an implausible future. As we know, with carbon dioxide levels having breached 410 parts per million and time running out to stop catastrophic climate change, it seems possible. In Kavanagh’s Britain, all legal residents are electronically tagged so any migrant who does make it over The Wall is quickly rounded up, and, basically, enslaved. They become Help: unpaid workers who serve the legal residents. Old people in this country – those who remember the world before The Change – are despised, ignored and reviled. They have no say in anything and the idea that the young should respect the old has forever been destroyed. Think 16-year-old Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg criticising business leaders at the recent World Economic Forum at Davos, Switzerland, only a lot blunter. “Want to put me straight about what I’m doing wrong in my life, Grandad?” Kavanagh exclaims. “Why don’t you travel back in time and unfuckup the world and then travel back here and maybe we can talk.” Nothing much happens to Kavanagh for a while. Not that it matters, because Lanchester writes so engagingly. But we know The Others are out there and gradually we encounter them. Then the novel kicks into an episodic and suspense-filled adventure. Books are often described as “filmic”, but this felt more ready-for-Netflix/HBOcompatible than anything I have read for a while. Read, enjoy – and try not to become one of The Olds so despised by the young. ■

Psychologist Joseph Franklin tries to spot people at risk of suicide by using machine learning to look at social media sites. Tune in to BBC World Hacks: Predicting suicide on the BBC World Service on 19 February at 8pm GMT to learn more.

Play The limited edition of video game Steins;Gate Elite (Spike Chunsoft) lands on 19 February. This version of the time travel adventure features beautiful artworks, storyboards and all the footage (pictured) from the original Japanese anime series.

Last chance You have until 24 February to catch two immersive artworks at London’s Zabludowicz Collection. Theo Triantafyllidis has fun with a fictional bacterium. In Ollie Dook’s virtual zoo, meanwhile, visitors become exhibits.

Visit “Welcome to the future” is the theme of the ARCOmadrid 2019 art fair in Spain, from 27 February. Explore personal visions of the future, from Salvador Dalí to contemporaries like Maryam Jafri and Eduardo Navarro.

Read Decompress from David WallaceWells’s daunting, unputdownable book The Uninhabitable Earth: What climate change means (Allen Lane) with the charming Wonders Beyond Numbers (Bloomsbury), by selftaught maths whizz Johnny Ball.

16 February 2019 | NewScientist | 45


Making celestial mischief Katie Paterson’s sublime raids on infinity make space-time sensible, says Boyd Tonkin

WHAT colour is the universe? Right now, according to Scottish artist Katie Paterson, it is beige; astronomers from Johns Hopkins University call it “cosmic latte”. Paterson’s new work enlists astrophysical research to present the ever-changing spectrum of cosmic events over billions of years in the form of a rapidly rotating colour wheel. This rainbow spinner, entitled The Cosmic Spectrum, plots the ageing of the universe on a logarithmic curve, savouring the vivid blues of its brief youth, before tipping into the orange-brown hues of our own “Stelliferous Era”, and the terminal reds that mark the mass death of galaxies. Like many of Paterson’s projects, The Cosmic Spectrum yokes wit to wonder. She has bounced Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata off the moon in the form of Morse code and then played the uncannily distorted result on an automated piano. She has installed a mobile phone and amplifier in a melting glacier in Iceland to let us hear the sound of climate change. She has loaded 10,000 images of solar eclipses onto a spinning disco mirrorball. She has programmed a turntable to play a vinyl record of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons at the exact speed of Earth’s rotation. Another new venture transforms the smells of space – from the forest whiffs of our planet through the “old penny” of Mars to “raspberries and rum” in outer space – into a 46 | NewScientist | 16 February 2019


A Place That Exists Only in Moonlight: Katie Paterson & J.M.W. Turner Turner Contemporary, Margate, UK, to 6 May 2019

Earth-Moon-Earth plays Beethoven reflected back from the moon

Paterson began to work with scientists while she was an art student in London. Later residencies in universities and collaborations with NASA and the European Space Agency – which carried a recast meteorite back to space, to the International Space Station, for her – have ensured that her projects do more than

layered candle of otherworldly fragrances. However outlandish, all her creations begin with words and “the magic of a blank page”. Then she finds ways to make these ideas solid. Her work makes visible, and thinkable, mind-stretching concepts of “A turntable plays a vinyl deep time and distant space. record of Vivaldi’s Four All these works are on display Seasons at the exact in A Place That Exists Only speed of Earth’s rotation” in Moonlight, the most comprehensive show to date of Paterson’s work. A score of hazily evoke cosmology or watercolours, and one oil geology for a nebulous thrill. painting, by J.M.W. Turner hang As a child, Paterson excelled beside her installations. The at mathematics. Now, even her contrast is apt: two centuries ago, most “sublime” raids on ideas art’s great maestro of light, water of infinity and eternity make use and weather also kept abreast of of rich data sets gathered from scientific progress and engaged specialists. “I’ve always been an with researchers. absolute stickler for getting things Born in Glasgow in 1981, right,” she said during a preview

in the Margate gallery. “If I can’t do it accurately, there’s no point.” Both cerebral and visceral, Paterson’s inventions often bring to mind the “conceits” devised by metaphysical poets in the 17th century – another age that sought to align art and science. As concepts, they perplex and inspire. As fixtures in a show, they offer spectacle as well as stimulation: the eclipse images whirling around a room through her revolving mirrorball; the fractured music of Earth-MoonEarth after its long lunar voyage; her suspended sculpture of linked light bulbs that maps the constellation of Ara. Now Paterson’s ideas are drawing her into domains no gallery can contain. Begun in 2014, her Future Library scheme commissions a story each year from an author (participants so far include Margaret Atwood, David Mitchell and Elif Shafak) and lodges it, unread, at Oslo City Library. North of the Norwegian capital, Paterson has planted a forest. In 2114, its trees will furnish the paper for the first printing of this buried literature. As a gamble on the future, and an ecological appeal to posterity, Future Library frames human narratives within an awe-inspiring larger span: Paterson’s signature style. As she said in Margate, “It brings together everything I enjoy.” But, as she makes us realise, some cycles of time and change dwarf others. In a mere century, as our heirs read Future Library, the universe will still be sipping cosmic latte. ■ Boyd Tonkin is a writer, journalist and critic



4XDOLˉFDWLRQV • • • • •




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“Confirms [Baldwin’s] place as one of the most important thinkers in this era of global disruption.” —JAMES CRABTREE, FINANCIAL TIMES

“Richard Baldwin has written the best book yet on the new economic era we are entering.” —LAWRENCE H. SUMMERS Available wherever books are sold. @OUPAcademic



16 February 2019 | NewScientist | 53

[email protected]

LETTERS what people outside the Indian subcontinent usually think of as a tank. An ancient one in Sri Lanka, the Parakrama Samudra, covers 30 square kilometres.

must bear their legal costs, win or lose, for example – and there are fees. It is not required for art in any other country and is not possible in, for example, the UK.

Bureaucracy as a barrier to copyright explosion

Green sky thinking: don’t rule out the obvious

From Sam Edge, Ringwood, Hampshire, UK Leah Crane suggests that if art generated by machine learning or artificial intelligences is deemed by the courts to be subject to copyright then AIs could flood national copyright offices with applications (5 January, p 18). Any work is protected by copyright from the moment it is created. Providing one can demonstrate provenance, registration isn’t necessary. In the event of an explosion of AI copyright claims, national copyright offices could increase charges for registration. It would become uneconomical to register millions of AI works.

From Gavin Maclean, Gisborne, New Zealand Paul Marks mentions suggestions for reducing emissions of carbon dioxide by aircraft, ranging from straighter flight paths to electrification (5 January, p 32). But he omits the elephantine obvious: reduce the traffic. A globally agreed carbon tax is essential for climate-change mitigation, along with increased consumer awareness.

The editor writes: ■ Registration is necessary for effective copyright protection in the US – without it, claimants

If you forswear planes, what do you do instead? From Eric Kvaalen, Les Essarts-le-Roi, France You praise 10,000 Swedes who have forsworn air travel (Leader, 5 January). Whether that is a good thing depends on what they do instead. If they go to the same

destination by car, with only one or two people in the vehicle, they may be consuming more fuel than if they had taken a plane.

Feeling a bit flat about electric vehicles From Peter Leach, Nercwys, Flintshire, UK Discussion of cars becoming more autonomous extends to whether they benefit from back-seat drivers (2 February, p 16). But what of the additional electrical power the car needs to use to process this feedback? This load on a vehicle’s battery is parasitical on its primary function as a means of transport. Could this be a limiting factor in the uptake of driverless vehicles?

Life may need both a star and a moon to make land From John Wilde Crosbie, Dublin, Ireland Guy Cox (Letters, 19 January) and Eric Kvaalen (Letters, 15 December 2018) focus on the strength of the moon and the sun in creating tides large enough to allow marine life to make it onto land.



But the sun and the moon together cause the range of tides to vary from “spring” to “neap” roughly every 14 days. An organism that came ashore at spring tide – when the range is largest – could have two weeks to get a toehold on land before the succeeding spring tide washed it out to sea again. It is, of course, more complex. The tidal resonance of a basin or estuary can have a greater effect on tidal range than the moon or sun. Compare the large tides in the English Channel with the small ones in the Mediterranean.

Send for the crows to stone those drones From John Dodson, Hurstville, New South Wales, Australia Chris Stokel-Walker mentions Dutch eagles failing to follow orders to hunt drones (19 January, p 10). Later in the same issue, you again report the intellectual abilities of crows (p 17). It seems that we should try to train crows.

For the record ■ Before schoolchildren discovered Ediacaran fossils in the UK, geologist Reg Sprigg found some at Ediacara in the Flinders Ranges of South Australia in 1946. These weren’t initially recognised as Ediacarans as we now understand them (12 January, p 28). ■ Not very heavy: the space rock that hit the moon during its eclipse probably had a mass of 2 kilograms (26 January, p 6). ■ The missing diagram of the Denisova cave in Siberia can be found at newscienti.st/DenisovaPlan (2 February, p 12).

Letters should be sent to: Letters to the Editor, New Scientist, 25 Bedford Street, London, WC2E 9ES Email: [email protected] Include your full postal address and telephone number, and a reference (issue, page number, title) to articles. We reserve the right to edit letters. New Scientist Ltd reserves the right to use any submissions sent to the letters column of New Scientist magazine, in any other format.

54 | NewScientist | 16 February 2019



Thirty years ago came the first public announcement that human-made climate change was real

To delve more into the New Scientist archives, go to newscientist.com/article-type/old-scientist/

The Eternal Golden Braid Gödel Escher Bach Sat 9 Mar © Ben Kreukniet

“THE world was warmer last year than at any time since records began,” led a story by Fred Pearce in the 11 February 1989 edition of New Scientist. It was also the warmest year in an already record-breaking decade, and the “greenhouse effect” was beginning to get public attention. But the extent of humanity’s contribution to this was still unclear. “Whether the current warming is due to the greenhouse effect from man-made pollution remains open,” we reported. NASA scientist Jim Hansen (pictured above) was sure that humans were to blame. In 1988, he caused an international stir, we reported, when he became the first climate scientist to publicly state: “the greenhouse effect is here”. But much uncertainty remained, not least because untangling human effects from natural weather variations is far from easy. Hansen contended that a drought in the summer of 1988 was “a likely consequence of the greenhouse effect”, while the authors of a Science paper published in December of the same year believed an El Niño event to be the culprit. The paper’s authors did acknowledge, however, that “the greenhouse effect may tilt the balance such that conditions for drought and heat waves are more likely”. The world, of course, has continued to warm since those studies, with each passing decade bringing more record-breaking weather. At present, 2016 stands as the hottest year on record, but 35 heat records have already been set in 2019 (9 February, p 3). We now also recognise that extreme weather is more likely in a warming climate. Thirty years ago, Alaskans experienced “their coldest winter in living memory”. A few weeks ago, the polar vortex brought record low temperatures to North America as there were record highs in Australia. In 1989, the atmospheric carbon dioxide level was 353 parts per million. It is forecast to surpass the 410 ppm mark this year. Donna Lu

Could an algorithm write better music than Bach? Harpsichordist Mahan Esfahani joins Marcus du Sautoy to look at music and mathematical structures. barbican.org.uk/strangeloops

16 February 2019 | NewScientist | 55

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carry a New Scientist mug and tote bag? With the perils of the media industry ever increasing, it might be a smart move to diversify into doll accessories. Sadly, the “product line and content centered around exploration, science, conservation and research” comes not via this illustrious organ, but National Geographic. Sindy, if you’re reading this, let’s talk.

meteorites in private hands. “The heart of space” is expected to sell for up to $500,000 on 14 February. Feedback will be waiting by our mailbox.

LOVE is in the air this week – albeit in a heavily commercialised and somewhat forced way. Those of a cynical bent may wish to take advantage of an offer from a zoo in Sevenoaks, UK. For a measly £1.50, members of the public can name one of the Hemsley Conservation Centre’s cockroaches after their ex.

SPEAKING of gifts, Christmas has come early for Feedback with the news that Gwyneth Paltrow is

To keep things relatively civil, only the first name will be written on a

returning to our screens. The Sliding Doors star is bringing

board outside the roach enclosure. Feedback has never been happier

her vaginal-steaming, psychicvampire-fighting luxury wellness

to be pseudonymous.

brand Goop to Netflix for what you might call alternative reality TV. The

OVER at New Scientist towers, Feedback is setting aside such misgivings in the hope that a secret valentine has bought us a heart-shaped meteorite. The 10-kilogram lump of “iron and coarse octahedrite” is a fragment of the Sikhote Alin meteorite that scorched through the skies over Siberia in 1947. Boasting a “rich caramel patina”, auction site Christie’s claims it is one of the finest

documentary-style episodes will feature doctors, researchers and people who are neither, but have strange, profitable ideas about health. Pass the spirulina popcorn!

IMAGINE our excitement when we clapped eyes on the headline “Mattel to offer new scientist Barbie line”. Who will they be modelled on? What accessories will they come with? Perhaps they might

A driver who claimed he crashed after swerving “to avoid an octopus” on a stretch of road 5 kilometres from the coast has been arrested on suspicion of drug-driving, reports BBC News 56 | NewScientist | 16 February 2019

BANGERS and mash? Workers at a Hong Kong snack factory discovered a grenade dating to the first world war in a consignment of potatoes from France. The 1-kilogram explosive was handled with a particularly delicate touch as the pin had been pulled some 100 years ago. Now that is what we call a delayed fuse. Bomb disposal experts were quickly called to the scene, and detonated the misplaced munition in a nearby trench, which was probably the original plan, come to think of it.

THE occurrence of sinkholes, once a phenomena confined to geology textbooks and mining operations, seems to have exploded recently, appearing suddenly in our news feed like, well, sinkholes. With new sinkholes opening at a rate that leaves Starbucks executives envious, it is no surprise that geology once again got the blame when a metre-wide hole appeared in a street in Pembroke Pines, Florida. On closer inspection, however, the “hole” turned out to be a 50-metre tunnel running from a wooded area towards the local bank. The mystery mole didn’t make themselves known to take the rap for the fallen-in road. The FBI would also like a word about an attempted bank robbery. HEDGEHOG owners have been warned not to kiss or snuggle their pets after 11 people in the US contracted a rare strain of salmonella. Ten of the 11 had close contact with hedgehogs before becoming ill, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Infection with the bacterium can cause diarrhoea, fever and stomach cramps, and death. It is almost as if covering themselves in spikes wasn’t warning enough.

PRESIDENT Trump’s apricot glow is simply the result of “good genes”, according to The New York Times. An anonymous source at the White House said the official line was that Trump’s tangerine complexion was natural, and not the result of a bad choice in bronzer. Previous accounts have told of a tanning bed in the president’s official residence – something denied by other staff members. Feedback could be persuaded that an orange face with pale eyes is down to genetics, but only if those genes belong to a red panda.

A CHICKEN was summoned to a police station in Shivpuri, India, after repeatedly attacking a neighbour’s daughter, provoking an official complaint to the local authorities. NDTV reports that the bird attended the station in the company of its owners, who told police they would rather be jailed than allow its arrest. The couple, with no children of their own, said the chicken was “like a child” to them. They were allowed to take their feathered family member home after promising to lock it up in future.

You can send stories to Feedback by email at [email protected]. Please include your home address. This week’s and past Feedbacks can be seen on our website.

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Q As a vinyl enthusiast, I should declare my bias at the outset. The reason that CD doesn’t sound as good as vinyl is down to the limitations of digitisation for CD. The frequency range of a CD is 5 hertz to 20 kilohertz, with a high signal-to-noise ratio, which results in the very clean (some would say clinical) sound. The original audio recording is analogue and can play back

enough for the most discerning signals up to 22.5 kilohertz. So digitising this means using a filter ear, and a dynamic range so huge that no recording can use it all. at 20 kilohertz . The only way to Also, any distortion from digital genuinely improve a CD’s sound sound reproduction is too small is to increase the sample rate – the to be noticeable. number of measurements of the Given all this, why would sound wave, which dictates how anyone prefer vinyl? One reason accurately you can reproduce audio – but that would cut playing is that the whole process from recording to pressing of the record time to about 30 minutes. Alternatively an “aural exciter”, is analogue. Some people believe that this means the sound will be a signal processing technique, could be used to artificially create smoother because it hasn’t been chopped up, as a digital signal has. the higher frequencies lost in a There is also a long history CD recording. Electrical valves, of people believing that using or tubes, do this naturally, which is why a lot of hi-fi enthusiasts “Some people like prefer equipment with these vinyl more because parts. But with a low quality they are attracted amplifier and speakers you won’t to the idea of retro” notice the difference anyway. Richard Hind certain hi-fi components York, UK improves the sound. During the 1980s and early 1990s, oxygenQ I, and many other audiophiles, think that the best vinyl currently free copper loudspeaker wires sounds better than digital. were widely advertised as giving However, nothing prevents a better sound than ordinary future reversal of that situation. copper wires, and people paid Remedy lies with manufacturers high prices for these cables. tweaking digital hardware. However, double-blind testing Peter Holness revealed that there was no audible Hertford, UK difference between the two. Brian Pollard To most people, the sound of Q Launceston, Cornwall, UK vinyl audio is in fact inferior to digital. Bass drums and triangles Q Some people like vinyl more because they are attracted to the are almost inaudible in orchestral idea of retro, and believe that, recordings, for example. In because records are older, the addition, a standard record player songs on them are more original introduces harmonic distortion than modern recordings. as well as surface noise. The faint scratchiness makes Digital sound, in contrast, records sound more retro and has a frequency response – its that would be hard to realistically sensitivity to various tones – wide

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The sound of vinyl We often hear from enthusiasts that analogue vinyl audio sounds better and fuller than that of digital systems. If this is a real difference, why isn’t the digital signal tweaked to mimic the characteristics of a vinyl disc?

Q The characteristic vinyl sound is due to the limitations and distortions inherent in the format, including lower dynamic range – a measure of its ability to resolve different noises. There is also rumble from the turntable drive and noise from the stylus hitting imperfections in a disc’s surface. Vinyl is also less good for bass frequencies. Digital music could be processed to make it sound like vinyl but this would probably lack authenticity to vinyl enthusiasts. After all, much of vinyl’s charm is in the sleeve art and the tactile experience of the large disc and its player. Musical experience is very subjective and prone to influence by expectations. Anthony Roberts Rushden, Northamptonshire, UK

recreate using digital equipment. Xander Boyce (age 11) Mitchelton, Queensland, Australia

Puddle puzzle My cat used to drink from the garden pond and never seemed to suffer any ill effects, and you often see dogs drinking from muddy puddles. So why do humans have to be so careful and only drink clean water? (Continued)

QDogs prefer puddles because tap water smells of chemicals. To get an idea of this, fill a 2-litre bottle with tap water and leave it for a few days. Then shake the bottle so bubbles on the inside rise to the top. Unscrew the lid while your nose is very close to the neck of the bottle and you will get a hint of odours that dogs dislike. As far as water cleanliness goes, humans have a longer intestine than dogs, so any pathogens will have more time to multiply in our gut and cause illness. Don Trower Braintree, Essex, UK

This week’s question TAKE A BITE

Why aren’t hit-and-run attacks common in the animal kingdom? Surely a barracuda or shark could take a meal-sized chunk out of the back or belly of a whale before it could respond. The same goes for smaller pairings of animals. Mark King Ipswich, Queensland, Australia

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