Coombs Dale, Derbyshire: The land is scarred and nicked, like the face of a veteran fighter, but the blackthorn is smothered in blossom
The high limestone country north of Longstone Edge has its own strange energy, a consequence perhaps of the quarrying there, both ancient and modern. The land is scarred and nicked, like the face of a veteran fighter, a blue-collar countryside.
It's also rich with tales of horror, now recruited for the purposes of tourism. The notorious highwayman Black Harry, hanged at nearby Wardlow Mires, has lent his name to a network of bridleways for horse riders to explore.
Running across this landscape is the drawn bow of Coombs Dale, with its own legacy of mine workings but now a refuge for nature in the green mosaic of white-walled pasture with, in Ted Hughes' phrase, its "reluctant nibbled grass".
One moment I'm on the main road through Stoney Middleton Dale, rattling with quarry traffic, the next in an almost secret world, at the bottom of a steep-sided valley, and bathed in spring sunshine.
Alongside the path are hazel and willows thick with catkins. But the real pleasure is the blossom smothering the blackthorn. Last month I cycled up this lane under grey skies and barely noticed them. Now I'm shrouded in their scent.
It's not just the raw appeal of the dale threaded with creamy white flowers. Blackthorn has an almost sculptural appeal, the thick thorns spreading horizontally, which adds a spiky depth to the overall effect.
Most wood is useful, but blackthorn has an intimate, tactile quality to its utility: wands, walking sticks, shillelaghs and, in the hands of Black Rod, parliamentary doorknockers.
By the time I emerge into the upper dale, the sky has darkened and a brief hailstorm stings my face while the lambs curl up for warmth.Ed Douglas
UK space businesses set sights on £1bn orders as Major Tim becomes first official British astronaut chosen to visit ISS
There is the urge to explore the endless heavens, there are the mysteries of the starry cosmos to solve, but above all there is the faltering economy to revive.
Of all the reasons nations give for sending their citizens into space, making money has always mattered. For British ministers, high hopes now rest on Tim Peake, the UK's first official astronaut, to inspire the next generation and boost further an industry that has defied gravity throughout the financial doldrums.
Major Peake, a former helicopter test pilot, was selected on Monday for a six-month mission to the International Space Station. The 41-year-old from Chichester, who joined the European Space Agency's astronaut corps in 2009, will blast off on board a Soyuz rocket from Baikonur cosmodrome in November 2015.
"I'm absolutely delighted by the decision," Peake told reporters at a press conference in London. "It really is a tremendous privilege to be assigned to a long-duration mission to the ISS."
Britain's space industry is a rare success story, and one that ministers see as crucial to the rebalancing of the UK economy. Since 2007, it has grown more than 8% and now employs nearly 30,000 people. The rise of the industry has prompted the government to boost its funding for the European Space Agency in the hope of even greater returns. Britain now contributes £240m a year to ESA, from which it expects to make £1bn in orders for British businesses.
For the next two and a half years, Peake will train as a flight engineer for the six-month mission, during which he will carry out scientific experiments in Europe's Columbus module, and be eligible for spacewalks. The experiments will investigate how life in space affects human physiology, research that could help understand the ageing process on Earth. For every month in orbit, astronauts lose 1% to 2% of their bone mass, and without exercise, their muscles weaken dramatically.
Peake is the fourth of six astronauts who graduated from the European Astronaut Corps in 2010 to be assigned a mission to the International Space Station. He will fly to the station with two other crew, and join three already on board.
The last mission to the space station saw the rise to fame of Commander Chris Hadfield, the first Canadian to take charge of the ISS, and the first man in space wholly to embrace social media, photography and guitar-playing. His cover of David Bowie's Space Oddity, complete with microgravity guitar spins, went viral.
Asked whether he intended to follow in Hadfield's footsteps, Peake said he would tweet, but perhaps not repeat the Canadian's virtuoso performances. "I do play the guitar, but very badly, and I wouldn't impose my singing on anybody," he said.
Hinting at what might be to come, Peake confessed that a friend had offered to teach him the didgeridoo.
He has trained on the US and Russian equipment he will use on board the space station, and practised for spacewalks in a huge swimming pool used to recreate some of the conditions in orbit. To prepare for life aboard, Peake spent a week in Sardinia living underground and another 12 days in an underwater laboratory off the coast of Florida.
Peake, who has a wife and two sons, aged four and a half and 18 months, said he expected to move his family to Houston, where Nasa's astronaut training centre is based. "Tim represents the very best of British. He will become a powerful role model for the young people we need to bolster this country's science and engineering workforce," said David Willetts, the science minister. "Not only will we have the first UK astronaut for over two decades, but Tim Peake will be the first ever Briton to carry out ground-breaking research on the International Space Station," he added. David Cameron said: "I am sure he will do us proud, and I hope that he will inspire the next generation to pursue exciting careers in science and engineering."
In 1989, Helen Sharman became the first Briton in space when she flew to the Mir space station. As she had secured private funding she was not considered an official British astronaut. Three other British-born astronauts – Michael Foale, Piers Sellers and Nicholas Patrick – have also flown into space, but under the American flag.
"Whereas even just a decade ago, space was considered a 'nice-to-have' activity, today space has become critically important to the UK economy, our wellbeing and security," said Sir Martin Sweeting, chair of Surrey Satellite Technology, a world-leading manufacture of small satellites.
"The UK has a very active and very successful space industry that needs the very best engineers, scientists and technicians to maintain its position in a competitive world," he added. "A UK astronaut will, undoubtedly, act as an inspiration and role model for young people, but the visible commitment by the UK to space that it represents will also strengthen the position of UK industry amongst our European partners and send a clear message to the international community that Britain is open for space business."Ian Sample
From early missed opportunities to its belated involvement, Britain has never been a contender in the space race
There were always two British space communities. One consisted of visionaries and hard-headed realists who knew what should be done and why it had to happen. The other community, of non-dreamers for the most part, had political power, scientific authority and access to the Treasury.
So in February 1945, while the German V2 missiles were still ascending to the edge of space and then dropping faster than the speed of sound on London, a radar instructor called Flight-Lieutenant Arthur C Clarke pointed out in a letter to Wireless World that a rocket that could reach a speed of 8km a second would continue parallel to the Earth's surface in a closed loop: it would become an artificial satellite.
He was quite right, but the Nazi rocket scientist Wernher von Braun and his engineers chose the US forces to surrender to, on the reasonable guess that Americans were more likely to listen to the same argument.
The Americans did, but only after the Russians became the trailblazers in space travel. British authorities stubbornly refused to listen to their own home-grown visionaries, and in 1956, the then Astronomer Royal, Richard van der Riet Woolley, told Time magazine that talk of space travel was "utter bilge". Sputnik 1 began orbiting the planet in 1957 and Yuri Gagarin climbed into Vostok 1 and made history with one Earth orbit in April 1961. The British then stood by and watched the US launch Telstar, the world's first communications satellite: a dream machine also proposed and described in October 1945 by Arthur C Clarke.
By that time, the US had begun to take the idea of manned space flight seriously and launched the Apollo programme that culminated in 12 pairs of space boots, three lunar rovers and two golf balls on the moon. The British launched just four rockets between 1969 and 1971. On the last flight, Black Arrow put a British satellite called Prospero into space. The Ministry of Defence then cancelled the programme because it was too expensive. Thereafter, successive British governments refused to take part in any manned flight programmes hosted by the US or the European space agencies, on the grounds that it would be a doubtful return for the money. What, one distinguished witness once asked a parliamentary committee, would be the value of sending two astronauts and a sandwich into space?
So a nation that, from HG Wells to Arthur C Clarke, had pioneered the vision of human space flight, deliberately chose to stay firmly rooted to the ground: so firmly rooted that, when the Russians, in the last days of the Soviet Union, actually offered Britain an adventure aboard their orbiting space station Mir, the government declined to support the project and the cost of the journey depended on public subscription.
In the end, the Russians took the Sheffield-born chemist Helen Sharman (at the time, she worked on the properties of chocolate for Mars Incorporated) aboard Mir in 1991, after 18 months of training in Star City. News media patriotically reported on the journeys into space of two "British" astronauts, Michael Foale and Piers Sellers. They were both born in Britain, but went into orbit as trained Nasa astronauts.
It was not until the 21st century that British governments began to appreciate that there might be some point in joining the greatest adventure of the 20th century, and more serious debate began; it ended with British commitment to the European manned space flight programme. There was no UK Space Agency at all until 2010, and Major Tim Peake will fly as a member of the European astronaut corps aboard a Russian Soyuz vehicle, to an International Space Station to which Britain has never contributed funds.
The arguments for not sending humans into space were and still are perfectly serious: robots and increasingly sophisticated instruments can do most things with greater sureness and for longer periods, and there are some things humans cannot do at all. The expense of human space flight is enormous and the risk of failure colossal. The journey is hazardous, the environment is lethal, the outcome is uncertain and there is no guarantee of any reward.
But that, of course, would have been an argument for not sending Columbus across the Atlantic; Captain Cook and Joseph Banks to the Pacific, or Fitzroy and Darwin aboard the Beagle to the Galapagos, or Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin to the Sea of Tranquility.
Tim Radford was science editor of the Guardian until 2005.Tim Radford
Major Tim Peake will make history when he joins the crew of the International Space Station in 2015. So what can Britain's first official astronaut expect of life onboard?
I think we already know what people will be calling him in two years' time. When that Soyuz rocket blasts off from Baikonur Cosmodrome in the Kazakh desert carrying Britain's only visitor to the International Space Station (ISS), the first thing to be jettisoned will be Major Tim Peake's surname. Having seen off competition from more than 8,000 other applicants, following a career in the army and as a helicopter test pilot, Major Tim has really made the grade.
Yet space is not just more amazing than we realise; it is also tougher than we think. Peake has already spent more than three years in training with the European Space Agency, and now faces another two, of higher intensity – which will be sorely needed. Apart from mastering the life-science experiments he will conduct, he will have to become familiar with the environment on board the station, learn how to fly the rocket that will get them there, be drilled in docking with the robot arm, performing spacewalks … Everything needs endless practice. Because it can, but must not, go wrong.
On launch day, the Soyuz capsule itself is tiny, much smaller than the shuttle used to be. "It's probably two or two-and-a-half telephone boxes' worth of space, in total," says Dr Kevin Fong, who has worked with Nasa on human adaptation to space, knows Peake and is the author of Extremes: Life, Death and the Limits of the Human Body. That is for three crew members, remember – with Peake, the European, traditionally in the left-hand seat. "It's like cramming yourself and five mates into the back seat of a Mini Metro," says Fong. "Going from the Soyuz into the space station, which is more like a 747, is going from the ridiculous to the sublime."
At that moment, Peake and his crewmates will join three astronauts – all of whom they will already know – and begin the six months they have been training for. Or at least they can once they get over their space sickness. Because the balancing functions of the inner ear can be extremely disturbed, or even disabled, by the transition to micro-gravity, causing many astronauts to at least feel (and often be) extremely sick, and suffer impairment to their hand-eye co-ordination. This goes double for rookies such as Peake.
In the ISS, of course, vomit floats around in wobbly balls, but that doesn't mean you want it to, so astronauts get a lot of practice on the famous "vomit comet". This is the adapted aeroplane that dives to simulate micro-gravity. "They're very good at training you how to get a sick bag up to your face in time," Fong says. He has been three times.
Daily life on the station is not quite as regimented as it used to be for the shorter shuttle missions. ("You'd get up at 0700, brush your teeth at 0715 and have breakfast at 0722," remembers Fong.) Even so, there will never be a shortage of important things to do. Parts of the ISS have been in orbit for 15 years, and it all needs constant maintenance. Just last week, for instance, there was a serious ammonia leak, which required emergency repairs. When there are just three crew members aboard, repairs is almost all they do.
Much of the maintenance work involves basic checks and tinkering with the equipment, but there are scheduled spacewalks too, in order to repair or replace parts on the outside. Space folk call these EVAs (short for extra-vehicular activity), but it is clearly the glamour job – and it excites the astronauts, who experience perhaps the most wondrous view that is ever experienced by anyone. It is not just the whole world beneath you when you are out there, it is the whole world clearly moving beneath you, and at 17,000mph. The astronaut Dan Tani told Fong he had to follow the planet with his camera just to get a picture that wasn't blurred.
At the same time, however, it is very arduous. Peake has already practised spacewalks underwater in a neutral buoyancy tank in Houston, and scheduled ones are choreographed and repeated until they are as well drilled as ballet. At the same time, the space suit – actually, more of a spacecraft made from cloth – is almost unendurable, especially the ultra-tight undergarments. "They talk about losing fingernails from them going black and falling off," Fong says.
Spacewalks are dangerous as well, especially those that were not scheduled or practised, like some that were needed to deal with the ammonia leak. As Peake himself says, "an EVA is certainly a very physically and mentally demanding skill to have. I went through the training last year, absolutely love it, but it's by far the most challenging I've come across so far."
Another thing: the ISS may look serene, but it is extremely noisy. Certainly noisy enough to damage the crew's hearing over the course of the mission, so many of them wear ear defenders when they're not being filmed. Then there's sleeping, which is seldom easy, but very important, because everybody needs to be alert and well rested. There is no actual need for a bed, of course, since there is no gravity to press you against anything, so the crew just tidy themselves into sleeping bags and float. "That takes a bit of getting used to, I am told," Fong says. "They take to doing weird things, like strapping pillows to their heads up there." And the day-and-night cycle is a complete mess. As Fong puts it: "You're whacking round the Earth every 90 minutes or so; sunrise and sunset every 45."
Eating from packets and pouches is straightforward enough, but not very pleasant. "No one would want to go to space for the food." says Thomas Reiter, a former astronaut and now the European Space Agency's director of human spaceflight. Going to the toilet, however, is a new experience. Astronauts cannot use a conventional bowl, because there would be no gravity to stop the contents floating out. Instead, they have suction devices – essentially posh vacuum cleaners – with nozzles of different sizes to be applied to the relevant body part. "Each crew member has their own nozzle, colour-coded," Fong says. "There is a station where you can sit and pull bars over your thighs to stop yourself floating away. In Houston, they've got this delightful simulation system with a camera down below, so you can make sure you position yourself correctly."
In spite of all the preparations and precautions, however, space remains an intrinsically unhealthy environment, causing pronounced muscle wastage, including to the heart, because the human body is designed for gravity. The main way of counteracting this is regular exercise against resistance – although that is not straightforward either, as most gym machines rely on gravity as well. Peake and the crew will therefore spend two hours each day using unique equipment, such as special rowing machines or treadmills with bungee cords over their shoulders.
And there are benefits to all of us. Besides the experiments themselves – which look into why bacteria become more virulent in space, offering vital clues to help us deal with them on Earth – a lot has been learned from the effects of space on the astronauts' bodies. Peake has mentioned that a lot is being learned about intracranial pressure and osteoporosis. (And both Cat scanners and MRI machines came from technology developed for space, remember.) "It's a big deal to get a flight opportunity for a British astronaut!" Fong says. "It could only be better if it was me!"Leo Benedictus
We have to stop state legislators from sneaking creationist and revisionist textbooks into public schools
Louisiana's legislators are continuing their legislative jihad to keep the theory of evolution out of the state's public school science classrooms. On 1 May, legislators killed a bill to repeal Louisiana's creationism law, the misnamed Louisiana Science Education Act (LSEA).
The law allows non-science to be snuck into science classrooms by teachers who use supplemental materials to "critique" politically controversial (but not scientifically controversial) theories, including evolution and climate science. Despite this loophole for creationism created by the LSEA, educators are still required to teach "material presented in the standard textbook", which includes the theory of evolution.
These biology textbooks are a major problem for creationists, whose next goal is to throw them out, and they have allies in the Louisiana legislature who are willing to help.
House Bill 116, sponsored by Frank Hoffmann, a state representative, would throw out Louisiana's biology books – it passed the Louisiana State House by a 73-22 vote. This is the third bill Hoffmann has sponsored to remove biology textbooks since they were adopted by the state board of education, in 2010.
When our board of education adopted life science textbooks, creationists fought hard to block their approval. At that time, Wired pointed out that these textbooks are "well-respected, and used widely in US high schools."
The Baton Rouge Advocate reported that in 2010, the state board of education received a large number of complaints that intelligent design wasn't included in textbooks. One vocal opponent, Winston White, complained:
"It is like Charles Darwin and his theory is a saint. You can't touch it."
Winston White's father, Judge Darrell White, is one of the founders of the Louisiana Family Forum, a powerful creationist lobbying group. Judge White echoed his son's sentiments at a board of education hearing. He called evolution "mindless nihilism" and claimed that teaching it in public schools would cause another Columbine shooting. The New Orleans Lens described the scene:
"[White] said one of the Columbine killers wore a shirt that read 'natural selection,' and held up a similar shirt for emphasis, and implied that Baton Rouge might be in danger of a similar massacre."
Yes. You read that right. I was at that hearing and sat in shock as Judge White implied that teaching evolution caused Dylan Klebold to shoot up his school. Creationists in Louisiana suggest that state-approved biology textbooks will lead to mass murder.
When the state board ultimately approved the textbooks – a huge victory for science education – Fox News pointed out that Louisiana "rejected calls by conservatives to include references to the debate over evolution and the religious-based concepts of intelligent design or creationism in state-approved biology textbooks."
It's clear that the opposition to these biology textbooks comes from creationists who are trying to sneak religion into public school classrooms.
Representative Hoffmann, the legislator sponsoring the bill to throw out science textbooks, was one of the sponsors of the state creationism law. He also meddled in the initial adoption process of the science textbooks.
At that time, creationist complaints swamped the state board, which had initially punted the textbooks' approval to a little-known committee that included Representative Hoffmann and his partner-in-creationism, Senator Ben Nevers – another sponsor of the LSEA. (Nevers recently made news by stating that he wanted the United States Supreme Court to reverse its decision to overturn Louisiana's 1981 law that mandated the teaching of creationism.) The pair managed to get themselves appointed leaders of this committee.
The Baton Rouge Advocate noted that Hoffmann argued "the books under review were not consistent with the spirit of the (Louisiana Science Education Act)." Of course, the spirit of the act is to teach creationism to students. What Representative Hoffmann meant is that these textbooks taught evolution and didn't have a trace of intelligent design or creationism, and thus he considers them a problem.
Hoffmann and Nevers voted against these biology textbooks, and they lost. The board of education adopted the textbooks and required evolution be taught in public school science classes, despite their complaints.
That's where Hoffmann's new bill comes in. After losing the fight in 2010, he realized had an uphill battle, because the state board listens to scientists. His bill would take control of textbooks away from the state and give it to friendlier audience – local school boards, who would be able to choose whatever books they want.
Representative Hoffmann claims the current bill isn't his latest salvo in a war against evolution, but given his record and his constituents' complaints, he's reminding me of Shakespeare. The legislator doth protest too much.
It's also worth noting that this bill could harm history education too, by allowing revisionist history textbooks to be used, which has become a problem in our neighboring state of Texas.
I asked the Texas Freedom Network, an organization which defends civil and religious liberties, about revisionist history standards there. Dan Quinn, their communications director reminded me that the people who are attacking evolution nationally are "the same people who took a wrecking ball to the social studies standards." Quinn said:
"[We have] social studies standards in Texas today that question the separation of church and state, challenge the fact that slavery was the main cause of the Civil War and claim that the red baiting tactics of Joseph McCarthy in the 1950s were somehow justified."
The Texas Observer said that Texan conservative factions even "recommended removing references to African-American and Latino figures like Cesar Chavez and Thurgood Marshall from some social-studies standards" because "the curriculum contained an 'overrepresentation of minorities'."
Luckily, that specific push documented failed, but because this bill takes away state oversight from textbook selection, this type of revisionist history could be brought into Louisiana's classrooms with ease.
Representative Hoffmann's bill is bad legislation and a message must be sent to the Louisiana legislature. We have to ask them to reject this bill, and not to allow revisionist history or even more creationism into public schools.
• Editor's note: a previous version of this article misspelled Representative Frank Hoffmann's name and has been corrected accordinglyZack Kopplin
Eight-foot-tall radio-controlled robot capable of responding to voice or light ray commands is to be auctioned in London
Gygan, a giant radio-controlled robot, which more than half a century ago entranced the world by flashing its car headlamp-like eyes, turning its head stiffly from left to right, and shuffling forwards at the terrifying speed of 10 feet a minute, is to be auctioned after decades hidden in a private collection.
The eight-foot-tall creature, weighing 1,000lbs, was launched at a trade fair in Milan in 1957, the same year as the first satellite, Sputnik, was launched into space. Its designer, Piero Fiorito, an engineer from Turin, puzzlingly insisted it looked like "a proud Englishman".
Gygan, launched decades before the first home computer, was regarded as sophisticated for its day, capable of responding to spoken or light ray commands. It could pick up objects, and at its equally successful appearance at a fair at Olympia in London, it danced jerkily with a model – who clearly hadn't seen the crushed base of the tin can it had just picked up.
One journal for amateur model-makers, Radio Control Models and Electronics, complained that "no data is offered on radio control circuits or servos in use" but deduced that Gygan contained Meccano and at least 20 electrical relays. Fiorito claimed it had 300,000 components, but the journal rather sniffily described its construction as "comparatively simple". It will be auctioned at Christie's South Kensington in September, with an estimate of up to £8,000.Maev Kennedy
A former army test pilot is to become the first official British astronaut to visit the International Space Station
Hadley Freeman's answer to the question was chiffon-flimsy, so here's the lab-coat response
"Who invented clothes?" It's one of those brilliant questions that children ask, before they learn that the big things we wonder about rarely have simple answers. It's the kind of thing that archaeologists like me get put on the spot about when chatting to kids, and we love to have a crack at answering.
Saturday's "Ask a grown up" section featured just that question, from eight-year old Harriet, with an answer by Hadley Freeman, fashion expert and fantastic writer. Hadley's response was, as usual, entertainingly breezy, with some refreshing encouragement to Harriet to experiment in developing her own style; but, like a fine chiffon, it was a little flimsy in substance.
I'm proud to be involved with ScienceGrrl, which aims to show girls that science is for everyone by providing diverse role models, and TrowelBlazers, a new project that is all about bringing to the fore the achievements of pioneering women archaeologists, geologists and palaeontologists. So I was kind of disappointed that a girl asking a genuine question about archaeology ended up with the barest of facts, as well as being told, even if it was meant lightheartedly, that the grown-up answering her question would rather she pay attention to what she looks like.
Hadley knows today's fashion world inside out and might not care much about pre-silk times, but I'll bet that Harriet wanted to find out more than what the Flintstones wear.
It's this kind of response that can, in aggregate, have a negative impact on children: being mentally curious ends up as something deeply uncool and not relevant to modern life. I'm not advocating force-feeding facts Vulcan-style when talking to young people – far from it. They like to be challenged and humour is a great way to do this. But I do think we should take every chance we get to pass on the incredible stuff that we've found out about our world thanks to science – including archaeology – and keep on showing girls that using their brains by asking big questions is, actually, absolutely fabulous.
So for Harriet, if you're reading: there's a whole lot we know about the invention of clothing. Many TV reconstructions and book illustrations of stone age (Palaeolithic) people really don't do them justice. People were already making finely worked bone needles 20,000 years ago, probably for embroidery as much as sewing animal skins, like the thousands of ivory beads and fox teeth that covered the bodies of a girl and a boy buried at Sunghir, Russia, around 28,000 years ago. This was some serious bling, representing years of accumulated work.
And – caveman stereotypes aside – stone age clothes weren't just animal skins. We've known since the 1990s that people were weaving fabric back then, revealed by impressions in baked clay from the sites of Pavlov and Dolni Vestonice in the Czech Republic. We don't actually know for sure that these were used for clothes, but the materials weren't heavy duty, and the variety in weaving styles suggests a long tradition. And at Dzudzuana Cave in Georgia, 30,000 year old spun plant fibres were found which had been dyed: pink, black and turquoise blue!
But what about the really old stuff (because 30,000 years ago isn't really old in human evolution)? As Harriet asks, who were the first fashionistas? People are still debating what, if anything, our close relatives the Neanderthals were wearing.
Neanderthals lived in Europe for much longer than our own species, and for some of that time, it really was an ice-blasted world. Research into how mammals – including humans – keep their body temperature at healthy levels suggests that even during the warmer parts of the last ice age, they would have needed decent body coverings. Skins thrown over their shoulders – Palaeo-pashminas? – wouldn't have cut it.
Another study looked at what modern day hunter-gatherers wear according to the local climate, and built a model predicting what Neanderthals would have needed to wear to stay warm. Even after correcting for Neanderthals being able to cope better with the cold, the results suggested they would have needed to cover at least 80% of their body during cold periods, especially hands and feet.
Quite astonishingly, there is physical evidence that Neanderthals more than 100,000 years ago were tanning animal skins – a stone tool from the site of Neumark-Nord in Germany has preserved scraps of organic material stuck to it that were soaked in tannin, the substance in oak bark used to make leather. It was probably part of the tool handle that got wet while the hides were being worked.
Although they lacked fine needles of the sort found much later, Neanderthals didn't need these to sew their leather, as their abilities to make stone and wood tools were easily enough to produce a sharp piercing object for threading thong.
Further back in time things get more fuzzy, but also really interesting. We have to get down and dirty – with lice. Body lice are adapted to living in clothes, and so must have evolved once humans started to wear them. DNA evidence suggests this happened at least 170,000 years ago and so people must have been wearing clothes even earlier than the oldest archeological evidence.
And here's the intriguing thing: when we get back this far, hundreds of thousands of years ago, we're talking about multiple kinds of humans. Even 40,000 years ago, there were still three "species" we know of: early members of our lineage, the Neanderthals and the mysterious Denisovans, a species represented by fragmentary remains of three individuals from one cave in Siberia. Given that very recent (and ongoing) genetic analysis is showing breeding between all three groups, very likely at different times and places, it's quite possible that the lice we have now hopped from one group to another, even if they weren't all wearing clothes all the time.
And I haven't even mentioned jewellery yet, the earliest examples of which keep getting pushed back in time: they currently stand at about 75,000 years ago, and maybe as much as 100,000 years ago. At one site in South Africa, we even have the first evidence of style as we know it, with a shift in the way shell beads were strung together over time. Beads aren't clothing in the strict sense, but they are a kind of fashion, so although we can't be sure exactly who wore the first clothes or when, it's clear that the history of human adornment does go back, in Hadley's words, "a very, very, very long time ago".
Becky Wragg Sykes (@LeMoustier) is a postdoctoral researcher working on Neanderthal archaeology. She blogs at www.therocksremain.org and is part of the TrowelBlazers team (@trowelblazers), along with Victoria Herridge (@ToriHerridge), Brenna Hassett (@brennawalks http://passiminpassing.blogspot.co.uk/) and Suzanne Pilaar Birch (@suzie_birch http://research.brown.edu/myresearch/Suzanne_Pilaar_Birch)Becky Wragg Sykes
Wouldn't it be nice to live in a world where armchair experts gave up fighting over whether climate change is occurring?
This spring, I began receiving calls and emails from colleagues about a strange little book that was mailed to environmental science professors around the country. This was a big mailing, in total, a reported 100,000 copies were sent out. What was it about this little book that got us talking? Many things. First, a coordinated mailing of a book is unusual. But what is more unusual is a book that purports to be the "real story" about climate change, with graphs, figures, and tables. It came with a foreward by Senator Harrison Schmitt who is well known for misrepresenting the science. There was also an accompanying letter by Fred Singer. Many of us already know of Fred Singer; he was focused on in an excellent book by Dr Naomi Oreskes who catalogued his history of undermining the science and concerns related to second-hand smoke, ozone depletion, and acid rain. The letter from Fred Singer was on letterhead from the Heartland Institute which is a radical organisation that had compared belief in global warming to murder.
While author of the book, Mr Goreham, is described as a "researcher on environmental issues", a literature search for scientific publications revealed nothing.
But all this, by itself, doesn't mean much. I mean we are all entitled to our opinions on any subject, even if we don't know much about it, aren't we? Sure… but your opinions should be based in fact. With this in mind, let's examine some of the claims made in the book.
The best way to evaluate a claim is to go to its source. It appears that the author had ample references to support his claims. The only problem… the reference list isn't included in the book, nor is an index. Now why would an author reference papers but not list them in the book? I had to dig around to find the missing references so I could fact-check the text.
In his discussion of past climate variations, Mr Goreham used graphics from a contrarian website (CO2Science); I have previously debunked this site. He had other sources as well. In the book, Goreman references a graph which he claims he obtained from the 1995 IPCC report on climate change. The problem is the figure isn't there. He must have lifted the figure from a different report. Perhaps that was just a typo, let's give him the benefit of the doubt. On the same page, however, he cites a graph as originating from a 1998 paper by Mike Mann. That, too, is incorrect, the figure wasn't in the Mann paper. I wrote to Steve, asking him to clarify where these images had originated. He responded that I was right, he had made mistakes. He promised to correct these errors in future editions of his book.
I then reviewed the other papers he cited, did they really show a medieval period that was global and warmer than today? One of the authors that Mr. Goreham cited regarding the presence of a medieval warm period (MWP) was Dr Delia Oppo. I wrote to Oppo who works at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. She responded:
I do not think that data from one location should be used to assess whether globally, the MWP was warmer or colder than today. As you say, there is considerable evidence to the contrary (mostly from tree rings). Further, as you also noted, even if it WAS as warm during the MWP as it is today it does not follow logically that the recent warming is natural.
Goreham went on to make statements linking changes in the Pacific Ocean to temperature trends however comparing his own graphs on pages 67 and 68 shows that they do not match very well. Surely he should have caught this inconvenient inconsistency during the editing process?
What about his claim that scientists ignore the sun? That too is pure fantasy.
His statements that temperatures have been flat or declining in the past few years? Also not true. But if Mr Goreham won't take my word for it, maybe he will take the word of the Koch-brothers funded study which agrees with me.
What about his claim that humans are responsible for only a very small fraction of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere? Wrong again. Humans are responsible for approximately 40% of the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere today. In fact, Goreham makes an elementary-school error by confusing gross emissions with net emissions. This is a mistake that anyone with a bank account can see. It is like the difference between the paycheck deposited in your bank account and the amount of money that remains after paying all of your bills. He also gets confused about how long elevated carbon dioxide will persist in the atmosphere. The high levels of carbon dioxide which results from human emissions will persist for decades and centuries, far longer than the 5-6 year molecule-specific residence time he claims.
What about his comments that the ocean will just absorb the carbon we emit? Wrong again. But then again, Goreham never claimed to be good a chemistry.
What about his claims that "all major climate models assume positive feedback"? Wrong again.
But it gets even worse. On one page (83), Gorehman admits that water vapor is an important greenhouse gas. But then just a few pages later (88) he states that the effect of water vapor may act to reduce warming. Not only does Goreham disagree with real scientists, he disagrees with himself. Now, in his defence, Goreham may be confusing water vapor with clouds. But real scientists know they are not the same thing. In fact, Goreham cites two studies by Richard Lindzen and Roy Spencer that don't even deal with water vapor feedback. I'm going to go out on a limb here but I challenge Mr Goreham to get the very scientists he cites (Lindzen or Spencer) to agree with him that increased water vapor may not cause warming.
Just a few more errors, stick with me. On page 91 Goreham claims the IPCC "discounts" the sun. This is absurd and the quote he supplies is obviously misunderstood. What about his claims that the Antarctic is "growing". Real science disagrees here and here. His statement that the Greenland Ice Sheet is "healthy"? Not according to these real scientists or these.
At this point, I just had to skip to the end of the book and hope it was the end of the errors. Not so. At the close of the book (page 238), Goreham discusses ocean temperature measurements down to depths of 2,000 meters to determine how much heat is entering ocean waters. But then, he shows a "surprising result" that there has been no change in ocean heat content. What is "surprising" is that the data he shows isn't for ocean depths of 2,000 meters at all. In fact, he only shows data for a small fraction of the ocean waters. Had he shown the correct data, he would have come to the correct conclusion – oceans are warming.
So let's put all these errors, misinterpretations, and misguided comments aside. We know Mr Goreham isn't a climate scientist, in fact, isn't a publishing scientist at all. He admitted that in an email to me. What we should reflect upon is the absurdity of this mailing. Who really thinks that this glossy-covered book will sway real climate experts? Not a chance. It is much more likely that this was a major waste of time and effort. Why would such effort be spent? Why would the author now be promoted as a speaker who charges up to $5,000 per event as someone who can "deliver the real story" when he fails miserably in print?
Wouldn't it be nice to live in a world where armchair experts gave up fighting over whether climate change is occurring and instead spend their time working on solutions? Solutions that we could implement today that would not only clean up the environment but would also create jobs, improve international security, and diversify energy supplies? Until we move on to that discussion, we scientists have the thankless job of fact-checking persons like Mr Goreham. It's a boring job but someone has to do it.John Abraham
Crammed with gorgeous full-colour photographs and rich graphics, clear and concise writing, and large, easy-to-read font, this is the best chemistry primer I've ever read!
Did you know that the bamboo lemur consumes enough cyanide daily to kill a human? ...that Paris green paint, which gets its colour from arsenic, was so toxic that it was used as a rat poison as well for painting masterpieces? ...that there is a lump of crystallised carbon (a diamond) that is 3,000 kilometers (1,865 miles) wide that weighs roughly 2.5 thousand trillion trillion tonnes in the core of a white dwarf star in the constellation Centaurus?
If you enjoy learning interesting facts such as these, then you will love Dan Green's informative book, Discover More: The Elements [Scholastic Children's Books, 2012; Amazon UK; Amazon US]. Although this is a children's book, it is so well written and researched that I think most adults will love it, too.
This large flexi-cover book is printed on heavy glossy paper, and is crammed with gorgeous full-colour photographs and rich graphics, clear and concise writing, and large, easy-to-read font. The book starts by describing what elements are and where they came from and then moves on to provide a close-up examination of each element, who discovered it and when, and discusses its historical and contemporary uses. More than just a recitation of dry facts, this lively book tells the story of each element and includes hundreds of remarkable facts that make it a joy to read. It also includes some basic "kitchen science" experiments that illustrate some of the concepts discussed in the book.
The book follows the periodic table groups and each section starts by asking several questions that are answered in the following chapter. I really liked the graphics that show what is happening at the atomic level when a reaction occurs, and I was impressed by the photo series of experiments that appear in this book, so the reader can see what happens when, for example, sodium is added to water. The book has 112 pages and includes a useful glossary and index.
Shortlisted for the 2013 Royal Society Young People's Book Prize, I highly recommend this informative and accessible book for children and for school libraries -- and even for adults who wish to painlessly review the chemistry they either forgot or never had the pleasure to learn.
.. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. ..
GrrlScientist is an evolutionary biologist, ornithologist and freelance science writer who writes about the interface between evolution, ethology and ecology, especially in birds. As a judge who helped select the 2013 Royal Society Young People's Book Prize shortlist, she also has a deep passion for good books, especially good science books, which she reviews with some regularity. You can follow Grrlscientist's work on her other blog, Maniraptora, and also on facebook, G+, LinkedIn, Pinterest and of course, twitter: @GrrlScientistGrrlScientist
Britain's first official astronaut will beat me into space. But the light of long dead stars will continue to guide our fantasies
It's so unfair. Rather like a talentless X-Factor inmate, I still don't properly understand why I am not being sent into space but someone called Major Tim Peake is. OK, he may have graduated from the European Space Agency, be fit, smart, capable and able to drive a helicopter but has he really been freaking out in a moonage dream for years? I very much doubt it.
The first Brit in space was the privately funded Helen Sharman, the chemist who flew to the Mir space station on a Russian Soyuz craft in 1991.
She, like Peake, was eminently qualified, sensible, scientific and trained up but I bet they had not left school at 16 and when asked by the headmistress, "What, girl, do you think you are going to do with your life?," replied nonchalantly, "Probably be an astronaut, Miss". And neither of them could, I bet, rival the scrapbook I made during the moon landings. In my free time. Obsession doesn't cover it. I lived it and was extremely worried about the "moon germs", the quarantine and everything. In my 11-year-old handwriting after Neil Armstrong's great leap speech I wrote "that, that was greatest moment in the history of man, that the world has ever known". I meant it. And, as you know, I have been given to understatement ever since.
Why was I so compelled by space? Well, I lived in Ipswich and my family treated me like an alien anyway. I did not belong there, but to the stars above. You could say I was a space cadet, any amateur shrink would connect the vastness of outer space with the claustrophobia of a dysfunctional childhood. It's not that easy. Space is exciting and sexy. And if you can't see that, then don't look up, curtail your imagination. Stay earthbound.
Sure, the money could be spent on other more important things and it is difficult to understand the one-way mission to Mars that almost 80,000 people have signed up for as little more than long-haul Dignitas. The militarisation and the petty nationalism do somewhat sour the exploration of the universe but they cannot dull its shine. The light of long dead stars guides our fantasies still and mine is a fantasy.
The reality is I hate flying. I also don't want to be an inch away from death all the time but as Sun Ra said Space is the Place. Indeed my one useful function would be choosing what to sing. Commander Chris Hadfield has set the bar high by singing David Bowie's Space Oddity from the International Space Station, but I can help Major Peake with a suggestion. For Britain, Mambo Sun by T.Rex, for America, the B52s' There Is a Moon in the Sky (called the Moon).
See, I could've been a contender. I could float about, eating pills and dried spinach, tweeting and singing:
"Satellite's gone up to the skies / Things like that drive me out of my mind / I watched it for a little while / I love to watch things on TV (Mm-mm-mm-mm)
(Bum, bum, bum) / Satellite of love / (Bum, bum, bum) / Satellite of love / (Bum, bum, bum) / Satellite of love / Satellite of love."
Instead, I will just to have to do it here on Earth. Bum, bum, bum.Suzanne Moore
A growing number of psychiatrists suspect mental conditions are 'culture-bound syndromes' rather than exclusively biological
The latest edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders – DSM 5 – was published over the weekend. Produced by the American Psychiatric Association, it describes the symptoms of a vast range of mental illnesses and is intended as a guide to diagnosis.
Why should we in the UK care? Simple: the political dominance of the US means that as soon as a mental disorder is named in the DSM, that disorder becomes valid in the eyes of many.
But not everyone is a fan. The DSM committee has been accused of continually expanding the categories of mental illness, resulting in "diagnostic inflation" – with the result that increasing numbers of us are diagnosed with one condition or another.
The committee has also fallen foul of the US National Institute for Mental Health (NIMH), which dislikes the DSM's symptom-based approach. The NIMH argues that laboratory tests for biomarkers are the only rational way to diagnose mental illness.
And two weeks ago the British Psychological Society released a statement claiming that there is no scientific validity to diagnostic labels such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.
Indeed, the DSM's fondness for the categorisation of mental illness is a major reason for its unpopularity in many quarters. According to Gary Greenberg in the New Yorker, frustrated scientists believe its beloved categories "don't correspond to biological reality".
Is that a fair criticism? I would argue that the categorisation of mental illness based on symptoms can be useful. But – and it's a big, fat, hairy but – we must accept that those diagnostic categories are cultural constructions, not global certainties.
Culture-bound syndromes are most often the preoccupation of anthropologists. Typically, the patient displays symptoms that are recognised as indicating a particular illness only by other members of that patient's cultural group. The dhat syndrome observed in parts of India, characterised by fatigue, anxiety and guilt and usually experienced by men, is a well-documented example of a psychological culture-bound syndrome, as is the susto, or fright sickness, of Latin America.
In a recent editorial in the British Journal of General Practice, Professor Christopher Dowrick argues that depression could be a western culture-bound syndrome, rather than a universal disorder. In support of his case, Prof Dowrick notes the lack of consensus in psychiatry over what even constitutes depression: the endless shifting of diagnostic goalposts.
He points out that there is no discrete genetic variation known to cause depression. Rather, there is genetic overlap across a range of mental illness, including depressive disorder, autism and schizophrenia.
Prof Dowrick's point is that as China and India become politically dominant, spreading different concepts of what constitutes mental illness, we will have to be more sceptical of our cherished diagnostic categories. "In western anglophone societies we have developed an ethic of happiness, in which aberrations … are assumed to indicate illness," he writes.
Others have argued that pre-menstrual syndrome, too, is a Western culture-bound syndrome. In 1987, Thomas S Johnson claimed that the symptoms were an expression of "conflicting societal expectations" on women. In 2012, a meta-analysis of published research failed to find evidence that negative mood correlates to the pre-menstrual phase of the menstrual cycle. And earlier this year, a qualitative study found that a "cognitive reframing" of the symptoms could reduce self-reported pre-menstrual distress.
Could depression and PMS really be culture-bound syndromes rather than biological entities? For sure, no one is arguing than they are not genuine illnesses – to the patient, the symptoms are real and painful. I used to be convinced by the biomedical model of depression, but now I'm not so sure. Could depression, and other familiar mental conditions, be interpreted as a kind of local language – our culturally established way of expressing distress and asking for help?
A DSM-style categorisation of illness based on symptoms could still be useful, provided we bear in mind that our local diagnostic categories are no more universal than our local language. We may also need to accept that treatments for mental disorder are not universally applicable. Culture-bound syndromes need culture-bound treatments: interventions recognised as "medicine" by both patient and practitioner.
It's a very complex subject – not least because there may be crossover between the cultural and the biological; between the BPS's dismissal of diagnostic labels and the NIMH's desire to find a biomarker for every illness.
"I think the distinction between 'biological' and 'social' causes can get tricky. Lots of human practices that are clearly culturally patterned – child-rearing practices, diet, and sleep patterns, for example – affect our biology," Dr Rachel Cooper, author of Classifying Madness, tells me in response to an email. "You could have cases where a 'core' biological disturbance is expressed differently in different cultures. Some have suggested that this might be the case with western-style depression and Chinese neurasthenia."
And in the end, as Dr Cooper concludes, "A biomarker can only tell you that a person is different – not whether that difference should be considered pathological." Much of mental pathology could be a consequence of culture.Corrinne Burns
We summarise the points made by a live chat panel on how the global health community can work towards eliminating NTDsDr Paul Emerson, trachoma control programme director, The Carter Centre, Atlanta, USA
NTDs aren't as remote or obscure as many think: Trachoma and worms used to be endemic to the US and Europe, but were eliminated through improvements in hygiene, sanitation and access to medical care. NTDs still affect billions of people in the world, so the global NTD conversation needs to focus on how and why NTDs are keeping the bottom billion at the bottom.
Build local support by involving community leaders: Involving trusted community leaders and members is critical to building local support for NTD interventions. For example, in trachoma-endemic communities, women who have undergone eye surgery to prevent blindness from the disease are the most effective spokespeople for encouraging others suffering to present for treatment.
Learn from innovative solutions to logistical challenges: Working to eliminate NTDs means negotiating some very challenging environments, so it's important that the broad NTD community learns from the innovative solutions that work. For example, the Carter Centre has encouraged women suffering from the advanced blinding stages of trachoma to seek treatment and has integrated three community-directed treatments for lymphatic filariasis, schistosomiasis, and river blindness.Elaine Ireland, head of policy, Sightsavers, Haywards Heath, UK
Address the social determinants of health: It's important to link NTDs to other health services and systems and consider broad social factors affecting them. For example, access to water and sanitation services is critical for a number of NTDs, but especially so for trachoma which requires the full implementation of the Safe strategy (surgery, antibiotics, face-washing and environmental hygiene).
Learn from the response to the HIV epidemic: The NTD community have a real opportunity to apply lessons from the HIV epidemic to developing sustainable NTD prevention, treatment and control programmes. There are ways that taking a verticalised approach to something like elimination of trachoma on oncho can have wider health systems benefits. Examples of this could include ensuring that the drug procurement and supply systems for NTD drugs are integrated with and support strengthened national drug procurement and supply systems, or integrating training of community drug distributors with training for community volunteers working on other health issues.
Build relationships with other health groups: Broadening the NTD community reach should include working with other disease-specific advocates to look at the synergies between NTDs and other diseases with high global burdens such as TB, malaria, HIV and Aids, and diarrhoea? If we can get other health advocates talking about NTDs, we stand a greater chance of increasing the pressure on international donors and national governments to take these diseases more seriously and help us to remove the "neglected" tag from NTDs.Sylvia Meek, technical director, Malaria Consortium, London, UK
Engage with the post-2015 agenda: It is critical that those committed to NTDs elimination engage in the debates and development of the post-2015 millennium development goal (MDG) targets. Despite there not being a specific goal for NTDs, it's clear that the goals proposed can support efforts to control NTDs – whether through health, education or broader poverty reduction.
Strengthen supply chain management: Countries can increase their capacities to manage long-term NTD control by finding ways to strengthen systems for supply chain management and disease surveillance. It's important for groups to then highlight how these improved systems can be used to improve NTD programmes.John Newton Gibb, policy officer, Department for International Development, London, UK
Now is the time for the NTD community to prove themselves: The NTD declaration event in January 2012 brought most of the key ingredients together to provide a platform for a concerted effort at improving NTD control. This has paved the way for fairer task allocation among the stakeholders and set aside more resources to generate some progress. It is now down to the NTD community to demonstrate results with these extra resources and advocate to ensure that NTDs stay high on the agenda in the endemic countries.
Manage partnerships for better coordination: Developing countries are faced with an array of global health partnerships, but to improve coordination and integration those partnerships need strengthening. To achieve this, it's important to focus on management and priorities. Some countries also need to recognise more fully that the resource gap can be closed only if they invest more in the health of their own population.Dr Fiona Fleming, senior programme manager, Schistosomiasis Control Initiative, London, UK
Don't overstate successes: The NTD community can certainly learn from examples of successful Guinea Worm and Onchocerciasis control and elimination efforts. However, it's important to take heed of what can happen if we overstate what has been achieved. We could be in danger of skewing international perceptions of NTDs by reporting quick wins just to stay in the overall international health spotlight.Dr Gail Davey, reader in global health, Brighton & Sussex Medical School, Brighton, UK
Link drug delivery to patient care: Mass drug administration must be visibly linked with efforts to help patients deal with their symptoms (also known as morbidity management), for treatment take-up to be sustained and for communities to keep pressure on their government health structures.
Resources: Here's an example of how using expert patients can help to overcome difficulties of access and distance in simple lymphoedema care in Ethiopia (pdf).Elisa Baring, director of special projects, END Fund, New York, USA
Broaden your reach: The NTD community is strong but small. It must expand its reach in order to reach the World Health Organisation 2020 elimination goals. This could be by strengthening synergies with other health and education programmes and NGOs within countries to ensure stronger integration, find storage options and build trust in communities.Dr David Hurst Molyneux, professor, Centre for Neglected Tropical Diseases, Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine, UK
To meet the need, health systems must be strengthend – quickly: There is a significant implementation deficit for NTDs treatment in many developing countries. For example, in order to reach the WHO targets for preventive chemotherapy, an additional 348 million people in developing countries will need to be treated by 2015. This means increasing current treatment at a very fast pace. For example, in the more populous countries in Africa, around 8 million new people will need to be treated per month. Capacity building within health groups and government commitment in developing countries will be crucial for achieving these targets.