Transcranial magnetic stimulation alters the activity of the brain without the need for an invasive physical procedure. But for such a ground-breaking and potentially alarming technique, it is not very well known
If you were to tell people that the technology exists to manipulate the workings of people's brains, they may not believe you. That sort of thing is the stuff of cheap sci-fi B movies. If someone in the real world were to try to develop it, that's exactly the sort of scenario where they'd send James Bond in to stop them before it got too far.
But the fact is that this technology genuinely exists and is widely used in neuroscientific research. It is known as Transcranial magnetic stimulation, or TMS, and as the name suggests it stimulates the brain through the cranium using magnetism.
Magnets and the brain work together a lot. Neuroscience is an increasingly media-friendly area of science, and this is due in part to the increasing use of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), an invaluable but complex technique that uses intense magnetic fields and radio waves to produce eye-catching images of a working body and brain.
TMS takes this brain-magnet relationship a step further. Rather than just passively looking and observing as the brain goes about its business, these advanced electromagnets actually alter the activity of targeted brain regions by inducing a localised varying magnetic field that causes a weak electrical current. This might sound like a bad idea (like licking a battery, but with your temporal lobe rather than your tongue) but it's perfectly logical. The brain does what it does via electrical currents conducted by neurons, and these currents are what keep our numerous organs and anatomical areas working as one cohesive whole, which is important for things like playing sports and staying alive for more than three seconds. TMS simply causes these electrical currents, which the body generates all the time, to occur at higher levels in certain targeted areas of the brain.
The technique relies on placing a coil (of varying design and composition, depending on what you want to do) on the scalp of your conscious subject, above the area you hope to stimulate, and turning it on. The biophysics behind what occurs is fascinating, albeit complex, but that's essentially the procedure, which is deceptively simple seeming.
What's the point of doing this? Well, inducing currents in a part of the brain causes that part to become more or less active (depending on whether you get neuronal depolarisation or hyperpolarisation). Inducing this activity in selected areas gives us a much better understanding of what these areas do, how certain types of activity influence a person's behaviour or perception, or any number of things like that.
It's not a perfect tool, of course. The direct stimulation is currently limited to the more surface-level areas of the brain, given the precision required and limitations of the technique. This still offers ample scope for areas of interest though, and it is still possible to influence deeper areas of the brain, albeit indirectly, via the myriad connections.
Admittedly, when someone manually induces a current in your verbal processing areas or motor cortex, it can seem a little unnerving. And it certainly looks disconcerting. But all the evidence suggests that, used appropriately, it is a safe procedure.
The neural activation caused by TMS can tell us a lot about how the human brain controls different behaviours, ranging from basic functions like the ability to see, hear and touch, to our ability to speak and make motor movements. We can even use TMS to explore how the most advanced part of the brain – the prefrontal cortex – regulates high-level abilities like consciousness, impulse control and working memory. The great advantage of TMS over other neuroscience methods is that we're interfering with the brain rather than simply measuring its activity. Because of the causal nature of this intervention, this can tell us which parts of the brain are necessary for particular functions. There is also some evidence that TMS may assist in the treatment of conditions such as depression and tinnitus, and there is growing evidence that it can help the brain reorganise following a stroke.
I can reassure people as to the safety of TMS, in that I've experienced it several times myself by volunteering for studies at the Cardiff University Brain Research Imaging Centre. I only ever had one experience that alarmed me. During one study, I was having my motor cortex activated, which caused my arm to flail involuntarily (it sounds worrying, but it's essentially a hi-tech version of a doctor testing your reflexes in your knee with a mallet). This experience didn't hurt, and as a neuroscience enthusiast I found the experience cool rather than worrying.
However, the physical set-up of the study and the flailing of my arm meant that I repeatedly came perilously close to slapping the (female) experimenter on the posterior. I am not the sort of man who thinks this move is a good idea, and I can't imagine a scenario where I could more effectively argue that it wasn't done on purpose. But still, I'm glad it never happened.
This technique is still relatively new, but is becoming more widespread, and also has clinical applications, such as the treatment of depression. The media has recently acknowledged it, and we could possibly see this happen more often in the near future.
Of course, as with anything of this nature, people will worry about it. I recently explained TMS to an acquaintance. He asked, if it's possible to non-invasively alter the activity in the brain of a conscious person, what's to stop someone building a magnet that has a greater range, allowing them to shut down important brain regions, perhaps critical ones like the medulla oblongata, in unsuspecting people from a distance.
In other words, couldn't TMS be the perfect assassin's weapon? Fatally disrupting the brain activity of individuals from a distance, leaving no residue or evidence behind?
A valid concern? Not really, no. At present, TMS coils are about 15-20cm across and can directly stimulate the brain to a depth of maybe 2-3cm. And because the field strength declines non-linearly with distance, coupled with the Biot-Savart Law, you'd probably need a coil at least the size of a respectable building to get any decent range from one. This would require an incredible amount of power to run, assuming you could build a coil that size that wouldn't break up under the pressure of using it. If you somehow managed all this, the magnetic field generated wouldn't be nearly focused enough (ie you might be able to target it on a crowd of rioters, but not a small area of a human's brain). Even if this lack of focus wasn't an issue, you'd need the "target" to remain completely still while you aim the coil to line up with their important brain regions.
Suffice to say, if someone starts pointing a multi-storey coil attached to a massive generator at you, you should probably keep moving.
But if TMS worries you, the best way to overcome your concerns is to experience it yourself. There may well be a neuroscience/psychology centre looking for volunteers near you. For those near me in or around Cardiff, you can sign up for the TMS studies at the Cardiff University Psychology School.
For more info, contact Jemma Sedgmond at firstname.lastname@example.org.
It's cool, I promise (not that my idea of "cool" is universally applicable).
You can follow Dean Burnett on Twitter, @garwboy, to see if he starts behaving oddly after TMS.Dean Burnett
Medicines used for Alzheimer's disease and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder taken by 1% of 14 to 18-year-olds
Some young people in Britain have used drugs for dementia and other conditions to boost their mental performance, a major survey suggests.
Medicines normally prescribed for Alzheimer's disease and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) were taken by 1% of 14 to 18-year-olds to improve their focus, concentration or memory, the report found. The independent survey carried out by Ipsos Mori for the Wellcome Trust, Britain's largest biomedical research charity, drew on responses from more than 1,000 adults and 460 young people chosen as representative of the UK general public.
In the survey, nine young people claimed to have taken drugs for conditions like ADHD or dementia, but of these, only two could name specific drugs, such as Ritalin, Donepezil, Provigil or Aderall.
If the 1% figure is accurate and representative of the UK population, then around 38,000 young people have tried off-label drugs to boost their cognitive performance. Two per cent of adults queried in the survey said they used the drugs.
The figures, compiled for the Wellcome Trust Monitor, give the first accurate picture of how widespread the use of cognitive enhancing drugs is among the general public in Britain. Previous surveys, by Nature magazine and New Scientist, have surveyed readers online, and found much higher drug use. The Nature survey found one in five had used drugs like ritalin and provigil to sharpen their minds, while 38% admitted to using the drugs in the New Scientist survey.Ian Sample
Nottingham doctors say method could raise live birthrate by 50% by helping them choose best embryos to implant
Fertility specialists have developed a radical technique that can boost the chances of IVF couples having a healthy baby.
Doctors in Nottingham who devised the procedure say it could raise live birthrates at their clinic to 78%, around three times the national average for IVF treatment in the UK. Simon Fishel, director of the Care Fertility Group in Nottingham, said the £750 procedure was "probably the most exciting breakthrough we've had in 30 years".
The procedure is not available on the NHS, but Fishel said that could change once other clinics adopted the technology and showed that it could reduce the cost of fertility treatment.
Other specialists said the approach was promising, but cautioned that its effectiveness was uncertain without a full trial comparing it with other technologies.
The system monitors the health of embryos by taking thousands of digital pictures from the moment of creation to the day they are implanted in the womb. The sequence of images can help doctors spot embryos that are developing well, and are most likely to result in live births.
Fertility clinics around the world have begun to use incubators fitted with time-lapse imaging technology, but the Nottingham group is believed to be the first to show how it can improve birthrates. The embryos grow in the incubators for five days, during which 5,000 pictures are taken, revealing the various stages of their development.
A healthy human embryo should contain 23 pairs of chromosomes, but more than half have too many or too few. Most either fail to implant in the womb or miscarry later in the pregnancy, but others lead to children being born with Down's syndrome and other genetic disorders.
The Nottingham team found embryos with abnormal chromosomes reach two milestones in their development about six hours later than healthy embryos. The first milestone comes when the embryo starts to change from a dense bundle of cells into a tiny sac. The second comes when this sac becomes filled with fluid.
Based on their findings, the doctors developed a computer program that ranked embryos as low, medium or high risk for abnormal chromosomes.
To test the system, the doctors ran the program on time-lapse images of 88 embryos that had been recorded previously for 69 couples at the clinic. Some 61% of the embryos ranked as low risk for abnormal chromosomes led to live births, compared with none of those ranked as high risk. The study appears in the journal Reproductive BioMedicine Online.
If other fertility clinics find the technique works as well, the NHS may adopt it as standard, Fishel said. "I suspect this will be the only way we culture embryos in the future."
Martin Johnson, an editor of the journal, said: "This is a significant advance, but it is one which still needs more work."
Allan Pacey, lecturer in andrology at Sheffield University and chair of the British Fertility Society, said: "This paper is interesting because we really do need to make advances in selecting the best embryos created during IVF. The idea of monitoring embryo development more closely is being used increasingly in clinics around the world."
Clinics can check embryos for abnormal chromosomes by removing and screening one or two cells. Known as pre-implantation genetic screening, the technique costs about £2,500 at British clinics.
"This may well be the technique we have been waiting for to improve embryo selection and thus success in fertility treatment," said Sheena Lewis, professor of reproductive medicine at Queen's University Belfast. "It is certainly timely to develop new ways of looking at embryo health since we have been basing embryo choice on just cell number and shape since IVF began. Time-lapse imaging provides the opportunity to give continuous, detailed information on how the embryo is growing."
Stuart Lavery, director of IVF at Hammersmith hospital, said: "Time-lapse imaging of the early development of human embryos offers the exciting potential of a novel and non-invasive way of selecting the embryo with the greatest chance of implantation." But he added that a full trial comparing the technique with standard embryo selection techniques was needed. "Several IVF units around the country have already adopted time-lapse photography into their clinical service, this research adds to the evolving evidence base supporting its use," he said.
In Britain, one in seven couples trying for a baby experience difficulties in conceiving. On average only about 24% of IVF embryos implanted into women in the UK lead to live births and the outcome varies depending on the type of fertility problem involved and the age of the woman. Younger women tend to have healthier eggs, making the chances of conceiving higher. Almost a third (32.2%) of women under 35 who have IVF have babies as a result. But only 1.9% for women aged over 44 on IVF do so.Ian Sample
In their letter (15 May), condemning Professor Hawking for not going to a conference in Israel, professors Michael Yudkin and Denis Noble state that the international code that governs the conduct of all scientists requires them to refrain from discrimination "based on such factors as ethnic origin, religion, citizenship, language, political or other opinion, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, disability, or age" (statute 5 of the International Council for Science). I think that they are being a little ingenuous. I have been attending scientific meetings and congresses in all parts of the world for over 50 years, and have even organised a few; I have never heard of ICSU, nor have I ever heard that as a scientist I am bound by their code of conduct. A quick straw poll of colleagues came up with the same degree of ignorance.
What Yudkin and Noble should realise is that actions against the state of Israel are personal ones. I have never visited Israel or gone to a scientific meeting there. For many years I have refused to referee scientific papers coming from institutes in Israel, refused to referee grant applications emanating either from Israel or from American bodies collaborating with Israel, and I have also on one occasion refused to referee in an academic promotion exercise of an Israeli scientist. These are all personal choices; they are not part of "my job description", and I have every right to make them.
I have not restricted myself to Israel. I had visited Libya and examined there, but following the murder of WPC Yvonne Fletcher outside the Libyan embassy in London and the Libyans' refusal to bring anyone to justice, I severed all links with that country and its students.
Emeritus professor Anthony Milton
Scientists are exploring ways to keep the ailing planet-hunting Kepler telescope operational
The Kepler space telescope, Nasa's iconic mission to find a new Earth outside our solar system, has a problem. A crucial component used to help it orient in space has stopped working and, with little chance of getting it fixed, it looks as though the satellite will have to retire from active duty.
However, on Thursday Nasa tried to remain upbeat. "I wouldn't call Kepler down-and-out just yet," said Nasa associate administrator for space science John Grunsfeld, who as a former astronaut undertook several spacewalks to repair and upgrade the Hubble Space Telescope. Similar in-flight repairs are not an option for the $600m Kepler observatory, since it is in an orbit 40 million miles (60 million kilometres) from Earth.
In a recent regular communication with the telescope, Nasa scientists found that Kepler had put itself into "safe mode" – meaning one of its systems was not working properly. An investigation by Kepler scientists discovered that one of the observatory's stabilising wheels had malfunctioned. Kepler needs three of these wheels to orient itself in space and point in the precise directions to find candidate planets.
The spacecraft launched in 2009 with four wheels but one of the original three stabilising wheels broke in July 2012. With the latest malfunction, Kepler only has two stabilising wheels left and therefore cannot operate properly.
Kepler's mission was to work out what portion of the stars in our galaxy might have Earth-like planets orbiting them, using the "transit method" to detect them. This involves watching a star for several years and looking for tell-tale dips in the amount of light it seems to emit as a planet passes in front of it.
In more than three years surveying 150,000 stars in the constellations of Cygnus and Lyra, Kepler has located 132 planets and more than 2,700 further candidate planets, which will need independent corroboration from other telescopes before they are confirmed hits.
The observatory was designed to find Earth-like worlds in "habitable" orbits around stars, where planets are at a distance that means they could have liquid water on their surface and, possibly, the environmental conditions to support life.
In April, Nasa announced the latest results from Kepler, the smallest planets found so far that are in the habitable zone of their parent star. The Kepler-62 system has five planets, three of which are super-Earth-sized. At the time of that announcement, Grunsfeld called Kepler "a rock star of science" and said it was only "a matter of time before we know if the galaxy is home to a multitude of planets like Earth, or if we are a rarity".
Kepler was designed to operate for four years from its launch, but Nasa recently approved a three-year extension to 2016, to allow the mission to collect more data. For the next few months, scientists will explore different ways of trying to keep Kepler running but, if it cannot be fixed and stops taking data, it will be the end for discoveries from the observatory.
There are at least two years' worth of observations that still need to be pored over and these will contain plenty of new planetary candidates and, perhaps, even a faraway Earth.
The search for more habitable planets will not die with Kepler. The European Space Agency announced last year that it would launch the Characterising Exoplanets Satellite (Cheops) in 2017 to study bright stars with known planets orbiting them. Nasa's successor to Kepler will be the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (Tess), which will conduct a survey of planets around more than two million stars over the course of two years.Alok Jha
Psychologists find students do puzzles 27% faster after non-invasive procedure than those who had no treatment
People who struggle with maths problems might fare better after a course of gentle electric shocks to the brain, scientists have claimed.
Psychologists at Oxford University found that students scored higher on mental arithmetic tasks after a five-day course of brain stimulation.
If future studies prove that it works – and is safe – the cheap and non-invasive procedure might be used routinely to boost the cognitive power of those who fall behind in maths, the scientists said. Researchers led by Roi Cohen Kadosh zapped students' brains with a technique called transcranial random noise stimulation (TRNS) while they performed simple calculations, or tried to remember mathematical facts by rote learning.
In the study published in Current Biology, 25 students had electrical pulses fired across their brains, while 26 others had a sham treatment, in which they thought they had brain stimulation, but the equipment was turned off.
In tests afterwards, the students who had their brains stimulated solved maths puzzles 27% faster than the control group, suggesting that their brains were working more efficiently.
"Our aim is to help those with poor numeracy, which is approximately 20% of the population," Cohen Kadosh told the Guardian. "But we need to extend the results to the general population, and use more ecological settings, such as classrooms. There is of course more work to be done, but it is a promising direction."
Cohen Kadosh said the improvement lasted for six months after the course of stimulation, but other scientists were dubious about the claim. The result was based on six students who received stimulation, and six controls, who returned to the lab six months later.
"The work is technically impressive and an elegant illustration of how brain stimulation can have immediate benefits for learning that are linked to changes in brain physiology," said Chris Chambers, a psychologist at Cardiff University.
"At the same time, I'm sceptical about the conclusion that TRNS boosted maths ability even six months after it was applied. The claim is based on a very small sample and a one-tailed statistical analysis that would have been non-significant using a standard test.
"My worry is that the six-month effect, as intriguing as it appears, could be a false discovery. I would love to see this effect replicated in a sample that is larger and well-powered, because if true it could have important implications for basic neuroscience and the treatment of various clinical conditions. But until such data appears, the six-month claim remains weak in my view."
Jon Simons, a neuroscientist at Cambridge University, had similar concerns, adding that only six students who had TRNS were assessed six months later. "The findings here seem weaker to me," he said.
Amanda Ellison, who studies brain stimulation for rehabilitating patients at Durham University, said the procedure still looked promising.
"The next issue will be understanding the mechanism of this effect so that the technique can be applied to more functions. However, the impact for neuro-rehabilitation for example is hopeful," she said.Ian Sample
Users face growing threat from 200-plus synthetic drugs in circulation across UK, says government's chief drugs adviser
The chief drugs adviser to the government has given his strongest warning yet on legal highs in Britain, saying there are now more than 200 synthetic psychoactive drugs being sold outside existing laws.
Prof Les Iversen warned of the arrival of a new generation of compounds that imitate the effects of 1960s-style LSD psychedelics and cautioned that they could bring with them serious risk of overdose.
Iversen, the chairman of the home secretary's advisory council on the misuse of drugs (ACMD), said these untested legal highs were no longer "a nice set of party drugs that we can let people get on with". He added that sooner or later unexpected and serious harm would emerge from their use. The warning came at the ACMD's twice-yearly meeting to review its progress in tackling legal highs.
The Home Office has introduced temporary banning orders that outlaw the supply and sale but not possession of the drugs, pending an examination of their harmful effects.
But Iversen warned that the development of legal highs, often by chemists in illicit labs in China, was far outpacing the system. Two new drugs – mexxy (methoxetamine) and black mamba (a synthetic cannabinoid mix) – were banned after being categorised as class B last year.
The experts were also able to identify within a week to 10 days all the drugs being used at last year's Glastonbury festival, but the existing legal framework could not cope, Iversen said.
"The European monitoring centre for drugs and drug addiction logged 60 new psychoactive substances last year and a similar rate of one new compound a week so far this year," the ACMD chairman said.
"They now list 200 different psychoactive substances that lie outside our existing scope of regulation.
"Our problem is to know how many of these are really being used in this country and how harmful they are. This is difficult because we can't possibly address all classes of compound at once, unless we and the government can think of clever ways of regulating."
He said they were particularly worried about the impact of a synthetic drug that is becoming widely available in Britain that imitates the hallucinogenic effects of LSD, which once fuelled the 1960s psychedelic era but has been out of popularity for more than 30 years.
Iversen said a dose of synthetic LSD could be measured in micrograms, which was so minute that it could not even be measured with an analytical scale. It was usually supplied in a diluted solution, as a drop on a piece of blotting paper, but it was also possible to buy it in powder, spray or fluid form.
"The dangers of an overdose are clearly immense. We are looking at it with a great deal of caution and worry," he said.
He added that the misuse of existing consumer laws, which has led to legal highs being sold as plant food, had caused them to be widely available.
"They are a set of chemicals that are potentially very dangerous. Novel psychoactive chemicals can be made in China one week and shipped to the UK for human consumption the next without any safety data.
"To me that is an appalling situation. Sooner or later we will get unexpected serious harms emerging from one or other of these compounds. We will then blame ourselves for letting them be sold without any safety precautions," warned Iversen.
He rejected a new approach in New Zealand, which tests and licenses the sale of these new psychoactive substances, as unworkable in Britain, but said a solution might be found by tweaking the Medicines Act or using consumer protection laws.Alan Travis
Dr Dave Hone talks the good, the bad and the ugly of dinosaurs on the silver screen and pays tribute to Ray Harryhausen
With the "furore" of the next Jurassic Park film and the vexed question of whether or not some of the non-avian starts should be bedecked with feathers, I had planned on penning a piece about dinosaurs on film. With the sad passing of Ray Harryhausen recently, that more than doubles my motivation, given the superb work he did and the inspiration I know that he was to a number of palaeontologists.
I have more than a passing interest in animation techniques, special effects and the like, and celebrate Harryhausen's work as much for the actual achievement of the effects on the screen as the actual thrill from watching his movies. I recall reading an interview with him where he claimed not to have been overly interested in the scientific accuracy of his dinosaurian creations, but in general they were better than most of what passed before (or much that has come after for that matter). Any lack in accuracy was always more than made up for with the realism of the animals – they looked and moved like real creatures.
Bringing these animals to life on screen has taken a number of different routes. While traditional stop-motion in the style of Harryahusen's films is perhaps the most widely recognised, prior to the recent digital revolution, there has been quite a selection over the years. Traditional cell animation, lizards and alligators with glued-on horns, puppets of varying quality, men in suits, and full-sized models or animatronics have all been used to varying degrees of success.
It's always easy to criticise the quality of many of these efforts to bring dinosaurs to life, and hindsight is very much 20:20 when it comes to the look of the things. King Kong, for example, was pretty realistic for its time, but our ideas about some of the dinosaurs that featured have dated and some aspects look poor only because our understanding has advanced, rather than any mistakes on the part of the effects crew. As a result, dinosaur movies need to be considered both in terms of the scientific ideas or information at the time, as well as what techniques and budgets available to the film-makers. Even so, some of the following are entertaining only for the lack of any resemblance to actual animals in any way whatsoever, and it's hard to imagine that they could not have done better with another 10 minutes' thought and another 50 quid spent on the effects.
Here's a selection of great and not-so-great dinosaur films you might want to take a look at, if you've not seen them before. I've tried to stick to the less obvious entries in the dinosaur canon, rather than the very obvious like the various incarnations of Godzilla or the Jurassic Park franchise and so to try and bring out a few more obscure or interesting titles.
There does remain something fulfilling about Harryhausen's work. One can argue about the merits of computer-generated animation, stop motion and go motion, animatronics and the rest. Making something look realistic and convincing is ultimately the aim. Stop motion had its limitations, and the effects were rarely perfect (if ever they have been for any film) but it's a testament that some of Harryhausen's best work doesn't look dated, or sits as well in the action as do many of the most recent billion-dollar entries. For work that is getting on for 50 years old, that is astonishing.The Lost World (1925)
The silent adaptation of Arthur Conan Doyle's classic book. Absolutely superb for its time with impressive effects (animals tumbling over while fighting, and groups of animals animated together) and some nice touches like the mother Triceratops nudging her baby along with her snout. It's in the public realm and some high-quality restored versions can be seen online.King Kong (1933)
Obviously this is most notable for the eponymous ape, but the dinosaur effects are really very good. Look out for the Stegosaurus with four pairs of tail spines: this appears wrong now but was in the scientific literature at the time.The Unknown Island (1948)
This is poor in pretty much every conceivable way, and the man-in-a-suit tyrannosaurs are hilariously bad as they are almost literally incapable of movement and can barely stand.Reptilicus! (1961)
While The Unknown Island is in the "so bad it's funny" category, this is so awful it's awful. Originally Danish, this is available as a recut version with English-speaking actors (rather like the original Godzilla) but the "dinosaur" is some weird composite creature (it has dragon-like wings and can breathe fire) and the monster is on strings and looks like a Blue Peter cast-off.Gorgo (1961)
Essentially this is a British version of Godzilla. Unlike many of these efforts, the production values, acting, direction and so on are really pretty good and it's let down by a rather rubbery monster.One Million Years BC (1966)
Starring Raquel Welsh's fur bikini, this is Harryhausen's most famous creation, and while there are plenty of prehistoric beasties, it's actually pretty light on dinosaurs. All, however, are wonderfully animated.The Valley of Gwangi (1969)
This, for me, is Harryhausen's best film as an animator (yes, parts do outdo the Jason and the Argonauts skeleton fight). Crammed with effects and prehistoric creatures, it is worth watching for the elephant v Allosaurus fight alone.The Land that Time Forgot (1975)
Yes, it really does star Doug McClure. The dinosaurs are mostly dreadfully cheap, but I always found this entertaining as a child and it is fun.Planet of Dinosaurs (1977)
Low budget sci-fi, this has the bizarre combination of absolutely superb stop-motion dinosaurs with otherwise phenomenally cheap film-making. It does though feature perhaps the best death-by-dinosaur outside of JP's Tyrannosaurus v lawyer on the toilet when a bad guy is speared by a ceratopsian horn and then thrown off a cliff.Caveman (1981)
"Starring Ringo Starr" is probably not what you expect of a dinosaur movie. Could almost be "Carry on Caveman" such is the nature of the humour, but fun enough. The dinosaurs look rather odd but it's a style choice rather than a lack of accuracy and they are well animated.Baby, the Secret of Lost Legend (1985)
The first big budget dinosaur film to use life size animatronics, it tells the tale of sauropods that are discovered alive and well in the Congo basin. Naturally "evil" scientists want to exploit this and you can guess where it's all going from there.Carnosaur (1993)
This came out right as Jurassic Park hit the theatres and is based on a book about dinosaur cloning that predates the famous franchise. I've never got hold of a copy to see it all the way through, but it does seem to be much more of a gore-fest and some of the dinosaur effects are pretty good and mostly done with animatronics.Dr Dave Hone
The Atlas 5 rocket, carrying an upgraded $121m (£80m) global positioning system satellite, launches from Cape Canaveral air force base in Florida
The corporation should be honest about its cartographic ethos: its Google Maps app is partly a tool for delivering ads
On Wednesday Google announced the most radical overhaul of the company's online virtual maps application since its creation just eight years ago. The revamped application is clearly a riposte to Apple's disastrous launch of its own mobile maps application last autumn, when Paddington vanished and Dublin gained another airport. Google's improvements have come with a claim that, as a cartographic historian and the author of a book on the history of world mapmaking, gave me a distinct feeling of deja vu. "A perfect map of the world," announced Google vice-president Amit Singhal, echoing just about every great mapmaker since Ptolemy, "is foundational to delivering exactly what you want, when you want, and where you want it."
As far as Singhal and Google are concerned maps are better, and bigger business, than ever before. With an annual revenue of about $3 billion and a 70% share of the global online search market, Google now relies on its map applications to enable people to search online more effectively using geographical rather than alphabetical or numerical information. If you're not convinced, then google "Chinese restaurant". A map pops up, which can then guide you to the restaurant, where you buy your meal, marvelling at how Google generates literally billions in advertising revenue for leading you every step of the way.
Throughout history, mapmakers have promised "perfect" world maps that give us what we want, when and where we want it. The question is: what is it that we really want, and how does a map help us get it? World maps are always made with the subjective and ideological beliefs and prejudices of their makers. What they usually do is give us security, by confirming where we are in the world. For the Greek geographer Ptolemy, a perfect world map showed the Mediterranean at its centre, because anywhere beyond it was "barbaric", and in contrast to Greek culture, "uncivilised".
The Hereford mappa mundi, made around 1285, put east at the top and Jerusalem at the centre, which was a "perfect" way of showing the world according to Christian belief, with Christ at the map's apex, waiting for the day of judgment. During the Renaissance, Gerard Mercator's famous projection stretched the poles to infinity because the commercial world of the time had no interest in them, and was trading east to west, not north to south. When the East German socialist Arno Peters offered a "better" world map to Mercator's in the 1970s, he used an "equal area" projection that tried to address global inequality.
Each of these maps made claims to be perfect, and they certainly chimed with the hopes and fears of their communities. But they were only partial images of the globe, because it is impossible to map the spherical earth on to a flat surface without some distortion – whether it's on paper or, in Google's case, a computer or phone screen. What Google is doing is creating a map that is "perfect" at this point of time for maximising online profit. The map is, in their language, becoming "monetised", where the Earth itself becomes a browser in a profitable but rather depressing feedback loop of buying, selling and advertising.
Google should be honest about its corporate cartographic ethos and admit that its map is a partial tool in the current online global economy. If not, then their applications could go the way of that other "perfect" map on a scale of 1 to 1 described in a short story by Jorge Luis Borges. "Succeeding generations understood that this widespread map was useless ... They abandoned it to the inclemencies of the sun and the winters." E-commerce might be even less forgiving than fiction.Jerry Brotton