Archivo: The Conversation

If you have taken a walk and would like to return home you need to have an idea of where you are in relation to your destination. To do this, you need to know which way you are facing and also in which direction home lies. This all seems fairly instinctive to humans and other animals, so how do we manage it?

After a year in which further details of national intelligence agencies’ shadowy surveillance networks were laid bare, a fresh leak of documents reveals the obsessive surveillance that extends as far north as Lapland…

We’ve found that despite the torrent of phones, tablets, laptops and other gizmos that might be given as gifts, the Christmas holiday has not yet been thoroughly infiltrated by technology – in fact, the households we studied are more likely to switch off. On the whole, the use of technology at Christmas is interesting in that it stops being used.

Great tits are opportunistic copycats. Entire populations can be found performing the same arbitrary behaviour simply because birds copy one another, following a fashion. And it’s this behaviour, reported in a paper published in Nature, that explains the great milk bottle raids that baffled milk drinkers in Britain almost a century ago.

What do we actually mean by research and how does it help inform our understanding of things? Those people looking for proof to come from any research in science will be sadly disappointed.

The Square Kilometre Array (SKA) will be made up of an unprecedented number of antennae spread across two continents for the first time (Australia and Africa). The SKA will see the radio sky with unprecedented sensitivity and resolution, enabling us to pick up extremely small and faint objects and probe the more distant universe. It is due to come online around 2023.

To put it in perspective, astronomers anticipate that it will produce as much as ten times the data as global internet traffic. Radio astronomical imaging therefore urgently needs to be re-invented in this ultra-precision and big data context.

Nine out of ten cancer patients die because cancer cells enter the blood circulation, spread and form tumours at distant organs. In circulation, cells can move individually or in a cluster. It is believed that cells moving individually pose the highest risk of forming tumours and are the primary “villains”.

A recent study we published in the Journal of Royal Society Interface shows that this may not be true. Instead, cells that move in a cluster might be the primary “villains”, hence asking for new ways of fighting the spread of cancer.

All spiders are predators, but most of them are small and have rudimentary defences against larger animals that in turn prey on them. Spiders have thus evolved a range of predatory behaviours that, at the same time, allow them to evade the threat of predation. Some of the most effective strategies involve deceiving ants.

To add to a long line of studies demonstrating the more positive effects of video games is a study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences by Vikranth Bejjanki and colleagues. Their newly published paper demonstrates that the playing of action video games – the sort of fast-paced, 3D shoot-em-up beloved of doomsayers in the media – confirms what other studies have revealed, that players show improved performance in perception, attention, and cognition.

Science, like any other field that attracts investment, is prone to bubbles. Overly optimistic investments in scientific fields, research methods and technologies generate episodes comparable to those experienced by financial markets prior to crashing.