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Billionaire bought James Watson’s Nobel prize medal in order to return it

20 January, by Ian Sample, science editor[ —]
Alisher Usmanov wants medal to remain with Watson and for money he paid for it to be donated to scientific research

The richest man in Russia and a major shareholder in Arsenal football club has come forward as the buyer of James Watson’s Nobel medal – declaring that he now plans to give the piece back.

Alisher Usmanov, the Russian entrepreneur, paid $4.1m (£2.6m) for the medal at an auction at Christie’s in New York city last week, but said he will return it to Watson, who with Francis Crick and Maurice Wilkins, shared the 1962 Nobel prize in medicine for discovering the double helical structure of DNA.

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How to solve Albert, Bernard and Cheryl's birthday maths problem

20 January, by Alex Bellos[ —]

For all of you who have been trying to figure this out today, here’s my solution (with workings!)

And for those of who who’ve yet to read the problem, here it is

Why this problem turned into the maths version of #thatdress

Cheryl’s birthday puzzle part two, Denise’s revenge - can you solve it?

Thanks everyone for trying the puzzle and showing your workings.

Here’s mine:

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How to solve the maths puzzle for Vietnamese eight-year-olds that stumped parents and teachers

20 January, by Alex Bellos[ —]

I set this maths puzzle yesterday. Now for the solution. It wasn’t pretty, folks, but we got there in the end

The challenge was to fill in the above snake with the digits 1 to 9, using each digit only once. The colon “:” means divide, and you must follow the standard order of operations, meaning that multiplication/division comes before addition/subtraction.

Related: Can you do the maths puzzle for Vietnamese eight-year-olds that has stumped parents and teachers?

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The Guardian view on education: it’s not all in the genes

20 January, by Editorial[ —]
Our educational attainment and when we have children is determined a little by chromosomes but much more by social and environmental conditions

Human intelligence quite obviously has some genetic component. Genes do constrain our fate, as does luck, even if development matters more. The way that our capacities develop is profoundly influenced by the environment and by the social situation in which a child grows up. Genetic influence is not genetic determinism and the interplay between genes and development is enormously complicated. A study based on the population of Iceland at first sight makes claims to show that some genes for intelligence are being pushed out of the population. On closer inspection it shows just how tangled these questions are. Researchers have identified a large number of gene variants – the evolutionary mutations associated with traits – which, taken together, correlate with educational attainment (with the caveat that some variants might simply improve self-control and foresight). The work shows these same variants are also associated with having fewer children.

Since evolution can be defined as a change in how common these variants are found in populations over time, this looks superficially as if we are evolving to be less clever. Nature however is swamped by nurture: environmental pressures are working much more strongly in the other direction. There is in IQ testing a phenomenon called the Flynn effect, in which successive generations in every population tested have shown significantly higher IQ scores than their parents. In Iceland, the Flynn effect raises IQ points by about 10 points every generation, while the genetic process identified by the latest research is 30 times as weak. If we extrapolate the Flynn effect backwards in time, so that IQ diminishes in the past at the same rate as it has been increasing in our time, it appears that the Victorians would have trouble reading and writing while Elizabethans would scarcely have been able to produce articulate speech. So much for Shakespeare. On the other hand, the genetic curve, traced back the same way, would suggest that the Elizabethans were all towering geniuses among whom Shakespeare would have been completely unremarkable. Clearly we are not measuring fixed and long-term versions of intelligence in either case.

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Kristen Stewart co-authors research paper on 'pioneering' film technique

20 January, by Andrew Pulver[ —]

Twilight star among three authors of paper explaining how ‘neural style transfer’ method was put to use in her directorial debut, the 17-minute short Come Swim

Twilight and Personal Shopper Kristen Stewart has co-authored a research paper on “neural style transfer”, an arcane technique that uses artificial intelligence to reconfigure an image in the style of another.

Written with Bhautik J Joshi, a research engineer at Adobe, and producer David Shapiro, Stewart’s paper is related to work done on her short film directing debut Come Swim, which received its world premiere at the Sundance film festival on Thursday. Called Bringing Impressionism to Life with Neural Style Transfer in Come Swim, the paper was submitted on Wednesday on Cornell University library’s open-access arXiv.org website, an online repository for scientific research papers.

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Lab notes: from fairy circles to Venusian waves – an otherworldly week in science

20 January, by Tash Reith-Banks[ —]

Eclectic - it’s a pleasing word, and for this week’s science, the only word that seems to fit. Climate science has been a major part of this week’s coverage, given that climate change deniers are poised to enter the White House. And since there’s now compelling evidence that Greenland and Antarctica’s continental ice sheets are highly sensitive to slight increases in ocean temperatures, (which raises the prospect of sea levels continuing to rise dramatically for many centuries) it’s really something we need to engage with urgently. But if rising sea levels seem too distant a threat, it’s worth considering the sombre news that in the most bleak assessment of primates to date, conservationists found that 60% of wild species are on course to die out, with three quarters already in steady decline. The report casts doubt on the future of hundreds of primate species, including gorillas, chimps, gibbons, marmosets, tarsiers, lemurs and lorises. As Celine Dion would definitely say if she were here: baby, this is serious. If you won’t listen to scientists, listen to Celine (but just that bit, then get on with some primate conservation).

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Totes annoying: words that should be banned

20 January, by Justin Myers[ —]

The internet is the source of many crimes against language – and these are among the worst offenders

We all have a watershed word – the word that tells us it’s all over, that the internet has won, and our youth is gone for ever. For me, it was Yolo, or You Only Live Once. It was born, I used it, and rooms fell eerily silent as soon as it left my mouth. Yolo belonged to the others, the younger people; it carbon-dated me and I was envious.

You might call it snobbery but, for me, every delicious new bit of slang reminds me I’m being left behind, along with VHS cassettes, legwarmers and Lady Gaga. Susie Dent, Countdown’s resident lexicographer, tells me I should lighten up. “Slang has always moved this way,” she says. “From Cockney rhyming slang to codes swapped among highwaymen, they’re tribal badges of identity, bonding mechanisms designed to distinguish the initiated, and to keep strangers out.” The linguist and author David Crystal agrees: “Remember the old maxim – the chief use of slang is to show you’re one of the gang.”

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Science falling victim to 'crisis of narcissism'

20 January, by Hannah Devlin Science correspondent[ —]

Cut-throat atmosphere in world-class labs and conferences closer to House of Cards than Big Bang Theory, says Swiss academic

It is the enduring scientist stereotype: socially awkward, unkempt appearance, and more concerned with cracking the laws of nature than anything as trivial as social status.

The reality could not be more different, according to an academic who says science is falling victim to a crisis of narcissism.

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Isis destroys tetrapylon monument in Palmyra

20 January, by Kareem Shaheen[ —]

Syrian antiquities chief says militants have demolished structure and part of Roman theatre after seizing city for second time

Islamic State militants have destroyed a tetrapylon and part of a Roman theatre in the ancient city of Palmyra in the group’s latest attack on Syria’s heritage.

Related: How the ancient city of Palmyra looked before the fighting – in pictures

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Australia’s conservative government fiddles on climate policy while the country burns | Lenore Taylor

https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/malcolm-turnbullplay episode download
20 January, by Lenore Taylor[ —]

When Malcolm Turnbull deposed Tony Abbott as prime minister, serious action on global warming was hoped for – but almost nothing has changed

Australia’s January news has been full of official reports of record-breaking extreme weather devastating our ecosystems on land and in the sea and government ministers suggesting we build new coal-fired power stations, provide billion-dollar subsidised loans to rail lines for new coal mega-mines, increase coal exports to reduce temperature rises and reduce our ambitions for renewable power.

The disconnect is glaring but perhaps dimmed in the eyes of some readers because Australian politicians have been dissembling on climate change for decades, pretending it will be possible to do what we must without any impact on our position as the world’s largest coal exporter or our domestic reliance on brown coal-fired power, or without incurring any costs.

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