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£25k Royal Society Science Book Prize receives record number of submissions

The Royal Society Science Book Prize has received the highest number in its 33-year-history, as the judging panel is revealed for the first time….

The Royal Society Science Book Prize has received the highest number in its 33-year-history as immunologist Professor Luke O’Neill is named chair of the judges. 

The £25,000 prize celebrates the best in popular science writing from around the world. A shortlist of six titles, from submissions published between 1st July 2020 and 30th September 2021, will be whittled down by the judges. 

Organisers revealed that a record number of entries – 267 – were received this year, the highest number in the award’s 33-year-history. This is an increase of 66% on last year’s submissions.

The judging panel has also been revealed. Immunologist, presenter and writer Professor Luke O’Neill (pictured) has been announced as the chair of judges for this year’s award. He will be joined by television presenter Ortis Deley, mathematician Dr Anastasia Kisil alongside author and creative writing lecturer Christy Lefteri and Clive Myrie, a writer and film-maker.

“Science communication has always been very important, to entertain, inform and inspire,” O’Neill said. “This has never been more relevant than this year, with scientists engaging with the public across all media on a daily basis because of Covid-19. A tremendously interesting number of books have been nominated this year, across a huge range of topics, making our job very enjoyable but also challenging. Science communication is clearly in very good hands.”

The shortlist will be announced in September with the winner announced at a ceremony in November. Each of the shortlisted authors will be awarded £2,500.

Last year the prize was won by Dr Camilla Pang for Explaining Humans (Penguin Books), which examined neurodiverse perspectives on everyday life. In 2019 Caroline Criado Perez won for her examination of gender bias in Invisible Women (Chatto & Windus). 

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This post originally posted here The European Times News

Skeptics question if Biden’s new science agency is a breakthrough or more bureaucracy

If President Joe Biden’s last big science project was a moonshot, his new one has goals that are light years further.

The proposed Advanced Research Projects Agency would deliver breakthrough treatments for cancer, Alzheimer’s, diabetes and other diseases and reshape the government’s medical research efforts, by adding a nimble new agency modeled on the Pentagon’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA, which laid the groundwork for the internet.

But the way Biden would make “ARPA-H” and its $ 6.5 billion budget part of the sprawling National Institutes of Health is raising concern within the research community and in Congress about whether it will bring a new approach to old problems or become a duplicative bureaucracy with a lofty mandate.

“Most of us did not support putting this in NIH, for the simple reason that if NIH were capable of doing this, it would have done it,” said one person outside the government familiar with the planning who’s worried NIH’s staid culture and leadership will bog down the effort.

A half dozen individuals both inside and outside the administration who were involved in discussions about the plan told POLITICO there are alternative approaches being discussed, like putting ARPA-H well outside of Washington, to escape some of the Beltway’s inertia and turf battles. More autonomy could, in theory, speed up the way scientific discoveries are turned into drugs and diagnostic tests.

But the prevailing view is that making the new agency part of NIH’s infrastructure will give it a foundation to spring off — and foster communication to head off unnecessary duplication. As Congress prepares for hearings on the first budget proposal, administration officials are expressing confidence ARPA-H can carve out a distinct identity, wherever it is.

“[The established NIH culture is] a valid concern and we have to do everything to prevent that from being the default,” NIH Director Francis Collins told POLITICO. Referring to his agency’s many constituent parts, he added, “This is not going to be the 28th institute.”

Biden has long aspired to build a broad successor to the Cancer Moonshot, the $ 1 billion initiative he launched as vice president during the Obama administration in the hope of fostering a decade of cancer research in half the time, three people familiar with his vision said. He announced the Moonshot in the same emotional 2016 Rose Garden speech where he said he would not run for the presidency, citing the pain of losing his son Beau to brain cancer. Within a year, President Donald Trump was in office and White House focus on the massive research initiative dried up.

Making ARPA-H a federal agency would go a long way toward ensuring it could survive such political winds and power transitions. But the bar is high, especially with budget hawks in Congress and other skeptics who question what a new multibillion-dollar agency can do that others can’t.

“If it’s a vision of merely doing advanced translational research … we have the ability within NIH to do that already,” Rep. Andy Harris (R-Md.) told Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra during a hearing on his department’s fiscal 2022 spending plan.

Discussions about a new federal agency to cut through research barriers originated with a plan dubbed ‘HARPA,’ first pitched by the pancreatic cancer group Suzanne Wright Foundation to President Donald Trump in 2017. But critics said the original vision was too narrow, and a proposal for the agency to track mentally ill consumers in a bid to head off mass shootings proved too controversial. Collins himself questioned the need for HARPA, two people familiar said. The NIH director told POLITICO that the Covid-19 pandemic and Biden’s support for ARPA-H helped change his thinking about what is possible.

The NIH already has a department, The National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences, that focuses on finding practical applications for scientific discoveries. Harris and other Republicans argue that type of work is better done by the private sector, while NIH’s mandate is basic science — like mapping genes — that can be a foundation for other studies.

Collins said ARPA-H could bridge an important gap between academic research and industry, and spark collaborations across multiple federal agencies. “There’s often this gap, this valley of death,” between basic science and practical use where “we could play a really important role,” he added.

Part of DARPA’s model — which critics argue is hard for NIH to duplicate — is an organizationally flat structure that gives project managers vast autonomy over their work and funding decisions. It is a model that lets scientists quickly succeed but also quicky fail and then move on to new work, said Ellen Sigal, chairperson of Friends of Cancer Research who sits on NIH’s council of public representatives. Sigal, who has been involved on talks about the new agency, said, “If we’re going to do something audacious like DARPA, we have to have the mentality of knowing that we’re going to fail.”

Collins acknowledged the benefits and limitations of the system he oversees. “Our NIH process for how we fund research is both the best in the world, because of the rigorous peer review system, but it’s also a little slow, maybe a little conservative, and it isn’t necessarily going to embrace the really big transformative projects that would result in somebody sending you a grant application.”

But many of those big decisions, from which disease areas to tackle to a focus on basic or practical research will land on the shoulders of ARPA’s first leader, setting up what could be a high-stakes search for its founding director.

“The first director of this organization is going to be an incredibly important decision because they are going to set the stage for the future,” said Tara Schwetz, assistant director for biomedical incentives in the White House’s science office, who is shaping a plan for the new agency along with the White House’s top science official Eric Lander. “Culture is really difficult to change; it’s really important to get all this stuff right from the beginning because it’s hard to fix down the road.”

If Congress goes along with Biden’s funding requests, ARPA-H will have an annual budget of $ 6.5 billion available to spend over three years. That timeframe gives the agency some runway to fill out its ranks and fund its first key projects. But Schwetz and others admit it will be important to rack up quick wins to gain momentum and build sustained congressional support. They agency will also have to set priorities as advocates for cancer, Alzheimer’s disease and a range of other conditions clamor to shape its work.

“You get one shot at doing this and it really needs to have the necessary ingredients to succeed,” said a person familiar with talks between government groups and outside advocates. “ARPA-H needs to have an ambitious enough agenda that it is dealing with the most important problems we have in a way that allows people to take those and run with them.”

Author: Sarah Owermohle
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Alondra Nelson Wants to Make Science and Tech More Just

Alondra Nelson Wants to Make Science and Tech More Just

The pandemic taught us a lesson that we needed to learn again, says Alondra Nelson: Science and technology have everything to do with issues of society, inequality, and social life.

After a year in which science became politicized amid a pandemic and a presidential campaign, in January president-elect Joe Biden appointed Nelson deputy director of science and society in the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, a new position. Nelson will build a science and society division within the OSTP aimed at addressing issues ranging from data and democracy to STEM education. In another first, Biden made his science adviser Eric Lander, who is also director of OSTP, part of his cabinet.

Nelson has spent her career at the intersection of race, tech, and society, writing about topics like how Afrofuturism can make the world better and how the Black Panthers used health care as a form of activism, leading the organization to develop an early interest in genetics. She’s the author of several books, including Social Life of DNA, which looks at the rise of the consumer genetics testing industry and how a desire to learn about their lineage led Black and Mormon people to become early users of the technology.

Nelson is a professor at the Institute for Advanced Studies in Princeton, New Jersey. Before her appointment, she was writing a book about the OSTP and major scientific initiatives of the Obama administration, which included a series of reports on AI and government policy.

In her first formal remarks in her new role in January, Nelson called science a social phenomenon and said technology such as artificial intelligence can reveal or reflect dangerous social architectures that undergird the pursuit of scientific progress. In an interview with WIRED, Nelson said the Black community in particular is overexposed to the harms of science and technology and is underserved by the benefits.

In the interview, she talked about the Biden administration’s plans for scientific moonshots, why the administration has no formal position on banning facial recognition, and issues related to emerging technology and society that she thinks must be addressed during the administration’s time in office. An edited transcript follows.

WIRED: In January you talked about the “dangerous social architecture that lies beneath the scientific progress that we pursue” and cited gene editing and artificial intelligence. What prompted you to mention gene editing and AI in your first public remarks in this role?

Alondra Nelson: I think what genetic science and AI share is that they are data centric. There are things that we know about data and how data analysis works at scale that are as true of large-scale genomic analysis as they are of machine learning in some regard, and so these are kind of foundational. What I think we still need to address as a nation are questions about the provenance of data analyzed with AI tools and questions about who gets to make decisions about what variables are used and what questions are posed of scientific and technical research. What I hope is different and distinctive about this OSTP is a sense of honesty about the past. Science and technology has harmed some communities, left out communities, and left people out of doing the work of science and technology.

Working in an administration that on day one identified issues of racial equity and restoring trust in government as key issues means that the work of science and technology policy has to be really honest about the past and that part of restoring trust in government—part of restoring trust in the ability for science and technology to do any kind of good in the world—is really being open about the history of science and technology’s flaws and failures.

Unfortunately, there’s lots of examples. Next month there will be another anniversary of the Associated Press story that exposed the Tuskegee syphilis study almost 40 years ago, so we’re coming up on that anniversary again. Then of course we’ve got issues in AI from research that the data that’s used is incomplete and that their incompleteness means that they’re making inferences that are incomplete, inaccurate, and, when used in social services and the criminal justice system in particular, have real disproportionate harmful effects on Black and brown communities.

Lander said in his confirmation hearing that OSTP will address discrimination stemming from algorithmic bias. How will that work?

Author: Khari Johnson
This post originally appeared on Business Latest

With George Floyd, a Raging Debate Over Bias in the Science of Death

With George Floyd, a Raging Debate Over Bias in the Science of Death

She agreed to come back and was hopeful that things had changed, especially after she was asked to chair a new diversity committee.

Because of that, she said, she did not anticipate any controversy when she signed on to the study on bias among forensic pathologists, led by Itiel Dror, a cognitive neuroscientist who specializes in expert error and bias. The authors examined 10 years of children’s death certificates in Nevada and found that the deaths of Black children were a little more likely to be classified as homicides, rather than accidents, compared with deaths of white children.

They also sent a death scenario to forensic pathologists, and found that those who responded were more likely to rule it a homicide when the child in the scenario was Black and cared for by the mother’s boyfriend than when the child was white and cared for by a grandmother.

The authors said the study was merely a starting point for research and suggested that forensic pathologists further explore how and when contextual information should be used, and be transparent when using it.

Four of the study’s authors were forensic pathologists, including Dr. Carter.

In February, Dr. Peterson, the potential defense witness in Mr. Floyd’s case, filed an ethics complaint against all four, accusing them of “conduct averse to the best interests and purposes” of the profession.

“By basically accusing every member of ‘unconscious’ racism, a charge impossible to either prove or refute, members will henceforth need to confront this bogus issue whenever testifying in court,” he wrote in the complaint, a copy of which was obtained by The Times.

Dr. Peterson did not respond to a message left with his office, where a spokeswoman said he was on vacation. Ethics complaints are supposed to be confidential, and the accused doctors declined to discuss it or did not respond to a request for comment.

The vitriolic response to the study surprised Dr. Carter.

“I was kind of blown away by what appears to be very irate reaction,” she said. “And I’m not sure if everyone has truly read the article for what it is. It’s an article that suggests, let’s be aware of this, let’s be proactive in this. I don’t think anybody, any physician of color, would say, ‘Gee, this is earthshaking news.’”

Shaila Dewan
This article originally appeared on NYT > U.S. News

Godzilla vs. Kong: Using science to pick who'd win

Godzilla vs. Kong: Using science to pick who'd win

Ultimately, this is a fight between a giant reptile and a giant primate, and there are relative biological advantages and disadvantages that each would have.

WASHINGTON D.C., DC — Story from The Conversation by Kiersten Formoso, PhD Student in Vertebrate Paleomorphology, USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences

The 2021 film “Godzilla vs. Kong” pits the two most iconic movie monsters of all time against each other. And fans are now picking sides.
Even the most fantastical creatures have some basis in scientific reality, so the natural world is a good place to look to better understand movie monsters. I study functional morphology – how skeletal and tissue traits allow animals to move – and evolution in extinct animals. I am also a huge fan of monster movies. Ultimately, this is a fight between a giant reptile and a giant primate, and there are relative biological advantages and disadvantages that each would have. The research I do on morphology and biomechanics can tell us a lot about this battle and might help you decide – #TeamGodzilla or #TeamKong?

Larger than life

First it’s important to acknowledge that both Kong and Godzilla are definitely far beyond the realms of biological possibility. This is due to sheer size and the laws of physics. Their hearts couldn’t pump blood to their heads, they would have temperature regulation problems and it would take too long for nerve signals from the brain to reach distant parts of the body – to name just a few issues.
However, let’s assume that somehow Godzilla and Kong are able to overcome these size limitations – perhaps because of their radiation exposure they have distinctive mutations and characteristics. Based on how they look on the big screen, let’s explore the observable differences that might prove useful in a fight.

Kong: the best of ape and man

At first glance, Kong is a colossal primate – but he’s not simply a giant gorilla.
One of the most striking things about Kong is his upright, bipedal stance – he mostly walks on two legs, unlike any other living nonhuman apes. This ability could suggest close evolutionary relationship to the only living upright ape, humans – or his upright stance could be the result of convergent evolution. Either way, like us, Kong has thick muscular legs geared toward walking and running, and large free arms with grasping hands, enabling him to use tools.
Humanity’s bipedal, upright posture is unique in the animal kingdom and provides a slew of biomechanical abilities that Kong might share. For example, human torsos are highly flexible and particularly good at rotation. This feature – in addition to our loose shoulder girdle – makes humans the best throwers in the animal kingdom. Throwing is helpful in a fight, and Kong could probably throw with the best of them.
Kong is also, of course, massive. He absolutely dwarfs the largest known primate, an extinct orangutan relative called Gigantopithecus that was a bit bigger than modern gorillas.
Kong does have many gorillalike attributes as well, including long muscular arms, a short snout with large canine teeth, and a tall sagittal crest – a ridge of bone on his head that would be the anchor point for some exceptionally strong jaw muscles.
Strong, agile, comfortable on land and with the unparalleled ability to use tools and throw, Kong would be a brutal force in a fight.
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Godzilla: An aquatic lizard to be reckoned with

Godzilla appears to be a giant, semiaquatic reptile. Like Kong, Godzilla has the traits of a few different species.
Recent Godzilla movies show him decently mobile on land, but seemingly much more comfortable in the water despite his lack of overt aquatic features. Interestingly, Godzilla is depicted with gills on his neck – a trait that land vertebrates lost after they emerged from the sea about 370 million years ago. Given Godzilla’s terrestrial features, it’s likely that his species has land-dwelling reptile ancestors and reevolved a mostly aquatic lifestyle – kind of like sea turtles or sea snakes, which can actually absorb oxygen through their skin in water. Godzilla may have uniquely reevolved gills.
Godzilla’s tail is what really separates him from Kong. It is massive, and anchored and moved by huge muscles attached to his legs, hips and lower back. Dinosaurs like Tyrannosaurus rex stood horizontally and used their tails for balance and to help them walk and run. Godzilla, in contrast, stands vertically and keeps his tail low to the ground, probably for a different type of balance. This vertical posture is unique for a two-legged reptile and more resembles a standing kangaroo. Godzilla stands on two muscular, pillarlike legs similar to those of a sauropod dinosaur. These would provide stability and help support his gargantuan mass but would also bolster the strength of his tail.
In addition to his powerful tail, Godzilla carries three rows of sharp spikes going down his back, thick scaly skin, a relatively small head full of carnivorous teeth and free arms with grasping hands, all built onto a muscular body. Taken together, Godzilla is a terrifying and intimidating adversary.

Ready, fight!

So now that we’ve looked a little closer at how Godzilla and Kong are built, let’s imagine who might emerge victorious in battle.
Though Kong is a little bit smaller than Godzilla, both are more or less comparably massive in size and neither has a clear advantage here. So what about their fighting abilities?
Godzilla would likely favor his robust tail for both offense and defense – much like modern-day large lizards that use their strong tails as whips. Scale up that strength to Godzilla’s size, and that tail becomes a lethal weapon – which he has used before.
However, Kong is more comfortable on land, faster and more agile, can use his strong legs to jump, and possesses much stronger arms than Godzilla – Kong probably packs a walloping punch. And as an ape, Kong would also likely use tools to some degree and might even capitalize on his throwing ability.
Both would have a gnarly bite, with Kong likely getting a slight advantage. However, Godzilla’s bite is by no means weak, and all of his teeth are flesh-piercing, similar to crocodile and monitor lizard teeth.
On defense, Godzilla has the edge, with thick scaly skin and sharp spikes. He might even act like a porcupine, turning his back to a rapidly approaching threat. However, Kong’s superior agility on land should be able to offer him some protection as well.
I will admit I am #TeamGodzilla, but it’s very close. I may give a slight edge to Kong in broad terrestrial battle ability, but Godzilla’s general mass, defense and tail would be hard to overpower. And lest we forget, the tipping point for Godzilla is that he has atomic breath! Until researchers find evidence of a dinosaur or animal with something like that, though, I will have to reserve my scientific judgment.
Regardless of who emerges victorious, this battle will be one for the ages, and I am excited as both a scientist and monster movie fan.
This article is from The Conversation, an independent, not-for-profit news organization dedicated to spreading ideas from experts. Republished under a Creative Commons license.
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Amazon's best selling science fiction and fantasy books

All Creatures Great and Small: Trailer for series based on books

All the twists and turns which take place in the new world that science fiction and fantasy books create can get you enthralled within the first few pages. Most of the best selling books of our time come under these genres, including Harry Potter, Twilight, and the bestselling book of all time: The Lord of The Rings.

If you thought these kinds of books were supposed to be left in your childhood, you’re missing out on a whole genre of incredible reads that are perfectly suited to adults. Switch from “just one more episode” to “just one more chapter” with one of the 10 best selling science fiction and fantasy books below.

Collage of the bestselling science fiction books

Bestselling science fiction and fantasy books on Amazon (Image: Amazon)

The Eye Of The World: Book 1 of the Wheel of Time, Klara and the Sun

The Eye Of The World: Book 1 of the Wheel of Time,Klara and the Sun (Image: Amazon)

Soon to be adapted to a series on Amazon Prime, you’ll want to read this quickly so you can earn the right to say “oh, the book was better” when the TV show premieres.

The first book in a hugely influential fantasy series, The Wheel of Time creates a whole new world where time passes, leaving behind memories that become legends, which eventually fade to myths which are then forgotten – before the clock turns and these events from the past return again.

When a village is attacked by terrifying creatures, the townspeople are forced to flee for their lives. An ancient evil has come back to life, and it’s servants are searching the land for the hero who can deliver the world from darkness.

4.5 stars from 5,838 ratings

Kindle: £4.99, shop here… 

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A New York Times bestseller that has been written by a winner of the Nobel Prize in literature, this book weaves a story of Klara, an Artificial Friend with incredible observational abilities who waits in the store hoping that a customer will soon choose her.

The book is captivating and chilling, exploring the age-old question of what does it really mean to love?

4.3 stars from 867 ratings

Kindle: £6.02, shop here… 

Audiobook: Free with Audible trial, shop here… 


Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, The Mermaid of Black Conch: A Love Story

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, The Mermaid of Black Conch: A Love Story (Image: Amazon)

No surprise that this book is on this list, as it’s been topping bestseller lists since it was published 14 years ago.

The first instalment of the iconic Harry Potter series, this book starts off what was (and remains) a global phenomenon.

Whether you’ve never tried the series or you’re searching for some nostalgia, these books are just as enjoyable for kids and adults alike.

4.8 stars from 29,923 ratings

Hardcover: £10.99, shop here… 

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Winner of the Costa Book Award last year, this book is set in a tiny Caribbean village on the island of Black Conch at the start of the rainy season. As a fisherman sings to himself while he’s waiting for a catch, he gets more than he bargains for when a mermaid is entranced by David and his song.

The love story that ensues is heart warming, captivating, and truly magical.

4.4 stars from 895 ratings

Kindle: £0.99, shop here… 

Audiobook: Free with Audible trial, shop here… 

Bear Head, Stardust

Bear Head, Stardust (Image: Amazon)

If you’re a fan of Black Mirror, this classic dystopian book will have you hooked within the first few pages.

Smart, fast-paced, and razor-sharp, this book is surprisingly funny while still remaining deeply thought-provoking.

4.5 stars from 459 ratings

Hardcover: £12.99, shop here… 

Kindle: Free with Kindle Unlimited, shop here… 

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A fairy tale that will be beloved by people of all ages, this story is set at the dawn of the Victorian era and follows the story of Tristan Thorn who will do anything to win the heart of the beautiful Victoria Forrester.

When he vows to bring her a star they see fall from the night sky he goes on an adventure that brings him into a world that is strangely dangerous yet full of possibilities.

4.5 stars from 4,418 ratings

Kindle: £5.99, shop here… 

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Mythos, Spellbreaker

Mythos, Spellbreaker (Image: Amazon)

If you have a keen interest in Greek Mythology, or even if you don’t, this re-telling by Stephen Fry of all the extraordinary tales will captivate you and leave you wanting more.

4.6 stars from 7,163 ratings

Hardcover: £14.77, shop here… 

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This magical book takes a different approach than usual novels, with the main character gifted with the ability to break spells – but as an unlicensed magic-user, her gift is a crime.

Follow Elise as she uses her abilities to act as a Robin Hood by pushing against the aristocrats.

With a love story, a mystery to unravel, and plenty of magic, there’s plenty to love about this enthralling novel that may just leave you spellbound.

4.3 stars from 14,062 ratings

Paperback: £4.99, shop here… 

Kindle: Free with Kindle Unlimited, shop here… 

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The Third Twin, The Talisman

The Third Twin, The Talisman (Image: Amazon)

Classic science fiction, this book begins with scientist Jeannie Ferrami stumbling upon a set of identical twins that were born on two different days, to two different mothers.

After one of them is accused of a horrible crime, there is a mystery to unravel and secrets to uncover.

Thrilling, chilling, and suspenseful, this book is one you really won’t be able to put down.

4.3 stars from 1,869 ratings

Kindle: £0.99, shop here… 

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If there’s anyone we can trust to write a gripping fantasy story, it’s Stephen King.

Following 12-year-old Jack Sawyer as he braves a surreal parallel world in order to save him and his dying mother, we’re reminded of the importance of love, resilience and loyalty and how it will drive us to do pretty much anything.

4.6 stars from 1,980 ratings

Hardcover: £27.95, shop here… 

Kindle: £0.99, shop here… 

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