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Medieval Gospel Made of Sheep, Calves, Deer … and Goat?

Laura Geggel reports: During medieval times, bookmakers fashioned the pages and cover of a rare copy of the Gospel of Luke out of five different types of animals: calves, two species of deer, sheep and goat, according to new research.

In addition, one more type of animal left its mark on the cover of this 12th-century book: Beetle larvae likely chewed holes into the leather binding, the researchers said.

Now, researchers are learning unexpected secrets about the manuscript by noninvasively testing the proteins and DNA on the book’s pages, the researchers told Live Science.

Rare books — such as this copy of the Gospel of Luke — are difficult to study because they’re fragile, prompting many librarians to bar any research that would harm such manuscripts or their pages.

This rule is all too familiar to Matthew Collins, a biochemist at both the University of York in the United Kingdom and the University of Copenhagen. He wanted to sample parchments — documents made from animal skins — as a way to determine how people have managed livestock throughout history.

When Collins and Sarah Fiddyment, a postdoctoral fellow of archaeology at the University of York, approached librarians at the University of York’s Borthwick Institute for Archives, “we were told that we would not be allowed to physically sample any of the parchment documents, as they are too valuable as cultural-heritage objects,” Fiddyment told Live Science.

But Fiddyment didn’t give up. She spent several months learning how librarians conserve rare parchments, and, surprisingly, found a new method that allows scientists to study these specimens without disturbing them — one that involves an eraser.

Typically, librarians “dry clean” parchments by gently rubbing a polyvinyl chloride eraser against them. This technique pulls fibers off the page, and the resulting debris is usually thrown away.

But Fiddyment realized this debris held valuable clues about the book. By isolating proteins and other biological fragments within the debris, and examining them with a mass spectrometer — an instrument that identifies different compounds by their masses — researchers could learn all kinds of information about the manuscripts, she found.

“This was Sarah’s brilliant idea,” Collins told Live Science in an email. “Oddly enough, I think we relished the challenge.”

It wasn’t long before Fiddyment put this technique into action. A historian bought the aforementioned Gospel of Luke at a 2009 Southeby’s auction. An analysis of its “prickly” style of script indicated that scribes at St. Augustine’s Abbey in Canterbury, in the United Kingdom, created it around A.D. 1120, Bruce Barker-Benfield, the curator of manuscripts at the Bodleian Libraries at the University of Oxford, told the journal Science.

To learn more about the gospel, the historian contacted Collins. Using Fiddyment’s method, Collins and his colleagues learned that the book’s white leather cover came from the skin of a roe deer— a common species in the United Kingdom. The book’s strap came from a larger deer species — either a native red deer or a fallow deer, an invasive species likely brought from continental Europe after the Normans invaded in 1066. Read the rest of this entry »

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[VIDEO] Archaeology: Monkeys Have Used Stone Tools for Hundreds of Years

New archaeological evidence suggests that Brazilian capuchins have been using stone tools to crack open cashew nuts for at least 700 years. Researchers say, to date, they have found the earliest archaeological examples of monkey tool use outside of Africa. In their paper, published in Current Biology, they suggest it raises questions about the origins and spread of tool use in New World monkeys and, controversially perhaps, prompts us to look at whether early human behaviour was influenced by their observations of monkeys using stones as tools. The research was led by Dr Michael Haslam of the University of Oxford, who in previous papers presents archaeological evidence showing that wild macaques in coastal Thailand used stone tools for decades at least to open shellfish and nuts.


Suicide in The Fast Lane: European Civilization in Accelerated Decline, Politically Correct Universities ‘Are Killing Free Speech’

British universities have become too politically correct and are stifling free speech by banning anything that causes the least offence to anyone, academics argue.

Javier Espinoza writes: A whole generation of students is being denied the “intellectual challenge of debating conflicting views” because self-censorship is turning campuses into over-sanitised “safe spaces”, they say.

“A generation of students is being denied the opportunity to test their opinions against the views of those they don’t agree with.”

“The College does not share Cecil Rhodes’s values or condone his racist views or actions.”

Oriel College says the statue of Rhodes, on a building he paid for, jars with the values of a modern university. It is facing a battle with Historic England, which has listed the statue as an object of historical interest.

Writing in The Telegraph, the academics, led by Frank Furedi, professor of sociology at the University of Canterbury, and Joanna Williams, education editor, Spiked, say it is part of a “long and growing” list of people and objects banned from British campuses, including pop songs, sombreros and atheists.

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“Students who are offended by opposing views are perhaps not yet ready to be at university.”

They say the “deeply worrying development” is curtailing freedom of speech “like never before” because few things are safe from student censors.

Because universities increasingly see fee-paying students as customers, they do not dare to stand up to the “small but vocal minority” of student activists who want to ban everything from the Sun newspaper to the historian David Starkey.

“In September, the University of East Anglia banned students from wearing free sombreros they were given by a local Tex-Mex restaurant because the student union decided non-Mexicans wearing the wide-brimmed hats could be interpreted as racist.”

The letter says: “Few academics challenge censorship that emerges from students. It is important that more do, because a culture that restricts the free exchange of ideas encourages self-censorship and leaves people afraid to express their views in case they may be misinterpreted. This risks destroying the very fabric of democracy.

A student wears a sticker calling for the removal of a statue of Cecil John Rhodes from the campus of the University of Cape Town

“An open and democratic society requires people to have the courage to argue against ideas they disagree with or even find offensive. At the moment there is a real risk that students are not given opportunities to engage in such debate.

[Read the full story here, at the Telegraph]

“A generation of students is being denied the opportunity to test their opinions against the views of those they don’t agree with.”

Calling on vice-chancellors to take a “much stronger stance” against all forms of censorship, they conclude that “students who are offended by opposing views are perhaps not yet ready to be at university”.

Freedom of speech carries a burden of responsibility which shouldn’t be overlooked.

A crane prepares to lift the university of Cape Town’s statue of Cecil John Rhodes from the position he has occupied for over 100 yearsNtokozo Qwabe, who set up the Rhodes Must Fall in Oxford campaign, is one of more than 8,000 foreign students who have been able to study at Oxford because of a Rhodes Scholarship, paid for by the Rhodes Trust, which was set up by Cecil Rhodes in his will.

Professors have complained recently that they are being bullied online by students who are easily offended by opposing views.

In recent months, students at British universities have banned, cancelled or challenged a host of speakers and objects because some found them offensive. Maryam Namazie, a prominent human rights campaigner who is one of the signatories to the letter, was initially banned from speaking at Warwick University because she is an atheist who, it was feared, could incite hatred on campus. She spoke at Warwick in the end. Read the rest of this entry »


Robots Expected to Run Half of Japan by 2035

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Andrew Tarantola reports: Data analysts Nomura Research Institute (NRI), led by researcher Yumi Wakao, figure that within the next 20 years, nearly half of all jobs in Japan could be accomplished by robots. Working with Professor Michael Osborne from Oxford University, who had previously investigated the same matter in both the US and UK, the NRI team examined more than 600 jobs and found that “up to 49 percent of jobs could be replaced by computer systems,” according to Wakao.

The team looked at how likely each position could be automated, based on the degree of creativity required. That means jobs like operating helpdesksdelivering goods or agricultural labor are all highly susceptible to computerization while writing, teaching and doing whatever it is that Shingy does probably aren’t being….(read more)

Source: endgadget.com


Pew Research Center: Gun Homicide Rate Down 49% Since 1993 Peak; Public Unaware 

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Compared with 1993, the peak of U.S. gun homicides, the firearm homicide rate was 49% lower in 2010, and there were fewer deaths, even though the nation’s population grew.

By  and 

Chapter 1: Overview

National rates of gun homicide and other violent gun crimes are strikingly lower now than during their peak in the mid-1990s, paralleling a general decline in violent crime, according to a Pew Research Center analysis of government data. Beneath the long-term trend, though, are big differences by decade: Violence plunged through the 1990s, but has declined less dramatically since 2000.

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Compared with 1993, the peak of U.S. gun homicides, the firearm homicide rate was 49% lower in 2010, and there were fewer deaths, even though the nation’s population grew. The victimization rate for other violent crimes with a firearm—assaults, robberies and sex crimes—was 75% lower in 2011 than in 1993. Violent non-fatal crime victimization overall (with or without a firearm) also is down markedly (72%) over two decades.

Nearly all the decline in the firearm homicide rate took place in the 1990s; the downward trend stopped in 2001 and resumed slowly in 2007. The victimization rate for other gun crimes plunged in the 1990s, then declined more slowly from 2000 to 2008. The rate appears to be higher in 2011 compared with 2008, but the increase is not statistically significant. Violent non-fatal crime victimization overall also dropped in the 1990s before declining more slowly from 2000 to 2010, then ticked up in 2011.

Despite national attention to the issue of firearm violence, most Americans are unaware that gun crime is lower today than it was two decades ago. According to a new Pew Research Center survey, today 56% of Americans believe gun crime is higher than 20 years ago and only 12% think it is lower.

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Looking back 50 years, the U.S. gun homicide rate began rising in the 1960s, surged in the 1970s, and hit peaks in 1980 and the early 1990s. (The number of homicides peaked in the early 1990s.) The plunge in homicides after that meant that firearm homicide rates inmust-think-hardthe late 2000s were equal to those not seen since the early 1960s.The sharp decline in the U.S. gun homicide rate, combined with a slower decrease in the gun suicide
rate, means that gun suicides now account for six-in-ten firearms deaths, the highest share since at least 1981.

Trends for robberies followed a similar long-term trajectory as homicides (National Research Council, 2004), hitting a peak in the early 1990s before declining.

This report examines trends in firearm homicide, non-fatal violent gun crime victimization and non-fatal violent crime victimization overall since 1993. Its findings on firearm crime are based mainly on analysis of data from two federal agencies. Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, using information from death certificates, are the source of rates, counts and trends for all firearm deaths, homicide and suicide, unless otherwise specified. The Department of Justice’s National Crime Victimization Survey, a household survey conducted by the Census Bureau, supplies annual estimates of non-fatal crime victimization, including those where firearms are used, regardless of whether the crimes were reported to police. Where relevant, this report also quotes from the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reports (see text box at the end of this chapter and the Methodology appendix for more discussion about data sources).

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Researchers have studied the decline in firearm crime and violent crime for many years, and though there are theories to explain the decline, there is no consensus among those who study the issue as to why it happened.

There also is debate about the extent of gun ownership in the U.S., although no disagreement that the U.S. has more civilian firearms, both total and per capita, than other nations. Compared with other developed nations, the U.S. has a higher homicide rate and higher rates of gun ownership, but not higher rates for all other crimes. (See Chapter 5 for more details.)

In the months since the mass shooting at a Newtown, Conn., elementary school in December, the public is paying close attention to the topic of firearms; according to a recent Pew Research Center survey (Pew Research Center, April 2013) no story received more public attention from mid-March to early April than the debate over gun control. Reducing crime has moved up as a priority for the public in polling this year.

Mass shootings are a matter of great public interest and concern. They also are a relatively small share of shootings overall. According to a Bureau of Justice Statistics review, homicides that claimed at least three lives accounted for less than 1% of all homicide deaths from 1980 to 2008. These homicides, most of which are shootings, increased as a share of all homicides from 0.5% in 1980 to 0.8% in 2008, according to the bureau’s data. A Congressional Research Service report, using a definition of four deaths or more, counted 547 deaths from mass shootings in the U.S. from 1983 to 2012.

Looking at the larger topic of firearm deaths, there were 31,672 deaths from guns in the U.S. in 2010. Most (19,392) were suicides; the gun suicide rate has been higher than the gun homicide rate since at least 1981, and the gap is wider than it was in 1981.

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Knowledge About Crime

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Despite the attention to gun violence in recent months, most Americans are unaware that gun crime is markedly lower than it was two decades ago. A new Pew Research Center survey (March 14-17) found that 56% of Americans believe the number of crimes involving a gun is higher than it was 20 years ago; only 12% say it is lower and 26% say it stayed the same. (An additional 6% did not know or did not answer.)

Men (46%) are less likely than women (65%) to say long-term gun crime is up. Young adults, ages 18 to 29, are markedly less likely than other adults to say long-term crime is up—44% do, compared with more than half of other adults. Minority adults are more likely than non-Hispanic whites to say that long-term gun crime is up, 62% compared with 53%.

Asked about trends in the number of gun crimes “in recent years,” a plurality of 45% believe the number has gone up, 39% say it is about the same and 10% say it has gone down. (An additional 5% did not know or did not answer.) As with long-term crime, women (57%) are more likely than men (32%) to say that gun crime has increased in recent years. So are non-white adults (54%) compared with whites (41%). Adults ages 50 and older (51%) are more likely than those ages 18-49 (42%) to believe gun crime is up.

What is Behind the Crime Decline?

Researchers continue to debate the key factors behind changing crime rates, which is part of a larger discussion about the predictors of crime. There is consensus that demographics played some role: The outsized post-World War II baby boom, which produced a large number of people in the high-crime ages of 15 to 20 in the 1960s and 1970s, helped drive crime up in those years.

A review by the National Academy of Sciences of factors driving recent crime trends (Blumstein and Rosenfeld, 2008) cited a decline in rates in the early 1980s as the young boomers got older, then a flare-up by mid-decade in conjunction with a rising street market for crack cocaine, especially in big cities. It noted recruitment of a younger cohort of drug seller with greater willingness to use guns. By the early 1990s, crack markets withered in part because of lessened demand, and the vibrant national economy made it easier for even low-skilled young people to find jobs rather than get involved in crime.

At the same time, a rising number of people ages 30 and older were incarcerated, due in part to stricter laws, which helped restrain violence among this age group. It is less clear, researchers say, that innovative policing strategies and police crackdowns on use of guns by younger adults played a significant role in reducing crime.

Some researchers have proposed additional explanations as to why crime levels plunged so suddenly, including increased access to abortion and lessened exposure to lead. According to one hypothesis, legalization of abortion after the 1973 Supreme Court Roe v. Wade decision resulted in fewer unwanted births, and unwanted children have an increased risk of growing up to become criminals. Another theory links reduced crime to 1970s-era reductions in lead in gasoline; children’s exposure to lead causes brain damage that could be associated with violent behavior. The National Academy of Sciences review said it was unlikely that either played a major role, but researchers continue to explore both factors.

Homicide-Johnny

The plateau in national violent crime rates has raised interest in the topic of how local differences might influence crime levels and trends. Crime reductions took place across the country in the 1990s, but since 2000, patterns have varied more by metropolitan area or city.

One focus of interest is that gun ownership varies widely by region and locality. The National Academy of Sciences review of possible influences on crime trends said there is good evidence of a link between firearm ownership and firearm homicide at the local level; “the causal direction of this relationship remains in dispute, however, with some researchers maintaining that firearm violence elevates rates of gun ownership, but not the reverse.” Read the rest of this entry »