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Scientific Alliance Newsletter

07.12.2007
- The $100 laptop: is it appropriate? - LEDs: the future of lighting? - The dangers of coal The $100 laptop: is it appropriate? The charity One Laptop Per Child, which first mooted the idea of a robust, affordable laptop for developing countries five years ago, is now in a position to supply them. Production has started in China, and the first order has been placed, by the government of Uruguay. Officially called the XO, it can no longer in truth be described as the "$100 laptop" since raw material costs have now driven the selling price to $188. Nevertheless, economies of scale will...
30.11.2007
- Scientists plead for rational approval of GM crops - GDP and wellbeing - Can Europe be the world leader in energy technologies? Scientists plead for rational approval of GM crops A few weeks ago, it was reported that EU Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas had proposed to reject approval applications for two varieties of insect-resistant, genetically modified maize. This is despite a positive recommendation from EFSA, the European Food Safety Authority, and also in the teeth of opposition from Commissioners Mandelson (Trade), Verheugen (Industry) and Fischer Boel (Agriculture). On top...
23.11.2007
African agriculture African agriculture This week saw the launch by the Royal Society of Chemistry of the Pan African Chemistry Network, initially setting up a hub at the university of Nairobi with a grant from Syngenta. The intention is to help the continent – particularly sub-Saharan Africa – meet the Millennium Development Goals. This first centre will focus in particular on sustainable agriculture and food security. This prompts a set of questions: Can such an initiative really make a difference in a continent where the lives of the majority seem to have got worse in an otherwise...
16.11.2007
- Energy security - Fuel from algae - Galileo: what goes around, comes around Energy insecurity On November 7th, the International Energy Agency launched its latest World Energy Outlook report, with a projection that energy demand by 2030 could be 50% higher than today's. A large part of this inexorable growth will inevitably come from the world's two largest countries, China and India, both developing rapidly and investing heavily in new generating capacity to meet demand. With populations of about 1.3 and 1.1 billion respectively, they make up 37% of the world total, and any increase in...
09.11.2007
- A breakthrough for GM food? - The trouble with science A breakthrough for GM food? In a BBC Radio programme (Hardtalk, 26th October) Mark Price, the managing director of Waitrose, was interviewed by Stephen Sackur. A rather interesting discussion ensued during the interview, initiated by the following statement from Mr Price: " For instance, it may be counter intuitive, but the carbon footprint of organics is more than GM crops. And that's a real dilemma because people say they want organic because it tastes better, because it's free of pesticide, but, from a carbon footprint point of...
03.11.2007
- Is organic food really better for you? - France takes a step back on agricultural biotechnology - A car-free Olympics Is organic food really better for you? This week there have been reports of a study which purports to show that organic food really is more nutritious, rather than the "lifestyle choice" which David Miliband suggested. The four year Low Input Quality Food project has been funded by the EU to the tune of £12 million and is coordinated by Professor Carlo Liefert of Newcastle University. The university's research farm was one of the sites where trials were carried out....
27.10.2007
- Science and consensus - Crop protection in Europe - Organic standards Science and consensus It is true that science progresses via the formation of consensus: over time the vast majority of scientists accept the evidence which builds up and consider a hypothesis as valid. It is equally true that science also progresses when that consensus is challenged by new observations or hypotheses. Most scientists work on incremental advancements, increasing the body of knowledge within or on the borders of an existing consensus. A minority, whether by luck or judgement, come up with consensus-...
20.10.2007
- Obesity as big a problem as climate change - The problem with cement - Development in China Obesity as big a problem as climate change We would not normally comment on a purely health issue, but then it is not often we see such eye-catching statements as that of Alan Johnson, the Health Secretary, who at the weekend said that obesity in the UK is a “potential crisis on the scale of climate change”.  This is a good illustration of the all-pervasiveness of the climate issue: it is the metaphor which government ministers use when they want to emphasise the seriousness of a problem. But...
13.10.2007
- An Inconvenient Judgement - Gore and IPCC win Nobel prize An Inconvenient Judgement On Wednesday, in the High Court, Mr Justice Burton ruled that Al Gore’s Oscar-winning film – An Inconvenient Truth – contained nine scientific errors, and should not be shown to schoolchildren without them also receiving the other side of the argument. Essentially, the judge has said what any reasonable person watching the film would conclude; that it promotes a clear and committed point of view and uses every presentational device it can to do push home the message. It is a polemic from someone who...
06.10.2007
- More on tidal power - Better biofuels - UK fuel duty rise to fight climate change - The truth becomes more inconvenient   More on tidal power Following last week’s mention of the Severn barrage, the project now has the blessing of the Sustainable Development Commission, the influential body chaired by Jonathan Porritt. The blessing, however, is conditional. First, the SDC only supports the scheme if other wetland habitats are developed to provide feeding grounds for birds displaced by the barrage, which seems entirely sensible. Second, the Commission says that the scheme should be...

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