Mass extinctions 'offer cautionary tale'
Mass extinctions have the potential to guide modern conservation efforts, say scientists.
A study confirms the idea that upheavals of the geological past caused a drastic loss of biodiversity.
''Disaster faunas'' dominated by a small number of widespread, newly-evolving species prevailed for millions of years.
Researchers warn that a sixth mass extinction is underway, which is predicted to have similar effects.
''These common trends observed in the fossil record have the potential to inform modern conservation efforts, given that the current biodiversity crisis is acknowledged as representing another mass extinction event,'' say the experts.
Their work is published in the journal Nature Communications.
The study analysed long-term changes in biodiversity in the supercontinent Pangaea, which incorporated almost all of the land masses on Earth.
The scientists traced the history of almost 900 animal species living between about 260 million and 175 million years ago.
This period witnessed two mass extinctions and the origins of mammals, dinosaurs, crocodiles and turtles.
The mass extinction about 252 million years ago was the largest in the Earth's history, in which 70% of land-living animals went extinct.
One of the most common animals around this time was Lystrosaurus, an early relative of mammals, which lived in what is now Russia, China, India, Africa and Antarctica.
Fossils suggest the land-dwelling, plant-eating vertebrate dominated the Earth after many other animals went extinct.
After each mass extinction, animal communities across the globe were more similar than before, with short-lived species – so-called "disaster fauna" – becoming widespread.
"Much like in history, the past offers cautionary tales and context for our ongoing future,'' said lead researcher David Button of the University of Birmingham.
''The lesson from the past is that mass extinctions have big impacts beyond just species loss.''
Scientists have warned that a sixth mass extinction in Earth's history is underway as wildlife is lost to habitat destruction, overhunting, pollution, climate change and invasive species.
Child and teen obesity spreading across the globe
Child and teenage obesity levels have risen ten-fold in the last four decades, meaning 124m boys and girls around the globe are too fat, according to new research.
The analysis in the Lancet is the largest of its kind and looks at obesity trends in over 200 countries.
In the UK, one in every 10 young people aged five to 19, is obese.
Obese children are likely to become obese adults, putting them at risk of serious health problems, say experts.
These include type 2 diabetes, heart disease, stroke and certain types of cancer, such as breast and colon.
The Lancet analysis, released on World Obesity Day, comes as researchers from the World Obesity Federation warn that the global cost of treating ill health caused by obesity will exceed £920bn every year from 2025.
Obese the new 'norm'
Although child obesity rates appear to be stabilising in many high-income European countries, including the UK, they are accelerating at an alarming rate in many other parts of the world, lead researcher Prof Majid Ezzati from Imperial College London says.
Researchers believe wide availability and promotion of cheap, fattening food is one of the main drivers.
Charts produced by the World Health Organisation show how weight gain is measured in boys and girls, according to their BMI (body mass index).
The largest increase in the number of obese children and adolescents has been in East Asia. China and India have seen rates "balloon" in recent years.
Polynesia and Micronesia have the highest rate of all – around half of the young population in these countries is overweight or obese.
The researchers say that if current world trends continue, 'obese' will soon be more common than 'underweight'.
The number of underweight girls and boys worldwide has been decreasing since a peak in the year 2000.
In 2016, 192m young people were underweight – still significantly more than the number of young people who were obese, but that looks set to change.
East Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean have seen a shift from underweight to obesity within the space of a few decades.
Globally, in 2016 an additional 213m young people were overweight although still below the threshold for obesity.
Obesity researcher Dr Harry Rutter, from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said: "This is a huge problem that will get worse.
"Even skinny people are heavier than they would have been ten years ago.
"We have not become more weak-willed, lazy or greedy. The reality is the world around us is changing."
Dr Fiona Bull from the World Health Organization called for tough action to crack down on "calorie-dense, nutrient-poor food" and promote more physical activity.
So far, just over 20 countries around the world have introduced a tax on sugary drinks.
Dr Alison Tedstone, chief nutritionist at Public Health England, said: "Our sugar reduction programme and the government's sugar levy are world-leading, but this is just the beginning of a long journey to tackle the challenge of a generation.
"The evidence is clear, that just telling people what to do won't work. Whilst education and information are important, deeper actions are needed to help us lower calorie consumption and achieve healthier diets."
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10 toughest places for girls to go to school
Debates about schools in richer countries are often about the politics of priorities, what subjects should be given most importance, who needs extra help and what needs more public spending.
But for families in many developing countries questions about education can be a lot more basic – is there any access to school at all?
Figures from the United Nations suggest there has been "almost zero progress" in the past decade in tackling the lack of school places in some of the world's poorest countries.
A further report examined the quality of education, and the UN said the findings were "staggering", with more than 600 million children in school but learning next to nothing.
While in affluent Western countries, girls are often ahead of boys in academic achievement, in poorer parts of the world, particularly sub-Saharan Africa, girls are much more likely to be missing out.
And on the UN's International Day of the Girl, the development campaign, One, has created a ranking for the toughest places for girls to get an education.
Across these 10 countries, most of those without school places are girls.
These are fragile countries, where many families are at risk from poverty, ill health, poor nutrition and displacement from war and conflict.
Many young girls are expected to work rather than go to school. And many marry young, ending any chance of an education.
UN figures indicate girls are more than twice as likely to lose out on education in conflict zones.
The rankings are based on:
- the proportion of girls without a primary school place
- the proportion of girls without a secondary school place
- the proportion of girls completing primary school
- the proportion of girls completing secondary school
- the average number of years girls attend school
- female illiteracy rates
- teacher training levels
- the teacher-pupil ratio
- public spending on education
For some countries, such as Syria, there was insufficient reliable data for them to be included.
Here are the top 10 toughest places for girls' education:
- South Sudan: the world's newest country has faced much violence and war, with the destruction of schools and families forced from their homes. Almost three-quarters of girls do not even make it to primary school
- Central African Republic: one teacher for every 80 pupils
- Niger: only 17% of women between the ages of 15 and 24 are literate
- Afghanistan: wide gender gap, with boys more likely to be in school than girls
- Chad: many social and economic barriers to girls and women getting education
- Mali: only 38% of girls finish primary school
- Guinea: the average time in education among women over the age of 25 is less than one year
- Burkina Faso: only 1% of girls complete secondary school
- Liberia: almost two-thirds of primary-age pupils out of school
- Ethiopia: two in five girls are married before the age of 18
A shortage of teachers is a common problem across poorer countries.
Last year, the UN said another 69 million teachers would need to be recruited worldwide by 2030 if international promises on education were to be kept.
The report says there are great economic dividends if girls can be kept in school.
And there are great gains for individuals, such as Florence Cheptoo, who lives in a remote village in Kenya and learned to read at the age of 60.
Gayle Smith, president of the One campaign, called the failures in education for girls a "global crisis that perpetuates poverty".
"Over 130 million girls are still out of school – that's over 130 million potential engineers, entrepreneurs, teachers and politicians whose leadership the world is missing out on."
More from Global education
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- 'In school, but learning nothing'
- 10 university flashpoints over free speech
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- 'Zero progress' on lack of school places, says UN
Ideas for the Global education series? Get in touch.
Spain Catalan crisis: Reaction to Puigdemont from Madrid and Barcelona
In a speech on Tuesday evening to the regional parliament in Barcelona, Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont said Catalonia had won the right to be independent but that he wanted to begin negotiations with the Spanish government in Madrid.
His comments came after a disputed October 1 referendum which saw violent clashes between national police and pro-independence demonstrators.
Madrid has promised to block any move by Catalonia to break away and will hold a special cabinet meeting on Wednesday to discuss its official response.
So how have both cities reacted to Mr Puigdemont's speech?
'Fears of lost momentum' – The BBC's Gavin Lee in Barcelona
Close to where Parliament sit, beneath the arches of Barcelona's Arc de Triomf monument, tens of thousands of independence supporters packed the walkway to watch President Puigdemont's parliamentary address on the big screens.
The dominant colours were the red, yellow and blue of the Estalada, the Catalan separatist flag, and hundreds of placards, posters and T-shirts simply read "Si", marking the Yes votes made during last Sunday's banned referendum that the Spanish government says was unconstitutional.
There was a mixed response when Carlos Puigdemont began to explain that he was effectively suspending an independence declaration, waiting on the prospect of talks with the Spanish government.
- Catalonia independence declaration signed and suspended
- What are the options for Spain now?
- Could Catalonia make a success of independence?
When he talked of recognising the results of the independence referendum, many in the crowd cheered and whooped.
But any premature sounds of excitement or expectation disappeared quickly, and after an hour of speech making the crowd became muted as it was clear now that the Catalan president was effectively suspending a declaration.
The crowd dispersed moments after. "We're upset, but we've attracted worldwide attention to our little land," Roger tells me, hugging his partner, who said she felt let down by the president.
There's a wider fear though, among independence supporters, that the government hasn't made the most of the momentum it had.
Skip Twitter post by @GavinLeeBBC
The view from above. Thousands awaiting President #Puigdemont's key Catalan speech at #Barcelona arc de triomf. pic.twitter.com/75oIqAUXpB
— Gavin Lee (@GavinLeeBBC) October 10, 2017
End of Twitter post by @GavinLeeBBC
But Adriana, 21, told me she understood that the region's leaders were in a checkmate position, with the Spanish government waiting to take over the Catalan Parliament in the event of an immediate declaration.
For now, there's no sign of trouble, just disappointment.
A Spanish word – "conllevado" – sums up the divide here. It means "to exist with the problem", and after tonight, the Catalan independence movement, those who seek to prevent it, and those in between seeking to be heard, will all need to "conllevado" a little while longer.
'Patience wearing thin' – James Badcock in Madrid
With Spain's government due to hold a special cabinet meeting on Wednesday morning to discuss its official response to Catalan President Puigdemont's partial declaration of independence, the leader of Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy's Popular Party in Catalonia gave a hint as to what that reaction might be.
"The legitimate state will not permit any independent republic of Catalonia," said Xavier García Albiol in the Catalan parliament on Tuesday night.
"Catalonia and Spain cannot go on a minute longer mired in such insecurity," he added.
Indeed, although the Catalan leader's announcement was cagey – near enough a proclamation of independence to keep his fragile pro-independence coalition together, but not too strong to make a harsh reaction from Spain inevitable – Mr Rajoy had already said that any declaration of independence would be opposed by "all legal means".
The government has previously admitted that it is considering whether to trigger a never-before-used power from Spain's constitution: article 155, which allows for central government to take control of a regional authority, or parts of it, to stop breaches of the rule of law.
"The government has two options," says Pablo Simón, a political expert from Madrid's Carlos III University.
"One is to appeal the declaration to the constitutional court, which will annul its effects, and then use article 155 very selectively if the Catalan government takes any actual steps towards implementation.
"The other is to apply article 155 in all its force and with all its consequences, which is a bit like pressing the nuclear button and launching a battle within public opinion."
In the streets and homes of the Spanish capital, patience with the defiance shown by Catalonia's government is wearing thin.
"Spain's legitimate state has to take action," says Mario Perales, a civil servant from Madrid.
"I am amazed by the absolutely irresponsible attitude of leaders who have managed to divide Catalan society, a society with a high standard of living which these spurious ambitions are putting in danger."
Can we tell if Donald Trump has a high IQ?
Question: How often does President Trump talk about IQ?
Answer: All the time.
When Mr Trump recently boasted that his IQ was higher than Secretary of State Rex Tillerson's, it was part of a pattern.
In 2013, he tweeted that his IQ was "much higher" than Barack Obama and George W Bush.
He has also claimed a higher IQ than comedian Jon Stewart and British star of The Apprentice, Lord Sugar.
Despite this, Mr Trump has never revealed his own IQ. So can we work it out?
Skip Twitter post by @realDonaldTrump
"@gharo34: @realDonaldTrump Not only is your IQ somewhere between Barack Obama and G.W.Bush…but you're entertaining!"Much higher than both
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 1, 2013
End of Twitter post by @realDonaldTrump
What is IQ?
An Intelligence Quotient is a score given to someone after taking an intelligence test.
There is no single "IQ test" – Mensa accepts results from more than 200 tests, including its own. Some tests last an hour, while some have no time limit.
Dr Frank Lawlis, the supervisory psychologist of American Mensa, says they usually test spatial, quantitative, and verbal skills.
Broadly, spatial questions are about shape and measurement; quantitative questions are mathematical; and verbal questions are about words – for example, how one word is similar to another.
Mensa accepts those who score in the top 2%. That equates – very roughly – to an IQ of 130.
Who were the smartest presidents?
"I don't recall ever coming across a list of presidents and their IQs," says Dr Barbara A Perry, director of presidential studies at the University of Virginia.
"But you can easily find a list of presidents inducted into Phi Beta Kappa in their universities."
Founded in 1776, Phi Beta Kappa honours "the best and brightest liberal arts and sciences undergraduates from 286 top schools across the nation".
Of the 44 presidents, 17 have been Phi Beta Kappa members. Bill Clinton, George H W Bush, and Jimmy Carter were the most recent.
Dr Perry puts forward, among others, Herbert Hoover ("a very, very bright scientist, a geologist"), Woodrow Wilson ("our only PhD president"), and William H Taft ("a brilliant lawyer").
And, although a president's IQ has never been confirmed, in 2006 the University of California estimated that John Quincy Adams was the most intelligent of all presidents.
Dr Perry also says some presidents have undeserved reputations.
"Gerald Ford was viewed as being a klutz, because he would trip in public, but that was so unfair.
"He had an undergraduate degree from the University of Michigan, where he was from, he was an Eagle Scout, he went to Yale Law School, and he was a star footballer on top of that."
- Trump challenges Rex Tillerson to IQ test
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She also says that intelligence is only part of what makes a good president.
"It was the Supreme Court justice Oliver Wendell Holmes who famously said Franklin Delano Roosevelt had 'a second class intellect but a first class temperament'.
"Roosevelt was re-elected in '36 by two-thirds of the electorate."
And who were the least smart?
"I would put Warren Harding in that category," says Dr Perry. "He was a journalist by training."
This is awkward…
"Some of my best friends are journalists!" says Dr Perry, laughing.
"And my brother is. But my point is, he wasn't from Harvard or Yale, and he wasn't a brilliant lawyer who ended up on the supreme court."
So where does Donald Trump fit in?
"If he ever releases his IQ, I just have a feeling – especially since he is daring Tillerson to release his – that it's higher than people would presume," says Dr Perry.
"People who don't like him say 'oh he's such an idiot, oh he's so stupid'. But I bet you it's higher than we might realise."
Professor Fred I Greenstein, professor of politics emeritus at Princeton University, lists six qualities that bear on presidential performance.
They are: public communication, organisational capacity, political skill, vision, cognitive style, and emotional intelligence.
"Trump scores low on emotional intelligence, cognitive style, vision, and organisational capacity," says Dr Perry.
"Where he has been superb, in order to win the presidency, is public communication and political skill."
Dr Perry also points out Mr Trump's business career – "he obviously had a certain native intelligence to be successful, such as he was" – and his degree from The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania.
But – whether Mr Trump's IQ is high or low – Dr Lawlis from Mensa says it doesn't tell you everything.
"If you take someone we consider to be a genius like Einstein, he would probably not do well on an IQ test, because he thinks outside the box," he says.
"He could probably think of a dozen answers to one question."
Either way, the time for talking may soon be over – Mensa has offered to test both Mr Trump and Mr Tillerson's IQ.
Skip Twitter post by @AmericanMensa
If only there was an organization known for measuring IQ… ? https://t.co/xbOKnW63ta
— American Mensa (@AmericanMensa) October 10, 2017
End of Twitter post by @AmericanMensa
- 2.Jane's daughter (Jane's mother's husband is Jane's father, his daughter is Jane, and Jill is her daughter)
- 3.Zipper (the others can be anagrammed into the names of cities: Rome, Paris, Chester)
- 4.Cherries (Tabitha only likes food with two syllables)
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More on the US presidents
- Should Washington monument come down?
- Is it fair to label this man the worst ever president?
Equifax data hack affected 694,000 UK customers
The beleaguered credit reference agency Equifax has now admitted that 694,000 customers in the UK had their data stolen between May and July this year.
The firm's original estimate of its UK cyber-theft victims, made last month, was fewer, at nearly 400,000.
Equifax now says that it will contact its affected UK customers by letter to offer them help.
It admits they may be at risk of "possible criminal activity".
Patricio Remon, Equifax's chief European executive, said: "Once again, I would like to extend my most sincere apologies to anyone who has been concerned about or impacted by this criminal act."
More than 14 million further UK records were stolen, but they contained only names and dates of birth.
The huge data breach was part of an attack on the firm's world-wide customer records in which the personal details of 146 million people in the US were stolen, along with 8,000 Canadians.
The firm says that as an independent investigation into the saga has been completed, it can now help its UK customers by offering them free advice and ways to protect themselves from identity theft.
Four groups of affected UK customers have been identified:
- 637,000 whose phone numbers were stolen
- 29,000 whose driving licence numbers were stolen
- 15,000 who had some of their Equifax membership details, such as usernames and passwords, stolen
- and 12,000 whose email address was stolen.
The scandal led to the resignation last month of the company's chairman and chief executive, Richard Smith.
The company denied in September that the stolen UK data included any addresses, passwords or financial information.
However, the firm has now revealed that data belonging to the 15,000 customers, who had their Equifax membership details accessed, did indeed include Equifax passwords, secret questions and answers, and partial credit card details.
UK customers can phone Equifax for advice on 0800 587 1584.
Trump challenges Rex Tillerson to IQ test
US President Donald Trump has challenged his Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, to an IQ test, in the latest sign of discord between the two.
He made the remark in a magazine interview when asked about reports that Mr Tillerson had called him a moron.
"I think it's fake news," Mr Trump told Forbes, "but if he did that, I guess we'll have to compare IQ tests. And I can tell you who is going to win."
Mr Trump had lunch on Tuesday with Mr Tillerson.
Shortly beforehand, the president maintained he still had confidence in the secretary of state.
"I did not undercut anybody," he also told reporters. "I don't believe in undercutting people."
Asked about Mr Trump's IQ test challenge, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told the daily news briefing: "It was a joke. You should get a sense of humour."
Reports have swirled of a schism in the Trump administration between the commander-in-chief and his top diplomat, as the US faces a host of vexatious foreign policy conundrums, from North Korea to Iran.
Last week Mr Tillerson called a news conference to dismiss reports that he was considering quitting.
But the former ExxonMobil chief executive did not deny an NBC News report that he had called his boss a moron after a July meeting at the Pentagon.
Earlier this month, Mr Trump publicly undercut the former Texas oilman by tweeting that he was "wasting his time" trying to negotiate with nuclear-armed North Korea.
Last week the New York Times reported that Mr Tillerson was astonished at how little Mr Trump grasps the basics of foreign policy.
According to the newspaper, quoting sources close to the secretary of state, Mr Trump has been irritated by Mr Tillerson's body language during meetings.
Mr Tillerson is said to roll his eyes or slouch when he disagrees with the decisions of his boss.
A classic Trump counter-punch
Analysis by Anthony Zurcher, BBC North America reporter
Donald Trump insists that the stories about Rex Tillerson insulting his intelligence – despite being heavily sourced – are "fake news". Now, however, he's lobbing one of his trademark counter-punches, just in case.
Mr Tillerson thinks he's a moron? Well, he's smarter than Rex, that's for certain.
It's classic Trump – a slightly less juvenile version of the "I guarantee you there's no problem" retort Mr Trump snapped off during a Republican debate, when Senator Marco Rubio questioned the size of his, er, manhood.
Mr Trump tends to get touchy when people doubt his intellect. That's probably why the "moron" line has prompted such a furious response from the White House and State Department. During the campaign he said he doesn't have to consult generals because he has "a very good brain" and told a rally in South Carolina that he was highly educated and has "the best words".
In August, he boasted that he was a "better student" and went to better schools than all his elite critics.
Mr Tillerson may have opened a difficult-to-repair rift with the president. While Mr Trump is quite comfortable with insult-trading, there's one topic that's clearly off-limits.