Salting News with the L Word Life

first_imgSmall amounts of sodium were detected in ice particles erupting from Saturn’s moon Enceladus.  Deduction: this might lower the melting point of underground ice, forming subsurface pockets of liquid water – perhaps an ocean.  Conclusion: Life!  It doesn’t matter that Enceladus has no other factors conducive to life than water, or that salt is generally thought to be a deterrent to the formation of biological molecules (see “No Salt, Please,” 11/23/2007, and “Primordial Soup Cannot Tolerate Salt,” 09/17/2002).  But the slightest mention of possible conditions for life seems to give some science reporters hallucinations.    The announcements were made in Nature.  One paper described the detection of sodium in ice grains picked up by the Cosmic Dust Analyzer (CDA) onboard the Cassini orbiter.1  This paper made only one quick reference to the L word: “Alkaline salt water, together with the observed organic compounds, and the thermal energy obviously present in the south polar region, could provide an environment well suited for the formation of life precursors.”  The second paper, surprisingly, failed to detect sodium in the gas plumes erupted from the small moon.2  That paper said nothing about life.    John Spencer, Cassini scientist at Southwest Research Institute (SwRI), commenting on the two papers in the same issue of Nature,3 explained why evidence for liquid water under Enceladus is interesting: “The chemistry of the plumes is of intense interest not only because it provides a unique opportunity to sample the interior of an icy moon directly, but also because the interior of this particular moon provides a potential habitat for extraterrestrial life.”  He did not say, in other words, that Enceladus has life, or even water, but explained why it would be interesting to detect water, in case this could be seen as a potential habitat for life.  “So the question of whether Enceladus’s internal heat can provide that water, by melting a portion of the ice shell that comprises much of the moon’s bulk, is one of the hot issues in planetary science today.”    Spencer was less restrained in his statements to the BBC News.  “We need three ingredients for life, as far as we know – liquid water, energy and the basic chemical building blocks – and we seem to have all three at Enceladus, including some fairly complex organic molecules,” he said.  “That’s not to say there is life on Enceladus but certainly the ‘feedstock’ is there for life to use if it does exist.”  Given that the scientific papers said so little about life, one wonders why Spencer made this such a focus.  In fact, the two papers seem somewhat contradictory in their findings.  Even if they can be reconciled by the fact that the vapor would tend to shed its sodium on the way out, scientists disagree on the implications for the moon’s under-surface geology.  The JPL press release shows five competing models for the plumes; some require an ocean, some do not.  The press release also barely mentioned the environment being possibly suitable for “life precursors” if water exists – not a statement that life could actually form and thrive there.    News reporters, though, took that life reference and ran with it.  The BBC News took the “stunning result” about sodium and said, “It means the Saturnian satellite may be one of the most promising places in the Solar System to search for signs of extraterrestrial life.”  Two stories in Science Daily (Science Daily #1, Science Daily #2) presented the controversy about whether an ocean exists, but both included the L-word.  “The discovery could have implications for the search for extraterrestrial life as well as our understanding of how planetary moons are formed,” the first article said.  Jeanna Bryner on echoed the line about Enceladus having a suitable environment for life precursors.  Her line got copied by MSNBC News in the subtitle: “Water, other ingredients could provide environment for life precursors.”  National Geographic restrained its report to the question of a liquid water ocean, but the UK Daily Mail cast all caution to the wind, announcing in bold headlines, “Are we alone?  Alien life may be thriving on Saturn’s frozen moon.”  David Derbyshire continued, “The findings, published in the journal Nature, raise the prospect that alien fish and other marine life might have evolved there.”  (See also “Mooning the Public: Life Sells” in the 04/27/2009, and “The Building Blocks of Lie,” 03/19/2008.)    Apparently this was too much even for Live Science.  A short article was titled, “Claims of Life on Saturn Moon Overstated.”  The article said that the UK Daily Mail article “might sell papers and generate web clicks, but it’s overstated.  What NASA found was strong evidence for a salty ocean under ice on the diminutive moon Enceladus.  No signs of life were found, and in fact even the ocean needs to be confirmed, scientists said.”  It further stated that “Water is a key ingredient for life as we know it, but water in no way means there is life.”  The article written by LiveScience Staff ended by saying “nobody knows if there is life anywhere beyond Earth.”1.  Postberg, Kempf et al, “Sodium salts in E-ring ice grains from an ocean below the surface of Enceladus,” Nature 459, 1098-1101 (25 June 2009) | doi:10.1038/nature08046.2.  Schneider, Burger et al, “No sodium in the vapour plumes of Enceladus,” Nature 459, 1102-1104 (25 June 2009) | doi:10.1038/nature08070.3.  John Spencer, “Planetary science: Enceladus with a grain of salt,” Nature 459, 1067-1068 (25 June 2009) | doi:10.1038/4591067a.Hallelujah!  LiveScience got it right.  The normally Darwin-worshipping, creation-ridiculing site said the right things this time: just because water is found, that does not mean life will be found, and no life is known beyond earth.  This should be patently obvious to anyone with common sense, but in this day of Darwin-drunk media, we must be grateful for small signs of progress.  National Geographic also stayed on subject.  They did not swallow Postberg and Spencer’s lure about conditions for life.  They realized that the empirical evidence relates only to the possibility of liquid water under the surface of an icy moon.    For the rest of you science reporters out there, wise up.  We’re onto your propaganda tricks and they don’t work any more.  The titillating distractions about life are not going to sell papers and fund space missions.  Show your scientific integrity.  Maybe, then, we’ll give you a moment’s attention out of our busy lives on this life-blessed planet.Update 06/26/2009:  Next day, posted another story about life on Titan.  “If there is life on Titan it would be very different from that on Earth.  And we don’t know if such life is possible at all.  It’s just speculation,” the speculator said.  How come Darwin Party speculations get published on science news sites, and those of sensible people do not?  Speculation is cheap.  Try ours: “If there is common sense in a Darwinist it would be very different from that in normal people.  And we don’t know if such sense is possible at all.  It’s just speculation.”  Publish that, DODOs.(Visited 9 times, 1 visits today)FacebookTwitterPinterestSave分享0last_img read more

Skills via phones for rural women

first_imgMobiles phones have transformed the lives of rural women in Lesotho. (Image: Wahenga) Access to mobiles phones has transformed the lives of rural women farmers in Lesotho, boosting income and expanding knowledge.Three years ago, Evodia Matobo, then 62, a small-scale poultry farmer in Lesotho’s rural lowlands, was stacking plastic containers to feed her chickens. Now she talks about feeders, agricultural shows, workshops and experts.The moment that set her on the road to change for the better was when she held a mobile phone for the first time, and “felt like a teenager; going back to life”.The phone was one of 10 distributed to three cooperative women’s farming groups in different agro-ecological zones in Maseru district, western Lesotho, by the Regional Hunger and Vulnerability Programme (RHVP), which builds evidence to help policy-makers working on food security and social protection.“The phone has transformed the women farmers’ lives completely – they are able to market their produce, access information on prices, and it has made them so confident,” said Gladys Faku, national chairperson of the Participatory Ecological Land Use Management, a network of NGOs and civil society groups working with small-scale farmers in East, Central and Southern Africa.RHVP ran the project as part of a pilot programme to see how vulnerable people benefit from cellphones, to disprove arguments against the use of mobile phones for cash transfers, and to prove that illiterate people are able to embrace technology.“The pilot also took a step further to prove that not only are illiterate people able to handle technology, but also benefit from improved communications, both in terms of their farming activities and the reduced time and cost of staying in touch with each other,” said Katharine Vincent of RHVP.The women managed to use the mobile phones as a tool to generate income by selling airtime on their phones, and extended their mobile network by using the money from selling airtime to buy more phones. One of the groups also used the money to buy piglets, which were sold to generate more money.“However, doubts are regularly expressed over the ability of vulnerable, often illiterate groups to handle the technology, and the risk of increasing their vulnerability through providing them with a valuable asset,” said an RHVP brief on the project.None of the mobile phones in the project were stolen, clearly disproving this perception.The groupsMobile phones have been used to transfer cash to vulnerable people in Kenya, using a service call M-Pesa (mobile money). As it was beyond the Lesotho project’s scope to provide regular cash transfers, each handset was preloaded with about US$50 (R470) of airtime.The intention was that the recipients would use about $10 (R94) of this for group communication and then sell the remaining $40 (R376) as airtime to other community members, to make the enterprise self-sustaining.A follow-up evaluation in January 2009 found that the biggest saving was in time and travel costs in Lesotho, a mountainous country with enormous distances and a poor public transport system.In Maseru district in western Lesotho, where Matobo lives, the distance between cooperative groups can be up to 200 kilometres – a 16-hour round trip by taxi costing about $13 (R122), with an overnight stay.The evaluation team found that one of the cooperatives, a dairy farm, was planning to visit a Jersey cow farmer in Ladybrand, South Africa, with a view to buying breeding stock. “This is an opportunity that they would have been unlikely to hear about or organise beforehand,” the report noted, and definitely a benefit of improved connectivity.The mobile phones have provided other time-saving benefits, such shorter waits at queues in health centres. “The women phone in advance to get people to queue for them,” said Vincent.Costs and benefitsMobiles phones and airtime are expensive and beyond the reach of most people in Lesotho; those used for the project were donated by Vodacom Lesotho. The communities involved in the project indicated that they would rather have a community phone.“But mobile phones are becoming cheaper. Besides, there are several organisations in Europe willing to provide recycled phones for this service,” said Vincent.Most of the communities lack access to electricity and many send their phones to town for recharging. RHVP recommends the use of solar-powered chargers, but these cost about $30 (R280), putting them beyond the reach of many in Lesotho, where the average annual income is about $400 (R3 760).RHVP has used the project’s findings to help the Swaziland government put out a tender for a private-sector partner to handle cash transfers for the government’s old age grant, according to RHVP.In Malawi it has undertaken a feasibility study for a potential social pension that includes the design and costing for innovative delivery based on the use of mobile phones.In Mozambique, RHVP has worked with the Ministry for Women and Social Action to explore ways to expand its food subsidy programme, in the form of a cash transfer to vulnerable groups, and is considering the use of mobile phones for delivery.Matobo has also made good use of the other services provided by the phone: “It has a calendar and even an alarm – I now get up on time,” she said. “I don’t have to scream out to my friend who lives two kilometres away anymore. I just call now.”Do you have queries or comments about this article? Email Mary Alexander at marya@mediaclubsouthafrica.comSource: Irin NewsRelated articlesEating, earning from city farmsLow-cost phones for AfricaParprika farming boosts economy An infusion of innovation Sweet deal for cocoa farmersUseful linksRegional Hunger and Vulnerability Programme Participatory Ecological Land Use Managementlast_img read more

10 Sikkim Democratic Front MLAs join BJP

first_imgTen MLAs of the Sikkim Democratic Front (SDF) joined the BJP on Tuesday, making the latter the main Opposition party in the Sikkim, where it failed to win a single seat in the recent Assembly polls. The MLAs joined the BJP in the presence of its national general secretary Ram Madhav, who is in-charge of the party’s affairs in the northeast, and later met party working president J.P. Nadda.Mr. Madhav told reporters that the SDF had a strength of 13 MLAs and its legislature party had decided to merge with the BJP.The BJP is running governments as the main party or in alliance with regional parties in all the northeastern States except Sikkim. With this development, the BJP will become the principal Opposition party in Sikkim.The party won 15 seats while its rival, the Sikkim Krantikari Morcha (SKM), won 17 in the 32-member Assembly. Since two of the SDF MLAs had won from two seats, they resigned from one seat each, reducing the party’s strength to 13 in the House. The SDF was an NDA ally, but now the SKM has replaced it as a member of the BJP-headed North East Democratic Alliance.The MLAs who joined the BJP include Dorjee Tshering Lepcha, who has served as a Minister thrice in the Chamling government and is a five-term MLA, and three-term MLA Ugen Gyatso.Lone rangerThe SDF tried to put up a brave front saying that people of Sikkim were not used to national parties and one had to wait and watch to see how far this “new experiment” went.The SDF is now left with only one MLA —Mr. Chamling himself. “We are certainly facing the most challenging times,” SDF spokesperson P.D. Rai told The Hindu.(With inputs from Shiv Sahay Singh)last_img read more